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We Should Become More Adventurous

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Stiles blearily stumbles up the steps to his apartment building, almost tripping over the huddled mass of I’m-totally-not-an-orphan-waif Alex, dark hoodie pulled up over her head, too long sleeves covering pale fingers.

It’s not even dark yet, sun still a bright ball of cheeriness burning at Stiles’ soul, but Stiles has been up since two am, since he had to talk Lydia down from a near-rage blackout over something Stiles doesn’t even remember now, but probably had to do with Erica, her arch nemesis in Accounting. After an hour of Lydia yelling and Stiles uh-huhing, being his totally agreeable and calming self, he hadn’t been able to flip off his brain switch and actually go back to sleep. So now he’s running on fumes and all the coffee Lydia had helpfully poured down his throat, and he’s not sure what to do with the big-eyed, broody preteen currently boring holes of anger and betrayal deep into his soul.

“What, what?” Stiles says. “What’d I do?”

“I’m grounded,” she says.

Stiles narrows his eyes, skeptical. Groundings normally take place inside; at least, that’s what his dad always tried to tell him. Stiles had a strategically placed window and a short attention span, groundings never really quite stuck for him. “Right.”

“Dad found out about Hank,” Alex tells her shoes grumpily.

“I’ve never met your dad,” Stiles says. In fact, Stiles is still not entirely sure Alex has a dad, or parents in general, given the way she hangs around outside their building looking like the littlest hobo. If he hadn’t seen her iPhone once he’d be entirely convinced of it. “And who’s Hank?”

Alex gives him a look, like that’s not the important part of this conversation, and then Stiles notices the tiny black and white kitten in her lap, the one she’d snuck past him two days ago, looking shifty.

“Oh,” Stiles says.

Alex says, “Yeah.”

“I’d like to point out again,” Stiles says, “that I’ve never met your dad.” He totally didn’t rat her out – wouldn’t have, even if he did know her dad, because it’s none of his business.

Alex scuffs her sneaker on the concrete. “Okay,” she says, and then she no longer looks mad, but now she looks a shade of miserable that Stiles seriously can’t take. “Dad doesn’t like cats.”

Stiles nods, like nodding will do any good. Alex looks like she wants to cry, and Stiles has no idea what to do with a crying girl. Lydia is seriously the only girl—woman Stiles spends any time around, and Lydia would probably end Stiles life in painful, messy ways if he ever happened to catch her in that weakened a state. Lydia is powerful and inhumanly competent, Stiles has both the easiest and hardest job ever as her PA.

Stiles says, “I can—” and Alex looks so suddenly hopeful that Stiles’ offer to take it to the SPCA for her gets swallowed by “—keep him for you? So you can still see him.”

Stiles isn’t sure he’s a cat person, either, Dad never let him have any pets, he never really had the attention span for them, but Alex lights up, jumping to her feet and squealing, so he can’t really regret his spur of the moment decision.

*

What Stiles would like to know is what kind of dad grounds a kid for having a kitten. A kitten, Stiles doesn’t get it, Hank is possibly the cutest thing to ever grace Stiles’ apartment ever; he attacks beams of light. Beams of light, like he can catch them with his tiny claws and bite them into submission. He rolls around on his back in the middle of the kitchen, bats at Stiles’ ankles while he’s making toast, sleeps on his chest, purrs right up close to the shell of his ear – this kitten is clearly the most adorable kitten in creation, a dad who doesn’t appreciate that is really no kind of dad at all.

He’s even considering getting Hank a companion or two, even though that leaves him dangerously close to cat lady territory – Stiles is pretty lonely; Jackson was company, for all that he was basically the King of All Douchebags. Stiles still blames himself for everything that went down, it’s not like he didn’t know about Jackson’s douchey-ness going in, and Jackson never pretended to be anything except what he was. But that was kind of the appeal.

Jackson maybe could have left him the couch, though. Right now, Stiles has a futon that doubles as both his bed and a sofa. He has a bedroom, but he mainly uses it for storage. Not that he has much stuff. Basically, he’d tossed most of his things to move in with Jackson, and then Jackson had moved out before Stiles had accumulated much more than a TV and a crock pot.

Seriously, Jackson is such a selfish jerkwad.

“This is all your fault, you know,” Stiles tells Lydia. “I’m going to die alone and all my cats will eat my body.”

Lydia flips a folder closed, taps her sharp red nails on top of it. “I need the Mason report,” she says. “And I told you not to move in with him.”

“You introduced us,” Stiles says. Lydia had shoved them together at a party, told Stiles to try and get the stick out of Jackson’s ass – impossible – and Stiles had been two weeks into a new job where he was pretty sure he had to do everything Lydia said.

“I thought maybe you’d fuck him and then he’d stop being a repressed weirdo, I didn’t think you’d fall in love.” She makes a face, and then shoves the folder at him. “If you’re going to sit there and completely fail to bring me the Mason report, then at least see if you can figure out what’s wrong with this.”

“I was not in love with Jackson,” Stiles says, affronted.

Lydia makes a poor-you sound, but her face is saying she doesn’t care. Stiles was definitely not in love with Jackson, though. Jackson was a novelty. And insanely pretty. And seemed to like sleeping with Stiles, that’s always a plus.

Stiles sighs heavily and gets to work.

*

Alex stops by Stiles’ apartment every day after he gets home from work to see Hank. She flops on his futon and drinks his sodas and eats all his snack foods and Stiles doesn’t think this is weird until he opens his door to tall, dark and handsome, who seems to have a pretty loose hold on his rage.

Fun.

“Uh.” Stiles backs up a step, and Mr. Furious decides it’s an open invitation. “Well, hello, come on in, stranger,” Stiles says.

