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I've Caught the Cuddle Bug

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Scott gives him the idea. Stiles is having a rough day, the kind where everything seems like it's going wrong. Where the world makes its displeasure with him known, despite not knowing what he did to piss it off this time. Thankfully Scott is at the house when he gets home, the True Alpha more than willing to make room on his bed for Stiles to curl up against him.

A sigh gusts out of him once he's wrapped around his best friend. Some of his tension melts away at the steady rise and fall of Scott's chest, the warm breath tickling his forehead.

"I don't know what I would do without this," he mumbles, words coming out in a sleepy sort of drawl.

"Go on a rampage with your baseball bat, probably."

Stiles huffs, offended by the laughter in his best friend's voice. "Your mom is the one who gave me the idea for that bat, I'll have you know."

"So you say."

Normally they can go back and forth like this for hours. It's an exchange they've had for years, easy and familiar and Stiles is too tired to continue.

When the silence lasts a beat too long, Scott's hand becomes a firm weight pressed just between his shoulder blades. His best friend is always warm-verging-on-hot since becoming a werewolf. Sometimes it gets to be a bit too much, especially when Stiles is in the middle of a puppy pile at the height of summer. But right now the heat seeps into him. He hums, rubs his cheek against Scott's shoulder, his head under Scott's chin.

"Stiles?"

He doesn't answer at first, caught in that almost daze where it's too much effort to make his lips move, to form sounds and words and string sentences together. Sleep sounds so much more appealing. But Scott slides his hand up to Stiles' shoulder and shakes him. It's a gentle one, just enough to bring him out of his near-doze, but Stiles butts his head against the shoulder under him in protest.

"Jerk," he mutters under his breath, but without much heat.

"What's up, dude?"

He shrugs, like that will be enough of an answer. Like the way his hand is clinging to Scott's shirt, and the way he rubs his cheek against his best friend's shoulder again doesn't give away his distress.

"It's stupid."

It is stupid. He's really, honestly fine most days. Mostly. This is just one of those days when it hits him, bothers him. Becomes an ache, makes his skin feel like it's stretched too tight around him. Something is aching to burst out of him and it takes everything to keep it all in.

"It probably is," Scott says, but tightens his grip on Stiles' shoulder and holds him closer.

The rest of the tension he's been carrying melts away and he feels himself relaxing in his friend's - brother's - hold.

"It is," Stiles insists, because he knows he shouldn't let it get to him. It would be a lie to say it never has before - it's always bothered him and there's no denying it - but it's true that he wishes it didn't. "Just... seeing everyone. Paired up. It's like everyone has someone, you know? And it's not just the pack," he assures hurriedly, letting go of Scott's shirt long enough to flail his arm in reassurance. "The people I've been hanging out with are somehow all with someone, too. It's like everyone has figured out the secret to getting a girlfriend or a boyfriend and no one bothered to clue me in."

It's a discussion they've had before. More times than he cares to think about because knowing it shouldn't get to him isn't always enough to push the feelings away. Back when Scott was first figuring everything out - how to be a decent Alpha for their ragtag little pack - he'd also recently found Allison and was a fount of optimism that Stiles would find that person out there that's meant for him.

Thankfully, he's gotten better about it. No more unintentionally rubbing it in that he's already found his one and only. Instead, Scott sighs and pats the shoulder under his hand. "They don't know what they're missing, man."

Stiles snorts. "And what are they missing, Scott? I talk way too much, I move all over the place even when I'm trying to stay still. I mean, I'm kickass with some mountain ash but it's not like it's something I can just advertise or whatever -- "

"Dude, no way is your Spark the only kickass thing about you," Scott interrupts. He, with only a fraction of the force he's capable of, whacks Stiles in the back of the head. "Who is always ready to charge in before the werewolves, even though - as he's made perfectly clear multiple times - he's nothing but pale skin and fragile bones?"

"Still not something that comes up in casual conversation, Scotty."

"How about the fact that you never give up on people, huh? Or how, when you care about someone, you'll do everything in your power to make sure they're okay?"

He can't deny either of those points. Once he cares about someone, it's damn near impossible for him to give up on them. Letting them down almost physically hurts. But still.

"You... make a good point but I've been like that since high school and I can't remember anyone jumping at the chance to date me then either."

Scott blows a deliberate breath over Stiles' head, tickling his scalp. He tries rubbing the sensation away against Scott's chin. His best friend laughs and pulls his head back but doesn't let go of the rest of him.

"Well, I know for a fact they're missing out on one of the best cuddlers I've ever met. Possibly the best cuddler in existence."

Stiles snorts again but Scott doesn't stop.

"Seriously, dude. If someone's having a bad day, all they need is, like, ten minutes of cuddles and they'll bounce right back."

And, well. He can't deny that. He's lost count of how many times where all Scott needed to perk back up was to hug it out with him. More than once he's made an awesome shoulder to cry on and even though he hates - loathes- seeing the people he cares about cry, it warms something inside him that they go to him for the comfort they need.

That's something he does well that has nothing to do with the supernatural world they find themselves in these days. No. It's all him. Stiles feels a grin growing on his face and scoots up just enough to get Scott into a headlock.

"This is the thanks I get --" Scott yells into Stiles' arm, but he's laughing and Stiles can't help but join in.

Scott's got a point, though. If only there was a way for him to share his awesome cuddle-ness with the rest of the world.

*

It's not often that he - that any of them - have to go very long without pack time. Each of them ended up in schools close enough together that they're able to commute. They've got a temporary Pack house as close to the middle distance of everyone's campuses as possible. The most time they spend apart is for work or classes. If nothing else, they have the evenings, when they all go to bed and puppy piles have become more of a norm now that they're not in high school and don't see each other for hours a day anymore.

Even so, he doesn't expect it to bother him quite like it does. Being a pack in high school, he got used to being able to sit with them at lunch, if not in class together. Then there was lacrosse practice, then hanging out at his or Scott's house after school. Now, though. Hours of his day are spent alone - not really alone, but it's amazing how alone a person can feel when surrounded by hundreds of other students - on campus. He's got a few study buddies. Some people he sits with in between his classes. There's even someone he's kind of got his eye on, though he's not sure how far that'll go. He hasn't got the best track record for that kind of thing so far.

