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Indelible Marks

Chapter Text

It wasn't unusual for people to loiter outside Tinge. The airbrushed mannequin legs they used for practice drew attention, if the life-sized photographs of Vic and Tony's nude torsos somehow failed to. If nothing else, they were due for another complaint about the display being indecent, and that usually involved people loitering outside first.

Teenage boys, however, usually wound up in front of Vic's portrait, not Tony's. And the ones who did didn't spend much time studying the legs or glancing at the door.

So when a teenaged boy stood for nearly ten minutes alternating between looking at Tony's ink, the display legs, and the door, it was a bit confusing. And annoying. His stubbly head was just visible above the legs, when he was standing somewhere that Derek could see him. Which wouldn't be so bad if he'd just. stop. moving.

The kid's head kept swaying in and out of view, his shoulders shifting as he adjusted his grip on his bag. Sometimes he'd pop up suddenly after leaning in to examine one of the legs. It was a constant series of short, sharp gestures that Derek's brain was hard-wired to track.

He was fifteen if he was a day and had absolutely no reason to be hanging around a tattoo parlor unless it was to ogle the nude photos or ask obnoxious questions. And it was the first time ever that Derek had glared at someone loitering outside and wished they'd just come in and ask the obnoxious questions already. He couldn't get any work done with the constant twitches of movement.

But that didn't mean he actually wanted to engage with those obnoxious questions. When the boy finally straightened up and moved stiffly for the door, Derek pulled out the appointment book and hunched over it as though he was actually doing something.

The bells rang and he looked up, freezing as the light gave the stranger's eyes a wolf's glow for a moment. The illusion passed as the kid raised a hand to rub over the back of his head, blocking the light long enough to show that they were just a normal warm brown. Derek nodded at him before going back to staring at the schedule. Fifteen, maybe sixteen. He had the same chaotic funk of hormones, perfumes, ink, and cleaners that Danielle brought home every day. Eau de High School, at its finest.

It took a moment for the kid to start exploring. (Probably put off by Derek's lack of niceties, but whatever. If he was old enough to be a customer, Derek would volunteer for Friday and Saturday closing for a year.) He just looked, first. Turning his whole body to look around without moving.

When he finally did move, it was with the same sort of disjointed lurching that had made him so obnoxious outside. Growing into his limbs, still. He didn't approach the register, at least. Instead, he walked over to the consultation counter and looked past it at their actual working space. Then he moved over to the bookshelves that held the studio's portfolios and various art books they kept around for inspiration.

And Derek...forgot about him. He was being quiet, poking around in perfectly acceptable, expected ways. Eventually he put the appointment book away and went back to working on a lotus mandala design and the kid just faded into the background, jerky little bobs and shuffled steps and all.

The clash of scents softened and after a while, he just became part of the background.

Then he cleared his throat, and Derek realized he was standing right on the other side of the counter.

Derek flipped his sketchbook closed and scowled, which earned him an amused arching of the kid's eyebrows.

"Really? That's what you're going with?" He smiled and leaned forward against the counter, peering down through the glass to check out the jewelry they had on display.

"Is there something you want?" Derek asked, frowning when the kid shrugged.

"Nothing specific yet," he started before looking up again and spearing Derek with his entire focus. "Hey, isn't it kind of weird that you don't have any tattoos?"

Derek scowled again. "I have tattoos." Technically, it was a tattoo. Singular. But he wasn't going to give any openings for annoying questions.

"But you can't see any of them." The kid frowned. "I thought all tattoo artists had lots of tattoos, like, on their arms and stuff. Why don't you? Oh, wait," he suddenly backtracked, a soft frown creasing his face. "Do you just work the desk? That's a totally legitimate job, I just thought..."

"I'm an apprentice artist," Derek managed to growl when there was room to butt in. "I don't want anything on my arms, so I don't have anything on my arms. Do you have any idea what it means to have a tattoo?"

That got him a frown, but it was at least more thoughtful than offended. The kid's attention flicked up, wandering over the walls behind and beside the register. "It's art. Body art. Um, it's permanent, and there's bleeding..."

At least he wasn't entirely ignorant. Derek nodded. "Do you have any idea what the word permanent means?"

"I'm not stupid." A scowl, and a spike of pepper as his heart rate picked up. Definitely irritated now. Derek just stared back calmly until the kid looked away.

"It's not that simple when it's skin. Do a bit more research on your own and come back if you have actual questions. I'm assuming you know how to use Google."

The kid's face twisted up into a smirk, but it was...definitely not a pleasant, friendly expression. "Yeah, you could say that. Fine."

And he walked out with a straight back, a bit of anger and determination in his stride and pepper trailing in his wake. Just enough challenge in his words to make him...

Too young to be interesting, Derek reminded himself firmly. He opened his sketch book again to give himself something productive to work on, but it was hard to concentrate.

-----

Gregory Lucian Timothy Hale was born November 20th, at the Hale house during a wind storm severe enough that it knocked out the electricity. Paul and Laura spent the actual birth in the back shed making the generator cooperate, while Peter kept Tania from kicking Maria or Olivia through a wall while they handled the delivery.

Derek stayed down in the safe room with the kids, letting Matt curl up against his chest and shake while he answered the questions of the other three.

Yes, there was going to be a baby soon. No, Tania wasn't really going to rip Peter's throat out with her bare hands. Or her teeth. Yes, Tania hurt. No, they couldn't fix it. Yes, the baby was worth it.

He wasn't sure Tania would have agreed with that statement at the moment, but he assumed she would the next day, after she'd healed. After all, she'd had Matt and Gwen as a human.

-----

"...don't you think?"

Derek paused with the back door just slightly ajar as he returned from his break, trying to sort out what was wrong--no, not wrong. Out of place. Unexpected, but not quite wrong. The faint sense of spice and metal that Vic and Cara left behind dominated, past the generic grease-ink-rubber of the parlor on the air that slid out through the crack in the door.

There were other people he could smell, but only two were fresh. Something woody and male laced heavily with grease, blood and the red ink from Bloodline that made Derek want to sneeze. That phoenix piece Vic was doing in monthly spurts. (Derek didn't know the client's name, but he knew the man's tattoos, which were stunning, and his unfortunate allergic reaction to most of their inks.)

He couldn't quite get a grip on the fourth scent, but it wasn't a stranger. Wasn't friend or family, but it was known. He just couldn't place it.

Derek's other senses weren't much more helpful. The stereo was playing the best of the 90's, as it should be since it was Cara's day to pick the music. He could hear Cara talking to the fourth person at the front desk, but it was her talking. Even if he opened the door the rest of the way, he wouldn't be able to see past the wall behind the register.

