The day that everything changes starts out a lot like every other day of that January. They’re edging into the last year of the curse and Jackson still shows no sign of being less of a tremendous scaly douchecastle; it’s snowing.
“I’m going to be ceramic forever,” Stiles tells Scott mournfully as he oversees the preparation of Jackson’s breakfast. It’s been his catchphrase for the last two years, as the denizens of the castle have watched the petals fall off of the rose in the west wing and still the gates remain locked and not a single viable candidate for True Love has stopped in to stay for a long weekend.
“You keep saying that,” Scott says irritably. “Dude, I know, okay?”
Stiles hops over to where Greenberg is frying eggs in an extremely surly fashion; he always flips them a hair too late, unless Stiles reminds him, and then Jackson yells for hours about how his egg-white omelet is singed along the edge. Stiles isn’t really sure where his ears even are, anymore, so his options for plugging them during one of Jackson’s “I’m surrounded by incompetence and ugliness and everything in my life is pain” screaming fits are severely limited. “Flip,” he orders Greenberg.
“No, but, seriously,” Scott says, “the roses are still blooming.”
“That’s impossible,” Stiles says dismissively. “We may be in northern California but even here roses don’t bloom in January. It’s snowing, Scott.”
Scott frantically waves one of his candlesticks towards the huge windows facing the back gardens. “Look!” he shouts, pointing with a guttering flame. “Roses!”
Muttering to himself and checking the internal temperature of his tea, Stiles spins on his base and looks out of the bay windows. They’re kept pristine mainly by virtue of Finstock being psychotically focused on cleaning schedules, and Stiles has a moment to appreciate that at least some people didn’t respond to the curse by locking themselves in a wing of the house and destroying all of their antique—and hugely expensive—furniture before he realizes, huh, Scott’s actually right, for once.
“Whoa,” he says involuntarily.
Scott preens. “I know! Do you even know how he does that?”
“No,” Stiles admits. “The trade secrets of the gardening staff have never really been my forte.” He gestures his spout back towards the stove. “Obviously.” Clustered around the base of the fountain and gazebo complex that Jackson’s mother had insisted on before bailing, along with the rest of his useless family, at the sight of her hideous monster of a son, are a series of rosebushes that are basically exploding flowers into the open air. A light dusting of snow covers the top of them, like confectioner’s sugar on the apple cake that Stiles sometimes makes for tea.
They’re actually the loveliest sight Stiles has experienced in a long time. There’s something intensely warming—and it’s not just his tea—about the explosion of red and pink and orange and yellow in the marble white deadness of the back garden.
“Derek,” Stiles willingly declares, “is scarily good.”
“Maybe he made a deal with the witch,” Scott says thoughtfully.
Stiles laughs, spitting tea towards the stove. “Yeah, because he asked for magical gardening skills instead of being turned back into a human.”
“You don’t know!” Scott insists. “He’s weird. He might’ve.”
“Aren’t you responsible for the entire downstairs staff? Go check on the silver. Every time I turn around I see Matt sticking a piece of the dinner service into one of his hidden drawers.” Stiles prods Scott with his handle. “I’ve got to get back to supervising breakfast.”
“Matt is scary,” Scott whines, but he nonetheless hops off of the kitchen counter and skips towards the door. The flames from his candles flutter at the motion, guttering in and out with the force of Scott’s propulsion. He’s not really that fantastic a candelabra, all things considered—and by ‘all things’ Stiles means ‘twenty years’ worth of jokes about Scott not being the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree’—but he takes his duties as the lower butler fairly seriously, at least. Well, when Stiles reminds him.
“Breakfast rolls out in ten,” Stiles shouts, rounding on the contents of the stove. “Greenberg, seriously? I turn my back for five seconds and you’re burning the spinach. I can’t even begin to know how.”
Breakfast gets out on time by sheer force of will, and Stiles consigns Greenberg and the other pans to the stove for a thorough washing while he goes to check on how the rest of the downstairs is doing. Finstock and his flock of mops are hard at work in the main foyer, scrubbing up nonexistent dirt like nobody’s business, and Stiles is moving into the library to check on the French dusters when there’s a series of frantic knocks on the front door.
Stiles freezes mid-jump and his lid jangles nervously. “Did you—hear that?” he asks the nearest mop.
“Holy fucking shit,” the mop breathes, which is clearly a yes.
“OH GOD,” Stiles shouts helplessly. “OPERATION ALPHA, EVERYONE.”
The mops scatter in all directions; Finstock and the bucket throw themselves into an open closet that used to hold Mrs. Whittemore’s collection of shoes, before she took them all with her in a separate car during her ignominious flight from the castle grounds. This leaves Stiles alone in the foyer, and there’s no way that anyone is going to think that a teapot in the middle of a gazillion acres of marble floor isn’t weird; Stiles skids in a patch of leftover soapy water as he races forth sheltering fronds of a nearby potted palm.
Ten achingly long seconds later, the front door creaks open. “Hello?” the man in the door calls out. “Jesus, Helen, this place is completely empty.”
