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There are rules for being pre-bonded. Most alpha and omega pairs don’t follow them. Not really. There is line blurring, hopscotch, possibly some hokey pokey? Huh. And the fact that Derek even thinks of hokey pokey shows how much time he’s been spending around Stiles.

Anyway, during heats, definitely, all clothes stay on. Alphas have to gulp down suppressants (which not only keep things "floppy," but they stop alphas from going into heat, too). If the omega is under eighteen, there are chaperones, because by definition "pre-bonded" means not being bonded, and the way you bond is with mating during an omega’s heat. But omegas aren’t always in heat. Like Stiles right now. He has draped his legs over Derek’s lap. His lime green toe-socks are wiggling just over the top of Derek’s Agricultural Ethics book.

Stiles knows he has Derek’s attention. Yep. Because when Derek glances up, Stiles’s eyes are doing that boing-boing thing, like two twin caramel swirls trying to yo-yo Derek in. “Your parents are gone.”

Derek doesn’t lower his book. “Laura is down the hall.”

“I checked. She’s Skyping with ‘her person,’ the one that she refuses to name.”

Derek hesitates. At the beginning of their relationship, Derek had thought Stiles would set the speed. In retrospect, that was not particularly wise, because when Derek had slammed on the brakes, it was because he realized Stiles didn’t have any.

“Derek.” Stiles pushes his book down.

“I was reading that.” But Derek isn’t really complaining.

“About being nice to cows.” Stiles twists a leg over and settles into Derek’s lap.

“How we treat livestock is important.” Derek’s poker face is unnecessary because he actually does feel strongly about this. It’s due to his arguments that Hale family now only purchases grass-fed. Factory-farmed meat is a scourge on humans and animals alike.

Stiles snorts. “I don’t see you as a rancher.”

“What? You wouldn’t like the hat?”

Stiles leans back, squinting at Derek like he’s choosing between a cheap straw monstrosity and a silver-trimmed Stetson. His lips twist right then left, before curling into a dirty smile. “Maybe.”

“You are imagining me butt-naked wearing only a cowboy hat, aren’t you?”

Stiles beams. “I wasn’t, but now I am. I’m thinking… chaps. Maybe a neck scarf, yeah? Ooh. A lasso and holsters, but not for guns since, like, we’re all anti-violence, but you could fill them with—”

Derek cuts him off with a kiss. It’s supposed to be a sweet kiss, like a soft ‘be quiet,’ but Stiles goes into octopus mode: His legs wrap around Derek. His pelvis is bearing down. He’s sucking hard on Derek’s tongue and his hands... it’s like they want to own everything. They slap Derek’s shoulders then cup his biceps. Derek is laughing into the kiss when Stiles squeezes hard—with his nails cutting into Derek’s butt.

Stiles breaks away with a gasp. “Shirts off, yeah?”

“Don’t bite my nipple again,” Derek warns, but he takes off his shirt.

Stiles tosses off his own shirt. It’s with a ruthless smile, so Derek shouldn’t be surprised when Stiles says, “I promise nothing,” and assaults his nipple.

Derek grabs Stiles by the cheeks, which makes his mouth squish up like a clam. (Derek loves doing that.) “What’s with the marking? I’m supposed to be the biter, not you.”

“Looking at you makes me hungry—and by that I mean—” On either side of his head, Stiles shapes out horns. “That turn you on, cowboy?”

Derek flips him off.

Stiles tries to bite Derek’s finger.

Derek snaps his teeth in response.

Stiles laughs, before leaning in for another kiss. Unlike the last kiss, this one gets serious. Stiles’s hands are holding Derek tight as he licks at his teeth, sucks in as much as he just lets their tongues slippery-rough curl around each other. All the while, their bodies are rocking; their hand are swaying, touching.

As Stiles breaks the kiss, the words are already spilling out: “You’ll touch me, right? This is pretty much our only shot before you have to leave for your trip. And I’ve been going crazy.”

Derek presses his hand at the front of Stiles’s shorts. Because he hopes that’s what Stiles is talking about.

It’s not.

“No,” Stiles says. His devil-may-care grin changes to a nervous biting of lips. He’s stammering when he says, “I mean—I mean back there. In. Up.” He licks his lips as he says it, that last word, up.

It’s baaaad, because Derek instinctually needs to protect Stiles, but most of the instinct is directed outwards: toward other alphas. Because Stiles is his. And that spot up in Stiles—that’s especially his. So as long as Derek keeps his pants on—no harm can come of it, right?

Stiles knows when Derek’s given in because an ear-to-ear smile splits his face. It’s a weakness, that smile. Derek kisses it. Then, planting his hand on the center of Stiles’s chest, Derek pushes until Stiles is flat on the bed—making a happy growl sound.

He’s insanely perfect like this. It’s not just that Stiles is an omega. No, there’s always been something else about Stiles. Like, every time Derek looks at him he looks even more beautiful than the last. Because Stiles has the most perfect nose, angelic but too sculpted to be dismissed as merely cute. Oh, and the flush on Stiles’s cheeks kills him. Especially when it’s as red as his lips. After Derek’s been kissing him.

When Stiles arches up his hips, Derek is on board, grabbing the ends of his shorts. They’re both breathing heavily. Of course this is when the door flies open. Derek has Stiles bundled into a ball against his chest in the next second. Then he finds the corner of the quilt—and that’s covering them too. It’s only then that he can properly snarl at his sister.

“Oh, so what, I saw your baby mate’s nipples.” Laura has a pen in her grip. It’s smacking in a fast rap against her other palm.

“I resent that,” Stiles mutters. “Definitely not a baby.”

“Get the fuck out.” Derek is not okay with this. Light banter or not. Laura might be his sister, but she’s also unbonded, and Stiles is half-naked—oh god—if she takes a step closer—Derek doesn't know what he’ll do. His whole body is tensed.

Laura jabs her pen in the air. “Besides the little fact that you’re not supposed to be technically doing what you’re ‘doing,’ there’s the big fact that I just got linked to particular video on the internet. Stiles, would you care to enlighten me on why you’re an internet sensation? Also, I didn’t know you could sing.”

“Oh, um.” Stiles curls deeper in the blankets.

“What are you talking about?” Derek asks.

