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“This sucks,” Scott says.  He puts his chin in his hand.  “I already bought the tickets and everything.  What am I supposed to do?”

Stiles shrugs, focused on his laptop.  “Get a better girlfriend?”

Scott huffs.  “And maybe I’ll get a better best friend while I’m at it.”

From the comfort of his spinning chair, Stiles whirls around and points a finger at Scott.  “Never, ever joke about that.  We made a blood pact in the fifth grade.  Bros for life.”

Scott shoots him a dopey grin.  “Bros for life.”  He holds out his fist.

After bumping back, Stiles resumes his latest research.

“Wait.  That’s it?  That’s all the advice you have to give me?”

Stiles sighs in a put upon way.  He once again spins around in his chair and scoots over the floor until he can place his hands on Scott’s knees.  “Buddy, you’re almost a college graduate.  I love you like my own brother, but there is only one logical solution here. A solution I feel should be easy to see when you factor in your age and intelligence.”

“B-but he’s her favorite professor and it’s a really important holiday party he’s asked her to help him with, and it’s in this really fancy house in Aspen and all of these other people who are as smart as him will be there.  He’s her mentor, for crying out loud and he’s going to help her get a job somewhere great.  I can’t just be like, you’re my woman, Allison, and we made these plans months ago and you’re not going to spend all this time alone with your hot older professor in Aspen for Christmas…”  Scott stops, gets this look on his face and growls.

“Ah, and there it is, the bigger picture.”  Stiles pats Scott’s knee.  “Old dude has serious game, preying on innocent students eager to go places in life by giving them Aspen at Christmas.”

“And I’m giving her almost two weeks in Jamaica!”  Scott glares at his fists.  “I have to go.”

Stiles lifts a hand as Scott crawls out of his window.  “Tell Allison I said hi.  And wear the green sweater, brings out your puppy dog eyes.  She won’t be able to resist.”

He gets the flutter of his curtains as a reply.  Makes sure his phone is next to his computer in case Scott needs another dose of common sense, and then gets back to his research, which surprisingly has nothing to do with the supernatural or his writing for once.  He scrolls through the feed on his browser until he spots another interesting do-it-yourself project. He clicks on the heart to like it and pins it to his Christmas Stiles-A-Palooza board.

It looks simple enough.  How hard could turning a muffin pan upside down and slapping some cookie dough on it be?

He’ll spend his time alone during the holidays finding out.

***

He’s been alone for an entire day and he’s beginning to think that’s not a good thing.  There’s a mountain of bags from various stores clumped in the middle of his living room.  He hasn’t touched his computer all day and bugged off the texts and voicemails from his editor, because he can’t stand the thought of finishing the chapter that hates him.

That’s what he does these days—successfully writes young adult books with werewolves and magical humans and dark, dark woods full of never ending enemies.  At the moment, his heroine, Jade, is up against a coven of witches with only her dashing werewolf alpha studmuffin to back her up.  It was all right there in his head, the way things would go, the death of the witches, but it felt off, each direction he went in stagnant like nothing made sense.

Like was this about the life or death situation, or was this really about Jade and her furry dreamboat infatuation?  Stiles just couldn’t decide and he’d spent the last four days trying to write, but it was as if he’d forgotten how to type. 

So instead of dealing with his writer’s block, Stiles followed through on his DIY holiday plans, which left him exhausted.  He looks at the bags, fully aware how dumb it was to have spent a few hundred dollars on crap that won’t make him any happier even though he now has the money from writing to do so.  His agent was talking movie deal over the phone last they chatted.

And a successful author of a paranormal series with a big screen adaptation in the talks, member of a pack of werewolves, with a father and new stepmother all under his belt shouldn’t be spending Christmas alone, right?  Right!

It’s supposed to be a holiday, his favorite one.  But no one was around to share it with.  His dad had reluctantly agreed to a couple’s Christmas retreat with Melissa.  They’d been married for a year, but his dad still couldn’t seem to let go of the fact that Stiles was an adult and could handle a holiday by himself, because he totally could, handle Christmas alone like a competent adult.

It was just one day.  Just another day…

Turns out his dad was right and Christmas sucked without him around, even if he was doing a meat and potatoes flyby between shifts at the station.  Enough time to open gifts and eat Stiles’ famous roast he only made once a year, take a quick nap, and then dash back to give the other deputies a reprieve to be with their families.

Yet, Stiles was still a self-sacrificing person and had practically pushed his dad into the car.  His dad needed a vacation.  Melissa hadn’t gotten a honeymoon, Scott was supposed to be gone anyway, and the retreat was in their price range.

Stiles would have never said no, even though he had desperately wanted to.

Lydia and Jackson and their two year old son would be spending Christmas with the Whittemore clan in New York.  Isaac was working as many hours as possible at the hospital to get the holiday pay, and because he’d never been big on Christmas unless they were getting drunk on wolfsbane brew and snuggling, because he was a secret cuddly wolf underneath all that sarcasm. 

Boyd and Erica were going to visit Boyd’s grandmother upstate.  Danny was going snowboarding with his family and his new fiancé. Scott was busy dragging his woman away from her professor’s evil clutches and would be well on his way to Jamaica in a few days.

So that left one person Stiles could dump his Christmas plans on.  One person who would understand the degree of suckage caused by being alone on Christmas.

Stiles considered calling.  He really did.  However, that would give Derek the chance to deny him a beautiful Christmas with just the two of them.  So Stiles loaded his newly purchased supplies into the jeep.  He stuffed his gym bag full of clothes, toiletries and his laptop, and then set off to Derek’s house with a manic smile.

He didn’t have to be alone after all, even if he had to force Christmas down Derek’s throat.

***

Stiles used his spare key when he found Derek wasn’t home.  Without giving the silent house and his nerves much thought, he emptied his supplies onto Derek’s kitchen table and was starting to put things away when he heard someone coming in the front door.

“Stiles?”

“In the kitchen,” he called back, even though Derek could’ve deduced that himself, being a werewolf and all, or you know, with his eyes because he could totally see Stiles.  “Do you want spaghetti with meatballs for dinner or pot pie?  We’ve got the stuff for both.”

Derek breezes into the kitchen.  He takes a good look around at all the bags.  He frowns at Stiles, confused as all hell, and this time Stiles can’t blame him.  “What are you doing?”

Stiles blinks at Derek.  His hair is a little windblown and his cheeks flushed from the cool air outside.  His scarf looks soft against the tight pull of his coat around his chest.  His lips…they’re pouting and full and Stiles just wants to…

Sometimes it’s a battle for Stiles not to lean in really close and give Derek a quick kiss, after all the years they’ve spent growing closer but not toeing the line.  No, they’ve never kissed before.  Yes, he’s pretty sure Derek would flip out if he did.  But that didn’t stop Stiles from wanting to.  Derek had this ridiculously adorable crease between his eyes whenever he looked at Stiles these days and as the months went by, it was getting harder and harder for Stiles to ignore.

Derek had mastered a confused yet enraptured look that did wonders for his eyes.  It was like he was having this A Beautiful Mind moment, trying to solve the puzzle Stiles was while being inspired at the same time.  It was weird, yet it was also adorable.  Yes, Stiles used words like adorable to describe Derek in his head.  And yes, he was still working out how to verbalize his feelings, but for someone who talked a lot, the right words seemed to never come.

They might have grown up, Derek might have softened around the edges for the Pack, but Stiles would always be Stiles and they always came back to this place, this crossroads where neither of them would budge like the stubborn idiots they were.  Like he said, at the core they were still the same kids who came together in the beginning.

At the moment it was Stiles flooding Derek’s kitchen with what looked to be the start of a kindergarten craft party, and Derek still staring at him like Stiles was crazy.  Yep.  Same shit, different day.

“So I bet you’re wondering what’s happening right now, huh?”

“Yes,” Derek grits.

Stiles grins.  “You see, Sourwolf, it’s a major holiday and I like to go big or go home during Christmas, even if it’s just me.”

“You have Melissa and your dad. Go big and go home, Stiles.  I prefer the you going home part, personally.”

“I know you heard about this before you walked in just now.  And even you’re not that cruel to me.”  Stiles almost pulls it off, but Derek’s slight frown melts into one of wariness.  Apparently he still hasn’t got a clue.

Derek grimaces.  “You’re not…not like fighting with your dad right now are you?”

“What?  That’s what you got from all of this.”  Stiles snorts.  “No, Derek, I’m not in a fight with my dad.  He and Melissa didn’t get a honeymoon right away because they wanted to save up for something big.  Admittedly, I think the whole Christmas retreat is a little strange, because I’m pretty sure choosing a winter wonderland themed honeymoon is kind of sacrilegious, but it’s not my marriage so who am I to judge?  But yeah, that’s why I’m here.  And you’re not going to argue with me because you spend every Christmas in a constant state of gloom.  This year I’m going to change that.  We’re having pot roast and you’re going to be a fail wolf with me at craft projects and we’ll get drunk and watch our favorite movies and not care because we’re not alone.  Got something to say about that?”

Derek sighs his defeat.  Stiles lifts a brow and Derek glances up at him.  “I had pot pie a couple days ago, the frozen kind.  Could we do meatball subs?  I have bread.”

Stiles lowers his challenging stare because he’s relieved.  He expected some sort of fight from Derek, but nope, Derek seems to be taking his new holiday plans rather well.  In fact, he’s already looking through the bags taking over his kitchen with interest.  Every once in a while he’ll stop, squint like he’s wondering what that is or he already knows and is slightly scared.

“After dinner, we’ll clean up and start making cookies.  I hope you didn’t have any plans tonight, because we’ll be making ten different kinds.”

“Ten?”  Derek pales.  “Why do we need ten different types of cookies, Stiles?”

“It’s a thing I pinned.  Shut up, the presentation will be top notch according to the pictures, and do you really want to just shove a dozen of the same old boring cookies at your neighbors and be like, here, I made you a stupid ass plate of cookies, joy to the world, sorry I suck at this?”

“Neighbors?  Why the hell am I going to give my neighbors cookies I spent all night making?  That’s ridiculous.”

“That’s Christmas.  Help me put the rest of this away and then I’ll feed your ungrateful mouth.”

“I can feed myself.”  Derek huffs and crosses his arms over his broad chest.

“But not meatballs made with three different types of meat, cheese, and delicious herbs and spices.”  Stiles sniffs and turns his face away.

“Isaac knows how to make meatballs.”

“That taste frozen and that’s because they probably were.”  Stiles bristles at the thought of frozen meatballs comparing to his mother’s recipe of perfection.  Anyone that Stiles cooked meatballs for better feel the freaking love.  “Frozen meatballs,” he mutters under his breath.  “You would probably all die from food poisoning if I wasn’t around.”

“I heard that.”

“Duh, Sourwolf.”  Stiles gets the oven preheated and starts putting ingredients on the counter.  “Now make yourself useful and get to work.  We don’t have all night.”

Derek whines a little.  Stiles finds joy in Derek’s childish moans and groans.  A couple of hours later Derek is moaning for a different reason.

“Take that frozen meatballs,” Stiles hisses and then shoves his face full of sandwich.

***

Stiles-A-Palooza Step 1:  Cookies.  A stay at home mom’s guide to holiday baked goods for those you love.

