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Lydia has a plastic tiara, a crystal red scepter, and is wearing not one but two tutus. The rack of Pillow Pets has no recourse as she trills, “You sing—sing! I am majestical princess!”

Lydia knows loads of words for a three year old.

“They don’t have batteries,” Laura says.

This does not impress their little sister. She turns back to the rack and shouts, “Light up!”

Unlike the rest of the family, Laura doesn’t have much patience for Lydia. Derek isn’t really sure if it’s because Laura is a girl alpha or if it’s because Lydia is an omega, but anyway, Laura is always saying their little sister is getting spoiled rotten by their parents. This is why with hands on her hips Laura firmly repeats, “No batteries.”

Derek tip-toes down the aisle before the tantrum really gets going. He’s three rows over, though, when it hits: the wail, followed by “I! AM! A! PRINCESS!”

Pretty practiced at ignoring piercing noise, Derek is checking out water guns, because first grade is almost over, and summer is approaching, and well, water balloons are annoying, because after you have a real battle, the popped plastic is all over the yard, and Mom always makes them clean up every last scrap. A water gun, though, that would be so totally deadly. With no added cleaning up. He’s trying to wiggle his finger through the hole in the box—he wants to test the trigger—but then there’s the sudden tap-tap-tap of feet behind him, followed by the smell of chocolate milk. He’s about to turn around when it happens: a shoe sole lands right in the center of his butt.

He’s been kicked.

Outraged, Derek jerks around to see a little toddler. The brat is wheeling up for another roundhouse.

Derek catches the leg mid-swing. Instead of being afraid, the toddler attacking him looks delighted. His brown eyes are too big for his face as he surrenders his arms up and kerplops back onto his diapered butt. He’s younger than Lydia but not by that much.

Derek is still trying to figure out what to do about this when a woman’s frantic voice comes down the aisle. “Baby, baby, baby—no kick. I’m so sorry. It’s a thing lately.” She waggles a finger at her son. “We don’t kick, Genim.” She scoops her kid off the floor, and well, Derek doesn’t feel that mad anymore. The woman has the same warm, brown eyes her son does and she smells really, really nice, like clovers and hazelnut. Also, she’s really pretty, enough to make Derek feel shy. “You must be Anna’s son? Derek, am I right?” the woman asks.

“Yeah.”

“Duh-ruk!” the toddler pipes, still smiling. “My fren’.” The smile Derek is getting is both kind of cute and kind of evil.

“Oh, yeah, you wanted to make friends.” The woman pokes her son in the stomach, which makes him giggle again. “We don’t make friends by kicking.”

“It’s okay,” Derek says. “My sister is the one screaming.” And yeah, on the other side of the store, Lydia is now sobbing hysterically with the occasional high pitched shriek. Derek occasionally catches words like “pony” and “mine.”

“I’m Ms. Stilinski. Your mom and I were just talking about a play date. Genim is an omega too, so we were thinking they might distract each other. Genim has a lot of energy.” As she says this, her kid is leaning as far as possible over her shoulder. He’s trying to grab a miniature xylophone off the shelf.

“Maybe,” Derek says. And he thinks to himself that Genim is pretty much the worst name ever to give a kid.

Baby Stilinski gets a grip on the xylophone. It and the four boxes next to it tumble to the ground. The sound is loud enough to even drown out Lydia. Derek tries to help Ms. Stilinski pick them up, except that baby Stilinski kicks him again. This time in the knee cap.

- - -

The playdate works as long as baby Stilinski lets Lydia “dress him.” As she layers him in tutus and feather boas and jewelry, the boy watches Lydia with rapt fascination, like he actually is convinced that Lydia is a princess—but then she tries to put a “veil” over his face. It's a bad idea, because the spell is broken, and little Stilinski is no longer sitting still. He switches to spinning topsy-turvy around the room. He smacks one of Lydia’s toys off her shelf, and well, that’s just not okay. “Stop! Stop! Stop!” Lydia is commanding.

But Stilinski can’t see, and the kid is probably dizzy—so he steps on one of the scarves around his neck and careens into the bookshelf. Books and toys fall, and the boy must have hit something, because he’s crying too—and Lydia’s mad about her princess stuff getting ruined so she’s trying to rip her blue boa off Stilinski—except it’s still looped around the kid’s neck. Derek has to step in. He scoops the little boy up, pushing the scarves and boas off of him, even as Lydia is hollering, jumping up and still trying to get her costume stuff back. “He’s hurt, you brat,” Derek says.

