“My name is Derek Hale, and I am your court-appointed public defender,” Derek intoned by rote, closing the door firmly behind him until he heard the beep of the electronic lock. “Can you confirm who is in the room for me?”
“What?” The man’s voice was deep but still youthful. “Uh — just me. Mitch Stilovsky. But, people call me Stiles.”
The interrogation room was well-known to Derek, so it only took a few sweeps of his cane to find his seat and settle into it. He opened up his messenger bag and pulled out his laptop, opening it up and then pulling out the paper file with bullet-points of the case written in Braille that his paralegal had prepared for him.
“As I said, Mr. Stilovsky,” Derek said, ignoring the man’s snort at the deliberate spurning of the nickname. “I am your court-appointed public defender. If you are unfamiliar with the term, that means that I am a criminal defense attorney who is dedicated to protecting the Constitutional rights of indigent individuals accused of violating the law. I will provide zealous legal advocacy and seek the best possible outcome for you as my client. Do you have any questions?”
“Do you actually believe all that?”
“What?” Derek had received a lot of responses to his rote introductory speech, from mumbled pleas to shouted curses, but this was the first time someone had actually questioned the sincerity of his opening spiel.
Derek relaxed the damper on his senses a little, suddenly curious about his new client. The man’s heartbeat was relatively rapid, but he appeared to be making an effort to keep his breathing deep and even. Derek pulled in a breath through his nostrils, scenting the man. A little bit of clean sweat, coffee, and —
Derek pushed his chair back, startled.
“Hey, don’t worry man. I’m not going to hurt you.” The man’s voice was quietly amused. “I mean, beside the fact that I’m shackled to the desk here —” A clink of chains told Derek that the man was holding up his bound hands “— it would be pretty low to hit a blind man, especially one who’s on my side.”
“That’s — that’s not —” Derek started to stutter. His heart was thumping, his throat dry.
“Are you okay? You look like you’re going to pass out, do you need me to call someone?” The man sounded genuinely concerned now, and Derek’s heart gave a little flutter.
He pulled in a deep breath through his mouth, trying to tamp down on his senses and pull himself together. “No. I — I’ll just get some water or something —” He reached next to him for his cane, but ended up knocking it to the floor with a clatter instead.
“Here.” He startled as a warm hand brushed his, sparks seeming to fly from where they touched. Then cool, slightly-damp plastic was pressed into his hand, and Derek recognized the weight and shape of a water bottle. “They just gave me this — I haven’t opened it, I promise.”
“Thanks,” Derek croaked. He twisted off the cap, the plastic seal crackling. He took a deep swallow. The water was cold and helped him clear his head a little, even if the scent of the man’s skin was thick all over it.
“How do you know when you find your mate?” Derek remembered asking his mother, face pressed into her bare arm as he scented her warm skin.
"You just know,” she had said with a laugh, ruffling his hair. “As soon as you scent them, you’ll know.”
“Mr...Hale, was it?” the man said, startling Derek out of his reverie. “Do you need me to call someone?”
“I’m fine,” Derek said, taking another sip of the water, thoughts still spinning madly. “I — thank you for the water. Just give me a moment and we can discuss the details of your case.”
“No problem.” He heard a creak as the man leaned back in his chair, the rustle of his legs as he seemed to stretch them out under the table. “I’ve got nothing but time. Besides, I’m enjoying the scenery.”
Derek felt his ears flush pink, an automatic response he had always hated. His nose twitched. He had heard no sign of a lie in the man’s heartbeat, but he smelled slightly embarrassed. The contrast between his impudent behavior and his chagrined scent created an extra layer of confusion for Derek’s already overwhelmed senses.
Derek rubbed a hand over his face, trying to drown out the man’s scent with his own scent and that of his pack. He took a moment to try to center himself, and then opened up the file and brushed his fingers over the lines of Braille, hoping he had been mistaken.
Sadly, Derek was nothing if not meticulous, and he had reviewed the facts of the case thoroughly before this meeting.
“Are you aware of the charges against you?” he asked nonetheless.
“Yeah.” The man — Stiles — seemed to lean forward. Derek could hear the click of his throat as he swallowed. “Listen, age is just a number, right? So what if some guys like ‘em a little young? And I just help them meet, y’know? That’s not so bad, is it?”
