“Okay,” Stiles says, throwing himself onto the nearest hotel bed and promptly bouncing off of it onto the floor. “Ow, shit, fuck.”
“You okay?” Scott asks from by the front door, pausing in the process of kicking off his sneakers. “Dude, no one’s going to take me seriously if I broke my boyfriend before the conference even started.”
“No one’s going to take you seriously, period,” opines Stiles from the floor. “Which is why I’m here. I am the 100% serious playmaker in action.” A flailing hand emerges over the side of the bed. “Boyfriend, come help me up.”
Snickering, Scott says, “I think you can get off the floor by yourself,” as he ventures into the bathroom. “Nice! This shower is like four times bigger than the one at home.”
“Probably to facilitate all that wild werewolf sex,” Stiles says. He even waggles his eyebrows, not that Scott can appreciate that from the next room over. “Hey, so, boyfriend, do you want to do the optional drinks reception tonight?”
“Are you going to stop calling me ‘boyfriend’ like that eventually?” Scott asks. He leans out of the door of the bathroom and displays a bunch of travel-sized toiletries splayed between his fingers. “Good haul. You want one?”
“Feedback from Allison and Lydia was that we didn’t emphasize our relationship verbally enough,” Stiles says prissily, “so, no, in fact, I’m going to keep calling you ‘boyfriend’ in my totally sincere and completely loving tone until this weekend is over and you can go back to nuzzling Allison and I can go back to be wild and single.”
“If you think that tone of voice is completely loving, I think I finally understand why you’ve never dated somebody for longer than three months,” Scott says. “Is that a no on the body lotion?”
“No, it’s totally a yes, send that over here.” Stiles props himself against the bed closest to the window; he has to make a bit of a wild lunge to catch the small bottle of lotion that Scott tosses towards him. “My hands are so dry, I hate flying.” As he pops open the cap on the lotion bottle and pours some in his hands, he frowns and says, “What’s wrong with my loving tone?”
“Um, it sounds terrifying?” Scott suggests. “Especially when you do that eyebrow thing.”
“I do no eyebrow thing!” Stiles cries.
“You have an eyebrow thing,” Scott confirms from the bathroom, from which emerges the rustling noises of faucets being turned on and bars of soap being unwrapped. “It’s like your eyebrows want to say hello.”
Stiles’ hands are kind of grossly greasy now, so he smears some of the extra lotion on his neck and up his wrists. He’s going to reek of lemongrass for the next few hours, which would be disgusting if the alternative weren’t smelling like stale recycled airplane. “Shit,” Stiles says, pausing in the act of rubbing lotion with the heel of his palm into his throat. “Should I not being doing this? Am I going to smell wrong or something?”
Scott and Stiles have been friends for so long that Stiles doesn’t actually remember meeting him for the first time, so Stiles doesn’t need to be in the same room to intuit that Scott has just shrugged. “I mean, you smell fine,” Scott says. “We share clothes all the time, you always smell like me. Now you just smell like me and—” there’s a brief pause while Scott presumably looks at the nearest bottle—“Lemongrass Monsoon.”
“What does that even mean?” Stiles demands, but he doesn’t actually want to get into an argument with Scott about the terrible naming practices of Bath & Body Works. “Never mind. What’s important here is, do I smell like Allison?”
“No,” Scott says. “Do you want to brush your teeth before I shower?”
“Not, like, bows and arrows and Marc Jacobs’ Daisy or whatever,” Stiles clarifies. “I mean, do I smell like you the same way Allison smells like you?”
“No,” Scott says, this time with clearly exaggerated patience, “but it’d be weird if you did. Scents are always different. You smell enough like me for the weekend. Are you sure you don’t want to brush your teeth?”
Stiles gets off the bed so he can stand in the bathroom doorway and make serious eye contact with Scott. “Okay, I’ll drop the scent thing. But we still haven’t discussed our plan of action if the networking dinner tomorrow night is actually a gigantic orgy.”
“It’s not a gigantic orgy,” Scott says practically. “Deaton told me that it would be just like any of the professional conferences we’ve gone to in the past. Wear your nametag, take lots of notes, drink the free booze. Was there an orgy at SFN last year?”
Stiles’ mouth twists because, as a matter of fact, the one-bed hotel room Stiles had somewhat illegally shared with the four other graduate students from his lab had begun to resemble a bordello by the third day of last year’s Society for Neuroscience convention in San Diego.
“Oh god,” Scott says, slamming the door in Stiles’ face, “I don’t want to know.”
“Orgies, Scott!” Stiles yells through the door. “I hope you’re ready for this disco stick!”
“I saw enough of your disco stick in the locker room in high school,” Scott shouts back, and he manages to get the last word by virtue of turning on the water and beginning to sing Broken Bells, loudly and mostly off-tune.
