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The Mating Rituals of Alphas

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Derek doesn't remember much from the day of the fire, just snippets of ordinary day-ness like kissing his mother and playing soccer. Then it's a blank until he finds himself on a couch in the sheriff's renovated basement, an X-Box controller in his hand, sitting next to a ten year old with very large, very solemn brown eyes.

"We can find your avatar," the kid says, and Derek tells him his account information because he doesn't seem to be able to work his fingers quite yet.

He realizes too late that what he'd just rattled off was his cousin's account, because the last thing he'd been doing was helping her work through Viva Piñata the night before. He stares at the brown-haired girl on the screen, and, embarrassingly, starts crying in front of the kid.

"That isn't yours, is it?" the kid asks, matter-of-fact.

Derek shakes his head, and lets the controller fall out of his hand. It's replaced by the kid's hand, warm and a little damp, and then he feels the kid's arm around his shoulders because he's sobbing now. Derek slumps sideways, head buried in this kid's bony shoulder, because he doesn't have the energy to sit up anymore. There's something about the smell of him, sweaty and sugary, that reminds Derek of living in a house full of siblings and cousins younger than him, and it's both a comfort and a reminder.

When he finally sits up again, slumping back against the arm of the couch, a box of tissues has magically appeared. He blows his nose.

"Sorry I got you wet," he says.

The kid shrugs. "I cried like that when they thought my mom was gonna die," he says.

"Do they still think that?" Derek asks.

"They don't know," he replies.

"That's too bad," Derek says. Then he asks: "What's your name again?"

"Stiles," the kid says, firmly, as though he expects to be argued with. "My name is Stiles."

Derek's sister Laura and her omega Alex go to college in Brooklyn. They'll have to wait for the will and insurance to be settled before they can afford a bigger place with room for Derek, and it's easier if Derek finishes the fall semester with the students and teachers he already knows. So he stays with the Stilinskis until Christmas, nearly two months. Even though they're great, fussing over him just enough but not too much, it's still lonely and hard without any family when his life had been so focused on them before. Derek keeps his head down, goes to his grief counselor, and talks to Laura every night on the phone.

Stiles is cool, though, even though he's pretty young. They play video games and he treats Derek like a regular person. Stiles says it's nice to have someone to share the chores. He talks a lot but Derek likes that; it keeps other voices from coming into his head. Mrs. Stilinski—Claudia, she wants him to call her—says Derek improves Stiles's focus, which, he's not sure how that works and he's certainly seen no evidence of that but okay, sure. She's still sick, her hair growing back in after a round of cancer treatments, but when everyone keeps saying how much better she looks Derek understands why Stiles is so anxious.

Sometimes, at night, Stiles will crawl into the guest room bed with Derek. If they can hug each other and cry at night they can keep their shit together better during the day, and that makes it easier on Stiles's parents and on Laura. Derek figures around now every little bit helps.

No one is surprised when Derek fails to go into rut that winter. Just to make sure, Laura takes him to the doctor, who blames the trauma of the fire. When he's alone with the doctor, Derek asks him if they're sure he's an alpha and not a beta, because he's never really felt like Laura or the people he sees on TV or has read about in books. Though the doctor reassures him, that conversation gets him a therapist.

Which isn't so bad, actually. Derek feels weird talking to Laura about alpha stuff because it's always been natural for her and she has enough to worry about. But he hated the alpha posturing that had already started at school that fall, everyone circling the omegas and trying to look cool and get their picks. His therapist says he can be whatever kind of alpha he wants to be, and doesn't have to be like the ones on TV.

He talks about feeling bad that he can't still be there for Stiles, but he doesn't mention the nighttime stuff. That's private.

Derek doesn't go to high school in Brooklyn that spring; he finishes his junior year at Beacon Hills, long distance, because the spring term is independent study anyway. He feels pretty cool hanging around Brooklyn College with Laura and Alex, doing his research in the library. He gets long rambling emails from Stiles, who sometimes asks him to look things up for him, which Derek does because why not, and also because the kid has interesting questions. Derek's mating paper is entitled, "Main Causes for Delayed Mating in Alphas and Omegas."

But Derek does not want to go back to high school in the fall. The very idea of it, of being around a bunch of alphas and omegas who've all claimed and are in couples and living together and starting their lives, gives him anxiety attacks. When he asks his counselor about whether he can just pretend to be a beta for a year, everyone mobilizes and they find a program for kids like him who didn't claim for whatever reason or had shit happen or both. Derek is initially dubious, but after a few weeks he settles into maybe not being so weird, starts making friends with other people like him. The amazing thing is that there are alphas and omegas there who don't act like everyone else and have claimed, and say that their mates don't care. It's weird to think he could get an omega who didn't want him to be all alpha all the time.

Scott's mother calls in early November to say that Claudia Stilinski has taken a sudden turn for the worse and if he wants to see her he should come quickly. Laura is more helpful than Derek had expected her to be, seems to understand Derek's urgency, and he arrives in Beacon Hills two days later, going straight from the airport to the hospital.

When he walks into the room, all he can see initially is Stiles, sitting next to the bed, his head laying on the blanket and his eyes on his mother. He looks like he hasn't slept in a while and when he turns to Derek his eyes are dull, almost unseeing. Derek feels a rush of anger come through his body, anger that Stiles hadn't told him it was this bad.

It isn't until the Sheriff says his name that he remembers there are other people in the room. "How's Brooklyn treating you?" he asks, as if they were meeting in the aisle of the supermarket and not here.

Derek shrugs. "Okay, I guess," he says, then looks to Claudia, who's awake and smiling a little.

"Melissa called you, good," she says, her voice hoarse and thin. Then, "Boys, can you leave us for a bit?"

The sheriff pats him on the shoulder as he walks by, and Stiles means to do the same, Derek can tell. But instead he buries himself in Derek's chest and hugs him, fiercely. Derek's had a growth spurt so he's taller now; his arms come up around Stiles automatically and he cradles Stiles's head in one hand.

