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Derek Hale's No Bad Very Good Day

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It's the day before Thanksgiving, and Derek's awake at dawn as he always is, barring those days where he's nursing a major injury. But that day is not today. Rosy streaks of light make the dirty windows glow pink and red over his bed, and he's perfectly whole and healthy. For the first time in days he's got a reason to be up and around that doesn't involve the latest penny-dreadful horror, so he warms up, throws on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and heads out for his daily run in the Preserve. He comes back $100 richer and feeling lucky, and hopes the poor bastard who lost the bill on the trail isn't going to suffer too much.

He showers, shrugs into his clothes and his leather jacket, and by five minutes to 8 AM he's walking into the Beacon Hills BelAir in search of a turkey and all the ingredients for the trimmings. He's got the cart pretty much loaded when he gets to the refrigerated case with the turkeys. At least, he gets to the refrigerated case where the turkeys were. He stands in front of the empty case, looks over to the half-full case of frozen turkeys, does a quick mental calculation about rates of thaw and grimaces. He's still frowning down at the empty case when a grandmotherly lady with her phone sandwiched between her shoulder and ear rolls up right next to him saying, "Well, that's a blessing! Why didn't you tell me that in the first place, Franklin?" A moment later, she lifts a turkey out of her cart, sets it back in the refrigerated case, and moves on.

No one else is around, but Derek's on it with lightning speed anyway. This is really his day!

He's on his way to the checkout when he remembers french-fried onions, so he turns back, humming along to every stringed instrument known to man swooping through "Away in a Manger". He's turning out of the canned vegetable aisle on his way back to the check-out when Stiles (of course it's Stiles, because ever since Derek got back Stiles has been everywhere) leaps in front of his cart and knocks himself silly.

Derek rolls his eyes and lends him a hand up before he creates more of a traffic jam. It feels strange touching Stiles, even though he's already seen Stiles a couple times since he got back to Beacon Hills. "What are you doing here?"

"What does it look like I'm doing here?" Stiles shows him his half-full hand basket that's almost all cabbage in various forms.

"How is any of that Thanksgiving food?"

Stiles points at himself. "Dude, we're Polish. We ran out of cabbage for golabki because my dad insisted on buying, like, four pounds of ground pork, and I want sauerkraut pierogi, too. Why, what are you having? Wait, are you even--"

"What do you think?" Derek points to his cart.

"Oh, I guess you are, then. But who -- no, you know what? Never mind. I gotta get home and get my dough started." He zooms past and gets in line behind a tired-looking mom with three kids and a cart heaped with food at checkout lane 1. Derek passes him and slips into checkout lane 3 just as the person ahead of him slides out the other end.

He takes maybe half a second to think about the $100 bill in his pocket as he pulls out his wallet to pay, but by the time he thinks he should have used it, he's already swiped his card and signed his name.

The parking lot is jammed with people and carts and cars, and all their concomitant smells, but even so, Derek catches wind of a sharp bite of fear that blossoms immediately into intense anger and helplessness. He zeros in on the lady who's upset; she's leaning heavily on her cane, empty canvas bags scattered on the ground in front of her. "That was my pension money," he hears her say faintly. She looks up, bewildered, then slowly bends down to pick up her bags.

"Please, let me help," says Derek, and he's bending down to retrieve the rest of the bags. "What happened?" He hands them back gently to the lady.

"They stole my purse. Right off my arm as they drove by. They stole it! All my money, everything. And the grandkids are arriving tomorrow morning for Thanksgiving, and I don't… how am I going to…" she trails off, fresh tears running down her cheeks. Derek looks around to see a small gathering of people hovering around.

"Did anyone see the vehicle or get a license number?" a voice rings out behind him.

Derek turns around, and (again, of course) it's Stiles. People shake their heads no, and start to disperse. "I'll call the police. Oh, Mrs. Klebek! I didn't realize it was you." He puts his hand on her shoulder. "Hey, my dad'll send someone and you can make a statement," Stiles says to her. "I'll call right now." His voice is more gentle than Derek's ever heard before.

"Is this your car? Why don't you sit down until they get here," says Derek, as Stiles dials.

"Oh! I'd just put my keys in my purse…"

Derek looks around for a bench but there isn't one. "Then come sit in mine. I'm two cars down and I don't have to be anywhere today." They slowly make their way to Derek's car, and he helps her fold into the passenger seat. He pops the trunk and stows his groceries before swinging down into the driver's seat. Stiles walks up to the passenger side. Derek presses the window control.

"They'll be here in about five minutes," says Stiles, and the lady nods. "Here, have some tissues." Stiles pulls a fresh pack of Kleenex out of his jeans and hands it to her. "Keep it," he says. "Dad gets them by the case. Allergies."

Derek's lips twitch. He says, quietly, "Thank you."

Stiles shoots him an unreadable look, then says, "It's fine. Is she--" He gestures toward the lady, who's still crying quietly, a wad of tissues held to her eyes.

"She'll be fine. All her pension money was taken, though-- Oh!" He digs in his pocket and pulls out the $100 bill. "Ma'am," he says, and hands it to her when she pulls the tissues away from her eyes.

She stares at him so hard with both eyebrows inched as high as they can go up her forehead that he wonders if he's grown a second head.

"Why on earth would you do that?" she asks. But then her expression softens. "I couldn't take it, young man. But thank you. It wouldn't be right."

"It's not mine. I found it running on the trail this morning in the preserve. It's like it was meant to be yours." He gives her a faint grin.

She dabs the tissue at her nose and sniffs, then gives him the eyebrow, but Derek keeps holding the bill out. She smiles. "This is very generous of you," she says, her face a mix between troubled and incredibly relieved. "If you're sure…?"

Derek full-on smiles; the smile feels sweet and unfamiliar as it blossoms on his face. "I'm sure. Please -- take it."

She does and he can't look at her; she clutches the bill to her chest and murmurs, "Thank you," and it feels… nice. Really, unexpectedly nice.

Derek moves to help her out of the car, but Stiles beats him to it. He stays put, watching them cross to the squad car in his rearview. There's a deputy who Derek doesn't recognize, but Mrs. Klebek apparently does. Stiles leans in the passenger window of the squad car, talking animatedly with his hands. Derek feels comfortable leaving them to it, knowing she will be taken care of now; he turns away and puts his key in the ignition.

Stiles appears suddenly in Derek's passenger side window. "I think you made her day," he says, eyes crinkled and the corner of his mouth raised.

"It's nothing."

"No, it's not," he says. He takes a deep breath in, lets it out. "Look, I wasn't going to ask, but are you having company tomorrow? Or are you just cooking for yourself?"

Derek looks down at his hands on the steering wheel. He opens his mouth, then closes it again. He gulps, then clenches his teeth. "It's just for me," he admits.

