Christmas time was always the fucking worst. He tried to make it better with Scrooge-like joy in the misery of others, but it never really worked. He’d find himself empathizing and he tried to avoid that as much as possible. Derek would listen to his customers lament the shopping rush and getting squashed by hordes of other shoppers and he’d uncharitably think ‘sucks to be them’. He only ever had to buy one gift, and Boyd was a thankfully easy boss to buy for --- all he ever wanted was beer. Derek volunteered to work each holiday because it was better than the continued, possibly never-ending, renovation of his house and while he didn’t need the money, he did need the distraction. Christmas, in particular, reminded him of what he’d lost. Who he’d lost.
“If we could close, we would,” Boyd said, “but Head Office insists not everyone celebrates Christmas, and even people who do might want a coffee.”
Derek shrugged. It didn’t seem to matter how many times he told Boyd he was fine, really, Boyd always asked for forgiveness.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said, and it was true, because even though Christmas was the fucking worst, he had a moment to hang his hopes on.
Derek had caught his scent in September as he entered the store, pleasantly musky with a hint of cut grass. Another werewolf, slightly younger than he was. Bitten, not born, but a werewolf all the same. He didn’t smell like he was constantly surrounded by other werewolves, like he had a pack, but he did smell like he had a family, and Derek wondered about him constantly. Wondered which Alpha had bitten him, whether he’d moved to Beacon Hills from interstate, or if he’d been bitten here, whether he could sense Derek was a werewolf too and if so, why hadn’t he acknowledged it yet, would he want to bond? It was dangerous for an omega and it certainly wasn’t Derek’s first choice to be one, but attempting to reach out to another pack had always been his last, so, now that he was back in Beacon Hills, Derek had laid low. Laid low and thought about conversations he was still steeling his nerves to initiate. He saw him every three or so weeks and there never felt like the right time to question, to go beyond ‘hello’ and ‘what will you have today?’
It helped and hindered that the object of his affection was stunning and would beam up at Derek whenever he’d order, face a flare of light in Derek’s otherwise dark days. Derek had named him Sunshine Wolf because of it. He knew it made the guy sound like a care bear, but he’d only ever paid in cash so he had no idea what his real name could be. It seemed more logical giving him a ridiculous nickname than a realistic one, so that when he learned his true identity he wouldn’t get confused as to how to think of him. He never called him merely ‘Sunshine’, because that felt too much like an endearment and it tugged at his insides whenever he thought of it.
Sunshine Wolf would order something loaded with sugar and cream and either leave the store with a little wave, or ravage it in front of Derek, sitting reading what appeared to be coursework for different veterinary medicine topics. One time, he’d been holding a booklet bearing the title The Normal Anatomy of the Canine Locomotor System. Derek had tried not to laugh and failed. He didn’t laugh much. It was a surprise.
Sunshine Wolf had placed an order of four Peppermint Mocha Frappuccinos and four Gingerbread Lattes for Christmas morning. Usually, they didn’t take orders days in advance, but when Sunshine Wolf had asked, Derek couldn’t deny him. He got up early and set up the shop, served the surprisingly large number of customers who came in with even larger orders. He looked up every time the door opened, heart beating a little faster in his chest.
It was senseless, he knew that, to long for the brief company of a man he hardly knew, but Derek’s only remaining family, his sister Laura, had passed away a year and a half ago and he was --- well, he was lonely. There was no other way to put it. After their family had died in a fire when he was sixteen, Laura and he had been all one another had had. And now she was gone and he was still left, battling on. Sometimes, in his lowest moments, he wondered why he still bothered. He had to remind himself it was for Laura. She would have wanted him to live his life, to find joy again. He owed it to her to try.
Sunshine Wolf came in at ten in the morning during a customer lull and deposited a candy cane on the counter. Derek looked down at it, shocked and gratified and powerless to give an adequate verbal response.
“Merry Christmas!” Sunshine Wolf said, smiling around at the decorations Boyd and Derek had painstakingly put up in November.
“You too. I’ll have your order ready for you in a minute.”
“Thanks. It sucks that you’re working today. I mean, not for me? But for you. It must suck.”
“Not really. I get to serve customers like you and make their day a tiny bit happier. That’s gotta count for something.”
“You don’t have other people you could be making happy?” Sunshine Wolf asked warily, pressing his mouth into a thin line and frowning.
“No,” Derek said. “I don’t.”
He wanted to talk more, but didn’t know what to say. He’d always been pathetic at small talk, even when he was a child, and it wasn’t like Sunshine Wolf had ever told him anything personal that he could run with. He sneaked glances up as he made the drinks and enjoyed the patient smile on Sunshine Wolf’s face. His scent was a touch different, today, masked with some cologne that was mild enough it didn’t irritate, but sweet enough Derek wanted to go closer to sniff it.
“Here you are, four Peppermint Mocha Frappuccinos and four Gingerbread Lattes, like you ordered. Yours is the one with the little symbol written on the side of the cup. It’s got double the recommended amount of sugar.”
“Whoa. Awesome! Thank you. I didn’t even think of that.” Sunshine Wolf paid for his order and took it with a cheerful grin. “I hope you have a good day and don’t have to contend with any Grinches.”
“I’m the only Grinch,” Derek replied, stupidly charmed by Sunshine Wolf’s answering smile and head shake. “You have a good day too.”
Derek set about packing away ingredients and cleaning the counter, humming to himself, when he heard a shout that sounded like it was coming from only a few yards away accompanied by the unmistakeable crash of drinks hitting the sidewalk. He ditched the cloth he was using and ran outside, not bothering to lock the door. The drinks were on the ground directly outside the shop, cream and creamy brown splashed everywhere.
Derek followed the scent of cut grass and indefinable sweetness. It took him to the alleyway behind the store; a dead-end area that was usually used by a homeless man named Watkins that Derek frequently gave left-over cinnamon rolls to. Two men were crowding over someone on the ground and from their boots to their shirts, Derek could tell they were hunters. Rogue ones, too, because the Argents never hired idiots who attacked during the day, let alone attacked defenseless omegas who’d never drawn blood. And Sunshine Wolf had never drawn blood, Derek was sure of it, it wasn’t in his nature or his bearing. Derek surged forward with a roar, baring his fangs and claws and pouncing fast enough he could snatch their guns. The men went running past him out the alley and even though he desperately wanted to chase them down and make them accountable for what they’d done, he wanted to ensure Sunshine Wolf was all right first.
There was blood dripping from a gash in his forehead, his legs and arms were splayed in unnatural positions, but there were no gunshot wounds, as far as Derek could tell. The scratch in the forehead was encrusted with purple powder, though, and Derek bent down, examining it to determine that it was wolfsbane like he feared. He cursed, then hauled Sunshine Wolf up, carrying him into the coffee shop to clean him. Once he’d done that and Sunshine Wolf still hadn’t awoken, he locked the shop doors and took him to the hospital.
Once he was admitted, they wouldn’t let Derek see him. All Derek wanted to do was find out if he could help, if he could alleviate any pain, or kick-start the healing process, but he was denied. Rejected. Derek paced the waiting room, flexing his fingers as he longed for any news. He scrubbed at his hair and looked through the glass doors of the ER.
“We were going to be family,” he muttered. “Build a life together.”
It wasn’t true, and was the opposite of comforting, but he couldn’t help but say it, his chest tightening and his fears accumulating. He couldn’t stop thoughts circling around his head that he should have been quicker, should have caught the hunters and demanded an antidote. He should have been able to smell the hunters outside and not let himself be distracted by coffee beans and Christmas spices.
A police officer came and asked Derek a series of questions about what he’d heard and saw. Derek lied and claimed the hunters were muggers, but told as much of the truth as he felt he was able. He thought he gave a fairly accurate description of the hunters, but he had a horrible feeling they’d be out of the state by now. It was his experience that there was very little justice in the world.
Five minutes later, with no reason and no rhyme, a nurse was ushering him into Sunshine Wolf’s room. She left him with the saddest eyes he’d ever seen, patting his upper arm as she did. Derek tentatively moved close, peering intently. Sunshine Wolf looked like he was sleeping. The gash on his forehead had healed, signalling that the wolfsbane must have been fully washed out. His lips were soft and slack, his eyelids fluttering. His heart sounded a slower than Derek was used to. He was about to put a hand on his arm to see if he could sense any pain when there was a commotion at the door and five people came barreling in.
“Scott? Oh, Scott,” a woman cried, rushing to Sunsh--- Scott’s side, completely disregarding Derek. “They said he was in a coma,” she said to no one in particular, pressing her hand into Scott’s. “That’s not --- I didn’t think --- Oh, sweetheart.”
“He’ll be okay, Melissa, I promise. And we’ll get whoever did this. I have my best men on the job,” a man that Derek recognized but couldn’t place said, brushing his hand through her hair.
