Work Header

Sinking Ships

Chapter Text

Derek Hale has never met a human before.

Throughout his life, he's probably encountered, give or take, a hundred or so. A mere hundred human beings in his twenty-three years walking around on earth, compared to the millions of weres he's seen. And, even then, encountered them he might have, but met? Not even close.

He's had his dry cleaning handed off to him by a mousy looking human girl in a shirt three sizes too big for her with huge eyes and shaking hands while a beta werewolf yelled at her in the background for being too skittish (wonder why that could possibly be), he's walked past teenage humans cleaning windows and sweeping pebbles off of sidewalks, he's had the door opened up for him by older humans in pristine uniforms outside of restaurants – but never, never once, has he stuck his hand out to a human and said hi, my name is...

He could probably count on one hand the number of times he's even been made aware that a human within a hundred feet of him even had a name. The only identifiers they have (aside from the sickly-sweet weak scent and the constant anxiety rolling off them in waves) are the barbaric ways that weres have come up with to brand them; huge tattoos that must've taken hours scrawled across their fragile backs or all up and along their arms, brands burned into their chests like they're cattle being herded this way and that, deep knife cuts spelling out names or addresses (if found, return to...)

One could imagine that creatures whose skin has the ability to heal would be fascinated by others who don't have the same talents. In a lot of ways, the tattoos and brands and whatever the hell else weres can come up with are just them experimenting with the weaker class. Playing around with their toys, so to speak. Tiny little fragile boned humans, genetically engineered to be smaller and frailer than weres, more prone to break, more easily tossed around as if they're nothing.

So, case in point, the humans don't get a lot of opportunities to be anything more than decorations or little servants rushing around to cater to Derek's every whim before he even has a chance to open his mouth to say that's really not necessary...

“Look at this place,” his mother is huffing now, glaring out the tinted dark window of their town car with a frown etched into her lips. “I wish I'd gone right ahead and brought the camera crew along with me. Let weres really see what it's like out here.”

Derek thinks that there are some weres out there who wouldn't give a fuck if there was video evidence of humans being lined up and mass executed – to some of them out there, though their numbers might be dwindling, humans are nothing more than pretty science experiments. They're not real people, like Derek or another wolf. They're toys, at best. And a kid can do anything he wants with the toys he's given, right?

If Talia had dragged a camera crew to this human orphanage all the way on the fringes of Los Angeles, some weres wouldn't bat an eyelash at the dirt yard with broken toys scattered all across the front, the windows with shutters half hanging off the sides of the house, the roof that's almost entirely caved in. It wouldn't phase them at all.

She tsk's, slides her sunglasses onto her face, and waits for the driver to come around to pull open her door. “If I ever needed a sign to let me know that I'm doing the right thing,” an imaginary piece of lint gets flicked off her pristine pencil skirt by two manicured fingernails, “the sight of this place is sure as Hell doing the trick.”

Derek scowls. The way he sees it, his mother isn't doing the right thing, not at fucking all. The right thing would be to round up all the humans underneath the control of weres and drop them all back in human sanctuaries, far, far away from claws and leering, glowing eyes.

And he knows that's not a possibility. Not yet. He knows that if he goes through with this and does exactly as his mother and her team of advisers say, that he'll be opening up the door for the chance that some day humans will be able to be seen as equals and not just things.

But the thought of being just another werewolf taking away a human's right to choose for themselves what they want to do, and who they want to be, and where they want to go – who they get to fucking marry, for Christ's sake – makes him sick to his stomach.

Finally, their driver opens the door up for them and sunny golden light spills across his mother's dark clothing. She gives one last glance to her son, and even though Derek can't see her eyes through the lenses of her sunglasses, he can tell there's a disproving stare waiting there for him just from the set of her lips. “I know you're not happy,” she says under her breath – as if she actually fucking thinks one of the human children milling around on the porch or in the dirt of the yard could hear them from all the way over here, “but if you stand there scowling at him, you'll only make things worse.”

The last thing Derek wants is to frighten the human. It's inevitable that he will either way, prior experiences with humans literally fleeing at the sight of him or cowering or shaking or leaping away if he got too close have told him as much. But his mother's right; glaring and frowning at the kid isn't going to help the situation at all.

He adjusts his face into something more nonchalant, rubs at his eyes for the millionth time since his mother sat him down and delivered the news that he'd be marrying a human being against the kid's will, and follows Talia out onto the cracked sidewalk.

As they walk down the cobblestone path leading up to the front door the orphanage – Mother Mary's Human Rescue, Christ, as if they're puppies someone picked up out of cardboard boxes on the side of the highway – the handful of younger children playing around in the yard stop whatever they're doing and stare, wide eyed. Maybe most of these kids are too young to recognize exactly who it is that they're looking at, but every single one of them knows that they're weres. Humans don't wear clothes this nice. Humans don't ride up in sleek black town cars. Humans don't have a security guard trailing behind them.

None of them get up and run away screaming, but they stay frozen in place, as if they're afraid that if they move one of the weres walking past them will reach out to strike them for acting out. Derek sets his jaw and tries not to think about how all their clothes are in tatters like they've been worn and reworn and reworn for twenty years, how all their toys are either absolute junk or just sticks and rocks they've picked out of the dirt.

Humans doing the best with what they've got, Derek surmises. Maybe they don't know that there's anything better out there.

Before they've even reached the rickety wooden steps of the front porch, the screen door is being thrown open so hard that it smacks against the opposite wall. A tall, wiry werewolf with a messy head of hair on top of her head and a white sundress stained with what looks like grape juice practically steam rolls across the porch to greet them with a huge, fake grin and a HELLO!

Talia smiles at her. The same smile she always uses for appearances. “Hello. You must be -”

“You're here for the kid, right?”

There's a pause. Talia clears her throat and Derek averts his eyes to the huge cherry tree growing in the backyard. “We're here to collect St -”

“Oh great,” she spins around on her heel and vanishes back into the house, leaving the screen door wide open. From inside the house, there's the sound of a television blasting early morning cartoons so loud that Derek's sure any wolf within a three mile radius could hear it crystal clear if they focused, a shower running, two girls bickering over a Barbie doll, and, finally, the sound of Mary's voice shouting about do you have everything do you have your book do you have your shoes your jacket -

Derek runs his hands down the front of his dress shirt nervously. He had slightly dressed up for the occasion, figured that he should. Like he should at least do the human the courtesy of brushing his hair and putting some thought into the outfit he's going to introduce himself in. But now, he just feels stupid. As if he's rubbing in the fact that he has money for Calvin Klein button downs and five hundred dollar shoes. A bizarre part of him feels like ripping the shirt clean off to leave him in only his crisp white undershirt, just casual and normal and not so fucking pretentious and snobby and holier-than-thou, or possibly just turning around and fleeing the scene altogether.

The footsteps get closer, and Derek repeats the things he read about the human in the folder his mother had given him.

He used to like to climb trees a lot, Derek reminds himself, as if any of this means anything. He's had to go to the human hospital five times in his life for broken bones from falling out of said trees; Talia had paid the debt for his hospital bills off the second she heard about this, and Derek imagined that was her one good deed of the day. She probably pats herself on the back for that every chance she gets. He's Caucasian, he used to live in a human sanctuary until they took him away, he has very few dental records – useless fact after useless fact, kept in a stupid little folder for weres to peruse through if they ever felt like buying a human.

“He's smart,” his mother had said proudly, leaning back in her cushioned seat while the skyline behind her glowed brightly. “He likes to read, you know!” The way she said it was so belittling; she probably didn't even notice that. Aw, the human can read! He understands words! How adorable!

Talia tries. She really, truly tries. She's running for another term in office, and basing half her platform on human rights. She's always pushing to free the few humans who are actually trapped in unfair contracts, to send those who want to back to their families and homes, and she at least believes that humans should have equal rights.

But even with all that, some stereotypes run too deep. It would take a very, very long time for Derek to explain to his mother why looking at all the humans like some little pet project she's taking on instead of actual people with their own agency is wrong. She wouldn't get it. As far as she's concerned, humans and weres are different, plain and simple, and weres are better and faster and stronger.

Her whole belief system is based on the fact that humans are weak and helpless and need to be saved by the big strong wolves to look out for them. It's not as benign as she thinks it is.

But at least she's trying. At least she's doing something, while everyone else stands around with their hands in their pockets, looking the other way whenever they see a were abusing a human.

After what feels like a solid hour of standing out there on that porch listening to a little boy thunk a little girl over the head with a toy baseball bat, the wiry woman from before comes back into the doorway and out onto the porch, hauling a skinny teenage boy along with her.

Out of old habit, Derek inhales first thing to make a map out of his scent. Humans have stronger scents than weres do, mostly based on the fact that they have no way to cover it up or try to hide their tracks. They all reek, really, and this kid is no exception. He smells like nerves, cheap shampoo, sugar cereal, and something else that's just – him.

It's not a bad scent.

“Here he is,” Mother Mary says, squeezing his shoulders and pushing him forwards. He drags his feet a little, ratty old sneakers squeaking on the porch, but eventually concedes that there's no point in trying to stop this from happening. He frowns, adjusts his plain black t-shirt, and glares at the ground.

Derek, for lack of anything better to do and feeling entirely uncomfortable, looks to his mother.

“Here's his papers – they're all true!” She says this last part with a little too much enthusiasm. “He's not defective or anything, I swear. He can write, he's helped me with the cooking -” Talia flips through the papers Mary handed her perfunctorily, and Derek glances over her shoulder to see what little medical records he has, his human status card, a short list of former 'residences' (fancy talk for who has already owned him before.) “...he won't give you any trouble.” At this, Mary digs her fingers a bit too deeply into the flesh of the kid's shoulder, squeezing so hard that he actually winces and Derek catches a whiff of pain on the air. “Isn't that right, Stiles?”

Stiles' lips quirk, his jaw ticks, like he's about to start shouting or cussing somebody out. Instead, he just nods his head once, tersely, still glaring at his feet.

“See?” Like she's just proven the point of the century, Mary grins and pats Stiles on the shoulder.

Stiles adjusts his backpack, looks up briefly to look at Talia's face, then Derek's, but doesn't say a word. He's probably been told to never speak out of turn in the presence of weres.

“If that's all then!” Another shove, this one harder, so Stiles stumbles forward, only coming to a stop a foot or so away from where Talia is pushing the human's papers into her oversized purse. “He's all yours!”

She takes a step back and puts her hands on her hips, beaming, like this is the greatest day of her life. And, really, every time she manages to shirk some human out from underneath her grasp, it really is a great day. One less mouth to feed, one less human running around giving her grief, one less obnoxious scent assaulting her nostrils. Weres like this shouldn't be running human orphanages, Derek thinks to himself; matter of fact, no weres at all should be running anything in regards to humans.

Clearly, Talia had been expecting some kind of fanfare, because she just stands there for a second with her lips parted. Behind her glasses, her eyes click between Stiles and Mary again and again, as though she's waiting for there to be a tearful hug or some kind of goodbye or sendoff.

None comes, and Derek shifts his feet awkwardly. Stiles just stands there, fingers anxiously tugging at the straps of his bag, not looking at either werewolf in front of him.

“Okay,” Talia says slowly, before another tight smile crosses her face. “Stiles,” she says his name like she's talking to an injured animal, “do you know who I am?”

Stiles looks up and meets her eyes head on, though his expression doesn't change from slightly hostile indifference. “Talia Hale,” he says, deadpan, like he's not impressed. “Alpha.”

Talia absolutely lights up, nodding her head enthusiastically as if Stiles just did a back flip for her, before sticking her hand out in his direction. “It's nice to meet you!”

Hesitantly, with a look on his face that suggests he'd much rather stick his hand into a vat of hissing rattlesnakes, Stiles takes her hand and allows her to shake his up and down. He does it awkwardly, like he's only ever seen it done in movies and is just copying what he's watched werewolves do on screen.

As soon as their hands part, Talia is putting her arm around Derek's shoulder proudly. Derek watches as Stiles slowly moves his eyes all over every part of him; from the height difference between them, the way Derek's shoulders are broader, how he's more muscled, huger than Stiles in every sense of the word, and doesn't miss the way that Stiles' heartbeat upticks in what could be fear.

