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A Royal Christmas Engagement

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The thing is, the whole misunderstanding is arguably Stiles’s fault. Showing up to the Hale’s winter castle—a mammoth, stone-faced manor home, really—unannounced, almost two weeks early, well before the holiday festivities are set to start, hopping out of the back of a common yellow taxi in an old hoodie and jeans.

Stiles’s reasoning is twofold.

One, they were officially given a ridiculously small amount of time to greet before they were expected to announce their engagement.

And two, Stiles hasn’t seen Derek since he was eight, which directly relates to reason number one, and the fact that their families want them to marry as soon as possible.

Stiles’s last impression of Prince Derek fifteen years ago was that he was enamored of his soon-to-be wife, and that he very obviously thought Stiles, twelve years younger than him, was super annoying. Granted, Stiles was definitely a super annoying kid. He can be a super annoying adult now, too, so these two weeks before they can’t take it back are crucial, he feels, and he’s not sure why he’s the only one who currently thinks so.

So, anyway, this is probably his fault: staring down a dark-haired, brooding pre-teen with an unfortunate overbite and Disney prince hair. Stiles is pretty sure he’ll grow into the teeth—his dad certainly did—but no filthy rich, aristocratic eleven-year-old should look that upset about a visitor in his spectacularly huge foyer, even if he happens to be wearing mud-splashed sneakers and the ugly mismatched green scarf his stepmom made him for Christmas the year before.

Stiles has a manor house and a Tempest title on the edge of Beacon, the very south-most border of Triskelion. He’s a Warden Lord, and his dad is a Your Grace, and his pedigree is mixed, but has recently been deemed good enough for Crown Prince Derek, and apparently for the queen, and while Stiles maybe hasn’t been preparing his whole life to be married off for political purposes, he’s willing to see how this plays out.

There’s also the very tiny part of Stiles that still kind of has a crush on Derek. Eight-year-old Stiles was very impressionable. He’s hoping two weeks will give him more of a handle on the situation, and his dad’s told him very firmly that he has the right to say no… up until the actual engagement.

So all this makes perfect sense, honestly, except for the fact that Stiles didn’t call ahead, and was relying on the fact that Derek actually remembered him, or at least looked at a current picture or gossip blog, but no. No, apparently that was too much to ask for.

The blank look Stiles gets when he tells the butler, “Hey, I’m Stiles,” isn’t promising. He probably should have used his title, but the guy scurries off before he can correct himself.

“Huh.”

Stiles blinks over at the small prince. “Milo, right?” he says.

Milo sniffs and says, “You’re an omega,” and Stiles makes a face and says, “You know that’s rude, right? Pretty sure you have etiquette classes, dude.”

“My last nanny was a beta.”

“That’s…cool?” It’s sort of a weird conversation to have, but at least Milo is talking to him.

“Dad always asks for betas.” He has his arms crossed over his chest, scowling, like this is personally Stiles’s problem.

“Okay,” Stiles says slowly, nodding. “I’m—” he cuts off when he sees the butler appear again through a door on the right, and the guy nods at him and says, “This way, sir. I’ll show you to your room.”

Stiles thinks this is perfectly fine until they wind up a back staircase, walk through some kind of game room, and end up in a serviceable bedroom with a double bed and connecting bath, overlooking the front drive. It’s not that it’s a bad room. It’s clean and neat and kind of plain-looking, which is actually kind of refreshing. It’s that Stiles was pretty sure the fiancé to the heir to the throne warrants at least a suite, maybe even a full wing in this monstrosity of a manor house.

He’s gearing up to actually say something to that effect when Crown Prince Derek himself swings into the doorway, harried and gloriously hot, and Stiles’s mouth sticks shut. Wow.

Derek says, with a passing glance over Stiles’s face, up and down his body, “You’re early.”

“Well, kind of,” Stiles says. His smile wavers when Derek continues to glare at him. “Sorry, I probably should have, uh, let you know. Better early than late, though, right?”

Derek’s expression is stoic, and there’s a tick in his scruff-covered jaw. Stiles never had a beard kink before, and all the current publicity stills of the crown prince have him clean shaven, but Stiles would definitely like to try having that rubbed all over his body. There’s distinguished threads of silver shot through it, it’s completely unfair.

“Milo has another week of school left before the winter break. You’ll be paid only for those hours he’s home.”

“Kinda stingy, don’t you think?” Stiles says before he can stop himself, but he’s morbidly fascinated with the way Derek’s eyebrows grow thunderous.

Derek takes a deep breath, opens his mouth, and then stops. He blinks, cocks his head. He says, “You’re an omega,” and Stiles throws his hands up, because obviously no one in this entire castle has learned manners.

“Shocking, I know,” Stiles says.

Stiles was raised to believe that omegas were rare and to be treasured, but he’s not delicate, and there’s absolutely no need for Derek to take three hasty steps out of the bedroom, until he’s hidden by the shadows in the hallway.

“I apologize,” Derek says—for what, Stiles isn’t exactly sure—“Please make sure Milo is ready for dinner in two hours.”

Stiles snorts, because Milo is eleven and can probably feed and dress himself, geez, but he nods okay anyway, and it isn’t until Derek fades off down the hallway that Stiles belatedly realizes exactly what happened here, and how he’s somehow been mistaken for the nanny.

Crap.

*

The first night, Stiles is exhausted from traveling, prefers the warmth of the kitchen for dinner anyway, and doesn’t bother to put up a fuss about his room, or his supposed position. The sparse amount of guards and staff in the winter castle mainly leave him be, probably because he’s the lone omega in the household, and by the time he crawls into bed, Stiles realizes what a unique opportunity he has here.

Derek doesn’t know he’s his soon-to-be fiancé.

Somehow.

Does he live under a rock? Wasn’t he curious when the decision was reached by their families? Does he really not care that much about who he’s possibly going to marry? It’s ridiculous how much the thought of that hurts.

He tugs out his phone and winces at the dozen of messages from Scott—Are you alive? Please tell me you’re alive, I covered for you with Dad, You owe me, Call Lydia, You better not be dead—and texts back, I’m alive.

Immediately, he gets: Thank Christ, asshole.

Next, Stiles calls Lydia. He says, “You can’t tell Dad where I really am.”

“I could,” Lydia says. “The question is do I want to?”

“For the good of the country, you do not,” Stiles says.

Lydia sighs. “You realize your dad is never going to buy that you want to spend two weeks with me. Shopping.”

“No,” Stiles says. “But I’m pretty sure he would never call you a liar, either. Win-win! Also,” he wrinkles his nose up at the ceiling, “do you have any idea how to be a nanny?”

There’s a long, telling pause. “What did you do?”

“It’s not my fault that Derek Hale is the most unobservant person ever,” Stiles says.

“You showed up with your stupid Captain America backpack, didn’t you? Were you wearing jeans? You have calling cards for a reason, Stiles, even if you didn’t want to warn him you were coming.”

“I might have left all my luggage with Boyd so I could arrive without an entourage.” Stiles isn’t exactly upset that he did that, but he kind of wishes he had his pillow. The ones on this bed are way too fluffy. He feels like he’s going to suffocate in the middle of the night.

Lydia is too civilized to groan out loud, but Stiles knows she really wants to. “I refuse to let this happen. I’ll be there in two days.”

“Lydia, no.” Stiles sighs heavily. He says, “Please. I can handle this.”

Lydia softens her tone on, “Stiles, you know you can’t be there alone.”

“You think the future king is going to molest me?” Stiles says, even though he knows it’s not the point. He shoves a hand through his hair, tugs on the ends. “Just. Give me more than two days.”

“Three,” Lydia says instantly.

“A week,” Stiles counters.

“Four days, including today,” she says.

Not including today.”

“Fine,” she says, “but you have to promise me that you’ll never be alone with him.”

Stiles throws up a hand. “I’m supposed to marry him!”

“Who’re you supposed to marry?”

Stiles jerks upright, pressing the phone into his throat. “Don’t you know how to knock?”

“Stiles?” Lydia says, and Stiles says, “I’ll be fine. I’ll call you tomorrow,” and hangs up.

“You,” he points at Milo, “do not go wandering through guest’s rooms unannounced.”

“You’re not a guest,” he says, mouth belligerent.

God, save him from young, entitled alphas.

“Do I live here? Is this my home? No? Then I’m a guest. First rule of royal households,” Stiles can hear his father laughing at him from three hundred miles away, “always knock when entering private rooms. And for god’s sake, don’t sniff out dynamics in public.”

“I’m going to be king. I can go wherever I want in my own home,” Milo says, arms crossed.

He’s a little shit, Stiles thinks, and Stiles is most likely going to end up being his stepdad. He’s getting a headache right between his eyes.

“Let’s just skip over the part where you’re eleven, and your grandmother is the queen,” Stiles says. “Do you think your father, the crown prince, would approve of you barging into any young omega’s rooms?” He hates to pull the o-card, but it’s late, he’s tired, and really Stiles just wants to find out what Milo needs so he can go to bed.

Milo blanches. His whole body sags, and for the first time all night he actually looks like a normal kid. “Are you going to tell him?”

“I’m not going to tell him.” Stiles doesn’t even bother to hold it over his head. One, Milo would just resent him, and two, Stiles doubts it would even work. “Now, are you going to tell me what you wanted? It’s been a long day, dude, and I’m pretty sure it’s past your bedtime already.”

The digital clock on his bedside table is telling him it’s only ten pm, but tomorrow’s Monday; it’s going to be an early morning for all of them.

Milo makes a face. “Nothing.”

“Oh, so you just peeking in on me for the fu—”

“Read me a story!” Milo interrupts him, face red.

Stiles tips his chin up. “Was that a question?”

Milo looks like he’s biting lemons, but he says, “Please?”

“It depends,” Stiles says. “Can we take turns?”

*

Milo’s room is across the hall from Stiles’s, of course, and it’s only slightly bigger, and completely plastered with space posters. They read a dense book about Mars; it’s dry but interesting, and the copy is well-loved.

Milo curls up next to him easily in the middle of the bed, and he may be a brat, but he smells like clean pine and soap bubbles, and all the tension in Stiles’s back disappears. The headache he’s been nursing dissipates with a deep breath, and he wraps an arm around Milo’s back when he sleepily nuzzles in.

The book falls open on his chest, and from one breath to the next he drifts off.

Stiles isn’t sure how long he’s out for, but he blinks awake to see Derek hovering over him with a blanket gripped in his hands.

He’s wide-eyed instead of stern-looking, as if Stiles waking up startled him, frozen in the half-light from Milo’s reading lamp.

Milo mumbles something in his sleep and rolls over, and Stiles takes a shuddering breath and sits up, rubbing hands over his face.

“Sorry,” Stiles says lowly. “We were reading.” He catches sight of the book, now closed on the bedside table, then takes in Derek again: soft-looking sweater, sleep pants, plaid blanket still clutched in his fists.

Derek says, “I didn’t mean to wake you.” His voice is a gruff whisper, but he drops the blanket to grab his arm when Stiles stumbles to his feet.

“S’fine,” Stiles says, absently passing his cheek along Derek’s shoulder. “I should, uh…” He knows he has a room around here somewhere, but he’s not exactly sure of the direction.

Derek’s hand moves from his elbow to the small of his back, large and warm. He says, “Come along this way.”

Stiles doesn’t register the tenseness in Derek’s body until the chill of the manor hallway makes him shiver. Doesn’t realize he’s been leaning into Derek’s side until his door creaks open and Stiles is left standing in the bedroom doorway alone.

Derek says, posture stiff, looking anywhere but directly at Stiles, “I’ll see you in the morning. Milo leaves for school at seven thirty.”

“Sure.” Stiles wraps his arms around his stomach, feeling strangely abandoned as Derek walks away.

*

The second day, Stiles meets the queen as he’s crossing the foyer to scrounge up lunch.

She arches an eyebrow at him and says, “Well. This is a surprise.”

Stiles sweeps a bow and says, “Your Majesty.”

She says, “Lord Mischief. Playing at being my grandson’s nanny,” but when Stiles jerks his head up, her eyes are sparkling.

“I—”

“Walk with me,” she demands, turning gracefully toward the long hallway to the left. “I have exactly fifteen minutes before I have to leave for council. Let’s talk of your unexpected visit.”

Stiles doesn’t exactly know what to say about it, but he follows her anyway. He’d wanted to go to the right, where all the food is, but he’s not going to say no to the queen.

He says, “You can call me Stiles,” just as they sweep into the solar at the back of the house. There are rattan furnishings nestled in between towering greens. It’s pretty, but muggy and warm from the midday sun, and Stiles tugs on the collar of his shirt.

“I suppose that’s only a slightly more presentable name than Mischief.”

Stiles grins. “Well, technically, Your Majesty—”

“I will not attempt to butcher your real name, Stiles. I believe your mother used to place bets on how badly I would pronounce it whenever you were presented at court.” She smiles at him warmly, taking both of his hands in hers as she pulls him to a seat beside her. “Tell me. Are you here to trick Derek into a scandalous affair?”

Stiles tries and fails to stifle at laugh. “I don’t think so? I mean, he hasn’t seen me in years, but I didn’t think he would have no idea who I am.”

Queen Talia gazes at him shrewdly. “Do you think I should tell him?”

Stiles shrugs.

She taps her thumb over the back of his hand. “How long do you have before the rest of your people arrive? A day?”

“Three more, after today,” Stiles says. Her eyes widen in surprise, and he adds, “I had to promise not to be alone with him.”

She squeezes his fingers. “Well, that’s certainly no fun. Laura will be here tomorrow, but Cora isn’t done school until the end of the week. Do you think you can handle Milo for three days?”

“You’re going to tell Laura I’m the nanny?” It’s one thing letting Derek assume things, and quite another to just out-right lie.

“I’m going to be blunt, Stiles,” Queen Talia says, finally dropping his hands. “Derek has been decidedly wary of marrying you. I think I’ve managed to convince him to keep an open mind, but he’s been fighting me on every detail of your merger.”

Stiles makes a face. He’s not a business, thanks very much. He’s not even a country, given that his dad is a duke in this very kingdom.

He says, “I’m not entirely gung-ho about it either, you know,” trying to hide the inexplicable hurt he feels, knowing now that Derek probably doesn’t even want to try to make this work. “It’d be nice to at least talk to the guy before we announce an engagement.”

“Your father has made it clear that this is your decision, Stiles. It would benefit us greatly, and Derek was always fond of you as a boy—”

Stiles snorts in disbelief.

But,” Queen Talia, “we’re certainly not going to force you into any compromising positions.”

“I didn’t—” He cuts himself off, curling a hand into a fist on his knee. He didn’t think that, but couldn’t last night have been a compromising position, if Derek hadn’t backed off? His cheeks pink just thinking about the way he’d inadvertently scented him. “Maybe this is a bad idea,” he says faintly.

The queen stands and Stiles hastily scrambles up as well. There’s a dangerous gleam in her eyes when she says, “You may do as you please, Stiles. I assure you this business is entirely yours to handle, and we shall see how it all shakes out.”

*

Stiles is only slightly taken aback about the lack of concern Queen Talia displays about the whole impersonating a nanny thing. A certain part of him wants her to tell him to knock it off, to have Derek try to court him normally, but since Derek doesn’t really want to court him at all, he supposes this is the next best thing.

There are three and a half days left until Lydia shows up. He’s not convinced Laura won’t see through him, but he’s also sure Laura can be just as devious as her mother. Cora would punch him in the face and call him a liar, but mostly because they went to school together.

Stiles spends the rest of the morning dodging Clyde the butler who isn’t really a butler—Stiles figures he’s the manor’s caretaker, when the royal family isn’t in residence—and trying to figure out Derek’s routine. Unfortunately, that makes him look like a creeper.

The queen sends him a text---the queen, the thought of her texting anyone makes Stiles’s head hurt—that says, Derek is taking lunch in kitchens, you’ll look less creepy stalking him there.

His face is still hot by the time he strolls into the kitchen, smiling winningly at the cook—Clyde’s wife Betsy—and slipping past her to make a sandwich the size of his head out of all the cold cuts in the fridge.

“Do you think that’s big enough for you?” Derek says dryly as he sits down across from him at the long table that stretches out in front of the hearth fire.

Stiles waggles his eyebrows suggestively and says, “No,” before he can think better of it.

Derek’s expression instantly sours.

Stiles clears his throat. Awkward. Of course, then the problem becomes eating this monstrosity in front of Derek—he mashes it down as best he can with the flat of his hand, and then inwardly shrugs and takes a huge bite.

