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You Could Be My Ever After (The Only Exception, Part Three)

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Stiles sings in the shower. Derek could have gone his whole life without knowing that. Or rather, he could have gone his whole life without knowing just how goddamn cute Stiles sounds when he sings in the shower.

Derek's in the kitchen making coffee, trying not to listen. Stiles isn’t singing loudly, probably doesn’t even realize that he can hear him, but he actually has a decent voice, and Derek doesn't recognize the song, but goddammit, he likes this, puttering around his kitchen, not fully awake yet, listening to Stiles sing in his shower.

The first time Derek woke up next to Stiles, months ago, he was too busy berating himself for staying the night to fully appreciate just how sweet a sleeping Stiles is. This morning he learned that waking up next to Stiles, even a drooling Stiles, is an utter delight. It was short-lived though, because just as he woke up and started staring down at him, Stiles’ scent, already more like Derek’s, sharpened with anxiety and discomfort, even as it was still rich with arousal. He could tell Stiles wasn’t being entirely truthful when he said was concerned about Derek’s possible regret that they had sex again, but he didn’t push him on it.

Instead, he decided to show him just how non-regretful he was, chest warming with protective pride when he took Stiles’ pain, barely felt it at all as it snaked up his arm, wanting to purr at how easily Stiles went lax and pliant under him. Sucking him off was unbelievable, the taste of him so good and right Derek slipped up, had meant to swallow him, had wanted to, but was struck with the overwhelming urge to bare his neck for him. He had to stop himself from howling when Stiles came across his throat, hot and musky, and then and again, when Stiles ran his fingers through his mess, looking down at him with a pleased, satisfied smile.

He can still feel the traces of Stiles’ come on his skin as he reaches into the fridge and grabs eggs, ham, cheese, and spinach, hoping Stiles likes omelets. He whisks eggs and shreds cheese, gets everything ready but doesn't start cooking yet, still listening to Stiles’ melody, which continues even after the shower turns off. Derek pours himself a cup of coffee and leans against the counter, wearing only a pair of tight black boxer briefs because it’s hot in the house, much warmer than he’s used to. He turned the heat on as soon as he got up, the first time ever since he moved in, had to text his uncle Peter, who owns the houseboat, to ask him how the radiator worked.

It was Laura’s suggestion to keep the heat on; her mate, Paul, is human, so she had taken it upon herself to text Derek tips for what she called cohabitating with a non wolf. Derek had wanted to be irritated, until he reminded himself that if he had been dating Stiles for eight months like they were trying to pull off, all of her tips are things he would know.

Non wolves can’t smell what you’re feeling. You’ll have to use your words. LOL YEAH RIGHT.

Non wolves startle easily. Make noise when you approach him from behind.

NOT LIKE THAT YOU PERV. btw, are you boning him? You should be.

He sips at his coffee and thinks about spending the day with Stiles, the fake date they’ll be going on this afternoon, his excitement at getting to spend time with him tempered by the constant reminder that this isn’t real and that’s how Stiles wants it. He can’t dwell on that though, not now. Not when they have to get through this trip.

Last night, lying awake with the new, unsettlingly pleasurable weight of Stiles pressed against him, drooling onto his skin when he sunk deeper into sleep, Derek tried to reason away his disappointment, and then admonished himself for letting his feelings, which were probably just residual hormonal stuff from the great sex, get the better of him. It was stupid and unrealistic to hope for something real with Stiles, a distraction that’s only going to make this more difficult. He’s just got to stick to the plan.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy spending time with him; in fact, he’s got to enjoy spending time with him if this is going to work. So last night, sighing as Stiles held on to him even deep in sleep, Derek made the decision to let himself to enjoy their time together, even with the almost impossible to forget falsity of it. It’s not ideal, far from it, but it’s more than Derek deserves and more than he has any right to hope for, this temporary delusion.

Stiles’ voice, still a little rough from how sweetly he let Derek fuck his throat this morning, pulls him from his daze. “Good morning,” he calls out, shuffling barefoot into the kitchen. His hair is damp and sticking up wildly, fragrant with the scent of Derek’s shampoo.

Stiles is wearing sweats, low on his hips and hugging his cock just enough that Derek can see that he’s not wearing underwear. But even that, unbearably hot as it is, isn’t enough to distract him from the purple sweater that Stiles is wearing, the one Laura bought Derek last year because she said it made him look gentle, the one he was wearing a couple of days ago when he ran into Stiles at the coffee shop. The sweater that he knows for sure was in the laundry hamper in his closet, which means that Stiles dug through his dirty laundry to put on his dirty sweater, and it's ridiculous how happy that makes him.

Those lovely long fingers that Derek finally got to feel inside of him this morning, are playing at the hem of the sweater, and Stiles blinks down a few times, like he’s not sure how Derek will react to him wearing it. “For the scent,” he says, almost bashfully. “Also this is the most comfortable sweater I’ve ever worn, so.” He shrugs and smiles, and Derek has to look away.

Dark purple is a very nice color on Stiles.

He swallows hard and steps over to the stove and turns on the burner under the omelet pan. “Do you like eggs?”

“Love ‘em,” Stiles answers, stepping farther into the kitchen, over to the counter by coffeemaker, his scent clouding around Derek when he steps behind him. He smells like Stiles, spicy and fresh, but like him too, and under that, their sex, musky and sweet and mouthwatering. “Mugs?”

“What? Oh, right. Coffee.” Derek licks his lips, blinking hard, and steps over to him, opening the cupboard above the coffeemaker, pulling out a mug. He could have just told him where the mugs are, he supposes, but then he wouldn’t be over here, next to Stiles again, close enough to rest a hand on his hip when he reaches up into the cupboard, leaving it there even after he sets the mug on the counter. It feels natural, easy, to touch him like this, thumb pressing softly just under the bony knob of his hip. It feels like instinct too, when he puts his head down and gently taps his nose and forehead against Stiles’ temple, his wet hair leaving drops of cool water in his eyebrows. He scents him quickly before stepping back to the stove, butter in the pan starting to sizzle, his wolf nearly purring in contentment.

“You’re very…almost naked,” Stiles mutters, cheeks pinking, turning away to pour his coffee.

“It’s warm in here, for me, I mean. I turned the heat on for you,” he explains, focusing on the eggs and not on the comforting thrum of Stiles’ heartbeat so close by. “I’ve never actually done that,” he continues. “I had to ask my uncle how.”

“Right,” Stiles says, walking over to sit on one of the stools at the counter bar, sipping at his coffee, eyes rolling back and smiling at the taste, which makes Derek much happier than it should. “Thanks for the heat. And for the naked,” he adds, winking, looking him up and down appreciatively and knowing full well that Derek can smell his growing arousal. “You don’t have to cook breakfast, you know,” he goes on, stretching his arms over his head, making the sweater ride up just a bit, showing a thin ribbon of his pale, smooth stomach. “I usually just eat cold pop tarts at the bus stop.”

“I gathered as much.” Derek had been appalled when he unpacked the food Stiles brought with him, hardly a vegetable or non-processed item in sight. “I need a real breakfast. It’s no problem to make more for you.”

“Right,” Stiles says again. “Werewolf metabolism goes along with the werewolf body heat furnace thing.”

Stiles watches him while he cooks, chattering more about his ideas for their fake dates, new ideas for their story, and Derek nods along, offering suggestions here and there but is happy just to listen to him.

He doesn’t recognize the chest-warming feeling of satisfaction he feels when he puts a plate in front of Stiles, the omelet perfectly cooked and folded, big pile of fresh-cut fruit alongside it. When Stiles takes a bite and groans like it’s the best thing he’s ever eaten, the sensation gets bigger, more intense, and Derek smiles, letting himself enjoy whatever little pieces of authenticity from him he can get.

~*~

The good thing about a fake date is that you don’t have to be nervous. Derek tries to remember this as he and Stiles are seated for a late lunch in a secluded window booth overlooking the Sound. It’s a dark, gray day, heavy, low-hanging clouds, everything soft and cozy looking, especially the gentle light in Stiles’ eyes, making them glitter like sunlit honey.

Inspired, Derek pulls his phone from his pocket and swipes to the camera. “Smile.”

Stiles looks up from his menu, stops tapping his fingers against the table. “Huh?”

Derek takes a picture, catching the sweet crook of his eyebrow and the glowing shimmer of his eyes. “Your eyes…look nice in this light,” he explains, cheeks hot. “You know, good opportunity for a fake boyfriend pic.”

Stiles smiles sheepishly and nods, then pulls his own phone from his pocket, holding it up to snap a picture of Derek, glancing at it before setting his phone down on the table, shrugging and picking up the menu again, leg tapping a rapid tattoo under the table. “Your eyes look nice in this light too.”

~*~

It’s strange, a little awkward and stilted at first, trying to figure out how exactly to talk to each other on a fake date after spending the night and the whole day together. This is what Derek didn’t want, the confusion and complication of trying to do this while sleeping with each other, a dimension of complexity to this whole thing that they don’t need. But it’s worth it, he thinks, watching Stiles’ hands move while he talks, thinking about how good they feel on his skin, entranced by his captivating mouth.

It gets better as they talk more, the hot cider with whiskey they order helping things along. By the time their food arrives, they’ve settled into easy conversation. They tell each other about their families, things they need to know for their lie, but Derek at least is genuinely interested to learn about Stiles’ life growing up as a sheriff’s son in a small coastal town. Derek loves learning that Stiles has wanted to be a writer since he was a little kid, and that he used to write songs too until his mom got sick and could no longer teach him the guitar, and Derek wants to hug away the shadow of sadness that darkens his eyes when Stiles tells him about his her death a year later when he was fourteen.

Derek isn’t surprised when Stiles tells him that he knows about Kate’s attack on his family. It’s not a secret, after all, even though his mother and her staff called in every favor they had to keep the details out of the press, to keep people from knowing the full extent of what had happened and Derek’s responsibility for it. How she managed to lie to Derek for months, how he took her home to meet his family because he was thinking about asking her to be his mate, how his father pulled him off of her limp body, stopping him from killing her, barely. How primal and satisfying it felt to taste her bitter blood. He doesn’t tell him any of that though, and is thankful when Stiles changes the subject.

They’re down by the waterfront, so after they eat they go to the aquarium. Derek feels ridiculous posing for pictures and taking selfies together, until Stiles turns his head to kiss his cheek in front of the octopus tank, chest warming at the feel of his lips in his beard, at knowing he’ll have a photo of the moment. And then he can’t help but laugh along with Stiles when one of the otters, apparently mesmerized by werewolves, plasters itself against the glass and follows Derek’s every movement while Stiles videos them, grinning.

It’s dark out by the time they leave and Stiles drags him over to the Ferris wheel, lit up gaudy and absurdly overpriced, but Derek pays for them and lets Stiles drag him on when he says it’s very romantic and they can say the pictures are from their fake six-month anniversary date. The car is completely enclosed but it’s still cold, especially when they get to the top, and Stiles is only wearing a thin hoodie and shivering a bit, so Derek puts his arm around him and pulls him close, turning to give him as much of his body heat as he can, frustrated with himself for how much he likes it.

It’s a gorgeous view, all the lights of the city and the wheel reflected over the water, and Stiles was right, it is romantic. Or it could be, if it were real.

It feels natural to just keep his arm around Stiles’ shoulders when they walk back to the Camaro, so he does and Stiles lets him. When they get to the car Derek opens his door for him and instead of getting in Stiles turns towards him, pressing his chest against his and rubbing his forehead against his temple, scenting him like Derek had this morning in the kitchen.

He wants to kiss him, badly, has been wanting to all day, and he does, almost, getting a hand in Stiles’ hair and tugging gently, making him look up, their lips ghosting over each other. He sees something in Stiles’ face though, cast in shadow by the moonlight but it’s clearly there, a tightness around his mouth that looks like hesitation.

There’s no reason to kiss him now, it won’t do anything to help their lie. No wonder Stiles is confused. Derek pulls back, lets him go, steps away.

“Good fake date,” Stiles mutters, turning to get into the car, shoulders tense.

~*~

Stiles lights a joint as Derek drives them back to his place, passing it over to him as he weaves through downtown traffic and heads towards Eastlake. It’s quiet in the car except for the low music rumbling from the speakers, a strange new tension buzzing between them by the time they get back to Derek’s place, the car clouded with smoke and the thick, heady scent of their arousal, Stiles stealing confused glances at him as they walk through the marina to the slip that moors the houseboat.

Derek can’t take it anymore, needs to touch him too much, doesn't say anything when they get inside, just throws his keys down and scoops him up, kissing the surprised grunt off his smoky lips and carrying him to the couch. Stiles catches on quickly, seems to get that Derek isn’t in the mood to talk, and for once it seems Stiles isn’t feeling very talkative either. Derek sits on the couch and spreads Stiles’ khaki-clad thighs over his, fumbling at his clothes. They get each other naked fast, Stiles going back to the bedroom to get the lube and throwing himself back in Derek’s lap upon his return, attacking his mouth with another bruising kiss like they had been separated for months, not seconds.

