Derek knew the moment the bullet struck Erica's back that it wasn't your average lead or slightly less average silver. The stink of the wolfsbane infection was already creeping up his nostrils, knocking on long-closed doors, awakening memories of feverish pain and the first person in a long time who’d been happy just because he was alive.
He grabbed her and ran. The hidden key at the vet clinic was still in the same place and he had nowhere else safe to take her - his house and the houses of the other pack members were all out of the question, and it was too cold, with only a few days left before Christmas, to just hide her out in the woods somewhere.
He called in Isaac and Jackson to stand guard over her and drove to the Argents' house, even though he knew he'd never survive a single-handed assault on the place and he had only slightly better odds of being able to get in and out undetected. He promised himself he’d come up with a better plan before he got there, but it was hard to think with everything inside him howling in fury and fear that another of his own was ill and dying.
The shooting, he supposed, shouldn’t have come as a surprise. That was the problem with vengeance; it was cyclical. Someone was always left feeling like they were owed something.
A few months prior, Stiles and Scott had been driving back from their disappointing B&E at Dr. Fenris' house when Scott noticed something sticking out from between the seats.
Stiles tried to stop him but he wasn't fast enough; Scott unrolled the thick sheet of paper Stiles had stolen and found himself staring at the photo of Derek and his mother.
"Why do you have this?"
Stiles shifted away slightly, though there was nowhere for him to go, as if distancing himself from Scott would prevent him from having to answer. "It's his mom. Probably. Maybe."
Scott gave him a blank stare.
"I thought he'd want it."
"You hate him," said Scott.
"Doesn't mean he wouldn't want it," said Stiles.
Scott put the photo back and didn’t mention it again for a long time, but somehow it never made it out of the jeep. It kept getting moved around, from one seat to another until finally taking up residence in Stiles' glove box. One night, on the way to a Halloween party, Scott said, "Are you ever going to give this to him?"
Stiles glanced over at it and pulled a face. "Will you go with me? I don't want to go out there alone. Especially not now that there's more of them."
"Sure," said Scott.
But they didn't make any solid plans.
In the last few days of November, Erica stood in the doorway of Derek’s room and said, "Seriously?" Her smile was woven through her voice and the way she held her body and it was stretching her lips to reveal sharp white teeth. She might as well have been a giant disembodied cheshire grin.
"Oh nah-ah," said Erica, "you don't get to do the big bad wolf thing with that -" she apparently couldn't think of a word ridiculous enough for the outfit that was laying on his bed, because she dissolved into giggles.
"Get out," said Derek.
"You're not going to try it on?"
She was still grinning, but she went.
A week later, Stiles was giving Scott a ride home from school, and Scott said (not for the first time), "I don't know why I have to do this.”
Stiles didn't even bother rolling his eyes again. "Because you're failing three classes and this will help you to not be failing three classes."
Scott sank down in his seat. “Well I can’t help that there’s kind of a lot going on right now with Allison and the hunters and Derek and the biting people thing he keeps doing. When did everything get so complicated?”
Stiles got quiet. He could pinpoint the exact moment when things got so complicated. It sounded like laughter. It sounded like some joggers found a body in the woods. “It’s just a couple weeks of volunteering. We get to build a set for the elementary school play and sort presents for orphans. It’ll be a big hit with the ladies.”
Scott sighed and turned to watch the buildings zip by outside his window.
Derek wondered if other people were compelled to do things by ghosts that only existed in their memories. Volunteering during the holiday season had been Laura's thing. He'd only ever done it because she poked and prodded and begged and whined and generally wouldn't leave him alone until he found himself wearing a Santa suit and listening to kids confess their heart's desires.
She'd been gone for nearly a year and a half and there wasn't even anyone left in Beacon Hills who'd known her, but he still dug the suit out of his trunk and turned up at the Community Center when December arrived. He had to be careful to keep the hunters from finding out, so just to be safe he spent all of his time there in full costume and avoided speaking to anyone but the kids. The less people who knew he was Santa, the better.
During his breaks he went outside to get fresh air and try to cool down. Ellen, who was in charge of the volunteers, usually stood out there with him but she'd given up trying to engage him in conversation and just smoked and kept to herself.
At the beginning of the second week, they were a couple minutes into their quiet routine when the door opened and they were joined by Stiles Stilinski, of all people. Stiles had gotten distant with Derek after he'd killed Peter, but once he'd bitten Jackson, Stiles had stonewalled him completely. He still wasn't sure why. He’d decided on more than one occasion that he didn’t care.
Unfortunately, quiet wasn't something that Stiles did well. Or at all. Less fortunately, the allure of the cold air was too enticing for Stiles' voice to drive Derek inside, so he was treated to ten minutes of spastic story time. The worst part of it was that he caught himself smiling more than once.
After a little snooping, Derek discovered that Stiles, Scott, and Allison were volunteering for extra credit. After walking past Allison and Scott when they were supposed to be sorting toys, he was pretty sure he knew why Stiles spent his breaks alone. He also might have gagged a little and startled them into banging their heads together, but he didn’t feel bad about it because they were being gross on top of things that were meant for children.
Stiles joining them for breaks became a regular thing, but toward the end of the day on Wednesday, Derek actually laughed at one of his stories. He tried to swallow it quickly, but Ellen and Stiles both turned to look at him, and when Stiles picked up the thread of his narrative again his grin was broader and his voice was stronger.
On Thursday, Stiles acquired a shadow in the form of a foster kid named Seth who had a look about him like a plant that never quite got enough sun. He was clever, though, and he seemed to light up whenever Stiles paid attention to him. As Derek was leaving on Friday, he heard Stiles asking Ellen if people usually donated bikes, but Ellen sadly told him no.
Derek was hoping that they'd at least take the weekends off, but when he got there on Saturday morning the jeep was parked outside, as usual. And as usual, there was a big green pickup truck parked across the street, stuffed with three sour-faced hunters who'd been burdened with the job of tailing Scott whenever he got anywhere near Allison.
The food at the Community Center was terrible, so it was foolish but not surprising when Scott and Allison snuck off to go grab fast food for lunch. It was a little surprising that Stiles didn't go with them. It was more surprising that Stiles slid into the seat across from Derek in the lunch room. Derek tried to glare, but his leave me the hell alone scowl was less effective with most of his face obscured by a fake fluffy beard.
"Was this seat taken?" asked Stiles. He was smirking, because he knew Derek wouldn't answer, which meant Derek couldn't say yes, it was, go away, and Derek was rather bitter about the fact that he was absolutely right.
"Is it against the rules for volunteers to donate presents for specific kids?" asked Stiles.