He can’t be certain, but he thinks he sees a twitch at the corner of Derek’s mouth, like he’s trying not to smile.

The silence draws out as Stiles chews. The fire pops and crackles. Betsy harrumphs judgingly as she thumps into some dough. And just as Stiles finally manages to swallow his bite, Derek says, only a little stiffly, “So. Where are you from?”

Stiles barely stops himself from rolling his eyes. He wants to ask how Derek can have a nanny and not know where they’re from or anything about them, like their freaking name, but he just nods his head and says, “Just south of the Hills. My mother was a Tempest.”

Derek’s eyebrows arch in surprise. “A sea nomad?”

Stiles nods again, inwardly bristling at the slang. His dad married for love. Both times, luckily enough. Derek doesn’t have to know that his mother was the first born of a Tempest Warden, and passed the title on to Stiles. The Tempest Kingdom—wardens and keepers of the oceans; sea nomads or pirates, if you want to be crude—doesn’t discriminate against dynamics. Scott’s his brother in every way but blood, he’s happy that he’s ended up his dad’s heir, but that doesn’t mean the thought of Stiles being considered somehow less doesn’t rankle.

Stiles says, “What time does Milo get home from school?”

At the mention of Milo, any expression on Derek’s face slips away. He says, “Close to four,” and then pushes his chair back to stand. “I…” He pauses, stares down at Stiles with a slightly open mouth.

“Uh, yeah?” Stiles cocks his head to the side, wonders if he should rise, too, but the moment passes too quickly.

Derek says, “I have to go,” and spins on his heel.

Betsy snorts and Derek’s shoulders tense up as he stalks past her.

Huh.

As the door swings shut behind him, Betsy says, “You know, we haven’t had a young omega in the house since well before Prince Milo was born.”

Stiles takes a giant bite of his sandwich and says, spraying crumbs, “Who was it?”

“A Warden Lord,” she says, shrugging. “He’ll be visiting for the holidays. You’ll meet him if you haven’t been tossed out on your ear by then.”

Stiles grins at her. “I think I’ll still be around.”

*

Stiles meets Milo at the top of the drive, wrapped up in two hoodies and wishing he’d thought to at least have Scott send a heavier jacket. South of the Hills doesn’t get this cold, and they never have snow—Stiles is currently trying to catch flakes on his tongue. He’s hoping to convince Milo to make a snowman with him.

“There’s barely an inch on the ground,” Milo says, but he drops his backpack by the front steps and races after Stiles toward the courtyard.

There definitely isn’t enough snow for a snowman, but they manage to scrape together balls—it’s a wet, sticky snow, and Stiles and Milo are both soaked through before they laughingly stumble back inside the castle.

And then Milo yells, “Dad!” and throws himself at Derek, who’s standing at the foot of the wide steps of the foyer, watching them with a constipated look on his face.

His mouth spreads into a happy smile for Milo, though, and then he’s scuffing a hand through his hair and sending him to get changed.

“He likes you,” Derek says to Stiles, hands folding behind his back, watching Milo disappear up the stairs.

“Sure,” Stiles says. “What’s not to like?”

Derek slants him a look. “Milo doesn’t think he needs a nanny anymore.”

Stiles nods. “He probably doesn’t.” At Derek’s disgruntled scowl, Stiles holds up his hands. “Hey, he’s almost twelve. He can eat and dress and sleep all by himself. Why would he need anybody else but you?”

The scowl melts down to something softer, a thoughtful frown. There’s a slight sly twinkle in his eyes when he says, “You don’t think he needs any brothers or sisters?”

Stiles bounces on the balls of his feet. He says, “I hear you’re having a omega Warden Lord here soon,” and because he’s a glutton for punishment, he adds, “Do you think he needs any brothers or sisters?”

He half expects Derek to stiffen up again. To scowl and stalk away. But instead he lightly touches Stiles’s arm and says, “You should come to dinner tonight with Milo.”

“You want me at your mother’s table?” Stiles says, eyes wide with surprise.

Derek’s mouth tightens at the edges. “You’re half Tempest, you said. Do you know much about Warden Lords?”

He swallows hard, staring into Derek’s frankly unfairly stunning hazel eyes. “Some,” Stiles says faintly.

The tight edges become sharp. “Perhaps you can convince my mother how unsuitable we would be.”

Stiles clutches the ends of his wet hoodie in a white-knuckled grip. “Are you insulting Tempests or omegas? You should know, Sire, both thoughts would disturb me.”

“I’m not…” Derek’s shoulders slump. He looks away from him, relaxes his hands to his sides, and says, “Come to dinner, Stiles. My mother would wish to meet you.”

He seems to be waiting on his reply, poised to leave the hall, so Stiles just nods and says, “Okay.”

Derek’s heels click smartly along the granite tiles of the main floor as he walks away.

Stiles shoves a hand through his hair, bewildered, and thinks, was that some kind of fucked up flirting? and then decides that he doesn’t really care.

*

It’s a lie. He cares a great deal. He dresses for dinner with Lydia on speakerphone.

Lydia says, “Are you upset about this? Do you need me to come now?”

“No,” Stiles says, sitting down on the edge of his bed in a wrinkled pair of dress pants. “No, it’s stupid to be upset. If he’s flirting with the nanny—with me, how is that upsetting?”

“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?” Lydia says.

Stiles ignores her. He flops back onto the mattress and says, “Maybe he likes the way I smell.” He certainly likes the way Derek smells. Like Milo, like comfort and warmth, but more exhilarating. “That’s good, right? That he likes me over the thought of some Warden Lord he hasn’t seen in fifteen years.”

You’re the Warden Lord,” Lydia says slowly, as if Stiles could forget that fact.

“So it shouldn’t matter,” Stiles says. It shouldn’t matter either way, Stiles is Stiles, if he’s a nanny or a Warden Lord. Stiles sighs and digs his palms into his eyes.

Lydia says, “What exactly is your goal here, Stiles?”

“To get to know Derek,” Stiles says instantly. “And Milo. Preferably before the actual nanny shows up.” No one has bothered to mention when that should happen.

“So go to dinner,” she coaxes. “Take this one step at a time. Worry about how you feel, not Prince Derek.”

“Right,” Stiles says on an exhale.

“Your father is only worried about your happiness, Stiles, not the Hales’.”

Stiles feels slightly steadier. He says, “Right,” again, and something in his voice must satisfy Lydia.

She says, “I’ll be there in two days—”

Three.”

“—and then you’ll have a proper chaperone, and you can decide if you want to court him, or I’ll ask Scott to whisk us all home.”

Stiles sighs. “Thanks, Lyds. You’re an angel.”

“Never,” she says on a scandalous gasp, and the rest of Stiles’s nerves shake out with the giggles.

*

Dinner is surprisingly pleasant, even with Queen Talia unsubtly trying to suggest activities for the two of them the next day.

Stiles doesn’t know what to do. He could make rude faces at her, because she’s going to give everything away, but she’s the queen. He’s pretty sure he’d get shot, or at the very least tazered.

“Mom,” Derek says, surprisingly calm, “we can’t go to the farmer’s market with Betsy and Clyde tomorrow. There’s a council meeting.”

She waves a hand. “Just about the final details for the holiday ball. It’s nothing pressing.”

Mother—”

“You should take Milo and Stiles to get a Christmas tree for the family room tomorrow night. Laura will be home!”

Milo perks up in his seat and says, “Can we, Dad?”

Derek looks equal parts fond and exasperated when he says, “Yes, of course.”

Stiles forces his face to appear neutral when he looks at Queen Talia, but the queen seems openly smug about meddling. He’s not sure if she’s trying to be this obvious on purpose, or if she just doesn’t care. Or both. Possibly both.

After dinner, Stiles follows Milo out of the dining room, wondering if he needs to supervise homework, or if Milo’s supposed to be left alone, and what Stiles should do to keep from going out of his mind, cooped up in his rooms all by himself.

Derek stops him with a soft, “Stiles,” though. He looks sheepish and awkward and Stiles tries hard not to find that endearing. He says, “I’m sorry about my mother.”

“Are you allowed to apologize for the queen?”

Derek huffs an amused breath. “Probably not. But I am anyway.”

Stiles shrugs. “Come on, it was nothing.”

“You don’t have to come with us to get a Christmas tree,” Derek says, “but we’ll take a sleigh, if the snow keeps up.” He slides his hands behind his back—Stiles thinks he might fall into parade rest when he’s nervous.

“You really don’t have to convince me, dude,” Stiles says, grinning. He loves the holidays. And the whole point of this is to get to know Derek, right? So snuggling in a sleigh it is, hopefully with some hot cocoa and lap blankets. Romantic, even if they’ll be joined by Milo.

Derek’s brisk, “Don’t call me dude,” isn’t all that encouraging, though.

Stiles scratches the back of his neck. “I should, uh…” He gestures toward the stairs.

“I’ll walk you up,” Derek says, almost involuntarily, and briefly looks like he swallowed a bug before his expression smooths out.

Stiles isn’t an omega guest in need of a chaperone around an eligible alpha, at least Derek doesn’t know he is, so Stiles takes a perverse delight in saying yes.

*

Stiles has never been really good with kids. With Milo, he has the advantage of not really being in charge of him. He’s pretty sure he’d get in some kind of trouble if he got maimed while on his watch, but there’s no looming threat of losing a job.

By the time Stiles makes it upstairs—Derek bows to him outside his rooms, it’s the cutest and most inappropriate thing Stiles has seen him do yet, and Derek looks adorably flushed and embarrassed about it—and peeks into Milo’s room, he’s already deep into what looks like math homework.

When Milo slinks into Stiles’s room an hour later, still without knocking, Stiles is lying in the middle of his bed, bored and lazily flicking through emails.

Stiles says, “Seriously, I feel like knocking is a thing you should have learned already.”

“I’m done my homework,” Milo says, and Stiles salutes him with his phone and says, “Good for you.”

Milo huffs, stares up at the ceiling, and then back at Stiles again. “I’m bored,” he finally says.

“Join the team, kid,” Stiles says, sitting up and dangling his hands over his knees. “What do you have in mind?”

What Milo has in mind, apparently, is Halo, which Stiles is one hundred percent on board with. The game room is dark except for the glow of the TV screen, and Stiles has no idea how long they’ve been playing when the lights suddenly flicker on. Stiles blinks stars out of his eyes and looks up at a glaring Derek in the doorway.

“It’s after midnight,” Derek says.

Stiles makes a face. “Uh. Oops?” It’s a school night. Milo probably should have been in bed hours ago.

Milo says, “Awww,” and rolls out of his beanbag chair.

Stiles’s climb to his feet is considerably less graceful. He stretches his back, grimacing when it cracks.

Milo knocks his shoulder into Stiles’s arm. Stiles says, “Personal space, dude. Respect my bubble,” but Milo just grins at him and slips closer to give him a half hug before slinking past his dad and back to his room.

Derek’s face has gone slightly… fond, Stiles notices when he walks toward him.

Stiles says, “Sorry. We both lost track of time.”

“He’ll be miserable tomorrow,” Derek says, grinning softly. “And you’ll have to deal with him when he wakes up.”

Stiles clutches at his chest in faux horror. “No,” he says.

Derek silently walks with him through the hall and to his room. Stiles doesn’t know if the brush of their shoulders is accidental, but it makes his breath catch. Jesus. They could be married. This is a definite possibility, and the way heat steals over his throat and up across his cheeks makes him think that it would probably be pretty wonderful.

Derek turns and looks like he wants to touch him. His nostrils flare, just a little, and Stiles should probably be embarrassed by the sheer amount of want rolling off him, but he can’t bring himself to care. Derek’s hands are hovering over the curve of Stiles’s jaw, Stiles can feel the warmth radiating off them—Stiles unfreezes enough to take a big shaky breath and the spell shatters.

Derek blinks, drops his hands, swiftly moves backward with a frown and a small shake of his head.

He says, “Goodnight, Stiles,” voice unsure.

“Goodnight, Sire,” Stiles says, and thinks that the fact that he’s greatly disappointed that Derek didn’t kiss him is a good thing.

*

Milo is a monster in the morning, full of snapping teeth and flashing eyes.

Stiles just says, “Do you kiss your grandmother with that mouth?” and Milo hunches into a little ball of tired misery and shovels oatmeal into his mouth for ten straight minutes.

Stiles is in awe across the breakfast table. Milo doesn’t even look like he pauses to swallow.

It snowed all night, several inches; the thick, wet and heavy kind that sticks to the trees. Although it’s stopped for the time being, grounds crew are still digging out a path in the circular drive when Milo has to leave for school.

Stiles watches them inch down the drive with his hands tucked under his armpits, still cold in his hoodie. And then a downy warmth covers his shoulders and he turns his head to see Derek step up next to him.

Derek says, “Do you not own a jacket?”

Stiles waffles over what to say, then decides to settle on the truth: “I ended up here ahead of most of my things.” He gratefully shrugs into the parka. It’s a little long in the sleeves, but otherwise fits nicely. “Hopefully I’ll have more of a wardrobe by next week.”

Derek nods, eyes locked on the taillights of the SUV as it disappears in the distance. Without looking at him, he asks, “Would you like to go to the farmer’s market with me?”

Stiles bites his bottom lip to stop from smiling. “Sure.”

*

The farmer’s market is indoors, luckily, and full of locally butchered meat, fresh fish that’s traveled the three to four hours inland that morning, and a depressing lack of fruit and veggies due to the season, and the fact that even southland in Beacon has a sharp frost over nights this time of year. Hot house vegetables are overpriced, with little variety, but Betsy seems in her element, haggling over a small container of strawberries and snatching up the last basket of green beans.

Derek is delegated to getting eggs, cheese and butter, taking orders from Betsy easily, and he buys each of them an apple as they move through the stalls.

They’re small and hard and tart. Stiles says, around a bite, “How come you don’t just to go the supermarket?”

Derek says, “Betsy will go later and get everything else we need in bulk, but it’s important to support the local farmers past pumpkin season.”

Stiles nods. They have a fish market back home, run both by Tempests and southland fisherman, but everything else they get at the food store. He should poke at his dad to buy more things local.

When Derek stops for eggs, Stiles wanders a little further down the aisle. There’s a small side stall filled with local adoptable pets, and Stiles reaches out to scratch a gray muzzled lab mix that excitedly thumps his tail on the ground.

“Hey there, buddy,” Stiles says. He glances up at the person manning the booth. “He yours?”

The guy shakes his head. “Owner surrender. Ten years young, but the assisted living home won’t allow pets his size. Real shame. He’s a total sweetheart.”

“What’s his name?” Stiles asks. The dog leans forward and rests his whole face in Stiles’s hands, completely relaxed. Stiles’s heart twists, this dog is his dog. He’s getting this dog.

Coming closer, the guy looms over him, big and friendly. “Roger.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. Roger. Roger is an awesome dog.

A hand clamps down his shoulder and Derek says, “Stiles. You’re not getting a dog.”

“Look at this dog!” Stiles says. Roger will sleep on his feet and follow him around the… winter castle. Where he doesn’t actually live. Where he’s a fake employee. Stiles has to stamp down on irrational panic, and when he looks back up the adoption guy is several feet away again, face neutral, and Stiles becomes acutely aware of a low, deep growly sound coming from somewhere in Derek’s sternum.

“Stiles,” Derek says, gently steering him away from the stall.

“Are you kidding me? Hang on a second.” Stiles twists out of Derek’s grip, moves back toward Roger, takes a pen off the table and hastily scrawls his name and number on the bottom of an adoption form. He says, “If he’s still here by the end of next week, call me.”

Derek is scowling when he joins him in the corridor again. “What was that about?”

“What was what about?” Stiles says, poking him in the chest. “You can’t actually stop me from getting a dog.”

“Not the—” Derek cuts himself off, shakes his head. “He was standing too close to you. You shouldn’t let any random alpha take liberties.”

“Oh, like you’re doing now?” Stiles says, pointedly eyeing the minuscule space between them.

“I’m…” Derek’s jaw clenches. “I’m escorting you,” he finally says, not backing off in the least, and then presents Stiles with a small bag of roasted pumpkin seeds. “Here.”

Stiles takes them, half bewildered, half inexplicably happy, and says, “Thanks.”

*

Laura Hale, eldest Hale sibling, arrives home just before they’re getting ready to go out into the cold, dark snow in search of a Christmas tree.

She greets them in the foyer, takes one long look at Stiles and says, “Derek, you really do live under a rock.”

“Thank you,” he says dryly, helping Stiles into the borrowed parka.

