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Erica insists on being the one to pick Stiles up from the airport, which leads to an all-out fight between her and Scott, who claims that it’s his responsibility, as Stiles’ best friend, to drive him back into Beacon Hills.

Scott has been a werewolf longer and he’s got a size advantage, but Erica has been training with both Derek and the Rodriguez pack for months now. It’s really not a contest as much as an excuse for her to pin him to the floor, laughing, while Scott snarls and tries to buck her off.

“Easy there, you might hurt yourself,” she teases and Scott snaps his fangs at her. He’s still sulking fifteen minutes later when she drives off to SFO, waving goodbye to the pack.

If Derek’s life were a romantic comedy—which it’s really, really not, what with all the murder, mayhem, and supernatural elements—it would inevitably feature the moment when Erica brings Stiles home and he sees, for the first time ever, not a gawky, uncoordinated teenager with a penchant for graphic tees and plaid, but a young man, taller than Derek now, with broad shoulders and large, capable hands that finally match the rest of him. Stiles would be walking down a staircase in slow-motion and Derek would feel the world tilt on its axis while his entire perspective on life underwent a paradigm shift. At first, Stiles would be looking at something or someone else, and he’d laugh before his gaze shifted back to Derek and when their eyes met, it would feel like being struck by lightning. Like getting hit by the thunderbolt.

Fortunately, Derek’s life is not a romantic comedy, so what happens instead is Erica pulls up to the front of the house in the Camaro (why she would choose to drive that to the airport, Derek has no idea, except he really does, because he and Erica are more alike than he’ll ever admit) and exits first. She’s already crossed over the front of the car and is in front of the passenger door when it’s opened by Stiles, who then promptly trips over his own feet as he stands and pitches forward. Erica grabs him around the waist before he can land, face first, on the concrete, and when they straighten up, her arms are still wrapped around him and Stiles is looking down at Erica with an adoring gaze.

Oh, shit.

The rest of the pack swarms before Derek can even finish that thought—Scott actually leaps onto Stiles’ back and they crash to the ground, laughing, and it’s not long before Isaac and Boyd are joining in, Lydia standing a respectable distance away because she’s too classy to engage in pack orgies on the front lawn. When the dust finally settles and everyone gets up, she does move forward and pull Stiles into a hug, heedless of the dirt now covering his clothes.

As a group—as a pack—they all move towards Derek, and the detached, rational Alpha part of his mind nods approvingly. The bigger part of his mind, however, is still stuck on Stiles and Erica, hands linked as they approach. Stiles is facing Scott and talking a mile a minute even as he keeps his fingers tangled with Erica’s.

Fuck.

“Hey,” Stiles says, when the pack finally makes their way to the front door. Derek has been standing there with his arms crossed for a full five minutes now, and he knows the picture he presents, but Stiles just grins at him, unconcerned. “Long time no see, man.”

“Understatement,” Boyd says from the left.

“Welcome back,” Derek says. “Are you staying for a while, or do you need to go see your father first?”

The smile drops off Stiles' face. “Don’t break out the welcome mat or anything, jeez.”

Erica growls at Derek, low in her throat, and he flashes his eyes at her until she stops. “I just want to make sure the Sheriff doesn’t show up on my porch with a shotgun in an hour or two.”

Just like that, the smile is back. “No, he’s off at six, so I thought I’d hang out until then, catch up on the pack gossip, braid some hair, you know. The usual.” Erica and Scott both laugh at that and the smile becomes a full-fledged grin. As if Derek didn’t have enough problems in his life right now—of course Stiles had to leave Beacon Hills an awkward eighteen year-old, hardly in control of his limbs or his hormones, and return a grown man, finally filled out in all the right places and inviting all the wrong attention. Even Isaac is shooting Stiles speculative looks from the corner of the porch. It feels like the worst years of high school all over again, everyone rocketing through puberty and always horny as hell; Derek had given so many safe sex speeches senior year that he could have recited them in his sleep.

College and four years were supposed to dull all of that, let the pack grow up enough to settle down and stabilize. For the most part, they have: Allison and Scott are finally in a good place, dating and taking things slowly; Isaac and Cora have been together for two years, although Derek tries really hard not to actively know anything about his sister’s sex life; and Erica is engaged, to a Beta from the Rodriguez pack. David is a nice guy; he and Erica met at a bar in Berkeley and hit it off immediately.

The alliance with the Rodriguez pack is a Big Deal, capital letters intended; they’ve done alright for themselves in Beacon Hills, but the Hale pack is still comparatively small, weak following the Alpha pack fiasco. When Derek’s mother was alive, there were pacts, agreements, friendships that spanned the entire country: a whole network of support that was meant to be utilized in times of need. Laura, and then Derek, should have kept those relationships intact, but they fled to New York instead and Derek and his Betas have paid the price for that loss.

It’s not a strategic move, not exactly; Derek isn’t pimping his Betas out to other packs or anything, that would be—crazy. It’s just—an unexpected boon, to have Erica’s upcoming wedding also cement an alliance between the Hale pack and one of the largest, most influential werewolf families in the southwest. Boyd had called Derek a mercenary when he’d explained it, but it’s nothing as cold as that.

What it is, though, is pretty much a done deal: contracts have been signed and the wedding is in two months. Derek had cautioned Erica, when David had proposed, that marriage between wolves was a serious business. If she and David wanted to go to the courthouse, have a ceremony, that was one thing; but involving both packs and making an alliance out of it was—huge, for lack of a better word. “No backing out,” he warned her. “You have to be one hundred percent sure, because if either of you changes your mind—breaking off something like this, it’s an invitation to war.”

But the two of them had insisted, so Maria Rodriguez and Derek had given their blessings and the pack had jumped into the wedding preparations feet first. Even Derek had gotten caught up in it: the Camaro was pretty much Erica’s at this point, for “wedding stuff,” as she called it, and he’d been dragged along to the cake tasting when David was tied up in Santa Barbara.

“Yeah, I’m here for the long haul,” Stiles is saying to Scott, everyone having migrated to the living room while Derek was ruminating. The pack is sacked out along the couches, with Stiles pinned between Scott and Erica. “I’m going to find a job and see about grad school later.” Scott throws up a hand for a high five; he’s been on cloud nine since Stiles gave them a solid return date and he’s practically vibrating with excitement at having his best friend back. On Stiles' other side, Erica has already curled into the crook of one arm and is hanging onto his every word. She’s practically got stars in her eyes. Jesus.

So Stiles coming home after four years on the East Coast isn’t going to be the happy occasion that they had hoped for; apparently, he’s going to be a wrench in all their plans instead. It isn’t that Derek’s not happy to see Stiles again; of course he is. Stiles had gone the farthest away for school and he hasn’t been back to visit in four years. There were usually a lot of excuses: internships and summer classes to get a double major, but Derek knew that it was also a matter of finances. He hadn’t pushed, but he had made sure that Stiles wasn’t alone: all of the members of the pack had visited Stiles at least once, with Scott going a few times a year. Derek had never made it out himself, but he and Stiles emailed pretty frequently and he knew that Stiles was doing okay.

More than okay, Derek has to grudgingly admit as he eyes Stiles. Stiles looks—really good. He’s kept his hair longer and what little baby fat he was carrying around senior year has melted off; he’s all sharp lines and angles, the cut of his cheekbones and the points of his elbows. He’s wearing just a thin Boston U tee shirt that stretches tight over his chest and leaves nothing to the imagination. Even that last year, when Stiles was starting to come into his own and be more confident, he’d still hidden under his clothes, oversized hoodies, more layers than Derek could count. Apparently all it took was four years away from everyone he knew for Stiles to feel safe enough to strip down.

“And you’re back just in time for the wedding,” Erica is saying when Derek checks back into the conversation. “This is perfect, now you can be in the wedding party.” Across the room, Lydia whips out her iPhone and starts making notes; she has the whole wedding master list on there in various spreadsheets.

Stiles looks surprised. “Are you sure? I mean, it’s been a few years, it’s not—don’t feel like you have to stick me in, I’ll be happy just watching.”

“Nope,” Erica says. “Perfect opportunity to get you in a tux, this is not to be missed.”

“Agreed,” Isaac chimes in, and Derek shoots him a dirty look that Isaac pretends not to notice.

“Wow,” Stiles says. “I’m honored. Seriously!” he adds when Erica smacks him in the arm. “Oh my god, ow, I’m not kidding, sheath your claws, woman.”

“Poor baby,” Erica croons. “Here, let me k—”

“Why don’t you all go out for lunch,” Derek interrupts. “Before you destroy the house.”

There’s a chorus of agreement before Erica drags Stiles by the arm out the door. “Dibs!” she cries and Scott vaults over the back of the couch shouting, “Not fair!” The others follow at a more sedate pace while Derek shakes his head. A house full of adults and this is how they still act.

***

Once everyone is gone, it feels like it’s easier to breathe. Derek drops down onto the couch and it’s only after he’s seated that he realizes he’s in the same spot Stiles was in. Stiles' scent is different, but not by much: he smells overwhelmingly of the airport right now, but underneath that, the base notes are the same as they’ve always been. Derek realizes that he’s sniffing the air and forces himself to stop.

This is going to be a big problem.

Derek had always known, objectively, that Stiles was attractive. You could see it in his face, even when he was just sixteen, the fact that he was going to grow into himself one day, in a way that fit perfectly. Derek wasn’t sure if the others could see it, too, could look past the facade that Stiles threw out—fumbling, uncoordinated, a little too much everything—and recognize what he would become. There was just something about him. People didn’t see it in high school; Stiles was forever lamenting the fact that he couldn’t get a date to save his life.

Derek had seen it, because that was just his luck: to look at an illegal, underage, sixteen year-old boy and think, he’s gorgeous. He had never done anything about it, not even when things were at their worst and he’d been afraid, every day and night, that this was it, the end of all of them. Stiles would show up to the loft early and leave late, thinking, strategizing, arguing, fighting, and sometimes Derek would look at him and wonder what Stiles would do if he just—reached out. He stopped himself every time.

Now, though—

Stiles can’t break up the wedding. He just can’t. It doesn’t matter how he and Erica feel about each other; it wouldn’t matter if he were her soul mate, sent from heaven to be her other half in life. If Erica breaks the marriage pact—especially to be with a human—Maria and the rest of her pack will have no choice but to attack Beacon Hills. It’s a matter of honor. And even though Derek’s pack has improved in every area since the disaster that was 2011, they’re still not strong enough to take on the Rodriguez family and survive. They’ll be slaughtered.

Unless Derek can figure out a way to keep Stiles away from Erica until after the wedding is over. Even then, they might not be safe—but Derek can remember Stiles talking, once, about how seriously he took marriage. “Look at my dad,” he had said. “It’s been ten years and he’s still in love with my mom, that’s—must be a Stilinski thing.” He’d smiled, a little ruefully, and Derek had remembered the years-long crush on Lydia.

So Derek just has to keep Stiles and Erica apart until after the marriage takes place. He has a few options: he could physically remove Stiles from Beacon Hills, send him away for two months until after the wedding. It won’t work without a good excuse, though, and Derek doesn’t have one. For all that the others make fun of him, he’s not the strategy guy in the pack and he knows it. Stiles is the man with the plan, even from four thousand miles away; Derek isn’t ashamed to admit that he’s asked Stiles for advice plenty of times over the last four years.

He could make up some kind of mission, intel gathering in another state (or another country, maybe), but Stiles would have a million questions and “because I said so” stopped being an effective explanation when the pack was still in high school. Besides, it seems cruel to kick Stiles out of town just days after his return. No one would be happy about it, and Derek would have to field another thousand questions from the pack about Stiles’ departure.

That leaves keeping Stiles in Beacon Hills, but away from Erica: easier said than done. The pack tends to stick close. They spend most of their time together, usually at Derek’s house, because it’s the biggest, or Scott’s, because he’s the friendliest. The exception is significant others. Scott and Allison get plenty of alone time, because they’re nauseating. Isaac and Cora are pretty much banned from acting too couple-y in front of the pack, because that’s Derek’s little sister and he doesn’t need to know. Even Erica and David—

Wait. Derek stops his internal monologue and does a rewind. Significant others are the exception. Significant others spend, well, significant amounts of time away from the pack. Doing...significant other things.

A plan is coalescing in Derek’s mind. It’s not a very nice plan and if the ultimate goal was anything other than keeping the entire pack alive, Derek wouldn’t even consider it, but. Desperate times call for desperate measures has pretty much been Derek’s mantra ever since he became Alpha, and it doesn’t look like this is going to be any different.

If Derek just asks Stiles out (something that he’s wanted since high school, his traitorous mind reminds him), there’s no way Stiles will say yes. He’s so—Scott and the others have told him plenty of stories about Stiles in Boston. How popular he was, how everyone in the psych department knew him, how all the pretty guys and girls were always flirting with him. Derek doesn’t blame them, but that hadn’t stopped his homicidal urges at the thought of Stiles with someone else.

“It’s almost like he’s a different person,” Boyd had confided in Derek, after his first visit out east. “You wouldn’t believe it.” Derek did. He and Stiles were Facebook friends; it was obvious how he’d grown up, filled out, learned to inhabit his skin in a whole new way. If Stiles had stayed in California for school—well, Derek probably would never have had the guts to ask him out, anyway, knowing how stiff the competition was. And if Derek asks Stiles to choose, to pick him over Erica, it’ll never work—what would Stiles want with someone as damaged as Derek?

His only chance is to keep Stiles busy enough over the next six weeks to keep him away from Erica. If he goes slows, spends all of his free time with Stiles and doesn’t give him a chance to get near Erica, he might be able to save them all. Or to start to trick Stiles into thinking that he actually likes Derek. He doesn’t think that’s likely, but maybe sheer proximity is enough to foster feelings. Even if they’re fake ones.

***

Because Derek is an adult, he doesn’t do anything ridiculous, like come up with a plan that he calls, “Seducing Stiles Before He Can Ruin Erica’s Wedding and Get Us All Killed.” Because that would be—crazy.

He gets as far as writing the title down on a sheet of paper before looking at it, shaking his head, and shoving it behind a pile of bills because it’s too embarrassing to even consider.

Instead, he sits and tries to think critically about Stiles. Derek knows what he looks like, what people think about him, but they’re almost universally wrong. Derek didn’t date when he was in New York and, aside from Jen, he hasn’t dated in Beacon Hills, either. The last time he’d tried to impress someone as a prelude to romance, it had been Kate. Jennifer had been happy to take charge of their relationship and Derek had been even happier to let her. He doesn’t really know how to—woo someone. Especially not someone like Stiles, who’s atypical in every way.

Well. He needs to try to keep Stiles away from Erica and, if possible, out of Beacon Hills. It shouldn’t be too hard; Beacon Hills is a pretty small town and there’s a lot of variety in the adjacent cities. Movie theaters, restaurants, bars. Museums? Derek tries to think back to all the romantic comedies that Isaac secretly loves. The beach? Stiles has fair skin and always complains about the sand. Shit. This is going to be a disaster; Derek doesn’t know how to be someone’s boyfriend. Stiles and Erica are going to have sex and get everyone killed. Of all the ways Derek could have pictured the end, death by broken engagement pact wasn’t one of them.

“I honestly don’t know whether to laugh at you or just hang up,” Cora says when she answers the phone. Her voice is scratchy with sleep. “Why are you asking me this? You should call Jennifer, she’d know what to tell you.”

“Jen’s on vacation,” Derek says. “I don’t want to bother her.”

“I should give you shitty answers that are the opposite of true, just for all the crap you put me and Isaac through,” she responds. “You know, I don’t want to know anything about your sex life, either.”

“I’m not asking you about that!” Derek all but shouts. “Seriously, don’t—please don’t mention anyone’s sex life to me, ever again.”

Cora cackles. She sounds just like Laura when she does that. “Revenge is sweet. Why don’t you just google “Fifty Cute Date Ideas,” that should help.”

“I already did,” Derek admits. “They’re all terrible. I need something I can actually enjoy. I want to look like I’m enjoying myself.”

“Do something athletic,” she suggests. “Go paintballing, if you think they can handle getting shot.” It’s on the tip of Derek’s tongue to say that, after a real bullet, paint is nothing. “Rock climb. Hike. You can show off your athletic prowess and impress them with your virility.”

