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Companionship

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Stiles was, as he had been informed many times, the worst companion student in school, possibly the worst companion student in the history of the school. Companions were supposed to be graceful; Stiles was clumsy. Companions were supposed to be quiet and demure; Stiles could chatter for hours without pausing for breath. Companions were supposed to be utterly attentive to their owner's wishes; Stiles was easily distracted by, well, everything. Companions were supposed to be politely encouraging of their owner's opinions; Stiles had opinions of his own. Companions were supposed to be instantly obedient; Stiles always thought he had a better way of doing things. Companions were supposed to be calm and still when they were not fulfilling their duties; Stiles was incapable of sitting still for more than two minutes together.

Harris, Stiles' dorm master listed off this list of offences and more to the head teacher Gerard Argent, while Stiles tried to be still and demure, but ended up chewing his lips nervously and fidgeting with the cuff of his shirt so much it tore.

Stiles felt two pairs of eyes look to the offending seam at the sound of ripping stitches. Stiles felt like he'd just been accused of a great crime.

"I told you three years ago, headmaster," Harris said, "we would have been better off cutting our losses and throwing him out of the school, saving ourselves the expense of feeding and clothing him. He is utterly incapable of learning."

Stiles wanted to argue on that point. He was capable of learning a great deal, and that was part of the problem. He had learned a great deal about history and art and literature and politics, and that meant he had a great deal to say. Instead of politely agreeing with whatever the people he was supposed to practice with had to say, he wanted to have a real discussion. Unfortunately, being able to have an informed and intelligent conversation wasn't one of the skills people looked for in a companion.

"Be that as it may," the headmaster said, "we must find some way to recover our losses. Perhaps one of the whore houses will have less discerning tastes. They might be convinced to pay for someone with companion training, even if he has failed the school."

Stiles rather thought that the school had failed him, not the other way around, but even he knew this wasn't the time to argue.

"The money a whore house would be willing to pay wouldn't cover his food for a year," pointed out Harris.

"Perhaps a... specialist house," said Argent.

"Specialist?" asked Stiles, which earned him another glare. He might be present for this conversation, but he shouldn't forget that they were definitely not talking to him.

"There are some houses where clientele prefer their whores bound and gagged for the process. Even this one should be able to stay quiet and still under those circumstances. Those sort of houses do run through their property more quickly than most and need to buy new ones more often."

"He hasn't had any training in that sort of engagement," Argent said, but thoughtfully, as though he were mulling this over.

"How much training is required to scream when hit and be tied up and fucked?" Harris asked.

"No," Stiles said. "No, this is a terrible plan. I don't want to be hit. I'm terrible with pain. I'd pass out at the first sight of a whip and then where would the fun be? I'd be as bad at being a pain whore as I am at being a companion."

"But once you're sold," Harris finally addressed Stiles, "you will no longer be our problem."

"See to it," Argent said. "And see to it that Stiles gets a taste of what he can expect, to ease him into it."

***

And so it was that Stiles spent the next three days introduced to gags and restraints. There were some classes in bondage at the school, but they were usually taught to the more advanced students and Stiles had never qualified. Harris' idea of giving Stiles a taste was to tie him up in various positions and keep one of a variety of gags in his mouth at all times except when he was eating. Every waking moment of it was torture to Stiles. He was used to being constantly in motion, to always having something to focus his attention on. Tied up in whatever room Harris found spare, Stiles had nothing but the inside of his mind to focus on. He wanted to scream from boredom, but the gags swallowed the sounds.

He cried.

He didn't want to see Harris win, didn't want Harris to see him broken, but he couldn't help the tears that started flowing on the second day. Stiles had always clung to a fragment of hope that he might end up with an owner who was interested in more than a standard companion, who might find his failures endearing, who might actually like him. Despite all the criticisms of his teachers, he held on to that wild hope that he might possibly find a place and a person that fit who he was. Now he knew that hope was shattered.

He wouldn't even be a bad companion to a string of disappointed owners. He would be sold off to some place where he would be raped and tortured by a string of strangers until his body gave out. Any possibility of a pleasant life or earning his way to freedom through gifts and tokens from a grateful owner was shattered. His life from this point on would be suffering and nothing more.

He awaited his sale with dread, but he didn't have to wait long. On the third day, Harris came to collect him from the storage closet he'd been stowed in, a grin on his face. That told Stiles everything he needed to know. The only way Harris would look so gleeful was if Stiles had been sold to someone who would make his every waking moment a torment from this point onwards.

Harris wiped off Stiles' face to make him look presentable, but then took him to the headmaster's office, his arms bound behind him with leather cuffs, a short hobble chain connecting similar cuffs around his ankles, and a dildo gag stuffed into his mouth.

"It's our role to see that all our students find their more suitable place of service," Argent was saying as Stiles shuffled closer, "and Stiles, well, he is much more suited to this position than to the more standard position of companion."

"You can stop trying to sell him to me," a gruff voice answered. "I've already paid my money. If you keep this up, I'll think you want to be rid of him."

Argent gave a small laugh. "I see no point in holding him back."

Stiles shuffled into the room, guided by Harris' hand on his shoulder, and he got his first look at the man who'd bought him. The guy was handsome. He was about the same height as Stiles but broader and a few years older. His shirt clung to muscles and had sleeves short enough to reveal the tone of his arms. Stiles was surrounded by beautiful people at the school, but this man was still enough to attract his attention. He wondered if the man was a former companion himself. He was young to have bought his freedom, but he was handsome enough that he might have been paid well in gifts and tokens, and former companions did often end up running whore houses and similar establishments.

Stiles was so busy staring that he almost forgot he should hate this guy, that this was the guy who'd just paid money to have Stiles raped and tortured.

"So you're Stiles," the man said. Stiles nodded. If he didn't have the gag, he might have made a smart remark about just wearing the shirt with the wrong boy's name in it. It was probably a good thing he had the gag.

The man continued, "My name is Derek Hale and I have just purchased you. Come with me."

There was no room for argument in that tone and Stiles was still bound. He expected Harris or Argent to remove the restraints, but it seemed they didn't want to take any chances of him spoiling the deal until he was out of the building. So Stiles shuffled along beside Derek, hobbled by the chain. He couldn't argue. He couldn't beg or plead. He couldn't try to be offensive to convince this man to change his mind. His only choice was to go and see what his new life held in store.

Chapter Text

Derek was very fortunate. When he'd decided to look for a companion, he'd known that those with training in bondage and the more unusual sexual acts tended to be the very expensive ones, those who'd received the most extensive preparation. He'd been astonished to find that the school was actually offering a boy at lower than their usual rate. According to Argent, the boy had only received rudimentary companion training before they'd discovered that his tastes and talents leaned more towards the world of bondage. They had decided to sell him before the completion of his training, hence the low price, specifically to those interested in such things.

Derek had tried not to show his delight at his luck. He didn't care about the fancier elements of companion training. He wasn't bothered that his new purchase couldn't play the harp or entertain audiences with elaborate dances. If he enjoyed being bound and fucked, then he was exactly what Derek was after. The fact that he was young meant he hadn't yet learned habits that he'd need to be broken of from the houses. He would also be entering into this world fresh, without the cynicism that would set in with those who'd spent long services strangers.

Derek let the boy sit in the passenger seat of his car and fastened him in. He didn't have any other way to transport Stiles safely and he didn't intend to let the boy get injured before he'd even taken him home. He wondered about removing the gag and questioning the boy about his tastes and experiences, but decided that was better done at home, when he could give it his full attention. Besides, getting an erection on the road was probably a bad idea. So he drove his silence, but he couldn't help being curious about the boy's scent.

The anxiety Derek picked up was only to be expected. The boy was leaving the familiar environment of the school to go and stay with a stranger. Some level of fear was to be expected. The sorrow that layered beneath the fear scent was probably due to leaving friends behind at short notice. Derek had expected a little more excitement, had hoped even for some arousal, but he supposed there would be time for that later. He expected the boy was nervous about what he might experience. Whatever training the school might have provided was probably tame compared to the d/s establishments, since a companion school wouldn't want to risk damage to their students. Stiles was probably worried about how far Derek might take things. Well, he could reassure him on that front when they discussed the boy's tastes. Derek could ease Stiles into things by starting with something familiar.

After a long and silent drive, they reached the house in the woods where Derek lived. It was a solitary place, which was one reason why he'd decided to purchase a companion, but that had the advantage that he wouldn't have to worry about their play getting loud.

Derek opened Stiles' door for him and undid his seatbelt, since Stiles couldn't extract himself from the car with his hands bound. Derek offered a reassuring smile, "Come along, Stiles."

Stiles eyed the woods nervously and Derek was put in mind of a nervous animal that had picked up the scent of a wolf on the wind and was about to bolt. He put a hand on Stiles' arm and led him up the steps and in through the front door.

Derek had thought they might have a drink first, but that fear scent hadn't diminished and he decided it would be better to have the discussion about limits first, to reassure Stiles that he wasn't going to push him further than he was comfortable with. So he led Stiles straight through to his playroom. Stiles' eyes widened at the sight of the equipment: the iron-framed bed, the cross, the cage, the bench. Derek expected that the companion school hadn't had anything close to this and he looked forward to introducing Stiles to every piece.

"Kneel there," Derek said, pointing to a patch of ground beside the bed. Stiles got rather clumsily to his knees, still staring around at the room, decorum obviously forgotten. Derek went to the cupboard. The obvious place to start was to go through his equipment and see what Stiles had experienced before, what he was excited to try, and what he wanted to avoid. That would establish a baseline for Derek to work from in their play. He opened the cupboard doors to display his toys, and he became aware of a strange wheezing noise behind him and the scent of fear spiked into sour panic.

Derek turned to look at Stiles, who was struggling to breathe around his gag, frightened eyes staring at the items Derek had displayed, obviously falling into a panic attack. Derek realised too late that he should have explained what he intended rather than just let a half-trained companion see a room full of equipment that was well beyond anything he would have reason to know.

Derek dropped into a crouch beside the boy and worked quickly to undo the strap of his gag.

"Easy, easy," he said, "breathe slowly. I'm not going to hurt you." That wasn't entirely true, but now was not the time for specifics. "It's OK. Just breathe with me. In." He drew in a slow breath, encouraging the boy to do that same. "And out." He breathed out. He continued this for almost a minute until the boy was breathing more normally, the panic attack fading.

Derek left him, but only long enough to go to the kitchen and pour a glass of water. He returned to the playroom and unfastened the restraints around the boy's wrists so he could hold his own glass. The boy sipped slowly, the scent of fear still rolling off him in waves.

"We're just going to talk right now," Derek said. "I want to know what you were trained on at the school, what you like, and what you don't like. Is that alright?"

"If I say no, will that change anything?" Stiles asked. Derek hadn't expected such a sharp retort. Stiles' companion training and his submission nature would have suggested he would behave otherwise, but Derek attributed this to the after effects of the panic attack. He pressed on.

"What did your submissive training at the school consist of?" Derek asked.

"Harris gagged me, tied me up, and shoved me in dark rooms for hours at a time."

Derek shouldn't have been surprised that a companion school focused on the bondage side of things rather than impact play, but the way Stiles described it didn't sound like the way anyone involved in d/s would introduce newcomers to the experience. Stiles was probably exaggerating for effect, or talking about the more specific training he received when his inclination was discovered.

Still, something about Stiles' tone made Derek ask the question, "Did you enjoy this experience?"

Stiles glared at him. "The third worst experience of my life."

Derek wasn't sure how to react to that. It would have been strange if the boy had simply said no, that he hadn't enjoyed it, or even that he'd hated it, but the specificity of his statement was what struck Derek. Stiles hadn't just hated the experience, he'd hated it enough to rank it in relation to the worst experiences of his life.

"You don't enjoy bondage?" Derek asked.

"Why the hell do you even care? If you bought a companion you can tie up and torture at will, why should it bother you that I don't like getting tied up?"

Derek was getting more confused by the moment. Torture? This boy thought he was going to get tortured? Derek felt like charging back to the companion school and demanding that they rewrite their curriculum on the whole subject of d/s if this was the way they taught the subject.

"So you don't like impact play either?" At Stiles' blank look, Derek clarified, "Spankings and whippings and similar?"

"Why the hell would anyone like getting beaten up?"

Stiles' tone and expression said that he found the whole concept incomprehensible. Derek sniffed the air, and noted that there wasn't the slightest trace of arousal buried under that fear.

"There are many people who enjoy this sort of this," Derek said, feeling both furious and defensive. He saw Stiles flinch away at his tone and tried to keep his voice even. "Some people find the pain sexually arousing, some find the experience calming, some enjoy giving control to someone else. At the school, they told me that you were one of these people." He still didn't understand why. Human senses were pathetic compared to a werewolf's, but surely they couldn't have mistaken Stiles' terror for excitement, even without being able to pick up the scents his body was creating.

"They wanted to get rid of me," Stiles said. "I'm an embarrassment to the school. They thought that they could ship me off to somewhere where all I have to do is be gagged and beaten so that no one will care that I trip over my own feet while dancing, can't play much more than chopsticks on the piano, and can't keep quiet long enough to give a relaxing massage."

It took all Derek's self-control to keep from sprouting claws in his rage. This went against everything a good dominant should do, against everything a good person would do. That Argent would send a terrified boy off to be used as a sub when he didn't enjoy it was the same as signing him up for torture. The question was, what should he do now?

Derek could hardly send the boy back to that school. He would be almost as bad as Argent if he did, knowing what he knew now about the boy's tastes and what would happen to him. Derek thought about all the fun he'd hoped to have with his new companion, all the ways he'd thought he would be spending the rest of today, getting to know each other in enjoyable ways. That wasn't going to happen now. Derek had just purchased a companion who was utterly repulsed by the very things Derek enjoyed. Derek considered. The only things which were obvious were that he couldn't send the boy back to the school, and that the playroom clearly wasn't the place for him either.

"Get up," Derek said. The boy still looked terrified, scrambling to his feet and nearly falling flat on his face again as he got tangled in the hobble chain. Derek bit down a growl of fury and hurried to take the ankle cuffs off him.

"Come with me," Derek said. The boy followed from the playroom, but even leaving that place behind didn't stop him looking scared to death of what Derek might do. Derek knew he ought to reassure the boy by explaining, but he didn't know what he was going to do either, which made explanations difficult. He would have to think of something to say soon before the fear stink engulfed his whole house.

In the kitchen, Derek pointed the boy at a kitchen chair and asked, "Do you like coffee?"

"Is water wet?"

That was clearly a yes, so Derek went to his coffee maker and turned it on, using the brew time and the distraction of preparing mugs to try and think of what he was supposed to do next. He suspected he would have to back up quite a long way to adequately explain things to Stiles.

When they sat down, mugs of coffee in hand, Derek started, "BDSM, that is, the stuff I do in my playroom, is all about consent."

Chapter Text

Stiles wanted to give a snort of laughter as Derek brought up the subject of consent. It was a subject Stiles had considered deeply, probably in more depths than most people ever did. That someone like Derek, who purchased a companion and took him back to that torture room, would even utter the word was laughable.

But Derek wasn't done speaking, "I enjoy performing scenes with someone who also enjoys them. That's what I thought I was getting when I purchased you. I thought I was getting a companion who enjoyed playing a submissive role in scenes and who would consent to participating in bondage scenes in my playroom."

"It's hardly consent though, is it?" Stiles said. He'd never been any good at those lessons about keeping his mouth shut and quietly agreeing with whatever was being said to him. Especially not on subjects that mattered to him, and this particular subject was deeply tied to his life.

"What do you mean?" Derek asked.

Stiles braced himself. He'd started arguing now and so he would have to see it through, even though his new owner would probably be angry again and drag him back to that playroom to sample its torture implements.

"You own me," Stiles said. "I'm supposed to do what you tell me. That's pretty much the first lesson at companion school: doing what we're told. If you purchase a companion who has had it drilled into them for years that they have to obey or get punished, then them agreeing to have sex with you, in whatever manner, is no different from holding someone up and knife point in an alley and telling them to have sex or else."

Derek stared at Stiles and Stiles could see the fury written on his features.

"Are you calling me a rapist?" Derek asked.

Stiles flinched away instinctively at the force of his anger. It wasn't like Derek would have to be careful about punishments. Back at the school, the teachers and staff had always had to be aware that they couldn't do any permanent damage, couldn't risk damaging the merchandise, but Derek would have no such restrictions. He didn't make a move to hit Stiles though, or throw coffee in his face or anything similar. Stiles took that as permission to answer the question.

"You and everyone else who's ever purchased a companion. Consent only applies if the other party is free to refuse. Companions aren't supposed to refuse our owners. We have whole lessons dedicated to the subject of making our owners happy, no matter what. The girls get lectures on faking orgasms and the guys get tips on staying hard even when we're not into something. Consent is irrelevant."

The fury was still written on Derek's face but he didn't seem about to lash out. Stiles was a little surprised by that, surprised he'd managed to get as far as he had in his argument. His teacher's hadn't let him get half this far when he'd started to explain his opinions during his diction class. It had been explained to him at great length afterwards that the legal definition of rape was not an appropriate recitation to have chosen.

"What if you were interested?" Derek asked. "Or some hypothetical companion? What if the companion was attracted to their owner and interested and sex and enthusiastically agreed?"

"How would the owner know?" Stiles countered. "Would you be able to tell the difference between someone genuinely agreeing to something and saying they agree to it because they're afraid of the consequences of refusing?"

"Yes." Derek sounded very definite about it. Stiles did not believe it for a moment. Companions were trained to make their owners happy, and part of that was pretending enthusiasm and enjoyment even when there was none. Stiles might not have been any good at making people believe it, but most companions were, so he scoffed at Derek's answer.

"Most owners don't punish their companions," Derek said.

Stiles rolled his eyes. "Maybe they don't physically beat them because they don't like to see bruises, but a companion's every move is controlled by our owners. We have no autonomy. You get to decide what we eat, where we sleep, what we wear, what duties we have to perform, if we're allowed to go out. You could arrange surgery for me and I wouldn't get a say in whether or not I wanted it." He knew some female companions were sent in for breast surgery to the point where they ended up having back problems and similar from the extra weight. He'd heard of one who had her lower ribs removed so her owner could force her into tighter corsets. Some of the other students had claimed that was just an urban legend, but the fact was that an owner could legally do it.

"An unhappy owner can make a companion's life hell," Stiles went on, "so we're supposed to do whatever we can to keep you happy, to hell with our own thoughts and wishes."

"You don't seem too concerned with keeping me happy," Derek pointed out.

Stiles shrugged. "Benefit of knowing in advance that I'll be terrible at it; I don't have to try." He knew he wasn't going to go along with all that twisted stuff in the so-called playroom so he might as well just refused to go along with any of it. His life was going to be hell either way and at least this way he got to speak his mind first.

"Some owners really care about their companions, they want to make them happy."

"Still doesn't mean there's consent. Even the 'nice'," and here Stiles made air quotes, "owners control their companions. The only way we get to be free is if we accumulate enough gifts and tokens to buy our freedom, and that still means keeping people happy. Doesn't yield a situation where people feel free to say no. It may be done with bribes rather than threats, but it's still coercion."

"You're implying that everyone who's ever owned a companion is a rapist, regardless of how they treat them," Derek said.

"No, I'm not implying that," said Stiles. "I'm outright stating it. You can't have real consent where one party is in a position of authority over the other."

Derek stared at Stiles for several moments. Stiles took the opportunity to drink his coffee. He doubted he would get coffee again any time soon. They'd refused to let him drink it at the school, even though he'd explained it would calm him down instead of giving him more energy. He expected Derek would be taking him back to the school any minute now and demanding a refund. Stiles would cement his position as the worst student the school had ever had by being the fasted return ever processed.

"You're very free with your opinions," Derek said.

"Why do you think they made sure I was wearing a gag before they handed me over to you?"

"If I send you back the school, they're going to sell you to a bondage house, aren't they?"

Stiles was confident about his destination, or at least he had been until that moment. He frowned at Derek. "What do you mean 'if'?"

"I'm going to give you a choice," Derek said. "You can stay with me, as my companion, or I can take you back to the school and you can take your chances with whoever they sell you to next. It's up to you."

It wasn't much of a choice. Stiles already knew that Derek liked to tie people up and beat them, but Derek was still only one person. There would only be so much time he could devote to torturing Stiles. If Stiles went back to the school, there was a slim chance that he would be sold to somewhere or someone where he would be raped without any of the additional pain, but it was far more likely that he would end up being sent to a whore house that specialised in pain. He would end up raped multiple times a day and all those instruments of suffering like the ones in Derek's playroom would be used on Stiles anyway, but by a constant stream of people. At least Derek was giving him an illusion of choice, even though he must know just as well as Stiles that it was no choice at all.

"I guess I'm staying," Stiles said.

Derek nodded, but he didn't seem too pleased about that.

"So," Derek said, "you obviously haven't been trained in bondage or submission, but what have you been trained in? Can you cook?"

"I haven't poisoned anyone," Stiles said. His instructors had started out saying that he needed to work on his presentation, offering polite critiques of style, but they'd quickly shifted to simply calling his dishes ugly. One teacher had compared his asparagus soup to pond water, but Stiles still considered that soup his greatest success; it had tasted delicious and since no one else had wanted to touch it, he'd been allowed to eat the whole thing himself.

"I suppose that's a start," Derek said. "You can do the cooking and keep this place clean."

Stiles wasn't surprised by these instructions. Companions were trained in cooking as well as the other arts, so as to entertain their owners with fine dishes, but many also played the role of housekeepers when their owners didn't already have someone fulfilling that role. Stiles supposed that if he were expected to do all that, Derek wouldn't be keeping him in strict bondage the whole time, so that was a good sign.

"I'll show you your room," Derek said, finishing his coffee. Stiles quickly drank the last of his and followed Derek up a staircase to a room near the top of the house. They passed many doors and Stiles guessed that some of those were also bedrooms, but the room Derek gave him was a small one, right underneath the roof, with a ceiling that sloped so that half of the room was impossible to stand up straight in. There was a skylight though and Stiles could look straight out over the woods and see the sky. Bright sunlight bathed the room in gold and Stiles almost didn't care that he'd been shoved out of the way in a tiny space.

Chapter Text

Derek wanted to hurt someone. He wanted to storm to that school and rip the teachers to pieces for the trick they'd tried to pull. Derek had been involved in the BDSM scene for years and he hated that some people misunderstood it or used it as an excuse to allow abuse. The boy the school had sold him believed all the worst ideas about what BDSM was, and if his teachers' plan had succeeded, he would have been right as far as it applied to him.

Derek was glad the boy had chosen to stay here because he didn't like to think where he might have ended up if he'd gone back to that school. No one deserved what would have happened. But what was Derek supposed to do with him now? He had a companion who had no interest in anything Derek wanted to do with him. Derek couldn't even do anything vanilla with him because Stiles didn't think it possible for him to give consent and if he didn't give consent then Derek wouldn't touch him. So Derek had spent a small fortune to effectively get a maid.

Derek was angry at Argent and the boy's other teachers. He was angry at Stiles for his harsh words and accusations earlier. And he was angry at himself, because he couldn't help wondering if maybe Stiles might have a point. Derek now had complete autonomy over another person, and that was not a situation that lent itself to consensual activities of any sort.

He shut himself in his study, where he wouldn't have to hear Stiles moving around upstairs, and tried to decide what to do next. He wanted to attack the school or at least tell Argent and the others exactly how despicable they were, but he didn't trust himself to have that conversation face to face. He would lose control and end up ripping someone's throat out with his teeth the way he was currently feeling. Even a phone call was probably a bad idea. If he said the wrong thing, they might end up taking Stiles back and he'd just agreed that the boy could stay here. So Derek sat at his computer and drafted an email. He spent nearly an hour typing and deleting and rewriting, adjusting his tone.

In the end, he complained that Argent had misled him when selling him Stiles by claiming that Stiles had been trained in bondage and enjoyed it. Derek pointed out that neither of these facts was true and said that he would have to start the training from the beginning and that this would be more challenging because of the boy's disinclination to the practices. Derek said he would have to proceed much more slowly than he would like if he wanted to avoid doing permanent damage to his new companion. Derek wanted to wash his hands of the words even as he typed them, since he knew he could never put Stiles through that, but if he said outright that he would never have any sort of scene with Stiles, they would probably expect him to send Stiles back. Derek didn't want Argent to get away with what he'd done, but he had to remember that Stiles' future was at stake. So Derek asked that the school return to him ten percent of the money he'd paid for Stiles as compensation for the deception about his training.

Derek stared at the screen. Asking for some of his money back seemed like a pitiful response. He wanted to make these people bleed, he wanted to hurt them, he wanted to make them beg forgiveness for what they'd tried to do, but Derek couldn't do any of that without giving away that he was a werewolf or putting Stiles in harm’s way again, or both. So he hit send on his email.

He stared at his screen for a few minutes, thinking about what he would do if Argent agreed and gave him the money back. It wouldn't be enough for Derek to buy another companion, one who was actually interested in participating in scenes. It also wasn't like Derek particularly needed that money. He thought about Stiles and his angry words, his obvious hatred of his current position in life. Stiles was a companion and, whether he stayed with Derek or not, would remain one until he had enough money to repay his purchase price.

Derek hadn't looked into the details of how companions paid for their freedom, but he vaguely knew that there was an initial price based on what the owner originally paid, but that it diminished over time so that each year the amount they had to pay to get free was less and less. Derek wondered if he ought to ask Stiles about it. Given how much he'd known about the subject of consent, Derek was willing to bet that Stiles had a lot of knowledge and opinions on this other subject that affected him enormously. In the meantime, Derek went to his online banking site and discovered that there was a special account his could open on behalf of a companion, called the Freedom Fund account. Derek would have complete authority over the bank account, but legally the money would belong to Stiles. The interest rate was next to nothing, but Stiles could save any money he acquired into that account to count towards his eventual freedom.

Derek already decided that if the school sent him the partial refund as he'd asked, he would put it into this account for Stiles. Maybe that would do something to appease his conscience about the accusations of being a rapist and otherwise taking advantage of a person in a vulnerable situation. Maybe Stiles would accept that he wasn't some evil monster.

By the time he'd finished his research into setting up the account, he'd received a response to his email. Argent accepted the offer of a ten percent refund in exchange for Derek not attempting to return Stiles. The school really had wanted to get rid of him badly to agree so easily. Derek should have asked for fifty percent to see whether they'd accept that or try to argue him down. Derek felt like his attempt at getting some sort of penalty on Stiles' behalf had backfired spectacularly. Clearly Argent hadn't been hurt by this decision or it would have taken longer to respond. There was nothing he could do about it now.

He left his study and went to find Stiles, half-expecting to discover that he'd attempted to run away or something equally foolish. Instead, he found Stiles in the kitchen, preparing food. Stiles looked up nervously as Derek entered and that fear scent drifted across the room again. At this rate, it would fill the entire house so badly that Derek would never be able to get rid of it. Unfortunately the only response Derek could think of was to snarl at Stiles to stop being so scared, but even he knew that would be a bad idea. So Derek just poured himself a drink and sat down at the table, watching Stiles work.

This, it seemed, was also a bad idea. Stiles kept sending nervous glances in Derek's direction so much that his hand slipped while he was chopping carrots.

Derek was on his feet in an instant as the scent of blood hit his nostrils. Stiles backed up a step, more scared than ever, staring in Derek in utter terror.

"I'm sorry," he said.

Derek reached out and took the knife from Stiles' hand, setting it down on the counter, and then took hold of Stiles' left hand so he could see the injury. It was a tiny nick of the skin, barely breaking the surface. The bleeding was already stopping but Stiles seemed like he was halfway to another panic attack.

"It won't happen again," Stiles said. "I promise."

Derek looked at him in confusion, staring between the tiny cut and the utter terror written on Stiles' face.

"Why are you acting like the world's about to end?" Derek asked.

"Because I injured myself," Stiles answered, speaking slowly as one would to an idiot, "and I'm your property, therefore I damaged your property."

"You expect me to punish you for getting hurt?"

The whole idea of that seemed ludicrous to Derek, but there was nothing laughable about the genuine fear from the boy in front of him. Derek realised he was still holding Stiles' hand, his fingers still wrapped around Stiles' trembling ones. Derek forced himself to let go and he took a step back, giving Stiles some room again.

"Have you forgotten the thing about you literally owning me?" Stiles said. "You can do whatever you like to my body but that doesn't mean I'm allowed to. You could whip me until my skin falls off but this," he waved his finger, "very definitely against the rules."

"That's idiotic," Derek said.

Stiles gave a nervous little laugh, closer to hysteria than humour.

"Not going to argue with you there," he said, "but that's how it is."

"Not in this house." As an afterthought, Derek added, "Just don't make a habit of slicing yourself open."

"You want to save that for yourself in your torture room?" Angry sarcasm was replacing the fear in Stiles' voice, which Derek took to be a good sign.

Derek was confused. Why would Stiles think he was going to cut him open? He wasn't going to use his playroom with an unwilling participant. He'd said that. Or had he? Derek tried to think back over their earlier conversation, trying to dredge up each word to see if he'd actually spelled out clearly that he didn't intend to use the playroom with anyone who wasn't into it. He'd thought he'd said that, somewhere in the middle of the talk about consent, but now he wasn't so sure. However he'd said it, it obviously hadn't been clear enough if Stiles still thought Derek wanted to take him into the playroom and he had to remedy that, especially since the fear scent was returning with every moment that Derek stood there, staring at Stiles without saying anything.

"I'm not going to have any scenes with you," Derek said. "I only use my playroom with people who consent and since you've told me you can never consent..." He shrugged, letting the silence fill in the details.

"But that was why you bought me. Why would you agree to keep me if you're not going to do what you bought me for?"

"Why would you agree to stay if you thought I was going to rape and beat you?"

"Because I figured this was better than wherever else Argent might have sold me," Stiles said. Derek gave a nod and raised his eyebrows as if to say 'there you have it' because that had been his reasoning too.

"You expect me to believe that you kept me simply because you felt sorry for me?" Stiles asked. Derek got the feeling that saying yes would be the wrong answer. He was still angry.

"You can keep house," Derek said, "and cook the meals. I'm keeping you around because you can be useful, but I won't have sex with you or scene with you without your consent."

"I'll never consent."

Derek shrugged. "Then I guess we'll never have sex."

Chapter Text

Stiles didn't trust Derek. When he'd come here, he'd seen that torture room and there was no way in hell that someone like Derek, someone who could afford this big house, and all that special equipment, and a companion of his own, wasn't used to getting everything his way. Derek wouldn't have gone to the trouble of buying Stiles if he didn't want a companion he could play with in there, which meant he was lying when he promised not have rape Stiles.

Which meant Stiles couldn't trust a word Derek said.

He might have been willing to suspend his disbelief if Derek had promised to keep sex to the bedroom and skip the kinky stuff, but he didn't believe for one moment that someone who would buy a companion gave a damn about consent. The only possible conclusions were that Derek was lying to him so that he could rape him later and make it hurt more because it came as a surprise, or he was lying to him to try and manipulate him. Stiles thought the second option was more likely. Derek would pretend to be nice to try and win him over and in a few days he would make a pass at Stiles.

As he chopped vegetables with a clean knife, Stiles thought about how it would play out. Derek would suggest sex and Stiles would refuse, and Derek would probably accept that answer, but he would try again later and hint at how Derek might show his gratitude if Stiles said yes. He would expect Stiles to crumble in order to get a gift he could put towards paying off his purchase price, maybe not right away but after a few attempts. Then, he would probably offer larger gifts if Stiles agreed to be tied up, or spanked, or something. Stiles chopped viciously at a potato as he thought all this. Derek probably had it all worked out and thought he would talk Stiles into that playroom within a few months. Well, Stiles wasn't going to let that happen.

He would never say yes. If Derek was going to rape him, Stiles would make it perfectly clear that that's what it was. He wouldn't let this man hide behind delusion of consent.

Stiles put his potatoes in the pan and started the water boiling, adding in a small about of stock from a bottle in the cupboard. The bottle had a best before date that was almost a month earlier, but it was still mostly full and Stiles sniffed at it and thought it would probably be OK. He wondered what would happen if he did give his new owner food poisoning on his first day. There wasn't much else he could do though, given the options that were available for him. Derek clearly bought food intending to cook but then left it in his fridge and cupboards until it passed its expiry date. Stiles had planned on cooking omelettes until he saw the expiry date on the eggs. He was less willing to take a risk with them than he was with a little bit of stock. Some of the vegetables had been past their prime, but no one would notice that when they were mixed in with the soup.

With his knowledge of cooking, Stiles wasn't sure what else he could make out of the ingredients available to him. There were a couple of tins of tuna and some of tomatoes so he could do a tuna, pasta bake, but that only gave him one more full meal before he was in trouble. Unless he poisoned Derek with out of date eggs.

He lay the table in the dining room while the soup was cooking, getting out a table cloth and place mat, arranging the cutlery. He wondered if he ought to try and find some flowers or branches outside to make a centrepiece, but he'd not been any good at flower arranging either so he decided not to attempt it.

He finished the food and arranged it as best he could. He didn't have anything to use as a garnish on the soup so there wasn't much he could do about presentation except stick in in the bowl. He set the plate of grilled cheese beside it and went to find Derek, discovering him in the den with a book.

"Your dinner is ready in the dining room," Stiles said.

"I never usually bother with the dining room," Derek said. "I normally just eat in the kitchen."

But he followed Stiles through and looked at the place setting, with the soup bowl and the grilled sandwich. He frowned at it, obviously seeing something wrong, and Stiles wished he had at least made an attempt at presentation. He could have found a napkin and folded it into a fan or something.

"Where's yours?" Derek asked.

"I made some extra," Stiles said, "so I was going to eat it in the kitchen afterwards, unless you wanted a second helping."

That was the normal procedure, according to his lessons. A companion would cook a meal for their owner and any guests, making sure that there was enough food so that people could have more if they wanted, and then the companion was entitled to eat anything that was left over. This was clearly not what Derek expected though.

"You might as well bring your dinner in too and we can eat together," he said.

"You don't know anything about owning a companion, do you?" said Stiles.

"I'm beginning to see that," Derek answered.

"Owners don't sit down and have dinner with their companions. I'm supposed to sing or dance or recite poetry to entertain you while you eat and then I'm allowed to eat whatever scraps you don't want."

"I'm pretty sure companions also aren't supposed to answer back and contradict their owners and ignore instructions." Derek raised an eyebrow, seeming more amused than annoyed. He jerked his head towards the kitchen. "Go and get yourself some food."

Stiles hurried off to obey. He poured the remainder of the soup into a second bowl. He hadn't grilled the second sandwich, expecting to eat it later, but he could eat it now as a cold cheese sandwich. He tried to get everything balanced with his cutlery so he could carry it back to the dining room, but then he had to deal with the fact he hadn't prepared a second place mat. He stood for a moment, wondering how he should handle this, when Derek noticed his struggle.

"Here," Derek said, "let me help."

He took the soup bowl and grabbed a second place mat, setting the bowl down for Stiles.

"Thanks," Stiles said automatically, and then hated himself for that show of politeness. Derek had helping him obey his orders and Stiles should not be thanking him for that. He should not be thanking his owner for anything.

"No problem," Derek said. He slid back into his seat while Stiles finished setting his place across from Derek. Stiles sat and started eating. He hadn't done too badly with the soup. If he'd had the ingredients, he would have mixed in some grains to give some variation in texture, but it worked as chunky vegetable.

They ate in silence for a minute or so and then Derek said, "So, do you actually know any poems?"

So Derek might let him eat at the same table, but he still wanted to be entertained. Stiles braced himself for anger and recited, "There was once a young man from Bel Air, who was doing his wife on the stair. But the banister broke, so he doubled his stroke, and finished her off in the air."

Derek snorted and splatters of soup sprayed over the table cloth. Derek forced his face straight and said in a poor attempt at dead pan, "I'm sure your teachers would be thrilled with your recitation."

"They preferred the poems that imply people are having sex but don't outright say it, but they weren't as memorable. I do remember a thoroughly depressing one about soldiers getting slaughtered in the First World War." He forced a serious tone and recited the first line, "'What passing bells for these who die as cattle'."

"An eclectic mix," Derek said. Stiles supposed he should be glad that Derek seemed amused by all this, because it meant Stiles was less likely to get punished, but he had to remember that he shouldn't be enjoying the conversation. This man was still the guy who'd purchased him like a lump of meat and who would happily take him into that torture room and use all those painful-looking implements.

Stiles changed the subject onto something more pressing, "If I'm going to be cooking meals, I'll need enough ingredients. How do you want to handle grocery shopping? I could make you a list, or you could take me with you, or you could let me used your computer and credit card to order stuff online." There was no point asking to be allowed out on his own, not given the fact that the house was in the middle of nowhere. That was frustrating. If they'd been in a town, Stiles could have made a case for completing the shopping chore on his own and might have had a few minutes each week in which he could pretend he was free.

"It's probably best if we go together," Derek said.

"We should probably go fairly soon. There's not much in your house that's still within its expiry date."

Derek looked embarrassed. "Yeah. I try and buy stuff to eat healthily, but then I end up ordering take out."

"Well now you have me to cook for you, but it only works if I've got stuff to cook with."

"We can go tomorrow. We'll need to get you some stuff anyway."

"Stuff?" Stiles asked, suddenly anxious again, wondering what Derek could be referring to.

"Clothes, underwear, toiletries." Derek made a vague motion with his hand, indicating that the list could go on. Stiles breathed out slowly, letting the anxiety fade. That didn't sound so bad.

Chapter Text

There was something contradictory about Stiles. He would be bluntly honest with his opinions in a way which Derek knew couldn't have been considered acceptable by his former school, only to then be terrified to the point of panic moments later. Fear didn't make Stiles stop or think about the things he was doing, it seemed to make him more likely to do them. Derek wondered if this was some variation on the fight or flight reflex. Stiles' reaction to fear was to fight but not in a physical way. He fought by reciting dirty limericks in place of love poems or arguing with the person who controlled his life.

Derek could almost understand why someone might mistakenly believe Stiles was a masochist. He had to have been punished by his former teachers for his actions but he seemed to almost invite that punishment. Derek didn't believe Stiles wanted punishment; he'd smelled Stiles' scent and heard his heartbeat when they'd argued. Still, it might be possible that a human would see Stiles' behaviour and think that he was encouraging control or punishment because of a submissive streak.

All the more reason Derek should be glad that Stiles had come to him and not some other human. A human might have taken Argent's word for Stiles' temperament and then taken his disrespectful attitude as an invitation for punishment. Derek wouldn't make that mistake. He made up his mind, hearing Stiles recite dirty poems over dinner, not to ever punish Stiles for speaking his mind or for behaving in a way that wasn't the stiffly formal manner of a trained companion. Derek would probably have a lot more fun with a contradictory and argumentative companion anyway, at least outside of a playroom.

The following day, Stiles prepared a breakfast of porridge and stewed apple, sweetened with brown sugar, which they ate in the kitchen this time. It seemed Stiles had taken Derek's comment the night before as an instruction. Stiles didn't hesitate about sitting down across from Derek this time. It would have been ridiculous for them to eat separately and, after all, the point of having a companion was companionship.

Stiles was still wearing the same clothes as the day before. Derek had heard the shower running earlier, but the scent of fear sweat still clung to the clothes and Derek wanted to get Stiles something new, something that didn't stink. Stiles couldn't survive long with just one outfit.

"How long do you need to make a shopping list?" Derek asked.

"An hour maybe," Stiles answered. "I'll need to work out a meal plan and work from there. And I'll need some, you know, paper."

"I've got notepads in my study," Derek said. "Find an empty one."

"Do you have an allergies?"

Derek couldn't exactly say 'wolfsbane and silver' and it wasn't like Stiles would be cooking with either of those, so he shook his head.

"Any particular dislikes?"

"Blue cheese," Derek said, "and mushrooms. Oh, and I don't like strong chili and curries."

His sense of taste was stronger than a human's and spicy food just tasted of pain, overwhelming everything else. Stiles nodded.

"Got it," he said. "I'll start working on that."

He moved to stand, but Derek reached across the table and grabbed his arm. Stiles froze, and the wave of fear assaulted Derek's nostrils. Derek heard Stiles' heartrate leap to about three times the speed it had been. He quickly let go.

"You can finish your breakfast first," Derek said. "We're not in a rush."

Stiles sat down and started eating. Derek wondered if he ought to apologise for grabbing him, or reassure him that he didn't need to be afraid, but he couldn't explain how he'd known Stiles was so afraid so anything he said would probably come across as weird. He settled for eating the rest of his breakfast in silence and then carried his bowl to the sink, starting to run the water.

"Don't you want me to do the washing up?" Stiles asked.

Derek looked down at what he'd been doing. He'd been moving on automatic, coming to clean the dishes out of habit.

"Right," he said. "Of course." He set his bowl down on the counter. "I'm going to read for a bit. Come get me when you're ready to go shopping."

Derek left him to it. He sat in the den with his book and wondered if he should have just done the washing up. He was used to doing that chore so it wouldn't have hurt him in any way. He felt bad for leaving it all for Stiles, despite having paid money for Stiles only to have him refuse to do the thing Derek had bought him for. It wasn't like Stiles was talking about rape and torture with regards to doing the dishes. Stiles had basically told Derek not to do the washing up, so why was Derek feeling guilty for it?

He finally managed to focus on his book but then it felt next to no time when Stiles appeared in the den declaring he was ready. They both got in the car and Derek drove them to the big Walmart, where they could get Stiles' clothes as well as whatever food he was after. Derek didn't say much as he started driving, but Stiles was fidgeting beside him, constantly shifting in position, playing with his seat belt, tapping his feet, and otherwise acting like there were pins prodding him every time he stayed still. At least he wasn't stinking the car up with terror sweat this time and he stared out of the windows at the scenery.

"Why do you live out in the middle of nowhere?" Stiles asked.

"It’s my family's home," Derek said.

"Your family? I've not seen any family. You haven't got a bunch of kids locked in a basement have you?"

"It belonged to my parents," Derek said. "This land, it's been in the family for years."

"So where is everyone else? A house like that was built for a big family."

"I take it 'understanding when to leave a subject alone' was another lesson you failed."

"Right. Got it."

Stiles looked away from Derek and was silent for a full thirty seconds.

"I could do with some recipe books," he said. "I mean, I can do some basic meals by rule of thumb, like the porridge and soup, but other things need careful timing, especially if you want me to make anything fancy. I could look them up online, but then you'd need to give me access to a computer with the internet."

Derek thought about letting Stiles use his computer, but he wasn't sure about giving Stiles the ability to poke around in his files and browser history. He wasn't doing anything secret or wrong, and he'd already shown Stiles his playroom, but still he preferred to keep his computer his own. He didn't have an old laptop lying around the house or anything like that, so if he wanted to give Stiles internet access, he would have to buy him something. It wouldn't have to be new or particularly powerful, but recipes wouldn't be the only thing Stiles might want to look up so Derek resolved to get him something. Just maybe not today. He guessed there would be recipe books in Walmart, so he could get Stiles something to tide him over.

"You still in there?" Stiles asked. "Conversations usually have input from both sides."

"Sorry," Derek said. "I was thinking. I'll get you some books."

"Right." There was no disguising the disappointment in Stiles' tone. Clearly he'd been hoping for internet access. Derek was about to say that he'd find Stiles a second hand laptop somewhere, but he changed his mind and decided to make it a surprise instead.

When they reached the store, Derek grabbed a cart and went to the clothing area first, telling Stiles to pick up a few things. Stiles grabbed some jeans in his size along with some packs of socks and underwear, and then he looked at the t-shirts. Derek noticed his eyes going to some with designs on, including one with the Captain America shield on it, and several designs that presumably referenced things Derek hadn't seen. Stiles gave a smirk of amusement at a t-shirt that had the word 'stud' written above a picture of a muffin. Derek was sure Stiles was going to pick that shirt, but instead he went to a display labelled 'basics' and grabbed three plain t-shirts that were about half the price. He wasn't buying the things he wanted, presumably because he thought Derek wouldn't spend the money.

Derek looked at the collection of clothes in the cart. One pair of jeans, three t-shirts, and enough socks and underwear to last maybe a week. With the clothes Stiles was already wearing, he could probably last a week between laundry sessions, but it would give Stiles no variety and he would probably have to wear the same clothes two or three days in a row. A human might not notice that, but a werewolf sense of smell might, especially if Stiles kept getting scared. That sort of scent clung. Derek wanted Stiles to feel free to change his clothes regularly, if only so that he wouldn't have to smell it. So Derek went back to the jeans stand and grabbed another pair to match the ones Stiles had already picked out. On his way back, he grabbed the stud muffin shirt, the Captain America one, and a few others he'd noticed Stiles' eyes lingering over. He piled these into the cart on top of the ones Stiles had already chosen. It wasn't a huge wardrobe, but it would give Stiles some more variety and spare Derek's nose, but it wasn't quite enough.

"You can't just have t-shirts," Derek said. "Get yourself something warmer to wear for going outside."

Stiles went to a display of hoodies and spent a minute trying to decide between two different designs. Derek grabbed both from his hands and tossed them into the cart before heading off towards the books section. Stiles hurried after him.

"Pretty sure you're doing it wrong again," Stiles said.

"Doing what wrong?"

"This. This whole situation. Owning me. You're supposed to be dressing me up in things you find sexy."

"You already said you aren't going to have sex with me," Derek said.

"So you're just going to ignore the fact that you can make me wear whatever you want? Or do graphic tees and hoodies really do it for you?"

"Do you want me to dress you up in sexy outfits?"

"God no."

"Then shut up and go find a couple of recipe books. You can pick two."

Stiles spent ten minutes trying to decide between the limited selection of recipe books available on the display. He was clearly trying to decide between some basic cookbooks and a couple that held fancier dishes. Derek wanted to hurry him up, to just grab one of each type and get on with this, but he'd told Stiles he could choose. Stiles had few enough choices in his life and Derek wasn't about to steal this one from him as well. So he moved down the shelves, past the mass produced novels and the bestsellers chart, not really paying attention to titles, just waiting for Stiles to make his mind up. He couldn't even go on and continue the shopping because Stiles was the one with the list.

Derek's eyes fell on a book on a high shelf, where it was unlikely to catch the eye of any passing children. Derek told himself he was just killing time while he waited, as he reached up and took the book from the shelf and flicked through a couple of pages. It was a book of humorous, adult poems, with crude language and even cruder rhymes, designed to make people laugh. Derek wasn't sure if it would make Stiles laugh, but it would be worth a shot.