“Stiles has a YouTube channel,” Laura says.

Derek shrugs. “He does.” Because Stiles has shown Derek a few of his videos. Besides talking about it all the time.

“His most recent post has over 800,000 hits.”

“Wait. What?” Stiles’s head pops out of the covers.

- - -

“I didn’t expect it to go viral." Stiles is trying to show him the video. It’s called “Shit that Alphas Say.” It’s funny.

Derek’s seen Stiles’s other videos (most of which involve Stiles doing parodies of songs or making fun of bad movies), but this is the first time Derek has seen the alpha video. Besides Stiles—and Lydia—Stiles’s husky Amy plays a prominent role. Amy has always been a smart—and expressive dog—especially when it comes to Stiles. Using this, Stiles has her expressions and various canine noises filling the cuts in between the alphas.

“Don’t be such a beta.”

Amy sniffs.

“World peace will only happen if you can make more omegas. Or allow for death battles. ...which wouldn’t be world peace.”

Amy covers her face with a paw and whines.

“There’s not one iota of delta in this alpha bastard.”

Amy is sleeping on the floor.

“If this were the third world, I would have three.”

Amy growls.

“Omegas are precious. Especially when none pick you.”

Amy whines. Derek doesn't miss that on the other side of the room, Laura flinches.

“It’s fine that omegas have rights now. Happy omegas have more alpha babies. That’s science.”

Amy huffs and walks off screen.

The video is well done, funny, mostly because of Amy. But with a bit edge. Derek turns to Stiles and says, “It’s good.”

“It’s a silly video,” Stiles says, dismissing it.

“It’s shot up to a million since I saw it. It’s spreading like the plague,” Laura says.

“Because it’s really good,” Derek says, because he can see how much work Stiles put into it, collecting all that footage. Plus, there’s a subtle craft involved. It’s not overtly political—but the underlying humor rests on heavily politicized gender issues. To be able to navigate that mine field takes a certain kind of talent. Derek kisses Stiles on top of the head.

Stiles gives him a funny look in response. Laura, though, rolls her eyes and points. “Check out the comments.”

Derek reads through (maybe five?) comments on Stiles’s pretty mouth, his sweet voice, and how he must have a “ripe little hole” before he slams the laptop shut and fucking shoves Laura out of the room. On the other side of the door, he hears her yell, “Behave yourselves!”

Not listening. Derek marches over to Stiles, whose brown eyes are wide with excitement. “Lie back,” Derek commands.

Stiles doesn’t exactly obey Derek’s words to the letter. Rather, he pushes down his shorts first—and well, that view is a distraction. Knobby knees and white thighs and oh....

Stiles is kicking his shorts off his right foot when Derek closes in, burying his nose in between. The taste is a rage, a dirty call to battle. Derek licks it out until he’s sure it's his. Eventually, he pilots his finger as deep as it will go.

Stiles doesn’t complain. Not a bit.

- - -

It’s the summer before Stiles is to join Derek at college. Derek has some stuff lined up. Besides working at a free-range, organic cattle ranch in the lower mountains, he’s also doing research for his advisor. While he’s off learning how solar fence systems work, Stiles make more videos. And it’s not just that first one. With each video, Stiles gets more followers, higher hit counts.

Derek does not read the comments.

Not one to miss an opportunity to shine, Lydia wheedles her way into a few episodes. The dynamic works pretty well. Neither Stiles nor Lydia really fit the social stereotype of the demure omega, and well, they’ve known each other since they were tiny, so the on-screen chemistry (read: fighting) between them is totally endearing.

When college starts—Stiles is in the omega dorm with Lydia. Which is kind of a joke. Most of his time is spent at Derek’s. The first week is kind of a haze. All Derek knows is that they attended all of their classes (even if he doesn’t remember much of what was said in them.) It’s a dangerous freedom, to be able to touch Stiles however he wants. Stiles pretty much refuses to wear clothes while he’s in Derek’s room. His creamy, white butt is a drug, and Derek just wants. And wants. They do almost everything. Multiple times. Except for mating. Mating triggers an instant heat—so, they don’t do that. Even though Derek thinks about it all the damn time. “You’re going to be bad for my GPA,” Derek mutters as they’re lying down to sleep.

“Do farm ethics people care about GPA’s?”

“My mom does.”

Stiles laughs, but he also snuggles closer to Derek. “I think I’ve decided on my major.”

“Yeah? Film or journalism or politics?”

Stiles elbows him. “Political communication—which is in the journalism school.”

“You’ll be great at that,” Derek says, hugging him close.

“I’m so lucky,” Stiles says.

“Cause you’ve already picked your major?” Derek jokes, even though he knows that’s not what Stiles is saying. His voice is too warm.

‘No, because you picked me.”

“Alphas don’t pick omegas.”

“Except in your case. For a while I thought I was going to have to, I don’t know, break out the brass knuckles. It felt like every other omega in Beacon Hills wanted you. But I got you. I am so totally lucky.”

“Then we’re both lucky,” Derek says.

When Stiles shifts around, it’s to grab him close and put his lips to his ear. “I wish we could do it now. I want you to be permanently mine. In that way.”

The effect of the words is instantaneous. Derek can feel the adrenaline spiking in his system. His pulse is thudding. Instead of squeezing Stiles—he digs his nails into the mattress, because God, he wants it. He wants Stiles. This is why Derek doesn’t say, “be patient” or “hold your horses” or any of the usual excuses. No, this time he fits his hands over Stiles’s face in the darkness. He breathes out, “Me too.”

- - -

They’re sitting in the cafeteria. Derek has his Economic and Business Statistics textbook out, and he’s attempting to follow along on an example. When he looks up from punching numbers in his calculator, Stiles is staring at him. He’s got a handle of a spoon dangling from his mouth.

“Yes?” Derek inquires.

“You just get so intense and quiet when you do math. It’s interesting.” Stiles takes another spoonful of ice cream.

The ice cream white on his tongue is rather distracting. “Are you documenting everything I do and say for the purposes of your internet comedy?”

Stiles grins. “Not everything. And only sometimes.”

Derek arches a brow.

Stiles laughs. “Not you. Trust me. And anyway, Jackson gives Lydia and me so much material, it’s not really necessary.”

