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Coast to Coast and Back Again

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Beacon Hills

“What do you mean, you’re leaving?”

Stiles Stilinski stands in the threshold of his bedroom and watches as his girlfriend – former girlfriend, apparently – Malia Tate finishes packing up her things.

All of her things. Everything that she ever brought with her when she moved into Stiles’ little house seven months ago. It’s apparently not a lot, seeing as it fits into two suitcases and a cardboard box. Stiles thinks that probably has some sort of meaning.

Malia sighs and shakes her hair back from her face. It’s a move that Stiles had adored up until this very moment, now it just looks…like she’s very, very bored.

“Stiles, how can you…” she trails off, like she’s searching for the words. “Tell me you didn’t think this was actually something that…that you thought was going to last?”

Stiles doesn’t say anything, just thinks about the hours of overtime he’s been doing at the school during the summer vacation, the ring he’d picked out at the jewelers in town.

Malia doesn’t laugh, not exactly, but there’s something in the sound she makes that Stiles doesn’t really like.

“Stiles, it’s…I like you, I do, but I didn’t think this was anything serious.”

“Malia, you don’t move in with someone you don’t think you’re in a serious relationship with! That is the exact opposite of what you do!”

Stiles really wishes he could just go back to before he opened the door and found his girlfriend in the process of leaving him. Or maybe he should be wishing he could go back to high school, before he even met her, save himself all of this heartache.

“I thought it was just more efficient!” Malia yells. “I was always here anyway, why should I pay full rent when I could just move in here and share with you?”

Stiles pinches the bridge of his nose. “Malia, you really should stop talking. You’re just making this worse.”

Malia just shrugs and hefts the suitcase off the bed. Stiles feels the urge to help her, but his feet remain glued to the floor.

“Where are you even going? You don’t have your apartment anymore.”

“My dad asked if I wanted to go stay with him for a while, do the bonding thing everyone seems so concerned about.” She makes a face, like she doesn’t understand.

“Your…Malia, you saw your dad yesterday.” Honestly, if Stiles were asked, he’d probably say that Malia and her father aren’t exactly the best of friends. The fact that she’s willingly moving in with him and out of Stiles’ life speaks volumes.

“Bio dad,” Malia says and oh, yeah, that was a thing a few years back, when Malia found out that she’d been adopted as a baby. Stiles hadn’t known that she’d been in contact with her biological father and the fact that she has been and that she’s apparently already organized staying with him means that she’s been planning this for a while. A long while.

Stiles feels sick.

“Get out,” he says, his voice hoarse and tight. He’s just about hanging on to his emotions and he refuses to break down in front of the girl who is currently breaking his heart.

“Stiles,” she says and he doesn’t look at her but he can hear sympathy in her voice and he just can’t. He cannot deal with this. At all.

“Don’t…just leave. If you’re leaving then you should just…you should just stop talking and do that.”

There’s a beat of silence and then Malia doesn’t say anything more. Stiles steps out of the door and into the hallway so that she can pass by as she gathers up her things. She has to make three trips and Stiles stares at the wall until he hears her gather up her purse. She pauses by the front door and Stiles holds his breath and squeezes his eyes closed and prays to whatever deity is out there that she doesn’t try to say something again.

But instead, there’s a jingle of keys as something is dropped into the bowl that sits on the table next to the door and Stiles knows what that sound is and his tears start falling even before she’s closed the door.

Stiles moves away from the wall and into his bedroom but he stops short when his eyes reach the bed. Their bed, his and Malia’s. The bed they’d made love in just this morning and Stiles really is going to be sick.

He’s scrolling through the contacts of his cellphone before he knows what he’s doing and when it’s answered, he almost sags in relief.

“I need to get drunk and I need to do it somewhere other than my house.”

“I’ll pick you up in fifteen.”

New York City

“Will you calm down?!”

Cora Hale snorts and waves her hands in the air. “No, Erica, I will not calm down. In fact, I’d very much like it if I could remain as un-calm as possible so that that…that…bitch can feel the full wrath of my anger when I go in there and smash her face in!”

Erica Reyes, Cora’s PA, winces, but Cora knows it’s more from the tone and volume rather than the fact that she disagrees with anything Cora is saying.

“Yes, but, Cora, it’s your word against hers and you know damn well that Kali has seniority here. She’s higher up than you are and she’s been here longer. Not many people are going to take your side on this.”

The memory of seeing Kali’s name attached to the presentation – the whole fucking idea – that Cora literally spent months developing, losing sleep and weight and her relationship with her boyfriend because he’d said she wasn’t spending enough time with him, makes Cora’s blood boil. She seethes with rage and sadness, because she knows that Erica is right. There’s nothing she can do. It doesn’t matter that she has edits from the early drafts of the art work, doesn’t matter that she has notes and memos and entries in her diary that date back eight months, because Kali will just claim that Cora was part of her team so of course she would have drafts and edits.

Cora feels sick.

“I need to get out of here,” she says, her voice hoarse. Of course she does, because it’s almost eight o’clock at night and Cora has been at the office since seven that morning preparing and freaking out over the whole presentation and she just needs to wallow for a while.

“You want me to tell-” Erica says but Cora cuts her off with a shake of her head.

“No, don’t tell anyone, I’m just gonna…go.”

She grabs her purse and heads for the door, heels clacking on the tile floor. She hails a cab to take her home, which is just stupid at eight o’clock at night in Manhattan but she just can’t face the subway. Can’t face the crush of bodies.

When Cora finally steps foot into her apartment, Laura’s sitting on the couch and there’s an open bottle of Jack Daniels on the coffee table. Cora knows that Erica probably called Laura, but she’s too happy to see her sister to care.

Laura pours two glasses as Cora strips off her shoes and shirt and even her pants, leaving her in her underwear and camisole, but she doesn’t care. She just wants to get rid of Cora Hale, Ad Exec for just a minute and just be Cora, baby of the Hale family, and let her big sister take care of her.

Laura hands her a glass and just settles back into the couch and looks at Cora expectantly.

“She took the credit. She took all the credit for the whole thing and she just sat there, smiling at me, like she had no idea what she’d done. Like she hadn’t just ruined my entire career.”

“Cor,” Laura shakes her head, “it doesn’t have to be like that. It’s one project.”

“One project that was going to make my whole career, Laura. One project that was going to get my name out there, that would have agencies and companies clamoring all over themselves to hire me. And now what? Now I’m just back where I started, lowest rung on the ladder. It’s going to take years for me to even get the chance for another shot like this.” Cora swallows her drink in one go, wincing at the burn. “God, and now I have to go back there and work with this…monster. I don’t think I have the stomach for this.”

“So don’t do it.”

Cora turns and stares at Laura with wide eyes. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Laura shifts closer to Cora. “Look, how much overtime have you built up over the last year or whatever? Surely you have some vacation time saved up, right? So why don’t you just…” she shrugs and waves her hands in the air. “…go away somewhere? Take some time for yourself and just chill out for a while.”

Cora rest her head against the back of the couch. “God, I don’t even remember the last time I went on vacation. I think it might have been that time in Vermont, you know…before?”

Laura’s eyes grow sad and Cora’s really glad that it’s just the two of them here right now.

Laura takes a deep breath and throws her shoulders back and gathers herself and Cora is suddenly reminded of why Laura was such an inspiration for her when she was growing up. Still is, really.

Laura grabs her iPad from the floor next to her feet and flicks it on scrolling to Google immediately.

“Alright, so, somewhere sunny, right? What about…Barbados? Or, ooh, St. Barts? That sounds pretty cool.”

Cora looks at the pumps she left lying on the floor, the pumps she hates putting on every day. She doesn’t like the person she’s become since taking this job, the persona she has to pull on every day to keep up with the people she works with. She just wants to be herself for once, literally let her hair down and run around in Chuck Taylors and graphic print t-shirts. St. Barts sounds like the kind of place she wouldn’t be allowed to be in if her bikini wasn’t made by Agent Provocateur.

“No,” she shakes her head, “nothing like that. Nowhere pretentious. Nowhere Kim and Kanye are going to rock up looking too perfect to be real. I want to be real. I want to be…normal.”

Laura hums under her breath and taps at the screen her eyes widening as she stumbles onto something. “Home exchange?”

Cora crowds up to her so that she can see the screen. “What? What’s that?”

“It’s this website where you sign up and swap houses and cars and…everything for, like, two weeks or however long you want.”

“That…that actually sounds pretty perfect.” Cora looks around her penthouse apartment, the spacious rooms and high end technology. Someone would probably really love spending a few weeks here.

“Okay, so where? Florida? Texas?”

Cora reaches over and taps the screen. “California.”

Laura wrinkles her nose. “You want to go to Hollywood?”

“No, not…nothing like that. Just…somewhere quiet but sunny. Calm.” Somewhere she can walk down the street without running the risk of being mown down by a cab or a bike messenger or sit on a bench in the park and read a book without being caught in the background of a thousand tourist photos. Somewhere…peaceful.

“Beacon Hills,” Laura says with a confused lilt, like she’s never heard of the place, which is fair, because Cora hasn’t either. “It was just posted. It looks…oh, it looks nice.”

She clicks the link and tilts the screen a little so that Cora can see the slightly blurred photo of a cute little bungalow with a cozy living room that looks well-used, if the various wine bottles next to the couch are any indication.

It’s a small town, according to the listing, just less than thirty thousand people and Cora hasn’t even contacted this person yet and she’s already imaging herself sitting outside a coffee shop and she wants it.

“Contact them,” she says quickly, “email them, just…do whatever you have to do to get that place.”

Laura grins.

Beacon Hills

Stiles wakes up slumped in an armchair, an empty bottle of red wine in one hand and a throbbing headache.

He groans as he forces himself up and takes a look around his living room in the dim light of early morning.

Scott and Kira are curled up in the other armchair, looking adorable and completely uncomfortable. Lydia is passed on her stomach on the couch, one arm hanging off the side, her fingers tangled with Parrish’s, whose lying on the floor next to her, and no, Stiles is never going to be able to refer to him as anything other than ‘Parrish’, no matter how long he and Lydia have been dating or the fact that they’re living together.

Lastly, there’s Isaac, who’s lying on his back on the coffee table Stiles’ laptop resting on his stomach.

It’s the laptop that does it and Stiles forces himself to take a look around again and he realizes with a start that he’s in his own living room.

The last thing he remember is Isaac – the first name he’d come to in his phonebook – coming to pick him up and taking him to Scott and Kira’s and Kira passing him a shot of something.

God, he really hopes they walked back here from Scott’s house because if his dad finds out that they drove drunk, they are all in for a world of hurt, Deputy Parrish or no Deputy Parrish.

Falling to his knees off the chair, Stiles crawls to the coffee table and wakes up the laptop. He frowns in confusion when he looks at the screen and the website that’s displayed there as well as the chat box that holds an entire conversation between Stiles and someone named ‘Cora’.

“Um…” he says eloquently because he’s not really sure what he should be saying. He doesn’t really understand what he apparently talked about last night with this girl he’s never met.

“You’re flight leaves at four,” Parrish mumbles from the floor. “All you have to do is pack. You have a while yet to freak out.” Lydia rolls off the couch and lands on top of him without waking up. Parrish just grunts.

“I’m going to New York?” Stiles mumbles at the screen. “Why would I go to New York?”

“Because,” Kira says, lifting her head from Scott’s chest, “it’s summer vacation and you’ve been working overtime like crazy. You have the cash and the vacation time for a few weeks in the Big Apple.”

She means the overtime he was working to saving up the money to buy the three thousand dollar engagement ring that he wanted to put on Malia’s finger at their anniversary party in two months’ time. It really hurts that he’s not going to get to do that now. He didn’t tell anyone about it, because he wanted it to be a surprise and now he’s really glad because those pitying looks he’s getting from his friends would be even worse.

And yes, he has three thousand dollars that’s lying in his bank account doing nothing now but he’s not really sure he wants to spend it on a trip to New York. Manhattan is a really expensive place, or so he’s heard. It’s not like he’s ever actually been there.

“Come on, Stiles,” Scott mumbles, “you just need to get away for a while. And something like this is perfect, you get to spend some time in an awesome city, staying in a really fucking fantastic apartment, and just…forget about Malia for a while. I don’t see the downside to this.”

“Yeah, but…” Stiles sighs. “It’s…it’s three weeks. I’ve never been away from my dad for that long, not since before…” Not since before his mother died. He doesn’t say the words, but he can tell just from the looks on their faces – even Parrish’s – that they understand.

“It’s not like you’re leaving him all alone,” Kira says softly. “We’ll all be here to look in on him, make sure he’s eating right, that he has clean underwear.” She snorts delicately, stifling a laugh behind her hand, but it’s not like what she’s saying isn’t true. When Stiles had moved away for college, moving out of his childhood home for the first time, he’d come home for Thanksgiving and found that his father had completely failed to figure out how to work the washing machine and was thus completely out of clean clothes and resorted to wearing some of Stiles’ that his son had left behind while taking his Sheriff’s uniform to be dry cleaned.

Stiles had had to persuade Scott and Kira – the only two of their little rag-tag band who had stayed in town after high school – to check in on the Sheriff every week and make sure he was okay.

It’s what had led to Kira joining the Sheriff’s Department as a deputy, something that Stiles has to admit that he never saw coming but something that works all the same.

After Scott and Stiles himself, Kira is probably closet to the Sheriff and Stiles knows that if she promises to check in on Stiles’ dad, she’ll go out of her way to do it.

And just like that, Stiles realizes he’s out of excuses.

It’s summer vacation, his classes with the summer school are voluntary and can probably be filled by just about anyone else, he has no other responsibilities than his dad and Stiles knows that Kira will stay true to her word and everywhere he looks in his damn house reminds him of Malia. The bathroom, the kitchen counter, the fucking front door. She was insatiable sometimes and Stiles had loved every second of it, thinking it proved just how perfect and well suited they were. And just look how wrong he was.

Part him wants to say ‘fuck it’ to the vacation and use the money he has saved up to redecorate, get a new bed, a new couch, something comfy and squishy and doesn’t have the scent of his ex-girlfriend embedded in it.

The thought, though, of getting out of this small town, even for just a few weeks, is much too appealing. Stiles isn’t cut out for living anywhere but his hometown – none of them are, really, even high-flying Lydia, who could have taken the math world by storm, could’ve become the youngest recipient of the Field’s Medal, instead coming home to teach at the high school her mom still taught at – but New York, the idea of being able to stand in the middle of Times Square, tip his head back, spread his arms as he closes his eyes and takes it all in. It makes Stiles breathless with possibilities.

“I, um…I need to take a shower. And clean the house.” He waves a hand at the wine bottles everywhere. “And groceries…I need groceries, because Malia was supposed to go shopping yesterday but I’m gonna guess that she didn’t do that.”

“You have no food,” Isaac grumbles from the coffee table, still apparently completely asleep.

“Lydia and I can go shopping while you shower,” Parrish says. “We can just get the basics and we can leave…leave this…” he furrows his brow. “I’ve forgotten her name.”

“Cora,” Scott tells him and Parrish nods.

“Yeah, Cora, we can leave her directions to the grocery store and the library and…other places in town. And phone numbers and things, in case she has any questions.”

“Cora Hale,” Stiles repeats, squinting at the screen of his laptop. “She sounds…fancy. Like someone who doesn’t even belong in Beacon Hills.” Even just the word ‘penthouse’ has Stiles looking around his little bungalow with trepidation. Someone who lives in a fucking penthouse couldn’t possibly be comfortable staying in his tiny little bungalow, could they?

“She picked you, Stiles,” Lydia points out, apparently awake now. “She chose to come here, even after seeing those crappy photos you posted to the site. She’s probably going through as rough a time as you are and just wants something quiet, instead of the rush of the city. This place is probably as perfect for her as NYC is for you.”

“Still,” Stiles mopes, “I just feel a little…embarrassed that this career-driven, professional woman is going to be staying in my little raggedy house.”

“Scott and I can tidy the place up,” Kira says decidedly. “Get rid of all the evidence that suggests you’re a raging alcoholic.”

Stiles points a finger at her. “I would be very much appreciative.”

He leaves his friends in the living room while he goes to shower as Scott pokes Isaac in the stomach in an attempt to wake him up and he has to smile to himself, feeling oddly touched. These people, these five people, just dropped everything they had planned for the previous night to come to Stiles and just…be with him just because he was feeling low, upset over his breakup, let him cry on their shoulders a little. Like the amazing people that they are.

And now they’re helping him get out of the weird situation he got himself into by shopping for him and cleaning his house while he stops himself from having a break down in the shower because he’s spotted Malia’s shampoo in the caddy.

Oh, God, that’s Malia’s shampoo next to his in the caddy and that towel is from the set she’d bought because she didn’t like the color of Stiles’ green ones and that’s a pair of her funky, multicolored socks lying on the floor next to the toilet and Malia’s stuff is still all over the place and Stiles is suddenly finding it hard to breathe.

He struggles to turn off the shower and hops out of the tub, grabbing one of his own towels and hurriedly securing it around his waist as he picks up everything in the bathroom that he can see that belongs to his ex-girlfriend.

Scott’s in his bedroom when he leaves the bathroom, a cloud of steam in his wake, and it looks like he’s packing. He stops, a pile of Stiles’ graphic t-shirts in his hand, and stares at Stiles.

“Are…are you okay?”

Stiles opens his mouth to answer, but then his eyes land on the photograph next to his bed, the one taken on their anniversary last year, the one above the bed is a print of a coyote that she bought at the craft fair three months ago. She picked the drapes and the bedspread and she’s just…

“She’s everywhere,” he says, his voice hoarse and hard. “She took all her clothes and things, yeah, but she left everything else. Everything she bought, everything she brought with her and I can’t…I need…”

Scott drops the t-shirts into the open suitcase that’s sitting on the bed and he takes the items that Stiles’ is still holding in his arms. “Alright, okay, we’ll get rid of it. We’ll get rid of everything. Replace it all, I promise.”

“Before she gets here,” Stiles insists. “Cora, I don’t want her to…she should be surrounded by my stuff, because she’s staying in my place, not…it’s not Malia’s house anymore and Cora shouldn’t have to put up with using a stranger’s stuff. I mean, I know I’m a stranger, but you know what I...what I’m talking about.”

Scott takes hold of Stiles’ still wet shoulders and guides him to the bed. Stiles goes willingly because he doesn’t know what else to do and just stares at Scott when his best friend kneels in front of him.

It would be an awkward situation if anyone were to walk in on them right now and Stiles can’t help but snort a laugh and Scott just rolls his eyes.

“You need to calm down,” Stiles’ friend says, brown eyes wide with concern. “Yes, Malia walked out on you, yes, it’s awful, but it is not the end of the world and you will get over this, alright? Panicking like this isn’t doing anyone any favors and letting this get the better of you is just not what you need right now.”

“I was gonna ask her to marry me, Scott,” Stiles mutters and Scott’s face grows sad and Stiles can’t deal with the pity, so he pushes himself away, doesn’t pay much attention as Scott rocks back on his heels, catching himself on his hands. Stiles just paces the room, drags his fingers through his wet hair.

“I was gonna propose, on our next anniversary, I was gonna ask her to marry me and the whole time she saw me as nothing more than…than a…than a place holder. Someone to pass the time with until she found something else, something better. What…what does that even say about me? That I couldn’t see this, that I didn’t see that she wasn’t on the same page as I was?”

“Nothing,” Scott says carefully. “This isn’t about you, Stiles, this is about her and how little she values herself and the people in her life that she can throw them away like this.”

“Everything reminds me of her.”

“And that’s why you need to get away for a while, why this thing you’re doing is perfect for you. When you get back, everything about Malia will be gone, even the scent of her perfume on the bed, because someone else is going to be sleeping there for a while and when you get back, it’ll be like a brand new slate, bright and clean and ready for you to just…start again.”

Stiles pauses and takes a deep breath, staring at Scott with narrowed eyes. “Damn, when did you get so wise and knowledge-full?”

Scott smirks. “Around the time you got drunk and signed up to let some stranger live in your house for three weeks.”

Stiles groans. “God, someone like her, she’s gonna hate this place.”

“That’s okay, because you never have to meet her and we’ll never have to see or talk to her again once those three weeks are up. This is a vacation, Stiles, not a marriage. It’s going to be okay. Now, come on, get dressed. I’ll take you to the airport, because you’ll need to leave your keys for Cora, and the rest of them are off making you look like an actual human being, so all you have to do is put some clothes on while I pack the rest of your stuff and then go sit on a plane for a few hours. You’ll be fine.”

Stiles can’t really do anything but nod his head dumbly because Scott is right. He will be fine, and he can’t really back out of this now anyway, because it’s not just his vacation on the line. There’s some woman somewhere in New York right now getting ready to come and spend a few weeks in sunny Beacon Hills and Stiles isn’t the kind of asshole who is going to ruin that for her just because he’s feeling a little sorry for himself.

New York City

Stiles stands in the middle of a bustling, heaving airport in New York and wonders just how bad of an idea this really was.

Beacon Hills – Almost

It’s not until Cora lands at some random airport in California – because Beacon Hills is a small-ish town and therefore does not have its own airport – it becomes painfully apparent just how far away she is from her intended destination.

This realization comes to her when she’s standing outside arguing with a taxi driver because he won’t take her to Beacon Hills.

“Seriously,” she whines. Yes, whines, she’s grown up enough to admit that, but she’s tired and sore and she’s pretty sure she’s jetlagged and a little bit hung over from the wine she and Laura drank the night before after they’d finished planning this whole thing. “I can pay you whatever you want, money is seriously no object.”

“Look, lady, money isn’t the issue here, alright?” the driver says, looking completely exasperated and Cora has to resist the urge to smack him, “but I am not driving you to a town that’s three counties away at three o’clock in the afternoon. I’d like to actually finish my shift and be home in time to read my kids a bedtime story, you know?”

And just like that, all the fight leaves Cora and she takes a look around, noticing all the people staring at her for the first time. God, the scene she must be making, the rich bitch from New York trying to bully the poor cab driver into taking her wherever the hell she wants to go, like he’s some kind of personal chauffeur. It’s humiliating is what it is and she ducks her head and mumbles out an apology as the driver gives her a wan smile.

“The bus station is just over there.” He points to a spot just over Cora’s left shoulder and she just grabs her bags and turns around, not even sparing anyone a second glance as she tries to run from the situation as fast as she possibly can.

Cora eyes the bus with trepidation and tries to remember the last time she was on a public bus. And then she feels like a completely and total airhead, because, really, who has thoughts like that? It’s not like their parents didn’t raise them right, to be thankful for what they had, to work hard and give back when they could. She can suck it up and sitting on a fucking bus for a couple hours. It’s not going to fucking kill her.

In the end, it’s almost six fucking hours on a packed, cramped bus and she’d finished all the books she’d brought in her hand luggage with her on the plane because all the movies sucked. But finally, she’s standing in Beacon Hills’ bus station and there’s a line of cabs right outside, it’s almost ten o’clock at night and all she wants to do is have a hot shower and crawl into some stranger’s bed and sleep for eighteen hours.

Except there’s a guy standing in the living room when Cora finally manages to find the key – under an honest to God garden gnome – and gets the door open. He’s holding two black and white photographs in his hand and staring at the wall like he’s contemplating the meaning of life. There’s an empty photo frame sitting on the coffee table behind him and Cora can figure out the situation, but she’s still having a hard time understanding it.

“Um, hi…?” she says, like it’s a question, like she’s the one intruding, even though this is her home for the next three weeks.

The guy startles and turns to her, his blue, wow, very blue, eyes wide with alarm.

“Oh, God, I am…I am so sorry. I just…I’m really not supposed to be here, right now. It’s just…you weren’t here and Stiles asked me to do something. For him. Before you got here. And I…I got caught up in doing…that and then I saw that you weren’t here yet so I thought I could finish up before you…”

The guy trails off and Cora has to laugh because his babbling is adorable and he blushes, ducking his head back down to look at the photographs in his hand.

“I’m sorry, I just wasn’t expecting anyone. It’s been sort of a long day, you just…startled me.”

“I’m…I’m almost done, if you wanna…wanna put your stuff away. It’ll only take a couple more minutes, I just have to…yeah.”

Cora nods, doesn’t say anything as she picks up her bags and carries them down the hall to what she guesses is the bedroom.

She leaves her suitcases and purse on the bed and explores a little, ducks her head into the bathroom and what appears to be an office pretending to be a guest room. She goes back to the bedroom and changes, taking off her capris and fitted shirt, replacing them with sweatpants and a tank top.

When Cora gets back to the living room, the frame has a photo in it and is up on the wall and the guy is shoving something into a box.

“So, do you have a name, or are just some mysterious picture hanger who saves the town from horrible home décor?”

The guy blushes again and Cora bites her lip to hold in a laugh.

“I’m Isaac. Lahey. I’m a friend of Stiles’. He just asked me to do some things for him before you got here, but I sort of flaked on it a little.”

“I’m Cora Hale, current resident of this cute little bungalow.”

Isaac laughs. “We gave him so much shit for moving in here, but this sweet old lady that he used to look out for left it to him when she passed and he kinda didn’t feel right renting it out to a stranger or something, but I actually kinda like it now.”

Cora gazes around, looking at the place anew and gleaning some insight into this Stiles person as she does it. The little chat box conversation didn’t really allow them much space or time to get to know each other.

Her eyes land on the box of stuff Isaac was shoving stuff into and peers into it, catching sight of a lot of feminine hygiene products, shampoo, clothes. There are a few pictures of a beautiful girl with a bright smile and Cora gets it before Isaac has to say anything.

“Bad break up?”

Isaac nods. “Pretty bad. He wanted everything that reminded him of her out of the apartment. That’s why I’m here, picking this stuff up and replacing the photographs.”

Cora looks at the photo on the wall above the couch, raking her eyes over the sharp angles and dark shadows of what looks to be a forest. It’s beautiful and when she tells Isaac, his blush darkens.

“Um, thank you,” he mumbles and Cora raises her eyebrows.

“You…you took this? The photo?”

“Of the Preserve, yeah. It’s what I do, I take photographs.”

“Like, professionally?”

“Oh, no…no, I’m not…I’m not good enough for that. I’m a clerk at the Sheriff’s Office. This is sort of a hobby, I guess. I’m just putting these up until he can find something better that he likes when he gets back.”

Cora shakes her head. “No, Isaac, these photos, they’re…they’re so amazing. Really beautiful. My brother’s an artist, I know what I’m talking about when I say that these photos could sell for a lot of money.”

“You really think so?” Isaac asks and there’s just something so sweet and innocent about him that it makes something in Cora ache.

“Yeah, I really do.”

They stare at each other for what feels like hours before Isaac clears his throat and hefts the box in his arms.

“I should let you settle in instead of crashing your vacation like this. Our friend, Lydia, she left you a list on the fridge, phone numbers and email addresses as well as directions around the town. So just…just call if you need anything.”

“I will, thank you. And I…I’ll see you around?”

Isaac nods. “Yeah, have a good night, Cora.”

Isaac leaves and Cora watches him go, smiling a little at the dorky wave he gives her as he closes the front door.

Cora makes her way into the kitchen, looking at the lists on the fridge, names like ‘Scott and Kira’ and ‘Lydia and Jordan’ along with numbers and email addresses. There’s no contact for Isaac.

Chapter Text

New York City

Stiles feels lost.

He’s been in New York for more than twenty-four hours now and he still hasn’t left Cora’s apartment.

Cora’s huge ass, cool as fuck apartment. ‘Cause this is a thing of beauty, this apartment. It’s all sleek chrome and pale colors, with loads of cool gadgets that Stiles has kept himself entertained with. Like the toaster that has a built-in egg poacher. Or the hand-held espresso machine.

Yeah, Cora’s apartment is the shit and Stiles wants to use that as the reason why he hasn’t even been outside yet but he knows it’s bullshit.

Part of him wants to shove his feet into his sneakers and go outside, because he’s in fucking New York City and he’s probably never going to get another chance to see this place and he really should make the most of the time he has here.

But then he thinks that, actually, he has another three weeks here, in this awesome apartment in this awesome city so he can spend a few more hours wallowing in his own self-pity.

Because that’s exactly what he’s doing, moping around this huge, empty apartment, feeling sorry for himself and incredibly alone for the first time in God knows how long and he just wants to take some time and get it all out of his system before he throws on his happy face and goes out into the chaos that is Manhattan.

He turns away from the window, away from the swarming mass of yellow cabs, and checks the time on his phone. He’s been snooping around the penthouse all day – because he’s fairly certain that Cora is doing exactly the same thing in his bungalow – and he’s trying to while away the hours until he can get started on the bottle of vodka he found in the freezer, buried behind a tub of Ben & Jerry’s Rocky Road with a goddamn child lock on it. Seriously, where do you even buy a child lock for a tub of ice cream?

The phone tells him it’s just gone seven in the evening, which means it’s even earlier in Beacon Hills and Stiles just does not care. He's having a pity party, he decides, and heads for the freezer.

Looking at the bottle, he can tell it’s an expensive label, something that was probably a gift, but he just doesn’t care and so be breaks the seal, not even entertaining the idea of a glass as he take a healthy swig from the bottle.

First thing tomorrow, he’s going to find the closest liquor store and replace the bottle because this shit is good and Cora needs to taste it at some point.

It’s about two hours later and Stiles is well on his way to being falling down drunk – most of the bottle is gone – when there’s a knock on the door.

For a minute, Stile thinks about ignoring it, letting whoever is on the other side just stand there and keep knocking while Stiles keeps on drinking his very wonderful vodka.

But then he wonders what Cora would do if Danny or someone stopped by Stiles’ place.

Stiles didn’t have much of a chance to tell anyone he was leaving for three weeks. His closest friends had been there when he’d decided to go and a quick call to his dad was all he was really afforded before Scott was bundling him into his car and taking him on the long, long journey to the airport.

The thought of Danny standing in front of Stiles’ blue front door because Cora doesn’t want to answer to a stranger has Stiles getting up off the couch and heading for the front door of the penthouse.

When Stiles finally manages to get the door open, he can do nothing but stare at the man standing in the hallway and try to figure out if he’s having some sort of drunken hallucination, because people who look like this guy surely don’t exist in real life.

The guy, on the other hand, is staring at Stiles like he’s some sort of murderer and takes a menacing step forward, causing Stiles to try to slam the door in his face.

Normally, Stiles is pretty good at defending himself. He’s the son of the Sheriff after all, and his father taught him well. But he’s having a little bit of trouble standing up straight, so defending himself from the hottest guy on earth who wants to apparently eat Stiles’ spleen is reduced to Stiles trying to slam the door in his face.

“Wait,” the guy says, shoving himself forward and getting his hands around the door before Stiles can get it closed. “Who the hell are you?!”

Stiles pauses. “Who the hell am I? You’re the one trying to kill me and barge your way into my apartment, who the hell are you?!”

If possible, the guy gets even angrier. “Your apartment?!

“Yes, my apartment in that I’m living here for the next three weeks and I’d really appreciate it if you would explain to me why you’re trying to break in!”

The guy pauses and regards Stiles with something that looks a lot like curiosity and he takes a deep breath. “I’m looking for my sister, since this is her apartment. Or at least it was the last time I checked.”

“Oh!” Stiles grins, his fear and confusion vanishing as fast as they appeared. “Dude, Cora’s in California for a while. Vacationing in my house while I stay at hers. I’m Stiles. Do you have a name?”

“Derek,” the guy says, frowning. “Vacationing? Cora? Are you…she never mentioned anything about going away.” Derek looks positively devastated by the thought of his sister not being around.

Stiles shrugs and hiccups. “It was sort of a last minute thing. We sorted everything out and left the next day. That was a yesterday.”

Derek takes his phone out of his pocket and Stiles watches as his fingers dance over the screen, clearly looking for a message or something from Cora, telling him about her plans.

“I can’t believe she…” Derek trails off and shakes his head, looking resigned, like Cora has done something like this before. “You know what? Never mind, it doesn’t matter, I only really stopped by because I was in the neighborhood and I really need to use the bathroom.”

Stiles can’t help it, he laughs, loud and boisterous and sounding completely drunk.

Derek glares at him again. “Why is that funny?”

Stiles shakes his head. “I have had way too much vodka.” He waves his hand at the apartment and steps back from the door. “I’m sure you know where the bathroom is, dude, help yourself.”

Derek stomps past him. “Don’t call me ‘dude’.”

Stiles just sighs, finally managing to close the door and he makes his way back to the living room, picking up the vodka bottle and taking another healthy swig. He’s pretty much dedicated to this cause now and he knows he’ll pay for it tomorrow but he might as well give it all he’s got.

Derek comes out of the bathroom after a few short minutes. He’s got his phone in his hands when Stiles twists around to look at him – he’s not checking the guy out, he just needs to know where the guy is at all possible moments. This is a stranger, after all, a stranger Stiles has let into the place he’s calling home for the next three weeks without properly checking his identity.

If Stiles’ father knew, he’d get that weird look on his face he always gets when Stiles does something particularly stupid.

With one last drink, Stiles sets the bottle down on the coffee table and stands up, crossing the room with the most purposeful steps he can muster until he makes it to the bookshelves on the opposite wall. The shelves hold not just books, but photographs in a variety of frames, most of which don’t match the bare and minimal décor of the apartment. It makes Stiles happy to see, to know that perfection and style don’t matter more to Cora than the people contained in the photos.

Though he still sort of wants to get her a new couch before he leaves. This one is going to kill his back.

With careful movements, Stiles examines the frames, taking in the people smiling back at him, and even though he doesn’t actually know which of the very beautiful women is Cora out of the three that feature prominently, two brunettes and a blonde, he is able to easily identify the man who claimed to be Cora’s brother when he knocked on the door five minutes ago.

He breathes a little easier at knowing that he hasn’t disappointed his father and turns around to go back to his couch and his vodka only to find Derek in his place, staring at the bottle.

“I bought this for Cora when she first moved in here,” he says, his eyes on the label. After another few seconds, he shrugs and puts the bottle to his lips, tipping his head back as he drinks.

Stiles stands stock-still in the middle of the room and watches Derek drink, something that feels an awful lot like arousal stirring in him and Stiles is hit by the suddenly and overwhelming need to climb onto this man’s lap and kiss him senseless.

It’s not like Stiles hasn’t been with guys before. When he and Malia wound up at colleges at opposite ends of the country, they both decided that maintaining a long-distance relationship wasn’t really worth it for a high school romance, especially when neither of them had known if they would ever return to Beacon Hills.

Stiles had always known that he found guys attractive, he’d even spoken to Danny about it a lot and, particularly about how Danny had gotten the confidence to come out; but in a small town like Beacon Hills, where his father was the sheriff, Stiles hadn’t gone further than looking and talking in the hypothetical.

In college, Stiles felt freer, more able to explore that side of his sexuality and he’d taken full advantage of it. He’d had numerous one night stands as well as several friends-with-benefits-type relationships, with both sexes, though nothing that was ever very serious or lasted longer than a few months.

When Stiles got back to Beacon Hills to find Malia had also decided to move back home, they had fallen back into their relationship like nothing had changed and Stiles had started to wonder if he’d always held onto the hope that he would get back together with his high school sweetheart and that hope was what prevented him from moving on, with a guy or a girl.

But now Malia was gone, out of his life forever, off living the good life with her bio dad and Stiles is here, alone, in a city he doesn’t know at all, with probably the best looking guy he’s ever seen outside of porn.

No, actually, that probably includes porn, because Derek is crazy good-looking and Stiles just wants to climb onto his lap and rubs his lips across Derek’s stubbled cheeks and jaw and grind down on him until he comes in his sweatpants and it’s at that moment that Stiles thinks he’s probably had too much to drink.

Still, he makes his way back to the couch and sits down next to Derek closer than is probably acceptable for two people who have only just met, but Stiles can’t seem to make himself move away.

Not that Derek seems to be paying any attention at all to Stiles, his eyes glued to the cellphone still in his hand and a hard frown on his face.

“Dude, you look like you’re trying to make that thing blow up with the power of your mind,” Stiles chuckles, trying to snatch the bottle back, but Derek pulls it out of his reach.

“I was at this benefit thing down the street. I only came out to use Cora’s bathroom because the line in there was insane. Now the organizer is trying to find me and I just…don’t want to go back.”

“What was the benefit for?”

“A wolf sanctuary that my parents had supported for years and it’s suddenly fallen to me even though I have no interest in that side of the business, but they insist on sending me to these things anyway. Even though I mostly just hide in a corner until I need to read the speech my uncle prepared for me.”

Stiles frowns, confused. “Why do you do it if you don’t want to?”

It takes a while before Derek answers, staring off into space like he’s looking for the answers somewhere in the air. “Family loyalty I suppose. Laura and Cora have no interest in anything like that. They’re not big animal lovers; so I know that if I don’t do it, no one will and it’ll just be swept aside, forgotten about among the slew of my parents’ charitable adventures.”

“Um, I don’t mean this to sound rude or anything, but why aren’t your parents doing this, if they were the ones who supported it in the first place?”

As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Stiles knows it’s the wrong thing to say.

Instantly, Derek shuts down, his facial expression melting into a polite blankness and Stiles wishes for a time machine so that he can go back and tell himself not to open his damn mouth.