“My dresses!” Lydia whines.

“You’ll have them back in a minute,” Derek says and walks out of the room with him.

The boy keeps his head pressed down into Derek’s shoulder, whimpering in a constant stream, but his head pops up as soon as they’re in Derek’s room. “Guns!” Stilinski exclaims, looking at the toys piled along Derek’s wall.

Derek hopes it’s because he’s the sheriff son that he already knows that word. “Okay, little Stilinski,” Derek says, but the kid is frowning at him.

“You’re right. Way too long. I’m going to call you Stiles. I’m going to let you play with my toys, but first, we’re going to learn how to play without breaking anything.”

So, yeah, “Stiles” bops him on the head with a ball once, but yeah, at least it’s rubber. Later, he wants Derek to read him a truck book, so they do that. Weirdly, even though there aren't many pictures (because it’s one of Derek’s new chapter books), Stiles listens with rapt attention as Derek wades through the story. When he wakes up an hour later, he’s warm and kind of sticky but then cold as weight goes off his lap. It takes him a blurry second to realize that Ms. Stilinski is lifting Stiles up.

Oh, they fell asleep.

- - -

For some reason, his mom and Ms. Stilinski declare the play date a success, so for the next two years, the pattern repeats: Lydia bosses Stiles until he breaks something, and then he runs off to find Derek while Lydia reorders her kingdom. But it’s not just that. If they’re in the grocery store in town or at the playground, Stiles always seems to find him. And unlike the first time, Derek always seems to sense when he’s coming. It’s like he’s developed a sixth sense for the kid. Probably, he’s memorized his smell. Not hard. He smells like gross little boy. But kind of nice, too.

Stiles stops kicking after he turns three, but then what happens is even worse:

He starts talking.

- - -

At age five, it becomes clear that Stiles is incapable of staying still unless he’s passed out. But he's not now, so their moms “suggested” that Laura and Derek take the dog and the babies to the kid’s jungle. When Lydia complains, their mom says that they “need to talk about adult things.” Derek is old enough now to know that means they’re talking either about their husbands or about dirty stuff. He’s fine with not sticking around for that.

They go to the playground. There are slides and castle-like structures, but that only entertains Her Highness and Stiles for 8 minutes. Currently, Stiles is bouncing up and down. “Liddy, Liddy, I can run faster than you. See how fast I can run.”

Lydia, who is wearing green plastic mermaid heels, doesn't look all that impressed as Stiles makes five circuits of the playground. Luna, their husky, diligently chases after him. “I want my snack.” Lydia's gaze is determinedly focused on Derek, because Lydia is smart, and Derek is marginally nicer and more likely to give it to her.

Still, Laura is the one who answers, “You can have it, but you have to share.”

Lydia turns to Derek but he shrugs. Laura, being thirteen, is in charge. Derek, being nine, defers.

Lydia hates this. “No.”

“You can have yours, I’ll give Stiles his half,” Derek says.

“Nooo-oh!” Lydia’s chest thrusts up at the same her lip juts out.

Laura rolls her chin his way and glares. “You mean you’re going to leave me with her?”

Derek crouches down so that he’s eye-level with Lydia. “Mom packed celery sticks.”

“With ants?” Lydia’s whole expression squiggles up.

“Yep, raisins.” Derek waits.

Lydia makes a spitting sound, before stomping down a green heel. “I don’t eat bugs.”

Derek turns to Laura. “I’ll give the raisins to Stiles. That work?”

“Like he needs the sugar.” But Laura hands over the red box of raisins and Derek goes to intercept Stiles on his eighth playground loop. Also, Luna is starting to actually look tired. He should go save his dog.

“Derek. Derek. Derek—Derek,” Stiles puffs out, collapsing to his knees as soon as he has the raisins in hand. “Did you see?”

“I saw—you did eight laps. Fast, too.”

“No—eight and a half. Really fast. Faster than Luna.” Luna is clearly not upset by this as she is currently rolling on her back in the wood mulch.

“Crazy fast,” Derek agrees.

