Chapter 1: The Bargain
Talia Hale is an imposing woman, in every sense of the word. She is taller than most men, with cheekbones that could cut glass. Even though her control is perfect, her dark eyes seem to burn with the ember of her alpha spark.
Stiles can sense the force within her, as if the raw power of a thousand generations of wolfkind has coalesced into this one individual, the matriarch of the Hale pack.
She makes no attempt to hide it, speaking forcefully and distinctly, her bearing regal. She makes Stiles feel like a child.
He knows she can hear the rabbit-fast patter of his heartbeat, can smell the sweat gathering where his palms are clasped beneath the table. He must look like nothing more than prey to her, and he wonders if she sees the fast-beating pulse of his carotid artery beneath his cravat and feels the urge to rip it out with her teeth.
And yet, as frightened as he is, as much as his body might betray him, he gathers his own spark and holds firm. He has a single card to play and he can only play it once, and so he is determined to do his best.
“These are my terms: Settlement of all of my father’s debts. Beacon Grange and its surrounding land to be gifted to him, until the time of his death, at which time it will revert to the holdings of the Hale Pack. And an income of four thousand pounds a year for his living, until the time of his death.”
Talia lifts her chin further, looking down her nose. “Is that all?”
Stiles cannot tell if she means to be cutting, reprimanding him for his audacity, or if that is just her natural tone. It seems a princely sum to him, but to Talia Hale perhaps it is nothing.
Stiles pulls in a shuddering breath. This is the part that is the biggest gamble. Alpha Hale might take offense — enough to call off the whole deal, or even to claw his throat out. Stiles doesn’t know which he fears more at this point.
“A penalty,” he says, forcing a determination into his voice that belies the quivering in his stomach. “Of one hundred thousand pounds, on each of our heads, should I or my father meet with an untimely death. To be paid to the survivor, or to the beneficiary of our choice, should...should —”
Stiles falters at that, the phrase, ‘Should you decide that it’s more convenient to dispose of us both,’ stuck in his throat.
To his relief, Talia’s eyes light with amusement and not fury. “Cynical for one so young,” she says.
Stiles simply inclines his head in acknowledgement. He hasn’t been young since before his mother started to go mad, leaving his father and himself in crippling debt and equally crippling grief.
“And nothing for you, little spark? No assurances, or contingencies?”
Stiles feels anger flare within him, and tries unsuccessfully to tamp it down. “Of what nature?” And, oh, he shouldn’t let his tongue run away from him, but the combined stress and anger has overcome his better judgment. “That your son will be a gentle and caring husband? If so you would not be outlaying this vast sum in order to purchase him a spouse.”
Talia’s chin lifts at that, but before she can protest he carries on.
“That I can leave him after a set number of years, with a tidy sum of money? A ‘wolf mates for life, and he would never let me go. Either I die first or him, and it is unlikely to be him. Hence, the penalty. That is the only contingency I need arrange, as it is the only likely outcome of this endeavor.”
Talia narrows her eyes. She takes a moment, and then leans forward, resting her hands on the table. Stiles feels even more cornered, his heart thumping wildly as he curses his impetuous tongue.
“You have done your research, little spark.” Talia smiles, and her teeth seem longer and sharper than they were a moment ago. “Enough to know how much I would value a spark, to deal with my son’s...unique situation. But have you ever even met a ‘wolf before today?”
There is no point in lying. She would hear it in his heartbeat, smell it in his scent.
“My childhood friend was bitten by a rogue alpha. We chased him away, but —” Stiles has to stop, and swallow down the jagged grief, still sharp after all these years. “The bite didn’t take, and he died. Slowly.”
He doesn’t know how he expects Alpha Hale to react to that, but it was not this — her discomposure is visible. She leans back, looking away from Stiles for a moment, before she meets his gaze again.
“I am sorry to hear it. The Bite is a gift, and forcing it on the unwilling is profane.” Her words sound genuine, and he has to hide his own surprise.
Still, her sympathy is gone almost as suddenly as it had appeared, her expression once again keenly judging.
“So then. A slavering beast of a rogue alpha is the limit of your prior experience with ‘wolves, and yet you bring me this offer?” Her fingernails — or are they claws? — tap thoughtfully against the table. “It could be a ruse, to get close to our pack. To harm us.”
This is something Stiles has thought of as well. Of course his motives would be suspect. He has, after all, done his research, and that includes how close Kate and Gerard Argent had come to decimating the Hale pack. After all, that was the cause of Derek Hale’s — as his mother and alpha put it — unique situation.
“You have the ability to sense deception. And I vow that I mean no harm to you or any member of your pack. And you have —” Stiles swallows again, squeezing his hands together to stop them trembling. “Not just my own, but my father’s life as forfeit should my words somehow prove to be false.”
“Well. That is true.”
Is Talia smirking at him? Does she value the life of his father so little when it means everything to Stiles? He is still learning the gifts of his spark, and unfortunately insight into another’s mind does not appear to be one of them.
Anger speeds Stiles’ tongue again. “I will do my duty,” he says caustically. “Will your son?”
The calculating look drops from Talia’s face, and for the first time Stiles can see not only the powerful alpha, but also the worried mother.
“He will,” she says simply. “I will make sure of it.”
She pushes to her feet, gown sweeping out from under the table. “I expect two days will be sufficient to pack your belongings and say your farewells. I will send a carriage for you on Saturday morning. You shall wed that afternoon.” She holds out one hand, the nails short and blunt now. “Agreed?”
Stiles stands as well, trying to surreptitiously wipe his palm on his jacket before holding his hand out as well. In the end, though, what does it matter if Alpha Hale knows how sweaty his hands have become? The deal is struck.
“Agreed,” he says, shaking the alpha’s hand.
He feels it as they touch, and knows that she does too, the spark of his incipient magic recognizing the alpha spark in her. Her spark is entrenched, stable. But for a new spark — the flickering, unstable spark of an unexpected and packless true alpha — for Derek Hale, the attraction will be nigh irresistible.
It had better be. It’s what they are both counting on.
