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Agent Halewinkle and the Stilinski Cheer Initiative

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The first thing Derek thinks, as the ground rushes to meet him, is that elf shoes are not optimized for tree-climbing.

The second thought is that Isaac, no matter how sweet or innocent he seems, is a little shit and he did that on purpose.

"That was a long way down," he comments uselessly, bronze curls cutting into Derek’s view of the dull, mid-winter sky through the bare branches. There isn’t even a cushy snow-bank to break his fall, and Derek groans from his spread-eageled position, wondering if he’s somehow bruised his sugarplums. That would just be the cherry on top of the stale figgy pudding that was this week. 

"You’re not wearing your hat. It’s part of your uniform," Derek grouses, because though it’s been half a century since Isaac was his mentee from the Cheer Givers In Training program, he’ll always feel a little responsible for the idiot. "Santa put that in the manual for a reason.

"It messes up my hair," Isaac says, scowling as he helps Derek to his feet. "Cora says my curls make me look like an elfin Robert Pattinson."

"I don’t know who that is."

"Me neither," Isaac admits, lifting a shoulder, "But Cora seems to like him."

"Cora’s messing with you," Derek says pointedly, straightening his own hat on his head.

"No she’s not! She said I’m one of her top seven people she’s thinking about taking to the Mistletoe Dance." Isaac’s eyes are open pools of blind hope, and Derek is 100% sure he uses them to his advantage when he feels like it.

Derek sighs. He needs to re-route the conversation before it devolves into an account of how his little sister’s skin looks like strawberry whipped cream and her ears are almost the perfect ratio of isosceles triangles. Again. 

(There’s nothing quite as dramatic as a love-struck elf - it makes Derek grateful he doesn’t go in for such idiocies.)

"What are you doing here anyway?"

He cocks a brow as Isaac straightens up like he’d forgotten he wasn’t out on a Sunday-morning stroll. “Dispatch were concerned. They said you haven’t checked in in almost three days.” 

Will his mom ever stop treating him like he’s 97-years-old? Derek barely suppresses an eye-roll. “I’m in deep cover on a delicate mission. I need complete solitude right now.”

"Is that why you were up that tree?" Isaac glances up to the window, but Derek steps closer, using his larger bulk than his lithe, gangly peer to his advantage. Stiles would make a good elf, he thinks, with his upturned nose and the way he flushes in the cold and—

"Tell my m— Madam Halewinkle that I’ll call later with a status report."

Isaac’s eyes go impossibly wider. “Full Humbug mission?” he asks urgently, not failing to hide his awe, and Derek nods, willing his guilt away. If his ears blush green right now, Isaac will know in a second that he’s talking out of his sticky buns. “Say no more. Good luck, Derek.”

"Thanks," he mutters, feeling shitty for lying, since that gets countless people on the Naughty List each year. "Hey, Isaac?" The guy stops just before he pushes open the invisible door in the tree trunk and looks back expectantly. "Cora has a major thing for Atomic Fireballs. It’s not very elf-like, but she adores hot cinnamon. I once saw her go nuts over a pack of Big Red."

Isaac puffs up with such blatant excitement that he looks like he could achieve transcontinental flight without reindeer.

"Thanks Derek!" he breathes, and with a shimmer and a jingle, he’s gone.

___

Derek’s mission should be clear - infiltrate the household of a family in need of assistance, perform subtle acts of festive delight, bask in Holiday-related happiness, get home in time for cinnamon buttered rum.

He’s a senior Agent of Cheer, decorated numerous times by the Candy Cane Council for his work in bringing joy to the many jovially-challenged families during the jolly season. His attention to detail has been heralded as ‘heartwarming’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘hella swell’ by several respected trade publications.

But the Stilinskis…

John Stilinksi was pretty easy. All Derek really had to do was make sure his son Stiles’ flight home from college wasn’t delayed, and that he had enough deputies willing to work so he could have the day to himself.

It’s been exactly a decade since he lost his wife, and it’s clear from the wistful looks he gets unpacking their decorations that he misses her - but he’s been dating a kindly, attractive nurse for the last six months. The only thing needed to make his Christmas perfect was having Stiles home for it, and that, Derek could manage.

Stiles, though, is a different basket of baubles. Derek has seen the symptoms of Forced Cheer Syndrome a thousand times, but Stiles is one of the most serious cases he’s seen. He plays the part well - gaudy sweaters, bobbing his head to Christmas pop songs as he detangles a ball of fairy-lights with his long, elegant fingers - but it’s not genuine.

