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what a big heart i have (better to love you with)

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what a big heart i have

(better to love you with)


"Remind me again why I'm awake at the ass crack of dawn?" Stiles says, closing his eyes as he rests his head against the side of the pastry case.

Two weeks into this semester, and Stiles still isn't used to his morning classes. He thought he'd given them up for good once he graduated high school a year and a half ago. Or tried to, like giving up candy for Lent.

Someone should've mentioned that to his PWR 91E prof.

"It's not the ass crack of dawn, it's seven thirty," Jackson says with all the patience of someone who has loved Stiles since they were five, and dealt with his bullshit just as long.

He pulls Stiles forward by his elbow and Stiles snorts but goes easily, bumping into Jackson and opening his eyes as they step forward in line.

"Not all of us are freakish morning people."

He punctuates that with a yawn and a stretch that makes his t-shirt and hoodie ride up.

"Thanks for the free show, Stilinski," the barista calls out from behind the bar and Stiles sends a wink her way.

"Always nice to be appreciated, Cora."

Cora's his favorite—and Jackson's too, though he'd never admit that out loud. That's pretty much Stiles territory and Stiles territory alone. But he loves that she writes snarky shit and dirty jokes on their cups when her bosses aren't looking, that she writes random-ass names on their cups, that she once made dick art in their foam, and that no matter what their drinks are always absolutely, positively perfect. And he tips accordingly.

"You could just change your major," Jackson says, which they both know isn't going to happen, not since Stiles is literally at Stanford because it's the top-rated school for Mythology and Folklore, which he’s had his heart set on studying since he was fourteen. It's why Jackson followed him here, even though North Carolina has the best lacrosse team in the nation, even though they scouted him heavily, even though they made a big fucking deal about how badly they wanted him.

Stiles made noise about it when Jackson told him their senior year, but Jackson wouldn’t hear any of it. It didn’t matter which lacrosse team he played on, because it’s not like I’m going to go pro after college, loser, and he could get a business degree anywhere. Stanford was happy to have him, and Jackson was happy to be staying around pack, something he needs, even if he never says it with those words exactly. And since they live together and Jackson refuses to charge him rent, putting the whole bill on Mr. Whittemore’s tab, it’s not so bad for his (and his dad’s) bottom line.

His dad wasn’t sad about that.

They move forward to the front of the line and Jackson puts in their order for his dry cappuccino and Stiles’ pumpkin spice latte – Stiles is absolutely and unashamedly that bitch...pumpkin everything, thanks very much – and Stiles wanders over to the pick up counter, waits for their names to be called. He wonders which names Cora is going to give them this time. Last time it was Bambi for Stiles, Troy Bolton for Jackson. Disney themed. Amazing.

Stiles loves Cora’s themes. Especially when Jackson can’t figure them out, when he has to resort to googling while Cora and Stiles laugh their asses off. That’s some quality bonding time right there.

Jackson walks over and unzips Stiles’ bag, shoves in a bottle of water along with one of those lunch boxes from the cold case and a pastry bag then zips it back up again and leans against Stiles, pressed up against the wall as they wait for their drinks. He takes a hot breakfast sandwich out of one of the last bags in his hand and hands it over, crumpling the bag and throwing it away as Stiles takes a bite.

He hums in appreciation and thanks and looks over at Cora who has just put a pitcher of milk up to the steaming wand. The machine hums as she pulls it back down the wand, as tight foam starts to form on top of the milk. Off to the side Stiles can see his and Jackson’s empty cups, decorated with bats and a line of carved pumpkins all along the bottom edge. He loves her cup art. The names aren’t visible though. Bummer.

“So what’s new, Cora?” Stiles asks, and she looks up from her work after pulling off the pitcher of milk, setting it to the side.

She starts cleaning the wand to prime it for another pitcher of milk and says, “My family’s in town for Halloween.”

“All of them?” he asks, and raises his eyebrows.

From previous chats over breakfast sandwiches and coffee, he knows Cora has a pretty damn substantial family – four brothers, two sisters, two parents, grandparents on both sides, aunts and uncles, family friends they consider family, plus countless cousins.

Seriously, Cora has no idea how many cousins she actually has. She says new ones are always popping up at family functions that she’s never met before. She gave up counting a long time ago.

“Wouldn’t that require hiring out like, an entire hotel to house all of them?”

She considers that. “Probably. But no, this time it’s just my immediate family, plus my grandparents and my uncle Peter and his family. So only...” she trails off as she does the math. “Twenty-three people? Twenty-two if you consider that one of my brothers already lives here.” She shrugs. “Halloween holds a special significance to us.”

“No kidding,” Stiles says. It would have to, for all of them to travel here for Cora and her brother. “Pretty amazing, though.”

“Yeah,” she says, and gives him a totally non-snarky smile. “What about you two? Any plans this weekend?”

“I’m trying to convince Stiles to go to a Halloween party tonight,” Jackson says, and Stiles gives a disinterested grunt.

“Keep trying. And are you even allowed to call it a Halloween party if it doesn’t happen on Halloween?” he asks, because it’s totally a valid question, and because he pretty much reached his limit on college parties after his first year – they’re loud as hell, people drink too much, and all physical boundaries seem to go out the window. He’s had enough of being generically manhandled and thrown up on, thanks. He always feels like he needs a shower five minutes after walking in the front door.

“Yes,” they both say, and Stiles just gives them a meh in response.

“It’s Conrad’s party,” Jackson says as Cora puts another pitcher under the wand to start the milk for Jackson’s cap. “You know he springs for the good shit, his house his huge, and his guest list is exclusive. No frat boys, mostly upperclassmen and grad students.”

“And I made it?” Stiles asks.

“You’re my best friend. Of course you fucking made the list.”

Stiles shrugs, looks away and out the window and across the street to the patio outside of Anna’s Cafe, feels his heart rise and swell and then immediately sink.

Smart, gorgeous, smiley history grad student Derek Hale, the object of Stiles’ considerable affection, is sitting there having breakfast. With a woman.

Laughing.

“Damn,” he says with feeling, and sighs heavily.

“What?”

Stiles just gestures weakly with his head. “I was totally gonna marry him and have his babies.”

“You still could,” Jackson says with a considerable amount of patience, which is impressive considering how many times he’s had to hear Stiles moon over this guy since Stiles’ first sighting, his second day of freshman year.

“Yeah, I doubt it,” Stiles says a little morosely.

“How do you know that?” Cora asks.

“Because he looks happy. Not just smiley, like he normally does, but genuinely happy.

And because he’d be a shitty person to ever want to ruin someone else’s happiness.

“Maybe that’s his sister,” Cora offers.

“Again, I doubt that.”

“Why? It’s not like you can see her. She’s sitting with her back to us. All you can see is hair.”

“Because I’ve never been lucky,” he says matter-of-factly, and it’s true. It’s very, very sad and very, very true. “I guess it was inevitable anyway. It’s not like he was ever going to notice me, right? It’s not like we’re in the same league.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Jackson asks with a hint of bite in his voice, and Stiles appreciates that Jackson’s first instinct is to always stand up for him. He does. Even when it’s against Stiles himself.

“We’re not,” he says, and gestures toward the window, toward Derek, watching as he laughs across the street again. “He’s like a first ballot Cooperstown hall of famer, and I’m playing...beer league softball on the weekends. It’s not just that we’re in different leagues, it’s that we’re playing two entirely different sports. Two related sports, mind you, two sports that have similar rules, but still two entirely different sports.”

“You done?” Jackson asks.

“Yes,” Stiles says, and continues to watch Derek having the time of his life across the street. He just can’t make himself look away. Genuine happiness looks so fucking good on Derek.

“You’re an idiot,” Jackson says with feeling, and Stiles finally looks away and over at his best friend. “Let me be perfectly fucking clear...if anyone is out of anyone else’s league here, then he’s the one out of yours.”

“Agreed,” Cora says firmly.

Stiles kinda wants to climb over the counter and give her a big ass hug.

“You’re a catch, Red,” she says, and hands over his cup to him, name out.

Little Red.

He looks down at his red hoodie, looks up and gives a short laugh. “Bit on the nose, isn’t it?”

She’s even drawn a little picture of Stiles on the side with his hood up, heading into a patch of forest. Shit, she’s a talented artist.

“You have no idea,” she says. She gives him a secret smile as he takes a sip, and it’s just this side of suspicious enough that he wonders if she knows somehow what Jackson is, and how that could be possible. Stiles does the Hiding Spell every fucking Sunday like clockwork. That thing is hardcore strong. Stiles made sure.

Jackson takes his cap from her and Stiles laughs big the moment he sees the name Gaston printed on the side of the cup, sharing another smile with Cora. Jackson rolls his eyes and gives her the middle finger but slips a folded bill under her mat like always, taking a first sip of what Stiles knows is a perfectly dry cap, made just the way Jackson likes it.

Stiles glances out the front windows, across the street and over to Derek again.

“He’s not perfect, Stiles. You know that, right?” Cora says as she wipes down the counter, and Stiles’ eyes snap back to her.

“I know he’s not perfect.”

He knows that. Jesus, of course he knows that. But judging by Cora’s raised eyebrows, she doesn’t really believe him.

“I do. I know that. He’s probably a morning person who thinks fruit counts as a dessert. Which, by the way, is a criminal offense on two separate counts.”

She snorts at that.

“He’s probably the kind of guy who organizes his sock drawer by color and talks through movies. It just...”

He trails off with a shrug.

“Doesn’t matter?” she asks.

Yep, that’s pretty much it. It doesn’t matter.

They nod goodbye to Cora and make their way outside to go their separate ways: Stiles to his writing class on oral tradition, Jackson to his marketing class, weaving their way through cafe tables.

“Hey...do you think she knows?” he asks when they’re clear of the door, Stiles sparing a glance back into the shop at Cora. “About...?”

“About your thing for Hale? Yes. Absolutely.”

Jackson-

“Of course she doesn’t,” Jackson says in his tone reserved only for Stiles, the one that says Jesus I love you so goddamn much but you’re an idiot. “Your work is solid. We’ve tested it over and over again, and we’ve been using it for years. Stop reading into things. She was just talking about your hoodie.”

Yeah, maybe.

“I wonder if she’s something though,” Stiles muses, voice trailing off.

“She’s definitely something,” Jackson says and takes a sip of his drink.

“Yeah?”

Jackson nods.

“Huh.”

He wonders what. He’ll probably have to live with not knowing. It’s not like Jackson is going to flash his eyes at her, see what she does in response.

Stiles’ own eyes wander away to the cafe patio across the street again, to Derek, sitting with that woman. His eyes are fixed on her, and it looks like he’s listening intently to whatever it is she’s saying.

“Forget him,” Jackson says firmly, and Stiles looks back. “If he doesn’t know how awesome you are, that’s his loss, not yours.”

“Yeah? And when was he supposed to get that? In the two times in the last year and change where I’ve managed to actually talk to him?”

Stiles has basically been pining from afar since that second day of freshman year, when he ran into Derek on accident outside of a taco cart in the quad and nearly had a coronary when he saw how gorgeous he was. Stiles had managed a stuttered out tacos, right?, which Derek had only grunted at, turning away the moment a friend called out his name.

The second: when Stiles had lined up behind Derek at one of the vending machines in the history building and, when Derek turned with a can of Coke in his hand, said Did you know you can clean your toilet with that? while Derek stared him down with a set of truly impressive, intense, quasi-confused eyebrows.

His toilet. Yeah. It’s a wonder Derek didn’t just fall into Stiles’ arms.

“He’d be fucking lucky to have you.”

“You have to say that, you love me.”

“Newsflash, Stiles...some things aren’t fucking subjective. Anyone being lucky to have you is one of them.”

Stiles half smiles down at his watch. If he doesn’t get a move on, he’s going to be late for class.

“Forget him,” Jackson repeats. “I can name at least a half dozen guys off the top of my head who are interested in you.”

Stiles pauses. “Really?”

“Yes, really. And they’re all going to be at Conrad’s party tonight.”

Stiles sighs. He could keep objecting but he knows Jackson won’t let it go, and anyway he’s definitely heard Conrad’s parties are usually pretty low key, as far as college parties go. There shouldn’t be any random ass dudes throwing up all over his shoes. “Fine. I’ll go.”

“Great. Now get your ass to class – you’re going to be late.”

Stiles gives him a mock salute and turns to go.

“I’ll leave your costume on your bed.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles says, throwing a wave over his shoulder then stops, pauses, turns back, yells at Jackson’s retreating back, “you didn’t say this was a costume party!”