They shake hands firmly, and then Talia sweeps away. On the other side of the door await two members of her pack, a young woman with curious dark eyes and a man with dirty blond hair and a neatly-trimmed beard, who unabashedly eyes Stiles up and down before turning to follow his alpha.
Stiles stands tall until they leave, and then lets himself sink down into the chair, his knees weakened by both fear and relief. Saturday. Two days from now, and he will be wed to Derek Hale — from all accounts an angry, scarred, half-feral true alpha werewolf.
Stiles lets his head sink slowly into his hands. “What have I done?”
Chapter 2: The Wedding
The site chosen for the mating ceremony is beautiful — a sun-dappled clearing in the middle of a copse of elms. A bower has even been constructed, woven of willow and threaded through with a profusion of blooms — bluebell and wood anemone, red campion and yellow archangel, dog rose and honeysuckle. The blossoms have attracted several fat bees, who buzz around Stiles as he stands stiffly in his best suit.
He suddenly wishes that he had allowed his father to attend. The Sheriff had tried to insist, but Stiles had steadfastly refused. If it all went wrong, it would be a mercy not to have his father there to witness it.
Still, it would have been nice to have someone by his side as he stands here, under the watchful eyes of the ‘wolves in attendance. Perhaps they are judging how his coat is too small in the shoulders and too short in the cuffs, or perhaps they are thinking of how delicious his flesh would taste. The blond bearded man who had guarded the door of Talia and Stiles’ meeting is in the front, and appears to be thinking both as his light eyes rake over Stiles from head to toe for the umpteenth time.
Time drags on, and it becomes apparent that this is not a part of the tradition. The wolves start to shift on their feet and murmur, but no one attempts to speak to Stiles. He stands, feeling the back of his neck growing red from the sun and his face growing red from embarrassment.
What will happen if Derek Hale cannot be coerced to the altar? Will the bargain be revoked?
Goddamn, but Stiles will chase the recalcitrant ‘wolf down himself if he has to in order to see this through. He imagines himself throwing open door after door of the vast Hale mansion, searching every room to find the crippled shell of a man cowering from his marital duties in some dark corner.
He knows that Derek Hale was grievously injured in the Argent attack, sustaining wounds of both fire and wolfsbane that could take years to heal, if ever. His sacrifice to save his pack had caused the spark of a true alpha to flare within him, but his shame at being manipulated and exploited by Kate had caused him to withdraw from the very pack he had saved.
A packless ‘wolf was dangerous and unstable. A packless alpha — that was a situation so unprecedented as to be considered absurd. An alpha has to accept a pack or become fully feral — there is no other option — and yet somehow Derek Hale had defied the odds. For five years now he had walked the middle path, refusing pack ties and yet somehow staving off the descent to ferality.
Unless, of course, Stiles had struck his bargain with Alpha Hale just a moment too late, and wouldn’t that be just Stiles’ luck? Perhaps in the last few hours Derek Hale had lost his battle with sanity, and was currently roaming the grounds on four legs, red-eyed and sharp-toothed, looking for his next kill.
Or perhaps he had simply taken one look at Stiles and balked at the idea of marrying an impoverished, spindly, mole-spotted human — spark or not.
Stiles straightens his spine an extra inch, gritting his teeth as he swallows down the rising humiliation. How long must they all wait before it becomes painfully clear that Derek Hale is not coming?
The ‘wolves hear their approach before Stiles does. The members of the Hale pack grow quiet, shuffling aside to clear a path to the bower.
The pack parts further and Stiles sees Talia Hale, stately as ever. Her hand rests on the forearm of another man, and Stiles realizes that he is looking upon the ‘wolf who is to be his husband.
The man stands in stark contrast to all of Stiles’ imaginings. He is young, perhaps a few years older than Stiles at most. He walks tall and steady at her side, no trace of the crippled shuffle that Stiles had anticipated.
It is only as they draw closer that Stiles can see the angry red scars that cover his left cheek and neck, disappearing into the collar of his shirt.
The man stares steadily at the ground as they walk. His eyebrows are thick and imposing. He must be furious at the situation, at being forced into marriage with someone like Stiles. People respond to fury in different ways — some with heated words and flying fists, others with cold callousness. Stiles wonders which form his soon-to-be-husband’s wrath will take.
Soon enough, Talia and Derek reach the bower. Talia guides Derek to Stiles’ side, and then kisses him on the cheek before going to join her pack.
Silence falls, the crowd looks expectant, and Stiles suddenly realizes that although he memorized the traditional vows, he does not know which of them is to start.
He pulls in a deep breath. Derek’s eyes dart up to meet his, and...oh.
Derek doesn’t look angry at all. He looks shy . His eyes flit across Stiles’ face, dip to the ground, and then jump up to Stiles’ face again.
Stiles feels a sudden lightening of his heavy heart. He is not the only one who is unsure, and that makes the situation a thousand times better.
He holds out his hand, shocked anew when Derek takes it without hesitation. They both jolt as they feel it — the spark of Stiles’ magic yearning toward Derek’s alpha spark, as if they were two halves of a whole, just as the werewolf legends say.
“Derek Hale,” Stiles begins. Derek’s eyes meet Stiles’ once more, regarding him steadily this time, and they are beautiful — light green and grey and gold in a multicolor profusion. Stiles’ breath catches for a moment, entranced, and he feels the spark inside him leap in recognition, sees the answering flicker of red in the depths of Derek’s beautiful eyes.
Stiles swallows and starts again. “Derek Hale, ‘wolf of the Hale pack. I pledge myself to you, to your care and protection.” His voice grows steadier as he goes. He has rehearsed the words until they are meaningless, and now seems to be hearing them again for the first time. “Your blood will be as my blood, your flesh as my flesh, for all the days that I live.”
Derek’s eyes are still on his, more watchful than wary, and Stiles feels as though Derek is looking into his soul to determine the truth of his words.
“ Mieczysław Stilinski,” Derek says, and Stiles startles at the sound of his voice — so light and pleasant, instead of the rough growl he had anticipated.
The movement starts to pull his hand from Derek’s, and he realizes that Derek has stopped, looking at him as if he is expecting some kind of protest.