"Is anyone ever really too young to ask questions and make sure they know what they want?" It was a boy's voice, light and jovial, and Cara laughed in response, obviously impressed.

Derek felt his world tilting. That was the kid from last week. But his scent had registered as familiar, not barely known.

"...hoping to talk to someone specific, actually," the kid continued. "He told me to come back once I'd done a bit more research."

"I see." Cara sounded speculative and mischievous, which was never a good combination, even if Cara was almost unbelievably nice most of the time. "Well, what was his name? I'll check when he's in for you."

Derek pushed the rest of the way in, dropped his bag off at his peg in back and stalked through the work area, nodding at Vic as he passed.

"Uh..."

The kid's face was lax and open as Derek slid between the wall behind the register and the consultation counter, but his attention was firmly focused on Cara. For her part, Cara was grinning like she thought the brat was a puppy, or one of the family's cubs.

"I've got it, Cara." He leaned behind her to set his books on the shelf below the register, ignoring Cara's pout with the ease of practice as he gently nudged her out and toward the back. The way the kid grinned and started leaking happiness through his pores was a bit harder to set aside.

Cara pursed her lips and shrugged, moving out from behind the register counter...only to snag a stool from the consultation seating and sit at the end of the counter. Since his glare wasn't any more effective on her than her pout was on him, she just beamed and gestured expansively at both of them. "My interest has been piqued. Please do continue."

Derek snorted, then turned back to the kid. "So?"

"Were you expecting a paper or something?" For a kid, he had a reasonably decent bitch face, but his scent betrayed him. It was lacking something from the sheer blast of happy he'd given off before, but it was richly sweet, nowhere near the pepper of his previous irritation. Abruptly, the kid held his hand out over the counter and pushed his eyebrows up into comical arches. "Also, hi! I'm Stiles."

Derek snorted, but shook Stiles' hand. There were lingering traces of hormonal-stew on his clothes, but it wasn't nearly as strong as it had been during the week. "Nice to meet you. So? Permanence and tattoos. Explain."

"Wh..." Stiles' eyebrows dropped into a scowl and a hint of pepper snuck in. "Do I not get to know your name?"

Derek shrugged, holding back a smirk as he pulled out his sketch book. "Not yet."

Stiles turned to Cara in indignation, but his boss was laughing too hard to be any help. She just raised her hands defensively in front of herself and shook her head when she realized that Stiles was staring at her. "Uh-uh."

Sighing, Stiles turned back to Derek, eyes narrowing as he took in Derek's apparent focus on the page in front of him. "It means age, and the effect that life has on the skin."

Derek looked up, surprised. "Keep talking."

"Well, there's tattoo removal, right?" Stiles leaned forward against the counter, apparently fully comfortable now that he had something to talk about. "It's not something to be considered lightly and it's not a guaranteed thing, but..." He shrugged, his elbows sliding out on the glass countertop as he fanned them out, palms up. "It is an option."

Stiles straightened up into a more vertical slouch, his eyes switching over to Cara before coming back to Derek. "There's also the option of cover-ups. Which I know you know what I know about this, because Cara had some before and afters in her portfolio." Stiles waved that off like it wasn't important, but Cara was grinning like a fiend in the corner of Derek's vision and Derek... Honestly, he was surprised the kid kept track of Cara's name, let alone was able to connect it to her portfolio.

"So for permanence," Stiles continued, "it's not really the design, right? There are limitations, but you can change it. But even with removal, it's not a guarantee it'll all go. So it's more about the skin than the ink, right?" He straightened up more fully, grinning and gesturing wide at shoulder level. "Permanence for a tattoo is about things like age, body changes, scars. Or I mean, wow, pregnancy. You have to know how time and life might affect the skin the tattoo is on."

Derek and Cara both just stared at Stiles as he wound down, until he started fidgeting again. "Or...am I totally off, here?"

Cara reached over to slap Derek on the shoulder. Even by human standards it was friendly, and she was grinning as she said "Have fun with the jailbait," and stood up, shoving the stool back where it belonged.

"You're doing good, kid," she informed Stiles on her way past, and swept into the back on a wave of sweet astringents, leaving Stiles gaping after her and Derek with a nose full of smug Cara, overlaid with wood and slightly-sour Stiles.

Going by the look on the kid's face, Derek was guessing that was embarrassment. "Why did she..."

"You need to be eighteen both to get a tattoo and to legally sleep with anybody here." Derek shrugged as Stiles turned the baffled stare on him instead. "That's why."

"Right," Stiles muttered, "because that isn't disturbing at all."

Derek smiled, comfortable with knowing it probably wasn't going to be noticed. Humans usually didn't, focusing more on the mouth than the eyes. "Did you have questions, Stiles?"

"Yeah. What's your name?"

"About tattoos."

Stiles made a face, but he didn't object too much, at least. "I have to be eighteen to get a tattoo. What if I got parental permission?"

"Still eighteen."

"What if I was getting, like, some sort of warning about my jailbait status? That'd just be a public service, right?"

Derek shook his head and tamped down on another smile. "Eighteen."

-----

Thoughts about Stiles lingered through the day. Derek found himself idly designing bird cages that could be added to later on to change the meaning, which were oddly difficult to portray well. A group of college students on break came in to be obnoxious and loud, which was an obvious reminder. But he also thought about the hit-with-a-trout look on Stiles' face when he'd considered pregnancy and tattoos, when Cara had a consultation with a woman who wanted a tattoo around her bellybutton.

When he got home, Gwen came barreling out of the house to latch onto his legs, talking a mile a minute about what Stacia had done at school that day and about running with her mom and biting Jacob and...

It reminded him of Stiles.

Chapter Text

Derek wiped down his chair and retreated to the prep station behind the front wall to dispose of his materials and possibly run the faucet over his head for a minute or twenty. The three girls who were headed off to college with matching cherries on their ankles were still lingering at the register, laughing and flirting with Tony as they paid. Normally, Derek would have handled the exchange himself, but he'd needed to get away. His head was pounding and his nose was barely functioning anymore.

Perfectly nice girls, just three different body chemistries and three different, strongly applied perfumes. One of which was reacting badly with the scent of the girl wearing it.

He was lingering over the sink, still thinking about dunking his head, when Tony said, "Can I help you?"

The giggling was disappearing out the door and Tony had stepped back on the flirting, so Derek tuned in to catch the conversation, though he wasn't expecting anything of interest.

"Yeah. Is the hot guy with no tattoos working today?"

Stiles.

