It’s past midnight when Stiles’s bedroom curtains shift open and Derek Hale climbs inside. Stiles, his heart thumping and his stomach knotted up, can’t stop a stupid, tired grin from spreading over his face, even though letting Derek in is his dumbest idea ever. Stiles is a teenaged, unmated omega, and if anyone found out Derek was here it would pretty much ruin his reputation, and his dad’s, for life, but at the moment Stiles doesn’t care.
“Hey,” Derek says quietly, a slight quirk to his lips. It’s about as close to a real smile as Stiles has ever seen from Derek, but that’s just Derek all over. He has this blinding, radiant smile he uses for damn good effect when he wants to get out of a traffic ticket, or doesn’t want servers to spit in his food, but this smile—this slight, shy smile that barely tugs at the corners of his mouth—is the real thing. And it’s all for Stiles.
“Hey.” Stiles stands up from his desk and crosses his bedroom floor. He stands awkwardly in front of Derek for a second, before Derek reaches out and curls his fingers around his wrist, and it’s warm, and comfortable and right. Stiles leans into him.
“I saw your light was still on.” Derek rubs a hand up his back, the touch gentle. “Are you doing your homework?”
Stiles glances at his open laptop. “Nah. Just talking to the group.”
“Everyone okay?” Derek asks.
This is what Stiles loves about Derek the most. Not only is he actually supportive of Stiles’s online group, More Than Biology, he actually cares about the other kids Stiles tells him about. Last month, when Stiles was almost panicking because Larissa in Cabo had turned sixteen and dropped off the radar, Derek had been worried too. Then it turned out that Larissa had just lost the notebook she kept her passwords in when she moved into her new place, and she was actually doing okay.
Okay is probably the best any of them can really hope for.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. He gets a weird uneasy itch at the base of his skull when he talks about the group, and a restless energy that builds up and up because it’s got nowhere to go. It’s like he could be shouting this shit from the rooftops, and nobody would even hear him. Like nobody gives a fuck if every year omegas are stripped of more and more rights, just like nobody gives a fuck about how that cheap shirt they bought was made by some five-year-old in a foreign factory, or the worker that put together their newest, shiniest smart phone basically just did an eighteen hour shift for the equivalent of three bucks. Out of sight, out of mind.
Derek shifts his hand up, rubbing his thumb against the top of Stiles’s spine, the skin sliding over the bone. “You sure?”
“Yeah,” Stiles sighs. He sucks in a deep breath and tries to shake off his souring mood. “So, today in school when the other kids were learning chemistry, guess what I did?”
Stiles flashes Derek a self-deprecating grin. “I got to learn how to make my own raspberry jam. Can you believe that?”
The school system calls it streaming classes. Stiles calls it bullshit. Why the hell shouldn’t the omega kids be allowed to learn chemistry instead of how to make fucking jam? Why the hell shouldn’t they take driving lessons instead of deportment lessons? What the fuck is deportment anyway? Luckily Stiles already has his license, but who the hell knows how long it’ll be until the government legislates to take it off him? Because omegas don’t need to know chemistry, or how to drive, or history, or how a bill becomes law. Omegas don’t need to know anything except how to be docile and good and obedient.
Stiles is a pretty terrible omega. He’s supposed to be interested in stuff like baking and sewing, and all sorts of nesting behaviour. It turns out he’s more interested in video games, hanging out with his friends, and talking online to other omegas who feel the same way that he does. Stiles knows they’re in the minority—most omegas don’t push back against hundreds of years of tradition—but it’s just such a relief to know he’s not alone. If Stiles is a freak, he’s not the only one.
It’s the reason he started More Than Biology when he was thirteen. It had started as a blog, just a place for Stiles to anonymously vent about the shit that made him angry, but before long it was too big for that. Now, almost three years later, it’s a forum with over twenty thousand members. Most of them are omegas, but a growing number are alphas and betas who are as worried about the increasing curtailing of omega rights as Stiles is.
“How was your jam?” Derek asks, that slight smile playing at the corners of his mouth again.
“Terrible,” Stiles tells him. “Inedible.”
“Good.” Derek leans forward and presses his lips to Stiles’s forehead softly. “Good.”
The tension eases in Stiles at the gentle touch of Derek’s lips. “My dad’s on night shift,” he murmurs softly. “You can stay over if you want.”
“I can’t.” Derek sounds regretful. “You know I can’t.”
Stiles huffs out a breath and steps back from Derek’s embrace. “It’s bullshit!”