Still, it's a little upsetting. He goes hours without seeing anyone in his Pack. Sometimes days without seeing specific members because their classes and work hours don't always mesh well. It's like an itch under his skin that he can't scratch away.

Keeping busy helps. Some of his classes are more interesting than he's taken before. He's got a few of the necessary general education stuff to get out of the way, but he supplemented those classes with a couple others that actually go towards what he's working for. So the reading and notes and essays keep him occupied for a while. There are enough of them that he can go back and forth, switch focus when he's having trouble concentrating on one subject anymore.

But, well. Reading his textbooks and taking notes and writing essays only take up so much of his time. Especially while most of his classes are general education and a lot of it is familiar enough to breeze through so far.

It's on one of those days when he's finished his assignments, sitting alone in the Pack house because everyone is in their own classes. He's tapping listlessly at his phone and maybe he's pining a little without anyone there to even share the room with, let alone share in some personal space. Really, he thinks, wouldn't it be nice if he could just find someone he could cuddle with until the Pack is back home? It doesn't seem like too much to ask. Hell, there are apps for hook ups, apps to find your perfect match. Why can't there be something that might actually be helpful to him? An app for cuddles sounds awesome right about now.

*

Despite what Scott says, Stiles didn't expect the app to become so popular. To be honest, he hadn't planned on more than Scott and Danny - then Lydia and Allison because there were no secrets from those two, ever - to even see it. When they pestered him about actually publishing it, he didn't think they were crazy so much as grossly optimistic.

Only, somehow it grew into something he never expected. He suspects Danny might have done something, gotten the word out about it when Stiles hadn't given much thought to advertising. Because really, how much demand could there possibly be for a platonic cuddle-partner-finding app?

Apparently, a lot. Like, suddenly-Stiles-is-raking-in-more-money-than-he-knows-what-to-do-with, a lot.

It starts out as a free app, and he's still surprised by what he has coming in from ads alone. Then Danny or Lydia, maybe both he isn't sure, convince him to create a paid-app option. There isn't much difference - no ads and not quite as limited in how many cuddlers a person can find that day - but again he finds himself with an unexpectedly successful product.

As unexpected as it is, he can't deny how proud he feels.

"This is crazy," he says, pushing away from his desk. His chair rolls back until Scott's foot kicks out to halt it.

"Kind of?" Scott agrees, but his shoulders make an uneven line as he shrugs. "But not really. I mean, dude, you made it."

He rolls his eyes to hide the ridiculous gooey warm feeling surging in his chest at his friend's - brother's, Alpha's - easy confidence. Like just because Stiles was the creator, its success was a given.

"Well, I am awesome," Stiles says with a too wide grin. "Seriously, though. The money alone is just..." He trails off. A thread of tension that was knotted in his gut loosens just at the thought of it.

Scott's expression softens, leaning forward to grip Stiles' shoulder and shake him a little. He gets it, understands how good it feels to be able to help ease some of his dad's expenses. Scott worked at the Veterinary Clinic through most of high school to help his mom out. Stiles was pretty lucky in that he didn't have to get a job for a while, but now that he's away at school he loves knowing that he'll be able to tell his Dad he doesn't have to worry about him so much.

"Gone are the days of top ramen, my man. What're you gonna spend your half on?"

He hasn't discussed it with Scott yet - he's not gonna lie he pretty much lives to cause the confusion he sees on Scott's face when he says it.

"My what?"

"You want more? I gotta tell ya, Scotty, you did a lot - coming up with the whole idea and all. But I did put a lot of the actual work into it. Fifty-fifty sounds like the only fair option."

"Coming up with - Stiles. I didn't come up with anything."

"What're you talking about? 'Course you did. You're the one who told me I was the best cuddler. In existence. Your words, buddy."

Scott's eyes are wide, his head tilting to the side while he stares at Stiles. Even before the bite, his best friend was the most puppy-like person he'd ever met. It's only gotten worse - or better, depending on which side of the jokes he was on - since he'd turned.

"That doesn't have anything to do with - "

This time it's Stiles that grabs his friend's - brother's, Alpha's - shoulder and shakes it. "Scott, I couldn't have made this thing without you. Seriously. The only reason it even crossed my mind is because of that conversation. Otherwise it never would've occurred to me to actually make something like this. So, as the person who came up with the original inspiration, you get half."

"But - "

"No," Stiles points, index finger a few inches from Scott's nose. "You get half. Spend it, save it, donate it, use it for the Pack. I don't care what you do with it, but it's yours. Got it?"

A smile spreads across Scott's face, and his eyes crinkle at the corners. Stiles feels an answering smile on his own. "Got it."

"Good. So what're you gonna buy me?"

"What?!"

*

Of course, he's still going to school. Just because he's making a decent income right now doesn't mean it will last forever. If he's being honest he also knows there's no way he could handle living job-free. Too much free time results in him having to explain things to his dad or Scott. Things he has no good explanation for usually. Besides, he thinks he'll make a kickass criminologist.

Unfortunately, it still only takes up so much of his day.

Back in high school, it felt like his classes did little more than get in the way of all the life-and-death moments they'd had. Now, though, they're away from Beacon Hills. There are no rogue Alphas or Omegas or faeries or anything else nipping at their heels. It's amazing how much easier it is to get things done without living in a constant state of mayhem.

Which leaves him with a lot of free time. And since he does have a bit of an income right now, he isn't all that anxious to find a job that'll take even more time away from his Pack. But he's stuck on his own a lot while everyone is in class or at work. It feels a little like he's back where he started, before he got the idea for Cuddlr.

Stiles sighs, tapping his phone against his thigh. There are probably things he could be doing. Something productive to occupy his time with. But...

Humming, Stiles straightens out the phone in his hand.

He's got all this free time and, to be honest, he could go for some platonic cuddling right now. Maybe watch a movie, because it's almost always more fun to watch movies with another person - unless that movie is a tearjerker. Sometimes a dude just needs to cry in the privacy of his own room.

It seems a shame not to use his own product. Almost false advertising in a way. If there isn't anyone nearby, no big loss. He can go online and get lost in the never ending sea of Wikipedia articles. But it would be nice to find someone to spend the rest of the afternoon with.

Pressing his lips together with a determined nod, Stiles clicks the Cuddlr icon.