“John’s men are the best in the country,” a little old woman added. She had a slight English accent and looked dressed up. Actually, as Derek looked around, they all did. “And if they don’t find him, you can bet your bottom dollar I will and knock some bloody sense into them.”
“What with? Your handbag?” another man asked, giving a fond smile despite the glare she gave him.
“You watch it, Alan, or I’ll knock some sense into you with this handbag of mine too.”
It felt rude to intrude on such an intimate moment, even though he wanted to reassure himself Scott was okay. But Scott didn’t need him any further. He was surrounded by family. Derek thought he might just be able to slip out of the room undetected, so he took a step to the side.
“Who are you?” A man about the same age as Scott asked of Derek, piercing him with a blue-eyed stare. “You don’t look like a nurse or a doctor.”
“He’s his fiancé,” the nurse from earlier answered, gesturing between Derek and Scott as if that were obvious.
Derek’s eyes widened and he began shaking his head, but couldn’t get a word in. Five voices spoke up, all saying something different in varying tones ranging from anger to exasperation to shock. And they didn’t stop.
“Seriously? Scott’s fiancé?”
“Why would he keep you secret?”
“Scott’s gotten engaged and hasn’t told us?”
“That is just like Scott.”
“He probably thought he was protecting us.”
“Or he was ashamed of us, I mean, look at his fiancé!”
“This is unbelievable.”
“It’s Allison all over again, is what it is. Clandestine relationships and sneaking out of windows.”
“He was sixteen back then. He should know better by now.”
“He isn’t just his fiancé, he saved your son’s life,” the nurse cut in, raising her voice to a roar. She had ignored all of Derek’s overtures for a private conversation. Or she hadn’t seen them.
“You saved his life?” Melissa asked, looking at Derek with an expression that made Derek feel she had hearts in her eyes.
“Yeah,” he admitted, rubbing his fingers down the bridge of his nose. “I scared some muggers away. Brought him to the hospital.”
There were all kinds of exclamations at that.
A doctor came in at that moment, took one look at Derek and turned to the nurse. “What’s he doing in here? It’s family only.”
The man who Derek can come to realize was the Sheriff put a hand to the Doctor’s chest. “He is family.”
Melissa got up and wrapped her arms around Derek. “Thank you, thank you so much. Scott needs someone like you in his life looking out for him.”
And suddenly, Derek was in the middle of a group hug, something that hadn’t happened in eleven years. It felt so good, reminded him so much of comfort and contentment and belonging. Everyone’s scents intermingled in his nose and he breathed it in, closing his eyes and savoring.
When Derek had a moment to himself he pulled the nurse who’d started this whole mess aside. “Why did you tell them I was his fiancé?”
“Because you said you were.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“You said you were gonna build a family together.”
Derek let out a tortured snort. “In my imagination! I’ve served him coffee nine times. I call him Sunshine W… wonder in my head. We don’t really know each other.”
The nurse clapped her hands around Derek’s arms and attempted to shake him, but he refused to budge. “Then why did you say that?”
“I was talking to myself. Shit. What am I gonna say now? Oh hey, it was a practical joke that we realize now was in very poor taste?”
“I don’t know!”
“Excuse me, nurse,” Alan said, coming toward them. He cast an apologetic gaze Derek’s way. “Is there a pharmacy that would have any Midamor? Christina just remembered she hasn’t taken her dosage today and with the added stress we’re worried about her hypertension. She’s had two cardiac arrests in the last two years.”
“Let me call to find out if we have any available to buy,” the nurse said, scampering away to the nearest nurses’ station, her heartbeat suspiciously high.
“You know something?” Alan said, patting Derek on the shoulder. “I think you’re going to save Christina’s life just like you saved Scott’s. She’s been worried about him for a long time. But with Vet School and now you? She can see he has a set future.”
“We have Midamor available. Let me take you to the pharmacy,” the nurse said, grabbing hold of Alan’s arm. Neither of them looked back.
Hours later, Derek was wondering what he was still doing at the hospital. The smartest thing would’ve been to run the fuck away, but instead he’d sat with the family in the waiting room, learned everyone’s names and listened to how John and Melissa had gotten together years after John’s first wife died and Melissa’s first husband abandoned her. He listened to how John had adopted Isaac at fifteen when he found out Isaac’s dad had been physically abusing him. Then he heard about how Christina was actually John’s late wife’s mother and came to Beacon Hills from Florida every holiday season. And that Alan was their next door neighbor. It was a lot of information to take in during an hour.
Now, it was time for him to share. Derek swallowed around the goiter in his throat.
“Where did you two meet?” Christina asked, leaning forward attentively.
“At the coffee shop where I work. Scott came in and ordered the most ridiculous combination of sugar and syrups and we got to talking about how all his teeth were gonna rot away,” Derek said.
Good so far, it was utterly true.
“I keep telling Scott the same thing,” Isaac said. “What was it about him that you first fell for?”
“His easy smile and the way he has of bringing light and happiness into a room,” Derek said. Also true.
“I’d noticed a change in Scott, but I thought it was about getting into Davis,” John said, wonderingly.
“He had a rough time in his teenage years, found it hard adjusting, so you have no idea how happy this makes me,” Melissa added with a little hiccuping sob. Derek took a deep breath and pressed his lips tight together.
“I, uh, I actually have to go,” Derek said, “I was supposed to be in charge of the coffee shop today. I haven’t contacted my boss or anything. Um. This is my number. Will you call me if there’s any change?”
“Of course, son,” John said, sliding his arm around Derek and patting him firmly on the back. Derek tried with all his willpower not to linger in the touch.
Derek didn’t go to the coffee shop. He called Boyd and told him a version of the truth he was more comfortable with, but then went to the Mom and Pop grocery store closest to his house to get something to eat. Erica was at the register and she rang his items up efficiently, only to withhold the bag from him at the last moment.
Erica was the only other person Derek had really been on a first name basis with since he’d come back to Beacon Hills, and she was constantly trying to get into his pants.
“Those jeans look tight. You need me to loosen them for you?” she asked, because Derek was nothing if not a literalist and Erica was forever predictable.
Erica’s expression changed, became less vixen and more concerned-friend. She handed Derek his bag. “You don’t actually look okay. I know I’m good with my mouth, but my ears work pretty well too. You wanna talk about it?”
“Not really. See you, Erica.”
Derek hurried out the store with his slab of meat, pre-made salad and bottle of coke. For the first time in a long time, Derek actually wanted to be left alone.
He couldn’t sleep. Every time he tried to close his eyes he saw Scott sprawled on the ground in that alleyway, but rather than simply being knocked unconscious, he was surrounded by a ring of fire and Derek couldn’t jump over and save him. Members of Scott’s family were pressed up tight against the dead-end of the alley, hemmed in by flickering flames. They were crying, yelling at Derek about his inadequacy.
It was a variation upon an all too common repetitive theme.
Derek pulled his jeans back on, dug a gray Henley out of his drawer, got everything else organized. He needed to run, get air in his lungs again, push himself, enjoy the scents of the town in the gloom of night. It calmed him, temporarily, but when he finally stopped, he discovered he’d run somewhere very specific thanks to his unconscious mind. Derek blinked, rolled his shoulders forward, advanced.
The hospital staff let him in to see Scott without any kind of complaint or query. He sat down on a rickety metal chair that didn’t look like it could hold his mass and stared at Scott. He looked perfect, lying there, eyes closed and mouth curved in a slight smile. Apparently, all his vital signs were solid and his brain activity was as it should be. No one could give a good answer as to why he hadn’t woken up yet. Derek knew there were different types of wolfsbane, his parents had had a book all about it and he’d read it a couple times growing up. He vaguely recalled a type that acted like a transformation suppressant and if Scott’s body was fighting it, maybe his brain was having to contend with mixed signals.
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t quick enough to help you fight those idiots,” he said, surprising himself by talking. But hey, he’d watched enough films and TV shows to know that people were supposed to talk to coma patients. “I’m Derek, by the way, Derek Hale. I thought you should probably know that if we’re to be married.” He gave a hollow laugh, knocked his head into the wedge of mattress by Scott’s hand. “I’m sorry for that too,” he continued, muffled. He rested his head on his forearms, gazing at Scott’s placid face. “That whole thing spiraled completely out of my control. It’s just --- it’s been a long time since I’ve had anyone in my life to care for, to care about me, and the fantasy of it caught me up. Your family’s wonderful, by the way. I had a family once. They weren’t like yours, they were quieter for a start, but they were very loving. Every year at the Winter Solstice we’d pull our mattresses from our beds and bring them downstairs to our living room, push all the furniture to the sides, open up the folding doors to the dining room.
“Laura and I, there were two years between us, we fought like dogs for the space between the two rooms. Our cousin Cedric normally settled the debate by putting his own mattress there, right under the archway, and refusing to move. ‘Cause we’d lay our mattresses down, see, ‘til they were all touching, and lie in a bundle of limbs and pressed bodies, huddling for warmth under blankets. Mom would almost always make sure she was touching both me and Laura somehow, usually lying by our feet, or on our feet as we grew older, and Dad would always be on Mom’s other side. My uncles and their families were never far off.