“Sorry,” he says, self-consciously licking his dry lips. He grasps Derek’s hand more firmly. “Continue.”
“Mieczysław —” Derek starts, but then stops again. Suddenly, he turns his back to the crowd, pulling Stiles along with him by their clasped hands.
“Do you want this?” he asks abruptly, in a harsh whisper meant for Stiles’ ears only. Their faces are suddenly very close, Derek’s expression intent.
Looking at him, Stiles suddenly knows that at one word from him Derek will defy his mother and his pack, regardless of the consequences. Stiles should be thinking of those consequences — of his own family’s financial ruin, of Derek’s probable madness, of the wrath of the Hale pack descending upon them both. In this moment, however, all he can think of is the look in Derek’s eyes, and the way his own spark is already eagerly seeking his.
All he can think of is that Derek asked .
“Yes,” he says, knowing that Derek will hear no lie in his heartbeat.
Derek’s eyes search his face for another long moment, his brow furrowed, and then he nods. He turns back around, facing their audience as if nothing happened, projecting his voice again, strong and sure.
“Mieczysław Stilinski, spark of the Stilinski family,” he says, and Stiles marvels for a moment at how fluently his tongue glides over the difficult pronunciation. “ I pledge myself to you, to your care and protection. Your blood will be as my blood, your flesh as my flesh, for all the days that I live.”
Derek’s hand releases his and for a moment Stiles feels adrift — bereft. Derek glances meaningfully at Stiles’ cuff and Stiles blinks, realizing what Derek is waiting for.
The fingers of his left hand are clumsy on his cufflink as he tries to work it free. Everything suddenly feels a bit surreal — the sunshine blindingly bright, a buzzing sound filling Stiles’ head. His fingers tremble and slip on the cufflink, and then suddenly Derek’s hands are there.
Derek pulls the cufflink apart with an easy twist. He deposits it in Stiles’ coat pocket as Stiles grimaces gratefully.
Stiles rolls up his coat and shirt sleeve together, baring his wrist and forearm. He holds his arm out awkwardly, until Derek grasps it in both hands, steadying it.
Derek’s eyes meet his once more, as if in question, and Stiles nods.
Derek leans down. Stiles braces for the pain, but Derek just brushes his nose along the bared skin, scenting it. He shivers, and Stiles sees his eyes flash red again, flickering. Slowly, Derek’s canines lengthen, until Stiles feels the scrape of them against his skin. Derek pauses, inhales, and then bites.
It hurts, of course it does, but the pain is almost overwhelmed by the feeling of completion as the blood bond snaps into place. Stiles’ spark flares in acknowledgement, reaching out, finding the guttering flame of Derek’s alpha spark and helping it grow steady and calm within him.
Derek lifts his mouth from Stiles’ forearm, licking the blood from his lips. When he raises his head to look out over the assembled wolves his eyes glow steadily for the first time, like red embers. He throws his head back and howls .
The alpha is the first to take up the call, but then the rest of the pack joins her, howling Derek’s triumph to the sky. Stiles feels giddy too, his spark leaping and buzzing, making his fingers tingle. Then he makes the mistake of looking down at his arm.
“Oh,” he says faintly. “Oh no.” Blood is oozing from the bite mark, thick and red, and suddenly it is too much — too much heat, and excitement, and anxiety, and now the sudden sight of his own blood. Stiles feels a cold sweat break across his face, the buzzing growing in his ears. He sways where he stands. He’s going to embarrass himself beyond redemption, the useless human swooning in front of Derek’s whole pack.
He sees Derek look over at him, those beautiful eyes of his widening for a moment. Then Derek leans in, clasping him tight around the waist, as if in a celebratory embrace.
“Steady,” Derek rumbles into his ear. “Breathe.”
Stiles lets Derek hold most of his weight, burying his face in Derek’s neck and focusing on breathing. It works — the buzzing recedes, his legs gaining strength again as he pulls in long gulps of air against Derek’s skin. The ‘wolf smells nice, woodsy and warm.
Derek seems to know when Stiles is feeling steadier. He pulls back slowly. Together, they turn towards the crowd. Derek keeps his arm around Stiles as they walk the path back from the bower, and if Stiles is leaning on him more heavily than he should, none of the assembled ‘wolves appear to notice.
Chapter 3: The Manor
The wedding luncheon is unbearably awkward.
Stiles is still feeling a little shaken, his forearm now carefully wrapped in gauze. He doesn’t have much of an appetite, but picks at his food out of fear of offending his hosts.
Derek sits quietly at his side, silently offering him a dish from time to time, but he initiates no conversation. Stiles racks his brain for something to say, excruciatingly aware that any words spoken between them will be clearly heard by every ‘wolf in attendance.
Before he thinks of something, he looks up, and suddenly the light-haired ‘wolf is there.
“Let me be the first to extend my congratulations to the happy couple,” he says jovially, but his light blue eyes remain sharp and cold.
“Peter —” Derek starts, but the man is already grasping Stiles’ hand, bringing Stiles’ fingers to his lips for a kiss.
“Such a catch,” Peter says. His mouth lingers close to Stiles’ knuckles, his nostrils flaring as he takes an obvious inhalation of his scent. “Not just a beauty, but also a spark.”
Although Stiles cannot hear it in his tone, he must be mocking him. Stiles knows that he is gangly and awkward, moles scattered across his face as if he’s been splattered with mud. No one has ever accused him of beauty. Humiliation and anger burn in his belly, and he can feel Derek’s eyes on him.
“I would have snapped him up myself,” Peter says as Stiles pulls his hand back, dropping it into his lap and resisting the urge to wipe it with his napkin. “But, of course, I doubt I could have afforded him.”
Out of the corner of his eye Stiles can see Derek look down, frowning at the reminder.
Stiles can feel his cheeks color, but he refuses to look away. He doesn’t know if Peter is attempting to sow discord or is simply enjoying the opportunity to needle Derek, but either way he will not tolerate it.
Mine to protect, he thinks fiercely.
