"Oh my god, there's a werewolf climbing through my window."
There is, but since Stiles doesn't even glance up as he makes the observation, Derek doesn't pause as he swings himself through and slides the window shut behind him. "You left it unlocked."
Stiles is at his desk, a textbook in front of him, scribbling down the end of an equation into his notebook. "Yeah, not the same as a welcome mat. And, dude, haven't you heard of knocking? And privacy? That sacred and incredibly necessary privacy required sometimes by a healthy teenager."
Derek wanders across the room and sits down in the other chair. "It's obvious when you're enjoying your 'private time.'"
It's not, actually, with the raging hormones and overlapping scents in the house. But saying so causes an amusing flurry of pencil scratching and paper shuffling from the other side of the room.
"Yeah, well, what if I wasn't here? Would you just hang out in a dark corner until I got back--what am I saying? Of course you would." Stiles swivels his chair around to face Derek. "I know I've seen you use a door before." He considers. "I know I saw you buy some for your house?"
The rebuilding of the house was suggested in a roundabout way by Peter, before he left to follow rumors of possible Gerard Argent sightings and other potentially useful leads.
He dropped his last few in-person pearls of wisdom as he was loading his bags into the back of the rental car. Derek had pondered Peter's words for a while: that in order to prevent future incidents of opportunists hoping to move in on easy territory, they needed to make a clear display of the pack's strength and stability.
As with anything associated with Peter, Derek questioned the decision, looking for manipulation and other motives. But, somehow, after replacing the front door and making other small improvements, fixing up the rest of the house seemed right. At the very least it means his betas aren't bitching (as much) about the location of the pack meetings and training, or after they fall asleep in narrow rows of seats.
Derek picks up a book on the side table next to him and rifles through it absently. "It's easier than waiting for you to go downstairs and open the door."
"Uh, sure, if you say so. Anyway, what's up?"
These visits are--not quite unnecessary, but Derek will admit that they might not be very wise, despite their infrequency. Stiles is involved enough as it is, he doesn't need any more advertising about his connection to the pack, or to Derek.
Stiles' room is warm and smells familiar, comfortable. Derek is too relaxed, and in the confined space Stiles' presence pervades his senses. Derek hasn't thought too hard--has perhaps actively tried not to think much at all--about his current relationship with Stiles. Stiles has a knack for research and asking the right questions, as well as for getting under Derek's skin. They aren't friends, not exactly, but there is a sense of friendship between them, something that has evolved out of the bare tolerance of their early acquaintance.
Derek tracks the late afternoon sunlight streaming through the window, settling onto the bookshelf and the bundle of papers lying on the second tier. "What did you find out from the rest of the manuscript?"
Stiles tilts his hand back and forth in a see-sawing motion. "Eh, still working on it. There was a story about a dragon, which was pretty cool. But there was nothing about shapeshifting, or what informs a being about their shape. And the rest is mostly about herbs. Which I'm sure could turn out to be useful, but it's kind of like reading a cookbook with ingredients I've never heard of."
Derek nods. "It's not top priority. Just find out what you can when you have time."
"Yeah, that's the plan."
Stiles cocks his head to the side. "Oh, hey, I found this last night." He turns back to his desk and flips open his laptop. Derek gets up and crosses the room to peer over his shoulder.
"Here," Stiles says, opening a new browser window.
A flash game loads up. "Stiles," Derek starts warningly.
Stiles hits the WASD keys and spacebar and a small figure leaps around on the screen--a small figure which upon closer inspection is a hairy werewolf wearing a baseball cap and letter jacket, collecting crescent moons and legs of meat.
"And there's a stage where you dodge silver bullets and wolfsbane potions! Man, whoever made this must really know their werewolf lore." Stiles grins up at him and hits some more keys. "There's a two-player mode, too. Here, you can use the arrow keys."
Derek stifles a snort. "Yeah, because I came over to play--" he glances at the bottom of the screen, "--Wolf Jumper III."
"Are you sure? It's really fun." Stiles' shoulders are shaking slightly from suppressed laughter as he looks back at Derek.
It's a joke, just silly spur-of-the-moment teasing. If Scott had been visiting, Stiles would probably have shown it to him instead. Still, it's--nice, even if it's exactly the sort of thing Derek meant to keep his guard up against.