“Are you faster?” Stiles is eating with his mouth open, and Derek should correct him, but he thinks it’s mostly because the kid is still panting from his run, so he lets it go.

“I’m older. I have longer legs,” Derek says.

“You’re gonna be an alpha. Alphas are really fast. My mom told me.”

“Pretty much.”

“I’m an omega. Liddy is too. We’re rare. Most people are betas. But some are alphas or omegas. Mom says me and Lydia are special.” He pauses in yanking raisins out of the box and his lips push to the side. “But she’s a girl. It’s weird to be a boy omega.”

“Who told you that?”

Stiles experimentally squashes a raisin between two fingers. “Scott’s dad said.”

Mr. McCall is a total jerk. Derek’s mom says worse things, words she normally only uses when she’s driving, but Derek can’t say any of those words to reassure Stiles. “It’s just a thing. Don’t worry about it.”

“Someday I’m going to have babies. That is weird. Other boys can’t have babies. Scott can’t. My dad can’t. You can’t.” Stiles gives a raisin to Luna, who catches it with a snap of teeth.

“No, but—”

“I have to get married too.” Stiles looks even more disturbed by this. “Omegas got to be married. There’s a party with alphas when I’m old, and I have to choose. You’re an alpha. Can I choose you?”

“Uh…”

“Because that would be okay. Liddy is going to have a party too. Maybe we can have parties together.”

Derek shrugs. There’s no keeping up with the kid in this way. “You wanna play catch?” he asks.

At the word, Luna is on her feet. Her ears are at full alert.

“I’m going to catch them all,” Stiles agrees, hopping to his feet.

- - -

Derek kind of knew that puberty would be awful, because he’d seen Laura go through it. That summer, she’d gotten weird about the laundry, yelling at their dad for mixing their clothes. At meals, she would either eat everyone’s food or flat-out refuse to look at her plate. She was even more cutting to Lydia than usual. At the time, Derek had just made a point to avoid her. Once school started, she got a bit better. She played lacrosse after school and spent her free time at friend’s houses.

Still, when Derek turns thirteen—and his changes begin—it is weird and horrible. His whole body heats like a furnace. He starts noticing smells. The other alphas in his grade have meaty, pungent odors that make the hairs rise on his back. And the omegas… There are five omegas at Beacon Hills high school. The older two are pre-bonded, but the younger three haven’t manifested yet. They’re all pretty, even the boy Isaac. And the way they smell, it’s heady—sort of like sweet-sour body odor except instead of the sour stink at the end, there’s this aromatic blast of honey and anise.

Derek goes home at night and he dreams of all of them in turn. Sometimes, he wakes up the next morning and he’s made a mess in his sheets. On one particularly bad day, when he absolutely rage-tackles their stupid alpha goalie at practice, he kind of gets where Laura was coming from.

- - -

Stiles’s mom is pregnant—and it’s not going so well. When Derek sees her at Lydia and Stiles’s soccer game, the color is gone from her face. Her eyes are dull as her forehead rests in her palm. She’s not watching the game. Out on the field, Stiles isn’t either. A ball flies right past him. The massive pack of nine and ten year olds swirls around him, and it’s like he doesn't notice because he’s looking at the bleachers. Derek’s mom leans down to whisper in Derek’s ear. “Stiles should come over to our house after the game? Would that be okay?” She’s asking Derek because Lydia is in an I-hate-boys phase. If Stiles is coming over, it’s going to be Derek that watches him.

“I’ll take him out in the woods.”

- - -

There’s an old fort that Derek and Laura built years ago. It’s on the north bank of the creek, right near the only waterfall in the forest. At this point, the boards are all rotten; the nails are a major tetanus threat, but Stiles doesn't complain as Derek brushes leaves off the makeshift benches so they can sit. Luna’s with them too, but she’s slow moving. Her litter is due in a week.

The kid is shivering, even though his face is swallowed by his down jacket. What’s more telling is that after agreeing to come with Derek, Stiles hasn’t said a word. Nor has he sat down. He’s just got his arms wrapped around himself, staring. Sensing his anxiety, Luna whines. “Hey,” Derek says.

Stiles turns toward him. He reaches out a hand to pet Luna.

“You can sit, Genim,” Derek says as softly as possible.