Stiles’ nametag, as it turns out, reads STILES STILINSKI: McCALL PACK, BEACON HILLS, CA [HUMAN]. Stiles sincerely hopes that everybody at this conference will be vigilant about removing their nametags before entering common areas in the hotel, or at least the hotel staff will be vigilant about informing other guests about the role-playing convention taking place on the second floor.
The first thing Scott does upon receiving their nametags is to loop Stiles’ around his neck and kiss him on the cheek, distracted and quick. It’s cutely Scott and in fact something he’s done before, admittedly usually while drunk, so Stiles ignores him as he splays the program open with one hand and thumbs through the notes Lydia had imported onto his phone with the other.
“Lydia heavily recommended that I attend the one about use of social networking and modern media to keep track of other packs,” Stiles says, reading aloud from Lydia’s notes. “Here, take this and star the ones that I tell you to, I can’t hold a pen and do this at the same time.”
Scott dutifully pulls a pen out of Stiles’ messenger bag and takes the program from him. “Social media for Stiles, got it.”
“Yeah, and she says if you don’t bring back really good notes from the two historical sections—the one about land rights and the one about incorporating old pack members into new ones—she’s going to skin you and wear you as a coat.”
Stiles isn’t exaggerating; Lydia’s note literally says, Tell Scott to attend these and take GOOD NOTES or else I will skin him and wear him as a coat.
“Those are at the same time,” Scott says with a frown. “They’re both the 8-10 AM slots tomorrow morning. Do you want to take one? I should probably go to the one about incorporating pack members, you have terrible people skills.”
“Excuse you,” Stiles says. “Who is here as your arm candy?”
“Because you definitely need people skills to do that,” Scott shoots back, hiding a grin as he looks down to studiously mark their program. After Stiles’ offended expression persists for a handful of seconds, Scott slings his arm around Stiles’ neck and tugs him into a quick half-hug. “Don’t worry, you’ll probably like the land rights workshop better than me, anyway.”
“Whatever,” Stiles says, reaching out to tweak Scott’s nipple under his mostly neat button-down. “Who ironed this for you, Jackson?” Scott yelps and slaps his hand away. “It looks like you sent it to be dry-cleaned by a bunch of monkeys.”
Unfortunately, before their conversation has a chance to deteriorate any further, Scott taps Stiles on the nose with the program. “We need to finish this before the first session starts.”
“Right,” Stiles says. “Ugh, yeah, looks like I’m going to Accommodating the Emotional Needs of Your Human Pack, Ballroom A. What are the odds on that being full of jackasses?”
“I’m pretty sure all of the jackasses are going to be with me,” Scott replies, reading off of the program. “We’ll be in the McConnell Conference Room, discussing Modes of Dominance and Communication.”
“Sweet,” Stiles lies. He holds out his hand for a quick fist bump. “Meet you back here for the booze reception, boyfriend?”
“Yep,” Scott says, in a way that clearly means we’re going to need it, before he lopes off towards the signs near the elevator with directions to the other conference rooms. Stiles is standing in front of a set of double doors emblazoned with BALLROOM A, so he’s fairly confident that he’s in the right place.
It’s not that Stiles is bad at people—he may not radiate joy and friendliness, like Scott, and he’s been told (by Lydia) (okay, and Jackson, but like Jackson really has room to talk, okay, the guy’s a mess) that he can be off-putting, but he’s not evil—but he still doesn’t really have any idea how to begin networking, especially not at 3 PM in a ballroom full of strange werewolves after a hideously long series of flights. One of their layovers had been in Philadelphia, which is the worst airport on the face of the planet after Newark, and Newark shouldn’t even count because it’s actually a circle of hell.
Stiles sidles into the ballroom and snags a seat in as close an approximation of the middle of the room as possible and pulls out his phone to text Lydia. He knows he should introduce himself but now that Scott’s off in the McConnell Conference Room, a sudden bout of nerves have chosen to attack his stomach. Goddammit, is Stiles a man or is he a man?
He sends Lydia a text to this effect and she replies, Oh my god, stop being such a heteronormative jackass and introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you. I knew we should’ve sent Danny as Scott’s fake boyfriend.
That wouldn’t have worked, Stiles reminds her, because Danny is a WEREWOLF and the whole point of this is that Scott’s life partner is a human. By “point” I mean “stupid problem.”
Because Lydia always gives good advice couched in meanness, Stiles pockets his phone, turns to the nearest person—who’s sitting in the row ahead of him, three seats to his left—and says, “Hi, I’m Stiles.” He offers his hand and his best smile, open-mouthed because Allison says that when he smiles with his mouth closed he looks like Buffalo Bill.
The head of dark hair previously occupied with staring at the floor turns slowly to look at Stiles, and it turns out the head of dark hair is just a prelude to a truly astonishingly attractive person. “Derek Hale,” he says, leaning over to shake Stiles’ hand.