“Derek, I’m sorry,” he says quickly, hoping to fix the situation with some damage control, “this is just none of my business, I shouldn’t have even asked.”

“No, it’s fine,” Derek insists, though his expression says otherwise. “It just doesn’t get any easier to say, you know? No matter how much time has passed.”

“You don’t have to say anything. I know what it’s like to lose a parent, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to lose both.”

He doesn’t know how he knows, just something in Derek’s eyes that screams of tragedy, more than Stiles ever had to deal with, and so he lets the other man be, doesn’t push for details like other people might, especially when they’re as drunk as Stiles is.

Derek reaches for the bottle again, exposing his throat as he takes a long pull and Stiles watches the muscle work as he swallows and Stiles unconsciously follows the action.

“You’re staring,” Derek says, though he hasn’t taken his eyes off the bottle that’s still in his hands and Stiles has a second to wonder if there’s something more significant behind the vodka than just a moving-in gift before he registers Derek’s words. He averts his eyes, looking down at his hands for wont of something better but Derek still chuckles.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “What? What do you want from me? I’m a recently single guy, alone and drunk in an unfamiliar city and the best looking man on the goddamn planet just showed up at my door and made himself at home. I’m sorry if I’m lacking in a little self-control right now.”

Derek just chuckles and shakes his head but Stiles can see a faint blush staining the tips of his ears and he narrows his eyes in contemplation as Derek takes another drink.

“I see you’re not one of those people who hates to drink out of the same glass or bottle as someone else,” Stiles mutters calmly, a smirk curving his lips.

Derek turns to look at him, clearly thrown off by the statement. “What’s to hate about it?”

Stiles shrugs. “I don’t know, but there are people out there who just don’t like it. I think maybe they think they’re going to catch some incurable disease or something. And yet, here you are, drinking out of the same bottle as a guy you just met less than fifteen minutes ago. I have to say, I’m a little impressed by that.”

It’s Derek’s turn to shrug and he turns away from where Stiles is lounging against the arm of the couch. “Trust me, I’ve done worse things with guys I’ve just met than drink out of the same bottle as them.”

Stiles chokes on a laugh. “Am I sensing some teenage, young adult rebellion?”

Derek snorts. “Maybe not so young adult.”

“Oh?” Stiles knows he’s pushing and he’ll back off if Derek tells him to, but the guy is just so interesting and Stiles wants to know everything about him.

He also wants to lick the guy’s jaw line, but that’s beside the point.

Derek nods. “I went through a bit of a phase a few years back. Too much responsibility too young, I kind of rebelled. It wasn’t pretty. Lotta sleeping around, rarely in any place that could be called a bedroom or even a home. I’m surprised my sisters didn’t disown me.”

Stiles tries to lighten the mood. “You mean that if I’d come to New York a few years earlier I might have been in with a shot? You know, if I got you drunk enough?” Stiles smiles with his tongue between his teeth, wiggling his eyebrows when Derek chances a look at him.

“Oh, trust me, Stiles, you wouldn’t need to get me drunk.” Stiles bravado slips away along with his smile as Derek glances back at the bottle in his hands before he leans forward to set it on the coffee table. “Though I think I’ve had enough of that for tonight.”

Suddenly, Derek springs forward and he reaches out to cup Stiles’ cheek and press their lips together.

It’s as sudden as it is unexpected and Stiles has no idea what the hell is happening. This Greek God of a man is throwing himself at Stiles, literally, and it’s as awkward as most first kisses are, Stiles shocked and surprised, falling back against the couch as Derek goes with him, following his lips like they’re magnetic.

Stiles pulls away, squeezing his eyes shut even as he caresses Derek’s beautiful cheekbones.

“Stiles?” Derek asks, his voice full of worry. “Have I…did I do something wrong?”

Stile shakes his head. “I’m just…clearly I’ve had too much to drink and I’m hallucinating the amazingly hot man kissing me. If I keep my eyes closed, maybe I’ll just pass out and I won’t have to know when he disappears and therefore, I won’t be as disappointed.”

“Stiles,” Derek says again, softer this time and he nips at the tip of Stiles’ nose with his teeth. “Stiles, open your eyes.”

Stiles squints one eye open and is met by Derek’s amused smirk. “I’m not going anywhere. At least, not right now.”

Stiles continues to look at him, trying to figure out just how drunk they both are and how much he’s going to regret this in the morning.

But he’s on vacation. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do on vacation, try new things? Do the things you wouldn’t dare to do back home?

And Derek definitely falls into both of those categories.

With that in mind, Stiles wraps his arms around Derek’s shoulders and pulls him down into a bone-searing kiss.

Derek falls against him, wriggling and shuffling around until his thigh is in between Stiles’, pressing against Stiles’ growing erection while at the same time, straddling Stiles’ thigh and grinding down. His hands are on Stiles’ waist and he rolls his hips downwards and Stiles’ can’t stop the groan that gets swallowed up by Derek’s mouth.

He’s growing harder by the second, stretching the front of his sweatpants in an obscene way, not that it’s a problem because Derek is currently grinding his own erection into the groove of Stiles thigh, and the denim of his jeans more uncomfortable than anything but Stiles isn’t really in a position to notice.

Derek’s hands find their way under Stiles’ shirt, fingers dragging up his ribs to his nipples and Stiles throws his head back against the arm of the couch because that’s always been one of his biggest turn-ons, someone playing with his nipples, and Malia had never really paid much attention to that. Foreplay to her was taking off her clothes.

After all the years without it, Derek playing with his nipples has Stiles on the edge quicker than he’d like – because he wants this to last – and he pulls away slightly, reaching for the hem of Derek’s t-shirt and pulling it up so that he can drag his fingernails across the tan expanse of Derek’s back.

Derek growls – growls! – against lips, his hips moving fast, both of them finding each other’s kinks in no time at all.

Stiles drags his teeth against Derek’s perfect stubble and Derek sucks a mark into the skin of Stiles’ neck and the room is filled with grunts and groans and moans and they’re both practically still fully clothed, but it’s still the best sex Stiles has ever had and he’s going to be really disappointed if this time turns out to be the one and only.

He clings to Derek’s back as their hips move faster against each other, each of them chasing their orgasm.

Derek is panting into Stiles’ ear, repeating Stiles’ name over and over again in loud gasps and Stiles drinks it in, revels in the idea that this guy wants him, based on nothing but how he looks, and that means more to Stiles than it probably should.

He can feel his orgasm tingling at the bottom of his spine and he pumps his hips harder, faster, grinding up into Derek, chasing that edge and he’s surprised when Derek comes before him, grunting out Stiles’ name before he collapses on top of him, breathing heavily.

Stiles tries to keep moving, tries to move his hips and get himself off while Derek recovers, but Derek’s whole weight is pinning Stiles to the couch and he’s really fucking heavy when Stiles isn’t really in a position to do anything about it.

He’s just about to get really pissed off and ask Derek to get off him so that he can take himself to the shower and finish what the dickwad started, but then Derek’s hands move, one of them leaving Stiles nipples, where they were still teasing him, and slowly dragging its way down to the waistband of Stiles’ sweatpants.

When Derek’s fingers close around his cock, Stiles lets out a noise that would probably really embarrass him in any other situation, but right now, he doesn’t care, just throws his head back again and allows Derek to mouth at his neck, sucking another mark.

Derek seems to know exactly what he’s doing and it doesn’t take long for him to get Stiles back to that edge and he tips Stiles over by dragging his thumbnail over the tip of Stile’ cock and that’s it. Stiles is done, and he comes with Derek’s name on his lips and his fingernails digging into the flesh of Derek’s back.

They lie there on the couch, Stiles staring at the ceiling, Derek’s face pressed into the space between Stiles’ neck and shoulder, and both of them are breathing heavily and Stiles thinks that this is the part where someone usually freaks out and runs away and when Derek’s cellphone starts ringing, he sighs because this is it.

But Derek doesn’t actually move, just shuffles around slightly until he can pull his phone out of the pocket of his jeans, answering it even though he’s still got his lips smooshed against Stiles’ pulse point.

“Yeah?”

Stiles can just about hear the tinny voice of a man on the other end of the conversation, and he doesn’t sound very happy.

“Yeah, I left,” Derek snaps. “What do you want from me, Peter? You know I hate things like that and you forced it on me anyway. I’ve already been there for three hours, I thought my brain was gonna melt out through my ears.”

The man on the phone – Peter – gets increasingly pissed off, Stiles can hear his voice getting louder, but at this point it’s mostly just a lot of swearing and trying to order Derek back to the benefit he’d skipped out on.

“What? Peter, it’s…it’s fucking…” Derek finally pulls away from Stiles and looks around the room, clearly trying to locate a clock despite the cellphone in his hand. “Alright, I don’t actually know what time it is, but I know it was after nine when I left that place and I’m not going back. I have to-”

Peter cuts him off and Derek stares down at Stiles, his eyes wide and desperate and Stiles doesn’t even know Derek, but he can already tell that the guy is going to cave to Peter’s demands. Stiles feels a little bad for him. He knows what it’s like to think that he’s responsible to everyone but himself.

“Yes, Laura is with him, but that’s really not the point, Peter, I’m his…” Derek sighs. He looks pained and Stiles reaches up to cup his cheek, slightly surprised when Derek nuzzles into his hand, like he’s hungry for Stiles’ touch.

Stiles wonders if his one night stand is going to stretch for a few more days.

“Fine,” Derek spits through gritted teeth, “but I swear to God, Peter, this is the last one of these things I’m doing for you. I’m not your little puppet that you can parade around whenever you don’t want to do something; I have a life of my own. Cora and Laura managed to get out from under your thumb, it’s past time that I did too.”

Derek hangs up before anything else is said and he closes his eyes, taking a deep breath before he looks down at Stiles.

“Think I could borrow some underwear?”

Stiles can’t help it, he laughs himself stupid, giggling like a five year old while Derek just looks at him with an amused, fond sort of expression.

“Yeah,” Stiles gasps around his laughter, “sure, in the bedroom, in the suitcase on the floor next to the bed.”

Derek frowns as he stumbles to his feet. “You’ve been here for more than a day and you haven’t unpacked yet?”

“No, that’s not…” Stiles sighs and sits up straight, watching Derek walk awkwardly down the hallway. “This isn’t my place, you know? I don’t know Cora, I didn’t wanna go searching through her drawers and things, dislodging everything so that I could fit my own stuff in. I hung some things up in the closet, but I think I’ll save myself the mortification and probable death by going through some strange woman’s underwear drawer.”

There’s a grunt from the bedroom that Stiles takes as agreement and he falls back against the couch. This whole night has taken such a surreal turn and he’s not sure where they go from here.

This is the brother of the woman whose apartment he’s staying at for three weeks. It’s not exactly the set up for the next big rom-com.

But then again…three weeks isn’t an inconsiderable amount of time and, yeah, they might not be able to have a deep and meaningful relationship in that length of time, but if Derek’s up for it, they could have some fun.

“I’m only in town for three weeks,” Stiles says when Derek comes back into the living room, buckling the belt of his dark blue jeans.

He pauses and looks up at Stiles for a second, with an expression that Stiles can’t decipher, before he finishes his task and rejoining Stiles on the couch.

“Three weeks isn’t much time,” he says, his words carefully measured and Stiles nods.

“Yeah, but…it’s just a little fun, right? I mean, from the sounds of it, neither one of us is in the right headspace for a full-blown relationship right now.”

Derek huffs a laugh. “You’ve got that right.”

“Alright, so…fun?”

Derek turns to looks at him, biting at his lower lip as he considers the offer. “I’m not…I have commitments, my commitments, not stuff that Peter expects me to do because he thinks I’m too weak to say ‘no’. They take up a lot of my time, so I won’t be able to be at your beck and call for the next three weeks, if that’s what you’re looking for.”

Stiles shrugs. “Hey, you know where I am. You don’t have to promise me anything.”

But the idea of never getting to be with Derek again – when he’s completely sober – makes Stiles’ chest ache and he wishes he knew what these so-called commitments were, so that he can make them give Derek a break for a few days.

“I can’t make promises,” Derek repeats, and he waits for Stiles to nod his head before he goes on, “but…but yeah, I’d like to…I’d like this to be a thing, for however long it lasts.”

Stiles spreads his arms wide. “Like I said, you know where to find me.”

Derek winks at him and gets to his feet. “I’ll be seeing you.”

He says it like it’s a promise and Stiles feels something hot curl in his belly and he smiles. “Yeah, you will, because I need to know what you look like wearing nothing but my underwear. But I’ve got a pretty good imagination and my right hand; that oughta keep me entertained until I see you again.”

Derek just groans, turning on his heel and marching out the door with a purpose, like he’s just holding himself back from tackling Stiles to the floor and Stiles grins, because he likes the sound of that.

He collapse back against the couch and promptly passes out.

Beacon Hills

“Look,” Cora says, exasperated and doing everything she can not to slam her fists on the counter in front of her, “I’m only in town for three weeks. And then I will be leaving. I am not going to hand over the cash for a six-month contract just so that I can use the gym while I’m here.”

The woman behind the counter just shrugs her shoulders. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we can only offer six-month contracts. It’s the shortest contract that we have.”

Cora narrows her eyes. “You know you’re losing a lot of money by not offering shorter contracts. I’m sure there are a lot of people who come to this town and want to use the gym only to find that they can’t because they have to purchase a six-month contract.”

Cora is ready to lose her mind.

“No offense, but Beacon Hills doesn’t exactly get a lot of visitors.”

“I’m visiting!”

The receptionist ignores her. “Normally, when people come to town, they’re visiting friends or family members and if they want to use the gym, they get added to someone’s account as a guest.”

Cora perks up, straightening to her full height. “I’m staying at Stiles Stilinski’s house. He’s staying at my place in New York while I’m here. I can give you his cellphone number or the number for my apartment, if you want to check with him.”

The receptionist furrows her brown. “Stiles…the Sheriff’s son?”

Cora bounces on the toes of her sneakers. “Yes, that’s him.” At least, she assumes it’s true. She’d seen photos in Stiles house of someone she assumes is Stiles with a man in a sheriff’s uniform. It’s not a big leap in logic.

The woman sitting behind the counter gives Cora a sympathetic smile. “Stiles doesn’t have a gym membership.”

“Oh, you are killing me.” Cora collapses on the counter.

“Stiles coaches lacrosse at the high school, and he runs cross-country in the off-season. He says he’s not built for the gym.”

Cora perks up a little at that. “Cross-country?”

She’d seen the woods and trees when she was coming into the town, but she’d just assumed it was private property.

“In the Preserve,” the receptionist says, pointing vaguely in the right direction. “Or, the high school is closed for the summer, but a lot of people use the track for running.”

“Is there directions to the Preserve?”

The receptionist – whose nametag reads ‘Heather’, Cora just notices – gives her a withering glare that has Cora shrinking back from the counter.

“It’s the big pile of trees at the edge of town. I’m sure you can’t miss it.”

Cora sneers at her – can’t help the immature gesture – and all but runs from the building and back to the little blue Jeep Stiles has left her to use for the duration of her stay in Beacon Hills. Cora loves the thing, even though it has to be older than she is and she has no idea how it’s even still on the road, but she loves it all the same and she knows she’s going to miss it when she goes back to New York and the Subway.

It doesn’t take long to find the ‘big pile of trees’, as Heather so eloquently put it, but it takes Cora another few minutes to actually find the entrance and the parking lot next to it.

She parks under the shade of a tree, leaving everything but her phone in the Jeep as she locks it up and heads for the entrance, deciding to walk her way around for now, saving the run for when she has a better understanding of the layout and nature of the Preserve.

It’s not long before Cora has lost sight of the entrance and she doesn’t even care. The Preserve is beautiful, all tall trees and low flowers, leaves and fallen logs on the ground that she has to navigate herself around.

There’s a well-worn path, travelled by many, Cora is sure, and she does her best to stick to it, her fear of getting lost among the trees so much more than it was on her first day living in Manhattan.

But it’s so peaceful here that she gets lost in the tranquility of it all. There were other cars in the parking lot, but she honestly can’t hear or see another soul and it’s a weird feeling, knowing that there is somewhere on earth where she can be completely quiet and alone.

New York is always so loud, there’s always noise or another person within ten feet of where you’re standing and while she’s grown used to it over the years, Cora has never liked it. Even growing up in Long Island compared to Manhattan itself, the feeling of never being alone was always there.

Here, right now, in the middle of a bunch of trees, thousands of miles away from her family, her friends – the few she still had after ditching them all – her job – that she pretty much hates – Cora feels at peace for the first time in her life.

It’s going to really suck when she has to leave.

Twenty minutes into her walk, Cora comes across a dirt road, something that was clearly manmade, even though it’s covered in leaves and roots and overgrown branches, indicating that it hasn’t been used in several years. She looks to the left, leading back the way she came, but there’s overgrown trees and brush, she can’t get a clear look at the path to see which way is goes. Instead, she takes off her jacket and leaves it lying on the ground – marking her place – and turns to follow the road to the right, her curiosity getting the better of her.

She walks for another fifteen minutes – and already this slow, tranquil walk is almost twice as long as her daily work out – before she comes across an abandoned house.

It’s old and worn down, overgrown with weeds and half-collapsed thanks to what looks to have been a fire that ripped through the east side and the top floors.

It’s beautiful.

Knowing it’s probably condemned, Cora clutches her phone tightly in her fist and climbs up the steps to the front porch regardless. It’s dull and damp, smelling of mold and burnt wood. The glass in all of the windows is cracked and smashed, either by the fire or by vandals after it was abandoned. Either way, it’s a shame that it’s been left to rot in the middle of the woods.

She doesn’t go inside, just ducks to look through a broken window, taking in the wide, sweeping staircase, the huge room to the left of it and the hallway leading back to what was once probably a kitchen.

It was probably a beautiful house, once upon a time, something that an interior designer like Laura would have killed to get her hands on so that she could turn it into a real home and Cora can’t help but wonder what happened to the original owners that they would have left it abandoned rather than sell it or tear it down.

The fire must have been devastating.

Uncomfortable images and memories float up in Cora’s mind, painful memories, hurtful memories, embarrassing memories. The completely broken look on her brother’s face as they stood in the middle of a hospital waiting room, the doctor standing before them covered in blood.

It was a hard time for all of them.

Shaking her head to try and get rid of the memories, Cora descends the steps quickly, taking one last look at the looming, imposing building before she retraces her steps back to the point where the path intersected the road.

The jacket is where she left it and she quickly pulls it on, suddenly feeling cold, the serenity of the Preserve suddenly feeling ominous.

Cora knows it’s just her mind playing tricks on her, thinking about the past always makes her want comfort and warmth, safety, and right now, she just isn’t comfortable enough in this strangle little town to let herself feel safe.

So she hot-foot’s it back to the Jeep, her pace a lot faster than it was on her way in and in no time, she’s back in the parking lot, Stiles’ Jeep still where she left it.

She heads back into town instead of home to the bungalow, needing people and sound for once, even if no one’s even going to acknowledge her existence. Their presence is enough.

There’s a coffee shop on the corner of the main street, something small and kitsch with mis-matching mugs and cups and Cora is charmed by it even just looking through the window.

She’s about to go inside and see how many coffee options they don’t have when her attention is snatched by the building across the street.

It’s a library, an honest-to-God library and Cora smiles brighter than she has all day as she practically skips into the building.

Cora reads, when she has the time, but she has a Kindle, and iPad, both of which she left back in New York. It’s been a long time since Cora picked up an actual book that wasn’t for work.

The thought of this – walking into a library – being one of her ‘new things to try’ makes Cora feel truly pathetic.

Derek’s going to laugh at her for an hour when he finds out. Nathan, too.

Before she can talk herself out of it, Cora marches up to the circulation desk and narrows her eyes at the guy behind it.

“If I have the same problem here that I had at the gym, I’m probably going to punch someone.” As opening lines go, it’s not one of Cora’s best.

The guy – librarian? – stares at her in wide-eyed horror. “Ma’am?”

“I’m only in town for a few weeks, but they said that I had to tie myself into a six month contract if I wanted to use the gym while I’m here. Does that seem right to you?”

“Uh…no?”

“No, no, of course it doesn’t. And, you know, Stiles doesn’t have a gym membership so I can’t get in as his guest, which sucks and now I’m here, at the library, for the first time since…god, since college and are you going to tell me that I need to buy a six month membership before I can read ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’?”

The guy blinks at her. “You…you know Stiles?”

Cora pauses, taken aback a little and she nods her head. “Well, no. I mean…sort of? We did this house swap thing. He’s staying at my place in New York while I came here.”

The guy laughs. “You gave up New York for our dusty little town?”

Cora smiles and looks over her shoulder at the view through the glass door, the bright sun glinting off the Jeep. “Yeah, I did. It was a great idea.”

“I’m Danny,” the guy says. “Stiles and I went to high school together. If you really want to borrow a book, I can let you use my membership. Or Stiles’, since he’s apparently not using it.”

Cora grins. “No, I don’t think he would have had much use for it thousands of miles away. I’m Cora, by the way.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Danny chuckles and he looks around, clearly looking for someone. “Just…make sure you come to me. I’m not sure Mrs. Lewis will be as gracious as me.”

Cora smiles gratefully. “I’ll do that. Thank you. I was kinda…I think I just need something like this right now. Something so innocent and…mundane. It’s calming.”

“How long are you in town for?” Danny asks and Cora narrows her eyes at him for a second.

Normally, Cora would think this guy was flirting, trying to get into her pants; but Danny asks the question so earnestly, like he really wants to know, that Cora can’t help but be charmed by him.

“Um, three weeks. I got into town a few days ago but I’ve just been getting used to the town and Stiles’ house. And his Jeep, that thing takes some work.”

Danny’s eyes grow wide. “Stiles let you drive his Jeep? Damn, I’d like to know what makes you so special.” He’s smiling as he says the words and Cora takes the teasing for what it is and doesn’t snap a comeback, just looks back and the Jeep with a wistful sort of smile.

“So, books?” Danny says, clearing his throat. “Are you looking for anything in particular or can I just point you in the general direction of something?”

Cora takes a moment and looks around, spotting all the signs marking the different sections and she pauses when a certain sign catches her eye.

“I used to be really into history,” she says, almost to herself. “I would read everything I could get my hands on and then some. Then work got in the way and personal reading wasn’t really a priority.”

“My boyfriend has a real thing for cowboys,” Danny says casually and it forces a laugh out of Cora.

“I think that’s a little bit too much information for someone I just met two minutes ago.”

Danny surprises her by laughing loudly instead of blushing like she’d been expecting and she grins even wider as Danny shrugs unashamedly.

“What can I say? We’ve had a few role playing incidents. Ruined a few ten gallon hats and chaps will forever be a major turn on.”

Cora nods, impressed. “Can’t say I’ve ever gone down the role playing route, but who knows, maybe I’ll find myself some fun while I’m in town.”

A certain curly haired man comes to mind and Cora zones out for a few seconds before Danny’s voice brings her back.

“So, if it’s not cowboys that do it for you, what exactly is it about history that grabs you?”

Cora takes a minute to think about it, back to high school and college, projects that were started and never completed because she had to drop the course.

“Mary, Queen of Scots,” she says suddenly, surprised by the words as much as Danny seems to be. “I had this…this elective in college, we were talking about her before I had to drop the class because my course load was getting to be too much. But it was really interesting. I never got to find out what happens.” She rolls her eyes at herself. “Well, I mean, I know what happened to her, but…well, you know.”

Danny laughs. “Are you sure you’re not actually related to Stiles? You babble as much as he does.”

Cora manages a shrug. “I have to be so professional at work. It’s nice to just be myself for once.”

The smile slips from Danny’s face and he gives her an understanding nod. “I hope you find something to interest you. Come find me when you want to check out.”

Cora gives him a look she hopes conveys everything she’s feeling. “Thank you.” And she really means that.

Finding someone as friendly as Danny is exactly what she needed after the drive-by way of living she’d been doing in New York. God, no wonder her friends had abandoned her if her interaction with Danny was in anyway unusual for her.

Leaving Danny behind with a tap of her knuckles against his counter, Cora makes her way through the stacks to the history section, standing in the middle of the aisle and feeling slightly overwhelmed at the sheer volume of books on either side of her.

It really has been a long time since she’d been in a library.

She grabs some books at random, anything that catches her attention, before she just starts looking around, taking in the space and the posters on the wall, crafts made by kids. It’s a real, honest, community library. They probably have after schools clubs and kids’ story time, and book clubs where little old ladies read trashy romance novels and the whole thing makes Cora smile like an idiot.

She really needs to get a life.

She heads to the fiction section, crossing through the open, study space and notices the group of people huddled around one, talking in hushed voices. They’re sitting in front of the fiction section and Cora can’t help her curiosity and she peers over their shoulders as she walks past.

There’s a large piece of white paper in the center of the table, marked off in what is obviously supposed to represent some sort of map. There are lines that Cora thinks are roads or paths. There are smaller squares of paper sitting on top of the crude map, labeled with things like ‘Mrs. Wilson’s breads and cupcakes’ and ‘Elainea’s Jewelry’ among many others and Cora realizes that they’re planning some sort of craft fair or something.

It looks interesting.

“No, I’m telling you,” one of the women in the group says, “Mary’s breads are always very popular at these things, we should have them right at the very start. They’ll draw people in.”

“If they’re that popular then you should put her stall somewhere near the back of the fair.”

It isn’t until someone says “excuse me?” in a particularly haughty tone of voice that Cora realizes that she’s spoken aloud and she turns to the table of people with a red face and wide eyes.

“I am…I am so, so sorry. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop or make unsolicited comments, it’s just…”

“Just…?” an older man that Cora vaguely recognizes presses her and gives her an encouraging nod.

“It’s just that this is kind of my wheelhouse. I’m a marking and advertising executive, I spend my days literally going over layouts and ads for all kinds of things. It’s sort of second nature to look at a project and see how it could work best for what it entails.”

The man pushes the pieces of paper closer to Cora’s side of the table and gestures to her. “Anything you can suggest, we’re all ears.”

The woman who sneered at Cora when she spoke out of turn sputters a little, but Cora ignores her and leans forward slightly, smiling in apology as a woman with dark curly hair shifts to one side.

“If…if…” she cranes her head a little, “Mrs. Wilson’s breads and things are really as good as you say, then you should put her towards the back.”

The first woman scoffs. “How is that going to help? She’ll never sell anything if she’s pushed to the very back of the whole fair.”

“People come to buy her stuff, right? It’s popular?” Cora asks and she watches as the whole table nods. “Alright, so if you put her stall right at the front of the fair, people are going to come, get whatever they want from her and then just…go away. They won’t even enter the rest of the fair because they’ll have gotten what they wanted. But if you put her – and the other popular stalls – near the back or the middle, her customers will have to walk past the rest of the stalls to get to hers. Which increases traffic and will in turn increase impulse buys and boost your sales.”

The man who spoke up – the only man at the table, Cora notes – points a finger at her. “That is a very good idea.”

There is an outraged snort from the first woman. “What? We’re just going to take her word for it?”

“She does this for a living, Natalie,” the curly haired woman hisses. “When she’s trying to teach your English class, then you can complain.”

“We don’t even know her!”

Cora blanches. “Oh, God, I am so sorry. Again. I’m Cora, Cora Hale. I did this house swap thing with Stiles Stilinski? I’m staying in his house for a few weeks.”

The man smiles. “I’m Stiles’ father, John.”

Cora squeaks. “Oh, yes, hi, I saw pictures, what was left of them. I’m sorry, I guess I just didn’t recognize you out of your uniform.”

John laughs. “It happens.”

“I’m Melissa,” the curly hair woman says. “Scott’s mom.” She says it like it should mean something to Cora and takes Cora a second for the name to connect in her mind to the post-it on the fridge.

“Of Scott and Kira?”

Melissa laughs. “That’s him.”

“I haven’t actually met anyone yet, Stiles just left me a few little notes with names and numbers in case I needed anything. Scott and Kira and Lydia and Jordan. I’m still sorta trying to find my feet in this place, so I haven’t needed to call or anything.” She lets out a soft little chuckle. “This place is a lot different to New York City, that’s for damn sure.”

Stiles’ dad leaned forward slightly in his chair. “Well, is there anything we can do to help?”

“Oh! Oh, no, I wasn’t…I really am fine.” She lifts the books in her arms as if they are any indication of the state of her wellbeing. “I just need to find something that’ll keep me focused. I certainly can’t go and read in the park in Manhattan. My job is kind of a time hog. I really only stop to sleep. That’s why this place is so great, it’s so laid back and relaxed. I’ve only been here a few days and already I feel more myself than I have in…” Cora trails off when she realizes that the end of that sentence is probably ‘some time in college’.

It sort of hurts to think that she hasn’t been happy for so long. No wonder Nathan keeps making odd jokes trying to make her smile, she probably never does.

“I’m Natalie Martin,” the snooty woman says after a few moments of what Cora could only describe as awkward silence. She leans her hand across the table to offer it to Cora. “I’m Lydia’s mother.”

“Oh, yes, of course, it’s very nice to meet you. All of you.”

“You say that you’re in marketing and advertising?” Natalie asks, the expression on her face almost unnerving.

“Yes, ma’am. I actually just finished submitting a huge layout for a new campaign for my company back in New York.” Even if someone else took the credit for the whole project, the people who made the decisions did like Cora’s idea and as far as she knew, they were going ahead with it. Credit or not, she must be doing something right.

“We’re actually looking to put some life back into our little town, attract more visitors to the Preserve and the like. Would you be willing to spend some time working on an idea to submit?”

“Natalie!” Melissa exclaims. “The woman is here on vacation. For God’s sake, you can’t just hit her up for a free consultation and free labor.”

Natalie narrows her eyes at Melissa before she turns her glare on Cora. “We’ll pay you for your time, of course.”

Melissa drops her face into her hands. “That is not what I meant.”

“No,” Cora says softly. She gives herself a mental shake. “I mean, no payment necessary, really. I’d…I’d like to do it.” There are ideas already forming in Cora’s head and she smiles at the three people in front of her. “Can you…can you give me some time? I’m here for another three weeks, but I should have something pulled together to give us enough time to go over it and change anything before I leave.”

Natalie smiles, looking bright and beautiful now that she’s not scowling and planning murder in her mind. “That sounds great. Can you get our numbers from Lydia?”

“I’ll do that and I’ll call you when I have something pulled together.”

Cora shakes their hands and mutters hasty goodbyes, itching to get back home and start putting her plan together.

She rushes to the counter to check out her books, Danny giving her worried looks as she bounces on the toes of her sneakers and chews on her lower lip.

“Are you okay?” he finally asks as he puts the last of the book on the counter.

Cora blinks and shakes her head, trying to push away her ideas for now. Derek always says she gets lost in her head whenever she has something new to plan.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Lydia’s mom asked me to do something and I’m actually pretty excited to get started.”

Danny smiles. “Then don’t let me keep you.” He slides a slip of paper into the top book. “Call me whenever you want to return or exchange them. Just to make sure I’m working that day.”

Impulsively, Cora reaches over the desk to kiss Danny’s cheek. “If it weren’t for you letting me use Stiles’ card, I never would have been in the library today. Thank you for helping make a great day.”

Danny grins and Cora grabs up her books and all but skips from the building, racing back to Stiles’ Jeep in a daze.

The drive home was a blur, Cora’s mind thinking back to her college classes, when she’d been tasked to design a rebranding of a small town. She’d made promotional material, redesigned the website, drawn up plans to make-over store fronts and clean up the streets. She’d come up with town signs and billboards. It had been a lot of work, but she was thankful for it now, because at least she had an idea of where she wanted to start, with photographs of the town.

And she knew the perfect photographer to do it.

Chapter Text

Stiles wakes up to the smell of cooking and has to blink against the brightness for a moment before he figures out that he apparently slept on Cora’s extremely uncomfortable couch – seriously, he’s hitting Pottery Barn and getting her a new one before he leaves – and that someone has broken in to the apartment to cook him breakfast.

It’s a struggle to get himself into a vaguely vertical position and the room protests violently when he tries to stand up. It starts spinning uncontrollably and attacks his stomach. It’s all very disconcerting, so Stiles just squints at the kitchen, taking in the man standing at the stove.

Stiles can only see the back of his head and his extremely broad shoulders, but he already knows that he wants to climb the guy like a tree.

Unless this is Cora’s boyfriend, come to take pity on the loser locked up in her apartment, in which case, awkward.

“Um,” Stiles tries for words, but his voice comes out weird and scratchy, it’s almost painful, but it’s enough noise to get the guy to turn around to face him and he gives Stiles such a bright smile that it rivals the brightness of the sun that’s lighting up the room.

“Hey, you’re finally awake,” the guy says and Stiles knows who he is now, it all comes rushing back at him uncomfortably fast and he manages to land Derek with the most pathetic glare imaginable.

“How did you get in here?” Stiles distinctly remembers Derek knocking on the front door the night before.

“I have a key to the place,” Derek states simply, “I just didn’t have it with me last night because I thought I wouldn’t need it.”

“How the hell are you so chipper right now?” he asks, struggling to his feet, and Derek, the bastard, chuckles.

“I didn’t have nearly as much to drink last night as you did,” Derek points out, his tone a little too smug for Stiles’ liking. “Did you even move at all after I left?”

Stiles waddles his way to the breakfast bar separating the kitchen from the living room. “The mess in my sweatpants would suggest that I did not.”

Derek grimaces and sets a cup of coffee in front of Stiles before turning back to the stove.

“So, did you just stop by to make me breakfast?” Stiles asks after a few minutes of silently watching Derek move gracefully around the kitchen. He’s clearly done this before.

Derek shrugs, but there’s a faint blush staining his cheeks and Stiles feels something swoop in his stomach.

“Actually, I stopped by to make sure you hadn’t choked on your own vomit in the middle of the night. When I saw that you were, in fact, still alive, I decided to reward you with a nice, greasy breakfast.”

Stiles gags. “Actually, I think I’m going to be sick.”

“No, you’re not,” Derek assures him, oddly confident. “Now go shower while I finish this and then we can…talk, I guess.”

The playful nature of their interaction thus far vanishes in a matter of seconds and Stiles can’t do anything but nod, his gut now churning for more than one reason, and he takes one last sip of his coffee before he slides off the stool and makes his way to the bathroom.

He showers as quickly as humanly possible, scrubbing off the dried come with what he suspects is Cora’s very expensive shower gel. Something else for him to replace when he’s out getting her a new couch and vodka. He brushes his teeth twice and gargles with mouthwash for a while before he leaves the bathroom.

He’s tempted to head back to the kitchen and Derek in nothing but the dark blue towel he’s tied around his waist, but Derek’s tone didn’t really suggest that sexy times were on the menu, so he pads back to the bedroom and dries off quickly.

He opts for real clothes, and not because he’s trying to impress, he’s really not. Clothes just mean that he might actually force himself to interact with the outside world at some point. If he’s put on clean clothes he should at least have something to show for it. Maybe. If he can stomach it.

Derek is waiting for him when he gets back to the kitchen, still scrubbing at his hair with a towel. There’s two plates of what looks to be scrambled eggs with cheese and Stiles’ stomach doesn’t know if it’s hungry or nauseous but he sits down anyway because Derek looks pretty serious.

“Well, they do say clothes maketh the man,” Derek smirks as he gives Stiles a very obvious once over.

Stiles feels warm from the comment but he ignores it for now and just pulls his plate closer, taking a careful bite of his eggs, testing himself and his hangover.

Surprisingly, he finds that he’s actually hungry and he dives into the very excellent meal that Derek has prepared for him. He’ll have to see if he can persuade this man to make him dinner before he leaves. If the following conversation goes well, of course.

“Like I said last night,” Derek starts softly once both of their plates are almost empty, “I have responsibilities. I have a job, even though it’s a flexible one, but there are other things that take up a lot of my time. I might not even be able to spend a whole night with you.”

Stiles shrugs. “I’m not asking for anything, Derek. I’m not really in a position to. I mean, I’m leaving in three weeks, I can’t really ask that you commit yourself to me.”

Derek nods. “No, I know that, I just…it would be nice, you know? It’s…it’s been a while since I did anything remotely like this, and by ‘this’, I mean had a relationship or sex of any kind.”

Stiles grins. “I could be like practice.”

“I’m not really sure how I feel about phrasing it like that. I feel like I’m using you.”

“Trust me, I definitely don’t feel used.”

“Not really the point, Stiles.”

Stiles sighs and gets up, rounding the counter to stand in front of the other man. “Derek, do you like me?”

Derek takes a moment to rake his eyes over Stiles again, pausing at his hips and shoulders and lips before he reaches his eyes again. “Definitely.” His voice is a little breathless and it makes Stiles blush, but he forces himself to carry on.

“And trust me, I like you, too. We’re both grown men, old enough to make our own choices and live with the consequences. I just…don’t want to go back home in three weeks with this huge Derek-shaped regret hanging over my head. I want to get to know you better. I want…” He sighs, deciding just to go for it, “I want you. There, I said it.”

Derek doesn’t skip a beat, just surges forward and kisses Stiles, deep and hungry and Stiles can do nothing but try to give back as good as he’s getting.

“I want you, too,” Derek says when he pulls back, voice a little rough. “Three weeks, yeah?”