“It is true that this is no love match,” Stiles says, voice ringing out clearly enough for all the assembled ‘wolves to hear. “But I find myself to be more than satisfied with the arrangement, and I hope over time to prove to my husband that I am as worthy of his love and devotion as he is of mine.”
Derek has lifted his head and is staring at Stiles. Stiles cannot read his expression, but he takes a chance nonetheless. He leans in, kissing the cheek closest to him in a chaste brush of his lips. It is the scarred side, but that does not bother Stiles — after the first few minutes of observing Derek, he has hardly noticed the reddened and twisted skin.
When he pulls back, Derek’s lips are upturned in the smallest of smiles. He deliberately places an arm along Stiles’ shoulders, leaning in to peck his cheek in return.
“We accept your congratulations wholeheartedly, Peter,” Derek says, his voice as mild as ever. “And wish you as much fortune in finding your own mate.” He takes Stiles’ hand in his, raising his knuckles to place a kiss directly over Peter’s scent. “Better late than never, as they say.”
Peter’s smug smile grows brittle. He immediately finds someplace else to be, and Stiles tries mightily to suppress a giggle.
“Is it wrong that I enjoyed that a bit?”
Derek’s eyes are warm. “If so, then I will be joining you in Perdition.”
Stiles feels self-conscious under Derek’s steady gaze, and takes another sip of his wine. He is starting to feel a little tipsy, and resolves to eat a few bites more.
As much as he enjoyed putting Peter in his place, the notion of exchanging barbs with the man over breakfast on a daily basis sounds exhausting.
“Will we be residing with your pack?” Derek’s expression darkens. “With your family, I mean?” Stiles corrects, cursing his thoughtlessness.
“I have my own house,” Derek says, much to Stiles’ relief. “It is small, but...cosy. I think you will like it.”
Stiles smiles. “I’m sure I will.”
Stiles does, indeed, like Derek’s house. He would not exactly describe it as cozy, this gracious manor, but is charmed that Derek thinks it so. He wonders how much Derek knows about Stiles’ own humble origins.
“I usually take a light breakfast, and so Mrs. Rutherford and her eldest daughter come only for luncheon and dinner, to prepare the meals and clean, and return to their home nearby in the evening,” Derek explains. “If that is insufficient to your needs, you are welcome to hire all the staff you desire.”
Stiles and his father have done for themselves since his mother grew ill, and having someone else to cook and clean sounds like sufficient luxury.
“I’m sure that will be fine,” Stiles says. Now his father is on his mind, however, and fortified by the wine at luncheon he feels brave enough to ask.
“Are there...other rules? For the household, I mean?”
Derek stares at him blankly.
Oh well, Stiles was never too successful with a delicate approach. “Am I allowed visitors?” he asks plainly.
Derek’s brows draw down, and Stiles swallows thickly. He has overstepped already? Does a ‘wolf not allow others in his den?
“You will be faithful to me,” Derek growls.
Stiles feels his jaw drop open, and snaps it shut. Indignation flares in his blood.
“Of course I will, you dolt,” he says sharply. “You were standing right beside me as I gave my vow. I was asking if my father was allowed to visit.”
“Oh.” Now Derek just looks confused. “Why would he not be?”
“I don’t know!” Stiles throws his hands up in exasperation. “That’s why I was asking!”
They regard each other for a long moment. “I have no rules, aside from the common courtesies expected among spouses,” Derek finally says stiffly.
“Oh. All right,” Stiles says, a little chastened. He feels foolish now.
“Do you —” Derek hesitates, and then presses onward. “Do you have rules for me?”
A denial is on the tip of his tongue, but then Stiles clamps his lips shut, thinking it over. “You will be faithful to me, as well,” he says eventually.
Derek inclines his head. “Of course.”
Stiles thinks some more. “You will not harm me. Or my father.”
“Of course not!” Now he really has offended Derek. His eyes flash red, his nostrils flaring. “Do you know nothing of ‘wolves? You are my mate . You gave yourself to my care and protection.”
And Stiles’ father is the Sheriff of the county, after all; he can think of many spouses who have made such promises and still harmed each other immensely, but it is reassuring that the notion seems so abhorrent to Derek.
Stiles pulls in a deep breath, careful not to escalate the disagreement. In truth, he has no grounds for offense — Derek is not far off the mark at all.
“I have tried to learn, but I do in fact know very little of ‘wolves,” Stiles says, choosing each word carefully. “Such information is carefully guarded from humans. I know very little about sparks, for that matter, although I have sought as much knowledge as I could in the past month.”
Derek seems taken aback. “In the past month? Is that when your spark manifested?”
Stiles presses his lips shut, wondering if he has revealed too much. Is an experienced spark more valuable than a novice? In the end, however, he simply nods.
Derek’s lips purse into a firm line, his brow furrowing. “Most humans who marry ‘wolves have grown up in packs themselves.”
Stiles can imagine that to be so. Wolf packs are insular in nature, consolidating power and prestige only among pack members, whether ‘wolf or human. If Stiles had been a sparkless human, he would never have had the opportunity to marry so above his station.
“Follow me,” Derek says abruptly. He strides across the room, and Stiles has to scurry to catch up.
They make their way down the hallway, and to a door. Derek opens it. This room seems more lived-in than the rest of the house. Although the grate is cold, a comfortable chaise with pillows rests in the corner, and a few scattered newspapers and coffee cups litter the tables. Against every wall rows and rows of bookshelves, filled with volumes, tower to the ceiling.
Stiles stands, mouth agape, as Derek moves from bookcase to bookcase, pulling volumes from the shelves to stack them in his left arm.
Finally, when he has a pile of eight or so tomes, he turns back to Stiles, offering him the stack.
Stiles takes the books reflexively. “I — I am allowed? —” he stammers, and Derek’s frown deepens.
“This is your house now,” he says gruffly. “These are your books.”
Stiles looks down at the volumes filling his arms, stunned. All the begging and scrounging and wheedling he had done over the past month had gained him access to not even a fraction of this information, and Derek was giving it so freely.
And yet, Stiles was always one to push his luck.
“May I ask you questions as well?”
