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Seven new messages in four chats.

PLUS ONE?????? DEREK WHO IS IT TELL ME NOW [Laura, 8:20am]

dude laura just texted that ur bringin someone i think the whole house errupted man [Cora, 8:23am]
better bring someone foreal or they’ll like implode or something [Cora, 8:23am]

I’m so happy for you, honey. [Mom, 8:21am]
But if you’re screwing with us, I will screw with you. [Mom, 8:22am]
Love you. :) [Mom, 8:22am]

Did you find someone on Craigslist to go to the wedding with you? [Boyd, 8:25am]

None of the possible outcomes have painted Derek as a winner in the matter when he calculated which response would get him the least shit from his family. He knows if he had said he’d come alone to the wedding, he’d have gotten messages asking him if he wanted to be seated next to the bachelors and bachelorettes who are also attending, if he adopted fifty cats and the invitation should’ve said Plus Fifty, if he needs a botox treatment to set his features into a less threatening and intimidating default--which, Derek doesn’t even get, because it doesn’t make any sense at all.

On the other hand, petulantly ticking off the Plus One box resulted, as expected, in overzealous messages of surprise, mania, excitement, and Mom’s very unsubtle threat to mess his shit up if he lied about it.

Derek’s had better ways to start his day.

Now that he thinks about it, it was probably an awful idea to say he’d bring someone, because he virtually has nobody he could--or want to--ask to be his date to his sister’s wedding. He’s thought about putting an ad up on Craigslist, but he doesn’t have the time or desire to interview possible applicants to make sure they’re not borderline psychotic weirdos.

Which leaves him with two options: go alone, and fear Mom’s retaliation, and listen to all his family sympathetically tell him that one day he’ll find someone; or get someone else to go with him, someone who might pass as his partner. He can keep up a charade for a couple of days. It’s not that hard.

As it is, Derek’s morning is pretty much a disaster without his family adding to it with their messages. His client moved up their meeting, but he didn’t get the memo until he entered the office this morning, and now he’s rushing into the coffee shop where the meeting is supposed to take place. It’s an unusual choice for a business meeting, but his client is rather unconventional, and this is Derek’s favourite place to get coffee, so he’s not one to object.

After scanning the place, he finds his client hasn’t arrived yet, so he moves to get a table when someone bumps into him, spilling hot coffee all over his front.

“Oh my--shit! I’m so sorry.”

Derek grits his teeth as the coffee soaks through his jacket and parts of his shirt, staining it an ugly colour that’s probably impossible to wash out without ruining the fabric, or something. This morning couldn’t be any worse.

He looks up to find a guy staring at him in shock, wide eyes behind a pair of obnoxious black plastic glasses, rambling, “Shit, shit! Fucking--crap!” as he grabs for paper towels to dab futilely at the coffee stains on Derek’s suit.

Derek swats his hands away. “Is going through all the synonyms of shit a kind of coping mechanism for you?” He pulls the fabric away from his body, looking at the damage, before he shoots the guy a dirty look.

“I’m, um, really sorry, man,” he says, tries another weak attempt to dab at the jacket. “I’ll pay for the dry cleaning.”

“It’s the least you can do,” Derek says snottily.

The guy narrows his eyes at him for a second, lips pursing into an annoyed twist. “Well, the least you can do is watch where you go.”

There’s much more snide in his voice than Derek would’ve given him credit for, and it’s like he’s been flicked in the forehead. His first instinct is to argue, but the guy already shoves a little card at him.

“Just send me the check,” he says, before he turns, and gets back in line for a new coffee.

Derek’s stripped of the opportunity to argue; it makes him itchy, because he’s still annoyed, drenched in coffee, and there’s nobody he can diss to work it out of his system. The guy’s not even paying him a second glance.

He’s considering postponing the meeting when his client walks into the shop, and Derek’s morning is officially a steaming pile of bullshit.

The meeting goes smoothly anyway, with his client dropping jokes about Derek being a trendsetter, and having a unique style that allow Derek to get rid of his initial anger about today’s morning. He sees his client off with a firm handshake, and a sealed deal, before he sits back down at the table to have a moment for himself.

“I’ll just live off love and air for a week, it’s gonna be fine. Except, it’s more air, and not so much love, you know.”

Derek looks over to see the guy from before sitting a couple of tables across from him, a laptop, books, and a stack of paper spread out in front of him, his phone cradled between his cheek and his shoulder while he viciously taps away at his keyboard.

“Look, I’m happy he didn’t insist I buy him a new suit ‘cause then I’d have had to sell a kidney and half my liver on the black market to cover the costs,” he continues, reaching over to grab paper from the stack. “Anyway, I gotta go, dude, I have to finish grading these papers by tomorrow morning or else—”

There’s a very unattractive snort followed by a bitter twist of his mouth. “Yeah. Okay, man. Talk to you soon.”

Derek watches the guy for a moment. His eyes narrow a little as he checks something on his laptop, pulling out a pen, and then he scribbles something on the paper lying in front of him. He sticks the cap of the pen between his teeth, brows quirking in concentration while his hand flies over the sheet.

On second glance, Derek notices the tense bow of his shoulders as the guy sits hunched in his chair. His glasses are slightly tilted on his nose, and there’s a tear in the collar of his cardigan. The whole posture screams of uneasiness, of restlessness; his motions are a little frantic, like he tries to cram ten seconds more into a minute. He scrubs a hand over his face, leaving an ink smudge over his right brow, and Derek finds himself being oddly enthralled.

Derek packs up his stuff, and slides into the free chair at the guy’s table, causing him to stop mid-movement, and look at Derek with narrowed eyes.

“What if I told you that you don’t have to pay for the dry cleaning?” Derek starts, watches the guy’s lips work around the cap in his mouth. It looks more obscene than it has any right to do, but in Derek’s defense, he has a kind of mouth that invites dirty fantasies.

“Then I’d ask what the catch is,” the guy answers around the cap, before he takes it out of his mouth, tracing his upper lip with his tongue. It’s distracting.

“I need to get my family off my back. In their eyes I’m the eternal bachelor, doomed to a lifetime of loneliness, and they’re constantly up in my grill about my love life. My sister’s wedding is in two weeks, and in a moment of weakness I said I’d bring someone.” Derek feels only mildly stupid for telling this to a complete stranger who spilled coffee all over him, and then got snappy and childish on him after.

“So…” The guy lifts an eyebrow so judgemental Derek considers shaving it off in the guy’s sleep.

“So, I want you to be my plus one,” Derek finishes, because as much as the guy seems to be a petulant hipster, he definitely would pass as someone attracting Derek’s attention. Type-wise.

“Wait, hold on,” the guy says, puts away his pen and discards the paper he’s been working on. “You want me to go to your sister’s wedding with you, as your date, so your family will stop thinking you’re one of society’s lonely outcasts?”

“I’m not society’s lonely outcast--”

“Right, you’re probably just a douche who scared off every other potential candidate with your serial killer vibe. And I mean, a round of dry cleaning isn’t worth attending a wedding with your whole family and friends,” the guy continues, leaning back in his chair, and crossing his arms over his chest. There’s a dare clear in his eyes, taunting Derek to try harder.

“Name it. Your deepest, darkest desire, it’s yours,” Derek offers, only to realize that it came out wrong.

The guy lifts both brows this time, a smirk curling at his lips. “My foot up my advisor’s ass? That’s very tempting, but since I still need to graduate--”

“Money,” Derek grits out. “How much money do you want?”

The silence that follows seeps into Derek’s skin, almost makes him squirm in his chair while the guy scrutinizes him with an intensity that seems to strip him bare right down to his core.

“Fifteen grand,” he says, voice void of any inflection, yet there’s a kind of expectant gleam in his eyes, a challenging line around his mouth.

“Done,” Derek answers. It’s a small price to pay for getting his family to back off, all things considered.

The guy’s face goes slack for a moment, surprise clearly written all over it, and Derek’s smirks smugly; for once having the upper hand.

“I want half of it up front.”

“You got it,” Derek says, getting out his check book. “It’s a three day deal. The wedding takes place in Northern California, from the 17th to the 19th.”

“I’m not paying for any expenses,” the guy says.

Derek rolls his eyes. “I got it, don’t get your panties in a twist. All I want is for you to be on time, and play your part.”

“And what part exactly are we talking here?” he asks, gesturing between the two of them. “Met-in-a-bar-at-the-airport, casual no strings attached hook up, innocent romance, BDSM kinda thing, or serious with the prospect of marriage?”

Derek rubs a hand over his forehead. “Just, a relationship.”

“I’m not going to suck your dick.”

Derek closes his eyes for a moment, and most definitely does not picture daisies on a field, but he comes to realize that maybe this isn’t going to be as easy as he’d planned.

“I want you to pretend that we’re together, for three days; sell it to my family. Everything that happens after that is none of your concern. And everything that goes on behind closed doors is nobody’s business but ours--”

The judgmental eyebrow is back.

“What I mean,” Derek reiterates, scowling back at the guy in irritation, “is that we only have to pretend as long as somebody else is around.”

The guy shrugs, and tips his head back a little to scratch a spot under his chin. Derek marvels at the long column of his neck.

“Fine,” he finally says, eyes intently on Derek. “But I reserve the right to drop out at any moment when I think it’s getting too much.”

“What, you think you gonna fall in love with me?” Derek asks.

The guy snorts. “With you? Hell would freeze over before I fell in love with you,” he scoffs. “If I find that you’re overstepping my boundaries, repeatedly. Or anyone else from your family.”

“Fine,” Derek parrots, enunciating the word far more than strictly necessary.

The guy’s face melts into a smile that almost sends Derek into cardiac arrest: it’s beautiful, blinding, and probably fake, but it transforms his entire face, makes him look younger, kind.

“Great,” the guy says. “Then we got a deal. If you excuse me, I have work to do.”

He’s still smiling, but his tone betrays it, practically telling Derek to get lost.

“I’m Derek, by the way,” he says, leaving the check on the table, but the guy’s already focused on the paper again, circling something, before he scribbles down a comment.

He doesn’t even spare Derek a second glance. “Fascinating. You have my number. Call me when you need me.” He looks up then, brandishes a finger at Derek. “No booty calls.”

Derek grits his teeth, huffs out a breath, and tells himself to stay calm. “I still don’t know your name, jackass.”

The guy looks up, smiling sweetly, but then he says, “Aw, we’re calling each other pet names already, asstrumpet?” and it kind of destroys the picture. “My name’s Stiles--”

Derek opens his mouth.

“--and if you say one word, I’m gonna take that check and drop out of your little charade immediately.”

Derek takes a breath. “Whatever. I’m gonna call you with the details.”

Stiles has already turned back to his work. “Sure thing, babe,” he says, waving a dismissive hand in Derek’s direction. “You do that.”

They’re gonna have to talk about pet names.

~

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me earlier,” Laura says, sounding chiding even through the speaker of the phone. “We all were convinced you’d come alone.”

Derek pulls a face, even though he’s not the least bit surprised. It still is annoyed that all of his family seems to be so invested in his love life, for whatever reason. Cora is still single, too, and nobody’s giving her shit.

“I didn’t want to rush it,” Derek lies. “This whole thing is new, and I didn’t know how serious it was until recently.”

Laura coos in delight. “How is he? What’s his name?”

Derek’s phone vibrates with a new message from Boyd. Please tell me you didn’t get a date off Craigslist.

“His name’s Stiles,” Derek says while he types back an answer to Boyd. I didn’t. I do have a date, though. “He’s--you have to meet him.”

“Oh, come on. Give me something,” Laura weedles, in the same petulant way she often coaxes information out of unwilling parties.

Is it an imaginary date?

“Well,” Derek hesitates for a moment, scrambling to find something to say to her. Stiles is kind of an asshole, that would be a truth. “You know, I can’t really describe him. He’s one of a kind. You’ll have to see for yourself.”

He scowls at his phone. No. I met him in a coffee shop.

Laura sighs happily. “I can’t wait to meet him. Mom, too. Everyone, really.”

When?

“Great.”

This morning. It was love on first sight.

“I’m so excited. And, you know, if he survives this weekend, you’ll know he’s a keeper.”

I can’t wait to see your love story unfold at the wedding. I’m sure it’ll be a beautiful performance.

“Oh, you know, I think he’ll do great.”

Don’t tell anyone. I need them off my back with this for once.

“This is going to be amazing!”

Don’t screw it up. You know how disappointed they’ll be if they find out it’s fake.

“Yeah,” Derek says, and swallows back the dread that rises like bile at the back of his throat. “It’s gonna be amazing.”

~

Derek finds Stiles haphazardly, and weirdly gracefully, sprawled in one of the seats in the waiting area at the airport. He’s cradling his phone, his long fingers flying over the screen as he types something in; one of his feet rests against the top edge of his suitcase, tipping it back and forth, and he’s chewing on one of the strings of his hoodie. Derek should’ve talked about wardrobe, but he didn’t know Stiles’ fashion sense is that horrible.

“I hope you brought actual clothes, because my sister won’t allow you to run around in a potato sack all the time,” Derek says in lieu of a greeting, and Stiles blinks up at him, eyes wide and surprised for a moment, before he recognizes Derek, and his mouth curls into a smirk.

“Well, not all of us are graced with the ability to pull off potato sacks,” Stiles simpers, patting Derek’s knee in faux sympathy as he sits down next to Stiles.

Derek sends him an unimpressed glare.

Stiles huffs. “Dude, chill. I dress to impress, okay, but since I clearly don’t need to impress you--” He gestures down the line of his body, and Derek’s eyes travel with it, follow the long line of Stiles’ khaki-clad legs.

Something flares up at that, an ugly sensation that crawls up Derek’s spine, and makes him itch, and he belatedly realizes he’s offended. He tamps it down, unwilling to admit to anything, but Stiles isn’t even paying attention to him anymore, back to tapping away at his phone.

“We still need to discuss the details of our relationship,” Derek points out. Stiles lazily drags his gaze away from his phone to look at him, both brows raised.

“I’m glad you remembered that since we only have five hours, give or take, until we have to pretend to be crazy in love,” Stiles says, putting his phone away as he sits up straight in his seat, turning slightly so he’s facing Derek. “So, how long have we been a thing?”

“A month,” Derek answers, because that’s a reasonable amount of time for explaining why he didn’t tell his family before. “But I told my sister it’s serious.”

Stiles’ eyebrows disappear into his hair as he tips his chin down, looking at Derek over the rim of his glasses. “Wow, are you hiding a very ambitious, but secretly hopelessly romantic college student behind that suit? Serious after a month? That’s very--eager.”

“Then consider it part of your job to be eager,” Derek snaps, willing down the heat he feels travelling up his neck. His years of mindlessly screwing around are over, as fun as they were, but Derek’s not looking for fun anymore, he wants more than that.

Stiles purses his lips, gleeful glint in his eyes. “Anyway, it’s good, ‘cause this way we both don’t have to learn so much stuff about each other. There’s only so much you know when you’ve dated someone for a month.”

“Moving on,” Derek says, bares his teeth at Stiles’ obnoxious wink. “Let’s start with the basics: full name, occupation, stuff like that.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, groping around in his backpack, before pulling out a bag of pretzels. “You go first.”

Derek takes a breath. “My name’s Derek Hale, I work in advertisement, and I have a cat, Bailey.”

“Awww, that takes, like, ten points off your serial killer vibe,” Stiles chimes in, munching on his pretzels. “Serial killer: nintey, serial softie: ten. Go on.”

Derek tries to ignore the obnoxious grin Stiles sends his way. It doesn’t really work. “I have a big family, but the most important are my parents, and my siblings. My sister Laura is the bride, then there’s Cora, the youngest.”

“Okay, Derek Hale, advertisement, you have a cat, two sisters. Got it. How’s your relationship with the family?”

“Um,” Derek starts, wonders how best to put it. “It’s pretty great, actually, but they’re a little overbearing--”

“Because they think you’re doomed to a lifetime of loneliness,” Stiles finishes, nodding, and Derek doesn’t know if Stiles adopted his family’s point of view, or--

“Hence why I asked you to be my date,” Derek adds then, and takes a couple of pretzels when Stiles offers him the bag.

“Why are they up your grill about it, though? I mean, there has to be a reason for it?” Stiles tilts his head to the side, a wide smirk spreading on his face. “You had previous relationships that ended tragically?”

Derek looks down at his hands, words dying on his tongue, before he can give an answer, but his silence seems to be answer enough. The smirk is gone from Stiles’ face when Derek looks at him again.

“Sorry,” he says, serious, and squeezes Derek’s shoulder. “So, they worry, and they want you to find someone who makes you happy, but they’re afraid you won’t open up to anyone.”

The precision of Stiles’ deduction is a little scary, and plenty hot, for some weird reason Derek doesn’t wanna explore any further.

“So, what’s your deal? Do you have trust issues? Are you sabotaging every potential relationship yourself?” Stiles asks.

“I haven’t met anyone yet who was interested in me, not in--” Derek stops, traces his fingers over the edge of his backrest.

Stiles says, matter-of-factly, “The face,” gazing intently at Derek.

Derek nods silently, surprised at how easily Stiles guesses what Derek isn’t saying. Stiles gives him an empathetic smile, and offers more pretzels.

“What about you?” Derek asks eventually, suddenly eager to find out more about Stiles.

“Well, I’m Stiles Stilinski, because my real name is a punishment, and I’m finishing up my master’s in criminology. My dad’s a sheriff, and my mom died when I was eight.”

Stiles’ voice wavers a little over the last part, but his composure remains steady; the words coming out like he’s said them a thousand times before; like they carved a path into his throat somehow, making it easier to say, but cut in a little deeper every time anew.

“I have a best friend who’s more like a brother, Scott. We grew up together, and he’s, like, my soulmate. His fiancée, Allison, moved in with us a little while ago, so we’re still sorting some stuff out, but it’s cool. They’re great together,” Stiles continues, a small, private smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.  

Derek nods along, filing the information away. “Your dad?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, stretching his legs out in front of him. “He’s great, but he thinks because I’m far away I don’t know he’s eating way too much unhealthy stuff. I need to have a stern talking with some of his deputies, so they keep a better watch over his eating habits.”

“I miss him,” he adds quietly, sighing out a long breath, and he pushes a hand through his hair, scratching the top of his head.

“You don’t see him very often, do you?” Derek asks cautiously.

Stiles glances at him briefly. “I try as often as possible, but it’s not nearly as often as I’d like to,” he explains.

When Derek first moved to New York, he’d feel a fierce longing to see his family, to be around them, and the apartment he used to live in seemed too big, too empty, void of this sort of familial spirit that hangs around his parents’ house. Yet, when he’d visit, he’d yearn to go back to his place after a couple of days; missing the opportunity to be for himself, have his own space, because at his parents’ there was always someone around, always something to do; always someone who demanded his attention. It’s gotten easier over the years.

How different is it for Stiles, who doesn’t appear to have any family but his father? He still has his best friend around, and as close as they are, it still doesn’t make up for a parent.

“Where do you come from anyway?” Derek asks in an attempt to change the topic, and distract Stiles a little.

“NorCal, actually,” Stiles admits with a wry smile. “Beacon Hills.”

“My family’s from San Rafael, and Laura’s wedding takes place there, too,” Derek says.

“By the way, who’s she marrying?”

“Uh, Daniel. They’ve been together for ten years already, but, you know, Laura didn’t want a big wedding, Daniel did, and they never agreed on anything, so.”

“What changed her mind?”

“Some mutual friends got married last year--you’re gonna meet them too, Boyd, and Erica, they’re my best friends--and Erica dragged Laura along to shop for a dress. And then she made Laura try on a wedding dress herself, and apparently, that was Laura’s magical moment of enlightenment.”

Stiles opens his mouth to say something then, but the speakers crackle, and a female voice announces that their flight is ready to board. They grab their stuff, and make their way to the gate; with Stiles asking about Erica, and Boyd.

They sort some more things out during the flight, and Derek hopes it’s enough to get them through the weekend. Stiles gives off an air of aloof contentment; like he’s not nervous at all, but for all Derek knows Stiles might’ve done something like this before. He’s changed, too, into a pair of dark khakis that fit better, more snug, a graphic tee that has the Stark reactor in the middle of his chest, and a blazer jacket on top. At least he doesn’t look like some college slob anymore.

“You don’t seem nervous,” Derek says finally, unable to hold back, when the plane’s already landed, and they’re about to walk out into the airport. His own hands are sweating mildly, stomach swooping with the prospect of lying to his family.

Stiles shrugs, small smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth. “I’m a great liar,” he says as they step out into the gate, and Derek hears Laura yell his name.

~

Derek would be scared of how great Stiles hit it off with his family immediately if it wasn’t helpful for their cover. It’s a sort of love on first sight situation, and Stiles, Derek comes to realize, was right: he is a great liar. He rolls with the punches, comes up with little stories and anecdotes about DerekAndStiles effortlessly, and Derek’s pretty sure if it wasn’t for Stiles talent for improvisation, they would’ve been made ten minutes into the whole thing.

“How did you two meet anyway?” Laura asks, popping a piece of bread into her mouth.

Oh god, it’s the one thing they forgot to talk about. Derek’s knee starts to jiggle, but Stiles presses his own against it, a sign for Derek to stop.

“We met at a bowling alley,” Stiles says easily. “I was with my friends, and Derek with his, and somehow our reservations got screwed up, and we ended up having to share a lane, because the house was full. It turned out pretty fun, though. Derek’s an awful bowler. I had to help him a lot.”

“Actually, Derek’s a really great bowler,” Laura says.

Stiles laughs, delighted. “Really? He was pretty awful that night.” He bumps Derek’s shoulder, twines their fingers together on the table, and it helps settle the nervous roiling inside Derek.

“Everyone hates a show-off,” Derek says with a smile.

Mom scoffs a little, and Laura lifts an eyebrow.

“He’s a shameless gloater,” Mom says to Stiles, taking a sip from her water. “He used to drive everyone nuts around the house. Still does.”

“Mom--”

“The amount of times I wanted to strangle him for showing-off,” Laura adds, and sends Derek a sweet smile when he bares his teeth at her. “He’s awful. You’ll see. I think it’s pathological.”

Stiles smirks gleefully, rubs his thumb over the back of Derek’s hand. “Aww, boo, you afraid I won’t love you at your worst?”

Derek grits his teeth at the pet name, digs his fingers into Stiles’ hand a little, and smiles. “I thought it’s better I suck up, before I start sucking.”

Laura chokes on another piece of bread, and Stiles purses his lips trying to contain his laughter. Mom traces a fingertip over the rim of her glass, valiantly trying to hide a smirk, and Derek can feels his whole body flush hot in embarrassment.

“Don’t worry, you suck great,” Stiles says, strokes Derek’s cheek with his free hand, and this--this is gonna put Derek in an early grave.

Laura makes a pitiful sound somewhere between choking and breathless laughter, and Mom covers her mouth with a hand, eyes crinkling at the corners. Stiles grins, leans his forehead against Derek’s shoulder, and Derek steps on Stiles’ foot.

They leave the restaurant Laura insisted they have brunch at a little while later, and drive up to the house.

Daniel greets them outside, getting off the phone, and he pulls Derek into a brotherly hug, clapping him on the back.

Stiles’ introduction is cut short by Daniel’s phone ringing again, and when he announces it’s the caterer, it sends Laura into a frenzy.

“Let’s leave them to it,” Derek mutters, and slowly backs away. Stiles follows him dutifully, looking around the garden, up the facade of the house.

“This is a beautiful house,” Stiles says as they walk up the few stairs to the patio. “You grew up here?”

“Yeah, pretty much. This place holds lots of fond memories,” Derek answers, rubs his palms over his thighs.

Stiles continues marvelling at the house inside, hands running over the furniture distractedly, looking at photographs on the wall. Derek hears voices coming from upstairs, smells the unmistakable scent of Gram’s cookies coming from the kitchen, and yet the bow of Stiles’ mouth keeps him distracted: lips slightly parted as he runs his fingertips over the frame of Mom and Dad’s wedding picture, open awe and curiosity in his eyes. His lips look plush, and soft; obscene even. Derek’s never seen a mouth like that on anyone he ever met before.

“You look like your mother,” Stiles points out, drops his hand to look at Derek. He smiles fleetingly, and moves on.

“Yeah? Who do you resemble?” Derek asks, trailing behind him, waiting to see where Stiles will turn to next.

Stiles remains silent, and Derek drops it, just in time when a blur of blonde curls come dashing around the corner.

“Derek!”

“Hey, princess,” Derek says, catching Bree as she throws herself at him, lifting her up, so she’s on eye level with him. She beams at him, unruly locks sticking in every direction, and there’s a smear of red juice at the corner of her mouth.

“Missed you,” Bree tells him gravely, suddenly pulling a sad face, but she leans in to smack a wet kiss on his cheek. “You have to visit more often. Cora’s not as funny as you.”

“I know right,” Derek tells her. “Cora’s lame.” He holds out his fist to Bree, and she bumps it, nodding vehemently.

You’re lame, a-face,” Cora says, rounding the corner now, too, and rolls her eyes when Derek sticks his tongue out at her.

Bree takes his face between her palms, and looks at him very seriously. “You’re not an assface,” she says sternly, patting his cheeks.

“You got that from Cora,” Derek says.

Bree beams again. “Nope, from my teacher.”

Stiles clears his throat, looking between the three of them with a bewildered, but faintly fond expression.

“Oh.” Cora draws out the sound, a knowing smirk spreading on her face. “The Plus One,” she says,  before she sticks her hand out to Stiles, who takes it.

“Stellar observation,” Stiles says with a smirk of his own, dancing out of reach when Cora tries to swat at him. “I’m Stiles.”

“Cora,” she says. “Are you an escort?”

“What’s an escort?” Bree asks.

“A nice person,” Derek says, distracted. Lucky for Cora he’s still holding Bree or else. “He’s not an escort, Cora, what the fu--hell.”

“He’s not a nice person?” Bree scowls at him, and then looks at Stiles with a look that’s way too sharp and too assessing for a seven-year-old.

“No, he is, he’s just--”

“I’m a nice person, but I don’t get paid for it,” Stiles explains to her with a smile, which is only a half-truth, but that’s nobody’s business. He turns back to Cora. “What?”

Cora lifts an eyebrow. “You kinda have that--” She makes a hand motion that encompasses Stiles’ frame. “--look. And there’s no way Derek charmed someone like you. The only person he ever charmed is Bree, so.”

Bree scowls even harder, and Derek would be offended if it wasn’t true. People are usually charmed by his looks, not so much by his personality.

“I feel oddly flattered,” Stiles says, with a quizzical expression on his face. He shrugs. “I’m plenty charmed, and honestly, there better be nobody else more charmed than me. I don’t share.”

Bree hooks her arms around Derek’s neck, pressing herself closer to him. “I’m not sharing either,” she says resolutely, sending a determined glare Stiles’ way.

He walks over to them, putting a hand on Derek’s upper arm, and looks at Bree; his face gone incredibly soft. “I share if you share?” he offers, holding his hand out for her to take it. “Derek’s pretty great, I understand why you don’t wanna give him away.”

Bree considers him for a moment, but then she takes Stiles’ hand, a bright smile spreading over her face. “Are you Derek’s new boyfriend?”

“I am,” Stiles confirms, smiling himself.

Bree nods, and reaches out to pat the crown of his head. “You’re nice. You can stay.”

Stiles beams at her with an intensity that almost seems to blind Derek. “Thank you, munchkin.”

Bree smirks, says, “You’re welcome, sasquatch,” and Stiles shakes with laughter. Derek sees Cora smile, feels the subtle tension in his gut dissipating.

Stiles’ adaptability may get them through the weekend after all.

“Come on, sweetie, we have to go,” Cora says then, and Derek lets Bree down on her feet. She pouts a little.

“We have to go make sure my dress fits,” she tells them. She waves goodbye, before she takes Cora’s hand. Cora salutes them, and together, they leave the house.

“Oh my god,” Stiles says once they’re gone. “She is adorable.”

Derek grins, knocks their shoulders together. “She is the cutest.”

“Who is she?” Stiles asks as they continue to walk around the house, although now Stiles is solely focused on Derek.

“My cousin,” Derek explains, steers Stiles into the kitchen to see if there actually are some of Gram’s cookies there. “My uncle Peter is her dad, he’s my mom’s younger brother.”

“Do you have any more cousins?”

“Yeah. Bree’s actually got an older sister, Sally, and a younger brother, Oliver. He’s, what, eleven months old? And then from my dad’s side, there’s Maggie, Jesse, Philipp, Henry, and Harper.”

“Wow, you weren’t kidding about the big family,” Stiles says, lets out a surprised whistle.

Derek hikes up a shoulder. “Told you,” he says, and Stiles snorts. “And those are just my cousins.”

“Are you close?” Stiles asks.

There are cookies cooling on the counter in the kitchen, and Derek ponders in how much trouble he’ll get if he steals some now.

“Yeah,” he says, and just takes one. He hasn’t had any of Gram’s cookies in way too long. “We usually spend some of the big holidays together, and we always gather when there are round birthdays, or stuff.”

Stiles hums, and takes one of the cookies. He groans when he takes a bite, eyes fluttering shut, and Derek almost chokes on his cookie. Stiles tips his head back, tongue darting out to collect a smear of chocolate that got caught on his upper lip, pure bliss written all over his face, as he keeps making tiny noises of contentment that sounds more pornographic than they have any right to be.

“Are you practicing faking orgasms, or what?” Erica saunters into the kitchen, her blood-red coloured lips stretching into a knowing smirk that makes goosebumps break out over all of Derek’s body. Boyd followers her, hands in his pockets, and gives Derek a look that warns him of trouble.

Derek grabs Stiles’ cookie, and eats it himself just to put an end to Stiles’ sex noises before they have the chance to continue. Erica smirks a little wider, rounding the counter, and Stiles now makes a lot of unhappy noises at Derek stealing his cookie.

“No,” Derek says to Erica, tries to shush Stiles at the same time.

“Actually, yes,” Stiles says, digging his fingers into Derek’s sides viciously in retaliation. “Get’s Derek all flustered, it’s cute. He doesn’t like it when people hear what I sound like in bed.”

“Oh, you picked a good one,” Erica says, leaning in with a conspirationally expression on her face. And then she punches Derek in the arm. “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” she hisses, and tries to punch again, except Stiles catches her hand this time. “Do you have any idea what will happen if anyone finds out?”

“No one’s gonna find out,” Derek answers, and pushes Stiles aside, so he won’t have to take any hits in case Erica decides to go for it again. “Unless you tell Laura, or anyone.”

Erica snorts. “Are you kidding me? It’s her wedding day tomorrow, I’m sure as hell won’t ruin it by telling her that her brother’s living a lie.”

“Wait, they know?” Stiles scowls, looking between the three of them.

Derek scrubs a hand over the back of his neck. “Stiles, these are Boyd, and Erica, and yeah: they know.”

Stiles nods, sticks his hand out to Boyd to shake it. “You’re the best friends,” he says, lowers his hand when Erica doesn’t reciprocate. “Why do you--” He turns to Derek. “Why do they know?”

“Like he could keep it a secret from us if he was dating someone,” Erica says before Derek can answer. “Derek’s kinda like a lemon.”

“Sour, and only really good with tequila?” Stiles asks.

Boyd snorts, and Erica smirks. “No, he spills his juice if you squeeze hard enough.”

Boyd covers his face with a hand, while Stiles looks like he’s trying really hard not to burst out laughing.

Stiles chokes on air when Derek glares at him, takes a deep breath, pursing his lips. “Good to know,” he eventually says.

“Do you do this on purpose?” Derek asks her, but Erica only blows him a kiss while bumping her fist against Stiles’, which he’s not so furtively holding out to her.

It seems like Stiles doesn’t even have to try to get along with Derek’s friends and family, they just accept him, even if they know Stiles is not actually his boyfriend. He’s always kinda hoped it would be that easy if he ever met someone he could introduce to the most important people in his life; he just never expected it to happen when he was pretending to be in a relationship. It’s kind of ironic, and probably a theme in Derek’s life.

Erica takes a cookie. “If you blow this tonight, or tomorrow,” she says, casually taking a bite, “I will make your lives a living hell.”

She turns on her heel, and leaves. Boyd claps Derek on the shoulder, squeezes once. “Good luck,” he tell them, and then he follows Erica back out.

“That was a dramatic exit,” Stiles says, chewing on another cookie, and--yeah, they probably have to get out of the kitchen before anyone finds them stealing more cookies than Derek initially planned. “If this was the beginning of a movie, I wouldn’t know if he she was the good guy, or the villain.”

Derek nods. “Probably depends on how we do this weekend.”

“You better pretend to love the shit out of me.”

Derek doesn’t say that pretending to be with Stiles is far more easier than he’d thought it’d be; or that it might be just the most simple thing he has to do all weekend.

~

“Oh, and his butt. Yeah, definitely his butt,” Stiles says, squeezing Derek’s ass shamelessly while he smiles brightly at Derek’s great-aunt who’d asked Stiles what he liked best about Derek. “And his money.”

Auntie Susie’s smile falters, and morphs into a scandalized expression on her face. She clears her throat pointedly, before she walks away, leaving them to stand alone among the mass of people.

There’s a faint voice in his head that tells him he shouldn’t let Stiles be so shameless, but his hand is still on Derek’s ass, and it’s kinda hard to focus on anything beyond that. Derek’s never experienced something close to a shame boner before in his life, but with Stiles groping him innocently and in the name of their fake relationship, Derek’s sure what he might be popping is just that: a shame boner; for being inappropriately turned on.

“Wow, your family is invested in your love life,” Stiles says, and takes his hand off. “Isn’t it ironic then how peeved they get when you really start telling them about your love life?”

“You mean when you start telling them,” Derek corrects, and Stiles smirks at him around the rim of his champagne glass.

“What can I say? I’m a gloater, too.”

“Oh, please. You just want me for my money. And my ass.”

Stiles’ smirk grows a little wider, a lot dirtier. “True, but I am taking into consideration your stellar personality.”

“I definitely won’t take you for your personality,” Derek says.

Stiles outright pouts. “I am charming.”

“I haven’t noticed.”

“You’re probably living in a constant state of denial.”

Derek can’t help but grin, shaking his head when Stiles knocks their shoulders together. Truth be told, Stiles isn’t wrong about the denial on Derek’s part. Stiles is charming, enticing even, and he manages to draw people in effortlessly. Hell, even Gram embraced him right off the bat, and she’s been critical of every new boyfriend or girlfriend introduced to the family. And Derek’s been circling around him all night, unable to get too far away, feeling best when he’s close to Stiles.

They’re almost constantly touching, standing close together, Stiles leaning in to say something in Derek’s ear when the music’s too loud, or when no one else is supposed to hear. It’s easy to forget that all of this is just make-believe.

Two hours later, Derek looks around the room, and feels oddly anxious when he can’t spot Stiles. He finds him in the hallway, though, sitting on the stairs with a zip bag in his lap.

“What are you doing?” Derek asks, sitting down next to him, their shoulders touching.

“You know, I am all for the free food, but that buffet is severely lacking cake,” Stiles says. He sounds incredibly put out about it. Derek kinda gets it. “Luckily, Allison baked me some brownies before I left, and let me tell you, she makes the best brownies I have ever eaten in my life.”

He unzips the bag that contains several bite-sized brownies, and holds it out to Derek.

Derek reaches in to grab one. “I can’t believe you brought your own food,” he says as he pulls his hand out.

Stiles rolls his eyes, takes a brownie for himself before he zips up the bag. “I didn’t. This was a gift from Allison, comfort food if you will, considering I agreed to step into the lion’s den.”

“Fair enough.” Derek shrugs. He pops the brownie into his mouth, chewing carefully, and Stiles was right. “Those are really great.”

Stiles quirks a brow, grinning, and offers another one. “Right?”

They eat the entire bag together, in the quiet of the hallway, and Derek’s surprised at how easy it is to be in Stiles’ presence even when they don’t have to pretend.

~

Derek jerks away in the morning, the blanket slipping down on the floor. Stiles looks over at him, eyes still puffy from sleep, until another knock on the door has him look like someone put the fear of god in him.

“Just a second,” he yells, and then throws back the covers on the bed, frantically gesturing at Derek to hop in. “Come on,” he hisses, and Derek almost trips getting off the couch he’s been sleeping on.

He slips under the blankets, and Stiles shoves back against him while Derek drapes an arm over his waist.

“Come on in,” Derek says as soon as they’ve sorted everything out, and Mom peeks into the room, smiling brightly when she sees them.

“Morning,” she greets, way too chipper for this time of day. “You guys need to get up. We’re on a schedule.”

Derek plasters on a smile, tries not to show how much he’s gritting his teeth as Stiles wiggles against him. “Sure thing, Mom. Thanks.”

She closes the door behind her, and Stiles shoves away from Derek, turning around to him, looking stormy. “Are you kidding me?” he hisses. “This is sexual harassment!”

“It’s a physiological reaction!”

“Right, your physiological reaction almost drilled into me,” Stiles scoffs.

Derek huffs, throws back the covers, and Stiles adjusts his boxers. He smirks. “Well, you have one too, so shut up.”

A faint blush spreads over Stiles’ cheeks, but he defiantly raises his chin. “You need some help with yours?”

“Talk about sexual harassment,” Derek says with a roll of his eyes, and Stiles smiles sweetly at him, before Derek disappears into the bathroom.

They eat breakfast with some of the family. Laura’s at the hairdresser’s, Cora’s in curlers, and Stiles has sex hair that keeps distracting Derek in the worst ways possible. Almost everyone’s still bleary-eyed, and sleepy, so it’s quiet around the table. Stiles steals three of Derek’s pancakes, beaming at him shamelessly, and Derek’s annoyance just evaporates like that. He sighs, adjusts the glasses on Stiles’ nose, and goes back to eating.

Once Laura’s back, they drive up to the mansion where the ceremony, and the reception take place. Cora gets her hair done by Derek’s aunt; Derek spots Daniel braiding Bree’s hair at some point, and Mom smacks a sticky kiss on his cheek rushing past him.

“Why aren’t you dressed?” Erica asks, coming out of one of the upstairs rooms, where Derek can see the bridesmaids gathered. Erica’s in a pale purple-coloured dress, her hair done up, looking equally stunning and threatening when she glowers at Derek.

“I don’t know where Laura put my suit,” he says, puts up his hands.

She rolls her eyes. “Down that floor. Second door on the right. Chop chop, Hale.”

Derek finds Boyd tying Stiles’ bow tie when he enters the room.

“Where have you been?” Stiles asks, adjusts the tie when Boyd steps back from him. Derek barely registers the question, too awestruck by the sight of Stiles in a suit that fits him just right. He’s not wearing the jacket yet, and Derek admires the way the vest hugs Stiles’ narrow waist.

“Derek,” Boyd prompts, pointedly raises an eyebrow.

Derek clears his throat. “Um, I was...busy.”

Boyd looks faintly amused. He claps Derek’s shoulder walking past him, and out of the room. Derek peels his own suit out of the gown bag while Stiles puts on his jacket.

“I wasn’t sure you got a suit,” Derek says, laying out the pieces.

Stiles smooths down lapels of his jacket, smiling sheepishly at Derek. “A friend hooked me up. She knows this stuff.”

“You look great,” Derek says. He’s sure if he was a cartoon character he’d have hearts in his eyes right now. Stiles’ smile widens, and he turns to look at himself in the mirror. Derek uses the chance to stare at his ass, admire the way the dress pants fit so snugly.

“You gonna get dressed, or what?” Stiles asks, looking at Derek through the mirror. He totally caught Derek staring, but he doesn’t show it, doesn’t say anything, and Derek feels his face grow hot. He strips out of his shirt, his pants.

Stiles makes a choked off noise; clears his throat when Derek looks at him. “I’ll--I’m gonna go see if anyone needs help.”

He practically falls out of the room, and Derek catches himself staring at his ass again.

Once Derek’s finished dressing, he walks over to the bride’s room.

“Oh my god, oh my god.” Laura’s voice drifts through the closed door. “I’m getting--I’m getting married, holy shit.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, and Derek’s taken aback to find Stiles being in there. “You are.”

“No, you don’t understand.” Laura sounds panicked. “I’m getting married. What if all of this is a mistake?”

Derek’s about to step in, defuse the situation.

“Hey, hey,” Stiles’ voice is incredibly soft. “It’s not, it’s not a mistake. You’re just nervous, it’s a big day.”

“But--”

“Laura, look at me--hey. Look at me,” Stiles orders, voice stern. “You’re okay. Repeat after me: I’m getting married.”

There’s a pause, and then Laura says, “I’m getting married.”

“I’m getting married to the man I love.”

“I’m getting married to the man I love,” Laura repeats, voice a little less shaky than it was just a moment before.

“This is my wedding day, and it’s gonna be the best day of my life.”

“This is my wedding day,” Laura says, steady now. “And it’s gonna be the best day of my life.”

“Now turn around, and look at yourself in the mirror,” Stiles says. “You look beautiful. Everything is perfect. You are going to get married today. This is your day.”

It’s quiet after that, and Derek hears his blood rushing in his ears. There’s a sort of swooping in his gut, something that makes him feel a little like he’s free-falling, and it makes the breath hitch in his throat.

He jerks upright when the door suddenly opens, revealing Stiles who quirks a brow, bemused smile on his lips.

“No loitering in the hallways,” he says.

Derek splutters. “I wasn’t--I didn’t--”

Stiles snorts, and steps out of the room, gesturing for Derek to go inside. Derek follows the invitation, and Stiles quietly shuts the door, leaving Derek alone with his sister.

Laura looks stunning, radiant, to say the least.

“Hey,” Derek says, and she smiles at him, bright and beautiful.

“Hi.”

“You look beautiful,” he tells her.

Laura smiles, turns in a circle once, the skirt of her dress twirling with her, and makes a tiny curtsy. She gives off an air of abundant happiness, of joy, her eyes glittering in the light of the room. It’s like she’s stepped out a Disney movie, except no princess ever looked as amazing and happy as Laura does.

She grabs his hands. “I’m getting married,” she says, squeezes his fingers, and the sheer excitement in her voice is contagious. Gone is the shake of her voice, the panicked note, and Laura laughs, laughs like there nobody and nothing that could destroy this moment of happiness for her.

Derek hugs her tightly, sways them a little, and tries to swallow around the lump in his throat. He never thought he’d get choked up about his sister marrying, but here he is, holding her, wishing he could have what she has.

When he pulls back, Laura takes his face between her hands, presses a kiss to his cheek with a smile. “Go find your guy,” she tells him, smooths a hand over his shoulder. “And don’t let go of him.”

Derek kisses her cheek in turn, partly to hide the bitterness swamping through him, most likely also showing on his face. Laura doesn’t seem to notice either way, waves after him when Derek leaves the room.

It’s not going to be that hard, he tells himself, parting ways tomorrow. He’s known Stiles for what, barely twenty-four hours? It takes a lot more than that to get to know someone, to figure out how you feel about them, and Stiles just happens to be very good at making people believe what he wants them to believe. Derek’s just in for the ride for his own benefit.

He catches a glimpse of himself in one of the mirrors in the hallway, looking like a sad potato, as Cora would say. Derek straightens up, takes a deep breath.

“Get a grip, Hale,” he says to his reflection.

“Get a grip on what?” Erica asks, and Derek nearly jumps. She smirks cheekily at him when he turns to glare at her.

“Nothing, I--the wedding, and. Stuff.”

“Stuff,” Erica repeats with a kinked eyebrow, looking like she doesn’t believe a word he says. She steps up to him, picks at his suit lightly. “Are you crushing on your Plus One?”

“What?” Derek winces, his voice sounding shrill even to his own ears. “No. What--no.”

“So, the stuff you need to get a grip on…” Erica blinks up at him innocently.

He waves a hand around, looking for words. “Like. Um. Hormones.”

“Hormones.” Erica furrows her eyebrows.

“Yeah,” Derek nods vehemently. “All the wedding...hormones. Getting to my head.”

Erica’s biting her lip, her face contorted into something that might resemble pity, except Erica doesn’t have pity in her vocabulary.

“So, the cute one with the glasses, and the moles, and the mouth, holy shit, doesn’t move your bone?”

Derek scowls. “My bo--” And then it hits him. He takes a breath, grits his teeth.

The smirk is back on her face, and she shrugs. “I can’t blame you. You’re at a wedding, it’s all peachy and pretty, no wonder you’re all mushy inside about a boy. And I mean, he charmed your family, everyone’s happy for you, and he has a really cute butt. It’s okay. I think your family is just as mushy about him as you are.”

“I’m not--I don’t even know him,” Derek hisses. How does Erica even know anything about this? God damn.

Erica sighs long-sufferingly, tilts her head to one side looking at him. “You don’t have to know someone to realize you like them,” she says softly, with a sort of patience Derek’s not used to. “This is how relationships develop.”

Derek splutters. “Relationsh--this isn’t a relationship. Nothing is developing. This is over tomorrow.”

She puts a hand on his arm until he calms. “There’s a reason everyone ate you two up so easily,” she tells him with a stern look. “It is partly, because you do a great job pretending, but I have never seen you be so--relaxed around someone. You, and Stiles click, and there’s nothing bad about it, so stop pretending you don’t enjoy this.”

Derek deflates, can’t even help it, and Erica graces him with a soft smile as she hooks her arm around his.

“I told you you picked a good one,” she reminds him while they’re walking down the stairs.

Derek sucks in a breath when he spots Stiles standing by the door to the patio, smiling, and tying a bow on Sally’s dress.

“No,” Derek says, eyes fixed on Stiles. “I picked the greatest one.”

~

Stiles turns out to be a great dancer, and Derek spends the better part of the evening watching him waltz what seem to be all the women in attendance across the dance floor. After Stiles’ third dance, Derek felt a nagging feeling sitting at the back of his head, getting more persistent by the minute until it dawned on him that he’s jealous; jealous that Stiles didn’t ask Derek to dance; jealous of all the women prying Stiles’ attention away from Derek.

Bree bounds up to Stiles, curls bouncing, and he squats down in front of her, leaning close, and turning his head, so she can speak directly in his ear. It warms Derek’s heart when a bright smile blooms across Stiles’ face, and he nods, straightening up. He reaches for Bree’s hands, and she steps on his feet, before Stiles starts swirling them around.

“Rein your face in, Derek,” Cora says, collapses into the seat next to him, and kicking out her legs in front of herself. “You look all...mushy.”

“Erica said that, too,” Derek admits while Cora takes his glass of champagne, and downs it in one go.

“It’s scary. Stop that. For a moment I thought you were a clone, or something,” she says. Derek bares his teeth at her in a fake smile, and Cora fake-smiles right back. “Ugh, who knew you’d turn so lovey-dovey.”

“I reserve the right to express my emotions as I see fit. With my face,” Derek points out.

Cora rolls her eyes. “I miss your sour face,” she laments. “If you keep smiling like that you might lose your default serial killer mode. You know, you’ll look approachable.”

“I am approachable alright.”

Cora snorts. “Yeah, definitely. I mean when you smile like that I can see your bunny teeth, and it’s so cute.”

Derek snaps his mouth shut, and looks away from her, ears growing hot, and Cora cackles in delight. He sees Stiles still dancing with Bree; it makes something behind his ribs swell; makes his heart feel too big for his chest.

“You got it so bad,” Cora says, scrunches up her nose, and gets up, clapping both her hands on Derek’s shoulders.

“Shut up,” Derek says, half-assed at best, still watching Stiles with Bree. Cora leaves him be without further comment.

Bree does a curtsy as soon as the song is over, and Stiles takes a bow. She giggles, waves, and races across the dance floor. Stiles looks after her, a soft smile curling at his lips, and when he turns back around, he locks eyes with Derek.

He comes over, dropping down next to Derek. “Wow, I need a break. The women in your family are very demanding, and hard to say no to.”

Derek smirks. “Now you know what I grew up with.”

Stiles laughs with his head thrown back, exposing the long, pale line of his neck that Derek wants to lick. He strips out of his jacket after he’s calmed down, and hangs it over the back of his chair, rolls up the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows. God, Derek has the sudden, urgent desire to strip Stiles of his clothes, lay him bare, have his way with him.

“It’s great,” Stiles says, eyes lit up with glee, so joyous it sets something inside Derek alight.

And Derek suddenly remembers something; something Granny told him once, when he was sixteen, and thought love was something easy; when he thought finding the right person was a piece of cake; when he still fell in love anew every couple of weeks. He never thought of it again, didn’t know what she meant back then; and it never occurred to him until now.

“What are you afraid of?” he asks, Granny’s voice clear in his ear, telling him this is the most important question; that everyone is afraid of something, and if they’re not, then they don’t believe in anything either. And it’s hard to love someone who doesn’t believe in anything, who’s not scared of something.

Stiles’ expression turns thoughtful, and he takes a couple of moments to think, before he answers. “I’m afraid of letting people down,” he answers slowly. “I’m afraid of the future, because I don’t know what it holds for me; and of being alone. I always hated that, being alone, ending up alone.” Stiles smiles wryly. “I am so damn afraid of losing my dad, like, it scares the crap out of me.”

It’s a kind of soul striptease Derek didn’t expect, but he appreciates that Stiles seems to trust him with it. There’s something intimate in the way Stiles catches Derek’s gaze, smiles a tiny, private smile that spills goosebumps over Derek’s skin; makes his chest tighten with the desire to appease some of his fears.

“Do you like dogs?” Derek asks.

Stiles narrows his eyes a tad, probably peeved by being weirdly interrogated, but he humours Derek anyway. “Yeah,” he says, blindly reaches for the napkin on the table, starts unfolding it. “Actually, I--” He huffs out a tiny breath, looking away, like he can’t decide if he should say what he started to say, or not. “I donated the money to a local dog shelter.”

Derek’s whole body feels tingly. He stares at Stiles, who looks back at him expectantly. Derek didn’t entertain any theories on what Stiles might do with the money, he had no expectations, but this is so far out of what he would’ve thought of.

Stiles shrugs when Derek doesn’t say anything, still processing the revelation. “You know, I figured it’s the next best thing. I can’t adopt a dog, because I don’t have the space, or time to care for one, and I think our landlord hates any living being anyway, so.”

Derek clears his throat, nods slightly to himself, and tells himself that Stiles donating all the money to a dog shelter didn’t tip him over the edge.

Stiles fiddles with the napkin, avoiding Derek’s eyes.

“What do you do when it rains?” Derek asks finally, and Stiles releases a breath, tipping his head back.

“I play video games with Scott,” Stiles says. “Sometimes, I read. Or I clean the apartment, ‘cause there’s no better time to do that.”

Stiles smiles at him, softly, knowingly, and folds up the napkin. Derek watches his fingers move, thinks of all the moments, the private ones, the habitual ones; all the aspects of Stiles’ life he doesn’t know; hasn’t seen, and wonders what it would be like to share these moments with him. If he ever even gets to see them.

“Let’s dance,” Stiles says suddenly, fingers winding around Derek’s wrist. “It’ll look weird if I dance with anyone but you.”

It so happens that the song changes to something slow when they get to the dancefloor, and Derek rolls his eyes heavenward, feels like he’s stepped into some romantic cliché. Things don’t get better when Derek realizes it’s Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.

“Is it weird that I’m great at standard dances, but an awful slow dancer?” Stiles asks.

Derek can’t help the smile, winds an arm around Stiles’ waist, takes Stiles’ hand with the other. “Good thing that I’m a great slow dancer,” he says as he pulls Stiles closer to his body, so they’re flush against each other.

“Gotta keep it balanced, huh,” Stiles mutters. He puts his free arm around Derek, brings their faces cheek to cheek. Derek sighs softly when Stiles leans his temple against Derek’s, sways them to the music. Stiles’ body heat seeps all the way through both their clothes, and into Derek’s skin, sends little, pleasant shocks rocketing through his body.

“What about you?” Stiles asks quietly into his ear. “What are you afraid of?”

“Lots of things,” Derek answers, catches Erica making chinhands at them. “Like clowns, or wasps. But also disappointing my family, and friends. I’m afraid of change, but at the same time I’m afraid of falling into a boring routine, you know, follow the same patterns day in day out for the rest of my life. I’m...I’m afraid of--of missing my opportunities.”

Stiles’ breath tickles the hair on his nape. Derek closes his eyes for a moment, enjoys this, their closeness, the way Stiles’ solid form feels against his own. It’s been a while since Derek’s been that close to anyone who isn’t related to him, or a close friend.

He’s missed this; he didn’t realize how much until now, until Stiles’ fingers are suddenly carefully brushing through the hairs on his nape.

“I love dogs,” Derek continues, melting into Stiles’ touch. “I don’t have time for one, either, and I love my cat, but I wanna have dogs sometime. When I was still in school, I made money by walking other people’s dogs.”

Stiles slips his hand out of Derek’s, winds it around Derek’s shoulder.

“When it rains, I get Bailey, pancakes, and watch TV in bed all day,” Derek continues, puts both his hands around Stiles’ waist. “Sometimes, Bailey falls asleep on me, and then I don’t move until she wakes up, and finds another place to sleep.”

Stiles pulls back a little, just enough so he can look at Derek. Derek could get lost in his eyes, maybe, if he stared for too long; if Stiles let him. Stiles is still carding his fingers gently through the hair at the base of Derek’s skull; tiny movements that make shudders skip down Derek’s spine, little shocks that ignite whole fireworks somewhere deep within.

Stiles leans in, presses his lips to the corner of Derek’s mouth for a long, long moment. His lips are soft, warm, and Derek lets himself fall into it, closing his eyes. It’s chaste, tender. It’s not what Derek expected, it’s not the sort of kiss he hoped for, but it still exceeds his expectations; makes him feel like there’s nothing in the world he couldn’t take on right now.

After, Stiles leans his forehead against Derek’s, their noses brushing together. Looking at Stiles, tracing the the shapes of his face with his eyes, a deep, soothing calm settles over Derek. There are no worries about getting caught, about pretending; no fear of this turning into a disaster. Stiles holds onto him still, sways with him to the slow, sweet tune of the music, like they have all the time in the world; unhurried, lost in their own little bubble.

And he tilts his head just so to give Derek a better angle to press their mouths together.

Derek’s had different first kisses. Wild ones, the kind where you just hungrily bite and nip; hard ones, all teeth, and bruising even; soft, and tender ones too, testing out the waters, sneaking tongue, slow nips.

Kissing Stiles is completely different: it’s sweet, languid; a dry, lingering press of lips that still sends miniscule, tingling shocks right down to Derek’s core. It’s a kind of kiss you get lost in; the kind that ignites wildfires in your gut effortlessly; the kind that lets you forget that there’s a world that exists around you.

When Stiles pulls back, leans his head against Derek’s shoulder for the remains of the dance, Derek’s not sure how much of all this is actual pretense anymore.

~

His limbs are heavy with exhaustion when Derek goes to bed, pulls the blanket over himself on the couch. It’s a comfortable heaviness though, a kind of afterglow of everything that’s happened with Stiles that night. There’s no weariness weighing him down right now, just the soft promise of sleep making his eyelids droop; smile stupidly into the darkness of the room, because he can still feel the ghost of Stiles’ lips against his.

“Thanks for pep talking Laura, by the way,” he says, belatedly remembering.

A short silence followed, and then Derek hears the rustling of sheets. “D’she tell you?”

“I overheard you, actually,” Derek admits, pillows his head on his arm. “Thank you for being there for her.”

Stiles hums. “Anytime.”

~

They’re being seen off by Mom, Laura, and Cora, with Mom inviting Stiles to join them for her birthday. Stiles smiles non-committally.

“If you’ll have me,” he says, neither accepting nor declining the invitation, and Derek feels dread roiling in his stomach.

They each get a hug from all three of them. Boyd, and Erica, who take the same flight as Stiles, and Derek, get a warm goodbye.

Stiles collapses into his seat, starfishes out, and Derek has to step over one of his legs to get seated himself, watching Stiles melt into the cushion. Erica walks by them, giving Derek a raised brow, and a significant look.

He tries to push Stiles’ foot out of the way, so he can sprawl himself. Stiles just crosses his leg over Derek’s obnoxiously, and they end up pushing at each other’s legs until Derek traps Stiles’ ankle between his. Stiles stops fighting after that, seemingly content with their situation, and Derek tries not to gloat too much over this tiny victory.

He smirks smugly at Stiles, anyway.

“Ugh, you’re such a loser,” Stiles says, pushes Derek’s face away from his with a hand.

They end up going through pictures on their phones together. Stiles shows him photos of a vacation trip he did a while ago with Scott; of his dad; a picture of Jesus stuck to the T of the street sign to a dead-end.

Among all the pictures, Derek catches a glimpse of a photo of Stiles, looking directly into the camera, a ladybug sitting on the tip of his nose. He transfers the pictures onto his phone when Stiles takes a bathroom break; stares at it for a little while longer. Stiles squints in the picture, one eye squeezed shut, and the other barely open; a faint sunburn showing on the bridge of his nose, and he’s smiling.

Derek shows him pictures of Bailey--he has a lot of them on his phone, he realizes going through all of them--and Stiles cackles in delight. There’s a photo of Derek lying on the couch, arm over his head, and Bailey covering across half his face. Stiles makes a tiny noise when he sees it, biting his lip.

“You know, your serial killer vibe has gone down by, like, another ninety percent,” Stiles points out.

“Yeah?”

“Duh, I heard you trash talking your sister with your seven-year-old cousin, and I saw you all squinty-eyed, and bed-heady,” Stiles says, smirk curling at his lips. “Although, your physiological reaction gains you, like, fifty percent, because that thing’s a lethal weapon.”

Derek tries not to choke on air. “I’m flattered.”

“That wasn’t a compliment.”

“I distinctly remember you offering help, so I’m taking you know how to handle lethal weapons.”

Stiles doesn’t even miss a beat. “You could say I’m an expert.”

“Well, then I’m in good hands,” Derek says, and Stiles averts his eyes, pulling his bottom lip between his teeth; grinning like he’s enjoying this a lot.

~

Their making their way out into the hall after getting their luggage.

“I had a great time,” Stiles says with an earnest grin. It makes Derek’s heart swoop.

He nods, returns the grin. “Me too.”

There’s one more thing he has to do, so he pulls the check out of the back pocket of his pants, holds it out for Stiles to take. It feels odd, sort of, because it reminds him how this started; that this was an arrangement, even though it didn’t feel like one during the weekend. Either way, it’s what they agreed on, so this is the right thing to do; giving Stiles the money, sticking to his end of the deal like Stiles stuck to his.

Stiles doesn’t look ecstatic when his eyes skim the little sheet of paper; looking surprised for all it’s worth, like he’s forgotten about the money.

He looks up at Derek, smiles tightly. “Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me,” Derek says. “I’m just holding up my end of the bargain.”

Stiles nods, huffs out a laugh. “Right.”

They both turn, then, when someone calls out Stiles’ name, and Derek sees Scott waving from across the hall.

“I--” Stiles points in his direction. “Gotta go. It was great meeting you, Derek.”

He waves one last time, turning, and hurries towards his friend.

“Yeah, you too,” Derek says. Stiles probably didn’t hear.

He ignores the way his gut clenches, or the wave of disappointment swamping him. Derek knew this was coming, so why does it feel like someone dropped an anvil in his stomach?

“You look like a sad blob,” Erica says, catching up to him. “Aren’t you gonna do something?”

She looks pointedly into Stiles’ direction. “Go after him? Ask him out?”

Derek follows her line of sight to where Stiles is hugging his friend, looking, for all intents and purposes, like he’s already forgotten about Derek.

He shrugs. “We agreed on the weekend,” he reminds her, and takes off to get a cab home.

~

Derek stares blankly at his bank statement, goes through it again, but there’s still no second debit over seven thousand dollars. Stiles hasn’t cashed in the check yet, and it’s driving him crazy.

He’d hoped he could move on. See Stiles take the money, and just, close that chapter. It’s been almost three months, and Derek’s checked his bank statement practically every day.

Frustrated, he gets his phone out, and pulls up Erica’s number. why doesn’t he take the fucking money??????

He feels like stomping his foot, demanding Stiles just cash the check in, and get it over with, because Derek can’t get past this as long as it keeps nagging him.

The work he’s been trying to do sits untouched on the table, files piling up, and maybe the coffee shop isn’t the best place to work. It’s noisy, buzzing with life as people come and go; the clattering of dishes, and the hissing of the machines a constant source of noise. Derek scrubs a hand through his hair. There’s been a constant tug of anxiety in his gut every since he parted ways with Stiles; the ever present wish to see him again. Erica’s told him to give him a call, but Derek had thrown away Stiles’ card in a fit of anger and disappointment; and he didn’t bother to save his number for the weekend they stayed together.

y do u care, comes Erica’s reply. u said u moved on

well i didn’t, he punches in angrily. maybe it’s a pity ploy

u misspelled pity party

maybe i was his charity project or something

yea that’s definitely what it looked like

It’s easy enough to pick up on her sarcasm even through her text messages. It’s outrageous.

he donated the first check to a dog shelter

what a dick

She’s infuriating. Derek needs a little support here, not mockery.

what if he doesn’t take the money cause he pities me

for what

for having a family acting like i’m some sort of loveless recluse

that doesn’t make any sense

it does!!!

i forgot what a big baby you are

Derek sends her devil’s horns, and Erica gracefully doesn’t answer. Laura would coddle him, probably, if she knew, but he can’t tell her, because she still thinks Stiles was actually Derek’s boyfriend. There’s no one else he could talk to about it, except Boyd, who most likely wouldn’t even answer to any of this.

He considers telling Cora when he spots Scott. Scott who he hasn’t ever talked to, who he only saw once from a distance, and some photos, sitting down at a table not very far from Derek’s. He’s followed by a tall, dark-haired woman, who Derek recognizes as his fiancée Allison; a tall guy with blond, curly hair, and a pretty, tiny red-head. Stiles comes last, balancing a coffee cup, and a plate with a giant piece of cake.

Stiles looks great. He’s laughing, cheering, as he sits down on one of the chairs. Seeing his smile feels like getting the rug pulled out from under his feet, lodges Derek’s heart right in his throat, and it’s hard to breathe around it.

“You did it,” Scott says, drums both his hands on Stiles’ back.

Stiles snorts a little. “I still have to pass.”

Little Red flicks a lock over her shoulder, leans in to brace her elbows on her knees. “Please, if you don’t pass with flying colours, we’re gonna have to sue someone.”

And it clicks suddenly. Stiles has handed in his master’s thesis.

“So, you gonna cash in that check now, and take us on a real nice trip, or what?” the tall guy asks, and takes a sip of his coffee.

Stiles’ smile dims a little, he looks down at his hands, and Allison nudges his shoulder. “I told you, I’m not gonna use the money.”

“Oh, come on.” The guy looks frustrated.

Little Red pats Stiles’ knee. “Get over your pride, Stiles”

Derek can’t listen to this. He packs up his stuff, ignores his stomach twisting, ignores the way his throat goes dry, and pretends that his heart isn’t racing because of Stiles.

He gets another coffee, and turns to go when somebody bumps his arm. Derek’s drenched in coffee before he even realizes, an odd sense of déja-vu washing over him at the sensation of wet, hot clothes plastered to his skin.

“Oh my--holy shit, Derek!” Stiles stares at him wide-eyed, a couple of napkins in his hand. There’s a moment when Derek thinks he sees panic in Stiles’ eyes, but it’s gone too fast for Derek to be sure. Stiles rips another dozen of napkins out of the container, and starts frantically dabbing at Derek’s shirt.

“Stiles,” Derek says tightly, catching his wrists gently.

“That’s him, that’s him,” Scott hisses, and Derek does his best not to look over Stiles’ shoulder, where his friends are sitting, and watching them.

“Shut up, that’s him?” Little Red looks positively surprised.

Derek goes hot all over.

“Sorry,” Stiles mutters, dropping his hands. “I’ll...pay for the dry cleaning?”

There’s a shy smile on his face, a look that’s new to Derek. He hears the blood rushing in his ears, hears his own thunderous heartbeat.

“Or do you have another family thing I can help you with?”

Derek tries not to show the bitterness welling up inside him. “No, I’m good. Don’t worry about it.”

Screw the coffee. Screw his life, really. He turns his back on Stiles, and leaves the coffee shop, thinking that he should’ve just gone alone to Laura’s wedding. Ironic, how he made it even worse by simply asking a random stranger to accompany him. That’s just his luck.

“Derek!”

Derek turns despite himself.

Stiles flies down the few stairs to the entry of the coffee shop, all flushed and flustered, coming up to stand in front of him.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says, voice hitching, out of breath. “It was a stupid joke, I--”

“Don’t worry about it,” Derek answers, again, mechanically. The fabric of his shirt sticks to his skin, wetly, sucking the warmth out of his skin. He looks over Stiles’ shoulder, so he doesn’t have to look at his face, and his eyes land on his friends instead: all their heads turned into Stiles and Derek’s direction, watching them through the window.

“No, no, it was--look, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean it,” Stiles insists, reaching out a hand, but pulling back at the last moment, like he doesn’t know if he’s allowed to touch.

“It felt real.” It’s out before Derek can stop himself, the words falling out of his mouth out of their own volition. Stiles stills. Derek laughs, because it’s so easy, suddenly, when saying it makes him feel--relieved. “It didn’t feel like we were pretending.”

Stiles doesn’t respond for a long, long moment. His eyes search Derek’s face, like he’s trying to parse out if Derek’s fucking with him.

“It felt real to me, too,” he finally admits, sounding small.

Derek heaves out a breath. “Look, you don’t have to humour me, or anyone else, anymore. Just--take the money, get this over with. I don’t--just take the--I don’t know why you won’t take the money.”

“That’s your problem?” Stiles sucks in a sharp breath, a flash of hurt crossing his face.

“Why did you take the first check,” Derek starts, “but not the second one?”

Stiles scrubs both hands over his face. “When I first met you, I thought you were some rich douche who thought he could buy just about anything with the right amount of money,” he explains carefully. “I thought if I’m gonna do this, I might as well take some of your cash, and do something good with it, because I--I didn’t want it. It was tempting, it was easy--anyway. And then--by the time the weekend was over, I realized you weren’t at all who I thought you were.”

He takes a deep breath, staring at his feet, and says, “You gave me the check, and I thought that was it for you. You were holding up your end of the bargain, and I was the idiot who--I didn’t use the second check, because--if I had known that--that you’re you, I wouldn’t have asked for anything. I would’ve been happy enough just spending time with you.”

Derek reaches out, tips Stiles’ head back carefully with two fingers under his chin, so he can look at him. The storm of thoughts in his head is over, the bitterness, the anger, gone; in its place quiet contentment, and the bone-deep satisfaction upon hearing Stiles’ words.

Derek winds his arm around Stiles, gathers him close, burying his nose behind Stiles’ ear. “I missed you,” he confesses into the tiny, tiny space between them, hoping that everything he’s feeling carries through with it. Stiles shudders against him.

Stiles holds onto him, his breath rushing out harshly, tickling the hairs on Derek’s nape. He pulls back to take Derek’s face between his hands, traces his thumbs under Derek’s eyes for a moment.

Stiles kisses him like nobody’s business, mouth hot and urgent against Derek’s. He makes these breathless noises at the back of his throat, like it’s too much, and not enough at the same time, and Derek swallows them all right up. The heat pooling in his stomach spreads through his entire body, settles behind his heart, enveloping him completely.

It’s a little like falling, really, and falling is so easy with Stiles.

Out of the corner of his eye, Derek can see Stiles’ friends with their arms in the air, cheering.

“You can come to my graduation party with me,” Stiles offers as he pulls back, voice sounding raspy, breath coming hard. His lips are raw, and swollen, but his eyes are alight with mirth. “And I’ll try and stop spilling coffee over you.”

Derek snorts. “Is that even physically possible for you?”

Stiles drags his lips against Derek’s, his breath hot across his cheek. “What can I say? It’s a physiological reaction.”