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A Very Merry Mixup

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Stiles was a happy child, always full of wonder and questions. So many questions, his father would say. But his mom, she never tired of answering them. Never failed to teach him something new and exciting, helping to regulate his hyperactivity and fixation with constant discovery. It helped that she owned a curios/antique store that had a constant revolving door of new treasures and mysteries waiting to be solved. Stiles loved nothing more than uncovering the history of a new piece, and even made it into the paper once for properly identifying and returning a locket belonging to a lower ranking member of the British Royal Family, who had given it to their secret lover before he left for France in 1942.

 

When Stiles lost his mom at thirteen, his mind went into overdrive. It was like she had been the dam that kept his flow of conscience in check and without her, he couldn’t cope. Luckily, his father, a local police captain, saw what was happening to Stiles and agreed to let him home school in the evenings, leaving him open to spend his days at the shop, keeping his mind busy and feeling closer to his mother.  

 

Fifteen years later, Stiles is still running the store. His dad retired last year and is currently on the cruise Stiles and a few of his buddies got him as a retirement gift. At the time, Stiles hadn’t really considered what it meant that his dad would be gone for Christmas, those were just the cheapest tickets.

 

But he’s not alone, he has his shop, and his customers, and then there’s Will. Stiles pauses in his ribbon sorting to smile, thinking about the man who crashed into his life and proceeded to sweep Stiles off his feet.

 

It seems fitting that at that moment, Will comes crashing in again, this time dragging a giant tree behind him into the store. Stiles tries to play it cool, but he knows his face lights up because just yesterday he’d talked about wanting to go out and get a tree, a real one. One they had to chop down, and tie to the car, and bring back into the city, and now here is Will, making Stiles’ dream come true.

 

Will’s on the phone, talking about some contract or other, but Stiles has stopped trying to keep track of all the deals Will makes. The world of San Francisco realty moves too fast, even for Stiles.

 

“I’ll have it sent over this afternoon. Yeah. Okay, thanks, talk to you soon.” Will cuts the call and throws his arms out, clearly pleased with himself.

 

“I can’t believe you got me a Christmas tree. It’s beautiful!” Stiles tells him, coming out from behind the counter to kiss him.

 

“Isn’t it? It’s fake!” Will proclaims.

 

Stiles blinks and steps back. “Oh, um. Okay.”

 

“But, I know how important that fresh tree smell is to you, so I got a bottle of Blue Spruce scented deodorant spray.” Will pulls the bottle out of his pocket and sprays the tree liberally.

 

“Ha, don’t you just think of everything.” Stiles coughs, waving the fumes away from his face. He’s a bit disappointed, but not totally surprised. Will’s heart is in the right place, but his thoughtfulness always seems to land just short of the mark. Plus, he’s super busy, so when would he have had time to go cut down a Christmas tree? This is infinitely more practical.

 

“It’s perfect. Maybe even a little too perfect, don’t you think?” Stile examines the flexible branches.

 

“Well, you’re the expert,” Will tells him, moving behind the counter to poke at the new deliveries.

 

“Maybe I could cut a few of the branches off, thin it out a little. Make it lopsided.” Stiles mutters to himself.

 

“What’s this?” Will asks, pulling an old clock from under the counter.

 

Stiles brightens, rolling onto the balls of his feet in his excitement. “Oh! That’s a late 18th century replica of the Bernkastel Christmas Clock.”

 

“Are you kidding me?” Will crouches to get a better look. “It must be worth a small fortune—”

 

“Did you see all the hand-painted pictograms?” Stiles rambles on.

 

“How much does something like this sell for?”

 

Stiles waves his hand. “Oh, I don’t think I could ever sell this.”

 

“But—”

 

“It’s just too beautiful,” he explains.

 

Will sighs and fixes him with an amused stare. “Remember when you asked me to tell you to stop doing that thing where you don’t sell things because of sentimental value?”

 

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I know, I know, but this is different. This is very special.”

 

“Stiles,” Will says, taking his hands to still him.

 

“Maybe you’re right,” Stiles laments, looking wistfully at the clock. It really is beautiful; his mother would have loved it.

 

Will pulls him into a hug, rubbing Stiles' back. “Being right doesn’t mean I’m not sorry.”

 

“Thanks,” Stiles mumbles against his shoulder.

 

“Hey, did that developer ever call you?” Will asks, pulling back.

 

“Nope,” Stiles tells him, migrating back to the clock.

 

“No? Huh.”

 

“Hey, have I ever told you the story of the Bernkastel Christmas Clock?”

 

“No, but I get the feeling you’re going to,” Will teases from the other side of the tree.

 

Stiles rubs his hands together and launches into it. “Sometime in the early 17th Century, a young clockmaker fell in love with a peasant girl. She was the most beautiful woman in the village, but her parents had already promised her to someone else.”

 

“Philistines!” Will calls out.

 

“I know!” Stiles grins, tracing the tip of his finger around one of the clock’s arches. “But the clockmaker thought that if he were to make the most magnificent clock known to man, her parents would reconsider and break the arranged engagement. But the young woman’s suitor caught wind of these plans and he whisked her far, far away. The day before Christmas, a gift arrived for the young woman and when she opened it, she found the most amazing clock she’d ever seen. The clock was so beautiful she secretly carried it with her wherever she went from that day forward.” Stiles turns the clock as he speaks, following the pictograms as they illustrate the story. “On her wedding day, she wept over the clock, praying for a miracle, and just as she walked down the aisle, the clock stopped, freezing time. The woman ran out of the church, bursting through the doors into the town square, where all the townsfolk were rooted, stalk-still in the middle of their day. She ran right past them and into the arms of the clockmaker. They ran off together and they lived happily ever after, never to be seen again. Or so the story goes.”

 

Will makes a soft noise of agreement when Stiles stops talking and Stiles ducks behind the tree to see what’s caught his attention.

 

“I’ve been meaning to reorganize that shelf for weeks,” Stiles tells him when he sees what Will is doing.

 

“Yeah? Well, we make a great team.” Will smiles.

 

“We do, thank you,” Stiles agrees and pecks him on the lips.

 

”Hey, do you have the store’s books ready?”

 

Stiles shrugs, following Will back to the counter. “Nah, I haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

 

Will frowns at him.

 

“I know, I know it’s important, and I will do it, I promise.”

 

Will shakes his head and checks his phone. “What’s the square footage of this place again?”

 

“Ah, about twelve hundred or something. Why?”

 

Will phone rings and he looks up apologetically. “It’s Mike Harper, I’m meeting him for squash, I gotta go.”

 

“Oh, okay.”

 

“Listen, don’t forget, seven-thirty tonight, Earthworks.”

 

Stiles gives him two thumbs up. “Got it, I’ll be there.”

 

“Not in jeans, right?” Will checks.

 

“I’ll make you proud, babe, I promise.”

 

“You always do,” Will says and is out the door with a wink.

 

Stiles smiles after him, then dedicates the rest of his day to cleaning the clock.

Chapter Text

Will is twenty-five minutes late to the restaurant, but Stiles is used to it by now. They’ve been together six months and Will is rarely on time unless it’s for business, but at least he calls or texts to let Stiles know.

“Sorry I'm late, but guess who just sold the Westin condo for 200K over asking?” Will greets him, bending to kiss Stiles cheek.

“That’s amazing!” Stiles grins at him. “Congratulations, we have to celebrate.” Stiles opens his menu just as is stomach starts to growl. He may have skipped lunch in favour of sketching the Bernkastel clock.

“Absolutely! You know, you have to try the tofu plate, I promise, you’ll swear it’s just like kobe beef,” Will tells him.

“I doubt that, but it’s your night, so why not?” Stiles concedes, buoyed by Will’s good mood. He can always stop for a cheeseburger and curly fries on the way home if he hates it.

Stiles hates it. It’s spongy and bland, and worst of all, cold. Will is happily eating a steak and checking his phone so Stiles eats the beet and the parsley and ignores the tofu completely, already dreaming about the greasy perfection that awaits him at his local diner.

“Hey, did you ever call that developer?” Will asks.

Stiles nods, reaching for his water. “Yeah, I told him I wasn’t interested in selling the shop.”

“Smart, he’s not offering nearly enough. Antiques may have relative value, but real estate in Cole Valley does not,” Will says, glancing around the restaurant.

“I just don’t think I could ever sell my mom’s store for any amount of money. I mean, it’s all I have left of her,” Stiles explains, taking a bread roll from the basket and shoving it into his mouth.

Will is distracted on his phone, so he doesn’t notice Stiles’ eyes watering when the roll turns out to be too big and he has to swallow around it. “Well, as long as you know you can get money out of that store, that’s all I’m saying.”

Their waiter appears at Will’s elbow with a bottle of expensive champagne and two glasses and Stiles tries to stifle his choking when Will puts down his phone and looks up at him.

“Stiles,”

“Will,” he coughs out.

“I have something to ask you,” Will says seriously, another waiter appears, this one holding a camcorder, and Stiles gets nervous. I mean, who even uses camcorders anymore?

“Okay, I lied, the tofu was awful,” he tries to deflect.

Will smiles. “It’s not about the tofu, babe.”

“Are you sure?” he tries, giving Will a tight smile because what appears to be happening cannot actually be happening, because that would be impulsive and a spectacle, and holy crap, that is exactly what’s happening.

“Stiles,” Will stands and snaps his fingers and the champagne bringer produces a plate with a velvet box and two small carrots on it. “Could you just move your chair over just a bit?”

“Um, okay,” Stile frowns and shuffles to the right.

“That is perfect,” Will taps his knife against his glass and Stiles’ stomach swoops. They’ve only been together six months, and Will has to know they should have at least talked about this first, right? “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please? My name is William Hale, and I am madly in love with Stiles Stilinski.”

“Will, what are you doing?” Stiles wheezes. Everyone in the restaurant is looking at them and he can feel the pressure building in his chest, his heart beating frantically under the weight of the moment.

“It’s true, it’s so true. And I know this is going to sound corny, but love is corny, so, I’m going to say it anyway. You told me that your favourite Jelly Belly flavour is toasted marshmallow because you love the taste of the charred skin on the outside and totally got the gooey, melt in your mouth middle. And that’s because that’s you, Stiles. Indomitable exterior, yet tender on the inside.”

He can’t breath and the room is so, so bright. Stiles’ fingers are gripping the seat of his chair because he knows if he lets go he’s going to fall over and pass out. “Will, this is crazy, what are you doing?”

“Love is crazy, baby,” Will gets down on one knee, plucking the velvet box from the plate and taking Stiles’ hand in his. “Stiles, you are my sun, my rain, my life. Will you marry me?

He’s sweaty, and panicked, and so overwhelmed, but Stiles knows there’s an expectation here. That you don’t say no to things like this just because they don’t happen the way you expected them to. Will is a good man, he’s kind, and attentive, and he obviously loves Stiles. How can he say no? “Ahh, I, I don’t know what to say, I mean…ah, yeah?”

Will laughs at his lame acceptance, but it’s not malicious or teasing, instead there’s a look of fondness in his eyes and Stiles tries to pull himself together because Will deserves a proper answer.

“Of course, I mean, of course, yeah, yes. Yes.”

Will smiles triumphantly and shakes the box. “Two carats, get it?”

Stiles grins through his world slipping sideways. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. I didn’t even know you could get a man’s ring with two carats on it. Wow.”

“Only the best for you,” Will says and kisses him, the restaurant erupting in applause. Will slips the ring on his left hand, humming when he realizes it’s about two sizes too big. “Oh.”

“Hey, that’s okay, we’ll get it sized tomorrow,” Stiles assures him, closing his fist to keep the ring in place. It's heavy and cold, and looks foreign on Stiles' slim finger.

Will winces. “Yeah, no, I don’t think we have time. See, I have another proposal. I thought that my parents would love to meet their future son in law, so... why don’t we spend Christmas at their house?”

Stiles’ jaw drops and most of the panic recedes as he grasps at the distraction. “Really, your parents? I would love to finally meet them! Maybe we can all go chop down a Christmas tree together, or, they probably already have one of those. I hope we’re not too late to help with the decorating, or, or, maybe we could even make some decorations. Did you know that the first Christmas trees were adorned with candles, paper roses, and even painted eggshells? I’ve always wanted to have a tree like that, but, you know, fire hazard. Sometimes they even put cookies on the trees, oh, cookies! Can we make cookies? My mom and I used to make the best Christmas cookies, they were Cheerios and marshmallows, in the shape of a tree and topped with this green sugar glaze. To die for!”

“My mother is macrobiotic,” Will interjects gently, but he’s still smiling, so Stiles must be doing all right. He didn’t mess up the moment.

“Oh, oh. I don’t know what that is.”

“Don’t worry, it’s going to be fine. Just be your charming self, and they’ll love you.” Will squeezes his hand and the ring digs into Stiles’ fingers.

“Charming, right.”

Will’s phone starts to ring and just like that he’s back to business, like this is just any other date night and he didn’t just turn Stiles’ entire world upside down.. “I need to get this, I’ll be right back, okay?”

“Um, okay,” Stiles gives him the best smile he can muster and is left at the table with his glass of champagne and his too big ring. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Chapter Text

Stiles spends the rest of the night panicking and looking up cookie recipes on Pinterest. His Christmas stress just went from spending his first Christmas alone to meeting his future in-laws, and he’s kind of freaking out. He ends up taking an Adderall when his research into macrobiotics takes a dark turn and by the time Will picks him up to head to the airport he has forty-seven new cookie recipes and has been awake for nearly thirty hours.

 

Will gives him a worried look when Stiles open the door, hyped up, but weary if the way he’s swaying while he walks is as obvious as he thinks it is. Stiles waves off his concern, knowing he’ll sleep on the plane, and keeps up his ramblings on the apparent importance of aluminum-free baking powder.

 

Will’s phone beeps and he drops Stiles’ suitcase when he sees the message. “I finally got an offer on the Harris estate.”

 

“Wow, that’s great!” Stiles says, knowing what an albatross that property has been for Will.

 

“It’s amazing. I gotta make a counter offer asap, give me your phone.”

 

Stiles frowns, but hands it over.

 

“So this is my parent’s address in Beacon Hills. You go, and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

 

Stiles gapes at him. “You’re not coming? But I don’t even know your parents, I can’t, I mean-.”

 

“Don’t worry about it, it’s not like they bite,” Will says, steadying him with his hands on Stiles’ shoulders. “Just take a cab from the airport and I’ll be on the next flight, I promise.”

 

Stiles flails. “But I can’t just barge in and say, ‘Hi, nice to meet you, I’m going to marry your son.’ What if they don’t like me?”

 

“How could anyone not like you?” Will soothes, pushing him gently into the backseat of the cab. “And just wait until you tell them how I proposed, they are going to love it!”

 

Will closes the door and Stiles immediately rolls down the window, leaning out as far as he can. “Are you sure?”

 

“Completely,” Will says, smiling.

 

“Oh, okay, um, I love you!” Stiles calls as the cab pulls away from the curb.

 

“Love you too, babe,” Will says, phone already pressed to his ear.

Chapter Text

Stiles does manage to sleep on the plane, but the flight is only thirty-five minutes, so it does little to help with the zombie-chic vibe he’s working. As soon as he lands he calls Will to let him know, and he’s a little annoyed, but not surprised, that he’s sent straight to voicemail. He knows Will is working, but the guy kinda sent Stiles alone into the breach, so he could least pick up his damn phone.

 

He waits at the smallest luggage carousel he’s ever seen, scrolling through his Pinterest cookie board trying to decide which to make first, so it takes him longer than it should to realize he’s the only one left standing there fifteen minutes later.

 

“So I’ve got nothing,” Stiles vents to Will’s voicemail after he’s told his bag somehow didn’t make it onto the tiny plane he risked his life on to get here. “If you get this message, could you let your parents know I’m running a bit late because I have to file a claim now, and it’s Christmas, so there’s a big line. Um, maybe you could stop by your place and grab some of the clothes I left there? They’re not fancy, but even khaki’s are better than airplane jeans, right? I guess this would be a good time for you to have a key to my place, and I’m rambling again, so I’m going to go. All right, if you get this message, call me. Bye.”

 

He gets in line at the claims counter, scrolling through his messages in case he missed one from Will and wondering how someone can be so unreachable in this age of constant connectivity. Over the scent of the coffee Stiles was smart/desperate enough to buy from a vending machine, there’s a woodsy-earthy smell with a hint of cinnamon that has Stiles actually leaning forward when he realizes it’s coming from the man in front of him. He smells like Christmas trees in Stiles’ childhood memories, and he has to stifle a giggle at the thought of the terrible can of ‘Blue Spruce’ Will bought.

 

The guy steps up to the counter a few minutes later and Stiles can tell by the tone of his voice and the rigid line of his spine under his leather jacket that he’s really, really trying not to sound as pissed as he actually is.

 

“I paid an extra fee when I checked in and they wrapped it up in all sorts of fragile tape,” the guy says slowly, carefully. “How do you lose something like that?”

 

The woman behind the counter, Denise, according to her nametag, smiles blandly. “Sir, it’s not lost, it’s just been misplaced.”

 

“That’s the same thing,” the man growls, his fingers gripping the counter.

 

“I am trying to help you, sir,” Denise tell him, not looking up from her computer.

 

“And I’m trying to tell you that if it’s not here by Christmas, then it’s a total loss.”

 

Stiles’ little Christmas obsessed heart goes out to him at that. The missing item must be sentimental, and those are the best gifts, everyone knows that.

 

“It is our policy to compensate you for the value of your package if it’s not recovered,” Denise rattles off, like she’s reading from a script.

 

“It’s priceless.”

 

She looks up at that. “Was it insured?”

 

“No, I...I made it, okay?” he says, quieter, like he doesn’t want anyone to know and it’s a good thing Stiles is unabashedly eavesdropping or he’d have missed the admission. “I spent six months making sure every detail was perfect.”

 

Stiles wants to hug him because the thought of losing something that means that much hits a little too close to home.

 

Denise, however, is unmoved. “Sir, please fill out this form and if it’s not recovered, the airline will assess the monetary value of the package.”

 

“It’s not about the money,” the guys snaps, slamming his hand down on the counter. “It’s a special gift for my sister.”

 

Denise looks pointedly at the man’s hand, then at his face, warning clear in her single raised eyebrow. “Would you like to borrow a pen?”

 

He man bows his head and takes a step back, right into Stiles’ space. “Sure, thanks.”