“That hug today --- yesterday, I suppose --- reminded me so much of that. I miss it, miss eating a meal and grossing my sister and cousins out by licking the plate, before threatening to lick them, before – hah – before licking them. Miss running as a pack. Our house is right by the Preserve and every full moon we’d go running, kick the dust, scratch up the fallen bark beneath our claws. Do they know? Your family? I hope they know. It can’t be easy trying to hide from them and you must’ve needed someone’s support when you first started shifting. I could help you, when you wake up. You know, if you ever wanna talk to me again once I fix this mess. I will fix this mess, Scott, I promise. But it’s hard, telling the truth. Your family were so happy to see me. Of course they were, they thought I was bringing you the kind of happiness you bring me.
“I know it isn’t real. You probably smile at everyone the way you smile at me. I know I made you up inside my head. I only found out your name’s Scott yesterday. I still think Sunshine Wolf’s more apt. But I’ve been so alone it’s like a physical pain. An ache that lives right here, in my ribcage. Have you ever known what it’s like to be so alone in the world you make up stories about your future with the only person who’s ever smiled at you a certain way? Not with a leer, but with genuine joy? I’m thinking not.”
He fell asleep a couple of hours after visiting Scott and woke up to Scott’s family surrounding him.
“Derek! Did you stay here overnight?”
“I did too,” Melissa said. “They made up a bed for me in the nurse’s office. You should’ve said, I’d have shared.”
“No, it’s okay. I wouldn’t want to intrude.”
“You wouldn’t be intruding,” Christina said, bustling past him. “It’s impossible for family to intrude.”
“That mentality explains so much, Christina,” Isaac said, rolling his eyes affectionately. “Like when I was seventeen and you kept interrupting my girlfriend and me in my locked bedroom.”
“Exactly. That wasn’t intruding, that was birth control.”
“I’m sorry, I have work,” Derek said awkwardly, shifting from foot to foot.
“Before you go, I have something I need to talk with you about,” John said, taking Derek by the arm and leading him out of Scott’s room.
He shouldn’t have been here, sitting cross-legged on the floor, opposite from a glittery Christmas tree and listening to the cheerful chatter of a family about to be opening presents. He was pleasantly full and unpleasantly guilty, and Isaac was sitting next to him on the floor as John handed around the presents. Christina had explained how they’d been kicked out of the hospital for three hours and decided it was as good a time as any to eat and be merry, considering they still didn’t know when Scott was going to wake up, only that the doctors all assured them he would.
There was a present for him. It was a small rectangular prism, wrapped in deep green paper with silver trees, a silver ribbon criss-crossed over and topped with a bow. So innocuous and yet so meaningful. Laura never really gave physical presents after the fire, she gave experiences. Tickets to plays and concerts she’d spring on him at the last moment, a memorable day in a hot air balloon, three laps around an Indycar track.
Derek sat and listened to exclaims of delight as presents were opened and thank yous made. Some of the wrapping was ludicrously involved. John’s present had looked like a football, even though the contents were completely different. Melissa’s had seven different layers.
Melissa put on her scarf immediately, John cheered at his bottle of Whiskey, Christina made cooing noises at an elaborate pop-up book (“I’m a collector”), Alan laughed at his kitten calendar, and Isaac did a little dance with Portal 3 for PC.
“I’m gonna have to give Stiles the biggest hug,” Isaac said with a grin. He turned to Derek. “You’ll meet Stiles tomorrow!”
Derek narrowed his eyes, wondering, What’s a Stiles?
“That’s right! You haven’t met Stiles,” Alan said, quietly. There was a curious tone to his voice, as if he couldn’t wait to see that happen. “I wonder what his reaction to you will be?”
Who’s a Stiles?
When it came time for Derek to open his present, he took a deep breath and used fumbling fingers, not wanting to tear the paper. When he was a kid, he’d use his claws, but he didn’t think that appropriate with his current company.
Inside the wrapping was a small box, inside the small box was a soft bag, inside the soft bag was a necklace. It was a simple white gold chain with a white gold crescent-shaped pendant.
“We all have one,” John said, pulling his out from beneath his shirt. “Felt sure Scott would want you to have one too.”
Derek’s throat constricted and he bit back the sob he could feel forming, nodded his head vigorously. “Thank you so much.”
They all went to visit Scott in the hospital. He looked the same as usual; too peaceful and worryingly still. After they were kicked out again at 2 am, Melissa insisted he stay at their place on their couch. Derek protested, but his excuses fell on deaf ears, and he found himself swaddled in blankets in the front room, staring at the corduroy upholstery of the couch and pretending to sleep.
The front door opened and there was a thump and a shuffle. Isaac, who was still awake and not hiding it, came from the kitchen and whispered greetings.
“Who’s that?” an unfamiliar voice said.
“Scott’s fiancé,” Isaac answered in a low voice.
“What? No. No way.”
“I can’t and won’t believe you. That’s not Scott’s fiancé. How’s Scott doing, anyway?”
“The doctors say he’s fine. Melissa agrees that his vitals are okay.”
“And it was a mugging gone wrong? Why didn’t Scott wolf out?”
“His fiancé came and scared the muggers away. We haven’t said anything about the wolfiness, because we don’t know if he knows. Maybe Scott’s waiting for the right time to tell him.”
“Maybe. But why isn’t Scott healing? He should have been up and at ‘em in ten minutes.”
“Beats me. If it keeps going this way, Alan’s gonna do some kind of spell, try to wake him from his slumber.”
There were a few moments of silence and then an exhausted sounding, “Thanks, Isaac. It’s so good to see you, buddy. But I need some shut-eye.”
“Yeah, go rest. We can talk more tomorrow.”
Derek did his level best to sneak out of the house, but what he didn’t count for was the man sitting on the stairs with a mug of coffee. Derek presumed it was Stiles.
Stiles was watching him with dark golden eyes and a pout, like he was contemplating something other-worldly and confusing. He was good-looking in a completely different way to Scott, with paler skin speckled by beauty marks, large almond-shaped eyes and full lips. It was hard to tell from the way he was sitting, but Derek thought he looked about the same height as he was, as opposed to shorter like Scott. He was on the slimmer side, but his forearms and shoulders had definite strength to them. Derek couldn’t stop staring.
“Hi,” Stiles said in a low voice. “I guess I don’t remember meeting you.”
“That’s probably because we’ve never met.”
“Yeah. I thought that’d be memorable. Unforgettable, even. Remarkable and other such synonyms.”
“Isaac told me you’re Scott’s fiancé. How’d you two meet? At Davis?” Stiles asked, or rather, interrogated.
“No, here in Beacon Hills. At the coffee shop I work. Where I need to be in,” Derek made a show of looking at his watch, “fifteen minutes’ time.”
“I’ll drive you. My Jeep’s outside.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“You’ll be late if I don’t.”
It was apparent there was no shaking Stiles, so Derek simply nodded and let him lead the way. The Jeep in question was a large blue beast that had seen better days. Stiles opened the door for Derek with a facetious bow and clambered in on his own side.
“Tell me what happened the other day,” Stiles said as they were driving.
Derek recounted the tale exactly as he’d told it to the police officers, Stiles interjecting with scarily perceptive questions every minute.
“Why do I get the distinct impression you don’t believe me?” Derek asked, wanting instead to ignore the notes of accusation in Stiles’ words.
“You’re as smart as you are pretty. I don’t believe you.”
“And why not?”
“Scott is perfectly capable of taking care of himself.”
Derek sighed and shrugged his shoulders. “Even against hunters?”
Stiles flailed dramatically. “I knew you were lying. Hunters instead of muggers? Shit. We have a treaty with the Argents, how is this possible?”
“They were from out of state. I don’t think they followed any rules, let alone The Code.”
Stiles shook his head, steered suddenly to the side of the road. They were about a block away from the coffee shop. “So you know about the…” he did a strange expression, biting his lower lip, scrunching up his nose, and ducking his head forward. It was oddly endearing.
Derek didn’t do anything for a moment, and then, in a moment of madness, extended his claws. “Yeah, I know.”
“Oh. Oh!” Stiles said. “So, wait, is this a mating thing? Are you two mates? That would explain everything. Or, well, most things.”
“What? No. Mates don’t exist, not in any way you’re thinking. Why are you so resistant to the idea of Scott and I being engaged?”
“It’s just that you don’t look like Scott’s type.”
“Oh, really? What is Scott’s type?”
“Well, usually, they have more in the chestal region,” Stiles said, gesturing to his upper torso. “Not that your pecs aren’t impressive, dude, because clearly you maintain a high octane work-out regime. But. You know.” Stiles cupped himself and rounded his hands again. He cast a glance over the rest of Derek’s body. “And lower down’s normally a little different too.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Ah, I get it. This is a homophobic thing.”