“This is my son, Derek,” Talia says calmly. “He's going to take care of you from here on out, all right?” Again, with the talking to him the same way she'd talk to a little kid or a stupid person, her voice all high pitched and almost mocking.

Stiles' jaw ticks again, amber eyes scanning up and down Derek for a brief second. “Hi,” he says, in a small voice. Most things about Stiles, as a matter of fact, are small when compared to most things about Derek. That's the way all the humans are bred, whereas wolves have only reproduced with each other and kind of evolved to be bigger, but seeing it up close like this, really looking at the differences between them – it's almost staggering.

Because he doesn't think that he can get his vocal chords working appropriately at the moment, Derek doesn't say anything. Instead, he puts his hand out the exact same way his mother had done, and waits.

Like Derek said before. He's never in his life met a human. The closest he's ever really gotten to one is when a girl accidentally bumped into him in the street and spent the next thirty seconds grovelling apologies at him; but that, and that alone, is the one time he's ever had direct skin to skin contact with another human.

Point being, he's never touched one. Meaning, he has no idea exactly how much stronger than a human he is, how much weaker Stiles is, how easy it would be for Derek to snap Stiles' neck without a second thought.

So, when Stiles puts his hand in Derek's and Derek squeezes like he would to a were, it's only a millisecond before – snap. Derek doesn't even have the time to realize what he's done.

Stiles recoils, pulling his hand back and crying out in pain as the scent of human hurt fills the air. It smells bitter, like orange rinds or lemon peels, and Derek doesn't understand how any wolf anywhere can enjoy hurting a human if that's how it smells.

“Jesus Christ, Derek!” His mother chides, moving forward to wrap her fingers around Stiles' skinny wrist to look at the mess Derek's gone and made.

Absolutely horrified, Derek can only stand there and watch as his mother coos and pokes at Stiles, making disappointed noises in the back of her throat and giving Stiles apologetic looks. “I'm – sorry, I – didn't know -” he didn't know. He really had no fucking idea what humans are really like.

Talia gives him a dark look. “God,” she hisses between her teeth, turning Stiles' hand this way and that while he just sniffles and wipes at his tearing eyes with the back of his free hand. Now Derek guesses that she's glad she didn't bring the fucking camera crew along to film this great moment in time; she wouldn't be making very many strides with human rights' groups if they caught her son brutalizing a human on film. “You snapped his finger clean in half, Derek,” and it's said like it's more an annoyance than anything else, a trip to the hospital she doesn't feel like making.

Throughout it all, Stiles just stands there. He lets Talia move his hand this way and that, even though every time she does he whines in pain from the back of his throat. At no point does he make any moves to try and run, or to get away from the wolves – maybe because he knows it would be pointless. He gives Derek one teary-eyed glance, and in his eyes Derek sees resignation. A person who has accepted his fate. Getting broken fingers is just something that happens to him, now, since he's going to be living with wolves. That's probably exactly what he thinks.

And Derek fucking hates himself. For the entire fucking situation.

In the car, Stiles presses himself as far up against the door on his side as he can manage, glares out the window, and sniffles softly to himself, his mangled hand sitting in his lap, while that bitter scent of pain floods the entire cabin and makes Derek feel like a caged animal.

Talia had taken it upon herself to stow up in the front passenger seat when they all clambered in, citing something about you boys get to know each other!

Nevermind the fact that they're going to be getting to know each other on the drive to the fucking human hospital three hours away because Derek just broke Stiles' tiny little finger clean in half like a brute. How much conversation could they really fucking have?

“Stiles!” Talia chides as the car starts moving, and Stiles jerks a bit, widening his eyes and looking around himself like what did I do wrong? Derek rubs his eyes again. “Your seatbelt!”

There's a beat of silence, Stiles blinking owlishly at her, before he looks over to his left and sees the seatbelt sitting there on the seat, waiting to be pulled across his chest. He looks at it like he's either never seen it before or, at least, has never been told to wear one. Derek wonders when the last time Stiles was in an actual car before, and not just a rickety old van carting him away from his family in the human sanctuary to drag him off to government ordered purgatory.

Finally, he reaches up slowly and tugs at the seatbelt, clicking it into place, before going right on back to staring out the window, his entire body pressed against the door. He still hasn't taken his backpack off.

Derek thinks about how horrible it must be to be surrounded by wolves like this, as just a pathetic little injured human. He wonders how much Stiles has heard about wolves, the way that they treat humans, what Mother Mary really treated him like the years he's spent in that horrible orphanage with all those other kids. He thinks that those aren't exactly the kinds of questions he's supposed to be asking in his mother-ordered quest to learn about his new fiancee, so he clears his throat and tries to think of something, anything else.

“So,” he starts, voice thick with awkwardness and forced nonchalance. “You're – are you – are you okay?”

Derek has broken bones before, so he knows how it feels, but he also has healed them all near instantaneously. So he wouldn't know anything about the throbbing, swelling feeling; from how Stiles' broken finger is plumping and reddening up, he'd guess it hurts a lot more when it has to sit there without healing for days. Days. Derek can't even fucking imagine that.

Stiles doesn't look away from the window. “Yeah,” he says, voice sounding tight. “Sorry.”

Sorry? Talia meets his eyes in the rearview mirror with a stern look, like now this is a situation that Derek has to rectify himself. “No, it's – not your fault?”

Aside from a small sniffle, Stiles doesn't respond to that.

“I know you've been to this particular hospital before,” Talia chirps from the front, twisting her body around to get a better look at Stiles. “Is it nice there? Clean?”

Finally, the human turns his eyes away from the window and gives Talia a quizzical look, shifting his eyes anxiously to Derek for a quick moment before looking back at Talia. “I guess.”

This answer clearly doesn't satisfy Talia whatsoever. She huffs out a breath, purses her lips. “I bet it's a nightmare. The amount of funding they get – in spite of the fact that they're supposed to get millions of dollars from donations and taxes – it's just pitiful. I know they spend that money elsewhere,” her classic television expression crosses her face, all serious and determined. “I intend to change that.”

Stiles looks at her like he doesn't even know where to begin with what to make of her or anything that she's saying. He doesn't know how to respond, how to add anything into the conversation. He curls himself deeper into his seat, casts his eyes down to his lap, and uses his good fingers to play with a loose thread on his jeans.

This is awful, Derek decides resolutely in his own head. Absolutely fucking horrific and horrible, and he should've fought his mother a lot harder on this, refused to go through with it. How, exactly, is picking some traumatized seventeen year old up out of an orphanage and wrapping him into a political marriage with a wolf not any worse than what other humans have to go through on a day to day basis?

The problem is, he's already agreed to it. And there's a human already sitting in the seat next to him being carted away from his entire life, however shitty it may have been there it was still his life, with a broken finger.

The only option now, Derek guesses, is to try and make it as not horrible as possible. Not entirely unhorrible, but just – less. Less horrible. Derek can do less horrible.

Carefully, Derek moves his hand to the middle of the seat, right in between their bodies. “I really am sorry,” he forces as much sincerity into his voice as possible, “about your finger. I really didn't mean to – I'm not -”

“It was an accident,” Talia chimes in, unwelcome, and Derek feels like kicking the back of her seat and telling her to face front and shut the hell up so he can smooth things over with his human. His human, Christ, he can't believe he just thought that – he's a human. He doesn't belong to anyone. “You know how different human bodies and werewolf bodies are, right Stiles?”

Derek gives his mother a death glare, before turning back to Stiles. There's one solid message he needs to drill into this kid's head, probably again and again until it's understood and known - “I'm not going to hurt you.”

In one of the most unbelievable acts of defiance Derek has ever in his life seen from a human, Stiles looks Derek dead in the eyes, lifts his mangled hand in the air like oh, really?, and doesn't even blink, his jaw set tight and angry.

For a second, Derek is so flabbergasted he can't even think of anything to say. He's not angry, he's just – fucking shocked. Never in his life has he ever seen a human do anything more towards him than either cower or practically prostrate themselves in front of him; to see a human, a human that he just hurt no less, giving him a look like that...

It's deserved. Derek knows that it is, and there's no sense in arguing that. If he's going to sit here pretending like he's going to be treating humans as equals from here on out, or at the bare minimum his fucking betrothed, he should start with accepting humans' emotions as entirely valid no matter how much they make Derek feel like shit. So, he collects himself, clears his throat again, and says, “I know. It was -”

“An accident,” Stiles repeats, voice void of emotion.

This is not going well.

Derek inches his fingers further over the leather in the space between them, skin squeaking against the fabric, and tries to meet Stiles' eyes. “Would you mind, or would you like me...” he sighs, wishing he was as well-spoken as his mother for the first time in his life, “...I can take some of your pain. If you want.”

Silence. Stiles staring Derek in the eyes, still, with a certain determined crease in his brow, like he's trying to figure something out. Maybe look for motive, or some possible reason that any wolf would ever offer up something like that to him.

Either because he's in too much pain to be prideful, or because he's afraid to say no to a wolf (and Derek doesn't know which is worse), Stiles nods his head tersely once, and frowns about it. A mixed signal if Derek has ever gotten one.

But the stench of his pain is so fucking thick in this contained space as the car drives down the highway, and they've still got two hours left until they're at that ridiculous human hospital, that Derek feels like he doesn't have much of a choice in the matter either way. He slowly, snail slow, picks up his hand and moves it over to Stiles' bony wrist, hovering it in the air for a second. Waiting for Stiles to recoil or change his mind.

When Stiles does nothing except sit there, Derek takes the leap to drop his fingers as feather-light as he can down onto his wrist and start pulling the pain out of him.

The hurt is light, compared to others he's taken before. He once spent an afternoon with both hands on his sister when she was going into labor – this compared to that is nothing. It's like a whisper more than anything else, but he can tell it's getting the job done from the way Stiles relaxes into the touch and the bitter scent in the air considerably lessens. Neither of them say anything throughout the entire ordeal, but he catches Stiles casting anxious glances in Derek's direction more than once.

Derek knows he's just waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for Derek to turn cruel again.

Even when that doesn't happen, and Stiles manages to arrive at the hospital in one piece with no new injuries, Derek can tell that Stiles still doesn't trust him.

And, maybe, never will. The human he's supposed to marry might never trust him.

If his mother notices any of this, how much Stiles shies away from Derek and practically glues himself to her side as they walk into the building, she doesn't appear to care. So long as a bunch of photographers eventually get a money shot of Stiles and Derek standing together, and so long as she manages to shove a ring onto Stiles' frail finger, nothing else matters to her.

In the waiting room, people recognize them. Of course they do. The entire Hale family, the entire Hale pack, are the single most recognizable group of people in the entire state of California, and that's even including celebrities.

They're important wolves and important members of society, they're billionaires, and people with cameras follow Derek and his sisters around nearly everywhere they go without fail. For some reason, there's something fascinating to everyone about their lives – though Derek will never be able to fucking understand that.

There's some whispers in the lobby as they sit that Stiles obviously can't hear, but that Derek can pick up as clear as a fucking bell. A couple of women who probably are just waiting for their own human to get out of the ER for whatever reason are sitting a row or two back from them, pretending to flip through magazines but really talking to one another in hushed tones, know exactly who Stiles is. They know that he's the human Derek's set to be marrying, and they jab back and forth about how unclean Stiles looks, how his clothes are all dirty and cheap and poor, and what does Derek see in that gross little thing, can you believe he'd even touch a human like that, I bet it's just for the papers, I bet it's just Talia trying to -

Derek is this close to leaping up and walking over to give them a piece of his fucking mind, in spite of the fact that it would only rattle and upset Stiles in the long run, when luckily he's saved by the metaphorical bell.

A tan human woman with curly black hair, one who had been staring at them for minutes up until this point, appears with a clipboard in lavender scrubs. She keeps looking at Stiles, again and again – enough times that Derek turns to look at Stiles himself to see what she's seeing there.

Stiles is looking right back at her. Wide-eyed recognition.