"The hot guy with no tattoos--" Tony sounded far too amused, and Derek hurried through disposing of his materials and stripping off his gloves. As soon as the gloves were gone he rubbed a hand firmly against his nose in lieu of the dunking he'd planned on. It didn't help much, but it was enough to get him moving.

"Yeah. He wouldn't give me his name. I'm Stiles, by the way."

"Tony." And Tony was definitely laughing, even as Derek came around the wall. He turned and jerked a thumb at Derek before moving his smile back to Stiles. "This lunk?"

Stiles looked a bit panicked around the eyes but nodded easily enough, if a bit too enthusiastically. Woody-sour again, with a shot of hot metal (and that had to be a heavy wave of scent if Derek was able to pick up on it at all, considering the beating his nose had taken). "Yeeeeeah. Yeah. That guy."

Derek just raised an eyebrow at Stiles and braced a hip against the end of the counter the register was on, waiting. Tony, obviously, wasn't going anywhere. If they'd had a water cooler, he'd have been surgically attached to it. And it was technically his turn to be on register.

"...you're seriously not going to tell me your name?"

"You should be able to figure it out."

That got a narrow eyed, determined look out of the boy, and his scent shifted, deepening and bringing back that peppery note. Derek tried to ignore the pleased rumble he was holding in as Stiles unthinkingly pushed back against a challenge. Again. "Okay. Fine. Be that way. In the meantime, I'll just have to keep calling you the...the hot guy with no tattoos." He almost managed to get through that without blushing.

Derek shrugged, honestly not caring, and gave Tony a stern look for his choked off laugh.

"Best description of you ever, dude. Just. Ever," Tony said, grinning.

It didn't make Stiles' slight flush go away, but he did at least relax when he turned to grin at Tony and Derek--bit back a growl that wouldn't have passed very well for human.

Which didn't make any sense. Tony frequently set him on edge, with his maddeningly faint scent that was practically impossible to pick up in the shop and his tendency to flirt with just about everyone, including their very-married bosses, but it had never made Derek react like this before.

Stiles bounced on his toes, oblivious to Derek's tension and continuing to grin at Tony. "I thought so! I'm glad I'm starting to learn names, though. I mean, before it was just hot guy without tattoos, hot guy with tattoos, pink haired hot lady and black haired hot lady. Now it's hot guy without tattoos, Tony, Cara, and the black haired hot lady. Of people I've seen so far, anyway."

"No, that's all of us." Tony leaned in over the counter, grinning. "Black haired hot lady is Vicky. She and Cara own the place."

Stiles nodded, turning a grin back at Derek. "So. Derek?"

Derek nodded, smiling even while Tony choked on a laugh before stuttering out "Whoops, my bad. Where'd you get the name listing from?"

Stiles snorted, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the bookshelf where all the Tinge portfolios were kept, then gestured in front of himself at the desk. "The portfolios are one of the first things I looked at, and you left the schedule out. There's only four names on there. None of them are long, or that hard to read upside down. I just didn't know if Vic was Vicky or Victor or what." Stiles shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets and rocking smugly in place. "I mean, I figured Vic was black haired hot lady, but it's good to check."

"Touche." Tony sounded impressed as he slid the appointment book back under the register.

"Did you have an actual question, Stiles?" Derek cut in, still irritated with the attention Tony was getting, for some reason.

The kid's expression was too solemn and serious to be anything but an act, as he turned back toward Derek. "Do you think I'd look good with a skull dripping blood that turns into flowers on my arm?"

"Out." Derek stepped forward and gave Stiles a light push toward the door. "No tattoo until you're eighteen and have better taste."

"Hey, you can't discriminate against me because of my taste!" He went easily enough though, and he smelled like he had the second time he'd seen Derek. Happy.

"Watch me."

-----

Stiles became something of a shop mascot, after that. He wasn't there every day, but at least once a week Stiles could be found in their parlor after school let out. His scent started to permeate the place, earth mixing in with spice and metal, and the trace of ozone that Tony left behind, even though he didn't smell much of it himself.

The Tinge regulars got to know him. Vic and her phoenix even let him sit in the back with them for a while during their last two sessions. Cara practically adopted him as a baby brother and they often hunched together talking quietly on the guest benches on slow days, their scents blending into something strangely green. Tony helped him study for chemistry, since that was apparently what Tony was good at; art and chemistry.

Derek, Stiles apparently just wanted to torment with horrible tattoo ideas.

"What if I got a door."

Derek set his pencil aside and looked up at Stiles, where he was leafing idly through Tony's portfolio. Again. "A door."

"Yeah. A photo-realistic door, not something cartoony." Stiles flipped a page, frowning in concentration. He smelled intensely of honeysuckle, and it was harder than normal to gauge his moods because of it. "On my forehead."

"Out," Derek informed him, pointing at the real door.

-----

Days off weren't, really. Derek had more down time at work than he did at home. There was always a meal to prepare for, repairs to be done, cleaning or weeding to do.

There were always children.

Derek taught Gwen and Jacob on his days off. They colored pictures that showed plants at different stages of growth, practiced math and counting, which Jacob didn't need but was apparently too boring for Gwen to do properly, and they tried to write.

Writing practice was broken up by random interludes of wandering outside to visit the garden or run through the woods, looking for the plants they'd colored earlier. Jacob still broke his pencils by gripping and pressing too hard, and Gwen was liable to shift and go a bit feral just to get out of it if the writing went on too long.

At about three they all heard Tania's--no, Danielle's car, coming up the drive. Derek kept forgetting his little sister had a car now, even if it was inherited.

The little terrors turned nearly identical pleading looks at him, but he huffed and turned their attention back to copying words. "They're half a mile out, still."

Gwen made a face at him and her forehead began shifting, but it relaxed again when he rubbed the back of her neck. "Here. What's this word?"

"House," she muttered, turning back to the paper.

"Finish writing that word and you can go out to wait for Stacia and Danielle," Derek said, looking over at Jacob's page. "And Jacob has to write his next two words, because they're short."

And because Jacob had an easier time with writing.

They finished their assigned words and ran out just as the car cleared the tree line. Gwen tackled Jacob into the grass ahead of the parking-line and they wrestled there while Danielle pulled into a gap. Stacia was fidgeting at the window, too well behaved to paw at it but obviously impatient to get out and play with her cousins.

Derek smiled when Stacia got the okay and shot out of the car, tumbling into Gwen and Jacob as though she was a wolf herself.

He snagged Stacia's bag out of the car for Danielle and closed the door. "Long drive?"