He’s sitting alone and Stiles is sitting alone and the ballroom is at about 30% occupancy so Stiles gestures to the seat to Derek’s right and politely inquires, “Are you saving that?”
“No,” Derek says, curious, and Stiles stands up and clambers over the back of the folding chair in front of him, nearly kicking himself in the nuts but still managing it.
“Well, now it’s occupied,” Stiles says briskly as he settles into his new seat.
Derek looks like he’s considering getting up and moving away, but his lips quirk in a half-smile instead. “You’re kind of—pushy,” he says.
“No,” Stiles tells him, “I’m networking. I am establishing a network. Where are you from?”
“Hale pack,” Derek says. “Redding to Yreka.”
“Oh, no need to go into further details,” Stiles says, “I know all about the Hale pack. You’re our neighbors to the north. I’m here as part of the McCall pack, in Beacon Hills?” Derek’s smile has disappeared but he doesn’t look angry, necessarily, just neutral and attractive. Stiles wants to lick his face, but that’s a bad thing to be thinking while he’s technically here as Scott’s boyfriend.
“The one with the hunter as the Alpha’s mate?” Derek asks. He immediately looks like he wishes he hadn’t gone there.
“You’ve heard the flagrant rumors, then,” Stiles says in lieu of an outright lie. “God, werewolf packs are worse than teenage girls, aren’t they?”
“I have much better fashion sense than a teenage girl,” Derek says. He doesn’t gesture to his torso or anything flashy like that but Stiles takes his comment as an invitation and leans back, running his eyes over Derek’s vest and dress pants and the crisp, tailored lines of his shirt, unbuttoned at the throat like he’s been put in Ballroom A to tempt Stiles from the righteous path.
“Yeah,” Stiles finally agrees, and his voice is way too hoarse for someone who is supposedly werewolf married, God, Stiles, get it together. “I’m actually disappointed by the sheer lack of pink, to be honest.”
Before Derek has a chance to say anything, the microphone at the front of the room squeals and the woman standing behind it, wearing a pair of thick-framed plastic glasses and a blue sheath dress that looks hugely uncomfortable, smiles and waves. “Hello, everybody,” she says. “Welcome to Accommodating the Emotional Needs of Your Human Pack. I’m Harriet Chen, mate to the Alpha of the Lewis pack out of Baton Rouge, and I’ll be co-moderating this session with Jean Marchand, Alpha of the Marchand pack in Montreal.” The intimidatingly dour black man standing next to Harriet does not wave, or look particularly pleased about his co-moderation duties.
“Wow, okay,” Stiles breathes. “Could he be less interested?” He remembers a second too late that the guy sitting next to him is probably a werewolf with super great hearing; when Stiles chances a look at Derek from under his eyelashes, Derek looks like he’s biting the inside of his cheek.
“No,” Derek whispers back a few seconds later, when Jean has reluctantly taken over at the microphone to begin the introductory slideshow in a French-accented monotone. “The Marchand pack has one of the highest ratios of human to werewolf pack members, so he has to moderate a human relations session every year.”
“Poor baby,” Stiles coos with a distinct lack of sympathy. He wants to ask Derek if he comes to the North American Lycanthropy and Leadership Symposium every year, if Derek is of the same opinion as Stiles that Chino should be blighted off of the map of California forever, if it’s true that the Alphas of the Hale pack have the ability to fully shift into wolves, if Derek would maybe be interested in getting coffee with Stiles later in the Starbucks in the lobby of the hotel. Stiles would also be okay with just watching a movie, maybe holding hands and making out. He’s a pretty flexible guy, both literally and figuratively, since Allison needs a partner for her pre-natal yoga class and Scott works Tuesday nights at the vet clinic.
Stiles does none of these things, since this weekend Stiles is Scott McCall’s boyfriend and love muffin. It’s important that Stiles be really good at that, because if any of the other packs find out that the new Alpha in Beacon Hills is engaged to a former hunter who still tends to kick butt and stockpile wolfsbane, there would probably ensue thereafter some kind of Dario Argento-style bloodbath.
Stiles still spends way longer than he should looking at Derek’s hands as he scribbles notes on a yellow legal pad balanced on his knees. He has solid hands with knuckles that look like they would feel really nice pressing into Stiles’ ass, coated with lube, preferably while Stiles sucked Derek’s tongue into his mouth.
Derek also has very neat handwriting. It might be even more attractive than his fingers.
In the rush to get out of Ballroom A and find the nearest bottle of aconite-laced booze, Stiles loses track of Derek Hale and his vest and that’s probably for the best, really. Stiles has historically terrible impulse control, although he’s in his twenties now and can hopefully be relied upon to be a faithful fake boyfriend to his best bro.
“Stiles!” Scott cries, waving his program over his head. “Hey! Over here!”
