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Hale of Heart

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“Is that...?”

“Yup.”

“It can’t be.”

“It is.”

“But... wow.”

“I know.”

Dude.”

“Yeah. Kinda trippy, right?”

“Like, I can’t even... Who did this?”

“A witch who should probably take up another hobby. Like macramé. Or philately.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Philately? Well, Scott, it’s the collection and study of postage stamps, which, thinking about it doesn’t make me understand the hobby any better either, really.”

Stiles. That’s not what I meant. I don’t understand… that… this.”

“Believe me, bro. Neither do I.”

“And Derek just... gave it to you?”

“Not for keeps or anything, so don’t go suggesting it’s like he’s asked me to take full custody. I’m just looking after it. For now. This is a temporary arrangement. While his inner rage becomes his outer rage. And given the situation, I kinda understand where he’s coming from. He looked pretty intense.”

“He always looks intense though.”

“Point.”

“What I can’t believe is that of everyone in the pack, Derek left it with you.”

“What’s wrong with me?!”

“Nothing, Stiles, just... he doesn’t like you, does he? And this is kind of an important part of himself he just decided to leave with you for some unspecified amount of time. Plus, dude, you’re like way clumsy.”

“Gee, thanks, Scott. I may not be a werewolf with superhuman agility and reflexes, but I’m hardly going to break his... this. I’m not a total spaz; I grew out of that stage of my life some years ago, thanks. Though if my best friend thinks I suck, what must my enemies think, huh?”

“Apparently they give you their heart in a jar.”

Stiles groans loudly before thunking his head against the kitchen table. He mumbles that Derek isn’t his enemy - Scott was being unnecessarily dramatic - he was more like a frienemy. He hides his face in his folded arms because looking at the actual heart of Derek Hale in an actual glass bell jar might just make him throw up. For real. He wasn’t kidding that time he told Derek (the first time and all the times that came after that, jeez) that he didn’t like the thought of chopping off bits of people’s anatomies, and though he wasn’t personally responsible for magicking Derek’s heart out of his rib cage and into a display case, he is still very aware of the wrongness of it. This defied all the laws of nature.

The heart palpitates, the fast rhythm magnified by the dome of the jar. Wherever the hell Derek is and whatever he’s doing, he is really going for it, like full on aerobics. Zumba maybe, Stiles thinks with mean smirk, remembering the DVD he’d found at Derek’s place just last week. Derek had insisted that it wasn’t fucking his. Stiles called bullshit and Derek had literally thrown him out of the house.

“No, really,” Scott continues. “I can’t believe he just left his freaking heart with you.”

“Are you seriously more hung up on the fact that Derek had me look after the damn thing, over the fact that there is a real live, beating heart on my kitchen table? For real?”

“Dude, I’m not like saying you’re not awesome and a total champ for babysitting, but if my heart magically appeared outside of my chest, I wouldn’t let it out of my sight. No way.”

“You wouldn’t ask me to look after it? If you needed to, like, go freak out somewhere privately and were worried you'd accidentally throw it against a tree in rage?”

“I... dunno.” Scott shrugs uncomfortably, making the face he makes when he really needs to pee but isn’t near a bathroom. Normally this is a look which Stiles enjoys for its excellent comedic value, today he just isn’t in the mood. He sighs again and chooses not to give Scott a hard time about saying he doesn’t trust his BFF not to break important shit. He has bigger things to worry about than hypothetical hearts in jars.

Like literal hearts in jars.

“I’d probably leave mine with my dad,” Stiles offers with a shrug.

“With my mom,” Scott says. “And maybe... maybe Kira too?”

Stiles rolls his eyes as blatantly and sarcastically as he can. Yep. This is the guy who gets way too invested in his girlfriends by a country mile. Scott shuffles a foot and blushes, like he might actually be self-aware enough to realize what that confession sounds like to an outsider, even an outsider as much on the inside of Scott’s life as Stiles.

“I just, I’d want her to trust me if it was the other way around,” Scott defends. It makes sense and maybe Stiles is just jealous. His last girlfriend had been an ecology major with slightly crooked teeth, an intense interest in garden snails, and giving Stiles hand-jobs. While Stiles was totally down for the latter, the former meant her dorm room was filled with snail specimens and, honestly, it kind of freaked him out to have sex in that room. Molly hadn’t seemed too cut up when Stiles broke it off. More time for studying snails and attending really bad college slam poetry events that made Stiles cringe for two hours.

“Man, why are we even talking about this?” Stiles groans. “This isn’t English Literature 101, this isn’t some kind of metaphor for how much Derek trusts me emotionally. The guy has only two settings: grumpy and guilty. This is real life!”

“Real life doesn't usually involve internal organs in magical jars, Stiles,” Scott points out reasonably. “How did this even happen? I left you in charge for, like, two days.”

“Not my fault you have bad timing. How was I supposed to know the Beacon would call to an eros witch - I didn’t even know they existed before this weekend! Before I knew what was happening everyone was falling in lust with each other; Lydia and Parrish were rounding first base to second in front of the Sheriff's Station - god, so much unnecessary tongue - Jackson nearly chewed Parrish's face off for that, and Coach Finstock and Greenberg propositioned both Isaac, my dad and Mrs Whitter the school librarian for a menage a ... five. I had to handcuff my dad to his desk and keep Isaac in a ring of wolfsbane to stop them from jumping at the offer. Mrs Whitter was unfortunately collateral. And all the while Derek was calling me darling and love and hon - pet names, dude!”

Scott’s eyebrows go way up. Eventually he shakes his head, hand coming up to scrub down his face. “From the beginning, Stiles.”

“Right. So, once Deaton and I had worked out that all the amorous feeling flying around town were because of an eros witch we realized she could be reasoned with easily enough. And since I couldn’t go alone, for safety reasons, and because I needed a werewolf representative anyway, that left Derek as the least affected by the spell. Only the pet names.”

“You’re telling me that this witch was willing to negotiate with you and yet somehow you came away from that situation with Derek’s heart relocated to a jar?” Scott asks, arms crossed and looking shockingly like his mother all of a sudden. “What the hell did you two do?”

Stiles kicks Scott under the table. It doesn’t do much. He’s wearing socks and Scott is a werewolf so probably didn’t even bruise.

As I was saying. It was dark, and I was in the woods with Derek, tracking the witch. Derek and I were… disagreeing.”

“Fighting,” Scott translated with an unamused expression.

“More a sparring match with words, if you will,” Stiles countered. “Which, for the record, I was totally winning.”

*

“Stiles, sweetie,” Derek ground out. “Shut. Up.”

“It’s funny how you think by just saying that as two separate sentences it'll make a difference to me actually following your suggestion,” Stiles pointed out, eyes on the dark ground, looking for any unexpected protruding rocks or underbrush. “I’m not -”

Derek stopped abruptly. Stiles walked right into his solid, muscle-bound back, nearly crashing to the forest floor. Christ, Derek needed some indicator lights installed or something.

“Suggestion?” Derek repeated in a slow, dangerous tone of voice. Stiles wasn’t sure whether to start hyperventilating or roll his eyes. He was kinda leaning towards the latter. “I was under the impression I was giving an order.”

“Impressions can be misleading,” Stiles advised. “But don't feel bad, man. Everyone gets it wrong sometimes.” Stiles clapped a hand on Derek’s shoulder but stumbled away when Derek’s fangs snapped at him. He flailed backwards a couple of steps and banged his elbow against the trunk of a tree. Stiles couldn’t be sure in the dark, but he thought maybe Derek was smirking, the asshole.

“Point made,” he groused, rubbing his funny bone to stop the sharp ache. “No touching Derek’s temple. Got it.”

“What part of ‘shut up’ don’t you understand, darling?” Derek whispered, right up in Stiles’ face. “The witch is going to hear us.”

Stiles ignored the pet name, just like he’d been ignoring it for the past twenty four hours. Derek’s face would pinch every time an affection left his mouth and Stiles was a shit sometimes, but even he didn’t want to really touch this. It left him feeling unhappy, like he was being mocked.

Stiles mimed zipping his lips shut and pitching the key into the distant underbrush, like he was Sandy Koufax. Derek rolled his eyes and turned back to stalking soundlessly through the woods.

Contrary to popular belief, Stiles could too keep his trap closed for extended periods of time. When he was sleeping for example. Or during exams. Or walking through the woods with an asshole named Derek Hale as they looked for a crazy witch with a predilection for incantations and messing with people’s heads.

Stiles was so busy concentrating on not talking that he missed Derek pulling to an abrupt stop - again. Seriously, werewolf indicator lights needed to be a thing. Maybe he could talk to Deaton about it. There must be something in all those damn books... He was about to smack Derek upside the head, uncaring of the potential repercussions, when his surroundings suddenly shifted into focus. There was a lady standing barefooted before them; pale skin and this crazy-ass white hair; strange for such a young-looking face. Stiles would have guessed she was the witch immediately - even without the ethereal blue glow she was emitting like a child’s night light.

Her dark eyes watched them a long moment. Stiles could feel Derek’s tensed body beside him, ready for anything. But then she smiled softly, displaying her empty palms.

“And here you’ve come, to parley with me
A Wolf and his Human, as brave as can be.
You with your moon, and he with his earth
Come to find what a true heart is worth.
I extend a welcome, a hand of peace
And promise you here my spells will cease
But take my heed, beware my Charms
For like mirrors like, should you do me harm.”

"The hell?" Stiles thought this was a legitimate question.

The witch had paused her speech waiting for an answer, eyes tracking between the two of them. Derek’s lips were pressed together, thin and unhappy but he gave a curt nod of acceptance.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Stiles continued because... seriously? “Iambic pentameter? Derek, you couldn't have warned me we were meeting a Shakespeare character? I feel like I should have paid more attention in my last year of highschool English Literature when we studied Macbeth.”

“How was I supposed to know? I’ve never met an eros witch.” Derek jabbed an elbow viciously into Stiles’ ribs. “And aren’t you supposed to be our Emissary now, Sweetie?”

Amazing how Derek could make affectionate names sound entirely sarcastic and downright mean.

“Emissary in training, hello,” Stiles whispered back, jabbing his own elbow at Derek - who sidestepped easily. “Deaton hasn’t gotten to the Weird Sisters portion of my education yet, clearly. Oh! Does this mean Shakespeare knew about real witches, do you think? And the supernatural world? That would actually explain a lot about A Midsummer Night's Dream, dude. That play is freaky.”

Derek scowled furiously and turned back to the witch.

Fine. Whatever. Stiles could handle this without him.

“On behalf of the McCall pack, and the human residents of Beacon Hills, we humbly request you reverse the spell you placed on this town,” Stiles recited, just as he’d read from Deaton’s books on supernatural parley.

“My mission and faith, my hope in life,
Is to seek out pain and to eradicate strife.
For can you not see? And can you not feel?
My spells, my work, have been only to heal.
This Beacon Hills, it called out to me
With so much hurt that I must set it free.”

“We uh, we totally and completely appreciate that,” Stiles said, nodding vigorously. “I mean, damn, if ever a place needed some happiness mojo, it’s Beacon Hills. Believe me. But, it’s not your intentions we're questioning, it’s more... your execution?” Stiles flicked a glance to Derek, who continued to scowl like a totally socially inept loser.

“Right, so, basically what we're saying is that the love spells are kind of too much too far. See, people are really keen on the freedom to select their own sexual and romantic partners. Plus we humans have issues, like against the law issues, with teachers and students uh... becoming romantically involved. So there’s that too.”

The witch's brow furrowed as she considered Stiles' objection. A long moment passed before she spread her arms towards them in an 'as you wish' gesture.

“I hear your words, your minds are made,
So to your request I will do as bade.”

Stiles was ready to do a celebratory fist pump, because who’s the best Emissary in training?, but the witch clearly wasn’t done with them yet. Her gaze locked on Derek, who looked as though she was getting a bit fresh with his form, his entire body tensing as if waiting for a lashing. If he’d been wolfed-out his hackles would have been raised, Stiles could tell.

“Uh, bad touch much?” Stiles said to the witch. She totally ignored him though and Derek made a strange, subsonic growling sound as the witch continued to give him the hairy eyeball.

“So tell me, Wolf. Speak me your pain,
I can smell your tears like drying rain,
For inside your chest, your heart beats rust,
Long since broken by forsaken trust.
I see it all and I see it clear,
The ache redoubling with each passing year.
Don’t turn your face nor hide from shame,
I seek only to guide in true-love’s name.”

She paused and gave Derek a pitying look - Stiles figured she meant it to look kind, benevolent even, but missed the mark and tipped right on over to crazy-cakes.

The witch slipped a pale hand up to touch fingertips to the angle of Derek’s jaw. Stiles felt himself go rigid. He wasn't sure what horrified him more, her audacity towards a werewolf, or Derek’s petrified form.

“I will quit this town, call my magic back,
But I shall not leave all empty of its lack.
Beacon Hills was too big, I see now my fault
For I was brought here for you, it is you I’ll exalt.
Your first love lost and your second betrayed,
Your third mere shadow who’s hold only fades.
But I promise you this, your fourth will be true
For he will love the very heart of you.”

Her voice had faded to a whisper and the strange glow that constantly surrounded her body grew suddenly brighter, shining brightest where her touch had migrated down to splay across Derek’s chest. Stiles tried to get nearer, to wrench her the hell away, but the light was too bright and he had to fling his arms up to cover his eyes, stop them from burning right out of his head. The split second before he did this, Stiles saw a look of utter astonishment and anguish overwhelm Derek’s face. Stiles had seen that face before, that night Derek had been forced to kill Boyd. The image burned into Stiles’ retinas, pushing him forward blindly across the forest floor.

“Stiles.” It was Derek’s voice, hoarse and quiet. “She’s gone. She’s... gone.”

Stiles lowered his arms slowly, blinking into the sudden darkness. He paused a while, letting his senses adjust. In the east, just over the treeline he could see the rising sun, morning breaking the monotonous blackness. The witch was nowhere to be seen, blinked out of existence like she’d never been. He was about to ask Derek what she’d done, why she’s said what she said, what the light might have been, but the look on his face stopped Stiles in his tracks. Derek’s eyes were lowered, staring steadily down at an object nestled in a drift of golden-brown leaves. Stiles followed his gaze and saw what it was that held Derek’s attention so completely.

“Well, shit.”

Derek heart

*

“And that’s it?”