Danielle rolled her eyes. "I know how to spell plurals, now," she drawled out, "like 'oranges' and 'bees'. But not 'mouses', because that's weird."

The kids were still growling in a playful knot, mixing their scents and making Stacia smell like home again, so Derek held an arm out. Danielle burrowed in gratefully, shoving her nose against his armpit. "God, school was bad today."

"I can tell. Honeysuckle struck again." He rubbed his nose against her hair, looking for the scent of Danielle under the aggressive flowery perfume she'd picked up from a classmate, the hormones, the hairspray, Danielle's own light perfume. "Is she just randomly spraying the hall between classes? Sti..."

Cloth ripped nearby and Danielle turned to growl at the kids.

At first, Derek thought he was imagining things because he'd been remembering how Stiles had gotten hit by the same perfume the day before, but no. He could smell Stiles on Danielle.

Derek ducked his head down and sniffed. They'd brushed each other along most of her left arm.

"What are you smelling?'

He pulled away and blinked at Danielle, distantly registering the fact that the kids were running back into the house. Probably (hopefully) to clean up. "You brushed against someone I know today."

The look Danielle gave him implied heavily that he was more than a bit crazy. She sniffed intently at her own arm and made a face. "I don't know how you picked one person out of that. It smells to me like half the school rubbed up against me. Which...ugh."

She pretended to retch and turned to head inside, unselfconsciously stripping as she went.

-----

"It's too bad you can't get a tattoo with googly eyes. Hey, Derek--"

"..."

"...you didn't shoot me down that time."

"It might be possible with a piercing or two."

"Okay. That's--alarming."

"And now it's in my head. Out."

-----

Stiles slipped in while Derek was busy at the register, and Derek shot a frown in his direction while the customer was signing their receipt. He smiled as they left, because that's what he was paid to do, then reached across to the consultation area to drag a stool over to the end of his counter.

"Sit," he told Stiles, pointing at the stool.

"Wow. You have, like, no social skills." Stiles shook his head in an exaggerated manner but he scurried over to sit where he'd been told all the same. "I don't know why you're all grumpy. I hadn't even started talking yet."

Derek snorted and went back to recording the deposit and pertinent information (name and design, because he and Vic remembered most of the clients by their tattoos). "Is there a reason you wait outside until I'm busy before coming in?'

"I don't do that!" Stiles squawked, sounding affronted. He smelled of sour-wood again, and his heart rate jittered. Derek stared until Stiles slumped against the counter, rolling his eyes. "All the time. Or, y'know, much."

"Just when it's me."

Stiles snorted, smiling down at the display for no apparent reason. "Hey, Vic scares me too."

But Vic didn't make a habit of kicking him out. Derek reached over and poked Stiles in the middle of the forehead, remembering at the last moment to keep the touch human-light. "Stop it. I'm not going to shoo you until you hurt my brain, okay?"

Stiles leaned back, grimacing and rubbing his forehead, though he didn't seem to be in any real pain. "Ow. Okay." He grinned then, tilting his head so he could look at Derek without moving his hand. "You do realize you've admitted that I don't annoy you just by existing, right?"

"Not what I said." Derek rolled his eyes and turned to hide his smile, taking the moment to shuffle the appointment book away and pull out his sketchbook.

"You liiiiiiiiiike me," Stiles singsonged. He leaned forward against the counter, but he was looking at the jewelry again, not trying to pry into what Derek was working on (a tornado with a hairbow and an angry girl's eyes, because some clients loved incredibly obvious symbology).

Derek snorted but didn't respond otherwise. But Stiles rarely let the silences last long. "So. Winter break's coming up. For, y'know, holidays and...stuff. Do you guys have any sort of holiday scheduling weirdness or--"

"We only come in for appointments," Derek cut in, because he knew by now that Stiles would just. keep. going. if left to his own devices. Probably until he'd worked them through at least two different topics.

Stiles sagged a bit, turning his attention from the jewelry to Derek's face. "Hunh. Not a lot of people get tattoos around the holidays?"

"That, and we like to have breaks too."

And three quarters of the shop were related, which made scheduling around family events nearly impossible. (Not that anything would have been able to keep Vic away, the one time of year her brother came home.) It made any sort of routine scheduling hard.

"Guess that makes sense." Stiles shrugged and leaned back to examine the walls instead. "Still. It's going to be weird. I mean, the only other people I see as regularly as you guys are either associated with homework or chores."

Derek shrugged. "You'll live."

He turned his head down so Stiles wouldn't see his smile, while Stiles spluttered.

-----

All Derek wanted for Christmas was a guaranteed way to make two hyper five year old werewolves shut up. Reliably.

He and his father were running Jacob and Gwen to tucker them out after Gwen scrunched her nose up at Dominique. Again.

Keeping the secret of Dominique's pregnancy until Christmas Eve would have been a lot easier if the kids hadn't been old enough to remember Tania's scent changing because of Greg.

As it was, exhausting the kids and providing regular reminders that Paul wanted to tell his wife the good news himself on Christmas Eve was the best they could do.

Derek had just dodged to the right around a cluster of poplars to flank the kids when his father slowed and stopped. It was a relief that the kids were generally even more attuned to his parents' movements than he was, because they were already moving back toward his dad's position when Derek circled around to herd them there.

If his father had heard or smelled something significant enough to stop play over, they all needed to know. He had the most acute senses in the pack and a sense for danger that made him a perfect second to the alpha. Not that anyone thought his mom had actually been thinking about that, back in high school.

It didn't seem to be a matter of danger, though. His dad gave them a playful smile when they got close enough to see. "Laura's back. Race you home."

He took off on a straight path back to the house with the two cubs howling and yipping at his heels. Derek curved off to the side, angling to intersect the road rather than the house.

Cars were still faster than werewolves.

By the time Laura made it to him, Derek was walking casually down the middle of the road. She rolled her eyes at him through the windshield, but she'd slowed down and stopped instead of hitting him. Which was probably more about not wanting to hurt her car than him, but he'd take it.

Laura stuck her head out the window, eyebrows raised pointedly. "We are not waiting long enough for you to wiggle into the back seat, bro."

Derek shrugged and pulled a laughing Edward out of the passenger seat anyway. "Wouldn't dream of it," he lied, burying his face in Edward's neck. Ugh, airport. Ugh, Germany. "Damn you stink."

"Thanks, cuz." Edward punched his shoulder, having long since learned that smacking a werewolf's head would only hurt him. "I'll start smelling right faster if you let me get to the house and shower before being piled on, you know."

"Hmph." Derek let Edward go, sliding into the passenger seat himself and pulling Edward into his lap before closing the door. "Okay, fine."