“Speak of the devil—or devils,” Derek says, because behind Stiles, Lydia is charging toward them. Jackson, hands mashed in his jacket pockets, is trailing in her wake.

“Did you see the news?” She thrusts her phone at Stiles. “It’s the Carter case. They’re refusing to let her leave the country. They’re upholding the alpha’s claim.”

The Carter case is about an American omega, pre-bonded, who went abroad to Southeast Asia. At the beginning, her mate was with her, but then due to a family emergency, the alpha had to leave. While he was gone, she was bond-raped by a local alpha. Since hers was not present, the government had been hemming and hawing over the whether or not to revoke the bond. Omegas didn’t have many rights there. Lydia and Stiles had already done a vodcast about it. Reading on Lydia’s phone, Stiles’s jaw tightens. “Stupid fucking alphas bastards.” Except then he glances up at Derek. “Well, not you.”

Derek hates that Stiles looks so sad and angry. “Totalitarian governments. I get it.”

“Whatever. I want to get on this. While I’m in full-rage,” Lydia says. “My rants are always the best when I want to cut off someone’s dick.” Behind her Jackson steps his legs together.

“See you tonight?” Stiles says, but he doesn't wait for an answer, just kisses Derek’s forehead then he and Lydia are dashing off across the cafeteria.

Jackson takes over Stiles seat. The ice cream is half-melted, but that doesn't stop him from digging in. “I hate it when they do that.”

Derek sighs. “It’s important to them.”

“Yeah, but if I dropped her like that—even if it was over something ‘important’—she’d pitch a royal fit.” Jackson scrapes the sides of the bowl. “And she’d be right to. We’re supposed to be the most important thing in the whole world to each other.”

Derek goes back to punching in numbers on his calculator. “We had this talk. At least five times. Some of which included me shoving you up against lockers to make sure you listened. Lydia has always been a little unfair. She was never going to be a cakewalk.”

But Jackson is shaking his head. “That’s not what I mean. I can handle the neediness. I even let her push me, but I don’t...”

“What?” Derek looks up.

“I don’t like feeling like the bad guy all the time.”

“You’re not.”

Jackson looks at him like he doesn’t get it.

- - -

That night when Stiles comes to bed, he just wants to be held. It’s not normal. In part, because Stiles isn’t talking. He’s not telling Derek about how filming went. He’s not repeating the best lines. He’s not complaining about Lydia.

Derek just holds him.

- - -

Lydia and Jackson are fighting. When Derek asks about it, Stiles says, “Well, you know, Jackson.”

True, but Derek also knows Lydia.

- - -

It’s Thanksgiving, and Derek is feeling warm. Outside, it’s noon and the sun shines through the day’s bright, cold fog. The oak trees have cast their golden leaves like a cape below the great red maple by the mailbox. From the kitchen, the 16-lb organic, free-range turkey (Derek got it on discount from the farmer who worked for over the summer) is baking. Mostly, though, Stiles is curled into his side with a milky cup of sweet chicory tea. With the way he’s holding it, it’s probably going to spill any second.

Derek’s mother is the one who startles Stiles into spilling when she asks, “So no more beating around the bush. Are you playing to grad school or not?”

“Hot,” Derek bites out, and then both he and Stiles are grabbing cloth napkins off the coffee table and sponging at the stain on Derek’s thigh.

His mom looks only a little apologetic. “Sorry—but grad school. I wasn’t going to ask, but you hadn’t said anything.”

“Actually, the farmer I worked for last summer—Harris—he recommended that I talk to this other guy, Deaton. He’s, you know, got a farm higher up in the sierras. He’s pretty innovative with small amount of land he has, and it would be good to work, learn some skills before I decided to do whatever.”

“I bet this job pays fabulously.” His mom is frowning.

Derek shrugs. “Probably not. It’s my first job out of college. And it’s good work. Important. Deaton has been experimenting with using renewable sources to cut down on labor costs as well as provide irrigation. And California has a pretty good locavore scene, so he’s trying to expand at farmer’s markets, get more people in his CSAs, that sort of thing.”

His mom interrogates him for another good ten minutes, but it’s only after she leaves that Stiles says anything. “You didn’t tell me,” he says.

“That Harris gave me the ref for Deaton? I got the email Monday. You were busy with your midterms and getting the weekly vid done.”

Stiles is squeezing the napkin in his hand. “It’s messed up. I didn’t even know you wanted to keep doing farm work.”

“Um, Stiles. I talk about food and farming all the time. I tease you about how the phosphates required to grow your non-organic raspberries are seeping down and poisoning the High Plains aquifers.”

“Says the meat eater, because that’s so environmentally conscious” Stiles grumbles, but the strain is gone from his voice.

“Livestock raised on grass on rocky soils—not arable crop land—is environmentally sound. Unlike horrible GMO grain and soy or shrimp that’s been farmed by ripping up mangroves in—”

“Jesus Christ—I get it. I get it!” Stiles shoves a hand over Derek’s mouth, but he’s smiling, looking happy in a way that he hasn’t in a few weeks—since the Carter incident became all that he (or Lydia, for that matter) talked about.

“Nothing wrong with being well informed.”

“Duh. But your uncle made that delicious stuffing from a Jiff mix. There’s no way I’m not eating it. I bet the genetic mutations make it more delicious.”

“The turkey will be better. And my uncle brought that mix because he’s trying to mess with me.”

Stiles takes a sip of tea before gulping and saying, “I’m sure your turkey will taste like environmental innocence, since you know, it used to have feathers and stuff-before someone wrung its neck and plucked it.”

Derek pokes him in the cheek.

Tea spills everywhere.

- - -

That December, Stiles has his first heat since he turned eighteen. It’s the first time there are no chaperones. Both he and Stiles are excused from class, and Derek is holding the suppressants in his palm, and he’s looking at Stiles, because they haven’t really talked about this. They haven’t sat down and had an honest conversation about the bond.

Six months or a year ago, Derek had just sort of assumed that they’d do it on the first go. Because it wasn’t like they were “getting to know each other.” They knew everything about each other. Well, pretty much. Until the last few months.

“Maybe, we should both take them,” Stiles says, “just in case.”