She just arches an eyebrow. “This is Milo’s new nanny.”

“This is Stiles,” Derek says.

Stiles doesn’t know whether she’s going to go with the ruse or not, but then Queen Talia sweeps into the room and says, “Stiles and Milo are getting along famously, isn’t that great?”

“Yeah,” Laura says, both eyebrows arched this time, “great.”

Derek sends Laura a dark look. He says, “Are you coming with us?”

“Oh no. You enjoy your little family outing.” Laura shrugs out of her coat and turns to hug her mom. “I’m here for the entire holiday season, I’m sure we can catch up later. Greg isn’t going to be here for at least a few days.”

Laura, Stiles knows, abdicated any claim to the throne by becoming a physics professor at a university and marrying a coffee shop owner. Stiles doesn’t know much of the details on how it came about, but he remembers Cora being viciously bitter that it moved her up to second in line to rule.

And then Milo jumps down the steps with a, “Aunt Laura!”

“Hey squirt,” Laura says. “You got taller.”

“Are you coming with us to get a tree?” Milo asks.

“I wish. Your dad is being mean.” Laura pouts and Milo slants Derek a glare and Stiles has to hide a smile into the collar of his coat.

“Okay, okay,” Derek says, ushering Stiles toward the front door. “Clyde has the sleigh ready. Milo, you can stay and visit with your aunt or you can come chop down a tree with an ax. Your call.”

“You’ll really let me chop it down?” Milo asks, visibly skeptical.

Derek says, “You can try.”

“Better than nothing,” Milo says, and then runs ahead of them with a whoop.

Laura shouts, “Nice to meet you, Stiles,” after them with laughter in her voice, and Stiles is sorely tempted to give her the finger.

Derek says, “Please ignore everything Laura says.”

Stiles glances over at him, smiling. “Always?”

“Yes, always.”

The sleigh at the bottom of the front steps is huge, red, and being pulled by what looks like actual reindeer. Thick-furred, half with huge racks of antlers—they’re both intimidating and super adorable.

“Don’t say anything,” Derek says.

“I wasn’t going to,” Stiles says, letting Derek help him up into the seat next to Milo.

“You were,” Derek says. “Milo is Mom’s first and only grandchild. She went a little overboard the first couple years.”

“This was a Christmas present?” Stiles says, running a hand over the smooth wood. The painted finish is bright, they probably have to repaint it every year, and there are two large electric lanterns hanging off the front, like headlights. “She gave him reindeer?”

“Four of them. I thought Clyde was going to have a heart attack.”

Clyde pulls on his cap from the driver’s seat. “She wanted eight. I count myself lucky.”

Derek pulls a thick wool blanket over their laps, and Stiles feels warm, tucked in between him and Milo, and settles back to enjoy the ride.

*

The actual tree cutting is chaos. Milo nearly takes off Clyde’s head, a squirrel dive-bombs Stiles, and Stiles is pretty sure the tree they ended up with will look too small in whatever vaulted room they usually have Christmas, but Derek laughs so hard he drops into the snow.

On the way home, Derek drapes an arm over the back of the seat so Stiles can wedge himself closer for warmth.

It’s a leisurely pace, mindful of the dragging tree, and Milo slumps into Stiles’s side and tips his head back, tongue out to catch lazy flakes.

He says, “Can I ask you a question, Stiles?”

Stiles nudges his arm and says, “Shoot.”

“Are sea nomads fae?”

Stiles watches Clyde’s shoulders hunch, like he’s laughing. “First of all,” Stiles says, “sea nomad is a slur, it’s offensive, and you shouldn’t use it.”

Derek tenses against him, but stays silent.

“And Tempests are fae in the way that fae keep marrying into them.” It’s one of the main reasons why Stiles’s mom’s family had been so pissed about John. They’re going to just love it if Stiles marries Derek. A Hale. Royalty. Actually, they probably would. That might have been part of Queen Talia’s plan. The Tempest Kingdom has never been at war with Triskelion, but they’ve certainly had their volatile differences.

Milo leans forward excitedly. “Can you do magic? Do you have a tail?”

Clyde is definitely laughing now.

“Tempests live on the ocean, not under it, weirdo.” He knocks a fist onto Milo’s knee. “And I’d need at least a thimbleful of sea water to grant any kind of wishes.”

“Stiles, don’t encourage him,” Derek says.

“But I heard you can save beached whales!” Milo says. “And talk to fish! And drown people!”

“I’m pretty sure anyone can drown someone,” Stiles says.

Derek fails to muffle a snort into his fist, and Stiles arches an eyebrow at him.

When they get back, Milo hastily clambers out to help Clyde with the tree.

Derek holds Stiles’s hand so he doesn’t slip, and then squeezes their fingers together. The snow has started up again, large and fluffy. Stiles’s cheeks sting from the cold. He balls his free hand into a fist under the over-long sleeves of the coat. His other hand tingles, rapidly warming in Derek’s grip.

And then someone says, “Derek, there you are, where have you been?” and Derek drops his hand and jerks back.

Stiles watches, thrown, a bristle of inexplicable rancor at the top of his spine, as Derek bows his head toward him, spins on his heel, and then walks away, leaving Stiles to fend for himself in the snow drifts. The double front doors of the castle are thrown open; a dark silhouette is framed by the yellow glow beyond.

Milo scampers over like an enthusiastic puppy, though, and staggers into him. He loops arms around Stiles’s waist and practically drags him towards the steps.

“C’mon, c’mon, let’s help Clyde set up the tree!”

*

Stiles and Milo help Clyde set up the tree in an enormous side parlor, with floor to ceiling windows and a fireplace on each end of the room. It’s informal, though, with large over-stuffed couches and soft colorful rugs. The pictures on the wall are personal and candid, and Stiles figures this must be some kind of family room.

The Christmas decorating is saved for later, probably after Cora gets home, so Milo grudgingly goes up to his room to do homework after the tree is in what he deems an acceptable position.

Stiles retreats to his own to call Lydia.

“It feels like he’s wooing me,” Stiles says, baffled yet pleased. It’s not anything like an official courtship. There’s a blooming warmth in his chest, and he rubs fingers over the palm of his other hand, where Derek’s touch lingered.

“Got over being jealous of yourself?” Lydia says dryly.

“Well, it’s not like it’ll matter.” Not a lot, at least. At the end of the day, he’s still the same person, right? Warden Lord Mieczysław Stilinski.

Lydia makes a sound that’s suspiciously like a snort. “Except for the part where you’re lying to him.”

“I have Queen Talia’s blessing!” Technically, he’s never even said he was the nanny. There was just a lot of presuming and assuming going on.

“So you don’t think he’s going to be mad?” Lydia says.

“He can be mad. But to be fair, none of this was premeditated, and all of this could have been avoided if he’d just looked up a damn picture of me.” He’s feeling rankled again, all of a sudden, and it only takes Lydia’s testy, “You’re moody,” to realize he is.

God, he is.

He says, “Oh no.”

There’s a long pause, and then Lydia says, even more testy, “Oh no. Don’t tell me. Stiles. Don’t you keep track of those things?” like this is all his fault.

“I’m…” Stiles flails a hand. “I’m at least a month out! This can’t be right.” But he’s moody, and if he thinks too hard about it his belly feels tender. He’s got a red sore spot just under the surface of his chin. “I’m overthinking this. There’s no way my heat is coming early.”

“Of course not,” Lydia says. “You’re just in a household completely devoid of omegas, hanging out with a compatible alpha and his child. Sure.”

“Your sarcasm isn’t helping.” Stiles needs to take deep breaths and not panic. Just because he didn’t plan for this, doesn’t mean it won’t be fine. It’s a goddamn castle, just because they don’t have any omegas around now doesn’t mean there never was any. Heat rooms are a common thing. Hopefully not in any kind of basement dungeon.

“Stiles.”

“Okay. I’m okay. I’ve probably got at least a week before anything happens, right?” He’s guessing, since his calendar is so thrown, but it’s usually about that length of time after he gets prickly by pre-heat symptoms. “By then I’ll be back to Warden Lord. Private rooms, locks, guards, the whole shebang. It’ll be fine.”

“Right,” Lydia says. “Fine.”

“I need reassurance right now, Lyds, not skepticism!”

“I’ll be there tomorrow,” she says. “We’ll deal with it. Everything will be fine.”

“Not tomorrow.”

Lydia huffs. “Tomorrow. Our deal was three days.”

“Our deal was four days, and tomorrow is barely two and a half,” Stiles says, disgruntled.

“Tomorrow night, then. Happy?”

“No.” He wants chocolate. And pizza. Then maybe he’ll be happy, but it’s not looking likely. “Do you really think Derek’s going to be mad at me?” he says, voice small.

“I really don’t know,” Lydia says. “But I’ll kick his ass if he gets out of line.”

*

Despite everything, Stiles wakes up in a good mood. He’s heat compatible with Derek, that’s what he’s going to take out of this. That’s a good thing, considering their arrangement. He just has to figure out how to tell Derek all this without getting thrown out of the castle for lying. Which is not likely to happen, given that Laura and the queen have given tacit approval, and Derek would have to be mad at all of them.

Plus, Milo likes him.

This is proven even further when Milo insists he comes with him to the formal dining room when word came up that Milo is expected to eat there instead of the kitchens.

They both freeze in the doorway when they notice a stranger at the table.

Or… not really a stranger, because Milo’s shoulder’s slump and he mutters, “Hello, Lady Blake,” after a pointed look from his father.

The woman, Lady Blake, all long dark hair and rosy cheeks, smiles brightly at him. “Prince Milo. So good to see you again.”

Milo turns almost fully around and sticks his tongue out at Stiles in a bleh, and Stiles has to stifle a laugh behind a cough.

Of course, then all attention is on him, and he covers that by waving like an idiot.

One of Lady Blake’s eyebrows goes up and then up some more. “And who’s this young man? A friend of Milo’s?”

Stiles makes a face. He’s well aware that the twelve years Derek has on him are unconventional, but he definitely doesn’t look like he’s eleven. “I’m twenty-three,” he says.

“Are you? That’s a strange name. Don’t you think so, Derek?” She laughs, and Derek gives her a brief but genuine smile that makes Stiles want to punch things.

Stiles, feeling suddenly awkward, with too-long limbs and too-tight skin, says, “I’ll just, uh, see what Betsy’s up to.”

“Stay and eat,” Milo says pleadingly, like having to eat breakfast alone with his dad and his… someone… is absolute torture.

Stiles forces a grin and a salute and says, “You’re on your own, kid,” and slinks out of the room.

He’s out of breath, even though he hasn’t been running. He feels dizzy, eyes prickling with tears, and he knows it’s just the pre-heat that’s making this so unbearable. It’s stupid. Derek has a guest. Stiles would be a guest, if he wasn’t lying about being the nanny.

Laura comes upon him just outside the kitchens, grips his arms and says, “Stiles, are you all right?”

She has warm, concerned eyes, and Stiles briefly takes in the comforting scent of alpha, slumps over to press his forehead into her shoulder.

“Stiles,” she says, and her hands travel up to grip his nape. “You’re worrying me.”

“I’m fine,” Stiles says, voice muffled. “I’m just… the dining room.”

Her fingers tighten and then relax. “Ah. You’ve met Jennifer.”

Stiles sighs. “I have.”

“It’s nothing, Stiles,” she says softly. “She’s reaching beyond her station. Derek’s being polite.”

“I’m a Warden Lord,” Stiles says, for the first time thinking how terrible that would look. A half-breed sea nomad. As consort to the King. He suddenly and irrationally wants to collapse into Laura’s arms and sob.

Laura straightens up and firms her arms around him. “You’re Mother’s favorite. Did you know that? Always, since you were a little brat who refused to mind his own business. I don’t know if you remember this, Stiles, but whenever you and your mother came to visit, you’d sneak into council meetings and camp out under Mom’s seat. She’d pretend you weren’t there and drop chocolates down to you.”

Stiles sniffs. He vaguely remembers that. The way she smelled like lilacs, that close, and how she always had an endless supply of caramels on hand. “We stopped coming. After mom died.”

She nods, the sides of their heads brushing. “Mom missed you both.”

“But not Derek,” Stiles says.

“Derek can be an assface,” Laura says, and Stiles’s snuffles melt into a laugh. “He likes you. I have it on good authority that he got you a dog for Christmas.”

“He did not,” Stiles says, jerking his head up.

Laura’s grinning at him. “He did. So what you should do, right now, is to fortify yourself with a hearty breakfast from Betsy and then run Jennifer out of town.”

*

Lady Jennifer Blake makes the rest of the morning tense by basically being everywhere. Stiles has no idea how she does that, but Stiles hears her annoyingly grating laugh all over the castle, following Derek around like a duckling.

Pre-heat makes Stiles’s sleepy, though, and by eleven he finds a sun-drenched nook, a wide pillow infested window seat, off an upper hallway near his and Milo’s rooms and decides to take a nap.

The odd thing is that he doesn’t remember seeing all these pillows and blankets here before. There’s an afghan that smells like Derek, and a warm thrill goes through him as he curls up, forehead resting on the chilled pane of glass. It overlooks the side grounds, miles of snowy white dotted with stark brown trees and evergreens.

His eyelids are heavy, and he drifts off between one blink and the next.

He wakes an indeterminate time later with a growling stomach, nook grown cold by the sun moving high over the manor, leaving his side in shadows. He’s pretty sure he missed lunch.

He stretches out the seat and yawns, feeling a pull in his belly that makes him think a week was being optimistic. He wrinkles his nose. At least Lydia will be there by tonight, and then they can figure out how many padlocks he’s going to need if they don’t have a proper heat room here.

He’s in sock-feet and only just manages to leave the Derek-smelling afghan behind as he slips down the stairs, thinking about hot cocoa and maybe a ham sandwich. He’s almost made it across the foyer when he’s distracted by loud voices off the back left corridor.

“Jennifer’s right,” he hears Derek say, and he slinks closer, perfectly willing to eavesdrop. If they wanted privacy, they probably shouldn’t be yelling.

“Derek, be reasonable,” Laura says.

“Don’t tell me to be reasonable,” Derek says. “You married a barista. You don’t have to worry about lines of succession.”

Stiles peeks in the open door—it’s their fault for not even trying to close it—and arches his eyebrows at the sight of Derek and Laura, standing toe to toe in the middle of what looks like a small library or study.

“Well, when you put it like that you just sound stupid.” Laura has her mouth pursed in irritation, and Stiles waffles on whether to make himself known just a little bit too long.

“I’m not going to marry the nanny!” Derek bursts out, shoulders square and tense. “I’m not going to marry just any omega who bats their eyes at me, what do you take me for?”

“A fool,” Laura says, staring straight at Stiles, still frozen in the doorway.

Shit.

Derek whirls around, scowling. His expression doesn’t really change when he notices Stiles, except for to maybe get even darker, like a cornered animal.

Stiles forces himself into a slouch, like his insides aren’t churning, and shrugs one shoulder. “So, what? Let me guess, I talk too much for you? I’ve got terrible table manners?” He does. He chews with his mouth open, sometimes, when he’s too busy making a point. He never remembers what forks to use, even though he’s had three times the amount of etiquette lessons than an alpha.

Derek stares at Stiles like he’s never seen him before. “Stiles,” he says heavily. “You’re—”

“No,” Stiles cuts him off. “No, you don’t get to say shit about me. I don’t want to hear it. I thought…” He’d thought they were getting to know each other, but really Derek was just cataloging all the things that make Stiles unacceptable.

Laura takes hold of Derek’s arm, clutching him back when he tries to move toward Stiles. “Stiles isn’t really the nanny, Derek,” Laura says. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

Derek looks at her in brief surprise, but says, tiredly, “It doesn’t matter, does it?”

“Of course it doesn’t,” Stiles says, balling his hands into fists.

Laura says, voice and eyes hard, “You’ve been courting him, Derek.”

Derek grimaces. He looks ashamed, and Stiles has to drop his gaze to the ground. He doesn’t know whether he wants to punch Derek in the gut or collapse and cry right there on the carpet. Stupid fucking pre-heat. He’s never normally this overemotional. What should it matter? This was never a done deal; Stiles came here specifically to figure this out.

“Your mother told me you didn’t really want this, you know,” Stiles says, then swipes the back of his hand over his eyes. “I suppose it’s good that this happened. Before we were forced to make a terrible mistake. Right?” Better to know now that Derek is still an assface, and that Stiles hates him with a fiery passion.

He glances up to see Derek staring at him, a furrow between his brows.