 

Stiles has one brief moment of warmth and that winter cinnamon smell, and then the man is gone, leaving Denise to stare at him like he’s the worst part of her job, which he very well might be. He plasters on a smile and asks what he needs to fill out for missing luggage.

 

He spots the man, hunched over a stack of papers in a bank of chairs not far away and makes a beeline for him. He wants to know what the missing gift is and he never could say no to a mystery. The guy glances up when Stiles approaches, and holy crap, is he ever more than just a good set of shoulders. Stiles trips into his seat, trying not to stare at the, well, at all of him. From the thick eyebrows and wide forehead, down to the stubble covering a truly fantastic jawline and trailing over the delicate skin of his long neck. The collar of his sweater is a little stretched out, and even with the t-shirt he’s wearing under it, the guy’s traps have Stiles’ mouth watering.

 

Wait. No. Not watering, appreciating. Because he’s engaged, not dead. Stiles manages a smile and a nod, and gets down to filling out his own forms. He’s deep into his coffee, having written his cursed full name for the third time, but every time he glances up, he catches the guy looking at him.

 

He takes that as an opening and sets his half finished coffee aside.  ”I feel like I’m writing my memoirs.”

 

“Excuse me?” The guy asks, like he didn’t notice anyone was sitting there.

 

Stiles chooses to ignore whatever game the guy is playing and forge on because he needs to know what the gift is. “This form, it’s huge. It’s not enough that they’ve lost our valuables, now we have to write an essay to maybe get them back.”

 

The guy grunts. “Insult to injury.”

 

“Exactly!” he cries and the corners of the man’s mouth curl up the tiniest bit. They sit and stare for an awkward minute, but Stiles has never met a silence he couldn’t fill. “I’m really sorry they lost your package.”

 

The man looks uncomfortable, but he nods. “Me too. I mean, I’m sorry they lost your bag.”

 

“Oh, mine is just clothes, nothing important.”

 

More awkward silence follows so Stiles opens the candy he bought and shoves a peanut butter cup into his mouth just as the man collects his papers and stands.

 

“Merry Christmas,” Stiles garbles through a full mouth.

 

The guy raises an eyebrow, but huffs a quiet laugh. “Yeah.”

 

Stiles rushes through the rest of his forms and gathers his things. Maybe if he hurries, he can catch the guy at the counter and make a better impression. He jumps to his feet a minute later and promptly trips over his headphone cord and goes stumbling forward. He collides with something hard and warm, and his phone falls into his half-full cup of coffee, splashing it all over his white shirt.

 

“Shit, I’m sorry,” the mystery man says, crouching to pick up their things.

 

Stiles stares down at the coffee soaking into his white shirt, the white shirt Will expressedly asked him to wear to meet his parents, and he feels the start of an epic panic attack coming on. “Please tell me this is just a little stain, barely noticeable, and can be dabbed out with a tissue.”

 

“Uh, it would have to be a pretty big tissue,” the man says, standing. “I’m really sorry.”

 

“I’m about to meet my future family and this is the only outfit I have,” Stiles wheezes. His chest is tight and he would swear the stain is growing, spreading and sinking in until the whole shirt is dripping onto the carpet.

 

“Whoa, whoa, breathe,” he man tells him, pulling Stiles through a door. The noise of the terminal falls away, replaced with instrumental Christmas songs and the quiet, soothing voice of the man in front of him. “Is it okay if I touch you?”

 

Stile whines, high-pitched and long, and scrambles to grip the guy’s forearms as an anchor. His fingernails dig into the soft leather, but the guy doesn’t seem to mind, he just pulls Stiles a little closer and speaks slow and even, and Stiles has no idea what he’s saying, but it’s working. He focuses on the man’s voice, closing his eyes and letting the constant drone of words wash over him as his heart rate slows and his breathing evens out.

 

“Shit, shit, I’m so sorry, dude,” Stiles gasps, his voice still tight.

 

“It’s no problem, it happens. But I think after surviving this, you can call me something other than dude,” he says, smiling, and Stiles’ heart starts to speed again because it’s bright, and genuine, and friendly, even after Stiles freaked out all over him.

 

“Bro?” he jokes weakly.

 

“How about Derek?”

 

“Derek,” Stiles says. “Stiles.”

 

“Well, Stiles, lets see if we can’t clean you up, okay?” Derek’s voice is still calm and reassuring, and Stiles thinks he would probably do anything he asks at this point, which may be why he’s currently taking off his jacket and peeling the wet shirt over his head.

 

Goosebumps prickle over his skin in the cool air of the bathroom, then again when he watches Derek not-so-discreetly check him out. Stiles crosses his arms over his chest, trying not to blush, but then Derek whips off his own jacket and sweater, handing the latter to him.

 

“Don’t want you to catch a chill,” Derek explains, not quite meeting Stiles’ gaze.

 

“Uh, right. Thanks.” Stiles pulls the sweater over his head and nearly moans. It’s warm from Derek’s body and smells just like him, but more intimately than Stiles could catch from standing close by. Now there’s a layer of something more raw and natural, which must be Derek at his purest. He’s never reacted to a smell like this before, but Stiles could happily live and die in this one.

 

Derek rinses out Stiles’ shirt in the sink, using hand soap to work out the stain and rinsing until the water runs clear. He fights with the Dyson hand drier, shoving one section of the shirt at a time into the narrow opening. Stiles watches him, amused, until the shirt is mostly dry. Derek shakes it out, frowning so hard it’s nearly a pout when the spot where the stain had been is stretched out from his scrubbing.

 

“This is totally my fault.”

 

“Yeah, kinda,” Stiles agrees, shrugging helplessly when Derek looks hurt.

 

“Let me make it up to you,” Derek insists.

 

“Do you own a clothing store?” Stiles asks.

 

“No, but I could take you to one and I can buy you a new shirt. I know a store that sells ones like this,” Derek looks cautiously hopeful.

 

Stiles checks his watch, wincing. “Is it on the way to Beacon Hills?”

 

Derek’s eyebrows do something broody and low. “You’re going to Beacon Hills?”

 

“Yep.”

 

Derek nods, squaring his shoulders. “That’s where I’m going, you can ride with me.”

 

“Um, okay,” Stiles says, looking at Derek in a new light. Is he really going to Beacon Hills, or is he just planning on murdering Stiles and dumping his body on the way?

 

“We’ll stop for a shirt and you can change, and then I’ll drop you off at-” Derek prompts.

 

“My future in-laws,” Stiles reminds him.

 

“You’re engaged, right,” Derek looks away, not quite meeting Stiles’ gaze when he turns back. “So where are they?”

 

“Who?” Stiles asks, trying to stop himself from petting Derek’s sweater. It’s very soft and it’s actually taking willpower not to pull it up over his nose and breathe in that delicious scent.

 

“Your fiancé.”

 

Stiles puts on a beaming smile to cover any disappointment he feels at Will’s absence. “He had a meeting, he’ll be on the next flight.”

 

“Really?” Derek asks, skeptically.

 

“Yes,” Stiles says, his smile so wide it’s starting to hurt. “He had to close a deal. A big deal.”

 

“Oh, a big deal.” Derek raises his eyebrows, teasing.

 

Stiles’ flushes with embarrassment and pulls out his phone because he so does not have time to play twenty questions with a near stranger right now. His phone screen flashes twice, then goes dead, and Stiles can feel the panic coming back. “Oh no. Oh, please tell me this is not happening.”

 

“What?” Derek asks, his hand already rubbing soothing circles on Stiles’ back, like he can sense another attack coming on.

 

“My phone. It’s dead.”

 

“Shit, I’ll pay for it to be fixed,” Derek says, all quiet and genuine again, and Stiles is really too exhausted to deal the rollercoaster that has been his day.

 

“No, no, no, I have no idea where I’m going! The address was on the phone!”

 

“Take my phone, call your fiancé and get the address,” Derek offers, his hand still on Stiles.

 

“Thanks,” Stiles says, begrudgingly, accepting Derek’s phone. “Ugh, I feel so stupid.”

 

“Don’t, this kind of thing could happen to anyone. And he’s the one who sent you ahead when you clearly shouldn’t be left on your own.”

 

Stiles glares, but he leans into Derek’s touch a little because it’s keeping him steady and he kind of really needs that right now, okay? It’s nothing weird or untoward, he’s engaged. Unsurprisingly, his call to Will goes to voicemail. Again.

 

“Hey, it’s me. You’re going straight to voicemail, so that’s annoying. They didn’t find my bag and my phone is out of commission so I’m lost as to where to go.” Stiles tries to sound chipper, but he’s pretty sure the cracks are beginning to show and Will will hear his stress. “I’m going to try calling you again in a few minutes, so if a strange number pops up, it’s just me, the future Mr. Hale.”

 

When he ends the call, Derek is staring at him like he has two heads. “Hale?”

 

“Yeah...”

 

“You’re kidding,” he chokes out.

 

“Why would I kid about my fiancé’s last name?”

 

“I’m a Hale,” Derek says slowly. “What’s your fiancé’s name?”

 

“Will. William Hale.”

 

“You’re engaged to Billy Hale?” Derek asks, sounding a little lost. “Billy’s my brother.”

 

Stiles gapes. “Will’s your brother?”

 

“We never called him Will, but he always hated Billy, so I shouldn’t be surprised he changed it.”

 

Stiles nods. “Yeah, that sounds like him. This is freaky, he never even told me he had a brother.”

 

“Well, he never mentioned he had a fiancé.” Derek’s laugh is hollow, and he’s starting to look a little panicked himself.

 

Stiles stares down at his feet. “That’s still pretty new. We were going to wait to tell everybody together. I guess the cat’s out of the bag now. Surprise.”

 

Derek stares at him for a minute, something almost like regret in his eyes before he shakes it off and gives Stiles a tight smile. “Welcome to the family.”

Chapter Text

The silence in the rental car is heavy and Stiles wishes Derek would at least turn on the radio to distract them both.

 

“How did you and Billy meet?” Derek finally asks when they turn off the main highway and onto a quiet road.

 

“Oh, we met on Mates dot com,” Stiles says, grasping at the thread of conversation.

 

Derek scoffs. “Really?”

 

“Yeah,” Stiles says defensively. “It’s not weird, okay?”

 

Derek shrugs. “No, I just, I can’t really see Billy— Will going for internet matchmaking.”

 

“I never thought I would either, actually. It was kind of a hard time for me.” Stiles shifts in his seat, staring resolutely out the windshield. “My dad got shot, and he was all I had, so I freaked out a little about the whole being alone forever thing and I took a chance.”

 

Derek glances at him quickly. “You dad got shot? Jesus, is he okay?”

 

“Oh, yeah, he’s fine now,” Stiles tells him, touched at the worry in Derek’s voice. “He’s a Captain with the SFPD. Well, he was. Forced retirement due to the injury, but I think he’s enjoying it more than he thought he would. He’s on a cruise right now, which is why I’m going to meet Will’s, well, your family. Anyway, all my friends are partnering up and starting families, and I want that for myself, too, you know?”

 

“Not really,” Derek says, sourly.

 

“Anyway, I gave it a try and there was Will. We had seventy-five percent compatibility rate, so...”

 

“Seventy-five percent. So that’s the going rate for a husband online?” Derek teases, sounding more like he did before he found out about Stiles being engaged to his brother.

 

“Hey, don’t knock it,” he scolds, turning in his seat. “One of my best friends met her husband online and they’re on their third kid. And Will is great, he’s practical, and levelheaded, and as you know, he’s very successful in his business.”

 

Derek smirks. “Just like Juliet described Romeo.”

 

“Does that make you Mercutio?”

 

“Only if it means I get to leave early,” Derek quips, fighting a smile.

 

Stiles bursts out laughing, throwing his head back against the seat, gasping and shaking until tears are pricking his eyes. He’s on his way to hysterical and really needs to get some fucking sleep, but Derek looks pleased at the response, so he figures his exhaustion is worth it.

 

“Anyway,” Stiles says once he’s caught his breath. “Will is very romantic, he sends me a dozen red roses every Friday.”

 

“That seems more predictable than anything.” Derek steals another glance at him, eyebrows raised.

 

Stiles smacks him in the arm. “Hey, it’s the thought that counts. Why, what do you consider romantic?”

 

Derek appears to think about it for a while, his fingers clenching repeatedly on the steering wheel. “To me, romance is doing the dishes next to someone just because you can. When the simplest things are amazing, just because you’re with them, and you want to be with them, even when things are hard. Because you know they’ll have your back, no matter what.” Derek clears his throat, embarrassed. “Anyway, let’s see the ring.”

 

“Oh, right,” Stile says, stunned. He pulls the ring out of his bag and holds it in his palm. “It’s a little big, that’s why I’m not wearing it. We didn’t have time to get it resized.”

 

“It’s a lot big,” Derek says, frowning. “But it’s nice, very, ah, shiny.”

 

“Maybe I like shiny things,” Stiles says, narrowing his eyes.

 

“I’m sure you do,” Derek mutters. “Is that engraving? Let me see,” Derek grabs it out of Stiles’ hand, his calloused fingers brushing over Stiles’ palm and making him jerk and drop the ring.

 

“Shit,” Derek says.

 

“It’s okay, I got it,” Stiles ducks down to grab it from beside Derek’s foot, but Derek nudges him out of the way.

 

“No, it’s fine, let me.”

 

“I can do it, Jesus,” Stiles grouses, catching movement, close and urgent, through the windshield. “Derek, watch out!”

Chapter Text

When Stiles wakes up, the lights are too bright and there’s a cheerful doctor wearing felt antlers standing over him.

 

“You’re awake! You had me worried there,” she says, louder than he thinks is necessary. “I’m Dr. Nakamura.”

 

Stiles groans. “Who hit me in the head with a sledgehammer? Was it Scott? It was, wasn’t it?”

 

“Who’s Scott?” Someone asks from the bed next to him.

 

Stiles’ mouth drops open as he looks to the other bed. The man in it looks slightly rumpled, but it’s really working for him and Stiles can’t deny himself a once-over of that long, hot body. The man raises his eyebrows in surprise.

 

The doctor looks from Derek back to Stiles. “Do you not remember him?”

 

The man gives him a look of worry and it all comes flooding back. The lost items, the spilled coffee, the gentle press of Derek’s hand on Stiles’ back while he panicked. The ring.

 

“You’re Will’s brother. Yeah, no, I remember now. Shit. Are you okay, man?” Stiles rubs the back of his neck and every muscle in his body complains.

 

“I’m fine,” Derek tells him, not looking away.

 

“You were both very lucky, nothing but a few scrapes and bruises. Plus the six stitches in Mr. Stilinski’s forehead, and likely, a pair of matching concussions,” the doctor informs them in her chipper tone.

 

“That’s lucky?” Derek asks.

 

The doctor nods, writing something on Stiles’ chart. “Uh-huh, if you hadn’t been wearing seatbelts you would have gone through the windshield. So see? Lucky!”

 

Stiles rolls his eyes, wincing when it hurts.

 

“Your family is on their way, so just sit tight and we’ll let you go once they’re here.” She squeezes Stiles’ foot and then leaves, the bells on her shoes jingling. He goans, shielding his eyes from the overhead lights.

 

“You sure you’re okay?” Derek asks. “You were out for a long time.”

 

Stiles sighs and lowers his head to the pillow. “Kinda wish I was still out, dude. These lights are harsh.”

 

He hears shuffling and then the overhead lights go out. The light from around the curtains is still peeking through, but it’s much easier on the steady throb of pain marching through Stiles’ skull.

 

“Thank you,” he says with feeling.

 

When he glances over, Derek is staring at him again, small lines of worry etched between his brows as he looks Stiles over.

 

“Your fingernails are very clean,” he finally declares.

 

Stiles almost laughs, then he remembers why they’re here. “Um, did you hit your head harder than you’re letting on?”

 

“No, I just,” Derek sighs, frustrated. “My dad always told me if I didn’t know what to say to someone, to compliment them.”

 

“And fingernails were the best you could come up with? Yikes, I must be a mess.”

 

Derek runs a hand through his hair and shakes his head. “I should know not to listen to him. I went to prom in a powder blue leisure suit because he told me it looked sophisticated.”

 

Stiles gapes. “You did not!”

 

“In 2003.”

 

“Oh my god!” Stiles presses his hands over his mouth and laughs, ignoring the stabbing pain in his head.

 

“Will was always smoother than I was,” Derek grouses.

 

“Are you kidding me?” Stiles balks. “Our first date was a disaster. He spent the whole time interviewing me.”

 

“Really?” Derek asks, sounding relieved.

 

“Do you want kids? Do you like opera? Would you be willing to drop everything and be my partner if my business picks up in another state?” Stiles says in a deep voice, grinning when Derek laughs. “It was kind of endearing, I guess. It was refreshing that he actually knew what he wanted.”

 

Derek nods. “Smart. I should have taken that approach with my fiancé.”

 

“Oh, you’re engaged,” Stiles says, his voice cracking a little.

 

“I was,” Derek says, looking away. “Until last summer.”

 

“What happened?” Stiles pries because concussion or not, he’s still him.

 

Derek curls onto his side, making the wide space between their beds feel much smaller. “She said I was smothering her. So I stopped doing all the little things for her that she said were too much, and suddenly I was cold and uncaring.”

 

“Sounds like she was confused,” Stile says, gently.

 

Derek huffs. “She was something, alright. It wasn’t all her, I know I did my part, but I always seemed to be the only one who wanted to work on things. To put in the effort, you know?” Stiles nods and Derek smiles again, lighting up the dim room. “And now she lives in Paris. Which is kind of ironic because she hates the rain. I had a presentation last April at a home show and I had to speak in front of three hundred people, which I hate doing, we’re talking serious stage fright, and I needed her there. But it was pouring, so I asked if she could drive and drop me off at the front door so I wouldn’t look like a drowned rat when I got on stage. She refused. She didn’t want to get her hair wet.”

 

“She wouldn’t even walk through the rain for you? That’s cold, bro,” Stiles tells him, wanting to reach out and take Derek’s hand. For comfort. And camaraderie. Not for himself. Not at all.

 

“Guess I should have know then it wasn’t meant to be,” Derek sighs dramatically.

 

“Love should walk through the rain, man,” Stiles declares vehemently.

 

“It should!” Derek agrees, pointing at Stiles, his finger wavering in the air.

 

“Yeah!” Stiles shouts, and he must be feeling better because his head doesn’t even hurt anymore and everything is going a little soft around the edges. Like Derek. Derek looks soft, and approachable, and maybe they could snuggle. Like a bro snuggle. Because they’re going to be bros, aren’t they?