He tossed it into the cart. Stiles didn't notice; he was still trying to pick between the books, turning the pages to see the sort of recipes that were printed inside.

"I'm not expecting you to put on extravagant feasts," Derek said.

Stiles finally seemed to realise how long he was taking. "Right. Sorry." He put one of the books into the cart and then stared at two of the others, holding them in each hand as though feeling their weight.

"Just take both," Derek said.

"You said two books," Stiles said.

"Yeah, and I want to get out of here before the next ice age. Three recipe books is fine."

Stiles hurried to obey and Derek regretted his tone. It seemed the fear scent was never far away and even here, surrounded by other people and the smells of food, it was noticeable. Derek wished Stiles wouldn't be so jumpy, but he knew where the fault really lay. He needed to learn to sound less harsh around Stiles.

Chapter Text

Stiles stared at the book on the kitchen table and tried to work out what it meant. He'd been unpacking the groceries and other stuff they'd bought, and there he'd found the book of poems buried beneath a packet of rice and some tins of tomatoes. He hadn't noticed Derek picking this up, but it was obviously intended for Stiles. What did Derek intend with it?

Was Stiles supposed to learn some of the poems in it and recite them for Derek's entertainment? Was this meant as a joke? Was Derek giving him a gift because he still wanted to get into Stiles' pants? Did he even want to, or had he written Stiles off as a bad investment because he wasn't interested in the torture room? Was the book meant to soften him up with innuendoes so that he let his guard down and accidentally agreed to the torture room?

Nothing about Derek's behaviour made sense to Stiles. He wasn't behaving like an owner was supposed to act and Stiles felt like he'd been flung on stage in the middle of a play without being given a chance to read the script. He was improvising and he was never at his best when improvising. He liked research, liked to know what was going on and to have a plan on how to act. He tried to fit together the pieces of information he had into a coherent picture but it wasn't working particularly well.

At the store, Derek had obviously been annoyed with him and Stiles had expected some form of punishment. Even if Derek was serious when he said he wasn't going to use the torture room, he could have demanded some minor punishment like the ones dealt out by the school, although even kneeling in a corner for an hour was a serious punishment when inflicted on someone with ADHD. But Derek hadn't done anything like that. He hadn't done anything at all. He'd packed the bags into the car and driven them home, and then done most of the heavy lifting to get the bags into the kitchen. Not a word was said about Stiles' indecisiveness, or the cost of the clothes, or the fact that Stiles had accidentally knocked several packets of cookies off a shelf and made a scene because he'd been flailing his arms as he talked.

The way Stiles saw it, there were two possibilities. Either Derek didn't feel what he'd done warranted punishment, or he wanted Stiles to think that was how he felt. Stiles suspected that the latter was more likely. Derek was trying to trick him into thinking he was being nice, but nice people didn't buy another human being.

Stiles couldn't help noting that the book of poems wasn't exactly an expensive gift. It was standard practice to give companions gifts to reward good service and those gifts could be his ticket to freedom, but Stiles wasn't going to be able to buy his way free with a few books and some clothes. Derek was trying to show that he was nice, but by giving Stiles something that wasn't actually useful to him, which Stiles took as evidence that Derek was a manipulative bastard. He had no intention of being taken in by the act. Derek was his owner, his captor, and that negated any potential sign of kindness. Maybe Derek had bought Stiles this book because he'd thought it would amuse him, because he wanted to make Stiles smile, but even that apparent act of generosity was in aim of a darker goal.

Stiles set the book aside and resolved not to read it. He would keep it in pristine condition in case that would get him an extra dollar from a pawn shop at some point in the future, and he would leave it somewhere visible, so Derek could see that he wasn't reading it. He would send a clear message that he wasn't falling for Derek's act.

If it made Derek angry, at least then Stiles would stop having to guess about his every word and action. If not, maybe Derek would move on to more impressive gifts in his effort to win Stiles over and then he would stand a chance of getting out of here someday.

He did look at the recipe books though, going through them until he found something to prepare for dinner. When Derek came to the table that evening, his eyes fell on the poetry book, left out on the counter.

"What did you think?" he asked. Stiles shrugged. Derek's face showed a trace of disappointment and Stiles was sure he'd guessed right. Derek was trying to manipulate him and he was disappointed that Stiles hadn't found the gift amusing or endearing. He'd wanted to soften Stiles towards him.

"I thought you might find them amusing," Derek continued.

Stiles shrugged again. "I only read poems because they made me at the school."

"Oh." Derek poked at his dinner. "What did you do for fun before the school?"

"Collecting Faberge eggs," Stiles said. "If you get me a couple of those as a gift, I might be more impressed."

He met Derek's eyes. He knew that Derek was trying to buy him off, and he wasn't going to let it happen. A moment later, he regretted his words. If he was so blunt about the fact that Derek wasn't going to ever win him over then Derek might not try. Stiles wanted Derek to try because he needed the gifts, desperately. He just needed to find a way to convince Derek to get him something more expensive, something that Stiles could actually use to his advantage.

"I played a lot of computer games," he said. "Some were shooters with my buddy Scott, but I played World of Warcraft, things like that."

"World of Warcraft?" Derek said. "That's the one with the elves and stuff, right?"

"Elves and stuff. Precisely. You have accurately summed up the game in a way that avoids any confusion."

He expected Derek to tell him off for his sarcastic tone, but Derek just nodded. If Derek got him a computer powerful enough to play WOW on, Stiles would have something worth selling. More than that, he'd have a computer with internet access and that was something Stiles desperately wanted right now. He wasn't going to suddenly start playing the perfect companion if Derek got him a computer, but there was no harm in Derek believing that was a possibility long enough to buy him one. If Derek was trying to manipulate him, Stiles would manipulate him right back.

Derek didn't say anything else about gaming or gifts over the meal. He changed the subject abruptly, complimenting Stiles on his cooking.

"The recipe is from one of the books you bought," Stiles said. He didn't acknowledge the compliment.

"Good choice of book then."

Stiles didn't acknowledge that compliment either. He kept eating his dinner and watched Derek's jaw tighten slightly. He was pretty sure he was annoying Derek and he kept waiting for the outburst, for some sign of temper. He kept waiting for Derek to show his true colours. He knew he ought to want Derek to keep up the act as long as possible because while Derek was acting nice, Stiles' suffering was minimised. On top of that, a Derek who was trying to win his confidence with gifts was a Derek who was helping him along the road to freedom, however slowly it might be. Despite that, a large part of Stiles wanted Derek to snap because he was sick of all the bullshit. He was sick of people talking about companions in terms of euphemisms like 'personal entertainment' as though that made the whole thing any less disgusting. Stiles was sick and tired of lies and just wanted someone to be honest with him for once.

"Stiles," Derek said, but then he fell silent.

"What?"

Derek shook his head. "It doesn't matter."

"You were obviously going to say something. What was it?"

"It doesn't matter. Nothing I can say is going to change things, is it? I'm sorry. Thanks for dinner."

Derek pushed his chair back from the table and walked out of the kitchen, his dinner still half eaten on the plate. Stiles was left to stare after him, wondering what exactly Derek had been apologising for. For not finishing his sentence? Or for this situation?

He told himself it didn't matter. Either way, it had been just another part of the act, another way for Derek to pretend he had a shred of human decency somewhere inside him. Stiles knew better. Derek was the sort of person who owned a personal torture room full of whips and restraints and stuff, and he was the sort of person to pay money for another human being to inflict those implements on. Buying him a joke book and a few extra t-shirts could never negate what Stiles knew of Derek's character from the fact that he was here in this house with him. If Derek was the sort of person he was pretending to be, he never would have purchased Stiles in the first place.

Stiles finished his dinner and cleaned up the kitchen before heading upstairs to the little bedroom up near the roof. As he lay on the narrow bed, staring out of the skylight at the stars, he wished he'd brought the poem book up here anyway. He'd made his point to Derek and it wasn't like there was anything else for him to do up here. Some of those poems might have been worth a chuckle. At least it would have been something to occupy his mind other than work and worry.

Chapter Text

Derek's house had never been cleaner. Stiles had started with dusting and vacuuming and scrubbing the bathrooms, but it seemed like he'd scrubbed everything. The windows shone, the faucets sparkled, and Stiles seemed to have tended to every nook and cranny. He also prepared the meals. Derek had never eaten with such variety. Stiles' dishes tended to lack something in terms of appearance - one of his soups had resembled stagnant pond water in colour - but they tasted a lot better than anything Derek could make. Stiles prepared light salads for lunches, cooked dinners, and breakfasts that varied from fruit salads to full fry-ups.

Derek was eating a lot more vegetables now than before, but more volume too. He made sure to keep up with his workouts. Even with werewolf metabolism, he couldn't afford to stuff himself on fine cooking. He jogged almost every day and performed callisthenics in the den, which was the room with the most floor space. That had proved interesting.

Stiles had walked in on him when he was doing press-ups after his run and his reaction had been priceless.

"Holy god!" Stiles shrieked, dropping the bottle of furniture polish on his foot and then hopping around for a minute. Derek had had to stop his workout to laugh.

"Don't laugh at me," Stiles said, retrieving his fallen cleaning supplies and failing to retrieve any sort of dignity. "This is your fault. You and your," he gestured vaguely at Derek's bare chest, "you."

Stiles stalked out.

From that little exchange, Derek took it as a sign that Stiles might not be as opposed to physical activities between them as he'd said at first, but Derek wasn't going to put pressure on him. Which meant that, despite having spent a small fortune on a companion, Derek hadn't had any of the fun he'd expected to have. He wanted to let off some steam and if Stiles was out of the question then there was only one option.

"I'm going out tonight," Derek announced over dinner one Friday. "I might bring someone back with me afterwards to use the playroom." Stiles was instantly tense at the mention of the playroom, though Derek wasn't sure why. He carried on, "So if you hear any noises, don't worry about it."

Stiles relaxed ever so slightly. "Oh, so you mean you would be using the playroom just with them."

"Of course I meant..." The pieces clicked. "You thought I meant I'd bring someone back for them to help me use the playroom equipment with you."

Stiles gave a little shrug and a tilt of his head which Derek read as confirmation.

"I told you I wouldn't take you into the playroom without your consent," Derek said.

"And people with companions don't pick up one night stands at bars."

Stiles had assumed Derek was lying. It hurt Derek to realise that, even though it shouldn't have been a surprise. Stiles had no reason to trust Derek, knew nothing of his history and little about his current life. Telling Stiles that he could trust him would be utterly pointless, since someone untrustworthy could just lie about being trustworthy.

"Apparently this one does," Derek said.

***

The club Derek headed to was a discrete BDSM establishment that had a good reputation for maintaining consent and safety. It hadn't always had, but there had been a change in ownership a little over a year ago. The previous owners had looked the other way when some of the people brought into the club was less than consenting, and they'd ended up arrested over it. The new owner had made it clear that wasn't going to stand, turfed out a lot of former regulars, and made a point that 'safe, sane and consensual' were the club's primary guidelines. Derek had never been to the place under the old ownership, but under the new ownership he'd found it to be exactly the sort of place he needed to go when he wanted to have some fun. There was another major advantage: the new owner knew about the supernatural and who wouldn't panic and call the police when clientele who were something other than human got up to activities that would kill a regular person. The club's bouncers were usually werewolves or otherwise had enhanced senses so that they could keep careful watch on the scents of the people in play and pick up on any sign of distress. Not everyone who came in here was some measure of supernatural, but most were and the few that weren't generally knew enough. Some came here specifically, the thrill-seekers who got off on the adrenaline rush of blood play with a real vampire or sex with someone who could sprout claws. Some just came here because they'd seen too much to fit in back in the normal world.

Derek took a seat at the bar, ordered a coke, and surveyed the night's pickings. It was early yet so the place wasn't too busy, but there were a few people about. Many looked familiar, even if Derek had never spoken to them or done anything with them. Some were here together, like the couple who were in the middle of some intricate rope bondage in the corner, or the werewolf who was currently being whipped at the cross, his skin healing almost as soon as it was broken. Others were alone, here for play or just observing.

Derek avoided any who looked nervous. He didn't like using the playrooms here, didn't like having sex in someone else's territory and no matter how thoroughly the place was cleaned, it could never be free of the scent of other people. The new people would never agree to come back to his home to play, not if they had any sense. That meant he needed to find someone who was a regular, someone who'd seen his face before and could be reasonably confident that he wasn't going to murder them and bury their body in the woods. That narrowed his options considerably, but it was early yet. Someone might come in who fit his requirements.

As he surveyed the crowd, he couldn't help wondering what Stiles would make of all this. Would he go charging over to the cross and berate the man wielding the whip for his cruelty? Or would he go over to the couple in one of the booths, the man seated and the collared woman kneeling at his side, leaning her head against his leg? Derek let himself enjoy the mental picture of Stiles getting into an argument about consent with a couple who had been coming here longer than Derek had, and whose scents always lay somewhere between contentment and lust.

There was movement beside him and a familiar scent. Braeden slid into the seat beside him and waved the barman over. She ordered a coke too, since the bar didn't serve alcohol. Alcohol wouldn't affect half of the patrons in here, but the owner was very strict about the other half. He didn't want anyone in control of another person when they weren't one hundred percent in control of their own faculties, and more than that, he didn't like anyone being taken advantage of. He had some very strong opinions on that front. Thinking of him now, those opinions reminded Derek of Stiles. He was being reminded of Stiles by someone who wasn't even here right now, so what did that say about him? What was it about this boy that made it so hard to put him out of his thoughts?

"You're smiling," Braeden said. "Got some special plans for tonight?"

"Not really. Just looking for a sub for a little fun. You in the mood to switch tonight?"

Braeden usually took a dominant role in scenes, but she had been known to sub from time to time. They'd had a few scenes together in the past, always casual, never too intense, but usually fun. She gave him a long look, obviously considering his suggestion.

"I was thinking of finding a sub who wanted a play on the cross," she said. "Just a short scene. If you haven't found someone else by the time I'm done, I'll come home with you."

Derek nodded his agreement. He wasn't going to look too hard for someone else. He would rather have a scene with Braeden than a stranger, even if it would put some restrictions on their impact play. She was tough and could handle pain but she preferred bondage to pain play when she was on the receiving end. She might be willing to let him let a flogger to her skin in exchange for a long teasing session. He considered his options as he watched her leave the bar and go to speak to a pair of girls who were staring intensely at the St Andrew's cross. For now, he would just enjoy his drink and watch the others at play.

He tried not to think about Stiles and what he would make of all this. Stiles had made his position clear and Derek knew he would never bring him here. He wondered idly about letting Stiles see some of this to show him that they weren't cruel and vicious and taking advantage of others. Maybe Stiles could actually talk to the couple in the booth or the guy being bound head to toe in rope and gain some understanding of why people participated, understand that Derek wasn't a monster for enjoying this. But even though that idea appealed to Derek, it wasn't an option. Stiles would be terrified by a place like this, and he would assume the worst. He would no doubt assume that Derek was trying to talk him into something he didn't want to try, and Derek wouldn't do that.

So Derek would have casual fun with Braeden tonight and Stiles would be reassured that Derek could find what he was looking for elsewhere and wasn't going to pressure him into anything he didn't want to do.

Chapter Text

Stiles hadn't been woken in the night be screaming, which he took as a sign that Derek hadn't bought anyone home with him after all. He got up and went to the kitchen, planning out what to prepare. If Derek had been out the night before then a hangover was a strong possibility, so Stiles should prepare plenty of coffee and other liquids, as well as something to soak up any alcohol. On the other hand, Stiles didn't want to prepare anything that required precise timings because it was possible Derek would stay in bed until noon to sleep off the night's fun. Stiles didn't want to cook something only to see it go to waste if Derek didn't wake up, or if he woke up without any stomach for food.

Stiles decided to start with a smoothie. It would give necessary liquids and he could prepare the fruit and then wait to blend it until he knew Derek was awake. Stiles dug into the cupboard to find the smoothie maker, which was hidden behind the saucepans and pots he used more regularly. He pulled out a stack of pans to reach into the cupboard when he heard a noise behind him and turned to look.

He gave a yelp of surprise and dropped the pans, which rained down in a horrendous clatter of metal on tile. They clanged and crashed as Stiles flailed and tried to still them before Derek stormed in here in a temper demanding to know what the noise was all about. In the doorway of the kitchen, the almost-naked woman watched the proceedings with amusement on her face.

"Who the hell are you?" she asked.

"Stiles," he said. "I'm Stiles."

He managed to pull the pans into a pile, despite the distraction of bare skin. She was wearing her underwear but nothing else and she didn't seem at all embarrassed, even when Stiles realised he was staring. He started to put the pans away, but by then Derek came into the kitchen. He hadn't bothered with clothes either and stood there in nothing but his briefs, bare torso showing an expanse of muscle, long legs just as toned. Stiles had seen him without his shirt before but that hadn't prepared him for this view of him, wearing next to nothing, with his head mussed from sleep and sex. Stiles forced his mouth to close before he started drooling.

"You taking in strays?" the woman asked Derek.

"He's my..." Derek hesitated. Stiles saw no reason not to embarrass Derek as much as he was now embarrassed.

"I'm his companion," Stiles said.

"You took a companion?" the woman asked. "You?"

"I... erm..." Derek looked thoroughly awkward.

"You'll be lucky to be let into the club again," the woman continued. "The owner considers having sex with a companion under any circumstances to be basically rape."

"I made that exact same argument," said Stiles.

"And how did he respond?"

"I didn't sleep with him," said Derek.

"Well," the woman said, "I suppose it depends on where you draw the line but that's still very questionable."

Derek still looked awkward and Stiles felt compelled to put him out of his misery, at least a little bit. "No, he really didn't sleep with me."

The woman looked like she was about to start laughing. She shot an amused look at Derek. "You bought a companion to not have sex with him?"

Stiles had never seen Derek look more uncomfortable and he was enjoying every moment. He also couldn't help liking this woman, who seemed to find this situation as ridiculous as Stiles did.

"Why do you think I was at the club last night?" Derek said.

The woman shook her head. "Only you, Derek. Only you."

She went over to the coffee machine to pour herself a mug. The fact that Stiles was still the only one with clothes on didn't do anything to change Stiles' embarrassment, especially not when he noticed the red lines across her rear and thighs. Stiles quickly looked away, trying not to think about what this might mean. Derek had taken her into the playroom after all, and she was clearly still happy enough to mock him and drink his coffee the morning after. From the sounds of things, she'd known him before last night.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Derek said.

Stiles put most of the pans away and decided to forget the smoothie idea. He pulled out the pack of eggs from the fridge, deciding to just do scrambled eggs on toast. Derek helped himself to coffee too before sitting down beside the woman at the table. Derek was studiously staring at his coffee, as though it might provide an escape to this embarrassing situation.

The woman was still interested in Stiles and started asking him how long he'd been here, what he did for Derek, things like that. Stiles didn't go into the whole mess with Argent's false advertising. He had questions of his own that he longed to ask, but he wasn't sure how to broach the subject. She didn't seem like a miserable soul into self-flagellation, which left Stiles unsure what to make of the fact that she'd gone into the playroom with Derek, apparently by choice. Stiles couldn't easily ask her if Derek had paid her to be there, at least not without causing offence. He wasn't sure he wanted to have the conversation in front of Derek either, but it was obvious that this woman didn't hate Derek for whatever he'd done to her the night before. On the contrary, she was acting like Derek was an old friend.

"I didn't catch your name," Stiles said.

"I'm Braeden."

"And you know Derek well?"

"I don't think anyone knows him well, but I've known him for a few years."

Stiles served out the plates of eggs, not sure how to ask if this was a regular thing for the two of them. He doubted she was Derek's girlfriend, or he wouldn't have needed a companion. Plus, she would have known to expect Stiles if that had been the case. Her very existence didn't make sense to Stiles, but it did seem to imply that Derek had been telling the truth about the fact that some people enjoyed doing whatever it was they did in there.

"Do they teach you to cook like this at companion school?" Braeden asked.

"No, they teach people to cook better than this," Stiles answered, "I just wasn't very good at learning."

"Tastes great to me."

"Thank you. I tended to do OK at making stuff you could eat, but we were supposed to make it look pretty and that I sucked at."

"I would have thought sucking was a highly prized skill."

Stiles snorted, but Derek started choking on his coffee at that joke. He looked like he would rather be anywhere but here right now. Stiles looked at him and said, "If I were more awake, I'd make a joke about the gag reflex right now."

That didn't do anything to help Derek with his choking, but it seemed to amuse Braeden.

"I haven't ever met a companion in real life," she said, "but you're not like ones on TV."

"I'm not like the ones in real life either."

Stiles was starting to relax as it didn't seem he was about to be dragged into the playroom for a session, and he couldn't help be amused by the fact that he was fully dressed while his owner and his guest were in their underwear. He was sure that was a reversal from the standard situation.

After breakfast, Braeden went off to shower and told Derek he needed to drive her back to her car, the comment sounding very much like an order but Derek didn’t bar an eyelid at it. By the time Stiles had done the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, the two of them headed off. Stiles was left alone in the house with nothing but his curiosity. He didn't have anything pressing on his chore list, but he did have his burning desire to understand.

He might regret this later, but he went to the door of the playroom and slowly opened it.

The room looked much as it had that first day, but now Stiles wasn't seeing it from behind a haze of panic. He still felt anxious, walking into this place, even though he knew that no one was here right now. No one would grab him and force him into any of these restraints. If he was careful, Derek would never even know he'd been in here. Despite the rational knowledge, his heart was racing as he picked his way across the room.

The large bed took up most of the floor space, imposing with its bulk and the metal frame. The sheets were messed from the night's activities and there were cuffs attached to the frame. Stiles couldn't remember if those cuffs had been there on his previous visit to this room. He reached out and ran a finger over the leather of the cuff and the soft padding on the inside. These were clearly designed not to hurt when they were on, which seemed a strange contradiction to the other activities this room indicated.

Stiles kept up his exploration, running his hands over the padded surface of some sort of bench, imagining what it would feel like to be bent over it, ankles and wrists inside the cuffs fixed to its legs. His racing heart wasn't entirely due to fear. The cross against one wall seemed more severe, but the cuffs were likewise made of leather with a soft lining.

He risked opening the cupboard Derek had gone to on that first day. The items were all there: whips and canes and riding crops and paddles. Stiles reached in and took one from its place, a long rectangle of stiff leather with a handle at one end. He swung it through the air and tried to imagine what it would feel like against his skin.

As an experiment, he held out an arm and swung the paddle down, but he hesitated, cutting his speed at the moment out of the instinct to avoid pain, so the leather met his skin with barely a tap. He hung the paddle back on its hook on the back of the cupboard wall, feeling silly. Why was he even doing this? He didn't like being in pain.

Stiles closed the cupboard doors and walked out of the playroom.

Chapter Text

Derek was not looking forward to the drive back to town to drop Braeden off, and he had been right. As soon as they were driving away from his house, she started talking about Stiles.

"You bought a companion. You."

"Yes. We've established this."

"The guy who insisted on a twenty minute discussion on consent before our first scene."

"I remember. I was there." Derek wanted her to shut up. He knew she was judging him, knew she probably thought him as despicable as Stiles did for having gone to that school and purchased a person.

"What were you thinking?"

Derek didn't have a good answer for her. He knew now that he hadn't been thinking, not really. His house had felt too big and too quiet and too empty, and he'd wanted to have someone there with him, but he knew himself well enough to know that he couldn't just go out and meet someone. The few people he could bring back to his house, like Braeden, were casual acquaintances. He didn't even have anyone he could consider a real friend, let alone pack. He couldn't go around biting people and making them pack, because he knew he would let them down, knew what a disaster he was to a pack.

He'd wanted someone in his life and getting a companion seemed the easy solution. After one lonely full moon by himself too many, he'd gone onto the website for the companion school, seen the photos of smiling students and read all the sugary language about finding a compatible person who would bring company to his life. In the mood he'd been in, he hadn't read between the lines and realised that all the talk of compatibility and finding a companion who could provide comfort was just a pile of garbage. He'd thought he would get someone who enjoyed what he enjoyed, who he would treat kindly and look after, and who could give him companionship without ever having to get too close, without having to let down his defences. He'd imagined one of those smiling people from the website photos would come into his life and remove some of the loneliness and be happy to be with him. He'd had this fantasy of life with a companion and it had never even occurred to him that the companion might hate him, might want nothing to do with him.

He knew Stiles found him attractive. His reaction when he'd walked in on his workout told him that, but Stiles' hatred of his personality was enough to overrule any physical attraction. He couldn't even argue about the fact that Stiles thought him a monster because Stiles didn't even know half of what he'd done, what he was responsible for.

"Derek?" Braeden asked, making Derek realise that he'd been sitting in silence for well over a minute, not responding to her question.

He didn't want to admit his thought processes to her.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," he said.

"And now?"

"He's better off with me than he would be anywhere else that school would send him." Derek could be confident of that. He could pretend to himself that he was doing Stiles a favour and feel better about the decisions he'd made.

"Is that your opinion or his?"

"His. I gave him a choice." He'd given him a choice too late, he knew. He should have given him the choice before paying the money if he'd been thinking straight. If he'd been thinking straight, he never would have filled out the booking form for the appointment at the school to begin with, but he'd filled out that form on the full moon, when his craving for pack was at its height, overruling all common sense. Laura always said he made stupid decisions when the moon was full. She always had to be right, even now she was dead.

Derek dropped Braeden off near the club and went to run a few errands before heading back to the house. When he arrived, he had a large box under one arm. He listened carefully to identify Stiles' location and then headed to find him. Stiles was sitting in the den, curled up on the couch with a book, apparently oblivious to Derek, at least until Derek set the box down on the coffee table. Stiles jumped, fumbled the book, and dropped it in a crumpling of pages. Derek noted that the book wasn't one of the ones he'd given Stiles, but one of his own books that Stiles must have swiped from the shelves.

"Crap. Sorry. Erm... I wasn't slacking off."

Derek shrugged. "I bought you a gift."

He indicated the box. Stiles took a moment to retrieve the fallen book and straighten the pages before he turned his attention to the box, obviously nervous. Stiles lifted the lid, chewing his lip as he did so, as though he was afraid of what might be inside. What he found, packed in bubble wrap, was a laptop. It wasn't a new machine. Derek had bought it second hand, but it would be good enough for Stiles' purposes.

"The wifi code," Derek went on, "is written on a sticker on the back of the router in my study. I haven't checked whether the wifi reaches your room, but you should be able to get online here or in the kitchen."

"Th..." Stiles started, cutting off the thank you before he could get too far, turning it into, "This will be useful."

Derek didn't question the aborted thank you, just nodded and went to the playroom. Someone needed to change the sheets on the bed and he wasn't going to ask Stiles to do this.

Which was why he was so surprised when he went inside the playroom and could still smell Stiles' scent. He wondered if it was just clinging to his clothes, but that wasn't it at all. Stiles' scent was here, in this room, a gentle layer beneath the smell of sex. Curious, Derek poked about the room, seeing where Stiles' scent clung. He must have touched half of the equipment in the room. Opening the cupboard, Derek found his scent in there too. He wasn't sure what to make of this, why Stiles would have come into this room given his obvious hatred of bondage.

But Derek couldn't go out there and ask him, not without giving away that he knew Stiles had been in here. There was no way to explain that without giving away that he was a werewolf. Maybe he should just pretend he didn't know. If Stiles was curious about BDSM, he could ask, or he could look it up on his new laptop. If Derek tried to bring the subject up, it was just another way he might be seen as pressuring him.

Derek resolved to keep his mouth shut and pulled the sheets off the bed to take to the laundry room.

***

Derek hadn't questioned him sitting around, so Stiles thought it would be OK to take the time to setup the laptop. After all, he was just showing appreciation for the gift. He found the wifi password easily enough and got the computer online as soon as it had enough charge to boot up. His first task was to look up a recipe for dinner so he could show that he was using the laptop for its intended purpose. His second task was to search for his dad.

The first result was a news article about Sheriff Stilinski being defeated in the election and losing his position after a prostitution scandal. Stiles didn't want to dig into what that prostitution scandal might have been, but he was willing to be that it had something to do with him. Maybe his dad had been digging around for information on where he'd been sent by approaching companions or going into the brothels. Maybe someone had found out Stiles had been sent to companion school and attack ads found a way to blame his dad for that. Stiles was sure the details would just make him angry, so he ignored anything that looked like it might be about the scandal and focused instead on finding a way to contact him. The postal address wouldn't work, since the bank had been close to taking the house at the time when Stiles had been taken. His number and email address for the sheriff's station wouldn't work and his dad had never bothered to get the hang of social media or Skype. Stiles had never needed to learn his dad’s cell number because it had always been programmed into his phone, so even if he had the same cell, it didn’t do Stiles much good.

Stiles could still contact other people at the station though. He poked around the Beacon Hills Police Department website to figure out who to contact and ended up sending an email to Tara and Parrish, simply saying who he was and that he was trying to reach his dad. If his dad was still in touch with anyone on the force, it would be one of them.

He considered sending emails to other people, but figured he would wait until they'd had a chance to reply. Rather than staring at the screen waiting for the email notification to pop up, Stiles forced himself to close the laptop and get on with trying out the new recipe.

While he chopped vegetables, Stiles considered another pressing issue. Derek had given him the laptop as a gift and Stiles was glad of that, if only because it gave him a chance to contact his dad, but Stiles was supposed to earn his way to freedom through acquiring gifts and tokens of appreciation. So far, all he had was a handful of cookery books, a joke book, the clothes he was wearing, and now the laptop. Even with the laptop, it would only be a few hundred dollars' worth if he sold everything. He didn't know what Derek had paid for him but even with the annual decreases, by the time Stiles' purchase price had dropped to a reasonable amount, the laptop would be worthless. Stiles needed to do something to earn more gifts otherwise he would be cleaning Derek's house until he had arthritis and cataracts.

He considered his options. The playroom was not on the list. Derek might give him gifts if he agreed to go in there with him, but Stiles was not interested in trying that equipment out. Sex might be on the table. For all Stiles' talk of rape and consent, Derek was extremely attractive. Stiles could swallow his pride and sleep with him for the sake of his freedom. He told himself that it was no different than an athlete trading the talents of their body. If it weren't for their current situation, Stiles would probably have been thrilled by the opportunity to sleep with someone as attractive as Derek. Stiles remembered the way he'd looked over breakfast, still bedraggled from a night of sex, and he almost wished that he'd been less vocal in his rejection of the possibility of sex. Stiles could probably enjoy having sex with Derek, despite everything.

But even before the sex, there were other things he could try, other ways he could put his training into use. He might have been the worst student at the school but he'd still learned a few things during his time there.

So as they sat down to dinner that evening, Stiles said, "The laptop is great. Really useful."

"You're welcome," Derek said, even though Stiles hadn't actually said the words 'thank you' at any point because Derek was still effectively his captor and there were lines he wasn't going to let himself cross.

"So I was wondering if you would like me to give you a massage."

Derek stared at Stiles. It was hard to read his expression, his features set into a look that seemed angry and forbidding, but nothing more than his usual glower. Stiles was starting to get the impression that Derek just looked constantly angry and regardless of his actual emotions.

"You don't need to do anything in exchange for the computer," Derek said. "You said it would be useful so..." He shrugged the gift aside.

"Yeah, but the thing is..." Stiles hesitated, unsure if he should explain what he was thinking or pretend that he was trying to be at least a passable companion. He decided that it would be better to be up front about it. He didn't do too well with subtlety. He tried again, "The thing is, my only way out of being a companion is if I earn enough in gifts and tips and stuff that I can sell it and pay my purchase price. It's not like you're going to give me a tip for cleaning the dishes, so..." He trailed off again but Derek clearly understood.

"You want to give me a massage so that I will give you gifts?"

"Yeah. Basically."

Derek looked at Stiles, clearly thinking it over, so Stiles continued, pressing on as though Derek had already agreed, "There's a special type of bank account you can set up for me to store the money. That's probably the best way to do this because then I'll get some interest on the money." That way, Stiles would get some measure of control over it as well. In name, everything would be managed by Derek but if Stiles could get the information, he would at least be able to check his balance and deposit any money he managed to make it other ways.

"I already set up the freedom fund for you," Derek said.

Now it was Stiles' turn to be surprised. "You did?"

"I'll find the details after dinner, and I think you're wrong."

"Oh." Stiles tried not to feeling the disappointment too keenly. For a moment, he'd let himself have a glimmer of hope that he might be able to find a way out of this somehow.

"About paying you for cleaning the dishes, I mean," Derek went on. "You're cooking my meals and keeping my house clean. You deserve some payment for that. On the other hand, you're getting room and board for free, so shall we say... two hundred dollars a week?"

Stiles said, "Yes!" in a heartbeat and then wondered if he should have argued Derek up. Derek had thrown that number out there as a starting point and Stiles had agreed because no one paid their companion a weekly wage for doing housework. Stiles had wanted to agree because this was a chance to earn something, to get regular money coming in for what he would have been doing anyway. But if Derek was serious, Stiles might have been able to negotiate. He told himself he was going to negotiate the next one.

"For the massage," Derek said, "I have no idea what the going rate is. Fifty dollars a massage?"

Stiles didn't know what the going rate was either, and he knew that he probably shouldn't charge the going rate based on all the comments he'd had about his technique and his inability to create a relaxing environment, but he'd just promised himself he would negotiate because this was his way to freedom.

"Seventy five dollars," Stiles said. Derek nodded his agreement without batting an eye.

Chapter Text

They decided Derek's bedroom was the best location. It would feel a little awkward, but Stiles needed him to be able to lie down. Derek wasn't going to suggest the playroom, and it seemed silly to mess up a bed in one of the spare rooms just for this. Besides, Derek didn't want to use one of the other bedrooms for the same reason he'd put Stiles in the attic room: the other rooms still felt like they belonged to various members of his family. They'd rebuilt the house from the old blueprints and so those rooms felt to Derek like they were the rooms of his parents or sisters or uncle. He would have felt deeply uncomfortable using those beds for a massage. So his bedroom it was, and Stiles seemed OK with this.

Stiles told Derek to take his shirt off and then told him to undo his pants and push them down a little way so that Stiles would be able to massage his lower back more easily. Derek spent a few moments getting comfortable, ending up wedging his face between two pillows so that he could keep his neck straight but still be able to breathe.

Stiles put his hands on Derek's back and started moving them in slow, gentle strokes. Derek tried to remember when he'd last been touched so gently. Then he tried not to remember.

Stiles kept up the motions, working his hands across the muscles of Derek's back in broad movements.

"Really I should have oil for this to do it properly," Stiles said, "though not all of the techniques use oil. Some of the techniques are more about pressure in specific points, but those massages tend to be less enjoyable to go through, even though they might break up serious knots more quickly."

Stiles seemed set to talk all through this process, but Derek didn't mind. It was better than just lying there, getting lost in his own thoughts. He made a vague noise to show he was listening and let Stiles ramble on as he started working his hands in circles behind Derek's shoulders, pressing a little firmer now.

"Of course, if I was doing this properly, I'd put on twinkly music to make you relax and probably stick a Buddha statue somewhere to pretend that somehow made it more powerful. The Buddha head thing isn't just cultural appropriation though, it's actually worse than that because it represents desecration of religious sites. When European explorers went to..." Stiles hesitated. "Thailand? Or was it Burma? I can't remember, but somewhere in Asia, they found loads of Buddhists with these temples and these huge, beautiful statues of Buddha. The European travellers couldn't easily steal the whole statues and take them home, so they just chopped off the heads. So people in Europe started associating these Buddha heads with Asia and Buddhism, but really they weren't just heads originally. So this supposedly ancient tradition is actually rooted in Europeans vandalising and stealing Asian religious symbols."

"Sounds like a lot of traditions," Derek said into the mattress. He wasn't sure he was needed to participate in this conversation, but he was amused that Stiles could remember, at least partially, stories about stealing statue heads but not remember the poems that he'd been expected to learn.

Stiles' hands kept working into Derek's shoulders and he gave a groan as those fingers moved over an area Derek hadn't even been aware was tense. Now he could feel it, a knot of tension buried deep inside, somewhere close enough that Stiles' fingers were making him aware of it but not close enough to be properly dealing with it.

"There's a knot," he said, "somewhere." He tried to feel it, tried to work out where in his body was tight. "Right? Near where your right hand is but just... gah."

Derek's words devolved into a noise of pain and pleasure combined as Stiles' roving fingers found the knot in question and pressed hard. It hurt, but in a way that he knew instinctively was helping, the knot loosening as Stiles leaned his weight on it, pressing in firmly.

"I always thought," Stiles said, as he switched to an elbow so that he could dig in even deeper, "that it would be really useful to have a heatmap of tension projected over the back of whoever I was doing the massage for. You know, green where there's no tension, yellow where there's a bit, and then bright red for the serious knots. That way, I could know exactly where to go and I could see the effect I was having, make sure I got all the worst bits. The people who are really good at this say they can feel the knots, but I can only do that if the tense muscle is really bad and really close to the surface. Like, if you ran a marathon and your calves were bad the next day, I'd be able to feel that because they'd go all solid, but with the back and shoulders there are all these layers of muscle and if you've got a knot underneath, how the hell am I supposed to know where to find it without prodding absolutely everywhere?"

Right then, Derek would not have had a problem with Stiles prodding everywhere. The places that he had been prodding already felt about a hundred times more relaxed than they'd been earlier. He made another incoherent moan as Stiles switched shoulders and started hunting for a matching knot on the other side.

He heard Stiles' heart rate speed up. With his head buried in the bed, it took him a moment to work out what was going on, but then he picked up the scent of lust. Derek's moans at the massage must be making Stiles think of sex, but instead of making him feel uncomfortable as Derek might have expected, Stiles just smelled of want. Still, Derek tried to make his appreciation of the massage less audible as they continued.

Stiles started talking again, explaining how they'd practiced massaging at the companion school and how it was basically everybody's favourite class because they had to practice on each other.

"And we had to learn different types of massage," Stiles said, "like shiatsu versus Thai, aromatherapy versus sports massage, but the biggest comparison we got was the difference between standard massage and foreplay massage."

"Foreplay massage? That's a thing?" Derek asked.

"Turns out it is for companions. Basically, we start out as if we're doing one of the less intense massages, like an aromatherapy massage with lots of oil, and at after a certain point I'm supposed to stop doing proper massage and just switch to feeling you up."

"Do you think people ever get them mixed up?" Derek asked. "Do you think someone ever walks into a massage parlour expecting to get, well, a massage, and gets the other sort?"

"I don't know, but I think they'd figure out it pretty quickly. Could you imagine though if you were shy and the person doing the massage started groping you. What the hell would you do?"

"Scream and make a bolt for the door?"

Stiles laughed a little, "I guess I won't start massaging your ass then."

"Best not."

Derek was sure that he wasn't supposed to find a massage amusing, but he was hardly going to complain about Stiles making this process fun, making jokes while doing it. He probably would have got bored halfway through if Stiles hadn't been talking to him constantly. He couldn't fault Stiles for the technique of the massage itself, so he guessed the school's criticisms had been mostly about his inability to keep quiet and Derek wasn't going to complain about that. He'd pass on the twinkly music in favour of an actual conversation and somehow it was easier to have a conversation when neither of them had to look the other in the eye.

When Stiles declared that he was done, Derek sat up and retrieved his shirt, rolling his shoulders and feeling the unaccustomed looseness in them. He might have to ask Stiles to give him a massage every day.

He pulled the shirt on, aware of Stiles' eyes lingering on his torso until the fabric covered it.

"How much," Stiles said, then hesitated, "how much would you pay me for sex?"

Despite the scent in the air, the question caught Derek off guard and he said sharply, "No!"

Stiles looked a little hurt by this. "But you wanted to have sex with me when you first bought me."

"That was before you explained in detail that me having sex with you would be rape."

"Yeah, but you're not forcing yourself on me. I'm proposing a transaction."

"No," Derek said. "You said it yourself. You're in a position where you feel like you have to have sex with me to get your freedom and that's exploitative, so it's not going to happen. I'm not going to pay you for sex."

"Not even if I want sex?" Stiles asked. His eyes flicked up and down Derek's body as he asked that question. He did want it, on some level, that much was obvious, but he was also in a difficult situation. Derek wasn't going to be the one who took advantage of that and he wasn't going to do anything that might leave Stiles feeling cheap and dirty at a later point in his life, once he was no longer trapped here.

"If you really want sex, we can have sex," Derek said, "but I'm not going to pay you for it."

"You think it's less exploitative to give me nothing?"

"This way, we'll both know if only happened because you wanted it," Derek said. "I will pay you for housekeeping and cooking. I'll pay you for massages. We might figure out other things I can pay you for in future, but I will never pay you for any sexual act. I'm also not going to punish you for a lack of sexual acts. If we have sex, it will change nothing except the fact that we're having sex. The only way it will happen is if you want it."

Derek considered that fact that even with these conditions, Stiles still wasn't in a very fair position. He was still trapped in this house with no options for dating. He might choose Derek out of desperation more than desire, so Derek continued, "And if you want options, I can give you the night off and some beer money and you can hit the town looking for a one night stand."

Stiles looked utterly astonished at that. "You'd let your companion go out and have sex with other people?"

Derek didn't particularly like the idea, didn't want Stiles to come home smelling of sex and other people, didn't like the thought of him being out there and vulnerable, but Stiles had had enough freedoms stolen from him. This was a very basic thing that Derek could offer back to him. Stiles deserved a choice in this.

"Think about it," Derek said. "If you want to have sex with me, or if you want to go out, let me know. It's entirely up to you. Now let's go find the account information for you."

Chapter Text

Not being a rapist was a bare minimum of human decency, but Derek's words were more than Stiles would have ever expected from someone who'd bought a companion. Not wanting to force himself on Stiles was better than he'd expected, but now Derek was hesitating even when Stiles showed willing. Stiles had wondered at first if it was a ploy, a way to make Stiles so horny and desperate that he'd agree to kinky play, but the offer to let him have nights out showed that couldn't be the case. Stiles was forced to acknowledge the possibility that Derek was being honest with him. After so long assuming that everything Derek did was an act to manipulate him, it was hard to wrap his head around that idea. It was also possible that it was still an attempt to manipulate him and Derek was just trying to avoid giving him any more money than had already been agreed to.

Stiles was still wondering about that possibility as he typed in the details Derek had given him about the freedom fund account. As the companion, Stiles was allowed to create a password for himself and check the balance. He would also be able to deposit money into the account, if he were to sell any gifts Derek gave him. Stiles clicked through to go to the account balance and frowned at the screen.

"There's some mix-up here," he said. "This says there's already twenty-something thousand dollars in the account."

"Oh that," Derek said. "I argued Argent into refunding me some of the money I paid because he lied to me about you liking BDSM. It made sense to stick it in the fund since it was coming off your purchase price."

Stiles started to argue that this was the wrong way to do it and that the purchase price should have been lowered to the reduced amount, but then he thought about it for a moment more. This would work out a lot better for him. The purchase price he had to pay to gain his freedom was lowered each year and the calculation was based on a percentage of his original purchase price. If it was logged in the system at a higher amount, the amount it would drop each year would be larger. The difference between the balance in the account and the original price would be the same as the difference between zero and the reduced price, but this way the gap would close faster, and the money in the account would be earning interest. With this arrangement, he might actually be able to buy his freedom sometime in the next decade or two, especially with Derek paying him for cleaning.

"Thank you," Stiles said. Derek looked startled, probably because Stiles had been obviously avoiding saying those words, but this did feel like something he had to thank him for. Derek hadn't needed to ask for the money back and he definitely hadn't needed to put it into Stiles' account. Stiles would never have known if Derek had just kept it for himself, but there it was, hard numbers of the screen informing him that he had a chance of getting out of here someday.

"No problem," Derek said. He gave Stiles a small smile and left him to it.

Stiles stared at his account balance for a while but didn't want to face the calculations that would tell him how long he would be stuck here. So he switched to his email client instead. His heart leapt when he saw that he saw an email from Parrish, only to fall a moment later. Parrish started with saying it was great to hear from Stiles, offering best wishes and hopes, before saying that he doesn't know how to contact Stiles' dad. Apparently he hadn't been in touch since he lost his job. Some of the deputies tried to go see him to make sure he was alright, but he'd brushed them off, saying that his firing gave him more time to focus on finding Stiles. Parrish promised to ask around, to see if anyone else had a way to contact him, but he didn't promise anything.

Stiles stared at the computer screen, wondering who else he could ask. There were former friends he could try, but it sounded like his dad had effectively cut his ties to his old life. Stiles sent a couple more emails, just in case, before deciding that he would have to do this the old fashioned way. He went to find Derek.

"I want to take you up on your offer of a night out," Stiles said.

Derek looked disappointed but tried to hide it, quickly agreeing. He immediately started talking details.

"I can drive you into town and drop you off, and you can call me when... Oh. Right." He obviously remembered Stiles didn't have a phone, so he pulled out his own instead and checked something on it. "I've programmed the house phone onto this. Call me if you want me to pick you up, or if you get in trouble." He reached for his wallet, pulling out a few bills. "That's all I have on me. We can stop at an ATM if you think you'll need more."

Stiles took the stack of bills and did a quick approximation of the total. He had about sixty dollars in his hands. A part of him wondered about asking for more, since this obviously counted as a gift, and then saving half of it, but he didn't want to push things so soon after discovering the balance Derek had already given him. It wasn't like he really expected to spend the money going out drinking.

"This is fine," Stiles said.

"When do you want to go?"

"The sooner the better," Stiles said. "I don't want to be out too late."

Since he wanted to go places other than bars, he wanted to be out early. So Derek agreed and grabbed his jacket. Stiles didn't have anything to wear suitable for bars and clubbing which was probably a good thing because it meant Derek wasn't suspicious that Stiles wanted to go out dressed in his normal clothes.

The drive into town was quiet, with Derek not saying much of anything. Stiles didn't attempt to make conversation; he was too busy planning out where he needed to go, who he needed to talk to.

When Derek dropped him off downtown, he was still considering his options. It was already nine and he didn't want to annoy anyone into calling the police on him, so he decided to spend some of his money on a taxi rather than walk or take the bus. He gave the address and a few minutes later was standing outside his old house.

It looked much the same as it always had, but the car parked out front was different and the garden was a little tidier than it had been when Stiles and his dad had lived there. There were still lights on inside, so Stiles went up to the door and rang the bell. He felt weird about that, like he ought to have been able to just walk straight inside without any problems. It gave him a very uncomfortable feeling to be a stranger at his own front door.

