Parrish raises an eyebrow at the garbled shouting coming from behind the iron door of Derek’s loft and knocks more cautiously than he might have otherwise, hand seeking out his belt on instinct despite being off duty. Stiles slides it open, eyes darting between Parrish’s face and the case in his hand. Parrish holds it up and says uncertainly, “Kira used the words ‘beer’ and ‘emergency’ in the same sentence.”
“And she was right to,” Stiles says with extreme gravity. He holds out his hands, palms up, as though he’s accepting something fragile and wounded. He cradles it to his chest to carry it inside.
Parrish gets his first look at the shenanigans occurring within as Stiles retreats and feels his understanding of the situation drop into negative numbers. Boyd and Erica are both standing on the same armchair, Jackson has Lydia on his back on the coffee table, which is pretty much covered in beer cans and bottles. Parrish has no idea if they’re full or empty. Allison and Scott are standing on kitchen stools, Isaac’s on a cushion on the floor and Derek’s standing on the sofa. Kira’s sitting cross-legged, on the floor, in the middle of all of them with a textbook open in her lap. She’s the only one who doesn’t look like she’s been pre-gaming whatever the hell this is.
Speaking of. “What the hell is this?”
Stiles’ eyes bug and he picks up an open beer bottle – presumably his – off the end of the table and says as though it’s obvious, “True American, of a sort. We vetoed the history part. Which is the whole part. Some of us struggle with history.” He shoots Scott a smirk.
Scott promptly flips him off from his stool.
And that explained literally nothing. Parrish’s face must give that away because Stiles is back to staring at him like he has trouble understanding intelligible speech. He shoves two fingers in his mouth and gives a sharp whistle.
All the wolves wince.
He waves a hand over his shoulder as if to say ‘bring it in.’ And the lot of them come down off their furniture plateaus and gather up. “Okay, here’s what you need to know,” Stiles looks back towards the kitchen and says, “Scott?”
Scott trots over and slaps a cold beer into Parrish’s hand and Stiles nods approvingly.
“This is a drinking game, meets children’s game, meets Dungeons & Dragons, some of us were a little nostalgic for it,” he points to himself. “Now, unlike regular True American, ours focuses on the socio-economic standard of success in America rather than historical events, for Scott and his dumb brain,” Stiles adds with a snigger. He pulls himself together and goes back to explaining this as though he’s giving a lecture, “We call it Brackets because the object of the game is to finish in the best of every socio-economic bracket, meaning you want to be the youngest, the highest-earning, married with a reasonable amount of children and the best educated.”
Parrish nods after each one, mentally repeating them so he won’t forget.
Stiles jerks a thumb towards Kira. “Since we haven’t figured out how to get a kitsune drunk yet,” Kira waves with a bright smile, like Parrish might have forgotten who she is between the text that brought him here and now. Weird girl, “Kira is our dungeon master aka godmonster aka higher power aka life ruiner and one of the very few rules is that the dungeon master/godmonster/higher power/life ruiner’s word is final.” Stiles jumps up on an ottoman and the rest of them find new positions or resume their old ones. “Now, stand on some furniture and get ready to flash your sign.”
Parrish is still dumbly standing in the middle of the room because that seriously can’t have been the end of the explanation, as evidenced by the fact that: “I have no idea what that means.”
Stiles isn’t listening though, he’s formed a rock with his fist and is pounding the air with it. “One, two, three, four, sign!” His fingers break free of the rock and he makes a bent peace sign with his hand, fingers folded over at the knuckles. He bops it down on his chin and then raises it to his forehead, straightening it out into a proper peace sign. The weirdest thing about it is that Derek’s doing the exact same thing.
Scott’s doing some odd rain-like thing with his hands that Allison’s mirroring and Parrish is so fucking lost. “What are you doing?”
