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Cupboard Love

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It’s Scott who convinces Stiles to put the ad in the paper. Stiles is doing a combined five year bachelors and masters, so his class schedule doesn’t exactly fit in around most of the part time jobs he could get on campus and to be fair, he’s pretty crap at making coffee anyway. He’s gotten pretty good at cooking, though, since his mom passed away.

Plus, Stiles needs the money for all that coffee he’s so bad at making. He’s got a cheap french press under the sink with his garbage bags that he tried to use exactly twice before he had to give up and just start giving all his spare cash to the hipster place around the corner.

All of that is to say, though, that Stiles has been debating for a week about taking out a line of credit to fund his meagre student lifestyle when he gets the phone call.

“I need a week’s worth of meals I can heat up and I don’t like spicy food,” says the man on the other end instead of hello.

“Uh, hi to you, too,” Stiles says, fumbling for a seat on a nearby bench and maybe a loose notebook and pen in his backpack. “Are you calling about the ad?” He flips frantically to a free page, trying to sound casual and at least semi-professional instead of what he is - some kid trying to cross Berkeley campus in the ten minutes between classes.

“Yes,” His mystery client grits out, sounding frustrated. “I need a week’s worth of food--”

“And you don’t like spicy stuff, yeah I got that part. Are we talking breakfasts, lunches, dinners? How many people? Any dietary restrictions? Allergies? I’d need fifty percent up front to cover the groceries at least and the soonest I can deliver is Sunday evening, does that work for you?” Belatedly, Stiles remembers that not everyone is used to dealing with him and his uh, somewhat rapidfire and sporadic conversations.

“Lunches, dinners. No breakfasts.” There’s a pause almost like mystery client is struggling with something. Probably the massive list of questions Stiles fired at him. “There’s only me. No allergies, but I like a lot of meat. Do you take credit cards?”

Stiles does in fact take credit cards, since they’re just giving away free Squares, “Sure, but I’ll actually need your name and some information to get started.” He can be late for his next class if it means having some actual cash in the near future. It’s a big 200 odd student lecture anyway - if he’s lucky, no one will even notice him sneaking in.

“Fine, that’s-- fine.” Stiles manages to get a name and working credit card out of Derek Hale, weirdly grumpy mystery client, and an address. Something about his name sounds vaguely familiar but maybe Hale is just one of those moderately common last names, unlike Stilinski. Even at Berkeley he’s the only Stilinski in any of his classes, as far as he knows.

“Great, do you want me to call you back with a menu in--”

“Just bring the food on Sunday,” Derek cuts him off, and then hangs up without saying goodbye, either.

Stiles stares at his phone for a second. “Rude,” he says to himself before the display flips back to the lock screen and he sees the time. “Crap!”

***

Friday night Stiles hits the grocery store with two shopping lists and a folding bag lady cart he picked up from the end of someone’s driveway. It’s a bit rusty and he had to get some cobwebs off it but with a bit of spare cardboard in the bottom to keep everything inside it should do just fine. Luckily his building actually has an elevator, even if it is old and slow.

The list he made for Mr. Hale is pretty long, but Stiles figures he’s paying for it and Stiles might as well do the best job he can and hope for a repeat customer. Mr. Hale hadn’t specified if he ate lunch at home or at work or what, so Stiles figures the safest plan is to make the same kind of things he used to make for his dad before he moved for school: lunches he can easily eat one handed while working, and a hearty, sit down dinner that can be heated up in a bowl to minimize the dirty dishes.

He’d used google maps to look up the address earlier and Hale lived somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. Who knows what kind of house or man cave he lived in. It won’t be far in his jeep, and Stiles still has about half a tank of gas, thankfully.

His own groceries for the week are pretty sad, but that’s student life. While he doesn’t enjoy it, Stiles can eat the same deli meat sandwiches all week and maybe splurge on pizza at the end if he’s lucky and Mr. Hale wants to order more food. Maybe even something sugary and terrible for breakfast instead of the store brand box-mix muffins with peanut butter that he’s been having for the past two months.

It’s terrifying, paying the bill and hauling his groceries home, but the fifty percent he got ahead of time more than covers the groceries. He just has to remember that he is actually getting paid for this.

***

Stiles is up to his wrists in smoked turkey thigh on Saturday when his computer pings with the sound of an incoming skype call. He elbows on the taps, washes his hands and calls Lydia back as soon as they’re dry. “Hey! I’m cooking. Are you okay with skyping while I do this? Might get a bit noisy.”

Lydia tilts her head and smiles with a raised eyebrow. “Got a hot date you need to impress?”

“Got a job,” Stiles corrects. “Sort of. Someone actually answered my ad! I think it’s like a trial run, see if he likes my food.” It’s still amazing to him that he and Lydia ever actually became friends, especially since Stiles had been chasing after her for most of high school, but in senior year Lydia had told him straightforwardly that they were never going to happen but she could use a friend who actually had a brain and did he want to study with her so she’d have some actual competition for valedictorian?

“I’m sure you’ll make someone an excellent housewife one day while I’m out changing the face of mathematics, Stiles,” she says, rolling her eyes. “What are you making, anyway?”

Stiles holds up some of the meat he’s slicing. “Smoked turkey, cucumber, and brie sandwiches on sourdough rolls for lunch. Then I’ll get started on dinner for the week. I’m making mom’s beef borscht.”

“Ugh, you jerk, you’re going to make that right in front of me, knowing I’m on the other side of the country?” Lydia sighed. “When we’re both back home for Thanksgiving I’m coming over to eat all your food.”

“I’ll make your favorites,” Stiles promised. “Tell me about destroying math as I know it - have you taken over teaching the classes you’re in? Are you already ruling the department with an iron fist? Has the Dean bowed to your superior intellect?”

“Hardly. I’m ingratiating myself so I can become indispensable to them and then I’ll build a network. It’s like you didn’t even go to the same high school as me, Stiles.”

While Lydia waxes poetic about wrapping MIT’s math department around her pinky finger, Stiles layers on the soft brie and cucumber slices, then he carefully arranges the smoked turkey (thigh meat from the more expensive butcher counter he can’t afford himself) and spreads the top halves with crème fraiche before wrapping the sandwiches tightly to put in the fridge overnight. If he leaves them like that the gentle flavours will all combine and bleed into each other for a salty-sweet, well-rounded taste.

When he pulls the beef out to start cubing it, Lydia changes topics. “Pulling out all the stops? You used to use chuck that was already cut up.”

“He paid half up front, okay? And I could really use the money!” He could, but even then this is better beef than he might normally use if he were splurging on himself.

“What do you know about this guy anyway?”

“Uh, his name, his credit card information, his phone number... where he lives and that he doesn’t like spicy food.” Stiles pushes the beef to one side and starts chopping up an onion and a few cloves of garlic.

“Uh huh. What’s the name?” Lydia asks, clearly pulling up google.

“Derek Hale. Sounds like a real sourpuss on the phone. He didn’t say hello or goodbye. Super rude.”

Lydia makes a thoughtful sound and then obviously switches back to the skype window as Stiles starts sweating the onion and garlic in oil. “Well, nothing major about him online. I’ll call you back later - lots of reading to finish. Bye!”

“That was weird.” Stiles browns the beef on all sides with the onions and garlic next, inhaling the sharp sizzle from the pan before tipping in the stock and water and leaving it to simmer covered for an hour. He still has to make his own food for the week or he’ll starve, buried under a pile of computer science textbooks.

***

According to google maps, it’s a twenty minute drive outside of town near the state park to the weird side road where Derek Hale lives. The local bus routes don’t go anywhere near it, and there aren’t even any convenience stores nearby. Just forest, really, which hey - maybe Derek Hale is a kind of mountain man who never shaves and spends all his time in the wilderness after a bad divorce or something. It’s possible.

Or it was possible right up until Stiles realizes that the high, stone fence along the road wasn’t protecting the state park, but demarcating the line of Derek Hale’s property. He figures it out once he hits the large gate with an intercom system that Stiles has to half hang out of the driver’s side window of his Jeep to reach.

“Uh, hi, hello! I’m Stiles; I’ve brought the--” He’s cut off by a long beep before the gates swing inward automatically. “O-kay, the good news, Stiles, is that even if he’s a serial killer, at least you gave Lydia his name before you came out here.” The driveway is longer than the street Stiles lives on, full of twists and turns up a low incline until finally Stiles rounds yet another bend and sees a Mansion.

He’s talking capital-M-Mansion, complete with an obnoxious fountain in the center of a roundabout drive shaded by palms, over-grown shrubs, and the encroaching forest.

Stiles turns off the engine and peers up through the windshield. It’s two stories, but he’s guessing they are really big stories because seriously, it’s huge. Widely curving stone steps lead up to heavy double doors with actual brass knockers on them, like this is the house from Clue or something. Who has actual pillars along the front of a house? Derek Hale does, apparently, despite ordering food for one person for a week.

Maybe his wife, kids, and extensive staff are all on vacation for seven days. Maybe he killed them and buried their bodies in the woods.

Maybe Stiles should get the food out of the back seat and deliver it already so he can get back to the nice, safe city, and his shitty but serial-killer-free student apartment.

He’s carefully balancing the sandwiches and the two biggest tupperware containers he could find that both had functioning lids when the front door opens and he almost drops everything right there in front of the stupid fountain.

If that’s Derek Hale, he’s definitely not a mountain man. He looks like he should be on the cover of a fireman charity calendar or something, because dude is hot like burning. He’s tan, and tall, maybe a few years older than Stiles, and his forearms, which are clearly visible because despite it being pretty cold out he has the sleeves of his very soft looking grey sweater rolled up, are thickly muscled. Stiles stumbles forward a bit like a zombie, taking in more detail, like his grey-green eyes and the kind of stubbled jaw that Stiles would really like to put his mouth on, thank you, or his short, gently curling black hair that Stiles would like to get his hands on. Actually, Stiles would like to put his hands on all of that, and yes, he’s mentally gesturing to all of him. He’s stunning, gorgeous, but he also looks a little like someone Stiles could maybe curl up on a couch with and just fall asleep there. Must be the sweater.

“Kitchen is this way,” Derek says through a scowl and turns and heads back into the house, as if he knows Stiles will follow. He’s barefoot, and Stiles would take his shoes off, but he can either keep up with Derek or spill borscht all over the - seriously? - marble foyer and Stiles is guessing Derek wouldn’t appreciate that very much.

Derek leads him past the curving staircase and through two large, echoingly empty rooms to a massive, gleaming kitchen that has very clearly never been used. Most of the far wall is made up of windows looking out onto a covered swimming pool and a large clearing, fenced off carefully from the forest. Clearing is maybe an inadequate word for the sprawling mass of land.

There’s a large island centered in the right half of the kitchen, near the sink and appliances, and cupboards covering most of the available wall space, top and bottom. Stiles would bet good money that they’re either mostly empty or full of things Derek has never used.

Speaking of, Derek is glaring at him from beside the fridge.

“Sorry! Sorry, I just - you’ve uh, got a really nice kitchen here. Lots of space and storage,” Stiles rambles, sliding everything onto the island. “Must be great at Thanksgiving or..or whatever. Nevermind. So! You want these in the fridge, or do you want to see what I’ve got first?”

Derek’s eyes dip down to the (okay, fine, admittedly a little old but still totally functional thanks) tupperware and bundle of wrapped sandwiches. “What’s in there?” He asks grudgingly.

“Smoked turkey, brie, and cucumber sandwiches on sourdough with crème fraiche,” Stiles gestures. “I didn’t know if you’d be eating them while working or outside or.. whatever.” Whatever was definitely now code for being super hot while maybe staring broodingly into the forest or something and no longer murdering everyone who came onto his property. Though in theory he supposed Derek could manage both. Possibly while eating one of the delicious sandwiches Stiles made him.

“And uh, sorry I didn’t have a container big enough, but I don’t know how much you typically eat, so I just made, you know, a lot - it’s borscht, beef and beet borscht. It’s my mom’s recipe. I think you’ll like it. I mean I like it. Obviously I like it or I wouldn’t have made -- anyway, there’s some sour cream here, too, and the extra dill and parsley for you to put on top. If you heat up a cereal bowl full for a few minutes in the microwave just put some of that on top after. Or don’t. Whatever floats your boat.” Stiles really, really needs to stop talking.

He was starting to suspect Derek only had two facial expressions: vaguely pissed and kind of impatient. Derek definitely looked impatient as he held open the fridge door for him. There was definitely plenty of room inside. It looked like Derek subsisted entirely on protein shakes and apples.

“So, uh, this is a nice place you have here,” Stiles says, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot.

“I can pay you now.” Derek pulls a beaten up wallet out of his back jeans pocket and thumbs through for his credit card while, flustered, Stiles fumbles for his phone and Square attachment since apparently Derek Hale doesn’t believe in carrying cash.

“Right, thanks, that’s - it’ll email you a receipt in a minute. Do you - that is - uh, just... call me or email me or whatever if you want more next week. I’ll just.. see myself out.” Never in his life has Stiles made such awkward conversation, except maybe that first week of studying with Lydia before he realized it really was never going to happen.

Once he’s outside he presses his forehead to the driver’s side window, eyes closed for just a minute, breathing. When he opens them, Derek is standing on his ridiculous front steps, still barefoot even though it’s November, giving him the old hairy eyeball.

Stiles gulps and scrambles into the driver’s seat. “Bye! Thanks for your business!” The drive home feels fast and easy, and Stiles even fills up the tank now that he’s gotten paid.

It’s two hours later when he’s taking a well deserved break from his readings to play some Assassin’s Creed that he realizes he just left some of his mom’s old tupperware in Derek’s twilight zone fridge and he might never see it again. And Stiles would pass up all the money in the world to keep the few things of his mother’s that he still has left.

***

Stiles is trudging through code trying to find where he broke something when Lydia calls again. He could use a break anyway, so he answers with a vaguely dejected “Hey.”

“Spill, Stiles. Did you meet the millionaire recluse?” is the first thing Lydia asks.

“You knew!”

“Of course I knew,” she replies with a hair toss. “I googled him. I can’t believe you didn’t do your own research, Stiles, really. That’s sloppy. Now spill.”

“Not a chance - I’m googling the shit out of him first.”

Lydia rolls her eyes. “You didn’t do that before you went over there?” She pauses. “Seriously, what’s wrong with you? Are you okay?”

“I left my mom’s tupperware in his fridge and I haven’t heard back from him yet. I just - what if he doesn’t like the food and I never get them back again? Lydia, I, I know it’s just plastic tubs but...”

“But they were your mom’s.” Lydia sighs. “Stiles, listen. He’d have to be crazy - okay, crazier than he probably actually is - to not like your food. And even if he doesn’t want more, you can always just call up and tell him you need it back. Trust me.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” He doesn’t fully believe her, but Stiles tells her everything anyway, because of course he does. He tells her about the private road, the insane driveway, about Derek being a secret volcano god of fire curry hotness living in a huge, empty mansion in the middle of nowhere, eating only protein shakes. And while he tells her about the amazing kitchen Derek has clearly never used and the stupid fountain out front, he digs up a news article from the Beacon Hills Gazette.

He trails off and can’t help but half-ask Lydia, “Beacon Hills?”

“Yeah, I knew that name was familiar. Remember? His family lives off the main road back home. I think I met his sister once. They were a few years ahead of us at school.”

The Gazette article is short on words and on details. All anyone seems to know is that Derek Hale enrolled at Beacon Hills Community College for two years before he made millions seemingly overnight on the stock market at 20 and moved two hours south, just outside Berkeley. The rest of the Hale family, according to the article, still lived in Beacon Hills.

“That’s weird, right? That’s not just me? This is a weird story. Did he drop out of school? Who gets millions of dollars and becomes a hermit at 20?” Stiles knows exactly what he’d do with millions of dollars and it starts with making sure his dad’s mortgage is fully paid off and that he has enough for a very comfortable retirement and moves on to Stiles waking up hungover in Hawaii.

“Who knows,” Lydia says. “People are usually incredibly dumb; it could be anything.” Stiles doesn’t actually think most people are stupid like Lydia does, but to be fair he has Scott as a baseline. “Anyway, you’re going home for Thanksgiving, right? I want pie. And green beans with almond slices. And scalloped potatoes.”

Stiles laughs, “Yeah, yeah, okay. I’ll make a list and get right on that. If Dad doesn’t beat you to everything you can have some of the leftovers.”

Sometimes Stiles wonders if he shouldn’t have just gone to culinary school instead, but he’d always been jealous of Danny’s ability to hack pretty much anything, and once he’d managed to focus for long enough to try teaching himself a few tricks he found he was actually pretty good at it.

Cooking is relaxing, but there’s a real satisfaction to finally working out a bug in some code that Stiles hasn’t been able to re-create with anything else. He likes finding new ways of making things work. He likes seeing his code compile into something tangible. In three and a half years, if everything goes according to plan, he’ll have a Masters in computer science, but if anyone asked him he’d tell them it’s half art, as well.

He and Lydia talk for an hour more and by the time he hangs up, Stiles feels ready to tackle his code again, if still anxious about his tupperware.

***

On Thursday Stiles half-heartedly checks his email on the walk home from classes when an actual email from Derek arrives.

To: stilinski.is.our.king@gmail.com
From: leavederekalone@gmail.com
Bring more food Sunday. It’s good.

Stiles’ fingers actually shake a little when he replies, just so happy to have the promise of a steady stream of income that he almost misspells his own name.

To: leavederekalone@gmail.com
From: stilinski.is.our.king@gmail.com
Hi, Derek!
I’m glad you liked the borscht! Do you want sandwiches again for lunch or would you prefer something else? I know a casserole or pasta really feels good since it’s getting cold outside!

The only problem is that I’d need my tupperware back first, so I have something to put it all in. Is there a good time when I can drop by and grab it? I’ll be super quick, promise. :) Thanks!

Stiles

It takes Derek a few hours to reply, which Stiles only knows because he was checking his phone roughly every three minutes for the rest of the night, except for the brief window in which he was eating pizza. If Scott were here he’d make fun of him and eat the other half, but Scott’s working full time for Dr. Deaton as a vet assistant and receptionist, so Stiles eats the entire thing by himself and only half regrets it when he rolls into bed at nine.

“Oh my god, I’m an old,” Stiles moans, clutching his stomach with one hand and reaching for his phone again with the other. Finally there’s a reply from Derek:

To: stilinski.is.our.king@gmail.com
From: leavederekalone@gmail.com
Any time after 10am.

Stiles taps out a quick reply, sets his alarm, and gives in to the food coma.

***

The extra money from Derek is a definite help, so Stiles has a hot coffee in the jeep when he heads northeast to Derek’s ridiculous property and hangs half out the window again to use the intercom at the gate before making the trip up the insane driveway.

When he pulls up next to the fountain, Derek is just shouldering his way out the front door, loaded down with a stack of tupperware that’s definitely bigger than what Stiles left in the fridge.

“Here,” Derek says, holding it out almost defensively.

“Some of that isn’t mine,” Stiles replies, leaning the front passenger seat forward so he’ll have access to the back. “That definitely looks new and unused.”

Derek is obviously unimpressed. “I know, but I’m not using it so--” he hands the stack off and steps back, arms crossed. “Take it.”

“I-- okay. Though you know, if this is your way of asking for breakfasts, too, you really just have to ask and I’ll add them to the order.” Stiles grins at him and loads the tupperware into the back of the jeep. “Not sure where I’ll put all of this, but I’m betting most of it will be back here during the week anyway. So!” He flips back the front seat and closes the door. “Any special requests?”