“I’m sorry,” the woman behind him says snippily, “that I can’t predict the emptiness of a house based on the way it looks a half-mile away.”
To the potted palm, Stiles quietly comments, “Neither of them seem particularly like True Love material, do they?” The palm isn’t one of the members of the household staff, so it doesn’t answer. “Well. Fuck.”
“Hello?” the man shouts, slightly louder now. “We had some car trouble and both our cells died. Can we use your phone to call AAA?”
There’s no response; Stiles realizes that his lid is clicking nervously and he forces it to stop. Marta isn’t connected to outside lines anymore—one of the specifications of the curse is no indirect access to the outside world, like they’re somehow going to whip a loophole out of thin air using their combined Google-fu—but she hates being picked up and she’ll probably rip them a new one if they try.
Normal people are probably not used to talking phones.
Stiles slumps over, resting his spout against the palm’s pot. He can see a possible solution to the curse slipping away in front of his eyes—he’s never going to be human again, and one day his porcelain is going to disintegrate from lack of care and he’s going to be dust particles, which frankly sounds disgusting—when there’s a low, throbbing hiss from the top of the stairs.
“Shit,” Stiles says to the potted palm, surprisingly calm considering what he knows is about to happen.
Just as predicted, the front door slams shut behind the couple—who are bickering about whose fault it is that they lack a working cell phone between them—under the force of Jackson’s leap from Danny, the main chandelier. Clinging to the wood paneling with dripping claws, he snarls at the couple and his forked tongue slithers out from between his lips.
The man faints; the woman shrieks, whips a can of pepper spray from her purse, and tries to nail Jackson in the face with it. She’s not quite fast enough; Jackson hits the back of her neck with his venom and she collapses like her strings have been cut, the can of pepper spray falling out of her limp hand to roll across the marble floor.
“Was that really necessary?” Stiles demands, crawling out from his hiding place.
Jackson’s tongue flicks out and touches his left eyeball; it’s one of the most magnificently unattractive things Stiles has ever seen, and he’s been a fat teapot in a castle full of reflective surfaces for almost ten years.
“I’m not going to let them leave so they can call the police,” Jackson says bitchily.
“Well, what are you planning on doing with them, genius?” Stiles demands. “Now you’ve got two unconscious people in your foyer and their car somewhere a half-mile away. And they’ve seen that a fucking big reptile lives here.”
Finstock ducks his bristles out of the front closet. “Are you going to kill them?” he asks, a bloodthirsty interest soaking the question.
“No!” Stiles shouts at the same time that Jackson says, “Maybe.”
Stiles gives him a dirty look. “No,” he repeats. “We don’t kill people here! That is the opposite of a good plan, Jackson.”
“Why don’t you figure out what to do with them, then?” Jackson suggests. He promptly climbs up the nearest tapestry and flings himself at Danny; three seconds later, his tail is disappearing around the corner of the staircase that leads to his lair in the west wing.
“Everything sucks and is awful,” Stiles tells the universe at large, hopping closer so he can get a better look at their new guests. Both of them are wearing clothing that screams INCREDIBLE EXPENSE WENT INTO MY PURCHASE and he’s fairly certain that the man’s undershirt has been tailored. They’re so the type of people that will be missed.
“I guess we could fake a car accident,” Stiles observes with a palpable lack of enthusiasm.
“Sounds like a plan, Bilinski,” Finstock says. The bucket—Maribel?—begins to back away, presumably so that Finstock’s murderous impulses don’t put her in his line of fire. The housemaids were underappreciated and generally interchangeable even before the curse took hold; Stiles can’t tell any of them apart now that he can’t guess based on hair color.
Sometimes, Stiles misses the ability to rub his temples more than anything; he can feel a major headache looming on the horizon, and he doesn’t even have the ability to radiate irritation. “We aren’t killing anyone,” he says to the ceiling. “Send someone to get Derek and we’ll lock them in the dungeons until I can come up with a better idea than murder.”
“Fine,” Finstock huffs, actually upset that they aren’t going to be killing their unexpected houseguests, and he sweeps out of the foyer towards the conservatory off of the main parlor, which is the fastest way to get to the gardener’s shed where Derek and the rest of the Hales spend the majority of their time.
Stiles puts on his thinking cap as he bounces around the perimeter of the collapsed bodies, waiting in case the man decides to wake up. Stiles hasn’t had to take on a human in ten years, but worse comes to worse he can just shoot boiling tea at his face. Unfortunately, three rounds later Stiles still has no idea what to do with them and he’s kind of tired of moving. He nudges his spout into the woman’s fallen purse, looking for any kind of wallet.
According to her ID, her name is Helen Martin, and she’s a well-preserved 47-year-old from Beacon Hills, which is the closest town to the castle outside of the boundaries of the Preserve. In addition to her wallet, her purse also has a dead cell phone. Stiles assumes the slim brick thing is a cell phone, at least—he hasn't seen one in ten years, but the only other stuff in her purse is a bunch of tampons and a bag with a scary amount of black-cased, professional-grade make-up.
