Truth Will Out
“This emotion I'm feeling now, this is love, right?"
"I don't know. Is it a longing? Is it a giddy stupid happiness just because you're with me?"
"Yes," she said.
"That's influenza," said Miro. "Watch for nausea or diarrhea within a few hours.”
― Orson Scott Card, Children of the Mind
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a brokeass college student in possession of multiple student loans, must be in want of an easy way to make a quick buck.
The threat of being unable to pay this month’s rent had been a concern that lingered in the back of Stiles’ mind over the course of the past week: the semester’s student loans had managed to take care of the teen’s class books and the university’s (outstanding) tuition, but with his own finals approaching, Stiles had been unable to go his usual route of making money between classes and assignments and projects: writing essays for others and posting them online for payment. No amount of insomnia-driven researching sprees had managed to grant him the time necessary to do so—what with his own courseload and the latest supernatural disaster still being pressing issues—and Stiles, unfortunately, found himself coming up a little… short.
Formal eviction was a relatively lengthy process, so the amber-eyed student knew that he had a bit of time to make payment—and next month’s, too, as a gesture of goodwill and a pseudo bribe to beg his landlady to forgive and forget and let it be water under the bridge—but how to do such a thing was proving a little bit, uh. Difficult.
Focused more on the phone in his hand as Stiles scrolled through the dark web’s various magic-focused forums, the whiskey-eyed teen absently sketched a rune for good fortune in the air, habit long ingrained in his motions from one too many Hail Marys and Hallelujahs growing up amidst the supernatural population of Beacon Hills. Drawn with only half an awareness or not, the luck still held: the Spark was passing by one of the announcement boards that littered the campus’ buildings’ hallways, and the laces to one of Stiles’ shoes came undone at just the right moment, just as he was taking a step forward.
Clumsy awkwardness never truly grown out of, Stiles tripped over his own feet and immediately went plowing into the cork board, limbs akimbo and arms pinwheeling uselessly in an attempt to stop himself from going ass over teakettle; the effort only partially saved the student, however, and—regardless of his efforts—the amber-eyed teen still went face-first into the announcements.
And Stiles had his nose smooshed into an announcement that would potentially solve all of his problems:
Department of Psychology
PAID RESEARCH OPPORTUNITY
Romantic Couples Study
You and your partner are eligible if you meet the following criteria:
Are in a committed, monogamous relationship
Have been dating for at least six months
Are currently living together
Are over the age of 18
While Stiles met none of those requirements—wasn’t even in a relationship and hadn’t been since Malia and Lydia, to be honest—desperate times called for desperate measures: the whiskey-eyed teen ripped off one of the ‘Contact Me Here!’ slips, mind immediately twelve steps into one of Stiles’ Grand Plots.
The only issue was actually getting his fellow partner-in-crime to actually agree to the scam.
Stiles knew that this was going to be an uphill battle from the start, and so he buckled down and dug in his heels—Derek typically had the same sort of reaction whenever the teen tried to rope him into one of his schemes or plans, but Stiles had always been persistent in his follow through and, sooner or later, the one-time Alpha would cave.
(Never with grace, though, so Stiles also knew that he was going to be in for some top-level Bitch Face for the forseeable future. Worth it, though.)
It was times like these, however, that the Spark wished that ended up paired with one of the other pack members for the college experience. But everyone else had picked universities near each other, and it had been simple enough to pair those people together; the only issue came in the fact that Stiles had been the odd man out in his acceptance to the University of Maryland College Park—and so had been sent on his way with Derek since the older man had finished his college degree several years before.
The relationship that the two men had maintained all throughout Stiles’ high school career managed to evolve over time—but some things, like now, remained the same.
“Derek. Dude. I’m seriously begging you right now,” Stiles began again as he determinedly followed the ‘wolf around the elder’s one bedroom apartment, dogging Derek’s heels as he yet again laid his plan out for the other’s perusal. “My bank account is—as of this very specific moment—in the single digits, I don’t have the time to write other people’s papers, I don’t have the supplies needed for most of the spells that people are currently ISO, and if I don’t pay my landlady in the next two weeks, she’s gonna start the eviction process.”