Stiles looked at the table full of supplies, back to the picture of ten gloriously beautiful cookies on a plate with a bow, before he settled on Derek’s panicked face.

“It’s just cookies.  I mean, I used to make these all the time.  I’m a chocolate chip wizard, dude.”

“Don’t call me dude.  Only seventh graders call me dude.”

“My inner child must be breaking through.”  Stiles rolls his eyes.

“You act like a child all the time.”

Stiles glares at Derek and pushes the flour at him.  “Then I’ll make like the child I am and eat all the cookies in front of you, but only after you make them, because we are making them and that’s final.”

Derek pinches the bridge of his noise.  “They’ll taste bad.”

“They’ll taste great.”

“They’ll look awful.”

“It’s the thought that counts.”

“That one’s called a stained glass cookie.  Isn’t that dangerous?”

“Your excuses have hit rock bottom, my friend.  That’s just melted candy.  Now measure out the flour.”

Begrudgingly, Derek eyes the recipe and measures out a few scoops of flour.

It isn’t until well past midnight that Stiles pulls up the last recipe.  The kitchen is a mess.  Derek’s hair is sticking up every which way.  His Henley is covered in flour and his eyes are bloodshot.

But they have twenty-four dozen cookies to show for it and the last two batches mark a victory for them both.

Stiles gulps lukewarm coffee.  He grunts at Derek.  It’s all they’re capable of now.  What, after they got into a heated argument over who could twist the candy cane cookie dough together better—which was definitely Stiles, which turned into the battle of snowflakes versus reindeer cookie cutters for a different batch.  Derek won because the snowflakes kept their shape while the reindeer bloated out like pigs with antlers after some time in the oven.

Stiles slid the bag of Hershey Kisses to the middle of the table.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Derek staring at them.  “You have something against Kisses too?”

Derek shook his head.  “The peanut butter cookies with the kisses on top?”

Stiles nods.

“My mom made those every Christmas.  They were my favorite.”

Stiles rubs his lips together, not sure what to say.  Derek kept his memories close to his chest, so it was kind of a surprise to hear him talking about his mom, especially this time of year.  “They’re not your favorite anymore?”

“Still my favorite.”

“Okay.”  Stiles smiles.  He pats Derek’s hand.  Something about the way Derek is looking at him makes his insides flutter.  “We’ll make some extra.”

Derek looks away, and was that a blush to his cheeks?  Stiles hides his tiny smile as he goes to get the peanut butter.

***

Stiles wakes earlier than usual.  Probably has something to do with waking up in Derek’s house instead of his apartment.  It’s not like he hasn’t slept here a million times and is fully accustomed to every single one of the six bedrooms apart from Derek’s in the house.  But he’s not used to it being just the two of them.

Normally Isaac would be up cooking breakfast, watching late morning gossip on the television.  Derek would be getting ready to go to school, because he teaches seventh grade history at Beacon Hills Middle School, and isn’t that crazy?  Who knew Derek would be so good with kids.

On any other day Erica would probably be out for a run and come back just in time for breakfast.  Boyd the silent one next to Isaac on the couch, drinking his first cup of the day.

But now it was just him and Derek, so without Isaac’s bacon wafting alarm to get them going, he had to be the one to provide sustenance or they’d both starve.  He padded barefoot down the hall in his pajama pants, tiptoeing by Derek’s door.

He was surprised to find it open with Derek sprawled out on the bed, hugging his pillow to his chest.  There was still flour smudging his face, streaked through his stubble and a patch of it on the back of his hand.  But that wasn’t the part that startled Stiles.

Derek was dead to the world in only his boxer briefs, and from the way he had one leg hitched atop his crumpled duvet, Stiles got a world class view of his extraordinary backside.  Stiles backed away before lightning struck him on the spot for being a creep.

He quietly raced downstairs and started breakfast.  His stomach doing the same old song and dance because of Derek Hale, but this time it was waltzing to Christmas songs and getting drunk on eggnog, since his feelings for Derek coupled with the magic of the holiday were only getting stronger.

After making breakfast, Stiles busied himself by wrapping up the cellophane covered cookie plates and then loading them into a cardboard box.  He left a dozen of Derek’s cookies in a plastic container on the table.  When Derek came into the kitchen and spotted them a little while later, he gave Stiles a sleep rumpled smile.

Stiles felt like he’d accomplished something great—scary, but great.

***

Stiles-A-Palooza Step 2: Trimming the Tree.  12 great ideas for picking out a theme for your Christmas tree!

There’s a five foot fake tree in the other room.  Stiles had made sure to buy the kind with the lights already on it.  He could only imagine Derek’s claws and small, frustrating wires tangled in branches.  So no thank to that particular project.

“Angels?”

“No,” Derek snaps.

“Snowmen?”

Derek’s jaw ticks.  Stiles takes that as a no too.

“Doctor Who?  Look!  We can make a Tardis out of a tissue box for the top.”

“A what?”

Stiles gapes.  “You know not of the great Tardis?”

“No.  I don’t.”  Derek frowns and puts his forehead on the table.

“Well I know what we’re doing tonight.” Stiles nods, matter of fact.  “I’ve got every season on my laptop.”

“Season of what?”

“Don’t you worry.  I’ll broaden your horizons later.”  Stiles pats Derek on the head.  Derek growls.  “So we’ll skip the Tardis this year because you’re unfamiliar with the good Doctor as of yet.  How about Ninja Turtles?  Look, Derek, look!”

Derek lifts his head to glare at the laptop.  He cocks his head a little.  His frown flattens.  Stiles chokes on a laugh.  “I like Ninja Turtles.”

“Said no grumpywolf ever.” Stiles smiles, delighted to the core at the reappearance of Derek’s blush.  “Good choice.  We can hit up the craft store while we’re delivering cookies.”

“I didn’t agree to meet my neighbors.  I’m not they’re cookie delivery boy.”

“No, but I’m sure you’d get a lot of repeat customers with that winning personality of yours if you were.  And besides, you’re my cookie delivery Sourwolf, no theirs.”  Stiles ruffles Derek’s hair.  It’s soft and thick under his fingers and Derek… Derek seems to like it a lot.  Stiles takes his chances and works his fingertips along the nape of Derek’s neck until he’s simultaneously uncomfortable and out of breath.  “So, um, we should get on that.  Put some real pants on.”  He pulled his hand away like he’d been burned and shot out of his chair.  “I’m gonna go get changed.”

He will never admit to anyone how he sniffed his palm from the safety of his guestroom and was tempted to lick it to see what Derek tasted like.  Then Stiles remembered that no sane person licked anyone’s hair, so he washed Derek away in the sink and tried to forget he was petting the Alpha at all.

***

“Hey, dude!”  Scott chirped over the phone.

Stiles peered around the end of the aisle to spy on Derek grimacing at a button display.  Stiles backed up and whispered, “You’ll never believe what I’m doing.”

“Spending Christmas with Derek?  I heard all about it from Isaac.”  Scott laughs.  “That was really nice of you, buddy.  It sucks that he’s always alone during the holidays.”

“Wait.  How does Isaac know?  I haven’t seen him the entire time I’ve been with Derek.”

“Derek texted him.”

“Texted him what exactly?  Oh my god, is he secretly mad that I took over his house and a week of his life because I might have had a holiday freak out and I didn’t want to be alone?”  Stiles presses his back to the scrapbooking paper rack, eyes flicking back and forth in search of Derek.

“Nah, dude.  Derek was, get this, pretty stoked you planned all that for him.  It’s not like we haven’t invited him to come over to our places every Christmas, but we never thought it’d mean more to him to have it at his own house.  And you actually remembered his favorite cookies?  Perfect touch, Stiles.  I know you’ve crushed on him for a long time, so let me just say that I’m glad you’re finally doing something about it.  This is a pretty big breakthrough, buddy.”

Stiles didn’t go into drawing up his holiday plans with Derek in mind at all.  He hadn’t known they were Derek’s favorite cookies either.  Then again, he does faintly recall them being served at the Pack’s Secret Santa Holiday Party two years ago.  There had been booze too, so who knows.

And he certainly hadn’t planned on being this close with Derek, surfacing buried feelings Stiles always tried to forget, because he might be filling a holiday void here with his strange friendship with Derek and kooky cookie nights, but there was no way in hell Derek wanted him back, right?  Right!?

Stiles crept down the opposite end of the aisle, past pom-poms and pipe cleaners and a whole lot of googly eyes.  “Thank you for making me paranoid, Scotty.  I’m playing James Bond in the middle of the craft store because I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I think Derek might.  That’s not what this was about.  And now Isaac is gushing to you, and Derek has a favorite cookie.  And he’s wearing that fucking sweater, looking all perfect.”

“Whoa.”  Scott laughs.  “Uh… I’m driving out of here in a minute with Allison.  I’m not trying to leave you hanging here, bro, but…  Merry Christmas!  I’m calling Isaac.”

“The hell you are,” Stiles hisses into his phone, staring at the call ended screen for a second until he feels a presence looming over him.   He flicks his eyes up to see Derek holding out a box of metallic green spheres meant to decorate a tree.

It must be the look on Stiles’ face, the one of sheer horror over being caught that has Derek glancing at the phone still gripped in Stiles’ hand and it’s like a tiny bit of excitement—is that what that was?—just died right out of him.   Stiles’ eyes widen.  “Did you hear all of that?”

“Hear what?”  Derek takes his ornaments back and looks away.  “Everything okay?”

“Just… Just Scott.”  Stiles clears his throat.  “He’s leaving with Allison.  Said to wish you a merry Christmas.”

“I’ll call him.”

Stiles groans. “You really shouldn’t.  I think I used up our one Allison allotted phone call.  She said as much before she handed Scott the phone.”

“He finally grew a pair then.”  Derek is smiling.  He’s pretending to glare a rack of modeling clay into submission, but he’s smiling and he can’t hide it.

“How is it you know about Professor Feelgood ensnaring Allison in his web of deceit yet you didn’t know my dad and Melissa were going to the North Pole to celebrate wedded bliss?”

Relief floods Stiles when he sees that simple joy return to Derek’s eyes, his amusement thick and all traces of confusion gone.

Stiles can do this, his paranoia aside. “So yeah.  I had to practically spell it out for Scott that his lady love was being seduced by a silver fox with wicked intentions…so oh my god I said that out loud.  Wow.  You know what we need?”  Kate Argent flashes into Stiles’ mind and he gapes as soon as he’s fled past Derek down another aisle.  “Felt for our superheroes.  And our turtles, because do they really classify as superheroes when they truly deserve a title all their own?”  Stiles stops at the next intersection and looks both ways.  His hands are shaking.  Him and his fucking mouth…  “Is this place a labyrinth or what?  Do they have a David Bowie impersonator on staff?  Where the hell am I going?”

A hand clamps on his shoulder.  Derek whirls him around.  “Are you okay?”

“You texted Isaac really thoughtful things about our Christmas,” Stiles accuses like word vomit.  “And I didn’t know it was like that… I mean… I have no idea where I was going with that, so we’re going to go back to searching for supplies and—”

“Stiles?”

“What?”