Derek basks in how good Stiles feels on top of him, covering him with his wiry body, soft skin warm and supple under his hands. Stiles opens easily for him when he presses two slick fingers against his rim, breathing unbearably hot, urgent little gasps into his beard while Derek works his fingers deeper, stretching. Sometime soon, he’s going to take his time with this, is going to lay Stiles out and tease him, learn every flex and twitch and clench of his gorgeous body, bring him to the edge again and again until he comes on Derek’s fingers alone.

But not tonight. Tonight this new crackling heat between them is demanding more, his cock arching towards Stiles’ ass before he can even get his fingers out of him. Derek’s leaking freely, doesn’t need to add any lube to his dick, which he rubs between Stiles’ softly-haired cleft, leaving a slippery trail of his scent there.

Stiles kisses him, filthy and slow, rising up on his knees to position himself over his cock, breaking the kiss to lean back and stare, hard and focused, into his eyes when he starts to slowly sink down. Derek throws his head back against the couch, not breaking Stiles’ gaze, hissing through his teeth when his tip presses against that sweet ring of muscle, the sizzling jolt of heat that shakes him down to his bones intensifying as the head of his cock slips into that velvet soft heat.

Derek kisses his chest, running his chin along the coarse hair between his pecs, licking over to suckle one of his hard, pink nipples as Stiles sinks further down, both of them shuddering and panting by the time he’s fully seated on his cock. Stiles leans down to pull him into another slow kiss, and when he breaks it, they’re both unnervingly still, lips barely touching, breathing hot and heavy into each others mouths. Derek isn’t sure if he’s giving himself or Stiles a moment to adjust, to recover from the overwhelming hotfulltightheat that has him shaking, barely able to top his claws from surging out and ripping up the tender skin of Stiles’ waist.

Stiles starts moving, just another kiss at first, full pink mouth slow but insistent against his, sliding his tongue between Derek’s lips when he starts to slowly, excruciatingly slow, roll his hips, lifting and lowering himself with exquisite precision. Derek goes back to sucking and nibbling at Stiles’ chest, pressing his lips hard into the hollow of his throat to keep from crying out.

Stiles gets his hands in Derek’s hair, longer than it’s ever been; he’s been meaning to get a haircut for weeks now, but he’s glad he hasn’t when those long fingers twist and pull in it, anchoring him. He rocks his hips up in time with Stiles’ downward rolls, steady and sure, their mouths finding each other again in a wet kiss. Lithe and nubile, Stiles rides him slow and sweet, lips dragging across Derek’s cheek, through his beard, down to his neck. Derek moves his hands from Stiles’ rocking hips, runs them up his back and hooks his arms around his shoulders and hugs him closer, pushing up deeper into him, biting at the strong tendons of his neck.

Stiles is unusually quiet but he’s not silent, huffing little grunts into Derek’s hair along with scattered, misshapen words about how much he loves his cock. Derek keeps his face buried in his neck so he doesn’t say anything he regrets, sucking in deep swallows of his lust-soaked scent, of their scent, bodies rocking together in heaving undulations. His skin feels too tight, too thin, heat coiling low in his core and behind his knees, in his curling toes, growling low when Stiles pulls his head back by his hair, his eyes bloodshot and blown so wide they’re nearly black, boring into Derek’s, which he knows are glowing blue.

Stiles’ mouth crooks up in a pleased smirk that gets wider when Derek can’t stop his fangs from popping free too. He looks down, trying to control himself. “‘S’kay, Der,” Stiles murmurs, voice quiet and thick, ass still slowly working his cock. “I like wolf-you.” It’s barely a whisper but it echoes loudly in Derek’s ears, in his heart. As if to prove something, Stiles brings a hand to Derek’s mouth and runs his fingers across his bottom fangs, reverent and awed, eyes rolling back when Derek captures them in his mouth, sucking loudly, careful not to hurt him.

“Oh, fuck, Derek,” he moans, hips rocking harder, the hand not in Derek’s mouth moving to stroke his dick. Stiles spills all over his stomach, squeezing and pumping his cock while bearing down and clenching hard around Derek’s, pushing him off the precipice into his own shuddering, bone-rattling orgasm, growling around Stiles’ fingers, running a hand through his hot mess on his belly, hips twitching, filling Stiles up with powerful bursts.

Stiles cradles his face in his hands, eyes sex-stupid and shining, wet fingers petting his beard. Still trembling, Derek pulls his fangs back and lets his eyes fade, chest rising and falling heavily. Stiles is so lovely like this, cheeks ruddy and flushed, mouth open and wet. It hurts to look at him and not really have him, so Derek closes his eyes, but he still lets himself run his hands up and down his back, fingers gentle along his spine, blossoms of weed-tinged contentment unfurling in his scent.

Derek’s still buried inside of him, his come starting to drip out, sliding down his shaft. He grunts and ruts up shallowly, wishing he could keep it inside of him longer, thinks about what it might feel like to for Stiles to stretch, tight and velvety, around his knot, to fill him up and keep him full, lavish him with affection while they’re tied together, mated.

Stiles’ stoned, sleepy voice pulls him away from his dangerous thoughts. “You okay, big guy?”

Derek finally opens his eyes to see Stiles looking down at him, unbearably beautiful. “Yeah,” he lies.

~*~

Its goes on like that for the rest of the week, playing house and going on fake dates to take fake pictures to document their fake relationship. They go to museums and to a Seahawks game, out to dinner with Boyd, Isaac, and Allison, to Pike Place Market and the top of the Space Needle, even though Derek complains that they’re for tourists but Stiles couldn’t care less, and Derek has fun. It would be maddening if weren’t also so goddamn enjoyable when he lets himself forget.

And the sex, god, the sex. Even when their fake dates devolve into awkward tension, they’re always able to move past it with world-bending fucking, whatever weirdness their situation is creating between them exorcised, temporarily at least, the moment their lips touch. And if Derek thought the first time with Stiles had been the best sex he ever had, he was somehow lucky enough to have that standard redefined again and again, each time with him somehow better than the last.

He learns the wonders of being with someone more than once, of getting to know someone else’s body, discovers the new, exciting pleasure and satisfaction of knowing how Stiles will respond before he touches him. He comes to expect the way Stiles will buck and hiss when he takes one of his nipples between his teeth, knows what his moan will sound like when he finally stops teasing him and slips that first finger in. And Derek learns too, what it’s like to be touched by someone who knows his body, can’t believe how easily Stiles can bring him to pieces, can draw his wolf out of him with a flick of his tongue and a twist of his neck.

They settle into something of a routine, collapsing into fucked-out sleep, bodies wound together, waking each other up with languid blowjobs before Derek makes them breakfast. Afterwards he works on his dissertation for a few hours while Stiles writes or reads, and then Derek goes for a run before they head out on a fake date, stumbling home through the front door, pawing at their clothes.

On the fourth day, three days before their flight to Beacon Hills, Stiles helps Derek with the dishes after breakfast, French toast and bacon, and afterwards falls onto the couch with a mug, sighing happily and resting a hand on his belly. “Dude, if I didn’t know better I’d think you were trying to fatten me up for the winter.” He slurps at his coffee, crooking an adorable eyebrow up at him. “Or fatten me up to cook me in your gingerbread oven.”

“I thought I was the Big Bad Wolf? Now I’m the witch from Hansel and Gretel?” Derek joins him on the couch with his own coffee, more than happy to forget his dissertation for a while.

“Baba Yaga,” Stiles corrects him. “That’s what she’s called in the Russian version, at least. And hey, it’s not my fault your face and your general…youness lends itself so easily to comparison to fairy tale characters. If your hair gets any longer you’ll be Prince Eric.” Stiles rolls his eyes but he hides a grin in his coffee mug, reaching over to tug playfully on Derek’s beard. “After he’s spent a couple months at sea,” he adds with a wink.

“Prince Eric? That’s the one from The Little Mermaid, right?”

And that’s how they end up spending the day getting unbelievably stoned and watching Disney movies. Derek doesn’t remember the last time he laughed so much, is practically in tears when Stiles, with impressive passion and talent, sings every word of “Part of Your World,” not even messing up when he uses the verse breaks to take bong rips.

In the pleasant, dense haze where the only thing that matters is how good he feels, Derek doesn’t even think about stopping himself from basking in how happy it makes him to sprawl out on the couch with Stiles, soaking in their scent, listening to him sing and ramble and giggle. When Stiles shoves his ice-cold feet under Derek’s thigh, wiggling his long toes, mumbling, “warm me up, Princewolf,” Derek gives him a sidelong glare before crawling between his legs and settling on his head on his chest, covering him like a blanket. He rubs his face against his sternum, the soft cotton of his shirt bunching up under his nose, and he breathes him in deeply, sighing. He smells like sour weed and sweet contentment, like syrup and bitter coffee, like them. “Stonerwolf is just a big ol’ cuddly puppy, isn’t he,” Stiles murmurs, scratching behind his ears like he’s an actual dog, and damn it, Derek loves it. Stiles runs his fingers through his hair, petting softly and humming along with the crab telling Prince Eric to kiss the girl.

Derek nuzzles up his chest until he’s fully on top of him, face buried in his neck. Slowly, lazily, he kisses and licks at his skin, moaning at the taste of him. Inhibitions completely gone, driven away by the weed and the just-as-intoxicating scent of a happy Stiles. Derek mouths and nips at the most sensitive spot behind his left ear, where a mating bite would go, if Stiles ever decided to be mated to a werewolf.

With his blunt, human teeth, he bites softly, letting himself imagine, just for a long, blissed out moment, what it might feel like to sink his fangs into that tender flesh in a claiming bite, shallow and gentle, of course, charmed by the emissary’s magic to make the mark permanent and brand the Hale triskele into his skin forever. Derek knows Stiles probably doesn’t know the significance of what he’s doing with his mouth here; he told him that first day over dinner that he didn’t know much about how mating worked. Derek didn’t bother to tell him, because it didn’t matter.

Stiles groans and rolls his whole body up, inviting, pressing his eager cock against his through their clothes. Painfully hard, Derek meets his next roll with a hard grind of his own hips, which makes Stiles gasp. Derek grins and drags his mouth across the scatter of beauty marks on his cheek and catches his mouth in a messy kiss, reaching down to unzip his jeans while Stiles’ hands find the waistband of his basketball shorts, shoving them down.

Derek pumps his cock spreading precome across his palm before taking both of them in his grip. “Oh fuck yeah,” Stiles pants in his ear, pulling him closer, hands on his ass, squeezing. The angle isn’t the best and they’re too stoned to be anything but uncoordinated and sloppy, and Derek can’t stop kissing his mouth, his lightly-stubbled jaw, the long slope of tender flesh and muscle that leads to his Adam’s apple, but he gets a rhythm eventually, stroking while they both rut into his fist. Stiles kisses him too, mouths at his beard and bites and his earlobe and mutters filth in his ear, slips a spit-slick finger into his ass, wrenching Derek’s orgasm from him with groaning heaves. Derek bites at his collarbone, gushing all over their cocks and Stiles’ belly, keeping up his strokes, his thrusts, spilling even more when Stiles comes too, crying out and biting into Derek’s neck hard enough to leave a mark that will last for a while, adding to the mess between them.

~*~

The next morning Derek makes eggs benedict for breakfast and Stiles smiles at him when he comes into the kitchen wearing Derek’s maroon sweater with the thumbholes that Cora bought him as a joke and that he refuses to admit to her that he loves, but he seems a little tense, distracted. Derek works hard to ignore it, is a little anxious himself after getting carried away yesterday. He finishes cooking, listening to Stiles’ running commentary on the New Yorker articles he reads on Derek’s ipad as they sit side-by-side and eat.

Stiles starts sniffling, coughing lightly, eyes slightly red behind his glasses. “You’re sick,” Derek declares, staring at him, brow furrowing in concern.

“Huh? Oh, just a little head cold. I always get one this time of year.” Stiles shrugs and spears a Hollandaise sauce-coated piece of avocado with his fork – Derek has been sneaking fruits and vegetables into his meals all week – and popping it into his mouth.

That won’t do at all, Stiles being sick. Stiles seems unconcerned though, but Derek still feels a thread of worry, which is easier to focus on than his anxiety about his slip-up, letting himself imagine taking Stiles as his mate. He doesn’t say anything more to Stiles about his cold, but decides to call Allison later to ask how to treat it, since he’s never had one and his entire immediate family are born wolves who've never been sick either.

When they’re finished eating Stiles settles into the couch with a tattered old spiral notebook, writing longhand, which he said he prefers when he’s feeling especially inspired. Derek sits at his desk and pores over the latest round of feedback from his advisor, looking over at Stiles with increasing concern every time he sniffles.

“It’s fine, Sourwolf,” Stiles calls out after awhile, after he sneezes, hand still moving quickly over the notebook in his lap, glancing up at him, sounding irritated. “I’ll still be able to fake boyfriend you with a cold. You can tell your eyebrows to relax.”

Derek doesn’t mean to furrow his brows more in response, but he can’t help it, and Stiles snorts and shakes his head, and something about it irks him. Maybe it’s the way Stiles is so casually dismissive of his concern, or maybe it’s the reminder, again, of how this is all fake to him and how it should be for Derek too.