 

“Yeah, we are,” Derek says, looking sad.

 

“Whoo! I see the painkillers we gave you are kicking in! Should be a fun ride home,” Dr. Nakamura says from where she’s appeared between them.

 

“Derek! Derek Hale, where are you?” Someone calls out, clearly angry.

 

Derek goes pale. “Uh-oh, I’m in trouble.”

 

A woman pushes through the curtains, fuming and glaring at Stiles.

.

“I don’t know him,” Stiles swears.

 

“Laura, I’m sorry,” Derek croaks and the woman’s eyes jump to him.

 

“Sorry? You crash your freaking car two days before Christmas and you’re sorry? We get a call from the hospital saying you’ve been hurt and you’re sorry? I have to come here, not knowing if you’re okay, reliving the worst nightmare of my life, and you’re sorry ?” The woman is obviously livid and Stiles really wishes she’d yell or something because the quiet rage in her even voice is really freaking him out.

 

He looks to Derek, who looks gutted, which isn’t fair because he’s really just a victim of Stiles’ bad luck. He clears his throat and waves to get the woman’s attention. “It was actually my fault.”

 

The woman turns to face Stiles, her scowl dropping away when she sees the bandage on his forehead. She looks from Stiles, to Derek, then back again, a sly and hopeful smile forming on her face, transforming her from angel of death to angel of slightly quicker death.

 

“Der-bear, did you bring someone home with you for Christmas?” she asks.

 

“What? No!” Derek insists, pouting adorably.

 

“I’m Stiles,” Stiles offers, but Laura stares at Derek expectantly.

 

“Stiles is Billy’s fiancé,” he grumbles.

 

“Billy? Our Billy?” she asks, shocked.

 

Derek nods, looking tired.

 

“Yep, your Billy,” Stiles confirms, his pain med high fading into sleepiness. “Surprise.”

 

“Holy shit, mom and dad are going to flip,” Laura says, grinning. “Where’s Billy?”

 

“He had a meeting he had to stay for, so he sent me ahead. But he’s coming, he promises,” Stiles explains. Again. Maybe he should just hang a sign around his neck because words are getting difficult.

 

“You asked for a distraction this Christmas and I expect full credit,” Derek tells her.

 

Laura puts her hands on her hips. “So you knew about this?”

 

“No, I found him wandering around the airport.”

 

“Excuse me, you assaulted me at the airport and broke my phone,” Stiles argues.

 

“That sounds more like Derek,” Laura says.

 

Derek’s eyebrows of doom descend and he glares at them. “Hey, I’m wounded here!”

 

“Oh, you’re fine,” Laura brushes him off, and Derek looks relieved that her worry has passed.

 

“Fine, yes, but they did both hit their heads,” Dr. Nakamura chimes in. “They’ll need to be supervised for the next twenty-four hours. And no sleeping until the observation period is over.”

 

“No sleeping?” Stiles says. “I’ve been up since six! Yesterday morning !”

 

“Looks like I just became a babysitter,” Laura says, handing Derek his jacket as he slips out of bed.

 

“What about a cat nap?” Stile asks, following suit, but needing to steady himself on the bed.

.

“Nope, not even a few winks,” the doctor says with a smile. “Merry Christmas!”

Chapter Text

Laura drives them to the house, Stiles in the front seat and Derek folded into the back because Laura told him he had to give Stiles shotgun. He’s a little nauseated from the walk to the car, so he appreciates it. He pulls his things out of the hospital bag they gave him and he shakes his watch with a frown because the crystal is cracked and the hands are frozen at 2:42.

 

“We’ve been waiting on you to decorated the tree and get things going, so at least there will be lots to keep you busy,” Laura tells Derek as she drives.

 

“I love trimming the tree,” Stiles injects, jolting Derek out of what looks suspiciously like a snooze. “Have you made your Christmas cookies yet?”

 

“Oh, Mom’s going to love you,” Laura chuckles.

 

Derek snorts and Stiles turns in his seat to glare at him. “Hey, I’m very lovable, thank you very much!”

 

“I didn’t say anything,” Derek protests, holding his hands up in front of his chest.

 

“You didn’t need to, Mr. Grumpypants,” Stiles says, seeing Laura mouth ‘Mr. Grumpypants’ to herself and grin. “And,” Stiles continues. “All my cookie recipes are macrobiotic.”

 

“Um, congratulations?” Derek says.

 

Laura pulls into a driveway and before Stiles can adjust, he’s standing in front of a large, two storey bungalow, all decked out with twinkling lights and moving figures.

 

“Wow,” Stiles says, taking it all in. “This looks awesome!”

 

“Mom and Dad always go all out for Christmas,” Laura tells him. “Even when there’s not much to celebrate.”

 

Derek wraps his arm around her and kisses the side of her head just as the door to the house opens, spilling warmth and light onto the porch.

 

“Derek, are you alright?” A dark haired woman asks, coming out to embrace him.

 

“Yeah, Mom, I’m fine,” Derek assures her, his words muffled by the hug.

 

“He has a concussion,” Laura supplies helpfully.

 

“Oh, honey!”

 

“I’m fine,” Derek insists, pushing Stiles in front of him.

 

“And who is this?” Derek’s mom asks brightly.

 

“This is Stiles, he’s engaged to Billy, who goes by Will these days, apparently.”

 

Mrs. Hale’s eyes go wide. “Billy? Our Billy?”

 

“Why does everyone keep saying it like that?” Stiles asks, but it’s clear no one is listening.

 

“The one and only,” Laura says.

 

“Is this my Christmas present?” A man who must be Mr. Hale asks, coming outside and sizing Stiles up.

 

Stiles glances at the others. “Um, I don’t think so, but they gave me drugs at the hospital so I don’t actually know for sure.”

 

“Hmm,” he says, frowning with brows he clearly passed down to Derek. “Well, I’m sure you’re perfectly nice, but I specifically told Derek I wanted a new miter saw.”

 

Stiles shrugs. “I can whittle, but that’s about it.”

 

The man sighs. “Then I guess you’ll do. It’s very nice to meet you, Stiles.”

 

Stiles shakes his hand and allows himself to be pulled into the house, grateful when Derek sticks close by.

 

“You have a beautiful home,” Stiles tells them, looking around. Every inch of wall space that isn’t occupied by family photos is covered with Christmas decorations, and Stiles decides these are his kind of people. What was he so worried about again?

 

“Thank you, I take all the credit,” Mrs. Hale says.

 

Stiles presses a hand to his heart. “I see where Will gets his modesty from, Mrs. Hale.”

 

She laughs pats him on the cheek. “Call me Talia, Stiles, we’re family now. And this is Aaron.”

 

Stiles warms at that, ducking his head to smile and catching sight of an ornate vase on the side table. “Oh, Meissen.”

 

“You know your antiques,” Aaron says, impressed. “Derek and I went to a roadshow for my birthday and that was my favourite piece.”

 

“I didn’t know you liked antiques,” Stiles says and Derek shrugs, the tips of his ears going pink. “I have some of the other pieces from this set in my store.”

 

“You have a store?” Aaron asks.

 

“Yeah, it was my mom’s. I pretty much grew up there.” Stiles explains as Derek takes his coat. He realizes he’s still wearing Derek’s sweater, a detail that obviously isn’t missed by Talia, judging by the speculative look she’s giving him.

 

“I’d love to see it sometime,” Aaron tells him.

 

“After we confiscate your credit card.” Laura says, handing Stiles a mug of eggnog.

 

“Derek, why don’t you take Stile upstairs and show him where he can freshen up? No offense dear, but you smell like stale coffee and antiseptic,” Talia says from the couch.

 

“Sorry about that, can you believe someone spilled coffee all over me then drove the car I was in into a ditch?” Stiles asks, smirking at Derek.

 

“Seems to me that someone might want to your attention,” Laura teases.

 

“Seems to me you can’t recognize a warning shot when you see one,” Derek grouses and drags Stiles up the stairs.

Chapter Text

Derek leads Stiles to a bedroom on the second floor and digs through the drawers of a large dresser while Stiles wanders over to the collection of trophies on the far wall.

 

“Looks like you were kind of a big deal growing up,” Stiles remarks when he sees Derek’s name on them.

 

Derek shrugs. “A little bit, I guess.”

 

“Baseball, basketball, track, judo. Man, you were an all star. All that glitters is gold, only shooting stars break the mo-old,” he sings.

 

“I had a lot of excess energy as a kid, sports helped,” Derek explains.

 

“I know what that’s like,” Stiles grins. “Only I never really grew out of mine.”

 

“I think you have great energy,” Derek says, then ducks his head.

 

Stiles feels his face heat up. It’s an odd compliment, maybe, but one he appreciates. “Thanks. Will keeps buying me these puzzle books, but it’s not like that, you know? I need to be doing something that actually matters, or it doesn’t help. It’s a good thing my apartment is over the store, or I’d never go home.”

 

“My fiancé used to get so upset when I’d sneak down to the garage to work in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep,” Derek admits with a small smile.

 

“Yes! Will hates it! One night when it was really bad he found me sitting in the middle of the store, surrounded by a collection of two thousand Edwardian silver spoons.”

 

“Polishing them?”

 

“Cataloguing the filigree,” Stiles says with an impish grin.

 

They stand and smile at each other for a long minute, until Derek seems to remember why they’re up there, and shoves a pair of jeans and a long sleeved shirt at Stiles.

 

“They’ll be a bit big,” he says, apologetic.

 

“Oh, no problem. Thanks, man.” Stiles strips off the sweater Derek gave him at the airport and Derek quickly turns his back.

 

“They’re from my high school days, but does an Atticus shirt ever really go out of style?” Derek asks.

 

Stiles snorts. “They should.”

 

“I can find you something else. Laura might have a butterfly shirt hiding somewhere in her room.”

 

“What, no Juicy Couture jumpsuit? Were you those kids that just moved out and left all your crap at home?” Stiles asks.

 

Derek glances over his shoulder, turning when he sees that Stiles is dressed. “Kind of. More like we moved some of it back home so we’d always have an excuse to visit when we needed to.”

 

Stiles raises his eyebrows. “Your parents don’t seem like the type to close the door in your face.”

 

Derek laughs. “No, but when Billy went off to college they were very explicit in telling us that they needed their space to find out who they were now that they were empty nesters.”

 

“So you retaliated by moving your things back home?” Stiles guesses.

 

“Just Laura and I. Billy took all of his. I think he knew then that he wasn’t coming back,” Derek says, running his finger over a crease in the coverlet.

 

“That explains why there are no pictures of him past about fifteen, huh?” Stiles guesses.

 

“Yeah, he never liked sitting for family photos and it got to the point where Mom and Dad couldn’t talk him into it anymore,” Derek runs a hand through his hair. “I visit as much as I can and Laura moved home two years ago, after her husband Marcus died.”

 

Stiles’ eyes widen in understanding. “That’s why she was so upset at the hospital.”

 

Derek nods. “Yeah. We ran out of nutmeg and he ran out to pick it up. It was snowing pretty hard, but Marcus was a cop, he knew how to drive in it. Turns out the guy who hit him didn’t. When the hospital called, I barely made it into the car before Laura took off. I was so scared we’d get into an accident, too, and all I could think about was my parents losing all three of us in one night.”

 

“Jesus,” Stiles says, sitting on the bed.

 

Derek sits as well, watching him from the other side. “Marcus was pronounced dead on arrival before we could even get there, and when they told us, Laura just crumpled. I’d never seen anyone actually do that, but she dropped like a rock. It was terrifying.”

 

“Derek, I’m so sorry.” Stile reaches across the bed to squeeze Derek’s hand, his breath catching when Derek’s fingers cling to his.

 

“She’s doing much better now, but she seems so fragile sometimes and I don’t know how to fix it,” Derek confesses quietly.

 

Stiles shakes his head. “She doesn’t need you to fix it, Derek. Laura’s a different person than she was before Marcus died. She just needs you to love her and support her as she figures out who she is now. She’ll let you know if she needs more. Or she won’t. There’s no formula for loss, no matter what the self-help books say.”

 

Derek gives him a weak smile, and Stiles’ heart swells, wanting to comfort him.

 

“When my mom died, I had no idea what to do. I was so lost, and so was Dad, we were like two ships adrift at sea, side by side, but blind to each other in our grief. When the fog started to lift, we didn’t know how to deal with each other anymore because neither of us was the person we’d been before. It was hard, and scary, but we Stilinski men are nothing if not stubborn, and we refused to let the other drift too far away. I started pouring out bottles of whiskey and Dad gave in and let me homeschool and run the store. It was so hard to be there at first because she was everywhere, you know? But then I started to see that having her memory there was a blessing, not a curse, and it got easier. I still look at a vase, or a table and think ‘Mom would put that here’, or ‘Mom would never allow that through the front door’, and I’m happy to have that. Like her thumbprint is still on the place.”

 

“That’s beautiful,” Derek whispers, and there’s something in his gaze that pulls Stiles closer, that makes him want to wrap his arms around Derek and lay them down, to hold him through his grief. “The funeral was the last time any of us saw Billy.”

 

Stiles blinks and straightens up, because nothing will pull you out of a tender moment with a gorgeous and thoughtful man like the reminder that you’re engaged to that man’s brother.

 

Stiles doesn’t know what to say because he can’t deny that the man Derek has described sounds like the Will he knows, but he also doesn’t think that Will is equipped to deal with emotions that run that deep. He’s more of a surface kind of guy, while Derek, well, Derek definitely isn’t.

 

“I never liked nutmeg,” he says instead, relieved when Derek’s mouth curves into a slow smile. “Did you know the human body can’t break it down?”

 

“Boys!” Talia calls from downstairs. “We’d like to eat at some point tonight!”

 

“Coming, Mom,” Derek calls back, releasing Stiles’ hand. He stands and pulls out a pair of green plaid slippers and Stiles snorts. “What?”

 

“Nothing,” he says. “Nice slippers, grandpa.”

 

“They’re practical,” Derek says in a clipped tone.

 

“They’re loafers. They have rubber soles.”

 

“The floors downstairs are slippery,” he mutters, sliding his feet into the slippers. “And my feet get cold.”

 

“That’s adorable,” Stile giggles.

 

Derek rolls his eyes, but his ears have gone pink. “Come on, if we don’t hurry Laura will eat all the yams.”

 

Stiles smiles and claps him on the back, his hand maybe lingering longer than it should. “Lead on.”

Chapter Text

After dinner, Laura pulls out several homemade quilts, piling them on the couch.

 

“What, no pillows?” Derek asks, hooking his chin over her shoulder.

 

“You’re not allowed to sleep, dumbass.”

 

“Aren’t you going to babysit us?” Stiles asks when she turns to leave.

 

“I trust you two to keep each other awake,” she says with a wink and leaves.

 

Stiles frowns. “Okay, then.”

 

“How are you feeling?” Derek asks, sorting out the blankets.

 

Stiles rolls his shoulders, taking inventory of his pain. “A little achy now that the painkillers have worn off, but okay. A little antsy, I want to be able to help with the Christmas decorations.”

 

Derek snorts and drops onto the couch. “There will be plenty to do tomorrow; my parents won’t stop with the Christmas prep until you pry the hot glue guns out of their hands.”

 

“Your parents are so awesome, man,” Stiles says wistfully, nestling into the other corner of the couch.

 

Derek smiles warmly. “Yeah.”

 

“This is so comfortable.” Stiles remarks, pulling a quilt up to his nose.

 

“You two aren’t sleeping, are you?” Aaron asks, sticking his head around the corner from the kitchen.

 

“No,” they say at the same time, Derek rolling his eyes.

 

“By the way, Deaton called and said he has the best trees on his land picked out for us, all we have to do pick and chop.”

 

Derek nods. “Sure, we’ll go tomorrow.”

 

“Oh, can I come? I love cutting down the tree!” Stiles clasps his hands under his chin and tries to look like he won’t be any trouble.

 

“Of course you can come,” Aaron tells him.

 

Derek, however, narrow his eyes. “Are you actually going to be helpful or are you just going to stand on the sidelines and let me do all the heavy lifting?”

 

Stiles considers. “Normally I would said I’ll help, but I get the feeling you’d prefer if I just watched. Silently.”

 

“Got it in one.” Derek smiles.

 

“I can’t promise silence, but I can guarantee not to touch the tree.”

 

“Fine, you can come,” Derek grouses, tucking a blanket around his shoulders.

.

“You’re adorable,” Stiles tells him again. He doesn’t mean to, it just slips out as he watches Derek fuss with the quilt. “I mean, in a grumpy brother-in-law way,” he clarifies.

 

Derek flushes. “Yeah, well, you’re…”

 

“If you don’t know what to say to someone…” Stiles teases.

 

Derek glares, but there’s a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “You’re annoying.”

 

“I prefer persistent, but I’ll take it.”

 

They sit in comfortable silence for a while, staring into the fire crackling away on the tv. Laura brings them warm cider and mandarin oranges, and when Stiles starts to nod off, he starts talking.

 

“You know, Will got me a fake tree for the store.”

 

“A fake tree,” Derek says, clearly unimpressed.

 

“Yeah, I mean, it’s fine, pretty and everything, it’s just a little too perfect, you know? It doesn’t have…” he trails off, trying to find the right word.

 

“Character?”

 

He snaps his fingers. “Exactly.”

 

Derek leans closer. “Don’t tell my parents that, they won’t take it well.”

 

Stiles shuffles over to meet him in the middle of the couch. “What? That a son of theirs would dare buy an artificial Christmas tree?”

 

Derek nods. “I’m serious, my mom will make that face she makes when I come home with canned whipped cream because the store was sold out of fresh.”

 

“Well, that’s inexcusable, so I totally understand.” Stiles crinkles his nose.

 

“Oh my god,” Derek exclaims.

 

“What?”

 

Derek points at Stiles. “You have that face, too. It’s the exact same face.”

 

Stiles laughs and Talia pokes her head into the room. “You two settled? We’re just in the kitchen doing some cooking prep for tomorrow.”

 

“We’re fine, Mom,” Derek tells her. “If Stiles starts to fall asleep I’ll shove him off the couch.”

 

“And I’ll pour my hot cider in Derek’s lap,” Stiles smiles serenely.

 

Talia rolls her eyes and walks away.

 

“We’re going to get to nap once our 24 hours is up, right?” Stiles asks. “I mean, you shouldn’t drive to get the tree after having been awake for so long. You probably shouldn’t handle and axe, either.”