“ASL,” Stiles says with a shrug, looking around the room at everyone’s signs, “we only know about four signs collectively so this how we choose teams and…” his eyes light up when he sees Derek’s also doing his sign and he crows, “Derek, fuck yes!” He hops across furniture to stand next to Derek on the sofa and fist bumps him. “Goat forever, dude.” To Parrish’s surprise, Derek fist bumps him back, eyes narrowing around at their competition while Stiles announces, “This is gonna be a sweep, man.” The teams appear to be Jackson and Lydia, Stiles and Derek, Scott and Allison, Erica and Boyd and Isaac and—“Oof, you can pair with Isaac since he’s incorrectly signing car crash.”
Parrish decides to take the spot on the ottoman that Stiles so recently abandoned and asks, “What do the teams do?”
“Teams mean that your teammate can only help you, not hurt you,” Erica says with a megawatt grin at Boyd. She nods to Kira. “Since Kira is our dungeon master, which basically means ‘Kira makes up increasingly complicated and dark shit,’” Kira preens even as she flips a page of her book, “she can’t make up any bad shit when you put forward a scenario having to do with your teammate.”
Jackson carries that through. “So, say McCall advances a scenario where Allison gives him $10,000 to start his own veterinary clinic or something else equally as lame? That can only go exactly as he’s said it would or better, your teammate can’t fuck you over.”
Stiles grins. “Which is awesome,” he explains, “because in this game, everything else will fuck you over.”
Boyd holds up his beer and motions to everyone else’s with it. “Obviously the most important part of the game is drinking,” there’s a round of garbled, excited yelling in agreement, “and every time you slide down the ladder, you take a drink.”
“Unison is also a big part of the game too,” Stiles adds, “because synchronicity when you can barely say your own name deserves all the awards.” He and Scott grin dumbly at each other.
“Say the bank forecloses on your house,” Allison picks up the explanation, “Kira will say, ‘drink,’ and if all of us, in unison, say, ‘it all,’ or ‘the Hennessy,’ then you have to do as we say but if, as usually happens, we’re too fucked up to coordinate it then we have to take a drink with you.”
Parrish feels himself closing in on an ‘A ha!’ moment and realizes blankly, “This is nonsense.”
“Obviously,” Stiles agrees stoutly, as though he’s already said that multiple times and Parrish is just being remarkably slow.
“The best way to learn is to play,” Lydia says primly, clearly eager to get the game going.
Stiles winks at him. “Here’s a life hack though, this is a game of adapting, which is why Lydia sucks so much.” Lydia glares at him. “It’s all well and good to go in with a plan but life is going to fuck your shit up, so you have to have both a good original plan as well as be good at coming up with alternate routes to make your plan happen because it’s rarely going to jump from A to B.” He taps his temple. “We all start in high school since that’s when the majority of the game was created,” Parrish gives him a stern look about the underage drinking but lets it go when Stiles doesn’t seem to notice it, “so be thinking of where you want to go from there. Also, the floor is lava – one of the few rules retained from the original – and if you fall in it then you have to be and carry around the Captain.”
“What?” Just when he was starting to think he was getting this too.
“Captain Morgan and a pirate hat,” Isaac says in a chant, pointing into the kitchen at an impressive row of liquor bottles arranged with the tallest in the center and tapering off to the smallest at either end. “You forfeit beer-drinking and every time henceforth,” there’s a lot of eye rolling at the word choice, “that you have to drink, you do so with the Captain while wearing the pirate hat.”
“If the pirate hat falls off,” Boyd tells him, “then you lose the game, but you can get back in by restarting at the lowest bracket.”
They all catch each other’s eyes and chant in unison, “Brackets, brackets, show me love!” as they move one spot to their left. Parrish moves before Isaac can try to get on the ottoman with him. Now he’s on the coffee table, careful of his footing so he doesn’t knock anything over, and just as confused as he was on the ottoman. Stiles appears to be leading this because he says rapidly, “One, two, three, private school!”
Kira pipes up without looking at him, “Qualifications?”
Stiles’ forehead scrunches and he says rapidly, like there’s a time constraint on it (there probably is), counting on his fingers, “Uh, zoning, scholarship, sheriff.”
Kira pokes at a dice app on her phone and nods. “You’re in.”
Derek’s next and he says quickly – enough that Parrish thinks this might be his go-to start while Stiles seemed to be making it up as he went along, “Try out for forward on the high school basketball team.”