He pushes his annoyance away and gets back to work, managing to actually be productive for awhile longer before Stiles pulls his attention away again. He rises from the couch, tossing his notebook to the coffee table and stretching his arms over his head. “I’m gonna head home and pack for the trip, then I was thinking of hanging out with Scott for a bit? We’ll probably go grab some beers, if that’s cool.”

Derek grunts an acknowledgement, distracted, trying to decipher one of Dr. Deaton’s comments. He finally looks up from his laptop when he sees that Stiles is still standing there in the middle of the living room, hands in his pockets, looking down. It occurs to him then that Stiles is asking for permission, like Derek’s his employer or his dad. Derek bristles, his irritation from before resurgent. “You’re not my kept boy, Stiles,” he snaps. “You can do whatever the fuck you want.”

A flash of confusion, maybe hurt, darts across his face. Stiles doesn’t say anything though, just turns on his heel and stalks out of the living room. When he comes back a few minutes later he’s wearing a hoodie over Derek’s sweater and a beanie, carrying his empty duffel bag. He walks over to him, stopping to stand at the other side of the table, scent slightly bitter with anger and something else Derek can’t identify, his expression severe, eyes dark. “I know I’m not your ‘kept boy,’ asshole,” he spits. “I wasn’t asking permission. I was wondering if hanging out with Scott would mess up our scent mixing.”

Derek thinks Stiles is going to storm out without giving him a chance to respond, which he deserves, but he doesn’t, just stands there with his arms crossed eyebrows up, expectant. “Oh,” he replies stupidly, feeling even worse about his outburst. “It won’t. Unless you’re planning on having sex with Scott,” he jokes awkwardly, trying to break the tension.

It doesn’t work. Stiles just stares down at him, huffs a bit, and then throws the strap of his bag over his shoulder. “I’ll be back in a while, dude. Try not to brood too much while I’m gone. Don’t want you to pull a muscle.”

~*~

Derek stands, confused and overwhelmed, in the cold remedy aisle of the drug store, running his hands through his Disney prince hair, completely at a loss. How are there so many things? The aisle runs half the length of the store and is lined from top to bottom on both sides with boxes and bottles and tubes labeled with made-up sounding words that don’t mean anything to him, and surely treating a cold can’t be this complicated, can it?

He called Allison when he was driving here but she didn’t answer, and neither did Laura, who would know what to buy from being mated to a human. He tried to call Paul but discovered that he didn’t even have his brother-in-law’s cell phone number, and for some reason that makes Derek feel like even more of a complete failure at life.

What if he gets Stiles the wrong thing and makes it worse? What if he’s allergic to something? What if it’s not really a cold but something serious and instead of standing here wondering why some of the boxes are locked up, he should be taking Stiles to the doctor? Derek’s starting to panic, strange desperation at not knowing how to make Stiles better making him sweaty and anxious, hands curling into frustrated fists at his sides.

It must show on his face, because a young woman with dyed black hair and a pierced septum approaches him cautiously, hands in the pockets of the red employee’s vest she’s wearing, the name Maya on her nametag. “Can I help you with something, sir?”

Derek looks at her, imploring, grateful for the lifeline. “My Stiles is sick.”

~*~

“You need a cold care package,” Maya tells him. “A basket with everything he needs to get through his cold. I make one for my girlfriend whenever she gets a cold, and it always helps her feel better. And she totally thinks it’s the sweetest thing ever. Your boyfriend will love it. Be right back.”

Maya turns away with a toss of her long hair, abandoning him in the cold aisle again, but at least this time with a ray of hope. After she had looked a him like he was insane – what the hell is a Stiles? – he explained that his boyfriend was getting a cold and that he didn’t know what to get because he’s a werewolf. She smiled reassuringly and said she was happy to help, and Derek had to stop himself from hugging her in gratitude.

She returns with a gaudy red and green woven basket, handle and edges lined with gold tinsel, complete with a set of reindeer antlers and a Rudolph nose hanging from the side. “Only baskets we have,” she says, holding it up with a grin. “’Tis the season.”

Twenty minutes later, the hideous basket is filled with boxes and travel packs of tissues, bottles of orange-colored vitamin water guaranteed to shorten a cold’s duration, congestion pills for daytime, congestion pills for nighttime, cough syrup, sore throat spray, sore throat tea, congestion tea, three different kinds of cough drops, chapstick, weird little plastic strips that Stiles is supposed to put on his nose, and a tube of something called vapor rub that even through the packaging stings Derek’s nostrils with its potent menthol stench.

“You should get some fun stuff too,” Maya says, surveying the basket. “Crossword puzzles or Sudoku, magazines. Oh, and candy. What’s his favorite candy?”

Derek follows her to the candy aisle. “Reese’s,” he answers triumphantly, unable to hide his thrill that he knows, that Stiles had told him so on one of their fake dates.

“Pieces, mini cups, or regular cups?”

Derek freezes. Shit. “Um…all of them,” he tells her, grabbing one of each. He gets Stiles more pop tarts too, because Derek may have eaten all of his yesterday when they were stoned.

“And now all you need comfort food. What’s his favorite comfort food that his parents made him when he was sick as a kid?”

Derek’s stomach drops again. “I don’t know. His mom died when he was young….” he says pathetically, hating himself for not knowing. “What did your parents make you?”

Maya smiles. “Specialmeal.”

“What the hell is that?”

She laughs and leads him up to the register. “I was a weird kid who loved oatmeal. My mom made the best oatmeal, with brown sugar and butter. When I was sick, she would put those tiny little chocolate chips in it. I called it special oatmeal, which turned into specialmeal.” She shrugs, ringing up everything and putting in back in the Christmas basket, all neat and organized.

“That actually sounds pretty good.”

“It’s the best. But you might be better off with just getting him soup. Everyone likes soup when they’re sick.”

He thanks her profusely after he pays, stopping himself from hugging her again. “I’m happy to help,” she smiles. “And hey, Derek? Your Stiles is a lucky guy.”

~*~

When Derek gets home he’s happy to see Stiles is back from hanging out with Scott, his old Jeep in the spot next to Derek’s in the private parking lot for marina residents. He carries in the basket, along with a bag of groceries from Whole Foods loaded with three kinds of fresh soup, bread and cheese for grilled cheese sandwiches, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and all of the ingredients for Maya’s specialmeal. He also stopped at the marijuana dispensary and bought edibles, hard candies and some extra strong truffles, that he tucks into the basket with a nervous smile, hoping he’s done enough to make Stiles feel better.

Stiles is sleeping on the couch, half covered by a blanket, glasses and a book in a pile on the floor near his dangling hand. Derek listens to his breathing for a minute, a little congested, but not too bad, he thinks, placing the basket on the coffee table and going to put the groceries away, putting water on for tea.

“What’s all this?” Stiles’ voice is thick and groggy, pulling Derek back into the living room after a few minutes.

Stiles is half sitting up, glasses on askew, reaching for the basket with a confused look on his face as he twists his fingers in the tinsel on the handle. “It’s for your cold,” Derek tells him, sitting down on the coffee table, not quite across from Stiles but close enough that their knees can bump into each other. Stiles smells more like Scott, and Derek is looking forward to getting rid of it. “I’ve never had one,” he goes on, “so I don’t know for sure, but I was told that this is everything you need to make it better.”

Derek watches him dig through the basket, his sleepy face morphing from surprise to bemused delight. “Dude, thank you. It’s just a little cold though, you didn’t have to get all this for me. I usually just chug Nyquil and get rid of them by sheer force of will.” His eyes go wide when he finds the truffles, turning them over and reading from the package. “Forty-six milligrams THC and five milligrams CBD? Seriously, dude? You know you don’t have to roofie me in order to have your way with me?”

“You’re hilarious. I figured you might not want to smoke, so I got edibles. You can still get stoned and it’ll help you sleep.”

“You are something else,” Stiles mutters, popping one into his mouth and washing it down with the vitamin water. “And these,” he says, untying the ribbon securing the antlers and foam nose to the basket, crooking up a teasing eyebrow. “How will these help?”

“’Tis the season,” Derek mumbles, but still smiling softly, pleased with how much Stiles seems to like everything. “I’m sorry I was an ass this morning,” he says suddenly. “Stress, I guess.” He looks down, staring at his hands, feeling bashful, unaccustomed to apologizing.

His eyes dart up when he feels the tips of Stiles’ fingers on his lips; he’s moved closer to him and is placing one of the chocolate truffles on his tongue. Derek smiles wider and chews the chocolate, the soft gooey center flooding his mouth, bitter with the taste of THC. “It’s okay. I get it,” Stiles says quietly, snapping the antler headband on Derek’s head and pushing the foam ball onto his nose.

Derek levels him with as harsh a glare as he can muster while wearing a drugstore reindeer nose and antlers. Stiles snickers and grabs his phone, takes several pics. “Good job, Sourwolf. I’m feeling better already.”

~*~

It’s the night before they leave for Beacon Hills, and they’re in a bar that’s crowded, loud, and full of werewolves. That’s the point, Derek reminds himself, appreciating the way Stiles bends over the pool table as he takes his shot. They’re at a place near campus that’s popular with weres, giving them a chance to try out their lie. A dress rehearsal, Stiles said when he made the suggestion, to see if other wolves who don’t know they’re faking it believe their scent mixing.

Derek invited Allison and Isaac, Boyd too, and Stiles invited Scott, Lydia, and Jackson, who is, as promised, pretty douchey. Scott seems like a cool guy though and Lydia’s discerning stare and haughty confidence reminds him so much of Laura it’s a little scary. It’s the first time Derek has met Stiles’ friends, but it isn’t the first time his friends have met Stiles, and Derek’s thrilled that they all seem to like each other.

He’s also pleasantly surprised with how well their scent mixing seems to have worked. Granted, strangers aren’t going to be paying attention to them the way his family will – he cringes in anticipation of the scrutiny, of the questions he hopes he and Stiles have prepared good enough answers for – but it’s still encouraging, how convinced people seem to be that they’re a real couple. At the bar, when they first arrived and were ordering a round of drinks for everyone, Stiles struck up a conversation with a female were, how and about what Derek didn’t hear because he was ordering, but all of a sudden he felt his hand in his, and he looked over at Stiles, who was smiling beatifically at him. “Eight months,” he told her dreamily.

The woman’s sharp eyes darted between them, nostrils flaring ever so slightly, smiling. “You better watch out, son. Some folks would rip your throat out for a wolf like him.” Derek blushed and Stiles had smiled proudly, if a little awkwardly, chatting with his new friend until their drinks were ready.

And while they play pool, Derek keeps one eye on the game and one eye the room, trying to figure out how people are reading them. He’s accustomed to smelling lust on strangers and is well practiced at using the ability and his desirability to pick people up. But even though he can smell and see people noticing him, and Stiles too, they don’t approach or send over drinks they way they usually do. A human guy seems like he’s about to approach Stiles when he goes to pick songs from the jukebox, but is quickly deterred when Derek sidles up next him and rests his hand on his shoulder.

After Jackson and Lydia beat them for the second time, Stiles heads to the bar to get another round while Derek racks the next game, talking to Boyd and Scott. Even through the din of conversation and music, Derek is locked into Stiles’ heartbeat, has been for the past several days, always hears it loud and clear. He stops midsentence in his conversation when he notices it uptick suddenly, a speeding up that he knows means Stiles is nervous.

He’s moving towards the bar before he’s even had a chance to spot Stiles in the crowd, searching for his scent, which takes him a moment to zero in on in the cloud of bodies and beer and greasy food and stale smoke. When he does, he picks up only a hint of anxiety, but it’s still too much for his liking. He spots him leaning awkwardly against the bar, still waiting to order it seems, partially caged in by a guy, a werewolf, who’s looking at Stiles with aggressive interest that makes Derek’s blood hot with anger.

The guy is taller than Derek but not as big, still strong-looking though, and a born wolf judging by his scent. He’s attractive too, in a bland, blonde sort of way, Derek notes ruefully, standing close to Stiles, pressing his hand to his lower back. “Need help,” he asks, voice low, trying not to growl.

“Derek,” Stiles smiles, clearly relieved. “Glad you’re here.”

The other wolf, who smells heavily of bitter wolfsbane beer and cloying lust, doesn’t move back from Stiles when Derek puts his hand on him, an obvious marking of his territory to another wolf, which infuriates Derek even more. The asshole speaks then, looking Derek up and down derisively, nostrils flaring. “So you’re the mutt breeding this fine piece of ass.”

“Mutt!” Stiles squeaks, indignant. “This is Derek fucking Hale, asshole!”

Derek wishes he had time to be proud of Stiles’ offense on his behalf, but the guy, clearly unimpressed, is moving even closer, still eying Stiles like he’s prey. Derek does growl then, deep and low, but loud enough that every were in the place goes silent and turns toward them, some in bemused interest, others with hackles raised, instinctive, the energy in the room shifting from amiable and raucous to wary. “Back off,” Derek grunts. “He’s not interested.” He’s mine, he wants to say, almost does, barely stops himself.