Talia is droning on and on about it was an accident, completely an accident, he fell and humans are so fragile as I'm sure you know working at a place like this, right? Haha, anyway, he fell and now he probably needs a – what? Bandage? Derek watches this nurse and Stiles have a silent stare off for another few seconds before he puts one hand gently on Stiles' shoulder – which the nurse watches like a fucking hawk watching its prey – and leans in.

“Do you know her?” He asks quietly.

Stiles looks hesitant to say anything, and the nurse herself - whose name tag reads McCall - clears her throat and starts pretending to write important things down on her clipboard. Derek knows beyond any shadow of a doubt that Stiles obviously knows who this human woman is beyond just a simple patient-nurse relationship, and also knows exactly why he would be so reluctant to admit it.

Humans aren't supposed to interact with one another. Not when they're out with the wolves. It's seen in bad taste if they're talking to each other – they're supposed to be seen and not heard, at all times. Having conversations with each other is a freedom that they're hardly ever allowed. If Stiles admits he knows her, he probably thinks that Derek will chastise him or berate him for something that fucking infantile and stupid.

Derek decides not to press the issue. If Stiles isn't comfortable with telling Derek something, then he shouldn't have to.

Throughout the duration of their visit, while Nurse McCall – wraps up Stiles' finger and puts a metal brace on it, Talia reiterates at least fifty times that it was, in no uncertain terms, an accident, and that Derek wasn't involved in it at all. There would be nothing worse than a scandal of human rights' activist Talia Hale's son breaking his fiancee's finger getting out there for the public, before the fucking engagement photos have even been released.

And there's nothing, nothing at all, that Talia Hale hates more than a scandal. It's why Derek was hardly ever allowed to date, even as a teenager.

Even with all this insistence from Talia, nurse McCall looks like she doesn't buy a word for it. She spends what seems like far too much time fixing up Stiles' finger, lets her hands linger on him for longer than necessary, and gives Derek as many dirty looks as he's ever gotten from any single person, much less a human.

By the time they're finally leaving, Stiles smells upset and sad – he glances over his shoulder as they're exiting out the automatic doors into the early afternoon, stares wistfully back as Talia talks his ear off about how horrible and shocking it was inside the human hospital because they didn't even have water fountains. He stares, and stares, like he wants to run back inside and go back to that nurse and hide under her desk, until he sets his gaze straight forward again without a word or a telling facial expression.

Derek knows for certain that Stiles doesn't trust him. Not enough to tell him how he knows that woman. Stiles does not like him. Stiles would much prefer to be back at that horrible orphanage where he barely got enough to eat and only had one pair of pants.

Because, as far as Stiles is concerned, Derek is like all other wolves.

Just another person that's going to hurt him.


Derek's mother lives in the huge mansion that he grew up in – the one with terraces and an indoor pool and floor to ceiling windows and opulent family portraits hung in every possible room. When Derek moved out of that place, finally, he had never been happier. It's hard to feel at home or to truly feel like a family in a house that has four separate wings that each member of the family gets to keep to themselves. It was empty, there, filled with things that little kids weren't allowed to touch or get near, and cold with marble staircases and a mother who cared far more about her public appearance as a mother than she ever did about actually being a mother.

His house is much less ostentatious – but Stiles looks at it like he's just been brought to fucking Versailles.

He shuffles inside behind Derek without a word, clutching onto the straps of his backpack tightly, and watches with moderate interest when Derek locks the door immediately behind himself – first the bolt lock, then the chain, then the bar, one after the other. When Derek turns around to look at him, he has his eyebrows raised like he's surprised or confused at the thought of a wolf being so concerned about his personal safety or well being.

Normally, Derek doesn't give a fuck about locking his doors. With Stiles here, though, suddenly he's worried. Humans are, on some level, a liability.

During the tour, which is minimal and consists mostly of Derek pointing into rooms and going so there's that and Stiles remaining silent, obediently padding along behind Derek and gazing into each room with wide eyes, like he's never seen anything in his life like nice wooden floors and smooth counter tops.

When they get upstairs into Derek's bedroom, Stiles blinks at the bed for a few seconds with a frown, and then heaves out a sigh that suggests resignation, but, again, he stays otherwise silent.

Being the only one talking for so long has Derek reeling – he finally runs a hand through his hair and asks Stiles a direct question to break through the horrible one-sided conversation. “Do you like it?”

Stiles gives him a blank look, as if Derek just asked the single most ridiculous question he's ever heard. Then, he doesn't even answer it. He just juts his chin at the bed, his jaw set tight, and asks Derek a question right back. “Am I sleeping there?”

Derek runs a hand down one side of his face. So he wants to jump right into it, then? “I don't – have another bed...” Buying a second bed when he's supposed to be in love with the human he's moving into his house doesn't make very much sense. It would look suspicious and people would think the entire thing was just a political move for his mother – which, it is. But. No one's supposed to know that.

There's a silence, Stiles staring at the bed like he's gauging exactly how much space there'll be in between he and Derek when he's forced to sleep there with him, and then he nods, once. Acceptance. In his eyes, there's nothing else he could say or do to get out of it.

He's still standing there clutching onto his backpack, the stupid little bag he still hasn't let go of or taken off in the entire six hours that he's been with Derek, now; so, thinking he's being a gracious host, Derek steps forward, reaching his hand out towards it and saying, “why don't you put your stuff down?”

Stiles steps back and wraps the fingers of his good hand so tightly around the bag you'd think it was his first born child that Derek was trying to take from him, all huge eyed with waves of anxiety rolling off of him. As soon as Stiles steps back, Derek pulls his hand away and holds it out in the air in a placating gesture, I come in peace, but Stiles keeps his defensive stance for several more seconds.

“I'm not going to take it,” Derek says carefully, and Stiles only slightly deflates, “but you should unpack. Get settled in. Okay?”

Settled in. What a word choice. Settled in to this foreign house with a fucking stranger he's expected to share a bed with; how could anyone settle in to that kind of a situation? Derek feels like kicking himself for a few seconds for being so obtuse.

A moment passes, and then Stiles is slowly sliding the straps of his bag off his shoulders and depositing it on top of the bed gingerly, as if it contains fine china or other perishables. Looking at it, the thing is pathetic to begin with – hardly big enough to hold a textbook or two, let alone every single worldly possession someone might own. But the second it's on the bed, it deflates like it's not even full.

Derek clears his throat, uncomfortable with this for some reason, and looks away briefly to walk over to his nightstand. He undoes his watch methodically to drop it into its usual spot – even though it's still early and the sun is still out, he has absolutely no plans of leaving here with Stiles tonight, not yet, and he also has no plans of leaving Stiles all alone here unprotected either – as a sign to Stiles that he should start taking his stuff out as well.

It's only a second longer before the zipper of the ratty backpack is sliding open. Derek watches out of the corner of his eye as Stiles pulls out a single jacket, folded up carefully and reeking like Stiles so strong Derek wonders when the last time it was even washed was. He drops it onto the bed, shifting his eyes upward to glance at Derek for a moment as if making sure that's okay.

When Derek just sits down on the edge of his side of the bed to start untying his shoes, Stiles must take that as a go ahead to keep going, because he goes on to pull out a second threadbare black t-shirt exactly like the one he has on now, a paperback book that looks like it's about to fall apart at the binding, and a metal box that rattles a bit like it's full of a couple knick knacks. And that's all.

That's apparently all Stiles has to his name in the entire world – a jacket, two shirts, a pair of pants, a book. The thought is bizarrely infuriating for Derek, who grew up with everything. Everything he could've ever wanted, he got, no questions asked.

Standing up from the bed, he walks to the closet and flicks the light on. “This is your side,” he says, pointing to the half of the closet he cleaned out for Stiles' arrival. At the moment, there's nothing but hangers there waiting to be used. “We'll have to go out and get you some more things, huh?”

Stiles looks down at his things, and shrugs. “This is fine.”

It's not fine. Aside from the fact that only owning one pair of pants is beyond unacceptable in Derek's rich-boy mind, there's also the bit where Stiles has to look presentable to the public eye. And what he's got on – the jeans full of holes with crude magic marker illustrations drawn by five year olds and the t-shirt that looks one good wash away from falling apart – is not presentable. In any sense of the word. He looks like a homeless youth.

In spite of the fact that he has every intention of throwing it all out the second he gets the chance, Derek slides the jacket and the t-shirt across the bed and hangs them up in the closet. They look so ridiculous hanging there across from all of Derek's freshly dry-cleaned and pressed shirts, designer suit jackets and pants, mountains of silk ties. He guesses that that's what those women at the hospital had meant about how stupid Stiles had looked sitting next to Derek; how unbelievable it was that he and Derek would ever be together like that.

“We'll go shopping tomorrow,” he says. Stiles apparently takes this as an order, because instead of once again insisting that he's fine and doesn't want anything like he clearly wants to, he just frowns into the closet looking at this things, before sliding his eyes to Derek and nodding his understanding.

Again. This is not going well. Time to switch gears and speak in a language that everyone, humans and wolves alike, understand perfectly.

“You're hungry,” and it's not phrased like a question. One look at Stiles' pronounced collarbones, and Derek knows that Stiles is hungry. That he's been hungry, most likely for years. As expected, Stiles perks up at the word like a dog hearing bone – Derek immediately feels awful for the comparison – but doesn't say anything. Carrying the conversation is apparently something that Derek is going to have to get used to with Stiles around. At least for a while. “Let's – um – go downstairs.”

As they go, Derek checks over his shoulder a minimum of six times to see what Stiles is doing behind him, or what his facial expression is like. Each time, Stiles is simply there, walking with a wary expression on his face that suggests he keeps waiting for something bad to happen to him here. For Derek to open up a basement door and push him down the stairs into a dungeon torture chamber. It's unsettling enough to be looked at like that, with such genuine distrust, that Derek feels like assuring Stiles the only thing he has in his basement is a chainsaw and some golf clubs...

...which he doesn't think would calm the human down. At all. Nevermind that.

“So – I don't know what you like, but, I have -”

“I can cook,” Stiles blurts out of nowhere. Derek turns around from where he's leaning inside the fridge, tossing his head over his shoulder and frowning in the human's direction. “I – I can – you don't have to -” Abruptly, before Derek can say that he doesn't have to do anything, Stiles is standing there, less than a foot away from Derek, bending down to look into the fridge himself.

The longer he looks, the more color drains out of his face. From the way his eyes widen as he moves them over pounds of meat and cheese and containers of yogurt, you'd think the kid was looking directly at a ghost inside of the fridge. Like Zule from Ghostbusters is waiting in there among the eggs, a ghastly voice calling out to him while the lights flicker. It's almost funny – Derek's lips quirk up at the corners, because at first, he's amused, thinking that Stiles is just flabbergasted at seeing so much food in one place, so much for him to choose from.

Until Derek scents the air and gets the acrid taste of fear in his mouth, spilling out of the pores of Stiles' skin at such an alarming rate that Derek looks back inside the fridge himself to make sure Zule really isn't in there.

All he sees is food. But Stiles is looking at it like it's got claws to scrape across his flesh if he tries to reach out and touch it.

“Hey,” Derek says in a quiet voice, reaching his hand out to put it on Stiles' shoulder and then thinking better of it at the last second. “What's the matter?”

Stiles' takes one step away from the fridge, frowning down at the ground. He keeps twisting his fingers together, even the one with the metal brace wrapped around it, and he won't look Derek directly in the eyes. “I'm sorry,” he says lowly, “I don't know how to cook any of that.”

As if he's admitting that he killed a man five years ago, Stiles says this. Like this is the single most horrible thing he's ever had to get out from between his teeth, the human says this.

Derek feels like punching himself in the face for being so stupid. Of course Stiles wouldn't recognize anything like T-bone steaks or nicely packaged cheeses or yogurt cups. Last time Derek actually went through and looked in the aisle marked HUMAN NEEDS in the grocery store, the one right beside all the dog toys and tropical fish, he didn't see anything even remotely bordering on actual food.

Most places in were communities that hoard humans the way Mother Mary's did probably buy that glorified dog-food for humans in bulk, pound by pound. It comes in grotesque little packages, frozen for probably five years before getting shipped to Wal-Mart, marked with a different colored sticker for different flavors. Imitation meat – but with all the nutrients of the real stuff! Everyone knows humans don't need actual food like us wolves, they're so weak and little, they probably couldn't chew steak meat, even if they tried!