Stiles squeezes through the crowd of people adorned in business casual gear, occasionally elbowing randoms and apologizing in turn, before he reaches Scott, who has two sweating bottles of Blue Moon in one hand and his symposium program in the other. There’s a pen tucked behind his ear.
“Hey,” Stiles says, leaning in to peck Scott on the cheek. They’d decided on cheek kissing because it exposed their necks but didn’t require Stiles’ lips on a portion of Scott’s body that could be construed as beyond bro space. “How was the BDSM workshop?”
“Don’t be mean, dude,” Scott replies, handing over a Blue Moon. “It was fine. More hands-on than I was expecting, lots of practice displays for different types of dominance. And there was a quiz, at the end.”
Stiles stops guzzling his beer and puts it down to say, somewhat aghast, “They gave you a test?”
“No, no,” Scott assures him, “it was more of a personality quiz. Like, ‘what kind of Alpha are you’ type of deal.”
“Are we talked Cosmo or Freud?” Stiles asks, since he has a hard time believing a qualified psychologist contributed to the creation of such a quiz.
“Mostly Cosmo,” Scott admits. “But the moderators said straight up that half the point of the workshop was legitimizing non-traditional styles of dominance.”
“Lydia’ll like that, I hope you wrote that down,” Stiles says. He’s mostly finished his beer and he can feel himself becoming distracted under the first heady rush of alcohol and wolfsbane hitting his bloodstream. A cursory glance and then a more thorough one yield no sign of Derek. “Did you, um, meet anybody interesting?”
“Yeah, actually,” Scott enthuses. “Come on, I said I’d introduce you, I met this Alpha and her girlfriend from Wisconsin, they were really cool.” He takes Stiles’ elbow and tugs him directly into the crowd, which sadly does not appear likely to spit Derek Hale out any time soon. Maybe that’s for the best, since Stiles wants to networkwith him in the porn sense more than the actually politically useful one.
Stiles makes it down to the buffet breakfast by pure force of will; he has a gigantic bruise on his thigh from Scott, who’s kicked in his sleep since they were five and only gotten worse since he was bitten, and the coffeemaker in their room had been too complicated to operate caffeine-less.
Scott, that miserable bastard, had grabbed a muffin and run, eager to meet up with his buddies from Wisconsin before the first session.
“Urgh,” Stiles gurgles at the coffee urn at the front of the breakfast buffet. It’s 7:45 and the room is basically deserted, people peeling off to grab seats for the first session of the morning, and Stiles isn’t hungover, per se, but the combination of wolfsbane and booze always makes for a shitty next morning.
“I don’t think it’s voice activated,” Derek says to Stiles’ left, where he has miraculously appeared since Stiles first began his staring contest with the coffee urn.
Stiles attempts to snarl, “Shut up,” but it comes out more as a groan. “I did not get enough sleep for an 8 AM lecture on land rights. God, and I’m a graduate student, it’s my job to run on less than three hours of sleep.” He still can’t really muster up the energy to take one of the Styrofoam cups and fill it with coffee. He also kind of wants one of those jumbo corn muffins, but his limbs, they’re so tired and bruised.
Derek puts a hand in the small of Stiles’ back and gently pushes him down the line of the buffet table, and then moves through the process of getting a cup of coffee. He’s wearing a different vest today, grey with pinstripes, and his butt looks amazing in his dress pants. Stiles is so distracted by said butt that he almost doesn’t notice when Derek nudges him in the shoulder and says, “How do you take your coffee?”
“Black,” Stiles says. “Black as a T1 lesion.” It takes a truly embarrassing amount of time for him to realize that the cup Derek is proffering is for him. “Wait, seriously?”
“Aren’t T1 lesions white?” Derek asks, raising an eyebrow as Stiles snatches the coffee away and begins to slurp at it. “I mean, in an MRI, T1 lesions are white.”
“Ye-es?” Stiles says hesitantly, unsure as to Derek’s point. Stiles turns to pick up the nearest muffin and stuff it into his mouth when he finally understands the connection. “Oh! Yeah, no, it’s because they’re called black holes.” It takes him the rest of the muffin, which he consumes in two large bites, to ask, “How do you know what T1 lesions look like on an MRI?”
Derek says, pointedly, “Chew with your mouth closed.” He cups his hand around Stiles’ elbow and barely has to tug to pull him towards Ballroom B, at the other end of the dining hall, where the land rights seminar is being held. “I’m a nurse.”
“Seriously?” Stiles says. “That’s way cool. Where do you work? Scott’s mom used to be an ER nurse in Yreka, before she moved to Beacon Hills.”
“Mount Shasta,” Derek says. “Is Scott your—Alpha?”