Derek would like to say he doesn't notice the few inches of space between them, or the sweep of eyelashes as Stiles blinks up at him, waiting for a response. He half lifts his arm, reaching out to clamp a remonstrating hand on Stiles' shoulder, or maybe to trace his fingers along the line of Stiles' jaw. He lets his arm drop back down to his side.
"Yes, I'm sure," he says, rattled, heading back to the window. "And there's a pack meeting on Sunday. Make sure Scott remembers," he says as he leaps out, ignoring the muttering behind him about phones and stubborn alphas.
The renovations are going more smoothly, and faster, than Derek expected. The kitchen is almost done, so Boyd is helping him move appliances around tonight while Erica and Isaac patrol the woods and practice their tracking skills.
Derek opens a box on the counter and is examining the tiles inside, trying to figure out the pattern for the decorative backsplash, when he notices.
It's a small, subtle thing, but he can just barely detect the beginning trace of the bond, a gentle tugging sensation in his chest urging him to get closer and nurture the new connection.
This is not a problem Derek ever thought he would have to deal with.
"No," he decides.
"No?" Boyd breaks off mid-sentence and sets down the refrigerator. "You think the fridge should go in the other corner?"
Derek rewinds through the last few moments of conversation.
"It's fine there." Boyd nods and continues pushing the fridge into the alcove. "No, let's try the new training exercise next week instead of this Friday. It'll be closer to the full moon, and we should work on some of the control problems we had last month."
Boyd finishes and brushes his hands off on his jeans. "Sure. I'll let the others know."
Derek tries not to let his discovery throw him off. After they arrange the smaller appliances, Erica and Isaac return, and ostensibly help out by testing the toaster.
"This outlet works," says Isaac, handing Erica a poptart and breaking the other in half to share with Boyd.
The three eventually disperse, after Derek side-eyes them and reminds them it's a school night.
He mulls over the problem of the bond before he falls asleep. He doesn't know much about them--soulbonds--only that they can form between werewolves. He thought they could only form after a werewolf chose a mate, but the signs all fit the small amount he knows about the process.
Now that he knows the cause, the restlessness he has been feeling is easier to compartmentalize and ignore. The sleepy murmur in the back of his head, though, is a more difficult prospect.
Stiles' continuing presence in his life has often confused him. Unlike Scott and the rest of Derek's pack, or even the Argent girl, Stiles' association with werewolves is less obvious. He could go back to his normal life at any time, if he ever decided constant supernatural mayhem wasn't the lifestyle he wanted.
His loyalty to his friend and his curiosity would never let him, but it is still a possibility, however unlikely. It makes Stiles a little different, the reason it took longer for him to gain Derek's trust.
Derek does trust him now, though. Stiles shows up whenever there is trouble, and Derek has been saved by him more often than he wants to think about.
But it still doesn't mean the bond makes any sense, or that Derek should allow it to form.
Bonds can be broken. Derek knows even the strongest ones can be rejected or forcefully snapped. And this one, caught early, shouldn't be too hard to discourage. He'll learn more, figure out how to get rid of the bond, and then everything can go on as usual.
The ringing of his phone breaks him out of his drywalling groove. He wipes off his hands and picks up on the fifth ring, just before it hits voice mail.
"Uh, hey, Derek," Stiles says when Derek answers. "I know you got a phone and gave the number to Scott with the understanding that he was never actually supposed to call you, but--well, he's not actually the one calling, huh."
The bond flares up in recognition, but Derek pushes it aside. "And why are you calling?"
"Well." Derek can almost hear the wince. "Scott was trying to find a new route through the woods to Allison's house because he thinks there might be hidden cameras on the route he usually takes. And then I got a text a few seconds ago, after his call got cut off." Stiles pauses. "Did you know you have pixies? And that they apparently have hallowed circles for wayward werewolves to stumble into and defile, and then those werewolves get kidnapped and send panicked texts to their best friends to come and save them."
"Yes, really, Scott was very specific."
Only Scott could manage to offend the pixies that have shared the area overlapping the Hale property for generations. But Derek should probably still help him out of the mess. He recognizes the sound of the jeep's engine over the phone. "I'll meet you out front when you get to the house."