True to his word, Jackson has left a pile of things laying on Stiles’ bed, which he finds when he gets home from study group. His costume, obviously, although Stiles isn’t exactly sure you can call a pair of red Chucks, his tight red pants (that Jackson bought him, of course), and a white t-shirt a costume, per se.

His phone buzzes and he unlocks it, reads the text from Jackson.

we’re gonna get you laid tonight

Buzz.

even i’d fuck you in those red pants

Stiles rolls his eyes, texts back.

no you wouldn’t

Buzz.

fuck you you’re a nice piece of ass

Buzz.

i’d be lucky to land you

Buzz.

make sure you wear your red hoodie

Buzz.

little red

Of course. He should have expected that.

Stiles pauses then types, thumbs flying.

did cora inspire you or something?

Buzz.

or something

Stiles shakes his head, is about to toss his phone onto his bed when it buzzes again.

don’t forget the bag

Stiles finds the small khaki colored messenger bag off to the side, lifts it up, reads what’s on front.

“Right,” he mutters and rolls his eyes. “Because the clothes don’t sell it enough. Gotta add an accessory.”

Conrad’s off-campus housing is only about twenty-five minutes walking distance so after Stiles gets changed and eats something and scrolls through Cora’s instagram full of foam and cup art – smiling at the side by side pictures of Stiles’ Little Red cup from earlier with someone else’s Big Bad cup, complete with a howling wolf silhouette on the side – he leaves the Jeep at the apartment and hoofs it, putting up his hood to sell the effect, hands jammed in his hoodie pockets. It’s a nice walk actually, if a little bit chilly, and he’s at Conrad’s huge house before he knows it, heading up the lit jack o’ lantern lined stairs, muffled music filtering down. He nods at a group of people hanging out under the fairy lights on the porch with red Solo cups in their hands, says hi when he recognizes one of them from one of his classes – Yesenia, who came dressed in a black dress and asked Stiles to write his phone number on her arm. A little black book. Stiles laughs and obliges and when he hands the pen back, she winks at him and says, “Thanks, Red.”

Through the doorway the volume of the music rises exponentially and Stiles passes Cher in a truly impressive headdress walking sideways to get through the door. He holds the door for her then heads into a massive living room full of people talking with cups in their hands, some of them bobbing along to music. On his way through he passes a Johnny Depp Willy Wonka talking to a couple dressed as Jack and Sally and two dudes dressed in onesies – one a tiger with leaves all over it, the other a bear with a fake grill, who happily and proudly proclaim with raised hands, “We’re Tiger Woods and Bear Grylls, man!”

Stiles has to give them points for creativity. And comfort.

Past them Stiles squeezes by a dude dressed as a nun talking to a girl dressed as Geena Davis’ character from A League of Their Own, Wayne and Garth yell at him to Party on, dude!, and a dude he’s never met in an orange t-shirt with black paper cutouts pasted onto his belly in the shape of a jack o’ lantern gives him the nod on his way past the massive kitchen. He peeks in briefly but doesn’t see Jackson. He does, however, see five dudes all dressed as the Goonies laughing with the Karate Kid and Marty McFly.

Nice.

The Chunk lookalike fills a Solo cup and hands it to him and Stiles gives him his thanks, wanders further back into the house in search of his best friend as he takes small sips.

He eventually finds Jackson in the lounge dressed in a leather jacket, standing with a pool cue in his hand waiting to take a shot, but not before he passes by Gomez and Morticia Addams close talking next to the staircase, various vampires, witches, and devils, at least six dudes dressed as Pennywise, a group of people dressed as the characters from Mario Cart – complete with cars, and man Stiles admires the ingenuity but those things are going to be knocking into everyone all night – a couple Game of Thrones characters, a hippie, a mermaid, Wonder Woman, and several versions of the characters from Stranger Things.

“How big is this fucking house?”

Jackson shrugs indifferently, pitches his voice up to speak over the music in deference to Stiles’ decidedly not-werewolfy ears. “Conrad’s dad is the CEO of a tech company or a plastics company or an oil company or...something.” He takes a sip of his cup, his eyes growing sharper. “Rich parents pull a lot of shit to try and get back in your good graces.”

Right. Jackson would know.

“You had to give me an accessory, huh?”

Jackson’s eyes soften and flick down to the messenger bag resting against Stiles’ hip, emblazoned with red words and a little hooded cape logo that say Little Red’s Courier Service – We Go Over the Woods and Back Again!

Stiles has to give him points for detail, but jesus...does he have a last minute printer on retainer or something?

“It sells the look. Besides, I’ve already clocked four guys staring at your ass. You’re welcome.”

He leans over the pool table, takes his shot. He misses, sending the orange five ball careening off a side bunker. Jackson’s shit at pool.

“What are you supposed to be anyway? One of those guys from Grease?”

“Please,” he says derisively, and straightens up.

“Young Elvis?”

“Wrong kind of leather jacket.”

Right. “Asshole with a crotch rocket?”

He shakes his head, says with a smirk, “One of the guys from the Fast and the Furious.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. Of course. He regrets ever making Jackson watch Community with him.

After Jackson loses Stiles takes the next game. He loses too, but puts up a pretty good fight, and when he gives his opponent a handshake in acceptance of defeat, the guy – Sammy – holds on a little longer than necessary, looks him up and down. Stiles looks back at Jackson who gives him a nod which he knows means I told you you’re a hot piece of ass.

Huh. Sammy doesn’t really do it for him – he’s more sandy-haired Lax bro like Jackson and less dark hair and bunny teeth like a certain someone else – but he’s gotta say, it is nice to be appreciated.

That was a thing that didn’t happen in high school. Like, at all. While Jackson was blatantly stared at by everyone – even a sub or two, and okay nope – Stiles was basically Mr. Invisible. To be fair Jackson has looked like he stepped off the pages of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog since he was like thirteen which is not something anyone has ever accused Stiles of, but at one point the routine of flirt with Jackson, take two minutes to even notice Stiles is there got so comical, Stiles started keeping track.

He still has that chart in his bedroom at home somewhere.

Jackson has always told him not to let it bug him – that the idiots from their hometown of Gold Heights weren’t fucking worth it, that if they couldn’t see quality right in front of them that was their fucking fault. That once they got to college and out of their tiny town for good, Stiles would be beating them off with a fucking stick. And while that’s not exactly the way it’s gone, Stiles has done pretty alright for himself. A couple casual things, a couple one night stands, and one guy – Bryan – who he dated for a month and a half last year before they realized they were better off as friends.

That his thing for Derek Hale had continued to rage on, ever strong, even when he was with Bryan – Stiles once caught sight of Derek outside of the history building, got distracted when he smiled at some guy and ran into a fucking tree – probably had a lot to do with it.

He should probably let it go, right? Figure out a way to move on. But he’s not sure where to start, first of all, and secondly...he’s not sure he wants to. Even if he has no chance with Derek – which, despite Jackson’s ride-or-die, loyal protests otherwise Stiles knows is pretty much the case – some part of him just won’t let Derek go. And he thinks he knows why.

When he was a little kid, when he was standing at the edge of his mom’s grave watching her casket be lowered into the ground, a nice older lady whose name he no longer remembers came up and told him his mom would always be with him.

He knows she was probably just saying it because she thought it was comforting, because that’s a thing people say to you when you’re burying your mom at nine years old. But Stiles took it and saw it for what it really was, kept it as his undeniable truth: that people who have mattered to him – whether it’s for years or whether it’s only for an hour or a day or a week or a month – can never leave him, not really. Because there’s always some piece of them that belongs to Stiles, to his memories, to certain dates or times or places or moments or things. His mom will always be with him because it’s her he’ll think of first every time he toasts the bread for his sandwiches or sees a yellow rose or hears the song Mamma Mia!, the same way his dad will be with him every time he watches Home Alone at Christmas or hears the crack of a baseball bat hitting a ball, and the same way Jackson will be with him whenever he sees a blue crayon or goes for a late night Double Double at In-N-Out. They matter. They belong to his sense memories, to parts of him he can never erase, and would never want to. And so does Derek.

It’s Derek he’ll think of now whenever he sees a taco truck, it’s Derek’s face that will pop into his mind when he sees a pair of thick, expressive eyebrows. And if he ever feels that pleasant swoop again in his belly, the one that speaks of more than just easy attraction, it’ll remind him of Derek, and how he was the first one to make Stiles feel that way.

Maybe he just has to acknowledge that, appreciate it for what it is and...keep going. Enjoy where he is, the people he’s surrounded by, the moments he’s living right now. If Derek is happy, he’s glad. And if he’s not meant to be more than just that swoop and a few sense memories in the story of Stiles’ life, well...that’s not awesome, that’s not what Stiles wants, but that’s the way it is.

That’s the way it is. Que sera sera. Whatever will be, will be, and all that. For now, he’s dressed up in his tightest pants, he’s at Conrad’s party, and he’s determined to enjoy himself. He’ll think about fate and her fickle hand later.

Over the next few hours Stiles drinks enough to get a nice buzz and finds the dance floor and dances with a couple of Jackson’s teammates – who move surprisingly well, although one of them gets a little handsy – as well as a cute girl with a pixie cut dressed as a fairy, her cheeks sparkling with what looks to be an entire craft store glitter aisle. Stiles may be buzzed but she’s pretty drunk and very shaky on her feet and when she starts to lean into Stiles, he leads her over to a group of girls who pet her hair and let her fall asleep on their laps and nickname her Kitten. Stiles gives them his thanks and kisses on the cheeks, finds Jackson again, and gets pulled into a game of beer pong, where he and Jackson triumph mightily against a male Regina George and a female Ron Swanson, after which Jackson pulls him away to the dance floor.

They dance away for a while, get lost in the loud, thumping music, but eventually Stiles needs to stop for a drink, and he motions to Jackson that he’s going to head into the kitchen, grab them both something.

On his way there he manages to sneak by a girl dressed as a deer and a guy dressed as a hunter having a heated discussion on veganism and ethics, slipping past them and into the safety of a mostly empty kitchen. There’s just one other guy in there – a werewolf in his beta shift leaning up against the counter in worn-in jeans and a henley with a red cup in hand – but he straightens when Stiles walks over and starts filling two cups. Jackson doesn’t choose to use his beta shift on Halloween – he says it’s not a party trick, and he doesn’t want anyone mistaking his face for a costume – but he gets why someone else might do it.

“Big Bad,” Stiles says playfully with a wink and a smile, setting one full cup on the counter, and reaching for the empty.

“Little Red,” the guy says around fangs and a playful smile of his own, stepping a little closer.

Stiles laughs, finishes filling the cup in his hand, grabs the other one off the counter, and turns to face the guy. Dark hair, flirty, built...Stiles can work with that. He looks vaguely familiar, but Stiles can’t even begin to place him. Not like all the werewolves at Stanford – however many there are – walk around in beta shift all the time.

“It must be nice, huh?” he asks, and the guy tilts his head in question. “Not having to hide who you really are for once. Not having to hide that you’re a werewolf.”

Stiles takes a sip from one of the cups.

The guy freezes, limbs going stiff, and then he’s shifting back, claws disappearing, fangs receding, dark, expressive eyebrows reappearing. It’s Derek Hale. Shit.

Shit. Shit. Fuck.

Shit,” he stammers, and takes a step back when Derek takes a step forward, drinks sloshing over the side of the rims of the cups and onto his hands. “Crap.”

Derek takes another step forward. “Are you-”

Stiles backs up further, stops him with wide eyes and a cup, held up between them. “Stop. Stay.”

Derek’s eyes widen and Stiles groans, winces hard, swears again and rushes to say, “Sorry. Shit. I did not mean to imply that you’re a dog because clearly you’re not. I just...sorry, I...” he trails off as he backs up toward the kitchen door, then says, “...just...please don’t go anywhere, alright? Please don’t...summon your pack or whatever so you can murder me. I’ll be right back. Please. Just...wait.”

Derek doesn’t move and Stiles backs out of the kitchen, hurries to find Jackson.

He spots him at the edge of the dance floor and runs up to him, shoves one of the drinks into his hand.

“I need you.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Jackson says with a smirk into the lip of his cup.

“No,” Stiles says, “I need you.

Jackson immediately sobers, cup lowering and eyes intent on Stiles as he steps off to the side. “What’s going on?”

“Well, a couple things. Derek Hale is here.”

“Okay,” he says slowly, drawing out the word.

“He’s like you,” Stiles says, staring at him pointedly as he lifts his eyebrows. When Jackson doesn’t say anything in response, he adds, “One of your brethren.”