“Relax.  I know you didn’t plan any of this because of me.  I like those cookies because sure they remind me of my mom, but they’re my favorite because you made them for Christmas a few years back and…”

Stiles blinks and then he remembers.  “We made those cookies drunk at Secret Santa.  That’s why I couldn’t…  I’ve totally made you cookies before and I didn’t even remember…  You like my cookies, not just the cookie.  It’s because they were mine.”  Stiles grins at Derek’s flushed cheeks, at the way Derek can’t look him in the eye.

“It’s not a big deal.  The recipe is on the back of the Kisses,” Derek mumbles.

Stiles bites his lip and takes the green ornaments from Derek.  “Yeah, but you like them because I made them for you.  And now you’re going to help me create the most ridiculously awesome Christmas decorations ever.  Come on, Sourwolf, we’ve got things to do.”

Bold as ever, and his minor freak out with Scott now making a lot more sense,  Stiles slipped his hand into Derek’s and tugged him along.  Didn’t mean he wasn’t still freaking out on the inside.  Derek shopping with him at a craft store, holding his hand, completely okay with everything going on was a little shocking to the system.

Still, Stiles loved every second of it.

***

Stiles handed Derek a beer and sat next to him on the sofa.  He mirrored Derek, his ankles crossed on the coffee table, beer poised at his lips, eyes glued to the lit up tree next to the flat screen.

Lydia would’ve burned their tree with fire.  Jackson would have danced on its ashes.  Isaac would aw over it and then say something witty.  Scott would totally get it.  More importantly, Derek and Stiles made it happen together, and that made it perfect.

The green ornaments had felt masks in different colors with googly eyes for Ninja Turtles.  Derek had suggested the gold spheres, and then he’d shocked Stiles by cutting out miniature Batman logos before he hot glued them on.  There was a tin foil Shredder ornament near the bottom and a cat toy of some rodent heritage hanging off the side in homage to Sensei.  Some glow sticks hung from random branches, a package of them Stiles had forgotten he had at the bottom of the bag.  And at the highest point was a tissue box covered in blue scrapbook paper that looked like a mini Tardis.

To top it all off, Derek added the last touch.  Apparently he was a cool teacher to his seventh grade history students; one of those ones that actually did something nice to send their kids off on holiday break.  He’d thrown a small party and let them watch A Muppet Christmas Carol with cookies and punch.  In turn, they’d written their favorite thing they’d learned in class so far on a slip of red or green paper, and by the end of class has turned them into a chain-link garland for Derek to take home.

“Classiest tree ever.”  Stiles lifts his beer.

“Legendary,” Derek replies and clinks his beer with Stiles.

Stiles is in awe that Derek is so relaxed, so happy, content with what they’ve done.  His body flushes with warmth and he has to duck his head so Derek won’t see his face.  He grabs the remote and turns on some cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie.

As he sits back, his shoulders find Derek’s outstretched arm and Derek’s hand curls around his shoulder.  He doesn’t tug or force Stiles closer, but it’s hard not to sink into Derek’s side, all warm and cozy with such a blatant invitation.

“So what are we doing tomorrow?”

“From the list?”  Stiles yawns.  He lays his head on Derek’s shoulder.  If he was a cat, he’d purr and paw against Derek’s chest until he fell asleep.

“Yeah,” Derek murmurs.

“Knitting poinsettia potholders.”  Stiles sighs and shuts his eyes.

Derek lays his head on Stiles’.  “We’re not doing that,” he whispers.  “I have potholders in the kitchen already.”

“Not poinsettia ones.”

“Don’t want them.”

“But I’m gonna make them for you,” Stiles whines.  It’s a halfhearted effort as a blanket covers him up.

“No,” Derek whispers. It’s the kiss to Stiles’ hair that steals his last protest.  He doesn’t remember falling asleep.

***

Stiles-A-Palooza Step Four:  Knitting Poinsettia Potholders.  A step by step tutorial for beginners in the holiday spirit.

-No, Stiles.

***Get off my computer and stop messing with the list! Bad wolf.

-Go home and change.  We’re going to a party.  Dressy casual.

***I was only gone five minutes!  How do you do this?  Creeper. I’m changing my password.

Stiles grabbed his keys and shoved his feet into his shoes.  He happened to glance at his laptop one more time.

-I’m a ninja.  Duh.

“Who are you and what have you done with Derek Hale?” He asks the empty living room.

***

So number four on the list had changed.  And now Stiles was going with Derek to a Christmas party?  What other dimension had he landed himself in?  He was starting to think someone had cast a spell on the tissue box Tardis back at Derek’s and that the good Doctor was going to step out of Stiles’ closet while he was in search of dress pants.

He had no idea what dressy casual meant either.  Was that code for dress to the nines but leave the tie at home?  Was that wear an old blazer just so we can all feel somewhat adult about this whole party thing, when really we just want to wear sweatpants?  Should he be bringing something like wine?  Oh shit, was this a dish to pass kind of thing?

And where was this party, who were these people Derek had become friends with that the Pack knew nothing about.  And why was he so quick to bring Stiles, because showing up with someone at their age meant one of two things.  Either Derek was showing Stiles off as a plus one, or he was setting Stiles up with someone Derek thought Stiles might enjoy.

Stiles sniffed in horror at the mere thought of being pawned off at a Christmas party and dressed as nice as he could so that Derek would want to show him off instead of throwing him to some ungodly piranha.  He pressed his one and only white button down shirt his editor had insisted he purchase for an author’s gala last year.  He was excited to find his fitted black dress pants still fitting.  He topped the ensemble off with a black skinny tie and a thick sweater Lydia had gifted him in the fall.

It was red and white, very Ralph Lauren and zipped up the front to expose his shirt and tie.  All very festive and yet somehow warm and sexy, Stiles thought as he looked in the mirror.  But for all the sexy he mustered, he knew Derek would look way hotter because he probably knew exactly what dressy casual meant.  And besides, standing next to Derek how could he possibly compare?

***

Stiles-A-Palooza Step 4: THE REMIX: How to survive being the odd man out at your friend’s Christmas coworker party without getting white girl wasted on the librarian’s punch.

Derek, of course, looked ravishing.  Yes, ravishing, because that was a thing along with adorable that had somehow seeded itself into Stiles’ vocabulary when Derek was around.

Because, hello!—snug slacks, shiny shoes, red tie, and that leather jacket?  That was the definition of ravishing.  Stiles wanted to be ravished and it scared him how quickly Derek was pulling these feelings out of him.  He was ready to face rejection.  He’d put a cap on his thoughts about Derek for years, but then he had to go and be all nice and charitable at Christmas and spend time with Derek, alone time, and make cookies and watch him smile and see the corners of his eyes crinkle along with it.

Ugh.  Fuck his life.

“Did you say something?”  Derek lifts a brow.  They’re standing outside of a two story white house decked in twinkling lights that seems vaguely familiar.  If Stiles were to lean to the left an inch, he’d have to fight off a prickly holiday wreath with a giant Santa sitting in the middle of it.  Santa is pissing him off with that maniacal smile right now.

“Yeah, I did.  I asked what the hell we’re doing at some stranger’s house right now.”

Derek smirks.  “I told you it’s a holiday party.”

“Yeah… But here’s the thing, you don’t do holiday parties.  You barely talk to people at all unless forced, and the fact that you decided to become a teacher still blows my mind, but hey, to each their own.  But a holiday party you chose to attend of your own free will, and bring me along to?  Did you drink anything strange in the last twenty-four hours?  Feeling sick?  Perhaps you were spelled?”  Stiles presses the back of his hand to Derek’s forehead.  “Nope, not sick, still running normal wolf temps.  So what is it?”

“I—” Derek’s mouth closes into a frown as the front door opens.

Stiles nearly crows with laughter as he recognizes the woman standing in the doorway.  He opens his arms wide and steps into her space.  “Mrs. Twining!”

“Stiles?”  She beams and accepts his hug.  “Stiles,” she squeaks with much more enthusiasm.  “What a pleasant surprise!  What on earth are you doing here?”

He holds up a white bottle with a red bow wrapped around the neck.  “No idea, but I’m the bearer of Christmas Rumchata.”

“My favorite!”

“Mine too.  Tastes like cereal and good to the last drop.”  He rambles on, when really everything begins to click into place for Stiles.  Mrs. Twining is the middle school librarian.  She was really good friends with his mom back in the day, and she’d let Stiles and Scott sit in the library and raid her snack drawer during PTA meetings, when Melissa and his mom were off saving the drama budget by organizing another bake sale. Sometimes when his parents went out of town, she’d stay the night and make the best macaroni and cheese aside from his mother’s.

The years had been kind to Mrs. Twining.  She still had bright blue eyes and short blonde hair in a neat little stack around her chin.  She still wore fancy pins for every holiday on her coordinating sweaters and she would forever smell like chocolate and books and home.

Stiles took a deep inhale before she let him go, and while faced with memories of his mom, evoked by Mrs. Twining’s very presence, he was able to walk through the foyer without tears in his eyes, because one thing kept him smiling and one thing alone.

Derek had brought him to the middle school employee holiday party as his plus one—most definitely his plus one.

Derek took his coat from him.  Derek led him by the small of his back into the living room.  Derek smiled shyly at his friends and colleagues but didn’t run off to leave Stiles by his lonesome.

This was something new, something far beyond the realm of Stiles’ imagination.

Derek had brought him as a date.

A date!

“Flora made the cheeseball.  A little too much ranch flavoring for my taste, but be sure to eat a bite while she’s watching or she’ll pester you until you’ve got a cracker of it down your throat,” Mrs. Twining whispers in his ear.  “You can wash it down with punch.  Plenty of rum in it to make you forget your troubles.”  She kisses his temple and hurries away with their coats and the bottle of Rumchata like she’s won the lottery.

Stiles is in awe, currently shuffling around the large buffet table filled with food.  He has no idea what to say to Derek, who awkwardly fills a plate beside him, and he certainly has no idea how to return the Alpha’s not so furtive glances from beneath his lashes.

In all his years of crushing on Derek though, nothing prepared Stiles for the warmth that bloomed in his chest as Derek picked up a little reindeer sugar cookie and smiled.  Maybe it was their cozy surroundings; the fireplace crackling; his old homeroom teacher, Mrs. Crum playing a drunken rendition of Deck the Halls on the piano in the corner; the twinkling lights and garland; the sharp scent of cinnamon hanging in the air.  But next to Derek and his Christmas cookie, Stiles felt like he belonged, like he was sharing in something special.

And it was stupid to be thinking like this, sure, because it was just the magic of the holidays pulling them under, but a part of Stiles wished this really was a date, an honest to god real one, and that Derek would lean in a bit closer so he could kiss the smear of frosting off of Derek’s lips; to whisper how much he loved sharing this night into Derek’s mouth; how he wanted to unwind with Derek by the fire and enjoy the others around them.

“You okay?”  Derek was looking at him strangely, his head cocked and his brows furrowed.

Stiles shook off his daydream and smiled.  “Yeah.  This is great.”  And thank fuck that he meant it, because Derek’s stare was so fragile beneath his usual surly demeanor, and one blip of a lie from Stiles’ heartbeat would have sent this night crashing off a proverbial cliff.