 

“Yeah, Deaton’s isn’t far, so we can sleep, go to the tree farm, and still have the rest of the day to decorate.” Derek stretches his legs out across the couch, yawning, and Stiles files away another image of adorableness in his head. For science, and nostalgia, and stuff.

 

“The rest of the day? How long does it take you guys to decorate a tree?”

 

Derek huffs out a laugh. “You’ll find out.”

 

“Should I be scared?” Stiles asks seriously and the grin he gets from Derek sends a shiver from the top of his head, all the way to his toes.

 

“Terrified.”

Chapter Text

Stiles is warm and comfy, surrounded by the smell of cedar and woodsmoke, and there’s something important niggling at the back of his mind, but he ignores in favour of curling closer to the warmth beside him.

 

“Stiles,”

 

Stiles hums contently, rubbing his face against something firm, but soft.

 

“Stiles, wake up,” a stern voice says, and then he’s being shaken awake by large, insistent hands.



“I’m up, I’m up,” he mumbles, and oh , those hands belong to Derek, the incredibly hot brother of his fiancé. There’s a wet patch on the shoulder of Derek’s henley and when Stiles wipes his mouth, it comes away wet.

 

“We’re not supposed to sleep,” Derek reminds him, gently.

 

Stiles groans. “I can’t keep my eyes open.”

 

“Me either, and there’s nothing on tv.”

 

Stiles retreats to the other side of the couch, wrapping himself back up in his blanket.

 

“This reminds me of when we were kids,” Derek says, his foot nudging Stiles’ through the blankets. “Billy and I used to build these elaborate forts and have competitions to see who could stay up the longest. I always lost.”

 

Stiles sticks out his bottom lip. “Poor little Derek, losing to his younger brother.”

 

“Whatever,” he shrugs. “I turned out taller.”

 

“You did,” Stiles agrees. “So what else did you get up to in your forts?”

 

Derek smiles, remembering. “We had these G.I Joe flashlights, and we would crawl around the house, going on missions.”

 

Stiles leans forward eagerly. “What kind of missions?”

 

“For cookies, mostly,” Derek admits, smiling.

 

“Yeah?” Stiles taps his chin and raises an eyebrow. “You feel up for a cookie mission right now?”

 

“Let’s go, soldier.” Derek’s grin is nearly feral and Stiles is suddenly too warm, but he smiles back and salutes.

 

“Lead the way, Alpha One.”

 

And that’s how they end up making cookies by flashlight at three in the morning. That’s also how they’re caught by Talia, eating raw cookie dough by the spoonful, Derek with egg dripping from his hair onto his shirt, and Stiles half covered in flour with three quarters of a cup of chocolate chips down his pants.

 

“Hi, Mom,” Derek says through a mouthful of uncooked shortbread.

 

“Hi Derek’s Mom,” Stiles chimes in, giggling.

 

Talia takes in the state of the kitchen, turns off the light, and goes back upstairs, leaving Derek and Stiles fighting laughter while trying to push each other off their stools.

 

By five thirty, they’re icing cookies and drinking milk at the kitchen island, debating muffins and cupcakes.

 

“But they’re completely different things,” Stiles insists.

 

“Are they?” Derek asks, eyebrow raised.

 

“Yes, they absolutely are! Have you not baked before today?”

 

Derek shrugs. “All I’m saying is that icing is transformative. And there are cakey muffins.”

 

“I don’t care, you can’t dress up a muffin with icing and call it a cupcake. It’s against nature.”

 

“Nature, huh?” Derek laughs. “I think I’ve hit a nerve.”

 

“You know what the real question is? If you take icing off a cupcake, does it become a muffin?”

 

“Now you’re thinking,” Derek laughs, licking icing off his index finger.

 

“Hey, you never told me what it was the airline lost of yours,” Stiles points out, dipping a triple frosted sugar cookie into his milk.

 

Derek dusts off his hands and pulls a notebook out of his back pocket. “It was a replica of a Victorian music box my grandmother owned. All inlaid wood, with a lithograph of cherubs on the inside, and I got it to play the song Laura and Marcus danced to at their reception. My grandmother gave it to Laura on her wedding day, but it disappeared when she sold the house and moved here.”

 

“Must have been in that one box you always lose,” Stiles says.

 

“Yeah, she was devastated. These are my sketches of it, if you want to see.” He spreads the notebook on the counter, one of the edges trailing through red icing, but Derek doesn’t seem to mind.

 

“You built this?” Stiles asks, brushing his fingertips over the detailed drawings. “These are gorgeous, Derek. And so romantic. I love this kind of stuff.”

 

“Yeah, we’re all pretty romantic around here. Well, most of us. I mean, my dad stopped his watch the minute he first saw my mom because he knew his life would be changed from that moment on.”

 

“Are you serious?” Stiles gapes. “That the sweetest freaking thing I’ve ever heard!”

 

Derek shrugs, wiping the icing off his book and slipping it back into his pocket. When he looks back up, he laughs.

 

“You’ve got a little icing, just there,” he says, pointing to Stiles’ face.

 

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Real specific there, buddy.”

 

“Here, I’ve got it.” Derek sweeps his thumb over the corner of Stiles’ mouth, slow and deliberate, and intimate enough to make Stiles hold his breath. When he pulls back there’s green icing on his thumb and he pops it in his mouth, cleaning the pad of his finger with a swipe of his tongue.

 

Stiles shakes his head and clears his throat because, whoa. He’s exhausted and his defenses are down, and he should not be thinking that hard about his finance’s brother’s mouth. He gets up and takes his milk to the table.

 

“So, um, what else do you do? When you’re not busy recreating antiques?” Stiles says, his voice shaky.

 

“I make furniture,” Derek says, following Stiles. “I built this.”

 

“You built this table?” Stiles gapes because it’s a gorgeous table and he’s been coveting it shamelessly.

 

“Yeah, I kind of had to when I set the old one on fire,” Derek explains, bashfully.

 

“Hey,” Stiles says comfortingly. “I’ve done that, too! Bet my dad would have been more forgiving if I’d made him a new one, though.”

 

Derek smiles. “It helps. Anyway, my Grandpa used to build things. Houses, mostly, but he could make anything. I started hanging around with a rough crowd my junior year, got in a little trouble, lit a table or two on fire, and when the school year was over I got shipped off to my grandparents. That’s how I learned my trade. And to crochet, but that’s a whole other story.”

 

Stiles laughs and leans in, ready to hear every last word.

Chapter Text

Stiles wakes up slowly to Derek staring at him with fondness in his green and hazel eyes. They’d talked until the sun rose, their conversation flowing from one subject to the next, much smoother than Stiles usually experiences. Derek hadn’t been put off or weirded out by the inane ramblings of Stiles’ mind, and because of that, Stiles had let himself go on and on.

 

”We were sleeping,” Stiles croaks, his mouth dry.

 

Derek smiles. “You can’t prove that.”

 

“We could have died,” Stiles says with faux dourness.

 

Derek squints. “How do you know we haven’t?”

 

“Because I’m 95% sure that Heaven won’t make me wear pants.”

 

Derek laughs and Talia walks in, smiling. “What are you two doing?”

 

“Nothing,” they say in unison, the very picture of innocence.

 

She narrows her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “You were sleeping.”

 

“Nuh-un,” Derek says.

 

“We’re not allowed to sleep,” Stiles points out helpfully.

 

Talia eyes them closely. “Get cleaned up, you need to go to Deaton’s.”

 

Stiles waits until she’s out of earshot to smack Derek on the arm. “Dude, you are so busted.”

 

“Me?” Derek says, incredulous. “You fell asleep first.”

 

“Then you should have woken me, hot shot!”

 

“Come on,” Derek says, rubbing his hands over his face until he’s blinking wide, red-rimmed eyes. “I think Laura and Dad have already left and if I’m not there to help I’ll never hear the end of it”

 

They take Talia’s truck since Aaron and Laura are in Laura’s SUV and Aaron’s Camry isn’t up to hauling a tree. Derek was right and the tree farm isn’t far, but they do stop for coffee and pastries on the way, cutting off Laura’s sniping about their laziness with a cherry danish shoved under her nose.

 

Aaron introduces Stiles to Deaton, the owner of the farm, who smiles warmly and pops a red foam ball on the tip of Stiles’ nose.

 

“Um,” he says as Derek and Laura crack up.

 

“It’s festive,” Deaton explains, shoving noses at the others.

 

Derek glares, but he dutifully puts his on and Stiles has never wished for a camera more because the image of Derek Hale dressed in plaid, hefting an axe over his shoulder while wearing a red reindeer nose is something the world needs to see. Deaton directs them to back of the lot, where he says the best of the crop are waiting, and they trudge through the field, snow soaking Stiles’ shoes in minutes.

 

“I guess we should have found you some boots,” Aaron says, frowning as Stiles tries not to shiver.

 

“I’m fine,” Stiles assures him. How long can chopping down a tree take anyway?

 

Too long, is the answer. With the Hales, it takes over an hour just to pick a damn tree because no one can agree on what constitutes perfection. Laura wants the one that’s clearly too wide and too tall for the living room, but she’d dug in her heels and won’t even listen to Aaron’s argument about the one that smells the strongest when he crushes some of the needle in his hand.

 

And Derek, precious, ever surprising Derek wants the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree in the corner. The one that is stunted and a little crooked, half it’s branches curling upwards, the other half drooping to the ground. Stiles listens to them argue and falls a little more in love with his new family.

 

He’s so enchanted, in fact, that he doesn’t notice right away when the ground he’s standing on starts to shift. Turns out the ‘hill’ beneath him is actually a snowbank, and he sinks backwards as it collapses. He falls with a cry, tumbling into a drainage basin, filled with ice cold snow melt. He gasps, the flash freeze of the water choking the air out of his lungs, his red foam nose floating by, and then Derek is there, reaching out over the ledge of the basin and hauling him up and out.

 

Laura wraps her coat around him and Aaron runs to get Deaton’s ATV. Stiles is shivering, his teeth clattering together so hard his jaw hurts. Derek pulls him into his lap, folding himself around his left side while Laura presses herself to his right.

 

“You’re kind of a handful, you know that?” Laura asks, her warm breath on his neck.

 

Stiles tries to laugh, but it comes out as a strangled moan. “W-why d-do you th-think I never leave my st-store?”

 

“Stop talking,” Derek snaps, and he should look ridiculous because his nose is still in place, but instead he just looks worried.. “You need to conserve your energy.”

 

It feels like hours before Aaron returns with the ATV. He pulls an emergency blanket out of the first aid kit strapped to the back, and they wrap Stiles in it, hoisting him onto the seat behind Derek. Laura wraps his arms around Derek’s middle and Stiles groans at the heat leaching into his front.

 

“Hold on, okay?” she tells him seriously and Stiles hates that he’s made her worry again. “Derek will take care of you.”

 

Stiles nods against Derek’s back, closing his eyes as Derek twists the throttle and they take off.

Chapter Text

Stiles doesn’t remember much of the ride back to the house, just that Deaton helped get him into the cab of the truck, and he’d nestled into Derek’s side the whole way, stealing as much heat from him than from the heater. Once they make it past Talia’s concerned face, he assures Derek that he can strip himself and stumbles into the shower. He hadn’t been in the water for long, but he feels cold down to his bones and it takes over twenty minutes of hot water pouring down on him to stop his shivering. When he finally climbs out of the shower he finds new clothes laid out on the bed. Thick wool socks, heavy sweatpants, a long-sleeve shirt, and zip up hoodie that smell too freshly of Derek to have come from the drawers.

 

When he gets back downstairs, Derek is lying half under the too big tree while Laura directs him on how it should sit. They’ve pushed the furniture back to accommodate the branches, and Stiles has to admit it kind of is a perfect tree.

 

“Hey, there he is!” Aaron says, spotting Stiles on the stairs. “You look much better now that your lips aren’t blue.”

 

Stiles rubs the back of his neck, embarrassed. “Sorry about that. I didn’t meant to ruin the whole tree cutting tradition.”

 

“Oh, you didn’t ruin anything, son,” Aaron assures him, and Stiles’ heart is warmed at the endearment. “It just means Derek saving your ass is a new tradition!”

 

Stiles laughs. “Will will be thrilled about that, I’m sure.”

 

“It’s still crooked,” Laura complains.

 

“Maybe it’s meant to be crooked. Maybe it likes being crooked,” Derek snips, and Stiles can’t really blame him because the tree is massive and Laura isn’t helping hold it in place at all.

 

“Here, let me help,” he says, going to hold the tree upright.

 

Derek grunts his thanks and they finally get it into a position Laura approves of. Talia and Aaron have been stacking Rubbermaid crates around the edges of the room and Stiles is a little afraid when he realizes they’re all full of decorations.

 

“Wow, that’s, um, a lot of Christmas cheer,” he says, offering Derek a hand off the floor.

 

“I told you,” Derek says, clapping him on the shoulder and letting his palm trail down Stiles’ back. “How are you feeling?” he asks quietly as the others dig into the crates.

 

“Much better,” Stiles admits. “Thank you. For, you know, rescuing me. Again.”

 

Derek smiles, and god, Stiles loves it when he does that. “I’m going to have to add Stiles saving to my resume under special skills.”

 

“Hmm, what other special skills do you have?” Stiles asks, only realizing after he’s said it that he’s staring at Derek’s mouth. He sputters and flushes, and Derek’s eyebrows are raised, but he doesn’t look mad or creeped out, so Stiles simply walks away, hiding behind Talia where she’s sorting strands of lights.

 

Once the lights are on the tree and they’ve ensured they all work, it turns into a competition to see who can get their ornaments on the tree first, only it’s still slow moving because every ornament has a story, and Stiles hears them all. The Black Lab is for Aaron’s first dog, Bo, who died when he was ten, and the rolling pin is for the time Laura got so mad at Derek and Billy for eating the final project for her foods class that she put the real rolling pin through the kitchen window.

 

“I worked for two days on that damn pie!” Laura fumes.

 

“You left a pie unattended in a house with two teenage boys,” Derek counters. “What did you think was going to happen?”

 

Stiles laughs along at the funny stories and smiles at the sentimental ones, basking in the memories around them and the love these people so clearly feel for each other. He has to admit, though, he’s having a really hard time picturing Will here with them. He knows Will must be the black sheep of the family, but he’s just so different from Derek and Laura, Stiles can’t imagine how he grew up in this house and ended up like he is. Not that there’s anything wrong with Will, it’s just that, well, he’s different. He secretly hopes there’s a side to Will he hasn’t seen yet. One that being around his family will bring out.

 

“This one is special,” Aaron says, showing Stiles a tarnished, curved tin star.

 

“They’re all special, dear,” Talia chimes in.

 

“Yes, but if it weren’t for this one, none of the others would be here.”

 

“And why is that?” Stiles asks, encouraging him.

 

“Because Talia gave me this on the night we met,” Aaron tells him, looking at Talia with warmth. “We met at a dance organized by the social club our mothers belonged to. Something they were running for us youngsters, to indoctrinate the next generation of cookie cutter accountants and housewives.”

 

“Aaron, your father was an accountant,” Talia scolds.

 

“Yes, but he had a glass eye, so they cancel each other out.”

 

Talia rolls her eyes and Stiles laughs. Derek is sitting on the arm of the couch, right beside Stiles, and he looks down at him with a warm smile, like he’s pleased Stiles is enjoying his parent’s antics, and presses a hand to the small of Stiles’ back, his warmth seeping through Stiles’ clothing. Well, Derek’s clothing, he supposes.

 

“Anyway, I was there with another young man,” Talia continues.

 

“But he got food poisoning!” Aaron interjects gleefully. “And she found her dance card woefully empty.”

 

“Dance card? How old do you think we are?” Talia asks.

 

“Stop interrupting me, dear, I’m telling Stiles our love story. Now, being the chivalrous young lad I was, I had no choice but to take over and escort the beautiful creature standing there all alone.”

 

“We went as a group and the guy with the food poisoning was his best friend,” Talia tells him.

 

“Traitor!” Aaron cries.

 

“Oh, for goodness sake, Aaron, he was the best man at our wedding, let it go!”

 

“Never,” Aaron swears and grins at her.

 

Laura throws a handful of tinsel at her parents. “Tell him about the star already.”

 

“Well, the moment I saw Talia, I knew that was it for me. If she wouldn’t have me, I would die alone because there was no way I could love anyone the way I knew I could love her. I was so sure, I stopped my watch. I wanted to mark the exact moment my entire life changed.”

 

“That’s so romantic,” Stiles says, elbows on his knees and chin in his hands.

 

“It is, but what really got me going was when I asked for a kiss and instead she pulled a pen knife out of her purse and carved me that star out of an empty coffee can.”

 

Aaron looks at Talia and there’s so much pride and love in his gaze that Stiles chokes up. He wants that. He wants someone to look at him like Aaron looks at Talia. Like his father looked at his mother. He turns his head to find Derek staring down at him, his eyes intent and his mouth curved up.

 

“Do you believe in love at first sight like that?” Stiles asks quietly, not wanting to break the moment.

 

Derek’s eyes roam over Stiles’ face and his fingers twitch where they’re still pressed to Stiles’ back, the movement sliding his shirt up until Derek’s skin is warm and heavy on his.

 

“Yes,” he whispers, something complicated and sad shining in his eyes.

Chapter Text

Once the tree is decorated, Talia announces she’s going to get some of Derek and Stiles’ cookies.

 

“I’m really sorry they’re not macrobiotic,” Stiles tells her, earnestly.

 

Talia stares at him, confused. “Why would that matter?

 

”Will told me you’re macrobiotic, and I did all this research, and prepared recipes, but somehow, we just didn’t get to those…” he trails off, his eyes sliding over to Derek, who looks just as confused as Talia, but with the tips of his ears turning red.

 

“Honey, I don’t even know what macrobiotic is,” Talia laughs.

 

Stiles throws up his hands. “Neither did I!”

 

“Billy probably doesn’t even know what it means,” Derek mutters.

 

“Then why would he say that?” Talia asks.

 

“I...don’t know,” Stiles says.

 

“He was probably just messing with you,” Laura offers.

 

Aaron frowns. “Is that funny? I don’t get it.”

 

“We’ll ask him when he gets here, I need cookies!” Talia disappears into the kitchen and Laura steps up to adjust an ornament.

 

“We’re going to need more than just cookies to get this done.”

 

“I don’t know, I think we’re doing okay,” Stiles tells her, thankful for the change in subject.