“Three weeks,” Stiles confirms, “and you know where to find me, when you’re free. Like I said, I’m not going to try and tie you down or demand you be at my beck and call while I’m here. I’m the one on vacation, I know you have a real life to get back to.”

Derek licks his lips. “I’ve got a little time before I have to get back to that life.”

Stiles cocks an eyebrow, a slow grin growing on his face. “Oh, yeah? Got any idea how you want to spend that time?”

Derek spreads his thighs. “I have a few ideas.”

“Oh, yeah?”

Derek nods his head towards a bag sitting on the counter that Stiles hadn’t noticed before and he watches Derek warily as he reaches behind him to pick it up.

He almost chokes on his tongue when he looks into the bag and sees a bottle of lube and a twelve-pack of condoms.

“I see you had some really specific ideas,” Stiles says with a laugh.

Derek’s bravado vanishes in an instant and he ducks his head, suddenly bashful.

Stiles steps forward, Derek’s thighs bracketing his and Derek hooks his ankles behind Stiles’ calves, blocking him in even as his hands go for Stiles’ hips.

Stiles grins and rakes his fingers through Derek’s hair, messing up the perfectly gelled style. Whoever and whatever he’s going back to when he leaves here, everyone will know what he’s been up to.

He leans in slowly and kisses Derek, keeping it chaste, almost innocent, even though he knows where this is headed. But he doesn’t want to rush. If he only has Derek for a little while, then he wants to make the most of that time.

Stiles pulls back when Derek tries to deepen the kiss, when his hands tighten on Stiles’ hips. He looks into Derek’s multi-colored eyes and uses his grip on Derek’s hair to angle Derek’s head back, exposing his throat.

When Stiles’ lips skate across Derek’s jaw, Derek moans, low and dirty and his hips twitch towards Stiles’. Stiles grins and bites down gently with his teeth, just enough for Derek to feel it. He won’t leave any marks unless Derek specifically asks for them. He might not know what Derek does for a living, but he knows the pain of humiliation that comes from teaching a class full of teenagers with a hickey clearly visible. There’s no coming back from that.

Derek’s hands fist in his t-shirt, pulling it up, and Stiles has to step back a little to allow Derek to push it up and over his head. He doesn’t know where the article of clothing ends up because he’s too busy trying to rid Derek of his Henley while Derek presses kisses to his chest.

“Jesus, fuck,” he mutters, mostly to himself, when his eyes finally land on Derek’s chest and sculpted, toned stomach. “You’re so…God, you’re like a Greek God, how are you even real?”

Derek’s eyes are wide as he gazes up at Stiles, something like wonder buried there. “I could say the same thing about you.”

When Stiles kisses him this time, it’s deep and dirty and full of promises, his tongue mapping Derek’s mouth and being mapped in return and it’s hot, so fucking hot, and Stiles is so hard in his jeans. He needs to do something about that.

His hands go for Derek’s belt and fly, his hands fumbling blindly because he doesn’t want to stop kissing Derek to look at what he’s trying to do. When he finally gets the zipper down, Derek hisses out a breath that sounds almost like relief and Stiles forces himself back an inch to look down.

A pair of very familiar looking black and yellow boxers peek out through the ‘V’ of Derek’s open jeans, the Batman logo clearly visible, and all the blood in Stiles’ body runs south.

“Oh, holy shit,” he whispers breathlessly, his eyes staring at where Derek’s hard cock strains the fabric of Stiles’ underwear.

It’s hotter than it should be.

“Well, you did say you wanted to see me in your underwear before you left,” Derek says and Stiles can hear the grin in his voice, “I just didn’t want to wait until you were leaving to see that look on your face.”

Stiles looks up then, sees the awed look on Derek’s face and knows that he isn’t really worth it. But he doesn’t dwell on it, can’t, because he needs to see Derek, all of him, in nothing but Stiles’ Batman boxer-briefs.

“Stand…stand up,” he urges, his voice broken. “I need…God, I need you to take your jeans off.”

He stands back to give Derek room to stand up and watches with hungry eyes as Derek kicks off his Chuck Taylors and shimmies out of his blue jeans.

He doesn’t even give Derek a second to remove his black socks, just pounces on him and pins him against the counter. His hands run over Derek’s ass, over the briefs. He grips the meat of Derek’s ass hard, then slides his hands around to the front, grazing across the stretched material.

Derek makes a choked off noise, his head falling back and he moans Stiles’ name.

“Yeah?” Stiles asks, his eyes sparkling and he bites his lower lip teasingly. “You want something?”

“Stiles.” It’s a growl this time and his arches his hips into Stiles’ hand. “Just fucking do something.”

Without pause, Stiles falls to his knees and Derek makes a choked off noise and Stiles can’t help his grin as he leans forward to lick Derek through the material.

“Oh, shit,” Derek breathes. His hands find their way to Stiles’ head, bury themselves in his hair, and Stiles just carries on, runs his tongue over the wet patch that Derek’s leaking cock has made.

Stiles is achingly hard in his own underwear at this point, but he can’t really spare the brain power it would take to do anything about it, just hooks his fingers in the waistband of the underwear and pulls it down Derek’s hips until he frees Derek’s cock.

“God,” he whispers as he stares and his mouth is actually watering, “you are like…the perfect specimen, aren’t you? People should actually study you.”

There’s a strained sounding chuckle. “Oh, trust me, people have. Intimately.”

Stiles frowns up at him. “We’re going to talk about that at some point, because that sounds very weird. But not right now.”

Before Derek can say or do anything more, Stiles leans forward and wraps his lips around the head of Derek’s cock.

It’s been years since Stiles has blown a guy and, in all honesty, it was never really one of his favorite sexual activities, but the noise Derek is making, the way he’s gripping Stiles’ hair, it’s all just turning Stiles on even more and he feels like he’s going to come in his pants before he even gets Derek off.

Above him, Derek is cursing and grunting, moaning as he grips the counter, like he’s trying to hold himself back, trying to stop himself from fucking Stiles’ mouth until he comes.

Stiles just goes for it, putting everything he has into the act. It’s probably not the best blow job someone has given, but what he lacks in skill he more than makes up for in enthusiasm and Derek doesn’t exactly look like he’s objecting.

“Stiles,” Derek says suddenly, his hands making their way to Stiles’ hair, gripping tightly. “Stiles, you have to…I’m going to come. Please…”

Stiles pulls off and works Derek with his hand, looking up at Derek, watches as he throws his head back, exposing his throat and closing his eyes. He swallows hard and Stiles watches his throat work, his lips aching to kiss the exposed skin.

Then Derek gasps, jerking in Stiles hands as he comes, folding in on himself even as he spills over Stiles’ hand.

“Damn, that was hot,” Stiles says, a little breathless just from watching this amazing man lose it over Stiles.

“Get the fuck up here,” Derek grunts, pulling at Stiles until he’s on his feet.

He kisses Stiles, licking the taste of himself out of Stiles’ mouth and his hands go straight for Stiles’ fly.

It takes and embarrassingly short amount of time for Stiles to reach the edge and all it takes to tip him over it is Derek’s teeth sinking into his bottom lip, tugging lightly.

“Oh, God,” he croaks as he rests his forehead to Derek’s. “Seriously, handjobs in the kitchen and humping on the couch and I can already tell that you are definitely the best sex I have ever had. We’re so going to be using all those condoms.”

Derek just chuckles and kisses Stiles again, short, sweet pecks to his lips that make butterflies flutter in Stiles’ belly.

They stand like that for a few minutes, comfortable in each other’s company and Stiles tries not to think about how weird that is, how natural they feel around each other. It’s calming and peaceful and Stiles tries not to feel resentful when Derek shatters that peace.

“I have to go,” he says quietly, his breath ghosting across Stiles’ lips. “I have…I have an appointment that I really can’t miss.”

“It’s cool,” Stiles says even though he doesn’t feel cool about anything, “I didn’t expect you to hang out all day, dude.”

“Wish I could, though,” Derek says, almost too low for Stiles to hear, but then he grins at Stiles and reaches out to zip Stiles back into his jeans. “I want you to do something for me, though.”

Stiles cocks an eyebrow at the man in front of him. “Oh, yeah? Is this something kinky? Because that would be pretty hot.”

Derek snorts and rolls his eyes, reaching for his jeans and climbing back into them. “No, it’s not something kinky.”

Stiles deflates, a little disappointed if he’s honest. “Oh. Then what?”

“I just…I want you to get out of this apartment. You’re in New York City, Stiles, for the first time. You can’t spend your whole time here shut up in this apartment. Go outside. See the city, even if you just walk down the block or jump on one of those tour buses. Just…promise me that you will do something. And I want proof before you try to pretend anything.”

“You’re no fun, Derek,” Stiles pouts. “This is supposed to be a vacation, I shouldn’t be made to do things I don’t want to do.”

“Yeah, Stiles, you’re on vacation in the best city in the world. Isn’t there something you’ve always wanted to do in The Big Apple?”

“Times Square,” Stiles says softly and he watches the bright grin spread over Derek’s face.

“Then go. Stand in the middle of Times Square and just soak it all in.”

Stiles looks towards the windows, where the bright New York sunshine is shining in and he has to swallow back the cloying fear that threatens to overwhelm him. When he looks back, Derek is fully dressed, shoes and all, and that panic creeps in even further.

“I’m all alone here, Derek. I thought I could do this, I thought I could just have a nice vacation, get my head back on straight. But…but this city, there are people everywhere, people I don’t know, who don’t know me.” He shakes his head and pinches the bridge of his nose. “I should have made Lydia come with me or something.”

“And what about Cora?” Derek counters. “She’s just as much alone right now as you are.”

Stiles scoffs. “Beacon Hills isn’t exactly Manhattan, Derek.”

“No, but to someone who doesn’t know anyone, it might as well be.”

Stiles sighs and sinks back against the counter. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be such a whiny little bitch, I just…I guess I got used to the idea of never being alone again, you know? It’s gonna take a while to remember that that’s not the case anymore.”

Derek smiles and reaches out to cup Stiles’ face. “You’re not alone, Stiles. You literally surrounded by people. Thousands of people, a lot of them in the same state of mind you are right now. Including me.”

“You?” Stiles scoffs. “You’ve got family, friends probably, you’re surrounded by people who love you.”

“And there was still a time in my life when I felt so alone that I thought nothing was going to be able to make it better.”

There’s something in Derek’s eyes, something incredibly familiar, and it takes all Stiles has not to reach out and hug him close. He feels…he feels something for Derek, a connection he’s never felt before and he’s never felt more confused in his entire life.

“What did you do?” he asks instead, watching Derek’s expression closely. He looks remorseful, lost in memories that Stiles can’t even guess at, but whatever they are, they’re more painful than anything that Stiles can imagine.

Suddenly he feels stupidly embarrassed for crying about his pathetic excuse for a love life.

“I went to Times Square,” Derek answers honestly, “and I sat down. I sat there for hours and let the people just flow by me. Then I got up and I went to Central Park, did exactly the same thing, and then I went home.”

“And that’s it? Suddenly you were miraculously cured?”

Derek shakes his head. “No, but things did start to get a little better after that. Slowly, yes, but sitting there helped me to see that I wasn’t alone. No matter how alone I felt.”

Stiles nods and takes a deep breath. “Times Square, huh?”

“And you know, you’re not alone here, either, you do know that, right? I might just be the brother of the girl whose house you’re staying at, but I still mean it. You have someone here.”

Stiles can’t stop himself anymore and he leaps across the kitchen, kissing Derek deeply, Derek’s hands searing brands into his hips.

It’s over too soon and Derek pulls away, regret visible on his face.

“I really wish I could say but I have…I have to be somewhere, I’m sorry.”

“Hey, no, I told you, I’m not going to make you disrupt your life just because I’m only here for a little while. We’ll…we’ll hang out when you have time. Right?” Stiles hates himself for sounding needy, but he needs that reassurance.

Derek kisses him again, then pulls his cellphone out of the pocket of his jeans. He unlocks it and hands it to Stiles. “Type in your number.”

Stiles does as he’s told and gives the cellphone back. Derek fiddles around some more and somewhere in the apartment, Stiles hears his cellphone chime.

“I will call you,” Derek promises, “but feel free to text me. And promise me you’ll at least see Times Square today.”

“I promise,” Stiles says and he closes his eyes as Derek kisses him again and then Derek’s leaving, closing the door behind him with one last smile.

And Stiles is left alone.

Stiles drinks another cup of coffee, takes some painkillers, looks out the window for a while and watches and old episode of Friends before he can make himself put on his shoes.

Even then, it’s a struggle to get down the stairs and out the door onto the street. The sun is bright, painful against his hangover, but there’s something inside his head telling him that he shouldn’t let Derek down, that Derek came all the way to the apartment to see if Stiles was all right and to cook him breakfast. The least Stiles can do is keep his promise.

He hails a cab, which is more difficult than they make it look on TV, but he manages to get one eventually and he tells the driver to take him to Times Square.

The driver gives him a look, but he doesn’t question him. Probably doesn’t want to run the risk of talking himself out of a fair.

The ride is over quicker than Stiles expected it to be, but that’s mostly because he’s too busy staring out the window at the city as it flies by.

Derek was right, there are people everywhere, dozen, hundreds, dozens of hundreds and Stiles stands in the middle of them for a moment when he gets out of the cab and just breathes. For the first time in what feels like days, he breathes.

There’s a souvenir shop over to his right and he can’t stop himself from heading inside.

He buys gifts for his dad and his friends, stupid, silly gifts that he knows they’ll love, even if Lydia will make a big deal out of how tacky her teddy bear with the ‘I Heart NY’ t-shirt is, but Stiles knows that when he next goes to her house, that bear will be sitting in pride of place on the back of the couch before it migrates to her desk at school when summer vacation is over.

When he’s paid, he goes back outside and stands for a second in the doorway, just taking in the people that are hurrying by, all of them looking like they know exactly where they’re going.

With another deep breath, Stiles wades into the sea of bodies and crosses the street to the TKTS bleacher seats. He has to dodge around people as he climbs to the top, but it’s worth it for the view alone. It’s breathtaking, seeing all of Times Square spread out below him.

Stiles snaps a few pictures with his cellphone before he sits down, his bag of gifts settled securely between his legs, and he just…watches.

He watches for hours, sees all the different people come and go, tourists, locals, people going to work, coming home from work. The sky gets dark and the lights shine brightly, throwing colors everywhere and Stiles wishes he could stay there forever.

It’s only when his stomach starts to protest it’s emptiness that he gets up, glancing around for somewhere to have dinner. There’s a TGI Fridays to his left, and that looks like as good a place as any.

Before he descends the bleachers, Stiles turns until they’re behind him and takes out his cellphone again. He snaps a selfie, looking ridiculous with a too-big smile, but he sends it off to Derek anyway.

Derek sends him a smiley face in return and Stiles decides it’ll do for now.

Chapter Text

Beacon Hills

Cora sits in the middle of Stiles’ living room, her feet tucked under the coffee table, her back against the bottom of the couch, and sighs at the mess around her.

There are notebooks and pages and photographs littering every available surface, most of it spilling off and onto the floor. She’s always been a messy worker, her need to take notes and subsequently lose them resulting in the need to take more means that there is always an avalanche of papers floating all over her office.

But for some reason, it doesn’t look quite so destructive and uncoordinated in her spacious office back in New York as it does in Stiles’ living room.

The place looks like a tornado just blew through and Cora feels like a failure.

She’s an adult, she should know by now how to work on a project, how to plan and evaluate and notate, without being personally responsible for the deforestation of a rainforest.

Except she’d been very clear, when she’d been packing before she left, that this was supposed to be a vacation from her real life. She’d told Laura that she’d wanted no distractions, no emails from work, and no calls from clients. She was taking a leave of absence, a long overdue leave of absence, and she didn’t want to be able to be contacted, especially when she couldn’t be of any help anyway, given that she was now on the other side of the country. She’d even contemplated leaving her personal cellphone behind before Laura threatened her with bodily harm if she left herself isolated in a stranger’s house in a strange town and uncontactable by anyone in the family.

Not that there had been many calls in the week she’d been gone, summer vacation getting the better of everyone.

Of course, that idea went out the window the second she’d eavesdropped on that conversation in the library, but a fun little project like this is still at least somewhat relaxing compared to the corporate, backstabbing world she’d left behind.

Still, sitting here now, Cora’s pretty desperate for her laptop or even her iPad. At least she can pull everything together, get her notes into some sort of order, start making mock ups, play around with layouts and colors, and instead she’s sitting on the floor with a sketch pad and colored pencils she bought at the grocery store, trying to remember long forgotten artistic skills she’d last used during in high school.

If Derek could see her now, he’d laugh until he was sick, so Cora snaps a photo of herself and sends it to him, never one to miss an opportunity to make her brother happy.

Cora’s stomach rumbles and she sighs again, more at her own ineptitude than anything else, and she pushes the coffee table away so that she can get to her feet.

That’s when she notices the bottom shelf of said coffee table and the laptop tucked safely away there.

Cora scrambles for her phone, bringing up the number she’d programmed in the second she’d settled on house swapping with a guy from the other side of the country and hitting ‘call’.

It takes a while for her call to be answered, and for some reason, Cora pictures the guy staring at his phone, wondering if he should answer or not.

It’ll have been the first time they’ve spoken and Cora knows that she’d be nervous if the shoe was on the other foot.

“Um, yeah, um…h-hello?” Stiles says and Cora fights a smile.

“This is Stiles, right?”

“Yeah, um, hi…hi, this is Cora, right?…is there…is something wrong?” Stiles asks, his voice sounding rushed and nervous. “’Cause I figured you’d only call if something was wrong and you’re calling right now, so obviously that means there’s something wrong. Is it my dad? No, of course it’s not my dad, if it was my dad then Scott would have called, or Lydia or Parrish, instead of someone I’d never met.”

“Man,” Cora says when Stiles finally pauses to take a breath, “how do your students even understand you enough to take notes? They must be going out of their minds.”

“Um…I’m normally much calmer when I’m faced with a room full of sixteen year olds?”

“We are very different people,” Cora concedes. “Anyway, hi, I’m Cora!”

On the other end of the line, Stiles laughs, his voice warm and pleasant. “I’m Stiles, it’s nice to meet you in this weird, wrong way.”

“Eh, so we’re unconventional, it’ll be a story tell our adorable, hypothetical grandchildren in the future.”

“We’ll have to embellish a lot, I doubt they’d be interested in their very old grandparents telling them stories about the stranger vacation they went on. Maybe it was a treasure hunt? Or a pirate journey and we were being held prisoner from our respective crews.”

It’s Cora’s turn to laugh and she doesn’t hide it. “Man, it must be great learning shit from you if you embellish the boring bits like this.”

“Eh, it’s a gift.”

“Anway, I did have a reason for calling, but it’s nothing even remotely serious or worth panicking about.”

“Alright, what is it?”

Cora can feel herself blushing even though she knows there’s no one around to see her and she feels incredibly stupid over it. “I kinda volunteered myself to make this brochure thing to make your town sound more appealing to tourists and I was wondering if I could get the password for your laptop so that I can download some programs to work on it. Obviously I’d pay for them and you can keep them when I’m done and I promise I won’t go snooping through your files.”

Stiles audibly lets out a sigh of relief. “Oh, yeah, sure. My house is your house and all that. The password if Claudia-explanation-point-twenty-four. All lower case. Apart from the digits, obviously.”

“Claudia?” Cora asks as she hits the keys to enter the password. “I thought Isaac said your ex-girlfriend’s name was Malia?”

“It was. Claudia was my mom’s name. She died when I was a kid.” There’s a weird, heavy pause from Stiles’ end of the phone and Cora stops what she’s doing, waiting for him to speak again. “Have you…you’ve been hanging out with Isaac?”

Even sitting alone in a room that she’s only just become familiar with, Cora can feel herself blush, but she tries not to let it slip into her voice as she answers. “Um, a little, yeah. I’m doing this thing for…for your dad and your friends’ parents and he’s been helping. Taking photos for me, you know?”

“Isaac…Isaac is taking photographs? Like, you ask and he agreed?”

Cora frowns. “Uh…yeah? He’s really good. He took some amazing shots for me yesterday.”

“I know how good he is,” Stiles says, his voice hard, “I just…he doesn’t think he’s good. He never takes photos for us, he always says it’s just a hobby and never lets us see anything.”

“He…he put up photos in your house, Stiles. That’s how we met, he was here when I arrived, switching out photos of Malia. That’s why I asked him to help me, because I saw how talented he was.”

“I see,” Stiles says and Cora can hear the smirk in his voice.

“What’s that tone? You have a tone.”

“I just think it’s nice that Isaac wants to spend time with someone and share his talent with them. I’m just wondering if that’s all your sharing.”

Cora’s blush deepens and she throws her head back against the couch, sighing deeply. “Nothing’s happened. Not yet, anyway.”

“But you want it to?”

“I don’t know, Stiles. I’m here for such a short time, I don’t want to lead him on or start something that can’t really go anywhere. But I…I think he’s cute. I like spending time with him.”

“Then just do that, just spend time with him. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that. Isaac’s had such a hard time, something like this could be good for him.”

Cora lets the comment go. She doesn’t want to press it, doesn’t want to hear something personal about Isaac unless it comes from him, which maybe isn’t the right way to go about having a fling. The whole point is too keep personal information out of the equation, right?

“What about you, Stiles? How are you enjoying the Big Apple?”

“It’s…more than I expected,” Stiles says and Cora can hear the honesty in his voice.

“You’re not having fun?” she asks, suddenly worried that Stiles isn’t having a good time in her home town while she’s been rushed off her feet dealing with projects she’s invented for herself and hanging out with Stiles’ friends.

“Oh, no, that’s not…I’m having a good time. I just…there’s something…it’s knocked me a little off center or something, since it’s always in the back of my mind.”

“You want to talk about it?” Cora offers. “Might help to see why you’ve got yourself so tied up in knots over it.”

“Um…” Stiles sounds like he’s cringing. “I don’t think you really want to talk about this?”

It’s phrased like a question and Cora frowns. “Okay, what the hell does that mean?”

“I sort of hooked up with Derek. Twice.”

Cora squeaks, her hand flying to her mouth before she lets out a stream of giggles.

“Okay,” Stiles says slowly, “not exactly the reaction I was expecting.”

“What did you think I was gonna do, yell at you?”

“Honestly? Yeah, I think I was.”

Cora laughs. “Nah, this could be good for Derek. He needs some time to just sit it out and wind down. Relax and shit.”

“Yeah, I know he’s had a hard time of it.”

Cora blinks. “He told you that?”

“Well, he didn’t go into detail, but, yeah.”

“Wow.” Cora sits there, staring at the wall and lets that sink in for a few seconds.

Derek is an extremely private person, which is probably why he hasn’t been with anyone in so long.

But the fact that he even told Stiles just a little about what’s happened to them…it’s a little mind boggling to Cora. Maybe it’s the fact that Stiles is a stranger, that he’s a temporary fixture in Derek’s life, that makes it easier for him to open up about his past, but whatever it is, Cora’s extremely glad of it.

Stiles snorts. “Yeah, well, I don’t think it really matters now because I haven’t seen him since, like, my third day here. Okay, he didn’t exactly ask me out on a date, he said he had commitments or whatever that he couldn’t get out of, which I respect. I can’t exactly ask someone to upset their lives for me when I’m only going to be in town for a little while. But he said he would…I didn’t think he would wait a week.”

Cora shrugs. “So go see him.”

Stiles splutters. “What?! I can’t do that!”

“Why not?”

“Just…because!”

“Nice answer, Stiles, would you accept that from one of your students?”

“I teach chemistry, of course not.”

“Alright, so Derek said he wanted to spend time with you, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, Derek never says he wants to spend time with someone. Not in the sense he meant it with you at least.” She cringes. “And, okay, I’m not gonna lie, he probably only said that because you’re safe and he knows he doesn’t have a chance of growing any sort of real feelings for you, because he knows you’re temporary. But, you know that, too, right?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“So, go see him. He’s address is in the red book on the kitchen counter. Just go over there tonight. I’m sure he wouldn’t be upset to see you.”

“You’re a little bit of a control freak, Cora Hale,” Stiles says, but his voice is full of laughter this time, so she just smiles gently.

“I’m the baby of the family, Stiles, I’m used to getting my way.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m an only child. I’m used to being spoiled. You’re just lucky that you want me to do something that I want to do anyway.”

“Just please, God, never, ever tell me what the two of you got up to. Especially if it was in my bed.”

“You need a new couch,” Stiles says randomly and Cora shudders at the implication.

“Urg! I’m hanging up on you now. Go get lucky, you little bastard.”

“It was nice talking to you, Cora.”

“You, too, Stiles. Don’t be a stranger.”

Stiles hangs up and Cora stares at the phone for a second, thinking about Stiles and Derek.

Stiles seems…nice. Different to the people Derek usually goes for, but he must have seen something in the guy to think about starting something, even something fleeting and brief.

Then there’s the fact that Stiles is a guy.

Cora isn’t stupid, she’s known since middle school that her brother played for both teams. It’s just been a long time since a guy turned Derek’s head. Since anyone turned his head, really, but maybe this is exactly what he needs. Something exciting to remind himself that there’s life outside of Nathan, a life that he can have without something bad happening.

Derek has had a hard life – they all have – and it’s closed him off, made him appear sullen and withdrawn to the outside world, even though that couldn’t be further from the real Derek.

But if Derek is opening up to Stiles, confiding in him enough that Stiles knows at least a little about what happened in their past, then Derek must see something pretty special in the Californian and Cora really hopes that she’ll get a chance to meet him at some point.

Then she realizes that, no, she might never get to meet Stiles. After this vacation is over, they’re both going to go back to their real lives, on opposite sides of the country, and outside of the odd email or Christmas card, they’ll probably get on with their lives and never think about each other again. And if Derek trusts Stiles enough already to talk to him about very personal things, then Cora’s brother has already fallen hard and she doesn’t know if she and Laura and Nathan are going to be able to pull him back when this is all over.

It’s not like they haven’t had practice.

A knock at the front door pulls Cora out of her funk over the fact that Derek isn’t going to get to keep Stiles and she gets up off the floor, crossing the room as she wonders if she shouldn’t call Derek up and tell him to call the whole thing off right now.

Though, if Stiles hasn’t heard from Derek in over a week, maybe he’s already figured out that he needs to take himself out of the situation for his own good.

Cora’s is making a mental note to call her brother as she pulls open the front door but that mental note is gone when she sees Isaac smiling shyly at her from the front step.

“Hi!” she says brightly, not even bothering to hide her excitement. “Come in, please.”

She steps aside as Isaac enters the house, his head ducked low as he passes her by.

“I just called to give you this,” he says when he gets to the living room, handing Cora a thumb drive. “It’s got the photos we took from the Preserve the other day and I thought you might like to see them, start working with them. And now that I’m standing here I’m suddenly wondering if you actually have a laptop because I certainly wouldn’t take my laptop on vacation. Do you need me to run home and get mine?”

Isaac’s rambling is adorable and Cora just smiles at him, not even hiding how she feels.

“I actually just got off the phone with Stiles, he gave me the password for his laptop so this is really great timing. I just started buying some programs to help with the editing. Once I have an actual idea, I should be able to have something to hand over to those guys in about a week, which will give me time to talk them through anything they want changed.”

“You can really do all that in a week?” Isaac asks, incredulous.

Cora grins. “Trust me, I’ve had tighter deadlines than this.”

“Yeah, but this is supposed to be a vacation for you. You’re not supposed to be doing things for Lydia’s stuck up mom.”

“I don’t mind, Isaac, honestly. This is my…this is what I love to do. Vacation or not.

Isaac holds up his hands in mocking surrender and both of them laugh.

“Plus, it’s almost like a hobby, you know? It isn’t for work, so it doesn’t feel like work, if that makes sense. God, I think I’m babbling.”

“You’re not babbling, I get it. Like, if I was making a living doing what I loved, I don’t think it would ever be a chore.”

“Exactly.”

After a while their laughter and easy camaraderie dies away and silence follows. It’s not uncomfortable, but it’s not comfortable either and Cora tries to find something to say, to ask, before it falls completely in the wrong direction.

“So, I was just about to decide what to order for dinner if you wanna stay?”

It’s awkward and it doesn’t have to be. Cora’s attracted to Isaac, she’s not going to deny that, but this isn’t some kismet situation – they aren’t soulmates and they’re not going to fall desperately in love with each other and churn out three little dark haired, blue eyed babies.

Cora’s in town for two more weeks – the only potential between the two of them is a fling and nothing more.

“Or, we could just skip the whole awkward dating portion of this and get right to the sex.”

Isaac chokes on his tongue and his face turns red and Cora would laugh if she wasn’t so absolutely serious right now.

“Wow,” he says, a little breathless, “the whole reason why I came over here was to try and find a way to ask you to go to the fair with me this Sunday, but I didn’t actually have the guts to just come right out and ask you, hence the thumb drive.”

Cora looks at the thumb drive still in her hand and shrugs. “Okay, we can do that, too.”

Isaac blinks. “Too? Right, okay…okay then.”

Cora sighs. “Look, I’m here for two weeks. That’s it, Isaac. Two weeks and then I get on a plane and fly back to the Big Apple. Now, do you want to spend those two weeks awkwardly dancing around each other, sneaking shy glances when we think the other isn’t looking and maybe working our way to the physical stuff about two days before I leave, or do you wanna just get right down to it?”

There’s a beat, where neither of them moves, they just look at each other across the four feet of space that’s separating them, Isaac’s chest heaving and Cora clenching her fists nervously as her eyes flitter over Isaac’s face.

And then Isaac moves, surges forward and takes Cora’s face between his palms and kisses her.

It’s not a life affirming kiss, Cora isn’t even going to lie and say that it’s the best kiss she’s ever had, but it’s good and there’s a spark and Isaac kisses like he knows what he’s doing and he doesn’t try to eat her face or check to see if she still has her tonsils, which is a real step up from the last guy she kissed.

And when Isaac’s hands slide down her body and around her waist, pulling her close, Cora gives herself over completely, melting into it, running her hands over Isaac’s body, trying to touch as much of it as she possibly can while they’re still vertical.

Isaac pulls back a little when Cora’s hands stray to the waist band of his dark jeans, her fingers dipping just beneath it. He looks down at Cora, watches her like he’s just waiting for her to say ‘no’, to tell him to stop. He’s so careful as he reaches for the hem of her – or rather Stiles’ – t-shirt and she aids him by raising her arms above her head.

Isaac grazes his hands along her sides and the sides of her breasts as he rids her of the shirt and at the last second, just before she has to help pull the shirt over her head, Cora remembers that she’s wearing the most unflattering, yet comfortable, bra that she owns. In fact, Cora is definitely not looking at her best right now, makeup-less, her dark hair pulled up into a messy knot, sweats and a t-shirt that belongs to a man she’s never met. And yet, when Cora finally frees herself and tosses Stiles’ shirt somewhere else, she can see the look of utter adoration in Isaac’s eyes. He’s looking at her like he’s in awe and Cora feels herself blushing to the roots of her hair.

“You’re so…” he seems to lose his words, swallowing hard. “You’re beautiful.”

“You’re not so bad yourself,” Cora jokes, but it falls flat in the middle of the tension between them and Isaac steps forward again, closing the little bit of distance that’s been created with the stripping.

When he kisses her this time, it’s softer, almost chaste. The hunger’s still there, but it’s been diluted with something else, something that Cora can’t name, so she throws her arms around Isaac’s neck and kisses back with everything she has.

She’s not ready for it when Isaac’s hands slide down to her ass and then further, until he can get his hands underneath her and lift her off her feet.

Cora gasps as she’s hauled into the air, her legs wrapping around Isaac’s waist on instinct alone.

Cora smiles when she looks down into Isaac’s blue eyes.

“Don’t tell Stiles I had sex in his bed.”

Cora throws her head back in a loud laugh and Isaac carries her into the bedroom.

New York

Derek’s address wasn’t exactly hard to find, the red address book that Cora had mentioned standing out starkly against her bright white counter tops. The names in the books had been listed under their first names, which Stiles found weird and caused him to panic for about thirty seconds when he flipped to the ‘H’s’ and Derek’s name wasn’t there. Seeing the names listed there as Helen Taylor and Harry Wales among others had clued him in fairly quickly.

After Stiles had written Derek’s address down on a scrap of paper, he rushes to get ready so that he doesn’t overthink things and second guess himself and before he knows it, he’s in a cab armed with two bottles of wine from Cora’s wine rack and the little bag of goodies that Derek had brought with him the last time he’d come to visit.

This has the potential to go horribly wrong.

The cab driver takes Stiles to Tribeca, somewhere he’s yet to stop in his travels around the city, and he looks out the window at the very unassuming building before he remembers that he needs to pay the driver and actually get out of the car.

The building is a far cry from Cora’s, with the doorman and the gym and the pool – not that Stiles has felt the need to avail himself of either of those, the fact that they’re there makes Stiles a little uncomfortable.

Derek’s building, on the other hand, is probably the exact opposite; there’s a buzzer to gain entrance and no elevator from what Stiles can see as he peers through the glass of the front door, but just looking at the names next to the buzzers, it seems that Derek’s apartment takes up the entire top floor.

Stiles wasn’t really planning on doing any cardio on this trip, but the exercise is going to have to wait because first, he has to get into the building.

Buzzing seems counterproductive; the whole point of this operation is to surprise Derek. If Derek really is avoiding him then announcing his presence only gives Derek the opportunity to turn Stiles away, to deny him access. But at the same time, he doesn’t exactly have the power to walk through walls.

He could buzz one of the other tenants’ buzzers, come up with some sort of line that would get them to grant him access, but that sort of goes against everything his father taught him, that sneaky, underhanded schemes that seems more in keeping with a teenage Stiles, rather than the responsible high school teacher he’s grown up to become.

Maybe Cora has a key to the front door stashed somewhere in her apartment. Once Stiles called her to explains his idea to surprise Derek, she’s sure to –

“Hey, man, you looking for someone?”

Stiles is thrown out of his thoughts by the voice and he looks up to see a guy standing in the open front door with a backpack thrown over one shoulder.

“Um…yeah,” Stiles says slowly. “I…a friend of mine, client, really. Or…or potential client, that’s probably a better word. He asked me to stop by, so that we could…we could go over some…prospects, you know? Pitch my ideas and everything.” Has Stiles mentioned that he tends to babble when he’s nervous or caught off guard? “Yeah, well, I never actually got his last name, and the buzzers don’t have anyone’s first names and I don’t have a phone number and now I’m kinda…kinda lost what I’m supposed to do now. Can’t exactly buzz everyone and ask them if they’re Derek now can I?”

The guy’s eyes light up. “Oh, you’re here to see Derek? Cool, man, he doesn’t get many visitors, you know? People usually just go to his studio, he’s a pretty private person.”

Stiles cringes internally. “Yeah, I do. We’ve actually known each other for a while, friends of friends, you know? It’s only in the last day or so that we decided to…expand our relationship.”

The guy nods vigorously. “I’m on my way to do exactly that, well, not with Derek, obviously, but yeah, new deals, new relationships, we have to take what we can get in this world, right?”

“Right…” Stiles says slowly, not really sure he understands what this guy is even talking about.

He holds the door open and beckons Stiles in side. “Go on in, man, Derek’s on the top floor. And hey, good luck, yeah?”

Stiles thanks the guy, loudly and probably embarrassingly, and lets himself into the building, facing the stairs with a grim type of determination.

Sure, Stiles is in pretty good shape, he has to be, he coaches lacrosse and cross-country at the high school and he runs in his spare time, but climbing up six flights of stairs with his heart pounding in nervous excitement just about knocks him on his ass and he has to take a moment when he gets to the top so that he can get his breath back and make sure he doesn’t look like he just ran all the way in from Beacon Hills.

He pauses again with his hand raised ready to knock. This has the potential to go very, very not the way Stiles wants it to, but he also wants to know, one way or the other, so that he can get on with enjoying the rest of his vacation without bothering to think about Derek Hale again.

So he knocks, loud and firm and takes a step back while he waits for someone – anyone – to answer.

There’s a crash from behind the door, like a pile of boxes have fallen over, and muttered cursing and Stiles has to bite down on a laugh as he imagines Derek hopping about due to a stubbed toe.

His laughter dies away as the door is pulled open – safety chain unsurprisingly in place – and there’s Derek, looking tired and drawn, his hair wild and unkempt, much like his beard, like he hasn’t showered or changed in days.

“Stiles,” he gasps, his green eyes wide and worried. “What…what are you…how did you…what?”

He’s nervous and scared and Stiles is suddenly more worried than ever. “I talked to Cora today, she’s awesome, by the way. But we got around to discussing you and our…situation, and I mentioned that, you know, you seemed to have disappeared off the face of the planet, or NYC anyway, and she suggested that I dropped by.”

Derek blinks, like he doesn’t really understand what Stiles just said. “Cora told you to…drop by?”

“Yeah, why? You sound…was that wrong of her to do that?” Stiles pulse is going up by the second.

Derek closes the door and Stiles can hear the sound of the chain being removed before he opens it again and steps out into the hall.

“No, no, it wasn’t…it wasn’t wrong,” Derek assures and Stiles relaxes a little. “It’s just…now isn’t really the best time, okay? Can you just go back to Cora’s and I’ll call you tomorrow?”