“What, Stiles?” Derek asks in tones of long sufferance as he and his sister appear from the main parlor.
“I did nothing,” Stiles states immediately, out of habit, and then he scowls at Laura, who laughs. “Shut up, both of you! This is 100% the work of Jackson Whittemore, asshole prince of the night.” He tilts his lid in the direction of the slumped bodies. “I was thinking we should stash them in the dungeons until we figure out how to handle this.”
“Each time Jackson overreacts to a situation I think it’s going to be the top of the list, worst thing ever,” Laura remarks as she leaps off of Derek and comes over to look at the couple, “but then he surprises me with how deep his dickishness really goes.” She flips over and nudges the woman with her handle. “Ugh, they’re all floppy.”
“Can you guys move them?” Stiles asks. “I ask because, um, weak and tragically small, here.” He gestures to the body of his pot with his spout. “We need to get them locked up before the venom wears off. Or this one wakes up, I guess.”
“Fainters,” Laura huffs dismissively. She tucks her base under the man’s shoulders and heaves, dragging him towards where Derek is tilted towards the ground. “C’mon, baby bro, let’s help the damsel in distress.”
Stiles has basically left himself wide open for that one, but he still weakly protests, “I’m not a damsel, exactly.”
“The tea service, then,” Laura modifies; her mouth is under the man’s jacket, but Stiles can hear her shit-eating grin loud and clear.
Derek accepts both of the bodies without a single groan, and Stiles sits wedged into the crook of the man’s arm as they navigate the stairs down to the basement. The dungeons aren’t part of the normal cleaning schedule because dirt and cobwebs are thematic necessities, but all of the locks are polished and oiled once a month—just in case.
“Dump them in the cleanest one,” Stiles advises, and he and Laura critically analyze which cell appears to have the fewest number of eight-legged inhabitants before picking randomly between the two that have mattress padding not infested by rats. Derek silently tilts the couple onto the packed-dirt floor and wheels backwards out of the room.
“Have a nice stay!” Stiles calls out to them as Laura pushes the door shut and the locks slide smoothly into place. The woman replies with a muffled groan; her husband (?) is still unconscious, which: wimp, clearly.
As Derek, Stiles, and Laura stare at the woodwork of the door, Stiles finally lets himself say, faintly, “This is either going to end very well or with all of us locked in a government warehouse in Reno and Jackson at Area 51.”
“That’s the spirit,” Laura says cheerfully. “In you go, Stiles,” she continues, and she scoops him up and dumps him into Derek, who responds with a muffled noise of surprise as Stiles skids across the bottom of his tray.
“Hey,” Stiles remembers to ask when they’re halfway up the stairs. “Did you make those roses bloom? The ones in the back gardens by the kitchen? Because Scott’s under the impression that you, like, sold your soul to that hackneyed bitch Gerard Argent for the ability to make plants bloom whenever you want.”
“Scott is an idiot,” Derek replies.
Stiles rolls his eyes. “Yes, thanks for that thrilling and unexpected update on my best friend, but seriously—was it you?”
After a long pause, as Laura cackles silently to Stiles’ left, Derek says, “Yes.”
“Oh man, that is so freaking cool,” Stiles enthuses, and Derek’s wheel misses the next step and almost sends the three of them backwards into the basement. “Whoa!” Stiles shouts. “You okay? These stairs aren’t crumbling, are they? Shit, we can’t stash prisoners in a basement with a staircase about to go, I’m pretty sure that's in violation of the Geneva Convention.”
“I’m fairly certain kidnapping is a felony,” Laura points out, and since she’s right, Stiles just swallows down the guilty lump in his throat and nestles himself further into the front corner of Derek’s tray, which seems the corner least likely to spit him out if Derek stumbles again.
Stiles has the kitchen staff make a lot of sandwiches and then he puts them on a tray in the fridge and sends four of them down every six hours along with a pitcher of water and some of the less talkative glasses. He has Finstock supervise and hopes that the watching goes in both directions; Finstock will keep the soft-hearted cutlery from offering to let the humans out, and the cutlery will keep Finstock from murdering the couple out of—well, out of whatever bizarre reasoning Finstock uses to guide his decision-making process.
Two days later, when Stiles still has no idea what the hell to do with their, um, guests, there’s another knock on the front door. Stiles is in the kitchen this time, staring at the pile of produce that had been outside of his cabinet when he’d woken up this morning, but he finds out fast enough when Scott skids into the door breathlessly and shouts, “THERE’S A GIRL IN THE CASTLE,” and promptly brains himself on one of the casserole dishes.
“Dude,” Isaac says in a deeply betrayed voice. “That kind of majorly hurt.”
“OH MY GOD,” Scott shouts. “A GIRL. IN. THE. CASTLE.” He rubs one of his tapers against his forehead, pressing out where he’d been slightly dented from one of Isaac’s handles, and in the interim there comes a high-pitched squeal from the foyer.