 

Derek smiles and squeezes his shoulders. “Stiles, this is only the first tree.”

 

Stiles blinks rapidly, his mouth gaping open. “The first. Tree.”

 

Derek turns him toward the dining room, where another tree is standing, and then again so he can see a third in the solarium.

 

Stiles presses his hands over his mouth and laughs. “Oh my god, I love you all so much!”



Three hours later, Stiles is in the kitchen, checking his email on Talia’s laptop while Laura threads tinsel through Aaron’s beard, because a bet is a bet, and he couldn’t quite fit that twelfth marshmallow in his mouth.

 

“Yes!” Stiles, exclaims, clapping his hands. “He’s coming! Will is on his way!”

 

“Did you actually talk to him?” Talia asks, coming in with the empty tray of cookies, Derek trailing behind her with four empty mugs.

 

“No, but he sent me fifteen emails. He’s really worried about the accident,” Stiles tells her.

 

“Oh, but you’re fine,” Aaron says, earning a soft slap to the shoulder from Laura for moving.

 

“I am, plus, I plan to blame it all on Derek.”

 

“Naturally,” Derek says, loading the mugs into the dishwasher.

 

Stiles grins at him, then turns back to the computer. “I don’t really get why he didn’t just call me here, though.”

 

“Because that’s the logical thing to do and men aren’t known for their logic when they’re in love,” Laura tells him.

 

Stiles frowns. “Have you met your brother? Because he’s logical to a fault.”

 

“Maybe it’s us he doesn’t want to talk to,” Derek suggests flatly.

 

“Derek, be nice,” Talia scolds. “He’s coming home, isn’t he? And he brought us Stiles.”

 

“Technically, I brought Stiles,” Derek grouses.

 

“Didn’t you say something about baby pictures, Talia?” Stiles asks, laughing when Derek and Laura both groan.

 

They settle in the sitting room, flipping through good, old fashioned photo albums by the lights of the Christmas tree, and Stiles feels so at home it wants to cry a little. Talia is such a nurturing soul that he knows if he curls up and lets out his emotions, she’ll just hold him and pet his hair until he’s ready to talk. But Stiles isn’t going to do that because it would ruin the moment, and right now he just wants to sit and bask in the glory that is a four-year-old Derek and two-year-old Will in nothing but cowboy boots, holsters, and hats.

 

“Did Derek and Will have a falling out or something?” Stiles asks carefully. “Because Will didn’t even tell me he had siblings.”

 

Talia sighs and pats him on the hand. “Oh, no, dear, they just grew up. Grew apart. They were really close when they were little. They had to be to survive Laura as a big sister. But Billy was always looking for more, something beyond this town, and Derek’s always wanted to be close to home.”

 

Stiles runs his finger over six-year-old Derek, toothless on Santa’s lap. “He’s really just a big teddy bear, isn’t he?”

 

“He’s our rock,” Talia says quietly. “When Marcus died, he was there for Laura in a way Aaron and I didn’t know how to be. He held her hand and got her through it. He got us all through it, really.”

 

“Derek said you haven’t seen Will since the funeral,” Stiles confesses.

 

Talia smiles, but there’s sadness in her eyes. “We all deal with death in our own ways.”

 

“But to cut himself off from his family? I don’t get that,” Stiles says, turning toward her. “I mean, when he talks about you and Aaron, he sounds really proud. Like he’s happy he got you as parents.”

 

Talia nods and wipes away a tear. “That’s good to hear, really it is. We miss him.”

 

“Well, if I have any say in it, we’ll be here more often. You have all been so wonderful to me, and I am literally a stranger who showed up on your doorstep.”

 

Talia cups his face and give him a warm smile. “No Stiles, you’re family.”

Chapter Text

After dinner, Stiles and Derek clean up the kitchen since Laura and Aaron cooked. Stiles is hand drying serving bowls and checking out the china cabinet when Derek pulls the drain out of the sink.

 

“Man, your parents have excellent taste in antiques, I’d love for them to come see my shop.”

 

“I’ll have to stop by the next time I’m in the city,” Derek tells him, drying his hands.

 

“You totally should! I have so many cool things. It was my mother’s store, and the place is practically my third parent. After she passed away, my dad tried running it, but he had his own career, and we couldn’t find anyone to run it that loved it as much as we did, so I stepped in.”

 

“How old were you?”

 

“Fourteen,” Stiles admits with a shy smile.

 

Derek nods. “Ah, child labor.”

 

“It’s the best kind, isn’t it?” Stiles jokes. “Anyway, it’s a lot harder than my mom made it look, I’m barely keeping the doors open right now.”

 

“I thought it was an established store,” Derek says, handing him another bowl.

 

“It is, but there’s a lot more to it than selling,” Stiles explains. “I have to buy the merchandise, go to auctions, check out estate sales. Not to mention keeping up with the books.”

 

“Can you hire someone to help?”

 

Stiles shakes his head. “I can’t afford it. I mean, I work for pocket change, but regular employees won’t do that, and I wouldn’t ask them to.”

 

“What are you going to do?”

 

Stiles shrugs. “Pray for a miracle? Sacrifice a goat? I don’t know, man.”

 

“You’ll figure it out,” Derek says with certainty. “You don’t strike me as the type who gives in easily.”

 

“Well, not if you don’t buy me dinner first.” Stile winks.

 

Derek laughs and whips the tea towel at him, catching him in the thigh. Stiles squawks and jumps back, dropping the bowl in his hands, watching in disbelief as it shatters at his feet.

 

“Shit, shit, I’m so sorry. I’ll get a broom.”

 

“No, just stay there, there are shards everywhere,” Derek, who is still wearing his ridiculous slippers, tells him, stepping over the debris and hoisting Stiles into a bridal carry.

 

“What are you doing?” Stiles squeeks, smacking him in the chest.

“Well, I was going to go with a fireman’s carry, but we just ate,” Derek tells him reasonably. “Plus, concussion.”

 

“What is going on in here?” Talia asks, her eyes going wide when she sees them.

 

“Stiles broke your favorite dish!” Derek blurts, holding Stiles out from his body, as though offering him up for punishment.

 

“Oh my god, it was your favorite?” Stiles groans.

 

“You’re in so much trouble, that was her favorite and you broke it,” Derek whispers, but he’s laughing as he says it.

 

“That’s it, out! Both of you, get out of this house! Go work off your excess energy outside while I make your father clean this up,” Talia shouts, pointing to the back door.

 

Derek apparently doesn’t need to he told twice because he bounds outside to toss Stiles into a snowbank.

Chapter Text

Once Stiles has changed into dry clothes, again, borrowed from Derek’s room, again, he heads downstairs, earning applause for the cheesetastic Christmas sweater Derek left out for him. There’s a shark on it. And bows. And lights.

 

“It’s my best one,” Derek tells him seriously.

 

“I bet it looks better on me,” Stiles says, posing with a candy cane clenched between his teeth like a pipe.

 

Derek’s eyes roam swiftly over him, appraising. “Yeah, it does.”

 

“It’s time for Christmas messages!” Laura chimes, shaking a handful of pens.

 

“Christmas messages?” Stiles asks, accepting a pen and a stack of folded Christmas tags.

 

“You write down one nice thing about everyone else, and then we read them and try to guess who wrote what,” she explains.

 

“It usually end with a lot of snark and Laura throwing something,” Derek adds as Stiles squints at his pen. When he inverts it, Santa’s pants fall down.

 

“Telling me I glow when I’m pissed off isn’t a compliment, Derek,” Laura bites out.

 

Derek shrugs. “I beg to differ.”

 

“This sounds endlessly entertaining, but I should probably sit out the writing part,” Stiles tells them.

 

“You absolutely will not,” Aaron declares.

 

“You just met me, and I’ve been nothing but one calamity after another, I won’t force you to think hard enough to come up with something nice about me,” Stiles tells them. “Consider it my Christmas present to you.”

 

“Are you family, or are you family?” Aaron asks, pointing to the couch. “Sit down and start writing, son.”

 

“Uh-oh, that’s his ‘Dad’ voice,” Talia says. “You better listen.”

 

Stiles smiles and shakes his head, but he ends up settled on the couch from Derek, who is shielding his messages with a pillow. Laura is in the corner, writing furiously, and Aaron keeps trying to peek at Talia’s papers over her shoulder. It’s not hard to come up with something nice about each of the Hales, especially since they welcomed him with such open arms, but he pauses when he gets to Derek’s card. There’s so much he wants to say and so little he feels comfortable putting down on paper. Besides, how does one say ‘I think you’re awesome and I would love to spend more time with you’ with it sounding inappropriate?

 

When they’re done, Laura lines up red solo cups with their names on them on the coffee table and the all get to stuffing their messages inside. One of the cups tips over when Derek tries to grab one of Aaron’s papers, and there’s a small scuffle, but Aaron’s arms are longer and Derek trudges back to the couch wincing and rubbing his ribs.

 

Stiles pats him on the shoulder and gives him a pouty face while Laura hands out the cups.

 

“Oh, Aaron,” Stiles says, remembering something he’d meant to ask. “What time did you stop your watch for Talia? You never did say.”

 

“Two forty-two,” he says proudly, hugging his cup to his chest. “It was an afternoon social.”

 

Stiles’ smile slips a little, but no one notices as they argue over who gets to go first. He glances down at his broken watch, on his wrist more out of habit than anything else. The golden hands are frozen at two forty-two, presumably the moment Derek put the car in the ditch.

 

It doesn’t mean anything, he tells himself. It can’t. He’s engaged to Will, and he and Derek met before that, at the airport. It’s just a strange coincidence and it’s probably best if he doesn’t bring attention to it, so he pulls his sleeve over the watch, clutching the edge in his palm.

 

“Oldest to youngest!” Aaron cries and opens his first message. “Is a troublemaker. And damn proud of it, my dear!” he says, grinning at Laura.

 

They go through the cards, one by one, each message funny or sentimental, and Stiles wants to live in the moment. When Derek’s turn comes, he blushes through Talia writing that his dedication to his family makes her proud, and Aaron complementing his capacity for love. He pouts when Laura’s message says he’s the second best Hale child, but it’s only fair since Derek’s message to her had been that she’s his favorite sister.

 

Derek’s fingers smooth over Stiles’ message as he reads it. He pauses, his eyes flicking up to Stiles, then back down.

 

“What’s it say?” Laura prompts.

 

“Is kind of amazing,” he says, quietly, his cheeks going pink.

 

Stiles can feel the mounting tension between them, like it’s come alive without them calling it out. Derek is three feet away, but Stiles would swear they’re touching. Lined up from shoulder, to hip, to knee. He knows the heat of Derek body now, and he craves it.

 

“Stiles, do yours,” Talia says, but before he can, the doorbell rings, over and over, in quick succession.

 

“Will’s here,” Stiles says, and it’s like being doused in ice water all over again. He jumps to his feet, breaking away from the broken emotion on Derek’s face and scattering his messages on the floor.

 

Talia beats him to the entry, but Stiles doesn’t stop, he throws his arms around Will from behind, holding him as though without him, Stiles might just shake apart. “You’re here!”

 

Will turns around laughing, and Stiles stumbles back with a shocked cry. “Who are you?”

Chapter Text

“Who am I? Who are you?” Not-Will says, looking at Talia for an answer.

 

“Where’s Will?” Stiles demands, his voice shaking.

 

Not-Will blinks at him. “Who’s Will?”

 

“My fiancé,” Stiles snaps, confusion and embarrassment making him angry.

 

“What going on?” Aaron asks, coming into the entry.

 

“You’re not Will.” Stiles says as the reality of his situation starts to sink in.

 

“Ah, sorry?” Not-Will offers.

 

“This is not Will,” Stiles whispers to himself, stunned.

 

“So wait,” Laura says, joining them. “You’re not engaged to Billy?”

 

“You’re not?” Derek asks, and Stiles can’t even look at him for all the humiliation that’s bubbling up inside of him.

 

“I think I’ve made a really big mistake,” Stiles says, clenching his hands together. “I must be at the wrong house because I don’t—I don’t know this person. How can I have gotten this wrong? What have I done?”

 

“Hey, Stiles, it’s okay,” Laura tells him, rubbing his arm soothingly, and god, he wanted so badly for these people to be in his life.

 

Tears prick at his eyes. “No, no, it’s not. I’ve invaded your home, I’ve stolen your time, your traditions . Oh my god, what kind of person does that?”

 

“Stiles,” Derek says, firm and close. “Everything is fine. No one is mad. This was an easy mistake to make, and we all made it. This is not your fault.”

 

Derek’s hand is back, rubbing circles over his spine, and Stiles melts into the touch, letting Derek sooth him and talk him down from the ledge. They’ve surrounded him and all he wants is to lean in and let them make it okay.

 

“Someone want to tell me what’s going on?” Not-Will, who must be Billy asks, snapping Stile out of the trance Derek has lulled him into, the truth dropping like a weight into his stomach.

 

“I have to go. I have to go right now,” Stiles squeeks, pulling away from them.

 

Everyone starts talking at once, trying to convince Stiles to stay, but if he doesn’t get some air right this fucking minute, he’s going to lose his shit, and no one needs to see that.

 

“I can’t stay here,” he insists, pushing through the to the front door. He trips on Billy’s suitcase and Derek’s hands are there instantly, steadying him and keeping him from landing on his face.

 

“Stiles, we love having you here,” Laura assures him.

 

Stiles rubs his hands over his face, unable to look at any of them. “Does anyone have a phone I can use? I need to, um. I need a phone.”

 

Derek’s phone slides into his hand and Stiles sobs out his next breath.

 

“Stiles, honey, what are you going to do?” Talia asks, gently.

 

“I don’t, I don’t know,” Stiles says and steps out the front door, closing it firmly behind him.

Chapter Text

Stiles calls Will, because what else can he do? He’s invaded the lives of total strangers and he needs to get out of there before he has a chance to really think about how right it felt to be amongst them. He tells Will where to pick him up on his way from the airport, being purposely stingy on the details because if he goes into right now, he’s going to end up curled in the snow, sobbing.

 

He stays outside after ending the call because he can’t face going back inside. He’s freezing and Will won’t arrive for a while, but he won’t force himself on the Hales anymore, especially now that Billy is home.

 

The door opens behind him and he knows it’s Derek by the weight of his steps on the porch. His jacket is dropped in his lap and Derek waits for him to put it on before sitting beside him and handing him a mug of hot chocolate.

 

“He’ll be here in a few minutes,” Stiles tells him quietly.

 

Derek clears his throat. “Your Will?”

 

“Yeah,” Stiles sniffs. “I am so embarrassed. How could I have made such a gigantic mistake?”

 

“It’s one for the books, alright.” Derek tells him, bumping his shoulder into Stiles’. “Everyone’s sad you won’t be spending Christmas with us.”

 

Stile closes his eyes because Derek’s shoulder is still pressed to his, and they’re sitting close enough their thighs are touching. “Everyone?”

 

“Yes,” Derek says. “I thought maybe…”

 

“What?” Stiles asks, daring to look at him.

 

Derek’s cheeks are turning red from the cold and the look he give Stiles is hopeful, but guarded. “Well, maybe you could visit us on Christmas day. I could come pick you up.”

 

Stiles takes an unsteady breath, and he wants that so much it hurts. But he’s made a commitment, and this isn’t his family anymore. They never truly were. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

 

Derek nods and looks away, and they sit in silence until Will pulls up in a rental car. Stiles jumps to his feet and hugs Will, because that’s normal, and comforting, and it should stabilize him after the crazy events of the last few days. But he can feel Derek’s eyes on him, and when he hears the screen door slamming, and Derek’s gone when he turns around, a sob bursts out of his throat because how could Derek leave without saying goodbye.

 

Will cups Stiles’ face in his hands “Hey, are you okay? What happened?”

 

“I’m fine, really,” Stiles says, giving him a watery smile and stepping back. “Just tired.”

 

“My parents were worried sick. I left you a dozen messages, why didn’t you call me back?”

 

“I left you a message saying my phone was dead. Derek knocked it into my coffee so I didn’t get any of your messages,” Stiles tells him, exasperated, because really?

 

Will frowns. “Who’s Derek?”

 

“I met him at the airport,” Stiles tells him, carefully keeping his voice steady. “We kind of collided, and then he heard that I was going to the Hales in Beacon Hills, and his last name is Hale and he has a brother named William, well, Billy. And they’re both common names, it was an easy mistake, okay?”

 

Will laughs, pulling Stiles into a hug. “You went to the wrong family,” he looks up at the house. “God, can you imagine me growing up in a place like this?”

 

Before Stiles can answer, Talia and Aaron come outside. Laura and Derek follow a minute later, and Stiles is sure the tight line of Derek’s mouth has something to do with the tears standing in Laura’s eyes.

 

“You can’t leave without a parting gift,” Talia says, handing Stiles a tin of cookies.

 

“Thank you, Talia. For everything. Oh! Will, this is Talia and Aaron, and Laura, and—” he trails off because Derek has disappeared back inside the house.

 

“Nice to meet you both,” Will says, shaking their hands. “Sorry about Stiles.”

 

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Aaron assures him. “You’re a very lucky man.”

 

“Thank you. I’m just really sorry for any inconvenience this has caused you. I know Stiles can be a little excitable.” Will chuckles and Stiles is embarrassed all over again. Does Will always talk about him like this? If he does, how has he never noticed?

 

Talia slings her arm around Stiles’ shoulders and pulls him closer. “Nonsense, he’s been an absolute joy to have around.”

 

Will pulls a few bills out of his wallet. “This should cover any expenses for while he was here.”

 

Laura barks out a surprised laugh from the stairs and Aaron’s eyes go wide, but he waves Will off. “That’s really not necessary, Stiles was a wonderful guest and we loved having him here.”

“Oh,” Will says, like it’s shocking that people would find Stiles pleasant to be around. “Okay, then.”

 

Stiles shoves the tin of cookies at Will and turns into Talia’s embrace..

 

“Don’t be a stranger, okay?” she whispers in his ear. Stiles nods because if he tries to speak, he’s going to start crying again.

 

Aaron pats his back and sways him back and forth a little, just like his own father does when he knows Stiles need comfort and he is so, so thankful for it. Laura glares at him, but her lip is trembling and Stiles has to tuck her head under his chin before she’ll drape her arms around his waist.

 

“Boys are stupid,” she says, her voice thick. “Why are you both so stupid?”

 

“Stiles, hey, we really gotta go,” Will says.