"I think I just have to leave a bowl of milk outside every night for a while," he says to Stiles. He and Stiles are trudging along behind Derek, well within werewolf hearing range.
"Dude, you owe me so much for this," Stiles replies, more quietly than usual.
"I owe you for so many things you told me it was useless to keep track." Scott seems to have a revelation. "Oh! Fuck. Sorry. You are the greatest, awesomest, most amazing best friend anyone could ever have! There's no one else I could count on to make awkward phone calls and come save me when I get in trouble."
Stiles seems mollified. "Well, as long as you know that."
"And... it's almost two o'clock."
Stiles stops and turns, crunching leaves. "No, no way, absolutely not."
"You can't wait until I'm at least back to the jeep?"
"Sorry." Scott sounds embarrassed but continues. "Allison was really worried, and she's not sure how long she'll be able to sneak out without being noticed."
Stiles sighs. "Fine. It's fine, go ahead. But you should start counting again!" he shouts at Scott's rapidly retreating back.
Derek waits for Stiles to catch up. He falls in step with Derek, and Derek automatically examines the presence next to him. Stiles' heart rate is still elevated from the excitement. His scent is mostly neutral, his usual smell mixed with the jeep, his breakfast, and the trek through the woods. The bond is a low simmer between them, adding an extra layer of awareness, but it's a small and easily ignorable difference.
"So... pixies. Not what I was expecting," Stiles says eventually. "I mean, I wasn't expecting them at all, but I was imagining something more like Tinker Bell when Scott called."
"They did have pixie dust," Derek points out. Which they had sprinkled liberally over Scott to lead him astray.
Stiles snorts. "Yeah, not letting Scott forget about that anytime soon. And I was worried while it was happening, but it was pretty funny when they threw handfuls of it at his face every time he said something they didn't like." He reflects. "I think he got used to it, he walked out of here okay."
"It's mostly harmless to werewolves," Derek tells him. "And pixies are more mischievous than anything else."
"Yeah, that's what it seemed like," Stiles says. "Thanks for coming out to help, though."
Derek shrugs, surprised. "I wouldn't have left you to do it by yourselves. But it was mostly what you said that made them decide to let Scott go."
"Yeah, but I was just following your lead. And I've known Scott a lot longer, and I think he's a good person, even if he can be a dumbass sometimes, so." Stiles gestures expansively. "I had more to say about the whole 'Scott should be freed and not turned into a pixie ornament' argument. Plus, you know, the awesome Stilinski negotiating skills."
Derek reaches out reflexively when Stiles trips over a tree root during his enthusiastic explanation. He catches him by the wrist, and almost likewise stumbles when the touch seems to send sparks zinging up his arm.
The sensation flows through him in a strange but not unpleasant way, settling in at the base of his spine and leaving Derek feeling shaken. Luckily, Stiles doesn't notice Derek's reaction, or the quick release of his wrist like Derek has been burned. "Thanks," he says, and Derek listens to his heartbeat slow back down again and wills his own to stay steady.
It's not an unmanageable complication. He spent half the morning with Stiles before there was accidental physical contact. Stiles is rarely dressed in fewer than three layers, too, although Derek decides not to test how much protection that provides.
Still, Derek realizes he probably needs a better plan than just trying to ignore the bond away. He'll have to find a way to reject it, or at least do something to actively discourage it.
He spends the rest of the walk back to the jeep and house listening to Stiles' chatter while he begins to put together a new idea.
The delayed furniture delivery turns from an annoyance to an opportunity when he offers to drive Isaac to his Saturday morning lacrosse practice.
"Will you come pick me up, too?" Isaac asks, grabbing his bag out of the back.
"Maybe," Derek says. "Depends on how the furniture delivery goes."
"Okay. I'll get a ride with Scott or Stiles," Isaac says before heading off to the field.
Derek waits around until he sees Stiles take a break on the bench.
"Holy begeezus," Stiles startles when Derek approaches. "Try making some noise next time."
Stiles generally appears to be a cluster of gangly limbs and spastic movements, and today is no different. He swipes off the sweat beading at his temple with the back of his hand, and Derek focuses on the smell of grass and dirt.