“What?” he says.

Doesn’t he get it yet?

Stiles narrows his eyes and refuses to spell it out for him. He’s gone past despair and jumped right into pissed off. Derek’s held his hand. He’s escorted him places. He left a blanket for him where he could nap. And then suddenly he sees the error of his ways, probably all because of Lady Blake—sees how terrible it would be to court Stiles for real.

Derek’s face clears slowly with dawning recognition. “Mischief?”

Stiles entire body is so tense he feels like he could crack in half. “Mieczysław, actually. Our mothers just thought Mischief was funnier.”

“It was certainly more accurate,” Queen Talia says from where she’s standing in the doorway. She looks from Laura to Derek and then to Stiles. “Am I interrupting something?”

Stiles says, “No,” and Derek says, “Yes,” with bite.

And then, thank god and her impeccable timing, Lydia shows up early.

She arrives much the same way the queen does: quietly, with judging eyebrows and enough presence to make even Laura shut up.

She looks between Derek and Stiles, shares a brief, silent glance with the queen, and says, imperiously, “Stiles, show me your room.”

Normally, Stiles would’ve at least put up a token protest at being ordered around, but he just walks over to her as quickly as he can and lets her practically drag him away.

He hears Derek demand, “Who is that?” and lets out an uneasy breath as he threads his fingers in Lydia’s and walks across the front hall.

“Tell me,” Lydia says.

“No.” Stiles would rather forget about that entire humiliating scene. He takes the lead on the stairs, refusing to look over at her when she says, “Stiles.”

After his continuing silence, Lydia sighs and says, “Fine. Where’s the brat?”

“School.” Thank god.

Lydia seems to give up after that—it’s temporary, Stiles knows—and then they’re in his room and she’s surveying the whole thing with a curled lip and an unimpressed expression. She tests the flimsy lock on the door and runs her fingers over the windows, then spins on him and says, “We need to make a swift decision here. This room is obviously insufficient—”

“Obviously,” Stiles mutters, rolling his eyes, but he knows what she’s getting at.

Her unimpressed look shifts from the room to him. “Do you want me to ask for a heat room, or do you want to go home?”

Stiles isn’t a big fan of running away. Strategic retreat, sure, but it feels like a mistake to leave without getting to punch Derek in the face. The back of his neck prickles and his skin flares with a brief, intense heat, and he knows pre-heat hormones are at least sixty percent responsible for wanting to stay. His room smells like him and a little like Milo and a little like Derek, and he wants to crawl under his sheets with the afghan he'd left for him earlier. God, he’s pathetic.

Lydia curls her hand over his arm.

She says, “Either way, I’m sending for Scott. Now. We’re not waiting until the end of the week.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, suddenly feeling small. He slumps down on the corner of his bed.

“Are you going to tell me what happened now?” she asks.

He shrugs. “Rejection, mostly. A lot of rejection. Apparently I’m not good enough for him, as a random omega nanny or as a Warden Lord.”

Lydia says, “And you’re upset about this.”

“Of course I’m upset!” he says. “Glossing over the fact that he thinks I’m trash now, I really, honestly, deeply…” Stiles trails off, staring at the carpet, and the way his feet look too big. He’s got Tempest omega genes, which apparently don’t care if you’re supposed to be pretty.

“Liked him,” Lydia finishes for him.

Stiles presses the heels of his hands to his eyes, vainly trying to stave off tears. “I’m not… I wasn’t imagining it,” he says, voice thick. “Laura even noticed. He’s been courting me, Lydia. Today,” he hiccups on an embarrassing sob, “he left me pillows to nap in. A blanket that smelled like him. Lydia, I’m not crazy.”

Lydia says, “He made you a nest,” her voice scarily calm.

“Yes, he—” Stiles glances up at her, horror making his chest clench painfully. “He knows.”

“Stiles—”

“He knows,” Stiles says, getting to his feet. “He fucking did that on purpose.” Debatable maybe, with more rational thought. Whether he did it consciously or not, though, Derek shared scent with Stiles, probably sensing that he’d already gone into pre-heat, and Stiles suddenly realizes exactly what the repercussions are going to be. He says, faintly, “I don’t think I have a week.”

“No,” Lydia says softly. “No, probably not.”

*

An immediate departure is inadvisable, given the uncertain timing of his heat. Stiles feels nothing but relief, and then instantly feels shame. This is a weakness, wanting to stay with an alpha that doesn’t want him, burying him in his scent anyway. He refuses to cry about it.

Lydia takes charge. Stiles can hear her yelling through the walls, even though he can’t make out the words, and he viciously hopes Derek is on the other side of her ire.

It’s already the middle of the night.

Lydia slams his door behind her and says, “We’re moving you to a heat room.”

Stiles hugs a pillow to his chest and says, “No.”

“Don’t be stubborn about this,” she says. “You can take all your bedding with you.”

“No,” Stiles says, fighting off rising panic. They can’t make him move. He doesn’t want to be locked away somewhere unfamiliar. It’s bad enough that he’s going to be alone. He’s never had a triggered heat before. Alone always meant safe, but right now all he wants to do is bury himself in Derek. It’s embarrassing and terrible, but he thinks it might be even worse somewhere impersonal, a place he hasn’t claimed as his own.

“Stiles.” Lydia runs a soft, soothing hand through his hair. She sounds resigned, though, when she says, “I’ll place a guard at your door. We’ll have to nail your windows shut.”

“It’s fine,” Stiles says. He’ll be okay.

“Fine,” Lydia echoes. She sighs. “Your father will kill me if you escape.”

“Scott will kill you,” Stiles says, some of the tenseness seeping out of his body. He doesn’t have to move. They aren’t going to make him go away.

“Scott will cry,” Lydia corrects, a small amount of amusement lacing her tone. “Your father will declare war and challenge the Hales for the throne.”

It’s nonsense, his father knows how Stiles gets, and he would never blame anyone else for it, but the thought still makes his chest warm.

“You should sleep now,” Lydia says. “I’ll make sure everything is okay.”

*

Stiles’s senses go haywire first—everything is too loud, his nostrils burn from too many scents, and then he hears the steady lub-dub of Milo’s heart across the hall and he buries his face in Derek’s afghan until he’s lulled into a warm haze. His blood feels like syrup, his limbs move slow under the covers of his bed, warm and lazy. His skin tingles with every cool graze of fabric, and his legs clench at a pull from the bottom of his belly.

He vaguely registers the morning hustle of the manor. The guard outside his room changes, indignant and annoyed, because any alpha worth his salt has enough control not to attack an omega in heat. The words circle around in Stiles’s cloudy mind until he realizes Lydia must have left out a crucial fact of Stiles’s heats.

Every omega tackles heats differently. Some prefer the clean slate and safety of a facility run heat room. Some like to nest up in their own space, with the comfort of family alphas around them. Early on, they discovered that Stiles was an escape artist. It might be the Tempest in him, a yearning for the open sea, but his hormone-addled brain always seeks the out of doors.

He’s aware of it happening, every single time, but it still doesn’t stop him.

The guard isn’t there to keep anyone out. It’s to keep Stiles in.

He laughs a little, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. His body throbs. He can feel the phantom form of Derek surrounding him, pressing him down, and he curls up into himself on a sob, even as he feels the telltale slick gathering, the trickle of arousal pooling at the base of his spine.

Panting, he pulls his blanket around him and spills out of the bed and onto the floor. He shuffles on his knees over to the door, flicks the lock and then cracks the door open. There’s a newly installed chain at the top that stops him from tugging it in further. The guard is dozing in a chair, hands over his belly.

Stiles whimpers, low, as he slowly gets to his feet. All his muscles pull at the movement, sore, but he stays as quiet as possible as he reaches for the chain, worries it over with the tips of his fingers. His mind is full of Derek and out, and he slopes down the hallway toward the front staircase and into the main foyer. It’s early, sky still a dark rosy gray though the windows. Stiles hisses as his bare feet hit the cold stone, and then the coolness radiates up his legs, startling relief and clarity through him.

He can’t go outside. It’s snowing.

He’s bare-chested, in sleep pants, and the heavy wool of his afghan is full of thumb size, patterned holes.

He waffles, face sticky wet, licks salt-tears off his lips. There’s a growing slickness between his legs, and his dick plumps up on an uncontrollable shudder—he staggers through the foyer, shoulders open the family room and slinks inside.

There’s a hearth fire, even this early, and Stiles blearily makes out the Christmas tree in the corner, still mostly unadorned except for red and green ribbons.

A dog, big and blonde, looks up from his sprawl in front of the fire and thumps his tail, once.

“Oh,” Stiles says, his voice hoarse to his own ears. “Roger.”

And then he thinks fuck, fuck my life, and collapses onto the floor, exhausted from his simple trip downstairs.

The heat hasn’t even fully hit. He should probably go back to his room, call for Lydia, do something before he really does try to make it all the way outside.

His blinks once, twice, slowly, and drifts off with Roger curled up on his feet, his face hot from the fire.

*

He wakes hot, burning, to a sharp voice saying, “Oh for god’s sake, can’t you see what he’s doing?” and an equally pissed off one saying, “Get out. Go.”

There’s a huff and then, “Derek, really—”

“Do I have to call the guards?” Derek says, and he’s so close Stiles clenches his hands hard enough to cut his fingernails into his palms.

He smells alpha and whimpers, tries to flail his way out of his blanket, only to still when a large, warm hand curls over his nape. Fingers dig in on either side of his neck, a calming pressure, and for the first time in hours it feels like he can breathe.

Slowly, slowly, the hand relaxes, thumb sweeping back and forth his jawline. “Stiles, sweetheart,” Derek says, “what are you doing out of your room?”

Stiles eyes flutter open to see Derek’s concerned face hovering over him. His cheeks are pink and his eyes are dark.

Stiles’s hands are still trapped in the blanket, but his whole body strains toward him.

Derek tightens grip on his nape again to keep him still, even as he shifts closer. There’s a clothed knee near Stiles’s shoulder, he can feel the heat of it, and Stiles wants to bite into the meat of Derek’s thigh.

Derek hovers, like he’s either unsure of what he wants, or what he should do. Stiles rubs his cheek along Derek’s leg, there’s a brief clench and release on his neck and a low growl that makes Stiles aware of how soaked the seat of his sleep pants are.

“Stiles,” Derek says roughly, like an admonishment.

Stiles says, “Please,” and he means please, everything, and then something catches and crumbles in him when he knows he won’t get it.

Derek’s other hand swipes at his tears. He says, “Shhh, no, you’re all right. Don’t cry.”

God, Stiles wants to call him an assface and he wants to crawl up into his lap and ride him and he wants to scratch his nails so deep into his chest he can feel them in his heart.

Stiles is not all right.

Derek lets go of his neck, sliding hands down to reach inside Stiles’s blanket, scraping over bare skin, and Stiles’s breath hitches just as Derek says, shakily, “I think this was a bad idea.”

Stiles isn’t much smaller than Derek, so when Derek finally hefts him up to his feet, hands on either side of his waist, Stiles drops his face into the crook of his neck. He’s got just enough of his wits left to not actually bite him, but he worries the skin above his collar between his teeth, feels Derek’s chest expand, pressed all along his front. He arches into him, rubbing his hard cock into the rough material of Derek’s jeans.

Derek growls, clamps down hard on his hips to still him.

Stiles whines and hides wet eyes in Derek’s shoulder.

“No, it’s okay,” Derek says, instantly relaxing his grip and pulling Stiles closer. “Come on, let’s get you back into bed.”

Stiles wants to plead yes, yes, and he’s not even in the desperate, mindless part of his heat yet.

He smells Lydia before he sees her. She snaps, “Are all your guards this incompetent?” from the doorway

“I’ll watch him,” Derek says, voice barely above a growl, and Stiles stiffens up in surprise.

Lydia says, slow, “Do you think that’s wise, Sire?”

Stiles is only peripherally aware that they’re probably glaring at each other, warring with eyebrows, but Derek’s scent is all around him now, pulling him under, and his legs wobble, he’s not sure leaving this room now is going to possible.

Derek’s arm slides along his back, another clutching at his thigh to hitch him closer. Stiles drapes himself over Derek’s shoulder, hips involuntarily hitching toward him. He wants to be held down. He wants his alpha on him and around him, pressing into his back, mouth latched on the top of his spine. Yes.

A fog hazes his vision, his limbs feel light and heavy at the same time as an orgasm suddenly rolls over him, and he vaguely hears Derek hiss, “Shit.”

There are hands trying to move him and Stiles whimpers and clings and his eyes sting with more tears even as Derek says, “Oh no, sweetheart, no, you’re okay.”

Stiles says, “Stay,” throat dry, voice thick.

“Yes, yes, I know, come here,” Derek says, and then he’s pulling him down to the couch.

Stiles breaks out of his daze long enough to be embarrassed that he’s come all over himself from a few moments of rubbing off on Derek. But Derek is whispering, “You’re so good, Stiles, so good,” over and over into his hair, hands running up and down his back, warm and soothing, and Stiles squirms at the ache deep inside of him.

Stiles heats are usually terrible but quick, with lots of jerking off and crying and eating tubs of ice cream and trying to stuff increasingly larger dildos in his ass for twenty-four hours. He’s never felt a burning need for an actual dick, but right now he really wants Derek to fuck him. It must be the alpha pheromones in his nose, the fact that this heat was triggered, and the way each sweep of Derek’s hands brings his fingers closer to his hole.

He squirms up, moans at the pressure on his still-hard dick, trying to force Derek’s fingers even closer. They slip under the loose waistband of Stiles’s pants. Derek groans like he can’t help himself, smooths down even further to clutch at Stiles’s ass, a single, light scrape of a thumbnail over his rim.

Stiles cries out, and Derek says, “Jesus,” and rocks up against him.

Multiple fingers slide through the slick mess and Stiles bears down on them, trying, trying, but Derek moves them away before any can breach, puffs out a bellow of breath like a bull. His grip is a vice on Stiles’s waist then. He says, “I can’t, I can’t,” and, “What do you want me to do?”

Stiles shudders in frustration, rears back and scrabbles for the fasten of Derek’s jeans.

Derek catches his hands on a growl. He says, “Sweetheart, no,” and Stiles shakes him off and rips at them harder.

He says, “Either they come off or they break my dick from chafing.” He’s panting, and there’s sweat dripping into his eyes and as Derek reluctantly helps peel down his jeans he shoves at his own ruined pj pants.

Derek sucks in a breath, but Stiles ignores him, flopping back down so his bare skin is pressed up against the straining bulge in Derek’s boxer-briefs.

“Oh, god,” Derek groans.

Stiles flexes palms against Derek’s chest, popping buttons on his Henley. He hunches forward on his lap, riding the hard length of Derek’s clothed cock, pressing down to squeeze him between his ass cheeks. He’s going to have bruises on his hips and thighs from where Derek’s gripping him.

“Stiles, Stiles,” Derek says. “Slow down.”

Stiles chokes off a broken laugh. He reaches down to where the head of Derek’s dick is poking out from his underwear, slides fingers all over it, desperate, wants to taste. A rumbling growl starts low in Derek’s chest, and then he’s seizing hold of Stiles’s wrists and flipping them, pressing all his weight into keeping Stiles still, sprawled out on the sofa.

Stiles tries to arch against him but can’t. His legs are pinned by Derek’s legs, arms matched all the way up over his head, hard chest forcing Stiles to give in, give up. Heat swells up over his body and he comes again with a shudder, spreading wetness between them, and then he’s boneless and panting, tears pooling at the corners of his eyes, dripping down to itch at the hair above his ears.

“Shhh, shhh,” Derek says, mouthing along his jawline. “Stay still for me.”

Stiles wants to do everything for Derek. That’s what makes heats so shitty and wonderful at the same time.

“Derek, please,” Stiles says brokenly.

“You’re being so good, Stiles,” Derek says. “Are you thirsty?”

Stiles is, he thinks, but he doesn’t care. He gulps breaths and shakes his head, but Derek catches his chin, frowns down at him.

“Someone probably left us water. I’m going to let you go, but I want you to stay still. Can you do that for me?”

Stiles shakes his head again but says, “Yes.”

He bites his lip to keep from crying out when Derek peels himself off of him. But Derek drapes him with a blanket and Stiles only moves enough so all his limbs are covered. He drifts, trying to drawn in deep breaths, and only a few minutes later Derek crouches down in front of him, curling an arm around his upper back to help him sip at a bottle of water.

He’s strung out and tired, the first wave of his heat crushing him in euphoric exhaustion.