“Yeah, Scott McCall.” Ballroom B, as it turns out, looks a lot like Ballroom A, only the podium is on the left side of the small stage instead of the right. Apparently land rights are a hot topic in North American lycanthropy circles; there are only a handful of empty seats left, and the only two that are together are in the back, behind a row filled entirely with tall blond dudes with nearly identical facial features.
Stiles silently tips his head towards them and mouths, Can you clone werewolves?
Derek mouths back, They’re Canadian.
Before Stiles can make some kind of mean, patently false generalization about Canadians, a man he vaguely recognizes from last night’s booze reception takes to the podium and introduces himself as a professor of American History at Brown, as well as a Beta of the Oghoghome pack. He’s wearing a tweed jacket and a red bowtie and Stiles likes him a lot already.
Dr. Oghoghome pauses at nine for a brief coffee break and a chance for people to gather their thoughts before the Q&A; Stiles spends the break learning that Derek and his sisters, all of whom are Betas, are representing the Hale pack at the conference this year in the absence of their parents. He also ends arguing with Derek about the relative shittiness of NorCal’s professional baseball teams and texting Lydia about some of the more interesting points of Dr. Oghoghome’s presentation.
“Do you have a land rights issue?” Derek asks, when Stiles huffs at Lydia’s latest text (Don’t bother couching our situation in hypotheticals, Stiles, everyone knows who the McCall pack is. At least be polite, though) and aggressively tabs out of their conversation. “You seem—preoccupied.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, stuffing his phone into one of the outside pockets of his messenger bag where it’s tangled at his feet. “I mean, you don’t need to play dumb, dude, I know that everybody knows about what happened with us.”
“If you’re talking about McCall and Ennis—” Derek says, frowning slightly, “then yes, I heard something. Rumors don’t—make something true, though.”
Dr. Oghoghome takes the podium and taps on the microphone. “Well,” Stiles says, “you’re about to find out,” and when the floor is opened to questions Stiles is the first one to rise to his feet.
“Hey,” he begins, “Stiles Stilinski, McCall pack, Beacon Hills.”
Someone towards the front shouts, “Can you get a mic for the humans?”
There’s a bunch of fussing and then one of the moderators brings Stiles a cordless mic; he has to lean over Derek to get it, put a stabilizing hand on Derek’s shoulder so Stiles doesn’t flop ass over teakettle into the aisle. “Thanks,” Stiles says once the microphone is on, “sorry about that. Um, I’m Stiles Stilinski, from the McCall pack in Beacon Hills. My Alpha is pretty new and he replaced an Alpha who’d had a long bloodline with ties to Beacon Hills. Our emissary warned us about some problems we might have, totally replacing a bloodline like that.”
“You’re talking about Ennis Donohue, correct?” Dr. Oghoghome prods. “The last of his bloodline and pack? I’m not questioning the legitimacy of your Alpha, but Ennis went moon-mad, did he not?”
Stiles tries not to fidget as every pair of red eyes in the room turns towards him unerringly. God, werewolves are such creepy motherfuckers. “Yeah,” Stiles says. “Ennis tried to eat a little girl in a parking lot, I guess I would categorize that as moon-mad, sure.”
“The rest of his pack was murdered by hunters,” someone says from across the aisle, sounding pissy about it.
“We aren’t questioning the legitimacy of Scott McCall as Alpha,” Dr. Oghoghome repeats, but it turns out to be a weak stab at quelling as half of the room bursts into whispers.
“Um,” Stiles says into his microphone, “if everybody can just—shut up?” Raising his voice results in a shrill burst of feedback and every werewolf in the hall immediately shuts up and winces, which is what Stiles had wanted to happen, admittedly maybe without the embarrassment of his voice cracking like a pubescent choirboy. “Thanks. I was just hoping to get some feedback about ways to make sure that new Alphas properly bond with their land.”
“That’s a great question, Mr. Stilinski,” says Dr. Oghoghome gamely. Stiles recognizes on his face the look of a professor who has to deal with shitty questions from doped-up undergraduates and is fully appreciating being in a conference setting with mostly adults. “I anticipated someone asking that—it’s a pretty popular question, I get at least a dozen emails about it every year from various packs across North America—so I took the liberty of preparing a few slides.” He nods at Stiles, who turns off the microphone and leans across Derek’s lap to hand it back to the moderator lurking in the aisle.
This time it’s Derek who reaches up to stabilize Stiles, his hand big and warm at Stiles’ hip, and this is literally the worst time for Stiles to be thinking about banging someone. He’s supposed to be taking notes right now, fuck.
Stiles opens the voice recording app on his phone and arranges his face into his patented Carefully Studious expression, which he’d developed right around the time his neuro advisor in undergrad had told him that he needed to take an art class to fulfill his last Gen. Ed. requirements and the only one available that fit Stiles’ schedule was Abstract Expressionism and Political Mayhem in the Late Twentieth Century.