Stiles almost laughs at the conflicted expression on Derek’s face, but it’s only there for half a second before he manages to just look kind of frustrated again. “Anything is fine. Whatever you want,” he says, and looks a little too long at Stiles.

They have a brief staring contest, or that’s what it feels like, anyway. Stiles loses because he gets distracted (very reasonably) by Derek’s eyebrows and then the way his hair curls back from his temples. He probably could have kept going, but Derek reaches into his back pocket and pulls out his wallet to pay for the week.

“Okay, I’ll uh, see what I can come up with and be back here on Sunday again, is that okay?” Derek nods seriously and Stiles really, really has to get out of there before he says or does something stupid. It’s not his fault Derek Hale is really, really ridiculously good looking. Stiles has a long history of acting incredibly moronic in front of gorgeous people. He can’t help it.

***

If this keeps up, Stiles is going to wind up making friends with the fancy butcher. His haul from the grocery store that week includes a small mountain of smoked lardons for the beef bourguignon he’s going to make. It’s ridiculous that what is essentially smoked bacon is this freaking expensive, but it’s Derek’s money, so. Of course, he had to get a friend to pick up two bottles of red for him since he wasn’t 21 yet, but Stiles wasn’t even going to be eating the dish and the alcohol would be cooked off anyway.

Stiles quickly sears the outsides of the beef and sets it aside while he gently cooks carrots and celery, a tender leek, a diced onion, and some shallots and bay leaves in the same pan so they’ll absorb some of the juices left behind. The light steam arising from the pan smells heavenly, and he isn’t even half done.

Stiles dumps in the lardons and the two bottles of wine from a careful arm's length to avoid the immediate tannin hiss, waits for the alcohol to simmer off and lowers the heat to cook the bourguignon, covered, until the smell fills up the kitchen and all the little spaces. It can stew for most of an hour while he works on the mashed potatoes.

Stiles’ mom had taught him to cook, from when he was young enough that mostly “cooking” had meant “picking bits of eggshell out of the bowl” until he was twelve and just getting good. When she got sick, when they had known that she wouldn’t be getting better, he spent most of his time after school sitting beside her hospital bed with a notebook, painstakingly taking down recipes her family had never put on paper before.

“I wish I could have shown you all of these,” she’d said more than once. “I wish I had the time to help you cook something for someone special. Promise me you won’t stop when I’m gone.” Her skin had been translucent and thin, her remaining hair tucked and wrapped under a brightly coloured silk scarf he and his dad had picked out from a shop in town.

“I promise, of course I promise.” Stiles had stopped saying things like “Don’t say that, you’ll get better, I know you will” or “Who says you won’t be there?” eventually. They’d only made her look sadder and older. When he promised he’d work hard until he didn’t have to look at a recipe at all she’d smile instead and tell him about the time dad had tried to impress her with a home cooked meal the night he proposed. They’d wound up ordering in, instead.

He still had the notebook he’d originally written everything down in, but it was tucked away in his room back home, stained and sloppy where he’d spilled on it, or cried on it, blurring some of his careful and awkward seventh grade penmanship.

After she had passed he’d swung between determined and panicked and angry while trying to cook all of her family recipes. The first time he’d made her mashed potatoes he’d almost given up halfway through, impatient and distracted because whole potatoes took so long to boil and seriously, who peeled potatoes after they boiled, anyway? It had taken him a few tries to even manage to handle a hot, soft potato with a clean rag, roughly removing the skin. He’d thought it was ridiculous to press them through a sieve instead of just mashing them by hand until he saw how smooth and fine they came out.

Now Stiles is just glad he has this at all from his mom. There aren’t a lot of things a boy can inherit from his mother and keep around that aren’t awkward or creepy. He misses her every day, but at least when he cooks he has a piece of her with him: the smell of her cooking when he came home from school, the memories of her careful instructions in that hospital room, the way she’d taught him to handle a knife when he still had to stand on a step-stool to reach the kitchen counters as a kid.

It took him a few years to get over the panic attacks, to settle down into just sad and not actively afraid, to eventually learn to keep living and accept that it was okay to be happy again. When he scrapes the smooth mash into another pot and gets it to steam up a bit first before he adds in the milk and butter he feels happy, remembers her voice walking him through it. One day Stiles will cook her favorite dishes for someone he wants to spend the rest of his life with. For now, he’ll cook for his dad and his friends and really anyone who appreciates it.

He’d changed some of the recipes slightly when he realized his dad really had to eat better. When Stiles wants him to get some extra vegetables he sneaks them into the food where they won’t be noticed. Instead of thickening the sauce with flour, Stiles carefully adds purèed carrots which taste sweet, balancing out the flavour of the wine and making the whole dish feel heartier and more filling. Then he stirs in button mushrooms and lets them absorb the flavours of the rest of the dish for a few minutes.

If Stiles had to, he’d guess Derek is a meat and potatoes guy rather than a broccoli and carrots guy. This way he can get both.

He lets everything cool a bit before packing it up into the fancy new tupperware Derek has loaned him. They’re bigger, and the lids snap tightly closed. They’re not his mom’s, but maybe he’ll save those for taking home some of the stuff he’ll need for Thanksgiving.

***

Derek hadn’t actually said he wanted breakfast, but who really wanted to live on protein shakes every morning? Not Stiles. Which might be why Stiles looks like... well, Stiles, and not Derek but seriously - protein shakes. That’s why he also made a double batch of pasta carbonara for him. Well, that and he suspects Derek eats more than him, so he’s increasing the amount of food. So when Stiles makes his way out Sunday morning, he’s loaded down with heaps of food, carefully stowed on the floor behind the seats so it won’t tip over.

Just like the last two times, Derek is waiting for him on the front steps once Stiles makes it up the drive, underdressed for the weather, but this time he actually helps carry the food inside, then stands, shoulder brushing against Stiles’. “Looks good,” he says, eyes flicking down to the food and back up to Stiles. “What is it?”

“This is some pasta carbonara, so you can have it for breakfast or lunch or dinner or whenever - just heat it up. I think you’ll like it.” Stiles taps the top of the container and smiles. “I know you didn’t ask for breakfast, but it’s really a lunch or dinner thing that just happens to also work as breakfast. Trust me!”

Derek nods. “And these?”

“This is mom’s famous beef bourguignon, and this is the potato mash to go with it.” He’s about to explain further when Derek’s stomach growls and his cheeks flush lightly under the stubble. “Do you want some now? I can just serve it up so you can see the best way to eat it.” Stiles tilts his head, looking up at Derek who nods.

“Please,” he gestures, and opens the cutlery drawer and a cupboard full of deep, practical looking bowls stacked on wide, sturdy plates. Maybe Derek Hale has a secret clumsy side, or maybe he just likes sturdier dishes.

Stiles scoops up some of the mashed potato and makes a medium peak in the bottom of the bowl before heaping the beef and vegetable stew on top and popping it in the microwave to heat up. “It’s better with the mash underneath, because the sauce gets all over it and - well I guess you’ll see.”

Derek busies himself closing up the containers and putting them into the fridge. It looks like the food Stiles makes is the only real stuff that goes in there, though there are a few cans of soda tucked into the door where most people keep condiments. Stiles makes a note: Derek doesn’t even own ketchup.

The microwave beeps and Derek carefully pulls out his food and dips his fork in to get some of everything for the first bite. Stiles wouldn’t have guessed it, but he’s a neat, almost delicate eater, holding the bowl and carefully wrapping his lips around the fork. It’s hypnotic, watching his tongue peek out to clean his mouth as he makes a satisfied grumble of sound. He looks sinful.

Stiles is staring. He’s seriously staring and normally this would be where he’d make his quick and awkward exit, but Derek glances up and he looks kind of - happy. That’s almost a smile on his face. A real smile. Stiles feels a bit wobbly in the knees and leans back against the island. “Good?” He asks.

“It’s delicious,” Derek replies seriously. “Are you hungry? You made a lot. Grab a bowl.” It’s either admit to zoning out on the beauty that is Derek Hale’s mouth wrapped around things or eat his own food. Not a difficult choice. Stiles heats up his own bowl quickly enough and looks around, but the kitchen, like the other rooms he’s seen of the house so far, is basically devoid of furniture. There’s no table, no chairs, not even a bar stool.

“Come on,” Derek heads out the other door of the kitchen and down a second hallway that Stiles hasn’t been in before. They pass a few more large, empty rooms, what looks like a half-bath next to a laundry room before Derek shoulders open half of another pair of double doors to reveal the first room that actually looks lived in.

It’s huge, because of course it is, but this must be where Derek spends his free time: a massive library. The walls are covered, floor to high ceiling, with packed bookshelves. The far wall is a bank of windows and the longest series of window seats Stiles has ever seen. The space below them holds even more books, the top covered in thick padding with a few throw pillows leaned up against dividing pillars. In the center of the room there’s a desk covered in papers and an absolutely ancient desktop computer at angles with a battered round table and a few chairs where Derek must actually eat, well away from any of the books. He hooks one of the chairs with his foot and sits down, gesturing for Stiles to take another.

Managing not to spill anything, Stiles takes a bite of his food and asks, “This is beautiful, but I gotta ask - is that computer from 1993 or what? I haven’t seen a tube monitor since I was a kid, man.”

Derek frowns. “There’s nothing wrong with it. Still works.”

“Yeah, and I bet it’s super fast, right?” Stiles waggles his eyebrows. “I think we have different definitions of works.”

“I’m uh, not great with computers.” Now Stiles feels badly, at least a little, because Derek is suddenly eating with the determination of someone who definitely doesn’t want to talk about it.

Backpedaling, Stiles can only say, “No, uh, it’s cool - vintage, I guess. You’re more of a pen and paper guy, right? I think this is the most books I’ve seen outside of a public library. You’ve definitely got a -- a library vibe going on.” He’d almost said ‘a Beauty and the Beast vibe going on’, which is a little too close to home for Stiles to say out loud. “I don’t think I’d be able to get anything done if I knew I could just sit in here and read all day.”

Derek’s shoulders ease up and he returns to eating. It occurs to Stiles that he might just be trying to be polite, but he’s not about to point it out, seeing as they barely know each other and Derek is clearly a bit touchy about some things.

“I mean, I’m a computer science major, so you know, I live and breathe computers but sometimes you just need an actual book. There’s something about the smell of them.”

He’d almost forgotten how startling Derek’s eyes are, up close; a complex shading he can’t look away from. When Derek makes eye contact again Stiles pauses with his fork halfway to his mouth and misses it the first time Derek says something. “Sorry, what? I missed that.”

“It’s vanillin. The smell old books produce. It’s released when the pages start to break down over time. Smells like vanilla.”

“Huh,” Stiles says and looks away finally, back to the books lining the walls. “You must really like that smell then. Most of these look pretty old.” Not all of them - he’d definitely seen a beat up but pretty recent sci-fi section bleeding into fantasy and then what looked like a few shelves of spy thrillers - but a fair number of the books have old cloth or leather bindings with the titles pressed into them in gold.

Derek looks like he might say something more as he pushes his empty bowl away from him into the center of the table but that’s when his cell phone goes off. When he pulls it out it’s a kind of crummy looking flip phone from about five years ago. Stiles is starting to suspect that Derek doesn’t know anything about computers or doesn’t care, or both.

“Hale. Yeah, I can be there early. Sure. Okay.” He hangs up, again without saying goodbye to whoever was on the other end, and stands, taking Stiles’ empty bowl and stacking it into his own. “I have to go. Fire patrol,” he says, as if that makes any sense at all. He’d ask what that means, but it’s hard enough keeping up with Derek as he pads quickly back down the hall to the kitchen to drop the bowls in the sink.

“Sure, right. I’ll uh, come back on Thursday maybe for the containers? Is that okay?” Derek nods absently, crouching in the foyer to pull on a pair of black hiking boots and grab a battered leather jacket from the coat closet there.

The Jeep is the only car in the drive, and Stiles doesn’t see a garage anywhere nearby, so after Derek locks up he asks, “Do you need a ride? To fire patrol?”

Derek smiles again, just a little. “No thanks,” he says, and hops his own fence like it’s a vaulting horse and disappears into the woods.

***

Somehow Stiles makes it home, finishes a little piece of code for Monday’s class and is starting to drift off in front of the tv when it finally occurs to him that an actual fireman charity calendar featuring Derek Hale could conceivably exist. And then he’s definitely awake, at least for a little while.

***

Since Stiles had learned to master google with the best of them (Danny for research, Lydia for dirt) he’s 99% sure by Tuesday that Derek has never posed for a fireman’s calendar, which is a real tragedy. On the other hand, he now knows a lot more about the Wildcat Canyon State Park Volunteer Fire Patrol, which could probably use a better name and some kind of cool acronym if it’s going to get better press coverage.

The Fire Patrol is half park rangers and half citizen volunteers who literally patrol the park in order to prevent accidental fires, set strategically placed fires to prevent natural fires from spreading too far, and occasionally to put out fires from improperly treated camping sites or dropped cigarettes. There’s a whole page on the park website about the causes of good and bad forest fires, with a small note tucked in thanking the Hale Foundation for funding the volunteer fire patrol program.

“He is like an actual volcano fire curry god, Lydia, except the exact opposite of that.”

Lydia rolls her eyes at him. “Yeah, that’s great, Stiles, but what I asked was if you could pick me up from the airport and drive me back home next week.”

“Sorry, right - I can do that. We can drive up from Oakland.” Making a note in his calendar he asks, “What time does your flight land, again?”

“A little before 7. I’m expecting a big sign, Stiles - I haven’t seen you in three months.”

He can’t help but laugh at that. She definitely hasn’t changed. “We skype all the time!”

“That’s different,” Lydia pouts. “When you’re not in my clutches I can’t manipulate you as easily.”

“Yeah, not creepy at all,” Stiles replies. “I clearly need new friends. Better friends.”

Lydia looks distinctly unimpressed. “Please, you’d be lost without me. I have to go - remember, be in arrivals by seven!”

“Bring me a present from Boston! Bye!”

It’s with balancing Lydia, packing, the two papers and the one assignment he has to hand in before the 21st in mind that Stiles plans Derek’s food for the week. It has to be something Stiles can make fairly quickly and in large batches, because seriously his profs are trying to kill him with pre-finals course work.

Chicken and dumplings is easy enough to make and the process gives Stiles a few breaks while things cook where he can get some writing done. He arranges a whole chicken, cut carrots and celery into a large stock pot and covers everything with water to simmer nicely. He lowers the heat and covers the pot for an hour - just enough time to fill in the last few hundred words of his Discrete Mathematics and Probability Theory course paper on existence arguments and proof the first half.

When the timer goes, Stiles turns off the heat and pulls the chicken out with two pairs of tongs and some fumbling. The meat is fair to falling off the bones, tender and juicy and steaming when he sets it aside to cool. He lets it rest for a few minutes while he strains the stock and puts the vegetables in a bowl for later. If Derek is going to be out fighting forest fires like Smokey the Bear or whatever, Stiles is going to make sure he eats right.

He sets to work shredding the chicken, pulling out the bones and peeling off the skin. Maybe he’ll use them to make chicken soup and freeze it before he goes home for the long weekend. No sense wasting good food.

He cleans up and puts most of it in the fridge to make room for dumplings. Stiles’ student apartment comes complete with a student kitchen: a sink, a fridge, a microwave, the smallest oven he’s ever seen and just barely enough counter and cupboard space to contain the kind of garbage food most college kids live on. It’s definitely not enough for Stiles, but even the fairly spacious kitchen at his dad’s place isn’t really enough for him. One day Stiles will make some kind of amazing app for the app store and fund his dream kitchen with the proceeds, but right now he just has to make do.

Making the dough for dumplings is easy, and since it has to settle and stiffen up anyway, that gives him twenty odd minutes to finish proofing the first paper and send it to print.

Getting the broth back out, Stiles brings it up until it’s just barely boiling and drops the dough in, one dumpling-sized lump at a time, letting them cook for a few minutes until they’ve soaked in some of the flavour of the stock and have puffed up. Then Stiles lowers the heat and drops the chicken, carrots and celery back in to stew. Since he can leave it alone for another twenty minutes until it really thickens, he cleans up his lab a bit to hand in on Tuesday.

Two milk-heavy dishes in one week might be a lot, but the late November air is really starting to tense up into a dry, sharp cold and it’s what Stiles would want to eat if he were going to be out patrolling a forest all day. With that in mind he washes out the large pot and sets it up again on the stove to warm up some olive oil while he chops tender white and green leeks and quickly minces some garlic to toss in with them. Stiles throws in chopped potatoes and celery, throwing some salt on top to bring it along, raising the heat and stirring carefully so they all get combined together with the oil and garlic. Then he adds a generous amount of leftover vegetable broth from the chicken and dumplings and leaves it alone for twenty minutes of one on one time with Assassin’s Creed, because seriously, he needs a break.

When he comes back to the kitchen, the potato chunks are soft and they easily separate when he presses the edge of the spoon into them, and the entire kitchen is warm and smells gently of soup. Stiles lowers the temperature just a bit so everything remains at a steady, slow simmer and scrapes in the tomato paste before carefully stirring in milk so it doesn’t splash.

The colour of the entire dish turns a smooth, golden butter yellow before he breaks pieces of flaking smoked salmon one by one into the pot. Then he pours in the heavy cream and tears fresh dill over top, stirring it for just a few minutes more so the salmon and cream can really seep into the potatoes and leeks and celery. It’s thick and smooth and chock full of smokey, delicate salmon because Stiles has always been of the opinion that more is more when it comes to chowder. Hopefully Derek agrees.

***

Derek helps him carry the food inside this time, too, though he acts squirrely, or the Derek equivalent of squirrely: extra quiet and quick with his credit card. “Hey, so I forgot to ask last time - do you need more food before next weekend? I’m actually heading back to my dad’s on Wednesday night for Thanksgiving and I wasn’t sure if you had, uh, plans for the holiday. I mean, I made a lot of it this week in case you needed it to last longer but-”

“I’m visiting my family back home,” Derek mercifully cuts him off. “My parents,” he pauses, “...seem to enjoy loading me down with leftovers.”

“My dad does that too, I think it’s just a living away from home thing. I mean, obviously I make the dinner, but it’s like he’s afraid I’ll starve, and he sneaks a bunch of extra groceries into my Jeep when I’m not looking.”

Derek nods. “My sister does that to me. She’s only six years older but she acts like--” He makes a frustrated sound.

“She probably misses you a lot. I mean it’s not like it’s far.” Derek jerks his head back and Stiles hurries to explain. “I’m from Beacon Hills, too! You know the Sheriff? My dad? Sheriff Stilinski? Maybe? I recognized your last name,” he adds, which is really only half a lie.

“Right, yeah, I- my sister is a deputy with the Sheriff’s department. I didn’t make the connection,” Derek apologizes. “But when you get back, you should, uh, take this--” he presses something into Stiles’ palm. “In case I’m out. You can use the kitchen.”

Stiles looks down at a key and fob on a small silver keyring. “Are you sure? I mean, thanks, that’s great and this kitchen is just - oh my god I want to get my hands all over it, seriously, you have no idea, I’m just surprised you’d be okay with me having a key to this place.”

He’s still standing really close, right up in Stiles’ space. That seems to be standard for Derek, though. “It’s not like there’s anything to steal,” he deadpans and Stiles can’t help but crack up.