The guy glares at him from the middle of his living room.

“What do you think you’re doing?” the guy says.

Stiles was thinking about making a tuna melt and splitting it with Hank, but he’s not going to share that bit of sadness. “Uh. Nothing?”

The dude eyes his open and messy futon with derision, one lip curled. He skims his gaze over Stiles’ breakfast bar, the empty can of Dr. Pepper and the pack of Chips Ahoy Alex had been eating earlier. When he looks back at Stiles, his face is blank and cold, like a serial killer. Stiles has all of ten seconds to hope for a swift and merciful death before he’s backed up against the wall next to his front door.

The guy wraps a bruising hand around his throat, tilting Stiles’ head up, and growls in his face, “Stay away from my kid.”

Stiles manages to say, “Wait, what?” through the pressure on his larynx, but the guy just glares murder at him, then abruptly releases his hold and stalks out his door, slamming it shut behind him.

Stiles is pretty sure he just met Alex’s dad. Shit.

*

Stiles has never been mistaken for a predator. Stiles is, like, the least threatening guy ever, he’s kind of average all the way around and, according to Lydia, still looks like he’s fourteen, or possibly a Labrador puppy.

He calls his dad. He says, “So, like, I may have been mistaken for a sex offender, how do I get out of that?”

Stiles’ dad sighs loudly and says, “What did you do?”

Stiles tells him everything, and as Stiles is explaining all about Alex and the kitten and Alex’s dad he realizes, yeah, he probably comes off a little creepy in this scenario, it’s not great.

“Introduce yourself, apologize, go from there,” Stiles’ dad says, long-suffering, which—Stiles is okay with, because Stiles was not an easy teenager, Stiles’ dad only sounding long-suffering is practically a blessing. “And call me back if he reports you to the police.”

“He’s not going to report—okay, he might.” Stiles has been hanging out with a twelve-year-old girl for days, and he’s not even sure of her last name. Lydia would have his balls if she found out.

Stiles dad says, “Try not to get into anymore trouble.”

Stiles would be insulted except a) Stiles is apparently a trouble magnet, this is why his life is currently in such shambles, and b) he can hear the obvious smile in his dad’s voice, so whatever.

Stiles says, “Love you, too.”

*

Stiles gets Hank a companion, because he’s weak and because the SPCA is full of kittens. It’s only through sheer willpower that Stiles comes home with just one – a fuzzy black one that Stiles immediately names Blackbird.

Blackbird likes to dive-bomb out of nowhere and land on Stiles’ shoulder. Or back, or head, or wherever she can sink her claws into, Stiles is gathering an impressive array of scratches all over his body. Basically, he thinks she’s awesome.

He really needs some actual people to hang out with.

Stiles used to have a best friend, but his best friend married a girl and moved twenty miles out of the city and apparently lost all knowledge of how to use public transportation, so basically Stiles sees Scott on holidays and anytime either one of them ends up in the hospital – less frequent now that they’re not around each other as much, imagine that.

It didn’t help that Jackson and Scott couldn’t be in the same room with each other without someone crying – usually Stiles, he’s not proud of that fact – but whatever. Jackson has been gone for months, and Scott has yet to bring him a six pack for some dude-bro bonding in which they carefully don’t say anything about the way Stiles let Jackson talk him into a sweater vest for Allison and Scott’s rehearsal dinner.

But, okay, cats are awesome, Stiles thinks resolutely, and they don’t care if some weekends he just doesn’t feel like getting out of bed.

*

It’s worryingly easy to get Alex’s apartment number out of Finstock. He pins it on the fact that Stiles has known the dude a year, but really Finstock never even gets Stiles’ name right.

By the time he climbs the stairs to the apartment two floors above his, he’s lost all his nerve and kind of just stands there staring at the dull brass 4B on the door.

He’s not exactly sure what to say, is the problem. He’s debating whether it’s even wise to mention Alex when the door flies open on its own and Alex’s dad is staring down at him with this half-surprised, half-murderous look on his face, nostrils flaring and eyebrows so low Stiles wonders idly if he can even see past them.

“What?” he says in an irritated growl.

“Um.” Stiles doesn’t back up fifteen steps, even though he dearly, dearly wants to. “I just came up to, uh, apologize?” He holds out his hand and tries not to feel disheartened or terrified when Alex’s dad just ignores it in favor of gripping the door jam, fingers white-knuckled. He bravely soldiers on and says, “I’m Stiles. Uh, Stilinski,” and bites his bottom lip really hard in an effort not to gape when the wooden frame kind of, uh, buckles a little under Alex’s dad’s grip. It’s really horrible, Stiles doesn’t know how that’s possible but he thinks this guy honestly would rather be gutting him than looking at his stupid face. Oh god.

“Is that all?” the guy says.

Stiles shakes his head. He makes himself step forward and look up and say, “Seriously, Alex is great, I’m not—she comes to see my kitten, dude, you know, the one you made her get rid of? So, like, I’m totally not evil or anything, okay, you can call my boss and everything, she’s like a scarily well-made assassin robot or something but she totally runs a children’s charity on the side, along with having, like, five Little Sisters, it’s adorable, you don’t even know,” his gaze has somehow travelled along the doorframe until he’s looking straight up, away from Alex’s dad, and as soon as he drops it again he’s surprised to see a tiny, tiny, miniscule, like, almost invisible quirk in the guy’s lips, eyes not nearly so hard, and he trails off on, “she just doesn’t like me to, uh, what?”

The guy’s mouth falls back into a scowl. “What?”