“Please stop,” Derek says, pained. “I regret every calling you.”

“And I resent not getting to make out with my boyfriend on the communal couch because you’re repressed. Go get laid and leave me alone.” She hangs up first; that was always Laura’s move, too. He swallows hard for a minute before closing his phone.

***

Stiles is not initially receptive to Derek’s charms.

“I thought we’d go out for the day,” Derek offers casually. “We haven’t really—hung out since you’ve been back.”

Stiles’ eyebrows are hovering somewhere in the vicinity of his hairline. “You? Want to hang out with me?”

Derek scowls. “Fine. Stay here alone, everyone else is running wedding errands or working.” He tries to put a heavy emphasis on “wedding,” hoping that maybe it’ll shame Stiles into cleaning up his act, but he just looks puzzled.

“No, I didn’t mean—” Stiles blows out a breath. “I just—thought you’d have something better to do than keep me entertained all day.”

“It’s not really a chore, you have the attention span of a nine year-old,” Derek says.

Stiles sticks his tongue out. “Not really. You should have seen me when I was nine, I was on a different planet.”

“I remember,” Derek says, before he can stop himself.

“What?”

“We grew up in the same town,” Derek points out. “Did you really think the Preserve was the first time we met?”

Stiles frowns. “No. Well—I knew about you, of course I did, because of the—” He cuts off before he can say “fire,” which Derek is absurdly grateful for. “But I definitely would have remembered talking to you.”

“We didn’t talk,” Derek says. “I just saw you around. You were hard to ignore.”

Beacon Hills’ elementary and high schools were right next to each other, because the town wasn’t that big and it made parents’ lives a little easier, being able to corral all their children in one place. Laura had driven Derek and Cora to school her senior year, in the rusty Toyota she was always looking for an excuse to wreck. Derek would walk Cora over to her line-up area every day; Stiles was a year younger and small for his age, but he’d always been the loudest kid in the yard. It had been impossible to ignore him, actually, even though Derek sometimes itched to slap a hand over his mouth and just quiet him down for one minute.

“Oh,” Stiles says. “I never realized.” A moment passes and Stiles nods, almost to himself. “Right. Where are we going?”

Derek shrugs. “Where do you want to go? What did you miss while you were gone?”

Stiles takes a minute to think, biting down on his lip as he does. “Uh. Honestly? I didn’t really miss places. I mean, coffee is coffee everywhere, right? It was more the people. My dad, you guys.” He looks a little sheepish. “And now everyone’s a grown-up, with very Adult responsibilities—and that was with a capital ‘A,’ by the way—and they’re all too busy for me.”

“I’m not,” Derek says, before he really thinks about it, then freezes under Stiles’ gaze. It’s speculative, what Lydia jokingly calls his “naturally inquisitive” face.

“You’re still a gentleman of leisure, then? You were a little vague in those emails.”

“Never needed to work,” Derek reminds him. The life insurance money was more than enough, five times over, even after rebuilding the house and funding all the pack members in their different enterprises. He’s still doing little improvements all around the place, trying to rebuild the library up from scratch, but it’s not much.

“You never wanted to?” Stiles presses. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think we can all agree that you’ve earned the right to relaxation for the rest of your life, but, I don’t know, I kind of thought you’d get bored of doing nothing. Man of action, right?”

“I guess,” Derek says, a little dubiously. He’s never really thought about finding a job in Beacon Hills; he likes the idea of being able to drop whatever he’s doing and run if someone needs his help. Having a nine to five would seriously cut into that.

“Well, if you want any help looking,” Stiles offers. “I am getting to be an expert at “how to apply for five hundred jobs in the span of just a few weeks.””

“Have you heard back from any of them yet?”

“No,” Stiles admits. “But that was the point of applying to five hundred. At least one of them has to want me.”

Derek doesn’t even say anything, just smirks. Sometimes that’s all you need with Stiles to get your point across.

“Everyone’s a comedian,” Stiles grouses. “Alright, smart guy, let’s find something to do.”

***

They go bowling.

“Scott and Allison’s first date was bowling,” Stiles explains. “Double date bowling, with Lydia and Jackson. Which I actually would have paid to see, because I’m sure it was hysterical.”

“And this is important because?”

“Well, it’s one of those essential parts of high school I missed out on. Being low on the social strata and spending all my time saving reckless werewolves, you know. So I figure I should make up for it now. Plus, I’m behind any sport that lets me drink beer and eat wings in between rounds.”

“That’s not a sport,” Derek says, disapprovingly, because it’s not. Even if Stiles played something as ridiculous as lacrosse in high school, he should still know better.

“Twenty bucks says I kick your ass.”

“Make it fifty,” Derek says. Stiles clutches at his heart like he’s in pain, but eyes Derek, considering.

“You’re on.”

It turns out that Derek is completely, objectively terrible at bowling. Stiles laughs so hard that he falls down the first time Derek throws a gutter ball. It’s probably more because of Derek’s terrible form (he doesn’t really know how to hold or throw a bowling ball) than because the ball immediately rolls to the side. He’s still on the floor, laughing, when Derek throws a second gutter ball. The people playing in the next lane actually stop their game to watch Stiles, rolling on the ground and clutching his sides.

“Shut up,” Derek says, stalking back to his seat. The electronic screen displays his score: a big, red, flashing zero.

Stiles makes a show of wiping the tears away from his eyes. “I’m sorry. This is just—I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone strike out so spectacularly. Twice. Unless you count all of my attempts to ask people out from ages sixteen through nineteen. But I think this might really be worse.”

“Shut up,” Derek says again. “You do it, if it’s so easy.”

Stiles grabs a green ball, swings it up in front of his face, and then rolls it down the lane. Derek is momentarily distracted by the way Stiles’ biceps strain the material of his tee shirt with the effort of holding the ball up, but he manages to drag his eyes away in time to see the ball knock down all ten pins. Stiles pretends to buff his nails against his shirt.

“What was that, about it being easy?” he asks, an innocent look on his face. Derek growls, just to see him jump a little, but then he has to sit and watch Stiles get another strike, before finally knocking down eight pins with his third ball.

“Twenty eight to zero,” Stile says, sliding into the seat next to Derek and nudging him with his shoulder. “You’re up, buddy.”

It can’t be that hard to get a strike, especially not if Stiles—now eating nachos and shooting Derek a thumbs up when he looks over—can do it. Derek takes a deep breath and tries to imitate Stiles’ form and the way that he’d thrown the ball.

This time, the ball actually bounces with the force of his throw, before rolling its way towards the gutter and falling in. Derek doesn’t bother looking at Stiles before trying again, knowing that it’ll just make things worse. His fourth attempt is so bad that the people in the next lane actually avert their eyes.

He sits back down stiffly, pretending to be interested by the score board—now with two big, fat, red zeroes next to his name—so that he has an excuse to avoid Stiles and whatever stupid thing he’s going to say now.

There’s a long beat before Derek realizes that Stiles hasn’t moved from his seat. When he looks up, Stiles is watching him intently.

“What,” he snaps, unable to stop himself. “No joke about how we should put the kid bumpers on?”

Stiles shakes his head. “Nah. Get up.”

“My turn is over.”

“Come on, we’re doing something new,” Stiles insists. He stands in front of Derek, unrelenting, until Derek finally gives in—they’re starting to attract attention—and gets up.

“You played baseball in high school, right?”

Peter had tried to force Derek into trying out for basketball—probably so that he could have another thing to lord over Derek, what a better athlete he was—but Derek had insisted on baseball; it had always been his favorite sport. He thinks lacrosse is completely ridiculous, but he still showed up to all the games during the pack’s senior year, to cheer them on.

How Stiles knows this is a mystery—how Stiles knows any of the weird, obscure things that he knows is a mystery—but Derek doesn’t press, just says, “Yes.”

“That’s what it is. You’re thinking like a baseball player. You don’t need to throw the ball in bowling, you need to let gravity take over and do its thing.”

“Do its thing?” Derek repeats, skeptically.

Stiles shushes him. “I should have known you’d be a control freak. Just try it, okay?”

Derek doesn’t think he could make any more of a fool out of himself unless he threw the bowling ball through the ceiling, but he still hesitates in front of the lane, ball clutched in both hands. “I don’t—the way I’m standing isn’t right, either, is it?”

“Not really,” Stiles says, squinting a little at Derek. “Which is weird, because you’re all normally very graceful and easy to instruct. Maybe if I—” He flaps his hands at Derek, which is apparently supposed to mean something. After a long minute where they just stare at each other, Stiles huffs and says, “Can I?”

Derek shrugs, not knowing what Stiles could possibly want, but trusting that it won’t be too invasive or humiliating. He comes to stand behind Derek. Stiles has an inch on him, which usually doesn’t make a difference; now, he feels oddly unsettled, with Stiles’ breath prickling the hairs on his neck and his pulse pounding.

“Don’t freak out,” Stiles says, and before Derek has a chance to ask why, Stiles has wrapped himself around Derek’s back, arms coming around his body. He circles Derek’s arms with his own, guiding the bowling bowl up to Derek’s chin.

“Keep your arms like this,” he instructs, then drops his hands to Derek’s hips, gently correcting his stance. “Weight moves from the front to back foot as you swing your arm forward. Don’t throw the ball, try to roll it.” Derek feels Stiles takes a deep breath. “Do you want me to—?”

“Yes,” Derek says, even though he has no idea what Stiles was going to say. Stiles snorts a little, but it sounds fond.

“Okay. Stay with me,” he warns, nudging Derek just a little until he realizes that he’s supposed to move. He steps forward, Stiles keeping pace, his arm back around Derek’s to guide the ball down and forward. It wobbles a little as Derek releases it, but it heads in a mostly-straight line down the lane, knocking over five pins.

When they separate, Stiles is flushed and Derek can tell that his own ears are pink.

“That was really good,” Stiles says. “You see what I mean about the gravity?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, clearing his throat when he realizes how hoarse he sounds. “Thanks for the lesson.”

“No problem,” Stiles says. “I’m just going to—” He points vaguely in the direction of the half-eaten nachos.

“I went when it was your turn,” Derek says suddenly. “It’s going to screw up your score.”

Stiles shrugs. “Don’t worry about it. Go again, we’ll just keep trading off.” He moves back towards his seat.

“Wait,” Derek says, before his brain has finished thinking through what he wants to say. It’s been thirty seconds and he misses Stiles’ arms around him. Which is stupid, but it’s been four years since Stiles touched him at all, even just a pat on the shoulder or a handshake, and it’s been two since anyone else touched him with—intent. And it wasn’t—it probably wasn’t—it was Stiles showing him the right way to throw a bowling ball, he probably does that with everyone. Stiles is half in love with Erica, at least, and Derek knows that and it’s cheap to take advantage like this, but that’s the whole point of this hanging out. Derek struggles to keep that in mind.

“Maybe you could—show me again?” he suggests. “I only hit five pins, that’s not great.”

Stiles stares at him for a few seconds, mouth open in a way that’s pretty criminally attractive. He shakes himself out of it and smiles. “Sure thing.”

Derek grabs a ball as Stiles walks back over to the lane, stepping into the same position behind Derek. Right before Derek takes his first step, Stiles leans a little closer and whispers, “If you wanted my hands on you, all you had to do was ask.”

Derek knocks over seven pins and can’t look Stiles in the eye for the rest of the night. Out of the corner of his eye, though, he can tell that Stiles spends the next two hours beaming.

***

Derek drives Stiles home after they’ve wasted the whole evening playing bowling. After that first screw up, there was no way to get the scores back on track, so they just took turns. Derek would get a few good throws in, then make a shitty attempt that brought Stiles back over for some hands-on instruction. It never stopped feeling as illicit and thrilling as the first time, which should have worried Derek, but he forced himself not to think about it.

Stiles would come over unprompted from time to time, too, to correct Derek’s stance or his form, even when Derek knew that he was doing it right. So it wasn’t entirely one-sided, Derek thought with satisfaction, when he saw how Stiles was looking at him. It was good to know.

“Thanks," Derek says, when he finally pulls up in front of the Sheriff’s house. The porch light is on, but the Sheriff is upstairs, typing slowly on a computer. “For hanging out with me today, it was fun.”

“Thanks for inviting me,” Stiles says. “Hey, if we ever do pack bowling, we’ve got a good chance of beating the others.”

Derek snorts. “I’d like to see you get Boyd into bowling shoes.” They both laugh a little at the mental image. A beat passes, then another, and they’re rapidly approaching the point where Stiles should really get out. If he is getting out.

“We, um,” Stiles says. He keeps looking at Derek’s lips, then back up at his face like he’s trying not to be obvious. “I should probably go—” He jerks a thumb over his shoulder at his house. “Sheriff on the porch with a shotgun, right?”

“Has he ever actually done that?” Derek feels compelled to ask.

“Well, no,” Stiles says. “But no one’s ever brought me home from a, uh—”

“Date?” Derek suggests. “Is that what this is?” He feels like he’s back in high school, just saying the word.

Stiles’ breathing picks up when Derek says “date.” “I don’t think it actually counts unless I get a kiss goodnight.” He leans forward, maybe unconsciously; Derek can’t be sure. “Unless you don’t—”

Derek goes for broke, closes the distance between them in a heartbeat and kisses Stiles, just this side of too hard. Stiles’ hands come up in a flash—like he’d only been waiting for it—to hold Derek steady. The center console is digging into his stomach—probably Stiles’, too—but it doesn’t make a difference; he reaches across it to slip one hand under Stiles’ shirt while they kiss. He doesn’t do anything else, just leaves his palm spread across Stiles’ ribs, feeling the frantic beating of his heart, the way he gasps when Derek bites down on his lower lip.

By the time they separate, Stiles is panting, that tell-tale flush high in his cheeks betraying his arousal. Derek’s not much better off; it’s been a long time and he’s half-hard already, just from the pressure of Stiles’ lips, his tongue, the long fingers wrapped around the back of Derek’s neck.

“That was one hell of a kiss goodnight,” Stiles says, and then he starts laughing and it’s contagious. Derek’s hand is still on Stiles’ stomach and he can feel the full body tremors and then he’s laughing, too, at the look on Stiles’ face and the feel of his body.

Stiles moves back in, graceful and effortless—two words Derek never, ever thought he would associate with Stiles—and then they’re kissing again. This time, it feels like a flip has switched; it’s fast and hard, and there’s a feeling of intent behind each of Stiles’ kisses. Somewhere between the bowling alley and Stiles’ driveway, Derek has finally stopped pretending that this is any kind of altruistic gesture, meant to help the pack. He’s stopped lying to himself that he isn’t doing this exactly because he wants to, because he hasn’t stopped thinking about Stiles since he stepped foot out of the Camaro.

Derek wonders if he and Stiles are actually going to do this here, now, and he’s about to break away because he—it’s—the first time they do this, he doesn’t want it to be in the backseat of his car, he wants it to be on a bed. A nice one. And he wants to be able to do it more than once, to fall asleep together and then get up and do it again and then maybe have breakfast together, too, once they’re satisfied. God, he’s whipped.

He’s about to pull away and tell Stiles just that—after one more kiss; okay, two, because Stiles’ mouth against his is addictive—when suddenly, someone is rapping their knuckles sharply against the driver’s side window. Stiles bites down so hard on Derek’s lip that he draws blood.

“Shit, shit, sorry!” he cries when they pull apart. Derek is already healed, so the bite isn't a problem; what is a problem is how that little move pushed Derek right over the edge from “half aroused” to “if I don’t fuck you now, I’m going to come in my pants.” While there’s someone right outside his car.

Exhibitionism was never a kink of his before but the way Stiles looks right now—

He pulls back just far enough to clear his head, then turns to lower the window. Isaac is standing outside; as soon as the window is half way down, he wrinkles his nose.

“Jesus, it reeks in here. Made it to second already, huh?”

“What’s wrong,” Derek snaps. Behind him, Stiles has slipped one hand just under the edge of his waistband. So not the time or place but, god, it feels good.

Isaac shrugs. “Nothing. Just on patrol, thought I’d say hi.”

“Are you serious?” Derek asks. Isaac doesn’t even have the decency to look ashamed; he just grins at them and Derek fights the urge to squirm as Stiles’ fingers start stroking his skin.