If anything, listing out the reasons why this was the only viable plan to get money just seemed to make Derek quicken his pace in an attempt to get as far away from Stiles as possible in the enclosed space. Undeterred, however, the teen just lunged forward and wrapped his arms around the ‘wolf’s shoulders to hang off of Derek’s back like a limpet.
“Derek!” the Spark continued on, clinging for all that he was worth. “Do you want to be the one to explain to my dad what happened the next time we have to visit Beacon Hills—tell him why you’re returning home by yourself, how I’m somewhere—homeless and alone—back in College Park and that you have no idea where I currently am. Who knows if I’m dead in a ditch somewhere? Freezing from the cold? Shivering in my red hoodie, wishing that Derek had only just said yes to my plan to keep my apartment. If only—“
The sigh that Derek gave in reply was a full-bodied one, enough to lift his shoulders—and the hanging Stiles—up and down in audible defeat. It was also a sound that Stiles was rather familiar with, and the amber-eyed teen immediately perked up as he hooked his chin over the other man’s collarbone to take a peek at Derek’s face.
“Fine. Yes. All right, okay, I give up. Yes, Stiles, I’ll help you in your attempt to swindle your Psych Department,” the dark-haired man finally said, agreeing to a plan that Derek knew would come around to bite him in the ass at some later date and time—because, while Stiles usually was able to come up with the best plans out of the entirety of the pack… this particular one just seemed to scream ‘Disaster Waiting to Happen.’
It was obvious that Stiles didn’t seem to share the same sort of trepidation, though: instead, the teen practically lit up at Derek’s agreement, grinning bright and wide and already smug in the assurance that he’d be able to keep his apartment (by the skin of his teeth, true enough—but the how and why didn’t really matter so long as the ends justified the means).
“Awesome!” Stiles crowed in victory and unhooked one arm just enough to pull his phone out of his back pocket, dialing up the Department Head’s number that he had saved from the little slip of paper from earlier. The amber-eyed teen didn’t bother letting go of Derek, however—not wanting the ‘wolf to attempt an escape, especially since Stiles had finally managed to guilt him into saying yes in the first place. There was no way in hell that the teen was willing to take any chances, and the way that his fingers curled into the front of Derek’s shirt spoke volumes regarding that intent.
It took only a couple of minutes to arrange an interview with the Department Head in the next couple of days—after that, Derek’s fate was pretty much sealed.
“Ah, you must be Derek and… Stiles, was it? A pleasure to meet you both,” Doctor Tekisha Daniels murmured in greeting as she came around her oak desk to offer a hand to the two men. The Psychology Department Head was dressed smartly in a teal pantsuit, the nude of her heels and the rich color of the suit’s cloth standing in gorgeous contrast to the darkness of her skin. She was elegant in a no-nonsense sort of way, and the brown eyes that settled on Stiles were assessing and shrewd.
For the first time since he had come up with this plan, Stiles felt a sense of trepidation and concern.
“Uh, yeah. It’s Stiles—well, it’s actually a nickname, but I’ve been going by it for so long that it’s pretty much all I respond to nowadays,” the teen answered, rattling off his reply in the nervous habit he’d never been able to quite shake off completely. Brushing a palm over a thigh, Stiles finally took a step forward to take Dr. Daniels’ hand.
After he was done, already shifting from foot to foot, Derek moved closer and shook the doctor’s hand, inclining his head in a silent greeting. The contrast between the two men had the older woman tilting her head in consideration, but the smile she still offered them both was kind and welcoming.
“Please, take a seat,” she offered with a gesture to the chairs situated in front of her desk before making her way around the corner to once more settle back in her own chair. Legs crossing and settling back comfortably—obviously at ease and in control of the interview—Dr. Daniels continued once both Stiles and Derek were seated across from her. “First, I’d like to thank you for your interest in participating in my student. Before you get accepted, however, you need to go through an interview process—which is why you’re here, as I’m sure that you both have realized. I’ll be asking a series of questions to ensure that you meet several more criteria—as well as to get a feel for you both as a couple and as people—and then we’ll go from there. So, to get things started, let’s begin with an easy question: How long have you been involved?”
“Three years,” Stiles answered with a pleased smile, curve soft as it bowed his mouth upwards.
At the same time, Derek replied: “One year.”