“I don’t know, man, that computer is a serious antique. Maybe I’ll put it on Antiques Roadshow. You’ll come back from fire patrol and it’ll just be gone and you’ll have to resort to actually texting me on your phone.” He’s teasing, though obviously the idea of getting a (probably short, perfect sentence case) text message from Derek has a certain appeal. It’s not like they spend a lot of time together, but Derek is clearly warming up to Stiles with every visit.

“You’d put me over my plan,” Derek says seriously, as if he isn’t living in a mansion and running some kind of Foundation with his millions.

“Absolutely,” Stiles replies. “Can’t let the world miss out on the magic that is every stray thought that passes through my brain. They’ll want those immortalized for all time one day.” He pries one end of the keyring open and hooks it through to tangle up with his own keys, a low warmth settling in behind his ribs. “But seriously - thanks. You might live to regret it, but I’m going to make serious plans for this kitchen. Anyway, I’ve gotta go - gotta finish all my assignments before Wednesday. Have a great Thanksgiving, Derek.” Stiles can’t help but dart forward and give Derek a quick, firm hug, pressing his face briefly to the soft cotton over Derek’s shoulder and inhaling deeply.

When Stiles pulls back he smiles, pleased. Derek looks startled when he says, “You, too.”

***

Somehow, between packing, writing papers and finishing up a neat little piece of C for an assignment, Stiles actually does manage to make a sign. It’s huge and mostly glitter and glue and says STRAWBERRY BLONDE MATH BOMBSHELL on it, and yeah, Stiles gets a few weird looks but mostly he gets sly grins from strangers and an actual chuckle from an old couple holding hands. He and Lydia might never have been a couple, but over the last few years she’s become one of his best friends.

When Lydia walks through the gate she looks the way only people in movies do after getting off a plane. Everyone around her is wearing comfortable clothes and sensible shoes, but Lydia is in high heels and a brilliant turquoise dress, pulling a small rolling suitcase along behind her.

“California recognizes its math empress!” Stiles calls out, and Lydia rolls her eyes, but she’s grinning, and when she reaches him pulls him tight into a one-armed hug.

“I missed you, too,” she says, cheek pressed against his own and he abandons his sign to the floor in order to sweep her up and swing her around, laughing.

“Actual feelings from Lydia Martin? MIT must be incredibly lonely,” he teases.

“Or filled with incredible morons,” she retorts, smoothing her dress out and reaching for her suitcase again so they can head out to parking. “I’ve missed having someone with an actual brain around; you have no idea.”

“Sorry, you’ll have to make do with me and I’m down to half a brain for the entire break.” It’s not far to parking, and soon enough they’re headed northeast back to Beacon Hills with a quick pitstop for drive-through coffee for the road.

It’s not a long drive - about two hours from Stiles’ apartment just off campus, and a little longer than that from the airport. They catch up a bit before Lydia changes the topic, brushing her hair back behind her ear nervously.

“Don’t get excited, but I need your help with something,” she says as Stiles merges onto the I-80, “and I need you to not tell anyone about it.”

“You know I’ll always be your secret keeper,” he assures her. “All I ask is that you admit that I deserve five hundred house points for awesomeness.”

She snorts out a breath of laughter, but doesn’t relax. “Deal. I want to be on the Jeopardy College tournament in February and I need help training before I apply.” Before Stiles can say anything, she barrels on, “I just want some money that I earned on my own, and I want to earn it in a way that proves to everyone that I’m not just--”

“That you’re more than the Lydia you pretended to be in high school?” It’s a touchy subject. Stiles had always known Lydia was smart, known about her passion for math and her obsessive need to constantly know more, but somehow most people had missed it. She’d hidden that side of herself almost as soon as she and Jackson started dating, blending in with the popular but dim crowd.

Stiles didn’t actually know what had made her drop the act and start openly blowing their classmates out of the water, but it wasn’t long after that when she and Jackson had a messy, very public break up just in time for Lydia to get unconditional acceptance into MIT’s math program and blow through her AP exams. She obviously still loved him, but it seemed like Jackson was a few years behind her, emotionally, and who knew when he would catch up?

“Exactly,” she sighs. “Wait, what are you doing? We don’t want to go to Reno!”

Stiles shrugs. “There’s a Barnes & Noble if we take this exit. I figured we could buy some trivia books and brush up on your US history. Plus, honestly, Lydia. I gotta pee.”

She punches him in the arm, but it’s a friendly punch, and he can practically feel her relief.

***

There are a lot of good reasons that Stiles decided to go to Berkeley, including a decent scholarship and their computer science program but one of the biggest reasons was that it was far enough away that he would definitely be away from home but close enough that he could come home for a weekend (assuming he had gas money).

He hasn’t been home much this semester, partly because he’s just been too busy with the new course load and partly because he was broke. Cooking for Derek has really improved his situation though, and Stiles has made sure to tuck half the profits into his savings account, but the other half has kept him in coffee, video games, and Friday night pizza with plenty to spare.

It’s been months though, since he slept in his own bed, and while a bunch of his stuff isn’t here, there’s nothing like waking up with his face smushed half into a pillow and half into his sheets, smelling the laundry detergent his dad likes and pancakes cooking downstairs.

“Morning, Sunshine,” his dad calls from the kitchen. “I wasn’t sure you’d be up before noon.”

“Just because I’m doing computer science doesn’t mean I’m Hugh Jackman in Swordfish, dad. I actually have a lot of 9am classes.” He sits down at the table and his dad slides a fresh stack of pancakes in front of him. “Oh my god, these smell amazing. Have I told you lately that I love you?”

His dad switches off the stove and sits down with his own stack. “On the rare occasions I hear from you, yeah. Most of the time I just sit at home, alone, sad that my only son won’t call me because he’s too busy drinking illegally at some frat party--”

“Seriously, dad? Half the town texted me pictures of you on a date with Scott’s mom.” Plus Stiles had kept his illegal underage drinking to a minimum because his scholarship wasn’t exactly going to maintain itself. Maybe in the first few years of highschool Stiles might have jumped at the chance to get drunk with a bunch of frat boys, but he was comfortable enough in his own skin now to recognize a group of people who were desperate to be special, to fit in. They looked a lot like Jackson had, in hindsight.

Looking abashed, his dad ducks his head. “Yeah, about that--”

“Dad, it’s totally okay. Scott and I had a bet going on when you’d finally make a move. And I know mom would’ve wanted you to be happy.” Stiles means it, too, means every word. Scott’s mom could use someone to lean on, and his dad could use someone who would lock up the liquor cabinet after a rough case and make sure the sheriff didn’t backslide. Someone who could make him smile more.

His dad coughs and reaches for the maple syrup; changes topics to kids Stiles hasn’t talked to since senior year and even back then, barely.

***

They clear the table and wash up together before grabbing a bunch of reusable shopping bags to shove in the car and head out to get groceries. Stiles had emailed his dad a list of things to pick up ahead of time, but there’s something familiar and pleasing to Stiles about fighting the mad rush at Whole Foods the morning of Thanksgiving.

“Relax, dad, I’ve been training for this since Resident Evil came out. We go in, we fight some grandmothers for the last of the good chips, and we get out.” As much as his dad puts on the dramatics for the thanksgiving morning grocery shop, he always comes along.

When Stiles was in highschool they’d raid the junk food aisles for snacks to eat during the game. When Stiles came home from his first semester at Berkeley, his dad had used it as an excuse to load up the cart with all sorts of groceries for Stiles to take back to school with him after the weekend. By the looks of the cart this year, that tradition will probably hold strong every year until Stiles graduates.

They do still load up on chips and ice cream sandwiches but that’s more because if they start in on the turkey or the pie before Lydia, Scott, Danny, Mrs. McCall, and Allison arrive in the late afternoon they would both have to face down an entire wall of sad puppy dog eyes. Stiles can’t help it that his pie is the best pie in town. It’s just how he rolls.

***

After everything has been unloaded and tucked away (and seriously, does his dad think Stiles doesn’t notice when half the food he carries in go into the basement instead of the kitchen?) they turn on the morning game for background noise while they cook.

Getting the turkey in the oven is pretty straightforward, so most of the morning is a flurry of pie and green beans and garlic-dill mashed potatoes and garlic butter roasted mushrooms and stuffing and homemade whipped cream, though not in that order.

By three they’re exhausted and hungry and not allowed to eat yet, so they snack on junk food and Stiles passes out in front of the tv clutching a timer so he’ll actually get up when the turkey is done.

***

The high beep of the timer wakes Stiles up not long before people will probably start showing up, so Stiles pulls the turkey out to rest and wakes his dad up to put the finishing touches on all the food. Stiles toasts thinly sliced almonds and tosses them in with the green beans, squeezing fresh lemon juice on top before moving on to the mashed potatoes.

When he made the beef bourguignon for Derek he’d kept the potatoes fairly simple because they were really just a complement to the main dish, but these are Thanksgiving Mashed Potatoes and they’re a whole different beast. These potatoes are hand mashed by his dad while Stiles gradually adds salted butter, milk, dill, garlic, chives, and a little bit of cheese to the bowl. With the skins still on, the contents of the bowl are a mix of red and gold, with bits of green from the dill and chives. They look appropriately festive, like the changing leaves outside.

“Oh my god,” Scott says, managing to sneak up on both Stiles and his dad, “That smells amazing. Is it almost ready? When are we eating? Alison brought wine.”

“Yeah, I missed you, too, jerkwad,” Stiles teases. “You can help out by taking the turkey and stuff out to the table.”

“Oh yeah! Welcome back.” Scott wraps his arms around Stiles in a backwards hug before moving the food. Allison and Mrs. McCall bring in a stockpile of drinks and both hug Stiles hello. While they’re catching up, Danny and Lydia finally arrive and they can all sit down to eat.

His dad raises his glass and everyone at the table follows suit. “It’s not often that all of us can be together at the same time. I’m always grateful to have Stiles around, even when he’s cooking me out of house and home.”

“Hey!” Stiles interjects, but they’re all laughing.

“I just wanted to say thank you,” his dad continues, “To all of you for being a part of our family. And for helping us eat all of this. New uniform pants are expensive. To family,” he finishes, and after a clumsy series of clinking wine glasses, they settle into passing dishes around the table and heaping their plates high.

“Hey, I should say thanks,” Stiles turns to Scott once they’re all eating and chatting amiably, “I got a call from that ad in the paper, and it’s working out pretty well. Actual spending money, you know?”

Scott glances over to make sure Allison is engrossed in her conversation with Danny and Lydia. “I’ve been saving all mine up. For, you know.” He waggles his eyebrows.

“Already? Whoa, that’s--” Stiles lowers his voice. “That’s awesome. You’re going to propose?”

Scott nods. “Doc Deaton gave me a raise. I mean, I’ll never be a vet, but it’s a good place to work and I’m happy, you know?”

“Hey, it’s an awesome job,” Stiles agrees. He knows Deaton pays Scott more than most people pay a veterinary assistant, but it’s a small town and the two of them basically run the whole vet clinic on their own. “Good luck with- with the thing I will now not talk about until it's done.”

Laughing, Scott kicks his foot under the table. “Thanks, man.”

***

After dinner everyone stumbles into the living room clutching plates of pumpkin or apple pie with the vanilla whipped cream Stiles made earlier, collapsing onto couches for the next football game. Now that they’ve loosened up, Stiles notices that Mrs. McCall is sharing the love seat with his dad. It’s nice, that they’ve found each other. Stiles knows they’ll both always miss his mom, but she’s been gone for a long time now.

Their family has expanded over the years, and this is it for now, these people half asleep in front of a football game in his living room on a Thursday evening. Lydia and Danny and Scott and Allison. Five years ago he couldn’t have imagined it and now he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Stiles falls asleep like that, squished between Lydia and Danny on the couch, his feet numb under Scott’s butt. It’s kind of beautiful.

***

Friday his dad has to work the morning shift but says he’ll be back around dinner time for leftovers and another holiday weekend food coma. Stiles spends most of the day playing board games with everyone at Danny’s place, but heads home early since he’s almost never home.

“You’ve got mail, kid,” his dad calls out when he gets home, “From the Hales. Want to tell me what that’s about? My deputy hand delivered this to me at the station after lunch.”

“Your deputy?” Stiles asks instead of responding.

“Laura Hale.”

“Oh, Derek’s sister.” At his dad’s raised eyebrow Stiles explains about the ad and how he’s been cooking for Derek lately. “Just a few weeks so far. But this is weird, huh?” The envelope is made out of a thick, cream-coloured stock and his name - his full, actual name - is on the front in smooth, rounded cursive.

Carefully, Stiles peels back the flap and pulls out a thank you card on similar stock.

Dear Stiles, it reads,

Thank you so much for looking after our Derek. It means a lot to me to know that he’s being well-fed even away from home. If it were up to my son I know he’d probably live on smoothies and forget what real food tastes and smells like. Your cooking must be something very special, the way Derek described it to us. I hope you’ll continue to look after him.

Yours,
Laurell Hale

“Stiles,” his dad says slowly from where he was reading over his shoulder, “...did you get married? I’d really like to know if I missed the wedding.”

Stiles feels himself turn horribly bright red and there’s nothing he can do about it. “Dad! No! Jeez! Seriously, his fridge was basically empty. His mom is probably just really, weirdly, kind of awkwardly grateful that someone is feeding him, even if they’re getting paid for it.”

“Uh huh.” He’s clearly unconvinced, and definitely giving Stiles the I’m The Sheriff I Know Everything look, but mercifully changes topics to the best way to fry up some bubble and squeak with the leftovers.

***

Lydia spends half the drive to Oakland Airport reading Stiles trivia from the books they had picked up on the way north. “I’m leaving these with you so you can quiz me over skype,” she says, tucking them into his backpack and then rooting through it. “Oh, Stiles, is this a love letter? On paper and everything; that’s old fashioned.”

Stiles almost swerves off the road. “What! No! Put that back!” Too late. Lydia pulls Mrs. Hale’s card out and skims it quickly. “Anything you want to tell me?”

“Uh... his mom thinks he can’t take care of himself? But I’m pretty sure my dad feels the same way about me and I’m totally fine. Mostly fine. Usually fine most of the time. Sort of.”

Lydia snorts. “Cute. Well at least his family knows you’ll be able to provide a solid home-life for him. I’m sure you’ll have an excellent relationship with your in-laws.”

Stiles would bury his face in his hands if he wasn't driving but instead he just groans. “Look I know... I know I talk about him a lot--”

“Constantly.”

“Okay, fine, constantly. And I know I told you that he’s really attractive--”

“Fire volcano god hot, you said. Fireman calendar material.”

“Right, but the thing is it’s not like anything is actually going to happen, okay? He’s gorgeous and a millionaire who runs a charity foundation but won’t upgrade his computer, and I’m just... I’m just a skinny undergrad he pays to bring him some food every week. It’s not-- there’s nothing happening there, okay? It’s just really, really incredibly unlikely.” Stiles avoids thinking about that part, mostly.

His hopeless crush on Derek is a lot like his hopeless crush on Lydia in high school. Maybe one day he and Derek will be actual friends instead of just customer and cook, but it won’t be a happy ending with hearts and flowers and hot sweaty man sex or anything. It never is for Stiles. He just needs to focus on his degree and keeping himself in coffee and a Playstation Plus membership. He needs to be realistic.

“Stiles,” Lydia says softly, but he doesn’t look away from the tail lights of the car in front of them.

“Can we not talk about it? Please?”

She sighs. “Just this once.”

***

A week later, just as Stiles is on his way out the door to head over to Derek’s, his phone dings with a new email from Lydia. There’s no subject but the body is just a big, long, mathematical equation that he doesn’t bother to finish reading.

From: stilinski.is.our.king@gmail.com
To: eulersjewelei0@gmail.com
Re:

If you’re sending me classified data before the government takes you out, I don’t think gmail is the most secure method.

From: eulersjewelei0@gmail.com
To: stilinski.is.our.king@gmail.com
Re: Re:

That’s the odds on you and mountain millionaire working out. Looks plausible.

From: stilinski.is.our.king@gmail.com
To: eulersjewelei0@gmail.com
Re: Re: Re:

I hate you.

From: eulersjewelei0@gmail.com
To: stilinski.is.our.king@gmail.com
Re: Re: Re: Re:
No you don’t.

Of course she would send that to him right before he uses the key Derek gave him for the first time. Classic Lydia. If Stiles didn’t know better he would suspect she has psychic powers and only uses them for evil. Stiles reminds himself that he’s not the unpopular kid he was in high school who wasn’t comfortable in his own skin. He’s a grown ass man now, living on his own, mostly happy with himself. He has a scholarship and a sort of burgeoning side business. He can do this.

***

Stiles can’t do this. He’s up to his elbows in grated Gruyère in the middle of Derek’s kitchen when a beautiful woman walks in the front door like she owns the place. She’s tall, with long, gently curling brown hair and bright green eyes. She looks like someone from a comic book, all lush pink lips and fair skin and knee high leather boots over her jeans. She’s even wearing a cropped leather jacket that hits just above her waist. She’s probably a model. She’s probably a model who is dating Derek. Stiles feels incredibly awkward.

“Uh, hi,” he says, suavely. “I’m Stiles.”

A slow grin spreads across her face, like a shark; a beautiful, deadly shark. “Laura,” she says, hopping up on the island. “I’d shake your hand but it looks like you’re in the middle of something. What are you making?”

Well, if she unlocked the door she must have a key, so Stiles figures he’s at least fifty percent okay to keep cooking. Plus, like Derek had said: there’s really nothing to steal. “Mac and cheese with pancetta,” he explains, gesturing to the small mountain of cheese he’s shredding. “I’ve already grated the other cheeses, so it’s just the Gruyère left and then I can really get started.”

“Sounds delicious,” she says. “Do you mind if I watch? I’ve heard so much about you, and I was coming down for a visit anyway so I figured I might as well take advantage. Derek’s not around?”

“He wasn’t here when I came in,” Stiles replies and Laura arches one perfect eyebrow as if to say oh, yes? “I mean, he gave me a key! And a fob! I didn’t break in. He said it was okay to cook here, since he has this huge kitchen and I, you know, don’t.” He shrugs and sets aside the cheesegrater, washes his hands.

Then he fills a large pot with water and sets it to boil while he starts cooking a large saucepan of the pancetta. It doesn’t take long before the meat is sizzling and the water boiling, so Stiles drops heaps of penne into the water before he scoops up the pancetta, now browned and lightly crispy, onto a plate of paper towels.

“Mind if I steal a bite?” Laura asks, grabbing a piece and popping it into her mouth. “I’d steal you, if I could, but I don’t think Derek would like that very much.”

Stiles is flustered and he knows it shows. “I uh, don’t really have time for more than one client right now? I mean, I’m at school full time, and I have to keep my grades up.”

“Not even just breakfast? Or breakfast just for today? I can keep a secret. I think I’ve got a twenty in my wallet.”

“I uh, maybe I should just concentrate on this first? I can’t let the fat get too hot,” he deflects, lowering the heat on the saucepan and pouring in the cream. Laura seems content to wait, for the moment, and watch him cook. He can feel her eyes on his back. Once it’s simmering he slowly stirs in all three kinds of cheese and adds paprika, garlic, and a little dijon mustard. It won’t be spicy, but it will round out the flavour of the sauce, which thickens up nicely into a creamy, golden yellow.

“Do you - can I ask a favour?” Stiles asks, turning the heat off for the other burner. “Could you drain that? I need to keep stirring so this doesn’t stick to the pan.”

“Of course,” Laura agrees, hopping down. Her hands are steady as she pours it out into the large colander that Stiles had placed in the sink earlier, and she doesn’t flinch back from the steam. She even shakes and tosses it a little without Stiles having to ask, until the pasta is dry enough for Stiles to work with.