Isaac breathes in, frowning as he leans forward. “Hey, are you—”

“Get lost,” Derek says, raising the window so quickly that Isaac has to jerk back to avoid getting hit. Behind him, Stiles dissolves into laughter, probably at Isaac’s pout.

Derek turns back and smacks Stiles’ hand. “Thanks for that. Why don’t you just undermine my authority with all my Betas, now that you’re back.”

Stiles fights to control his giggles. “Sorry. I couldn’t resist.”

Isaac is still hanging outside the car, like Derek is going to relent and open the window again or even let him in. Derek waves at him, quickly, before putting the car in drive and pulling away.

The hand is back. When Derek glances over, Stiles looks bashful.

“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to—make things super, incredibly awkward with Isaac. I’m not exactly known for my impulse control.”

Derek smirks. “So you can’t keep your hands off of me, is that it?”

Stiles pinches him in the side. Hard. “Okay, smartass. Apology rescinded. I thought you were dropping me off at home, why are you driving away?”

“You really want to go through an Isaac interrogation on your way inside?”

Stiles shudders. “Good point. It’s hard to say “no” to that face. So our date’s continuing?”

Derek looks over quickly. “If you want it to. Or you could go in through your backyard—”

Stiles snorts. “I try to avoid sneaking into my own house now that I’m actually an adult.”

“Or we could go back to my house,” Derek finishes. “Just—to hang out. For a while.”

He’s looking straight ahead, pretending that he needs to concentrate on the road so that he doesn’t have to look at Stiles’ face. Making out in the car after a date is one thing; it’s casual, it could just be Stiles having a good time, maybe thinking that he and Derek can screw around a little. Bringing him back to the house feels—different. Which is dumb, because for all that Derek holds the deed, it’s really the pack house. Everyone has a key. Stiles could go over any time he wants to, could stay for days, could sit on the couch in his pajamas eating cereal for a week without even asking Derek for permission. That’s the whole point of it. But bringing Stiles back there, after he’s spent all night with his hands on Derek, after being caught in the car like a couple of teenagers, feels like more, like a declaration. Like intent, like that same switch that flipped while they were kissing.

Derek hears Stiles clearing his throat. “I’d like that. If it’s okay with you.”

Derek nods, realizes that Stiles might not be looking at him either, and says, voice a little hoarser than he’d like, “Yeah. It is.”

The rest of the short ride is silent, but at some point, Stiles reaches out for the hand on the gear stick and laces their fingers together, squeezing a little.

***

When they walk in the front door, hands still linked, it’s to the sight of Erica and Boyd sitting on the couch, looking at them judgmentally. Well. Erica is definitely looking at them in judgment; Boyd mostly looks bored and a little exasperated. It’s a common pack look, when dealing with Erica.

Her eyes zero in on their hands in a split second and Stiles’ whole face turns red. Derek can feel the tips of his ears heating, too, but hopefully Erica and Boyd are distracted by Stiles’ impression of a tomato.

“Hey,” Stiles says, going for casual. “You guys are here...pretty late.”

Erica opens her mouth, but Boyd cuts her off. “Isaac already called. Save whatever story you were thinking of and come have a seat.”

“Why do I feel like we’re being interrogated by our parents,” Stiles mutters as he leads the way to the couch.

“No interrogation,” Boyd says.

“Just some good, old-fashioned cock blocking,” Erica adds cheerfully, causing everyone’s jaw to drop. She just rolls her eyes. “It’s the first date, save some of the magic, okay? You’ve got the rest of your lives for filthy, hot sex; I’m only in Beacon Hills for another six weeks, watch a movie with me.”

“Well, when you put it like that,” Stiles says, shooting Derek an apologetic look and dropping his hand to go sit next to Erica. Derek looks at the ceiling and wonders whatever possessed him to bite such a mouthy group of teenagers.

Boyd just pats the couch next to him. “She’s right. Spend some time with us tonight, instead.”

Derek doesn’t stay mad for long. Dirty ambush tactics aside, Erica and Boyd are both right; Erica and David haven’t decided where they’re settling yet, but it probably won’t be Beacon Hills. Derek has had a lot of pack bonding nights over the last few years, but Stiles hasn’t, and it’s nice to hang out together, eating popcorn and watching “Friends” reruns (surprisingly enough, Boyd’s choice) on the flat screen.

He looks over at one point to find Stiles watching him, a half smile on his face. Erica’s head is on his shoulder but he still lifts one hand and waggles his fingers at Derek in a mini-wave. Derek smiles too, helpless not to, and waves back. Next to him, Boyd rolls his eyes.

“You two are ridiculous. It’s about time.”

Derek punches him in the shoulder without even looking and Stiles breaks into a full-fledged grin.

***

Allison catches them next.

Knowing his pack, everyone is already well aware of what’s going on between Derek and Stiles. Isaac is the worst gossip Derek has ever met, and that includes Alexis Pappas from the third grade. Stiles had had breakfast with Lydia the day after their date and come back to the house looking thoroughly scandalized by whatever she had said, so Derek had sighed and prepared for the inevitable backlash. Sometimes, everyone is too over involved for their own good.

But no one had said anything; apparently, they’d all decided (on their own or as a group, Derek doesn’t know) that the way to maximum embarrassment is through individual accomplishments.

They’re having dinner at the house and Erica is bringing David, who fits in well enough with the pack, although he likes to make fun of their “Norcal” accents every damn time. Somehow, Derek got roped into cooking (“somehow” looks like this: everyone had yelled “shot not!” when Erica announced the event and Derek was the only one with enough dignity not to touch his nose). He’s in the kitchen, trying to keep an eye on both stovetops and the oven when Stiles comes in.

“Looking good,” he says, with an exaggerated leer. Derek doesn’t prickle; he’s learned quickly that Stiles still uses humor and sarcasm as a defense. It’s fine; it’s still too soon for them to bare their souls to each other.

“Thanks,” Derek says, distracted, lowering the flame on the chili and lifting the top off the potatoes. “Next time, we’re ordering take out.”

“But then I wouldn’t have an excuse to do this,” Stiles says, moving closer and hooking his chin over Derek’s shoulder. It puts their faces side by side and Derek can’t resist the urge to rub his cheek gently along Stiles’. He sighs a little and winds his arms around Derek’s waist.

“See? If you ordered food, we’d be stuck inside socializing instead of this.”

“And what is this?” Derek feels compelled to ask. It’s not the time—it’s not the place—it’s actually pretty stupid to bring this up with Stiles so soon. He’s supposed to be providing Stiles with a distraction, not giving him reasons to think too deeply about what a bad idea a relationship with Derek is. He just can’t help himself, though.

“I believe the technical term is, “getting freaky in the kitchen,”” Stiles says, seriously. He cracks a grin when Derek pulls back to give him an unimpressed glare. “Come on, it was a little funny.”

Derek turns back to the stove and reaches for a spoon to stir the chili, but he’s interrupted by Stiles’ hands sliding lower. Much lower. He resists the urge to jump, but it’s a near miss when Stiles squeezes.

“What are you—stop that,” he says, trying to swat at Stiles with his free hand.

“I didn’t sneak in here to not get some.”

“You didn’t sneak in here at all, you walked in,” Derek points out.

“I had to sneak away from everyone else without them figuring out where I was going, doesn’t that count for something?” Stiles asks, indignant.

“Yes,” Derek says, feeling fond despite his best efforts to look stern. He steps far enough away from the stove to kiss Stiles on the temple. “That’s for your efforts.”

“You gotta be kidding me,” Stiles mutters. He pulls away, but before Derek can say something to bring him back, he hops onto the counter next to the sink, swinging his feet back and forth like an overgrown kid.

Derek raises an eyebrow. “I’m not coming over there.”

“I didn’t ask you to,” Stiles counters. “Just sitting here, stretching.” He makes a big show of lifting his arms, high enough that his shirt rides up to give Derek a glimpse of his abs. When Derek drags his eyes back up to Stiles’ face, he’s smirking.

Derek squares his shoulders and turns back to the stove.

When he sneaks a glance a minute later, Stiles’ eyes are closed, like he’s just enjoying the atmosphere, leaning back on hands in a way that puts his chest on display. Stiles has filled out since high school. He’s still not as broad as Derek—no one but Boyd is—but he’s definitely not the scrawny teenager he used to be, either. And god, does it show. Derek swallows hard as his gaze travels down Stiles’ body, to where his legs are spread open, way further than should be possible in a pair of jeans that tight. Not that Derek is thinking about Stiles and the tightness of his jeans or exactly how they cling to certain, visible parts of his anatomy. Jesus.

He takes a deep breath through his nose, trying to control himself (probably not the smartest idea, since all he gets for his troubles is a big whiff of Stiles) and as soon as Stiles hears it, his eyes open.

“Have a little trouble over there, big guy?” he asks. It should sound ridiculous—it does sound ridiculous, pillow talk like that coming from Stiles, of all people, in a kitchen—but Derek can’t say anything. He’s lost his voice at the sight of Stiles, eyes half-lidded, half-sprawled on his kitchen counter, arousal obvious, hitting on Derek. It’s like a dream. He’s just waiting for the rest of the pack to run through the door and yell, “Punk’d!” at him.

“Did I actually render you speechless?” Stiles says, a lazy smile crossing his face. He sits up straighter, reaches out for Derek. “Wow, I must be good.”

“Shut up,” Derek manages to force out. It’s weak, but it’s something.

“Make me,” Stiles says. Challenging.

Derek can’t resist a challenge, especially one as appealing as Stiles. He steps between the vee of Stiles’ legs, pushes his fingers through the mess of Stiles’ hair and tugs at it. Stiles groans at that, lets Derek pull him into place. He’s close enough to feel the heat rising from Stiles’ skin, to hear the way his pulse is running at double speed. He bites the underside of Stiles’ jaw, feels Stiles’ hands coming up at clutch at his shoulders, fingernails digging in. Derek keeps at it, kisses his way across Stiles’ throat, his jaw, pushes his tee shirt aside to suck a hickey into Stiles’ left shoulder. Stiles groans again at that, wraps his legs around Derek’s hips and presses his heels into Derek’s ass to pull them even closer together; so close that Derek can’t ignore that they’re both hard, breathing heavy, halfway to fucking on the kitchen counter.

The door slams open. Derek knows it’s Allison before he hears her gasp of surprise.

“Sorry!” she cries out. When Derek manages to drag himself away from Stiles—neck and face red with stubble burn, looking thoroughly debauched and too smug for his own good—she’s still in the doorway, staring at them with her eyebrows disappearing into her hairline.

“Sorry,” she says again, and Derek can tell that she’s genuinely apologetic. “I was just—worried about where Stiles was, and Isaac—suggested the kitchen.”

“Of course he did,” Derek sighs. He keeps his body where it is, positioned carefully to shield Stiles from Allison’s view. “We’ll be out in a minute.”

“Take your time!” Allison says hastily. “Or—not in here, because that’s kind of gross, but we can eat later.” She lets the door swing shut and Derek can hear her punching Isaac—hard—back in the living room.

Stiles moves back in, leaning up to kiss the corner of Derek’s mouth. “If you really wanted to traumatize them for life, we could actually fuck in the kitchen.”

Derek takes a breath, tries to remind himself that he’s not a horny teenager who can’t keep it in his pants for more than five minutes. It’s surprisingly difficult to do, with Stiles pressed all along his front, still breathing hard.

“That’s—not a good idea,” Derek finally says. “Erica might come in and watch.”

Stiles laughs and again, Derek can feel it. Stiles laughs with his whole body, every time; it’s a beautiful thing to watch and an even better one to feel, up close and personal as they are. Derek kisses Stiles one last time—finally on the lips—lets himself linger a little before he pulls away.

A second later, he looks down to find that all the water has boiled over and the potatoes are dry as a bone; the bottom of his pot is burnt and the beans in the chili look over cooked, cracked open.

Stiles follows his line of sight, starts chuckling at the sight of the food.

“I’m going to kill you,” Derek says, as calmly as possible. Now that he’s focusing, he can tell that all the food in the oven is overdone, too.

Stiles snorts. “I guess I was just too good of a distraction.”

Derek shoves him off the counter. “Now you get to go tell everyone why we have to order take out. And think of a way to entertain seven hungry wolves for the next hour.”

“Oh, I can think of at least one,” Stiles says, and cackles as Derek chases him out of the kitchen.

***

“Stiles, though?” Cora asks, wrinkling her nose.

“Yes, Stiles,” Derek says, trying to be patient. “Remember when you told me about Isaac, and I started to complain, and you told me it was none of my fucking business, and I shut up?”

“Yes,” Cora says. “For five minutes. Remember how you continued giving me shit about it for the next year until I beat the crap out of you during sparring?”

“Yeah,” Derek admits. “And now I really regret that.”

“Oh, I don’t,” Cora says, smiling. “Because now I get a year to bother both of you. And I have so many ideas.”

“We might not—” Derek starts, before he stops himself.

Cora is too quick not to pick up on it. “Might not what? Be together in a year? Don’t make me laugh,” she says.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Cora rolls her eyes. “I’ve been waiting for you two to hook up since high school. I guess waiting until he was back in California was smarter than doing long-distance—”

“We—this just started.”

“No, this started six years ago and you were both too chicken to do anything about it,” Cora says bluntly. “I was there. Don’t treat me like I’m an idiot.”

“I’m not,” Derek says. “I promise.” Cora is sensitive about odd things, even now, things that she’ll never talk to Derek about. He’s got his own problems, though, walls that rise up when he’s threatened, and he’s willing to bet that Cora is just as confused when he does it. They find a way to work around the silences.

Cora pins him with a look. “I guess it’s possible that you were both too dense to recognize it. Although I want you to know that I find that very sad. In a pathetic sense.”

“Noted,” Derek says. “Is the Spanish Inquisition over yet?”

“Why, do you have another date?” she asks and he can’t control his flush. Cora crows at his expression. “You do.” She shakes her head. “Stiles Stilinski. I reserve the right to threaten to break his legs if he hurts you.”

“He has mountain ash.”

“And I have claws and you’re my big brother. I win. Go get ready, I can’t look at your sappy face anymore. It’s giving me indigestion.” She walks into the living room and Derek can hear her calling Isaac. “Fine. I owe you fifty bucks. Are they really that gross together?” She shudders.

Derek reflects that it’s a good thing that Allison, not Cora, caught them in the kitchen the week before. He really doesn’t want to be responsible for mentally scarring his sister; he’s going to have to be vigilant when Stiles is over.

Stiles lets himself into the house while Derek is upstairs changing. He and Cora are still sniping at each other when he comes back down.

“Look, I’m just saying,” Stiles tells her. “I don’t have any siblings and you can’t threaten me with stories about Isaac’s dick; I’ve already seen it. So that’s a no to the bribe, the extortion, and the threat. I, on the other hand—”

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Derek says, grabbing Stiles by the shoulder and steering him towards the door. “And don’t talk about my dick. With anyone. Especially my sister.”

Stiles’ beet red face and Cora’s laughter make the indignity of having to say such a sentence worth it.

“She was trying to give me the “you break his heart” speech,”” Stiles explains, once they’re outside and walking. “Is that really a thing?”

Derek swallows hard around a sudden lump in his throat. “I tried to do it for Laura, once, and she laughed so hard I thought she would choke to death. Cora probably remembers.”

“Oh,” Stiles says. “Was—did he?”

Derek shrugs. “It wasn’t too long before we left town.” After the fire, he doesn’t say. “If he’d broken her heart, Laura would have broken his legs herself. She was like that.”

“I wish I’d known her,” Stiles blurts out. “Every time you and Cora talk about her, it’s—”

“She would have liked you,” Derek says, not even needing to think about it. “You two would have made my life hell.”

“Yeah,” Stiles say, unapologetic. “I do that with everybody, you know.”

“I have noticed,” Derek says. Stiles slugs him the shoulder.

“Sometimes, I think—” he starts, then stops. Derek waits until Stiles gets his thoughts under control. “My mom would really have liked you.”

“You think?” Derek asks, surprised. He’s seen the sheriff around town a few times now, since Stiles returned. Every time, it seems like the other man is sizing him up from a distance; he doesn’t know if Stiles has said anything, but it’s a small town and gossip travels fast.

