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Very Sincerely Yours

Chapter Text

Dear Entirely Imaginary and Utterly Made Up Captain Derek Hale,

My name is Stiles Stilinski. I am sixteen years old, an omega of good breeding and background, possessing of some education and thought. I am also the biggest idiot this side of the Channel.

When she was alive, Stiles’s mother used to joke that her only child had been born with a pencil in one hand and a book in the other. Even as a boy, Stiles was rarely happier than when he was surrounded by print and pictures. Unless he was with his beloved and gentle omega mother, of course. But her health, always frail and questionable, failed them all far too soon, leaving Stiles alone to explore the world without her. Stiles found his peace there in the deep of the woods and the quiet back garden, sketching all manner of life as he found it.

Where he did not find his peace, however, was surrounded by people. Just thinking about being the center of attention cast an icy stone to the pit of his stomach. And actually being surrounded by people? Well, it really was for the best that it happened as little as often.

Unfortunately for Stiles, he was the only child of a widowed baron. He spent much of his fifteenth year dreading his birthday, knowing it would be expected of him to have a season. His job was to find and catch an alpha who would knot him and secure the Stilinski title before it could pass to Stiles’s dreadful American cousin. And the thought of meeting strange alphas, of knowing how he’d freeze and humiliate his family name and fail his father completely...well, Stiles spent hours trying to talk his father out of it, even before Natalie came to live with them.

Stiles’s beta step-mother had a good and kind heart, and Stiles was honestly quite fond of her. Natalie clearly adored Lord Beacon, and as her first marriage had been at a young enough age that she and John Stilinski had quite a good chance at securing a proper alpha heir for the Beacon barony together. She made Stiles’s father happy again after too many somber years, and Stiles couldn’t bring himself to dislike her in the slightest as a result.

Still, he could have done without her well-meaning plans for his season, due to begin shortly after their honeymoon. He tried, in vain, to explain his crippling shyness and how he was destined to ruin the family name at his very first outing. Natalie, though, declared that what Stiles really needed was a holiday by the sea while his parents were celebrating their nuptials in London. Stiles would spend two months by himself, and be able to use the time to practice talking to strangers and getting over his shyness.

What happened instead, however, was Stiles spent a blissful two months of solitude. He’d walk the beach by the hour, sketching waves and hermit crabs and collecting seashells to line his windowsill and dresser. Evenings were spent curled around first one book, then another, in front of the cheerful grate in his room. It was heaven.

Unfortunately, when he came home, it was to Natalie already making plans for his wardrobe, insisting that her son would have the most lavish coming out party possible. That he’d surely meet and snare a handsome Duke on his first go, now that he’d had a chance to conquer his shyness. And Stiles panicked.

“But I’ve already met someone,” he said. Which was stupid and silly, and perhaps if he’d confessed to the lie then and there, he might have been able to convince Natalie and his father to listen to reason. Instead, Stiles looked at the naked disbelief on his father and his step-mother’s faces, and felt a burning embarrassment that they could be so incredulous at Stiles’s ability to find love on his own. And so he doubled down, spinning a tale of a handsome Scottish soldier-- an alpha, of course -- and an engagement indefinitely postponed by the war on the continent with Emperor Deucalion’s forces.

With that story came more lies, building and shaping until the end of the day when Stiles’s mysterious suitor had a name (Derek Hale, nondescript), a rank (captain), and an appearance (tall, strong, with thick dark hair and eyes like an unspoilt glen reflected in a still loch). Stiles spent so much time mooning that his family reluctantly accepted that this Captain Hale must be real. Hell, Stiles himself nearly believed it. Best of all, his father had reluctantly agreed to delay Stiles’s coming-out, if only for the time being.

...but now, of course, my family expects me to write to you, to keep you company on your campaign. I know you don’t exist, and I know you’ll never read this, but Natalie has been watching me write all this time and she doesn’t have to know that all I’ve done here is make my confession to you, Captain Daydream.

So, in closing, I should probably apologize for using you so shamelessly, but since you aren’t real and I am truly getting the peace I desire from this, I shan’t. Here, have a drawing of a dog.

Very sincerely yours,

Your fibbing fiance,

Stiles Stilinski

 

Chapter Text

Dear Captain Fakewolf,

You’re a werewolf, did you know? Well, I suppose if you were real you would know that, but since you’re not…

My Aunt Melissa came to visit last month, and she’s turned out to be my best ally in this fiction of our love affair. She found me in the library, supposedly mooning over your absence -- I’ve enclosed the sketch I was working on, though it’s not much more than a passable likeness of Natalie’s prized orchid -- and quizzed me over you. She said it was because she wanted to be sure I wasn’t setting myself up for heartbreak, and I might have believed her, if she hadn’t been so effusive in her defense of our betrothal when Father tried to suggest over dinner that I attend a ball in a fortnight. Aunt Melissa is many things, but a hopeless romantic is not one of them.

Her husband, Rafael, was a terrible scoundrel. He’d vanish for days at a time, and it would take Father coming to drag him out of whatever gaming hell he’d wound up in for Rafael to remember he had a wife and babe at home. It wasn’t until Miguel, my little cousin, took ill that we discovered that Rafael had destroyed their credit and gambled away everything they had. He refused to let my aunt ask for help until it was too late, you see, and by the time Father knew to pay for the physician, the babe was beyond saving. It was a blessing when Rafael, insensate from drink, froze to death in the gutter the following winter.

But as a result, I sincerely doubt that Aunt Melissa is much of a believer in the power of true love as she purports to be. She’s much too canny for that, and it would be a disservice to her to pretend otherwise.

Still, she’s convinced Father and Natalie that I must be treated as a mated gentleman. And for that I'm eternally grateful.

--I hear many of the Highland clans are also werewolves, she said to me as we sat together, tracing the route of your “campaign.”

I hummed in response. If the past few months have taught me anything about deceit, it's that sometimes the most convincing lie is the one you tell yourself.

--They say alpha werewolves are tremendously territorial, Aunt Melissa went on. Especially when they've mated an omega. I don't suppose that’s why…

Now, Captain Imagination, I'll be honest with you. After all, it isn't as though there's anyone else I can do that with. But while you and I might know that I’m a complete idiot, I am most certainly not stupid. I saw precisely the sort of opportunity my beloved aunt was showing me, and I seized it.