Stiles throws himself off the counter, leaving Greenberg to his own devices while the zucchini finish sautéing, and lands in a clatter of his delicate parts. He hops like he’s never hopped before and makes it into the foyer with most of the parlor furniture, where the source of the squealing turns out to be Finstock, who’s being firmly gripped—in a distinctly not fun-looking way—by probably the most beautiful girl Stiles has ever seen in his life, and Mrs. Whittemore had left her Limoges prints up in the breakfast room when she’d left.
“I don’t recall imbibing any hallucinogens,” the girl says in a terrifying logical way, “and I was fine while I was driving, so it appears that this castle is filled with living furniture.”
“I’m not furniture,” Stiles barks, and great: he’s now officially a barking teapot. He’s a Harry Potter character.
The girl waggles Finstock, says, “I’m disinterested in semantics,” and drops him. “However, I’m pleased to note that my mother’s purse is on your hall table.”
Rachel guiltily tries to scuttle away, but the girl has scarily fast reflexes; she darts over and snatches the burgundy leather bag before Rachel has a chance to break for the billiards room. “Where are my parents?” she demands, shaking the bag at Stiles.
Stiles opens his mouth and snaps it shut a second later as Scott’s gleeful shout echoes in his head. THERE’S A GIRL IN THE CASTLE. Oh. Shit.
“Lock the doors!” Finstock bellows and there’s a stampede as a set of wardrobes from the second floor guest bedrooms race to be the first; the girl looks confused for a second, and then astonished, and then furious. But by then, the wardrobes are blocking the doors and her only option is to throw herself…out of one of the fourteen other exits to the outdoors that exist on this floor alone.
“This was poorly conceived,” Stiles informs the entirety of the foyer. “There’s no way that she’s going to agree to just stay on her own now that she knows you’re all psychotic.”
“What the hell is going on?” the girl demands, and that’s naturally, when there’s a hysterical hiss from the upstairs banister.
“NO, JACKSON,” Stiles, Scott, and Isaac yell in unison, but he’s already hanging from Danny by his tail, swinging back and forth like a murderous Cirque du Solei performer, dripping paralytic toxins all over the newly-cleaned floors.
Jackson rudely demands, “Who the hell are you?” and the girl, who looks like she can’t decide whether to be terrified or furious, settles for a (still incredibly attractive) combination of the two.
“Who am I?” she echoes. “Who are you? And where the hell are my parents?”
If you’d asked Stiles twenty minutes ago if Jackson could be termed ‘clever,’ Stiles would’ve laughed himself sick and spilled half of his tea everywhere as he rolled around the floor of the kitchen—but ten minutes later, the girl has agreed to stay as long as Jackson releases her parents, and Derek and Laura are being dispatched to collect the couple from the dungeons.
“It’s not like you’re going to be able to hold me,” the girl—Lydia—comments with her nose firmly in the air as her parents scramble the get themselves out of the door as fast as possible; their lack of interest in the fate of their daughter says a lot of worrying things about their relationship. “I’m smarter than all of you.”
“Probably true,” Stiles admits. “However, we’re desperate and there are way more of us. So I guess it’s kind of a draw.” He wants to say something like, Jackson is kind of stupidly hot when he’s not a lizard, so you should fall in love with him and break the curse so we won’t be appliances for the rest of our lives, but he’s not allowed to talk about how pretty Jackson is, re: Gerard Argent’s curse guidelines.
As Lydia follows Scott up the main staircase to the room in the east wing that will be hers for the duration of her stay—God knows how long that will be; Stiles doesn’t plan to hold his breath about her sticking around for breakfast, although he’ll be prepared with cinnamon and brandy French toast if she is—Stiles finds himself wedged into a corner with Derek as the rest of the household staff gossips furiously.
“What do you reckon?” he asks Derek, nudging him companionably with his handle. “Twenty-four hours? Tops?”
“Twelve,” Derek says darkly. “Let’s not kid ourselves.”
Lydia is at breakfast. She eats Stiles’ French toast delicately and makes a surprised noise when she takes the first bite. Stiles knows that he’s a great cook—for one thing, Jackson still eats his food even though he should probably prefer living rodents, considering his biology—but the soft moan that Lydia makes around her fork is so gratifying that Stiles hovers a few inches off of the ground all day. His lid rattles every time he speaks, but he can’t really help it.
Stiles spends the afternoon planning the evening menu with the kitchen staff, including Greenberg, who sleeps through it and spares the rest of them his idiocy. Through the bay windows, Stiles can see Derek and the other Hales hard at work in the back gardens. Peter is rather cheerfully sniping at deadhead roses, the blades of his shears reflecting the sun in a way that’s slightly frightening, and in the background Derek is a steady presence, towing his family members and bags of mulch and burlap sacks of bulbs to and fro.