“Ah come on, mutt,” the guy says, smiling darkly. “You can share.” He reaches up and tucks a finger under the collar of Stiles’ plaid shirt, pulling it aside to reveal his bare neck, Stiles’ scent sparking with alarm at his touch. “After all,” he tsks, “you haven’t claimed him.”

Through the haze of rage, he still registers the look of confusion on Stiles’ face, whether at the wolf’s comment or his reaction to it, he’s not sure, but he can’t think about it now, because his roar is echoing through the bar and now he’s between him and the other wolf, pushing Stiles out of the way with one hand and with the other, claws sharpening to lethal points, grabbing the were’s wrist and wrenching it away from Stiles’ throat and slamming it down hard on the bar. He’s gone into a beta shift, eyes bright and fangs bared, growling at the other wolf, whose eyes are glowing red, his own face shifting into a lupine snarl.

Fuck. He just challenged an alpha, over his fake boyfriend, and distantly, he thinks he should be more concerned about that, but he doesn’t care, would do it again, no matter what Stiles is or isn’t to him, his need to protect him too strong in the face of something as fallible and flimsy as reason. He and the alpha are close now, face-to-face, tension and anger crackling between them. Derek knows he can’t win this fight, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to back down, isn’t going to go down fighting. The bar has gone silent around them except for the music from the jukebox, which sounds far away and tinny, his world narrowed down nothing but defending and protecting his m – his Stiles, a low growl still rumbling from his chest.

The alpha breaks his gaze, flitting his eyes over Derek’s shoulder and flinching slightly. He steps back too, eyes dimming a bit but remaining red even as he shifts back to his human features. Too focused on the threat, Derek hadn’t noticed what the alpha sees happening behind him, and when the other were takes another step away, hands up in surrender, Derek, confused, risks turning away for a moment to see what has him stepping back.

Flanking them, he sees Boyd and Isaac, both in full beta shifts as well, crouched slightly in fighting stances, claws curling from their hands. Scott is closest to Stiles, and he’s not shifted but his eyes are glowing gold and his fangs are bared in a similar stance. Even Jackson, looking a little bored by the whole thing, is there, eyes glowing, and Allison and Lydia are next to him, each holding a pool cue that they look more than capable of using as weapons.

When Derek looks back, the alpha is walking away, grumbling about a pack of mutts not being worth the trouble, and Stiles is standing there, staring at him in wide-eyed shock.

~*~

When they get back to the houseboat – Stiles insisted on driving the Camaro, said Derek was too worked up – Derek heads outside to the deck immediately, needing the cool air to help him calm down and settle his racing thoughts, his pounding heart. He still hasn’t explained himself to Stiles, hasn’t apologized for his behavior, was silent the entire drive home, edgy and tense.

He leans heavily on the deck railing, looking out over the dark lake, the lights of the city reflecting off the water, the alpha’s drunken voice echoing in his mind.

You haven’t claimed him, the unsaid yet echoing louder than his actual words.

He thinks back over the past week, feeling more foolish with each memory. His unexplainable enthusiasm for and obsession with cooking for Stiles, his constant awareness of his scent and emotions, doing everything he can think of to make him comfortable. His freakout in the drugstore when he felt like he didn’t know how to help him, his stoned fantasy of claiming him. Challenging an alpha who touched him without Stiles’ permission.

Derek is a complete and utter fool.

He’s been so focused on trying to make sure his family will think Stiles is his boyfriend he’s been blind to the fact that he’s been treating Stiles like his mate.

That he wants Stiles to be his mate.

The realization hits him like a punch to the gut, sucking the air from his chest and making him feel even warmer, barely feeling the frigid winter air coming off the water now. He knew he had feelings for Stiles, has since their first night together months ago, if he’s being truly honest with himself. And he knew ignoring those feelings and pretending to be just as fake about this as Stiles is was bound to fail.

Somewhere along the way it became more than attraction and passion, more than being simply being drawn to his compelling, brilliant mind and quick wit, his mesmerizing smile and perceptive, wild eyes, his knife-edged snark that always suggests a hidden thread of gentleness, of vulnerability that at first made Derek so uneasy because it struck too close too home.

Somewhere along the way it became more than just wanting things between them to be real and needing them to be real, forever.

His emotions are in turmoil, breath coming hard. There’s fear, so much fear, at finally realizing just how deeply he loves him, of all the hurt he’s opening himself up to, of all the ways Stiles can destroy him now. But there’s hope too, a cautious sliver, that maybe, just maybe, Stiles might one day love him too. After all, even though he seems resolute in maintaining the falsity of what they’re doing, he’s still here, he’s still helping Derek when he doesn’t have any reason to, wouldn’t even take the money he offered. And he doesn’t touch him, doesn't kiss him like they’re fake, never has, and maybe that’s just their incredible physical compatibility, but that’s something, isn’t it?

It’s enough, he decides, an uncanny resoluteness settling through him, that tiny spark of hope growing stronger. He’s going to ask Stiles to be his mate. The thought makes his heart race and his breath come short, makes him want to run back inside and fall to his knees, throw himself at his feet and declare himself to his love, to his mate, the exhilarating rightness of it almost enough to make him actually do it.

But he stops himself, thankfully, remembering the mess they’re in. He can’t ask Stiles something like that now, not the night before they leave for Beacon Hills to pull off this elaborate ruse they’ve been preparing all week. He can’t spring that on him now, can’t ask him to make the biggest decision of his life when they’re in the middle of this clusterfuck of Derek’s own creation.

And of course, there’s the nagging fear that he’s reading Stiles’ affection all wrong, that he’ll say no, and then there’s no way he’ll be able to pretend to be with him after something like that. No, he’ll wait, he decides. He’ll get through Christmas with his family, go through with the lie like they’ve planned, and then afterwards, when they get back and don’t have to pretend anything anymore, he’ll ask. He’ll invite him over to watch the fireworks over the Space Needle on New Year’s, maybe even take Peter’s boat out to the middle of the lake, wrap Stiles up in blankets and hold him close, whisper all the way he promises to love him forever.

Until then, though, he’s got to keep up the charade. It will be easier, at least, to convince his family now, because he won’t be lying at all about being in love with Stiles, he thinks with a wry smile, trying to decide if he’s calmed down enough to go back inside and explain his behavior at the bar as best he can without revealing too much about his epiphany.

“Hey.” Stiles appears beside him – Derek was so lost in thought he didn’t even notice the back door open – with a mug of tea, fragrant with whiskey. “You okay?”

Not completely, but I think I might be soon.

Derek takes the mug, letting his fingers linger. Stiles isn’t wearing a coat, just a t-shirt and plaid, and he’s starting to shiver already. “It’s freezing out here,” he tells him, happy to ignore his question.

Stiles grins slyly, not to be outmaneuvered. “It is. And even though your magic basket kicked my cold’s ass, it’s probably going to come back if I stay out here too long. So why don’t you come inside and talk to me about what just happened, big guy?”

~*~

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, facing Stiles on the couch, apologizing for another emotional outburst that he can’t fully explain to him. “I overreacted.” Stiles gives him a skeptical glance, like he wants to give him shit for thinking that’s a sufficient explanation, but is reigning it in. “The scent mixing is…confusing. To my wolf.”

“Okay,” Stiles nods, like he’s trying to understand. “Is that, uh, what that asshole’s comment all about? About my neck, you claiming me?”

Derek swallows and nods. “You don’t know much about mates, right? I mean, about how mating works for born wolves?”

Stiles shakes his head. “Isaac and Allison are the first mated couple I’ve ever met,” he admits. “I never researched it when Scott was bitten. Wasn’t really relevant at the time.”

He chooses his words carefully, wanting him to understand what the mate bond means so Stiles will know what Derek is asking when he can eventually be truthful about his feelings. He tells him that the popular understanding of mates as the werewolf equivalent of marriage is woefully inadequate, that it’s a primal, magical bond only born wolves are capable of making, often with other wolves and less frequently with humans. “It’s not that humans aren’t capable of sustaining the bond,” he adds quickly, maybe too reassuringly. “Allison is human, and so is Laura’s husband. It’s just that not many humans want to take on that kind of commitment, even if they love someone enough to marry them.”

Stiles nods, eyes narrowed in focus, earnest. Derek goes on, telling him that the bond is unbreakable, even after the death of one partner, even if the pair is separated. Once oathed and claimed, the full potential of the mated pairs’ feeling for each other is realized – not amplified, but liberated by the bond’s powerful magic. The two will always be linked, still individuals, of course, but they are always dependent on the other’s happiness for their own. “Ironically,” Derek tells him, “that’s actually why some arranged matings tend to work better than non. When the bond is based on respect and friendship, pack alliances instead of passion and love, things are a lot less intense, less complicated. At least that what my mom likes to tell me,” he adds wryly.

Stiles wrinkles his brow at that, moving closer to him on the couch. “That sounds bleak. An awful lot like settling. Which is why I’m helping you,” he adds, hand gentle on his thigh, thumb running comforting circles. “So what’s with the claiming stuff?” he asks after a quiet moment.

Derek takes a deep breath, lets Stiles’ scent soak into him, soothing, even though its polluted with the stench of the bar. “You probably didn’t see Allison’s mark, did you? I think her hair was down both times we hung out with her.” He moves closer now, pressing his thigh against his. He tells him how the oath is slightly different for each pack, but the claiming bite the same. “After the oath, the claiming wolf drinks an elixir prepared by the pack emissary and bites their mate.” He lifts a finger to that tender bare spot on Stiles’ neck, circling lightly, listening for the uptick in his heart and the sweetening of his scent that his touch always culls from him. Stiles shudders lightly and leans into Derek’s hand. “The enchanted bite leaves a scar, of course, from the wolf’s teeth, and in the middle of it, a little bit bigger than a quarter, a mystical brand of the pack’s emblem. It’s permanent, and it solidifies the bond.”

“That’s the triskele on your back? The Hale emblem, I mean?”

Derek nods, tracing feather-light spirals on his neck.

“Sounds intense.” Stiles turns his head to catch Derek’s finger between his lips, kissing down the digit to his palm, licking softly, nibbling at the mound of his thumb, at the thin skin inside his wrist.

“It is. Or, so I hear.” Derek hitches closer to him.

“And after that, after the oath and the bite, that’s when you can knot?”

Derek’s eyes widen and his heart skips at that, not in surprise, but in excitement. He’d give anything to give Stiles his knot right now, to satisfy that curious hunger twinkling in his dreamy eyes.“You don’t know anything about mates but you know about knotting? Why am I not surprised?”

“I think you mean knot surprised.” Stiles wiggles his eyebrows proudly, and Derek can’t help but laugh. “And dude, everyone knows about knotting.”

Derek moves quickly, pulling Stiles onto his lap and leaning up to kiss his smile. “Yes. A wolf can only knot his mate, after the oath and the bite.”

Stiles makes a strange humming noise at the back of his throat, kissing him again, running a hand down Derek’s abs to cup his cock, already swollen and ready. “I’ve always wanted to see, what a real knot looks like. I’ve seen the porn, the fake stuff, but I don’t think it’s very realistic.”

“It’s not.” He grins. “It’s knot.” Stiles giggles into his neck, falling against Derek’s chest. He puts his arms around his waist, pulls him closer. “You know,” he goes on, speaking quietly into his neck, “wolves can only knot inside of a partner when they’re mated. But it can happen other times, the knot, I mean. Sometimes, when I’m alone…if it’s really good….” He’s glad Stiles can’t hear his heartbeat, which is racing now with excitement and nerves. He has no idea if what he has in mind will actually work, has no idea if it’s something that’s even ever done, a wolf trying to show his knot to someone not his mate. He’s never heard of such a thing.

Stiles sits up to look at him, expression a incredulous, eyebrows up,intrigued, biting his lip. “So,” he says, husky and low, “you just…knot your hand and come all over yourself? It’s more isn’t it? More than you usually come?” Derek nods, runs the tips of his fingers up his spine, smiling at the shudder it draws from him. “Do you think…if you took care of yourself, and I help make it really good for you…” Stiles reaches underneath him to cup his ass, gripping tight – “you might be able to now? With me, so I could see?”

~*~

Stiles leads them to the bedroom, surprising him when he pulls Derek into the master bathroom instead of onto the bed. Wordlessly, Stiles turns on the shower and begins to strip, crooking an eyebrow at him to indicate that he should do the same. Derek smiles quickly and peels of his shirt, very much liking this idea. He wants to get the smell of the bar, cheap wolfsbane beer and bad food, off of him, and most definitely wants to get the smell of other people, other wolves, off of Stiles.

He’s not sure if this is Stiles’ reasoning too, but it pleases his wolf to think so. Steam fills the bathroom quickly, and Derek is already feeling better when they step into the big, glass-walled stall. He’s wanted to join Stiles in the shower all week, but had always stopped himself, unsure of how he would respond to the wholly unnecessary attention.