Stiles blinks. "Dude, that is really not okay. Come to Thanksgiving at ours."

Derek's head shoots up, and by the expression Stiles makes as Derek looks at him, Derek thinks he's probably looking more keen than he intended.

"In fact, why don't you stash your groceries at home, then come right over. I could use your help in the kitchen," says Stiles. There's only about 10 percent evil in his grin.

"Okay," says Derek, before he's even really thought about it. His stomach doesn't know whether to sink or let the butterflies in it take flight. And why in hell does he have butterflies, anyway? The last time he had butterflies, he was captaining Beacon Hills basketball to a win at Regionals.

"Great!" says Stiles, fidgeting and flailing his arm toward his car. "I'll see you at my house in about half an hour then?"

Derek nods and Stiles pushes off from the car, still grinning.

"Okay then!"

Derek chances one last glance at Stiles while he backs out of the space, and realizes one thing: Stiles's grin is a powerfully attractive force. He wasn't looking for it, wasn't even sure he was open to it, or even capable of letting someone else close enough for attraction to stir. Not after Kate, especially not after Jennifer. It speaks to a level of relaxation Derek doesn't think he's felt since… well, since before the fire: so relaxed he's not even aware of it.

Actually, the more he thinks about it, he really hasn't been that relaxed since before the fire. Ever. At all.

Something is wrong. Very, very wrong.

On the drive home, he connects the dots of his day. The more he puts together, the luck, the good feelings, the butterflies, the more frightened he becomes. By the time Derek gets home and puts his groceries away, he is certain, absolutely positive, that a new and heretofore unknown magical force is at work in Beacon Hills. An insidious, drugging force.

One that he has no idea how to fight.

::-------------------------------------::

"Stiles, something's wrong. I need your help." Derek can feel himself frowning, but he can't seem to stop. He clamps down on his fear with his teeth and grinds it away.

Stiles stands with his front door in one hand and the door jamb in the other. "Your first time coming through my front door and that's what you're leading with? No, 'Hello Stiles!', no glowering, no threats?" says Stiles, looking as indignant as he could possibly be with his hands and apron -- yes, that actually is an apron -- covered with flour. "Actually, why am I complaining? You haven't actually done any breaking and entering or committed violence against my person." Stiles spares half a second to glare, then steps back and gestures Derek in the door. He leads the way to the kitchen.

Somewhere in Derek's mind, he takes a step back and breathes for a count of ten. And says, "You're right. I'm sorry. Hi Stiles. How are you? Thank you for inviting me to Thanksgiving tomorrow." Even to himself he sounds like an asshole robot.

Stiles drops the dough he just picked up back onto the counter. Flour poofs out in a little cloud. He thunks heavily into a kitchen chair and glares at Derek, mouth open. He takes a breath as though he were about to say something, but shakes his head and says, "Yeah -- okay, actually? I'm not going to engage. Just tell me what's going on." He gestures to the chair across from him.

Derek drops into the chair and looks at Stiles. Really looks. Stiles drops his forehead into the palms of his hands and runs his fingers through his hair for a moment, then pops back up. He's got worry lines creasing his forehead. In the yellow overhead light, it looks like he's about 40.

Derek gulps something hot and thick out of his throat. "I've… I've had a good day. So far. I mean, good things have happened. Unnaturally good. It's just -- not right."

Stiles side-eyes Derek for a good thirty seconds before his eyes crinkle up the slightest bit and the corner of his mouth practically vibrates. Stiles looks up at the ceiling. He takes a deep breath in and holds it, then lets it out explosively.

"You know, Derek," Stiles says, sounding a lot more annoyed than his face would suggest. He swings his head around and pins Derek with an eagle-eyed stare. "There's nothing abnormal about having a good day once in a while. They happen." He eyes Derek up and down. "Well, probably not very often to you, but they do happen."

Derek shakes his head, because really, they really just don't happen. Under his breath, he says, "Not since high school."

Stiles's eyes widen slightly. His mouth opens, then shuts, then he says, "Really?"

Derek leans heavily on the table and folds his arms in front of him. "Really."

"Well… everyone has bad… years. Decades. Oh hell. Everyone has a bad decade once in a while. I think you're long overdue for a shitload of goo--"

Derek interrupts, tells him everything about his day, then ends with, "Stiles, I hit every traffic light green from the loft to your house."

"Whoa. That's--"

"All the way across town. Never happened before. Can we just look it up? There's got to be something," says Derek, then he clenches his jaw and actively fights the claws trying to grow in.

Stiles looks down at Derek's hands and back up, then nods. "Right after we make the pierogies," he says. "And the szarlotka. And the pumpkin pie. And the cranberries. And roll the golabki, make the meatballs, and prep everything for the bigos."

"…Are we actually going to cook anything tomorrow?"

"We?" Stiles's eyebrows climb up his forehead. "Fine. Come at eight tomorrow morning. We'll still have the turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy to make. Now go wash your hands and let me show you how to make my grandma's pierogies."

Two hours later, they've rolled out dough, pinched seventy two pierogies together, mixed up ground beef and pork, rice, herbs and spices for the golabki. Derek turns off the gas under the pot then fishes the last cabbage leaf out of the blanching pot. He cuts the central vein out of the leaf and throws it on the pile.

"Okay! Here's how we roll these, according to my mom and Baba Ania," says Stiles.

"…Baba?"

"Grandma. Pay attention."

Stiles crosses the stem edges and piles a heap of filling on it, does something complicated Derek can't catch with all ten fingers, and a second later, he's putting a perfectly-rolled stuffed cabbage leaf in an oblong glass oven dish that he's lined with the broken cabbage leaves. "Okay, your turn."

"I… couldn't really see what you did," says Derek. "Do it again. And go slow this time." Derek moves to stand right behind Stiles where he's slouched at the counter. He hooks his chin over Stiles's shoulder. Stiles turns his head and almost collides with Derek's nose. Derek says, "Now I can see," close enough to Stiles's cheek that he can feel his breath reflected back at him. He catches the organic, oily-yeasty scent of Stiles, overlain with a whiff of vinegar, Lever 2000, and Old Spice deodorant. The scent of him makes something in Derek's stomach quake; a flash of his dad sprawled on the sofa when Derek was a tiny kid, crawling all over him, a sharp memory of love and loss. It's gone the moment Stiles's hands move.

Stiles takes another leaf, crosses the stem edges, and drops more filling on top of it. This time, Derek can see him tuck the end in and the sides around and under as he rolls the cabbage leaf, and it all makes sense how it comes together.

"We have about fifty more to go, big guy. Start rolling."

Derek gets it right first try, and doesn't bother to hide his smile when Stiles says, "Awesome, dude! Now squish it up against the other ones in the pan."