Stiles is a Festive Faker, and Derek, for the life of him, can’t figure out why.

He thought at first that it might have been the aftermath of the major anniversary their family had to go through, but Stiles seems at peace with his mom’s passing, and openly adores his dad’s lady-friend, Melissa. 

Finals Funk was another possibility, but Derek has observed that Stiles is whip-smart and seems to take college in his stride. He’s not even lying when he declares that he made the semester ‘his bitch’, eyes bright and shirt riding up to reveal a cute, toned little tummy as he throws his arms in the air.

They don’t have money troubles, Stiles hasn’t gone through any major break-ups in the last year, and all of his close friends are back in town for the Holidays. Derek, for the first time in his career, is at a loss.

Which is why he’s once again perched in the tree directly situated outside Stiles’ bedroom window, hoping to find a lead from listening in to his phone conversation.

"So it’s you and Kira, Lyds and Jordan, Danny and Kyle, and even Mason and Liam have got dates?” Stiles buries a hand in his hair, making it stick up like a fir tree. Derek thinks it makes him look all soft and fluffy, like a baby Arctic fox, and smiles. “Think I’ll take a rain-check, dude. I’m beat.”

The smile melts into a frown as Stiles furthers his excuses, and Derek strokes his jaw pensively when Stiles hangs up, boots up his Xbox, and starts a game.

Why would Stiles say he’s tired, yet not go to bed? Unless he’s not tired, and he’s lying about why he can’t come to the reunion his friends are having in one of the local bars.

Derek plays the conversation over, noting how Stiles recited everyone who was going to be there before declining the invitation. They’re all his friends - that much Derek has gathered - and they’re all people he enjoys spending time with but…

It hits Derek so hard he almost tumbles out of the tree for the second time in a day.

Of course. Everyone Stiles listed was a couple. They’re - each of them - paired up, yet Stiles is the only single person in his group. It’s quite common to get lonely around the Holidays; seemingly every activity is geared towards romance and family and couples - and if Stiles is in a place in his life where he wants a relationship, it makes sense that he’d get disheartened being reminded that he’s alone.

He looks back at Stiles through new eyes; taking in the dejected slump of his shoulders, the sad little sighs he lets out when things in the game don’t go his way - and the longing, sad little expression he wears when he stares off into space, thoughts drifting in a direction Derek can only theorize.

Derek nods to himself, already forming a plan in his head. He trained with the Cupid Faction for three months in the art of romance - granted, that was geared towards re-igniting the spark between two people… but it shouldn’t be hard to find someone for Stiles. Stiles is smart and funny and quietly considerate, though he hides it against scathing sarcasm most of the time, and he has eyes that belong on baby deer and lips that always look like they’ve just been kissed, and Derek thinks he’s quite beautiful.

In an objective, assignment-way, of course. Of course.

No, it should be a walk in the park finding someone to fall in love with Stiles. Derek might just be able to turn his cheer genuine after all.

December 19 - Attempt One: The Serendipitous Store Set-up

There are plenty of places for humans to meet each other and fall in love, and Derek is confident that somewhere in the crowds turned out to do last-minute present shopping, Stiles will find his Holiday match. 

The mall is heaving with people when Stiles turns up at 10am on the Thursday before Christmas. He loads up on coffee and doughnut holes with his phone in one hand, seeking out the best deals to complete his list. Derek, dressed in civilian clothes and trying to blend in, appreciates his careful planning. Elves are brought up to be expert list-makers.

The first few stores don’t offer much in the way of potential suitors. Stiles checks off video games and expensive perfumes that make him sneeze from his list, and Derek lurks from the sidelines, happy to be out of his curly shoes and the itchy velvet that 80% of his garments seem to be made out of.  His ‘civvies’ don’t offer the cloaking spell like his elf ones do, and there’s a heart-stopping moment when Stiles looks right at him -  but with the crowds he can get closer to the action and thinks he looks kind of badass in a leather jacket. 

He has to wear ear-muffs, but it’s a small price to pay.

The bookstore holds the best potential, in Derek’s opinion. Stiles pushes into the Crime Fiction section with purpose. Apparently, the Sheriff of Beacon County enjoys predicting the killer at the end of the book before the protagonist does, and Stiles is here to update his dad’s collection.

There’s an attractive, hipster-ish guy in thick-framed glasses moseying along the same aisle as Stiles is. Derek takes in his bookish appearance, handsome features, and the graphic tee peeking out from under his plaid shirt.