He doesn't sit. He just keeps petting Luna. “Don’t call me that. You’re the one who started calling me Stiles. Genim is a dumb name. And ‘Gem’ sounds like a jewel—it’s too girly. I like Stiles better.”

“Just sit.”

Stiles sits, but it’s not on the bench. It’s on the dirt floor. “My mom is sick.”

“I know, but she’s going to be okay. She’s pregnant. That’s pretty normal.”

“She’s a beta. It’s harder for betas to have babies. My dad’s a beta too. I asked her for a brother. I shouldn’t have done that. She’s sick now.”

“It’s not your fault she’s sick.”

Stiles stares down at his shoe laces. “My dad says that.”

“He’s right,” Derek says, but he also pushes off the bench so that he’s sitting next to Stiles.

“But when my mom had me—it was bad. Her hormones got bad.”

“It happens—and so what? Your mom and dad got you out of it. Not the worst deal.”

It shouldn't be as sweet as it is when Stiles leans right into him, burying his face into Derek’s armpit like he can hide there. Derek wraps an arm around his back, holding him tight. Stiles’s scent is small and scared, and it might be partially an alpha-to-omega reaction, but Derek can’t imagine doing anything but holding him like this. Because someone needs to. Derek’s worried no one has in a while.

- - -

Stiles’s mom loses the baby. Derek hears words like “diabetes” and “low blood pressure.” He’s not sure, but he thinks she almost died. His mom came home crying about it. When Stiles isn't at the hospital, he’s at the Hale’s. Luna’s litter only has three this time. Derek feels weird about it. A dog having puppies really has nothing to do with Stiles’s mom, but when he watches Stiles petting them, Derek worries that Stiles might be sadder because of them, but as the weeks go on, it becomes clear that Stiles has sort of fallen in love with the runt of the litter, a small little female he calls Amy. Derek isn't sure, but he thinks that ‘Amy’ was Stiles’s favorite name for the baby. It had been girl after all.

Amy follows Stiles everywhere. She throws a howling fit whenever he leaves. Derek isn't surprised when one morning, Stiles asks, “Do you think my mom would like a puppy?”

There’s a bad moment over the puppy because Lydia arbitrarily has decided she wants it—probably only because Stiles loves it. Being both exceptionally pretty and an omega has not been the best for Lydia’s sense of compassion. Derek has never seen his mom scream at his youngest sister, but this time she does, and Lydia ends up crying hysterically. But in the end, they all agree that Stiles is officially Amy’s owner, and that she can stay at their house or Stiles’s depending on whether or not Stiles’s parents can handle the burden.

After she’s house trained, the puppy gets to go home with Stiles. The dog follows him everywhere. The next year when he’s in junior high and running track, Amy waits patiently for him to finish by the bleachers.

- - -

Derek is a junior when Kate Argent asks him out. It’s weird, because on one hand she’s, um, hot. On the other hand she’s a female alpha—which kind of throws his instincts off. Also, not only is she a senior, but she’s the captain of the girl’s lacrosse team, and Derek isn't entirely sure why she isn't focused on wooing Isaac like all the other alpha girls seem to be. Regardless, Kate seems cool, so he says yes. It’s from her that he learns how to kiss. They tell their parents they’re going to watch movies, but they never really watch movies. What they do is make out all the time. It’s never soft. More like a battle. It takes a few days before he seems to figure out what to do with all the extra saliva. Kate likes to bite him, and that’s pretty hot, but he’s always a little hesitant. He’s not sure if he likes the way she smells when they’re like this. It’s out of the blue when she dumps him.

Well, only to him.

Because when Isaac’s pre-bonding ceremony is announced, Derek is on the list of invitees. It’s a big compliment, because the invitations are drafted months in advance. They have to be ready to go out at a moment’s notice, because when an omega begins their first heat—it’s well, rushed. So, it feels all so very tribal, and his neck is itching as his mom puts him in a suit. She’s saying something about him “not rushing things.” But he’s also spent the whole evening thinking about Isaac’s lips. About the way he blushes sometimes when he’s around Derek. Derek had thought that was just an omega thing. Omegas were just blushers, weren't they?