--Yes, I said, nodding fervently. Captain Hale is most certainly a werewolf. I only never mentioned it before because I know some people have trouble seeing them as the noble men and women they are, and I didn’t want Father to misunderstand Captain Hale’s intentions towards me.

--Yes, of course.

--And you must understand that the Captain was an utter gentleman in all of our time together. I’m as unspoilt as I ever was.

I must tell you, Captain Whimsy, that it infuriates me that I’m a gentleman of age and yet I must spend so much of my time making sure everyone knows I’m a virgin. Why must it be everyone’s business that no one has ever touched me? Why can’t I have that to myself at the very least? It’s not as though I was ever going to find anyone who would want me, anyway. I’m too thin, my fingers too long and my face too speckled for me to draw more than a casual glance from even the least discerning of alphas.

Of course, now that everyone in Beacon and half of London thinks I’m affianced to a Scottish werewolf army captain, no one will ever dare to look at me in the first place again.

Which, come to think of it, is absolutely perfect.

In other news, Natalie has been ill in the mornings as of late, and often times in the afternoon. Perhaps all of her and Father’s sneaking off to their bedchambers on a daily basis has borne fruit? Oh, would that it did. Then she might give Father the proper heir he requires and no one will ever again expect me to marry...

~*~*~

My Dearest Captain Flight-of-Fancy,

I write to you to tell you that my heart has been stolen, and irrevocably so. I am fully and completely in love with an alpha so tiny she fits in the crook of my arm. She has sky blue eyes and a head of soft red-gold fuzz that glows like the embers of the fire I am now using to write by.

Her name is Lydia, and she is my father’s new heir. And my sister for whom I would gladly die to protect, for I have never loved so fiercely as I do right now. Watching Lydia sleep makes my heart swell and my womb ache, and I never thought I’d ever feel this way about a tiny bundle of blankets and smelly nappies, but there you have it.

Aunt Melissa says that I’m likely feeling the stirrings of my first heat, brought on by the hormones and the stress, not to mention the pull of my heart to yours. She says I ought to tell you this is a good sign of my fertility, that when you come home to me, I should be able to give you all the children you desire. Sometimes I can almost believe that she actually thinks you’re real, but I haven’t the courage to break the narrative we’ve built just so I can ask her.

Here is a sketch of Lydia, nestled in a bassinet I made for her myself. If you were real, I’d call her your niece to be, but since you’re not, I’ll just call her my angel on this earth. Beauty and perfection in one tiny, wonderful package...

~*~*~

Dear Captain Why Aren’t You Real,

It seems Aunt Melissa was correct in surmising my first heat was looming near. Not long after I posted my last missive to wherever it is that letters without a destination must go, I succumbed to the fever and chills of my nascent adulthood.

I’m so glad you aren’t real, because if you were I might not have anyone to confide in about this. My body feels different now. Alien, almost. Perhaps it’s because this is the first time in a week I haven’t been gripped by that terrifying need to be filled and knotted, to be bred like a piece of cattle only good for incubating new life. Or perhaps it’s because while it was going on, the one thought that got me through the worst of my fever was you.

Ridiculous, I know. And yet true, for you are the only one I can be true with. I clung to a pillow and whimpered your name again and again as I leaked my desperation all over the bedding. Beta nurses washed my brow and encouraged me to hold on, to stay strong for my alpha, for you, so that when you come home triumphant it will be to your very own fresh and willing omega mate.

The sad part is even now, some part of me wishes they were right...

~*~*~

Dearest Derek,

I think, perhaps, after all this time, we might first-name each other, mightn’t we?

Natalie has given me this dried sprig of heather to send to you. A reminder of home. And a promise, for I’ve been told that Aunt Melissa has talked my godfather, Lord Deaton, into gifting you and I our very own home. A manor, really, on a great many acres of good, Scottish land way up in the Highlands. If you were real, if we were to truly wed and mate, then you’d be a laird in your own right. And I’d be living so far away from anything resembling the city that I should never have to worry about my dratted shyness ever again.

I keep telling myself that you’re fiction, but it’s at times like this that I find it hardest to remember. Remember before how I said that the most effective lies are the ones we tell ourselves? Well, I am most certainly a very accomplished liar.

After all, I’ve had ever so much practice.

I’ve enclosed a drawing of “our” home. Please forgive the fancy that compelled me to put those two small figures in the shadows. ‘Tis the only way we shall be there together, after all...

~*~*~

My Dear Captain Alpha Not-There,

Liam grows like a weed, and Lydia ever more lovely by the day. I wish you could be here to see them, to meet them. They pray for you every night, did you know? God bless Mama, God bless Papa, God bless Stiles, God bless Captain Derek Hale.

Well, Liam’s still having trouble with some of his sounds, so it’s more like Cap’n De’weck Haiy, but I’m sure you’d recognize your name, regardless.

If you had ears to do so, that is. Which you don’t. And that’s a fact I’ve had far too much trouble remembering as of late...

~*~*~

Darling,

These past five years being your pretend sweetheart have given me more than I could have ever hoped. I’m at last old enough that even if no one knew of you they’d never consider inviting me to any balls, much less introducing me to an eligible alpha. On the shelf at last.

But still I struggle under the weight of our lie. It’s exhausting, maintaining this fiction for so long. Especially now, half a decade down the line, when there’s no way I could possibly hope to come clean to Father and Natalie. They would never be able to forgive me, and I couldn’t dream of asking them to, either.

And yet, I desperately want to stop spinning falsehoods as part of my daily existence.

There’s only one solution to this problem; you must die, my dearest. Don’t worry, I shall give you a glorious death. You’ll die in battle, saving two -- no, four men. You’ll snatch them from the very jaws of death before your bravery and honor get the best of you and the enemy gets lucky.

I shall mourn you, Captain Whimsy. In a way, it shall be one of the most honest things I’ve done in years, as you’ve been such a part of my life for so very long. But it’s time for me to move on, to grow up. To find my place in this world as someone other than the terribly romantic omega pining away for his Scottish alpha.