“Yeah, Stiles, I got it. I understood your not-at-all subtle, non-verbal cue,” he says with a roll of the eyes. “But it’s not like that’s a deal breaker for you, so I’m not really seeing what the problem is here.”

“Well? Umm...” he says, pressing his lips together and tilting his head as he makes a fist with his right hand and brings it down between them, punching the air slowly. “I think I pissed him off. Maybe.” He narrows his eyes. “Probably?” He considers that and winces. “It’s pretty likely.”

This is, Stiles is sure, his nightmare scenario.

“Only you, Stiles. Jesus,” Jackson says and shoulders past him, leads the way back to the kitchen. When they get there Stiles notices that Derek hasn’t moved – he’s still standing in the middle of the kitchen where Stiles asked him to stay, and Stiles has to admit he’s a little touched by that, considering Stiles asked him to sit and stay as if he were a disobedient dog. His shoulders are stiff and his hands are clenched in fists at his sides to match his clenched jaw and he’s watching them, eyes darting back and forth between Stiles and Jackson, but he stays quiet, waits for them to speak first.

There are a few long, tense moments and then Jackson turns to Stiles, says easily, “He’s not pissed at you.”

Stiles’ eyes skitter over to Derek, then back to Jackson. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” He says it with a smirk lighting up his mouth and his eyes, waits a beat, then leans in with his mouth next to Stiles’ ear and says, “He’s interested.”

When he pulls back he gives Stiles a significant look, eyebrows ticking up.

“But...”

That can’t be right. How could that be right?

“I guess I was wrong about him,” Jackson says, appraising Derek for a moment. “He does see how awesome you are. Smart guy.”

He takes a sip of his drink, eyes not leaving Stiles’.

But Stiles can’t move.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Didn’t you say you wanted to have his babies? Now’s your chance,” he says around another smirk, and Stiles wants to kill him a little bit, he does.

He can feel his face flaming up, and he closes his eyes, refuses to look Derek’s way.

“Hey,” Jackson says softer, more serious, and strictly for Stiles’ benefit, “one hundred percent success rate.”

“C’mon, Jacks,” he scoffs.

“One hundred,” he says firmly.

Jackson has always been better at reading people than Stiles, even before he was bitten – at least when it comes to mating and attraction. Jackson is a natural, and Stiles is decidedly...not. Every success Stiles has had – every one-night stand, every casual thing, even Bryan – has been because Jackson nudged him in that direction with an oh-so-sure eighty-six percent or seventy-nine percent or ninety-three percent on the Jackson Surety Index. He doesn’t know how Jackson comes up with the numbers, but he doesn’t really care. They’re numbers he can trust from someone he trusts implicitly. And since he can’t trust himself on this – and hasn’t been able to since being shot down every time he tried in high school, where he read politeness or friendship or simple fucking courtesy as interest – he needs all the help he can get. And Jackson’s never been wrong. Not once.

But one hundred percent? That’s...no one’s ever been one hundred percent before. That’s a legit no lose scenario.

Still, Stiles finds himself faltering. This isn’t like eighty-six percent Zach, who made him laugh, or seventy-nine percent Carrie, who had the biggest smile he’s ever seen, or anyone else he’s been with for that matter. He liked them all, he thought they were good looking and fun and he had a good time with them, but they weren’t Derek. Derek, who makes his stomach tie itself up in knots, Derek who steals his breath and his common sense brain to mouth filter, Derek who he’s drawn to, like he has some sort of magnet under his skin, pulling Stiles to him. Stiles never tries to be in the same place as Derek, never actually goes looking for him – he’s not that much of a masochist – but he always seems to be there anyway. And whenever he is, Stiles’ attention is immediately drawn to him, like he can’t help himself, like he’s a flower searching out the goddamn sun. He has to force himself to look away, every time.

“Jackson, I...every time I’ve tried to talk to him I sound like an idiot,” Stiles hisses. “I just told him to stay like he’s a fucking dog.

“And I’m still standing here telling you one hundred percent. So what does that tell you?”

Stiles looks back at Derek. Derek is watching him almost gently, and that makes Stiles clench.

Jackson leans in and Stiles turns back to him.

“Fortune favors the bold and all that shit, right? Trust me, and go say hi.”

Jackson gives him one more significant look over the rim of his cup then turns and walks away, leaving Stiles and Derek alone in the kitchen.

Hi. He can say hi. He can totally manage that. So what if he’s never actually managed that before. There’s a first time for everything, right?

He determinedly swallows his nerves and takes a half dozen trembling steps across the huge kitchen and watches as Derek’s shoulders loosen and his hands unclench, his eyes remaining fixed on Stiles.

“Um...” he says, and then shakes himself.

It’s just the word hi for fuck’s sake.

“Hi.”

There. Fucking finally.

“Hi,” Derek says, and gives him a quiet smile. “I’m Derek.”

“I know,” Stiles says on an awkward huff of a laugh. As if there’s anyone at Stanford that doesn’t know Derek Hale. “I’m Stiles.”

“I know,” Derek says meaningfully, and his smile grows, showing his dimples.

Christ the dimples. Those are showstoppers.

“I uh...hope your breakfast was good this morning.”

At Derek’s raised eyebrow he swears internally. God, he sounds like a moron. Or like someone raised away from society who’s just learning how conversations and polite small talk work.

“I was um...walking out of Java the Hutt this morning where I get coffee?” he hurries to explain, because there is an actual fucking explanation. He doesn’t just randomly tell people he hopes they enjoyed their fucking breakfast. “And I saw you at Anna’s Cafe having breakfast with-”

“My older sister Laura,” Derek says quickly, smoothly. “She’s in town.”

His sister? His sister. His fucking sister. Stiles feels his heart give an extra thump, feels his confidence start to rise.

Score one for Cora. She’s going to love writing I told you so on his cup later. She’ll probably draw little anime hearts all around it.

Derek shifts a little closer and Stiles feels his heartbeat kick up and he thinks one hundred percent. One hundred percent.

One hundred percent. No lose scenario.

Before he loses his courage, Stiles says, “Do you want to go for a walk maybe? Get out of here?”

Yes,” Derek says, with feeling, and Stiles smiles, huffs a disbelieving laugh that’s more air than sound, and sets his cup down firmly on the kitchen counter.

Stiles takes the first, hesitant step out of the kitchen and hears Derek fall in step behind him. He knows Derek is there, he does. He can feel him there. But when they hit the hallway Stiles looks back anyway to reassure himself it’s true, that this isn’t some fever dream he’s cooked up, and relaxes when he catches Derek and his smile, something close and only for Stiles.

Derek stops him briefly outside one of the bedrooms with a hand to Stiles’ forearm so he can grab his leather jacket off the pile on the bed and then the two of them slip outside together, a pair, music receding behind them as they walk down the front steps shoulder to shoulder, as they start down the sidewalk.

Stiles has his hands shoved in his hoodie pockets, and he spares a nervous, happy glance over at Derek as they both ease their speed down to a slow amble at the same time once they’re just past the house, as if by some sort of telepathic signal.

They walk together a while in silence, the space between them thick with guarded anticipation. Stiles is terrified to say the wrong thing again, to stick his foot in his mouth for the fourth time in front of Derek, but he knows he has to try, even though sticking his foot in his mouth is a pretty likely outcome, maybe even a foregone conclusion. Jackson’s right.

So he braces himself and says, “That must be better for you now, huh? Being out of all that noise?”

Derek stops him with a hand on his arm again, turns Stiles to face him. He says quietly, intently, “You know what I am.”

Uh...obviously? It’s a little hard to ignore that whole ‘shifted in the middle of Conrad’s kitchen’ thing.

“You know what I am and it doesn’t bother you.”

It’s not a question, it’s a statement, said with carefully precise words. But Stiles answers it anyway when he shakes his head, gives a self-conscious laugh.

“That would be a little hypocritical of me. Since my best friend is a werewolf and all.”

Derek looks back, toward Conrad’s house, then back to Stiles. “He’s a werewolf? I...I couldn’t tell.”

“Yeah, uh...that’s thanks to me?” At Derek’s questioning look, Stiles adds, “I call it the Hiding Spell. It’s a mix of a few different spells that I’ve customized over time to make sure everyone just sees Jackson as...human.”

He shrugs.

“Spells?” Derek asks, eyebrows going up.

“Uh, yeah?” Stiles says nervously. He holds out his hands, palms down, and wiggles his fingers just the smallest amount. “I’m a little bit...magic.”

Derek huffs a soft laugh, dips his head and smiles down at the ground.

“What?” Stiles asks, taking a step back as he pulls his hands back and curls them into fists inside his pockets. Hides them away.

“Nothing,” Derek says, smile widening as he lifts his head. “Just reminds me of something my mom likes to say.”

“Something...good?” Stiles asks and swallows, shifting from one foot to the other.

“You could say that.”

Stiles nods to himself. Good, that’s good.

“Something...important would be even more accurate.”

Oh. Stiles doesn’t...he doesn’t know what to do with that.

He ducks his head, stares at the cracks in the sidewalk beneath his feet.

“Will you tell me about your magic?”

Stiles hesitates then nods, starts back down the sidewalk slowly, Derek keeping pace.

“There’s not a lot to say – I don’t know that much about it, actually,” he says and shrugs, eyes firmly faced forward. He kicks at a fallen leaf, watches it skitter away a step or two.Everything I’ve learned I’ve had to teach myself, so I’m a little shaky on the details. It’s the same with Jackson. We didn’t know any werewolves who could’ve helped us, so we sort of bootstrapped it. But there’s more info out there on werewolves than there is on me, on what I do.”

It’s always easier not to face someone when Stiles is just...exposing a piece of himself like this. Especially when that person is Derek, when just looking at him makes Stiles’ stomach do acrobatic maneuvers like it’s auditioning to join the circus. Not that Stiles makes a habit of exposing himself like this. Like...ever.

“Have you always been able to do magic?”

Derek’s voice is soft, gently prodding and not at all hesitant, and Stiles leans into that interest a little.

Stiles has never explained his magic to anyone before, and frankly hasn’t even wanted to try. Laypeople tend to think you say a few spells or burn a few herbs and that’s it. But that’s a common witch convention and Stiles is not a witch. His magic is something else entirely. It’s not just a part of him, or simply something he does – though he does use spells and burn herbs and can scry with the best of them. It’s not something he calls up whenever it’s convenient only to throw it in a drawer or whatever at the end of the day for safekeeping. It’s who he is and what he is, down to the humming, live-wire core. A spark. Something laypeople just have no concept of.

But Derek is not a layperson. Derek is a werewolf. Still, sparks aren’t exactly common. There’s no guarantee Derek has ever heard of one, much less met one.

Stiles shakes his head. “Only since I was sixteen. This rogue werewolf came to town and tried to kill our tiny little pack and...that’s what woke me up.” He hesitates, finally looks at Derek. He wants to see his face when he says what he’s about to, wants to know what his instinctual reaction is. He braces himself as he says, “That’s what woke my spark up.”

Derek’s eyes widen, dart back and forth across Stiles’ face. He’s looking at Stiles with something like wonder, and Stiles feels himself warm, all the way to the tips of his ears.

“You’re a spark?”

Stiles nods.

“A spark,” Derek says softly, to himself. “That fight with the rogue...it must have been terrible. To wake you up like that?”

Because a spark only wakes up in the most dire of circumstances. Only somebody who knows something about sparks would know that.

Derek knows that.

“Jackson almost died.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, and Stiles can tell he means it, that it’s not just something he’s saying because it’s what he’s supposed to say.

“You know how people will sometimes say they’d throw themselves in front of a bullet for you?” Stiles asks, twisting his upper body a little toward Derek as they walk, kicking the leaves below them.

“Sure,” he says, and blades his body to Stiles.

“Well Jackson actually did. Only it wasn’t a bullet, it was claws, and they were headed straight for my throat. Turns out watching your best friend sacrifice himself for you is a pretty good way to wake up a spark.”

“It was instinctual for him,” he says, like he was there. Like he watched it happen. Like it’s an immutable fact. It might be. “He loves you.”

“More than anyone else on the planet,” Stiles says.

It occurs to him about a second too late how that might sound, but when he looks at Derek to try to explain, he just sees a smile on his face. He nods as if he understands, as if he gets it. Stiles is Jackson’s pack, his chosen family. And he proved it that day.

He proves it every day, actually.

“How long have you known each other?”