“That’s great, thanks.” Stiles pauses to add the pancetta back into the sauce. “Would you scoop them into the sauce for me? This is just a lot easier with two people.”

“You got it,” she says, and stands close beside him so it doesn’t spill. They’re working together to slowly combine it all together without spilling when Derek appears in the kitchen doorway, barefoot and sweaty, clearly just in from an early morning run.

“Laura, what are you doing here?” He looks weirdly mad considering she’s probably his girlfriend. Unless she’s an ex and Stiles shouldn’t have let her stay, but seriously, she had a key.

“Visiting my baby brother, of course! Smile! Loosen up! I’d almost think you haven’t missed me at all!”

Stiles is an idiot. Of course Laura is Laura Hale. Now that he thinks about it, they even look the same. Hell, they kind of dress the same.

It’s then that Stiles notices that Laura hasn’t moved away from him at all, and it’s only as he turns off the heat and places the pot on a back burner that he realizes how close they’re standing, elbow to elbow.

“I just saw you at Thanksgiving,” Derek says with a scowl but when Laura ducks forward to wrap him up in a bear hug he responds in kind. Feeling like an intruder, Stiles turns back to the mac and cheese, easing it into a large container and scraping the pot clean as best he can.

“I’ve been trying to convince Stiles to make me breakfast,” Laura continues once they’ve separated. “In fact, Stiles, if you cook, I’ll clean. You should stay and eat with us. Derek is always nicer after he eats. Much easier to push around.”

“You’re the only one who pushes me around,” Derek groans, but that’s not a no.

“I’ve uh, got some extra pancetta and cheese. Do you have eggs? I could make omelettes?” Stiles offers.

“Omelettes sound wonderful.”

***

They take their omelettes into the library because it’s the only room (as far as Stiles knows) that has a table and chairs available. Laura moans as she takes her first bite, rolling her eyes dramatically. “Oh my god, Stiles, I was half kidding before, but I’m serious now. Can I steal you? Can I keep you forever?”

“Sorry,” Stiles laughs, “I’m kind of tied up for the next three and a half years at least with book learning.”

Derek is scowling down at his plate but he’s eating heartily enough so Stiles figures he likes the food and is just annoyed by his sister’s surprise visit.

“Computer science, right? The sheriff talks about you all the time, and of course, Derek mentioned you were at Berkeley.”

Stiles can’t help the grin that lights up his face. “I almost forgot you work with my dad! Listen, you can’t let him eat at the diner. He’s supposed to be eating more vegetables and less red meat and lower his salt intake. I know he’s cheating on the nutritional plan I left him, and Mrs. McCall isn’t around all the time.”

“I’ll see what I can do about his lunches,” she agrees, “If you promise to cook for me again the next time I visit. Might be soon. Someone has to keep Derek in line.” She turns to her brother, pointing at him with her fork. “Seriously - you’ve lived here for four years and you’ve only decorated one room?”

“I’ve been busy,” he says, batting her fork out of the way.

“Not that busy. You don’t even have a real job. Do you have patrol today? No? We’re getting you some chairs or something. Don’t even make that face - mom is really worried about you, so suck it up and send her some photos proving you actually own furniture.”

At the mention of their mom Stiles focuses all his attention on scraping his plate clean. Derek doesn’t even know the half of it. Of course that is the moment that Derek turns his attention to Stiles. “You should come with us. I’m not good with this stuff, and Laura hates shopping.”

“And I’d like to treat you to lunch, Stiles, in return for breakfast.” With both Hale siblings staring intently at him it’s not like Stiles can say no. They’re just so compelling.

***

True to her word, Laura washes up, or at least rinses things off before loading the dishwasher and turning it on before they leave. Stiles is trying to figure out who will have to sit in the back of his jeep when Laura kicks Derek in the shin. “Well? You still have my car, so it better be in working order. Get it out here, already.”

“It works fine!” Derek says but jogs off around the house and out of sight.

“I didn’t even know he had a car,” Stiles admits. “I thought maybe he just harvested protein powder in the forest or something.”

Laura laughs and wraps an arm around Stiles’ shoulders. “He only has a car because I am the best sister in the world and let him borrow mine indefinitely when he moved out here. Don’t think all the coolness you’re about to see has anything to do with Derek; he’s a big dork at heart.” That’s when Stiles hears it; a low, rumbling growl of an engine, predatory and quickly turning slick. The driveway doesn’t go out back, but apparently Derek has no problem driving over his own lawn, and he pulls off the grass onto the paving stones in a sleek black Camaro.

Derek rolls down the window and calls out, “Get in already!” Stiles will apologize to Laura eventually, but just then he’s too busy being turned on and impressed to bother.

***

Three hours later, exhausted, Stiles slumps in the back seat and says, “Have you ever just considered hiring a decorator?”

“Never,” Derek says immediately, as if they haven’t just combed through every furniture store they could find. To be fair, Stiles is only really familiar with Ikea and Derek wasn’t kidding when he said Laura hated shopping. She had practically hissed at one of the sales people in the last store.

“Derek’s too much of a control freak to let someone else decorate his place.” Turning around to peer at Stiles over her seat she continues, “Seriously, I think he built those bookshelves in the library by hand because he probably didn’t like anything in a store.”

The tips of Derek’s ears turn red. “Shut up. Stiles, where do you want to go for lunch?”

“Uh, Gregoire’s is good, and it’s cheap, too. It’s on Walnut.”

By the time they get there it’s packed, but a group of people are just leaving one of the benches outside and Stiles throws himself at it before anyone else can move in for the kill. “Do you know what you want, Stiles? We can order if you can hold the seats.”

“Buttermilk chicken, please! And you should ask for an order of the potato puffs, trust me.” Laura and Derek disappear in under the blue awning and soon enough Derek comes back out and swings his long legs over the bench, crowding his knees up against Stiles’.

“Sorry,” Derek apologizes but Stiles shrugs it off.

“Don’t worry about it; it’s part of the experience.” It’s December and it’s forty degrees out and Stiles still hasn’t swapped out his fall jacket for a good winter coat. He rubs his hands up and down his thighs to warm them up and hunches his shoulders a little against the breeze.

“You’re cold.”

“I’m fine, I just didn’t - what are you doing?” It looks like Derek is shrugging off his leather jacket and standing up, holding it out.

“Take it. I like the cold, and you’re shivering,” he says, offering it again. His face is serious and steady, and Stiles knows suddenly that Derek will just stand there offering his coat until Stiles actually takes it.

So he does. Stiles reaches out and takes it, slipping it on over his own light jacket. It’s warm and heavy, and when he adjusts the collar he smells Derek: masculine and steady. “Thanks,” he says bashfully. The sleeves are a little long; perfect while they wait for Laura with their food. Derek sits back down without breaking eye contact with Stiles.

“Any time.”

“Oh, were you cold, Stiles?” Laura slides their food onto the table and folds her legs over the bench with the kind of grace Stiles has always fallen short of. “I see Derek managed to pull out his rusty chivalry for you at least. Obviously you’re an excellent influence on him.”

“I’m not - he--” Stiles sighs and just grabs his food. “Derek’s great. Thanks, Derek. I’ll give it back to you as soon as we’re in the car, I swear.”

Derek hasn’t even opened his food yet, seemingly torn between scowling at his sister and glancing back at Stiles. “I’m in no hurry.”

***

In the end, they wind up hitting the hardware store instead and Derek arranges for delivery of lumber and all sorts of bits and pieces Stiles doesn’t really understand, but Laura laughs at Derek when she sees the bill.

“I kind of knew this would happen, but it’s still funny. I think you’d spend about the same actually buying furniture instead of making it all,” she says. “I know you like to pretend you’re removed from society or whatever but you actually do live in civilization, Derek.”

He scowls and starts the engine. “Then why did you drag me to all those stores?”

“Because otherwise you’d never get started on the rest of the house.” She makes it sound obvious and maybe once Stiles knows Derek better it would be, but mostly Stiles feels too tired after all the shopping and eating and shopping again to make his brain work properly. He’s still wearing Derek’s jacket, slumped in the back seat trying to stay awake, but somewhere between the hardware store and Derek’s place, he nods off.

***

Stiles wakes up with Derek leaning over him, one hand on his shoulder. “Hey, we’re back. Are you okay to drive?”

Stiles yawns and manages to get himself out of the car without incident as Derek steps back. He doesn’t immediately see Laura until he looks around and finds her inspecting the Camaro carefully. “Yeah, sorry,” Stiles says, blinking himself awake. “If I’m not driving them, cars tend to put me to sleep.”

Maybe it’s because he’s so relaxed from his nap, still feeling vaguely fuzzy that Stiles can’t keep his eyes off Derek’s broad shoulders and the shallow vee of skin where the top two buttons of his henley are undone. He’s focused lazily on the hollow of Derek’s throat for a minute before it occurs to him that he’s still wearing Derek’s jacket. “Oh god, sorry, you must be freezing,” Stiles apologizes, shrugging out of it. Derek’s expression is hard to read, but he takes it back and folds it over one arm.

“It’s fine, and I’m just going inside anyway. You should warm the jeep up. I’ll see you Thursday?” It’s almost as if Derek means he’ll see Stiles for more than a quick exchange of food containers, but Stiles knows better than to let false hope rule his judgement and takes a deep breath of the sharp winter air to clear his head and nods.

“Thursday, for sure.” He turns to wave to Laura, “It was nice meeting you! Keep an eye on my dad, will you?”

“As long as you promise to take care of Derek for us,” she responds, and moves around the car to pull him into a tight hug. “I’ll definitely come back to see you again soon, Stiles.” Laura pulls back. “And I guess Derek, too.”

Stiles can’t decide if he should be happy or not that he’s an only child, the way they interact. He shrugs off the thought and climbs into his car, rubbing his hands on the steering wheel to warm it up before he leaves.

“Drive safe!” Laura calls from the steps, and Stiles waves back at her and Derek as he pulls away.

***

Somehow during her visit Laura must have gotten Stiles’ number out of Derek’s phone, because it’s only a few days later that he gets a picture-text from her of his dad frowning at a salad in his office at the station.

Holding up my end of the bargain! LH, she says in a follow-up text, so Stiles adds her to his contacts and replies Thanks. Come by at xmas and I’ll have some cookies for you.

***

Stiles manages to find a few hours on Saturday where he can actually head over to Derek’s to cook for him for the week. It’s a relief to be doing something that isn’t papers or coding or studying. His brain feels like it needs a hard reset and cooking is often the best way to do that.

Stiles lets himself in, pushing the door open with his hip, hands full of groceries, and toes off his shoes before heading into the kitchen. The house smells vaguely of sawdust, so Derek must already be working on building some of the furniture Laura bullied him into.

It’s quiet though, so Stiles figures Derek is out somewhere, or maybe asleep, which is why he jumps when Derek pads into the room, barefoot and with his sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a smudge of dirt along one stupidly high cheekbone. “You’ve got something,” Stiles gestures and Derek wipes roughly at his face until it’s gone. “You’re good. Sorry if it’s too early, I’ve just got a bit of a gap and figured I could cook now and maybe clear my head.”

“That’s fine,” Derek says and hops up on the island, unknowingly mimicking Laura. “I’ll hang out, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, yeah, of course,” he replies, flustered. “I’m making a pasta bake with swiss chard. It heats up well.” Derek just nods, watching him intently and making Stiles even more nervous. Usually when he gets nervous he gets clumsy, so he falls back on his first line of defence: talking.

He rambles about Scott and Allison, about trying to make sure his dad eats well so he’ll still be around when Stiles is old, about making friends with Danny in Senior year and how he’d introduced Stiles to actual programming instead of just the layman’s code he was using to edit Wikipedia articles about old Murder, She Wrote episodes.

“I got interested in physical therapy after my uncle injured himself in a rec basketball game,” Derek says while Stiles is scrambling for something, anything else he can talk about. It’s a huge relief. “Wound up taking the program at the community college,” he adds.

“What changed your mind? I mean, obviously you’re super into the whole forest fire thing now,” he asks while carefully ripping swiss chard from the stems.

“Millions of dollars from a random stock buy I did after one of the business classes?” Derek says sarcastically, but he clearly doesn’t want to talk about the real reason, so Stiles accepts it and moves on.

“Yeah, I can see how that might be a bit of a game changer. And I guess forest fires are kind of a problem around here.”

Derek nods, intent, his eyes still focused on Stiles. Even after Stiles turns back to the cheese he’s grating and stops to check on the penne he’s boiling, he can still feel Derek’s eyes on him. “We only figured out a few years ago that setting controlled burns in specific areas prevents a big fire from sweeping through the whole park,” he continues. “The Native Americans knew that ages ago and tried to tell people when they settled here, but no one believed them.”

“Like an American Dark Ages of firefighting?” Stiles asks.

“Or of anything - who knows what else we brushed off?”

Derek Hale: natural history buff. Who knew? After that everything is easy. Stiles talks about his papers and exams, his plans for his trip back home over break, and Derek shares a bit about being the youngest of five, about his other sisters and brother, and how he and Laura used to get in trouble for kicking their socks off and leaving them in the footrests; how they’ll probably do it again when they’re both home just to bug their mom.

He feels vaguely homesick or nostalgic or both by the time the food is done and he’s heading back to his apartment, but also clear-headed enough to tackle his next paper.

***

After that it’s two weeks of classes during which Stiles’ professors remind everyone that they still have to hand in even more papers while studying for finals and going to class. Stiles cooks for Derek but he barely sees him, and the Sunday before finals he actually just finds a pile of cash on the kitchen island with a note that says Good luck with finals.

After shoving the food into the fridge, Stiles fumbles a pen out of his bag, flips the note over and scrawls Thanks. Maybe see you in BH over xmas?

***

Finals are brutal. While his ADD symptoms have improved over the years with different study techniques so Stiles doesn’t have to take as much adderall any more, it’s still really difficult to sit in a massive lecture hall and write a test for three hours. At least as a computer science major some of his finals are actually labs or assignments instead of actual tests.

By the time finals week is over Stiles feels like the little indent on his index finger from writing so hard might be permanent. That doesn’t stop him from going to a massive house party with some of the people in his class to celebrate, though, which is why he’s a little hungover when he picks Lydia up again from Oakland.

“What, no sign, no cheering?” She calls out when she sees him. “Did you fail? I thought you were too smart to fail.”

“I need more coffee,” Stiles groans, dropping his head to her shoulder, “but there isn’t enough coffee in the world.”

Lydia takes his mostly-empty cup from him and swigs the last of it. “I think there’s an airport Starbucks in here. We’ll get two for the road,” she says generously, and steals his keys while she’s at it.

***

Despite the nine and a half hour flight, Lydia is much more awake than Stiles and volunteers to drive, which is great because until Stiles gets a greasy breakfast into him and another six hours of sleep he maybe shouldn’t be driving. Lydia, on the other hand, slept on the plane.

“You can take a nap, Stiles, it’s not like I’m not going to see you while we’re home,” she offers, but Stiles scrubs at his face and his hair, sits up straight, and grabs one of her trivia books out of her bag.

“I’m good. Let’s learn about - oh god - Canada? Really?”

“Canadian provinces are in the test questions and Trebek is Canadian. Hit me.”

***

Stiles crashes as soon as he’s at his dad’s house and wakes up to early afternoon sunshine and feeling about three hundred percent better. After a shower and some grocery shopping he feels ready to tackle almost anything (except more Canadian history) and decides to start on the cookies.

Being a poor student, the best gift Stiles can realistically give people is baked goods, which is why he has a mountain of wax paper, dollar store seasonal tins, and ribbon.

Stiles spends the day making peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies with royal icing in bright colours, oatmeal cookies, chili chocolate biscuits, oreo cheesecake cookies, coconut macaroons, hazelnut shortbread, and caramel stuffed apple cider cookies to cover his bases. It’s dark out by the time he’s done, and every surface in the kitchen is covered in cooling racks stacked two-high.

He hears his dad pull into the driveway just as he finishes the last of the dishes, and calls out, “Sorry, I’ve got the kitchen kind of occupied,” Stiles calls out, “Maybe we can order--”

“--Healthyish take out, yeah, I figured,” his dad finishes for him, shouldering his way into the kitchen and carrying bags from the vegetarian place in town.

“They grow up so fast,” Stiles sniffs dramatically.

His dad snorts and starts unpacking the food. “Speaking of, when did you make friends with Laura Hale and why is my best deputy now checking that I’m eating rabbit food?”

“Oh, I don’t know if I can give you the details. There was a very strongly worded non-disclosure agreement about the whole thing,” Stiles says biting into his veggie burrito with relish. Stiles takes after his mother, which unfortunately means he did not inherit the Explain In Real Terms Please look that always works for his dad. “She came out to visit Derek on one of the days I was dropping his food off; seems really friendly. I mean, are all of the Hales huggers except Derek? Anyway, she said she’d look after you if I looked after her brother, so...”

There’s an awkward pause, his dad holding his own food absently as he stares intently at Stiles. “And you’re sure there’s nothing you need to tell me? No big news?”

Stiles isn’t sure what his dad is pushing at, but something clicks in his mind. “Oh yeah! There is! I forgot to tell you last time, and then, you know, finals. Lydia’s taking the test for College Jeopardy in January, but you can’t tell anyone. I mean, we know she’ll get in, but she’s not sure and her parents are... her parents, so--”

For some reason his dad looks almost disappointed and a little bit relieved but he returns to eating his food and nods agreeably. “She’s going to hate wearing an MIT sweatshirt on tv,” he says, grinning, and Stiles can’t help but laugh. She really, really will.

***

The next day Stiles finishes bundling the cookies into tins and tying them up with ribbon. It’s not the fanciest present anyone will receive, but it’s warm and heartfelt, and last year Stiles put on a santa hat and drove all over town delivering them, and that’s exactly what he plans to do this year. Mid-day Stiles carefully piles the tins into boxes and belts them into the back seat of the Jeep and heads out. He drops tins at Danny’s place, Lydia’s, stops in at Scott’s and says hi again to his mom for awhile before heading to the police station.

His dad usually takes lunch a little later in the day since they tend to get bombarded over the lunch hour with questions about bylaws and parking tickets. He’s brought a massive tin of oatmeal cookies for the whole station to share (even his dad, since they’re not too terrible for him) and a separate assortment tin for Laura and the rest of the Hales.

And yeah, okay, maybe Stiles has the Hale tin tucked into the front seat of the Jeep and he’s not bringing it in with him right away but it would be just rude to play favorites in front of the other deputies. What he isn’t expecting is for Derek to be leaning against the reception desk when he gets there.

“Oh, hey, Derek, what are you doing here?” Stiles asks, then stops and adds, “Wait, stupid question. Visiting Laura for lunch?”

A slow smile spreads across Derek’s face and it feels like a low warmth spreads through Stiles’ ribcage at the same time. “Apparently I don’t spend enough time spoiling her even though she’s the oldest,” he explains.

“Yeah, I always thought the youngest was supposed to be the spoiled one?” Stiles wouldn’t know, since both he and Scott are only children, but that’s what all the sitcoms say.

Laura steps around the corner and up to the front desk, tucking a pen back into one of her pockets. “Don’t let Derek trick you into thinking he’s the sensible one, Stiles. He’s definitely the spoiled youngest child.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “I think it’s pretty obvious which one of us is the level-headed one,” he replies and Laura grins widely at him. It’s clearly an old, often repeated argument. “Are you taking the Sheriff out to lunch?”