 

“Yeah, yeah, I just,” he looks at the open door of the house. “I’ll be right back.”

 

He runs into the house, searching for Derek. He finds in the kitchen, leaning into the island with his hands spread out of either side of him, his head lowered between them. Derek turns when he hears Stiles’ approach.

 

“Did you forget something?” Derek asks, his voice rough.

 

“Yeah, I did,” Stiles says and steps right up to him. “Thank you. I’ll never forget how perfect my time with you was.”

 

He kisses Derek, right at the side of his mouth, lingering before pulling away. Derek’s pupils are blown and his hands are gripping the counter behind him, like it’s the only thing stopping him from reaching for Stiles.

 

“I have to go,” Stiles says quietly.

 

“You don’t have to,” Derek tells him, his eyes pleading.

 

Stiles smiles, regretful. “I do, I’m sorry.”

 

Derek nods and straightens. “Merry Christmas, Stiles.

 

“Merry Christmas, Derek.”

Chapter Text

Will doesn’t ask him any questions on the ride across town, apparently happy just to have him back. Stiles spends the drive staring out the window, watching the lights and decorations whiz by as they go from neighborhood to neighborhood, and he fights down the feeling of wrong that’s taken up residence in his heart.

 

Will turns into a gated community and parks in the driveway of a McMansion behind a sleek BMW. The front yard is ornately sculpted, but there are no Christmas lights or festivity, just giant rocks and weird shrubbery. Stiles is abruptly nervous. He kind of forgot he’s meeting Will’s parents for the first time, and that they will most likely be nothing like Talia and Aaron, who were welcoming, and funny, and perfect.

 

Will takes him straight into the house, hanging their jackets in the closet and smoothing out his suit. Stiles looks down at his clothes and realizes he’s still wearing Derek’s things. He’d been so overwhelmed at the shock of being in the wrong house, he hadn’t even thought to collect his few things. Will calls for his mother and Stiles shoves his nose into the collar of his sweater, breathing in the scent of Derek and letting it calm him.

 

Will wanders further into the house, leaving Stiles to look around. There is, at least, a Christmas tree, but the ornaments are all uniform silver balls and not one branch is out of place. As far as Stiles can see, it’s the only decoration in the house. The rest of the space in the living room is taken up by steel and leather furniture, and several pieces of what Stiles assumes is modern art. It feels cold and impersonal after the warm glow of the other Hale home.

 

Stiles squints at a clump of metal bits on the balustrade, extending his hand to see if the soot-like substance on it is real or perceived.

 

“Please don’t touch that,” a voice calls from the top of the stairs.

 

“Oh, sorry,” Stiles says, startled by the sudden appearance of Will’s mom, a frozen smile on her face. She reminds Stiles of a Stepford wife after a month-long stay with one of those new age gurus who make you fast and rub crystals all over their bodies. Her clothing is impeccable and stylish, but in direct contrast with the long stone and bead necklaces hanging around her neck. She has a feather tucked behind one ear and she’s wearing Louis Vuitton. It’s very disconcerting.

 

“Mother,” Will reappears and greets her formally with an air kiss when she reaches the bottom of the stairs.

 

“I’ve missed you terribly,” she tells him, sounding sincere.

 

“Stiles, this is my mother, Judith. Mother, this is Stiles, my fiancé.” Will is beaming, but Judith gives Stiles an assessing glance. Stiles smiles and goes in for a hug, but Judith puts her hands up and jumps back.

 

“Sorry, I meant to tell you, Stiles,” Will explains. “Mother is cleaning her chakras.”

 

“Oh, um, did I track something in?” Stiles asks, looking to the floor behind him.

 

“No, my dear,” Judith says, moving her hands in sweeping motions, all while betraying no emotion beyond the smile etched on her face. “Chakras are the spiritual portals on our body, which allow us to tap into the wellspring of prana, the universal life force.”

 

“And they need cleaning once in awhile?” Stiles asks, confused.

 

“Oh yes, too much contact with other people’s aura’s can cause them to, ahh,” Judith taps her chest.

 

“Clog up?” Stiles tries.

 

“Close down,” she corrects.

 

“Mother is studying under a guru,” Will tell him.

 

Bingo, Stiles thinks.

 

“Wow, that’s um, you know, I’ve never met a guru. I mean, I went to highschool with this guy named Danny who was like, the straight boy whisperer, but that’s...not the same thing.” Stiles winces.

 

“Stiles, open up your mind to the universal consciousness and a teacher will be provided,” Judith tells, like she just gave him tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers.

 

Stiles laughs nervously. “Yeah, I don’t really mess with straight guys, so…”

 

“Let’s leave metaphysics aside for the moment. We are just very happy that you are here, and that you are safe,” Judith says, finally sounding like a normal, human woman. She wanders off as she talks, but Will doesn’t blink, so it must be something she does often. “We were awfully worried about you. Come, let’s have a drink to celebrate.”

 

“Oh, thank God,” Stiles mutters under his breath.

 

Drinks turn out to be smoothies. Green ones, filled with kale, yeast,raw eggs, and some unidentifiable powder scooped out of a silver bag. Will has disappeared again and Stiles can’t help but feel like it was a strategic vanishing so Stiles is forced to be alone with Judith. To bond, or something.

 

“I was absolutely amazed when Will told us what happened. I mean, how does one end up at the wrong house?”

 

Stiles opens his mouth to speak and Judith turns on the blender, drowning him out.

 

“Then I remembered,” she continues once the blender has stopped. “There are no accidents. Everything happens for a reason.” Judith moves to bop Stiles on the nose, but stops with an inch between her finger and the tip of his nose, because right, no touching.

 

Stiles tries to smile as she pours the green sludge into glasses. “It’s actually a funny story, see my phone got ruined at the airport because Der— somebody ran into me and it landed in my coffee cup, and when I went to check you address on it, it um…” he trails off, frowning at his glass. “Is this one of those energy smoothies?”

 

“Oh no,” Judith says, handing Will a glass as he reappears at her elbow. “It removes all the clogged, undigested matter, and the bacteria that gets into your intestines and slows them down.”

 

“Just like your chakra,” Stiles says as Will quietly empties his drink down the sink.

 

“No, not really,” Judith responds, staring at him blankly. “Happy holidays,” she says, jerking back into movement and raising her glass like someone’s just wound her back up. “To the newest member of our family; welcome, Stiles.”

 

Judith clinks their glasses together and Stiles tries not to breath as he forces down a sip of the awful concoction. Will is busy with his phone and doesn’t even bother to look up to see how good Stiles is being, because the smoothie tastes like what Stiles imagines having your tongue run over by a road tar truck must be like, and he should get a freaking medal for not choking on it.

 

“It’s delicious,” Stiles lies, and he is so going to heaven for this one. Or to hell for lying. He’d take either right now over taking another drink.

 

“Oh, thank you, it’s my own recipe. There’s plenty more!”

 

Stiles winces and hopes it looks like a smile. There’s an angry shout and sounds of a scuffle in the entry, drawing Will’s attention, but Judith just stands there and smiles.

 

“Who the hell left a suitcase right in front of the door?” A man’s voice yells, making the hair on Stiles’ arms stand up.

 

“We’re in here, Roy!” Judith calls in a sharp, biting tone.

 

“Yes, yes,” Roy says, limping into the kitchen. “Hey, my boy!”

 

Stiles gets up to stand by Will as he shakes Roy’s hand. “Good to see you. Dad, this is Stiles.”

 

“Mr. Hale, it is so nice to meet you,” Stiles says.

 

Roy looks him up and down while taking Stiles’ hand with both of his own. “Call me Roy.”

 

He’s still shaking Stiles’ hand, weighing his worth as a son-in-law him, no doubt, when a cell phone starts to ring. Roy drops Stiles’ hand and pats his pockets. “Is that mine?”

 

Judith hands Stiles his glass and Roy answers his call just as Will’s phone goes off, and then they’re both in another world, talking business and figures, and it’s like watching an echo at work. They’re both pacing the length of the kitchen with one ear covered to block out the other, and Stiles can only stare.

 

“Like father, like son,” Judith remarks, emotionless.

 

“It’s Christmas, you’d think they’d turn them off for at least a little while.”

 

“Time stops for no man,” Judith tells him and drains her glass.

 

Stiles stares into the depths of his own green nightmare and shrugs. Maybe he’ll get salmonella from the raw eggs and get to spend the rest of the holiday in the hospital.

“Bottoms up!”

Chapter Text

An hour later, when Stiles falls asleep on the couch, Will wakes him and guides him upstairs.

 

“My old bedroom,” Will announces taking off his jacket. “Lot of good memories in here.”

 

Stiles’ starts poking around the room, his exhaustion waylaid by the chance to gain some insight on what Will was like growing up. He’s surprised by the a shelf of trophies above the desk, and he takes one down.

 

“I never figured you for the sporting type.”

 

“That,” Will tells him proudly, taking the trophy. “Is my very first sales award. I sold two hundred pounds of fertilizer and I wasn’t even a webelo yet.”

 

Stiles laughs. “A webelo?”

 

“It’s the highest you can go as a boy scout before you hit the cub scouts,” Will explains as though he clearly expected this to be knowledge Stiles possessed. “I was a bear cub, which is one below webelo.”

 

“That’s sweet,” Stiles says, squeezing his shoulder.

 

“I was learning accounting and responsibility from a very young age,” Will says, replacing the trophy on the shelf in exactly the same spot it occupied before. “Maybe if you’d been a webelo your store would be in the black.”

 

“Whoa,” Stiles says, stepping back. He’s tired, and emotional, and there is no way he’s up for whatever pressure tactic Will has planned. “I’m going to take a shower.”

 

“Stiles,” Will tries, but Stiles has already slammed the ensuite door, cutting him off.

 

Stiles watches himself in the mirror, wondering why being with Will suddenly feels like work. How he could have gone from so completely happy one minute, to dreading his life the in the next? He gazes out the window at a park down the block. All the trees are lit up and snow is falling gently, and he wants so badly to be anywhere but where he is right now.

 

Will knocks and opens the door, meeting Stiles’ eyes in the mirror’s reflection. “I think you may have taken that the wrong way.”

 

Stiles purses his lips. “And what way would that be?”

 

“Stiles, I’m a salesman. I sell, that’s what I do. And I’m good at it, great at it, actually. You are a collector, a buyer if you will, and you hold onto things just a little too tightly,” Will tells him gently. “Sometimes you just gotta let go. And with my help you’ll get there. Now, why don’t you let me make it up to you?”

 

Stiles knows there’s a thread of sense in what Will is saying, but needs to be convinced, just a little.

 

“Do you want to go for a walk with me?” he asks, thinking of the park. Maybe all they need is to be alone together. To reconnect.

 

Will frowns. “A walk? Tonight?”

 

Stiles points out the window. “Yeah, there’s these beautiful trees, all lit up in this park over there.”

 

“Oh, I’ve never been,” Will tells him, squinting at the park.

 

“Isn’t this the house you grew up in?”

 

“Yeah,” Will says, giving him an indulgent smile. “Look, it’s just way too cold tonight. Maybe we’ll go tomorrow, yeah?”

 

“Yep, tomorrow,” Stiles says flatly, turning away and busying himself with his toiletries. “Well, goodnight.”

 

“Yeah,” Will sighs, frustrated, and Stiles slams the door again when he leaves, locking it this time.

Chapter Text

Later that night, once Stiles has showered and changes into yet another pair of borrowed pajamas, he finds himself restless. Everyone else is sleeping, but he wanders from room to room, unable to shut off his brain. It doesn’t make sense; he’s barely had four hours sleep since he arrived, and he should want nothing more than to slip between cool sheets and pass out. But what he really wants is to drive across town and be welcomed back into the warmth and support of the other Hale house. The one that sheltered him, cared for him, shared their lives with him, even though he was a stranger.

 

Finally, around midnight, he gives in and lies down. Will has wisely chosen to sleep in the guest room, so Stiles is free to stare at the ceiling in peace. He’s doing just that when a beam of light hits the wall. He frowns as it dances across the room, a harmless, but curious intruder. He gets up and goes to the window, carefully pulling back the curtains to find Derek standing in the front yard with a high-powered flashlight. When he sees Stiles, his face lights up and he motions for Stiles to come outside. Stiles is shoving his feet into his boots and rushing out into the cold before he can even think about doing it.

 

“What are you doing here?” he asks, giddily pulling on his jacket.

 

“I’m on a mission,” Derek tells him, his smile so wide it’s almost comical.

 

Stiles’ pulse jumps. “A mission for what?”

 

“Sleep,” Derek groans and Stiles can’t help the disappointment that lodges itself in his throat. “My alma sleep cycle is all messed up.”

 

“Yeah, staying awake for two days straight will do that.” Stiles forces himself to smile because Derek may not be here because of him, but he’s still here. “How did you find me?”

 

“I followed you,” Derek says, stepping closer.

 

“Really?”

 

He laughs. “No, there are only three Hales in this town and the other ones are away for the holiday. At least that’s what the deputy told me when he thought I was trying to break into their house.”

 

Stiles claps a hand over his mouth and laughs. “No!”

 

Derek shrugs. “I knew him in high school, it was no big deal. Plus, he let me borrow his spare mag light.” Derek waves around the long black flashlight and Stiles is charmed all over again. “Do you want to maybe go for a walk?”

 

“Yes!” Stiles cries happily and latches onto Derek’s arm. “So, how did Billy react to the whole phantom-fiancé fiasco?”

 

Derek laughs. “Well, he was surprised, that’s for sure. Said he really needed to come home more if we thought he’d sent his male fiancé ahead of him to break it to us that he’s gay.”

 

“Billy is straight?” Stiles gapes.

 

“Why did you think we were all so surprised?” Derek asks.

 

Stiles laughs at the absurdity of his life over the past few days, then sobers when he remembers that none of it was real and he will be going back to the other Hales when their walk is done.

 

“Billy’s not mad at me, is he?”

 

“Why would he be mad at you? The story kind of broke the ice and smoothed over the hurt feelings about him being gone so long. He should be grateful to you.”

 

Stiles snorts. “I’ll watch the mail for his thank you card.”

 

“He’s still as stubborn as he ever was, but he seems more settled now,” Derek tells him, and there’s a fondness in his tone that wasn’t there when he talked about his brother before. “He quit his big city job doing whatever it was with other people’s money, and he’s flipping houses. Actually asked me about helping him build a staircase in the spring.”

 

“Derek, that’s great.” Stiles smiles, squeezing his arm.

 

Derek ducks his head and grins. “Yeah, it kind of is. I missed him.”

 

“You should tell him that,” Stiles encourages gently.

 

They make their way through the neighbourhood, and Stiles is so happy to have Derek by his side again that he doesn’t notice they’re heading for the park until they’ve arrived.

 

“The first time I came here I was ten,” Derek tells him as they walk down a path lined with tarp covered somethings. “I snuck out of the house. My parents would have killed me if they’d known.”

 

“So it’s a tradition then,” Stile says, leaning into Derek.

 

“No, I just had a lot on my mind. Needed to get out for a bit,” Derek says softly.

 

“Yeah, me too.” Stiles turns to Derek, who is already watching him. He wants to ask a million questions about why Derek came to find him, but he’s distracted by the more imminent mystery of the covered shapes. “What are these?”

 

Derek smiles, his eyes lighting up. “Blocks of snow. Tomorrow is the Beacon Hills Christmas festival. By then, these will all be sculptures.”

 

“That sounds amazing!”

 

“It is,” Derek assures him.

 

“Oh wow, these trees are beautiful,” Stiles says. Every pine in the park has been decorated, making it feel like a Christmas winter wonderland, and Stiles can only imagine how much better it will be one the snow sculptures are complete. “This place almost feels magical.”

 

“As a kid I’d come look at the trees for hours, trying to memorize every light and ornament. As I got older, and started doing my own laundry, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to not freeze my ass off in wet pants as I sat staring at the trees?” Derek guides him through an opening in the trees to a gorgeous bench in the clearing.

 

“Did you make this?” Stiles asks, surprised.

 

“The wood is from an old ship and the bolts are from a church that burned down in a fire,” Derek tells him, sounding proud. “But it’s just a bench.”

 

Stiles leans closer to inspect the plaque mounted on the wood. “Here we will sit and let the sounds of music creep in our ears,” he reads.

 

“Soft stillness and the night become the touches of sweet harmony,” Derek finishes.

 

Stiles gives him a smile. “Merchant of Venice.”

 

“You know your Shakespeare,” Derek says, pleased.

 

“Derek, this isn’t just a bench,” Stiles tells him, stepping closer. “This is a piece of your heart.”

 

“I guess I felt the need to share it with you,” Derek says, his breath ghosting in front of him.

 

Stiles feels his face heat up and it’s exactly what he wanted to hear, but there’s still Will and his parents, and it’s all just a little overwhelming right now, so he sits down, running his gloved hand over the smooth wood.

 

“These are beautiful, I’d love to have them in my store, I know I could sell them.”

 

“Yeah?” Derek asks, surprised. “You have a good eye. This right here, this I got right.”

 

Stiles frowns. “I’d say you get a lot right. I mean, you’re doing what you love, you’re good at it and it’s working for you. You’re kind of living the dream, man.”

 

Derek’s smile turns sad and he looks down at his lap. “So I’m kind of amazing, am I?”

 

Stiles swallows. “Yes.”

 

“Even after I spilled coffee on you, wrecked your shirt, fried your phone, almost killed you in a car accident, and almost drowned you on a tree farm? I mean, your standards are worryingly low, Stiles.”

 

Stiles chuckles. “Amazing doesn’t even begin to sum it up. Derek, you’re…” he trails off, scared of letting too much show.

 

“Yeah,” Derek says, looking at Stiles wistfully. “You too.”

 

Stiles’ heart hurts. He has so much he wants to say to Derek, but he’s only known him a few days, and romantic stories of love at first sight aside, Stiles knows it’s too soon. And then there’s Will.

 

“Hey, you know what came into my store the other day?” he says, trying to push aside his feelings. “A replica of the Bernkastel Christmas Clock.”

 

“Are you serious?” Derek asks, incredulous.

 

Stiles perks up. “You know it?”

 

“Of course,” Derek says, watching Stile closely. “The clockmaker falls in love with someone promised to another and the whole world gets frozen in time.”

 

“Yep, that’s the one,” Stiles says, a sense of helplessness coming over him out of nowhere.