“What more does there need to be?” Stiles shouts, flailing his arms about in exasperation.

“I was just asking, Stiles,” Scott says in his ‘lets all be calm’ voice. It’s a voice he’s developed over time to go with his Alpha eyes. Stiles has to admit that the voice does work.

He slumps down in his chair, letting his neck bend over the back of the chair until he has a good view of the kitchen ceiling.

“Look,” he says in a calmer voice, “Derek freaked out because who the hell wouldn’t freak if a witch stole your damn heart from your body? He didn’t want to go near the thing, didn’t want to touch it with a ten foot pole by the look on his face. He kinda just... broke in front of my eyes, man, and asked me to take care of this for him like he was asking me to park his freaking sensible mileage car. Then he wolfed out and took off. That was, like, two hours ago.”

Scott decides he needs to go find Derek, to make sure he’s not harmed himself unnecessarily and bring him back. He figures that they’re going to need Derek present and accounted for if they’re ever going to find a way to get his heart back where it belongs. Somewhere along the way Scott’s become a Sensible Person.

Scott leaves Stiles with a comforting squeeze to the shoulder, before taking off into the early morning, leaving Stiles still sitting at the kitchen table with Derek’s beating heart in a jar.

*

“Scott wasn’t joking.”

Bright morning sun spills through the windows as Stiles jolts out of his shallow nap, body leaping half off the sofa and a hand reaching out like a Soccer Mom in a car, meaning to press against the glass dome for safety but stops himself at the last second. He feels a bit foolish the moment he realizes what he’s done, and tries to stretch into the movement like it was just a bit of sofa-based calisthenics, because Malia is slouching on the arm of the sofa, face unimpressed as she watches the palpitating organ. He doesn’t think he fools her.

“Nope. I really wish this was a joke, though,” Stiles says stretching for real, arms reaching above him and back arching off the sofa cushions. “Come to have a gander at Derek’s heart, huh?”

“I kind of thought Scott was joking,” Malia says. “But I’m not very good with jokes. Though I’ve been studying English Literature with that online course you found me and I’ve been learning all about hyperbole and euphemisms and poetic language. I thought maybe Scott was doing that. I thought he was trying to tell me about how Derek finally trusted someone with his heart and that someone was you.”

Stiles groans. “You can’t critically read real life, Malia. That’s not how this works. Life is not a romance novel by Jane Austen.”

Malia continues like he’d said nothing. “The trust part was a surprise, that it was you…less so.”

“What?”

“I’ve seen the way Derek looks at you.”

“You’ve noticed that too? A look which says: You’re a complete nuisance, Stiles. Right?”

“Okay, so I’ve noticed when he’s not looking at you like that. The other times.”

“There are other times?”

“Yes.”

“Look, it’s been a long night and I suspect it’s going to be a longer day. Can we stop with the cryptic conversation? All I want is for Derek to come back and take this thing away from me, so I can go to work and not worry about it all day or ever again.”

“Don’t want to break his heart?” Malia asks with a tilt of her head. Her question seems genuine but Stiles knows better. Malia has learned more than she ever lets on, likes to play on people’s expectations of her.

“Literally? Obviously not.”

Malia narrows her gaze at him for a moment before asking, “And metaphorically?”

“I regret suggesting that online course,” Stiles mutters. “It’s not like there’s any danger of that happening, come on.”

"I don’t get why the pack doesn’t seem to realize how breakable Derek is. How many times does he need to be broken before you really see it?" Malia asks with a soft kind of rage. “He’s fragile.”

It's remarkably astute for Malia, who's always had trouble with her emotional intelligence. But before Stiles can untangle the ball of emotions and angst that is Derek’s personality and Malia's new vocabulary the doorbell rings.

It’s Lydia!

And. Jackson.

“You used to look so excited to see me,” she observes with a knowing smirk.

“Oh, light of my life, I’m always happy to have you grace me with your angelic presence.” Stiles grins into Lydia's eye roll. “Him, not so much,” Stiles says with a tilt of his chin, giving Jackson a tight-lipped look. Jackson just shrugs like the ass he is. Why couldn’t he stay in London where he could be the butt of all of Stiles’ jokes. Rude.

Lydia invites herself into the Stilinski home without waiting for an express invitation, Jackson following on her (very high) heels. Stiles rolls his own eyes and closes the door behind them. Or he tries, but Isaac, who’d been lurking unseen behind them, sticks a foot between the door and the frame. Over his shoulder Stiles can see Kira standing at the bottom of the porch stairs, smiling hopefully.

“Hey Stiles,” Isaac says with a wide false smile, which basically translates to he’s sorry he’s not sorry.

“Fine, yes, please make yourselves at home everyone. Mi casa es tu casa.”

“Where’s Scott?” Kira asks as she sits on the old blue ottoman.

“Finding Derek - and I wouldn’t touch that, Lydia.”

She’s crouching by the coffee table, lips pursed in a look of vague interest. Stiles’ not sure where the impulse comes from but he kind of wants to shoo her away. It’s not like he thinks she’s going to harm Derek’s heart or anything, not just by looking at it, but its become his responsibility and if anything happened to it...

“Relax,” she murmurs, eyes never leaving Derek’s beating heart.

“How did this happen? Exactly?” Kira asks, fidgeting and looking nervously at the jar.

Stiles groans. “It’s a long story and I’ve already told the whole sordid thing to Scott.”

“We’re not Scott,” Isaac points out. He’s stationed himself far away from the jar, fingers digging into the back of the sofa like it’s the only thing keeping him anchored to the room. Stiles can appreciate that feeling.

“Forgive me for not wanting to relive this nightmare. Long story short: Derek and I found the witch who’s been turning our town into the Love Shack, and as we all discussed at the last pack meeting, we spoke with her politely, and she agreed to remove the spell. But then she, like, looked into Derek’s soul or whatever and decided if she couldn't fix the town, she’d fix Derek instead.” Stiles paces across the wooden floor in an anxious circle, excess energy jittering out him as Malia watches with narrowed eyes. “I dunno guys, maybe she figured that Derek made up, like, 93% of the pain and heartbreak in this town anyway.”

“That makes a weird kind of sense,” Isaac says with raised eyebrows.

“Only ninety-three?” Jackson snarks.

“No making fun of my cousin’s chronic manpain, assholes,” Malia asks politely. Isaac snorts. Even Kira hides a smile behind a hand.

Lydia is completely ignoring them, continuing to inspect the heart on the coffee table. She hums for a moment, like she’s discovered something new.

“This is... strange,” she murmurs.

“No kidding,” Isaac says. “That’s Derek’s heart, and it’s outside of his chest. While he’s still alive. It’s more than strange. It’s fucking crazy, is what it is.”

“Yes, thank you Isaac,” Lydia says in a way that implies she’s not thanking him at all but actually telling him to fuck off.

"It looks a little... smaller than I expected?" Stiles says because it does, and he wonders if he should be worried, if Derek has some kind of heretofore unknown lycanthropic heart condition.

“Yeah,” Kira says leaning in. “It does, doesn’t it?”

Isaac nods, adding, “And it’s kind of… purple? Is it supposed to be that color?”

And now Stiles is definitely worried.

Lydia scoffs dismissively. “It’s exactly the size it needs to be for a man of Derek’s size. And there’s nothing wrong with the color, idiot.”

“Well, it’s not like we’ve ever seen a real live beating heart like this before,” Isaac points out defensively.

“God, no wonder everyone failed biology in high school,” Lydia says. “Mrs Niedermeier always looked like she spent our entire high school career pulling out her hair and stress eating it. I mean, really? This is completely normal and healthy.”

“Except that it’s not in Derek’s chest,” Malia says helpfully.

“I never failed biology,” Stiles feels it’s important to point out at this moment. Nobody pays him any attention. He flops down on the sofa next to Malia.

“Why’d he give his heart to you, Stiles?” Kira asks. Stiles groans and feels his face heat up, though he knows Kira didn’t mean anything suggestive or mean by it. Jackson snickers behind him.

“I was there. Just happened by default,” Stiles grumbles.

“Gross. Imagine wanting to give your heart to Stilinski. Hale must really want to bone you,” Jackson says with full disgust. "I heard him calling you baby and darling. He has it bad." Stiles throws up two middle fingers and if he’d had a third hand, he’d have thrown up a third. Fucking Jackson.

“But how do we fix it?” Isaac asks, ignoring Stiles and Jackson completely. “Do we even know what this spell is?”

“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Jackson offers authoritatively. “And I learned a lot living in London.” He likes to bring up the London card as often as possible, probably thinking it makes him look worldly and wise. Stiles disagrees. What kind of asshole goes to live in England but doesn’t even visit the Harry Potter Studio?

"Like how to drink tea?" Stiles asks with a smirk.

Jackson flashes his blue eyes which Stiles is so over, the asshole has been doing it ever since he arrived in town at the beginning of the month.

"Boys. Shut up," Lydia snaps.

“Yes, why don’t we all shut up?”

That’s Derek’s voice, low and dark and unamused. Stiles whips his head around to find Derek standing with his arms crossed over his chest defensively, hanging back by the kitchen, having slipped in through the back door. Scott stands beside him with raised eyebrows, eyes darting around the assembled pack.

“Oh uh, hey guys!” Stiles says with false brightness. “You found him.” The last comment said to Scott who gives him a concerned, ‘you’re being weirder than normal’ face.

Lydia slides out of her crouch by the coffee table, scooting Kira over so she can perch beside her on the ottoman.

"Well, at least the whole pack is here. Except..." Scott scans the room, eyebrows knitted. "Where's Danny?"

"Kevin," says everyone. Literally everyone. Scott rolls his eyes, like he wasn't just as bad when he was dating Allison. Short memory, bro.

"I'm not talking about my heart with the whole pack," Derek growls dangerously. "Or anyone." He stalks towards the offending organ, his every movement angry and sharp.

It happens so quickly that if Stiles had blinked he'd have missed it, but his eyes are very much open when Derek makes an aggressive snatch at the bell jar and promptly gets his ass flung across the room and into a wall.

Nobody moves for a moment, stunned silence blanketing the room.

Scott eventually moves to help a dazed-looking Derek climb to his feet. Stiles' mouth is still slack with shock.

"I don't...why can't I get near my heart?" Derek sounds extremely pissed, and no wonder. "Stiles, what did you do?"

"What?! Hell no, I know you didn't just accuse me of -"

"Uh, guys, let's not do this right now, okay?" Scott says with a sigh.

"I wonder if it's just Derek's touch it turns away, or..." Isaac trails off, eyes flicking to Scott. Scott winces, but must feel some obligation as the True Alpha, to step up.

Scott gets thrown into the La-Z-Boy, toppling the entire thing over. He makes a hilarious yelping sound.

Jackson has a go next, because why the hell not, and takes down a row of family photos hanging on the opposite wall for his trouble. Kira tries then but she too gets her own not-so-mild concussion from the corner of the mantelpiece. And Stiles has to put a stop to this because his house is getting destroyed and Derek is literally about to go ape-shit and kill everyone because that is totally his murderface he's got on.

"Enough! Jesus, my house is not the ball pit at McDonald's," he bitches at them all, moving to intercept Malia 'don't belittle Derek’s pain' Tate, but she's stronger than she looks, story of Stiles' life, and his forward motion goes against him like he's hit a brick wall and he's flailing backwards into the coffee table. There's a collective intake of breath as the bell jar wobbles and teeters on the verge of shattering to the floor. Stiles jerks his body around just in time to fling a hand out and hold it steady. He grins, because he rocks.

It takes a moment to realize everyone is staring at him, and not an awesome you just saved Derek's heart from breaking sort of way, but with (frankly insulting) disbelief.

"Stiles, you can touch it," Kira says, her eyes really round.

"Uh yeah? I always have been able... to?"

“And you just let us get flung across your house for no reason?” Jackson snipes.

“I totally didn’t know I was the only one, okay? I mean, in what reality does that even make sense?” Stiles can feel his face go bright red as everyone continues to stare at him. He avoids Derek’s eyes because, oh boy, he can feel the glare. They’ve not been alpha-red for years, but Derek’s gaze can still make Stiles flinch.

Lydia grins wickedly. "Well, this mystery just got interesting."

*

Scott does his Alpha schtick and kicks everyone out of Stiles’ house, ordering them to work or whatever it is they’re spending their summer doing, everyone except Stiles (obviously, it’s his damned house), Derek (duh again because it’s his heart) and Scott himself. Lydia swans out like it was her idea, one hand wrapped around Jackson’s wrist and Malia says something about eating chickens, which Stiles isn’t going to touch. They all leave, though. Thank God.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Scott begins, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck in a painfully familiar gesture, harking back to the days before the bite.

“I knew I shouldn’t have left it with you,” Derek growls, pacing across the floor like some caged animal. The comparison is uncanny.

“Dude, your faith in me is overwhelming,” Stiles sasses back because he’s hurt, if he’s honest. He took really great care of Derek’s stupid heart.

“This really isn’t helping,” Scott says. He orders them to sit down. Stiles does immediately, flopping onto the sofa, limbs starfished. After a moment of hesitation that comes whenever Scott makes an Alpha command directed at him, Derek tips the La-Z-Boy upright and sits.

“I really didn’t do anything to it, Derek,” Stiles says, calmer and letting Derek take a moment to listen out for any lies. He tilts his head in such a way that makes it obvious he’s listening out for something, then sighs, eyes rolling up to the ceiling in a look of long-suffering defeat. It’s great that Stiles has that kind of effect on people. Begrudging belief.

“Fine. I believe you.”

“Good!” Scott claps his hands and sits down beside Stiles on the sofa. “Now we can concentrate on what might actually be happening and how to get Derek’s heart back where it belongs. I mean, my only thought is to go ask Deaton, because this whole situation? Beyond my understanding.”

“Deaton offers more questions than he answers,” Derek says dryly.

“Amen,” Stiles agrees emphatically.

“Well,” Scott says after a moment of pause, “You’ve been learning the craft, Stiles, anything you can intuit given what we already know?”

Stiles gapes for a moment before punching Scott in the arm, a grin splitting his face. “Dude. Intuit? I’ve never been so proud of your vocabulary in my whole life.”

“Shut up,” Scott mutters, but Stiles doesn’t miss the small smile.