Stiles legitimately thought that Derek was going to pull open the fridge and take out a plastic package filled with unrecognizable gruel to dump into a pan and heat up. That's what Mary had meant about Stiles being able to cook, back at the orphanage.

A lot of thoughts are going through Derek's head right now. Chiefly, that he can't believe Stiles has lived off of nothing but fake food for God only knows how long, followed up by the fact that he can't believe the human actually thought Derek would have any of that trash inside of his fridge, and finally, the fact that Stiles – for whatever reason – thinks he has to cook?

Trying not to let the palpable horror seep into his voice, Derek shrugs his shoulders as innocently and nonchalantly as possible. “I do. When's the last time -”

“I can do other things,” another outburst, this one slightly louder, more hysterical. Derek turns away from the fridge again, feeling like he's in an episode of the Twilight Zone, and watches as Stiles fidgets with his fingers some more, still refusing to look directly at Derek. “I can clean. I can do the dishes, I – I can do laundry and wash your car or -” he trails off, voice cracking. He looks like he's a half-step away from launching into a full-blown attack; which is the most emotion Derek's gotten out of him since he broke the kid's finger this morning.

Derek's not an idiot. Although, maybe he is, for not having seen this coming sooner.

Stiles is worried that Derek will find Stiles useless. If he can't cook, and he can't clean, and he can't do this or that or the other thing for Derek, if he can't be the perfect subservient little human that does every thing he's asked and told to, then what's the point of him? Derek will trade him in for another one, go to another orphanage and scoop up some other petrified teenager who actually knows how to sear a steak. And Stiles will wind up thrown away some place else - some place worse. Much worse.

“Okay,” Derek shuts the fridge door maybe a little too hard, and Stiles jumps, entire face twitching like he's expecting a slap to the face. “We need to a have a conversation – come on.”

With one hand, as gently as he can manage, Derek steers Stiles and his quaking limbs over to a stool in front of the kitchen island. Even being careful and cautious, Stiles stumbles a little bit underneath Derek's push, moving too easily along with it – just how fucking weak are they breeding humans these days? How easy would it be for Derek to literally rip this poor kid to pieces with his bare hands, if he felt like it?

Christ. And wolves wonder why the population of humans in their communities is dwindling so much – why underground human traffickers keep having to steal humans out of their own homes from their sanctuaries. If it's that easy to kill them off, then Derek doesn't doubt that's exactly what some weres do with them.

Once Stiles is perched on top of a stool, hunched over the counter top and side-eyeing Derek, Derek leans his elbows down on the granite across from him and tries to catch his eyes. “Stiles,” as soon as he's addressed, Stiles looks up with an expression one would expect to find on an inmate about to receive the lethal injection. “What exactly were you told about why my mother picked you?”

Stiles glances back down at the counter. “Just that a were wanted to...mate me.”

Jesus Christ,” Derek bursts out, palming his forehead. “That's not – no.”

Mating and getting married are, actually, two completely different fucking things. Mating with a human means holding one of them down – nine times out of ten completely against their will – snapping teeth into their frail necks until blood runs down their skin, and forcing them to take a knot. Afterwards, like all the books and human-abusers out there in the world will tell you, a human has no choice but to cater to a wolf's every whim and wish, and happily, at that.

Derek has known, and always known, that that is the biggest load of horseshit wolves have ever come up with. Humans don't even know what mating means. When two wolves mate, both of them feel it, that they're bound together now, forever. It's fucking sacred in a lot of ways. Humans just don't get that feeling – all they know when a wolf mates them is that they've been bitten, clawed, and raped by a creature twenty times as strong as they are – so yeah. Probably after that fucking experience, they do whatever that wolf tells them to out of fear for their own lives.

“I'm not going to mate you, Stiles,” it is very, very pivotal hat Derek drives this idea home. If Stiles is going to be in this house thinking he's going to practically be assaulted every single day, then that's a fucking problem. “That is not going to happen. Do you understand?”

Stiles looks like he doesn't know what to say, eyes wide and blinking. It almost reminds Derek of the expression children get on their faces when they're told they'll get candy if they behave the right way.

“I need you to tell me out loud that you understand that,” Derek pushes. “Under no circumstances am I going to do anything you don't want me to do, or make you do anything that you don't want to do - is that clear?”

As expected, Stiles looks dubious. With good reason – he's most likely spent his entire time with whatever other owners he's had, including the orphanage, having the idea drilled into his head that the second he turns eighteen, some wolf is going to swoop in and take him away to be mated. He's spent most of his life just waiting around to be nothing more than a werewolf's chew toy, used until there's nothing left to use anymore. That being said, the idea of a werewolf not wanting to brutalize and torment him must be as foreign a fucking concept as pigs flying.

“I understand,” Stiles says, but Derek hears the uptick of a lie in his heartbeat. Mostly for his own sanity, Derek tells himself that it doesn't matter, not right now. Stiles is traumatized and brainwashed and he just needs some time to realize that Derek's not going to do anything horrific to him. Eventually he'll be convinced – maybe in days or weeks.

“You need to get that this,” he motions in between himself and Stiles, “isn't a fucking – it's not – you're not my pet.” The fact that Stiles doesn't even blink at the word suggests that he's been called as such before. “You're my fiancee. Okay? My equal.”

Even if Stiles doesn't say or do anything other than to blink placidly in Derek's direction, he can see clear as fucking day the thoughts that are going through his head. Why would you want to marry a weak, stupid human that you've never even met before today?

“I didn't choose this,” for some reason this sounded like a good thing to say inside his head, but the second it's out, he winces. “I mean – I'm glad you're here, and you seem – you're -” why not just fucking pick up a shovel and dig himself even deeper into this pit? “...the point I'm trying to get at here is that this is entirely my mother's idea. I didn't just pick some random human out of a catalog, all right?”

Stiles squints his eyes like this is the single stupidest thing he's ever heard, but doesn't make a comment.

“I cannot believe you weren't told all this beforehand,” Derek whines as he runs his hands up and down his face again and again as he tries to think of a way to condense this entire shitshow, put it into words that the human will be able to understand. “My mother arranged this entire thing. She thinks of herself as a real human rights activist,” Stiles makes a face, “and if her son were to fall in love with and marry a human, it would make her look good. Authentic. It wouldn't look good if her son took a teenager and forced him into a mating bite – understand?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says slowly, in a way that makes it pretty clear that he doesn't, not at all.

“It's an arranged marriage – completely and totally political and fake. Like, not real. The only part that's real is the part where I don't expect you to be my fucking servant. We're in this together. Okay?”

Stiles looks away from Derek, towards the window. Outside, an expensive car passes every few seconds down the residential street, and the window blows the leaves of the huge tree in Derek's yard around and around in the air. Stiles has no discernible expression on his face, other than a slight downward curve of his lips – one that hasn't really gone away since the two of them first met.

“That means you don't have to clean up after me,” Derek explains deeper, sensing Stiles' disbelief in the air. “Or cook for me, or do anything for me. You can sit on the couch all day for all I care.” He takes his elbows off the countertop and rounds the island, moving back towards with the fridge with a heaving sigh. Stiles still doesn't fucking believe him, still smells like anxiety and nerves, just waiting for something to go wrong here and for Derek to show his true self. “I'm going to cook the steaks, now,” he says matter of factly, pulling the meat out of the fridge and dumping it onto the counter. “You can have some if you want.”

A beat of silence passes as Derek unwraps the meat – Stiles hasn't even moved from his spot on the stool except to turn around and follow Derek with his suspicious eyes.

“You probably should eat some even if you don't want,” Derek decides resolutely. “You look like you weigh about ten pounds wet.”

At this, Stiles glances down at himself quizzically. Does he really not know how fucking tiny he is, in comparison to Derek and all other weres? He's just the right size to be tossed around like an oversized rag doll, which is exactly how human breeders like them. “I'll eat,” he says quietly. “Thank you, Mr. Hale.”

“Derek,” he corrects out of habit. He's more than used to people trying to call him Mr. Hale like he's a hotshot businessman, when really all he's ever done is trail along behind his mother and get really drunk at public parties. “Equals, remember?”

Stiles apparently doesn't remember how a knife works.

As soon as he has a plate of meat and potatoes in front of him, he picks up his fork and wields it the way any normal person would – but the knife.

The knife, he picks up awkwardly, hesitantly, and inspects. He turns it this way and that in the air, frowning like he's scrutinizing a difficult math problem, and then – in one of the most incredible displays Derek has ever seen in his life – he stabs the thing directly into his meat like he's killing a cow in the wild. And he does it hard – their glasses of water rattle and clink at the force.

He's gone and killed his already cooked steak, Derek thinks as he presses the back of his hand to his lips so Stiles won't see him laughing at the sight of a knife sticking straight out of a slab of meat. Stiles, completely oblivious to Derek about to have a laughing fit over this, grips the handle of the knife and picks the steak up, like some kind of lollipop or corndog. Then, he leans forward, and rips a bite off with his teeth, almost animalistically. It's the most insane thing Derek's ever seen in his fucking life.

Stiles hasn't used a knife. Ever. That's clear to Derek, now. With the gruel he was served at Mother Mary's that makes sense; most likely, the only utensil he's ever used is a spoon (or maybe even just his own hands), but Derek really has to wonder what kind of food they get out in the sanctuaries. Maybe they don't get meat out there and just live off fruits and vegetables. Derek likes to imagine the Garden of Eden when the thinks about the human sanctuaries, but, in reality, they're probably nothing like that. They might not even be better than human rescues out in wolf country are.

“Okay,” he interrupts as Stiles is leaning in to chew off another bite of meat. “Let me – just -” gently, he takes the handle of the knife and uses it to flop the meat back down onto Stiles' plate. Bewildered, Stiles looks like he's just gotten a toy taken away, giving Derek a confused look like what happened to us being equals what are you doing with my food I'm hungry, and Derek bites back another laugh at the expression alone. “You cut it. Like this.”

Derek demonstrates, leaning his arms over to cut three bite sized bits of meat for Stiles to eat.

Stiles watches this with about as much interest as paint drying. As soon as Derek hands the knife and fork back to Stiles, the teenager snatches them away, and jabs the knife right back into the center of the meat. Before picking it up, he gives Derek a really, really interesting glare.

It's almost like a challenge. An attempt at baiting Derek into going back on what he just said half an hour ago, about how Stiles can do whatever he wants and he's Derek's equal. As Derek's equal, shouldn't he be allowed to eat steak like a cave man if he feels like it?

Derek feels like this is probably as much progress as he's likely to make tonight with convincing Stiles that Derek doesn't have any plans of treating him the way other wolves have, as he watches Stiles pick the meat up just like he did the first time and snap his teeth into it with a tearing noise. After each bite he takes this way, he looks at Derek for long moments, like he's waiting. For claws across his face, or chastisement for disobedience, or something.

When nothing comes, he takes another bite, and almost smirks to himself, like he's won an argument, somehow.

Throughout the entirety of the dinner, he eats that steak like it's the single most incredible thing he's ever put in his mouth, paying absolutely no mind to the juice dribbling down his chin other than to swipe the back of his hand across his face every couple of minutes, ignoring Derek like he isn't even there at all. It's fucking barbaric. Derek has to physically force himself to not burst out into a laugh every time he watches Stiles rip chunks of meat off with his teeth or smashes his fork into the boiled potatoes like squishing bugs.

It's only six o'clock by the time dinner's done with, the summer sun still in the sky, but Derek doesn't know what else to do with the human. He could set Stiles up in front of the television with Netflix or hand him a book, but from the way that Stiles keeps rubbing at his eyes and huffing out sighs, Derek thinks that it's time he went to bed. This is most likely the busiest day he's had in a long, long time.

He tries to offer the option of sleep to him instead of just saying time for bed! But Stiles looks at him with that same look he gives Derek every time he tries to make a suggestion – like he has no choice or say in it either way.