Derek’s eyes widen when Stiles takes the bottle—it’s birth control—out of his bag.

So, it wasn’t just him.

But Stiles is waiting and watching him.

Derek nods, swallowing the suppresants with a bitter gulp. There’s no reason for Stiles to take the birth control if Derek's taking suppresants. It’s not a compromise or grey area. Taking the suppressants means they won’t be mating so there won't be any risk of birthing... Regardless, it doesn’t matter. He’ll do what Stiles wants. Stiles is what matters.

- - -

The school year passes that way, somehow sweet but mellow. Derek doesn’t over think it. The real world is complicated, and Stiles is sorting through it, trying to find his place in it. If Derek is doing it in a quiet way, finding solace in nature and science, then so what if Stiles is doing it in a bigger way entertaining the masses with his blogging and videos? He’s getting a message out. He’s talking about omega rights. It’s important.

Although, sometimes it is annoying. Like, these days, they can’t go into a coffee shop in town without people running up to Stiles and flipping out. Every once and a while, Derek has had to tell a fannish alpha to “get the fuck away from my mate.”

Which isn’t true. They’re not mates yet. Not really.

But Stiles always squeezes Derek’s hand afterward. He’ll say, “Sorry about that.”

Derek always says, “Don’t apologize.”

They’re due for a big talk. Not to mention that the whole “finalizing the bond” thing is lingering over them. Plus, Derek is about to graduate. They need to sit down and sort their crap out.

But of course, that’s when Lydia and Jackson break up.

- - -

Derek can hear Lydia through his bedroom door. She’s yelling at their mother in the hallway:

“I don’t have to be pre-bonded! Everyone just thinks I should be. But I don’t. That’s alpha chauvinism at its worst.”

“I’m not saying you have to be. Just, what are you going to do during your next heat? Have you even thought about that, Lydia?”

“There are suppressants for omegas too. Just the government doesn’t market them, because our whole society treats omegas as nothing better than fucking slaves!”

“Oh dear.”

“It’s true!”

“Darling, do you think your father treats me like a slave?”

That startles Lydia into silence. “He’s daddy.”

“Exactly. He’s not ‘the man.’ He’s your father and he loves me and you—for who you are—with all of your... colorfulness.”

“Dad and Derek are different. And Laura, I guess.” Lydia sounds less enthusiastic on the last one.

“Are they?”

“I don’t have to play the role of the perfect omega if I don’t want to. I don’t need an alpha.”

“Lydia,” his mom deadpans, “trust me, no one is accusing you of being a perfect omega.”

“Mom—!”

“No—I’m being crass. Just, Lydia, I’m worried you’re making a mistake.”

“I don’t need Jackson.”

“Maybe not. But you used to be happy with him.”

“Happiness doesn’t depend on an alpha,” she sneers.

“You’re right, but there’s also no sense in denying our instincts either. Look at Amy, technically, she could be like Miles—” Miles was their evil, evil cat that hissed and bit at everyone. “—who prefers to be cranky by his lonesome, but Amy isn’t. She wants people around. It’s in her nature to want a pack. Stiles, for all intents and purposes, is her alpha, and she loves him for it.”

“Mom, you just did not fucking compare us to dogs.”

“Language, Lydia.”

“Just—no. I don’t care.”

Derek hears it when Lydia’s door slams. He also hears his mom’s sigh.

- - -

Derek starts work on the farm that summer. Both Deaton and his wife, Bee (who prefers to go by her last name Morrell) are betas, and they are pretty much as excited about food as he is. Morrell works part time downtown as a psychologist. But on his first day there, she’s the one who gives him a walking tour of the grounds, showing Derek the compost piles and the chicken brigade and how the cattle are kept moving through the paddocks in the hills.

“Like what they’re doing in the Pampas?” Derek asks.

He must look like a kid at Christmas because Morrell laughs and says, “Pretty much. Done much work with electricity? I need to fix a box up the hill.”

“I can learn,” Derek says.

She laughs again. “You’ll fit just fine.”

- - -

Despite the drama between Lydia and Jackson, it’s an easy summer. Away from campus, Stiles seems more settled. Also, they finally have that conversation. Well, sort of. They’re sitting on Stiles’s front deck and Derek is crunching through an apple. It’s a warm day, but the breeze is nice.

“So is this what you want to do? Be a farmer?” Stiles asks, eyeing the apple.

“I like it so far. Maybe?” Derek shrugs.

“It involves living in the country.” And that’s when Stiles’s voice drops, and Derek realizes the conversation just turned serious. Stiles has been thinking about this. “And—that’s fine. I mean, I want you to be happy, but it’s not like there are lots of journalism or even advocacy jobs in the countryside. I guess I could eventually try to work from home or something, but—”

“Stiles.”

“What?” Stiles isn’t looking at him.

“Right now I’m just trying it out. It’s hard work. It gives me purpose. I’ve only done it for six weeks.”

“But what if you do like it?”

“Well, for right now, I do. Plus, it’s only forty minutes from campus, and considering that I need to get coffee and toilet paper—I’m going to be visiting you pretty often.”

“I guess. Also, I was thinking you should take Amy with you out to the farm. She can’t be in my dorm obviously, and she’ll be happier out there.”

Derek nods, but he’s not letting Stiles change the subject. “Would it be better if we were bonded?”

Stiles freezes. “I don’t know.”

“We haven’t talked about it.”

“I was trying to just now. You’re moving away—possibly taking your life in the total opposite direction of mine—and it’s freaking scary. It terrifies me.” Stiles is talking to his knees.

Derek picks up his hand, “It shouldn’t.”

Stiles’s mouth tightens. “Right. Because once we have kids, I’ll just stay at home anyway?”

“No, because you come first. I wouldn’t be happy without you.

Stiles’s shoulders slump. “You always say exactly the right thing.”

Derek doesn’t know why Stiles sounds so sad about it.

- - -

At the end of the summer, Lydia’s heat is horrible—even with the suppressants. She clings to their mother and sobs and sobs.

Derek takes refuge at Stiles’s place.

Stiles doesn’t ask about Lydia.

- - -

One morning at the farm, Morrell interrupts him while he’s keying CSA orders into a spreadsheet. “There’s someone I want you to meet,” she says. “And I’m giving you a head’s up because he’s probably not going to be real talkative at first—he was just unbonded.”