Kira pokes her phone again. “You make it but as a center.”
“Uh.” Scott brightens. “Date Allison!”
The sound of fake dice rolling. “Done.”
“Make it onto an archery team.”
Kira rolls the dice, pulls a face and looks up at Allison with a smile. “Nope, day of your nerves get the better of you and you’re rejected due to unsteady hands.”
Allison swears and Lydia flips her hair. “Demand a math placement exam and start Calculus freshman year.”
“Try out for lacrosse.”
Kira’s making notes even as she tells Jackson, “Midfielder.”
“There’s no way I’m not attack,” he argues.
Even Parrish remembers that’s against the rules. It’s literally the only rule he was told and he’s pleased that he can join in when everyone chastises, in unison, “Jackson.”
Then all eyes turn to him and he blinks. Isaac prods, “Parrish?”
Oh! It’s his turn. What the fuck would he have wished he’d done at the beginning of high school if he’d had the benefit of future knowledge to inform him? “Oh, uh, okay. Begin ROTC and audit Criminal Justice at the local community college?”
Kira bangs a metal ruler against the cement floor. It makes an awful clanging sound that feels like it shaves bone off Parrish’s spine. She follows it with a yell of, “Drink!”
“It all!” everyone else says together.
Fuck. Parrish chugs his bottle, sets it down towards the edge of the table while Stiles points at the center of it and Parrish picks up what turns out to be a full can. They’re all full. He has to bite his tongue to keep from telling them they’re all probably going to get alcohol poisoning.
Stiles jabs a finger at the label across the way. “Nope, that’s wolfsbane brew. Grab a gold label.”
Parrish does and then has to ask, “What just happened?”
It’s Kira who answers. “That was a penalty for trying to make more than one move in a turn. We’ll give you ROTC training since you’re a noob but, in the future, you’re only allowed to posit one thing at a time.”
Parrish nods. He’s entered a territory where he’s very happy to be learning rules – where he’s very happy to know that rules still exist here – as this was beginning to resemble a lawless, drunken swamp. He’s just twisted off the top of his beer when Kira yells, “Wild card!” Everything electric in Derek’s apartment starts to flicker or spark or generally go haywire.
Parrish looks around to see everyone’s index finger on their nose and quickly follows suit, getting his there before Allison. He resists the urge to fist pump over having better reflexes than a hunter.
The lights stop flickering and Kira’s eyes zero in on Allison. She rolls her dice app. “Allison, as it turns out, your hands were unsteady because you’re six weeks pregnant.”
Allison drops her head back, groans, and lets out a heavy, “Fuck.”
Parrish is still standing. Three—no, seven—eighty-two… some amount of hours into this game and he is still standing. He’s more wasted than he’s been since his freshman year of college, but he’s standing. Mostly. He might be leaning on Boyd a little to accomplish the ‘standing’ part but he’s decided to be generous with himself and call that a win. He’s also learned that inter-team assistance is not exactly uncommon either, so he’s not even breaking any rules.
The bottle Isaac spun finally stops spinning and lands on Stiles, who chugs his can of beer, crushes it under his heel and says loudly, “Marrying Derek, thus invalidating unwanted pregnancy as a future option!”
He and Derek high-five as they all chant, Parrish included, “Union, union, glorious union,” and throw their beer bottle caps up in the air like it’s rice.
Which makes it Allison’s turn. Scott kneels on his cushion next to her and bemoans, “Allison, please, for the love of all that is holy, stop having babies!”
They’re up to four. Maybe five. Parrish rubs his eyes, shakes his head.
“Listen, McCall, it takes two to keep this up,” she says viciously, motioning to her always-flat stomach. “My turn? Scott gets a vasectomy.”
Kira looks up from her paper, flicks the dice app and says, “Done.”
It’s Isaac’s turn and he says proudly, “Apply for an equity loan.”
Parrish groans. Isaac has the worst plans.