He’s angry at the system, not at Derek. The system that says it’d be nobody’s business at all if he let a boy kiss him, or more, if only he’d been born an alpha or a beta. The system that says that because he’s an omega, he can’t possibly make his own decisions, and he’s forever at the mercy of his own biology. Because he’s an omega he’s not allowed out after dark unaccompanied. He’s not allowed to be around alphas or betas without supervision. He’s not allowed to be in a relationship that hasn’t been authorized by the Department of Omega Registration.
Being an omega sucks ass.
The worst thing is, if anyone found out about Derek, it’d be Stiles that somehow got the blame. Even though Derek is older, and a beta. Even though Derek isn’t a useless, dumb, helpless omega, it would be Stiles whose reputation would be ruined. It’d be Stiles who copped all the fallout. No decent alpha or beta would want him after that—something Stiles would totally be okay with, except it’s not that simple. He’d still be mated, because that’s the law. He’d just be mated to whoever the DOR could scrape off the bottom of the barrel. Stiles has heard the horror stories. He’s heard them direct from the omegas on More Than Biology. This one girl in South Carolina got caught out with a boyfriend. When she turned sixteen, the DOR handed her over to some guy four times her age who beat her. Stiles spoke to her online a few times, then didn’t hear from her again. He later found out she’d killed herself. The worst part was that he really didn’t blame her for doing it.
Derek’s gaze is steady. “It’s one more week, Stiles.”
“I know.” Stiles scrubs his knuckles over his buzz cut. One more week until he’s sixteen. They can keep their relationship hidden until then. They have for months. From that first meeting in the stacks in the town library, all the way to now, nobody’s suspected a thing. Stiles hasn’t even told his best friend Scott. “God. I just… it drives me crazy, Der!”
“Me too,” Derek says, his face grave.
Stiles believes him.
God, if anything, the past few months have shown him that Derek is fucking perfect. He likes Stiles: Stiles Stilinksi, the noisy, clumsy, awkward kid who has an opinion on everything and isn’t afraid to share it, not Stiles the little omega. Stiles has always been, and always will be, more than his fucking biology.
It’s kind of a shame that Derek’s awesomeness doesn’t run in his family. Well, maybe it did, but Derek’s only surviving family is Peter Hale. The Peter Hale. The Peter Hale who is a director of the Department of Omega Registration, and pretty much Stiles’s nemesis. Not that he even knows who Stiles is, thank fuck. But still, Stiles feels perfectly justified in hating everything Peter Hale stands for.
Derek doesn’t talk much about his uncle, and Stiles appreciates that. He knows it’s been hard on Derek losing most of his family in a house fire years ago. Then, last year, his sister Laura was killed by some random mugger, and now his uncle Peter is the only family Derek’s got left. So Stiles shuts his mouth about Peter, and so does Derek, and that works just fine, thanks.
“One more week,” Derek repeats, and smiles cautiously.
“You put the papers in?” Stiles’s heart beats a little faster.
Okay, so in a week he’ll be sixteen and he’ll be claimed. That’s the law. When omegas turn sixteen, alphas and betas can make formal bids for them. Which is exactly as backward and medieval as it sounds. Particularly given that Stiles gets no say in it. Neither does his dad, really. Okay, so whoever wants him will have to submit the bid to Sheriff Stilinksi, but unless the Sheriff has a damn good reason to refuse—a better reason than “I don’t want to let my kid get treated like a piece of meat”—then the Department of Omega Registration will intervene and turn Stiles over anyway.
Ever since Stiles turned thirteen and was classified as an Omega, he’s been terrified. Except now he’s not. Derek’s twenty-two, and a beta. He’s old enough to put in a bid for an omega of his own, and Derek’s already promised Stiles he’s going to do that. And Stiles’s dad might not be happy about it, but Stiles knows he won’t have any grounds to refuse. The Hale family is wealthy, and well-regarded. Stiles literally could not do better.
“I put the papers in,” Derek says, his smile growing.
Stiles leaps forward and hugs him tight. “Oh, thank God!”
He’s pretty sure that nobody else is going to put in a bid for him. And, even if they do, Stiles will ask his dad to pick Derek for him. His dad won’t be happy about it—he hates the system as much as Stiles does, and he’ll hate Stiles having anything to do with Peter Hale, even if it’s only by association with Derek—but he’ll agree in the end when Stiles tells him the truth. And the truth is that Stiles is in love.
“One more week,” Derek tells him softly, and presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
One more week.
When Derek leaves, Stiles feels better than he has all day. He sits back down at his laptop, checks in with a few people, and writes a post about how it’s their allies—the alphas and betas who love them—who will eventually help them force change. Because he believes, more than anything, that love is always stronger than hate.
