Actions

Work Header

That's Where It Is

Work Text:

♠♠♠

Derek thanked the Beacon Town Mayor again as he bowed goodnight. He watched as the Alpha-woman walked back to the main area of the village. The cottage that he and his soon-to-be-pack would stay in this night, and hopefully the next, was on the very edge of their boundary, purposefully outside of the small community. He waited until the Mayor was out of sight in the dark, gone past the closest house, and then turned to go inside and join the others near the fire.

Derek wasn’t as nervous now as he had been the first time he’d approached a village as a potential suitor. The same fears were of course there, but muted after some practice. Now there was a new unease blooming in his chest—the fact that the Omega he was to meet on the morrow was the last on the Elder Council’s list of suitable matches for him this season. The worry was tempered slightly by the fact that the young man was also the best of the choices as far as his family had been able to discern from the information they had. This village was the furthest from Derek’s, however, so they had little actual knowledge of this place, and practicality had seen him meet the other listed prospects first.

The first two prospects Derek had been presented to were Beta-women. He’d found them both unpleasant and distasteful, their scents acrid and cloying. He’d not spent more than a few hours in each of their villages after their first interactions, choosing to take his Betas outside their local boundaries rather than extend contact or invite discussion. The third candidate he’d met, a female Omega, had been more appealing. Yet, when she’d touched his skin, a well-placed and lingering brush of their hands, there’d been no hint of a heat between them. Derek had known instantly that no matter how sweet her countenance or pretty her smile, she’d not have been a Mate-match to him physically, so he’d not done her the dishonor of requesting the Bundling-trial.

He was hoping, truly, that those physical incompatibilities were all a sign from the Gods that the young Omega-man Derek would meet on the morn was the one he was destined to pair with. The Elder Council always gave a list of suitable matches rather than a single prospect, but Derek had long suspected that they knew who exactly would match with whom, and simply provided more than one name in some kind of deference to tradition, and perhaps as a way to provide amusement to the Gods.

At twenty-two, the age of a Master-Builder according to the Number Law the Elder Council used, Derek was at the perfect age to break away from his family’s over extended pack and construct his own. As with all Alphas ready to take that step, he needed a Mate: no pack could be led by only one mind. He’d petitioned the Elder Council the very day of his birthday and they’d taken a whole moon to give him their suggestions. They declared that he was strong of mind, body, and heart, but heavy of thought and too reserved and serious of tongue. They decreed that he would need a Mate who was lithe of body, strong and flexible of mind, and warm of heart. They’d added that for there to be true balance and harmony in their union, Derek’s match should also be full of brightness and energy.

Derek secretly thought the person they’d described for him sounded overwhelming, but he could see the logic. Besides, he didn’t understand the Number Law, nor the visions the Elder Council used to make their findings, and they’d lived far longer and knew much more than he thought he ever might.

“You’re stuck too much in your head, Derek. You closed the door three minutes ago, perhaps you should take more than one step inside?” Isaac pointed to the table he and the others were sat around. “The food the village has set out for us is simple, but excellent. Eat. We haven’t had fare like this since we left home.”

“The bread is particularly fine,” Jackson said has he reached forward to cut another slice.

“Then perhaps then you should leave more than just the crusts for our Alpha,” Boyd replied, stopping Jackson’s movement with a glare. Boyd didn’t say much, but it was always to the point. “Erica, move to the other chair so that Derek can sit closest to the fire.”

Derek shook his head as he sat on the already empty seat so that Erica didn’t have to change. “I’m fine here, Boyd. It’s far warmer anywhere inside than in the night air.”

“This cottage is much nicer than the ones in the other villages we visited, too. There are bricks to warm our beds with, and the room behind that door is just for bathing. The copper would fit any of us with ease.” Isaac look delighted. “The town’s well is only a few steps away, so we can all easily wash in the daylight before we are to meet with the Lawkeeper and his son.”

“That’s who this one is?” Jackson was taking small bites of bread, trying to make the piece he had last. “All the potentials’ information has blended in my brain.” He took a swig of the tea they’d been given, and a small smile rose on his face.

Derek tasted from his own cup. The brew was full bodied and sweetened liberally with honey. This town certainly knew how to treat its guests.

He swallowed and said, “let’s read over the information we have then, before we’re to bed. We’ll need to rise not long after the sun if we’re all to be freshly bathed, shaved and in our finest before we're to be introduced to the locals on the morn.” He lifted a spoonful of the supper to his mouth, took a deep sniff, then tasted it. It was indeed good.

Erica pushed her empty bowl away, almost clean of the stew it had held, then stood. She collected the last of the four letters they’d carried with them from the first day of their travels. Boyd stood and fetched his Mate an extra lamp from beside one of the bunks, then sat back down to finish his tea as he listened to her read.

“The family’s name is Stilinski. They are mostly a Human clan, but with a strong magical history. The father, John, is this village and the next’s primary Lawkeeper, with a talent for truth-magics. The mother, Klaudia, was a Healing Mage, but left his realm eight years ago.” She paused and made the sign of the Gods, just they all did, then continued, “their only child, an Omega son, I’m not going to attempt to say his names, has no magic of his own, but has a strong Spark.”

“And that’s why the Elder Council thought he was a good choice for you, yes? A Spark ready to be lit with another type of magic?” Isaac was the youngest of them, and yet to decide that others might think such questions might make him seem naïve. Derek appreciated the trait.

Strangely, the normally haughty Jackson appreciated it also, but probably only as Isaac was his Packmate. “Yes. He’s like a full oil lamp which lacks a wick.”

Erica sniggered. “And Derek’s big wick will hopefully set him on fire in all the right places.”

If they’d been at home, they’d have all thrown food at her. Here they restrained themselves. Derek settled for a slight growl when he said her name, and a quick flash of his eyes as he did it. “Erica.”

“Sorry, Alpha.” She ducked her chin quickly, and then set herself back to reading out the notes to them. “The Omega is almost at the end of his nineteenth year, and, you'll remember the gossip from the last town before this, he has rejected, outright, the four other suitors that he’s had come calling."

Well, Derek had rejected two potentials outright, so he could at least sympathize the Omega’s reactions, even if he didn’t fully comprehend how one could make such a decision without the aid of a Wolf’s nose.

“What was the advice the Elder Council gave for if a betrothal gift to the family if is required?” Boyd had stood to start clearing plates away, but looked at Erica as he asked.

“That family, above all else, was what the Omega valued.”

Derek nodded. “Which is why, as well as the Omega cape, I’ve a big brass key to give to him. His father is likely not yet ready to give up his Lawkeeper duties, but when he is, we’re offering a full welcome, including a cottage and pack placement in our village so he can eventually join his son should the Mating go ahead.”

Jackson topped up his mug with the last of the tea after offering it to everyone else. “The Omega woman we met before had three help-maidens she was going to bring with her. How many have the Stilinskis listed?”

Erica scanned a little further down the page she was holding, tilting it to the light as she went. “Two. Which is better for us anyway, isn’t it? They’ll go into your mothers’ household at first, yes, Derek? Three would have been too many, really. Your Mamma would go mad with more than two young women in the house again, even if there was an extra bed big enough for three or four to share.”

Derek smiled. “That’s very true. It was hard enough when it was you and Cora coming of age. At least Mamma could have Mother use her Alpha voice to make you do what you were told. That probably wouldn't work on two young women from a mostly Human village.” He sighed and rolled his neck as he stood. “There isn’t much else in that letter, as far as I can remember. Let’s all have some sleep. We certainly need it. Hopefully, tomorrow night, I’ll be sharing a bed with someone new.”

As he slipped under the covers he eyed the bag his Mamma had safely tucked the Mating gifts into, giving it one last look before he extinguished the lamp.

Soon, hopefully.

♠♠♠

Stiles tried not to squint against the late morning light as he stepped outside. Most of the village had spent their mornings doing the necessary things of everyday life. He’d done the same, but horrifically early, so that he could, in the words of his help-maidens, be properly prepared. He’d been primped and pressed and prettied far beyond anything Lydia and Kira had come up with for his previous four suitors. For that reason alone, almost, he hoped that this time he’d feel something for his prospective husband other than the revulsion or apathy he’d felt for those who’d come before. He had two more potentials after this Alpha on his list, but if there was a next time Lydia or Kira might go as far as trying to put ribbons in his hair. That would simply be too much for him to bear.

The five travelers—a young Alpha and four Betas—were being greeted by the Beacon Town Elders in the Square, next to the ramada where the whole community would feast in a few days if this match was successful.

Mayor Argent had been the one to meet the party at the perimeter last night, and today she seemed to be introducing them to the other Elders and important people. Stiles’ own Tata, as Lawkeeper and father to the Omega the visitors were here to meet, was prominent amongst them.

Even if the way the stranger was dressed didn’t instantly mark the dark-haired man as the group’s Alpha, Stiles would be able to tell just by the expression on his father’s face which one of the travelers was here to present his suit today; his Tata looked to be interrogating the poor Wolf with his stare.

The Alpha, Stiles knew the man’s name was Theoderek Hale, was a fine specimen. The four who’d come before him had been as well, however, and Stiles wasn’t going to trust just his eyes. He needed to be closer. He needed to be able to hear the man breathe, see his pupils wax and wane, and most importantly feel the energy he radiated when he spoke. Scott had asked Stiles how he could have dismissed his previous suitors so quickly without the benefit of a werewolf's nose. Stiles hadn’t tried to explain, really, Scott would likely not have understood. Stiles may not have his own magic, but his Spark reacted to the innate magic of others, and he hadn’t yet met a suitor he wanted to physically be close to, let alone magically merged with.

Stiles waited in the doorway of his father’s house, watching as Alpha Hale exchanged pleasantries with each of those he was introduced to. Hale looked polite and practiced, but a little nervous. He was dressed well, but not in an overly pompous manner. The tight black breeches he wore were meant to show off the muscles in his thighs and calves. The leggings, unlike his well-loved and obviously scuffed boots, looked as if they were almost new. His black, crimson-lined, Alpha-cut jacket was open. Its straight collar standing an inch all around, and its hem skimming the tops of his knees but split up each side and rear to past his waist. It gave an appropriately enticing glimpse of the strength that lay beneath. The white shirt the jacket sat over had the same high collar, and more buttons on it than Stiles had seen on any other one piece of clothing. The Wolf’s black gloves, made of what looked to be something fine and soft like rabbit, had buttons at the wrists. Stiles wondered if the Alpha was smooth and sleek under his adornments, or if perhaps the thick hair on his head was representative of what was also on his chest and thighs. Stiles made himself stop thinking on such things. He didn’t want his scent to portray his shallow physical reaction if his deeper magical one didn’t match it in enthusiasm.

He glanced over each of the four Hale Betas. They were dressed in a similar manner to their Alpha, but in unmistakably Beta fashion. They wore the same style of tight black breeches, but jackets that reached only a few inches past their waist and lacked the vanity-splits. When they turned or twisted Stiles could see the amber lining of each of their coats. The Betas were probably warmer than their Alpha, given that they each wore what looked to be fine woolen waistcoats over their white shirts. Their boots were all as equally battered, but just as well cared for, as their Alpha’s.

Stiles felt the girls at his back before he heard them.

“He’s far more attractive than the others, I’d say.”

“You said that about each of the other Alphas when comparing them to the ones that had come before, Kira,” Lydia countered. “Although, this time I think you are correct. His Betas aren’t exactly unpleasant to look at either. I think I’d be quite happy running my fingers through those flaxen ringlets.”

The tall, blond, curly-haired Beta Wolf stilled in his movements. Stiles and his big-mouthed help-maidens were too far away to see if the young man was blushing, but they were obviously not too far for a Werewolf to hear their conversation. Stiles hoped that they were too far for his Lawkeeper father to see his son’s eyes roll, or there would be another lecture about proper decorum in company.

“Hold your tongues, please?” Stiles tried to whisper loud enough for Lydia and Kira to hear, but not enough to attract attention from the Square. He didn’t dare turn to chastise them, however. Any obvious movement from their direction would have his father turning to call and bring them out to meet the visitors. Stiles knew he had only moments before it happened anyway, but he wanted to prolong them as much as possible. He liked learning from a distance before moving headlong into something, and given that in a little more than twenty-four hours he might be in the throes of pre-Mating heat, this was about as headlong as it got.

He smoothed down the wrap front that laid over his long, wide-legged culottes, and wished, again, that they were paired with the same half-length Beta-jacket Lydia and Kira wore. His own coat sat much higher. It was in the standard Omega fashion, cut off before it even thought about covering anything past his waist. If he didn’t reject Alpha Hale outright, Stiles would spend a good portion of the day outside with a near frozen posterior. He hoped that the man appreciated the fact. He also hoped the Alpha would notice that the short jacket was lined with silver-grey, embroidered over with silver, to match the eyes he’d have if he accepted the path of the Wolf; the other suitors, all four of them, had spent too much time staring at his backside to have possibly glimpsed the absurdly expensive and delicate materials he’d slaved with to make the intricate lining.