The difference in their answer had Dr. Daniels shifting back in her seat, propping a cheek in the curve of one hand as a solitary eyebrow quirked in a silent request for clarification. Derek glanced away guiltily from the suspicion in the older woman’s gaze, though it was similar enough to Stiles’ dad’s interrogation room stare that the teen just jutted his chin defiantly upwards.
“I turned eighteen last year,” the teen began, easily meeting the challenge in the professor’s gaze. “I’ve liked Derek since I was sixteen, always have no matter what, but consent and being of legal age are two things that are very important for Derek. So I never planned on pushing it.”
Despite slowly being able to move past the issue of Kate and what she had done to him and his family, the entire situation had always been a rather touchy subject for Derek—and one that (most) of the pack tended to avoid out of respect for the hazel-eyed man. Even now, having the topic brought up in a vague enough manner, had Derek once more shifting his gaze away from Dr. Daniels, refusing to meet her eyes. This was his particular demon to bare and, though Stiles had probably been aware of Kate and what she had done to—with—him long before the rest of the pack had caught on, it was also something that Derek never intended to share with outsiders.
The flat look in Stiles’ whiskey-hued eyes dared the doctor to push for more detail and, wisely—sensing the landmines just beneath the surface—Dr. Daniels let it go to move on to the next question: “What is your partner’s greatest fear, gentlemen?”
Again, Stiles managed to answer first, words tripping as clumsily from his mouth, paralleling the fawn-like steps that typically had him going ass over teakettle. His answer, however, had Derek tensing in surprise as he glanced over at the teen with wide, vulnerable eyes. “Derek—and probably everyone else, too—would say that his biggest fear is fire. But… it’s something that Derek’s afraid of, but it’s not his biggest fear. It’s of being alone. Like… I know the quote gets overused a lot nowadays, but… When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives. No pack ‘cause… y’know. No friends, no family, no lover—that’s Derek’s greatest fear.”
Watching Derek’s expression as Stiles spoke, watching as his eyes went wide and his expression heartbroken, Dr. Daniels knew that the younger man’s assessment was correct. However, she still needed the verbal confirmation from the elder: “…would you agree that that is correct, Derek?” she asked, voice surprisingly gentle.
“Uh, yeah… yes. I. I’d agree,” Derek rasped, voice low and fumbling, broken as he blinked and glanced away, huddling in on himself. It took only a moment or two to compose himself—and the psychology professor took note, if only because it spoke of an ability to bounce back from an extensive amount of trauma—and then Derek was offering his own response: “For Stiles… it’s autonomy. Having it get taken away is what scares him the most.”
Stiles obviously hadn’t been expecting that particular answer; he blinked in surprise, brows furrowing as he eyed the ‘wolf sidelong. “Not losing my dad?” he asked in turn, feeling out the reason for Derek’s reply.
If anything, the question had Derek quietly snorting in dark amusement. “No,” the hazel-eyed man said, offering the teen a smile that had a bit too many teeth to be anything than predatory in its intent. “I’ve seen a variety of things try to take your dad away from you, Stiles, and I’ve also seen you fight tooth and nail to bring him back each and every time.”
The ease in Derek’s reply gave away the fact that it was something that he’d at least thought of before—and the admiration in the ‘wolf’s voice had the teen flushing slightly, shifting his gaze to settle determinedly on the top of Dr. Daniels’ desk.
There was an ebb and flow to their conversation, a multilayered element that the professor knew she was only partially aware of: everything that had multiple meanings, that which slid beneath the surface… there was a lack of understanding on Dr. Daniels’ end; she knew enough about people by this day and age to hear the doubled conversation that was taking place in front of her desk.
Knowing that there was a very little chance that she’d be clued in on the second conversation anytime soon, the professor shifted the interview to a new question even as her attention carefully split between the two men so that the researcher could take in both of their reactions.
“Home is a rather complex topic for many of us. Most of the time—not always—we still end up carrying bits and pieces of home even as adults and after we’ve supposedly ‘moved on.’ What does the other keep as a memento?”
Both men flushed red and very pointedly ignored both Dr. Daniels’ gaze, as well as the other’s.
Hesitantly, though, Derek began—carefully picking and choosing his way around the words to say. “Stiles… there’s a pillow from home that he always takes with him. He can’t sleep without it. And…” The ‘wolf paused, weighing whether or not he should continue before eventually lifting his head to glance at the amber-eyed teen’s profile. “You keep a sample bottle of your dad’s cologne and your mom’s perfume in a little pocket that you sewed in a corner of the pillow.”