“No, you, uh, never mind.” Stiles rocks back on his heels. “Anyway. Feel free to run a background check on me or something. My dad’s a small town sheriff, my life’s an open book.” He spreads his hands, palms up. “I honestly think Alex would be, you know, sad if she couldn’t see Hank anymore—“

“Hank?”

Stiles says, “My cat?”

“Your cat.”

“The one Alex gave me,” he says, nodding. “That she visits. At my apartment.” Stiles thinks he should probably stop talking now.

Alex’s dad folds his arms over his chest. He still looks foreboding, but not as likely to rip out Stiles’ throat, awesome. “Right.”

“And, hey, you—I didn’t catch your name?” Stiles says, because he’s smooth.

The guy looks slightly taken aback, which is weird, but whatever. He drops his arms and says, “Derek Hale.”

Stiles nods. “Okay, Derek, great. You know, feel free to come along and visit with Alex, I could always use the company.”

I could always use the company. Stiles is a moron.

*

Lydia has group therapy every other Wednesday evening, because even Stiles can see she has some pretty heavy issues under all that competence. Stiles thinks it’s mainly for anger management, though, based on the fact that Scott was going for a while – before he met Allison at some sort of rage mixer, who the fuck knows, he called Stiles all dreamy and shit and now he lives in some town called Happyville, he shits you not, so whatever – but Lydia won’t actually tell him what it is, only that they have meetings and then once a month they go on an epic retreat to Beacon Hills.

Stiles has tried to get his dad to spy on them, but so far his dad is a tough sell.

Anyway, this is apparently how Lydia met both Jackson and Scott, and why Stiles got the job as Lydia’s PA, since Lydia is terrible and unfeeling and made three dozen applicants cry, and she couldn’t be bothered to deal with anymore sniveling interviewees. She’d told Stiles, “McCall says you’re family,” and Stiles only felt slightly weird at that being the biggest requirement for basically living in Lydia’s pocket. Whatever. Stiles has an undergraduate concentration in mythology, he’ll take what he can get.

“You should tell me what you do at these meetings,” Stiles says. He alternately pictures her doing deep breathing exercises and MMA fighting; it could go either way.

“I talk about how much you annoy me,” Lydia says, packing up her briefcase.

Stiles scoffs. “Lies.” Lydia doesn’t care enough about him to tell other people how much he annoys her.

Lydia flashes a brief, brilliant smile, and it catches Stiles off guard.

“What—”

“Nothing,” Lydia says. She slaps a case file onto his chest. “Read this, use your highlighter, be ready to summarize exactly how much of an ass Giroux is being at seven am tomorrow—”

“He’s being exactly the amount of ass he always is,” Stiles says.

Lydia glares at him.

“Right.” Stiles sighs.

“Like you had any other plans, Stilinski,” Lydia says, and she’s right, only there’s always a high probability of one or two Hales coming around, each distracting in their own way, but Stiles isn’t thinking of that. Derek has visited twice with Alex, probably just to make sure Stiles is harmless and generally incompetent with anything that isn’t Lydia’s professional life, and it’s always like Derek sucks all the air of the room – like maybe Stiles has a massive, inadvisable crush on him, ugh.

Derek mainly just stands around and watches him and stays as far away from the kittens as possible.

Stiles’ life is the worst.

*

On Friday Jackson follows him home.

“I thought we were over you being a crazy stalker,” Stiles says while Jackson prowls around his apartment. He’s sniffing his closet and his futon and generally kind of freaking Stiles out.

Jackson gives him his constipated, unimpressed look – seriously, Jackson totally stalked Stiles into dating him after that corporate party, there had been a lot of steely-eyed looming and clenching of his manly jaw while Stiles tried his best to ignore him in the corner of his favorite coffee shop and utterly failed.

“You’re seeing someone,” Jackson says and Stiles says, “My cats are seeing someone,” not that it’s any of Jackson’s business.

“Really,” Jackson says, looking at him like he doesn’t believe him. It’s almost the same as his you-are-the-gum-on-my-shoe look, but Stiles can tell the difference.

And it’s heartening, given that his cats are actually seeing someone and Stiles is a pathetic loser. Jackson still has some faith in his ability to attract another human being – that’s nice.

“Really,” Stiles says.

Jackson stares at him some more, then flops down on his futon and complains about Stiles not having a bigger TV.

The thing is, Jackson is an asshole, and Stiles was never in love with him, but he’s not going to kick him out, either. Instead, he asks if Jackson wants a beer.

*

When Stiles mentions to Lydia that Alex Hale hangs around his cats, she stares at him for a full minute and then she starts laughing. Like, laughing so hard, Stiles has never seen her like this, he’s tempted to get out his iPhone and take a video.

She gulps and wipes away stray tears and her cheeks are red and she looks so pretty Stiles almost wishes she wasn’t his boss and he wasn’t irrefutably gay.

And then he says that Jackson was at his place over the weekend and she just loses it all over again.

She finally says, “I really want to not care about this, but you have so many problems, Stiles,” and she presses her palms to burning cheeks, still grinning.

“I have no problems,” Stiles says. He doesn’t count having cats, because lots of people have cats, it’s in no way pathetic to have cats. Stiles has cats and his job and a pesky ex-boyfriend and the Hales and absolutely no problems at all.

*

Jackson starts coming by a lot and leaving his things – like a jacket or comb or a pair of boxers or something, and it’s weird, because they still aren’t dating or living together and every time Jackson goes in for a hug Stiles backpedals and tries to get the hell out of dodge, because Jackson is acting weird.

“For a guy who doesn’t want to kiss me anymore, you’re being awfully handsy,” Stiles says, holding himself stiff against the counter where Jackson has him boxed in.

Jackson cocks his head. “I could kiss you if you want.”

No,” Stiles says stridently. “No, absolutely not, what is wrong with you?”