"I'm glad you're here," Stiles says.

"Me, too," Derek replies.

Stiles nods, letting go and leaving the room with his father, and Derek sits down where Stiles has been, the chair still warm from his body.

Claudia is sitting up just a little, still smiling at him, and he takes her hand.

"Laura tells me they found a school for you," she says.

He smiles ruefully, nods. He hadn't known that Laura was still talking to Claudia but hearing it doesn't surprise him; Laura probably needed the advice. "How do you alpha?" he asks.

"However you want to," she says, firmly.

He laughs a little, shaking his head. "You sound like Stiles," he says, because Stiles has a whole thing about how being an omega doesn't matter and hey look his dad is sheriff so there. Derek thinks that's great, but he knows that when you get older and you're around all the other alphas and omegas and betas that gets shaken.

After all, Derek's mom was an alpha and she said stuff like that too but here he is.

"Where do you think he gets it?" she says. Then, seriously, her voice lowered, "I know claiming is rough, honey. I know how the alphas push and shove and preen and try to get under each other's skin. But that's just bad books and worse movies and old-fashioned attitudes and it doesn't mean a damn thing."

"Then why haven't I …" he trails off because he still can't actually say it out loud, most of the time. He shouldn't be ashamed that he hasn't claimed; there's no shame in claiming late. And yet, he can't say it. He looks up at Claudia and she has the strangest expression, as if she's seeing right through him.

"I haven't told Stiles this story," she says. "Not even sure John knows the whole of it. But when we were in school, John and I, there was this alpha boy who had his mind set on John, and thought the way to make that happen was to get me angry. Even pushed me into a locker one day."

Derek nods; he'd seen some of that kind of thing happening already at Beacon Hills the previous fall, months before claiming.

"My parents were betas," she continues, "but my aunt was an omega, and she sat me down and told me that omegas have their heads so far up their omega asses that they don't even notice what the alphas are doing. And John didn't know. Three weeks later he was mine, and ten years after that he was carrying Stiles. It's nonsense, Derek. Nothing but hormones, and not wanting to do it doesn't make you any less an alpha."

Her voice is firm, reminding him of his mother, of Laura. He thinks about the months he spent with the Stilinskis, how unconventional they really are, how much they remind him of the young couples he's getting to know at his new school. "Okay," he says, and takes a deep breath. "Okay."

"Good," she replies, shaking his hand and gripping it tighter. "Now, I need you to do me a favor."

"Oh I'll take care of Stiles," he says, eagerly. "Until his alpha comes along anyway. Even if I—well, my omega will just have to understand, I guess."

"I know you will, Derek," she says, and gives him another one of those penetrating looks. "I'm not worried about that. But I need you to promise me that you'll let Stiles take care of you. He feels better when he has someone to fuss over, and he shouldn't put all that energy into his dad."

He nods because he knows exactly what she means. "Yes, ma'am," he says. "I will."

"You can start with sending my husband back in here," she says, "and letting Stiles settle you in at the house."

"Oh Laura got me a hotel—"

"I'm sure she did, but you're staying in your old room," she says, talking right over him the way Stiles does sometimes. "It'll keep everyone else out of the house, and that will make it easier on them. John and Stiles are used to you."

"I wouldn't want to intrude," he says.

"Nonsense," she replies, putting her hand on his head and ruffling his hair. "You're family, Derek; you know that."

He feels himself blushing, and nods. "All right," he says. "Thanks."

Claudia Stilinski passes away a few days later, and the week after that is as much of a blur as anything had been a year ago. Derek does whatever Stiles needs, which is mostly to stick close, play video games with him and his friend Scott, and let him talk about anything and everything other than his mother. Though he does make Stiles promise to call every day and be honest about what's going on with him, because Derek's still a little miffed that Stiles didn't confide in him about Claudia's illness.

When Derek gets back to Brooklyn, Laura makes his favorite meal and then gives him a book to read. Emma turns out to be about an alpha who meets his (very bossy) omega when she's a small child and then has to wait around for her to grow up. Derek remembers the paper he wrote about delayed claiming, and the way Claudia looked at him in the hospital, and goes cold all over.

"Oh my god," he says. "How much more of a weirdo am I going to be?"

"Well, don't freak out about it," Laura says. "He's a good kid. You could have done a lot worse. And five years isn't so bad, really. You can concentrate on your studies, or something."

He pounds his head on the dining room table.

Derek spends his senior year of high school casually dating an omega who's in the same predicament he is, waiting for her alpha. He takes her to the movies and to prom and they fool around but they never have mating sex even though it wouldn't matter, even though it's not a big deal not to wait, especially for them. It just never comes up. She's fun and he likes her just fine, but they don't keep in touch after graduation and she claims that next spring anyway.

He finds a job working on home renovations over the summer and keeps it part time when he starts at Brooklyn College in the fall. He's back around regular people now, rather than his high school of fellow weirdos, and finds himself gravitating to the betas. After all, they aren't mated, either, and some of them seem to think it's cool that he isn't super alpha. He dates around, just casually, though he has to avoid the betas who make a fetish of being fucked by an alpha because it makes him feel self-conscious. He's creating some balance in his life: hanging sheet rock or kitchen cabinets by day, reading literary theory at night, and going out with his beta friends on the weekends.

Derek talks to Stiles almost every day. Once you've cried in someone's arms more than once or twice it's not all that hard to talk about what you're really feeling. Sometimes Stiles asks weird, bullshit, I'm-still-actually-a-teenager questions, like whether Derek wears alpha boxers (he does because they keep things in place better) and whether that means he has a giant alpha cock (he does but refuses to tell Stiles that). They talk about betas, since Stiles's best friend Scott is a beta. Sometimes they just say, "It was kinda rough today" and the other will talk about bullshit until they're both laughing.