In a way, I suppose I did love you, Derek my darling. You will ever have a small piece of my foolish little heart. But that will have to remain our little secret.

Very Sincerely Yours,

Stiles

Chapter Text


 

Nemeton Castle, Scotland

Three Years Later


 

The curves of the batus barbicornis’s antennae was neither smooth nor perfect, interrupted as they were by the four black-furred segments on each side. Neither was one a perfect mirror of the other, as was ever the way when Mother Nature’s artist hand was involved. Stiles liked to think of such natural irregularities as a means of keeping the rest of the world on its toes. As though that great goddess was leaving a subtle signature and a warning that mankind ought never become too complacent -- one never knew what might happen next.

rustle-shake

Stiles jumped, the ink from his pen splattering across the page in front of him. He gave the mess, and his own stained fingers, a cursory wipe with a scrap of cloth as he scrambled up and rushed to the glass enclosure beside the fireplace. It was early yet, but Stiles lived in hope.

Alas, no change. Spot was stubbornly where Stiles had left him.

“Come on, we’re all friends here,” Stiles murmured, nose a scant inch from the glass. But Spot merely shifted inside his golden chrysalis before settling once more.

“Take your time,” Stiles said on a sigh. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“My lord?”

Stiles turned at the timid voice. “Yes, Heather?” He ached to remind her that he wasn’t to be disturbed while he finished this commission for the duke. The inheritance from his godfather saw to the essential expenses of the estate, but Stiles depended on his meager income from a small number of English naturalists to provide the necessary pin money to maintain his personal hobbies. But no matter how cross he was at the interruption, Stiles could see clear as day that something had frightened his maid. “What’s wrong?”

“You have a visitor,” Heather said, voice shaking. “An alpha .”

Stiles blinked in confusion. He knew a very limited number of alphas, and even fewer of them were close enough to take such liberties as to present themselves unannounced. “Is it my father?”

Heather shook her head. The poor girl was terrified of alphas, ever since her small village in the Pyrenees Mountains had been overrun by a band of them in the war. She’d been orphaned and shuttled from church home to church home until finally making her way to England with the first wave of returning troops at the end of the war. “I don’t know this man, my lord,” she whispered. “Your aunt seemed to think you would, though. My lord, he’s just so... big .”

Curious, Stiles fumbled in the mess on his desk and pulled out a length of black ribbon to tie back his hair before heading out the room. “Please have tea brought to the front parlor, as well as an extra complement of biscuits for our mysterious guest,” he said. “Alphas always eat far more than is reasonable.”

He had no jacket, and if this alpha was as intimidating as Heather seemed to think, there was no time to fuss with his state of undress. Besides, uninvited callers had no business expecting better than half-dress at a quarter past two in the middle of the week. Fumbling with the gray of his cravat, Stiles found the pencil he’d been using earlier, speared through the loose and clumsy knot. Muttering to himself about self-important alphas expecting omegas to drop everything every time they got it into their heads to call, Stiles stuck the pencil behind his ear and re-tied his cravat before brushing his gray shirtsleeves and waistcoat. He was as ready as he’d ever be.

The man in the parlor was a complete stranger, if a beautiful one. Thick black hair tugged back into a queue, golden tanned skin, broad shoulders...Stiles had to take a moment to remember how to breathe as he admired the stranger’s broad, stubbled jaw, the crisp white shirt tucked into a black and green tartan. Bloody hell, even his knees were exciting.

This, a giddy part of Stiles’s omega mind supplied, was what every other alpha in the world aspired to be. None others had ever come close.

“Stiles?” the man asked, his voice gruff.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles said at last, swallowing thickly. “Do I know you?”

“Stiles!” Aunt Melissa popped out of her chair in the corner, delight written across every inch of her dear face. “Isn’t it wonderful? It’s a miracle!”

“What is?” Stiles couldn’t help cocking his head to the side, as though a new angle would help him to better understand. The man -- the alpha -- came closer, and then closer still until Stiles was forced to put out a hand to stop him. The alpha walked right into his hand, and then a step closer. “I beg your pardon, but have we met?”

“It’s me, leannan ,” the man said, covering Stiles’s hand with his own. Odd, but though his words were sweet, Stiles saw nothing but ice in the alpha’s blue-green-brown eyes. “I’ve come home to you at last.”

“You have?” Stiles said, though truth told it was more like a squeak. There had been some sort of terrible mix up, he was sure. No man this beautiful, this vibrantly alive , could possibly desire shy, ink-stained Stiles .

“It’s like something out of one of your books,” Aunt Melissa said, clasping her hands to her bosom and looking hopelessly infatuated with their guest. “Captain Hale, alive and well after all this time!”

“What? No,” Stiles said. He tried to snatch his hand back, but the man held him tight. “Aunt Melissa, you know Captain Hale is--”

“Right here, leannan ,” the man said, squeezing Stiles’s hand just shy of the point of pain. “Right here, and I’ll never leave you again. Aunt Melissa tells me you thought I was dead these past three years.”

Stiles was hallucinating. That was the only answer. He wondered, dimly, if the batus barbicornis was venomous, despite the duke’s assurances. “But…”

“I’ll go check on the tea,” Aunt Melissa said, bustling to the door. “Leave you two love birds to catch up.”

“But…” Stiles said again, only to be ignored. He looked up into the man’s beautiful eyes and saw so much anger it nearly felled him. No one had ever been this angry with Stiles before in his whole life. Certainly not a stranger. No, this was more the look of a lover scorned. “Derek?”

The man nodded, though he still kept that fierce eye contact, thick eyebrows drawn down like two furious slashes. “I imagine you’re surprised to see me.”

“You’re real?” Stiles hated the warble in his voice, but there was nothing for it. Either he’d gone mad or his imaginary boyhood sweetheart was right in front of him.

“Flesh and bone,” the man... Derek said. He hesitated, then moved closer still. Stiles could feel the warmth of him, wild and dizzying. “I got your letters, Stiles. Every last one.”

Stiles’s knees buckled and he swayed, vision going spotted for a moment. “I think,” he said, then tried again. “I think I’m going to swoon.”