Not even his dad knew that specific fact about Stiles’ pillow—only Scott did and only because he had been with Stiles when the amber-eyed boy had approached the perfume counter worker in the mall to get those bottles. It was… terrifying, in a way, to know that Derek somehow knew that.
The Spark slowly turned his head and met Derek’s hazel gaze with his own whiskey-hued one. “You have a box with your parents’ wedding rings. I don’t know where you put it when we moved to College Park, but I know that it’s somewhere in the apartment.”
Derek exhaled slowly, breath shuddering out of his lungs, and Dr. Daniels’ fingers curled over the armrests of her seat.
Despite the seriousness of the topic and the fact that both were showing the other a particular type of soft underbelly, the Department Head lifted a hand to hide a small smile when Stiles and Derek glanced away from one another, upper bodies leaning in towards the other just so--subtly done and to the point that neither seemed to notice the quiet gesture from the other; this was one of the reasons why the study asked further questions before accepting applicants. The older woman allowed the silence to linger on for a bit longer before finally clearing her throat to ask the next question: “Why did your partner choose their particular field of study?” A pause and then a nod towards Derek, “Or their current career?”
This time around, Derek was able to answer before Stiles could even open his mouth. The smile that he gave as he spoke was surprisingly tender, soft and blurred around the edges. “Stiles’ dad is in law enforcement and most people will probably think that he’s going into criminal justice to follow in Noah’s footsteps. But… Stiles is a fan of puzzles, of solving riddles and other things. And, this way—with this career—he never gets to stop. Every case is a new puzzle, a new challenge, sometimes something that he has to race against the clock to solve. But Stiles has always been good at working under pressure.”
The wide eyes returned, this time on Stiles’ end of things, and the look in his honeyed gaze was something that Dr. Daniels found to be frighteningly honest—to the point that she began considering changing the last question she typically asked of the pairs that came in for this particular interview. It was obvious that Stiles floundered for a moment or two, trying to find some sort of solid footing, but it wasn’t long before the teen was clearing his voice to offer his own reply: “You focused on physical therapy to help people who managed to survive physically traumatic events. You specialize in burn victims because of what happened with Peter and because you couldn’t be there to help him heal after the fire. It’s your… penance, I suppose. At least it was in the beginning. You have a client now, though, who’s helping you through that even while you help him—her?—through their PT.”
Derek suddenly wheezed for breath, huddling in on himself as if Stiles had managed to sucker-punch the elder of the two; his expression was gutted, terrified in a way that clued Dr. Daniels in in the fact that this was information that Derek hadn’t expected Stiles to have. Her theory was proven correct when the dark-haired man stood up from his chair, moving away from the desk and towards the far wall so that he could pace—steps quick and frenetic, nearly manic in the emotion that was building up within the air. “How. How did you know that??”
Stiles offered the ‘wolf a crooked smile at the question, eyes apologetic even as he continued to evenly meet Derek’s gaze. “You were the one who said it—I’m good at solving puzzles, right, Sourwolf?”
The elder of the two gave a laugh at that, the sound sharp and vaguely broken as he covered his moss-colored eyes with one hand. Hiding himself away from the revelations playing out before him: so, too, Dr. Daniels began to suspect—perhaps this was the first true conversation between the both of them on the topic of their emotions and perceptions of one another. She had several suspicions as to why that may be—multiple reasons stacking up to become the current tension-filled atmosphere she found herself in—but, well… in for a penny, in for a pound:
“Do you love each other?”
Dr. Daniels’ inquiry was enough to have Derek jerking his hand far and away from his face, motions abrupt and sudden and startled even as he stared at her. “What?!”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
Stiles’ reply had Derek shifting around once more, this time directing his attention towards the boy instead; the vulnerability that had threaded itself through his light gaze instead sharpened, turning blade-fine and predatory: something not quite human flaring within the intensity of that stare as Stiles met it head-on with his own whiskey-hued gaze.
“You weren’t lying. I heard it—you were telling the truth.”
Dr. Daniels’ shifted in her hair at Derek’s specific phrasing; it had been a statement, not a question. As if the elder was already certain of Stiles’ answer and was able to verify it beyond a doubt some other way.