The woman who opened it was a complete stranger to Stiles, looking at him with surprise and mild suspicion at this late visitor.

"Yes?" she asked.

"Hi," Stiles said. "I was wondering if you had a forwarding address or any contact information for the man who used to live here."

The look of suspicion deepened. "Why?"

"I need to find him and I don't have any recent contact information."

"Why do you need to find him?"

"He's my dad, OK? He's my dad and I need to find him." Stiles wanted to scream in his frustration but he tried to hold his emotions in check. The last thing he wanted was for this woman to slam the door in his face. To Stiles' surprise though, the woman nodded.

"He said you might come looking for him. Steels? Stales?" she tried.

"Stiles," he said. She nodded again.

"He gave me a name of a motel but this was a long time ago. I don't know if he'll still be there. Wait here."

Stiles stood on the doorstep, fidgeting nervously, hoping that he might be close. He would go to the motel and find his dad and his dad would figure out some way to make everything right again. Somehow.

It took a while, but the woman returned and handed over a scrap of paper that had a motel address and room number written on in his dad's handwriting. Stiles could have cried. He thanked the woman about ten times and then headed back into the growing night. The motel address was on the other side of Beacon Hills, so Stiles called for another taxi. The waiting was frustrating as hell, but he tried not to let it bother him. He focused on the fact that he was closer than he'd been before.

It was fully dark by the time he reached the motel and paid the driver with another chunk of Derek's money. He regretted not asking Derek for more; he would need to be careful not to run out.

He found the motel easily enough and the paper had a room number. Stiles tried to keep his racing heart under control and headed for the room, knocking lightly on the door.

The door was flung open by a large man whose expression went from excited to disgusting in about half a second.

"I asked for a girl," he said, disgust quickly changing to anger.

"Sorry," said Stiles. "Wrong room. I was looking for my dad."

"It better be the wrong room," the guy said. Stiles hurried away before the guy's anger turned to violence. He nearly bumped into the girl in a skimpy outfit who was presumably the person the room's occupant had been waiting for.

Stiles tried not to let his heart sink too far. His dad had been here. He still knew more than he'd known a few hours ago. He went to the front desk and started asking the guy on duty about his dad. That did not go as well as he might have hoped. The guy was defensive, not wanting to give out information on former guests, not recognising Stiles' description except to give a vague shrug and say, "We get a lot of guests."

The problem, or one of them, was that Stiles didn't know how long ago his dad had left here. It was possible that his dad had left a message to be passed on, like he had at their old house, but that he'd done so months ago. This guy might not have even been working here then. Stiles tried to get him to check just in case there was a message, but the blank stares and surly attitude told him he wasn't going to get anywhere. Stiles was forced to admit defeat and left the motel without a clue as to where he should start looking next.

He stood by the edge of the road and stared about him. There was a diner a couple of blocks down. If his dad had been living at the motel for more than a couple of nights, it was a safe bet that he'd used the diner a few times. Stiles ordered a coke and used the opportunity to question the waitress about his dad. She was friendlier than the guy at the motel, but no more helpful. She apologised as she said that a lot of people came through the diner on a regular basis. Stiles didn't have a photo and his description could apparently have matched up to a hundred guys a day. She wouldn't look at records of credit cards receipts for Stiles, but she did take down his email address and promised to pass it along if anyone with the name Stilinski tried to pay.

Stiles wasn't sure this would be much help. If his dad had moved somewhere else then he would have no reason to return to the diner. He was grasping at straws now, but there were still a few more straws to grasp. There was a bar nearby. The barman, a large, black guy who was built like a wall of muscle, gave Stiles one look and threatened to call the cops on him if he couldn't produce an ID.

"I'm not here to drink," Stiles said, "I'm looking for my dad."

"You see him?" the barman asked, gesturing to the room, where a few clusters of people were chatting around the tables, while others sat alone at the bar, nursing their drinks.

"Not right now," Stiles said, "but I know that he was staying at the motel down the street a while back." Stiles gave the description again. The barman gave an amused shake of his head.

"Sorry, kid. Look around you. Half the guys in here would meet that description."

Stiles needed a photograph. He was going to ask the barman about credit card receipts, but he was flagged down at the other end of the bar to actually serve a customer. Stiles waited, impatient and disheartened. He couldn't believe he'd actually thought this would work.

"Stilinski?" a voice asked, making Stiles jump. For a moment, his heart soared, thinking someone might have overheard the conversation and know something about his dad. But his hopes came crashing down around him as he saw Harris there, a half drunk bottle of beer in one hand.

"What are you doing here?" Harris asked. "Are you trying to run away?"

"No," Stiles said. "Derek knows I'm here."

"I figured he'd be keeping you locked up. So what is it? You get permission to try and earn a few more tips? Or does he have a humiliation hard-on? Does he like the idea of you sucking off random guys in a bar?"

There was slight slurring to Harris' tone, making Stiles think he'd had a number of those beers already. Stiles wanted to get out of here, get away from him. His memories of Harris' vindictive cruelty at the school all came rushing back and Stiles wanted to be as far away from this man as he could get.

He tried to walk away, but Harris grabbed hold of his arm, fingers digging in. Stiles wondered how much trouble he would get in if he kicked Harris in the groin. Probably a lot. No one was going to listen to the companion's side of the story if he got into a fight.

"Hey," Harris said, "don't run off. I want to take my turn. I want to know if you can use that mouth of yours for something other than mouthing off."

"I'm not going to suck your dick," Stiles said.

"You'd better. Or I'll call the cops on you. A runaway companion. I bet they'd have fun with you in jail."

"I didn't run away."

"Don't worry. I'll give you a nice, big tip." Harris pressed in against Stiles' side, trying to grind up against him.

"Get off me!" Stiles tugged at his arm, trying to get free. Harris just gripped tighter, fingers bruising Stiles' skin. Punching Harris or using violence to get free would probably just get him written up for assault. It wasn't like anyone would listen to a companion saying they'd been sexually assaulted.

"Hey!" The barman rushed over. Half the bar were watching the scene now. The barman grabbed Harris and yanked him away from Stiles. Harris stumbled drunkenly, nearly slamming into a nearby table. The barman put himself between Stiles and Harris, a shield Harris wouldn't stand a chance of getting past even if he weren't drunk.

"Get the hell out of here!" the barman ordered. "Before I call the cops."

"You should call the cops on him," Harris said. "Filthy little whore."

Everyone was watching Stiles. Everyone would be able to see what he was. It didn't matter that Derek had never touched him, he was still a companion. Still just a whore to these people. He would always be seen as something less than them.

The barman and one of the other patrons physically through Harris out of the bar, leaving Stiles standing there, still the centre of attention. He wanted to disappear, wanted to vanish into a hole in the ground. But the only place he could go was out that door, and he couldn't do that while Harris might be out there.

With shaking fingers, Stiles pulled Derek's phone out of his pocket and dialled.

"Stiles?" Derek answered at once.

"Come get me," Stiles said. "Please."

Chapter Text

Derek must have broken half a dozen traffic laws on his way into Beacon Hills. He certainly broke the speed limit. He wasn't entirely sure what had happened, but Stiles had sounded so frightened, almost broken. Derek hadn't known how to deal with that. Even back at the start of their, whatever the hell it was, when Stiles had had a panic attack, he'd still been combative. He'd shown anger and determination. He hadn't sounded the way he had done on the phone tonight.

Derek wished he'd given in to his first instinct and followed Stiles at a distance, but he'd wanted to show Stiles some trust. He also hadn't wanted to see whatever Stiles got up to. Right now, he wished he could have stuck close so he could protect Stiles.

He found the bar easily enough. It was a long way from where Derek had dropped Stiles off, in a rundown part of town. It was not the part of town Derek would ever want Stiles to wander through alone, but it was apparently where he'd chosen to go. Derek parked his car and headed into the bar.

Stiles was easy to spot. He was sitting at the bar, with a glass of what looked to be water. Derek was aware of being the centre of attention as he made his way over to Stiles, the barman giving him death glares. But then Stiles looked around and the expression of relief on his face was enough to make Derek not care about the looks he was getting from everyone else. Something unclenched inside him at seeing Stiles alive and without any serious injuries. Stiles hopped down from his barstool and hurried to join Derek. Derek looked Stiles up and down, noting the marks on his arm of forming bruises, no doubt from someone's fingers.

"Are you OK?" Derek asked.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm OK."

The barman was still watching them and Derek was feeling more uncomfortable by the moment. The initial relief he'd felt at seeing Stiles was shifting back to wariness.

"Let's go home," Derek said. Stiles nodded, but that wasn't the end of it.

"You sure you want to go with him, kid?" the barman asked.

Stiles gave a little laugh, as though this was a joke and no one else was in on the punchline. "Yeah. I'm safe with Derek."

He pressed close against Derek's side as they headed for the door and Derek's car. Stiles looked about nervously as they got outside, but there weren't many people around and the ones that were about weren't paying them much attention. Still, Stiles seemed relieved to be inside the car. Derek started driving, making sure they were safely underway before giving in and asking what had happened.

"It wasn't even really that much," Stiles said. "Harris was at the bar."

"Harris?" Derek tried to remember where he'd heard the name before. "He was one of your teachers?"

"Yeah. He accused me of running away and tried to get me to give him a blowjob."

Derek's hands tightened on the steering wheel.

"I said no," Stiles continued, "but he didn't want to listen. Nothing happened. The barman kicked him out before he could do anything, but it freaked me out a bit."

"Do you want me to..." Derek tried to think of something he could offer, because ripping a teacher apart with his claws was not a realistic solution, however good it might feel. He finished with, "Do something?"

Stiles shook his head. "I just want to forget it happened. Really, it was no big deal."

Derek smelled the distress in Stiles' scent, saw the way he huddled in on himself. Derek had seen Stiles angry and arguing in the face of fear. This quiet mood didn't suit him and showed how much the encounter had messed him up, whether he'd admit it or not. Harris had held power over Stiles for a long time and, from what little Derek had seen, been ruthless in the abuse of that power. It was no wonder that a reminder of that power imbalance would scare him. It would serve as a reminder of how little power Stiles had over his own life.

"You're allowed to have emotions," Derek said. "It's OK if this is a big deal."

"I'm fine," Stiles insisted.

Derek wanted to argue, wanted to say that he could clearly see that Stiles wasn't fine, but doing so was basically accusing Stiles of lying. How could Derek argue with Stiles' emotions? He drove the rest of the way in silence and, for once, Stiles didn't try to fill the air with talk.

Back at the house, Stiles was still as quiet and closed off as he'd been through the drive. Derek wanted to fix it, wanted to do something to make the pain Stiles was feeling go away.

"Go into the den," Derek said, and then, because Stiles had had enough people barking orders at him in his life, "Please."

"Well, since you said please," Stiles said, a trace of sarcasm in his tone. That was a good sign at least.

Derek joined him in the den a few minutes later with a mug of cocoa and a blanket.

"I'm not ill," Stiles insisted.

"You've had an upsetting night," Derek said. "Drink your chocolate marshmallow juice."

Stiles did what Derek had been hoping for. He laughed.

"Only you could take a sentence like that and say it like it's a threat." Stiles took the mug and sipped it. Derek draped the blanket over Stiles' shoulders and sat down beside him.

"Is it OK if I hug you?" Derek asked. Stiles shot him a look.

"You're really fussing about consent for a hug?" he asked.

"You've had one person try to touch you without consent for tonight. I'm not going to make it two. May I?"

Stiles had had his freedom stolen from him and faced the prospect of every other aspect of autonomy being stolen as well. Derek didn't want to be like the other people in Stiles' life who had just done what they decide, without taking his desires into account. Apparently Stiles had worked out his thought process because he said, "You're not like Harris."

Stiles leaned sideways into Derek and Derek wrapped his arms around him, holding him in a gentle hug.

Derek wished he could be so sure. He'd bought Stiles. He'd taken it on faith that the people at the school were being honest with him. He hadn't even bothered to take the gag out of Stiles' mouth and ask his opinion until he'd already made the transaction and brought him home. Derek could think of a thousand things he'd done wrong on that first day and they all boiled down to not properly considering Stiles' point of view. He hadn't even considered that a companion might want to say no

Stiles gave another little laugh.

"What?" Derek asked.

"Just, this situation. It's amusing. You're the guy with the torture room and here you are giving me cuddles. Doesn't exactly fit. "

"Actually," Derek said, "it does fit. Emotional care is as important a part of d/s as the physical side of things."

"So you tie someone up and hit them and then give them cuddles?"

"Often, yes."

"That's just weird," Stiles said.

This was probably not the best time to have this conversation, but Stiles was talking about it and it was better than letting him sit in silence and stew over the events of the night. Distracting him with conversation might help.

"It's not about torture," Derek said, "not when it's done right. The sub hands over control to the dom within agreed upon boundaries. The sub enjoys what the dom does. Sometimes that involves pain, but not always. Sometimes it's just about putting trust in the other person. When it's done right, both parties get something out of it and it's the dom's responsibility to make sure that the sub isn't pushed beyond what they're willing to do, and that they're OK afterwards, physically and emotionally. For some people, that's the important part of the relationship, the dom making decisions for the sub and taking care of them, keeping them happy and healthy. It's not all paddles and chains."

"But you like the paddles and chains."

There was no point denying it. "Yes," Derek said, "but only when I'm with someone else who likes them."

"Do you ever get tied up and hit?" Stiles asked.

Derek wanted to say no, but he was being honest here. Stiles deserved to know the truth, even if it meant thinking about things he didn't want to think about.

"Not in a very long time," he said.

He tried not to think of it, tried not to think of her, but the memories were always there, waiting to attack him.

"Are you OK?" Stiles asked. "You look like you're the one who needs a cuddle."

"I had a bad experience," Derek said, "with someone who didn't care very much about whether the other person was into it." He didn't want to say any more than that, didn't want to bring Kate up with anyone. There was so much horror hidden in Derek's memories that had nothing to do with what happened in the bedroom.

"Is that why you got so angry when you found out Argent had lied about me being into that stuff?"

"And what he did was just generally awful."

"Sounds like Argent," Stiles said.

"And I was angry with myself," Derek admitted, "for not thinking it through."

"For not considering that I might have an opinion worth hearing?"

"Yes. I'm sorry."

Stiles didn't say anything to accept the apology, but he didn't argue with it either, with Derek took to be a good sign. They sat in silence for a while. Derek hoped this meant the conversation about his history was over. He would gladly push her from his thoughts for as long as he could manage it again.

"So why do you like it?" Stiles asked.

"What?" Derek wasn't sure what conversation point Stiles had jumped to now.

"Your... playroom. You said people like it for different reasons. What are yours?"

"I like being in control," Derek said, "and I find it sexually arousing to be in control of another person."

"Power fantasy. Figures."

"I also like looking after my partner," Derek said. He couldn't explain further than that, couldn't say that it spoke to his instincts as a pack animal to protect someone else. Family was always important to werewolves, and he'd found a replacement in tending to his subs after a scene. It was part of what had drawn him to his naive fantasy of what life with a companion would be like, that idea of having another person to look after. His experiences with a sub were enough to soothe his instincts for a little while without putting him in a position to be responsible for a real pack. He could cope with that responsibility for a night but he knew he'd screw up if he tried to find a pack for real.

"So you pretend to be all tough and angry and controlling for the first bit," Stiles said, "and then you get to indulge in cuddles afterwards. It's an excuse for you to get all snuggly with someone. I should just buy you a teddybear."

"I'm the one who's supposed to buy you gifts, remember," Derek said.

"Right. So you'll have to buy me a teddybear as a gift and then I can regift it back to you."

"It's poor etiquette to regift a gift back to the person who gave it to you in the first place."

"Yeah," said Stiles, "but I failed my etiquette class so what can you do?"

He leaned his head against Derek's shoulder and let himself be held. Derek suspected it had been a long time since anyone had held Stiles gently. Maybe Derek wasn't the only one who needed the pretence of family on some level. He just held Stiles, until he fell asleep in his arms.

Chapter Text

Stiles woke up in his bed and remembered the night before. He remembered his failure to track down his dad, and what had happened with Harris, and he remembered Derek holding him, making sure he was OK. Derek had been amazingly sweet. The cynical part of Stiles still wanted to think it was because Derek wanted something from him, but the rest of him wasn't so sure. It seemed genuine. It had felt like Derek really did want to help Stiles cope.

Stiles couldn't remember the last time he'd been held like that. Probably not since his mom died. His dad had hugged him, had always let him know he was loved, but it had never been anything like that. He hadn't realised how much he wanted it until Derek gave that to him. Now he felt like something inside him had shifted loose.

He got dressed and went down to make breakfast, his mind still on last night. He knew he ought to be thinking about his dad and making plans for his next search effort, but his mind kept drifting back to Derek.

When Derek came to join him for breakfast, Stiles said, "That cuddling thing... do you want to do more of it?"

"You liked it?" Derek asked.

"Yeah. And it seemed like you got something out of it too so..." Stiles trailed off with a shrug. He considered asking for payment for it, like the massage, but that would be selfish given that he was the one asking to do this, he was the one craving human contact.

"We could do that," Derek said. "We could put a movie in and do the cuddling thing." He said the last part in a slightly mocking tone, teasing Stiles for his phrasing or his manner of asking, but still he seemed pleased at the concept. Stiles wondered if this was part of why Derek had wanted to buy a companion. Maybe he was craving human contact and human affection as much as anyone else, and just though he could buy it instead of investing in friendships and relationships.

They ate their breakfast together in silence for a while, but this time it was Derek who broke the silence.

"Do you want to go after Harris?" he asked.

"What do you mean?"

"We could go to the cops, accuse him of sexual harassment. There's got to be a law against what he did, even if you are a companion."

Stiles thought back to what they'd taught in the schools. They hadn't gone into subjects like sexual harassment, and what did or didn't count as a crime when it came to companions. The teachers had obviously not wanted their students thinking too deeply about these subjects, but there had been some small discussions about legalities, mostly to drill into them that they belonged to their owners now.

"I don't think I could make a complaint," Stiles said, "but I think you could. It would be treated like vandalism or theft or someone interfering with your property." He tried to keep the resentment out of his tone, but he did notice that Derek's jaw tightened with anger too.

"Do you want me to make the complaint?" Derek asked.

Stiles found it hard to believe that Derek was leaving a decision like this up to him. He thought about it. He did want Harris to be made to pay for his actions, and for everything he'd done at the school, but he thought about what that would mean. He would have to go to the police station and make a statement. He would have to face the deputies and they would know all about his legal status. They would know what he was and make assumptions about what he was doing, what that meant for him. Some of those deputies, he'd known since he was a little kid and Stiles couldn't face them, not even to bring Harris down, especially not when he thought of the excuses Harris would be likely to make in the face of any accusations.

"I want him to hurt," Stiles said, "but I don't want to go to the police. We'd have to get lawyers involved and I'd be expected to talk about it over and over again, and that's even assuming they believe me. Harris could say that I was cruising for tips and they might throw the case out."

"OK," Derek said. "I won't make an official complaint, but maybe I could email the school and make a complaint to Argent. I could demand he fire Harris."

Stiles thought about it. "That could work. Especially if you hint that him doing this to me could mean he's doing it to the students who are still at the school."

For all the lessons on sex, everything was taught in theory or using toys. None of them had any experience with a real human being because the school could charge more money selling them as virgins. If there was even a rumour that one of the teachers was sleeping with the students before sale, it could do enormous damage to the school's reputation and their bottom line.

Derek nodded. "Fine. I'll try to get Harris fired."

It still didn't seem like very much by way of punishment.

"I wonder if I could find out his address," Stiles said.

"Are you planning on murdering him in his sleep?"

"I was actually thinking of signing him up to a load of sites that send marketing fliers and magazine subscriptions until his mailbox explodes, but the murder thing is a good plan too."

"Let's start with getting him fired." Derek left the breakfast table to go see to it. Stiles got on with the task of cleaning up from the remains of the meal.

It was nice that Derek wanted to punish Harris, and Stiles was confident it wasn't just Derek wanting to get back at someone who touched his things. Derek had been so nice the night before. He wanted to protect Stiles, wanted to make Harris pay for hurting him. His actions now came from the same place as his comfort the night before. It was hard to believe it after the way Derek had seemed at first, but Stiles had to admit that even the way he'd seemed might have been coloured by his emotions. That first day, Derek had been quick to help him when he'd had the panic attack, quick to get him away from the playroom when it was clear he was freaking out. He'd been angry afterwards, but never once had he directed that anger towards Stiles. Looking back, Stiles could see that the anger had been on his behalf.

The more Stiles thought about it, the more he was forced to consider the truth: that Derek was actually a nice guy. Yes, he'd bought a companion without considering whether or not what he did with that person would be rape, but that was a product of privilege. Derek had never considered the consent issue in depth and he'd been angry not at the accusation that he could be a rapist but at the fact of it. He'd been angry at himself for what he'd been willing to do. Even now, he was trying. He was offering genuine choices, real options. He was trying to make Stiles less of a slave despite the situation.

And Stiles wanted to kiss him for it.

Stiles scrubbed at the pan he'd cooked the eggs in, thinking about this. Did he want to kiss Derek because he actually wanted to kiss Derek? Or was this some kind of psychological self-defence mechanism? It had been a long time since he'd been around anyone who treated him like a human being and showed some kind of compassion. Even the other students at the school hadn't been friendly with him because they'd not wanted to be tarred by association, so they'd either stayed clear or been as mean as the teachers. Derek was the first person since Stiles was taken to the school who'd behaved in a way that could be considered nice. It could be that his emotions were latching on to Derek just because he wasn't used to people being nice. It wasn't like he had a lot of options right now. Some part of him might be trying to convince the rest of him that he wanted Derek romantically and sexually simply because there was no one else who was a possibility who Stiles didn't actively hate.

Stiles wasn't going to rush into things. He needed to be rational and logical and not just jump Derek because he was there. Besides, he knew already what Derek liked in the bedroom and he didn't want to go there. It was possible that they were sexually incompatible and that starting something with Derek would just cause them awkwardness and resentment in the long run.

He set the pan aside and started cleaning out the coffee pot. He would make a pact with himself not to do anything for ten days. He would analyse his feelings. He had the laptop now so he could write everything down, every time he thought about kissing Derek or doing other things with him. He would see if this was a sexual frustration thing, or if it was Derek behaving with a shred of humanity, or if he genuinely liked Derek.

Once the ten days were up, he could look back over his notes and decide whether there was anything solid to proceed with.

This was the sensible, rational, and reasonable approach. This was the approach that wasn't guaranteed to cause him pain in the long run. This was... absolutely not a plan he would be able to see through to completion.

Throwing rationality to the wind, Stiles walked into Derek's study. Derek looked up at him, obviously a little startled, raising an enquiring eyebrow.

"I want to kiss you," Stiles said.

Chapter Text

Derek wasn't sure what to make of Stiles' sudden comment. He stared blankly for several seconds, trying to wrap his head around it and make sure he hadn't misheard. When he finally spoke, his question was, "Are you sure?"

He probably should have been offended that Stiles' instant response was, "No. I'm not sure."

Stiles started pacing in front of the desk, hands constantly in motion in anxious flapping that kept drawing Derek's attention. He didn't need werewolf senses to pick up on Stiles' anxiety.

"I like you," Stiles said. "You're very attractive. You know, with the whole," Stiles gestured vaguely in Derek's direction. "But that doesn't mean that kissing you is a sensible thing to do. What if this is some Stockholm's thing? What if I like you because you've shown me some kindness and some part of me is traumatised enough that it thinks that's something more than it is?"

"I don't know," Derek said. "But if you're worried about that, then we shouldn't do anything."

"But what if I want to kiss you because I just want to kiss you? I could spend the rest of my life second-guessing every decision I make to do with sex and kissing and romance and stuff and wondering if it's just some after-effect of the companion school, some scar they left on my brain."

Derek thought instantly of Kate, and the way he'd been terrified that his interest in BDSM was just a by-product of his experiences with her, a reaction born of fear, the desire never to be so vulnerable to another person again. It had taken him a long time to accept that his desire to play a dominant role in the bedroom was a real part of him. Perhaps some part of it linked back to Kate, but that didn't make it false.

"As long as the decisions are healthy ones," Derek said, "and no one gets hurt, including you, I think it's OK."

"But how am I supposed to know if it's going to hurt me?"

Derek didn't have a good answer to that question. All he knew was that Stiles wasn't in the right state to make any sort of decision for himself right now, so Derek would be this first one.

"For now," he said, "I'm not going to kiss you. Whether you really want to kiss me is something you'll have to decide for yourself. You've been through a lot with the school and now with Harris. It can't help that your first attempt to find a partner of your own choice ended up with a guy you hate threatening to rape you. That's got to mess with your perception of things." Derek couldn't help be aware of the fact that Stiles had chosen to go for someone other than him. Stiles was only showing interest in him after that had failed spectacularly.

But Stiles looked at him, a faint frown on his face.

"I wasn't looking for a sexual partner," Stiles said.

"What?"

"I was looking for my dad."

That comment threw Derek almost as much as the opening statement had. "Your dad?"

Stiles had paused his pacing, but now he got back to it. "I tracked him as far as a motel. He'd left a message for me saying he was staying there, but the message could have been about two years old. He wasn't at the motel when I got there and the guy on the desk didn't know anything about another one, so I started asking around. I went into the bar to see if anyone knew him, or knew of him."

Derek was still confused. He'd never thought about the possibility of a companion still having a father, much less one they'd want to track down. If Stiles' dad had abandoned him, or worse sold him, to the companion school, why would Stiles even want to find him?

"Are you sure," Derek said, "that he wants to be found?"

It was an easier question to ask than if Stiles really wanted to find him.

"What happened wasn't my dad's fault," Stiles insisted.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"I..." Stiles dragged a hand over his face. It wasn't anxiety he was filled with now, but a sort of nervous energy that kept him pacing. "Yeah. It's a long story."

"I'm not in a hurry," Derek said, "but, you asked about more cuddling. Do you want to combine the two?"

Derek expected Stiles to say no. With the way he was pacing, he wouldn't have been surprised if Stiles was incapable of sitting still right now. But Stiles agreed and so they went into the den. Derek expected that Stiles would be up and pacing in a minute anyway, but he obviously needed some comfort and Derek would at least try to give it. So they sat together on the couch, Stiles leaning against Derek, Derek's arms wrapped around him. Stiles finally started to still, though his fingers kept fidgeting in his lap.

"It actually starts a long time ago," Stiles said. "My best friend's dad was an asshole. At best, he was a mean jerk, at worst he was abusive. Most of them time it was emotional abuse, mean comments, insults, putting people down, you know, but one time he hit Scott hard enough to knock him unconscious."

"Scott being the best friend?" Derek asked.

"Yeah. Anyway, Scott's mom called my dad and told him what happened and then she kicked the asshole out. Told him to get away from her and her son, contacted a lawyer about a divorce, and basically told him to get out of her life. Of course, the asshole didn't blame it on him being an asshole because..."

"He was an asshole?"

"Precisely. Instead, he blamed my dad. He said my dad had stolen his family from him and that he'd get even. But he was fairly drunk at the time and we both thought it was the alcohol talking. Anyway, he got transferred at work, Scott and his mom got a fresh start, everyone was happy apart from the asshole. But then, a few years later, he came back into town on a case..."

"A case?" Derek asked.

"Oh, right, yeah. He was with the FBI. Didn't I mention that? Anyway, he came back into town, but he showed up right when my dad was going through a really rough patch. My grandma basically got swindled out of her pension by a sleazy fund manager and then got sick, so my dad took out a second mortgage to help her through but the medical bills kept piling up and she wasn't covered under my dad's insurance plan so it basically got the point where we were about to lose our house when she died. My dad crawled into a whiskey bottle for a couple of days after the funeral and I... I was mad at the world and basically wanted to follow my dad into oblivion. I tried buying some booze with a fake ID and got busted for it."

Stiles was fiddling again, fingers wringing themselves. Derek waited. This story was obviously difficult for Stiles and there wasn't much Derek could do to help him expect hold him and wait until Stiles was ready to continue speaking.

"It would have been fine," Stiles said, "if asshole hadn't been at the station when I was brought in. He pulled some strings, made it out that my dad was an alcoholic and a neglectful father, unsuitable for parenthood. He claimed that either I was buying alcohol on my dad's instructions, or my dad was just setting a terrible example and unable to keep me from breaking the law. He got me removed from my dad's custody on the spot. I tried to tell people that my dad wasn't a drunk, he wasn't neglectful. He'd just buried his mom, for crying out loud, he was having a bad day!"

Stiles' fidgeting became squirming. Derek loosened his hold and Stiles pulled out of the hug, on his feet and pacing again. He looked close to tears but it was fury written on his face and lacing his scent.

"I tried to argue that I wanted to go home, that my dad was great, that I loved him, but the social worker just looked at me with such pity, with such condescension, like I was some little kid too young to understand what was really going on. She kept saying that everything would be alright, that I would be going to someone who could really look after me and give me the love and support I needed, and she wouldn't even try to listen when I told her that my dad did love and support and look after me. I got mad. Then Rafael McAsshole stepped in. He told the useless woman that he was an old friend of the family's, that I would be more likely to listen to him, that he would take me on to my new guardian. The idiot let him. He acted all gentle and concerned around her but as soon as he had me locked in his car, he told me the truth. He knew my dad was a good father, knew he loved me, knew that this would destroy him. He blamed my dad for what happened years ago, said that my dad stole his family from him and now he'd know what it felt like. He told me that by the time my dad could put a case together to show that he was a good parent, I'd be somewhere he could never find me. Then he handed me over to the guardianship of the companion school."

Derek didn't know what to say. It all seemed so vindictive, that a man would put Stiles through hell just because he couldn't face up to his own mistakes. Derek didn't doubt the truth of Stiles' words. The emotions were too real for this to be a lie.

"So your dad," Derek said, "he has no idea where you are?"

"Rafe probably told him I'm somewhere I'm likely to be sexually abused, just to make it hurt more, but he won't have given him any details. Nothing to help him find me."

"This can't be legal," Derek said.

"Shouldn't," Stiles said, "but is. A legal guardian can give a child to a companion school as young as twelve, so long as they don't graduate before the age of consent of their state, and Rafe made sure I was legally a ward of the state before he sent me to the school. Turns out temporary guardianship was good enough to make the deal."

"That's..." Derek didn't have words for how awful that was. The fact that it had happened to Stiles as an act of petty vengeance was awful enough, but he couldn't help wondering how many other teenagers were out there who found themselves in a similar situation. If their parents really were abusive, it might be a family member who sent the kid off and, of course, as minors they wouldn't have any say in the decision.

"Yeah," Stiles agreed.

"How the hell do those places still exist?"

"Money and privilege. The guys in power are the ones who want to buy companions so they have no reason to want to change anything."

Derek felt sick, not just because of Stiles' story but because of the part he'd played in it, or wanted to play. He'd gone to that school expecting to buy a companion without thinking where they might have come from, what circumstances led them to entering the school. How many twelve year olds were being conditioned into what was slavery by another name? Derek had given them his money without ever thinking about any of this. Even before then, he had ignored the existence of companions because it didn't directly affect him.

"Is there anything you can do to get back at this Rafe guy?" Derek asked. "Anything I can do?"

He'd sent the email trying to get Harris fired, but even Harris wasn't the one really responsible for what Stiles had been through. There was a possibility that Stiles' view of events was warped by his anger, but the wasn't any hint of a lie in his tone or heartbeat, which meant at least the bases of the story had to be accurate and that meant this Rafe person was beyond an asshole. He deserved to pay for his vindictive cruelty.

"It's not like you can report him for anything because he can just say he thought he was acting in my best interest and how can you prove otherwise? It's my word against his and no one's going to listen to a companion any more than they'd listen to a teenager."

Stiles returned to the couch and sat down heavily beside Derek. Derek pulled him back into the hug, holding him close and wishing there was some way he could make all this right.

"I just want to find my dad," Stiles said. Derek didn't know how he was going to do it, but he was going to find some way to help Stiles do just that.

Chapter Text

Confessing his attraction to Derek hadn't gone the way Stiles had planned, but the fact that Derek had refused him was probably a good sign. He could have just taken Stiles' confession as permission and run with it, but he remained aware of the awkward situation they were both in and he'd refused. He still cared about Stiles' consent.

He hadn't expected to tell Derek about his dad, but it had seemed right, and Derek hadn't been remotely angry that Stiles hadn't been doing what he'd been given permission to do. Technically, Stiles had been given permission to trawl bars for a one night stand, and Derek didn't care that he'd done something different. The emotion he'd shown had been empathy, sharing in Stiles' anger at Rafe's actions. Derek had been happy for Stiles to continue his hunt for his dad.

The problem Stiles faced, sitting at his laptop at the kitchen table, was one of practicalities rather than permission. Stiles didn't know what to try next. He'd sent out more emails, to former neighbours, old acquaintances, even the restaurant where they used to have a regular take out order on the off chance that his dad still ordered from that place. He'd even, after about twenty minutes of staring at the screen trying to work up the courage, sent a Facebook message to Scott. Communicating with Scott was a terrifying prospect, though he wasn't entirely sure why it scared him so much. It wasn't because of what Rafe had done; Stiles knew Scott would never have been involved in that. Maybe it was because he just didn't want Scott to see him helpless and vulnerable. Maybe he didn't want Scott assuming the worst, because he was bound to. Stiles would get halfway through the word 'companion' and Scott would already be picturing gang rape. Maybe Stiles wanted to protect Scott from the realities of his new life. Or maybe, and this was the one Stiles had a hard time admitting to himself, he was terrified that Scott wouldn't want to associate with him now.

After everything, Stiles was scared to death of the possibility that Scott might not want to be friends with him because he was a companion. No matter how many times Stiles tried to tell himself it would never happen, that fear kept him staring at the send button for a long time. But for his dad, he forced himself to send the message. Now all he could do was sit around and wait for someone to reply and tell him they had his dad's contact information.

He didn't like sitting around and waiting.

Derek walked into the kitchen and Stiles looked up, alarmed. He glanced at the clock and realised that he should have started his dinner preparations half an hour ago and leapt to his feet.

"Relax," Derek said. "I wanted to ask when you needed to go grocery shopping again."

"Soon," Stiles said. He had to open the fridge anyway and he did a quick survey of the contents. A lot of the greens were beginning to turn to browns around the edges. "In the next day or two."

"I want to buy you your own phone when we go shopping," Derek said, "so you don't have to borrow mine. It would let us both be out at the same time."

"Look, thanks for the offer, but I'm not actually interested in hitting the bars."

"That wasn't... I was thinking about your dad. Everyone else gets time off, you should be allowed to take a day or two off each week if you want to keep looking."

Stiles stared at Derek, not quite able to process this. Companions didn't take time off. But it was clear Derek was being serious about this. Stiles could take time off and go and actually walk round the old neighbourhood, talk to people about his dad. He could go to the library or watch a movie or walk through a park. It seemed baffling, but Stiles wasn't going to refuse such an offer. Unless...

"This isn't going to change the weekly payment, is it?" Stiles asked.

"Of course not."

Stiles was going to get paid for being a cook and housekeeper. He was getting days off. Derek had refused too even kiss him.

"You really have no idea how this whole companion thing is supposed to work, do you?" Stiles said.

"The more I know about how it's supposed to work, the less I like it."

Stiles couldn't help smiling a little at that. "You and me both."

"I don't like... I don't like that I'm part of this for you, that I helped do this to you. I'm looking into options for... There are investments my family made but most of them are long term and pay out over time and have penalties for pulling out early, so I can't easily just liquidate them to get a load of cash, but I should be able to pull together the money to pay off your purchase price."

Stiles froze. He was certain he must have misheard or misunderstood because what Derek was saying made absolutely no sense. Derek was already being ridiculously generous for someone in his permission, treating Stiles with a lot more latitude and autonomy than any other owner would even consider. The weekly payment was already more generous than Stiles had dared to hope for, but Derek was talking about setting him free.

"Why?" Stiles asked.

Now it was Derek's turn to stare at him like he didn't understand. "You never wanted this. You were basically kidnapped and sold into slavery. That's not... It's not right. I shouldn't have been a part of it."

"You want to wash your conscience clean," Stiles said. "You think if you pay my purchase price for me, it absolves you of the guilt of having bought a slave."

Stiles found he was angry, despite Derek's mercy, despite the generosity he was offering. The feeling surprised him, but it was there. Derek had done something awful in purchasing a companion, buying a human being as though they were an object, just a thing to be paid for. He hadn't considered Stiles' feelings or opinions, hadn't ever asked whether Stiles wanted to be bought. The fact that Derek had behaved better than any other owner on the planet didn't undo the evil of that initial act. Derek ought to feel guilty about that. Yes, setting Stiles free was a way of making amends, but still Stiles didn't want to let him off that easily. He wanted to make sure that Derek knew he was wrong and remembered it for the rest of his life.

But Derek looked Stiles in the eye and said, "It's not about me."

All of Stiles' anger melted away. Derek was doing this just because it was right. Stiles abandoned the vegetables he'd been chopping, rushed across the kitchen, and pressed his lips against Derek's.

Derek stood in stunned stillness for a moment, but then he pulled back, breaking the kiss before they could get to the good part. He brought up his hands between them, keeping Stiles at arm's length.

"I don't want you doing that because you think I'm a hero or something or because you feel grateful."

"How about because you're a good human being?" Stiles said.

Derek looked away. "I'm not, you know."

"Not what? Good? Or human?" Stiles said it in a joking tone, but Derek still didn't look at him. His silence was loud enough to fill the room.

Stiles reached out and took one of the hands that Derek still held up between them, sliding his fingers between Derek's.

"You are a good person," Stiles said. "You did an awful thing, but everyone messes up sometimes. You’re still good. The way you treated me, you might have made some stupid mistakes at the start, and you're coming from a place of privilege so that you never had to think about a lot of things, but you always wanted to do right by me. That's what a good person does. And if you're going to tell me that you're some kind of alien in disguise, well that's just frigging cool."

"Werewolf," Derek said, whispering the word so quietly Stiles was sure he'd misheard it.

"What?"

"I'm not an alien. I'm a werewolf."

"Seriously? If you're pulling my leg right now, I'm going to be so frigging upset."

Derek finally looked at him again, confused and curious. "You'll be upset if I'm not a werewolf?"

"Are you kidding me? Werewolves are cool. Not as cool as aliens, but I'll take what I can get." He was still trying to keep his tone light and joking, not wanting Derek to think he was a fool or insane. He wasn't really expecting this to be true, but Derek had sounded so serious when he'd said it.

Derek closed his eyes. When he opened them, they shone red, almost glowing with an inner light.

"Holy crap," Stiles said, taking a step forward, staring at the red glare, making sure that this wasn’t a trick or a prank.

Derek blinked and the red vanished.

"You're not scared of me," he said, as though this fact was incomprehensible. Stiles wasn't sure why he should be afraid. Derek was still the same person he'd been a few minutes ago, still the person throwing away a fortune to set Stiles free for no reason except that it was the right thing to do.

"Should I be?" Stiles asked.

"I'm dangerous. I could rip out your throat with my teeth."

Stiles gave a snort of laughter. "You refused to hurt me in your playroom. I doubt you're going to kill me in your kitchen."

"Most people would be afraid," Derek said. His voice was low, almost timid. If anything, he was the one who was afraid, afraid of how Stiles would react. Stiles wondered how many times Derek had had variants of this conversation and how badly they must have gone. Was this why Derek lived all alone in the middle of nowhere? Because he was afraid of how people would treat him?

"I think we've established I'm not like most people," Stiles said. "I have, like, a million questions for you. Do you turn into an actual wolf? Or do you become like a b-movie wolfman? Is it just on the full moon or do you change at other times? Have you always been a werewolf? Or were you bitten? If you bit me, would I turn into a werewolf? Have you ever bitten anyone? What about a pack? Wolves are pack animals, don't you need a pack? Is that why you were so keen on the cuddling thing? When you transform, are you still aware of everything you know when you're a human? Or do you have a wolfy, animal brain? Do you eat bunnies?"

Now it was Derek's turn to laugh, the sound making Stiles' heart leap and putting a stop to his flow of words.

"Do you actually want to pause for breath and let me answer some of your questions?" Derek asked. The amusement on his face was a lot better than his fear.

"Tell me," Stiles said. "I want to know everything."

"That, I'd figured out," Derek replied. He sat down at the kitchen table and began to talk.

Chapter Text

Derek hadn't ever planned on telling his companion about being a werewolf, but here he was, explaining how it all worked to Stiles, who was listening with rapt attention. He was sitting still in a way that probably would have made his old teachers proud as he hung on Derek's every word. Derek found it a bit disconcerting to be the focus of such intense interest. He had been worried about Stiles being terrified if he found out the truth, but he wasn't sure he liked being stared at like he was a mystery to be unravelled any more than he would have liked fear.

He talked about transformations and learning to maintain control. He talked about alphas versus betas and how only alphas could turn others into betas, and how alpha power could be taken by a beta by force, at which point Stiles started frowning in confusion.

"That's weird," he said.

"Why?" Derek said, feeling instantly defensive.

"Well, a lot of people have this misunderstanding about wolf packs that they're led by an alpha and that the wolves fight for dominance. I always thought that started from this old paper some guy wrote after looking at a bunch of wolves in captivity that then got completely debunked by studying wolves in the wild. People, at least people who know what they're talking about, don't talk about 'alpha wolves' anymore, so it's weird that wolf packs have alphas. Maybe some of the misinformation comes from werewolves."

"The fighting for dominance isn't something that normally happens," Derek said. "Not in healthy packs. In family packs, the alpha is almost always the mother or father of a good chunk of the pack. Werewolves tend to keep extended family around more than wolves - aunts, uncles, cousins - but it's still a family structure. In packs where the members aren't related to each other, it's normally a family of choice, and the alpha still plays a parental role, though it blurs a little. There are, however, some packs that are... unhealthy."

"And that's where the dominance fighting thing happens?"

"Yes," Derek said. "Not everyone who becomes a werewolf gets introduced to how it should work. A lot of them have to figure it out for themselves and that can be driven by stereotypes and misinformation and all the misconceptions put out by horror movies. The packs behave in unhealthy ways because that's how they think packs are supposed to work. Plus, werewolves are like anybody else and some people are just assholes."

"I guess that makes sense," Stiles said. "I mean, families are supposed to be about love and support and all that, but you do get parents who abuse their kids or who behave in ways that are damaging because they don't know any better, like parents who send their kids to gay conversion therapy to try and 'fix' them and end up doing major psychological damage because they don't understand why what they're doing is an issue."

Derek nodded. He was still finding this whole conversation strange, talking to Stiles about werewolf pack dynamics and having Stiles listen and compare it to things he knew, finding ways to make it make sense to himself. He wasn't acting like anything about this was particularly abnormal, just new and interesting.

"So," Stiles said, "the BDSM thing, is that because you're a werewolf?"

"No," Derek said. "Maybe. Sort of."

Stiles laughed. "Covering your bases there with that answer."

"Most werewolves aren't into BDSM, any more than most humans are. Some might play around with bondage with their romantic partner, without it ever going beyond the very surface level. There are some things that could be influence by werewolf instincts." He thought about how he liked to take care of a sub, and how that fit with an alpha's need to take care of the pack, but he'd been into BDSM long before he'd become an alpha. He continued, "However, I can't say how much of what I like is because I'm a werewolf or just because I'm me and that's what I like."

"I guess that makes sense," Stiles said. "It's not like you're sometimes a human person and sometimes a wolf person, you're all mixed together all of the time. Like a bisexual person isn't sometimes gay and sometimes straight, they're always bisexual."

Derek laughed. He never would have considered that comparison, but it made sense to him as Stiles said it. He was finding that Stiles was good at making these strange connections that made sense in their own, weird way but that Derek would never have thought of in a million years. He nodded his agreement.

"So the cuddling thing," Stiles said, "is that a werewolf thing?"

"Werewolves are generally more tactile than humans," Derek said. "We also share scent. If I cuddle with a pack member, it leaves some of my scent with them and they leave part of their scent on me. It's a reminder that we have somewhere we belong even when we're not around the pack and that can be very comforting."

"But you don't have a pack," Stiles said. He frowned. "Am I your pack?"

"Not... really," Derek said. He paused, thinking over how best to explain it. "In some ways, it feels a bit like you're pack."

He didn't want to explain the instinct to protect Stiles in case Stiles decided that Derek's desire to help him wasn't genuine because it was driven by these deeper instincts rather than conscious thought. Derek did want to make things right with Stiles. He wanted to set Stiles free, to let him find his dad and be reunited with his family. Derek knew what it was like to be deprived of his family. Just because the instincts were different for Stiles didn't make the loss any less painful.

"I'm substitute pack," Stiles said, giving a little nod. "I can deal with that."

Derek smiled a little. He could deal with that too.

They lapsed into silence for a bit, even though Derek was sure he'd barely answered half of Stiles' list of questions. He was sure more questions would come up later. When Stiles did ask something though, it was nothing about being a werewolf.

"Earlier," Stiles said, "when you were talking about paying off my purchase price, what would happen then?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, if you pay off the price, I'm free, but what happens to me next? Do you just kick me out into the street?"

"Of course not! But you should be free to find your dad."

Stiles chewed his lower lip, obviously thinking hard. "I don't know where my dad is. I don't know how long it will take me to find him. I could find him tomorrow or a year from now. If you paid off my price tomorrow, I'd have nowhere to go."

"What do you want to do?" Derek asked, because it was a question Stiles wasn't asked nearly often enough. He had no intention of throwing Stiles out into the cold without any sort of support, but he didn't want to trap him here either. Stiles' future had to be Stiles' decision.

Stiles continued chewing his lip for a minute, thinking. "You should wait. You can keep your money invested somewhere that you'll keep getting interest on it because it will be more than I can get in the Freedom Fund account and if it takes me a long time to find my dad, the price to pay might drop between now and then. No point giving the school more money than we have to. I don't mind staying here, keeping house for you, so long as you give me time to search."

"You could stay here anyway," Derek said, "even if I free you. I could pay you to be my housekeeper and cook."

Stiles kept chewing. Derek found himself staring at Stiles' lower lip, wondering about using his own teeth to tease at it the way Stiles kept doing. He tried to push such thoughts away. Stiles might have kissed him, but their respective positions still made any sort of consent a serious issue. Derek couldn't initiate anything. Even if he freed Stiles, he would effectively be his employer and the power imbalance would remain something to be aware of.