Derek felt his stomach roil uncomfortably. He had heard his clients excuse their abhorrent behavior hundreds of times, and he usually could dismiss it for what it was — a damaged person trying to come to terms with the horrible things they had done in a way that made them feel less accountable than they were. But this was his mate, and surely —
“So you admit that you used social media to contact these girls — these underage girls — for the purposes of procurement?”
“Procurement?” The man’s voice was casual, but his heart stuttered. “I don’t know about that, man, I just wanted to help them make some money, y’know? And they wouldn’t have talked to me if they weren’t interested, right?”
“Procurement means pandering,” Derek said, his voice thin with suppressed anger. "Pimping,” he clarified, when that statement was met with silence.
“Whatever.” The chair creaked again as the man leaned back. “Just — plead it out, or whatever. I’ve got places to be.”
Derek bit down on the growl that was building in the back of his throat. “These are very serious charges, Mr. Stilovsky. You are potentially facing a very long prison sentence. Whatever your...other engagements...are, I would prepare yourself for the possibility that you might miss them.”
“Yeah, sure.” The man drummed his fingers on the table. “Just — I don’t know, go do your thing.” The drumming stopped and the air stirred in a way that made Derek sure the man was flapping his hand dismissively in Derek’s direction. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
Derek felt his anger fading away, subsumed by a wave of despair. “There will be an arraignment at which you will enter your plea,” he said listlessly. “I’ll keep you informed.”
“Yeah, great, you do that,” Stiles said as if he had already stopped paying attention.
Derek waited a moment, but that seemed to be the end of it. His chest feeling hollow, he packed up his file and computer and numbly made his way out of the interrogation room.
Derek ignored the soft knock on the door, not even raising his head from his hands. He knew it was Erica anyway, and that she would not be deterred. Sure enough, a few moments later he heard the door open and the click of her heels.
He heard Erica settle in the chair opposite him, and then her hand came up to brush his hair back from his forehead. Her fingers were cool and fragrant with that coconut-lemongrass body oil she used, and the feel of them eased the tightness in Derek’s chest just a fraction.
“That bad, huh?” she said. “Boyd told me he and Isaac were taking over your hearings for the afternoon. What’s going on?”
Derek swallowed. He felt like if he tried to talk he might start whimpering like a wounded animal.
Erica scooted closer, her voice uncharacteristically serious. “Derek, we’re worried. You smell... miserable. Did — did something happen to Laura? Or Peter?”
Derek managed to shake his head, but this time the whine really did escape him.
“Oh, honey,” Erica said, pushing her chair back with a screech and coming around the other side of the desk. He felt her arms encircle him, her face pressed against the back of his head. “We’ll figure it out.” She rubbed her cheek into his hair for a moment, scenting him and then paused. “What’s that smell?”
Derek whimpered again, but Erica was relentless. “It’s like a scent that’s mixed with yours perfectly — it’s like — oh, Derek!” Derek heard her push upright. “You found your mate?”
Derek groaned. There was no avoiding it now.
He lifted his head, rubbing a palm over his face. He swallowed past the lump in his throat, hoping to get this over with quickly.
“Remember when I thought I was in love with Kate, and she turned out to be a murderous hunter who killed most of my family and blinded me in the process?”
Erica’s voice was cautious. “Derek — what the fuck — of course I remember, how could you even ask? —”
“Well, my mate is worse,” Derek said flatly.
“What?” He felt a tug on the file that had been hidden under his crossed arms as Erica worked it free. Springs creaked as she dropped back into the chair across the desk.
“This guy?” she said incredulously after a moment. “The pedophile?”
“I don’t know that he has sex with the children himself,” Derek said bitterly. “Just sells them to people who do.”
“Oh my God,” Erica breathed, her scent deepening with sadness now too.
“Yes, my mate is quite possibly the worst human being on the face of the planet, and is about to get sent away to jail for probably the rest of his natural life. Tell me again how I’m not cursed?”
Derek put his head back on his arms, sighing in misery.
“Oh, honey,” Erica said again, but she had no more answers than he did.
A knock on the door pulled Derek out of a restless sleep. He hit the button on his clock.