Derek looks briefly alarmed at the notion, before his brows draw down again. “I have been told that I am...not particularly skilled at conversation,” he says grudgingly.
Stiles can work with that. “You could benefit from practice, then. But honestly, you seem to be doing quite well so far.” And it’s the truth — although Derek is not exactly garrulous, he is leagues more communicative than the half-feral, withdrawn monster that Stiles had expected. “Besides, my father has always told me I can talk enough for any two people. That should even things out somewhat, don’t you think?”
Derek looks perplexed, but that is not an uncommon reaction when people talk to Stiles. Nor is the way Derek is backing slowly out of the room, as if planning his escape.
“I will see you at dinner?” Stiles says, and Derek’s shoulders drop in relief.
“At dinner,” he confirms, making his exit. It did not escape Stiles’ notice that he avoided giving a definitive answer to Stiles’ question, but they had time, after all, to settle things.
For now, Stiles settles in with his reading, quite content.
Chapter 4: The Sleeping Arrangements
True to his word, Derek is at the dining table when Stiles arrives, drawn from his reading at last by the delicious smells wafting through the hallway.
Derek jumps to his feet as Stiles enters, and for a moment Stiles expects him to flee, but he simply pulls out the chair for Stiles, helping him get seated with a solicitousness that is as touching as it is unnecessary.
Mrs. Rutherford and her daughter seem kind and cheerful. They bring the dishes, but otherwise leave Stiles and Derek to serve themselves and fill their own cups. Stiles wonders if this is the dining style that Derek prefers, or if they are simply being tactful in granting the newlyweds some privacy.
And that is a shocking notion — that Stiles is a newlywed. His every thought had been so focused on the wedding itself — conflicted fears that it would occur and fears that it would not occur — that he had spared little thought for the time afterwards.
At the luncheon, emboldened by anger at Peter, he had called Derek his husband so easily. He imagines doing so now (“Husband, please pass the salt. Would you like some more wine, husband?”) and it seems impossible.
(“Come to bed, husband,” his traitorous mind whispers.)
“What’s wrong?” Derek asks gruffly, and Stiles is so startled the carafe of wine almost slips from his grasp.
Derek reaches across the table, catching it easily and filling Stiles’ glass.
“Not — nothing is wrong. Everything good here,” Stiles babbles. He takes a hurried sip of his wine. “Why do you ask?”
Derek frowns down at his plate. “Your heart,” he eventually says, as if begrudging every word. “It was beating quickly.”
“Oh.” Stiles automatically places a hand over his heart, as if that could shield it from Derek’s scrutiny. “Sorry?”
Derek’s frown deepens, as if the apology makes it worse.
Stiles takes a bite of his food, but it’s not long before his curiosity overwhelms his better sense. “Do you hear everyone’s heart beating, all the time? It must be...distracting.”
“Heartbeats, breathing — they typically fade into the background of noise. But yours is —” Derek pauses, and Stiles waits with bated breath for him to complete the sentence. Annoying? Intriguing?
“— not doing so.” Derek finally says.
Well, that’s maddeningly unhelpful. Stiles thinks about apologizing again, but holds his tongue. For a moment, at least.
“Is it because we are bonded?” he finds himself blurting out. “Will you forever be — attuned — to me? Or is it simply because I am new, and you are well-accustomed to hearing the heartbeats of Mrs. Rutherford and her daughter? Because I can imagine that —”
“I don’t know,” Derek says curtly. He pushes to his feet. “I bid you good night.”
But Derek is already gone, leaving his mostly-full plate behind.
Mrs. Rutherford bustles in, tutting over the wasted food, and perhaps Stiles is imagining it but he feels censure in her gaze. What did he say that drove his newlywed husband away from his own dinner table?
Stiles abandons the table as well, seeking the refuge of the library. Perhaps the answer lies there.
Before dinner he had skimmed all of the volumes to determine their contents, but now he starts reading in depth. He reads until his eyes droop, the candles guttering. The clock chimes midnight and he shakes himself awake.
He chooses the tallest candle and takes it with him to the door.
The hallway outside is shrouded in darkness, seeming longer and more ominous that Stiles recalled it. He stands there, mired in gloom and uncertainty. “Derek?”
He suddenly, belatedly, realizes that this is his first night as a married man. He knows the way from the parlor to the dining room to the library, and nothing beyond that. He has no idea if his husband has been waiting for him, wondering why he does not come to bed. He has no idea where their bed even is.
Well, he supposes upstairs is the place to start. He makes his way up the winding staircase, trying not to trip over his own feet in the gloom. The hallway is equally dark upstairs. All the doors are heavy and wood-paneled, and all firmly shut.
He opens the first door on his left, only to find a linen cabinet. The next door opens to a bedroom — pleasant enough from the little that Stiles can make out, but empty. The third door seems to have served in the past as a nursery — the outline of a crib unmistakable under a draped white sheet. Stiles shivers, closing that door faster than the rest.
He imagines opening doors endlessly all night, and then curses his own fanciful imagination. Sure enough, the next door opens to the largest room yet — a bedroom, with a four-poster bed surrounded by heavy velvet drapes. A fire burns low in the hearth, letting him see this room more clearly than the others.
He takes a few steps inside. Werewolves have acute hearing — if Derek hasn’t spoken, he must be asleep already, mustn’t he? Stiles bites his lip in uncertainty, wondering if he has offended his husband already by choosing books over his company. But then again, Derek was the one who had fled at dinner. Bolstered by the flare of ire the recollection sparks, Stiles moves forward.
He moves to the side furthest from the door, and pulls aside the heavy drape. Sure enough, there is Derek. He looks even younger in repose — his lips slightly parted, the firelight flickering over his peaceful brow. Stiles finds himself smiling at the sight of his husband, so unguarded for once.
The bed is huge. Stiles gazes at the soft pillow next to Derek, and suddenly feels exhaustion dragging him down. This is another bad habit of his — getting so engrossed in a task that he ignores the demands of his own body until he is suddenly overwhelmed by them. Now that he is near a bed, he can barely keep his eyes open.