*

Erica is a gorgeous, blonde bombshell who can probably eat him for breakfast and Stiles could say he's surprised that she's looking for platonic cuddling through an app, but that would be lying. Even gorgeous people need no-strings-attached cuddles. He would know, practically his whole Pack is made up of model-worthy people. It's not even the slightest bit fair, but it's the truth.

The coffee shop they meet at is busy, but it's not the morning or evening rush so the crowd could be worse. He recognizes her right away from her profile picture, though the red on her lips is darker.

"Erica, right?" he asks, even though there's no way he could mistake her for somebody else.

She nods, holding out her hand for a satisfyingly firm handshake. "That's me. What kind of name is Stiles?"

He barks out a laugh, rubbing the back of his neck when they let go of each other's hands. "One that's way easier to pronounce than the name on my birth certificate."

She raises an eyebrow but shrugs. "Fair enough."

They stand in line, quiet for a minute before Erica turns in his direction. "So... any idea how this is supposed to work?"

He laughs again, softer this time. "In theory, we talk a little to make sure we're comfortable with each other and then cuddles happen?"

She gives one, almost determined nod and faces the front of the line again, side-eying him. "Just because we're getting coffee doesn't make this a date."

"Obviously," he says, quirking a grin in her direction. "Coffee shop dates are fine and all, but the middle of the afternoon?"

She smiles back before stepping up and ordering her drink. It's almost as sweet as what he usually gets. He thinks this is going to be awesome.

*

Stiles is right. It is awesome.

Erica wants to go back to her place. It's a ten minute walk from the coffee shop, enough time to finish their drinks. He likes her. She reminds him a little of Lydia, but is still very much her own person. The way she carries herself, shoulders back and a smirk on her face. Well, he thinks she's awesome.

It might be the wolf in her, but Lydia is the same way, was back before she came into her banshee powers. That confidence is all her, he thinks. Maybe the wolf helps bring some of it out, but that's not all there is to her.

"It's right up here," she says, nodding in the direction of an actual house. Two stories, with a porch large enough for a couple chairs. It's probably pretty nice to sit out there when the weather is cool.

Even with the two floors, the house isn't huge. Probably because it's so close to everything. Their temporary Pack house is a bit larger than this, but it's also further away from campus, so that everyone has about the same commute to their different classes and jobs.

"Nice place," he says as she leads him up the steps and unlocks the door.

She smiles over her shoulder at him.

"Thanks."

The inside is nice. Well lit, and the couch in what he figures is the living room is huge. Large enough for some awesome Pack cuddles, he thinks.

"Has the pack been busy?" he asks, following her lead and toeing off his shoes just inside the door.

She raises an eyebrow at him while dropping gracefully down on the couch. Stiles is man enough to admit to himself that he's jealous. Whenever he tries to do anything gracefully, it usually ends in disaster. Or embarrassment. Embarrassing disasters.

Still, he follows her over and sits down close enough for their arms and legs to be touching - that is the whole point after all.

"My pack," he continues, shifting and leaning back into the cushions. They are amazing. Just soft enough to sink into but he doesn't feel like he'll never figure out a way off it. Nice. "All of us, really, have been insanely busy. We've all got classes and jobs and it's close to impossible to spend anywhere near as much time together as we did before college, you know? We still mostly all have dinner together and we're all back at the house to sleep, but it's not the same as always having a pack member or two around, right? So I figured, hey, I could use some more cuddles in those periods of free time I have and here I am."

Erica grins, wide enough that her teeth are bared though nothing about it feels threatening. "Do you always talk this much or am I special?"

He laughs. "Sorry to disappoint, but that's kind of an every day, everybody thing."

She shrugs a shoulder, sliding closer to him. He moves his right arm to rest across the back of the couch and she scoots into the opening he's created. "Sort of. Most of us are taking classes and everything, too. And we kind of pushed our Alpha to find something to fill his days with so he wasn't just waiting here for us to get home all the time."

"Only now he's found something to do and you're..."

"Yeah," she sighs, curling up and tucking her feet under her legs.

He tightens his arm around her shoulder, pulling her closer. It's different than cuddling his pack. They all know each other so well and he and Erica only met today. But it's nice, too. If he hadn't done this, he'd be at home, clicking away on his laptop without any purpose or pacing around the house in boredom - and loneliness. Instead, he's cuddled up to a gorgeous woman who knows what he's feeling. Someone who doesn't need or want it to be anything other than it is.

"This is nice," he says, curling his other arm around her.

Erica wraps her arms around his chest.

"Yeah," she sighs again, sounding more relaxed than he's heard her so far.

Eventually they wind up lying across the couch. She's a warm weight on his chest that he doesn't want to move any time soon. Her presence alone is almost perfect after so many weeks without what, in his opinion, are the required hours of cuddle-time in the pack. Stiles is sleepy and content and if the way Erica's breathing, warm against the collar of his shirt, has evened out is any indication, she's feeling exactly the same way.

Best. Idea. Ever.

*

He and Erica meet up a couple more times. Usually at her place. Since it's an easy walk there from the coffee shop, it's become tradition to go there first. But a couple times they've gone back to his Pack House. Watching her look around at everything, mouth dropping open at the set up in their living room... It was fun. And not something he gets to experience much since he doesn't invite people to the Pack House.

Even though she's a wolf in a different pack, somehow it doesn't bother him to invite her over the way he thinks it would with most people - there's a reason he hasn't had anyone over and perhaps surprisingly it isn't the fact that he doesn't know anyone outside of the pack. Maybe because he's already been inside her house. Or it's just that he genuinely likes her, feels comfortable around her in a way he usually doesn't outside of his pack mates.

They exchange numbers. Cuddling together is great, he loves it. But he also loves spending time with and talking to Erica specifically. So getting each other's numbers is great because now he can text her any time he sees something that she has to know about right away - like the new Black Widow movie trailer he saw pop up on youTube one day that they couldn't talk about until they decided to meet up again. It's a lot easier to keep in contact now that they don't have to go through the app.

It never becomes an issue, either, that they've started communicating without the app. She's involved with someone in her pack, and while Stiles loves hanging out with and cuddling with her, he likes what they've got. Erica is someone he would have befriended without the help of the Cuddlr app, had they met anywhere else. They flail, well mostly it's just Stiles who flails, over trailers for new superhero movies. And she never gets bored with any of the ones already out that they more often than not end up watching during their cuddle times.