“Definitely,” Stiles says. “I can just picture you two having coffee together in the kitchen on Sunday, you know, talking and conspiring.”

“She wouldn’t have minded—” He trails off, waiting for Stiles to pick up the thread but he doesn’t, just stares at Derek. “Older, male, werewolf?”

Stiles actually laughs at that. “She was nineteen when she met my dad. And he was twenty five, a fact I reminded him of when—uh—”

“When he told you dating me was a bad idea?” Derek says. He tries to be gentle about it; clearly, Stiles went against his father’s wishes, so Derek can’t complain. And he gets it: who would want their kid with someone like Derek?

Stiles flushes. “No. He didn’t. And he doesn’t think that, he was just—surprised. When I told him. Because I was pretty emphatic before about not—liking you like that.”

“Before?”

“You know.” Stiles waves a hand. “Before. Can we stop talking about this before I spontaneously combust from embarrassment?”

Derek doesn’t see what’s embarrassing about the situation at all, but he lets the matter drop. “Okay. Thanks. For telling me about her. It’s nice to think that she would have liked me.”

“She would have made a lot of dirty jokes about us. I didn’t really realize she did that—I was too young to get most of them—but she used to mortify my dad. Especially when they were in public. I think she liked seeing him blush.”

“That I understand,” Derek says, smiling when he sees Stiles’ neck turning red.

“Alright, enough sappiness for the night. Let’s go watch a zombie apocalypse.”

***

The next few weeks are more of the same. The pack is going through an unprecedented quiet spell. Since high school ended, the incidence of supernatural occurrences has dropped dramatically—Lydia created some kind of graph, which Derek pretended to understand—but things are so calm in Beacon Hills that he’s afraid that they’re in the eye of a brutal hurricane.

“That doesn’t make sense,” Lydia says, when he brings it up at the next pack meeting. “If it were comparable to a hurricane, we would have had a high level of activity before this period.”

“You know what I mean,” Derek says, and pretends not to see Lydia rolling her eyes at Allison as he turns to the others. “Nothing unusual during any patrols? No suspicious people in town?”

“It’s like you want something bad to happen,” Isaac gripes. He’s sprawled across a couch, channel surfing at rapid speed. “Don’t we deserve some rest and relaxation?”

“You work part-time, dude, you get more rest than anyone else here,” Scott calls from across the room.

“Give him a break, guys,” Stiles says. “It is weird that we haven’t had anything in town in weeks. And before you say anything, Lydia, I’ve looked at the charts; it doesn’t fit the patterns.”

“You don’t have to stick up for him just because you’re dating, you know,” Cora chimes in, and everyone starts laughing when Stiles turns red.

“Out,” Derek says, and everyone stops mid-laughter.

“What?” Allison asks.

“Everybody out. Meeting’s over,” Derek snaps.

“Are you seriously—” Cora begins, and Derek snarls at her. She blinks at him in surprise, before baring her teeth and dragging Isaac off the couch and out the front door. The others quickly follow, but not before Boyd gives him a “what the fuck?” look as he exits.

Stiles is the last one to make his way out, but Derek snags his wrist before he gets too far. “Not you.”

“Are you—” Stiles stops and stares at him. “Was that—did you just throw them out for me?”

“They shouldn’t act like that, it’s disrespectful,” Derek says, feeling embarrassed now that he thinks about it.

“And they say chivalry is dead,” Stiles quips. “Dude, you can’t yell at them every time they make a joke about me now that we—”

“Why not?” Derek asks.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Number one, I can defend myself—you don’t even know what kind of sick burns I have prepared for Cora.”

“I don’t think I want to know,” Derek tells him.

“Probably,” Stiles says. “Number two, you can’t—it’s like favoritism, just because you want to mack on me doesn’t mean you can treat me differently.”

“Number one,” Derek says, mockingly, and Stiles gives him an unimpressed look. “Don’t say the words “mack on” ever again. Please.”

“Yeah, that sounded better in my head,” Stiles agrees. “And number two?”

Derek shifts uncomfortably. “I don’t want them giving you trouble about this. It’s our thing, it’s not—”

Stiles pats him on the shoulder. “Welcome to the over involvement of packmates, man. If you think that Scott and Erica haven’t already hit me up for every single detail of our time alone, you’re so wrong.”

“What did you tell them?”

Stiles grins. “That Erica is committing to the wrong guy and that Scott’s an idiot for never trying out men. No, don’t worry, I told them to mind their own business and that they’d be sorry for being so curious someday.”

“You’re planning something terrible, aren’t you?”

“Maybe,” Stiles hedges. “Well, terrible for them, great for me and you.”

“You don’t have to lecture me on pack life, I get it,” Derek says. “Just—” He doesn’t know how to say what he means in the right way: that he doesn’t want the others making Stiles uncomfortable, or scaring him off. Which is dumb, because this whole thing is based on a lie, it’s not even real, it’s just Derek co-opting Stiles’ feelings for someone else and he’s still guarding it more jealously than any other relationship of his life. Werewolves don’t get headaches, but Derek pinches the bridge of his nose anyway. His mother always called it psychosomatic.

“I get it,” Stiles tells him. “I don’t want them making you think twice about doing this, either.”

“What?” Derek says. “No, it’s not that.”

“Oh,” Stiles replies, cheeks starting to turn pink. It’s more adorable than it has any right to be.

“I don’t have—second thoughts about this. Or you,” Derek says. “I just don’t want them teasing you about me.”

“Because you don’t want me having second thoughts?” Stiles asks.

Derek shrugs, trying to play casual instead of blurting out, “exactly.”

“That’s something you super don’t have to worry about,” Stiles tells him. “Like, worry about me wasting away in Beacon Hills without a job, be concerned that Erica is trying to peer pressure me into details about your kissing techniques, sure, but second thoughts about this—you—are something you can cross off that list right now.”

“Oh,” Derek says, stupidly. "Okay."

Stiles grins at him. “Want to get pizza?”

“Sure,” Derek says, and lets Stiles pull him out the front door.

***

Scott comes back the next day, looking bashful.

“Sorry,” he says as soon as Derek opens the front door. “About yesterday. I know this is a big deal for you guys, we shouldn’t have made fun of you. I talked to Cora.”

“You talked to her?”

“Yeah, we had a mini-meeting at Starbucks when we left here. She gets it, too.”

Derek must still look skeptical, because Scott asks, “Can I come in?”

He considers just shutting the door and going back to bed, but that’s the Derek of six years ago, not the mature, responsible Alpha of today. He goes to the kitchen and Scott follows.

“I’m really happy for you two,” Scott begins. “I was a little worried, when you started dating—”

“Stiles is an adult—”

“Worried about both of you,” Scott interrupts. “You’re both my friends, and you’re my Alpha. I don’t want either of you to get hurt.”

Derek tries to scoff, but Scott’s face is too earnest.

“But I think you’re really good for each other. Everyone thinks so.”

“Even Cora?”

“She said, and I quote, “It’s my job to bust his balls, I’m his sister.””

Derek cringes, but he’s suddenly glad that this discussion happened outside of his hearing. “Balls” is so high on the list of words he doesn’t need to hear Cora say in front of him.

“We all made the same face. Except Allison, she just laughed.”

“I get it,” Derek says. “I have your blessing, everyone’s going to leave us alone now.”

“Oh, they’re not going to leave you alone,” Scott says. “If you’re lucky, they’ll be quiet to your face.” He laughs, probably at Derek’s expression. “Think about it this way—if we weren’t teasing you, you’d know something was wrong with it.”

“Great,” Derek says. “Thanks for that.”

Scott moves forward, pulls Derek into a hug before he can protest. “You think we’re bad, wait till he brings you home to the Sheriff. He’s going to eat you alive, man.”

Derek is still thinking about it after Scott leaves. He may be a walking lie detector, but the Sheriff is trained law enforcement. If Stiles brings Derek home to meet his dad—but that’s getting ahead of himself. Stiles hasn’t said—it’s been less than a month, that’s nothing.

Cora’s words come back to him: “this started six years ago.”

He goes for a run, can’t get his mind off of it. When he started this, he’d had a plan: to keep Stiles away from Erica, selfishly reaping the benefits of their “relationship” until after the wedding was over. Now, though, everything has gotten mixed up in his head. He’s playing house, getting too comfortable, thinking that this real. Thinking it isn’t going to blow up in his face sooner or later, just like everything else does.

Derek runs for an hour at a punishing pace. He’s drenched in sweat when he gets home, irrationally angry at everything around him because he’s spent the last sixty minutes thinking about how stupid and complacent he’s been. They’re coming up on the wedding and he needs to take care of this before it goes any further.

***

“What if we just left,” Derek says. He’s been thinking about it for a while, turning the idea over in his mind. On the one hand: the wedding is two weeks away. It’s a dangerous time. Derek and Stiles might be, for all intents and purposes, dating, but that hasn’t stopped Erica from loudly demanding “Stiles time” whenever she feels like it and dragging him away. Stiles shoots Derek an apologetic look every time, but still lets her pull him along. They haven’t done anything; Derek would be able to tell, and he doesn’t think Stiles would do something like that to him, now, but—running off with Stiles two weeks before the wedding and not returning until after it’s over might still be the smartest play. The more he thinks about it, the more convinced he is that it’s the best way to do this.

On the other hand, it might also be—nice. To just go away with Stiles for a little while and take a vacation. That’s the side he keeps trying to ignore, to push past, because it’s the wrong way to think about this. Derek hadn’t realized, until right now, how dangerous this whole scheme has become. Not to Stiles. To him.

Derek hasn’t been out of California in years. He doesn’t remember liking it, when he left with Laura the first time or Cora the second, but maybe it would be different if he went with Stiles. Everything’s different when it comes to Stiles, lately.

“Where do you want to go?” Stiles asks. He’s pressed up against Derek’s back, half draped over him so that they both fit on the couch. It’s a squeeze, but Derek likes the feeling of being pressed down, Stiles’ weight caging him in. He’s rubbing one foot absently over Derek’s calf and the friction is making him shiver.

“I don’t know,” Derek says. “Anywhere. We could take a vacation—”

Stiles laughs a little. “I’ve only been back for a month, I don’t think I deserve a vacation yet.”

“Maybe I do,” Derek says, and Stiles hums, pulls back so that they can look at each other.

“If anyone does, it’s you,” he agrees. “After the wedding? We could—”

“What about right now,” Derek interrupts, and Stiles cuts off mid-word. He gives Derek a funny look.

“The wedding’s in two weeks, we can’t just—”

“We don’t really need to be here for that,” Derek tries, while Stiles narrows his eyes. “It’s just a ceremony, it’s not—”

“The most important day of your Beta’s life?” Stiles asks. “You’re being really weird. What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Derek says. “I just thought—forget it.”

“Is this about—” Stiles begins, stopping himself and taking a deep breath. “Look, I know it’s going to be hard, watching Erica—move to another pack.” He waves one hand around. “I know that’s not really—but she won’t be here as much, she’s going to be a Rodriguez, everything’s changing. And that’s—I can’t imagine how hard that must be for you, having to watch it happen. But it would—you’d break her heart, if you weren’t there.”

“I know,” Derek says quietly. “I just thought, maybe if I went away for a little while before, it wouldn’t be so hard. Just a week.” He shrugs, purposely keeps his eyes down so Stiles can’t see the lie in them. “You don’t have to—I’ll go myself, I’ll be back before.”

“Hey,” Stiles objects. “You can’t just—uninvite me, that’s rude.” He looks off to the side. “I could probably pawn the rest of my wedding duties off on Scott and Allison and we could take a week. We didn’t really—” He ducks his head, blushing a little. “We haven’t had that much time to ourselves since, uh, this whole thing started. It might be nice, not being interrupted every five minutes. I swear, they’re doing it on purpose.”

“Probably,” Derek agrees. “So, a week? And then we’ll be back in time for the wedding. Actually, for the bachelorette party, too.”

Stiles groans theatrically, tries to throw himself back off of Derek. “Maybe we should do a week and a day.”

You don’t know the half of it, Derek thinks. It’s a perfect plan: leave with Stiles. Return without him. If he takes Stiles to a city with a friendly, allied pack, he can tell them that Stiles is in danger, ask them to keep him under cover for a week. No one will question a favor for the Alpha. And he can lie to the pack, tell them that Stiles was trapped in the airport by bad weather and had to miss the ceremony. By the time Stiles gets back, it’ll be done: the wedding will be over, the alliance sealed, and everyone will be safe. Stiles will hate him forever; that’s okay, though. It’s nothing Derek doesn’t deserve. He might be mad enough to leave the pack, leave Beacon Hills. And Derek will never see him again, but it’ll be alright, because everyone will be alive. Whole.

“Where do you want to go?” Stiles asks. He bounces up and down like a little kid. “Let’s make a list! Top five vacation spots, and then we’ll compare, see if anything matches up.” He scrambles off the couch and over to Derek’s desk, rifling through his papers as he searches for something to write on. “Don’t you have—” He stops short.

Derek cranes his neck to see what’s happening. “Stiles, at a loss for words? The world must be ending.” Stiles doesn’t answer and Derek’s at a bad angle, can only see Stiles holding a piece of paper in one hand. He gets up, moves closer. Sees, while he’s still at a distance, that the sheet of paper Stiles is holding only has a few words on it.

Seducing Stiles Before He Can Ruin Erica’s Wedding and Get Us All Killed, he reads from across the room. Stiles is frozen in place, looking down at the hastily scrawled title like he’s can’t understand it. It’s only thirteen careless words, but Derek watches Stiles’ mouth move, like he has to read the words out loud for them to make sense.

“Stiles, that’s not—it isn’t what it looks like.”

Stiles looks up at him. Looks through him, it feels like, and Derek can only imagine the mental slideshow flashing through his head, the last month, everything they’ve done. He wants to open his mouth, offer an explanation or an excuse, the longer Stiles stays silent.

“This whole time?” Stiles asks, after a minute that feels longer. “That’s what this whole thing has been about? Keeping me away from Erica because, what, you thought we were going to run off together?”

“No, that wasn’t—I wasn’t—”

Stiles laughs, short and brittle. “I’m literally holding the proof in my hands, Derek. Can you respect me enough to just admit that you’ve been—playing me, from the beginning?”

Derek shakes his head like he can make it not true if he just—tries hard enough. “That’s how it started, but Stiles, I wasn’t lying. About, about the things I said—”

“The things you said,” Stiles repeats, mouth curled down in a sneer. “Like how much you liked me? How you always liked me, but you were waiting until after college, until I was old enough to make my own choices? That you’d been thinking about me ever since I got out of the car and sat on your couch looking like this? Those things you said?”

“Yes,” Derek says. “That was all—that was real, Stiles, I swear.”

“Bullshit,” Stiles says. He looks back down at the paper, like he still can’t believe it. “How could you—how could you do something like this to me? You, of all people?”

He’s talking about Kate, Derek realizes, like a shock to his system. Stiles is the only one who knows the whole story; the others might suspect, probably do, but they’ve never said anything. Stiles sat him down, after the Alpha pack had left, and looked at him for a long time before saying, “I know. About the fire.”

“How—?” Derek had begun, but Stiles had just shrugged.

“I put it together. You don’t have to—I just wanted you to know. If you ever need to talk about it and you don’t want to tell anyone else, you can talk to me.”

Derek had never taken Stiles up on the offer, hadn’t even considered it; he didn’t want to talk to anyone about the fire or Kate. Stiles had never brought it up again.

“It’s not like that,” he tries to argue. “Stiles, it’s not—I wasn’t—”

“Save it,” Stiles spits. “You’ve been lying to me for the last month, I don’t want to hear anything else you have to say.” The hand that’s holding the sheet paper is shaking; of all the things Derek never expected to see, Stiles that out control is on the top of the list.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “Stiles, I’m sorry.”

Stiles balls the paper up in one fist. “Sorry I caught you, you mean.” He laughs, short and bitter. “Am I really—so terrible, that you had to fake a whole—a whole, just to keep me away from her?”

“It’s not about that,” Derek says, swallowing around the lump in his throat. “It’s not you—”

“Don’t finish that,” Stiles interrupts. “I don’t even want to know what stupid thing you were going to say.” He tosses the paper at Derek, who ducks reflexively. “See you around.”