“Oh,” Laura cuts in, “If he’s okay with it, you should both just come with us. It’s Derek’s treat, since he’s the wild success,” Laura explains.

“Uh-“ Stiles glances at Derek who nods at him, just once, to give the okay. “If dad’s up for it, that’s fine with me. I just have to drop these,” Stiles hefts the tin of cookies, “in the break room and grab him.”

“Are those my cookies?” Laura steps closer and sniffs at the air as if she can smell them through the tin and wax paper. “What kind are they?”

He blushes, just a little, but when you’re fair and covered in freckles even just a little blush looks like a lot, which is even more embarrassing, which makes Stiles blush more. “I actually have a tin for- for your whole family, out in the car,” he says, and rushes to explain, “I mean, I made a lot and I figured your mom might like some, and Derek, too, obviously, and if you’ve got relatives stopping by—“

Laura stretches a broad grin at Stiles and reaches out to scrub at his hair. “I’m seriously going to find out a way to keep you, Stiles, and then you’ll make cookies for me all the time.”

“I found him first,” Derek cuts in, sounding testy. “Give him some breathing space.”

That only seems to make Laura grin more, and she wraps her arms around Stiles’ shoulders, hugging him from behind, resting her chin on his shoulder. “I don’t think Stiles minds. Do you, Stiles?”

He’s actually a bit confused about what’s going on, and slightly uncomfortable with being used to further some kind of sibling rivalry battle he doesn’t fully understand. He slips out of her embrace, shrugs at Derek, and steps back towards the bullpen. “I’ll be right back, just gotta drop these off and grab my dad.” It’s avoiding the question, but Stiles makes his retreat and when he darts into the break room he finds his dad standing in front of the open fridge, making a face.

“Father mine,” he calls out, “I come bearing gifts! And Laura and Derek are offering to take us out to lunch, if you want.”

His dad pops open the tin and steals the top cookie, taking a bite. “Sold,” he says around a mouthful, “Just let me lock my computer. And you should let everyone know these are here,” he adds, heading back out to his office. Stiles sets the tin on the wobbly old table and yells “Oatmeal cookies for Beacon Hills’ finest in the break room!” to the space at large and there’s an immediate, satisfying crush of people crowding into the small room. He accepts thanks from the officers, most of whom he practically grew up around, before his dad comes back, shrugging into his jacket and adjusting the sleeves as they head back out front. Derek and Laura are still arguing in the waiting area, though they stop as soon as Stiles and his dad enter the room.

“I heard something about a free lunch,” his dad speaks up, and then holds out his hand. “You must be Derek. Nice to meet you.”

It’s weird to realize that Derek and his dad haven’t met. He’s known Derek for almost two months now, and Laura has worked with his dad for longer than that. It seems like they should have crossed paths already.

“Dad, enough with the Sheriff Carebear Stare,” Stiles says when they’ve been shaking hands for far too long and Derek is starting to look uncomfortable, “I’m pretty sure Derek isn’t a criminal.” Laura cracks up and Derek just looks relieved.

“Sorry,” his dad apologizes, inclining his head to Derek, “Force of habit. Where are we going for lunch?”

“Oh, it’s a surprise - quick change of plans. How about you two follow us?” Laura turns to Derek, “I’m driving; hand over the keys.”

***

When Laura said lunch was Derek’s treat he’d thought she meant Derek would pay after they ate at a restaurant somewhere, but unless a lot of things have changed in the year and a half he’s lived in Berkeley, that’s definitely not happening because Laura leads them right up the drive of the Hale house before she stops the car. Quick change of plans, she'd said? Stiles is a little confused.

Stiles shrugs off his dad’s raised eyebrow and says, “Yeah, I’ve got no clue, either,” but as they get out of the Jeep, an older woman, around his dad’s age, steps out of the house with a bright smile. It’s very obviously Mrs. Hale. Her hair might be a bit grey at the temples, but otherwise it’s the same chestnut brown as Laura’s, and she has the same bright grey-green eyes as her children.

Stiles darts back into the Jeep and grabs the large tin of cookies he made for the family, slightly embarrassed. Mrs. Hale has pulled Laura and Derek into a close hug at the same time and only lets them go as he and his dad make their way up to the porch.

“Sheriff, it’s lovely to see you again,” she says, pulling him into a hug, too. It takes a lot of effort but Stiles manages not to laugh openly at his dad’s startled expression. Most of the people in town don’t hug their local law enforcement on sight. “And of course this can only be Stiles,” she adds, letting go of his dad and reaching for him. Laura deftly grabs the tin from Stiles’ hands just in time for him to be pulled in for a hug as well.

“Ah, it’s really nice to meet you, Mrs. Hale,” he stutters out and she pulls back to frown at him.

“Call me Laurell,” she insists. “I’ve heard so much about you I feel like I already—Laura!”

Laura pauses, half a cookie in her mouth and the tin open in her arms. She swallows. “Stiles made them for me! We made a deal!”

“Actually they’re for all of you,” he has to cut in, and Laura guiltily closes the tin back up before Derek can get a hand inside.

“Don’t spoil your lunch,” Laurell scolds and both Derek and Laura straighten their shoulders. It would be comedic but for the expression on his dad’s face, thoughtful and directed right at Stiles which makes him straighten up, too. “Are you hungry? We’re almost ready. Come inside!” She ushers them all in to step out of their shoes and head into the kitchen where Mr. Hale is poking a spatula at a small mountain of pork. Now that he could see them all at once Stiles couldn’t help noticing that the Hales looked like a secret cloning experiment gone very, very right. Mr. Hale looked a lot like Derek, if slightly lighter and broader; a little less defined and with a wider jaw.

“Pull up a chair, both of you,” he speaks up from the stove. “I’d shake hands but I don’t want to burn these. Hope everyone’s okay with pork chops!” Stiles and his dad chorus an affirmative and sit down while the Hales set the table and bring over plates loaded down with pork chops, tender cooked apples and a heap of bacon cheese grits.

Laurell glances up at the clock above the kitchen door. “Waiting on three more?” his dad asks and she sighs, smiling apologetically. Stiles counts up the chairs to figure out where his dad pulled the number from, but yes, there are three extra chairs crowded around the large table.

“You’d think they couldn’t tell time,” she explains, even as they hear the front door close. “Those three are always late.”

“Lies and slander!” a girl calls from down the hall, door slamming shut, and Stiles can hear the sound of more than one person stomping their boots clean and hauling them off with their coats and scarves. “I got us here right on time,” she finishes, and three more Hales pile into the kitchen, hot on each other’s heels.

The girl who spoke has a rounder face than Laura and lighter hair, but the same eyes, the same curve to her mouth as if she knows something Stiles doesn’t. “Hi, I’m Alex,” she says, waving as she pulls out a chair. “Stiles and the Sheriff, right?”

“That’s me,” Stiles agrees while Derek scoots his chair closer to Stiles to make room for the remaining two siblings, another woman with short, dark hair, skinnier and more serious looking than her sisters, and a man who looks just slightly leaner than Derek with lighter hair like Alex.

“Becca,” the girl nods at him, and is followed shortly by her brother who introduces himself as Elliot.

Now we can eat,” Mr. Hale sighs with relief, and everyone digs in. The pork chops are tender and juicy, and the cooked apples balance out the saltiness just right.

“This is great,” his dad speaks up after several mouthfuls. “I don’t suppose you’d give Stiles the recipe?”

“Hey!” Stiles interjects, but Mr. Hale laughs. “Though, this is great, and I wouldn’t mind if you had it written down somewhere.”

“No problem. We eat this every time Derek comes home, since it’s his favorite, and he’s not here that often. I’ll give you the recipe but only on the condition that if he ever asks for it you make him come home for a few days instead.” Mr. Hale glances slyly at Derek, who cuts into his pork chop viciously.

“I can’t come home all the time,” he says, “I have responsibilities.”

Elliot snorts. “Must be really hard to get time off from volunteer patrols for your own charity.”

“Shut up, El,” Becca says and turns to the Sheriff. “Do you have any dirt on Laura?”

He hums thoughtfully. “Not off the top of my head, she’s a great Deputy, but I can tell you she started bossing everyone around her first week on the job.”

Laura flushes a little but the most amazing thing is that Derek bursts out laughing, really laughing, and so do the rest of the Hales, Alex pointing at Laura.

“None of you appreciate my piercing insights,” Laura huffs, which just seems to crack them up even more, and Stiles can see his dad is covering his mouth to keep his own chuckles inside.

Eventually the topic moves away from Laura’s bossy tendencies and on to embarrassing stories about all five Hale children. “But you can tell Derek is the baby,” Laura says, winking at Stiles, “Because he’s so spoiled.” Stiles doesn’t really see it, but then he can’t tell what kind of age gaps there are between the others.

“Are you sure he’s the youngest?” Stiles counters, “I mean, I’d have guessed maybe Becca - no offense.”

“None taken,” Becca replies, “That would just be my youthful visage, obviously, especially compared to Derek’s grumpy face. I am the youngest girl though.”

“You can tell I’m the oldest because I’m the responsible one,” Laura adds, to some eye rolling, “Then Alex, then Elliot, then Becca, then Derek.”

“It must be nice,” his dad says, “To have so many children. Of course sometimes keeping Stiles in line can feel like we had five...”

“Ha ha, Dad, you know you’d be lost without all of this.” Stiles gestures to himself and his dad smiles.

“I would indeed.”

Elliot leans his chin in one hand, eyes heavy from eating, and looks directly at Stiles from across the table. “Well I can see how he’d be hard to replace,” he drawls. “Where did you find him, Derek?”

“He had an ad in the paper,” Derek says, almost warily, though Stiles isn’t sure why yet. He finds that the other Hale siblings are suddenly looking at him intently.

“You’re sure there’s only one of him?” Alex asks the Sheriff. “The only thing Derek talks about lately is Stiles. And his food,” she adds after a weirdly long pause. His dad looks amused.

“Sorry, just the one, and he seems fairly tied up lately.”

“I’ll bet,” Becca mutters, and then adds “Ow!” when Laura elbows her. “Stiles do you make pie? I haven’t had a coconut cream pie in ages.”

“Uh, I can,” Stiles replies, “Though my best one is probably peach pie.”

“Oh god, peach pie,” Laura moans rapturously. “All the rest of you need to stay away, I found him first; he’s mine.”

“Hey!” It’s the only thing Derek gets out before Mr. Hale silences them with a raised hand.

“I don’t know about pie, but I did hear he brought some cookies, if Laura hasn’t eaten them all already.”

She pushes back her chair and stands up. “I only ate one! I’ll grab them if--”

“We’ll clear the table,” Laurell confirms, though she gestures for Stiles and his dad to stay seated. “You’re our guests; relax. I think I’ll put on some water. Would you like coffee? Tea?”

“Coffee, please,” they chorus over the clatter of plates and cutlery.

Mr. Hale can definitely cook, and Stiles is pretty full, but he’s always got room for coffee. Watching Derek jostle with his brother and sisters, scraping plates clean and loading them into the dishwasher, he suddenly feels a little guilty. Maybe he should’ve made a separate tin of cookies for Derek, too. He’d put together an extra large tin for the family, but it wasn’t like Derek would be here for the entire winter break. Stiles resolves to watch which cookies Derek likes best and make another batch when he gets home tonight, after he delivers the rest of the tins around town.

His dad leans back in his chair, looking satisfied and thoughtful. It’s been a long time since they’ve had a meal like this outside of Thanksgiving dinner with everyone. Christmas at the Stilinski house has been pretty quiet since his mom passed away. They don’t really have many relatives, though he knows there’s a group of them out in Australia, somewhere near Perth. Even though it’s lunch time, and even though the Hales aren’t family, this feels a little bit like family gatherings on christmas specials look like they might feel. Warm, and loud, and full of friendly bickering.

Though, okay, yes, it is definitely weird the way Becca keeps making mail order bride jokes at Derek. There’s clearly some kind of family in-joke he’s missing there.

***

The cookies are a hit, and Derek packs away three of the peanut butter chocolate chip ones before brushing the crumbs off his fingers when Alex complains that Derek gets Stiles’ cooking all the time and should leave some for the rest of them. When their coffee cups are empty and everyone looks awake and over the post-lunch sleepiness, his dad reminds Laura that unfortunately they do need to get back to work.

“Sure thing, boss,” she says, “Stiles are you still doing your rounds? I can drive the Sheriff and I back to the station, save you some time.”

“That’d be great, thanks,” Stiles nods, and then turns to Mr. Hale and holds out his hand. “Thank you for lunch, sir, it was really delicious!”

Mr. Hale laughs. “I don’t think I rate a sir, especially not from you, Stiles. You can call me David and we’ll call it even in exchange for those cookies.”

Stiles grins. “Deal.” They shake on it, and Derek pulls out their jackets and boots for them to slip back into.

Stiles hugs his dad goodbye before Laura peels out of the driveway, giving Stiles and the rest of the Hales a quick wave out the driver’s side window. The ground is covered in a light frost over the last leaves of autumn, and Stiles’ boots make a satisfying crunching noise as he crosses to the Jeep with Derek beside him.

“Thanks,” Derek says quietly, “for the cookies. And suffering through a meal with them. Laura can really steamroll people sometimes.”

“Are you kidding? That was great! Dad and I both loved it, and I’m glad I got to meet the rest of your family. You’re lucky, you know? The closest I have to a brother is Scott, but we don’t talk as much now that we live in different cities and everything. I’m kind of jealous.” He means it, too. Even with all their in-jokes and teasing, Stiles hadn’t felt left out or awkward at all, just welcomed in like he was part of the family.

Derek’s smile is brilliant, his eyes crinkling at the sides and his mouth tugged up in one corner. “I’m glad. They really liked you, too.” They stand there like that for a minute, maybe a little too close together beside the Jeep, just smiling at each other before Stiles realizes Derek’s probably getting cold standing around waiting for him to leave. He steps back and opens the driver’s side door.

“I’ll see you around,” Stiles says and he hops up into the seat. “Thanks again!”

Derek steps back a few paces to give Stiles room to turn around, but when he turns the key in the starter all that comes out of the engine is a kind of half-hearted groan followed by a clunk. He tries it again, frowning, but the result is the same.

“Come on, baby, don’t die on me now,” Stiles cajoles, embarrassed and anxious, and tries again. It’s clearly a failed effort. He climbs back down out of the Jeep and sighs. Derek props open the hood, places his hands on the sides and takes a look.

“Are you good with cars?” Stiles asks. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and tumbles it back and forth in his hands, debating calling for a tow.

“He’s not,” Elliot cuts in. He must have heard the engine fail to start and come back out of the house. “But luckily you’ve got me.”

Derek glares at Elliot but steps aside to let his brother take a look, and rubs a hand through his hair. “El took over the garage in town last year. He’s a good mechanic,” he explains. Hopefully he’s right. Stiles remembers the previous guy, who had been hot but definitely jacked up his prices whenever he thought he could get away with it, which was most of the time since he was the only shop in town.

Elliot hums at the engine, fiddles with a few things and then closes the hood. “I’ve got good news and bad news,” he says, wiping his hands on his jeans. “The bad news is it’s going to take a few days to fix, and I’ll have to order a part.”

Stiles bites his lip and winces. There goes all the money he saved up cooking for Derek. “And the good news?”

Elliot shrugs. “I’ll do it for cheap, and if you and Derek help me hook it up to the truck I can tow it over to the garage right now. I’m not sure how long it’ll take for the part to get here, though,” he cautions, “this close to Christmas. Some of the shops I order from close down over the holiday.”

“You’re a lifesaver,” Stiles says, genuinely grateful. He slips his phone back into his pocket. “Just point me where you need me.”

***

Once they’ve got the Jeep to the garage (and really, Stiles will possibly never get over the image of Derek hauling and lifting heavy things to help him out), Stiles hands over the keys to Elliot who looks at him thoughtfully. “You know, Stiles, if you wanted to learn more about cars, you could always stick around for the rest of the day and I could drive you home later.”

“I would, but I have to deliver a bunch of things today,” Stiles says but he’s only half-sorry. A few years ago he might have really enjoyed watching someone like Elliot strip down to a tank top and work on a bunch of cars, especially since the entire Hale family seems to be almost unnaturally attractive, but his crush on Derek has basically ruined him, at least for now, and he really does have things to do. Like bake Derek a second batch of cookies.

Stiles makes a note that he needs to grow up and move on already since Derek is, well, Derek, and Stiles is not. He knows he’s not bad, cute, even, but he also knows his limits and Derek is way out of his league.

“Oh, well in that case,” Elliot walks over to a wall of hooks holding different sets of car keys, grabs a pair, and throws them to Derek, who catches them deftly in one hand. “You should make Derek drive you. You’ve been spoiling him for months - make him earn it a little.” He winks, and Stiles feels his face heat up but Derek is nodding seriously.

“Thanks,” he says to Elliot, and heads over to the other end of the garage and starts pulling a dust cover off what looks like another very fast car. Clearly the Hales like to drive.

“Before you go, Stiles, let’s swap numbers. I’ll text you when your car is ready,” he says, and that makes sense. He and Elliot exchange information while Derek makes sure the car is ready to go and loaded down with Stiles’ gifts.

“Thanks again,” Stiles calls to Elliot. “I really appreciate it!”

The car Elliot has loaned Derek is sleek and painted an obnoxiously bright yellow with two black racing stripes up the center. “Fancy,” Stiles comments, slipping into the passenger seat, much lower to the ground than he’s used to sitting.

“Flashy,” Derek corrects. “Elliot needs a lot of attention.” The car starts like a dream though, purring to life under Derek’s hands, and when he pulls out of the shop the gear shifts are smooth and sharp, and Stiles decides to allow himself a few more days of being stupid about Derek because there’s no sense in not enjoying this.

The remaining tins have to go to family friends and the families of some of the retired officers that his dad used to work with. Stiles practically grew up at the station, so they’re almost the same thing. He tells Derek where the first house is and leans back in his seat.

“How long are you staying in town?” Stiles asks. “It sounds like you’re not here very much.”

“I’m not sure. I--” Derek pauses, making a turn. “There are some things back here I want to avoid. I like seeing my family though, and you.”

“I know how that feels,” he agrees. “I miss my dad when I’m away, but there are things I was happy to leave behind. I guess it’s not far though, not really. Not like it is for Lydia.” Derek makes an inquisitive sound, so Stiles ploughs on, “She’s one of my best friends, but the last year of high school was kind of a mess for her. She got into MIT though, which is awesome, but you know, far. I’m supposed to drive her back to the airport at the end of break, actually.” Stiles frowns. “I hope my baby is fixed in time for that.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Derek says casually, and pulls up in front of their first stop. Stiles just kind of stares at him with his mouth hanging open for a second before he snaps it shut and grabs a tin from the back seat.

“Back in a second,” he says, and slides out. It’s longer than a second but mostly because Mrs. Cruz hasn’t seen him in a while and wants to chat a bit before he can get away. She’s nice but if he stuck around any longer she’d try to feed him, and Stiles is definitely still full from lunch.

By the time he gets back in the car Derek has flipped on the radio, which is playing the same distractingly catchy christmas music on pretty much every channel; his fingers are tapping the steering wheel with the beat.

“Where to next?” he asks and it’s so casual that Stiles knows something is off but he doesn’t know what. Instead of making Derek feel uncomfortable he just directs him to the next house.

***

Derek even takes him to the grocery store to pick up some more peanut butter and a few other supplies before dropping him off at the house. The cruiser isn’t there yet, but his dad’s probably working a bit later to make up for the long lunch. Stiles gathers up the groceries and climbs out of the car, leaning down to say goodbye.