Derek halts. “Unbonded? He’s an omega?”

“It was a mess. His mate tried to drown him. Not that any of what I just said is public knowledge. He is a client of a colleague of mine, but anyway, Matt expressed an interest in ‘getting away.’ His old home was in the city, and he asked if we could use an extra pair of hands—and well, I figured it would be good karma.”

“So, I’ll be working with him.”

“Yeah, you’re going to get stuck training him. Sorry.”

“It’s fine. Karma.”

“Any other alpha, I’d have to give the third degree, but you’ve got an omega sister, plus you’re pre-bonded, so I’m not worried.”

“No, I get it.”

- - -

Matt is dead quiet around Derek for the first few days, but then he slowly starts to open up. Naturally, Amy gets through to him first, plopping sticks in his lap and generally just being sweet. Derek teaches Matt aspects of the farm—how to check the irrigation systems—how to handle a sales call—how to collect eggs. And while he’s not as strong as Derek, he works hard. He gets a huge kick out of learning how to drive the farm equipment.

Plus, he takes pictures of everything. Though, he uses the camera as a shield—like it’s a barrier between him and the rest of the world. After a week or so, Derek asks about the camera.

Matt flushes, embarrassed. “My shrink thought it would be a good idea—I’m not much of a writer, but she wanted me to keep a blog or diary or something, so I told her that I’d take pictures. I post them online—and I write little summaries about them. It’s supposed to make me be all ‘reflective.’”

“You should give me the link.”

Matt leans over to pet Amy, whose tongue hangs out to the side, happy at being petted. “Um, maybe.”

“Oh,” Derek backs off. “Whenever you’re ready.”

- - -

Derek doesn’t figure out that Matt has a crush until he tells him he’s taking off for a few days.

“Where you going?” Matt asks. He’s zooming in on a particularly ogre-like gourd on the grass.

“To see Stiles.”

“Stiles...” Matt frowns. “You mentioned him. Your friend from college?”

“Uh, more than a friend... he’s my m—I mean my pre-bonded.”

“Oh, duh,” Matt says, and he’s got the camera tight to his face. “I should have made that connection. Of course you would have someone. Of course you would. How could you not?”

“Um, Matt...” Derek feels like he should be comforting—but he also doesn’t want to be too comforting. The last thing he wants to do is give Matt the wrong idea.

But Matt is snapping away with his camera again. “I’m being weird. I don’t mean to. It’s probably the broken bond messing with my head—like always. You’re really nice. Go see your mate.”

Amy whines.

- - -

Damn it, they’ve missed each other. So, as soon as Derek is in through the door, it’s hard to pay attention to the words as Stiles is asking, “Did you take them?” And Derek is saying yes, and that’s all he can manage—because here’s his mate. His mate is here. Derek is kissing him. He’s tasting him, and it’s been way too long—a week since they’ve seen each other (but that was just a one-hour dinner)—and soon Derek isn’t just licking into his mouth but licking all the way down his body.

He flicks against Stiles’s nipples until they become hot pink nibs that he can rough with his tongue.

He sucks loops around his belly button.

He’s about to lick lower when Stiles hauls him back up his chest. The way he does it, it’s frustrated; his breathing is coming out a bit choked. Derek is struck dumb when Stiles grabs down between them and grip’s Derek in his hands. Because Derek is flaccid. That’s what suppressants do.

“I wish you could right now.” And Stiles is stroking him.

Derek’s brain is not at its best right now, but he manages to nod furiously.

“I love to think about what you’d be like—if you were in heat too. If you had no control.” Then, Stiles is climbing on top of Derek. And Derek is not erect but Stiles fits him there: where it’s wet and slick. Where it’s Derek’s.

“Such a tease,” Derek says, brain-fogged and chemically aroused, even if his dick isn’t cooperating. His dick isn’t doing anything so he pushes his finger in.

Stiles’s words come out strangled, but somewhere in the back of his mind, Derek thinks Stiles said, “Am I?”

It’s only as he’s leaving that he sees the other bottle of pills. Stiles’s bottle. The birth control. This time the bottle is practically empty. There are only two pills left.

Stiles isn’t there, but Derek just—he grips the bottle in his hand, and he doesn’t get it. How did they even get to this point? Because if Stiles is taking the pills before his heat—if he’s gripping Derek like that and being sad—then—

But Stiles is also freaked about Derek being away. About their lives diverging. And Derek doesn’t want to force Stiles into anything. He’s very fucking well aware of what would normally happen in this situation. And he’s also completely aware of how sensitive Stiles’s major hobby—no, his fucking career choice—makes him to this. They need to talk, but they do talk. Stiles talks all the time.

But maybe Derek hasn’t been listening.

It’s the reason why he scrawls out a note. I love you. Come out to the farm if you have a chance this week. He starts to write out, “Amy misses you,” but that’s a copout. Derek writes, I miss you. Because he does, even in this moment.

- - -

On Wednesday, it’s pretty much the best thing in the world when Amy bolts across the paddock, barking like she’s spotted an army of squirrels. Derek looks up to see Stiles leaning over the fence pole.

“A fucking Dodgers cap? Really? I thought we talked about a real cowboy h—” But Stiles doesn’t get to finish the sentence because Derek hops the fence and is on him, gathering him up.

Then God, Stiles is a bundle in his arms. He’s grass and sex. It makes Derek want to press him down into the dirt. Amy is leaping on them, going nuts with barks and howls, but Derek gets it. He kind of wants to bark and leap and howl, too.

When he can bring himself to put Stiles down, Derek says, “You look good out here.”

Stiles’s smile is huge and uncharacteristically shy as he wraps his arms around himself. “I wore plaid just for you.”

Derek draws his finger down Stiles buttons. “I mean it. I’m really glad you came.”

Stiles laughs. “I can tell—although, um, Derek. There’s someone behind you. He looks, um.”

Derek flinches. “Got a camera?”

Stiles nods.

“That’s Matt. I told you...”

“Unbonded. Evil alpha. Right.” Stiles leans to the side to call out, “Hey there—it’s Matt, right?”