***

“What did you do?” Erica demands, shouldering her way past Derek and into the house. She’s supposed to be in Santa Barbara with David, their last two weeks of freedom before the wedding, but Derek couldn’t be that lucky. Instead, he has to deal with a bratty, insubordinate Beta when all he wants is to be left alone.

“Woke up, worked out, did the dishes,” Derek says flippantly. He has to work to keep his voice light. Erica turns around and pins him with a dirty look. “You asked.”

“Asshole. I meant, what did you do to Stiles?”

Derek sighs. There isn’t going to be any way for him to get out of this conversation but he’s afraid to let it continue. He doesn’t know if he can keep it together in front of Erica. “Why don’t you tell me, since you seem to already have your own idea.”

“You broke his heart,” Erica accuses. “He just called and told me he’s leaving.”

Derek fights to keep his expression neutral. “Leaving?”

“He’s going back to Boston. Tomorrow. Conveniently enough, right before the wedding.”

“I didn’t tell him to go,” Derek says, defensively.

“But you did something,” Erica says. It’s not a question. “A week ago, you two were disgusting: holding hands, sneaking around to make out in corners—”

“We were not!” Derek protests, knowing it’s a weak excuse.

“Whatever,” Erica says, waving a hand, “you know what I mean. And out of the blue, he just up and leaves? What happened?”

“None of your business,” Derek says. She’s his Beta, but that doesn’t mean he has to give her this.

“Like hell it’s not,” Erica snaps back. “He was one of my groomsmen, you just ruined my entire wedding.”

Despite himself, Derek can’t help feel a stab of guilt. The whole point of this plan was to save the wedding, save the pack, but he never wanted that at the expense of Erica’s happiness.

Her hands are on her hips. “Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”

When Erica came back, right in the middle of that last fight with the Alphas, Derek had never expected her to stay. He never expected any of them to stay, if he was being honest with himself: Erica, Boyd, Isaac. They all deserved better than Derek, better than an Alpha who had no idea what he was doing and had gotten them all almost killed more times than he could count. Scott was going to be an Alpha, when all was said and done, and Derek had been sure Isaac would join his pack, that Boyd might do the same, and that Erica would leave Beacon Hills again. She might have rejoined them out of a sense of loyalty, a knowledge that the Alpha pack had to be brought down, but that wouldn’t be enough to keep her when the battle was over, Derek knew.

Erica had sat down next to him. He was at the bottom of the escalator, legs splayed out, too tired to move. He was regrowing his spleen and both his kneecaps were slowly knitting themselves back together. Kali’s body was on the floor in front of him, head separated from her body. Derek had never been so glad to see a dead person in his life.

“So,” she said. “What’s the plan, boss?”

All around him, the others were slowly pulling themselves together. Ethan was helping Danny to his feet, checking him over for injuries. Scott was in a corner with Allison and Isaac, flexing his fingers while they spoke in low voices. Deucalion’s body was next to them. Argent and Stilinski were methodically checking the others bodies, the Sheriff getting a crash course in how to kill a werewolf, while Boyd was doing a final perimeter sweep. Stiles and Lydia had disappeared.

Derek looked at Erica. It seemed to take a long time to turn his head all the way to the side. “No plan,” he rasped out. “Everyone heal up, and then you can go.”

“Go where?”

“Wherever,” Derek shrugged. “Scott is an Alpha, now; you can join him, if you want to stay in Beacon Hills, or you can go anywhere you want. I can make some calls; you’ll have a pack wherever you go.”

Erica narrowed her eyes at him, like she was trying to sense the lie. “I’m not going anywhere. And I don’t need McCall as my Alpha, I already have one.”

“You came back to help us fight the Alphas,” Derek said. “That’s over now, you don’t need to stick around.”

“Yeah, but I want to,” Erica said, bumping her shoulder against his. At his pained noise, she grimaced. “Sorry. But I’m serious: I’ve got a pack, I’ve got Boyd, I’ve got my family. Everything I need is right here.”

“I’m not fit to be anyone’s Alpha,” Derek told her. “Look at this mess, look at how long it took us to deal with this. We almost lost you, Boyd—it’s a miracle no one’s dead.”

“No, it’s not,” she said quietly. “It’s not a miracle, it’s because we worked together and put our shit to the side and fought as one. And that’s because we had you, keeping us together.”

Derek shook his head, but Erica didn’t stop. “You saved me. You saved Boyd. You brought us together so that we could come up with a plan to stop them. I mean, your personality still kind of sucks, but you’re a good Alpha.” She laughed at Derek’s expression. “I’m kidding. About the personality part, obviously.”

“Sleep on it,” Derek had said. “You might feel differently in the morning.”

But the next day, they’d all showed up at the loft, even Danny.

“We left our parents at home,” Stiles explained, standing next to Allison in the doorway. “We decided it would be easier to fill them in ourselves. Although you’re definitely going to get a visit from your friendly neighborhood sheriff in the next few days. It may feel like an interrogation, but just remember: it’s all off the record.”

“What are you doing here?” Derek demanded. He’d thought he was dreaming, for a second, at the sight of so many teenagers in the hallway.

“Hashing out pack details,” Erica said, pushing past everyone and dragging Boyd through the door. “Is Isaac up yet? I texted him that we were coming.”

“Yeah,” Cora called out from the second floor. “We made coffee.”

“Good, we brought breakfast,” Danny said, smiling at Derek as he followed the others in. “Lydia ordered, of course.”

Jennifer was already in the kitchen, talking to the others, when Scott came through the door last. “You did a good job,” Scott told him. He smiled. “Yeah, I didn’t think I’d ever say it, either.”

Stiles and Lydia had hashed out an entire agreement before the first round of coffee was done. Derek sat at his own kitchen table, in shock at their skills. Derek would be the Alpha, with Scott his de-facto second because of his own Alpha powers. Boyd was their real second; Derek privately thought that Boyd would make a great Alpha, someday. The humans—or quasi-humans, in Stiles and Lydia’s cases—were formally accepted into the pack, not because of their existing relationships with any pack members, but on their own merits. Jennifer was part of the pack, too.

Everyone would be around for at least the next year, and then when it came time for college, they would renegotiate. Ethan was leaving town—he knew that he’d never be able to stay in Beacon Hills and Derek didn’t think he wanted to, either, after Aiden’s death. He and Danny were going to try long-distance; “It’s only a year until graduation,” Danny said with a shrug. “We’ll figure it out.”

Things didn’t magically improve after that: senior year had its own weird brand of supernatural shit. Scott and Allison’s break up threatened to tank everyone’s friendships, and Derek and Cora spent most of that time trying to fix their own relationship. The two weeks when everyone was waiting for their acceptance letters might have been the most stressful time of Derek’s life, and that was saying a lot. After graduation, Jennifer was offered the opportunity to teach at a university in France and she went.

The four years of college were a work in progress the whole damn time. Stiles went to Boston, alone; Scott was inconsolable for the first three months. Lydia kept trying to blow off pack stuff because she was overloading herself at school. Erica and Boyd broke up, but stayed friends; Cora and Isaac finally admitted that all their sniping was really unresolved sexual tension and started dating. Derek went into a long period of denial about 90% of what his pack was up to, which Stiles told him was really unhealthy.

It’s been a long, hard trip to the present. The pack has fought their way through hell—personal and collective—to get where they are now and that’s really what Derek wanted for them, all along. He swallows hard.

“You should go to him,” he says.

Erica’s jaw drops. “What?”

“Stiles,” he forces out. “You should—you should go to Boston. He’s—I’ll take care of everything here, don’t worry about that. Just, just go.”

“Derek, what are you saying?”

“This whole time, I was trying to keep you away from each other because of the wedding.” Because it’s going to be war, he doesn’t say. She doesn’t need to be reminded of that. “But that doesn’t matter anymore. You should be together, if that’s what you want. I’ll explain it to Maria.”

She squints at him. “You told me breaking a marriage alliance was tantamount to suicide for werewolves.”

“No,” he lies, concentrating to keep his heart steady. “She’ll understand. We’ll just have to offer her tribute in exchange, it’s—it’s not a big deal.”

“Right,” she says. “So I’m just supposed to leave my fiancé and fly to Boston to chase down Stiles?”

“He’s what you really want,” Derek says. “And you’re what he wants, so. It makes sense.”

Erica stares at him for a long time. “Okay,” she says. “I’ll get right on that.”

He sits on the couch for a long time after she’s gone. It still smells like Stiles.

***

The meeting is at Derek’s. It’s not particularly nice, but the pack needs every advantage they can get, and being in the magically reinforced Hale house will give them at least a little bit of an edge.

He makes everyone come, even though Lydia complains that they have a specially designed calendar expressly for the purpose of avoiding conflicts between pack days and beach days.

Maria is flanked by her second—her sister Rosa—and all four of her children. Derek can’t meet David’s eyes, so he lets his eyes linger to the side. Angela smiles at him and Derek just feels even worse.

“I confess, I’m a little confused by a meeting so close to the wedding,” Maria says. She turns to her son with a teasing smile. “Don’t tell me you decided to elope and you wanted witnesses so I wouldn’t kill you!”

Everyone laughs except for Derek. This is going to be really bad. He can see Cora looking at him askance, feeling his distress, but he doesn’t look back at her.

“I called the meeting,” Derek says. “Because I have an announcement to make. Erica—”

“Is late, as usual!” Erica calls out as she rushes through the front door. “Sorry! I got caught up with wedding stuff. And here I thought we’d be done with the stupid planning already.” She drops down on David’s lap and he lets out an exaggerated “oomph.” “Oh, shut up.”

“Erica, what are you doing here?” Derek asks. She’s supposed to be on a plane. Stiles is, or will be, and Erica is supposed to be flying to Boston with him so they can be happy together, away from all this—

“Well, you couldn’t really make the announcement without me, could you?” Erica says, challenging. “Since it’s really mine and David’s news, not yours.”

Derek feels bewildered—is she actually going to tell David she’s leaving him, in front of his own family? Erica can’t be that cruel or stupid, she has to know better—

“We’re moving to Santa Cruz after the wedding!” Erica says. David doesn’t bat an eye. “We decided it would be the best thing; that way, we’re in between both packs and we can visit both of you easily.”

“I know we’re closer to here, mom,” David says, a little apologetically. “But we wanted to be on the beach, not inland, and Santa Cruz is the best spot.”

Maria nods her head. “Well. I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed. I had hoped you two might take me up on my offer.” Maria owns acres of property in Santa Barbara, a few empty houses. She had offered one to Erica and David as a gift, but they’d held off on answering until after the wedding.

“It was very generous,” Erica says. “But I’d like to be close to both of my families.”

Maria shrugs gracefully. “Whatever you two decide. It’s going to be your home, after all.”

“What about Stiles,” Derek says, apropos of nothing. He thinks he may have shouted a little, judging by the looks of alarm on everyone’s faces. “Erica, you didn’t go with him?”

“Obviously not,” Erica says, just lounging on David like it’s no big deal. “I mean, I’m here, right?”

“Who’s Stiles?” Bobby Rodriguez asks.

“One of the pack humans,” Rosa says, carelessly.

“Don’t call him that,” Derek snaps, pointing a finger at her. Maria looks alarmed, but Erica looks like she’s holding back a laugh. “Did you see him, did you tell him—”

“Well, yeah,” Erica says. “I said goodbye, and I wished him good luck in Boston.”

“But you didn’t—” Derek begins, not even sure where he’s going with his sentence. Tell him you love him, tell him you’re leaving David, promise to go with him—

“There was nothing else to say,” Erica says, almost gently. “Because I’m not in love with him, and he’s not in love with me.”

The whole room erupts into noise. Erica and Dere are the only two immune to it; Maria and her Betas are all turned towards David, asking him questions, demanding answers about who their future pack mate is really in love with. He’s answering them all calmly, reassuring them, but Derek can’t quite make out any words. Behind him, his entire pack is arguing and shouting; all he can pick out is Lydia saying, “I didn’t think they could be that stupid,” and Cora saying, “I should have known.”

Derek is staring at Erica, not understanding what’s going on around him. “I thought—”

“Yeah, I get that now,” Erica says wryly. “But all that flirting, that’s just how we do things. Don’t you remember Batman and Catwoman? I haven’t liked him since high school. I mean, he’s sexy as hell—” She jumps a little as David pokes her in the side. “Whatever, you think so too, don’t front.”

Derek watches in disbelief as David’s ears turn red. Apparently no one is immune to Stiles.

“But,” Erica says, dragging his attention back to her, “we’re not having some sort of secret love affair. And by the way, I’m actually really offended that you thought I would leave my fiancé at the altar for anyone. What am I, a soap opera villain?”

“You just seemed so—and he was—”

“That’s because I am in love,” Erica says. “With David. And Stiles is in love. With you.”

“No, he’s not,” Derek says, knee-jerk. “He thought it was—but it wasn’t.”

“Are you trying to tell me you haven’t been in love with Stiles for years? And that when you saw him last month it didn’t hit you all over again?” Erica asks. The entire room quiets down to hear his answer, but Derek can’t say anything. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Derek offers quietly. “He isn’t—everything he thought was true was a lie.”

“If you think he fell in love with you in a month, you’re an idiot,” Erica says. “He’s loved you for years, Derek. That’s why he fell so hard now; because he thought you were finally willing to go for it. So, unless you’ve been lying about your entire personality since high school, then you’re wrong about how he feels.”

“I lied to him,” Derek says, around the lump in his throat. “He’ll never believe me, he’ll never trust me again.”

“He’ll get over it,” Erica says firmly. “We all do.”

Everyone is looking at him but Derek stays where he is, tries to think, to come up with a plan, to figure out how he so totally misread the situation—

“Don’t think about it,” Cora says from beside him. “Just go.”

He goes.

***

The Sheriff’s house is his first stop. Before last month, it had been years since Derek had been back. He eyes Stiles’ window on the second floor, wonders if he can slip to the side of the house and jump without being seen by any nosy neighbors.

The front door opens before Derek can make a decision. The Sheriff stands in the doorway, arms crossed, looking Derek up and down with a heavy frown.

“Can I help you, Mr. Hale?”

Derek winces. Breaking out the last name is never a good sign; he and the Sheriff aren’t friendly, not by a long shot, but the other man can generally be counted on to be civil, at least.

“I’m looking for Stiles,” he says, and the Sheriff’s frown deepens. “Sir,” he adds, belatedly.

“You do realize that, not only am I more than a little disinclined to give out my son’s location to you, I’m actually actively thinking of ways to inflict pain on you? And, rest assured, I’m very inventive.”

At least Derek knows where Stiles gets it from. “I understand. But I just need—”

“I don’t care what you need,” the Sheriff interrupts. “As far as I’m concerned, you lost any and all right to ask for anything when you broke his heart.”

There’s nothing Derek can say to that. The Sheriff is absolutely right; after what he did, how he did it, he doesn’t deserve anything from Stiles.

“Okay,” Derek says. “It’s just, Erica’s wedding.”

The Sheriff doesn’t say anything, but he also doesn’t break out his gun, so that’s something.

“She really wanted him to be there; he’s actually one of her groomsmen. And she’s been planning this for months and if he’s not there, I think they’re both going to suffer. They’re—they’re pretty close.”

“Picked up on that, did you,” the Sheriff says dryly.

Derek hangs his head at that. “Yes. It’s—I’m not going to be there.”

“I thought you were giving her away,” the Sheriff says sharply.

“She’s going to walk herself down the aisle,” Derek says. “Unless—”

“Unless?”

Derek shrugs, deliberately casual. “I thought you might like to do it. I know how close you two are, especially since her father passed away.”

There’s a moment of silence, and when he looks up, the Sheriff is struggling to speak.

“I know she’d be happy to have you,” Derek says. “It was only going to be me because it’s tradition, it’s not—”

“Don’t you think she’ll be a little upset if you’re not there?” the Sheriff asks, when he’s regained his composure.

“I think she’d rather have you and Stiles there and happy,” Derek says, honestly. “I’m going to be on her shit list for a long time because of this.”

The Sheriff stares at him, for a long minute. Derek tries not to squirm, but it’s hard.

“He was talking about bringing you home for dinner,” the Sheriff says quietly. “First person in twenty two years, did you know that?”