“So, which one is he?” Scott said, loud and brash as could be, as he rounded the corner of the Stilinski house. Almost everyone in the Square turned and looked at the four of them. Stiles and Kira groaned. Lydia tutted. Alison, in the greeting party with her mother the Mayor, looked embarrassed even at this distance, dipping her head to either hide her face or perhaps her laughter. Scott didn’t seem to notice any of it, focusing instead on Stiles and his amused help-maidens, waiting for an answer to his question.

Stiles truly didn’t want to dignify it with a response, but he knew that without one, Scott would simply open his mouth and ask again. “The Alpha here to meet me is the visitor wearing the Alpha-jacket, Scott. It’s black with a red lining, quite similar to the Alpha jacket your mother is making you for next winter.”

Scott brazenly turned his head and looked at the strangers. He took what was apparently enough time to run his eyes over all five of them and decide that yes, only one of them was wearing an Alpha-jacket. He looked at Stiles again.

“He’s far more handsome than the others. I hope you don’t not-scent hate him like you did them.”

♠♠♠

Derek could smell hints of the young Omega man even before he stepped out from behind his father’s door. Whether his Betas could too or not, they all felt the shift in their Alpha’s demeanor, and took heed of his countenance. Within the privacy of the cottage here, or alone on the road, or at home where all knew their habits, they would be as free with him as they were with each other. Now, in public, being introduced to the distinguished man who would hopefully be Derek’s father-in-law in a matter of days, they played the perfectly submissive Betas that the world expected to see: they kept their eyes down from the gaze of the town’s Elders, they shook hands even though they didn’t want to be drowned in the scents of strangers, and they didn’t try to peek at Lawkeeper Stilinski’s exquisite smelling son, no matter how tempting.

Derek couldn’t help but feel proud. He couldn’t even fault Isaac when the Beta’s attention strayed because of the forward words of the help-maidens hiding behind the Omega’s skirts. They had rather pretty voices. Derek felt satisfied with all four of his Beta’s performances at this first official meeting. He only hoped that Mayor Argent and her peers, especially Lawkeeper Stilinski, thought the same of his own behavior and presentation.

“Son, bring the young ladies, and Scott,” there was a huff of light laughter from several of the town’s otherwise staid looking Elders, “to meet Alpha Hale and his Betas.”

Derek wanted desperately to turn and watch the man’s son approach, but the Lawkeeper had turned to him and asked, “Is it correct for me to call them your Betas before you are Mated? Is there a special title that I should have learned? I promise we studied as much as we could on this matter before you arrived, but Scott is bitten, and the only Werewolf our village has seen in several generations. Even our best collection’s volumes had no answers for us on this matter.”

Derek tried not to smile. The father, at least, seemed as keen to impress Derek as Derek was the father. “There is a long and convoluted, old term, Sir, but it’s not something a Human tongue can manage. I assure you that neither my Betas nor I are in any way offended by the way you’ve called us.” Derek hoped the man wouldn’t ask to hear the Lycaon phrase, as he didn’t want to bring his Wolf to the surface here. He would be happy to do it in private if his husband-to-be’s father requested it, but normally it wasn’t something one did outside of Pack or when it was necessary to defend oneself. To do it here, now, would leave Derek feeling exposed with so many strangers in attendance.

Lawkeeper Stilinski’s eyes widened—possibly Derek had shown too much of his mind on his face—but the man nodded. “The other Wolves who came to present their suit seemed uncomfortable with the description, but offered no reason nor correction. Thank you for your explanation, Alpha Hale.”

Derek wanted to simply nod, but found the words to say, “It is my pleasure, Sir,” before he was finally able to turn to see the one person he really wanted to speak to.

Young Omega Stilinski, whose first names Derek and his Betas had again considered that morning and again decided against attempting to pronounce until they were given guidance, was, although not as petite in stature as was usually considered attractive in an Omega, absolutely stunning. Even if Derek was given to the more loquacious tendencies of his Betas, he’d have been struck quiet at this moment. His Betas lined up beside him, yet one step behind. The Pack bonds were warming with their enthusiasm at Derek’s fast, and to them obvious, interest in this possible match.

There was a slight breeze at their backs, so Derek couldn’t yet experience the young Omega’s scent as much as he wished. He was certainly a young man, not a boy as he could be called given that he was yet only nineteen. His shoulders were broad, and his hips likely deceptively narrow given the cut of his traditional garb. His hair sat just at his shoulders, curling around his ears and onto his forehead. His skin was as pale as Derek had seen on any other person, and his eyes, although difficult to see in the glare of the stark winter sun, looked warm and inviting. Derek noticed the Omega’s plush mouth, but dragged his gaze off it quickly. Even a young, bitten Wolf, such as the Alpha the Lawkeeper had called Scott, might be able to smell the blatant desire stirring in his blood.

“Alpha Theoderek Sloane Hale, may I present to you my only child, my most precious, Omega Konstancji Eustachy Stilinski.”

Derek took a step forward, then a breath, and his body made his decision for him. He dropped his head forward, and held it there as he heard his Betas drop to their knees. In truth, he wanted to join them. His heart sped up, and he could hear the Omega’s doing the same. He prayed silently to any of the Gods that might deign to listen that it was for the same reason. Though he didn’t understand the way a Spark’s senses worked, Derek knew they were as fundamental as scent was to a Wolf; the Omega would make his first judgement of their match in a similar manner to a Shifter, even if he didn’t immediately make such a grand declaration as was being laid before him.

Derek counted to ten then raised his eyes to the young man’s chest, and hoped that he’d not be disappointed. “It is my great privilege and pleasure to make your acquaintance, Omega Stilinski.”

The answer was fast, and true, the young man’s heart beating quickly, but evenly. “The honor and delight are mine, Alpha Hale.” The Omega took a step closer, and bared his wrist, lifting it so his sleeve pulled up and his glove slipped down a touch. Derek barely held down a gasp. The Omega’s hand was bent back a little and the veins inside his wrist stood proud under the skin for a moment before settling again. “It would please me greatly if you’d accept my scent as true token of that sentiment.”

Derek’s Betas didn’t contain their vocal reactions, all four rumbling happily in their chests. The previous enthusiasm Derek had felt along their Pack-bonds was building to a thrumming excitement. Within moments of officially meeting, this suit had progressed farther than any of Derek’s others had in hours. In fact, if it wasn’t still before the middle of the day, and didn’t break every known etiquette and protocol that Derek had ever heard of, he’d request that they begin the Bundling-trial forthwith.

Derek flicked his attention quickly to the Lawkeeper, and seeing only a kind of satisfaction on the man’s features, raised his own eyes to his possible, probable, Mate. He breathed out as he reached out a hand to take what he’d been offered. He wanted to mark the Omega, skin to skin, palm along the offered wrist, but he used every ounce of his control to only gently press his fingers upon the material of the young man’s jacket sleeve and lift. He couldn’t help closing his eyes as he inhaled.

It smelled more than just right. He wished he could take the time to catalogue every piece of the tantalizing scent-puzzle. It would happen tonight, he had little doubt, given the thirst in the Omega’s eyes. The sun would set and they would be wrapped next to each other for the Bundling-test. Derek had waited years to find someone that made his heart beat stronger in his chest, he could wait a few more hours.

He pointedly ignored the scent of libidinous want that bloomed out of the Omega’s skin, telling himself, again, that he could wait. Derek stepped back and kept his eyes and face forward.

“Thank you, Omega Kons—”

“Please,” the young man’s voice had lost its calm, and there was suddenly a tinge to the Omega's cheeks that was beyond that caused by the cold in the air, “my father may have insisted upon introducing me with my full name, but I’d rather not have to hear it again until there is an official reason for it.”

“Or ever again, really,” muttered the bitten Wolf, Scott. It was only loud enough for the Wolves and help-maidens to hear, and the young women giggled.

The Omega’s cheeks flushed further, and the color started along his collar line as well. “Please, if you will, Alpha Hale, address me by the name most use. I am usually called Stiles.”

Derek had no reason to object to the familiarity, none at all. He felt a small thrill run through him, even. “Of course, Stiles. I am most usually called Derek.”

Stiles bowed slightly at the waist and nodded his head. “Derek, good. I,” he glanced at his father and was met only with a set of raised eyebrows, “I believe we should take some time to walk together. Would you and your Betas care to join my help-maidens and me on a tour of the village before luncheon?”

The words fell out of Stiles’ ambrosial mouth quick and light, and Derek had to count to ten in Latin to stop himself from imagining what else those lips and tongue might do so easily.

♠♠♠

The village was, thankfully, small. It took less than an hour, even with the Hale Beta’s stopping to ask extraordinarily detailed questions, to take a turn about the place. It had taken most of that time for Stiles to realize why the walk had stretched out for so long. They were all in the middle of listening to Kira explaining old man Greenberg’s choice of thatching rather than slate for his roof when it all started to make sense. It was so obvious, in the moment Stiles looked up and caught Alpha Hale staring at the nape of his neck, that all six Betas had been trying to give the two of them time to be near each other. It was also obvious, and horrifically embarrassing, that he’d been so enamored of that nearness that he’d not seen their blatant trickery until that very moment.

Not that Stiles was going to complain about that trickery, of course. He might, however, complain that it was winter and his that backside felt as if it was close to frozen. Even his fingers and toes, wrapped in their wonderful layers, were beginning to suffer. He shivered and hoped that no one noticed. It would hardly make a good impression, even this close to the end of the walk, to have to cut it short so that the frail Omega—and given his biologically delicate constitution it was absurd that he was the one traditionally required to wear the short coat—could return to the fireside where he belonged.

“Stiles,” Derek’s voice was soft, and the others apparently decided to pretend they couldn’t hear it, “perhaps we should move inside? I’m not familiar with your help-maidens’ appetites, but my Packmates are always hungry, and I’m certain they’re dying to sit for luncheon. Especially after the meal your Mayor brought to us last night. If it is any indication, we’ve something quite delicious to look forward to.”

Stiles felt his cheeks heat as they had when Derek had started to say his proper name after they were introduced. The Alpha and his Betas had enjoyed the food he’d made them, then. Stiles hadn’t been required to do it, in fact a few of the Elders had found the idea close to improprietous, but he’d wanted to make this a better meeting than the four previous ones he’d had with visiting Alphas. No one he’d ever met didn’t like his food, and it had seemed a fair place to start good relations. Now, he was torn for a moment between two warring pieces of etiquette in his mind: he didn’t want to admit he’d been so forward as to prepare the meal, but he also couldn’t help but wish to acknowledge the compliment he’d just been freely, and unknowingly, paid.

Stiles looked Derek in the eye and decided on the latter. The Alpha and his Betas hadn’t been subtle with the head bowing and dropping to their knees earlier, so perhaps they wouldn’t take issue with his being straightforward. “Luncheon won’t be fully ready until we head back. Our table isn’t overly large, but it will fit all eight of us and my father.” He turned to face towards his house, trying to make it look like it was an invitation, and hoped that what he was about to say wasn’t taken wrongly. “I’m glad you enjoyed your meal last night. I hope I prepared enough bread? Scott has an appetite far larger than most, but I’m not certain if that’s because he’s a Wolf or because he’s always eaten twice as much as anyone else. I didn't want to leave you hungry, but I also didn’t want to overfill your plates and make you feel pressured to finish what was in them.”

There was a sudden movement behind him and then one of the Hale Betas was there, inches away from Stiles’ side.

“You made the bread we ate last night?”

Stiles was usually good at remembering things, even things easy to forget, such as a new acquaintance’s name, but he’d been concentrating so hard on Derek that he’d definitely not managed it this time. The young Beta’s eyes were a clear blue and bright, his skin almost as pale as Stiles’ own, and his jawline even sharper than his Alpha’s. His name was Jason, or Jonathan or, something beginning with J.

Derek raised an eyebrow at his Beta. “Jackson?”

Jackson’s own eyebrows both shot up and his eyes lowered and he tipped his head a little to the side, raising his chin and exposing his throat. Stiles took a slightly sharper breath than usual when he realized the submission was directed towards him, not the Wolf’s Alpha. He had no idea how to show that he accepted whatever apology he was being given. Luckily, it didn’t seem to be immediately necessary. Jackson lowered his chin again, but kept his eyes down, and sounded quite remorseful when he said, “please forgive me, Omega Stilinski, Alpha Hale. I shouldn’t have interrupted your conversation.”

Now beside them, the other three Wolves had gone still. Lydia was watching with a sharp eye and Kira looked like she wanted to ask her own questions, but was thankfully thinking better of it. Erica, whose name Stiles remembered only as he’d heard Kira say it so many times, broke the stillness when she stepped up beside Jackson and looked at Derek’s chin, or thereabouts.

Derek flashed his deep red eyes, apparently giving permission to speak. Erica said, “Jackson would have eaten four whole loaves of your bread by himself if he’d had the chance. There was more than enough of the stew to fill our bellies well, but I’m sure we’d all have had seconds and thirds if it had been there, simply as it tasted so good.”