Stiles nods. “Yeah, no, that’s not going to happen. ‘Cause, see, I’ve heard that line before, and no phone call ever came, so I’m not leaving here until I get some answers.”

Derek visibly pales but Stiles has had enough of being jerked around at this point and he soldiers on regardless.

“Now, either you had something important and unexpected happen in the last week that made you forget to call me, in which case, rude, but understandable. Or you just decided that I wasn’t worth your time and you decided to blow me off, literally, and not bother calling me again, in which case, you’re a complete and utter bastard. Now which is it?”

Derek winces. “The first one.”

Stiles narrows his eyes. “Really? Are you sure? You don’t want to take a minute and think about your answer? Because I don’t want to make this something if you don’t think it is.”

“Seriously, Stiles, I was going to call you, I swear. It’s just…I had a, uh, a family emergency and I couldn’t-”

“A family emergency that your sister knows absolutely nothing about?” Stiles scoffs. “I think she might have mentioned that when I was bemoaning the fact that you haven’t called me in a week.”

Derek sighs. “She doesn’t know, it was nothing really all that important, it was just something that I had to deal with and it meant that I couldn’t get away to see you, so I thought it was stupid to call if I wasn’t able to meet up with you.”

“You could have called to say that at least,” Stiles tells him.

“I know, I know and I’m sorry, I just…”

Somewhere inside the apartment and door opens and Stiles can hear a television playing loudly before the door closes again and he looks at Derek with a knowing expression.

Derek, for his part, looks defeated.

“You’re not alone, are you?”

“No,” Derek answers quickly, “but, Stiles, if you would just let me explain, this isn’t what it looks like.”

“No? So you don’t have someone in there? Some pretty wife or husband tucked away in there that you conveniently forgot to tell me about when I was sucking you off in your sister’s kitchen?!”

“Oh, my God, will you keep your voice down?” Derek hisses.

“No, I won’t keep my voice down! I’m not a cheater, Derek. I refuse to be someone’s bit on the side, it is so humiliating and degrading and I won’t do that to myself or to your partner. Do they even know, by the way, what kind of a creep you-”

“Daddy?”

Stiles is cut off mid-sentence by the tiny person peeking around Derek’s legs. They’re wearing Despicable Me pajamas and a Captain America helmet and carrying Thor’s hammer and Stiles’ heart does a weird little flippy thing.

Derek sigh and hangs his head, warring with the little person for Stiles’ attention and he honestly can’t decide who’s more deserving of it.

“Um…” he says eloquently and the little person pushes back the helmet and blinks up at him.

“Who are you?”

“Nathan, don’t scratch,” Derek scolds suddenly and Stiles finally notices that the little boy’s free hand is currently trying desperately to reach what seems to be an incredibly itchy spot somewhere in the middle of his back.

“Itches,” the boy say pitifully, his mouth turned down in a pout.

Derek sighs again, like he hates himself for scolding his…nephew? Hopefully?

Delusional, thy name is Stiles.

“I know, buddy, but you remember what Auntie Laura said would happen if you scratched?”

“I’d end up all scarred like Deadpool,” Nathan grumbles. “But, Dad, that would be so cool! I could be Deadpool, I could put on a mask and have swords and…and..stuff!”

“Swords and stuff.” Derek pinches the bridge of his nose. “One day I really will kill Laura.”

“No,” Nathan scoffs, his hand under his shirt again, “’cause then you’d miss her and get all grumpy like you were yesterday. And the other yesterday. And all the yesterdays since Auntie Allison was here.”

Derek’s face is red when he glances up at Stiles, but Stiles is still having trouble forming words and he can’t really help Derek right now.

“Come on,” Derek says, reaching down to take Nathan by hammer occupied hand, “let’s get some more lotion on you. Stiles, you can come in, if you want. I’ll try to explain as best I can, but I think you’re smart enough to get it.”

“I like Deadpool,” Stiles says intelligently as he follows the two of them into the spacious apartment.

“Yeah!” Nathan crows. “Deadpool is the best, but there isn’t any Deadpool stuff in the stores so I have to get this stuff.” He waves the hammer as best he can in Derek’s grip.

“Thor’s pretty cool, too, though,” Stiles admits, “but Captain America is my favorite.”

Nathan’s eyes go wide and round behind the mask and he stares up at Stiles. “Mine, too.”

Derek groans. “Great, there’s two of you.”

Stiles smiles. “Not a comic fan, Derek?”

“Not really, never have been. Laura’s the comic geek in the family and she made sure to pass on the trait to this little guy.” He playfully swats at Nathan’s head, who ducks and wields his hammer defensively. “Makes Laura into a little bit of a hero where Nathan’s concerned, but I earn his unending adoration by putting my skills to good use. I may not like comics, but I can sure as hell draw them.”

Nathan flips his helmet off so that he can look up at Stiles with his big green eyes. “Yeah, Dad’s so cool, he drew me my own comic book! And I’m in it! And so is Dad and Auntie Laura and Auntie Cora and Auntie Allison and Uncle Peter and Boyd and Erica and Jackson and my best friend, Aaron and my other best friend, Eliot and-”

“Can you breathe for a second?” Derek asks, amusement clear on his face and it’s a really good thing no one can hear Stiles’ heart, because then they would have been able to hear it skip that beat.

“Sorry,” Nathan says with a grin. “Dad, can I go get it? Can I show my comic book to…um…” He looks back up at Stiles with a sheepish expression and Stiles probably should have realized before now that he’d failed to introduce himself to the boy.

“Stiles,” he says quickly and Nathan wrinkles his nose.

“Funny name.”

“Yeah, well, my real name was way, way too hard to say when I was your age, so I picked it myself.” He shrugs his shoulders at Derek. “What can I say, six year old me wasn’t wildly creative.”

Derek smiles and takes a step back into the apartment. “Are you sure you want to…? I mean, I’d understand if you wanted to take off or whatever?”

“No, yeah, I can stay for a while.”

Derek nods his head slowly, like he’s not sure that Stiles being in his house is something that he feels comfortable about, but he beckons for Stiles to follow him anyway. Stiles is just about to change his mind, tell Derek that he’ll come back when it’s a more reasonable hour – seriously, what was he thinking, coming by at almost eight at night? Oh, yeah, he was thinking with his dick, hence the condoms and lube that he is desperately trying to shove into one of the pockets of his lame as fuck cargo shorts – but before he can open his mouth, Nathan is shouting at him from further inside the apartment, his voice muffled and faint, and Stiles really doesn’t want to disappoint the kid.

Trying to shrug his way out of his jacket, Stiles belatedly realizes that he’s still holding on to the wine bottles in one hand.

“Uh…” he winces, “I kinda stole these from Cora. I thought maybe we could…but I guess that’s a little weird now.”

Derek smiles, wide and genuine this time. “If they’re Cora’s, we’ll definitely drink them eventually. She’s really weird about her alcohol stash.”

“Dad, Dad,” Nathan pulls at Derek’s shirt. “Can I show Stiles my comic book now?”

Derek looks at Stiles, allowing him to be the one to answer the boy.

“Sure, man, I’d love to see it.”

Nathan beams at him, his smile wide and bright, and he takes off at a run for what is probably his bedroom and returns just a few seconds later, like he knew exactly where his book was.

“Okay,” Derek says as Nathan bounces on his toes in front of them, “only for a little while, alright? You need to get to bed soon, buddy.”

“Dad,” Nathan whines as he climbs up onto the couch, patting the space next to him, indicating that Stiles should sit down.

“Don’t ‘Dad’ me, Nathan. You’re sick, and you’ve already stayed up thirty minutes past your bed time. Another thirty and then it’s lights out, okay?”

Nathan pouts. “Fine.”

“You sick, little man?” Stiles asks as he takes his seat and Nathan nods.

“I had the chicken poxes.”

“Chicken pox? Aw, man, that’s nasty.”

“Itchy,” Nathan agrees.

“He had a pretty bad reaction.” Derek explains gently. “Doctor’s said that can happen occasionally.” He pales suddenly. “Wait, you have had chicken pox, right? ‘Cause I think Nathan’s still contagious right now and I don’t want to-to wreck your vacation because you got the chicken pox from my six year old.”

“Six and three quarters!” Nathan pipes up indignantly and Stiles laughs.

“Relax, Derek, I’m a high school teacher. I think I’ve had every childhood disease known to man. And maybe a few that aren’t.”

Derek relaxes instantly. “Okay, good.”

Stiles pokes at Nathan, tickling him under his ribs. “You feeling better now, though? You seem better, even if you still look like a cheetah.”

Nathan giggles. “Still itchy.”

“But no scratching,” Derek orders and Nathan scowls at him, a perfect miniature of Derek.

Stiles laughs, drawing Nathan’s attention back to him and the boy passes over his book while Derek heads for the kitchen.

“Coffee?” he asks Stiles, throwing a wink over his shoulder. “For now, anyway.”

“Sounds good. Uh, cream and sugar, please.”

“Juice?” Nathan asks innocently.

“Milk,” Derek corrects. “You’re going to bed soon, no juice.”

“Milk,” Nathan confirms and Derek leaves the room.

Leaving Stiles alone with his son. Wow, Stiles could so easily freak out right now over how easy they seem to fit together, Nathan accepting Stiles instantly.

It’s a little scary, if Stiles is being honest.

Stiles clears his throat and puts the thoughts to the back of his mind. “Alright,” he says, “let me see this awesome book.”

Stiles opens the first page of the book and is immediately floored by the artwork in front of him.

Derek’s art is incredible, the characters he’s drawn are completely recognizable as Nathan, Derek and the three women Stiles has seen in photographs in Cora’s apartment, as well as a few people he hasn’t seen before, all of them standing alongside Captain America and Ironman. Deadpool makes frequent appearances, mostly with Nathan and Nathan takes great pride in retelling he story to Stiles, the text in the speech bubbles apparently committed to memory.

“You do this for a living?” Stiles asks when Derek comes back into the room, loaded down with a tray filled with two cups of coffee, cream and sugar and milk for Nathan.

He searches his brain even has he takes a cup from Derek, trying to figure out if he’s spotted a style like this before in any of the numerous comic books Stiles reads every month and he’s a little disappointed when Derek shakes his head.

“Not comic books. I am an artist, though, mostly portraits or body parts. The comic book was just something to buy Nathan’s love.”

“Dad,” Nathan scoffs, but Stiles notices that he doesn’t correct his father.

Jesus, Derek is a father. Stiles doesn’t really know any parents his own age. His doesn’t really know how to do this.

“Well, this is incredible,” he says, deflecting. “You could make serious money doing this for a living.”

Derek chuckles. “Maybe when my paintings stop turning a profit I’ll think about it.”

Stiles nudges Nathan. “What do you think, Nate? Would like it if your dad was drawing Batman and Spiderman for work?”

“That would be so cool!” Nathan gets up on his feet to bounce on the couch. “Then everyone could see how good you are!”

“Now look what you’ve started.”

Stiles just shrugs. “Purely a selfish motivation. I know I would like my monthly comics a lot better if they came with art like this. Some of the art work, honestly, I don’t know how it ever got approved for publication. The characters aren’t even recognizable.”

Derek laughs. “You’re a real die hard reader I see.”

“All my life, apart from my dad and my best friend, Scott, comics have probably been the one constant thing. It’s weird, I know, a grown man reading comic books, but I like them and I’m not ashamed of that.”

“You shouldn’t be; my older sister was the one who got Nathan into comics in the first place.”

Nathan, still on his feet, bounces closer to Stiles. “Who’s your favorite? I like Deadpool and Captain America and Black Widow.”

“I have to admit, I’m quite partial to those guys myself,” Stiles says with a snooty fake accent, making Nathan giggle, “but I have to say, I also have a soft spot for Batman. He’s just so cool, all dark and mysterious.”

“We’re not big DC readers, are we, bud?” Derek divulges softly. “At least not until you’re a little older and can appreciate it all a little better.” He gives Stiles a look that screams self-consciousness. “I don’t know, I always found DC to be a little darker, theme wise, and I think Nathan’s just a little too young for some things yet.”

Stiles nods, even though he doesn’t really agree, but Nathan isn’t his kid. “Just promise me that you’ll at least introduce him to the Caped Crusader at some point.”

“My friend Erica is a huge Catwoman fan, she’s just waiting for me to give her the green light.”

“Catwoman,” Nathan says suddenly and letting out a little meow.

Stiles laughs until his stomach hurts, Derek shaking his head in fondness and Nathan beams with pride.

The next half hour continues in the same pattern, Nathan entertaining them, Stiles being delighted by the little guy while Derek looks on like he can’t help but be amused by his son hamming it up for their visitor.

When it’s time for Nathan’s bedtime, he doesn’t protest like Stiles expects him to.

Instead, he throws his arms around Stiles’ neck, hugging him tightly and whispering ‘goodnight’ in his ear, before he jumps off the couch, bare feet slapping against the hardwood floors and racing for his bedroom.

Derek grabs the comic book from where it was left on the coffee table and climbs to his feet.

“I won’t be long,” he says softly, “Nathan’s usually pretty good about falling asleep after a story or two.” There’s a nervous look in his eyes and Stiles gets it.

Without Nathan acting as a buffer, there’s nothing to prevent Derek from telling Stiles everything.

“I’ll be here,” Stiles promises and he doesn’t know if it’s the reassurance Derek’s looking for.

When Derek leaves, Stiles starts clearing up, taking the cups and glasses to the kitchen, running them under the water before he puts them into the dishwasher along with the few other dirty dishes he finds. He wipes down the counter top and puts away a few stray food items, finds wine glasses in a cupboard and a corkscrew in a drawer.

When he’s done all that and Derek’s still not back, Stiles takes the glasses and the bottles and returns to the living room, setting them on the coffee table for the moment as his eyes catch on the toys and games littered over the floor.

He doesn’t think about it as he makes his way around the room, stacking the games in a neat pile next to the TV. The action figures get thrown into a plastic bucket and the Lego gets pushed gently and carefully against the wall out of the way of the foot traffic and when Stiles is finished, he turns around to sit back down on the couch only to find Derek watching him with a thoughtful expression.

Stiles blushes and ducks his head, sitting himself down as quickly as possible.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Derek says as he makes his way to the other side of the couch and Stiles just shrugs, reaching for the wine bottle.

“It wasn’t any trouble. Beats sitting here twiddling my thumbs waiting for you.”

Derek winces. “I’m sorry, he’s usually faster at going to sleep than this. I think you just excited him. Although, I’m kinda glad for that. He hasn’t really been himself the last few days.”

“That’s why you didn’t call or stop by, because your son was sick,” Stiles says, and it’s not a question, but at the same time, he can’t understand the way Derek handled the situation. “Why didn’t you tell me? About Nathan, I mean.”

Derek shrugs, his eyes on the glass he’s picked up off the coffee table. “You’re a single guy in the big city, Stiles, you were looking for a fling. Me and my son? Not a fling.”

“What, you think I can’t have a relationship with a guy who has a kid? I’m a high school teacher, Derek, I love kids.”

“Yeah, but it’s different, working with kids compared to actually having one in your life. Plus, you aren’t here for very long, I didn’t want Nathan getting to know you only to lose you a few weeks later.”

Stiles cringes. “Guess I kinda screwed up that plan, huh?”

“Eh, we’ll deal with that when the time comes.”

There’s silence between them for a moment, both of them staring into their glass as they try to come to terms with whatever it is that’s going on between them.

“Why didn’t you just tell me you had a child?” Stiles asks suddenly, the only question spinning around in his mind. He can understand Derek wanting to keep Stiles away from Nathan, that’s completely Derek’s prerogative as a father. But Derek didn’t just… “You told me you had ‘appointments’ and commitments’,” he says, complete with air quotes. “You could have just told me you had a child and that was why you couldn’t stick around. I would have understood.”

“I know you would have,” Derek says honestly, “but usually, I don’t tell anyone about Nathan. At least, I don’t tell the people I know aren’t going to be a permanent part of my life, because there’s always that question that comes next when people find out I’m a single father and the answer to that question is really not something you signed on for, Stiles.”

Stiles sits back against the couch and studies Derek, takes in the slump of his shoulders, the way his head hangs almost in defeat, like he’s carrying the weight of the world and maybe he’d like to unload a little.

“Try me,” Stiles says softly and he keeps his expression calm and neutral as Derek turns to face him with wide eyes.

“What?”

“Derek, you just said that you don’t tell people about Nathan, which I guess means that you haven’t spoken at all about whatever it is that’s happened to you with anyone outside of your family, am I right?”

“It’s hard to trust people, Stiles. If you knew what happened, you’d understand.”

“Yeah, but keeping it bottled up like this isn’t healthy either. Why do you think people go to therapists? Because it’s easier to talk to a stranger than it is to the people you trust.”

“You’re not a stranger, Stiles.”

Stiles snorts. “Derek, we’ve spent less than three hours together, and most of that time, we were engaged in some sort of sexual activity. I’m the closest thing to a stranger you have right now, and I’m just saying, if you want to talk about whatever it is that’s happened to you, then I’m willing to listen.”

“You may regret that decision,” Derek whispers and Stiles nods.

“Maybe, but I’ll willing to do that.”

Derek just looks at Stiles for a second, taking him in, judging him maybe, wondering if he was able to just unload on Stiles like Stiles suggested.

Stiles keeps as still as possible, letting Derek parse through whatever’s in his head, deal with it all and come to his own conclusion, not influenced by Stiles or anyone else.

Finally, Derek took a deep breath and nodded to himself, his eyes still on Stiles.

“So ask the question.”

It was Stiles turn to take a deep breath and he forced himself to sit up straighter.

He knew what question Derek wanted him to ask and from the look on the other man’s face, the answer he was going to get was going to change whatever was between them.

“Where’s Nathan’s mom?”

“In prison,” Derek says simply, his eyes hard, “for murdering my parents.”

And that…that Stiles was not expecting.

Seriously, on the list of things that Stiles expected to come out of Derek’s mouth, that sentence hadn’t made the cut.

“Um…wow. I don’t…I don’t really know how to deal with that.”

Derek gives a short, sharp laugh and rolls his eyes at Stiles shocked expression.

“It’s been seven years, Stiles, I’ve pretty much come to terms with it.” He makes a face. “Mostly.”

“Seven years? So it happened before Nathan was born?”

“It started long before he was born, yeah. I was a stupid kid who got mixed up with…with someone who wasn’t worth my time and the end result was my parents’ deaths.”

“How…I mean…” Stiles cuts himself off with a shake of his head. “What the hell am I thinking, you don’t wanna talk about this.”

Derek shrugs and looks down at the wine glass in his hands and the motion makes Stiles frown.

“I told you to ask, Stiles.”

“Do you…you never went to a professional?”

Derek purses his lips and shakes his head. “I have my sisters, my uncle. No one who wasn’t there are the time, who wasn’t directly involved, but it seemed easier to talk to them.”

Stiles gapes. Stiles’ dad had taken him to a therapist after his mom died. She died of natural causes, but Stiles had been young and needed help dealing with the fact that his mother suddenly wasn’t going to be a part of his life anymore. The fact that she’d been sick for a while before her death didn’t make her passing any less sudden.

The fact that Derek’s parents died in such violent, unexpected circumstances makes Stiles wonder what sort of a person Derek is – or had been – to bottle it up like.

“Do you wanna…” Stiles swallows hard. “I’ll listen, if you want me to.”

Derek says nothing for several minutes, just continues to look down at his glass, swirling the wine around and around. Stiles thinks he isn’t going to speak at all and he opens his mouth to tell the other man not to worry about it, that they can talk about something else, when Derek begins talking.

“I met Kate Argent when I was sixteen,” he starts gently. “She was older, early twenties, maybe. She was…intense. Hardcore, full-on. She pulled me along by the short and curlies and I loved every second of it. I thought it was true love.”

Stiles thinks about himself at sixteen, the infatuation he’d had with Lydia and how stupid that seems, looking back on it now. “We all think it’s true love at sixteen,” he mutters, making Derek chuckle.

“One thing I probably should have mentioned is that my parents were loaded. I’m talking millions of dollars, Stiles. My mom was a high profile lawyer and my dad was in politics. Somehow, Kate knew all about their finances.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, suddenly a little clearer on what happened between the two of them.

“She thought I had access to the money. I had an allowance, and, yeah, it was probably a lot better than most kid’s got, but that was it. It wasn’t like my parents were going to allow their sixteen year old son access to their bank accounts or check books. And when I told Kate that, she got nasty. Accused me of leading her on. Broke a window in my car before she ran off.” He gives Stiles a tight smile. “I decided to give her a few days to cool off, thought maybe she was in trouble or something, she was always talking about work and deals she was making and things that had fallen through. I was gonna ask my dad if we could lend her some money, thought he would be willing since it was my girlfriend, even though they’d never met her. But when I called her, about three days later, her phone had been shut off. I went by her place and she was gone, packed up all her stuff and left. It was then that I realized that she’d been using me.”

“God, what a bitch,” Stiles muttered to himself. This is a horrible thing to happen to anyone, never mind a teenager in the first throes of love. He can’t imagine how Derek must have felt back then, how used and hurt he would have been, how broken.

Then Stiles eyes catch the various photos around the room, most of them of Nathan, unsurprisingly. Nathan is six – and three quarters – and though Stiles never got Derek’s age, he has to be older than Stiles’ twenty-six years.

If Kate was Nathan’s mom, Stiles is pretty certain that this isn’t the end of the story.

“I went off the rails a little bit,” Derek admits, like he’s embarrassed. “Nothing too major or anything to really be concerned about, but it made enough of an impact for my parents to decide that I needed to get out of the city for a while, so I went to live with my uncle.”

“Peter?” Stiles guesses and Derek nods.

“It was a good few years, new school, new friends, new town. I mellowed, it was good. I took a year before college because I knew college wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I was always really into art, and I knew that college can’t really teach you that.”

“You came back to the city for college?” Stiles asks, because who wouldn’t want to go to school in NYC?

But Derek laughs. “No, actually. I went to college in Maryland. I had just graduated and Peter and I decided to move back to the city, since I didn’t need to be in any specific place to make a living as an artist. And New York’s a pretty good place to live.”

Stiles snorts, because yeah. He’s been here for a week and he can’t imagine ever wanting to leave.

“When Kate showed up, randomly stopping by the coffee shop I’d gone into on a whim, it was…it was like it was inevitable. Like she was just waiting for me to be in the city again.”

Stiles wrinkles his nose in distaste and Derek laughs.

“Yeah, that should have been my reaction, too, but it wasn’t. Instead, I was…curious. She seemed different. Softer, like all her sharp edges had been sanded away. She apologized for what she did, said she had been in some trouble, owed people some money from a deal that had gone wrong with her brother’s business and she’d wanted to fix it before he found out. I believed her, believed her when she said she’d needed to get out of the city, went to stay with some family somewhere, otherwise she would never have abandoned me like she did. It was…easy, to get back together with her, like slipping into an old pair of shoes. Even though they were the shoes that made your feet hurt after wearing them for too long.”

“I’m guessing there was no happily ever after here, given the fact that Kate’s in prison now.”

“Maybe she needed time to come up with a plan that would work better, maybe she was off trying her con on some other poor kid, I don’t know.” Derek shrugs. “Not that I had any idea about her plan, not until she dropped that first bomb on all of us, but what could I do? She told me she was on the pill.”

“Shit,” Stiles breathes.

“I think she figured that, if she had a kid, my parents would set up a trust fund. And she was right. I was twenty-four years old, scare, unsure, and my parents told me that they would take care of everything. This was going to be their first grandchild and they were so excited, planning everything right down to the hospital Kate would give birth in.”

Derek scrubs a hand over his face, like he’s getting ready to get to the real heart of the matter and Stiles reaches out to take his hand, not surprised when Derek squeezes back hard.

“Kate was ecstatic – ‘til she found out that she didn’t have control or access to the trust fund. It was to be held in my parents name until the baby started college.”

Stiles is horrified, disgusted at where this story is going, that this is actually Derek’s life and that people like Kate Argent exist in the world. It’s a sobering thought and puts Stiles’ petty problems over Malia in perspective.

“I guess she decided that she didn’t want to wait that long to get her hands on the cash. Her brother, the one I mentioned earlier? Yeah, he’s a firearms dealer, supplies private security companies with guns and ammo and whatever else they need. It wasn’t hard for Kate to get her hands on one.”

Stiles feels sick. “She shot them?”

Derek nods, his eyes on their joined hands. “She broke into their house in the middle of the night and shot them while they slept.”

“How did they catch her?”

“She didn’t realize that Peter had never found a place to live. It was his thing, he liked to piss people off, get under their feet. He thought it was fun. Still does actually. He heard Kate moving around the house and went to see what was wrong. Kate panicked when they ran into each other in the hallway. She shot him in the head and ran, but he survived, mostly, and he was able to tell the police everything. Kate was arrested.”

“Unsurprisingly.”

“She tried every trick in the book. Alibi that fell through because she said she was with me. She said the pregnancy was messing with her mind, which was dismissed by doctors. She was found guilty. And by that time, she’d already had the baby.” Derek scrubs at his face. “My baby was born in a fucking prison hospital, how fucked up is that?”

Stiles gives him a tight smile. “Did she…I mean, what happened? Did she not want to keep him or whatever it is that happens to babies born in prison? Was she even allowed to keep him?”

“I don’t know, but Kate said she didn’t want him. She was gonna put him into foster care before I managed to get a lawyer and apply for custody and I was able to bring him home.”

A smile breaks out over Derek’s face, something beautiful but haunted around the edges and Stiles feels like he’s been punched in the stomach. A smile should not be able to do that.

“I brought him home and he was just so tiny and I was so scared. It was just me and Laura and Cora. Peter was still in the hospital and Cora was still in high school and she used to run screaming every time he spit up or needed a diaper change. It was a lot of work at first, but it made us closer, you know? I named him after my parents, I thought it would be…you know. My parents were Nathanial and Talia, so I named him Nathan Taylor. It seemed right.”

“It fits, I like it.”

Derek just nods, his eyes downcast again and Stiles shifts in his seat a little.

“Please tell me this is the end of the story? Kate was found guilty, she’s in prison for the rest of her natural life, you and Nathan are awesome, the end?”

Derek nods again, a little more glib this time. “Yeah, apart from the custody battle with Kate’s father and sister-in-law and the kidnap attempts that forced me into hiring security for me and my sisters and landed them both in prison right next to Kate, yeah, that’s the end of it.”

Stiles falls back against the couch cushions. “Wow, that is…wow.”

Derek’s face twists. “I don’t even know why I told you all that. I usually don’t…” he shakes his head, “I don’t tell people about Nathan unless I’m sure that that person is going to be a part of our lives, in whatever sort of capacity. I mean, the last person I told was my agent because I knew he’d be in and out of here checking on commissions. And that was like, four years ago.”

Stiles drops his face into his hands. “God, and then I just turn up and shove myself into Nathan’s life like I have any sort of right. Fuck, you must hate me.”

“No, Stiles, I don’t, I just…” Derek sighs. “This is new for me, okay? And I honestly don’t know how to handle it. I mean, you’re not staying. In two weeks you’ll be gone and I don’t know how to explain that to Nathan considering he seems to have already adopted you.”

Stiles chuckles. “Can’t say I feel too bad about that, he’s a great kid. You should be proud.”

“Oh, I am, no worries about that. I just can’t believe that something so amazing came out of the cluster fuck that was Kate and everything she did.”

Stiles shifts a little. “Do you ever hear from her?”

Derek takes a deep, calming breath. “She wrote a few letters when Nathan was about three, asking to see him, asking for pictures. I’m pretty sure her brother and niece have been supplying her since she made her demands, because there hasn’t been any contact from her since.”

“Kate’s brother and niece have contact with Nathan?” Stiles asks, a little shocked.

“They didn’t’ do anything wrong, Stiles, they’re good people. And Nathan needs another male role model in his life, ‘cause God knows Peter isn’t ever going to be one. At least not now.”

“Now?”

“When Kate shot him it caused some damage. Nothing major and nothing that’s going to cause him any sort of problems, medical wise, but it was just like he became a completely different person. Like Kate actually killed Peter and left some stranger in his place.”

“Wow,” Stiles says, because really, what else could he say to something like that? This had definitely not been the kind of evening he’d been planning.

Derek groans and drags his hands through his hair. “God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean depress the hell out of you.”

“No, Derek, come on. This is my fault, okay? I’m the one who barged in here and demanded to know what was going on. This isn’t on you, alright?”

“Yeah, but I’m still the one with the kid and the baggage and the crap. I wouldn’t hold it against you if you wanted to run away.”

Stiles frowns. “Why would I do that?”

Derek tilts his head, looking at Stiles with a fond expression that makes something inside Stiles flip over. “I’m not an idiot, Stiles, I know a lot of people don’t want to spend time with a single father, especially not one with everything I’ve been through. They know that they’re never going to be my number one priority and that pisses a lot of people off.”

“I’m not like other people, Derek. Yeah, you have a kid, so what? That doesn’t change the fact that you’re an awesome guy and I want to spend time with you. And Nathan.”

Derek shakes his head and Stiles feels his stomach drop into his shoes.

“Nathan’s sick, Stiles. I can’t take him out of the apartment for at least another couple days. This is your first time in the city, I’m not going to let you miss out on that just so that you can hang out here with me and my son.”

“What do you think I’ve been doing all week, Derek? I’ve seen a lot of New York. And yeah, there’s one or two places that I still want to see, stuff that I wanna do, but I figure that I’ll have plenty of time to do them when you get tired of having me here all the time and kick me out.”

Derek gazes at Stiles with something in his eyes that Stiles just can’t decipher. It makes his stomach flip and he shifts on the couch, wanting to climb onto Derek’s lap and run away in equal amounts.

“Let me talk to Nathan,” Derek says finally, “I want to explain to him, or at least try to. He…he likes you. I want to make sure he understands that he can’t…keep you.”

There’s that look again, like Derek suddenly isn’t talking about Nathan, like Derek is saying that he has to make himself understand that he can’t keep Stiles.

Like he wants to keep Stiles and that…that’s a lot to take in.

Stiles swallows another mouthful of wine and gets to his feet.

“I should go, let you…let you see to Nathan, he needs his dad, not some stranger stealing him away.”

Derek looks up at him with wide eyes. “Can I…can I call you?”

Stiles smirks. “Are you actually gonna call this time? Because that’s a line you’ve used before, Mr. Hale.”

Derek blushes and averts his gaze. “I know, I’m sorry, but I-”

Stiles waves him off. “Forget it, I understand why you did it, I’m not mad. Your son should come first, and I like that you feel that way.”

“I will call you,” Derek says, his voice heavy with honesty, and Stiles can’t help himself and he leans down and presses a chaste kiss to Derek’s lips.

“I look forward to hearing from you, Mr. Hale,” he whispers against Derek’s lips and it’s so intimate that it makes Stiles shiver. “Tell Nathan I’ll see him soon.”

Stiles makes himself walk away, leaves the apartment without looking back.

Because he knows that if he looks back, he won’t be able to leave at all, and that’s when Stiles realizes he’s so fucking screwed.

Chapter Text

Beacon Hills

Cora and Isaac show up late to the fair, long after it’s official opening, after spending the morning defiling Stiles’ kitchen and bathroom and Cora had left herself a note on the fridge to buy some cleaning products the next time she went to the store. The last thing she wanted was for Stiles to come home make dinner for himself in the same spot when Isaac had fucked her over the counter.

That would be a little embarrassing. Not that she didn’t clean it, it’s just…yeah, embarrassing.

But they made it eventually, their hands entwined as they made their way through the throngs of people, stopping to look at the various stalls they passed by.

Cora figures no one could really blame her for throwing herself into this thing with Isaac, no matter how reckless it seems to be. It had been years since she’d gone on a date, let alone had a relationship, and right now with Isaac it seems like she’s trying to cram a whole relationship into the span of just a few days.

It’s probably not healthy, in fact, Cora knows it’s very, very unhealthy, but she can’t make herself pull away from Isaac. There’s just something about him, something…real, for want of a better word, like they could go the distance.

If it wasn’t for the fact that Cora lived thousands of miles away on the other side of the country.

She hates the universe for teasing her with this perfect life knowing it’s going to be taken away from her in nine days.

It’s cruel.

Cora tightens her hand around Isaac’s as they meander past more stalls. She smiles to herself when she spots the stall with Mrs. Wilson’s breads and cakes at the very back of the fair. There’s a line twenty people deep waiting to make their purchases and Cora can’t stop the pleased, smug smile spreading across her lips as she watches the people behind the table scrambling to keep up with demand.

“What?” Isaac asks when he sees the look on her face and she shakes her head.

“Nothing, it’s just nice to be proven right sometimes.”

Isaac gives her a quizzical look but he doesn’t question her further, just turns back to the throng of people. “Looks like Mary’s going to do well this year.”

Cora just nods. “Yeah, how about that.”

They turn away, towards a stand filled with wooden carvings, statues of animals and people and flowers of all shapes a sizes, intricately and beautifully carved finished to a high standard.

“Wow,” Cora breathes, running her fingertips across a few of the pieces, feeling the smoothness of the wood.

“Yeah, Mr. Dickson is pretty good,” Isaac agrees.

Cora spends a few minutes looking over everything before she caves and buys a few pieces – a bear standing on its hind legs for Nathan, an owl sitting on a stump of wood for Laura, a cat arching its back for Erica and a wolf standing majestically for Derek. She buys a rose with a long, delicate stem for herself, a fox lying with its tail curled around itself to leave for Stiles and she takes great delight in presenting Isaac with a small, bouncy puppy that he balances in the palm of his hand.

He bends down to press a kiss to Cora’s cheek before he puts the puppy in his pocket.

As they walk away, the guy at the stall waves after them, his smile wide and bright and Cora wonders just how much commission she’d given him.

They walk on, their eyes drawn to the colorful vendors and their wares and Cora notices that, while a lot of people wave and smile at Isaac, making him smile tightly as he waves back, like he’s not sure he deserves the acknowledgement, there’s a few people who are waving at Cora as well. Danny from the library, who still lets her check out books with Stiles’ card. Mr. Yukimura, Kira’s father and a teacher who worked with Stiles at the high school. Cora had met him when he’d stopped by Stiles’ house looking for something to do with one of the elective classes they were going to be working on together next semester. Even annoying Heather from the gym gave Cora a weird head tilt of acknowledgment.

It was just that kind of town, so open and friendly and close, while New York City was the complete and total opposite. Cora could go days in Manhattan without running into anyone she knew, even her own family. Cold and impersonal.

“Hey, guys!” There was a bright voice coming from in front of them and Cora pulls her eyes away from a stall filled with beautiful flowers and turns to find Melissa standing in front of them, a wide smile on her face. “I didn’t expect to see you two together.”

Cora glances at Isaac, sees the warm blush staining his cheeks and Cora takes a step away from him, dropping his hand as she tries to save his embarrassment.

“Isaac’s been helping me with our little project,” she says, her smile more professional now. “He’s been taking some amazing photos of the town. I kinda bullied him into taking me to the fair today.”

Isaac gives her a confused look and Cora just shrugs. She’ll leave it up to him whether or not to tell his friend’s mother about their relationship.

“She knows, Cora. I can’t actually hide anything from her. Ever.”

Cora blinks, confused. “Oh. Okay, then.”

When she looks back at Melissa, the woman is staring at Isaac with wide eyes, her face lit up with surprise and Cora doesn’t think the fact that Isaac is banging the exchange student warrants a look like that.

“Isaac, you’ve been taking pictures?”

Cora’s frown deepens just as Isaac’s blush does the same. “Um, yes?” she offers when Isaac doesn’t say anything. “They’re amazing, I was going to show everyone when we meet tomorrow to go over everything.”

“Isaac,” Melissa says again, awe in her voice and Cora is reminded of her phone call with Stiles, when Stiles told her that Isaac never let people see his photos. She hadn’t known just how true that statement had been.

“Ma, just leave it,” Isaac says, brushing her off, “it’s not a big deal.”

“You haven’t let me see anything you’ve taken since your high school graduation. I’m your mother, I’m allowed to be excited at the possibility of seeing some of your work.”

And color Cora confused. She had no idea that Scott and Isaac were brothers. Melissa had introduced herself as Scott’s mother. Not Scott and Isaac’s mother. It’s kind of a huge thing to leave out.

Which is not something she can ask about standing in the middle of a fair surrounded by hundreds of people.

She pastes a bright smile onto her face, her professional smile and she feels it cracking around the edges through lack of use these past two weeks. “Well, I can promise you that they’re beautiful and you’ll definitely get the chance to see them tomorrow when I show you what I’ve come up with.”

“OH!” Suddenly, Melissa gasps, pulling Cora and Isaac with her as she ducks down behind one of the stalls.

“What the hell are you doing?” Isaac grunts as he loses his balance and falls on his ass.

“Hiding,” Melissa admits with a grin and Cora has to hide her own grin behind her hand.

Melissa reminds her an awful lot of her own mother, and she smiles at the memories floating to the front of her mind, ones of Cora and her mother sneaking up on Peter to attack him with water balloons, waking Derek up with streamers and silly string and balloons on the morning of his eighteenth birthday. Talia Hale tried her hardest to make her children’s’ lives full of fun and Cora knows that Derek – as well as herself and Laura and Allison – tries to do the same thing with Nathan.