Derek turns around. And he’s expecting some level of awkwardness, but Matt is looking at Stiles with an expression that’s not jealous. It’s surprised... and excited.

Matt drops his metal bucket, and his camera swings on its strap. “Holy crap—I watch your blog. I’m kind of obsessed with it. I mean Lydia is a tyrant—but it’s funny when you’re a duo—and my life was shit, but I was watching and—and I’m having a moment.” Matt takes a breath.

“Oh, thanks,” Stiles says, and he’s uncomfortable but trying not to show it.

Matt’s brow is furrowed. “So Amy is your dog. Stiles it’s Stiles. Not Gem? And—” He looks really confused now as he turns to Derek. “Lydia Martin is your sister.”

That’s right. Lydia used their mom’s maiden name while Stiles uses his baby nickname. “So I guess I don’t need to go into long introductions. I was going to show Stiles the farm. If you want to come...”

But Matt is already waving his hands. “Oh, go on. I’ll finish up here. Nice meeting you, um, Stiles.”

Derek takes Stiles on a long hike that ends by the duck pond. Both Stiles and Amy chase after the geese. Stiles is being silly, flapping elbows, honking. A fucking idiot. And he’s just so damn gorgeous. It’s pure instinct when Derek tackles him from behind. Around them, there are white feathers, probably dried pellets of bird turds. Yet, it’s all warm skin, even if they're sticking, even though the breeze is chill at this altitude. In the distance, Amy is barking.

Stiles takes him in hand. Stiles's hand isn’t small, necessarily, but the fingers are fine—the only calluses are from writing. He pumps Derek until he’s close, then he takes him in his mouth. Normally, Stiles swallows, but this time, he stops short.

Stiles flops onto his belly and says, “Between my cheeks. Use me.”

Derek does. He coats his back in streams.

- - -

Derek is still thinking about it two days later when he’s out in the gourd field, harvesting pumpkins for that weekend. He’s lifting the real monsters, but Matt is helping, collecting the smaller ones in his bucket and making fast trips to the truck.

“Everyone speculates about you, you know?”

Derek glances up, frowning.

Matt has just come back with an empty bucket. “I mean in the omega community—on the internet. It’s pretty well known that Gem’s alpha is Lydia’s brother—and most people figure it’s because of that—because of the family thing—that Stiles never has you on any videos.”

Derek shrugs even as he takes heavy steps with the pumpkin. “He’s never asked. It’s not really my thing, though.”

“Well, that’s just it. That’s what people don’t get. They think you must be like some half-alpha. Like, weak or something. Except you’re not.”

“People believe what they want to.” And Derek shoves a 40-pounder onto the back of the truck.

“Well, people rightly assume you’re good looking because you’re Lydia’s older brother.”

Derek doesn’t know what to say to that. “Uh, Lydia has always been pretty.”

“And a bit full of herself?”

Derek snorts. “That too.”

But Matt doesn’t seem to hear that. He’s picked up his camera, and this time he aims it at the oven-sized pumpkin in front of Derek. “Stiles is smart, though. Alphas fawn over him, but they’re not the type of alphas anyone would want.”

Derek lifts the next pumpkin onto the truck with more force than necessary. “I’d hope not.”

But Matt is staring at the picture on his camera. “It makes sense. Stiles has never asked you to be on the show because he knows how good he’s got it.”

“Um, Matt...”

“Sorry. Being weird again.”

“You’re fine. And um, how are things? I don’t normally ask because I don’t want to pry...”

“Oh, the bastard is in jail. I wish he was dead. He was a lot older than me. My mom was totally into me marrying someone with money. Thanks, mom.”

“You’ll find someone who’s right for you,” Derek says, and he means it. Matt is kind. He works hard on the farm, and he’s got issues, but who doesn’t?

“Right, because I’m an omega, I should get the red carpet. Because that’s happiness.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

“I know.” Matt snaps another picture. He doesn’t even hide that the camera is zoomed right on Derek’s face.

- - -

When he goes down to see Stiles at college next, they pass through the cafeteria where Lydia is sitting next to Jackson.

Jackson looks like he’s attempting to ignore her (he’s not).

Derek walks right toward them. Trudging behind him, Stiles is muttering complaints. Apparently, this has been going on for a few weeks and Stiles does not want to deal with it.

But Derek has a duty to check in on his sister. “Jackson, Lydia,” Derek says.

“Oh, look. It’s a good example of an alpha. One who isn’t a cheating prick,” Lydia snaps, and oh, dear, she’s got her teeth bared, and she’s snarling at Jackson.

“Hey, Derek,” Jackson says. He takes a big bite of mercury-saturated tuna sashimi.

But now is not the time to talk about sustainable fish populations... “Jackson, how are things?”

“Lydia’s pissed at me because Emma what’s-her-name apparently wants to jump my hot alpha bone.”

“That’s not what I said!” Lydia slashes her chopsticks menacingly.

“I don’t even know her name. I don’t know what your deal is.” Jackson is fending off Lydia’s chopsticks with his own. “You think I’m a horrible person—then you shouldn’t be surprised when I do evil shit things like apparently engaging in conversation with other human life forms.”

“She was shoving her chest in your face!”

“Didn’t notice.”

“Yeah, right.”

Jackson bats his eyelashes at her. “I only notice you.”

“Because you’re stupid.” But Lydia has scooted closer to him.

Jackson has picked up his wasabi. He pops the whole lump of it in his mouth at once, and with a cough, he swallows it.

“Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Swallow Japanese horseradish? Why are you always so fucking stupid?”

“I’m sorry. Are you my pre-bonded? Do you get to tell me what to do? I think I’m going to cry.” And Jackson’s eyes are watering, but he’s smiling.

“You are crying, because you swallowed wasabi like a moron.”

“These are tears of love, Lydia.”

Derek turns to Stiles. “So they’re back together.”

Lydia whips around with a snarl. “We are not. Jackson needs to stop flirting with beta hoes.”

Jackson groans loudly.

When Derek looks back at Stiles, Stiles is less than surreptitiously nodding.

- - -

It’s when they’re back in Stiles’s room that Stiles opens his laptop and says, “I have something to show you. I may or may not have gotten access to it by less than ethical means, but someone sent me a link, and I had to know, and I don’t think you’re going to like it. But you can’t be mad at me.”