Jackson’s spine was still straight, although the hard line of his shoulders had softened a little, possibly because his Packmate had come to stand beside him. Stiles wondered how he should now react. According to the texts that he, Lydia and Kira had found to read, if he was to be an Alpha’s mate, he’d be second in the Pack and expected to do just what Derek had if someone stepped out of line, even slightly. He dared to glance at Lydia to see if she had any ideas she could miraculously convey through her expression alone, but she was still studying the Wolves as if they were a particularly taxing text she’d decided to read. Kira looked a little concerned, but she almost never liked the idea of anyone being disciplined, even if they deserved it. She probably wanted to bustle Jackson inside and feed him warm milk and honey until he felt better.

As far as Stiles understood, Jackson had done something ill-mannered, been chastised, and apologized. There had been no further negative reaction, and thus the apology seemed to have been deemed acceptable by his Alpha. The actions in response to Jackson’s misspeaking had been done in a manner entirely Wolf-like, but other than that neither the faux pas nor reprimand were much different to any minor infraction Stiles made under his father’s watchful eye.

Stiles decided he should treat this situation like that, and hoped that it didn’t make him seem like a hopelessly incompetent contender for Mate.

He looked at the young woman first and said, “I’m glad you all enjoyed the meal, Erica.” Then angled his body to Jackson and spoke a little more quietly when he added, “I laid out several loaves to prove this morning. They’ll be hot out of the oven when we eat.”

Jackson’s and Derek’s reactions were swift and a relief. The Beta’s body seemed to wilt into relaxation, and the Alpha’s smile, although not blinding by any measure, was warm and real.

“The oven is hot, Stiles.” His father looked around the room, as if trying to seek-out any other words he should say. “I’ve not long boiled the kettle, so it shouldn't take much to set it to heat again, and I’ve fetched some more wood inside so we can keep our guests warm.”

His father looked fit to burst with questions over what might have happened in the hour since he’d seen the three of them, but was doing well to hold his tongue over it. The Wolves had returned to the visitor's cottage to freshen before luncheon, and Stiles, Lydia, and Kira didn’t have much time before they’d come knocking. Lydia already had the soup they’d started this morning back on the heat.

Stiles threw on his oldest wrapper over his good clothes and grabbed the first proving-bowl from next to the big hearth in the sitting room. “Thank you, Tata.” He brought the bowl to the kitchen table, tossed flour on the surface and threw the dough out. “Can one of you fetch the other loaves? I think I’ll need them all ready.”

Kira grinned from ear to ear as she came into the kitchen with the second lot of dough. “The visitors really, really liked Stiles’ bread, Master Stilinski. So much so that one of the Betas, the one Lydia thinks is most attractive, earned himself some serious eyebrow raising and a growl when he interrupted Alpha Hale and Stiles’ conversation to say so.”

Lydia smacked Kira playfully on the arm. “Gossip.”

Stiles pushed his hands into the dough he was kneading for the last time, he was glad this recipe needed little work after it’s proving, and said, “the Alpha didn’t growl. He was standing next to me, I’d have heard it.” His hands moved quickly to shape the bread ready for the oven, then he sliced a few shallow cuts into the top so it wouldn’t burst as it baked.

“It was likely just too low for Human ears to hear, Stiles,” Kira answered. “It wasn’t too bad, though. It was short and sharp and done at the same time as the eyebrow thing. You did see the eyebrow thing, didn’t you?”

“Of course he saw the eyebrow thing.” Lydia reached down the biggest teapot they had and started loading it with leaves, measuring in her maddeningly careful way. “It wasn’t exactly a subtle expression.” She turned to fetch the honey pot from near the window sill.

Stiles pulled the third lot of dough out and started on it. It would have to do for now, they’d not fit any more than this in the oven at one time. He’d put the other two back near the fire so they’d stay ready. “Not subtle at all, no. But, as far as ornery faces go, Alpha Hale’s is quite handsome.” Stiles lifted his face and smiled at his father, and saw the expression returned in a blinding way.

His father looked out the window towards the edge of the village. “They’ve not left the cottage yet. I’ll go next door and tell Elder Deaton that you will likely be needing the Bundling-house tonight, shall I?” He grinned and stepped up behind Stiles and leant in and kissed him on the back of the head. “I’ll take the bedding with me. If we start the fire in the cottage now, the place will be more than comfortable tonight, even with the snow that’s setting in. I’m happy for you, son. So far he seems a good man. If they’ve not started this way by the time I speak to Deaton, I’ll walk over and fetch the Alpha and his Pack here myself. Either way I’ll return quickly.”

♠♠♠

“You should give it to him, Derek. You obviously really like him. Even if you aren’t proved compatible by the Bundling-trial, you don’t have anyone else to meet with this year. You’ll have time another cloak to be made, and he’ll have something to keep him warm and help him keep fond memories of you.”

Erica sounded completely convinced by her own arguments, Isaac was nodding fervently, and Boyd wasn’t actively disagreeing.

“And besides, if you don’t prove to be his Mate-match, his father will probably throw the damn cloak at you for being presumptuous, and you’ll have a whole year to air Omega Stilinski’s scent out of it.” Jackson was a little more pessimistic, if not more practical, than his Packmates.

Erica smirked, “You just want Omega Stilinski to be in a good mood and bake us more bread, Jackson.”

Jackson huff-growled at her under his breath, and Erica grinned some more, taking it for the confirmation that it was.

Derek sighed and traced his fingers across the wrapping that the cloak was in. It was a beautiful thing, made of the same material and lining as his good Alpha coat, but with hundreds of tiny wolfsbane flowers sown into the red with brilliant silver thread.

“Are you worried that he’ll take offense, Derek?” Boyd had always been able to read him more succinctly than the others.

He looked up at his Beta and let himself nod. “I.” He wasn’t sure how to say it without sounding absurdly gone on the young man he’d only met an hour or two before. But, they could all smell it, they’d sensed it as soon as he breathed Stiles’ scent in properly. Somehow saying it out loud made it more tangible, though. “Omega Stilinski’s jacket is very, very well made. It was difficult to for me to distinguish at first, but the lining is embroidered in the same manner as the lining of this cloak. He must have spent hours upon hours at making it.” Derek tugged at his own jacket and fingered the gloves he’d stuffed in his pocket when they’d come inside. “He was inordinately pleased that we’d enjoyed the food that he made.” They all nodded, they’d smelled the Omega’s pride in it too. “What if he does take offense? What if he thinks I’m attempting to upstage his own hands’ work?” He shot out a harsh breath and let his shoulders sink. “And it’s already beginning to snow, I doubt we’ll be walking again this afternoon, anyway,” Isaac looked horribly disappointed, “no matter how eager we all are to visit the spot by the stream that young Miss Yukimura was describing with such enthusiasm. What possible, legitimate reason could I have for offering it to him before we’ve been Bundled? His father would have every right to toss us out of the village on our backsides for such a presumption. I have no desire to make him less likely to approve the Bundling request.”

“You’ve said more in the last three minutes about this Omega than I’ve heard you speak in the last year about anything other than necessities,” Boyd said, his smile as wide as Erica’s, but nowhere near as smug. “We didn’t smell only how happy he was with the praise over his bread.”

Jackson coughed, a faint waft of embarrassment and remorse pouring from him before the scent that Derek had come to consider his decision-smell. “He smells like you and everything your opposite at the same time.”

“He smells like I could snuggle into him without a moment’s thought and not worry that I’d be safe for all the time I was asleep,” said Isaac.

“He smells like he’s already part of you, part of us,” Erica flashed her eyes as she said it, seemingly worried that she might be overstepping with her words.

Derek looked at each of them, then at Boyd, wondering what he might add.

The big man added, “He smells like your match to us, Derek. What does he smell like to you?”

Derek looked down as he tugged on his gloves. He watched his hand as he reached out and grasped the wrapped cloak, then looked back up at his Betas.

“He smells like mine and home and promise. He smells like Mate. But that’s what the gift is for, Mating, not Bundling.”

The sensible decision or no, he left the cloak reluctantly. He and Stiles would Bundle tonight, and then the day after, tomorrow, hopefully, he could give the gift to the young man who would be his husband.

Derek had been correct in his prediction that they’d not be taking another walking tour that afternoon. They’d been greeted again by a very pleased looking Lawmaker Stilinski and enthusiastically shepherded to the man’s home only minutes before the snow finally settled in for the afternoon. They had then been fed an abundance of simple, but absolutely delicious, food. When they’d demolished three loaves of fresh bread, Stiles’ help-maidens had magically appeared with two more. Stiles, and his father, seemed keen to stuff Derek’s Betas as full as they could of as much of the bread and soup as they could manage. The Betas seemed keen to accommodate the goal.

Derek had spent the morning’s walk admiring Stiles, but had been able to concentrate on the voices and actions of the others, for the most part, thus distracting himself from the more overtly sensual attractions of the young Omega. At the table, though, seated directly across from his probable match, gloves removed and jackets shucked, it was all Derek could do to control the small waves of lust he was experiencing at the strangest moments: Stiles using his fingers to break apart pieces of the oven-fresh bread. Stiles lifting his spoon to his mouth and attempting to surreptitiously cool its contents with his breath. Stiles licking his lips and catching Derek’s gaze as he did so, his skin blossoming with a wonderful pink hue when their eyes met.

With all of that afoot, Derek had been inordinately pleased to learn through the Betas’ and help-maidens’ chatter that while the young Wolf, Scott McCall, had been Stiles’ closest friend as a child, they were now too different in their interests, their gender-split tasks, and general temperaments for the young Alpha to join them for either the luncheon or after. It would not have done to have a non-Pack Werewolf’s nose aware of every burgeoning tumescence Derek experienced during the meal. It was bad enough that Derek caught Erica openly grinning at her Alpha’s pheromones when Stiles had sighed in pleasure at a sip of sweet tea.

Derek had fared better once they’d finished dining, settling in near to the father and son to be questioned over the details of his family, village, and plans and life in general. Lawmaker Stilinski’s tone and scent were far too serious for Derek to feel amorous in any way towards the man’s son at that point. Derek’s Betas had settled easily with Stiles’ help-maidens again. Miss Martin and Boyd discussed a book they’d both read, and the other four played a surprisingly quiet card game of some kind, Miss Yukimura apparently dazzling Derek’s Wolves with her skill.

It felt like an age had passed and yet barely a moment at all, when just before dusk there was a knock on the Stilinski’s door.

“Please excuse me, Alpha Hale,” the Lawmaker said as he stood. He had insisted on continuing to call Derek by his title, which was probably why Derek was still using the man’s own in his head. It was possibly what was stopping Derek from voicing the request he knew he’d need to make soon. It would have been impolitic for him to ask for the Bundling-trial before or even directly following the luncheon, but leaving it too late could also be considered an insult. Derek hoped he hadn’t let his chance pass.

Sharp air rushed in when the door opened, and with it came one of the men they’d been introduced to earlier in the day, though Derek had completely forgotten the Elder’s name. “Good evening, Lawmaker, Alpha Hale, all.” He nodded around at all the others, Derek’s Betas now standing as good manners required.

Stiles stood then also, and his help-maidens followed suit. “Good evening, Elder Deaton.” It was a near chorus from the Omega and his young ladies, and the Elder smiled at it.

“I’m sorry to interrupt the peace of your afternoon, but it seems that the evening will bring heavy snow. It might mean beginning earlier than we’d usually expect it, John, but if it’s necessary I can mix the night’s tisane stronger so the couple can last through such a long night in comfort. I must start brewing now, however, if that’s the case.” The man looked at the Lawmaker, and then they both looked at Derek, and Derek swallowed hard. Elder Deaton, he now recalled, was this village’s Healer, and would therefore be the one to prepare a young couple for the Bundling-trial. They needed to know if there would be a need for Deaton’s skills tonight.

“I, oh.” Derek felt himself blush, and was sure it was nowhere near as attractive as the one he’d seen on Stiles earlier in the afternoon. He swallowed again, suddenly aware of the size of his tongue in his mouth and just how easily he could choke upon it as trip over it. He let himself look at Stiles, and the earnestness on the Omega’s face made the worry fly away. Derek dragged his eyes away to settle on the young man’s father again. He bowed, and bared his neck a little as he stood again, making certain that it was less than he’d do for his own Alpha, or his bonded-Mate, but still showed deference. “Lawmaker Stilinski, I’d like to request the absolute honor of sharing a Bundling-trial with your son, your most precious Omega Konstancji Eustachy Stilinski.” Derek had practiced that in his head a few times after they’d heard the name said, and he remembered the way that the man had described his child at the introduction. He hoped he’d not made a complete farce of it.

The Lawmaker looked at his son, eyebrows raised, and when Stiles nodded, turned back and said with a smile in his voice, “It would be our honor, Alpha Theoderek Sloane Hale, if you’d join my son in a Bundling-trial this evening. We’ve had the Bundling house warming most of the afternoon, after all. It would be a shame to put a good fire to waste.”