~*~*~

Derek steered the omega to a nearby settee, joining him once it was clear he didn’t need to ring for help. His protective instincts were in overdrive, refusing to listen to all the reasons Derek had for hating this spoiled little boy who had left him for dead. Instead, both his wolf and his alpha sides were clamoring to take care of the stunningly attractive young omega at his side.

Focus . Derek shook his head, angry that his mind could be so easily swayed by the body.

“I don’t understand,” Stiles was saying, watching Derek with wide eyes. His face was still worryingly pale, more than a half dozen beauty marks standing out in sharp relief, but a lovely pink flush was creeping up his neck and over the edge of Stiles’s drab gray shirt and stock. “I made you up . I sent the letters to a battalion that didn’t exist. You can’t be here if I made you up.” He paused, then brightened. “Unless I’m magic?”

Derek rolled his eyes. “You aren’t magic,” he said, barely resisting the urge to growl. “I am very real, and always have been. Even before you stole me for your little game.”

“Little game?” Ah, and now the color was fully back, an angry flush across high cheekbones, whiskey-colored eyes snapping in irritation. “If you’d truly got my letters, you’d know that it was no game, not even in the beginning.”

“Oh, I got your letters,” Derek said, letting his voice drop in a way that even humans could recognize as a touch of the wolf. “And I read every last one.”

The anger drained out of Stiles at that, though his high color remained, embarrassment streaking across his face in a welcome splash of color on a gray pallet. “All of them?”

Derek nodded. “All of them.” He caught Stiles’s eye and held it, to be sure there was no misunderstanding with what he said next. “And I’ve come for all the things you’ve offered. Home. Marriage. A mate. You promised me a great many things, Mr. Stiles Stilinski, and I’ve come to collect.”

And then Stiles, who had always been so frustratingly careful with language in all of his letters, even believing no one would ever see them, did the unexpected.

“Well, shit,” he breathed. And then he fainted.

Chapter Text

Much to Derek’s very complicated relief, Stiles was nearly fully recovered by the time his aunt returned, carrying the tea tray herself.

“I’m sorry it took so long,” she said. “Heather’s beside herself and won’t leave the kitchen.” She fixed Stiles with a shrewd look, all affability gone in an instant. This was a woman Derek could believe would have seen right through Stiles’s lies and easily taken control of the runaway cart that was his and Stiles Stilinski’s fictitious love affair. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”

“Nothing,” Stiles said, hurrying to stand and take the tray. “I suppose the shock of it all took me by surprise.”

Melissa nodded briskly. “Of course it has done,” she said, pressing the backs of her fingers to Stiles’s forehead. “This close to your heat, I wouldn’t be surprised if this set you off early, my dear.”

At the mention of heat , Derek’s body tightened in anticipation. He fisted his hands tight and forced himself to think of his people instead of how Stiles might smell, ready and desperate for his alpha, the werewolf he’d drawn here to Nemeton Manor with all of his lies. It was a lot more difficult than he cared to admit. Bloody inconvenient instincts, always getting in his way.

“Aunt Melissa,” Stiles hissed, ducking away from her touch.

“What?” Melissa said, both dark eyebrows lifted daringly. “He’s your betrothed and an alpha. Of course Captain Hale has an interest in your cycle.”

“Yes, well,” Stiles stammered. “About that--”

“I was just telling Stiles how I wish to be wed as soon as possible,” Derek said. “I rather think we’ve wasted enough time, don’t you, Aunt Melissa?”

“Indeed.” The smile on Melissa’s face was just this side of evil, and Derek made a mental note to avoid crossing this woman at all costs. “We must hurry if the banns are to be read before Stiles’s next heat, however.”

Derek shook his head. “No, that won’t be necessary,” he said, gripping Stiles’s clammy hand in his, partly for the fiction and partly to keep his omega from running away. “We’re in the Highlands, we’ll be handfasted in the proper Scottish tradition. Tonight.”

“Tonight?” Stiles’s voice cracked in outrage. “That’s out of the question!”

“Why?” Derek pinned him with a look. “You wrote to me many times about how you’d told your family how you wished we’d married before I left, so we might begin our life together as soon as I returned. What better way to give you your heart’s desire than to wed at once?”

Stiles opened and closed his mouth several times, looking for all the world like a fish surprised to find himself on dry land. “Because…” he tried, smoothing agitated hands down his thighs. “I’ve been in half-mourning for years,” he said at last, brightening. “I haven’t got proper clothes for a wedding.”

“That won't be a problem,” Derek said.

Stiles bristled. “For you, maybe,” he said. “Not all of us have the luxury of choosing between kilts for all occasions.”

Derek scowled. “Since you're to be joining my clan, you'll be wearing the Hale plaid as well, leannan ,” he said. “But what I meant was that we won't need any banns or even a church. We'll be hand fasted as is proper here. My uncle can read the words and tie the knots for us. Everyday clothes are fine for such an intimate ceremony.”

“That can’t be legal,” Stiles blurted out, eyes so wide Derek could see the whites all around the light brown.

“It will be once we consummate the union,” Derek shot back, taking in the long, slender lines of the omega. Stiles’s clothes were oddly baggy and made entirely out of drab shades of gray, but it did nothing to hide his broad shoulders and those legs that seemed to go on for miles. Stiles’s hands were big, and despite long fingers that had probably done nothing more strenuous than play a particularly spirited minuet now and again, they were not in the least delicate. They were ink-stained and big-knuckled, and Derek had a sudden flash of what they might look like, clutching the sheets in surrender. He forced himself to look up into those whiskey-colored eyes again. “Once we’ve done that, the union will be as sealed as any other.”

“I just…” Stiles shook his head. “I would like my father here. Natalie, Lydia, and Liam, as well. I can’t wed without the rest of my family.”

“They’ll understand,” Melissa said, waving her hand. “Why don’t you two love birds take a walk and catch up? I’ll see to the captain’s men and tell Cook we’re having a wedding. Oh dear, I hope we’ve enough fresh meat for all of our werewolf guests.”