“Uh, no. No. I’m bi. But Scott? Not so much.”
“You don’t think he could fall in love with a person for who they are rather than what they’ve got?” Derek asked. He didn’t know why he was working so hard to convince Stiles that he and Scott were together, but his mouth acted before his brain could intervene.
Stiles hesitated, scratched at the back of his neck. “He could. He absolutely could. This is Scott we’re talking about. He has all the love in the world.”
“But I’m surprised he didn’t tell me.”
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Derek said, dry. He frowned down at the dashboard, tensing his fists in his jacket pockets. “I’m gonna be late.”
“Right. Um, Derek? Thank you. For saving Scott. I’m used to being the only one to help his little wolfie ass.”
Derek fretted. He cleaned all the things and he agonized. Rearranged the stockroom and worried. He’d never actually told anyone about being a werewolf before. He still didn’t really know why he’d told Stiles. He kind of wanted Stiles to know everything, and that was fucked up, because there was no doubt he’d be told he’s a creeper and that he should never go near the family again. It had to be Stiles’ eyes. They had hypnotic powers.
He needed to talk to someone about the situation. Boyd was the only person available.
“You know how I saved that guy the other day? Scott McCall?”
“You mean how you closed down the shop in such a way that Head Office is still reaming me about it, yes.”
“Yeah, so, there’s more to the story than I told you on the phone.”
Boyd mostly looked surprised that Derek was talking to him about something other than business. He leaned against the counter and stopped stacking cups. Derek didn’t stop, because his hands had to be doing something.
“Scott’s family thinks we’re engaged. When I took him to the hospital, no one would let me see him, and I was upset because I’ve had a crush on Scott for a while.”
“Oh, I knew about your crush. You were like a completely different person whenever he’d come in the store.”
“Well, I was muttering to myself about how we were supposed to be family or something and a nurse overheard me and got the wrong impression. And now Scott’s family all think we’ve been together since September, except for Scott’s step-brother Stiles, who’s ultra-suspicious of me and seems to be plotting my downfall.”
“This is better than season four of Revenge.”
“I may or may not have used an undisclosed torrent site to download the series,” Boyd said with a shrug.
“What do I do?”
“What do you want the outcome to be?”
Derek scrubbed at the counter-top. “I don’t know. Scott’s family are warm and welcoming, but it’s all predicated on a lie.”
“Then stop lying.”
“I could kill Christina.”
“Who’s Christina? And why would she die?”
“The mother of John’s late wife. The shock could exacerbate her heart condition.”
Boyd frowned, confusedly. “And who’s John?”
“Scott’s step-dad, Stiles’ biological dad.”
“Okay. So keep up the lie. But what are you gonna do when Scott wakes up?”
“I have a plan for that,” Derek said seriously. “I’m gonna run away to Canada. No one would follow me there.”
“Brilliant idea. Sounds like you don’t need any help from me after all.”
“No, really, Boyd, what do I do?”
“You need to tell the truth, Derek. Before this goes too far.”
It was possible it had already gone too far.
Stiles turned up on his doorstep that night, just as Erica was ‘dropping off his groceries’; something she did once a week, even though Derek had begged her to stop. Erica insisted that if she didn’t bring him fresh bread, eggs and milk every week he’d poison himself with staples that were three months past their expiration date. If he didn’t have a cast iron gut and instant healing abilities she’d probably be right.
“I’m not paying you,” Derek insisted. He never did, either. He paid Erica’s employer, Adrian Harris, even though Harris hated him with extreme prejudice.
“Not even in sexual favors?” Erica asked, like always.
Derek had long got past the part where he’d dignify that question with an answer. Erica gave him a grin that was all teeth and then turned her gaze on Stiles.
“Who’s this adorable little ragamuffin?”
“Stiles,” Stiles said, automatically, holding out his hand. “Step-brother to Derek’s fiancé.”
“Derek? You’re engaged and you didn’t tell me?” Erica asked with a smack to his torso. “How could you keep leading me on?”
“I’ve never led you on, Erica. You’ve always taken a running leap toward me.”
Erica rushed away in a huff and Stiles watched her leave before looking at Derek again. “She didn’t know you were engaged either?”
“She’s the girl who works at my nearest grocery store. Why would I tell her my most intimate details?”
“Because she’d force you to. She’s terrifying.”
“What’re you doing here, Stiles?”
“I came with a peace offering,” Stiles said, shouldering his way into Derek’s half-renovated house. He gazed up at the blackened rafter of the entry-way with a look bordering on a disgusted scowl. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. I’m sorry if I seem disbelieving about you and Scott. But we’ve known each other since we were five.”
Derek sauntered to the kitchen, positive Stiles was going to follow him. He wasn’t wrong. He put away the groceries Erica had left and began pouring them both cokes. “I thought Melissa and John only married seven years ago?”
“They did. But they met because Scott and I were best friends. Are best friends. He tells me everything. I was the only one who knew straight away when he got bitten by a rogue werewolf at age sixteen. We hid it for six months,” Stiles said, taking a gigantic gulp of coke. “That was… tricky. It caused a fuck ton of issues and oodles of tension and Scott’s grades plummeted. But we were there for each other and dad paid for a tutor and when we finally told everyone they were relieved rather than upset because at least there was a reason behind the aggression and the sudden disappearances.
“Scott told me about his first sexual experience with Allison, despite me shouting, begging him to stop. About his first date after Allison broke up with him, and his string of one-night stands. When Scott has something to say, he says it to me, so you can understand why I’m confused, here. We may not have spoken in person since August, but we email and call all the time, so---”
“You’re jealous,” Derek said, quietly.
“What? No. It’s not like that. He’s my brother.”
Derek looked at Stiles, the way he was standing, the set of his jaw. He listened to Stiles’ heartbeat, picked up on the sudden irregularity. “He wasn’t always.”
“Okay, so there may have been a kiss when we were thirteen, and Scott may have promised he’d tell me if he’d suddenly switch in his sexual orientation. But it’s not that, man, it’s not.”
Stiles wasn’t lying, but Derek could tell he was omitting something. “What’s your peace offering, then?”
“Melissa said they gave you a pendant?”
Derek pulled it out from under his shirt and fingered it, reverently. Stiles’ eyes tracked his movement, his lips pursing.
“You know what? Maybe it’s best if I show you?”
Derek followed Stiles to his Jeep again, wondering why he was so ready to go along with him. Normally, he’d be quick to avoid someone so obviously antagonistic, but it was something in the way Stiles looked at him, a level of openness there that was disarming. Stiles turned the radio on and hummed with the Christmas songs that should have stopped airing by now. He was halfway through a rendition of ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ when Derek interrupted him.
“You don’t think I’d be good for Scott? Knowing what he’s been through?”
“You have a point,” Stiles conceded. He smiled at Derek and Derek’s heart skipped a beat. “It’s funny you ask that, because where we’re going is totally wolf-related.”
They drove for another ten minutes and Derek looked around and realized they’d headed to the cemetery. Leafless trees were bending in the wind and flowers limned the gravestones. Light from the half-moon was filtering over everything and giving it an eerie glow. They climbed out the Jeep and Derek had hopped the fence before discovering Stiles had a key to the gate.
“You’re going to kill me and bury me in an unmarked grave,” Derek said in a flat voice.
Stiles barked out a laugh and nudged into his side. “Dude, I’d like to see me try. You’re, like, double my girth.”
“I am not double your girth.”
“In muscle, Derek. I’m not insulting your physique. Quite the opposite.”
Derek swallowed down the smile threatening to break across his face. He held his hands tightly behind his back and walked. In the wrong direction, judging by Stiles’ hand on his arm and insistent tug. The touch against his inner elbow felt like thousands of tiny raindrops pattering against his skin. It made a shiver work up his spine.
“When Scott first got bitten, I was research boy, and I incurred all the library fines you can imagine. I’m banned from all public libraries in California to this day. There are wanted posters plastered up, a couple of me in different disguises. So, I amassed this collection of books about folklore and mythology and the occult and it’s here,” Stiles said, stopping suddenly.
‘Here’ was a crypt that looked like it’d seen better days. The inscriptions in the stone had worn away and there were spiderwebs everywhere. Derek glanced from the crypt, to Stiles, and back again.
“Your pendant is a key,” Stiles said, placing a hand at Derek’s lower back and pressing him forward. “I’ve searched all that I can on the internet and found nothing to explain Scott’s coma. But I’m hoping we’ll find the answer here.”
Derek couldn’t think of anything to say as he stepped toward the crypt and placed his pendant in the indentation he could see. He twisted around the circular disc that he realized was the lock and the door swung open. To be honest, it hadn’t even occurred to him that he might be able to find the answer to Scott’s affliction. He’d been so caught up in his lies, he hadn’t attempted to seek the truth. His guilt compounded.