The young ladies in the room squealed with delight, and Stiles’ grin was as wide as their voices were high.

♠♠♠

Stiles was cold. He knew he shouldn’t be, as the Bundling-house was small and the fire had been built high and was now settling down to a red-hot glow that would keep the space warm for hours upon hours. He was wearing his heaviest nightshift, and his feet and legs were wrapped in his thickest stockings. His backside, thighs, legs and everything else that made up the lower half of his body were also currently enclosed in one of the thick Bundling-sacks that he, Lydia, and Kira had spent the last month before winter fashioning. The shiver in his bones was from trepidation, not temperature, he supposed.

Stiles wondered now in his head, as he had aloud with Lydia and Kira while they fashioned the Bundling-sacks, if he should be in fear of the fact that he was about to be left in near darkness with an Alpha werewolf who was for all intents and purposes an absolute stranger. He was certain to have been very uneasy to have faced the possibility of the Bundling-trial with any of the other Alphas he’d been introduced to as potential Mates. Yet he felt no foreboding at the prospect of spending the night alone with Alpha Derek Hale. He did, though, have a fear of the possibility that the trial might fail, and that it might thus be their only night together. He shivered again.

He forced himself to sit up straighter on the edge of the bed, and his father looked down upon him. He seemed to know where Stiles’ mind had wandered.

“The chance that this young man is not a physical match with you is slim, son.” He was standing tall, not leaning against the wall of the windowless cottage wall as Stiles would have been. “We’ve not had a Pack in our village for a long time, but we all know the tales we were told in our youth about the magic of Mate-matches. And while we won’t truly know without the kiss, an Alpha’s bared neck within moments of meeting a potential match is almost as good as the Bundling-trial’s answer itself.”

Stiles let himself relax a little, and finally asked the question he’d been eager to since the beginning of the searching season. “Were you nervous, Father, when you were Bundled with Matka?”

Janek Stilinski, respected father and feared Lawmaker, suddenly looked soft and young. “Very much so. Far more than you are, I suspect. We both, of course, had a touch of the Spark that you carry, but not so much that we could feel the kind of connection I expect you’ve sensed with young Alpha Hale.” He smiled as Stiles’ felt his cheeks pink at the implication. “Your Magic potential gives you a definite advantage in all of this, son, and you’ll have no need of apprenticeships and learning to reach your potential once you take the Bite he’ll give you if you’re matched.” He stepped forward, and Stiles automatically tried to shuffle to the side so his father could sit with him, but the Bundling-sack made that impossible, and no one but he and his possible match should sit upon the bed anyway. His father snorted at the attempt. “Please don’t fall in that damnable thing, Stiles. I know you made it strong, but I also know you can break just about anything. It wouldn’t do to have it ripped because neither of us has the grace your Mama tried to teach us.”

Stiles fussed a little with the Bundling-sack and made himself comfortable again, teasing at the edge of the thick material just to keep his hands busy. He said, in the loudest voice he felt he could use without any Shifter outside the building hearing, “Alpha Hale feels right to my Spark. His eyes are kind, his Betas are polite, and he’s quite handsome.” His father smiled at that, and Stiles didn’t want to say anything that might wipe that expression away, but finally gave voice to some that had been worrying him. “The village the Hales live in his eight days’ ride from here, and he’s not yet had to deal with my babbling.”

His father’s smile widened instead of faded. “Then I’ll be learning to like my horse a lot more. You’ll not be in any state to travel that far too often if you’ve heirs in your belly or on your hip.” His father reached out and cupped Stiles’ face with one wide, rough hand. “The two of you will make me beautiful grandbabies, I’m certain.” He looked into Stiles eyes and added, “Your babbling is not the curse you seem to think it is, and as you said, he’s kind. His Betas seemed quite playful with the girls when we weren’t paying them much attention this afternoon. I’d wager that your young Derek is a lot more used to chatter than you might think.”

Stiles blushed again. He was pink in the cheeks when Deaton opened the door and ushered a half-naked Alpha Hale, wearing nothing but his boots, leggings and a shirt almost thin enough to be called translucent, into the house. Stiles took one look at the Werewolf’s very lightly veiled chest and felt his light blush deepen and travel the length of his body. He was glad for the long sleeves of his sleeping shift and even the Bundling-sack.

His father’s eyebrows rose, and his jaw set tight at the image, and Derek spluttered, not quite able to form words in the face of an offended probably father-in-law to be.

Deaton saved him when he said, “Janek, you know that Wolves run at far higher temperatures than Humans. Add to that the fact that this is an Alpha Werewolf and an Omega Human, and we have a grave mismatch for comfort. Forcing this boy to spend the night with yours in a heated room, thick Bundling-sack, under a family quilt and in a proper sleep-shirt would be tantamount to torture. The room, sack and quilt are necessary for your son’s comfort, so I think we can allow young Alpha Hale some allowance for his comfort.”

Stiles watched his father’s face morph from contempt to sheepishness. “I apologize for the face I must have just made, Alpha Hale.”

“I’m sure I’d make similar if it was my Omega child and an Alpha making a similar pronouncement, Sir.” He looked sideways at Deaton, and then turned back to add, “I was planning on stripping to bare skin on top under the Bundling-sack just before your Healer stitched me in. I can keep the light shirt on however, if you prefer?”

Stiles had to speak out at that, but gripped at the Bundling-sack where it was folded down at his waist to steady himself as he did. “I’m sure Elder Deaton’s magics will keep us both well contained, Tata. Please don’t force the Alpha to swelter any more than he needs to.” He probably shouldn’t have used the familiar endearment in front of company, but if this Wolf was likely his Mate-match, that was at least something. “I’ll avert my eyes for you, I swear.”

Deaton laughed under his breath as Stiles’ father said, “You’ll close your eyes until you’re told you may open them, more like. Whatever you think is best, Elder Deaton.” He gave Stiles a quick, warm brush of lips against forehead and nodded at the Alpha he was about to leave with his only child, before stepping outside into the cold. Derek stood a little straighter as the door closed.

♠♠♠

The whispered threat of disembowelment that the Lawmaker gave him as he left—indeed, that should he return in the morning to find that the Bundling-sacks had been tampered with he’d show Derek just how capable he was of dealing with an unwanted Wolf—was, Derek decided, quite fair. He couldn’t imagine, now, with the scent of Stiles surrounding him, doing anything that could possibly jeopardize the match, however.

He and Stiles both grimaced at the tisane Elder Deaton had them drink. The Healer made apologies at their faces, and said that it was more bitter than usual simply as they’d be Bundling for longer than was standard. The drink would prevent their needing the privy or feeling hunger or thirst, for a good sixteen hours, he promised. There was also something in the brew that made it less likely for them to feel either aches at being in the same position for so long, or itches and other annoyances in places they couldn’t reach. That was a detail that Derek hadn’t even considered, and his sister hadn’t mentioned about her own Bundling, and Derek found himself again in wonder at the knowledge Healers kept.

Once the drink was consumed and the fire added to keep it set right, Elder Deaton chanted slow and low as he first stitched Derek into the Bundling-sack, Stiles keeping his eyes closed tight lest he see naked skin, then set about to repeat the same with the Omega. Derek didn’t close his eyes, but watched, entirely fascinated, as each stitch seemed to meld with the fabric to make an apparently seamless wrapping completely envelop all but Stiles’ neck and head.

The Healer helped them both get to their feet, pulled back the cover on the bed for them, and then assisted them in arranging themselves comfortably with their heads on the pillows, facing each other. The sheets and blanket smelled like Stiles and his house.

Elder Deaton stood back and looked at them carefully, as if checking to make sure all the things that needed to be done had been. He then coughed a little, and said in a voice that reminded Derek of the lessons he’d been required to take as a child, “Bundling is a test, but it is also a privilege and a pleasure. This is an exciting experience for you both, but you’ll likely also feel quite relaxed at times during the night.” Beside him, Derek could feel Stiles change his posture, he glanced at the Omega and could see that there was probably a question brewing in the young man’s eyes. Elder Deaton seemed to have an answer ready, though. “You will be together for a good many hours, so don’t be afraid to sleep, it is not a waste of your time together.”

Deaton stepped closer to the fire, but didn’t reach down to stir it or add more fuel now. Stiles blinked at him. “There are only two things that are required of you this night. Firstly, and I know that you are both aware but it bears repeating, you are Bundled so securely for a very good reason. The magic I sewed into the closing seams will not allow you to easily break free of your wrappings, but it is important that you do not try to, either. I remember the feeling of being contained just as you are, and I remember the desire to be free of it. I also remember that it was only a few hours out of my life, and that I am now very glad that I didn’t cause problems by not following the rules.” He took another step, this time closer to the door. “The second thing that you should remember is something I don’t think you’ll need encouraging for, but my role here says I need remind you of.” He smiled. “You must kiss each other, at least once, during the time you are together this night. It must be a full kiss, so that we can know if you are as physically compatible as you both already feel certain is true. Long before this time tomorrow we’ll know if it is or isn’t so.”

Derek turned his face fully to look at Stiles. The Omega’s complexion was flushed pink and his scent was heavy with more of the delicious want that Derek had identified on him just after they’d first been introduced. It was difficult to find his voice in the face of such heady desire, but Stiles didn’t seem about to speak, and Derek knew that at least one of them had to acknowledge the directions they were being given, or the Elder would not leave.

Derek didn’t turn his head to look at the Healer but still said, “I thank you, Elder Deaton. Omega Stilinski and I will heed your instructions. We will stay within our bindings, and will be certain to kiss so that our Bundling time is not in vain."

Stiles didn’t move his eyes from Derek either as he managed to say a quiet, “Yes, thank you, Elder Deaton. We understand.”

Derek saw out of the corner of his eye that the Elder smiled at them both again, bowed a little, and left with the final piece of his duties on his lips, the parting salutation and blessing.

“May your Bundling be true and your kisses sweet.”

He blew out the lanterns. The door opened and closed and then Omega and Alpha were alone in the light from the fire.

♠♠♠

Stiles hoped, sincerely, that he wasn’t too obviously emanating every impure thought he had about the astonishingly handsome Alpha Werewolf on the Bundling bed with him. He knew that Wolves could smell things that Humans and others couldn’t, but the only other Wolf he’d met for more than a few hours was Scott, and he was hardly an appropriate measure of other Werewolves’ skill. Stiles wasn’t certain just how powerful a nose was on a born Alpha Wolf. Could Derek only sense that Stiles was nervous? Or could Derek tell that Stiles was nervous because he was trying to hide just how much he’d like to lick the Alpha’s neck? Perhaps Derek could smell just how much Stiles wanted to feel the man’s burgeoning stubble under his tongue, how he wanted to discover if it was soft or sharp to the touch.

Stiles daren’t think too hard past the Alpha’s neck and beard and on to currently hidden skin. No matter how little more than a Human a Wolf could truly understand through smell, Derek would have no trouble understanding what the private parts of Stiles body considered of his own.

Stiles decided he should distract Alpha Hale with something a little more suited to polite company, for a few moments at least. Hopefully there would be enough moments that his Omega body would stop telling him just what it wanted from the fine, fine man lying before him. He thought a question they could both attempt to answer might draw attention elsewhere. He said, “Can you still taste the potion that Elder Deaton gave us?” And, yes. Reminding them both of the vile liquid lingering on their tongues removed both the soft smile from Derek’s face, and any stirring heat Stiles had felt in his belly. He’d known that the Bundling-test would be challenging, for several reasons, but maintaining one’s sanity in the face of extreme embarrassment hadn’t been something he’d contemplated being faced with.

Stiles had thought, perhaps, that being near adulthood would have refined his ability to make polite conversation. He’d been wrong. Hopefully Derek wouldn’t tell the world on the morrow just how absurd the Omega he’d spent the night Bundled with was.

Derek didn’t seem to notice any of Stiles’ inner ruminations, however. He looked straight in to Stiles’ eyes and said, “It was more than disagreeable. It was incredibly bitter, even for someone such as myself that rarely indulges in sweet treats”. He paused a few moments and then said, “My sister told me that the taste would linger at least half an hour. Perhaps we’ll suffer even longer due to the strength of the brew that the Elder had to give us?”

Stiles shuddered at the thought. He’d heard Deaton tell his father that their measure of the potion was not quite twice as strong as he’d usually give. He’d not be able to stomach what was on his tongue for an hour.

Derek suddenly looked concerned. “Are you cold, Stiles? Or perhaps, afraid? I promise you I’ll not attempt to extract myself from my wrappings.”

Stiles tried to smile a smile that said he was perfectly warm, and very happy to be here, thank you. “No, I’m warm and completely comfortable. I have no doubt you’ll follow our instructions, Alpha Derek.” He rolled his neck a little, lifting his head from the pillow a moment before settling again. “Although I can imagine that even with the tisane to help, our necks might feel a little less than comfortable, come the morn. The shiver that went through me was simply by body reacting against the idea of having to deal with the taste of that tea for a full hour. I can’t imagine what we were given was really twice as powerful as usual, though. A normal Bundling should be ten or twelve hours, and Elder Deaton said we’d be fine for sixteen. So perhaps the taste will last only five or ten minutes more than usual? I swear I can taste the goldenseal in what we’ve been given. At least we know our stomachs will be happy when the morning comes.” Stiles stopped talking, realizing that Derek’s expression had moved from concern to amusement, and then to curiosity. At least in the low light from the fire Derek wouldn’t as easily see the pink of embarrassment on Stiles’ cheeks.