And increasingly, Stiles talks about an alpha named Lydia Martin, which Derek hates. Well, no; that's unfair. It's pretty clear from what Stiles says that she barely knows who Stiles is, despite their being the top two students in many of their classes. Derek looks her up on Facebook, since Stiles has them both friended, and she's cute enough, though looking through the pictures on her page kind of makes him feel like a creeper later.

Stiles is talking one night about how Lydia got everyone to do her bidding, as usual, and Derek says, "You don't even like it when people boss you around. You get stubborn."

"Maybe I would like it from the right alpha," Stiles says.

"You know that's not how it works," Derek replies, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Maybe not for you," Stiles says.

Later, Derek isn't proud of what he says next, but he's had a long day and Stiles just struck a nerve and Derek forgets that Stiles is fifteen-stupid. "Maybe not for your parents," he says.

Stiles is silent for a long moment, though Derek can hear him breathing, and then he says, "I'm gonna hang up now," and does.

Derek is shaking so bad he can barely set the phone down. His first thought is to go out to a bar and find someone and show them what an alpha he can be, except the thought of it sickens him. So he goes for a run and when he ends up at the base of the Verazzano-Narrows bridge, he pushes into Staten Island, makes his way to the ferry, and wanders around Manhattan for a while before coming home so late it's early.

"Take your phone next time, asshole," says a sleepy Laura. "That omega of yours called five times and has a shaky understanding of time zones."

"He's not my omega," Derek says.

Alex is up now too, and he shakes his head. "Keep telling yourself that," he says, and shuffles off to make coffee.

Derek grabs his phone from where he threw it on his bed, and he has seven messages, about thirty texts, and twelve missed calls. He doesn't even bother to look, just calls.

"Hey," Stiles says, and he sounds tired.

"Hey," Derek replies, as neutrally as he can.

"You know how there are all these omegas at school that have your picture in their locker?" Stiles says.

Derek blinks. "No, I don't know."

"Yeah, like, everyone knows you haven't claimed and they figure you probably imprinted on someone here in town and now you have omega fans that think you're dreamy and tragic and they print out your picture from Facebook so they can moon over your eyebrows. They call themselves 'Dereksters' and corner me in the cafeteria to ask me what you're really like."

"I hope you don't tell them what a dork I am," Derek says.

"Nah," Stiles says. "I let them keep their illusions. It'd be like telling a little kid about Santa Claus."

"What about Santa Claus?" Derek asks, feeling weirdly lighter now.

"Nothing, nothing at all," Stiles says. "Anyway sometimes after you visit they like, do shit to my locker or whatever."

Derek visits every fall; he stays at the Stilinskis and he and Stiles go out for diner food and then go out to the cemetery and just sit on the bench for a while, together. "I'm sorry," he says. "That's not cool."

"Not your fault," Stiles says. "So today—I guess yesterday now—some Dereksters asked me what color your eyes are because they'd been staring at pictures of you and they couldn't tell."

"What did you say?" Derek asks, because he doesn't find his eyes to be all that interesting. They're sort of green, he thinks.

"I told them to Google central heterochromia and leave me the fuck alone," Stiles replies.

"Good," Derek says. "They should."

"Anyway, I'm sorry," Stiles says.

"I'm sorry, too," Derek says.

"So, have you listened to any of those messages I left?" Stiles asks. "Because if you haven't, could you do me a solid and just delete them? They are not awesome."

"Okay," Derek says. "You should go to bed."

"Probably. You should, too."

"I will," Derek says.

"I'll call you later," Stiles says.

"You'd better," Derek replies.

He does listen to the messages, though. One of them is angry and frustrated and starts with "You know what? Fuck you, Derek Hale" so he doesn't listen to all of that one. But in the last one, Stiles is quiet for a bit and then says, "I think you're an awesome alpha. I wish you wouldn't worry about it so much."

Derek saves that one.

When Derek finishes college he starts looking into a graduate degree in residential architecture, because then he can plan kitchens instead of installing them. But he's probably going to upend his life in less than a year, so instead he apprentices with a carpenter in Red Hook who makes furniture and custom cabinets. He even thinks about building a new house on their land in Beacon Hills. It's counting his chickens, he knows, but if this isn't about Stiles then a whole lot of people are wrong here, and Derek is pretty sure there's no way Claudia Stilinski is one of them.

Of course Stiles starts in with the Jesus jokes almost immediately, especially since Derek's grown a beard and his hair is kind of shaggy.

He heads to Beacon Hills in October for his annual visit and it's uneventful at first. The sheriff takes very specific interest in his post-college plans, which is the first time Derek has the sense that John looks on him as a son-in-law rather than an orphaned kid who could use a male role model. Derek and Stiles have pancakes and then go to the cemetery like always.

But at the grocery store after, shopping for dinner, Stiles points out the staring omegas, and he seems pretty irritable about all of it. Derek doesn't like it either, especially how Stiles folds in on himself a little in the face of them, but when Derek glares at them it just makes them shriek and giggle. He wants to pull Stiles close, but he knows that will just make things go even worse for him, so he settles for a hand on his arm.

And then, the next morning, he wakes up super early with a sharp scent in his nose and an almost painful erection with—that's a knot.

His knot. He's gone into rut, finally, and of course it's at Stiles's house, and of course he's three thousand miles away from the alpha who's closest to him, but he calls her even though she has different junk.

"Don't freak out, Derek," she says. "It's totally natural. You went to health class."

"But!" He doesn't even know where that but is leading to, just that it doesn't seem that simple now that it's happening to him.

"Just go into the shower and jack off," she says. "Do it into the spray because you're going to come a lot. Make sure you clean it up. Then when you get back we'll go to the doctor and get you on the pill." She pauses. "Oh, and don't fuck anyone."

Derek sighs. "I wasn't planning on it, jeez," he said.