"You've done enough," Stiles said. "Let's stick to the arrangement we have until I find my dad. I appreciate the offer, and when I find my dad I might well want to take you up on it, but as long as you don't expect me to bow and scrape, I'm OK with leaving things as they are. With the extra free time to hunt, of course."

"Of course."

He was glad Stiles wanted to stay with him. A part of him had expected Stiles to leap at the chance of freedom, even before he learned he'd been sharing a house with someone who was a literal creature of the night. The fact that Stiles trusted him enough to stay, even now, meant something, and Stiles was right about the practicalities of the situation. Stiles didn't have anywhere to go right now, and even if Derek paid of his purchase price, he'd still need money to live on. He was glad as well, because this way he would be able to make sure Stiles was safe when he went to risky places trying to hunt for information.

"So, what now?" Derek asked.

"Now," Stiles answered, "I get on with making dinner. Then... Netflix and cuddles? I think you probably need a hug after all that serious talking."

"Sounds great."

"Great." Stiles went back to the half-finished dinner preparations that had been abandoned in the light of werewolf revelations. As he began chopping things again, he started talking. "I read this article once about something called touch-starvation. Basically, we all have this psychological need for touch. Like hugs, pats on the back, hands on the shoulders, stuff like that, and that we need all this human contact for our brains to make the right hormones to keep us happy. But the article I read didn't include any references to scientific papers, and when I did a Google search, I just found another couple of vague and fluffy articles. I couldn't find any actual scientific data behind it. I don't know, maybe there was some stuff on sites behind academic paywalls or something, but then I got pulled off the computer to go and do dance practice and I guess I never came back to the search, but it did make me wonder, how does the body know?"

"Know what?" Derek asked, trying to keep pace with Stiles' twisting thought pattern.

"Know what's a human touch and what's, well, not. I mean, if you put a hand on my shoulder, my nerves pick up the pressure and all that, but they'd also pick up pressure if I put a backpack on. So how does the bit of my brain that produces my hormones identify whether it's human contact or not? Is it a combination of pressure and warmth? In which case, if I duct tape hot water bottles around my body, will my brain think it's getting a hug? Or is it because I consciously know I'm getting a hug? Does the conscious part of my brain send some signal to the unconscious part of my brain? Does it matter whether I know the person, or what I think of them? Because a hug from my dad is going to produce a very different conscious reaction from some random stranger, or, say, Harris. Presumably that would affect whether my brain makes all the nice happy hormones but physically it would be the same contact."

"Am I expected to actually answer any of these questions?" Derek asked, amazed by the way Stiles' mind worked.

Stiles fell quiet, his enthusiastic hand-flailing stilling. "Sorry. I'm annoying you."

"No," Derek said. "No! Definitely not. It's interesting. Is this the sort of thing you think about all the time?"

"Yeah. I drove my teachers crazy because they'd be trying to teach us about, I dunno, the best way to cause stimulation in a blow job, and my brain would go off on a tangent about the history of circumcision or something."

Derek smiled, amused and endeared by Stiles' enthusiastic interest in something seemingly random.

"I like your tangents," he said, realising a moment too late how utterly lame that statement sounded. He sounded like a twelve year old trying to express a crush for the first time and he wished he could snatch the words back. But then he saw how Stiles reacted to them. He turned away from Derek, cheeks blushing faintly pink, as though trying to hide his reaction, but Derek still caught the adorable little smile on Stiles' lips. It made Derek's heart jolt a little, and he was forced to admit to himself that perhaps the comparison to a crushing teen wasn't far off the truth.

Chapter Text

Stiles planned to spend his first day off visiting Scott. He'd replied to the Facebook message with a gush of emotion, including a pile of apologies that his dad had been involved in Stiles' situation. The text became incoherent in places but Stiles was left with the distinct impression that Scott was happy to have heard from him. Unfortunately, he hadn't heard anything from Stiles' dad and didn't know any way to contact him. Scott had promised to ask his mom, but he didn't think she'd heard anything either, at least not for a while. Scott did want to see Stiles though, asking if there were some way to make it possible.

Since Stiles didn't actually have a plan for finding his dad, he decided that catching up with his best friend was as good a way as any to spend the time away from this house. The plan was for Derek to drive Stiles into town where Derek would buy Stiles a phone for his personal use, and then they would buy some groceries. After that, Derek would bring the groceries home and Stiles would have the rest of the day to spend as he liked. Derek promised to leave him some cash for taxi fares or to buy lunch if he wanted. Stiles had promised himself he wouldn't thank Derek for anything, but these actions weren't an owner pretending benevolence. These were the actions of a kind person trying to do the right thing by Stiles. So as they got into Derek's car for the drive into town, Stiles forced himself to say the words.

"Thanks for doing this."

Derek shrugged. "No problem. It's the least I could do."

"No, I'm pretty sure the least you could do was deciding that you didn't care about my sexual preferences and screwing me in your torture room the first day you brought me home."

"I just meant..."

"I get what you meant," Stiles said. Derek didn't want to make a big deal out of this and he was right that it shouldn't be a big deal. Derek was driving Stiles into town and giving him a few bucks to hang out with a friend. For anyone in a normal situation in life, that wouldn't be a big deal. But Stiles wasn't in a normal situation and they both knew it, and that magnified everything.

Stiles just took the fact that Derek didn't want praise for this act as another sign that Derek was a decent person, despite his purchase of a companion, and he let the subject drop.

Derek bought the phone while Stiles worked his way through the grocery store. He put a few items in the cart that Derek could snack on or heat up for a meal if Stiles stayed out late today. He also added a few items to the cart, like smoked salmon and some expensive deli items just because he could try eating things that he wouldn't have had the opportunity to eat with his dad. He doubted Derek would even notice that Stiles had bought posh sun-dried tomatoes instead of just regular tomatoes, but Stiles could have some fun with recipes and get to eat stuff he wouldn't have had the chance to eat before all this. He was making himself a silver lining out of balsamic vinegar and duck pate.

Derek returned as Stiles was reaching the bottom of his grocery list and he didn't pay any attention to the total as the cashier rang up the purchases. Outside the store, they loaded the bags into the bag of the Camaro and then Derek handed over the phone, which already had Derek's number programmed in.

"Call me when you want to be picked up," Derek said. "Or if anything goes wrong."

"Will do," Stiles said. He gave a little wave as Derek drove off and then set off at a walk towards Scott's house. He could have called a cab, but he had been stuck inside for far too long recently and enjoyed the idea of stretching his legs and getting a bit of exercise. His life had become an endless circuit between his bedroom, the den, and the kitchen. The closest he came to exercise was climbing the stairs with the vacuum cleaner to do the upper storey carpets. He never would have expected to miss dance lessons but the exercise would have burned off some of his anxious energy. So he burned off some of that energy now, walking at a brisk pace and enjoying the fact that no one around him would know he was a companion. To them, he'd be just another pedestrian walking down the sidewalk.

Stiles was actually smiling by the time he reached Scott's street, but by then his nerves were back in force. Some paranoid voice at the back of his brain was telling him that just because Scott had been friendly over Facebook message didn't mean he'd actually want to hang out with a companion. Stiles tried to shut that little voice up by reminding himself that Scott was a nice person and wouldn't treat him like that, but it still took a lot of steeling his nerves to walk up to the door and ring the bell.

Scott opened the door a few moments later and basically flung himself at Stiles. Stiles hugged him back, trying not to break down in tears right there on the doorstep. He clung tightly to Scott, feeling the comfort of his arms around him, and his brain instantly jumped back to the conversation he'd had with Derek about touch-starvation. He could practically feel his brain sending out relaxation signals now that Scott was hugging him, and that thought made a short laugh burst out of him.

Scott pulled back from the hug, looking at him with concern, "Are you alright?"

Stiles was caught somewhere between laughter and tears, so full of emotions that his body was unable to deal with them all, so the best he could manage was a vague nod as Scott towed him inside.

"Are you OK to be here?" Scott asked. "We're not going to get some angry owner beating down the door to drag you back?"

"It's fine. I've got the day off."

"Oh. I didn't realise you guys got those."

Stiles shrugged. He suspected most companions didn't.

Scott pulled Stiles through to the living room and they sat together on the couch.

"Are you OK?" Scott asked. "Dumb question, sorry, of course you're not OK. You're a companion. Do you want to talk about it?"

"Yes, I'm OK," Stiles said. "No, I don't particularly want to talk about it." He suspected that if he tried to explain about the situation with Derek, that he had an owner who had never tried to sleep with him and who had in fact offered to free him, Scott would probably assume he was lying to try and make him feel better. He settled for saying, "I got pretty lucky with Derek. He's about as good as I could have hoped for as an owner."

In fact, Derek was better than he would have dreamed possible, and that wasn't even taking into account the whole werewolf thing, but Stiles didn't want to sound too enthusiastic or Scott would either think he was lying or somehow brainwashed.

"I still can't believe you're a companion," Scott said. "When my dad took you, he said that you'd spend the rest of your life getting fucked, so we all assumed he'd sent you off to a low-rent brothel or something."

"He probably would have done if I'd been over eighteen," Stiles said, "or even sixteen." His age had almost certainly been the thing that had saved him. Brothels and whore houses, even the most despicable ones, had to pay lip service to the age of consent. Rafe would have had to have pretended Stiles was older to get him into one of those and still make some pretence at legality. If Stiles had been sixteen, Rafe might have crossed state lines to somewhere where the age of consent was lower than in California, but at fifteen the only way Rafe could legally stash him away was through the companion schools.

"Your dad was furious about it," Scott said. "I heard that one of the deputies had to lock him in a cell when he found out because it was the only way to keep him from murdering my dad."

"Do you know what happened to him?"

"Only bits and pieces. After you were taken, my dad stuck around a bit to gloat and your dad lost it. My dad booked it out of there pretty quickly after that and I know your dad went after him, presumably to try and find out where he sent you. After that, he went to the courts, tried to get DA Whittemore agree to the release of the information about where you'd been sent, but that obviously didn't work. I don't know if my dad paid Whittemore off, or if Whittemore just hated you because of Jackson so he decided not to help, or if there was some legal reason that he really couldn't help. All I know is that your dad tried to do things legally and when that didn't work, he started going to the brothels. Of course, that leaked to the press and he lost the next election in a landslide. The papers didn't say anything about you that might have explained it, but just printed all these pictures of your dad going into various strip clubs and kink clubs and places like that."

"What happened after my dad lost his job?"

"I don't know. He'd already moved out by then and he didn't exactly stop by for coffee. I guess he left town. The public opinion was pretty bad after the election. I guess he moved away."

"You guess," Stiles said. He shouldn't have expected Scott to keep tabs on his dad for him but it was still disheartening to hear it. This fit with what Stiles had expected and what he'd picked up from his google searches, but it didn't help.

"I'm sorry," Scott said.

"I don't know how to find him," Stiles said. "I've got a phone now, and computer access that isn't being monitored and blocked, and days off, but I don't even know where to begin with finding him."

"You could put up posters."

"My dad is not a lost puppy."

"I know that," said Scott, "but it's all I can think of. If you put posters up around town saying you want to find him, and he's anywhere around, he will see them."

"And if he's moved to San Francisco or left the state altogether? Or if he's become a reclusive shut-in who orders all his food online so he never has to face public opinion? He won't see them." Stiles' tone was sharp even though he knew Scott was trying to help, and even though Stiles hadn't been able to come up with any better ideas. He was frustrated by the whole situation and it was easy to give in to temptation and take that frustration out on Scott.

"I suppose I could put posters up," Stiles said. "Or make a post on Craigslist or something. 'If you know Noah Stilinski, tell him Stiles is trying to get in touch,' and then my contact details. I'll get a whole load of spam and prank calls but it might work."

It felt better than doing nothing. Scott helped print some posters and they spent an hour going around putting them on lampposts or in the window of the convenience store. They stopped for a lunch break at a small diner and Stiles asked to put one of the posters up there. The waitress looked at it, frowned at the name, and asked why he wanted to get in touch with a pervert like that.

"He's my dad," Stiles said, narrowly resisting the urge to leap at her.

"Oh honey," she said, "you're better off without him."

Only Scott grabbing hold of Stiles and yanking him back into his seat kept Stiles from violence and they were firmly asked to leave the diner. Outside, Stiles' mood didn't improve when he saw that a poster they'd put up down the street had already been vandalised. Someone had crossed out Stiles' dad's name and written 'whore fucker' in its place. Stiles wanted to collapse there on the sidewalk and cry.

"It'll be OK," Scott said. "You'll find him. It doesn't matter what these idiots think."

But it did matter. It mattered because no one was going to help him find his dad if they thought his dad was a pervert who didn't deserve to be a father.

Chapter Text

Derek didn't go home right away. He didn't want to linger too long because of the perishables in the car, but he also wanted to take this time to get something for Stiles. He wanted to give Stiles something, to show that he was liked, that he was appreciated, but he also knew that Stiles wouldn't appreciate expensive gifts when he was still technically owned by Derek. He would rather have his freedom than unnecessary jewellery, but Stiles had already turned down the possibility of his freedom for now.

He settled for buying a couple of new t-shirts and a book of five hundred interesting facts. He couldn't buy Stiles some magic way to find his father, but hopefully this would make him smile a little. Derek felt fairly useless about the whole situation with Stiles. He liked Stiles, more than he might have expected to, and he wanted to make him as happy as was possible given his situation. He worried that Stiles would think the gifts were manipulation somehow, but he wasn't sure how to convince him of that except by not attempting to manipulate him. He would be honest, and say that the gifts were in gratitude of how well Stiles had taken the werewolf news.

It was only partly true. Derek wanted to give Stiles something simply because he liked Stiles and wanted to do something nice for him. Stiles was smart and funny and brave, resilient to have gone through everything he'd gone through and come out still able to make sarcastic retorts. He was full of fire and unyielding in his resolve. His head was full of interesting ideas and random knowledge and seemed to spark in a hundred different directions at once. And Derek didn't have the faintest idea how to deal with that.

He wasn't sure what he wanted Stiles to be to him. Pack? Friend? Something more? Any of those options seemed impossible given the current state of affairs and the last thing Derek wanted to do was put pressure on Stiles. Stiles had faced enough pressure, enough people using him or wanting to take advantage of him and Derek refused to be one of those, even if Stiles had confessed to liking him. Even if Stiles had kissed him.

Derek returned home, his pitiful gifts beside him, and reminded himself that there was no way things could work with Stiles. Even if Stiles did like him back, even if Stiles was willing to kiss him, that didn't mean they could have a relationship, and certainly not a sexual one. Stiles had made it clear where he stood on the subject of the playroom and the fact that Derek had picked up his scent in that room didn't change anything. Stiles had said no and Derek would accept that, which meant that Derek would have to give up something he loved, something he craved, if he were to have a committed relationship with Stiles.

He wondered about going to the club tonight, taking his mind off Stiles with some fun with a virtual stranger, but he knew he couldn't go anywhere until Stiles came home, because Stiles would need him to pick him up, might need his help if someone like Harris showed up again. The last thing Derek wanted was to get halfway through a scene and then have to rush out and fetch Stiles. That wouldn't be fair on Stiles and it definitely wouldn't be fair on whoever he found to scene with. No, Derek would stay at home and wait for Stiles' call. If Stiles came home happy and relaxed from his day off then maybe Derek could go in search of some relaxation of his own, but only then.

He reached the house and unpacked the groceries and then settled in for a long workout, trying to take his mind off Stiles with exercise. His mind kept drifting back to Stiles anyway, wondering what he was doing, how his search was going, if he was having any luck. Some small part of him hoped that Stiles wasn't because he knew he'd be lonely when Stiles left but the rest of him felt shame for that selfish desire. He wanted Stiles to be happy and that meant wanting him to find his dad, even if that meant Derek would be left alone again.

There was no way Derek could consider buying a companion again, and not just because he wouldn't have the savings once he'd paid off Stiles' purchase price. He didn't want to be part of the system again, didn't want to be responsible for owning another person, even if he would be more respectful than most owners, judging from everything Stiles had said. Stiles' loathing of him for having believed he had the right to buy another person had been fully justified and Derek wanted to distance himself from the person who had thought those things. So that meant that when Stiles found his dad, Derek would be left alone again. Just him, an empty house, and whatever vague acquaintances he could persuade to come from the club to play.

It was at times like this he wished he were any good at making friends.

He kept his post-workout shower brief, in case he missed a call from Stiles, and then spent some time going through the toys in his playroom, checking they were in good repair, polishing and cleaning as required. This wasn't a task he could ask Stiles to complete and it wasn't something he felt comfortable doing while Stiles was around, but if he intended on bringing someone here from the club, it was a chore that needed completing.

He was just finishing up when his phone rang and Stiles told him he was ready to come home. Derek tried not to let his heart leap at the sound of Stiles calling this house home; he was just using the word because it was the most convenient description, not because he felt any sense of this place being his home. Derek drove to the address Stiles texted him and got out of the car. Stiles walked out of the house with a boy of his own age who Derek guessed must be Scott. Scott glared at Derek as though he were plotting his murder, barely stopping even when Stiles gave him a brief hug goodbye. Derek could practically feel the force of Scott's glare in the back of his head as he drove away again.

"Did you have a good day?" Derek asked. Stiles gave a shrug.

"It was nice to see Scott again." He sounded utterly unenthusiastic about that.

"What happened?" Derek asked, and he was sure Stiles knew he wasn't asking about Scott.

"We put up some posters, asking if people knew my dad and could ask him to get in touch. People were... They think my dad's some sicko because he went to all sorts of dodgy places trying to find me. People hate him because of me."

"Not because of you," Derek said firmly, remembering their conversation. "Because of Agent Asshole."

Stiles shrugged again. Derek didn't think he believed it.

"Stiles," Derek said, "you are not to blame for any of this, not what happened to you and not what people think about your dad."

"I just... I want to set the record straight. I want to take an ad on prime time TV telling the true story so that people stop thinking the worst of him. I want him to know I don't blame him for any of it." Derek thought Stiles might start crying. "What if he thinks I hate him? What if he thinks I think that he let Rafe take me, that I believe he actually sold me to the school? What if..."

"I'm sure he knows you don't hate him, Stiles."

"You don't know that. You don't know him."

"I know you and so does he."

Stiles fell silent and Derek didn't know what to say. He couldn't just say a few words and make Stiles' life magically better.

At the house, Derek suggested that they watch something together.

"I'm not so broken I need cuddles," Stiles said.

"But do you want cuddles?"

Stiles didn't answer that directly, but he did sit down beside Derek on the couch and lean into his side, letting Derek wrap an arm around him. Stiles tucked his feet up onto the couch and rested his head on Derek's shoulder. They hadn't even turned on the TV yet and Stiles was already starting to relax against him.

"You weren't supposed to be sweet," Stiles said.

"I'm not sweet."

"Oh, you can try and pretend otherwise with your tough guy, alpha werewolf routine, but secretly you're made of so much sugar you should come with a health warning for diabetes."

Derek ran his hand gently up and down Stiles' arm, soothingly. "And this is a problem?"

"It was easier when I hated you. I knew how to act then."

"You looked like you were going to jump out of your skin every three seconds and you stank of fear."

"Yeah, but at least that I knew how to deal with. But you're nice and I kind of want to kiss you, but you like all that kinky pain stuff and I don't want that so you're never going to want me."

Derek wanted sure how to respond to that, because he did want Stiles. He wanted to kiss him until he had his taste memorised. He wanted to explore Stiles' body, to inspect those moles and see if they covered every part of him. He wanted to do everything Stiles would let him do, but he also knew that Stiles was right about him liking BDSM. How long would it take for Derek to grow tired of vanilla with Stiles? Derek didn't know the answer to that because he'd never liked anyone enough to try truly vanilla sex. Was he willing to try it with Stiles? He already knew the answer to that question.

"Do you know what I was planning to do that first day in the playroom?" Derek asked. "Before you had your panic attack."

"Tie me up and whip me?" Stiles asked. His heart rate had shot up.

"I was going to show you my equipment."

"Metaphorically?" Derek didn't need to look at Stiles' face to know he was smirking. His heart rate was slowly returning to normal.

"Literally," Derek answered. "I was going to show you every piece of equipment in that playroom and ask your opinions of it. I wanted to find out what you liked, what you didn't like, what you were eager to try, and what you never wanted to experience. If you said no to something, we would never have used it."

"And I said no to the whole room."

Derek was glad that they were sitting side by side because this conversation was easier when he didn't have to look Stiles in the eye. He could still hear Stiles' heartbeat though, still feel the muscles under his hand, so he would be able to judge Stiles' reaction to what he had to say next.

"I like you," Derek said. Stiles' heartbeat leapt again, but there was no accompanying scent of fear. "I told you I won't do anything you don't want me to do. That includes sex. I don't want to take advantage of you. And if you do want sex, I won’t force you to try anything you're not completely comfortable with and if you want to stop at any time, that's perfectly fine. I don't care if I'm halfway inside you, if you say stop, we stop. I know that the situation you're in makes it difficult for you to feel like you're giving consent, so if you don't want to do anything until you've found your dad, I completely understand."

Stiles twisted in Derek's arms to look at him. "Those were the most words I've heard you say in one go."

"This is important. I need you to understand that this is entirely up to you. How fast we go, how far, it has to be your choi-"

Stiles didn't let Derek finish the word. He planted a kiss on his lips that swallowed the final part of the sentence. Derek's mouth was open to form the word and Stiles took advantage of that, slipping his tongue inside. He slid a hand behind Derek's head, guiding him into the kiss, and it took Derek several seconds to get over his surprise and respond. It was Stiles who was in control of the kiss and Stiles who decided when to let him up for air, but Derek's heart was pounding with excitement throughout.

"Are you sure?" Derek asked.

"Did I not seem sure?"

Derek didn't want to assume anything, especially since Stiles had been the one who'd insisted that it was impossible to have true consent between a companion and owner, but Stiles seemed sure. It wasn't just the kiss or that Stiles had initiated this. It wasn't that Stiles had already confessed to liking Derek. It was his scent, full of contentment and arousal mingled together. The rapid heartbeat Derek could hear wasn't being driven by fear.

"You smell sure," Derek said.

Stiles laughed, which was a beautiful sound after how miserable he'd been earlier. He pecked a quick kiss to the tip of Derek's nose.

"What the hell does sure smell like?" he asked.

"It's more the lack of a smell. Fear is very distinct and you don't smell afraid. You do smell a little bit aroused."

"Only a little bit?" Stiles asked. "You'll have to work on that."

He leaned in to kiss Derek again.

Chapter Text

Stiles left the couch only when it became clear Derek wasn't going to. After half an hour of kissing, Stiles was eager for more but Derek's hands had never strayed from Stiles' arms and back, nice safe places. Derek had meant it about letting Stiles set the pace, or so it seemed.

A part of Stiles wondered if he should test Derek. He could call this whole thing off and see how Derek reacted, see if he really meant it about letting Stiles decide how things went. Despite his comments about being sure, there was still a faint possibility that Derek's apparent kindness had all been manipulation. But if so, then Derek was one hell of an actor. Stiles was sure that the offer to pay of his purchase price had been genuine because that was a hell of a thing to bluff about and Stiles had been close to agreeing. If that was genuine, then the rest of it must be as well. Sooner or later, the only way to find out if Derek could be trusted was to trust him, and Derek had already trusted Stiles with his big secret. Stiles knew that Derek was a werewolf and that was a hell of thing to trust him with, so Stiles didn't feel too many doubts about returning the faith. Besides, Stiles really did want to experience sex.

For all the lessons and the theory, he was ready to find out if it was as good as it was supposed to be, if it truly was worth the fortune some of these people spent paying for it. He'd waited long enough.

Stiles took hold of Derek's hand and drew him from the couch, kissing him again once they were upright.

"Do you want to use your bedroom?" Stiles asked. He had no intention of using the playroom and Derek's room was closer and the bed was larger than Stiles'. It was the obvious choice, and Derek nodded. Stiles half-expected Derek to ask him if he was sure again, but Derek just followed Stiles up the stairs. Maybe Stiles still smelled sure. Maybe it was Stiles' hand, lacing his fingers through Derek's and encouraging him along, that sent the message of surety.

In the bedroom, Stiles' mind ran through the various lessons he'd been given on initiating sexual acts. There were different roles he could play, different parts he could take. Derek obviously wasn't going to take the lead, so letting him dictate the details obviously wasn't going to work. That meant Stiles had to determine the approach they would take. The lessons had described this as encouraging his partner's pleasure. In their classes, they'd been taught that they could take charge of a sexual encounter so long as they remembered that their owner's pleasure was paramount. They could guide the details of the joining in such a way as to heighten the other person's enjoyment. There hadn't been anything about mutual enjoyment in the lessons, so Stiles would have to improvise.

He started by removing Derek's shirt, which would work for both of them because he really wanted to see those abs again, and it gave him access to Derek's nipples. Stiles peeled off the fabric and took a moment to drink in the sight of Derek's muscles. His smooth skin clung to well-defined curves, strong shoulders tapering down to those hard abs. Stiles licked his lips and wondered where to start. He wondered if Derek could smell what this sight was doing to him.

Stiles bent down to Derek's chest and caught a nipple between his lips, squeezing and tugging gently. He didn't want to get his teeth involved yet but that was enough to elicit a moan from Derek.

Derek's hands found the fabric of Stiles' shirt and lifted it up Stiles pulled back long enough to get the shirt out of the way and then dove in for another kiss, hoping to distract Derek from the fact that his chest wasn't nearly so impressive. Stiles' hands reached around Derek's back, feeling more smooth skin and hard muscle. Every part of Derek that Stiles could touch was strong and warm.

Derek nuzzled at Stiles' neck, sending shivers through his body and making him hard inside his pants. Something about Derek's lips against his vulnerable neck seemed to fill Stiles with a charge, sending energy and desire surging through him.

Stiles returned to Derek's nipples, remembering the moan, wanting Derek to feel as excited about this as Stiles did. Stiles wrapped his mouth around a nipple and sucked, making Derek growl out his name, hunger in his tone. Stiles licked and sucked and nibbled, while his hands caressing Derek's abs, listening to the sounds of Derek's desire. On impulse, Stiles dropped his attention a little lower and ran his tongue up Derek's abs from his navel.

Derek yanked out of Stiles' hold so fast that Stiles nearly fell over. Derek staggered back a step, crashing into the bedside table and sending the lamp smashing down onto the floor in a shattering of ceramics.

Stiles was frozen, the noise of the crash sending a jolt of fear through him. His eyes were locked on Derek's face. Derek's eyes were wide, scared almost, and the flush of desire had vanished from his cheeks so now his skin looked shockingly pale.

"I..." Derek gasped out the word.

He moved in a rush and Stiles jerked back instinctively, half expected violence, but Derek just grabbed his shirt and fled the room, letting the words, "I can't," trail behind him.

Stiles stood there, all arousal washed away in a flood of surprise and confusion. So much for Derek's concern that Stiles would want to back out part-way through the proceedings.

"What the hell?" Stiles asked. The suspicious part of him wondered if this was a trick, if this was so way to manipulate him, but he didn't believe anyone could be that good an actor. Derek had been genuinely freaked out and Stiles didn't know why. He grabbed his shirt and followed Derek from the room, hoping to find some answers.

He found Derek in the kitchen, standing with his hands on the counter, staring at the kettle as it heated up. His shirt was on again, robbing the universe of the sight of his back. He didn't look round at Stiles, though he must have heard his approach.

"What happened back there?" Stiles asked.

"Forget about it."

"Derek, if I did something wrong, just tell me."

Derek kept staring at the kettle. Stiles took a step closer but didn't dare cross the room. It was like approaching an anxious animal; he had no idea how Derek was going to react.

"Derek?" Stiles prompted.

"I'm sorry."

"What the hell happened? One minute, you seemed like you were really into it, the next you couldn't get away from me fast enough."

The kettle steamed to a boil and Derek poured water into a mug. He stood there, back still towards Stiles, dunking a teabag on its string. Stiles was starting to think that this conversation was going nowhere when Derek replied.

"There was someone once, a long time ago, and she used to do that. Lick my stomach like that. When you did it, it was like she was there with me again and I... I couldn't."

"I'm sorry," Stiles said.

Derek kept dunking the tea bag. Stiles wasn't sure he actually intended to drink that or if he just needed something to do with his hands, something to focus on outside of his own head.

"It wasn't your fault," Derek said. "It's my issue."

"Yeah, but I set it off, whether I meant to or not. Maybe you could give me a list of things that cause this reaction so I can avoid them in future."

"I didn't know I'd react like this. When I scene, I'm always in control, I call the shots about everything that happens so this sort of thing's never come up."

The suspicious part of Stiles wanted to wonder if this might be another way for Derek to manipulate Stiles into letting him use the playroom. By pretending to be vulnerable, Derek might be trying to convince Stiles that the only way this would work was if Derek was in domination mode. But Stiles pushed those thoughts aside. The way Derek had paled in the bedroom, that hadn't been something that could be faked, Stiles was sure of it. The reaction had been real.

So Stiles said, "I'm really trying to think of a joke about things coming up."

That had the effect Stiles wanted. Derek ducked his head, as though ashamed to show the way his lips tilted up at the edges in a faint hint of a smile. Derek wasn't exactly bursting his sides with laughter, but it was a start and it was a sign that he was starting to feel better.

"You could say," Stiles continued, "that I'm trying hard."

Derek looked him in the eye, "That was truly terrible."

"That's the thing with jokes, you cock them up every once in a while."

Derek gave a huff of a laugh and shook his head.

"Hey," Stiles said, "it takes balls to make jokes like these."

"Stop talking. Now." Derek was aiming for an angry tone, but there was enough amusement lurking beneath it to ruin the effect. Stiles grinned at him.

"You love it," Stiles said. Derek didn't deny it. "So, since sex is off the table, should we go back to cuddling? You look like you could use it."

So they settled back onto the couch, Derek holding his mug of untouched tea. Stiles wasn't sure what to say. He'd broken Derek out of the dark mood with stupid puns but he didn't know where to go from here. Should he try to talk to Derek about his issues? Or just pretend they weren't there and talk about something utterly random until Derek was feeling better? But if he changed the subject, would Derek think he didn't care about his issues? Would they never talk about them? Stiles had to admit to himself that he was filled with a burning curiosity to know who Derek had been talking about and what had happened to make him react so badly, but it was obvious that the story wasn't going to be a pleasant one and Stiles didn't want to press Derek on it when he was like this.

Unable to decide how best to proceed, Stiles sat in silence and waited for Derek to say something.

Chapter Text

Derek was surprised by how long Stiles stayed quiet. Derek had no doubt that Stiles was curious, because who wouldn't be? But Stiles didn't ask all the questions he must have had. He waited. Derek was incredibly grateful for that because it let him get his thoughts in order, let him decide how much he wanted to say. He owed Stiles some sort of explanation, especially if they planned to try again in the future. It was no good attempting sex if he might freak out part way through and that meant acknowledging how she had treated him and working out what was likely to cause a problem.

"Her name was Kate," Derek said. "I don't know her last name, she was always just Kate."

That should have been suspicious. She hadn't told him her last name because she'd needed to stay hidden from him after she destroyed his life. If he'd been thinking with even half of his brain he might have realised something was going on, but instead he'd just accepted her first name and never wondered about the rest.

"I was fifteen," Derek continued. "She was twenty two."

Stiles swore quietly. He'd no doubt put the pieces together and worked out that there was no way that this story was going to go anywhere good.

"She was beautiful, amazingly so, and so confident and smart. It made me feel special that someone like that would pay any attention to me. It made me want to please her. I wanted to prove how devoted I was to her, how mature I was, that I was adult enough to be worthy of her."

"Please tell me this story ends with someone shooting her," Stiles said.

"Not even close. She was my first sexual partner and she introduced me to BDSM. I already knew about it, I'd been interested in it, from porn and the internet, but she was the one who made it real. She showed me the ropes." Derek turned sideways to look directly at Stiles, "Keep any puns you have to yourself."

Stiles faked an innocent expression and made a 'who me?' gesture with his free hand.

Derek turned away from him again, but tried to use Stiles' scent to hold him in the present, to keep the memories from overwhelming him.

"You asked me once if I ever got tied up and hit."

"You said it hadn't been for a long time."

"Kate was the one who tied me up. I like it, at first. The control aspect of BDSM has always done it for me, and giving over control to Kate was a rush, a thrill, but then... Werewolves heal faster than humans and this fascinated her. She started doing pain play, a lot of pain play." Pain play was something Derek had enjoyed receiving a little, but only at the lower end of the scale. The first time Kate had spanked him, he'd enjoyed the experience well enough, but it didn't take long for pain to stop being a thrill and to just be simply painful. Kate hadn't care that he'd stopped enjoying it when she'd brought out the whips and canes, or when she'd started cutting him open to see him heal. He remembered her knives on his skin, the sharp pain and the scent of his own blood in the air.

"I tried telling her that I wasn't that into it," Derek continued, "but she was dismissive. She said she couldn't really hurt me after all so it was fine. She kept telling me how special I was and afterwards we'd have sex and she'd tell me I could be such a good submissive for her if I just stopped complaining. I told myself that the pain was worth if it I got to be with her."

"How did you get away from her?" Stiles asked.

"She murdered my family."

"Holy crap!" Stiles pulled out of the cuddle enough so he could look Derek in the eye, staring at him with shock and confusion and horror all mingled together. "Seriously?"

"My parents were worried that there was something wrong with me, but I didn't want to tell them about Kate. I didn't want to get her into trouble. I knew they'd think she was too old for me and that they wouldn't like the whole BDSM angle, so I didn't tell them. They stopped letting me go out to try and keep us apart, but Kate kept messaging me. She kept saying that she missed me, that she wanted to see me, that... that she loved me. So I told her about a secret way out of the house. Down in the basement, there was a tunnel that led out into the woods. It was an escape route in case any enemies found out about us being werewolves. I told her where to find the entrance and told her how to disguise her scent with natural wood smells and by wearing some of my clothes so that my family wouldn't realise she was close. I was going to sneak out of the house to see her during the night but I guess my family figured out that I had something planned, or maybe it was just good timing. My parents told Laura, Laura was my sister, to take me out for a run, to let off steam. She told me afterwards that they'd wanted her to get me to talk about what was going on with me because they thought she might have better luck than them. I was mad because I wanted to see Kate, but I couldn't tell Laura that without giving everything away, so we were just running through the woods, shifted... and then we smelled the smoke."

"Kate started a fire?"

"She blocked the doors of the house and sealed up the escape tunnel. She used the information I'd given her knowing that my family would try for the tunnel instead of climbing out a window because they expected it to be secret, but it just meant they burned to death in the basement." Derek didn't say anything about Peter. He wasn't ready to face that yet. "My family died because I told Kate our secrets. If Laura hadn't taken me for that run, we'd have died too."

"That's... wow." Stiles clearly didn't know how to respond to this revelation. It was a lot to take in, a huge part of Derek's history that he'd just dumped onto Stiles, but Derek was glad it was out there now. As difficult as all this was to say, he was glad it was out there now instead of being another secret between them.

Derek waited for the condemnation, for Stiles to point out how foolish Derek had been, how huge his mistake was. Stiles knew the depth of Derek's guilt now, that he was responsible for the death of his family. He ought to be angry, or disgusted. If not about Kate, then about the hypocrisy. Derek knew what it was like to be pressured into sexual acts. He knew what it felt like for another person to have power of him and he knew how sickened he felt at that prospect in retrospect, but he'd still put Stiles into a similar position.

"I should have known better," Derek said.

"How?" Stiles said. "How the hell were you supposed to see any of that coming? I mean, the fact that she was in her twenties having a sexual relationship with a teenager is a problem on its own, but it sounds like she was really manipulative and that's how these people get away with it. You weren't the first teenager and you won't be the last who was manipulated by an older person talking about how 'mature' you were. Sexual predators practice manipulating people and you were fifteen. It wasn't your fault. And how the hell could anyone have guessed that she was going to start a fire? You couldn't have known."

Derek's heart raced a little at Stiles' words, at the conviction and certainty that filled every syllable. Stiles meant this completely. He didn't think Kate was Derek's fault and Derek ought to have been delighted at that, but he knew that they were talking about two different things.

"I meant about you," Derek said. "I should have known better than to buy a companion."

"Why did you buy a companion?"

Stiles had never really asked this question. Derek had talked about it a little with Braeden but not to Stiles. It was only fair he heard the truth, as pathetic as it was.

"I was lonely," Derek said. "You asked me about pack once and a werewolf without a pack... it's difficult. Some werewolves go completely feral if they're cut off from a pack. I was able to keep that at bay." Partly through scening with people from the club, but Stiles didn't need to know that. "But there was a full moon and I felt the lack of a pack like something physical, like someone had cut something out of me. I wanted company and I started browsing the internet, looking for some way I could satisfy the craving."

"And you thought that a companion would be the answer."

"I found the school's website. It made having a companion seem... nice. It talked about how companions could provide conversation and entertainment and gentle support."

"I've seen the website," Stiles said. "They spent five hundred words going on about how great the music lessons are and failed to mention the word 'sex' anywhere on the site."

"They also didn't mention people selling kids to the school against their will," Derek said. "There was nothing concrete about how people ended up in the school but there was a load of stuff about finding a compatible match between owner and companion that made it sound like companions got stuff out of this too, like this was something they'd chosen."

"I guess on the surface, playing music and entertaining people and having a lot of sex does sound like a pretty cool job," Stiles said.

"I should have known better. I should have thought about it, thought about the implications, but I was lonely and I had this fantasy in my head that my perfectly matched companion would put some life back into this home again and make me feel like... like I was wanted. I should have thought about it. There's so much wrong about the situation as soon as you look beyond all the soft and fluffy language the school uses and on some level I knew that, I just didn't let myself think about it."

"That's why the system works as well as it does," Stiles said, "because it gets painted in nice language so you don't have to think about it. Companions are supposed to 'take care of people's needs'." He pulled his arm free from Derek so he could make air quotes. "People talk about us as 'companions' instead of 'slaves' like we're there because we're just being friendly. The schools make a big deal of the music and the poetry and the flower arranging because it lets people pretend that's what they're really buying a companion for. The whole thing is painted with euphemisms so that people can wrap themselves in a protective bubble of selective ignorance and not have to think about what's really going on."

Stiles was angry again, his tone harsh, and Derek understood why. The soft language was just another form of manipulation and they both hated that.

"I'm sorry," Derek said.

Stiles didn't answer for a long time. Derek stared at the wall, listening to Stiles' heartbeat, waiting for the response, waiting for more anger.

"What you did was wrong," Stiles said. "Buying a companion, buying another person, that's always going to be wrong. I'm never going to pretend that I'm OK with what you did, but I understand loneliness. I'm not a werewolf but I can get wanting to have someone in your life. You did a horrible thing, but you listened when I told you it was a horrible thing. You didn't get defensive or try to hide behind the bubble. You accepted that you did something horrible and you tried to make it right. And anyway, getting bought by you was probably the best possible way I was going to get out of that school. So, yeah, I'm not going to be OK with what you did, but I can be OK with you. We've all made bad decisions."

"Laura always said I made the worst decisions on the full moon," Derek said.

"Is that a real thing for werewolves? Does the moon make you go out of control?"

"Not in the way the movies show, not once we've learned a bit of control, but it makes everything more intense. If someone annoys you, you don't want to just ignore it, you want to claw their throat out, but if you find someone attractive, you want to, well, you know. If you find something fun, you get ridiculously excited about it."

"And if you're lonely, you decide to buy a person."

"It's not an excuse," Derek said. "We're still people with rational minds. I still had the ability to think the decision through, I just chose not to. I just... I missed my pack."

There was wetness on Derek's cheeks. He hadn't noticed that he was starting to cry until he tasted the salt as a tear ran into the corner of his mouth. Stiles didn't hate him. These few words reached inside Derek and twisted something inside him, loosening something that had been sealed up tight for a long time.

Stiles' fingers brushed gently at Derek's cheeks, wiping away the tears.

"It's OK," Stiles said. "It's OK."

Derek wasn't even sure why he was crying. All he knew was that Stiles didn't hate him. Stiles knew about Kate, knew that Derek had caused his family's deaths, knew that he'd purchased a person, and still didn't hate him.

Stiles' arms wrapped around him and Stiles' voice murmured into Derek's ear, "You're not alone anymore."

Chapter Text

Stiles didn't bring up the subject of sex the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. He kept waiting, assuming Derek would discuss the subject when he was ready, but by the fourth day he came to the conclusion that Derek would just ignore the issue forever or until it exploded in their faces. They'd both acknowledged they were attractive to each other and Stiles wasn't even mad at Derek anymore, so the possibility shouldn't have been so out of the question, but Derek seemed to want to pretend it didn't exist. Stiles, on the other hand, wanted to find out what would have happened next if he hadn't triggered Derek's traumas.

So, as they sat down to breakfast on the fifth day since their aborted attempt, he just came out and said, "So... sex."

Derek gave him that part-amused, part-bewildered expression that was becoming a regular visitor to his face. "Are we just naming different activities? In which case, rock climbing."

"I find you attractive, you find me attractive for some strange reason, and now I know that there are things to avoid, we can work around them. So why isn't this a thing that is happening?"

"You still want to?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Stiles asked.

"Because I ruined it last time."

"You had a trauma flashback. That's why I think we need a list. If you tell me the things she used to like doing, then we can make sure I don't do them by mistake. You know what you can do when you're with other people so we can start with that as a list of safe stuff." Then, because Stiles felt it was important to say, he added, "That's if you want to, of course. I don't want to pressure you."

Derek gave him an incredulous look, "You don't want to pressure me?"

"Yeah. I mean, pressure can go both ways. That's basically a Newtonian law."

"If you make a joke about bodies in motion," Derek said, "I will pour your coffee over your head."

Stiles snickered. He hadn't been thinking of any such joke, but presumably his influence was rubbing off on Derek if that's where Derek's mind had gone to.

"So, what do you say?" Stiles said, "A long discussion of potential triggers followed by a few rounds of steaming hot sex?"

Derek nodded. "But after breakfast. If I talk about her over breakfast, I'm liable to vomit on you."

"Duly noted."

***

After breakfast, they sat together in the living room, Stiles with a pad and pen in hand. He started taking notes of the things Derek mentioned. He already knew the stomach-licking thing, but there were more. Kate had used pet names, calling him sweetie or sweetheart or, when they were performing scenes, pet. So Stiles had to avoid any term of endearment she might have used. There were a few phrases Stiles wrote down, and Derek was very clear that he didn't want to be restrained.

When they were done, Derek asked Stiles, "What about you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Is there anything you want me to avoid? Or anything you want to try? Specifically, I mean?"

Derek already knew about Stiles' fear of the playroom and his revulsion from the idea of being whipped and beaten. But Stiles' reaction had been back when he'd first met Derek, when he knew nothing about him except that he'd paid money for a person. Now he knew that Derek was sweet and caring, that he could smell his emotions and would know when Stiles was in distress. He knew that Derek had offered his freedom and was letting him hunt for his dad. Derek care about consent and wasn't about to take advantage. That put the playroom in a whole different light. He remembered Braeden and that she'd gone in their willingly. She'd enjoyed whatever it was she and Derek had done together. There were people who chose that stuff because they found it fun. Stiles had never been one to shy away from new experiences.

"I'm curious," he admitted.

"About?" Derek asked.

"Everything." Then he amended, "Well, no, not everything. I don't like getting hurt and knives and needles and things like that freak the hell out of me, so anything involving spiky bits of metal is probably out of the question, but... I want to understand. I want to see if maybe I would like some of the stuff in your playroom. The less painful stuff."

Derek had gone stiff somewhere in the middle of Stiles' confession and stared at him with shock.

"You want to try BDSM?"

"I don't know. Maybe. I might hate it, but it seems silly to condemn it without at least giving it a try, right?"

"Stiles," Derek said, and Stiles didn't think he'd ever heard his name said with such joy and wonder, but then Derek asked, "Are you doing this just because you think I want to?"

"God no! I have insatiable curiosity, always have. Like I said, I might hate it and you'd better believe I'll tell you if I do, but I think I want to test it out."

Derek didn't answer at once. Stiles wondered if he'd said something wrong, treating this like something he could just dip a toe in to test the temperature. It was hard to read Derek's expression, but he didn't seem angry.

"Not right away," Derek said. "Let's start with vanilla stuff and work out what you like there."

"Vanilla," Stiles said. "That means without any of the kinky bondage stuff, right?"

Derek's lips twitched into a smile and he did the adorable head-bowing thing he always seemed to do when he smiled, before meeting Stiles' eyes. "That's right, and I think if you have to check what the word means, we definitely should start there. Later, if you're still interested, we can try with me giving you orders in the bedroom, maybe holding your wrists, things like that, to see if that's something that works for you. We can take it slowly but you will have to be absolutely honest about what you do and don't enjoy."

"Have you known me to be quiet about my opinions?" Stiles asked. Derek did the head-bow-and-smile thing again.

"I guess not."

"OK. So do you want to start?"

"You need to work on your seduction technique," Derek said.

"That's what my teachers said too. Let's go upstairs and tear each others' clothes off."

"Much better."

***

Despite Stiles' comment about tearing clothes off, they actually went quite slowly when they reached the bedroom. Stiles pulled his shirt over his head and let Derek do the same, nervous of touching him without clear permission that it would be OK. He let Derek take the lead, stepping in to place a gentle kiss on his lips. They stood like that for some time, sharing soft kisses, shirtless, but with hands that barely moved across each others' backs. Stiles didn't mind the kisses, but he was impatient for more, impatient to experience what had been cut short last time.

After a few minutes, he realised the problem. He pulled away and said, "You're waiting for me to take the lead, aren't you?"

"I don't want to pressure you," Derek said.

"I was waiting for you to take the lead so I don't trigger anything." Stiles gave a little laugh and Derek smiled too at the absurdity of the situation.

"Well that's not going to get us anywhere." He reached for Stiles' flies. "Is this OK?"

"Definitely OK. More than OK. Just frigging get on with it already."

Derek chuckled and undid Stiles' pants, pushing them down over his hips. Stiles shoved his underwear down too, nearly tripping as he tried to step out of the tangled mass of cloth. He grabbed hold of Derek's shoulders to stay upright, setting them both laughing again. Derek got rid of his own pants as Stiles was finding his feet again, and then they were both naked.