“I wasn’t—” Derek starts. Stops. Tries to get it right. “I know it doesn’t mean anything, but I swear to god, I didn’t do this to hurt him. I thought it was the only way to keep them safe.”

The Sheriff hmms. “I know a thing or two about that. It’s not your job to keep him safe, though. You know that right?”

Derek swallows hard. “I couldn’t—I can’t.”

“You can do everything in the world to keep them safe. Put them under lock and key, follow them around forever; it doesn’t make a difference,” the Sheriff tells him. “After my wife died, god. I used to take that poor kid to work with me every day because I was terrified that something would happen to him. I couldn’t lose another person, I would have lost my mind if something had happened to him.”

“I know,” Derek says. He feels sometimes like he’s lived with that fear his whole life. Laura, Cora, his whole pack.

“About a week after that started, he fell in the parking lot and broke his arm. Not a big thing, to a kid that age, but I just freaked out. You would have thought he was dying in front of me. I made it much worse than it had to be, scared the crap out of him.” The Sheriff looks at him. “You follow my meaning?”

“Yeah,” Derek says, hanging his head again. He gets it, he does; it’s just—hard to remember, sometimes.

“I believe you, when you say you didn’t mean to hurt him. Not that that makes a difference to how he feels, but I get it.”

“Will you tell him what I said, about the wedding?” Derek asks. “I’ll be gone tomorrow, he won’t even see me.”

“He’s already gone,” the Sheriff tells him. “I know he told people he was leaving today, but he took the first flight out of here. I tried to tell him to wait, sleep on it and see how he felt when he got up, but he wouldn’t listen. You really bruised him up.”

Derek presses a hand to his forehead. His day is just getting worse and worse; at this point, he might as well run away just to avoid this clusterfuck of a wedding. It’s been a long time since Derek was seriously worried about a knife in the back or wolfsbane in a drink, but it’s pretty even money on which pack member will try to kill him before the week is up.

The Sheriff is shaking his head when Derek chances a look up. “You have it bad. This is just about the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Derek mutters, just low enough for it to not seem like sass.

“He’s at the Crystal Cove Inn,” the Sheriff says. “600 Shirley Street, room ten.”

Derek’s head snaps up so fast that he’s momentarily worried about whiplash, never mind his healing abilities. “What?”

“You heard me,” the Sheriff says. “Practice the apology on your flight, because he’s going to make you work for it. Be prepared to grovel, too. Talk about what an idiot you are, he likes hearing that stuff.”

Still, Derek hesitates. “I thought I didn’t have the right—”

“You don’t,” the Sheriff says flatly. “But I can tell the difference between a man who hurts me son trying to do the right thing and one who does it for kicks. This isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card; you’re going to be working this one off for a long time. But I think, given half the chance, you two could make it work. So.” He looks resigned. “Don’t screw it up again or I really will hurt you. If the others don’t get to your first.”

“Thank you,” Derek says. “Really, thank you.”

It’s the best he’s going to get, so he takes it and goes after Stiles.

***

Derek finds Stiles at a market on Winthrop Street. Stiles is picking out oranges and when he sees Derek, he drops the plastic bag full of them and Derek has a sudden, horrifying flashback to the Godfather. Stiles stares at Derek like he’s seeing a ghost.

“What the hell are you doing here? How did you find me?” he demands.

Derek thinks about telling him that he tracked Stiles by scent, so that he doesn’t get the Sheriff in trouble, but Stiles narrows his eyes before Derek can answer.

“My dad or Scott. Great. Now they’re both dead to me, too.”

Derek winces. “I just need to—”

“I will shoot you full of wolfsbane and leave you here to die,” Stiles says. “What part of my leaving town wasn’t clear to you?”

“I get it,” Derek says. “But it’s not about me, it’s about Erica—”

Stiles holds up a hand. “Look. I don’t need to hear whatever speech you have prepared. I don’t care if you don’t think I’m good enough for Erica. Although—seriously? There’s absolutely nothing going on there, which you would have known, if you’d just thought to ask me—”

“I know,” Derek says quietly. “Believe me, I haven’t stopped thinking about what I could have—what I should have done differently—”

“Anyway,” Stiles says loudly, overriding Derek, “fuck you. I am good enough for her. Or anyone. I’m a catch. Not that that’s really the point here—”

“I know,” Derek repeats. “That’s why—” He stops himself before he can say it, wondering if it’s better to just keep quiet, finish this and leave with his dignity intact.

“Why what?” Stiles snaps. “You’re not making any sense! What the hell were you thinking with this stupid idea?”

Derek swallows hard. “I didn’t think—I thought there was something between you and Erica and that I had to stop it from happening. And I never—I always thought if I asked you out. On a date, a real one, that you—wouldn’t. So it was easier to just—try to keep you away from her like this.”

Stiles stares at him for a full minute. It looks like he’s struggling to process what Derek is saying. “You are so repressed. Did you seriously think—”

“Yes,” Derek interrupts, not wanting to hear Stiles say it.

“—that I would turn you down? Are you crazy? I had a crush on you all through high school. We emailed once a week for four years! Why wouldn’t I—”

“Look at you!” Derek exclaims. “You’re so—everyone has been falling all over you since you got home, I bet it was the same thing here.”

Stiles’ mouth—which was already open to begin with, fuck Derek’s life—has been steadily widening as Derek speaks. “What does that have to do with me not wanting you?”

“Why would you—why would anyone—”

“Because,” Stiles interrupts, “you’re—”

“Yeah,” Derek says, rolling his eyes. “I know how I look, that’s just—”

“Asshole,” Stiles says, cutting Derek off mid-word. “Let me finish. Because you’re amazing.”

That’s the last straw. “Okay,” Derek says sarcastically. “Sure. I’m a high school dropout with no job, I already failed at being an Alpha once, and my pack has barely survived the last six years intact. If Scott were any smarter, I’d be dead.”

He waits for a snappy answer, a pithy reply, but Stiles just stares at him. “Do you really—is that how you see yourself?”

Derek looks down. “It’s not how I see anything, it’s how it is.”

Whatever he was expecting, it’s not this. “You’re someone who was dealt an incredibly shitty hand in life and kept going,” Stiles begins. Derek scoffs, but Stiles just talks over him. “You won’t get a job so that you’re available 24/7 to help anyone who needs you. You kept this pack together and alive for six years in the face of incredible adversity. And you kept me company from four thousand miles away for four years because you knew I was lonely. You’re one of the best people I’ve ever met.”

Derek doesn’t want to say it, but he has to. “I also broke your heart,” he reminds Stiles quietly.

“You’re breaking it worse right now,” Stiles replies. “I wish you’d told me any of this before, man. I thought we were past all the not trusting each other bullshit?”

It’s too much for Derek to take in right now, Stiles’ earnest face staring back at him, all traces of anger gone. “We are,” Derek says. “I do. I just—of course you love Erica. Who wouldn’t? And if she weren’t engaged, I would have been—” He swallows hard. “I would have been happy for you two. But the way the alliance is, if Erica had broken it off, it would have been war.”

Stiles throws his hands up in the air. “I repeat: why didn’t you tell me this? Any of this? You think that if you told me the pack was in danger, I wouldn’t stop whatever I was doing to put them there? Do you think I really follow my dick around that much?”

“I don’t know!” Derek snaps. “I’ve never seen you look—the way you look at Erica. And I thought if I—distracted you from it, the way you felt, maybe you could let it go. And down the line, you’d fall for someone else and then everyone would be happy.”

“Everyone except you,” Stiles says slowly. “Because you would have been alone after all this was over. If you really thought you didn’t mean anything to me but a distraction.”

Derek realizes that he’s breathing hard, that this conversation spiraled so far away from what it was supposed to be—so far into territory that he doesn’t want to, can’t touch. They’re having this argument in the middle of a grocery store, for god’s sake. “I didn’t—I came here to apologize. And to ask you to come back for the wedding. You don’t even have to see me, but Erica—you should be there for her.”

Stiles had been about to say something else, but now he’s eyeing Derek suspiciously. “Of course I’ll see you, you’re giving her away,” he says sharply.

Derek shake his head. “Your dad is; we talked about it. I don’t deserve that.”

Stiles’ jaw does actually drop at that. “So you’re volunteering to miss Erica’s wedding just so that I can be there, after you spent the last six weeks trying to keep me away from her?”

“I was wrong,” Derek says simply. “You shouldn’t have to suffer because I made a mistake. Just—think about it.”

He turns around and leaves. He’d gone straight to Stiles’ hotel room from the airport and dropped off the ticket, so there’s really nothing else to say.

Stiles doesn’t try to stop him from walking away.

***

When Derek gets back to Beacon Hills, he goes straight home and just lies down in bed. The last few days have taken their toll; between the adrenaline rush of his fight with Stiles, the meeting, and his impromptu trip across the country, he’s exhausted. It’s deeper than that, though; he realizes it after the first hour of staring at the ceiling.

He’s spent every day of the last four weeks interacting with Stiles in some way. Mostly, they’d hung out, gone on dates, but even on days when Stiles was busy with the other pack members or his dad, he and Derek had still talked on the phone for at least a few minutes. It was nice, to call someone up and just talk about whatever was going on in their lives; Derek doesn’t do that with anyone but Jennifer anymore.

He wants to pick up the phone and call Stiles.

Instead, he rolls over, pulling his blanket up over his head as he goes. Cora finds him like thirty minutes later, just looking at his blank walls. Stiles still has posters from high school up in his bedroom; Derek had mocked them a little the night he’d snuck in and Stiles had just smiled, said, “I don’t need to redecorate, I might move out soon.” Then they’d fallen asleep together and Derek had had to jump out the window the next morning when he heard the Sheriff coming down the hall.

“Oh my god, you look like a sad burrito,” Cora says, coming over to sit next to him. “What happened in Boston?”

“I gave him a plane ticket and told him to come home for the wedding. I don’t know if he will or not; you should talk to Scott.”

Cora sighs. “Forget the wedding. What happened with you two? Did you tell him how you really feel? Does he get it?”

Derek looks at her hopeful face, remembers how, for all the shit he gave her and Isaac, he really just wanted her to be happy. He remembers looking at Laura the same way in New York, how she ran herself ragged and never gave a thought to settling down because she was so busy trying to fix everything and everyone else. He rolls over to face the opposite wall instead of answering.

Cora doesn’t say anything, just lies down next to him and curves her body around his back. She hugs him tightly and doesn’t let go and they stay like that for another hour.

***

When Derek wakes up, Cora is gone and Lydia is in the corner of his room, staring at him. Normally, Derek would be alarmed to find someone in his room unannounced, especially since he has no idea how long she’s been there or what she’s been doing, but he finds that he doesn’t actually care that much.

“What,” he says, rolling onto his back so he can avoid looking at her.

“There are a lot of things I could say to you,” Lydia begins, and Derek just barely restrains a groan. Lydia in full-lecture mode is a force to be reckoned with; there’s no escaping until she’s done and she can talk for hours when she’s passionate about the subject. Everyone agrees that Lydia probably should just run for president and whip the entire country into shape.

“Like how incredibly stupid and ill-advised your plan was,” she continues, “or that playing with other people’s hearts and emotions is absolutely reprehensible and that you should be ashamed of yourself.”

“You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know,” Derek says.

“Then I’ll save us both the trouble. Did you apologize?”

“Yes,” Derek tells her.

“Did you mean it?”

“Yeah,” he says, voice cracking a little.

Lydia nods. “Then the decision is in Stiles’ hands. And all I’ll say is that if you ever come up with such an idiotic plan again, you run it by one of us. So that we can tell you that you’re a moron and that Stiles has been in love with you since high school.”

At that, Derek rolls back over to stare at Lydia. “How can you—?”

Lydia arches one eyebrow. “Because I have eyes. Stiles has always worn his heart on his sleeve; it’s been obvious to all of us for years how he feels about you.” She smiles, faintly. “And because he admitted it to me. So I did have an advantage there.”

“When?” Derek demands, sitting straight up.

“Not that you have a right to know this, but before we left for college. And again, after he came back, realized that he was falling for you, and asked me what to do.”

“What did you tell him?” Derek asks, almost afraid to hear the answer. Lydia is ruthless and Stiles listens to her: if she told him to cut and run because Derek isn’t worth it, he might.

“I told him what he wanted to hear, which was also the truth: that you’d been mooning over him since he showed up in Beacon Hills and that there was no reason not to go for it. I also gave him some seduction tips. You’re welcome.”

Derek feels his eye twitch a little at that; he realizes abruptly that if he and Stiles—if things work out between them, Lydia is always going to know what’s going on in their sex life, and Cora is going to walk in on them sometimes and be traumatized, and the whole pack lives in each other’s pockets, and everyone is always going to have an opinion and take sides when they have a fight—

Lydia is looking at him closely. It’s fine. It’s more than fine, it’s worth it. For Stiles. “Thanks,” he tells her. “But you owe us for that ruined dinner party.”

Lydia shrugs. “Put it on my tab. I’m just happy it worked.” She stands to leave and comes over to where Derek is still seated on the bed. She kisses his cheek, once. “If he comes back, be good to him. He’s very precious.”

“I know,” Derek says. “Believe me, I know.”

***

When Derek opens his front door a week later, after five minutes of persistent knocking, it’s to find Stiles in front of him, wearing a tux.

Derek is so surprised that he lets Stiles in without protest, even though he realizes after a second that all he’s got on are boxers and a ratty “Kiss Me I’m Irish” tee shirt. The shirt was a gag gift from Stiles, sent to Derek from Boston one March. He likes to sleep in it. Stiles raises one eyebrow at Derek’s chest, but, luckily, doesn’t comment on it.

Stiles look okay; Derek tries to check him out without looking like he’s checking him out. He’s got bags under his eyes, but other than that, he seems fine. Derek tries not to feel upset that Stiles has been handling their—fight better, while Derek had ice cream for dinner last night and let Isaac bully him into watching “When Harry Met Sally” again.

Stiles clucks his tongue. “Come on, get ready.”

It takes a few seconds, but Derek manages to tear himself away from looking at Stiles and ask, “What are you doing here? I thought you were staying in Boston.”

Stiles smiles at him a little, almost shyly, and Derek is afraid he might be having a heart attack at the sight of Stiles, in a tux, smiling at him in the morning sunlight. “Someone made a very compelling argument. We’re going to be late if you don’t get in the shower right now.”

“Late for what?” Derek asks. He’s aware, as he’s saying it, that’s he being pedantic, but he’s also having trouble focusing on anything that isn’t Stiles, back in Beacon Hills, standing in Derek’s foyer. He’s afraid he might be hallucinating.

“Don’t be stupid,” Stiles chides. “Have you showered at all in the last few days? No offense, but you look like you need a lot of work to be presentable.”

“I told you, I’m not going.” Derek hasn’t spoken to Erica since he returned. He’s not sure if she’s mad, disappointed, or so overwhelmed with wedding issues that she doesn’t care about Derek or his problems. “I already—she’s got your dad, and you.”

Stiles blows out a deep breath. “Well, when I RSVP’d, it was with a plus one. If you’re really serious about not ruining Erica’s wedding, you have to come with me.”

Derek really doesn’t want to engage, not when he has no idea what’s going on and is afraid this might all be some revenge scheme, but. “You could find another date.”

“Not one I like as much as you,” Stiles says, cheekily, and Derek is so off-balance that he gives up, just sinks down onto the couch because there’s no universe where this is happening, where Stiles is here for any reason other than Derek’s head on a pike. That doesn’t make sense, though, because Stiles is—Stiles doesn’t hide how he feels, he puts it all out there, and he’s never been shy about telling people how he feels. He’s never been afraid to tell Derek when he’s being an ass or how much he hates him, in those moments, and Derek has always appreciated that: knowing that Stiles will go toe-to-toe with him and never back down.

“A week ago, you hated me,” he offers, faintly, and Stiles grins down at him.

“You still have plenty of groveling to do, if that’s what you’re worried about. Expensive gifts, dinners, all kinds of kinky sex—”

Derek chokes on his spit.

“Let’s save that for after the wedding,” Stiles says, after a pause. He drops the flippancy when he sees the look on Derek’s face. “Look. A week ago, I didn’t know your side of the story. Granted, it’s an incredibly stupid side, and one that could have been avoided if you used your words, but we can work on that.” He winks at Derek. “This is why I’m the man with the plan, remember? Don’t plan stuff. You’re terrible at it.”