"I want to see if I can find a bike for Seth but I want it to be a surprise, so I'd have to give it to him here since I don't know where he lives and there’s no good reason for me to ask him that doesn’t sound creepy. And I don't want to ask Ellen about it, because if it is against the rules, she's gonna be pissed when I do it anyway."
Derek laughed in spite of himself, and Stiles grinned at him and offered him some of the chips he'd brought along from the vending machine.
They did take Sunday off, finally providing Derek with a blessedly Stiles-free day. When he got home, Isaac and Erica were playing Texas Hold 'Em on the living room floor. He'd initially only planned to have them over for official pack meetings, but then they'd started turning up whenever they didn't want to be at home (which was whenever they weren’t at school), and he felt bad turning them away. Even if they had complained about the lack of plumbing and electricity until he’d been forced to partially renovate the house. You couldn’t really tell from the outside, but the kitchen, living room, bathroom, and master bedroom had been repaired, rewired, and repainted. In return, they filled the house with laughter, and Derek pretended he didn’t enjoy it.
"Bad day?" asked Isaac, almost as soon as Derek had come in the door.
Isaac shrugged. "I don't know. You seem…down."
"Or at least not as up as you usually are when you get back from Santa duty," agreed Erica.
Derek thought about that for a moment. Then he wondered what Stiles had spent the day doing. Then he felt like there was a little implosion taking place somewhere just below his solar plexus. He groaned. "Oh no."
"Whoa," said Erica, "was that - what was that?"
"Nothing," said Derek miserably, "order a pizza or something, I'm going to bed."
"Oh my god," said Erica, "do you have a crush? Was that what hearts do when you have a crush? It was wasn't it?"
"Don't use that word," said Derek. He started up the stairs, but they both scrambled to their feet to follow him.
"What word? Crush?" asked Erica from the bottom of the staircase.
"Yes." Derek reached the landing and turned toward his room.
"Why?" Erica called after him.
"Because it's gross," Derek called back. He closed his door, but the wood wasn't nearly thick enough to keep him from hearing Erica shout, "Love is a many-splendored thing!" up the stairs at him. It was also not thick enough to keep them from hearing him mutter, "Not right now it isn't," before falling face-first into bed.
Erica and Isaac glanced at each other, shrugged, and decided to go out for pizza.
They'd just ordered their food when Scott and Stiles walked in. Isaac tried to convince Erica to leave Scott alone, but she took his mistrust of Derek as a personal insult which she refused to abide, so she sauntered over to his booth and leaned across the back of it to put her face next to his.
"Well, look who it is. And all on your own, too - you sure that's safe?"
"We're fine, thanks," said Stiles with a glare.
Erica was just about to sweetly inform him that she hadn't been speaking to him, but when she opened her mouth she breathed him in and froze. She'd never actually spoken to Stiles before, but she recognized his scent; Derek came into contact with a lot of different people at the community center, but Stiles was the only one whose smell had been on him every day for the last week. Which was about how long Santa duty had been making Derek look like he hated everything considerably less than usual.
"Oh," she said. "Okay. Cool. Hi, by the way, I'm Erica," she held out a hand, which he shook cautiously.
"I know," he said.
"Right. I have to go away now."
"No complaints here," said Stiles.
Erica nodded and went back to Isaac, who gaped at her and said, "What the hell just happened?"
Since Scott would be able to hear anything they said, Erica just mouthed that's him and then made a grumpy face and drew a heart with her fingers.
"If you're trying to make me less concerned for your mental wellbeing, you're failing miserably," said Isaac.
Erica glared at him.
"You don’t get to be mad at me because you look like a crazy person,” he told her.
She sighed. "I'll explain later."
She proceeded to spend the rest of their meal eavesdropping, much to Isaac's chagrin, since most of Scott and Stiles' conversation wasn't remotely interesting to him. It wasn't interesting to Erica either until Scott mentioned making plans with Allison for the following Friday and Stiles' pulse spiked.
"But we had plans for Friday. You said you'd come with me. To do that thing," he tried to lower his voice, but the way he said ‘that thing,’ he might as well have had a neon sign hanging above him flashing important things are happening here.
"What thing?" asked Scott.
Stiles blew out a frustrated breath. "You know that picture I stole? You said you'd come with me to give it to - you know. Him."
"You haven't done that already?" asked Scott.
"I told you I didn't want to go alone!" snapped Stiles.
"I know, but that was before you started hanging out with him all the time," said Scott.
"’Hanging out with’ - ? Who are we talking about?" demanded Stiles.
"I thought we were talking about Derek."
Isaac finally got interested in the conversation and stopped moping about Erica not paying attention to him.
"What?" asked Stiles carefully.
"Sorry," said Scott, "was I not supposed to mention it? It's just - I can smell him, you know? Allison said that maybe, since you hadn't told me, I wasn't supposed to know, and I should just not bring it up. It's cool, you know, if you want to hang out with him. I just figured you'd already given him the picture."
Stiles gaped at him and then leaned across the table and said, very quietly, "Are we talking about Santa?"
"You didn't know?" asked Scott.
Stiles shook his head.
"Oh." Scott ate his pizza.
"Oh," echoed Isaac, but Erica shushed him.
"Don't tell anyone," said Stiles finally.
"Why would I tell anyone?"
"You told Allison."
"Yeah, but she's Allison."
Stiles rolled his eyes.
"Why were you afraid to go over there alone anyway?" asked Scott. "You've been alone with him before. Like when he got shot. And when you guys traced that text."
Stiles shrugged and looked over Scott's shoulder. "I was afraid he was going to end up being like Peter. After he bit Jackson."
Scott frowned. "You're the one that pointed out that Peter was the only person he ever actually killed."
"I don't mean killing people, I mean -" Stiles sighed. "Look, the werewolf thing is awesome. I know it sucks sometimes, and the whole hunter aspect is not so great, but I still think it's awesome. But I don't want to be one."
"I know," said Scott. "But Jackson volunteered."
"I know. It just freaked me out."
"Oh." Scott seemed a little lost, so he went back to his pizza.
Stiles folded his arms. "Peter tried to bite me. He told me I wanted him to."
Erica dropped all pretense of not listening to their conversation and turned to watch them. Scott looked like he could sense that there was something important in front of him, something that Stiles wanted to talk about without having to give it voice, but he couldn't quite catch it.
"Did you?" he asked.
"No," said Stiles. He watched Scott eat in silence for a moment before adding, "I just didn't want to get left behind."
"You mean at the hospital?" asked Scott.
For a second, Erica thought Scott was going to drop the ball and let that go, but then he surprised everyone by saying, "You don't have to get bitten to be part of a pack. You're part of my pack."