“Look, I’m no Emissary yet and this… “ Stiles shakes his head and moves over to a stack of Deaton’s ‘light reading’ homework. His dad had moved it into a corner of the living room because he felt that his house had turned into the rare books section of the Beacon Hills Public Library. The tomes are beautifully preserved and leather-bound, looking like something off a Harry Potter set. Stiles crouches down and pulls out a book second from the bottom of the stack.

“I remember glancing past something when researching what might be the cause of the witch’s love spell, something about the True-Love Heart.”

Derek makes a disgusted sound.

“I know, right?” Stiles says, flipping through the book. Scanning each page of crazy for one specific crazy has become second nature. “It sounds like some really scary Harlequin romance novel, but sadly seems to exist. Uh, yeah here.” Stiles jabs a finger into the book under the subheading for True-Love Heart. There’s an actual diagram of a heart in a jar. Apparently it’s a thing which has happened to more than one person ever. Stiles kind of thought this might have been a unique circumstance given the high level of weird, but nope. There’s been a rash of them over the centuries, not enough for a pandemic or anything but enough to get it’s own entry in one of Deaton’s books.

Derek and Scott move forward in their seats when Stiles places the book on the coffee table, open at the right place.

“I don’t understand,” Scott says with a very serious frown on his face. “The language is really…”

“Purple,” Derek offers.

“They do love a good adjective or twelve, these old farts. You have to kind of dig deep to figure out what’s actually being said. It’s basically Deaton if he always spoke in Middle-English.”

“... forsooth?” Scott is starting to look panicked.

“Uh, yeah.” Stiles winces. “Whoever wrote this book got hit pretty hard by the sarcasm stick. Lots of bitchy little asides and sentences with double-meanings, like he doesn’t expect the reader to get half of what he’s writing. See? He uses forsooth at the start of certain questions, like he’s being ironic, making fun of the reader.”

“Irony? Sarcasm?” Derek asks blandly. “That sounds like you, not Deaton.”

Before Stiles can throw something at Derek’s stupid face for being such a... butthole, Scott asks Stiles to translate the book for them. It’s harder than it looks, even editing out all the flowery prose it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There seems to be a lot about how and why such an incantation might be performed and not much on how to reverse it.

“It’s like the author thinks that the why of this spell is explanation enough, that by knowing the reason it was cast we should inherently know how to solve the problem,” Stiles explains after a moment. He runs a hand through his hair in frustration and knows he must look like he’s been electrocuted - his hair has a surprising amount of volume when it’s grown out.

“So, remind me what the witch said before she did this to you, Derek,” Scott says, turning to him with his ‘please tell me your troubles’ face. Scott has so many new faces since he became an Alpha. “Something about true love, right? Which fits with the name of the spell, I guess.”

Derek shakes his head, hands dangling dejectedly between his knees. His mouth thins.

“Just that she was doing it in the name of true love, or some crap. Kept talking about how… broken she thought I was.”

“I think she thought Derek needed help with his game,” Stiles butts in apologetically. “She seemed to know all about Paige and Kate and Jennifer.“

“Harsh.”

“And then she said something about a fourth? Right?”

“A fourth what?” Scott asks, looking between them.

“Love,” Stiles says with a grimace. “A fourth love.”

Derek clears his throat, looks super awkward and embarrassed as he begins to recite verbatim. “But I promise you this, your fourth will be true. For he will love the very heart of you.

“Well, alright then,” Scott says, trying to sound positive and determined. “All we need to do then is… find the love of Derek’s life. How hard can that be?”

God. They’re totally fucked.

*

It’s getting perilously close to the start of Stiles’ shift at the bookstore and Scott’s at the vet’s, so Scott leaves a little while later with promises of asking Deaton. There’s not much they can do now, as finding Derek’s soulmate or whatever isn’t the kind of search one begins at eight thirty in the morning on a Monday. Most people spend their lives looking, and that’s if they believe there’s a perfect person out there for them in the first place, which Stiles doesn’t really. It’s just romantic, Disney crap. Not to mention Derek’s track record doesn’t fill Stiles with confidence. He’s got this horrible feeling he’s going to be looking after Derek’s heart for a while longer.

Derek stays behind, loitering around Stiles’ living room like a thundercloud, but Stiles doesn’t rib him for being a creeper. Clearly he doesn’t want to leave his heart, not again, and Stiles can understand that.

“You wanna stay here for the day, while I’m at the store? Dad’s on another double, so he won’t be around.”

“Okay.” Derek pauses. “Thanks.”

“No problem, dude.” He turns towards the stairs, needing to douse himself in deodorant and down some mouthwash before he heads out, no time for a shower.

He’s got his head bowed as he darts up the stairs two at a time, and so it literally comes out of nowhere when he feels his face and chest make contact with something solid and humming. He feels like he’s been electrocuted. He just manages to catch himself from freefalling down the stairs and possibly breaking his neck, by clinging to the banister, heart thundering in his chest.

There’s a distressed growl from the living room.

“Ow! Motherfuc-” he says, regaining his footing and rubbing a palm against his throbbing forehead. Derek’s suddenly there, all up in his business, eyes intense and hands further steadying Stiles and grounding him to the present. Derek’s face is so intense that Stiles can’t help but let out an amused breath, part humor, part relief.

“You okay?” Derek asks, hand not leaving Stiles’ arm. “I could feel… when you hit the… barrier? I could feel it.”

“What?” Stiles asks stupidly. Derek’s face clouds over with seventy percent chance of showers. “I don’t even know where to start with this. A fucking forcefield? Keeping me from the second floor of my own house? The fact that you could feel my pain when I walked face first into it? What the hell? One supernatural mystery at a time please, people! That should be the universal rule - I demand it. I’m writing a letter of complaint to Fate.”

He steps carefully up the next stair and tentatively outstretches a hand towards whatever he’d smacked into. It doesn’t shock him so much this time as his palm and fingers come to rest flat against the forcefield. He can feel the shocking energy of the thing as his fingers tingle, like they’re about to fall asleep. Stiles steps away, crowding back into Derek’s chest.

“I could feel that, too,” Derek mutters darkly, his own hand clenching and unclenching at his side, as if trying to wake it up from the numbing aftershock.

Stiles experiments with his range and finds half the kitchen is out of bounds, most of the front porch and pretty much all of the back of the house, including the downstairs bathroom, all beyond this strange bubble of protection. It’s not a coincidence, Stiles would bet anything, for this forcefield to show up around the same time a witch enchanted Derek’s heart. Stiles experiments by moving the bell jar around the house and sure enough, his range changes. It never widens, only moves around the central point of the heart.

“Crap,” Stiles grouces. “I’m going to have to take your heart to the bookstore. Sorry, dude.”

Derek looks like he’s suffering but doesn’t say anything, the evidence speaking loudly and clearly for itself. He eventually shrugs his He-Man shoulders grudgingly.

“I’ll pack it in bubblewrap and makes sure not to slam my backpack against anything hard and unforgiving,” Stiles promises, as he hefts the glass jar in his arms, ready to ferry it upstairs and change his clothes quicker than he has literally ever done it before. He’s still probably going to get a talking to from old Mrs Henson who always shows up at nine on the dot. But these are some seriously unforeseen circumstances and it’s not like Mrs Henson has actually bought a book from The Nook since like 1972.

“Just… be careful. I’ll pick you up after work,” Derek says before slamming his way out of the house.

*

The day moves like molasses. Stiles has trouble concentrating even more than usual, foot tapping, mind wandering and eyes continually straying to his backpack sitting behind the counter at The Nook. Mrs Henson had slapped him on the back of the head as he unlocked the store ten minutes after nine. She called him a disappointing rugrat. Stiles just apologized profusely, because nothing ever really pleased Mrs Henson except to sit in The Nook with her thermos of coffee and the stack of used magazines they had in their reading corner.

Stiles doesn’t mean to distract The Nook’s patrons, he can’t help when his nervous energy overflows. Bea, his co-worker, starts her shift at noon and keeps sending him irritated little glances and actually confiscates his pens. All of them. Stiles thinks this is extreme punishment, but Bea doesn’t listen to his protests because apparently he’s been tapping them against the front desk, the shelves, the walls, himself, all day long and she’s 100% done with him.

“You’re annoying,” she tells him. “But not usually this annoying. Whatever’s wrong, chill the fuck out, bro. You’ll get your pens back when I know you’ll use them for quietly writing things down on paper and not as percussion instruments.”

Stiles mumbles an apology and slinks into the store room to unpack boxes for an hour.

Scott’s voice actually goes ultrasonic when Stiles takes his lunch break at Pat’s Diner to call him and fill him in with the latest.

“So you’re basically tethered to Derek’s heart, while Derek can’t even touch it?”

“We should start calling you Jessica Fletcher.”

“Huh?”

“Nevermind,” Stiles says, stuffing his mouth with curly fries. “Just add this new development to the list of crazy for Deaton to ponder.”

“Sure, dude.” Scott sounds consoling. Stiles just groans and faceplants with the diner table, narrowly missing a congealing smear of ketchup. “I’ve talked to Deaton a little, but it’s been a really busy day here, so not properly. We’ve had to spay like four cats, which -”

“I don’t want to hear about you chopping off animal bits, thanks.” They say goodbye and agree to call each other later for a sit-rep.

After lunch Isaac, the lout, strolls into The Nook looking for all the world like someone who enjoys books and reading. He’s totally not and Stiles watches him with narrowed eyes. Isaac doesn’t make eye contact, but restlessly wanders the aisles, browsing without much interest, occasionally glancing down at his cell. Stiles’ suspicions are raised to DEFCON 1 levels of red alert when Jackson slips into the store and joins Isaac in the poetry aisle.

“Stop glowering,” Bea chastises, slapping Stiles with a rolled up newspaper, like he’s an annoying mosquito she needs to swat. He huffs and plasters on his brightest smile for a customer who felt the urge to buy Dan Brown’s latest doorstop sized disappointment.

It’s another quarter of an hour before Isaac and Jackson sidle up to the front desk, feigning boredom but Stiles knows them better than that.

“Poetry huh?” Stiles says, eyeing them both suspiciously. Isaac looks like butter wouldn’t melt whereas Jackson looks mean and pleased about it.

“It’s for you, actually,” Isaac begins, face all faux innocence.

“Yeah, Stilinski, we missed your birthday and thought this was perfect,” Jackson says with a sneer, tapping the book. Stiles glances down at the Collected Poems of e. e. cummings.

“It’s perfect for you!” Isaac gushes, picking up the book and flipping through the pages. Stiles has this really bad feeling crawling up his skin like a rash - he doesn’t trust that devilish look in Isaac’s eye. “Like this poem: i carry your heart with me -”

“You suck.” Stiles says with feeling while Jackson laughs like a hyena.

“- (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)”

“I’m going to kill Scott dead,” Stiles announces.

“He was just sharing news with the pack,” Isaac snickers. “We’re all here for you and Derek in your time of need.”

Stiles flips them off and pushes them out of The Nook, as they’re weak with laughter and don't put up much of a fight. Bea shakes her head at him, telling him it might be better if he didn’t ban paying customers before they actually paid. Stiles tries to explain that they weren’t really going to buy the book of poems but gets such a severe stink-eye from her that he ends up slipping twenty bucks into the cash register and keeping the book for himself. He’s going to slip a non-deadly, but still poisonous, variety of wolfsbane into Isaac and Jackson’s food the very next time he sees them.

*

Derek is waiting for him after work as promised, leaning like some leather-clad delinquent against Stiles’ Jeep, arms folded and biceps bulging. A couple of passing teenage girls are giving Derek speculative looks, sizing him up and obviously finding him lacking in nothing. (Except maybe a smile. But then girls liked badboys, right? It would explain a lot about Stiles’ own lack of game.)

“It’s not broken,” Stiles says before Derek can even open his mouth. “Your heart - I didn’t break it.” Stiles winces because, jesus that sounds weird.

“Wonderful,” Derek deadpans.

“Found your soulmate yet?” Stiles asks hopefully. He’s a glass half full kinda guy.

“Fuck off.” Derek: glass shattered against the ground in a thousand splintered pieces, milk soured kinda guy. Stiles just rolls his eyes.

“So I was thinking,” he says as they sit at a traffic light around the corner from The Nook. He’s been drumming his thumbs against the steering wheel for the past minute and Derek is looking determinedly out the windshield, jaw clenching.

“No.”

“Uh, no what? I didn’t say anything yet.”

“Reflex,” Derek explains with a sharp glower to the dashboard.

“Well, stowe the attitude for a minute, I’m trying to help. If Deaton and Scott can’t come up with a quick fix, I was thinking it might be an idea to, like, find your soulmate for real.”

Derek sighs, almost a groan. “I don’t believe in soulmates, Stiles.”

“In Soviet Russia soulmates believe in you.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Maybe that witch knew something we don’t - she’s clearly spent a lot of time playing cupid over the centuries. She seemed really keen on getting you hooked up with The One, is all I’m saying.”

“Yeah, by putting my heart in a jar. Real romantic.”

“Well, it’s a conversation starter?”

Derek turns to look at Stiles, eyebrows knitted and angry like thunder and hate. “Yeah, sure. I can see it now. Hey baby, don’t I know you? ‘Cause you look exactly like my soulmate - wanna come back to mine and fix my heart?”

Stiles sniggers, he can’t help it. It never fails to make him smile when Derek brings out the snark.

“Okay, we can work on your pick up lines. We’ll just have to think about this creatively. Like, you could put an add up on Craigslist!”

“I’m not a second hand couch, Stiles.”

“No, hear me out -” he calls, but Derek has already slammed his way out of the Jeep and stalked up to the front door, leaving Stiles to carefully lift his precious cargo from the back seat. He lets them into the house and Derek broods on a chair for a while, staring at his heart - which Stiles unwrapped and placed on the kitchen table - like he believes if he just glared long and hard enough it would skulk back to his chest where it belonged.

Stiles ignores him, picks up the phone hanging on the kitchen wall, and dials.

“Beacon Hills County Sheriff's Department, Pam speaking.”

“Hiya, Pam,” Stiles says with a smile. He and Pam go way back, she’s always been like a crazy black-sheep-of-the-family aunt to him since he was kid. She wears a lot of patterned scarves and makes a mean apple strudel, which she is forbidden from giving the Sheriff. They have an understanding. “My dad around?”

“Hold on a moment, sugar, I’ll patch you through.”