So it’s a shock when he goes to the party and the look that Isaac gives him is cold—angry, even. Omegas going into their heats aren't supposed to be angry, but it starts to all make sense when Isaac makes his proposal. He hands the slip to his dad, but his eyes are already on her when Mr. Lahey asks, “Ms. Kate Argent, will you take my son as your pre-bonded?”

Kate smiles. She says yes. But Derek doesn't miss the glance in his direction. Or how the look is crushingly smug.

Derek has no idea what just happened.

- - -

When Derek is a senior, Lydia and Stiles are freshman. It is horrible on so many levels.

Level one: he has to watch Lydia wrap everyone around her finger. It’s pretty upsetting, because he knows her—the brat. There are some people she genuinely likes, like her friend Allison. But then there are people she has fun toying with, like Stiles’s friend Scott McCall.

Level two: his sister and Stiles—they smell more like omegas now. Derek can scent the alphas in the school responding to them. It makes him see red. He’s already threatened that Jackson kid five times. And seriously, how many times does he have to slam someone against the locker before the idiot gets a clue?

Level three: okay. Just Stiles. When he comes over to their house or whatever, it’s one thing for him to snuggle against Derek—or jabber his ear off about anything and everything. But in school, people notice. It makes people duck heads and whisper, and Derek will be eighteen in January and Stiles won’t even be fourteen until December, and Stiles has no idea what he’s doing. He might have shot up in height over the summer, but Stiles is still barely clocking in at 130 pounds, and yet, he’s an omega—and Derek’s an alpha—and they’ve known each other forever, but people are making assumptions. It’s stupid—and it comes out all wrong, but he tells Stiles this. They’re walking along the Lacrosse field with Amy. The pup is looking so super pleased to have a proper pack to herd home.

“Oh, people think…” Stiles trails off.

“And you don’t want that.” Derek nods firmly.

“Who cares what people think?” Stiles says.

But Derek can hear the uncertainty in his voice, because Stiles isn’t like Lydia. Stiles always cares more than he lets on. “You know why, Stiles.”

There’s a rock on the path, and Stiles trips on it. His bag splits open and his books go flying everywhere. Around them, Amy is barking, making fast circuits as Derek forces Stiles to stay still so he can check on his knee, but to his shock, Stiles shoves him away. “Don’t.”

“You’re bleeding,” Derek blusters. There is a red scratch (gash?) starting at Stiles’s knee and going up his quad.

“I can handle a skinned knee. I’m not two.” He grabs the books out of Derek’s hands and shoves them in his bag. “I’m heading home,” he says. “I forgot mom wanted me home early.”

“But you said—” Derek’s never seen Stiles likes this.

“I said I forgot. Heel, Amy,” Stiles snaps, harsh enough that the dog almost looks wounded. Then he marches off in the opposite direction.

Amy follows, but not before giving Derek an accusatory look.

- - -

He can’t play baseball and lacrosse at the same time, but he can still make some of the games on the weekends. It just so happens that the reason he’s going to this game is because of a certain sophomore omega. Erica Reyes asked him—which does not mean it’s a date. Omegas don’t really date. Bad things can happen with spontaneous heats and stuff, and there are lots of reasons for the formal process that they all have to go through. Derek’s had the lecture at least ten times. He can totally go to a game with Erica, though. That’s normal stuff.

Erica smiles when he sits down next to her. Unlike Lydia, Erica’s on the shy side. These days, though, she smiles more. Derek’s not a hundred percent sure, but he thinks all the attention she’s gotten the past year or two has given her a bit of a confidence boost. “Thanks for coming,” she says.

“I love baseball. And the team this year doesn't suck.”

Erica squints at the field. She doesn't look uninterested, merely confused. “I know nothing about it. I never even played softball. What’s a short stop?”

It’s kind of fun, explaining things to Erica. Also, she smells like summer storms and spearmint. It’s relaxing simply sitting next to her. He’s not expecting it when she says, “Er, my first heat’s coming up in a few months—or less—which is weird…” Derek swallows and looks away, because um, wow, blunt. Erica keeps talking even as her voice trembles. “I know this isn't normally how it’s done, but I don’t want to be stuck with someone I don’t like. I want someone nice. And um, well, you’re the best looking alpha in the school. And you’re sweet, just quiet.”

Derek’s face is suddenly burning. “Thanks?”