"You know, I keep wondering about this. Can you tell if someone is a werewolf? Because yeah, professional sports, but there are so many other possibilities. A werewolf super spy, or even a chef or a food critic with enhanced senses. Maybe someone would coast through as a construction worker or some other job involving a lot heavy lifting. Although," he says, a quick look over at Derek, "I guess you'd have to always make sure to wear extra baggy shirts or something." He waves his hand in Derek's direction. "If you didn't want to be too obvious with the whole werewolf physique thing."
There's a slightly awkward silence as Derek tries to figure out how to answer. "It's not that easy to tell," he finally settles on.
"Right. Are you here to get Isaac?" Stiles asks.
"No, I dropped him off and decided to stay until I have to leave for an appointment."
Derek's plan isn't the most elegant, but he just needs to present the idea. He watches the field until the right moment, for the players to arrange themselves into convenient positions. He jerks his chin in the direction Stiles was looking before he noticed Derek. "He's not interested."
Stiles raises his eyebrows. "Danny? Uh, yeah, but I wasn't--"
"But he is," Derek continues, indicating another player jogging toward the goal.
Stiles blinks. "You mean interested like... interested? We're talking about the same thing here, right? And, oh my god, you can tell things like that?" Stiles tries to glance surreptitiously across the field. "Dude, that's--well, it's kind of creepy, but, wow, add matchmaking services to the list of unexpected werewolf abilities. How do you even sense something like that?"
Derek doesn't want to admit that it mostly involves eavesdropping on conversations in hallways. But, fortunately, before Stiles gets past the marveling stage to the next where he wheedles some answers out of Derek, the coach calls him over to participate in some drills, and Derek quietly slips away.
A week passes. There are no kidnappings or other unexpected incidents, no special training sessions or meetings. Derek doesn't get his hopes up when the bond dips down to a gentle and barely discernible sensation, but when it stays at the low level throughout the weekend, he feels cautiously optimistic.
Stiles waves as he walks through the front door. "Hey, Derek."
The sense of accomplishment Derek has been feeling drops away. "Stiles," he nods. He sets down the paint swatches he's comparing on the unfinished wall.
Stiles smells faintly of salt and sand. There are extra freckles on his nose. Derek asks, almost involuntarily, "Were you by the ocean?"
"Yeah." Stiles walks over to look at the paint colors. "My dad usually uses some of his vacation days around this time of year. We went to stay at a friend's beach timeshare."
Stiles seems more jittery than usual, nervously tapping his fingers against his leg. "So that's why I was away. Having a relaxing, purifying vacation. Lots of father-son bonding time. Pretty boring, not much else to say about it, so."
He gestures at the paint colors. "You've got like the whole range here."
There are some neutrals and several shades of red, green, and brown. The return of the happy warm feeling buzzing through him knocks Derek off balance, but he picks up some of the swatches again and resumes comparing them in different areas to see how they'll look in different light. "I'm not sure if I should be recreating or trying something new."
"Everything used to be white, right? Uh, Lydia said something," Stiles says, awkwardly.
Derek nods. "It always seemed clean and bright."
"What other colors do you like?"
Derek tries another shade of red. "I don't really have a preference."
Stiles leans down and shuffles the other samples around. "What do the three musketeers think?"
Derek raises an eyebrow. "Isaac, Erica, and Boyd have mostly been leaving the rebuilding decisions to me."
"Red?" Stiles asks.
It's not a big decision, since repainting is easy, so he can always change his mind. Derek doesn't mean to say anything about it, but for some reason he finds himself explaining. "It was Laura's favorite color. When we were in New York and she got an apartment, she made me spend the first weekend helping her paint all the walls red."
Stiles is looking at the red shades too intently now. Derek casts around for a way to change the subject.
"I picked up a new book."
"I looked around for more information after the problem with the pixies," Derek explains. "It's a book of stories, but I think they're based on real experiences."
Stiles perks up. "Did you find anything in it?"
"Mainly that I still don't know how Scott managed to get in trouble with them," Derek admits.
Stiles grins. "Scott is special like that."
"But there were only really two stories about pixies in the book, the rest are about other things."