“You have knowledge of the plants your Healer uses?” The Alpha actually seemed interested. It wasn’t the usual reaction Stiles had to one of his verbal outbursts. Though, and Stiles tried not to dwell on the thought too much, that wasn’t exactly a full outburst, more of a warm-up to one.

“I, yes.” He nodded, trying to keep the movement minimal so he didn’t shift himself too much from the position Elder Deaton had helped him adopt. “My mother was trained as a Healer-Mage. I was young while she worked, but I learned much from playing around her skirts. She began my training in letters with the books she used, too.”

Derek’s countenance softened. “I’ve not lost anyone close to me, so I don’t know your pain at her loss. But,” he looked sideways and back again, “I imagine having a piece of her with you like that, always accessible when you need it, is quite, ah, pleasant.”

Derek’s face pinched in on itself, and Stiles wanted to reach out and touch him to let him know he understood what Derek was trying to say. Instead he smiled and said, “It is pleasant, yes.”

Derek let his head flop more firmly into the pillow it was resting on and sighed. “This is where you find out I’m not a good talker, Stiles. I fear you have a long and boring evening ahead.” He rolled his eyes and added, “words and I don’t really get along that well. They aren’t prone to lining up in the right order for my convenience, nor are they keen for me to use them at all. I like reading them, and listening to them, but using them is a completely different concern. This, now? This is far more than I usually manage at one sitting.”

Stiles couldn’t help but grin at that, and he felt a swell of real hope. Derek liked listening, and Stiles was more than capable of giving him something to listen to.

“I think then, perhaps Derek, that the Elder Council was indeed being singularly devious on the day they decided we would make a suitable match.” Derek’s eyes brightened a little, and Stiles found himself wanting to see it happen again and again. “I, Stiles Stilinski, am known to all and sundry in these parts as an Omega with a veritable surfeit of words and items to discuss. What would you like me to converse upon first?”

♠♠♠

Derek felt himself relax. Other than the lingering concern that the man in front of him was in fact not his physical match, the talking had been his greatest worry once the door had closed on the Bundling house.

The first fear was still present, but fading. He could not imagine why the Gods would, in their boundless wisdom, make an Omega smell so perfect to him and yet not be his physical match. At this point, even before they’d properly touched, Derek had little doubt that on the morn they’d both feel the pull of their respective pre-mating heats.

Derek left his head resting on his pillow. He thought that the fabric smelled like relaxed, sleepy Stiles and it was already comforting. He tried to think of a question to pose or topic to raise with the Omega. He wanted to know as much as he could about Stiles, but wasn’t sure where to start. He decided he’d begin with more of what he’d just been told.

“Well, then, Omega Stilinski. Tell me, you are a Spark of a certain age, and at this age you are to choose how to use your potential. Have you only considered the path of the Wolf?” Derek fervently hoped the answer to that was yes, but he continued anyway, “I’m sure there are a great many magics you could pursue and apprenticeships you might take instead.” He hoped he didn’t sound too eager to have the last refuted.

Stiles smiled eased and then disappeared completely, but he didn’t look upset, but serene. “I had thought perhaps to follow either my mother or father’s chosen paths when I was younger. Families do tend towards strengths in the same areas, so I could ostensibly do either.” He frowned a moment. “I remember telling this to others in my lessons when I was a child, and being informed by my playmates, in no uncertain terms, that I was absurd to even consider such a thing. I could never follow my father’s path. No Alpha or Beta, I was assured, would ever take heed of laws and admonishments given by an Omega.” His lashes battered against the top of his cheeks, and his scent grew heavy. “But, my mother told me that I could pursue whatever I wanted, and reminded me to watch my playmates when they responded to their parents, and see if they did what they were told to by Omegas then.” His eyes lit with a sharper light than before. “To my amazement, and pleasure, I noticed that if a child had an Omega parent, they generally heeded that parent’s words faster than their Beta or Alpha one’s. But,” his face softened again, “especially after Mama took ill, I realized I’d be far more likely to follow her path than my Tata’s.”

“You know that Wolf villages have Healers too, yes?” Derek said, quietly.

Stiles blinked a few moments and said, “But you heal so quickly.”

Derek chuckled. “Wolves do, yes. But we aren’t just Wolves. Even two born Werewolves may make a Human child, and a born and bitten Wolf will usually have both Human and Wolf cubs in even number. Besides, we may usually heal quickly and not fall prey to the same illnesses others do, but there are things that can injure us seriously and there are pox and sickness that affect only us.”

“That’s good.” Stiles said quickly, then spluttered out, “I mean, it’s not good that Wolves suffer from pox and sickness and death, that would be horrible! I mean—”

Derek leaned his head forward with the wish to rest his forehead upon Stiles’, but he was too far to be touched, so he simply leaned against the pillow. “I know your meaning, Stiles. Breathe.” Stiles did, and his heart and scent settled. “I’m glad that you have an interest you can bring with you if we are to be together. I won’t lie, I am almost certain that we would have young ones to care for together, but it is good that both of us can have other things to fill our time, as well.”

Stiles looked calmer now, but his scent still tasted of worry. “And if there aren’t young ones? My parents were only given me by the Gods, despite their want for more children.”

Derek leaned back again and tried to show the truth on his face. He was used to most he spoke to being able to tell his sincerity from his heartbeat, or a witness who could tell for them, and it seemed much harder to show it this way. “Then the Gods bless us with time to help others in the village care for their children. If there is one child for us, there is one. If there are none for us, there are none. I know there are stories of Alpha Werewolves putting aside their match as they’ve not produced children, but that is not something anyone in my village has ever done. I promise.”

Stiles nodded, barely, and then changed the subject. “Alphas act much as my father does, don’t they? You spend your time as a kind of Lawmaker?”

“In a way. We tend to share that task amongst us instead of it falling to one or two people. We mostly work the land and hunt in our village, and trade for what else we need. Alphas oversee work as well as do it, and we hold the peace.”

Stiles face and body seemed entirely more relaxed now, and his scent had grown curious. “And the Betas and Omegas in your village?”

“They generally have skills aside from farming and keeping children. Boyd is training with his father to learn basic metalsmithing to help us with our tools. Jackson will take over from his mother as town Notary. Erica hasn’t decided, but I think eventually she’ll ask to do more leatherwork. Isaac may want to teach lessons.”

Stiles stretched his neck again. “You said your sister told you about Bundling? It’s good that you had someone to talk to about it. I didn’t really want to ask the particulars of my Alpha father, and it might not have been obvious in the Square this morning, but we are the first to use this house in more than a decade.”

Derek thought back to the meet that morn, with the Lawmaker and the Mayor and the others around. He could see it now, the ages of those in attendance, all older or Stiles’ and his help-maidens’ age and younger. Derek wasn’t quite sure what he should say, but he felt he had to at least acknowledge it. “Was there a sickness?”

Stiles looked down. “Yes, amongst only small children. It took all those here eleven and under. Alison, the Mayor’s daughter, was the first born after it passed. I was next. Alison and Scott will likely Bundle next year, and a few others will do so after me this year. It was an important moment for the village, opening this house again. You and I have the privilege of lying on a brand-new bed.”

♠♠♠

Stiles didn’t feel his cheeks heat at his blatant mentioning of the bed. He was certainly embarrassed, but more annoyed at himself for speaking about things best left in the past. He shouldn’t have spoken of such a horrible time in the village’s history. It was not the kind of topic that was conducive to coaxing a kiss. Stiles kept his eyes down, and tried not to seem as if he was looking at where Derek’s bare skin was beneath the Bundling-sack.

Derek shuffled on the bed, and Stiles looked up, slightly amazed to see that the Wolf was slowly coming closer and closer, without rolling forward onto his face.

Derek looked a strange mixture of bashful and determined as he said, “Laura, my older sister, took pleasure in teasing me over the horrible tisane that we were to drink, but she did give me one good piece of advice for this night.” He stopped just before they’d be pressed against each other. “She told me to practice moving while wrapped, or I’d spend most of my evening rolling back upright just so I could see my bed-mate’s face. She did not, unfortunately, share the idea with Boyd before he Bundled with Erica. He learnt the hard way, and was there with me to help me practice.”

Stiles felt his smile returning. “I’m grateful for her advice and his assistance then. You seem to have mastered the art of Bundle-sack moving, Derek. I won’t try. I’m not known for my grace, even while on two feet.”

Derek was so very much closer now, and his shuffling across the bed had brought the material he was wrapped in tight around his body. Stiles breathed in and held it, and focused on that which it was not scandalous to look at. He could, despite the low light from the fire, see each of the hairs in Derek’s eyebrows, and the way his beard was threatening to darken his skin even more than it already had since it had been shaved away. Stiles let out his breath. Derek’s eyes were pale and deep and it was hard to look at them without wanting to touch his face as well.

“Am I too close, Stiles?” Derek looked concerned again, his eyes wide, but brows pulled in. “Your scent, it,” he paused, apparently trying to find the right word, “it gave me concern. You were upset before when you spoke about Alphas and Betas not taking orders from Omegas, but just now I could smell sadness and pain, too. I should have asked before I moved, but it’s instinct for me to want to touch Pack if they’re feeling pain. Us being like this, together, it makes you feel like Pack.” Stiles breathed in and out. Derek breathed in and said, “It seems witless to come closer when I can’t reach out to you with a hand or an embrace, but I just wanted to be near.”

It seemed an understatement to say that a Wolf speaking of someone he’d not long met as Pack was an important admission, perhaps, though, perhaps it was simply their proximity, or maybe the rush of scent that must be awash between them. Stiles felt he must ask. “Is it only this, being alone, and so close together on the Bundling-bed that makes you feel that way?” He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the answer, but as his father had said earlier, Alpha Hale had responded so dramatically when they’d first been introduced, it was hard to see that he’d give a less than pleasing answer to the question.

“Stiles, I.” This time, when Derek paused, he leaned in a close as he could without their faces touching, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and Stiles could see him swallow, and the tiniest flash of tongue as Derek licked his lips. Eyes still shut Derek said, “I promise you that it is absolutely not only being here.” He opened his eyes again, and asked, “You’re familiar with the look of an Alpha’s Wolf face, yes?”

Stiles answered easily. “Scott’s face is something all the village has seen.”

“Then, it won’t disturb you if I shift? Even if you are familiar with the form, perhaps this is too close? I won’t shift fully.”

Derek sounded far too worried about that for Stiles’ liking, so he tried to make light of it. “I should hope not, as if you shift fully, Alpha Hale, I think you would risk breaking the magics on the Bundling-sack. I do not wish to see this evening wasted by a show of your muscles and claws.” The idea was actually quite appealing, but not for tonight.

The statement was apparently enough to convince Derek that Stiles was indeed not afraid.

“I too do not want this evening wasted, Omega Stilinski.” Derek tilted his head to the side a little more and asked out from beneath long lashes, “I think perhaps that you might, however, wish to see my muscles, Stiles.”

Stiles grinned at that. “I think you do not need to shift into your Wolf form at all, Derek. You are perfectly capable of smelling exactly what I’m thinking with the nose you have now. That is why you want to change, is it not?”

Derek returned his grin. “It is, indeed. I promise it is not so I can more easily tease you, however.” Derek now looked a little contrite, but not so much that Stiles particularly believed the face more than the words.

“Then please. I’d be honored to see your Alpha visage, Derek.”

In the space between two moments Derek’s face changed. Stiles expected the differences, but it was indeed more intense an experience to see so close. Derek’s brow strengthened, his ears and cheeks sharpened, and the hair on his face was suddenly much longer, as were his teeth. His eyes were the strongest change however. They seemed redder and deeper than Scott’s. Perhaps it was the difference between a bitten and born Werewolf.

Derek moved his head forward again, very slowly, and breathed in and out, his warm exhale touching the side of Stiles face. When Derek inhaled Stiles could hear a slight rumble behind the movement. It wasn’t a fearsome sound, though, more one that spoke of comfort or pleasure. Stiles felt his whole-body heat again in response to the increased proximity, and the hint of growl.

Derek’s voice was lower and his speech a little different around his lengthened teeth. “To answer your previous question, Stiles, being with you, here, it is not the only thing that makes my body think of you as Pack.” The rumble was on the inhale and exhale this time. “I first scented you across the square this morning, standing at your father’s door. When you came closer the wind was to my back and I feared I’d not be able to hold my calm if it didn’t change. Then you stepped forward, and,” he looked sideways, into Stiles eyes, “you saw my reaction, and the way my Betas responded in kind. You smell like my equal and my opposite in all the ways that I didn’t imagine I would ever experience. When you offered your wrist, it was all I could do to not bare my neck in kind.”