Derek’s answering smile was beautiful, so much so Stiles had to turn away and take a deep breath.  His hands were shaking.  His paper plate wobbled between his fingers.  Derek’s sudden heat at his back didn’t help, yet thankfully Derek wasn’t an expert in emotions and read Stiles’ nervous vibe as one of a former student partying down with his old teachers.

“Relax.  Drink as much as you want.  I’ll drive us home.”

He’ll drive home.  Stiles swallowed hard.  Home had slipped out of Derek’s mouth so easily, so willing to stake claim on Stiles’ place of residence.  Not in a ‘hey Stiles, I’ll give you a lift to your place when you’re done getting wasted, I’ve got your back like a great friend should’ kind of way, but rather a ‘enjoy yourself, you deserve this, I’ll make sure to get us back safe and snuggle with you until morning because you belong with me’ kind of way.

Stiles shivered against Derek’s chest.  Derek’s chuckle sent hot air over the back of Stiles’ neck.

Thank the universe for eighth grade science teachers, because Mr. Greyson held up Stiles’ bottle of Rumchata and declared that this year’s annual drinking games would now commence.  Derek stiffened at Stiles’ back and Stiles felt an evil grin spread over his face.

See, Stiles may have stuck around home for college and not done the whole frat boy, big campus thing, but he had people and they threw excellent parties.  Not to mention him and Scott were like pros at drinking games before they even hit the college scene.  Stiles was the beer pong champion, Scott had literal finesse at quarters, and don’t even get them involved in a game of Waterfall, because they would win every time.

And Derek knew that.  He’d been to a few parties with Stiles over the years, just…not this kind of party.  But Stiles was down to show his former teachers what he was working with.

“Hold my food.”  Stiles lifted his paper plate to Derek and saw the fear in Derek’s eyes.  “You were the one who stopped off at a corner store, insisting I bring something with alcohol.  I’m not sure what you were expecting, but I was blatantly promised booze.  I have a receipt to prove it.”

A hand jolted Stiles a few inches closer to Derek.  Relief came when he saw it was Mrs. Twining’s husband Mark.  “It’s good to see you again, kid.”

“Hey, Mark.”  Stiles accepted a hug and gave as good as he got.  “It’s nice to see you too.  Can’t say this is how I pictured our reunion, but I’m having a good time anyway.”

“I’m glad.”  Mark squeezes his shoulder.  “Heard John and Mel went out East?”

“Yeah, they’re dream Christmas honeymoon vacation.  I voted Tahiti, but they seemed taken with the whole fireside hot chocolate and moonlight skiing route.  This year I’ll be gifting Derek here with the Stilinski pot roast.  I think Dad keeps calling every few hours because he’s jealous.  I told him Melissa is his pot roast guru now and that she’ll just have to learn.”

Derek snorts behind him.  Mark laughs.  “Good on you, kid.  You joining in the festivities?  How about you, Derek?”

Stiles smirks up at Derek.  “I think I’ll be playing for the both of us.  Derek’s driving.”

Derek gets this look in his eye, something heated and equally fearful, and holding two snowmen paper plates in his hands just completes the overall picture of victory on Stiles’ end.  Stiles lifts an amused brow at Mark.  “So what games do we have on the table?”

Mark drapes an arm over Stiles’ shoulders and leads him to the coffee table area where a stack of cards is being shuffled.  “Kid, you ever played Waterfall?”

Derek trails helplessly behind them.  Stiles shoots a wicked grin over his shoulder.  “Why yes I have.”

***

Stiles’ cheeks are perfectly flushed and he’s warm and cozy curled up in Derek’s passenger seat.  He hugs a large stuffed animal shaped like a swordfish, Derek’s loot from the white elephant portion of the party.  That had been a happily drunken mess of awful gifts being exchanged for the purpose of a good hard laugh.  It was awesome.  Stiles wants to do it again with the Pack next year, if only to see Derek produce another Hello Kitty keychain from his manly leather jacket pocket again.

Stiles giggles into him palm at the thought of it.  Derek huffs fondly from behind the wheel.  “What are you laughing about over there?”

“You having a very merry Sanrio Christmas.” 

“It was a keychain.  It was heinous.  I thought that was the point.”

“Uh huh.” Stiles smiles out his window.  “Sure.  You’ll have a chance to reclaim your crown again next year.  White Elephant: Part Deux.”

“Next year?”

Stiles blushes.  He can’t help that he’s intoxicated and happy and Derek looks happy too.  It’s a thing.  Blushing. Yeah, that’s totally a thing that’s happening again.  “I thought the Pack would like to do it.  I know Scott would be all over it.  And, Erica?  Can you imagine what she would bring?  Probably something that not even Amazon has a license to carry.”  Stiles laughs.

Derek shakes his head.  “So next year?”  he asks again.  He’s not as subtle as he likes to think he is.

“Yeah, this, next year.  All of it.”

Derek stops at the next red light and gives Stiles a brief, meaningful smile.  “Sounds good.”

***

Stiles-A-Palooza Step 5: THE REMIX: Dear Diary, I have no idea what this list *is* anymore.  Derek can’t stomach the scent of Playdoh for the snowflake project.  We don’t need an entire crockpot of hot chocolate between the two of us.  And we finished my Netflix queue—I have never even done that before!

So apparently we’re going shopping—why does Derek need to go shopping?—and doing our own thing today.  I guess I’ll title this: How to make the best of your local mall during the holidays.  If I’m not back before Christmas, send in a search party.

-You’ll survive.

*** I will find out how you do that!

 

It hit Stiles after he found himself pushing a cart around a department store in the mall.  He had Derek’s spare set of car keys in his pocket and he’d already taken his first load of stuff out to the parking lot before getting back to his shopping.  While he’d purchased stuff for himself—because hello sales on socks and underwear and maybe he splurged on a nice jacket for himself—he’d also finished his Christmas shopping for friends and family.

All he had left to do was get something for Derek.  He froze up when he thought about it, right there in the middle of the store.  Frantic shoppers whisked past him, the clatter of carts turning sharp corners and two fathers fighting over the last pair of Uggs for their daughters.

He was spending Christmas with Derek, sleeping in his house, getting up Christmas morning to sit by the tree and what?  Were they doing this?  Gifts were a personal thing in the Stilinski household.  One must not rush the thought process.  A gift should be meaningful and not given lightly beyond socks and underwear and the basic sort of things they still needed.

And this year, Stiles had chosen Derek to spend the holiday with, which meant this wasn’t to be taken lightly and that’s probably why Derek had dragged him to the mall in the first place, and then ditched his ass because he was most definitely buying something for Stiles at this very moment.

“Oh my god.”  Stiles looked around the store like someone would spot his despair and come to his aid.  But no one looked away from the bins of clearance gloves and mittens or the makeup counter where some guy had drawn a crowd, demanding he get that damn bottle of Lancôme before things got ugly.

Stiles turned away, he gave his cart to a group of ladies with iPads and lists and Bluetooths in their ears, jabbering about their shopping mission to Team Mongoose, who were stationed on the opposite side of the mall at Sears where they had a sale on power drills.  He all but fled to the Starbucks counter to charge his mental battery and recoup.

Armed with a Venti Americano, Stiles set back out into the crowds.  He braved the lines and the kiosk salespeople. He fought the toy helicopter some man was teasing him with outside the toy store.  And he was just about to hit the escalator with he saw it.

A window display caught his eye.  Red velvet lined the bottom of the window and a grouping of mini Christmas trees stuffed with ornaments twirled behind the glass.  Stiles wandered inside and immediately stopped in front of the middle tree.  Each piece was a delicately carved wooden figurine.  Stiles’ hand hovered over the intricate Koi fish wrapped around each other before moving to the lone wolf.

As if to further affirm Stiles’ choice to enter the shop and gawk at the tree, a woman came to stand beside him with her young son.  She hefted the boy onto her hip and pointed at the ornaments.  Stiles watched on with a tight smile as the little boy happily chose a fire engine ornament and the mother cooed away with her son to the register.

Stiles remembered his mother doing that every year.  His parents brought him to Sandfeld’s gift shop on Christmas Eve to choose a new ornament.  His mom would have it engraved with his name and the year, and something extra that was always from to his mom.

Stiles had a box full of them at his apartment.  Those seemingly worthless holiday decorations to some people meant the world to him.  They were good memories; ones he wouldn’t trade the world for.  And that’s why buying the wolf ornament felt right.  He had Derek’s name engraved on the bottom, the year, and a little something extra from Stiles to him, a painfully obvious something extra.

He was sure to get the artist’s card before he left; some local carpenter with a studio not far from Beacon Hills.  Stiles wanted to contact him about more little wolves for next year, when the Pack would be together again.  Because he had promised Derek a next year, and that was starting to feel less terrifying and more exciting than he would have thought.

Minus the almost breakdown an hour ago, Stiles left the gift shop feeling good.

He doesn’t care if Derek got him socks for Christmas or if he was now the one panicking wherever he was, Stiles had chosen Derek to do this with, and Derek had yet to complain.  In fact, he appeared quite happy to be included, so Stiles would gladly accept whatever Derek had to give him, because when Stiles bought Derek that ornament, it was settled in his mind.  There was no going back now.

Stiles had chosen Derek Hale as his.

***

After the mall, Stiles holed up in one of Derek’s spare rooms with a bunch of gift wrapping to do.  By the time he was finished he never wanted to look at gift tags again.  His fingertips were covered in sharpie ink and he was sporting a collection of paper cuts.

He settled on the living room couch after a shower.  He had his writing notes scattered across the cushions, a coffee at his lips and the nightly news playing in the background.  Derek had gone off again on his own, and when he came back he was bogged down with grocery bags. 

Stiles glanced up from his outline.  “I have no idea where you’re going to put that.  I already stocked the kitchen when I got here.”

“And that’ll last us until Christmas.  I don’t want to go anywhere after the holiday until New Year.”  Derek shrugs like he hadn’t just sort of asked Stiles to stay with him through the next holiday.  “And I’ve got plenty of room in the basement kitchen.”

“Basement kitchen?”  Stiles lifts a brow.

“Just finished it a few weeks ago.  Lydia made me go with the professional grade refrigerator and the standup freezer.   Figured it would come in handy with everyone over all the time.”

Stiles smiles like an idiot.  “So it has.”

“Yeah.”  Derek bites his lip, eyes trained on Stiles’ mouth.  He clears his throat.  “What are you working on?”  He deposits the bags in the kitchen and then sweeps back into the room, taking off his coat and scarf, his shoes as Stiles just watches him.

“Next book in the series.”

Derek hums.  He takes longer than usual to hang his coat.  “The Alpha and his girlfriend?”

Stiles mildly registers his own shock that Derek read his last book before he realizes he’s hung up on a more important detail.  “She’s not just his girlfriend.  And don’t put the Alpha before the main character just because he holds an important title.  Jade is the heroine, and she represents a strong female role model to my readers.  She doesn’t need a man to be important.”

Derek holds up his hands to defend himself from another, longer tirade.  “I didn’t mean anything by it.  I like Jade, I think she’s a lot like you, except for the female part.  Unless there’s something you want to tell me.”