But it’s things like this that make Cora miss her mother the most. It’s been seven years and she’s still not over it.

“And what are we hiding from?” Isaac asks with all the patience of someone who’s been subjected to behavior like this countless times before.

Melissa rises up a little and Isaac and Cora follow the direction she’s pointing in.

“Is that the sheriff?”

Cora squints. She’s only met the sheriff once, that day in the library. They’ve had no further contact, even though Cora knows it must be weird for him, knowing someone else is living in his son’s house. But now that she knows what she’s looking for, Cora does spot the sheriff all the way on the other side of the fair, walking along with Natalie Martin.

“Why are we hiding from them?” Cora asks and Melissa grins wolfishly.

Isaac’s eyes bug out. “Are you serious? Lydia’s mom and Stiles’ dad?! Stiles is gonna freak. So is Scott!”

Cora laughs loudly, drawing the attention of the stall owner. Cora waves her hand dismissively.

“Why will Scott freak?”

Isaac rolls his eyes. “Because Scott and Stiles have been convinced for years that Melissa and John were going to get together. They’ve been talking about it since high school.”

Cora raises her eyebrows at Melissa, who just shakes her head.

“I love John, I just don’t love John. He’s my best friend, I don’t want to lose that just to jump into bed with him.”

Isaac fakes a gag at the idea of his mother’s sex life.

“Besides,” Melissa says with a smile, rising up on her knees a little, “look how cute they are.”

Cora follows her gaze and has to agree. The sheriff and Lydia’s mom are cute together, walking around the fair arm in arm, Natalie laughing at something John has said to her.

Natalie looks so different to that day they met in the library. That day she was stressed out and strung out, her attitude crisp and cool when it came to a newcomer like Cora.

Now, with the sheriff on her arm, she looks relaxed, happy, radiant, even. It makes Cora smile even more.

“Scott and Stiles are going to flip out,” Isaac admits, but when Cora turns to look at him, there’s a gentle smile on his face and she thinks that not everything is going to fall apart around them.

Melissa sighs once the couple are out of sight and she rolls smoothly back to her feet. “Speaking of couples and dating,” she says with a glint in her eye, and next to Cora, Isaac stiffens.

“No,” he says firmly, standing up to his full height. “Ma, no!”

Melissa groans and stamps her foot like a child. “Oh, come on, Isaac, you’ve never brought anyone home before. I just want to have a nice family dinner. Scott and Kira can come to!”

“I can’t really bring Cora home either, can I?” Isaac says, his voice cracking at the end, and it makes something in Cora’s stomach curl up tight.

The idea of leaving Isaac and this town in nine days is too painful for words.

Melissa’s eyes are sympathetic when she turns to give Cora a small smile.

“We can pretend for one night, right?”

Without warning, Isaac reaches down and grabs Cora’s hand, pulling her away from her hiding place.

“I’ll talk to you later, Ma,” he throws over his shoulder and Cora has just enough time to wave before they turn a corner and Melissa is out of sight.

“We can have dinner with your mom, you know,” she says lowly as Isaac slows his pace, “it’s not really that big of a deal.”

Isaac nods his head, but he looks pained. “I just don’t like the reminders that this is gonna end. And Melissa’s right, you know, I never have brought someone home to meet her and Scott and if I bring you home, that’s just another thing that I’m gonna have to give up when you step on that plane.”

“It’s just dinner, Isaac,” Cora tells him gently and Isaac nods his head in what seems like defeat.

Before Isaac can say anything more, he stumbles forward as someone barrels into him from behind and Cora looks up to see Scott grinning at them like a madman.

“I never should have adopted you,” Isaac grumbles as he regains his balance. Scott just continues to grin, even as the rest of the group sidle up behind him.

“Men,” Lydia says, clicking her tongue and rolling her eyes, “you never learn to grow up.”

“Uh, excuse me?” Parrish says, his hand in the air like child at school and Cora is suddenly having some very weird thoughts about what goes on in the Martin-Parrish household.

“You don’t count,” Lydia tell him, “you were already grown up when these clowns were still in high school.”

Kira laughs. “Wow, way to make him sound like a cradle robber, Lydia.”

Parrish raises his hands and gives Cora a pleading look. “In my defense, we didn’t actually start dating until she was in college.”

Cora just laughs. Given her family’s dating history, she has no right to judge anyone.

“Are you coming to dinner at mom’s tomorrow night?” Isaac says bluntly, his eyes on Scott.

“I didn’t know we were having dinner at mom’s tomorrow night, but we don’t have any plans, right, K?”

Kira shakes her head. “I have a late shift, so I have to be at the station by nine, but other than that, we’re okay.”

“Why are we having dinner at mom’s tomorrow night?”

“She invited me and Cora.”

Cora can feel the whole group take a mental step back from the conversation and she feels her face heat up.

She’s not an idiot – this is basically a ‘meet the parents’ dinner and this is so far from what she wanted from this silly little vacation. Vacation, meaning she has to go back to her real life soon – very soon – and she doesn’t have time to deal with some meet the parents bullshit.

And yet she can’t make herself say no.

Lydia catches Cora’s eye and gives her a reassuring smile, almost like she knows exactly what kind of internal freak-out Cora in having and she takes a step forward, putting her hand on Parrish’s arm.

“Why don’t we all go? We’ll invite the sheriff, too. It’ll be less formal that way.”

“Might as well bring your mom, then,” Isaac mumbles and all that color and heat Cora felt rushing to her face? Yeah, gone.

“Why would I bring my mom?” Lydia asks, staring at Isaac.

Isaac’s eyes are wide and he honestly looks terrified as his gaze flicks from one person in the group to another and Cora just physically face palms and removes herself from the conversation.

“Isaac,” Lydia repeats sternly, “why would my mother want to come to dinner with your mom and us and Stiles’ dad?”

“Uh…”

Cora rolls her eyes. “I’m so not taking responsibility for this.”

She grabs Lydia by the shoulders and spins her around, pointing to the sheriff and Natalie, who are now standing in line at Mrs. Wilson’s stall. Natalie throws her head back as she laughs and Cora grins.

“Why is my mom flirting with Stiles’ dad?” Lydia says in a small voice and the rest of the group crowd close to view what is fast becoming a spectacle.

“Aw! Look how cute they are!”

“How long do you think this has been going on?”

“Maybe this is their first date?”

“Lydia, you and Stiles are going to be siblings. This makes high school a very confusing time to look back on.”

“Be nice, you guys,” Isaac says, giving Lydia’s shoulders a reassuring squeeze.

“This actually makes a lot of sense,” Lydia mumbles, “all those times she couldn’t have lunch or dinner with me because she was at some sort of council meeting or something with the sheriff. That was just code for dating him. Why didn’t she just tell me? I’m gonna kill her.”

Lydia starts marching in the direction of her mother, only to be grabbed around the waist by Scott and swung back around.

“Maybe because she knew we were all going to react like this?” Kira says gently. “I mean, it doesn’t just affect the two of them, there’s you and Stiles to think about, and then there’s Parrish, and Scott, especially Scott because he was still hoping the sheriff and his mom would hook up.”

“Hey!”

Cora laughs.

“Which means if Scott’s freaking out over this, then I’m involved, and then we have Isaac to think about, because he’s everybody’s sounding board.”

Cora cocks an eyebrow at Isaac, who just shrugs, looking a little uncomfortable, like he’s embarrassed that his friends think so much of him.

Like he doesn’t think he deserves it.

Kira sighs. “We’re just all one big dysfunctional family who are currently freaking out because we just found out that two of our parents are dating.”

Cora laughs again while everyone else just stares at Kira like she’s speaking another language.

Lydia flinches, making everyone else jump, and reaches for her purse. “I have to call Stiles. What time is it over there? He’s not going to be asleep right? Or boning Cora’s brother?”

She doesn’t wait for a reply, just marches off with the phone pressed to her ear.

Parrish sighs. “And that is the woman I’m going to marry.” He stares after Lydia for a few more seconds before he shakes himself out of his daze and claps his hands. “Alright, I’m gonna take off. I have a shift in a couple hours and I want to hit the Preserve before that, so I guess I’ll see you guys at Melissa’s tomorrow night.”

“Wait, hit the preserve?” Cora asks the question before her mind fully processes it and she blushes when everyone turns to look at her.

“To run,” Parrish explains.

“Run…” Cora blinks, looking from one person to another. “You…do you guys run in the preserve a lot?”

“Most of us, yeah,” Kira answers. “It’s nicer than running on a treadmill at the gym, you know?”

“Plus, we don’t have to deal with Heather,” Scott chuckles, “that girl is a little much for us sometimes.”

Cora just blinks and they all share a worried look between them but Cora has stopped paying attention.

“Um, if we’d known that you like to run, we would have invited you to join us,” Kira says tentatively, like she’s not even sure she should be making the offer, just wants to defuse the situation by whatever means necessary.

“Is…is the preserve protected? Like, does someone own it or are there restrictions about what you can do in it? Some sort of animal or bird or…dung beetle that’s got it’s own army fighting for it’s rights?” Cora asks, thinking about her own running in the preserve that she’s done every morning since she discovered the place. She’s rarely seen another car in the parking lot and she’s never ran into anyone else while she’s been out there.

“Cora, what are you talking about?” Isaac says with a worried laugh, but there’s already an idea, a plan, even, forming in Cora’s head.

“Um, there’s no laws or anything,” Parrish says. “It used to belong to the old Robert’s family, but after the fire, the rest of the family just moved away, out of state. Now it’s owned by the town council, they’re responsible for all the upkeep and everything.” He shrugs. “Not that they do much; it’s a nature preserve, they pretty much leave it to fend for itself.”

Cora’s mind drifts back to the beautiful old house she’d seen on her first day, the one she’s run past every day since. She’d known that something tragic must have happened there, but to hear Parrish talking about it so matter-of-factly makes her think that whatever happened did so a long time ago. Time enough for the town to have healed.

“So, if I wanted to, say, hold some kind of event there, that would be okay?”

“In the preserve?” Lydia sounds slightly scandalized at the idea, even though she’s still on the phone.

Parrish and Kira exchange a look, silent communication that screams of years of working next to each other at the Sheriff’s Department, and they nod and shrug at the same time, perfectly in sync.

“Yeah, I guess that would be okay,” Kira says slowly. “Of course, it would depend on what kind of event and you would need to make sure that you had the right permits and everything, but I don’t think there would be any sort of problem. Unless you wanted to hold a bonfire or something. People might object to that.”

Cora waves her hands in the air, a crazy grin already stretching across her face. “That’s fine, that’s fine, I can work with that.”

“Can someone tell me what we’re actually talking about?” Scott says, looking like nothing more than a confused puppy.

“I promise, I will explain everything at dinner tomorrow.” Cora grabs Isaac by the hand and turns him towards the parking lot, where Stiles’ Jeep is parked safely in the shade of a large tree.

“Where are we going?” Isaac asks as he dutifully trails behind her.

“The preserve,” she tells him, a purpose in her step. “I need you to take some pictures for me while I have a look around.”

She swerves to the right when she sees the Sheriff and Natalie rounding a corner and pulls Isaac with her as she marches up to them.

“Cor, no,” Isaac whispers from behind her, but Cora pays him no attention.

“Hi, guys,” she says quickly. “Look, I know I said I would have something for you guys tomorrow about this whole project that you asked me to look into, but I literally just had an idea that I think would be a great, amazing thing for this town, but I’m going to need some time to pull it together, photos and mock-ups, things like that.”

“Cora, we told you that there was no time frame on this,” the sheriff says kindly. “This is supposed to be your vacation, after all.”

Natalie nods, but there’s a tight smile on her face that says she’s annoyed at having to wait longer. “We know that you want to make sure that you have something really good to show us, so we can’t argue you about you needing more time.”

“Right, right,” Cora agrees, too quickly, she thinks, her mind not on the conversation at all. “So you should come to dinner at the McCall’s tomorrow night. All the kids, I mean, your kids, the kids that belong to the people…yeah. Anyway, we’re all gonna be there so you should come and I can tell you my whole plan. Everything, we’re going right now to get the rest of…of what we need.”

The sheriff narrows his eyes at Cora. “Are you feeling okay?”

Isaac steps forward. “Sorry, John, yeah, she’s fine. She’s just excited. She got some big idea for your thing about two minutes ago and now I think she needs to go and work on it before she explodes.”

“I do.”

“Then, please, don’t let us keep you,” the sheriff smiles.

“Also, you’re not being very subtle if you were trying to play your relationship close to the vest considering all of your kids are right over there.”

Cora points over the sheriff’s shoulder, and sure enough, all of Isaac’s friends are watching them, each of them wearing a different expression, from glee to outrage to confusion from Stiles, who’s trying to determine what’s going on from where Lydia has him on Face Time.

The sheriff groans. “This is not going to go well.”

Isaac drags Cora away before they can witness the fall out.

Beacon Hills – Still

“I didn’t know Melissa was your mom,” Cora says carefully, wincing at how awkward she sounds.

They’ve been quiet for a while, Isaac taking photos seemingly at random, while Cora watches as she follows along behind.

It’s oddly peaceful, calming in a way that Cora didn’t know she could be, and the question, when she voices it, surprises her more than it surprises Isaac, if his smug little grin is anything to go by.

He doesn’t answer at first, just takes another few photos of the trees, looking at the screen, checking them, before he smiles at Cora.

“She’s not.”

Cora blinks. “Uh…you called her ‘mom’ and she referred to herself as your mom.”

“She raised me since I was fifteen and she’s the closest thing I have to a mother, so I call her mom sometimes, and she tells people I’m her son sometimes. It’s a weird relationship. But it works for all of us.”

“So she adopted you?”

Isaac snaps a photo of Cora, making her blush, and he shakes his head. “Not legally. My father never gave up his parental rights, so she couldn’t. Stiles’ dad pulled some strings that allowed me to stay with Melissa and Scott so that I could stay in school instead of being put in foster care, maybe in another county or something.”

Cora smiles. It’s a sweet story, but she can sense something underneath, something unsavory.

It’s the same thing Cora sees behind her own eyes every time she looks into a mirror.

“Where’s your father?” she asks delicately.

“In prison. He beat me.”

Cora gasps, halting in her tracks. “Isaac.”

Isaac shrugs off her concern, turning to face her. “He wasn’t…my mother died when I was young, my brother was killed in combat a few years later. My dad…he just couldn’t handle it. Took out all his anger and hurt and guilt on me.”

“And you never said anything?”

“I didn’t have a lot of friends at the time. No one I was really close to.”

“How did it all come out? You said he was in prison, so I’m guessing someone find out and told someone?”

Isaac angles his camera at the sky. “I joined the lacrosse team during sophomore year. I was awful at it, spent the whole time warming the bench with Stiles and Scott, but I thought, with games and practice, it would get me out of the house, allow me to spend more time away from my father. He didn’t care what I did, as long as I kept my grades up. Stiles saw the bruises in the locker room one day. I was careless, didn’t hide it very well.” He shrugs again, looking almost guilty. “I don’t know, maybe I wanted someone to see them, to give me a reason to tell people. Stiles cornered me, wouldn’t let me leave until I told them where the bruises came from. When I did, he went straight to his father.”

Cora snorts. “The Sheriff.”

Isaac nods. “Right. Stiles’ dad went to the house. My dad tried to deny everything at first, said the bruises where from lacrosse, or that I’d given them to myself to get him into trouble, but once they found the freezer in the basement, where he used to lock me away for hours, that was pretty much it. Game over.”

He gives Cora a sad smile, closed off and dark, like he’s pulling away from her, getting ready for the moment when she decides she can’t be with someone like him.”

“My brother’s psycho ex-girlfriend murdered my parents and my nephew was born in a prison hospital.

Isaac gapes at her and she shrugs.

“I’m just saying, we all got past we’re ashamed of. Just because your dad did something awful, that doesn’t reflect on you.”

Isaac nods. “I know that. In my head, I know that. But there have been people who look at me like I’m trash. Like the abuse was all my fault because I didn’t say something sooner. I’ve even had people tell me that I made the whole thing up. That my dad was innocent, despite all the evidence against him and the fact that he pleaded guilty to avoid a trial.”

“They’re idiots. There are always people who refuse to accept that their loved ones are guilty. We went through the same thing. Made all the worse because my dad was a well-known politician. The whole thing was all over the news. It was a media circus at the trial. Derek, my brother, almost couldn’t handle it. It doesn’t make us any less innocent.”

Isaac sweeps in and presses a chaste kiss to Cora’s lips.

“Isaac,” she whispers, “this wasn’t supposed to be…”

“I know,” he says, just as quietly.

It was supposed to be fun, freeing, there wasn’t supposed to be any feelings, her heart wasn’t supposed to…

Cora pulls away before she finishes the thought, giving Isaac a bright smile. They both know that it’s fake, but they don’t acknowledge it, instead Isaac turns away, his camera already raised again, as he takes a phot of the path they’ve just walked.

Cora turns forward again and catches sight of something out of the corner of her eye that she recognizes instantly.

“Hey, do you know anything about that house?” she asks, making her way through the over grown bushes on the path towards it.

“I know it belongs to the town. There was a fire, some people were killed, and the rest of the family just moved out of state, signing the house and the preserve over to the council.”

“It’s such a beautiful house. It’s seems a shame it’s been allowed to go to waste like this.”

“Yeah,” Isaac agrees, “this would make a really great base for your idea. Or whatever else you’ve came up with since we came out here.”

Cora bites her lip as she looks up at the building. “Can you take some pictures of it for me?”

“Sure.”

They spend a while at the house, Isaac taking pictures and making Cora laugh as he snaps photos of her in between, but’s it’s not long before Isaac is losing the light and they start to make the trek back towards Stiles’ jeep. Isaac reaches out a takes Cora’s hand, and Cora lets him, holding on tight all the way back to the car, and refusing to think about how right it feels.

Beacon Hills – Still

Cora’s sitting on the floor again, her legs stretched out underneath the coffee table as she clicks through the photos on the laptop that Isaac has sent over from their little impromptu photoshoot the day before.

She doesn’t know what exactly Isaac had to do with the photos before he allowed her to see them, just mumbled something about editing and cropping, but Cora is damn curious about seeing the originals if this is what the edited versions look like.

In a word, they are breathtaking.

It wasn’t easy to choose the pictures she wanted for her project – every shot that Isaac sent to her would have worked wonderfully – but eventually, Cora has it narrowed down and she spends a few hours putting together a simple presentation to show to the Sheriff, Melissa and Natalie at dinner, something that Cora thinks would work well for the town and would bring in the tourists.

When she’s finished, she leans back against the couch and clicks through the photos of the old house, marveling at the angles and shadows Isaac has managed to capture.

Cora bites down on her lip; she knows nothing about art, but she knows someone who does.

Before she knows what she’s doing, Cora picks up her phone and calls Derek.

“I thought you’d died in some sort of sex-fueled accident,” is how her brother answers the phone and Cora rolls her eyes. It’s the first time they’ve spoken directly since Cora left New York, instead of weird messages passed through Stiles.

“I could say the same thing about you, big brother. Stiles tells me that you’ve, uh…been getting along.”

Derek clears his throat, something Cora knows he only really does if he’s shy or embarrassed about something and she’s immediately curious.

“He’s, um…he took Nathan out for the day. So that I can finish this commission.”

Cora gasps and the implications of that sentence isn’t lost on her.

Derek rarely trusts people around Nathan. Cora and Laura and Peter, yes, obviously, Allison and Chris to a lesser extent even though they’re still family. His last resort is Erica and Boyd, Cora’s best friend and PA and Derek’s old friend from college who have been married going on a year now.

For Derek to allow someone he just met to take Nathan away from him, that’s…Cora doesn’t have words for how significant that is.

It makes her heart hurt.

“Derek…”

“Don’t,” he snaps at her. “Just don’t, okay? Don’t talk about, don’t act like I haven’t thought about it. Just don’t.”

Cora nods, even though Derek can’t see her. “Alright, alright, I won’t. I just…I just want-” she cuts herself off and makes a mental note to get Laura or Allison to visit Derek at some point. “So tell me about this commission piece.”

“It’s nothing to write home about, just a landscape piece for one of the hotels downtown. It’s due next week so I need to start concentrating on it.”

“Stiles taking up all your time, huh?”

Derek laughs. “Yeah, that and Nathan had chicken pox. Today’s actually the first day he’s been outside for a while. He was getting a little cabin fever so Stiles offered to take him to the movies. And Stiles wanted to go to the M&M store and he said it would look less weird if he had Nathan with him.

Cora laughs loudly. “He’s okay, right? Nathan?”

“He had a bit of a weird reaction that freaked us out a little,” Derek admits.

“That’s why Stiles never heard from you and ranted at me.”

“We didn’t want to worry you, you were on vacation.”

“A phone call might have been nice,” she mutters.

“He’s fine and I’m telling you now, so stop moaning.” Derek laughs. “So, did you have a reason for calling?”

Cora’s gasp this time is completely fake. “Derek Stephen Hale, how could you think I wanted something? I can’t just call to talk?”

“No, because you hate talking on the phone.”

Cora sighs. “Alright, fine, I kinda want a favor.”

“What kind of favor?”

“If I email you some photographs can you take a look at them? Tell me what you think? Maybe pass them on to Jackson and see if he knows anyone who could…I don’t know, do something with them? I don’t know how the art world works.”

“What are the photos of? Did you find some sort of exhibit over there?”

“No, I mean, actual photographs that Isaac took with an actual camera. They’re…Derek, they’re stunning.”

“I don’t know much about photography, Cora. I completely flunked that semester in college.”

Cora snorts. The idea of her perfectly perfect brother failing at anything is of great amusement to her. “I know that, but Jackson must have some sort of idea, right? Or he’d know someone who did?”

Derek’s quiet for a few minutes, like he’s mentally filing through all his contacts, wondering who would be able to help his sister with her favor.

“I have…I think I know someone who could take a look at them, yeah. Email them to me.”

Cora grins and puts the cell on speaker phone so that she can quickly access her email and select a few of Isaac’s best pictures to send to her brother.

“Done,” she says brightly and Derek sighs.

“And I’m not getting any work done for the next hour at least.”

“Sorry,” she says, knowing that she doesn’t sound sorry at all.

“I should be used to it by now, even if you are on the other side of the country. How’s it going over there, anyway?”

Cora thunks her head back against the edge of the couch and sighs at the ceiling. Derek snorts.

“That well, huh?”

“I love it,” she whispers, kind of hoping that Derek can’t hear her through the speaker phone. But he mumbles her name and Cora knows he has. “I didn’t exactly plan for this to happen, Derek, but I do. I feel at home here, I’ve…I’ve made friends here, whereas the only friends I have in New York are you, Laura and my Godamn personal assistant.”

“Erica was your friend before she was your PA.”

“That’s not the point, Derek. I’m…I have a life here.”

“You’re on vacation, Cora. Can you honestly say the same thing about that town if you had a job to go to every day?”

“Yes, because it’s…it’s…it’s just different, okay? It’s not like New York, where I feel like I have to be working all the time otherwise I won’t be successful. I know that, here, I would be able to work for me and still have time to spend with friends and…” she trails off, cringing.

“And what, Cora? And that guy you’ve been seeing?”

“When was the last time I even went on a date, Derek? Can you even remember?”

“It’s not like either of us have had the best track record when it comes to relationships.”

“Is that what you’re doing with Stiles? Because you know you can’t make anything of it because he’s leaving in eight days?”

“I thought I told you I didn’t want to talk about it?”

“You really like him.” It’s not a question; even without seeing in face to face, Cora knows her brother better than she knows anyone.

“Stop, Cora. I can’t, okay? Yes, Stiles is a great guy. Yes, we’re having a lot of fun together, but that’s all it is, okay? Fun. And then he’s going to go back to Beacon Hills and you’re going to come back here and we’re just all going to get on with our lives. That’s how this shit works.”

Cora takes a deep breath and tries to figure out if Derek’s telling the truth or trying to convince himself that that’s the truth he needs to believe in.

Beacon Hills – Still

“Mud…mud running?” Natalie repeats, for what seems like the seventh time, her eyes glued to the screen Cora has set up on Melissa’s dining table. “And this is something that’s popular?”

“Absolutely,” Cora assures, sliding Stiles’ laptop a little closer so that she can click over to the link she has ready for this very question. “It’s become more popular over the last few years, big companies send their employees to bond and develop a closer working relationship, become more trusting.”

Isaac laughs. “Once you swim across a muddy pond together, you’re friends for life. Or so the theory goes.”

“You think we could do this in the Preserve?” the Sheriff asks, his eyes on the screen as Cora moves it back to her designs and Isaac’s photographs.

From the kitchen, where she’s helping with dinner, Lydia snorts. “Please, that place is perfect for a mud runing course.”

Cora ignores the shouts of agreement from the rest of Isaac’s friends and family. “Well, I’m not exactly sure how big the Preserve is, but from what I saw when Isaac and I walked through it yesterday, yes, I think we could do something like that. We may not be able to do the big corporate weekend retreats, but we could do the obstacle course, it could be hired out for birthday parties or bachelor and bachelorette parties. If you wanted, you could just turn it into something where people just turn up and pay their entry fee. There’s a lot of ways we could do this, but I think it’s the best way to get Beacon Hills on the map and bring it to the attention of the surrounding counties and cities.”

“You could even join forces with one of the hotels in town, if you wanted to try a budget version of the big corporate weekend retreat things,” Isaac says from where he’s sitting next to Cora. He’s engaged in the discussion, but his eyes are glued to Melissa, who’s staring at the tablet Isaac handed to her with tears her eyes. “It won’t be as high class, but the down and dirty thing might actually attract more people.”

“I have got to say,” John says, a smile on his face as he looks over at Cora, “I think this is a really great idea. I think it’s something that will definitely bring attention to the town, something we can work with and build with.”

Next to him, Natalie nods her head. “Yes, yes, I think it’s a very good start.”

“Okay, so are you done talking about this?” Lydia calls from the kitchen, like she’s waiting just inside the door, and Isaac smothers a laugh as John and Natalie exchange a look.

“Well, I mean, I still have to take this whole idea to the rest of the council members, but I’m happy with what Cora here has presented,” Natalie says, “so, yes, I suppose we’re done for now.”

“Good,” Lydia comes marching around the corner, her face set in a determined scowl, “then maybe we can talk about how much Stiles is freaking out over the fact that the two of you are dating!”

Cora groans and drops her head into her hands as Melissa laughs brightly. “I knew this was going to happen,” she sings and Isaac shoves the iPad closer to her face.

“Shut up and look at your pictures.”

Natalie, it seems, has choked on her water while the Sheriff just stares at Lydia with wide eyes.

“Come on, Lydia,” he whines, sounding so much like Stiles that Cora has to smile, “tell me that’s not true.”

Behind Lydia, Scott, Kira and Parrish file out, bowls and platters in their hands. Cora tidies everything away, packing up Stiles’ laptop and the other papers she brought with her to present her idea.

“He’s not pissed that you’re dating someone,” Scott says as he passes out plates and silver wear.

“It’s because you’re dating Lydia’s mom,” Kira adds, giggling.

The whole room seems to still as all eyes on Melissa, who’s still looking at the iPad.

“What?” she says when she realizes all eyes are on her. “I’m not sitting here pining over John, guys. Stiles and John have been family to Scott and me for many years. Now we just have the chance to add some more members to that family.” She resettles herself in her chair. “And if Stiles can’t deal with that, that’s on him.”

“That’s not even what I’m talking about,” Scott says as he grabs one of the rolls from the middle of the table. “He’s got nothing against his dad dating someone. It’s more likely that he’s freaking out over the fact that his father’s dating the mother of the girl he’s been in love with since he was five.”

“NO!” John yells so loudly that Cora flinches, startled. “But, there was Malia, he was going to marry Malia. And he likes Parrish and he’s got a guy now and there’s…this isn’t…” He drops his head into his hands. “This is so much more stressful than I thought it would be.”

“Lydia?” Natalie asks, nerves in her voice and across the table, Lydia rolls her eyes.

“Stiles isn’t in love with me, he never really was,” Lydia says and Natalie and John visibly relax, like a weight they didn’t know was there has been lifted from their shoulders. Cora hides her laugh behind her water glass.

Scott, however, chokes on whatever’s in his mouth. “Are you kidding me?!” he exclaims, once he’s recovered. “From the fifth grade until our sophomore year of high school Stiles did nothing but pine over you and talk about you. He even had a five year plan on how to woo you that he ended up revising into a ten year plan before he scrapped it.”

“Yes,” Lydia agrees, “he scrapped it. And do you want to know why? Because we started talking and spending time together, working on class projects and hanging out. We got to know each other and we realized how similar we are.”

“Uh, isn’t that a good thing?” Kira asks, her fork waving in the air. “I don’t think I could be with anyone I didn’t have anything in common with.” She and Scott share a ridiculously adorable smile and Melissa groans, more like it’s an expected reaction than the fact that she’s upset by the loving display.

Lydia shakes her head. “Apart from comics and those stupid superhero movies that I will just never understand-” everyone at the table with the exception of Natalie and the John lets out a ‘hey’ of indignation at Lydia’s pronouncement, which she promptly ignores and carries on, “-Stiles and I have pretty much everything in common. I mean, we’re both teachers for crying out loud, albeit in different fields. Stiles might be attracted to me – and me to him, incidentally, or at least, I was – but it only took a few months of us actually being friends for him to realize that we’d only ever be friends. And he’s fine with that.” She smiles at her mother kindly. “Seriously, all kidding aside, Stiles doesn’t have any sort of issue with you dating his father.”

“Well, that’s…” the sheriff clears his throat and nods his head. “That’s good, then.” He finally starts eating and it’s like the whole table relaxes and Cora realizes for the first time that they probably shouldn’t have done this with such an audience.

This whole thing, their relationship, is clearly very important to John and Natalie and to confront them like this, in front of Cora and her friends –

No, Stiles’ friends, Cora realizes suddenly. Melissa is John’s friend, Natalie is John’s friend, maybe Parrish could even be considered John’s friend, Cora suspects, when she remembers that John and Parrish work together. And while Kira also works at the station, the age gap between Parrish and the rest of them probably means that Parrish would be better friends with Stiles’ father than Scott’s girlfriend.

But everyone else sitting at this table, happily enjoying the meal that Lydia and Parrish and Kira prepared for them while Scott was supposedly supervising, they’re all Stiles’ friends, that Cora is fucking borrowing, like they’re library books. Even Isaac she has to give back in…in eight days.

In eight days Cora is going to lose the best relationships she’s ever had outside of her family. Okay, so apart from a few movie nights, one random night of bowling and this dinner, she hasn’t really spent much time with anyone other than Isaac. But at the same time, this is the most amount of time Cora has spent with anyone outside of work and family in years.

Cora looks around the table, watching as everyone passes bowls and platters back and forth, teasing Isaac over his photographs, wondering why he kept them hidden for so long. All of them including Cora, the imposter, the stand-in, in their conversations.

Cora has a life here, and in a week, she’s going to have to give it back to the man it belongs to.

She hasn’t felt this kind of pain in a long time.

Chapter Text

New York



Stiles crows triumphantly to himself as he manages to unlocked the lobby door of Derek’s apartment building without dropping any of the bags he’s carrying, all the time ignoring the fact that Derek gave him keys to his apartment and building.

That’s…yeah, he doesn’t want to think about that.

He eyes the stairs with a weird sort of determination and hefts the bags in his arms as he makes his way up. It’s gotten easier to climb the stairs, the amount of times he’s done it in the last few days, he’s a pro now. And the further up the stairs he gets, the more it feels like…

Like coming home.

That’s something else Stiles isn’t thinking about, along with the fact that he’s actually here, at Derek’s apartment, so that he can cook dinner for Derek and his adorable son.

Not thinking about it at all.

He’s just a little winded by the time he reaches Derek’s door and he pauses for a few seconds before he has to shift the bags in his arms and find the right key.

It’s a struggle to open the door without dropping any bags and Stiles lets out a crow of triumph when he manages to finally kick the door shut behind him and make it to the kitchen without letting anything fall. He's a hero, really.

“Hey, guys!” he calls out as he sets everything down, shedding his jacket before he starts taking things out of bags, looking around the kitchen as he does so, trying to locate everything he's going to need.

“Hi, Stiles!” Nathan cries out, but he doesn't come running to Stiles like he usually would and Stiles wonders what kind of project Derek has him working on. He puts the cream and the cheese in the fridge and wanders into the living room to find out.

Except when he gets to the living room, it's not Derek he finds Nathan sitting with, but someone Stiles has never met before, though she looks eerily familiar.

The woman has dark hair and green eyes that are the same as Nathan's and she's dressed incredibly well and for a second, Stiles wonders if this is Kate, if she's somehow been let out of prison and now she's holding Nathan hostage or something and she's killed Derek and Stiles' heart is beating really, really fast.

The woman gives Stiles a wickedly sharp smile, but it's bright and full of warmth at the same time and Stiles knows that Kate would never smile at any one like that.

“Um...hi?” he tries, because the woman hasn't said anything, just looked at Stiles, her eyes roving over his entire body and Stiles suddenly feels very much like he's under-dressed.

Her smile just widens, her eyes never leaving Stiles even when Nathan hands her the drawing he's apparently just finished and Stiles struggles not to fidget where he stands and where the hell is Derek anyway?

“So, you're Stiles.” She looks like she wants to eat Stiles for dinner and Stiles just doesn't know what to do with that.

“Um, yes, that's me. Stiles. Stilinski. That's my name. Though it's not my real name. Stilinski is, but not Stiles. My real name is a monstrosity that no one can pronounce while they're sober.”

“I know,” she says gently, “Nathan told me about your awesome nickname and how he wants one, too.”

Stiles ignores Nathan telling her that they can think of one themselves and steps further into the living room. This woman clearly knows who Stiles is, it's time for her to return the favor.

“I'm sorry,” he says as he reaches down to pick up a forgotten coloring book, “I don't think I got your name.”

Stiles didn't think it was possible, but her smile got wider and she gave a little laugh. “I'm Laura.”

Stiles felt his heart-rate slow down almost immediately and he smiles at her. “I was wondering if we were ever going to meet.”

“Oh, trust me, I wouldn't have missed this for the world.” There's something in Laura's expression that makes Stiles fret, but he pushes it aside for now in order to walk across the room and shake her proffered hand.

“Well, it's very nice to meet you,” he says and sits down on the coffee table so that he can watch Nathan color. “I'm not sure I brought enough for you to join us for dinner, though, and where is Derek anyway?”

“He's working at the moment.” Laura tilts her head to one side. “He didn't tell you?”

Stiles laughs. “That he was working? He works every day, he just doesn't usually have someone watch Nathan.”

“'Cause I'm a big boy,” Nathan says proudly and Stiles doesn't want to correct him by telling him it's because Derek can usually work in the same room as Nathan so that the boy can't get himself into too much trouble.

“That I'm here to babysit,” she says softly, her eyes lighting up, “because you're going out on a date.”

Stiles feels his heart skip a beat, tumbling over itself in a weird sort of rhythm and he looks down at Nathan's coloring just so that he doesn't have to take in the expression on Laura's face.

The thing is, Stiles and Derek, they are what they are, whatever it is they've been doing for the past two weeks, something that Stiles doesn't let himself thinking about too much because then he just ends up thinking about the fact that he has to go home in less than a week and that's just...

Yeah, that doesn't feel good.

But in all the time they've been together, doing whatever it is that they've been doing, they've never actually been out on a date.

Ever since Stiles found out about Nathan, they've pretty much just been hanging out in Derek's apartment, occasionally taking Nathan out somewhere, either with Derek or just Stiles and Nathan by themselves and wasn't that a weird experience for Stiles? Playing step-father to the child he's going to leave in a week.

It all felt so domestic, so...real.

Derek chooses that moments to come out into the living room, buttoning a black vest over a crisp white shirt. Teamed with dark jeans and his usual battered Converse, Derek is still one of the best-looking guys Stiles has ever seen.

He's also feeling completely under-dressed.

“Uh...” he says eloquently and Laura laughs loudly.

Derek blinks. “Stiles, you're here. You're not supposed to be here.”

“Stiles came over to make dinner for you guys. Seems like you forgot to inform him about your plans.”

“It was supposed to be a surprise,” Derek says with a pout and Stiles can't help but grin.

“You taking me out on a date, Mr. Hale?”

“That was the idea, but, uh...”

As Derek trails off, Stiles looks down at his own outfit – skinny jeans, a graphic tee and the red Converse that Malia hated so much that Stiles kept out of spite.

“I'm not really dressed for a romantic evening out,” Stiles points out and Derek shrugs his shoulders.

“I don't care what you look like.”

Stiles gives him a smile. “That's sweet, but I do. If you're taking me out, the last thing I want to do is embarrass you.”

“You could never embarrass me,” Derek almost-yells.

“Oh, for the love of God,” Laura huffs and throws herself to her feet, disappearing down the same hallway Derek had appeared from.

“I like what you're wearing, Stiles,” Nathan says carefully.

When Stiles looks over, the boy's eyes are still on his coloring and Stiles grins.

“Thanks, buddy,” he sits down in Laura's vacated spot, “but if I'm gonna be spending the night out with your dad, I want to look as nice as possible.”