Stiles felt awkward and gangly in front of Derek's exquisite body, so he stepped in for another kiss, wanting to keep Derek from getting a good look at all of him, in case he changed his mind. He was a little more daring with his hands this time, stroking them up and down Derek's back, reaching down to cup his ass.

"Is this OK?" he asked between kisses.

"Definitely," Derek said, leaning his head in to nuzzle Stiles' neck, reaching down so that his hands mirrored Stiles'. Stiles wasn't sure whether it was his neck or those hands responsible for the warmth at his groin, but he moaned against Derek, pressing closer, until he could feel their erections pressed between them.

Derek guided them over to the bed and they collapsed down together, still kissing and touching, hands stroking skin. Stiles was constantly aware of the danger areas, but he remembered how Derek had reacted to his nipples the last time, so he thought that was safe. He shifted down the bed a little to get his mouth over Derek's nipple, licking and sucking and biting gently until Derek was groaning obscenely.

"Oh god!" Derek moaned. Stiles grinned, but his grin froze when Derek followed up moments later with, "Oh crap."

Stiles pulled back, panicked that he'd done something wrong. "What is it? What did I do?"

"All my lube's downstairs," Derek said. He laughed a little, shaking his head at his lack of foresight. "Well, I'm not going to fetch it now, so this will have to do."

He reached between them to wrap a hand around their erections, holding both in one hand. He stroked gently but firmly, building up speed as Stiles closed his eyes and moaned, groping at Derek's shoulders to hold them together. He was close, so close, that it took only a few moments for him to fall over the edge, throwing his head back and gasping aloud as he came. Derek followed moments later, and Stiles felt the splatters of sticky liquid splashing on his bare stomach. He breathed deeply and rolled onto his back, Derek collapsing back beside him.

"Not quite what I'd had in mind," Derek said. "What did you think?"

"Ask me again when my brain starts working again."

"If it stopped your brain working, it had to be pretty good."

Stiles nodded. He was used to his own right hand, but somehow the whole thing was about a thousand times better when it was someone else's right hand. They hadn't even had sex yet, not really, but just being here beside Derek, getting their pleasure together, had made it so much more than solo sessions. He couldn't wait to see how much better it could get.

Stiles felt like he ought to say something, like he ought to thank Derek, or declare his affections, or something, but all he could do was lie there and let his sleepy brain soak in pleasure. Beside him, Derek lay back too, his fingertips tracing gentle patterns on Stiles' stomach.

"We should do this all the time," Stiles said. "Every day."

"This specifically?" Derek teased. "Because I have a lot of different things I want to try with you."

Stiles' heart fluttered with excitement. There were so many possibilities. Even if Stiles didn't enjoy the playroom stuff, there were other positions, there was actual penetration, there was a range of options for them to try out, a range of ways to give each pleasure. Stiles could finally understand why there might be a handful of people who actually enjoyed being companions. He snuggled up against Derek's side and closed his eyes.

"We'll try them all," he said.

Chapter Text

Derek watched Stiles drift to sleep, the smell of contentment underlying the far stronger smell of sex. A part of him still wondered if he were doing the wrong thing here. No matter how happy Stiles had been, they were still in a difficult situation together. Derek was still the one with all the power. Stiles might seem happy now, but it was possible he'd regret this decision and come to resent Derek for allowing this. Stiles might find it hard to stop later simply because he didn't have any say in his status.

But Derek had offered to set Stiles free, and he meant it. He had managed to sell a couple of long-term investments to get some liquid funds, enough to cover Stiles' purchase price. At the first sign that Stiles was upset with their current arrangement, Derek could end it. For now, he would focus on trying to keep Stiles happy as they were, because Derek felt an ache in the pit of his stomach at the mere thought of letting Stiles go. He didn't want to go back to the loneliness and empty house that had been his life for so long.

When he was sure Stiles was asleep, Derek slipped out of the bed, gathered his clothes, and dressed in the hallway outside so he wouldn't wake Stiles up. He crept down to the kitchen, where he still made a point to be quiet even though human hearing wasn't as powerful as werewolf. He listened out for any sound of movement upstairs as he busied himself but all was still, and soon he was creeping back upstairs, a plate of sandwiches in one hand and a carton of juice in the other. He didn't have enough hands to carry the glasses as well, so he figured they would just have to be uncouth and drink from the carton. After everything that had just happened, it wasn't like there were any real hygiene concerns about it.

He thought of his mother's disapproving frown, her comments about how they might be werewolves but they weren't animals and they should learn to use glasses. For some reason, the thought of his mother brought a smile to his lips instead of tears to his eyes.

Stiles stirred from his doze as Derek approached the bed, eyes opening.

"Why'd you put clothes on?" Stiles asked, which Derek took as another sign that Stiles was happy about what had happened between them.

"So I could get us some food," he answered, sitting down on the bed and setting the plate down between them.

"You made lunch," Stiles said.

"I don't know about you, but breakfast feels like it was a long time ago."

"Yeah, but making food is my thing." Stiles pushed himself up into a sitting position. "What if I started encroaching on your territory and..." he hesitated, frowning, "took up brooding or something."

"Brooding involves a lot of silence. I think I'm safe."

Stiles gave him a playful bat with the back of his hand before reaching for a sandwich. Derek didn't think he was really upset, but he wasn't quite sure what was going on inside Stiles' head. Was Stiles really worried because Derek made some sandwiches? Or was he happy that Derek was doing something for him? Or was it something else entirely?

"You're brooding again," Stiles said. He prodded at Derek's arm. "Don't worry, I'm not planning on stealing your thing from you if it's that important."

"Are you worried?" Derek asked, because he obviously wasn't going to figure this out inside his own head. "About me making sandwiches, I mean?"

"Should I be worried? Are you that bad at cooking you're going to kill me with ham salad on wholemeal?" Stiles' tone was light, but there was an edge to it.

"I meant, you seemed... not worried... something, about the fact I did this."

Stiles took a bite of sandwich and chewed it slowly. Derek guessed he was giving himself time to think about his answer.

"I'm not worried," Stiles said, "I'm just not sure what this means for us now. What are we? Are we still owner and companion? Are we friends with benefits? Employer and employee with an office romance on the side? Boyfriends? This changes things."

Derek wasn't sure how to answer, so he settled for the thing he could be sure of. "I like you, Stiles. I don't like... having power over you."

"I thought that was the thing you really liked?" Stiles waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Derek glared at him. "You know what I meant. I don't like being your owner. I don't like having authority over you. I want you to feel free to do and say and act however you like."

"Even if I tell you to do your own laundry for a change?"

"If that's what you want."

"The thing is, you're paying me to do the laundry and things. If I tell you to stuff it, then you'll be paying me for nothing."

Derek started to say that he didn't care about that, but then he closed his mouth and thought his words over. Stiles deserved all this to be considered carefully.

"I'm going to stop the payments," Derek said.

"No, wait, I didn't mean that. I'm still happy to do the chores."

Derek silenced him with a glare. "I'm going to stop the payments because the money will earn more interest in my account than yours anyway. I have enough money to pay your purchase price set aside and the second you want me to pay it off, I will do. Whether that's now, whether that's when you find your dad, it doesn't matter. That money is yours in all but name. If I'm not paying you weekly wages, then I'm not your employer. We're just two people living together and you can do, or not do, whatever you like. This is your home too."

"The whole 'you not paying me' thing falls apart when we think about the fact that you will be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy my freedom."

"Consider it fair reparations for me not thinking things through properly when I bought you," Derek said. "I pay your price and then we proceed as equals."

"It's still not quite equal," Stiles said. "You own the house, you're paying for the food, and I'll owe you one hell of a debt." Derek opened his mouth to argue but Stiles pressed on, cutting him off before he could start, "But I appreciate the sentiment. And I definitely appreciate you paying the debt." Stiles switched over the hand holding the sandwich so that he could reach out and place his hand on Derek's cheek. "You're a good person, Derek. I'll never be able to thank you enough for what you're doing."

"So don't even try. I'm not doing this to be thanked."

"I know that."

Derek closed his eyes and leaned his head into Stiles' touch. He still couldn't believe that Stiles still thought he was a good person after all he'd learned and all Derek had done, but here he was, smiling at him, touching him, offering him forgiveness and kindness.

***

The changes brought on by their discussion were obvious. None of the changes in Stiles' behaviour were particularly large, but they showed he was relaxing into his place here and that he was no longer fretting about how Derek would react to things. Stiles started going out for walks in the woods around the house, not asking for permission but simply announcing the decision. He took his phone with him and promised to call if he got in trouble, but Derek still fretted a little that Stiles might fall in a hole or trip over and bash his head on a rock or something else caused by a combination of clumsiness and uneven ground. Still, he didn't argue and tried to trust that Stiles would be fine.

Stiles was more open about reading Derek's books or watching his DVDs, or would sit in the living room with the laptop on his knees, watching stuff online or playing strange games.

He still did the cleaning, but a lot less frequently. Before, he'd always found something to clean each day, dusting or polishing or scrubbing, but now he reduced the cleaning to every other day and spent a lot less time over the chores. Derek was pleased, not just because it meant Stiles got to spend more time doing what he liked, but also because it meant that the house no longer smelled strongly of cleaning products. It was starting to smell like the two of them, Stiles' scent permeating the furniture, clinging to the carpet and drapes, and settling in as a part of the atmosphere. It smelled like this house was Stiles' as much as Derek's, and that made Derek smile.

Stiles still cooked most of the meals, though he would sometimes announce that he wanted a night off and break out the take out menus, but he started playing music while he cooked. The music was a strange mix of classic rock, recent pop, songs from musicals, and some weird, foreign music that just left Derek confused. He sometimes wondered if Stiles didn't care what music was playing just so long as he had some background noise. One afternoon, he went into the kitchen while something that might have been Korean played out of the speakers on the laptop and Stiles flailed about to the beat in what could generously be called dancing, gyrating his hips as he tipped ingredients into pans.

Stiles spun, caught Derek staring, and dropped his spoon with a yelp of surprise. Derek opened his mouth to apologise for startling him, but Stiles got there first.

"Sorry," Stiles said, "I didn't mean to disturb you."

He hurried to the laptop to turn the volume down.

"Don't apologise," Derek said. "I was just enjoying the show."

Stiles grabbed the spoon and tossed it into the sink, heading to the drawer for another one. His tone was laced with bitterness as he spoke, "There's no need to mock me. I know I can't dance."

Derek might have turned this into a joke, asked if that was what Stiles called what he'd been doing, but that bitterness had a note of resentment to it. Stiles had spent a long time being told that everything about him was useless, so Derek kept his own tone perfectly serious.

"I wasn't mocking," Derek said. "You looked... alive... when you were dancing. Happy. I like to see you having fun."

Stiles frowned and returned to his cooking. "I'll try to keep the noise down."

Derek hated that he'd destroyed Stiles' happy mood. He didn't want to be responsible for stifling Stiles' enjoyment. But he didn't know what he could say to make Stiles cheerful again. He could call the teachers at the school all manner of names for teaching Stiles that he should feel bad about every little thing he did. He could say again that he'd been enjoying watching. He could march over to the computer and turn the music back on, and tell Stiles to dance again. But any one of those things stood as much chance at making Stiles feel worse as better.

He settled for, "This is your house too. If you want to dance you can dance. No one here is going to tell you you're doing it wrong."

He left the kitchen, hoping to hear the music resume, but an aching, empty silence filled the house. When Stiles called him in for dinner, Derek didn't mention the music or the dancing, didn't know what to say to smooth things over. He wanted to say sorry, but he also wanted to pretend the whole thing hadn't happened and hope that Stiles could relax again.

He prodded at his food, still fretting about his earlier actions, about how Stiles was acting as though Derek was still the authority in this house. Yes, some of Stiles' behaviour had changed, but not all of it.

"Do you mind doing all of the cooking?" he asked. "Do you want to split the chore?"

"I actually quite enjoy it," Stiles said. "You know, now that I don't have to worry about whether I've drizzled coulis in an artistically acceptable shape around the edge of the plate and all that bull."

"What's coulis?"

"Useless berry juice." Stiles waved a hand dismissively and kept talking. "There's something satisfying about working out a meal plan and figuring out how I'm going to use all the ingredients, making sure that it's varied but that I don't have a bunch of stuff in the fridge half-eaten because I only needed, like, the yolk of the egg for one recipe. And it's not just the cooking. I've been reading up a bunch on nutrition and the nutrient content of different foods to make sure we're getting enough of everything. I used to fuss about my dad's diet, worrying that he was eating too much fat and stuff like that, but he always worked long hours and would grab take out, and I only knew how to cook a couple of things my mom had taught me, so I couldn't really fix it, but now I know a load more about it, so now when I find him I can cook him stuff like the pond water soup and know that it will taste great and be healthy."

"Pond water... Oh. You mean that asparagus soup? Yeah, that tasted amazing."

"I know, right?" Stiles said. "At the school, that was a failing dish because it looked, well, like scummy pond water, but it's really healthy and it tastes great. That's going to be one of the first things I cook for my dad when I find him."

Derek smiled at Stiles' enthusiasm. He understood where Stiles' desire to cook for his dad was coming from, it was from the same place as Derek's instincts to take care of a pack member. They both wanted to make sure that the people they cared about were happy and healthy. Derek almost forgot why he'd brought the subject up, listening to Stiles took about his dad and his plans.

"I'm glad you enjoy it," Derek said. "I didn't want you to be doing it because you felt like you had to."

Stiles fixed him with an amused look, "Are you seriously trying to have a conversation with me about the consent issues involved in cooking dinner?"

Derek ducked his head, feeling flustered and embarrassed. "Earlier, you acted like you thought I'd come to tell you off. I don't want you to feel like I'm still giving you orders."

Stiles reached across the table and placed his hand on Derek's. A whisper of comfort passed through the gentle contact of their skin.

"A roommate is allowed to be annoyed by loud music," Stiles said, "and ask that it be turned down. You still get your say, whether you own me or not."

"I wasn't annoyed," Derek said. Stiles seemed genuinely startled by that. "You were dancing. You were happy. I... I was happy to see you happy."

Stiles gave an embarrassed smile, a pink flush rising on his cheeks. "God, you are such a marshmallow."

Derek wasn't sure whether that was an insult or a complement.

"Don't stop dancing," Derek said. "I don't care what those assholes at the school told you, you dance however you like."

Stiles slid his hand away again, returning to his meal.

"It's hard," Stiles said. "All that time at the school, everything I did was criticised. My meals didn't look right, my music was out of tune and out of rhythm, my dancing was uncoordinated. It's like there's a little voice in the back of my head now and every time I do something, I can't help hearing all the things they'd say about it. I don't know how to shut that voice up."

"I don't know either," Derek said, "but if you want, I can try and help drown it out. Your cooking tastes amazing, your dancing is wild and fun and that's amazing, your poetry recital made me laugh, you never leave a dull moment in conversations. Do I need to go on?"

That pink flush was back on Stiles' cheeks and he wasn't meeting Derek's eyes.

"You don't have to humour me," Stiles said.

"I mean every word. You're amazing, Stiles."

Stile just turned steadily pinker and, for once, didn't have a word to say in retort.

Chapter Text

Sex wasn't a daily occurrence, but it was fairly regular. Stiles was usually the one who initiated it, but not always directly. The advantage of living with a werewolf was that Derek could tell when he was turned on. Stiles walked in on Derek when he was getting a drink after a run. It was like the diet coke commercial. Derek was standing there, head thrown back as he drank, neck exposed, t-shirt clinging to his sweaty torso, and Stiles wanted to rip that shirt off him and nuzzle into his neck the way Derek so often did with him. Derek just looked at him and raised one eyebrow, as though all of Stiles' desires were written in the air between them.

Five minutes later, Derek was holding Stiles up by his thighs against the kitchen table as they rutted together like animals in heat. Derek was enthusiastic, almost animal in the noises he made against Stiles' throat. They used the olive oil rather than pause long enough to fetch actual lube, dislodging half the contents of a cupboard to grab it, and Stiles was going to make some comment about ancient Greeks, but then Derek was inside him, thrusting with wild abandon, and Stiles lost the ability to say anything at all.

It was rough and frenzied and so different from the tender care Derek usually showed him, that Stiles was left clinging onto Derek's torso like it was the only thing keeping him from being swept away in a current of want. His muscles strained with the task of not falling and with driving their speed faster and faster.

Afterwards, they lay on the kitchen floor because even moving to a chair seemed like too much effort after their exertions.

"I'm sorry," Derek said.

The most coherent thing Stiles could muster to say was, "Whu?"

"I was too rough. Did I hurt you? I'm sorry."

Stiles found the energy to turn his head and stare in disbelief at Derek. "You must have really scrambled my brains just then because it sounded like you were apologising for fucking me so hard you scrambled my brains."

"This close to the full moon, it's hard to stay in control but I should have done a better job of keeping myself in check. I'm sorry."

Stiles hadn't paid attention to the phases of the moon, which now seemed like it should have been the first thing he ought to have researched on finding out that he was living with a werewolf. He remembered what Derek had said about how it was hard to stay in control of his emotions at the full moon, and this wild and wanton screwing against the kitchen table was presumably a part of that, but not a part that needed anyone saying sorry about.

"Derek, stop apologising. That was awesome. It might be a good thing that the full moon is only once a month because I'm not sure my body could take that any more frequently, but it was amazing."

"Are you in pain? I can help with that."

"Just aching." He'd be feeling this in his ass for a week, but he would smile every time he did. "I'm fine. I'm good. Seriously, Derek, I may be human but I'm not some fragile thing you have to worry about breaking."

"Are you sure?"

"Derek, I swear, if I could lift my arms right now, I'd smack you."

"You can't lift your arms?!" Derek sat up, panic in his voice. "Should I call a doctor?"

"I was exaggerating for comedic effect, you idiot," Stiles said, pushing himself into a sitting position so that he could prove he was really fine. He cast his eyes about for his clothes and saw that his pants were in a pool of olive oil. Clearly neither of them had bothered putting the lid back on the bottle and now the contents were all over the kitchen floor. Derek had knocked over packets of herbs and rice and pasta and a few dozen other things in his hurry to grab the oil and now the counter, the cupboard, and a good portion of the floor were a mess of ruined foodstuffs. Stiles looked at the mess and decided that he didn't want to face it.

"You know what," he said, "you can clean up for once. I'm going to take a shower."

He took his time, letting hot water work against his muscles, and then he found clean clothes so that he could head downstairs again without any visible sign of their earlier activities. The kitchen was not so fortunate. Derek was in there, still cleaning up the mess. He'd pulled his clothes back on, but given that his t-shirt was soaked in oil, that wasn't much better than him being naked. Derek had been on his hands and knees, trying to sweep debris out from under the fridge, giving Stiles an excellent view of his ass. Derek turned and raised an eyebrow at him, no doubt smelling exactly where Stiles' mind had gone.

"Don't get any ideas, big guy," Stiles said. "Any further amorous activities for the day had better be gentle and tender otherwise I'm the one who's going to be tender."

"You could fuck me this time," Derek said. "It could be as tender as you like."

"Are you OK with that? I thought you liked being the one on top."

"I like being the dom in a BDSM scene, but when it comes to plain sex, I'm happy either way."

This time they remembered to grab the lube and they headed up to Derek's bedroom, leaving the half-tidied kitchen until later. Stiles took his time, opening Derek up slowly and carefully, since it had apparently been a long time since Derek had had another man inside him. Stiles lay behind him, nuzzling at Derek's neck until Derek was making quiet noises of want, and then he slid inside. Each movement was careful, the polar opposite of the earlier, wild thrusting. He moved carefully and deliberately, holding Derek close as he brought them together, melded them into one being and left them both gasping aloud in pleasure.

Stiles wondered if the full moon had something to do with Derek's stamina because when they went together to the shower afterwards to clean off, the motion of their hands against skin got Derek hard again. Stiles used his hands this time, stroking Derek to his third climax of the day, using the soap as lube.

Derek joined Stiles in his decision to abandon the kitchen for now, calling for take out so that they could spend the rest of the day curled up together on the couch, watching movies and eating Chinese food. Derek had ordered enough to feed an army but seemed to have an appetite to match.

"Is this what full moons are usually like for you?" Stiles asked, between mouthfuls of prawn toast.

"Quite the opposite," Derek said. "I usually spend full moons alone. I wouldn't do a scene on a full moon. It wouldn't be safe for me to dom anyone when I'm not completely in control."

"Do I have to worry tonight?" Stiles asked. "About you not being in control, I mean? Do I have to chain you to a radiator or something to keep you from getting violent?"

"I would never hurt you, Stiles."

Derek sounded so completely sincere about that, so much so that Stiles couldn't even bring himself to make a joke about the playroom and 'not unless he asked him to'. Instead, his heart jumped a little and he settled closer into Derek's arms.

"That's good to know," he said. "But when the moon rises, that's not going to be an issue?"

"I can control the shift. The most dangerous thing I've done lately under the moon's influence was buy a companion," Derek said. "That's not a mistake I'm going to make twice. It's not like the horror movies. When the moon rises, I'll go out for a run and burn off some energy, but I'm not going to start terrorising innocent villagers in their beds. I probably won't even see my own bed until the early hours so don't worry about breakfast for me."

"I'll focus on an extra big lunch then."

Derek gave a soft smile that looked almost alien on his face, fondness written all over his features. "That would be appreciated."

Stiles couldn't help returning the smile. He hadn't seen Derek looking like this before. Sure, he'd smiled from time to time, though he'd often pretended not to when Stiles had made a particularly bad joke, but there was something unguarded about this expression. Stiles felt like he was being given a glimpse at a side of Derek that few were ever allowed to see, and he felt privileged to be allowed to see it.

"Well, you have fun on your run then," Stiles said.

"I think I will." Derek said it as though the thought surprised him, as though he hadn't had fun on a full moon for a long time. Stiles remembered all his comments about loneliness and he was glad to give Derek some company through this, even if he wasn't a werewolf to run with him under the moonlight. Beneath that gladness though was a worrying thought that wormed its way up from the back of his mind and lodged itself so it wouldn't let go. What would happen when Stiles found his dad again? How would Derek feel to be forced back to the lonely full moons that he'd surrendered his principles to avoid?

For all that he wanted to find his dad desperately, Stiles couldn't help worrying what would happen to Derek when he left. Derek didn't deserve to be left here all alone.

Chapter Text

Derek ran beneath the moon, between the trees, shifted into his full alpha form. The ground disappeared beneath his paws as he tasted the wind and felt the power of the night and his own strength combining into speed and energy. He followed the scent of prey and ran for the sheer pleasure of running, for the sensation of his muscles moving beneath his fur, for the wild joy of living.

He ran alone, with no pack beside him, but he didn't feel alone. He had Stiles waiting for him back at the house, his pack. His Stiles. He might be running alone but his life wasn't empty anymore. He ran with joy had hadn't felt for more full moons than he cared to count, more than he cared to remember. He ran until even the moon's power couldn't lend him strength anymore. Then he shifted back, taking on human form and returning to a home that smelled of Stiles and sex and the carefully cooking that Stiles performed to keep them both fed and healthy.

He smelled Stiles up above him and a part of him wanted to climb those extra stairs to Stiles' room, to make love under the moonlight, but enough of him was human to know what a mistake that would be. He'd made enough full moon mistakes to last a lifetime and he wasn't going to ruin what he had with Stiles by approaching him when he was still high on the moonlight and adrenaline. So instead he went to his own bedroom and collapsed on his own bed, which was still full of the scent of Stiles from their earlier activities.

He closed his eyes and fell asleep, still bathed in Stiles' scent.

He woke earlier than he normally did on the day after the full moon, still tired from the night's activities, and the previous day's if he was honest with himself, but happier than he'd been in a long time. He pulled himself from bed, grabbed some pants, and went to find either Stiles or food, whichever he came upon first.

It was only when he reached the bottom of the stairs that he picked up the sound of Stiles' heartbeat and realised which room it was coming from. Curious, Derek decided that finding Stiles took priority over food. He stepped into the doorway of his playroom and saw Stiles there, his hand running over the surface of the bench. Derek stood there a moment, trying to work out what to say. He needed to let Stiles know he was here, but he wasn't sure how to greet him because he wasn't sure what was going on in Stiles' head.

Stiles solved his dilemma for him by turning around, catching sight of Derek, and nearly jumping out of his skin. His heart rate leapt and he spun to face Derek.

"Jeez! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"

"Sorry," Derek said.

"We should stick a bell around your neck. I'm sure one of these cupboards has a collar we could attach it to."

"A few actually."

"Naturally." Stiles was calming down, but there was still a nervous scent in the air, a trace of fear mingled in with the unmistakable scent of arousal.

"Are you interested in the bench?" Derek asked. He tried to keep his tone neutral. He didn't want to sound too eager, didn't want to pressure Stiles in any way.

"Maybe? I don't know."

"Stiles, you don't have to do anything unless you're sure."

"The thing is though, I won't ever be sure unless I try. I mean, I've been doing some reading on this stuff and I guess you were right that a lot of people are interested in this stuff because there are a lot of blogs and articles and all sorts, and some of it sounds like a lot of fun, but other parts sound really, really scary."

"We can avoid the scary parts," Derek said. "What parts sound like fun?"

"Yesterday, when you were holding me up, that was fun. I thought maybe you could hold me again."

Derek stepped forward, reaching out slowly, giving Stiles time to back away. He took hold of Stiles' wrists, gripping them firmly but being careful of the amount of force he used. The last thing he wanted was to leave Stiles bruised. Stiles' heart rate shot up again, but the desire scent hung in the air between them, intoxicating. Derek breathed it in deeply.

"Like this?" Derek asked.

"Yes," Stiles breathed.

Derek stepped in again, crowding Stiles, forcing him back against the bench.

"Like this?" Derek asked.

"Yes."

Derek pinned Stiles' wrists against the side of the bench, pressing them against the padded leather of it. He leaned in, bringing his mouth to Stiles' neck, drinking in his scent, tasting his skin.

"Like this?" he whispered.

"God yes!"

Derek pressed his body against Stiles', and Stiles bucked his hips, causing friction between their groins. He could already feel how hard Stiles was. He wanted to rip Stiles' clothes off and take him, right here and now, against the spanking bench.

But they hadn't discussed this, not in detail. They'd talked about it only in the vaguest terms, and Derek didn't want to go any further than this with only vagueness. Smelling that Stiles desired this didn't count as consent. Not really.

He forced himself to step back, releasing his grip on Stiles' wrists. Stiles made a soft moan of disappointment as Derek put distance between them. Stiles looked a little hurt and confused but Derek knew they had to do things this way.

"We're going to talk," Derek said, "about what you want and what you don't want."

"I thought I was being pretty clear what I wanted."

"But what if I go too far. You need to be able to tell me to stop."

"The word 'stop' isn't good enough?"

"If you're busy panting 'don't stop' and then switch to 'stop', it might take me a few moments to notice. We need something for you to say if I start doing something you don't like."

"A safe word," Stiles said. So he really had been reading up on this. "Fine. Algebra."

"Algebra?" Derek tried not to laugh.

"It's the last thing I should be thinking about in bed so it's not like I'll say it by accident."

"And you're sure you'll remember it?"

Stiles rolled his eyes. "Well, if I start yelling about calculus and differential geometry, you can take that as a sign to stop as well. Now can we actually get started?"

Stiles moved towards Derek, reaching for his flies. Derek caught his wrists again, not trying to be sexual about it this time, in fact just the opposite. He wanted to slow things down until they'd had a chance to talk more, but that didn't stop the lust scents wafting off Stiles.

"You want me to hold you?" Derek said. "To pin you?"

"Yes."

"On the bed? Against the bench? Against the wall?"

"God, yes," Stiles said, in a tone that was practically screaming 'all of the above' but then he collected himself and said, "The bed. Maybe we can move on to the wall when I've recovered from yesterday."

"The sex itself, how rough do you want it?"

Again, Derek saw Stiles' desire in battle against his common sense. He looked like he was going to demand Derek take him hard, but he obviously thought better of it because he said, "Not too rough. I'm still a little sore from yesterday. I mean, the sex itself can probably be rough, but make sure you stretch me first."

That was probably the main problem Stiles was dealing with from yesterday; they'd been too impatient for proper preparation. Today, Derek would make preparation part of the game.

Derek used his grip on Stiles' wrists to tug him closer and pressed a kiss to his lips, short and hungry, tasting the desire they both felt. Derek let go of Stiles long enough to rid them both of their clothes but then he grabbed Stiles round the waist, lifting him from the ground and carrying him over to the bed. Stiles gave a small laugh and buried his face into Derek's neck for a moment before Derek dumped him unceremoniously onto the bed. He took no time in getting onto top of him, sitting astride his legs to trap him, pinning his hands to the bed on either side of his head. Derek leaned down for another kiss, before turning his attention to Stiles' neck, his collar bone, his nipples, his throat.

Stiles writhed in Derek's grip, not trying to escape but simply unable to keep still as Derek attacked his skin with kisses, licks, and nibbles, tasting sweat and inhaling the scent of Stiles' desire, letting it fuel is own. Stiles was soon hard and squirming, his hips shifting beneath Derek as though he were trying to get purchase on the air, but Derek ignored that part of Stiles' anatomy for now.

"You're such a tease," Stiles complained, as Derek nuzzled his neck again.

"You want me to touch your cock?" Derek asked. "Want me to taste it? Want me to make you cum?"

"Yes." Stiles writhed and bucked beneath him.

Derek brought his mouth to Stiles' ear and murmured, "No."

Stiles moaned, a desperate, wanton sound.

"You get to cum when I decide you get to cum," Derek said, "when I'm buried deep inside you. Not before."

Stiles moaned again.

Derek raised himself up from Stiles and grabbed hold of his shoulders, flipping Stiles over onto his stomach. Stiles made a soft noise of surprise that was almost swallowed by the pillows. Derek sat across Stiles' legs again and grabbed his wrists before he could collect himself. He held Stiles' wrists in the small of his back, pinning them together with one hand so he could use the other to trickle lube onto Stiles' crack and slide a finger inside.

Soon Stiles was writhing again, trying to rub himself off on the bed. Every time it seemed like Stiles might be getting too close, Derek used a little more weight to press him into the bed, to hold him still, then he resumed his careful fingering, teasing Stiles and preparing him at the same time.

Stiles started a constant murmur of pleasure and complaint, begging Derek to hurry up and cursing him for being a tease, asking for more, declaring he was ready, moaning in joy as Derek found his prostate and then berating him for being too slow. Despite the flow of words, there was no mention of math, no sign that this was too much. Stiles still smelled very much of desire, enough so that the air in the room was thick with it, so Derek kept on with the slow teasing of his fingers. After all, Stiles had asked to be prepared. Derek was just doing what he was asked, even if Stiles had probably been loose enough to fuck ten minutes ago.

When Derek finally moved so he could line up his own eager erection with Stiles' hole, he heard Stiles mutter, "Hallelujah," into the pillow.

Derek moved Stiles' arms using both hands again, and pinning them to the bed once more.

He started slowly, thrusting in and out, listening out for any sign that Stiles might be in pain as he increased his pace, building up to a climax. Beneath him, Stiles was moving to his rhythm, working his hips against the bed as Derek moved inside him.

Stiles came first, his asshole clenching around Derek as he shuddered to his climax, and that was enough for Derek, sending him following after.

In the afterglow, he released his grip, bringing each hand to his mouth so he could place a soft kiss to the skin he'd been gripping a moment before, but then they lay side-by-side on the bed, sticking with each other and smiling.

"You're a tease," Stiles said after a few minutes.

"You might have mentioned that," Derek said. "A few hundred times."

"I thought you were going to be all 'rah, I'm the big, alpha werewolf, I will pound you into oblivion'. That wasn't quite what I expected."

"Did you enjoy it?" Derek thought he had from the scent, but it was important to ask. He had to be sure.

"Yeah," Stiles said. "You telling me I couldn't cum until you said so, that was surprisingly hot."

"We could do more of that. We could do a proper teasing session."

"That wasn't proper? I felt properly teased."

"In a proper sessions, I would use the restraints so I'd have my hands free. I would cuff you to the bed, on your back so there's nothing against you cock, nothing you could do to get an orgasm on your own. I would put a cock ring on you to make sure you didn't cum too soon, and then I would start touching you, playing with your senses. I would use feathers, ice, my nails." Derek ran his nails gently down Stiles' side in demonstration, making sure they were human shaped and not sharp claws. "I might blindfold you so you couldn't see what I was going to do next, so all you could do was feel, and I'd draw it out, not let you cum until you were begging for it."

"You keep talking like this, I'm going to get hard again," Stiles said.

"You like the idea?"

"Definitely."

***

And so they incorporated bondage into their play. Derek used padded cuffs to hold Stiles down and teased him until he screamed with pleasure as he came. He focused on sensory play at first, making sure their sessions were focused on giving Stiles pleasure. Sometimes he took command in the scenes, giving Stiles orders to hold still or not to touch, making him use his own self-control instead of the restraints. For someone who argued with authority so much, Stiles certainly seemed to get off on the idea of being given orders.

Derek quickly found that Stiles had been thing for praise as well. He shuddered with pleasure the first time Derek told him he was doing very well. He keened with desire at words of praise. But only so long as the praise was about his behaviour. If Derek told him he was good for not touching himself in a teasing session, Stiles practically came from the words, but the first time Derek told him he looked beautiful, spread out beneath him on the bed, Stiles' scent had soured. It had ruined the mood for the rest of the scene.

"You don't have to pander to me," Stiles said afterwards, as he was rushing to pull his clothes on.

"Pander?"

"Calling me beautiful and stuff like that. It's OK. You don't have to pretend."

Derek wished Stiles could hear his heartbeat, could know that he was telling the truth.

"I meant it," Derek said. "You are."

Stiles gave a disbelieving snort. "Derek, I know what I look like. I spent all that time at the school surrounded by beautiful people."

"And I'm sure you fit right in with them. Aside from your inability to go along with the training, I mean. Stiles, you look incredible."

"I guess if gangly, awkward and covered in moles does it for you, I guess I shouldn't complain," Stiles said, bitterness filling his tone. "I should get dinner started."

He pushed passed Derek, out of the playroom, cutting short any further conversation. Derek once again wanted to go down to that school and pummel everyone there into oblivion. Stiles had spent all that time there being told he wasn't good enough, wasn't handsome enough, wasn't anything enough for them, and clearly some of that had sunk in. Stiles didn't care that he hadn't been able to play music or recite poetry, but like the dancing, he was clearly left with some beliefs that he couldn't so easily ignore. Derek wanted to say something to make Stiles understand that he was good enough, that his looks were incredible, and that those people at the school weren't worth listening to about anything.

But he couldn't argue Stiles into better self-esteem. He just hoped that if he kept telling Stiles he was beautiful, maybe at some point Stiles would accept that he meant it.

Chapter Text

Stiles had not abandoned his hunt for his dad, not be any stretch of the imagination, but he might have been somewhat distracted by all the amazing sex he was having with Derek. That was why it caught him so off guard when he went through his email, deleting all the dick pics and spam he'd been getting since he'd started putting the posters up, and he found an email from his dad.

Stiles gave a shriek of surprise, blinking at his computer screen in case he was hallucinating, but the message stayed on the screen, clear and definite.

Derek rushed into the kitchen.

"What's wrong?" he demanded. He must have heard Stiles' shriek.

"My dad," Stiles said. He started grinning. He couldn't stop himself. "My dad emailed me."

At least, the email claimed to be from his dad. Derek came to read the email over Stiles' shoulder, hand coming to his shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze while Stiles squealed in joy and read the text of the email yet again.

This is Noah Stilinski. I gather you've been trying to find me. This had better not be a joke. How do I know you're really Stiles? If you are Stiles, then I'm sorry. I looked for you. I love you.

It could be a trick, some asshole playing tricks on him like the ones sending filthy or mocking emails to the address he'd listed, but he didn't think so. Why would someone playing a joke ask for proof that he was who he said he was? Still, he had to be sure. The person who'd sent the email could hardly fault him for asking for proof too.

Stiles' hands were shaking as he reached for the keyboard to type out a response.

This is Stiles.

He paused, trying to think of what he could say that would prove he was who he said he was.

"I'm pleased for you," Derek said, giving his shoulder another squeeze before letting go and walking back towards the door. He didn't sound pleased in the slightest, but Stiles could deal with Derek's feelings later, when he'd figured out what he was going to say to his dad.

Mom used to make me chocolate chip pancakes on special occasions. She made them for me the day you told me she was dying. On my next birthday, after she died, you tried to make me chocolate chip pancakes and I took one bite and threw it right up again. I haven't eaten chocolate chip pancakes since.

It was a story his dad would remember, would recognise. He wasn't sure about putting something so deeply personal out there on an email, just in case the person on the other end wasn't his dad, but he thought it was. The comment about looking for him was something his dad would say, and those short sentences were how he wrote his emails, always so blunt and to the point.

Still he asked, Tell me something back, so I know you are who you say you are too.

He continued the email as though this was his dad, because how else was he supposed to act?

Are you still in Beacon Hills? I want to see you. I've missed you so much. Let me know where you are and I'll come find you.

He didn't give Derek's address, partly because he wasn't completely certain that he was sending the email to his dad, but mainly because he didn't trust his dad not to show up with a shotgun. He couldn't say that Derek was a good guy because there was no way his dad would believe him. As soon as Stiles tried to defend someone who'd bought a companion, his dad would probably assume he was brainwashed or manipulated and that would make him even more worried. He'd probably spent the last few years worried to death about all the horrible things he imagined happening to Stiles. Any attempt Stiles made to ease his mind would probably make things worse. If he made light of his experiences, his dad would assume he was covering up some deep trauma. If he said they sucked, his dad would probably assume he was only telling him about the tip of the iceberg. If he said nothing, his dad would imagine a million awful experiences to fill in the gap. Stiles had to say something, but he spent nearly half an hour typing and deleting things, trying to find some way to reassure his dad that wasn't just going to backfire and make his dad more guilt-ridden and miserable.

Rafe took me to a companion school. Not exactly fun for someone like me, but they had rules about not damaging the 'merchandise' so they couldn't be too horrible. I expect whatever you imagined was happening to me was probably a lot worse than what actually was. Mostly I just drove my teachers crazy by getting into arguments about consent and tripping over my own feet in dance lessons. I'm out of the school now though and safe.

He left the description of his current situation vague. His dad wouldn't know if he'd been purchased, rescued, or simply kicked out. There was no way he could explain Derek over email, so Stiles decided to wait until they were face to face before he even tried. Maybe his dad would be more inclined to believe that Derek was a good person if he could see that Stiles was healthy and happy with his own two eyes.

Stiles stared at the screen for several minutes longer, wondering how to finish the email. In the end, he simply went for, I love you.

He hit send before he could second guess his choices anymore. He was nervous and excited, happy to have found his dad but scared about what this might mean for the future. He was so full of emotions he thought he might explode, but there was something else mixed in there as well. Finding his dad meant leaving Derek. He didn't want to say goodbye, didn't want to end this... whatever the hell it was they were together. He had to find some way to get his dad back without losing Derek from his life.

And he needed to let Derek know he intended to do that.

Derek had seemed miserable about Stiles finding his dad, despite his words to the contrary. He must be thinking about Stiles leaving too and it was touching that he cared so much. Even the fact that he'd lied about his feelings was touching, because he'd clearly wanted Stiles to be happy about this situation.

Stiles went to find Derek, hunting through the house for him. He wasn't in his bedroom or the living room or his study, or in any of the usual places. Stiles ended up checking every room and calling out his name, but it was apparent that Derek wasn't here anymore. He must have gone out for a run or something, taking off into the woods to burn off energy or try to outrun his feelings. It was very annoying that he'd disappear like this when Stiles wanted to talk, but it was understandable. He'd been thoroughly alone for far too long and now he was faced with the prospect of being alone again.

Derek was the one who needed cuddles and comfort today, but he wasn't here to get it.

***

Derek ran as fast as he could, until his body ached and he could barely breathe. He felt that if he could run fast enough, he might stop his mind working, stop the feelings pounding through him. If he ran fast enough, he might leave his selfishness behind. Of course Stiles was happy to have made contact with his dad and if Derek had a shred of decency in him, he would be happy for Stiles. Instead, he felt miserable and resentful. He wanted to keep Stiles all to himself.

Stiles had been stolen from his father and now Derek wanted to do something just as bad. He wanted to keep Stiles from returning to him.

No matter what Stiles said, no matter how he believed that Derek was a good person, Derek knew differently. He was selfish and greedy and cared more about keeping Stiles to himself than about Stiles' freedom and happiness. He had to squash these feelings down. He had to hide them. He had to pretend to be happy for Stiles because he couldn't bear Stiles to know how despicable Derek really was. So Derek ran. He ran until he was thoroughly worn out and even then he still didn't feel ready to return to the house.

He knew he had to though. He had to force a smile and he had to pay off Stiles' freedom price, and then he would probably have to drive Stiles out to wherever his dad was living. He had to say goodbye.

He returned to the house, quietly letting himself in the front door. It wasn't quietly enough, because then Stiles was there, emerging from the living room to wrap Derek in a hug.

"Are you doing OK?" Stiles asked gently.

"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

"It's OK to be upset, you know," Stiles said. "I'm going to miss you too, big guy, but it's not going to be forever. Even if my dad's moved away from Beacon Hills, there's always Skype. Long distance dating would suck, but we could make it work."

Derek didn't know how to react, didn't know what to say. Stiles was talking about long-distance dating as though it were a foregone conclusion, as though there would still be something between them once Stiles had his freedom restored. He would have all the world to choose from, and yet he was still interested in being with Derek.

"I was thinking," Stiles said, "we could go out tonight to celebrate. We could go for a meal and then maybe check out that club you go to."

"You want to go to the club?"

"Yeah. I mean, I'm not sure I actually want to do anything there, but I'm curious to see it. This might be the last chance we get for a while because it will be tough enough to convince my dad to let me date the guy who used to own me. Trying to explain the whole bondage thing might be a bit much for now."

Derek was still overwhelmed by Stiles' reaction to this. He wasn't at all concerned about the fact that Derek was upset, and in fact was talking about a future that they would still be sharing together. He couldn't quite believe that Stiles would want this, would want to be with him after everything that had happened, everything he knew about Stiles, when he had the freedom to choose otherwise.

Stiles gave Derek a concerned look, probably because Derek was still staring at him in confused silence. "You OK, Derek? We don't have to go out if you don't want to."

"No. I mean, yes. Yes, let's go out."

Stiles flashed him a smile and leaned in for a kiss. Derek could almost be happy about Stiles finding his dad, because it meant that Stiles was truly staying with him out of choice and not out of necessity. Stiles really did want to be with him, and that thought made Derek's heart soar.

Chapter Text

Derek took Stiles out for a quiet meal, going to a small restaurant that was pleasant but not overly smart. It was the sort of place that wouldn't object to the fact that Stiles was wearing jeans and t-shirt with sneakers on his feet. Derek wasn't concerned about the dress code of this place, but it seemed Stiles was worried about the dress code later on. Once the waitress had taken their drinks order, Stiles asked, "Will they let me into the club like this? Or will they expect me to be, I don't know, head-to-toe in leather or," he hesitated and continued nervously, "stripped naked?"

"The club doesn't have a dress code," Derek reassured him. "A lot of people will be wearing leather, or rubber, or not much of anything, but no one will force you to do that, just like no one will force you to do anything. And if anything makes you uncomfortable, we can just leave.”

“Thanks,” Stiles said. He still seemed nervous, but it was hard to tell with Stiles. His constant fidgeting might be seen as nerves by someone who didn't know him, but Derek knew by now that that was just Stiles, something he couldn't stop any more than he could stop breathing. It was harder to tell whether his constant fidgeting was a nervous excitement or nervous fear. He didn't smell particularly afraid, which Derek took to be a good sign.

"The only thing to remember is to not be rude," Derek continued. "Some of the things going on will probably seem strange and you might look at them and think you'd hate for that to be done to you, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with someone else liking them. You don't get to call anyone else strange or weird for liking what you don't."

Stiles nodded. "I guess I'm still struggling to wrap my head around the fact that there are people who enjoy being hurt. But, I suppose, I don't have to understand it to accept that they do."

"That's exactly the right attitude to go in there with," Derek said.

"I didn't really believe you at first, when you said you used your playroom with people who liked it, but then Braeden was there at breakfast and she had those marks on her but she was still... teasing you, I guess, about me, and telling you to take her back to her car. She wasn't scared of you. She wasn't being bullied or coerced into that room. She chose it."

Derek nodded. He wasn't sure there was anything to add to that. He'd told Stiles that everything was consensual, but given the circumstances, he could hardly be blamed for not believing it. The waitress came back then with their drinks so neither of them said anything except to take the drinks and thank her for them.

"Is there anything else I need to know?" Stiles asked. "Anything I need to do? Should I crawl around after you or call everyone 'sir' and 'ma'am' or something?"

"Only if you want to," Derek replied. Then he elaborated, "A lot of people use the club for scenes and those who are part of a long-term relationship often act that way. The dom might give the sub orders about how they should behave at the club. We're not there yet."

He said yet, even knowing when Stiles had insisted on coming to the club now. This might be their last chance before Stiles went home to his father. Derek knew what Stiles had said about continuing with their relationship, but things would be different not. Stiles might decide he didn't want to have anything to do with Derek once he had a chance to be a free person again for a while. Just as likely, his father might forbid Stiles from seeing him again.

Neither of them spoke about the future beyond this night. They talked of the club, and the quality of the food when it arrived, and shared memories of previous meals eaten out in happier times. It was all polite and pleasant but the fact that Stiles didn't mention the future either told Derek clearly that he was as concerned about it as he was.

They took their time over dessert, sharing a cheesecake that had Stiles making obscene noises around his fork. A few other patrons turned to look at them.

"People are going to think that I'm groping you under the table," Derek said, quietly but more amused than embarrassed.

"Nope. I'm in a love affair with this cheesecake. We're going to elope together."

"I'm not sure how people will react to learning you ate your bride before your wedding night."

"Ours is a forbidden love."

Derek tried to take another forkful of cheesecake and Stiles used his fork to fend him off. They fenced like that for a little while before Derek surrendered and let Stiles eat the rest of it, moaning with joy as he did so. It was worth giving up his share of the food to hear those noises.