He does what she says and wow, that is a lot of come, and he's meticulous about getting rid of all of it. He feels better though; less jittery and overwhelmed with the scent generated by two omegas, one of whom was in heat not that long ago. Derek gives an idle thought to how John handles that before dismissing it as ultimately too sad.

It's a relief to get dressed; his cock needs those alpha briefs right now because it feels tired and heavy. Derek's envious of alpha girls with the whole retractable thing to keep it warm and safe. He has an instinct to pull his back into his body, too.

When he opens his bedroom door again, John is standing right outside.

"Um, good morning?" Derek says. It's about seven a.m. "Sorry if the shower woke you. Guess I'm jet-lagged."

John nods in that way he does when he knows what you're really saying. "Come down and have a cup of coffee with me, son," he says. "Stiles won't be up for another hour at least."

"Yes, sir," Derek says, and follows him down the stairs.

Once they're sitting at the table, coffee cake between them, John says, "Okay, so this is how it's going to go. You're leaving this afternoon, so maybe it doesn't matter, but no more climbing into each other's beds in the middle of the night."

"No, sir," Derek says, and realizes now why John has allowed that to go on.

"Try not to sniff Stiles too much," he says. "It's creepy when alphas do that."

"I won't, sir." But he wonders what Stiles smells like, if he'll smell anything like his dad, who now smells like a woodsy and particularly grown-up kind of aftershave.

"All right," John says, and pats his hand. "Hope to see you this spring."

"I hope so too," Derek says.

Stiles comes slumping downstairs in sleep pants and a t-shirt, mumbling about coffee, and Derek realizes the sharp scent that woke him up this morning is Stiles himself, and kicks himself, mentally, for not realizing that.

"Heyyyy," Stiles says, settling at the table and picking at a crumb of the coffee cake. "What's up?"

Derek waits for Stiles to set his cup down, and then says, "I went into rut this morning."

Stiles's eyes widen. "Wow, really? I mean, that's great, man, that's great!" He's smiling widely now. "Yeah, we'll claim the same season, that's pretty cool."

Derek doesn't say, Of course we're claiming the same season because we're claiming each other, you moron. And he doesn't lean in and sniff Stiles even though he really wants to. Instead he just smiles and says, "Yeah, pretty cool."

Derek wasn't in school during claiming, but now he's experiencing the entire thing vicariously through Stiles. Which is weird, because Stiles is an omega and has a completely different take on all of it. But he's also trying not to freak out so there isn't much of a filter. Since his best friend Scott is a beta, Stiles has bonded with two other omegas in his class, Erica and Isaac, which Derek is pleased to hear. Right now Stiles needs a kind of support that neither Derek nor Scott can give him.

From the time he went into rut, Derek has dreamed about Stiles every night. Usually they're not so distinguishable from memories of being at the diner or lying in bed, only now there's kissing. Stiles never mentions his own dreams, but Derek knows he must be having them, knows it means they've already imprinted.

In early March Stiles calls and says, "So, I know we don't talk about her"—which can only mean Lydia, whom Stiles hasn't mentioned at all since they had that big fight—"but Lydia didn't claim her asshole boyfriend today. Danny did."

"That guy you were seeing this fall?" Derek asks.

"Yeah," Stiles says. "So yeah, Lydia."

It's unsurprising that what's news to Stiles is that Lydia is available and not that his own ex just claimed someone else. Derek was never jealous of Danny the way he was of Lydia, because it was pretty clear Stiles was casual about him, though he weirdly doesn't feel worried about Lydia, either. But Derek can't alleviate Stiles's confusion, at least, not in a way that Stiles can accept right now, so he doesn't say anything.

"I guess things don't go how you expect them to, huh?" Stiles says.

"I don't know," Derek says. "Sometimes they do. Try not to stress out about it too much."

"How can you be so calm?" Stiles asks.

"I've had six years of Laura telling me to stop freaking out," Derek replies. "You've only been at this for a few months."

Derek can almost hear Stiles wincing over the phone. "So I guess that means I shouldn't bitch to you, huh?"

"No," Derek says, feeling suddenly protective. "That means I'm exactly the person you should be bitching to."

"Good," Stiles says, "because by now it's a habit."

In mid-April, Derek's nightly Stiles dreams take a turn for the sexual. It isn't that Derek hasn't noticed Stiles's broadening shoulders or that he's had a growth spurt of his own, but Derek's used to looking at him and thinking "he will carry my children" not "I will fuck him into the mattress." Yet now the Stiles that visits him every night is teasing, flirty, almost coquettish, batting those long eyelashes before spreading his legs wide and begging for Derek's cock using language from a porn movie.

When Laura sees Derek stripping his bed for the second day in a row she hands him the keys to the Camaro. "Go get him," she says. "And pack smart because you might not be coming back until June."

"You won't need the car?" he asks.

She shrugs. "It was never a good city car," she says. "It got us out here. It should take you back."

Derek has long since gotten used to Laura understanding what's happening in Derek's life before he does, but this—well, this is a relief, honestly. He gives his notice and a promise to return at least in the summer to his very understanding master carpenter, puts most of his belongings in the trunk of the Camaro, and heads out, planning his route so he can visit a few people from college and his alternative high school who moved out of Brooklyn. (That's the thing about being friends with betas; they're mobile. Alphas and omegas tend to stay put, and as he drives west Derek can feel Beacon Hills pulling on him, more than just because Stiles is there.)

He still talks to Stiles every night, but just tells him he's taking a vacation, is vague about his ultimate destination until he hits California on day six.

"So I'm getting into Beacon Hills tomorrow sometime," Derek says that night.

"Oh, cool," Stiles replies. "When can we expect you?"

"Actually I have some things to take care of," he replies, "so not for a few days."

"Oh," Stiles says, and Derek winces hearing the disappointment Stiles is trying to hide. "Well sure."

"And anyway now that we're—maybe it isn't the best idea for me to stay there until—"

"Yeah, that's probably true," Stiles says, as usual picking up on what Derek isn't quite saying.