Stiles is smiling now, heart thumping, hands gentle on Derek’s hips when he pulls him into a long, slow kiss under the cascade of hot water, bodies pressed close. When he breaks the kiss, he leans back lifts his hands to Derek’s face, thumbing over his eyebrows, running his hands through Derek’s wet hair. He lets himself relax under his touch, feeling a little silly when he washes his hair, but still moans in pleasure as Stiles massages his scalp with his strong, talented hands. “Are you sure you’re not a werecat?” he jokes, rinsing out the shampoo, careful to keep it out of his eyes. “Because I’m pretty sure you’re purring, big guy.”

“Feels good,” he murmurs, closing his eyes.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet, Catwolf.” Stiles waggles his eyebrows and plants a peck on the end of his nose before grabbing his shoulders and turning him around so he’s facing the wall, water pouring down his back. Stiles holds him close, nestling his firm cock just under his ass, kissing at his neck, his shoulders, licking the swirls of his tattoo. He soaps up his hands and runs them all over his back, his stomach, sliding down to tease at his balls while he nibbles into his neck. “You’re so beautiful, Derek,” he whispers into his shoulder, pressing his knuckles into the dimples at the base of his spine.

Derek bites his lip to keep from saying something he shouldn’t, but an aching groan still escapes his mouth when Stiles slips a soap-slicked finger into him. He jerks his hips back, wanting more, which Stiles readily gives him. “God, you fucking love this, don’t you?” he pants into his ear, marveling, pressing a second finger against his rim, crooking the one inside of him to stretch the tight ring of muscle. “Love having your perfect ass played with.”

Derek nods, gasping, water running down his face and into his mouth, heart racing at the admission, Stiles’ voice throaty and raw, sliding his cock between Derek’s thighs. “Have you ever been fucked?” he asks, pushing the second finger in. Derek cries out at his question just as much as at the burn that quickly turns to sizzling pleasure, shaking his head, still not trusting himself to speak.

“I’ll fuck you sometime,” Stiles goes on, two soapy fingers buried inside of him down to the last knuckle now, other slippery hand cupping and squeezing his ass. “Not tonight, but sometime, if you want me to.”

“Stiles,” he gasps, letting himself believe that Stiles means it when he talks like they have a future.

“God, I’d love to fuck you, Der,” he goes on, teasing at his prostate. “Love to show you how good you can feel. You’d look so good coming on my dick, baby.”

Derek thinks he might come, untouched, right then and there, but Stiles stops suddenly, pulling his fingers out gently, making him whine in protest. Stiles laughs into his shoulder. “Not yet, big guy. You’re gonna show me your knot, remember?”

~*~

Stiles pushes him, both of them still slightly wet from the shower, down onto the bed with a hand on his chest, smiling down at him and reaching for a thick pillow that he tucks under Derek’s hips, spreading his knees, kissing him before settling between his thighs.

“You take care of your knot, and I'll take care of your sweet ass, okay?” Stiles’ eyes are locked on where he’s circling his rim with the tip of his finger, and Derek feels himself twitching, seeking. Stiles licks his lips until they’re shining, then bites at them nervously. “Can I eat you out?”

Derek mewls and rocks his hips, presenting his ass in invitation. “Stiles.”

“Is that a yes, then?”

“It’s a fuck yes. Please, Stiles, I want your mouth.”

“Goddamn, Derek,” he huffs, breathless, leaning down to lick a slow, teasing line up the inside of his thigh, leaving a trail of cool saliva that makes him shiver. Stiles murmurs praise into the crease of his groin, kisses the heavy curve of his balls, is unbelievably tender when he pushes his thighs back, rolling his hips up, spreading him gently. Stiles looks up at him, eyes raking up his stomach and chest, hungry, hand going to palm over the head of Derek’s cock, wetting his fingers before moving them back down to his hole, slick and teasing.

Derek whines, shameless now, hand falling to his cock when Stiles hooks his knees over his shoulders. His first licks are so soft Derek barely feels them, questioning little curls of his tongue. He can tell Stiles is smiling, can feel that devilish grin against him, has never felt so exposed, so vulnerable, so wanted. Stiles circles him with the tip of his tongue before pushing in, firm but sweet, not stopping until his tongue is as far in him as he can get it, warm lips pressed against his rim. It feels like he’s dissolving, coming apart at the seams, giving in completely to how good it feels to have Stiles lick and finger into him, how good it feels to let Stiles give this to him. Stiles tongues him relentlessly, eager, moaning like he’s getting as much out of this as Derek is, which he gets, always feels the same way when he does this for him.

Derek is working his slick hand over his cock, fast, the too-hot tingling at the base that precedes his knot sending a rush of aching pleasure through him. He bucks up hard, crying out with a loud moaning growl, eyes glowing, and Stiles pulls his mouth from him and looks up, keeping his fingers buried deep, pressing on his prostate. His eyes are so big, so dark with lust, as he watches, awed, Derek’s knot pop into is fist, come splattering across his chest.

“Oh my god,” Stiles groans. “Derek, can I, fuck, can I touch you?”

Derek can’t nod in response like he wants to, just lets his hands fall away from his cock, crying out pitifully as the loss of warm friction against his knot. “Stiles,” he mumbles, thrusting his hips up again, trying to take his fingers deeper.

“I got you, baby,” he murmurs, wrapping his other hand around his knot. Derek feels upside down and inside out, wholly unprepared for the shocks of glowing bliss that course through him when Stiles touches his knot, those fingers long enough to wrap almost all the way around it, holding on tight. “Goddamn, Derek,” he breathes, moving his wrist in small little jerks, jacking his knot gently, licking his lips as more come spills onto his belly. He leans down then, licks a small drop of his mess from his abs before laving over the head of his cock, letting another spray spill on his tongue, which he spreads down his cock, licking down his shaft to his knot. With his hot, sticky tongue, Stiles licks and teases, wraps his lips, still pink and swollen from devouring his ass, as far around his knot as he can, suckling and humming, looking up to meet his eyes, smiling.

~*~

“You still with me, Wolfman?”

Stiles’ voice rouses him from his daze, a strange twilight sleep where he felt nothing but bone-deep contentment. He grunts a response, still too out of it to form words, but he does manage to open his eyes a little. He’s on his back, sprawled, Stiles pressed up to his side, head on his chest, skin tacky with dried come.

And not just his own, he realizes. “You came on me,” he mumbles dumbly, not meaning to say it aloud.

Stiles laughs, warm breath fluttering through his chest hair. “Well, you kinda fell into a sex coma and left me on my own, big guy, so…uh, sorry.”

Derek laughs too. “‘S’kay. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you,” he mumbles, a little disappointed. He would have loved to see Stiles stroke himself off and spill all over his knot. Soon, he thinks, smiling sleepily.

He tugs him closer, thumbing over the gentle ridges of his ribs, and soon they both fall asleep, limbs tangled, curled up against each other like they have been every night for the past week, resting so comfortably together they oversleep their alarms and almost miss their flight.

~*~

Derek pulls the rented SUV to a stop on the long driveway that leads to his parents’ house, his childhood home, their last chance to talk before the performance begins. Stiles took motion sickness meds on the plane and slept, drooling on Derek’s shoulder the entire flight from Seattle to San Francisco, and has been fidgeting and playing with the stereo, reminding Derek of the details of their story the entire three hour drive to Beacon Hills.

He fell silent as they drove through town to get to the preserve that his family owns, eyes growing wider as they passed through the security gate at the bottom of the driveway, craning his neck to as the house started to come into view.

Derek takes off his seatbelt and turns to face him, taking his hand. “This is going to work,” he reassures him. “And no matter what happens, Stiles, I want you to know that I’m grateful. Grateful that you’re doing this for me. Thank you.”

Stiles looks at him for a long moment, one eye narrow, like he’s trying to decipher something, but then breaks into a smile, a little nervous and tense still, but that’s to be expected, even if this were real. “Come on, Sourwolf. Let’s go keep you single.”

~*~

His family adores Stiles. It’s a wild crush of hugs and kisses and god, pinched cheeks from Laura and Cora, for him and Stiles. Derek can’t be nervous, about their lie or about how his obvious affection for Stiles renders it moot from his perspective, because as soon as they walk in the big double front doors he’s embraced by the smell of his pack, the smell of home, and it feels right that Stiles is there too, and he relaxes immediately.

Stiles seems a little overwhelmed, but he accepts everyone’s attention with grace and friendly smiles, even his weird uncle Peter, Cora and her soon-to-be-mate Erica’s aggressively assessing stares, and Tyler and Dylan’s wide-eyed interest. Laura darts a knowing glance Derek’s way when he first introduces her to him, but otherwise seems just as convinced as everyone else.

His mom hugs Derek so tightly she probably would have cracked a couple ribs if he were human, scenting him deeply. “It’s good to have you home, pup,” she whispers. She takes a long, careful look at him, one that makes him feel like a kid again. Eventually, she crooks up an eyebrow, wrinkling her nose. “And with a friend.”

Derek smiles. “Mom, this is Stiles. My boyfriend.”

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Senator Hale.” Stiles offers his hand, but his mom just laughs and pulls him into a hug.

“Call me Talia, Stiles. Welcome to our home.”

~*~

“So far, so good, right?” Stiles asks when Derek closes the door to their soundproof bedroom, Derek’s childhood room that was long ago converted into a guest room. “Also, wow, your house is incredible. Like, holy crap what was it like growing up in Wayne Manor, master Bruce? And your parents really go big with the Christmas decorations, holy shit. I think that tree is bigger than the house I grew up in. I can’t believe your mom made me a stocking, dude. That’s so freakin sweet.”

Derek carries their bags to the dresser, unable to stop smiling in response to Stiles’ eager, earnest chatter.

“So far, so good,” he answers.

~*~

Over dinner, his dad’s famous lasagna, Derek listens, entranced as the rest of his family, as Stiles tells the story of how they met. He knows the details, of course, they had decided on them together, but he’s never heard Stiles actually tell it, narrate their fake love story like the gifted storyteller he is, all clever charm and endearing sarcasm, long fingers wrapped elegantly around one of the wine goblets engraved with the Hale triskele that his great-great-grandmother brought to the states from Scotland.

He’s enchanting, and Derek is enchanted.

They hadn’t planned an elaborate story, didn’t see any need for the lie to get bigger than it already is, and it really isn’t really all that interesting. Stiles, working at the university library, flirting with Derek every time he came in to get books for his dissertation, slowly chipping away at his icy exterior with innuendo and increasingly terrible book puns until Derek relented and agreed to go on a date with him. The way Stiles tells it, even Derek starts to believe.

“And why did you finally say yes, Derbear?” Cora asks with a smirk. “Since you’re famous for turning everyone down?”

“Yes, Derbear,” Peter coos. “What was it about young Stiles here that changed your mind?”

Stiles freezes, fork falling to his plate with a clatter. They had talked about this, had planned for this question, so he’s not quite sure why Stiles seems so stunned, unable to answer.

Well, they had tried to talk about his, Derek remembers belatedly, gulping at his wine. So why did fake you finally say yes to fake me? Stiles had looked at him over his glasses, tapping his pen against his lip, very distracting. Since you refuse all comers – he had waggled his eyes suggestively, the devious little shit – what was it about fake me that made fake you say yes?

Derek had glared at him. Your story makes me sound like an asshole. Stiles had bopped him on the nose with his pen. Well yeah, Sourwolf. We need it to be believable. Derek had snarled playfully and tackled him to the couch, kissing his mouth red before making him come twice.

“Sourwolf,” he interjects, rescuing Stiles. “He called me Sourwolf, and I thought it was funny. It reminded me of something Laura would call me.”

Laura laughs, and so does everyone else, even Stiles, who looks over at him in grateful surprise. “That’s a good one, Stiles,” she smirks. “My personal favorite is Glarek, though.”

Stiles does his whole body laugh thing, graceless yet somehow elegant, eyes sparkling. “Oh man, that is good. How did I not think of that one?”

Derek glares at everyone, and they all laugh more, especially Stiles.

So far, so good.

~*~

Laura corners him in the kitchen when they’re getting dessert, knowing the din of conversation in the dining room and the music from the stereo in the living room will cover their whispered voices.

“Dude, he’s awesome! And hot,” she practically squeals, yanking the cork out of a wine bottle with her claws.

Derek grins and opens the bottle he’s holding, with a corkscrew, because even though they were both raised by wolves, Laura’s always been the one who likes to make it literal. “You’re too old to say dude.”

“Oh, you want to talk about things we’re too old to be doing?” She flings the cork at him, snorting when it bounces off his forehead and lands in the sink.

“I can’t believe you have children.”

“I can’t believe you’re not dating that boy for real, because he’s perfect.”

“It’s complicated, Lo.” He takes a long swig straight from the bottle.

“Do not let mom see you gulping her three-hundred dollar a bottle of wolfsbane pinot noir like that. And how complicated are we talking? I mean, you’re fucking him – you two reek of each other, by the way, well done on that count – so I can imagine that makes this whole thing a little weird for you.”

Derek stills and stares down at the cake he’s cutting, frowning. “I’m in love with him,” he says quietly.

The bottle crashes to the stone floor with a loud shatter that’s no match for Laura’s excited whoop, and Derek barely has time to drop the knife in his hand before she pounces on him, jumping on his back and wrapping her obscenely strong arms around his neck, clobbering him like she hasn't since they were teen wolves.