Stiles sputters between laughter and irritation, and somehow ends up with a resigned expression that lacks any real comeback.  “I suppose that’s true.  In a way.  Not that I based Jade off of myself or anything, and oh my god, do you think the Alpha is you?  Did you—?”

Derek is laughing.  His chuckles, the full on hearty laughs that light up his face are far and few between, so Stiles takes a moment to memorize it, file it away for a rainy day when he needs a little pick me up.  Then it dawns on him that Derek is in fact laughing at him, not just laughing so Stiles can hear it.

“Those groceries aren’t going to put themselves away!”  He settles on, while pulling his mess of papers closer to his body like a protective barrier.

Derek is still laughing when he goes into the kitchen, maybe a little longer after that too.  Stiles ignores Derek’s teasing to immerse himself in River Falls as Jade against a coven of witches.  And yes, her Alpha is still by her side, and this time the odds seem even greater as Jade casts nearly the last of her magic to rid her town of evil witches.

He’s onto something, he thinks until he looks up, distracted by the hot chocolate under his nose.  Derek blinks at him, holds onto the mug until his brain begins working again, and when Stiles takes it, Derek just sits beside him and starts looking through Stiles’ notes like he has the right to.

Stiles should be annoyed, he really should because his notes are basically nonsense to anyone else and therefore private and personal and possibly a bit insane, but when Derek puts down his cup to scan page after page with real interest, Stiles’ annoyance fades away.

“Well?”

“What?”  Derek jerks around to face him.  “Sorry.  I—I should have asked.  Sorry.”

“I didn’t want an apology.  I want to know what you think.”

“What I think?”

Stiles sighs, melting into the couch a little more.  “Yes, Sourwolf, I would like your opinion on my notes.”

“Uh…witches?”

“That’s not an opinion.  That’s an incomplete question.  Now spill.”  Stiles crosses his arms over his chest.

“Okay, Lydia.”  Derek rolls his eyes.  “I think she sounds like a teenage mage who gets into a lot of trouble for the sake of others.  I think she’s strong and honest and has this way about her that gets people to tell her their secrets without having an evil endgame, because she just cares.  I think she basically runs the pack, even though she sometimes categorizes herself as just a human sidekick.  And I think the alpha is lucky to have her on board, and not because he apparently wants to get into her pants.”  Derek puts the papers in his lap and stares at them.  “My sisters would have liked her.  Jade, I mean.”

Stiles’ heart is beating a mile a minute, because he’s pretty sure they aren’t talking about Jade right now and that does funny things to his insides, as if he’s hoarding a butterfly garden beneath his ribs and he’s not sure he can breathe against the mad flap of their wings.  “I’m sure they would,” he murmurs.

“Cora sent me a card,” Derek whispers back.  “I invited her home for Christmas, but she has a life and…” Derek shrugs.

Stiles sets his laptop on the table and turns to Derek.  “And you have me.”  He has no idea why he says it.  No idea at all.  But it comes out anyway and there’s no putting it back in his mouth.

Derek looks up at him, so vulnerable Stiles wants to kiss away all his fears and worries.  But instead they sit frozen, staring at each other until Derek nods and gets up.  Stiles sags forward, putting his face in his hands because this is it.  The end of what could have been a good holiday, what could have been feelings and touching and not being alone anymore and Stiles had just screwed it up.

He listens to Derek pad down the hall, away from Stiles and away from their stupid tree to the office.  Stiles steels himself for his eviction notice, the end of everything, but when Derek comes back, he’s holding a stocking.

It’s red and gold striped knit with a little owl pinned near the loop for the hook and looks suspiciously Gryffindor.  Stiles’ name is scripted across a gold patch along the border and he finds himself at a loss for words.  “I, uh, know you probably didn’t get me one, so don’t feel bad.  I kept the one Lydia gave me last year, so don’t feel obligated or anything. I won’t fill it if you don’t want me to.  I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.  I just saw it and there was a kiosk and this lady was making patches so I…yeah.”

Those butterflies in his stomach are reproducing at rate that makes it hard to breathe.  “You got me a stocking.”

“Yes.”

“Seriously?”

“Uh, yes?”

Stiles lets his papers fall where they may as he gets up to launch himself at Derek.  Thanks to Derek’s wolfish reflexes, he keeps them from both falling over as Stiles clings to Derek like an octopus.  “Thank you.  Just…thank you.”

“You have me too, you know,” Derek whispers back.

When their stockings are hung on the mantle, Stiles stacks his notes and stores them away before joining Derek on the couch.  They watch Elf and eat Chex Mix until they’re both half asleep.  It’s the third time this week that Stiles doesn’t remember going to bed, but somewhere in the middle of the night, he feels another body join him, an arm snake around his waist and Derek’s face nuzzle the back of his neck.

Stiles doesn’t ever remember sleeping so well in his entire life, but in the morning Derek is already up and they don’t talk about it.  Stiles tries not to think about it over bacon and eggs.

***

Stiles-A-Palooza Step 6: THE REMIX: How to tell someone you like them beyond one holiday that’s turning out to be more of a romantic comedy than reality.

-How can it not be real if it’s actually happening?

How deep of you. You’re so busted, Deepak Chopra.  I set up my webcam. And this is private material here.  How did you even know the password?

-This is me putting in a request for Christmas dinner.  Rolls.  The soft kind with butter.

Do I look like room service to you?  >:( Whatever.  Fine.  Rolls.

-Thank you, Stiles.

Stiles was putting the yeast rolls in the refrigerator when Isaac came home for the first time since Stiles had arrived.  He took off his coat and surveyed the living room, then lifted a hand to Stiles.  “It’s getting rather festive in here.”

“Sorry we didn’t let you in on the secret until just now, but it’ll be Christmas in two days. Elves come in the middle of the night and decorate the house, and when you’re fast asleep Santa will come to bring you presents, but only if you’ve been a good little wolf.”

Isaac snorts.  “And don’t you think it’s a little dangerous for a man that’s hardly in shape to try and outrun a territorial alpha after breaking into his home to leave gifts that could be explosives?”

Stiles pouts.  “You’re no fun.  You were supposed to play along.”

“Oh I’ve been playing along just fine.  I’ve kept myself busy until I ran out of clean scrubs and underwear just to give you two time alone to play house and decorate…that’s actually a pretty cute tree.  Is that a Tardis?”

Stiles beams.  “It is.  Congratulations on your choice in television.  I’m impressed.”

“You’re easily pleased.” Isaac shrugs.  He drops his bag.  “Can you make me food?  I get to sleep in bed like a real boy for four whole hours before I head back to the hospital.”

“Only because you asked nicely.”

“Since we’re in the spirit of being nice, you won’t be mad if I’ve kept the entire pack informed of your Christmas romance with our alpha.  He texted me last night a picture of your stockings next to each other.  I almost threw up.  Allison thought it was sweet.  And Lydia was pleased to see Derek’s stocking back up, apparently it’s custom.”

“Mine is custom too.”  Stiles narrows his eyes.  “He had it made for me and everything because I’ve been an awesome friend.  It’s not romance, Isaac.”

“You are so oblivious sometimes, Stiles.  No, scratch that, all the time.”  Isaac closes his eyes and waves Stiles off.  “You don’t see any of us getting Harry Potter stockings because it’s our favorite book series.  Derek never took any of us to his annual work party that he claims to hate.  And he sure as hell didn’t freak out over any of our Christmas presents and text me twenty three times in two hours.”

“He did what?”  Stiles’ eyes go wide.  “He freaked out?  Over me?”

“Like I said, oblivious city over here.”  Isaac kicks his shoes off, leaves them there and trots up the stairs.  “Thanks for making me food.  I would if I could function right now, but if you’re taking requests I like tomato soup and grilled cheese.”

“Want me to cut the crusts off, princess?”

“If you wouldn’t mind,” Isaac calls and disappears to his room.

Stiles ends up making Isaac a nice lunch despite Isaac being kind of a dick due to his lack of energy.  Stiles can understand that.  What he doesn’t understand is Derek buying him heartfelt gifts and saying thank you and reading over what he has so far on his manuscript.  Why is Derek bringing him to parties and snuggling up to him on the couch, and actually requesting something for dinner instead of just keeping his mouth shut like he always does.

Why is Derek letting Stiles in like this?

He doesn’t know but the mystery is eating him alive.

Because there is no way that Derek thinks Stiles is worth what Stiles thinks Derek is.

Right?

***

It’s Christmas Eve and Stiles has dimmed the lights.  He orders Chinese while Derek takes a shower and puts two gift boxes on the coffee table before sitting down to wait.  A Christmas Story plays on a local station.  The tree is lit up in the corner.  It feels like a real Christmas and everything is freaking perfect, but Stiles is nervous in a way he’s never been before.

He’s not seriously on a deadline with his editor.  No one is in danger and looking to him for the answers.  No one is having a terribly timed emotional breakdown and calling him for comfort.  Dad and Melissa called earlier to see how they were.  Scott and Allison not even an hour before that.  And he knows the other Pack phone calls will trickle in throughout today and tomorrow.

All is well, and yet it’s not, because Stiles is going to ask tonight.  He’s going to ask Derek why and be patient as he waits for an answer, if he gets one at all.  He’s going to be the adult and put it all out on the table; lay bare the feelings he never thought he’d tell Derek and then hopefully still have someone to spend Christmas morning with tomorrow.

It’s a risk, a big one.  But Stiles has never been a coward—okay, sometimes, but not where it counts—and they’re old enough, matured over the years to the point that he can’t deny his crush on Derek anymore.  Hell, it’s more than a crush, it’s…it’s… “I am so fucked,” Stiles whispers.

Derek comes down the stairs with damp hair and black sweatpants.  He’s tugging on a long sleeved shirt, but not before Stiles gets a good look at his abs.  Those abs…are not the point of tonight.  Derek is more than abs and dark, messy hair and piercing eyes.  He’s so much more.

Stiles looks away.  He knows his face is red and the movie isn’t new to him, or as fascinating as he’s trying to make it seem at the moment.

But Derek doesn’t call him out.  He simply sits next to Stiles and eventually gravitates closer with each passing minute until his arm is around Stiles and their feet are knocking together on the coffee table.  “What are those?”  Derek nods at the gifts like Stiles isn’t stiff as a board next to him.

“Christmas Eve tradition,” he rushes to release the tension building in his chest.  “Dad, Mom, and Melissa always let Scott and I open up one present on Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember.  Always the same thing too, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.  Melissa gave me mine before she left, but I went ahead and got you some too at the mall the other day.”

“Do we open them now?”  Derek’s voice holds an edge of uncertain excitement.

Stiles peers over at Derek, at Derek’s attempt to contain his feelings over a single gift.  It hits him hard to see that spark of childhood light up Derek’s eyes.  To see the man who used to be a boy with a family he could spend Christmas with, not just a Pack holiday party, but a real Christmas morning with.

And the ghosts of Derek’s past seem to fill the room, holding their breath, waiting for Stiles to fix the last of Derek’s scars.  They huddle around them, sucking the air from Stiles’ lungs, weighing down his shoulders as if Talia Hale herself is standing over Stiles, urging him, begging him to put a smile on her son’s face, shouting at him to never leave her son alone again.