He feels really good for about ten minutes until he realizes it, then he sobers right up. This isn't right. Stiles is never this… well, for lack of a better word, nice. Or, actually, this still. Ten minutes in one spot, not moving? Not natural. Derek picks up another cabbage leaf. Stiles hums along beside him, something too happy and tuneful to be modern or probably even American. Derek watches his long, slender fingers work through their measured dance: flip-tuck-roll, flip-tuck-roll. It comes to him that Stiles isn't actually still at all, he's just channeling all that wild, flaily energy into something productive.

Still, he's been nice. And Derek -- well, he still feels really, really good. He feels like… like he's home. In his mind's eye he's in the kitchen, high as his mom's shoulder, helping her slice cabbage paper-thin for coleslaw. It's warm and yellow there, and he can smell his mom even over the bright green scent of the cabbage. Laura and Dirk are murmuring over homework at the huge farm table behind them, and Dad's on the phone in his study, laughing.

"Maybe I'm cursed," he says, feeling so alone that he's surprised when Stiles answers.

"And I think you're paranoid, despite your no-bad, very good day with the traffic miracle on top. If you die from too much awesome, then we'll know I was wrong."

"I'd rather not wait that long," says Derek, faintly.

"I'm going to choose to interpret that to mean you'd rather find out before you die that I was wrong, instead of the alternative."

Derek looks at him, nonplussed. "What alternative?"

"The alternative where you'd rather die before I find out that I was wrong, dickhead," says Stiles. "I actually like you, you know. I don't want you to die." He looks up at the ceiling and shakes his head, then grabs another cabbage leaf.

Derek huffs and scowls. They roll away for fifteen minutes or so in silence, and when they're getting to the bottom of the filling bowl, Derek says, "I wish you'd take this seriously."

Stiles clatters the filling spoon back into the bowl and looks Derek full in the face. "I am taking this seriously. Very seriously! But if it's actually really a thing that what's going wrong is that things are going right, I don't think I have to sit here and worry that you're in mortal peril, or that you're going to chop off your thumb, or that we're going to burn the food, or that anything else bad is going to happen, right? Because if anything, I can tell you I am seriously relishing being in the backlash of good shit happening today. Nothing supernatural has ever been a cake walk, dude, and let me tell you: I am a cake man."

Derek looks at him. Stares at Stiles as he heaves in air, face pink. Derek's eyebrows shoot up his forehead without his permission and he bursts out laughing.

Stiles jaw drops. It actually drops, and he's standing there with his mouth wide open, just staring at him. Derek laughs harder. He laughs until there are tears running down his face.

"Dude, I think I know what your problem is," says Stiles. "It's not some mysterious, evil power and it's not a curse."

"What is it?" asks Derek, still heaving breathy little laughs.

"You're happy."

The smile drops instantly off Derek's face. "…What?"

::-------------------------------------::

"Dude, seriously, I am not finding anything." Derek looks up from where he's stretched out on Stiles's bed in his sock feet, an ancient, cracked, leather-bound book called, "Goode Magykes" propped on his chest. Stiles pushes away from his computer and whirls around on his chair.

"Shit! Be careful with that, man! That book is, like, 200 years old. Deaton'll kill me."

"It's older than that, unless this is a modern edition."

"Nothing about that book is modern."

"It's written in Middle English, Stiles. That hasn't been spoken or written for over five hundred years. 'Take the Noumbl of Shepe, boile hem and ſkerne hem to dyce. Caſt hem in wyne and ſeeþ hem wel--'"

"Wait, you can read--"

"Yes. It's a potion recipe with sheep entrails. Eurgh." He shudders.

"You actually understan--"

"Yes! I majored in English at Columbia, Stiles. I'm not illiterate." Derek frowns back at the book and out of the corner of his eye catches Stiles just blinking at him.

"Dude, you have layers."

"I had reasons. Pragmatic ones." He shuffles his legs and huffs out a breath. "Mostly."

"What were th--"

"No."

"Fine! You don’t have to tell me that as long as you tell me why having a good day is scaring you so much."

"I'm not scared."

"Oh, I am calling bullshit on your ass so hard. It's a good day. They happen. Even to you. Why can't you just deal with it and move on?"

Derek sits up and swings his legs off the side of the bed. "How can you not understand why this is really, really bad?" Derek looks around the room but obviously no one else is there. And the window is closed, and the curtains are drawn. He lowers his voice, anyway. "Stiles -- if there is something causing this, I'm in trouble. I'm omega, I'm weak, and I'm under threat, and I can't even identify that threat, let alone come up with a way to fight it. Now do you see?" He clenches and unclenches his fists.

Stiles stares at him, silent, eyebrows drawn together. Derek wants to look down, look at the wall, look anywhere but at Stiles, but somehow he hangs on. Eventually, Stiles says, "Who says you're omega?"

"Stiles, you know I just got back a couple weeks ago and that I left Cora in New York. Peter's disappeared. My pack, my family, is gone! Scott doesn't want me and never did, and you know that's true probably better than anyone other than Scott himself. How can you even assume I'm not omega?"

Stiles drags his chair forward right in front of Derek's knees. Derek can smell his anger with every exhale. "Derek, you have been gone an entire year. You never called, you never returned any of my texts, you never even left a goddamned note saying you were leaving! I had to find out you were gone, not dead, from Peter, and I was lucky I even caught him before he took off! I had no idea where you were or what you were doing, or even if you were ever coming back. You could have hooked up with another pack, or you could have been killed and cut in half and I would never have known! So don't even sit here and ask me how I could assume you're not omega. I assumed you were dead!"

"I--" Derek stops. Stiles is trembling. He doesn't know what to do, or what to say. Stiles is breathing hard through his nose and his eyes are liquid, and Derek stares at him, frozen, stares while twin tears appear on each of Stiles's cheeks.

"Just -- fuck you, Derek. Fuck you for saying you're omega. You may have left us, but we never left you."

Stiles launches himself off the chair and out of the room. Derek hears the bathroom door slam and the water turn on. He hears sniffles, then splashing, and the water turns off. Stiles doesn't come back for another five minutes. It isn't long, but it's time enough to figure out what he needs to do.

When Stiles comes back in the room, Derek says, "I'm sorry!" before the door's even shut.

Stiles doesn't look at him, just drags his desk chair back to his desk and sits down at the computer. He completely ignores Derek's apology and says, "So, back to the fact that I am really not finding anything, I've been cooking all day, I've just spilled my guts out, my dad's going to be home in half an hour, and I still haven't made dinner tonight."

"…So?"

"So come help me make dinner! And uh… if you stay, I'll help you out afterward. Again. Even though I think it's useless and I'm still really, really angry at you." Stiles holds his frown on Derek and doesn't look away.

"Okay," says Derek, and, "thank you," because he can't say anything else that isn't a litany of I'm sorries like a prayer in the dark. He follows Stiles out of his room feeling like he's been stretched out and staked in the sun to dry.