Derek brushes sweaty hair back off his forehead and says, “Sleep, Stiles. Rest for a while,” and Stiles does exactly what his alpha tells him.

*

Stiles groans awake to kisses. Teeth biting at his lips and a hand cupping his dick and he’s coming before he’s even opened his eyes, a soft, welling release that doubles down as soon as he sees Derek kneeling above him. He took his shirt off, leaving the stained, worn underwear in place and one hand becomes two, becomes Derek leaning down and taking him in his mouth.

“Oh,” Stiles says, hips pinned now, and body aching. He tugs on the ends of Derek’s hair and gets a stinging slap on his flank that just makes him want to pull harder.

Derek slides off his cock, wraps a hand around it, tugging, and says, “Again, Stiles.”

Stiles is caught between ecstasy and hell, the few short minutes between orgasms making him feel like the pleasure is pulling up from the balls of his feet, pulsing like fire in his veins—his mouth opens in a silent scream as he spills over Derek’s fist.

He bites into his knuckles, sobbing.

Derek says, “You’re okay, you’re good.”

“Derek.” Stiles grasps onto Derek’s shoulders, trying to move him closer, but Derek just mouths the jut of his hip, wiggles his fingers in between his cheeks until Stiles shifts his legs to let him through.

He drags teeth across his hipbone, teases the tip of one finger just inside and says, “Come on, sweetheart. One more time.”

*

There’s a blur of time where Stiles sleeps. Where there’s the warm drag of a wet cloth over every inch of his skin. Where water trickles down his throat.

And then his eyes are wide and a warm hand is on his belly, just above his still hard dick. Derek is big and hot behind him, spooning, and there are careful teeth on the curve of his neck.

Derek breathes out through his nose, a whuffing, animalist noise, and Stiles is frozen, body thrumming like a livewire.

The teeth are gone from one moment to the next, Derek’s nose tracing down his neck, over the back of his shoulder. Derek’s hand moves lower and Stiles strains toward it, then pushes back when Derek chuckles, finally realizing that Derek is no longer wearing underwear.

He has one knee riding high on the outside of Stiles’s thigh. He moves his hand from the low curve of Stiles’s stomach to the small space in between their bodies, sliding fingers over Stiles’s ass, dipping, and Stiles doesn’t even realize he’s keening until Derek shushes him.

The blunt hard length of Derek’s cock slides down, skimming past his hole and under his balls, and Stiles sobs, tries to spread his legs wider, because he still hasn’t felt anything all the way in him yet.

Derek clamps down on him, makes his thighs press together, around him, and they both hiss.

Stiles squirms, says, “Derek, no, please.”

“We can’t,” he says, voice tight. He reaches around again for him, but just presses his dick into his belly, palm resting just over the base. He thrusts his hips, pulling back and then jutting forward, sliding along Stiles’s perineum.

Stiles fumbles a hand down to grasp for the head, but Derek’s slaps it away.

He says, “Like this,” and hunches over him, gasping into his shoulder blade. “Stiles.”

Derek’s hand isn’t even moving on him, just steady, maddening pressure, the scrape of his dick under his balls, and Stiles barely lasts a few minutes. Derek fucks him through it, pace slow, only picking up when Stiles starts whining again, clenching ineffectually at Derek’s wrist.

Derek groans and trembles and lets Stiles reach back to squeeze a hand tight around his knot.

“Fuck, fuck,” Derek says, and Stiles bites into the couch cushion and comes again.

*

Stiles has never been so tired in his entire life. His heats are never this much of a workout. But then, he’s never spent one with somebody else. And triggered heats are supposedly much worse anyway. He winces as he rolls over on the couch, wondering idly if there’s any way to avoid the walk of shame back up to his room.

The first thing he registers is Derek sitting across from him in an armchair, fully dressed and somber.

Stiles scrambles upright, face bright red. Someone has tugged a sleep shirt over him, but other than that only a blanket is keeping his modesty. Not like he has any modesty left to keep with Derek. Oh god. He wants to bury his face in his hands, but makes himself watch Derek instead.

“Derek,” Stiles says. He circles a hand around his throat, wincing slightly at the burn, and then Derek’s dark look is giving way to concern.

He only gestures to a glass of water, though. Stiles tamps down his disappointment. He’d only admit it under threat of painful death, but it was kind of nice being taken care of for a while.

Stiles fingers shake, and he slowly starts to realize how hungry he is.

Derek says, “We have to talk.”

Stiles nods slowly. “Of course.” He doesn’t know if this will change anything, will make Derek think he’s more suitable, but he can hope, a little, that this meant something to him. Meant as much to Derek as it did to Stiles. He stares down at his hands, then takes a deep breath and looks up at Derek again, mouth playing at a smile.

Derek’s own mouth is flat in response. His hazel eyes are clear and steady, even with the tiny line of strain in between his brows. He says, “We’ll get married, of course. There’s no way this can be kept quiet.”

Stiles opens and closes his mouth. The words make sense, but something about this, about Derek, still seems wrong.

Derek settles a hard look on him. “You left your rooms, Stiles. For no reason I can even think of, except for…” he makes a gesture that Stiles can’t even really comprehend.

He feels like he’s been slapped. He presses his hands together and says, “But nothing happened.” He’s cold and then suddenly hot, thinking of Derek naked over and around him, but nothing actually happened, right? No one can prove otherwise.

“Stiles,” Derek says, a slight pink burn to his cheeks, “what we did was prevent a pregnancy, not a scandal. Besides,” he stiffens up again, “you’ll get what you wanted.”

“I… what?” A rock settles in the bottom of Stiles’s stomach, cold.

“Come on, Stiles.” Derek arches an eyebrow. “You came here on the edge of your heat to trick me into agreeing to marry you. You pretended to be the nanny. The choice is out of our hands.”

Stiles presses a palm to his rapidly beating heart and says, “You really think I’d do that?”

Derek frowns. “Why else would you leave your rooms?”

“Yes,” Stiles says faintly, “why else.” There’s a hollow in his chest, spreading dull acceptance, leaving most of him thankfully numb. Hope for the best, but expect the worst. Isn’t that how the saying goes?

Derek gets to his feet. “Stiles, I…” His voice fades, hands falling behind his back as he bows his head at him. “I’ll send for Lydia to help you upstairs.”

Stiles curls his hands into tight fists on his lap and doesn’t bother to reply.

*

Stiles doesn’t wait for Lydia. He sweeps his blanket around him and walks through the foyer as regally as he can on shaky legs, and leans heavily on the bannister on his way up the stairs. It’s thankfully empty, or at least the guards are hiding themselves well, and Stiles makes it back up to his room without any incidents.

Roger is on his bed, waiting for him.

Stiles voice absolutely doesn’t crack on, “Hey, boy,” and he rubs his silky ears, thinking about how Derek obviously arranged for Roger to be his before he realized he had an oncoming heat. There was at least one point in time where Derek didn’t actually hate him.

Lydia bursts in with a perfunctory knock. She looks harried, with dark smudges under her eyes, and she says, “Well?”

Stiles takes a deep breath and says, “I want to go home.”

“You’re not marrying him?” She doesn’t sound surprised. Derek must not be keeping his reasoning to himself.

“No.” He scratches Roger behind his ears. The old guy woofs and stretches out on his side and Stiles just wants to cuddle up next to him and sleep for a week.

Lydia sighs. “Fine. But we’re not leaving until Scott arrives.” She eyes him up and down. “You might want to keep quiet about the nixed engagement until we have backup.”

“Queen Talia told me this was my decision,” Stiles says.

“Yes, before her son spent your entire heat with you.” She glares pointedly at his belly and he covers his hands over it with a scowl.

“No pregnancy,” he says through gritted teeth. “Just a scandal.”

“Well,” Lydia says dryly, “luckily your dad is used to those.”

Defying his parents by marrying a Tempest, raising an omega as a Warden Lord.

Sometimes Stiles thinks he should go back to his extended family on the sea, like his grandfather wished, where his dynamic wouldn’t toss him out of the rigging. Any able-bodied man or woman is expected to pull their weight on the open waters: Captains, Keepers, Wardens, Lords and Ladies. They keep the seasons from chaos, and the gods of the sea appeased. He’ll have to pass his title down to a sailor, or his mother’s line will die out.

Or he’ll have to take Deaton up on his offer for lessons. Too bad he’s always taken after his dad, in that respect, and doesn’t have the stomach for roiling waves.

He’ll figure it out.

Stiles sighs and says, “I’m tired.”

“You missed lunch,” she says.

Stiles is starving, but he doesn’t actually feel like eating anything at all. He says, “I’m fine. I need a shower and a nap, and I’ll be fine.”

“I’ll have someone bring up dinner.” She squeezes his arm. “Scott should be here by morning.”

“And then I can go home,” Stiles says. All his limbs feel like lead, there’s a headache pulsing behind his eyes.

“If you want,” Lydia says, “then we can go home.”

*

Scott sends him increasingly worried texts all night that Stiles ignores. He shows up in Stiles’s room at the break of dawn, a whirlwind of wet clothes that he tosses all over the floor, growling, “I’m going to kill him. I’m going to break his face. Can I challenge him to a duel? I’m going to challenge him to a duel of face-punching, and then shatter his kneecaps with a bat.”

“You can’t challenge the crown prince to a duel,” Stiles says. Since Scott is basically unloading all his crap right on the foot of his bed, Stiles figures he didn’t bother waiting to be introduced. He kicks a snow-laden scarf off his blankets and says, “Did you walk here?”

“I caught a taxi ahead of Boyd, but they refused to come up the drive. It’s pretty much a blizzard out there right now.” He crosses his arms over his chest, stares Stiles down, and says, “On a scale of one to infinity, how hard to I have to punch Prince Derek in the balls?”

“You don’t,” he says with a shrug he doesn’t feel. “He offered to marry me already.”

Scott slumps in visible relief. “Oh. Okay. Whew. Not that this bullshit he pulled is acceptable.” He wags a finger. “You’d think the entire castle has never been around an omega before.”

Stiles makes a face. “Come on, Scotty. I’m not actually going to go through with it.”

“That’s stupid.” Scott gives him puppy-dog eyes. “Stiles, why, why. Can’t you just do it so Dad won’t kill me for losing you?”

“Shut up.” Stiles pushes at Scott’s shoulder, laughing a little. “Dad’s not going to kill you. He might kill Lydia, though, for not telling the Hales that I once got through a door that was triple-bolted from the outside.”

He sends Scott a smile that’s probably a little too self-depreciating, and Scott wraps an arm around his shoulders, tilting their heads together. “This isn’t your fault.”

“No shit,” Stiles says without any conviction.

Stiles did show up early and…assume the role of nanny. He could have come clean. Maybe the whole heat mess could have been avoided.

“He thinks I tricked him,” Stiles says softly. “That I came here for my heat on purpose.”

Scott squeezes him tighter against him. “Then he really doesn’t know you at all.”

“I thought… maybe he was trying.” Stiles spreads his hands in his lap, stares at the knobby bones of his fingers. He lets out a wet laugh. “Stupid, right?”

“Alphas are stupid,” Scott says. “Hormones make us dumb. Boyd legitimately brought my bat, bro, and I’ll beat some sense into him if you want me to.”

A bright ball of warmth almost ekes out enough space in Stiles’s heart to overwhelm the hollow numbness left by Derek.

“Will you run away to the sea with me?” he asks, tugging on the ends of Scott’s fingers dangling over his shoulder.

“Yeah, dude,” Scott says instantly and solemnly. “Even though your mom’s side of the family hates me and you’ll spend the whole time upchucking into a bucket.

“You love me,” Stiles says.

“Well, duh.” He presses a smacking kiss onto Stiles’s forehead.

Roger takes that moment to pop up over the other side of the bed, resting his snout on the mattress and wagging his tail at the sight of a new friend.

“Geez, look at this pup,” Scott says, rolling right into a brighter mood. “Oh man, you didn’t tell me you had a gentleman caller here, hey, hey man, come say hi.”

*

Lydia breaks the news after breakfast, and Scott’s downtrodden expression means he already knew, but didn’t want to say anything.

“What do you mean we can’t leave?” Stiles says. They’re sitting at the long table in the kitchen. Stiles has eaten mostly just coffee, which none of his body parts are thanking him for.

“Stiles,” Lydia says, “it’s the middle of a snow storm. We already have over a foot, and it’s not supposed to stop until at least tomorrow. Even if we made it off the castle grounds, the airport is closed.”

Stiles groans, dropping his head and digging fingers into his eyes. “Did Boyd make it in?”

“Boyd and Erica,” Scott says. “I figured you wouldn’t want anyone else, just in case this got, uh,” he grimaces, “as messy as it actually did.”

Stiles’s heart pounds with agitation, and the heat of the hearth fire on his back is suddenly almost unbearable.

And then Laura swans into the room, grinning, and says, “Where’s my favorite brother-in-law to be?”

Scott and Stiles freeze. Lydia takes a leisurely sip of her coffee and then gets to her feet.

Scott’s chair makes a horrible screeching sound as he hastily follows. He claps Stiles on the shoulder, gives him a finger gun of moral support, and then briefly bows over Laura’s hand with a murmured, “Professor,” on his way out the door.

Lydia says to him, “We’ll play scrabble in your room later. I brought my travel board,” before leaving at a much slower pace.

“What. Was that about?” Laura says. She plants her hands on the table in front of Stiles and Stiles’s third cup of coffee. She eyes up Lydia and Scott’s half-finished breakfast plates, the distinct lack of anything in front of Stiles, and says, “Have you eaten?”

“Sure,” Stiles says, lying through a toothy smile.

She narrows her eyes. “What’s going on? Should I get Derek?”

“God, no.” He glances down, then up again, nervously bounces his leg. He’s not sure what to tell her here. He was kind of hoping his abrupt disappearance would speak for him. Cowardly, maybe, but it’s not like any of them have a good impression of him to begin with.

Betsy tisks from behind them, then a plate of toast clatters on the table onto the table between them.

Laura nudges it even further in Stiles’s direction. She’s silent and steady and Stiles shrinks under her gaze and hesitantly takes a slice. Tearing off a buttery corner, he stuffs it in his mouth, forces himself to chew and swallow even though everything tastes like paste, like it’ll expand in his throat and choke him.

She watches him carefully eat three tiny pieces before actually taking a seat.

He wipes his hands on his pants, takes another gulp of now lukewarm coffee.

“Tell me what’s going on,” she says.

“I’m, uh.” He cracks his neck, drums his fingers on the table. “I was planning on leaving today. Storm kind of put a wrench in my escape plans.”

“Yeah,” Laura says slowly. “Apparently you’re good at those.”

Stiles winces. “Look, it’s not—it’s not that I don’t appreciate the offer?”

“Of course.” There’s a carefully controlled look on Laura’s face, and the way she holds herself utterly still is frightening. Her knuckles are white over clenched hands. Stiles is halfway terrified she’s going to punch him, and that it’ll really fucking hurt, when she says, “What did my assface brother say to you?”

Oh, he thinks. He slouches forward in relief, the sudden release of terror making his eyes prickle. She’s not mad at him. She’s mad at Derek.

Still, though. He scrubs his palms over his face and says, “I don’t want to talk about it. You’ll have to ask him.”

*

In everything, in the mess of his heat, of Derek’s accusations, in Scott’s arrival and the storm snowing them in, Stiles had forgotten about Milo completely.

Milo, who bursts in from the outside with Roger barking at his heels the minute Stiles steps out of the kitchen hallway. He shouts, “Stiles!” and shakes his head, mimicking the dog and getting nearly every extremely slick surface in the stone foyer soaking wet.

Stiles takes one step toward him and slips, knocking the crap out of his head on the corner of a hall table on his way down to the ground.

“Shit, Stiles,” Milo yelps, scrambling for him.

Stiles groans, “Language,” even though he hasn’t been a nanny near long enough to be correcting anyone’s cursing.

Roger licks a stripe of dog drool up the side of his face, and Milo’s cold still-mittened hands are on either side of his neck, dripping snow and ice down his shirt.

“Stiles, Stiles, are you okay?”

Stiles grabs at his wrists and says, “Yeah,” and, “Stop shaking me, dude.” He really hopes he isn’t bleeding, that would suck so bad, but his head feels like it’s been split open. Awesome.

“I’ll get Dad,” Milo says, and then he’s up and running before Stiles can stop him.

Stiles groans and throws a hand over Roger’s neck, trying to get leverage to heft himself up into at least a sitting position. There’s a dizzy rush, his head spins, and he leans into Roger’s side, cursing the telltale sticky trickle at the back of his skull.