Stiles takes a deep breath.  He leans forward and grabs Derek’s gift and settles his own in his lap.  “Merry Christmas Eve, Derek.”

Derek blinks at the box offered to him, cautious like he can feel the family that still haunts his every move, is reminded of them as he traces a finger over the simple red ribbon Stiles twisted just right on top of his present.  Derek looks at him.  He smiles softly and Stiles shivers.

“You too, Stiles,” he murmurs.

“It’s not anything big.  I mean, it’s stupid really, but I just thought—”

“Not stupid.”  Derek grunts.  His nose twitches and his tongue pokes out of his mouth as he painstakingly removes the ribbon so as not to damage it.  Stiles clutches his own present to his chest as Derek lifts the box top and peels back the tissue paper.  A grin spreads over Derek’s lips.

Stiles’ heart flips over in his chest.  “Its’ uh…”

“Christmas Eve pajamas,” Derek supplies, lifting the flannel pajama pants out of the box with care.

“Wait.  You know about Christmas Eve pajamas?”

“My parents…”  Derek lays the pants over his lap.  He chuckles at the three wolf moon pattern repeated over every square inch of fabric.  “Every year my parents got us a pair on Christmas Eve to wake up in the next morning.  We had quite the collection before…  I used to keep the ones that didn’t fit anymore in a box in my closet.  Laura thought I was a hoarder, but my mom thought it was nice…”

“I’m sorry, Derek.  I didn’t know…”  Stiles tries to take the pajamas away so Derek won’t have a physical reminder of his family, something that will make him sad.  Stiles can’t bear to make Derek upset, not today, not any day.

“What are you doing?”  Derek tugs the pajamas back into his lap.  “There are mine.  You have your own.”

“But I thought…”

“Thank you, Stiles.  I love them.”

“You do?”

Derek sighs.  He lays his hand over Stiles’.  “It’s okay to remember them now.  I think they would have liked this, what you did for me, Christmas in the old house again.  It’s nice.”

“Yeah?”

Derek clears his throat.  He’s inching closer.  Stiles’ heart jackrabbits and he knows Derek can hear it.  “Great!”  he almost shouts because he’s terrified of Derek kissing him, scared he’ll be bad at kissing Derek back, and that he’ll ruin everything.  Whatever confidence he’d mustered tonight was shattered and he started to tear into his gift for something to take the tension away.

Derek chuckles under his breath.  His arm doesn’t move away from Stiles’ shoulders.  Stiles is a ball of nervous energy as he rips the tissue paper to get to his present and he stops and frowns when he sees what pajamas he received this year.  “The Fox and the Hound?  What the hell, Melissa?”

“Scott bought them for Melissa to give you, actually.”  Derek laughs, wholly amused.  “I might have helped him pick them out.”

“You…you knew?”

“I’m the Alpha.  Pack comes to me for help all the time.  Not everyone.”  Derek furrows his brows and shoots Stiles a pointed look.  “But I did consult on more than a few gifts this year. If I hadn’t, Lydia would be the proud owner of a silicone bakeware set.”

“Oh Jackson,” Stiles laughs.  “You really saved him there.  I can’t imagine Lydia’s face if she’d opened that.”

“I didn’t want to get the angry phone call.”  Derek sniggered while running his fingers up and down Stiles’ arm.  “So you like them?”

Stiles bit his lip and nodded.  The joke wasn’t lost on him.  The Fox and the Hound because the Pack had always called him the sly fox of the group, and if he was the fox, Derek was most definitely his…  “I love them.”

He looks up at Derek.  Derek is leaning in again.  Stiles opens his mouth to say something or to gulp for air because Derek wants to kiss him and he so wants to be kissed, but fucking Chinese, man!

The doorbell rings, zapping them apart.  Stiles nearly flings his box across the room as he shoots to his feet.  “I got it!”

And the moment is broken.  Stiles mourns its loss like a physical entity.  He glares at the Chinese delivery guy, bitterly thanking him for the gift of sweet and sour pork and crushing his dreams of Derek’s mouth on his.

The rest of the night is spent on the couch, in their new pajamas, bellies full of takeout and an endless stream of Christmas movies Derek has never seen.  Around midnight Derek is asleep on Stiles’ shoulder, body scrunched uncomfortably for his size on his part of the couch.  Stiles shuts his eyes, rubbing his cheek in Derek’s hair and smelling his shampoo.  It’s so comforting, so familiar, and yet something he can’t bring himself to ask for because every time he wants to he freezes.

And so begins Stiles talking himself out of it because he’s nervous things will change if he says what he wants out loud.

He wants Derek to be his like he requires air in his lungs and it’s getting harder and harder to breathe every day he spends playing house with the alpha.  Isaac was right.  He’s living a lie, but he’s not oblivious.  Derek just wants to kiss him because he doesn’t know how else to express himself.  Doesn’t know a hug is acceptable between bros on Christmas.  Doesn’t grasp that Stiles isn’t going to run away just because Derek doesn’t feel the same.

Derek is just trying to please Stiles, even if he doesn’t want what Stiles is offering, or would offer if he could get his head on straight and man up.  So instead Stiles steals this little moment and files it away in his head, in his heart; the soothing sound of Derek’s breathing, the smell of his hair, the softness of his skin where they’re pressed together.

He holds the crushing realization that he’s in love with this man for another heartbeat and then lets it go, because it’s not real.  It can’t be real.  No one has ever wanted Stiles the way he wants them.  Derek’s rejection once he understood Stiles would always be his friend and wouldn’t force him into a relationship just to keep him around would break him.

“Let’s go to bed, sleepyhead,” Stiles whispers and nudges Derek.  “Your neck will thank me in the morning.”

Derek snuffles and it’s the cutest thing ever.  He scrunches his nose and shifts like a child waking up from a nap.  He blinks green eyes up at Stiles before he yawns and nods.  Stiles has about eight point five seconds to react before Derek clasps Stiles’ wrist in his hand and tugs him up from the couch.

Stiles follows obediently, climbing the stairs behind Derek with his heart in his throat.  He expects Derek to drop him off in the guest room, expects a lot of things as someone who should be a good friend and not something more.  But his expectations are pointless because Derek leads him into the master bedroom and onto Derek’s bed.

Neither of them says a thing.  Stiles is on his side, staring out the window at the trees swaying in the fierce winter wind.  Derek curls around his back, blazing hot and sleepy before he throws the plush duvet over them both and nuzzles his face in Stiles’ hair.

Sometime around three Stiles decides that staring at the window is a hopeless endeavor.  He gives in a little more, selfish with his feelings, and covers Derek’s hand that rests on his stomach.  They can pretend for a little while longer.  Pretend to play house and be in love and that tomorrow isn’t the end of whatever this is.

***

Stiles-A-Palooza Step 7: THE REMIX: How to write THE END.  A checklist for writers on the cusp of holiday heartbreak.

Stiles slipped out of bed before Derek.  He didn’t want to leave the warmth and safety of Derek’s arms.  He really didn’t, but he had things to do.  He had to put the French toast casserole in the oven.  He had to fill Derek’s stocking with his loot he’d procured yesterday morning like a madman.  He had to make sure the roast was set to go and the side dishes prepped.

So he left Derek all boneless and snoring softly in bed with a heart full of regret.  When he got downstairs, he was surprised to see that Derek had gotten up sometime after Stiles had fallen asleep.  He had to have because Stiles’ stocking wasn’t filled the night before.  There had definitely not been a little fox plushie peeking out of the top last night.

Stiles swallowed a lump down his throat and scratched its tiny head.  Those feelings he told himself weren’t real most certainly were the longer he stared into its cute brown eyes.  They were evident in the pajamas he woke up in.  Evident in the comfortable silence of the living room and kitchen where bits and pieces of their craft projects hung on the tree and were taped to the refrigerator.  In the creamer Stiles pulled out of the fridge to go with his coffee—his favorite creamer than not even Scott knew about; white chocolate raspberry that somehow helped him channel his inner teenage girl while writing.

Stiles was a jittery mess all over again because Derek had bought him a little fox and his favorite creamer, and these pants he was wearing to make Derek breakfast, his mom’s old recipe and everything.

This felt very real and it scared him.  It scared him so much.

Midway through his kitchen prep and a possible silent breakdown, Stiles felt large hot hands glide over his shoulders and heard Derek’s sleep rumpled greeting as he brushed by to get coffee.

“Morning,” Stiles squeaked.

“Merry Christmas,” Derek murmured in his ear before he escaped again, his chest sweeping against Stiles’ back like a caress to his insides.

Stiles took a few deep breaths.  He plastered on a smile as he turned to Derek, who was leaning against the counter now.  “Yeah.  Merry Christmas.  You hungry?  I’m making mom’s French toast casserole.  I know you have a sweet tooth, so I figured it’d be perfect and I started the roast and the sides, so there isn’t much to do now and I might need another cup of coffee.  And oh, uh, I noticed Lydia called you this morning, not that I was creeping through your phone or anything, but it was there, next to your bed, and I was there, and—”

“Stiles, it’s fine.”  Derek grins like a wet dream come to life.  His wolf pajamas slung low on his hips, his bare chest just there for the touching and his hair, fuck his hair, is sticking out every which direction like he’d been well and thoroughly mussed by a gangbang of pillows.  But it’s the playful look in his eyes that melts Stiles, the one he uses when he argues with Stiles, the one he uses when he teases Stiles, the same one he gets when he doesn’t have to say anything at all but it still lets Stiles know he’s the one being ridiculous.  “We’ll Skype them.  I wanted to see Georgie open up his present anyway.”

“You wanted to see…”  Stiles is pretty sure he makes a noise, the one most people make when they see a cute puppy, something like a coo but a lot more embarrassing.  “Right.”

“I’ll top off your coffee.  You sit down and relax and help me open up the video chat.”  Derek ushers him out of the kitchen.  “I’m capable of taking something out of the oven when the timer goes off.”

“You sure about that? If anything happens to that French toast, mister, I’m holding you responsible and I will never bake for you again.”

“I promise not to burn your precious.”  Derek pushes Stiles to sit on the couch and pats him on the head.  He snorts and goes back into the kitchen.  “Just the one sugar or two?”

“One,” Stiles calls before he realizes that not only does Derek know his favorite creamer but how he takes his coffee at home, which is a rather personal thing.  He starts to fidget again, that creeping darkness trying to punch him right in the feels.  “And did you make a joke?  Was that a real joke, Derek Hale?  Because I’ll have you know that French toast is not my precious!”

“Then what is?”

“This.”  Stiles snatches his coffee from Derek’s hands and hums over its tasty goodness.

“Good to know you’re still easily pleased.”

“Hey!”

“Hey,” Derek returns and there a softness to it, so Stiles has to look up to see where that came from and once he does he realizes Derek is holding both of their stockings.  “I figured we’d open these after we talk with Lydia and Jackson.”

“Uh…sure.”  Stiles takes his stocking, and absolutely does not fuss over the little fox in all its fluffy glory.  Lies.  He does. And he does so loudly.  Derek knew Stiles would be up first this morning and he also knew Stiles wasn’t the kind of guy to not notice his stocking when he first walked down the stairs on Christmas morning.  And Derek doesn’t have his brows of judgment on right now so Stiles considers it another win to add to the list.