Seriously awesome.

*

Stiles becomes a regular at the coffee place where he first met Erica. They've got a great hot chocolate for those days he needs to cut back on the caffeine, and their coffee is good. It's also a good place to meet people from the Cuddlr app. Gives them a chance to talk.

He's met a couple other people. Humans without packs need cuddles, too. It never stops being amazing, just how many people are using his app. Nobody has clicked with him quite as well as Erica - there have even been a couple who hoped to make an actual date out of it. Not too shocking, really. And it's always a bit of an ego boost when someone expresses an interest, especially considering that part of why he made this was because of how lonely he felt in a pack that's otherwise all paired up. But that isn't what the app is about and for the most part the people using it understand that.

Being a regular means he sees a lot of the same customers coming in and out. A couple people come in with their laptops and stacks of books and get comfortable with a huge cup of coffee. Even more leave as fast as they arrive.

On the days Stiles isn't meeting up with Erica or anyone else from the app, he's usually one of those people. Walks in, orders a hot chocolate because why not? And then it's right back home. But sometimes, he doesn't have anyone to meet up with and the house is too quiet and he just needs to be around people. Even if he doesn't have homework to do - he's pretty proud of how he's been keeping up on it so far, look at him adulting all over the place - there's always something for him to read or watch or listen to on his laptop.

People watching is another fun way to pass the time. He gets distracted by his laptop easily enough but sometimes he likes to sit and watch. Guess which ones are the newbies and which are regulars until he became one himself. Now he recognizes a lot of people by sight, though he hasn't actually spoken to them beyond a 'yes' when he's occasionally asked for the second chair at his table.

The first time that happened, he was lucky to get the yes out. Stiles isn't sure he's seen anyone as good looking as the man who asked him for the other chair. He must have been there with friends, or was just preparing for when they got there since he didn't see anyone standing with him. But Stiles thought he would swallow his tongue looking into pretty green - or were they blue? Hazel? - eyes and shamelessly wished he could feel the man's stubble against his cheek.

But he did manage the yes, without getting any kind of 'what is his defect?' looks from Mister Handsome so he calls that a win. And if he keeps a look out on the off chance he'll see the man again, no one has to know about it.

*

The Avengers have saved New York, they're all going their separate ways and Stiles is in no way emotional over it because obviously he's seen it too many times to feel things about it anymore. Erica is a comfortable, evenly distributed weight across his body. The couch only seems to get comfier the more times he comes to her house.

He doesn't want to move. Erica seems just as reluctant with the way she turns and wraps her arms around him, burying her face in his chest. But the movie is over; his muscles want to stretch a little before they start a new one.

"Come on," he sighs, poking her in the ribs. She squirms on top of him, a rumbling starting in her chest. It's not loud enough to be heard, but he can feel it.

"Even werewolves gotta stretch, Catwoman."

Somehow even more of her weight bears down on him, but eventually she sighs and rolls off. The way she practically glides onto her feet is just. Not. Fair. Ugh, werewolves.

Stiles is just standing up, arms stretched up and over his head, when he hears the front door open. It surprises him enough that he stumbles back, arms going out to try and balance before he causes himself any real damage. Of course his feet tangle together somehow, because why should he ever handle being surprised gracefully?

Thankfully, Erica manages to catch him before he falls and cracks his head open. Which would be bad on so many levels - blood, ick. No amount of time spent with 'wolves is ever going to make the sight of blood less nausea-inducing.

"Thanks," he says, carefully patting himself down as though he'd actually hit anything. It makes him feel a little better, making sure he's still in one piece.

She smirks at him. He counts himself lucky that she isn't outright laughing at him. His reactions have been a source of amusement... pretty much his whole life. It's always good to meet people who can enjoy it without making it a big deal.

"Erica?"

Stiles blinks. He didn't say that. For one thing, that's not what he sounds like. Definitely not his voice.

Right, the door.

The man standing at the entrance to the room looks familiar. Dark hair, enough stubble that he's probably going for a beard. It takes him a second to figure out where he's seen the man - 'wolf - before. And mentally pats himself on the back for containing the urge to fling his arms out and yell "coffee chair guy!".

Erica's still smirking, but it's less... Just less. She's always pretty relaxed on their cuddle dates, or at least gets there eventually. But the way she looks now, it's obvious he's a packmate. Stiles guesses Alpha because he doesn't look like the puppy she described Isaac to be, nor is she rushing up to give him a kiss the way she would if Boyd had walked into the room.

He doesn't look angry, exactly, but the guy doesn't seem all that happy either. Stiles wonders if it's because there's someone he hasn't met in their den. He wouldn't think so - Erica said her Alpha didn't have a problem with it after their first meeting - but the reality is always a bit different than just hearing about it.

"Derek," Erica says, smirk easing into a smile. She grabs Stiles' arm and pulls him across the room. "This is Stiles."

*

Derek knows he told Erica this morning that he was coming home early. He knows because it's not something he does very often and the way her face lit up is seared in his memory.

It's been harder on her than the rest of the pack, his being gone so much. They worked so hard to get where they are. To be the close-knit pack, closer to what his family was like once. Now they can hardly stand to be away from each other. It's nice. Comfortable. But the drawback is that it's taking some getting used to, his not always being available now.

She pushed him into finding a way to spend his free time and he's grateful. He loves knowing that he's finally doing something with what he was left by his family. Keeping up with their investments, starting up a store with what he's got. It's great. And he knows that Erica is happy he's done it. But now she has all this time that she used to fill by bullying him into watching a movie with her on the couch or even just sitting quietly on the porch.

Now here she is, introducing him to the person she's found to fill that time with. Derek thought he would be less comfortable with someone he's never met before in their home. Their den. But nothing about him - maybe the way this person is obviously clumsy and not an immediate threat - raises his hackles. In a weird way, that's what bothers Derek the most.

Besides the fact that Erica, that sneaky beta of his, planned this.

The grin on her face when she introduces them makes that more than obvious.

"Derek," she says in a bright voice. Even though he knows she's up to something, it warms him to hear her so happy. He's been worried about her. "This is Stiles."