Lights came on as he stepped into the crypt. On the inside, it looked far more kempt than its outside would have any believe. The collection Stiles had described instantly reminded him of his uncle Peter’s library. The walls were lined with shelves full of books, most of which were old, with the bindings falling apart. Derek thought of the book about wolfsbane and wondered if it was here.
“How’s this organized?” he asked, tilting to look at Stiles. He was a little surprised to find Stiles already looking at him with an intent expression.
“Alphabetical order according to title and color-coded shelves,” Stiles said, tapping the little sticker dot next to Derek’s side. “I have an inventory on my phone.”
“Can you look up wolfsbane for me?”
“Sure,” Stiles said, busying himself. He peered down at his phone, then shook his head. “There’s nothing here with wolfsbane in the title. Maybe I should try monkshood. Or aconitum.” Stiles tapped a couple more times, chewing on his thumbnail as he did so. He gave a grunt when he had.
“Try poison,” Derek said, absentmindedly, scanning the shelves.
“Ahah. Score. There’s a book here on the yellow shelf entitled ‘Queen of Poisons.’ If memory serves, that’s yet another name for wolfsbane.”
“That’s correct,” Derek replied, looking Stiles over again, oddly compelled and mesmerized by his frenetic energy. He couldn’t imagine ever being lonely near Stiles, the low buzz surrounding him would make it impossible. “You’re surprisingly knowledgeable.”
“Like I said, research boy. It’s what I’m studying at college. Theories of Narrative at Berkeley. Folklore, like I said.”
“Your devotion is admirable.”
“Why, thank you, Mister Darcy,” Stiles returned, adopting a high-pitched tone. “Those are the words of a true gentleman.”
“Are you always such a dick?”
“And those are not,” Stiles continued, chuckling. “Yeah, I am. You’ll get used to me, eventually. I’m like lichen. I grow on people.”
“Lichen grows on rocks, not people.”
“You’re pretty rock-like. Chiseled, one might say.”
“I need a drum-kit so I can give you the rimshot you deserve,” Derek said, finally finding the book and setting it on the table set up in the middle of the crypt. The corners of his lips were twitching and he knew it wasn’t because he’d found what he’d wanted.
“Rimshot, really? You’re gonna go there?” Stiles asked with a wink and an evil laugh. His glee was palpable. “I am thinking so many things right now. You’re lucky I’m all for propriety.”
“I’ve known you a day and yet I’m sure that’s a lie.”
“You heard it in my heartbeat.”
Stiles was like no one he’d ever met before. Confident and insecure by turns, forceful, exacting, funny. He wasn’t endlessly cheerful like Scott, but he was interesting. There wasn’t exactly a darkness there, but there was an edge. Derek wanted to pick at it, peel it away, see the real man within. He smelled good, too. Like earth after a rainy day and melting marshmallows in hot chocolate. His mom had once told him that the way someone’s scent presented itself to you was a psychological rather than an olfactory reaction. There was a real, traceable scent there, but werewolves assigned more human associations with them according to the emotions and sensibilities they evoked. For someone who had the capacity to turn Derek’s life into wrack and ruin, Stiles smelled equally comforting and enticing.
The light in the room was dim and Derek squinted at the words on the page. He saw an illustration that was familiar, but this was an older copy of the book than the one his parents had had and the print was long-faded.
“Am I allowed to take this book?”
“Only if you take me with you,” Stiles answered, gathering another five dusty books.
“I won’t steal your book, Stiles.”
“I should hope not, considering how long it took me to steal it in the first place. It wouldn’t be fair. But that’s not what I’m worried about.”
“What are you worried about?”
Stiles’ expression shut down, became carefully blank. It was bizarre seeing a face that had been so expressive smooth out to be featureless. “Nothing.”
Derek abandoned the book on the table to put his hands on Stiles’ shoulders. He rattled him gently. “Tell me.”
Stiles’ eyes went wider and he blinked, lashes fluttering against his cheeks in a way that made the breath catch in Derek’s throat. “I suppose you could say I’m worried about becoming obsolete.”
Derek realized in that second that he had never really had any urge to kiss Scott. He’d imagined them walking together, sharing their favorite TV shows and movies. Visualized late-night chats by a fireside. Running through the woods at the full moon. All domestic and cozy, but not passionate. Not sexual. He’d never really been compelled to draw him close and lick into his mouth. Hadn’t pictured him while in the shower, or bringing himself off, utilitarian.
But that’s how he was feeling about Stiles at this very moment. The desire to kiss Stiles was painful, digging into his sides like an iron band clenching him tight. He wanted to reel Stiles in and tease at his lower lip, nibble and nip and savor. He wanted to know Stiles’ taste so he could remember it always, mark him up and claim him as his. It was urgent and it was engulfing and Derek knew he was going to do something even stupider than pretend to be Scott’s fiancé if he kept touching Stiles, so he took a hasty step back.
“You could never be obsolete,” he said, simply, leaving the crypt as quickly as his legs would take him.
They ended up in Scott’s hospital room, sitting on the awful metal chairs and reading silently, a snuffle or a page-turn the only things breaking the oppressive quiet. Derek hadn’t spoken on the way over, immersing himself in the Queen of Poisons book instead, even though the quality of light was even worse than in the crypt and he couldn’t really make out the drawings. He was fairly sure it was the same book as from his youth. Didn’t mean it was giving him what he needed.
As he read it now, he grew anxious that it wouldn’t be as helpful as he’d hoped. That not only had he not saved Scott in time and lied to his family, but he wouldn’t even fix him like he’d promised. Derek groaned to himself and knocked his head into the book, stirring up a cloud of dust.
“I’m gonna go right ahead and guess you’ve had as much luck as I have,” Stiles said, interrupting the tense silence that had descended upon them. “It’s been four hours. I really think you need to go sleep, in a bed. Isaac told me you were here all night the other night and I know for a fact the couch at my dad’s place is uncomfortable as fuck. I’ll hold down the fort here.”
Derek looked at Stiles --- the tired rings around his eyes, the stubble forming on his cheeks, his disheveled hair. He swallowed thickly, pushing down the impulse to smooth out his frown lines and chuck him under the chin. This was insanity, had to be.
“You sleep, I’ll stay here.”
Stiles spread his hands wide, gesturing to the air as if to ask ‘the hell?’
“I’m super human, remember. Part wolf. I’m nocturnal.”
“You definitely don’t look super human or nocturnal right now. You look like you’re at death’s door. And if that causes offense, look at all the fucks I don’t give. Go and get some rest. When Scott wakes up he’ll probably be full of vim and vigor and he’ll wanna bounce all over you.”
Derek looked to the bed and imagined Scott bouncing all over him. It didn’t do a thing to his heartbeat. There wasn’t a tensing of his abdominal muscles, or involuntary shudder. There was nothing. And yet, when Stiles shooed at him with his hands, Derek immediately wanted to clasp them in his own, hold them up to his chest and lean in and capture Stiles’ mouth.
He was fucked. He was emotionally cheating on his imaginary fiancé with his imaginary fiancé’s step-brother. And it didn’t seem to matter to his body that it was more logical for him to be attracted to the werewolf. Logic played no part in this at all.
“All right,” Derek said, finally, after twenty seconds of strained staring. “I’ll be at my place. Call me if you find anything or there’s any change. Please?”
“Of course,” Stiles said, obviously wounded. He stood, shakily. “What, you think I’m getting rid of you so I can keep Scott all to myself? Push you out of his life?”
“No. That’s not what I meant. I’m sorry, that wasn’t my suggestion. I would never --- I just --- I’m worried about him,” Derek finished helplessly.
Stiles squinted at him, inhaled deeply. “Yeah, you are, aren’t you?” he said in an odd tone. “Naturally, I’ll contact you straight away if I have anything to report. And if I don’t, Isaac will, because he’s basically in love with you.”
Derek had been moving, but he stopped suddenly at that, head whipping around to stare at Stiles. Stiles let out a hollow laugh. “In a platonic kind of way. Isaac’s straight. Then again, you apparently have the magical ability to tip the Kinsey scale, so, who really knows?”
“I take back any apologies I’ve issued to you this evening,” Derek replied. “You’re pure unadulterated evil.”
Derek had a single text when he woke up the next morning. He was amazed he’d managed sleep at all, but the toll of the last few days must have made their mark on his mind, because he slipped off as soon as his head hit the pillow. He didn’t even remember any dreams or nightmares.
The text said, “No changes, but think I found what u were looking 4 in Queen of Poisons. Plz msg back or c me at the hospital – SS.”
Derek called up Boyd and begged to be let off for the early morning, promising to do night shifts for a month. He ran to the hospital, the wind whipping through his hair. He’d expected Stiles to be alone, and something told him Stiles had expected that too, but the whole clan was there. Derek was instantaneously surrounded by warm hugs and easy affection. Melissa patted him on the right cheek, John gripped his forearm, Isaac bopped him on the head, Christina beckoned for him to bend down and then planted a kiss on his left cheek. Only Alan and Stiles refrained from touching him.