“I got that at the toy store in the mall,” Derek is saying.  “There was this guy that kept hitting me with a toy helicopter outside.  I almost wolfed out on him right then and there.  He’s lucky the mall was packed with shoppers or I would have.”

Stiles cackles.  “I feel for you.  He did the same thing to me!”

Derek grins back.  “You would find be the first one to find yourself in trouble in the mall, wouldn’t you.”

“Yeah, I do have that kind of luck, but still, I would have paid to watch him clip you in the head.”  Stiles is picturing it in his head and laughs from his belly.  He tips his head back with it.  “Oh, just the image of your face alone would have been priceless. “

He realizes what he just said and how Derek’s face is choosing to interpret it, but from what Stiles sees he’s reacting pretty well.  He’s just…quiet.  “Derek?”

Derek sits next to him, knee to shoulder and Stiles can’t bring himself to object.  He has no idea what Derek’s thinking, what he’s going to say, or how they went from laughing to feeling each other’s every move without using their hands, just pressing into each other like a hug.

“We’ve got some time before the oven goes off?”

Stiles nods.  “We always do stockings, breakfast, and then presents.  But feel free to stop me if you had something better in mind.”

Derek chokes out a laugh as Stiles turns beet red.  “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just proposition me without knowing it, because even your game isn’t that bad.  Stockings are fine.”

And wait.  What?

Derek passes him his stocking with an easy smile that has Stiles asking aloud, “What if it was a proposition?”

Once again, Derek is situated beside him, their stockings in their lap and Derek looking at him with the same smile.  “Was that what you were doing?”

Stiles stared back at him.  For all the beautiful outward features Derek had, Stiles wanted him to know, if he was really going to confess here to Derek how he felt, how good they would be together, how much Stiles loved him for who he was on the inside too. And it all just came tumbling out, words peeling away from his tongue, from that frozen place in his chest.  This was the moment.  He felt it in his bones.

“Derek…”

Derek puts and arm around his shoulders, urging him on.  He’s searching Stiles’ eyes, waiting for him to say it. 

“You got me a fox, a stuffed one,” Stiles begins.  “You made cookies and Ninja Turtles with me, and even I know it was childish to feel the need to do craft projects, but it would keep my mind off of things.  Off of work and friends and family and because I figured crafts were always safe.  Crafts remind you of when life wasn’t so hard and we didn’t think we’d ever grow up, and when our moms handled the hot glue gun because they didn’t want us to get burnt.”

Derek was touching him, not interrupting a word he said, but simply massaging the back of Stiles’ neck.  “And because I bought you Christmas Eve pajamas, the truth being I thought about giving you a pair long before I planned to spend today with you.  That means something to me, Derek.  It means something to me that my mom taught me how to cook that pot roast in there with the intention that I would cook it for my dad, and someday for whomever I deemed worthy.  And that’s just it, I think you’re worthy.  I think you know how I like my coffee and how to amaze me by making me Batman ornaments.  I like that sometimes you choose for me when I’m wired on my own thoughts, last night for instance you slept next to me and you knew that I wanted it, but I was too stupid until right now to say it myself.  But I wanted it.  Want it, I mean.  I…want you.”

Derek is pulling him closer.  Their stockings spill over the couch as Stiles is maneuvered half on top of Derek’s lap.  “Stiles, you are the first person I’ve spent Christmas Day with since Laura.  I always thought I’d eventually get over it, this day being so painful, and spend it with my Pack, and it’s not that I haven’t wanted to all this time, it’s that I just wasn’t ready.  Then you were just here with all your stuff and your plans and you offered me this real thing.  You were in my kitchen, telling me like it was while making me homemade meatballs because you thought I was worthy and I didn’t throw you out because I wanted to be that for you.  Yours is the only opinion that matters to me. You make me worthy.”

Stiles is reeling as Derek kisses him.  His lips are soft and sure, yet gentle like his hands as they move over Stiles’ back.  It lasts for only a few seconds before Derek pulls back and shakes his head at the Skype notification pinging on his laptop.  Stiles distracts him, grabs his jaw and kisses him again, this time with more force.  They’ll call Lydia back and Stiles is sure she won’t mind because Derek just kissed him and a few seconds isn’t enough for Stiles.

When Stiles leans back this time it’s for air because Derek, as it turns out, liked the idea of making Lydia wait, totally on board when he licked into Stiles’ mouth.  “She’s going to keep calling,” Stiles breathes before Derek attacks his mouth again.  “You know.  She is.”

Derek releases Stiles’ bottom lip and growls.  “I know.”

“But this is a thing?  You and me, were a thing now, right?  This isn’t all in my head.  I told you I wanted you and you said nice things about me and then you kissed me.”

“I kissed you,” Derek assures with a press of his lips to Stiles’.  “And I plan on kissing you again because yes, I’d like this to be a thing.  I want next year and I want to open stockings and see Georgie and eat pot roast with you because it feels right, it’s always felt that way with you.  It’s just this year you chose me back.”

Stiles gasps and arches, shivers as Derek’s lips press to his throat and his hands slide down his back, nearly sizzling on his skin.  “You have no idea how hot that is, you using words.  We need to make that a thing too, talk about that when I come down from cloud nine or back from whatever parallel dimension my fantasies have opened a portal to because this is unreal…”

“Stiles,” Derek growls and nips his jaw.

“So maybe less talky and more sexy times?”  Stiles swallows thickly and scrunches his eyes shut as Derek begins a stuttered rhythm with his hips, rolling against Stiles so he can feel the hot, thick length of Derek through his pajamas.  It’s then that he notices how the wolf pattern had perfectly aligned over Derek’s crotch, three howling wolves stretched tight over the Alpha’s bulge.  Their comical yellow eyes stare up at Stiles and he sputters a laugh just as Derek is really getting down to business on his neck.

“All hail the little alphas between those fine ass legs.  Consider this my pledge of allegiance to thee.”  Stiles cackles, relaxing for the first time since Derek kissed him.  His shoulders shake.  Derek grunts and looks down.  He groans at the source of Stiles’ laughter, but shoots Stiles a small smile instead of throwing him off the couch.  “Does this mean three wolf moon is our new code for sex, because those pups look pretty happy to see me and all.  Wouldn’t want to waste ironic perfection in its prime or anything.”

“Only you, Stiles…”  Derek shakes his head, but he’s laughing quietly now too.

“Yeah, big guy.”  Stiles puts his arms around Derek’s neck because they belong there.  “Only me,” he whispers against Derek’s lips.

Derek surges forward at the breathless way Stiles lays claim to his mouth.  Stiles knows it.  He feels it in the next kiss, the approval, the barely concealed control Derek fights with not to maul Stiles’ body right there.

Skype beeps again.  Lydia is not messing around.  Derek is using his words like a champ, not to mention his tongue—and he has a rather skilled tongue if Stiles is laying it all out there.  And on top of all of that he isn’t sure his heart is big enough for the way he’s feeling, the way his skin grows tight and his body heats up and...

Fucking Skype beeps incessantly.  Derek sighs, dipping his forehead to touch Stiles’.  Stiles grumbles along with him. “Do we really have to answer that?”

“What do you think?”  Derek nudges him over.  He might be laughing at the way Stiles rearranges the bulge in his pajama bottoms with a practiced hand and a pout on his lips.  “Later.  I promise.”

“You better.  We were totally having a moment—a big one!  Like a breakthrough where no one cried, no one stormed off, there was touching and feeling sharing and we had our big boy pants on, and you kissed me!”  Stiles grins wide enough that it was painful to his jaw.

“And I kissed you.  And I’ll kiss you again,” Derek murmurs, “after we answer a Christmas call from the queen.”

Stiles smirks.  He accepts Derek’s arm around him as he sinks into his side and Derek balances the laptop on their knees.  He kisses Stiles’ cheek quickly before he finally answers Lydia.

Beacon Hills’ residence banshee appears on the screen, looking as perfect as ever even if she’s just in her pajamas.  Jackson is yawning at her side holding their toddler Georgie.  The baby boy starts to slap at the counter and smile at the laptop.

“Merry Christmas, gentlemen,” Lydia greets in a dotingly exasperated tone.  “How nice of you to answer in such a timely fashion.  Not like we have an anxious toddler ready to eat through the wrapping paper over here.”

Derek chuckles and waves at Georgie.  Georgie babbles his greeting to Derek, swatting at the screen as his entire body bounces at the sight of his Alpha.  But Lydia is too busy looking between Derek and Stiles.  She leans closer to the camera.  “Are you guys naked?”

“What?” Stiles balks.

“Yep.  That’s naked right there,” Jackson agrees.

“We have pajamas on, I swear!”

Lydia gapes.  She blinks a few times before she cries, “I knew it!  No shirts.  Stiles, your lips are a bit swollen there and, Derek, your hair is a mess.  And Stiles looks like he’s ready to burst into glitter.  One of you caved and finally admitted it.  Who was it?”

“Bet it was Stiles,” Jackson yawns.  “And I bet it was awkward as…,” he looks to his son and covers his tiny ears, “shit.”

“It was more of a team effort if were really doing this, but thank you for your daily dose of douche, Jackson.  Merry Christmas to you as well.”  Stiles grins.  He can’t bring himself to care what they think anymore because Derek has his arm around him and they’re snuggled up on Christmas morning, waiting to open presents and eat French toast casserole, and Lydia and Jackson totally seem okay with what that, despite Lydia’s mindless squawking and squealing.  It was all she could talk about for the next fifteen minutes, after which Derek was starting to shake his head so Stiles focused his attention on the toddler, rapidly changing the subject to the point of the call.

They watched Georgie open his gifts on the screen after he threw a massive hissy fit when he lost patience.  Stiles got him a train set that was plush and lit up and made lots of noise that Jackson would despise.  Derek waited until after Lydia had opened one of two cards he’d sent with them to explain how he’d be installing Georgie a swing set in the backyard, with a slide off to the side and a hidden fort that any little werewolf pup would love.

Lydia got a bit misty eyed.  Jackson made Derek promise that because it was a gift Derek would put it together himself.

For as much as Stiles bitched at Jackson, he’d sent along a gift for Jackson and Lydia as well because they would be gone from Beacon Hills the longest, until right after New Year’s.  He’d gifted Jackson a fountain pen, a beautiful, stylish one that Jackson always complained about his firm not getting instead of the stupid plastic ones.  Jackson smiled when he opened it.  He picked it up and saw his name engraved there.  “Wow. Thanks, Stilinski.”

“Color me impressed.  My taste must be finally rubbing off on you.”  Lydia winks because they all know she’s right, and over the years she’s spent a lot of time making sure of it.  In fact, as far as gifts went, Stiles was a pretty confident shopper because of her.  And he could only hope her teachings were on his side this year too.

“Now let’s see who wins this round.  What did Derek get you, Jackson?”  Lydia snaps her fingers off to the side.  “Georgie, stop eating the tree.”

Jackson laughs at his son with a little twinkle in his eye.  Georgie grins back and bounces in place like the tiny Jackson mini me he is.  Sometimes it shocks Stiles when he sees Jackson being a father.  Okay, yeah, it’s really weird, but still oddly charming.