Produce is still showing up in absurd quantities outside of Stiles’ cupboard at night. Since only Jackson, and now Lydia, actually consume food, Stiles has more zucchinis than he could conceivably use to feed a crowd of biblical proportions. But they’re all fantastic examples of their vegetative kin—symmetrical squash; plump, ripe berries; bundles of fresh herbs, ready for drying or spicing or garnish—and Stiles wants to cook like he hasn’t been able to in years, not since the majority of the castle was human and Mr. and Mrs. Whittemore were still around.
“I was thinking a simple five course?” Stiles suggests, flipping to the section of his recipe notebook entitled FOOD FOR LOVE. “Not too much pressure, but enough to encourage conversation and romantic lighting and such.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Isaac asks.
“What, dim lighting?” Stiles laughs. “Yes.”
“No, no,” Isaac says. “Conversation. Jackson doesn’t really know how to talk to someone without sounding like a pretentious asshat.”
There’s a long pause as everyone at the kitchen table digests this.
“Well,” Stiles finally says, “yes. That’s very true. But she’s got to fall in love with him and since I can’t exactly cut out Jackson’s tongue, I just have to hope my food is good enough to seduce her into a better frame of mind.” Even as the words come out of Stiles’ mouth he’s aware of them being complete and utter bullshit, but his delusions are all he has now, and he keeps them close. It’s not like anything else keeps him warm at night; the china cabinet is fucking freezing.
Every night, as Stiles and his flock of tea cups bring Lydia her nightly tea, Lydia manages to work into the conversation at least once that she likely won’t be around come morning. After two months, the threat becomes a bit stale, but Stiles honestly has no idea what’s holding her back. Jackson is still surly, uncommunicative, and awful, and Stiles isn’t arrogant enough to think that his cooking is actually capable of tying her to the castle.
He manages by the skin of his teeth not to ask Lydia outright, but when he goes to sit on the bench outside of the kitchen windows and look at the roses that are still stubbornly blooming, he spills his thoughts to Derek, who works at the vegetable patch with a single-minded devotion that’s fairly staggering.
“I’m wondering,” Stiles tells him on a Thursday, “if maybe she’s waiting until the curse is set and then she’s going to skin Jackson, turn him into a pair of shoes, and take over the castle herself. That seems like the kind of thing she might do.”
“You sound excited,” Derek says. He seems more silent than usual, which Stiles hadn’t been aware was an achievable state without actually being mute.
Stiles shrugs. “One master’s kind of like another, you know? And it’s not like Jackson has earned any kind of devotion. He’s a shit-head and it’s his stupid fault that we’re even stuck here. If he hasn’t called Kate Argent ugly, I could still have working arms right now.”
“Jackson could’ve been Mary fucking Poppins and Gerard still would’ve cursed us,” Derek says. The way that he says it—namely, forcefully—tells Stiles that he knows what he’s talking about. Stiles hadn’t been aware that Derek had known either of the Argents; but then again, Stiles hadn’t even known Derek when they were still human. As far as he’d been concerned, the produce that the kitchen had used was a gift from benign gardening fairies.
Stiles shrugs again, more laconically this time. “It’s easier to hate Jackson, who lives here with us and still refuses to use the goddamn stairs, than Gerard Argent. God knows where he is. Hopefully rotting in hell.”
Derek says, “Amen,” which is hilarious.
“I hope he gets one of those fates like Sisyphus,” Stiles says dreamily, leaning back against a vine of ivy clinging to the back of the wrought iron bench on which he’s perched. “Like, thousands of splinters in all of the tender areas of his body. Or maybe he’s filled up with tea and he keeps on having to pour it out and pour it out and he’s still full.”
“Or maybe,” Derek says quietly in a queerly pained voice, “he’s surrounded by things that he needs and he can’t have them.”
“The gods already did that to Tantalus,” Stiles points out, deciding to ignore the whole bits of that sentence that have BAD FEELINGS written all over them, “but A+ on the revenge scheme. I’m personally pulling for the scenario where his bodily organs are continually set on fire while still inside his body.”
“Yeah,” Derek agrees. “I like that one.”
In the middle of April it begins to rain and then it won’t fucking stop. Lydia had basically moved into the library on day two of her stay, but even she looks like she’s beginning to climb the walls from frustration. Day four of “We don’t live in Seattle but you sure couldn’t tell from the meteorological data,” Erica shows Lydia where Mrs. Whittemore stashed her extensive nail polish collection, and Lydia spends long hours trying different color combinations until the whole upstairs reeks of acetone.
Jackson bitches; Lydia says, sweetly, “Oh, can you smell? Your lack of nose had made that unclear,” and Jackson shoves a spoonful of Stiles’ spring onion soup into his mouth, mumbling something unintelligible as a comeback.
The staff does their best to encourage romance. In addition to Stiles steadily moving through his FOOD OF LOVE recipes, Finstock blackmails Harris into playing bittersweet piano concertos so that the notes drift down the hall from the music room. Derek and Laura leave vases of roses and daylilies in all of the rooms in which Lydia spends time; the library takes on a sweet, honeysuckle smell. Derek always leaves a few cuttings for Stiles from the rosebushes that are still—still; Stiles is beginning to seriously contemplate the “Derek sold his soul to the devil to be the best gardener in the state” Scott McCall hypothesis—blooming.