Edward flailed a bit but settled down, laughing while Laura groaned and got them moving again.

"Oh my god, little brother, you're going to make Edward smell like your secret boyfriend. I really don't need that."

Derek growled, even while settling in with his feet braced against the floor and his arms locked firmly around Edward's waist. It wasn't as safe as a seatbelt, but it was good enough with Laura's insanely cautious driving. "He's not a boyfriend. He goes to school with Danielle, for--" Derek bit off a curse, opting instead to growl again. He could hear the excited yips of the kids at the house already, and he didn't want to give Tania a reason to glare.

"Sure. Whatever." Laura shook her head with a pointed sigh.

"Man I've missed you guys," Edward said, letting his head fall back and bumping his cheek against Derek's.

"So finish your degree and come home already." Laura groused, reaching over to ruffle Edward's hair.

He really did stink. It was horrible.

-----

It wasn't until Vic and Cara had arrived and joined the cuddle-pile everyone was rotating through (except Edward, who was stuck in the middle until he stopped smelling weird) that Laura found him again.

"Okay, so he's a Tinge-groupie not a boyfriend," she sniffed, bumping shoulders with him. "And he really is just a kid. So what are you guys doing, letting a kid hang out so much at a tattoo parlor?"

Derek rolled his eyes. "He just likes to watch."

Laura stared at him for a long moment.

"You need to think about what you just said, little brother, and all the ways it proves that I'm right about you being a horrible corrupting influence."

Chapter Text

The next time Stiles' scent flowed through the door around the noise of the overhead bell, Derek was ringing someone up. Again. Derek glanced over as the customer bent to sign their receipt, but Stiles just rolled his eyes and gave a helpless shrug. He knew better than to interrupt and instead wandered over to the bookshelf to grab a portfolio to peruse while he waited.

Derek thanked the customer and didn't let the smile drop until they left.

"That was not my fault," Stiles stated, as soon as the door closed. "That was the universe thinking we're funny."

Derek snorted but turned his head down rather than engaging with Stiles. Vic was picky about the transaction record, oddly enough, and Stiles was a distraction at the best of times.

But Stiles waited quietly, or as quietly as he could, at least. He rocked back and forth on his feet in front of the bookshelf, fingertips drumming quietly on the binder he was holding, soft steps shuffling him toward the window.

And he was just tracking Stiles by sound, instead of sight. Derek set his pencil aside and looked up. Stiles had Cara's portfolio propped open and was frowning thoughtfully at the ghouls staring up from the page. "Y'know, by appearances, I would have thought that Cara was the go-to for all the delicate stuff you guys are apparently known for."

"Not uncommon."

Stiles bobbed agreement. Which was really the only way to describe it, when he decided to nod with his entire body, knees to head. He mostly matched time with the radio station Tony had chosen for the day's music, which was a little surprising and possibly entirely accidental. "Did Vic do her arm? Er, the right arm, anyway. Those lilies. They aren't in Vic's portfolio, but..."

"Yes," Derek cut him off, turning back to the transaction register. But, no, he'd finished that already. "Vic did the lilies, and added the butterflies to her neck piece."

It wouldn't hurt to double check the commission receipts and make sure they were stacked neatly.

"And I know Tony did the fish on her foot. It's in his portfolio."

Not many people caught that. The fish wasn't always visible, and it was subdued by comparison to the rest of her ink. All impressionistic brushes of color with only a few thin lines to imply the overall shape.

Stiles collapsed onto the bench by the window, squirming into his usual slouch and thumping his head against one of the display legs, despite months of practice at the maneuver. The practice seemed to have just made him very good at hitting the legs, and moderately successful at catching and righting them again after. "What about you? Have you done one for her?"

Derek fussed with the receipts, though they really didn't need it. Well, now they did, because he'd completely fucked up the order trying to avoid staring at Stiles. "Not yet."

"What about Vic and Tony?"

"No." Derek quirked an eyebrow pointedly at Stiles. His scent was souring, but without the woody note that suggested embarrassment. Slightly sweet with a touch of metal, but it was so faint... "Why?"

Stiles shrugged, holding his hands out like it wasn't anything major. Which inevitably meant it was. That he had a reason, regardless of what came out of his mouth. "Just curious."

"Stiles."

"What?"

"Spit it out."

His scent spiked, the metal growing more intense, and he slumped against the window while rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. "I was just curious! I mean, you like them. You aren't nearly as nice to them as you are to the customers."

Derek snorted. Like that made any sense.

"And I was kind of curious. I mean. About the kind of tattoo you're willing to do for someone you--you know. Actually like."

Damn the kid for being perceptive. "Any kind they want, that I'd be good at. So long as they actually wanted it." And if his voice was rougher than normal, that was really nobody's business.

Stiles gaped at him, gesturing broadly then snatching his hands back when that made Cara's portfolio flap alarmingly. "So you only tell people you dislike that their ideas suck?"

Derek snorted, unable to completely hide his amusement, and Stiles' scent mellowed to something happier, though still obnoxiously difficult to pin down. "Hardly. If I don't like them, they can get as stupid a tattoo as they want."

"Then why do you shoot down all of my ideas?"

Derek shook his head and gave Stiles a pointed look. "Are you seriously going to try and say you want a door on your forehead, or a skull bleeding flowers?" Stiles' eyes widened. "Or mermaids having sex, or a cupcake on your ass, or a parrot with an eye patch, or..."

Stiles' eyes kept getting wider until he finally burst out laughing, happy pouring off him in waves. "Oh my god," he said, beaming. "I can't believe you remember all of that."

"You like to scar me mentally, Stiles. It's hard to forget."

The indignant expression on Stiles' face was worth whatever insanity was bound to come out of his mouth next, but the bell over the door rang, interrupting them.

"Hola!" Cara was practically bouncing as she came in, unzipping her coat and leaning down to press a loud, overblown kiss into Stiles' hair. Stiles tried to fend her off, but his flailing was pretty ineffective even at the best of times, and Cara was... Well, Cara was Cara. It didn't help that Stiles didn't actually mind all the touching and was just trying to preserve some semblance of dignity. "What were you two talking about? The flailing looked amusing."

Derek snorted and went back to the receipts to hide his smile. It was...nice, the way their scents went green when they were together. "Tattoos."

"Oh, enlightening."

The dry, teasing sarcasm was one of the many reasons why Cara was his favorite. Of his coworkers, at least.

"Uh, well, we were talking about your tattoos, actually. I mean, the ones on you, not the--you know." He waved her portfolio vaguely.