By the time Derek had paid, it had grown dark outside. It would still be early at the club, but perhaps it was better to introduce Stiles to the place while it was quiet. Derek drove them closer and parked within walking distance. He hesitated over whether to offer Stiles another chance to back out, but he was sure Stiles would just roll his eyes at him and point out that he was quite capable of saying if he wanted to leave. Still, Derek sniffed the air and checked Stiles' scent. There was a sour note of anxiety but it was almost buried under the heady musk of arousal. His heart was beating fast, but Derek was confident that it was from excitement.

They reached the door, with its discrete sign and the significantly less discrete bouncer. The bouncer was a werewolf but built with enough muscles that even a human of that size would have been a formidable opponent in a fight. Derek had been here enough times that the werewolf let him in with a nod of recognition, though his eyes lingered with curiosity on Stiles. Derek put an arm around Stiles, a sign of his protection to any watching eyes, and walked inside. He paid a few dollars to the woman on duty just inside the door, and then led Stiles down the hallway to the main room of the club.

There was a little music playing to give some background noise, but at a quieter volume than most other clubs. It was part of the reason that werewolves preferred this place: their senses weren't overwhelmed by noise the moment they set foot through the door. As Derek had hoped, the place was quiet, with less than two dozen customers scattered about the large room. Stiles stared about them with interest as Derek guided them over to the bar and flagged down the barman.

"Two cokes," Derek ordered, perching on one of the bar stools. Stiles hopped up onto the stool beside him.

"I don't think anyone will mind if you get me something stronger," Stiles said, offering a pleading smile.

"Actually, they would," said the barman. "This is a dry bar. The boss doesn't like anyone touching alcohol before a scene." He set the cokes down in front of them and Derek paid.

"No music and no alcohol," Stiles said. "A very strange sort of club."

"That's just the start," Derek agreed.

Stiles turned back to study the room again as another patron came over to order drinks. This person was dressed in a rubber maid's uniform with a skirt short enough to reveal the metal chastity cage around their cock. They ordered the drinks and then carried a tray across to a woman, also clad in revealing rubber, walking confidently despite the height of their heels.

"That doesn't do anything for me," Stiles said.

"I hope they don't have werewolf hearing," Derek said. Stiles looked embarrassed.

"I just meant, the rubber, the outfit, not for me. If you tried to dress me up in a skimpy outfit I'm more likely to feel awkward than sexy."

"Rubber doesn't do anything for me either," Derek said. "The smell is overpowering. Spoils the mood. Leather on the other hand," he smiled at the thought, "you would look good in leather."

Leather had a scent too, but Derek found it enticing rather than off-putting. He was of the opinion that everyone looked good in leather, and he longed to see Stiles in something tight-fitting, but Stiles just shook his head, still looking embarrassed.

He cast his eyes about the room again. A couple were in a patch of empty floor, the man stripped to his underwear as the woman wound black rope around him, tying him in an intricate pattern that was as much artwork as restraint. Derek could hear the way Stiles drew in a breath, could smell his excitement.

"We could try that," Derek said.

"I'm not sure I could sit still long enough for you to tie me up like that."

"But think about once it's on, all that rope tight against your skin, a few knots in sensitive areas, so that you feel them every single time you move." Derek leaned in to Stiles, whispering the words into his ear. Stiles moaned the way he had about the cheesecake.

"OK," Stiles said. "That I could get behind."

"Do you want to take a closer look at any of the equipment?"

"How close are we talking?"

"Close enough that you can look, and maybe touch if you want, but not so close as to be actually using any of it."

"OK. Yeah. That sounds good."

Derek finished his drink and followed Stiles over to the equipment that was arrayed around the rooms for customers to interact with. There was a great deal more in the private rooms, but Derek had no intention of taking Stiles down to those. It was interesting to see what drew Stiles' eye. He barely glanced at a cylindrical cage, wide enough that a person could stand up in it, but just barely, but instead when over to a padded bench, similar to the one Derek had in his playroom, and ran his hands over the restraints.

"Is this for sex," Stiles asked, "or for strapping someone down and beating their ass?"

"Either," Derek said. "Both."

He went to the cross that was fixed to one wall, going to far as to spread his legs and arms to press his limbs against the wood.

"This would get uncomfortable fast," Stiles said.

"It's intended for whippings," Derek said. "Aching limbs would be the least of your problems."

"Nope," Stiles said, and turned away.

"OK," Derek replied. He thought he caught the little smile Stiles gave that Derek so easily accepted his refusal. The pattern in Stiles' interest was obvious: he wasn't interested in anything that inflicted pain, but the idea of being restrained for sex still enticed him. Unfortunately, most of the equipment in the main room of the club was geared around pain play, with the more sexual activities tending to take place in the private rooms.

"Have you used all of this stuff?" Stiles asked.

"Some of it," Derek said. "I'm not really into voyeurism though, so I prefer to take people back to my playroom."

"I guess you have all the toys there."

It was a nice change to hear Stiles talk about them as toys rather than torture implements.

Derek looked about the room again and saw that the couple who'd been doing the rope work had finished and gone over to one of the tables, the man kneeling beside the woman, arms bound behind him, while she held a glass so he could take sips of water. Derek had seen them around enough that he felt only minimally uncomfortable as he led Stiles over to their table.

"Do you mind if we join you?" Derek asked. The woman gestured towards the other chairs in invitation. Derek nodded towards Stiles, "My friend is new to all this."

"Obviously," the woman said. She leaned forward, as though offering a conspiracy as she whispered, "You'd be less obvious if you took the t-shirt off. You stand out a mile."

Stiles looked awkward and embarrassed.

"So," the woman went on, "I'm guessing you have questions?"

"About a million," Stiles answered. "I don't even know where to start. Why do you like this? Sorry, that came out sounding way too harsh. I mean, what is it about all this that you like?"

Before the woman could answer, Derek touched Stiles' shoulder and said, "I'll get us some more drinks."

He stood up and turned towards the bar, only to be met by a fist coming the other direction. It caught him so off guard that his werewolf reflexes didn't kick in and the fist struck his cheek with enough force to send him staggering back a step, but the pain and shock of the impact didn't floor him nearly so much as the astonished tone in Stiles' voice as he said, "Dad?"

Chapter Text

Stiles just stared, unable to wrap his head around the fact that his dad was here, standing in front of him in a place like this. How was it possible? Had his dad somehow figured out from his email where he was and then followed him? And why punch Derek?

Stiles had felt like his brain had stalled but he got to his feet and then his dad's arms were wrapped around him and he let himself be hugged, sinking into the feeling of his dad holding him. After so long, this felt like a dream, like something impossible, and yet here he was, with his dad's arms around him.

"I missed you," Stiles said, managing to get the words out despite his confusion.

Someone came up to their group, a man who asked, "Boss, is something wrong?"

Stiles' dad let go of the hug and Stiles shot him a curious and confused, "Boss?" in hopes that someone would start explaining things.

Stiles' dad turned to this new arrival and jabbed a finger towards Derek. "Get that... man," he spat this word like there were a thousand insults wrapped up in that single syllable, "out of here and make sure he doesn't get back."

That kicked Stiles into action, even if he was still struggling to keep up with what was going on. He quickly pushed himself between Derek and this new arrival, saying, "No, wait, Derek's a friend."

That made Stiles' dad hesitate, but only for a moment, "So he's not the guy that bought you?"

Stiles couldn't exactly deny that, and his momentary pause was enough of an answer. His dad jerked his head again and the guy who'd called him boss moved to take hold of Derek again.

"Wait, stop," Stiles said.

"It's OK, Stiles," Derek said. He let himself be led away, calling over his shoulder, "Let me know if you want anything from the house packed up and sent on somewhere."

His escort gave him a none-to-friendly shove in the direction of the door and Derek turned away. Stiles couldn't help wondering if this would be the last time he saw Derek. He turned back to his dad, who pulled an arm around his shoulders and steered him across the room, past a great many staring eyes. Stiles hadn't expected to feel like a spectacle in a place like this, with so much else on display, but he did.

"Let's go somewhere private," his dad said, "so we can talk."

"Good," Stiles replied, "because I have a few thousand questions right now, starting with why the hell you just punched the guy who rescued me from the school."

His dad froze at the threshold of a door with a large 'staff only' sign on it. He turned and looked towards the main door, the one through which Derek had been summarily chucked less than a minute ago.

"He rescued you?"

"Yeah," said Stiles. "I mean, he didn't charge in like a knight in shining armour or anything, but he spent a fortune to buy me from the school and then pay off my purchase price so I could be free. And he gave me anything I needed to help find you."

Stiles decided to make it sound that setting him free had been Derek's intention from the start, because it would be too difficult to explain anything else. Besides, it was the truth, or close enough to it. Missing out a couple of details didn't make it a lie and his dad was more likely to believe that Derek was one of the good guys if he explained it this way.

His dad guided him through the door into a dim hallway and then through another door into an untidy office. It was a cramped space, with paperwork scattered on a small desk, and a corkboard on the wall like the ones back at the sheriff's station, with Stiles' picture pinned in one corner. Stiles took a moment to study the board, taking in lists of unsavoury establishments, most of them with lines drawn through the names. There were other bits of paper, records of Rafael McCall's phone calls and some receipts for random items. Stiles didn't understand what all the pieces were, but he knew enough about how his dad worked to recognise this for what it was: this was the record of his dad's investigation to find him.

"How did you figure out I was here?" Stiles' dad asked. "And if you knew, why didn't you come sooner?"

Stiles laughed. "I had no idea you would be here. I wasn't even sure you were still in Beacon Hills. My search for you hit a dead end after I found the motel you went to when the bank took the house."

"Then what were you doing here?"

"I was curious. I knew Derek liked this sort of stuff and came to this club, and I wanted to see more of it."

"You... wanted to see a BDSM club?" his dad sounded utterly horrified.

"You know me: insatiable curiosity. I didn't quite get how some people could enjoy getting hurt. I wasn't going to let Derek tie me up and hit me, so I figured the best way to understand was to come here and talk to the people who do like it."

Stiles hoped that casually dropping in the mention of not letting Derek do something would ease his dad's mind somewhat on that front. He needed some way to convince his dad that Derek was a good person. Stiles ploughed on, "I figured I should check it out sooner rather than later, since you'd managed to email me. I figured once we were reunited, you wouldn't be letting me out of your sight for the next year, so this could be my last chance."

His dad gave a little smile. "You're right that I want to keep you close. I can't quite believe this. I tried so hard to find you and you just walked in my front door."

"Yeah. About that, how the hell did you end up running a BDSM club?"

"That's a long story." He gestured for Stiles to sit. Stiles took the slightly wobbly chair in front of the desk but his dad didn't make any move to sit himself. He started pacing as he talked. "After you... after you were taken, I went through all the proper channels to prove that I was a suitable father, that I wasn't whatever McCall had positioned me as, that I deserved to bring you home. It took several weeks of hearings and meetings and home assessments - I think McCall might have pulled a few favours to stall things - but finally a judge agreed that you should never have been taken away from me. But the judge didn't have any information about where you were. The official story was that records were sealed to protect the children of abusive families, but I think the truth was that McCall bribed the right people to lose the records of you. I wasted another month trying to go through official channels before going straight to the source."

"You went after Rafe?" Stiles asked.

"I tried to get him to tell me where you were. That ended with a restraining order and a stalemate. I threatened to have him arrested for kidnapping; he threatened to press charges for assault."

"Assault?" said Stiles. "You hit him? Where? Did it hurt?" Stiles knew he probably sounded like a psychopath for being so eager but the thought of Rafael McCall getting hit was exceedingly satisfying. From the little grin his dad gave, so did he.

"Knee to the groin."

"Old school. Nice." Stiles held up his hand and his dad gave an amused smirk before returning the high five.

"Anyway, it was obvious I wasn't going to get information directly from McCall, so I started my investigation. He implied that you would be somewhere you would be... sexually assaulted... so I started searching the brothels. Of course, I got photographed coming out of one of the worst ones and that was the end for my career as sheriff."

"I'm sorry."

His dad waved a hand. "Not your fault."

It still felt at least partially Stiles' fault, but he didn't argue. He let his dad carry on with the story.

"After I lost the election, it just gave me more time to keep investigating. I came across a plot involving human trafficking through this club. The people behind it used the fact it was a BDSM club to hide the fact that not everyone was here willingly. They had a number of teenagers in heavy restraints serving as wait staff or being raped for a price. A couple of customers realised that the kids weren't here by choice, but were afraid to go to the police because they thought they'd be implicated, or at least have their reputations ruined by being connected to a BDSM establishment because there was no way they could explain what they'd been doing here without giving away their tastes. But they'd heard about me. They told me their concerns, and how they'd established that the kids were being held against their will given that they were bound and gagged constantly, and I led the investigation, gathered evidence, did some digging." He waved a hand, dismissing what must have been a lot of dedicated effort. "I took my case to some people at the sheriff's station who hadn't fallen for the line that I was a depraved perfect, and they swooped in, arrested the owner and staff along with about a quarter of the customers."

"That doesn't explain how you ended up running the place," Stiles said.

"I didn't find you here, but it turns out one of the kids who got rescued was the daughter of a very wealthy businessman. He wanted to show his gratitude and looked into my situation. He bought the club and then just gave it to me. He said that this was as good a place as any to have for my home base because the sort of people who came through somewhere like this were the sort of people who might have come across word of you. Besides, I needed the income pretty desperately at that point, so I agreed. I set a few new rules about consent and reopened the club."

"My dad runs a BDSM club. Who would have thought?"

"I never stopped looking for you, Stiles."

"I know that. I knew you wouldn't."

His dad reached out a hand to Stiles' shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.

"Now tell me your story," he said.

"Rafe took me to a companion school a way north of Beacon Hills. I guess it was the only place he could legally dump an underage kid that would have the end result he wanted. The school was..." Stiles considered how much detail to give, "It could have been worse, I guess. They had rules about how the 'merchandise'," here he made air quotes, "had to remain intact until graduation so there was no rape. All the lessons on how to be sexually pleasing were purely theoretically. The other lessons were stuff like dancing and poetry recital and cooking, most of which I sucked at, but the cooking thing's grown on me. I have a whole bunch of recipes I want to try out on you. You have to try my pond water soup."

"Pond water soup?" His dad sounded both amused and wary.

"My greatest success. I got a failing grade for it because it looks disgusting but it tastes amazing. That basically sums up my training. I drove them crazy at the school because I didn't look right. I wasn't graceful and quiet and demure and all the other stuff I was meant to be. I think the teachers there regretted ever making a deal with Rafe about five minutes after I arrived, so in the end they decided to get rid of me. They sold me off to Derek at a discounted rate because I wasn't ever going to graduate as the sort of companion they could be proud to say they trained."

"Derek was the person who brought you here?"

"Yeah. He was all on his own so he bought a companion so he could have some company," Stiles pressed on quickly, seeing the way his dad's expression darkened, "but he told me within a few minutes of taking me home that he wasn't going to make me have sex with him. We had a long conversation about what did and didn't count as consent given the context and we made an agreement that I'd cook and clean for him. He paid me for that, but he also promised that as soon as I found you he'd pay off the purchase price so I'd be legally free."

"He bought you."

"That's what you took from that? He spent a small fortune buying me from the school, gave me the laptop, time, and money so that I could look for you, and then spent the cost of buying me again to give me my freedom. Yeah, he bought me but he never treated me like property. He bought me because that was the way he could legally get someone from the school. It might make you feel better about him if he'd climbed over the wall in the middle of the night and whisked me to freedom, but all it would mean is that he would have been arrested and I'd have gone back to the school to be sold to someone who would rape and abuse me."

"He never made you have sex with him?"

"He never raped me," said Stiles, trying to pour all his confidence into those words because he really didn't want to go into the details with his dad.

"I guess I should apologise for punching him."

"Yeah, that would be good. There's not much at his house that I'd want to get, but there are a few things," he thought of his recipe books and the poetry book, "so we should stop by tomorrow and sort everything out. I want to make sure he's OK."

Derek didn't have anyone in his life right now and losing Stiles would be difficult for him, so Stiles wasn't going to abandon him. He needed to make sure his dad understood that. His dad seemed more than a little surprised, but he nodded and that was good enough for now.

"I'll text him and let him know," Stiles said, also planning on telling Derek to make sure the playroom was securely shut up, "and then I want to know everything that happened to you. All the details. Especially about kicking Rafe in the groin. I need to hear about every moan of pain."

"Alright," his dad said, "but some parts of the story are pretty unbelievable."

Stiles thought of Derek and the werewolf revelations. "I can handle unbelievable."

Chapter Text

Derek should have been used to his house feeling empty, but somehow it felt emptier now than it had in a long time. Stiles' scent clung to everything, a reminder with every breath that this brief time of companionship was over. Even Stiles' text asking if he was alright and saying that he would come by tomorrow didn't help, because it meant that Stiles was coming by to collect his belongings and disappear from Derek's life. Derek couldn't be reassured by Stiles' promises to stay in his life, not after the way his father's fist had collided with Derek's face. It was perfectly clear that Stiles' father would allow them to have nothing to do with each other. Tomorrow could be the last time Derek saw Stiles.

Derek spent a fitful night lying awake, haunted by that thought, and then made himself a meagre attempt at a breakfast, remembering every meal Stiles had prepared. Derek made sure the playroom door was closed but he couldn't lock it. He just had to steer Stiles' father away from that room for however long he was here. Derek wondered if he ought to pack up Stiles' belongings for him, to make this easier on him, but he wanted this meeting to last for as long as possible, so he did nothing, just sat and listened out for an approaching car.

It was nearing midday when the car engine did approach and Derek went to the door opening it to greet them. Stiles hopped out of the car as soon as it was parked, his dad following a little reluctantly behind.

"Hey, Derek," Stiles said cheerfully. "My dad has something he wants to say."

Stiles' dad shot a fond glare in Stiles' direction and then said, "I'm sorry for punching you. Stiles says you got him out of the companion school. So thank you."

He held out a hand. Derek took it, feeling reluctant, as though he were accepting something he had no right to.

"I had my own reasons for going to that school," he said. "I'm just glad I could help Stiles at the same time. Do you want something to drink?"

"Coffee would be great." From the shadows under his eyes, the man probably hadn't got much more sleep than Derek had the night before, though in his case it was probably due to catching up with his son. Derek nodded and led the way to the kitchen, turning on the coffee machine. Stiles was already moving to get the mugs out, like he belonged here.

"I didn't do any packing for you," Derek said. "I wasn't sure what you'd want to take."

"I figured I'd just take it all. It's not like it's a lot of stuff. Unless you want to keep the laptop? You might get some money trading it in."

"It's fine. You keep it."

"There are also a couple of your books that I was in the middle of reading. Would it be OK if I took those too?"

Derek almost said yes automatically, not wanting to deny Stiles anything, but a blanket agreement would be foolish. Some of those books were important to him. "Let me know which ones and I'll let you know."

“It’s not like I’m stealing them forever,” Stiles pointed out. “I’m just borrowing them. I’ll let you have them back.”

Which meant that Stiles expected to come back, expected to see him again. He said it so casually, as though it was obvious, and that helped the tension inside Derek relax just a little. Derek poured the coffee and the three of them sat together at the table. Derek didn't know what to say and it seemed that Stiles' father didn't either, but Stiles had never let awkwardness keep him quiet.

"You should come to dinner sometime," he said to Derek. "My dad's got this little apartment above the club. The kitchen's nothing on this but I should be able to make do. I've already told Dad he has to try my pond water soup."

"I'd like that," Derek said.

"See," Stiles turned to his dad, "I told you. My cooking's great. The one good thing to come out of that school. Well, and meeting Derek."

At the mention of the school, Derek asked, "Do you plan on taking action against the school?"

"I hadn't thought that far ahead," Stiles' dad said. "All I've thought about in a long time is finding Stiles."

"Could you take action?" Stiles asked. "Could you sue them for holding me there after you got a judge to say you were fine to have custody of me?"

"I could try. I'm not sure it would work though. The schools sit in this grey area in loopholes in the law where they claim they provide a service to people. We'd have to prove that's bu- um... nonsense. We'd have to find evidence that what they're doing really is unconstitutional. And as for keeping you, all they'd have to say is that they didn't know. They were given you by a federal agent, so they can claim that they thought they had the legal right to keep you. We'd be hard pressed to prove otherwise."

Derek heard the note of anger and disappointment in the tone. Stiles' father already believed that they were going to lose. The schools had survived this long because the rich, powerful people who made the rules were the same rich, powerful people who wanted to buy companions. A legal battle involved going up against a lot of people with a vested interested in this situation.

Still, they had to try.

"If you need anything from me," Derek said, "if you need me as a witness, need funds for lawyers, anything, let me know."

Stiles' father gave a little nod and a, "Thanks," but Stiles was frowning, obviously thinking hard.

"Have you actually paid the money into my freedom fund yet?" he asked.

"No. Not yet." Derek hadn't actually thought of it, which was foolish. He'd been thinking of Stiles as free for so long he hadn't considered the step that was necessary to make him legally free. He needed to think of an excuse now that Stiles' father was looking at him. "I was waiting until you were here so you could take some print outs of the transaction authorisation, in case anything comes up."

"Don't send it."

"What's going on in your head, Stiles?" Stiles' father asked.

"We need evidence, right? So let's get it. Send me back to the school."

"No. No way! Not a chance!"

Derek was in complete agreement with Stiles' father. Stiles had hated that school. That loathing had come across every time he'd spoken of it. Going back would be the worst possible thing for him. And what would it gain them other than trapping Stiles in his own, personal hell again?

"Step one," Stiles said, "Derek takes me back to the school, thoroughly bugged. Derek gets into an argument with Argent and the others and demands that they take me back. You get them to talk about it in terms of buying and selling, so we have evidence that they really do treat people as property and that the whole 'we're just providing a service' cover is garbage. Try and get them to admit that they said I was into all that bondage stuff when they knew I hated it because they wanted me to get beaten and raped."

"What?" Stiles' dad said. "You missed that part in your story."

"It's not important," Stiles waved a hand, "and I knew you'd overreact. They decided that since I would never be a good companion, they'd tell people I liked being bound and gagged and stuff so they could sell me somewhere where I'd be, you know, and couldn't embarrass the school by how lousy I was at singing and dancing. It doesn't matter because they ended up selling me to someone who gets worked up about consent," he jerked a thumb towards Derek, "but now we can use it against them. I don't know whether it would count as false advertising of their merchandise or conspiracy to cause rape, but either way it wouldn't look good for them if we can get them on tape admitting it."

"Even if we get them on tape," said Derek, "that wouldn't do you any good. As soon as they have you again, they'll try to sell you on."

"That's where step two comes in. Dad shows up and tells them that they need to release me to his custody, and shows the judge's decision that I shouldn't have been taken from their custody in the first place. Now, I see this going down one of two ways. Either they leap at the chance to be rid of me and just hand me over, in which case I'm safe and we have to make do with whatever we've learned so far to sue them. Or, they try and get some last bit of money out of me by insisting that my dad has to buy me. Then we can get recordings of whatever arguments they have with my dad talking about me as a thing to be bought, and we can go after them for false imprisonment or something."

Stiles' dad said, "I still don't like this. It involves putting you at too much risk. What if they decide to sell you to someone else? What then?"

"I've still got my freedom fund. If Derek gives me back to the school, then the school gets ownership which lets them see the balance and stuff, but the account number itself stays the same. You'd still be able to put the money in."

"Are you sure?" Derek asked. He didn't want to take a chance on this, didn't want to risk Stiles' future freedom, his safety, on a possibility. If Stiles' were wrong, then he might end up sent to some awful place, raped and abused, hurt in a hundred different ways before he could get him out.

"Positive. Once the account's created, it's tied to my records. As long as you keep the account information, you can get me out even if Argent refuses."

Derek looked to Stiles' dad, hoping that he would have some other excuse, some other reason why this wasn't possible. Derek didn't want to take the risk with Stiles' safety but he'd run out of reasons and Derek couldn't order Stiles not to take this chance. Stiles' father might though.

"I still don't like this," Stiles' dad said. "You're safe. We should cut our losses and keep you that way."

"And let them hurt someone else?" Stiles asked. "Dad, companions are slaves. Just because I ended up with a good guy doesn't mean that the others do. Even the ones whose owners treat them kindly are still trapped in a system that expects them to serve sexually. You know it's not right. People ignore it because it's all wrapped up in nice euphemisms about providing companionship, and covered up with all the trappings of providing artistic entertainment. If I go back, if I get evidence of them talking about buying and selling people, we can make it clear what the truth really is."

"Stiles, what are you trying to achieve here?" his dad asked. "Taking out the whole system, that sort of thing takes time. It would take years, decades even, and a whole army of lawyers and changes to the legislation to close the loopholes that allow this to happen. We have to be realistic about what we can and can't achieve."

Stiles didn't answer right away. Derek didn't believe for a second that his dad had truly discouraged him from his goal.

"I want to make Argent's life miserable," Stiles said. "I want him to pay in some way. That I think we can realistically achieve." Stiles took a breath. "I want someone, I don't know who, a judge, a politician, someone with clout, to call this out for what it is. I want someone to talk about companionship as slavery instead of all the euphemistic garbage. Even if it doesn't change right away, I want to get something to start the conversation. Dad, this is important to me. I know it's a risk, but it's one I have to take. I can't just walk away from this."

Stiles' dad reached out a hand and placed it on Stiles' shoulder, squeezing gently. Derek wasn't sure if Stiles was right about what was realistic, but he knew he couldn't walk away either. They might not be able to ever win this fight, but it was a fight they had to try and win anyway.

Chapter Text

Stiles was glad Derek didn't ask him if he was sure about this because he was having second, third, and fourth thoughts every few minutes on the drive back to the school. Yes, he wanted to hurt Argent, but the school was his own personal nightmare, but that was all the more reason why they should take it down, but what if something went wrong and Derek couldn't get him out as easily as Stiles had assured his dad he could. These thoughts ran in circles in Stiles' mind as he fidgeted constantly. The miles slid past outside the windows and Stiles could suddenly see every flaw with his plan.

"It's OK," Derek said suddenly, jolting Stiles out of his thoughts. "It'll be OK. Even if this doesn't work and I can't pay off your purchase price, I won't let them keep you. Your dad and I will track you down and make them release you."

"Thanks," Stiles said.

He wanted to ask more, to know if Derek's werewolf senses would let him literally sniff him out, but both of them were wearing radio transmitters and his dad might be listening to this conversation even now, so Stiles didn't want to say anything about Derek being a werewolf. Even if his dad would be OK with that when he found out, Stiles didn't want to take the chance of the conversation ending up on tape. So he remained uncharacteristically quiet on the drive, fiddling with the seat belt as he waited for whatever might come.

They reached the school and stopped outside the forbidding gate in the high wall. Stiles had spent far too long on the wrong side of this wall. He didn't want to be here. He didn't want to go back. But Derek had already rolled down the window and given his name to the speaker box, saying that he wanted to speak to headmaster Argent. They were left outside the gate for several minutes and Stiles almost hoped that they weren't going to be allowed in. But after whatever conversations took place inside, a voice came over the speaker telling them to go inside. The gate swung open for them.

Derek parked and Stiles just sat there in the passenger seat, staring up at the school building, remembering all the reasons he had for hating this place. Derek had to walk round to his side of the car and open the door for him, but even then Stiles didn't move until Derek's hand was at his elbow, pulling him from the car. This would be a good act if anyone was watching from the school. Derek already looked stern and forbidding, and Stiles didn't have to pretend reluctance at being here.

Derek marched into the building, keeping his grip on Stiles' arm, reassurance as much as an act of control. There was a receptionist inside, looking at them both with confusion.

"I want to speak to Argent," Derek said, the anger in his voice no more faked than Stiles' reluctance. The receptionist seemed nervous, but she kept a polite smile pinned to her face as she informed them that Argent was in a meeting.

"I'll wait," Derek said, "but tell him that I'm not leaving here until he sees me."

He shoved Stiles towards a cluster of chairs, following after. Stiles sat, foot jiggling with anxious energy. After a few seconds of that, Derek's hand snapped out and pushed down on Stiles' knee, stilling the motion. The receptionist would have seen an owner stilling a fidgeting companion. She wouldn't have seen the way Derek's fingers gave a gentle squeeze of comfort. They were left waiting nearly twenty minutes, most of which Stiles spent fidgeting in one way or another, until Derek snapped at him to sit still, the loudness of his voice making the receptionist jump. She would definitely buy the cover that Derek was extremely dissatisfied with his purchase.

Stiles supposed a twenty minute wait wasn't too bad for an unannounced visit, but it was still incredibly frustrating. He was glad when Argent appeared and ushered them through to his office. Derek was offered a seat across the desk from Argent but Stiles was left to stand, something he didn't mind too much because he didn't feel like sitting still right now. Besides, his constant fidgeting and moving about offered perfect cover for concealing the additional listening devices he had tucked in his pocket. He had two of them, in case the first one got discovered.

"What can I do for you, Mr Hale?" Argent asked.

"I want to return him," Derek jerked a thumb towards Stiles. "He's rude, disobedient, disruptive, disrespectful."

"And sarcastic," Stiles said. "Don't forget sarcastic."

Derek turned a glare on him and Stiles flinched back, as though expecting a blow. He used the movement to back further away from Derek, over towards a set of bookshelves. As Argent's attention moved back to Derek, Stiles moved one of the bugs behind his back and stuck it to the underside of a low shelf where it would hopefully avoid notice.

"We offered you a substantial discount," Argent said. "One you accepted in exchange for not attempting to return Stiles."

"When I agreed to that, I still thought he would be acceptable as a companion, but he isn't, and you knew that when you sold him to me."

"You were informed that he hadn't graduated from his companion training."

"There's a difference between not graduating from training and being completely untrainable, and you know it," Derek said. "You sold me a companion who within the first half hour in my house gave me a lecture about how if I did anything with him, it would be rape."

"We also gave you a gag when we sold him to you if you didn't want him to complain," Argent said. Stiles could have punched the air. Not only had Argent specifically stated that he'd sold a person, his argument against protests of rape was to use a gag to stop the protests. He didn't even try to pretend that this system wasn't involved in rape.

Derek pressed him further. "So that's your solution to dealing with a person who refuses to consent? You think I should just tie him up, gag him, and force him?"

"Isn't that the sort of thing you enjoy?" Argent asked.

Stiles suspected that Derek would have punched the man for that if it weren't for the fact that they were being recorded and that they needed Argent's words for evidence.

"I enjoy consensual BDSM," Derek said. "I enjoy performing scenes with a willing participant who also enjoys them. When you sold me Stiles, you told me that he had a submissive nature and enjoyed being in bondage. He described being put in bondage as one of the worst experiences of his life, beaten only by the death of his mother and being put in this school in the first place. You knew when you sold Stiles to me that he would hate bondage and BDSM, but you didn't care about that. You just wanted him off your hands."

"And you bought him. His concerns are your problem now."

"So you don't care what happens to the companions once they leave your school?" Derek asked.

"They are no longer my responsibility at that point."

"Yeah," Stiles said. "Why should he care about the rape and trauma of the people he sold into sexual slavery?" Stiles knew he was supposed to be keeping his mouth shut and playing the role of the beaten companion, but he also knew that Argent wouldn't buy it if he behave all quiet and meek.

"Quiet!" Derek snapped at him.

"I'm supporting your argument, big guy," Stiles said. "I'm just pointing out that he sold me knowing I'd be tortured and raped because I annoyed him."

Argent didn't deny it. He remained quiet, watching the exchange. Derek pointed to a corner of the small office. Stiles rolled his eyes but followed the instruction of that pointing finger, going to stand in the corner like a disobedient toddler. There was a potted plant in this particular corner, something Derek must have noticed, and Stiles considered sticking the bug to the plant itself, before deciding better of it and just dropping the bug onto the ground, hidden behind the plant pot.

While Stiles planted the bug, Derek and Argent returned to their argument.

"You sold Stiles to me with certain expectations of his abilities and nature," Derek said. "Those were lies. The more time I spend with him, the more it becomes obvious he's incapable of acting like a companion at all. This is the equivalent of me buying an oven only to discover it's actually a microwave, making an agreement for a discount, and then discovering that the microwave doesn't even work."

"I wouldn't go so far as saying he doesn't work," Argent said. "You can still fuck him, can't you?"

"So that's your criteria for a good companion?" Derek asked. "As long as I can still fuck him, everything's fine?"

"It's what people buy companions for. We made a deal that you would keep Stiles. If he talks too much, stick a gag in his mouth. If his fidgeting annoys you, tie him up. If he's disrespectful, hit him until he learns better. He's your problem now."

"I see that I've wasted my time," Derek said, but they hadn't wasted it at all. Argent had just given them what they were after. He'd acknowledged the true purpose of companions, been utterly callous in terms of how companions should be treated, and confirmed that companions were human beings bought and sold for sex.

Stiles had to fight not to grin as Derek grabbed his arm and towed him from the office. Derek stalked out of the school and they got back into his car, driving away. It was only once they were out of sight of the building that Derek turned to him and asked, "Are you OK?"

Stiles flashed him a grin. "I really hope my dad got all of that on tape."

Chapter Text

Derek turned the car off the road a little way from the school and doubled back, parking at the end of a rough forester's track next to a rented van. The trees provided adequate cover but this place was close enough to the school to pick up the signals from the listening devices. At least that was the plan. Time to find out if the plan was working.

The two of them got out of the car and Stiles' father opened the door for them from the inside, a pair of headphones positioned over his head so that only one side was actually on his ear. He pulled Stiles into a fierce hug.

"I'm glad they didn't agree to take you back," he said.

Derek felt much the same but didn't say it. He just waited until the two had finished hugging. It seemed to take a very long time, and he was left feeling awkward and intrusive for the whole while. At last, Stiles pulled back and asked, "Did the bugs get anything?"

"Nothing particularly incriminating so far," Stiles' father said. "Argent referred to Derek as your owner a couple of times, which is useful."

If they were trying to prove that the whole system really was slavery under another name then the person in charge of a school talking about companions and those who paid for them in terms of property and owners was good ammunition, but it was hardly a smoking gun. Expensive lawyers could argue the point back and forth for years if all they had were a few words like that.

Stiles' father returned to the computer and pressed a button so that sound came out of the computer's speakers instead of the headphones, giving them all a chance to listen in. There was another familiar voice locked in conversation with Argent.

"What happens if Hale sells him on?" Harris was asking.

"Then it's not our problem anymore," Argent replied. "If Hale sells him, it won't be an official transfer of guardianship so he can be got for trafficking if he gets caught and our hands are clean. The agent will probably be even happier with that option - it will make Stilinski harder to track and anyone willing to buy the kid under the table will probably treat him worse than those who'd buy him directly from us."

The agent had to be referring to Agent McCall. From Argent's words about making Stiles harder to track, Derek guessed that Argent had been fully aware of the nature of Stiles' situation and what McCall was after in giving Stiles to them. Derek waited, hoping for Argent to say something more on the subject, something more specific that could be used against him to show beyond doubt that he'd known Stiles' sale to the school had been wrong.

Harris and Argent talked back and forth a little more, not saying anything particularly useful. There wasn't much by way of seating in the back of the van, except the one chair Stiles' father occupied, so Derek sat down on the floor, trying to make himself comfortable. Stiles paced awkwardly, as well as he was able in a space that only let him walk two steps in any direction. He fidgeted impatiently as they listened and Derek tried not be made anxious by his movements. It seemed like they were going to be here but the long haul, but finally Harris mentioned the agent again.

"I still think the brat was more trouble than he was worth," Harris said. "Even with the money the agent gave us, we barely made enough on Stilinski to cover his food and the cost of all the stuff that clumsy ass broke. It's not like we'll recoup much on the freedom price. We'll both have retired before someone like him could earn enough money to buy out. I told you at the start, we should have just kicked him out on the street when we saw how useless he was."

"Keeping Stiles here wasn't just about money. If we'd done that, he would have gone straight back to his father and that was something Agent McCall wanted to avoid. It was part of our agreement to keep Stilinski contained."

That had to be useful. Derek wasn't entirely sure what legal case Stiles wanted to tackle, the one against McCall for taking him from his dad, the one against Argent for holding him illegally, or one against the schools in general for being legalised slavery, but that little exchange had to be useful for all of them. Argent mentioning McCall by name instead of as allusions to 'the agent' was gold.

"What if Hale kicks him out?" Harris asks.

"Unlikely," Argent replied. "If he does, it's not our fault. From what I saw, Stilinski is more likely to annoy Hale into killing him. I'm surprised Stilinski survived the full moon with him."

Stiles stumbled in his pacing, nearly falling over his dad's chair. His dad swivelled, looking between Derek and Stiles. Derek just froze, feeling fear flowing like ice in his bloodstream. Clearly Stiles hadn't told his father about Derek being a werewolf. Now he knew and he would probably decide it wasn't safe for Stiles to be around him.

Over the speakers, Harris was asking Argent what he meant and Argent dismissing his words, but Derek barely heard that conversation. All he heard was the tense, drawn-out silence between the three of them in the van.

"He's just," Stiles started, "you know, speaking poetically. Like, he couldn't believe I'd survived a month given how annoying I can be."

Stiles' father shot him a look that said he didn't believe a single word that had just left Stiles' mouth. He turned back to Derek.

"Are you a werewolf?" he asked.

Before Derek could say anything, Stiles said, "Wait, you know about werewolves?"

Stiles' question was probably confirmation enough, but Derek nodded, waiting for the words that would come next. Stiles' father would tell him to stay away from Stiles, forbid Stiles from seeing him ever again, decide he wasn't safe company for his son.

Instead, Stilinski said, "I guess we've still got things to talk about. Let's go back to the club. We can leave the van here saving the transmissions straight to the internet as it picks them up."

He turned off the audio, cutting Argent off mid-sentence, and stood, not giving either of them a chance to argue with him. Stiles paused to help Derek up, since his legs were going to sleep from sitting on the floor, before hurrying out of the van after his father. The only other car here was Derek's Camaro, which meant Stilinski was at least willing to get into a small vehicle with Derek. That had to be a good sign, right? He tried to remain calm. After all, he'd known that the owner of the club had been aware of werewolves and seemed happy enough to have them as customers. Maybe Stilinski would be OK with Stiles dating a werewolf. Derek tried to reassure himself as he got behind the wheel of his car, Stilinski sitting beside him and Stiles climbing into the backseat, sitting in the middle and leaning forward so as not to be left out of the conversation.

Derek started driving because it was better to be doing something than just waiting for whatever Stilinski had to say.

It was Stiles who broke the silence, asking, "How do you know about werewolves?"

"I may have left a detail out of my story," his father said. "The people who came to me about the club, they were a werewolf couple. They knew that the kids were there against their will because they could smell fear and pain on them, but no arousal. They weren't into it. When they came to me, I wasn't sure if I should interfere, I wasn't sure how an outsider could tell the difference between someone into the scene and not. So they showed me what they were and explained how certain they were. They helped me organise the raid on the club because they could listen in on what was going on inside. I learned quite a lot about werewolves through talking to them."

Derek supposed it was a good thing for him that Stilinski's first encounter with werewolves had been in such a context, with them working to help rescue people. He would see them as good people who wanted to help others rather than as horror movie monsters. It didn't make Derek feel much more relaxed though. He wondered what exactly Stilinski had learned.

"Derek," Stilinski said, "I didn't see any sign of a pack in that house."

"No," Derek said. "My pack are gone."

"I was told," his tone was gentle, lacking any sign of accusation, "that it's very dangerous for a werewolf to be without a pack for too long. Certain instincts can become overwhelming and overrule rational thought. Like the instinct to make a pack."

Derek knew that there was truth in that. His decision to purchase Stiles had been a symptom of the very behaviour Stilinski was worried about.

"But he's not alone anymore," Stiles put in. "He's got me."

Derek's fingers tightened on the steering wheel, tension knotting together his muscles as he waited for Stilinski to say that it wasn't safe for Stiles to stay around him, to say that Derek was a danger. A part of Derek wanted to fight for Stiles, but getting aggressive would just prove Stilinski's worst fears about him. It wouldn't help anything. While Derek fretted, Stiles' hand reached over from the back seat, touching his shoulder gently, and Derek tried to let that point of physical contact ground him.

"I must admit," Stilinski said, "I was concerned about Stiles' insistence that he keep seeing you. I was worried that there might be something going on between the two of you."

So Stiles hadn't told his father that they'd had sex. That was probably a good thing, reading between the lines there.

Stilinski continued, "But if you've come to see Stiles as pack, then keeping you apart is probably the worst thing I could do. The couple I met were quite clear that a werewolf needs a pack, a family, to stay healthy, to stay sane. So, I guess what I'm saying, Derek, is welcome to the family."

Chapter Text

Stiles was astonished, both that his dad knew about the existence of werewolves but that he was OK about Derek being one. More than OK, he had given his approval for Stiles to keep hanging out with Derek. He knew that Stiles had become a surrogate pack for Derek and he was perfectly happy for that to continue.

Stiles didn't want to press the issue by explaining that he and Derek had actually had sex, because his dad seemed to be under the impression that there was nothing sexual going on. Stiles had been very insistent that Derek had never raped him, but he'd been careful to let his father take the next conclusion that they hadn't had sex at all. Being surrogate pack with a werewolf was fine, but Stiles expected that the situation would be rather different regarding Stiles dating a werewolf.

He knew he would have to come clean eventually, but he was willing to put off that moment for as long as humanly possible. That way, his dad would have longer to get to know Derek as a person and come to see him as a good person and, hopefully, not someone who deserved to be shot for daring to take advantage of poor defenceless Stiles.

Back at the club, his dad gave more detail on the werewolves who had helped with the human trafficking case. Stiles in turn was expected to expand on his story, explaining how he'd learned about Derek being a werewolf. Stiles threw in a mention of their cuddle sessions as well. He deliberately didn't say that was all they'd done, but he was perfectly happy for his dad to infer that assumption. Stiles talked about the full moon, not about the wild sex but about how Derek had gone out running to burn off energy and things like that.

As Derek said he should go back home, Stiles delayed his departure to make a suggestion.

"We need to gather more information on Argent before we can make our move," he said, "so there's really not much we can do other than wait, so I thought maybe tomorrow I could go over to Derek's place and hang out with him. Then I could cook dinner and, dad, you could come over and we could all eat together." His dad hesitated a moment, so Stiles added, "You know I'll be safe with Derek."

There was still a little reluctance in his dad's expression, but he nodded his agreement. Stiles made arrangements with Derek for him to come and pick him up the following day. Stiles gave Derek a quick hug and then settled down for an evening listening to the audio recordings with his dad.

There wasn't anything especially useful. There were a few incidents of Argent or someone else on the staff implying that the companions were property, but nothing concrete. There were tedious stretches of silence while Argent was either working quietly or away from his office. There were snippets of irrelevant conversation, like a woman asking about some archery competition Argent's granddaughter had been in. By the time Argent went home for the evening, they had several hours of recorded audio but maybe fifteen minutes of it would actually be useful in making a case that Argent was behaving in a criminal or unconstitutional manner.

They could pull out snippets of Argent talking about companions as property or obviously not caring about their well-being, but that was hardly a smoking gun. Even the comments Stiles had been pleased about in their direct meeting seemed weak in hindsight. Argent had suggested Derek gag Stiles, but a lawyer would probably argue that the statement was clearly meant to be taken as a joke. Poor taste, perhaps, but not criminal. Argent saying he wasn't responsible for companions no longer in his care was technically true, and they didn't have concrete proof that he knew about companions being raped and abused. The stuff Argent had said about people only buying companions to fuck them made him sound like a disgusting waste of oxygen, but it would be hard to tie it to an actual crime. If they tried to get Argent arrested for human trafficking or being an accomplice to sexual assault or something, he would just hide behind the legal loopholes that allowed the companion schools to exist in the first place.

The schools claimed that they offered training and services, managing long-term employment contracts instead of selling people as property. The fact that they taught dance and cooking and all the rest let them to paint a coat of respectability over the procedure, providing the illusion that it wasn't all about sex, and even suggesting that there could be an element of choice. Companions could entertain their owners in different ways, Argent might say, with music and poetry. Certainly, if there was any rape going on, it wasn't happening at the schools so the people involved could pretend not to see it.

Argent's words poked a few holes in the facade, letting people see through to the truth that was hiding behind it, but it wasn't enough. A few comments about working with Rafe wouldn't be enough to convict anyone. They needed hard and fast proof that Stiles' transfer to the school had been illegal, otherwise a competent defence lawyer would drown them in technicalities until a judge threw the case out.

The more he thought about it, the less confident Stiles became that this would actually work. He went to bed, sleeping on a tattered couch in the small apartment above the club, feeling disheartened about the whole situation. He was still feeling that way when Derek arrived to take him back to his big house.

"Are we fooling ourselves?" Stiles asked on the drive over.

"About what?" Derek asked. He sounded nervous.

"About taking on Argent and the schools. They've got money. They can afford expensive lawyers."

"We can afford expensive lawyers too."

"Yeah, but they've got all the loopholes and legislation and just... momentum on their side. We've got to try and convince the legal system to completely change direction on the schools, while all these rich, powerful people are pouring money into legislators' re-election campaigns to keep the situation as it stands. We are going up against all the people who don't care how vile the system is because they're the ones who benefit from it."

"We're not going to be able to take the schools out completely," Derek said. "We might not even be able to get Argent's school shut down or get him put in prison."

"If you're trying to cheer me up," Stiles said, "you suck at this."

"But we can make his life miserable. We can get public opinion on our side. We can release the tapes of him talking about how an owner should just gag a companion so they don't complain about rape so that he can't go out to buy groceries without being egged."

"I guess that's something," Stiles said, but it seemed like a pretty weak something. He wanted Argent to suffer, he wanted there to be justice. He also wanted other people like him to not have to face life controlled by other people, forced to give up autonomy of their bodies to anyone who had enough money. Hurting Argent alone wouldn't help with that second part, anymore than his dad kicking Rafe in the balls had saved him.

He wanted Argent to pay, publically and definitively, for the part he'd played. He wanted the world to see him brought to justice because that might make other people hesitate about buying companions. He wanted to make them worry. He wanted the system to crumble because people were scared of the consequences of taking part in it.

"Stiles," Derek said, "all we can do is try. Maybe we'll have an effect. Maybe we won't. But even if we only make a single step forward, that's better than nothing."

"I guess," Stiles said again. He wished he could be more optimistic, but Derek was right. If they tried to get the whole companion program shut down, the laws changed, and all those people free, they would probably never see that goal completed if they worked for it for the rest of their lives. But maybe they could get more attention to the companion programs so other people started protesting, or they could close one school, or have some outside authority investigate the students in the companion schools to make sure there was no one else in Stiles' situation there. Hell, if they could raise the minimum age, it would be a start. They could focus on more manageable goals and hope that it would lead the way to bigger changes down the road.