Jackson clenches his teeth. “I’m fine.”

“You are the opposite of fine, Christ, you didn’t even want to hug me when we were fucking, I’m pretty sure you think all normal human affection is unnecessary to your survival.”

“Stiles—”

“No. No, there is something—are you dying?” Oh god, that would explain so much, Jackson is dying, Jackson wants to hug him while he dies, there is nothing right about that at all.

Jackson frowns. “I’m not dying.”

“Well, what the fuck then?” Stiles says. He pushes back against Jackson and finally, finally, Jackson lets him move away.

“I miss you,” Jackson says, and it sounds like the words are physically paining him, so Stiles isn’t buying it.

“No, you don’t,” Stiles says.

“I do,” Jackson says, moving closer again. He catches Stiles wrists.

Stiles says, “You don’t,” and that’s when the Hales burst in.

*

Alex says, “Uh oh,” and Derek says, “Jackson,” – growls, more like – and Stiles says, “Wait, you know each other?” right before Jackson lets go of him so fast Stiles stumbles and goes down on his ass.

Jackson’s face crumbles just a little before he clenches his jaw and says, “Derek.”

They have an epic stare down, and Stiles stays on the floor, he feels like it’s safest there. Alex skirts around her dad and joins him.

Time drags on. Jackson crosses his arms and smirks. Derek continues to throw rage at him with just his eyebrows.

Alex says, “Oh geez,” and face-palms.

“You know what’s going on,” Stiles accuses Alex.

Alex nods but says, “I’m not allowed to tell you.”

“Are they going to fight over my virtue?”

Alex gives him a look eerily reminiscent of her dad.

Stiles doesn’t believe it either, there are only so many minutes Derek can stand to be in his company, and Jackson knows Stiles has no virtue left to fight for. He says, “Oh come on, they totally look like they’re going to fight for my honor,” anyway, because whatever this is, he knows it’s about him.

And it’s getting ridiculous; he shifts so he can pull himself up by way of a barstool, ready to break up their staring contest, only Blackbird, apparently up-to-now hidden on top of the fridge, takes that moment to try and claw Jackson’s eyes out.

She never really warmed up to him.

*

Lydia’s monthly rage retreats are hardly ever over a weekend, so Stiles usually spends a lot of those two days she’s away reading comic books hidden behind volumes of Newsweek and waiting to the last minute to chug through the pile of work she’s left for him to do.

This particular Tuesday he’s thinking about Derek and Jackson and why everyone around him seems to be in anger management therapy. It’s a little weird, okay. He totally blames Scott.

Speaking of – he dials Scott’s number on his work phone and drums his fingers on the desk until Allison picks up.

“He’s at his retreat,” Allison says, and Stiles says, “Wait, he still goes to them?” because he thought for sure he’d gotten himself completely under control after he met Allison; that’s the impression he’d given Stiles.

“Every month,” Allison says cheerily, and what the fuck, Scott owes him so much beer; they are going to sit down and talk about his issues and all the ways he’s keeping things from Stiles.

Why is his personal and professional life so incestuous? Stiles is pretty sure this is the wrong way to have friends.

And what’s even weirder is that Alex is waiting by his door when he gets home.

“Why are you here?” With Derek at the rage retreat, he doesn’t think Alex should be alone at home. Twelve-year-olds can’t take care of themselves yet, right?

Alex has her arms crossed, but she doesn’t look sullen. “Dad said you have to stay with me.”

Stiles nods. “Okay.” Only not okay, because Stiles doesn’t remember being asked to babysit. On the one hand, Derek is an ass. On the other, Stiles isn’t going to make Alex stay in her apartment all alone, he’s not a monster. “Let me pack a bag.”

*

The Hale apartment is very—wolf themed. Stiles can see why Derek wouldn’t like kittens. He’s staring at a wall of pictures when Alex comes up beside him and says, “That’s Aunt Laura,” pointing at a photo of what looks like a wild animal.

“You named your dog Aunt Laura?” Not that Stiles is judging, he had a Japanese fighting fish named Officer Kevin once.

“No,” Alex says, like her eyes are trying to tell him something. “She’s a wolf.”

“Right,” Stiles says, because that makes perfect sense. Hales are weird.

They watch reality TV that Alex probably isn’t allowed to watch and eat pizza and when it’s time for bed, Alex shows him to Derek’s room.

“You should sleep here,” she says.

“I should take the couch,” he says, because sleeping in Derek’s bed is not a good idea; Derek would probably rip out his entrails if he ever found out.

“Dad says you should sleep here,” Alex says firmly.

“I—” Stiles opens and closes his mouth. “What?”

Alex shrugs. “You smell too much like Miss Lydia.”

“She’s my boss, and also what the hell?” Things have been strange for a while now in Stiles’ life, but they’ve been especially strange since Jackson and Derek essentially had a pissing contest in his living room. Maybe Stiles should move. To Canada. It’s not like Scott would notice he was gone.

But Alex just says, “You should sleep here,” again and drags him over to the bed, like he needs the emphasis on what here means. And then she holds up a t-shirt that’s been wallowing in Derek’s sheets and says, “Wear this, too.”

“Of course,” Stiles says. “Of course I’m going to wear your dad’s dirty laundry.” Not.

Sarcasm is not lost on Alex, but she just huffs and tosses the shirt over Stiles’ head and then flounces out of the room.

*

Lydia is back to work on Thursday and she says, “Why do you smell like Derek?” and all Stiles can think to say in response is, “You’re not going to fight Derek for me, too, are you?” because – and it pains him to admit this, it really does – the smelling thing has gotten disturbingly normal. Whatever. It’s like everyone’s a bunch of dogs and he’s the only—

Oh fuck.