“Tell my man Scott he’s to help you with hunting,” Derek said, standing and offering Stiles his hand. Just because Stiles was being quiet didn’t mean the deal was sealed as of yet, and Derek would not be turned from his course. Far too much rode on his wedding and bedding this beautiful little liar, and Derek was not a man accustomed to failure. He’d made promises to his pack, just as Stiles had made promises to Derek, and promises were mean to be honored.

~*~*~

Stiles forced himself to keep a sedate pace as he led the absolutely improbably Captain Hale outside and down the hill to the loch. Despite the firm, dark-haired forearm under his hand, Stiles still couldn’t believe all this was happening. He couldn’t possibly have known there was an actual Captain Derek Hale, and once he managed to talk some sense into the stranger, they’d both be able to go back to their lives. There would be no more nonsense about weddings or handfastings or -- he suppressed a strange tingling shudder -- consummation , Derek and his people would leave, and Stiles would go back to his drawings of batus barbicornis and waiting on Spot to decide on joining them.

“That would be a good spot for some cottages, just over there,” Derek mused as they pulled to a stop on a small rise beside the loch. “My pack misses having a roof over their heads. It will be good to give it to them.”

“You know I can’t marry you,” Stiles blurted out. Blast it . He’d meant to be much more delicate. “We don’t even know each other!”

“Ah, but Stiles, I know you ,” Derek said. “I received every last one of your letters for years, kept them through the war and followed them here to you. I know your hopes and dreams, I know your secrets.” He paused and smiled, though it was entirely without mirth. “Especially your secrets, my little lying omega.”

“Those letters were private,” Stiles managed past his tight throat.

“They were addressed to me,” Derek said, pulling them to a stop beneath a tree alongside the water. “And you made a great many promises to me in them. Besides, everyone would expect us to wed now, after all we’ve had between us.”

“I’ll tell everyone my heart has changed in the years believing you dead,” Stiles said, chin lifted as he defiantly met Derek’s eyes. “I’ll say my boyish infatuation has faded and while I’m pleased you still live, it’s all for the best that we go our own ways now that we’re both so different than how we once were.”

“Only if you want me to take your letters to the London scandal sheets.” Derek stepped back and opened his sporran, pulling out a creased and wrinkled piece of paper. “I’m sure the ton would be happy to sink their teeth into the shameful story of Lord Beacon’s deceptive son. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if they suspected your father of being complicit in your ruse. A means of garnering sympathy and attention when he hadn’t nearly enough station to make a name for himself.”

Stiles glared at him. “You’re bluffing,” he said, even though he wasn’t entirely sure.

Derek arched one thick, dark eyebrow. “Care to wager on that?” He unfolded the letter and began to read.

Dear Captain Infatuation,

That dreadful Jackson Whittemore came to tea today. Honestly, I don’t know why Father is so determined we be friends. Jackson is a snobby prig--”

“Stop!” Stiles lunged for the letter, but Derek nimbly stepped out of reach. “That’s not yours. Give that back!”

“But it has my name on it, leannan ,” Derek teased, and went on.

--a snobby prig and I hate that I’m expected to be civil to him when he’s never been anything but an utter ass--”

“Please stop,” Stiles moaned.

--frustratingly attractive, mind you, but an ass nonetheless. This time he was trying to poke holes in my story, which is ridiculous as you and I both know I’ve gotten quite good at thinking on my feet over this past year.”

Derek peered at Stiles from over the page. “While I’m sure your polite society would love to hear all about your self-assessed deception skills, it’s the next part that I’m most fond of.”

“Oh good Lord, no,” Stiles breathed, and tried again for the letter. He’d tear it to pieces, scatter it to the winds, anything to keep from hearing his own foolish words aloud.

“He asked me if we’d even kissed before you left for war ,” Derek continued, twisting away again and again like it was a game. “So of course I told him we had. I told him it was... really, Stiles, it’s a miracle your father didn’t ride out to the Continent and force me to wed you and repair your honor. Not with you going around telling people how our kisses were so…”

Incendiary ,” Stiles groaned, hiding his face in his hands. “In my defense I was little more than a boy and most of what I knew of romance came from books.”

“Still,” Derek said, tucking away the letter, “you really should have been more careful with your reputation. It’s no wonder you’re still unwed at this age, and with such a property to your name.”

Stiles exploded. “What do you want ?” he demanded, flinging his arms wide. “Do you want me to apologize for my lies? Because I am sorry, more sorry that you could possibly imagine. But I shan’t add another lie to the mix and say I’d take it all back, because I have nearly everything I ever wanted.”

“That’s where we’re in agreement,” Derek said, stalking close. “As you have everything I’ve ever wanted, as well.”

“What do you mean?” Stiles asked, bravado ruined when he tried to step back but found only air.

“I’m an alpha werewolf who has been promised territory and a mate,” Derek said, catching Stiles with one arm before he could tumble into the loch, the wide spread of his hand searing against the small of Stiles’s back. “This territory. This mate.”

“Me?” Stiles couldn’t help laughing. “You must be mistaken. No one would ever want to mate me .” It was true; every alpha he’d ever met had looked right through him, even the ones who employed him for his skill with a pen and pencil. Every alpha until this one, it seemed. “I’m awkward, swing randomly from painfully shy to embarrassingly outspoken, and am far too gangly to be attractive. I’d make a terrible mate.”

“You’re also an unrepentant liar,” Derek reminded him, but didn’t let Stiles go. “Though I think we must agree to disagree on your lack of physical charms, leannan .”

“My Gaelic is terrible, but I know I’m not your sweetheart,” Stiles said, trying to stall for time against that look of dark intent. “Why do you keep calling me that?”

“As far as my pack and yours are concerned, you have been for years,” Derek said.

Derek’s pack. Struck with inspiration, Stiles looked up into those startling beautiful eyes. “I don’t want children,” he said daringly. “I’ve grown used to the notion of my body being my own. That won’t do for an alpha werewolf’s mate.”

“I have no desire for family beyond my betas,” Derek said, lifting both eyebrows at the challenge. “Once we’ve consummated our union, I’ll leave you alone, if that is your wish.”

“What about my heat?” Stiles asked, unable to keep from pushing. “Aunt Melissa is right, it’s due by month’s end. Would you honestly stay out of my chamber if I asked?”