Erica laughs with a crinkled brow, like she’s confused. “The only reason you haven’t been asked yet is because of that stuff that Kate Argent made up about you, which everyone knows is crap, even if Isaac was stupid enough to believe it. Well, and also because of Stiles. Obviously.”

Derek can’t help his cringe. Stiles hasn't talked to him a month. He avoids Derek at lunchtimes. “I've known Stiles forever.”

“Okay… well, it’s just me and Ella this year… so if I put you on my list and I ask you—you won’t embarrass me in front of everyone by saying no? Because that’d be horrible. Don’t really want that.” Erica lets loose another nervous laugh.

The wind picks up, blowing a string of hair lose from her pony tail. It whips about, golden in the autumn light. She looks a little out of place in the t-shirt and jeans she’s wearing. They’re too big. Erica tends to wear clothes that hide her. Unlike Lydia, most omegas do stuff like that. They try to avoid calling attention to themselves. The idea of embarrassing Erica, of hurting her —no, not thinkable—the very idea feels like someone threw a bucket of water on him.

“I couldn't imagine saying no,” Derek says and he rubs his hands up and down his knees. They feel sweatier than they've ever been.

Erica exhales. Her head bows forward as her palms curl over her knees. When she finally looks at him, she’s smiling with exquisitely pink lips. Derek is ready to smile back when the breeze pushes a familiar smell into his nostrils. His gaze jerks left and that’s when he’s sees him: Stiles is clomping down the metal benches, face obscured by the cap drawn abnormally low on his face. He is running away.

“I’ll be back. I just have to—” Derek doesn't even finish the sentence then he’s going after him.

- - -

Stiles is fast, but Derek is faster. He catches him at the gym door. He’s been shouting his name the whole way, but Stiles has just kept running. So, when Derek grabs his hand, and Stiles shouts, “Let me go!” …Derek doesn't let go.

“Stiles, just wait a minute.”

“Let me go.” His cap catches on the corner of the door so that it’s knocked off. Then Derek can see his face: the bloodshot eyes, the mottled cheeks, the bared teeth.

“You’re upset.”

Stiles shoves at him. “Great deduction, genius.” He tries to side-step Derek.

Stiles.”

“Derek,” Stiles mocks back.

“Is this because of Erica? Just now? Or is it something else?”

Stiles's teeth grind down. He sucks in on his cheeks, and for a second, he looks so mad that Derek worries he’s about to get kicked—possibly between the legs. But no, it’s a different sort of horrible, because Stiles just sags, the fight going out of him, and he slumps forward in Derek’s arms. His smell still has hazelnut in the mix, but now that he’s older, it’s more complex—it’s stronger. Derek’s normally pretty good at ignoring the way Stiles smells. The kid is so, so tiny. But it becomes hard to only think of Stiles like a little brother when he buries his face into Derek’s neck. And instead of relaxing like he would when he was younger, Stiles shivers. His whole body tenses up as he breathes in Derek’s smell. Derek should let him go, but he’s being selfish, so he doesn't. Instead, he just holds Stiles, far tighter than necessary. After a moment though, Stiles shifts, lifting his head. He’s not looking at Derek when he says, “I don’t want you to bond with Erica. Or Ella. Or anyone else.”

Derek feels like banging his head into the brick wall. As it is, he closes his eyes. “Stiles, you’re not even fourteen yet. You won’t have your first heat for two or three years. I’m going to be in college, then. You’re probably going to change your mind twenty times.”

“No, I won’t.”

“You should be able to, if you want to.”

“This is because you want to say yes to Erica.”

“No, it’s… I shouldn't think of you that way.”

Stiles's voice drops to a whisper as he says, “I think of you that way.”

Derek lets go of him, leaning back against the gym wall. “I've known you since you were like…” Derek holds a flat palm three feet off the floor. “…this big.”

Stiles stares at the hand. “Or you could just say no.”

“That’s not what I—” Stiles is already walking away. Derek suppresses the urge to tackle him. “Stiles, just listen to me for a second.” Stiles stops, but he doesn't turn around. Derek doesn't even know how things got this complicated. He spends so much of his time trying to avoid complicated, and here it is, stalking him. But he also knows that he can’t leave things with Stiles like this. He’s missed him this past month, and hurting him—even for his own benefit—it is just not in Derek to do. “I just… I’ll talk to Erica, okay? I’ll tell her not to ask me.”