The sentiment is pretty hard to hold onto in the cold light of day. At least when the cold light of day involves a presentation from the DOR to the omega students of Beacon Hills High. When the announcement goes out over the PA, Stiles huffs to himself as he gathers his books together. Great. Another actual class ruined. Math, this time. He slings his backpack over his shoulder and makes a face at Scott as he and the only other omega in the class, a kid called Jason, head for the gym.
Jason is what everyone would call a good omega. He does all his special homework and takes extra classes on weekends on cooking and housekeeping, and is actually jealous of Stiles for turning sixteen first and getting to be mated. Stiles doesn’t hate him or anything, but he really can’t relate to him. At all.
They walk to the gym together, joining the trickle of other omega kids from different classes. There are fifty-two omega kids at Beacon Hills High. Stiles knows every one of them. He suspects a few of them are members of More Than Biology—he overheard some of them whispering about it once—but he doesn’t know for sure. Anonymity is vital for the group. Stiles would never tell them he was the founder, even if he knew for sure they were in the group. It’s safer for everyone that way. The group isn’t illegal, but then again, neither was staying out at night up until three years ago. The rules can change very quickly.
Stiles takes a seat on the bleachers and prepares to be bored out of his skull by whatever bullshit the DOR is pushing at them now.
Except it’s not just some random in a suit who steps up onto the podium. It’s Peter Hale. He smiles out at his captive audience, looking handsome and charming, with more than a dash of slick politician thrown in.
Stiles sits up straighter.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he says, in a friendly tone of voice that makes Stiles bristle, but some of the others smile and blush. “For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Peter Hale. I’m a director at the Department of Omega Registration, and I live right here in Beacon Hills.” He winks at the front row. “Go Cyclones!”
Stiles tries very, very hard not to roll his eyes.
“Today I’m here to talk to you about an exciting new direction you’ll all be taking starting tomorrow. If it’s successful, which I think it will be, it’ll be rolled out across the state in time for the next school year.”
Stiles glances at a few of the teachers who are watching. It’s hard to tell, but he thinks some of them are pretty unhappy. Coach Finstock definitely is, but that’s probably only because his gym’s been taken over by Peter Hale.
Peter smiles at the group again. “At the Department, we think it’s high time that schools catered more for the needs of all their students, not just the alphas and betas.”
A girl sitting in front of Stiles nods along obediently.
“So, starting tomorrow, omega students will be streamed into their own classes. These classes are specially designed to teach you the skills you need for your futures, and to help you develop your best qualities. They’ll be focussed on subjects you might have touched on previously, like cooking, and home sciences, and parenting, but there will also be a focus on your wellbeing and health, and on the qualities you need develop in order to become the best omegas you can for your future mates.” Peter’s smile is still perfectly in place. “It’s a very exciting program, and I know you’re all going to love it.”
Stiles schools his features and glances down the end of the bleachers. There’s a kid with glasses handing out a stack of papers.
“Now, you’ll all be anxious to have a look at your new timetables,” Peter says. “I’ll let you have a little read of those and then, if you’ve got any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.”
Stiles almost wrenches the paper from the kid’s hands when the kid gets close enough. He stares down at it, a sick feeling rising in his stomach.
Every single regular class is missing from his schedule. Stiles blinks, and is horrified when his vision blurs and the words on the page swim. He’s not going to cry. Not in public. Not in front of Peter Hale.
But every class is gone. His new timetable tells him that now all his classes are going to be held in the omega study center, which is apparently the three classrooms closest to the library. And tomorrow morning he’ll learn cooking, sewing, cleaning, and how make his house look good for his mate. Then they have a lunch break, but not at the same time as the rest of the school. After lunch Stiles will learn grooming, and presentation, and something called Traditional Behavioral Studies. Then sex ed, and nap time. Fucking nap time? Nap time until—his breath catches—until a parent or authorized guardian collects him directly from the classroom.
He feels like he’s in kindergarten again. Creepy fucking Stepford Wives kindergarten.
Stiles hunches over his new timetable and glances around the gym. Most of the other omegas appear curious and not troubled at all. Only one or two seem as anxious as Stiles.
When Peter Hale takes questions, most of them are about where the new classes are exactly, and who the teachers will be, and whether or not they need to bring pajamas for nap time. Nobody asks why they won’t be learning English or Math or Chemistry or History anymore. Nobody asks why they weren’t consulted about this being something they wanted.