"But I didn't want you to hear I was in town and think I was hiding something."

"No, thanks, I appreciate it." Stiles is quiet for a minute and then he says, "Man, I hope my alpha likes you."

Derek bites his lip. "I would like anyone who'd taken care of my omega before I could," he says.

"Aren't you alphas supposed to be all possessive and shit?" Stiles asks.

"Do you want that from your alpha?"

"Maybe? I dunno, Derek. I don't know what I want I guess. Maybe not?" He sighs, and then asks about Derek's trip.

Derek goes along with the change of subject gladly.

The next night Stiles says, "You should know that your arrival is all over school."

"Yeah? That's news? I'm here pretty often."

"Not during mating season. Your omega fans are freaking out."

"They didn't give you any trouble, did they?"

"No," Stiles says. "I'm better at avoiding them. But everyone was talking about you at lunch; it was weird."

"Sorry," Derek says.

"Hey, Derek?"


"I know you're doing stuff but can I see you tomorrow? I really—I'd just really like to see you." His voice sounds small and weary and Derek wants to say fuck it, get in the car and drive over there and just hold him.

And he's not sure, frankly, how he can resist the pull if Stiles doesn't go into heat soon. "If you're not doing anything more important tomorrow, I'll try to come by," he says.

"Trust me," Stiles says, yawning. "I will not be doing anything more important."

"Go to sleep, Stiles," Derek says. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Yeah," Stiles says. "I'll talk to you."

That night in Derek's dream, instead of the usual string of expletives, Stiles just keeps saying, "Kiss me, Derek" over and over again.

When Derek wakes up, he knows Stiles has gone into heat; he can feel it in the tingle all over his body, the pull toward Stiles growing stronger. He takes a nice long shower and when he gets out he has a message and several texts from John announcing that he's gone to the McCall's for the duration, that there's plenty of food in the house, and to please change the sheets on occasion. Derek feels for the guy, having to bear the brunt of Stiles and Derek's very unusual courtship, and resolves to get him a gift or something once everything is settled.

He grabs some breakfast, checks out of the hotel and packs up the car, and drives over to the high school with the best intentions of walking right into that stupid cafeteria and taking Stiles away with him.

It's only when he pulls into the parking lot that he remembers that lunchtime means everyone's out of class. An omega spots him and in seconds, it seems, there's a crowd of twenty of them running toward his car screaming his name.

So he does what anyone would do: he gets back into the car and locks the doors and tries not to freak out. But he's a caged animal here, any safety only temporary, which becomes clear as his windows fill with eager hormonal little faces. He starts up the car again and slowly drives to the school entrance, thinking he can just slip in and out, but there are even more of them there.

So he pulls up to the main staircase and texts Stiles: "I'm right outside the main door." Then he gets out of the car because Stiles probably shouldn't see him hiding; it doesn't seem the best way to claim your omega.

He scowls at the crowd which at least keeps them from touching him, but also makes them giggle, which just makes him scowl more.

Stiles bursts through the double doors and Derek realizes a hidden upside to this possible debacle is that Stiles is furious. Stiles tends to get bossier the angrier he is, and if he can just get them through this part Derek can handle the rest. After all, he drove here from Brooklyn, so maybe Stiles can walk outside.

But what Stiles says is, "You mean those dreams were real?"

"Of course they were real," Derek replies, rolling his eyes but feeling a little sad inside that Stiles wasn't able to know the way Derek had known for a while now.

Stiles bitches at him some more, though it's kind of a blur until Stiles calls Derek "my alpha" and Derek has to smile, has to tease him, because those two words finally give him the strength to walk through the crowd and kiss Stiles like he should be kissed. Stiles's cheek is warm, his skin flushed, and he's jittery, shaking, but Derek can feel him relax under his touch, and he even smiles back.

Derek is introduced to Stiles's oft-mentioned friends Erica and Isaac, sees Scott again, but when he sees a flash of red hair ...

Maybe it's the hormones being generated not only by the intoxicating scent of the in-heat omega in his arms but the culmination of six years of waiting, not to mention the crowd of omegas watching and maybe some tiny vestigial wish to for once behave in a stereotypically alpha manner. But when Derek ascertains that yes, that redhead is Lydia, he bares his teeth.

"I'd say I was sorry for taking him away from you, but I'm not." Derek's angry now, not for himself but for everything that went on that led Stiles to doubt that Derek was out there waiting for him, and maybe he's saying that to these ridiculous "fans" who didn't even know him, and for Stiles, as much as he is to Lydia.

Stiles laughs nervously and makes a joke before putting himself between Derek and Lydia and ordering Derek into the car. Which is fine; he grabs Stiles's bag for him and opens the door because Derek Hale does know how to be a gentleman.

The crowd is silent, the omegas all looking at Derek as though his choice is entirely unexpected which, really? Do they know Stiles? Have they looked at him in the past year? It pisses him off, and with the last little bit of alpha-ness that's flowing in his veins he says, "Don't people usually clap for this part?" because Stiles should get his fucking ovation.

And so he does.

As they drive away Stiles is uncharacteristically quiet; he just sits there, smiling to himself. Derek lets it go for one song before finally becoming uncomfortable.

"I've never had to actually ask you what you were thinking," he says.

"I never thought that I would be the territory that you marked," Stiles says.

"Is that good or bad?" Derek asks. "That I did that, I mean."

"I have to admit it turned me on," he says. "Though I'm in heat so everything is turning me on right now."

"You're awfully calm for being in heat," Derek says.

"Because—I mean can you believe that you're driving me home, to my house, to have sex with me for a week? And then talk about our future together?"

"That's kind of how it works," Derek says. "It's mating season."