He knows that the housekeeper had unpacked his belongings, but it seems too much effort to look through through the drawers to find a nightshirt. He can sleep in his shirt — the cuffs have long been unbuttoned, his jacket discarded as he read. He strips off his trousers and slides between the cool sheets, settling into the pillow with a sigh of happiness.
Just as he’s drifting off to sleep the bed jolts. Stiles pries his eyes open to find Derek, looming over him on one elbow.
“Yes?” Stiles squints up at Derek, unable to read his expression. Was he expecting someone else?
“What are you doing?” Derek’s voice is sleep-roughened.
“Sleeping,” Stiles says. “Or at least I was ,” he adds waspishly.
“Here?” Derek says, and his voice is so clearly confused that Stiles manages to wake himself up enough to have what is apparently going to be a conversation.
“Where else?” he asks, genuinely confused as well.
Derek pushes back, sitting up fully, and without the ‘wolf looming over him Stiles is able to sit up as well. He examines Derek’s face in the firelight, but the ‘wolf simply looks flummoxed. It’s enough to make Stiles feel wrong-footed.
“Is — what were you expecting?” he finally asks.
Derek pulls his eyes up from where they had been lingering on the stretch of Stiles’ throat above his unbuttoned shirt, and Stiles is hoping mightily that he hasn’t been imagining just tearing Stiles’ throat out to spare them both this conversation.
Derek opens his mouth to say something, but no words come out. He blinks, and then opens his mouth again. “A room has been prepared for you,” he finally says stiffly.
“Oh.” Stiles has no idea what to make of this. Maybe he should have stayed up even longer to research, because clearly he does not understand in the least. “My — my father and mother slept in the same bed, for all their married life.” He swallows a little, suddenly emotional in his exhaustion at the happy memory of diving into his parents’ bed in the morning, sunshine and the laughter of his parents washing over him. “Do ‘wolves not sleep with their mates?”
Derek seems at a loss for words again. Stiles has no idea why, the question seems simple enough to him.
“I thought you would prefer —” Derek begins, and then stops. He frowns down at the bedclothes for a long moment. “You agreed to bond with me to stabilize my spark. You have fulfilled your part of the bargain,” he finally says, his voice wooden.
“Oh.” The word leaves Stiles’ lips before his brain even processes what Derek has said. “Oh,” he says again, his heart sinking, stomach turning as the implication fully sinks in.
The bargain, Derek called it. Not a marriage, but a business arrangement. Stiles had held no illusions that this was a love match, he know that it was a marriage of convenience, but he had still thought that Derek had intended it to be a marriage. Not — whatever this is.
He feels humiliation rising up, his face burning with it, tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. Of course — of course Derek didn’t want a true marriage with someone like him — the awkward, ungainly human who had almost fainted at the sight of a little blood.
Derek hadn’t misled him, it was his own stupidity that had led him to believe that Derek wasn’t opposed to this entirely, that he had believed — as Stiles did — that they could, in time, build something true on the foundation of this marriage pact, no matter how practical its origins.
Stiles is stumbling out of the bed, tripping over the heavy drapery before he even realizes it.
“Sorry,” he mumbles. “I’m — I’m so sorry that I woke you.”
He flees for the door. He’s forgotten the candle, but the guttering fire is enough to help him find the handle.
He hears a movement behind him, and his heart jolts at the thought that Derek might try to intercept him. He can feel his eyes burning, tears ready to fall, and fear grips him at the thought of Derek intercepting him — seeing this additional confirmation of his weakness. It’s bad enough that Derek was forced to be yoked to a puny human just because he held a spark in his spindly body, showing himself to be a mewling idiot on top of that would be intolerable.
The fear speeds his steps, and he’s almost running as he throws open the heavy door, slamming it shut behind him.
He makes his way mostly by touch, dragging his fingers along the wall until he reaches the bedroom he had seen earlier. The curtains are thrown back, faint starlight giving him enough room to make out the furniture. He opens the top drawer of the bureau and finds a stack of his shirts there. He closes the drawer and makes his way to the bed, huddling under the covers.
This is the first night of my married life, he thinks to himself. The first of many. It suddenly seems insurmountable, the endless stretch of lonely nights that lies before him. He pushes his wet face into the pillow, but even as exhausted as he is it is a long time before he finds sleep.
Chapter 5: The Visit
It is midmorning by the time Stiles wakes, his head aching, the mating bite on his forearm itching under the bandages. He is tempted to just stay in bed, but he castigates himself for the cowardly notion and forces himself to rise and dress, making his way downstairs. There is a covered plate at the breakfast table — Stiles lifts the cover and winces at the sight of cold toast and congealed eggs.
There is coffee in an urn, still lukewarm, and Stiles gulps it down, forcing down the cold toast in an attempt to settle his roiling stomach. There is no sign of Derek, and Stiles is not certain if that is a blessing or an added insult.
Derek is probably in the library. Stiles thinks of the books he had read, long into the night, and frowns. Was this why Derek had given them to him — in hopes that he might realize their marriage was a sham and avoid the awkward conversation they had had last night? If so, the ‘wolf had greatly overestimated Stiles’ ability to read between the lines. Most of the volumes Stiles had perused last night had described ‘wolves as devoted to their mates.
Stiles doesn’t know how long he has been sitting there, stewing in his thoughts, before a clatter outside disturbs him from his reverie.
He stands just as there’s a firm knock at the door. Could Derek be knocking for admittance at his own door? He dismisses the foolish thought as soon as it occurs to him. It must be some other visitor, then, and he will have to admit to a stranger that he doesn’t know where his own newlywed husband is.
He drags himself reluctantly to the door and pulls it open.
The Sheriff’s arms wrap tight around him, squeezing Stiles just as firmly as Stiles is no doubt squeezing him. It’s a long time before they end the embrace, the Sheriff stepping back to run an appraising glance over Stiles.
“You’ve been crying,” the Sheriff accuses, his hands tightening into fists as if he means to immediately knock the stuffing out of Derek.
“Of course not!” Stiles denies reflexively. “I just didn’t get much sleep last night.” The implication doesn’t strike him until his father colors, looking away and clearing his throat awkwardly.