Stiles stumbles back a step. His knees look ready to buckle as Derek sees that he’s nodding, head bobbing even though he hasn't said a word. Derek leans down to pick up Stiles’s cap. When he fits it on him, Stiles’s face is a hilarious shade of plum, but he’s also smiling. His smile is so big and so awkward, and Derek stupid loves him. Maybe, not quite in that way, not yet, but outside of his family, Derek’s never cared about anyone as much as he cares about Stiles. "Can you sit next to me tomorrow at lunch? Or can I sit next to you?” Stiles asks.

“Anytime,” Derek promises.

- - -

Derek talks to Erica, who looks disappointed but is also hugely understanding. She ends up choosing Derek’s friend Boyd. Otherwise, Stiles is back to being around him all the time. In the cafeteria, Stiles shovels extra food onto Derek’s plate. Mrs. Stilinski makes crazy good meatballs, so Derek is totally okay with this. He also helps Stiles train for Lacrosse—even if he’ll probably never get off the bench. Some days, Derek drives him home. This always involves a tail-wagging Amy taking up his backseat. When Stiles’s mom comes over to the Hale house again, Derek isn’t blind to the smug snickering going on between their two mothers. You’d have thought they planned it.

Not that they say anything.

Lydia is the one who confronts him about it. She slams down a notebook one morning while Derek is devouring bacon and hash. “You didn't get invited to Ella’s.”

“Yeah, I told her not to invite me.”

“Why would you do that? She told me at the beginning of the year that she wanted to ask you. Because she thought my big brother was all sexy.” Lydia sways her hips in a disturbing way before laughing.

“Please don’t ever do that in front of me again.” Derek crunches on another bacon strip.

“But you’re graduating. You’re not going to meet many omegas at college—they’ll all be pre-bonded or bonded.”

Derek shrugs.

“It’s Stiles, isn't it?”

“Not your business.”

“You are not waiting for Stiles.” Lydia doesn't do the foot stomping thing anymore, but her look of outrage has remained more or less the same.

“Stiles can choose whoever he wants. Just like you. Even though you’re probably going to pick that Jackson twerp, and I’m going to be stuck with him as my brother.”

Lydia is seriously pouting. “Jackson has potential, especially with my influence. And why Stiles?”

“You get along with Stiles. You've known him forever, as long as I have.”

“I put up with him.”

Derek sets down his fork. “More like he puts up with you.”

“That’s right. Poor, sweet Stiles. Lydia’s such a shallow brat who never listens. She’s into dumb dresses and boys and parties, and how stupid.”

“Lydia,” Derek groans. “You have no reason to be jealous.”

“I am not jealous! I have more friends than he does. So what if everyone at my home is like ‘Stiles is here’ ‘Stiles is here’ and when I get home, everyone’s giving me crap about my clothes—and who I was out with—so what if I have an A average? Or if my room is always clean? I’m such a worthless—” Derek scoops her right up. After leveraging her over his shoulder, he heads for the door. “Just what are you doing?” Lydia demands, but her voice is much meeker.

Derek kicks open the front door. “Kidnapping my sister.” It’s something they used to do when they were little. He’d play both hero and villain, locking her up in the woods—before heroically untying her.

Lydia bops a fist on his shoulder blade. “I’m too big for that, you dope.”

Derek sets her down. “How about a walk then? We can head up the hill. Those flowers you like are in bloom.”

“They’re just field lilies.”

“You want to go?”

“Okay.” Lydia’s smile is shy.

- - -

Derek graduates at the end of the year. During the summer, he goes on a surfing trip and works a part time job at the mall. He doesn't even bother trying to keep any distance from Stiles. Unless he has to. Like when they have a water fight and it’s with water balloons and the hose. Stiles is distractingly shirtless with way too much white skin showing. It makes heat flood in Derek’s skin, ninety degrees outside or not. Stiles chases him around the shed. His throw wildly misses so that the balloon goes splat against the green siding. Derek is laughing, but then Stiles is sliding his arms around him. It’s a hug. But they’re dripping from the fight. Derek’s swim trunks are tight and making squishing sounds when he shifts his weight. Plus, the heat makes every smell more intense.

Derek has to close his eyes and think of ugly old alphas and poop.