He can still feel the individual outlines of Derek’s fingers against his hip thirty minutes later when Dr. Oghoghome is adjusting his bowtie in lieu of calling the human currently monopolizing the audience microphone a moron.
“What an idiot,” Derek huffs under his breath.
“Thank you,” Stiles whispers back. One of the Canadian werewolf clones in front of them turns in his seat to give them a murderous look. “Oh, sorry,” Stiles says, “were you paying attention to that human disaster?” The clone sniffs and pointedly reorients towards the front of the room.
“God, Stiles,” Derek says into his hand, his shoulders shaking. He pulls his hand down and then shakes his head, like he’s trying not to laugh and mostly losing. Stiles loves making people look like that.
Get coffee with me, he thinks aggressively, staring at the crisp line of Derek’s jaw and wanting so badly to run his mouth along it that he can almost taste Derek’s aftershave.
As the Q&A wraps up and people begin to filter out for another coffee break before the 10:30 workshops begin, Derek remarks, “You’re going to get kicked out of one of these sessions.”
“No way, with my natural charm?” Stiles pretends to preen, then gives it up because one of his pens has exploded all over the inside of his bag and ink has gotten everywhere. “Jesus Christ, this is why people use computers.”
“What?” Derek asks, and Stiles raises a hand so he can show Derek the ink dripping down his fingers. Derek stares at them for longer than it really necessary, as if the ink has personally insulted his eyebrows or something.
“This is totally going to stain, awesome,” Stiles mutters, rubbing the ink between his thumb and forefinger in a doomed attempt to determine if it's already dyed his skin. “Shit, I have to go wash this out now before it gets on any of my notes. Hey—I’ll catch you later, okay? Are you going to the keynote this afternoon?”
“No,” Derek says, eyes still a little unfocused. “My little sister is, I’m supervising the group activities before dinner.” He finally pulls his shit together and his gaze flicks up to Stiles’ face, a little uncomfortably. Is Derek Hale shy? God, Stiles would totally wreck him. Stiles would enjoy wrecking him repeatedly, in an abandoned conference room and then, like, somewhere with a bed, and then in a shower afterwards, slowly.
YOU HAVE A FAKE BOYFRIEND, Stiles firmly reminds himself.
“I’ll see you at dinner, then,” Stiles says, and he makes his way to the nearest bathroom before he ends up doing something really terrible like taking a running leap at Derek and fusing their mouths together.
“Dude,” Stiles says to Scott in their room before dinner, “I want to do terrible things to this guy, you have no idea.”
“You always want to do terrible things to attractive people,” Scott points out. “You also never explain what’s so terrible. I mean, it’s not like you want to make a snuff film with them or anything.”
“I swear to God,” Stiles says, “if the next words out of your mouth are something about how our public education system has brainwashed us into believing that otherwise natural sex acts are perverted in order to perpetuate our kyriarchical system, I am mailing you home to Allison. Right now.”
“Why would I need to?” Scott asks. “You just said it for me.” He frowns at Stiles’ reflection in the mirrored back of their closet and adds, “Do you need help with that?”
“No,” Stiles says defensively, further tangling himself and his silk tie into some kind of Gordian knot. “I’m fine. Everything is fine. Derek’s ass is fine.”
“I am so jealous,” Scott deadpans. “You’re, like, sucking all the life out of our relationship.” Done with his tie, which is impeccably folded, Scott comes over and slaps Stiles’ hands out of the way. “Just let me, okay? I’m your boyfriend, I’m supposed to provide for you and stuff.”
“Thanks, Scotty,” Stiles says, “it’s good to know that if I ever run the risk of strangling myself with eveningwear, you’ll be there to provide for me.”
“S’what I do,” Scott says with a shrug of false modesty. He performs some kind of magic sleight-of-hand and pulls back to reveal Stiles’ tie, previously a mess of blue silk and flailing limbs, as God intended it to be tied. “Tada.”
“I’m really attracted to you right now,” Stiles informs him with an exaggerated leer. “Is there a bondage history helping you out here? We can talk about exploring that, together. I bet Allison would forgive you. What happens at the North American Lycanthropy and Leadership Symposium stays at the North American Lycanthropy and Leadership Symposium and all that.”
Scott grips Stiles firmly by the shoulders and says, “Dude, I love you. But I am not making out with you. Not even for a hotel full of Alphas.”
“But where’s your commitment, Scott?” Stiles gripes. He wants to keep heckling Scott as they grab their suit jackets and leave—Stiles has been collecting jokes about potential threesomes with Scott and Allison for approximately a million years now, and they’re all just waiting to bubble out of him—but his better sense prevails. He and Scott had put on a great show at the keynote lecture, tag-teaming a bunch of Neanderthals from Maine who’d tried to make claims about the weakness of Alphas with human mates, and Stiles doesn’t want to accidentally ruin all that great karma by blabbing about Scott’s real girlfriend within earshot of anyone.