Jackson opens the last envelope from Derek.  He pulls out two plane tickets.  Derek leans forward.  “It’s what I got for all of you.” He nods at Lydia too.  “It’s a trip to New York City for the Pack in the spring.  We’re going to see a Yankees game, do the shopping bit, the food, some shows or whatever.  My treat to you guys.”

Lydia looks at Jackson.  Jackson stares at the tickets like he’s about to go the chocolate factory instead.  This is the most thoughtful gift Derek has ever given them, including himself in the mix for once as their alpha, their friend who they would love to go on vacation with.  It’s a big deal and Stiles knows it.

Stiles puts his head on Derek’s shoulder.  Lydia takes the tickets and waves them at Georgie, who is currently climbing into her lap anyway.  “Look baby, Derek is gonna buy mama a new pair of Jimmy Choos.  Isn’t that wonderful?”

They all laugh and it’s nice in a way Stiles can hardly recall feeling before.  Derek hasn’t removed his arm.  Lydia and Jackson aren’t fighting; they’re laughing and carrying on instead with Derek and Stiles enjoying their company equally as much.  And when Lydia signs off with tears in her eyes—Stiles ordered her bars of hand milled lavender soap from her favorite place in Paris—Stiles was so content, he almost didn’t want to open his stocking, or move at all.

But in the end they did and Stiles was glad.

Derek laughed over his stocking contents.  There was a coffee mug with grumpy cat’s face on it.  A chocolate orange that he could smash and eat because that was half the fun.  A few gifts cards were in there too, one to the local craft store as a joke, and one to Derek’s favorite bakery on Main Street.  But the best gift of all, even above the slinky and the folded up t-shirt that had cartoon abs airbrushed on it, was the Hello Kitty keychain at the bottom.

Stiles cackled, nearly falling off the sofa.  Derek just rolled his eyes and grinned.  “We’ll save this for next year.  Continue our reigning title for world’s worst holiday gift givers.”

“Oh yes, because you’re such a terrible shopper.”  Stiles pets his stuffed fox, which is now perched on his knee.  He pushes forward a bit and kisses Derek’s nose.

“I was talking about the keychain.”  Derek catches his chin before he pulls away and returns the kiss properly.  “Now open your stocking.”

Stiles reaches inside his stocking and pulls out a what feels to be something round inside a felt drawstring bag.  He quirks a brow at Derek, but only gets a nudge to his knee.  “Open it.”

The bag is velvet under his fingers, the chord just as silky and Stiles is starting to get naughty ideas, which may or may not have been a preconceived thing on Derek’s part, a way of doing something about the years of feelings between them without saying a word.  It was nice to know Stiles hadn’t been alone.

But back to the gorgeous bag in his hands which he opens and pulls out a…

Stiles turns it over, can’t look away from it, realizes it’s not naughty at all.  It’s better.

It’s a clear glass ornament with a hand cut picture of him and Derek slipped inside. It was from a few nights ago when they were making cookies, somewhere in between peanut butter and oatmeal.  They were coming down from an argument, and now that Stiles thinks about it, fighting with Derek was almost like having sex.  Stiles always needed a minute to recoup and somehow this time that involved Derek holding out his phone to get a shot of them both.

There was flour smeared up his jaw, in his hair near his temple, and he was looking at Stiles with a smile; looking at Stiles like he was Derek’s world.

Derek wasn’t the only one with ghosts of Christmas Past.  Stiles almost felt his mom’s hand on his shoulder, urging him to take Derek’s offering of hope and trust, to start something new and wonderful with Derek.  He heard her in his head, whispering in that familiar voice that Derek was the one, that she would have loved him too had she still been around.  That Stiles was making the right choice in giving Derek his love.

It’s like his mom had been with him at the mall, choosing the little wolf alongside him because she knew it would lead to this moment: an ornament for an ornament, a heart for a heart.

Stiles flipped the ornament over to where Derek had written: Stiles and Derek’s first Christmas, 2014.

“You got us an ornament,” he whispered in a rough voice.

“Yes.”

Stiles sniffed and wiped his eyes.  He was smiling so hard it hurt.  “Because you were going to cave first.”  Stiles takes Derek’s hand.  “You were going to admit your undying love for me and you got us an ornament.”

“Yes.”  Derek took Stiles’ face in his hands and drew him closer.

Stiles thinks to the wolf ornament he bought for Derek that’s under the tree.  He thinks of the inscription, and to what Derek had already planned days ago to tell him.  How Christmas may have started out lonely for Stiles, but the first place he ran to make it all better was Derek’s, because Derek would always keep him safe.

How Derek didn’t turn him out that day and how he had looked relieved.  How Derek hadn’t complained about the craft projects after the first time, and somewhere along the way started to openly enjoy himself.  How Derek next to him in bed felt natural in way that went beyond organic.  It was those things, the reason why Jade was in the middle of a cliffhanger with her alpha boyfriend, the way he hadn’t batted an eye over making Derek his mom’s roast on Christmas morning; something so special to him…

“There’s a small box right there under the tree.  The snowflake paper.  I want you to open it.”  Stiles kisses Derek softly.  “I need you to open it.”

“Okay.”  Derek just breathes with him for a second, a heavy warmth weighing on them a moment, before he untangles himself from Stiles and goes to retrieve his package.  “I don’t think this is how the schedule is supposed to work.  Gifts after breakfast.”

“I think this is something new for us to start together so fuck the schedule and open your present.”  Stiles leans back on the couch to make room for Derek to slide in next to him.  He presses as close as he can because he wants to see and feel every reaction Derek makes when he opens it.

“Something new,” Derek agrees.  He pauses a second to give Stiles an uninhibited smile.  And of all the years they’ve been thrown together, Stiles has never seen a smile like this.  It’s private and breathtaking and he’s earned it.  That smile is all for Stiles.

“Open it,” Stiles’ voice cracks a little.

Derek does as he’s told, the paper coming off neatly with a little flick of Derek’s claws.  Stiles rolls his eyes, only something Derek could make him do in such a tender moment.  He chuffs a laugh.  It dies into something quiet and cautious as Derek pulls the ornament out of the box.

The wolf is still as perfect the second time Stiles sees it, intricate and powerful and very much Derek.  Stiles watches Derek turn it over in his hand, slip the red ribbon between his fingers and then see the inscription on the bottom.

Sourwolf’s first Stilinski Christmas, 2014.  Love you always, S.

Derek whimpers as he puts it back in the tissue paper carefully.  He places the box on the table before he kisses Stiles.  He kisses him until Stiles is on his back and Derek is covering his body.  Derek ruts against him in a desperate way that drives Stiles mad until he can’t help but return the mindless rhythm with his hips.

Stiles has never been so sure of anything in his life before; this with Derek, what they’re doing, what he wants to do for years to come.  He moans this much to Derek, had to have, because Derek keens and picks up the pace.  He sucks his mark on Stiles’ throat, bites and licks until Stiles is almost there and suddenly Derek’s hand is between them, pajamas are pulled down and he’s fisting them both.

Stiles drops his head back on the couch and squeezes Derek’s ass.  He comes so hard he’s seeing sugar plum fairies and Derek is right behind him, clamping down on the mark under his teeth as he comes on Stiles’ stomach.

Derek is hunched over Stiles, breathing hard and eyes glowing red.  Stiles stares back at him, slowly catching his breath but unable to move or think.

The fucking oven timer goes off.

Derek scowls in the direction of the kitchen.  He bunches his hands to either side of Stiles’ shoulders with this frown that makes Stiles laugh.  It bubbles up his throat until his body is flushed with it. Derek’s mouth ticks up to one side, because even the grumpiest of wolves cannot deny the hilarity in being cock blocked by video chat and a household appliance all before breakfast.

“French toast waits for no man,” Stiles laughs.  “No matter how sexy he is.”  He cards his fingers through Derek’s hair and pulls him down for a kiss.

“Back on schedule then, I guess?”  Derek grins.

“Until the next kitchen appliance alerts us to otherwise, then I’d say that’s a safe bet.”

Derek laughs with his this time.  “Come on.  Feed me.”

Stiles sits up and tucks Derek back into his pants with a little pat, a move he would have never pulled before this day, but Derek seems to both like Stiles’ hands on him and playful manner behind it.  “What would you do without me?”

Derek lifts a brow.  “Masturbate, eat frozen pot pies, and not discover my crafting skills.”

“We’ll just have to make sure we take care of all that then, huh?”  Stiles straddles Derek’s lap, he rubs himself into Derek, biting his lip.

Derek growls low in his throat.  He wraps his large hands around Stiles’ hips and returns the thrust.  Stiles braces his hands on the back of the couch.  He looks down at Derek and then...

Beep.  Beep.  Beep.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!”  Stiles cries and flops onto his back.

Derek laughs until he can’t breathe.

They eat their slightly overdone French toast casserole naked in front of the television and wake up close to midnight covered in tape and wrapping paper, the scent of a half-eaten pot roast heavy in the air.  It’s perfect.  Stiles can’t wait for next year.  Hell, he can’t wait for tomorrow.

***

The next year…

Sourwolf has invited you to share on his board: The Hale-Stilinski Christmas Craft Challenge.

Stiles scrolls through pins the other Pack members had already shared and liked.  NurseLahey had posted popcorn balls.  BatgirlBlonde pinned some cupcakes with candy cane penises made of fondant.  ItsBoyd uploaded a tutorial for decorative wolves made out of pipe cleaners.

In the holiday spirit himself, Stiles accepted the invitation and linked his craft board to the group en masse.  Let the challenge begin.

***

The Hale-Stilinski Christmas Craft Challenge: Being a good host to your guests.  Ten must dos when company arrives to ensure a perfect holiday.

-What’s wrong, Sourwolf, afraid they’re not going to give you that slot on the Home and Garden Network?

Stiles, how did you get on here?

-Oh, you mean you thought I wouldn’t figure it out?  Tsk.  Silly wolf.  Your passwords are for kids.

You weren’t supposed to be on here!

-Turnabout is fair play, you fuzzy ass.  You’re the one still storing your files on Google Docs like I wouldn’t eventually figure out how you conned me last year!  I can see what you’re writing on my phone at this very moment, dumbass.

Don’t open any more files, Stiles.  I mean it.  You’ll regret it.

-Threatening me like that before the company arrives?  Somebody’s feeling a bit brazen.  If I open another file are you going to punish me?

Are you seriously propositioning me for rough sex over Google Docs?

-It’s a possibility.

I’m changing my password.

-Try something other than my social security number this time, although I think it’s pretty hot that you know that by heart, and mildly creepy. <3 U BAE

Stiles, I am warning you.  I’m changing my password right now.  Don’t you open anything else!

-Is that a ring, Derek?  Do you have a list of men’s rings on you Google Docs?

NO!

-You do.  I can see it right here.

Stiles, please, I am begging you.

-Definitely not the yellow gold one.  The last one is more my style.

Stiles…

-I love you, Sourwolf.

Derek contemplated his response for a moment, struck by how much he knew Stiles meant it even in text form.   He grinned and typed back.

- <3 U 2 BAE

Derek lifts his head when he hears Stiles’ delighted laughter come from upstairs. He’d already decided that instead of just another promise of next year, Derek wanted to promise Stiles forever.

The End