Stiles appreciates that Derek is enough of a creeper to know how much rosewater goes into Stiles’ romantic recipes, but frankly Stiles is running out of ways to use the roses. Eventually he gives up and just asks one of the vases in the window over the sink to hold them; the next time Derek stops in with a delivery of cream from the dairy in the barn, he looks as close to beaming as Derek can get without breaking his face.
It’s kind of an oh fucking shit moment, for Stiles.
Stiles was barely equipped to deal with his emotions even before he was turned into a delicate example of Rouen soft-paste porcelain, so he does what comes naturally to him and talks, as loudly and obtrusively as possible, whenever he and Derek are in the same room. He talks to Laura about the history of the glass perfume bottle; he talks to Scott about their fantasy lacrosse teams, which they take great joy in making up stats about since they never hear about the real scores; and he talks a lot at Danny, who is so long-suffering about Jackson continually hanging on him instead of using the stairs that he’s probably going straight to heaven after this farce of an existence is all over.
He does not, however, talk to Derek, except in a falsely bright voice in an awkwardly high register; and even then, it’s about what the kitchen needs from the gardens.
Stiles watches himself do it, and he watches Derek dim against the contrast of Lydia burning brighter and brighter as time passes and something grows between her and Jackson that’s inexplicable and disturbing but also real, and Stiles basically hates himself and everything he does, but he’s also incapable of stopping.
If Stiles does something spectacularly human like fall in love, he wants to fall in love as a human, with another human, instead of us as teapot with a wheelbarrow. There are whole books and books of wrong with the latter scenario; it wakes Stiles up in the middle of the night, his tea running cold, at the thought of being stuck forever at the mercy of Gerard Argent’s biting sense of humor.
Stiles has never actually tried to get drunk as a teapot, but in the middle of August he has a TO HELL WITH EVERYTHING kind of day wherein Isaac and Scott are cozying up in the bay window of the main parlor, Scott managing through sheer luck and Isaac’s occasional intervention not to set any of the drapery on fire, and he asks one of the brandy decanters in the library to pour some of its contents into his pot.
“Are you sure?” the decanter asks, hiccupping. “Kinda—rich stuff, here.”
“Yes,” Stiles says irritably, “that would be the point, wouldn’t it?” and the decanter cheerfully tips over, sloshing brandy into Stiles’ tea.
The effect is shockingly quick; Stiles barely makes it off of the sideboard before he’s weaving on his base, his spout knocking at pieces of furniture. “Srry,” Stile apologizes blurrily, and the furniture grins and moves out of his way. He doesn’t want to go to the kitchen because he spends way, way too much time there already, so he goes and finds a dark corner of the library and settles down on a shelf that doesn’t provide a single glimpse of any of the gardens.
He tries to brood, but it turns out Stiles is short of hugely shitty at brooding and he’s a very sleepy drunk; he nods off and jerks away two hours later, still drunk but a little less debilitating, to the sight of Lydia’s face hovering in front of him. “BAH,” Stiles shouts, and nearly topples off of the shelf.
“Are you seriously drunk right now?” Lydia asks, and Stiles considers nodding before deciding that he doesn’t want to do something embarrassing like spurt tea all down the front of Lydia’s nice dress; besides, she’s a smart girl, she knows the answer to her question.
“Yesh,” Stiles tells her, because he’s polite.
Lydia settles back on her heels and laughs so hard that she hits her head on one of the shelves and has to recover. “The sheer incompetence of everyone here is astonishing,” she remarks quietly, but affection lies heavily over her words.
“Are you going to stay?” Stiles asks her. “We like you a lot and you’re a goddess and Jackson’s like 0.12% nicer when you’re around because he wants to impress you.”
“I know that,” Lydia says, flicking a lock of hair over her shoulder. “You have to make boys like Jackson work for it, or else they get lazy and complacent.”
“Jackson’s like the opposite of lazy,” Stiles observes, resting his handle against a bookend so he won’t get vertigo and tumble to the ground. Finding out what will happen if he shatters isn’t on his agenda for today. “He’s got a very strict schedule. Always broods from 11:30 to 1:30 and takes lunch at 1:40. I have to steam his broccoli, you know; he won’t take it boiled. Loses too many nutrients.”
Lydia’s eyebrow lifts comically high. “What kind of lizard monster is worried about nutrients?”
Stiles thinks, the kind that used to be a prince with an eight-pack and biceps the size of grapefruits, but the curse won’t let him say that. “The not-lazy kind,” he says instead. “Jackson can be very focused on what he wants. Iss, um, goal-orientated.”
Laughing, Lydia arranges the fall of her skirt over her knee. “Oh, I can see that,” she says. “As flattering as it is to be the goal of a guy who owns a house that’s probably larger than the entirety of Beacon County, I don’t want to play Morticia to his Gomez.”