“Well, yeah,” Stiles shot back, and the crooked smile once more returned, lopsided and wry and with fear so very, very stark in his expressive gaze. “I wasn’t expecting to get asked that question, but it’s not like I could’ve lied. You’d know. So… the truth will out.”
Stiles gave an absent shrug to that, finally glancing away to fiddle with the hem of his shirt. “You were the king on the chessboard, Derek. Ever wonder why?”
Before the conversation could progress much further, however, Dr. Daniels cleared her throat, offering an enigmatic smile to both men as their attention once more shifted her way. “I do believe that this is a conversation that should be addressed in private, at one of your apartments,” she began—knowing that her guess was correct from the way that Stiles shifted guiltily at the subtle call-out. “And, on that note, I will have to decline your participation in this particular case study. However, should things work out between the both of you, the department will have another study we’ll be advertising for starting next week. For new couples.”
No matter how quickly Stiles walked, attempting to outpace Derek, the teen knew that it was a losing battle from the start. He figured that he might as well get some points for effort, though—and there was, too, the dogheaded sort of stubbornness that Scott was typically the poster boy for in Stiles’ determination to avoid the conversation that he could feel hovering at the wings.
On Stiles’ end, though? He might as well have had a giant flashing sign that said Do Not Want.
It wasn’t surprising, then, that it didn’t take all that long before Derek’s patience reached its longsuffering ending. “Stiles!” the ‘wolf snapped out and sped up to block the teen before he had the chance to escape into his bedroom—and, thus, behind a locked door. “You know that this is something that we have to talk about.”
“Why?” the teen shot back even as he stepped away, wrapping his arms around himself in an obvious gesture to offer himself comfort for the conversation he believed was coming. “I already know what you’re going to say—it’s one of the reasons why I never said anything before—and, yeah, it’s out in the open now, but it’s not like I actually expect you to do anything about it. I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t ever do something like that to you, Derek.”
“I was going to be the one who came with you to whatever university accepted you,” Derek suddenly said before Stiles could get any further; the amber-eyed teen blinked, confusion settling across his face as he attempted to comprehend just what it was that Derek was saying—why it was saying it, as well. The ‘wolf continued before the confusion could set in any more, however: “Even if someone else ended up in a college not far from your own—before the pairing up happened and the assignments were divvied up, I told Scott that I would be going with you.”
“I… I don’t understand, Sourwolf. What? Why?”
Gesture so incredibly cautious, Derek slowly reached out; when Stiles didn’t flinch away from him, the ‘wolf lightly trailed his fingertips over the tendon of Stiles’ throat, stepping closer to crowd in against the Spark until their bodies were pressed flush against one another’s. Still slow, still cautious—not quite certain of his welcome—Derek shifted closer until he could press his face against the bend of Stiles’ throat, breathing deep to draw in the teen’s scent.
There was a trembling to Stiles’ voice, one that the ‘wolf immediately wanted to soothe, and he rubbed his beard against the pale expanse of the teen’s skin, turning it bright red from the burn until they were finally standing cheek to cheek.
“Stiles, you’ve been my anchor since the night of the pool.” He paused, just for a moment, and tossed the Spark’s own phrasing back at him: “Ever wonder why?”
Derek fell silent after that, giving the younger man the time needed to process what it all meant—the fact that each had cared for—loved—the other for years until, as Stiles had quoted earlier, the truth will out. Gesture cautious, as if he was still trying it out, Stiles reached up to gently cup a hand over the nape of the ‘wolf’s neck. There was a certain type of strength to the gesture, one that Derek had come to trust and rely on throughout the years—and he sighed, sound almost inaudible, as he leaned that much closer to the teen.
Another moment or two:
“Soooo… does this mean that I don’t have to worry about Mrs. Lawson evicting me anymore?”
Tender mood ruined beyond repair—and, if Derek was honest with himself, he couldn’t bring himself to feel surprised by that fact—the ‘wolf groaned and admitted defeat, tossing Stiles over a shoulder as he turned around to head back into the teen’s bedroom.
“Derek? Derek! You didn’t answer my question!”
(Mrs. Lawson did end up evicting Stiles—the process sped up by the fact that, starting that night, the neighbors began filing excessive noise complaints for Stiles’ apartment. Luckily, by that time, Stiles and Derek had managed to find a larger apartment.