“Thanks.” He waits a moment as the line goes silent. Derek, who’d mostly ignored him up until now, turns his head with a smirk and mouths the word ‘sugar’ with a lift of an eyebrow. Stiles gives him the finger.

“Hey kiddo,” Sheriff Stilinski says a moment later, sounding exhausted. “What’s up?”

“I just wanted to forewarn you of the latest supernatural drama. So you don’t come home, right off a double and get the shock of your life. We have your blood pressure to think of.”

There’s a muffled curse before the Sheriff says, “my blood pressure is fine, thank you. What’s the latest?”

“First the good news, because there actually is some and that fact should be appreciated, celebrated even. Derek and I tracked down the source of the Beacon Hills cupid. Turned out to be a witch and we asked her politely to stop, which she did. So you won’t be getting any more call-outs for lewd behaviour or sexual harassment charges, at least no more than average. Go team.” Stiles cradles the phone between his shoulder and ear as he lifts himself to sit on the counter.

“The bad news?” the Sheriff hazards. Stiles can almost see his dad running a tired hand over his face. Just rip this off like a bandaid. Stiles tells him everything, the whole story, all over again. He thinks maybe he did this wrong and should have convened another Pack meeting, or at least sent an email update to everyone so that he wouldn’t have had to explain this multiple, agonizing times.

There’s an ominous pause on the phone when he's done. Stiles can hear the clatter of the Sheriff department in the background, so he knows he’s not been cut off.

“Let me get this straight,” his dad finally says, voice slow and unamused. “Someone stole Derek’s heart?”

“Uh, sort of? I mean, she gave it back straight away so it’s not technically stealing.”

“Comforting distinction,” Derek mutters from across the kitchen.

“So,” the Sheriff plows on not having heard the snark from Derek, lucky him, “when I get home there’s going to be heart on my kitchen table? Because Derek can’t take it home, and because for some reason my idiot son has been bound to it?”

“Idiot? I would argue that actually I’m not -”

Stiles,” his dad says in the warning, don’t mess with me I’m your father and I carry a gun, tone of voice. Yeesh.

“Yes, in a nutshell.”

“Well,” the Sheriff says then hesitates, probably pinching the bridge of his nose in resignation like he does when he’s tired of listening to Stiles bury himself even deeper in a hole dug by words. “You better make up the futon in the spare room. Looks like we’re going to be having a guest for a while, huh?”

This is why Stiles loves his dad. He’s level headed and takes everything in his stride, even when it’s clear he’d like nothing more than to shoot Fate with his sidearm - multiple times. Even if it meant mountains of paperwork for discharging a round.

“It’s probably for the best,” he concedes with a smug grin. Derek’s face looks a little glum, but no more than usual. Mostly he seems resigned. Though he could have gone home, no weird forcefield holding him back, Stiles got the impression that he wouldn’t leave his heart again if he could help it.

Stiles says goodbye and hangs up.

“Hey, you hungry?” he says into the silent kitchen, sliding off the counter. “I could go for some tuna sandwiches.”

*

Name: Derek Hale-yes
Age: 26 (in what you call years)
Hair: More gel than hair
Eyes: Unknown, science is baffled
Height: 6ft
Body type: Built and lupine
Likes: Brooding in the shadows, creating teenage cults and gardening
Dislikes: Red cabbage, jokes about his teeth and awesome people named 'Stiles'

Looking for: She must be hot like burning, available for immediate soulbonding and not faint at the sight of human organs.

No psychos need apply.

*

“What the hell is this, Stiles?” Derek is leaning over Stiles’ shoulder, having come into his bedroom without making a noise. Stiles stifles the knee-jerk reaction to shriek and instead sends an elbow into Derek’s stomach. The bastard doesn’t have the decency to even huff with discomfort.

“I made you a profile on OkCupid.” Obviously. What did it look like?

“Without my permission?” Stiles can hear the raised eyebrow in those words.

“When have I ever asked for your permission? Besides, this is way better than Craigslist. And also free - I’m more than happy to help you find your soulmate, man, but I’m not going to literally pay for any of this supernatural drama.”

“You’re kind of an asshole,” Derek points out conversationally. Stiles shrugs because he doesn’t really care.

“We don’t have many choices.”

“And you’ve got it wrong.” Derek clears his throat, and Stiles glances back to get a better view of his face as he can’t place the tone in Derek’s voice. It’s odd, stilted and... Derek is actually blushing. Huh. He’s embarrassed. Stiles would laugh but he’s not sure what brought this on.

“I figured I got most of it wrong…? That was kind of the joke. Be more specific.”

“The uhm, the pronoun.” A pause. “You wrote she.”

“Shouldn’t I have?”

Stiles mentally ticks off Derek’s sorry dating history as far as he knows it: Paige, Kate, Jennifer… killed, psycho, murderer… More than ever Stiles realizes he should really not let Derek get involved in this whole Finding A Soulmate thing. He couldn’t be trusted. Like, at all. And, shit, maybe that’s what the witch had wanted all along? Maybe when Derek (unmeaning, unknowing) had handed over his heart to Stiles the spell somehow latched on to the nearest person who it thought, for whatever reason, could be trusted, the person who could look after Derek’s heart until he could give it to someone worthy. Basically someone who wasn’t crazier than a shithouse rat.

No pressure or anything.

“What?” Stiles shakes his head, refocusing on his bedroom and the embarrassed scowl of Derek as he repeats himself.

“The witch said ‘he will love the very heart of you’. I doubt that was by accident. So.” He shrugs and turns sharply away. He sits on the chair beside the bed, a hand coming up to rest beside the glass bell jar, as close as possible without actually making contact.

Oh.

“Oh,” Stiles says. Saying it out loud didn’t make it sound any less stupid. “I uh… thought you were only into women so I didn’t… sorry man. I can totally appreciate batting for both teams.”

Derek gives him a ‘please shut up now’ face.

“So I’m guessing that’s a no to trying to find your soulmate at Jungle?”

And wow, the ‘please’ just got axed from his facial expression. God. Derek looks furious. Stiles can feel himself blushing but shrugs it off, turning back to his computer screen. Fine. No gay bars. Message received. He’d just have to work a little harder on this OkCupid profile, that’s all.

*

When the Sheriff comes home later that evening, exhausted and clearly unamused by the unexpected turn his life has taken, Stiles has set aside writing Derek’s dating profile and rustled up a meal of garlic bread and spaghetti with pesto. The table is set for three. It’s an awkward affair which Stiles attempts to alleviate in his usual fashion - non-stop nonsensical chatter. Derek’s heart is on the kitchen counter but has a dish towel thrown over it so as not to send the Sheriff into conniptions at the sight. The Sheriff’s eyes keep cutting to it with a resigned sort of expression on his face, before turning his gaze back on the food, head silently shaking its continued disbelief. The last time he’d looked like this was when Derek had been de-aged.

Derek excuses himself from the table with a glower after Scott calls saying he’s got no news. Apparently Deaton’s heard of the heart-in-a-jar phenomenon but never before met anyone who’d had this curse. In fact, the last known case was in Yorkshire, England in the 1940s - and details of that incident were particularly sketchy because the records had been destroyed during the Blitz.

Scott sounds apologetic as he relays the disappointing news, promising in his most earnest True Alpha way that they’ll find a solution. Scott points out that it’s only been a day, they still have time to work this out.

When Stiles disconnects the call - the sound of the bathroom door clicking shut as Derek locks himself in - his dad clears his throat, throwing his napkin on the table.

“I take it that wasn’t good news.”

“Not particularly, no.” Stiles scrubs in hands through his hair vigorously. “Looks like Derek may be staying with us for a while.”

*

Operation Find Derek’s Soulmate (“we’re not fucking calling it that, Stiles”) gets off to an inauspicious start - issues beyond the major stumbling blocks of Derek’s dour personality and very literal lack of heart. To start with, despite Derek’s OkCupid inbox blowing up with interest from both normal and hilariously explicit men, he doesn’t want to try dating any of them. He’ll simply glance at the message and the profile and shake his head in definitive rejection.

“Come on, dude,” Stiles whines in frustration three days after Derek’s profile went live and five days since he’s been Keeper of the Heart. “You’re never going to find someone if you keep saying no. We worked on your profile together, so the website algorithms should be matching you up to the right kind of guys.”

“I don’t like this,” is all Derek says from behind a battered copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being; apparently Derek is feeling particularly masochistic this afternoon. So. Nothing new.

“Then stop reading it,” Stiles snaps.

Two thick eyebrows followed by two hazel eyes appear over the top of the book. They don’t look impressed. Well tough shit.

“I wasn’t talking about the book,” Derek says unnessarily. He lowers it and throws it gently to the foot of the bed where it bounces. “I never expected to have any kind of time limit on who I chose to spend my life with - if I chose to spend it with anyone. I’m not…” He doesn’t finish his thought, just shakes his head in frustration.

Stiles deflates.

“Derek, I get that this is hard. Sorry in advance for mentioning the elephant in the room, but I know about your past relationships and I’m not surprised in the slightest at your reservations. But please... let me help? This is really the only solid plan we have. Scott and Deaton are still looking but our leads have pretty well dried up. I can’t… I can’t carry your heart for you all your life, and I don’t think you’d want me to.”

Derek doesn’t say anything immediately. Stiles watches him think.

He grabs at the chair besides Stiles’ bed and comes to sit next to him at the desk. His face is half horror, half determination. Stiles is pretty sure that’s what dating is supposed to look like.

“Let’s do this thing,” Stiles says with a grin, clicking on the profile of a 30 year old guy with the username Anthony55. Prosaic perhaps, but they weren’t looking for Shakespeare here.

“I think this guy looks great,” Stiles says tapping Anthony55’s bio. (Architect at a small local firm, doesn’t drink but enjoys baseball, cycling and French food.) “Just the kind of guy you’re looking for - smart, older, responsible.”

“You date him then,” Derek mutters, but shrugs and clicks on the message’s ‘reply’ button anyway. Stiles grins and places his fingers on the keyboard.

Derek elbows him and gives him a ‘what the hell are you doing?’ face.

“I can do this,” Stiles insists. “Do you trust me?”

Derek gives him a long, hard-to-define look. Finally he says in his most bland voice, “no.”

Stiles laughs.

*

“I hate you.”

“Let’s not look at this as a failure though!” Optimism. Striving for optimism.

“How else would you look at a date who left me with a bill for $1,300? Tell me Stiles, because I would really like to know. How?”

So Antony55 had been a D-bag of the highest order. According to Derek his date had looked rather older than 30 - his uploaded pictures clearly taken several years previously, and many pounds lighter - had barely seemed interested in Derek and kept ordering more and more outlandishly priced food and fine vintage wines. At the end of the evening he’d stood up and muttered something about using the restroom and never came back. Derek had been furious.

It was one of those crazy, outlandishly bad dates you hear about other people having but half expect are inflated for the sake of a good anecdote. But Derek had practically stapled the bill to Stiles’ forehead, so there was certainly nothing inflated about the date except the price of the wine.

“We just have to be more selective about who we choose for your next date,” Stiles tries to sooth. Derek doesn’t look to be in the mood to be soothed, but Stiles is used to working under this kind of pressure. “I’m sorry your first date turned out like that, but we have to keep trying.”

“We?” Derek’s eyebrow lifts with perfect distain.

“Not everyone is going to be an asshole, Derek. I promise.”

“You can’t promise me that,” Derek says, voice low and serious.

“No,” Stiles agrees, “but I can promise to do my best to make this work. To find you someone.” He means this sincerely, which is why it hurts - shockingly so - when Derek grits out,

“And what would you know about finding someone, Stiles?”

He leaves the room, door slamming behind him. The air buzzes in the silence of his exit, the same anti-sound after the ring of a violent slap. Stiles wants to throw something at the door and glances around for the perfect projectile, but then his eyes land on Derek’s heart and the sight stops him. His senses pick up the thudding-pound, suddenly so much louder now that he’s focused on the organ. It’s racing - a complete counterpoint to the cold, stony facade Derek had been showing a moment ago.

Stiles reaches out a hand, half convinced he’s just going to push the glass jar to the floor and see what happens. Fuck it.

He doesn’t. Instead he touches the cool dome and lets his hand rest for a long moment, feeling the slight vibrations in the glass: ba-bump ba-bump ba-bump. It’s somehow comforting, watching Derek’s heart begin to slow to a normal speed.

Stiles flinches back when he hears his dad call him for dinner, face strangely hot.

*

Derek’s second date goes better. Just.

The guy seems nice enough. His name is Justin and he works remotely from home doing IT and writing code and some other ‘boring shit’. He has blue eyes and sandy hair, average build. Cute, unthreatening, able to hold a somewhat decent conversation online.

Stiles had offered to be Derek’s wingman - sit at an adjacent table at the cafe where the date was to take place - and intervene in case of ‘emergencies’.

“No,” Derek had said before he left for the date. “I don’t need an audience.”

So Stiles doesn’t go, but finds out afterwards that Justin wasn’t quite as over his ex as he seemed to think he was. Two hours of javascript jargon and talk of an ex named Charlie was about as much as Derek could stand.

“Make the next one better,” he tells Stiles as he blows past him in the hallway later that night, sliding into the guest room - a guest room which has already become known by the Stilinski men as ‘Derek’s Room’.

Date number three is with a mechanic named Bud.

At first Stiles had only been joking about hooking Derek up with him. (“You can bond over a mutual love of leather jackets!”) But then Derek surprises him and says to go ahead and set up a date.

Stiles glances again at the profile. Bud is 28 and tall, taller than Derek’s six foot. In the photos he has thick brown hair, brown eyes and freckles - but his most striking feature are his cheekbones. He could give Isaac a run for his money. He’s long and slim and somewhere between mischievous and sultry. Stiles supposes he looks okay if that’s your kind of thing - he’s not judging, it’s just not his - but he’s still a little surprised at Derek’s interest.

He glances at Derek’s heart sitting on the desk, and notices with a flush that it’s beating quite erratically as they inspect Bud’s photo gallery.

So. Bud is definitely Derek’s kind of thing. Duly noted.

“No problemo,” Stiles says a little too loud.

Derek’s date with Bud is arranged for noon the following day at the same cafe. Stiles can’t help but notice, somewhat smugly, that Bud has rather creative spellings in his replies. Hot maybe, but not the sharpest tool in the box. It’s a mean thing to notice, or even care about, but Stiles has a bad feeling building in his gut.