"Can I take a look at it?"
"I was going to ask if you had time to go through it the next time I saw you," Derek says.
When Stiles leaves with that book, Derek tracks his movement out of the house to the jeep and down the road with his usual senses, and then tries to do it through the bond.
Derek had been worried about the first surge he felt with the renewed contact, but the bond subsides back to a more soothing hum. He's not sure he should let himself become comfortable with it, but--he wonders if spending time breaking it is worth the effort.
The bond only seems to affect Derek, and only like an extra sense, with some interesting side effects with physical contact. It doesn't affect his judgment, or, no matter how much he would like to blame it, his other responses and feelings.
The bond could even be useful. Since Stiles is human yet is always getting involved, it wouldn't be such a bad thing for Derek to have an extra connection to him. If it's not Scott getting into something and calling on Stiles for help, it's Stiles being at the wrong place or the wrong time.
Derek sighs and shuffles the paint swatches around. He lets the bond and his plans for what to do about it simmer in the back of his mind.
Erica pulls out the chair across from him and sits. She props her chin on one hand and says, "I drew the short straw. I think Boyd and Isaac cheated somehow, though." She sighs.
"Hang on." She pulls out an index card and starts reading off of it. "You've been acting weird lately. Not in a bad way, but we thought we should tell you we noticed and we respect you as our alpha and if there's anything you want to tell us we're always here for you."
She tosses the card aside. "Basically, Isaac thought you were acting too nice to him lately and got freaked out, so he told Scott. Scott told Boyd he should do something so Isaac wouldn't be sad. Boyd and I thought we should just keep ignoring it, but Scott can be annoying."
She shrugs. "So, now we can say we did something and get back to ignoring whatever it is."
"Yes," Derek agrees.
The bond is manageable, mostly an unnoticeable or even comforting sensation. Everything is pretty much as it was before. So, one night after making his usual rounds of the territory, he ends up in Stiles' backyard--he hasn't checked up on the progress with the research lately, or the new book.
Derek pauses midway up the tree next to the house instead of immediately leaping onto the roof, sensing something off about his surroundings. Not in a threatening way, but there's something different. He waits and listens, sniffs the air.
The sharp intake of breath followed by a low moan is the first clue. He doesn't need the scents after that, or to listen for Stiles' rapid heartbeat, and he definitely doesn't need to contemplate looking into the window for confirmation.
The thought of it is like a punch to the gut. He had said it as a joke before, but if he had climbed through the window and interrupted Stiles jerking off in his bedroom--if he climbed through and Stiles didn't notice, or if he did notice, but didn't stop--Derek's thoughts stutter to a halt.
He forces himself back down to the ground, to move until he's far enough that even his alpha senses can't strain to smell or hear anything he shouldn't, and concentrates until the soulbond dims down to an almost imperceptible level.
The cool air of the woods grounds him. Derek takes several deep breaths and doesn't think about warm bedrooms, sweaty skin under blankets, or confusing emotions.
(He almost misses having more immediate and straightforward problems, though. The concepts of rejection, denial, and total and complete failure are starting to blur in a worrying way.)
Derek runs out to pick up some groceries on Wednesday night. He buys some frozen pizza for the next pack meeting, and extra milk and eggs because the kitchen might be brand new, but they still keep running out. He pushes the cart back to his car but stops before loading in the bags when he feels a familiar rush from the bond.
"Hey, do you need help with that?" It's Stiles, of course. He's on the other side of the parking lot, helping someone lift a large pack of soda into the back of her car.
"Thanks so much," she says. "I think we're in the same English class? I sit two seats behind you."
"Oh, really?" Stiles rubs the back of his neck.
"Yeah. Uh, so I'm buying all this stuff for a party on Friday. If you're not doing anything that night?" Her heartbeat speeds up when she asks. Stiles' speeds up too, to match.
Derek wonders briefly if his other plan might actually come to fruition. But, with the groceries all stowed away, he doesn't have a reason to stick around, so he misses the rest of the conversation as he gets in his car and drives back to the house.
He carries in the sofa after he finishes, and is standing next to it brooding over the color combination, even though the paint isn't quite dry yet, when Stiles dashes into the house.