“Um — I mean —” Stiles begins, and then stops, at a loss. What would be worse, for his father to think that he and his husband spent all night in intimate embrace, or to have to explain that they never would?
Desperate for a distraction he moves to close the door, marking with surprise the carriage that is waiting in the courtyard.
“You came in a carriage?”
The Sheriff’s eyes narrow. “Derek sent one for me. He didn’t tell you?”
Stiles slams the door shut, rubbing the back of his neck. “He...he let me sleep late.”
“Very considerate,” the Sheriff says, and the awkwardness is back.
“Let me make us some tea,” Stiles rushes to say. He has no idea what to make of this. Of course, he had asked if his father could visit, but he hadn’t expected Derek to arrange it, especially not so soon. And, yet, having his father’s steady presence here was bringing him immeasurable comfort.
By the time the tea has brewed, Stiles has regained a measure of equilibrium. Enough to face his father’s scrutiny, and to lie, he hoped, convincingly about his state of marital bliss.
“You’re truly happy?” the Sheriff asks one more time, but his doubts appear to be largely assuaged.
“We are still getting to know one another,” Stiles says. “But I think it is a very promising start.” It has always been easier to lie to his father when he is telling the man what he wants to hear, and from the way the Sheriff relaxes it is clear that he very much wants Stiles to be happy in this marriage, much as he had opposed the idea from the moment Stiles had first hazarded it.
“So, how has the neighborhood managed in my absence?” Stiles asks, and before long they are discussing the doings of Beacon just as easily as they ever did.
When Mrs. Rutherford bustles in and shoos them out of her kitchen, Stiles shows his father the library. Derek is not there, the grate cold and no sign that he has been there at all that day. Stiles starts the fire, and he and his father browse the bookshelves companionably until Mrs. Rutherford calls them for luncheon.
The Sheriff questions Derek’s absence at luncheon. “Oh, you know — werewolf business,” Stiles says airily. His father’s eyes narrow again, but he lets it go.
They are lingering over coffee when the Sheriff finally draws himself reluctantly to his feet. “I had better go.” Stiles is sad to see him leave, but also a bit relieved. He did not want his father present when Derek returns, as it would completely shatter the illusion of a happy marriage he has been trying to create.
He walks his father to the door. The driver jumps up from where he had been drawing in the dirt with a stick, his curly blond hair springing around his face.
“I didn’t even know Derek kept a carriage,” Stiles remarked.
The Sheriff gestures to the driver. “Isaac says they keep the stable some distance from the house. Werewolves make the horses nervous.” His eyes are sharp again, and Stiles can’t possibly have given the game away just as his father is about to leave. “Derek didn’t tell you?”
“We haven’t had much time to discuss such things,” Stiles says, sharper than he intends. He’s starting to crack under the strain of maintaining this charade. Now his father looks embarrassed again, as if he’s imagining the things that the newlyweds might have discussed in the stead of relating details about the estate.
“Yes, well.” The Sheriff pulls Stiles into one more embrace. “I will visit again soon.”
“Thank you for coming.” Stiles wonders if the parting will get easier over time. Right now he feels bereft, watching his father climb into the carriage. His left knee is obviously bothering him again. Stiles wonders for a moment who will help him around the house, before realizing that his father is now wealthy enough to hire all the help he needs. He just hopes he’s not too stubborn to do so.
Chapter 6: The Rules
The carriage pulls away before Stiles can call out to his father, urging him to spend the money now that he has it. Oh, well, he will make certain of it for next visit, and by that time the Sheriff will have had time to actually act.
Stiles wanders back inside. Out of a lack of better ideas, he makes his way back to the library.
He pushes open the door and freezes, his heart hammering in his chest. Derek is seated on the chaise, staring moodily into a coffee cup.
“My apologies,” Stiles says, backing up. “I hadn’t realized — I will leave you in peace.”
“Please don’t go.” Derek jolts to his feet, abandoning the coffee cup on the side table with not even a glance. “I wished — I hoped to speak with you.”
“Oh. All right.” Stiles takes a hesitant step into the room, and then another. He closes the door.
Derek simply watches. For someone who wishes to speak, he certainly isn’t doing much of it , Stiles thinks caustically.
When the silence weighs on Stiles too heavily, he finally breaks it himself.
“Thank you for sending the carriage for my father.”
“I was happy to. Did you find him well?” Derek seems genuine in his concern, and it is only serving to raise Stiles’ ire.
“Quite well. Perhaps next time you can stay to meet him,” Stiles snaps.
Derek stares at the floor for a long moment. “I thought perhaps that you might wish to speak to him privately,” he finally mutters.
Stiles throws his hands up in frustration. “To what end? So that I might pour out my sorrows? Tell my father that my marriage is a sham — that my husband turned me away from our marital bed? I have a little more pride than that, not to mention a little more consideration for my father’s peace of mind than to worry him with the truth.”
Derek’s brows are knitted. “You are...upset?”
Stiles wants to strike him. He crosses his arms over his chest, and presses his lips together to stop himself from saying something unforgivable.
“You —” Derek stares at the carpet some more. He mumbles something.
“I don’t have werewolf hearing,” Stiles snaps. “If you want to be heard, you will need to speak up.”
Derek lifts his head at that, those multi-colored eyes flaring alpha-red for a moment. “I said, I thought you would be relieved.”
“Relieved?” Stiles almost forgets his anger in his utter confusion. “About what?”
“Relieved not to have to share my bed,” Derek grits out.
“What?” Stiles narrows his gaze, trying to figure out Derek’s game.
Derek is watching Stiles just as intently. Stiles bites his lip, uncertain how to proceed. It seems impossible that they could have misunderstood each other so completely. Perhaps this is Derek’s strange way of seeming polite? To make it appear as if Stiles is the one to make this choice?
If so, then he is out of luck. Stiles has a long habit of favoring the blunt truth over politeness, and he’s not going to stop now.
He pulls in a deep breath, letting it out in a slow rush. If Derek had understood this to be merely a transaction from the start, what would he be thinking now?