Derek rubs his eyes. “What’d you do, post a picture of your butt to fundraise for an omega rights charity?”

Stiles snorts. “That would be hilarious. No... it’s something else.” And he spins his laptop around.

Derek is looking at pictures of himself. And Amy. Lots of pictures. Some are taken from a significant distance. They’re all from the farm. And that’s when he gets it. “Matt took these. This is Matt’s blog.” Derek buries his face in his hands.

“Uh, not going to lie, they’re pretty good. I downloaded all of them, except that the wank fodder was somewhat ruined by the realization he has a massive creeper crush on you.”

“He’s just so...”

“Creepy?”

“I was going to say damaged, actually. I want to help him. He needs to be around normal people that aren’t manipulative and selfish. The crush has made it awkward. I’ve had to put distance between us, and—”

Stiles has his arms wrapped around himself. “You didn’t tell me that.”

Derek points at the screen. “Until recently, it wasn’t this bad.”

“Until recently?” Stiles’s voice rises.

“He’s gotten more obvious about it. I’ve been avoiding him.”

“And he’s been documenting it, apparently.”

“Stiles.”

“What? I don’t blame him. He’s been around some crazy homicidal dick, then he gets put next to my hot mate and—”

Derek is kissing him.

“Wha—?” Stiles says, jerking his mouth away.

“You’ve never said it—never like that. Mate.” Derek attacks his mouth again. God, Derek wants to hear it again. “Say it.”

But Stiles breaks away. “Actions speak louder than words.” He’s staring at the nearly empty pill bottle, the one Derek had seen at the end of his last heat.

“Are you saying—?” Derek starts.

But Stiles cuts him off, furiously shaking his head. “I don’t want to have to ask. I’ve always been the one to ask before. I hate that. I know it’s stupid. It’s kind of stereotypical, but I hate even thinking about asking. I don’t want to even talk about it. Like now. It’s just...”

Oh. Oh. Part of Derek is a bit upset—like they’re just getting to this? They could have had this before? But part of him is just relieved. Because Stiles has been struggling with this. But now that it’s out... Derek can handle it.

“When’s your next heat?” Derek asks, and he yanks down on Stiles’s zipper at the same time.

“Next month. Second Tuesday.”

“Good.” Derek slams Stiles up against the wall.

- - -

Derek’s out by the north paddock when his phone rings.

It’s Stiles, so Derek is smiling when he picks up the call. “Hey.”

Stiles’s voice is frantic. “Do you have your pills on you? Do you have them?”

“I—what—they’re in my duffle on the truck. What’s going on?”

“I need you to go get them. Take them now. Fucking run.”

“Stiles...”

“Just a blog post Matt made—and I know I said I was going to leave it alone—but oh my God he was talking about you—and Derek, fucking go—get—your—pills!”

“I’m going to get them now,” Derek says. “But it’s probably not what you’re thinking. He had his heat two weeks ago. Morrell sent him away to the clinic. He’s in the last stages of breaking his bond.”

“Just get the pills.”

“I’m going. I’m going.”

“If you see him—just fucking run, okay? There are pills that omegas can take. Black market crap for extra heats.”

“I’m keeping you on the phone—and so far, I don’t see him. And I’m almost at the truck.”

“Is Amy with you?”

“Yeah, she’s right next to me,” Derek says, and looking down, he can see how anxious she is. Amy always seems to have a sense about these things.

“Good,” Stiles says, except he sounds anything but.

“Okay.” Derek unzips his bag. “I’m taking them now, Stiles. You can calm—”

The bottle of suppresants is empty. It should have eight pills in it.

“Derek? Talk to me. Derek.” Stiles’s voice has gone fucking frantic.

And then Amy is barking. She’s running for the barn. Derek is still trying to figure out what the fuck he’s going to do when Matt rounds the corner of the hay bales. His walk is lazy, and as he steps into the light, Derek sees all the signs: flushed skin, dilated pupils, heightened breathing.

For a second they’re just staring. Stiles’s voice is frantic in his ear. Then the wind shifts, and Derek starts to turn—he needs to run.

The smell bowls him over. He drops his phone. The front section of his head is boiling—his sinuses seem to be flaming into his brain. Some of it is familiar—he’s been around Stiles, obviously. He’s been around omegas in the early stages of their heats—but this—this is...

Matt is standing over him. Face bright in the sun. He’s talking: ...it’s not fair that some people get everything and others get nothing... Fingers are brushing across his forehead. ...you might hate me, but you’ll be mine... Hands shape a square above his face. ...not a single picture I’ve taken compares to the real thing...

Derek knows something is wrong. Matt is kneeling in front of him. And Derek should be leaning in—he should be wanting—when an omega smells like this—like cracked melon and crushed berries—like sex and blood—it’s supposed to be a call to war. Derek’s supposed to own this.

But for some reason, Derek is looking at his phone. It’s just lying there in the dirt.

Matt is whispering things again. Soft little commands: ...take off your shirt... ...open your mouth...

But then he screams.

The noise breaks something. Derek scrambles back.

Amy has bit down on Matt. She’s literally chomped down on his arm. There’s blood.

Matt is not his mate.

Derek is staring at his phone again. There’s dirt on his hands—and that stupid smell in the air—but Stiles. Just fuck. No. No and no. Stiles.

Derek does the only thing he can: he runs. The direction is west, toward the tree line. Behind him, Matt is still yelling. His siren smell is haunting the breeze.

But Derek is fleeing into the shadows of leaf canopy. He’s running down the mud trail and sloshing through cold winter streams. He runs until the only sounds he hears are the birds chirping overhead and the rustle of dry leaves down the rocky embankments. He runs until his pulse is pounding in his ears and the temperature on his skin causes him to collapse to all fours. Then he’s shaking, and just fuck, this has never happened before.

Derek curls into the roots of a tree and makes himself into the tightest ball he can. Because sooner or later he’s going to explode.

It’s his first unsuppressed heat.

- - -

When he hears the barking again, he’s back to full on fight-or-flight mode. No. No flight, actually. His drive is almost entirely toward violence. In the early days of the species, the alphas would fight to the death over an omega. It was winner take all, and he never really understood that—how a human being could reach that point—not until now—because right now, he either wants to kill or claim—and—

Stiles is crunching through the leaves. His face is white and worried, and when he sees Derek, he exhales a sigh of relief.