This could be the one.

Stiles is seemingly oblivious to the double-take the other shopper gives him, instead combing the stacks for his intended title, bottom lip sucked between his teeth in concentration.

From Derek’s limited vision (peeking through a gap in the James Ellroy section), he can see the opportunity arising and quickly slipping away. He reaches into the pocket of his jacket, grabbing a handful of fairy dust that he keeps for emergencies, and blows a healthy dose right at Book Store Guy.

The dust is temporary and extremely weak in the mortal world, but what’s the harm in giving love a little push?

It seems to work instantaneously, as the tiny jolt of confidence causes the guy to reach out, hand closing on the same book Stiles was going for, and shoot him a startled smile.

Derek watches, enraptured, as the two turn to look at each other, waiting for the metaphorical swell of music over the meeting of their eyes.

What he gets instead, is a scowl from Stiles and a growl of, “Back off, buddy - it’s the last copy in town.”

Derek’s look of shock is matched only by Bookstore Guy’s, and they both watch dumbly as Stiles yanks the book out of the stranger’s hand and turns on his heel in search of a register.

Huh. Back to the etch-a-sketch.

December 22 - Attempt Two: The Oreo Ball Orchestration

Derek saw in a movie once that coffee shops are prime locations to scope out potential love-interests. Fortunately for him, Stiles has a sweet tooth that could rival any elf he knows, and there’s a bakery-café three streets from Stiles’ house that he visits as regularly as he can.

Derek snags a table near the back so he can face the door inconspicuously. He’s opted for headphones today, and he’s hoping to get a good view of Stiles and that cozy knitted hat he’s wearing - and anyone who looks like they might make a good match.

He’s there for just over an hour, on his second salted caramel latte, when the door opens, and Stiles shuffles in blowing on his fingers, cheeks ruddy from the chill. The café is busy, but not crowded, and Derek pats himself on the back for choosing the right table when Stiles walks right up to the counter next to him.

Last time had been less than successful, but after some thought, Derek has regrouped and decided that anyone who needs a puff of glitter to work up the courage to talk to Stiles probably doesn’t deserve to talk to him anyway. This time he has a different target.

If Stiles is so oblivious to the people who find him attractive, then that could be half his problem - so Derek’s going to make him a little more receptive.

"Hey Stiles, what’ll it be? The usual?" the barista asks in a cheerful voice, that Derek registers as genuine. She’s wearing a soft-looking pair of antlers in her curls, and her rich, dark skin is practically glowing with festive spirit.

Derek turns back to his book, tapping on the edge in thought. A little obvious, but this could be the one.

There’s a long, awkward pause, and Derek tries not to look back up -  but he’s got the overwhelming feeling of someone’s attention on him, and glances up before he can help it.

He must be imagining things, because Stiles’ head is turned down resolutely, and he licks his lips with a nod.

Derek smirks to himself. Some AoCs skimp on the information-gathering, but Derek knows for a fact that Stiles drinks as many gingerbread mochas as is humanly possible during the Holidays, and he’d already enchanted the syrup bottle before Stiles even got here.

Alright, so there may be some run-off from anyone else who ordered the drink, but it’s temporary. Derek couldn’t really give a sugar cookie.

"Anything else?" she asks as Stiles takes his first sip, spending more time on him than Derek’s seen her spare anyone all morning. She flashes him a stunning smile, eyes darting over his face, and if Derek could see her ears, they’d probably be glowing bright pink like Isaac’s do.

She’s definitely interested - and from the flush across Stiles’ cheeks - he’s definitely aware.

"Uh, balls," Stiles blurts, and a look of horror comes across his features. He shakes his head, flustered, and tries again. "I mean— your balls look— No, that’s…"

"You want a box of the Oreo balls?" the barista croaks awkwardly, saving him, as she gestures to the tray of treats displayed in the glass case. Stiles slumps with his whole body, letting out a sigh of affirmation, and Derek stiffens up a little because there is definitely a look thrown his way.

Alright, so he needs to be a little more careful, and— Alright, when he’d wanted to make Stiles more aware of people’s flirting, he’d kind of overlooked the fact that Stiles wouldn’t be used to it.

That he’d get so horrendously flustered that he’d start rambling about balls to someone who’s basically a stranger in the middle of a crowded coffee shop.

Suddenly, Derek’s latte doesn’t taste so good.

He waits until Stiles has darted all the way out of the café before thumping his head down on the table in frustration.