“Denied, the bank takes your right shoe for wasting their time.” Isaac lets out a few expletives, nearly falls over getting his shoe off (and Parrish notes it’s the left one anyway) and throws it so it lands in front of Kira. She nods approvingly, shouts, “Drink!”
Stiles holds up one finger, pauses, then a second and Parrish can guess it’s two deliberate syllables, meaning, “The SoCo!” Eight voices join in with his own.
“Goddammit,” Isaac mutters under his breath, hopping from his cushion to an end table to the kitchen counter and nearly pitching forward too far. He slithers along the counter, depth perception off after drinking so much so he clearly thinks he can’t stand up without hitting his head. Derek has remarkably high ceilings though so he has about a foot of extra space.
Parrish can’t deny it’s way more entertaining to watch him do it this way though.
He gets to the SoCo, pours himself a shot, adds the ‘fun kind of wolfsbane’ to it and downs it. Everyone shouts their approval and then it’s Parrish’s turn, and he knows his next move for once. “Take the test for the academy.”
He holds his breath as the tin dice sound rolls through background noise and then Kira says, “Passed, advance to the couch.”
Parrish is no longer above fist pumping to himself and he gives an intense one, miscalculates his jump to the couch and ends up slamming into Derek on the next cushion. Derek grunts, glares, but helps him find his balance again. After what was clearly a short but heated internal debate about it. Parrish can’t deny that it’s a bit of a surprise that Derek steadied him rather than further unbalanced him – because, as Parrish has found out through this very revealing game of Brackets, Derek is hella competitive.
But then so is Stiles, who definitely pushed Jackson into the lava a few moves back and took great pleasure in jamming the pirate hat on his head while he whined about his hair.
Boyd announces in a booming voice, “Sell my iPhone app.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck, it can’t do well because then Boyd will totally reach top bracket in salary and be one step closer to winning the game, which means Parrish’s lawsuit plan isn’t happening fast enough if— “Success, it lights up the charts and you make 6.32 million dollars off it.”
“Fuck,” Parrish swears under his breath and Derek grunts his agreement next to him, eyes narrowed.
Erica clinks her bottle with Boyd’s and says, “Have Boyd’s baby.”
Dice roll and then: “Done!”
They all chant together, “Baby makes three,” and hop three places from where they were.
It’s Derek’s turn, who’s now balanced precariously on Isaac’s shoe in front of Kira and he wrinkles his forehead like he’s having trouble remembering his plan before he says, “Take my book to a publisher.”
Kira rolls the dice, purses her lips. “They take it on, however the printed word is dead and it sell five copies. All of which Stiles bought.” Stiles cheers just as Kira yells, “Drink!”
Stiles blows a kiss at Derek across the room and winks. “Don’t worry, boo, I got plans in the works. Also, it was a beautiful book, you're the next Bill Shakespeare and I should’ve bought a hundred.” Everyone blinks stupidly at them, Derek grinning widely, and Stiles takes that opportunity to explain in very small words to Scott who William Shakespeare is.
Scott throws an empty beer can at him.
It takes Parrish another three moves to realize that that was all engineered by Stiles so no one would think to yell a liquor or to drink it all at Derek. That clever little asshole, Parrish thinks fondly. They really had this team shit down. Parrish looks across to Isaac, who has his claws out and is clinging to the countertop in the kitchen even though he’s literally flattened on top of it and would have a harder time falling off it than staying on. He rolls his eyes and maybe he’s a bit fond with that too.
He’s been playing this soul-crushing game for three days now—six weeks—eight hours… somewhere around there. Lydia and Jackson have already left to go have sex somewhere after Jackson’s pirate hat fell off (Parrish suspects Derek’s hand in that, the timing was simply too suspicious) and Boyd and Erica are all but eliminated – the rest of them though: competition, which is when Kira says the horrible, horrible words, “Partner carry, move five spaces!”
Parrish is dizzy standing completely still and then Isaac starts trying to climb him like a tree. “If I put my claws in your face, let me know,” he slurs out in Parrish’s ear, as though he needs to be told to do that.