::-------------------------------------::

Derek regrets saying yes to dinner for about two minutes after the Sheriff walks in the front door. Derek and Stiles are back in the kitchen and he listens to the bolt shoot home in the front door and the gun slide out of its holster and clatter on the credenza in the dining room. The Sheriff doesn't at all seem surprised to see Derek in his kitchen. Derek gulps, wondering what, if anything, Stiles may have texted him after the water turned off in the bathroom. But after the Sheriff wanders over to Stiles and peeks over his shoulder into the pan, he turns back to Derek with a bit of a questioning smile, flashes a piece of card-stock with a lot of fine print on it, and says, "Good to see you, son."

Derek gulps. "Sir?"

"Deputy Trask left a ticket on your windshield."

"But… I'm parked in the driveway…"

"Your rear bumper extends into the public sidewalk and she's brand new and trying to prove herself."

Derek scrunches his eyebrows up and bites back a curse.

"You'd better move your car up a foot or so. She's on duty until nine tonight." He grins.

Derek's keys jingle on his way out the door. It's not until he's pulled the car up that he realizes that a ticket is probably the best news he's had all day. A ticket, by definition, is a Bad Thing. Maybe there is no insidious, evil power. Maybe he isn't cursed. He fairly flies back inside to tell Stiles. He's back so fast Stiles is still explaining to his dad why Derek's here at all.

"--and then Deputy Hannan arrived and Mrs. Klebek knows him, so we left her in his hands. Also, I invited Derek over for Thanksgiving."

The Sheriff pulls up a chair to the table. He peels back the plastic wrap on top of the szarlotka and pokes a finger into the powdered sugar.

"Dad!" Derek looks up sharply; Stiles's mouth is gaping and he's pointing at his father with a spatula. Stiles is completely scandalized and Derek can barely keep himself from laughing.

The Sheriff ignores Stiles's indignation but puts the plastic wrap back over the szarlotka. "I heard all about your adventure this morning from Deputy Hannan." He turns to Derek. "That was a mighty nice thing you did for Mrs. Klebek, giving her the $100."

"It wasn't -- I didn't need it." Derek hopes he doesn't sound as defensive as he feels.

"Well, one good turn deserves another. I got Deputy Trask to take your ticket off the books."

But… oh. There goes his one Bad Thing. He sinks into a chair at the table as Stiles brings over a giant platter with spaghetti and meatballs. Derek's favorite, not that Stiles would know.

"Thank you." He gulps. He's really screwed.

::-------------------------------------::

Five hours later he slides the iron door shut in his loft and he knows, he feels it in his bones, that he's completely, royally, supernaturally screwed. The reasons: One, Stiles is a genius with spaghetti and meatballs. Two, there was actually enough dinner to satisfy Derek's wolf-driven appetite. Three, the Sheriff thanked him for helping Stiles with Thanksgiving preparations. Four, Stiles made caramel crisp for dessert, which Derek was almost in tears about, because his mom used to -- yeah, still can't go there. And five, the smile Stiles gave him after he took his first bite of it and groaned, such a smile as Derek's never seen before on him, open and unguarded… undoubtedly the best thing to happen to him today, especially considering their argument. It's the pinnacle on top of a mountain of good things, if the butterflies in his stomach have any say.

Screwed, because after hours more research, they still hadn't found anything about this kind of curse, and he's sure it is one. When Stiles sent him on his way, Derek fully expected to get another dose of Stiles's ire. Instead, he got a thank-you. And no, the sky wasn't falling. He checked. Item six on his I-am-screwed list. And last but not least, lucky item seven: when Derek thanked Stiles for his help with the curse, Stiles put his hand on Derek's shoulder and smiled, and said, "Happy to help." But then Stiles sobered and said, "But if you're back, you have to let us help. After all, we're your pack."

Pack! That's the crowning cap on the best day Derek's had in the last ten years.

Naturally, he flees.

When he gets home (going through the subdivisions so all he encounters in the way of traffic signals are stop signs) he goes straight to bed. He's afraid even to crack a book in case it turns out to be so good it supplants his current favorite book, which he loves with a driving passion he will never tell anyone about, ever. He's still too disturbed to sleep, and before long finds himself trailing his hands over his chest, brushing his nipples. He runs his fingertips through the hair on his chest and makes it stand up on end. He slides his fingers low on his belly and tangles them in his treasure trail. He tugs once, twice. The elastic on his boxer briefs crinkles through the hair lower down, and the skin underneath turns to hot sugar. His dick slowly fills.

He tugs once more, then edges the tips of his fingers under the elastic and runs them slowly down. The skin underneath jumps and heats with his touch, twitching and frantic by the time he wraps his fingers around the base of his dick. His pulse throbs in his fingertips and in his dick, and a wave of heat sweeps outward, washes the frantic energy in his skin through the muscles of his thighs and ass, contracting them into a fitful thrust up into his hand.

Derek groans; his hand spasms into a fist around his dick and he tugs as his ass falls back onto the bed. The pressure of his fingers around the head of his dick pushes the heat through him again, and again his hips thrust up, pushing his dick through the tight heat of his fist. His groan turns into a gasp and his body lights up like a flare, the sugar in his skin melting to a hot, liquid caramel. He curls into a ball as his ass hits the bed once more, and as the head of his dick squeezes through his tight fingers, he sees Stiles's smile again, open, unguarded, and he thrusts up into his orgasm, spurting over his fist onto his chest, his lungs locked, breathless, body straining in an arch and legs quivering, and the darkness moves in around the edges of his vision. He falls down into it, helpless.

::-------------------------------------::

Light grows behind his eyelids and he flares his nostrils, scenting the dawn and the remains of last night's orgasm. He opens his eyes; the ceiling is edged in rose-gold light. It's completely silent. Sensation returns to his body and he's so completely relaxed he feels as though he were floating. He turns his head and sees a rime of frost on each and every pane of glass in his wall of windows.

He stretches out long, the chilly air seeping under the edge of the blankets. He feels… good. He curls up under the blankets again and remembers it's Thanksgiving. For the first time in years, his heart doesn't sink. He thinks of the curse, but in the crisp, silent dawn, lying quiet and comfortable and warm, he wonders if it really is one. Stiles thinks he's just happy. Once upon a time, happy felt like this: quiet, soft and unassuming. This morning, it doesn't hurt to remember that.

He wonders if it makes him delusional if he chooses to believe Stiles may be right.

He runs in the preserve. He doesn't find money but he hears something that makes his ears prick forward, as much as they can do in his human form: the call of a bald eagle. They're rare here, anymore. He hasn't heard one in years. But the water levels in the lake in the middle of the preserve didn't recede as much this fall as they normally do, so maybe that's why it's here. He's not much of a patriot, but still, that's pretty cool, a bald eagle on Thanksgiving.