___

"Your dedication is admirable," his mom says approvingly, and Derek shakes the snowglobe a little so it doesn’t look like the bottom half of her face is frozen still. The reception in the mortal world sucks.

"That’s not the word I’d use,” Laura drawls, and her head pokes into frame, eyes narrowed. Derek clenches his jaw. Ever since she was taken out of the field to be prepped for taking over their mom’s command position, she’s been making Derek’s life hell.

"What’s the matter, Law - cabin fever?"

"Eat a deer-dangler, Derek!"

"Kids!" mom barks, making Derek’s mouth clamp shut. "Do I need to recite the Elf’s Code?"

"No," they say in unison, and Derek adds, "just gag her with a stocking and be done with it."

His mom’s disappointed look is enough to have his ears glowing green in shame.

"As I was saying," she continues, signing off on a scroll and handing it to Laura, "It’s great how much time you’re putting into this Humbug case. Are you making much progress?"

Derek picks at a loose thread on his onesie. Okay, so he might have over-sold the seriousness of Stiles’ case. A little.

It’s not like Stiles was going around spreading Anti-Cheer, ruining the Holidays for other people - but Derek has seen how important Stiles is to the people in his life. If they figured out he was faking his merriment, it just might make them feel bad.

It’s a stretch, alright, but Derek does the best with what he’s got.

"Derek?" Mom prompts when his response is too long coming. He blinks back at her. "Progress report?"

""I, uh— it’s delicate."

Mom’s eyes narrow in a fashion scarily similar to Laura’s. “There’s something you’re not telling us.”

His sister snorts. “Don’t think he’s even told himself…

"Don’t you have some menorahs to polish?" Mom says, frowning to her out of the frame. Laura sighs so loudly that it crackles Derek’s headphones, and then there’s the sound of a door slamming. Mom looks back at Derek, face softening. "Bunny?"

Derek really wishes she wouldn’t use his childhood term of enderament against him in times like these. 

"It’s all fine," he says, injecting enthusiasm into his voice that he doesn’t particularly feel. "Stiles Stilinski will have a date by Christmas Eve - I’ll make sure of it."

"You know you can pass it off to the Cupid Faction if it’s too challenging," she says softly. "I know this isn’t really your… your area…

Derek smooths his mouth into a firm line, fighting off the stab of hurt and hoping his ears don’t start blueing up. “It’s fine, Ma’am. If there’s nothing else…”

His mom doesn’t seem satisfied, but after a searching look, she nods formally. “No, nothing else. Be safe, Agent.”

Derek grunts and ends the call, letting the snowglobe flop into his sleeping furs.

It’s fine.

____

December 23: Attempt Three - The Mistletoe Meet-Cute

Derek has no idea why he hadn’t thought of it before. No Holiday Ball in Santa’s Village is complete without a 20-minute line-up for the mistletoe, in the hopes that by random chance or fate or possibly bribing the stewards with toffee, an elf will end up under the branch with their special someone.

It’s how Derek had his first kiss with Paige Poppykins back when he was still a Cheer Giver In Training, and though they later decided to just be friends, it’s still a great memory.

Most elves find their snugglebuddy by the end of their first century. It’s no secret to Derek that he’s somewhat of an anomaly around Santa’s Villiage, and there have been plenty of titters about him being ‘married to his job’ or too ‘snooty’ to settle for a nice elf girl or boy from around town.

Derek isn’t snooty, he just… hasn’t clicked with anyone from his home village. It’s perfectly reasonable - humans often don’t meet their special person without travelling great distances. The penguins Santa secretly rescued from some Naughty-List poachers spend ages finding the perfect pebble to present to their intended, yet Derek and his kind are expected to want to have elflings after a lip-lock under a twig?

At least when the humans do it, there’s some build-up, or they’ll at least get to know each other after.

He’s hoping to fall back on old tradition now, watching the crowd fill the town square at the Beacon Hills Snow Ball. It’s an open-air dance, set around the town’s massive Christmas tree, with a swing band crooning sweetly from the stage. Apparently, as the sheriff’s only son, Stiles is required to attend, and Derek contentedly watches him mingle and nibble hors d’oeuvres and charm everyone he meets.

"Yo, Dad?" Stiles says from their spot near the entrance, where the sheriff is hoping to get all the greetings out of the way so he can enjoy his night and whirl his date around the dance floor. "Who’s that guy?"

Derek’s concentration zeroes in on the conversation, because maybe someone has caught Stiles’ eye - someone Derek can work with.