“Laura, come on,” he whines, sounding very much like a teenager again.

“Derek,” she hisses. “This is huge. And totally my doing, you know.”

“That is debatable. And you need to keep your mouth shut because I have no idea how he feels and we just need to get through this trip, and then we’ll figure things out, okay? Please don’t say anything to him.”

Laura jumps off his back, but not before snarling a playful bite into the back of his neck, shoes crackling in the glass and splashing in the huge puddle of expensive red wine that’s also all over Derek’s pants. “You got it, baby bro.”

“What in the hell is going on in here, you two?” Their mom stands in the kitchen door, along with Cora and Stiles, and then the twins, who come crashing through their legs, Stiles grabbing them by the collars and hold them back just before they race on bare feet over to the shattered glass.

“Laura started it,” Derek says, practically a reflex, unable to stop his smile, especially when Stiles starts giggling.

~*~

It’s late, past midnight, when they finally fall into bed, more than a little drunk from all the wine that didn’t get destroyed in Laura’s enthusiasm.

“Erica is ruthless,” Stiles slurs, crawling under the sheets. “No one, werewolf or human, should threaten to rip someone’s throat out over Trivial Pursuit.”

Derek laughs into a pillow. “That’s why she and Cora are perfect together. Equally terrifying.” They’ve slept next to each all week but always after collapsing together in exhaustion after sex; they’ve never done this before, gone to bed together in flannel pajama pants like a real couple, turning out the bedside lamps and talking about their day. Derek wants to pull him close, wants sleep tangled up in each other like they have been for the last week, but isn’t sure what Stiles will make of that, hyperaware now of his every move, every gesture, worried that he’ll reveal his true feelings too soon.

Seemingly lacking such concerns, Stiles presses right up against him, bare chest wine-warm against his side, fingers curling idly in his chest hair. “I’m relieved,” he says quietly. “I mean, I wasn’t that nervous, you know. I was confident this would work, but still. I’m relieved. It is working, right?”

Derek thinks of his mom’s careful eyes and nose and her pleased little smile every time she looked their way tonight, the way his dad’s eyes twinkled with happiness whenever Stiles made Derek laugh. Even Cora, suspicious of everyone ever all the time, teased Stiles relentlessly about the uselessness of an MFA, which is basically a ‘welcome to the pack’ from her. “Yeah, it’s working.”

Stiles arches up to kiss him, gentle and sweet, the inside of his lips and his tongue dark with wine. “Told ya it would.”

“Don’t get cocky, babe,” he mumbles, slapping him playfully on the ass. “We still have nine days left.”

“Babe?” He laughs, crooking up an eyebrow.

“I can’t try nicknames too?”

“Surely you can be more creative than that.”

“You’re the creative writer.”

“You’re the PhD. Also, I can’t come up with my own nickname, that’s not how it works.”

“You came up with Stiles, Szczesny.” Derek smiles into his cheek, proud of his drunken Polish pronunciation, especially since he had to have Stiles say it and spell it at least half a dozen times when he first told him his real name.

“That’s different, I was five, and my parents were evil for naming me that. That was an act of self-mercy. I can’t make up my own petname.”

“Well then you’re going to have to settle for babe for now, because this uncreative PhD drank too much wolfsbane wine.” Derek rolls towards him, eyes heavy but fighting to keep them open, wanting to remember how the familiar moonlight of his childhood room looks falling across Stiles’ face.

“Oooh, Drunkwolf is Sleepywolf.”

“It’s not that creative if you just put different adjectives in front of the word wolf, you know.”

Stiles clumsily pets his hair. “Go to sleep, Winewolf.”

~*~

In the morning, Derek wakes up later than usual, head a little thick with residual wine, empty bed still holding Stiles’ shape and warmth. He slides over a bit, wrapping his arms around Stiles’ pillow, breathing in his lingering, sleepy scent, sighing, before finally rolling out of bed and pulling on a shirt to head downstairs.

Stiles is seated at the island in the kitchen in pajamas and one of Derek’s Henleys, next to his mother, showing her pictures on Derek’s ipad, while his dad makes waffles and bacon. Derek grunts a hello and makes a beeline for the coffee maker, pausing briefly to run his hand over Stiles’ neck, a gesture his mother surely doesn’t miss, but it’s instinct that makes him do it, not her watchful eye.

“Morning, pup,” his dad says, smacking his hand with the tongs when he tries to steal a piece of bacon. “You should rescue Stiles from your mother. I think she might want to keep him for herself.”

“Oh, I love this one,” Stiles laughs, angling the ipad closer to Talia. “This nerd was so excited to sit on the Iron Throne.” Derek refills Stiles’ and his mom’s mugs and sips his own coffee, looking over their shoulders. The photo is from their fake date to the EMP and pop culture museum to see the new Game of Thrones exhibit, and yeah, Derek had been pretty damn excited to sit on the throne of the Seven Kingdoms, okay? “Oh, and this one, too.” He swipes to the next photo, of the two of them on the throne together, Stiles half on Derek’s lap, both of them grinning towards the camera. “I think the lady we asked to take our picture was in love with Derek. She took like, a thousand pictures of him.”

“Of us. And I still say it was you she liked.”

“Yeah that’s why I look like blurry and weird in all of these pictures and you look like King Derek of Westeros.”

Cora shuffles in, Erica close behind her, both of them wild-haired and smelling of sex. “Get used to it, Stiles. This fucker is the most photogenic jerk on the planet. No one looks good in pictures next to him.”

Derek rolls his eyes at her and gets rewarded with a solid fist to the shoulder. “I think you look great,” he tells him, reaching over to swipe to the next photo, one of just Stiles, straddling a life-size direwolf statue. “See? King Stiles of the Direwolves.”

~*~

The whole family goes ice skating at the town square and Derek can’t help but hide his surprise at how athletic Stiles is, even when he’s losing his balance, which he manages to recover almost every time.

“Hey, I played three years of varsity lacrosse in high school,” he says haughtily, when Derek remarks on his skill.

“You did?” Derek asks, incredulous, letting Dylan pull him along the ice.

“You didn’t know that?” Cora asks, sidling up next to Derek, effortlessly skating backwards. “I know you’re new to this whole boyfriend thing, Derbear, but you’re supposed to remember the shit he tells you on the first date, no matter how boring it is.” She winks at Stiles and zooms off, racing to scoop up Tyler in a rush of giggles.

Derek and Stiles share a look over Dylan’s head, who’s now holding both of their hands, skating between them. He feels foolish, making such a stupid mistake, but Stiles just smiles and winks at him before losing his balance again, flailing wildly and landing hard on his butt. Trying not to laugh, Derek skids to a stop and offers him a hand, pulling him back on his feet as Dylan skates off to catch up to his brother and aunt. “Three years of varsity lacrosse, huh?”

Stiles, shrugs, lip curled up in an adorably cute grimace as he rubs his tailbone. “Rode the bench, mostly.” He slides closer and wrapping his arms around his waist.

“That was a dumb mistake,” Derek whispers into his hair.

“No worries, big guy.” He glances over to where Cora is now skating hand-in-hand with Erica, not far from where his parents and Laura, who aren’t skating, are gathered drinking hot cocoa and taking photos. “But, just in case….” He pulls him into a deep kiss, hands cold on the back of his neck, smiling against his mouth when he pulls back finally. “Crisis averted,” he declares with another wink.

~*~

The days go by like that: shopping, going to movies, a day trip to the coast, taking the kids to see Santa, going to the Nutcracker. Derek and his dad make huge meals and dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies like they do every year. His mom takes to Stiles like Derek has never seen before, her usual reserved distance for new people inexplicably gone.

Actually not that inexplicable, he thinks, watching them help the twins with a puzzle, Stiles just as comfortable talking superheroes with eight-year olds as he is talking werewolf history and law with a senior LC senator. Derek watches them from the couch over his book, mind wandering, imagining what it might be like to have a family with Stiles, to watch him with their own kids, kids that he’s never wanted until this moment, watching Stiles throw his head back in laughter at something a giggling Tyler whispers in his ear.

They could adopt a werepup, and maybe Cora or Laura could donate an egg for Stiles to fertilize, and they could have a biological child too, who would definitely be a werewolf in that case. Maybe Lydia or Allison could be the surrogate, he muses, and if Derek hadn’t already known he was head over heels for the guy, his fantasy of asking every woman in his life to help him have a kid with a man pretending to be his boyfriend would have done it.

“You okay, kid?” His dad’s voice startles him from the daydream.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, fine.” He smiles shyly, finally tearing his eyes away from Stiles and meeting his dad’s knowing glance.

He claps him on the shoulder, grinning. “We’re so happy for you, pup.”

~*~

Late on Christmas Eve, Derek steps out of the en suite, naked and still slightly damp from the shower, cock standing firm from readying himself. He towels his shaggy hair and stands at the foot of the bed, waiting for Stiles to look up from his phone, which takes hardly any time at all.

“Goddamn,” he whispers low, letting his phone fall to the floor, and it makes Derek warm with pride, the way Stiles wants him, the way his eyes go wide in delight, smile wide and hungry. “Merry Christmas to Stiles,” he sings, settling back onto the pillows, clasping his hands behind his head. “I must have been a very good boy this year.”

“Actually,” Derek smiles, crawling up the bed between his legs, licking at the inside of his slender thighs, biting at the hem of his snug red boxer briefs. “I was hoping you would give me a present.”

~*~

“This okay,” he whispers, straddling Stiles’ narrow hips, looking down in awe at his flushed cheeks, the plump pillow of his lower lip, trembling slightly when Derek slides his ass over the head of his cock, slick with lube.

“Yeah, this is good, Der, fucking perfect.”

He leans down to kiss him, licking eagerly into his mouth that tastes like the milk and cookies the twins left out for Santa. Derek’s glad he fingered himself wet and open after his shower, wants this so badly he didn’t have the patience to draw it out. The look on Stiles’ face, the sizzling spike of sweet lust that bloomed from him, the ratcheting up of his heart, when he trailed his long fingers into his cleft, teasing at the soft downy hair there, soft yip of surprise to feel that he was ready – all that was just a beautiful surprise.

Derek’s own heart is racing, cock leaking onto the soft trail of dark hair under Stiles’ navel. He’s never done this before, has always been satisfied with his fingers, has never wanted to give himself over to anyone like this. Until now, until Stiles. It hardly hurts, his body opening easily for him, sizzling jolts of heat buzzing low in his belly as sinks slowly down, trying to savor every inch, panting hard and loud when he’s taken him in all the way, their eyes never leaving each other.

Stiles’ chest is rising and falling hard, hands gripped tight on Derek’s hips, like’s he holding on for dear life. “Wow,” he huffs, eyes still wide. He gives an experimental roll of his hips, sparking a fresh wave of heat that makes Derek drop down to kiss him, pressing their chests together and rolling his own hips, setting a steady, even rhythm, drinking up the deep groan that rumbles from Stiles’ throat.

Stiles tangles a hand in his hair, the other on his ass, holds him close as they move together, faster. “Don’t think I’m gonna last very long,” he mumbles into his neck. “You feel so good, Derek.”

Derek can’t speak, is too overwhelmed with the blistering heat building through him, urgent and fast, body coiling and tensing, with this new sensation of being full, full of Stiles, stretched tight around his gorgeous cock, stroking inside of him long and deep as he rides him. They’re both loud when they come, Derek first, his bouncing, untouched cock spilling all over Stiles’ chest, clenching tight around him, spurting more onto his stomach when Stiles ruts up hard, coming inside of him with hungry little thrusts.

Derek goes limp on top of him, trembling, gasping, overwhelmed and overcome, but it’s okay, because Stiles is there, holding him tight.

~*~

On Christmas morning, sitting around the twelve-foot tree in a pile of unwrapped presents and torn giftwrap, sipping coffee, Stiles and Derek exchange gifts like they had discussed. Last week, Derek had awkwardly explained how Christmas morning gifts were a big deal in his family, that they would think it very odd if they didn’t have gifts for each other. He had offered to buy something for himself for Stiles to give to him, or at the very least give Stiles money to buy something, as part of their all-expenses paid agreement. But Stiles had refused both offers, insisted that he didn’t mind, that he had it covered, and Derek had left it at that.

“You first,” Stiles says with a grin, handing him a thin, rectangular box wrapped in simple red and green striped paper and tied with the gold tinsel from the basket of cold care items Derek gave him. Derek grins and pulls it free, draping it over Stiles’ neck and unwrapping the box. Everyone’s watching him, except the boys, who are knee-deep in the Lego sets Derek gave them, and he tries not to let his nerves show.

The book’s cover is a little worn, slight foxing at the edges, like it’s been well-read and well-loved. The image on the cover is stunning, a faded orange-yellow sunset backdrop highlighting a hand-drawn anatomical heart, shadowed and shaded in reds and blacks, and underneath that, the title, El amor en los tiempos de cólera. Love in the Time of Cholera, Derek’s favorite novel and the reason he studies Latin American literature, which he told Stiles on their first fake date.