Derek nodded, though Stiles could see something that might have been want in his eyes. “I would. We’re not animals, and I’ll not treat you as one,” he said. “Besides, passion freely given is always so much more... incendiary .” Oh, and now he was indecently close, nose brushing against Stiles’s. “You’ll see that tonight.”

“Tonight?” Stiles squeaked like a mindless echo, tilting his face up without a thought. They were very nearly of a height, but the scant inch or two of difference might as well have been a mile just then.

“Oh, aye.” Derek pressed the faintest kiss to the corner of Stiles’s mouth, shocking a faint gasp from softly parted lips. “Tonight, once we’re wed. I’ll take you upstairs and show you all the ways I know to make it pleasurable for you. There’ll be no need for your stiff English manners then.”

Speaking of things being stiff, Stiles was uncomfortably aware of a rather embarrassing situation growing in his breeches. He tried to move away, only to have Derek pull him closer, against an answering hardness of his own.

“Oh,” Stiles breathed, heart hammering in his chest.

“Indeed,” Derek said, and dipped his head, kissing Stiles full on the mouth at last, their lips moving together firmly, learning the shape and taste of one another for long, mind-bending seconds. Then  Derek’s tongue traced the part between Stiles’s lips, and Stiles could only open his mouth further, eager for more. No one had ever kissed him like this before -- no one had ever touched him with desire like this before -- and Stiles was consumed by a burning need to have more.

Then Derek’s tongue touched his and Stiles lost his mind completely, moaning at the taste. He clutched at Derek’s shirt, pulling him closer as he pressed their bodies together tightly. This. This was the passion Stiles had been lying about for years, and the reality far exceeded even his most fevered heat dreams. He sucked on Derek’s tongue, whimpering when Derek pulled away far too soon.

“Somehow,” Derek said, one hand caressing Stiles’s cheek before he backed away, hands clasped behind his back. “Somehow, I doubt we’ll have much trouble making our union legal, leannan . That’s good. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of another in my bed. I look forward to everything tonight will bring.”

“I...what?” Stiles reached up and touched his tingling lips, mind still too scrambled to come up with so much as a sentence.

“I’ll leave you to your preparations,” Derek said, turning to go.

“How do you know I won’t run for help instead?” Stiles asked. “I could, you know. That would put a stop to all this.”

Derek shrugged. “You could,” he agreed. “Or you could simply turn down my proposal, which would be much less trouble. But then the world will learn all about your lies. Your father will hear of your deception over his morning tea. Are you certain his heart can take that sort of shock?”

“You bastard,” Stiles growled.

“I might be that,” Derek said. “But come this time tomorrow, I’ll be Laird Bastard. And that’s all that really matters.”

Then he strode away, his bare, strong legs eating up the ground back towards the house. Stiles could only watch helplessly, equal parts infuriated and aroused. All he knew was that all was not lost just yet. He could still turn this around, Stiles was certain.

Chapter Text

The solution, Stiles realized, was elegantly simple.

They would only be legally wed once they “tied the knot,” so to speak. Until then, according to Cook, Stiles and Derek would technically be little more than betrothed. It would be scandalous to break such an arrangement, but not impossible.

So, obviously, the key was in not lying with his husband. No matter how shockingly good his kisses were.

It would require some fast talking and some terribly ham-handed manipulation, but Derek had claimed he wanted Stiles to come to him willingly. True, there was always the chance that Derek had lied about that, but there was still that boyish part of Stiles still secretly in love with a fantasy sweetheart. And that part refused to believe that his daydream made (flawed and obnoxious) flesh could be such a villain.

So. Handfast for now, avoid the marriage bed tonight...then find those blasted letters and burn every last one of them. Stiles would be free then, with the added bonus of having written off any and all remaining possibilities of an actual marriage with anyone else ever again.

In all, the conversation with Cook had been tremendously enlightening, if excruciatingly embarrassing. In retrospect, Stiles wasn’t entirely sure who suffered more for it. All things considered, however, Stiles considered his dignity a small price to pay for the hope he clung to all afternoon and into the first hush of what promised to be a lovely, if slightly chilly, evening.

But, of course, appearances could be deceiving, and by the time it came for Stiles to head up to his bedroom and dress for his wedding, a wicked storm had whipped up outside. Wind, rain, and even some hail raged against the stone walls in reminder of how Winter was known to cling to the Highlands, even into these middling days of March. Stiles wasn’t much of a fan of the weather, but it did provide an excellent distraction from the rest of his realities, so he was more than happy to sit at the window, contemplating the maelstrom outside.

“Stiles!” Aunt Melissa sailed into his room, arms full of fabric. “You’re not even close to dressed. Why am I not surprised?”

Shrugging, Stiles forced himself up to relieve his aunt of her burden. “I have a few things on my mind,” he said, dropping the load of fine fabrics on his bed.

“Of course you do!” Melissa said, smoothing her hands over his cheeks, his brow, his hair. “Marrying your captain at last! I daresay it would be enough to distract anyone. Here, I saved some of Rafael’s clothes; I’d say you’re rather close to his size. Close enough for us to have you make a good show at your own wedding, at the least.”

Guilt seized Stiles across the chest. He swallowed thickly. “Aunt Melissa,” he said, and halted. “Aunt Melissa, there’s really something we should discuss. About Captain Hale.”

“Now don’t you worry,” Melissa said, pulling out a fine gray satin waistcoat covered in painstakingly detailed red embroidery. “The trick to a wedding night is always not to panic. It might hurt at first, but don’t struggle, lest you pull on his knot. That hurts far worse, let me tell you!”

“What?” A cold, hard stone dropped right to the center of Stiles’s belly, and he barely managed to catch himself on the nearest canopy post on his headboard. “Hurt?”

Aunt Melissa nodded as she shook out a pair of breeches, inspecting them for holes. “Oh, aye,” she said absently. “I didn’t believe my mother for my go-round, but she was right. If he doesn’t take his time, it can hurt like the devil. If it does, you come find me in the morning and I’ll check you for tears, don’t worry.”

“I…” Stiles sat heavily on the edge of the bed. “I can’t do this.”