“I haven’t told them about you,” Stiles whispered when the rest of the family had crowded around Scott’s bed. Derek looked at him quizzically, heart dropping to his stomach. “They may know about werewolves, but it wasn’t my secret to tell.”
Derek didn’t stop himself in time from pressing his side into Stiles’ in gratitude. Stiles was a tight, hot line against him and Derek wanted to gather him into his arms. Stiles looked exhausted still, dark circles more like purple smudges now and stubble edging close to a patchy beard. His cheeks looked more hollow and his skin had a damp, translucent quality that hadn’t been there when they first met.
“I should’ve brought you a coffee,” Derek said, to himself more than Stiles. But Stiles had clearly heard him, because he gazed at Derek, assessing. Derek directed his next comment directly to Stiles. “Tell me, are you all sugar and spice too?”
“Yeah, but I gave the all things nice back. Felt too much like a burden. Lead on to the crappy coffee machine, I’ll fill you in on what I found. I had a word with Alan --- he’s not exactly an ordinary vet --- and he seems to think we’re on the right track.”
Derek juggled the two cardboard cups of coffee he’d dispensed and wandered over to Stiles, who was slumped in a chair in the waiting room. Stiles acknowledged the gesture with a hum and attacked the coffee like it was a lifelong enemy. Derek was beginning to think Stiles was waging a one-man war against beverages. He couldn’t look away from the taut line of Stiles’ throat as he swallowed his coffee, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down.
“There’s a kind of wolfsbane that induces sleep,” Stiles started without preamble. “I’m thinking you know wolfsbane’s involved, or you wouldn’t have wanted that book.”
“He had purple powder rubbed into a wound on his forehead when I found him,” Derek admitted, sipping at his own scalding hot coffee that frankly tasted disgusting. “I washed it all off, but I think some must have gotten into his bloodstream.”
“Is there an antidote?”
“No need. It wears off. It could be a matter of days or weeks, but yes, there’s no long-term damage, according to the book.”
“And what if the book’s wrong?”
“We hunt down the hunters who did this to Scott and after they tell us what to do you eviscerate them?”
Derek burst out laughing. When his laughter had finally subsided to giggles, he grinned at Stiles. “I like that idea.”
Really, it was his way of saying he liked Stiles and by the pleased smile Stiles gave him, he thought it was obvious.
Derek had to work that day regardless of his pact with Boyd and that was actually a good thing, because he needed the distraction.
“I think I’ve fallen for Stiles,” he said to Boyd as soon as he asked him what was wrong. Actually, Boyd had barely gotten the words out.
“How is that possible?”
“I don’t know.”
“Aren’t they, like, wooden ladders against fences in farmyards? Isn’t the point to not fall?”
Derek glowered. “Stop being knowingly obtuse, you asshole. Stiles is Scott’s brother.”
“Scott’s the guy in the coma?”
“That’s fucked up.”
Derek sighed. “I know! But he’s adorable and hilarious and intelligent, with a real cruel streak that the masochistic side of me apparently loves.”
“Wait, Scott or Stiles?”
“Stiles. Scott’s adorable too, but I’ve realized I don’t find him sexually attractive at all. Whereas Stiles---”
“Makes your loins fire up.”
“That’s utterly revolting. But yes.”
“Good luck with that.”
“Why do I even bother talking to you?”
Boyd wrapped the sleeves of his jacket around his shoulders and shook his head. His expression was the least compassionate Derek had ever seen. “I honestly have no clue. I’m off. Don’t you dare shut this shop down before closing time, or I’ll reroute all of Head Office’s calls to your cell. And by cell, I don’t mean phone. I mean I will lock you up and insist you answer them, day in, day out.”
“You’re a heartless bastard, Vernon.”
“Still not as sad as you!”
When Derek got home well after midnight, he couldn’t sleep again so he worked off his excess energy by working out. He’d been on push-up number one hundred and fifty when there was a knock on his door and he answered it, not thinking about the fact he was shirtless and bathed in sweat. Stiles gaped at him from the other side of the doorway, casual pose developing into something rigid and halting.
“You haven’t been answering your messages,” Stiles said after a pregnant pause.
Derek flicked his hair off his forehead and went to dig in his jeans pocket, painfully aware that his sweatpants were riding low on his hips as he bent down. Sure enough there were six messages from Stiles’ family, inviting him for a late-night supper.
Stiles’ tongue peeked out between his lips and he seemed fixated on Derek’s chest. “You always train half naked?”
“No. Sometimes I do it fully naked,” Derek said, biting his own tongue immediately afterwards and digging his claws into his palm. He wasn’t supposed to be flirting with Stiles.
The statement had clearly short-circuited Stiles’ brain and it was confirmed for Derek that while he had an imaginary engagement to Stiles’ brother, the chemistry between he and Stiles was anything but fictitious.
“Come to supper with me. Us. The family,” Stiles babbled, cheeks flushing a beguiling pink.
“Let me get dressed first,” Derek said, brushing past Stiles to go to his bedroom. The brushing hadn’t strictly been necessary.
Derek’s stomach hurt from laughing so hard. Christina had been telling stories from when Scott and Stiles were in elementary school and all the mischief they’d gotten up to. She was a brilliant raconteur, exaggerating for comedic effect (Derek didn’t believe that Scott and Stiles could have eaten seven packets of Girl Scout cookies between them in three hours, he couldn’t), and Stiles was obviously embarrassed as shit, sitting quietly mortified for the first time since Derek had met him.
“I always thought they’d become brothers,” Christina finished, looking wistful.
“That had nothing to do with them, Christina,” Isaac scoffed, twinkling at Derek across the table with shared mirth.
“That’s what you think. I heard those two plotting and planning from the age of thirteen. Stiles even came up to me once and said, in all seriousness, that if he couldn’t marry Scott, he’d ensure they were related instead.”
“Oh, please, God, shoot me now,” Stiles interjected with a wail, flinging his arm across his face dramatically.
“This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest,” John said. “He was always coming home telling me what Melissa had been wearing and how she smelled and that he was afraid any day now she was gonna have a hot date. I thought he had an epic crush on her.”
“Someone punch me in the head and knock me out? Why is Scott the lucky bastard who gets to escape this?”
“Scott did the same thing about you, but I figured out early on he was pimping you out,” Melissa said, ignoring Stiles’ protestations.
Derek could have listened to this all night, but everyone started to get sleepy and he knew his time was up.
He’d made a decision that tomorrow, or rather, later today, he’d tell the truth and that would be it. This would be the last meal he’d get to share with this loving and eclectic family. In several hours’ time they would hate him and think he was a disturbed stalker. And there wouldn’t really be anything he could say to refute the claims. It made his heart hurt and his head ache, but he couldn’t in all conscience continue the lie. He shouldn’t, in all conscience, have maintained it.
He said his goodbyes and walked into the crisp night air. It’d been chilly earlier and now a frost had gathered, with ice was forming on the roads. The door opened behind him and he looked back reflexively to see Stiles bungling down the steps. Stiles was something else he was going to lose, once he revealed his lies. It pained him, deep down inside, twisted in his gut.
“Maybe I should walk you back? You know. For protection.”
“No, of course not seriously, are you always so literal? I’m afraid my ass will fall off in the cold if I don’t jiggle it around a little.”
“That could be distracting.”
Stiles looked at him a moment, crossed his arms against his chest. “Anyway, I meant my protection, not yours.”
“Can’t handle the teasing anymore?”
“Could you, in my shoes? They’re brutal. Everything you heard tonight was lies, you got that?”
“Yeah, of course. I don’t believe for a second that you used to do a rendition of the Oinker Sisters’ New Way to Walk for your mom with tape pressing up your nose, wearing an apron like a skirt, or that you and Scott insisted on making John and Melissa’s wedding cake and then accidentally used salt instead of sugar. Not at all.”
“You’re as bad as they are,” Stiles said. They walked along in companionable silence for a few beats before Stiles turned to him. “You know, I’ve realized we don’t really know anything about each other beyond you being a werewolf and me being a smartass.”
“I now know what diapers you used to wear as a toddler.”
“Doesn’t count. That’s all hearsay. You --- you haven’t talked about your own family, like, at all.”
“That’s because I don’t have any. Not anymore,” Derek answered, muted.
He told Stiles about the fire and then Laura’s car crash, and it was cathartic, and honest, and so easy it made his head spin. Talking to Stiles was ludicrously simple. He never felt like he was being judged and found wanting. The words didn’t come out of him stilted and garbled. He spoke and Stiles listened, asked intuitive questions, stroked a hand over the back of his when his voice cracked up over a particularly difficult phrase like ‘I miss them’. By the time he’d finished speaking they were at his driveway.