Stiles rolled his eyes, but he smiled, and Scott looked pleased with himself.
Derek didn’t get out of bed or speak to anyone until it was time to suit up and get back to the Community Center. He felt like something had shifted fundamentally in the way the world worked. He felt like it should have been noticeable to everyone, even if they didn’t know why, even if they only knew that the air tasted different, that it felt different as it rubbed against their skin. He found himself dreading the break, and trying to convince himself that he could survive in the Santa suit without going outside, but when the time came he felt like he couldn't breathe, so he went anyway.
He wasn’t sure why he expected Stiles to act different, or how. Maybe because Isaac and Erica had seen through him so sharply and so suddenly. Maybe because Ellen wasn’t there so Stiles had nothing to focus on but him, but he felt, for all his layers and the scratchy plastic of his fake hair and beard, like he was open and exposed.
The change he feared never came. Stiles took one look around, saw that Ellen wasn’t there, and started telling Derek about his adventures with garage sales the previous day and the bike he’d found for Seth and the trouble he’d gone to replacing the seat.
He got quiet for a moment afterward and then said, “The seat wasn’t even that bad, I don’t know why I bothered getting a new one. Used bicycle seats were one of the things that always grossed my mom out.” He shrugged. “It’s got Spiderman on it, so hopefully he’ll appreciate that, at least.”
Derek wanted to say something. Wanted to tell him about Laura’s problem with used couches, but he didn’t, and the moment passed, and Stiles launched into another story.
Mondays were especially slow, so he ended up wandering around for a while when there was a lapse in children looking to beg for presents. Stiles was sorting donated gifts, and when Derek passed the room he was holed up in, Stiles waved him over and said, “Hey Grumpy Claus, want to help me with these since you’re slacking off anyway?”
Derek went in and sat down, and Stiles showed him how to help so that they could get through the work faster. Seth wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and when Stiles caught Derek looking around, he said, “I asked and they said sometimes he disappears for a few days. His bike’s taking up the whole back of my jeep, so I hope he’s back soon.”
They spent half an hour together. Stiles shot him with a Nerf gun and claimed he was only testing the merchandise. Derek got him back with a rubber band slingshot and earned a stuffed bunny to the face for his trouble.
When he got home, Erica and Isaac were in his living room again. They perked up the moment he walked in but he didn’t feel like talking about it, so he said, “No,” and headed for the stairs.
“You look better,” said Isaac, “did you talk to Stiles?”
“Nope,” said Derek, which was technically true.
“What if I said-”
“Nope,” said Derek.
“-I could help?” finished Erica.
“Nope, nope, nope,” Derek disappeared into his room.
The next day passed in much the same fashion, except that about half an hour into Santa duty, his phone started buzzing periodically against his side. He checked it on his way outside during his break, and found that he had about ten texts from Erica. The first one said, “‘The real lover is the man who can thrill you by kissing your forehead or smiling into your eyes or just staring into space.’ Stiles, Y/N??” The rest were much the same, and ranged from embarrassingly sappy to even more embarrassingly accurate. Derek chose to continue ignoring her. She did not, apparently, view that as a deterrent.
On Wednesday he was in the middle of listening to a little boy list all the toys he wanted when he heard someone burst into the room and get snapped at by one of the ‘elves.’ The footsteps didn’t slow down, but there was a lot of, “Sorry, I’ll just be a second, sorry, sorry,” and then Stiles’ scent flooded over his shoulder.
“Hey, I need a favor.”
Derek turned to glare at him, and so did the little boy. Stiles smiled apologetically. “Sorry. Seth’s here today,” he said, “I need you to give him the bike because you’re Santa and that’s what Santa does. During break, in the parking lot - can you meet us there? And it’ll kind of ruin the magic if he has to wait for us to pull it out of my jeep, so -” Stiles held out his keys, “please?”
Derek was kind of bitter about the smile that rippled across his face, so it was lucky that his eyes were the only thing anyone could see. He took the keys and Stiles beamed at him.
“Thanks! Sorry!” Stiles bolted before anyone else could yell at him.
“Rude,” said the little boy.
“Very,” agreed Derek, but at least half his mind stayed focused on the weight of the keys in his pocket, because Stiles loved that jeep.
Derek was waiting against the side of the building with the bike resting on its kick stand, helmet hanging off the handle bars, when Seth and Stiles got there.
Seth was completely dumbfounded for a full minute. “Is that - who’s that for?” he asked finally.
“It’s for you, silly. You wanted a bike. Santa brought you a bike.”
“Santa’s not real,” said Seth.
“Wow, that’s kind of rude, the guy’s standing right there. He even brought you a helmet because he cares about your safety.”
Seth hugged Stiles, and then he ran forward and hugged Derek before ripping the bow off of the helmet and jamming it on his head.
Derek’s phone was buzzing again, but he ignored it and instead watched as Stiles helped Seth balance on the bike and get started. Seth had learned how to ride years before, so once he got used to it again he was zipping around them in circles. Stiles grinned and made himself so dizzy trying to keep Seth in sight that Derek had to put out a hand to steady him when he finally stopped spinning. Stiles latched onto his arm to keep from falling and stopped moving for a moment.
“Wow, okay, not doing that anymore.”
Seth laughed at them, but it was cut short by the screeching of brakes as a big green pick-up truck skidded to a halt at the entrance of the parking lot. The atmosphere shifted instantly; Seth stopped his bike to watch the angry men piling out of the truck, but by the time he realized they were all carrying guns it was too late for him to get away from them. Stiles straightened and got clear of Derek’s reach to try and get to Seth before the hunters did but he didn’t make it - one of them grabbed the boy and pulled him away, and Stiles was left standing between Derek and the other two.
“Get out of the way,” growled the one closest to him.
“Hey,” said Stiles with a broad, forced smile, “Jim Bendor, right? Nice to meet you. Also, no. Allison isn’t even here today. Let the kid go and get lost.”
“We’re not here about Allison,” snapped Jim. “We’re not here about your little Beta friend either. We’re here about him trying to recruit ‘em early.”
“He’s not recruiting anybody,” said Stiles, “and I’m still not moving.”
“So I’m going to have to make you?” asked Jim with an ugly leer. Derek growled, and they all tightened their grips on their guns.
“Sure, if you feel like explaining to the Sheriff why you felt the need to beat the crap out his teenage son just so that you could shoot Santa,” said Stiles.
That made them hesitate, and before any of them could come up with a retort, the tune from Monster Mash started playing.
“Wow, I’m sorry, this is so rude.” Stiles pulled his phone out and glanced at it. “Speak of the devil,” he said, and hit ‘answer’ before putting it up to his ear. “Hey, dad, how’s it going?”