“Not in your tonsils,” Scott says. He looks ridiculously pleased with himself for that one; he adjusts the lapels of his suit jacket as Stiles pulls the door to their hotel room shut.
“Oh please, you’re getting all up on this,” Stiles says. “My ass is golden, baby.”
“Your asses are late,” says someone behind them, and Stiles nearly clears the floor with the force of his surprise. It turns out to be Cora, the bitterly sarcastic but otherwise very nice Beta that had sided with Stiles and Scott during the keynote throwdown.
“My ass is grand enough to be both golden and late,” Stiles says primly, about two seconds before he realizes that Derek is coming up behind Cora, wearing a full suit this time and looking like an act of God, down to the part where his features could’ve been carved in stone. Stiles can’t even process everything happening inside of that pinstripe right now; the open collar of Derek’s shirt has finally succeeded in destroying Stiles’ higher brain functioning.
“Derek, have you met Stiles and Scott?” Cora asks. “This is my brother, Derek. Derek, this is Scott McCall, he’s the Alpha in Beacon Hills.”
“Hey, nice to meet you,” Scott says brightly, offering his hand for a shake. “You’re Hale pack? Cora said you were north of us. This is Stiles.” Scott puts his free hand in the small of Stiles’ back and holds it there, which Stiles knows looks kind of ridiculous because of how much shorter than Stiles Scott is, but it’d been a move deemed appropriately boyfriend-like by Lydia and Allison.
“We’ve met,” Stiles says. He attempts to be cheerful but he sort of feels like he’s having a heart attack. It isn’t possible for Derek to have become more attractive in the intervening hours, is it? He smells amazing, though, like pears and hickory and salt. Stiles isn’t even exaggerating the licking thing anymore, he just wants to know if Derek’s skin tastes how great it smells.
“Yeah,” Derek says gruffly. When Stiles finally manages to tear his gaze to Derek’s face, his eyes are so empty that Stiles almost takes a step backwards, into Scott, before he recovers. “We met.”
“Derek totally had my back during the land rights non-fiasco,” Stiles explains. Derek still looks like an emotionless robot with an eyebrow problem, so Stiles continues, a hair too loud, “You know, with Ennis and the bloodlines and all. Dr. Oghoghome gave a really interesting response to that, did I tell you, Scott?”
“Yeah,” Scott says.
Stiles says over him, “Right, so, it turns out that bonding with the land is mostly symbolic and represented more by a pack’s relationship with its emissary.” The more he talks, the worse Derek’s face seems, and Cora is beginning to look confused, darting looks between Derek and Stiles and Scott like they’re a puzzle she doesn’t have all the pieces for. Stiles’ father used to look like that when they played a family game of Clue, right before Stiles’ mother inevitably won. She’d been a Clue savant.
“Right,” Scott says, clearly lost but still willing to back Stiles up because they’re bros and that’s what bros do.
“Right,” Stiles agrees. “So the fact that you have such a strong relationship with Deaton, it means the bond with the land probably won’t need strengthening. Which, if you think about it biologically, makes sense.”
Cora interrupts to say, “Shouldn’t we be heading down to dinner? Not that this isn’t a rehash of my least favorite subject in school or anything.”
Scott chooses this moment—this moment, out of all the previous moments—to say, “Wait—this is the land rights guy?”
A millisecond later, Cora turns to Derek and says, “Whoa, he’s the land rights guy?”
“Um,” Stiles says.
“Yes,” Derek says tightly. “Let’s go to dinner.”
He makes to go around their little group meeting and head for the elevators, but Cora sinks her fingernails into his arm and says, “Hold up. Stiles—you’re mated to the Alpha of Beacon Hills?”
Stiles is normally a pretty okay liar, but Cora looks about three seconds and two wrong words from ripping Stiles’ throat out with her teeth. “Um,” Stiles hedges again.
“Oh my god, dude,” Scott says, “you are the worst boyfriend ever. You were totally flirting with another guy.”
Derek’s expression shifts from a blank landscape; he now looks like he’s preparing to fall on his sword, probably because werewolf etiquette has all sorts of stupid rules about fraternization across packs with regards to Alphas and their mates. Before Stiles’ brain has a chance to catch up or Derek to speak, Stiles, choosing to be offended, elbows Scott in the chest and says, “Oh, right, because you’d have preferred Danny here instead of me?”
“At least Danny wouldn’t have flirted with another dude!” Scott points out, legitimately.
“It’s not like I can just turn it all off,” Stiles says. “I mean, look at him. He likes baseball, too, Scott. And he’s a nurse. Like, I didn’t realize they even made real people like that. I thought they only existed in porn and romance novels.”
“Are you—breaking up?” Cora asks, sounding a combination of horrified and intrigued. Derek raises his eyes to the ceiling and looks tortured.