“Jackson is way too preppy to be Gomez,” Stiles rushes to assure her. “If anything, you’d be the Jean to his Patrick Bateman.” Stiles frowns. “Wait, that’s still wrong. Jackson isn’t a serial killer. He’s a yuppie with a scaly skin problem.”
Lydia says, “I don’t particularly want to be a WASP housewife either, Stiles,” and before Stiles can tell her that he didn’t mean that, either, she stands up, brushes off her skirt, and vanishes back into the stacks, moving too quickly for Stiles to follow.
Come September, things are fairly bleak. The rose is on its last petal; Jackson has stopped socializing and spends all of his time with Danny close to the plaster molding; the roses in the back garden are beginning to slow their reckless propulsion of blooms. The mood in the castle is one of desperation tinged with resigned despair; there’s no way that they’re going to find another girl to fall in love with Jackson in the next two months, and Lydia looks more and more irritated each time she has to be dragged out of the library to join Jackson for dinner.
Stiles hasn’t seen Derek in two weeks. That’s mostly his own damn fault.
On the fall equinox, Stiles comes to the page entitled “Last Fucking Resort” in his FOOD FOR LOVE recipe collection. He manfully girds his non-existent loins and hops out into the garden, which is filled with frenzied harvesting of the last of the season’s produce before the cold snaps set in with a vengeance. The back garden is filled with Hales that aren’t Derek, but once Stiles makes his way along the outside edge of the house to the gardens behind the east wing, he finds Derek and Laura deep in the pumpkin patch, doing something complicated-looking with their uncle the pruning shears.
“Hey!” Stiles calls out. Laura and Peter both politely swivel in his direction; Derek turns in the opposite direction, which is about as pointed as you get can when you’re a wheelbarrow full of baby pumpkins.
“Oh my god,” says Stiles, immediately stricken. “They’re so cute!”
“Pretty damn adorable,” Laura agrees. “What can we do for you, Stiles?” She seems some combination of amused and worried; everyone in the castle has some sort of baseline concern running through them constantly. Stiles operates at a slightly more advanced level of persistent worry, but he generally exists at a more intense plane than most people.
“I need two very attractive pie pumpkins and four others that’ll be good for stewing but otherwise it doesn’t really matter how they look.” Stiles climbs on top of a nearby pumpkin to get a good look at how the patch is doing. The answer is very well; Derek is the best head gardener that the castle has had in at least three generations, and that’s without even factoring in his wheelbarrow handicap.
“It’s done,” says Derek, surly.
“Anything else?” Laura asks.
Yes, Stiles thinks. Why are my roses dying?
“Nope!” he chirps. “Can you bring the pumpkins to the kitchens by lunch?”
“Whatever,” Derek mumbles, and he drives off with his collection of baby pumpkins in the general direction of the gardening shed. He can move fairly fast when he wants to; there’s no way, even if Stiles wasn’t a sniveling coward, that he could catch up to him.
“This is kind of the opposite of what I wanted,” Stiles says sadly, watching Derek hit a bump and the baby pumpkins become airborne for a handful of seconds. “Why’s he so mad?” Stiles asks Laura.
She sighs and tucks herself underneath a pumpkin, lifting it so Peter can snip at some weedy growth along its base. “Do you really need me to answer that? I thought you were the clever one, Stiles.”
“I’m the cleverest,” Stiles agrees. “But I’m—a teapot! He’s a wheelbarrow!”
“It’s not like that stops Scott and Isaac,” Laura points out. “If Lydia doesn’t break the curse, we’re going to be stuck like this for either eternity or the rest of our lives, depending on how evil Gerard Argent really is. There’s no point in suppressing how you feel because of some embarrassment about lacking a human body. It’s just hurting everyone, and by everyone I mean you, Derek, and everyone who has to live with Derek because he’s a broody brooder who broods a lot.”
Stiles doesn’t really know what to say to that; for all of his whining, he’s always been sure, in the back of his mind, that the curse will be broken and they’ll manage to become human again. He doesn't want to make life plans based on an outcome where Jackson stays a stupid, angry lizard and Stiles has to pour tea out of his orifices for the rest of his life.
“Ngh,” Stiles says, in lieu of words, and he makes a tactical retreat to the kitchen so he can begin preparations for the Last Fucking Resort meal.
All things considered, it’s pretty much the most spectacular thing Stiles has ever crafted. He makes bowls of pumpkin and butternut squash soup with roasted butter and maple syrup, served in hollowed pumpkins. He sends out pecan-encrusted chicken on a bed of linguine as light as air. Dessert is basically a miracle; so much lavender-infused Chantilly cream goes into its creation that the whole kitchen smells like burnt sugar and lavender when Stiles finally has Isaac carry it out.
Scott is technically in charge of romantic atmosphere; nevertheless, Stiles sneaks out of the kitchen and hides in one of the alcoves off of the dining room to supervise, just in case. Scott is in the middle of the table, his candles for once perfectly straight, and Harris has been wheeled into one of the back corners, where he is plonking through the greatest solo piano compositions of Robert Schumann and still, somehow, managing to sound angsty as hell.