Stiles had known that the morning’s display had been a strong pronouncement, but he’d not realized just how near conclusive it had been. Despite being the man of words he’d promised Derek earlier that he was, he could at this moment find nothing suitable in his vocabulary to reply to such an admission. He decided, in a tiny moment’s deliberation, that an action was the better response. He leaned toward Derek a little, and as steadily as he could manage, ran his nose up the side of Derek’s and down again and hoped it said what he couldn’t.

Derek drew in what Stiles could only describe as a shocked gasp, and then let out a high, soft whine. It didn’t sound exactly distressed, but Stiles had to make certain. “Is it my turn to apologize for assuming too much, Derek? I may not fully understand, but I wanted to share my scent with you, and take some of yours for my own. You smell good even to my Human nose.”

♠♠♠

Derek steeled himself and let his face, bar his eyes, shift back from Wolf to Human. The blended scent, even so slight, of the pair of them together, skin against skin, had his body ready for far more than either of them could give or take this night. Stiles was aroused, his sweet Omega sex just-wet, and the fragrance floating up between them. Derek was a few steps beyond that, he feared. His member was engorged and ready, rigid and hot inside his sleeping-breeches. He’d not been this ready, this quickly, since his was at that stage between cub and man where he’d discovered that his knot was a pleasure all unto itself. He closed his eyes again, and tried to slow his own heart rate as it was beating almost as fast as Stiles’. He swallowed, then looked back at Stiles, not sure now if it was with red eyes or his other.

“It is a liberty I am happy for you to take.” He pressed their noses against each other once more, and then, lips only a claw’s width from Stiles, asked, “I’d like to,” Derek breathed in the scent surrounding him again and let himself understand what it was expressing loud and true. There was no way Stiles was going to say no to this question. The Omega’s body was exuding not only want and excitement, but also impatience, if Derek was reading the heady combination correctly. “May I kiss you, Stiles?”

Stiles’ answer was more of a breath than a word, the sound barely coming together to create, “Please.”

The first touch of their lips was hardly more than an echo of them moving as they spoke. The next was a little more definite, a certain press of skin against skin that lingered too long to be anything other than an invitation to do more, take more, give more. So, Derek did. He pressed forward again, and angled his head slightly so that Stiles was still resting on the pillow, and Derek was the one having to hold his head high. He let the contact go, and then with another breath opened his lips, barely, so that Stiles might feel the barest hint of wetness against his. He pushed forward again.

Stiles whimpered at the change and opened his own lips in return. The first hint of his taste was even more startling than that of Stiles’ scent, and Derek discovered he couldn't contain the very real growl that rose from his chest to his throat. Stiles may have asked to see his shift, but hearing the reality of the Wolf might be a different thing. Humans generally avoided things that might growl and bite. He tried to pull himself back, but found, with surprise, that his bottom lip was trapped between Stiles’ teeth.

Stiles released his hold and his voice was lower when he uttered, “I like that sound you made. I like that one soft kiss can bring your Wolf to the surface. You can smell that I’m not afraid, yes? You know that I’m even keener to taste more of you? I’m sure you can smell that I want more of your kisses.”

The previously slight sweet scent of Stiles’ sex was now heavy in the air, matching the spicy tang of Derek’s own arousal. Derek could feel himself swell even more, a bead of wetness at the tip of his hard length and the tug of his knot teasing at the base of his shaft, pulling the skin of his cullions tight. He found it hard to speak when all he wanted to do was roll himself onto Stiles and rut until completion, so that perhaps then he’d be able to concentrate more easily. He feared though, that if that were to happen, then all he’d be capable of considering was how to bring pleasure to the Omega before him. He closed his eyes a moment, and tried to imagine that he couldn’t smell exactly what he was being asked to focus on.

Derek breathed in through his mouth, but it did nothing to lessen his predicament. “It’s all I can smell, Stiles. That soft kiss has my inner Wolf wanting to have anything it can, and that same soft kiss apparently has your body ready and willing to give what mine wants to take.”

“It is, and I am, indeed willing to give, although I am certain there are things I’d also like to take.” Stiles licked his lips and then ducked his head again, the unpleasant scent of shame joining the sweet one of lust in the air between them, and pressed his face into the pillow, before lifting just enough to say, “I’m quite certain a properly demure Omega, one of good manners, would not insinuate what I just did. I apologize, Alpha Hale.”

Derek wasn’t sure, that being the case, if he wanted a properly demure Omega of good manners. The moment Stiles had mentioned taking, Derek had found his eyes drawn to the young man’s lips and again considering what he’d look like using them for something no one mentioned in polite company, but all knew was a pleasure at least for the one whose cock was being sucked. The flick of Stiles tongue out of his mouth and across his pink skin did nothing to discourage Derek’s imagining on the matter.

“Stiles, please.” Derek nudged at his chin. Stiles brought his face up again. His scent still full of desire, but now tinged with shame. That would not do. “A demure Omega, one of those good manners, might curl his lip in disgust if an Alpha suggested that the favor could be returned in kind.” He kept talking, hoping that the flow of his speech would mask his awkwardness. “I’ve, um,” speaking of anything was difficult, but the words he was about to use weren’t something he’d ever uttered, even if he’d heard them discussed many times by those such as his Alpha uncle and cousins. “I’ve heard mentioned of another type of kiss,” Stiles looked a little confused. Derek was going to have to be more specific and he didn’t think that this was the kind of discussion one usually asked the Gods for assistance with, but he silently did just that, and then continued. “A kiss in a more private place. It’s apparently true that the touch of Alpha’s lips and tongue can bring an Omega as much, if not more satisfaction as, um.” Assistance of the Gods or not, Derek couldn’t yet bring himself to say the word knot, so he looked down instead, hoping the fact that his was now fairly obvious, even through the heavy material of the Bundling-sack, would say what he wasn’t able to voice.

Stiles followed his eyes downwards, and the acrid odor of shame was completely engulfed by another rush of sweet, heavy Omega want. Stiles looked up slowly and licked his lips with what Derek could only describe as willful purpose, the dark pink of his tongue slipping out and along cautiously and then back with more speed.

Derek had to kiss him again. He tilted his head and drew in the scent of their hunger mixing and hoped that the Gods weren’t set on torturing them with only one night together.

♠♠♠

While their kisses before were soft and enchanting and barely there so that Stiles had felt he might melt into the bed from the sweetness, this one would certainly meet the definition of full needed to satisfy the physical element of the Bundling-test. The Elders, he thought, before pushing their faces and everything about them out of his mind, would certainly not be able to fail them on this count.

Stiles knew that Wolves ran hotter than Humans, he’d seen Scott sweat in a middling to cool room, and Derek himself had done much to remind Stiles of the fact by dressing for their current situation in as little as decency and a set of tightly closed Omega eyes would allow. The reality of that temperature, however, was far different when it involved the meeting of Stiles’ own lips and tongue with those of the Alpha’s.

Stiles imagined that the heat he felt with each huff of Derek’s breath and each swipe of Derek’s tongue was making its way not only to his mouth and neck and chest and belly and cock and slit, but all the way down via those things to his legs and knees and into his toes. It was definitely lingering in his chest and sex, however. And, as chaste as Stiles physically was, and as pure as his father and village and the Elders all considered him to be, Stiles had possession of his mother's Healer’s texts, and he’d studied them with Lydia and Kira long and hard, and he knew.

He knew that long and hard and completely Alpha was what Derek was right now. His thick length was a stark prominence against the taut material of the Bundling-sack. Stiles’ own slight Omega member was standing inside his nightgown, the slit below it wet and, for the first time in Stiles’ life, quite possibly truly ripe and ready. He knew, after reading his mother’s books, that his body was by now more than willing, quite impatiently waiting, to accept what Derek might be offering. He could feel the muscles inside him aching and clenching and wanting to clutch around something. His slit was soaked and slippery, and he was lucky he couldn’t do much more than wriggle inside the Bundling-sack or he’d have slick sliding down his thighs to coat the back of his knees. It felt somewhat like his quarterly heat, only far more focused on one particular goal.

Derek’s incisors dropped just slightly, and Stiles’ sex throbbed and he moaned wantonly into the Wolf’s mouth. The fangs’ descent apparently startled their owner, however, and Derek pulled back, eyes red and brow worried.

“Did I cut you, Stiles?”

“You didn’t, no.” Stiles kissed him, closed mouth on the lips, and pulled back again. “Just as your growl did not scare me, your teeth do not either, Derek. Omegas aren’t as fragile as we’re often said to be. Well, other than when it comes to the cold, of course.” He looked at Derek’s mouth, and then up at Alpha red eyes from under his own lashes, and tried his best to entice more of what they’d just been sharing, “And your kisses are keeping me warmer than I’ve ever been.”

Derek’s chest rumbled, but in laughter or pleasure, Stiles wasn’t sure. “I’m happy I didn’t cut you. I’d not like to do anything to damage your lips.” Derek licked his own, and Stiles very nearly decided he should simply kiss the Alpha again rather than let him continue talking, but Derek continued, “I’m not concerned as you’re Omega, however. It’s that you’re Human. I know you won’t heal if I do break your skin, and I don’t wish to answer to your righteously angry father if I deliver you to him damaged after only one night in my presence.”

Stiles stilled. If they passed the Bundling-test, and the Gods deemed them compatible and Stiles therefore capable of accepting the path of the Wolf and having its power light his Spark, then there would suffer more than a cut lip when they first truly coupled. “But you’ll need to be able to face him if we’re to Mate. It will happen in this very room and I’ll wear your Bite where all can see.”

Derek pulled in a soft breath, and his eyes faded back the pale color that was neither brown nor blue nor green. “You’re afraid of the Bite?”

Stiles would not do well hide his feelings regarding this matter. He did fear it. He knew that it wouldn’t kill him, and that it would heal, and that after it he’d be Wolf, but. He swallowed at the memory of what Scott’s Bite had been. The blood, the pain, the stench as it festered before Scott’s body had accepted the change and he transformed violently from ‘Man to Wolf, screaming in agony when his body shifted fully for the first time.

He looked away for a moment, and then back at Derek so he could see the Alpha’s reaction when he asked, “I know if we are physically matched then I will not reject the Bite, but should I not be fearful of the pain and the blood and the fever?”

Derek blinked at him, opened his mouth as if to begin to say something, then closed it again and simply looked at Stiles. He seemed to trail his gaze over every part of Stiles’ face that he could see, then closed his eyes a moment before opening them to look straight into Stiles’ and said, “the young Alpha, your friend, it’s impolite for me to ask and I wouldn’t usually, but I want to make sure I understand your words. Was he bitten by a rogue Alpha?”

Stiles pressed his lips together and then made himself say, “Yes, four years ago.”

Derek breathed out what sounded, to Stiles’ ears at least, like a sigh of relief. “Then you are afraid of something that you should be afraid of, but that something is nothing like the Bite that I am to give you upon our Mating.” He shuffled a little in the Bundling-cloth and sighed again, but this time it bore the distinct sound of frustration. “I would like nothing better, at this moment Stiles, to pull you into my arms and use the embrace to soothe away your dread. I cannot, however, and so I will do my best to simply tell you, even if my words are lacking.”

The idea was not at all unappealing, and Stiles found himself wondering which he wanted, more of the kisses they’d already shared, or two big strong arms pulling him into the barrel of a chest in front of him. He could, hopefully, soon have both.

“The Mating Bite is different?”

“There are several types of Bite. The one your friend received is almost always fatal. The effect of the Bite should be desired for it to work. Whether it is a Bite given to heal a Human injury, or one to create a bond between lovers, it should be wanted. When we,” he smiled and tilted his head, “if we are Mated, the Bite that I give you will heal the same way it would if it was given to a Wolf. Mating Bites scar, however, no matter who they are given to.”

“And it will turn me, the way it did Scott?”

“I’ve never known someone Bitten without consent, but I’ve heard the horror tales of it does. He went through aches and fever? The wound festered and when it finally started healing, it was with a shift into his Wolf form that was long and painful?” Stiles nodded, as that was exactly how it had been. “Stiles, a mating Bite will turn you in a very, very different way, I promise. I am shocked that the Elder Council gave you a list of Werewolves to consider Bundling with but did not make you aware of what that meant. I’m sorry for that.”

Stiles wasn’t happy he’d been left to worry, but he felt the last lingering vestiges of apprehension of the Bite lifting. “It won’t hurt?”

Derek bit at his lower lip with blunt teeth. “It will hurt, but it will be at a moment when neither you nor I will likely be feeling any pain.” Stiles blinked, then watched as Derek looked down between them again before lifting his eyes too look at Stiles lips and said, very quietly, “I will Bite you as we are first locked.”

“Oh,” Derek was talking about biting him when they were mid, um, “when we’re. When you’re, oh.” That would indeed, if the stories were true, be a time when Stiles would not feel much pain. Which, well. It explained the situation with the moment of the Bite, but not the process of the actual change, however. “And then? Scott was feverish and close to delirious for days.”