The dirt leading up to his porch shone in the moonlight and Derek dismissed Stiles with a wave of his hand. “You will be all right getting home, won’t you?”
He knew Stiles would. Beacon Hills really wasn’t a hotbed of muggers and his presence in the Preserve tended to scare away any dangerous wildlife.
“The least I could do is take you to your door,” Stiles countered. He sobered up, pointed at the house. “This is the same house from the fire, isn’t it? How do you live here?”
“How could I not?”
They walked along, slowly, Derek inching forward in increments as soon as his feet started sliding. Stiles gave a terrified whoop and clutched hold of his arm, legs splaying out beneath him, before Derek dragged him back up. The only problem was, that sent him off-balance and his legs and arms began to windmill too.
“Dig your claws in!”
“I’m wearing shoes!”
“What kind of werewolf are you?”
Derek elongated his canines. “The kind that can still bite you,” he mock-threatened, snapping a couple of times in Stiles’ direction.
Stiles ducked and dodged, hands fisted in Derek’s jacket. “Oh my God.”
They went over in a tangle of limbs and laughter, an unmistakeable ripping sound renting the air. Stiles was warm and solid above him, fingers stroking against his chest and breath puffing against his cheek. As he struggled to get up, he grazed against Derek with a touch so intimate it made Derek’s entire mouth go dry.
“I think that tearing noise was my jeans,” Stiles said, crawling onto hands and knees, before putting a hand to his butt. Derek watched him avidly, hypnotized by his left palm pressing against his black boxers. “Definitely my jeans.”
“I have some you can borrow. You’ll need a belt, though.”
Derek kicked off his shoes and socks, sprang up and dug his claws in, like Stiles had suggested. He extended his arms and knelt down.
“Climb on board. I’ll give you a – wait for it – piggy back ride.”
“Now who needs a rimshot?”
Derek suppressed his laughter and carefully carried Stiles to his doorway, setting him down to turn his key in the lock. He still felt Stiles’ phantom touch, all along his spine. It made him arch back and square his shoulders, attempt to make his body his again. Once they were inside he offered Stiles hot chocolate for while he waited and set about making it as extravagant and luscious as he could. He was curious to see how Stiles would contend with whipped cream, mini-marshmallows and caramel syrup.
Stiles slurped it down with as much finesse as any other drink, which was to say none at all, and that’s when Derek knew he was in love. Stiles had cream all along his upper lip and nose and Derek wanted nothing more than to swoop down and lick it off.
“I used to sing Monster in the Mirror, by the way,” Derek said, tossing his spare jeans at Stiles and settling next to him on the couch.
“That’s my shameful Sesame Street re-enactment. There was even video evidence at one point.”
“I think I would kill to see that.”
“Sorry. No one left to kill.”
Stiles whimpered. “Derek, you can’t just say that. I feel bad enough for you already.”
“You don’t pity me, though, do you?” Derek asked, because nothing in Stiles’ countenance suggested as such.
“No. I mean, look at you. You’ve survived. You don’t need my pity. Plus, I know what it’s like. When my mom died, the last thing I wanted was someone giving me platitudes and gazing at me with sad eyes.”
“What did you want?”
“For her to come back, but I knew that was impossible. So, nothing except courage, I guess. Courage and the will to go on living.”
Stiles stared at him and Derek stared back. They leaned close, frosty air swiftly heating. They were close enough that Derek could count all of Stiles’ long eyelashes if he wanted to, close enough he could trace paths across his moles. Each crinkle surrounding his eyes, each follicle of hair, right there for his rapt examination.
“Where’s your bathroom?” Stiles asked, voice hushed.
Derek sucked in a breath and pulled away. “Up the stairs, first door on the right.”
Stiles was out of sight in a second.
As Stiles left the house, Derek made him promise to text him when he got home safely. Stiles agreed, then snarked, “and what if I don’t get home safely?”
“Text then too,” Derek insisted. “With all the gory details.”
He didn’t sleep in the remaining hours of darkness or when light crested over Beacon Hills. Not for a second. He read Stiles’ text when it finally came over a hundred times, committing each line and curve of the letters to memory.
Erica visited him at ten in the morning, tossing her hair over her shoulder and pouting.
“I continue to be mad with you,” she said. “But you’d starve without me, so I’ve brought you breakfast foods. Bow before me, for I am your queen.”
Derek snorted, but truthfully he was craving cereal. He let Erica in and poured them both bowls of the Cap’n Crunch she’d brought.
“Tell me about the fiancé,” she demanded after several spoonfuls.
“He’s imaginary,” Derek replied.
“His step-bother looked real.”
“It’s all a big misunderstanding.”
He told Erica the story; the whole story, not leaving a detail out apart from the supernatural element. After it was over she stared at him, wide-eyed.
“That’s the most I’ve ever heard you speak. The entirety of two years’ worth of conversations summed up and added to within an hour. I’m amazed.”
“That’s your whole response?”
“What else do you expect me to say? That you’re an idiot? You already know that. That you need to go and tell the truth, now, before you put that poor family through any more pain? You know that too. That if you’re to have any future with Stiles you need to pull your heart out of your chest and show the name he’s carved into it? That’s also known.”
“This is why we could never be, Erica.”
“No, Derek, we could never be because you prefer dick. If I’d shown you my collection of strap-ons early in our acquaintance I think I’d be in with a fighting chance.”
Derek received a text at midday from an unknown number simply stating, “Scott’s awake.” Derek rushed to the hospital, heart kicking against his rib-cage with a speed he suspected was physically impossible. He ran through the corridors and slid against the tiles. He literally had no clue what he’d do when Scott was confused that he was supposedly engaged to his barista. It was one thing to wake up from a coma, quite another to do so and discover you’d changed sexual orientation and gained a partner who was a stranger.
Before he could make it into Scott’s room, Alan pulled him aside and into a secluded corner.
“I told Scott what’s been going on,” Alan said. “He’s willing to play along.”
Derek couldn’t process the words. “What?”
“I overheard you, that first night you brought Scott in. I know the truth. And now Scott does too.”
“But how? Why?”
“I was luckily the only person in the room when he first woke up. I know how important found family can be. You’re a good person, Derek, and everyone in this family loves you. I’d hate for them to think you’re a liar when it’s really all a mistake. A mistake that went too far, admittedly, but a mistake all the same. Scott’s going to be very loving toward you and because I didn’t want you to think you’d gone insane, I thought I’d better warn you. This way you can stay with the family and keep maintaining the bonds you need to rebuild your spirit and reclaim your trust in people.”
“But we can’t get married. That wouldn’t be fair to Scott. We don’t know each other, Alan.”
“True, but we thought you two could pretend to date for a couple of months and then amicably split. You’ve seen this family, they’d still call you one of their own.”
Derek was unable to form a response. He was torn between ecstatic glee and emphatic horror. He allowed Alan to direct him back to Scott’s room and push him through the door. The whole family was there, joyful tears in everyone’s eyes.
“There he is!” Scott said, voice croaky, but filled with manufactured delight. “There you are, darling.”
Derek frowned down at him, pressing his lips together. He glanced up and caught Stiles’ eye. Stiles’ expression was closed off, guarded. He turned away rapidly, gazing at the wall-mounted television.
“It’s so good to see you awake,” Derek replied, giving Scott a small smile. He owed him that and much more. “You had me concerned.”
“We should leave the two love-birds alone,” Christina rallied, clutching her hand to her chest and beaming.
“Yeah, they need their space,” Stiles supplemented, tone completely blank.
Everyone touched Derek as they left the room. A hand at his elbow, a ruffle through his hair, a nudge in his side. Everyone except Stiles, who’d been first out the door. Derek watched them leave, guilt making him feel sick and angry with himself. He slouched down into the chair beside Scott’s bed and tried to hide his misery.
“Okay, Alan must have skipped the part where you and Stiles have fallen in love,” Scott said directly, tilting his head at Derek and giving him an amused smirk. “He said you had a crush on me, but boy was he wrong.”
Derek twined his hands in the hospital sheet and did his best not to rend it in two.
“Is it that obvious?”
“Oh yeah, completely transparent. For a second there I thought you were both going to combust. So, this calls for a change of plan.”
Derek glared at Scott, not really angry, but incapable of any other expression. “And what would that be?”
“I call Stiles back in here and you two epically make out? I don’t know, man, I just woke up from a several day long coma. I’m woozy.” Scott smiled dopily at Derek. “The hilarious thing is, I was going to introduce you to each other. I kept thinking about how lonely you looked, and who else did I know who was lonely? And it was Stiles. And Stiles likes dudes, and I was pretty sure you liked dudes, and it seemed like the perfect match. I was right.”
“Except for the farcical element of how we know each other and the part where he’s gonna hate me when he discovers I’ve been lying to him since we met, sure.”