 

Derek clenches his jaw, wringing his hands on the mag light. “Look, I probably shouldn’t say anything, but I’m going to, because if I don’t, I’ll never forgive myself,” he starts and Stiles’ stomach drops. “I think you’re about to make a big mistake.”

 

“Look, I think you’re an amazing guy—”

 

“Don’t throw that word around loosely, not now,” Derek warns.

 

“I’m not, I promise. Look, I wish the world worked the same as it did for the clockmaker, but Will and I have a life together. We make a great team.”

 

“You don’t believe that,” Derek insists.

 

“You don’t know what I believe,” Stiles snaps. “I’ve made a commitment to him.”

 

Derek shakes his head. “So much for fate, then.”

 

“Maybe fate’s just something people make up to explain the way things worked out.”

 

“Then why did I know the moment I saw you that we were meant to be together?” Derek demands, his jaw flexing. “Why did I catch one glimpse of you in that airport and suddenly feel like you were my future? How did it only take two days for me to completely fall in love with you?”

 

“Derek, please don’t,” he pleads, not knowing if he’s strong enough to walk away from this.

 

“I have to! If I don’t fight for you now, I’ll never forgive myself,” Derek says, open and desperate. “Stiles, I love you.”

 

The world doesn’t stop, but Stiles feels like it should. The moment is like the page in the storybook where he’s supposed to get everything he wished for, but all he feels is torn, and guilty, and filled with regret. “I...I have to go.”

Chapter Text

Stiles wakes early from a fitful sleep. He’d lain awake for hours after he left the park, running over Derek’s words again and again.

 

I think you’re about to make a big mistake.

 

How did it only take two days for me to completely fall in love with you?”

 

Stiles, I love you.

 

He barely knows Derek, and it would be unreasonable and irresponsible to throw Will aside for someone he just met. Even if that person is funny, and kind, and good under pressure. He can’t just change his mind because Derek feels like home in a way no other person has. Guilt settles in Stiles’ bones, aching with the shame of how he handled Derek’s confession. He should have stayed to talk it out, to let him down easier, asked for more time, anything that wasn’t literally running away like a coward. .

 

When Will peeks his head in the door around eight, Stiles is dressed and sitting on the side of the bed, staring out the window. He can’t see the park from this side of the house, but he knows it’s there, bright, and cheerful, and haunted by Stiles’ quick departure.

 

“The airport called, they have your luggage,” Will tells him. “Want to go get it and grab some breakfast on the way back? There’s this place on fourth that has the best waffles in the state.”

 

It’s a peace offering, Stiles knows, and he can’t ignore it. Especially after last night.

 

“Sounds great, I’ll be down in a minute,” Stiles tells him with a small smile, and Will beams.

 

Stiles turns down one of Judith’s smoothies for the road and when Will’s phone starts ringing non-stop, Stiles takes the opportunity to slip out with the house phone and call the other Hale house. He needs to talk to Derek, to explain why he did what he did.

 

Someone picks up after only two rings, but when Stiles’ says hello, he’s met with silence.

 

“Derek?” he asks, meekly, hiding in the hallway outside David’s office.

 

There’s muffled noises, then Talia’s voice on the line.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Talia, it’s Stiles,” he says, wincing at the strain in his voice.

 

“Stiles, honey, how are you?”

 

“I’m fine, I, um, I just wanted to call and wish you merry Christmas,” he says, fighting back the emotions crashing around inside him. He wants the warmth and joy of these people back in his life, he wants it so bad.

 

“Thank you, and same to you,” Talia gushes, and he can hear the smile in her voice. “I just wish there was someway you could spend it with us.”

 

“I know, me too. I’ll be thinking of you all,” Stiles promises. “Hey, uh, is Derek there?”

 

“Derek? Oh...you know what? I just sent him out for a little last minute grocery shopping. I always forget something,” Talia laughs, but it’s hollow and slow, and Stiles knows Derek must be standing right there, refusing to talk to him. “I can have him call you when he gets in.”

 

Stiles thumps his head against the wall. He may be pathetic, but he can take a hint. “No, that’s okay. Just tell him...tell him I hope he has a good Christmas.”

 

“Okay, I will,” Talia promises. “And if you happen to have a little free time, our door is always open to you.”

 

“I really appreciate that, thank you.”

 

Stiles hangs up the phone and takes a deep breath to steady himself. That, it seems, is that. Derek doesn’t even want to talk to him, so there’s no way he’s going to face the humiliation of actually going over there. Stiles’ has ruined everything, and now he’s stuck where he is, doomed to wonder ‘what if’. He turns the corner to return the phone and runs right into Will.

 

“Hey,” Will says, smiling.

 

“Oh, hey.”

 

Will puts his hands on Stiles’ shoulders, rubbing gently. “Look, I owe you an apology for yesterday.”

 

“Ah, no, no, that’s fine,” Stiles tells him, plastering on a smile, guilt making his stomach ache. “You were right, let’s just forget it.”

 

Will frowns. “Are you sure?”

 

“Yep. Are we ready to go?” Stiles’ hands are clenched and if he doesn’t get out of the house in the next thirty seconds, he’s going to scream.

 

“Yeah, hey,” Will says, stopping Stiles from walking away. “You still my guy?”

 

“Of course,” Stiles plasters on a smile and manages not to react when Will kisses him.

 

They get out of the house with only one more interruption from Will’s phone, and it’s a freaking Christmas miracle that Stiles doesn’t throw the damn thing out the window. It’s Christmas eve, does no one Will works with have a life outside the office?

 

They don’t talk on the drive and when they pass the spot where Derek drove off the highway, Stiles gets a shiver down his spine. The tire tracks into the ditch are gone, covered by a fresh dusting of snow, and Stiles almost tells Will to stop the car so he can get out and see where the car crashed. To make sure there’s something there to mark where he and Derek got their start at two forty-two in the afternoon, even if it’s all over now.

 

Will ends up begging out of breakfast because he needs to get back and access some files on his laptop, so Stiles settles for a muffin and some shitty coffee when they stop for gas. At least he has his luggage now, so he can go back and change into something that smells like him and not like Derek or whatever weird-ass detergent Will’s parents use. By the time Stiles has showered, changed, and brushed his teeth with his own toothbrush, Will and Roy have planted themselves in the living room, in front of the Christmas tree. Both of them have their laptops open, and Roy is pouring through a stack of paperwork while Will types madly on his phone.

 

“Merry Christmas Eve, everyone,” Judith greets them as she delivers a large pitcher of green shit and four empty glasses.

 

“Is that coffee?” Roy asks without looking up. “I could use some more coffee.”

 

“This will give you more energy than coffee, honey,” Judith declares.

 

Roy laughs meanly. “Yeah, okay, if you say so.”

 

“Will, please tell your father that he should give his body the nourishment that it needs.”

 

“Let’s play a Christmas game,” Stiles says, too loud and too bright in the quiet room. The others stare at him while he fights to keep the smile on his face.

 

“Uh, Stiles,” Will starts. “I don’t think anyone’s in the mood—”

 

“It’s Christmas eve,” he snaps. “Time for families to love, to share, and to give. We’re playing.”

 

Will stares at him in shock and Stiles decides it’s a good look on him.

 

“Think of it as a new Hale family tradition,” Stiles says. “Judith, please get us some pencils and paper.”

 

Judith jumps up to obey, and Roy shakes his head and goes back to his papers.

 

“The other Hales taught me this, all you have to do is write down something that you like about everyone at the table,” he explains, co-opting the glasses Judith brought in and handing them out. He forcefully shuts Roy’s laptop as he passes and shakes a glass at him until he takes it. “And pop it in their glass. Then you have to guess who wrote what.”

 

Will sighs. “Stiles—”

 

“Write,” Stiles demands, focusing on his own paper.

 

“Okay.”

 

Once the messages are doled out, Stiles flashes them a smile. “Do you want to go first, Roy?”

 

“I guess.”

 

“Just remember that you have to guess who said what,” Stiles reminds them, fighting to keep his tone cheerful. All of this was so natural with Talia and Aaron, but talking to Roy and Judith makes him feel so wrong-footed he thinks he’ll fall over. Stiles decides this new approach of taking charge is the answer.

 

“Is very charming,” Roy reads from the first paper, and flashes Stiles what looks like a genuine smile. “That must be you, Stiles.”

 

“You got me,” Stiles says, willfully forgetting how hard it had been to come up with one nice thing to say about the man.

 

“I think I like this game already,” he preens, giving Stiles a wink and unfolding a new paper. “Knows all the loopholes in the tax code,” he reads, laughing. “Actually, I wish I did, I think there were a few I missed over the years.”

 

Will laughs along and they shake hands, like they’re sharing the best joke in the world between them. Stiles wrinkles his nose, but keeps smiling because this is what he has to look forward to and he best get used to it.

 

Roy opens the last paper and the smile falls off his face, his lips twisting in a sneer. “Makes good money. A love letter that gushing could only come from my wife.”

 

“Well, we were only supposed to write one thing,” Judith explains. “There are other things that I could have said.”

 

“But you chose to write that, so…” Roy shrugs.

 

Stiles looks to Will as the tension between his parents mounts, but Will looks completely at ease with the conversation.

 

“You’re turn, go ahead,” Roy tells Judith blandly.

 

“She’s very low maintenance,” Judith reads. “What is that supposed to mean?”

 

“How do you know it was me?” Roy asks.

 

“Maintenance is misspelled.”

 

“Well, I just feel that you fill in your time on your own, you don’t seem to need anybody around,” Roy prattles and Will nods his agreement, like what his father is saying is some kind of fucking compliment.

 

“Maybe I haven’t had a choice,” Judith snipes.

 

“Yeah, well, I go into work everyday so I can make the good money .”

 

“Okay, my turn!” Stiles cries, fumbling for his messages. “Ahh, is very easy on the eyes.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Roy says, smug.

 

“Right...um, next. Loves my son,” he reads and Will grins at Judith while Stiles swallows down shame and regret. “Yep, yes, that’s true,” he chokes out, fishing in the glass for Will’s note. “Last but not least, is a multi-millionaire.”

 

Stiles frowns at the paper, then up at Will, who looks like he’s bursting at the seams with excitement.

 

“Surprise!”

 

“I don’t understand,” Stiles says.

 

Will pushes off the couch to take centre court in front of the fireplace, rubbing his hands together with glee. “I was going to wait until Christmas day, but I guess I can give you your present a little bit early. You may have noticed I’ve been doing a lot of back and forth with the city while I’ve been here.”

 

Dread builds inside Stiles and he starts to grow cold. Whatever Will has done, whatever he plans to do, Stile is going to hate, he just knows it.

 

“And I haven’t been wasting my time here. I closed a huge deal with Grant-Lockley.”

 

“Fantastic,” Roy tells him.

 

“As you know, he’s been trying to develop the entire block that your store is on,” Will goes on, completely ignoring the panic Stiles knows is showing on his face. “He’s got the all the other property owners on board, and you were the only hold-out.”

 

“Were?” Stiles asks, getting angry.

 

“And I used that as leverage to get him to pay top dollar. Your little store? How does $3.5 million sound?”

 

Judith gasps and Roy laughs, shaking Will's hand again and telling him he’s a chip off the old block, but it all feels distant and blurred because all Stiles sees is red.

 

“That store has been in my family for a long time,” Stiles says quietly, his fingers digging into his thighs. “It was my mothers.”

 

“Hey, I know it means a lot to you,” Will tells him. “And I totally respect if you want to respond and not react right away. It’s a big decision and that is the responsible thing to do. Just remember that you and I are going to have our own family memories, and when the old store is gone, you’ll still have all your old memories.”

 

Stiles nods, and keeps nodding until he’s backing out of the room because if he stays he’s probably going to hit someone, and once he starts, he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stop.

 

“I’m just going to, um, take a walk,” he says, already reaching for his coat and fleeing for the door.

 

“I know you’ll make the right decision,” Will calls out after him.

Chapter Text

Stiles heads away from the park. He can’t bring himself to go there again when he knows he’ll just relive his time there with Derek and end up wallowing in his misery. Right now he needs to think and figure out what he’s going to do about Will. He’s not selling the store. Ever. There is nothing Will can do or say to convince him that’s the right thing to do, and the fact that Will is so blind to that knowledge is a clear sign he’s not the man Stiles has painted him to be.

 

The thing is, Stiles knows Will thinks this is for the best. He wouldn’t push so hard if he didn’t absolutely believe selling the store would be good for Stiles. He always wants what’s best for Stiles, and Stiles has let that blind him to too many red flags that prove they’re not meant to be together. When he really thinks about it, Stiles doesn’t think Will actually knows him at all. Will has always been so certain of what he wants out of life, and his career, and his partner, that Stiles adapted to fit into the mold Will made for him, and that’s not fair to either of them.

 

He knows he needs to end their engagement, but it’s Christmas, and awkward, and he’s stranded here with people who very well may hate him in a few hours time. He can’t afford a hotel and his flight home isn’t until the 26th, so he either goes back and lies to Will until they get home, or he puts his tail between his legs and begs Derek’s family to take him in again. They would, too, he knows, but he doesn't want to hurt Derek anymore than he already has, and his being there will definitely hurt Derek.

 

Stiles shivers and curses himself for not grabbing his gloves before running out the door. The sun is going down and it smells like snow, so he shoves his hands into the deep pockets of his coat, frowning when his left hand encounters paper. He pulls it out slowly, heart stuttering when he realizes it’s the scraps of paper from the message game he played with Derek’s family. Derek must have put them in his pocket before bringing Stiles his coat on the porch. Like he knew then that Stiles would leave and wanted him to have this one last reminder of them.

 

His hands shake as he unfolds the first paper, laughing wetly at what he’s certain is Laura’s message.

 

is hilarious and gangs up on Derek with me

 

He’s pretty sure Aaron’s writes that Stiles appreciates the value of old treasures, and Talia’s he feels like family already has tears springing to his eyes. The last one has to be Derek’s and he almost doesn’t want to read it. Derek wrote it before he knew Stiles wasn’t marrying his brother and that they wouldn’t be seeing way more of each other than either of them could handle. He wrote it when he was falling in love with Stiles.

 

Stiles unfolds the paper slowly, stroking his fingers over the creases Derek’s hands made, taking note of the perfect lines and even edges Derek created for him. He lets out a sob when he reads the words written in Derek’s neat script, and then he laughs because he’s been so, so stupid.

 

He makes me see colors I’d forgotten existed. Hear songs I lost the words to. Contains knowledge I did not know I longed to learn.

 

God, how did either of them think they were going to survive being in the same family and not be together? Stiles thinks back to his first impression of Derek at the airport, and realizes that he’d been yearning to know more about him from the very first moment. It wasn’t just the lost parcel, it was the scent, and the stature, and the essence of the man. And that was all before they even spoke to each other. It had been easy with Derek, right from the start, and even when they were arguing or trying to one up each other, it was effortless and natural. Stiles has never had that with someone before, not even his father. How had he not seen what was happening before.

 

Stiles looks around and is startled to find himself back at that park. He’s circled the neighborhood and ended up back here like it was drawing him to it. He still can’t face going inside, though. He had everything with Derek in the palm of his hand and he threw it all away for someone he’s always known wasn’t really right. No, he can’t go into the park tonight. His wounds are still too fresh.

 

When he gets back to the house, Laura is leaning against the side of her SUV out front.

 

“Hey, stranger,” she calls, rushing forward to wrap Stiles in a hug.

 

“What are you doing here?” Stiles whispers, squeezing her back just as tight.

 

“I brought you something,” Laura tells him, letting him go and pulling a small, ribboned box out of her jacket. “Derek wanted you to have it.”

 

Stiles’ heart races. “I didn’t think he’d even want to think about me again.”

 

“Give him time, Stiles. You kinda trampled his heart,” Laura says, not unkind.

 

“I feel like I screwed everything up.”

 

Laura nods, sticking her hands in her pockets. “So, what are you going to do about it?”

 

“Stiles?” Will calls from the front door. “Is everything okay?”

 

“I’ll be in in a minute,” Stiles calls back, frustrated.

 

“Stiles, look, I don’t know much about fate, or how any of this meant-to-be shit works, but I do know that took a leap for love, and I still lost everything. But even though Marcus is gone, and it destroyed me, I wouldn’t trade a single minute with him, even knowing how much it would hurt when he was gone.”

 

“But who falls in love after only two days, Laura? It’s ridiculous,” he insists, his heart twisting.

 

Laura smiles. “Life is about timing, babe. And timing is everything, in love and in loss.”

 

“I feel like you’re being cryptic on purpose, just to mess with me,” Stiles tells her.

 

“Get your head out of your ass, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and fix your life. How’s that for not cryptic?” she asks, grinning.

 

Stiles chuckles and wipes his eyes. “Are you a poet?”

 

Laura hugs him again, patting him on the back of the head and then shooing him towards the door, where Will is standing and watching them.

 

“Who was that?” Will asks.

 

“Laura Hale, I introduced you when you picked me up.” Stiles trudges into the house after him, suddenly twice as tired as before.

 

“I have another present for you,” he snickers, practically brimming with anticipation as the grandfather clock in David’s study starts to clang. Stiles counts the strikes in his head because he can’t quite look at Will directly yet.

 

”I don’t know how many more surprises I can take,” Stiles tells him truthfully when the clock stops at nine. The urge to punch him is still there and Stiles is much too tired to rein himself in.

 

”I know my family doesn’t really do presents,” Will says, once Stiles is sitting on the side the bed in his old room..

 

Stiles frowns. “You don’t do presents?”

 

“But you are worth the exception,” Will goes on like Stiles hadn’t spoken, handing him a large envelope. “We’re supposed to be making our own family traditions together, right?”

 

“What is this?” Stiles asks, frowning at the stapled paperwork he pulls out.

 

“I’m sorry about blindsiding you with the offer on the store, I should have given you some warning. I put a lot of pressure on you, and I shouldn’t have done that, especially in front of my parents. You know I always want to take care of you, right? That’s all I ever want.”

 

Stiles nods, unable to look Will in the eye when he knows he has to end things and end them soon.

 

“This is a lease for a space three blocks from where you are now,” Will continues, apology accepted, as far as he’s concerned. “So you can stay in the community, and I think it’s perfect. More walk-by traffic, and more parking on the street outside. With the money from the sale of the other store, you could bring in better stock, hire people to help. Stiles, this would be a real store.”

 

“A real store?” Stiles spits.

 

“One that would turn over a steady profit,” Will explains. “You could design it however you want, and I know you have a hundred ideas in that head of yours. Now you can afford to implement them.”