*

Technically, Stiles double-majored in History and Cultural Anthropology in school, but mainly he just focused on myths.

He probably should have figured this all out before, but in his defense – myths. Werewolves are the kind of horror you only find in books and movies and gay porn, so forgive him for being a little slow on the uptake. Scenting and marking and full moons and anger management.

“You’re a werewolf,” Stiles says to Scott, standing on Scott’s front step, looking into Scott’s lying liar of a face.

“Uh, what?” Scott chuckles awkwardly. “Don’t be, uh—werewolves totally aren’t real, dude, you should know that.”

“You’re a werewolf and you totally have a secret werewolf club without me!” Stiles really thought they were bros, that they could tell each other everything – what’s a little lycanthropy between best friends?

Scott’s face goes all hurt puppy on him. “Stiles, I—”

“No,” Stiles says, poking him in the chest with a finger, “I’m not talking to you anymore,” and leaves.

*

Derek opens his door without knocking and Stiles says, “I’m not talking to you. I’m not talking to anyone who turns furry behind my back.”

Derek glowers at him, like he has any right to.

“I am a fully functional adult!” Stiles says. “I don’t need werewolves to coddle me, I’m quitting my job and moving to Mexico. I bet it’s too hot down there for werewolves, I’ll just have to deal with the occasional zombie or something, I can at least spot them by sight.”

“What are you talking about?” Derek says. He looks honestly confused, and—okay, it would be so embarrassing if Stiles was wrong about the werewolf thing. He doesn’t think he is, but he also doesn’t exactly have confirmation, it’s not like Alex will tell him anything. Not that depending on a twelve-year-old for information is a good idea. Uh.

“What?” Stiles says. “I mean—never mind?”

Derek moves in closer and says, “We aren’t coddling you, Stiles,” and Stiles says, “Aha!” like a lunatic, but whatever, he was right.

“Damn right you aren’t coddling me,” Stiles says. “I can find new friends.” Is Derek a friend? Jackson’s more of a cockroach, or a lima bean. Lydia pays him entirely too much money to get her coffee and read Spiderman. “I have cats. I can blog about my cats and find new friends, new friends who are not dogs.”

Derek gets this pinched look, like he’s not sure whether to argue with Stiles or just kill him and avoid that part all together, and then Alex sweeps in and says, “You probably shouldn’t call him a dog, he’s sensitive. Aunt Laura says he’s a delicate flower of emotions, it’s funny ‘cause he has so much eyebrow.”

“How is he your dad?” Stiles asks before he can think better of it.

Alex smiles and says, “It was an accident.”

*

“I like you, Stiles,” Lydia says at work Monday morning.

Stiles would have stayed at home, called out sick, but he still needs money and Lydia can always tell when he’s lying. He says, “That’s good,” because if Lydia didn’t like him he’d probably be missing limbs or living out of a cardboard box, he can admit that much.

“I like you, so I’m going to let Boyd and Isaac take you home.” Lydia has a scary, scary grin. Like—Stiles thinks she has more teeth than she used to.

Stiles definitely doesn’t squeak on, “What?” and, “Are you firing me?”

“I’m letting you take your vacation,” Lydia says. She waves her hand and Boyd and Isaac – from PR, how is this happening? – melt out of the shadows and somehow manage to manhandle Stiles out of the room without actually touching him.

“Is this a mob?” Stiles says over his shoulder, only slightly panicked, because—ha. Right? “Is this a werewolf mob, am I getting concrete boots?”

Lydia rolls her eyes and says, “Just go home, Stiles,” and Boyd and Isaac only escort him out of the building, so at least there’s that.

Alex is on the stoop when he gets home, playing Bejeweled on her cell.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” Stiles says.

Alex looks shifty. “Missed my bus.”

Stiles is an adult, so he marches Alex inside with a stern look and takes her up to the Hale apartment, and Derek looks at him like he’s grown three heads, but lets him in with Alex anyway.

“I was told to go home by your werewolf minion,” Stiles says.

Derek pauses from shrugging on his jacket – to take Alex to school, Stiles supposes – and says, “My—?”

“Lydia.”

Derek shakes his head. “She’s not my minion.”

“She’s totally Dad’s minion,” Alex says, absolutely delighted, like nobody had ever thought of that before, or at least not said it out loud to her dad.

Derek pinches his nose. He says, “Jesus wept.”

Stiles says, “Uh.”

Alex nudges Stiles side and says, “Aunt Laura’s the Alpha,” like that clarifies anything for Stiles. “But, like, everyone here listens to Dad like he’ll rip their face off if they don’t do what he says—”

“Alexandra,” Derek growls.

“—it’s awesome.” Alex beams and says to her dad: “You should hug Stiles, he smells like Miss Lydia again.”

Derek’s face goes slightly pink, it’s fascinating, and he says, “Why are you ruining my life?”

*

Stiles doesn’t get a hug out of Derek. He gets an empty-except-for-two-cats apartment and a can of cream of mushroom soup. He gets Let’s Make a Deal and The Price is Right, and then in the afternoon he gets Judge Joe Brown and an episode of Animal Cops: Houston.

He orders Chinese for dinner and watches the Wheel and wonders if he’s allowed back in the office tomorrow.

Hank curls up on his neck and Blackbird keeps poking her head into the Lo Mein.

He’s feeling sorry for himself, so for dessert he has almost an entire pack of Oreos and finds himself with so much excess energy he’s practically vibrating from it. And he thinks screw being sorry for himself and calls up Jackson.

Jackson says, “What do you want, Stiles?” like he wasn’t just marking up his entire apartment two weeks ago.

“You should come over,” Stiles says.