“Why?” Nathan asks, his face adorably frown-y. “It's just dad.”

Stiles grins up at Derek. “Because I like your dad a lot and I want him to be proud to be seen with me. I want to look good for him.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “Stiles...”

He's cut off by Laura's return, a button-down sweater and a white Henley in her hands.

“These should fit you, Stiles, and you won't stand out so much.” She shoves the clothing into Stiles' hands.

Derek groans. “Laura, we're not going anywhere fancy. It's just a quiet dinner. I just wanted some time alone with Stiles, not anything extravagant.”

“A cardigan and shirt is hardly black-tie, Derek. And besides, you're the one who seems to have made an effort,” Laura scolds, “this way, Stiles won't feel so self-consciousness.”

Derek looks down at his clothes, frowning in a remarkably similar way to Nathan. “Should I change?”

“Don't you dare,” Stiles says, a little too loudly, making Laura laugh. He looks over the articles of clothing and nods his head. “Yeah, cool.” He disappears into the kitchen to change. He might be comfortable around Derek after so many days – and nights – spent together, but he doesn't really feel right changing in front of Laura, someone he's just met, never mind that she's Derek's sister.

The clothes feel weird, for all that they're normal clothes and the fact that they're Derek's. They're just not really Stiles'...style. He's capable of dressing well when the occasion calls for it, he just wishes that he'd thought to at least bring something with him that would have been suitable for a date.

He just didn't expect to meet someone like Derek in what was supposed to be a vacation to help him get over his heartbreak.

If Stiles was any other kind of person, he'd worry that he was using Derek – and Nathan – as a rebound from Malia.

But even Stiles knows that what he feels for Derek after less than two weeks is more than he ever felt for Malia in all the years they were together.

And Stiles hates himself for even thinking the words.

“Alright,” he says when he returns to the living room, “I brought stuff to make mac and cheese, so if you guys want, you can have it. If not, I'll make it tomorrow night when I come over. And I'll bring some more, if you want to join us, Laura.”

Laura grins. “That sounds like fun. Maybe Captain America here and I can have pizza tonight, what do you say, little man?”

Nathan beams up at his aunt, bouncing excitedly. “Pizza!”

“And on that note,” Derek laughs, “Stiles and I better get going.”

“It's like you're gonna be late,” Laura frowns. “Your reservation isn't for another hour.”

Stiles looks at Derek, who just frowns. “It's a nice night for a walk.”

And really, Stiles can't argue with that.





New York – Still



Stiles blinks up at the small Italian restaurant Derek has led him to before he turns to Derek with a raised eyebrow.

“Cora's apartment is, like, three blocks away.”

Derek bites down on a grin. “Is it?”

Stiles laughs. “You really did plan a whole night, just the two of us, huh?”

Derek blushes. “Ever since you found out about Nathan, we've done nothing but hang out, the three of us. I wanted just one night where it's just us before you...before you have to go back home.”

Stiles nods, a lump in his throat, because he just can't forget about the fact that he'll be going back to Beacon Hills in a week.

Derek gives him a tight, sad smile and leads them inside.

The table the hostess leads them to is cozy and intimate and out of the way, and it makes Stiles wonder if Derek paid extra for the privacy.

The menu seems simple, but well thought out and it only take Stiles a few minutes to decide on the spaghetti bolognese while Derek chooses pasta carbonara. Derek decides to get a bottle of wine to share between them and...and this is something special, Stiles knows that, something more than every other time they've been together. Something warm and pleasant curls in his belly and it makes him feel...

It makes him feel happy and guilty and upset and angry all at the same time. It's confusing as hell.

“So,” he says as he takes a sip from his glass, trying to break the sudden tension he was feeling, “is there a reason you chose a restaurant that's within walking distance from Cora's apartment?”

Even in the low light of the restaurant, Stiles can see Derek blush, but he shrugs, as if unaffected. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”

Stiles chuckles. “Derek, seriously.”

The other man sighs. “I just...” he trails off and clears his throat, shifting nervously in his chair. “We don't have a lot of time left,” he says softly and that same thing in Stiles' chest gives another twinge. “So, I just thought, it might be nice to spend the whole night together, just us, without having to worry about Nathan.”

“You know I don't mind, I love Nathan.”

“I know you do and that means so much to me. But this was supposed to be a vacation for you, an escape. You didn't come here to become part of someone else's family.”

“It's not like hanging out with you and Nathan is a chore, Derek. I wouldn't do it if I didn't want to be here. Or there. With you. Both of you.”

Derek smiles a smile that makes Stiles' heart skip a beat.

“And I thank you for that, I do. But maybe, just for one night, we can pretend we're just...two people who met while one was on vacation and the other shows him a good time.”

Stiles lifts up his wine glass and toasts Derek. “Sounds good.”

Their food arrives not long after that, and Stiles raves at how good it is as Derek tells him about finding this place while they were looking for somewhere for Cora to live.

There's a sad smile on Derek's face when he says that and Stiles reaches across the table to take his hand. “That was hard, huh? Cora moving out?”

Derek nods. “She was only sixteen when our parents died, so Laura took custody, since Peter was out of commission. Cora decided to take in-state for college and went to NYU so that she could still live at home instead of having to move into the dorms. We were...we were a close family. I mean, Laura and I both knew that we wouldn't all be able to stay together forever, but neither of us thought that Cora would have been the first one to leave.”

Stiles nods. “Yeah, single father might have been the first to want his own space.”

Derek shrugs. “We were living in my parents' house. It's fucking huge. Laura still lives there with her partner.”

“I don't know how you did it,” Stiles admits honestly, “living in the same house where it happened?”

Derek sets down his silver wear and scrubs a hand over his face.

“It was hard, at first. I moved into Peter's for a while, while he was in the hospital. But when I realized I needed to have some place better for the baby, I started looking for places. Then Laura suggested that I move back into the old house with her and Cora. And it just seemed...like the right thing to do. We were all born in that house, it just made sense that Nathan grew up there, too.” He shrugs again. “I only moved out a year or so ago, when I realized how serious Laura and her partner were getting. She's the oldest, it was always decided that she was going to get the house.”

“And Nathan didn't mind moving?”

Derek laughs. “Are you kidding? He still thinks it's awesome that his bedroom is on the same floor as the kitchen.”

“Kids are so easily amused.”

Derek eyes him carefully. “What about you?”

“I am also easily amused.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “I meant your living conditions. Are you gonna have issues when you get back home? With your ex?”

stiles shakes his head. “I live in a tiny little bungalow about three minutes from my work and my dad's house and my best friends' house, Beacon Hills isn't exactly a big town,” he laughs, “but it was mine and only mine before Malia ever thought about moving in. And if she tries to take that place from me, I will not be held responsible for what I do to her. Besides, she left town. I mean, when she left me, she really left me.”

Derek winces. “I'm sorry, Stiles. That must have been...I have no idea how that must have felt. Do you know why she left? Or where she went?”

“Malia was adopted as a baby and she never really had a close relationship with her parents. Her mother died when she was a kid, along with her younger sister, and she and her adoptive dad just...grew apart, I guess. Two friends of ours recently got engaged and it fired up something within Malia and she started looking for her biological parents. She never managed to track down her mom, but her father got in contact a few months ago. He must have asked her to visit him and she decided to kill two birds with one stone. I don't even know where she is.”

“Do you miss her?”

Stiles can tell by the way Derek's eyes pinch at the corners that he's trying to look like he doesn't care about the answer Stiles gives to his question even though he does and Stiles takes a deep breath and pauses for a second as he thinks.

“No...” he says eventually, whispering the word to his plate. “It...I was gonna ask her to marry me, you know? I was saving up for a ring when she walked out. But...she might have done a horrible thing, leaving me the way she did, but the whole breaking up thing might have been the best thing for us.”

He knows it was the right thing for them, because what he felt for Malia after more than ten years of being involved with each other doesn't even come close to what he feels for Derek after just a few days.

“I think...I think I just felt so comfortable. Like, marrying my high school sweetheart was just what I was supposed to do. My parents did it, Malia's parents, Scott's parents – though that one didn't last. It just...seemed like the next step.”

Derek swallows the food in his mouth and gives Stiles a serious look. “If you'd had the ring before her dad contacted her...?”

He lets the question hang, but Stiles knows what he's getting at and he nods his head slowly.

“Yeah, I probably would have asked her and...and she probably would have said yes. Or maybe that's wishful thinking on that part. I was supposed to propose, she was supposed to say yes and we would have lived in wedded...misery, actually.”

“You think it would have ended anyway? Even if you had got married?”

“I think if she could walk out on me the way she did, a ring and a piece of paper weren't going to make her stop and think twice. She obviously didn't care enough to think about me, it just saved us both a lot of hassle that I was just her boyfriend and not her husband.”

Derek laughs. “So she did you a favor?”

“I guess, and maybe I'll be able to forgive her in a decade or two, but right now, I just feel like an idiot for thinking it was more than it was.”

It's on that happy note that Derek's cellphone starts to ring and he groans, wiping his hands and mouth on his napkin. “I'm so sorry, I thought I turned it off.”

Stiles waves him off and Derek reaches into the pocket of his pants to retrieve his cellphone. When he glances at the name on the screen, he rolls his eyes and rejects the call.

Stiles raises his eyebrows. “Uh...that didn't seem good.”

“It's my manager slash agent slash...everything when it comes to selling my work.”

“Is there a problem?”

“I...” Derek trails off with a sigh. “He wants me to put in an appearance at a gallery showing.”

“And that's a problem?” Stiles asks with a frown.

Derek stares down at his plate. “When I first started showing my art, exhibiting, a lot of people just came to see Derek Hale, the guy who got his parents killed.”

Stiles pales. “Oh...oh God, Derek, that's...” But Stiles doesn't know how to finish that sentence.

Derek nods. “After four or five shows. I told Jackson, the guy on the phone, that I wasn't going to appear anymore. He could sell what he wanted, have as many showings as he wanted, but he had to do all of it without me. He mostly agreed.”

Stiles smirks. “Mostly?”

“He says it's been long enough that people will have mostly forgotten and will just come to see the art.”

“And you're not so sure?”

Derek somehow manages to convey a shrug without moving his shoulders – or any part of his body that wasn't his face. It's impressive.

“I still get people stopping me in the street, asking about Kate, wondering how I could have let someone like her into my life. I mean, it's rare nowadays, I can go months, maybe a year without anyone saying anything. But then a new article will come out, some piece in an art magazine or something, and it's like those writers are just incapable of talking about me as an artist. They have to drag my past into it, and it's just one huge vicious circle. It's tiring and upsetting for Nathan.”

Stiles nods. He can't imagine what it would be like for someone Nathan's age to always be associated with someone like Kate. He can't help but wonder if he even knows half of what really happened, but he knows that now is not the right time to ask Derek about it. There will never be a right time.

“Hey, it's not like you'll be facing the wolves alone, right? Your sisters will be there for you, your friends?”

Derek makes that shrugging-face again. “Sister, single. Cora will still be in the Beacon Hills when the show opens. “

Stiles feels his heart rate kick up a gear. “So...so I'll still be here. In New York.”

Derek smirks. “Yes, Stiles, if Cora will still be in Beacon Hills, that probably means that you'll still be here.”

“So...I could be there for you? If...I mean, if you wanted me to be there.”

Derek doesn't say anything for several long seconds as he stares at Stiles across the table and Stiles' heart pounds in his chest.

Finally, Derek takes a deep breath. “You'd want to come to something like that?”

Stiles shrugs. “Sure, why not? Get to dress up all fancy and say things like 'I'm here with the artist, actually'.” He sticks his nose in the air, feigning an entitled attitude, making Derek snort into his wine glass. “If you're sure you'd want me there, then, yeah, I'd like to go. When is it?”

“This Saturday.”

Stiles feels something cold curl in his belly. He leaves on Sunday morning. The showing and the night after will be the last things he ever does with Derek.

“I can't promise that it won't be completely dull,” Derek says softly. “You'll probably be really bored all night, listening to me talking about my paintings and watching people pretend they actually care about art and aren't just there to get their names in some newspaper or gossip column.”

“We can keep each other sane,” Stiles says with a smirk and picks up his silver wear, intent on finishing his meal. “Now, call your manager-agent guy back and tell him you'll be there. I'll call Laura tomorrow and see if she wants to go shopping with me. I'm gonna need to look good if I'm gonna be on the arm of the artist himself.”

Derek sighs. “I regret everything.” But he's smiling as he picks up his phone so Stiles thinks he can't be that upset.



New York – Still



“Seriously, though?” Derek says for what feels like the tenth time since they left the restaurant and Stiles suppresses a smile as he lets them both into Cora's apartment.

“Is he really that worried something is going to happen to me?”

Stiles sighs. “Derek, if Jackson thinks that you need security, there must be some reason to justify it. He wouldn't do it just for the fun of it. I mean, I don't know the guy, but I don't think he would be that big of an asshole when he knows how hard this is going to be on you.”

Derek throws his hands in the air. “Weren't you and Jackson the ones who were telling me that nothing bad is going to happen at this thing? Why hire all this security if he's sure that nothing's going to happen? It makes no sense to me.”

Stiles pauses for a second and takes a deep breath. “Derek, this is a preventative measure, I'm sure. If there was an actual threat, if there was something that Jackson was actually concerned about, then he'd tell you. I can't imagine that he would keep something like this from you just to get you to show your face in public.”

Derek snorts. “You really don't know Jackson Whittmore.”

“No, I don't. But I know people. I'm a high school teacher, Derek, I know what it means to have steps in place just in case something happens. It's better to be safe than sorry.”

Derek sags, like all his bluster has drained away, and he falls onto the couch. “I'm sorry,” he mumbles, “I'm just worried about how people are going to react to all these private security bozos filling up the place. It's hardly representative of a classy art exhibition.”

“No, but people won't care if they really are there for your art. Jackson said it was going to be an invite only event. You're not going to get any of those trashy gossip magazines trying to get in, and if they do...that's what the bozos are for.”

“I'm just worried,” Derek admits. “Jackson was so adamant that nothing was going to happen. All of this security makes me think that he was lying out of his ass.”

“Even if he was, the security will make sure you and Laura and the rest of us are as safe as we can be. It's going to be okay, Derek.”

Derek looks at Stiles, his eyes imploring. “How can you be so sure?”

“I'm Stiles, I'm brilliant.” Stiles takes a step closer. “I know everything.”

Derek slides closer on the couch. “Oh, yeah? What do you think you know?”

“I know that...we have the whole night, just you and me, and there's still a whole bag of supplies that you brought me that we have yet to put to good use.”

“Hmm,” Derek grins, “you think we should make a start?”

“I think we should make the most of tonight, because we might not get another chance.”

Without another word, Derek closes the distance between them and kisses Stiles, slow and deep, making Stiles' toes curl in his sneakers.

“Come on,” he mumbles between kisses as he unbuttons Derek's shirt, “bedroom. Now.”

“Impatient much?” Derek grins and Stiles snorts.

“Hey, you were the one who set this whole thing up so that we could spend the whole night together. I'm just trying to make the most of the time we have.”

Derek grins at him. “In that case...lead the way.”

Stiles scrambles to his feet, pulling Derek by the hand. “Come on, good looking, I'm gonna lick you all over.”





Beacon Hills



“So,” Natalie says, as she gathers up the papers she and Cora had spent the last thirty minutes pouring over while they sat in the library, “as you can see, everything looks as though it's on track and the council has approved your preliminary plans.”

Cora blinks. “What, seriously? That seems a little fast.”

Natalie smiles in a motherly sort of way and it makes something in Cora's chest ache. “Well, we're still about a year away from breaking ground on the project, and the actual contractors will have to draw up their ideas and plans and blueprints, of course, and then we'll all probably talk about it a lot more, but I think it's good to get the ball rolling early.”

“I'm just having a hard time believing that everyone thinks this idea could actually work. I didn't exactly plan on this being a working vacation. This was supposed to be me getting away from a toxic work environment.”

Natalie clears her throat and folds her hands on top of the table, staring at Cora intently. “That is actually something I wanted to discuss with you.”

“My job?”

Natalie nods. “I know that...that Beacon Hills isn't exactly New York, but I think you're happy here. You seem to like the quieter lifestyle and I know that we can't offer you the same kind of salary that you're probably getting now, but myself and the rest of the council members have decided to offer you the position of overseeing this project and, once it's completed, running it.”

Cora gapes. “Are you...are you serious?”

“Now, I know it's not some fancy ad agency, but I think we have a good thing in the works here. Something that could make this town really great. I would like it if you were a part of that.”

“I...I don't know what to say,” Cora answers honestly. Her mind is spinning at the idea of living here, of being a real part of this community instead of just borrowing Stiles' life for a few weeks.

Of staying with Isaac for good.

“It's...it's mind blowing.”

“Don't say anything for now,” Natalie tells her. “I don't want to rush you into a making a decision. I know this is a lot to think about.”

Cora scoffs. “Yeah.”

“You still have a few days left in town, so use that time to think about my offer. You'll have to go back to New York anyway, right? Whatever you decide. So tell me your choice before you leave.”

“Thank you,” Cora tells her and Natalie smiles as she slips back into her jacket. “Lydia has decided to hold a sort of family dinner this week; she's still upset that I didn't tell her I was dating the sheriff. You should come, take Stiles' place. Bring Isaac, too.”

“We'll be there.”

Natalie smiles and bids Cora goodbye and Cora just watches her go, too stunned to do anything else.

Could she really do it? Could she really leave her family – Derek, Laura, Nathan – and all of her friends back in New York to move to a town on the other side of the country to live with people she barely knows? And for what? A job that isn't in the same league as the one she already has?

But it's not just about the job, Cora realizes as she looks around the library. She spots people she knows, Danny behind the counter, his boyfriend, Ethan, leaning over said counter to flirt like they're schoolboys with crushes, not long-term partners. Mrs. Wilson is sitting in the far corner with Elainea, waiting for their book club to start.

Four people with whom Cora has had conversations with and gotten to know in just three weeks. That's four more people – outside of her own family and work colleagues – that Cora has even spoken to in New York over the last three months.

She wouldn't just be leaving New York for another job, she would be leaving for the chance at having a life, having friends, a relationship with someone she can really see herself falling for.

It's a decision Cora knows that she can't make on her own and she reaches for her cellphone, desperate to call Laura.

The phone rings as soon as she picks it up, the name of her boss in New York flashing on the screen.

It takes Cora more time than she likes to actually answer the phone, and when she does, her voice is like a choked whisper.

“Mr...Mr. Deucalian, how are you?”

Ms. Hale, I trust you are enjoying your vacation?” Deaucalian says in his lilting English accent.

“Yes, I...I am. Though, I have to admit, I am a little sad that it's almost over,” Cora admits, wincing as she looks around the library at the faces of the people she knows.

I'm sorry, I don't remember where it was you said you would be vacationing,” Deucalian says with what sounds like genuine regret in his tone.

Cora clears her throat. “Um, Beacon Hills? It's a small town in California; I'm staying with some friends.”

Deucalian chuckles. “That must be quite a change of pace.”

“You can say that again.”

There's a pregnant pause where Cora tries desperately to come up with something to say before Deucalian takes a deep breath and she holds her tongue.

I don't mean to be abrupt, Ms. Hale, but I did actually have a reason for calling, aside from asking after your well-being, of course.”

Cora feels herself pale and her eyes catch Danny's across the room. He straightens, pulling away from Ethan and throwing her a concerned look, and she shakes her head, giving him what she hopes is a reassuring smile.

She forces herself to laugh. “I'm sure you have much more important things to worry about than someone like me.”

Deucalian hums under his breath and Cora fears the worst.

I was speaking with your assistant, Ms. Hale. Erin, I think her name is?”

“Erica,” Cora corrects automatically, cringing even as she says it, “Erica Reyes.”

Erica, of course,” her boss says and Cora thinks she can hear him writing something down. “She had some quite interesting things to say, I feel.”

Cora feels sick. “Oh?”

Yes, about Kali and her most recent presentation to the board.”

Cora swallows hard. “Mr. Deucalian, let me just-”

She's interrupted. “Why did you let her take credit for your work, Ms. Hale?”

Cora deflates, all fight draining out of her. “She's a senior executive, Mr. Deucalian. I'm an associate. I don't have any sort of authority to question her or stand up to her.”

And that's exactly why Kali has climbed so high in his company. I've looked over all of her recent accounts in the last few weeks. It seems you weren't the first person she has done this to, but I am pleased to say that she will be the last.”

“Sir?”

As of right now, Kali is packing up her office, and if I have anything to say about it, she'll never work in advertising again,” Deucalian explains. “But that does mean that we have some reshuffling to do when it comes to staff within the company.”

“I can imagine,” Cora says, trying not to sound as confused as she is. Why is Ducalian telling her this?

I'm not calling you to offer you Kali's position,” Deucalian says sharply, “because, to put it bluntly, I don't think you have the necessary experience.”

“Of course not,” Cora agrees quickly. “I would never even assume to think that I would be capable of taking that position.”

I'm not sure Kali was capable of filling that position,” Deucalian chuckles. “But, in saying that, I'm sure by the time everything has been sorted and the dust has settled, we'll have an opening for a junior executive, a position for which I think you're more than qualified.”

Cora practically swallows her tongue. “I...wow, I...I don't know what to say.”

I understand that this is a little much to take in, and I know that you're on vacation for a few more days, so I'm not going to expect an answer right now. Take a few days, think about it, and let me know before you return to work. Once you're back, we can take it to the lawyers and get a new contract drawn up.”

Cora nods rapidly before she realizes that she's still on the phone. “Yes, yes of course. I'll...I'll call you in a few days.”

Excellent, I look forward to hearing from you, Ms. Hale.”

Deucalian hangs up and Cora sits there frozen for a few seconds, the phone still pressed to her ear, completely mind blown.

“Cora?”

Cora blinks, startled, and she looks up to see Danny standing in front of her, a concerned look on his face, Ethan standing just behind him.

Cora pauses for a moment, taking in the fact that Danny seems to be genuinely worried about her, while Ethan looks like he's ready to hunt down whoever upset her.

“Cora?” Danny repeats and she jumps.

“What? Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. I'm great even. I think. Maybe.”

Danny chuckles. “Well, that sounded convincing.”

“I'm just having a little bit of a crisis. Sort of a fork in the road kind of thing.”

Danny pulls out a chair and sits across from her. “Anything we can help with?”

Cora shakes her head. “Not really. Sort of something I have to figure out on my own.”

“Well, you know where we are, if you need to talk. A few of us are meeting for a drink later tonight, at that little bar on the corner of Main? You and Isaac should come.”

“Me and Isaac,” Cora repeats, the phrase making her brain short circuit.

“Yeah,” Ethan laughs, “everyone knows the two of you are practically joined at the hip these days. Can't invite one without the other.”

“Not that we mind,” Danny rushes to point out. “We love having both of you around.”

“Of course we do,” Ethan agrees and Cora smiles at we both.

“Thanks, guys. I'll see if Isaac has anything planned with he gets off shift, but we'll probably be there.”

Danny reaches across the table and squeezes Cora's hand. “Don't look so surprised, Cora; you're one of us.”

Which is more than Cora can say about the majority of the citizens of New York City.



Beacon Hills - Still





Cora parks Stiles' jeep in the parking lot of the bar. Standing outside, leaning against the wall of the building, Isaac is typing on his phone.

It's obvious – to Cora, anyway – that Isaac came out here to wait for her, but whatever news or text that he got on his phone is clearly interesting enough to grab his attention and distract him from his task completely.

Cora smiles to herself as she watches him through the windshield of the jeep. He's got a huge grin on his face as his fingers fly over the screen of his phone, typing out and email or text or tweet, for all Cora knows, but can't help the little blip her heart makes as she watches him. He looks beautiful like this, happy, and Cor can't help but wonder what – or who – has caused that reaction.

She mentally kicks herself for feeling jealous. She and Isaac are nothing, a summer fling, for all intents and purposes. But a fling with potential. If Cora takes Natalie up on her offer, could she and Isaac make a go of it? Is there enough of an attraction, a connection, for them to be a real couple? A couple that could go the distance?

Cora has to admit, if only to herself, in the quiet confines of Stiles' jeep, that she really, really wants the opportunity to try.

But trying means leaving – leaving New York and Laura and Derek and Nathan and Erica and the few other people she has there.

She doesn't know if she has the nerve.

Taking a deep breath, Cora checks her makeup in the review mirror and pastes a smile on her face before she gets out of the jeep, a lot more gracefully than she did when she first started using it.

Slamming the door draws Isaac's attention away from his phone and his smile just gets wider when he spots her.

“Hey,” he shouts across the parking lot, pushing away from the wall and falling into jog as he crosses the lot to meet her.

Cora pauses and lets him press a kiss to her cheek, sighing a little at the contact, before scolding herself for acting like a heroine in a bodice ripper.

“What's got you so happy?” she asks instead, pulling away and continuing towards the bar.

Isaac falls into step beside her, taking her hand in his. “You know that woman your brother sent my photos to?”

“Uh...woman? I thought he said he was going to send them to Jackson, his agent person?”

“Braeden said that Jackson forwarded the photos to her, because he doesn't understand much about photography.”

“Alright, go on.”

“She just emailed me to say that she's sold some of my photos to some greetings card company or something. They want to use them for some new product line.”

Cora squeals and pulls him to a stop. “Isaac! That's so awesome! I'm so proud of you!” She throws her arms around, “I told you your photos were amazing!”

Isaac hugs her back tightly, pressing his face into the space where her neck meets her shoulder. “Thank you. I mean, okay, it's not much, but it's a start right? Braeden says she wants to see more from me, she's gonna take me on if she can sell some more. And none of it would be happening if it wasn't for you.”

Cora rolls her eyes. “Come on, Isaac, your work is good, you would have been successful, even without me.”

Isaac pulls away and shakes his head. “No, if you hadn't pushed me, I would have still just been taking photos in my spare time and hiding them from everyone. I still can't even believe I put my photos up in Stiles' house and now I want to leave them there, instead of taking them all down before Stiles gets home.”

“He'll love them, I promise.”

Isaac blushes and looks at his feet. “I...my brother gave me my first camera, you know? And after...my dad just hated seeing me with it. Said I had no talent, told me to stop wasting my time. And I believed him, 'cause he was my dad. It was only Stiles and Scott that made me see that what he did – was doing – wasn't okay, wasn't what a dad was supposed to do. But it's just hard to forget about all of that, after so many years of being beaten down. It just took a while to sink in, but I know now that my photos are good and other people like them.”

Cora hugs him again, because she can't do anything else. There are words bubbling on the tip of her tongue and she bites down on them hard, because this is neither the time nor the place.

“Come on,” she says, pressing a kiss to the hinge of Isaac's jaw, “let's go get a drink and celebrate with everyone else. I'm guessing you haven't told them?”

Isaac shrugs. “i wanted to tell you first.”

Cora shakes her head. “God, you're so adorable.”

she drags Isaac towards the door of the bar and holds back a sigh.

She doesn't know if her decision just got easier or ten times harder.



Chapter Text

New York



“He looks like a flamingo,” Stiles whispers out of the corner of his mouth as he and Derek glance between the people gathered in the small gallery so that they can watch Jackson Whittmore schmooze and mingle with the people around him.

All while dressed head to toe in pink.

And from what Stiles can see, not only does Jackson pull off the whole ensemble incredibly well, he's also got everyone around him eating out of the palm of his hand. He looks completely at ease surrounded by the faceless people, whereas Stiles is freaking out in a corner with Derek, while Laura and her partner flirt their way around the room.

Laura had taken Stiles out a few days prior to the event and bullied him into a sharp navy suit that cost more than a month's rent on his bungalow and made his eyes water just thinking about paying for it. Laura had waved away his complaints, telling him it was an investment and sashayed to the checkout with her credit card.

A crisp white shirt, no tie, and brown shoes, no socks, completes Stiles' look for the evening and while he feels more than a little uncomfortable, he can admit that he at least didn't look out of place next to Derek as the cameras swarmed them upon their arrival.

Derek himself is in charcoal gray, pants, jacket and vest paired with black shoes and tie and a white shirt. He looks good enough to eat and it took every bit of strength Stiles had to leave the apartment with him.

As it is, he's really looking forward to getting home after this thing.

Next to him, Derek snorts into his champagne glass as they continue to watch Jackson. “What can I say? He's one of a kind.”

Stiles hums an agreement and finally manages to tear his eyes away from the spectacle and looks around the room, taking in the people crowded into the small space. Most of them have their attention focused on the breathtaking paintings on the wall, some are taking pictures or jotting down notes about the event, but Stiles can still see a few people standing in the corners, staring unabashedly at Derek and Stiles. They have their cellphones out, snapping what they probably think are stealthy photos and Stiles has never felt so uncomfortable in his entire life.

So far, he's pleased to admit, none of them have tried to actually approach Derek – or Laura, for that matter – so Stiles is content to let them be. But the minute one of them takes even a step closer, Stiles is flagging down a bozo.

He has to hand it to Jackson, the security guys he hired blend in. The only reason Stiles knows who they really are is because Jackson made sure to introduce them to Derek before the event and Derek had spent the night pointing them out to Stiles.

It was an interesting game.

“I can't believe how many people are here,” Derek mumbles, not for the first time tonight. “Jackson said it was going to be something small, intimate. This is the opposite of intimate.”

Stiles shrugs. “I think that was probably the idea, before word got out that you were gonna show up. Apparently, you're a huge draw, Derek.”

Derek frowns, his eyebrows drawing together, making him look extremely unapproachable, which, Stiles suspects, is probably the whole idea.

“Your paintings are amazing, Derek, you deserve all the praise these elitists heaping on you.”

Derek snorts and Stiles knows he's remembering the way everyone fawned all over him when they first arrived, the way everyone gave him their full attention when Derek gave the short speech Jackson had so carefully prepared for him, hanging on every word that came out of his mouth, like teenagers at a One Direction concert.

“They do look good,” he grudgingly admits at last, his eyes gazing around the room, “the paintings, I mean, not the elitists.”

“They're awesome and you're gonna bank so much tonight. I've already heard people talking about 'moving some money around', like they're mobsters or something.”

Derek makes another face. “I'm not sure how I feel about the possibility of some of these people hanging my art in their homes. Using it as a talking piece.”

“Waste the money they spend on something completely stupid, like a moon bounce for your living room or buy your weight in gummy bears.” Stiles turns to face Derek head on, eyes wide. “No, seriously, do that, that would be so awesome! Can you image what two hundred pounds of gummy bears would look like?!”

Derek laughs and shoves at Stiles' face. “You can be such a child sometimes. And I do not weigh two hundred pounds.”

“I'm rounding up.”

They fall together in giggles like a couple of schoolboys while people swarm around them obliviously, until a shadow falls over them.

“Uh, I hate to break up this little love fest,” Laura says as she and her partner, Dominic, join them in their corner, “but we might have a slight issue.”

Derek blinks and straightens up from his slouch. “What kind of issue?”

“Do we need the bozos?”

Laura gives Stiles and flat look while Dominic chuckles, before she turns back to Derek. “Peter's here and he's talking to the reporters.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “Wonderful,” he says, and Stiles can agree. He remembers the night he and Derek first hooked up, the phone call Derek had received from his uncle. He knows they don't have the best relationship now and he shudders to think what Peter is saying to the press.

“Oh, she's not done,” Dominic says and he snags some more glasses from a passing server, distributing them among the four of them as Laura steels herself.

“Peter didn't exactly come alone. He brought the daughter.”

Derek sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose.

“I didn't know Peter had a daughter,” Stiles says with a frown.

“Neither did Peter until about a year ago,” Laura explains. “She was adopted as a child and she reached out to Peter after tracking him down and Peter just sort of threw himself into father-mode. She's a full grown woman but he treats her like a child and she lets him.”

“I haven't met her,” Derek tells him, “but Laura and Dom have. They weren't impressed.”

Dominic shrugs like he doesn't care one way or the other, and Laura just sighs. “I mean, she seemed nice enough, when I first met her, but she lets Peter spoil her, like she's using him to try and make up for something. I don't know if she had a bad childhood and now she's trying for a do-over, but Malia is a strange girl.”

Stiles feels every drop of blood in his body run cold and he stares at Laura with wide eyes.

“What...what did you say her name was? Peter's daughter?” Maybe if he wishes hard enough, he'll have heard wrong.

“Malia? She's from the West Coast, I think, northern Californa.”

So wishing really doesn't work.

“Oh, my God, I'm gonna be sick.” Stiles stumbles back until he can lean against the wall, his legs no longer capable of holding him up.

“Stiles, what's wrong?” Derek asks, crowding close to Stiles, he, Laura and Dominic shielding Stiles from the people around them.

Stiles barks a hard laugh. “Oh, you mean aside from the fact that my ex-girlfriend, Malia, left me and our northern Californian town, to go and spend some quality time with her recently discovered birth-father? Nothing, nothing is wrong at all.”

“Holy shit,” Laura breathes, while Derek pales and Dominic looks around for another server.

“We're gonna need more booze for this soap opera.”

“I mean, why me?” Stiles asks the universe, ignoring the people around him. “Why is my life so monumentally fucked up?”

Laura stands up on her tiptoes, trying to see past the crowd to spot her uncle and...and cousin.

“Laura!” Derek snaps, batting at her. She scowls at him, but Derek's eyes are on Stiles while Stiles tries to remember how to breathe. “What do you wanna do?”

Stiles chuckles darkly again. “Is there a back door out of here?”

Laura winces. “I don't know, should I talk to Jackson? Maybe be can talk to the owner and find out.”

Stiles shares a look with Derek. This is Derek's night, Stiles doesn't feel right, asking Derek to end his night early just because Stiles can't handle seeing his ex.

But after a few seconds, Derek nods, never taking his eyes off Stiles as he answers his sister. “Yeah, can you go do that, please?”

Laura and Dominic stride away without another word and Derek presses closer to Stiles.

“I'm sorry. If I'd mentioned Peter's daughter sooner, if I'd asked Laura about her, we might have been prepared for this.”

“Derek, don't be stupid. None of us could have seen this coming.”

There's a loud bark of laughter behind them and Stiles looks over to see an older man with an iPhone held close to his mouth as he talks to a reporter. He assumes that's Peter, reveling in the limelight like Derek says he's wont to do. There are too many spectators around him for Stiles to try and spot Malia, and he slinks further back into the wall, hoping to prevent that from happening at all.

A sharp whistle rings out above the din and Stiles looks up to see Laura and Dominic waving at them from across the room, while Jackson stands behind them, looking annoyed.

“Let's get out of here,” Derek says, taking Stiles by the hand.

They haven't taken more than three steps when their path is suddenly blocked and Stiles looks up to see a stunningly beautiful woman smiling warmly at Derek.

“Derek, tonight has been so wonderful, you should be so proud of yourself.”

“Thank you, Braeden, it's always nice to have your support.”

She grins at him and her eyes snap to Stiles, narrowing a little. “You're Stiles?” she asks, continuing before he can form an answer. “You have a friend, Isaac, I think?”

Stiles startles, exchanging a look with Derek before turning his eyes back to Braeden. “Uh...yeah, actually, how did you...?”

“We've been talking,” she says, then she winks at Derek. “Those photos your sister sent you.”

“Oh,” Derek says, clearly understanding, “Jackson sent them on to you? Sorry, I should have thought to send them to you in the first place.”

She shrugs. “Doesn't matter, I got them eventually.”

“I'm sorry, what photos?” Stiles is completely lost.

“Isaac's photos,” Braeden explains. “Cora sent them to Derek and he forwarded them to Jackson, who in turn, sent them to me. And I managed to sell them to a very reputable stationary company and I'm excited to see more from him.”

Stiles gapes. “Isaac? Are you serious? Not only did he let perfect strangers see his photos, but he actually sold some? This...wow! That's great news!” He smacks at Derek's arm. “Your sister is a miracle worker!”

Derek shakes his head. “I've seen his work, Stiles, it really is good. Cora might have given him the push he needed, but the credit is all Isaac.”

“You've seen them?! Right, that's it, we're going home right now and you're gonna show me whatever Cora sent you, because it's not fair that you've seen them and they're in my house now so that means my friends have seen them and I'm the only one who hasn't seen them, so I need to see them right-”

“Stiles?”

Stiles freezes as a voice from behind him cuts him off. His hand is still clutched in Derek's and he squeezes it hard before he turns around to face her.

Malia looks...hard, angry. She also looks nothing like the girl who walked out on him three weeks ago.

Her long hair is now cut short, ending at her chin in a blunt edge. She's wearing one of those all in one pantsuit things, the front of it slit down to her navel, and her lips are painted bright red, emphasizing her snarl as she glares at Stiles.

“What the hell are you doing here? Did you follow me here?”

Stiles sighs, already done with the conversation. “Malia, how would I do that? You didn't even tell me where you were going.”

“I'll catch up with you later, Derek, I'm going to mingle a little more,” Braeden says, diplomatically, clearly understanding that this is a conversation she knows no part of. She kisses Derek's cheek, then, to his surprise, Stiles', too, before she glides off.

“Derek?” Malia says, picking up on Braeden's words. Her eyes tick down to their joined hands. “Laura's brother?”