"I know that," Stiles says, scowling. "I mean, you and me, specifically. I've just—I've been thinking about it for so long, or trying not to think about it, trying not to think that it was ever going to happen, because you weren't going to wait that long, because you were going to find someone better." He's more animated now, and his words come faster as he goes on. "I needed to be ready to accept your omega, whoever that would be, accept that it wasn't going to be me—"

Derek puts his hand on Stiles's thigh then, and feels him quiet at the touch. "But it is you," he says.

"It's you, too," Stiles says, laying his hand atop Derek's and turning it so their fingers clasp. "It was always you."

Derek can feel something settling inside him, slotting into place, and suddenly the car is filled with the smell of Stiles, that sharp scent he remembers from the day he went into rut, that's been there but at a lower level. He realizes that it must have been the lingering doubt that was keeping Stiles calm, because now—

"So yeah," Stiles says, "you'd better get me home and fuck me." Derek senses rather than sees him fidget in his seat because Jesus he can't even look at him and keep the car on the damn road.

No wonder the school arranges for transportation.

They get to the house in one piece and Stiles slams the front door behind them, pushes Derek against it, and climbs him like a tree, kissing him while trying to push off as many clothes as possible from each of them. It's dizzying, being the center of a focused Stiles, and Derek isn't sure if it's that or the kissing that's making him breathless, but when Stiles separates their mouths briefly to "get these shirts off" Derek takes a deep breath.

"I'm not doing this here," Derek says, putting Stiles back on his feet.

"We're doing this on every flat surface in this house," Stiles says, determined, "and I figure we can just start here and work our way up." He's trying to push off his jeans without taking his shoes off first, and he huffs in frustration, bending over to sort out the mess he's making.

Derek takes advantage of this, kicking off his sneakers and pulling off his jeans quickly, and as soon as Stiles frees his feet from their fabric and sneaker prison, he grabs Stiles at the waist and flings him over his shoulder.

"What? Hey!" Stiles says.

"We are fucking for the first time in your bed, Stiles," Derek says. "Not against a door."

"Is this a thing you're going to do to get your own way?" Stiles asks. "Because it isn't always going to work, though I can't say I mind the view." He smacks Derek's ass.

Stiles's ass, meanwhile, is right next to Derek's face, and the wetness from it has soaked his boxer briefs. Derek is beginning to think carrying him in this position may have been a tactical error because he's literally getting dizzy with the scent of Stiles, but he clenches his teeth and makes it into the bedroom, depositing Stiles unceremoniously onto the mattress before his own knees weaken. Stiles bounces on the bed for a moment before removing his boxers and, with a wink, throwing them at Derek.

He casts them aside.

"Not going to even smell them?" Stiles asks.

"I'd rather smell you," Derek replies.

"Whoa, okay," Stiles says, leaning back on his elbows. "Gonna take off the rest of your clothes?"

"You know," Derek says as he pushes his briefs down, "when I pictured this moment I always imagined I'd make you beg for it."

Stiles's eyes are on his cock, finally freed from the constrictive alpha briefs and hard as a rock. "Just for the record, I am absolutely on board with begging for that," he says, then glances up. "I mean, all of you, of course, but right now that"—he points—"is a priority."

Derek raises his eyebrows, but doesn't reply directly. Instead he kneels on the bed between Stiles's legs, spreading them even wider. "But I've changed my mind."

"Yeah?" Stiles says, and this close Derek can see how blown out his pupils are. He licks his lips.

"Yeah," Derek replies, leaning in close, his hands on either side of Stiles's chest. "I've decided—" and he moves in even closer, his lips almost touching Stiles's—"I'm going to spoil you."

Stiles gasps, and Derek takes advantage, kissing him hard and pushing him flat onto the bed. Stiles lifts his legs, tipping his hips up, and Derek pulls back just enough to glance down and line himself up and then he's sliding into Stiles's slick, open warmth. As big as Derek is, it's easy, Stiles's heat more than preparing him for Derek's cock, and Stiles shudders under him.

"Oh my god," Stiles says, pushing up to him. He's clinging to Derek with arms and legs, opening up as Derek tries to crawl inside him. "Better than anything."

"So sweet," Derek says. "So fucking sweet, Stiles."

"Don't hold back," Stiles says. "Fuck me hard, I wanna feel you, feel all of it." And it's not like the Stiles in his dreams, not like a porn film, all that omega slut and strong alpha stuff, but hotter because it's real and it's about them. "Feel you come in me so much and your fucking knot, oh my god."

So Derek puts his back into it, and Stiles takes it, saying his name over and over, and Derek kisses along Stiles's narrow chest and understands now why Stiles was overwhelmed in the car because they're here, after all this time. He feels his knot swelling at the base of his cock, and hesitates, but Stiles will have none of that.

"Knot me, do it, come on, want it so much, need it, so fucking wet for you, Derek, I can take it," Stiles says, pushing back into Derek as best he can.

Derek does as he's told, pushing that knot slow and steady into Stiles's wetness and unlike before he can feel Stiles widening, adjusting around him and then closing again, locking them together. Derek sits up slightly, so he can see Stiles's face more clearly.

"Oh," Stiles says, looking a little surprised. He shifts his hips slightly. "You—you gotta move."

"I can't," Derek says through clenched teeth, because it's all starting to be too much.

"You can," Stiles says, making eye contact. "Like this." He starts rotating his hips slightly, rocking them both, and the friction makes them both shudder.

Derek's knot is swollen and sensitive, sending sparks up his spine, and he knows that Stiles has that perfect spot just inside of him and if they can get them together—

"Oh god," Stiles says.

"Right there?" Derek asks, and does it again.

"Gonna make me come doing that," he says, nodding.

"Good. Want you to. Want your come all over us when I fill you with mine."

Stiles's eyes widen even further, which Derek didn't think they could do. "Breed me?" he whispered.

"Yes," Derek says, spurred on by those words to push harder against Stiles. "Breed you, stuff you so full, and your belly will swell for me."