Jackson says, “No,” and, “Hell, no,” and, “It’s not worth it,” which is just depressing. Stiles isn’t worth—anything? Wow, that’s. Stiles shouldn’t have called. Now he’s in an even worse mood, and he thinks he’s truly entitled to it.

Jackson says, “Are you drunk?”

“I had three dozen Oreos,” Stiles admits.

“Oh my god.” Jackson sounds horrified. This is valid. Too much sugar is bad for Stiles’s—everything.

Stiles tries to detox with three big glasses of water and succeeds in finally falling asleep six hours later.

*

It’s ungodly early. It’s ungodly early and Derek is looming over him and Stiles’ eyeballs feel like they’re going to fall out of his head. He says, “Glargh,” and pulls his sheet up over his face. Stiles locks his door, he’s sure he does, he doesn’t understand how Derek keeps getting inside anyway.

The smell of sweet coffee causes Stiles to cautiously crawl out of his cocoon twenty minutes later. He snuffles into the cup Derek left on the counter for him and tries to get his brain to focus.

Derek is leaning back against his stove. He says, “There is something wrong with you,” but not like he actually thinks there is something physically wrong with Stiles - Stiles is the one who’s human here, after all. It’s more like he can’t figure out why Stiles is still alive or something. Which is total bunk, Stiles can handle himself just fine.

Stiles means to say that, but what comes out is, “You can hug me.”

Derek’s eyebrows go unflatteringly high.

“I mean.” Stiles tries to think of a way to take that back, but there’s only so many ways that sentence can be interpreted. He deflates onto the countertop and mumbles into the Formica: “You can. If you wanted.”

Derek is silent-still for so long Stiles can almost convince himself he didn’t hear that, freaky werewolf ears aside.

Then he says, “You just don’t want to end up alone with your cats.”

“Hey. My cats are awesome,” Stiles says defensively. He lifts his head and Derek’s quirking a tiny smile at him, and Stiles can’t decide if that’s adorable or terrifying.

*

Stiles calls Lydia on Wednesday and says, “Can I come back to work yet?”

“That depends,” Lydia says. Stiles can hear the click of nails on her keyboard as she talks. “Has Derek had a heat yet?”

“Heat?” Stiles says. “That’s a thing?” He doesn’t know whether to hope that’s a thing or not, he’s read Pon Farr fanfic, okay, and over half of them emphasize the chaffing.

Lydia laughs. She laughs and laughs and Stiles thinks he’s totally good for her health; Lydia doesn’t look like she ever laughs enough.

She says, “Please ask Derek that,” and hangs up.

*

Alex trails a piece of string with a mouse on the end for Hank and says, “When you marry my dad Hank’ll totally be mine again,” and Stiles chokes on his mouthful of Pepsi and thinks this was probably Alex’s evil plan all along.

Chapter Text

Stiles is totally not marrying Derek Hale. Stiles is not marrying Derek Hale ever, even if he begged, because Derek Hale is an ass.

“Seriously, I don’t understand why you think this is acceptable.” Stiles wants to say bad dog, no! but he’s pretty sure he wants to live to see Tuesday more. His cats would miss him.

Derek scowls and says, “What,” like he wasn’t just caught wearing all of Stiles’ shirts. Which, okay, is not what makes Derek an ass – it just makes him weird – and also not what Stiles is talking about. Right now. He may revisit it later, but clearly he has to pick his battles.

Except, no, because when put into context - how Derek is avoiding Stiles, which is why he is currently wearing all of Stiles’ shirts, then yes, okay, Stiles is talking about what is happening right this very minute, and how Stiles totally hates Derek’s asshat, stupid face.

*

“Your dad is an ass,” Stiles tells Alex. He’s making her dinner. He doesn’t usually even make himself dinner, so he really has no business doing it for Alex, but whatever. Stiles is awesome and loving and will take care of Derek’s daughter for him, even when he’s being a complete and utter dickhead.

Alex just nods and says, “Don’t worry, I called Aunt Laura,” and Stiles is, unsurprisingly, not heartened by this information at all.

*

Laura Hale is almost as tall as Derek and smiles with all her teeth and has a laugh like Alex’s - Stiles is pretty sure that’s just a cover for her being pure evil.

Derek says, “Every time I see you a little piece of my soul dies,” and Laura’s grin just grows brighter and she says, “Come give your big sis a hug.”

Derek glares at Stiles over her shoulder - which is uncalled for, since Stiles isn’t the one who’s brought down the wrath of the Alpha - and says, “Please don’t touch me,” even as Laura is wrapping her arms around Derek’s uncomfortably stiff, unbending body.

“Welcome, welcome,” says Stiles with a little awkward wave, because he is nothing if not well-mannered.

Laura says, “Oh, you’ll need a hug, too,” and it’s, uh. Ominous. Like Laura-hugs are synonymous with getting your stomach ripped out. Judging from Derek’s vaguely torturous expression, that just might be the case.

Stiles says, “Uh,” and starts to back away slowly, toward the door.

Laura is holding Derek awfully tight. Her voice is muffled in Derek’s shoulder, but Stiles is pretty sure she says, “You smell like Cheetos.”

Stiles isn’t sure whether to take that as an insult or not.

*

Stiles calls up Lydia and says, “Is this werewolf politics or something?” He’d debated whether to call Jackson or Lydia and Lydia seemed like the slightly lesser evil. Well, Scott would have been the lesser evil, but Stiles will talk to him again when he apologizes properly, with beer and Bruce Willis movies and manly crying.

Lydia just says, “Oh, honey,” a shade of manic delight in her voice, “this is family.”