“Yeah, you’ll definitely hear about that, buddy,” he says as Isaac finally situates himself and he takes a precarious step forward only to realize he is definitely going to die here, in Derek’s loft, with Isaac clinging to his back like an insecure koala.
Stiles clambers onto Derek’s back and Derek makes it look easy as he steps from table to chair. Stiles presses his cheek against Derek’s shoulder, wraps his arms around his chest and says happily, “If you drop me, babe, I’ll find some way to turn it into a worker’s comp claim.”
“I appreciate your commitment to the quadruped, rhypophagus team of goatliness,” Derek grunts out, somehow retaining what Stiles has been calling them all game. It should’ve fallen out of his head, replaced with the river of alcohol he's consumed tonight but somehow he's held onto it. He checks his footing again, taking careful steps under Stiles’ weight. Derek hadn’t sounded in the least bit sarcastic either and Parrish wonders if he’s missing something with them because he could’ve sworn there was nothing going on and yet they’ve been weirdly in sync all game. Though, they’re weirdly in sync about pretty much everything when he thinks about it.
“Wild card!” Kira yells as the lights flicker. Parrish nearly pokes himself in the eye getting a finger to his nose and it’s Scott who gets there last, Allison’s arms awkwardly wrapped around him as he carried her so he couldn’t bring his hand up fast enough. Kira smiles grimly. “Scott’s vasectomy reversed itself and Allison is pregnant again.” When Scott and Allison glare at her, she shrugs and says innocently, “It happens.”
Stiles nearly guffaws himself into falling off Derek’s back and even Derek lets out a snort.
“No!” is Scott and Allison’s exact same response to the news, after all the glaring.
Isaac starts shifting on Parrish’s back as he goes to take his third step, like he’s trying to get comfortable, settle in or something, and Parrish snaps, “Isaac, stop moving so awkwardly.”
He does. For about five seconds. Just long enough for Parrish to make his move. Then Isaac decides to maneuver again and throw them off balance so they both fall off the table.
Derek and Stiles gape at them, twin grins of victory blooming over their cheeks. “I think we just won,” Stiles crows while Derek hitches him up higher by his thighs. He looks over at Scott and Allison, who have something like an eighth kid on the way and a recently unemployed father and he says more giddily, “Did we just win?”
Stiles squeezes his legs around Derek’s sides and Derek says with a triumphant smirk, “We won.”
Parrish kind of wants to punch the both of them. Stiles must notice because he frowns and says sympathetically, arms tightening around Derek’s biceps, fingers tangled together over his sternum, “Don’t feel bad, you were shackled with Isaac. He’s literally the worst at Brackets. Ever.” Isaac grumbles and sloppily flips them both off.
Stiles disentangles himself from Derek so he can properly respond to Isaac, licking the tip of his finger and pretending his ass is sizzling when he touches said finger to it.
Erica rolls her eyes from the floor where Kira is absentmindedly braiding her hair and shrugs, saying unassumingly, “Plus, Derek and Stiles win eighty-seven percent of the time.”
Parrish narrows his eyes. That totally sounds like the game is fixed then. Not cool. “Why?”
Scott lets a lazy grin spread over his cheeks. “I can only assume unresolved sexual tension plays heavily in their success.”
Stiles’ cheeks go bright red and he splutters, “That’s not—There’s not—”
Derek turns around, cups his cheek in a large palm and slots their mouths together, kisses him. Thoroughly. Meaningfully. Like Stiles is Princess Buttercup and Derek’s Westley and far from looks of surprise around the room, there’s only grins. Parrish is one of them.
Derek pulls away after a long moment and Stiles starts breathily, “What was—”
“We’re married,” Derek says with an unconcerned shrug but Parrish can see the barely there shaking of his hands.
His smile blooms slowly but genuinely. It’s warm and seems to melt some tension no one had even seen in him until that moment. He sighs, quips happily, “Yeah, we are.” He thrusts his chin out at Isaac and adds for what seems to be solely the benefit of rubbing it in his face, “Married winners!”
Parrish rolls his eyes and pretends to himself that he’s anything other than thrilled that these are his people, that this is his pack. And for no other reason than that they want him just as much as he wants them.