Stiles - what kind of name is Stiles? - recovers quickly, faster than Derek expects after the way Erica dragged him across the living room. He stares at Derek with his head tilted, eyes squinting just a bit like he's trying to figure out where he's seen him before. Derek tries not to notice the way they seem to glow in the light coming through the windows.

Only a moment passes before Stiles is smiling; not as bright as Erica's but it seems genuine enough. He holds out his hand for Derek to shake, completely at ease. Derek doesn't know for sure that Erica has told Stiles that he's the Alpha but if she did, it doesn't seem to bother him any. He thinks he remembers Erica mentioning something about him being in a pack of his own. Unsurprising, now that he's close Derek can smell wolf on the man, though he's obviously human himself.

"That's me, Stiles," he says.

Derek hesitates for a barely a moment before taking Stiles' hand in his own. His grip is firm, but not overly so, and cool to the touch the way most humans feel to Derek.

"The cuddle buddy?" he asks, eyebrows raised because he's happy Erica found something to help her deal but the whole thing sounded strange when she tried explaining it to him.

Instead of ducking his head in embarrassment the way Derek half expected might happen, Stiles throws it back and laughs. When they let go, Stiles rubs his hand through his hair and nods.

"Cuddle buddy," he muses, chuckling a bit between the words. "I like it. That can be my new title. Cuddle Buddy Stiles. Nice ring to it, don't you think?"

He bumps Erica's shoulder with his own. She rolls her eyes, but she's practically radiating fondness. Derek won't be surprised if she demands being able to keep him. Her face almost lights up again when she turns back to Derek, zeroing in on the way his lips have curled up at the edges.

Without releasing the arm she still has locked with her own, Erica reaches out and wraps the other around one of Derek's. "We were just stretching a bit before we popped a new movie in. Any preferences?"

Stiles' eyes go wide, making it that much harder to keep not noticing how they shine. His free arm flies up. For a moment Derek fears for any knick knacks sitting around, but then Stiles curls his fingers and brings his arm back down. The beating of his heart speeds up some, but he doesn't smell like fear, nothing sharp and unpleasant sitting at the back of Derek's throat when he inhales. A bit tart with nerves, but bright; citrus with an edge. He doesn't protest when Erica leads them to the couch, just settles down where his scent is already strongest - definitely where he'd been sitting earlier.

Derek goes, too. There's no point in fighting with Erica over this. She's happy, openly excited about spending time with Derek earlier than what's become the norm. And he'd already figured they would end up watching a movie. Adding Stiles into that scenario doesn't bother him. Even if some of him wonders if he should be, considering the man is part of a different pack and they'd only just met mere minutes before.

Stiles turns so that his body faces Derek while Erica peruses the DVD case, one of his eyebrows raised. Derek supposes it might be a little odd to just agree to watch movies with someone he's only just met.

He shrugs. "I've learned it's better just to go with it."

Stiles hums, looking at Erica for a minute with his head tilted again. Then he nods. "Yeah, I can see that."

"That's because you're a genius," Erica says, flipping her hair over her shoulder. Trailers start to play on the screen. Derek didn't even see what movie she picked.

Stiles practically oozes delight, scent lightening when Erica curls into his side. She tugs Derek to her other side, close enough that the hand Stiles has draped over the back of the couch hits his shoulder. The hand twitches but doesn't move so Derek doesn't either. He lets himself relax, presses further into the couch and doesn't say anything when Erica wraps one of his arms up in both of her's.

Derek lets himself get lost in the scent of home and pack and Stiles.

*

Stiles doesn't expect to hear from Erica for at least a week. She and Isaac and Boyd are going away for at least the last half of the week and through the weekend. She didn't give many details so he's a little unclear what they're going to do. It doesn't affect him much since this weekend his pack is actually free. The whole two days, plus most of Friday evening none of them have any plans.

That's why he's so surprised to get a text from Derek on Saturday. It takes him a minute to realize it's not a regular text; it's an alert through the Cuddlr app. He's not surprised that Erica shared his account with her Alpha, or even that he's actually using it. Okay, he's pretty surprised Derek is using it.

But at least half of his surprise is at the fact that Derek is even around to use it. Stiles didn't get a lot from Erica about where they were going but he knows for sure that Isaac and Boyd were going with her. And that they've been gone since sometime Wednesday. Today is Saturday.

Stiles is a human in his pack and he thinks that might drive him crazy. He can't imagine how Derek, as an Alpha, must feel at being left alone for so many days. Sure, there are phone calls and texts and face time. None of that, though, is the same as being able to sense someone else with you, feel them or hear them nearby or just knowing that they're coming back that night.

More than anything, the thought of how on edge Derek must be feeling, is what convinces Stiles to meet up with him. He understands, after all, how it is being stuck by yourself when you'd rather be anything but. And he'll have the whole rest of Sunday to spend with his pack. He's seen them every night this week, and they took advantage of their free time last night to laze around in an awesome cuddle pile after dinner.

With that in mind, Stiles accepts the invitation and goes to change out of his pajamas and into some jeans.

"Where are you going, man?" Scott asks when he catches Stiles searching for his wallet.

"I know, I know!" Stiles says, holding out his hands. In five words Scott manages to say so much more. The eyes don't help anything. This is their weekend, and Stiles doesn't want to mess that up. "It's pack weekend and you know how happy I am that we've all got a couple days without classes or homework or shifts. But remember Erica?"

Lines wrinkle Scott's forehead in confusion. "Yeah, I thought she was out of town..."

"She is," Stiles pauses long enough to fist pump when he sees his wallet on the counter. "Turns out Derek didn't go with them for some reason."

"Derek's the Alpha?"

"Yep, and he just," Stiles lifts his phone and waves it back and forth. "I'll be back tonight and all day Sunday, but..."

"But you don't want him to spend the day on his own if he messaged you."

"Exactly!" Stiles grins and Scott rolls his eyes but he can't fool his best friend. There's a smile growing on his face, too.

"And this has absolutely nothing to do with your crush on him."

Stiles stumbles back. It has nothing to do with what Scott said. The ground just has it out for him. Obviously.

"W-what?" he stutters. Clears his throat. "That's just, that's..."