“Stiles is the most forgiving person I know. Don’t get me wrong, he will wreak his revenge and it’ll be ferocious and severe and terrifyingly close to inhumane, but once he’s gotten that out of his system, he’ll be yours.”
Scott beamed at him and Derek was reminded of why he gave him the moniker ‘Sunshine Wolf’ those few short months before.
“Maybe you and me could pretend to date for a couple months until I admitted I love Stiles and we could run away to Canada together?”
“He wouldn’t go for it. Stiles would see it as betrayal. No matter how many times I’d insist I didn’t love you anymore. He’s heavily into the bro code. I once kissed the girl he had a crush on because of moon madness and he didn’t talk to me for three weeks. Even then, he only spoke to me when spoken to, until I broke down crying, begging for forgiveness.”
“You really think he’ll forgive me?”
“Uhm, I saw you two together for a second and I could tell he was completely smitten with you. I don’t think so, I know so.”
Derek carded a hand through his hair and scrubbed at the back of his neck. He’d made a decision to tell the truth today and he was going to stick to it, despite the consequences. There was more at stake here than his happiness. There was integrity and honor and he hadn’t displayed much of that in the past week. He’d been selfish, and self-absorbed, and didn’t even deserve the forgiveness he sought.
He walked out of Scott’s room slowly, each step toward the waiting room ringing through the air like a death knell. He gestured for them to follow him back to Scott, who lay there and watched the proceedings, fascinated. Derek made sure Christina was sitting before he sucked in a deep breath and began.
“You’ve all been so generous to me. Kind and considerate and compassionate. You made me feel like I was something special. Which is why I have to do this.” Derek looked at John and gathered all his strength about him. “I’m in love with your son.”
Christina stood up, stepped forward, patted him on the hand. “Yes, we know, dearie, that’s why we left you alone to snuggle.”
“Not that son,” Derek said, pointing at Scott, who feigned a look of indignation. “That son,” he continued, pointing at Stiles.
Christina gasped in shock and Melissa glowered.
All the color went out of Stiles cheeks and he stepped toward the bed. “Scott, I can explain…” he opened, flailing exaggeratedly.
“But what I really need to tell you all is that Scott and I were never engaged. We never knew each other until --- well, until today. We did meet in the coffee shop I work at, but I didn’t even know Scott’s name when I helped him in that alley and I don’t think Scott knew mine either. The hospital wouldn’t let me come see him and I had this stupid notion I had a crush on him, so I muttered to myself about a fantasy world I constructed and someone mistook it for reality.
“And then you were all like family toward me, and I hadn’t had that in so long. I got caught up in my own illusion. Because you’re all so great. You made me feel like I was whole again. Human again. I fell in love with you.”
“With me?” Christina asked, bright eyes peering up at Derek.
“He means me, Christina,” Isaac cut in, smiling broadly with a twinkle in his eye.
“With all of you,” Derek corrected. “With the idea of having people to rely on, people who relied on me. With the concept of belonging.”
He chanced a look in Stiles’ direction.
Stiles looked devastated, his shoulders slumped and his lips downturned. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you convince me you and Scott were in love? I thought I was the worst friend in the entire world for wanting you.”
“I was scared I’d lose you. Instead of being Scott’s fiancé, I’d be the weird creep who claimed he was Scott’s fiancé. A neat combination of pathetic and sinister.”
“You should have trusted me.”
“You didn’t trust me.”
“With good reason, as evidenced here today.”
“I know. There’s nothing I can do to fix this. And I’ll understand if you --- if none of you --- ever want to see me again. But please believe me when I say that getting to know you over the last few days has been one of the few genuinely brilliant experiences I’ve ever had and I’ll always cherish the time and devotion you shared with me. Scott, I wish you all the happiness in the world, because you unwittingly brought it into my life, and I may not love you like I always thought I would, but I’ll always be thankful to you for this.”
Derek walked from the room and blocked out the murmur of voices as soon as he heard Melissa saying, “but Scott, why did you act like you’d been engaged to Derek? Did you have amnesia and simply go along with it hoping no one would notice?”
There were footsteps behind him and he wanted to look around and see Stiles, but he already knew the steps belonged to Alan.
Derek spent four days lying in bed wishing he could get drunk, but after that, things went on as they always had, and before he knew it a week had gone by since his life-shattering debacle. Boyd had almost been sympathetic from day to day, it was a New Year’s miracle. Derek worked the late shift, he ate whatever Erica brought him, he worked out, and he ran through the woods, trying to remember to breathe and be and be thankful.
It was possible, he knew. To live again. He’d thought he wouldn’t before, and he had.
Derek was about to close the shop, five minutes later than usual (at Boyd’s insistence because of his days off), when the door opened and seven people bustled in. They all shuffled up to the counter, and Derek couldn’t contain the grin that spread across his face. At the forefront was Stiles, breathtakingly stunning.
“I wanted to come alone, but they wouldn’t let me. They’ve literally been following me around all week, waiting for me to make my move,” Stiles said, with an expression that yelled ‘help me’ in every twitch and tic.
“Kiss him, you fool!” Christina yelled, brandishing her handbag disturbingly violently. “Or young love be damned, I’ll claim him for my own.”
“Christina!” John chastised.
Stiles broke down in giggles, but he scratched at his jaw and looked at Derek with his dark golden eyes, beseeching.
“Seriously, Stiles, kiss him, or I really will decide I’m bi,” Scott interjected.
“There’s a stockroom,” Derek blurted out.
“God, please, yes,” Stiles cried, hopping over the counter with an inelegant but swift clamber.
Derek took Stiles’ hand and led him into the cramped, but private back room. It was mostly private, at any rate. Scott would be able to know what was happening, but only if he purposely eavesdropped. Derek said all of this and Stiles raised his eyebrows at him.
“You have a wildly inflated view of Scott’s morals,” he stated. “So, hi. I should’ve done this a week ago, because I basically forgave you any mistakes you may or may not have made the second you stopped speaking and looked at me with your freaking perfect sad-eyes, but I’m a prideful idiot and also terrified and I knew I could never be as eloquent as you. Uh, case in point. But I really need to say this.”
Stiles didn’t say anything. He stepped forward, cradled Derek’s jaw in his hands, leaned into his space, and kissed him. It wasn’t a tentative, faltering first kiss. Or tender and sweet. It was thick and passionate and fierce. Derek surrendered himself to the kiss, opened up and let Stiles in, whole body thrumming with energy and barely suppressed desire. Stiles pushed him up against the door and Derek let his head thump back, uncaring about the pain, because the pleasure was overwhelming. Stiles slid a hand down from his jaw to his torso, lower still to the waistband of his jeans, brushed the pads of his fingers over his bare skin, pushing under his shirt. Derek mirrored the movement, then went in another direction, fisting one hand into Stiles’ hair while the other slipped into the back of his jeans. Minutes passed before they pulled apart, heavy breaths puffing between them.
“I don’t want to stop, but I also don’t want to be indecent in front of our entire family,” Stiles said, voice higher and breathier than usual. He had bright pink stretched across his cheekbones and kiss-reddened lips. He looked debauched and perfect.
“Our entire family?” Derek questioned, frowning.
Stiles kissed down the hollow of his throat, dragged his necklace up with his teeth, spat it out with darkening eyes. He splayed his hand against Derek’s chest, pressing the crescent moon lightly so that Derek could feel it through his shirt.
“You’re one of us now and there’s no escaping it,” Stiles said with a manic grin. He poked Derek’s side. “You should’ve run away when you had the chance.”
“I never want to run away from you.”
“No, of course not, not me. But them?” Stiles asked, pointing his index finger toward the door.
“Stiles, hurry up and finish sexing Derek already, poor Alan looks like he’s falling asleep,” Christina’s voice said, not nearly far away enough for Derek to be comfortable.
“Yes, Grandma,” Stiles yelled back and sparkled at Derek under lowered lashes with a sinful smile.
Christmas time was always the fucking worst, but New Year’s Day was amazing, Derek decided, as he plastered Stiles against his mattress and kissed every square inch of him. He discovered where Stiles was ticklish and capitalized on it, found all of his soft and hard spots. Licked a trail from his left foot to his cheek following only his moles.
He sucked Stiles’ cock until Stiles tore at his hair, knee jerking erratically. He let Stiles prep him, sliding his long fingers into his ass over and over again, until he felt like he was breaking apart in the best way. He didn’t stifle a single moan or yell as Stiles thrust slickly within him, nor did he stop himself from laughing when they fell off the bed.
Derek lost himself in kissing Stiles, in pushing up into him the way Stiles had claimed him, scenting his neck and gripping hold of his thighs as they wound around his waist. He cherished the noises Stiles made as he climaxed again and again over the space of the day, until they were both bone-weary and lax.
Derek savored the love and attention Stiles gave him and luxuriated in what he’d gained. Who he’d gained. And he knew his life would never be as it once was. It would irrevocably be better.