Stiles thinks it's cool, too. In other words, he questions everything and flies off on a tangent. "Wait, how do you know for sure it's a bald eagle if you didn't see it?"

They're at the sink, washing the turkey. Derek's holding and positioning the bird under the stream of water, and Stiles is scrubbing at it with his hands, under the wings, raking through the cavity. "I heard it. They don't have a strong call, but it's distinctive."

"What, did you used to hunt them when you were a kid?"

"What? No! Well, not to eat. We used to chase them."

Stiles just stares at him.

"It's good practice, tracking and following a bird in flight."

Stiles shakes his head, then grabs a handful of paper towels and starts patting the bird dry. "Tip it up so the water drains out."

Derek obliges, and before long the bird is settled breast side down in the turkey roaster. Half an hour later, the bird is stuffed and in the oven, the bigos is simmering on the stove, and the cranberries have popped and are cooling in the pan. The Sheriff comes down the stairs then, and Stiles gets down three mugs.

"Coffee?" Stiles asks Derek, pouring mugs for his dad and himself.

"Sure. Milk, no sugar."

They sprawl out in the living room in front of the TV, and Stiles puts on the parade. "It's tradition."

"What, I didn't say anything." Then after a moment, "We used to watch it, too. When I was a kid."

The Sheriff looks over at him, a lingering look that holds nothing in the way of pity. "Stiles's mom had him watching it since he was born. In fact, I think I have some pictures--"

"Dad! You are breaking the unspoken family pact of mutual non-embarrassment! That is not okay!" Stiles looks at his dad as though the sky were falling.

Derek shoots a glance over at the built-in bookcase in the corner, and victory! There's a photo album on the bottom shelf with an unpronounceable name and 'baby pictures' right after it. He looks at the Sheriff, who's just beginning to object, then at Stiles, and takes advantage of their distraction. He's over at the bookcase in half a second, pulling the volume out and opening it. A very loud, heavy weight lands on his back.

"Give that here right now, sour wolf!" Stiles makes a grab over Derek's shoulder for the album, but Derek yanks it out of reach just in time. Stiles tries to climb further up his back to reach it. "Dad! I made you coffee this morning and everything! Traitor!"

"Stiles, I never agreed to any mutual non-embarrassment pact. And you know, kid, today I wouldn't mind remembering what I'm thankful for." Derek smells melancholy and a slight whiff of fear; when he looks, the Sheriff's hands are shaking just the smallest amount around his coffee cup and his gaze pleads with Stiles.

He hears Stiles swallow, then Stiles goes still on Derek's back. "…Okay."

Derek quietly makes his way back to the couch. He shrugs and Stiles falls off his back and into the cushions. Derek sits and opens the book to the first page, just as the Sheriff eases down next to him on his other side.

Derek smiles faintly, eyes glued to the book. "My mom made a book like this for me, too. She made one for all of us."

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Stiles staring at him. Then Stiles reaches over and opens the cover without a word.

He can feel the Sheriff on his other side staring at Stiles. He focuses his attention back on the book where Stiles is pointing.

"This is me when I was still in the hospital," says Stiles. "It was supposed to be taken the day I was born but apparently I was born a night owl, so it was taken the next day."

Derek stares at the tiny scrunched-up face bundled up in hospital baby blankets. Stiles had a thatch of black hair then, almost as thick as it is now. Underneath the photo is the unpronounceable name and then, 'Date of birth: December 8, 1994'. "You didn't look very happy to be here," he says.

"…Seriously?" Stiles stares at him, mouth wide open.

Derek gives him the eyebrow.

"Oh my God," says Stiles, shooting a quick look over at his dad, "You should play poker with a face like that. Lots and lots of poker. For high stakes." He shoves his elbow hard into Derek's ribs.

Derek grins and turns the page. Baby Stiles stares up at him, blowing a bubble and smiling. "Talented," says Derek. He catches the Sheriff failing to suppress a grin out of the corner of his eye.

"I am a man of many talents."

Derek snorts, and the Sheriff outright laughs.

"What?!" says Stiles. "Oh my God, you guys are the worst. Derek, give me that book back."

"No." Derek turns the page. Stiles tries to grab the book out of his hands and Derek smirks. Werewolf strength for the win. "Here you are." Stiles is a bit bigger in this picture, sitting up by himself in a yellow onesie with a turkey embroidered on it. He's on a blanket in the middle of the family room floor -- Derek recognizes the room they're in right now -- watching a long-gone parade on TV.

"Huh," says Stiles. "I guess she really did start me young."

"Let's see," says the Sheriff. Derek slides the book across his knee to him.

The Sheriff smiles to see it. Then, with great deliberation, he turns the page and goes still. Stares at the page for a long time, and doesn't say anything.

Derek hears Stiles's throat clicking as he swallows, then his back warms with the weight of Stiles leaning over his shoulder. "That's my mom," he says, eventually, his voice just a little low and rough.

Derek looks down at the woman holding baby Stiles, staring down at him with such love and joy. "She's beautiful," he says. His throat closes up and he holds his breath, and suddenly his nose is running. He blots his nose on his sleeve, then closes the book and hands it back to Stiles.

Stiles takes it, glances up at the ceiling, and mutters, "Damn it." He puts the album back on the shelf. "More coffee?"

Derek clears his throat and says, "Yeah," just as the Sheriff says, "Thanks, son," and hands Derek his mug. Derek's glad for the opportunity to move. He trails Stiles into the kitchen.

"Hey -- I'm sorry," says Derek, pouring his own mug first. "That was a dick move."

"No!" says Stiles. "No. It wasn't -- it's just… sometimes, it's easier not to remember."

Derek snorts, and out of nowhere his eyes fill up. He leans on the counter in front of the coffee maker. He gulps down the lump in his throat, then clears it. I know, he tries to say, but it doesn't come out. "You have her eyes," he says instead.

Derek can't see Stiles's face but he smells anxiety and sadness, sour and salty. He hears Stiles step closer to Derek, closer still, and Derek's on the verge of turning around when he realizes Stiles is pouring coffee into his dad's mug, then his own. He feels his face heat up.

"I have my mother's eyes, too," he says, as Stiles puts the coffee back on the counter.

Stiles stares at the counter, rests a warm hand briefly on Derek's shoulder. He says, "She must have been beautiful."

The implication doesn't hit until Derek's safely back on the couch, hot coffee on the table in front of him. He feels like his veins are flooded with IcyHot.

::-------------------------------------::

"So how'd you learn how to cook, anyway?" asks Derek. They're back in the kitchen, pulling covered dishes from the fridge and fitting them into the oven on the shelf underneath the turkey roaster. The coffee's finished; Stiles's dad is asleep in front of the Lions-Packers game with a bowl of peanuts in his lap.