In the low light from Scott’s candles, Lydia is breathtaking. Jackson is still a butt-ugly lizard monster, but he looks like he’s having a religious experience with Stiles’ trifle, so that’s validating in a weird sort of way.
Other members of the household staff are squirreled away in alcoves and behind doors and windows; Stiles can see most of them. He can feel the air of the room holding its breath, waiting for the conclusion to an evening that couldn’t have been more perfect if Stiles had forced Jackson to put on a tux and take Lydia to the Rainbow Room.
Please, Stiles prays desperately. Please, just tell him you love him. We know. We all know. We don’t really understand, but we know. You just have to say the words.
Lydia swallows a mouthful of cream and comments, “It’s been eight months.”
Oh shit, Stiles thinks.
“Yes,” Jackson cautiously agrees. “It has.”
“I’ve followed your asinine house rules, read most of the contents of your library, and endured dinner with you every night. I think it’s about time for me to get on with my life.”
Shit shit shit shit shit, Stiles thinks.
There’s a delicate pause. “Don’t you?” Lydia adds sweetly.
Jackson folds his arms across his chest and leans back in his chair. His is not a face made for pouting, but he somehow manages it. “Whatever,” he mumbles, clearly desperately grasping for some kind of equilibrium.
Lydia smirks into her dessert. Stiles is overwhelmed with the desire to strangle her—is she playing a game? Is this some kind of power play? This is their lives, and she’s trying to manipulate Jackson with a set of juvenile headgames?
“I give up,” Stiles announces, and he leaves as Lydia leans forward and blandly says, “I’m glad we’re in agreement, then.”
Stiles is apparently the only one to have given up hope; the corridors beyond the area directly outside of the dining room are completely deserted. As Stiles hops down a line of Persian runners, his tea bubbles nervously. He tries to reassure himself that he always knew it would come down to this; without his pretty features, Jackson is just an insecure dick-faced weasel, and Lydia Martin is basically perfection given human form.
Without conscious input from his brain, Stiles ends up in the back gardens. His rosebushes are limp and sad in the twilight; they’ve lost their vibrancy, sort of like Stiles. Derek is parked underneath the yellow bush, staring into space or glowering or whatever he does to pass the time when he isn’t gardening.
“Man, fuck this noise,” Stiles says, coming to rest at his side. “Looks like Operation: Last Resort is a bust.”
“Did you really expect whipped cream to fix everything?” Derek asks in a mean sort of voice.
Stiles nudges Derek’s wheel with his spout. “Don’t be a bitter asshole, okay? I was avoiding you because a fundamental part of me is terrified by the thought of being a teapot in a relationship with a fucking wheelbarrow. But you light up my world or some shit like that and I’m trying to apologize. Or maybe start a conversation that will end up in an apology, I haven’t decided yet.”
There stretches out after that a long second of silence, after which Derek deflates and says, “Yeah, it’s kind of scary.”
“Does this mean you’ll make my roses better?” Stiles asks. “They’re depressing right now, dude. Look at them.”
“Don’t call me dude,” Derek says.
“Man, so not the point,” Stiles replies. “The point is that your brooding has killed my roses. “
Derek snorts. “Oh, right, your roses.”
“Yes, my roses,” Stiles says, “they’re so obviously mine that it doesn’t even need to be verbalized,” and he leans over to poke Derek in the wheel again and halfway through the motion there’s this clarion ringing out, like glass being shattered, and a blinding light explodes out of the center of the house and whips past Derek and Stiles and pulses through to the edge of the grounds.
“Holy shit,” Stiles says, “what the ever-loving crap was that?”
To his left, Derek says, “I think the spell is broken,” in a shell-shocked voice.
Stiles shakily lifts one of his hands, which is pale but no longer painted with blue vines or capable of pouring tea. “OH MY GOD,” he shrieks, and he turns and flings his arms around Derek, who is about Stiles’ height when they’re sprawled on the ground. “Oh my god,” Stiles repeats weakly a second later, as he realizes that Derek is the kind of astonishingly attractive that previously Stiles had only associated with Jackson. “Um,” he says.
Derek looks just as shocked as Stiles. “You’re—“ he bites out, and then he groans, “Shit,” and he and Stiles are frantically kissing because, to Stiles’ everlasting delight, his libido has come back along with his dick and he’s fully capable of appreciating how shockingly hot Derek is, down to a layer of stubble across his sharp jaw and a pair of shoulders that were clearly built by years of hard labor.
“Sex,” Stiles says frantically, tugging at Derek’s flannel work shirt, “sex now,” and Derek promptly pushes him backwards onto the dirt and Stiles is so happy to be human that he gives in to nervous, full-body giggles that just melt into laughter as Derek latches his teeth into Stiles’ neck and bites.
“The curse is broken,” Stiles whispers happily, and the tendrils of the rose bush above his head unfurl and burst into bloom. “Oh man, it was totally the Chantilly cream. Go me.”