“Since we were five. Same kindergarten class. We had one of those cosmic, life changing moments where you look up, you lock eyes with someone, and you realize with shining clarity that you’re looking at one of your people.” Stiles looks over hesitantly at Derek. Derek gives him a prompting nod, like he gets it, like he understands, like he wants to hear more. Stiles hopes that’s true. “Neither of us had much family to start with, and we have even less now, so finding Jackson then was...”

“Important.”

There’s that word again.

Stiles nods, steps closer to Derek to let a guy walk by.

“And you’re not just family, you’re pack.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, and gives a little self-conscious laugh. “All three of us. A human police chief, a spark, and a beta werewolf. The tiniest excuse for a pack that ever was.”

“But still a pack,” Derek says firmly, and Stiles gives a pleased duck of the head.

“We’ve held our own a time or five.” He pauses, adds, “We always make it out alive, but we’ve had a couple close calls and it would’ve been nice then to be part of a bigger pack. To have backup. To have an alpha.”

“I’ve always felt blessed to come from such a big family and such a big pack, with an alpha like my mom. She’s fair, and fierce. Loving, and beloved. I don’t know what we’d do without her.”

Stiles can’t help but smile at the warmth, the genuine affection, that suffuses Derek’s words.

“She sounds like a hell of a lady. And a hell of an alpha.”

“She is,” he says. And then, as if in apology, he adds, “I know others aren’t as lucky.”

Stiles appreciates what he’s trying to do, but he waves it off. “Jackson isn’t an alpha but he does his best to watch over us, to protect us.” He amends that. “He always has, actually. Watched over me. Stuck his neck out for me. Been there when I needed him. I think becoming a werewolf just heightened those feelings or whatever. It’s why I don’t fight him anymore when he insists on paying for my coffee every morning, and it’s why I look the other way when he puts one of those cold case lunch boxes in my bag. It’s why my dad just said thanks instead of arguing when one of those healthy cooking box subscriptions started showing up at the house after we left for college. He wants to take care of us, to make sure we’re safe.”

“I can understand the impulse,” he says, and his voice sounds low, and close, and when Stiles looks over he finds Derek’s intense eyes fixed to him. It makes Stiles’ cheeks pink up, makes his heart do a stutter step.

He swallows, opens his mouth to speak, but is startled when a cackling girl in a red sparkly leotard and black witch's hat comes running by them on bare feet, chased by a series of other girls – and one guy – in witch hats and sparkly leotards of their own, in varying shades of the rainbow, cackling all the way down the street.

Derek and Stiles turn back to each other and laugh self-consciously, the moment broken, eyes meeting more hesitantly now before they fall away to focus on other things.

“Halloween,” Stiles says with a shake of the head and Derek gives a soft laugh next to him as they start walking again.

He still can’t believe he’s walking down the street with Derek Hale in the early hours of the morning. He feels both fuzzy and insanely alert, the way you only do at this time of night when it’s just you and one other person moving in your own little bubble, spilling truth in the darkness, dreading the sunrise that will eventually come and break you apart.

Or maybe that’s the buzz from Conrad’s party punch.

Stiles searches around for something to say, for a way to continue their conversation, lands on the most mundane question he can think of.

“So uh...how do you know Conrad?”

“I don’t. I was invited by a...”

He pauses, thinks, and his feet pause with him. Stiles stops too.

“Friend?” he offers.

Derek considers that. “More like an annoying acquaintance.”

Stiles barks a disbelieving laugh, and they start walking again. “And you still came?”

Derek’s lips tip up.

“I wasn’t going to. I don’t go to a lot of parties.” He looks over again at Stiles, meets his eye. “But something I heard made me reconsider, and...Cora convinced me this one would be worth my while.”

Stiles stops him with a hand on his arm, steps in front of him so they’re facing each other. “Wait...you know Cora?”

Derek hesitates then gives him a rueful smile. “She’s my little sister.”

Stiles stares at him a moment, mouth hanging open. “She’s your...sister.”

“Yeah,” he says softly, watching Stiles with his hands in his pockets.

Stiles has a million thoughts running through his head, most of them centered on Cora: like how much of a little shit she is, like how she knew the whole time but let him go on and on and on and on and fucking on about Derek for months without saying anything more than You’re a catch, Red.

“Stiles?”

The question is hesitant but Stiles ignores it, spins to face the other direction and when he looks up, realizes that they’re standing in front of his apartment. Somehow they walked here without even noticing.

Derek said yes when Stiles asked if he wanted to take a walk, said it like he couldn’t keep it in. Cora convinced him that coming would be worth his while.

“Stiles?” Derek says again, quieter and more hesitant.

Stiles turns back around, finds Derek watching him with his eyebrows furrowed, his shoulders hunched, his hands in his pockets. Stiles knows that look. It’s the ‘Are you about to reject me?’ look. He’s worn it many times himself. It’s an old friend. It’s not a good look for Derek.

“This is my place,” Stiles says, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

“Oh,” Derek says, looking briefly down at the ground. “Right.”

Jackson said one hundred percent. And as great as that was for getting him moving, for getting them out the door, he doesn’t need it anymore. For the first time in his life, he’s absolutely sure he’s reading the man opposite him correctly. He wants to be here; he wants to be here with Stiles. He’s not ready for this night to end either.

“Okay, fuck it,” Stiles says, and Derek’s eyes lift to his again. “I’m super into you. Crazy into you. And I have been since I ran into you at the taco truck. Also, sorry about that? But you should probably know now I’m not exactly known for my grace.”

Derek’s shoulders are looser now, and his eyes are sparkling from the light coming from the streetlights.

“So, you know...full disclosure.”

Derek is smiling now, bunny teeth on display.

“I am a morning person,” he says. “And I do think fruit can count as a dessert.”

Stiles tips his head back. He’s going to kill Cora.

“And I’m also crazy into you too.”

Stiles brings his head back, locks eyes with Derek, who takes a step closer.

“Yeah?” Stiles says, a little breathless.

“Oh yeah,” he says, voice low and rough. “Ever since you bowled me over at the taco cart.”

Stiles gives a short bark of a laugh, something vaguely giddy that makes Derek’s smile widen, as if he’s pleased with Stiles’ disbelieving joy.

“We’re both idiots. Such idiots,” he mutters.

“I could walk you to your door,” Derek says, and edges closer. “But I’m not ready to say goodnight yet.”

Stiles’ heart kicks up. He licks his lips. “I’m not ready to say goodnight either.”

Derek nods at that slowly, eyes fixed to Stiles’. “Do you like pie?”

Stiles huffs a laugh that makes Derek smile at him again. “Love it.”

“Great,” he says, and steps away to lead the way, starting slowly down the sidewalk.

This time they walk close together, their arms brushing as they go. Stiles is pretty sure his buzz is gone because he feels insanely aware of everything now. He wants to catalog it all, file it all away in a part of his brain so that he never forgets what this late night felt like, what it felt like to walk with Derek and talk with Derek. He wants to remember the chill in the air and the crunch of leaves under their feet and every single fucking crease in Derek’s jacket, and he wants to remember the way their hands brush occasionally as they walk and neither of them pull away. This is a beginning, and he wants to remember everything.

“The diner’s just a couple streets over,” Derek offers, as if in apology.

Jesus, the diner could be a couple towns over and Stiles wouldn’t complain about the walk.

“Worth it for pie,” Stiles says. “As long as the pie is good.” He nudges Derek’s shoulder with his own. “You wouldn’t bring me to get subpar pie, would you?”

He nudges Stiles’ shoulder right back. “Never.”

“Good. ‘Cause you know you don’t have to try to win me over, right? The winning’s already happened.”

“Good to know,” he says, low and intimate, and Stiles feels that delicious swoop in his stomach again, tips his face up into the slight breeze that’s just kicked up. “It’s one of my favorite places in Palo Alto. I wanted to share it with you.”

Stiles just nods, and swallows, because he has no words for how indescribably and intensely awesome that makes him feel. No one’s ever...Stiles isn’t the kind of person anyone’s ever wanted to share important places with. No one’s ever wanted to give that piece of themselves to Stiles before.

“Uh...sorry if your annoying acquaintance is going to be even more annoying to you now. You know...since you ducked out of the party and left them there alone.”

Derek shakes his head. “There’s nothing to apologize for. We didn’t go together. I just sort of...showed up and spent the entire time avoiding him while I tried to get up the nerve to talk to you.”

Stiles smiles to himself. “He’s really that bad, huh?”

“Every time I talk to him he tries to explain some sort of European historical time period to me.”

Stiles stops him with a hand to the arm. “But that’s...your focus. You’re a European history grad student.”

“Yeah.”

“Oh my god...what a douchebag. He’s mansplaining you. Wait,” Stiles says, narrowing his eyes and tilting his head as he considers that. “Can a dude mansplain another dude? No...” He shakes his head, then snaps his fingers. “He’s douchesplaining you. Ugh,” he groans, “what a piece of work. I’d totally hide from him too.”

“So see...you rescued me. Thanks,” he says, turning his brilliant smile on Stiles.

“Oh, you know...all in a night’s work. Have a kitten that needs rescuing from a tree? ‘Cause I could totally manage that too.”

Derek laughs, and Stiles almost groans. He wants to live in that laugh.

“How about that pie instead?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says softly. “That’s good too.”

“We’re here,” Derek says and Stiles is surprised to see that they are. Derek opens the door to the diner, centering his hand on Stiles’ back and gently nudging him forward and into the bright, window-filled space.

The diner is a little old, a little shabby, but it’s clean and empty except for a waitress and a cook in the back, so they have the place to themselves, which Stiles realizes is just how he wants it. He doesn’t want to share one of Derek’s places with anyone that isn’t Derek.

The waitress cheerfully tells them to seat yourselves sweeties, and Derek leads Stiles over to a booth closer to the end, away from the front counter and past the towering glass cases filled with rows and rows and rows and rows of pies.

“Shit, that’s a lot of pie.”

Derek just laughs, bright and happy, and slides into one side of the booth.

The waitress comes bustling over with cups of water and straws, and pulls out her pad to take their order. Derek orders coffee for the both of them and like twelve different kinds of pie, and even though Stiles’ dad has always claimed Stiles has a bottomless pit for a stomach, he’s pretty sure he won’t be able to manage to eat that much pie. When he says as much to Derek, Derek just smiles and shrugs and his cheeks are a little pink when he says, “I wanted you to try all my favorites.”

It might be overboard, but shit if it’s not the right kind of overboard.

Stiles realizes he’s still wearing the messenger bag and he pulls it off, drops it down on the bench next to him. He also pulls his phone out of his back pocket, opens his photos, pulls up one with Stiles and Jackson and his dad, smiling in front of Stiles’ house in Gold Heights. He hands the phone over to Derek, right leg bouncing under the table, and leans forward.

“That’s my dad.”

Derek studies the photo for a minute. “He looks like a good guy.”

“He’s the best. I lucked out.”

“Is that your house?” he asks, and hands the phone back.

Stiles takes it, sets it back on the table. “In Gold Heights, yeah.”

Derek stills. “You’re from Gold Heights?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Why?”

The waitress brings over their cups of coffee in a pair of classic, heavy-duty stoneware diner mugs and sets them down along with a bowl of creamers, says she’ll be back in just a minute with the first few slices of their pie.

Stiles wonders briefly if they’re some kind of record for her, or if someone else has ever come in and ordered sixteen slices in one shot. Or eighteen. Or twenty.

When she walks away, Derek leans in and says, “I’m from Beacon Hills.”

Stiles pauses, sets down the creamer he was about to dump in his coffee. “Seriously?”

Derek nods.

“But that’s only like…forty-five minutes away from Gold Heights down highway fifty.”

Derek nods again. “Same county.”

“Same county,” Stiles echoes, and stares down at his coffee.

Derek and his family – his pack – were so fucking close the whole time and they didn’t know. They didn’t know.

Derek reaches out, lays his hand flat on the table between them, pointedly meets Stiles’ eye. “If I’d known – if my mom had known – we would’ve been there. She would’ve helped you in a heartbeat. She wouldn’t have left you to handle everything on your own.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, and nods, because he’s sure that’s true, because what kind of self-respecting alpha would she be if she left a couple of teenage kids and a Police Chief to flounder on their own? But also: there’s nothing they can do about it now. What’s done is done. And they made it out okay, every time. “But I’m going to let my dad know where your pack is, just in case something comes his way again. So he knows he has backup.”

“He does,” Derek says insistently, and Stiles feels the warmth spread all through his body.

Stiles opens a few creams, dumps them in his coffee, adds a few sugars on top of that. He’s always liked his coffee light and sweet. He stirs it, his spoon clinking and scraping along the sides of the mug.

When he looks up he finds Derek watching him with amusement.