"The shifty, unshaved-lookin’ one with the ear-muffs?" the sheriff asks, and Derek spits out part of his drink, picking up a napkin from the closest buffet table in panic. "No clue. Must’ve just moved here. Why?"

The sheriff’s voice takes on a disapproving, suspicious quality, and Derek crams six mac ‘n’ cheese balls in his mouth just so he has something to do. He knew he shouldn’t have worn his shirt and vest tonight - he wouldn’t be having this problem if he was safely invisible in his elf attire.

"Just curious," Stiles says, with forced nonchalance and about three pitches higher than his regular tenor.

"Mmhmm."

"Gotta go ask Mrs Alvarez if she’s lost weight!" Stiles declares, and slinks off into the crowd.

Derek is a little better at lurking after that. He thinks he hears Stiles answer the same questions about college up to fourteen times, tugging at his bow-tie like he wishes he could strangle himself with it.

Stiles’ friends are in attendance, too, and he genuinely lights up in their company, sipping on mixed drinks and throwing his head back in full-bodied, ground-shaking laughter to the soundtrack of Dean Martin and Tony Bennett.

Derek smiles into his calvados, feeling warm and buoyed by the sound all the way to his toes. It’s so convincing that he starts to re-assess the situation. Maybe all Stiles needed was to be surrounded by the people he loves, in a place he can call home, to find his Cheer?

It puts him in a place of indecision. Stiles seems content and joyful and loved, and though Derek thinks he would still like to have someone to call his own, maybe he’s got enough to get by.

The indecision lifts, though, by the time the ‘Mistletoe Fairy’ shows up. 

Several Beaconites seem to have been roped in to playing matchmaker for the ball, wandering around dressed in white, with little sprigs of mistletoe. They stop in front of couples and friends, parents holding babies and blushing teenagers, all soundlessly dangling the branch until he people exchange kisses, giggling with delight.

Stiles grins hard when Scott dips Kira into a movie-moment embrace, and Jordan brushes a tendril of Lydia’s hair delicately behind her ear before giving her a sweet little smooch, but Derek thinks some light inside himself might just fizzle out when the ‘fairy’ turns to Stiles, and he holds his hands up, quipping self-deprecatingly about not being able to kiss thin air.

Lydia gives him a pity-peck on the cheek, thumbs the print of her lipstick away, and Stiles offers sarcastic thanks. She rolls her eyes and sashays off as he drawls about it being the most sisterly kiss in the history of ever.

"Why don’t you hook up tonight, dude?" Scott asks, arm slung around Kira’s shoulders like falling in love - or even lust - is that easy for everybody. Derek knows it isn’t - and he knows it isn’t for Stiles, either, and he matches the frown marring Stiles’ features, irritated for him.

"Sure, Scott - I’ll just wander around puckering up to randos until one of ‘em turns into a prince."

Scott cuffs him playfully on the shoulder, grinning. “You know what I mean,” he says, “Ellie from Dough ‘n’ Joe was asking about you the other day.”

"She definitely thinks you’re cute," Kira inputs happily, nodding in agreement.

Stiles sighs unsurely. “I don’t know, guys, I guess I could…” his words trail off as Derek comes to a stop in front of him - right in front of him, because Derek has apparently set down his drink and walked all the way over there without conscious thought.

It’s just, something about the idea of Stiles - bright, vibrant Stiles - settling for anything less than stomach-flipping, toe-curling, float-on-air romance seems wrong. Stiles should wake up every morning feeling like he’s the most important person on the planet to someone. Should have somebody soak up his smiles and hold his hand when he’s sad and bring him sweet things to eat when he’s stressing about this or that. Stiles should be loved with someone’s entire being, because that’s exactly how he’ll love them back.

Derek is wordlessly cupping Stiles’ jaw before he can over-think it, and the surprised little gasp is swallowed as he closes his lips over Stiles’, shoulders rising as every ounce of love and respect and admiration he has for this fantastic, peculiar human pours into the kiss.

The music fades into the background; Derek becomes aware of nothing but the hammering of Stiles’ pulse under his fingers, the taste of sugar on his tongue, and the warm, solid heat of his body against his own.

It could be a second or a century, but eventually Derek is pulling back, finally getting an up-close look into those butterscotch eyes as Stiles mutters a breathy little whoa.

Derek might be mad, he thinks. He might have shook a few bonbons loose when he fell out of that tree a few days back, but his heart feels warm and twinkly like the Aurora Borealis, and he can’t stop smiling.