“Oh god,” said Allison’s voice, “are they already there? I’m so sorry, Stiles!” Derek glanced at the hunters, but while they seemed suspicious of whether or not Stiles was actually on the phone with his dad, they didn’t seem to be able to hear Allison.
“Did you get held up by a case?” asked Stiles, “Was it a good one?”
“They found another body,” said Allison, “they haven’t been able to figure out where Derek’s been disappearing to and they were going to pin it on him and stop pretending to wait for him to make a move and they were going to cut him in half and I thought if I could give him an alibi they’d have to stop.”
“So that’s a no,” said Stiles.
“Erica and Isaac are on their way,” said Allison.
“Well that sounds like a bloodbath waiting to happen. Look, I’ve got five minutes left on my break, you gonna be here by then?” asked Stiles.
“I’m sorry,” said Allison again, “Jackson wasn’t answering and Erica’s the only other one whose number I had and I had to get a warning to Derek.”
Stiles rolled his eyes and used his free hand to mime someone talking too much. “Dude, you’re the Sheriff, use your lights.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Is the Sheriff thing working? Oh god I hope it’s working.”
“Yeah,” said Stiles, “I’ll see you when you get here. We’re out in the parking lot - I’m sure Seth won’t complain about extra time on his bike.” He hung up on her. “Sorry about that. Where were we? Right - you were going to beat the shit out of me so you could shoot Derek. How’s that plan looking?”
“That wasn’t the sheriff,” said Jim, but he didn’t sound sure.
“Sure, you could be right about that, but boy aren’t you going to look foolish when he catches you standing over a body?”
For a long, tense minute, everyone glared at everyone else. Finally, Jim signaled to the other two, and the one holding Seth released him. Seth sprang away from them instantly and ran to hide behind Derek, and the hunters sneered as they backed up slowly, got back in the truck, and drove away.
Stiles deflated and spun around, gaze zeroing in on Seth. “You okay?”
“Who the hell were they?” asked Seth.
“Bad people,” said Stiles. “Bad people that hate Santa for no good reason.” He looked up at Derek. “They’re not going to stay gone. You should probably take off when Erica and Isaac get here.”
“What about the kids that came to see Santa?” asked Seth.
Stiles glanced at him, and then at Derek, and bit his lip. “Give me the suit.”
“What?” demanded Derek.
“Give me the suit. I don’t need the extra credit and if I skip out no one’s going to care. I’ll take your place.”
Derek shook his head.
“It’s a good idea,” said Stiles.
“No it isn’t. Did you not see the guns? The big shiny metal guns? You think they’re going to stop to check that it’s really me?” demanded Derek.
“I think we don’t have very long before they realize that my dad’s not really coming, and I think that they probably won’t shoot me while I’m in a room full of children.”
“It won’t even fit you properly,” said Derek.
“Then it should be really obvious to them that I’m not you,” snapped Stiles. “I’ve got running clothes in my back seat - you’ll have to put up with the smell, but they’re all loose and stretchy so they should fit you. Go change.”
Derek glared. “You can’t order-”
“Now,” said Stiles.
Derek growled, but he went. He still had Stiles’ keys, so he let himself into the jeep, grabbed the clothes off the back seat, and went around the back of the building to change as quickly as possible. He checked his phone as he emptied the santa suit’s pockets; he had three missed calls from Erica, two from Isaac, and before that, a text from Erica that just said, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” He glared at tiny screen and wondered what good either of those things did if they just got you killed.
When he got back, Stiles had sent Seth inside and was leaning over the driver’s side window of Derek’s Camaro talking to Erica, whose eyes were glowing the bright blue that signaled that she spiraling toward a loss of control.
“Get in the back,” Derek told her. Stiles backed up so that she could comply, and Derek handed him the Santa suit before taking Erica’s place at the wheel. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Stiles laughed. “Oh, come on. Do you even need to tell me that?”
Derek glared at him.
“Yes, okay, yes you do. I’ll be fine,” said Stiles. When Derek kept glaring, he said it again, and then he took off to change, and Derek was left with nothing to do but drive away.
The hunters jumped Stiles when he left the Community Center and gave him a black eye and a busted lip before they realized that they weren’t hitting a werewolf. A few days later, Derek jumped the hunters outside of a bar, knocked each of them out, and left them in a dumpster. He felt that his response had been fairly tame, given that he only had to hit each of them once, but they apparently felt that it warranted patrolling the forest during the full moon with guns loaded with wolfsbane.
Derek hadn’t actually spoken to Stiles since the incident at the Community Center. At first he just hadn’t been able to look at Stiles’ injuries without drowning in guilt and rage. But it was more than that. Stiles, as silly as it sounded, was terrifying. Derek understood hunters. He hated them, but he understood their motivations and their prejudices and he knew what to expect from them. He understood Erica and Isaac, and how they fit into his life, and even Jackson and Scott, though neither of them seemed to want to act the way Betas ought to act. There were things he could expect from both of them; Jackson would always think of himself first, and Scott would, at least for the foreseeable future, always think of Allison first. They could be measured, labeled and shelved - and, when necessary, manipulated to suit Derek’s agenda.
Stiles was all odd angles and squirming. He shoved words into spaces where they shouldn’t go. He stood his ground when he should have run. He helped and protected Derek and the pack without ever asking for anything in return. Derek found himself wanting a lot of things from Stiles that he hadn’t allowed himself to want from anyone in a long time, and it made Stiles feel like a cliff that he was in danger of leaping off of.
Which left Derek sitting in his car glaring at the Argents’ house three days before Christmas. It was a mark of how distracted he was that someone was able to sneak up to the car and tap on the window without him hearing them coming. When he rolled down the window and found that the someone was Scott McCall, he felt particularly ashamed.
“What are you doing here?” asked Scott. It sounded like an accusation.
“They shot Erica with wolfsbane,” said Derek. “She’s dying.” He half expected Scott to brush it off or make an excuse, either of which would have ended bloody, but Scott surprised him by looking sympathetic.
Scott surprised him even more by saying, “Call Stiles.”
“Excuse me?” said Derek.
Scott rolled his eyes. “Why are you two trying so hard not to be friends?”
Derek stared at him.
“Just call him. It’ll be way easier than getting killed trying to break into the Argents’ garage.” Scott turned and slunk off into the night, and Derek glared after him in his side mirror before pulling out his phone and dialing Stiles.
Stiles picked up almost immediately. “Yeah?” Derek could hear gunfire coming from a television in the background.
“Erica’s been shot with wolfsbane,” he said.
The noise in the background stopped. “Where is she?” asked Stiles.
“The vet,” said Derek.