“Six fifteen a.m.” the clock chirped cheerfully, and Derek groaned.
Someone thumped on the door again, and Derek reached out with his hearing. Peter’s familiar heartbeat met his ears, and that was surprising enough to get him upright.
He grabbed his cane from the bedside hook. He didn’t need it much at home, but having it in his hand made him feel just a little more secure; Peter was not as careful about returning things to their proper place as the rest of his pack. He considered dressing, but Peter pounded on the door again, and Derek mentally shrugged and made his way downstairs in his pajama pants to pull it open for the sake of his neighbors.
“Good morning, nephew!” Peter said, entirely too cheerily.
Derek rubbed a hand over his hair, sure it was sticking up all over the place. “I thought you were in Spain,” he said blearily.
Peter shouldered past Derek, striding into the house. “Laura caught me on a layover.” His footsteps moved into the kitchen, the coffeemaker hissing as Peter started it up like he owned the place. “And Erica sent me the file on your Mr. Stilovsky.”
“That’s intrusive.” Derek wished he could just get back into bed and forget the world existed. “And illegal.”
“Nonsense, you’ve hired me as a consultant on this case,” Peter said airily. “I’ve already forwarded you the results of my first sweep.”
Derek sat down at his kitchen table, resting his chin on his hand. He was starting to nod off again when he heard the clink of a mug on the table in front of him and reached out, gratefully swallowing the hot coffee, letting his tongue just heal the burn rather than waiting for it to cool down.
“Which is…” Derek prompted as Peter settled into the chair opposite him.
“...that something is off about this case,” Peter said seriously. Derek could hear him swallow a sip of his own coffee, scenting the burst of mild pain as Peter burned his tongue as well. “All my poking around has been online so far, but something smells wrong about this whole case. The girls that Mr. Stilovsky was supposedly soliciting, or recruiting, or whatever —”
Derek winced at the thought of it.
“— something is strange about them.”
“They are minors,” Derek said scathingly. “Their identities will have been withheld to protect their safety and privacy. Peter, tell me you didn’t —”
“Don’t worry.” Derek could practically feel Peter waving away his concerns. “I didn’t do any serious hacking, just a little surface digging. But the more I dug, the more this rock-solid case seemed to fall apart. It was three separate girls Mr. Stilovsky was accused of soliciting, was it not? All located conveniently within the county so as not to make it a federal crime?”
“Yes,” Derek said cautiously. “Not that the sentence is going to be much lighter —”
“Transcripts of email exchanges between Mr. Stilovsky and the three girls were all entered into evidence. And yet, security surrounding those email accounts was significantly higher than would be expected from your average tween —”
“Peter, if you were looking to expose their identities —”
“Of course not,” Peter reassured him. “I just wanted to find out a little bit more. And what I found out was that all three accounts happened to be created on the same day.”
“What? That’s —”
“A hell of a coincidence?” Derek could tell from his voice that Peter was smirking. “I thought so too.”
“What are you thinking?” Derek asked.
“I’m not sure. Maybe a simple case of entrapment, or maybe something else is going on. All I know is that the deeper you look, the more this case falls apart. And I didn’t have to look very deeply at all.”
The chair screeched as Peter pushed to his feet.
“Well, I have a plane to catch,” Peter said. “Talk to your client, Derek.” His voice gentled. “Talk to your mate. Something’s not right here. I’ll show myself out.”
Peter’s footsteps strode confidently toward the door, leaving Derek in stunned silence with a cooling cup of coffee and more questions than answers.
“Well, this is a surprise,” the man — Stiles — drawled as Derek entered the interrogation room. “Not that I’m not happy to see you, but I thought our next date would be at the hearing.”
“I had some additional questions.” Even now that he was more prepared for it, the man’s scent still knocked Derek for a loop. It smelled soothing and spicy, combining with Derek’s own scent to create something unbelievably comforting and arousing at the same time.
“Mr. Stilovsky — Stiles,” Derek began, hearing Stiles’ heartbeat pick up at the use of his nickname. “I’ve been looking into your case a little more —”
“Why are you wasting my time with this?” Stiles’ voice was curt, impatient. “I’ve already told you I did it. Just cop the plea already.”