“Seriously, thanks for playing chauffeur, and for lunch and, well, everything,” Stiles says. “Maybe I’ll see you before you head back to Berkeley?”

He can’t pin Derek’s expression, but it must be good, because he says, “Yes, absolutely,” before Stiles closes the car door. He even idles in the driveway for the minute it takes Stiles to fumble his keys out and get inside, waving as he pulls away. Chances are they’ll just run into each other when Stiles picks up his Jeep, or visiting at the station, but he feels good about it anyway. If nothing else, Stiles feels like they’re slowly becoming friends, and it’s nice.

Belatedly, he remembers to text his dad about the Jeep and let him know that he’s home. He can probably whip up two dozen cookies before his dad gets back if he starts right away.

There are healthyish ways to make peanut butter cookies, but that’s not the way Stiles does it. Stiles way starts off with a small mountain of butter, two kinds of sugar, lots of peanut butter, and two eggs just to get going. Once the dry ingredients have smoothed it all out he measures out double the recommended amount of chocolate chips, because why even bother if you’re not going to load them up with chocolate? They only take ten minutes to puff up and spread out in the oven, and once they’ve cooled they’ll stay chewy and moist for at least a few days.

The whole house smells like peanut butter and sugar when Stiles goes to bed and as he drifts off he thinks of all sorts of things he could make to satisfy Derek’s newly-discovered sweet tooth.

***

It’s only the next morning that he realizes the only way he has of getting the cookies to Derek is walking all the way to the Hale house, a good hour away on foot. It looks cold outside. His phone goes off.

Are you free today? Right now? Are you up and everything?
-Alex

Stiles adds her to his phone and texts back. Sure, what’s up?

Be out front in five.

Stiles shifts from foot to foot debating bringing the tin with him to pass to Alex to give to Derek, but that just seems too indirect or vaguely rude, so he leaves it behind in the kitchen and sits on the stoop, hands tucked into his pockets and shoulders hunched up against the chill.

“Don’t even say a word,” Alex says when she pulls up in front of his house. Unlike her siblings, who apparently favour sleek cars made for illegal street racing, Alex drives a beaten up wood-panelled station wagon that is straight out of the late 70s. “One of us had to have a real car, and El said he would hook me up,” she explains once Stiles is buckled in.

“Actually, I was going to ask where we’re going.”

Alex laughs sheepishly. “Oh, right. Didn’t I tell you? You’re coming tree hunting with us!” Stiles checks the date on his phone but yeah, it’s definitely still December 22nd. “I know, it seems late, but we had to wait for Derek to get here and trust me, we’re not going to have any trouble finding the perfect tree.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” Stiles and his dad have been using the same little artificial tree for years now. Every year they take it out and assemble it and fluff it up and cover it in decorations. It’s not big, but it doesn’t need to be since there’s only the two of them.

Alex pulls up in front of the Hale house and honks twice, loudly. “Stay put,” she says when Stiles reaches for his seat belt. “You get shotgun.”

“Because I was here first?” Stiles asks.

“Because it’ll drive Derek crazy to see you up front with me,” Alex corrects which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense unless Derek doesn’t want Stiles hanging out with his family, in which case he probably shouldn’t have given them all Stiles’ cell number. Weird.

***

Laura, Elliot, Becca, and Derek stumble out of the house bundled up for cold weather, though terrifyingly Laura is carrying an axe over one shoulder. At least it has a protective leather case over the head and blade but it’s still kind of a horrifying thought. Elliot and Becca have what looks like a bundle of burlap and some twine respectively.

Alex was right. Derek looks kind of pissed. Sinking down in the seat a little, Stiles feels suddenly uncomfortable and unsure. Should he even be here? Alex invited him but who knew why. This was clearly going to be a family outing. Laura opens the back door on Stiles’ side and gestures for Becca and Elliot to take the back bench. “Stiles! We’re so glad you could make it!”

“Thanks? Are you sure I should be here, though? I mean--”

“Yes,” Derek cuts him off in chorus with his siblings. He still looks grouchy, but less so once he’s settled on the bench right behind Stiles with Laura. “Someone has to make sure Laura doesn’t kill anyone,” he elaborates as Alex pulls away from the house.

Laura smacks him on the arm for that comment. “Hey! I’ve been using this axe since I was seven! I’m completely safe.” She pauses and looks at Stiles earnestly. “Don’t believe anything Derek tells you about us, Stiles. He just doesn’t know how to handle greatness.”

In the back, Elliot can’t hold his laughter. “Sure, let’s go with ‘greatness’. I mean obviously I am great, but it doesn’t really apply to Laura.”

“Yeah, which is why Alex has to drive this beast around--” Becca cuts in.

“Uh, excuse me, this beast is the only reason we can fit all of us and a tree in one vehicle.” There’s a murmur of assent and some grumbling as the station wagon veers off onto a narrow track into the woods.

“And it’s okay for you to just cut down a tree out here?” Stiles asks. “I mean, I thought people went to tree-farms or something for this kind of thing.”

“Everyone else goes to tree farms,” Laura explains, “But we actually own most of the land on this edge of town, and a lot of that’s just forest, so we get our pick, and then replant a few more in the spring.”

“And Laura gets to wave an axe at us once a year,” Derek says, leaning forward to put one hand on Stiles’ shoulder, “so just stand back with the rest of us in case she gets hit in the face when the tree falls.”

The track winds through the trees for several long minutes before ending in a large, round clearing, where Alex pulls the car so that it’s facing back into the track. “Okay, everybody out,” she says, pocketing her keys. There’s no snow, even out there in the woods, but the ground is covered in a thick layer of leaves that Stiles kicks up with his feet as they shuffle further into the forest.

“So are we talking Charlie Brown or Whoville here?” Stiles asks Derek, matching his stride. They’re almost the same height, which he hadn’t noticed before. Derek always seems so much bigger in his mind somehow.

“As big as it can get and still fit in the living room,” Derek says, “though it’s okay if the back is a little off. It goes in a corner.”

“And the ceilings are what, twelve feet?”

“About that,” Laura says, pulling into step on Stiles’ other side. Mostly Stiles is asking questions because he has no idea how this works. The last time he’d gone tree hunting he was ten and his mom was still healthy. He doesn’t remember a lot about how it works. “Though we’ll have to leave a little breathing space for a star on top.”

“Just don’t cut it too close this year,” Derek teases slyly, side-eyeing Laura.

She makes a face at him. “I was trying something different!”

“If that’s what you want to call cutting down a tree with a shotgun,” Becca joins in.

“We can only hope,” and Elliot is all mock-serious with a hand over his heart, “for the poor citizens of Beacon Hills relying on her that her aim has improved since then.”

“It was eight years ago!”

“And now we all know why it was a super bad idea,” Alex calls back from the front of the group. “Seriously, eye protection - it’s a thing.”

“Yeah, yeah. Stop bad-mouthing me in front of Stiles. You’ll give him ideas.”

Derek bumps shoulders with him, smiling. “Accurate ones. Trust us, you’re better off not having been there. She had to hold the shotgun right up against the tree--”

“But it worked!” No one is listening to Laura, clearly enjoying what must be a fairly regular re-telling.

“And had to fire off a couple rounds before it came down. And then she still had to take a hatchet to it anyway, because it was too ragged to put in a tree stand, so it wound up being too short,” Derek finishes, speaking over her.

“Yeah we couldn’t fit half the presents under it,” Becca continues. “They had to be stacked up in front of it instead.”

Laura huffs. “So ungrateful, all of you. I could always give this axe to El this year.”

“No!” everyone but Elliot says at once and she grins at Stiles as if he’s in on the joke.

“He’s got a terrible swing - kept just barely avoiding losing his toes until we took his axe away from him. It’s a rule now.”

“What can I say? I leave the weirdo hick activities to Laura and Derek. Neither of them can fix a car, anyway,” Elliot shrugs.

“I can change my oil.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t count, Derek.”

“Hey, hold up,” Alex says suddenly. “What about that one?”

She points off to the left, where a tall, beautiful evergreen stands. It’s full and lush, symmetrical and a deep green that would probably look almost magical with christmas lights against it.

“Nice pick, Alex,” Elliot says approvingly. “Becca?”

“It’s got my vote,” she agrees. Derek and Laura also chime in and then look at Stiles.

“I get a vote too? I mean, yeah, it’s awesome. This is some serious Cindy Lou Who tree action,” Stiles says.

“Perfect, then,” Laura says, unsnapping the leather guard from her axe as everyone steps back several feet. She sets the axe against the base of the tree at an angle and takes a few practice swings before clipping into it, taking out a flat-bottomed wedge until she hits dirt on the back half before moving around to the front and making a similar cut slightly higher up. There’s a groaning creak and then the tree tips over away from the group, hitting the ground with a slight bounce. “Timber!” Laura cheers, cleaning off the axe and bundling it back up.

Elliot and Becca start laying down burlap next to it, then roll the tree over and wrap it up with the twine almost like it’s a present. “What are they doing?” he asks Derek, rubbing his hands together.

“It’s easier to get it back to the car like this,” he explains, gesturing as they make two pulls out of some of the remaining twine. “We can pull it behind us and then just strap it onto the roof to go home.” That made sense. Soon enough Elliot and Becca each have a handful of twine and they were all heading back towards the clearing.

“Do you still have time today?” Derek asks when they’re almost there. “You should help us set it up. We still have a few of your cookies left.”

“Yeah, of course,” Stiles agrees. “I’m all yours.” He’s probably imagining it, but Derek’s face when he says that looks- hopeful, maybe, or something like that. He can’t quite parse the expression, can’t quite wrap his brain around it, and anyway, before he gets a chance to try, he’s distracted by Elliot and Becca’s flailing attempts to strap the tree to the roof of the car.

***

When they get back to the house, Laurell is waiting for them with hot chocolate and yes, a few last cookies. “I had to hide them,” she tells Stiles, “or they’d all be gone already. It was a feeding frenzy.”

“Guess you’ll just have to make more for us, Stiles!” Alex calls from the hall. She and Laura are hauling the tree into the living room while Derek readies the tree stand.

“Should I help with that?” he asks aloud, but Laurell pulls him to sit on the couch with her.

“Leave them to it. It makes them feel good to be useful once in awhile.”

“Whatever, I’m always useful,” Laura says, holding the tree steady while Elliot tightens the screws. He snorts at her.

“I think Derek disagrees.”

“Derek doesn’t know how to strategize,” she counters. “I’m thinking six moves ahead!”

“How about you think about moving the tree back so it’s straight again, instead,” Derek drawls and Laura adjusts her grip. “Better.”

Once the tree is straight and locked into place, Alex hands Derek the tree skirt and a box of popcorn garland and says, with an absolutely straight face, “You’re the littlest, Derek, it’s your job,” and then pinches his cheeks while Derek scowls.

“Can I help?” Stiles asks, chugging the last of his hot chocolate.

Laura pulls out another box full of fresh cranberry garland. “You can do the cranberries if you want, Stiles. We trust you not to crush all of them, unlike some people,” she says, lightly kicking Elliot.

“Hey, the ladies love my strong hands,” he says, holding them up in front of himself.

“Yes, and I’d love them even more if you didn’t ruin all my hard work. It took a long time, stringing all that popcorn and all those cranberries,” Laurell says, “Though I’d also love them most if you’d get me a refill.” Elliot ducks his head and takes her mug into the kitchen.

For all they tease him, Derek has a deft hand with the garland, weaving it under and over branches, careful not to break any or pull too hard. For someone with such strongly muscled forearms, he has delicate wrists, and fine-boned fingers. They’re not like Stiles’ - his fingers never seemed to grow out of the long and gangly phase - but they’re, well, distracting is probably the best word.

He takes a deep breath and makes himself concentrate on the tree. The rest of the Hales seem to be unwrapping decorations from large clear bins. The breakable things have been wrapped up with bubble wrap, and the rest have been separated out with layers of tissue paper to keep things from scratching or getting tangled. There’s no hope for the lights though, which Alex pulls out and frowns at; they’re a giant mess and she sits cross-legged on the floor to try and sort them out.

“Hey, Laura, grab the other end- we can’t put any of that stuff on until the lights are up, anyway. And can someone hit the squeaker? I want to see if we have to replace any of the bulbs.” There’s a high-pitched whistle sound and then the lights come to life. Becca tosses the small plastic remote to Alex, who catches it and sets it aside to continue untangling the string.

“This is nice,” he says to Derek, ducking under his arm as they pass each other going around the tree. “You guys have this down to a science.”

“You should see Laura on Christmas Eve,” Derek confides quietly. “We’re not allowed to shake any of the presents, but she holds them up and guesses what’s inside. One year we found out she had unwrapped just one corner so she could see what they were, and then re-did the tape so our parents couldn’t tell.”

That makes Stiles crack up, because honestly, everyone in the Sheriff’s department was some kind of delinquent as a kid and from everything he’s heard today Laura is no exception.

Stiles jumps a little, bounces on his toes to get the last of the cranberry garland around the top of the tree and tucks the end in at the back, out of sight.

Just in time, too, because Laura and Alex have finished untangling the lights and can finally string them up, too. He turns to Derek. “Want more cocoa?”

Derek nods and crosses the room to grab both their mugs and head into the kitchen. Stiles had actually meant that he could get refills for them, but it’s stupidly cute how serious Derek looked about it. Clearly Mr and Mrs Hale had drilled the manners into him.

“Are you staying for lunch, Stiles?” David says, leaning into the living room. “Nothing fancy, but there’s plenty to go around.”

Before Stiles can answer, Alex pipes in, “Definitely yes - he said he was free all day.” She pauses at the look she gets from both parents. “Uh, I mean-- please stay for lunch, Stiles?”

He smothers a laugh and nods. “Absolutely. Thanks!” and accepts a fresh mug of cocoa from Derek, who sits down next to him on the loveseat. He’s guiltily enjoying being pressed thigh-to-thigh with Derek when Laura makes a small sound and then quickly hides whichever Christmas ornament she just found behind her back and Derek stiffens.

“No,” he says suddenly, setting his mug aside.

“Oh yes,” Laura replies with relish and makes a mad dash for the tree, ignoring the fact that Becca isn’t done stringing the lights yet. They both make a run for the tree, but Laura wins, just barely managing to hang a christmas-tree shaped bit of stiff lace with a photo in the center right at the front of the tree.

“Sorry, Derek, you know the rule - once it’s on the tree it can’t come off until the tree comes down.” Derek scowls intently at her. “And your angry kid brother face isn’t going to make me change my mind, either,” she adds smugly. “Stiles, you should see this - it’s absolutely my favorite picture of Derek.”

Stiles glances warily between Laura (grinning and gleeful) and Derek (clearly embarrassed and not making eye contact). “I think I’m good,” he replies carefully, lifting his mug. “I still have all this cocoa to drink.”

Derek looks so relieved that Stiles is sure he made the right choice, though of course now he desperately wants to go take a look.

“Ugh,” Laura pouts, “You’re too good for us, Stiles.”

“Speak for yourself,” Elliot drawls from where he’s attaching little wire hooks to blue and gold balls, “No one’s too good for me; I’m a paragon of virtue.”

“And so modest, too,” Alex teases him. Elliot shrugs.

“What can I say? All those great genes mom and dad have had to work out in one of us.” He ruins the effect by laughing when Becca hits him in the face with a wad of tissue paper, but the tension is broken. Derek sits back down next to Stiles and bumps knees gently as a silent thank you. If his heart skips a beat at the small smile Derek throws his way, that’s nobody’s business but his.

***

They take a break halfway through decorating for lunch when David calls everyone into the kitchen for cheddar-dill scones and a sharp carrot soup. They crowd around the kitchen table, jostling each other for seats and passing spoons down the line.

The soup is delicious, smooth and warm and filling, perfect for the kind of winter northern California gets, more like fall everywhere else, and Stiles breaks off a piece of his savory scone for dipping. “This is amazing,” he tells David once he’s swallowed. “Would you trade me this recipe, too?”

Laughing, David agrees. “I’ll give you this one for free,” he says, “or in exchange for putting up with this lot.”

“So why the rule about not moving decorations,” Stiles asks after he’s eaten a bit more.

Some people,” Becca says, rolling her eyes, “have very strong opinions about whether tree decorations should be placed symmetrically or asymmetrically.”

Laurell smiles wryly. “After a few years of listening to them duke it out we put the rule in place. Everyone puts whatever they want on the tree wherever they want and no one else is allowed to re-arrange it when everyone else is sleeping.”

“Seriously,” Alex pouts into her soup, “It was only once! Some of us are perfectionists.”

“Some of us are crazy-cakes,” Becca clarifies and takes an elbow to the side in retaliation. “And the rest of us just want our hideous photo ornaments put at the back of the tree.”

Using the last bit of scone, Stiles mops up the remaining soup from his bowl and hums thoughtfully. “You’re all pretty lucky though, to even have that fight. Lydia - one of my best friends - her parents hire a professional tree decorator every year. No personal decorations, just some kind of theme based on whatever is in fashion. Is there Christmas fashion? I guess there has to be.”

“You know,” David says thoughtfully, “maybe you can bring your friend Lydia next year. If we haven’t scared you off before then, that is.”

“I-- thanks,” Stiles stutters out, not sure how to respond. “Next year,” he nods and can’t help but glance over at Derek, who is watching him very seriously. Stiles jerks his gaze back to his empty bowl. “Can I help clean up?”

“Nope, but you can help us finish decorating,” Laura says firmly, ushering Stiles back into the living room. “I’ll even let you hang up some of my favorites.”

***

Which is how twenty minutes later, trying to adjust the lights around an aluminum snowman, Stiles comes face to face with what has to be one of Derek’s mandatory middle school portraits, and freezes. I’m not supposed to see this, he thinks frantically for a second but it’s kind of swept aside by how genuinely cute Derek had been back then. Why would he be embarrassed about it?

He’s thinner in the picture, bright eyed and grinning, and his hair is spiked up with gel, making his ears stick out from the sides of his head. “Jeez, are all of you guys stupid attractive? My seventh grade photo is all acne and braces,” Stiles can’t help but wonder and then claps a hand over his mouth. He really, really wasn’t supposed to say that out loud. Very quickly he can feel his ears heating up - his face must be on fire.

“That’s adorable,” Elliot says, pausing stretched tall above Stiles where he was hanging some more snowflakes. “but I’m pretty sure everyone hates their middle school photo. Derek always tries to hide that one at the back of the tree.”

“I don’t know why,” Laurell huffs, “I love that photo of you!” She pats Derek affectionately on the cheek and the look on his face is half embarrassed, half pleased.

“Yeah, I think you’re just blinded by love there, mom,” Laura drawls, and for some reason that makes Derek flush. Now that he knows what to look for Stiles can see where Derek filled out, his face wider and sharper, his hair longer so his ears don’t stick out as much. Middle school Derek was cute; now Derek is devastating, but Stiles would love to see him smile more like he does in the old photo.

***

By the time they’re done and the star is up on the top of the tree it’s dark out, and Derek offers to drive Stiles home, “Since my sister kidnapped you,” he explains on the way there, “it’s the least I can do.”

“No, it was great! I don’t--” Stiles flounders for a second. “My dad has to work a lot over the break, and most of my friends are tied up with family stuff. It was really nice, spending time with you, with all of you,” he hastily corrects, “today. I haven’t gone tree-hunting since I was a kid, and decorating a tree is really different with that many people. It’s nice. Really nice.”