“What?”

Derek’s lips twitch. “There’s still a sugar left in the holder. You know...in case four wasn’t enough.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Ha ha.” Derek’s lips twitch again. “How do you drink yours? Black?”

Derek takes a sip of his coffee, holds Stiles’ eyes over the lip of his cup, then slowly sets it back down. “Like my soul.”

Stiles barks out a laugh that makes Derek grin like he’s managed a particularly good trick, and Stiles shakes his head as the waitress walks over with the first four of their pieces of pie – peanut butter chocolate chiffon, grasshopper, key lime, and strawberry – and sets them down in the middle of the table with a couple of forks and tells them to enjoy.

They thank her and Derek tells Stiles the first bite is his so Stiles grabs a fork, hovers over the pieces as he tries to figure out where he’s supposed to start first. He always loves a good peanut butter and chocolate anything, but the strawberry looks super glossy and tasty. Then there’s the key lime – how can you go wrong with key lime? – but grasshopper is mint and chocolate and that’s a stellar combo too and shit...how the hell is he supposed to choose?

He doesn’t know why this is so hard – it’s not like this is a test, and if he fails it, Derek will kick him out of the diner or something and retract any previously mentioned feelings. He knows that. But somehow it feels like a test anyway, and this is one test he can’t handle failing.

He looks up when Derek huffs a laugh.

“This isn’t Yalta, Stiles,” he teases. “It’s pie. Just choose one.”

God, what a history nerd. Stiles loves it.

“Okay, big guy, if the choice is so easy, which one would you choose first?”

But Derek remains mum, just shakes his head with a twinkle in his eye.

“You could always take the first bite, you know,” Stiles offers.

“I’m not taking a bite until you take yours first.”

Derek takes another relaxed sip of his coffee and Stiles huffs in frustration, and is absolutely not mollified in the slightest when Derek gives him a dimpled smile in response.

Ugh. Fine.

He hovers the fork one more time over the pieces of pie, fingers twitching.

It’s just...Derek’s wrong. This is not just pie. This is not just a random shabby diner with cracked red vinyl booths that plays an awesome mix of fifties and sixties tunes with passable coffee. This is an important place to Derek, and the very fact that he wanted to share this place with Stiles makes this thing about so much more than pie.

Subtext.

Of course, indecision and doubt are basically his old buddies and...shit. Oh man. Of course. Stiles is a fucking idiot. Derek ordered twelve pieces of pie. He didn’t know how to choose either.

He might put on a good front, but he’s just as terrified of Stiles not liking something important to him as Stiles is of choosing wrong.

It doesn’t matter which slice Stiles chooses. It never mattered.

Stiles mentally eenie-miney-moes the slices then leans forward, sticks his fork in the end of the winner – the chocolate peanut butter chiffon slice – and pulls off a bite. It’s fantastic, and Stiles must make a little noise of appreciation because Derek leans forward with a smile lighting his eyes and Stiles can tell he looks a little relieved.

Derek reaches forward with his fork and Stiles bats it away with his own, then holds his fork up between them when Derek looks up at him, wide-eyed and a little amused.

“Hey, you said first bite was all mine. I took that to mean the first bite of every single slice. I’ve still got three to go in this round alone, buddy boy. No take-backsies.”

The key lime is just as good, as are the grasshopper and the strawberry, and Stiles makes sure Derek knows it, making appreciative little noises and throwing out words like fantastic and ugh, so good, chasing bites with sips of his coffee, Derek’s eyes fixed to him the whole time. It took Stiles so long to make his first choice that their waitress is back with the next four slices – coconut cream, cranberry pear, caramel apple, and pumpkin – before Derek has even had a chance to take one bite and Stiles hordes the new slices, starts in on the pumpkin.

“So did you like growing up in Gold Heights?”

“Not really,” Stiles says, reaches forward and pulls a bite off the caramel apple with his fork, spearing a chunk of glistening apple and a sizable piece of flaky pastry. He takes his time eating it then sits back in the booth, looks up at Derek, jiggles his empty fork. A guy is singing in the background, telling them he’s hoping and praying for someone to care and Stiles sinks a little further down in the booth.

“But you don’t want to hear about that.”

“I do,” Derek says, “if you want to tell me.”

Maybe it’s the early hours of the morning, or the diner they have basically all to themselves, or maybe it’s leftover confidence from Derek’s emphatic yes. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. Whatever. But if you want to tell me keeps playing in a loop in his head, like an LP with a skipping needle, and even though in the past Stiles has never really wanted to share any of this with anyone at all, all he can think in response to Derek’s gentle offer is yes. I do. I want to share this with you. I want to share so many fucking things with you.

That takes him a little by surprise, but maybe it shouldn’t. After all, there’s always been something about Derek Hale. Something that he’s drawn to, something he can’t stay away from.

“I’m pretty sure I want to know everything about you.”

And shit...that seals it.

Stiles swallows around the lump in his throat.

"Oh, you know…it's that age old story," he says, trying to sound light, flippant. He’s not sure if he manages it. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t. "Bisexual, neurodivergent kid figures out pretty early on he doesn't fit in his small town and starts planning his way out. Insert a ride-or-die best friend with some serious parental issues who would follow him anywhere and a Police Chief dad who's constantly fighting against the tightening screw of bullshit bureaucracy and barely keeping his head above water, and then throw in a dead mom for flavor, and you've pretty much hit it all."

Stiles' leg jiggles under the tabletop as he thumbs the bottom rounded edge of the fork in his hand. His eyes meet Derek's before dancing away, then repeat that motion a few more times as he waits for some sort of response.

Derek doesn’t really give him one though, aside from a tightening of the eyes and a furrowing of the eyebrows, which Stiles doesn’t really know what to do with.

“I guess the nice thing about knowing you don’t belong early on is that it gives you plenty of time to make a plan – to work on getting out when you finally can.”

Someone passes by the diner on the street outside, shoulders hunched in, and Stiles tenses when they slow down, when it looks like they’re going to enter the diner. When they pass by and out of sight, he breathes out, shoulders unclenching.

“What was your plan?”

Stiles looks back to Derek. “Here. Stanford. As soon as I read about their Mythology and Folklore program when I was fourteen, I knew this was where I wanted to be. And I did everything I could to get here.”

“Like?” Derek asks, eyes dancing across Stiles’ face.

“Valedictorian, four point eight GPA, summer jobs, interned for two years at the local library, and did thousands of hours of community service doing everything from roadside trash pickup to visiting with little old ladies to helping stray animals to working with sick kids. I was also editor of the school paper, president of film club and Spanish club, chaired two charity runs, lettered in two sports, nailed the SATs and wrote one hell of an essay,” he says.

“Wow,” Derek says, and he sounds genuinely impressed, which has Stiles pinking up. “I could’ve never managed all that.”

He shrugs self-consciously. “When it’s important, you do what you have to do.”

“Yeah,” he says, soft eyes meeting Stiles’, “you do.”

Stiles swallows again and meets Derek’s eye and feels something pass between them: some sort of early morning understanding, something warm. Something theirs.

The moment is broken when the waitress walks over with the last four pieces of pie – Kentucky Derby, blueberry crumble, chocolate pecan, and banana cream – and sets them down in front of Stiles. She gives him a friendly wink and he gives her a smile back and leans forward, gets back to appreciating the pies. He still hasn’t made it through the second round yet.

“How old were you when your mom died?”

Stiles looks up and Derek winces and clenches his jaw and looks down at the coffee mug in front of him instead of at Stiles, as if it’s a shitty question to ask. But Derek doesn’t have any reason to feel embarrassed about asking – Stiles brought it up. Follow-up questions were kind of to be expected here.

“Nine,” he says. “She had frontotemporal dementia. Do you know what that is?”

Derek shakes his head, and Stiles was expecting that. Almost no one knows what it is. Sometimes he wishes it were an easier thing to explain, something less drawn out, something less fraught with painful memories of his mother accusing him, attacking him like he was a monster. Sometimes he wishes it were something he didn’t have to explain at all. Something like a car wreck.

“It’s a brain disorder where the frontal and temporal lobes atrophy. It causes severe changes in personality, mood swings, impulsive behavior...a lot of things, really. Towards the end my mom attacked me.” When Derek sits up straight, eyes laser sharp, Stiles rushes to add, “She didn’t know who I was. She thought I was this...demon, and I was trying to hurt her.”

“God, Stiles. I can’t even imagine.”

“I wouldn’t want you to,” he says with a dry, less than humorous laugh, and sticks his fork in the end of the slice of banana cream. He slides it into his mouth and takes his time savoring it, stares at the tines of the fork in his hand. “She was great though. Before.”

“Yeah?” Derek asks softly.

“Yeah,” he says, and nods. Looks up. “Smart. Fun. Loving and compassionate. Creative. She had a way of making you feel safe. And loved.”

Derek gives him a soft smile. “She sounds amazing.”

He nods. “When Jackson and I were in kindergarten we had one of those celebrate mom days, you know? Where your mom was supposed to show up at school so you could make a big deal out of her? Well some kids didn’t really fit that mold. Like this one kid didn’t have a mom so her dad showed up instead, which was cool, and another kid didn’t have parents at all, so his aunt showed up. And this other kid had a single mom who couldn’t get out of work so their grandma showed up. Point is, every kid had someone show up for them. Except Jackson. No one showed up for Jackson.”

Derek winces in sympathy for little Jackson and Stiles feels that, he does. He remembers at the time thinking how stupid Jackson’s parents were, how mean, and wondering why they didn’t love him as much as he deserved.

He still wonders that.

“So my mom ran with it – she said she was the luckiest mom in the world because she got to be spoiled by two great boys instead of one. And she made just as big a deal of everything Jackson had made as I had, as if it had been originally made for her. Like, she had two crowns on her head and two dyed macaroni necklaces and she had two big red hearts pinned on her shirt that said mom on them. And when we posed for the end of day picture in front of this backdrop we’d all made as a class with flowers on it, she insisted on the three of us taking the picture together.

“After that, my mom started sending things in my lunch box that were just for Jackson. Like she’d send him a couple cookies, or some apple slices or whatever. And a note. She always sent him a note that was just like mine. I’m proud of you, or have a good day, or learn something cool today. And she always signed both of them with a heart and a smiley face, never mom, because she didn’t want Jackson to feel like he was different. She wanted him to know he was just as loved.”

“Wow,” Derek says and Stiles nods because yeah, he knows. His mom was the fucking greatest.

“The day my mom died Jackson was with me at the hospital, which was pretty much the norm – Jackson was always with me. But Mr. Whittemore was pretty fucking pissed about it. So he came to the hospital and told Jackson he had to leave, that they had to go home. And Jackson refused – refused to listen, refused to obey. So Mr. Whittemore physically picked him up to carry him out of the hospital. And Jackson was kicking and screaming and fighting him with everything he had...but he was only nine, and Mr. Whittemore was a fully grown asshole, so...”

Stiles meets Derek’s eyes and Derek nods, fingers playing at the handle of his mug.

“As Mr. Whittemore carried him out of the hospital, Jackson was screaming at him at the top of his lungs that he’d never forgive him. Just...over and over and over again.”

Stiles pauses.

He’ll never forget the sound of Jackson’s angry, high scream or the way it carried down the corridor. How Mr. Whittemore looked like a tomato about to burst as he realized everyone was watching him, how powerless Stiles felt to do anything. How sick it all made him feel.

With his heart in his throat he says, quietly, “My mom died about an hour later. She was wearing both of our stupid macaroni necklaces.”

Derek reaches forward and grips Stiles’ hand, holds on tight, and Stiles stares down at the way their palms interlock, the way they fit so easily together, how warm Derek’s hand feels in his. How soft it is. Finally he looks up, gives Derek a grateful twitch of the lips and Derek nods, gives Stiles’ hand a squeeze before he pulls away.

Stiles takes a sip of his coffee to re-center himself, leans forward and pulls a bite off a piece of pie he hasn’t tried yet – the blueberry crumble – and takes his time savoring it. Man, this is a good pie.

“Mr. Whittemore practically throws money at Jackson now, trying to earn his forgiveness back, because you know...that’s how Whittemores solve problems. And he figures since that’s the language he speaks, that must be the language Jackson speaks too. But he couldn’t be more fucking wrong about that.” Stiles huffs a laugh. “That’s not the language he speaks.”

A wave of understanding seems to crest over Derek and he says, “Because Jackson’s not a Whittemore. He’s a Stilinski.”

“In every way that matters, yeah,” Stiles says, firm and proud.

Derek gives him an understanding nod, eyes sparkling.