Derek tilted his head, his breath catching. “You’re lying.”
“What?” Stiles’ voice was deeper, rough with anger. “What are you talking about.”
“Just then — when you said you did it.” Derek felt hope fluttering in his chest. “You were lying.”
“I — of course I’m not lying,” Stiles said, his heart stuttering again. “You’re crazy.”
“Stiles —” Derek pushed closer to the table, reaching out to touch Stiles’ hand. The back of Stiles’ hand was warm under Derek’s palm, the sensation of sparks lighting up Derek’s skin. “There are cameras in here for your safety and mine, but there’s no audio. Anything you tell me is protected by attorney-client privilege.”
Derek could tell that Stiles was listening intently, and hoped he was getting through to him. “There’s something off about the evidence against you.” Stiles’ heart rate picked up, and Derek squeezed his hand, trying to reassure him. “If someone is forcing you into this, if you’re taking the fall for someone, just — you can tell me. We’ll figure it out. I have to — I have to believe there is something more to this, that there is something... redeemable ...about you.”
The room was quiet for a long moment, nothing but the rapid beat of Stiles’ heart and the huff of his breathing, in and out. He seemed to be thinking furiously, and Derek’s hopes rose. Maybe this was all a misunderstanding — he would tell Derek the truth, and Derek would clear it all up, and —
“I think I know what’s going on here.” Stiles’ voice was low, a raspy purr that seemed to wrap around Derek’s heart and squeeze. Stiles’ handcuffs clinked as he turned his hand under Derek’s until their palms were clasped, fingers entwined. Stiles ran his thumb in an electric little arc along Derek’s skin, and Derek couldn’t help the soft noise he made, the shudder that ran up his spine.
“I understand, Derek,” Stiles was saying, using their clasped hands to pull Derek even closer. Derek could feel the warmth radiating off his skin. This close his scent was intoxicating, heady. Derek felt like he was falling. His eyes fluttered closed, and he could feel when Stiles turned his head, his breath puffing against Derek’s cheek, so incredibly close.
“You’re lonely,” Stiles said, and it didn’t sound cruel. It sounded kind, gentle, as if his mate had seen into the deepest caverns of Derek’s empty heart and was promising to fill them. “I understand, Derek. I get lonely too.”
The last few words were spoken right into Derek’s ear, a soft admission. Stiles’ warm breath tickled against Derek’s skin, his wet lips just grazing the sensitive edge of Derek’s ear.
“You like me,” Stiles purred, rubbing his cheek just a little against Derek’s, their stubble scraping together with a sensation that seemed to set Derek’s whole body alight.
“You want to kiss me,” Stiles continued, his voice like velvet. His lips grazed Derek’s face again, just at the corner of his mouth before pulling back, and Derek found himself unconsciously leaning forward, chasing that sensation.
“It’s okay,” Stiles murmured. He was close again, so close that his lips must be just a hair’s breadth from Derek’s lips. Derek heard the wet rasp of Stiles licking his lips, imagining the flicker of his pink tongue. He had no idea what Stiles looked like, hadn’t thought to ask, but it didn’t matter in the least. He smelled and sounded and felt like Derek’s mate, and that was all that mattered.
“Go ahead,” Stiles purred. “I want it too,” he confessed. The side of his foot traced up Derek’s calf. “C’mon, Derek, just —”
That was all it took for Derek’s control to snap. He leaned forward, capturing Stiles’ lips with his. Stiles’ mouth was wet and plush under Derek’s lips, and Derek reached out, one hand cupping the back of Stiles’ head, burying itself in a mass of soft hair, while the other gripped a bicep that was satisfyingly firm and round beneath his palm.
Derek made a soft, needy noise and Stiles seemed to take that as an invitation, leaning in to deepen the kiss, tongue delving between Derek’s lips, coaxing his mouth open gently. Derek felt his head swim as Stiles nibbled at his lower lip and then sucked gently on his tongue. His mouth was hot and wet and sweet, and Derek felt like he could lose himself in it.
Entirely too soon Stiles leaned back, breaking the contact between them with a last, sucking pop.
“Wow,” Stiles breathed, as if he hadn’t meant to say it out loud.