Derek loves him. Because oh, just damn, damn, fuck. Stiles is not in heat, but Derek is, and the alpha sees his mate, and—

“Stay back!” Derek throws his hand up.

Amy whimpers and halts, but Stiles keeps coming towards him. If anything, he comes faster. He runs at Derek.

And then Jesus—Fuck—Stiles is in his arms. He’s grabbing at Derek—and if Derek liked to joke that Stiles was an octopus in the past—there’s just no comparison to the absolute fierce clinging that is happening now. “I thought I—I lost you—that he had—”

Stiles doesn’t get to finish because Derek slams him down into the dirt. His mate doesn’t smell ready. But Derek is ready. He’s been ready for years.

Stiles is making soothing sounds. He’s saying, “It’s okay. I want this too.”

But Stiles should be ready, and Derek is tearing at his pants.

Stiles arms fly back. “Oh, well, holy shit—”

Derek bites his mouth. Stiles bites back. Better, he licks back. The sounds he’s making are glorious. But Derek needs more. He needs fucking in.

When his fingers feel warm, ripe skin, Derek shoves Stiles back down and then he’s there. In between, it is tight and moist. It is musk and mate and mine, and when Derek tastes it, it’s salty too, but he wants more of it, so he licks in, coaxing out more flavor. He circles the edge and nibbles inside until Stiles is writhing like he wants to get away, except that when Derek relents—Stiles pulls him back.

His own smell is stalking the glade, and Stiles’s scent is just starting to rise to it. But Derek can’t wait for that. He needs in now.

He’s yanking on his own zipper when Stiles helps with his button, and then there’s a hand war as they struggle to get the fabric down. But then Derek is out. He’s shivering, and Stiles is shaking, and above them the light is fading. The shadows stretch longer.

But Stiles is saying, “I want nothing more. It’s not what we planned, but I took a no-baby pill, okay, so just do it—and—”

Derek pulls his knees apart. Stiles goes silent and his eyes are closed, his whole body braced, even as his mouth hangs open.

Derek pushes in.

Stiles whimpers. He bites down on his lip, but he’s nodding, and yes, that’s right. Yes. He’s Derek’s.

Or no, the reverse: Derek belong to Stiles.

Because they move together in the dirt. Their fingers grab on roots. Leaves scratch to dust beneath their bodies. Stiles’s skin heats until it’s as hot as Derek’s.

Derek moves inside of his mate until Stiles is as slick as he’s ever been—no, slicker. He’s moves until Stiles’s body clenches around him. He thrusts down until Stiles is yelling his name and in the end, sagging in relief. When Derek joins him, and they’re locked—bound and shaking—Stiles is petting his hair. He’s kissing him with an exhausted smile, and then, Derek can relax, too.

Because it’s not just his odor reigning in the forest glade. It’s not even just Stiles’s. No, it’s something new entirely. It’s a mix of earth and clover and hazel. It’s sweet, and it’s a fucking relief.

They’re mated now.

- - -

When Derek’s calm enough to talk, the moon is overhead. They’re bundled together against an oak trunk. (Stiles brought a blanket.) There’s still that urge—this heat will last another two days at least, but right now, they’re both pretty sane, just pretty damn dirty and a teensy bit volatile.

“Amy ran back,” Stiles says. “I think we horrified her.”

Derek snorts, but mostly, he’s watching Stiles’s face. Stiles doesn’t look hurt or worried. His expression is relaxed.

“I didn’t mean for this to happen this way,” Derek says.

“Um, me neither, but—“ Stiles pokes him. “—no regrets.”

“Did I hurt—?”

“—no. I’m fine. A little sore, but not so much that I’m not ready for more. Actually, for a change, I kind of liked being the one who was sane at the start. I got to watch you snarl and like, pounce.” Stiles makes cat fingers. “Your eyes kind of rolled back for a minute there. And, man, did you get fucking pissed at my clothes.” Stiles looks absolutely delighted by this. Also, definitely, a bit turned on.

Derek isn’t surprised then, when Stiles shifts, fidgeting under the blanket so that he can reach around and grab—

Derek tenses at the hand sliding up and down on him. “Again? Already?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, and he pushes back the blanket so he can sling a leg over Derek. “I like this—no, I love this. Why did we wait? Wait—don’t answer that. Just—”

Stiles lifts his hips, finds the position, and slides down. It’s deep and hot. And Derek is gone again.

They both are.

- - -

Somehow in between the heat spikes, they make their way back to Derek’s room on the farm. There, the last part of the heat passes with greater comfort—in Derek’s bed. No dirt and leaves sticking in places they really shouldn't. Plus, there’s food and hot water.

When it’s over, there’s the real world...

Their parents throw a huge party. They both wear white. The menu features only organic, local produce and grass-fed ribs. Lydia officially announces that she and Jackson are back together. Stiles gets drunk on champagne and pukes. Derek puts him to bed with a kiss and feeds him ginger ale the next morning.

Derek and Morrell have a long ass talk about Matt. She’s mad at Derek for not showing her the website that Stiles found, but she also agrees that there was no way he could have known that Matt would have gone as far as he did. And well, Matt is getting the help he needs now, so Derek just has to file a restraining order, and Stiles’s dad makes that easy, so that casebook is closed.

But then there’s the future. The big questions. Stiles and Lydia are forging on with the vodcast, but they've also both got internships lined up for the summer at different media outlets.

“It’ll mean I’m in Oakland,” Stiles says, when he shows Derek the email with the details.

That’s when Derek shows him his own email. He’s got a job—thank you, Deaton—working at a farmer’s market association in downtown San Francisco.

“Really?” Stiles’s whole face lights up as he reads.

“I know it only solves the summer, but—”

“But we’ll figure it out. One step at a time. It’s not always going to be easy, I know. And sometimes, it’ll involve one of us getting something at the expense of the other, but it’s—” Stiles grabs his hand. “—it’s okay.”

“Is it?”

“As long as we do it together.”

Derek kisses him long and slow and eventually, kind of dirty.

-