“No,” Stiles says at the same time that Scott, looking crafty, says, “Yes.”
“What?!” Stiles squawks. “No! We aren’t!”
“I am feeling really betrayed right now, Stiles,” Scott tells him, heavy with mock sadness. “Like, I can’t even handle it. I think I’m going to go to dinner and drown my sorrows in beer. And steak.”
“You ordered the pork,” Stiles reminds him.
“Yeah, but you ordered the steak,” Scott points out, “and I’m the betrayed party, here. I’m getting your steak.”
“What am I eating in this scenario?” Stiles asks. “Salad? My own hubris?”
“No,” Scott says patiently, “you’re staying up here and thinking about what you did. With Derek.” He raises his eyebrows significantly at Cora.
“Oh my god,” Cora gasps. “So you really are dating a hun—”
“Shh!” Stiles hisses, flapping a hand at her. “What part of ‘hotel full of werewolves with advanced senses’ do you not get?”
It’s around here that Stiles finally rallies his courage to look at Derek; his eyebrows have crested in the middle of his forehead, and he looks like hopefulness might be battling with frustrated anger. Stiles still totally stands behind the original plan to lie to a conference center full of werewolves, because bloodbaths suck, but the idea of being able to successfully pull off an Ocean’s Eleven long con but still get the guy is pretty appealing.
“We can’t stay up here,” Derek says. Which—is fair. Stiles lied to him. Liars aren’t attractive; Stiles learned that in kindergarten. “Not if you still need to continue your ridiculous charade.”
“No,” Stiles says slowly, reluctantly. “I mean, yeah, it makes a shitty impression on all those people we were trying to impress.”
“I guess,” Scott says, drooping at the realization that his matchmaking plan isn’t totally feasible. Stiles is struck, like he sometimes is at random points in time, by how fucking lucky he is that his mother had chosen to take Stiles to a playground around the corner from Scott’s house when they were little. If she’d picked the one behind Beacon Hills Public Library, Stiles’ best friend right now might be Mike Greenberg, and that would have been a fucking tragedy.
Buoyed by the knowledge that Scott at his back—Scott is always at his back—Stiles says, “I’m—look, I’m sorry about flirting with you. It wasn’t fair. I didn’t do it totally intentionally, it was about 60% a total inability to control myself, but that was still a shitty thing to do.”
“Yeah,” Cora says, now apparently disinterested in apologies, “well, you can make it up to him after the symposium’s over. Derek, give him your phone number.” She brushes past Stiles and Scott with a pointed, “Is feelings time over? I’m starving,” and Scott hurries after her because he’s a bottomless pit with legs when it comes to food.
He may also do it to give Stiles and Derek a bit of privacy. Scott can be cool like that.
“I—understand,” Derek says. “You—flirt with everyone.” He won’t look Stiles in the eye; his hands, held at his sides, are restlessly opening and closing. “It’s fine.”
“Is that seriously what you got out of that?” Stiles demands. “Oh my god, you moron, I totally want to bone you. I don’t flirt with everyone, what the fuck is that supposed to mean.”
Derek’s eyes stutter from the wallpaper over Stiles’ left shoulder to Stiles’ face. “Wait—what?”
“You,” Stiles enunciates aggressively. “I want to bone you, not everyone in this hotel. What the hell is wrong with you, how on earth did you misinterpret that?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Derek snarls, “was I supposed to magically intuit what you meant based on all those times in our previous encounters when you lied to me?”
“Okay, fuck you, I omitted, that isn’t lying,” Stiles hisses. “Also, I think my really obvious boner for you sort of made it clear who I was interested in, even if I didn’t say anything!” Stiles fists his hands in the lapels of Derek’s blazer and says, borderline murderous and low enough that only Derek should be able to hear him, “I didn’t keep fucking touching you because I was flirting with someone else, you fucking asshole.”
Derek locks his hands around Stiles’ wrists. From this close, Stiles can see that his eyes are composed of a million different colors, blues and greens and browns arranged in flecks around a pair of seriously blown pupils. “Okay,” Derek says, maddeningly level, and then he doesn’t even need to yank Stiles forward to push their mouths together; they’re so close that all he has to do is tilt his head.
His lips are soft and he tastes like spearmint. Stiles never wants to stop kissing him, not even for breathing or eating, which had been until now basically at the top of Stiles’ ‘will do forever’ list. “Mmm,” Stiles groans, digging his fingers into the hard muscle of Derek’s chest. What’s even the point of breathing, it’s not like Scott and Allison ever seem to need to do it when they see each other after a long absence. Stiles has spent his whole life until now not kissing Derek Hale, which should definitely be categorized as a long absence.
“Ew,” Stiles hears Cora says from somewhere. “Oh god, now there are tongues, gross.”
“Get it, Stiles!” Scott whoops. Which: best fake boyfriend ever.