"Will you dance with me?" he asks, stepping back slightly, and it’s such a relief when Stiles nods that he’s not entirely sure that he doesn’t float all the way to the dancefloor, Stiles’ speechless friends watching the whole thing.

"Who— wha— What’s your name?" Stiles splutters as he slides his arms around Derek’s waist. They start into an uncoordinated sway, but then Derek was never that much of a dancer., They always put him in the back during pageants. "I saw you in the… " He blinks. "Are you stalking me?"

Derek dips his chin to hide his embarrassment. “Derek. And… not really.”

"Derek what?” Stiles presses, eyes raking over his face. “And what does ‘not really stalking’ entail?”

"It means I think I’ve wanted to talk to you for a while, but didn’t really have a good excuse before tonight."

"I see," Stiles hums, and Derek likes his voice so much more when it’s all hushed and deep like this. It makes little shivers scurry down his spine, despite his embarrassment. "You still haven’t told me your full name."

"Hale—" Derek replies, cutting it short reflexively. Elf-names might sound a little strange to a human. "Derek Hale."

"And do you have a habit of walking up to total strangers and giving them life-changing kisses?"

Derek cocks a brow. “Life-changing?” he quotes, and now Stiles is blushing, and it’s spectacular.

"Answer the question, please."

"No, first offense," Derek admits. "Guess you could say I felt compelled." His eyes flit down to Stiles’ distracting, kiss-plumped bottom lip, and he watches as it forms a surprised ‘oh’.

"Smooth," Stiles compliments hoarsely, and his mouth ticks up on one side. That’s the first time Derek’s ever heard that.

__

Four dances and a lot of question-dodging later—

"Where are you from?"

"North."

— Stiles is laughing into Derek’s neck as they lean against a pillar, picking faces out of the crowd and thinking up outrageous things random people might have wished for for Christmas.

"A brand new girdle," Derek suggests sagely, studying Stiles’ old high school lacrosse coach. "Former athletes take it the hardest when they get a beer-belly."

The man in question straightens up and scratches at a spot on his lower back, adjusting, and Stiles explodes into obnoxiously loud giggles, clutching at Derek’s arm like he’s about to fall over.

Derek looks at his feet, half sure he isn’t floating.

Oh my god," Stiles wheezes. "I can’t."

Derek shrugs modestly, hyper-aware of Stiles hand on him still. The band ends It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, and Stiles looks up when they don’t immediately fade into the next number, wiping at his eyes. The reason for the hesitation becomes clear, though, as the clock on the nearby tower strikes twelve, and the bell begins to chime.

"Oh, it’s officially Christmas Eve," Stiles says conversationally, and Derek’s stomach drops.

His words to his mother float back at him, promising to find Stiles someone  - someone he could fall in love with, maybe spend his life with, and not just the Holidays, but Derek - a mumble-fudging AoC has been monopolizing his time, selfishly soaking up his company because of a crush. A cold chill settles deep in Derek’s bones, like Jack Frost himself just slapped him in the face, and he straightens up from the pillar.

"I have to go," Derek says gravely, and the soft crinkle around Stiles’ eyes deepens when he looks back at him. "I’m sorry, I—"

"What?" Stiles snorts, confused. "What do you mean you… is this some kind of Cinderella thing?" He says it jokingly, but the look on Derek’s face must tell him clearly enough that the joking is over.

"I’m so sorry, Stiles," Derek says backing away, not bearing to look him in his lovely, lovely face. Stiles rears back like he’s been slapped. He takes an aborted step as if to follow, and that makes Derek feel like something is cracking inside of him like hard candy under a hoof.

"I don’t… Derek?"

Derek turns while his legs are still working, forcing himself to take the steps quickly until he breaks into a run, out of the square, into the night, off to find the nearest portal tree.

___

"You’re behaving like a nonagenarian."

"Go fig yourself, Laura," Derek grunts, but the heat might be dissolved by the six layers of sleeping-furs he’s buried under.

"You moped through Christmas," she says with disapproval, and  - if Derek knows his sister, a little bit of hurt. "It’s literally the most important day of the year for us and you spent it hiding away in here."

Derek lifts the blankets down a little to glare at her. “Sorry if I didn’t feel like spending my time watching Cora and Isaac swap gum,” he says scornfully. “And you and Jake are almost as bad - it’s been half a century, how are you not sick of each other yet?”

"Don’t get all grinchy about love just because you messed up a mission by getting all tingly over a human.”