Stiles laughed a little. “Man you guys really aren’t doing yourselves any favors on the dog metaphor front. Do you send them to the pound when they misbehave?” When Derek didn’t say anything, Stiles swallowed. “Sorry. I’ll be there in ten.” He hung up.
Derek scowled at the phone, and then at the house down the street. He started the car and sped back the way he’d come.
Stiles got there first. He nodded at Jackson, who was standing guard, and went in. Erica was laying on her stomach on the table and Isaac was kneeling in front of her, pressing their foreheads together and talking to her quietly. He didn’t look up until Stiles cleared his throat and held up a carved wooden box and a lighter.
“I’ve got a cure, here, if anyone’s interested.”
Isaac was in front of him before he had a chance to blink, and he listened intently as Stiles told him what to do. Then he just stared.
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said.
“I don’t make the rules,” said Stiles. “That’s what Derek did. Then he writhed around a bit in what appeared to be excruciating pain - sorry about that, Erica - and then he was fine.”
Isaac still looked dubious.
“It’s worth mentioning that his backup plan was having me cut off his arm,” added Stiles.
Isaac took the box and the lighter. He followed Stiles’ instructions and then pinned Erica down so she wouldn’t fling herself off the table as blue smoke leaked out of the nasty hole in her back, but after a tense moment she stilled and the wound was gone. She tucked her head down toward her chest and focused on breathing, and Isaac took a few steps back.
“Why did you have a box full of wolfsbane bullets?” he asked.
Stiles shrugged. “Did Derek happen to tell you about Seth?”
“Yes,” Derek’s voice answered from the hallway just before he entered the room, shoulder’s hunched and eyes focused on Erica, measuring the rise and fall of her ribs as she breathed.
Stiles glanced at him and swallowed. “Seth gets kind of klepto when he’s anxious. When that hunter grabbed him, Seth lifted the box off him without knowing what it was, and then when he opened it he got kind of freaked out and gave it to me. I figured they might come in useful, if something like - well, this - ever happened. Again.”
“Thank you,” said Derek, and there was something raw in his voice that Stiles didn’t know how to deal with.
“Sure,” he said. Derek and Isaac crowded in to check on Erica, and Stiles let himself out. He found Jackson lurking just outside the door and raised an eyebrow at him.
“What?” snapped Jackson.
Stiles turned to glance back at the others, and then said, “You do know they can hear you out here, breathing, and caring about them, right? You’re not fooling anybody. Why don’t you just go in there and do whatever it is packs do when one of them survives wolfsbane poisoning?”
“Shut up, Stilinski.”
“Well reasoned,” drawled Stiles, and he kept walking.
“Screw you,” snapped Jackson.
Stiles turned and pretended to be stabbed in the gut by Jackson’s words before stumbling backwards out the door as dramatically as possible. Once he was outside, he spun around to face forward and rolled his eyes, but he’d only barely reached his jeep when the door opened again behind him. He was expecting Jackson, with further ‘witty’ comebacks, but it was Derek, so Stiles waited. When Derek reached him he had his hands shoved in his pockets and his head down.
“Thank you,” he said again.
“Yeah, any time,” said Stiles. “Though, you guys have the bullets now, so I guess you don’t need me anymore.” It was supposed to be a joke, but he had to admit that it sounded needy and sad and not remotely funny. He would have winced if he hadn’t been trying to pretend that he hadn’t actually said anything at all. “I’ll just-”
“Here,” Derek pulled one of his hands free of his jacket and the box of bullets came free with it. He tossed it to Stiles, who caught it and stared.
“You don’t want to keep them?”
Derek shrugged. “Doesn’t matter who has them as long as they’re around when we need them. Which is something you’ve been making a bad habit of.”
Stiles smirked. “Thanks.”
“It wasn’t a compliment,” said Derek.
“It was a little bit of a compliment,” said Stiles.
“No. I just didn’t want you to cry about being left out of my awesome werewolf gang,”
Stiles rolled his eyes with a laugh and moved forward to shove Derek’s arm in what, if it had been anyone else, would have been a friendly manner. But it was Derek, and one did not simply walk into Derek Hale’s personal bubble. Except that Stiles had, and Derek hadn’t backed off. “You guys have any plans for Christmas?” he asked, because he was feeling remarkably stupid and off-kilter and he needed to be doing something with his words or they were going to get even more embarrassing.
“No,” said Derek, watching him with a curious sort of hunger. “They’ve all got their families.”
“Right,” said Stiles. “That.” He leaned against the side of the jeep and looked up, and their eyes met for the space of a heartbeat that seemed to go on forever, leaving both of them open and vulnerable and afraid of whatever it was that had grown so effortlessly between them. In that little infinite heartbeat, Stiles thought he was about to get kissed. He hadn’t finished processing how he felt about that before Derek took a step back and cleared his throat.
“You should probably get home, it’s late.”
“Right,” said Stiles. For a moment he was disappointed, terrified that he had read everything completely wrong, that he had made up the weird sort-of-flirting thing they’d been doing for weeks (at least), and that Derek wasn’t really interested at all. But Derek shifted his feet, and the light fell across his neck, and Stiles was pretty sure he was blushing. It occurred to him that maybe Derek just didn’t know how to interact with people when he wasn’t threatening them or giving orders. At any rate, he was fairly certain that he didn’t stand a risk of being killed or bitten, and he’d just saved someone’s life, so he was feeling remarkably brave.
He moved quickly, grabbing Derek by the lapels to hold him still so Stiles could kiss his cheek. “Goodnight,” he said, thrilled enough with his own audacity to make himself giddy. He smiled a broad, goofy smile, and got in the jeep and drove away. He watched Derek in the rearview mirror for as long as he could and grinned; Derek didn’t move except to raise his fingers to brush the spot where Stiles’ lips had met his skin.
The next day, Derek tried to devote himself to tasks that didn’t allow him to spend a lot of time dwelling on Stiles, like cleaning and working out. Except that he spent the entire time he was cleaning somehow convincing himself that people kissed other people on the cheek all the time and it didn’t mean anything. When he got around to doing pull-ups, he wondered if Stiles was just fucking with him, but that thought was barely formed before he dashed it. Stiles was a lot of things, but he wasn’t cruel or inconsiderate when it came to dealing with other people’s feelings.
He was laying on the couch when his phone started buzzing, and he pulled it out and flipped it open. “What?”
“You sort of disappeared last night,” said Erica. He could hear Isaac insulting her music collection in the background. “Jackson said Stiles kissed you.”
“Hmm,” said Derek.
“Are we not happy about that?” asked Erica.
“We’re a lot of things,” said Derek.
“Is one of them happy?”