He's holding the book, which he points at Derek. "Dude, I can't believe you." He deflates when Derek only raises an eyebrow. "Erica can be really scary. She said I had to fix this, because she keeps getting the short straw."
Derek gets an uneasy feeling. "I'm not sure what you're talking about."
Stiles hesitates. It makes Derek feel bad, but if this is what he thinks it is, it's probably for the best.
But then Stiles says, "This is a terrible idea and you should blame your pack for it and not me." He puts a hand on Derek's chest and pushes. "Oh my god, just sit." Derek does.
And then Stiles climbs into his lap.
"This isn't a statement about the lack of furniture, is it," Derek says after a moment. Stiles' cheeks are flushed, he notes.
"No, it isn't," Stiles agrees. "Not trying to set a trend of lupine seating."
At some point, Derek's hands apparently decided to settle over Stiles' hips. "You found something in the book." Stiles dropped it onto the seat cushion next to them.
"I did. There was a story. A real page-turner. Had me on the edge of my seat after I found it last night."
Stiles shifts closer. "Guess what it was about? Wait, let me just tell you--it was about werewolves and soulbonds."
"Yes, oh. And then I realized I wasn't feeling some freaky pseudo-pack bond pangs, it was a real thing."
The bottom drops out of Derek's stomach. "You can feel it?"
"Oh my god." Stiles' hands slide up to grab the collar of Derek's shirt. "I already said this, but I can't believe you. Also, this is totally why you need me for this research gig."
Stiles' fingers brush against Derek's chest as he moves his hands. Derek feels a jolt go through him, and tenses.
Stiles slides his hands over Derek's shoulders and absently squeezes, then pauses. "Wait, you're--you're turned on by this, aren't you?" he asks, wonderingly.
"I hope that's what you were expecting when you sat in my lap."
"Yeah, but. It's not just. Is it because of the bond?"
Derek has one of those frequent moments where he wishes someone could have told him all the werewolf lore that he would need to know and is sorely lacking. "The bond has some effects, but it's not what you think." He doesn't know how to explain the effects and mechanisms he's guessed about. "This--it's not because of the bond."
"You like me?" Stiles looks at Derek's expression. "I knew you tolerated me. I'm useful. For research and corralling Scott. But you're always disappearing as soon as we're done, and--well, okay, you haven't been as growly lately, but instead it's like you've been trying to tell me--"
Derek can almost see the gears turning. "Is that what you were doing? You weren't hinting you could tell about my crush. Or trying to let me down gently. You were--trying to get rid of it? Break the bond?"
"Something like that," Derek admits.
"It was kind of a shitty plan."
"I didn't think it had a high chance of success," Derek agrees.
Uncertainly, Stiles asks, "Is this part of a process? You turn into an alpha, and get a pack, a house, and a soulbond?"
"I don't think that's how it works," Derek finally says. He's still staggered by Stiles' crush, or maybe he's still back in the moment when Stiles climbed into his lap.
"Okay, I can tell unraveling all of this is going to take a significant amount of time, so I'm just going to--" Stiles gnaws on his lip. "Yeah, okay." He leans forward and brushes his lips against Derek's.
Derek thought the bond would make him feel fireworks, but the kiss is a soft press and exchange of breaths, sweet, until Stiles' breath hitches, and he runs his hands up the back of Derek's neck, into his hair, to cradle the back of his head. Derek licks into Stiles' mouth, feels him shiver in response, and he tugs him in closer.
When the kiss breaks off, Stiles' mouth is red and wet. He looks at Derek a little glazed but says, "Don't think this means I'm going to forget about all the questions and explanations."
Derek isn't inclined to argue since he's nudging his nose along Stiles' jawline up to his ear.
"There is so much you have to explain to me, dude. I mean, what the hell? Soulbonds."
"I have questions, too." Derek needs to reconsider all their interactions from the past two weeks, if not longer, for one thing. But for more practical matters--he remembers the book next to them. He reaches over and picks it up. "There's a story in here about soulbonds?"
"Yeah." Stiles takes it from him and flips through it to the right page. "You have no idea about any of this either, do you."
Stiles huffs out an amused laugh. The bond flutters. "Well, this time we can figure it out together."