“It’s a first edition,” Stiles says, a little nervously. “In Spanish, obviously. And check it out - ” he reaches over to open the cover to the title page – “signed.” There, in loopy handwriting, the handwriting of his literary idol, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, is a silly drawing of a flower and his signature.

“Stiles…this is incredible.” Derek is awed, speechless, so deeply touched by his extraordinarily thoughtful gift he can’t meet anyone’s eyes, lest he give himself away.

“You like it?” Stiles sounds hopeful and sweet, and Derek wants to fall to his knees and propose to him right then and there.

“I love it. Thank you,” he pulls him into a side hug and kisses his temple.

“Okay, Stiles’ turn!” Laura announces, handing him the first of Derek’s two gifts for him, a wrapped package not much bigger than the box Derek’s was in. “Looks like you two nerds both got each other books,” she remarks, cuffing Derek lightly on the head, her way of letting him know she gets what he’s feeling right now.

Stiles opens his gift quickly, eagerly like the boys had, excited. “Derek, this is beautiful,” he coos when he sees the leather-bound writing notebook, S. Stilinski, his pen name, stamped into the cover, picking it up to smell the leather and flip through the blank pages. “I love it,” he declares, smile big and sweet.

“There’s another,” he tells him, nerves rising still, not sure how he’ll respond to his other gift. Derek stands and walks around to the back of the huge tree, where he hid the other gift last night after Stiles had gone to bed. It was too big and awkwardly shaped to wrap, but Laura made a big bow for it, which Derek straightens before bringing the guitar case out, presenting it to Stiles with a tentative smile. Derek bought it at Emerald City Guitar, Seattle’s best and most famous guitar store, and had it express shipped to Laura’s house, a gorgeous, top-of-the-line Taylor acoustic in a blue velvet lined case. “I know you haven’t played in a while,” Derek tells him quietly, remembering the gentle sadness in Stiles’ eyes on that first fake date when he told him about how his mother was teaching him to play until she got too sick. “But you sing so well, I thought maybe you’d want to pick it back up.”

The room is quiet with the exception of the twins’ laughter, the eyes of his family all watching them as Stiles eyes start to fill and shine with tears, snapping open the case and gingerly lifts the guitar, pristine and glowing, his big, strong hands cradling it like it’s precious. “Derek, this…wow.” He sniffs and wipes away a tear with the back of his hand and looks down, cheeks reddening. “Thank you.”

“You like it?”

“I love it.” He looks up at him, big brown eyes wondrous and awed, and Derek is riveted there, still standing in the middle of the room, falling even more in love with him, everything around them fading from his awareness, conscious only of those eyes and that mouth and those hands, and that sweet smell of happiness that he’s come to crave more than anything.

“Well, that’s enough nauseating romance for me,” Peter says, breaking the spell, standing. “Who wants breakfast?"

~*~

It’s perfect. Stiles is perfect. His family loves him. Derek loves him more with each moment. This mess of a situation is somehow working, and as much as Derek is enjoying spending time with his family, he’s dying to get home and end this charade so he can finally stop lying about his feelings, to try and be with him for real, exhilarating and terrifying, but something he wants more than anything.

He’s pretty sure that Stiles might have feelings for him too, after how easily they’ve been able to convince his family, and that gift, everything he’s done for him, the way he looks at them when they have sex – Derek knows Stiles is committed to this plan and that he’s good at convincing werewolves, but he can’t be that good, that committed, can he?

Derek should know better than to get his hopes up, knows it’s too good to be true, way more than he deserves, Stiles’ sincere affection. But still, he hopes.

The day after Christmas, their last full day in Beacon Hills, everyone is lazing around the house in pajamas, watching movies and playing with their various new gifts, eating leftovers and watching movies.

In the early afternoon, Derek leaves his new Kindle on the couch and heads to the kitchen in search of beer and Stiles, who he finds at the island counter, flanked on each side by Tyler and Dylan – the miniDereks, Stiles has taken to calling them, who are standing on their knees on stools so they can reach, Stiles helping them make something in a big metal mixing bowl.

“Uncle Derek!” Dylan yells excitedly. “Uncle Stiles is teaching us to make chocolate rice krispie treats like his mom used to make!”

Derek, reaching to grab a chunk of the gooey, marshmallowy mess in the bowl, freezes, hand hanging mid-air.

“Uncle Stiles?” he asks, eyes flitting up to Stiles’, who’s looking down, intently focused on helping Tyler stir.

“Yeah,” Dylan answers. “Like auntie Erica is our auntie too because she’s auntie Cora’s mate.”

“Mate,” Derek chokes out, this time looking down himself, too stunned to meet Stiles’ eyes now, hoping that the boys don’t say anything about how hard and fast his heart is beating.

“Yeah,” Dylan chirps, looking up from the bowl, a streak of chocolate across his round cheek. “Uncle Stiles smells like your mate. He is, isn’t he?”

Derek is stunned, paralyzed, unable to speak because if he does he knows he’ll say yes, and god, he can’t do that. He can’t just declare Stiles his mate, not like this, not without asking him first, and definitely not now, not when things between them are so uncertain, so riddled with lies and half-truths. The boys don’t know, of course, how mating and oath taking works, they only know instinct, what their senses tell them, and Derek latches on to the hope that that gives him, still standing there, mouth open, speechless, not knowing what to say.

“Nope, kiddo,” Stiles chimes in, smiling at Dylan, not meeting Derek’s eyes. “Just boyfriends. Now, hand me that pan over there and then you two monsters can lick the bowl.”

~*~

He’s a wolf, and he’s running. Four legs, thick black coat, sinewy muscles slightly sore from underuse, not too many places to shift fully in the city, Derek races through the preserve, his home, trying to free his mind of the turmoil roiling in his heart, which can’t be fully ignored, even in this primal state.

“That was a close one,” Stiles said, after the boys ran off when they had finished making Claudia Stilinski’s famous salted chocolate rice krispie treats. He was at the sink, rinsing the dishes and putting them in the dishwasher, the line of his shoulders straight and tense, belying the lighthearted humor in his voice. “That would have been a complication we really don’t need, huh?” Reeling, Derek had made a noise of agreement and said something about needing to go for a run, disappearing out the back door as soon as he could.

Stiles had said the right thing – the last thing they need right now is for the twins to tell everyone that Stiles said they’re mates. There’s no coming back from that, and Derek can’t risk his family thinking it’s true before he’s had a chance to talk to Stiles about it.

Derek knows this, he does. But even so, every thing in him was screaming to say yes, was screaming for Stiles to say yes. But he didn’t.

So he runs, long, hard strides, focusing on the smell of the cool air and the pine trees and the rich earth that has belonged to his pack for generations, running until he’s panting, nearly exhausted, before turning back and loping towards the house after finally feeling somewhat settled.

He shouldn’t be surprised to see his mother on the back deck with a mug of cider and a bottle of water, waiting for him next to the pile of his discarded clothes, which she’s folded and set on the deck railing for him. Derek’s tempted to stay shifted and lay at her feet, take his comfort that way, but he knows that look, knows that she’s got something to say and more than canine responses are expected.

He yips an acknowledgement and shifts back, pulling on his sweats and t-shirt before joining her on the deck, human feet slow and heavy on the deck steps.

“What’s wrong, pup?” She asks handing him the water, which he accepts gratefully. “You smelled upset when you left, and poor Stiles seems confused.”

Derek falls to the chair next to her, sighing, and for a moment he considers telling her everything, wants to confess his lies and his stupidity and let her make all of his worries go away the way she did when he was a kid, when all it took was a hug and a few words of wisdom to make whatever was troubling him better.

But that won’t work this time, and he knows he won’t be able to bear the look of disappointment in her eyes if she finds out the truth. So he settles for the only truth that matters. “I want to ask Stiles to be my mate,” he answers finally, not looking up from his hands.

Even in the dark, her smile is so bright it almost hurts his eyes. “Derek, that’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you. It’s understandable that you’re anxious about it, sweetie. It’s a big decision.”

“I’m worried that he’ll say no.” His voice is small, so small, and of course she hears how scared he is.

She reaches for his hand and squeezes his fingers tightly. “Why are you worried, sweetheart? Does this have something to do with the rough spot you two had that Laura mentioned?”

Derek is confused for a moment, but then remembers what Laura had told him on Thanksgiving, only a month ago, even though it feels like so much more time has passed, wrapped up as he’s been in his delusion.

So I’ll just tell her that we broke up. I’ll have imaginary heartbreak for my imaginary boyfriend.

I thought of that, actually mentioned that you guys were going through a rough spot, that maybe you wouldn’t want to introduce him to the family quite yet.

“Yeah,” he stutters. “I…I love him so much, mom. But I’m not good at this. At relationships, at trusting people, at telling people how I feel. At having feelings. I think I’ve messed everything up.” Silently, he adds all of the things he can’t tell her. Because he’s a one-night stand that I wanted to pay to be here. Because I’m probably confusing sex with love again. Because he doesn’t want me the way I want him. Because this is all a lie.

“Derek, sweetie, that boy looks at you like you hung the moon, and he’s not even a werewolf.”

“Really? You think so?”

She nods, smiling. “Agreeing to be a wolf’s mate is a big decision, just as big of a decision as asking. You won’t know for sure until you talk to him, but honey, Stiles adores you. Anyone can see that, and any wolf can smell it. Did you know Dylan asked your dad if he was your mate?”

He laughs mirthlessly. “That little shit.”

“He’s just like you. Before you got all grown up and serious.”

“Poor kid.”

“Shush, you martyr.” She pulls him to her then, letting him rest his head on her shoulder, instantly reassured by his mother’s scent, his alpha’s touch. “There’s no one right way to be in a relationship, Derek. And you won’t know for sure what he wants until you tell him how you feel."

“Were you scared, when you asked dad?”

“Maybe a little, but more than anything, I was excited. He just felt…right, to my heart, to my wolf. Still does, and your father and I love each other more today than we did thirty-five years ago, back when his beard was as black as yours and my wolf eyes were blue, also just like yours.”

“Stiles feels right.”

“I know he does, pup. It’s all over your face too. You look at that boy like he’s the moon.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Only to your wise and incredibly insightful mother. And everyone else with eyes.”

Derek huffs, wondering if Stiles has noticed. “I’m sorry,” he says softly.

“Whatever for?”

He resists the urge to tell her, again selecting his truths carefully. “That’s it’s taken me this long. I know how badly you want me to be mated, how much it bothers you that I’m not.”

“Derek, I want you to be happy,” she admonishes him gently, as if he were still a child. “And yes, I know you can be happy on your own. But we’re pack animals, kiddo, and we mate for life. That’s instinct, and you can’t fight it forever. And I know you won’t be truly happy until you’ve found someone you can share your life and your pack with. That’s why I care so much, that’s why I want to see you mated.”

“Thanks, mom.”

“I love you, Derek. Now, go find that boy and explain why you ran away from him. I can smell him fretting about it from down here.”

~*~

Derek knows, of course, that he can’t risk telling Stiles the truth now, not when they’re still here. But he has every intention of finding him and kissing him senseless. He bounds up the stairs to their room, trying to come up with a plausible excuse for running off so abruptly, practically counting the minutes until they get home and he give up all of this exhausting deception.

Stiles is in the bathroom, door slightly ajar, voice echoing softly. Derek pauses just inside the bedroom, stilling, listening to his hushed phone conversation.

He’s speaking low, but Derek can still hear him perfectly well. “Scott, come on,” he says, sounding exasperated. “I am not going to get mated to Derek freakin’ Hale just because his goofy nephew can’t tell the difference between two people fucking and two people in love. His royal highness will remain perpetually single.” Derek can’t hear Scott’s response, just Stiles’ irritated reply. “No, I need this trip to be over so I can get home and just get on with my life.”

The same sickening rush of disappointment that he felt when Stiles said they weren’t mates hits him again, sharpened by the derision he thinks he hears in his voice now. Derek falls to the bed, his back to the narrow strip of light peeking out from the bathroom door, trying to steady his labored breathing, resolving to set his face into a steely mask. He wants to run again, to shift and never come back, run away from this pain, this embarrassment, this anguish, and fuck every stupid decision that led him to this moment, that led to him thinking he could find someone who could actually love him.

He doesn’t hear the rest of Stiles’ conversation with Scott, isn’t aware of much of anything other than his own breaking heart, has no idea how long he sits there with his eyes closed, focusing on his breathing, before Stiles’ hand on falls to his shoulder, gently, like a question. “Hey, Der, you okay?”

Derek finally opens his eyes to see Stiles looking down at him, unbearably beautiful. “Yeah,” he lies.

~*~

Somehow, Derek makes it through the night, after vaguely explaining his earlier behavior, nonsense about stress and wanting to get back to work, about being done with family time. Stiles looked like he didn’t really believe him but didn’t push the matter, and Derek is grateful. A glutton for punishment, or maybe he really just is incapable of not touching him, Derek ends their strained conversation by pushing Stiles to the bed and giving him a long, loving blowjob, keeping his eyes closed the whole time.

Only after Stiles comes and rolls them over to take Derek into his mouth does he open his eyes, just for a minute, to memorize this last time with him, even though it seems as if every touch since that very first night is emblazoned on his skin, carved into his bones. Those memories hurt now, but he knows he’ll cherish them someday, soon, when they’re all he has left of him.