*

Stiles calls up Allison and says, “So you’ve met Laura, right?” because Allison should totally know What Is Up. Allison married Scott, he’s pretty sure there are werewolf rules about that and shit.

Allison says, “Sure,” and he can hear her tinkering around the kitchen, rattling pans, the garbage disposal turns on as she adds, “My dad killed her uncle, it’s kind of a thing my family does,” and, “Did I mention Scott and I met at a rage mixer?” and Stiles has no idea what to do with any of that.

*

Stiles is being judged by Laura Hale, this much he can figure.

She bakes him brownies and feeds him steak and pats his stomach when he pushes back from the table, stuffed. They take Alex to the zoo and she hangs off his arm and grins alarmingly wide at Derek’s disgruntled eyebrows. She teases him about his cats and takes him furniture shopping and says things like, “You can’t let my brother swallow you up,” which is about zero percent reassuring.

She hugs Stiles a lot. Like, more than she hugs Alex, even, and she hugs Alex only slightly more than she hugs Derek. Werewolves are huggers. He has his crazy suspicions.

“No, really,” he says to Lydia, “what’s with all the hugging? Why does everyone want to hug me?” He’s pretty sure he knows what’s with all the hugging, honestly, he just wants to hear someone say it out loud. Maybe it’ll sound less creepifying.

Lydia says, “I don’t want to hug you,” which is true; most days she acts like she’s only so far from stabbing Stiles through the heart with her letter opener. He appreciates her restraint.

“Okay, but, still.” Stiles has been in a couple Hale sandwiches lately - sans Derek, because he’s been too busy expressing his man pain by locking himself in his room and listening to Van Halen’s Panama on repeat. There’s something going on there. Something. Something—

He’ll figure it out eventually.

*

Stiles grows some balls and actually says to Laura, “Why exactly are you here?” like she needs to tell Stiles why she’s visiting her family. Whatever, he gets the feeling that Derek and Laura don’t do well in enclosed spaces. Like entire buildings.

Laura arches an eyebrow at him and says, “Alex’s first change,” and Stiles feels sweeping relief until she adds, “And to give you the bite.”

Stiles’ throat dries up and all he manages is a squeaky, “Eep.”

She pats his cheek. “Once you smell right we’ll discuss it.”

*

There is no way Stiles is agreeing to the bite. He’s doing just fine as a human, he doesn’t need freaky werewolf powers, he doesn’t need any more control problems than he already has, he can’t imagine what he’d be like, but he’s pretty sure he’d go crazy and eat a bunch of frogs and bunnies by accident. He can’t have that.

He can’t marry Derek and be a werewolf.

“There is no way I’m marrying you,” Stiles says, flailing his arms a little. He’s finally cornered Derek for the express purpose of telling him to tell his sister this, because there is no way Stiles is going to say no to Laura’s face, Laura has scary eyes and scary teeth, he’d be in so much trouble.

“I don’t remember asking you to.” Derek looks bemused and confused, which is fair. The only thing Derek has been doing for the past couple weeks is semi-successfully avoiding being anywhere near Stiles. Stiles would be insulted except Derek likes to break into his apartment in the middle of the night and sleep with him.

Stiles says, “Well, um, Alex did,” and refuses to feel stupid about it.

Derek scowls. “Alex is twelve—”

“THIRTEEN,” Alex yells from her bedroom, because she has freaky werewolf hearing.

Derek pinches his nose and mutters, “Not for another two weeks,” adding a soft, pained, “Kill me now,” which serves to break down most of Stiles' nerves; he shoves his hands in his pockets and says, smiling, “She’s already planning the wedding, dude, she’s got Hank wearing a tiny cat tuxedo and everything.”

“HE’LL BE SO HANDSOME.”

Derek shouts, “Shut up!” and Stiles has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

Stiles says, “I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t tell your kid to shut up—” and Derek points a finger at him and tells him to shut up, too.

*

Later, when Derek has manhandled Stiles into a position he deems appropriate for snuggling disguised as sleeping, Derek says, “I don’t want you to want this because of Alex or my sister,” into the nape of his neck, and Stiles has to squirm around a lot and throw elbows in order to turn over and face him because Derek is a stupid asshole moron.

Stiles almost head butts him accidently on purpose and says, “Are you a stupid asshole moron? I mean, you have seen you, right?” never mind the fact that Stiles is totally not going to marry or love Derek and become his werewolf life-mate. That is not happening ever, he’s already decided.

Derek frowns at him and Stiles deflates and says, “Okay, come on, let’s hug it out,” and is wholly unprepared for his front getting squished all along Derek’s front. Derek has really strong arms, he knows this, but apparently he didn’t actually know this.

Derek says, “Stiles,” in this super deep rumble and Stiles says, “Uh, a little air here? Maybe?” face all mashed up against Derek’s collarbone.

Derek barely loosens his hold.

He’s overly warm and it’s terrible and cozy and eventually Stiles asphyxiates and passes out. Or, like, he might’ve just fallen asleep. Basically the same thing, whatever.

*

“I have complete control of this situation,” Stiles says to himself in the bathroom mirror. He grips the edge of the sink and leans forward, bites his bottom lip and tries not to see how—happy he looks. His eyes defy him, god damn it. There is a rosy hew to his cheeks, he’s sleeping more than he ever has before, he kind of wants to snuggle with Derek for forever.

He is so screwed.

*

Lydia eyes him over top her coffee mug. She has her elbows on her desk, nails idly tapping the porcelain, red lips at a slight left quirk, sly.

She says, “Have you found out about knotting yet?” and Stiles thinks, what? and sailor’s knots? and is Derek into bondage? because Derek has been weirdly gentlemanly and weird and a gentleman; their relationship has mainly been about cuddling and avoidance and no sex.