Stiles nods down at his plate, then looks up. “Did I tell you Mr. Whittemore’s the mayor?”

“No,” Derek says, “but I would guess that explains the bureaucratic bullshit.”

Stiles gives him a mock of a wink and points his fork at him and Derek shakes his head, takes a sip of his coffee.

“I’m sorry.”

Stiles shrugs. He appreciates the sentiment, but it’s not like Derek’s to blame. “He’s been picking at my dad little by little for years. His salary’s been cut in half, his workforce has been cut in half, and he’s saddled him with so much paperwork and red tape that he’s had to jump through hoops constantly just to keep his job. And all out of sheer, petty-ass spite.” Stiles huffs a laugh, shakes his head.

All he’s wanted for years is to shake the shit out of Mr. Whittemore, rant at him until he finally understands what he’s been doing, what he lost. For that matter, he wants to do the exact same thing to Mrs. Whittemore too, who’s watched it all go down and done nothing about it, preferring to defer to Mr. Whittemore and stand meekly by on the sidelines. A true passive to his true aggressive.

But he knows it would be stupid to waste his energy like that – they’ll never see it, they’ll never get it. Some people never do.

“Anyway, that sort of colored our entire childhood, you know?” he says, and he can’t quite meet Derek’s eyes.

It’s a lot to unload on someone, he knows that. Derek just wanted to buy him pie. He didn’t ask for any of this. He didn’t ask to be unloaded on.

His fingers dance from the edges of one plate to the next, shifting them back and forth with little nudges until Derek’s hand finds his again, stills his movements. Stiles looks up.

“It’s hard to love the place you’re from after that,” Derek says with understanding in his eyes, and Stiles’ breath catches a moment.

When he can breathe again he laughs a little awkwardly, says, “Not such great first date material, huh? I mean...not that we established this was a date at all-”

“This is definitely a first date,” he says firmly, cutting Stiles off. He gives Stiles’ hand a pulse. “And I think it’s perfect first date material when it’s the right person.”

Stiles shakes his head and groans. Jesus, this guy. “I think you might be perfect.”

“I thought we already established I wasn’t.” He gives Stiles another pulse of the hand and another bunny teeth exposing smile and says, “I’m a morning person, remember?”

“Yeah, well...”

“If it helps, I do sometimes talk during movies.”

Stiles winces. “Okay, yeah. Definitely not perfect.”

Derek laughs and Stiles looks down at their hands – how right they look together, how strong Derek’s fingers are – and realizes he finally gets what the Beatles were talking about when they sang I want to hold your hand, and how fucking powerful that whole idea is. How something that seems simple can mean so many things, especially at the start of something new.

“Can I show you my family?”

“God, yeah. Please,” Stiles says, and grips Derek’s hand a little firmer.

Neither of them are pulling away now.

Derek pulls out his phone and taps away until he comes to what he wants and flips the phone around, hands it to Stiles with a proud smile. “My family.”

Where Stiles’ own little family had all fit together easily in one picture, all of them perfectly visible on even a phone screen, Derek’s truly massive family – his pack – does not. The full picture is of six rows of smiling people standing in front of a massive house that looks more like a mansion, squished together to try and make it all into the frame. Stiles picks out Derek right away – that is one of his superpowers, after all, always knowing where Derek is – standing in the fifth row with a wide smile on his face, standing with his arm thrown over the shoulders of the men on either side of him, men that bear a striking resemblance to him. Stiles wonders if those are two of his brothers.

“Wow,” Stiles says, because there’s no other word here to do the picture enough justice, and he zooms in on the picture with a twitch of the fingers so he can see the faces better. His fingers shift the photo slowly as he takes in every single face, every single member of Derek’s family. His pack. They look happy. And for a moment, Stiles imagines growing up with them, imagines what it might’ve been like to be surrounded by so many smiling, loving people.

Derek squeezes Stiles’ hand and Stiles squeezes back, looks up and hands the phone back. “What was it like growing up in Beacon Hills?”

“Great,” Derek says, and Stiles knows he means it. “I always had someone to play with, someone to talk to. And the whole town knows about us, so they’ve always been accepting. Protective of us.”

He says it without any sort of apology, which Stiles appreciates. Just a pretty massive dose of pride, which Stiles thinks is definitely called for, considering.

“We had some rough spots,” Derek says, “like the time my little sister fell out of a tree and broke her leg in a few places.”

“Didn’t Cora’s leg just heal?”

Sure, it would suck, but wasn’t that a huge benny of being a werewolf? Superhero-esque healing powers?

“Not Cora. My baby sister. Mia.”

“She’s not a wolf?”

Derek shakes his head. “Human. Just like my dad. And she loves climbing trees.”

He taps a few times on his phone screen, turns it around to show a picture of a younger Derek holding a bright-eyed, barefoot young girl with messy dark braids on his hip, her arm thrown over his shoulder, her temple pressed to his, wide smile showing gaps in her teeth. She has neon Band-Aids on her elbow and wrapping two fingers and across a wrist and crisscrossing the one visible knee, and her shortalls and rainbow and white striped tee look like she’s just been sliding in the dirt. Stiles knows a kindred spirit when he sees one.

“She’s my favorite.”

“I think she’d be my favorite too. That includes you, by the way.”

That earns him a brilliant smile. It’s clear in the photo how much the two of them adore each other.

“So if your sisters all have names that end in A, do your brothers all have names that end in K?”

Derek shakes his head.

“No? They’re not named Clark and Dirk and Lu...ek?”

Derek raises an eyebrow. “Luek?”

“Shut up.”

Derek’s lips twitch. “No, there’s no tradition in my family for naming boys, just girls. It started generations ago to honor a great aunt seven times over who fell in battle protecting the pack.”

Wow. What a badass.

“So your family has a lot of traditions, huh?” At Derek’s quirked eyebrow, Stiles adds, “Cora told me you always celebrate Halloween together. That it’s a big deal for your family.”

“She said that?” Derek looks down with a strange smile on his face, down at their hands. He strokes his thumb over Stiles’ knuckles then nods and looks up. “She’s right.”

The waitress comes over and asks if they want refills for their coffee, fills up their cups. Derek holds Stiles’ hand the whole time, his thumb keeping up its gentle stroking. Stiles busies himself adding sugar and more cream to his cup one handed, gives it a good stir and smiles up at the waitress when Derek gives her their thanks.

He takes a sip of his refreshed, hot coffee, sets the stoneware mug back down.

“So is Halloween important to you because of the-” Stiles screws up his face, bares his teeth, trying to make the best approximation of a werewolf as he can. “-thing?”

“What the hell was that?”

“That was, you know...” he says, gesturing to Derek.

“That looked nothing like a werewolf.”

“Yeah, well,” Stiles says, shrugging big, shoulders drawn in, “I did my best, alright? I’m kind of missing some key equipment, here.”

He tries to pull his hand away but Derek just grips it tighter, runs his thumb soothingly over the back of Stiles’ hand.

“That’s not why it’s a big deal, no. It’s because it’s my parents’ anniversary. And my grandparents’. And my older brother Nate’s. And my sister Laura’s.”

“Wow. You Hales really have a thing for getting married on Halloween.”

Derek laughs softly. “Not that anniversary. Another one.” He leans forward, his thumb keeping up its gentle stroking, and he says, “It’s the day their mates accepted them.”

“Their mates?” Stiles says, eyes wide as he straightens up. “Everything I’ve read has said that mates were pretty rare.”

“They are,” Derek says, the lights above them shining in his eyes, “but the Hales have always been blessed.”

“No kidding.” They must be. “That’s...” Derek’s eyes dart back and forth across his face and Stiles lets out a heavy exhale and says, full of feeling, “Awesome.

Incredible. Unbelievable. Amazing. Pick your favorite word.

Derek’s smile reaches into his eyes as he says, “When you said earlier that you were a little bit magic? That’s what my mom always says about my dad. That even though he’s completely human, when she met him she knew he was her mate right away, because meeting him was a little bit magic.”

“Oh man.”

Stiles is…god. Stiles doesn’t even know how to parse that.

“She says it every time she tells the story of when they met, when my dad accepted her.”

Stiles swallows. “If your dad’s human, did he...did he know he was her mate? Before she told him? Was he able to, you know...recognize it?”

He shakes his head. “Humans don’t get the same feeling wolves, or other shifters do. But he grew up in a pack in New Orleans, so he knew about mates. And he likes to remind us that even though he’s human, he still took one look at our mom and just...knew she was going to be important to him. Or, he knew he wanted her to be.”

Stiles sucks in a breath. Some of this is starting to sound familiar.

But...no. It’s not...no way.

“I have to admit I don’t know that much about mates. I’ve been doing research ever since Jackson was bit but stuff on mates is pretty...hush hush?” he says.

“It’s considered to be private,” Derek says, and yeah, Stiles can understand that.

He nods. “So yeah...not a lot of knowledge on that front. More questions than answers.”

Derek takes a sip of his coffee.

“It’s mostly physiological,” he says as he sets the cup down, and then makes it a point to meet Stiles’ eye, to hold it. “Someone whose scent matches just right with yours, someone who feels right, in every way. You don’t know how it’ll feel until you do and then...you know. You feel drawn to them, like you can’t help but be near them. It’s not like a piece of you has been missing that you’ve finally found, it’s that they make you feel more yourself than you’ve ever felt before. They tick all your boxes. No one else could ever compare to them.”

The air between them feels charged and Stiles is breathing shallow, eyes fixed to Derek.

He swallows. “Ha...have you felt that?”

He knows the answer. He does. But he still needs to hear Derek say it.

“Yes.” Derek slowly brings Stiles’ hand up, kisses the back as he keeps eye contact with Stiles. “And I hope he’ll accept me.”

Stiles huffs out a shaky laugh because there’s no way this is happening to him. No way. This is Derek Hale.

“I’m kind of a pain in the ass. You should know that.”

“So am I,” Derek says around a grin.

He probably is. He probably is and, oh god, Stiles doesn’t care.

“Are...are you sure?”

“Positive,” Derek says, and gives his hand another kiss.

“How?” he asks, because he has to know. He has to know what their story is, where it started. “When?”

“The taco cart,” he says around a smile.

“No,” Stiles breathes, because that was so fucking long ago.

“Yes. That was the first time I caught your scent and jesus, Stiles...you have no idea how you smell to me.”

“But you didn’t...why didn’t you say anything before now?”

It’s not an entirely fair question, Stiles knows that, because there are two dudes in this situation, not one, and Stiles is just as much to blame for the fifteen months they’ve spent apart when they could’ve been together.

“I didn’t think you knew about werewolves. And that’s not exactly an easy conversation to have with someone.”

He kisses Stiles’ hand again, like an apology Stiles doesn’t need to be given.

He just realized this is his fault.

“The Hiding Spell,” he says, and closes his eyes. He ducks his head, then shakes it. “If I hadn’t done the Hiding Spell you would’ve been able to smell Jackson on me. You would’ve known I knew about werewolves.”

“Don’t,” Derek says, and Stiles opens his eyes when he feels Derek’s other hand on his cheek. “You were protecting your brother.”

Stiles nods because he knows that’s true, he does. And he knows he’d do it again, even if it meant he had to pine for another fifteen months. It’s Jackson.

“We’re both idiots.”

“Yeah,” Derek says, but he can’t hide his grin.

“We should’ve hit on each other a long time ago.”

“Agreed,” he says. “I just didn’t want to get it wrong with you.”

“And I didn’t think I’d ever have a chance at all. I went to the party tonight, all prepared to get over you with someone else.”

Derek’s hand stiffens in Stiles’.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “I realized pretty quickly that wasn’t going to happen because forgetting you was pretty much impossible, so it’s not even a thing, okay?” Derek smirks and Stiles rolls his eyes again, says, “Yeah, no need to preen, asshole. You’re irreplaceable. Get over it.”

“So are you,” he says, serious and firm, like he wants Stiles to imprint it on his own heart so he always knows.

Stiles is his mate. There will never be anyone else for him. Period.

“I think you’re wrong, by the way.” When Derek ticks up his eyebrows, Stiles says, “About only werewolves and other shifters feeling it? Because the stuff you’re describing, the way I make you feel...you’ve made me feel that way since the beginning too.”

The sheer joy on Derek’s face is like nothing Stiles has ever seen before.

“Yeah, but you’re not human either,” Derek says softly, with awe, as his thumb traces along the line of Stiles’ jaw. He can’t catch his breath. “You’re a spark. You’re a little bit magic.”

He pushes his face into Derek’s hand. “Derek, seriously...I’m kind of a pain in the ass.”