He hardly sleeps, and it seems as if Stiles doesn’t either, but Derek doesn’t reach out for him like he would have before, turns his back to him, in fact, and for the first time, feels hesitation in Stiles’ touch when he moves closer to him, placing a hand on the tattoo on his back and leaving it there the whole night.

He thinks he manages to hide the fact that he’s falling apart from his family when they say goodbye, although Laura gives him a strange look and makes him promise to call her as soon as he gets home. Everyone is effusive in their goodbyes to Stiles, each hug and exclaimed declaration that they can’t wait to see him again ripping Derek to pieces, bit by bit.

They hardly speak on the drive to San Francisco, and then on their flight only when necessary, too-friendly and tense. Derek can smell Stiles’ anxiety creeping, feels stifled by it, by his apparent need to finally be rid of him and their lie.

Derek drives him to his apartment, the realization hitting him like a punch to the solar plexus that this will be the first night in over two weeks that they will spend apart. He helps him carry his things up, gently leaning the guitar case against a wall in his room, his nose assaulted with the scent of Scott, Stiles’ scent stale in his own home.

Stiles stands in the middle of his messy bedroom, looking everywhere but at him, rubbing a hand on the back of his neck, which Derek knows he does when he's uncomfortable. “So, uh, I don’t really know –”

“I should go. Thank you,” he says curtly, feeling so awkward and sad he could die. He’s got to get the hell out of there before he bursts into tears. “You were great, as promised. You really did fake boyfriend the hell out of me.”

~*~

“And what would you like in the memo field of the check, Mr. Hale? Excuse me, Mr. Hale?”

“What? I’m sorry, I missed that.”

The bank manager smiles gently at him like he’s fragile or something, which feels about right, given the dazed fog of misery he’s been floating in the week since he got back from Beacon Hills. “The memo field of the check, sir, for your records and for Mr. Stilinski’s. Goods purchased, services rendered…?”

“Yeah, whatever, that’s fine,” Derek mumbles, impatiently tapping the pen he gave him, just wanting to get the hell out of here. The manager – required for a withdrawal of this size – finishes typing away and prints the check, giving it to Derek to sign and then tucking it away in an envelope and sliding back it across the desk to him. Derek grabs it and shoves it in the inside pocket of his leather jacket, hurriedly like it’s made of pure wolfsbane, like it could hurt him.

~*~

Derek throws open the door to the bank and stumbles into the nearest bar, which, since his bank is in Cap Hill, is a gay bar next door. It’s nearly five pm on a Tuesday, and the place is near-empty, but they serve wolfsbane whiskey and that’s good enough for him.

After his third double, he slips the envelope from his pocket and pulls out the check, holding it by the edges, staring hard at the thick paper. Szczesny Stilinski, typed all nice and neat, perfect square edges, nothing at all like Stiles. And down to the right, his own aggressive, hurried scrawl, chaotic and wild. Their names next to each other like that look so incongruous, as nonsensical as Derek’s stupid plan and his even stupider heart.

It’s been seven days since he turned away from Stiles and walked out of his apartment, out of the lie that Derek had fooled himself into believing. Seven days of an absolute inability to get any work done, of not being able to do much beyond smoke way too much weed and stare morosely at the pictures of Stiles on his ipad, thinking of all the things he never got the chance to say to him.

Almost as bad as the pictures of Stiles are the ones of himself, his face so happy and carefree it’s like he’s looking at a different Derek. A stupider, but better, luckier Derek, a man almost unrecognizable to him now.

Christ, he even watched The Little Mermaid again. And bawled like a fucking werepup the entire goddamn time.

He decided an hour ago, in a fit of frustration after that undignified display, that he needed to unfuck this up. He needed to uncomplicate things the way they should have been since the beginning, when he wanted to pay Stiles for helping him. If he had just insisted on it, if he hadn’t let his unending attraction to him overpower his reason, it would have been a simple business arrangement and nothing more.

He wouldn’t have exposed himself to that most cruel emotion, hope. Wouldn’t have fallen victim again to the belief that a tender touch and passion actually means love.

“At least he didn’t try to kill your family,” he mutters to himself, laughing bitterly into his glass, gulping down the smoky liquor and signaling the bartender for another.

“This one’s on him,” the bartender announces, setting down another double, nodding towards a guy at the end of the bar, who’s watching him, smiling.

Derek looks up, quickly takes the guy in before looking back down. He’s cute, not nearly as handsome as Stiles, but cute enough that Derek probably would have bought him a drink if he noticed him first, once upon a time.

It would easy be, take no effort at all, to accept the drink now, let the guy come sit next to him, get himself invited back to his place, fuck him mindlessly and leave, forgetting him the second he was out the door.

That’s what he does, after all. Those are his rules.

But not with Stiles, who's been an exception since day one.

His mother’s voice echoes in his head. He just felt…right, to my heart, to my wolf. And then: Derek, sweetie, that boy looks at you like you hung the moon.

“Fooled me too, mom,” he says, tucking the check back into his pocket and standing, throwing a bunch of cash on the bar and leaving the offered drink untouched.

~*~

Too drunk to drive, he leaves his car parked at the bank and walks to Stiles’ apartment, hoping to god that he isn’t home – Derek won’t be able to withstand catching his scent – and Scott too, he thinks belatedly, who would certainly smell another wolf.

There’s silence on the other side of their door when he stumbles up to it, and he’s grateful for it, rests his bleary head against it for a moment. He comes to his senses soon enough, horror at imagining Stiles coming home to find him crying at his door like a stray dog he fed in a moment of tender-hearted weakness.

He slips the envelope under the door and turns on his heel, practically running out of the building, and for the sake of his heart, away from Stiles for good.

~*~

“Fuck,” Derek grunts, squinting at the clock on his nightstand. It’s two-fucking-thirty in the morning and someone is pounding on his front door and he’s ready to rip out some throats, head foggy from shitty whiskey and even shittier wolfsbane, not bothering to pull on his shirt, which he doesn’t remember taking off. He doesn’t remember anything after hailing a cab in front of Stiles’ apartment, but apparently he was at least able to give the driver his address.

He’s so out of it he doesn’t realize who’s on the other side of his door until his hand his on the lock, yanking it back like it’s made of mountain ash.

He stares dumbly at the door, suddenly very awake and very sober, heart racing. He wants to see him so badly, but he knows, he knows, that it will hurt.

“Goddamn it, Derek, open the fucking door. I can feel you glaring at me from out here.”

Despite it all, he laughs, although there’s no humor in it, and he opens the door.

Stiles shoves past him in a cloud of weed and anger and bitter sweat, like he maybe hasn’t showered in a couple of days either, waving a piece of paper that smells of ink and vaguely of whiskey. “What the fuck is this bullshit?” He marches into the living room, bright, angry eyes surely not missing its uncharacteristic disarray, the mess of blankets that still smell like Stiles, empty take out containers and an overflowing ashtray and the new stain on the hardwood floor where he spilled bong water. Twice.

His hair is a mess and his shirt is rumpled, his cheeks are red and there are dark circles under his eyes, and he’s still the most beautiful thing Derek’s ever seen.

Derek was right. It hurts.

“It’s a check,” he says through gritted teeth, swallowing hard, hackles raising at the way Stiles’ bright eyes flick over his bare chest and dart back up to look at his face, like he didn’t mean to.

“Yeah, I can fucking see that, asshole,” he spits out. “Are you serious with this? Twenty-five thousand dollars for services rendered,” he spits the words out like they taste bad to him. “Which services earned me such a high paycheck, huh, Derek? Letting you fuck me or me fucking you? Or could just anyone do that? Was it my ability to effortlessly charm the fuck out of your family that earned me such a generous chunk of your trust fund?”

Derek flinches at the harshness in his tone, the barely-contained anger he can practically see coiling off him in waves. “You helped me. It’s only fair that I compensate you for your time. That’s the arrangement I wanted to begin with.”

“Were you planning this the whole time? Evaluating my performance, trying to decide how much I was worth?”

“God, Stiles, no. I just…I just thought…” Stiles is looking at him expectantly, demanding, and how can he tell him? How can he tell him that this was his piss poor attempt pretend that this fake relationship wasn’t the best two weeks of his life? A fucking stupid, insulting attempt he realizes now, so blinded by his own anguish he didn’t even think about how Stiles might react. “I’m sorry,” he finishes lamely.

Stiles snorts and turns away from him, shaking his head, muttering under his breath. “You’re un-fucking-believable.” He looks down at the check in his hand, and spins around to face him again. “Shit, Derek, I could live off this for a year.”

“You could?” he asks, sounding incredulous.

Stiles rolls his eyes, some of the tension leaving his shoulders. “Well, not comfortably, you privileged fuck. But yeah, I could. But that’s not the point. The point is that this is a ridiculous amount of money and I don’t understand why you shoved it under my door and ran away. Yeah buddy, I’m on to you. Scotty smelled your big bad born wolf scent all over our doorway.”

“I’m sorry,” he repeats, sighing, wanting to step closer to him but reigning in the urge, his emotions hard enough to control as it is, doesn’t need to get any closer to his intoxicating scent that shouldn’t smell like home. “How much do you think is appropriate?”

“Dammit, Derek, I don’t want your fucking money! I want you!”

They both go still with shock, staring at each other, Derek not sure if he should believe what he heard, Stiles as if he can’t believe he said it. Finally, Stiles swallows hard and steps closer, crumpling up the check and dropping it to the floor. “I want you, Derek,” he says again, quieter but still firm. “I know you don’t want a relationship, and I know what we agreed to. And you don’t owe me anything because this is on me, I’m the one who developed feelings when I knew it was a lost cause. But I can’t take your money. Not when I want more than anything for what we had to have been real. Not when pretending that I’m not hopelessly in love with you has been the hardest lie.”

Stiles looks stricken, desperate, tears clinging to his long dark lashes. Derek closes the distance between them in two long strides, heart pounding so loud he’s sure Stiles can hear it, grabbing his shirt and pulling him into a brutal kiss, hungry and wild, trying to tell him everything he can’t seem to find the words for yet.

Stiles is stiff at first, as if he can’t believe it’s happening, but then he quickly relaxes, gasps into Derek’s mouth and deepens the kiss, hands coming up to cup his face, fingers eager in his beard, much too long these days, tonguing into his mouth like he’s been starving for his touch. Derek knows the feeling, the empty ache in his chest slowly burning away, filled by their kiss, by the feeling of Stiles’ wiry body against his again, by relief and cautious hope, pure, glowing joy.

He just felt…right, to my heart, to my wolf.

Derek breaks the kiss and leans his forehead against his, unable to completely blink away his own hot tears, watching one fall and leave a dark spot on Stiles’ shirt. “You’re beautiful,” he says, voice husky and raw. “I realized this past week that I’ve never told you that. I’ve thought it, constantly. Since the first night we met. You’re beautiful, and smart and sweet and talented, and you’re so sarcastic sometimes you can be a total asshole, and I love that about you. I love everything about you, Stiles. I love you.”

Stiles’ eyes are still shining with tears but the sadness is fading from his scent, and he’s smiling, tentative sure, but it’s there. “Do you mean it? I know you have your rules…”

You're the only exception, he almost tells him, but he stutters to a stop, realizing suddenly that that’s not right.

“You’re the reason for my rules,” he says instead.

Stiles is adorable when he’s confused, all narrowed eyes and furrowed brow. “Explain yourself, Sourwolf.”

“I’ve had these rules, for years, so I could be alone, to keep myself from having a relationship, and I thought you were the exception to all of them, but you’re not. I’m not making an exception for you.” Derek cradles his jaw in his hand, thumbing over his bottom lip, across the pattern of tender beauty marks that he memorized while watching him sleep, his unshaven cheek patchy with dark hair. He thumbs the impossibly delicate lobe of his ear, pressing gently at the tender spot just under the hinge of his jaw. “I’ve been waiting for you, Stiles. For my mate.”

~*~

two months later

On their sides, Derek holds him close, pressing his chest against his sweaty back, mouth never leaving his skin. He kisses softly at Stiles’ shoulder, holds him through his orgasm, thrusting into him one last time, burying his knot deep, drowning in his delicious, soul-shaking moans.

It’s indescribable, being in Stiles like this, tied together so intimately that every breath, every twitch, every shudder, is felt by them both. Derek runs his hand up and down Stiles’ side, soothing, fingers sparking with heat across his mate’s supple skin. “Comfortable?” He murmurs into the back of his neck, gently adjusting their hips, gasping when the movement pulls him tight against his rim, waves of blistering heat pulsing through them both.

“S’perfect,” Stiles mumbles, reaching back to pet Derek’s hair, which he still hasn’t cut. “You’re perfect.”

Derek licks at his neck, tonguing gently over the fresh brand, still slightly shimmering with the claiming magic, groaning with a deep, primal happiness to see his mark there. “Love you, babe.”

Stiles brings Derek’s hand to his smiling mouth, kissing his palm and biting playfully, growling. “Love you too, Matewolf.”