“But what you said,” Derek tries. “The last time we were here about how—about how the whole month was a lie.”

Stiles’ face smoothes out at that and he looks young, suddenly, that high schooler who stood in the loft after everyone had left and said, “I’m glad we made it through, man.”

“I wasn’t lying about how I felt,” he says. “Do you believe that?”

Derek doesn’t need to, could tell Stiles the science of werewolf senses; how even after four years apart, Stiles’ tells are obvious and terrible. He can say, empirically and categorically, that he knows Stiles wasn’t lying, wasn’t faking his emotions or his responses.

“Yes,” he says instead. “I believe that.”

Stiles shrugs. “Then I believe you when you say that, even though you started this with dubious intentions, you weren’t lying about how you feel about me.” He drops down in the seat next to Derek, close enough that just an inch or two and they could be kissing. Derek can’t stop his eyes from sliding down to Stiles’ lips.

“Stop that. We have a wedding to go to,” Stiles says, smacking Derek’s thigh gently. “Eyes up here, buddy.”

Derek looks back up to find that Stiles is staring at him. “You really want me to go with you?”

“More than anything,” Stiles says. “I was so excited to make you my plus one, Erica couldn’t stop making fun of what a nerd I am.”

“Yeah, you are,” Derek agrees. When Stiles sputters in protest, he adds, “That’s what I like about you.”

“So can we pick this discussion back up after the wedding shenanigans are done? I don’t know how punctual werewolves are, but I’m in the wedding party and Lydia already told me that she’ll have my head if I’m late.”

“Okay,” Derek agrees, leaning forward to kiss Stiles gently before he can stop himself. “After the wedding is over. We’ll talk about everything.”

“Okay,” Stiles echoes, pulling forward for a kiss of his own before he releases Derek. “Right. Shower, and I’ll make some breakfast.” He slaps Derek on the ass, lightly, when he gets up from the couch and then laughs at the scowl Derek gives him. “Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”

***

If Derek had thought that Erica’s wedding would go off without a hitch, then he’d clearly forgotten who his pack was and what the last seven years of his life had been like.

When he and Stiles make it to the church, it’s chaos.

The Hale and Rodriguez packs are on good terms with each other, sure, but the same can’t be said for all the other assorted wolves present. A Rodriguez had married into the McMillers and David’s godmother is a Hwang. Erica insisted on inviting her college roommate, who’s from the Jean-Noels up north and, apparently, there was a blood feud fifty years ago between them and the Capeks. Tempers are flaring already and it looks like Lydia is in crisis mode, utilizing all the humans present to direct foot traffic to the arranged seats.

It’s probably a good thing, Derek reflects, that everyone is too busy to give him shit for walking in hand in hand with Stiles.

“Thank god,” Allison says when she spots them, Derek not-so-subtly trying to hide himself behind Stiles’ taller frame. “Stiles, I need you on floor duty ASAP until it’s time to gather. Derek, Erica’s waiting for you.”

He shouldn’t be surprised that no one is surprised that he showed up—even if Stiles hadn’t come for him, he probably would have ended up lurking behind a potted plant in the church or hiding in the coat check at the reception hall to keep an eye on everyone. He is a little touched, though, that he was apparently expected.

Stiles turns and pecks him on the cheek. Allison, from behind, gives Derek an ecstatic thumbs up. “Time to rally the troops and turn this into a real Hale wedding.”

Stupidly, Derek says, “You’ve never been to a Hale wedding before.”

“Well, hopefully, this is the first in a long line,” Stiles says with a grin and then he’s following Allison into the chapel while Derek heads for the bride’s room.

When he gets there, Erica is lounging on a couch and sipping her champagne. She looks totally unconcerned by the bedlam around her, but she does light up when Derek walks in.

“I’m so happy you came,” she says, launching herself at him. Derek tries to hold her at arm’s length to avoid wrinkling the dress, but she says, “Come on, fuck it,” and he allows himself to be pulled into an embrace.

“I’m sorry you thought Stiles and I had feelings for each other and were about to run off together. Not that it’s my fault or that I need to apologize, but it sucks that you two just spent a month thinking the wrong things.” She steps back to stare at him expectantly.

“I’m sorry I thought the wrong thing about you two,” Derek says, wincing as he does. “And that I didn’t try talking to you about it right away.”

“Could have saved yourself a lot of heartbreak,” Erica agrees, gently disentangling herself from his arms. She brushes some wrinkles out of her dress and readjusts the bodice of her gown.

“You look beautiful,” he tells her, swallowing around a lump in his throat. It’s true; she looks dazzling and it’s not just because of the dress or the hair or the makeup. It’s the pure happiness on her face, shining through at the thought that she’s marrying the love of her life. She’s radiant.

“Thanks,” she says. “Are you ready?”

“I’m not—” he says. “The sheriff—”

“Will be on one side, and you’ll be on the other,” she finishes smoothly. “With all my girls in front of me.”

As if on cue, the door opens and Cora sticks her head in. “Are you two done with the heart-to-heart? No rush, but I think Audrey is going to shank the next wolf who makes a joke about Canada.”

“Oh god, the priest is going to kill me if I get blood on the floors,” Erica says. “Alright, Avengers assemble!”

As they follow Cora out, Derek leans over and whispers, “How long have you been waiting to use that one?”

“Months,” she replies. “Stiles did the same thing with the guys, I made Isaac promise to record it.”

The Sheriff is waiting just outside the doors to the chapel. His eyes look suspiciously bright, but he’s smiling as they approach.

“Erica, you look wonderful,” he says, kissing her cheek. “Derek, welcome back.”

“Thank you, sir,” Derek replies, feeling the weight of it, sudden and heavy on his shoulders: weddings, babies, families, the pack together, and Stiles by his side through all of it.

It looks like the sheriff can read his mind, because he reaches out the arm not linked through Erica’s to clap Derek on the shoulder. “Call me John,” he says. “I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other now that Stiles is back.”

***

Later on, the wedding ceremony seems like a dream to Derek, something half-remembered. In the moment, though, there are Erica and David, saying their vows, everyone around them sniffling when David says, “I never thought I would have a chance with someone like you,” and then cheering when Erica breaks script to kiss her groom before the ceremony is officially done. Derek doesn’t realize he’s crying until Cora detaches from the processional and swerves into his pew to hug him, hard, before dashing back to where Isaac is waiting.

There are endless wedding photos to be taken and Derek sees later that, in every candid, he’s staring at Erica or Stiles. Stiles is his usual, charming self, the life of the group, darting here and there, ruining Isaac’s hair with a noogie, scooping Lydia into his arms for a group shot. Erica’s wedding party is huge and it takes forever, but there are a few pictures where it’s just the pack, together again, arms tossed over shoulders and linked around waists, grinning at the camera.

Derek’s favorite, the one that he has framed and put in his living room, has Erica and David in the center with the rest of the pack all around them, arms linked around each other. Scott is with Allison, Cora with Isaac, Lydia next to Boyd, and Derek is holding onto Stiles for dear life. If he looks carefully, he can see one side of Stiles’ mouth tilted clear up in a smile.

His second favorite, he keeps in his bedroom on his night table. It’s another candid, this one of just Derek and Stiles. Stiles has Derek backed up against a tree and they’re kissing, Derek’s arms wrapped around Stiles and Stiles’ hands carefully cradling Derek’s face. When they broke apart, the persistent shutter of the camera too hard to ignore, the photographer just smiled and said, “Trust me, you’ll thank me for it later.” Derek did.

The reception is beautiful, perfect, wonderful; or so Derek assumes, based on how everyone around him is raving. If he were asked to describe one detail that wasn’t Stiles or Erica, though, he wouldn’t be able to do it. Derek has to watch the wedding DVD twice before he starts to remember any of it in detail. When he does, it starts to come back, all of the crazy things that went on, including, but not limited to: Boyd challenging everyone to a dance off and winning the aforementioned Audrey Jean-Noel’s heart with his sweet moves; Isaac and Cora being busted by David’s grandmother while they were shacking up in the garden; and Scott inadvertently revealing Allison’s pregnancy when her refusals to drink a toast caused him to freak out and think that she was terminally ill.

What he does remember—what he’ll never forget—is Erica and the Sheriff dancing to “Wildflowers” and stopping in the middle so that Scott could push Derek out onto the dance floor to finish the song. He remembers kissing Erica when the song was done, telling her, “I’m happy for you.” He remembers taking a turn with (it felt like) everyone at the wedding, spinning all of David’s little cousins around in circles, letting Cora pull him into the center of the dance floor for a synchronized Thriller routine. At one point, he ended up with Allison, a slow waltz where he was careful not to squeeze her too tightly before she laughed and said, “I’m only three months, don’t be scared.”

And what he can’t forget is how, every time, he ended up back in Stiles’ arms. Sometimes it was chance, turning around to find Stiles at his back and ready for a turn; other times, it was Lydia shoving him towards the bar, to pull Stiles away from the crowd there and back to the middle of the room. Every time, whether it was a slow song or a fast one, swaying to the music or grinding—much to Derek’s complete and utter mortification—Stiles was right there with him.

They wave Erica and David off, hours later, everyone loose and happy and flushed. When Derek tries to go back into the reception hall—to say goodbyes or maybe clean up, he isn’t sure—he’s stopped by a light tug on the wrist.

Stiles is—a little tipsy, but not drunk, rumpled and half-buttoned and a little sweaty, and he’s grinning from ear to ear. He pulls and Derek is helpless not to follow.

“Do you want to—get out of here?” he asks, waggling his eyebrows. He looks so silly that Derek wants to laugh, but instead his breath catches at the scent of Stiles, how close they’re standing.

“We should—” Derek tries, gesturing towards where the rest of the party is slowly moving back inside.

“Nah,” Stiles says. “I’m danced out, but I could be—uh, persuaded to engage in some other kinds of physical activity.”

“Your bedroom talk is terrible,” Derek says, fond despite his best efforts.

“Yeah?” Stiles asks and Derek knows that the curve of that smile is dangerous. “How about this, then: I think we should go back to your place so you can fuck me senseless.”

Derek has to fight not to lose control at that, the mental image of Stiles on his hands and knees, up against the wall—

Stiles grins like he knows what Derek is thinking. He probably does. “What do you say?”

“No,” Derek says, and the smile starts to slip from Stiles’ face so quickly that he fumbles to recover. “We’re going to go back to the house so I can—make love you to you.”

There’s a pause and then Stiles starts laughing so loudly that the last guests still outside—Deaton and Morrell—look over in surprise. Derek waves at them weakly and sees Marin smirking from a distance.

“Oh my god,” Stiles says when he starts to catch his breath. Derek growls at him and the laugher ratchets up again. “I’m sorry!” he gasps out. “I’m not—I’m not making fun of you, babe, I swear—”

“Babe?” Derek asks, feeling his eyebrows rise.

“Uh,” Stiles says, laughter finally trailing off. “Yeah, pet names are kind of a thing when I’m—dating.”

The hesitation is so slight that anyone else would probably miss it, but Derek doesn’t. “Is that what we’re doing?” he asks, echo of that first night coming back. “Dating?”

“I don’t think it actually counts unless we—”

Derek doesn’t let him finish, rushes in and backs Stiles up against the nearest car to kiss him until they’re both breathless with it, frantic. He pulls back just far enough to say, “If you want to, only if you want to, I want you to be happy—” before Stiles bites down on Derek’s lower lip and says, “You make me happy.” After that, there’s no question. Derek literally picks Stiles up, slings him over one shoulder—“put me down, you caveman, what will the neighbors think,” Stiles cries out, but he’s laughing again—and carries him back to the car.

He spares a second to hope that no one at the wedding is looking for them before Stiles starts tugging at his belt and Derek has to fight off Stiles’ nimble fingers and his own arousal to get them home in one piece. Then, he stops thinking about anything else.

(From the entrance to the reception hall, Lydia holds up a hand as the rest of the pack begins to grumble and dig through their pockets. She collects from everyone but Allison, who knows better than to bet against her, while the whole group watches Derek and Stiles across the parking lot. All the wolves laugh at Stiles’ pick up lines, Cora mimes gagging when the two of them kiss, and everyone exchanges a round of high fives when Derek finally just lifts Stiles into the air.

“About damn time,” Lydia says, and everyone agrees.)

***

The ride home is over before it’s even started; one minute, they’re pulling out of valet parking, Derek gunning the engine like going eighty will stop him from feeling like he’s going to explode if he doesn’t get to take Stiles apart right that second; and the next, Stiles has him backed against his own front door. Derek thinks all this shoving him against hard surfaces might—possibly—be revenge for the number of time he did it to Stiles over the years, back when he still had a height advantage.

Stiles presses forward, hands curving around Derek’s waist while they kiss. They’re still on the front porch, where anyone could drive by and see them—see this—and Derek doesn’t care anymore, goes for broke and runs his hands up Stiles’ shoulders, over the long column of his neck, through his hair. Stiles moans at that, the way Derek yanks at it while they make out like a couple of teenagers on prom night. Derek never had a prom, left town when he was still just a junior, so he pretends, for a second, that Stiles is his prom date; that they got drunk on spiked punch and ditched the rest of their friends, ran home to do this for the first time.

“You and Stiles still haven’t—” Boyd had said, a few weeks earlier, when he and Derek were having lunch at a vegan place downtown.

“Haven’t what?” Derek asked, distracted, trying to figure out what to order.

“Consummated your relationship?” Boyd continued, raising an eyebrow when Derek did a double take.

“Um,” Derek said. “That’s not really—”

“Pack business is everyone’s business,” Boyd reminded him, pulling up a phrase that Derek had used all the time, over the last four years, when the others didn’t feel like sharing things he thought were crucial.

“That’s—” Derek struggled to come up with an excuse that wasn’t, "it’s private and I don’t want to talk to you about it."

“Alright,” Boyd said easily, and turned back to his menu like that was the end of it.

“That’s it?” Derek asked, knowing, even as he said it, that he should just let it go, not look a gift horse in the mouth.

Boyd shrugged. “I’m not Isaac, I don’t need to know all the details. Do you need to talk about it—what you’re doing or why you’re waiting?”

“No,” Derek hedged, actually wanting to talk it out with Boyd the longer he thought about it. There was a reason he was Derek’s second. Boyd was the one everyone used as a sounding board, because he could look at any plan from every side and pick it apart in ways no one else would consider.

“Are you afraid that it isn’t going to last?” Boyd asked, picking up on Derek’s hesitation in a heartbeat. “Or are you taking things slow because you’re trying to make sure it does?”

“That,” Derek said, glad that he hadn’t been the one to vocalize it. It sounded—stupid in his head, but better when Boyd said it.

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go slow,” Boyd had said. “Especially since it’s obvious that you’re head over heels for him. If you’re both comfortable with it, take your time. Enjoy the journey.” He’d laughed a little. “Trust me, you’re never going to get this time back, especially once everyone else starts getting married and having babies.”

“Thanks,” Derek said, and Boyd had nodded and they’d both gone back to their menus, moved onto talking about the Giants and Boyd’s job. Derek hadn’t stopped thinking about it, though: the car on their first date, the kitchen, all their stolen moments on the couch or in the living room, Stiles grabbing Derek’s wrist when they were leaving a room and hauling him back in for a kiss before the rest of the pack noticed. He’d worried a little, after the dinner party, if Stiles was expecting them to—if he should—but Stiles had seemed content with the kissing, the touches, falling asleep on Derek during movie nights and then heading home alone after he’d woken. Derek hadn’t pressed, because he’d felt guilty on a fundamental level, knowing that he was lying to Stiles even though he would have given anything to have it all be—real.

Now, though—now Stiles knows everything and he’s still here, still kissing Derek like there’s nothing else in the world for him, his hands sliding all over Derek’s body, up to cup his face, then down to squeeze gently at where Derek is tenting the front of his dress pants. Derek can’t help the groan that escapes him at that, and Stiles smiles, does it again and bites down on Derek’s jaw at the same time. He writhes at that, still pinned between Stiles and the front door.

“We have to—inside, now,” he manages to grate out, thrusting forward against Stiles’ hand, pushing for more friction.