Derek turns his head to check his mirrors, but Stiles catches sight of a small smile anyway. “I’m glad,” he says quietly.

They pull up in front of his house and Stiles turns quickly, before he loses his nerve. “Stay here for a second, okay? I have something for you.” He bolts out of the car and inside, grabs the extra large tin of cookies for Derek and runs back outside, sliding back into the car since it’s even colder now that the sun has set. “I just, I wanted to say thank you, and Merry Christmas, I guess. So these are for you.”

Slowly, Derek pulls off the ribbon and opens the tin, the corners of his mouth tilting up when he sees what’s inside.

“I mean, those seemed to be your favorite,” Stiles continues because seriously sometimes he just can’t shut his mouth even if he wants to, “so I thought, these ones you wouldn’t have to share if you didn’t want to. Obviously you can share them if you want! But I don’t know how long you’re staying after Christmas and really, they’re not as good after a few days, so--”

“Stiles,” Derek cuts in, closing the lid carefully and pinning him with his gaze, “these were definitely my favorite. Thank you.”

“No problem,” Stiles says, eyes wide and heart rabbiting. He needs to get out of the car before he does something stupid like lean forward and kiss that half smile right off Derek’s stupidly endearing face. “Have a great Christmas. I guess I’ll see you in the new year. Bye!”

He bolts out of the car and inside, slamming the door and leaning back against it, breathing hard. “Stiles? Is that you?” his dad calls from upstairs. “Food should be here in a bit! Clear the table!”

He will. He just needs a second to get his heart under control.

***

Christmas morning Stiles and his dad stay in their pyjamas all day, exchange gifts and eat cinnamon rolls until they feel like they might explode. Stiles rolled them out the night before, let them rise early in the morning and put them in the oven so they’d be ready by the time they’d finished opening their stockings; hot and sweet and covered in toasted pecans.

Stiles spends most of Christmas day and the day after slumped comfortably back onto the couch alternately playing the new game his dad got him and eating bubble and squeak fried up leftovers and cinnamon roll leftovers. It’s lazy and lethargic and perfect, his dad stumbling through setting up his new e-reader - better than losing multiple paperbacks under the cruiser’s front passenger seat.

Two days later though he gets a text message from Elliot:

Bad news, the part still hasn’t come in. :(

Stiles checks the calendar in the kitchen with his dad’s shifts penned in and tries to figure out if he can manage to switch shifts and drive Stiles and Lydia back to Oakland and then Berkeley. His phone vibrates again.

Heard you need a ride, and I have to go back to Berkeley anyway. It’s from Derek.

Can you fit Lydia, too? I was going to drive her to the Oakland Airport.

Sure is the quick reply, and Stiles grins, types out an effusive thank you before texting Elliot back that he’s catching a ride with Derek and it’ll be fine. It’s a little more difficult to text Lydia.

My baby is in the shop, but Derek said he can drive us back. Don’t go crazy.

Two seconds later his phone rings. “Stiles, please, as if I would do anything to jeopardize your love match,” Lydia says instead of hello.

“I’m just nervous!” he replies, scrubbing a hand through his hair.

Lydia snorts. “Relax, I already heard you practically spent all of winter break with him and his family--”

What?!

“It’s all over town, Stiles,” she brushes aside his comment. “So if you were fine with that you’ll be fine with two measly hours with us in a contained space.”

Stiles pauses. “...you said that deliberately to rile me up, didn’t you?” It’s not really a question.

“You know it. Bye~!”

***

The last few days go by in a flurry of ill-advised online after-Christmas specials, video games, and spending some time with Scott, Danny, and Allison. They spend New Year’s Eve at Danny’s place laughing and talking and playing a dance game on the kinect. They almost miss the countdown. Soon enough it’s January third and Stiles packs up his life into a backpack and a duffle bag and sets them down inside the kitchen door.

“All set?” his dad asks.

“Yeah, I think I’ve got everything. Even remembered my toothbrush this time.”

Stepping forward from where he was leaning against the counter, his dad crosses the room and pulls him into an unexpected hug and sighs. “Just... call more often, okay? If you need anything, or even if you don’t need anything. I like knowing what you’re up to once in awhile.”

Stiles laughs into his shoulder. “I’ll do my best, promise. I just got - caught up, I guess.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve been to college, you know. I know what it’s like,” his dad says. “Partying until 3 am, half-assing a paper at 9 am...”

Stiles pulls back from the hug to make a face. “Dad, I don’t know how to tell you this, but it’s 2012 and I have a scholarship. I don’t get to live the life of a party-animal rookie. And when I stay up until 3 am it’s usually playing Warcraft.”

“Just say no to drugs,” his dad replies very seriously, and they both laugh until there’s a knock at the door.

Derek has his leather jacket on for once, and a scarf that looks homemade, but no gloves. “It’s good to see you again, sir,” he says, shaking hands with Stiles’ dad.

“Thanks for driving Stiles and Lydia back,” he replies. “It would have been pretty tough for me to switch shifts around at the last minute. We really appreciate it.”

Visibly resisting shrugging, Derek shakes his head. “I’m headed back there anyway, it’s really no trouble. And--” he pauses, darts a quick glance at Stiles, then back to his dad, “Stiles is a great person. I like spending time with him.”

Smiling widely, his dad claps Derek on the shoulder, hard. “I’m glad we agree on that.” He turns back to Stiles. “You sure you’ve got everything?”

“If I don’t,” Stiles says, bending down to shoulder his bags, “I’ve just gotta come back at some point whenever the Jeep is fixed, so I’ll grab it then. Thanks for everything, Dad.” They hug again, awkward and one-handed around Stiles’ bags, before stepping outside.

Except instead of the Camaro Stiles is expecting, it looks like Derek drove there in a blue double-cab truck. “...did you seriously get a new car for Christmas?” he asks. “Who even are you?”

Derek shifts on his feet a little. “No, I bought it from Elliot. Seemed like it was time to give Laura her car back. She’s been whining about it a lot. And this seemed more practical.” He’s got his serious face on, so Stiles knows that even if at least some of that is bullshit there’s no sense questioning him. He doesn’t know why some of it was bullshit, but Stiles is not the son of the Sheriff for nothing. By the look on his dad’s face, they’ve both picked up on it.

“Hold on a sec, if you don’t mind, Derek,” his dad says thoughtfully. “Do you have room in the back for some more things?”

“Of course,” Derek says, sneakily stealing Stiles’ bags and tossing them in the flatbed. “I’ll help you grab them.”

Stiles is left standing by the truck gaping, wondering when Derek and his dad started teaming up to manage him.

***

Once they’ve stowed the groceries and said goodbye again, Stiles directs Derek to Lydia’s house. “Normally I’d warn you that she’s probably loaded down with gifts,” Stiles says while he fiddles with the center console, “but since she has to fly across the country I’m hoping they just showered her with small but expensive gifts with no feelings attached.”

“How long have you known her?” he asks, shifting gears as they cross town.

“Since kindergarten. She was my first crush; I basically spent all of grade school through high school pining after her before she set me straight. Well, not straight, because I mean, I play both sides of the - anyway,” Stiles cuts himself off before he can make an ass of himself more than he already has, “I got over it, we became awesome friends and one day we’ll take over the world with math and computers. Revenge of the Nerds, except Lydia was always pretty much the most popular girl in school. She just happens to also be a genius.”

The next gear shift is a little clunky, but Stiles figures maybe Derek is just getting used to the new truck, or maybe he isn’t really awake yet. “I had a similar thing in college,” Derek says after a few minutes, “but it didn’t end well.”

“A hopeless crush?”

“I dated one of the popular girls, thought we’d get married. It was... bad. Really bad.” Stiles can tell; Derek’s right hand is white-knuckled on the wheel. “After it ended I figured a few things out, took some time to play the field. Both sides.”

It’s really not fair for Derek to say something like that, something to make Stiles feel like he has a shot, even if he knows this is just a solidarity thing, just Derek letting Stiles know it’s okay and that he gets it. He makes himself smile encouragingly at Derek because either way it’s clearly not a story he enjoys telling.

“We’re here,” Derek says instead, cutting the engine.

The good news is, Stiles was right. Lydia has only her rolling suitcase, purse, and a small duffle bag with her, most of which Derek loads into the flatbed while she bids her parents a pretty formal adieu. Literally. Lydia’s parents have been practicing their French.

“Thanks again for the ride,” Lydia says as she climbs into the back seat. “We should’ve known the Jeep would bite it with spectacular timing.”

“Hey, that Jeep is my baby. She’s just temperamental sometimes.” Getting that Jeep had been a big deal when he finally had his license, and it’d gotten him and Scott all over town during high school. He’d moved to Berkeley in it last year.

Lydia laughs a little at him for being so sentimental. “Do you know when it’ll be fixed?”

“Who knows, with Elliot,” Derek says, then pauses to explain, “my older brother.”

“He said he had to wait for a part to come in,” Stiles says, twisting around to look at Lydia in the back seat. “I mean, probably not too much longer I think? I’ve still got a few days before the new semester starts.”

Lydia blows a strand of hair out of her face. “Yeah, I’m going to sleep for a full day and then hit the books.” Lydia doesn’t really need to study for her math classes yet, seemingly running rings around most of her professors, but she’s definitely dedicated to getting ready for the Jeopardy test.

“Hit me up on skype when you need someone to test you,” he offers. “I’m probably going to just play a lot of WoW, maybe poke around town a bit. I didn’t get out much last semester,” he adds for Derek.

“Who did?” Lydia asks before striking up a conversation with Derek, ferreting out bits of information that Stiles has already given her and a few he hadn’t. It’s nothing new to Stiles, but seeing Derek relax as he and Lydia get to know each other is pleasing.

As it turns out, Derek knows a fair number of weird facts, so he, Lydia, and Stiles spend most of the trip quizzing each other. By the time they’ve reached Oakland Airport, it’s as though Lydia has known Derek at least as long as Stiles has. Stiles hops out to clamber into the back and grab her bags and give her a solid hug goodbye at departures.

“I’ll text you when I land,” she says when they pull back, and Stiles nods. Then she pulls Derek into a hug, too, which he accepts, loosening up after a few seconds. “I’m trusting you to keep Stiles in line,” she says to him, horribly embarrassing Stiles and clearly not caring. “He gets stupid when I’m not around to bully him into things.”

The look Derek gives her is clearly full of disbelief. “You sound like Laura,” he says as though it’s just dawned on him.

“Yeah, I noticed that,” Stiles offers. “We can never let them meet.”

Smirking, Lydia pulls out the handle on her suitcase, turning it, clearly ready to leave. “Please, as if either of you could stop it. Thanks again for the ride. Bye!”

Despite the danger of Lydia and Laura one day joining forces, Stiles feels like the trip went better than expected. Lydia and Derek got along well, no awkward high school anecdotes were shared - all in all a success. Which is obviously why as they pull back onto the highway his phone beeps and he has a text message from Lydia that reads,

Nice pick. He’s way hotter in person than he is online. He’ll make a solid brother-in-law for me one day.

And for the next few minutes all Stiles can think about is how Lydia found pictures of Derek online when he couldn’t and how he wants to hit google up right now but he can’t because he is literally in the truck with Derek.

I super hate you. Stiles texts back, but they both know he doesn’t mean it.

***

“Where do you live?” Derek asks once they’ve left the Airport area.

“Oh yeah, I keep forgetting you’ve never been to my place,” Stiles says, and gives him a quick run down on the directions. It’s only about a half hour away, though the traffic is a little crazy once they’re back in Berkeley proper with shoppers and other students coming home from break. “This is me,” Stiles says, gesturing to an open parking space. It’s pretty close to the front of his building, and Derek pulls into it neatly, cutting the engine.

Derek starts pulling all the food and supplies Stiles’ dad had loaded them down with back to the end of the truck so they’re easier to grab. “I’ll carry the first load,” he offers, “so you can get the elevator and the doors.”

That doesn’t sound entirely fair, but who is Stiles to look a gift horse in the mouth? He swings his duffle bag and backpack over one shoulder and digs his keys out of his jacket pocket. “I’m going along with this, but I want you to know it’s only because you look like you do a lot of heavy lifting and I mostly do a lot of typing,” Stiles says, and Derek ducks his head on a smile.

He doesn’t regret it, either, because Derek takes a seriously large load of groceries, balancing a series of boxes on top of a flat pack of soda. It is absolutely necessary for Stiles to hold the doors open for him, hit the elevator buttons, and unlock his apartment door as quickly as possible so Derek can actually set things down.

“Man, are you sure you want to take another load? You can just watch the truck while I take the next bit,” Stiles says on the way back down.

“It’s really not a big deal,” Derek brushes him off. “We can probably get all this up in one, maybe two more trips. Then you can give me the grand tour.”

“Sure.” Stiles grabs a heap of packages from the back and tries desperately to remember if he left out anything mortifying or incriminating, but pretty much all of his porn is on his computer which he definitely shut off and the rest is probably just nerd stuff - a collection of sonic screwdrivers in the living room and his Xena DVDs.

None of the food needs to be refrigerated, so they leave it all by the door and Stiles shows Derek around. It’s a small, one-bedroom apartment: bathroom, bedroom, laundry closet, and a combined living room/kitchen space that doesn’t have much in the way of counters but wins points for having a direct line of sight from the sink to the tv.

“You’ve got a good place,” Derek says, hands in his back pockets.

“Yeah, I lucked out, but having furniture helps.” Grinning, Stiles waits for the inevitable embarrassment, but Derek just straightens up a bit and smiles back.

“I’m working on it,” he says, gaze steady. “I’ve got a couple of chairs done, and now that I’m back I can start on a bed frame.”

It takes a second for that to filter in. “Hold on, are you saying you’ve been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for four years?”

Now Derek looks a little abashed. “It wasn’t really a priority,” he says defensively.

“Had to get your library finished first, right?”

Derek nods. “I have a lot of books, and I fall asleep in there a lot anyway.” He shifts slightly, and changes the topic. “So how much time do you have this semester?”

“Oh man,” Stiles groans, falling back onto the couch, “I am going to be swamped. Sometimes I really question this combined BS/Masters thing, they really put you through the wringer.” Derek’s face falls, so Stiles hurries to add, “But don’t worry! I’ll totally still have time to cook for you!”

“I was thinking more about breaks,” Derek says instead as if he wouldn’t just live on protein shakes and some kind of energy bar without Stiles. “You’ve got to relax sometime, go out maybe..?”

Not sure what he’s trying to get at, Stiles just aims for reassuring. “I guess, mostly I play videogames or cook, since it clears my head. I mean, I’ve got friends in my classes, I just don’t really have time to party with them. They’re more of a don’t-stop-till-you-drop red bull and LAN parties kind of -- hmm,” he pauses, trying to translate it into something someone who owns a twelve year old computer would understand. “Energy drinks and competitive gaming, that kind of thing? I’m more of a scheduled-dungeon-raid kind of guy. I can block out some time for a raid online every once in awhile and not have a red bull hangover the next day.”

“I meant--” Derek looks almost nervous, which is weird. “You should maybe get outside some time. You could come by the park station, take a hike with me?”

Either Derek thinks Stiles needs more exercise after his typing comment earlier or he actually might kind of want to be friends. “Sure, yeah, I could do that. Just text me, whenever,” he says, waving his hand lazily, “though do busses go out there? They must, right?”

“I’ll pick you up,” Derek says, suddenly decisive. “Tomorrow?”

“Uh, sure?”

“Great.” The smile that spreads across Derek’s face is beautiful; broad and earnest, pleased on some kind of visceral level. He takes a deep breath and heads back to the door, so Stiles pulls himself off the couch to follow. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” Derek reiterates, but his voice is soft and again Stiles realizes he’s standing way too close to him but can’t really be bothered to pull back.

“Tomorrow,” Stiles says and winds up standing stupidly staring at his own door for a good minute after Derek leaves.

Did he ask you out yet? is the message Lydia sends him when she finally lands.

No, we’re just friends! Going on a hike tomorrow, though.

...sometimes I wonder how you survive without me.

Water, internet, roof over my head. I’m good. Go to bed.

***

It takes him twenty minutes the next morning to dig up his hiking boots, but he does find them eventually. Stiles has no idea what you’re supposed to wear or bring to go hiking. It’s not even really hiking since the forest is pretty flat, but he debates bringing a bag with his water bottle and snacks and maybe a knife, just in case they have to fight a bear. Are there bears in California? Stiles has no idea.

This is a pop quiz! Are there bears in California? he sends to Lydia.

Yes. Also quit using me to stop freaking out about your date. Get pretty instead.

It’s not a date! he texts back, but then spends five minutes googling what to do if a bear attacks and just gets confused by conflicting information.

The good news is that at least he’s already dressed and just freaking out quietly in front of his computer when his phone buzzes with another text.

Come downstairs, I’m out front.

Stiles reminds himself to relax, that Derek just wants him to get some sun exposure or something, grabs his keys and heads downstairs and hops into the truck. “Just out of curiosity,” Stiles says instead of hello, “if a bear attacks us, can you fight it off with your bare hands? Or should we just lie down and play dead?”

The look Derek gives him is remarkably unimpressed. “It’s not called Wildcat Canyon because it’s full of bears.”

“Hey, I’m usually a nature-adjacent kind of guy, how was I supposed to know? But I clearly should have googled ‘wildcat attack’ instead.”

Derek snorts. “You’re more likely to step on a snake or scare off a skunk,” he says, and once Stiles has buckled in, pulls smoothly out into traffic. “Got you a coffee,” he adds, nodding to the cup in the center console. It’s from the hipster place around the corner, and when Stiles takes a sip it’s his usual.

“Oh my god, thank you,” he moans into the cup, curling his fingers around it reverently.

“Any time,” Derek replies, but he sounds a little hoarse. Must have been up late the night before or something.

***

Stiles has mostly assumed that since it was green on the map, and Derek did fire patrols that the park was mostly trees, but when they pull into a parking space and get out, he can see that it really is a mix of low, grassy canyons, gentle hills, and woods, all criss-crossed with trails.

Gulping down the last of his coffee, Stiles slips out of the truck and stretches. “Did you wear sunscreen?” Derek asks.

“No? Is this a trick question? It’s January. I’ve got mittens and everything.”

Derek pulls out a tube from the glove compartment. “You should still do your face,” he says, getting some on his fingers and then smearing it down Stiles’ nose.

“Augh! Hey!” Left with no choice, he spreads it out over his cheeks and forehead, chin, rubbing it in blind as best he can. “Satisfied?”

Derek steps right up into his space and rubs his thumb along Stiles’ jaw twice. He can’t breathe, his heart skips a beat. “You had a little there,” Derek says, rough and quiet and still too close and Stiles seriously feels like he might explode.

“Thanks,” he manages to squeak out. It’s not Derek’s fault he has no idea how handsome he is. Stiles just has to remember that. He takes a deep breath and smiles. “So which way are we heading? Pony ride? Education center?”

“We’ll follow a few of the hiking trails,” Derek says, gesturing to an unpaved path off to the left, “towards Tilden.”

“Not Little Farm?” There’s a listing outside the park entrance full of silly things Stiles might like to do on another day, if he comes back.

“Maybe on the way back,” Derek acquiesces, and after they dispose of their coffee cups they head off.

The first leg of the trail is easy, fairly level and winding over a creek, gradually working its way uphill at a steady, gradual incline. It’s a nice day, for January, and Derek points out different kinds of flora, teaches Stiles how to tell the sex of a maple tree. Soon enough they cross a wider trail that’s clearly frequented by cars and Derek leads him onto an even rougher path, this one steeper than the first but curving up gently to the right, and when Stiles looks down over the edge he can see that it follows the creek.