Derek agreed mentally, his heart pounding, his chest heaving with panting breaths as if he had run for miles.
Stiles’ scent suddenly changed, the arousal that had clouded the air as they kissed subsumed in a wave of something that felt acrid and bitter. Derek couldn’t place it.
He heard the clank of the cuffs as Stiles pushed back, the legs of his chair scraping the floor.
“Guard!” he yelled, startling Derek backward with the sheer volume of his voice. “Guard!”
“What —” Derek started to say.
“We’re done here.” Stiles voice was icy cold, a whiplash that seemed to cut Derek’s heart in two.
The guard opened the door.
Stiles was already standing. “Take me back to my cell,” he instructed the guard, his voice flat.
The guard hustled Stiles out the door. It beeped shut behind them, leaving Derek stunned and bereft in the empty interrogation room.
Derek swallowed nervously, and then knocked on the office door.
Derek stuck his head in cautiously. “Sheriff Stilinski? I was told you needed to speak with me?”
“Ah. Mr. Hale. Please come in.” Derek stepped into the room, cautiously sweeping his cane in front of him.
“There’s a chair about three steps straight ahead,” the Sheriff said considerately. “Please close the door,” he added.
Derek closed the door and found his way to the chair, confused. He had crossed paths with the Sheriff a few times and he had always been amiable, seeming to take a genuine interest in Derek and his family. Now the man’s voice was entirely professional, and a little cold.
The Sheriff took in a deep breath, as if preparing himself.
“There’s been a complaint issued against you,” he finally said briskly. “One of your clients, a Mr...Mitch Stilovsky…” the Sheriff’s voice seemed to drip contempt as he sounded out the name “...has accused you of sexual harassment.”
“What?” Derek felt his stomach drop as if he had fallen off the edge of a cliff.
“Mr. Hale.” The Sheriff’s voice was warmer now, and Derek wondered if he was looking like he might pass out again. He certainly felt like it. “Derek. I’m very sorry about all of this.” The Sheriff did sound truly regretful, his heartbeat steady. “I have spoken to this...individual...and he has no wish to press charges. He has simply requested a change in his public defender, which I have no problem granting. The public defender from a neighboring county has already attended the expedited arraignment and entered a plea on his behalf.”
“He pled...guilty?” Derek could hardly process it. “But —”
“Mr. Hale.” The Sheriff interrupted firmly. “I consider the matter dropped. As representative for the Board of Directors for Beacon County, I see no reason this matter needs to be taken further. But if you press the issue —” The Sheriff sounded deeply uncomfortable. “‘— there is video evidence to corroborate his story.”
There are cameras in here for your safety and mine, but there’s no audio, Derek remembered telling Stiles. And Stiles had listened so intently.
“I understand, Sir.” It couldn’t be farther from the truth, but Derek couldn’t stand to sit here another moment. “Is that all?”
“Yes.” Derek stood and made his way to the door, somehow feeling the Sheriff’s gaze on his back the whole way.
“I am sorry, son,” Derek heard the Sheriff say softly as he left, shutting the door behind him.
Derek went about the rest of his week in a daze, He didn’t understand what had happened — couldn’t even bring himself to tell Laura, or Peter, or the rest of the pack.
The end-of-week roster went around, listing the disposition of all the week’s cases. Derek felt his heart drop as his fingers traced over the Braille display.
Mitch Stilovsky — plea entered, three counts of pandering a minor under age 18, sentenced to three consecutive five-year terms of imprisonment. Required to register for life as a tier three sex offender.
It was a reasonable deal — the maximum sentence for each charge was eight years, so in taking the plea Stiles had shaved almost a decade off of what he might have faced if he had gone to trial. Still, the next decade of his life at least would be spent in jail, even with time reduced for good behavior.
Derek had no idea how to feel about that. Something still felt completely wrong about the whole situation, but it was all too apparent that logic went out the window when Derek got close to Stiles. Maybe this was the best possible outcome for both of them.
Derek tried to tell himself that over and over, but nothing really helped fill the hollow space inside him — the loneliness that had shadowed him for all of his adult life seemingly only deepened by the experience of meeting and then losing his mate.