That tendency to babble and the easy way he shared information about himself and, occasionally, about Derek, was why Stiles was Cara's favorite. Probably. That might be secondary to how easily he'd adapted to her very handsy, hug-centered way of showing affection.

Cara grinned at Stiles and snatched the portfolio out of his hands, putting it back on the shelf before plopping down on the bench next to him. "Oh? No fair stopping when I come in, then."

"Well, you have the fish from Tony," Stiles started, ticking off on his fingers, "and I thought the lilies looked like Vic's work, so I asked if she'd done those." Cara nodded, waiting patiently for Stiles to get through his thought process. "And I asked if you had one from Derek yet."

"Not yet. We're on for what, next Thursday?" She looked up at Derek. "Unless that damn swirly bit is going to set us back." Again, her tone implied.

Derek sighed and shook his head. "No. I think I'm happy with it. I just wanted to give it another day to make sure before getting your approval on it."

Cara shot her arms up in the air in a victory pose, nearly unsettling Stiles before she grabbed hold of him again, grinning excitedly. The display of teeth so close to Stiles' neck made him want to growl, which didn't make any sense. Cara was family.

Also? Human.

"Hey, you wanna be here for that?" Cara offered. "I like having someone around to talk to, and Derek kinda sucks at that."

She turned to stick her tongue out at him, but her scent hadn't changed, so Derek just raised an eyebrow in response. Unless she'd been irritated the entire time, she was just playing.

"Uh, sure?" Stiles blinked. "Oh, wait. When? I mean, I can't come during school and if it's gonna be more than an hour, I'll have to make sure my dad knows where I'm gonna be."

"Yeah, yeah, jailbait," Cara ruffled his hair (as much as she could), spiking their shared scent with soft spices. "We'll start before you get here, but if you drop by after school we should be getting to the interesting bits."

Derek was just opening the register up to put the re-re-sorted receipts away when Stiles went still, eyes tracking suspiciously to Cara's face without turning. "And by 'interesting bits', you mean..?"

She laughed. "The shading and coloring. No more surprises about genital tattoos, I promise."

Derek didn't quite rip the register drawer out, but it was a near thing.

-----

Laura draped herself over the back of the couch and his shoulders that evening, snuffling against his neck. "Cara and Vic coming over tonight?"

"You know they are." Derek closed his book and gave Laura a moment to take the hint, then hit her over the head with it. But Laura just huffed and burrowed closer. "Did you want something, Laura?"

"You smell like that kid. And Vic smells like him, and Cara smells like him, and your shop smells like him." Laura sighed and hopped up onto the back of the couch before slipping down between him and the cushions to curl around him entirely. "It's not a pack smell but it is a pack smell and argh, little brother."

She punched him in the thigh hard enough that the bruise would last a few minutes before huffing and settling down so he could go back to reading.

Across the room, Uncle Paul snorted agreement but kept his nose buried in a seed catalog.

-----

Cara approved the final design and stole it from him to make the transfers before he could come up with any reason it wasn't good enough yet.

Again.

It was perfectly reasonable to be nervous about the first tattoo he'd designed for family. For someone he loved, blood relation or not.

Maybe taking a week to adjust a curl in the gate that Cara hadn't had any problems with was excessive, though.

-----

When he arrived on Wednesday, Stiles was already there. Tony had his watercolors out at the consultation counter, but Derek could still smell Stiles over the sweet-sharp of the wet paints. There was a note of sour musk in his scent which, combined with the strangely (for Stiles) even and calm heartbeat, implied he was curled up on the bench with homework. An assignment to be read, specifically. Anything else and his heartrate would be higher.

It made sense. Tony was almost as touchy about letting people watch him sketch as Derek was, and he was worse when he was working in paint.

Derek didn't announce himself, opting to change quickly and quietly from running clothes to working clothes. Even if that did mostly consist of trading one t-shirt for another, exercise pants for jeans, and sneakers for his ancient, ugly and thoroughly reliable boots. It was the principle of the thing.

He caught a glimpse of what Tony was working on as he walked past the counter to the register; a portrait from a photo, that Tony was rendering in varying severities of grey. It gave the impression of a face made out of shadows, and Derek ripped his attention away, unsettled.

No bets on why someone would want a design like that. It practically screamed in memoriam.

Stiles didn't look up until Derek was halfway across the lobby, too involved in glaring at his book to take note of the movement. When he did, the crease in his forehead retreated in the wake of a smile that spread almost like instinct over Stiles' face. His scent did the same abrupt change, spiking so suddenly and overwhelmingly to happy that it made Derek's breath catch.

"Hey. About time you got here." Stiles shifted around to sit upright, glancing at the space that left on the bench and back up to Derek with a look that twitched through being hopeful, mortified, and innocent.

Derek snorted, but he took the seat next to Stiles anyway. "I'm early." He ignored Stiles' huff about that not being the point, reaching down and lifting Stiles' hand, complete with book, to see what he was reading. "Moby Dick?"

"We got to pick from a list of 'classics' to read for English," he complained, air quoting with his one available hand. "I didn't think someone could make probable insanity, giant whales, and vendettas boring, but I was wrong," Stiles groaned, slumping back to thump his head against the non-existant wall. Derek let Stiles' hand drop in favor of reaching up to stop him from knocking a display leg over.

It left him with his hand cupped around the back of Stiles' head, but that was apparently the price of an orderly environment.

"Would your other options have been any better?"

"Apparently not," Stiles laughed, lifting his head up to smile at Derek who slowly pulled his hand back to rub against his thigh. His palm felt...weird. Probably because of Stiles' buzz cut. "Apparently," Stiles continued, either not noticing Derek's movement or not finding it remarkable, "they managed to make adultery, murder, and war boring."

Derek blinked, his lip quirking up without his input. "You picked vendettas and whales over adultery, murder, and war as likely to be interesting?"

"Well, yeah." Stiles rolled his eyes. "It takes work to make a violent whale boring. Adultery and murder can just be about stuff that happens off screen, or off page, I guess, and the actual focus is on the relationships. And trust me, I get way too much relationship drama in my day to day. I don't need it in my homework too."

"Mhmm. And war?"

"Hemmingway and I have a troubled relationship. Let's just leave it at that, okay?"

Derek snorted and leaned forward, shifting his weight in preparation of standing. He had to check the schedule and appointment book to see if Tony had left any notes or scheduled anything into his shift, double check the supplies, and make sure everything that needed to be clean actually was. He hesitated when Stiles tensed, his fingers starting to drum on the cover of the book.

"What."