“I don’t particularly want to discuss this,” said Derek.
“What do you want?”
He thought about it for a moment and then flipped the phone closed and let it rest on his chest while he stared up at the ceiling. After a couple minutes, it started buzzing again. He answered, but didn’t bother saying hello.
“Have you ever read Harry Potter?” she asked.
Derek had. He’d read everything that was available to him in the group home he and Laura were sent to, including Little Women and An Introduction to Theoretical Physics, but when he stayed quiet, Erica assumed the answer was no.
“Okay, so at one point a full on war breaks out, and Harry decides that he has to break up with his girlfriend to keep her safe. And it’s probably one of the dumbest cliche storylines ever, because everybody knows that just because you break up, it doesn’t mean all the feelings are gone. The bad guys know it too.” Derek continued not saying anything, and she sighed. “Are you getting this? Not pursuing Stiles isn’t going to change the fact that you waited outside a bar for two hours so you could sucker punch three guys and throw them in a dumpster, just because they touched him.”
Derek hung up the phone again and made a chocolate cake. Unfortunately baking wasn’t his forte so it came out of a box, unlike the ones Laura used to make. He ate it alone, wondering if anyone had written an instruction manual for this bullshit.
It was well into the early hours of Christmas Eve when he finally managed to pass out on the couch. When he woke up, he was surrounded by voices and laughter and warmth. He pried his eyes open to see that Isaac was sitting at the end of the couch - he’d moved Derek’s legs into his lap - and Erica was sitting with her back against Isaac’s knees. They were watching Christmas movies and sharing kettle corn.
“What are you doing here?” grumbled Derek. “It’s Christmas Eve. Shouldn’t you be with family?” He needed them to get out so he could go back to being conflicted and confused and very much alone.
“We are,” said Isaac.
Derek scrunched up his face angrily, because he couldn’t kick them out after that. He glared up at the ceiling. “Can either of you make chocolate cake?”
They both said no.
Derek sighed. “Well, what do you want for Christmas dinner, then?”
Erica and Isaac were more than happy to shut off the movie and help him make a grocery list, but when he asked if they wanted to go with him to the store, the movie was suddenly back on and they were both far too engrossed to leave. They smiled apologetically as Derek rolled his eyes and muttered something about not getting into trouble while he was gone.
Frosty was melting when Erica and Isaac heard a car coming up the road. “He can’t be back yet,” said Erica, and she went over to the window to wait for the vehicle to come into view. When it did, she frowned. "It's Stiles."
Isaac hmmed but he didn't sound interested.
"But what's he doing here when Derek's not here?" asked Erica.
"We're here when Derek's not here."
"But we're -" Erica waved a hand through the air, and Isaac raised an eyebrow at her, though he knew she meant to say something like pack or family or important. "He's Stiles,” she finished, but as far as Isaac was concerned it meant the same thing.
"I thought we were staying out of it," he said.
"Sure, but how far out of it?" asked Erica. "I mean, are we just going to pretend not to be here? Or pretend that he's not here? Or pretend that we don't want to know why he's got a tree?"
Isaac stood up and joined her at the window. "Aww," he said, "a Christmas tree." Erica looked up at him pitifully until he rolled his eyes. "Fine. Let's go find out why he has a tree."
She grinned and ran out to the porch, startling Stiles so badly that he jumped and let out a scream. He coughed and stood up a little straighter to try and make up for it before nodding and giving them a little wave. "Erica. Isaac. You guys just hang out here, then? Alone?"
"Why do you have a tree?" asked Erica.
Stiles glanced at it and ran a hand over his hair. "Ah. The tree. Because I have a present?" he offered. "I went to get wrapping paper to wrap it and I was just going to leave it here for him, but then I was at the store and I started thinking well you can't just leave a present anywhere, right, because what if he totally misses it or someone else finds it? And I figured he probably didn't have a tree, so I was just going to get one of those little fake ones that you can set on a table or something but I've always hated those, because the whole point of Christmas trees is that they smell like Christmas. So then I wandered over to the Garden section and they were actually pretty cheap so, um…" He glanced at the tree again. "And then I got a bunch of decorations but I had to get the ones on clearance so they're all god-awful but they're shiny and they light up. So. Do you want to help me put it up?"
The thing about Derek's house - the thing that made it bearable to live there, and on some days, even almost pleasant - was that it had become a living extension of the forest. Plants grew up the walls. Birds nested in windows where the glass had fallen out. It blended in, and made him feel like he wasn't imposing on the world around him.
So when he got home and found the front porch wrapped in flashing, multi-colored lights, he had to stop for a moment and lean over the steering wheel and stare. He knew it was Stiles' doing even before he got out of the car and smelled Stiles all over the front of the house. He didn’t even bother unloading the groceries; he let the car door swing shut, took a few steps forward, and kept staring, even after Erica and Isaac appeared in the doorway.
"What do you think?" asked Erica.
"I'm trying to decide if this is worse or better than him actually just peeing in a circle around me," said Derek.
She laughed and jumped off the porch to come and stand next to him and look up at the lights. "It does sort of scream 'Property of Stiles' doesn't it?"
"A bit," agreed Derek.
“I didn’t even notice that he was marking his territory. Isaac, did you notice that he was marking his territory?”
“Yes,” said Isaac.
Erica looked down at him in surprise. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I thought we were staying out of it,” said Isaac.
Erica gave him a glare that was heavy with disapproval before glancing over at Derek. “Isaac has no interest in your love life.”
“Thank god,” muttered Derek.
She nudged his arm with her shoulder. "Come on. There's more. This was just what we had left over."
Derek wasn't sure he liked the sound of that, but he followed her into the living room and then winced. There was a monstrosity in the corner that could, if he was feeling gracious, be called a Christmas tree. There was a figurine of Wolf Man from A Nightmare Before Christmas tied to the top. The whole thing would have made Laura proud.
"Well?" asked Erica.
"It looks like something puked up a giant pile of lights.”
"I know," said Erica fondly, “I like it.”
"It should come with an epilepsy warning," said Derek.
"Apparently sheep are a religious thing?" said Isaac. "Stiles found a bunch of sheep ornaments in the clearance bin. He said he thought you'd like them, but I think he really meant that he thought the look on your face when you saw them would be entertaining." Isaac glanced at Derek. "He wasn't wrong."
Derek ventured over to examine the presents beneath the tree. There were three that were same size and shape, one each for Erica, Isaac, and Jackson, and then there was a longer, thinner one that was simply addressed to 'Grumpy Claws.'
"I like him," announced Erica. "Can we keep him?"
"He comes with a Scott McCall attachment," said Derek.
"Worth it," said Erica.