Scott raises his eyebrows - they're nowhere near as impressive as Derek's - and Stiles lets out a long sigh. "Yeah, okay. Maybe that has a little to do with it." Damn werewolf hearing. Someday Stiles is going to learn a way around that.

Scott's the one grinning now. He claps a hand on Stiles' shoulder and squeezes. "Good luck," he says, all genuine and earnest because his best friend is awesome like that.

"Thanks," Stiles breathes, patting himself down one last time to make sure he hasn't forgotten anything. "I'm off."

*

One of the advantages of hanging out with werewolves is learning to understand their sense of smell. When Scott was first turned, it was mortifying for both of them when they realized Scott could smell whenever Stiles was aroused. Once he was more comfortable with his new abilities, though, he explained that it becomes background after a while. Like most smells, it doesn't stand out unless he's concentrating on it. And being a teenager at the time, flooded with hormones and surrounded by unfairly gorgeous people... Scott tried his best not to concentrate on Stiles' scent whenever he was around Lydia or Danny or just about anyone but their parents and each other. But it got better over time, and he's not a teenager anymore.

So Stiles isn't too worried about how he'll probably smell to Derek when he shows up. Looking the way he does, Derek must be used to catching that scent on a lot of people. It didn't discourage him from seeking out Stiles' company, so Stiles won't let it bother him.

When he knocks on the door, Derek opens it right away. Not surprising, the wolf could have heard him a few houses over if he'd tried.

He looks awful.

That's a lie. Stiles is pretty sure Derek could still be attractive covered in mud.

Bad example, considering the mental images that brings up. Even so, Derek probably looks good no matter what.

But.

His frown is more pronounced than usual. Not a scowl, like Erica's described on more than one occasion. His hair looks like he's been running his hands in it, sticking in all directions the way Stiles' usually does. Stiles almost expects to see dark circles under his eyes, but there's nothing. Rumpled clothes cover him, though. It's hard to resist the urge to wrap the guy in a blanket cocoon and feed him soup and make him watch feel-good movies, especially with the way he looks wearing that sweater with thumb holes.

"Stiles," Derek says with a nod, opening the door enough to let Stiles in. If he's purposely keeping it closed just enough that their shoulders brush Stiles won't say anything.

"Der-bear."

Stiles smirks at Derek's answering blink and scowl. The Alpha doesn't put any extra space between them, though.

"Who told - "

"Erica," Stiles laughs at Derek's long suffering sigh. "Don't worry, Sourwolf. I won't use it. Much."

His eyebrows pinch even more at the new monicker. Stiles expects some sort of protest, but Derek only leads him into the living room.

"How..." Derek starts, sitting on the edge of the couch. His hands curl around his knees, shoulders not bunched but looking like he wants them to. "How does this work?"

Stiles shrugs. "What it says on the tin. We cuddle - " he expects Derek's expression to sour more at that and is pleasantly surprised when some tension dissolves instead - "watch some TV or a movie. It's whatever feels most comfortable. We could lay out on the couch or just sit and cuddle. Whatever works."

"Okay, yeah. That... Sounds good." Derek nods, fingers losing their cement grip on his legs.

"Which one? Laying lengthwise or sitting up?" Stiles asks. It's good to figure it out now so they can get right to it. As quick as possible.

So they can be comfortable. He hasn't been looking forward to this at all.

Nope.

Stiles takes off his jacket and sets his keys and wallet on the coffee table while Derek puts what looks like some serious thought into his answer.

"I think sitting is good," he finally says, voice the steadiest it's been since he opened the door.

"Awesome."

Stiles wastes no time, settles right into Derek's space. He goes so far as to grab one of the Alpha's arms and drape it over his own shoulders. The sigh he lets out is entirely involuntary, but he can't be embarrassed about it when he's finally cuddling up to Derek the way he's wanted to since he met him.

After a quiet moment - Stiles is used to shocking people speechless - Derek relaxes into the cushions, hand curling around Stiles' arm. Not tight enough to be uncomfortable. It's perfect, actually. Stiles' face might get stuck smiling like this if he doesn't tone it down but he doesn't care.

*

The scent of foreign pack is stronger than usual on Stiles, but it doesn't bother Derek. It's the weekend. He's probably been spending it with his pack the way Derek would normally be doing. From what Erica mentioned in passing, Stiles' pack is usually busy. Not so much that their scent ever really fades from Stiles. But enough that he can tell how much stronger it is now.

"Thank you," he says a few minutes into Die Hard. The movie was already in the player and neither of them were eager to move once Stiles arranged them just so. Stiles told him he wouldn't want to change it anyway; apparently it's one of his favorites.

"No problem," Stiles says. His smile is easily heard in his voice, backed up by the almond scent he's been giving off in his contentment. His heartbeat is steady - a little fast, maybe but calming. The way it was the first time they met, after Erica convinced him to watch a movie with them.

This is the most relaxed Derek has felt since his betas left.

"I hope I didn't mess up any of your plans."

"Nah," Stiles scoffs gently. His nose scrunches adorably when Derek looks at him, catching the skip in his heartbeat. "No, you didn't mess anything up. I promise."

His heartbeat is steady this time, but Derek arches an eyebrow. "Then what - "

"My pack was just gonna hang out today," Stiles interrupts. It's something he does, apparently. "But they're cool with me ditching for a bit. We had a puppy pile last night and we'll have all day tomorrow, too."

"You're sure? You don't want to - "

"Dude, it's fine. More than fine. I didn't come over because I thought I had to. I wanted to."

He's smiling and his heart doesn't betray a lie. He still smells like a soothing mix of almond and just the barest trace of cinnamon; something he doesn't mind the way he does with others. And that? That's good enough for Derek.

He relaxes back again, pulls Stiles in a little closer and allows himself to get lost in the movie.

*

"So how was your date?"

Stiles looks up from his conversation with Scott to find Erica smirking at him over her coffee. He drops his head in a what-did-I-do-to-deserve-this manner. "It wasn't a date."

"Sure it was," she says, sitting in the chair one of the guys with her drags over. "Thanks babe."

The man, who must be Boyd, smiles and brings another chair over for himself. The other one must be Isaac and huh. He does kinda look like a puppy, what with the curls and all. He looks far too amused for Stiles' comfort though. Puppy with some bite.

"It kind of was," comes from his supposed best friend. Stiles shakes his head. He jerks his thumb in his Alpha's direction.