“Stiles, Jesus.” The low-rasped tone of Derek’s voice, the concern, throws him back to the day before. His skin feels abruptly on fire, even though he’s pretty sure he’s only half-conscious.

He clenches his eyes shut and says, “I’m fine.”

“You’re bleeding everywhere,” Derek says. He crouches down in front of him, and Stiles feels his hand gently cup his face. “Can you open your eyes?”

“No,” Stiles says, and resists pulling away from him only because he’s pretty sure he’ll throw up. He takes a shaky breath. “I want Scott.”

Derek growls, and his fingers tighten briefly along his jaw.

There’s a gasp, and Derek says, “Laura, call the doctor. I’ll move Stiles into the family room.”

“No,” Stiles says, grasping the front of Derek’s shirt when he tries to maneuver an arm around him. Stiles would like to never see the inside of the Hale family room again, and he would very much like Scott, right now.

Derek ignores him and shouts for Betsy to get a bowl of water and a towel. He says, “Open your eyes, Stiles. I need to check your pupils.”

Stiles dips his head and buries his face in Roger and breathes shallowly through the throbbing in his head. “Where’s Scott?” he says, voice muffled by fur.

Derek’s hand is warm and careful over his collarbone, the join of his shoulder. He says, soft, “Stiles, sweetheart. Open your eyes.”

Stiles bites his lip and flutters his eyes open. “You play dirty.”

“There we go.” Derek has a half-smile on his lips, expression worried. He tips Stiles’s chin up slowly with a thumb, studying his face. “Possible concussion. What were you doing?”

Stiles’s vision swims, but he sees Milo hovering, red-faced from tears. He says, “It’s okay. There’s just, uh, three of you right now,” and curses his words the minute Milo starts sobbing. “It wasn’t Milo’s fault. I’m a known klutz, M, it wasn’t your fault.”

Scott comes in with a roar that rattles the chandelier and almost makes Stiles pass out, but he still says, “Hey, Scotty, c’mere, help a fella out, would you?”

Except Derek won’t move and Stiles senses they’re seconds away from some kind of alpha male throw down, with Stiles as the delectable but already broken chew toy.

Scott says, “Move away from my brother.”

And then, super surprisingly, Derek shifts over, slides his hand off Stiles’s neck to settle under one arm, and says to Scott, “Help me move him.”

Stiles is just with it enough to get his feet under him when they heft him up. He’s got an arm around Derek, other one around Scott as they shuffle him into the dreaded family room.

“Hey, you changed the couch,” slips out unbidden, he’s blaming his head wound—Derek turns a dark angry red and Laura muffles a near-hysterical laugh into her hand.

She says, “Derek got a little possessive of the old one.”

Scott says, “Oh man, here? Gross.”

Derek bites out, “Stop talking about it,” between gritted teeth, reminding Stiles all over again what he actually thinks of Stiles.

“I’m fine,” Stiles says, pushing Derek’s hands off of him. “Scott’s seen me fall down an entire flight of stairs before, this is nothing.”

“The doctor can decide that,” Derek says, but he backs off and lets Scott slide up next to him and grab his hand.

“It’s still snowing,” Scott says. “Will anyone even be able to get through?”

“Clyde took the sleigh,” Laura says.

Stiles leans into Scott’s side and says, “They have reindeer, it’s adorable.”

“Dude, awesome,” Scott says. “You need to introduce me before we leave.”

It’s an innocuous we. It could mean Scott and Lydia, or Scott and Boyd and Erica, Stiles doesn’t necessarily have to be involved in this we, even though he totally is. He kind of wanted to not actually tell Derek that was happening. If he just left, he’s pretty sure Derek would’ve just taken the hint.

Maybe.

The way Derek tenses all over is noticeable to even Stiles, who’s still seeing double.

There’s a strained silence, broken only by the crackle of the fire.

Finally, Derek says, “Can I please speak to Stiles alone?” with a tick in his jaw.

“Aw, man,” Stiles says, “can’t we do this when I don’t have a head wound?”

Derek ignores him and glares everyone out of the room. Scott lingers longest in the doorway, but Stiles sighs and waves him away. Might as well get this over with.

When all that’s left is the bare tree, the fire and Roger, Derek sits on the coffee table in front of Stiles and stares down at his hands.

Stiles tries to duck and catch his eyes, but the pain pulling at the back of his head kind of makes it hard to move.

“You’re going to leave me,” Derek says. He sounds dull, but Stiles can’t tell if it’s because he does or doesn’t care.

Stiles scratches his jaw and says, “Yeah, uh.” He swallows hard, and his eyes sting. “You were pretty horrible to me.”

Derek clears his throat. “I’m…” He trails off, looking pained, and Stiles takes mercy on him and squeezes his knee.

“No hard feelings?” he says. He doesn’t say how much he’s going to miss him, and how his heart already feels like it’s dying inside his chest, and how he’s not sure how he’s going to live day to day without Derek’s scent all around him. It’s been less than a week. He’s the living embodiment of every pathetic omega stereotype, but he refuses to let Derek know that.

Derek straightens up from his slouch and finally looks Stiles in the eyes. “I wish you’d reconsider.”

Stiles presses his lips together.

Derek’s shoulders expand on a deep, heavy breath. He says, “There might be talk.”

Stiles has to live with the fact that he’s probably giving up his only chance at a good marriage now. His reputation will never survive this scandal, but truthfully he doesn’t think he would be happy marrying anyone else anyway.

A brisk knock on the door saves him from further talk, and then Lydia is stalking in with a frown and a stern-faced stranger who’s most likely the doctor.

*

“Bed rest,” the doctor says, snapping his bag closed and getting to his feet. He grins at Derek. “He should be fine.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Derek says, shaking the man’s hand, and then Stiles watches them both walk from the room and lets his head gently, gently fall back against the couch cushions.

He hisses at the touch, but breathes out a sigh of relief at being left alone.

The door is half ajar. He hears Scott’s voice clashing with Derek’s, but doesn’t bother to try and make out the words.

Abruptly, there’s a clatter of boots and a high pitched, “Derek Eleanor Hale, what have you done?”

Yelping, more thumps, a few of Roger’s deep barks, and then in the doorway is a fur-humped figure, covered in snow.

“Cora!” Derek yells. “Leave him alone. For god’s sake, did you walk here?”

“Stilinski,” Cora says, ignoring Derek and dropping her enormous cape on the floor of the family room. She looks considerably smaller without her snow trappings, like she’d been wearing a bear. “There’s a rumor that you let my assface of a brother ruin you.”

“How can there already be rumors?” Stiles says. He doesn’t even have the energy to be embarrassed.

Cora waves a hand. “Rumors, Laura calling to complain, Mom crying over Skype.”

“Your mom absolutely did not cry about this over Skype,” Stiles says, horrified.

Cora arches an eyebrow at him.

Stiles groans and covers his face. Cora and him were never exactly close at school. She’s a year older than him and used to torment him during his visits to the castle when he was little, but Stiles was still peripherally in her friendship circle.

Stiles says, “Was she… was she sad?”

“Tears of joy, my soon-to-be little bro,” Cora says, then leans down and peers into his eyes. “Did he break you already?”

Stiles says, “I want you do die.”

“Lies, I’m your favorite Hale.”

“You were,” Stiles mutters, and tries to figure out how he’s supposed to tell Cora about how fucked up this entire thing is.

“Let me guess,” Cora says, grinning, “you escaped again.”

That only happened once at boarding school, because all the other times they’d claimed they weren’t going to be responsible and sent him home for heats. Cora had been the one to find him that time, though, curled up in the stables with a cat mama and her five newborn kits.

Stiles almost forgets Derek’s there until he says, “What do you mean?”

“Stilinski’s notorious, didn’t you know?” Cora says, looking over her shoulder to Derek, framed in the open doorway. She goes to ruffle Stiles’s hair but stops at the last minute, wrinkling her nose over his wound.

Derek’s gaze jumps from Stiles to Cora and back again. “I thought Lydia was just being overprotective.”

“Well, yeah,” Stiles says, forcing his tone to stay light. “From myself, mainly. Thankfully this time I didn’t make it all the way outside.”

“You would have—” Derek’s face has an open expression of horror. “In the snow? It’s below freezing, Stiles!”

Stiles shrugs tightly. “I don’t think I would have done it. The south isn’t as cold, that’s probably why I….” ended up in the family room, he doesn’t say.

Cora has her eyes narrowed, bouncing between them. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Stiles says quickly. He wills Derek to stay silent and says, “Nothing,” again, with more emphasis. “Now I want to know how you made it the fifty miles home from grad school in this blizzard.”

“It involves a magic horse that I saved from a frozen river,” Cora says, straightening up and brushing off her pants. “Now, it’s nearly five o’clock. I want tacos.”

*

Erica and Boyd are both betas, friends of Scott and Stiles from school, and technically one or both of them are supposed escort Stiles anywhere Scott can’t. The only reason it’s not annoying is that Stiles is used to it, and also he’s just as good at slipping off their radar as they are at ignoring his wayward hijinks. This is mainly the only reason Stiles even got to the Hale castle by himself.

That, and the fact that his father is, according to their neighbors, overly indulgent with him.

He’d gone to college with Scott. Gotten his degree. Works at the local library. He’d been content and stupid enough to think maybe. Maybe this thing with Crown Prince Derek—Jesus—would be a nice possible next step. In either case, he’d get to see how Derek turned out; see if those early years of hero worship could blossom into anything more substantial.

And now here he is, disgraced, sitting at the long formal dining room table, an icy wind howling outside the floor to ceiling windows, listening to Cora weave a fantastical story about a half-frozen demon horse that’s apparently now chilling in the stables while Derek glowers at everyone.

Milo keeps sending Stiles worried looks.

Queen Talia, at the head of the table, sighs loudly and says, “I’ve clearly failed all of my children. Cora, you could at least act like a princess.”

“I’m never having kids,” Cora says emphatically, “so Stiles better have a million.”

Stiles’s mouth drops open, but maybe for the first time ever he’s having trouble forming actual words.

Erica, sitting across from him, shoots him a what’s up with you look. She says, bemused, “Isn’t that a little excessive.”

“I’m not leaving this ruler of the kingdom shit up to chance. I’m gonna be a veterinarian.” She stuffs an entire half of a taco in her mouth and says, spraying crumbs everywhere, “How come everyone looks like someone died?”

“I think Derek is regretting his life choices,” Laura says.

Cora says, “You better not mean Stiles.”

It warms Stiles’s heart a little to know that Cora has his back, even though she used to shove his face in mashed potatoes at least once a week in middle school.

“It’s possible I mean the absence of Stiles.”

Cora points a spoon full of sour cream at Laura. “Explain.”

“How about we don’t explain,” Stiles says, finally finding his voice. He shoots Queen Talia a nervous glance, unsure if she even knows what’s going on yet.

The queen gives Derek a pinched look and says, “Derek?” and Stiles noisily pushes his chair back from the table, getting to his feet.

“It’s been a long day,” Stiles says. “Milo, want to play some video games?”

“Will that hurt your head?” Milo says, but he’s already stuffing the last of his taco in his mouth and downing the rest of his water, half raised from his seat.

Stiles shrugs. “Probably. We’ll see.” He’s got the mother of all headaches, his eyes will probably fuzz out, but he’d rather risk it than stay and be grilled about Derek’s life choices. Christ.

“Stiles,” Derek says. He’s got a hand out, like he wants to stop him from leaving, but then his fingers curl into a fist and fall to his thigh.

Stiles hightails it out there and tries to look like he isn’t running away.

Roger’s asleep on the round rug in the middle of the foyer when they start across it, but lurches to his feet and slowly follows them up the stairs.

Stiles is humiliated. Even though no one actually said the words Derek doesn’t really want you to his face, he has no doubt that’s what Derek is explaining to everyone right now. The only silver lining to that bleak cloud is that Lady Blake hadn’t been at dinner.

“What happened to Lady Blake?” Stiles asks Milo when they reach the game room.

Milo gives him a weird look, the apples of his cheeks flushing bright red. “Dad threw her out, uh. When you—” He shrugs with his whole body. “She was being dumb.”

“Into the blizzard?” Stiles says, half-horrified, but deep down mostly impressed.

“It wasn’t so bad, then,” Milo says. He tosses Stiles a controller. “Sure you’re okay?”

Stiles wants to say no, not really, and he wants to go home, and he wants to sink into Derek’s warmth again, with his strong arms around him, and he wants to totally not cry. He just gives Milo a wavering half-smile and settles down next to him on the floor.

*

Stiles wakes up to a hand on his face, a small glow of light from his bedside lamp making his eyes squint at the dark form above him. “Derek?”

“Shhhh,” Derek says, stroking his cheek softly. “Just making sure you’re not in a coma.”

“Funny,” Stiles says around a yawn. “Can I go back to sleep now?”

“Can you tell me your name?”

“Lord Mischief, at your service,” Stiles says. He reaches up, clasps his hand over Derek’s and squeezes slightly. “Sleep.”

“All right, fi—” His words choke off in the middle, as Stiles turns his mouth into Derek’s palm.

Derek’s skin smells like aloe, his thumb a calloused scrape over his bottom lip. “G’night,” Stiles says, and slips off from one breath to the next.

In the morning, he jerks upright with a horrified, “Oh my god.”

Erica is there, throwing open his blinds. She says, “I’m supposed to ask you if you’re in a coma,” and Stiles groans and shoves his face into his hands and hates his life.

“Kill me,” he says.

“I really don’t think Derek would like that,” Erica says, a smirk in her voice.

“He would help you,” Stiles, even though that’s not entirely fair. Derek hasn’t expressed an active dislike of him so much as a distrust.

“C’mon, up and at ‘em. The sun’s finally out, it’s a balmy sixteen degrees, and Lydia made me bring you breakfast.” She gestures toward a steaming plate of scrambled eggs and toast and his stomach makes a hungry grumble.

And then he finally registers that the sun is definitely peeking through the clouds, making it seem even brighter out as it reflects off several feet of snow.

“Is the storm over?” he says, a mix of relief and dread settling in his belly. He flings his blanket off and scoots to the edge of the bed.

“Whoa there, tiger,” Erica says, though she doesn’t make any move to stop him from getting up. Her grin is like a curious cat. She was always more likely to get into trouble with him at school than protect him from it, that’s kind of why they have Boyd.

“I’m fine,” he says. “It’s barely anything now. I don’t even feel sick.” He doesn’t. The skin pulling under the bandage is sore, but it doesn’t feel hard to focus anymore, and his headache has downgraded enough that he wants to get out and do something. Anything.

The click-clack of plodding claws herald a visit from Roger, who nudges at Stiles’s half-open door and sticks his head through.

Stiles points at him. “You,” he says.

Roger woofs and dances back and forth on his front paws happily.

“After I eat, we’re going for a walk.”

*

The storm isn’t completely over, Erica tells him, but it’s over enough that she’s not going to stop him from shrugging on a coat—Derek’s still, even though Scott brought all his own stuff, and he tells Erica: not one word—boots, his mismatched green scarf, Scott’s beanie, and a knitted pair of mittens.

The hall is thankfully empty, and Roger is enthusiastic right up until he pushes open the big double front doors. Wind cuts through to his bones, and Roger shoves himself in between his legs and refuses to move.

“Aw, c’mon, Rog, fresh air!” He tugs hopefully on his leash. There’s a path shoveled out to the left, and Stiles hunches himself against the wind, shoulders up around his ears, nudges Roger on the butt with his knee and then starts off into the snow.

The path curves around the edge of the castle, and it becomes clear as they turn the corner that it leads down to the stables.

Roger prances inside when they get there. It’s warmer with the door shut, there’s a damp smell of hay and animal. An enormous bay horse hangs its head out of the first stall and lets out a high-pitched neigh. Demon horse, Stiles thinks, a stylized A-R-T-A-X written in chalk across the top beam, and he ducks out the way.

Roger stretches up to touch noses with it, tail a slow wag. Artax’s nostrils flare, its got the black eyes of a soulless monster, but it just huffs out a breath that blows the fur back from Roger’s face.

“You’re a braver man than me,” Stiles says.

The stable is a newer building, with a high lofted ceiling, and much smaller than Stiles would have thought a royal stable would be, even at a winter home. As far as he can tell, there’s Cora’s horse, a couple of wandering goats, and the reindeer—the four that pulled the red sleigh and a smaller, more adorable one, obviously someone’s baby.