"My mom. She used to keep me in the kitchen when she cooked and make me help. It was the only thing that kept my attention before Adderall."

Derek thinks back to Stiles's fingers, dancing around the cabbage leaves. Stiles's mom was a genius. "What was the first thing you ever cooked by yourself?"

Stiles huffs a breath of a laugh. "You know, I don't really remember. Breaded pork chops, maybe? All I remember is that my dad was going to be home late from work, and my mom was in the hospital. We were supposed to go see her together that night after dinner, but I was stuck at Scott's house until he got off shift. I wanted -- I didn't want to waste time. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with her. So I ran away from Scott's that afternoon and came home, figuring if I had dinner ready I wouldn't have to wait around for him to make something before we went and saw mom."

Derek blinks and leans back against the counter. "What happened? I mean, when your dad got there and you weren't there?"

"I don't know. He probably freaked, but he knew me. He called the house just as I was dishing up. I said, "Hi dad! Come on home, dinner's on the table."

Derek breathes a laugh. "Did you get in trouble?"

"I got reminded, again, that I wasn't supposed to be alone in the house without an adult there. And I got told never to turn on the stove without an adult in the kitchen who knew what I was doing. But I didn't care I was getting yelled at. We left for the hospital fifteen minutes after he got home. It would have been at least an hour, otherwise. And we stayed all the way up to the end of visiting hours."

"Stubborn." Derek grins to cover up the tightness in his throat.

Stiles frowns at him. "Wouldn't you be?"

Derek stares him straight in the eye. "Yes."

Stiles's eyes linger on his own, then he goes to the pantry and pulls out a ten pound bag of potatoes. "You can help me wash and peel these."

They dump the entire bag into the sink and cover them with water. "Stiles -- what are we going to do with all this food? We're making enough for thirty people, at least."

"Oh, didn't I tell you? Isaac and Scott and his mom will be here. They come every Thanksgiving. Okay, not Isaac, obviously, but it's not like we don't have enough to go around."

Derek doesn't say anything for a moment; he tries to identify the feeling that's running through him right then. No dice. "That's still only three more."

"They take half the leftovers and we take the other half. Then no one has to cook the rest of the weekend."

"I won't need leftovers."

"Yeah, I noticed. You had a whole turkey in your basket, dude. So what about you? When did you learn to cook?"

"I used to help my mom in the kitchen. We all had to take turns when we were younger."

"Your family was pretty big, wasn't it?" Stiles asked, scrubbing a potato under the faucet.

"Yeah. There were fifteen of us living at the house by the time I was in high school. Three were pretty new to our pack, some older second cousins from Vancouver studying forestry at Humboldt State. The rest were my mom and dad, brother and sisters, my cousins, aunt and uncle."

"I bet you ended up cooking a lot with so many people there all the time."

"Not really. Mom had it down to a science, mostly. We all had to take turns helping." Derek smiles. "If it was our turn, we got to pick what we wanted for dinner that night."

"Did you have to actual-cook or did you just sous-chef?"

"Usually we just chopped things."

"How'd you learn how to cook, then?"

Derek sighs, and scrubs hard at his potato. "When it was just Laura and me. We stopped off in a couple spots across the country to earn a little money as we made our way to New York. I was only seventeen… I lied about my age and got a job in a kitchen at this little place in Wyoming washing dishes. The line cook liked me and showed me how to make stuff on their menu, and even let me cook a couple of times when they were down a person. He gave me a reference when I left and I used it to get a job as a line cook at a diner in New York. I cooked on weekends through college."

"That was cool of him."

Derek sighs, and rubs harder at his potato. "Yeah. Maybe."

"No, really, dude. That was nice! It's not like you were a real cook or anything."

"Stiles, when I said he liked me, I meant he liked me. As in, he tried to force me to…. In the walk-in refrigerator."

Stiles drops the potato peeler and a waft of something sour hits Derek. "Whoa. Dude. What did you do?"

"I told him I'd rip his guts out if he didn't write me a glowing reference as a short-order cook."

Out of the corner of his eye, Derek sees Stiles's jaw drop open. "He listened?"

Derek smiles and he knows by the reaction on Stiles's face that it's ugly. "I may have put a claw or two in his neck to help persuade him."

Stiles stares, then cackles. "That's brilliant! But still…" he quiets down fast.

"Yeah, still." He rinses the potato in his hand and notices he's scrubbed off half the skin. He extends a claw, and starts peeling the rest of it off. "I wish I'd torn him apart anyway." Stiles just stares at him, then looks down at Derek's hands, and gulps.

Derek looks down at his hands then back up at Stiles. "What? You only have one peeler."

::-------------------------------------::

 

Scott and his mom arrive just as the Raiders get down to business with the Cowboys.

"Dude, are you watching the game?" says Scott, the moment he's in the door. "Oh yeah, you are. Hey, Derek," he says, like it's nothing that Derek Hale is in Stiles's family room on Thanksgiving. He hands off a plastic grocery bag to his mom, ducks into the family room and parks himself on the couch next to Stiles before Isaac is even done shaking the Sheriff's hand and saying "Thank you for inviting me," at the door.

"Really, Scott?" says Melissa.

Scott turns around and turns on the puppy dog eyes. "What?"

Derek watches her give Scott the side-eye with a helping of eyebrow then disappear into the kitchen with Stiles's dad. Isaac wanders into the family room and stakes out the recliner.

"Hand me the peanuts," Scott says to Derek.

"How about a please?" says Derek but he's handing them over anyway.

Stiles glances back to the door to the kitchen, which is closed. He says, "So guys, Derek thinks he's cursed."

"What?" both Scott and Isaac sit up. Derek barely manages to catch the bowl of peanuts as it slides off Scott's lap.

"Uh -- strange things are happening to him."

"Nothing bad," Derek interjects, "just -- not normal."

"Not normal for him," says Stiles.

Derek turns to Stiles. "I'd say the traffic light thing isn't normal for anyone."

"What traffic light thing?" asks Isaac.

"Yesterday I hit every traffic light green from the loft to here."

"Whoa. That's not possible. Is it?" Scott looks at Stiles.

"It's never happened to me," says Stiles.

"Me, either," says Scott.

"Anyway, I'm helping him research it and we'll let you guys know if anything turns up. But even if it's anything other than a complete coincidence, I don't think it's dangerous."

The door to the kitchen swings open and the conversation falls dead as Melissa and the Sheriff walk in with trays of hors d'oeuvres and drinks. The scent of cooking food has been quietly overwhelming Derek in the most pleasant way, but when the door opens it wafts out warm and strong, and leaves more than hunger pangs deep in his gut.

"Beer?" the Sheriff holds one out to Derek.

"Thanks, dad!" Stiles leans over to snag another beer and gets the evil eye from his dad.