“So you keep saying. I’ve been known to be...grumpy.”

He’s resigned when he says it, and he blushes a little bit, like he’s finally admitting someone else was right about him. Stiles would bet it’s his siblings.

Also, the blushing? Just...yes.

“I know. I’ve seen you interact with some of the students you TA in the quad before. Also FYI? Not even a little bit of a deal breaker. You probably grumble at anyone in your building who plays their music after 10PM, don’t you?”

Stiles knows the fondness is just leaking out of his voice but he doesn’t care. He wants Derek to hear it.

Derek’s gaze is unwavering, his eyes bright, when he says, “I do. Cora is enough of a pain, and it’s distracting when I’m trying to work on my dissertation. You own way too many graphic tees with pictures of superheroes on them and probably eat way too much junk food.”

“Guilty as charged,” Stiles says, and he knows his eyes are just as bright. “Jackson and my dad go where I go,” he says firmly. “That’s non-negotiable.”

“Of course they do.”

Stiles takes a deep breath, pauses. “Are you sure? About everything? Last chance to back out.”

Derek finally releases his hand and leans forward, up over the table, brings both hands up to cradle his face. “Stiles...will you be my mate?”

“I already am,” he whispers, and it’s the cheesiest fucking answer in the world, but he also believes it with his entire being.
“Good answer.”

The kiss is great, and Stiles had a feeling it would be, but it’s still nice to have it confirmed, to feel the insistent pressure of Derek’s lips on his, the slide of his tongue against his own, the feel of Derek’s stubble beneath his fingertips. It’s everything like he imagined and nothing like it at all, and trying to find his footing in the middle of the two extremes has his head spinning. There is one thing he knows for certain though: he’s never been kissed like this before.

When Derek finally pulls back Stiles is panting and slow blinking, trying to come back to himself, and laughs when he realizes he stuck his elbow in one of the slices of pie he hadn’t tried yet: the chocolate pecan. Derek laughs too, says he’ll buy him another slice, and comes round the end of the table to sit down on the bench next to Stiles, to get closer so they can kiss without a table between them. The kisses are shorter this time, shallower, and Stiles leans into Derek when he wraps his arm around Stiles, pulls him as close as he can.

They pull away from each other after a little while and Derek plants a kiss on Stiles’ jaw, another on his neck, darting his tongue out to get the tiniest taste of Stiles’ skin, and Stiles sucks in a breath, breathes hard, rolls his eyes at Derek’s satisfied smirk when he pulls back.

He pulls out his phone and insists on a selfie to mark the occasion, and Derek rolls his eyes but crowds in close anyway. Stiles posts it to his Instagram and sends it onto his dad and Jackson (and Derek). When he’s done Derek holds up his own phone for a picture and Stiles crowds in again, closing his eyes on reflex and letting out a soft oh when Derek presses a soft kiss to his temple. After, he takes his time opening his eyes, trying to find his bearings in this new reality where the guy he’s been gone on for ages thinks he’s the bee’s fucking knees, and when he does, he finds Derek slipping his phone back into his pocket.

He looks at him a moment, takes in the sharp cut of his stubbled jaw, the strong arms, the long lashes and green eyes and pink mouth and thinks fuck. Despite all the shit that life can throw at you, sometimes you get nice things. Sometimes things just work out.

“Take me home?”

Yes,” Derek says, and signals at once for the waitress, who brings boxes so they can take home the remainder of their shitload of pie. Derek hands her his card, asks her to add on a new slice of chocolate pecan as well as three additional full pies: a caramel apple, a chocolate peanut butter chiffon, and a grasshopper.

“Damn. You really do like pie, don’t you?”

“They’re not for me,” he says fondly, but also a little like Stiles is an idiot. “They’re for my family.”

“Ah,” Stiles says, and you know, that makes sense.

He’d feel ashamed about such a basic failure of his mental faculties, but he’s still feeling a little kiss drunk, a little drunk on their early morning bubble, a little overwhelmed by it all. He’ll give himself a pass today.

Their waitress brings back Derek’s card and he takes it, slips it back into his wallet then slips out of the booth, picks up the impressive stack of pink boxes. He thanks their waitress and wishes her a goodnight, then slips his hand into Stiles’ as soon as Stiles has risen off the booth seat, interlacing their fingers together.

They leave the diner and walk down the street slowly, back toward Stiles’ apartment. They don’t talk but they share happy little glances here and there, and Stiles relishes the sound of the leaves crunching under his feet, the warmth and weight of Derek’s hand weaved into his own. And he thinks how grateful he is, how lucky he feels, to be here with Derek right now, in this moment, in this place. How happy he is that they exist at the same time, with each other. How fucking star touched that makes them.

At the apartment Stiles takes the lead, pulls Derek up the stairs after him, takes the waiting elevator up three flights to his and Jackson’s apartment. Stiles lets them in, fingers fumbling with the keys as Derek laughs softly in his ear, crowding him from behind, nipping at his earlobe. Stiles pushes him off with a laugh and gets the door open, toes off his shoes at the door and pulls the messenger bag off, dropping it on the floor. He takes the boxes from Derek and stows them in their impressive, top of the line, stainless steel fridge, shutting it and leaning back against it to look at Derek.

Derek is taking in their apartment, turning slowly as his eyes scan his surroundings.

“Impressive,” he says finally, and Stiles shrugs it off.

It’s a nice place for sure with an open, bright kitchen, a sizable living area, and two pretty good size bedrooms and bathrooms, but neither of them feel like it’s theirs, really. It’s just a placeholder for now.

“Thank Mr. Whittemore’s guilt. Jackson is really looking forward to the day we can graduate and he can tell him to go screw himself for good.”

Derek nods and turns intense eyes on Stiles, strips off his jacket slowly, throws it over the back of the couch before he slowly stalks toward Stiles, pulling Stiles into his body and away from the fridge.

“You won’t have to wait that long,” he says, and takes Stiles’ mouth, wrapping his arms around Stiles’ back and turning him, leading him away and out of the kitchen.

“No?” Stiles asks when Derek pulls off Stiles’ mouth, turns his attention to Stiles’ neck.

“Pack takes care of pack,” he mumbles against Stiles’ skin. “Bedroom?”

Stiles flails a hand out behind them and Derek starts walking them toward Stiles’ open bedroom door which is a pretty mean feat, since his face is still planted in Stiles’ neck, sucking bruises, scraping it with his stubble, nosing along the underside of Stiles’ jaw. Marking him up, scenting him. Once they make it to the bedroom Derek shuts the door, presses Stiles up against it and presses himself up against Stiles, and Stiles rocks his hips and sighs as he feels every last inch of Derek against him, hard and unyielding even as his mouth is driving Stiles crazy, pressing soft, openmouthed kisses to the underside of Stiles’ jaw.

They’re almost exactly the same height which Stiles didn’t realize he’d love but really kinda does, and they just sort of fit together – where Stiles is long and lean, Derek is muscled and hard. Derek is kissing him just right, and his hands are moving where Stiles wants them to move, slipping under his shirt and finding bare skin, and it’s all great, it all just works, and Stiles lets out a little moan he can’t stop that has Derek rumbling back at him and Stiles knows what’s about to happen next – only an idiot wouldn’t know what’s about to happen next – and Stiles knows he has to put a stop to it now.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to have sex with Derek, because oh my fucking god of course he wants to have sex with Derek, he just doesn’t want to have it right now. Tonight. He doesn’t want this day – this incredible, life-changing day – to be about that. Not when it’s about so much more than that.

“Derek?” he asks breathlessly, head tipped back against the door.

Derek rumbles in response, thumbs dipping under the waistband of Stiles’ pants to stroke his hipbones.

“I don’t want to have sex.”

Derek stops, pulls his mouth away from its favorite spot against Stiles’ throat and blinks at Stiles.

“Tonight,” Stiles clarifies, with a blink of his own and a shake of the head. “I don’t want to have sex tonight.” He pauses. “Okay?”

Derek gives him a soft smile. “Of course that’s okay.” He leans in and pecks Stiles on the lips. “But can I stay with you tonight?”

“You fucking better,” Stiles says.

Derek’s eyes dance down to Stiles’ mouth then back to his eyes. He grins, fingers stroking at Stiles’ back under his shirt. “Can I keep kissing you?”

“Again, you fucking better.”

Derek is full on grinning into Stiles’ mouth now, and he walks them back into Stiles’ bedroom then pulls away, steps away. He locks eyes with Stiles as he toes off his boots, as he pulls off his socks one by one, as he slowly strips off his henley and tosses it off to the side. His lips quirk as he flicks the button on his jeans, unzips them, and peels them down his legs until he’s standing in front of Stiles in only an obscenely tight pair of black boxer briefs, looking like he should be on the cover of GQ.

Jesus.

Stiles must have said that out loud because Derek huffs a soft laugh, his eyes dancing.

“Oh my god, you’re unreal. Shit.”

And Derek...Derek is looking at Stiles like Stiles just made his fucking year, like Stiles’ is the only opinion he cares about.

“Your turn.”

Stiles isn’t as slow as Derek was; there’s no finesse here when he takes off his clothes. No slow, languid movements like Derek managed. It’s been too long of a day, and Stiles has never been known for his grace. But finally he’s standing there in front of Derek in his own boxer briefs, studded with bright, primary colored action words in starbursts from comic books – Boom! Splat! Pow! Bang! – and he curses himself for not wearing basic black or red, just this one time.

He hears Derek swear under his breath and he looks up, breath catching when he finds Derek looking at him intensely.

“Yeah?” he croaks, and it’s not like Stiles is ashamed of his body at all, but he’s never had a reaction like this before.

Derek takes a few steps closer, eyes scanning Stiles’ body. Stiles licks his lips.

“I saw you in the quad one day, not so long after you ran into me at the taco cart,” he says, voice low and warm and rich. “You were laughing, and you had your head thrown back. God...the way you were showing off your throat like that? It was obscene.” He takes another few steps closer, slowly, until his hands are back on Stiles’ hips, searing his skin. “It took everything I had not to stalk across the quad, to push my face into your neck, to bite at your skin. To leave a mark.”

Stiles sucks in a breath. “You could’ve.”

Derek’s eyes dart across his face. He says, insistently, “You know why I didn’t. You know why I couldn’t.”

Stiles nods. He does. He gets that Derek couldn’t risk it, not without knowing how Stiles felt about who Derek is. Derek thought Stiles was human – and there’s no guarantee that a human mate will know (or accept) werewolves.

It just sucks that they wasted so much time.

He kisses Derek to show he gets it, that he understands, directing them toward his bed. They slip under the covers and lay side by side, and Derek’s kisses get a little more insistent, a little more intense, before they finally move away from his mouth, down over his jaw, down to his neck. Stiles pushes his head back against the pillows and allows Derek to move him with a steady hand so he’s on his back, Derek lying half on him as he sucks bruises in Stiles’ neck and rubs his skin red with his stubble. Scenting him, marking him, laying his claim.

Stiles closes his eyes and threads the fingers of his hand into Derek’s hair, cupping the back of his head, shifts his hips and wraps the other arm around Derek’s back, sinking into Derek. When Derek’s mouth moves over and bites down on the juncture between Stiles’ neck and his shoulder, Stiles gives a sharp gasp but relaxes immediately as Derek starts to soothe the area with a few gentle kisses, with the flat of his tongue.

When he pulls away, Stiles blinks open tired eyes, meets Derek’s green ones and gives him a smile. Stiles’ hands fall away to lie palm up on the pillow on either side of his head and Derek grips them with his own, lacing their fingers together as he bends down and claims Stiles’ mouth with his own one more time with a deep kiss, eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks.

Stiles sinks into the bed, sinks into the kiss. Lets Derek claim him.


Stiles blinks as he comes to, a heavy weight at his back, another heavy weight draped over his body, a hand that’s not his own pressed to his chest.

Derek.

Morning sun is streaming through the window, hitting the side wall of his room, and Stiles would probably stay here forever, cocooned in his bed with Derek at his back, if his stomach weren’t rumbling like crazy.

Pie. There’s leftover pie in the fridge. Yes.

He slips out under Derek’s arm slowly, carefully, doing his best not to disturb him. Derek shifts a little, presses his face into the pillow Stiles leaves behind, but otherwise doesn’t stir, and Stiles considers grabbing a clean tee out of his dresser before he decides to snag Derek’s henley off the floor instead. He pulls it on and heads out into the common area, closing his door behind him quietly and rubbing a hand over tired eyes.

Best excuse for sleep deprivation ever.