“Stilinski! Don’t make me confiscate your phone,” Bea hisses at The Nook the next day. She’s doing the crazy-eyes so Stiles hides his phone.

“Who made you my boss?” he mutters but is glad when Bea either doesn’t hear his retort or ignores him as insignificant.

From: Best Bro
news from d?

Scott texts at lunch. Stiles is hiding from Bea in the backroom, eating a dry PB&J he made that morning.

From: Stiles
Just to tell me to stop texting him.

From: Stiles
Which is pretty much what Bea said, so I gave up by popular demand

From: Best Bro
so not hearing anything = good or bad?

From: Stiles
Either it’s a success, because usually his dates don’t last this long...

From: Stiles
or something went horribly wrong and Derek went full wolf-man and ate Bud’s face and is currently hiding the body in the woods

From: Best Bro
he didnt eat him stiles

From: Stiles
I feel you judging me

From: Best Bro
lies

Stiles rolls his eyes, slips his phone into his pocket and heads back to the front of The Nook. Bea is pretending not to dance to the muzak playing softly from the sound system, head nodding and hand slicing to each beat, like she’s some dope rapper with wicked flow. Stiles hides his smile.

There’s suddenly a loud burst of music coming from nearby that isn’t from the store’s sound system, and Stiles is confused at first because, Jesus, what is that?

“Your butt is singing emo songs,” Bea says with a scowl. And shit, it is his phone that’s making the racket. Stiles slides his phone out of his pocket and tries to actually identify the song, but…

And who do you think you are?
Runnin' 'round leaving scars
Collecting your jar of hearts
And tearing love apart

It’s fucking Christina Perri and she’s singing that jar of hearts song that he loathes.

Stiles accepts the call with a brisk hello, not even checking to see who’s calling him. He has a millisecond to seathe about all the pain he’s going to heap on the pack for doing this to him in his vulnerable moments - they must have done it when he’d gone to the bathroom halfway through Dogma on their weekly pizza night -, before he registers that Derek is saying his name down the phone.

“ - iles? Hello?”

“Hi, yes - hey Derek! How’d the -”

“Shut up, Stiles. I know you’re at work and I wouldn’t normally ask..."

"Oh god, you do need help burying the body."

"What? No. I want you to come to my house.”

“Your house? Why aren’t you home in your sweats watching Judge Judy?” Stiles asks, already moving to find his backpack under the counter.

“I didn’t want to take my date back to your dad’s house,” Derek says, muffled in a way that makes Stiles think he’s talking through clenched teeth. Stiles stops walking suddenly as he understands the significance of what Derek just said.

“Oh dude, score! Did Bud the Biker put out on the first d-”

“Stiles!” Derek shouts. “Shut up and get over here!” The phone disconnects and Stiles sighs.

“Uh, Bea, I am sorry to do this to you but I have to take the rest of the day off. It’s an emergency, I swear!”

Bea gives him a searching look, one hand on her hip. She doesn’t look convinced. In fact she looks a little like she’s going to fire him on the spot. And she's not even the manager. Stiles isn’t sure how he manages to find women like this, but his life is kinda full of them. He worries about the day Bea and Lydia meet and the universe inevitably explodes.

“Fine,” Bea says at last. “But this better be a real emergency and not a booty-call from your hot angry boyfriend.”

“My… my whatnow?” Stiles had been in the middle of fist pumping the air, but stops abruptly, arm still tucked in at his side, fist clenched.

“Don’t try it, Stilinski. You know exactly who I mean.” Bea points to the front windows. “That hot guy who waits for you by your Jeep after work every single day, loyal as a dog? I thought he was your stalker at first and told him to leave you the hell alone or I’d call the cops, but he just sort of did a thing with his eyebrows and I could tell he was shy rather than murderous, which was a strange thing to express in eyebrows alone, so I gave him props for that. He told me you two go way back and that he was just checking in on his darling.”

Stiles blanches. “His what?”

Bea wrinkles her nose.

“He called you his darling. Total barf, I dunno how you put up with that cutsie-pie crap but then I would put up with a lot for a face like that. And his body is rockin’.”

“Oh uh, right,” Stiles says awkwardly. He hefts the backpack full of Derek’s heart onto his shoulder carefully. “He’s a little intense,” is all Stiles can think to say before sprinting out of The Nook, the sound of Bea sucking her teeth in exasperation following him out.

Damn, Stiles thinks as he hops into the Jeep, what was Derek doing lurking around Stiles’ workplace before the love spell had worn off? Calling him darling and sweetie in public, in front of his colleague! Stiles thought the whole picking him up from work thing was a new development for Derek, what with his heart in Stiles’ custody. He shakes his head. Derek must have been hit harder by that spell that he let anyone know.

It feels like forever before he makes it out to Derek’s place, but in reality it’s not more than twenty minutes. Derek flings open the door to the partly renovated house on the edge of the preserve before Stiles even ascends the final porch step. His eyes cut immediately to Stiles’ backpack. While the stiffness in his shoulders doesn’t quite ease at the obvious bulk and weight of the concealed jar, Derek’s greeting is somewhat less moody than Stiles was expecting.

He doesn’t move aside and let Stiles into the house either. Instead they just stand there on either side of the threshold in complete silence.

“This is exactly why I skipped work, so I could stare at you and say nothing,” Stiles deadpans at last.

“Can you, I mean,” Derek starts haltingly, “how far can you go before the forcefield impedes your movements?”

“Well,” Stiles hedges, “I’ve experimented a little, and it’s about twenty feet before the forcefield appears. I can, like, go take a shower or go for a pee without needing to take the jar with me.” Stiles pauses and takes in the distracted expression on Derek’s face, like he’s listening but not that closely. He takes a leap of faith.

“For example, I could leave the jar on your coffee table and sit out here, on the top step without it causing any problems,” he says carefully nonchalant. Derek’s eyes, more gray than green today, zero in on Stiles, looking for some ulterior motive. He doesn’t find any because there isn’t any to find. Stiles is just an excellent person, so suck it.

He proves this truth by sitting out on the porch for about half an hour, playing Candy Crush on his phone while Derek has alone time with his heart. He’s not sure what happened during Derek’s date with Bud but it’s clearly affected him in a bad way. When Derek eventually resurfaces and mumbles a thanks and lets Stiles secure the bell jar back into his backpack, he doesn’t actually come back home with Stiles. He looks pale and beaten. Stiles doesn't really know what to do, so he leaves and thinks he’ll figure it out along the way.

But there’s not much chance of that. Even days after The Event, as Stiles has taken to calling it in his head, Derek hasn’t said any more about Bud or about the date or needing to call Stiles out of work. In fact Derek stops dropping by Chez Stilinski entirely, not slouching in to annoy Stiles about how inadequate he is, or asking who his next date prospect is and how they are inadequate too. It’s really super strange to wake up in the morning and not see Derek at the kitchen table reading the local paper over a stack of buttered toast and black coffee.

Nearly a week passes before Stiles gets any kind of clue as to what might have happened. He’s still been keeping track of Derek’s online dating profile, half hoping Derek will get over whatever happened long enough to get back out there. And if that happens, Stiles wants to be ready. It may involve pretending to be Derek in some of the correspondence, but Stiles decides that’s just what friends do. They meddle. He’s relatively sure it’s called helping.

He’s idly checking Derek’s messages - mostly just propositions for sex, frustratingly - when a new message pops up in the inbox. It’s from Bud and the subject is labeled ‘sory’.

Stiles’ heart kicks into overdrive as he hovers the cursor over the link.

hey Derek - just wanted to say sorry for how i reacted on our date last week it wasn’t cool. but like i said then, i just think you should be more upfront on your profile about your condition. it’s kind of a lie, right? not telling people i mean. like it’s your business but i notice you still haven’t changed your deets. - Bud

Derek’s condition? Wait. Did Bud want Derek to own up to his being a werewolf on a dating site? How did he even guess this kind of secret? And why was he being a douche about it? Who even said ‘deets’ with a straight face?

Before he knows what he's doing, Stiles grabs his phone and thumbs through to Derek’s number. The phone rings three times before Derek answers.

“What do you want?”

“Does Bud know you’re a werewolf?” If Derek could be blunt, so could he.

“What?” Derek sounds genuinely confused. “No. Why would you think that?”

“Man, what am I supposed to think? You won’t talk to me, won’t come home in the evening anymore - we’re talking full-on avoidance tactics. I didn’t want to push, I mean you looked in a really bad way after the date last week. Then Bud just sent you this message -”

“Bud sent - Stiles are you still on my dating profile? Pretending to be me? Jesus, you have no sense of boundaries.” Derek sounds really pissed, like lava temperatures mad. “He doesn’t know about the werewolf thing, so just leave it.”

“Then what -”

Derek cuts him off again. “He freaked out when he realized I had no heartbeat, okay? Happy now? Can we stop talking about this?”

Which turns out to be a rhetorical question because Stiles doesn’t get a chance to reply before the phone cuts out.

Well. Damn.

*

“Derek’s not been around in a while,” Stiles’ dad observes that evening over a dinner of steamed vegetables and hamburgers made from lean ground beef. “Everything okay, son?”

“You know I’ve been getting him dates - to help solve the heart thing? Well, they’ve not been going that great.”

“And he’s blaming you?” His dad doesn’t sound exactly accusatory, but he does sound a little peeved.

“No, no,” Stiles disagrees, spearing a floret of broccoli onto the end of his fork. “I don’t think he’s blaming me, more like he’s blaming himself and dealing with it by brooding. It’s kind of his natural state but I was hoping he was getting better recently.”

Stiles chews mechanically on the broccoli, while his dad wipes his mouth on a paper napkin. His face is thoughtful, a finger tapping against the side of his water glass.

“It may take quite some time for Derek to find someone. That kind of commitment shouldn’t be rushed into,” his dad says seriously.

“I can totally appreciate that but I can’t hold on to Derek’s heart forever. We all know that; the sooner this is all behind us the better.” He may have said that a little hysterically because his dad is giving him the parental judgement eyebrow. Stiles ignores the look and clears the table with as much dignity as he can. Given his shaky relationship with gravity, this is not a great deal.

“Stiles,” the Sheriff says from the kitchen doorway, voice firm. “Talk to Derek. Bring him home.”

And god, Stiles know he’s been calling their house Derek’s home too recently, he’s not missed the way Scott has been eyeing him whenever he slips, but it sounds so official coming from the sheriff like that. His dad must really care about Derek - and when the hell did that happen?

Stiles takes Derek’s heart upstairs and spends the rest of the evening pondering.

He picks up his phone and dials Derek’s number.

It rings out to voicemail; an automated lady asks him to leave a message. He doesn’t. Stiles is watching Derek’s heart and the moment the phone started ringing he saw the slight change in rhythm. He calls again. And then again a third time. On the fourth it barely rings at all before Derek is yelling his name down the phone.

“Fuck! What do you want?”

“I wanted to apologize,” Stiles rushes, scared Derek is going to disconnect before he can do this right. “I shouldn’t have looked at your private messages without your permission, that was totally out of order. I was worried about you, that’s all, I wasn’t trying to be an asshole. It’s not an excuse, just an explanation.”

There’s a long silence on the other end of the phone, so long that Stiles checks to make sure the call didn’t drop without his noticing. In the jar beside Stiles’ elbow Derek’s heart has begun beating normally, even palpitations. Stiles feels his shoulders ease of tension.

“We miss you, man,” Stiles eventually says, sincere. “Me and Dad, we like having you around. Am I forgiven?”

“Yes, Stiles.” Derek’s heart is steady. Stiles beams.

“Good! You love me really, dude.”

“I really don’t,” Derek says darkly, definitively. Except…

Except Derek’s heart when he said that? It wasn’t steady, there was a half-second hitch to the beat, when it looked out of sync. Stiles has been staring at this heart for weeks now, he knows this heart, weird as it is to realize that. Stiles knows what that odd palpitation means.

Derek was lying.

*

Stiles tries not to think about what Derek’s lie means.

Actually, who’s he kidding, it’s all he can think about. It blows his mind a little that he was able to see the lie. With his naked eye! That must be what the werepeople in his life hear every time Stiles stretches the truth, that slight break in rhythm. He knew they could always tell when he was making shit up, but he figured it was a bit more mystical and supernatural than the reality, that their heightened senses were doing all the work, not magic. But the shoe is on the other foot, and now Stiles is the one with the power, a very specific power over just one person: Derek freaking Hale.

Derek who lied.

Lied about not loving Stiles.

Stiles really needs to stop thinking about this. The lie could have been about anything - he knows better than most that there are many different kinds of lies, different degrees, and context is key. Maybe to Derek love was interchangeable with liking someone? Love like a friend? Maybe it was a delay from when Stiles asked for forgiveness? Maybe Derek was lying about that and was secretly still pissed and just wanted him to get off the phone.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Derek has since certainly noticed that Stiles is being weird. Or. Weirder than normal. He’d come by the very next day for dinner with Stiles and the Sheriff, looking a little shy with his hands shoved deep in his pockets. The Sheriff had smiled and clapped him on the shoulder, not mentioning Derek going MIA for nearly two weeks. It was nice and easy, having Derek sit opposite Stiles at the dinner table and talking with his dad about a recent rash of animal deaths on the preserve.

It’s a normal evening.

Except for Stiles who stammers when Derek comes to the door, who knocks a glass of water off the table, who bumps his shin against the kitchen door frame and hops around, groaning in pain. He is the opposite of cool and unbothered. He’s very bothered. Because Derek lied. And Stiles doesn’t know what to do with that information.

*

“I think,” Derek begins tentatively one Wednesday evening after Stiles has finished reading up on his latest research project for Deaton and the pack. “Maybe we should try again.”

Stiles turns to him where he’s sat in his usual place, the chair next to Stiles’ bed, feet propped against the bed frame. He’s been reading The Bluest Eyes. Stiles has half a mind to introduce Derek to Terry Pratchett, surely he can’t be enjoying all these slit-your-wrist type books. It’s not healthy. Stiles caught him reading The Bell Jar last week before Derek could slip it from view.

“Try what?” Stiles asks absently, still wondering idly if he should find his copy of The Color of Magic to loan Derek. It’s gotta be around here somewhere...

“The dating website. Finding me someone.”

That certainly gets Stiles’ undivided attention. His eyes snap up to meet Derek’s.

“Dude, really? You sure?”