Stiles rolled his eyes again, but he relaxed and took a breath. "I just-- Do you mind me watching, tomorrow? I mean, Cara invited me and you know I'm curious, but I don't want to be here if it's just gonna bug you, or--"

"It's fine." Derek raised his hand to brush over Stiles' head again, then stood up.

Interestingly, that shut Stiles right up. He gaped for a moment, blushing a little while a twist of something dark curled through his scent, before giving a strained laugh. "Okay. Yeah, great. So, tomorrow, then." Stiles shoved the book into his bag and stood up, starting for the door. "Time to go home, though. Now. Because that's--what I do. So, yeah. Bye!"

The door swung closed behind Stiles, leaving Derek blinking after him in confusion.

"You two are hysterical. I hope you know that." Tony hadn't looked up from his painting once, but he was smiling now.

Derek decided not to dignify that with a response.

-----

"Oh wow."

Derek's brow twitched at Vic's delighted tone and the following laughter, but he kept his focus on the line machine and Cara's back.

"I don't wanna know," Cara muttered, hazy and muffled by the headrest her face was smushed against. Derek grunted agreement as Vic hiccuped to a stop.

The bell rang, and Vic crowed "The mascot is in da house!" in that same far-too-gleeful tone. It didn't bode well for anyone.

But. At the same time. Stiles.

Derek didn't look up from his work, but he smiled. He didn't need to see anything to know that Stiles was rolling his eyes at Vic, who hated manning the register but was as possessive of her mate as any wolf would have been. She couldn't stand watching someone else work on Cara, but she refused to be very far away while it happened, either.

"Thanks, Vic. That makes me feel very mature," Stiles grumbled. "Can I go on back?"

"You're asking permission now? Since when?" Vic snorted, amused and teasing the way she only was with family and close friends. "You have your invitation already, so git."

"I always ask permission!" Stiles huffed as he walked past the counter, trailing the pepper-sweet combination that Vic seemed to inspire in him and waving at Derek. And.

The universe hated him. It was a fact.

Stiles passed straight through to the back to drop his backpack off where it'd be out of the way. Derek could only hope he'd ditch the red hoodie as well. It was warm enough for it.

"Finally! My gabby savior has come at last," Cara mumbled into the chair, and Derek had to keep himself from smiling wide enough to show teeth.

When he set the line machine down and started wiping the excess green off her back she picked her head up and looked around. "...Only then he abandoned me," she complained, this time clearly enough for human ears to work out, "before I got to see him, even. Is Stiles robbing us? Oh, there he is. Stiles!"

She reached out, grinning as the kid snagged Vic's wheely stool and sat down by her shoulder to take her hand. He was hoodie free, thankfully.

"I'm not sure how I survived without you," Cara confided. "Derek's said, like, twelve words."

Derek snorted. Cara was having far too much fun complaining about him to thwart her enjoyment.

"Well, you did know what you were getting into when you decided on this. Which...man." Stiles eyes widened as he looked over the outline sketched in over Cara's lower back. "Hate to say it, but I think you're getting your frustration's worth. That's amazing."

Derek snorted and moved back into position. "Shading now."

He turned the shading machine on and ignored Cara's yelp and laughing complaint about his horrible chair-side manner as he went back to focusing on the details.

Tattooing Cara was an oddly surreal experience; the metallic notes of her normal scent almost disappeared entirely into the smell of the ink. It was like the body he was working on had stopped being Cara and became a blank stranger instead. With Stiles there, the greening-effect they had on one another helped distinguish her a bit more. It became easier to gauge how her pain was building and when the endorphins kicked in.

Derek knew better than to try and keep track of Cara and Stiles' conversation, while he worked. From what he couldn't avoid picking up, they'd covered 80's song lyrics, giant squid, bizarre history facts, different tattooing traditions, and whether or not placement alone qualified the gate he was giving Cara as a tramp stamp. Stiles was skeptical, Vic (shouting her opinion back from the register) was adamant that it didn't, and Cara was on the verge of pouting over being majority voted out of what she called an 'important cultural movement'.

Once the bars were finished, he turned the machine off and tapped Cara's back with a knuckle. "Switching to colors. Want a break?"

"Yeah," she groaned, stretching out a bit as he wiped her back clean and gave it a new coating of ointment. "Can I get a glass of water?"

Derek caught Stiles' eyes before rolling his own as he stripped his gloves off and got up to fetch a cup. "Stiles, make sure she doesn't get up."

"...how exactly am I supposed to do that?" Stiles complained, before addressing Cara teasingly. "Sit. Stay."

Cara was making silly faces at Stiles when Derek returned with the water, but she hadn't done more than stretch her arms up and twist to bend the kinks out of her back. It said something about their relationship that Stiles didn't seem to bat an eye at Cara's very ample chest being constrained by a sports bra and nothing else.

While Cara drank, Derek pulled on another pair of gloves and started adjusting his work area for the next round. Stiles took the time to get a better look at Cara's back, then grinned at the caps of ink Derek was pulling out. "So those little blank spots are going to be pink flowers? Man, leave it to Cara to make a metal fence girly."

"Flowers and ribbons, if you must know," Cara said primly as she set her empty cup down and moved back into position. "My mom's a breast cancer survivor and my sister was diagnosed a couple of months ago." She shrugged, comfortable with moving so long as the machine wasn't turned on. "I decided I needed this."

Derek spread more ointment over Cara's back, thickening the coating he'd left on her skin before. "Can I get back to work now?"

"Bring it."

For several moments, there was just the sound of the machine as he inked the lines in a darker pink to give the flowers and ribbons a lighter, more organic touch than the bars and vines had. Cara was humming along with the Best of the 80's mix she'd insisted on for their session, content without words for the moment apparently, which...left Stiles doing what, exactly?

Derek glanced up when he'd finished one trailing ribbon and caught Stiles staring with such blank solemnity that he didn't seem like himself for a moment.

Then Stiles noticed Derek and the moment broke with a smile that was waiting to become real. Stiles squeezed Cara's hand, turning his attention more fully toward her. "So, what's your sister like?"

And Cara was off again, babbling about the confusing little knot of drama that she called a family. Derek focused on his work again, letting their voices and the stereo fill the space in his head that wasn't turned over to the ink.

Or he tried, at least. That oddly serious look on Stiles' face kept coming back to haunt him.

-----

The problem with Cara, Vic had told him, was that she got more than a little high off the whole process.

Cara giggled and reached up to tug Stiles' hood into place, then down over his eyes. "You're Red Riding Hood! Oh my goodness, that's so..." And she collapsed forward against his chest.

For his part, Stiles looked baffled but amused as he patted Cara on the shoulder with one hand while he pushed his hood back with the other. "Uh. Thanks?"