Stiles says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about?” and Lydia’s laugh is more like a cackle now, it’s starting to get annoying.

*

Everyone fucks off to Beacon Hills on the full moon, even Alex, and Stiles kind of feels like the entire building is deserted, even though he can still hear Ms. Sophie watching Jeopardy next door and there is some sort of dog barking party in the apartment directly below him.

He sits with Hank on his lap and Blackbird on his head and eats a family size Velveeta Shells and Cheese and curses the day he figured out everyone around him was a werewolf.

*

Alex says, “Oh my god, it was awesome,” and there are bits of leaves and twigs in her hair and one entire side of her face is covered in dirt and she’s smiling so wide she looks radiant. She looks like the sun’s just risen for the first time ever and she’s gazing up at Stiles and the only thing Stiles can do is gather her into a bear hug and never let go.

He has to let her go, of course, because they have to eat breakfast and Derek has to sulk at him and Laura has to beam smugly and mouth biting him because she’s a jerkface, but he doesn’t want to; she smells like wet earth and sunshine and happy things, and also maybe a little like blood.

There’s a strong possibility that Alex ate frogs and bunnies last night, he’s strangely okay with that.

Alex talks all through pancakes and Stiles surreptitiously watches Derek and Derek may act like everyone around him is trying to beat the life out of him slowly, but there’s no hiding the fact that Derek is proud. Derek is a proud papa, he’s trying to hide behind his eyebrows but it does no good – Stiles can totally see that special sparkle in his eyes.

It’s stupidly endearing, is what it is.

Alex pokes Stiles in the side and says, “Are you listening to me? Are you hearing this? Do you know how badass awesome I am?” and Stiles dutifully says, “Yes.”

*

Stiles leaves his door unlocked and waits in the middle of his bed and Derek freezes with his shirt nearly off, tangled up around his armpits, when Stiles says, “I love your kid.”

Derek slowly pulls his shirt back down over his stomach, straightening up. “Okay.”

“Your sister is what my nightmares are made of,” literally, she’s like every Neverending Story Gmork dream he had when he was twelve, “but Alex—I love your kid, okay?” Stiles gets up onto his knees on the mattress and shrugs. “But I can be the quirky honorary uncle or something, that has nothing to do with you. You are a giant pain in my ass.”

“I get it,” Derek says, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Are you sure? Because I’m not sure. That you get it.” Stiles is trying to have freaky werewolf sex here, and Derek is still clear on the other side of the room.

“You love my kid,” Derek says, but he takes a small step forward.

Stiles nods. “I do. She’s awesome, I’m not sure where she gets it from, since you suck the fun out of every party, mister, I have no idea why you make me so happy.”

“I—” Derek pauses. His face does some sort of weird spasm thing, it’s not flattering. “You have problems.”

“I do. I have so many problems. You should get over here and share them with me.” And by share, Stiles means sex him up. He totally needs to be sexed up, and then he’ll be fine.

Derek still looks hesitant.

Stiles low balls him with, “You know there are still places on my body that only Jackson’s touched?” and Derek launches himself at the bed with a snarly growl.

*

Stiles says to Laura, “Allison is not a wolf.” Stiles has figured this out – Allison does not go on rage retreats, she doesn’t howl at the full moon.

“She’s not,” Laura says, carefully. “Her family has rules.”

“Rules,” Stiles says.

She shrugs. “And codes and wolfsbane bullets and really big machetes.”

Stiles doesn’t have any of those things - he has a steak knife and possibly a stapler in the junk drawer - but he’s still not getting the bite. He braces himself and eyes Laura meaningfully. He says, “I don’t want to be a wolf, either.”

They are sharing a pie, like civilized people. There is a pumpkin pie in the middle of the counter, and Laura has already eaten a generous third. She slowly licks the tines of her fork and watches Stiles with sharp eyes. Finally, she huffs and says, “Fine. It’s not like he needs any more cubs.”

Stiles is horrified. “You did not—you did not just throw assbabies in my face,” he says, because now he is even more determined to never ever become a werewolf, he throws up a little in his mouth.

Laura just grins at him with all her evil on full display.

He totally can’t believe he’s marrying into this, ugh.

“I hate you,” he says, groans it into the hands he’s brought up to shamefully cover his face.

She laughs and rings a strong arm around his neck, tugs him down to kiss the top of his head, and Stiles totally just sighs and submits.

*

“I think Blackbird needs an evening dress, but she’ll probably just rip my face off if I try,” Alex says, frowning over at where both cats are curled together in the basket Stiles uses for his mail. His mail is now all over the floor. He adapts.

Blackbird has been weird about Alex since her first change. Hank is the same, but Hank is basically just a potato with furry ears and a tail.

“I’m not living with cats,” Derek says.

Stiles says, “You’re living with these cats,” because Stiles is a cat person now, he’s not getting rid of his cats, even if they hack up hairballs in his work shoes and make nests out of his clean towels.

Derek stares at him like he’s trying to decide whether all the kinky werewolf sex and love shit is worth getting hissed and clawed at every morning when he tries to brush his teeth.

Stiles has witnessed this on several occasions, it’s totally funny.

“Stop being a baby,” Stiles says. He pushes at Derek’s shoulder, but Derek is a brick wall when he wants to be.

He glares at Stiles and says, “They stare at me when I sleep.”

Cats are awesome, Stiles wants five more of them, he wants them all to freak Derek out and watch him while he sleeps. It’s a plan.

Stiles laughs and leans all up against Derek’s side and says, “I love you, you are so weird,” into his shoulder and Derek startles a little, like this surprises him – like Stiles hasn’t been slipping little wolf figurines into Derek’s pockets each day – and leans back.