THREE MONTHS LATER
“Are you clear on the agreement?” Derek asked his client. Another human trafficker — the headlines were about nothing else these days, filled with stories about the international human trafficking ring that had been taken down in their very own Beacon County. This was the third individual Derek had represented on human trafficking charges this week, and he had a feeling there would be many more as each seemed to roll over easily, turning state’s evidence. He had hardly met the other two before the Feds had swooped in, cutting deals right and left to get to the bigger fish.
“Just answer their questions as honestly as you can. If they think your evidence is worth it, they’ll make an offer. Immunity is not on the table, but a reduced sentence is. You do not have to answer immediately. We can consult, and you can decide if you want to take the deal. I will be present the whole time. Any questions?”
“No,” his client stated, his voice subdued in comparison to the blustering and threatening tone he had exhibited when Derek had first met him. Derek had to admire whomever had put together the investigation, the body of evidence was meticulous and comprehensive.
“Good.” The knock on the door was perfectly timed.
“Come in,” Derek said, hearing two more heartbeats crowd into the room. “Can you confirm who is in the room for me?” Derek said, pulling out his laptop and preparing to take notes.
“Jacob Stinton,” his client said, familiar by now with Derek’s introductory question.
“Lydia Martin, Federal Agent,” the woman said. She smelled of honeysuckle perfume, surprisingly lush and sweet given her stern voice.
“Mieczysław Stilinski, Federal Agent,” a man’s voice said, sounding strangely familiar. Derek opened up his senses a bit, trying to place it. The man seemed to step forward, his scent permeating past Agent Martin’s perfume, and…
“Stiles?” Derek said, his mouth dry, his heart suddenly pounding.
“Stiles?” Agent Martin echoed sharply.
“Mr. Hale.” Derek could hear the scratch of nails on skin and the rustle of hair, as if Stiles were rubbing a hand over his head. “I hadn’t — I —” He sighed. “Agent Martin, Mr. Hale and I are going to speak outside for a moment. There may be a conflict of interest here.”
Derek felt frozen to his seat. He couldn’t begin to process what was happening. Stiles, who should have been in jail for the next ten to twelve years, was not just standing in the same room, but had just identified himself as a federal agent.
Derek swallowed. “I can’t leave my client alone without representation.”
“Oh, for goodness sakes,” Agent Martin said impatiently. “We’ll all go. Mr. Stinton, I assume you will excuse us for a moment?”
“Yeah. Sure.” Derek’s client seemed to be as confused as Derek was.
One of the agents scanned their badges, opening the door lock — and exactly how long had they been around to have been granted that level of access? — and after a moment Derek gathered his cane, shoved everything back into his messenger bag, and followed them from the room.
“I’ll explain later, Lyds,” Stiles was hissing, but he stopped when Derek entered the hallway.
“Mr. Hale?” Stiles’ voice was just the slightest bit different from before, Derek realized. His words were a little more clearly articulated, his voice softer, the slightest touch of a California accent to his words. “There’s a conference room down the hall that has been designated for our use. Would you — would you be willing to take my arm and accompany me there?”
Derek thought about refusing for a moment. To be honest, he was a little reluctant to touch Stiles, remembering how quickly he had lost control last time, and the unfortunate aftermath. Even just Stiles’ scent, after months without it, had Derek wanting to face-plant into the side of the man’s neck.
Stiles seemed to pick up on Derek’s hesitation. “Mr. Hale — Derek," he said, his voice soft but urgent. “Please.”
Derek nodded, hearing a small huff of what seemed like relief from Stiles. Long fingers gently brushed against his left hand, guiding it to Stiles’ right arm. Stiles walked easily by Derek’s side, silent as the noise of the busy county courthouse surrounded them.
Derek heard the door to the conference room whoosh open, and Stiles guided him gently inside.
“There’s a chair a few steps in front of you,” Stiles said, and the thoughtfulness behind the statement sent another piece of the puzzle falling into place.
“Agent Stilinski,” Derek said aloud. “Like...the Sheriff?”