Derek frowns and shrugs. It’s hardly an enthusiastic yes, in fact it looks seriously unhappy, but it’s not nothing.

“Not trying to pry, not after I stepped way out of bounds last time, but are you sure? I can totally wait if you want more time.”

There’s a glimmer of a smile from Derek, but it dims quickly and his stormier emotions pull him under the tide of whatever it is that’s clearly eating him. He looks so freaking miserable, it’s hard to look right at him. The emo might permanently damage Stiles' retinas.

“No, he wasn’t… it wasn’t bad,” Derek says at last, not taking his eyes off his heart. It’s sitting on Stiles’ desk as usual, doing it’s thing, keeping Derek alive from afar - however that freaky biological hocus pocus works. “We were definitely compatible. Physically.”

Stiles isn’t sure he needed to know that, but gamely nods like the good friend he is, encouraging Derek to continue. He does want to hear about what happened with Bud… just hopefully PG rated.

“I didn’t think he was The One or anything but we clicked right away and I thought, to hell with it, I have to start somewhere, right? We had coffee but didn’t stay long - I invited him back to my house and we, um… you know.”

Derek’s face flushes slightly, eyes slipping down to his lap in embarrassment. Stiles feels his own cheeks begin to warm as he tries not to imagine Derek and that lanky, freckled mechanic bumping uglies.

“Was it bad? Or bring up bad memories for you?” Stiles asks as carefully as he can. He’s not great with careful, he’s always been more of a bull in a china shop when it comes to sharing feelings. “I mean, most guys seem happier, more relaxed after… sex.” They really can’t keep talking around the word like they’re eleven year old boys who’ve only just discovered what the word even means. “And when you called me at work that day - how did he find out? About your heart?”

Stiles is the master of smooth.

“It wasn’t bad, I guess. Nothing special, emotionally speaking.” Derek scrubs his face with both his palms. “It got weird. Bud, he kind of noticed that something was off about me.”

“But how?”

“He was lying on top of me, after, not cuddling or anything, just resting as we got our breath back. His head was on my chest and it was fine at first, we were breathing so heavily but then he freaked out. Said he couldn’t hear my heart and kept asking all these questions, kept pressing me for answers I couldn’t give him. So I said I had a heart condition.”

“Seems strange that he bought that.” Stiles is kind of skeptical, because the only condition he can think of that means the heart is no longer beating in your chest is death.

Death and magical heart jars, obviously.

Derek shrugs. “You saw the message he sent me, so he must have. It’s not like he could come up with any better reason why he couldn’t hear it. I mean, what would you think if you didn’t know about werewolves and magic or any of the crap we go through? I just said it was really quiet. A weak heartbeat. He still freaked. I mean, he started acting really awkward and not looking me in the eye. Started treating me like I was made of glass - like I was dying. Wanted to know if the… sex… was going to harm my heart condition. When I said no he didn’t believe me.” Derek sighs, a soft, hurt sound of defeat that Stiles isn’t quite prepared to hear.

“I wasn’t looking for forever with him, we’d only just met. Sex isn’t a declaration of forever.”

“So he wasn’t interested in getting involved with someone with a medical condition?” Stiles guesses.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“Man, I’m sorry. That’s cold.”

“Not really. I get it, I really do. Who wants broken goods?” It’s a nasty little comment and Stiles frowns, ready to rebut this total load of crap, but Derek keeps talking. “Even though I don’t have the kind of condition he thought I did, I still need someone that’s not going to flinch at what I am. Lycanthrope, emotional baggage, heart-in-a-jar syndrome. Warts and all.”

Stiles grins a little, teasing. “Warts? What warts? Have you seen yourself in a mirror lately?” He waggles his eyebrows and Derek just rolls his eyes, but Stiles feels good about this reaction, he understands exasperation. He can handle exasperation.

“Thanks for coming over when I called the other week. I know you were at The Nook and I shouldn’t have asked you to,” Derek says after a long, mostly comfortable pause. “But when Bud left I had this urge to just… to hear it.” There’s a lot in what Derek’s not saying and Stiles thinks he gets it.

Derek lifts his chair to come and sit by Stiles at the desk, like old times, like he’s ready to start trawling through the website to find his next date and argue with Stiles over the wording of his messages and whether ‘sarcasm’ was a legitimate hobby or if ‘communing with the moon’ was possibly a veiled reference to another werewolf or just a sign of crazy. But he doesn’t say anything, doesn’t try to take the mouse from Stiles or elbow him for clicking on the guy with the inappropriate username (ilikedick99 or cumshotstar). Mostly it looks like Derek wants to be close to his heart again, his hazel eyes tracking every beat.

Derek scoots a hand close to the jar, fingers mere millimeters from the glass. Close, so close, and yet he might as well be miles away. It’s a sad little gesture of aborted comfort and so vulnerable that Stiles doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. His arms and his hands feel completely useless as they dangle, heavy, at his side. Derek isn’t a hugger, so he can’t do that - not that he’s all that sure he’d want to. Offering comfort is such a personal thing and Stiles just doesn’t know what he and Derek are to each other, how best to make this moment pass in anything but discomfort.

Finally he can’t take it any longer and leans over to place a careful, clumsy hand over Derek’s.

Derek is warm and he starts a little at the contact, like he’d completely forgotten Stiles was even in the room, let alone sitting beside him. Stiles refuses to be embarrassed at his gesture, concentrating on the warmth of Derek’s fingers as they slip together a little and mesh in a perfectly fitting jigsaw of comfort and friendship.

*

Stiles has trouble sleeping that night, tossing and twisting until the covers are wrapped around him like a straight jacket. It’s too tight and too hot, beads of sweat popping up across his brow and around his neck. Stiles kicks until the sheet is off him and dangling from the far end of the mattress.

The alarm clock by his bed tells him in blue illuminated numerals that it’s nearly two thirty in the morning. The sky beyond his window is black with no hint of silver moon, and the silence is like a film of dust, soft and deep and oppressive. Stiles doesn’t like it, so sets his laptop on the mattress next to him. It bathes the room in blue. He considers watching a movie to lull him back to sleep but there’s too much adrenaline in him, heart tripping over itself and restless.

Opening up the drawer in his bedside table, Stiles pulls out an almost finished tube of lube. He uncaps it with his thumb and squeezes the final dregs into one palm. With his other hand he silently loads a porn video he has saved under the super secret file entitled FOR JACK, which always makes him chuckle.

Stiles shimmies out of his boxers and gives an experimental tug of his dick, slicking the full, soft length with the lube. It takes no time at all for his body to get with the program and the porno has hardly started, the two actors (and yes, two actors, because Stiles is secure enough in himself these days to know what turns him on and right now he really needs it to be dicks and strong shoulders) have only begun to kiss and bite at each other before Stiles is at full length, hard and flushed red.

He grunts and changes the speed of his hand, taking a bit more time to play with himself in the ways he likes, teasing. He stretches his neck back, losing sight of the computer screen, eyes hooded as he blinks unseeing at the ceiling. Stiles lets the feeling of pleasure swing higher, toes tingling. He shakes his head and groans out a soft low breath as one of the porno actors gets his dick sucked.

Stiles is so close, so ready to just get off and go back to sleep. He tips his head back again like his neck just won’t hold him up anymore, and then his eyes rest on the jar on his bedside table, darkly illuminated by the glow of the laptop. Usually slow and steady in sleep, Stiles is shocked into a gasp at the sight of Derek’s heart beating wildly. Stiles’ own heart speeds up at the sight.

Fuck!

Was Derek okay? Did Stiles miss some kind of nighttime home invasion while he was busy jerking off? Damn, but his brain is just too fuzzy to think straight so close to release.

“Derek?” He mutters, the breathy befuddled question not really aimed at anyone.

Derek’s heart is still beating at a rapid pace, and Stiles’ hand is still gripping his dick. The porno is now showing both men writhing against each other and really, Stiles was already ninety percent gone and it’s nothing to fall the final ten. With a muffled cry and a curse Stiles climaxes hard, come thick and sloppy against his abdomen.

It takes a moment for him to gather his senses and for his breathing to even out enough to swing out of bed. Stiles grabs some tissues and wipes away the mess, throwing it crumpled to the floor. On wobbly, slightly bowed legs, Stiles slips out of his room and listens to the silent night. He doesn’t hear an intruder but that really doesn’t mean much these days. He creeps down the hallway to the farthest room.

Derek’s door is closed and still Stiles hears nothing except the echoing memory of the frantic heart in a jar. He worries at his lip for a moment before tapping lightly on the door and saying Derek’s name at a whisper. Nothing. With slight trepidation at what he’ll find, Stiles creeks open the door and peers around the edge.

It’s dark and everything is in place - no crazy villains cackling over Derek’s dead body or scenes of violence or distress. There’s a dark shape in the bed and when Stiles whispers Derek’s name again there’s not even a twitch.

The orgasm has knocked all the restlessness from Stiles and he's suddenly exhausted and ready to fall asleep for a solid eight hours, so he closes the door and crawls back into his bed. From bleary eyes, just on the cusp of sleep, Stiles watches Derek’s heart continue to beat with a strange urgency.

*

Operation Find Derek’s Soulmate

Anthony - As of twenty minutes ago, wanted in connection with several unpaid parking fines to the tune of $1300

Justin - not over ex.

Bud - hot but can’t spell worth a damn. jackass

Terrance - hot in an older statesman kind of way, lots of money (not that Derek cares about money, given he has so much of his own) and has a nice smile. But after a thorough background check, Terry appears to be already married to a lawyer named CeeCee. He’s not separated, filing for a divorce or Mormon. Stiles calls an abort on the date ASAP. He and Derek spend the rest of the evening eating oreo ice cream in front of the TV.

Jake - much younger than all the others. Short and broad-shouldered, Jake has flyaway blond hair and eyes which are too close together. His laugh is annoying but Derek doesn’t seem to think so from the way he’s leaning forward across their little table at the Cafe. Stiles has made the executive decision to accompany Derek as his wingman. Derek doesn’t like it, but tough shit. Jake manages to make Derek smile, twice! When Stiles asks if this is it, if they’ve managed to make it to a second date Derek just shakes his head. Just friends, he says. Stiles doesn't examine his relief.

Zoey - they try a girl, just in case they were wrong about the pronoun thing and the witch was just being patriarchal in her use of ‘he’. Derek gets a drink in his face within five minutes. They go back to looking for men.

Harvey - is a vegan.

Russell - is a werewolf, a beta from a small pack in San Francisco and is looking to join a new pack, once he’s found the right match. It should be perfect and Stiles thinks, despite their posturing at the start, Russell and Derek are actually well suited and, importantly, attracted to each other.

Then Russell asks about Derek’s lack of heartbeat. It’s an awkward conversation, especially when Russell turns directly to where Stiles is sitting on the other side of the Cafe and asks if that’s why he can hear two heartbeats coming from one person - that guy who keeps watching them thinking he’s being subtle about it. Derek rolls his eyes and motions Stiles over to introduce him. Stiles tries to be friendly but just can’t seem to strike the right balance of welcoming while also expressing his intent to fuck this guy’s shit up if he hurts Derek. It’s been a long road with many failures and Stiles is invested now, so sue him. He’s looked after Derek’s heart this long, he might as well do it right, won’t hand it over to just any asshole. Stiles deems himself as having failed at being subtle when Derek sighs and Russell laughs. The laugh makes Derek smile and Stiles experiences a sudden surge of indigestion. Maybe he should swing by Walgreens and pick up some Pepto after this?

Derek actually decides to see this guy for a second date, this time without Stiles “lurking around”. (Whatever. Takes one to know one.) Scott gets involved too, and is introduced to the new wolf on his territory. Scott also seems to like Russell and winks at Derek with a double thumbs up when Russell’s back is turned. Derek honest to God blushes and Stiles leaves the pack meeting early. He had other stuff to do anyway.

There is a third date. And a fourth.

After the tenth, Stiles stops counting.

Derek isn’t home as frequently and Stiles ignores his dad’s pointed questions. It sucks because Stiles can always tell when Derek and Russell are having sex because, well, he’s still stuck with Derek’s heart afterall. He doesn’t let himself think about it, but one night when Derek’s heart starts to speed up in a way that makes Stiles think of arousal and foreplay, Stiles pulls out his dick and whacks off to the beat. He falls asleep feeling lonely and like he sullied something. He finds it hard looking them in the eye the next time he sees them both around town, Russell’s fingers twined with Derek’s.

Stiles starts making excuses not to be around them. It’s getting bad - Stiles is eating less and smiling less - until unexpectedly it all ends, quietly and without fuss. It’s sudden enough to give Stiles whiplash. One moment Scott is in full welcoming Alpha mode, discussing with Stiles and Deaton (in their capacity as Emissaries) the possibility of Russell’s joining them permanently and what that might mean, and the next he’s on a plane back to San Francisco. Derek doesn’t look too cut up about it but when Stiles broaches the topic, he gets a growl and Derek’s retreating back. Oddly, Scott’s the one with answers. He tells Stiles that Russell was more invested in the relationship than Derek had been, and Russell had told Scott that he didn’t want to play second fiddle. Stiles says he doesn’t understand - what was that supposed to mean? Scott gives him a look that, for once in his life, Stiles can’t decipher.

*

“You’re being weird,” Malia informs Stiles as they sit in Beacon Park with their frappes.

It’s become a tradition between them, sipping beverages in the park while people watching. A chance for Malia to ask questions she doesn’t want to ask in front to the whole pack and knows Stiles will answer with minimal teasing, and where Stiles can instruct her on the subtleties of human interactions by using the people they observe around them. It used to be a once a week thing back in high school, part date, part fact finding mission. But times have changed, and so has their relationship. Even now that Stiles is back for the summer from college with time to blow even after he’s finished his shifts at The Nook, this is the first they’ve managed to meet up alone.

“Weird how?” he slurps at his frappe and watches a toddler amble across the park on chubby legs, his father following behind with a toy giraffe in his hands.

“I don’t know,” Malia says with a shrug and wrinkle of her nose.

“Use your words, Malia,” Stiles urges quietly, falling back into their old ways easily. “What am I doing that you don’t understand?”

“You seem normal around me and most of the pack, but when you and Derek are near each other you’re weird. Both of you are weird.” She makes an exasperated gesture, frustrated with her inability to articulate. Stiles ignores the blush that he knows is crawling up his cheeks.