Derek glanced at Isaac, who nodded his agreement, and then stood up and folded his arms again. "Well, I guess if we’re going to do this, we ought to do it properly.”
An hour later, Erica was sitting on her bed, painting her toenails and waiting for Isaac to swing back by and pick her up. She had informed both Derek and Isaac that having a ‘proper’ holiday party required dressing up, but she’d already finished getting ready and Isaac wasn’t back yet. She had her phone pinned between her shoulder and her ear, and when it finally stopped ringing, Scott said, “What?” like she was inconveniencing him.
“What’s Stiles’ favorite kind of cookie?” she asked.
She could almost hear Scott scowling in confusion. “You’re not hitting on him, are you? I don’t think he’s on your team anymore.”
Erica rolled her eyes and struggled not to sigh. “It’s for science, McCall, just answer the question. What’s his favorite kind of cookie? Or pie? Pie would work.”
“Have you met him? He’ll eat anything,” said Scott. “It’s kind of alarming.”
“Favorite,” repeated Erica.
“Pumpkin pie,” said Scott, “why-?”
“It’s a surprise. Don’t tell him I asked.” Over the line she heard Scott’s bedroom door burst open as Stiles fell in and told Scott to get dressed.
“I am dressed,” said Scott.
“You have to wear something nicer,” said Stiles, “we’re going to a party.”
“We are?” asked Scott.
“Yes,” said Stiles, frustrated, “we’re going to the first annual Very Wolfy Christmas Party over at Derek’s.”
“The what?” asked Scott.
“A holiday party. That’s what it’s called. Or possibly it should be Chrismakkah, I don't know, I didn't poll religions, but that's the working title. I mean I didn’t have time to print up banners or anything but I’m sure it’ll catch on. Come on, man, stop talking to Allison and get dressed and let’s go!”
“Don’t tell him about the pie, McCall,” said Erica.
Scott made an irritable noise as Stiles rushed him and the line went dead. Erica let the phone slide off her shoulder onto the bed and pulled her knees up to blow on her toes so they would dry faster.
“Your friend is here!” her mother shouted from the living room, but Erica didn’t respond. She waited until the nail polish had set and then jumped up to tug on her shoes as the door opened and Isaac let himself in.
A moment later, his voice drifted up from the bottom of the stairs. “Erica, come on, you look gorgeous, we need to go!”
“You haven’t even seen me yet!” she shouted back.
“You always look gorgeous,” said Isaac, “let’s go.”
Erica grinned at her reflection before grabbing her bag and running down to join him.
“Lydia come on! We’re late!”
“Late?” repeated Lydia from within her closet, “They only came up with this thing like an hour ago. We can’t be late. They were late.”
“Just hurry, we’re bringing the mistletoe,” said Allison.
Lydia made a gagging noise.
“Not for me and Scott,” said Allison, “for Stiles.”
“Please don’t be trying to set me up again,” said Lydia.
“Stiles and Derek,” said Allison.
Lydia’s head poked out of the closet to stare at her. “Seriously?”
Allison grinned and nodded and clapped a little. “Hurry.”
Lydia came out a moment later and grabbed her purse and keys. “Well,” she said as they left her room, “he’s not as pretty as I am, but I guess he’ll do.”
“No one’s as pretty as you are,” said Allison.
“Shut up. You’re drunk.”
Allison laughed. “I’m not drunk.”
“You’re drunk on love and it’s disgusting,” said Lydia.
“You hurried when I said mistletoe,” accused Allison.
“I was confused. I thought you said there’d be cake and I was very excited,” said Lydia.
“Mistletoe doesn’t sound anything like cake.”
“It’s not my fault you have a mumbling problem,” said Lydia.
Allison rolled her eyes.
Stiles wandered back toward the holiday section to find Scott and Jackson exactly as he’d left them. “Dude, are you freaking kidding me? We’ve been here for half an hour.”
Scott glared at him. “You could help. Your gifts were cool.”
“Yes, because I put time and effort into them and bought a Christmas tree to put them under. My gifts are the best gifts. I’m the reigning gift champion. You don’t get to be reigning gift champion by spending half an hour at Wal-Mart right before the party. Just pick some stockings and some candy and let’s go.”
“I got candy,” said Jackson, holding up several bags as proof.
“But which ones?” asked Scott, giving Stiles a helpless look. “I mean -” he grabbed two stockings from the display and held them up, “- do you think Derek’s more of a reindeer or a snowman?”
Stiles gaped at him.
“He’s going to think they’re both stupid,” said Jackson.
“Shut up Jackson,” said Stiles and Scott in unison.
Stiles dragged a hand down his face. “Why are you worried about which stocking he wants? He has zero stockings, it’s not like you can do worse than that. Just get one that’s jolly and red.”
“There are like fifty of those,” said Scott mournfully.
“Why do you care? You don’t even like the guy,” said Stiles.
Scott shifted from foot to foot and made a strange keening noise.
“Are you broken?” asked Stiles.
“Seriously?” said Jackson with a sigh. “He’s freaking out because he’s been an asshole ever since Peter died, which was fine when he wasn’t Pack, but now he has to make up for it.” He tapped Scott’s shoulder with a smile and said, “He likes deer. You should get him a deer.”
Scott stared at him like he’d grown a second head.
“Dude,” said Stiles, shoving Scott lightly on the arm, “you decided to join the pack and you didn’t tell me?”
Scott turned back to him, even more confused and uncomfortable, and opened his mouth to answer but nothing came out.
“You can’t be that dumb,” said Jackson, but he was talking to Stiles this time.
“I’ll leave you here,” warned Stiles with a glare.
“You joined the pack,” said Jackson.
It was Stiles’ turn to stare.
“People who aren’t in the pack don’t get to show up at the Alpha’s house and redecorate. And they don’t get invited to the holiday party. Congrats, Stilinski, you’re an honorary wolf,” said Jackson.
Stiles wasn’t sure what to say to most of that, so he said, “It’s called the first annual Very Wolfy Christmakkah.”
“People who aren’t in the pack don’t get to name the holiday party either,” said Jackson.
“Stop talking,” Stiles told him. He turned back to Scott. “Just get the reindeer one and stuff it full of chocolate. Jackson’s probably right, I don’t think Derek’s carrying around a secret desire for any one particular holiday-themed sock.”
Scott put the snowman back. “Now which one do I get for Erica?”
Stiles and Jackson both rolled their eyes.
Isaac was waiting outside when they pulled up to the house. Most of the time he was even less expressive than Derek, which was saying something, but he was smirking as he leaned against the railing.
“Hey,” said Stiles as he climbed out of the jeep, “everybody else get here okay?”