"Thank you, sir," says Derek. He palms off the cap but doesn't take a sip. Before he's even aware, Stiles steals it and manages a couple slugs. He's slipping the bottle back into Derek's hand before Derek can even react beyond glaring.

Scott leans back and signals to Stiles behind Derek's back, saying, "Nice one!"

Derek raises his eyes to the ceiling and shakes his head. He looks at Isaac, who pops open a Coke and shrugs. Derek makes an aborted move to sip the beer, but all he can think of is Stiles's lips on it. He hesitates, but then brings it to his mouth and surreptitiously runs his tongue around the lip before he takes a sip. Under the beer there's a faint taste of Stiles, the way his breath smells right now: a hint of black coffee and the simple syrup scent of his saliva.

To his right, Stiles's breath hitches. When he looks, Stiles turns away immediately, but there's a patch of red high up on each cheek.

::-------------------------------------::

"Dad, you should have asked me to help you with the table leaves."

"I'm not that decrepit. Yet," says the Sheriff. "Besides, I had help." The Sheriff and Melissa share a smile and Derek thinks, Oh.

Stiles grumbles something under his breath, but Derek doesn't know what because he's staring at the biggest, fullest table he's ever seen in his life, which is saying something. Everything he and Stiles cooked is out, desserts and all, including a couple things they hadn't cooked, that Melissa brought: a colorful ambrosia salad and dinner rolls, still steaming. There's no centerpiece, but it doesn't matter: in the center is a platter of turkey, already carved and heaped high, light meat separate from the dark meat, with whole cranberries sprinkled around the edges.

The table takes up all the available space in the room where the couch isn't. Derek wonders why there's a couch in the dining room at all, then he notices the crocheted white afghan folded into the corner, the extra bed pillow on top of it, the fireplace and the TV and DVD player. He thinks about Stiles's mom and how she was sick for so long, and decides he's never going to ask.

The floor's worn wood except for the hearth, which is brick. The table's got a white cloth on it. There are six wooden chairs there; the two at the ends have arms but the rest don't. With all the leaves in the table there's plenty of room to spread out and eat comfortably. Derek settles on the side facing the fireplace; Stiles sits next to him on his left, his father next to him at the head. Melissa's on his other side at the foot, with Isaac across and Scott across from Stiles. There's a wealth of china at each place setting, beautiful china with a moss rose pattern, and wine glasses filled with cranberry juice and orange slices. Derek's never sat down to dinner anywhere cozier or more comfortable.

Everyone looks nervously at everyone else, until Melissa holds out her hands. Scott does the same, and Derek realizes they are all going to hold hands and pray. He's never done this. Is a god even listening? Is there a god who listens to the prayers of werewolves? He takes her hand, then puts his hand in Stiles'. Stiles threads their fingers together.

"Gracias dios por estos alimentos que tenemos de tu abundancia a traves de cristo nuestro señor. Amen," Melissa says into her plate, then lets go. Stiles gives his hand a squeeze, and slowly withdraws his hand, letting his fingers tangle for a moment in Derek's. Derek feels his face heat up.

"Okay!" says the Sheriff. "We have more people here than we usually do this evening, and no shortage of food, so let's do this family style. Everyone take a dish, serve yourself, then pass it to your left."

Dish by dish they load their plates. The last dish passed is the turkey; by that time Derek's plate is full, so is his bowl, and his side plate only has a sliver of open space. He takes a small piece of turkey and lays it over the rose peeking through. He holds the dish for Stiles, then puts the platter back down in the middle.

"Let's eat!" says the Sheriff.

They dig in. The scents of the food permeate the whole house, and when Derek takes his first bite of golabki, it smells so good and tastes so rich and warm and wonderful that he's overwhelmed. He sits still, savoring the bite, and tries his hardest not to cry. Isaac's nose twitches and he looks up from his plate straight at Derek. He raises his eyebrows and taps Derek's ankle with the toe of his shoe. Derek stares at him a moment and nods. When he swallows, the lump in his throat goes down with the bite of food.

He looks back at his plate and spears another bite. Stiles looks at him out of the corner of his eye, then his right hand slips under the table and lands on Derek's thigh for a moment and squeezes. He watches Stiles glance over at the empty couch, then back at his plate. Stiles takes his hand away and takes another bite.

"Stiles, this is absolutely wonderful," says Melissa. This is followed by a chorus of the same, all at once from everyone else.

"You've really outdone yourself this year," says Stiles's dad.

"I had very good help this year," says Stiles. "Derek, take a bow."

"Derek helped you?" says Scott. To Derek he says, "I had no idea you could cook."

"Me either," says Isaac, and Derek quickly looks up at him. There is no condemnation in Isaac's voice. Only rueful humor. "If I'd known I'd have asked him to cook every night!" Isaac smiles at him: soft, understanding… forgiving.

Derek offers a tentative smile in return.

"Dude, you and Stiles have to cook for us on Pack Night," says Scott. "We'll take up a collection and pay you. This is way better than any take-out."

Derek looks at Stiles, who's giving him the 'see? I told you so' face. But it doesn’t matter; he's smiling while he does it.

"Better than pizza?" asks Derek. "Actually, I could make pizzas for us one night. If Stiles doesn't mind helping--"

"Deal. Pizzacropolis is awesome, but it's a rip-off." Stiles holds out his hand for Derek to shake. Derek wonders at it, but doesn't not shake. He wants to touch Stiles. God, how he wants to touch Stiles. If that's a prayer, it's the one he wants answered most.

He eats in silence for a while, letting the conversation flow around him like warm water, heating him, buoying him, relaxing him. He's filling in the very farthest corners of his stomach with the sharp-sweet-crisp apples in the szarlotka when it hits him: if this is a curse, well then, he's cursed. It's wonderful. If he ever meets who's responsible, he's going to thank them for this: this happiness, this taste of family that for whatever reason, doesn't feel so very much impossible, or so very much out of reach anymore.

And if it's not a curse? Well… it's still wonderful. Scary, but wonderful. And maybe that's okay, too.

::-------------------------------------::

They don't get a chance to talk again until after dinner. Derek and Stiles are relegated to the couch to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" while everyone else tackles dishes.

"Scott, they cooked for two days. You can spend thirty minutes being grateful by cleaning up," says Melissa, ushering him and Isaac into the kitchen.

"Dude, pack your leftovers while you're in there," says Stiles. "If you don't take at least half I'm going to be insulted on Baba Ania's behalf."

"What about Derek?" says Scott, poking his head back out the kitchen door.

"He's all set." Stiles waves him away and when he's sure they're alone, pounces on Derek's lap.

"I know I didn't imagine that, earlier."

"Imagine what? Get off me, Stiles. I'm too full." Stiles is only sitting on Derek's thighs, but Derek's so full that the jostling makes his stomach hurt.