Derek leaned up and pressed a kiss to Stiles’ hairline, then to his nose, and finally to the side of his mouth before answering. “The only two things that your change will have in common with Scott’s are an Alpha Bite at the start, and transformation into a Werewolf at the end. Your Bite will heal and scar within hours, probably before we wake to break our fast. Then, over the days following you’ll begin to notice a slow improvement in your senses, an increase in your appetite, a lessening of aches and pains in your muscles. You will not shift at all until the Full of the Moon. The turned Wolves I know say it’s disconcerting, but not truly painful the first time. And after it’s happened that once, with a little practice, you’ll be able to change at will. Your body will be stronger, and importantly, as far as the Mating is concerned, you’ll be able to carry a Wolf child within your belly without it killing you.”

Stiles breathed in and out and with the air let go of many of his worries. “You have words, Derek, and as far as I can fathom, they line up very well for you.” He leaned in and laid his head-on Derek’s chest. It was comfortable, but he realized it would not allow him to speak, so he moved back again. “It all sounds far different to what I’d been envisioning, and I can see now why there was nothing in any of the books we could find warning against agreeing.” He felt rather stupid, actually. Why would anyone volunteer to experience what Scott had done, even with the benefits conveyed after? There was only one thing more Stiles simply had to know. “When the newly Bitten Wolf changes for the first time, does, will…” He couldn’t imagine so, after what Derek had already told him, but, “will I be urged to violence? Scott attempted to get his teeth into anything and everything that moved on his first Moon.”

Derek, quite astonishingly, blushed at this question. It was not what Stiles had expected as a reaction. Derek cleared his throat, and licked his lips. “You will want to get your teeth, as you say, into one thing upon your first shift: your Mate. For the bond to be complete, for there to be a greater chance for you to become with child, your inner Wolf will want to lay claim to mine. The way to do that is with a matching Mating Bite. Rather than it taking place while we’re, um, locked, however, I’ll submit to you in what is basically a play-fight.” He was getting redder and redder with each word. “You’ll Bite me from the same position as I did you.”

Stiles let himself grin at that, as he saw that there was more to what Derek was saying. “This is not the kind of play-fight one would catch children in, though, is it?”

“No! I,” he licked his lips again, and the words came tumbling out, “it’s something that is rarely mentioned even between Alphas when they are usually quite free at boasting of such things. I gather, from the faces of some, though, that it’s not a play-fight that only happens just once in some Alpha and Omega beds.”

That was an idea Stiles had not ever considered, at all, even once. Which was an unusual thing, as generally he was good at finding every considerable angle of a situation and threading words through it at all each of those angles to tease out all of the thing’s secrets. It was certainly something he’d think upon more now that he knew it to be a thing that existed in the world.

“Thank you for telling me, Derek. I have many, many more questions, but I will not ask them of you now, even though, as I said, I think you have wonderful words with which to answer them.” He added a press of the lips against Derek’s for emphasis.

♠♠♠

Derek mumbled an answer into Stiles’ skin. “You make it easier to speak. I don’t do it normally, I don’t speak without it causing my mind to want to shut out the world after.” It was true. Now, here, he wanted to say more, and then more again. He wanted to answer each of this man’s questions, even if there were words in those answers he’d never had in his mouth before.

Stiles smiled wide again. “And how, when you reveal something like that, I want to wrap myself around you, Alpha Hale. I desperately want to run my fingers through your hair and see if my arms and legs are long enough to reach around your handsomely wide shoulders and thighs.”

Stiles’ voice was strong and clear, and it was true, without a shadow of a doubt, that Derek did not want a properly demure Omega in his life at all, because that was not what Stiles was.

“There will be time for that, Gods permitting.” He tried to lean forward more, and breathed Stiles in again, long and deep. “Perhaps a kiss, or several, would suffice? We’ve talked a good while, but there are still many hours until dawn.”

He bent his head and kissed Stiles again, and then again, and let himself feel their chests press together and Stiles breathe beside him, and silently asked the Gods again to grant that this indeed not be their only night together.

♠♠♠

Stiles hadn’t truly absorbed everything that had happened once the sun had risen. He’d woken to the sound of Elder Deaton’s voice and then those others’. They’d released Stiles from the Bundling-sack first, into his father's hands. His father had muttered that all the while about it not yet being time for Stiles to see what was beneath Derek’s wrappings, and the importance guarding innocence as long as it could be held tight.

A blanket had been draped around Stiles’ shoulders and boots slipped onto his feet and now he was sitting at the table in his kitchen, Lydia and Kira bright eyed and full of questions that they were quite obviously biting their tongues to stop from asking in front of anyone else. Stiles wasn’t certain how he’d come from the Bundling-house to home.

His father ate his morning meal slowly, and in the back of his mind Stiles knew it was because he was set on delaying exactly the queries the two help-maidens were sure to burst from containing. Lydia and Kira were certain to be using the time to plan thoughts of revenge on the older Stilinski for the food driven blockade. Stiles found, for once, that he did not mind the silence.

He used the moments to consider the night before. They must have fallen asleep. They’d kissed, mostly long and slow, for what had seemed hours. Derek had pressed his lips to every part of Stiles’ skin that he could reach, whispering promises and sweet adulations as he did. Stiles couldn’t remember even one of the phrases complete, but could recall the way he’d felt inside, the way he’d been sure that no one could be more attentive or devoted, even if they’d known him a lifetime instead of but one day.

The meal came and went without Stiles eating much. His father finally left them, and the girls hastened Stiles into a full bath and told him they had his chamber and bed prepared, his softest nightgown laid out and potions ready to soothe him in his pre-mating heat. He wasn’t worried when the fever didn’t come with the warmth of the bath. He wasn’t concerned when the smell of the tea Elder Deaton usually gave him for his Omega needs didn’t bring his body to flush and sweat.

He dressed for a normal day, and set about the tasks he needed to complete. He did finally start to feel concern creep into his mind when he’d swept the kitchen floor for the third time and snapped so loudly at Kira for stepping on the stones uninvited that she’d left, head down, to fetch more water, despite having done so not half an hour before.

Stiles carefully placed the broom in the corner where it should be, and braced his hands against the edge of the table and looked out of the small window into the Square. There was no need for him to panic. The Gods might simply be testing him.

The snow had settled last night, but had not piled itself too deep. The village looked alive with people doing what the day needed. The white of the ground was stark against the dark wood of many of the houses, only marred where people had trodden their back and forth to the well and the outer buildings.

The four Hale Betas were standing not far from his window, they looked to be talking to each other, glancing back and forth around the Stilinski house. Derek was not with them. Perhaps his pre-mating heat had hit and they’d been asked to leave the cottage they were sharing with him? It seemed likely, and it calmed Stiles’ mind greatly.

He found himself opening the door and calling out to them. “Good morning. Are you well?” They didn’t seem surprised to see him, perhaps happy even.

“We are very well this morning, Omega Stilinski.” Jackson replied. “The day is cold, but the sun is out and our Alpha has gone on the hunt. You and we and the village have a feast approaching.”

Stiles felt his stomach turn. Derek was not confined for privacy. Stiles was not in his own bed aching and waiting for the burning to pass. It was now too late in the morning to imagine that there was even a chance that Stiles just had to be ready a little longer before the fever would hit.

The Gods were cruel and savage in their wishes, and Stiles should have remembered that every time he remembered the last breath of his mother.

He thought of the list he’d been given by the Elder Council and the names written under that of Theoderek Sloane Hale. He couldn’t conceive of how any other person might be more, might be better, than the Alpha he’d spent the night falling for. But, disillusioned or not, Stiles had no way to argue with the Will of the Heavens. He should prepare for the others on the list to come to present their suits. He might as well use the free labor he had standing before him while it was available.

He pushed his shoulders back and tried to hold his head high and voice steady. “Then you are without anyway to spend your time until then?” They each nodded, smiles on their faces. Despite their friendliness to Stiles and his family the day before, they didn’t seem to have any care that their Alpha had not found his Mate here. Perhaps there were others on Derek’s list, too. Perhaps those others were more attractive propositions than Stiles could ever hope to be and the Betas were relieved. Stiles swallowed and decided he should not think of such things while there was work to be done. “We have plenty of tasks to keep hands from being idle. There is wood to be chopped, and washing to be done, chores to be completed, even if it is cold.”

The Wolves all stepped forward eagerly, and Stiles made his face still so he’d not show the scowl he’d like to be wearing. All he wanted was to disappear into his chamber and not come out for days, but he wouldn’t, he would work the day until there was no light left. He would feast with the others as was polite, then retire early to steel himself against waking to find that the Hales had left for their next destination. Perhaps then, once they’d gone and there was no one but Scott and his very untalented nose to notice without seeing, perhaps then he’d let himself cry into Lydia’s lap and Kira’s arms.

The house was cleaner that it had been in a very long time, and the kitchen was full of bread ready to be baked and finished sweet cakes that would need to be hidden from Stiles’ father lest he eat them all. Stiles had finally stepped away from the kitchen a while after lunch. He needed to be away from the window, away from what he might see out of it.

The sun had long dipped into afternoon when Stiles heard it. He looked up from the washing he was folding and his heart clenched. First there were cheers, then a chorus of howls that sliced through his bones the way a sharpened sickle slashed through grass. He glanced down at his hands and saw that he’d pulled the piece of cloth he was holding so tight that it was nigh on ripping. He breathed in, put down the sheet he’d almost torn, and breathed out. He pulled his shoulders back and, step by careful step, took himself down stairs to the kitchen window again. Kira and Lydia, despite him being absolutely horrid to them all day, were soon at his side, each clutching one of his hands.

Derek was dressed plainly, which was good, as the buck he had balanced over his shoulders had bled down one side of his body. He looked calm and happy at the same time, and proud, of course, of the kill he’d made. None of the other Alpha’s who’d come to meet Stiles had stayed more than an hour or two in the village after he’d rejected them. Perhaps this, the hunting and providing, was a way to appease the community after using the Bundling-house to no satisfaction? The books they’d read had told them little detail of what happened after the Bundling, for either positive or negative results, so he and Lydia and Kira were all equally as ignorant in this. At least, Stiles thought, at least in this he wasn’t alone.

One of Derek’s Betas, Isaac, followed behind him with a brace of rabbits and other small game that Derek had apparently found time to slaughter as well. There would be meat for days. Perhaps the Pack would take some of it when they left in the morning. Stiles was suddenly gripped by the terror of the idea that the five Wolves might not leave that soon, that he might have to deal with knowing that Derek was only a few houses away for days. The girls felt him tense, and they both squeezed a hand.

“Come back inside. We’ll sit by the fire and read, yes? We’ve worked hard today, we can sit and enjoy the feeling of a perfectly clean space while we relax.” Lydia voice was hushed, and Kira nodded, and they began to pull him away from the window and deeper into the house.

The knock on the door made them all leap.

“I’ll see to it,” Kira said, and lifted Stiles’ hand and pressed a kiss to his knuckles before letting go.

Two steps closer to the parlor and Stiles and Lydia both stopped and turned quickly when they heard Kira squeak.

Derek was there, in front of the house, the deer lying on its side in the snow before the step, rabbits and such lain at the end the buck’s antlers weren’t.

Derek spoke in a voice loud and strong, so that not only Stiles could hear it, but likely the rest of the village also. “My offering to you for our Mating Feast, Omega Stilinski. I hope my Betas were of use to you today. They appear to have been working hard, at least. I would come inside to see your efforts, but I fear my boots would undo your good work. I need to make myself presentable, so that I may match your expectations again. I’ll return as soon as I’m able.” He bowed his head in a nod, looked down at his catch, and added a little more quietly, “It was the biggest buck I could find all day. I couldn’t bear to bring you anything less,” then he turned on his heel with a quick smile and rushed towards the guest cottage.

Stiles was frozen to the spot. He stood a few moments, vaguely aware that the others in the village were returning to their own homes with happy faces and bellies full of anticipation. He moved only when he heard his father say his name.

“Stiles? Are you alright, son? Perhaps I should have stayed with you today, but I feared I’d just be under your feet.” He looked calm and happy, just like the rest of their neighbors. “No one wants their parents around while they’re Nesting, do they? Your Matka chased off her own Mama with a broom. Her father wisely hid in his brother’s house.” He walked a few steps closer and looked down on the deer bleeding in the snow. “I was proud when I brought your mother her gift, but it was nothing near the size of this. Of course, I had a bow, quiver and Human nose. Alpha Hale has used his Gods’ given talents and more than proven he can provide for you.”

Stiles looked across the length of the buck’s antlers, and then down its back and past it to the several rabbits, grouse and lone duck. There was little red in the snow under them, they’d been caught hours earlier. Possibly even before Stiles had come to the conclusion that he and Derek were not fated to be together.

“Nesting, Tata? I’ve not heard that term before.” There were soft sounds of curiosity and encouragement from Lydia and Kira behind him. Stiles looked at his father, and saw the confusion of his own face reflected.