“Hmm,” Stiles says, sliding one hand under Derek’s shirt to scrape a fingernail over his nipple, kissing Derek’s throat as he all but whimpers. “What if we just stay out here instead, put on a show for the neighbors?” He punctuates the words by sliding a hand down the front of Derek’s pants and wrapping a hand around him. There’s a second where Derek is so—that he’s already opening his mouth to say “fine, whatever you want, just don’t stop that,” when Stiles kisses him again, tongue nudging gently inside while he jacks Derek slowly, his pants keeping the movements slow and unhurried. Derek feels like he’s breaking apart in a million directions at once.

“I changed my mind,” Stiles says, and Derek’s heart drops to his feet so fast he swears he can hear the noise it makes. It rises a second later, though, when Stiles adds, “I don’t want to share you with the neighbors, I want you all to myself,” and drags him inside by his tie.

Derek goes easily, practically tripping over himself as Stiles leads him upstairs and into the bedroom. Stiles must have been in here, once or twice—everyone has—but never like this. He turns, mid step, keeps tugging on the ends of Derek’s tie until the backs of his knees hit the bed and Derek tumbles into his lap with the force of it. Stiles laughs at that, probably at how ungainly Derek looks, and he’s still laughing when Derek surges forward, pins him to the bed and tangles their fingers together and just kisses Stiles. He would say he kisses Stiles breathless, but Stiles is already half there, still laughing as they lie together, legs and knees tangled and clothes tugged off and in disarray.

“Sorry, sorry,” Stiles says, when they break apart for a second, Derek dropping kisses all over his forehead and his eyelids and his nose. “I know it must be annoying, the laughing, it’s—”

“I love it,” Derek says, before Stiles can apologize again. “I love—you.”

The smile falls off Stiles’ face at that, his eyes widening, and Derek is about to try to take it back, to apologize—for ruining the moment, for taking things too seriously, like he always does—when Stiles says, voice hushed, “that’s—uh, that’s some pretty heavy stuff.”

“I do,” Derek says. “I love you. I should’ve—I should have said it already, because it’s true, it’s been true—”

He’s cut off when Stiles leans forward, kisses him so filthy and open-mouthed that Derek is panting, dizzy, by the time he pulls back. “I love you, too,” Stiles says, and then the grin is back, infectious as always and Derek is helpless not to smile, too. “I’ve been—I’m glad you said it. I’m glad I know. Before we—” and then his hands are back on Derek’s body, shoving his pants off his hips and trying to wriggle out of his own. “Come on, come—get these off.”

Derek obliges, pulls back just far enough to push his pants down and start attacking Stiles’. Instead of helping, Stiles lies back, unbuttoning his shirt and offering unhelpful suggestions like, “yeah, like that,” and, “show me those muscles, big guy.”

“Why—are—these—so—tight—” Derek grunts with each tug, trying unsuccessfully to yank the fabric off Stiles without ripping it in two.

“Erica made me buy them a size small,” Stiles says. He’s shirtless now and all Derek wants is to get him naked. “She’d said I thank her when someone pulled them off with their teeth, but I think I’m enjoying the struggle between your brute strength and Men’s Wearhouse even more.”

“Fuck it,” Derek decides, and sharpens one claw ever so slightly so that he can trail it down Stiles’ thigh, tearing the pants in half as he goes. After that, it’s easy work to yank the shreds off. When he looks up, Stiles is all pupil, mouth hanging wide open.

“Oh my god, that was so fucking hot,” he lets out in one breath before launching himself at Derek, who overbalances and has to grab Stiles to stop them both from falling off the bed. “Let me—I want to—”

“Whatever you want,” Derek promises, although he hasn’t forgotten what Stiles said earlier, what he wants to do—

“I want to suck your dick, and then you’re going to fuck me,” Stiles says, sounding entirely too put together for someone sliding down the bed so that he can kneel over Derek. He looks up briefly from where he’s straddling Derek’s legs. “What do you think?”

Derek doesn’t get the chance to answer, because the next second, Stiles is pulling his boxers off in one quick motion and swallowing him down. A very undignified noise escapes Derek’s throat—something between a moan and a whimper—and by the time he manages to lift his head off the pillow, Stiles is all business, sucking Derek’s cock like it’s his job, a serious look on his face. Derek can’t stop his hands from finding their way onto Stiles’ head, cradling his skull and feeling the movement every time Stiles bobs forward, pushing himself further and further onto Derek’s dick. Stiles has one hand wrapped around Derek’s shaft and the other teasing at his balls and he’s in constant motion—hands, mouth, head—as Derek stares at the ceiling and tries desperately to think unsexy thoughts, not about how long he’s wanted this or how good at it Stiles is or how they can do this all the time now, whenever they want, in bed, on the couch, propped up against the kitchen table—

“Stop, stop,” Derek gasps, yanking at Stiles’ hair and tugging him up.

Stiles comes easily, settles onto Derek’s lap when he sits up to meet him for a kiss. “I could watch you do sit-ups all day,” he says, his hoarse voice and red lips the only sign of what he’s been doing. “Ten out of ten, very impressive. Hey, do you think you could—” but the rest of what he was going to say is lost in a gasp when Derek finally gets a hand around Stiles’ dick. He’s hard and leaking, and Stiles uses Derek’s shoulders for leverage so that he can lift his body back and forth, fucking into Derek’s fist.

“Not that this isn’t—yeah, like that,” Stiles pants, one arm still wrapped around Derek’s shoulder while the other hand steals down to wrap around Derek’s, helping Derek jerk him off. “But the plan was fucking.”

“How do you—can I—”

Stiles pushes back a little, disentangles his body from Derek and dive bombs onto the bed next to him. “Hands and knees. This time. Maybe next time I’ll ride you.” He turns his head to look back while he’s saying it, so Derek gets the full effect of his smirk. It only widens when Derek has to grab his own dick to try to get control of himself.

“The talking is going to be a thing with you, huh? Good to know.”

“Shut up,” Derek says, but he can hear that it’s all fondness now, no more implicit threat of throat-ripping.

“So bossy,” Stiles says approvingly. He arches his back, sticking his ass up in the air. “Come on, I can’t even tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this.”

“Yeah?” Derek says, reaching past Stiles to get the lube from his bedside drawer. “Do you want—?”

“I’m clean,” Stiles says. “I’ll bring you a copy of my test results tomorrow. We don’t—unless you—”

“No,” Derek says. “I am, too.” He flicks open the cap, hears Stiles’ breathing speed up in response, and fights the urge to smirk himself. Knowing that he’s about to take Stiles apart, one piece at a time, is a rush and he wants to make it good, make it perfect for him, make all of this worth it.

He doesn’t think Stiles is disappointed. He spends long minutes opening Stiles up, first with just one finger, then two, then three when Stiles reaches back and grabs his hand, saying, “faster, damn it, come on, I’m ready, I want—”

“Tell me,” Derek breathes out, other hand stripping his dick as he watches his fingers disappearing inside Stiles, how good he looks.

“Fuck me,” Stiles says, “I want you to fuck me, show me what I’ve been missing,” and that’s all it takes to get Derek moving. He still goes carefully, takes his time lining up and pushing in, but it’s worth it for the way Stiles groans, loud as a porn star, when Derek bottoms out.

“Oh my god,” he says. “Oh my—move, Derek, come on.”

Derek can’t say no to that, grabs Stiles by the hips and pulls him up on his hands and knees so that he can pull back carefully and then thrust back in. It takes a few minutes to get a rhythm going but he’s motivated, with the way Stiles keeps calling out directions—“harder, do that again, yeah, like that”—and it’s not too long before he’s moaning himself, trying not to come yet because he wants Stiles to, first, to know that he’s, that it’s—

“Touch yourself,” Derek manages to get out. “I can’t—”

Stiles slides down onto his elbows immediately, gets one hand on his dick and starts jerking himself like all he needed was permission. The change in angle means Derek can get in deeper and then it’s only a few more thrusts before he can feel it, his orgasm building, and he just manages to lean down far enough to meet Stiles in an uncoordinated kiss before he’s coming. His eyes are closed, so he feels Stiles coming before he opens his eyes to see it, the way his breath stutters on a long exhale as he shakes through it.

Stiles just collapses after that, like Derek fucked the bones right out of his body, and it’s left to Derek to pull out slowly and roll him out of the wet spot. He goes to the bathroom when he thinks he’s coordinated enough to manage it without walking into a wall and comes back with a damp washcloth.

“My knight in shining armor,” Stiles says, from where he’s propped up on one elbow, watching Derek return. “I know,” he adds, off Derek’s incredulous look, “I didn’t think I’d be able to move again any time this decade, but your ass when you walk is a thing of beauty, man.”

“What a charmer,” Derek says, tossing the washcloth at Stiles’ head. “If you’re recovered, I guess you can clean yourself up.”

Stiles flops back on the bed like the strings have been cut. “Nope, sorry, I’ve got a long recovery period from strenuous activity, ask anybody from the lacrosse team.”

“How’s your refractory period,” Derek asks, just to see the way Stiles’ eyes glaze over.

“Uh,” Stiles says stupidly. “I haven’t tested it in a while, but I have a feeling we could break some of my old records tonight?”

“Good,” Derek says, sliding under the covers and pressing himself against Stiles’ side. “Because we have a lot of time to make up for.”

***

It’s way too early the next morning when someone starts pounding on the front door. Derek’s not hung over, but he did have a lot to drink at the wedding and liquor metabolizes differently to wolves. Add to that the last few crappy days and the fact that he’s only been asleep about two hours thanks to Stiles, and he’s feeling less than charitable when he disentangles himself from the covers to get up. Stiles lets out a sleepy noise of protest, half muffled by his pillow, and reaches out for Derek.

“Door,” he says, in case Stiles didn’t hear.

Stiles hmphs. “If it’s pack, they’d just come in.” He cracks open one eye. “Come on, come back to bed.”

Derek wavers for a second—Stiles is right, everyone important has a key, but what if it’s an emergency?—which is just long enough for Stiles to poke a foot out from under the blankets and plant his freezing cold toes on Derek’s thigh. He starts laughing when Derek jumps.

“You little—”

“Yeah? What are you going to do about it?” Stiles challenges, and that’s how Erica and David find them, wrestling on the bed. Stiles “meeps” at the sight and Erica starts laughing so hard at Derek’s bare ass that she collapses against her new husband.

“That’s one way to start the morning,” David says with a smile as Erica slides to the floor, trying to catch her breath.

“Derek, cover up,” Stiles hisses, throwing a pillow at his head.

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before during pack meetings,” Erica consoles. “Although he does look a little different now; guess someone here is more exciting than the rest of us were?”

Derek does cover himself at that, face flushed red.

“Not like I’m complaining; oh wait, yes I am,” Stiles says. “I thought you two were leaving today for the honeymoon?”

“We are,” David says. “We just wanted to come over and say goodbye.”

“And thank you,” Erica says, serious now like she so rarely is. “We opened the cards from the pack this morning—”

“Last night,” David corrects. “You were too excited to wait.”

“Whatever,” Erica says. “The point is: Derek. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Derek says. “It was the least I could do for you.”

“Because I’m your favorite Beta?” Erica teases.

“Because you’re very special,” Derek says, standing up with the pillow in place so that he can kiss Erica on her cheek and shake David’s hand. It’s a little awkward, but whatever, all of the wolves have seen each other naked, so it’s not that big of a deal.

“I’m lost,” Stiles says. “I’m also admiring the view from back here, but still, lost.”

“Your boyfriend can tell you about it after we’re gone,” Erica says, darting forward to kiss Stiles. He reflexively pulls the blanket up to his chest, probably because Erica is famous for her purple nurples. “We’ve got a flight to catch. Come on, hubby.”

Hubby? Stiles mouths at Derek, who just shrugs. Out loud, he says, “Have fun.”

“Oh, we will,” David says with a grin, and then they’re gone.

Derek sits back down on the bed and tries not to think about empty nest syndrome, because that’s stupid and Erica isn’t his kid. He must not be doing a good job of hiding how he feels, though, because Stiles knee-walks his way up the bed to hug Derek from behind.

“What did you get them?” Stiles asks. “I saw that envelope, it was the same as everyone else’s.”

“I wrote them a check to cover the cost of the house in Santa Cruz,” he tells Stiles. He feels Stiles gasp. “It’s better for young couples to start out without that debt from the mortgage.”

“That’s—that was really great of you,” Stiles says. Derek shrugs.

“It’s—everyone in the pack has money, if they need it. That’s how—” He cuts himself off, but Stiles is too sharp not to catch it.

“How what?” He answers his own question after a second. “How everyone could afford to visit me in Boston, of course. I used to ask Scott all the time and he would give me the stupidest, most obvious lies.”

“He knows he can’t get anything past you,” Derek says. “I didn’t want you to think it was charity; I would have done it for anyone who went away.”

Stiles presses closer against Derek’s back, rests his cheek against the nape of Derek’s neck. “Thank you. For sending them, and for emailing me all the time. And for coming back to Boston to get me, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this. Any of this.”

“Thank you for giving me another chance,” Derek says. He realized, sometime last night, that he still hadn’t said it and that he needed to. “I would never have forgiven myself if I ruined things with you before they got the chance to really start.”

“Lucky for you I’m so easygoing and generous.”

Derek turns around expressly so that he can lift one eyebrow at Stiles. “You threatened to shoot me and leave me for dead.”

“Well, that was before you explained yourself and I realized you’re even more hopeless than I am,” Stiles says. “Trust me, we’re both going to screw up a lot now that we’re—now that we’re dating.” He turns a little pink as he’s saying it. “Being in a relationship is really fucking hard, man. I’m sure I’m going to need to beg your forgiveness once or twice.”

“No,” Derek says. “You don’t need to beg for it, you just need to ask. The same way I’ll ask. And we’ll figure everything else out along the way.”

“Okay,” Stiles says with a smile. “Alright, I can work with that.” He yawns widely, stretching his arms over his head, and smirks when he sees Derek track the movement with his eyes. “You ready for round—three? Four? I think I lost track.”

“Good to know my sexual prowess renders you incapable of simple math,” Derek says dryly, and Stiles startles before he begins cackling. “Round four.”

“You are giving me so much ammo for Cora, man, you don’t even know.”

“Don’t even think about it,” Derek says, pinning Stiles down to the bed as he laughs. “Absolutely not—”

“Sexual prowess,” Stiles says, chortling, and Derek tries to kiss him quiet, but all he gets for his troubles is Stiles laughing against his mouth, whole body shaking with it. When he pulls back, sighing, Stiles’ eyes are bright and he’s still giggling.

“I’m just imagining her face—”

Derek gives up, rolls over to one side and pulls all the covers with him as punishment. Stiles squawks at that and does some complicated roll-and-tuck that ends with him under the blankets and pressed into Derek’s side. His feet are still freezing.

“Sorry,” Stiles says, sounding the opposite of apologetic. “You do realize that everyone is going to be weirdly over involved and invested in our sex life now, right? Like, I’m not springing that aspect of pack relationships on you, am I?”

“I know,” Derek says. “I don’t—mind; it’s just going to take some getting used to. I haven’t really dated since Jennifer.”

“Don’t worry,” Stiles says, “I’ll valiantly protect you from the prying eyes—and ears—and noses—of the rest of the pack.”

“My hero,” Derek says. He and Stiles are close together, just inches apart. The sun is just starting to stream through the bedroom windows, lighting up Stiles’ face, his eyes and smile, all the things that Derek loves about him. He reaches out one hand for Stiles, tangles their fingers together and pulls their clasped hands to his chest, right over his heart. Impossibly, Stiles’ smile gets even brighter at that.

“So we’re committed to the staying in bed plan? I really wanted coffee, but if you’ve got other ideas—”

“Oh, I do,” Derek assures him. “I really, really do.”

“Awesome,” Stiles says. All of his hair is flattened on one side from his pillow and his morning breath is kind of gross, but Derek doesn’t care. None of that matters; all that matters is that he and Stiles are here, together, and that they’re not going anywhere. “Cause I’ve been waiting for you a while and I think I’m done with that now.”

“I’m here,” Derek says. “You don’t have to wait anymore; you’ve got me.”

“Good,” Stiles says, and pulls him in for a kiss. “That’s all I wanted.”