 

Stiles’ nostrils flare as he tries to keep himself calm. Yelling isn’t going to get them anywhere, and Will always tunes him out when he raises his voice.

 

“But it wouldn’t be my mother’s store,” he says, trying to get his point across.

 

“But it would be darn good compromise, wouldn’t it?” Will says, and he’s got that look in his eye that Stiles suddenly hates. The one that says he’s about to close a deal and can already taste the victory.  

 

“I don’t want to compromise, Will.” As soon as the words are out, it’s like a weight is off his chest because he realizes how true they are. He doesn’t want to settle for less than exactly what he wants, and that goes for all areas of his life. Stiles wants to keep his store, and he wants to be with Derek Hale. Not much else matters right now.

 

“Come on, be logical,” Will tells him, holding out a pen. “You can’t tempt fate and you’re not going to get a deal better than this.”

 

Stiles has a flash of what his life would have become had he not followed the wrong Hale home; visions of his father’s disappointment when they demolish the building he and Stiles’ mother built their dreams in, years of being little more than eye candy at Will’s side, of being indulged in his little hobbie store. Stiles feels a deep, aching sympathy for Judith and his stomach rolls at becoming like her.

 

“I think I’m going to be sick,” he blurts and makes a run for the bathroom, locking the door behind him.

 

“Stiles,” Will calls after him. “Stiles, come on.”

 

Stiles fumbles the box from Derek out of his pocket because he needs to know what’s in it immediately. Needs to know if Derek still wants him. He rips off the ribbon and opens the box, digging through the tissue paper. His heart skips when he sees the clock face and he laughs wetly. It’s a small, wooden clock box, smooth and detailed, and roughly the size of his palm.

 

His tears darken the wood and he sniffs, overcome with the beauty and the meaning of the gift. Derek still loves him. Derek still wants him, and now that he knows, he can’t stand to be apart from him a moment longer. Stiles pauses when he glances at the dial a second time because it can’t be more than a quarter past nine, but the clock reads two thirty-nine.  

 

Stiles holds the clock to his heart and his eyes are drawn to the window, the bright lights of the park blurred by his tears. He knows what he wants now, and he knows what he has to do.

Chapter Text

Stiles walks out of the bathroom, resolute. He gives Will a small smile and sits beside him on the bed, the ticking of Derek’s clock steady and loud in the quiet room.

 

“What’s going on with you, Stiles?” Will asks.

 

Stiles looks him right in the eye, because it hasn’t all been bad, and he owes him that much. “I can’t do this.”

 

Will frowns. “Well, we don’t have to do the new store, it was just an idea.”

 

“I mean us,” Stiles says carefully. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Oh,” Will looks away, shoulders slumping. “I knew this was coming.”

 

“You did?”

 

Will chuckles. “Yeah. Ever since you left, it’s like something’s been off, you know? Our rhythm, our—”

 

“Timing,” Stiles finishes for him.

 

“Yeah,” Will agrees, giving him a sad smile “Maybe that’s why I’m pushing so hard about the store. I thought it would keep you with me.”

 

“That isn’t fair to me, or to yourself,” Stiles says.

 

“I know, but I love you.”

 

“I love you, too, Will. But it’s just not enough.”

 

Will nods, catching sight of the clock in Stiles’ hand. “Is that a clock?”

 

The ticking grows louder, until it’s all Stiles can hear, and then it stops, the hands frozen in place. Goosebumps rise on his skin and he looks at Will, who stares back, an expectant look on his face, but Stiles suddenly knows he can’t waste anymore time.

 

“I have to go,” he tells him, and Will doesn’t move to stop him when he rushes out the door.

 

Downstairs, Judith is meditating in front of the tree, sitting perfectly still amidst the sparkling lights, and she doesn’t react when Stiles pounds down the stairs. He can see into the dining room where Roy is staring at his laptop, so absorbed in his work that he doesn’t stir when Stiles knocks over a pedestal on his way to the door.

 

Stiles runs to the park along abandoned streets, jumping snowbanks and skidding on a patch of ice, barely noticing the newly uncovered show sculptures as he calls for Derek through the trees. Stiles knows he’s here; he has to be.

 

Stiles nears the entrance to the clearing with the bench and Derek steps out from behind a tree, sweeping Stiles into a hug and off his feet. Stiles throws his head back and laughs, clinging to Derek’s shoulders. When Derek puts him down, Stiles kisses him, strong and sure, in case Derek has any doubts as to why Stiles has come.

 

Derek groans into his mouth, his cold hands slipping beneath Stiles’ coat and shirts and making him yelp.

 

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” Derek breathes, and his smile is so wide Stiles has to kiss him again.

 

“I got your clock,” Stiles tells him, their lips still only an inch away.

 

“I thought you might have. I’ve been here waiting since I gave it to Laura to give to you.”

 

Stiles crinkles his nose. “Are you serious? I stood outside the park for at least ten minutes while you were in here. You weren’t worried I might not come?”

 

“Nope,” Derek says and catches Stiles’ bottom lip between his teeth. They lose a good chunk of time to kisses, Derek’s mouth hot and eager on his, his fingers digging into Stiles’ hips and back through his coat. It’s thrilling and greedy, and god, so right that Stiles can’t believe it took him this long to get here.

 

“Derek,” Stiles says, trying to pull away, but falling victim to Derek’s mouth again and again. “Derek, I need to talk.”

 

“Okay, yeah, sure,” Derek says, his lips wandering across Stiles’ cheek and down to his neck.

 

Stiles threads his fingers through Derek’s hair and pulls sharply, disconnecting Derek’s mouth from his skin with a loud pop.

 

“I need to say something to you,” he says, seriously.

 

Derek nods and pulls back. “Sorry, I just can’t believe I finally get to do this.”

 

“I know, me either. I’ve spent so much time lately pretending to be something I’m not because I thought it was who I was supposed to be, and I almost forgot who I really am. I mean, I kind of did forget, because all the things I love were slowly being taken away from me, and I was letting it happen. It wasn’t until I met you that I started to shake all that off and realize how much I was about to lose. Because I’m the guy who loves family, and Christmas, and antiques, and most of all, I’m the guy who loves you, Derek Hale. And I don’t want to lose any of that ever again.”

 

“You won’t, I promise. I’m never letting you walk away from me again, Stiles. Never again,” Derek swears, kissing him so hard their teeth clack together.

 

“As much as I want to stay right here and ride this train to its conclusion,” Stiles tells him, teeth chattering. “I’m freezing and your parents and Laura are probably taking bets on when we’ll go home.”

 

Derek smirks. “When I left Laura had six to one odds that we’d be missing clothing when we reappeared.”

 

“Well, we can’t let her win, even if it is Christmas,” Stiles laughs, sliding his arm through Derek’s and pulling him along. “Thanks for putting the messages in my pocket, by the way. I found them in a moment when I really need them.”

 

Derek presses a kiss to his temple. “I’m glad.”

 

“But you have to tell me how you got the clock to stop.”

 

“It stopped?” Derek asks. “Let me see it.”

 

Stiles pulls it out of his pocket and hands it over. Derek looks down at the clock, then back up at Stiles, his eyes wide.

 

“Stiles, you know what time this says?”

 

“Um, yeah,” Stiles says, glancing at the face. “Two...forty-two. Holy shit.”

 

“That’s the time my dad stopped his watch for my mom.”

 

“Derek, that’s the time my watch stopped when we crashed into the ditch,” Stiles explains, pulling up the arm of his coat to show Derek his broken watch. “You are my destiny, dude.”

 

Derek stares at him, stunned, then he snorts. “You’re a sap.”

 

“Shut up, man, it means something!” Stiles insists.

 

“It means I can’t properly set a clock,” Derek jokes, leading them out of the park. “But if you say it means more, then it does, because we met against all odds, and I have never been so lucky in my life and I really can’t rule out divine intervention.”

 

Stiles leans into him and rubs his cheek on Derek’s shoulder. “Who’s the sap now, Hale?”

Chapter Text

Their return to the Hale house is met with laughter and fanfare for about three minutes, then Aaron, Laura, and Billy turn back to the cutthroat game of Christmas themed Monopoly they have spread across the kitchen table. Talia holds Stiles tightly, whispering in his ear that she told him he was family and he should have just listened to her in the beginning and saved them all from Derek’s brooding. Then she shoves a cookie into his hand and kisses Derek on the cheek.

 

They cuddle on the couch, kissing by the light of the Christmas tree and giggling at the increasingly crass insults being hurled in the kitchen. Later, when their cups are empty and Stiles is starting to drowse against Derek’s shoulder, Derek leads him up the stairs to his bedroom.

 

“We can finally sleep properly,” Derek whispers, his fingers slipping under Stiles shirt.

 

“Something tells me you’re not very interested in that,” Stiles says, shivering at the touch.

 

Derek ducks his head, his cheeks flushing. “I want whatever you want.”

 

“I want about thirty-six straight hours of sleep,” Stiles confesses. He would really love to explore Derek’s body, but he’s barely slept in the past four days and even his hair follicles ache at this point.

 

“Well, I can promise you at least twelve, how’s that?” Derek tells him, pushing Stiles’ shirt up and over his head.

 

“That sounds amazing,” Stiles groans, leaning into him.

 

“But,” Derek continues, his hands dropping to button of Stiles’ pants. “Maybe I could give you something nice to dream about.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Stiles mumbles, yawning against Derek’s neck.

 

“No reciprocation needed, I just really want to get my hands on you. And my mouth.”

 

Stiles giggles, throwing his arms around Derek’s neck. “There’s no way I can say no to that. You’ve made it impossible for me to refuse, you brute.”

 

Derek huffs a laugh and slips a hand down the back of Stiles’ pants, palming his ass. “Is this okay?”

 

“God, yes,” Stiles groans.

 

“Shhh, they’ll hear you.”

 

“Then stop making me feel good, dude,” Stiles tells him, slumping into Derek’s warmth.

 

“Never,” Derek says fervently, his breath ruffling Stiles’ hair. “I want to make you feel amazing for the rest of our lives.”

 

Stiles pulls back to look at him. “I am so here for that, you have no idea. The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak, my friend.”

 

“If you’re okay with it, I’d like to try inspiring the flesh. Seriously, I just want to lay you out and touch you.”

 

“I might fall asleep,” Stiles warns.

 

“I won’t be offended. And I’ll stop, of course,” Derek promises. “No need to push any boundaries tonight.”

 

Stiles cocks an eyebrow. “Oh, really?”

 

Derek gives him a wicked grin before leaning in to kiss him, and it’s deep, filthy, and full of promise.

 

Stiles pulls back, panting. “The arguments you make are stunning, I’m all yours.”

 

“Merry Christmas to me,” Derek laughs, pushing Stiles back on the bed. He divests him of the rest of his clothes, dropping kisses to Stiles’ bared skin as he goes. He almost gets kicked in the face when he noses at the arch of Stiles’ foot, but other than that, Stiles lies still and lets him explore.

 

“You have too many clothes on,” Stiles grumbles, watching Derek rub his stubble over the hair on Stiles’ calf.

 

Derek looks up at him from under his lashes, and the heat in his eyes makes Stiles’ mouth water. “I’m trying to be good.”

 

“Be good and naked,” Stiles tells him, prodding Derek’s stomach with his toe.

 

Derek climbs off the bed and sheds his clothes, and holy shit, there’s the reason his clothes were so big on Stiles. His body is incredibly defined, so much so that Stiles can see his muscles flex and shift under his skin when he moves.

 

“Holy shit, I was, um, not really expecting that,” he admits.

 

Derek shrugs. “I like to sweat.”

 

“Oh really?” Stiles smirks. “You do a lot of heavy lifting?”

 

“Every time I have to take a piss,” Derek croons, and Stiles bursts out laughing, curling into himself and shaking. “It wasn’t that funny.”

 

Stiles nods and wipes his eyes, happily welcoming Derek back to the bed. “I know, but I’m so tired.”

 

“I just bet as soon as you catch up on sleep you’re going to kick me to the curb. I’m only attractive to you when you’re suffering from sleep deprivation.”

 

Stiles wraps his arms around Derek’s shoulders and pulls him close. “Never. You’re only going to get better, I just know it.”

 

“How do you know that?” Derek asks, mouthing at Stiles’ jaw.

 

“Because there will be orgasms,” Stiles says with confidence. “There will be orgasms, right?”

 

“So many,” Derek assures him, kissing down his chest. “Let me demonstrate.”

 

“Yeah,” Stiles sighs, gasping when Derek skips any preamble and puts his mouth on Stiles’ cock. He melts into the mattress, just enjoying the soft suction and heat of Derek. He starts to doze a bit with the gentle rhythm, and Derek must notice, because in the next moment Stiles is jolting when the head of his cock hits the back of Derek’s throat.

 

“Do you want me to stop?” Derek pulls off and asks. He’s still working Stiles with his hand, and it’s so, so good.

 

“God, no. I’m here, I promise, you’re just kind of blowing my mind right now.” Stiles pats his head, then leaves his hand there, pushing Derek back down.

 

“I’m blowing something,” Derek murmurs before swallowing him down once more.

 

Stiles chuckles and wraps his other hand around the back of Derek’s neck, pushing just a bit to let him know he’s loving it. Derek takes the encouragement well and soon he’s bobbing his head, sucking wet and loud, and pleasure is curling slowly through Stiles. His balls feel heavy when Derek fondles them, and he uses the last of his energy to plant his feet and thrust, earning him a moan from Derek, and a finger pressed to his perineum.

 

He comes in long spurts across Derek’s tongue, his cock twitching again and again as Derek hums around him. Stiles slumps to the mattress, feeling like his orgasm was pulled out of him for hours, and Derek swallows thickly, licking Stiles’ spent cock clean.

 

“God, you’re amazing,” Stiles groans. “Get up here.”

 

“You should sleep,” Derek tells him, gasping when Stiles’ hand curls around his cock, and um, okay, that is also bigger than he’d imagines.

 

“Jesus, you have a gorgeous dick,” Stiles says, grinning stupidly.

 

Derek flushes, gripping Stiles’ wrist and pinning them above his head. “This okay?” he asks as he thrusts slowly against Stiles’ hip.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Stiles nods, his eyes slipping shut. “If I fall asleep, don’t stop. Just wipe me down before you pass out, okay?”

 

Derek snickers. “Such a romantic.”

 

“Hey,” Stiles says, opening his eyes and meeting Derek’s heated gaze. “I fucking love you.”

 

Derek speeds up, caging Stiles in with his arms until all Stiles can see, and feel, and hear is him. “I love you, too,” he pants.

 

“Come on, baby,” Stiles croons, loving the bulk of Derek on top of him, imagining how amazing it’s going to feel when Derek is inside him, using all that coiled strength to fuck him.

 

“Stiles,” Derek grunts and presses his teeth to Stiles’ neck, his cock pulsing and shooting between them.

 

Stiles pats him on the head, blinking slowly and grinning. “Good boy,” he slurs, closing his eyes. “Gonna keep you.”

 

The sound of Derek’s laugh and the press of his lips is the last thing Stiles knows before he passes out.

Chapter Text

363 days later...

 

“Babe, we need to get going if we’re going to make it to the airport on time,” Stiles calls as he enters the store. He’s been out doing some last minute Christmas shopping while Derek and his muscles unpacked their latest estate sale haul.

 

Derek appears from behind a stack of crates in the middle of the floor. “We’re fine for time, Stiles, my parents don’t land until four thirty.”

 

“Yeah, but traffic,” Stiles says, enjoying the view as Derek stretches after spending so long crouched on the ground. “Your parents are going to like my dad, right? I mean, they’re awesome, he’s awesome, it’s gonna be fine. Unless he puts on his tough cop routine, then we could be in for some trouble, you know how Laura gets when she thinks someone is judging her, not that he would really be judging her, he does it mostly out of boredom and for fun, remember when he met you and he wore his holster and you almost ran out the ouf—” Stiles is cut off by Derek’s kiss. It’s something he does when Stiles starts to stress out about little things like parents, and wallpaper, and rings. Sometimes Stiles rambles just for fun, but he’s pretty sure Derek’s figured that out.

 

Derek finishes the kiss with a peck to Stiles’ nose and a smile. “It’s only two thirty, we’ve got plenty of time.”

 

“It’s two thirty-five, thank you very much,” Stiles says leaning his head on Derek’s shoulder. “I’m just nervous. All of your family and mine together for the first time. This is kind of a big deal.”

 

“Nah, this is the easy part,” Derek tells him, wrapping his arms around Stiles’ waist and squeezing his ass. “The hard part was this morning,” he growls in Stiles’ ear.

 

Stiles snorts and swats at Derek, letting him get one more handful before moving behind the counter. “Is that the last of the crates from the blind bid or the ones from the Richardson estate?”

 

“Blind bid,” Derek says, prying the top off a wooden box. “Oh, that designer person called, said she’d take the barn door table and six chairs.”

 

“Derek, that’s great!” Stiles tells him.

 

Derek gives him a cautious look. “Are you sure, I know you had your eye on it for the new house.”

 

Stiles smiles, soft and fond, and he goes over to run his fingers through the hair at the back of Derek’s head. “That’s sweet, babe, but you can totally sell it. I know a guy who can make us a new one. Custom made. Get you anything you want, gua-ran-teed.”

 

“Oh, you know a guy, do you?” Derek chuckles.

 

“Yeah, he’s strong, talented, and smart. And he’s got a great ass.” Stiles dances away from the handful of packing peanuts Derek throws at him. “Anything good in there?”

 

Derek hums, handing Stiles a small music box.

 

“This is cute,” Stiles says, pleased when he opens it and the mechanics whir, plucking out a song. “What’s that?”

 

Derek’s holding a moth-bitten velvet bag. He turns it over and a flash of gold lands in his palm.

 

“Is that what I think it is?” Stiles asks, leaning closer to inspect the ring.

 

“I think so,” Derek picks it up, looking at it in the light, the large, round emerald and its nest of diamonds sparking beautifully. Derek points out the jeweler's mark on the inside of the band. “Civil war era wedding ring.”

 

Stiles blinks. “Do you have any idea how much that’s worth?”

 

“I do,” Derek says, stunned. He turns on his knees to Stiles, holding out the ring, and Stiles’ heart flutters at the tableau they must make. “I don’t think we should sell it.”

 

A wide smile curls over Stiles’ lips and he laughs because Derek is just as sentimental as he is. “I love you.”

 

“I love you, too,” Derek says, grinning, and all the clocks in the store go off. It’s two forty-two