Stiles flows off him like heavy, warm liquid and ends up plastered against Derek's side under his arm, his head on Derek's shoulder. Derek holds his arm up, and isn't sure where to put it. It hovers there until he decides to put it on the back of the couch. It's still touching the top of Stiles's shoulders.

"You licked the bottle. Licked it. I know what that means."

Derek wishes Stiles would tell him; he has an inkling, he knows what he wants it to mean, but he wants a second opinion.

"Dude, if you want to kiss me, you should just kiss me."

Derek's too full to want to move but he's feeling trapped. He knows what he wants, but there are so many words in the way. He raises his hand to Stiles's face, cups his cheek. Here is a man -- a boy, still, in so many ways, but a man in all the ways that count -- who lives his life out loud. He feels his feelings, he knows what he knows, and he acts on it. There is no hesitation, no question of deservingness pushed like a doorstop in the way of everything he aims to do.

Derek is just now remembering the taste of that freedom. It frightens him more than anything has since those horrible words, Son, we need you and your sister to come with us. There's been an accident. But if there is one thing Derek understands, it's fear; he understands how it paralyzes, and how to power through it. So he takes a deep breath and says on the exhale, "I want to kiss you."

Stiles waits patiently, just looking at him, faint hope rolling off him in grass-scented waves. Then he slowly stands, and offers Derek his hand.

Derek takes it, rises, and lets himself be drawn up the stairs.

::-------------------------------------::

The door closes, and they fall slowly onto Stiles's narrow bed wrapped in each others' arms. He lies on top of Stiles only for a moment before Stiles rolls them onto their sides. They lie in the dim light from the desk lamp and look into the shadows of each other's eyes for long moments, saying nothing. Stiles stares at him as though he were trying to look through Derek to the other side, as though Derek were a maze that if only he can get through, he will win the prize, he will know. Stiles's fingers tremble in his hair, over the crest of his ear, on his neck.

There's a warm puff of air on his face, then Stiles says, "Don't ever go away again without saying something first."

"I'm sorry. I won't. I promise," Derek says, and every word is true enough to shake him.

They fall into each other, mouth to mouth, tongues pressing and licking. They breathe each other's breath. Derek brings his hand up and grabs Stiles's wrist, and smooths Stiles's trembling fingers over his Adam's apple, down his chest, as far under his shirt as he can press it.

"Take it off," says Stiles, warm and heady and humid against him, smelling of food and contentedness, hearth and family.

Derek leans back and sits up far enough to fling his shirt over his head, then he works his fingers around the buttons of Stiles's shirt and removes it, too. He pulls Stiles's t-shirt over his head in one grab; Stiles emerges from it grinning. And then they're together, skin on skin, the hair on their chests crackling together as they dive into one another once more.

Derek rolls to his back and pulls Stiles over him like a wearable blessing, like a sartorial prayer he can cover his heart with. He writhes in a sinuous curve that crests to whitewater in his hips against the trembling mess that Stiles has become in his arms. Stiles shuts his eyes and moans, a filthy, drawn-out, open-mouthed noise, a siren for Derek's hips, drawing them forward to rut against Stiles's hard length.

"I want -- is it okay--" Derek whispers against Stiles's lips, as he works his hands down between them and dips his finger in the tight space between Stiles's jeans and his skin.

"Oh my god this is really happening. Yeah. Do it," says Stiles.

Derek listens to him breathe in and out, in and out, louder and faster as Derek digs his fingers in and works open the button. Stiles's stomach heaves under his fingers. Derek takes a moment to run the back of his hand up and down Stiles's belly, and whisper, "Shhh. Settle down. I don't want you to come until I've got my hand wrapped around you."

"Oh god," Stiles moans, his hips stuttering up, pressing his erection into Derek's palm. "You can't just say things like that!"

A tiny damp spot blooms under the heel of Derek's hand. He grabs Stiles's ass and anchors him, then brings his damp hand up to his face. While Stiles watches, he scents it deep into his lungs, then wraps his tongue over it. He breathes in through his nose once more, with his mouth half open, and the exhale growls out of him from low in his chest.

Stiles gasps. Then his hips thrust up into Derek's thigh and the yeasty scent of Stiles's come blossoms up from between them.

"Did you -- you just--"

"Sorry," Stiles breathes, but it doesn't come all the way out; Derek swallows it down along with the last of Stiles's breath as he thrusts his own hips into the softening bulge between Stiles's thighs. He eats each gasp out of Stiles's mouth until he can't anymore, until he's groaning into his own release, hot and copious, soaking through his boxer briefs and his jeans.

He collapses with his nose in Stiles's neck and lies there, breathing. He could laugh; he could cry. Either seems appropriate. Maybe both. But maybe he'll just close his eyes first for a moment.

"Dude, get off me," says Stiles after a while, after their breathing dies down to a quiet whisper, after their heartbeats slow down to a quiet, steady ballad.

Derek slides off him, resting his head on Stiles's shoulder, instead. Stiles bends his arm and hooks his hand over Derek's shoulder. Derek turns his face into the crook of Stiles's arm, breathes him in and out, in and out, drowning himself in Stiles's scent, working it into himself until it becomes his own.

"I guess we should get up and do some more research," says Stiles. "Maybe we'll--"

"No."

Stiles nods to himself and asks, "Why?"

Derek hesitates.

"It needs to come from you. You know that, don't you?"

"Yes." Derek wraps his free arm over the flat plains and the tantalizing trail of hair low on Stiles's belly and says, "If this is a curse, there is no way under the moon that I want to be free of it."

Stiles's chest heaves with a huff of laughter, but he sobers quickly. "And if it isn't a curse?"

Derek gulps and breathes out, holds it and holds it until the wave of sorrow that threatens to engulf him passes. He takes a deep, cleansing breath and says, "If it isn't, then I have a lot of -- of baggage I need to work out. I want to believe--" He holds himself still in Stiles's arms and breathes, and breathes, as tight and choking as the drawing in and expelling of breath can get, until Stiles pulls him in closer still and bends his mouth to Derek's forehead.

"You deserve nice things. You know that, don't you?" he places his lips at Derek's hairline and leaves them there. "Or maybe you don't know that. But you should."

"I want to believe that."

"Then you will. Someday, you will." Stiles kisses where his lips rest on Derek's head, then lets him go. "Come on. We should clean up and get downstairs before the others wonder where we've got to."

"They're still in the kitchen," says Derek. He hears them laughing at something Scott's said as he climbs off the bed after Stiles.

Stiles stops him at the door with a hand on his chest. "When you're ready to work it out, I'll be here."

Derek smiles.

::-------------------------------------::

After "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story" and eggnog, after story after story weaving a tale of lives lived, touching and intertwining, woven together in community and friendship and love, Derek Hale drives back to his loft.

He hits every traffic light green.

 

THE END
::-------------------------------------::