"Want that," Stiles says, "want that so much, fuck," and he's coming, clenching hard against Derek's knot, which is all it takes for him to erupt inside of Stiles, his knot keeping it all inside, keeping them together as they moan and rock against each other.

Derek rests his head on Stiles's shoulder, and he's panting. "Stiles," he says.

Stiles runs his fingers through Derek's hair. "Mmm," he says. "So good, babe. Darling? No. Nothing sweet, either. Hmm."

Derek turns, sees that Stiles is scowling as he thinks about pet names. "Don't worry about it, babe," he says, simply, and when Stiles glances down at him he's smirking.

But oddly Stiles doesn't look annoyed. He brushes his other hand across Derek's cheekbone, slides his fingers across Derek's lips, and says, "Lovely."

"What?" Derek asks.

"That's what I'm going to call you," Stiles declares.

Derek can feel himself blushing. "Okay," he says, and flashes back to that first time they met, and how Stiles had named himself.

"But you can call me babe," Stiles says. "Babe's good."

It's unsurprisingly difficult to move while still tied together, but they manage to shift around and get enough pillows arranged for Derek to sit up against the headboard, Stiles in his lap, pillows beside Derek so Stiles can stretch out his legs. He realizes why there are custom chairs for this, now, and resolves to make one as soon as possible.

Stiles is still touching his face, and Derek realizes that he's grinning like some kind of idiot but he can't bring himself to care. He sees the sun shining outside and thinks that maybe once his knot goes down they should open a window, let the outside in.

"This is our life now," Stiles says. "Can you believe it?"

"Yes," Derek replies.

They definitely get to Stiles's goal of fucking on every flat surface in the house, though Derek isn't sure how he'll be able to look John in the eye after that. Then he remembers that John is an omega and left them a lot of extra bedding and plea to wash it, and realizes he'll understand. After all, John's bedroom door is locked; Derek wouldn't have trusted Stiles with that, either.

They also talk a lot, especially when they're knotted together, but mostly private jokes and ridiculousness and sudden realizations of the obvious.

"Oh my god," Stiles says, "I'm going to like, totally have all of your babies!"

Derek laughs. "I think that's how it works, yeah," he says.

"But—do you still want to have a dozen kids? I remember you said that once."

"Maybe when I was seventeen." Derek rolls his eyes.

"Good, because I don't want to spend the next fifteen years pregnant or nursing."

"We can wait until you're out of college to start."

Stiles's eyebrows go up, and Derek starts to laugh. "Okay you can shut up," Stiles says, annoyed.

"Nine kids?" Derek asks, uncowed.

"You'd better rub my feet and love my stretch marks, is all I'm saying."

"That's not a no."

Stiles shrugs. "I know you want to rebuild that house and fill it with kids," he says. "Let's see how far we get."

And later, they're in the basement on the couch making out after fucking again—and Derek thinks he's finally getting the hang of it, because both of them are lasting longer and it's just better, though that might be the heat starting to wane—when Stiles says, "Remember the first time we were on this couch?"

"Yeah," he says, thinking of it, and when did that memory become more about relief at meeting Stiles than the grief he'd felt at the time? "You let me cry on your shoulder. Poor kid. Probably should have done that when your mother was around."

Stiles rolls them so they're lying on their sides, Derek's back against the couch. "Oh, she came down," he says. "I guess she was listening in or something. But I shooed her away."

"You what?" Derek asks. "I don't remember that."

"You were busy crying," Stiles says, matter-of-fact, as if he hadn't been a ten-year-old who suddenly had a grief-stricken sixteen-year-old stranger sobbing in his arms. "Mom left the tissues and went back upstairs. Though she was probably still listening."

"Why did you do that? Send her away, I mean?"

"I don't know—you were already not being all tough like alphas can be? My mom wasn't all the time either but she could be weaker with Dad and me because we're omegas. I thought maybe it would be easier for you, too, with an omega." Stiles stops and looks off over Derek's shoulder, and a blush begins to creep up his cheeks. "And I guess I felt like, it should be me? I just knew how to take care of you? Maybe it was because you're not the usual kind of alpha and I'm not the usual kind of omega, but I don't think if you'd asked me at the time I would have been able to articulate that. I just felt like I was the one who should hold you when you cried, or something." Stiles makes eye contact again, still looking shy. "Kinda weird thoughts for a ten-year-old, huh?" he says, and laughs like he does when he's nervous. "What? You're looking at me funny."

Derek runs his hand along Stiles's back. "I read your mating paper," he says, "so I know you've read the Kurtz book on imprinting."

"Sure," Stiles says. "Imprinting is when—oh my god." His eyes fly open.

"All this time," Derek says, and he's smiling now because the joke's on both of them, "I've been thinking that I was some kind of weirdo even more than the whole alpha thing. But you claimed me when you were ten. And the reason your mother knew is because she saw you do it." He rolls his eyes. "Your dad always does say you're a precocious little shit."

"I wish I'd known that's what I was doing," Stiles says. "I would have been less freaked out all this time. But the 'alpha thing' doesn't make you a weirdo, Derek; it makes you awesome."

"Awesome for you, and I guess that's enough," Derek allows.

"Better be, since I'm all you're going to get," Stiles says, smiling.

Derek raises his eyebrows. "Possessive."

"I claimed you, didn't I?" Stiles says, and kisses him.

By the time Stiles goes back to school it's early May. Claiming is nearly over and the students are all focused on finishing up their independent study projects. Derek will be in Beacon Hills for six weeks before he brings Stiles back to Brooklyn, and he starts it fixing up all kinds of small things in the Stilinski home. Then, after some consultation with John and an insistence on pulling his own weight, he updates the bathrooms and kitchen, which haven't been touched since the Stilinskis moved in, when John was carrying Stiles.