Derek nods. “That's me. Sorry I haven't been by to introduce myself, we've been a little busy the last few weeks.”

He's purposefully including Stiles, proving to Malia that Stiles isn't there for her. Stiles wants to kiss him.

She blinks. “You know Stiles? Stiles, you know my bio dad's nephew?”

“We met at college,” Derek answers before Stiles can flounder for something to say. “When Stiles called and said he was looking to get away for a few weeks, of course I said yes. Can't turn down spending some time with such a great guy.”

“You're...” Malia doesn't finish her sentence, as though she doesn't want an answer to her unasked question and Stiles can't help feeling a little smug.

He clears his throat. “Sorry, we were just on our way out, so I, uh...I guess I'll see you around.”

“Uh, actually.” She takes a hesitant step forward and as Stiles watches, her mask falls away and she's suddenly that girl Stiles first met, despite the new clothes and hairstyle. “I was wondering if we could...if we could talk, for a few minutes? Since you're here?”

Stiles blinks, shocked. “Uh...”

“Stiles, we...we have plans,” Derek says, tugging on his hand a little desperately.

Stiles looks between the two of them, suddenly horribly conflicted. He's literally facing down his past and his present and possibly his future, too.

Stiles has never been more unsure.

He turns to Derek. “Can, uh...can you wait in the car? I'll literally be five minutes.”

Derek looks between Stiles and Malia before he nods, kisses Stiles softly and crosses the room to where Laura, Dominic and Jackson are watching them, like the whole thing is some sort of train wreck they can't look away from.

Stiles has to smother a laugh when Derek's departure immediately makes Laura start walking towards them, and Dominic slings an arm around her waist and lifts her off her feet.

Stiles takes a deep breath and turns back to the woman he wanted to marry.

“Alright, you heard what I said; you have five minutes.”

Chapter Text

New York - Still



Malia shakes her head and looks around the room. “Stiles, please, can't we just go somewhere? Get out of here so that we can talk properly?”

“Malia, no offense, because I did care about you once.” Stiles pauses, considering. “I probably still do care about you, to be perfectly honest. But after what you did to me, you're lucky I'm giving you the five minutes.

“If you care about me, then the least I deserve-”

Stiles cuts her off. “Deserve!? You don't deserve anything, Malia. You walked out on me, you left without giving me a second thought. Be honest, if I had come home ten minutes later, would you have even told me you were leaving? Or would you have just left and let me live the rest of my life wondering what the hell happened?”

“I didn't...handle it very well,” Malia admits, her eyes on the tiny purse clutched in her hands and it takes everything Stiles has not to laugh in her face.

“Yeah, no shit.”

“When Peter...when he asked me to come stay with him, all I saw was...the chance to start a new life, you know? It was all bright lights and the glamour of New York and it all just started to seem like this was my chance to have the life I always wanted. You know I never wanted to come back to Beacon Hills after college; I only did it because it was the only place that was offering me a decent job. And then you were there and it just made sense to live together until I saved some money or found something better. But then one year turned into two into three and I was still there and so where you and it became some sort of weird routine.”

“That wasn't my fault, Malia.”

“I'm not saying that it was.”

“You never talked about any of that, I didn't know that was something you wanted, something you needed. You talked about finding your biological father, but I didn't know that finding him meant skipping out on your old life for something new.”

Malia shakes her head. “Neither did I, it wasn't something that I planned. It never even crossed my mind until Peter offered to let me come stay with him.”

“And you just...jumped at the offer, without stopping to think about me? About our relationship?” Stiles and Malia just shrugs. “Wow, it's nice to know I meant so much to you.”

“I don't...I don't know why I did it. I just thought...I didn't think we were really serious, I didn't think you'd be that upset. We were friends who lived together and had sex occasionally. I wasn't...I wasn't aware that you thought we were more than that.”

“'Had sex occasionally' Jesus Christ,” Stiles mumbles, scrubbing a hand across his face. “Malia, I was saving up to buy a ring!”

He doesn't know why he says it, he wants to hurt her as much as she's hurt him, probably, but the words are out of his mouth before he can stop them.

Malia's eyes snap to his and her mouth drops open in shock and she just...stares. Stiles shrugs.

“Stiles, I...I had no idea...I...”

“I'm not saying we were Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, but you were my girlfriend, Malia. We'd been dating for years, since we were kids. We lived together! There was literally nothing to tell me that we weren't going to be together for the rest of our lives. Well, not until you walked out without even saying goodbye.”

“God, I'm such a bitch.”

“That's your word, not mine. I just can't understand how I made such a huge mistake with you.”

A loud laugh pierces the air before Malia can answer and they both look over to see Peter with his arm around a young blonde woman and Malia's face twists.

“I think I'm the one who made a mistake,” she admits quietly. “Coming here, I mean.”

“Because of Peter?” Stiles clarifies. He needs to know what's really going on in her head, if he's really so far down on the list of things she cares about.

“He's just...he's not what I was expecting. He was a lot different on the phone and in his emails.” Malia gestures to her clothes. “All of this was his idea, you know? The makeover. Said I should leave the small town girl behind now that I was living in the Big Apple.”

“Derek says he changed a lot after the shooting. He used to be very loving and protective of all of them. Now he's like a completely different person, so Derek says.”

Malia stares at him for a second. “Shooting?” she asks finally. “What shooting?”

“Oh, sorry, I thought you'd know. What, didn't you google the shit out of him when you first found out who he was?”

Malia scowls. “I'm not you.”

Stiles frowns and ignores the jibe. “About six years ago, some psycho freak broke into Derek's parents' house and shot both his parents dead while they were asleep in bed. She didn't know that Peter was in the house, too, and he surprised her as she was trying to leave. She shot him in the head. He survived, obviously, but there was a lot of damage, he was in a coma for a long time. When he woke up, Derek said he remembered everything, but it was like he'd had a personality transplant.”

Malia looks back at her father with new eyes. “I didn't...he never said anything.”

“Why would he? He doesn't think anything changed.”

She returns her gaze to Stiles. “I still think...I still think we should just...go back home. Forget about New York and everyone here and just...pretend like the last three weeks never happened. Try to get our lives back on track.”

Stiles can't help it, he bursts out laughing. “Are you...you can't be serious right now. Tell me you're not serious?”

“We had a good life, Stiles, even if I was a little bit blind to it, but we were happy, right? We can be happy again, I can be better this time, I know how you feel now and I can be better this time.”

“You left me! You decided to pack all of your shit and move to New York without even mentioning it to me, you didn't even think you needed to talk to me about it. If I had come home ten minutes later, I would have had no idea where you'd gone and I probably would have called my dad and lodged a missing persons report!”

“Yes, you would have, because you care about me, Stiles, and that doesn't just disappear over night, regardless of what's happened.”

Stiles sighs, the fight all but draining out of him. “You're right, I do love you, I probably always will.” Malia smiles smugly but Stiles continues before she can say anything. “But I don't trust you.”

Her face falls and she takes a stumbling step back. “Stiles...”

“Malia, despite what you're saying right now, what you did by leaving me proves that you don't really care about me. I know that you think you want to just go back to the way things were, but what happens the next time you get an offer like this? What happens if you find your birth mother? Are you gonna run off to Canada or wherever and see if she's a better fit than Peter was?”

“I told you, Stiles, I can be better this time, now that I know what you want from this relationship.”

“Malia, you can't make yourself fall in love with someone, you can't force yourself to spend the rest of your life with someone you're not crazy about. The only thing that will accomplish is you hating me and resenting me for tying you down. And I don't want that. Think back, if you hadn't left and I had finally saved enough money for that ring, what would you have done if I'd proposed to you?”

Malia's face twists, like she's confused, but she pauses, seriously thinking about the scenario before she answers. “I would have...I don't think I would have understood why you were asking me to marry you,” she admits finally, her eyes downcast again.

“No, because you didn't think we had that type of relationship. And yes, that makes me upset, it actually hurts a lot, but that doesn't mean and I want to make you do something you don't want to do.”

“I do love you,” Malia says forcefully, leaning into Stiles' space.

“But not the same way I loved you.” He makes sure to put an emphasis on the past tense, making sure she understands. It's not the truth, somewhere, deep down, he will always love Malia, but he means what he said – he can't trust her, not now. “And, you know, sometimes love just isn't enough. Even if I wanted to go back to Beacon Hills and pretend the last three weeks hadn't happened, I couldn't because the trust is gone. How do I know that you're not just going to...get bored again and go to Mexico or something?”

“Mexico? Why would I go to Mexico? I don't know anyone there, I've never even been there.”

“Malia, that's not really the point. The point is I don't have the trust in you that I need to have in order to be in a relationship with you.”

Malia narrows her eyes, her expression hardening. “Is this about that Derek guy? Are you choosing him over me? You know he's my cousin, right? That's a little weird.”

“I'm going home tomorrow, Malia. Derek lives here, in New York, and he's not coming with me. I only came out here because I needed some time to myself to come to terms with what happened, and Derek and his sisters offered me somewhere to stay for a while. He's an old friend, Malia; that's it.”

Even saying the words hurts more than almost anything that Stiles has ever been through, despite the truth in them.

Stiles is going back to Beacon Hills and Derek's staying in New York. End of story.

Malia nods her head, but she doesn't look convinced.

“Look, come back to Beacon Hills, if that's really what you think is the best thing for you. I mean, you have friends there, you're dad's there-”

“Adopted dad,” Malia interrupts.

“He's the one who raised you from a baby, Malia, he's your dad a lot more than Peter is. Or ever will be, for that matter. And he still cares about you. You know he'll be missing you and you have the right to live wherever you want. But as for you and me? We're never going to be more than friends again, no matter what happens. So if coming back home really is what you think you're going to do, then you'll need to find somewhere else to live.”

Tears spring to Malia's eyes and he feels bad, he's not made of stone, but he just can't do it again. He can't put himself through it, he can't-

He can't do it to Derek.

God, he's really fucked.

“Malia, my dear, is this where you slipped off to?” Peter sidles up behind his daughter and drapes an around around her shoulders. His other arm is still around the blonde's waist. He narrows his eyes at Stiles. “And who might you be?”

“I'm Stiles.”

“I thought-”

Peter cuts Malia off. “Ah, the illustrious Stiles. Laura's been talking about you the last few times I've seen her. Of course, I wasn't really paying attention, so I don't really know you the hell you are.”

“I'm an old friend of Derek's, I've been staying with him for a few weeks.”

“Have we met before?”

Stiles panics a little, but he answers anyway. “Once or twice, but it was a long time ago. Before Nathan was born.”

“Ah,” Peter says with a smile. “Sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

“No, I suppose it isn't.” He smiles again, like he has a secret. “I was just about to take Malia and...” he turns to the blonde, confused, “this lovely young woman out for dinner. Why don't you join us?”

“I would love to, but Derek and I have reservations of our own, with Laura and Dominic. It's a big night for him, we have to celebrate.”

“Of course, of course. I would have thrown something together myself, but Malia has just taken up all of my time lately.”

Malia grits her teeth even as she smiles and Stiles takes a deep breath.

“Well, it was nice running in to you, but I should be going before we're late. I'll see you soon.”

He turns away from the three of them – including the blonde who never spoke – before anyone can stop him and heads for the exit he saw Derek and the others disappear through earlier and is a little surprised to see Dominic waiting for him there.

“Sorry, I just couldn't take Derek's pacing and Laura's ranting anymore. They're a little high strung right now, this whole thing is just getting to them. Peter tends to create problems.”

Stiles doesn't really blame either of them. He did, after all, leave all of them hanging while he had a deep and meaningful conversation with his ex-girlfriend and her biological father, who is also their unpredictable uncle.

Thinking of Malia as an ex-anything is never going to get any easier, but Stiles knows it's something that he's just going to have to get used to. They're definitely never going to have any sort of intimate relationship again.

He claps Dominic on the shoulder and walks towards the door. “Let's just get out of here, man; this place is suddenly a little too small for me.”

“This town really isn't big enough for the both of you, huh?” Dominic cracks as he follows Stiles out the door as Stiles flips him off.

When Stiles finally makes it outside he finds Laura sitting in the back of the town car that brought them to the whole shindig, the door to the car still open and her feet on the sidewalk. Jackson is leaning against the trunk, his eyes on his cellphone and Derek is pacing up and down the sidewalk, chewing on his thumbnail.

“Jesus, this isn't exactly how I wanted tonight to end,” Stiles says loudly. “You all look so fucking depressed.”

Jackson looks up from his phone to glare. “Yeah? And whose fault is that?”

“Peter's.” Laura, Derek and Dominic answer simultaneously and Stiles has to squash down a laugh as Jackson rolls his eyes.

Derek stops pacing and walks towards Stiles, reaching to take his hand as soon as he can.

“How did it go? Are you okay?”

Stiles takes a deep breath. “Can we go home and I'll tell you all about it?”

Derek nods. “Of course.”

“What? You're leaving? Are you kidding me?” Jackson yells, rounding on Derek.

“I never wanted to be here in the first place and I've already been here for hours. I've done everything you've asked from me tonight, Jackson. I'm done.”

Jackson sighs like Derek is seriously damaging his calm. “What am I supposed to tell everyone in there when they start asking for you?”

“That he went home to fuck that hot piece of ass he came with,” Stiles says with a grin.

Behind him, Laura and Dominic burst out laughing and he can practically hear Derek face-palming, while Jackson looks like he's choking on his tongue. He narrows his eyes, first at Stiles, then turns to Derek.

“Seriously? You're really fucking this guy? It's not a publicity thing?”

“I'm a fucking high school teacher from a no name California town, what sort of publicity am I supposed to bring in?”

“It's not a publicity thing,” Derek promises, “and it's our last night together, so if you'll excuse me, I'd really like to take him home.”

Laura stands up. “You guys take the car and go to Cora's. Dom and I will catch a cab and go back to your place, let Allison go home.”

Derek presses a kiss to his sister's cheek. “Thanks, Laura.”

“Derek and I will come by in the morning before we leave for the airport,” Stiles says in a soft voice, “I wanna...I wanna say goodbye to Nathan.”

Laura gives him a sad smile. "Seems like you could do with another few weeks vacation after what happened tonight. Are you sure you're okay?"

Stiles nods. "I will be. Once Derek gets me into bed."

Laura gags. "Gross. Okay, we're leaving now. Dom, get a-"

The three of them look up to see that Dominic has already hailed a cab and is standing next to it, holding the door open, waiting for Laura.

She sighs a little. "This is why I love you. You're so perfect."

Stiles and Derek watch the pair disappear in their cab before Jackson clears his throat and draws their attention again.

"Derek, I'll call you in a few days, let you know how tonight went. Sales, media attention, whatever. I have a few requests for commissions I'd like you to look at as well."

"Email me the details and I'll take a look and let you know. I already have a few that I have to start working on in the next few weeks."

Jackson nods and turns to Stiles. "Stiles, it was...interesting to meet you."

Stiles gives him a wide smile. "Nice to meet you, too, Jackson. I can honestly say it's been entertaining."

Derek laughs and shoves Stiles towards the car before any more sniping can take place and they fold themselves into the back seat. Derek gives the driver Cora's address and they both settle back against the leather, both of them lost in their own thoughts as they make their way across the city.

Stiles leans his shoulder against the window and stares out at the lights of Manhattan, wondering if, after tomorrow, he's ever going to see this city again, never mind the man sitting next to him, one hand on his thigh, or the little boy Stiles has grown so fond of.

It makes his heart hurt just thinking about it and he doesn't know how he's going to cope saying goodbye to these people.

Eventually, the car pulls up outside Cora's building and Stiles gets out while Derek hangs back for a minute to talk to the driver, probably telling him what time to pick them up at the next day.

This place is so far removed from Beacon Hills, so radically different, and Stiles knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that he doesn't belong here. Seeing Malia tonight, seeing how much she's changed after just three weeks, has made Stiles wonder if it's only by sheer stubbornness that the same thing hasn't happened to him.

Or maybe it's the knowledge that Stiles always knew that he would go back home eventually, whereas Malia apparently forgot about everything that was Beacon Hills the second she stepped foot on the plane.

But even with that knowledge, the knowledge that he doesn't belong in this city, it's going to take everything that Stiles has to make him walk away from Derek and Nathan in less than twenty-four hours.

Which is definitely not what he was expecting from this trip.

Though the original goal has definitely been fulfilled – he's definitely forgotten all about Malia. More or less.

The car pulls away and Stiles turns to watch Derek walk towards him, hands in his pockets, his jacket and vest unbuttoned, tie undone, looking like a wet dream come to life.

“Are you okay?” he asks, looking concerned, and something trips over itself in Stiles' chest.

“Yeah,” he says, a little breathless, “I'm just...you know, saying goodbye, I guess.”

Derek's eyes look sad, though he's smiling at Stiles like Stiles is the best thing he's seen since the day he met his son. And there's that trip again.

“Still got a couple hours,” Derek says, his voice tight, “still time to make a few more memories for you to take back home with you.”

Stiles grins, pushing everything else away for now and he throws his arms around Derek's shoulders. “Take me to bed, Derek Hale.”

Derek laughs loudly and takes Stiles by the hand and before he knows what's happening, Derek has Stiles thrown over his shoulder and they're walking towards the elevators.

“This is so undignified,” Stiles squeaks as he stares down at Derek's backside, but he lets himself hang there, because he's laughing too hard to make any attempt to get down.

They stumble into the apartment, kissing and laughing too hard, trying to undress and navigate furniture at the same time, until Derek lifts Stiles up and deposits him on the breakfast bar. Derek crowds in close, framing Stiles with his arms and pressing one last kiss to his lips until he pulls back and looks him in the eye.

“Now, you want to tell me what went down between you and Malia?”

Stiles groans and slumps, defeated. “She didn't understand.”

“Didn't understand what?”

“Why I was upset, why I was mad at her. She didn't understand the kind of relationship we had in the same way I did.”

“What does that mean?”

Stiles squirms. “She thought...I guess she thought we were some kind of friends-with-benefits thing or something? Like...like I was a placeholder until her real life started, someone to keep her warm at night until she found her soulmate.”

Sadness washes over Derek's face. “Stiles, I...I'm so sorry.”

“Am I...I mean, what kind of person am I that I never saw that? That I didn't realize that the woman I thought was the love of my life was just...using me, for want of a better description?”

Derek ducks until he can look Stiles in the eye. “Stiles, don't you get it? I know exactly what that's like. Okay, my story has a little bit more of a tragic ending, but I know what it's like to be used by someone you trust. And that doesn't say anything about you.” Stiles snorts and Derek cups his face with his hands. “Trust me on, this, Laura made me talk a lot about the shit that went down with Kate, she would repeatedly tell me that it wasn't my fault, until eventually, I learned to believe her.”

“Of course it wasn't your fault! How could you even think that!?”

“The same way you're sitting here thinking that Malia's choices are somehow your fault.”

Stiles sighs. “I keep thinking about when we first moved back to Beacon Hills; we ran into each other at the grocery store, like some sort of movie cliche. We'd been apart for more than four years. I came back home because the local high school offered me a student teacher placement, Malia got a job at a wildlife sanctuary in the next town over and she decided to stay with her dad instead of getting a place closer, to save money. I didn't want to cramp my dad's style by moving back home, so I got a place nearby. As soon as I said that, she asked me out to dinner.”

“You think she used you for somewhere to live?”

“I don't know. I know that she and her dad never really got along, not since her mom and sister died. I mean, they were father and daughter, they cared about each other, but they were never close, and I know that Mr. Tate liked to keep a close eye on her and that sort of rubbed Malia the wrong way, so who knows, maybe she did use me. All I know is that we went on a few dates and it was like we were never apart, at least, that's what I was thinking. And then, one day, about two months later, when I came home from school, Malia was sitting on my front step, surrounded by her things, telling me she had a fight with her father. And she never left, until three weeks ago when she moved to New York.”

“It doesn't have to mean anything,” Derek says as he fits himself into the space between Stiles' legs. “It doesn't mean she was pretending the whole time, or...or laughing at you behind your back, or whatever other scenario you're imagining right now.”

“Doesn't it?”

“No, it doesn't have to be spiteful or nasty on her part, she could have been telling the truth when you said she didn't understand. You were both on different pages.”

“We weren't even reading the same book, Derek.”

“Okay, yeah, that might be true, and you probably should have sat down before now, before you really started to think about proposing, and talked about what you wanted from the future. And maybe the blame for that lies with both of you, but that doesn't mean you're stupid or-or a bad person. That just makes you human, like the rest of us.”

“She wanted to go back to Beacon Hills with me and pretend like the last three weeks never happened,” Stiles says suddenly, like he needs to get the words out. “That was another thing she didn't understand, why I wasn't willing to take her back, why I wasn't willing to try and make things work. She doesn't get that I can't trust her anymore.”

Derek laughs, a little hysterically. “Maybe she's the one who needs therapy.”

“Maybe. But I can't do it, you know? I can be friends with her, I think, eventually, but we'll never be more than that again. And, yeah, mostly that's because the trust is gone, but a little bit is because I found out what a real relationship could be like in less than three weeks. And it's so much better than anything I ever had with Malia.”

Derek stares at him, his eyes flickering across ever inch of Stiles' face, like he's trying to memorize him. Then he surges forward and kisses Stiles deeply, pulling him in close, until he can lift Stiles into his arms again and carry him across the room.

They collapse in a heap onto the uncomfortable couch that Stiles never got around to replacing, Derek lying on top of Stiles, kissing, hands roaming, and they're back where it all began, grinding against each other, and it feels good, even though they've done more, gone just about as far as you can with another person, this right here feels perfect, it feels like them.

Eventually, they both come in their extremely expensive suit pants and they just lie there in a tangle of limbs and other body parts, trying to get their breathes back.

It's cliche and dumb and Stiles loves it, never wants to give it up.

Derek pulls away from where he has his head buried in Stiles' neck so that he can look Stiles in the eye and press a sweet, chaste kiss to his lips.

“I love you.”

It's like Stiles' heart stops beating and he struggles to take a breath, but he doesn't move, doesn't try to make his way out from underneath Derek, just stares up at him and tries to remember how to breathe.

Derek shakes his head. “I know you can't – you can't say it back, I don't want you to, that's not what this is about. I'm not trying to convince you to stay or anything like that. I just...I just wanted you to know. I love you, Stiles, and you deserve to know that. You deserve to know that you are such a warm, kind, generous, loving person that you made someone fall completely in love with you in less than three weeks. And not many people can say that, can they?”

Suddenly Stiles can breathe again, and he reaches up to wrap his arms around Derek's neck, pulling him back in until there's not an inch of space between them.

There are tears forming at the corners of Stiles' eyes and yet, he still can't say those words.

Chapter Text

New York - Still



They're both quiet when they get out of bed the next morning. Stiles can't say they woke up, because he's not sure they ever went to sleep. He's sore and sweaty and sated and he feels sick to his stomach.

But that doesn't mean he isn't going to leave.

They shower together, just to prolong the agony a little longer, but it's nothing more than that. They're both too spent from the previous night and Stiles just needs a moment to reign it in, to remind himself that this is it, this is the end.

He packed before he headed over to Derek's the previous night, so that they could ride to the gallery together, so all his things are sitting in a neat pile next to the bedroom doorway. The only things he hasn't packed are the clothes he was wearing to the gallery – the ones Laura paid for, the ones that really need to be dry cleaned before they can be deemed respectable again.

Instead, while Derek is still in the bathroom, Stiles folds both of their pants and shirts, along with Derek's vest and tie, and leaves them in a neat pile at the end of the bed that he's just remade. He takes some hangers from the closet and hangs up their jackets, leaving them hanging over the door and when he takes a look around, he realizes that he has nothing left to do.

Everything is packed and he's leaving, heading back to Beacon Hills in a matter of hours.

Stiles has never felt more conflicted in his life.

But it doesn't matter, because he doesn't have a choice. Everything is in Beacon Hills – his family, his friends, his job. He can't abandon all of that for Derek, no matter how much he might want to.

“You ready?”

Stiles turns and spots Derek standing in the doorway to Cora's bathroom, watching Stiles' stalling. He's wearing an old pair of sweat pants, a t-shirt that originally belonged to Stiles that he's had to sacrifice, and his dress shoes from the night before. They didn't exactly think ahead and he looks ridiculous, yet still completely adorable.

“The car's outside,” Derek presses when Stiles doesn't answer, waving his cellphone in the air, likely to indicate he'd just got some sort of call or text. “You said you wanted to see Nathan before we left for the airport.”

Stiles nods and waves his hand and the clothes he's folded. “You can...I'm not putting those pants in my luggage cover in jizz, and there's no point in taking the jacket and shirt without the pants, so you can just...donate them or something. You can tell Laura I'm keeping the shoes, though. They cost more than I'd make in a month and that's only a slight exaggeration. I'm not giving them back.”

Derek laughs. “You can tell her yourself; she just sent me a text, she's still at my place. I thought she might have had plans or something and got Allison or Chris to watch Nathan, but she's still there.”

“So let's go then.”

Derek blinks, like he somehow expected Stiles to say no, to put it off a little bit longer, but then he nods, seemingly to himself, and he grabs a few of Stiles' bags and takes them out the door to the elevator.

Stiles hesitates, holds back so that he can take one last look around the apartment that's been his home for the last three weeks. It's nothing like his home in Beacon Hills, or even Derek's apartment here in New York, but it's still somewhere he felt relaxed, comfortable...at home.

With one last smirk at the uncomfortable couch – where it all began – Stiles picks up the rest of his bags and follows Derek out the door, locking it behind him. He hands the keys to Derek in the elevator.

And just like that, it's over.

The driver is waiting for them in the lobby when they step out of the car. He greets Derek as 'Mr. Hale' with a respectful and professional smile and hurries forward to help with the bags, taking Stiles' from him when Derek waves him off. Derek follows him out to the car, loading everything into the trunk, then talking quietly to him, too low for Stiles to hear where he's standing in the doorway. After a few seconds, they shake hands and the driver immediately puts his hand in this pocket when he lets go of Derek's, making Stiles wonder how much Derek just tipped the guy and if this is a regular thing, considering the guy didn't even pause to check the amount.

Stiles is reluctantly impressed.

Derek gives him another one of those pained smiles when he comes back to the sidewalk while the driver gets into the car.

Derek opens the back door and gestures inside with a grand flourish. “After you.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “You're such a dork.” But he's glad for the break in the tension that has been building between them all morning.

It's a short ride to Derek's place, but it's made in silence, Derek and Stiles both looking out their respective windows, lost in their own thoughts, but it makes Stiles' heart beat faster at the thought that they're both contemplating life without the other.

His vacation was supposed to make him feel better after the drama with Malia, not ten times worse.

“Stiles!” Nathan yells his name and rushes at him, once Stiles and Derek climb the stairs and Derek lets them into his apartment.

“Hey, buddy.” Stiles gets down on Stiles' level so that he can pull him into a tight hug.

“You're leaving,” Nathan says with a pout.

“Yeah, I am,” Stiles tell him, watching over his shoulder with a smirk as Derek changes out of his dress shoes and into his ratty Chucks. “I'm going back home to my dad.”

“Why?”

“Don't you think your dad would be sad if you went away?”

“Yeah, but you're a grown up.”

Stiles smiles. “You're never too old to need your daddy, Nathan.”

Nathan nods, then looks around until he spots Derek perched on the arm of the couch. “Can I give it to him now, Dad?”

“Give me what?”

“Yeah, Nate, you can give it to him,” Derek says, ignoring Stiles, and Nathan races away, shouting over his shoulder as he goes.

“We made you a surprise, Stiles!”

Laura chuckles as she watches Nathan disappear and Stiles gets back to his feet.

“I'm not gonna lie, Stiles, I'm fucking gonna miss you.”

Stiles hugs her close. “Me, too, Laura.”

“You definitely livened this place up a little. Dominic wanted to be here, to say goodbye to you himself, but he had to work. His punishment for getting last night off.”

“The life of a firefighter, never off duty.”

“Never a dull moment, either.” Laura grows serious, her grin fading away. “You keep in touch, you hear me? Just because you're leaving New York doesn't mean you're leaving us. You get that?”

“I'll do my best, but I'm gonna hold you to that as well.”

“Deal.”

“Here!” Nathan comes barreling back into the room, waving a rolled up piece of white paper above his head, which he presents to Stiles like an offering.

“This is for me?” Stiles asks. When Nathan nods, he takes the paper and unrolls it. “Oh...wow.”

He's speechless as he looks at the incredible piece of art on the page.

It's all of them, depicted as various superheroes. Stiles as Batman – minus the mask – Derek as Superman – minus the beard, but clearly still recognizable. Nathan is Captain America. Cora is Catwoman, Laura next to her as Black Widow and behind her, Dominic is clearly supposed to be Heatwave, and Stiles chuckles at the irony to Dom's life as a firefighter. And finally, there's Jackson, as Arsenal.

“I wanted you to have something to remember us by,” Derek says lowly.

“Like I could ever forget,” Stiles replies, his eyes still on the painting. “When did you even have time to do this?”

It's almost like he can feel Derek's blush, and he has to look up to see it. “I might be a little bit behind in my commissions, the last week or so. I know you only met Dom and Jackson last night, but...well, to be honest, I just wanted to paint them.”

Stiles laughs, long and loud. “This is so awesome.”

“I was gonna frame it, but then I realized it would be harder for you to get it home that way. So I made it to fit in a poster tube, and you can frame it yourself, when you get home. You know, if you want to.”

“Are you kidding me? Of course I'm gonna frame it. I'm gonna hang this in my living room. I'm freaking Batman, baby!”

“Do you like it, Stiles?” Nathan asks softly and Stiles kneels down in front of him again.

“It's the best present I've ever gotten,” he answers truthfully, “thank you.”

Nathan grins and throws himself at Stiles again, hugging him tightly. “I'll miss you.”

“I'll miss you, too, little man. But you and your dad can call me any time you want.”

“Promise?”

Stiles wants to say 'no', he wants to say that this is it, the end, that they have to go their separate ways now and get on with their lives, forget the other even exists. And if it was Derek who was asking him to make that promise, if there was no six-year-old in the picture at all, that's exactly what he would say.

But there is a six-year-old, and he's looking up at Stiles with wide, hopeful eyes, asking Stiles for promises he's not sure he can keep.

“Yeah, Nathan, I promise.”

He presses a kiss to Nathan's temple and makes himself pull away. He needs to leave.

“I really don't want to go, but if I don't leave now, I'll miss my flight. I'll miss you all so much. Bye, guys.”

“Bye, Stiles,” Laura says, resting her hands on Nathan's shoulders. “Have a safe flight.”

“Thanks, um...tell Cora she needs a new couch. I was gonna buy one for her, but I, uh...I got a little bit distracted.”

There's a roomful of strained laughter, and Stiles rolls up the painting and puts it into the poster tube that Derek's offers. He waves at Nathan and Laura one last time and then he turns towards the door, Derek on his heels.

The trip down the six flights of stairs is as silent as the ascension and it's painful and uncomfortable and Stiles can't take it any more.

“Stop,” he says when he reaches the sidewalk and Derek freezes in his tracks.

“Stiles? What's wrong?”

“I can't do this anymore,” he admits.

“Do what?”

“I'm leaving, Derek. I'm going back to California and you're staying here. This is it, this is the end and drawing this out is just hurting us both more than it has to.”

Derek frowns. “What are you saying?”

“I'm saying goodbye, Derek. I'm getting in this car and going to the airport and you are going to stay here with your family.”

“Stiles...” Derek looks pained and it hurts Stiles to see it, but he stands firm and when Derek takes a step towards him, Stiles takes one away.

“No, Derek. Drawing this out, it's too much. This is better, no sappy airport goodbye.”

“But a sappy sidewalk goodbye is better?”

“It's a clean break. We need to remember that it was only ever temporary.”

“You told Nathan that he could call you. That you would call him.”

Stiles nods. “He can and I will, I'm not turning my back on him or trying to pretend he does exist or that I could ever forget about him. But you and me...that's different. You and me are over and we need to remember that.”

Derek opens his mouth, probably another argument on the tip of his tongue, but then he just...stops. He looks away and Stiles watches his profile as he gazes out into the street, thinking about whatever he's thinking about, mulling over what Stiles has just said, and then he takes a deep breath and nods.

“You're right,” he agrees.

“Yeah.”

Derek nods again and looks into Stiles' eyes and takes a deep breath. “I love you.”

“I know.” Derek rolls his eyes, but he's smiling, which is what Stiles was going for.

“You're such a dork.”

“Takes one to know one.” Stiles waves the poster tube. “Thank you for this. It's the best thing I've ever gotten.”

Derek shrugs. “I know I mixed my comic book companies. Laura gave me hell when I showed it to her, but it seemed to fit everyone best.”

“It's perfect. You're perfect.”

Stiles closes the distance he created between them and presses a hard kiss to Derek's lips.

It's fairly tame compared to some of the kisses they've shared since they met, but Stiles knows it's more meaningful than most for being the last one they'll ever have.

He breaks it at last, resting his forehead against Derek's and tries to ignore the tears rolling down Derek's face.

“I think I could really love you,” he whispers harshly, choking back his own emotions.

It's the closest he's ever going to get to saying those words, even if he knows deep down that he does feel them.

Derek just nods and somehow Stiles finds the strength to let go and he gets into the car without looking back.

“Mr. Hale?” the driver asks, looking at Stiles in the rear view mirror.

“He's staying with his family. It's just me.”

“Sure thing, sir,” the driver says and pulls back into the traffic. It occurs to Stiles that he doesn't know the guy's name, but he doesn't have the energy or inclination to ask and instead he pulls out his cellphone and looks at the photo that's set as his lock screen picture.

Stiles, Derek and Nathan in a selfie Stiles took while they were squashed onto Derek's couch watching a JSA cartoon.

He doesn't look back.



Beacon Hills



It's been easier than Cora had expected, packing, getting ready to leave and head back to New York.

Isaac's the one with the issues, and now he's standing next to her at the security looking like his world has just come crashing down around his ears.

“I know we always knew this was gonna be a...a thing, nothing serious, but I apparently completely failed at remembering that,” he says, his eyes on the entrance that Cora will have to pass through in the next five minutes if she has any hope at making her flight.

“Hey,” she says, pulling him around to face her, “this isn't the end, you know. We're gonna see each other again, I'm sure of it.”

Isaac sighs. “You can't know something like that, Cora.”

“Yes, I can, because they have these new inventions that make it so easy to get from one side of the country to the other, in fact, I'm just about to get on one. They're called airplanes.”

“Ha, ha, very funny,” Isaac says with a roll of his eyes. “I'm being serious here.”

“And so am I. There's text and Skype and phone calls and email, we won't go a day without talking, I promise.”

“It's hard to make a long distance relationship last, I know that. The odds aren't good, and I've been trying not to think about that, but I just can't help it.”

“We'll make it work, Isaac, I swear we'll make it work.”

Isaac laughs but there isn't much humor in the sound. “I can't believe I'm this upset over something that's barely lasted three weeks. I don't really know what that says about me as a person.”

“It says that you're an awesome person and you fell for an even better person.” Cora grins widely before she reaches up and presses a soft kiss to Isaac's lips. “It just means that we were meant to be together and people who were meant to be together find ways to do that.”

“I'm gonna hold you to that.”

“I keep my promises, Isaac.”

“I'm gonna go now,” Isaac says decisively, “because if I don't, I might get on that plane with you and my mom will be really pissed.”

Cora takes Isaac's face in her hands and pulls him in for a deep kiss, pouring everything she feels into the action, before hugging him tightly. She needs it for herself as much as she needs to give it to Isaac, finding the strength she needs to walk away from him right there in his arms.

“I'll call you when I land,” she whispers in his ear, pressing one last kiss to his cheek and pulling away. “And we'll set up some sort of Skype date or something.”

“Weekly standing Skype date?” Isaac asks and Cora nods.

“You bet your ass.” She picks up her purse and hefts her carry-on over her shoulder, her other bags already through baggage check. “I told Scott that you guys should all have dinner or get drunk or something tonight. If Stiles is feeling even half of what I'm feeling right now, he's gonna need it.”

Isaac nods. “I definitely need to get drunk or something.”

Cora presses her forehead against Isaac's. “I'll see you soon. I will.”

Isaac just nods and with that, Cora realizes she doesn't have any more reason to put off the inevitable and she takes a hesitant step back.

There's a look on Isaac's face, something she's seen hints of before now, but never so naked right there in front of her. It's enough to make her heart beat faster and wonder what sort of expression she's wearing on her own face.

“I...” she starts, but as she watches Isaac smile sadly, she realizes she doesn't know how to finish it.

Isaac nods. “Yeah, me, too.”

Cora knows then that she doesn't have to finish the sentence, and instead, she nods her head once, and turns around, walking through to security without looking back once.

Cora holds off until she's all the way through security and sitting down next to her gate, nursing a cappuccino from Starbucks, before she takes out her cellphone.

She flips through her phone book between two different numbers, even though she made up her mind before she even got into the Jeep with Isaac to drive to the airport.

But making the decision and making the call are apparently not the same thing, and she just sits and stares for longer than is probably healthy.

Her flight number being announced startles Cora out of her musings and when she looks up, people are lining up to board her flight an her coffee is cold.

Scrambling for her bags, boarding pass and passport, Cora hits the call button and gets in line.