Derek hands Stiles one of his own sleep shirts and a pair of pajama pants, says that they'll get him some of his own tomorrow when they go out, and Stiles doesn't say anything. Without a pause, except for maybe a suspicious glance in Derek's direction, Stiles rips his shirt up and over his head, and hands it to Derek expectantly.

It takes Derek a second for his mind to catch up to this, because the second that shirt is off and Stiles' bare chest and back are both out on display, he's just a bit distracted by the marks all over him.

He knew that he had been other places beside the orphanage from his papers, but he hadn't thought about the fact that some of those wolves might've marked him in the cruel ways that they've come up with. Seeing it like this, up close and so casually, Derek almost feels like dry-heaving.

There's a huge tattoo on his back. It's not nearly as bad as other ones he's seen – some wolves like to think of themselves as artists that can tattoo anything they feel like, and the results are fucking atrocious every time (he one time saw a stick figure drawing in a human's skin, like some wolf let their kids tattoo a human being as a fun game for them) – but this is at least well done, like an actual artist created it. It's a tiger, it looks like, as cheesy as that is, prowling forwards like it could leap up off the human's skin at any second to tear someone's throat out.

Near his hip, there's what looks like a barcode in black ink etched into his skin. His upper arm has a series of strange letters and numbers, his lower back splashed with raised scars that read the address for Mother Mary's Human Rescue, like someone took a knife and carved it in crudely.

Derek swallows, takes the shirt. Doesn't comment on it as he walks over and dumps it into the hamper across the room. What could he possibly say? Gee, sorry other wolves have mutilated you, man. Jesus Christ.

At least there aren't any claw scars or bite marks on him anywhere, Derek placates himself as he listens to the scrape of clothing while Stiles dresses in the pajamas. At least there's that. Other humans he's encountered have been absolutely littered with gouges and teeth marks. In some ways, Stiles is probably lucky.

As lucky as any human can be among wolves.

Stiles inches inside the bed bit by bit, sinking underneath the covers as far to his end as he can physically get without toppling over the edge. Derek observes this and feels like he maybe should've just splurged and bought a second bed, and fuck what people would think about it – how must it feel to be a teenage human being made to share a bed with an adult werewolf? Horrible, most likely. Scary. It's like all that bravery from dinner, with the steak, has washed clean out of him, and he doesn't have that fire inside of him to be disobedient anymore.

When Derek climbs in beside him with a book and stretches out comfortably, Stiles shrinks back even farther, pressing deeply into his pillow and pulling the covers up high, right on top of his chin. As if he half expects Derek to climb on top of him here and now.

The best thing to do is to act like he doesn't notice the way he's acting at all, Derek reasons, opening up his book without even a glance in Stiles' direction. Minutes pass this way; Stiles keeps his defensive pose, rigid and silent, and Derek reads. It's moderately hard to focus with a human this close to him, smelling like weak and Stiles, and Derek has to keep re-reading paragraphs again and again to try and get back into the story. It doesn't really work.

After maybe half an hour, Stiles starts relaxing bit by bit. His shoulders slump down. He unfurls his fingers from their death grip on the covers. He worms around a little like he's getting comfortable. Half an hour after that, his breathing evens out, body going slack with sleep, and Derek finally puts his book down into his lap.

And stares. Derek would never do this to Stiles while he was awake, out of respect for the fact that it would creep the everliving hell out of him, but while he's sleeping, Derek can't really help himself.

Stiles is skinny, and small, like all humans are – but he has this way about him, in his long fingers and lanky limbs, that suggests if he hadn't been born a human, if he hadn't been genetically altered at some stage in his process, then he would've been taller. Broader. Stronger, maybe. If he had been given a proper diet, maybe he'd have been able to get some muscle mass on him somewhere along the line. As it is, the only word Derek can think to come up with to describe him in all his entirety is pathetic. Freckles and moles that have probably fascinated every werewolf he's ever come into contact with dot across his face, his skin looks baby soft to the touch and has probably been stroked and prodded by someone, his features are light and smooth instead of harsh and brash like a wolf's would be – he's wolf bait.

It might even be half the reason that he was scooped out of the human sanctuary; him, in specific, out of the thousands of other kids just like him that probably mill around in there. He looks like a werewolf's wet fucking dream.

It's definitely the reason his mother chose him. Derek still remembers when she fished a picture of him out of his folder and waved it in the air in front of Derek's face triumphantly, like look what I found for you, isn't he precious?

He is, is the thing.

But instead of feeling like he's lucky, or like he won some kind of prize, beat out all the other wolves who might've been gunning to get their hands on him by his eighteenth birthday, he feels like a monster. An innocent, fragile, attractive human kid got ripped away from his family and wound up inside of Derek's claws; what's there to feel good about?

The following morning, Derek tries putting Stiles in some of his own jeans and shirts, but the kid looks absolutely fucking ridiculous. The jeans keep sliding down way too low on his hips, even with a belt, the bottoms of them stretching out over his feet like he's wearing balloon pants. The shirt he swims in, the hem reaching all the way down his mid thigh. When Derek looks at him after he's been dressed like that, it's all he can do to sigh and run a hand through his hair. He looks like a little kid playing dress up with his father's clothes.

Back into his own ratty jeans and horrible t-shirt he goes, looking much happier for it, honestly. Derek, on the other hand, isn't very happy about it at all.

Dragging Stiles into the human hospital without being scent-marked by Derek was one thing. But bringing him out into the general public, into a store that will be absolutely fucking crawling with nearly nothing but werewolves – not scent-marking him just isn't an option. If he manages to weasel his way out of Derek's sight for even a second, and he seems cunning enough to try to do something that stupid, then any wolf who spots an unmarked human will pounce on him in a second and either pet him like a little dog and coo at him for a few minutes, or try to steal him away into their van parked out back. Both options are abhorrent to Derek.

He tries to ease Stiles into the idea, feeding him a bowl of extra-sugary oatmeal and awkwardly hovering around him for a few minutes, trying to figure out a good way to ask him without it sounding all perverted and gross, or like an ownership thing. If Derek's supposed to be here trying to convince Stiles that he doesn't own him, how is he supposed to ask the human to let Derek mark him in any way, shape or form without coming across like a hypocrite?

It's in the middle of this debate, while Derek inches his legs marginally closer to Stiles' underneath the table every couple of seconds, that Stiles finally drops his spoon into his empty bowl and glowers in Derek's direction. “I know what you're doing.”

Derek sputters for a moment, trying to back peddle, ripping his legs as far away from Stiles and back over to his side of the table as he can, but the damage has been done. He's been found out. Stiles isn't a fucking idiot.

“I get how it works,” Stiles continues with a dejected tone to his voice, “go on and do it. I don't care.” There's a particular set to his jaw, however, that suggests he does care. And cares a lot.

The problem is, in this particular case, Derek can't let it slide. He can't, absolutely and physically cannot, take Stiles out without marking him first. It's just not a fucking option. It's for Stiles' own good and safety.

So, even though Stiles looks like he'd rather be eaten alive by the tiger on his back, Derek reaches across the table and presses his fingers as feather light as possible into Stiles' neck. Stiles swallows around the fingers, casting his eyes down to the ground and looking like a kicked dog backed into a corner, for all intents and purposes. It's horrible, but Derek presses his fingers in deeper and rubs, pushing his scent as deeply into that frail skin as he can get it without hurting him.

It's not as much as Derek would like to do, not even close to what his wolf wants him to do, but it'll keep the other wolves at bay. And that's all Derek should care about. Right?

As soon as it's good enough and not a second over, he pulls his hand away and leaves Stiles be.

In the car, Stiles sits in the passenger seat and glares out the window, looking at all the wolves walking down the sidewalks and the businesses – Derek knows this is a rare sight, for him. In the sanctuaries, though Derek knows very little about what they're really like, he figures they're nothing like this. They're not government run (or they're not supposed to be), so there's nothing official there. There's nothing like, say, a fucking Wal-Mart in the sanctuaries. Derek imagines they all live out of huts and pick berries for their livelihood. On top of that, Stiles probably very, very rarely left the orphanage to go into a city unless it was for emergencies.

So everything is a novel sight to him, and he drinks it all in with an expression like he wishes he could be nonchalant and disinterested, but can't force himself to be disillusioned with it.

Derek knows that Stiles more likely than not, on some level, despises werewolf culture. It symbolizes everything that's ever been taken away from him. Everything he's ever lost (and that list must be very, very long for a human at age seventeen.) He probably wishes more than anything that he could just hate every single thing he sees mercilessly. But he can't. He wants to go inside and blend in and be like everyone else. All humans do.

Stiles hops out of the car in the parking lot of Wal-Mart and then immediately plasters himself as close to Derek's side as he feels comfortable getting; and then stays there as they walk inside, eyeing every wolf that even glances at him warily like he's waiting for them to try and grab him. Derek feels simultaneously horrible for him and also somewhat triumphant – that he's managed to gain enough of Stiles' trust in two days that he at least thinks him better than any other strange wolf out there. It's selfish to think; how great it is that Stiles is afraid of everyone else but not him.

But it's really all he's got at the moment, so he clings to it like a lifeline.

When Derek tells him to pick some clothes out for himself, Stiles grabs the most bizarre hodgepodge of items that Derek has ever seen in his life – a hideous yellow and black plaid thing, a shirt so red it nearly makes Derek's retinas bleed, and a single pair of jeans. If Talia were here – well. If Talia were involved in this at all, they wouldn't be at Wal-Mart. They'd be in some department store, and Stiles would be standing there being measured by strange people to get fitted for some ridiculous suit. Eventually, Talia's going to force him to do just that. Derek thought it would be best to slowly acclimate Stiles to the idea of shopping at all, starting with the most basic of all places.

Derek never wants to see that red shirt again, but he doesn't have the heart to tell Stiles he can't have anything (which might become a problem in the future) – so he purses his lips at it but lets Stiles drop it into the cart anyway. Then, he forces Stiles to get five more pairs of jeans and a handful of normal, non-retina-destroying shirts. Good enough for now, Derek thinks.

When they're walking past the entertainment section, with the pitiful selection of books that a place like Wal-Mart has to offer, Stiles stares wistfully down the aisle and starts fidgeting his fingers again – like he desperately wants to run down the aisle scraping his fingers along every single book in sight.

Derek stops, juts his chin in the direction the shelves. “Do you want some?”

Stiles looks at him like he just got caught with his hand in the cookie jar – starts fidgeting even harder. Derek wonders if that's a nervous tick he picked up, or something just human, or something else altogether. “No.” His heart skips a beat.

You know, I can hear when you lie would probably petrify the literal shit out of him, so Derek just gives him a look before shoving his cart down the aisle and motioning for Stiles to follow him. “You can get anything you want. I want you to.”

Stiles follows along, chewing on his bottom lip with such ferocity it looks like it should start bleeding any second now. His eyes zero in on the young adult books with all the colorful covers; when's the last time he saw a new book? The one he brought along with him in his backpack looked like it came from the 1800's, for fuck's sake. These are all fresh, with bindings that crack when you open them – Stiles hesitantly reaches out to touch one, side-eyeing Derek like he expects the wolf to snap at him for this, before taking it into his hand and scanning the back cover.

“Your file said you like to read,” Derek says. It's his first attempt at actual small talk.

Surprisingly, Stiles doesn't recoil away from him or tell him to shut the fuck up. He just raises his eyes, meets Derek's, and then looks back down at the book. “Never had very many books, but. Yeah.”

Derek latches onto this tiny piece of information like a raft after a shipwreck. “You can have as many as you want now. I have my own collection too, and you can – you can read all of those.”

Stiles looks up at him, and then slowly holds the book out. “All right,” he agrees. And then, quieter, “thanks.”

“No problem,” it comes out too quickly, too enthusiastically – he tears the book out of Stiles' hands and drops it into the cart.

He's about to tell Stiles he can get another, when a voice calls his name from the end of the aisle, followed by the distinct sound of high heels clacking on the tiled floor in their direction. On instinct, half-expecting it to be a fan or some other stranger, Derek curls his hand protectively around the back of Stiles' neck as the heels click closer, careful to be as gentle with his touch as physically possible.