“I. Spare me one moment, please, son.” His dad turned and waved the Beta Wolves over and said, “There’s a frame for hanging these behind the house. Could you?” They all nodded, and Boyd and Jackson took the weight of the buck between them, and Erica grabbed half the smaller game from Isaac, and they all disappeared from sight. His father turned back to face him. “Let’s go inside, Stiles, girls. I think perhaps allowing you the independence you wanted in preparing for this was not as wise a decision as I’d thought.”

His father looked at each of them as they sat, and his expression grew a little more worried with each moment that no one spoke.

Finally Lydia said, “The books all simply said pre-mating heat. There were no details of it. We have all experienced our usual heats several times over, and we had no reason to consider that the pre-mating kind was any different to those.” Lydia sounded defiant, and Stiles was glad for her strength.

“How could no one have thought to have told us that Stiles’ heat would be ‘Nesting’?” Kira’s voice was shaking. “I know we are all young, but not young enough to be told something that we are about to be living.” She sounded angrier than Stiles had known her to be in years. “Alpha Hale, from what I could sense, simply seemed proud and eager. The Betas were too, to begin with, but they saw that something was wrong with our reaction. How are we to explain this to the Hale’s satisfaction? What if they were offended that Stiles didn’t appear eager in his tasks today, or joyous at the gift he’d been given? They all knew what was happening. Why didn’t we?”

Stiles’ father was still and silent, sitting awkwardly in his favorite chair in the parlor. Stiles had questions of his own he wanted to ask, but he thought he knew the answer to Kira’s query, at least.

“Alpha Hale’s older sister married at least two seasons ago, and his Betas Boyd and Erica did so last year. It sounds as if they’ve all seen this happen several times. We, however, were children the last time this happened here, and were only interested in the fact that it meant a feast. This is probably the only village in the realm that’s not had a Bonding in more than a decade.”

“That we are. We, the Elders and those of us soon to be, were all so excited to see the Bundling-house open again that we didn’t stop to think that you’d have no knowledge of the rites other than what was in the books.” Stiles father stood, and came to sit closer to him, and took his hand. “I thought that, well,” his father looked across the room at the shelves of texts and back again, “I thought you three burying your heads in words was simply more of you being yourselves. I didn’t think to consider that not only was it your only way to know the information, or the authors would not have included all the right secrets to share.” He dropped his voice and added, “I’m sorry, Konstancji, I failed you.”

Stiles didn’t know what to feel or how to react or anything that he should be doing right at this moment. But, there were a few things he did know for certain.

Firstly, his father was truly contrite if he was using that mouthful of a name so sweetly. Secondly, he had had what was apparently a pre-mating heat, and if someone had only mentioned that it was commonly known as Nesting he’d have had a far more pleasant day. Lastly, and most importantly, the Gods had not been cruel beyond not supplying him and his help-maidens with the knowledge they needed: Stiles had found his Mate. Stiles was to be Bonded and Bitten.

He repeated it in his head so that he knew he understood: tomorrow, as long as the Betas did not put too much weight in what they’d just seen, Stiles would be bound by a Bite to a man he’d admitted to himself that he’d fallen for.

He had a Mate.

He stood quickly. “I need to,” there were many things he needed to do, and he needed to put them in an order in his mind. “Derek will need help with water and the like for bathing, so he’ll probably be a fair while before he considers himself presentable. We have until then to make me presentable also, and,” he looked around the room, and settled his eyes on the door to the kitchen, “I should take a gift to sweeten the opinions of the Betas. If I’ve something sugared for their bellies, hopefully they’ll forgive my standing stupefied at the door while their Alpha presented me with such a stunning Mating gift.”

His father nodded and stood. “I’ll cede all but one of the honey-cakes you made this afternoon to your efforts. I’ll have them in a basket and ready for you to take to the visitor’s cottage. If Alpha Hale calls before you are ready again, I’ll bring him in here and let him regale me with tales of his hunt.”

♠♠♠

Derek dithered in place inside the small bathing room of the cottage. He’d stripped off his dirty hunting clothes as soon as he’d closed the door, then wiped what blood he could off of his neck and hair with a cloth wet with cold water leftover from the Betas’ morning ablutions. He’d need to do far more to get himself clean enough to dress properly again, and for that he’d need his Pack to fetch several buckets of water, and set it on the fire before he used it. He’d not felt the cold during the thrill of the hunt and the pull of his pre-mating heat, but now the fact that he’d been in the snow for hours was beginning to take hold of his bones and he was shivering.

The door of the visitors’ cottage opened and closed a few moments later, and then there was a knock on the door to the bathing room.

“Derek? We’ve brought more water, and will have some tea made for you soon. The bathing water will take a while yet. I’ll bring you a wrapper so you can keep warm until then.”

Boyd had done the same thing, Derek now recalled. After his hunt, the big Beta had rushed inside and stripped off in his eagerness to go back to Erica so she could be brought to Boyd’s parents' house to ask the important question. It had been Derek, then, bringing him a robe, the way Boyd was doing for him now.

Just as obliviousness to the cold had left Derek, the fog in his brain was clearing now. His short pre-heat was now completely over, and the euphoria of the day was beginning to wane. He’d need a big meal this night, and all the sleep he could get before the Bonding tomorrow night. He bounced back and forth on his bare feet as he waited for Boyd to open the door.

He shouldn’t worry, there was no reason Stiles would reject his offering, surely. But, perhaps the Omega had found the Buck lacking in size or antler? Maybe including the small game as well had been a mistake?

The door opened a sliver and Boyd’s hand appeared. Derek took the wrapper and quickly covered himself with it. In moments he was sitting at the table with his hands around a mug of tea. The liquid was sweet and hot and he began to feel warm through again.

His Betas were quieter than he thought they should be.

“Did he not like the buck? Is that why none of you are speaking?” All four heads shook. “Why then?”

“We didn’t mean to overhear, but.” Erica was uncharacteristically cautious with her words. “It seems that they’ve not had a Bonding in this village for so long that no one saw fit to make Omega Stilinski and his help-maidens, or perhaps any of the young men and women, aware of how a pre-bonding heat differs from a regular one.”

Derek felt the cup he was holding slipping in his hands. “Stiles told me that we were the first to use their Bundling-house in at least a decade. I didn’t realize that it meant he didn’t know of such things though.” He put the cup down and watched as Jackson leaned over and poured more tea from the pot. All of a sudden Derek understood it meant that Stiles had spent the day thinking that, oh. “So, he suffered the day thinking that we weren’t a match? He thought the Gods had decided against us?” Derek started to stand. “I should talk to him, I should—”

Boyd’s large hand pushed on one of his shoulders and Isaacs rested on the other. Isaac squeezed and said, “There’s no need, Derek. He was in shock, that is to be sure. But, his father has spoken to him now, and he understands. The young ladies were very angry on his behalf. The Lawmaker had stayed away from the house during the day as he didn’t want to interfere. He sounded more than sorry that he’d not made a different decision.”

Jackson pushed the tea forward and waited until Derek picked it up again to say, “Omega Stilinski knows, and he’s waiting for you. He understands that you are matched, and he’ll be ready to come ask what he needs to ask soon. From what we heard, he’s keen to impress. Drink your tea, and we’ll get you cleaned up, and when you return to us with him, we four will be looking our best when we tell your Mate that we are happy that the Gods put you together, and that we’re eager to bare our necks to him.”

Derek barely remembered to gather the Mating gift he had to give before he left.

♠♠♠

Stiles used a bowl of warm water and cloth to give himself a perfunctory clean. He’d avoided any particularly physical work that day by making use of the Beta Wolves, and he knew, even if all went well, he’d not be doing anything more than perhaps holding Derek’s hand or maybe stealing a kiss this evening. He scrubbed his teeth with salt and herbs, and took time to clean beneath his fingernails. Lydia made sure his dress jacket and pants hung well on his frame and Kira tidied his hair.

He made it down the stairs only moments before Derek knocked on the door.

Stiles answered, and breathed in as deeply as he could in an attempt to calm himself. If he looked down, he’d still be able to see the blood left by Derek’s gift that afternoon. If he looked out, he’d see the faces of the townspeople peeking out of their houses. Whereas Derek’s request to Bundle with Stiles had been made in relative privacy, Stiles’ one to be accepted into the Pack would be far more of a spectacle.

He tried to imagine it was just the two of them again. “Good evening, Alpha Hale.” The sun was just beginning to set, purple tinting the blue of the winter sky to a warmer hue. Stiles smiled, attempting to reflect some of that same warmth. “I thank you for the magnificent offering for the Mating Feast. We will all be more than well fed tomorrow evening.” He tried to sound happy and certain, but it was likely that Derek could tell he was worried about something.

Derek drew his shoulders back, and Stiles was glad Derek was proud. He deserved to be. The Alpha then tilted his head and returned the smile on the angle. It was warm, and there was a look of hope in his eyes, also.

“I’ve come to accompany you on your visit to my Pack.” Derek looked down at a package in his hands, wrapped in what looked to be old, soft cloth. He lifted it and said, “I’ve been informed that it will not snow this evening, but in case it does, it would be my honor if you’d wear this to keep you from the weather.” He lifted the package a little further, and stood quite still, waiting for Stiles to take it.

Stiles opened it with careful hands, passing the wrapping to his father, and catching the looks of delight on his help-maiden’s faces. The cloak was far beyond the quality anything Stiles had ever owned. Though they’d paid absurd amounts of money to the clothier for the material they’d used to make their formal clothes, and spent an equally absurd amount of time stitching them and adding the embroidered embellishments, what Derek had given him looked as it if had come from far finer stock and through infinitely more skilled hands.

“I,” Stiles breathed as he ran his fingers over the inside of the cloak. It was the deep red of the lining of Derek's Alpha jacket. It had been gilded in the same color with the same kind of wolfsbane pattern Stiles had used in the making of his Omega coat, but it was far more detailed. Every second or third blossom was highlighted with a silver thread. It was exquisite. Stiles wasn’t sure if he felt comfortable putting it on, lest he damage it. Though, he did want to have the chance to take it into the sunlight and inspect it in the hopes of learning more of its secrets.

Derek coughed a little in his throat, and Stiles looked up from the wonder in his hands. “Is it not to your liking? I hesitate to cover up your own elegant work,” he glanced down at where the lining of Stiles’ jacket was showing, “but it is far colder now that it was yesterday when we were walking, and even in the full sunlight you felt the chill.”

Stiles warmed inside at Derek’s compliment, remembering that he’d hoped an Alpha would notice what he’d worked so hard on. “My work is a clumsy echo of the skill in this, Derek. If you are honored to give it, I’m even more honored to wear it.” He opened it and it slipped out wide. It felt heavy and warm around his shoulders, and from the way Derek sucked in the air between them, it smelled of Pack and home. He looked very happy to have Stiles under it, and Stiles was happy to oblige. He glanced over his shoulder a second before looking back at Derek and the way the Alpha’s eyes had the slightest hint of red at their edges, then Kira was there with the basket of sweet treats.

Derek’s nose twitched at the new scent and he grinned. “You have no need to bring them offerings, Stiles, although it is very thoughtful. I foresee a future where Isaac, and especially Jackson, are thicker around the middle.”

He held out his arm, and Stiles took it with the one not holding the honey-cakes, and they stepped out together, his father and help-maidens a step or two behind, and the rest of the village not too far beyond them.

Stiles wasn’t as nervous now as he’d thought he would be. His fears were of course there, but the threat of the Betas rejecting his claim were muted after seeing the smile on Derek’s face. There was a new feeling blooming in his chest—the anticipation of the morrow and the fact that he’d indeed be Mating the man beside him.

He knocked on the wooden frame, and Derek slid his gloved hand into Stiles' as the cottage door opened.

The four Wolves stood just inside in their best clothes, looking as staid and solemn as the occasion called for, until Jackson caught the scent of what was in Stiles’ basket. He stepped outside to get a closer sniff, and the others followed. Only Boyd placing a large hand on his slightly smaller Packmate’s shoulder stopped the young man from diving forward to take a cake.

Kira and Lydia laughed lightly. Stiles kept his face forward, and tried to pretend he didn’t want to giggle, too.

He breathed in a quietly as he could, and then said, “Betas Hale, I’d like to request the absolute honor of taking the Mating Bite from your Pack leader, Alpha Theoderek Sloane Hale.”

Derek squeezed his hand.

It was Erica who stepped forward and answered. “It would be our honor, Omega Konstancji Eustachy Stilinski, if you’d join with our Pack leader and share with him the Mating Bites.” She didn’t slip on Stiles’ name, which was more than impressive, and quite possibly why she’d been the one decided to speak.

The Betas all went to their knees again, eyes glowing and necks bared. There was a great cheer behind them, and then a howl from Scott, which was added to by the Betas and Derek.

When the Alpha’s lungs were finally empty, he breathed in and leaned forward again, like he had so many times the night before, and kissed Stiles long and hard.

 

♠♠♠