“The situation we’re in with Derek’s heart, its not normal,” Stiles tries to explain. “We’re not sure how to handle it and we’re even less sure how to fix it. And with Russell gone now, it feels like we’re back at square one. Derek is probably worried about never getting back to normal and I’m definitely worried about having to look after this forever.” He taps his backpack where the heart is hidden with the toe of his sneaker.

Malia shakes her head before he can say anything else. She doesn’t seem appeased, just further frustrated.

“But why not? Why can’t you keep it? I know you’d keep it safer than it’s ever been.”

Stiles is a little mortified to find that he’s blushing even harder at Malia’s statement of faith. He must look like a lobster right now.

“It’s restrictive,” he attempts to explain patiently. “I can’t go anywhere without it, and it’s not exactly the easiest thing to carry or conceal. And it’s not fair to Derek. He doesn’t like being parted with it, so he’ds been living with me and my dad indefinitely.”

“But you like that he lives with you,” Malia points out, face confused and seemingly asking him to correct her mistake. But she isn’t mistaken. “You weren’t happy when he spent more time with Russell than with you and your dad.” Stiles sighs, not entirely surprised she’d clocked his embarrassing sulking of the past few weeks.

“I do like him living with us, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t. He likes living alone.”

Malia looks at him like he’s a nutcase - a nutcase with a bad case of BO. She leans back from him as if to get a better view of all his wrongness.

No he doesn't,” she says a little furiously. Malia’s never been great with people, small surprise given the shit life’s thrown her way, but she’s strangely loyal to Derek. It’s a different kind of relationship than what she shares with Stiles, it’s not as intimate in appearance, but runs deeper than most would suspect. Something small and tough had blossomed for both Derek and Malia at the discovery of their familial link several years ago. Where it didn’t quite work for Derek and Cora, there seems to be genuine affection between Derek and Malia.

“He liked when we lived together and I think he was sad when I moved and he was alone again,” Malia continues. “He didn’t cry, but you told me tears aren’t the only expression of sadness. I’ve been learning, you’d be proud.”

“I am proud,” Stiles confirms. Malia shakes her head, like she wasn’t fishing for the compliment.

“Look,” she starts, throwing her finished frappe into a nearby trashcan, a perfect three-pointer. “Can’t you just… give it back?”

“What do you mean?” Stiles is confused.

“I mean just that. Give him his heart back, if you don’t want it.”

Stiles is annoyed suddenly. “I can’t, Malia. That’s the whole point - it’s why we're even in this mess. I’m tethered to his heart and Derek can’t touch it. It’s not like I’ve just been… borrowing his heart this whole time!”

“Have you even tried giving it back?”

And, OK, no. Not exactly. But it was obvious, wasn’t it? If Derek couldn’t touch it and Stiles couldn’t part from it, there really wasn’t any way he could just pick up the jar full of heart and hand it back like Derek had lent him a book or a freaking casserole dish. It couldn’t be that easy.

Right?

“I didn’t think so,” Malia says at his silence. “When he was cursed, Derek left his heart without ever going near it. As the first person to touch the jar, maybe the magic thinks you protect the heart, not Derek.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Stiles says, subdued. Malia grins sharply, eyes bright at her success. “When did you get so smart?”

“I had a good teacher,” Malia says before leaping off the bench to go terrorize a flock of ducks.

Stiles and Malia

*

Stiles doesn’t immediately run to find Derek and test out this new theory. He needs time process and time to research.

He needs to talk to someone - someone not Derek.

*

“I need help,” Stiles announces when Lydia opens her front door. She frowns at him in that way she has, where if you squint real hard you might spot some affection, but mostly just disapproval.

“I was aware,” she says with a raised eyebrow.

“Charming,” Stiles says dryly. “I meant, I need your advice. To bounce an idea off you.”

“Operation Find Derek’s Soulmate not going so well, then?” Lydia asks with a knowing smirk. “I’ve been taking a break from my proof to work on some statistics regarding Derek’s dating profile and I’ve come up with a workable formula. I think we could do a lot better job of finding a relevant match than winging it like you’ve been doing. You’re leaving too much to chance. The website algorithms are terrible.”

“Thanks Lydia, but the online dating scene might not be the way to go,” Stiles says, unzipping his backpack and placing the jar on her vanity table next to a can of hairspray and an army of nail polish bottles in rainbow colours. “Malia said something the other day, and I think it might work.” He explains the idea to a silent Lydia.

“So?”

“Hm,” Lydia hums thoughtfully, plopping down on the vanity's stool to get a closer look at Derek’s heart. “Why ask me? Why not just - go through with it?”

Stiles sits on the end of Lydia’s bed, elbows on his knees and face in his hands. He scrubs his eyes for a moment, tired from lack of sleep and too much worry.

“I don’t know,” he mutters into his hands.

“Oh, I think you do.”

Stiles groans and flops down onto the bed, limbs starfished. “Malia said that if I didn’t want it anymore, that I should just give it back to him. I actually believe that would work, I mean thinking about it, everything about this eros witch and her enchantments are so… literal. If I give back Derek’s heart does that mean - what does that mean?”

“You don’t want to give it back because it could suggest you want neither Derek’s literal heart or his metaphorical one.” She picks up a nail file and begins shaping her left thumbnail as she talks. “Am I getting warm?”

“Yeah,” Stiles concedes quietly. “I just don’t know what the implications would be if I gave it back and I don’t want to do something like that without thinking about it first.”

“Very mature of you,” Lydia says and Stiles isn’t sure if she’s being sarcastic or not. He chooses to ignore it.

“I was thinking -”

“Generally inadvisable,” Lydia quips. Stiles ignores this too.

I was thinking I could summon the eros witch, get her to explain herself. I’ve been researching and I found a way to do it - it’s not even that difficult. I can’t believe none of us thought of it before now. If anyone can give me definitive answers, it’ll be the person who cursed Derek in the first place. It’s no good just guessing.”

“Fine. You’ve thought this out, researched every angle. Congratulations. Why do you need me?”

Stiles watches a moment as she selects a little bottle of purple nail polish and unscrews it. Her room starts to smell of the strong chemicals that make up the lacquer. He scrunches up his nose.

“Eros witches are supernatural beings made of air and magic, they belong beyond the veil and you...” Stiles trails off and lets his raised eyebrows finish the sentence for him.

“The Wailing Woman, harbinger of Death, banshee,” Lydia supplies with a scowl.

“Goddess? Genius? Angel?” Stiles offers, but Lydia rolls her eyes not willing to be placated. “Sorry, it’s just that banshees are supposed to have a connection with the magical - the intangible. Certainly more so than weres. Shapeshifters are made of earth - or clay in some translations - blood and moonlight. Otherwise I would have asked Scott for help. You’re my best bet.”

“I am not an internet message board for all things fey, Stiles.”

“I know that!” he says defensively.

Lydia searches his earnest face for a long moment, then caps the nail polish and shakes her hand lazily to dry the lacquer. “Fine. What do you need me to do?”

*

“Stiles,” Lydia says much later, face grim.

“I know, I know! You don’t need to say it.”

“Oh, but I really do.” She draws in a deep breath like she’s going to wail, like she’s setting to break every pane of glass from here to San Diego.

“You are a colossal idiot. Was your brain switch on at all? God, Stiles! Why do you insist on big gestures at the expense of your own health and safety?”

“It’ll be fine,” Stiles soothes even as his heart beats frantically. Oh god.

“That isn’t fine,” Lydia says definitively, a perfectly painted nail pointing to a second heart in a jar, nestled next to Derek’s.

*

He finds Derek at the house in the forest stripped down to a white wifebeater and jeans, bare arms covered in sawdust from the pile of perfectly measured wood at the foot of his sawhorse.

Stiles doesn’t call it the ‘Hale House’ anymore because it’s not. It’s Derek’s. There’s nothing left of the burned ruin, demolished piece by piece, the best bits removed by a salvage company and the rest to a dump. The new house isn’t even in quite the same position. It’s near, as Derek didn’t want to buy up more than this plot from the County, saying it was plenty big enough for just one man. Stiles thinks the new house, with it’s open plan living spaces and numerous bedrooms was built with more than one person in mind, and he’s suddenly embarrassed that he ever told Malia that Derek liked being alone. The deep foundations of the old house have been filled in with soil from the new and is earmarked for a garden. Stiles has seen the plans that Derek blushes over whenever anyone catches him working on them - the pretty Japanese maple trees and ornamental pond, the blue junipers and yellow euonymus. Derek likes plants that give a garden color no matter the time of year, plants with structure and form.

Derek removes his plastic safety goggles when he sees Stiles appear around the western corner of the house. Stiles gives him a dorky wave, nervous.

“Hey,” Stiles says. “What’re you working on?”

“Thought I’d make a table,” Derek says, running a hand up and down the smooth, unvarnished wood. “I found that at the salvage yard, but it needs a trestle and benches.” He points out what looks like an old farmhouse-style table top leaning against the back of the house, several long, thick planks held together by iron nails. It’s beautiful, a rich dark color with a sheen from years of fingers and elbows, bowls and knives and spills. It’s big enough to fit all the pack around it, Stiles notices. Plus the parents. Derek really isn’t making a house for one, whatever he might say.

“Great find. I like it.”

“Thanks.”

“So, I’ve been doing a bit more research about our little… problem,” Stiles launches in, no preamble. Derek’s eyebrows go way up. “I was talking with Malia the other day and she had a crazy idea that I thought just might work. So I looked into it and…”

Stiles pauses, anxious.

“Yes?” Derek prompts after a moment. He crosses his arms - it looks defensive. They’ve still been a little off with each other and Stiles isn’t sure if it’s since Russell left or even before that, from the argument in the aftermath of Bud. Whatever the cause, the pressure between them is building and Stiles knows it’ll burst at some point.

“She said if I didn’t want to keep it, that I should just give it back.” Stiles taps the backpack where the jar is (both jars now - God help him).

Derek doesn’t seem impressed with this revelation, unsurprisingly. “It can’t be that easy.”

“That’s what I said.” Stiles nervous giggles. He wasn’t aware he could make that sound. It’s ghastly. He clears his throat. “But uh, I summoned the witch again -”

“You did what?” Derek demands, face incredulous. “Why did you do that alone?”

“I wasn’t! Lydia was with me.” It’s the wrong thing to say. Derek’s face closes with a slam, Stiles can almost hear the sound of it happening, can sense Derek’s sudden and complete distance. Derek stares for a moment before stalking towards the house to slam an actual door on Stiles.

Stiles runs after him into the house.

“What’s your deal?” He sets the backpack on the granite kitchen counter a little more firmly than necessary.

“Careful with that,” Derek snaps.

“I’m always freaking careful with your heart, Derek. Haven’t you figured that out by now?”

“Then why did you summon the witch without me? I deserved to be involved in that!”

Stiles deflates, rubs a hand across his face so he doesn’t have to look at Derek. “You’re right. You do and I apologize. I just needed some distance… to work some things out.”

“That we couldn’t discuss together? That you needed Lydia for instead?” Derek’s words are heavy and sarcastic. His fists are clenched.

“Yes.” It slips out sounding so blunt, and that’s not how Stiles meant to say it. The expression on Derek’s face sucks the air from Stiles’ lungs and he can’t find the breath to explain himself.

“Fine,” Derek bites out, frosty. “So give it back, then.”

“W - what?”

“According to Malia, you can give my heart back to me. Did the witch confirm that? I assume at least she explained how to fix this inconvenience for you without finding my soulmate?”

“She did, sort of,” Stiles hedges, not liking this turn of conversation or Derek’s nasty tone. He’s feeling surprisingly vulnerable without his heart in his chest where it belongs.

“So?” Derek stalks over to Stiles, looming.

“I -”

“Give. It. Back.”

I don’t want to!” Stiles shouts. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you, dumbass.”

“I don’t understand,” Derek shouts back, his eyes a little wild. Stiles is breathing heavily and so is Derek, they're so close he can feel the rapid exhales against his heated skin. He half wants to turn and see what Derek’s heart is doing, it’s become second nature to use it as a Derek barometer but he dares not move. The air feels fragile.

“I don’t understand you,” Derek repeats, fraught.

Stiles doesn’t reply, he turns to the backpack on the countertop and opens it with careful fingers. He unpacks Derek’s heart first, because that’s what’s expected, but then, after a small pause, Stiles pulls the backpack down around the second jar. Derek’s eyes snap to it and Stiles feels naked, couldn’t imagine being more so even if he’d stripped off all his clothes and did a jig in Derek’s kitchen.

“Stiles, you didn’t.” Derek shakes his head, eyebrows a distressed line across his forehead. “You should have let me be there, I wouldn't have let her do this to you.”

“I uh, I asked her to do it.”

Derek lifts his head with a jerk and it’s hard for Stiles to look directly at him when there’s that much incredulity glaring at him, but he stares Derek down. He won’t flinch away. “Why would you do this?”

“You gave me your heart,” Stiles says simply. “I figured you should have mine.”

“You’re… you would offer...” Derek is clearly at a complete loss for words, head shaking slowly back and forth in an unconscious gesture of disbelief. It would be funny if it wasn’t heartbreaking.

“Take my heart, Hale,” Stiles demands with a tiny, shy smile. “It’s yours. I’m yours - if you want me.”

Derek doesn’t say anything.

Stiles tries not to fidget, tries not to provoke an answer from Derek. He’s obviously unsure what to do or say, his eyes are flitting around the room like he’s never seen it before. Stiles gives him space to think. He wants Derek to want him - God, he really needs that - but the longer the silence stretches the more he feels himself worrying, sinking. He waits.

One of Derek’s arms lifts slowly towards Stiles’ heart. Stiles watches in silence as Derek’s fingers brush against the glass dome, delicate and reverent, like he’s afraid of breaking the precious cargo it holds. Stiles sucks in a breath.

The light is barely noticeable at first. A spark, like a lightning bug. Then two and three, several pinpricks of light converging and getting bigger. From under Derek’s fingers the light multiplies and spills over the jar, out and away. The unearthly white glowing turns into a burn and gets too bright, too everywhere. It hurts and Stiles has to throw up his arms to protect his eyes before they’re seared from his sockets. But then…

Stiles can feel his heart soaring - up and up and back into his chest. He gasps and the familiar feel of it against his ribs, pumping his blood and keeping him whole.