When he turns around and sees Kate fucking Argent sweeping towards him with a mocking grin on her face, Derek wraps his other hand around Stiles' shoulder and tugs him directly beside him, ignoring the squawk of protest and flailing arms. Within seconds, though, he wishes he hadn't gone and done that – all he's really done is call even more of Kate's awful fucking attention to the human.

She zeroes in on him like a cat spotting a mouse it wants to chase, and a feral grin spreads over her lips, growing wider with each step she takes closer to them.

The pleasantries are over, then, before they ever even began, and it's like Derek isn't even there. “Oh!” She squeaks, putting her hand over her heart like she's looking at a bunny rabbit in a cage. “This must be the little human you've taken in!” Taken in. Right. Kate keeps up with the gossip columns at the same rate as addicts huff wolfsbane – there's no way in Hell she doesn't know exactly what this human is to Derek – or at the very least what TMZ says Stiles is to him.

She fits her chilly eyes onto Derek, and says, “what's his name?” Like Stiles doesn't have any ability to talk, or like she doesn't care whether or not he can.

Derek doesn't waste any time humoring her. He looks at Stiles and gently nudges him in the side, prompting him to speak up. For a second, Stiles looks befuddled – but then he swallows, and says, looking Kate in the eyes for only a second, “I'm Stiles.”

Kate beams at him like he's just done a cute little trick, leaning forwards slightly to leer just a bit more closely. “Oh, my God. He is the most adorable thing I've ever seen. Where did you get him?”

“He's lived in an orphanage,” Derek as good as spits this in her direction.

An exaggerated pout makes its way across her features. “Aw...a rescue.”

The Argent family are pretty much exactly like the Hales – well known, important, rich, etcetera. The main difference between them is that they are on absolute opposite ends of the political spectrum regarding most things, especially on human rights. Of course. They, and Kate in particular, believe that weres are only doing the right thing by looking out for humans. That they're not “surviving” out in the sanctuaries and they need the wolves in order to keep the populations steady, to keep them from dying out altogether. Without wolves breeding them in factories like animals and selling them off to the highest bidder, they'd all be gone within a matter of months.

Tearing children away from their families is justified, in Kate's mind. So long as wolves get to keep control over the humans, she could care less what really happens to them.

Stiles must be able to innately sense that Kate is not a good person – or, maybe, he's seen her on TV before – because he leans a bit closer against Derek's side, giving her a blank stare.

“Yeah. After the feds came in and took him from his family, they just dumped him there.”

Kate makes a sad noise in the back of her throat, shaking her head. “All those homes are privatized – they don't receive funding. It's so horrible.” If she had her way, the government would be pumping thousands of dollars into building huge warehouses full of human children, watched over either by the Argents directly or a team of their minions. God only fucking knows what would happen to them in there. “Poor thing.”

Before Derek can stop her, she's reaching her hand out and scratching at Stiles' hair with her long nails. Stiles stands there, stock still and rigid, hands bunching into fists at his sides while Kate coos at him.

Derek doesn't particularly feel like creating a huge fucking scene in a public place, especially since that's exactly what Kate's probably getting at by doing this. He can deal with Kate scritching behind Stiles' ears for two seconds, setting his jaw tight.

But he hears her utter the words good boy and that. Fucking. Does it.

Derek tugs Stiles behind his body and away from Kate's hand, growling and snapping his teeth once in her direction in a clear threat.

Startled, Kate takes a step back with her hands up in a placating gesture – but within moments, she's smirking in satisfaction. She knows what kind of lines she was crossing with that shit.

“He's not a pet,” Derek hisses – he feels Stiles' fingers curl into the hem of his t-shirt, as though he's half afraid Kate will try to take him away. It's not an unfounded fear. “He's my fiancee. I expect you and everyone else to treat him as such.”

All the fake-pleasant, saccharine sweetness from before is completely drained out of Kate's face in an instant. She gives Stiles a menacing leer, before fixing her eyes back onto Derek. “Fiancee? Oh Derek.” She snickers, a cruel, mocking thing. “Don't be ridiculous. Don't tell me your sympathy for the things has you this delusional!”

Derek grits his teeth. “He's not a thing, either.”

“You know,” she continues on like he hasn't spoken, “treating them like normal people isn't good for them. They get ideas,” she waves her hand in the air, like any ideas a human could get would be ludicrous anyway, “if you make them think too hard, the poor things get overwhelmed.” Another glance in Stiles' direction – at this point, the human's fingers are digging into the skin around Derek's lower back, and it doesn't smell like fear that's coming off of Stiles' body in waves.

It's anger. Hot, thick and heavy. Unlike the pain from yesterday, this smells sour; rotten milk, moldy peaches.

“They're as good as puppies,” she says with a condescending smile for Stiles. “You can't marry your toys, no matter how much you like to play with them, Derek. They just don't understand what that even means. You think animals can love?”

“I understand,” Stiles' voice pipes up – Derek glances away from Kate to find him back beside Derek instead of behind him, glaring in Kate's direction. “...just like I understand that you and your family are the reason I'm even here to begin with.”

Derek is moderately surprised by this outburst, but it's nothing compared to the way that Kate is looking at him – like there's nothing she'd like more than to grab him and lock him up in a cage somewhere as punishment for talking back to her. Figuring she can't get away with that, she looks at Derek expectantly. Waiting for him to shush Stiles, smack him upside the back of his side, drag him by his ear out of the store shouting something about no supper.

Derek just stands there, raises his eyebrows at Stiles, and smirks.

With as much conviction as Derek has ever seen from a human, Stiles sneers at her, upper lip curling in disgust, and hisses, “fuck you.”

Derek nearly cackles in Kate's face, but settles for laughing quietly and patting Stiles on the back like that'll do, pig. That'll do.

Kate is stunned silent for all of two more seconds, lips parted and brow furrowed, before she collects herself. That same defensive expression creeping back onto her face, and she bends down to meet Stiles at his eye level. Stiles barely flinches. “Aaww,” she mocks right into Stiles' face, “if you were mine, I'd lock you up in the basement until you remembered your manners.”

When Derek puts his hand on Stiles' shoulder to pull him away from her again, his entire body is shaking. Whether in anger or fear, it's not clear anymore – more likely than not, it's a deadly cocktail of the both of them. “Well,” Derek says, “it's a good thing he's nobody's. I'll be sure to send you an invite to our big day, Kate.”

Out in the car, all the bags loaded into the backseat, Stiles is still shaking. He hasn't stopped, not even for a second. He curls and uncurls his fingers on top of his knees, staring down into his lap with wide, unseeing eyes, like he's going somewhere else inside his own head. Somewhere else might be best for him, right now. Someplace where people like Kate don't exist.

“I'm sorry about that,” Derek says as earnestly as possible. “That must've been – um – upsetting...” Being treated like a stupid animal in public where anyone could see? Yeah. Upsetting is one word for it. “Kate is just...”

Cruel. Kate is just cruel.

She might not beat her humans, or violate them, and she might dress them all up in nice clothes and take them out to show them off. But benevolence and real kindness just aren't the same things, not where the humans are concerned. She treats them like her little dolls that she gets to dress up, or puppies to train. Not real people.

And it's just simply cruel to take a person and make them a thing. No matter how sweetly she might do it.

“I've seen her on television,” Stiles says in a low voice, starting to fidget again. Then he, too, knows exactly what she's like. He's probably seen her humans all lined up behind her during her public addresses; standing there in pretty dresses and nice suits, dead-eyed stares on their faces, ARGENT stamped visibly across their necks in bright red ink.

Derek starts the car, puts it in drive – and then slams back into park within seconds, stomping on the brake and twisting around to face Stiles' direction. “You know I don't think that,” he says quickly, almost desperately. Stiles frowns. “That is the opposite of what me and my mother feel towards humans. You get that, don't you? That's what this,” he gestures in between he and Stiles, “is about. Trying to set an example that humans are as good as wolves. Okay?”

Stiles doesn't say anything, and he doesn't have to. Derek can tell what Stiles thinks about that written all over his face.

If Derek and Talia really gave a shit about making humans equal to weres, then they wouldn't have paid to drag Stiles out of the orphanage. They wouldn't be forcing him into a marriage without even asking him first, they wouldn't be parading him around in were-culture like some trophy or emblem of a movement that he doesn't want any part in.

If they really cared, they'd have taken him back to his family. Wherever they are. It wouldn't be hard to find them – it wouldn't be hard at all for Derek to look at Stiles' papers, whichever sanctuary he was dragged out of, and take him home. It would be so easy.

But Derek can't do that. It's not his call to make. In a way, it's so fucking twisted that Derek can even live with himself; it's so hypocritical for him to sit here pretending like he's so different from Kate Argent, so much better.

When really, he's just the lesser of two evils, in Stiles' mind.

“Look, Stiles,” Derek begins, running his hands down the front of his jeans out of nervous habit, “I know that this isn't exactly – an ideal situation. I know that you don't want to be here and if you had your way you – wouldn't be.”

Stiles snorts to himself, a smile creeping across his lips, and Derek can almost hear what it is that he's not saying, and won't say. If he had his way, he'd be nowhere near Derek or any other wolves. If he had his way, he never would've wound up in the world of wolves to begin with and would be far far away from any wolves who would try to take his life away from him like this.

“...but I don't want you to think about this like a me versus you kind of thing. Or like I'm the enemy, or that I'm not at least your friend in all -”

“You're not my friend.” Stiles cuts him off in a harsh tone of voice. Not quite with the same amount of venom he shot out at Kate, but close.

Derek blinks at him, mouth hanging open until he snaps it shut with a click of his teeth.

Unperturbed, Stiles continues on without looking in his direction. “You paid for me. Didn't you?”

A beat of silence. “My mother did.” It feels dirty, somehow, to admit this out loud. That Stiles was listed on some website the same way that Ikea couches are, just another thing to be inspected with customer reviews and a price listed underneath his picture, when he's not even eighteen yet. “But I don't think of you like -”

“Oh, great,” Stiles hisses sarcastically, crossing his arms over his chest and finally chancing a glance in Derek's direction. “You don't think of me like that. How nice for you. It doesn't matter what you think, either way – I'm your property.”

The word is like a slap in the face. It's enough that Derek actually flinches. “Stiles...don't be like that. There is so much more to this situation than just the money.”

“I understand the situation,” Stiles snaps with an air of defensiveness; probably from years of being treated like some stupid airheaded idiot by the wolves. “You need some pathetic little human with a sad backstory to sell your mother's campaign for human rights as believable.”

“I -”

“You as good as paid a whore, Mr. Hale.” The official title, so proper and a grim reminder of what their roles are in this relationship, how anyone else would see Derek as the boss and Stiles as his certifiable pet. “Don't insult me by acting like I don't understand exactly what this is.”

Derek is winded by this entire conversation. By Stiles' attitude, and most of all by the look that Stiles is giving him. Something crossed between hatred and fear, as if Stiles honestly expects Derek to reach over and backhand him across the face for speaking out of turn, but not caring either way. Like he's just used to that kind of thing, by now, but refuses to shut his mouth for his own good. The only thing he can think to say is a rusty, “call me Derek,” in a low voice.

“Derek,” Stiles repeats tonelessly. “Tell me what to do, and I'll do it. But don't act like we're friends.”

Silence. Deafening inside of the car, and Stiles starts crying.

Wolves, generally speaking, don't really cry. They can, but it's kind of stereotyped that humans are the real cry-babies – so when a wolf cries, they usually get mocked mercilessly for it. All wolves are expected to hold it in, less they get called human. And, God knows, there's nothing more shameful than being a human. The smell is foreign enough to Derek that he scrunches his nose against it, remembering yesterday when Stiles had cried for a while about his broken finger.

“Don't cry,” it comes out a lot harsher than Derek intends it to, “you're just upset over what Kate said. All that is just her talking, you know?”

Stiles swipes the back of his hand across his eyes and huffs. “People think that way.”

I don't – who cares what anyone else thinks?”

“Don't fucking talk like you're so much better -”

“I get that you're angry,” Derek cuts him off, “and you have every right to be. But I'm telling you I'm not going to force a power dynamic into our – whatever.” Calling it a relationship feels too strong for what they really are. “You and I are on the same level. I need you to get that.”