He lets out a breath, flopping the covers down his torso. “It’s not just the mission - I openly sabotaged Stiles’ Cheer journey. That’s.. that’s unforgivable.”

"No, what’s unforgivable is running off on him in the middle of the night without so much as an explanation."

"I— I panicked," he grumbles. "What was I supposed to do? He’s human, Laura.”

She fixes him a judgemental look. “He thinks he imagined you - like all those kids who see Santa leaving them presents on Christmas Eve and then grow up to deny it.” Her face goes sincere. 

Derek turns fully to face her, indignation rising. “You sent spies?

"What’s the point in being a Halewinkle if you can’t take advantage of the privileges? Namely, the CGIT."

"You sent amateur spies? What the hell, Laura?”

"We needed the situation assessed," she shrugs casually, and her eyes slide slowly to him, like she’s expecting what he says next.

"And… how is he?" Derek croaks.

"Sad. He’s been trying to find you.”

That just makes Derek want to burrow into his own filth and stay there, but one hard pinch to the nose from Laura’s freakishly strong fingers, and he’s upright again, yelping in discomfort.

"Get it together, Derek," she snaps, using the Commanding Elf voice mom’s been coaching her to use. "You have two options - let this eat you, sucking out all your cheer and rendering you unable to perform basic elfin tasks, or you can figure out how to make this work, and do something for yourself, for once.”

Derek scowls at her, still rubbing at his nose. “He’s human, Laura - how could I possibly make any of this work.”

She blinks at him like he’s let her down somehow, and then looks to the ceiling for strength. “Honestly, as someone form a mixed-realm family, I would have thought you’d be a little more optimistic about this.”

Derek blinks, dropping his hand. “What? What the holly are you talking about?”

She cocks her head, holding her hands out like she’s waiting for him to realise something, and slumps further when he gives her a blank stare.

"Seriously?" she says, scandalized. "Haven’t you noticed how we’re a little bigger than your average elf? That you can grow stubble in half a day?”

Derek frowns.

"Dad’s human?" Laura says, like it’s obvious.

"What!?" Derek demands, searching her face for the trick. "Since when?"

"Um, birth? The guy can’t even assemble a Kinder Egg toy without mom’s help. Don’t you think that’s a little weird?”

"What?" Derek says again, because that’s all he can manage right now.

Laura rolls her eyes and nods to the door. “Don’t believe me, ask them yourself.”

Derek hadn’t even noticed his mother standing in the doorway. She ruffles Laura’s hair proudly as she joins them, smiling.

"And that’s why you’re my successor," she declares, climbing on to the bed and crossing her legs underneath her.

Derek just scowls as he processes the new information, staving down the little spark of hope that’s flickering to life after leaving Beacon Hills snuffed it out.

"Your dad is an odd mix of both persistent and patient," Mom says, giving Derek a look that suggests guess who inherited that quality. “We met back when Santa’s sleigh still required a co-pilot. I was trying to dig it out of a snow drift while he visited an apartment building, but I must have knocked off the cloaking-shield because your father saw me and immediately rushed over to help.” She gets a fond little smile on her face, recalling the memory. “He waited for me on his balcony with sugar cookies every Christmas Eve for three years, until eventually Santa got tired of him slowing us down and told me he’d pick me up the next Christmas. It was one of the best years of my life.”

Derek lets the story settle over him, comforted by her soft, comforting strokes of his legs through the blanket.

"But," he says, frowning at the movements in thought, "if Dad’s human, and you’re… however old you are… how is he…"

"Alive?" she smiles, and Laura nods curiously in his periphery. "The universe tends to balance these things out. We live in a magical, enchanted realm of love and giving, Derek… and you only actually work two months out of the year."

"So you mean Stiles— We… he could be with me?"

"If that’s what you both want  - but think hard on it. Once certain things are revealed, they’re hard to take back. Especially since you’ll remember them regardless."

Derek nods into his hands, reeling as his mind races through possibilities. Visiting Stiles in college, going on dates and learning first-hand all the delights the mortal realm has to offer. Showing Stiles his home; taking hikes through the Marshmallow Mountains, snuggling together in the tavern with mugs of buttered rum, cuddling beneath his sleeping furs, sharing warmth.

The possibilities definitely outshine his hesitance, but Mom and Laura leave him alone with his thoughts, deciding if Stiles is worth risking himself for.