They all seem friendly when Stiles makes it back toward their stalls, but the baby’s the only that comes to the Dutch door with a shake of its head and a playful hop.

He says, “All right, little dude, I’m coming in.”

Stiles isn’t sure how long he stays there, taking a brush to first the mom and then the calf, and then settling down in a clean corner, listening to the wind slapping at the closed shutters of the windows, the echoing gallops of bored goats. It’s a strange sort of quiet-calm that isn’t actually quiet, and he startles a little when a voice echoes down the corridor.

“Stiles?”

“Back here,” Stiles says. He’s got a lap full of baby reindeer and Roger is curled up along his thigh, he’s totally not moving.

“You—” Derek steps into the doorway and pauses. A goofy smile flashes across his face before disappearing so swiftly Stiles isn’t sure if he just imagined. His eyebrows are arched, though, and he hangs on the wooden post with a hip cocked. “How’s your head?”

“Not bad,” Stiles says. There’s something about the way Derek stares at him, eyes intense, that makes him want to squirm.

“I was worried,” Derek says slowly, “when you didn’t show up for lunch.”

“Just making some friends,” Stiles says. He shifts, and the calf gives him a thoroughly unimpressed look as it lifts its head.

Derek moves closer and stretches out a hand.

Stiles stares at it for a solid few seconds before sighing internally and reaching for it, letting Derek help him to his feet. What he would like is for both of them to avoid each other at all costs until Stiles leaves, but apparently Derek isn’t great at taking subtle social cues.

Derek’s fingers grip the meat of Stiles’s palm, thumb pressing firmly into Stiles’s pinky, and then they’re entirely too close—the hazel starburst of Derek’s eyes is almost mesmerizing, puff of his breath warm across Stiles’s mouth. He looks ridiculously adorable with his winter hat pulled down over his ears, and Stiles has to close his eyes against it.

“What?” Derek says, voice rough. “Stiles, is it your head?”

“No.” God, this is the worst. “No, I just…” He opens his eyes again, and Derek somehow, impossibly, seems even closer.

Their noses brush and Derek murmurs, “What is it?”

Stiles will blame the stumble he takes when Roger hefts himself up to his feet, bumping into the back of Stiles’s legs. He’ll blame the concussion, the frigid, howling wind, the demon horse banging on its stall like a nightmare.

He’ll blame Derek’s hands coming up to cup his face, the ridiculous amount of concern in his eyes when Stiles steadies himself on Derek’s chest.

This… this is not his fault. Surely.

He slowly lifts a hand to Derek’s chin, rubs the scruff with his fingertips, watches, breath caught in his throat, as Derek tips his head toward his palm, eyes suddenly falling to half mast. He’s beautiful. Threads of silver tangling with black. Soft crinkles at the edges of his eyes. All sharp angles except for the apples of his cheeks.

“Stiles,” Derek says roughly.

Stiles sucks in a harsh breath, all the muscles of his back tense and tingling—his throat is dry and he licks his lips.

He knows before it happens that he’s going to let Derek kiss him.

It’s a terrible idea.

“Did you know,” Stiles says, staring at the slight parting of Derek’s mouth, “that I’d never had a triggered heat before?” He feels Derek tense up under his hands, and he flicks his gaze up to Derek’s eyes and then back down to his mouth, tongue slipping out to lick across his bottom lip.

“What do you mean?” Derek says.

The grip on the back of Stiles’s neck is sudden and firm, and he can’t help groaning, knees trembling as he slumps even further into Derek.

Derek never plays fair. He pushes all his advantages, and Stiles wishes he could hate him for it.

He jabs a weak fist into Derek’s ribs and says, words muffled in Derek’s coat, “What do you think I mean, assface?”

“Stiles, you can’t—” He sounds helpless, lost, and Stiles feels a tiny bit of vicious satisfaction, deep down inside. “You were here three days.”

Stiles doesn’t want to argue. He’s tired, he’s hungry, and it doesn’t matter, anyway. Derek has made it known, multiple times, how he really feels about him. He sighs, rubs his cheek into Derek’s shoulder as the hand on his neck loosens and falls. He says, “Way to ruin the moment, Sire.”

“This isn’t funny.” Derek takes a step back, frowning.

Stiles rubs a hand over his cheek before pulling his mittens back on. He looks down at Roger, at the calf, over at the horseshoe nailed above on a rafter, the wisps of hay hanging over the edge of the loft, anywhere but at Derek, and says, “No, I don’t think it is.”

*

Stiles hides in the kitchen and eats a late lunch.

For the rest of the afternoon, he entertains a bored Milo by teaching him poker with Boyd.

He avoids being alone with Derek, because he’s not exactly sure what he’d do. He tries to convince himself it’s still the heat talking, when his heart speeds up and his palms start sweating. It’s just Derek’s lingering scent all over the castle, and not the way he smiles at Milo and laughs with Cora and feeds Roger from his plate at the dinner table, even with the queen’s arched disapproving eyebrow.

Stiles can’t escape the move to the family room, after dinner, and Derek looms over his chair with a gloomy face.

He says, “Do you play chess?” frowning like it’s taking every effort to be civil.

“I do when there’s betting involved,” Stiles says.

“You bet on chess?” A corner of Derek’s mouth ticks up.

Stiles is, despite himself, fascinated.

Boyd snorts. “Betting is for suckers and people who have never played Stiles in chess before.”

“Can it, Vernon,” Stiles says, and feels a wicked grin spread across his face as he gazes up at Derek. “I’m terrible.”

Arching a skeptical brow, Derek says, “Somehow, I don’t believe you.”

“For you, my king, the first round is free.” The words have no meaning, yet every meaning. Teasing, natural, and wrong. The echoes of them stick sideways in Stiles’s throat.

Derek’s expression goes from amused to solemn in seconds, and Stiles bites the inside of his cheek to stop from stammering an explanation.

He’d only make it worse.

There’s a hush around them. Palpable anticipation. Stiles wants to stab everyone with his eyes.

He clears his throat, finally, and says, “Are we gonna play or not, Hale?”

A heaved breath, a small playful smirk on his mouth, and Derek says, “Yeah. Let’s see what you got.”

What they’ve both got, apparently, is a keen eye for strategy and a depressing amount of ties between them by the time Stiles starts yawning so hard his eyes cross.

He sleepily lets Derek escort him up to his bedroom, Scott hovering a hilarious ten feet behind them, like that would do any good to Stiles now.

Derek hovers awkwardly in his doorway. He says, “We should have moved you.” as he takes in Stiles’s no-doubt comparatively plain room, this time from a royal host’s perspective.

“I like it,” Stiles says. “It’s,” his throat clicks on a dry swallow, “it’s close to Milo.” He looks down at his hands, steels his shoulders and straightens his back before catching Derek’s gaze again. “We’re leaving tomorrow.”

He doesn’t know it’s true until he says it, but now: it hasn’t snowed the entire day; the major roads will have been cleared well before morning. There’s nothing else keeping him there.

Derek’s face is unreadable, and he gives Stiles a slow nod.

“I’m…Will you…?” Stiles shakes his head and gestures toward Roger, already circling the foot of his bed, looking for a comfy spot to sleep. “Can I take the dog?”

Derek looks like he’s been slapped. “What?” he says, and then spreads a palm over his face, pained, and adds, “Yes, of course, Stiles, he’s yours.”

“Oh.” Of course. Of course he really gave him a goddamn dog. Who is this guy?

Stiles nods at him, mouth pressed together, swallowing down angry words. He has his door halfway closed before Derek’s palm comes out to push it open again.

“Wait, please,” Derek says, suddenly harried. “I just… I don’t care.”

“You…” Stiles cocks his head to the side. “What?”

Derek reaches out to clutch Stiles’s hands in his, pressing their palms together, and Stiles, stunned, just lets him. “I don’t care why, or how, or what really happened.” He sounds earnest.

Stiles wrists throb. “I guess,” he looks down at their joined hands, heart aching. “The problem is that I care. I care what you believe of me. What I’m capable of doing. Dumb, huh?”

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, words spilling out awkwardly. “I’m sorry I made you feel that way, that I was… an assface about it. I don’t believe you’d do that. I don’t think,” he swallows hard, clenches his jaw, “I don’t think I would’ve stayed with you, if that was really how I felt. I think I just wanted to justify feeling so intense over you, after fifteen years apart. Stiles, you can’t—Please don’t leave me.”

“I.” Stiles’s mouth snaps shut and his eyes burn and he needs to get as far away from Derek as he can to think.

Derek looks hopeful and contrite, and it would be so easy and stupid to give in.

“I should sleep,” Stiles ends up saying. “Tomorrow is going to be a long day.”

*

Lydia says, “Are you sure this is what you really want to do?” as their SUV slowly rolls out of the long drive, a wall of glistening snow on either side of them, like they’re tunneling through the side of a mountain.

The queen had hugged him. Milo had punched him in the arm, very carefully not crying. Cora called him a buttmunch, and Stiles figures the only reason she didn’t kicked his ass was because Laura wouldn’t let her go. Derek hadn’t been there to see them off.

“No,” Stiles says, morose.

He half expected Derek to show up and throw him over his shoulder, refusing to let him leave the grounds. A fantasy that would have made Stiles feel better leaving, but also left a sad little thrill in its wake.

But it’s not like… Stiles said no. Derek is going to respect that. He isn’t some backwards, old fashioned alpha—he’s been protective, sure, but he’s never really told Stiles what to do.

Scott frowns over at him. He says, “You know I love you, bro, but you really suck at feelings.”

“What? I totally don’t!”

“You kind of do,” Boyd says from up front, flashing him a smile over his shoulder, and that’s totally rich coming from Boyd, who has the emotional range of brick wall.

“Maybe take a minute and think about how rare triggered heats are,” Lydia says matter-of-factly. “And how much you’re going to miss Milo, and how you’re in love with Derek, and ask yourself if staying a stubborn buttmunch is worth being unhappy for the rest of your life.”

The stunned silence in the car could be for the casual way Lydia tossed out buttmunch, but it’s more than likely the blunt words, and the fact that she’s totally overstepped her bounds.

“Lydia,” Scott says warily.

“Are you trying to get me angry?” Stiles says, even as her words make his heart pound faster, because god, god, she’s right, he’s in love with Derek, he’s stupid in love with Derek, and he’s just walking away.

She slaps at his arm. “No,” she says, and there’s a tiny break in her expression, like her heart is hurting. “I want you to be happy.”

Many years ago, Lydia had chosen to take a house instead of a ship. A rare occurrence for a half-fae, half-Tempest, even as the granddaughter of a banshee. They both know it was only tolerated because her father always wanted her to marry Stiles.

And then she’d come of age, told him to eat shit and die, got disowned, and bonded to an asshole alpha that lets her do whatever she wants.

Somehow, that has always involved Stiles anyway.

“I love you,” Stiles says.

She gives him a watery smile. “I know.” She heaves a deep breath, leans forward in her seat and says, “Stop the car.”

“Lyds,” Stiles says, shifting nervously, but Scott is hugging him and Erica is gleefully unhooking his seatbelt for him and everything is out of control and out of his hands, apparently.

He’s not as upset about that as he maybe should be.

When she opens the door, though, Stiles says, “There’s at least three feet of snow out there! Do you want me to walk?” and that’s when he hears the distinctive jingle-jangle of sleigh bells.

Stiles’s heart is in his throat. Milo looks small and angry at the reins, and Cora’s demon horse looks majestic out front—knee deep in drifts, tall as the sky. A broad, thick-legged bay with a kinky black mane and piercing, evil eyes.

“That’s a hell of a thing,” Erica says, sounding awed.

Stiles climbs over Scott and slowly gets out of the car. He holds a hand up over his eyes to shield them from sun glare.

Milo scowls down at him and says, “Are you going to come home with me?”

Stiles doesn’t know how Milo is there. If he’d been planning to drive that sleigh all the way to the airport and somehow stop Stiles from flying away. If he was just out exercising Artax and saw their car stop.

Stiles says, “Do you actually know how to steer that thing?”

Milo scowls harder.

Stiles scrubs both his hands through his hair, pretends they aren’t shaking. He looks over his shoulder, feels his breath catch in his throat, and says, “Okay. Let Roger out too.”

Erica whoops. The hatch opens and Roger wiggles his way down to the ground like a goof before rounding the back of the SUV and hopping through the snow toward the sleigh. He disappears under the drifts and then bursts out with more energy than Stiles has seen from him all week, scrambling up to lick at Milo’s face.

Milo finally cracks a smile, trying to duck out of the way.

Stiles is soaking wet and freezing cold by the time he makes it up to the sleigh himself. “It’s a little dramatic, right,” Stiles says, “arriving behind this hell beast?”

“Dad won’t care,” Milo says. He stares hard at Stiles, gripping the reins in tight fists. “Are you staying for good?”

Stiles sighs. “I don’t know, champ. But I kind of hope so.”

*

Milo is a terrible driver. The sleigh is heavy and unwieldy against the too-soft snow, but Artax plows through the expanse of snow-covered lawn easily, soaking both of them and an ecstatic Roger with the spray.

Stiles is ice cold and sopping wet by the time the winter castle comes into view—almost black against the white, half the size, probably, of the Triskelion palace, but still large enough to be intimidating. Somehow it’s much worse now than when he’d first arrived. The stone blended seamlessly into the green and brown countryside, just another too-large, moderately attractive house with the distant backdrop of a forest. Now it’s a hulking, depressing smudge; it’s hard to imagine what it’ll look like in a week or two, draped in fairy lights for Christmas.

“Stop it,” Milo says, nudging him with his elbow as the demon horse jerks to a stop at the edge of the stables.

“Stop what?”

“I don’t know,” Milo says. “Shouldn’t you be happy?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles echoes. He’s hoping this will make him happy, but he can’t quite get his brain on board. “He didn’t even say goodbye.”

“Did you want him to cry in front of everyone?”

Stiles flashes Milo a disbelieving look, but Milo seems strangely serious. And angry. And he knows none of this is actually Stiles’s fault, right? Well, uh, most of it.

Milo gets down from the sleigh to unhook Artax, and Roger happily follows him.

Stiles sits with his hands clasped in between his knees and focuses on breathing.

This is a stupid thing to be scared of. He just needs to go in there and tell Derek he changed his mind. That he wants to give this thing with them a try.

He psyches himself up enough to jump into the snow and trudge down to the cleared path, hunching his shoulders against the rising winds. When he finally reaches the front doors, he doesn’t bother to knock. He just pushes the heavy wood open, blinking the bright sunlight from his eyes.

Stiles is dripping all over the empty foyer, shivering, when Derek appears at the mouth of the hallway to the left. He’s sharp, all in black, with a leather overcoat. A pair of gloves in one hand, a fuzzy gray scarf folded over his other arm.

He freezes when he notices Stiles, face unreadable. “What are you doing here?” he says.

Stiles wrinkles his nose and fights off the urge to cross his arms over his chest. “What do you think I’m doing here?”

God, it’s been, like, twelve hours since Derek practically begged him to stay, was all of that just to save face? To say he put in the maximum effort if anyone calls him on ruining Stiles?

Stiles’s cheeks heat with both anger and humiliation, he never should have listened to Lydia and Scott and Milo.

“I’m…” Derek hesitates, shifts on his feet, “…not sure.”

Stiles stares up at the ceiling, noticing for the first time the large, ornate crystal chandelier. A hulking mass that swings slightly enough for Stiles to wish it’d fall on him and put him out of his misery. He hefts a heavy sigh and looks at Derek again, who’s suddenly a whole ten feet closer. He can see the tiny crows feet at the corner of his eyes, the way his bunny teeth catch at his bottom lip.

Stiles says, “Were you going somewhere?”

“No,” Derek says, and then immediately after, “Yes.” Pink steals onto the apples of his cheeks, but his shoulders tighten up. “Why are you here, Stiles? Did you forget something?”

He sounds defensive enough to melt most of Stiles’s ire. He didn’t come back here to fight.

“You weren’t here. When I left,” Stiles says. He moves forward without even really thinking about it, wet sneaks squeaking on the stone, until their toes are nearly touching.

Derek’s forehead scrunches. He looks confused and a little lost on, “So you came back to… say goodbye?”

“No,” Stiles says. No, he didn’t slog all the way back here to say goodbye, god. He shivers, clutching at the front of his jacket, and Derek’s eyes widen with sudden alarm.

“You’re freezing,” he says in a rush, lurching that last little step toward him and reaching for his zip, shoving the jacket off his shoulders to puddle on the ground. “You’re soaked, how the hell did you get back here, anyway, did you walk?”