“Nonsense. Omegas have been doing this since the dawn of time.” She dug in the pocket of her skirt and produced a small jar. “I added a bit of heather to it for the smell, but use this before your new husband comes to you. It’ll ease the way, so to speak. Now,” she went on, holding up two shirts. “Which do you fancy? The blue or the white?”

Stiles set the jar aside with a shaking hand. “I’m not doing this,” he said, chin up despite the terror churning inside. “I’m not ready for...to be…” He shook his head. “I shan’t do it.”

She finally paused and looked at him, no doubt taking in Stiles’s utter lack of composure. “Oh, my dear sweet boy,” she said, dropping the clothes on the mattress and bustling over. She ran smooth, cool hands over his face, brushing back his hair and kissing Stiles on the brow. “It’s not so bad as all that. Not when it’s a love match like yours. Your Captain Hale will certainly see to your comfort. Perhaps even your pleasure.”

Aunt Melissa ,” Stiles gasped, mortified.

She laughed brightly and pulled away. “Oh, you’ll see soon enough, lad. You’ll see.”

Stiles smiled gamely and caught the bundle of clothes she tossed his way. “I somehow doubt it,” he said, reaching up to loosen his stock. “But I’ll take your word on it.”

Aunt Melissa’s only answer was to cackle all the way out of the room.

Dressing quickly, Stiles couldn’t help thinking about what his aunt had said. He knew it had to be pleasurable, or else their species would have died off ages ago, but the sheer mechanics of it seemed utterly improbable. How Stiles was supposed to take a knot up there and enjoy it was utterly beyond his ken...his gaze drifted over to the jar on the bedside table.

Curious, as ever, Stiles opened the jar and touched the contents with one finger. It was a salve, thick and slippery and -- he sniffed -- smelling faintly of flowers. Stiles rubbed it between his fingers, heart racing at the mere thought of applying the salve as intended. If this were a real marriage, if Stiles truly wanted this, he’d reach behind himself and circle his opening with the slick. This far from his season, he’d be dry, but Stiles could imagine what it would be like to spread this stuff around, spreading his own entrance like some wanton creature making himself ready to be mounted and claimed.

“No.” Stiles forced himself to close up the jar and set it down, to step away. He wouldn’t use it, wouldn’t have need of it. Not tonight. Not ever.

~*~*~

Derek registered the exact moment his betrothed entered the room, every sense on high alert to the racing heartbeat he remembered from the sitting room this afternoon. He tried to give Stiles time to find his composure, tried to ignore the way his instincts howled at him to see to his omega in his moment of need. Stiles wasn’t his omega, had never wanted to be. Certainly Derek had never asked for him. All Derek wanted was to get this ceremony over with so he could claim his new home properly.

But Stiles’s heart only hammered harder, growing worryingly erratic until Derek huffed and pushed back from the table and crossed the room to the dark hall where his prey awaited. No doubt Stiles was trying to force himself into another faint in a ridiculous bid to delay the inevitable.

What he found instead was Stiles, frozen in abject terror. He had a white-knuckled grip on the wooden doorframe, as though that alone were holding him up, and was showing entirely too much white around his eyes as he stared into the room.

“Stiles,” Derek said, forcing a softness into his voice. “Stiles, what’s wrong?”

“I... I can’t,” Stiles gasped, skin going parchment white and leaving his moles to stand out in sharp relief. His eyes skipped over the collection of household staff and Derek’s men, skittering around like a terrified rabbit cornered by a hungry pack of wolves. “I can’t.”

“Steady now,” Derek said, holding out his hands as though he were soothing a half-wild horse. “What do you mean? The handfasting?”

Stiles shook his head with the barest of twitches. “The people,” he said. A trembling started in his knees, working up until Derek was sure the boy would fall apart. “There’s too many of them. I can’t. I can’t.”

A memory, as bitter as it was precious, surfaced. Cora had suffered so, for months after the fire. Reason had no sway on her when the fear took her in those spells, and Derek knew Stiles would no doubt have the same trouble now. It made the small bit of bread and cheese he’d eaten earlier rise up in protest inside him, but Derek forced himself to go through all the old, familiar motions.

“Shhh,” he said, gently taking Stiles by the free hand. “Easy, love, it’s okay.” He stepped to the side, blocking Stiles from view of the room. “It’s just me, leannan . Just you and me and no one else. Can you look at me?”

Stiles shook his head, eyes fixed on the center of Derek’s chest.

“Come now,” Derek cajoled softly, easing Stiles’s face up by the chin. “I’m not all that horrible to look at, am I? Just look up and breathe with me, pet. That’s all I want.”

Finally, Stiles lifted those whiskey-colored eyes up. He sucked in a tremulous lungful of air, letting it whoosh out in a jagged breath. The next breath was easier, and then easier still. Tears welled up but refused to fall as Derek saw the panic receding from Stiles’s face, breath by breath. Derek squeezed Stiles’s hand gently, resisting the urge to gather the omega into his arms.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles said at last, voice scarcely more than a whisper. “I don’t...I’ve never been overly fond of crowds.”

Derek huffed a small laugh, but went along with it. “I’d run screaming from a pack of strange werewolves too,” he said. “Especially this ugly lot.” He stepped around to Stiles’s side, slipping a hand around the omega’s trim waist. “That one there, that’s Boyd. He’s my second in the pack and in the unit. Next to him is Scott, Erica, and Isaac.” He couldn’t help the pride in his voice as he spoke of his pack. “The whole useless bunch of them are mine to care for, always have been.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the faintest smile tugging at the corner of Stiles’s mouth. “And the rest?” Stiles asked, leaning ever so slightly into Derek’s bulk.

“That one is Mason,” Derek murmured in Stiles’s ear, not that the whole pack couldn’t hear them either way. “I took him on when his alpha died on the battlefield. Next to him is my sister, Cora. Our Uncle Peter -- he’s the one who’ll be saying the words tonight -- he’s the one by himself in the far corner, not even pretending not to eavesdrop on us.”

Stiles did laugh at that, a soft chuckle that had no business making Derek feel like he’d won some great prize. “Who’s the man talking to my aunt?”

“That’s Chris, our sawbones,” Derek said, hoping to leave it at that.