“I admit that I reacted...badly last night,” Stiles finally says. “If you do not wish — “ Stiles swallows, suddenly remembering Derek’s romantic history, if manipulation and betrayal could even be termed so. “If you are repulsed by me, I have no wish to force intimacy upon you, regardless of what I understood this arrangement to entail.”
Stiles feels color rushing to his face. “I know that I am —” he gestures weakly, in a way that he hopes encompasses his many faults so that he doesn’t need to enumerate them. This is humiliating enough.
“You are beautiful.”
Stiles pulls in a harsh breath, something sharp twisting in his chest. “Peter mocked me so, but I thought better of you.”
Perhaps this is some sort of entertainment for wolves, toying with their prey. Well, Stiles will not flap about like a broken-winged bird for Derek’s amusement. He turns, pulling hard at the door to the study, blinking back the mist that is obscuring his vision.
He doesn’t even see Derek move but suddenly he is there, pushing the door shut again, trapping Stiles against the wooden panels as he turns in surprise.
“I am not mocking you,” Derek says emphatically. “Nor for that matter was Peter.” He leans even closer, until Stiles can see nothing but the beautiful kaleidoscope of his eyes. “Do you honestly not know?”
“Know what?” The words come out a lot squeakier than Stiles intended, but Derek is just so close , closer than he has been since the moment after they were married.
“You — how you appear to a ‘wolf.” Derek’s voice is low, rough. Stiles feels it rasp over him like a warm palm down his spine. “Your skin.” Derek’s hand comes up, the backs of his fingers just lightly brushing Stiles’ cheek. Stiles can feel the blood rushing into his cheeks anew, the skin burning under Derek’s light touch.
“Spotted with moles,” Stiles says weakly.
Derek is already shaking his head. “Like stars in reverse, dark against light,” he says. His thumb brushes against the mole Stiles had always hated the most, at the hinge of his jaw. Now his hand is open, fingertips trailing down to where Stiles’ pulse is pounding in his throat. “Your neck,” he breathes.
Stiles is starting to believe that Derek really, truly means it, and yet some part of him cannot help but disagree. “Spindly,” he says, but his mouth is starting to curve into a smile against his will.
Derek’s mouth turns up as well, his smile no less beautiful despite the unevenness where the scarred muscle does not respond as fully. “Slender,” he says. He leans in, exhaling a breath against Stiles’ throat that makes him shiver. “Elegant,” he adds. Stiles can feel just the lightest brush of his beard across the tender skin. He can’t help but tilt his chin upwards, giving Derek more access. “Begging for my mark,” Derek says, and then his mouth is there, pressing a wet, sucking kiss to Stiles’ throat, and Stiles’ knees sag.
Derek catches him, his large hands holding Stiles easily, pinned against the door as he continues to trail kisses down Stiles’ neck until he reaches the hollow of his throat.
He stops there, pulling in a deep breath before straightening up. Stiles tries to both find his own balance and hide his disappointment. Only for a moment, however, because Derek is pulling Stiles’ hand up, kissing the back of his knuckles. He inhales deeply. “Your scent,” he says, and when he raises his head his eyes are burning alpha-red.
“Good?” Stiles asks. He is mostly teasing now, giddy with delight.
“Intoxicating,” Derek growls.
This time it is Stiles who pushes forward, boldly pressing his lips against Derek’s. He has a moment of doubt — Derek had not kissed him on the lips, not even at their wedding — but before he can retreat Derek is kissing back, hard and fierce. And then Derek’s tongue slips between Stiles’ lips, and Stiles had heard of this, but he had never realized —
His head grows a little fuzzy with pleasure, his whole body straining toward Derek. Too soon, Derek pulls away and Stiles tries not to whine with the loss.
Stiles blinks at Derek, trying to gather his scattered thoughts. Derek looks equally stunned, his lips red and wet below his multicolored eyes.
With effort, Stiles pulls a coherent thought from the jumble in his head. “You truly thought that I would prefer a life of loneliness?”
Derek looks away, wide shoulders shrugging under his dark jacket. “My mother told me that your prior experience with werewolves was...unpleasant,” he says, and Stiles shivers at the thought of the feral alpha who had killed Scott. He couldn’t even begin to equate that monster with the ‘wolves he had met since. “And then at the ceremony, you seemed frightened. Your heart was beating so fast,” Derek continues.
“I was about to marry a stranger!” Stiles objects.
“Just so.” Derek draws Stiles forward, solicitously seating him on the chaise and settling next to him before he continues. “And then last night when I told you that you were not obligated to share my bed, and you ran — I wondered, but — I simply I thought to give you the chance for us to become acquainted — to become accustomed to my presence before I — before we —”
“Oh.” Well, that was certainly a reasonable notion. “We can still do that.” He straightens his spine, looking Derek squarely in the eyes. “In fact, I believe I have some new rules for our marriage.”
“Yes,” Stiles replies firmly. “First, I wish — I wish to do more of that. Kissing. That is, if you are amenable.”
“I am,” Derek responds swiftly. His lips quirk upward again as his eyes drift down to Stiles’ mouth. “ Highly amenable.”
“Well. Good.” Stiles taps his fingers against the velvet upholstery of the chaise, considering. “I would like to share a bed, if you are comfortable doing so. We do not have to — just to sleep, if you wish. But I would like to start as we mean to go on.”
“That is acceptable to me also.” Derek’s voice is dry but his eyes are shining.
“Do you have any additional rules?” Stiles asks.
Derek lifts his head. He smiles fully for the first time, bright and wide like sunshine. He has overlarge front teeth that are perplexingly adorable. Damn his tender heart but Stiles thinks that he is half in love with his husband already.
“I would —” Derek says. “I would like to have a happy marriage with you.” He is leaning forward and Stiles leans forward as well, but Derek pauses just a breath away from Stiles’ lips. “If you are amenable,” he adds.
Stiles whacks him on the shoulder for his impudence, even as he leans into the kiss.
They emerge from the study well after the dinner hour, rumpled and breathless, after Stiles has proven himself to be quite amenable.