There aren't many people Derek wants to reconnect with from his life before the fire; he'd been a little bit of an outsider with the whole alpha thing and the few betas he'd befriended have long since left town. But he does spend time with Stiles's friends, and it isn't as strange as he'd expected. Scott and Allison are suspicious at first, but Derek just digs and waits them out, wonders if his own beta friends, with their knowledge of how Derek had waited, would look upon Stiles the same way. Erica and Isaac are friendly, even if they don't know quite what to make of Stiles and Derek's unusual dynamic, and Derek is serious about being grateful to them and Scott for taking care of Stiles when he couldn't. (Jackson is a bit of an ass but apparently he is to everyone.) And Boyd and Danny, while alphas, are chill enough that Derek doesn't feel pressured to behave in ways that make him uncomfortable.

But Lydia Martin takes time, and not just because she's one of the most picture-perfect alphas Derek's ever seen, with almost everyone she knows wrapped around her finger. Sure, her omega Erica pushes back when she needs to, but for the most part everyone lets her have her own way. Derek doesn't much like power struggles, but he doesn't much like being expected to know his place, either. It's difficult because he likes Erica quite a lot and knows that Lydia is important to Stiles, but he can't work out how to be around her without feeling resentful and uncomfortable in his own skin. He calls his old counselor and that helps him feel calmer, less like this is anything about his deficiencies, but it's still tough and he wonders if Brooklyn is an oasis, if he'll need to spend his life among betas, and if he'll ever be able to really live in Beacon Hills again.

One night they go on a double date to see a new independent movie, a beta romance that Scott and Allison really want to see since so few of them are ever made and it's showing for only a couple of weeks. Derek enjoys the movie and their conversation over fries and ribs afterward, especially what the others have to say about the very stereotypical alpha/omega couple who are friends with the betas in the movie. Derek is sure they were there for contrast, but still.

"I'm just glad you guys aren't like that," Scott says. "It's weird enough being a beta in a small town without all of that."

"None of our friends are really like that, and it's a relief," Allison says. "Even if you were mad at us before you claimed."

At Derek's quizzical look, Stiles says, "Because look at them! The one advantage of being an alpha or omega is mating early and—look at them!"

Derek laughs. "The one advantage? Really?" he says, and is rewarded with a blush from Stiles and a laugh from the others.

Then, casually as he can, Derek says, "I dunno, aren't Lydia and Erica kind of like that?"

Scott and Stiles don't say anything, just look at each other with their silent communication that Derek is getting used to.

Alison cocks her head, looks sympathetic. "Not really," she says. "Erica does as she pleases. Lydia's mostly like that around you, Derek."

"You gotta admit," Scott says, "you pretty much called her out when you first met her."

Derek's eyes drop to the table. "I guess I didn't think of it that way," he says.

"I don't blame you, man," Scott replies. "If Stiles talked about her nearly as much to you as he did to me, you probably felt like you needed to say something. I would have."

"Oh really?" Allison says, smiling. "So if I had someone I talked about all the time, you'd be all alpha about it?"

Scott's eyes widen. "Maybe I would!" he says, and while he's grinning, Derek believes him.

That night in bed, Stiles says, "I'm sorry I made you worry about Lydia. I guess I thought if I had a more dominant alpha I could be a better omega, but then we had that fight and I talked to my dad and it was a dumb idea." He pauses, running a finger down Derek's chest next to where his head lays on it, then adds, "A kid's idea, I think."

Derek wraps his arm around Stiles a little tighter. "It's okay," Derek says, because he's realized, suddenly, that it isn't really about that. Stiles was always his, and Stiles always thought he was a perfectly fine alpha. This is about Derek himself, and he'll have to work it out.

He sees Lydia a few days later, at a lacrosse game. She's sitting in the stands with Allison on one side and Erica on the other, as usual, and as Derek makes his way to them Allison spots him and takes her jacket off the place next to her, which she was probably saving for him. He shakes his head slightly and motions for her to move the other way, and she glances at Lydia and then smiles at him, wide and bright, encouraging. The game is just beginning, the starting players running out onto the field, and both Scott and Stiles are among them.

"Derek," Lydia says as he sits down.

"Lydia," he replies. Then: "Look, I'm sorry if you felt disrespected by what I said, the day Stiles and I claimed. It wasn't about you. I shouldn't have called you out like that."

Lydia's expression changes so minutely that if Derek hadn't been watching he wouldn't have caught the tiny raise of one eyebrow. "That's fine," she says. "We all need to posture for our omegas sometimes, and I know how that hormonal high feels."

"Stiles doesn't care about that stuff," Derek says. "It was more—well, it was more all those omega fans crowding around. They think they know me, but they don't, and I guess I wanted to keep it that way," he says.

She turns to him then. "The Dereksters?" she asks. "I do not envy you there."

"They didn't bother Stiles when he came back to school, did they?" he asks. "He never said, but he probably wouldn't anyway."

"Scott and I make sure they don't," she says, looking back out over the field. "Stiles has put on a lot of muscle the past year or so, hasn't he?" she asks.

Derek is used to rapid shifts in topic thanks to Stiles, but it still takes him a second to catch up. "Definitely," he says.

"Don't you think he should dress to show that off?"

"I … like his t-shirts," Derek says, because he does, and because he's sensing a trap.

"But he wears thirty-seven layers over them," Lydia says.

"I think he's just self-conscious."

"He shouldn't be," Lydia says. "Might make other people back off, too, if they see him as he is."

Derek remembers that day in front of the school, and how annoyed he was at the omega fans' non-reaction to the claiming, and says, "Maybe so. But don't do anything without me there, okay?"

"Wouldn't dream of it," Lydia says, smiling.

Stiles is coming in off the field just then and looks worried, seeing Derek and Lydia sitting together, but Derek smiles and nods, hoping he'll get it. And maybe he does, because he smiles and winks in return.

Derek shudders—that wink always gets to him, and Stiles damn well knows it, is being possessive himself—and then Derek hears Lydia chuckling.

"I think you got the right one," she says.

"Yeah," Derek says. "I did."