__

He looks exactly as Laura had described, slumped on a couch in the corner of a party in the last hours of the year. Derek has been stabbed in the leg with an icicle before, but the pain pales in comparison to seeing Stiles like this and knowing he’s the cause.

Stiles’ friends laugh and make resolutions around him, but his smiles don’t quite reach his eyes, and the light in them that Derek managed to put there is dull now; fading fast.

He waits until Stiles goes to the bathroom, feeling like the stalker Stiles first accused him of being as he waits in the dark hallway. Laura had pressed a Good Luck kiss to his cheek and muttered about the things we do for love. Derek thinks he now understands what she was talking about.

There’s a strangled squawk and a stumble when he snags his hand, and the panic on Stiles’ face blooms into outright happiness when he adjusts to the dim light.

"Derek?" he says tentatively, squinting in the dark, and the thud of bass from the sound system can’t keep up with the staccato of the elf’s heart. "You’re back? Where did you…" 

How quickly Stiles’ elation shuts down is like a sudden storm cloud, and the guy hugs his arms around himself, stepping away.

"Wait, I’m pissed at you."

"I know," Derek says, holding his hands up. "I’m really sorry, but I… I can explain, if you’ll let me."

Stiles chews aggressively on his lip, like he’s really trying to make Derek sweat over it. His eyes rake over Derek’s frame - as much of it as he can see, anyway - and the peeved expression slips away. If Derek wasn’t well aware that this was Stiles and how he is, he’d have whiplash.

"Youre not wearing earmuffs," Stiles blurts, letting his hands drop as he steps closer. "I kinda thought it was weird that you always had them covered up, but also cute?" He holds his hands up, blinking slowly. "That was weird, please forget I—"

"No, that was kind of what I needed to talk to you about!" Derek says, watching Stiles intensely, considering and reconsidering his decision until the last second.

"You wanted to talk to me about your ears?”

"Yes. Kind of… it’s—" Derek clenches his jaw, wondering if he picked up these speech patterns from the guy in front of him. "We need to go somewhere where there’s more light," he announces, and Stiles’ nose crinkles in reaction. "But first… I need you to trust me."

___

One Year Later

"They’re snug, I’ll give you that. Derek. Derek.” Stiles snaps his fingers in front of his face repeatedly, but it’s still that same dopey look. “Is this some kind of elf-kink you didn’t tell me about? A big ruse to get me into these clothes?”

"Not that I was aware of," Derek says finally, shooting back a smirk. "I’m calling it a plus-side, though."

"Wow, who knew?" Stiles says, readjusting the breeches over his butt. He feels kind of ridiculous, but if it’s important to Derek, well..

Stiles did just walk inside of a tree for the guy.

"Are you ready?" Derek asks, hand on the tree-door. They’re in a tree.

Stiles nods, bracing himself, and when Derek pushes the wood back, it’s like the air changes. At first all he sees is snow, but he’s not particularly cold, so he guesses Derek wasn’t talking out of his ass about needing elf clothes. He glances over at him, smirking when he notices that the glamour Derek developed for wear in Stiles’ realm has worn off, revealing his pointy little ears, flushed purple with nerves.

Stiles laces their fingers together, stepping out in front of Derek, and when he gets out far enough, it takes his breath away.

Every kid’s movie, story book or goddamn candy commercial is real and alive in front of him. There’s so much happening with this little town and half of it looks edible and Stiles can’t even focus on one part at any one time.

"Well?" Derek says, and his ears are puce, but he’s doing a good job of schooling his face neutral.

"Holy crab-apples!" Stiles gushes, and frowns. "Wait, what the fondant? Why the holly-jolly can’t I swear?"

Derek snorts into his neck; relieved, rumbling laughter pouring into Stiles and warming him from the inside out.

"Honestly, I’m just thankful that there’s something here. I did think for a while that you might be on a lot of drugs."

Derek straightens up to shoot him a warning look, but it’s kind of negated by the twitch of his mouth.

"We can go back," he threatens, and Stiles strides ahead, outwardly unbothered. He’s fully aware that Derek is fighting not to look at his ass right now.

"No way. I wanna drink in this tavern you say makes Dough ‘n’ Joe taste like a run-down Starbucks, and then we can go mess around in the chocolate waterfall. I’ll let you lick some off my dingle ‘n’ bells.”

He smirks when he hears Derek’s steps quicken in chase, deciding that being tackled into the snow is pretty cool if it’s made of marshmallow fluff.

This is his life, now, apparently. Stiles is happy about it. Cheerful, even.