"This is Scott, he's been drinking the same kool-aid as you apparently. It was not a date."

"Are you sure about that?" Isaac asks after he's sprawled out in his seat.

"It can't be a date if none of the people involved think it is."

"Sure it can," Erica says after sticking her tongue out at him. Then she turns to Scott, holding out a hand, "It's nice to meet you. I'm Erica, Stiles has probably told you all about me. I'm that awesome."

Scott laughs, taking her hand. "Can't argue with that. When he's not talking about Derek, he's talking about you."

Stiles punches Scott in the shoulder. Hard. He's a werewolf, he can take it. But the smug jerk just smiles and introduces them to Erica's packmates.

"It is nice to meet the one who's been keeping my buddy sane while we've been so busy," Scott says, dropping an arm across Stiles' shoulders. Ugh, it's impossible to be annoyed with him when he acts like this. All nice and concerned over Stiles' well being. The jerk.

Boyd wraps an arm around Erica's shoulders, curling some of her hair between his fingers. "Same here. Don't let her fool you, Erica was going a little crazy before she found that app."

Erica rolls her eyes and pushes her shoulder into Boyd's side but she doesn't deny it either. Stiles remembers the first time they met, how much tension he didn't realize she'd been carrying at first. Scott probably remembers him talking about it, too, since he doesn't drag out the conversation much more beyond, "I'm glad the app did its job then."

"Me, too," she says before focusing all her attention back to Stiles. "It's still a date because you both wanted it to be." She says this very matter of factly, as though it's a given.

Scott nods again. Stiles turns, betrayal clear on his face, but his so-called friend only shrugs.

"That's not how dates work. If that's how dates work I've gone on enough half-dates with Lydia to make at least a couple full ones."

Scott tilts his head, then nods again. As much as he's been bugging Stiles about his not-date, he's still got his best friend's back. Always a comfort, Stiles thinks.

He also thinks he deserves a pat on the back or fist bump or something for restraining his next question as long as he has.

"He wanted it to be a date?" The words come out more hopeful than he would like, but at the end of the day he won't care so long as he gets an answer.

Erica is back to smirking, twirling some of her hair between her fingers. There are a few tense, quiet beats before she takes pity on him - and his nerves, he can't stop sliding his cup back and forth between his hands - and smiles. It's soft, one he doesn't think she uses often outside of her pack. He always feels a warm glow when it's directed at him - they make awesome friends.

"He definitely wanted it to be a date. The next time you two get together, I don't even want to think about how many times he's going to change his clothes."

"Derek, really?" he asks, ignoring Scott's commiserating look. Stiles does not freak out over his clothes. More than three or four times. Totally and completely reasonable.

"He doesn't seem the type, right?" This comes from Isaac, who looks like he wants to laugh. "But it's true. If we'd been home he would have roped one of us into making sure he looked okay."

Stiles still isn't sure how much he believes them until Boyd pipes in with, "He's done it every time he knows you're coming over now, if he's going to be there."

Now it takes everything in him to keep from jumping up and drawing Scott into a victory dance around the shop. He settles for an enthusiastic fist pump that almost topples him out of his chair.

*

Honestly, Stiles doesn't feel all this scheming is necessary. Derek has already used the app two more times since that first weekend. Which means they've had two more not-dates that he hopes might turn into real-dates in the future. Even so, he thinks things are progressing just fine without outside interference.

Yet here he is, somehow roped into pairing up with Derek in bowling. He hadn't meant to give Erica the idea - he'd mentioned owning his own set of shoes so he didn't add to the awful smells for his furry friends. Somehow that, along with Scott making a casual remark about some of the pack being free to hang out over the weekend gave Erica the bright idea that they should all hang out together.

As in their packs.

Together.

Now that he thinks about it, it doesn't seem so casual at all. His best buddy is learning to scheme; he would be proud if Scott hadn't honed the skill to use against him.

It's going well. Stiles knew the betas got along with Scott well enough and he's not at all surprised by the way Lydia and Erica have bonded. Fearing for the world maybe but not surprised.

Jackson, Lydia, Scott, and Stiles are the only ones free. Somehow - Stiles shoots a piercing, suspicious look at Scott that his friend shamelessly ignores - they all teamed up randomly with Derek's pack. Putting him on Derek's team.

Stiles isn't complaining. He just, again, feels the scheming is unnecessary.

That doesn't mean he can't take advantage of more time with Derek.

Whose frown is as pronounced as ever, glaring at the rental shoes in disdain. The power behind that glare is so strong, Stiles is tempted to wait until they catch fire under it.

"You should invest in a pair of your own," he finally comments, waving his in the air. He'll put them on when they actually get to their lane. Which will hopefully happen soon.

Derek scowls, swiping a hand out when Stiles' shoes get too close to his face. Stiles laughs, but drops his arms to his side again.

"Never seemed worth it. I can't remember the last time I went bowling."

He sounds more than a little bewildered.

Stiles bumps Derek's shoulder with his own and starts walking to their lane. Scott and Isaac are figuring out which bowling balls they want for their team. Jackson looks like he's talking Boyd's ear off, but he doesn't look bored or ready to strangle the guy yet so Stiles figures they'll make an okay team. Lydia and Erica are talking, already having chosen the shimmery galaxy-looking ball.

"If this becomes a regular thing - and from the looks of it, it is," he nods at the easy way the packs seem to be interacting, "I promise you can expect this to happen a lot. It's kind of our thing and your own pair of shoes is so worth it."

Derek's glare - his whole face, really - relaxes when he looks at their packs. It's a good look for him, not quite a smile but his contentment is clear in his eyes. Looks like Stiles isn't the only one who's glad they all get along so far.

Later, when they're all getting ready to leave, he hears his friends making plans with Derek's.

Stiles isn't sure if a pack could work with two Alphas, but he's willing to find out.

He's pretty hopeful for what might happen next.

*

His hope pays off on their next pack playdate, as he's taken to calling them in his head. And once out loud. Scott got a kick out of it - Allison, too, given the way she smiled - but he feared for his life at the unimpressed expression on Lydia's face. He's kept it to himself since then.

Pretty sure Scott calls it that in his head now, though. So. Win.