Derek felt Stiles settle into a chair at his side, pulling it around until he was sitting in front of Derek. “You’re quick,” Stiles said, the praise warming Derek despite his better judgment. “My dad.” Stiles pulled in a deep breath, letting it out in a gust of air. “Derek, my dad was the only one who was told about...what happened before, and he knew the truth. I made sure that it wouldn’t impact your career, just —”
“Just keep me from interfering with yours,” Derek confirmed.
“Well...yes.” A tinge of acrid shame colored Stiles’ delicious scent, and Derek was starting to make sense of all the confusing signals he had received the last time they had met. “My case was never supposed to hold up to scrutiny, Derek. I was supposed to meet with some burned-out PD who would just go through the motions and then enter the plea. I had to enter the state prison with the rep of a man who had no problems trafficking minors so I could get close to the guy running this thing, and he had sources everywhere — he would have known if there was something funny about the transfer. If you had kept poking around —”
“I would have jeopardized your investigation,” Derek finished for him.
“Yes.” Relief was clear in Stiles’ voice. “Derek, it would have taken months to set up a new cover somewhere else — if it would even be possible without such an in at the Sheriff's office — and kids were in danger. I know what I did to you was awful, but as soon as I met you I realized you were just too smart and passionate about your job to make it easy, and then when I realized you were a werewolf and would be able to tell when I was lying —”
“You know?” Derek interrupted, shocked.
“Yeah.” Stiles’ voice sounded sheepish. “As soon as you told me you knew I was lying. You were already suspicious, and if you used your senses to get closer to the truth —” Stiles sighed. “If you started pulling on loose threads, the whole thing was going to unravel. For everyone’s safety, I had to get my case transferred as soon as possible.” The scent of shame deepened, joined by a tinge of remembered arousal. “It was a shitty thing to do, I recognize that. But I couldn’t think of another way.”
Derek grappled with this new information. “How long have you known about werewolves?” he asked.
“Since high school. My best friend got bitten by a rogue alpha, and we had to learn everything pretty quickly. And then even after we got him under control, I just stayed interested, and read everything I could. It’s come in handy a few times in my line of work.”
Derek could imagine. He hesitated, before gathering his courage and asking the question.
“If you know about werewolves...do you know about mates?”
Derek could scent Stiles’ surprise at the seeming change in topic, but he answered readily. “A little. My friend that I told you about, Scott, found his mate in college, and he was pretty ridiculous for awhile, couldn’t keep his hands off her, and —”
Stiles stopped talking suddenly on a sharp intake of breath. His heart rate sped up, his scent sharpening with a confusing mix of surprise, excitement, and concern. “Derek, why are you asking?”
Derek bit his lip, wondering what this would mean — if it would scare Stiles away for good. But he had to let him know; he didn’t want to be alone in this any more.
“You’re my mate,” he said matter-of-factly. “I knew the first time I met you.”
“I —” Derek could feel Stiles shift uneasily. “Derek, I didn’t know.” The concern in his scent was deepening, tinged with shame and a slight sheen of sweat.
“Fuck — Derek — you have to believe me. I knew you were attracted to me, but if I had known it was — I wouldn’t have taken advantage of that.” Stiles stopped, pulling in a raspy breath. “Or, fuck, I don’t even know. Maybe I would have. I can be pretty ruthless when the stakes are high.” He laughed hollowly. “That’s probably the kind of thing you’d need to know about me if we — I mean if you still —”
Derek’s heart surged, joy starting to spread through his body, but he kept his expression carefully blank. “If I still what?” he said, his voice neutral.
“If you still — I mean, I can understand if you wouldn’t — what I did to you was pretty unforgivable, I might have messed this up already — but if you wanted to — I mean I want to —”
The corner of Derek’s mouth was curling up against his will and Stiles’ babbling stuttered to a halt.
“Oh my god, you’re teasing me,” Stiles realized.
Derek couldn’t help his laugh. He reached forward, one arm winding around Stiles’ shoulders and the other around his waist, pulling him in and scenting him at long last. The hollow of Stiles’ neck was damp and fragrant, smelling deliciously of mate and arousal and home. Derek felt like he could happily lose himself in it for the rest of his life. He scraped his beard across Stiles’ skin, scenting him, glorying in the way it made Stiles shiver.
“You’re a little bit of an asshole,” Stiles said wonderingly, whispering the words into Derek’s ear. “You’re perfect.”