“Allison wasn’t followed,” said Isaac, and of course, at the mention of her name, Scott vanished into the house and Jackson followed him to avoid being asked to help. Stiles rolled his eyes and set about getting the stockings out of the back and Isaac sauntered down to help him.
“I’m glad you did this,” Isaac told him as they loaded their arms up so they wouldn’t have to make a second trip. “He likes cooking for a big group.”
Stiles nodded and swallowed and shrugged. “Yeah. I mean, it’s not big deal. Everybody should have Christmas. Or whatever you want to call it; I don’t know if you guys are religious. I hope you’re not religious, since that Wolf Man thing could probably be considered offensive.”
Isaac smiled - an expression he’d never directed a Stiles before, and he said, “You’re good for him. You should bear in mind, though, that if you hurt our Alpha, Erica and I will kill you. Slowly.”
Stiles suddenly found that he preferred it when Isaac wasn’t smiling. “Yeah,” he said faintly, “great.”
Derek didn’t have a table, so they ended up having a Very Wolfy Chrismakkah picnic on the floor of the living room while Rudolph played on the television behind them. Derek kept quiet, mostly, and tried to convince himself that he still would have preferred spending the day alone, but he caught himself smiling several times as the rest of them talked and joked and teased each other. After they finished eating, Scott, Jackson, and Isaac cleared away the dishes and passed around the stockings and presents. Jackson opened his gift from Stiles first, while Erica shared the chocolate from her stocking with Lydia and Allison.
“Scooby snacks?” said Jackson, staring at the box in his hand.
Stiles grinned at him.
“I didn’t know they made those for people,” said Allison.
“They don’t,” said Stiles. “I mean, they’ve got gummy versions or something, but I made these. Danny helped me make the labels, and they’re just sugar cookies.”
“Is that what mine is, too?” asked Erica, and she shoved the stocking at Allison so she could tear open her present. She looked delighted to find that she, too, was the proud owner of a box of homemade Scooby Snacks. Isaac’s was the same, and Jackson and the girls hadn’t brought presents, which left Derek and the package sitting in his lap with Grumpy Claws scrawled across the front.
He tore the wrapping paper off easily to reveal a framed, slightly blurry photo of him and Laura.
Derek’s mouth opened, but no noise came out.
“I stole it,” offered Stiles, “from a doctor that Scott and I went to see about finding a cure. He said he treated her, when she got shot.”
“In Wisconsin,” said Derek.
“He thought she was your mom,” said Stiles.
“She thought so too, sometimes,” said Derek. He swallowed and shook himself. “I - excuse me.” He stood up, managed to say thank you, and went outside. He walked around to the far end of the porch and sat on the edge, where the railing had fallen away. He heard the door open after a few minutes, and Stiles came to sit next to him while Allison and Lydia tried to strike up a conversation inside to keep the others from eavesdropping.
“It’s Laura?” asked Stiles.
“Yeah.” From the porch he could see the patch of ground that would be covered in little purple flowers come spring.
“Should I not have-”
“No,” said Derek quickly, “Stiles, I - thanks. Thanks for this. I don’t have any other pictures of her. It never really made sense to - we moved around a lot. We didn’t have room in the trunk for stuff that didn’t -” he was going to say matter, but that seemed a silly thing to say when he was holding onto the picture frame like it was the only port in a storm.
Stiles hooked an arm around Derek’s and slid closer. Derek heard something rattle and looked over to see Stiles holding up a box of Scooby Snacks. “Jackson was ungrateful so I borrowed these from him. Cookie?”
Derek took one and ate it slowly, staring out across the yard. “She would have absolutely adored this.”
Stiles was holding the Scooby Snacks between his knees so he could use his free arm to help himself. “She liked sugar cookies?” he asked blankly.
“No, I mean all of this. The lights and the tree and the whole tacky-but-heartfelt thing. She’d have loved it.”
“Tacky but heartfelt,” repeated Stiles, amused, “how diplomatic of you.”
“It’s pretty tacky,” said Derek.
Stiles made a noise of protest and Derek turned to look at him. They both had multicolored lights playing over their faces and dancing across their eyes, so Stiles shrugged. “Fine, it’s tacky. But it’s pretty heartfelt too.” He grinned and leaned up to kiss the tip of Derek’s nose. He moved fast, so Derek wouldn’t have time to pull away, not that Derek tried.
“You’re such a dork.”
“Shut up, Grumpy,” said Stiles, but he said it fondly and he was still grinning. He leaned forward again, slowly this time.
“What are you doing?” asked Derek, but he still didn’t pull away.
“Shut up, Grumpy,” repeated Stiles. The warm weight of his hand slid up the side of Derek’s neck and kept going until his fingers curled around Derek’s hair and tugged him forward into a kiss. Derek brought his hand up but then panicked that it might still be covered in cookie crumbs and tried to wipe it off on his jeans, and somehow while he was worrying about getting crumbs on Stiles’ face, Stiles got his tongue into Derek’s mouth. It was cool and wet, and sweet like the cookies. The hand that Stiles had hooked around Derek’s arm latched onto a fistful of Derek’s shirt and Derek finally got his free hand to Stiles’ cheek, to trace his jawline and brace him as Derek pushed back, greedy and urgent, but Stiles yielded in all kinds of subtle ways that kept the kiss from becoming any harder or faster, so that only the bruising grips of their fingers gave away how desperately they wanted to leap into one another. Stiles tried to turn, to press himself more fully into Derek’s space, but doing so dislodged the box of cookies, which fell to the ground and spilled into the yard and made Stiles start laughing.
Derek could feel the sound echoing in the back of his throat and couldn’t help the grin it brought to his face, even as he said, “What’s so funny?”
Stiles pulled away, looking smug. “I thought you hated me.”
“Oh, I do,” said Derek.
“Do not,” said Stiles.
“So much hate. It keeps me up at night.”
“You think I’m awesome.”
“I’m actually president of the local ‘We Hate Stiles’ club.”
“The local one?” repeated Stiles, sounding scandalized, “is it a statewide thing?”
“National, actually,” said Derek.
Stiles rolled his eyes and shoved him “Jerk.”
Derek shoved him back, but then wrapped an arm around his shoulders and buried his fingers in Stiles’ hair. Stiles seemed to melt into his side with a sigh.
“Thanks for the picture,” said Derek.
“Thanks for the pack,” countered Stiles.
A few moments of comfortable silence passed before the door opened and they heard Erica’s voice behind them say, “Are you two done, yet? There’s still pie!”
Stiles rolled his eyes and heaved a sigh as he extricated himself. “Work, work, work,” he muttered, but he was grinning when he held out a hand to help Derek up.