The packs spend a day at the beach. It's a bit of a drive, but worth it for a day of fun in the sun.

They take three cars. Stiles is only a little disappointed that he and Derek don't ride together. Derek's driving his pack. Scott, Jackson, and Lydia are riding with Allison. Stiles is being accompanied by Danny and the back of Stiles' jeep is packed full with supplies for the trip. Parking is going to be enough of an adventure as it is, Jackson can deal with riding in the backseat of Allison's car.

After the craziness of trying to park three vehicles at the beach, the packs come together to find the best spot to set up. Lydia and Erica both insisted on enough large umbrellas to give everyone a chance at shade. Stiles, for one, is grateful for that because he doesn't want to leave here looking like a lobster. He leaves Lydia in charge of directing Jackson and Isaac on where the umbrellas should go. Scott, Derek, and Boyd are lugging their ice chests over while Stiles, Danny, and Allison lay out the sheets.

It takes barely any time at all. Stiles thinks he could get used to this. The parking might be harder with so many people but it's worth it if they can set their spot up this quick.

Before long everyone has split into their new little groups. Scott's the first one to grab the frisbee, because the puppy dog eyes don't already write their own dog jokes. Isaac and Danny aren't far behind. Erica's already stretched across her towel in the sun, oversized shades covering her eyes. Boyd runs a hand over her hair before Isaac is drawing him into their group. Lydia follows her example, tugging Allison down as well. Stiles gives it ten minutes before Allison gets too bored and steals the frisbee.

Because he knows just how easily he burns, Stiles applied his sunscreen before they left. Now he's just excited to get into the water. Of course that has nothing to do with getting to see Derek wet and shirtless. Nope.

It's a great day, the sun not overtaken by clouds the way it can sometimes get. Stiles tugs off his shirt and runs to the waves, careful not to kick sand at any of the girls. He'd like to live long enough to enjoy the day.

"Shit, that's cold!" he mutters, but keeps going until he's waist deep.

Someone laughs and he turns to find Derek right behind him, smiling as big as he's ever seen. He doesn't even care that it's at his expense. Stiles always wants to be the cause of that smile.

"Thinks that's funny, huh?"

Derek nods, "As a matter of fact - "

He cuts off with a splutter at the water Stiles splashes in his face. Stiles snorts at the way Derek's hair falls over his forehead. He's already started putting space between them. He doesn't get far before Derek growls, playful but enough to send a thrill down Stiles' spine, and chases after him.

One second he's wading as fast as he can, admittedly not very fast, and the next he's under water. He holds his breath, arms flailing around in the waves. They connect with something and, hoping he's not grabbing a stranger, tugs until he's not the only one under the water.

He comes up laughing and doesn't stop even when Derek starts the chase all over again.

*

Derek can't remember the last time he's been to the beach, let alone splashed around in the water the way he and Stiles have been doing. Years and years ago, maybe, back when he was a kid. He never wants to wait that long between trips again.

Despite how fun it is to chase Stiles through the waves, though, it's time to take a break. He sees Erica popping open the ice chest. The rest of the pack - packs, Derek reminds himself even as he wonders how much longer they'll be two packs - follow her lead.

"Break time," he says to Stiles, snorting at the instantaneous whine he gets in response.

"Nooo... Less talk-y, more splashy." Stiles emphasizes the point by sending more water at Derek. He can't help but raise his eyebrows at that choice of words. Being too talk-y is not something Derek's ever been accused of before.

"Yes, break. Time for food and I know you're gonna start to burn if you don't reapply soon."

"Nope, you have fun with that but I'm just gonna -- hey!"

Derek laughs at the indignant squawk Stiles gives when he's thrown over the werewolf's shoulder.

"Put me down!"

"Nope."

Stiles wiggles around but Derek doesn't even sway.

"No, bad dog!"

"Definitely not getting down now," he drawls, wading slowly out of the water.

They're halfway to the rest of the pack when Stiles slumps with a grumbled, "You're ridiculous." Derek can hear the pout. It's adorable.

"Just for this," Stiles mutters sullenly, "you have to put the sunscreen on me - I know how twitchy your wolfy noses get about it. Hah!"

Derek only snorts. Somehow he doesn't find the idea of getting to touch Stiles' shoulders and back and the nape of his neck nearly as threatening as Stiles seems to think.

*

"I never want to move again," Stiles moans, flopping right into Derek's space. It's been a day and everything is still sore. He can't remember the last time he'd run around so much. Probably playing lacrosse back in high school.

"You'll have to move at some point. I've got pizza in the oven."

Stiles groans out a protest, pressing further into Derek's side. "Make one of the puppies get it."

Derek snorts, but doesn't move away. Even goes so far as to move his arm from the back of the couch down across Stiles' shoulders. "You're lucky those puppies aren't around to hear that."

"No?" Stiles asks, scrunching his nose. "Boo, that means moving is somewhere in my immediate future."

"You poor thing," Derek laughs. He scratches his nails against the back of Stiles' head and Stiles is not at all ashamed of the way he melts at the touch. They don't even need the excuse of the Cuddlr app anymore. Doesn't stop him from being excited about all the touching. He loves it. Thinks - hopes - that Derek feels the same.

"Not making me want to move any time soon there, Sourwolf."

"Don't worry, I'll make it up to you." Derek's voice is soft, a touch of his laughter audible. Stiles smiles at the sound of it. Can't help feeling a little proud and a lot happy that Derek sounds that way around him. He's definitely not the scowling brooder Erica described to him back when they first met.

"How's that?" Stiles asks, tilting his head up to meet Derek's eyes. They crinkle a bit at the corners with his smile.

"I'll surprise you."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah."

Maybe he's being a little slow, because the kiss does surprise Stiles. So much so that when Derek eventually pulls away, smiling enough to show off adorable bunny teeth, Stiles is one hundred percent speechless.

His mouth hangs open for a beat then a grin stretches so wide across his face his cheeks ache with it.

"Best surprise of my life," he finally manages to get out. His voice feels too loud in the quiet of the room, but Derek doesn't seem to mind. Just keeps smiling so bright he could power the sun.

"Mine, too," Derek whispers, eyes darting across Stiles' face like he's surprised - pleasantly so - that they're here.

This time it's Stiles who leans in and presses their lips together.

They wind up burning the pizza.