“Same level,” Stiles repeats sarcastically, shaking his head. “ I don't care. I hate you. I want to go home.”

Derek closes his eyes, presses his forehead into the steering wheel. That's just about the last thing he ever wanted Stiles to say – because he knows that he deserves to say it, and he even more deserves someone to listen to him, and to drive him home. Derek knows that.

But he can't. He just can't.


“He's looking better already!” Talia shouts at them from across her desk, leaning over it to scan her eyes up and down Stiles' form where he's sitting awkwardly in the seat right next to Derek's.

Stiles looks like he's been showering regularly, getting actual food in his system, and wearing half decent clothes. The past few days have been – in a word – bleak. Stiles might not shrink away from Derek's touch, or look at him like he's waiting for an attack, but he barely speaks. He holes himself up in Derek's room for hours at a time reading (and rereading) his new book; which he hides underneath the pillow on his side of the bed like he expects Derek to try and take it away from him at any second. While Derek sits down on the living room couch watching television and waiting for Stiles to emerge. He nearly never does, until he's called for lunch or dinner. Even then, he sits at the table and eats in near-silence.

Derek tries to start conversations with him (what's that book of yours about? How many times have you read it now? Do you want a new one?) and Stiles answers him in three words or less every time. The fact that they're supposed to pretend to be in love with each other makes the situation even worse. How is anyone going to buy them as an honest to god couple that's going to be walking down the aisle in three months if Stiles won't even talk to him? Barely fucking looks at him?

At least he's not belligerent, Derek placates himself. At least he doesn't lash out all the time.

Though, more than once in the past couple of days, he's heard Stiles sniffling quietly to himself upstairs. When Derek enters the room even hours later, he can smell that sad-sick-weak human smell of tears, making him blink against the stench of it. It's not great. It isn't great at all.

Stiles, uncomfortable underneath Talia's piercing gaze, looks away from her and chews on one of his thumbs.

“He looks so much healthier,” Talia continues, tapping a pen on top of her desk and positively beaming in Derek's direction. “You're doing a great job, Derek.”

Derek feels like laughing in her face. He's doing a shit job. An absolute and utter fucking horror show.

“I'm so glad he's well. Oh, this is fantastic,” she starts pulling out the dreaded black book Derek has long despised, all throughout his childhood and now into his adulthood, and Derek goes rigid in his seat. “That means I can finally start making some plans...”

Plans. Plans in his mother's terms means events. Places and parties that she can force Stiles and Derek to attend and get their picture taken and meet people and shake hands and make conversation and be normal.

“Mom, I don't think -”

“Your birthday is in one week, Stiles,” Talia talks over her son and clicks her pen, flipping through the book until she lands on this month. From where Derek is sitting, he can plainly see Stiles' birthday high lighted in pink, exclamation points surrounding it. “Eighteen!”

Stiles shifts slightly, makes a face, and looks away again. For humans, turning eighteen isn't some coming-of-age adulthood bash with streamers and presents and cake. It's not a turning point in their lives where every thing is about freedom and moving out and college.

It's the date too many of them get taken away. Sold to whoever, dragged against their will into a house full of strangers who will more likely than not degrade them or even hurt them. Stiles should know better than anyone else that eighteen is the same as sentenced.

“Of course we'll have a party -”

“That's not a good -”

“Derek,” she smiles at him, but it's more of a gritted teeth and tight voice warning. “Of course. We'll have a party.”

He looks away from his mother and looks to Stiles for his input on this – maybe he'll actually say something of value for the first time in days. Derek is hoping Stiles will say no, I'd really rather not...or maybe I don't like parties or just something.

But, the human sits there with a frown on his face and a jiggling leg, not meeting either of their gazes. Apparently, he's back to the stage where he doesn't even voice his own discomfort, whether it's because he's afraid of what either of them will do to him if he tries to argue, or because he thinks it's futile either way, Derek can't be sure.

“It's important that we celebrate this,” she affirms in her politics voice. “For so many human children, their eighteenth birthdays are nothing more than a symbol of oppression and a lack of freedom. It's important that he's given a party just like any other werewolf would be given; something fun instead of horrible.”

Derek imagines, in this moment, that she's standing behind a podium in one of her skirt-suits, a team of people behind her, microphones in front of her face and a roaring crowd of wolves in front of the stage she stands on while cameras zoom in on her to catch her moving speech.

“Stiles,” she addresses him directly, her voice dipping back down into the same one she uses for toddlers, not even noticing how fucking insulting it is to talk to Stiles like that – not to mention hypocritical. “Wouldn't you like a party?”

Again, Derek turns to Stiles and wants a fuck no. He wants Stiles to talk to his mother the same way that he talked to Kate at the store, wants him to make a scene, cry even, just so Derek can weasel their way out of this. Instead, Stiles lowers his eyes and nods yes.

It's plain as fucking day to Derek that if Stiles thought he had any real say in this at all, he'd be saying no. But his mother must either be deluding herself into thinking she's doing the right thing by him, or she doesn't care if he isn't being genuine. She makes a noise of told you so at Derek, and starts writing things down in her fucking book.

“Obviously your sisters will come, Derek,” she chirps, writing a mile a minute, “they'll want to meet him – oh, how nice. That'll be a good photo, an excellent photo. And your father -” a ghost that shows up only when Talia drags him by his legs in a nice suit and tie to whatever frilly occasion she's planned this time, “and your friends, Derek. How about you, Stiles? Anyone from the orphanage you'd like to invite?”

Her eyes are all lit up with the question, and Derek can see the gears turning in her head. She's imagining what it would be like to have actual human orphans at a werewolf party, in their tattered clothes, dropping makeshift hand-me-down gifts on the table alongside beautifully wrapped expensive electronics, looking like the perfect picture of and this is why we need to save them!!

Stiles' hands ball into fist in his lap – his face filled with tension as he stares down at the floor. “No one.” Derek thinks about that nurse at the hospital that Stiles so obviously knew - wonders if maybe he should bring her up and see what his reaction would be, but thinks better of it at the last second.

“Don't be shy,” Talia prods. “This is your day, and you can invite whoever you'd like!”

Derek rubs at his forehead and wishes he were anywhere, literally anywhere else. Even back at home, in the silence, with Stiles hiding from him.

“Everyone was – younger than me there,” he says, in the longest sentence Derek has heard him utter in days. “I didn't have friends.”

Talia looks at him like he's standing in rags with an empty bowl in his hands; her eyes are so huge with pity, and Stiles doesn't realize that all he's really done is thicken her resolve. She'll find someone, some fucking random human kid that she drags out of the gutters to call Stiles' very best friend from the bad place, and she'll make the two of them hug and pose. All under the guise of he has to have someone there, doesn't he?

If Talia cared all that much, she'd dig up his parents and bring them along to the shit show. But of course, of course, that's going too far. As much as she pretends like she gives even an ounce of a fuck about Stiles' party and Stiles' big day, she wouldn't go that far. Bringing his parents to the party would just remind everyone that what she's doing is keeping him far away from them, just to make him a poster child. She might even go so far as to tell everyone his parents are dead. Derek doesn't know that they are, hasn't looked that deep into his files – but from the way Stiles said he wanted to go home, he must be under the impression that there's someone, somewhere, waiting for him. That he'd have somewhere to go.

“Oh, honey,” she drops her pen and shakes her head sadly. “You have friends, now. Right Derek?”

That's the final straw.

“Stiles,” he says in a loud voice, digging into his pocket and pulling his wallet out. “There's a concession stand in the lobby. Why don't you ask Erica,” he holds a fifty dollar bill out to Stiles, who eyes it like a poisonous snake for several seconds before cautiously taking it into his own fingers, “to take you down so you can get something?”

Stiles isn't stupid. He knows he's being sent away so the adults can talk. He gives Derek as much of a disdainful look as he likely feels comfortable giving him with his mother sitting five feet away, and rises to his feet with a nod of his head.

As soon as the door clicks closed behind him, Talia is talking. She knows good and well, just like Stiles does, what's about to happen.

“I don't see why you're deadset on being -”

“He doesn't want this fucking party, mother,” he interrupts, leaning forward so he can drop his elbow on her clean and organized desk. “Can't you tell he's absolutely miserable?”

“He's been through an ordeal,” she counters primly. “But I think if we throw him a -”

“You never fucking listen,” Derek shakes his head and scowls. “You're not the one who's been living with him, all right? You don't know how things are going – and they're going bad.”

Talia purses her lips. “You think I expected him to warm up to you instantly, Derek?”

“You expect him to be pleasant and cute.” The cute part Stiles might be able to pull of naturally – with his huge eyes and freckled face and skinny stature. But the pleasant bit? Not even remotely. He's surly, at best.

“I expect him to show up, look clean, and sit still for a picture. People aren't going to question the fact that he's distant,” she waves her hand in the air like the issue has been resolved, going back to scribbling something about cake in her little book.

Derek sits there watching her writing for another few seconds, jaw clenching and unclenching in perfect tandem, again and again. “This isn't going to work,” he snarls.

Talia looks up from her book and cocks her head to the side. “What?”

“Me and him. The entire thing – it's – it's not going to work.”

“Derek -”

“He barely speaks to me,” he bursts out. Admitting it is almost shameful to him, like he has something to be embarrassed about. “He doesn't even look at me some days. All he does is – read that ridiculous book and cry and -” he throws his hands in the air in frustration and growls under his breath. “He's unhappy.”

There's a quiet moment, Talia eyeing Derek with scrutiny, her lips pursed down. Then, she slowly puts her pen on top of the book, and crosses her arms over her chest as she leans back in her chair. “Of course he's unhappy.”

“Then why are you pushing -”

“Listen to me,” she snaps. Her cheery facade is all but gone, her television personality vanishing right before Derek's very eyes, and now it's just the business side. All serious eyes and cold glares. “We took that boy out of the single poorest orphanage in the United States,” Derek didn't know that – but thinking back on how all the other kids he saw looked, how the toys looked, how skinny Stiles is... “...before he lived there, he went through factory work,” she ticks this off on her finger like a checkmark, just something to list, “and a personal owner.”

Personal owner is pretty much the equivalent of being a slave, if you're talking to the right people. That must be where Stiles got that tiger on his back from. Derek gets a chill up his spine thinking about he kinds of things he might've been asked to do under some strange werewolf's roof.

“He was malnourished, abused, and lonely. I took him, paid for his medical bills, gave him to you to properly feed and care for, and you want to be mad at me because he's not happy?”

Derek looks away, color rising to cheeks – whether in anger or shame, he's not sure.

“I'd rather have him unhappy with us than miserable and abused with someone else. He'll warm up. You'll see.”

He isn't sure if his mother is right. People always say that there are two sides to every story – in reality, Derek knows that there are thousands of sides to every single angle of every single story. No matter how you look at something, sometimes, there are just too many choices, and too many decisions, and too many mistakes to really pinpoint what the right thing should be. On the one hand, Stiles isn't happy. On the other, he's better off. And Derek guesses he could look at it in a zillion different ways, factor in as many other things and people as he wanted to – he doesn't know what conclusion he would come to if he took the time to look.

Maybe, the best thing there is to do is to not look at all, and just face the hand you get.

When he comes down into the lobby and finds Stiles sitting with Erica on a bench, ice cream cone in hand with chocolate dribbling down his chin, he tries to remind himself that for most of his life, Stiles never even had ice cream to get all over his shirt. At least he's eating. At least he has a roof over his head. How many times has he said that lately? At least. At least.

Erica is talking to him non-stop, multitasking between glancing at Stiles every ten seconds to make sure he hasn't wandered off somewhere and typing something into her phone.

“...if I don't call him, then he doesn't call me,” she's saying as soon as Derek's in earshot, smacking bubblegum between her teeth. “It's, like, a mind game. As if he knows I'm not going to call first if he's just going to do it, so it's a power move to not call me first so I have to be the one calling him and then he's in control of the entire situation -”

Derek has been on the other side of one of these Erica conversations many, many times before. She sits at her desk in the lobby of his mother's offices, headset on, babbling a mile a minute to anyone who just happens to be sitting there in one of the chairs waiting for his mother's attention – it's, unfortunately, more often than not been Derek. He can't even begin to go into detail about all the intricate, personal things he knows about Erica's sex life from her unabashed desire to constantly. Be. Talking.