He was glad at least that Derek wasn't lying to him. He would rather have harsh truth than fluffy lies.

They reached the big house in the woods and climbed from the car. As they walked into the house, Derek asked him, "So what do you want to do today?"

Stiles answered his question by pressing his lips to Derek's. Derek kissed him back for a few seconds before taking a step back, putting his hands on Stiles' arms to hold him away.

"Are you sure?" he asked. "You haven't told your dad about us."

"I'm sure," Stiles answered. "Do I not look like I'm sure?"

"It's just... you know your dad won't approve."

"I knew my dad wouldn't approve when we got together in the first place," Stiles said. "I'm not worried about that." He looked at Derek's face. "Are you worried about that?"

"What if he finds out and doesn't let you see me anymore?" Derek asked. "I'd rather keep seeing you without sex than have sex and risk never seeing you again."

"That's..." Stiles couldn't help grinning. "That's probably the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me."

Derek looked flustered. Stiles remembered how Derek had seemed when he'd first come here and wondered what he would have said if someone had told him that Derek could look like this, nervously looking away from Stiles, with the tips of his ears turning pink.

"In case you've forgotten," Stiles said, "I am legally an adult. If I want to see my boyfriend, my dad can't stop me. Besides, if he tries, technically I'm still your companion."

"I don't think that argument is going to work on him," Derek pointed out.

"Probably not. But I never let me dad's lack of approval stop me from doing anything. Let's go to bed."

"What did you have in mind?" Derek asked. His hands slid down Stiles' arms until his fingers could intertwine with Stiles. Stiles leaned in for another kiss to give himself time to think. There were possibilities. There was the choice between playroom and bedroom, and the decision of whether Stiles wasn't to try out anything he'd glimpsed at the club, but Stiles would be glad for the playroom not to looked messed up when his dad arrived later, so it would be better to use Derek's bed. That limited the options a bed.

"Well," Stiles said, still considering options, "my dad doesn't have a second bed in his apartment right now, so I've been sleeping on a couch. I could do with a massage. Then I could massage you back."

"Sounds good," Derek said. "Though I should warn you, I haven't had any fancy companion school massage training."

"We'll manage."

Stiles' leaned in again and one of Derek's hands cupped his neck gently, fingers brushing against his hair as their lips met. Stiles didn't want to give this up, not even for the sake of his dad's approval.

Chapter Text

Stiles was almost asleep in Derek's arms. They'd massaged each other and that had turned into slow and gentle sex, and now Stiles lay there, wrapped in Derek's embrace, head resting on his chest. His eyes were closed but Derek thought he was still somewhat awake. Derek wondered how long they could remain like this, how long he could just lie here, holding Stiles close, before they needed to get up and face the world.

They were wrapped in a cocoon of contentedness, all the harsh realities of life somehow far away. Derek looked down at Stiles' peaceful face and was happy. He could stay with Stiles like this forever.

"Derek," Stiles murmured, not opening his eyes.

"Yeah," Derek replied softly.

"I want you to spank me."

"What?"

Whatever Derek might have expected Stiles to say, it wasn't that. Derek jerked slightly in surprise and the movement seemed to stir Stiles more awake. He opened his eyes and lifted his head slightly from Derek's chest to look at him.

"I don't know if I'll like it, but I want to try. For you. Just remember that I'm a soft and fragile human."

"You said you didn't like pain," Derek said.

"Yeah, but you like this stuff, and it's, like, one of the biggest kinks out there, practically mainstream. I figure I should see what the fuss is about."

Derek knew that Stiles was really doing this for him. He might be curious about it, but there was no way in hell he'd consider it except for the fact that Derek liked it so much. It made joy soar in Derek's heart that Stiles was willing to do this for him, but it made him nervous too. Stiles might be willing to do things he didn't like for Derek's sake, but Derek wanted him to enjoy them too. There was no pleasure in this for him unless there was pleasure for both of them.

"Do you want to try now?" Derek asked. He didn't want to burst the comfortable, sleepy bubble that was wrapped around them, but he wasn't sure when they'd next get the chance to do this. Presumably Stiles was thinking the same thing, because he nodded his agreement. Stiles sat up and so Derek followed suit.

Derek considered the logistics of the situation. There was no way in hell he was going to take Stiles down to the playroom for this and he didn't want to use any sort of restraints, not this first time. He sat in the middle of the bed and told Stiles to lie across his lap. Stiles did so, propping himself up on his elbows and looking at Derek. His bare ass was positioned over Derek's thighs, begging to be touched. Derek did so, placing a hand on those firm globes, stroking gently over the naked flesh. He'd imagined this so many times that it was hard to believe this was real, but Stiles was warm beneath his hand, his weight a very real presence across his legs.

"You remember the conversation we had about safe words?" Derek asked.

"If I want you to stop, I'll start talking about math," Stiles said. Derek fixed him with a look, trying to convey how serious this was. Stiles rolled his eyes and clarified, "I'll say algebra."

"Good," Derek said, continuing to stroke Stiles' ass. "I'll start gently. If you can handle that, I'll increase the force. Do you understand?"

"Yeah. Got it."

Derek scented the air carefully. Their earlier sex was a mask that threatened to overwhelm the more subtle indicators of Stiles' mood. He would have to take care not to mistake the lingering traces of earlier arousal for Stiles' feelings now. As it was, Stiles seemed to be a mingling of arousal and anxiety. The anxiety scent seemed to be growing stronger the longer Derek took to prepare, so he decided to get started and see how that affected the scent.

He raised his hand and brought it down in a gentle tap against Stiles' ass. He kept his eyes on Stiles' face and saw his expression crease into a small frown. Not upset, but confused. He didn't say to stop, so Derek brought his hand down once again, tapping gently against Stiles' rear.

"Seriously?" Stiles asked. "I could barely feel that."

Derek brought his hand down again, a little harder this time. The smack sounded, despite the fact that Derek was still hitting gently.

"I know I said I'm a fragile human," Stiles said, "but I'm not that fragile."

So Derek hit a little harder, enough that each slap made a sound, the repeated impacts starting to turn those pale cheeks slightly pink. He got into a rhythm, using each spank to push Stiles forward a little, making him rock against Derek's legs. There was no mistaking the scent of arousal then, as Derek used the rhythm to move Stiles back and forth against his legs, feeling Stiles' erection caught between them. Derek was still holding back, but there was a definite colour in Stiles' cheeks now. It was a beautiful sight, that pale skin starting to flush, Stiles stretched out, utterly in his control, pleasure building with each movement. Stiles made soft sounds at each impact, pleasure raising from the faint pain. Derek increased the power slightly, enough to make sure Stiles felt it, and then Stiles came in a sticky mess over Derek's legs.

Derek scooped Stiles up and pulled him back into his arms, holding him in a gentle hug.

"How was that?" Derek asked.

"That was..." Stiles sounded somewhat hesitant. "That was fun." But his tone was unenthusiastic. It was hardly the overflowing joy Derek might have hoped for.

"You don't sound very sure," Derek said.

"Yeah, I mean... It's not my favourite thing. I preferred the bondage stuff. But I could do this once in a while. If it makes you happy."

"Making you happy makes me happy." That was the important thing. That was what separated BDSM from abuse; it had to be good for both them. Stiles' lukewarm reaction told Derek clearly that this wasn't something that would happen often, if it ever happened at all.

"You're such a marshmallow," Stiles muttered, curling closer into Derek and closing his eyes again.

***

They couldn't stay in bed all day, much those Stiles might have wanted to. His dad would be coming over later and Stiles had to at least pretend that they hadn't spent the entire day in wild sex. They got cleaned up and Stiles made sure he was presentable. They had a quick lunch and then spent a little time cuddling on the couch watching episodes of Futurama, something which Derek had never seen until Stiles introduced him to it.

Then it was time for Stiles to start the dinner preparations. He had promised his dad his now-infamous pond water soup, so he set to work cooking. The soup wasn't enough for a full meal, so Stiles planned on cooking a chicken casserole, which was forgiving enough about timing that he could get it mostly ready and then put it on a low heat to keep warm while they ate the soup and he wouldn't have to worry a few minutes either way if they took longer than he expected.

Derek sat in the kitchen with him, sometimes talking but mostly just watching Stiles cook, listening while Stiles kept up a running commentary about what he was doing, why he'd chosen what he had, how this reminded him of previous meals with his dad. Every now and then, Stiles would wonder if he was boring Derek with such inane chatter, but every time he looked in Derek's direction there was a soft little smile on his lips. Derek was a total sap.

But the sight of that little smile made Stiles want to smile too, so it was possible they were both a little sappy.

Stiles had everything ready and the soup was looking the appropriate shade of murky green when his dad arrived. Derek let him into the kitchen where Stiles was laying the food out on the table, still smiling. His smile froze when he noticed the suspicious expression on his dad's face, the way his eyes flitted between the two of them.

Stiles hadn't thought they were being too obvious. He cleared his throat, trying to break the sudden awkward tension in the room, and offered his dad a drink. Then he realised that might seem weird because this was Derek's house and he wasn't the real host here. Then he worried he was making things more weird by acting as though they were weird.

He hurried up with portioning out the soup and then sat down quickly.

Too quickly. He bit back a little hiss of pain as his ass smacked into the wooden surface of the chair. In an instant, his mind was filled with images of how they'd spent the earlier part of the day. The memory made heat rise up in his cheeks, his more visible cheeks, and he started to suspect this might be part of the appeal of spankings, the lingering reminder of the other person's touch. Not that he wanted that reminder when he was trying to have a civilised dinner with his dad. His dad who was definitely eyeing him with suspicion now. It felt like all of the day's activities were written on Stiles' face for the world to see.

"So," Stiles said, trying to sound normal and probably failing, "what do you think of the soup?"

His dad picked up the spoon and prodded at the surface. "I can see why you call it pond water soup." He took a sip. "But, wow, that tastes amazing."

"Failing grade right here." Stiles grinned. His dad ate his soup in large spoonfuls, drinking it down in gulps. Stiles felt gratified and almost managed to forget the earlier awkwardness.

At least until his dad finished scraping his bowl clean, set down his spoon, and said, "I thought you told me you weren't having sex."

Stiles' spoon clattered against his bowl. Beside him, Derek drew in a breath, a panicked look filling his eyes. Stiles' dad nodded in satisfaction, as though this shocked reaction was exactly what he'd expected.

Stiles set his spoon down and said, "Technically, I told you Derek never raped me."

His dad didn't look convinced.

"Look, Dad, I know this is a weird situation, but believe me that we discussed every possible ramification for consent before we did anything."

"I would never force Stiles into something he didn't want to do, sir," Derek said.

"The 'sir' might be a bit much," Stiles told him. Derek shot him a look that said he disagreed. Across the table, Stiles' dad frowned at the two of them.

Stiles said nervously, "You didn't bring your gun to dinner, did you?"

"I'm not going to shoot Derek," Stiles' dad said. "Even though he is several years older than you, purchased you like you were property, was in a position of authority over you, and physically capable of forcing himself on you."

"You think any of that is news to me?" Stiles said. "I have spent a very long time thinking seriously about consent and what being a companion might mean for me even before Derek came on the scene with all his 'safe, sane, and consensual' philosophies."

Stiles instantly regretted using a phrase associated with the BDSM community because his dad was certain to know where that phrase came from, given that he now ran a BDSM club. He would no doubt assume all manner of things about Stiles' and Derek's relationship which were completely untrue. And probably several things which were true.

Stiles pressed on, hoping to draw his dad's attention away from what he'd just said, "I meant it about the discussions. We had long chats about consent before we even kissed the first time. Every single, microscopic detail of what was messed up about our situation was out in the open and talked about. We probably spent more time focusing on making sure it was all consensual than most regular couples out there. Dad, I get that you've been worried about me, and I get why you're concerned, but you have to trust me. I'm not a kid anymore, and this relationship is one I entered into with my eyes wide open. I'm an adult, capable of making my own decisions, and this is what I want."

His dad didn't look convinced, but he didn't argue. Derek remained silent. He'd already made his statement and was probably now hoping that Stiles' dad didn't even look at him. He was probably wishing for a way to crawl into a hole in the ground and escape this whole conversation.

"I don't like you lying to me," Stiles' dad said. "And I don't like that you're in a relationship with someone who bought you. But, from what I've seen, Derek seems like a decent guy. So you two can do what you want. Just be aware that I've learned a lot about how to cause werewolves pain since I took over the club."

"Noted," Derek said. He looked suitably cowed.

Stiles' dad gave a grim smile and said, "What's the next course?"

Chapter Text

Derek wasn't sure whether to be relieved or anxious that Stiles' father knew that they were sleeping together. He supposed that the discovery, and the ensuing conversation, could have gone a lot worse. He should have expected threats from a man who'd had his son stolen from him and sold into what was effectively slavery. Of course the man was worried about Stiles, and of course he was suspicious of Derek. His reaction had been mild compared to what it might have been.

He sat through the rest of the meal calmly, making a few attempts at small talk in the awkwardness that followed. Once the meal was done, Derek took care of the clearing the dishes, not wanting Mr Stilinski to think that he was forcing Stiles to work. Stiles' father looked between the two of them, a slight frown on his face as he considered something.

"I have some work to be getting on with tonight," he said, "and we haven't sorted out a real bed for Stiles at my apartment. It might make sense for Stiles to stay here for the night."

That wasn't something Derek had expected. Given the direction the conversation had taken earlier, Derek would have expected Stiles' dad to never want to leave them alone again, not to let Stiles stay the night even knowing what that might lead to.

It seemed Stiles was just as surprised, because his initial reaction was to go, "Really?" A moment later, he caught himself and continued, "I mean, that's fine. I will be perfectly OK here and absolutely nothing will happen that you need to be in the slightest bit worried about."

Stiles' dad fixed him with a stern stare. "I would have been more reassured without that reassurance."

"Got it."

"Just... be safe. And I will see you tomorrow morning. We can do brunch."

"Brunch?" Stiles said. "Cool. We'll be like sophisticated people."

Derek stifled a laugh. He couldn't imagine anyone mistaking Stiles for a sophisticated person, except perhaps in regards to his eclectic mix of interests. Stiles caught Derek's near laugh and whacked him gently on the arm with the back of his hand.

"We'll be there, sir," Derek said.

"I told you," said Stiles, "the sir is overkill."

"I think he might be right on that one," Stiles' dad said. "I'll see you in the morning. Don't be late."

With that, he let himself out. Derek still felt tense, as though he were waiting for a bomb to go off or something. Beside him, Stiles let out a long breath in something close to a whistle.

"Woah," Stiles said. "So, apparently we're not subtle."

"And your dad is a detective."

"I can't believe he's letting me stay here tonight. When he started with the shovel talk thing, I thought we were doomed. Or at least doomed to a couple of months of sneaking around before he conceded the inevitable." Stiles reached out and put his arms around Derek's neck. "This means we have all night together." He pulled gently on his arms, tugging Derek towards him for a kiss.

Derek still felt a little awkward about this, knowing that Stiles' father would undoubtedly know how they had spent this evening. He was determined not to do anything that would leave so much as a bruise on Stiles' skin. Even though Stiles' father knew that Derek went to the BDSM club and would probably guess that he and Stiles had at least experimented from the fact that Derek had taken him there, Derek was still nervous about doing anything that might be interpreted as abuse. He wouldn't suggest trying out anything else Stiles was curious about from the playroom.

Instead, he would demonstrate he could be a kind and thoughtful boyfriend. Derek slid his arms around Stiles, under his ass, lifted him up. Stiles gave a little laugh and leaned into Derek's chest, switching his grip to make it more secure, and let Derek carry him upstairs. In the bedroom, Derek set to work stripping Stiles down, exposing every inch of Stiles' skin.

"You are amazing," Derek said, as he slid Stiles' t-shirt over his head. Stiles instantly brought his hands across his torso, trying ineffectually to conceal his bareness. Derek caught his hands and pressed a kiss to the inside of each wrist in turn.

"You are beautiful," Derek said. Before Stiles could argue or get lost in his insecurities, Derek pressed on. "You are intelligent." He leaned in and pressed a kiss to Stiles' neck. "You are bold." He caught the lobe of Stiles' ear between his teeth and tugged gently. "You are not afraid to stand up for what you want or for what you believe in." He pulled back long enough to get a glimpse of the pink flush on Stiles' cheeks, and then dove in to toy with Stiles' nipples.

"You're a sap," Stiles said. "You're a complete marshmallow with obviously no sense when it comes to who you find attractive."

Derek straightened and looked Stiles directly in the eye as he said, "Agree to disagree. You are very attractive." Stiles looked like he might protest, so Derek said, "Do you need proof?"

He brought Stiles' hand to the crotch of his jeans, where there was plenty of evidence to demonstrate how attractive Derek found Stiles. Stiles stopped arguing. Instead, he started undoing Derek's pants, so Derek returned the favour. Soon they were rid of the remainder of their clothes and Derek guided Stiles over to the bed and pushed him down onto its soft surface. Stiles went willingly and Derek set to work again with mouth and hands, earning soft moans of pleasure as he found the sensitive points of Stiles' flesh. He worked his way slowly down Stiles' body until Stiles told him to stop teasing, then he brought his mouth to Stiles' eager cock.

Derek took his own pleasure in hand as he sucked Stiles to climax, and then they lay together, arms around each other in a sleepy embrace.

"I meant it, you know," Derek said. "Every word."

Stiles didn't answer but Derek didn't think it was because he was falling asleep or anything like that. Stiles struggled to believe it when Derek said nice things about him, especially his appearance. Praise for his intelligence, he was fine with, but his looks clearly bothered him.

"I know that you spent several years with some awful people criticising you," Derek said, "and I know that can't be easy to get over, but you should know that anything mean they said about you was just wrong."

"You don't even know what they said," Stiles pointed out.

"I don't care. If it made you feel bad about yourself, it was wrong."

Stiles gave a little huff of a laugh and rolled into Derek's embrace. "Marshmallow."

Derek decided that was as good a point as any to end this conversation. He doubted he'd convinced Stiles of anything, but he would keep trying. He would tell Stiles how wonderful he was every day for the rest of his life if he had to, if it would help Stiles believe it.

***

They had a slow start the next morning, with another round of sex and then a shared shower in which Derek took delight in washing every inch of Stiles' skin. They skipped breakfast with the promise of brunch to come and then drove to the club were Stiles let them in through a back door so that they wouldn't have to go through the club to get to his dad's apartment. Once inside, they found Stiles' father sitting on the floor of the main living area, surrounded by piles of paper. He looked up at them in confusion.

"What's wrong?" he asked. "What are you doing here so late?"

"Late?" Stiles asked. "It's ten thirty in the morning. Have you been up all night?"

The man frowned at them and then checked his watch. The shadows under his eyes were obvious and he was wearing the same clothes he'd worn at dinner the night before.

"Oh. I guess I have been."

"Dad, what is all this?"

"I was doing some digging. I was thinking about a couple of things we heard on the audio feed from the school. I was hoping to have things a bit more organised before I showed you."

"Is this why you let me stay the night at Derek's? So you could keep working?"

Derek didn't hear whatever response Stiles' father might have made. His eyes had fallen on an image amid the clutter on the floor, a photograph of a smiling woman. It was as if Derek's mind shut down, all awareness of the present vanished as the past rushed up to claim him again. He heard her voice in his mind, felt her fingers against his skin, her mouth dripping its venom onto his soul. He bent down, retrieving the picture, hoping that when he looked more closely, it would prove to be someone else, but no, Kate's face smiled out at him from the photo.

A hand touched his arm and Derek jerked away, panic rising in him.

"Derek? Derek, it's OK. You're OK."

He blinked, aware of a voice speaking his name, of Stiles' scent on the air. He blinked again and he was back in the room and Stiles was standing in front of him, face full of concern.

"Derek, you back with us?" Stiles asked. Derek managed to nod.

Stiles retrieved the photo from Derek's shaking fingers and looked at him. He looked back at Derek, seeing the truth written in his fear.

"Is this her?" Stiles asked. "Is this Kate?"

"Wait," Stiles' dad said. "You know her? You know Kate Argent?"

"Argent?" It was Stiles who said it, repeating the surname that Derek had never learned, that Kate had told him he didn't need to know before she tore his life to shreds.

"How do you know her?" Stiles' dad asked Derek.

Derek forced himself to find his voice, to say what he was able to admit. "She killed my family."

"OK. I thought you might have noticed her around. I didn't expect you to confirm my theory with such certainty."

"What theory?" Stiles asked. "Dad, what's going on? Start explaining."

It seemed brunch was forgotten, which was good because Derek wasn't sure he'd be able to keep food down right now. A picture of Kate, here, had been the last thing he'd expected and even the sight of a still image was enough to sicken him.

Stiles dad started to explain, "I was listening over the audio recordings we have of Argent and one thing stood out to me. At one point he was talking about Agent McCall and mentioned that money wasn't the only thing they got out of the arrangement. I did some thinking and the conclusion I came to..."

Stiles picked up the thought, "McCall has something on him."

"Precisely. My guess was that Argent had committed some crime, McCall had evidence, and he was blackmailing Argent over it. So I started doing some digging, trying to figure out what the connection could be, and I started looking into McCall's case history. It turned out he was involved in the investigation of the Hale fire, brought onto the case shortly before it was officially declared accidental rather than arson. Given that Argent is aware of Derek being a werewolf, I started digging a bit deeper into it. It turned out that Gerard Argent was nowhere near Beacon Hills when the fire happened but his daughter, Kate Argent, was. And there was another connection: it seems Harris was brought in for questioning about the fire because some acquaintances of his told the police about his unhealthy interest in the subject of arson. I was able to get hold of the interview transcripts." The man looked seriously at the two of them in turn, "Don't mention that part to anyone because it wasn't entirely legal."

"Yeah, no problem," Stiles said quickly, "just get to the good stuff. Was Harris involved?"

"No. He had an alibi that checked out for the time of the fire, but he did mention talking to a young woman in the bar about the subject. A young woman who matched the description of Kate Argent. So my theory was that Kate Argent got the information from Harris and used it to start the fire, McCall figured it out, but then he had the case closed as an accident so that he could hold it over Gerard Argent's head and blackmail him. Argent hired Harris about a month after the official close of the case, presumably to keep an eye on him in case and keep him from talking to the police." He looked at Derek again, "I was hoping you might be able to help fill in some gaps, but you seemed very confident about Kate's involvement."

Derek nodded.

"How much of this can you prove?" he asked.

"Not nearly enough. I have connections but nothing a judge would consider enough evidence for an arrest. I might be able to convince some old friends at the sheriff's department to do their own investigation, but I can't easily give a motive for the fire. The only evidence I had of Kate's involvement was that she was in Beacon Hills at the time and that Harris talked to someone who matched her description."

"And me," Derek said. "I could testify."

"What testimony could you give that doesn't include the word 'werewolf'?" Stilinski asked.

"She was sleeping with me," Derek said.

Stilinski frowned. He looked at his scattered notes. "But you would have been fifteen at the time of the fire and she was..."

"Yeah," Derek said.

"Well, that's statutory rape right there. And you're sure she was involved in the fire?"

"She stole my clothes to disguise her scent. She blocked off our emergency escape route because I told her where it was. I gave her access to the house. She's the only one who could have done it."

Stilinski looked down at his notes again. "Even with your testimony, it would be difficult to convince a judge because we can't explain about the scent, or why your family would feel it necessary to have an emergency escape route from the house. Even if we tried to get her arrested on the rape charge, it's several years old and the only evidence we'll have by this point is your word. I'm not doubting you, but in my experience it's a challenge to get rape charges to stick at the best of times, and there are a lot of people who have very biased views and don't even think it's possible for a man to be raped. Maybe I'm cynical, but I doubt we'd stand a chance of even getting her arrested for the rape charge. We need to get something a lot more solid in terms of evidence."

"And we need to tie them all together," Stiles said. "Getting Kate for what she did to Derek, and for the fire, that would be awesome, but we have to get the others: Argent, McCall, even Harris. I want them all to pay."

Derek nodded his agreement. He would dearly love to see Kate brought low for her crimes. He would love to see her dead, to watch her burn the way she'd burned his family, but he'd settle for seeing her rot in jail. But not for what she'd done to him. He could understand where Stilinski's cynicism was coming from, and he definitely didn't want to have to go on a witness stand and explain all the things Kate had done to him. He didn't think he'd be able to make it through questioning, never mind what would happen if some defence lawyer happened to ask him if he'd enjoyed being with her. It would break him, he knew, to have to admit those things. He'd told Stiles, and he'd told Stiles' father enough, but the words almost choked him and now the urge to vomit was back.

"This isn't about the school anymore," Stilinski said. "Yes, we've got Argent saying some things about the companions that we could potentially use to show that the schools are a human rights violation, but any case like that would take years and massive legal costs, and probably end up in a tangle of bureaucracy as politicians tweak a few bits of wording in the laws and then pretend that everything's fixed, without changing anything at all. But if we go after Argent and the others for a crime, and tie it into Harris blackmailing Argent into taking students, then we bring the school system into daylight as a by-product and we actually stand a chance of putting these people behind bars. But we need solid evidence to give to the police. It's not like we're going to catch Argent casually admitting to his family's crimes on our bugs."

"We could go in there and ask them," Stiles said. "They don't know the office is bugged. If we ask them directly, they might say something incriminating."

"We can't pull that trick twice," Stilinski replied, "and if we try, they'll probably figure out about the bugs."

Derek let their words wash over him as they discussed options, throwing out ideas and then throwing them away. The fire was the pivotal piece in all this. They needed to prove Kate's connection to the fire, prove the McCall had figured it out, and then prove that McCall was blackmailing Gerard and Harris. Without proving that connection, all the rest of it was speculation.

"Where is Kate now?" Derek asked.

"I'm not sure," Stilinski answered. "Why?"

"We have to orchestrate a meeting with her, but make it look like a coincidence. If she sees me, sees how she stills affects me, she might want to gloat."

"Derek, no," Stiles said. He put his hand on Derek's arm, fingers warm against his skin, his touch grounding him in the moment even as his past threatened to overwhelm him again.

"We need to get her to admit something," Derek said. "If we can get her on tape admitting to the fire, then that's evidence enough to get someone to reopen that case and investigate why McCall ruled it an accident. She's the first domino."

"No," Stiles said again. "You just had a massive panic attack over seeing a photo of her. You can't go after her."

"She'd never suspect it. She'd see my reaction and never believe I'd have looked for her on purpose." Derek knew her well enough to know that she would enjoy seeing him weak and humiliated, broken by her, and she would take that opportunity to rub salt into the wound.

"It's risky," Stilinski said, "but if we orchestrated it in a safe place, you and I could be nearby to make sure nothing got out of hand and Derek's right that a reaction like that would be hard to fake. She would believe the meeting an accident. It would be a lot more effective than walking into Argent's office and asking about the fire."

"No. You can't ask Derek to put himself through that."

"He's not asking. I'm offering. This will work."

"Derek, no. You don't have to see her. It's not worth it."

"It is if we can use it to bring her down, to bring them all down. I can survive one meeting if it gives us what we need to bring her down."

"No." Stiles was never going to accept this. He wanted to protect Derek, wanted to keep him from harm, but there were limits to what protection he could offer while Kate was still out there. She was a ghost, haunting his thoughts. Maybe meeting her would be what he needed to finally be rid of her. Maybe the victory of getting her arrested, of manipulating her for a change, would help him deal with what she had done to him when he was a teenager.

Derek knew that seeing her would be awful, but he wasn't going to change his mind about all this. Kate was the key to all of this, and he was the key to getting to Kate.

Chapter Text

Stiles was still not happy. He couldn't believe his dad had agreed to Derek's plan, that he was willing to let Derek confront the woman who'd raped and traumatised him and then murdered his entire family. Stiles didn't care how much tactical sense the plan made, he knew how badly Kate affected Derek and he didn't want Derek to have to put himself through something so awful.

But Derek seemed set on this, and he was deep in discussions with Stiles' dad about how to track Kate and how to arrange all this so that it seemed like their meeting was accidental. Neither of them were listening to any of Stiles' perfectly reasonable objections. The plan, such as it was at the moment, was to work out where she was living and identify a few places where she was likely to be, and then Derek and Stiles would be there, hanging around and hoping that she would bump into them. Stiles was the one who would have to coerce the confession out of her, because none of them were confident that Derek would be in any condition to do anything except react to her presence. Both of them would be bugged so that Stiles' dad could listen in on the conversation and intervene if necessary.

Any meeting would have to be in a public place, because there was no other way to make it look accidental, and that ought to help keep Kate from doing anything to them physically. Mentally, on the other hand, Stiles was less happy about.

Stiles was almost hoping that they wouldn't be able to find out where Kate was living, but that hope was dashed when his dad identified her last known address as being in Vegas.

"There's quite a large supernatural underground in Vegas," Derek said, "so it makes sense for a hunter to be there."

"Werewolf packs in Vegas?" Stiles asked, curious despite his anxiety. "That seems surprising given the whole senses thing. I would have thought the casinos and clubs would be hell for you guys."

"Yeah," Derek answered, "but in some of the quieter places, the ability to hear your opponent's heartbeat is a big advantage in a poker game. And there are others. A few of the small time Vegas magicians use genuine magic, and some people use magic to manipulate the chance games. As long as they don't draw too much attention, the hunters tend to leave them alone. Incubuses and succubuses use it as a feeding ground. But there are also creatures who use the fact that a lot of the people there are strangers from elsewhere to feed and hunt. A guy disappears in Vegas and the police are more likely to think that he ran off with a stripper than got eaten by a wendigo."

"That's... kind of terrifying," Stiles said. He'd always wanted to go to Vegas, to see the spectacle, and now he knew that going there might mean getting eaten by something that went bump in the night.

"It works for us though," Derek said. "If she were living in some suburb somewhere, it would be harder to make it look natural for me to spontaneously visit. A trip to Vegas would be easy to explain."

"Arranging an accidental meeting would be difficult though," Stiles' dad said. "You could wander through the casinos for a month and never bump into her."

Stiles hoped but didn't quite believe that this would be the end of this plan. He was willing to jump on any excuse to drop this whole idea but Derek was frowning, thinking over options.

"There are bound to be a lot of kink clubs in Vegas," Derek said. "Chances are Kate's a regular at one of them."

Stiles' dad frowned. "You want to arrange this meeting at a bondage club?"

Finally he sounded as unhappy about the idea as Stiles was, though probably because of the part of the plan about Stiles going with Derek. Never mind that Stiles had been going to a kink club with Derek when they'd been reunited.

"You could ask around," Derek told Stiles' dad, "and find out which places in Vegas have the worst reputation for playing fast and loose with the rules of consent and we could start there. Me choosing those sort of places for a night out with my companion wouldn't raise an eyebrow, and those would be the only places where Kate could get away with behaving the way she does."

"So not only do you want to arrange a meeting with a mass murderer at a bondage club," Stiles' dad said, tone cold, "you want to do it at one that doesn't bother with the rules of safe, sane, and consensual?"

"I would keep Stiles safe," Derek said. "I wouldn't force him into anything and I'll make sure no one else does either."

"But who's going to keep you safe?" Stiles demanded. "If you have a PTSD freak out in the middle of a club full of people like Kate, who's going to protect you?"

"Stiles is right," his dad said.

"Great! Thank you. Finally! I'm glad you're seeing this my way." If it was two against one, Derek would have to drop this whole plan of confronting Kate.

"You'll need backup," Stiles' dad finished.

"No, we need to find a plan that doesn't involve Derek confronting his rapist."

"Stiles," Derek said, "I'm doing this."

"No, you're not."

Derek faced Stiles head on and put his hands on Stiles' shoulders, looking him directly in the eye. "Stiles, do you trust me?"

Stiles glared at him, because the only possible answer he could give to that was yes, but if he said yes then Stiles could see the rest of their conversation laid out like a script. Stiles would say he trusted Derek and then Derek would tell him to trust that he knew what he was doing, or that he could handle facing Kate, and there wouldn't be an argument Stiles could make against that because he would have just said that he trusted Derek. But it wasn't like he could say no, partly because Derek would probably know it was a lie, but mostly because he couldn't lie about something so critical to Derek.

"Damn it," Stiles said. "That's cheating."

He reached up a hand to Derek's chest, closing his fingers into a fist around Derek's shirt, holding him close.

"Is that a yes?" Derek asked.

"You know I trust you. But I don't want to see you get hurt. I don't want her near you."

The fingers on Stiles' shoulders squeezed gently.

"I don't want her near me either," Derek said, "but I want her to pay. I'm not going to spend my life running from her shadow. I want her to admit what she did and suffer for it. And taking down Kate means taking down the people who hurt you."

Those words struck something inside Stiles, sending a warmth through him. Derek was willing to face Kate and it wasn't just to stop her, but because he wanted to help Stiles. Derek was still trying to protect him, trying to help him. But it went both ways. Stiles wanted to protect Derek just as badly.

"I'd rather let Agent Asshole get away with it," Stiles said, "than watch Kate hurt you."

"Then we do what your father suggested and we bring in backup."

"I could call in a few of my contacts with the Beacon Hills sheriff department," Stiles' dad said, "but I'd rather not get them involved until we have solid evidence or it would put them in an awkward position."

"I know who we can bring in," Derek said. But he looked back at Stiles again and said, "It'll be OK. This will be rough for me but I want to do this."

Stiles supposed he could understand Derek's desire to destroy Kate's life, to see justice done. However traumatising seeing her again might be, perhaps beating Kate in this way would be the first step to moving past the trauma that still haunted him. And if there were other people there with Stiles, they could keep Kate from physically hurting Derek.

When Derek didn't move, just kept his eyes fixed on Stiles, it occurred to Stiles that Derek was waiting for an answer. He wasn't doing anything until Stiles agreed. So Stiles nodded, because he did trust Derek to make his own choices, and he did want to see Kate pay as much as he wanted to see McCall pay.

Once Stiles had nodded his agreement, Derek reached for his pocket and pulled out his phone. He pressed a few times, finding a contact number, and then started the call.

"Braeden, hi, it's Derek. Can you come to the club?" A pause, presumably while Braedan commented on it being barely past noon and not exactly peak time for clubbing. "Yes, I know what time it is. This is about a job." Another pause. "No... That's right... OK... I'll explain the details when you get here."

He hung up and informed them that she was on her way.

"You want Braeden as your backup?" Stiles asked.

"She's a former US Marshal and now works as a gun for hire," Derek explained. "She already knows about the supernatural world and me being a werewolf, so it shouldn't be too difficult to explain about Kate."

He didn't exactly sound thrilled about that last part, which was understandable, but Stiles was still reeling about this new information. He hadn't asked about her job when they'd met at Derek's house, partly because he'd been distracted by her near-nakedness and the knowledge of kinky play that had been taking place, but he would have thought something this important would have come up. Maybe not though, and it wasn't the sort of thing that would have come up casually in conversation.

"Who's Braeden?" Stiles' dad asked.

"Derek's part-time fuck buddy," Stiles answered. His dad looked shocked.

"This was before Stiles and I got together," Derek said quickly.

"I only met her once," Stiles said. "It was shortly after Derek bought me, back when I was still telling him that if he laid a hand on me it would be sexual assault. I wasn't going to agree to have sex, so he picked her up at the club and brought her back to his playroom."

"You'll probably recognise her when you see her," Derek said. "She's a regular here."

"And you trust her?" Stiles' dad asked. He sounded very hesitant, perhaps because Stiles had used the worst possible description to introduce the woman to his father.

"I trust her enough for this," Derek said, "and she knows I can pay her."

"You're not worried that someone else will pay her more?"

"If she takes a contract with me, she'll see it through. Her reputation depends on being seen as someone who fulfils her contracts."

"Unless she kills anyone she double-crosses before they can tell anyone," Stiles said. Derek and his dad both turned to stare at him. "I'm not saying Braeden would. I'm just saying that's a loophole in that sort of thinking. I'm sure Braeden wouldn't do anything of the sort. She seemed very nice when I met her."

"Braeden's into the scene," Derek said. "She'll probably want to bring Kate down just for the way she acts as a dom."

Stiles remembered how Derek had said that Kate had introduced him to the world of BDSM. From everything else he'd said, as well as his reaction in the bedroom when Stiles had stirred up memories of Kate, it had probably been a very poor introduction.

When Braeden arrived, they showed her into the little apartment. Her eyes widened with surprise when she was officially introduced to Stiles' dad, but she went with it, and let Derek explain what he wanted of her. He wanted someone to come with them to the clubs in Vegas, to act as lookout and to step in if things went wrong and it looked like either Derek or Stiles might get hurt. Stiles' father would be somewhere nearby, listening in on them through the bugs they would be wearing. Having his dad and Braeden watching his back made Stiles feel a little better about the possibility of getting out of this alive, but it still didn't make him feel any better about letting Derek face Kate.

They discussed plans and strategy for a while. Derek admitted some of his story to Braeden, that Kate was a hunter who had murdered his family, and that they were trying to trick her into a confession, but he left out some significant details. Braeden asked surprisingly few questions about the background, but was extremely thorough when they got to the subject of the club. She wanted to know which club, what the layout was, if there were any back exits, what security was like. The problem was, they didn't know any of that. So it was decided that she would go ahead of them. Braeden would scout out the clubs, helping narrow the search. While Stiles' dad asked questions about reputations, she would be there, visiting the clubs and getting a feel for the atmosphere. Between them, they would be able to narrow their target down to the most likely places. She would also take a photo of Kate, not to ask around but just in case she happened to see her.

This would give the rest of them time to prepare as well. Stiles knew that no amount of preparation was likely to make him happy about what was to come, but at least they weren't going in there without any.

Chapter Text

Derek was going through the playroom cupboards with Stiles, showing him everything that was available, while Stiles sat on the bed with his laptop beside him, looking up items to buy. When they went after Kate, Stiles would have to look the part of a submissive, but he was uncomfortable with walking around half-naked or in kinky outfits. Derek was also reluctant to put Stiles into any serious bondage. If things went wrong, he wanted Stiles to be able to run or fight. So they had to find something that Stiles could wear which would look the part, or close enough not to draw attention and make Kate suspicious, but which wasn't too far beyond the line of what Stiles felt comfortable with and which wouldn't put him at risk.

They'd decided on leather pants. Those wouldn't be out of place in a bondage club and if they accessorised with a lockable belt, it would help sell Stiles as a sub while still letting him be covered up. Derek didn’t say this out loud, but he actually liked the idea of Stiles wearing pants that couldn't easily be removed because it meant if something did go completely wrong and they got separated, it would provide a layer of protection against rape. He told himself that he was only thinking about Stiles' safety and it had nothing to do with having a possessive streak.

Heavy boots were the next decision, also in black leather, something which could deliver a solid kick to the groin if Stiles needed to. The top half of his body was more difficult. Stiles didn't want to be bare-chested, which would have been the obvious choice, but if he walked in wearing a t-shirt or something ordinary, it would look odd. There were a hundred options in rubber, and Derek actually considered that. He wasn't a fan of rubber himself, but it wasn't like they were really doing this to have fun.

"How about something like this?" Stiles suggested. He turned the laptop to show a google image result, a photo of a guy wearing a white shirt of a fabric so thin that it was possible to see his nipples through it. It gave the man in the photo a vulnerable look.

"You'd be OK with that?" Derek asked.

Stiles considered, and then shrugged, "It's better than wearing nothing."

"You could wear something underneath it," Derek suggested. He went to a drawer and dug around in the contents, pulling out a pair of nipple clamps with a fine chain between them. "If you wear something like these, the shape will be noticeable and people will assume that there's a lot more going on under the clothes."

He handed them over. Stiles looked at the clamps suspiciously, opening and closing the crocodile jaws a few times. He reached up under his t-shirt to try one of them on.

"Ow. Ow! No."

He removed his hand, still holding the clamp. It looked like that wasn't going to be part of their play any time soon. Derek expected Stiles to hand the clamps back right away, but he didn't. He stayed frowning at them, obviously considering something.

"Stiles," Derek said, "if you don't like them, you're not wearing them."

"But what if we made people think I'm wearing them?" he asked. Derek raised an eyebrow in silent question. "We could stick them to the inside of the shirt, over my nipples, so people see the shape of them, but they'd be attack to the shirt instead of me."

"It might work, as long as people don't look too closely. We'd have to make sure the shirt doesn't move around too much though." If the clamps ended up shifted away from Stiles' nipples it would be more obvious than not wearing them at all.

They continued, talking about options. There would need to be some form of bondage, but nothing that would cause Stiles issues if things went wrong. A collar with a leash was an obvious choice and Stiles agreed to it quickly. If Derek kept a hold of the leash it should stop anyone else trying to get too close to him. It would mark him as claimed, and if they were clearly there as a couple they should hopefully get some privacy from everyone else there. At the same time, a collar wouldn't restrict Stiles' movements and if they attached the leash with a simple clip then Stiles would be able to remove it himself if he wanted to. They went through Derek's collection of collars until Stiles found one he could be comfortable in, a thin band of soft leather with a D-ring at the front.

After some discussion, Stiles put on a pair of matching cuffs. Like the collar, they had D-rings, but Derek wouldn't attach those rings to anything. It would look like Stiles was ready to be locked into bondage, but his arms would be completely free.

"Do you want a mask or something to hide your face?" Derek asked. He expected Stiles to say yes, or to at least consider it. He might want to hide his face for the sake of his privacy or so that no one saw how nervous he was, but Stiles shook his head at once.

"I might need to stare Kate down," he said. "I need to be able to look her in the eye."

"I have masks with eye holes."

"It wouldn't be the same. If you have an anxiety attack and I need to step in, I'll have to step out of the sub persona and that will be a hell of a lot easier without a mask."

"OK."

"The more important question is what to do about listening devices. I can't wear a wire under my shirt if my shirt is basically see-through."

"Down the front of your pants," Derek said, without hesitation. Stiles gave him a shocked look that shifted into one of being unimpressed with what he clearly took for a joke. "I mean it. If people see strange shapes or wires sticking out of your groin, they'll assume I've locked something around your cock. Weird lumps in that area will not be seen as strange."

Once they'd decided on outfits, and acquired the shirt for Stiles, it was time to test them out. They weren't going to Vegas right away, so they would have a few days for Stiles to get used to appearing in his sub outfit while Braeden did her reconnaissance work. Of course, that meant having some nights in Stilinski's club. Derek had been there plenty of times, but it was different to go there with Stiles, especially while he was leading Stiles around on a leash. This was important that; Stiles needed to acclimatise to wearing clothes like this and to seeing bondage play going on all around him. When they were in Vegas, they needed to look like this was something they did all the time.

They played their roles, with Derek giving Stiles orders, making him kneel, even ordering him to dance at one point. They'd been playing the parts of dom and sub for about an hour at that point, but that order was what made Stiles fix Derek with a cold stare and say, "Not a chance."

"OK," Derek said. "I won’t tell you to dance, especially not when we're in Vegas, but I like seeing you dance."

"That's because you have no taste."

Derek gave a little tug on the leash, pulling Stiles in closer. He didn't use much strength and Stiles could easily have pulled away if he'd wanted to, but he let himself be brought into Derek's space.

"Excuse me," Derek said. "I think you'll find I have excellent taste."

He hooked a finger into the D-ring of the collar and pulled Stiles in for a kiss. It was only when Derek released Stiles that he realised that Stilinski was standing over by the bar, glaring at them. Stiles followed Derek's gaze and then rolled his eyes in so exaggerated a manner that it would easily be seen from the bar, before turning his attention back to Derek. He made it clear that Derek's actions had been acceptable to him by pushing Derek onto a nearby couch, kneeling astride him, and kissing him fiercely.

It was considerably more difficult for Derek to enjoy this kiss knowing that Stiles' father was probably still glaring at them. He was the one who pulled away.

"Your dad's still watching us."

"This is vital preparation work for our undercover mission."

But Stiles' hands sliding up the back of Derek's shirt had nothing to do with preparation or acclimatisation and they both knew it. Stiles' father knew it too. Derek had never been much of one for exhibitionism and making out with someone in front of that person's father was rapidly becoming a major turn off. He caught hold of Stiles' arms and extracted his hand from where it was reaching down the back of Derek's pants.

"No," Derek said. Stiles gave him a serious look and seemed to understand that Derek wasn't teasing anymore. This had stopped being a fun game to him. Stiles climbed off Derek's lap and sat down beside him, close enough that their legs were touching, but it was a gesture of comfort now, no longer sexual.

"Are you alright?" Stiles asked. "Do you need a safe word?" When Derek didn't answer at once, he continued, "Seriously, do you want one? I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"For not being like her," Derek answered.

"That's a pretty low bar, dude."

"I meant..." Derek struggled to find words to express what he meant. Stiles was sweet. He didn't push and he understood that it was perfectly OK for Derek to want to slow things down. He didn't try to argue or keep trying to get Derek interested after Derek had told him no. He didn't sulk or pout or try to guilt Derek into anything. He accepted what Derek had said and he didn't do anything to make him feel like that choice was strange or wrong. Some of that no doubt came from Stiles' experiences, from knowing what it was like to have his choices taken away. But some of it was just Stiles, wanting to do the right thing for Derek, wanting to make him happy.

"You care," Derek finished.

"Of course I care," Stiles said. His hand slipped into Derek's and gave a gentle squeeze.

Derek was still worried about facing Kate, still scared of what she might do, of what she might make him feel, but he didn't have any reason to be afraid of Stiles doing anything like that. He might push too far by mistake, but he'd been quick to correct that mistake and now he was trying to make up for it. Stiles would never hurt Derek the way Kate had because any hurt would be accidental and he would be the first person to try and fix any damage.

Derek had almost forgotten what it felt like to have someone care for him like that, to have someone who was so definitely on his side. The feeling was almost physical, like there had been an ache inside him for so long he'd stopped noticing, but now that ache was being eased away by Stiles' touch and there was only relief left.

Derek smiled and the words slipped out without his meaning to say them. "I love you."

Chapter Text

Stiles had a moment of blank staring, certain that he must have misheard, but saying, "What?" or, "Excuse me?" was probably the worst possible response to those three little words. Although staring blankly at Derek was probably not much better as far as responses went. With each instant that passed, Stiles could see Derek start to close off, the openness that Stiles had become used to seeing on Derek's face rapidly being replaced with a cold mask, a wall to shut out the world. As Derek ducked his head down, breaking off eye contact, something in Stiles screamed out against that movement. His silence was hurting Derek and in that moment, that was the last thing Stiles wanted to do. That was when Stiles knew.