“No, I—” His words are swallowed up by Derek tugging off his hat and scarf and pulling his sweatshirt over his head.

“Stiles, you’re going to get sick,” he says, and then Derek’s duster is around him, trapping his arms to his body, and Derek’s tucking him in so close his cold nose is pressed up against Derek’s throat.

“Um,” Stiles says, voice muffled.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, and Stiles doesn’t know if it’s about nearly suffocating him with his skin, letting him leave without saying goodbye, or all the crap that happened before.

And he doesn’t care.

Something about Derek makes him feel settled. He brushes his nose along the warm skin under Derek’s ear, then rests his lips there, slightly parted.

Derek freezes. Stiles can feel the rhythmic clench and unclench of his hands along the material at Stiles’s sides.

“Stiles,” he says, a rumble deep in his chest. “Don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Stiles says without pulling away, chapped lips dragging.

“Don’t.” It’s a short, choked sound. Stiles tastes salt and sweat on his overheated skin. Derek says, “Please,” and, “Not if you don’t really mean it.”

Every molecule in Stiles’s body right now is crying out to be flippant. To shrug off Derek’s concerns, bat his eyelashes. If Derek thinks he could be joking, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much to be brushed off.

But that’s really not an option between them now, and Stiles is sick of bullshit.

Instead, Stiles lifts his head so he can look into Derek’s eyes. “Tell me,” he says. “Do you think we could make this work?”

“I don’t know,” Derek says, and there’s a flattering desperation in the way he’s looking at Stiles’s mouth. “I want you.”

“You do.” Stiles shapes the words carefully.

Derek flicks his gaze up, all pupil and scent-drunk. “I want to try.”

There’s a humming, pulsing energy around them, Stiles is dangerously close to dragging him in for a kiss—he can’t possibly get more ruined, right?—when the heavy doors are thrown open, a cold, sweeping wind cutting through the foyer, and Roger barrels right into the back of his legs.

“Have you made up yet?” Milo says, his voice somewhere between enthusiastically pleased and pissed off. “Stiles’s family is here again.”

Stiles slumps into Derek, tips their foreheads together with a groan, thinking that Milo and Scott and Lydia and everyone has the worst timing, and then his father’s voice echoes through the room, “Son, I’m going to need some kind of logical explanation here, and then maybe I won’t have to kill anyone.”

*

No one ends up killing anyone, but that’s mainly because Cora shows up, and Cora has always been Stiles’s dad’s favorite. She plies him with photos of Artax and hot chocolate and Betsy’s gingerbread cookies while Derek alternates between staring at Stiles and apparently remembering he shouldn’t be staring at Stiles.

Stiles wouldn’t say Derek’s afraid of his dad, but there’s a certain amount of oh shit visible in his face every time his dad levels him a look.

For his part, Stiles really just wants to get Derek alone again. He’s made up his mind. There’s no going back now, right?

Saying, “I’m going to marry Derek,” is like ripping off a band-aid.

His dad arches both his eyebrows. “Should we talk about this first? Not that I doubt your judgement, son, but I was under the false impression that you were keeping Lydia company this week,” he spreads his hands, “and not spending several unsupervised days in a house full of alphas.”

Stiles glances at Derek. There’s a feral, possessive expression on his face, probably due to Stiles announcing his intentions.

Eyes locked with Derek’s, he says, “You didn’t expect me to just decide the rest of my life after one brief meeting,” he looks at his dad again, “did you?”

And then his dad says, somberly, “Can I speak to my son alone?” and everyone reluctantly clears the room.

Scott shoots him a thumbs-up on his way out the door.

Cora has to practically drag Derek out. It’s a gratifying sight, Stiles isn’t going to lie.

The doors shut with a soft click and his dad sighs. He moves to sit next to him in front of the fire. “Stiles,” he says, squeezing his hands.

“I wouldn’t do anything I didn’t want to,” Stiles says.

“Oh, I know.” His dad smiles. “I just… are you sure he wants to?”

“Wow, Dad. Way to kick me when I’m down.”

“I heard what happened.” He looks stern and fond and exasperated. “Half of that is your fault, Stiles, you know exactly how you get—”

“It was triggered!” Stiles yells, face red.

“—and I just want to be sure you know that he’s not doing this just because of…” he pauses, nose wrinkled, “that.”

“You have missed two full days of snow and drama, Dad.” He could have a pity-party about Dad’s lack of faith in his obviously irresistible charm, but it’s comforting to know that he’s looking out for both of them. “I know.”

His dad’s grin softens with a slight tinge of sadness. “Your mother called this, you know. You’ve been in love with him since you were little.”

“I have totally not,” Stiles says, affronted.

“Oh, so someone else made that Derek-centered vision board when you were fourteen?” His dad nods.

Stiles covers his face with his hands, appropriately shamed. God, Derek had been widowed for barely two months at that point, Stiles can’t even believe himself.

“C’mon, son,” he says. He draws him in, wraps an arm around his back, and presses a hand onto the base of his skull. “I’m glad all your teenage dreams are coming true.”

“You’re the worst.” Stiles hugs him tight. “I love you.”

The well-oiled door barely creaks as it opens behind them.

“John,” Queen Talia says from the doorway, delighted. “So good to see you.”

“Your Majesty.” His dad lets go of Stiles to stand and sweep into a deep bow. “Lovely as always.”

“Oh, please.” Grinning, she strides forward to grasp one of his hands. “I hope you didn’t travel all this way just to escort Stiles home.”

His dad throws him a smirk, like Stiles is going to protest staying now. “I suppose we’re awfully close to the holiday festivities.”

“Wonderful. You can help us decorate the tree,” she says. “I’ll have James make you up a room.”

*

Stiles’s dad is great. He totally loves his dad. It’s just that he hasn’t left him alone all day, and Stiles is pretty sure he’s just doing it to fuck with him. Thirty percent propriety, maybe five percent punishment for lying to him, and sixty-five percent pure evil fuckery.

Sure, Stiles is supposed to be chaperoned with all alpha interactions, but that ship has sailed and sunk into the ocean, Stiles and Derek are technically engaged, even if it hasn’t been announced yet—or formally acknowledged by Derek, which isn’t making Stiles anxious at all, for real—and all Stiles wants is a couple of minutes to corner Derek and make sure they’re both still on the same page. That everything Stiles told his dad was right. That Stiles isn’t making a fool of himself here.

It’s hard not to have doubts, especially when Derek won’t even really look at him.

Despite that, though, dinner is raucous and intimate. Laura’s husband, Greg, shows up in time for dessert and tree decorating, along with their three cats. Scott and Derek and Laura help Betsy bake sugar cookies, while Boyd and Clyde bring down massive boxes of Christmas ornaments for the tree.

Stiles sulks in front of the fire and ignores his dad’s worried looks until Milo kicks at his feet and says, “Help me get hot chocolate.”

Stiles makes a face but gets up. “We still need to work on your manners, dude. How about asking?”

“This is ridiculous,” Milo says, rolling his eyes and grabbing for Stiles. He’s surprisingly strong for an eleven year old, and Stiles tries and fails to twist his wrist out of his grip. “This is bullshit.”

“Language,” Stiles says, only putting up a token protest at being dragged out of the room and down the hall. He’s kind of curious. They go past the kitchen to a nondescript door and Stiles is fairly certain Milo doesn’t want to kill him, but there’s an eerily lack of light back here, and a sort of ominous grinding sound.

Milo opens the door as Stiles hears, “I don’t think we have any more bags of brown sugar back…here.” Derek trails off when he sees Stiles in the doorway.

Milo shoves Stiles in the middle of his back and Stiles stumbles all the way into the pantry, catching himself on a shelf. He says, “Now talk,” and then shuts the door.

A single bare bulb dangles above the roughly five by five room.

Derek looks shocked to see him, lips parted, which is sort of insulting.

Stiles rocks back on his heels and says, “So.”

Derek clicks his mouth shut, scowling.

Stiles throws his hands up in the air and says, “Oh, come on, what’s the problem now? Was it,” he swallows hard, moves back toward the door, “was it me telling my dad I wanted to marry you? Having second thoughts?”

Derek’s scowl softens. “No, I…” He curses, quiet and hoarse, and for moments afterward the only sound in the small space is their uneven breathing. Finally, he says, “Do you really want to marry me?”

“What do you think I’ve been saying?” Stiles says, frustrated.

“Okay.” Derek breathes deep, takes a tentative step toward him. “Okay, then. What’s a vision board?”

Stiles tenses up. “Um. What?” Holy crap. What the fuck, Derek had heard that? Oh man, that’s probably…. Not great. That’s humiliating. And Derek had adored his wife, so, like, Stiles is… god, he was just a dumb teenager with a crush, and now Derek knows about it.

“Stiles,” Derek says. “Stiles, what…” He presses closer, runs his hands up Stiles’s arms, tucking them behind his elbows and reeling him in toward his chest. “It’s okay, calm down.”

“But—” Stiles gasps out a breath, idly thinking this is a stupid thing to get so freaked out about.

“You’re fine,” Derek says.

Stiles tips his forehead into the crook of Derek’s neck and says, “I’m… I couldn’t help it, okay? And I still can’t help it.” There’s the kicker, he’s doomed. “You gave me a goddamned dog.”

Palms gently run up the back of his arms, across the top of his spine. “I did,” Derek says, something fond and amused in his tone.

Stiles says, “Of course I want to marry you, assface.”

Derek’s cheek brushes against his. “Good,” he says. “I want to marry you, too.”

“Oh.” Stiles doesn’t know why that surprises him, after everything, but relief makes his knees weak.

“Hey, hey,” Derek says, tipping his head back and nudging his fingers under Stiles’s chin. “You’re going to stay.” It’s not a question, and his eyes are shining.

“Duh,” Stiles says. He’s totally not crying at all, either.

And then Derek’s mouth is on his mouth, hot and soft, and Stiles makes a sound in the back of his throat, like he’s dying. Derek tightens his hands on him, Stiles hands fly up to grip the collar of Derek’s shirt, and then a bunch of unwieldy crap almost falls on him when Derek backs him roughly up into the wall of shelves.

“Oops,” Stiles says, panting, and then whines a little, high pitched, as Derek shoves a thigh in between his legs, hands falling to his hips.

“This is a bad idea,” Derek says.

“Making out is never a bad idea,” Stiles says. He tilts his had back so Derek can kiss his throat. He hitches a leg up, lets Derek’s hands slip down to palm his ass. They’re probably going to get caught if they don’t stop, but what’s the worst that could happen? His dad probably didn’t even bring his gun.

Derek says, “C’mon, Stiles,” and, “Wait, wait, just,” and then he pauses with one hand down the back of Stiles’s pants, fingers digging in his ass cheek, and drops his head down onto the top of Stiles’s shoulder. “Wait,” he breathes.

“I’m waiting,” Stiles says, wriggling in his hold.

Derek laughs. “Smart ass,” he says. “Everyone is going to wonder where we went.”

“Everyone is going to know exactly where we went.” He pouts up at the ceiling when Derek steps back a little, sliding his hands off his skin, catching at Stiles’s wrists when he growls at him and scrambles not to let him go.

“Be good,” Derek says. There’s just enough alpha in his tone to make Stiles shiver, arch his back to try and cat closer again. “What if Milo comes back?”

“Milo shoved us in this pantry together. If he gets an eyeful, that’s exactly what he deserves.” Stiles maneuvers himself into turning around, hands still caught and crossed in front of him, curling into the cradle of Derek’s arms, back to front.

Derek leans down and murmurs in his ear, “Not now.”

Stiles slumps. “Ugh, fine. Do you think he locked us in?”

“I think this room doesn’t have a lock,” Derek says.

Stiles feels him very carefully place his open mouth at the juncture of his neck, blunt teeth worrying his skin. A rush of want and heat radiates out of his belly, it’s embarrassing how fast he goes completely limp in Derek’s hold.

“Perfect,” Derek murmurs, then licks over the marks he’s surely left there, an imitation of a claiming bite, making Stiles’s skin tingle.

Stiles swallows hard, throat completely dry. There’s a frisson of apprehension sparking through his body. Intimacy during heat is a lot different than having sex in a pantry while your dad decorates the royal Christmas tree down the hall. “We should, uh…”

“Yes,” Derek says, and Stiles isn’t sure if he’s disappointed or relieved that Derek steps back and opens the door.

Derek takes his hand, linking their fingers together as they walk down the hallway, and just as they reach the mouth of the foyer, the front door creaks open on a couple firm knocks.

A familiar smiling face peeks through. “Hello?” Melissa says, stepping all the way inside. “Does this young man belong to anyone?”

A kid caked head to toe in mud is standing next to Melissa, grinning widely. “Hey,” he says, waving.

“How are you covered in mud?” Stiles asks. The snow hasn’t even begun to melt yet.

“I fell in a hole!”

Derek’s practically exuding disapproval next to him, Stiles can feel it in the air, and Stiles jabs an elbow into his stomach, narrows his eyes and mouths be nice.

The family room doors are open, and both Scott and his dad walk over to hug Melissa hello.

Cora hangs on the doorjamb, frowning. “Who are you?” she says.

The young man wrinkles his nose and waves again. “Oh, yeah, hi, I think I’m the new nanny? Right? I’m Liam.”

“Oh my god, he’s perfect,” Stiles says, watching in awe as Cora tries to break his hand in greeting. Liam’s smile doesn’t even falter. “Milo’s going to eat him alive.”

“Stiles,” Derek says, but notice he actually doesn’t disagree with him.

Everyone has drifted out of the family room and into the foyer, including the queen. She has tinsel in her hair, icing on her lips, and Roger is tugging on a satin sash she’s got in her hands, like this commotion has interrupted them playing.

She makes an effort to pat her hair down, greets Liam—he dips so far in a bow he nearly brains himself on the floor—and then beams at Derek and Stiles.

Milo, ducking out from behind her, stares at them too, and says, “You’re holding hands.”

“You locked us in the pantry together,” Stiles says, bewildered. What did he think would happen?

“Technically,” Milo says, “the door didn’t actually lock. Did you make up?”

“And out,” Stiles mutters, and Derek covers his face with his free hand while Queen Talia claps her hands once and says, “Excellent! We’ll have a royal announcement at the ball. I hope you’ll agree to short engagement, Stiles, we can start planning the wedding immediately.” She beckons Clyde to follow her as she turns from the room, muttering about tailors and honeymoons and rocking chairs, Roger trailing after her hopefully.

Stiles frowns slightly and says, “I feel like there’s something she’s not telling us about the rush.”

Cora mouths a million babies at him, but she’s too far away to kick.

The foyer clears out in minutes. It’s past time for turning in, and Melissa still has to get settled, and his dad shoots Stiles a patented Stilinski I’m happy for you but please make healthy choices look as they leave.

Liam tips his nose up and says, “Do I smell cookies?”

Milo glares at him. They’re of a height, is the hilarious thing, and Stiles clings to Derek’s arm and watches, enraptured, as Liam’s irrepressible smile slowly drags Milo into a state of light confusion.

“What’s your deal?” Milo says. “Are you on drugs?”

Stiles feels Derek tense up beside him, but Stiles digs his fingers in and hisses, “No, no, let’s see how this plays out.”

Derek completely ignores him, of course, and says, “You’re an omega.”

Stiles palms his face. He says to everyone and no one, “I feel like all of you were raised by wolves. Am I right?” He jabs a finger at Liam. “You don’t have to confirm that.”

Liam shrugs, a small crack in his cheerful veneer in the baring of his teeth. “No, I’m not on drugs.” He squints one eye at Derek. It’s a mean eye. Stiles has maybe underestimated him. “And yes, I’m an omega.”

“Cool,” Milo says, in a voice that says it’s not entirely cool, but he’s reserving judgement. “Wanna go play video games?”

Stiles watches them leave and says, “I feel like that’s a mistake.”

Derek is quiet next to him, and Stiles gives him a questioning look.

“Nothing,” Derek says. His eyes are intense, but his smile is warm, and Stiles can’t help but bring up a hand to cup his cheek.

“Sure?”

Derek nods, a slow dip to his head, the scruff on his face scraping Stiles’s hand, making him shiver. He says, “I think the family room is empty. Would you like to help me finish decorating the tree?”

“Why, Prince Derek, are you trying to trick me into a compromising position?”

Warm fingers wrap around his wrist, holding him still as Derek presses a kiss into the middle of his palm. “Yes. Yes, I am,” Derek says, and Stiles just laughs.