Stiles, for his part, is entirely focused on his ice cream, sopping up as much of it as he can in his mouth at one time.

“Having fun?” Derek asks him, interrupting Erica in the middle of a sentence about how whatshisname has been texting other girls and stringing her along.

The human looks up at him with about as much interest as he might give to a sea sponge.

“He's a good listener,” Erica says around a pop of gum. “Unlike some people.”

“Just because he's quiet,” Derek says as he pulls Stiles into a standing position by his frail elbow, “doesn't mean he's listening.”

Erica raises a single brow. “Stiles, what's my boyfriend's name?”

He swallows a mouthful of cone, wipes the back of his hand across his mouth. “Boyd.”

She raises her hand in the air like see?, smirking to herself and sending a wink in Stiles' direction. “He's my new best friend,” she titters, reaching out to run her fingers down Stiles' back, up and down, like she's petting him. It's a classic werewolf/human interaction – it's nearly the same thing as Kate scratching behind Stiles' ears like a dog. But, when Erica does it, Stiles doesn't get uncomfortable or try to move away. He doesn't appear to mind it at all, actually. Maybe because Erica does it like a sign of affection, and Kate did it like a sign of power. “I might keep him for myself.”

“Right,” Derek snickers, putting his arm around Stiles' shoulders to start pulling him towards the parking garage. “See you later, Erica.”

Once they're out of earshot from her, in the elevator going down to the garage, Derek nudges Stiles in the arm and asks, “she's nice, right?”

The last of the cone gets crunched in between Stiles' teeth, loud in the silence of the elevator. “Nice, yeah.”

A beat of silence passes. The elevator dings, and out into the garage they go, their footsteps echoing against the high ceilings.

Stiles walks the same way he always does in public – even though he might not particularly be Derek's number one fan, he still presses up tight against his side and scans his eyes left and right nervously, keeping one halfstep behind the wolf so Derek always stays more or less in front of him.

As he jingles his keys in his hand, Derek sighs, casting his eyes down to the ground. “I'm sorry about that idiotic birthday party,” he mutters. “I tried to get you out of it, but...when my mother sets her heart on something, she can be a bit unflappable.”

Stiles sighs through his nose, but otherwise remains quiet.

With Stiles around, Derek has gotten progressively more used to talking out loud – more or less to himself, since Stiles doesn't always offer a response for him to work with. So he keeps going. “She just never cares about what anyone else does or doesn't want,” he unlocks the car and opens the passenger door for Stiles, who clambers inside just as awkwardly as always, before slamming the door and walking to get into the driver's seat. “You could look her dead in the eyes and say you don't want it, and she'd find some way to convince you that you do. She's a master manipulator.”

Stiles chews on his thumbnail, staring out the windshield as Derek starts the car.

“I said I didn't think you'd like it, and she just -”

“I never said I don't want a party.” His voice is quiet, not nearly loud enough to cut Derek off were it anyone else – but since full sentences from Stiles are like needles in haystacks lately, Derek immediately shuts his mouth. “But I don't want to be – just – all those wolves in one place...”

Derek doesn't know what to say to that. He has no idea how he's ever supposed to make Stiles feel better about being surrounded by werewolves everywhere he goes, now. If Stiles is uncomfortable around werewolves, then he has a pretty good fucking reason to be – and that's not just something Derek can smooth over with a couple of nice words and a hug.

“I'm scared.”

It's the most upfront and candid that Stiles has ever been with Derek, before. It must be some kind of a milestone in their relationship, for Stiles to just admit how he feels, for once, instead of just glaring out at nothing and ignoring Derek to the best of his ability.

The issue is, Derek can't fix that. If his mother wants Stiles at the party, no matter how frightened he is, then he'll be at the party. He doesn't have a choice, and Derek can't give him one.

“I'll be there,” he offers, lamely. “And – Erica as well.” With tentative fingers, he reaches out and puts his hand on Stiles' shoulder, squeezing as hard as he dares. “I'd never let anything happen to you. You realize that, right?”

Stiles doesn't pull away from the touch, but he doesn't lean into it either. He more or less just allows it. “I know you wouldn't hurt me, Derek.”

It's such a simple thing. The most basic, fundamental part of any relationship is the knowledge, or at least belief, that the other person isn't going to fucking beat you up or physically harm you at any point in time – at least not on purpose. It's the bare minimum that's expected of Derek; to not snap Stiles' bones just because he feels like it, to not lock him up for doing something that Derek doesn't like.

But, at the same time. Looking at it from another perspective, where Stiles is a human who's been menaced by wolves for most of his life, and Derek is one of the same that've hurt him – and yet, Stiles trusts him not to. Hurt him, that is.

It might seem like nothing from the outside looking in, but to Derek, it's huge.


“He looks like he's been living in an underground bunker with no food or water for the past fifteen years.”

Lydia Martin is nothing if not direct.

She's been scrutinizing Stiles in stony silence for the past two minutes, at least, paying little to no mind to how Stiles keeps looking at Derek with help me written all over his face. Unfortunately for him, there's no possible way Derek could have weaseled his way out of a meeting with Lydia before the ridiculous birthday party in two days.

Lydia is, for lack of a better word, his mother's publicist. Which is just a shorthand way of saying that Lydia does literally every thing in her power to make sure that Talia (and by extension Derek and his sisters) don't do anything to torpedo their careers into the ground. The most memorable run in that Derek's ever had with Lydia is when he got too drunk on wolfsbane at a public party and tried to make out with with his second cousin – because he, for some reason, hallucinated her as being Megan Fox. Lydia had dragged him into the ladies bathroom, shoved his head underneath a running stream of freezing cold water, all the while calling him a long string of words like fucking idiot, absolute embarrassment, complete disaster.

That's the kind of thing she generally handles. Scandals, interviews, and parties. Everywhere Talia goes in public, Lydia is somewhere lurking in the background, watching everyone like a hawk.

Now, she's sitting here in Derek's living room, tasked with first of all making Stiles look presentable, and second of all making Derek and Stiles as a couple believable. From Derek's point of view, both of these things look impossible – how could Derek and Stiles possibly be believable when the only half-affectionate thing he ever does is cling to Derek's side out of fear of other werewolves?

“He sort of has been,” Derek grimaces back at her, ignoring the way Stiles shifts marginally closer to him the longer that Lydia stares. “I tried telling my mother that bringing him out for pictures right now wouldn't be a good idea, but -”

Lydia cuts him off by raising a finger into the air for silence, pursing her lips together and finally looking away from Stiles to fit her gaze on Derek. She has this way of looking at people where it's like she can see clean through to your soul. It scared the shit out of Derek when they were teenagers and in school together, and it scares the shit out of him now. “Make up and well fitted clothes can fix that just fine. That's not the problem.” Her finger waves inbetween the two men – well, one man, one kid (though not for very much longer). “That's the problem.”

Derek and Stiles exchange a look.

“It's one thing for him to be pathetic looking,” she huffs, leaning back in her seat and fixing her gaze on Stiles pointedly, “but it's another if he can't even look anyone in the eyes.”

In defiance of this statement, maybe just because he wants to prove something, Stiles looks away from Derek and glares directly at Lydia. Right into her eyes.

Lydia raises her eyebrows and smirks. “He's kind of sassy, isn't he?”

“Don't talk about him like he's not in the room,” Derek hisses at her right as Stiles is opening up his mouth – it's always best to cut Stiles off before he really gets any steam, Derek has learned. Telling Kate to go fuck herself was wonderful and the greatest thing Derek has ever seen, but mouthing off to Lydia is never a good idea. She has a vengeful streak inside of her – one time, when Derek called her a bitch, she set him up with back to back television interviews. His worst fucking nightmare.

“Fair enough,” Lydia says back coolly, before meeting Stiles' eyes again. “You need to fix your fucking attitude.”

Stiles stares back at her blankly, his jaw tightening. “Because anyone else in my situation would have a great attitude, right?” Sarcasm drips off his tone, almost violently, and Derek pinches the bridge of his nose. How is it possible that he got saddled with the single worst backtalking human in the entire state?

Lydia rolls her eyes. “Everyone already knows you've had a hard go of it, Stiles. Walking around with that bitter teenaged fuck off attitude isn't going to help you. At all. If you're not willing to adjust,” she spreads the word out far longer than two syllables, “then I can't do my job.”

Everyone else has treated Stiles like a tiny little breakable doll – walking on eggshells around his troubled past and not even mentioning the kinds of things he's had to go through to get up to this point. Everyone else has been, at the bare minimum, pitying towards him. Lydia, though – she doesn't look like she pities him at all. She doesn't look like she feels sorry for him, that he has to get married to a stranger, and she doesn't look like she's going to be coddling him anytime soon.

Derek half expects Stiles to either burst into tears right then and there, or to maybe launch across the desk at her to try and choke her out, somehow.

Instead, he looks away from her eyes as if he's just been told off, and frowns to himself.

“We can either have a smooth relationship with one another as we try to make this work,” she points to Stiles, then to Derek, then to herself, “or we can all be miserable with each other. Your pick.”

The grandfather clock over the fireplace in Derek's living room tick, tocks, tick, tocks, while Lydia stares at the profile of Stiles' face, and Stiles stares out the window. Derek looks between them again and again – even though he's just as involved with this fucking charade as either of them are, Lydia already knows Derek is going to go along with this without complaint. He doesn't have a leg to stand on, no way to talk his way out of it.

Stiles is the one Lydia has to worry about.

Another few seconds of silence, and then Stiles is sighing through his nose, slowly turning back to look Lydia in the face. “What do you want me to do.”

Lydia smiles at him. “A little bit of acting is all. You can pretend, can't you? You're pretending right now.”

Stiles shifts underneath her gaze, uncomfortable. “I'm not -”

“You're pretending like you're not scared of me. But you are.”

Derek has noticed that Stiles likes to bark more than he has the follow through to bite. When he verbally attacked Kate in Wal-Mart, he was beside himself for hours after the fact – shaking with a glazed expression on his face, like all the fear he had been shoving deep down into himself in the face of a werewolf was bubbling up to the surface, unable to be hidden away anymore. Every time he gives Derek a certifiable death glare or ignores one of his questions, he starts fidgeting and averts his eyes. Derek guesses that it is an act, after all.

“You don't scare me,” Stiles says – but his voice is too quiet. There's no venom, there. He gazes down at his lap and hyperfocuses his attention on the fabric in his jeans.

“Yeah?” She snaps her fingers and Stiles looks up at her – just in time to see her shift into her beta form. Canines elongated over her bottom lip, eyes glowing bright golden in the dim light seeping in through the windows, face distorted as she taps her claws over the desk one after the other. "How about now?"

Immediately, Stiles drops his gaze again and leans closer to Derek. His fingers are quaking where they're digging into the fabric of the couch they share, while his heartbeat up-ticks in terror, and his breath begins to come out faster between his lips.

God only knows what kind of things Stiles has been put through by wolves wearing that face in front of him. How many times he's been clawed or threatened or – or what else while a wolf looked at him like that. He's probably traumatized by the true face ten times over.

“Stop that,” Derek snaps at her, wrapping a hand around Stiles' thin shoulders. As soon as contact has been made, Stiles latches onto Derek's arm like a lifeline and pulls himself closer to the wolf – safety. Familiarity. It's really all Stiles has anymore. “You're scaring the shit out of him, Lydia.”

Lydia morphs her face back into the prettier one, eyes fading back to seafoam green instead of startling golden. “That's exactly what we need,” she says, in spite of the fact that Stiles is still shivering and digging the metal brace around his injured finger into Derek's side.

“What?” Derek demands, tearing Stiles' fingers out of his shirt and entwining their fingers together to try and comfort him. “Him going catatonic in fear, Lydia? That's how we're going to convince people that he and I are for real?”

She grins at them, watching as Stiles slowly curls his own fingers into Derek's and lets himself be held like this. “People are going to gobble this shit up.”