“So there actually is a canyon out here,” Stiles comments, stepping back from the edge and back over to where Derek is waiting.

“Of course there is.” Derek seems puzzled. “Why wouldn’t there be?”

“I don’t know, in my head it was just a big forest and you would run around in it putting out fires.” Stiles shrugs and takes off his mittens, tucking them into his pockets. He’s actually pretty warm from the hike despite the cold weather.

Huffing out a small laugh, Derek smiles crookedly. “Mostly I follow the trails to make sure none of the visitors have left anything that could harm the wildlife or start a fire. Sometimes we have to scare off people trying to camp out here. It’s a lot of ground to cover.” He squints off up the trail. “Right now we’re headed to the Peace Grove. It’s a good place to stop and eat, and it should be pretty empty this time of year.”

“Sounds good,” Stiles agrees, and they start off up the hill again.

***

When they reach the top, it’s not what Stiles expected. There’s a large, open space with a smooth seating area made of stone, hewn into concentric rings that rise up to offer a view of the surrounding park and off into the distance. “Whoa,” Stiles says, catching his breath as he takes it all in, “I had no idea this was up here. You can see for miles! ...Is that a lake?”

“It’s one of the reservoirs,” Derek says , sitting down on the outermost stone ring and unpacking lunch. “I just grabbed some sandwiches and things from the cafe near me. Hope they’re okay,” he says apologetically.

Stiles clambers up to sit opposite him, one leg dangling over the side. “Sounds good to me, hand it over.” Unwrapping the sandwich he asks, “Hey, what’s this place called, anyway?”

“Inspiration Point,” Derek replies absently, and Stiles laughs.

“Oh god, they might as well call it Make Out Point. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that name used in a teen horror movie.” Derek’s ears are a little red. Maybe he forgot to put on sunscreen after he gave it to Stiles.

The sandwiches aren’t bad, and Derek also has a few apples and two travel bottles of water with him. Eventually, though, Stiles starts to feel the chill, digs his mittens back out and puts them on before bundling up his trash. Derek never seems to feel the cold, as far as he can tell. His jacket is done up, but he’s not wearing gloves or a scarf; seems unaffected if slightly unwilling to head back down the trail.

“You really like it out here, huh?” He’s staring at Derek’s profile and has to make himself stop.

“It’s quiet,” Derek replies, turning his attention back to Stiles. “And there’s a lot to see. It’s more ...urbanized than a lot of other parks, but that’s more of a reason to keep working on it.” He scoops all their garbage back into his bag, but instead of standing up so they can head back, He shifts closer to Stiles, the space between them clear. “I’m glad you came today. I wanted you to see this place and...” he stopped, clearly frustrated, though Stiles didn’t know why. “I like spending time with you,” he says finally.

That almost sounds like something someone might say on a kind of awkward first date, but that’s crazy. Derek just doesn’t have great interpersonal skills, right? “Well, good; I like spending time with you, too. Plus your family texts me all the time, so I don’t think you’re getting rid of me,” he jokes, trying to lighten it up a little. Instead, Derek frowns, huffs out a breath of air and shoulders his bag.

“Come on. Let’s head back down,” he says, and grabs Stiles’ hand, pulling him to his feet. He doesn’t let go, not even once they’re past the steepest part at the top, and Stiles’ heart starts to pound.

There is a distinct possibility that Stiles might have missed a few things.

***

The trip back down to the park entrance is much quicker than the trip up, but Derek keeps hold of his hand the entire way, only letting go once they’re at the truck. Stiles rambles nervously the entire way home, barely letting Derek get a word in edgewise until they pull up in front of his building. “I uh, had a good time,” he manages to stutter out. “Thanks for showing me the park and bringing lunch and everything. I haven’t been on a picnic maybe, uh, ever.”

Derek seems more relaxed now, a little more comfortable in his seat. Stiles can’t stop looking at him; at his broad shoulders, the few days worth of stubble built up on his face, the way his hair curls up and left over his forehead. He’s beautiful and he might think Stiles is beautiful and that’s almost too much to comprehend. Derek smiles, clearly pleased. “We should do it again sometime, then,” he says.

“I--” Stiles almost actually asks if that’s Derek asking him out on another (?) date, but bites his tongue. “Yeah, definitely. Sounds- that sounds great. Thanks for the ride home, I should --go. Yes. Thanks. Bye!” Stiles clambers out of the truck and looks back once he’s got the key in the front door of his building but Derek is still there, watching to make sure he gets inside okay. He half trips over his own feet trying to wave casually and step inside at the same time and gets another one of those slow smiles again in return. It’s a miracle that he makes it upstairs to his apartment without hurting himself.

Oh my god I think I just went on a date with Derek, he sends immediately to Lydia, flopping backwards onto his couch.

Duh. Did you make out? Was it great? Details. No- get on skype.

Collapsing into his desk chair, Stiles fires up skype and Lydia’s call comes through almost instantly. “So? And? Details, Stiles.” She’s delicately painting the nails of one hand, so clearly none of this was a surprise to her.

“I didn’t even know it was a date until it was almost over,” Stiles groans, rubbing at his face. “I probably acted like an idiot! I just--” He stops. His hands smell like sunscreen a little, still. “Oh my god, he was flirting with me and I really, really didn’t notice.”

“Uh, yeah, you spent Christmas with his family. Even your dad knew.”

“That explains so much about winter break. And makes it about eight times more embarrassing than it already was.”

Lydia laughs at him, but she also listens while he tells her everything. “Yeah, you’re definitely even dumber than I thought. Even Scott is better at this,” she teases him.

“I’m not good at this! You know I’m not good at this!”

“Grow a pair, Stiles. You’re into him, he is very clearly into you, and now that you know it, next time you can actually do something about it.” She rolls her eyes at him but then stops and looks at him seriously. “Just do yourself a favour and relax the next time you see him, okay? Just be yourself. It’s clearly worked so far.”

Deep breaths, right. Stiles can do this.

***

With a few days left before new semester starts, Stiles works up his nerve on a Thursday and texts Derek. What do you want to eat this week?

He gets a reply only a few minutes later. Come outside. His pulse speeds up a bit, but Stiles toes into his shoes and heads downstairs anyway and comes face to face with his Jeep, purring along at the curb with Derek in the driver’s seat. He smiles and turns off the engine, slides out of the seat and tosses Stiles his keys. Stiles barely manages to catch them, he’s just so happy to have his baby back.

“Oh my god, she’s aliiiiiive!” he cheers, and runs his hands over the hood. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! Did you go all the way to Beacon Hills to get her? How did you get back? How much do I owe Elliot?” Stiles can’t help but get his hands all over his car, checking the tires and the gas tank (mostly full, even) and admiring how weirdly, incredibly clean it is. He doesn’t drive that much, other than his few trips home and the drive to and from Derek’s place, but having a car means having the freedom to go anywhere he wants, and he’s pretty attached to her.

“Becca came and picked me up so I could drive it back here for you,” Derek explains, looking rightfully proud of himself. “And the bill is taken care of, don’t worry about it.”

“Wait, what?” Stiles pauses, hands pressed to the driver’s side door and turns back to look at Derek. “What do you mean it’s taken care of?”

Shifting his weight a little, Derek almost looks a little uncomfortable. “I wanted to do something for you, to say thank you.” He pauses, stepping closer and keeps his eyes on Stiles’. “I don’t think I can pay you to cook for me any more,” he continues, which is just completely out of left field. “It’s great - you’re great, and I love your cooking but it’s maybe a bit weird to be paying you when I want to kiss you.”

Stiles can feel a stupid, stunned expression on his face but he’s still reeling from the loss of income and the sudden confession that his brain is stuck, scrambling to keep up.

“More than kiss you, really,” Derek continues. “I want to wake up to you in the morning and fall asleep next to you at night. I want to take you out to baseball games and stuff ourselves with ballpark hot dogs. I want you and your Dad to come to every Thanksgiving and every Christmas and I’ll go home more often if it would make you happy to be there. I,” he scrubs both hands through his hair leaving it mussed, “Stiles, I even want to go shopping for a new computer with you. So I- I can’t be your client any more when all I really want is... all of you.” He shrugs, helplessly, and just stands there while Stiles fails to do anything but gawp at him.

“Right, well I guess, uh, I’ll head home now. Thanks for everything,” Derek says, sounding resigned and starts to walk away. Stiles darts forward and grabs his hand before he does.

“Wait I - my brain is kind of - the thing is I’m kind of stupidly in love with you,” Stiles manages to get out, tripping over his own words. “Like a lo--mmph.”

Derek yanks him forward and ducks his head just slightly, cutting him off with an ecstatic kiss, half smiling into it, bringing one hand up to curl against Stiles’ cheek.

It’s kind of a terrible first kiss, really, what with Derek’s teeth hitting Stiles’ lips, but after a minute he gets himself under control and just bites gently at Stiles’ lower lip, smoothes over it with his tongue and falls into a series of short, tantalizing brushes of lips until Stiles’ knees are about to give out. When Stiles pulls back, gasping for air, Derek moves on to press a trail of gentle kisses up his jaw, behind his ear, down the column of his neck.

“Oh my god,” Stiles gasps, clutching at Derek’s shoulders, “You’re going to kill me like this.”

Derek huffs another laugh right up against Stiles’ ear, making him shiver. “If being in nature instead of nature-adjacent didn’t kill you, a few kisses won’t hurt,” he says cockily, as if he isn’t sucking what will probably be an enormous hickey onto Stiles’ neck so it will still be there when he starts classes again.

A sharp wolf-whistle makes them jump apart guiltily, and Stiles spots his landlady leaning out the ground level window. “Stilinski, make sure you move your car out back before you get all caught up in your tall, dark, and handsome there. It’s twenty minute pick up/drop off parking only!”

Stiles drops his head to Derek’s shoulder to laugh, only a little hysterically, before he waves an acknowledgement to her. “Will do!” He takes a deep breath and grins up at Derek, still overwhelmed and overflowing with so much raw feeling that he’s sure he could power half a city block at least right now. “Want to stay for lunch?” he offers and Derek tangles their fingers together, kissing him briefly again, so obviously pleased.

“Always.”

***

“I’m calling this our first real date,” Stiles tells Derek a few days later, “Since I didn’t figure it out until it was almost over last time.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “Okay, but I’m still going to call our actual first date our first date, because it was.”

Waving him off, Stiles puts the Jeep into park and pulls the hand break. “I hope you’re prepared for a super nerd fest,” he says, shutting off the engine so they can climb out. The Berkeley Art Museum looks a lot like a prison on the outside but there’s a long poster along the entranceway advertising the History and Art of Video Games.

Once they’ve paid and passed into the main hall, Derek reaches out to tangle their fingers together, keeping Stiles close. “It’s going to be cool,” Stiles says, pulling him into the first room. “I mean, check this out - 8-bit art from the original Zelda. This came out at practically the same time you bought your computer!”

“Ha, ha,” Derek says flatly, but he’s smiling and leans in for a quick kiss.

Stiles leads him all over the museum, reading the exhibit labels and adding his own commentary. There are some things he thinks should have been included that seem to be missing, but it was probably hard enough for them to get the licensing rights to put all of this together. By the time they’ve passed through to the little gift shop at the other end and Stiles has managed to not buy anything, they’re both hungry and grab some food at the cafe and steal two seats by the window along the high wooden bar.

“Did you like it? I know it’s not really your thing.”

The look Derek gives him is so indulgent and private Stiles feels greedy and jealous that anyone else in the cafe can see it, too. “It was interesting,” he says slowly, “but not as interesting as watching you.” Stiles feels himself flush. It’s still amazing to him that Derek is just as taken as he is, that he genuinely means the things he says. Stiles hooks his leg over so he can bump it against Derek’s, a little awkward on their stools, but worth it for the pleased quirk to Derek’s lips and the warmth Stiles feels whenever he sees it.

“Are you still free after this?” Derek asks, as if Stiles hadn’t crammed all of his readings in the night before so he could spend the day with him. When Stiles nods Derek says, “Great, there’s an errand I need to run and I was hoping you’d come with me.”

“Of course.” It’s a little weird, considering this is their first real date (no matter what Derek or Lydia or anyone else would say) but he’s just happy to spend the day with him.

***

Derek directs him to a Best Buy and meanders through the store to the computer department, stopping in the middle of the floor. “Okay,” he says, spreading his hands, “Do your worst. Pick something out and I’ll replace my antique. Go nuts.”

Eyes wide, Stiles’ hands spasm a little at just the thought of being able to pick out whatever he wants - well, whatever would be best for Derek, but still. “Is this Christmas? We just had Christmas. But it’s like Christmas 2.0 and --wait.” Stiles pauses. “This is a thing. You’re really in love with me.”

Ducking his head, Derek smiles softly. “Uh, yeah, did you miss that the first time around?”

“It’s just taking a little while to sink in,” Stiles says, still kind of blown away. The antique desktop is the most advanced piece of technology Derek owns, other than his phone. This is huge.

“I can wait,” is all Derek says and Stiles can’t help but dart forward and wrap him up in a hug, pressing his face to Derek’s stubbled cheek and breathing in the smell of him, the feel.

“Even if it’s until I’m an old man?” Stiles asks when he pulls back.

The bright grin on Derek’s face looks like it matches the way Stiles’ face feels, wide and overflowing with happiness. “Take all the time you need.”

***

Epilogue

Derek places his hand on Stiles’ knee to stop it from bouncing up and down. “Relax,” he says, “She’s doing fine.”

“Of course she’s doing fine,” Mrs. McCall adds from his other side. “She’s wiping the floor with them.”

“I’ll take Greek Myths for eight hundred, Alex,” Lydia smiles sweetly on the screen.

Stiles’ dad gestures at her with his beer. “I can’t believe she tailored the sweatshirt.”

Chapter Text

Beef & Beet Borscht
2 tbsp olive oil
1 chopped onion
2 crushed cloves garlic
1lb beef in 1” squares
4 cups beef stock
2 small beets
1 can of crushed tomatoes
1 diced carrot
½ lb diced potatoes
2.5 cups finely shredded
cabbage
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp italian parsley
lots of fresh dill
sour cream on the side

Cook onion and garlic over medium heat for 3-5 min. Add beef, beef stock, and 4 cups water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer with a lid on for about an hour. Remove meat.

Trim the beets, wrap them in foil and bake for 30-40 minutes at 400 F. Remove from foil and cool.

Heat the stock again to a boil. Add tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, some salt. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat.

Add the cabbage and cook for 5 minutes. Peel and dice the beets. Add the meat back to the pan, as well as the beets, lemon juice, sugar, and parsley and dill. Cook until heated through.

Remove from heat and rest for 10 minutes. Serve with sour cream and more dill & parsley on top.

 

Beef Bourguignon
http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipe/103/Beef_bourguignon

Pasta Carbonara
4 eggs
½ cup grated parmesan
8 slices thick, double-smoked
bacon
1 chopped onion
4 cups al dente curly pasta
(orecchiette or something with a
tight, thick curl)
salt and pepper

Beat the eggs and cheese together in a small bowl and set aside.

Fry the bacon and onion together in a large skillet 8-10 minutes.

Add the cooked pasta until it’s warmed through again.

Pour in the egg and cheese mix, reduce heat to low and stir constantly. It should coat the pasta and solidify.

Season to taste and serve with extra parm.

 

Chicken & Dumplings
1 whole chicken with innards
removed
1 onion, peeled and halved
3-4 large carrots cut into chunks
3-4 stalks of celery, cut into chunks
salt to taste

3 cups flour
¾ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
4 ½ tbsp butter
1 cup milk (any fat content)

Put everything in the first chunk of ingredients into a large stock pot, cover with water, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer 1 hour.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it and shred the meat. You can save the bones and skin for stock later.

Strain the remaining stock, keeping the vegetables aside.

In a clean bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt. Cut the butter into the mix until it’s mixed into small lumps. Slowly pour in the milk a quarter cup at a time. Do not over mix. Let the dough settle for about half an hour.

Bring the broth up until it’s just barely boiling and drop the dough in one meatball sized lump at a time. Allow them to cook for 6-7 minutes. Turn the heat down to low and add the chicken back in and let it cook for 15-20 minutes or until the broth has thickened. Season to taste. (For the version Stiles makes for his dad, put those vegetables back in there at the same time as the chicken.)

 

Easy Smoked Salmon Chowder with Dill
1 tbsp olive oil
3 medium leeks (white and light
green parts only), rinsed and sliced
1 minced clove of garlic
1 large red potato, chopped into 2cm
chunks
3 stalks of celery, washed and
chopped
½ tsp salt
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups milk
1 package (8 ounces or more)
smoked salmon, flaked
½ cup heavy cream (or more)
fresh dill to taste

In a large pot heat the olive oil on low and add the leeks and garlic. Sauté 2 minutes. Add the potato, celery, salt and cook briefly, raising the heat to medium and stirring constantly.

Add the broth and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potato pieces can be easily broken by your spoon.

Add the tomato paste and milk, then the salmon and bring back to a simmer. Do not boil.

Slowly stir in the cream and add the dill to taste. Remove from heat. You can garnish this with more fresh dill.

 

Bubble & Squeak with Thanksgiving or Christmas Leftovers
leftover turkey
leftover gravy (or new gravy, whatever)
mashed potatoes
leftover stuffing

optional: mashed squash, cranberry sauce, etc.

Layer into a frying pan in order: mash, turkey, stuffing, and then pour gravy over top. Fry it up until it’s hot and/or makes a squeaking sound from frying. Eat.

 

Mac & Cheese with Pancetta
2 ½ cups penne or other pasta
2 ½ oz diced pancetta (or more, to
taste)
2 cups cream
1 cup cheddar, grated
2 cups Gruyère, grated
1 cup Parmesan, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp mustard (Dijon or otherwise)
½ tsp paprika

Could garnish with chopped chives,
or dill.

Cook penne until al-dente. Drain and keep warm.

Cook pancetta in a large saucepan on high for 4 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Reduce heat to medium, stir in the cream and simmer.

Add cheese, garlic, mustard, paprika. Stir for 5 minutes until melted. Add pancetta and pasta, season and serve.

 

Chicken & Swiss Chard Pasta Bake
bag of penne
bunches of swiss chard
3 separate tbsp olive oil
1 diced onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2 cups shredded chicken, cooked
1 cup ricotta
¼ cup Parmesan, grated
¼ cup Panko
salt, seasoning

Preheat oven to 375. Cook penne al dente, strain, set aside. Rinse the swiss chard and rip off the leaves, tossing the stems. Tear up leaves, set aside.

In a large stock pot, heat 2 tbsp olive oil, add garlic. Add swiss chard and seasoning. Wilt the greens. Cook covered on medium-low 10 minutes.

Add noodles, chicken, ricotta, more seasoning. Scoop into a baking dish. In a separate bowl, mix together the Parmesan, Panko, 1 tbsp olive oil and then sprinkle over the top of the casserole dish. Cook uncovered 30 minutes.

 

Porkchops ala Hale
http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2011/08/pork-chops-with-apples-and-creamy-bacon-cheese-grits/?

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup pb
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs

2.5 cups flour
1 tsp each baking soda, baking
powder.
1 cup chocolate chips (or more)

Mix first set of ingredients in a large bowl. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix well. Add chocolate chips.

Bake at 375 for 10 minutes.

 

Cheddar-Dill Scones
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/cheddar-dill-scones-recipe/index.html

Carrot soup
http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/carrot-soup-recipe.html