“Derek,” Stiles rasps, moving his arms away tentatively and placing both palms tightly against his chest. The rhythm beneath his fingers is comforting. Derek is making a similar gesture, one hand held to his chest so tight his knuckles are white, mouth a little open in surprise. The sight makes Stiles beam and croak out a laugh. “You did it.”

Derek falls towards Stiles like gravity’s finally got the better of him, hands going up to cradle Stiles’ face and push their lips together in a hot kiss. He’s warm and a little salty with sweat, lips moist from a nervous tongue that had kept creeping out to lick them. It’s so unexpectedly real that Stiles closes his eyes, trembling and trying not to shake apart in Derek’s arms.

He grips Derek’s wifebeater in a clammy hand and pulls him closer, wanting the solid weight of him pressed tighter, nearer. The kiss is demanding, bruising almost, but also inexplicably loving. Stiles can feel the intent behind it, the sheer force of Derek’s regard. It’s a thank you, an i-love-you and a please all rolled into one. Stiles answers as best he can.

“I accept,” Derek says with an actual smile as they break away for air. His hands are still bracketing Stiles’ face, thumbs making small brushing caresses across his cheeks, seemingly touching Stiles for no greater motive than because it makes him happy. Stiles blushes and grins back, one hand still fisted in Derek’s undershirt.

He’s pulled in tight for another kiss.

Derek’s tongue licks at Stiles’ lips, dips into his mouth and Stiles is there meeting him halfway. He pushes his other hand up to Derek’s waist, fingers sneaking under the fabric to trace smooth, perfect skin. He runs a palm along the contours of Derek’s body, dipping into the small of his back and pushing him yet closer. Derek sighs.

Stiles leans his forehead on Derek’s to catch his breath again, lets his nose touch the end of Derek’s in a way he’d feel embarrassed about if it had been anyone else. But Derek only smiles bashfully, eyelids flickering and breath hot against Stiles’ wet lips.

Stiles makes sure he has Derek’s full attention before he grips the hem of Derek’s wifebeater and begins to lift it off. He’s not stopped; Derek is docile, lifts his arms for Stiles, body moving effortlessly and muscles flexing in a way that has Stiles’ mouth going dry. The undershirt drops to the floor. Derek’s such a beautiful person. Stiles has seen him shirtless before obviously. He’s joked about it, wondered aloud if Derek is allergic to shirts, which always gets him an aggrieved glare. This is wildly different though because Derek is shirtless for him, not in spite of him.

Stiles takes a moment to lean forward and kiss him right over his heart. Derek’s breath hitches.

“Amazing,” Stiles murmurs.

“What is?” Derek asks.

“You.”

They take their time undressing each other. Stiles had thought if he ever found himself in this situation with Derek - and who’s he kidding, it’s a scenario that’s been featuring frequently in his fantasies -, that it would be frantic, so desperate they’d be practically ripping their clothes off trying to get under each other’s skin. But right now it’s not about that. Stiles doesn’t feel crazed or out of control, he feels a slow-burning anticipation, feels some clarity of purpose for the first time in weeks.

Derek slips off the plaid overshirt Stiles is wearing and he savors the feel of Derek’s warm hands sliding up his sides to rid him of his graphic-T. It’s such a careful stripping that Stiles wonders if Derek was the kind of child that unwrapped presents fastidiously, so as not to rip or crease the pretty paper. The thought makes him smile and Derek, noticing, smiles back.

He shivers and his nipples pebble, catching Derek’s undivided attention. Derek rubs a thumb across Stiles’ left nipple and back again making him groan. Shoes and socks come off, buttons on their jeans are popped, zippers go down, pants sliding off hips, puddled on the floor at their ankles.

Stiles steps out of his jeans and into Derek’s space. His dick is half hard in his briefs and the closer he stands the better he can feel the flushed warmth of Derek. Stiles sways a little, bumping them together and hitching a breath at every slight contact, enjoying the slow, hypnotic frisson. Derek has his hands on Stiles’ hips and is gripping hard, lips kissing along his jaw.

“You got a bed upstairs yet, big guy?” Stiles pants against Derek’s ear.

“No,” Derek says, deliberately grinding his hips forward and making Stiles curse.

God, he’s definitely fully hard now. He can feel that Derek is too, can tell through the strain of the tight fabric that he’s uncut and hung. Stiles’ head dips back, revealing his throat as he groans. Derek buries his nose in the crook of his neck, breathing him in with a single-minded urgency that has Stiles’ eyelids fluttering. He feels a thrill of teeth against his skin.

“Anything in this empty house that’s soft and yielding? Because dude, I love your kitchen, it’s totally rad and has wicked stylish fixtures and fittings, but sexing on the granite is porn levels of comfortable - as in, none at all.”

“I had a sofa for the family room delivered the other week,” Derek says against Stiles’ neck. He moves his arms down to grab at Stiles’ ass, hoisting him until he has to wrap his legs around Derek’s hips, arms around his neck and fingers twining through thick, slightly sweat-damp hair. Stiles’ dick rubs torturously against Derek’s naked chest as he’s carried into the family room. As promised there is a sofa - a huge brown leather sectional shaped like an L. Derek sinks into it, sitting Stiles onto his lap and against his clothed erection.

Stiles grinds down as he recaptures Derek’s lips into a frantic kiss. He’s got a nearly naked Derek under him and it’s not a mistake or dream or joke. This shit is Stiles’ real life. Fuck yeah.

He must say that last bit out loud without realizing, because Derek vibrates under Stiles’ fingers, a deep, happy laugh. It’s his ‘Stiles is ridiculous' laugh. Stiles has heard it before but it really means something now, knowing suddenly that it’s less about amusement and more about deep affection.

“Fuck yeah,” Derek agrees with a shy grin.

“I think we should get really, really, completely naked. Right now,” Stiles says, gazing into Derek’s eyes. He slips a finger into the elastic of Derek’s boxer-briefs.

Derek keeps the eye contact and slowly moves his body under Stiles, arching his hips up so that he can slide down his underwear and let Stiles see him. His dick is thick and not as long as Stiles thought from the blunge he’d noticed, but wow, it’s hard and red and the head is glistening from where it’s pushing out of it’s sheath. And damn, but Stiles wants to put his hands on it, wants to put his mouth on it and swallow.

“Stiles,” Derek says with a hitch in his breath, eyelids blinking syrupy-slow, dazed.

Stiles nods his head and slips off Derek’s lap in order to remove his own underwear. He flushes as he does it, but not because he doesn’t think his dick is good enough or because he’s embarrassed about Derek seeing him. Actually, Stiles has a really nice cock, if he does say so himself. It springs from his briefs the moment they’re removed, so hard it’s almost pointing straight to the ceiling. He’s just. He’s so head over fucking heels for this guy and he’s blushing because that’s what you do when the person you love sees you completely for the first time. It’s exciting.

“I’m cut,” Stiles announces, sliding a careless hand up and down his circumcised shaft. “I’ve only been with one guy - not very memorable or fun, so stop giving me that face, Derek - and he was cut too. I’ve always wanted to be with guy who was all there. Get what I’m saying?”

“You just want me for my dick?”

“Absolutely,” Stiles says immediately. “And your heart. Your eyes. Your nose. Your hands and hips and toes and hair and shoulders and lips and voice and -” he stops but only because Derek stands from the couch to kiss him quiet.

“And not just the physical stuff,” Stiles continues the moment his mouth is released. Derek makes a play of rolling his eyes, but there’s a blush high on his cheeks and at the tips of his ears which surprises and delights Stiles in equal measure. “I want you for your loyalty, your honesty, your kindness - because you are kind, Derek, and I hate that anyone has made you think otherwise - your carpentry skills, your Zumba DVDs, your home that you built for a family, your garden design, your laugh, your sarcasm. For your heart.”

“You said my heart already,” Derek mumbles, voice trembling.

“I carried it around for months, I’m allowed to say it twice. Now sit down and let me blow you,” Stiles says with a laugh, pushing Derek in the center of his chest and back onto the sofa.

“Romantic,” Derek snarks, but the tone’s blunted by the hitch is voice as Stiles kneels between his knees. Stiles shrugs. he figures most of what he said was pretty damn romantic, so Derek’s got nothing to whine about.

He grabs a pillow to cushion his knees - they’re bony and he doesn’t feel like rug-burns - and pushes Derek’s knees further apart so he can see everything. It’s a vulnerable position but Derek doesn’t say anything, just swallows audibly and drops his head into the back of the couch. Stiles licks his lips, not sure where to start. He wants to touch everywhere.

Derek huffs at the hesitation and moves his hips so that his hard dick pushes forward and closer. Stiles automatically opens his mouth as Derek’s dick brushes hot against his cheek. With a gentle hand he guides Derek into his mouth. Derek groans. His arms are splayed across the back of the sofa and his hands are grabbing fistfulls of sofa cushion.

Stiles sucks him hard, sides of his mouth already messy with spit. He runs his tongue around Derek’s head, sneaking in around the sheath and tasting the strange tang of Derek’s arousal.

He moves his hands to hold Derek’s hips - not to keep him still but to feel him as he begins to move with purpose, sliding himself shallowly in and out of Stiles’ mouth. The stretch isn’t entirely comfortable, because Derek is built so wide. It’s a good kind of burn, though. He likes Derek in his mouth, likes the weight and salt of it.

Stiles moves a hand to hold tight to his own dick.

“I’m - Stiles I’m gonna…” Derek grinds out between clenched teeth. Stiles moves his mouth away and stokes Derek shaft, spit sliding between his fingers.

“Com'on Derek,” he mutters. Derek tenses and then his dick pulses, jizz spurting out and spattering across his lower abdomen. Stiles holds him through it, fascinated and awed. He did this. Stiles Stilinski, professional dork, actually made Derek come with his mouth. He feels this should earn him infinite life points.

Derek gets his breath back pretty quick and suddenly Stiles is being pulled back onto the couch and against Derek. He’s kissed almost viciously, given his mouth is still sore from all his hard work. He doesn’t protest one little bit.

They work out a rhythm. Stiles doesn’t care that he’s not getting a reciprocal blow job, or even a rough hand. He’s not really thinking about it, too busy with the overwhelming feeling of Derek against him from top to toe. A firm thigh between his legs for Stiles to ride just as slow and fast as he wants, the experience entirely up to him. Hot breath against his throat as he swings higher and his toes curl and he says Derek’s name over and over and over. Blunt teeth against his shoulder as he climaxes and shakes, voice echoing through the empty home.

*

After, when they’ve both let the glow of orgasm dim a little, they talk. Quiet words, softer kisses. Arms around each other despite the cold slick of drying sweat. Derek unsurprisingly wants to know exactly what happened with the witch.

“She rhymed some more,” Stiles said with a glower. Derek digs an elbow into his ribs, gentle enough to make Stiles curl away with a laugh. He’s super ticklish there and Derek seems delighted at this new-found knowledge. He’s going to be unbearable until he finds the rest of Stiles’ ticklish zones, no doubt.

“Seriously, Stiles,” after a breathless ten minute tussle.

“I don’t remember word for word,” Stiles hedges. “I just - I told her what I told you earlier.That I wanted to give you my heart, like you’d given me yours.”

“But I didn’t give you my heart.”

Stiles tries not to flinch. Derek notices, damn him, and kisses away the bluntness of the statement. Stiles huffs, body relaxing into his touch.

“You kind of did, though. When you ran away after the eros witch cursed you, you left your heart with me. Somewhere, subconsciously, you must have known I’d take care of it. You trusted me and the magic knew.” Stiles takes a breath. “When Malia suggested that I could just give you your heart back, I scoffed. I thought that would never work. But the more I considered it the more I realized that maybe she was right. The eros witch doesn’t distinguish between the real and the metaphorical the way we do, that’s not how they experience the world. When someone gives you their heart it’s not just hyperbole. You were giving me your heart and everything that implies. You, Derek Hale, who is the most distrusting person I have ever met, left me to look after arguably the most important part of you. I’m only sorry it took me so long to realize, but then the curse does that, affords an idiot like me time to digest. Sort of hamfisted, if you ask me, what with the forcefield and all, but effective.

“But uh, I couldn’t just give it back to you like it didn’t mean anything, like it wasn’t the bravest thing you’ve ever done. Because it was brave and it means everything, Derek.”

Stiles’ heart is thundering wildly and Derek places a hand over it on Stiles’ chest. Feeling him, not just hearing.

“I couldn’t let you make that kind of sacrifice alone. So I summoned the eros witch with Lydia’s help and I asked her to curse me too. Because, you see, my heart doesn’t belong to me anymore.”

Derek is silent a long time, letting Stiles get his composure back. He keeps his hand where it is and Stiles leans his head forward a little to kiss at Derek’s wrist. There’s a shuddering inhale near Stiles’ right ear.

“How could you know our hearts would be un-cursed once you gave me yours?” His question is so quiet Stiles almost doesn’t hear it. He sounds scared; awed. Stiles laces their hands together and squeezes.

“I didn’t know. Not for sure,” he confesses.

Derek immediately leavers himself up on an elbow and looks down at Stiles with an angry, incredulous expression.

“Fuck, Stiles… and you did it anyway?”

“Of course.”

Derek shakes his head. Stiles wants to kiss him so much he can hardly breathe.

“But how could you know?” Derek asks again, but like he’s saying it to himself.

“Because,” Stiles answer anyway with a slight smile. “It’s poetry.”

*

“Of course it was poetry,” Malia says over Skype some months later. She’d finally pestered the whole story of Derek and Stiles and their cursed hearts out him. Stiles shakes his head at her, leaning back in his dorm-room desk chair.

“That’s a good last line,” she insists, twining a finger around the cord of the ear-buds. “Perfect for the end of a happy story.”

“But it’s not the end,” Stiles says definitely, smiling broadly.

Malia cocks her head and Stiles can see Derek’s living room behind her, walls filled with pictures and art and that one wolf etching Stiles picked out because he couldn’t help himself. She’s sitting on the brown leather sectional and Stiles can hear the clatter of Scott and Isaac in the kitchen. Somewhere offscreen his dad is watching a ballgame and arguing loudly with Derek about infield defence. He calls Derek son and Derek calls him John, but somehow it sounds more like dad.

Stiles can hardly wait the two weeks he’s got left before he flies back to be with them all for the holidays.

“No,” Malia finally says, thoughtful. “You’re right. It’s perfect for a beginning.”

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart)