Chapter 1: Prologue
Soulmates: Reality or Illusion?
by Lydia Martin writing for the California Beacon
Since time immemorial the story of ‘soulmates’ has persisted. In short, the idea that somewhere out there is your perfect match, the one person who can complete you and with whom you can find total happiness.
The story goes that, the first time you meet your ‘soulmate’, the universe will give you a sign in what should be the most obvious way - somewhere in your immediate vicinity the word ‘soulmate’ will appear.
I use the term ‘should’ purposefully, because the universe clearly has a sense of humor.
If reports of ‘soulmates’ are to be believed, rather than being written of as hopeful delusions, then this ‘obvious’ signal is anything but, fleeting as it is.
Take the earliest written account of the ‘soulmate’ legend, dating from the Han Dynasty in China, around 25AD. The hero and heroine of the story are to marry, but are forbidden from meeting before their wedding day. The hero cannot wait and steals into the house of his intended. He sees her for the first time sitting under a cherry blossom tree. As he sinks down beside her and their eyes meet for the first time, the bark of the tree changes and the Chinese characters for ‘soulmate’ appear. They know then that they are destined to be together.
It’s a sweet tale, and there have been many more like it. Believers have highlighted the fact that these stories can be found in all corners of the world and state (often loudly) that there could be no way that such similar stories could have developed independently, unless there was something to them. Tales have been told of the ‘soulmate’ sign appearing in everything from water ripples, to street signs. One report was even of the word ‘soulmate’ appearing in a cloud formation.
Denouncers of the theory highlight that nobody has ever been able to put forward concrete proof of any such occurrence. The word seemingly only appears for a matter of moments and only when two people first meet. There is no guarantee that they will be looking in the correct direction to see it, nor that they will have any idea who their supposed ‘soulmate’ actually is. The appearance of any such word is of little use if you meet your ‘soulmate’ in a crowded room. Or if the word is indeed written in the clouds - which could be viewed by any number of people over any number of miles.
What is incontrovertible, though, is the statistical backing for the ‘soulmate’ theory. In 1978, scientists Becker and Dawes conducted their famous study into the ‘soulmate’ theory. Their intent was to disprove the theory. Over the course of five years, they studied 100,000 couples. Their results shocked the world.
They found that couples who claimed to be ‘soulmates’ scored exponentially higher scores in all of the tested categories, when compared to the ‘control group’ of all other married couples. ‘Soulmates’ were happier, healthier, had improved life expectancy, were more likely to succeed in aspects of their life outside of their relationship, had a lower incidence of mental health problems, and the divorce rate amongst ‘soulmates’ was practically zero.
Supporters of the ‘soulmate’ theory have ever since held the Becker-Dawes study out as being total proof that ‘soulmates’ exist. Non-believers highlight the drawbacks of the study. In a pool of 100,000 couples studied, pulling people from all over the globe, only 2,000 of those couples actually claimed to be soulmates’. The rest formed the control group. Becker and Dawes had such a small group of ‘soulmates’ simply because those were all they could find, despite an extensive search.
And there’s the rub. At the end of the day, it does not really matter whether or not you believe in soulmates. Why? Because even if the stories are true, simply playing the odds, you are never going to find your perfect match. Or, if you do, you will never know about it.
A fact that is not often quoted from the Becker-Dawes study. 1,223 couples from the control group scored in exactly the same way as the ‘soulmate’ couples. They were dismissed as a statistical anomaly. Could it actually be that these people were actually soulmates - but that they were looking in the wrong direction when they first met?
I will leave it up to you to decide. In the meantime, one thing that is certain is that Hollywood will continue to milk the ‘soulmate’ trope for as long as people keep buying tickets. The latest offering is Written in the Stars, featuring relative newcomer Stiles Stilinski in what is being billed as his breakout role. Due for release later this year, the hype is already building. Watch this space for more news, views and updates.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
Today was the worst day of Derek’s life - and given how unbelievably shitty Derek’s life was being right now, that said something about just how terrible today was being. He had woken up late to a message from his soon to be ex saying (with absolutely no remorse) that she couldn’t take Lauren for the day after all, because she had something vitally important come up and she would be out of town for the next two weeks, maybe longer. He could practically hear the joy in Kate’s voice as she screwed him over - as if the amount of money that she was demanding for alimony as part of the divorce package wasn’t bad enough. She knew full well that today was an important day for him and finding a sitter at such short notice would be practically impossible.
Actually impossible, as it turned out. He phoned every agency, friend and connection he had. All whilst trying to wrestle a ten month old baby into street clothes and getting some breakfast down her. Which actually resulted in Derek having to rethink his outfit twice, after getting covered in milk and then realising that white just wasn’t the way to go if he wanted to last all day without another change. He loved Lauren, he was coping with having to be a single dad, but today was really a day that he needed to be able to pass her off on someone else. He even tried enrolling her in a local daycare, but they flat out refused to take her without a battery of background checks and forms that he simply didn’t have the time to complete right now.
Finally, in absolute desperation, he gave in entirely. Which was why he was now wheeling a stroller round the lobby of a hotel, diaper bag over one shoulder, camera equipment over the other.
“Jesus, Hale, where the hell have you been?”
Derek knew that voice. He didn’t have to turn to see her. Lydia Martin vacillated between being one of his favorite things about work and one of his least favorite. Today he had a feeling she was going to be the worst. He turned and she gasped face contorting to anger then softening at the sight of his daughter, kneeling in a dress she had no business kneeling in to make cute faces at her. “Oh hello, Lauren,” she cooed. “Is your daddy attempting to make my life completely miserable? And ruin my career when I need him to take pictures of this stupid teen sidekick who thinks he can grow up to play the heartthrob in a stupid movie about things no one believes in?” she said in a sing-songy voice that sounded so pleasant despite the harsh tone of her words.
“Lydia, I’m sorry, my wife-” Derek started.
“Ex-wife. You’re doing a shitty job of remembering you’re divorced.”
He really wasn’t - not yet - but she was right. It was only a matter of time. He was still screwing it up. Rubbing at the space between his eyebrows, he sighed. “We can still do this.”
“Of course you can. I need you too. His last role he played a high schooler following his best friend on a roadtrip across the country, which of course was comedy. And this is supposed be a romantic comedy that actually toes the line of serious drama and he still looks sixteen half the time. I need your magic.”
“You’re gonna give this guy a hard time, aren’t you?” Derek asked, adjusting the camera bag on his shoulder so it would stop slipping. Sometimes Lydia forgot that she was assigned the entertainment section and started thinking she was already in her dream job as a hard hitting investigative reporter. She would make it one day, of that he was sure, but right now she was limited to who was sleeping with whom and what would be the next big thing.
Lydia rolled her eyes and pursed her perfectly made up pink lips as she stood, flicking her long hair back over her shoulder and straightening the mini dress back out again. “Derek, let’s face it - it’s a Q and A in a public forum. I am going to be one of a number of reporters there and though clearly the best, if I start to give him a hard time then I’ll just get moved along and my spot will be given to the next guy and I’ll end up with nothing but your series of pretty pictures. So, I’m going to be on my best behavior and ask nice, if somewhat probing questions that will be of interest to my readers and his fans - all twelve of them.”
“If you look online I think he has more than twelve fans…” Derek said without thinking about it. He probably shouldn’t admit that, but he couldn’t help it. He’d looked up Stiles Stilinski under the pretense of research, but he’d gotten caught up in sort of a spiral on tumblr, realizing the guy did have sort of a secret internet following and justifiably so. Yes in his movie he looked young and silly, but in reality he had an expressive sort of grace that only came out in candid shots and videos. He probably should have been clumsy, but he didn’t seem to be. He seemed incredibly aware of his surroundings and movements and he was deceptively handsome. He was going to make a great leading man.
“What were you doing...no. Don’t answer that. We’ve got work to do. Lauren, are you ready?” The little girl cooed up at Lydia and she smiled, but it was a little more wicked than Derek would have liked. “That settles it. Let’s do this.”
It was slightly easier, getting from the hotel lobby to the conference suite where they had been told to set up, with Lydia stalking her way through the crowds ahead of him. Not that she actually helped with the bags or pushing Lauren, but that was just who Lydia was when she had her professional face on. Regardless of the situation, she was always high heels, perfect hair, full makeup. Beautiful and flawless Lydia Martin who might look like an airhead, but had a mind like a steel trap and wasn’t afraid to use it. She wasn’t going to be seen dead lugging baggage or attaching herself to small children - even though she’d happily play with Lauren for hours outside of work, and the two had a standing play date at the park every other Sunday afternoon.
As Derek caught some of the looks they were getting, he concluded that Lydia also kinda liked the show of her being followed around by ‘a big strong hunk of a man’, as she would no doubt put it. She’d confessed on previous occasions that the reason she had first requested to work with him was for her image. The cute girl reporter and the gorgeous photographer. Working in entertainment, she had explained, was as much about her image as the stories she wrote. Derek added to that. The fact that he also took damn fine photos was the reason that they’d kept working together after that first time.
At least it was mostly compliments hurled in his direction, but he wasn’t feeling them at the moment. The crowds were making Lauren fussy already. He could hear her starting to whimper over the chatter that seemed to get louder as everyone crowded into the room and their seats for the conference. Lydia stalked her way to the front row, glaring at two reporters that had taken her seats. They tried to stay strong, but eventually wilted under her glare. Everyone did. She watched them cower away and took her seat with a bright grin, then patted Derek’s.
She made it look so easy, sitting there all prim and put together. The total antithesis for how Derek was today. He felt on edge and flustered as he jammed Lauren’s diaper bag under the seat and messed with the position of her stroller so he could see her, but so she also wouldn’t interrupt any of his shots. Then he felt like a horrible, terrible person for putting his work before his daughter, regardless of reason. He had barely got settled when the announcer called attention and gave the waiting reporters a rundown of the film that was being promoted - Written in the Stars - and then called out Stiles Stilinski.
Lydia had been right, Derek decided as the man in question entered the room from the side door and jogged over to the table in front of them with a wide smile and a wave to the room. Stiles Stilinski still looked like a teenager, even though Derek knew from his research dive into the depths of Tumblr that he turned twenty earlier in the year. Still, Derek could work with what he had been given, and the actor was clearly the camera’s friend, all soft angles and lean limbs. Derek got off a few shots as Stiles almost fell over his feet sitting down, only to laugh about it, and take the bottle of water handed to him by one of the hotel staff. Tilting his head back, he downed a third of the bottle straight off in a series of gulps that did things to that long pale column of neck that Derek decided should be illegal. Then Stiles set the bottle down on the table, just to the side of him and scanned the room as Derek started taking more photos.
“So,” Stiles said, tapping his hands on the table a little louder than he should. “How do we do this?” he asked and Derek had to contain a laugh as the mediator sitting next to him fought the urge to roll his eyes. Stiles was definitely new at this.
“They’ ask-” the mediator started, but stopped when Lydia’s hand shot up and Stiles pointed at her.
“You!” he said, like this was a game and not his career in the making. Derek got a few shots of the moment though, watching him grin at her, which meant that Lydia had on her perfect smile, the kind that made men reconsider everything just to be closer to her. She started her question, but Derek watched Stiles’ eyes dart towards him through the lens of the camera and he was half jumping out of his chair and pointing again, though this time more at Derek. “Who is that!? Oh my god she’s adorable!” Derek was flashing pictures, not even realizing until he was looking Stiles in the eye through the camera that the young man was speaking to him.
There was a moment when Derek thought that Stiles Stilinski, up and coming star, was calling him adorable. Then the ‘she’ of it all filtered through and Derek lowered the camera. Setting it carefully off to the side, he felt like every gaze in the room was on him and he swallowed, self-consciously. “My daughter, Lauren,” he said, complete mortification and embarrassment warring with clear pride in the little girl.
Stiles smiled more widely, Lydia’s question entirely forgotten as he leaned over the table and wiggled his fingers at her. “Hey there, Lauren. Aren’t you just the cutest thing? Whatcha doing here?” He glanced up at Derek, who sunk lower in his seat. He didn’t really want to have to explain to a room full of people that he had been left high and dry by his soon-to-be-ex-wife on a vengeance trip and couldn’t find a sitter.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to, as Stiles gave him a sympathetic look. One which Derek wished he’d been able to catch on camera, because nobody with eyes like that should be allowed to use that expression without it being captured for posterity. Sure, there were dozens of other cameras in the room. Hundreds, if you counted the cell phones, but for Derek that wasn’t the same.
“She must hate this,” Stiles said, gesturing to the room as a whole and Derek saw something behind the words. A sense of kinship, as if Stiles hated this whole media circus as well.
There was a murmur of noise behind him, but Derek half nodded just as Lauren started to flail a little more, whining softly almost on cue. Stiles looked pained for her, making faces for a moment trying to get her to smile again. Lydia cleared her throat. “My question, Mr. Stilinski?” she asked.
Stiles looked back at Lydia, as Derek bent to pull Lauren up onto his knee, bouncing her in a way that always seemed to settle her, supporting her with one hand whilst he took the best pictures he could with the other.
“Sorry,” Stiles was apologising. “She’s…kinda distracting. It’s just...baby.” He grinned again, his gaze darting between Lydia and Lauren and Derek as Lydia asked her question and Stiles fought to keep his attention fixed long enough to answer. The mediator was clearly losing the will to live and there were sighs and whispered complaints from the other reporters in the room.
“Well, I guess it really depends you know? I mean I’m not one to say it doesn’t happen, but it’s a nice idea, that there’s someone out there for everyone,” Stiles was saying, trying to watch Lydia, but his eyes kept drifting. Derek was able to stop bouncing his knee for a moment, catching a few good pictures of Stiles as he played with his water bottle tilting it back and forth, still rambling about soulmates, but his eyes were drifting to Lydia’s left. It wasn’t great for the interview, but beautiful for photos, Derek catching direct looks of his face, soft smile in place. Derek was grinning himself, right back at the guy, until Lauren suddenly shrieked, catching everyone off guard.
Derek dropped his camera. The only thing that saved him from destroying a few thousand dollars worth of equipment was the fact that he had the safety strap round his neck. He let the camera dangle as he gave Lauren his full attention, whispering to her in the vain hope that she could be happy and quiet for a little while longer.
“Aww, don’t be like that!” Derek heard Stiles cooing at his daughter again, though this time he didn’t look up. There was a collective sigh around the room as the actor abandoned the interview again in favor of the baby, leaning over the table and making silly faces and noises until Lauren was laughing and clapping her hands together. Throughout it all, he could hear the sounds of cameras going off and he just hoped that nobody was going to be posting pictures of himself and Lauren. Especially not Lauren. He really didn’t want to have to spend the next few weeks arguing with website owners and idiots on social media about posting pictures of a baby without her parent’s permission. Or, god forbid, finding that his ex had given permission as her next move in the unending game of Chess that was their divorce.
“See, that’s better,” Stiles said, leaning back in his chair, grinning over at the mediator who scowled at him. He waved towards the baby, but his own smile faded. “Uh. Sorry. Right. Interview.”
“Derek,” Lydia hissed, not quite looking at him. “You aren’t helping.”
“Sorry,” Derek whispered back as someone else in the room asked a question. “I’m not trying to be difficult.”
“Maybe not, but I had at least five more questions and if I’ve lost my spot then so help me god, there’ll be hell to pay,” she exclaimed in a harsh whisper, grinding out the words through gritted teeth and a fixed smile.
Lauren started fussing again and Stiles trailed off from his answer, glancing back at her. Lydia groaned and pushed Derek. “Go. Just… go. I’ll meet you outside after,” she decided.
Derek hated it, but managed to get his things in his hands, get Lauren back in her stroller and get up.
“Oh you’re going,” Stiles said glancing back at Derek and like on cue Lauren waved at him. Stiles laughed at her and waved back. “Bye bye pretty girl,” he said. Derek colored as Lauren laughed. Stiles laughed back and then scribbled something down on a piece of paper and handed it to his assistant as Derek made his way out of the room.
That had been entirely, gut-wrenchingly humiliating. Lydia was probably never going to speak to him again and he only got a fraction of the shots he should have done. He just hoped that what he did have was good, or he could be out of a job.
“Excuse me!” The call came from behind him together with the sound of running feet. Derek turned as Stiles Stilinski’s assistant caught up with him. “Mr. Stilinski asked me to give you this,” he said, handing over a folded piece of paper.
Derek frowned, but took the piece of paper anyway. “Thanks,” he said but the assistant was already dashing off again, back to his client. Derek had to wonder if he corrected the assistant when he called him Mr. Stilinski. Stiles didn’t really seem like the type that would want to go by such a formal name. Lauren waved her hands for the paper and he gave her a little look. “You’re right, this probably is for you. He seemed to like you plenty.” Though it was kind of amazing to see a twenty-year-old so good with kids. Maybe he had a little sister or brother or something. He rolled Lauren’s stroller back and forth to try and lull her to sleep with one hand and unfolded the paper with the other.
Scrawled on the page was a phone number and an email address. Derek blinked, wondering what the he’ll this was. What kind of actor gave contact details to the press? These didn’t seems like standard agent details. The email, at least, seemed personal. A lighthearted moniker at a free web address.
He took a step towards where the assistant had come from, as if he might be able to ask a question and get an answer, but the guy was long gone. “No way ,” Derek said, shaking his head. “This is definitely for you,” he told Lauren, tucking the piece of paper into his camera bag.
Sending a quick text to Lydia, apologizing and explaining that he’d caused enough damage today already, he decided to head home. He could develop his photos and maybe, just maybe, be able to salvage his career.
Worst. Day. Ever.
The day didn’t exactly get better. Lauren seemed to be in as much of a mood as Derek was and he’d spent most of the afternoon either fighting with her to nap or eat or not put things in her mouth instead of getting any work done. It wasn’t until after she’d finally gone down and he’d cleaned up around the house that he had a spare moment to sit, pull out the camera and develop the few photos he’d taken. There weren’t as many as he’d liked, that much was obvious, and he’d have to hope that he got as much as he could from the few he’d taken. Immediately he went to the last few, knowing those were probably the best, Stiles had been looking at Laura and he’d gotten his face straight on and if Lydia got her questions, he’d have a good photo to go with them.
The last one he took was probably the best, Stiles’ soft smile made for the camera, his cheekbones cutting beautifully and balancing out the dark circles that were threatening to appear under his eyes. The guy was probably going full tilt every waking moment. Even with only a few minutes in the room with the man, Derek knew to let his eyes drop to his hands, perfectly caught holding the water bottle from where he’d been fiddling with it.
Those hands had been something else. Long fingers that were the stuff of fantasy. If Derek hadn’t already known he was bisexual, just looking at Stiles Stilinski’s fingers would have convinced him. Long, nimble fingers twirling a bottle of Evian as Stiles stared right into the lense.
Only - that wasn’t Evian. Or, it should have been, except the familiar logo had been replaced with a single word. Clear, in focus, incontrovertible.
Derek grabbed for his phone, bypassing the texts from Lydia and going straight to twitter.
The social media site had already blown up. He didn’t even have to look for the trending hashtags to see what everyone was talking about. Everyone was talking about it, retweeting it, Stiles’ face with that soft smile and the bottle clearly visible. There were several angles, which made sense, it was a room full of photographers and reporters, but no one had the view head on. Derek looked back at the photo he’d set aside. Stiles’ face was still there, looking right at the camera and smiling. No one had it but him.
The phone rang, loud and obnoxious in the moment. Derek picked it up on reflex.
“Derek - tell me you got it!” Lydia’s voice was excited, all wrongs forgiven on the chance if the right shot.
Derek looked at the photo in his hands. “I... erm...”
“Do not tell me that you didn’t get that. One. Shot!”
“I...” It was a great shot. Perfectly focused, whiskey eyes looking straight into the camera, the bottle rotated just so. Derek had caught the moment when someone in that room had met their soulmate. According to social media, the moment that Stiles Stilinski had met his soulmate. Derek could believe it, looking at the raw photo. He felt like he could see into Stiles’ soul.
He couldn’t give this to Lydia. Even if it meant the end of his career.
He dropped it onto the couch and shuffled through the rest. He had other photos, where Stiles was looking away. One great one where he’d just set it down, where he was wiggling his fingers at Lauren. It was adorable. The public would love it, and it didn’t feel like such an invasion of privacy.
“Yeah, I have something. Sending it over now.”
“Great.” The line went dead, god love her, Lydia wasn’t one for small talk when she was chasing a story.
Derek scanned and sent the photo over, going back to the one he had that he wasn’t sure what to do with.
He knew he should send it in. This was a huge story. For millennia, people had been searching for proof that soulmates existed. Most people thought it was a myth. To finally see the words, to have them there, captured in a media that wasn’t going to mystically revert... This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and Derek knew he had captured the definitive picture.
Never mind The California Beacon - this was the stuff Pulitzers were made of.
Picking it up again, he sank down to sit on the couch, looking at that face, the moment, all of it. And he couldn’t do it. He really couldn’t. It felt wrong, like he was cheapening some moment that wasn’t even his. It was taking advantage of a stranger and putting his life out there, just to make money.
How did he even get here? How did his life end up like this? Taking celebrity photos at press events. He was one step shy of hanging about outside restaurants and taking tip offs that such and such a star would be out running today.
He loved photography. He loved what he could do with a camera, but he had wanted to be more highbrow than this. He’d wanted to make art.
Then there was Lauren, and a demanding wife and they’d needed money coming in. Life had gotten away from him, but he hadn’t lost himself entirely. He picked up the photo and looked at it one last time, before hiding it right at the bottom of his top dresser drawer. He wouldn’t risk leaving it amongst his professional papers, where a certain nosey redhead might find it. At least, that was his justification to himself, deftly ignoring the feeling of home that came over his whenever he looked at the picture.
His eyes cut back to his bag, to where her shoved the piece of paper Stiles’ assistant had handed him. There was still that issue and he wasn’t sure what to do with it or what it meant. He was probably supposed to do something with it, but hell if he knew what. Especially now that Stiles was the new center of the world. Surely the very last thing he’d want was to hear from yet another member of the press. One he’d foolishly handed out his contact details to.
Or maybe not. Maybe what he needed was to know that not everyone was going to just be out for the story.
Making a decision, Derek opened up his laptop and typed in the email address he had been given.
This is the guy at the thing today. The one with the baby. I hope this isn’t weird, but your assistant gave me this email. I guess that was before everything broke. I just wanted to say that I hope things aren’t too stressful right now and that I know I was just another guy in a room full of journalists, but you’re not going to get any questions from me. I’m just a photographer.
I guess, in the spirit of absolute honesty I should admit that, yes, I took your picture. That’s why I was there. And yes, I got a shot of the bottle. And yes, the journalist I was with - Lydia Martin, the redhead? She’ll be writing about this and she’ll be using some of my photos.
Attached are copies of the ones I sent her. I won’t be sending her any more.
You were really nice to my daughter today and I wanted to say thanks. You made the whole thing just slightly less mortifying (it definitely wasn’t bring your daughter to work day! My ex-wife was meant to take her today, but cancelled on me at the last minute in a move that I’m positive was just made to cause me maximum inconvenience.).
So, thanks. And there’s no real reason for you to want to take me up on this offer, but... If you want someone to talk to (you probably have loads of people) then give me a call (number’s below) or email or something. I promise that nothing you say will be passed on.
Derek Hale (full name and contact details so you can do a background check and satisfy yourself I’m not a stalker.)
Derek read the email three times before finally hitting send. Once he did he shut the laptop, sure that if he kept it open he’d hit refresh a million times over just to see if Stiles answered or not. He stared at the closed laptop for a moment longer then got up and walked away from it, going back to the kitchen to get ready for the next morning.
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
Heeeey guy from the thing ;) who apparently goes by Derek,
Of course it isn’t weird. I told him to give you my email, so obviously not weird. Sorry you got kicked out of the press conference thing (I don’t even know what they’re calling those things these days). Hopefully I didn’t like, ruin your job or life or something for not being able to pay attention. My manager blames me for his gray hair.
So in the spirit of hoping you don’t lose your job, call the service below. They’re good people and I know the lady that runs it. Well, she’s my best friend’s mom and I might have given her the startup money to get the service off the ground. They cater to single parents and if you tell her you know me, she’ll hook you up. I already sent her your info. Then you won’t have the same issue again!
Tell Lauren I said hey!
Stiles had been pretty sure the ‘emergency’ meeting he’d been called into the evening before had been because he’d screwed up the press conference or junket or whatever. Sure, he was supposed to be answering the same four hundred boring questions, but the gorgeous guy in the front row with the adorable little girl had been way too distracting and he knew he’d screwed up. He felt even worse when hot photographer guy had been kicked out of the meeting, which was like a punch to the gut, but at least the guy emailed him. Much to Stiles’ dismay, the meeting hadn’t been about that at all, but something else - the damn photo that was blowing up his twitter feed and probably in the process of breaking the internet and just how Stiles was to approach it. Currently, the immediate reaction was to threaten to take his phone and laptop so he couldn’t respond, even if he was itching to.
The meeting had gone late, just to have another scheduled for early in the morning, which Stiles was currently sitting in listening to people talk about him like he wasn’t actually in the room.
“I think this is a great thing!” The studio guy was gushing, all bright white teeth and far too much enthusiasm. “Hell, you can’t buy this kind of publicity! Stiles Stilinski! Proves that soulmates actually exist, while starring in his first soulmate film! I’ve been talking to my people, and we’re already lining up at least three other scripts. This could be his thing. Play it right and he could build an entire career off of this!”
“My client isn’t looking to be tied down to a studio...” his manager butted in, but Stiles could see the money counting up in the guy’s eyes and it wasn’t like he was actually arguing against Stiles having to do soulmate rom coms for the rest of his life. This was meant to be his big break, but it wasn’t supposed to be the rest of his life. He was only twenty for god’s sake!
“Well, no, as nice as that would be,” Big Teeth said, flashing a smile at Stiles and Stiles fought the urge to roll his eyes. “But he could be the face of it! Even if he wasn’t in the movies, they’d want him at premieres, press junkets, all of it.” Stiles was going to be sick. This would become his life and he wasn’t even sure how to stop it.
“There is the other issue,” a woman from the other side of the table started and every head in the room turned to look at her. “The studio is currently being blamed in some circles of non-believers for making the whole thing up,” she explained, sounding like she landed on the side of non-believers, but had an eye out for the marketing side of things.
“But you didn’t right?” Stiles said, looking at the reps from the studio who all grinned a little too brightly for his taste.
“Of course we didn’t. Which is why we’ve come up with a great idea, building us to the release of the movie and keeping this issue and the theme in the general public eye.”
“What idea?” Stiles didn’t like the sound of that or the way his manager leaned on the table as if he was more excited about this than he should be.
“We think we should start the search for Stiles’ soulmate.”
“What?” Stiles said, almost falling off his chair with the shock of the sudden pronouncement. “Wait - I... How do you even know it’s my soulmate? It could have been anyone’s soulmate! There’s were hundreds of people in that room! Why me”
“You were holding the bottle that the word appeared on, Stiles,” his manager pointed out.
“Yes, but everyone was looking at me! Why wouldn’t I be the one holding it...” He looked around the room just to see everyone looking far more excited about the idea than he needed them to be. “It can’t be me. Who would it be?”
“There were plenty of lovely women in the crowd, reporter or not.”
Stiles shot his manager a look, only to be met with a subtle shake of the head - one that had become all too familiar over the last few years. He slumped in his seat, heaving a sigh as the highly air-conditioned room seemed to become claustrophobic and stifling.
“There’s no reason why the soulmate match shouldn’t be yours,” a young woman from further down the table said, her tone far softer and less pressured than all the voices so far. “It would fit. If you read the stories...”
“I’ve read the stories,” Stiles sighed, running his fingers through his hair. “I’ve read all the stories.” He was nothing if not thorough in his research, and a role in a soulmate film meant the first thing he’d done was learn everything there was to know about the history. Everything. He was a walking encyclopedia of soulmate facts and figures. He’d even read the full text of that damn study from the seventies. He knew it all - and he knew that, reasonably, the girl was right. Somewhere, in that crowded room, his soulmate had been lurking. He’d seen them - he’d looked right at them and the universe had responded.
And then someone had put it on twitter and the damn world had responded and was keeping right on responding. There were gifs out there now. gifs.
“So you can see why it’s a good idea. We’re helping you out Stiles. The love of your life was in that room. You get to be Prince Charming in the Cinderella story,” the marketing woman said, as if everything was decided, as if this was the best plan anyone had ever come up with ever in the history of coming up with plans. “It’ll make you famous.”
“I am famous,” Stiles said, but he knew what she meant. It’d make him a household name in a way nothing else could. And he was riding all of it on the off-chance he could find that one person.
“We’ve already come up with the press releases and a projected change to the billboards for Written In the Stars - focusing far more on Stiles now,” the marketing woman continued, as though Stiles hadn’t said anything. She gestured to a lacky standing at the back of the room and he started to pull out all of the advertising boards they’d somehow managed to put together overnight. Stiles slid a little further down in his chair as his phone vibrated in his pocket.
“We’re also consulting with the director about maybe reshooting some of your scenes. Changing round the way that the word appears to more fit with what we have…”
“But, but - the fact that the word appears in the night sky is the name of the frickin’ movie!” Stiles exclaimed, wide-eyed as everyone else round the table seemed to shrug, as if this were nothing, as opposed to a major plot point.
“Stiles.” His manager had that tone, the one that said not to even start, which was just a sign of how well the man had gotten to know him over the years. He knew Stiles was halfway to a rant about the movie.
“We don’t have to change it,” the marketing woman said. “It’s up to the director in the end, it’s just a nice little point that could tie into reality...”
“The movie is not about my reality. My reality is a touch fucked up.” Stiles’ manager kicked him under the table and Stiles shot him a glare but pulled his phone out instead. If they were going to pretend it wasn’t his life they were screwing around with he was going to ignore them. The alert was an email from Derek, which at least was some bright point on his horizon.
I don’t care how you know them, but this agency is amazing. And it doesn’t cost an arm and leg. So I owe you one, big time. Didn’t lose my job either, at least as far as I know at this point, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.
Lauren says hi back.
Stiles looked at the email for long enough to get Derek’s number and copy it into a blank message window. You don’t owe me one. The world owes Melissa for deciding to start up a reasonable agency like hers is. Yay for not losing your job!
He smiled at the phone, then his head shot up as he heard someone suggest, “We could turn it into a reality TV show”
“No,” Stiles said, springing to his feet and blatantly ignoring the glare from his manager. “Oh hell no! You are not making my life into a frickin’ reality show. I don’t care how much money, or publicity, or fame or… whatever is on the cards! No. No way! This meeting is officially over until you guys get it through your thick heads that this is my life we’re talking about! I am not some puppet for you to push around and I am not playing Disney Prince in your little games!”
“Stiles,” his manager hissed, trying hard not to pull at his shirt; Stiles could see the way his fingers were gripping the table. “Reality show is out, as my client has made very clear.”
Stiles looked at the manager then sat back down again, slumping in his chair.
“Especially considering the pool-”
“Stiles.” Stiles glanced at his manager then shrugged. “How about we take a break?” Stiles still liked the idea of the meeting being over, but a break was a start at least and his phone buzzed again.
Assuming this is Stiles. Melissa is a saint. Tell her I said as much.
Have the canonization application saved on my computer, but the Vatican said that she has to be dead before they’ll accept, so not holding my breath. Stiles shot the message back, giving the one person keeping him sane right now priority over the morons in the room with him. “Sure, a break would be good,” he agreed, and turned to stalk out of the room before anyone else could complain. He’d never been particularly good at ‘Hollywood Diva’, but he was an actor - he could fake it.
He considered walking out of the building, but couldn’t face the gauntlet of press that would inevitably be outside. Someone in that room would have tipped them off by now. Instead he settled in a corner of the corridor, tucked down in an alcove next to a vending machine. It wasn’t exactly high class, but it got him out of the way unless someone was specifically looking for him.
I could draft you up a pretty great looking certificate in photoshop. You can give her that in lieu of actually being canonized.
Stiles couldn’t help but smile. He’d ignored all the nice offers from photographer-guy-with-the-cute-kid to talk about what was going on, but it seemed that he was fine with just talking which Stiles was grateful for. Do that. I’ll beat Scott out for Mother’s Day gifts this year and I’m not even her kid. And he can’t complain about me having more money to spend than he does.
He cradled the phone with a stupid grin on his face, waiting for the reply. When it came, it didn’t disappoint. You don’t know what my going rates are… Maybe you can’t afford me…
His fingers flew, tapping out the response. What? After I hooked you up with the best kiddie care service in town? You’re not willing to do a favor for a friend? You wound me!
I could maybe make an exception, just this once, for a friend.
Stiles liked that, that Derek seemed to run with the being friends idea. I bet Lauren would have my back on this one. She’d love to help me out win best son who’s not really a son of the year award.
You let Lauren in on this and your nice certificate is going to have paint handprints all over it.
“Stiles.” Stiles looked up to see his manager staring down at him, clearly unimpressed at finding his star client balled up on the floor, texting and laughing with his phone resting on his pulled up knees.
“What?” Stiles asked, his good mood evaporating and leaving him really not in the mood to be polite.
“Don’t give me that attitude. You pay me to run your career for you. Stop getting in the way of your own success. Get your head out your ass and take what fate or whatever it is gave you. Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass about quote-unquote soul mates,” he said, making little quote-y gestures in the air. “What I do care about is the kind of exposure this can bring my favorite client. Which is you, Stiles! You! So how about you get up, get your million dollar behind back in that room and sign up to whatever idiotic plans they’re willing to run for you!”
Stiles looked up at the guy, not liking that tone or the logic, but he pulled himself up off the ground. “I’m not doing a reality show and we both know why, even if you won’t let me say it in there.” They’d had a really long chat a while ago about the topic and decided to keep it under wraps for now, which had been fine since Stiles wasn’t really seeing anyone or had any interest in anyone. “And I’m not getting boxed into doing these movies for the rest of my life. I want to do some other stuff. We talked about that. Action films, some of the good fantasy and sci-fi stuff that’s in talks.” He raised his eyebrows at his manager who sighed and nodded.
“Fine. Then let’s do this okay? Let’s go make you a star and then you can have your pick of scripts and whatever else you want. You’re already going to have your pick of partners when they start searching for your one.” His manager had started towards the conference room again, still talking, while Stiles looked at his phone. So she’s an artist wunderkid now too? Perfect.
She’s mastered the hand print, the smear and the splatter. Just don’t expect coloring within the lines. Lauren’s a free thinker.
She’s a kid after my own heart. Stiles smiled at the text message, just in time for his manager to turn around and see it.
“For someone who’s so pissed at the mockery we’re making of his life, you sure are smiling at your phone a lot...” He said, obviously fishing. The man had a nasty habit of thinking Stiles’ own personal life was something he needed to be protected from.
“Just Scott,” Stiles said, pocketing his phone. “Funny cat videos and such.” His manager looked skeptical, but held the door for the conference room open for him.
Stiles walked through, ignoring the skeptical look and putting on his best game face. “Okay, reality TV is off the table, but... the rest is up for negotiation.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
“It’s all but turning into a contest,” Lydia said without looking up from her phone as Derek set her coffee in front of her. “I mean, I’m half expecting to get an invitation to a ball so he can pick out his perfect significant other.” She rolled her eyes and set her phone down.
“Are they doing that?” he asked, trying to pretend he hadn’t been reading about the direction the studio was taking to prove that the ‘soulmate sign’ wasn’t faked.
“Not so far, but given we were both in that room, we might want to go shoe shopping.” Lydia held out one perfect leg and examined her hot pink heels assessingly. “I could really pull off a pair of glass slippers.”
Derek snorted a laugh. “You think that you’re Stiles’ soulmate?”
“Oh sweetie, hell no. But it’s a great excuse for a new pair of shoes.”
Derek had to give her that. “Where would you even find glass slippers?” he asked doing his best to make it sound like a serious question.
“I’m sure you’d have to get them specially made. Maybe I could be his soulmate. I could use a movie star’s shopping budget.” She pursed her lips, still eyeing her existing shoes before leveling her gaze on him. “What about you?”
Derek almost choked on his coffee, not expecting that question. “I’m not sure what you’re asking,” he stalled.
“Don’t lie to me Hale. What about you?”
“You sound so sure. Don’t dismiss it until you’ve thought about it,” Lydia teased. Then her expression turned assessing and she fixed her steely gaze on him. “Only... you have, haven’t you? You’ve thought about this. About being Stiles’ soulmate.”
Yes. “Everyone has Lydia. It’s been all over the news, the internet, everything. Anyone who was in that room has thought about it for a few minutes at least. So sure, probably. But not like you want. Plus you’ve seen the media, they’re looking for the women in the room. You’re probably it.’”
“Oh, come on. Stilinski’s not been seen with any kind of significant other, male or female, since he came into the spotlight. In this world, that doesn’t mean straight. It just as easily means closeted. He’s an up and coming hottie, of course they’re only looking at women. The cowards. It would be strides forward if we could show that the universe supported same sex relationships,” Lydia pontificated.
“Or, he’s actually straight and they’re not looking at guys because Stiles doesn’t look at guys.” Even though their messages had felt flirtatious, but Derek would give Stiles the right to present himself however he saw fit.
“Look, you know as well as I do who he was paying the most attention to in that press conference,” Lydia said.
“His soulmate is not my daughter.”
Lydia rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Fine. Be in denial at the possibility. Though it would be great for a story, proving that the universe is more open about sexuality than most of the nation. Or, if it’s not then it begs the question of if your soulmate could be someone of the same sex you’re not attracted to.”
“You don’t believe in soulmates, Lydia. You’ve never believed in soulmates!”
“But I do believe in a good story.”
“It’s his life Lydia. It’s more than just a good story,” Derek said, shaking his head. “It’s sad what they’re doing, running him around like this.”
“You think he didn’t agree to it? His career just got made by this.”
Derek didn’t think that sounded like the Stiles he knew. Then he stopped himself. How well did he actually know Stiles? An email. A handful of text messages. A beautiful photo. He didn’t actually know him at all. Derek shifted uncomfortably. “Maybe,” he allowed.
“What? What is that? Derek Hale, you look guilty.”
Derek glared at her. “He doesn’t look like the type.”
“The type to what?” she asked, ever the reporter, knowing the perfect follow up question.
“To go with all of this just to help his career.”
“So you think he’s doing this because he’s really vested in finding his soulmate then?” Lydia asked in that smug way that said she already knew full well that wasn’t what Derek meant at all.
He gave her a look back, but gave her what she wanted. “He seems like the type to go along with this because someone else is making him, not because he really wants to.”
Lydia smiled widely at him. “Oh no. You’re not interested in being his soulmate at all.”
“I’m not even entertaining that. You’re the one getting invited to balls not me,” Derek said sipping at his coffee and looking away so he didn’t have to see her smiling at him. Of course he’d thought about it. He had that picture and wouldn’t that be the sign?
“And if and when I do get invited to a ball then I’m bringing you as my date,” Lydia said. Derek could tell she was serious and he rolled his eyes, glancing at the baby monitor and mentally willing Lauren to wake from her nap.
“You know I refuse to play arm candy, Lyds.”
“I also know that the only person you’ll play it for is me. It’s for your own good. At the very least, you’re harboring a crush on a certain adorable, distractible actor, so you should meet him. Properly. When you’re not hidden behind a camera and carrying a baby.”
Derek didn’t want to point out that he’d already texted with the same adorable, distractible actor, for the better part of a morning and then some. That wouldn’t really help his case or Stiles’ case for that matter. “Meet him properly while he’s supposed to be meeting a room full of strangers that want to be his soulmate? It sounds like an episode of The Bachelor.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what it turns into,” Lydia said airily, then she levelled another look at him and he sighed as she kept right on pushing him for why he had such a problem with this. He was a member of the press, after all, and right slap bang in the middle of the biggest story to hit entertainment in years. He tried to ignore her, answering her questions with glowers and significant looks. Eventually, though, he cracked.
“I always believed in soulmates,” he snapped, abruptly shutting Lydia up for a moment. He had never told her that before. She had always been very vocal about the fact she was a non-believer and he wasn’t going to go looking for a confrontation. Yet, he’d always like the idea. One person who you could be perfectly happy with. One person to spend the rest of your life with, ordained by the universe. One person who you could absolutely trust never to screw you over, who is was safe to love absolutely.
“Please, god, tell me you didn’t think Kate was your soulmate when you married her!” Lydia cried in disgust, once she got over the shock of Derek’s revelation.
He stared at her like she was insane. “No! Hell no! Of course not. But she was pregnant with Lauren and...”
“And you’re a sap who naturally did the right thing.”
Derek shrugged because, pretty much yes, that was exactly what it was. He’d thought it would get better, with the baby and being married, but everything had blown up in his face. Now it was blowing up again if the papers that had been delivered that morning were any indicator. He had thirty days to respond, but he wasn’t at all sure how or why and he wasn’t sure he could make a good enough argument for sole custody like he wanted when Kate was filing for her own custody. That was if he could afford a lawyer to actually help him plead his case. “People have made lives together without being soulmates,” he said as if that justified what he’d done.
“Not with Kate.”
“No, not with Kate.” He looked down at his mug instead of Lydia’s knowing eyes.
“Then maybe Stiles is your soulmate,” she prompted, but more gently this time as she reached over to put a hand on his knee, a gesture of comfort.
“I need to get out of one relationship before I can even think about starting another, Lydia - doesn’t matter who it is.” He looked across at her, his expression hard and very serious. “I’m also going to have to fight for custody of my daughter, which means no media circus. No exposing myself, or my daughter to any ‘is he, isn’t he’ with an actor who’s either straight or not public about his sexuality. You know Kate would just pick that up and run with it. I’d be faced with all kinds of accusations about how being followed around by the press isn’t good for a child and if someone who isn’t honest about himself fit to be a father and... So, please, just let it go. I’m not going to any soulmate galas. I’m not putting myself in any running for this, even if they do start looking at guys as well as girls. My focus right now is on my divorce and my daughter.” And the fact that he was trading messages with Stiles anyway was something he’d keep separate. They’d never talked about soulmates. Derek had offered to talk if Stiles needed it, and the actor had entirely ignored him. So, Derek was going to treat the subject as totally off limits. To be honest, he was relieved. His conversations with the actor were remarkably drama-free and he really needed that right now.
Lydia nodded like she understood. “Alright then, we’ll hold off for now or until he comes banging down your door with a spare glass sneaker,” she said with a smile and Derek could tell she was trying to be positive. “And if you need a character witness to prove how great of a dad you are for Lauren, you call me. I’ll talk wonders about you and how Kate’s a bitch.” She smiled again, though this time it was razor sharp and Derek wondered for the millionth time what kind of man could keep up with her.
“Thanks Lyds,” he said, relieved he was staying on her good side. She was terrifying any other way.
The smile softened into something rather more human. “I can’t promise not to talk about you if I do get a gala invite though.”
“Why on earth would you do that when you have a story to hunt down? I thought you would have found a way to be his confidant and then follow him around all night while he decides on who his soulmate is,” Derek suggested because Lydia bringing him up would just result in her finding out he’d lied about their tentative friendship.
“Oh, come on Derek. We both know that Cinderella is never actually found at the ball,” Lydia cooed, then she rolled her eyes as Derek glared at her. “Fine, okay, you want to be left out of this. He won’t hear your name from me. Though, for the record, I think you’re in with a good chance of being the person he’s looking for.”
“So do you - you were the one he was answering questions for,” Derek pointed out.
“Oh, please. I’d eat that boy alive!” Lydia laughed - and didn’t he just know that.
“Maybe he likes that,” Derek teased. “Maybe that’s secretly his favorite type of woman.”
Lydia tossed her hair back and checked her nails in a way that Derek knew was her covering up not knowing exactly what to say. “Then you’ll get an invite to the wedding. Honestly, though, I doubt it. After all, if I’m his soulmate, that necessarily means that he’s mine. And while I can kind of see the appeal... He’s cute and all... But the geeky thing has never really been my type.”
“You have always liked them a little more on the dumb jock side haven’t you?” Derek asked, following her train of thought. She should be feeling something if he was her soulmate, some sort of draw to him shouldn’t she? It couldn’t be one-sided.
“The ‘dumb’ is optional, but yes.”
“So he’s not it for you either,” Derek concluded as Lydia finished off her coffee and handed him the empty mug.
“I’m not ruling you out just yet. I like the possibility of a great story,” she said with a smile then got up and made her way towards the door.
Derek walked with her. He knew she loved a good story - which was why he had no intention of telling her he was talking to Stiles. She would try and spin it into something else. Hell, she was already fitting them together as a fated couple. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. Derek figured that right now it didn’t matter, as neither of them was in a place to need that kind of complication. Right now, he was happy just playing with the idea that maybe they could be friends.
She hesitated at the door, looking back at him and squeezing his arm before leaning up to kiss his cheek. “That’s for Lauren. You be good to her.”
“You know I will be,” Derek confirmed, rolling his eyes with a good-natured smile at the now all too familiar words.
“I know. I just like to remind you every so often who you have to answer to,” Lydia said before letting herself out of the house. Derek closed the door behind her just as his phone buzzed with a text from Stiles.
I’ve been sitting in the same chair in the same conference room for what feels like forever. I wonder if I could sell it on ebay as being my butt print and make some $$
Derek stared at the text for far too long, wondering if this was Stiles’ way of asking Derek to bring up the subject of the reason Stiles was such hot property right now. Because the guy probably could sell that on ebay. Stiles Stilinski could probably breath into a bag right now and some sucker would snap it up and be grateful. Finally though, he chickened out. He’d had enough of talking about the subject with Lydia. He didn’t want to have to have that conversation again.
He realised after he’d sent it that a one word reply was probably rude or moody, so sent a follow up. Take a break? You have to take an important, vital phonecall...
I wish they would break, these vultures could go on for days. A vital phone call would be a saving grace...
Derek realized that Stiles must be talking about whatever was going on behind the scenes with his movie and his search for his soulmate, but he didn’t push the subject. Instead he took the hint and hit the call button under Stiles’ contact. It rang twice before Stiles picked up and Derek could hear him talking on the other end. “No reality shows while I’m gone,” he told someone then must have left the room he was in because it was quieter and suddenly he was talking to Derek. “You are my hero.”
“Only for a little while, sorry,” Derek said, being upfront about that. “Lauren’s down for a nap and she’ll probably wake up soon. Then I’ll callously abandon you.”
“I guess that’s only fair. She is cuter,” Stiles agreed, but Derek could hear the smile in his voice. “And anything that’s not work and everything else would be better even if only for a short while. I’ve been deprived of real conversation for days now because I sent Scott home when the photographers showed up at our building because nothing in my sweet, studying to be a vet, best friend is capable of handling that. Now I have this giant loft all to myself and I walk around it wondering why my real estate agent thought I needed a house when I have three bedrooms with nothing to put in them besides Scott. So please. Talk to me about Lauren, or Thomas the Tank Engine or something.”
“Hard fact: realtors will try and sell you anything they think you can afford and will go for. Houses cost more than apartments, which mean they get a larger commission. They see a name walk through the door, assume you’re rich and put away all the ‘reasonably priced’ properties that they’d normally sell to a single guy,” Derek told him, with the benefit of experience behind him.
“Well I am kinda rich,” Stiles said with a little laugh like it was completely ridiculous. Derek smiled in silent amusement, knowing that a comment like that could only come to someone who had suddenly, and possibly somewhat unexpectedly, found themselves with more money than they needed, and didn’t quite know whether to enjoy it, or be embarrassed about it. Derek relaxed back into the couch cushions as Stiles continued, “I like the place when Scott’s there, but when he’s not...ugh.”
“Maybe you need a roommate,” Derek suggested, mildly.
“Scott’s mostly my roommate. He’s there whenever I’m here and not on set or something,” Stiles said. “I’m never usually around though you know? Up until last week I was supposed to be on a press tour for this movie and starting readings and costume meetings for the next out of town. It’s just everything’s slowed down because of what’s going on and there’s only so much XBox a guy can play before he really sort of loses his mind.” There was a pause on the other end of the line before Stiles spoke again. “Or were you talking about you?”
Derek’s brows practically reached his hairline. “Me? No.” He laughed, self-consciously. “Really, no. I wasn’t... fishing, or anything. You don’t even know me,” he pointed out. “Plus, I have a home. And a daughter. And... I’m sure your place is lovely, but I’m... Fine. More than fine. Here.”
“My place looks like a really comfortable hotel room. I feel more at home in hotel rooms and trailers,” Stiles corrected. “Your place is probably great. You’ve got Lauren and like family type stuff and pictures on the wall that weren’t bought off the shelf at some shop or something.”
“Do you not have family photos?” Derek asked. He cringed right after he said it - maybe Stiles didn’t have a family. Maybe there was some deep trauma or sadness there that the press hadn’t yet picked up on. He didn’t even breathe until Stiles answered. Then it was with a sigh of relief.
“Nah - there’s some shots of my parents, but not... Have you ever had a place where you’ve moved in, but you’ve never, like moved in?” Stiles asked, but pressed on without waiting for an answer. “I rented a place for a while when I first got to LA. This tiny, pokey little apartment above a pizza place that always smelled of grease. It was all I could afford, and the landlord owned the place downstairs and used to let me take shifts when I couldn’t make rent. I hated that place. And then I got a couple of decent roles and there was money and things suddenly started to snowball and I could get out. More than get out - I could actually afford to buy a place, only... I had, like, two weeks before I was on location. So, I found this place and my manager said he’d take care of it and he did. When I got back to town, all my stuff was already moved in and he’d got an interior designer to come in and decorate and...”
“And you haven’t changed anything since,” Derek ended for him, nodding along with the explanation.
“It’s not like I’d know what to do otherwise anyway. It just sort of feels like I’m visiting most of the time.” Derek could all but hear Stiles shrug on the other end of the line. “I just want to work again. I got into this thing because it’s fun, to play the part, do the press stuff. Now I’m stuck in a room planning my future without any say.”
Derek felt for the younger man, but he wasn’t sure what to say. It wasn’t like he’d been in the same situation, not much of anyone had. And Derek had no way to tell if it would get better or not and Stiles didn’t seem like the kind of guy who just wanted to be lied to.
“What are the consequences if you make yourself heard?” he asked, because that seemed to be the most pertinent question.
“Possible shunning from one of the biggest studios in the business, hurting the press and release of the movie which would be bad for my co-stars too, and never actually figuring out if my soulmate was in that room or not,” Stiles said, prattling off the list like he’d already thought through it.
“That better or worse than just going along with what they have planned for you?” Derek asked. He was determined to stay neutral in this. Stiles didn’t need another person telling him what to do with his life.
The line was quiet for a long moment. “Worse probably. I could get jobs still I think, but my co-stars don’t deserve that and I’ve read so much about soulmates that...” Stiles trailed off, not finishing the thought. “It’s worse.”
“Then okay.” Derek breathed, taking a moment, but then he had to say it. “You know, most people wouldn’t care? They wouldn’t even think about their colleagues. Just themselves.”
“You have realized I’m not most people by now haven’t you?” Stiles asked, laugh in his voice. “Anyway, being really selfish would be taking the reality TV show deal they’ve been trying to slide across the table. Too much money to do nothing.”
“I... am really glad you’re not turning this into an episode of The Bachelor.”
“I don’t want to see anyone shame themselves by trying to convince themselves they’re in love with me. That’s unfair to people. And to anyone who does decide they’re in love with me because I’m not that lovable,” Stiles said. “There’s got to be a guy out there with better hair to play the part of Disney prince. Though I’ve been pushing that if they do have a ball like this is real life Cinderella, it’s got to donate to a charity.”
“Wait, hold up a moment. Charities aside, what makes you unlovable?” Derek asked, scowling even if Stiles couldn’t see it.
“Were you not in that press conference? I’ve got ADD to the max unless I’m working on something I care about or I’m researching, I was told you don’t know how many time that I’m not leading role material or looks. I’ve got no brain to mouth filter, all of that. Trust me, I’m not a catch.”
“People told you you were not leading role material, yet here you are,” Derek pointed out, amused. “In your first leading role. Which I think kinda means at least a few people out there think you’re leading man material. More than a few.”
“Well a romantic comedy isn’t really an oscar is it?” Stiles asked.
“Still not the point, Stiles. Anyway, if we’re talking soulmates... Whoever they are, they’re going to think you’re perfect for them.”
“I know they are. I just feel bad for them. I’m a handful. You can ask my dad or my manager.”
“Except I don’t know them,” Derek pointed out playfully as he got up to go check on Lauren. The baby was still fast asleep in her crib.
“Not yet,” Stiles said with what sounded like a grin. “Dad would love Lauren. He’s lucky he never had a little girl.”
Derek’s mouth dropped open at the casual way Stiles assumed that one day Derek would meet his family. He recovered quickly though. “So, you don’t have any sisters?” he asked.
“It’s just me,” Stiles said. “Just me and Dad. Which is cool. Scott’s like having a brother, Melissa steps in as mom sometimes when I need it, but yeah, just the two of us. You?”
Derek chuckled. “Mom, dad, two sisters, an uncle who tries to act like an older brother... A daughter and a wife who’s divorcing me.”
“Wow. Minus the wife. That’s just wrong. I don’t see how anyone could leave either one of you,” Stiles said and Derek was floored by how completely casual and honest it sounded. “Must be nice though. Our tiny little family was different before Mom died.”
“When did she die?” Derek asked, easing Lauren’s door shut and heading back to the living room.
“When I was seven,” Stiles told him with the air of someone who had accepted it for what it was, but still had days where it hurt. Derek couldn’t imagine what life would be like without one of his parents and his heart went out to the actor on the other end of the line despite all his intentions not to.
“How were things different?” he prompted. He didn’t have to fake the sympathetic curiosity. Learning more about Stiles’ life felt more like a gift than a hardship. He wanted to know what made this man tick, to peel back all the layers to find what lay at the heart of him.
“We were more like a normal family,” Stiles said. “I might have even had a younger sibling if she hadn’t gotten sick. Maybe not, but I like to think it could have happened. But we did things, had family outings, celebrated stuff properly. Once it was just me and dad, we spent the first few years getting by. By the time we’d found our stride it was a lot less parent and kid because I was trying to take care of him as much as he was trying to take care of me.”
“I don’t think that’s all that far from normal,” Derek said, trying to be reassuring.
“Well no, not entirely. It just feels different from everyone else.”
“It’d be dull if we were all the same,” Derek pointed out, smiling into the handset. “You sound like you have a great relationship with your dad though.”
“I like to think that I do,” Stiles said. “You’ll see. Then you can tell me what you think.”
There was that assumption again, only Derek really didn’t mind. There was a comforting hum underlying the very thought that he was a fixture in Stiles’ life now, and that getting to know each other’s people was just a matter of time. It made far more sense than trying to think that maybe it could be any other way. “You know, if you ever want to get out of that soulless apartment and away from the paps camped on your doorstep, Lauren would love to see you...”
“Yeah?” Stiles answered, excitement in his voice. “Good because I was thinking I could just show...Damnit.” There was a muffled noise where Derek guessed Stiles was putting his hand over the phone. “Yeah, no just a sec. I’m coming.” He could barely hear Stiles, but he could guess what was going on. “Ugh I gotta go back,” the younger man said.
“Go,” Derek said, pushing away the ridiculous pang of disappointment that Stiles wasn’t going to just appear at the house right now. In no way was that reasonable. “I’ll text you my address. Come around anytime that you need to get away.”
“You’re going to wish you hadn’t offered when I move in on your couch,” Stiles said with a smile in his voice. “See you soon,” he added before hanging up, leaving Derek staring at the phone.
“See you soon,” Derek agreed to the phone, his voice dazed. He hung his head back, looking up at the ceiling with a bemused smile, then laughed to himself. Stiles Stilinski was nothing he’d expected, had come into his life at the worst possible time, but, somehow, was managing to be exactly what he needed.
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
It was sad that Stiles had become used to the crowd of reporters and photographers that were camped out outside of his apartment building. He expected them to be there when the car pulled up and his driver looked into the backseat at him. It was a different driver than he’d had before, on the rare occasions when he let them give him a driver. Most of the time he just drove his own car to sets, the same Jeep he’d been driving in high school, which was only in better shape now that he could afford proper upkeep. When the story broke though and his building and the studio and everywhere else he went got flooded with people, no matter the hour, they’d gotten him a new driver who wasn’t all that much older than him but built like a mountain of solid muscle. Boyd served as both driver and bodyguard of sorts, and was very clear on the fact that he and Stiles were not friends. At least he turned on music while they drove so it wasn’t in complete silence.
“Ready Stiles?” he asked, looking over the front seat to where Stiles was staring out the window at the photographers already crowding around the car.
“I guess. I’m not sure what they think they’re gonna see. It’s always me. It’s not like I’ve got my soulmate here in the car with me.”
“Right. Just stay there until I open the door.”
Stiles nodded and watched as Boyd got out of the car and started around the front of it pushing whoever shoved a camera in his face out of the way and pulled the door open for Stiles.
Boyd gestured once the door was open and Stiles made a run for it. They’d become quite good at this over the past few days, almost down to a fine art now. Stiles kept his eye on Boyd and ignored the flashes going off around him and the shouted questions. He was almost at the door of his building when he was tackled from one side. He braced as a highly perfumed body hit his and arms went round his neck and into his hair. “Sweetie!” a piercing voice exclaimed.
Stiles lost his footing, holding on to her, but only managing not to fall because of the hand Boyd got on his shirt, pulling him upright. “Who...what?” Stiles asked, realizing he was holding a stranger like he knew her and trying to scramble too late to get out of her arms and her hands out of his hair.
“Who are you?”
“What’s your name?”
“Are you Stiles Stilinski’s soulmate?”
The questions came thick and fast, all directed as the blonde clinging onto Stiles as he fought to work out what the hell was going on. Unfortunately, the woman had no such problem as she smiled winningly and struck a pose, as if they were a true couple.
“No she’s not...Boyd....” Stiles was still fighting her grasp, ducking from under one of her arms, but just barely and now she had a hold of his shirt too.
“Oh honey, I was just waiting for you to get back. I’m so glad I found you,” the blonde was saying, loud enough to be heard, but still directed at Stiles.
“What? I’m mean...who?” Help. Someone had to help him. Where the hell was Boyd?
“So, it’s true, Stiles Stilinski is your soulmate?” a photographer asked, not pausing in taking photos.
“He is! I knew it - right from the first moment I saw him in his first movie. He was just a walk on, nerd number three in High School Hell Three and the moment I saw him, I just felt... The connection. I knew we were meant to be!” she gushed as Stiles caught sight of Boyd, pushing his way through the pack.
“So, you’re saying that the soulmate bond can be felt even before soulmates meet in person?”
“No,” Stiles said it at the same time as she did. He’d done the research, all of the research and everything that pointed to true soulmates said they had to be in the same place at the same time. “No. That’s not even close to right, who are you?” Stiles asked again just as he felt the heavy weight of Boyd’s hand on his arm.
“My name is Heather Teague,” she said, in such a clear voice that it was obviously geared toward being quoted accurately in the press. Stiles didn’t even get a chance to protest that she wasn’t his soulmate before Boyd dragged him into the building.
“Who the hell was that!?!” Stiles insisted once the door was closed and he couldn’t be heard or seen. Boyd gave him a look that said he wasn’t the person to ask, but Stiles was feeling more than a little frantic in the moment. “I can’t...” He looked at the elevator that led to an empty apartment then back at Boyd. “Can you pull the car around back to the alley where the fire escape is in like ten minutes and take me somewhere else?”
“They’ll probably still see you Stiles,” Boyd said in way that carried the undertone that of course he could, but just because he could it might not make a difference.
“I don’t care. Ten minutes. I’ll give you the address and a hundred bucks if you can ditch them on the way there.”
“I don’t want your money. Ten minutes.” Boyd waved Stiles away then headed back out the way he came.
Stiles could hear her talking, holding crowd with the press outside when the door opened, which was probably a good sign as he pushed the button for the elevator. Once he made it up to his loft he didn’t linger, just grabbed a hoodie and waited by the fire escape entrance in the hall for Boyd’s car.
The journey didn’t take long and it wasn’t until Stiles was stood on the unfamiliar porch of the small and pretty ordinary looking house, sat in a neatly kept yard that he realised that he’d never really met Derek before. He’d seen him across the room, but there’d been an adorably distracting baby and a camera in the way. He felt he knew Derek, down to the core, but that was a results of emails, texts and phone calls. Derek had been his lifeline over the past few days. The guy had insane timing. Every time something went wrong, or another angle or story broke and Stiles just wanted to run and hide, or call halt on this whole soulmate farce, there was Derek. Sometimes it was a little message, just a few words. Sometimes it was a photo. His favorites were the ones of Lauren. Updates about the baby and what she was doing today. It was impossible to be angry at the world when you’d just received a photo of a baby girl wearing her first pigtails, or with her face smeared with chocolate ice cream.
Stiles knew it was late, it was already mostly dark out and he probably looked like a freak with his hood up, black town car idling in Derek’s drive. He’d told Boyd to just go after he left and he’d call when he needed a ride back, but Boyd had insisted on at least waiting until Stiles was inside. He could feel the driver/bodyguard’s eyes on him as he hesitated at the door, didn’t ring the bell right away, because Derek had said he could come over, but that had been a few days and he really hoped the guy had meant it. It might have been smarter to call or text on the way over, but Stiles couldn’t stand the idea of Derek saying no. He waited another five seconds, bouncing on his feet then rang the bell.
Derek opened the door surprisingly fast and then suddenly was just there and Stiles had to remind himself how to breathe. “I know it’s late, but...”
“What happened?” Derek asked first, eyes drifting down Stiles’ frame to his shirt. Stiles glanced down as well, seeing how the neckline was stretched to the point where it had torn slightly.
“Nothing. I mean something, but...I can’t go back there. Can I just...”
“Come in, you shouldn’t stand on the step,” Derek said before Stiles could finish asking the question and Stiles stepped into the house without further invitation, letting out a sigh of relief when the door closed behind him.
“Are you hurt?” Derek asked, eyes now obviously checking Stiles for injuries.
“Just my pride and my sense of privacy.”
“What happened?” Derek asked again, leading him into the living room and sitting him down on the couch as if he’d been there a million times before.
“Some girl mobbed me outside my apartment. I never thought you could actually be mobbed by a single person, but apparently you can when there’s already a crowd. Anyway, she was all insistent that I was her soulmate and practically spelled her fricking name out for the press when she hung off me like she owned me.”
Stiles looked at his hands, elbows on his knees, feeling helpless until he felt Derek sit next to him. He didn’t say anything just rested a hand on Stiles’ back, which was enough. “It’s so ridiculous. It’s so out of control. I don’t know how it got so out of control.”
“Because there’s a lot of people out there who love the idea of being ‘the one’ for you.” Derek’s voice, here and in person, was enough to make Stiles want to close his eyes and simply lean in against his shoulder. Melt into his arms. It was so soft and soothing, at odds with his physical appearance, until you looked into those kind eyes, which Stiles realized he was doing. Staring into Derek’s eyes like it was something they did every day.
He shook himself and looked away. “They have no idea what they would be getting themselves into,” he muttered.
Derek’s hand rubbed a small circle on his shoulder and it was the most reassuring touch Stiles had felt in ages. “You’re right. They have no idea how lucky they’d be,” he said which was enough to get Stiles to look back at him amazed that not only had Derek said it, Stiles didn’t feel weird about it.
“That’s not what I meant,” Stiles corrected quietly.
“I know. But you were wrong in what you meant, but right in what you said,” Derek said with a smile. “Can I get you anything? Coffee? Water? Juice?”
“Coffee would be great,” Stiles admitted. “Black, two sugars.” His father had tried to get him out of the habit of both caffeine and sugar when he was a teenager, on the basis that it just added to his propensity towards hyperactivity. He hadn’t got very far with that - Stiles was still addicted to both and that worked pretty well for him, all things considered. Overly sweet, black coffee helped to calm him down, in his own opinion. None of that was anything he was going to try and explain to Derek right now. Thankfully the other guy - who was pretty much barrelling his way towards officially being classed as ‘wonderful’ - didn’t question the choice at all. Instead, he simply said he’d be right back and disappeared into the kitchen.
Stiles tugged at his ruined shirt a little, surprised at how comfortable he felt in Derek’s house when he knew he’d never been there before and probably didn’t even belong there. He got up after a moment, terrible at sitting still, and walked around the small living room, taking in Lauren’s toys in one corner, the books piled on a shelf in another, but more importantly the pictures scattered around the room. They were mostly Lauren, sometimes Lauren and Derek or another group of people who were all as stunningly attractive as Derek was that Stiles guessed were his family.
“Definitely far more of a home than my place,” Stiles said, when he became aware of Derek walking up behind him. He turned and took the offered mug - an oversized novelty thing that read ‘caffeine addict’ in large, jittery letters. Stiles laughed and took a sip, closing his eyes and moaning in appreciation. “Good coffee,” he explained, opening his eyes again and realizing that Derek was watching him. “But, you trying to tell me something with the mug?” He indicated the words.
“It’s my mug,” Derek pointed out. “So, you wouldn’t be alone if it’s true. My sister bought it for me when Lauren was first born. She said that I’d need it if I was going to survive all the sleepless nights.”
“Oh well, in that case we’re one in the same,” Stiles said with a small smile. “How did you manage? You were still married then right?”
“She still lived here then yes, but she wasn’t much help. Sadly Kate lacked proper maternal instincts.” Derek looked somewhere between sad and angry, but it faded after a moment. “I didn’t sleep more than two hours at a time for the first four months. It wasn’t even that Lauren was that fussy. I was so nervous about everything that I was the one constantly waking up to check on her rather than her waking up and needing me.”
“That must have been difficult,” Stiles acknowledged - both that this Kate woman had been what seemed like next to useless, and that Derek had been so on edge. “How long were you married for?”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Just over a year. We got married when Kate found out that she was pregnant, because it seemed like the right thing to do. Everything kinda fell apart pretty much immediately.”
Stiles stopped with the mug almost to his mouth, staring at Derek again. “You’re one of those guys though right? The one who wants to do the right thing?” He was starting to worry he was dreaming. Derek made amazing coffee and was just there when he needed him. Stiles had to be imagining him at this point didn’t he?
“Yeah, I’m one of those guys - as my friend would put it, ‘also called an idiot’,” Derek answered, smiling in an absent way that Stiles took to mean that he was thinking fondly about this friend, even if it seemed that they didn’t approve of Derek’s life choices.
“At least it’s the good kind of idiot right?” Stiles said, trying not to read too much into Derek’s smile or let his thought spiral into if he got the same fond look in his eyes when he talked about Stiles. If he talked about Stiles. He very well and likely, hadn’t told anyone about their friendship and while that hurt a tiny bit, it wasn’t like Stiles wasn’t doing the exact same thing. Derek was his little secret and probably one of his best ones.
“An idiot with good intentions,” Derek allowed. “And I got a beautiful daughter out of it who at least is too young to know anything about her parents messy divorce.”
“Messy?” Stiles questioned. So far, Derek hadn’t talked much about his divorce, other than the fact that it was going on. Stiles hadn’t wanted to ask too much over text and phone, but now that he was here and he could see Derek’s face - that odd mixture of sadness, anger and resignation, which he had never seen on anyone else before and would never have thought possible to mix together - he couldn’t help asking.
“Very messy,” Derek said finally, going to sit on the couch again. Stiles didn’t even hesitate in following, like some pull was dragging him closer so he could sit shoulder to shoulder with the older man. “She always thought I was something I wasn’t. From the start she was looking for money, because my family has it, but I don’t take their money, I get by on my own. That was part of why she let herself get pregnant in the first place. Now that we’re splitting up, she wants custody of Lauren, probably to get to her trust fund. And moments like your press conference where she screws me over at the last minute, make me look incapable as a parent in court.”
Stiles frowned. “Why does that make you look incapable as a parent?”
“Because I took a baby to a press conference. Not only that, but possibly what turned out to be the biggest media circus in years, which she was right at the center of. I spent days trying to get websites to take down pictures that she turned up in and while Kate had her lawyer complaining, I’m pretty sure she was behind the fact that some of them went up in the first place. I knows I’m the better parent, but she wants Lauren and because she’s the mother, she statistically has a better chance of winning the case.”
Stiles frowned for a long moment the set his coffee mug down and reached for his wallet. It took a minute to find the right card, but once he did he handed it to Derek. “Call this guy. Tell him you know me, that you need help with your case. You’ll win. And he’ll take it for fun. Since he’s crazy. Wonderful. But insane in that really good lawyer way.”
Derek eyed the card, holding it by the edges. “Jackson Whittemore?” he asked, doubtfully. Stiles held his gaze when Derek’s eyes ticked up to meet his, promising himself he was just being polite and not trying to categorise all the colors in them. “No offence,” Derek continued. “But he sounds like a douche.”
Stiles threw his head back and laughed. “Oh god - he is. He totally is. But, he’s a great lawyer,” he promised, wiping tears from his eyes.
Derek frowned at Stiles’ laugh, like he was weighing that as a good thing or a bad thing. “I guess I can call him.”
“You mean you’re going to call him,” Stiles corrected. “Trust me. He’s horrible, but if he’s on your side it’s awesome. He loves to make people cry if he can, and that’s not in court. He wants them to cry in the pre-meetings.” He nodded sagely, making a mental note to call Jackson and demand he do the work for fun or send the bill to Stiles. And while his mind tried to tell him that was too much, he insisted silently to himself that it was for Lauren. She deserved to be with the parent that cared.
“You know, normally that wouldn’t exactly be a selling point, but right now it actually sounds exactly what I need. I’ll call him in the morning,” Derek promised, slipping the card into the back pocket of his jeans.
“According to Jackson, it’s good every now and then to assert dominance. Don’t tell him I said it, but I think of him as like my pit bull. He’s mostly bark, but the bite is the fact that he can back it all up with impeccable litigation.” Stiles tilted his head just a little bit to watch Derek put the card away, but he did his best not to seem obvious about it. Because that didn’t go along with the role he was playing at the moment and the last thing his manager would stand for would be that rumor out there floating around.
“Thank you - I really appreciate the help,” Derek said, in such an appreciative tone that Stiles had to gawk at him.
“Really, it’s nothing. Considering you’re like the only thing keeping me sane lately. Giving you the card for my lawyer is nothing.” Okay, deciding he was going to take care of the fees in one way or another was something, but Derek didn’t need to know about that.
“Am I?” Derek asked, seeming pleased at the compliment.
Stiles went back to his coffee, nodding into it as he tried to relax back on the couch but struggled. He was too wound up from everything to really relax. “Yeah pretty much. It’s just...this whole thing is nuts. And I feel like such a jerk for complaining because really, life could be so much worse, but I don’t feel like I’m living my life anymore. I feel like it’s living without me.”
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Derek said, and Stiles looked away to hide his rising color as the older man laid a hand on his shoulder. His touch felt warm and, while he was certain it wasn’t meant that way, it felt intimate. “You can always tell them you don’t want to play.”
“That won’t mean anything to the press, you know that.”
“Eventually they’ll give up if you stop things,” Derek said, though he didn’t sound as sure as Stiles would have liked him to.
“It could be nice, you know, if it works out and it’s real,” Stiles started, before sighing. “Or if they were doing it right.” He shook his head, not wanting to go into that. It made sense to keep the pool small. There weren’t any recorded instances on the other side, or at least nothing properly credited. Stiles had read about that too, finding it curious. “And the movie. Already it’s getting great press, and I want it to do well even if it’s a cheesy love story.”
“What would be doing it right?” Derek asked, dropping his hand from Stiles shoulder. Stiles tried not to be disappointed and he ignored the way that he felt the loss of the touch immediately.
“Less pomp and circumstance,” Stiles lied, even though it was true, it wasn’t what he meant. Putting what he meant out there sounded like fishing and he wasn’t about to do that. “I like your way of doing it,” Derek agreed. “It sounds like my way. Just... Forget about the press, and about everyone else. Just... quietly finding someone and being able to get to know them without other people interfering. That’s how I’d want it.”
“So you believe in it?” Stiles asked, looking back at Derek, and hating that hopeful feeling building in his stomach.
“Yeah. I guess I do. Not enough to throw my life away looking for it, but I like the idea of it. The hope around it.” Derek had gone quiet, not quite making eye contact with Stiles. “Do you?”
Stiles thought about that, looking at the coffee in his mug before answering. “I think there’s a lot of evidence that says it works better for those who think it’s happened, who think they’ve seen the sign. I just don’t know if I trust it in the day and age of Photoshop. I believe it can happen, I just don’t trust the signs.”
“You can trust these signs,” Derek told him, crossing to grab a folder from the sideboard. He sat back down, thigh to thigh and Stiles leaned in. To better see the pictures Derek was showing him. “See, you walk in and the assistant hands you the bottle. Your hand is over the label, but that’s looking far more like ‘Evian’ than ‘soulmate’. Then, you put it down, you’re talking...” Derek flipped through a load of close-ups before getting to another wider shot. Here, clearly says soulmate. Then...” More shuffling. “Bottle’s still in the same place, a few minutes later and it’s back to being just another label. Nobody’s touched it. I already believed in soulmates, but if I hadn’t, I’d be a convert by now.”
Stiles looked at the pictures, taking them from Derek to flip through them himself. The proof was there, very much there. There was no denying it. He flipped through them again before looking up at Derek. “These are yours aren’t they? You...you realize what you have here right?”
“Sure: proof the soulmate sign exists.”
“Yeah, but more than that. This is like...Lauren’s college fund. This is awards and your ticket anywhere. Why is it in a cabinet?”
Stiles didn’t understand what he was seeing as Derek just shrugged a shoulder and said, “I sent some of them to the magazine I work for.”
“You could send all of them to every magazine and still have people who want them,” Stiles said with his jaw hanging open a little. “Why haven’t you?” He frowned when Derek didn’t answer and prompted him again, startling when Derek grabbed the photos back and started jamming them back into the folder.
Stiles watched, stunned, as Derek got up and slammed the folder back into the drawer, enough that he jumped a little when the older man turned back round and fixed his gaze on him. Derek still didn’t say anything for a long moment, and Stiles had been about to change the subject when he spoke. “It feels like an invasion of privacy,” Derek said, quietly. Stiles just waited for him to continue, and Derek finally came back and sat down next to him. “I’ve never been that kind of a photographer. The kind that waits on street corners and tried to catch celebrities going about their normal day. I don’t even really like doing the whole press conference thing, but it’s good work and I’m friends with the reporter I was there with. She always requests me. But that - those? Meeting your soulmate - that’s something private. It’s meant to be between two people. Not two people and the whole world. Maybe I will sell them one day - but not until those two people have sorted themselves out. Then I’ll ask them what they want to do.”
“You can’t compare that to the pictures people grab of me and my coffee addiction or bedhead. It’s not the same. That’s proving a universal theory that’s been debated for ages true. This is science,” Stiles said. “And...it’s me. I’m not really holding out hope that I’m going to find my other half you know? It’s nice but...in a room of reporters and photographers?” He shook his head.
“...You don’t think you’ll ever find them?” Derek asked, and Stiles put the disappointed tone in his new friend’s voice down to the fact that Derek was obviously rooting for the whole ‘soulmates’ thing.
“I don’t know. What happened today kinda turned me off from it,” Stiles said with a sigh. “I want to because... Who wants to pass that up?”
“Your real soulmate knows that’s not something you’d ever want,” Derek promised him.
Stiles slumped back against the couch and looked up at him. “How do you even know that?”
“Because you hate all of that. The whole three ring circus thing. So, your soulmate hates it as well. Otherwise it would always be something that would get in the way of your relationship. You’re an actor, Stiles. You’re always going to be in the public eye. Your way of dealing with that is a huge part of who you are. Your soulmate is going to be someone who looks at all of that the same way you do.”
“You sound so sure.” He watched Derek, amazed at how the older man sounded so sure of what Stiles would find. Like he knew. Stiles’ insides leapt at that, but he pushed it away. The guy was straight. He had a wife and a daughter. He was just a friend and Stiles wanted that. He didn’t need to get carried away.
Derek shrugged a shoulder, like it was nothing. “It just makes sense.”
Stiles watched Derek, not sure what to make of the situation. “Well, if I don’t find them, I’ll let you sell the pictures. Someone should benefit.”
“How will you know them, when you meet them?” Derek asked him, his face having descended into a deep frown when Stiles suggested he might not. “I mean, you can’t just trust someone who says ‘I’m your soulmate’, can you?”
Stiles shook his head. “I don’t think I’d trust anyone who said it. I guess,” he shifted on the couch like he was trying to get more comfortable. “I kinda thought I would just know. Like bolt of lightning. Like the movie you know?”
Derek smiled, a simple upcurving of his lips in agreement that was comforting. Without saying a word, Stiles knew Derek felt the same way. Stiles kind of wished he could be more like that - Derek just seemed so self-contained and put together. Like he had all the answers. It was only when he let you closer, into his little bubble, that you got to see the cracks. How hard he was finding handling his divorce. The stresses of trying to raise a baby on his own. Yet through it all, he’d found a place in his life for Stiles and now he was just a fixture. A piece that fit so well into a hole that Stiles had never even know was there.
“I guess... I don’t really know what I do with that though,” Stiles admitted. “The things I’ve read - the real stories? Not the fiction? They say that it’s not like lightning, but that they did know. Like, it made sense. I want it to make sense.”
The look on Derek’s face turned into something that confused Stiles, like he knew something that Stiles didn’t know, but he should be able to figure out by now. After a moment though, the look went away and the older man patted his knee lightly. “It will. If that’s what you’re looking for, I have faith that it will work out that way.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “Now you’re sounding like some kind of priest. If you tell me that you’re some kind of disciple in a soulmate cult, I might have to rethink this friendship,” he teased.
Derek chuckled and shook his head. “No cults. Just a hopeless romantic,” he admitted with a shy smile before taking Stiles’ empty mug and getting up again. “You need anything else?”
“No, I’m good... I’m not in your way, am I? I just turned up and...”
“And it’s all good. How about a movie?”
Stiles stared up at Derek then nodded. “Um yeah. That would be great.” Derek smiled then nodded towards the shelf of DVDs. “Pick something out. I’ll take care of these.” Derek watched Stiles for a moment, like he might say something else, then shook his head and headed for the kitchen.
Stiles scanned the rows of DVDs, his smile widening as he counted the number of his favorites there. Seemed he and Derek had the same taste in movies.
“Find something,” Derek asked when he came back into the room, which had Stiles looking up at him and shrugging.
“Hard to decide when I like most of what you have is what I love to watch.” Stiles debated for a moment longer the picked one mostly at random, handing it to Derek with a grin.
“Good choice,” Derek agreed, slipping it in the player and sitting down in the middle of the couch. Stiles eyed the other man, who looked totally relaxed and right at home and not at all like he realised that he’d just set himself up like an open invitation to cuddle.
In the end, Stiles decided he was overhanging things and just went and sat next to him, grabbing one of the throw cushions and hugging it tightly, to stop himself from getting any ideas.
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
The blaring out of ‘Highway to Hell’ woke Derek from sleep with a jolt. He just about had time enough to register that there had been a body resting against his before it was gone. Stiles scrambling about for his phone in the dark, falling off the couch as he flailed, knocking the phone off the coffee table and then connecting the call from the floor. Lauren started to wail from the bedroom, loud screams in the darkness at the unfamiliar sounds and Derek heaved himself up off the couch.
The loading screen for a movie was on the TV screen, the same snippet of music playing over and over, far more quietly than Stiles’ choice of ringtone. Derek figured they’d fallen asleep in front of the third movie they’d ended up putting on - a personal favorite of both of them that neither had seen for years.
Derek checked his watch as he headed for Lauren. 4am and Stiles was in the background, talking to someone about something that obviously he was meant to sound happy about, but didn’t. It didn’t take a genius to figure that much out from the faked chuckles and the insincere ‘great’s and ‘wonderful’s.
“Hey, munchkin,” Derek said, leaning over and picking Lauren up, cradling the back of her head. Her screams quietened as soon as he collected her, but it took a few moments more, and some quiet words, to get her to stop completely. Resting her against his shoulder, Derek padded back out into the living room, in time to hear Stiles explaining to the caller that he was at a friend’s house and, yes, that friend had a baby and, no, the press didn’t know where he was and, no, he didn’t intend to do anything about it tonight and, yes, he did fully intend to go back to sleep.
Stiles tossed the phone away when he hung up, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes with a groan and not even bothering to get up off the floor. Derek felt for him just like he had the moment he’d opened the door and found a disheveled and exhausted looking Stiles on the step. After a moment, like Stiles knew he was there, the younger man looked up at him. “I’m sorry,” he said, getting up when he saw Lauren and moving closer. “I woke her up. I fell asleep.”
“We both fell asleep,” Derek agreed, bouncing Lauren in his arms as she looked round and reached grabby hands for Stiles. “But the little terror here very rarely sleeps through anyway, do you, munchkin?” Derek asked his daughter, his voice turning cooing as he talked to her, moving close enough that Lauren could reach out to tug at Stiles’ hair - which had been what she really wanted.
“She’s not a terror,” Stiles said, even as she tugged at his hair, making it stick up more than it already was from sleeping on it.
“She can be,” Derek promised. “Here. You take her. She seems to want you anyway.” He handed the infant over to Stiles who looked unsure for a moment, but then Lauren was cuddling against his neck and his shoulders relaxed.
“That’s right, like that. Supporting her head… You’ve done this before,” Derek concluded, as Stiles made all the right moves, without needing to be told.
“My character on the first show I was a regular on had a baby brother. I spent most of my time cradling a doll, a bit of time cradling an actual baby on camera and a whole lot of time playing with the baby off camera. She was adorable,” Stiles explained, looking at him over Lauren’s head.
“Yeah - a little girl called Carlie. A baby’s a baby, as far as casting goes. Not like any of the audience was actually going to check.” Stiles bounced Lauren a little, making cooing noises that were enough to melt Derek’s heart and he was sure if anyone saw this Stiles’ popularity would take another surge.
The remarkable thing was as Lauren settled more, so did Stiles, his whole demeanor changing. He’d been frustrated when he hung up the phone, but now he seemed more like he had somewhere between the second and third movies. “Everything okay?” Derek ventured as he claimed Stiles’ phone from the floor and set it back on the coffee table.
“Everything’s fine, isn’t it, Lauren?” Stiles cooed at the baby, walking over to sit them both down on the couch, grinning widely at the baby’s hands in his hair and all over his face as if it were the best thing ever.
Derek wasn’t actually convinced by any of that. Distraction was one thing, but it didn’t solve any problems and Stiles hadn’t exactly sounded happy on the phone. “Seriously, Stiles - is there something wrong? You don’t have to tell me, but…”
“Oh, it’s just those silly people, isn’t it, Laur?” Stiles cooed, still talking to the baby, in a cute little baby talk voice as he tickled Lauren under the chin and made her laugh. Derek sank down onto the other end of the sofa, trying not to melt at the sight. “Those stupid people who I pay to run my life. Calling me at four o’clock in the morning to tell me that they’ve found my soul mate,” he sing songed in the same tone. “Silly, silly people aren’t they baby? Yes, yes they are. Because all those nasty paps sold my pictures with that blonde girl from last night. Yes they did. Aren’t they poopy? Yes they are. And now apparently the whole entire world thinks that she’s my soulmate. Which she’s not. I know she’s not. Your daddy knows she’s not. I bet even you know she’s not don’t you? Cos you’re a smart little girl. Just the smartest.”
“They’re actually running with that?” Derek said, trying hard to keep the appalled sound out of his voice, but he couldn’t help it. “Was she even there that day?”
Stiles shrugged. “Who knows?” he said, looking over at Derek with a pained smile. “Does it matter? I’m starting to think it doesn’t.”
“But, but…” Derek trailed off, brows pinching together. It was all wrong. She wasn’t his soulmate and it wasn’t meant to go like this. Stiles was meant to satisfy the requirements of his management and PR team and the studio and then this whole thing was meant to blow over and settle down and then it would all be okay. “You’re not meant to end up with a fake soulmate!”
“Why not? People in Hollywood get married for publicity purposes all the time,” Stiles sighed, and now he just sounded really tired. Even Lauren settled down at the sound, laying her head on his shoulder and blowing spit bubbles onto his shirt.
“But they don’t say they’re soulmates,” Derek pointed out, unable to get passed the hollow ache in his chest as he wondered whether Stiles was actually going to do this. Whether he was going to give up this easily.
Stiles rubbed small circles on Lauren’s back, not meeting Derek’s eyes. “I’m not sure what else to do at this point. I keep waiting for it to blow over but it doesn’t. And it’s way too early in the morning to try and sort this out right now. Even if I could talk them out of her, what about the next person?”
“Let’s prove she wasn’t there,” Derek said, desperately. “If she wasn’t - if she’s just some deranged fan, or someone trying to use you to get to the spotlight, then that’ll be a story enough for your people in itself, right?” He plowed on, not waiting for an answer. “Think about it. If we can prove that this Heather girl’s nothing but someone trying their luck, for whatever reason and if that’s released to the press, then in future they’ll have to be more cautious. You’ll have a cast iron reason to be. You can’t just accept someone as your soulmate because it’s the easy option, Stiles. You know you can’t and I won’t let you. So, we find another way. You and me. We’ll do this together. All the way.”
Stiles stared at him for a long moment before shaking his head. “I can’t ask you to help with this. You’re already helping plenty by existing. You don’t need to get dragged into this as well.” He patted Lauren, looking down at her and pressing his nose against her curls. “I like having this to myself.”
“You don’t have to ask me for my help. You have my help. If you’re gonna be telling me anything, it’d have to be to butt out. Otherwise, in the morning I’m gonna make a few calls. I know people. I can find out what’s known about this girl, track down whether she was on the list that day. Ask around,” Derek said, firmly. “Nobody needs to know that I’m doing it for you, so Lauren and I can stay your little secret.” Just like Stiles was his. Derek liked that they had their own private world.
Stiles looked up, a little frown creasing his brow like he wasn’t sure what to say or where to start. “You don’t have to,” he said, but he didn’t sound like he was going to push it too hard, like something else was bothering him. “You know it’s not...not a secret like a bad thing right? I’m not ashamed or anything.”
“I’m not ashamed of you either, but you’re my secret too,” Derek admitted.
“I am?” Stiles asked and Derek nodded.
“We’ve both got crazy lives right now. It’s nice having a safe place from that. You helped me with a lawyer. I’m gonna help you with this.”
Stiles considered it for a moment then sighed. “Fine. Please. It just means they’ll still want to throw a party or something with everyone there, but that might be better if we can prove she wasn’t there.”
“Okay, then I’ll get right on that in the morning. In the meantime, how about I go put Lauren down and you can get a few more hours in the guest room.”
“I can put her in bed,” Stiles said, getting up from the couch. “And I should probably go. I’m sure I have to be up in a few hours. The last thing I need is to upset your morning too.”
“You really don’t have to go,” Derek said, looking up from the couch at the man who had walked into his life and was now putting his daughter to bed. And Derek, control freak father that he knew he could be, was more than happy to let him.
Stiles smiled softly at Derek and nodded. “I know. I just know I should. I shouldn’t show up at my place with the paps outside in the morning. They’ll come looking for you.”
Derek shrugged a shoulder. “They won’t be looking for me though, will they?” he asked, determinedly keeping his voice level. Everyone was looking in one direction, and that direction was very definitely girl-shaped.
Stiles clearly hesitated, biting at his lip before shaking his head. “They won’t,” he admitted softly. “But that’s all the more reason why I don’t want them to find you.”
Derek wanted to argue more. He wanted to convince Stiles to stay, unable to get the image out of his mind of morning coffee and breakfast. Of finding out what Stiles was like, first thing in the morning. Discovering that routine together, wanting to know whether it would come as easily as everything else between them had. Instead though, he nodded and stood. “I get it,” he said. “Come on - let’s put her down together.”
Stiles shifted Lauren on one arm, his free hand going for Derek until he pulled it away at the last second, biting his lip again. Derek almost stepped into the touch, wanting to pull Stiles close and have him there, but he forced himself to keep the space between them before leading the way to Lauren’s room. Stiles trailed behind until they were in the room. He lingered while Derek watched, trailing his long fingers over the infant’s curls and shoulder before looking up at Derek. The older man hesitated for a moment then held out a hand it was enough for Stiles to close the distance between them falling into the hug that Derek realized he should have given him the moment Stiles had stepped in the house. He wrapped his arms around Stiles’ shoulders, holding him until Stiles made the move to pull away, rubbing at his cheek as if he felt like he needed to do something with his hands. “Thanks,” he mumbled.
“Any time Stiles. Whenever you need to. Just come by.”
“What if you’re out?”
I can give you a key. Derek knew better than to come out with that, regardless of how he felt about it. Instead he smiled and said, “Okay, then check first.”
“Right, that makes sense.” Stiles looked at his feet, then back at Derek and the vulnerability that was clear in his eyes made Derek want nothing more than to protect him from everything. “Don’t forget to call Jackson,” he said, clearly changing the subject.
“In the morning,” Derek promised, though he knew that that call would be made after all of the ones he was going to be making for Stiles. “Thank you. You… are exactly what I needed,” he added, unable to resist saying that much. He wanted to say so much more, but now simply wasn’t the time. He told himself that they didn’t have to rush this, that they could get themselves there at their own pace and that everything would work out for the best. He just had to be patient.
Stiles had a moment of what looked like hesitation, like there was something else he wanted to say or ask, but the words didn’t happen. After a moment he smiled, something small and private, nothing like Derek had seen in his reels of photos. “You too actually.”
“Don’t let them get to you,” Derek told him as Lauren yawned widely and screwed up her face. “Oh, I know that look,” he told Stiles. “That’s her ‘put me to bed or I’m gonna start crying again’ look.”
“I think they already got to me,” Stiles said before looking at Lauren and nodding. “I’ll let you handle that and go call my ride?”
Derek tried to ignore the feeling that Stiles seemed to be trying to put space between them on purpose and instead took his daughter back. She immediately cuddled into the crook of his neck. He smiled and rested his cheek on the top of her head reflexively. “That’s fine. Go. You deserve to get a couple more hours of sleep before you have to start again,” he told Stiles. “Do you mind finding your own way out?” he added, hoping that Stiles understood that it was because he trusted the other man to find his way through Derek’s home.
“Sure,” Stiles said. Derek watched as he hesitated for a moment, his eyes darting between Lauren and her dad. Then Stiles darted forward, giving the baby a kiss on her cheek, and then surprising Derek by mirroring the move on him. As Stiles pulled away, Derek could feel the imprint of his lips remaining on his skin and he watched, wide eyed and frozen as Stiles ducked his head and hurried out of the room. “Speak to you soon!” the actor called back to them as he disappeared.
Derek’s phone rang as he sat in the incredibly upmarket waiting room of a law firm that he knew he was never going to be able to afford, waiting on Jackson Whittemore to take him into a meeting, which he hadn’t expected to get at a moment’s notice. He had called that morning, as promised - only to be informed by an incredibly polite and professional secretary that, ‘of course, Mr. Hale. Mr. Whittemore was waiting for your call. He has a slot free today, if that would be convenient.’ Derek had been so surprised he practically fell over the ‘yes’ and then had to rearrange his entire morning. Thankfully the service Stiles had set him up with could take Lauren at short notice, and his work projects could be pushed back.
He thought that he had entirely cleared the board. He had forgotten about the email he’d sent to Lydia around dawn, asking her to call him with any information she could dig up on ‘this Heather girl who apparently is Stiles Stilinski’s soulmate’. In retrospect, he probably could have worded it in a less angry way, but he had been tired and kind of cranky.
To be fair, he was still tired and kinda cranky. Which explained the short reception Lydia got when he picked up the phone.
“Don’t get short with me Derek Hale,” Lydia said on the line. “You send me this bizarre request in the middle of the night about something you swore you didn’t care about and here I am hunting down contacts and lists of attendees to find out just who this woman is. You owe me.”
“Do I really? Doesn’t it go with your story if you can prove she isn’t his soulmate?” Derek asked, trying to keep his voice down, but the woman at the front desk was busy on the phone herself.
“Doesn’t it go with your theory that you might be if she isn’t?” Lydia countered and Derek fought the urge to cower. Not in front of Lydia. She was scary, but not that scary and especially not down the phone. It had nothing to do with that parting kiss. Stiles had been half asleep. It had been so late it was early. It wasn’t something to make a big deal out of.
“Lydia. I told you to drop that.”
“I’m a reporter,” she replied with a sweetness that he knew was entirely faked. “I never drop anything. I just maybe shut up about it for a while.”
“Now’s not the time to start again. What did you find?”
“Ask me nicely.”
She sighed, as if hard done by and Derek could practically see her spinning round on her desk chair in that pokey little cubicle that she jokingly referred to as her ‘office’. “Fine,” she said, at length. “Rude, but fine. Heather Teague twenty-one. She and Stilinski actually come from the same home town. Went to different high schools though, so possible they’ve never met until now. She’s a gemini. Clearly dyes her hair and really needs the name of a decent stylist. Left home at eighteen, took a few community college courses before deciding to make her way to LA where she’s had no real success doing anything as far as I can see. Waitressing, mostly…”
“Lydia,” Derek said again, quickly losing patience with the long spiel of everything he didn’t want to know.
“I’m getting there. Lauren is more patient than you,” she said instead of getting to the point, but Derek had a feeling she was making him work for it. “So she’s failing at mostly everything including a steady waitress job which is saying something. She’s no one. There’s no reason for her to have been in that press conference and she’s not on any of the invites. Now, Danny down in IT? He owes me still for setting him up with that hot model last year, and he did some digging too. Turns out she’s got a tumblr that’s pretty much all about your little pet project and it went off the charts when the soulmate news broke. There’s a chance she could have snuck her way into things, but if I had to guess, she saw an opportunity and took it.”
“So she’s not it.”
“Nope. Nothing puts her there the day it happened and that sort of thing doesn’t happen unless the two people can both see it in person. There’s no documentation of it just happening to one person without the other present.”
Derek would have said that he was relieved at the news, but it wasn’t exactly surprising to hear that Heather couldn’t be Stiles’ soulmate. What was good to hear was that it wasn’t possible. “Are you going to run with that?” he asked her.
“What? Are you insane?” Lydia replied, her voice rising a couple of octaves. She laughed. “Of course I’m going to run with that. You really think I’d do all this damn work and not use it? I set the copy off five minutes ago. It’ll be published within the hour. Oh, and say thank you, because one of your photos will be running alongside it. When are you sending the rest of them over, by the way? I know Lauren was being distracting, but I know you got more than the handful that I’ve seen.”
“Thank you,” Derek said, half rolling his eyes. At least she was running with it. That would save Stiles some pressure to be forced to get to know some woman who wasn’t at all what Stiles wanted or needed. Derek’s mind drifted back to the kiss again, unconsciously touching his cheek before shaking his head even though Lydia couldn’t see him. “I already sent you the best ones,” he told her.
“Really? Wow. Okay - you really were having an off day then. We need to do something about that. Not you, just - this story’s going to run and run. I can’t be seen using the same photos time and again.”
“He’s not going to be coming across another soulmate sign, Lydia,” Derek deadpanned.
“Of course not. I just… have some ideas. Leave it with me. Oh! Gotta go. Talk soon!” she declared and hung up before he could ask what on earth she had in mind now. He loved Lydia - he just didn’t trust her.
Derek didn’t even get a chance to think about what she might have in mind before someone behind him cleared their throat. “Hale?” Derek turned to get an eyeful of whom he assumed to be Jackson Whittemore - who looked more like an Armani model than a lawyer in his sharp, expensive, three piece suit.
“That’s me,” Derek said, putting his phone away and getting to his feet. Jackson gave him a strong once-over, really taking him in before nodding and offering him a hand to shake.
“Jackson Whittemore,” he said as Derek took his hand. Jackson shook it with a vice grip, as if he’d practiced that sort of thing. “Right this way,” he said and started towards his office.
Derek followed on behind, trying not to seem too interested. Or to mentally keep tally of what each damn footstep was probably costing him. Lawyers charged by the minute, or the second, or the breath, didn’t they? They brought a whole new meaning to ‘on the clock’ and it was a damned expensive clock. It had to be, to afford that suit. Derek looked down at Jackson’s feet and mentally added the price of those shoes to his imaginary bill as Jackson held a conference room door open for him.
Derek walked inside, sitting himself down in a leather upholstered seat at one end of a long table that had to have been able to seat twelve. He avoided making a joke about when the other people were arriving as the lawyer sat down across from him with a yellow legal pad and a pen.
“So, Mr. Hale - can I call you Derek?” he asked, continuing as Derek indicated his agreement. “Great. So, Derek - Stiles said I’d enjoy you…”
“Enjoy me? Stiles already called you?” Derek asked, only for Jackson to look up with a grin.
“Yes, first thing this morning. Asked me to fit you in and that it would be worth my time. It’s not every day I get to make someone else miserable while helping my client. So tell me everything. Have you filed proper divorce papers yet or have you just been served?”
Derek mentally ran to catch up with events and pulled the file of papers out from his bag, having to disentangle them from a pacifier on a long piece of ribbon, and one of Lauren’s wayward teddybears. He cringed an apology and handed them across. “Just served,” he explained. “I’ve been..thinking about how to respond.”
Jackson took the folder warily as if it might be sticky from behind too close to child things, but eventually flipped it open, reading through the pages on top. “You respond with a strong no if this isn’t what you want,” he said before looking up, staring at Derek.
“It’s what I want,” Derek confirmed, wondering what the hell Jackson was staring at.
The lawyer folded his hands over the paperwork, really staring at Derek now. “You aren’t what I expected.”
“When Stiles called to say he wanted me to help a ‘friend’ with his divorce and Stiles would be covering my fees I wasn’t really expecting you. You don’t seem to be his type.”
“Mostly, he’s more…”
“No,” Derek cut in, leaning forward over the table. “What do you mean ‘covering my fees’?” he demanded.
Jackson raised an eyebrow at that, leaning forward as well. “Exactly what it sounds like Derek. Stiles called, said he needed me to help out a friend of his and the bill goes to him. He didn’t tell you?”
“No,” Derek said, his brows deepening into an unsettled frown. “He just gave me your card and made me promise I’d call.” There had been no suggestion that Stiles would be funding anything, and Derek wasn’t happy to take that kind of handout from him. Taking a decision, Derek pushed up from the table. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Whittemore. If I can have my papers back…”
“Sit down, you idiot,” Jackson snapped, to Derek’s complete surprise. Enough that he found himself already sat back down again. “Look - Stilinski has the money to cover whatever costs that you run up and I’m happy to take his money. It’s not like he knows what the hell he should do with it anyway. He’s always taking on charity cases - I mean ‘friends’.” Derek could near enough hear the sarcastic air quotes and they weren’t helping anything. “He has me on retainer and right now, that retainer involves helping you. So, really, the only question is: what are you looking to achieve?”
Pitbull. Derek got the nickname completely now. “There isn’t anything...” he started, but Jackson cut him off with a wave his hand.
“I honestly don’t care if there is or there isn’t. I really don’t. What I do see is a nasty divorce and a chance to have some fun making your ex-wife cry, which I’m guessing is why you’re here talking to me and why you haven’t just signed this piece of paper yet that ends your marriage. So again, I will ask, and please make it for the last time. What do you want?”
“My daughter,” Derek said, deadly seriously.
Jackson watched Derek, like he was waiting for something else before nodding and going back to the paperwork. “Alright then. Full custody rights I’m assuming? We can work with that.” He made a note on the legal pad, then flipped a few more pages. “What’s this about trust funds and family money?”
“Full custody. Kate’s applied as her mother, but there are rocks with better maternal instincts than she has. All she’s ever wanted is the money that she thinks I have,” Derek said. “She’s always been convinced there’s a trust fund for either me or Lauren - preferably both. Neither is true. My family comes from money, but until my parents die I don’t have any of it.”
Jackson made another note on his legal pad. “We’ll get some paperwork filed to grant me access to your financial records, just to prove that you don’t have the trust fund holed away somewhere, though I don’t feel a need to actually use that, but it’s best to have it.” He made another note then looked up at Derek. “Are you a good father?”
“Yes,” Derek said, in the confident tone he knew would be expected.
“Right answer,” Jackson said. “Now, tell me everything she’s going to bring up to prove you aren’t. Accidents that have happened, nights you’ve gone out and got drunk and left her home with the baby, too many hours put into fantasy football, gambling, any of that. Are you currently seeing anyone?”
“No to all of the above. The worst thing so far has been the day that Kate called me an hour before Stiles’ press conference for his movie, so I was forced to take Lauren with me when I couldn’t find a replacement sitter.”
“The soulmate conference?”
“Watch the videos. The baby Stiles is cooing over? Is Lauren.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Jackson hovered his pen over his pad, starting to write another note then stopping halfway and looking up at Derek again. “As much as it pains me to ask, because I really don’t want to know, tell me about Stiles.”
“There’s nothing to tell,” Derek averred, but Jackson clearly was having none of it.
“Bull. I need to know. Nobody else does. Client confidentiality and if it bothers you that much I won’t even send my meeting notes through my secretary.”
Derek frowned, not sure he wanted to go into things. “Why do you need to know?” he asked instead, still stalling.
“Because he’s doing this thing for you, he’s your example of one time when you weren’t the world’s greatest dad and you two are obviously still conversing or you wouldn’t be sitting across from me. He’s famous and right now his life is in such turmoil, I call every two days or so just to make sure he doesn’t need to take me off the bench. If you get pulled into that life the wrong way, it makes this case harder to win.”
Derek’s jaw tightened and he fought it for a moment, before giving in. “I’m fairly sure he’s my soulmate and if that fact ever leaves this room, even to him, you’ll wish you’d never been born.”
Jackson stopped moving altogether, just staring at Derek for a long moment. “Should I write down delusions of grandeur as well?” he asked before shaking his head. He made himself a note before he spoke again. “Trust me, that won’t leave this room. Not with everything going on.” Jackson was still shaking his head, when he muttered to himself. “Really, really not what I thought his type was.”
“What’s his type?”
“Not you? Women? Someone single and not with a kid? Me?” Jackson shrugged. “I don’t actually know, but you’re not what I expected. Then again, Stiles isn’t really typical. I don’t believe in the whole soulmate phenomenon anyway, so to me, you’re just nuts.” He shook his head and looked back down at the paperwork. “I’ll call her lawyer and bring them in as soon as I can and get this sorted out. I feel like time is of the essence given your previous statement.”
“Well then, Stiles’ type is between him and me. It’s not going to have any bearing on your case. If you can help me keep my daughter, then I’m all in.”
“Actually it’s between you and you if you’re not telling him, but again, not my business. But yes, I can help you keep your daughter. Trust me. This is a walk in the park. And Stiles is right. I might just enjoy it. We’ll be in touch.”
“If he’s my soulmate, then he doesn’t need me to tell him. That’s what fakes from upstate do. We’ll work things out in a way that doesn’t cause a media circus.”
“First rule of dating a celebrity: There’s always a media circus even when you don’t mean for there to be.”
“I’m a photographer. I know all the rules,” Derek shot back at him. “Which is why I’m playing things close to the chest right now. Stiles deserves more than someone he just thinks is after him for his fame.”
Jackson held up his hands in mock surrender. “You get me wrong. I like Stiles. He’s my favorite client. He’s stupid and terrible at being famous, but he’s an easy client. He knows what he wants and he asks for it. It’s nice. None of that is the point here. The point is that you want your daughter and you have to be selfish until the ink is dry on your divorce papers. Don’t think about him and what he deserves. Think about you.”
“I am thinking about me,” Derek confirmed. “Now is not the right time for me either.”
“Glad we agree on something. Let’s focus on this then. Is there anything else I need to know before I go into this? I don’t do well with being blindsided.” Jackson pressed his fingers together, waiting for Derek to answer.
Derek took a deep breath and shook his head. “There’s nothing else.”
Jackson eyed him skeptically, as if waiting to see if he would crack under pressure before nodding. “Fine then. I’ll have the paperwork for financials sent over to you and if you could put together a calendar for the next few months showing your work schedule and your plans to ensure your daughter has proper care while you’re working, we can go from there. Any questions?”
“Am I going to be able to keep my daughter?” Derek asked - the only thing he was really worried about. “Kate will play dirty. Whatever she thinks will get her what she wants.”
“Of course you are,” Jackson said, closing the folder in front of him. “Derek, you didn’t hire me because I play nice. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. That’s why I got into this business. If I just wanted to solve crimes or do good things lawyer to the stars would not have been the route I went with.”
“I’m not a star,” Derek pointed out.
“Your bill is being paid by one, quit splitting hairs,” Jackson shot back with a withering glare.
Derek wanted to protest, but realized that Jackson was probably not the person he would win an argument against. “Thank you then,” he said instead.
Jackson waved his hand like it was nothing. “Thank me when we win. Which we will. I just hate being thanked before I do any real work.”
“Fine, then I’ll get everything together and email it across. You’ll have it this afternoon.”
“Excellent. We’ll get on it and get this taken care of as soon as we can.” Jackson smiled in a way that was almost terrifying. “Anything else?”
Derek decided then and there that he just wanted to let this guy do his job and then never have anything to do with him ever again. “No,” he confirmed. “That’s all.”
“Great,” Jackson said standing and holding out his hand for Derek to shake. “We’ll be in touch then.”
Chapter 7: Chapter 6
So Jackson’s a douchebag.
Stiles laughed out loud when he got the message, earning him a look from his manager. They were between meetings, the first round arguing over the fact that Stiles’ claimed soulmate wasn’t his soulmate and the next were for some sort of party planning for the giant Cinderella-esque ball they were throwing. Stiles wasn’t even sure why he was in these meetings. They were determined to do whatever they wanted and he was mostly along for the ride with how little they’d let him input.
I know he is. I said he was. But he’s good. Really good. he sent back, propping his chin in his hand as the next set of presenters filed into the conference room with easels and covered posters.
Can believe that. What I can’t believe is what he said about payment. Stiles cringed as he read the message. He knew he should have told Jackson to just say he’d take the case pro bono.
Don’t get mad at me. He hoped that Derek wouldn’t. He wasn’t trying to treat him like a charity, he just couldn’t stand the idea of Derek not being able to keep his daughter because his ex was crazy.
For now let’s call it a loan. Thanks.
A loan? Sure. You don’t ever have to pay me back. I don’t want your money. I want Lauren to stay where she belongs. Stiles half smiled at the pretty guy who handed him a folder that apparently went with the presentation that was being set up, but he didn’t look at the folder yet. If he had the agenda memorized correctly, there was a while before they would get into the party they were planning. He could wait until the meeting got going.
That’s what I want too, which is why I’m taking the money. Stiles nodded as he read the message, grateful that Derek wasn’t going to be difficult about this. Before he could compose a reply though, another one came through. What do they have you doing today? L and I have plans to paint if you need distracting.
Stiles looked at the folder he’d been handed, opening it up and groaning softly before answering. Painting sounds so much better. I’m planning Cinderella’s ball apparently. Of course they were going through with an extravagant event like they’d joked about. He flipped a few more pages over and let out a sigh of relief. At least they had lined up the charity he’d asked for. I can come by after though. Bring dinner?
He laughed as a photo message came through of Lauren, face smeared with red and blue paint, hands smothered in more, grinning widely. Lauren says hi and you’re welcome anytime, especially if you bring food. But glass slippers are a no no. I didn’t think you wanted a ball - they buy the charity idea?
Of course I don’t want a ball. But with Lydia’s article, which was a godsend I owe you, I am still “searching”. Hence the ball. I did get the charity part, which is great. Stiles hit a few buttons to save the picture of Lauren, adding it to his little collection. Bringing dinner for sure. You pick, whatever you want.
Another picture arrived - this time of Derek. Stiles decided that it should be illegal for a man to still look that gorgeous when he had paint in his hair and a look of disgust on his face from where he was clearly spitting paint out of his mouth. From the little handprints all over him, there was no need to guess the culprit of the paint attack. The accompanying message read, As long as it’s actually food, I’m easy. Thai maybe?
Stiles saved that photo too while trying to decide if it was too much to make it his phone’s background and smiled as he answered. Thai it is. Let me know preferences or I’ll just get what I like. Someone at the table cleared their throat and Stiles looked up to see Pretty Boy smiling at him. “I think we’re ready to get started,” he said with a smile that Stiles felt himself returning, but the smile on Stiles’ features had nothing to do with the man in front of him.
“Alright then,” he said as he tucked his phone away and put his full attention on the crowd at the end of the table. “Lay it on me.” He’d let them say their piece before he said no to everything.
He hadn’t said no to everything. In fact the event had been disturbingly well put together, something that Stiles had to put down to the fact that an outside PR team had been hired time ensure the event went forward without a hitch at short notice.
The idea was simple. Every woman who had been there when Stiles got the soulmate sign got a free ticket. Anyone else who wanted to attend had to pay an extortionate amount for a ‘ticket’ and the money raised was going to Stiles’ charity of choice.
All the money raised from the other tickets was going to charity which was great, but it was still eating at Stiles. “I just don’t see why it’s not everyone,” he told his manager as the meeting started to disperse.
“You know why,” his manager retorted sharply, smiling at the people who glanced his way at his tone. “We’ve talked about this.”
“Yeah, we have, but this is my life and I think you’re doing it a disservice by not...”
“Stiles.” His manager cut him off sharply, fixing his tie. Stiles hated that he always wore a tie and never seemed relaxed. It made Stiles nervous. He should have hired a guy who was willing to show up to one of these meetings in jeans and a t-shirt like he was. “We have talked about this. And we said when the time was right and there was someone important in your life, we’d discuss how to address it.”
“I know, and I think-”
“I think you’re wrong. You don’t know. You see everything as rainbows because your career is taking off and that would ruin you. So no. We will do it this way and you will smile and find the love of your life just like the universe intended.”
“But if the universe wanted me to be happy it certainly wouldn’t rule out the fact that I-”
“Can we have the room?” Stiles’ manager suddenly demanded loudly, cutting Stiles off again. He watched as what was left of the team gathered their things and headed towards the door. The pretty one, Jordan, that was his name, he was last, looking curiously at Stiles, as if he wanted to say something, but in the end he just left with the others.
As the door shut behind him, Stiles’ manager turned on him. “I will not allow you to ruin everything we’ve worked for by using this as your coming out. I don’t give a damn about what ‘the universe’ wants for you. What I want for you is your success. You have everything you need to make it. You have the looks, the skill, the talent, the drive and determination. It only takes one thing to bring that crashing down.”
“You know you’re not in this for me,” Stiles said shaking his head. “Your success hinges on mine. And I won’t have that drive and determination if I’m unhappy with some person that isn’t my soulmate. I’m not on a season of the Bachelor! And that’s not even going into the media fallout if it’s not the right person and we split up!”
“Yes, my success hinges in your success, so I am, in fact, in this for you. So, unless you can absolutely one hundred percent guarantee to me that your soulmate has a dick then I’m not going to let you commit career suicide.”
Stiles faltered for a moment. He wasn’t sure of that no. His mind went to Derek, but he had a feeling if Derek wanted to be anything more than his friend Derek would have said something considering he had the best lead-in ever. ‘Hey, we might be soulmates and there’s photographic evidence’ was a pretty solid leg to stand on, but Derek hadn’t done that. “I can’t guarantee it, but I can’t say that it’s not a he...”
“Then it might be a she as well and if it is then bullet dodged and you’ve been worrying about nothing. So go home and tomorrow get dressed in the suit that’s been sent over for you. For God’s sake do something with your hair and then get back here and give all those lovely ladies a goddamn chance.”
“What if I don’t want to?” Stiles said, being petulant just to be at this point. He was going, he just wasn’t happy about it.
“Tough shit, because you’ve already agreed to this. You’ve signed on to it and if you back out now then something will leak to the press that you let down a charity you’ve purported to support for years.” The threat was real and Stiles was convinced he knew who would be passing on that little nugget of information.
“You know full well that I actually do support that charity. I have for years,” Stiles ground out, too insulted for anything else.
“The press have short memories for good deeds, Stiles, and a voracious appetite and long memories when it comes to fuck ups. Don’t fuck up.”
“Have I fucked up yet?” Stiles asked, grabbing his jacket and storming away from his manager. “The person I want to spend the rest of my life with won’t buy into this. He or she won’t show up.”
“All of the women are showing up Stiles!” the guy hollered after him as he flung the door open. “Just make sure you do too!”
“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter!” Stiles answered over his shoulder. He would go, he had to go, but he didn’t want to go. He was furious as he stormed through the building and barely noticed the press waiting outside as he was ushered into Boyd’s car. It took a few minutes of deep breathing exercises before he could tell Boyd which restaurant to go to so he could pick up dinner and call in his order. It wasn’t lost on Stile that Boyd didn’t even ask if the next stop was Derek’s house, that he just headed that way, taking the longer route as Stiles tried to calm down in the back of the car.
By the time they were pulling into Derek’s driveway though, he was as much mad as he was exhausted, thinking of nothing more than a quiet dinner with Derek and Lauren. Stiles found himself lingering in the car though, looking up at the house. It was long enough for Boyd to look through the rearview mirror at him, frowning. “Everything alright?”
There was a long moment before Stiles nodded and reached for the bag of food. “Yeah of course. Just...wish it was different,” he said pushing at the door and letting himself out of the car.
“I think it is,” Boyd said, which was enough for Stiles to pause and duck his head back into the car.
Boyd just nodded. “Call me when you want to be picked up,” he said before waving for Stiles to close the door so he could get a move on. They weren’t friends, but apparently Boyd didn’t miss things. Stiles didn’t know what to say to that beyond shutting the door as the larger man indicated, looking back over his shoulder at Boyd before knocking on Derek’s door.
“Bad day?” Derek asked as he led Stiles inside. It made the actor wonder how much of his mood was written in his face - or how well Derek could read him.
“Yeah, it’s just been stupid, y’know? This whole thing seems entirely pointless,” Stiles replied with a sigh, though he could feel the stress disappearing with every step he took.
Stiles heard Derek say, “Well there’s someone here who’ll be really glad to see you,” as he rounded the corner and there was a bright squeal. Lauren was in a baby walker and she pushed herself across the room the moment that she saw Stiles, her arms out and reaching for him. He didn’t even realize Derek had taken the bag of food out of his hand, just that both hands were free and he reaching for Lauren as well.
He scooped her up easily, pressing his nose against hers with just made her squeal more and the last of the tension and frustration eased out of his system. How could he be unhappy with her giggling and pulling at his hair? Out of the corner of his eye he caught Derek laughing softly to himself before ducking into the kitchen with the food. Stiles shifted his grip on Lauren, kissing her cheeks before following after Derek. “And here I thought you meant you were happy to see me,” he teased the older man, not able to help himself.
“Oh I am happy to see you,” Derek assured him as Stiles watched him move around the small kitchen with practised ease. “But she got all excited when I said that you were coming over.”
“She knows me?” Stiles asked, surprised despite the fact that he had an armful of happy answer to that question already, plus an eyeroll from Derek in response.
“Of course she does. She’s been trying to say your name all week. I’m starting to think she likes you better than me,” the older man teased as he set dishes of food down on the table.
“I am very likable,” Stiles said with a grin before sitting with Lauren in his lap facing him. “Stiles,” he said, in his best baby voice, trying to get her to say his name back to him, which resulted in something close to a happy shriek that didn’t sound all that much like his name, but it was at least the right kind of intonation.
He didn’t realize his mistake until later, too lost in playing baby talk with Lauren, letting the simplicity of playing with her distract him from the reality of life. She was all happy smiles and half formed words, her little fingers catching hold of his hair and flailing about in a way that reminded Stiles of himself. He had thought Derek’s good natured chuckles were just at the sight of the two of them, and he allowed the dream of easy domesticity to find its way into his heart and settle there with a warm glow.
Then he realised the trick of it. Derek was an evil, manipulative man. An evil, manipulative man who was sitting across the table, enjoying his bowl of green chicken curry and rice without a care in the world. No wonder the guy looked happy. He wasn’t Stiles. Stiles who was trying to eat his own rapidly cooling meal with one hand, while fending off the attacks of a baby who wanted to be entertained and distracted with the other. Hair pulling and toddler flailing had been funny for the first five minutes, but now there were just hands everywhere and Stiles didn’t dare put her down. Instead he jiggled her on his knee as he strained his neck in the other direction to capture a piece of pork that he held out of her reach.
“I think you cheated,” Stiles said as he missed and wound up with his fork back on the table, glaring across at Derek who, damn him, tried to look as innocent as possible.
“Yes, yes you did. You terrible cheater. What do I...” Stiles was at a loss, which rarely happened.
Derek’s eyes twinkled for a moment and Stiles just knew that he was enjoying every moment of this. Then he did something Stiles really didn’t expect. Derek leaned forward, over the table. Picking up Stiles’ fork, he speared a piece of pork and some noodles with the fork. Glancing at Lauren, he grinned. “Think Stiles should have some dinner?” he asked the baby, getting a squeal in response. Derek looked at Stiles with a grin. “Then open up,” he said. Stiles did as he was asked, half surprised and half laughing as Derek fed him as though he was Lauren, swooping in like an airplane. He even made the noises.
“You’re adorable,” Stiles said after he’d chewed, still laughing at Derek and not even realizing the slip. Derk seemed to catch it though, pausing for a moment before reaching to take Lauren from him.
“That’s not something that someone my size often gets called,” Derek said as he fastened Lauren into her highchair and gave her a little bowl with some rice in it.
Stiles felt weird without Lauren in his hands and despite having food in front of him waiting to be eaten, he wasn’t sure what to do with his hands. “Size doesn’t really have anything to do with it,” he said, hands still in his lap. “It just is. You just...are.” He shouldn’t be saying what he was saying. Not with everything going on in his life, but he knew full well that when his manager had asked him if he knew for sure if his soulmate was a dude his thoughts had gone to Derek. He couldn’t pretend that didn’t happen. It’d be nice, Derek being his soulmate. Even in his tiny house and with dinners that were hard to eat because of Lauren. It’d be really nice. “Do you ever think that…” Stiles started, but caught himself before he asked. No. Derek would have said something. He would have done something.
Derek set his fork down with a too loud clatter. “Stiles, I…” he started, but Stiles realised that he couldn’t stand it, not right now. If what was coming was a rejection, then it would be too much after the day he’d had. Better not to know, to be able to live with the pretty delusion for a while longer.
“Forget it,” he said, too fast.
“That’s not-” Derek started again but Stiles waved him off focusing on his food instead.
“No. Seriously. Forget it. You wanna watch a movie or something later? Anything to not think about work and how completely ridiculous it’s become?”
“Sure,” Derek agreed. Stiles ignored the way that he was clearly just abandoning the topic. It might not resolve issues that were out there, but it was easier this way. Right now, Stiles just wanted to keep one thing in his life that was easy.
Chapter 8: Chapter 7
Stiles laughed out loud at the message that came in. He was waiting for the car to come and collect him for the ball and he’d sent Derek a shot of the outfit he’d been told to wear. He absolutely hated the bright red suit. He felt entirely ridiculous and wanted someone to share in his misery and just how ridiculous he looked. Derek, however responded another way. The guy was amazing. He always knew just what to say to be both supportive of Stiles opinions and dismissing his fears.
Nobody should be able to pull off that suit, but you look great. But you won’t be able to hide - cunning planners
I feel like the cape the matador shakes in front of the bull to get it to charge. Though it was nice to hear he looked great. Or maybe just nice that Derek thought so.
Sounds about right. I won’t mention to Lydia you compared her to a bull...
Stiles had almost forgotten that Lydia Martin was going to be there tonight. He grinned and sent, She’s not a bull, she’s an angel and the reason that I’m not married off already to superfan.
Well, not the only reason...
Stiles grinned, nodding even if Derek couldn’t see it. Of course not. Wish you were coming tonight. Then I’d at least have one person to talk to.
Sorry, can’t get a sitter. Stiles was grateful for the lie. They both knew he hadn’t been invited, couldn’t afford it, and Stiles hadn’t dared buy him a ticket. The idea of having Derek at the ball was simultaneously both amazing and scary as hell. Stiles wanted him there, but he knew that if Derek was in that room then Stiles wouldn’t be able to take his eyes off the man. He’d probably do something stupid, like ask him to dance and never let him go. He’d make a fool of himself. Instead, they both hid behind the excuse that Derek couldn’t get child-care and Stiles repeatedly pushed away that creeping feeling that it could be Derek Stiles was looking for. Yes, Derek had been in the room at the time, but that didn’t mean anything. It could mean everything, but Stiles was trying not to let it get that far. Derek was sometimes flirtatious, but usually only in response to Stiles’ attempts at flirting. He was always there and downright wonderful at distracting Stiles, but that didn’t mean anything more than them being friends. And with Lauren as evidence, most signs pointed away from Derek being interested in men romantically. It wasn’t smart to get hung up on the idea of something more so Stiles pushed it all away as he texted back.
It’s fine. I’ll see you tomorrow though.
Try and have fun tonight. Even if you’re not going to find your soulmate, there’s no reason it can’t be fun. Stiles knew Derek was right when he read the message, only there was that pressure there. He knew that the eyes of his management team would be following him round the room.
I will try, but I feel like I’m walking a plank with circling sharks under it. Stiles wasn’t voicing the fear, but part of him was worried he’d find that person at the ball. That it was someone who’d show up to that sort of thing and the idea alone thrilled and scared him.
That’s a terrible analogy. No pirate would try and push you off a boat just to get married.
How much time have you actually spent around women? Stiles shot back, though he was smiling. They’d tip you over just to catch you.
For now. Just wait until Jackson takes care of that for you and you have every woman in a fifty mile radius trying to be the next Mrs. Hale. Stiles hit sent and hated it. He hated the twisted feeling in his gut at the idea of Derek dating, which was completely his right, but Stiles didn’t want it. What? Would he babysit while Derek went out with some great girl and came back happy afterward? Probably not, but that was where his mind went.
Then his mind stuttered and died at the next message that cane in: There’s never going to be another Mrs. Hale for me. There’s never going to be another woman for me.
He swallowed. His fingers shook as he managed to type out an unsteady reply, a question he prayed wasn’t true. Did you love her that much?
Stiles swore when the car horn honked signalling Boyd’s arrival and he was forced to pocket his phone and meet the larger man at the door. Then he was pushed through the crowd of press waiting outside, the same ones that would likely follow them to the event and it wasn’t until Stiles was safe in the back of the car that he could pull out his phone and read Derek’s response.
No. I just know who I’m meant to be with.
Stiles almost dropped the phone, his heart in his throat. He looked up at Boyd, opening his mouth, the words on the tip of his tongue. He could just tell his driver to forget the ball, to drive him to Derek’s house. He could go and lay it all out on the line and find out who Derek knew he was meant to be with. Because Stiles wanted it so badly to be him and that tantalising bit of knowledge that whoever it was for Derek, they weren’t a woman gave Stiles more hope than anything before. Boyd wouldn’t question it, Stiles knew. There would be no argument, just a change of direction.
Only, he had to show tonight. His name would be mud if he didn’t show up to a ball for him. One that was supporting his favorite charity. He had to go through the motions, even if his heart lay elsewhere.
I hope you’ll be happy with them. His chest felt hollow as he sent the message back, so far removed from what he actually wanted to say. He knew, though, that he would never get through tonight if it was confirmed, either way. If Derek really was his soulmate, then tonight would feel like cheating, even more than it already did. If he wasn’t? Then Stiles wouldn’t be able to hide his heartbreak.
The pause between texts was longer this time, and Stiles felt himself panic that Derek wouldn’t answer at all and that Stiles had said the wrong thing in trying to seem casual and aloof. It was self preservation really, trying not to lose himself in someone who knew what he wanted and that could very well not be Stiles. What if Derek believed in soulmates because he’d met his before Stiles? He had said he believed in it before he took the pictures at Stiles’ press conference. When the message did come, Stiles tried hard not to read into it. I hope so too. Have fun tonight.
Stiles had actually switched his phone off before he entered the ballroom, knowing that he needed to be right here for tonight. He couldn’t be checking on the state of his messages. He hadn’t replied to Derek again and he had tried to push the other man out of his mind as a woman whose name he’d hardly caught, but who he knew had been hired to help put tonight together, fussed over him before he went in. “It’s fine, I’m fine,” he assured her, pulling himself gently out of her grasp as she tried to fix his hair for the third time in five minutes.
“You should be perfect though,” she said, looking down at where he had her wrists captured in his hands. Perfect seemed ridiculous given that his hair had a mind of a its own, but he nodded anyway.
“And I’m there. You did a great job,” he said as he let her go with a smile that he knew was acting. This whole thing was going to be acting. She brushed at the front of his suit once she had control of her hands again, but eventually stepped away. He tried to smile again then reached for the doors to let him into the ballroom, taking a deep breath before opening it with a smile plastered on his face.
The whole party had obviously been awaiting his arrival, as every head in the garishly decorated room turned to look at him. People surged towards him, giving him a berth, but still wanting to be closer for photos and whatever else he had to say. It would figure he’d meet his soulmate in a room full of sharks. “This way Stiles.” The voice was familiar but not enough that Stiles wasn’t surprised to see Jordan, the guy from the planning committee, reaching for his elbow and guiding him towards the mini stage set on one side of the dance floor. “You’ll do a quick welcome, I have cards written up if you need something to go off of, then start meeting people. Let me know if you need anything as I’m pretty much your guy for the evening.”
“You?” Stiles asked, surprised. That wasn’t what this guy did. He was public relations or communications or something wasn’t he?
“Me. I volunteered. The other options seemed too jittery or swoony over how romantic this feels, or too harsh to make you comfortable.” Jordan smiled and Stiles couldn’t help but smile back.
“And you’re neither?” Stiles asked him as they reached the platform.
“I’m here to do a job and make sure that you get through this in one piece. That’s what’s important to me,” Jordan confirmed, handing Stiles a small pile of neatly written cards. “You’re gonna do great. You look great and the amount that we’ve raised for your charity is on that card, right there,” he added, knocking his finger again a figure that made Stiles light up with delight. Suddenly he truly remembered why he agreed to go through with this farce. “There you go - now go make your speech,” Jordan said, pushing him lightly toward the podium and taking a step back to give him room.
Stiles looked back at Jordan with a smirk then after a deep breath took his place at the podium. He could do this. It was complete and total fantasy, but if he was right and the person he was looking for wasn’t here, then it just helped his chances that the person was at home waiting for Stiles to get through this. He put on his best smile, leaning comfortably on the podium like he normally would have and he could almost hear the audible sigh of relief from his manager. It meant he looked like himself again and Stiles did his best to hold on to it as the greeted everyone and thanked them for coming. He made a point of talking about how much they’d raised for the charity he was supporting and how important they were to him. Biting at his lip he looked around the room then shifted his weight to lean on the podium more. “In the end, we know why we’re all here, to see if we can prove that there’s that one person out there for someone. And you know, I believe it, I have to at this point,” he said with a chuckle that got echoing chuckles through the crowd. “But more importantly than that, I’m one guy and there are a lot of beautiful faces out there tonight and each and every one of you should know one thing: If I’m not your person, someone is. And they’re out there looking for you just like you’re looking for them. So don’t give up on that. And make sure you have a good time tonight regardless.” He smiled and stepped back enough for everyone to clap and then he was turning back to Jordan who gave him a thumbs up.
“You did really well up there,” Jordan said, quietly as he handed Stiles a glass of champagne. He resisted the urge to down it, instead just holding it as they started round the room. He needed to keep his wits about him tonight.
Thirty minutes later and he’d decided that had been a great decision. He’d also decided that whatever he was paying Jordan Parrish, it wasn’t enough. Stiles just had to meet his soulmate in the midst of a load of piranhas masquerading as journalists, didn’t he? And now they had him cornered, they all wanted a piece of him. None of the women all dressed up in evening gowns in various jewel shades actually thought they might be his soulmate. They were just here for the show. Asking questions about how he felt and what he wanted. None of them the slightest bit interested in him at all.
Thank everything for Jordan though, who steered him away when people lingered too long, obviously only interested in the story. He’d just steered Stiles away from a reporter asking about his preference for something or another when Jordan almost steered him into Lydia Martin. Stiles stuttered for a moment, taking in the petite redhead in her killer heels and short dress. “Lydia,” he said trying to ignore the audible ‘whoa’ behind him from Jordan.
“Stiles. We should dance,” she said, not asking, but telling and taking his hand.
Stiles felt a hand on his arm - Jordan’s. There was a slight pressure, as if to remind him that he didn’t have to. This time though, he wanted to. He had things time say to Lydia Martin.
Leading her to the dancefloor, Stiles glanced back to see Jordan standing right where he’d been left, a stunned look on his face.
Stiles flashed the other man a thumbs up, then pulled Lydia closer to dance with her. “You’re going to have to explain that,” she said flippantly, draping her arm over his shoulder as Stiles’ hand settled on her waist. “That and where you learned to waltz,” she added as he started through the steps.
“I learned to waltz for a guest starring role,” he said with a little smirk. “As for Jordan, I think he’ll understand that you’re not my soulmate.”
“No doubt on that then?” Lydia asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Did you think you were?”
“Hardly, but that’s not the point.”
“It could be the point, if you thought you were,” Stiles teased her as he whirled her around the dancefloor. She knew Derek, Derek trusted her, so he felt safe. Plus, there was just something about her. If his soulmate had to have been in this room, he wouldn’t mind if she looked like Lydia.
“Touche, but the universe would have a sick sense of humor if it paired you and me.”
“I wanted to thank you, for the story you ran,” Stiles said, steering her off course from the ‘who is your soulmate’ question.
“You just dodged my softball of a comment and you know it’s not me you should be thanking. I probably would have eventually looked into it as your name and my byline are linked, but you know who you should thank,” Lydia said.
Stiles caught himself just before he smiled. It would be so easy to start talking to her about Derek, but a thought came to mind. The conversation they had a while back now, about how he was Derek’s secret. Of course, it was possible that Lydia was in on that secret, but maybe not. He turned the burgeoning smile into a look of confusion, his brows furrowing and his head tilting. “I should?” he asked her, wondering where she would go with this.
Lydia gave him a look, something stern that clearly stated that she didn’t believe his mock innocence for an instant. “Yes. Yes you should. And if you don’t already, it’s going to be very hard for me not to tell you.”
“Maybe you should. Is there something I should know?”
Lydia looked pained, then shook her head. “I can’t reveal my source. But you should know he hounded me until I looked into it,” she said tilting her head and watching Stiles closely as if waiting for a reaction. “There’s lots of things you should know, but it’s not my place to tell. I actually promised and while I might be a reporter, this one I’m supposed to keep off the record.”
Stiles felt all warm inside, but he kept it to himself. “I have lots of fans,” he said instead, preening a little.
Lydia glared at him, then shook her head and Stiles could have sworn there was a certain fondness in it. “You’re an idiot. He’s an idiot. It just makes sense,” she said, though it was mostly to herself. After a moment she looked up at him and grinned, and it was almost terrifying. “You have to let me write your story. Once you find your soulmate. I want to write it.”
“That’ll be up to my soulmate,” Stiles told her, dropping back into being more serious. Derek had said that, before. That the photos he had would only be released if both sides of the soulmate pairing okayed it. Stiles liked that, he wanted to go with that, not make promises for the both of them. “But, since you did me a solid with that article - regardless of who pushed you into it - I’ll give you an interview, before I find my soulmate.”
Lydia seemed to consider that, pursing his lips and looking upward. “What if you meet them tonight?” she suggested.
She had him there. That was the whole point of this thing and it was just Stiles that had gotten it in his head that his soulmate wasn’t at the party, but rather sitting at home with his daughter and now he had to cover for it. “You want me to sneak away and do an interview now? People will make assumptions.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s necessary. But I want the interview before you make any announcement. Full spread, whole thing,” she said and Stiles had to marvel at the way she could combine that sweetness with determined negotiation.
“You want all that even if I haven’t made an announcement yet?” he asked, already feeling himself starting to give in. He owed her in a way and there was just something about her that made him want to work with her, at least more than anyone else. “You do know we all go down if this doesn’t work right? If I don’t find someone?”
“Look, the way I see it, you may never make an announcement. You may never find your soulmate. It might not be all that. There’s a million and one ways this could end. I refuse to believe that any of them need to end with you crashing and burning. Give me the interview. You won’t regret it. I promise.”
“People don’t tell you no often do they?”
“Rarely. You know I’m right. You need someone in your corner Stiles. I’m that someone.”
“You’re a reporter.”
“Who’s on your side. People don’t want to see crash and burn. They want you to be happy because it means there’s a chance for them to be happy.”
“And if I don’t meet my soulmate?” Stiles asked her.
“Then they can feel close to someone who dared to look. Someone who didn’t just settle and who wasn’t going to take the easy way out of hooking up with someone for the press. A man of principle.”
Stiles had to laugh at that, shaking his head. “A man of principle? No one’s ever looked at me that way.”
“You aren’t the goofy sidekick anymore Stiles,” she corrected, squeezing his hand. Stiles was struck again with how much he liked her, how in a different world he could see him spending more time with her.
“Are you happy being a reporter? I think you should find another career path.”
“I love being a reporter and I’m good at it. I just convinced you to do an interview.”
“I haven’t said yes yet.”
“But you said yet. You will. I know you will.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because it’s true,” she said with utter confidence. Stiles just laughed.
“I’ll have my people set it up,” he promised her.
Lydia just raised her chin as if to say ‘told you so’ and Stiles rolled his eyes, leaning back to twirl her as the song ended. “Just make sure it’s that person,” she said nodding towards where Jordan was still standing, staring at them, as if he hadn’t moved for the whole song. “Do that and I’ll make sure I come save you for another dance when the vultures swoop in.”
Stiles followed her gaze and had to laugh. “Come on, I’ll introduce you right now.”
Lydia pulled her hand from Stiles’ and shook her head. “Not just yet,” she said with a smile from Jordan who looked flustered but it was hard to tell why. “Later you can introduce me.” Stiles looked at her curiously, but she patted his arm. “Call it a good feeling. I’ll see you later.” She smiled again then turned on one heel and walked away.
Stiles stood and watched her go, disappearing into the crowd. He turned his head as he felt Jordan walk up beside him, also watching her walk away. “Who was she?” Jordan asked, his tone nearing awe.
“That would be Lydia Martin. She works for the California Beacon and she’s very definitely not my soulmate.” Stiles looked sideways at Jordan, his lips stretching into a wide, closed-mouthed smirk. “I agreed to an interview.”
Jordan blinked, finally looking at Stiles, shocked. “I thought you’d said no interviews. I distinctly remember you saying that in set up. I believe that your very words were ‘I’ll go through with this farce, as long as none of the vultures try and set me up with an interview’.”
“Lydia’s different. Plus - she wants you to arrange everything. So, you’re going to have to meet with her, if you think you can manage that.”
Jordan frowned, looking at Stiles, still blinking. “I can handle her,” he said first. “That is what I do. Handle the press. Though not usually for you personally.” He raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms, though after a moment his eyes went back to where Lydia had gone. “I could though.”
“You don’t work for me?” Stiles asked. How had that happened? “Well you should. I’ll tell someone something. You, I want to keep,” he said with a nod.
“What makes her different?” Jordan asked instead of responding to the job offer.
She’s a friend of Derek’s. She wants to tell me about him. She kept saying ‘them’ instead of ‘her’, but didn’t make a big thing of it. “I think she gets me.”
“Because that’s a completely logical thing to say about a reporter,” Jordan quipped and Stiles had to laugh. Even his sarcasm sounded polite. “You have more people to meet,” he added, giving Stiles a look, but at least holding out another glass of champagne. “Several more.”
Stiles saluted loosely as he took the glass. “Yes, sir,” he quipped with a crooked smile. “Wouldn’t want to stand accused of not making quota.”
“At least you’re starting to enjoy yourself,” Jordan said shaking his head. “Come on.” He caught Stiles’ elbow and nudged him back into the crowd.
It was probably the champagne’s fault, but Stiles was managing to have a good time after all. He was talking to tons of people and the center of attention and that was always something he enjoyed, shallow as it was. He’d gone into acting for a reason after all. And whenever things got uncomfortable, either Jordan or Lydia saved him, which meant he was free to enjoy himself and not fret over what the next moment might bring. His cheeks were pinking from the fizzy alcohol and the warmth of the room, as he flirted back with a married reporter who was obviously trying and frankly Stiles was at a point where he didn’t care. So what if they tried? His soulmate wasn’t here. It wasn’t happening.
The arm that wrapped around his shoulders surprised him, Jordan was far better at being discrete. He turned in time to see his manager grin toothily at him, in a way that always reminded him of a shark eyeing its next meal before turning to look at the reporter. “Mind if I steal my client for a moment?” She looked ready to protest, but Stiles was already being steered away.
“Who?” his manager asked, grip on his shoulder hard enough to keep Stiles from being able to turn and look.
“Jordan Parrish. The pretty guy from the meeting.”
“Of course you’d find the one man in here to spend your time with. You’re determined to ruin everything aren’t you.”
“No.It’s not that. He works for me.”
“You already have a PR person.”
“Well, now I have a new one. Tell the other one he’s fired.”
Stiles found himself being led into the kitchen before his manager spun him by his shoulder and glared at him. “Just what do you think you’re doing out there?”
Stiles looked at his manager, blankly. He may have foregone his initial promise that he wouldn’t drink tonight, but he didn’t think he’d actually had enough to start acting stupid. All in all, he figured he’d been doing pretty well. He’d moved around the room, danced with more women than he could count. Been charming and entertaining and all the things he had to be when he had his public face on. Certainly not enough to have his manager glaring at him like he’d been out there murdering puppies for kicks. “What’re you talking about?”
“I mean that...out there.” There was a wave of an angry hand toward the door. “Acting like none of them could possibly mean anything to you. It’s getting late and you’re not even trying to narrow it down.”
Stiles frowned so hard his brow started to hurt. “Narrow it down?”
“Yes.” The word was ground out as if talking to Stiles was the most frustrating thing in the world. “You have a decision to make! And you’re no closer than you were when you walked in the door!”
“I never said I was going to decide tonight!”
“Every single eligible option is right here, right now!”
“We’re in the kitchen,” Stiles deadpanned, rolling his eyes.
“Stiles.” Stiles hadn’t heard his name said like that before and clearly his manager had no sense of humor left. “Get out there and make a decision.”
“My soulmate isn’t out there.”
“She is now, because I say she is.”
“He’s. Not. Out. There,” Stiles ground out.
“Oh, don’t you start in on that bullshit right now. You and I both know that there’s no such thing as fucking soulmates! This entire fucking mess was probably a publicity stunt by the studio anyhow!”
“No it’s not! They denied it and I’ve seen the photos!”
“Everyone’s seen the photos, Stiles. You, holding a bottle that just happens to say ‘soulmates’! It’s all a big con and you need to make sure that you come out on top from it. And since you seem entirely incapable of thinking for yourself, I compiled you a shortlist. These are the lovely ladies who are going to be announced to come up on that stage with you at the end of the evening, where you’re going to say that one of them is your soulmate. I’d suggest the brunette. She has the best tits.”
Stiles took a step back as a piece of paper was thrust at him, three names written on it in bold. “No.” Stiles felt his back hit the wall. This was what it felt like to be backed into a corner. “No. I won’t. I can’t.”
“You damn well can.” This time the piece of paper was shoved against his chest harder. “And you will. You’ll smile and fake it like you always do.”
There was a moment when Stiles looked into his future and saw the lies there, all laid out, one after another. Where he did what he always did and gave in, allowed his life to be steered in the direction someone else said it had to be. So far, allowing that to happen had made him successful, if it hadn’t always made him happy.
Then he thought about Derek, and Lauren. He thought about what Lydia had said to him about being a role model. He thought about the reaction of his dad and what he’d think.
“No,” he said, pushing the paper back to his manager, hard enough that now the other man had to take a step back. “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to play these games. I’m not going to sacrifice my life for a few headlines. I’m not going to make a mockery of the entire idea of soulmates by picking some girl off a list and the divorcing her in a few years time, because we make each other miserable because we’re not right for each other. You can’t make me do that and you know why? Because I hired you to manage my career, not my life. And I don’t even want you to do that anymore. You’re fired.”
“Fired? You can’t fire me. You can’t do this alone.” The man was probably right, but Stiles didn’t want to do it with him.
“I can fire you and I have. You and the whole team. I’ll make the call now if I have to.” He shouldered past his former manager, heading back towards the party. He could feel things spinning, already wildly out of control. He hadn’t done any of this without a manager and he had no idea where he was going to find one, but he couldn’t work with that man anymore. He couldn’t do this.
He barrelled through the kitchen door, head down and mind reeling, straight slap bang into a hard chest.
“Woah, where are you going in such a hurry? I was just looking for you.” Jordan was half laughing as he steadied Stiles, a hand on his shoulder.
Jordan’s laugh fell away as Stiles turned and glared at him, and for a moment his hand faltered then squeezed on his shoulder. “What happened?” he asked, eyes wide with concern.
“Do you work for the agency that my manager works for? That team?”
Jordan shook his head. “No. Outside company contracted to work this event. Why?”
“Good. If you want, you can work for me. I need a...” Stiles waved at Jordan as a whole. “A guy. I fired my manager. And my team. Though I’ll probably keep the stylist they have on hand as she’s great, but that’s not the point. Can you get me out of here?”
Stiles wondered what the hell he must look like right now, because Jordan agreed immediately, leading Stiles off and down a corridor. “You fired your manager?” he asked, as they walked fast, Jordan taking turns until the sounds of the party were left behind and Stiles was completely lost.
“And my team. I just - I can’t do this anymore,” Stiles said, feeling like he was going to cry any minute. The whole world seemed to be pressing in on him.
Stiles didn’t expect the hand on his arm or the way he leaned into the touch. “You don’t have to. You shouldn’t have to,” Jordan said with a sad smile. “Publicity is one thing, but you’re still a person and you deserve some respect.” Stiles knew there was a reason why he liked this guy. Jordan smiled once more then had his phone to his ear, nodding as someone spoke. “He’s ready to go yeah,” he confirmed, giving Stiles a thumbs up before hanging up. “Just this way. I don’t think there’s a way out that doesn’t have cameras though, so I thought it best not to really sneak you out. We’ll just handle the part where you didn’t make a decision on our own, okay?”
Stiles nodded. “Thanks. I really appreciate it. Tell them… Well, you probably know better what to tell them. So tell them that. Can we meet? To talk business - maybe tomorrow afternoon?”
“Sure,” Jordan agreed, stopping just before the doors. Stiles could see the press already waiting through the glass. “I’ll email you over my office details. Drop by around three.”
“Three. Got it. I’ll be there.” Stiles looked at the door then at Jordan who just smiled.
“You got this. Boyd’s waiting,” he promised before pushing open the door for Stiles and helped push his way towards the car pulling the door open for him. Stiles followed after, ignoring the questions and trying to keep the worst of his emotions off his face.
Stiles collapsed into the back of the car and sunk down in his seat, his face turned away from the flashes. Boyd, ever the silent, competent type, calmly got behind the wheel and pulled away. Neither of them said a word, Boyd simply drove. Stiles felt some of the weight lift off hi as he realized he wasn’t going to have to give directions.
Boyd was already driving to Derek’s house.
Chapter 9: Chapter 8
Derek looked down at the sleeping actor, sprawled out on the couch in his living room, face creased up against the pillow, one arm hanging down to the floor, blankets kicked down to his waist, revealing the fact that he’d borrowed one of Derek’s t-shirts to sleep in last night.
Last night, when he’d turned up at Derek’s door, dishevelled and unannounced and Derek had, of course, let him in without question. Stiles hadn’t mentioned the ball at all and Derek, in his now habitual way, hadn’t asked. Derek tried to keep away from the subject of soulmates unless Stiles brought it up first. He knew how much that whole thing ran Stiles’ life right now, and Derek was determined to just be there, waiting, being whatever Stiles needed him to be. That was enough for now.
So, last night, Derek had been a distraction - until the early hours of the morning, when they were both half asleep and Derek had to call things a night. He had things to do today that he really had to be awake for. Stiles had taken a shower and changed into some of Derek’s clothes. Derek, trying not to think too hard on the vision that was Stiles in his clothes, had made up the sofa and then had gone to bed. Alone. All perfectly innocent.
Now, Derek was standing over him, staring. He’d made coffee and had a fresh mug of it in his hand for Stiles. He would wake the man up in a moment, he really would. He just wanted a moment longer to burn the image before him into his brain.
What he really wanted was his camera, but Derek was pretty sure that was strictly not allowed in any way. It was a shame though, given the morning light and the way it just accentuated all the best parts of Stiles’ jaw and cheekbones. Just as he was giving in to having to wake Stiles, the younger man shifted in his sleep then yawned and blinked up at him. For a moment he just stared, as if trying to figure out where he was then his eyes fell on the mug in Derek’s hand. “That doesn’t happen to be coffee for me does it?” he asked, voice thick with sleep and hopeful.
“It’s your lucky day,” Derek said with a smile, holding out the mug as Stiles sat up and reached for it. “Sleep okay?”
“Your couch is all kinds of awesome,” Stiles told him, taking a sip of coffee and then stretching in a way that should be illegal. Derek tried not to stare, instead sitting down next to him.
“I spent lots of time napping here with Lauren over the last few months,” he confessed, keeping his eyes forward and not at all at the way that his shirt rose up as Stiles guilelessly raised his arms above his neck to stretch out the kinks.
“Yeah, well, if I have my way, I’m moving in,” Stiles said with a grin, as his arms dropped back to his sides and his shoulder bumped against Derek’s. Derek tried to remember how to breathe and forced himself not to make the invitation.
“Don’t you have a fancy loft to get back to?”
He could feel Stiles’ eyes on his face, looking at him intently and Derek felt like it was emblazoned on his face: ‘Here I am, your soulmate’. He held his breath, half wishing that it was. That last night meant that Stiles had abandoned this farce he had felt he had to go through and was ready for them just to be them. When the words came, they were flirtatious enough to not let Derek fall either way. “Are you kicking me out, Mr. Hale?” Stiles’ tone was teasing, as though last night hadn’t been so innocent.
Derek looked at him, wondering if that hope and confusion he was feeling was written all over his face, but Stiles had already turned back to his coffee. “I...have to be at work today,” Derek admitted, his heart pounding in his chest. “Have to get Lauren to daycare. You could...stay here. If you wanted. You know I’d never kick you out.”
Stiles chuckled into his mug and sighed after taking a long gulp. “I could. I want to. But I shouldn’t. I walked out of my own party last night and I fired my entire team. Minus two. Well three if I get to keep the stylist.” Derek couldn’t help but look surprised at that, not wanting to push, but Stiles had fired his support team? That was crazy talk.
“Who’d you keep? Besides the stylist of course.”
“She does amazing things with my hair,” Stiles said, pointing to the bedhead he was now sporting that stuck up every which way. “Aside from her though? Boyd, my driver slash muscle and Jordan. The pretty little PR guy who I don’t think is that little or just a PR guy. He might be a fairy godmother. That part’s a bit hazy.”
Derek couldn’t suppress the hot spike of jealousy that fired through him when Stiles called another man ‘pretty’. “Why’d you keep him?” he asked.
“Which one? The muscle or the looks?” Stiles asked.
“Does everything have to be physical all the time?” Derek shot back.
Stiles’ eyebrows went up again and he shifted slightly, as if he knew something, but didn’t at the same time. “I keep the looks around because when I asked him to get me out of there he didn’t try and talk me out of it and didn’t seem to be forcing me to pick a soulmate out of a room full of people no matter what. The muscle we keep because the moment I got into the car he drove me here without asking where I wanted to be.” He waited a breath before patting Derek’s leg and getting up from the couch. “So no, it’s not all physical all the time. It’s just the best way to tell them apart.”
“They were forcing you to pick?” Derek asked, because the other option was commenting on the fact that Stiles’ driver knew that he wanted to come here.
Stiles sighed and reached for his clothes, nodding but his back was to Derek. “My manager gave me a list and suggested the pretty brunette with a nice rack.” His shoulders tensed in a way that Derek knew meant he was wincing and it took everything not to get off the couch and wrap Stiles up in his arms.
“They have no right-”
“I know,” Stiles interrupted curtly. “Which is why I told him to shove it and that he was fired and then I bailed. Which should be evening news.” His shoulders fell and it was enough for Derek to get up moving around to see Stiles’ face which was twisted in pain. “Worse part is,” he said, looking up at Derek. “I also feel like I let everyone down. Because it didn’t work out. I didn’t think it would. I didn’t want it to, but I feel like it should have. They went through all that work. People might have gotten their hopes up.”
“Of course they got their hopes up. There was a chance that they might have been Stiles Stilinski’s soulmate. Who wouldn’t have hoped that?” Derek asked.
It was clear that the soft look he’d been giving Stiles was completely lost on the other man though as he snorted, pulling Derek’s shirt off and pulling his own from last night on again. “Sure - who wouldn’t want to be mated to a name. Think of the money, right? The fame and fortune, without actually having to do anything.”
Derek felt that stab deep to his core, biting back any thought he had of telling Stiles. Not if Stiles thought of it like that. If someone was after his money and his name. “You’re more than that,” he managed, trying to not sound as hurt as he felt.
“Not to any of those people!” Stiles insisted, waving his hand like the party guests from the night before had wound up in Derek’s kitchen. He sighed again and slumped, going back to the buttons on his search. “But all the people at home, all the ones who believe its real, they’re the ones that got let down.”
Derek stood, stepping up to Stiles and pushing his hands away, taking over buttoning his shirt for him. “You didn’t let your fans down, Stiles. I promise you that,” he said, hand smoothing the shirt out as he finished up the buttons.
Stiles was staring at Derek hard, mouth open like he wanted to say something, but the words never actually came out. After a moment he shook his head and took a step back to change into the ridiculous red pants he’d worn the night before. “I hope you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right. They love you. Hell, they still love Justin Bieber after all the shit he’s pulled - I’m sure they can forgive you not yet proclaiming you’ve met the love of your life.”
“Do they really still love Biebs?” Stiles asked, voice huffing in a laugh as he looked at Derek. “I hope they can though, forgive me for not saying it yet. And when I do.” He bit at his lip, like it would stop him from saying something and looked at his phone instead, typing something on the screen before putting it away.
Derek took a breath, then let it out again. “I… You should probably get going. I have to get Lauren up and out to daycare before work. Is Boyd on his way?”
The look in Stiles’ eyes changed for a moment before he nodded. “Yeah,” he agreed before reaching for his jacket. “He’ll be here in a minute and I’ll get out of your hair.” Stiles took a step back towards the door, eyes still on Derek.
Derek followed him step for step until they were standing on the doorstep. “You’re not in my hair,” he said reaching out to snag Stiles’ arm. “You know you can stay if you want to.” It didn’t bother Derek for a moment that they were stood on his porch, Derek still in cotton sleep plants and a t-shirt that wasn’t fitted, but clung to his chest in all the right places. Stiles with his jacket hung over his arm, the top button of his shirt undone. This was a quiet neighborhood and the neighbors minded their own business.
Stiles turned back when Derek caught his arm, eyes dropping to take in all of Derek before looking up at him. “You’re right though. I should probably go,” he said softly, so quiet, Derek almost didn’t hear him. Derek wanted to squeeze Stiles’ arm harder, use the grip on him to shake him, convince him not to leave, not to look so unlike him, but he knew better than to say any of of it out loud.
“Call me later?” he asked instead, his voice as soft as Stiles’ had been. It would give him something to look forward to. He realised that this was what his days were now - waiting for those stolen moments, fragments that this man could give him.
“Of course,” Stiles said with a small nod, as if it was a given that he’d call. There was a clear instant of hesitation in Stiles, but before Derek could determine why or what for Stiles’ hand was along the back of his neck, pulling himself closer to press his lips against Derek’s.
Derek inhaled in shock and before he could actively respond to the soft lips against his, they were gone. He felt the loss immediately, cool morning air telling against his skin as Stiles colored and looked away, toward the car that had just pulled up outside the house.
“I should go,” Stiles said, eyes cutting once to the grip Derek still had on his arm which Derek immediately dropped, not even realizing he was still holding Stiles in place. “I’ll call you later.”
“I’ll call you later,” he repeated, leaving Derek wondering why. What was so special about later. Why couldn’t they talk about the kiss now. How could Stiles just leave him hanging like this. Only he could, because Derek watched him walk to the car and get in.
Stiles turned back to look at him, just before he closed the door. The look on his face soothed all of Derek’s confusion. He recognized that expression of joyous contentment from the mirror. Stiles would call him later and everything would be alright. In the meantime, he had work to do.
Derek was just finishing up a shoot when his phone rang. He took the final couple of shots, checked them, then dismissed the models as he answered.
“You get your ass over here right now!” Jackson growled at him before he could even say anything.
“We had a deal, Hale. I’d stop your ex taking what little money you had and get you custody of your daughter, and you’d keep your nose clean. You screwed up. So my office. Right now. We need to do damage control.”
“You better already be driving, Hale,” Jackson said, hanging up the phone and leaving Derek utterly confused. Whatever was going on though, apparently it was bad. Derek told his assistant to see to the cleanup and grabbed his keys.
Seemingly he had a meeting with his lawyer.
Jackson was waiting for him in the reception area when Derek arrived at the office and the hand on his back was shoving even if Jackson looked nothing but polite as he told the receptionist to hold all his calls. They weren’t headed to the conference room, but what he guessed was Jackson’s actual office, a posh thing with an actual lacrosse stick hung up over his head. “We had a deal Hale,” Jackson said as he waved for Derek to sit in a chair in front of the expansive desk and handed him a folder. “You said you’d keep your mouth shut and you’ve done a terrible job of that.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Derek exclaimed, sick of being shouted at without knowing why.
“I’m talking about this, moron,” Jackson shot back, dropping a tablet on the desk, facing Derek. He picked it up. It was open to a webpage, some celebrity gossip site. There, full color, perfect focus, was his house. His house with him standing outside it, kissing Stiles Stilinski.
“Oh god,” Derek said sinking in the chair, feeling his stomach clench in panic.
“Is it all falling into place yet?” Jackson asked, leaning over to flip to another website, showing another angle of the same picture, then two more. There were so many. How many photographers had there been? Enough apparently. “Or do you need more? Because there’s twitter too, which is currently breaking.”
“There wasn’t anyone there,” Derek muttered, but he knew it wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true, because here was the proof. He knew he hadn’t looked, had never checked, and with long range lens, who knew how far away they could have been.
“Obviously not. You didn’t mention this part of your relationship, the one where you’re sleeping together,” Jackson said, crossing his arms. “You know this helps no one. Not just him, but you too.”
‘We’re not sleeping together.”
“You know, I wouldn’t believe you about that, except you sound so damn disappointed that it has to be true.”
“Shut up Jackson,” Derek managed, looking at the picture again. He knew what it looked like. And damnit they looked good together. Happy even. He sighed and looked back up at Jackson. “How bad is this?”
“Given that Stilinski’s so far in the fucking closet he’s leaning against a lamppost in the snow?” Jackson snapped as Derek read the headline: Stiles Stilinski’s Secret Soulmate?. “Your wife is going to have a field day with this. The press are all over this. Stilinski is nowhere to be found and everyone’s already wondering who you are. The - and I quote - ‘hunky piece of meat that snagged a star’.”
“They’ll figure out who I am eventually,” Derek said with a sigh. He ran in the same circles, someone was bound to notice. “What do you mean he’s nowhere to be found? And what can she do with this?”
“Your wife has already had her lawyers send across a formal complaint that basically amounts to accusations of you fucking another man with Lauren in the house. Dressed up in official language, of course. What exactly she thinks is wrong with that when you’re both consenting adults and Lauren’s less than a year old and sleeping, I don’t know - and I get it, you never slept with him, but all the same. It’s bullshit, but it’s a shot across the bows that she’s gonna milk this for all she can. She’s going to play the mother card and equality is a piece of shit. Courts will always lean towards a kid staying with its mother and they still lean against giving custody of a kid to a gay couple. Not the way the world should work, but it does. That’s why you were keeping your damn nose clean.” Jackson sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Stiles hasn’t put out any kind of statement yet. He’ll have to, eventually, but I wouldn’t hold your breath that he’s going to be declaring his love for you, or that he wants to be with you, or confirming that you’re it for him,” he said, sounding honestly sympathetic for the first time.
Derek looked at the picture again, feeling his heart sink into his stomach. It had been a nice moment. Something that had had Derek on cloud nine all day and now it was crashing down around him. Jackson, devil that he was, was right. Kate would use it against him and there wasn’t precedent that would give him a leg up in court. He sat back in his chair, hand over his mouth as he tried not to throw up or scream or something. Emotion was rippling beneath his skin, making him feel like he might burst from anger or frustration or heartache. “We have to do something,” he said softly. “He could... He might know...”
Jackson raised an eyebrow then sat on the edge of his desk facing Derek. “I’ve known Stilinski for years now and at most I’ve gotten an inkling that he might be, but that’s more rooted in the fact that he doesn’t date rather than thinking he likes men.” Jackson still had that sympathetic tone, eyes on Derek’s for a long moment. “I can do something about Kate, but it’s unorthodox and you might not sleep well at night with it.”
“Stiles is…” Derek started, but trailed off, lost, as Jackson stared him down.
“Has he ever said anything to you? Specifically I mean? Because he’s never said a damn thing to me. Nothing concrete. Then you come waltzing through my door saying you’re his soulmate, so I figure that’s confirmation. Stilinski likes dick. I don’t care either way what he does in the bedroom, but I’ve known his type in the past. I know his type now. I have several clients who pay me to make sure that stories about the boyfriends and girlfriends they shouldn’t have die, because when your entire career revolves around the fact that millions of teenage boys or girls around the world have the hots for you, with posters up on their walls and gif sets on tumblr of your pretty little face, then you want to keep them wanting you. Coming out is a career move and Stiles’ simply isn’t made yet.”
“But… he kissed me,” Derek said, his voice small and hollow. It didn’t look like it though, from the pictures. It just looked like two men kissing.
“I’m not sure if you want them to believe that or not,” Jackson said shaking his head once more
Derek took a breath. He couldn’t let this be his priority right now. He shut the screen off and pushed the tablet back across the table. “I need my daughter - whatever you have to do, do it. I don’t need the details,” he said determinedly.
Jackson nodded. “From what we’ve already dug up about your ex, your daughter needs you too. Classy woman you married,” he said with disdain in his voice. “But with your permission we’ll take care of this. I already have some ideas, which hopefully will pan out like I want them to.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “You need to stay low. Work and home. The press is going to be following you.”
“Whatever you have to do,” Derek repeated, his eyes lowered, his heart breaking. He thought his life had fallen apart enough. Seemed it was just getting started.
Chapter 10: Chapter 9
Stiles was of the firm belief that sometimes he could just ignore and avoid a problem and eventually it would go away. It probably wasn’t the best of plans, but it was a defense mechanism and he couldn’t do much about that. That was how he reacted to troubling situations sometimes. After the story had broken and his phone had actually vibrated off the hook with alerts from everyone from TMZ to Perez Hilton, Stiles had panicked. He’d seen the photos, one of which was a stupidly good photo and that he desperately wanted to you know, hang up somewhere. Derek looked incredible and not nearly surprised at the kiss as he had seemed and even in that ridiculous beacon of a suit, Stiles looked good.
As soon as the calls and messages started coming in though, Stiles had backed away. And then he’d turned his phone off. That didn’t seem to solve all of his problem, computer blinking emails and alerts itself and it wasn’t like there was anything else on the news apparently. By the end of the afternoon Stiles had taken every single electronic device in his apartment, unplugged it and stuck it in Scott’s room with Scott’s duvet over it for good measure. Then shut the door. Definitely not going in there. Definitely not dealing. It would blow over. Justin Bieber would pee on some priceless artifact or maybe One Direction would admit half of them had been dating forever or someone would say something homophobic or racist and people would forget about Stiles and Derek. Easy. Stiles just had to wait. Just like, if he waited long enough without talking to Derek, he’d never have to hear Derek say that he wasn’t interested in being part of Stiles’ very fucked up life.
When someone knocked on the door the next morning, Stiles ignored it. He had the curtains pulled over the huge windows, blocking out all the light, he’d mostly moved in on the couch and he was definitely not opening the door. Whoever it was knocked again and Stiles just pulled the pillow over his head. The third time they yelled, but Stiles only barely heard it through the pillow and promptly ignored it then too. Actually, he didn’t react until suddenly someone was unlocking the door without permission and then he was up, groping for the baseball bat he kept near the couch and ready to smack whoever dared enter his place.
Apparently he wasn’t very scary though because as Jordan walked into the loft he just raised an eyebrow at the bat. “Is that a baseball bat? Do you even play baseball?”
“It’s signed,” Stiles protested, lowering the bat and looking at the scrawled signatures. “I visited a little league team last summer. Unprivileged kids. Spent the day with them and got them to sign a bat for me.”
“And you kept it.” Jordan’s voice didn’t seem to be surprised, or judging and Stiles nodded. Jordan chuckled, lightly. “I knew there was a reason I liked you.”
Stiles frowned, running his fingers through his hair and making it stand up every which way. “How did you get a key to my place?” he asked.
Jordan chuckled again. “I made sure I got your manager’s copy after you fired him the other night. I brought it as a last resort.” He looked Stiles over then made a face and headed towards the curtains blocking out the sunlight. “You missed our meeting yesterday.”
“I was a little busy,” Stiles deadpanned, following Jordan’s movement with his gaze. The other man opened the curtains full, making Stiles squint at the sudden inpouring of bright sunlight. Apparently, it was a beautiful day.
“I tried calling,” Jordan said, turning and standing in front of the window.
Stiles shielded his eyes from the glare with his hand. “My phone ran out of battery.”
“Same thing happen with your TV?” Jordan asked, nodding to the space where the television would be, but now there were only some left behind wires. “When did you last shower? You look like hell.”
“What do you want, Jordan?” Stiles asked. He was tired and he had a headache. He’d drunk too much last night and eaten too much ice cream and junk food and he hadn’t even been able to order the pizza he’d been craving, because he didn’t want to face the delivery guy. He just wanted to be left alone to hide in his cave until this whole shitstorm passed.
“I want to be able to do the job that apparently you were so desperate to hire me for the other night,” Jordan said, calmly. “And seemingly that was a good plan, since you fired your last team and you’re clearly not any good at dealing with this yourself. Do you even have any idea what they’re saying out there right now?”
Stiles shrugged. “No. Does it matter? It’ll go away.” It had to go away. It was one kiss. A kiss he hadn’t even meant to do - it had just been so nice and Derek had his hand on his arm and everything about the moment felt right. It felt like if he was going to do this, believe in all the soulmate stuff, he’d want it to be Derek. He needed it to be Derek and maybe Derek would be okay with it. Maybe Derek knew too. That was why he’d done it. And Derek hadn’t seemed to hate it. Of course Stiles hadn’t stuck around long enough to really find it out, but he didn’t look like it. Actually in the pictures it looked like the perfect goodbye kiss after a night together, which sounded far more interesting than it had been.
“Let me ask you something, Stiles. Do you want it to go away?”
Stiles opened his mouth to say yes, then closed it and made a face. “That sounds like a trick question.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because of the way you said it.” Stiles dropped to sit on the couch, running his hands through his hair. “Yes. I want it to go away because I’m not sure what I can do otherwise and I’m pretty sure I just screwed you know...everything up.” He sighed and looked up at Jordan. “But if it all goes away where does that leave me?”
“I wasn’t trying to catch you out, Stiles. I’m trying to judge how you want me to handle this. Because it does need to be handled, one way or another.” Jordan moved to sit in the armchair across from Stiles, leaning forward and resting his forearms on his knees. “I get that you’re hiding from this, but I’m going to be straight with you. Right now, the press have that kiss. After weeks of you playing the ‘searching for my female soulmate’ card, they have a picture of you kissing another man. They don’t know who he is, so rumours are kinda running wild. A lot of people are asking why you lied about your sexuality. A whole lot more are saying that your mystery guy is just like the other girl - Heather. Trying to take advantage of you to get his fifteen minutes of fame. The fact that it’s been twenty-four hours now and you haven’t released any kind of a statement is really not helping right now. It’s not too late. We can bring this under control. But we need to pick what path to walk, so I need to know - do you want this kiss to just go away? Or is it actually something that you meant and wanted? Is this guy your soulmate, Stiles? You know, it’s okay, if he is.”
“He wouldn’t do that. He’s not like that,” Stiles insisted first, able to meet Jordan’s eyes for that. Then he looked down at his hands again, picking at a nail he’d bitten down. “I’ve always been...interested in both. We kept it quiet because, well there’s a fifty percent chance I could want to date a chick so we hedged my bets and never said anything.” He bit his lip, trying to keep his emotions in check but he could feel the building up in his chest to the point where it hurt. “I don't know if he’s my soulmate or not. I want him to be. And sometimes I think he could be, but... He wouldn’t sign up for this. He’s got a kid and an ex wife and my life is a hot fucking mess.”
“What’s his name?” Jordan asked. Stiles frowned, the question written all over his face until Jordan explained, “I can’t just refer to him as ‘the guy’, it’s weird.”
“Derek. His name is Derek.”
“And he was there that day?”
There was something about the way that Jordan talked - quiet, unassuming, non-judgmental - that made Stiles feel like it was safe to open up and be honest. “He was. He’s a photographer. He was in the front row, with his daughter.”
Jordan broke into a grin. “The cute YouTube video? The baby that totally distracted you from what you were doing?”
“Yeah that’s the one,” Stiles said with his own smile, the first he’d had since he’d seen the picture. “She’s adorable,” he said reaching for his phone only to realize he’d locked into Scott’s bedroom. “Yeah. She’s great. He’s great. It could be him. I mean...why not right? I just don’t know for sure how he feels and after this...I can’t see him wanting to be a part of this.”
“Have you asked him?”
“No! No - I just…he’s going through a divorce and his ex-wife is some sort of insane and trying to take Lauren away from him and he’s - I’m not even sure if he’s interested.”
“Okay, okay,” Jordan said, holding his hands out to try and stem Stiles’ clearly oncoming panic. “Let’s leave the reality of Derek out of this for a moment. Let’s just focus on you. Let’s say Derek doesn’t want a relationship with you. That, going forward, it’s just you. What do you want? Do you want to come out? Do you want people to know? Would you prefer to not confirm or deny anything? Or...do you want to lie?” The way Jordan put it, Stiles felt like they could all be options. Like for the first time in years now, he actually had a choice, rather than someone just telling him how it would be.
“I don’t want to lie,” Stiles said. “I hate lying. I hate denying it. But...it does screw up my career if I come out doesn’t it? And I’m not gay. I know gay’s easier for people to handle.”
“It might affect your career, sure,” Jordan agreed. “Whether it screws up your career or not, that’s up to you. You’ll probably lose some roles from narrow minded people. You’ll have to work harder and rely more on actual acting talent, rather than just being a pretty face. It’s a risk, sure - it’s definitely not playing it safe, but the way I see it, the more people who are actually willing to take a stand and say ‘this is who I am, deal with it’, the easier it will become for everyone else. But that’s easy for me to say. I’m not the one having to actually walk that road.”
“Let’s hope I have actual talent then.” Stiles wouldn’t suffer if it all fell away. He had money saved. He could get a job doing something else he liked if he wanted. It wasn’t the same as acting, which he loved, but he could do something. “There needs to be more people like that. It’s better for everyone who doesn’t have a voice you know? And...it doesn’t make sense to not tell the truth, Jordan. I adore that man and his daughter. Even if he doesn’t want this or me or whatever...I can’t pretend I don’t.”
“Is he worth giving up your career for, if it comes to that?”
Stiles realised he didn’t even have to think about that. The response was there, immediately, obvious and clear. “Yes.”
Jordan paused for a moment then nodded. “Then I think you should be honest. We can make this work.”
“My last manager…”
“I’m not your last manager,” Jordan broke in. “And, to be honest - your last manager was a dinosaur who doesn’t know how to function in today’s world. You’re better off without him.”
“Well that was what I thought until Perez Hilton found a picture of me kissing the guy I’m head over heels for. Now I’m not so sure.” Stiles laughed darkly before letting the tension fall out of his shoulders. “What do we do then?”
“You start with taking a shower, getting dressed and getting out of your loft.” Jordan go up and waved for Stiles to do the same. “Then we put out a statement about what you really want to say. And then we see if we can still swing that interview with the redhead.”
“Lydia Martin? That won’t be a problem,” Stiles said, smiling again and feeling like maybe they had a shot about making this work. “She’s a friend of Derek’s - in fact, I think maybe she was trying to hook us up the other night. She kept talking about the fact that someone had ‘made’ her research Heather and how I should meet them. I know that was Derek. I just don’t think that she knows that I know. Could we… Could we maybe give her an exclusive? She was the one person who didn’t hassle me about stuff that night. At least, not in a way I couldn’t handle. It was like nice hassling. Like she actually gave a damn about who I was.”
Jordan laughed and pulled out his phone to make a note. “You really don’t have to twist my arm to talk to her,” he said with a smirk himself. “But yeah, if that’s how she is then yes, she’s the best choice. I think that’s a good route to go down. Still, you have to do something, put out a statement, which we’ll work on and you need to get dressed. Be seen. This whole thing happened because people have been watching you like a hawk and hiding is not helping. Go on, shower.” Jordan waved Stiles towards the bedroom. “And where the hell is your phone?”
Stiles stood and headed toward the shower. “It’s in Scott’s room,” he called back, gesturing to the closed door.
“Who the hell is Scott?” Jordan asked him, a note of almost panic in his voice, but Stiles just carried on to the bathroom, wondering how long it would be before Jordan realised that Scott was his best friend, not some kind of live in lover.
Stiles took advantage of the shower, letting it relax him and telling himself over and over again that things were fine, that it was going to be fine. Jordan was right, even if Derek wanted nothing to do with him now, or ever, then he’d be fine. At least he’d be honest about who he was. When he finally got out of the shower he threw on the first thing he could find, not caring if the jeans had a hole in the knee with grass stains around it from a pick up lacrosse game that had turned wrestling match with Scott and an old t-shirt with a hole in the collar. He found Jordan at the kitchen table, Stiles’ laptop and phone out with Jordan’s own pair of devices. The TV had been brought back downstairs as well, but not hooked up just yet.
The was a notepad in front of Jordan, scribbles littering the page and he looked up as Stiles approached. “Okay, I’ve been planning strategies right now. So far, they’ve not found out who Derek is, so I think the best thing for him is if we leave him out of it altogether for now. You mentioned he had a daughter, and it sounded like you think he’d be keen to stay out of the spotlight, so let’s go with that.”
Stiles sat down across from Jordan at the table and poured a glass of water from the bottle there, listening as Jordan continued, “I suggest the line that you didn’t expect events to happen this way, but honestly you’re relieved. Previously, your opinion was that your private life had nothing to do with your public career, but with the advent of all the soulmate stuff it was becoming harder and harder to keep matters separate. Then I suggest you say that you don’t know for sure who your soulmate is and you’re open to the fact it could have been anyone in that room. Anyone. Not just the women.”
Stiles nodded. “That’s pretty much the truth,” he said. His eyes cut to his phone, want to reach for it and see if Derek had called or texted, but he did his best to stay focused on Jordan. “So I say that. I like that. And that I haven’t figured out who it is yet. Because, I haven’t. I know who I want it to be but...”
“But it’s complicated and we’re trying not to bring him into things yet,’ Jordan finished for him.
“And if they ask whether I’m going to hold another ball for the men?” Stiles questioned, grasping one hand in the other to physically prevent himself from reaching for his phone while they were talking.
“Anything other than that and you’re saving it for your exclusive with Ms. Martin,” Jordan explained. “You’re not going to be talking to other reporters. This is going to be a statement put out on your behalf. Then, she will get a list of questions you’re not willing to answer. Any question of another big event will be on that list.”
“Thank god, I don’t want another one of those,” Stiles said with a sigh as his knees started to bounce. “Did she like being called Ms. Martin?” he asked instead, jumping with that and the look Jordan gave him.
“She called me Mr. Parrish and said she’d have everything lined up on her end for tomorrow afternoon. Photoshoot and interview all in one package.”
“And will you be coming with me to my interview with Ms. Martin?” Stiles asked, playfully, raising his brows and pulling an impish face as he teased his new agent.
“Of course,” Jordan said and Stiles laughed at the attempt that the guy made to maintain an air of professionalism, even while he was blushing a delightful pink.
“What respectable PR guy has a crush on a reporter?” Stiles teased again before Jordan rolled his eyes.
“It’s not a...hush. We are focusing on you.”
Stiles just laughed and shook his head. “Sure we are, buddy. Sure we are.”
“How is it my fault the only reporter on your side is gorgeous?” Jordan asked, but didn’t look up from his notes so he missed Stiles’ grin.
“You really think she is?” He asked, fingers itching for his phone again, eyes on it.
“He called you know. And texted.”
Stiles eyes snapped back to Jordan who was looking at him with nothing but softness. “Did he?”
Jordan nodded. “Several times. I think he’s worried but he didn’t say that. Just a few random texts and then he said you should talk.” Jordan slid the phone across the table to Stiles.
“You read my texts.”
“I was attempting to manage your phone. I’ve set up some filters on your social media accounts too. So you don’t have to read every reply. I can manage your twitter full-time if you like-”
“No.” Stiles looked up and shook his head. “I’d rather be bad at it than it not sound like it came from me. Thanks though.” Jordan nodded and went back to his writing which left Stiles alone with Derek’s messages. ‘We need to talk’ never meant good things and Stiles felt his insides clench with what Derek wanted to talk about. It couldn’t be good. No way possible. Stiles set the phone down and away, determined to ignore the problem. He couldn’t bear to hear Derek say he didn’t want Stiles and not talking to him seemed like the best way to do that.
Chapter 11: Chapter 10
The jury was out as to whether Jordan Parrish was a complete fool, or a fucking genius lucky bastard who happened to have been in the right place at the right time and had no hesitation in walking out of his run of the mill PR job to manage the affairs of Stiles Stilinski, just as an almighty shit storm of epic proportions broke. He didn’t even know what he was getting paid for his new job. Terms and conditions hadn’t even been discussed, never mind agreed upon. Jordan had simply started working and, for the last three days, hadn’t stopped. He’d written press releases, fielded phone calls, chased away everyone from photographers to fans with camera phones looking for something to put on their damn blogs. He’d been acting bodyguard, come PR guru, come manager all rolled into one because, right now, there was no one else. That would have to change in the long term, but there just wasn’t time to sort that out now.
Now was telling the studio to back off. Now was protecting the best interests of his client - who was still having trouble not sticking his head in the sand like some kind of ostrich. Jordan was quickly coming to understand that the guy was actually traumatised. He had realized from before that Stiles wasn’t exactly wholeheartedly happy with what had been going on, but the reality was actually far worse than that. Stiles’ former manager had been bullying him in a certain direction since he was eighteen years old and while that had brought the actor a definite level of success, the man was screaming inside. He was entirely unable to deal with events when they went sideways because he had been being told for the last few years that what he wanted in life not only didn’t matter, but it was wrong. That meant that when things didn’t go entirely as planned, Stiles no longer knew which way was up.
That was going to stop. Jordan had sat down the day before and had a very long talk with his new client about the kind of career he wanted. About the idea of a work-life balance. About the fact that success and money wasn’t the be all and end all of life. They had talked about what Stiles wanted to achieve. The directions he wanted to go in. The people he admired and respected and wanted to be like. The sacrifices he was willing to make and the things he actually held dear. Jordan felt that, now, he had a pretty good idea of how to run things.
He had arranged with Lydia that the interview would be conducted in a hotel suite across town. She had insisted on the photoshoot to accompany the interview and Jordan hadn’t hesitated to agree. Lydia had suggested the suite because apparently there was a fabulous balcony garden in the presidential suite that would make the perfect backdrop to the photoshoot. Jordan liked the idea simply because it would give his client more security and privacy. Once they were in the hotel, they’d be leaving the other press behind. Jordan, in fact, decided to take another suite on the floor below and he had moved Stiles into it the night before.
It was a damn good job too, because they woke that morning to a brand new angle. Seemingly, Derek’s wonderful wife (who Stiles hadn’t stopped bad mouthing to Jordan at every opportunity) had sold her story. The news was full of Derek, and Lauren, and details of Kate’s take on their marriage.
He left his very vocally angry client with a room service breakfast and took the elevator upstairs to meet Lydia and her team and check everything was in place.
Lydia swung the door open for him a moment after he knocked, looking completely put together in an outfit that made Jordan’s mouth go a little dry. The mini dress showed off legs for days and the heels brought her almost to his height. “Mr. Parrish,” she greeted with a grin, giving him space to walk in the suite. “What a pleasure.” She made a point of eying him up and down and Jordan wished he’d grabbed a better shirt. The button down matched his eyes, but Stiles had mentioned that a fitted v-neck made him look fit.
“Ms. Martin,” he said with a small smile, not sure what to make of her attention, but trying to keep his professionalism in check.
She closed the door and followed on after him. When he stopped and turned, he was fairly sure that he’d been eyeing his ass, but her eyes lifted and she gave him the kind of pursed smile that suggested that she knew he was far too polite to call her on it. She would be right in that as well. “Is Mr. Stilinski not with you?” she asked, blinking with those unnaturally long eyelashes that did wonderful things for her eyes.
Jordan cleared his throat. “Not…not yet. The interview’s not for another hour, right?” He silently cursed himself. He knew that it wasn’t and he wasn’t normally the type to sound this uncertain. This wasn’t his first time out. He knew how all of this worked.
“Right. At the moment, it’s just you and me.”
“Oh. Is it?” Jordan looked around for the rest of her team but there wasn’t anyone there. “Just us?”
“Oh, and my cameraman, but he’s setting up outside,” she said, with a wave to one side of the room and an amused little smile. He blushed and ducked his head a little. She set him off balance in a way that probably should be more disconcerting than exciting, but it wasn’t. Lydia Martin left him with a feeling like he could stand here and stare at her all day and still be a happy man.
“Eloquent for a man in public relations,” she teased lightly.
Jordan cleared his throat then opened the folder he’d brought with him and handed her a sheet of paper. “Here’s the list of restricted questions and topics,” he said, trying to stay focused on the job and not that they were alone.
“You already emailed me this,” she said moving a few steps closer than she needed to to take it from him.
“I’m very protective of my client,” Jordan said, making a minimal effort to contain his burgeoning smile that had absolutely nothing to do with Stiles.
“You’re fond of Stiles. I hear he’s as charming as he seems,” Lydia said, looking over the list before looking up at him.
“He’s been through a lot lately. I’m not going to risk making that any worse for him, even though he seems to trust you.”
“He trusts me because of the man in those pictures. And because I’m with you - there’s no point in making this harder for him.”
“I have to ask - what do you know of the man in those pictures? Stiles said you knew him.”
Lydia’s eyes cut to where she said her photographer was before she reached for Jordan’s arm, pulling him deeper into the suite. “I know he’s a good man. And that he never wanted this for Stiles. I wasn’t aware that they were that close but I thought something might be going on.” She reached for two water bottles handing one to Jordan. “He’s not the bad guy here.”
“Can we talk - strictly off the record?” Jordan asked her, pushing that point until she nodded. He could see why Stiles trusted her - he did as well. She had this strange kind of aura around her. “Stiles thinks he’s his soulmate. Maybe. This whole thing has been a farce and it’s really screwed Stiles up.” He uncapped the bottle and took a long drink. “His last management had him under strict orders not to reveal his sexuality and now there’s this mess… He doesn’t think the guy’s going to want anything to do with him. So, right now, we’re trying to deal with this whole thing without involving him. But neither Stiles, nor myself, ever thought he was the bad guy. Regardless of what the press have going on him.”
Lydia paused, water bottle halfway to her lips, watching Jordan closely. “Can I ask you two things and you’ll be completely honest with me?” Jordan felt his eye twitch for a moment, but he wound up nodding. If he couldn’t answer he just wouldn’t answer. Seeming satisfied, she pushed forward, crossing her arms over her chest. “First question: How does Stiles feel about him? Not the part where he thinks this guy wants nothing to do with him. Does Stiles really feel that way about him?”
“Stiles is crazy about him. Him and his daughter.” Jordan took a breath, wondering if he was doing entirely the wrong thing, admitting Stiles’ secrets to a reporter. Then again, there was that whole trusting feeling. “He’s willing to give up his entire career for him, if that’s what this leads to.”
For a moment Lydia looked touched, eyes cutting behind Jordan again before she nodded and her expression turned determined. “Good. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Since his wife outed him in the press they are having a field day with that.”
Jordan winced. “I saw that. Stiles saw that.” It hadn’t helped with Stiles’ current well being and he’d taken his phone and ducked out of the room to call his lawyer for some unknown reason, but Jordan hadn’t pushed. “What was the second question?”
Lydia’s stormy look faded to a grin, eyes skimming over Jordan again. “When were you planning on asking me out?”
Jordan’s jaw dropped. “Well, actually, erm - today. Actually. I was going to ask you to dinner, when I have this sorted out. It might be a few days but…”
“How about drinks. Tonight, after this.”
“I have a feeling I’ll be busy. Stiles and…”
“You won’t be,” Lydia said, shaking her head. “I can promise you that. You really won’t.”
“My client comes first,” Jordan averred, confused as hell when Lydia just threw her head back and laughed.
“Yeah, I’m sure he will. Does. So, now we’ve got that settled,” she said, laying a hand on his arm and looking up at him through her lashes. “Once your client’s settled for the night, will you take me for that drink?”
Jordan opened his mouth once to protest, not sure why she didn’t get it, at least until he realized she did and there was a chance he was missing something. His eyes dropped to her hand on his arm and he nodded. “Yes. Definitely.” He had a feeling she was impossible to say no to.
Lydia smiled widely and took a step back, letting his arm go. “Wonderful! Well then, I have a few more things to set up here then I’ll be ready for Stiles. We’re going to do the interview first and then the photoshoot. So - I’ll see you in a little while then?” she suggested in what Jordan thought was the nicest dismissal he’d ever had.
“Right I’m…” He pointed behind himself then nodded, starting back towards the door. He felt silly, but he kept his eyes on her, watching her until he let himself out of the suite and closed the door behind himself.
Jordan had stood and watched the entire interview and it was probably the least stressful thing he’d done in days. Lydia was good with Stiles. She got him smiling in moments, and the two of them had been talking like old friends and laughing over things within minutes. She had been exactly what the guy had needed. She hadn’t gone anywhere near his no-go questions and she’d even added in some that Jordan would have put on a ‘you have to ask this’ list, if he’d realized they would have helped.
As it wrapped up Stiles hugged her and while she seemed shocked by it, after a moment Lydia hugged him back then excused herself to prep her photographer. She made a point of grazing Jordan’s arm with her fingers as she passed, knowing smile on her lips. Stiles followed after her, one eyebrow raised at Jordan, bumping into his shoulder. “What was that?”
“What was what?” Jordan asked, though he knew from the sceptical look on Stiles’ face that the guy didn’t buy that for one minute. “Fine,” he said, relenting immediately. “I’m taking her out for a drink.”
Stiles looked like he was trying to contain his grin, crossing his arms and tapping his chin knowingly. “Like a business drink? Where it’s all ‘Ms. Martin’ and ‘Mr. Parrish’ and you talk about me and my screwed up life?” he asked.
“No,” Jordan drawled, rolling his eyes. “Like a drink-drink. Where I call her Lydia and she calls me Jordan and we talk about ourselves and you know exactly what I mean. You’re just winding me up - though, it is good to see you smiling again.”
“Who said I was smiling?” Stiles said around his grin before playfully punching Jordan in the arm. “Good. She’s good people, you know for a reporter. And I was smiling before. Some.”
“You were miserable before,” Jordan corrected, with a smile of his own. “And I have eyes. Also, ears - maybe not for details, but I heard raised voices when you were screaming down the phone at your lawyer earlier,” he said, pointedly.
Stiles chewed on his lower lip and shrugged. “I miss him,” he admitted softly. “And I know I could call, but I’m a coward.” He rang his hands together in a way that Jordan was starting to noticed was more of nervous tick than anything else. “And Jackson is...handling his divorce. And he let that happen. Or well, I needed to make sure he was doing something about it.”
“And is he?” Jordan asked, with a sigh. There were, in fact, times that he could cheerfully strangle his client. The fact that he could be an absolute moron was one of them. How anyone could profess to be crazy about someone, but be too afraid to actually contact them was beyond him. It wasn’t his remit to question that though.
“Yeah - apparently he has this whole plan thing, it’s just going to take a bit of time. He wouldn’t tell me details. Client confidentiality, plus I think that Jackson just like lording that whole ‘I know more than you do’ power trip bull over everyone’s heads.”
“He is a lawyer,” Jordan said. He hadn’t met this Jackson yet, but he assumed eventually he would, if he kept his current position.
“It’s a true calling if there ever was one.” Stiles chewed on his fingers, obviously fidgeting and it left Jordan thinking about what Lydia had said and how she had asked about what Stiles felt for Derek.
“You could call,” he said for what felt like the millionth time.
Stiles shook his head, not lifting his fingers from his mouth. “It’s been two days. If he didn’t want to know me then, he definitely doesn’t want to know me now.”
“Stiles - it’s only in your head that he didn’t want to know you,” Jordan reminded him, seriously. Left to his own devices, Stiles would just create a whole new reality or way of looking at the world where he was the bad guy. Jordan had it as the top of his list for ‘Managing Stiles Stilinski’ to not let him get in his own way like that. “This guy? Derek? You said you think he’s your soulmate. Do you really think he’d just throw that away this easily?”
“I don’t think he’s throwing anything away. He doesn’t think I’m it. He believes in it, really does. He has photos of the sign. If he knew, if he wanted it, he would have said something wouldn’t he?”
Jordan shook his head. “I don’t know,” he admitted. Stiles had a point. If this guy thought that he was it for Stiles, if they’d spent the kind of time together that Stiles had described - why had this whole soulmate thing not come up? Why had they not already worked it out? “Maybe you’re wrong. Maybe it’s not him. Maybe it’s someone else.” He paused, then added, “Maybe you don’t care. Maybe if you like this guy you should just call him, tell him that and see what he says. Do what the rest of us have to do. Take a chance, put your heart on the line and hope to god that someone doesn’t smash it into tiny little pieces.”
“Like you are with Lydia?” Stiles said, obviously trying to change the subject, so Jordan didn’t react, waiting for Stiles to give in, which he did with a sigh throwing his arms up in the air. “I can’t bring him into this on just hope. He has a daughter and a life and I already ruined it. He doesn’t need more.” Stiles went to put his hands in his hair then pulled them back at the last second since it had already been fixed.
“Surely that’s his decision,” Jordan said, purposefully keeping his tone quiet. Too many people had made decisions in Stiles’ life, Jordan was working on the theory that he would react better to not feeling judged.
Stiles’ shoulders sank and he nodded. “It probably is. But if the answer’s no...I don’t think I can bear it.”
“If you just walk away, then the answer’s definitely no. Only way you stand any chance of getting a yes is if you ask him.”
“This Jiminey Cricket act is just going to be your thing isn’t it?” Stiles asked, giving Jordan a little bit of a look.
“If it helps, yes, it is. Do something Stiles. Risk it. I’d like to see you really smile. And from what I’ve seen so far, a lot of your fans would like you to be happy too.”
“Yeah, and a whole lot more want to hunt Derek down like a dog.” Jordan winced sympathetically. Social media hadn’t been kind to Derek since Kate had leaked his name to the press. Of course, because it had come from a woman who had a reason to want Derek to be portrayed in as poor a light as possible, everything had been negative to start with. Married man, young kid. Questions about whether he was actually even gay, or whether he was just manipulating Stiles. The suggestion that he’d abandoned his family for his chance of fame. Then the traditional family people had jumped on it all and accusations of the destruction of family values and morality and the corruption of both had started being fired at Derek and Stiles. Eventually, Jordan had taken away Stiles’ access to social media in order that he could keep his head in the game.
“If you two decide you want to be together we can make it so it isn’t like that,” Jordan said, trying to be reassuring. He couldn’t silence everyone, but he could try. He would try.
“If there’s anything you can do for him, to make that better, then do it - I don’t want anything hanging on our being together,” Stiles told him, his jaw set in that determined fashion. Jordan wondered whether this Derek guy knew what he had here - just how much Stiles cared about him. The look on Stiles’ face was like the guy would travel half way across the world, just on the chance that he could make things better for Derek. And yet, he couldn’t phone the guy.
Sometimes, Jordan just didn’t get love.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Jordan said because he couldn’t not. He couldn’t say no to that hopeful look. He could make a few phone calls at the very least.
He thought about saying more when Lydia returned, all bright smiles even if Jordan had a feeling she might be faking it a little. “We’re ready for you.”
Stiles flashed a smile at he and quipped, “Time to go get pretty.” Jordan caught the way it did quite meet the actor’s eyes, and the stress hiding behind the expression. But still, his client headed off toward the balcony, ever the professional in public. Jordan went to follow him, but Lydia caught his arm.
“Oh no,” she said with a barracuda smile. “You’re not going out there.”
“Why not?” Jordan asked, confused. He tried to move away, but her grip tightened, just shy of painful.
“Because Derek Hale’s out there, and I’m not going to let you interrupt this.”
“What?” Jordan sputtered, anxious for his client.
“Call it an intervention. Trust me. They’re fine. Come on, I think I've got a minibar in here. We can have that drink now.” Lydia’s pull on his arm, drew him deeper into the suite and this time Jordan didn’t fight her. As long as he was in earshot, to know if things went really wrong, he wasn’t going to interfere. Stiles needed to do this and face to face was even better than over the phone.
Chapter 12: Chapter 11
Derek had tried several times to talk Lydia out of the shoot, but she was determined and he was a sucker. She had shown up at his house, braving the collection of paparazzi standing outside of the house, and informed him that they were having coffee, he was getting dressed and he was doing the photoshoot of her interview with Stiles Stilinski and he didn’t have a choice. He had fought it, completely fought it, but she was Lydia. She always won. She had him beat at every turn. Childcare for Lauren was organised, the editor of the paper had not only signed off on it, but was so excited about the concept he was insisting. She had even picked out his outfit for him, and threatened to shave him herself if he didn’t tame his facial hair into something more like his usual scruff, and less like an actual mountain man mess.
Now he was pacing on the balcony, biting at his lower lip, trying to sort out what to do. He didn’t like Stiles at all right now. He still adored him, deep down, but that didn’t mean that he liked the man. How could he, after Stiles just disappeared after the kiss and stayed gone once the news broke, leaving Derek to face - or rather hide from - the press on his own. Then things had become exponentially worse this morning as the article feature’s what Kate was laughably referring to ‘her story’ - and what Derek called ‘her fiction’ - was released. Frankly, right now, Stiles was the last person he wanted to see
Who was he kidding? Stiles was the only person he wanted to see. The one person he needed to see. He was sick to his stomach, nervous and anxious about the fact that any moment, Stiles would walk through that door and Derek was at a complete and utter loss for what he was supposed to say or how he was supposed to react.
He’d hidden behind professionalism. He shoot was all set up; Lydia had agreed that people should be kept to a minimum. Stiles would have his makeup done before he came out here and if things between them were terrible, then all Derek would have to do was to take photos and go home to drown his sorrows.
He might even do just that if it wasn’t terrible. He adored Stiles and fully believed they were meant for each other, but there was always a chance that the timing just wasn’t right yet. That this wasn’t their moment and it would come later. His back was turned when the door opened, half on purpose because he wasn’t sure he could handle being the first to show his emotions over the inevitable moment.
“So! Where do you--oh.” When Derek looked over his shoulder Stiles was still half holding on to the door, staring at him, mouth wide open and expression such a twist of emotions that made it impossible to read.
“Over there,” Derek said, fighting to keep his voice level and face expressionless. He was going to kill Lydia, who clearly hadn’t told Stiles that Derek was the photographer. Maybe she’d thought that he’d refuse if he knew. He couldn’t think of that right now and instead gestured to where he’d set up a wrought iron bench below the waist high golden hued stone wall that edged the balcony. It was pretty, in dappled sunlight from a potted tree, with flowering vines climbing over the top of the wall. He’d look good there, with the blue sky behind him. It would soften him; make him even more human and vulnerable. Even more beautiful, Derek’s mind supplied.
Only Stiles didn’t move. He stood where he was, staring still, mouth still open, like he couldn’t move. “Der...” It sounded anxious, like he wasn’t sure what saying Derek’s name would do to change the moment.
“I could lose Lauren,” Derek said, quietly, keeping Stiles in his peripheral vision. He couldn’t bring himself to properly look at the man whose kiss had started all of this. “Kate’s using this, she’s really gunning for me now. I could lose my daughter. My name is all over the internet. Most people seem to hate me. And you - you just kissed me and walked away. You’ve not answered any of my calls, or my texts. I needed you, Stiles, and you weren’t there.” He swallowed down the hurt and anger that was rising and gestured to the bench again. “Now, Lydia wants me to take your pictures, so - over there.”
“You won’t lose her. I called Jackson and he’s going to do something and I’ll get Jordan to work on getting your name out and-” Stiles cut off his own words with a sharp breath. He moved finally, towards the bench where Derek wanted him, shoulder slumped as he sat and curled in on himself more, elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. “I shouldn’t have done it. I know. I just was thinking it was so nice. How it’d be so nice to be with you. How you were what I would want in a boyfriend and then I did it and I didn’t even think. I’m sorry.”
“Jackson told me not to hold my breath, waiting for you,” Derek said, fiddling with his camera. “That there was a real chance you’d deny it all, to save your career.” He paused, and then added. “Lydia told me not to be so stupid.”
Stiles looked up at that. “Deny what?”
“That you like guys.”
“Yeah well, he was wrong about that. Or did you miss the press release that went out?” The final draft had been somewhat vague, but clearly stated that Stiles wasn’t ruling out the chance of a man being his soulmate and he was fine with that. “So there you go, I do. Always have, just hadn’t met one worth letting that secret out into the world for yet.”
“I haven’t seen the press release,” Derek said. He still couldn’t look at Stiles, but he caught the wording. Hadn’t. He swallowed down the surge of hope, ignoring the way that his heartbeat picked up. He looked away, out over the parapet at the blue sky beyond.
“Well you should have,” Stiles said, in a gentle tone that picked away at Derek’s carefully warded heart.
“So, things have changed for you?” he asked, tentatively. Hope was an insidious thing. Right now, it made it hard to breathe. Stiles hadn’t been there when it counted, but Derek knew that all he wanted was to know that was in the past.
“Have they not for you? Or is that why you can’t look at me? Because you don’t...Because they haven’t changed. Because I fucked your life up over nothing?”
“Nothing’s changed for me, Stiles,” Derek said, dropping his eyes in time to see Stiles physically slump, his face dropping. Derek exhaled as though he’d been hit, desperately scrambling to do whatever it took to take that look off Stiles’ face. “Nothing’s changed for me because I’ve always been out. I’ve never tried to hide that.”
Stiles looked up at that. There was a look in his eyes of a clearly checked hope, like he didn’t want to push his luck on what Derek was saying, but at the same time he couldn’t help it. “You never said you were…”
“Bi? For as long as I can remember,” Derek said, because he couldn’t leave Stiles hanging like that. He hadn’t realised that the guy hadn’t made that connection. “I didn’t say anything because with everything that’s going on with Kate and the insane stuff that you’ve been going through, it didn’t seem like the best time.”
“Derek are you trying to…” Stiles started then shook his head, looking away, still slumped with his elbows on his knees. “Nevermind. Any time would have been a fine time. But you didn’t have to tell me. I was lying about myself anyway because I was told I had to. I didn’t deserve to know.”
“Don’t say that,” Derek snapped. “Don’t say what you do and don’t ‘deserve’. You deserve everything, Stiles. You always have and if it had just been about you and me then I would have made everything really plain right away. But, it’s not. I’m not just Derek Hale, guy going through a messy divorce. I’m Derek Hale, father. Lauren has to be my priority and I can’t get into any kind of relationship where she can use that against me. Jackson told me that I have to be father of the year and I know he’s right on that. I can’t be with you until my divorce is finalised and I have custody of my daughter and I can’t ask you to wait for me.”
Stiles was quiet for a long moment, just like he had been when he’d walked out on the balcony. His eyes had shifted back so he was staring at Derek again. “But... you want to? Be with me? Even if...this is what you’re getting?”
“I’d quite like it to calm down. Quite a lot, actually,” Derek admitted, with a burgeoning smile. “I don’t enjoy the spotlight any more than you do. I’m not looking to be one half of a celebrity couple.” Derek took Stiles’ hand, not wanting him to read that wrong. “I want to be with you. I’ll go to events when you need me there, and I’d never want you to hide me, but what I mean is that mostly I’d be happy with just being Mr. Stiles Stilinski.” He rolled his eyes and confirmed before Stiles could jump on it, “The other Mr. Stiles Stilinski.”
“I wouldn’t ever hide you unless you want it,” Stiles said, on his feet now and reaching for Derek’s shirt to pull him closer. “And I’m going to want to show you off at everything, but I get that and...yes. I don’t care about waiting or Kate or anything. Yes.”
“Lauren,” Derek said. “You care about Lauren.” He needed to hear it. He’d seen Stiles with his daughter, he knew that he was crazy about her, but still - he needed to hear that Stiles was going to factor her into everything. She couldn’t just be an add on to getting Derek. “She has to be the priority. My priority - our priority.”
“Of course I care about Lauren. Lauren’s the reason why I found you remember?” Stiles said stepping closer when Derek didn’t fall into his arms. “She is. Of course. Everything that’s important to you, Derek, is my priority.”
Derek reached up and cupped Stiles’s jaw, fingers splayed across his cheek, thumb brushing over one of those moles that haunted his dreams these days. “She’d be your family,” he said, his voice dropping low as he didn’t even try and pretend that he wasn’t talking about a forever relationship. The idea of anything else with Stiles simply didn’t make sense. “You’d be her dad. She’s not old enough that she’d ever remember anything different.”
“I wouldn’t want her to,” Stiles insisted, leaning into the touch. “You’d be my family. Both of you.”
Derek smiled, unsurprised that Stiles was taking to all of this so readily. Of course he would - Stiles was his soulmate, his perfect match. He slipped his arm around Stiles, drawing him in as he pressed their foreheads together. “Lauren and I have missed you so much,” he confessed.
“You have no idea how much I’ve missed both of you. Like this giant gaping hole in my life.”
“So, what now?”
Stiles grinned. “Now, you have to take my picture. And then you’re gonna let me drag you down two floors to my suite and let me keep you there until you have to pick Lauren up. Then we wait on Jackson to make your divorce final and if the timing works out you can come to my movie premiere.” He pulled Derek closer with his fist in his shirt. “But first...” He pressed up the last of the distance between them and kissed Derek.
Derek tightened his hold on Stiles as he returned the kiss, deep and passionate and everything he’d wanted. He ran a hand up Stiles back and into his hair, thoroughly messing up the careful style. He didn’t pull back until Stiles’ lips were red and bee-stung. Derek ran his fingers over Stiles hair again and looked him over. “Perfect,” he said, humming lightly. “I want you like this. I want the world to see what I see.”
Stiles laughed a little, still holding on to Derek like it was holding him up. “Well, your reporter’s going to love that,” he said, but his smile was there. “Just tell me where to be. I’m all yours.”
Derek adjusted Stiles’ shirt and undid another button. “All mine,” he agreed. “Now - I want you on that bench. Sprawl out, one arm along the back, like you haven’t got a care in the world,” he instructed, stepping back to collect his camera.
Stiles did as he was told, stretching out on the bench, legs in front of him, arm across the back, neck long and stretched, head tilted upward even as he looked into the lens. “I feel like I don’t have a care in the world. You don’t know how long I spent wondering if you liked me.”
Derek raised a brow, looking over the top of the camera for a moment before he started taking pictures. “You really didn’t know?”
“I hoped. I thought maybe. Then I convinced myself otherwise. You have a wife and a kid. Nothing about you really screams ‘willing to hook up with an actor who’s also a dude’,” Stiles pointed out, leaning into the camera like he knew how to.
“True,” Derek agreed, smiling at the new position. For all that Stiles didn’t court the spotlight, he was a joy to photograph, knowing exactly how to turn and position himself. The guy could be a model. “Then again, your public figure was totally straight and I never doubted there was something there,” he teased.
“Don’t even fool yourself, I was totally obvious,” Stiles said, shifting his hands so that they were more in front of his face and blocking part of the shot, but he’d read the posts online about his hands. He knew people liked them. “Like from the moment I saw you I was obvious.”
“Well, yes, I didn’t think you made a habit of giving your contact details to random members of the press.”
“I don’t even make a habit of giving my contact information out to hot guys with adorable daughters that I can’t take my eyes off of,” Stiles said with a laugh. He turned again, pulling one knee up as he looked at Derek. “You didn’t say yes to the hotel suite.”
“Lace your fingers together around your shin and rest your chin on your knee,” Derek directed, focusing in tightly. “Oh, and yes. Definitely yes. Promise me no kiss and run though this time.”
Stiles did as he was told, holding the pose for a moment before he spoke again. “You’re the one that has to run this time. I’m considering keeping the suite for a week just to get away from the press though Jordan might not like that. He’s got an idea that I can’t hide. When can I come see you at your place?”
“So, Jordan’s on board permanently now then? How’s that working out for you?” Derek checked, avoiding the question for now of when Stiles could come over. He hated to admit it, but he was feeling twitchy about that. The press had found his house. For the first time, he really understood invasion of privacy, and he was so glad that he hadn’t ended up doing that kind of work.
“He’s all that’s left. I fired the rest of my team. Minus the stylist. We kept her. I guess he’s going to find a team, but yeah, right now he’s the guy. I like him. He’s letting me make choices for once.” Stiles frowned, looking away from Derek.
“Lift your chin slightly, keep looking that way. Lose the frown,” Derek instructed, but he knew that he wasn’t going to just be able to sidestep this one. Stiles was as good as gold though, he did what he was asked. Derek took another couple of shots and then set the camera down, before stepping up behind Stiles and sitting down, wrapping his arms around him and resting his head on Stiles’ shoulder. “If it were any other time, I’d drive you over myself. Hell, I’d move you in. I don’t care - I just want to be with you. But there’s still reporters hanging round my place. They’d see you and they’d all come back.”
Stiles ran his hand over Derek’s arm and nodded. “I know all of that. I do. I just miss you and I miss Lauren and your house and I want to move you into my place or buy you something bigger or something ridiculous.”
“I don’t want to move into your place,” Derek said, kissing the side of Stiles’ neck. “That loft is so...”
“Soulless?” Stiles suggested and Derek nodded against his skin.
“Exactly. I want us to have a home, with a yard.”
“You’ll be suggesting we get a dog next,” Stiles teased, leaning back into his hold.
“I like dogs,” Derek said with a laugh and Stiles shook his head before turning in his arms.
“Alright, fair enough. But we’ll get a new place with a yard and better security.” He kissed Derek lightly. “Fair?”
“Fair - but nothing too ostentatious. I don’t care what your realtor says,” Derek warned. He wasn’t going to try and do anything like insist that they stuck to Derek’s own comparatively meager budget - that would just leave Derek feeling guilty he couldn’t contribute more, and Stiles feeling constrained and frustrated. What he could do, though, is make sure that Stiles didn’t get pressured into something else he didn’t really want.
“Oh we won’t listen to a word she says. We’ll find somewhere that’ll work though. Promise.” Stiles turned in Derek’s arms, kissing him again. “Do you have enough photos? Jordan and Lydia have a date they probably want to get to and you and I have a date with an ostentatious hotel suite.”
“I will never have enough photos of you,” Derek told him, reluctant to let him go. He caught the look on Stiles’ face though and sighed, like he was hard done by. “But, I guess that I can let you drag me to bed...”
Stiles swatted at his chest and shook his head. “I shouldn’t let you for that,” he said giving Derek a look, but he still got up and pulled Derek to his feet. “Get your stuff all packed up and I’ll go let Jordan off the hook.”
“Tell Lydia I’ll call her later,” Derek said with an evil smirk. Lydia who hadn’t mentioned that she had a date - and especially not that it was with Stiles’ new handler.
“I’ll tell her you’ll call tomorrow. I am not screwing this up for Mr. Parrish,” Stiles said with a grin. He moved back a step to kiss Derek once more before ducking back into the hotel suite.
Derek smiled to himself as he packed up his equipment. All of the stress and tension that he had been carrying around all day had simply melted away, leaving him all kinds of okay with the world. He knew the things he had said before - that he wasn’t going to get himself involved in another relationship until his divorce was truly finalised, but this was Stiles. This was his soulmate, Derek was convinced of it. No matter how he looked at it, he couldn’t envision a future that didn’t involve Stiles. Starting it now instead of later would just be succumbing to the inevitable instead of putting it off. Fastening his bag closed, he slung it over his shoulder and followed Stiles inside.
Jordan was standing with Stiles off to one side of the suite looking deeply concerned while the actor spoke. Derek frowned and headed towards where Lydia was standing off the side watching everything play out. “Everything alright?” he asked her and she shrugged.
“Your soulmate is telling his manager, handler, PR guru that he’s off the hook for the night and I don’t think Mr. Parrish has taken an hour off since before the ball. So he’s freaking out a little and Stiles is doing a terrible job of consoling him.”
“Well, he’s getting some time off so you can go on a date with him,” Derek shot back, equally pointedly, to which he received a glare in return. It didn’t bother him, he and Lydia had long since realised that they communicated just fine in little barbs and glowering looks. Neither of them meant it nastily. A point which was proved when Lydia rolled her eyes.
“You could have told me, Derek, instead of letting me make a fool of myself trying to convince you of something that you already knew and were just denying.”
“I had my reasons,” Derek told her.
“What? Kate, Lauren?”
“Yes, that and I wanted to keep him to myself for a while,” he said, his eyes fixed on Stiles who looked like he was battering Jordan Parrish down with sheer onslaught of words and excited hand gestures.
“Oh god, you’re so gone on him, aren’t you?”
Derek looked round, blinking in surprise. “Well... yes. He’s my soulmate, Lyds.”
Lydia’s eyes narrowed as she studied Derek for a long moment before she spoke again. “You said he wasn’t. You insisted on it. Actually, you said multiple times that you weren’t, you didn’t stand a chance and now you’re changing your story and I think you might have been lying to me for a while now.”
“Yes, Lydia, I’ve been lying to you,” Derek said. He could hardly deny it. Some of the lie may have been a lie of omission, but a whole lot of it was just straight, flat out, untruth. “Stiles passed me his details that day at the conference and we’ve been in touch ever since.”
She arched a perfectly manicured brow and snorted softly, looking up at him with an amused little smile. “All those messages and texts that always got you laughing at your phone, or grinning like an idiot, that was him, wasn’t it?”
Derek shrugged and nodded. “Every time.”
“And the picture, that wasn’t the first time he’d come over was it.”
Derek shook his head. “No. Not even close.”
“Does he know?” she asked, voice laced with concern. “That you’re it? That you know that? Why didn’t you just tell him from the start?”
“I honestly wasn’t sure at first. I thought he might be.” Derek didn’t mention the picture he still had tucked away in his dresser drawer. She’d want to see it and he wasn’t ready to show that to her, or to anyone before Stiles had seen it. “Then the more time we spent together, the more it just became obvious. He’s it. Even if there hadn’t been a sign, he’d still be it. We haven’t talked about it because I had my shit and he had his, but when it comes right down to it, it doesn’t matter.”
“It... doesn’t matter?” Lydia asked, sceptically.
“No. Really not. Who cares that the universe gave us some sign to tell us something that we already knew? What difference does it really make?”
Derek could have sworn that when Lydia looked back at Stiles and Jordan she was looking at Jordan instead of Stiles, but she just nodded. “Outside of the story, I suppose it doesn’t.” She looked up at him and smiled the smile that only meant business. “So when do I get to write my story?”
“You have your interview,” Derek pointed out, only to be waved away by Lydia.
“Never mind about the interview - I want the soulmate story. You and Stiles. How you found each other, what the future holds - the whole thing.” Derek hesitated, not sure if he liked that, but Lydia pushed onward with barely a pause. “This isn’t TMZ tabloid crap Derek. I want to it properly. This is the story. The proof. Not only did you find your soulmate, with documented proof of the sign, but he’s a guy. Half the nation can’t vote for gay marriage, but you two can find true love and the universe is on board with it? This is the story. That’s the story I want.”
That caught him. She was right - that story could make a real difference to lots of lives. “I’ll have to talk to Stiles about it,” he started, pushing on when he saw that excited look on Lydia’s face that he knew meant she thought she had it in the bag and could do it yesterday. “And nothing until we’re ready to go public. Which will be after my divorce.”
Lydia rolled her eyes, but nodded. “Fine. I know he’ll do it considering he said it depended on if his soulmate was willing. So once you two are out and official, we’ll do it.” She paused for a moment then looked up at him. “We didn’t talk about it much this morning. How’s that looking?”
“Don’t ask,” Derek recommended. “Kate’s throwing everything she has at the fact that I’m apparently having ‘an affair with another man’, which supposedly makes me an irresponsible father - though how, I’m not sure. Plus, apparently I’m creating an unhealthy environment for Lauren, because there’s reporters outside the house twenty-four-seven, which I think she has more of a point about, but that’s a short term thing. I don’t know - it seems every time I look at my messages there’s a whole new bit of bad news. I’m trying not to dwell.”
“She’s full of shit. And when we run the story we’ll be clear that that’s not the case. You’re a great dad and he’s going to be...an interesting dad.” Stiles was shaking Jordan by the shoulders, now looking more like he was giving the worst pep talk ever than trying to convince him to take the night off.
Derek smiled softly at the scene, absently commenting, “My lawyer says he has a plan and from the sounds of it, it’s a plan I really don’t want to know the details of.”
“What kind of lawyer did you hire?” Lydia asked.
“I have Stiles’ lawyer. He’s a dick, but seems to be good at his job. If anyone can go up against Kate, it’s him,” Derek said, but his attention was more than half on Stiles now, smiling softly at the thought of him as a father and them watching Lauren grow up together.
“The best lawyers are...oh you’re making that face. You look all gooey,” Lydia said with mock disdain. “You’re thinking gooey thoughts aren’t you. You do have it bad. I’m going to go save Mr. Parrish so I don’t have to look at you.”
Derek caught Lydia by the arm and held her back. “No - let me do this one. It’ll be better,” he promised, crossing the room before she could object to that.
Jordan saw him coming first, nodding for Stiles to turn, which he did with a grin. “Everything okay here?” Derek asked Stiles, not Jordan.
“Everything’s fine - I’m just trying to convince the mother hen here that it’s okay if he takes a few hours off to spend with Lydia while I take you back to my hotel room to do unspeakable things to you,” Stiles told him, to a groan from Jordan that suggested that Stiles had been being very vocal and descriptive about what those ‘unspeakable’ things actually were.
“Stop with the unspeakable,” Jordan said, shaking his head. “I’m just looking out for him. He didn’t stay at home last night either, the press is bound to wonder, that’s all. And he’s been very clear about wanting to help out your reputation as well, Derek. And if something happens I’d rather not be detained.”
Stiles elbowed Derek. “He means unspeakable things with Lydia. He doesn’t want to get caught with his shorts down if you will.”
Derek ignored Stiles, focusing in on Jordan instead. “The press can wonder all they want, Mr. Parrish. That’s what the press do. That’s how they make a living. Stiles will be home tonight, because I have to be home tonight. I only have childcare until six, then I have to collect my daughter and take her home. So, Stiles can go to his loft then. The press can see him enter, and if he sends off a few tweets now about how he’s giving an exclusive interview to Lydia Martin and he’s going to be there all day, then nobody will be any the wiser. I know this hotel’s reputation - there’s a reason Lydia suggested it. None of the staff will talk. Now, if you don’t mind, Stiles and I would like some time together. We’ll make sure that you’re not bothered.”
Jordan looked between them and sighed. “You should have led with him,” he told Stiles. “He’s far more reasonable. Send your tweets. Enjoy your time and stop calling me Mr. Parrish. They do it to tease me,” he added for Derek.
“Because he’s so damn polite,” Stiles said and Jordan gave him a look.
“Like that’s a crime. Call if you need anything. I don’t mind being bothered.” Jordan looked at them once more then left to claim Lydia.
“Like I’d bother him when he’s with Lydia – she’d have my balls for that,” Derek whispered, once Jordan was out of earshot.
“I don’t think he realizes that’s what he’s getting into,” Stiles said fishing in his pocket for a moment then producing a room key. “This is the spare. I made Jordan give it to me. You can have it.” Stiles’ face morphed into a frown as Derek closed his hand over Stiles’, trapping the key beneath.
“Keep it - I won’t need it,” he said, looking at Stiles with dark eyes. “I’m not intending to leave the room.”
Stiles’ eyes went wide as the realization hit, then he was pulling on Derek’s shirt. “Good plan. Let’s not. And let’s go now while they’re distracted.”