“I thought werewolves healed too quickly to have need of a medic?” Stiles asked, looking up at Derek.

“Not always,” Derek said shortly. He cleared his throat. “Are you ready now, leannan ? I believe we promised them a wedding.”

Stiles’s face tightened, but he didn’t bolt. “Handfasting,” he corrected even as he straightened his spine. “There’s a difference, after all.”

“Aye,” Derek said. “That there is.” He dug around in his sporran and pulled out a pin. Carefully, he attached the triskel to the lapel of Stiles’s waistcoat, the backs of his fingers slipping against the slick, expensive fabric of his white shirt. “This is for you,” he said.

“I...thank you you,” Stiles said, voice going soft.

“You’ll be part of the pack,” Derek said, ushering Stiles into the room. “You’ll need to wear my symbol somehow.”

“Are we ready, nephew?” Peter asked, pushing off from the wall. The rest of the pack snapped to attention, all except for Isaac, who looked around in confusion before laying eyes on Derek.

“Derek?” Isaac asked, stepping forward. “Where are we?”

“Nemeton Manner,” Derek said gently. “It’s our new home.”

“Is it?” Isaac rubbed a fist against his brow. “I don’t think I’ve been here before. Do you think we could go to Faol’s Hollow soon? I miss my brother and ma something terrible, Captain.”

“Tomorrow,” Derek said easily. “We’ll head out tomorrow. Tonight I’m getting handfasted, though.”

“You are?” Isaac looked at Stiles and smiled broadly. “Good on ye, man.”

Stiles laughed softly and blushed, but still managed to duck his head in greeting. “I’m Stiles,” he said, offering his hand.

“Isaac. You’re marrying the captain?”

“Something like that,” Stiles said, absently touching the pin on his chest.

“Never thought we’d see the day,” Isaac said and shook his head as he stepped back, clearing the way for Derek to lead his intended to where Peter waited in front of the great fireplace.

Derek could feel the tremors starting up again as Stiles watched Peter unfolding the length of Hale tartan. “Stiles,” Derek said, drawing anxious eyes back to his face. “Keep your eyes on me. Can you do that?”

Slowly, as though struggling through a bog, Stiles turned and faced Derek, looking up at him with a painfully lost expression. “I don’t know,” he said honestly. “I’ve never done this before.”

“Neither have I,” Derek said. Lightning crashed outside, followed by an echoing boom of thunder, and Derek squeezed Stiles’s hands when he twitched as though to run.

To his credit, Stiles held fast. Derek told himself he kept Stiles’s gaze throughout the words to ensure the omega didn’t bolt, but afterwards he couldn’t remember a single word spoken. All Derek knew was the surprisingly strong fingers tangled in his and the rasp of fabric winding around and around their hands as Peter switched to Gaelic to call on the old wolf gods to bless their union with strength, fertility, and longevity.

“I pronounce you both handfasted,” Peter said in English at last. “Bound together in the old ways, alpha and omega as one.” He paused, the continued sotto voce , “You may now kiss the bride.”

Stiles glared at Peter, a sharp look that gave Derek no end of amusement. “Ass,” he muttered, nerves clearly forgotten.

It was good that his mate had strength to him, Derek thought even as he hid his smile. But rather than let things get out of hand when everyone was expecting the pair of them to be smitten lovebirds, Derek stepped closer to his new husband, reeling him in with their bound hands. “Come here, leannan ,” he murmured, and covered Stiles’s mouth with his own.

Derek wasn’t entirely sure what he’d expected to happen, but he certainly hadn’t expected it to rock him as thoroughly as their kisses by the loch earlier. That had been nothing more than the novelty of kissing someone after so many years with nary a loving touch to pass an evening. Now, though, Derek knew how soft Stiles’s lips were, how slim but wiry his frame was. He knew the way Stiles’s breath caught in his throat at the brush of a kiss, and he knew the way his omega tasted on his tongue. Derek had no cause to lose his mind all over again.

And yet he did.

Stiles tasted perfect. Like clover and whiskey, and he opened his mouth as though begging Derek to dive right in. Groaning softly, Derek used his free hand to pull his husband’s firm body flush against his own and slotted their mouths together like they’d been made to fit this way. In a way they had; soon, Derek would be fitting other parts of their bodies together in much more intimate ways. The thought made his head spin with want and his cock throb with anticipation, and Derek growled roughly for just a moment when someone nearby coughed discreetly.

“Save something for later, alpha,” Boyd murmured from across the room, soft enough that only the other werewolves could hear. It was enough, though.

Derek pulled back, breaking off the kiss with a reluctance that was far less feigned than he cared to admit. He dropped one last lingering kiss on Stiles’s swollen mouth before stepping back to a far more seemly distance. “We’ll finish this later,” he said, grabbing Stiles’s hand and kissing the knuckles, much to Aunt Melissa’s swooning delight.

That had an unexpected result in Stiles, however. Even as the lust cleared from his intoxicating eyes, Stiles frowned. “Damn it,” he muttered as they unwound the sash and freed themselves. “That’s bloody inconvenient.”

“Is it now?” Derek asked as he led his new husband to the head of the table for their wedding feast. Simple fare, but well prepared if the mouth-watering scents were anything to go by, it still barely made a dent in Derek’s fixed attention to the kissable curve of Stiles’s jaw.

Stiles sat in his chair, grimacing briefly before reaching down to adjust a gratifying erection. Derek nearly reached over to help him with his problem, but remembered at the last minute where they were and why he mustn’t do that quite yet. He nudged Stiles’s chair in toward the table and took his own. “Why is it inconvenient?”

“For so many reasons,” Stiles sighed.

Derek wondered if Stiles would sigh like that once he’d found his release. Then he wondered about all the other little sounds he’d get to pull out of Stiles tonight, and forced himself to look away, right into the smirking faces of his pack. “Yes, I suppose it is at that,” he said, reaching over to squeeze Stiles’s hand once. “Eat your food. We’ll explore those reasons later.”

“That’s precisely what I’m afraid of,” Stiles muttered, but did as Derek bade him.

Perhaps married life wouldn’t be so intolerable after all, Derek thought with the faintest glimmer of what might actually have been hope.