“Good morning, brother-in-law.”

Stiles stops, blinks at Cora. Who is sitting in his kitchen at the island. Eating cereal.

Her eyes slide down his body then back up, but there’s nothing sexual about it. She smirks. “No need to wear pants on my account.”

Stiles looks down at his comic book boxer briefs then back up, points at her through bleary, narrowed eyes. “You’re a little shit.”

“So are you,” Cora says from her perch on one of their bar stools, and spoons some cereal that looks suspiciously like Stiles’ Froot Loops into her mouth.

Stiles pauses then nods. Fair enough.

Jackson says nothing as Stiles walks over, plants his face into his shoulder. Instead he reaches up into the upper cabinet to his left without looking, snags a mug and places it under the pour spout of the Keurig machine, reaching into the basket on the counter behind him for a pod. He drops it into the machine, closes the lid, presses the start button.

“Thanks,” Stiles mumbles against his shoulder. Jackson sweeps a hand over his head like he does every morning, scenting Stiles, and Stiles rights himself, leans against the counter, presses himself against Jackson. He looks at Cora, but speaks to Jackson. “What have I told you about taking in strays?”

Cora rolls her eyes as Jackson smirks.

“Please,” she says, “who do you think was responsible for getting my brother to the party? You’re welcome, by the way.”

“She showed up at the party after you left,” Jackson says, “wanting to know if her brother had grown balls yet. I figured the least we could do for encouraging him to show up at the party was give her breakfast.”

“And a couch to sleep on?” Stiles asks and Cora snorts.

“Like I wanted to hear my brother’s sex sounds. I slept in my own bed. I’ve only been here for ten minutes.”

Okay then. Whatever. The more the merrier.

Stiles wanders over to the fridge and pulls open the door as Jackson’s phone rings.

“Hey.”

“Hey, kid. Happy Halloween. Where’s the other one?”

Stiles waves a hand out from behind the fridge door.

“Nice,” his dad says, and Stiles can practically hear the eye roll.

Stiles peeks out from behind the door. “Yeah, ‘cause every kid loves to be referred to as ‘the other one’ by his dad.”

He takes out the carton of milk and one of the pink boxes from earlier this morning, shuts the door with his hip. He sets them on the counter and leans up against the counter right next to Jackson again so his face is in frame. His dad looks tired.

“Hey dad.”

“Hey. Happy Halloween, kiddo.”

“Thanks. You too.” Stiles takes in the fake wood grained desk behind his dad, the window with the dated blinds, the file cabinets, the picture of Jackson and Stiles and John that always sits catty corner, right near his lamp. “Hey...why are you at work? You were supposed to have today off.”

“Yeah, well...Halloween’s always a busy day, as you know,” he says with a sigh, scrubbing a rough hand over the back of his head. “And we lost one of our officers when he transferred to a Santa Clara station.”

“Are you hiring someone soon?”

“We’ll see.”

He sounds tired, resigned, and Jackson and Stiles share a look.

“Hey, no looks.”

“What are you talking about?” they say in unison, and John rolls his eyes.

“What am I talking about?” he repeats and eyes them. “I raised you both, you think I don’t know your looks?”

“Did you apply for those open positions we sent?” Jackson asks.

John gives them both a fond smile. “None of them were the right fit, but thanks for sending them.”

“Dad-”

“The right fit will come along soon.” He’s been saying that for about a year and a half now. “Until then, I’ll just...”

Keep his head above water. Keep his nose clean. Insert your most hated, useless cliché here.

“But I didn’t call to talk about that. Tell me about the guy in the picture.”

“It’s Derek,” Jackson says with a smirk.

His dad’s eyes widen. “The Derek?”

Stiles closes his eyes briefly. He knows he’s blushing, can feel it warming his cheeks. “Yep.”

John whistles low. “Way to go, kid.”

“Thanks,” he says, savors the smile his dad sends him.

“He’s a good guy, right?”

“Yeah, he is.” He pauses. “Uh...there’s something you should know about him.” His dad lifts his eyebrows in silent question and Stiles takes a deep breath. “He’s a werewolf. And it’s...not just dating.”

John considers that for a moment. “Are we talking about mates?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, then shrugs. “Happy Halloween, I got you a son-in-law?”

He splays out his hands, waggles his fingers.

“Only you would pine after a guyfor fifteen months, finally do something about it, and get werewolf married in the same night.” John chuckles on the other end, shakes his head. Stiles really appreciates how good his dad has gotten at rolling with the punches these last few years. “I look forward to meeting him soon.”

Stiles snags his now full cup out from under the Keurig machine, adds in milk and sugar from the bowl on their counter, gives it a good stir while John asks Jackson how he’s doing, if there’s anyone special for him too, if he’s enjoying his classes this semester.

“Alright boys,” he says after all his questions have been asked, after he’s sufficiently checked up on them. “I love you. Be good.”

Stiles pops back in the frame. “Love you.”

“Love you,” Jackson says, and closes facetime, sets his phone down on the counter.

Stiles looks up from his mug, finds Cora watching them, her spoon held up in the air over her bowl, dripping milk.

“What’s wrong, Cora? Werewolf got your tongue?”

Jackson and Stiles laugh as Cora looks back and forth between them, eyes narrowing. She goes through one hell of a face journey and Stiles and Jackson relish watching it until finally Jackson takes pity on her, flashes his beta gold eyes. Hers flash back.

“I couldn’t tell,” she says, dropping her spoon into her bowl, staring at Jackson. “Why couldn’t I tell?”

Stiles gives her a wink and turns his back to her, pulling the fresh chocolate pecan slice out of the box – the slice Stiles didn’t put his elbow in – and sliding it onto a plate. He snags a fork out of the drawer and hops up on the kitchen island, facing Jackson, and takes a bite out of the pie, giving a little moan in appreciation as he savors the pecans and sugar and chocolate and flaky, buttery crust.

“That’s one way to wake up,” Derek says, surprising them all, and he steps forward and claims Stiles’ mouth with his own. Stiles smiles into it and Derek smiles back, and when he backs off, Stiles plants another, chaste kiss on Derek’s lips, like putting a period at the end of a sentence.

“I think I like your way better,” Stiles says, and offers his fork up to Derek, who slides into the pie, takes a bite of his own.

Ugh,” Cora groans. “Newlyweds.”

But there’s no disgust in her voice, not a hint of bite, and when Derek tells her to shut up, he’s smiling, with a voice full of fondness.

Derek is wearing pants but no shirt, and Stiles is wearing a shirt but no pants, and he thinks vaguely how funny it is that together, they make a completely dressed person.

Derek sets the fork down and crowds in close, into the open v of Stiles’ legs, and slides his hands up under the shirt, spreads them out over Stiles’ back and pulls him in. He presses his face into Stiles’ neck as he hugs him close and Stiles runs his hands across Derek’s back, fingers dancing over muscle and warm skin.

He rumbles against the skin of Stiles’ neck, says, “I like you in my clothes.”

“Yeah?”

He gives another rumble, kisses the bite from earlier.

Stiles likes it too.

“Oh my god, get a room.”

“Not your apartment, Cora.”

Her spoon clatters in her bowl and she says, “We’re going to be late for breakfast if we don’t leave soon.”

Derek pulls away from Stiles and Stiles laughs when he looks up at Jackson and sees the most judgmental look in his arsenal, directed toward Cora and her empty cereal bowl.

She rolls her eyes. “Not regular breakfast. Halloween breakfast.”

Jackson blinks at her, unimpressed. Cocks an eyebrow.

“Hale Halloween is kind of a big deal,” Stiles says to Jackson, then to Derek says, “It’s an all day thing, I’m guessing?”

Derek nods, takes a sip of Stiles’ coffee, immediately makes a face. “You put too much sugar in your coffee.”

“You knew that already. Also, the key point here is that it’s my coffee, dude.”

“Don’t call me dude.”

Stiles considers that a moment, shakes his head. “Yeah, no. I’m definitely going to be calling you that for the rest of our lives. You should probably just prepare yourself now.”

“Great,” Derek says. “Can’t wait.”

“Don’t even front,” he says, and splays his hands across Derek’s chest. Derek steps closer in return, gripping Stiles’ hips. “I know you like what I’m puttin’ down. You put a ring on it. Or a bite on it. Whatever.”

Stiles,” he rumbles.

“I already told you once earlier today: no take-backsies. You’ve got me for life, baby.”

Something flickers in Derek’s eyes – something happy and intense – and Stiles thinks oh yeah, totally filing that word away to be used later.

Like later tonight.

“That was in reference to pie,” he says, nudging the tip of Stiles’ nose with his own.

“The point still stands,” he replies, and nudges Derek’s nose right back.

Stiles hears Cora groan behind him and he laughs.

“Alright, alright...we should probably stop torturing Cora,” he says, patting Derek on the chest, and Derek acknowledges that with a halfhearted nod and a squeeze of Stiles’ hip. “So...do I have something big coming my way today? Do I have to take part in some kind of ritual or something?”

“Ritual?” he says, lifting his eyebrows and yeah, maybe that sounds stupid, but it’s not like Stiles knows much about mates. And besides, it’s not that out of left field.

Supernaturals can be weird, man.

Derek shakes his head. “My mom will say a few words when we get there – recognize your acceptance of my claim, and welcome you into the pack and the family. That’s it.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” he confirms. “And then one day, in the future, we can have a wedding ceremony. When we’re ready.”

Yeah, okay. He can handle that.

Derek turns, faces Jackson. “My mom would also like a conference with you. Pack leader to pack leader. She’d like to discuss merging our packs together, and to offer you our thanks for helping to keep our region safe.”

Jackson holds eye contact with Derek for a long time before he finally says, “I’m not the leader. We didn’t have a leader. It was a group effort. She’ll have to talk to all of us.”

Derek gives him a nod. “Okay.”

Jackson pauses then nods, puts his mug in the sink, rises off the counter. “We should get going then.”

Stiles scoots off the counter, drops his empty plate in the sink, and heads into his bedroom to get changed. He hears Derek closing the door behind them, and Stiles flicks his fingers toward his bed then heads over to the closet to find something appropriate to wear to Hale Halloween.

Is there a shade of plaid that’s best to wear when you’re meeting the family for the first time? Or is that more a solid color situation?

Stiles turns to ask Derek his opinion and finds Derek’s eyes fixed on Stiles’ bed, watching with wonder as the bed makes itself – straightens its own sheets, plumps its pillows, smooths down its comforter.

“It’s just a little trick,” he says with a shrug. “Nothing much. But it makes housework easier.”

Derek’s eyes are still focused on the bed when he says, “No. It’s incredible.”

“Well, if you think that’s incredible, wait until you see me clean an oven. That’s a real doozy.”

Derek looks at him, eyes crinkling at the corners, and holds his gaze as if to say nice try. You can’t fool me. You can’t hide from me. I know exactly who you are.

Stiles clears his throat, holds up a couple shirts. “So, uh...thoughts? Which one says ‘yes, I know just how lucky I am to be your thoroughly impressive son’s mate and I promise to love and cherish him til death do we part as long as we both shall live’? The pale blue or the red plaid?”

He shakes his head, bends down and slips on his boots. “Whatever you decide to wear is fine, Stiles. I promise.” He laces them up then rises, walks over and gives Stiles a kiss. “But I’ll always be partial to you in red.”

Jesus. Make a guy weak-kneed, why don’t you.

From the other side of the wall Jackson and Cora are snipping at each other good-naturedly and Derek rolls his eyes, goes to take care of it while Stiles pulls on a pair of chinos, a white tee and the red plaid shirt.

It’s amazing really when he thinks back to just 24 hours ago, when he thought he was out of Derek’s league, when he was sure he had no chance, when the thought of even talking to Derek seemed like an unachievable dream. And yet here he is a little over one day later, kissing Derek and meeting Derek’s family and assigning new things to Derek’s list: the sound of dry leaves crunching under his feet, the dull clink of a spoon against a stoneware mug, cracked red vinyl. And pie. So much pie.

Whenever he thinks of those things in the future, they’ll remind him of the weight of Derek’s hand in his own and a diner that – for the night – was all theirs, and an early Halloween morning that was the beginning of everything.

And he’ll remember what it felt like to realize that occasionally – and usually when you least expect it – life fucking works out. Even when you’ve never been that lucky.

“Hey,” Derek says, and Stiles looks up to find him standing in his bedroom doorway with a close smile on his face, something only for Stiles. If they were in a crowded room, if they were standing in a sea of a million people, that smile would still only be for Stiles. Every time. “You ready?”

Yeah. He’s ready.