He leaned forward and slammed his lips against Derek's.

It was a terrible kiss, all clashing teeth and bumped noses, but Stiles tried to pour everything he felt into it. He didn't want Derek to think he was pulling away. When the kiss ended, Stiles put a hand on the side of Derek's face and tilted his head up enough so that they could have eye contact again.

"I love you too," Stiles said.

"You don't have to say it just because you think I want to hear it," Derek said.

"Derek, when have you ever known me not to speak my mind?"

There was a crack in that cold mask and a small smile settled on Derek's lips.

Stiles pulled back. "My dad's probably still watching. I shouldn't have done that when we were just talking about you being uncomfortable."

It was reasonable for Derek not to want to get too physical in front of Stiles' dad. Practicing for their mission was one thing, but making out with a boyfriend's parents watching was not something that most people would be into. It was fine for Derek to be hesitant about it, and Stiles should have figured that out sooner. For all his lectures to people about what counted as consent, he'd been very bad about noticing when he was crossing a line.

"Let's go home," Stiles said. He said the words before realising that he was thinking of Derek's house as home, even after finding his dad.

"What about practicing to being in public in gear?" Derek asked.

"If the places we're going to are dodgy about their consent rules, it probably won't matter about me seeming nervous. Besides, you just said the L word. I want to make slow, tender love to you until the small hours of the morning and you're not going to want to do that in the club my dad owns."

Derek gave a little smile at that and had no problem following Stiles to the door. For all that Stiles was the one in a collar, he was towing Derek along like he was the one in charge. As they headed back to Derek's car, Stiles wondered about that. Would Derek be OK with mixing their play up a little bit? Would he be willing to let Stiles be the dom once in a while?

Stiles knew that they would have to be extremely careful, given how he'd already triggered Derek's memories of Kate by accident, but if they talked through everything first then maybe it would be careful. Once they'd had the confrontation with Kate, if they managed to work things out in their favour. Stiles wasn't going to bring the subject up now when there was so much still to come with their plan.

***

They went to the club a handful of times more until Stiles could walk into the room and not feel conscious of every detail of his outfit. It had helped to look around at what everyone else was, or in some case wasn't, wearing. He would be on the conservative side of things in his clothing choices, but not so much as to be overly obvious, and he was ready to go to Vegas and look for Kate. They'd tested that their wires would transmit and that they could hear the audio afterwards, though they didn't know what the level of background noise would be in the places in Vegas which might complicate things. It was enough for now though.

Then they got the call from Braeden. She'd checked out a few different places and discovered that someone matching Kate's description was a regular at a club simply called Chains. She'd gone and hung out there for a couple of hours and, sure enough, someone who looked like the photos of Kate had showed up. Braeden said, with a noticeable distaste in her tone, that this woman had participated in a scene with a young man, whipping him bloody, and then walked off without doing any real aftercare. That seemed to be what cinched it for Derek that this really was the same Kate.

When the phone call ended, Derek looked pale and scared again, the same way he'd been when Stiles had licked his stomach, and when he'd seen the photo of Kate. Once again, Stiles wanted to call this whole thing off. If just the thought of Kate made Derek react this badly, how could he face the real person?

But they'd had the argument already, so Stiles didn't retread old ground. He just got a tub of ice cream out of the freezer and cuddled with Derek in front of Pixar movies for the rest of the day.

They knew where Kate was going to be now. It was time to put the plan into action.

***

Stiles was having second, third, and hundredth thoughts as they prepared to go into the club. The plan was to go in early, so that Kate could discover them there rather than have it seem like they were following her into the place. They hoped that would make it seem more likely that she would believe this was a chance encounter. Stiles' dad was set up in a van outside, listening to the audio feeds and Braeden had already gone inside, half an arsenal hidden under her leather jacket. They would have backup if things went horribly wrong. Stiles repeated that thought over and over to himself as he hugged his dad in the back of the van.

At last, even he knew it was time to let go of his dad and follow Derek into the club. Derek kept his hand tightly around the leash attached to Stiles' collar, a mark of claiming and protection. The bouncer let them in easily enough, despite a little part of Stiles hoping that he would be asked for ID or kicked out for being underage. Clearly no one here gave a damn about that.

This club was larger than the one in Beacon Hills. The first space was more like a normal club, with a dance floor and two bars, though the cages and poles for dancers were a little more extreme than Stiles would expect in a normal club. One girl had her hands cuffed to the bars of a cage but she was still expected to dance and a group of men would jab at her with canes and riding crops if they felt she wasn't doing a good enough job.

Derek ordered them drinks at the nearest bar. He stuck to sodas for them, though Stiles noted that this place did serve alcohol. Derek had clearly noticed too, judging from his frown of disapproval.

Drinks in hand, they moved through into the next room. Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles noticed Braeden move from her seat near the other bar to follow them in.

Here there was no music playing. They could still here the thump of the base from the other room, but it was quiet enough to talk, or to hear the crack of a whip from where a man was stripped to his waist, having his chest beaten. The wires would work better in here, so it made sense to stay, but Stiles couldn't help feeling that the atmosphere was different from his dad's club, tenser somehow. Maybe he was just reading into things, letting his nervousness get the better of him.

A few eyes glanced their way, curious strangers taking in the sight of them. Maybe they didn't look enough like master and slave to fit in here. Derek gave a tug on the leash, guiding Stiles over to a small table with a single chair. Derek adjusted the chair so he could watch the whipping and sat down.

"Massage my shoulders," Derek said, tone firm. There was cruelty to it, but it was loud enough that the nearest of the strangers would hear it. Stiles set to work, standing behind Derek, rubbing at knots of tension while Derek toyed with the leash he still held and watched the whipping display taking place. For all his apparent ease, there was a lot of tension in Derek's shoulders.

Stiles thumbs started to ache by the time the guy being whipped was finally released from the cuffs that held him in place. Stiles couldn't even imagine how much pain that guy had to be in. The show over, Derek tugged on the leash to get Stiles to stop the massage and brought him round to sit astride Derek's lap, kissing him, running his hands up and down Stiles' back. It was a kiss that would have got Stiles hot in about three seconds flat on any other occasion, but it was hard to get into it now. Stiles couldn't keep his mind on Derek, even while their mouths were locked. He kept wondering how long they'd been here already, and how long they might have to stay. What if Kate didn't show up?

Just because it was a Saturday night and Kate was apparently a regular didn't meant she'd be here tonight. She might have gone on a hunt somewhere. She might be home with a cold. She might be dancing in the other room and decide not to come on through to the torture zone on this occasion. All of this might be for nothing.

After a minute, Derek pushed Stiles back and glanced up at a guy who'd wandered over to their table. Derek fixed him with a glare.

"Your pet's cute," the man said. Stiles felt Derek's hands tighten around him. "Would you be willing to let me borrow him?"

"He's mine," Derek said. To emphasise the point, Stiles leaned in and started nuzzling at Derek's neck, just below his ear.

"You're pretty hot when you're possessive of me," Stiles murmured, quietly enough that it would take werewolf hearing to hear that he'd said anything at all. He hoped his voice and attention would keep Derek from doing something stupid. Derek was so tense right now, so worked up about what they were trying to achieve, that he might lash out in anger and claw a man to shreds.

"I wouldn't have sex with him," the man said, clearly not realising the fine line he was walking down. "It's just that back rub he was giving you looked pretty awesome. Would you let me borrow him for that?"

"I don't like other people touching my things," Derek said, voice almost a growl. The man finally seemed to get the point because he made a quick apology and beat a hurried retreat.

Then a new voice joined in their conversation, bright and cheerful. "You never did learn to play well with others, did you, Derek?"

As Derek froze, Stiles raised his head and looked at the smiling face, unmistakable from the photos he'd seen. Kate Argent was smiling at them.

Chapter Text

Derek felt as though time had stopped and he was frozen in this moment, with Stiles on his lap, warm against his touch, and Kate Argent smiling at him like someone had just handed her a candy to chew up and swallow. The hands that held Stiles to him were slick with sweat and he felt his heart racing like it was trying to escape his chest, escape her presence.

Stiles' hands on his shoulders suddenly felt like her hands and Derek wanted to throw him off but he couldn't move.

It was Kate who broke the silence, walking forwards a few steps.

"I wouldn't have expected you in a place like this," she said. "At least not on this end of a leash."

She reached out to take hold of the leash between Stiles and Derek, but Stiles pulled the leash out of her way and moved, climbing off Derek's lap to stand between Kate and Derek, like he was protecting him from her. Derek wanted to laugh or cry, seeing Stiles acting like his hero, but he could barely manage to breathe.

"I take it you're Kate Argent," Stiles said, speaking a little louder than he needed to, and Derek remembered the wires that they were wearing. Stiles was trying to get this conversation on tape, and Derek ought to be doing the same. He should be stronger than this. They were going to take Kate down. Derek had to remember that. He had to get through this, to stop letting the waves of terror immobilise him like this.

"The very same," Kate Argent said. "Does Derek talk about me?"

She sounded like that idea amused her. She'd destroyed his entire life, taking his family away from him, used him and discarded him, and she was acting like it had all been a joke. Hate started to burn away the terror inside Derek.

"Does he talk about all the fun we used to have?" she asked.

Derek managed to turn his head. He managed to look her in the eye. He managed to ask, "Like when you burned my family alive?"

"I was thinking of all the hot sex we used to have," she said, still smiling, "but, yeah, that was fun too."

Derek wanted to leap at her and claw her throat out, but one thought stopped him: they'd won. She had just admitted to the murder of his family and they had it on tape. That was the linchpin of their whole investigation and she had just handed it over to them without even blinking. She thought she was so clever but she'd never even imagined that they might be setting her up. With that knowledge firmly in his mind, Derek could start to push through the fear. They could beat her. If he could just make himself move and actually do something.

Stiles didn't have the same problem of being frozen. He asked, "So you admit to being a murdering rapist?"

"Rapist?" Kate said it with a little laugh that sent a shudder down Derek's spine. "Is that what he told you? He enjoyed every minute we were together. I showed him his rightful place in the world, on all fours, with a collar around his neck, like the dog he is."

Derek wanted to vomit at the memory those words brought back. The mental image shattered the strength that had been starting to build.

"I could show you," Kate went on. "I can get him back on his knees, where he belongs."

"Don't you touch him."

"You're pretty demanding for a guy with a collar around your neck. Maybe someone should show you your place too."

That was the instant that unfroze Derek, where all his fear was washed away in a flood of protective anger. He wasn't going to let her do to Stiles what she'd done to him. He didn't even want her breathing the same air as Stiles. Derek was on his feet in a heartbeat, tugging Stiles back and putting his body firmly between them. He might be scared by the very memory of Kate, but that terror would never stop him from protecting someone in his pack, from protecting Stiles.

"You won't lay a finger on him," Derek snarled.

Kate laughed.

"Look at the two of you, both trying to protect each other from little old me."

"I won't let you hurt him," Derek said.

"If you don't want to see him get hurt, you shouldn't have brought him to a place like this with a collar around his neck."

"What Derek and I do or do not enjoy is entirely between us," Stiles said, "and involves long conversations about informed consent and limits, but you don't care about things like that, because you were never a dom to Derek, you were just his abuser."

"Oh sweetie," she said, "what sort of stories has he been telling you? It seems he's left out a few details."

"I don't need details to know what you did to him was awful. I've seen how he reacts when he's reminded of you. You raped him and manipulated him and convinced him that because he was into kinky stuff that meant he had to take every bit of abuse you threw his way, when he was fifteen years old and you were, what? Judging by how old you look now, you had to have been at least twenty five."

She'd been twenty two, and Stiles no doubt knew that from the preparation work they'd done, so this was both a way of making the story seem worse than it had been and an insult to her appearance. At some point, when Derek wasn't mid-point between throwing up and breaking out into claws and fangs, Derek would complement Stiles for his efficiency with that remark.

But Stiles wasn't done talking. He continued, "You raped him and used him and then you burned his family alive."

"You seem to know a lot of his secrets, don't you?" Kate said, which wasn't quite a confession but which was still something very close. "But if you knew all his secrets, you'd understand why I had to do it."

Stiles wrapped a hand around Derek's arm.

"I do know his secrets," he said. "And I know that out of the two of you, you're the monster."

They couldn't say anything else on that subject while being recorded, but they had enough. That had her admitting twice that what they'd said about her was true. This was a victory and Kate didn't even know she'd been beaten.

"Come on, Derek," Stiles said, tugging gently on his arm. Derek followed, glad to let Stiles take the lead on this. It made sense to leave now, before Kate said the word werewolf out loud and made the whole recording unusable. So Derek moved after Stiles, walking through the other room and letting the noise of the music wash over him. Stepping into the warm night air felt like waking up, the fresh scents clearing his lungs of the presence of Kate. He didn't care that most of what he was smelling was traffic fumes and alcohol, as long as he didn't have to smell her.

They rounded a corner away from the club and Derek dropped to his knees. He heard Stiles utter his name in a worried tone, but then Derek was vomiting, splashing the sidewalk and his pants, emptying his stomach of everything he'd eaten that day. He was shaking, trembling all over, even now that it was done. He'd left Kate behind back there, so why was he still feeling her? She hadn't even touched him this time, but he felt her hands on his skin, leaving her presence behind to stain him with the memory of her.

But the hand on him now, rubbing soothing circles on his back, was Stiles' hand. The voice offering comforting words was Stiles' voice. Derek focused on that, found Stiles' scent in the air and let that fill his senses, overriding Kate with the reassurance of someone who would never do to him what she'd done.

"I'm alright," Derek said. He wasn't, they both knew that, but it felt better to say it. And maybe he would be OK. He had Stiles and between them they had Kate's confession. He could see to it that she never hurt anyone again the way she'd hurt him, and he could make sure that the people who'd hurt Stiles wouldn't cause anyone else to suffer either.

Derek took the hand that Stiles held out to him to help him to his feet. He wobbled slightly, but was able to stay upright and walk with Stiles to the next block, where the van was waiting with Stilinski inside. He opened the door for them and they clambered quickly inside. Derek glanced back, but there was no sign of Kate following them. Stilinski offered Derek the seat and Derek sank into it gratefully. He was still shaking.

"Did you get it?" Stiles asked. "Please tell me all that was worth it."

Stilinski grinned at his son, "We got it. Every word."

Chapter Text

Stiles' dad had recorded the whole conversation with Kate, including her saying it was fun to burn Derek's family alive and that she'd had sex with Derek when he was fifteen and she was in her twenties. It would be enough to get her arrested, but it was also the key piece of the case against Gerard Argent, Harris, and Agent Asshole. Having the tape didn't mean they could do anything right away. Stiles' dad wasn't a sheriff anymore, so he couldn't arrest Kate himself, and he had to make sure the evidence they'd gathered was organised in such a way that it was clear what had happened.

Stiles' dad put together a collection of everything they'd gathered between them, along with a summary page that gave the basics of what they suspected: Kate murdered Derek's family using information gained from Harris, Agent McCall worked this out but declared the fire accidental for some reason, McCall took Stiles despite there being no justification for it and blackmailed Gerard Argent into keeping Stiles at the school, using what he knew about Kate's crimes. It sounded extremely complicated even in summary, and it would take the police a while to verify the evidence and do some digging of their own.

The police would have to put together enough evidence to make all of this hold up at trial, and that would involve going into McCall's case history to look for anything suspicious. Maybe they would uncover other cases where McCall had hidden criminals for the sake of blackmail. It didn't really matter to Stiles, as long as the investigation tied McCall into this mess with him.

Stiles' dad sent an email copy of all the evidence to contacts he still trusted in the Beacon Hills sheriff's department and, more importantly, to contacts who still trusted him. He promised to hand over hard copies of everything as well. They were taking no risks about the evidence going missing.

"They'll have to take the investigation from here," he said, and sat back in his chair.

"Could you ask your contacts to tell us when they're going to arrest everyone?" Stiles asked. "I want to do the Leverage thing."

Derek and Stiles' dad exchanged a questioning glance and a pair of small shrugs, before they turned to him to explain what he was talking about.

"Leverage. It's a TV show." He'd been catching up on Netflix since he'd got out of the school. "At the end of each episode, as the bad guys are being arrested, the Leverage gang all stand in this smug group watching them get taken away. I want to do that."

His dad gave a little laugh. "I can ask."

But it wasn't just a case of watching the people they hated get arrested. Once the investigation opened officially, and the FBI were brought in since it concerned one of their own, all three of them were expected to give statements of their part in all of this. Stiles got to rant about McCall, managing to only call him Agent Asshole twice during the whole proceeding, and explain about his vendetta. He got to talk about the school and the way everyone knew it was really about sex even if it wasn't on the public website. He was extremely clear about how Argent and Harris had planned to sell him off to be raped, but went on the record repeatedly about the fact that Derek had never raped him. He did explain about the later encounter with Harris when he was trying to track down his dad, just in case it got a sexual assault charge added to Harris' list of crimes.

He didn't talk much about Kate, just summing up what Derek had told him, leaving that side of the story for him and sticking to his own. Derek's statement had presumably been an ordeal. Stiles had wanted to sit in with him, but they'd been advised against it for the sake of ensuring independent statements, which meant that Derek had to be in there with just the FBI agents and the very expensive lawyer Derek had hired to work with them. The plan was for Derek to tell them everything except Kate's motive for the murders. He would no doubt have to explain why he'd kept quiet for so long, exposing the guilt he carried inside. Stiles paced the reception area of the sheriff's station while the interview took place, desperately wishing he could be at Derek's side, to help him through this, but unable to do anything but wait.

When Derek finally emerged, he was pale and tense, but he flashed a reassuring smile in Stiles' direction.

"Let's get out of here," Stiles said, and Derek gave a nod. Stiles' dad had finished with his own interview ages ago, but he'd remained with them and he was the one who drove them back to Derek's house in the woods. Stiles just hoped that Derek wouldn't be forced to go through that again. Giving his statement to the police was one thing, but if Kate was put on trial, Derek might be expected to tell his story again in front of a room full of people, not to mention face cross-examination. A part of Stiles hoped that Kate would be shot resisting arrest so none of this would come to trial.

"Where do you think we stand?" Stiles asked, once they were safely back at the house and Derek was curled up on the couch with a mug of soothing tea.

"There's definitely enough to arrest Kate," his dad answered. "The recording basically guarantees that. McCall, Harris and Argent - it depends on what the investigation turns up. They should be brought in for questioning and maybe one of them will spill the beans on the others."

Stiles hated that it was out of their hands now. He knew that this was the way it had to be: there needed to be an official investigation for their work to have consequences, and none of them were official. He wished he could go down to the sheriff's station, or wherever the FBI agents were working from, and loom over their shoulders to make sure that they were taking this seriously, but that wasn't an option. All they could do was wait and trust people to do their jobs. Stiles hoped that his dad's former position would add weight to their evidence, but he knew he wouldn't relax until the arrests came in.

Then, about a week after they handed their evidence over, they were called to a meeting at the sheriff's station. The fact that this was a polite invitation and that it had been referred to as a meeting rather than questioning or anything along those lines didn't ease Stiles' mind at all. They took their lawyer along, just in case they were going to get accused of forging false evidence or anything of that sort.

The agent who greeted them was all smiles, ushering them into a borrowed meeting room where another man was waiting. He introduced himself as Mr Greaves, a lawyer specialising in cases of child abuse with a history of working with adoption and the foster care system, along with facilities like the companion schools which looked after minors. Stiles prepared to hate this guy, if he was someone who worked regularly with the companion schools, but he kept his mouth shut as Agent Price invited them all to sit.

"It's highly unorthodox to talk about a proposed arrest prior to it happening," Price said, "but we have to consider the welfare of the children who are currently under the legal guardianship of the companion school and Gerard Argent. Normally, if something were to happen to the principal of one of these schools, the guardianship would transfer to the next person of authority within the school, but that's hardly appropriate when the whole school is under investigation. The decision the judge has reached is to bring in someone independent. Someone who has experience with companions and the system, but who is not affiliated with any companion school, someone who can be trusted to have the best interests of the children at heart."

"You could just shut the school down," Stiles said.

"Not until the investigation is completed," Greaves said. "Correct legal procedure has to be followed."

Stiles glared at him, "So you want to put someone in charge to allow the nightmare to continue even without Argent? So you can blame this all on one person while this system exists to abuse and exploit teenagers." Stiles drew in a breath to keep going, pouring his anger out across the table, but Greaves cut him off.

"We're talking about Mr Hale."

Stiles blinked, objections silenced.

"What?" asked Derek.

"Someone has to step in at the school," Price said, "to make sure that the children's care isn't neglected while the investigation continues. Given that the investigation will have to be into everyone involved in the school, a judge has ruled that the temporary guardian should be someone not involved in the school. Mr Hale seemed appropriate given that he has some experience with the system but is definitely not conspiring with Argent."

Stiles continued to gape at the lawyer, certain that he must be misunderstanding somehow. It seemed Derek was just as confused as he was.

"You are aware that I despise the school and everything it stands for?" Derek asked.

Greaves exchanged a smile with Agent Price. "We are aware of that, yes," he said. "As is the judge who adjudicated on this matter."

Stiles started to laugh. "You sneaky sons of bitches."

"Stiles!" his dad protested.

"Sorry," to his dad, and then to the others, "That was a complement. Legally you can't just shut the school down because it has to be properly investigated, but by putting Derek in charge, he can have the authority to just send the kids home or something."

Greaves leaned forward, cutting him off before Stiles could get too excited. "It's not as simple as just sending the kids home. Legally, the school acts as guardian. Transferring guardianship from one person to another is complicated under normal circumstances, and with the schools there's money involved. If Mr Hale were to simply let all the kids go, the stakeholders could potentially sue him for their lost income. You would have to work within the system for most of the cases, but there are a few exceptions."

Price took over, "During the course of our investigation to date, we have found a number of cases that we suspect may have similarities to your case. Several of the children in the school were taken from their family by Child Protective Services before being sent to the school. In three of those cases, we've found court records where the CPS decision was overruled, but the parents were unable to regain custody from the school because the records of where the kids were sent were sealed. We suspect something similar may have happened with the others on this list, so the judge has already given the approval to authorise transfer of guardianship back to the parents. All it requires is the signature of the current guardian - whoever is running the school."

It seemed the judge hated the schools as much as they did. Derek was being given the controls to sabotage the school from the inside. He might not be able to shut the school down completely, and they would no doubt face other obstacles before they could see it through, but if they could save even a handful of kids, it would be worth something. Derek obviously agreed because he nodded his acceptance of what was being offered to him.

Chapter Text

Derek was still hesitant about being given authority over the lives of nearly two hundred teenagers, but he liked the alternative of walking away even less. He wanted to help the kids who were in the same situation Stiles had been, and he was being given the tools to do so. The only right choice was to accept those tools and do as much as he could for as long as he was able. He was certain that Argent's lawyers or the stockholders of the school would object as soon as they learned what was going on and insist that Derek was ousted. He might have only a day or two to make chances to help these kids.

Besides, going to the school meant that Stiles would get to have his Leverage moment. Much as Derek would have liked to watch Kate get taken away by the feds in handcuffs, she was being arrested in Vegas. They would have to be satisfied with watching her father get what he deserved. Derek drove himself and Stiles there, while Stilinski rode with one of the local law enforcement officers who were assisting with the operation. Derek drove into the parking lot behind the other cars and stood beside Stiles, watching silently, as Argent was marched out of the building, along with Harris and a few other staff. Stiles gave a jaunty wave to make sure Argent noticed them. Argent's glare was cold, but Harris looked like he might spontaneously combust at the force of his rage.

"That felt good," Stiles said. "Did that feel good?"

Derek was forced to admit that it did. It felt even better to know that Kate Argent was getting the same treatment even now. Justice had taken a while to catch up with her, but catch up it had, and he knew he had Stiles to thank for that. He reached out and took Stiles' hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. He didn't want to make any showy gestures of emotion here, especially not given the circumstances and the fact that the other kids might be watching, but he wanted to give some physical sign of what this moment meant. Stiles squeezed his hand right back, still smiling.

"Let's go save the day," Stiles announced.

As dramatic as Stiles made it sound, the actual start of the day-saving was more mundane. He had to start by talking to the kids, by giving them some answers and reassurance. They would have seen teachers getting marched out of the school and that had to leave them with a lot of concerns about their futures, so Derek gave an instruction to have everyone at the school gather in the dance hall, which Stiles had informed him was the largest room available. The kids lined up in neat rows, while the teachers took places around the edge of the room, looking at least as shaken and nervous as the kids. Derek knew that most of them would be the subject of FBI questioning, but they were still here because the initial stage of the investigation hadn't found anything to implicate them in the main crimes Argent and the others had been involved in. Derek hoped every one of them would be arrested before too long, but for now he wasn't going to say anything about that because someone had to be here to make sure the kids were safe and fed.

Derek hated speeches, hated talking most of the time, but seeing those frightened faces staring at him, he knew he couldn't avoid this. He briefly toyed with sticking Stiles in front of the group and getting him to explain, but he suspected Stiles' ramblings wouldn't be reassuring. So Derek swept his eyes across the gathered companion students and spoke.

"My name is Derek Hale. As I'm sure you've noticed, the FBI have just arrested your headmaster and several key members of staff. While they are being investigated for a number of serious crimes, an investigation will take place into this school, to determine if you have been treated appropriately as students. I have been placed in charge temporarily while this investigation takes place." He paused, letting that sink in. "While I don't know what the official outcome of that investigation will be, I want you to know that I find this school abhorrent."

A girl in the front row flinched back a little at that word and Derek realised he must have been letting his anger show through too much. The kids probably thought he was angry at them, thought he hated them.

"You are people," Derek said, "human beings. That grants you certain rights, or at least it ought to. This school and others like it are built around stripping you of your rights and freedoms, including your rights to have a say over what happens to your own bodies. That's not right. I want to do something about that. I'm not sure how much I will be able to do in the time that I'm here, but I want you to know that I will be doing everything in my power to improve things for you. For some of you, that might include going home."

There was silence at that word, but Derek could see a shifting of movement as kids exchanged glances with neighbours, their expressions full of confusion, joy, and, in some cases, disbelief. No one whispered, no one murmured, but the faint stir across the room was enough to tell him that the words had been received with hope.

"I have a list of names," Derek continued. "If I read out your name, come to the office that used to be Headmaster Argent's and we will discuss your situation. For the rest of you, I give you a little taste of freedom back. Your classes for the rest of the day are cancelled. You can spend the time as you wish."

He pulled out the list that Greaves had given him and read out the fifteen names printed on it. Some of the kids responded with anxiety to their names being called, but others seemed happy, and were encouraged to leave their places in line by friends touching their arms or squeezing their hands or whispering wishes of luck. Derek decided that was enough for his speech and walked to Argent's office, getting there barely before the first kid, a girl who was practically buzzing with nerves and excitement.

Greaves was waiting in the office and he retrieved the girl's file. She was a Native American girl, whose parents had been among those who'd tried to regain custody after their daughter was taken. Derek wanted to just sign the paper that gave her back her freedom right away, but he had to do this properly. He had the girl sit down and asked her why she'd been taken from her family.

"Because CPS are racist fucks," the girl said.

Stiles, who'd remained at Derek's side throughout all of this, gave a snort of laughter at her declaration. Derek pretended to ignore it.

"So you think your parents were good parents?"

"They're the best."

"So you would be happy if I were to transfer guardianship back to your parents?"

"Yes." Then the girl added, "Please." Derek was ready to sign, feeling a warm glow of satisfaction about doing some good here, when the girl added, "If you need me to do something for you so you'll let me go, I can."

Her eyes darted down towards his crotch, spelling out her meaning clearly. Any joy Derek had been feeling withered and died. This school had already done far too much damage to this girl if she so quickly leapt to offering sexual favours as an option. Derek was left with a feeling of horror and revulsion at the idea, as well as fear that maybe the school hadn't been as strict in its rules against rape of students as they might have hoped.

"No!" Derek said, more sharply than he'd intended, making the girl flinch. He tried to calm his tone. "No. You don't have to do that. With any luck, no one will ever make you do that."

She didn't especially look like she believed him, but she nodded.

Derek grabbed the form and signed it, handing it to the lawyer to sign in the appropriate place too.

"Will you make the phone call?" he asked Greaves, who agreed and hurried the girl out of the office. She was grinning and excited again, but Derek couldn't help the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. These kids had spent months or years here, being told that the only way they would get to be free again was if they used their bodies to please strangers. That was damage that couldn't be erased by signing a bit of paper. That girl would get to go home but how long would it take her to recover from what this place had done to her?

"You ready for the next one on the list?" Stiles asked.

Derek took a breath to ready himself and agreed. Stiles showed a teenage boy in. When asked about his experience, he said that CPS had taken him because they hadn't had a working fridge in their home, which wasn't his parents' fault at all, because they'd kept asking the landlord to repair it. His parents had been too poor to avoid the legal team necessary to fight the claim successfully, and the kid had ended up here. He was as eager as the girl had been to go back home, so Derek signed the paperwork. By then, Greaves had returned and took the boy to phone his parents and tell them the good news.

And so it went for the first thirteen of the fifteen names on Derek's list. Then they got to number fourteen, a boy named Isaac who was a couple of months shy of his eighteenth birthday, another kid who'd been taken from his family by CPS before ending up here. Derek asked him why he'd been taken from his family, expecting another tale of unfairness and corruption, already preparing himself to sign the paperwork.

But Isaac answered, "Because a teacher at school reported all the bruises and CPS found the freezer my dad locked me in when he wanted to punish me."

Derek hesitated. He hadn't expected that answer and he wasn't sure how to respond to it now. This whole plan was based on sending the kids back to their families, but he didn't want to send someone back to a parent who'd lock them in a freezer. But Isaac was nearly eighteen. If he was sent back to his father then theoretically he would be able to leave in a couple of months anyway and surely that was better than staying here and being sold as a companion? Derek decided he wasn't the person qualified to say which option was best for someone else. He looked Isaac in the eye.

"I have the legal authority to send you back to your father," he said, "to make him your legal guardian again and cut your ties to the school so you don't have to be a companion. Would you want that?"

The fact that Isaac didn't answer right away said a great deal about his situation. He sat there, obviously thinking hard about what Derek had said.

"Are those my only options?" Isaac asked. "Go back to my dad or become a companion? Can't I become my own guardian? I'm nearly eighteen. Aren't there rules about people who are nearly eighteen being considered old enough not to need their parents anymore?"

Derek didn't know about other options, but the possibility of Isaac looking after himself seemed sensible enough to him. If he waited a couple of months, he would probably be allowed to release Isaac to himself, but he didn't want to wait, not when he didn't know how long he would have before someone snatched control of the school away from him. Maybe he could do something to help Isaac become emancipated, but he knew for sure that he didn't have the paperwork for it in the pile Greaves had prepared.

"Hold that thought," Derek said. He went to find Greaves in the next room. The man was on speakerphone to a woman who was rendered nearly incomprehensible by crying as she took the details of the school's address to come pick up her child. The child in question was crying just as dramatically.

"I've got a legal question," Derek said. Greaves checked that the woman had the address and then left her and the kid to continue the phone call while he returned to the office with Derek. Derek summed up Isaac's question about emancipation.

"It would need to get approved by a judge," Greaves said. "We couldn't do it right now and there would probably need to be a hearing to go over the justifications for emancipation. All that could take until Isaac's birthday anyway."

Which left them back with the option of waiting until Isaac's birthday and risking Argent's lawyers or some faction of rich stakeholders wresting control of the school away from him before Isaac could get his freedom. Derek felt like he was trying to operate with his hands tied and wondered if he could just blow the whole building to pieces so that they would have an excuse to send the kids anywhere else.

"It's a shame Derek can't just buy Isaac like he did me," Stiles commented. He'd been listening to the various conversations with surprising quietness and this statement cut across the tense silence of the room.

Derek turned to Greaves, "Can I buy his contract?"

Isaac had grown tense at the suggestion and Stiles hurried to reassure him, "Don't worry. He wouldn't do anything. It would just be a technicality, to get the paperwork sorted so that the school can't control you. He wouldn't hurt you or make you do anything you don't want. Seriously, consent's like his biggest kink."

"Consent is never a kink," Derek said. "It's a necessity."

Stiles looked at Isaac and make a 'you see' gesture in Derek's direction.

Greaves had pulled his tablet out and was tapping away at the screen, looking something up. He smiled slightly as he said, "I think that might be possible. There was a case of a companion who was hotly demanded and one buyer managed to get ahead of the others by approaching the school to make the purchase a few weeks before she turned eighteen. He signed a contract saying that he would continue her training until her birthday and that there would be no sexual activities until that date, but he was able to complete the transaction while she was still seventeen. As the current guardian at the school, Derek would be authorised to make sales of contracts, but you wouldn't be able to sell Isaac to yourself."

"What about my dad?" Stiles asked. "I mean, he doesn't have the money to buy a companion but Derek could give him enough and then my dad could buy Isaac's contract."

Selling Isaac, or any other companion here, to Stiles' father certainly seemed like a promising option but even Derek didn't have the money to buy every companion in the school. At least, not if they cost as much as Stiles had. Derek turned to Greaves again, "Who sets the sale price?"

Greaves smiled again. "That would be you."

"So I could Isaac to Stiles' dad for a dollar and then when he turns eighteen, Isaac pays the dollar back and goes free?"

"If Argent manages to defeat the criminal charges against him, he might try to sue you for loss of income, and stockholders in the school might try the same, but you have the authority."

"Let's do it," Derek said. He wouldn't worry about potential law suits later. He turned to Isaac. "If you want to, that is. This should be your choice."

Isaac gave his agreement without even waiting to meet with Stilinski, which probably said a lot about what he thought of either of the other two options. Derek suspected that a similar move might be the key to helping every kid in this school.

Chapter Text

Stiles thought his eardrums might rupture from the number of people who'd screamed abuse at him down the phone when he tried to explain that he was trying to get their kids back to them. The first couple of times he'd got as far as saying he was calling from the companion school and that he could arrange to sell their kids to them. The enraged parents on the other end of the phone had started hurling insults at him for being so callous and calling him perverted and saying that they didn't have that kind of money. Stiles had to sit through several minutes of screaming until they wore out their voices and he could finally explain that this was a legal loophole they were exploiting and that they only needed to pay a dollar.

The third time, he decided to lead with that and said that if they had a dollar, he could get their kids back home. The man who'd answered the phone thought he was a con artist trying to scam grieving parents and that led to just as much angry yelling.

By the sixth call, Stiles started with, "I'm just trying to help people get their kids back. Please don't yell at me."

He was rewarded with a confused, "What?"

That time, he actually managed to get through his spiel and explain that they had temporary control of a companion school and were trying to save all the kids. They could transfer the contracts of the kids back to their parents for a dollar and everyone won. Except for the assholes making money of legalised slavery and the people who wanted sex slaves, but Stiles was happy for them to lose.

The progress was slow, not just because of the yelling, but because Derek still wanted to talk to each of the kids and find out what they wanted. A lot of the kids were in the school because their legal guardians had chosen to sell them so it was likely that Isaac wasn't the only one who came from an abusive home.

Stiles got off the phone with the next guardian on his list, the older brother of one of the boys, and slipped back into the office that Derek was currently occupying. Derek had just started his conversation with Erica, a girl Stiles vaguely remembered from his time here as being always quiet and in the shadows and having frequent trips to the nurse.

"But why?" Derek was asking, looking at Erica with obvious confusion. Erica looked like she wanted to shrink into her chair.

"You asked me a question, I gave you my answer," she said.

"If you don't want to go back to your parents', we can find somewhere else. If you don't want to have Mr Stilinski buy your contract, maybe there's a family friend or a neighbour or someone you used to know who you'd prefer?"

"I'll stick to the school," Erica said.

Derek wasn't the only one who found this a very strange choice. Stiles knew that theoretically there could be people who chose to be a companion but he hadn't expected to actually face one. Stiles couldn't help asking, "If you don't like the idea of a stranger buying your contract so you can go free, why would you want a stranger to buy your contract to keep you as a sex slave?"

Erica glared at him but clearly decided that she wasn't going to get out of this without giving them an actual answer.

"The school pays for my medication," she said.

"Oh," Stiles said. He hadn't thought about all those trips she used to take to the nurse.

"Look, I get what you're trying to do here and I'm sure a lot of other people appreciate it, but my parents sold me to the school because the cost of medication was bankrupting them and as long as I'm under contract as a companion, my medical bills are someone else's problem and it's in their interest to give me the good drugs so I can stay being a pretty, effective sex pet. So if it's a choice between seizures and being a companion, I'll be a companion."

Derek looked at Stiles, then back at Erica. Stiles could practically see the thoughts running through Derek's mind. Yes, Erica was choosing to remain a companion but it wasn't like she was being given much choice. As far as she saw it, this was her only way to live a life that wasn't hampered by her medical condition. But Stiles remembered all those questions he'd asked Derek about werewolves and why people might choose to accept the bite. Illness had been one reason, he'd explained. Werewolf healing could deal with a lot of different things. Were seizures among them?

Derek had been in the same room as Erica for less than five minutes and Stiles could already see how this was going to end up. But there was a question in Derek's eyes as he looked at Stiles. Was he asking if this was a good idea? Was he asking what Stiles thought as someone who'd known Erica longer? Or was he asking for permission? After all, Derek might be the alpha but Stiles was part of his pack now. That probably gave him some say in who got invited into the pack.

Stiles gave a shrug.

"Hey, Erica," he said, "what do you think of werewolves?"

"What?" She looked thoroughly confused. "Is this really the time for one of your weird tangents?"

"I was just wondering what you thought of them, you know, in general. Like, if you could turn into a wolf and have magical healing powers, would you want that?"

Erica looked at him like he was an idiot. "Of course I'd wanted to be magically healed from my seizures, and the prospect of ripping out your jugular with my teeth doesn't seem like such a bad idea right now either if it stops you asking stupid questions about impossible scenarios."

"It's not so impossible," Derek said. Erica turned to look at him and flinched back in shock. Derek looked at her with glowing, red eyes and when he opened his mouth, he revealed sharp fangs.

"Yes," Erica said, barely needing a second to regain her composure.

Derek and Stiles shared a surprised glance at how quickly she'd agreed. She ought to have had questions. Stiles thought of all the things he'd asked when he'd first learned that werewolves were real. Years of exposure to horror film tropes should have given her some concerns. But she simply agreed without question.

"Just, yes?" Derek asked.

"If it can cure my seizures, yes. Do it. I'll be a werewolf."

"There's also a possibility that the bite might kill you."

Erica barely paused. She shrugged. "If it's less than a fifty-fifty shot, I'll take it."

Stiles wasn't sure how to deal with the utter certainty in her tone. Even Stiles had doubts about the risks of the bite and he'd been living with Derek for weeks. He knew that Derek wasn't a monster and that being a werewolf was nothing to be afraid of. Erica had none of that reassurance and yet she was now determined to take the chance. Stiles suspected that if Derek changed his mind, Erica would throw herself on his teeth to force the issue.

"Not here," Derek said, facing shifting back to normal. "When someone's first bitten, it can take a while to control to shift, to keep from transforming in anger. We would want to be somewhere you can be secured, away from anyone who could get hurt."

Erica nodded. "I guess this means I'm agreeing to your freedom plan then."

***

In the end, most of the kids at the school were going home. Those that couldn't go back to their parents, or didn't want to, were mostly going to other relatives, family friends, or former neighbours. Even the kids as young as twelve were given a say in where they ended up. Apart from Erica, every single one of them wanted out of the system and took them up on the offer without argument, which would be a problem to anyone who tried to claim that people were companions because they chose this life. Of all the kids in the school, there were three who were being officially purchased by Stiles' father and who would be coming home with Derek: Erica, Isaac, and a guy named Boyd who like Isaac was close to being old enough to officially look after himself.

Derek gave Stilinski his house keys and a wad of cash to buy clothes and supplies for the three teenagers, and then he set about the task of closing down the school. It wouldn't be officially closed since he didn't have the authority to do that, but there were no kids here anymore, so he cancelled food orders and services, put the staff on leave until further notice, and shut up the building, turning out lights and locking doors. Stiles stayed with him, walking by his side through the place that had been such a torment for him, but now he was smiling, the scent of his happiness growing with each task they completed.

It was just one school. There were others out there, other kids caught up in this system, but they'd made a difference here to these kids and Derek was glad to have been a part of that. His guilt about buying Stiles diminished as he watched Stiles lock the front door of the dark and silent building. He deserved to have that honour and he clicked the lock closed before turning around to Derek, a satisfied smile on his face.

"We did it," Stiles said.

Derek wasn't going to mention the existence of the other schools, or the fact that the trials were still ahead of them. He wasn't going to spoil this moment. Kate was in prison, as were Agent McCall, Argent, Harris, and others Derek hadn't even known to blame. No matter what happened with the trials, their lives wouldn't be the same again. The publicity of all of this would bring the schools into the public light and hopefully cause enough bad publicity to make life difficult for those who currently used companions or were involved in their training and sale.

And now Derek was going home with a member of his pack, to a house that was full of people again, people to protect and care for the way an alpha should. Those instincts that had driven him to make his stupid decision with Stiles were calmed now. He had Erica to coach through the change, to teach what it meant to be a werewolf and a part of a pack. Then there were the other two in the house. It would be difficult to hide from Isaac and Boyd what was going on with Erica but perhaps that wasn't a bad thing. Perhaps they would be interested in the bite too, in having somewhere safe to belong.

Walking back to his car, with Stiles at his side, Derek felt like he really was an alpha.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure about this?” Stiles asked.

Derek looked nervous, but he nodded. “I’m sure.”

“Any time you want to stop, just say the word.” Stiles was pretty sure that Derek could break out of any restraint they might care to use, but it was important to make that clear anyway. If Derek became uncomfortable during this, he didn't want him carrying on out of a desire to make Stiles happy.

“I’m done letting her control me,” was Derek’s answer.

Stiles wasn’t sure how much of this scene was about Derek proving to himself that he was capable of submitting. That made him even more nervous, because if something went wrong and Derek did have Kate flashbacks, Derek was likely to retreat away from this more than ever, or blame himself for not being strong enough. Derek would feel like Kate was still winning. Stiles wondered if they ought to postpone, to wait until more time had passed, but would Derek see that as letting Kate win by preventing him from trying things he wanted to try?

This situation was a mess and Stiles was honestly not sure what approach would be better for Derek’s mental health. In the end, he decided that all he could do was trust Derek’s judgement. Derek thought that he was up to this, that he was ready for switching the roles of their bedroom play. Stiles would do everything in his power to keep Kate’s memories from intruding, but this was Derek’s decision.

Stiles stepped up to Derek in that playroom and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. When he pulled away, he brought his hand up to Derek’s face, cupping his cheek and rubbing a thumb over his lips, brushing the skin below Derek’s nose. Stiles wanted to leave a trace of his scent there, so that Derek would continue to smell him through the scene, to focus on him and only him.

“On the bed,” Stiles ordered. While Derek obeyed, Stiles fetched the leather cuffs with their short chains, slowly moving around the bed to attach each cuff to a post, and then moving back around again in the other direction, taking one limb at a time and securing it until Derek lay spread-eagled in the middle of the bed.

“You’re all mine now,” Stiles said, the words as much about grounding Derek as they were about the scene, possessiveness and protectiveness all at once.

“No one else can touch you,” Stiles continued, “no one else can claim you. You belong to me. Say it.”

“I belong to you,” Derek answered. There was a strange hunger in his voice, an intensity that made Stiles smile.

“Say my name. Who do you belong to?”

“Stiles. I belong to you, Stiles.”

“Remember that.”

Stiles stayed clear of Derek’s stomach after what had happened last time and focused on his groin and thighs. He started with his hands, stroking and touching, teasing Derek into hardness, then he brought his mouth into play, licking, kissing, gently sucking. When he wrapped his lips around the very tip of Derek's cock, Derek moaned, and when Stiles pulled away, Derek arched his hips up, trying to chase him.

"Uh-uh," Stiles said, "not yet. I want to hear you beg."

"Please, Stiles," Derek said.

"I don't think you're needy enough yet."

Stiles continued to devote his attention to Derek's body, touching and teasing, only to pull back when it seemed Derek was about to cum. Soon, Derek was writhing and groaning on the bed, his hands balled into fists around the chains. Stiles wasn't sure how long he'd been at this, but he could see the hungry look in Derek's eyes growing with each passing minute as he taunting Derek with the promise of pleasure.

"Please," Derek said again. "Please, Stiles. Let me cum."

Stiles trailed a single finger gently up Derek's cock from base to tip, running it in a circle around the dripping head.

"Hmm," Stiles said, "I'm not sure. Do you really need it yet?"

"I need it. Please, Stiles. I need you."

"Alright then. You can cum." He wrapped his hand around Derek's cock, pumping a few times quickly until Derek arched back on the bed and splattered his chest with cum. He collapsed back down onto the bed and lay there, breathing hard, while Stiles made quick work of the cuffs. He was still hard himself, but he wasn't concerned about that now. This scene hadn't been about him.

He lay down beside Derek, touching his arm gently, and asked, "Are you alright? Was that OK?"

"You were great," Derek said. "That was really good for your first time as a dom."

Stiles knew that as scenes went it was probably really mild to some of the stuff Derek had been involved in, but he was happy to start of slowly until they both figured out their boundaries. Stiles looked at Derek's face, searching his features to any sign that he was upset, but he was smiling softly. When his expression did shift, it was to smile a little more, ducking his head down in that way he did as though he was trying to hide from the world the fact that he was happy.

"What is it?" Stiles asked.

"The betas are celebrating the fact that we've finished," Derek answered.

"We've got to get better sound proofing in this room."

"Boyd agrees." Derek was still smiling as he reported that.

Stiles was still adjusting to the fact that there were three extra people in this house now, and he definitely wasn't used to the fact that they had werewolf hearing, but there could be no doubt that Derek was happier now. Stiles wasn't sure whether it was getting justice against Kate that was the reason for that, or the fact that Derek now had a pack to care for an protect, but there could be no doubt that the lonely misery that had led Derek to purchase another person was banished now. Derek was happy, and Stiles was glad to have been a part of making that happen.

Stiles curled up at Derek's side and smiled to himself as he drifted off to sleep.