Stiles imagines himself a lot braver than he is, standing up and shouting that he’s not a second-class citizen. Shouting that he wants to learn how to be more than someone’s docile mate.
He doesn’t though. He sits quietly and stares at his timetable, and wishes he couldn’t feel Peter Hale’s curious gaze sliding over him.
Stiles doesn’t go to school the next day. He shoves his new timetable at his dad over breakfast.
“Jesus,” John says in an undertone, and proceeds to write him a sick note. “I’m so sorry, kiddo.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Stiles says. And it doesn’t, for him. He’s sixteen in a week. His school days are over as soon as he’s mated anyway, and he knows that. It’s the other kids he worries about. The younger kids.
“In my day, omegas could still go to college,” John says. “And now…”
He lets the thought hang, but gives Stiles an extra long hug before he leaves for work.
Stiles stays in bed the entire day and thinks about taking the rest of the week off, but he doesn’t. He wants to check out the classes for himself, while he’s still got the chance. That way he’ll at least have some idea about them when it comes to discussing them on More Than Biology. There’s already been a lot of panicked chat about whether the classes will become introduced everywhere after the Beacon Hills trial.
“Dude!” Scott exclaims when Stiles arrives at school the following morning. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yeah,” Stiles lies.
Scott claps him on the back. “I took notes for you yesterday, but I kind of didn’t understand some of the Chemistry ones, so they might be wrong.”
“I don’t take Chemistry anymore,” Stiles says with a bitter smile.
Scott frowns. “What?”
“I only take omega classes now.” Stiles hates the hitch in his voice.
“Dude.” Scott’s face falls. “Will I see you at lunch?”
“We don’t have lunch with the regular students,” Stiles says.
He leaves Scott standing there, mouth open.
The omega classes are exactly what he thought they’d be, but worse. It turns out that Traditional Behavioral Studies is code for ‘this is how you present yourself, ass-up, for when your mate breeds you.’ Maybe there’s more to it than that. It’s kind of hard for Stiles to pay attention over the roar of the blood in his skull and the sound of some of the younger kids crying in humiliation. Even Jason, the good omega, looks quietly shell-shocked after being instructed on exactly how far to keep his knees apart.
It doesn’t help that Peter Hale pops in to oversee the class, smiling his charming smile as he watches the kids shiver in embarrassment.
“Stilinksi, isn’t it?” he asks, bending down close to Stiles.
Stiles might be wearing his jeans and his hoodie, but he’s never felt more exposed. “Yes, Alpha Hale.”
“The Sheriff’s son,” Peter says, his smile tightening. “I think you know my nephew. Derek.”
Stiles almost breaks position.
Peter doesn’t wait for an answer, only moves on to the next kid.
Stiles never thought he’d actually be counting down the days to his sixteenth birthday, but he is. Desperately. If this is what school is now, he’ll be glad to see the back of it. He wants to be with Derek, with someone who’ll let him be himself, and not expect this.
As the days pass, Stiles gets more and more impatient, while his dad gets more and more worried. Stiles knows that his dad is anxious about his future. He has every right to be.
The night before his birthday, his dad comes up into his room.
“Stiles?” His face is drawn, like he hasn’t been sleeping well.
“Dad,” he says. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”
His dad hugs him. “It should be me promising you, son.”
Stiles smiles into his dad’s shoulder. “It’ll be okay.”
He thinks of Derek, and wishes he was here.
The morning of Stiles’s sixteenth birthday dawns bright and clear. Stiles checks his phone. For the first time in years he hasn’t got an excited message from Scott. Instead, he’s got: Let me know as soon as you find out, bro.
For the first time in years, his dad hasn’t made him pancakes for his birthday breakfast. When Stiles gets to the kitchen his dad is sitting at the table, a letter in his shaking hands. “You got a bid,” he says, his voice wooden.
Stiles bites his lip to stop himself from grinning as he catches a glimpse of the envelope it came out of. Bids are ridiculously steeped in pomp. The envelope has an ornate scrolling letter on the broken seal on the back: H.
His dad follows his gaze. “Hale.”
A smile spreads across his face. “Really?”
His dad looks pale. “Stiles…”
“No,” Stiles laughs, almost dizzy with relief. “No, Dad, it’s okay. I know Derek, and he’s a good guy, and we planned this, and—”
The distress in his dad’s voice stops him cold, and Stiles really sees his dad’s face for the first time. Really sees the devastation carving out a hollow mask of his features.
Stiles feels his blood run cold. “Wh-what?”
“It’s not from Derek Hale.” His dad’s voice breaks. “It’s from Peter. It’s from Peter Hale.”