Hello?” the person on the other end of the line says when they pick up and Cora lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding.

“Hi, this is Cora. Cora Hale.”

Cora, hi, of course. What can I do for you?”

She takes a deep breath. “I'd like to accept your offer, if that's still okay?”



Beacon Hills



Scott and Lydia are waiting for Stiles when he finally makes it out of baggage claim with everything he checked on. The superhero painting stayed with him the whole time and he's not even a little but embarrassed by that.

“Hey, you guys.” He greets them with a tired smile and pulls them into a group hug.

Scott winces when he gets a good look at Stiles. “I know you just had a long flight, but, man, you look terrible.”

Stiles manages a laugh. “Thanks, man, you're the best.”

“He's right, Stiles,” Lydia says, concern in her tone. “Are you okay?”

Stiles sighs. “Yeah. Or at leas, I will be.”

“That's exactly what he said.”

Confused, Stiles turns to look where Lydia is pointing and spots Isaac slumped on a bench, looking dejected.

“We saw the Jeep in the parking lot when we got here,” Scott explains. “Isaac was sitting in the driver's seat looking like he's lost everything important to him in the world.”

“I know the feeling,” Stiles admits.

“Stiles...” Lydia reaches out and rests a hand on his arm while Stiles continues to watch Isaac.

“Alright,” he says, taking a deep breath. “New plan. You guys take this...” he lifts is carry-on off the luggage cart – the painting still tucked neatly inside – as pushes the cart towards Scott, “and call the rest of them and tell them to meet at your place. Me and Isaac have some bonding to do.”

Without another word, Stiles leaves Scott and Lydia with his bags and crosses the terminal until he's standing in front of Isaac.

“Hey,” he says, kicking at Isaac's feet.

Isaac blinks as he looks up. “Oh, hey. How was your trip?”

“From the look on your face, I'd say my last three weeks were about as good as yours.”

Isaac snorts and Stiles nods decisively.

“You wanna pick up some booze, go to Scott's and get so drunk until we forget about anyone named Hale?”

Isaac groans. “God, yes.”

Stiles holds out his hand. “Give me my keys. If either you or Cora have harmed my Jeep in any way, I'mma kick your asses.”

Chapter Text

New York



Cora pushes her luggage cart out of the terminal and onto the street and raises her hand to hail a cab, only to lower it slowly as she remembers the trouble she had trying to get a cab to take her from the airport to Stiles' house. New York makes things seem so much simpler and easier.

And yet...

Ten minutes later, Cora is in a cab, her bags in the trunk, making her way through the heavy New York traffic. The driver is trying to make conversation, asking about where she'd been, business or pleasure, was her flight okay, but Cora's not paying attention, giving one word, non-committal answers as she stares out the window.

She watches as the city flies past, her city, and wonders, not for the first time since she made that phone call, if she's done the right thing.

It takes a while to navigate through the heavy Manhattan traffic, but then the cab is pulling up outside Cora's apartment building and she sits there for a few seconds, staring up at the impersonal chrome and glass. It's nothing like the cute, homely, comfortable-looking homes of Beacon Hills.

“Ma'am?” the driver calls and Cora blinks, coming back to the hear and now.

“God, I'm sorry. I'm miles away.”

She pays the driver, offering up a more than generous tip for spacing on the man, and he helps her get her bags from the trunk, even carrying them to the lobby of her building, and she thanks him profusely.

She's watching the cab pull back into traffic when she senses someone coming up behind her.

“Nice to see you back in town again, Ms. Hale.”

Cora turns and smiles at Ennis, one of the doormen for her building. “Thank you. It's a bit of a culture shock, being back. I think it's going to take me a little while to settle in again.”

“Well, I have to say, it'll be nice to have things return to normal around here. The comings and goings from your apartment have been erratic, to say the least.”

“Ennis, is this your way of telling me that someone's in my apartment?”

Ennis nods as he loads Cora's bags into the elevator. “He showed up a couple hours ago, after he took the man who was staying here to the airport, I'm assuming. He hasn't left yet.” He steps into the car next to her and pushes the button for her floor.

“Probably moping,” she says, mostly to herself, but Ennis doesn't disagree.

The rest of the ride up to her floor is made in companionable silence and Cora tips Ennis after he carries her bags inside, smiling again when he repeats how good it is to have her home, and she shuts the door behind him, leaning back against it as she lets out a deep sigh.

Looking around, the apartment looks fairly neat, like Stiles did a good job keeping up with the housework, or like he didn't spend much time in it at all.

A familiar pair of Chucks and an unfamiliar pile of clothing sitting outside her bedroom door catches Cora's attention and she forgets about her jet lag or the need to unpack for a minute as she goes to investigate.

There's a lump under her bedclothes and she laughs at the sight.

"Are you naked under there?" she asks and the lump shifts.

"No."

Cora kicks off her shoes and climbs onto the bed, wobbling as she walks across the mattress, over the lump, until she can sit down and settle against the headboard. The lump moves, uncovering itself and shuffling across the bed until there's a head resting in Cora's lap.

"This is Stiles'," Derek says with a grunt, tugging at the t-shirt Cora is wearing.

Cora taps at Derek's shoulder. "So is this." She has no real way of knowing if that's true or not, but she doesn't recall ever seeing Derek wearing anything similar.

"He went home," Derek mumbles into Cora's stomach, tightening his arms around her.

Cora smiles sadly and runs her fingers through her brother's hair. "I know, which is why I'm here, that was the whole point of this home exchange thing."

"Yeah, I know that, but..."

"But you didn't expect to fall in love with him in less than three weeks," Cora finishes.

Derek squirms. "I feel like I should be ashamed of that, that I could fall so hard so fast. After what happened with Kate, I feel like everyone should be telling me that I need to be careful, to protect myself and Nathan, not give everything to the first person to smile at me and treat my son like he's something special, not an annoyance to try and get rid off."

Cora snorts. "If that's what you're looking for, then I'm the last person who's going to tell you that, since I pretty much did exactly the same thing."

"Isaac?" Derek asks and Cora nods, even though she knows he can't see her. "He must be a good guy, to earn your affections. I would have liked to meet him."

Cora sighs and looks around her, at the bedroom that Laura had decorated for her, mouthing off about the latest styles. It's sleek and modern and looks like a hotel room, for all the time Cora spends in it. Not like the cozy, lived-in look that Stiles' whole house gives off, a look and feeling that Cora misses already.

"So, uh, where is my fabulous nephew?"

"My place, with Laura. She's invited Allison and Chris over for dinner, to keep Nathan entertained while I came over here to mope."

Cora bites her lip, her eyes scanning the room again, taking it in in a different light. "So...how fond are you of New York?"

Derek shuffles until he's lying on his back and he can look up at her. "What are you talking about?"

"While I was in Beacon Hills, I did some work for the town."

Derek cuts her off with a laugh. "Of course you did."

"I helped with this tourism thing. They really liked what I came up with and they're going to implement it. They're really excited."

"Cora, that's awesome, you should be really proud."

"I am, I am," she assures him, "the thing is...they've asked me to run it. Well, they want me to be in charge of the whole project, manage the designing and building, and then, when it's all finished, they want me to run the business."

Derek sits up. "Cora!"

"And I accepted."

"Cora!"

"Stop yelling my name like that, Derek!" Cora shouts back, rising to her knees.

"This is a big deal, Cora!"

"It's about to get even bigger."

"What are you talking about?"

"I want you and Nathan to come with me. Move to Beacon Hills."

"Tell me you're not serious right now, Cora."

"Why wouldn't I be serious?"

"Because you're asking me to move across the fucking country!"

"So? Honestly, Derek, what's keeping you here, except bad memories?"

"Uh, how about Laura and Dominic?"

"Laura's a big girl, Derek, I'm sure she'll be just fine living out here own her own - even though she's not actually alone."

"Okay, how about my job? Nathan's school and his friends? Have you thought about that?"

"Yes, actually, I have, because you're an artist and you can pretty much work from anywhere, even if you have to fly back to New York occasionally to see Jackson or whatever you need to do. And Nathan is six years old, he doesn't have school or friends yet."

Derek watches her carefully as they sit there in the middle of her bed. "You've thought about this, haven't you? You're really serious about this?"

Cora nods. "Beacon Hills is a great town, Derek. It's safe and quiet and Nathan can play in a garden or walk to a park and he'll have a lot more people who care about him over there, more aunts and uncles and...and grandparents."

Derek shakes his head. "You're talking like Stiles actually wants to turn whatever this was into something permanent, he could have gone home feeling glad that he's finally free of me."

Cora watches her brother, watches as he wrings his hands in his lap and averts his gaze. She's never seen him so insecure, not since he was handed a tiny little bundle of blankets and told he was a father now.

"Derek, do you really think that? If you honestly think that Stiles wouldn't want to turn what you had into something serious, then I'll drop this right now. I'll call Natalie and tell her that I've changed my mind, or something's come up, get out of it somehow."

"You want that job, though," Derek says softly. "You want to move there, be with Isaac."

"And you want to be with Stiles, despite what you're trying to tell me right now."

"What about Allison and Chris? They're Nathan's family. Look at what happened the last time I tried to take Nathan away from the Argents. They tried to kidnap him!"

"And if they try anything, they'll end up in prison right along side Victoria and Gerard. But Allison and Chris are better than that, they're good people, you know that." Derek nods his head and takes Cora's hand in his own. "And besides, this isn't the seventeen hundreds, Derek. Moving to the other side of the country doesn't mean that they'll never get to see Nathan again. And we can fly them out whenever they want. It's not the end, far from it. Plus, there's Facebook and Instagram, it'll be like we live right around the corner."

"We do live right around the corner."

"Then nothing will change." Derek just nods his head and Cora sighs. "Look, just...just answer honestly. Do you want to find out if you and Stiles could have something real?"

It takes Derek a while to answer, staring blindly at the wall in silence for several long minutes, before he gives a jerky nod and turns to face his sister. "But what if Stiles doesn't want that? He didn't exactly sign up for becoming part of a family. Nathan's great, but I know he's a handful. It was probably fine when Stiles was only here for a few weeks, when he knew there was an end date in sight, but full time? I don't know if Stiles wants that."

'"Shouldn't you give Stiles the chance to answer that himself?"

He pauses again, his eyes this time turning to the pile of clothing just visible beyond the doorjamb. "What if we move all that way and he doesn't want us?"

Cora is quiet, because that's a question she can't answer. She's taking her own risk, betting everything on Isaac wanting to be with her for longer than a few weeks. She's never met Stiles, not really, but she knows his friends and his father, knows what kind of people they are. She can't imagine Stiles being so radically different. Even Laura speaks highly of Stiles, and Cora's sister is not often easily impressed.

"I'm willing to take the risk," she says softly, "because I think the reward at the end of it is worth it. You have to ask yourself the same thing. Is Stiles worth taking the risk for?"

Derek doesn't answer her. Instead, he crawls back under the covers, like Cora had found him.

She can't do anything but follow his example.


Chapter Text

Beacon Hills



Isaac stops at the coffee shop across the street from the library and buys a mocha from the teenage boy behind the counter. He's pretty sure the boy is in one of Stiles' classes, something about him reminds Isaac of the last of Stiles' cross-country meets he and the others attended. He thinks the boy placed well in his race and Isaac stuffs and extra 5 bucks in the tip jar as well as his change before he heads out the door.

He looks up and down the street, trying to find something else to do before he heads over to the library. Truth is, he wants to know why he received a text message from Danny, telling him to 'get your ass down to the library right the hell now', but at the same time, he kind of resents the idea that Danny feels like he can tell Isaac what to do. Yeah, they've known each other since high school, but they'd never really been close, not in the same way Isaac, Stiles and Scott had been. They're friends, but until today, Isaac hasn't realized that they had the sort of relationship where one could text the other and demand his appearance.

It's not something that Isaac is necessarily against; Danny has always been on the fringes of their friendship group, there, but never part of the important moments. They hang out at least once a week, when they go to the bar, but other than that, he never really registers on Isaac's radar. Which is why he's trying to put off this summoning as long as possible. The only reasons Isaac can think off for Danny wanting to see him so suddenly are all something bad. He's already texted Scott, Stiles, Melissa and the Sheriff, and they're all okay. He's really in the dark and it's making him both extremely nervous and a little bit pissed off.

Finally, after a walking past the library twice, Isaac can't put it off any longer and he pulls open the door and steps inside.

It's busy, surprisingly, older people and kids, from what Isaac can see, teenagers mostly. Probably trying to cram in the last of their summer readings and assignments in the few days left before the start of the new school year, if the crowd of them gathered around one of the tables near the door is any indication. They look a little wild and panicked and Isaac takes a moment to be thankful that his school days are long past.

Walking forwards, Isaac heads to for the main desk – and is promptly ignored by Danny as he watches something towards the back of the library.

“Danny,” Isaac calls. “Danny!”

Danny reaches blindly behind him over the desk and grabs Isaac by his shirt, spilling Isaac's coffee in the process.

“Danny!” Isaac screeches as he falls across the desk. Danny keeps pulling at him until Isaac has no choice but to climb over the desk completely, knocking everything aside, until he's standing beside Danny on the other side. “I'm not cleaning that up,” he gripes as he straightens his clothes.

Danny stays silent, just grabs Isaac by the shoulders and points him towards the back of the library. There's another group of people crowded around another table, all of them talking and pointing towards something at the middle of them, some taking notes, and Isaac realizes he knows them, Stiles' father and Lydia's mother among them.

But it's one person in particular he recognizes that makes Isaac's heart jump into his throat.

“What the hell?”

“I know, man,” Danny whispers, finally breaking his silence. “I thought she went back to New York, what's she's doing here?”

“I have no idea, but I'm sure as hell going to find out.”

Danny claps him on the back as Isaac squares his shoulders and and then he's marching across the library towards the table.

“Cora,” he calls when he gets close to her, half afraid to reach out and touch her in case he's dreaming. Again. It wouldn't be the first time in the last four weeks that he – and Stiles – have dreamed about their respective vacation romances turning up in town out of the blue.

The girl at the table, her long dark hair hanging in waves over the back of her chair, doesn't acknowledge him, just continues talking and pointing at what Isaac can see now are blueprints.

If it wasn't for Natalie Martin looking up at him with a huge smile on her face, like she knows something he doesn't, Isaac would probably turn around and leave, fearing he was mistaking someone else for Cora after all.

But no one at the table seems to think he's wrong, so Isaac calls her name again, louder this time, and now she holds up a hand.

“One minute, honey, we're almost done here.”

And Isaac...Isaac snaps.

“Cora Hale!”

The whole table freezes, all of them looking at Cora and seeming highly amused.

Slowly, Cora spins in her chair to look up at Isaac with a sheepish smile on her face. “Hi, baby?”

For a second, Isaac can't do anything but blink down at her, because she's really here, she's in Beacon Hills again, and he smiles stupidly until he finds his words.

“What...what the hell are you doing here? You...you called last week and...”

“We wanted it to be a surprise.” Cora gets to her feet and behind her, the rest of the people at the table do the same.

“We'll give you guys some privacy,” John says, smirking. “I have a feeling I'll be seeing you both soon.”

Natalie lays a hand on Cora's arm. “I'll call you tomorrow and we'll finish going over everything.”

Cora just nods and they watch as everyone files out of the library before she turns and starts gathering up the blueprints and other notes spread all over the table.

“You...are you working here?” Isaac asks when it seems like Cora is struggling to figure out what she wants to say.

“Natalie offered me a job, before I left. She wants me to oversee the project to build the mud running course and, when it's finished, run the business. And I accepted.”

Isaac blinks at her. “You...why?”

“Why...? Isaac, are you serious right now? You know why.”

He feels the blush run up his face. “I...you did this for me? I don't...I don't know what to say.”

“Not just you, not really.” Cora sighs, like she's embarrassed at her inability to say what she means and Isaac takes an instinctual step closer to her. “I was here for three weeks and I didn't want to leave, Isaac. My whole family, every single person I know, live in New York, and I was perfectly willing to never get on that plane and go back to them, because I felt so at home here. I felt like I belonged here. And that wasn't just about you, it was about this whole town, all the friends I made here. I felt more connected to this town at the people in it in three weeks than I ever did in New York. Not since my parents died. When Natalie offered me the job, I almost accepted right at that exact second, but she told me to think about it, and I knew that I would have to go back to New York anyway, whatever I decided. And then I...” She trails off, looking down at her hands as she shuffles her feet, nervous and unsure. Isaac has never seen her like this, he's never seen her be anything other than the strong, confident woman he first met.

“And then what?” he presses, urging her own.

“I got back here and suddenly I didn't know if I'd done the right thing?” she says phrasing it like a question. “I didn't know what you wanted, because I never actually asked you if this...us...was anything more than a temporary thing, and I started to get scared because I didn't know how you were going to react when you saw me again. I didn't know if I could actually face the thought of living in this town if you didn't want to be with me.”

“Cora,” he says softly, closing the last little bit of distance between them, taking Cora's hand in both of his own. “Seriously? How can you not know how I feel about you? How can you think I would be anything other than ecstatic at the thought that you moved all the way across the country for me? Do I really make you that nervous?”

Cora shakes her head, much to Isaac's relief. “No, of course not. I made myself nervous, overthinking everything. I was so...I was so motivated, I was so determined that this was what we wanted, what we both wanted, and I spent so much time talking Derek into moving with me that I didn't stop to think about asking you about any of this. I had already just decided everything. And then that made me realize that that probably made me a really horrible girlfriend and it probably didn't bode well for our future relationship. By the time I got off the plane and into my hotel room, I'd pretty much convinced myself that I'd made this huge mistake and you didn't actually want me and all our texts and calls and emails since I left were pretty meaningless.”

Isaac can't help it, he starts laughing, long and loud, as Cora frowns at him. “How...you can't be serious right now! After everything we've been through, everything we've said to each other over the last few weeks, you didn't think I'd be happy that you're...that you're here?”

Cora shrugs, her gaze on her shoes. She looks small and lost and Isaac loves her.

He takes her face in his hands now and tilts it upwards, pressing a gentle kiss to her lips.

“Are you serious?” he asks again, because he needs and actual, solid answer. “Cora, I'm...you're here. Really here. For good, right?”

“If you want me.”

“That's not ever a question.”

Their kiss this time is less gentle, passionate and real and they sink into it, arms around each other. Isaac sighs happily as they part.

“I love you,” he whispers. “Watching you get on that plane was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I never want to do it again.”

“You won't,” Cora promises.

“What about your family? Aren't they upset that you moved all the way across the country for some guy you barely know?”

Cora shrugs. “Laura was pretty okay about it.”

“And your brother? I know how close you are to him and your nephew and I don't – wait. You said your were talking Derek into...” Cora grins, bright and beaming, and Isaac gets it. “They came with you, didn't they? Derek and Nathan came for Stiles.”

She nods. “Yep. He knows Stiles, he knew there was no way Stiles would ever leave his dad and his friends. And I told him how amazing this town is, how great it would be for Nathan to grow up here. He didn't need much more convincing after that.”

“And is he hiding in his hotel room, too?”

“Well, it was easier for him, no one knows him here, he only has to hide from one person. I had to hide from the whole town, in case someone saw me and told you. I bought a wig, it was awful.”

Isaac laughs, picturing Cora ducking into buildings and hiding behind garbage cans every time she saw Lydia or Kira or Scott. He sobers quickly, though.

“It's not fair on either of them – or Nathan, for that matter – for Derek to keep lying. I know how upset Stiles has been the last week or so because Derek hasn't been answering his calls or emails.”

Cora winces. “Yeah, I know, he told me about ducking Stiles' calls. Stiles always wants to talk to Nathan, though, and Derek didn't know if Nathan to keep quiet about the big move.”

“Well, I vote that we put both of them out of their misery. I would actually like to meet Derek and Nathan at some point, and I'd rather do it without having to lie to Stiles while I do.”

Cora nods, the gesture decisive. “Fine. It worked out okay for us, I seriously doubt that Stiles is going to react any differently.” She takes out her phone and fiddles with the screen for a few seconds.

Isaac snorts. “Trust me, he'll be just as happy as I am right now.”

Cora flashes him a grin. “And besides, I would actually like to meet Stiles at some point as well. Everybody seems to forget about the fact that, while this whole thing happened because of us, we've never actually met face to face.”

Isaac's jaw drops. “Holy shit, I can't believe I never realized that.”

“It's a weird little dynamic we've established. Now smile.”

It's at that moment that Isaac notices that Cora has pulled up the camera app on her phone and has it angled towards them as she takes a selfie of the two of them.

Danny photobombs in the background, making Isaac laugh even more.

“I love you, too, you know,” Cora says as she sends the photo to her brother.

“I know.”

She rolls her eyes. “Such a Stiles thing to say.”



Beacon Hills – Still



'Reunited and it feels so good,' the text beneath the photo reads and Derek smiles at Cora and Isaac on his screen.

'Your turn,' another text reads, followed by 'Danny says hi,' and Derek finally notices the guy peeking over Isaac's shoulder in the photo.

He laughs and exits out of his messages, locking his phone just so that he can look at the photo on his lock screen, a selfie he took on his couch in New York, Stiles and Derek with Nathan sitting between them. It looks like the perfect little family portrait and he sighs.

Cora's right, it is his turn. He left his life in New York, uprooted his son, flew all the way across the country, leaving Laura and Dominic and Jackson and Peter behind, to start a new life with Stiles.

And so far, after three days, all he's done in sit in a hotel room with Nathan, only venturing out when the need for food and fresh air became too much to ignore.

But he knows that he can't put it off much longer, so he takes a deep breath and turns to his son.

“Hey, Nate, you wanna go and see Stiles?”

Nathan's eyes light up immediately. “Stiles?! Seriously?!”

Derek never mentioned to Nathan the real reason for their sudden relocation, just that it would be nice to live somewhere they could see grass and trees just by looking out the window, a yard where Derek could put a swing set and the ability for Nathan to ride his bike in the street, and now he's glad he kept it to himself.

The absolute joy on Nathan's face is heart warming and Derek knows that, even if things between him and Stiles don't work out, he'd do it all a thousand times over to see that look on his son's face.

“Get your shoes,” Derek says with a smile and Nathan is off, fumbling in his hurry as he gets overwhelmed with excitement.

It's not that far of a walk to Stiles' house; Derek already got the address from Cora and Google mapped it before he'd even taken off his jacket when they'd arrived. So he knows where they need to go. Nathan bounces the whole way there and after twenty minutes, they're standing in front of a quaint little bungalow that Derek's already itching to put onto a canvas.

Nathan, predictably, throws himself at the front door, knocking with abandon, and Derek has a brief moment of panic, wondering if Stiles has guests or even if he's home at all.

He really should have called first.

But then the whole thing is taken out of his hands, because the door is opening and suddenly, there's Stiles, looking stunned and confused and really damn good.

“Hi,” Derek says, waving lamely and there's that uncertainty again and things grow uncomfortable as Stiles continues to stare.

And then he's dropping down onto his ass and pulling Nathan onto his lap, hugging him tightly and Derek finally remembers how to breathe.

“What are you guys doing here?” Stiles asks, his words mumbled from where his mouth is pressed to Nathan's hair. He reaches out a hand to Derek and Derek takes it, getting down onto the floor with them, right there in the entrance of Stiles' home.

“Dad says we live here now!” Nathan says brightly, getting straight to the point as always. “He said we're gonna get a new house and I'm gonna go to a new school and make new friends and can I meet your dad? He's the Sheriff, we saw him when we were walking here, but Dad said that we had to see you before we could talk to him, so can I meet him now?”

Stiles looks shell-shocked at the amount of words that have just come out of Nathan's mouth. “Uh, yeah...maybe...maybe later? We could...um...dinner?”

Derek can't help but laugh. “Nate, why don't you go on inside and let me and Stiles talk for a few minutes?”

“Okay.” Nathan scrambles to his feet and runs off, leaving Stiles and Derek to stare at each other.

Derek scoots on his ass across the floor until he's next to Stiles and smiles. “Surprise?”

“You're really here? For real?”

Derek nods. “Cora and I...we talked about it a lot after she got back. We both decided that this...what we found, what we got out of this whole vacation exchange thing...we didn't want to lose it.”

“Cora came with you? She's in town?” Stiles laughs. “You mean I finally get to meet her after going through this whole thing with her?”

Derek smiles. “Well, she's with Isaac right now, so I wouldn't plan on all of us getting together anytime soon.” He nods his head towards the living room. “Our, um...physical reunion might have to be put on hold for a little while, Nathan's too psyched to see you again.”

Stiles grins. “Dude, I don't even care, because I am right there with him. I just...God, I can't believe you're here, in my house, this is...this is the best thing that's ever happened to me.”

Derek smiles and suddenly feels a hundred times lighter and he takes a deep breath. “I...Cora and I planned all of this pretty much as soon as she got back to New York, it's just...the logistics of everything took a little while to figure out. We had to sub-let our apartments, pack everything, Cora had to let her boss know she was leaving, we had to book flights and cars and hotels. But it wasn't until I was sitting on the plane that I actually realized that I probably should have run this whole thing buy you before we did anything. But I got too caught up in making it a surprise that by the time I really started to wonder if this was what you actually wanted, I was thirty thousand feet in the air with everything I owned.” He shrugs and looks down at his feet. “That's why I haven't been by to see you before now, kinda freaked myself out.”

“Why? How long have you been in town?”

Derek shrugs and stares at his shoes. “Couple days. We're staying at the hotel on, um, Eliot Street?”

Stiles surges to his knees. “You've been in town for two days and you didn't come to see me?!”

"Well, in my defense, I didn't know if you actually wanted to see me. And I've sort of been laughing at Cora. People recognize her here, so every time she's gone outside, she's been wearing a disguise. Its hilarious."

"She has a wig!" Nathan shouts from somewhere deeper inside the house and Stiles and Derek laugh.

"She just wasn't ready for Isaac to know she was here. Same could be said for me when it came to you."

"Which was stupid. How could you think I wouldn't want to see you?"

"We didn't exactly end things well back in New York."

Stiles waves his hand in the air. "That was just me trying to protect myself! I knew how hard leaving you was going to be and I knew that if we did the whole, tearful-goodbye-at-the-airport-thing, I might not have gotten on the plane at all."

Derek has to look away from the intensity in Stiles' gaze, and as he looks around the entrance of Stiles' home instead, and his eyes catch on a familiar looking suitcase. He chuckles. "Is that why you haven't managed to unpack yet in the last month?" Stiles blushes and Derek frowns. "Or where you planning another trip?"

"What?" Stiles leans around Derek until he can spy the suitcase. "Oh...that. um...yeah, you could say I was planning on going somewhere."

Derek climbs to his feet, suddenly embarrassed. “Sorry, shit...I knew I should have called first.”

“No, Derek, wait.” Stiles scrambles himself upright. “I was...I was going back to New York.”

Derek nods, because, yes, of course, Malia's still in Manhattan with Peter, though the latest report from Laura is that they're not getting along. At all.

“I quit my job,” Stiles continues, obliviously. “I just didn't really want to be here if you were in New York.”

Derek blinks, blindsided. “You...you were coming back for me?”

“And Nathan.” Stiles grins. “Looks like we're both as head over heels as each other.”

Derek kisses him. He can't help it, he hasn't kissed Stiles for almost four weeks, he's earned this.

“But, you're here, right? For good? This isn't just...this is a permanent thing? Not a visit?”

“Cora sold this place to me pretty well. It sounds like a great place for Nathan to grow up. And I'm an artist, I can work from anywhere.”

“What about Jackson?”

“Yeah, he's a little bit pissed, but he'll get over it. He can visit.”

“Jesus, I don't think this town is ready for Jackson,” Stiles laughs. He trails off suddenly, growing pale. “Uh, excuse me for one second.”

Derek follows him to the front yard, where he starts yelling at the top of his lungs.

“Mr. Yukimura!” He repeats it a few times before a window in the house across the street opens and middle-aged man sticks his head out.

“Yes, Stiles?” He looks exasperated, like this is a regular occurrence and he's cursing his whole existence.

“Mr. Yukimura, have you found my replacement yet?”

“Considering you handed me your resignation less than twenty-four hours ago, no, Stiles, I haven't.”

“Oh, well, good, because I changed my mind, so don't bother.”

Mr. Yukimura smirks, like he knew this was going to happen. “I'll see you on Monday, Stiles.”

Stiles winces. “Uh, can we hold off on that and I'll start the same day the kids do?”

Even though he's across the street and two floors up, Derek can still spot when the man – Stiles' boss at the high school, he assumes – rolls his eyes. “You're a teacher, Stiles, not a student. Monday morning, bright and early. With Ms. Martin in tow, preferably.”

“Aw, man,” Stiles whines and Derek waves a two finger salute to Mr. Yukimura as he disappears inside and closes his window.

“What's the problem?” he asks Stiles as they turn back to the house.

“It's Thursday, that means we only get a couple days together before I have to go back to work.”

Derek laughs. “Stiles, we're not on a time limit here. I told you, I want to try to make this work, we have time.”

A slow smile spreads over Stiles' face. “Yeah, we do have time, don't we? This is gonna be so great!”

He reaches forward and kisses Derek again, only for them to be interrupted by a small weight barreling into their legs.

“Dad, dad!” Nathan screeches up at them. “Dad, Stiles has our picture on his wall! And he's got all sorts of cool stuff, look!” He shoves an action figure in Derek's face and he reels back a enough to see that it's a Captain America Funko Pop Vinyl figure.

Derek cringes a little at the fact that his son has been making himself home in Stiles' house, pulling his possessions from shelves. He knows there are people out there who value their collectibles like their made of diamonds, and he doesn't know enough about Stiles to know if he's one of them or not.

But then Stiles laughs and it only takes Derek a few seconds to realize that Stiles is laughing at the expression on his face.

“It's a toy, Derek. And he's six. I don't think he's going to break it. He can play with them if he wants to.”

“Cool!” Nathan screams and takes off back into the house.

“Although maybe not right now?” Stiles shouts after him. He turns back to Derek. “I've had a crazy few days, freaking out about leaving town, packing, talking to my dad and now I'm mourning the couple hundred dollars I just dropped on a plane ticket that I'm never going to use and I'm just realizing that I'm going to have to unpack, so how about we head to the diner a couple blocks away and get some lunch?”

Derek smiles. “That sounds great, actually.” He blushes. “My stomach's been in knots the last couple days, I haven't eaten much at all.”

“Perfect, let me get my stuff and we'll go.”

“We're going?” Nathan asks, standing in the doorway, still clutching Cap.

“Just to the diner for some food, buddy,” Stiles explains, reaching over the boy's head for his jacket, even as he shoves his phone and wallet into the pockets of his pants. “Gonna introduce you to the best curly fries in the entire world!”

It's Derek's turn to roll his eyes. “We're not gonna ruin my son's healthy diet his first week here.”

“Derek, my love, a few curly fries as a treat now and then never hurt anyone. Besides, we'll go by the park on the way home and he can burn all that energy off.”

“There's a park?!” Nathan asks excitedly and Stiles nods.

“Yep, within walking distance of this very front door. Now, come on, I want food. You can bring Cap with you.”

Nathan beams and skips out into the front yard, stopping at the gate as he takes in the street in front of him.

“You okay?” Derek asks, coming up behind him and crouching down on his level.

Nathan smiles at him. “There's no cars,” he says, pointing at the street. “The other place, there are cars everywhere and you always tell me that it's too dangerous to go outside by myself because of all the cars and buses and people on bicycles who don't care about people not on bicycles, but there are none here.” Just has he's finished talking when a car drives past and Nathan pouts. “Okay, one car.”

Stiles stops at the gate and looks down at them. “Yeah, buddy, there aren't as many cars here as in the big city, but it's still not really safe to play in the street or go out without your dad or me or aunt Cora, okay?”

“Stiles is right, Nate. It might be better here than it was in New York, but there are still plenty of cars and other things that can hurt you, so no going outside by yourself, deal?”

Nathan nods and holds out his hand for Derek to high five. “Deal.”

Stiles claps his hands. “Alright, good, now that that's sorted, lets get food.”

They start out on their walk, heading in the opposite direction of the hotel Derek, Nathan and Cora are staying in and Derek tries to subtly map their path, wondering how long it's going to take him to get used to a new town. He'd lived most of his life in New York City and still didn't know he's way around completely. He's left hoping that small town life will be different on that front as well.

He's pulled out of his thoughts by Nathan yelling and he looks down at his son to see him pointing across the street.

“Stiles, look! Look! Is that your dad?! He's the sheriff! Can we go say hi now?!”

Nathan's screeching has apparently drawn the attention of said sheriff, because he pauses to stare at them before he gets a knowing look on his face and quickly jogs across the street.

“Stiles,” he says in greeting and Derek watches with great delight as Stiles blushes.

“Hi, Dad,” he says through gritted teeth.

“Hi, Sheriff Stiles' Dad!” Nathan says brightly, making both Derek and the sheriff laugh.

“Hi, there,” the Sheriff says, “and who might you be?”

“I'm Nathan! This is my dad. We live here now!”

“Is that right?” The Sheriff smiles at Stiles.

“Dad, this is Derek and his son, Nathan,” Stiles introduces reluctantly.

Nathan holds his hand out to shake and the sheriff beams down at the boy like Nathan is the best thing he's seen all day.

“Derek, huh?” he says, turning to him and holding out his hand again. “John.”

“It's a pleasure, sir,” Derek admits honestly.

“Same here. I ran into Cora at the library, I was wondering if you'd followed her here.”

Derek shrugs but he can feel the blush coloring his cheeks. “Well, you have to follow your heart sometimes, rather than your head.”

That seems to have been the right answer, because John smiles at him again, clapping him on the shoulder as he does so.

“We're going to get curly fries!” Nathan says loudly, causing John to chuckle.

“You're corrupting the kid already, Stiles?”

“Hey, he's gotta learn how to survive in this town and finding out which diner has the best curly fries is a top priority!”

“You're welcome to join us, Sheriff,” Derek offers and Stiles mock glares at him.

“Suck up.”

“It's John, son, and you know what? That sounds like a great idea.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, but he's smiling, so Derek doesn't feel too badly about another addition to their lunch plans. He knows how close Stiles and his father are and he knows how much John's approval means to Stiles, so if he has to sit through a meal with his hopefully future father-in-law on his first day back with Stiles, well, so be it.

They fall into step together and Derek isn't even a little surprised when Nathan reaches for John's hand and starts to talk about being the sheriff and what it's like. Derek takes Stiles' hand in his own and pulls them back a little, just to watch the interaction between Stiles' father and Derek's son. Stiles laughs at the look of rapture on both of their faces.

“Okay?” Stiles asks, tugging on Derek's hand a little.

“Better than okay.” He sneaks a kiss, knowing that small town life isn't really the same as the anonymity of New York City, but Stiles doesn't really seem all that opposed to public displays off affection, if his smile is anything to go by.

“Aunt Cora!” Nathan's cry pulls them out of their little bubble that they've fallen into and Stiles' lets go of Derek's hand.

“Cora?!”

Derek follows his son's gaze down the side street they've just crossed and spots his sister, arm in arm with a tall, curly haired guy who can only be Isaac.

“Stiles!” She sprints to them and into Stiles' arms while Isaac follows at a more leisurely pace. “It's about goddamn time!” she crows as Stiles lifts her off her feet in a fierce hug.

“Holy shit, yeah! I can't believe you're all here! This is amazing!”

“Language in front of small ears, Stiles,” John scolds.

Derek just laughs. “Don't worry; between Laura and Cora, he's heard a lot worse. He knows what he's not allowed to say, don't you buddy?”

Nathan looks up at John. “I have a list.”

Derek cringes. “It probably says more about me as a parent than I like, the fact that he can read more swear words than regular words.”

“Between Stiles and Isaac, we may have to add to that list.”

“Hey!” The two of them exclaim while the rest of them laugh.

Stiles invites Cora to join them for lunch, so Derek takes the opportunity to introduce himself to Isaac. He already knows that Isaac is an incredible artist and he's looking forward to getting to know him better, now that he has the time to.

The diner isn't that much further and soon they're crowded into a booth, the sheriff sitting on a chair at the end of the table and it takes Nathan less than a minute to climb onto his lap and ask to see his badge.

John looks completely amazed by Nathan and Derek already knows that it's going to be good for his son to have a grandfather-like figure in his life.

After the awful things Cora and Derek have been through in their lives – even if those things eventually lead to Nathan – everything seems to be falling into place now, like they're finally learning how to be truly happy rather than just content.

They eventually order and Nathan exclaims over how good the curly fries are, which Derek has to agree with. Cora fills them all in on her plans for the Preserve, how she plans to go even further now that she's here to oversee everything and her future looks set. She's even talking about renovating an old house with Isaac, and while Derek thinks that he and Stiles should probably have separate houses for a while, it won't be long before they take the plunge to find somewhere that they can be a family together.

And Derek already can't wait for that day to come.

“Okay?” Stiles asks him again and Derek realizes he's been quiet for a while.

“Yeah,” he assures, “just...taking it all in. All the changes, thinking about the future.”

“Our future,” Stiles says with an immature giggle that Derek loves.

“Yeah, our future.”

He kisses Stiles softly and realizes he's honestly never been happier.

It's a good feeling.