Laughing that Stiles, for all his talk, had only just come to the right conclusion, Derek took his hand and they headed downstairs together.
Chapter 13: Chapter 12
Stiles had ordered room service earlier on. Bits from the menu that he'd liked the look of, but that wouldn't mean moving too much. It had been fun, and he now lay in the midst of the ruins, a sheet covering one thigh and a half finished bowl of chocolate covered strawberries abandoned at arms length as he listened to Derek sing in the shower. The guy had a remarkably good voice. One of a number of remarkable things about him that Stiles had discovered that afternoon. He hummed along himself, happy to just float along without really thinking, until Derek’s phone buzzed and he lazily picked it up. There was a message from Jackson, but Stiles wasn’t going to be that guy. Instead he called out to Derek, letting him know there was news.
Derek appeared from the bathroom, tucking a towel round his waist. Stiles laughed, beckoning Derek over as he held out the phone, running his eyes appreciatively over those abs. That was a view he was never going to tire of, especially not now he knew what it felt like, up close and personal. Had licked his way down those muscles.
Stiles handed the phone over as Derek settled down on the bed, letting the towel slip without a care from round his waist as he thumbed up the message. There was a YouTube attached to the short note which simply read: Tell Stiles the bill is in the mail. The two men settled down together to watch the film.
Less than two minutes in, Derek cursed, loudly, fumbling the phone. It dropped to the floor and, when Derek made no attempt to pick it up, Stiles did so. Climbing back onto the bed, Stiles frowned at the way that Derek had closed off - he was hunched up against the pillows and Derek didn’t need to say he was unhappy - his body language was screaming it.
Stiles started the video playing again, holding it more toward himself as Derek flinched. It had obviously been filmed covertly, in a dingy bar somewhere. The camera was focused on a blonde woman, who was leaning on the bar and nursing a cocktail. Clearly not her first from the way she was slurring her words.
“Is that Kate?” Stiles asked and Derek nodded. Kate began to talk again. Stiles had heard the start the first time round, but it wasn’t until now that what she was saying really hit home.
“Honestly, I didn’t want the kid. Not like...to be a mother. God. Me, a mother? Yeah right. But Derek, I wanted Derek. He’s gorgeous and I thought he was rich and all I had to do was lock that down. For being bi he’s not really all that adventurous and I knew the moment I got pregnant, he’d do what was right and marry me. Then I’d get what I wanted. The lifestyle - he’d never seemed all that into it, but a guy can change, right? That’s what I thought - God, how wrong was I! Instead he became so much more boring, if that’s even possible. All he wanted was this shitty little house, picket fence and a neatly kept yard. Actually working for a living and totally denying all the time that he has a trust fund from his insanely rich parents! It was never going to work, so I left him. I can totally do better - have you seen me? Hot, right?” Off screen, she was asked about Derek and Stiles, and she laughed. “What a hoot! The whole sleeping with a celebrity? That’s just dumb luck. He’s probably trying to do right by that guy too, but I’ll take what I can get.”
Stiles’ heart went out to Derek, taken for a ride so completely by this bitch. Right now, he just wanted to find her and make her pay for screwing up the most perfect man in the world. She had no idea how good she’d had it. And to call Derek boring - that was so far off base. He just wasn’t interested in the trappings of wealth and fame. So what, if he didn’t like parties and events where being seen was the most important thing ever. He reached for Derek’s hand, squeezing it lightly as the voice offscreen asked about Lauren and Kate said, “Who? Oh, the baby right. Well, I don’t really want her, but she has to have a trust fund set up by her grandparents and I can find a full time sitter for the next ten years or so right?”
“Oh god.” Stiles turned it off. He’d seen enough. It was the most terrible, and the most wonderful thing he’d ever seen. Turning to Derek, he waved the phone at him, excitedly. “Fuck - do you know what this is? What Jackson got for you? This is going to win your case, you know that right? I mean...it goes on which means there’s more. Jackson just creamed her.”
“I can’t believe that he did that,” Derek said, blankly.
“What? What are you talking about? This is great - this is like…total proof of everything you knew already, right? No way is any judge going to give her custody of Lauren now! That's not even going into what this could do for you in the press too. No wonder you're not with her, she's a terrible mom. Like, they get a shot of me not dropping Lauren and you’re set. You're with the guy that cares about you and your baby and not the woman that is using you.”
“That,” Derek said pointing at the phone angrily, “Was not what I wanted.”
Stiles eyed him, not understanding the reaction. He pushed himself up the bed a little more, propping himself up on fluffy, down-filled pillows and reaching across to trail his fingers down Derek’s arm. “I feel like I’m missing something here,” he admitted, his brow wrinkling as he tried to understand where Derek was coming from.
“He put it online.”
“So the world could see what she’s like,” Stiles amended, running his hand along the hairs at the nape of Derek’s neck.
“So my daughter can grow up knowing that her mother never loved her. Because someone recorded that and stuck it on YouTube and nothing on the internet ever goes away.”
Stiles looked back at the abandoned phone then at Derek. “But she’ll know we love her. She’ll never doubt that. And that's what matters doesn’t it? Someone wanted her enough to fight for her.”
“You need to remember that when she’s fifteen and telling you you’re not her real father,” Derek said, wryly. “I just… That’s not something anyone should ever have to find out, y’know? I would have happily pretended that Kate was a great mother, if that’s what it took. Even if it meant I had to coerce her into actually seeing her daughter behind the scenes. I never wanted any of this to impact on Lauren.”
Stiles winced but shook his head. “We aren’t going to pretend anything. I get you don’t want her to know how bad Kate is but I don’t want to lie to Lauren.”
“You know, my sisters always said that she got pregnant on purpose, but even with everything else, I never believed them,” Derek said, sounding so defeated that Stiles just drew him into his arms, one hand bringing Derek’s head down to rest his cheek against Stiles’ chest. “She thought I was rich,” Derek continued. “I’m not. My parents have money and sure – maybe one day I’ll inherit, but… She would never believe that I didn’t have some kind of trust fund. She still thinks Lauren has one. We don’t. We’re just… us. We live off what I earn and we get by. Kate used me and then left me when she realised the truth, and she’s using Lauren and one day, Lauren’s going to know all about that. Hear those words from her mother’s lips. It makes me feel sick for her. I know Jackson said he would sort things, but… did he have to do it like this?”
He looked down, biting at his finger for a moment before he spoke again. “Jackson feels that way because he’s adopted.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“He had parents who didn’t want him. I don’t know all the details, but from what I do know, his birth mom was a real mess. His birth dad was never even in the picture. He was taken away by child services because it wasn’t safe with him to be with her. Anyway, he was adopted by a couple who actually wanted him. I don’t know how much he actually remembers about life with his birth mother, and how much he’s just been told, but he can imagine what kind of a future Lauren would have with Kate, and he knows the importance of being with parents who love you and care for you.”
Derek pulled back to look at Stiles. “It’s not his place...”
“I know,” Stiles said. “But there’s a heart somewhere in there because he knows that you’ll be better for Lauren than her mom will. I’ll be better for her.” He sighed, considering his words for a moment before continuing. “You come from a big family so you know what it’s like to have family that’s there and loves you. I come from a small one, just me and my dad and we know about pulling in people that matter. Sometimes you get to pick your family, like how my dad and I picked Scott and Melissa. Like how you picked me. And when your real family lets you down, you pick the people that won’t.”
“We picked each other,” Derek corrected, and Stiles knew he was getting through to him. He wanted to be able to tell Derek that everything was going to be alright, but Stiles knew he couldn’t make that kind of a guarantee. The most he could do was to be there for him.
“I dunno,” Stiles teased, falling back on humor when he couldn’t just instantly make it better. “You did sort of crash into my life.”
“You gave me your number,” Derek pointed out, lifting his head and resting his chin on Stiles’ chest, his eyebrows playfully raised. “Without that, I would never have seen you again.”
“After you crashed into my life,” Stiles pointed out, but still ran his fingers through Derek’s hair. “You would have seen me again. Fate remember? Plus I’ve got this movie coming out, not sure if you’ve heard of it. I mean you might have gone to see it.”
“If it was fate, then more people would find their perfect match,” Derek pointed out as he leaned into Stiles’ touch. “Most people don’t. If you hadn’t given me your number I probably would have left and just... always wondered why I felt this incredible connection to the guy on the screen when I went to one of your movies.” Derek fell silent for a moment, but Stiles could tell he was thinking about something.
“What is it?” he prompted, lightly.
“If you hadn’t met me. If you hadn’t given my your details, if I hadn’t got in touch. If there hadn’t been this whole thing between us - do you think you would have let them fix you up with some woman from the conference that day?”
“Do you think Lydia was an option?” Stiles asked, falling back on a joke that didn’t hit the mark because in reality he didn’t know what to say.
Derek gave him a look. “I asked her that - she said that she’d eat you alive and that for you two to be soulmates, she’d have to actually like you in that way. Which she doesn’t.”
Stiles held a hand to his chest, as though he was hurt and rolled his eyes, trying to seem casual even if the thought alone of never finding Derek made him uncomfortable. “I mean, I only agreed to it partly because I wanted to find out who it was. I thought you were gorgeous and I really did want to help with Lauren, giving you Melissa’s info. I didn’t know right away it was you and I was still going along with things to try and find out who it was. But I don’t think I would have just gone with anyone.”
“I didn’t know it was me at first, but you started to just fit into this hole in my life that I hadn’t even known was there. Almost straight away, it was ‘and this is where Stiles fits in my life’, so I started to hope and then eventually it just felt obvious.”
Stiles smiled at that, feeling his heart and chest go warm with the thought. “I felt the same way too. Like...suddenly I had someone else to focus on and I didn’t feel so alone. Everything seemed a lot less daunting when you were around.”
“Exactly,” Derek said, leaning forward and suddenly Stiles was being kissed, pushed back into the pillows as Derek ran his hands up his sides, blunt nails raking over Stiles’ skin. Stiles was panting by the time Derek raised his head and looked down at him. “Everything in my life is better with you in it,” he said, sincerely.
“Well...when you put it like that...” Stiles reached for Derek, one hand on the back of his neck to drag him back down into another kiss.
“Top middle drawer,” Derek said, pointing Stiles towards the dresser so he could borrow a pair of socks. “You do know you could keep things here right?”
Stiles rolled his eyes before reaching for the drawer. They’d had this conversation so many times in the last few weeks. “Or not. You’re moving out of this place in two weeks, as soon as the paperwork is signed on our house. Why would I lug my stuff here just to move it back over there?” Stiles had taken a leap the moment Derek started processing his divorce and bought them a house just outside the city with a gate at the front of the community and a wall around the property. It didn’t take away from the yard, which left Lauren plenty of space to play in, or obscure the view of the mountains. Maybe he’d splurged, but what else was money for? There had been a few grumbles from Derek, who was remarkably determined not to take advantage of anyone else’s wealth, but that had been settled with a long talk about how what they had was a partnership and they both contributed equally - just because Stiles’ contribution was more financial didn’t mean that Derek’s contribution was any less important. With Stiles about to go back out on location - up to Vancouver for his next movie - Derek would be the core of their little family, which was so much more valuable than the money Stiles could put down on a home for them.
Fast talking, perseverance and meaning every word had won Stiles that argument. They would be settled into their new place just before Written in the Stars went on general release, and a week before Stiles had to leave for Canada.
Now that the worse of the scandal had died down, there were offers and auditions coming in regularly, especially now Stiles was considered to be a Name. Of course, Jordan was handling all that. It was going to be a busy year.
“I’m going to go check on Lauren,” Derek said, pulling his henley over his head as he walked out of the room. Stiles turned to watch him go, rooting around blind in the draw, distracted by the fine form of his departing partner. That was a view he would never get tired of.
His fingers brushed against something that definitely wasn’t socks. Looking back he pulled the drawer open properly, then took the picture hidden in there out. Why was it in the drawer? Flipping it over Stiles almost had to sit down. It was him, framed perfectly, staring right at the camera. He was smiling, eyes bright despite how tired he’d been that morning, holding a water bottle between his hands that clear and unmistakably said ‘soulmate’ where it should have said ‘Evian.’
Stiles walked out into the living room, his eyes on the photo enough that he almost stumbled over Lauren’s pile of building bricks she had left scattered across the floor. Derek caught his elbow, steadying him and Stiles looked up. “What’s this?” he asked, blankly, gesturing with the photo.
“It’s a picture,” Derek said, laughing a little at the obvious question and taking the shot off Stiles. He glanced down at it and Stiles saw the moment that Derek realised what it was. Their eyes met.
“Why is this the first time I’m seeing this?”
Derek looked at the photo then back at Stiles. “I didn’t think you needed to.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not your decision,” Stiles said reaching for the picture again. “This...this is... You had this all along.”
“I did,” Derek confirmed. “That’s - seeing that is how I found out what happened.”
“So you knew, right from the start, that I was your soulmate?” Stiles questioned. Hurt welled up within him. Derek had lied to him, spinning him some kind of line about how it was only once they got to know one another that he realised they were right. Looking at this picture now - looking at himself, sitting there, smiling at the camera - he had never seen that look on his face before. It was more than a smile. There was a joy there, a happiness and a relaxed vulnerability about him. There was love in his eyes and he was looking straight at Derek. Nobody who saw this picture could ever doubt that this was the very moment that Stiles had found his soulmate.
“No, I didn’t know,” Derek averred. “I just thought it was a beautiful picture.”
“If it was nothing but a beautiful picture, you would have sold it, Der. You would have published it along with the others you took. You would have made a fortune from this shot - it’s perfect!”
“I wasn’t going to do that to you,” Derek corrected. “Not that...”
“That what? That moment! When I found you? You...You had it. You knew. And I wondered and worried and got pulled into balls and meetings and you had this.” Stiles didn't want to be upset, it had worked out, but it had taken its sweet time getting there.
“I asked you - right at the start, I asked you if you were doing all of that for yourself, or for other people. You told me that you were doing it because if you didn’t agree, then the people you worked with would suffer. You told me you were doing it for them. And I wasn’t sure,” Derek told him, running a hand up Stiles’ arm in a way that was both comforting and mildly frustrating, because Stiles wasn’t sure he wanted to be comforted right now. “I liked you. Really liked you, and you were becoming a part of my life so fast, but I didn’t know. Everyone else in your life was pushing you to find your soulmate. I didn’t want to be just another person on that list. Plus, I had Lauren to think about - I couldn’t go throwing myself into that mix without being absolutely sure.”
“How were you not sure with this?” Stiles waved the picture at Derek. “This is as sure as it gets right? Like...how much more sure do you need to be? I would have believed this. All you had to do was show it to me.”
“That’s easy for you to say now that we’re here. We’re already us. When I took that, we didn’t even know each other!”
“When you took this I gave you my phone number because I was determined not to let you get away!”
“And I emailed you! Because I didn’t want to let you get away either!”
“So why not show me? Why not show everyone?”
“I told you. I didn’t want you to feel forced and I couldn’t get myself involved in anything while my divorce was going through. Then, once we got to know each other, it didn’t seem to matter anymore.”
“You know that never mattered to me in the first place. I wish I’d known. I didn’t even know if you were interested,” Stiles pointed out. “It wasn’t fair. You knew it was going to work out.”
“I’m sorry,” Derek said, and Stiles allowed Derek to pull him into his arms, feeling like Derek finally got it. It wasn’t often Derek Hale actually apologized, he knew that now. “I thought I was doing the right thing. I screwed up.”
Stiles sighed. “You didn’t really screw up as much as make it a lot harder than it needed to be,” he said into Derek’s shoulder. “I could have skipped the ball. Though I might not have Jordan. And he might not have Lydia…” Stiles dropped his head against Derek’s shoulder and chuckled. “Okay maybe I’ll let you get away with it.”
“Fate?” Derek suggested, his voice muffled as he buried his face into Stiles’ hair.
“That’s cheating.” Stiles tried to sound resigned, but it didn’t quite come out that way. It sounded more fond than anything else.
“Of course it is,” Derek agreed.
“You’re lucky I like you so much or I’d be really upset that you’re cheating.”
“You like my cheating. You like that I know you well enough to do that,” Derek teased, nuzzling at Stiles’ ear.
“You’re still cheating,” Stiles said with a pout that turned into a laugh as Derek moved in closer. “But yes. I do. I would have liked to know that sooner that’s all.” He pulled back and kissed Derek. “We have to give her this picture. You have to.”
“We don’t ‘have’ to do anything.” Stiles rolled his eyes as Derek reminded him of that.
“We still should. It’d be perfect to go with the soulmate exclusive that she’s doing on us. Do you not think we should?”
Derek looked at the picture and shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve been keeping it hidden so long that it’s hard to think of it out there.”
Stiles pulled back, holding Derek at arm’s length. “We agreed, remember? We both said it - any decisions that are made about us being soulmates, we make together. If we don’t both agree, it doesn’t happen. Do we publish the picture, or do you just want it in a corny frame somewhere in the new house. Personally, I say publish, because that shot? Will make you as a photographer.”
“I don’t want to hinge my success on publicizing our relationship,” Derek said, but he didn’t sound convinced. Stiles jumped on that little bit of doubt. He knew, now, that Derek would throw himself to the wolves rather than think he was taking advantage of someone else. Stiles decided that he was going to be his soulmate’s self-appointed enabler, to make sure that Derek got everything he deserved.
“Our relationship is public. You’re with a celebrity. We’re going to be public, but I’d rather be public for this than any movie. I’d rather be public for being lucky enough to find the man of my dreams and having photographic proof of the exact moment I found him.”
Derek smiled and Stiles smiled with him when he laughed a little, saying, “Well, when you put it like that...”
“Exactly. So I’ll call Jordan?” Stiles suggested, not giving Derek a moment to change his mind. Plus, the was the ulterior motive. Jordan and Lydia. He or Derek could call Lydia directly, but it was kind of fun to give Jordan excuses to talk to strawberry blonde. Jordan kept trying to pretend his relationship with her was strictly professional when it most definitely was not. Stiles was sure he’d called Jordan while he was at Lydia’s more than once and Jordan had been suspiciously vague about his plans for today. That was, in Stiles’ experience, a bright blinding beacon for ‘I have a date I don’t want to talk to you about’. Jordan, the adorable little boy, didn’t seem to be able to get it through his head that Stiles was happy for him and Lydia.
“Yes - you can call Jordan. I know how much you love to torture him,” Derek told him with a smug grin. They both knew what Stiles had in mind.
“Don’t call it torture or he has a reason to quit,” Stiles said before pressing a quick kiss against Derek’s mouth and going for his phone. “I like that he’s with her. You know that. He’s just so nice he doesn’t want to talk about it. Or for me to pester him about it.” Which Jordan hadn’t realized yet was just giving Stiles more fodder.
“He’s so nice that he’s managed to tame even Lydia. Usually she walks all over her boyfriends, but Jordan… It’s like he’s got her under some kind of a spell,” Derek said.
“No - he just treats her right. Like she should be treated.”
“Since when do you know how Lydia should be treated?” Derek asked, mostly teasing from the look in his eyes as Stiles dialed Jordan’s number.
“Because it’s how I treat you,” Stiles pointed out, leaning in to kiss Derek again just as Jordan answered.
“Everything okay Stiles?” Jordan sounded worried as always, but Stiles assumed it was probably because it was supposed to be his day off, Stiles’ schedule set to spend the day with Derek and Lauren, while Jordan supposedly did whatever he did when he wasn’t running Stiles’ life for him. Stiles was pretty sure that was Lydia.
“Everything’s great. How’s Ms. Martin?” Stiles asked, then smiled at the sigh from down the line.
“What makes you think that I know how she is?” Jordan asked in a way that would have been far more effective if a female voice hadn’t been heard in the background, saying, “Tell Stiles I say hi!”
“If you don’t know how she is, Parrish you’re doing something wrong and I’m going to hang up with you and send you to go do it right,” Stiles chastised and he could all but hear Jordan roll his eyes.
“She’s fine then. What do you need?”
“Derek has a photo for her that he wants to add to the new article. We’re sticking with the interview, like we said, but he has it. The photo. Apparently he’s been keeping it hidden.” Stiles gave Derek a look for that..
“What photo?” There was a pause while Stiles waited for Jordan to catch up. “You mean the photo? Really? He has it. He’s had it?”
“All the damn time,” Stiles confirmed, still unable to really believe what his soulmate had hidden at the bottom of his sock draw.
“Seriously? Doesn’t he realize he could have made all our lives easier if he’d just shown people that?” Jordan asked, then put a hand over the phone and called out to Lydia to clue her in on what was going on as well.
“I told him that too,” Stiles said once Jordan was back. “But, you know Derek - too noble for his own good. Or, he was. Someone’s flipped a switch somewhere though, I think, because he’s actually claimed credit for your relationship and fate and a million other things, so don’t get too mad at him. My man’s learning.”
“I’m not in a relationship,” Jordan corrected. Stiles groaned. Sometimes, it was like being surrounded by children. No, actually, Lauren was easier to deal with.
“Really? Do you have pants on right now?” he asked.
“I am not going to dignify that with an answer,” Jordan said, a gentleman as always. Stiles was about to say something when Lydia grabbed the phone.
“Is Derek there?” she asked, pushing onward without waiting for an answer, assuming correctly that he would be. “Put me on speaker,” she demanded.
“Warning for you, Der - Lydia’s on speaker,” Stiles told his soulmate, his expression far too happy. He was glad he was going to be able to listen in to this one.
“Derek Hale! What the hell are you doing, holding something like that back from me!” she demanded.
Derek rolled his eyes and Stiles tried hard not to laugh. “He kept it from me too Lydia.”
“Hush Stiles. Speak, Derek.”
Derek looked almost sheepish then shook his head. “I couldn’t until I knew Lydia. Until he knew. It wasn’t right to just parade it out there.”
“I hate that you are so good,” Lydia moaned.
“I still sent you decent shots,” Derek pointed out.
“Sure, they were adorable. They were cute and funny and they had all the right elements, but they weren’t the moment Derek,” Lydia admonished.
“You haven’t even seen the picture Stiles is talking about!” Derek protested. Stiles had to sit back on the couch, he was trying so hard to keep his laughter silent at the back and forth between the two. Lydia pretending to be mad, and Derek so seriously defending himself from her anyway.
“Stiles - how good’s the shot?” Lydia demanded.
Stiles looked at Derek first, apologetic as he could then grinned. “Perfect Lydia. Best picture anyone’s taken of me ever and that includes the shots on the balcony.” Those has come out particularly beautiful, but Lydia had chastised Derek because Stiles looked so claimed in them. She had been all: ‘We’re not looking for sex shots, Derek!’ Listening to Lydia admonish Derek was becoming one of his favorite pastimes - though the one time that he actually sat down to watch with a bowl of popcorn, tossing kernels into his mouth, it hadn’t gone down well. They had both turned on him. They made a terrifying duo.
“Fine - I’m sending a courier over for it. Something like that, I don’t trust to email. Be dears, boys - have the package ready for me,” she said, almost sweetly.
“We’ll be ready so long as you don’t make Jordan put on pants and play courier. That’s just not fair to him,” Stiles called with a laugh. He would never miss a chance to tease Jordan - not until he came out and admitted that he and Lydia were formally dating.
“Stiles!” Jordan sounded both flustered and annoyed in the background and Stiles had to bite back a laugh.
“I’m hanging up now Stiles,” Lydia told him. “And you just make sure I get that photo. The interview is due to be published next week.”
“You’ll have it,” Derek said before Stiles could come back with something else and hung up the phone himself. “Happy now?” he asked Stiles, who nodded and let himself be pulled up from the couch and into the other man’s arms. “I really am sorry,” Derek told him, his voice dropping to something soft as he traced the tip of a finger across Stiles’ cheek until Stiles twisted his head enough to chase and capture that finger in his mouth, running his tongue round it. He maintained eye contact with Derek and watched his eyes darken.
“I forgive you,” Stiles said, releasing Derek’s finger with an audible ‘pop’.
“Tease,” Derek complained. “You know we have to go out.” They were meeting Derek’s family for lunch and Lauren had been looking forward to seeing her grandma all morning.
“That’s your punishment,” Stiles said, his eyes dancing with impish glee. “By the time we get home, you’re gonna want me so bad, you won’t know which way is up. But, you’re gonna have to wait. Until we get home. Until Lauren’s gone to bed…”
Derek’s look narrowed, his eyes still dark. “That’s cruel,” he said, voice rough and it was almost enough for Stiles to give in, but he managed to stay strong.
“No. You already established you’re good at waiting. You could have had me a month ago and you kept it to yourself.”
“So, now you’re going to make me wait a few hours?” Derek asked him, and Stiles laughed at the amusement on his face. Derek thought that he could do that easily. He had no idea.
A closed mouth smile on his face, Stiles stepped in closer, rolling his body up against Derek muscled form and wrapping his arms around his shoulders. “They are going to be the longest few hours of your life,” Stiles whispered, huskily, close enough that his breath would be hot against Derek’s beard.
There was nothing better than watching Derek shiver and grip at his hips, dragging him even closer. “You do know what happens when I can get my hands on you right?” he growled softly.
Stiles nodded. Yes, yes he did. “Are you trying to scare me Derek?”
“No, I’m just letting you know that two can play with waiting game,” he said, and Stiles practically moaned at the heated promise in Derek’s tone, but he wasn’t going to lose.
“Bring it on,” he countered though he was sure he was going to be hurting later, just as desperate as he was determined to make Derek. That was part of the fun though. Life with Derek was never dull - and Stiles just couldn’t want for the rest of it.
Chapter 14: Epilogue
Soulmates: Reality Proved
by Lydia Martin, California Beacon, for the New York Times
After millennia of searching, uncertainty and doubt, proof of the soulmate sign has finally been irrefutably confirmed.
The day Stiles Stilinski held up a bottle emblazoned with the word ‘soulmate’ started a media circus like no other. Now, though, the actor has come out publicly with both the name of his soulmate and their plans for the future. And that would be a coming out in more ways than one, because not only have the couple become the world’s first objectively confirmed soulmate couple, but they are proof that the universe does not discriminate against same sex relationships.
“We were amazed at the support we received from most people,” Stilinski says, neatly sidestepping the issue of the some of the more vilifying comments received by both Stilinski and his confirmed soul mate, photographer Derek Hale. Stilinski and Hale both refused to comment on the three lawsuits which have been filed by attorney Jackson Whittemore within the past few days against the worst offenders.
Most objections to the idea of same sex soulmates, however, died down when the photo - which has widely become known as The Image - was released by this reporter in an earlier piece (see image, left). The shot, showing Stilinski looking directly at the camera, the soulmate sign visible and clear, was taken by Hale and has subsequently been confirmed by independent experts as being conclusive proof of the moment two soulmates first laid eyes on each other.
Once again, science has taken up the baton of fighting prejudice, only now the universe is on their side in the battle against bigotry and hatred.
Meanwhile, two men are happily building a life and a family together.
Hale accompanied Stilinski to the world premiere of Stilinski’s soulmate movie Written in the Stars, where Stilinski made a point in showing off his significant other. Pointing out that the majority of comments concluded that Hale had lucked out with finding a famous soulmate, Stilinski avowed that he was the lucky one.
“There’s a moment when you realize that someone has filled the perfect space in your life, the place you were waiting for them to find, and you know that’s it. They’re the one,” he told reporters on the red carpet outside his review before wrapping an arm around his boyfriend as the two shared an adoring look.
Any doubt about the casual way the couple has dealt with the media attention since coming out - and the talk of a future together after only weeks - fades away after watching them interact. After the pomp and circumstance of the Stilinski Soulmate Search and the assumptions around who the lucky woman would be, the natural dynamic of Stilinski-Hale seems like a breath of fresh air, and a world away from the clear media ploy that had been the ‘Search’.
Stilinski talks openly now about his regret for that entire chapter of his life. “It was never real. I knew it wasn’t right at the time. I knew I was never going to find my soulmate that way, but I was under a lot of pressure and in a lot of shock. It took me some time and - no pun intended - a lot of soul searching to realize that, no matter what the consequences, my happiness was more important than anything else. My career could bring me fame and fortune, but without love, that meant nothing.”
When asked whether he thinks he led on any of the women from the press conference, Stilinski smiles with that now famous wide grin and lively whiskey eyes as he takes the hand of his soulmate. “A wise person once told me that for me to be someone’s soulmate they have to be mine as well.”
Neither Stilinski nor Hale will comment on the matter directly, but there is no doubt that Stilinski very publicly fired his manager on the night of the Soulmate Ball. While Stilinski and Hale were thrust abruptly into the spotlight the very next day, the handling of the resulting storm of questions was managed with a very different feel. There seems no doubt that this was the result of a change in direction from Team Stilinski.
And a welcome change in direction it was. The media manipulation and gross commercialisation of the initial days of the Stilinski Soulmate Story leave a dirty taste in the mouth for those who do believe in true love, in soulmates (and maybe even those of us who don’t). Even more so now that the truth is well and truly out.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have seen the YouTube video that would have gone viral, even without the soulmate angle. Stilinski, rising star, celebrity crush, playing peek-a-boo with a baby instead of focusing on important questions from an original and dynamic reporter (that would be me…). It was video gold at any time. That baby was the daughter of the man who would turn out to be his soulmate and while publicly Stilinski was looking for his one, true, female love, privately things were very different.
“It was natural,” Stilinski says. “Just like breathing. It was pretending it wasn’t really there that was the hard part.”
Hale doesn’t blame him for events, the slightly older man is quick to add. “We both needed that time,” he says. It is easy to tell that he wants people to take that seriously, since mostly Hale is happy to let Stilinski speak for the both of them. The roles work well - Stilinski always looks as though he’s about to burst if he can’t speak. Hale, on the other hand, seems to prefer silence and meaningful facial expressions. In this, however, he is passionately vocal. “Not admitting it straight away allowed us to get to know each other as people, not just as soulmates.”
That may be the truth for them, but as an observer and seeing the way that they come across as two halves of the same whole, one can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t just unfair - making them wait so long to be able to be together.
The idea of proving the soulmate theory is obviously more than a celebrity couple finding what we can only hope is happiness. It brings up the romantic notion of finding that one person that’s perfect for you. The person who understands you in ways you don’t understand yourself.
It also changes the idea of dating. People are already beginning to ask what is the point of dating someone without knowing if they’re your soulmate, or what it means to date someone who you know isn’t. There doesn’t seem to a be a right answer one way or another. What does seem right is the way that Stilinski and Hale seem to fit together, the ease of their comfort around one another and the obvious love that radiates from being in their presence.
Statistically speaking, we remain unlikely to ever find our soulmate. But now we know that out there, somewhere, they are there. Maybe waiting.
Let the hunt begin.