When Stiles finally lets him go, Derek doesn’t miss the utterly self-satisfied smile on his face.

- - -

At the end of the summer, when Derek’s supposed to leave for college, Stiles tries to kiss him. Well, more than try—one moment Derek is reading on his bed, the next moment he has a lap of bony butt and Stiles’s lips are smashed against his. It’s pretty much the most aggressive peck on the lips ever.

“Whtttduhyouthink—” Derek wrenches his mouth away. “—are doing?”

“You’re leaving, and what if my heat happens—and you can’t make it in time, and I have to choose someone else?” At this, Stiles tries to kiss him again.

Derek grabs his shoulders and stops him. “I’ll be here. Don’t worry. And—stop that. I don’t want your dad murdering me.”

“My dad wouldn't murder you.” Stiles pauses. “I would stop him from doing that.”

“And nothing bad is going to happen. Your parents wouldn't force you to bond with anyone you didn't want to. At worst, they’d put you on suppressants or whatever.”

“But you might meet someone. At college. Yeah, they might be pre-bonded, but then they’ll see you and your abs and perfect face, and they’ll be all ‘screw my old alpha’ and try to seduce you, and you’ll completely forget about me. I won’t be there to stop it—and—”

Derek groans, loud enough to drown Stiles’s worrying out, and then he hugs him as tight as he can without hurting him. “Not going to happen. I promise. Just you. Even if you’re crazy,” Derek says, and then he allows himself to kiss Stiles on the cheek.

- - -

Because life is unfair, Lydia does choose Jackson. Derek has to come back home for the event. He would be the one to give the douchebag the most intensely brotherly glare possible, except that Laura is managing that task well enough. Derek just has to stand behind her and provide extra intimidation.

But at least Lydia seems happy, and with the way that Jackson completely fawns over her, Derek supposes he’ll live with it. Probably.

- - -

It doesn't happen Stiles’s sophomore year. No, Derek is on his way home for the summer when his mom calls him, and her voice is kind of scary when she says, “It’s Stiles. Where have you been?”

“I left my phone charger in the trunk. I just got it out. When you say ‘Stiles’, be more specific—is he all right?”

“He’s not hurt, and you know exactly what I mean. Go directly to his house.”

“I’m driving now.”

“Drive faster.” She hangs up.

- - -

There’s no big ceremony. Stiles refused that. No, it’s just Sheriff Stilinski throwing open the front door and muttering, “Took you long enough” before shoving Derek down in a chair.

Mrs. Stilinski is at his side next and she’s shoving the pills in one hand and the glass of water in the other. “The usual suppressants,” she says.

Derek almost chokes on the pills when the Sheriff says, “And I trust you, Derek, but no funny business. It’s a pre-bonding. I will be knocking on the door.”

- - -

The moment Derek’s fingers touch the knob, Stiles is flinging the door open. And then—holy mother of—the smell—Stiles’s smell. Then Stiles is pulling on Derek’s jaw, and it’s the taste and wet heat, too. Derek’s has enough clarity of mind to kick the door shut, and then they’re stumbling backwards. Somehow the bed gets underneath them. “I was going insane. I knew you were coming home, but it was taking forever,” Stiles says, and even beneath Derek he’s pressing as close as possible, fingers making ten hard points in Derek’s back.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, and then his lips are on Stiles’s neck, because the part of him that is alpha is going nuts. He can already feel the effect of the pills, though. It’s the pills that are making sure that this isn’t going to go beyond kissing and touching.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Stiles says, trying to sit up. Derek doesn't really let him. He can’t seem to bring himself to back away from Stiles’s neck. “No, dumbass, I have to ask you.”

“Ask what?” He bites—lightly—on Stiles’s shoulder blade.

This time, Stiles kicks at him, even as he laughs. “One second. Okay.” His voice is breathless, but he’s smiling. “Derek Hale, do you take me as your pre-bonded?”

Derek pauses. Pushing up on his elbows, he looks at Stiles. With the sheets nested around his head, Stiles has hair shooting in all directions. It's nice that he’s let it grow long. And his cheeks are flamed, a blush that has traveled all the way down to his chest. His brown eyes are wide but completely trusting as they look at each other. Derek thinks he’s insanely beautiful.

“I do.”