He shot Derek a confused look while Vic succumbed to laughter at the front desk. Again.

"It's a family joke," Derek offered, which didn't seem to placate Stiles at all. "You should get going before Cara decides you're her cuddle buddy."

Cara snorted against Stiles' chest, but didn't protest when he pushed her upright again. "Would not. He's underage. And besides, he has a dick!"

Stiles flushed and waved to Derek as he scurried toward the door.

Without Stiles to distract her, Cara flopped forward onto the padded table Derek had helped her over to and started singing to herself. Which kept her occupied and out of the way, at least.

Shaking his head, Derek went back to cleaning up his area. He wasn't left waiting long before Vic made her way back, smiling fondly at her mate. And that had to be love, because Cara was kind of a wreck.

"Sooooo..." Vic started, leaning her shoulder against his.

"No."

Vic cackled, turning her head away. "Oh, man. The jokes are going to write themselves, cuz. Wait 'til I tell Laura."

Derek sighed and pushed at her cheek until she went away and let him finish cleaning up.

-----

Stiles didn't come in at all the next week.

Chapter Text

"Derek. Why are people stupid?"

Derek snorted and turned to look at Vic, who'd decided the blank section of counter he'd left empty to do an inventory re-evaluation on was actually for her.

Not that he could easily sort the inks with her that close anyway. Vic's scent played merry hell with them at this proximity, and it'd take forever if he actually had to read each bottle instead of being able to generalize by smell.

Vic cocked her head to one side in a move that, human or not, betrayed what sort of family she'd grown up in, for anyone who knew what to look for. "Someone came in while you were on break. He wants something tribal. Really big and intricate with metaphorical meaning and probably a whole bunch of other shit that was meant to impress me, but definitely tribal. He likes the look of solid blacks and twisty lines."

"And?"

"He wanted me to do it. Because, and I quote, 'You're hot.'" She paused, to allow Derek to appreciate her irritation. The obnoxiously pop-y radio station she'd switched to suddenly made more sense. "I asked if he'd seen the shop portfolios, and he shrugged and asked if it mattered."

They got this, every so often. Or, more specifically, Vic and Cara got this. Derek made a 'go on' gesture, leaning against the counter to wait. He wasn't going to get any work done until Vic had gotten to her point.

"I told him he'd be better off with another artist, since I'm really not that great at designing tribal pieces. But! I told him I'd help him out by setting up a consultation with our hottest brunette, who happens to do the best tribal work anyway."

Tony was far enough out of earshot that Derek didn't hold back the growl. "Vicky."

"Respect your elder, puppy." Vic ruffled his hair and hopped down off the counter. "The consultation is next Wednesday, and I was nice enough to match it up with Stiles' consult, so you won't miss any mascot time. And for your sake, I'm hoping Mr. Idiot's not bi. 'Cause then I'd feel guilty. A little. Maybe."

Derek forgot about the ink and the prospect of an angry asshole of a client entirely. "Stiles has a consultation?"

That hadn't been on his schedule.

It wasn't on his schedule. What the hell.

"Yeah, with Cara. He came in yesterday to talk with her and make the appointment." Vic studied her nails calmly but pointedly, and Derek checked his own just in case. But no, still human.

Stiles came in on one of his days off (and Stiles knew their schedules almost as well as they did at this point), after over a week of absence, and booked a consultation. With someone else.

"We shouldn't even be letting him have a consultation," Derek groused. "He's what, fifteen?"

Vic was grinning now, face angled away so her teeth weren't bared at him, scent mellowed into amusement. "Actually, he turned seventeen a couple months back." Her lips closed over her teeth as she turned back to him, nodding sympathetically at whatever look was on his face. "Yeah, I know. I wouldn't have guessed it either."

"He still isn't old enough to get a tattoo," Derek said, rather than asking his second cousin if she knew what day Stiles' birthday had been.

She just shrugged. "Yeeeah, but there's no law about him making arrangements in advance. And Cara and I had already decided we're going to comp the mascot on the deposits at least, so there won't even be any money exchanged."

Derek growled again, and Vic patted his shoulder sympathetically as she left. Probably to laugh at him in the bathroom.

In fairness, it probably shouldn't be this surprising. Stiles rarely looked at Derek's portfolio, but he pored over Vic's and Cara's whenever he was stuck up front with no one more talkative than...well, Derek.

It still bothered him.

-----

The whole--thing with Stiles had him distracted. That was his story, and he was sticking to it.

Derek's breath left him in an abrupt wheeze, and he was fairly sure he'd cracked a rib on his own boots when his bag had gotten caught underneath him. He shifted as soon as he recognized Danielle's scent and pushed back against the attack.

Play.

Attack, play. There wasn't that much difference in their family, unless their mother was involved.

Danielle had surprise, but Derek had weight and age. He came out on top, snarling until Danielle whuffed affection against his temple and dropped her head back to expose her throat. His ribs were still healing but he'd probably broken her arm, so they were about even for damage. He snorted and bumped his nose against her jaw before backing off, but didn't bother shifting back to human. "Bad day?"

"Gwen had a fit," was Danielle's only response, her voice abnormally blank. She didn't try to get up or change position, just laid vulnerable and open and defeated on her back.

Derek shoved at Danielle's shoulder until she was lying on her side, curled protectively around her abdomen. He pressed the ridge of his nose against the indent of her waist and inhaled the lingering traces of 'unhappy' over the stronger scents of 'Danielle' and 'family' before he made up his mind. "Let me drop off my bag. We'll go running."

He didn't worry as he took off into the woods again, and he didn't have to. When he came back (minus bag, shoes and shirt), Danielle was where he'd left her, but her pulse was slower and her breathing more even. She rolled up onto her hands and feet as he approached, and they ran.

-----

They ran until they felt their mother's will set against their own, calling them back. Calling them home.

They sat together at dinner, still half immersed in their wolves and caring for nothing except the sense of family, of safety, of wholeness. Human enough for manners, wolf enough to exist fully in the now. Gwen was between the stabilizing forces of her parents and everyone else was healthy and fine. They felt no need for words, only for security. For pack.

-----

Someone approached. Threat-but-not-threat. Family. Pack.

"Now you smell wrong."

Even half asleep, Derek sighed. He let his brain wake by degrees, slowly sliding back into the human space, where words made reality instead of scent and sound. "What."

"You smell wrong." And now he knew the voice. Laura. The smell of her made sense before her image did, with her nose scrunched up and the impression that her ears should be laid flat. "Like sadness and not enough like high school, and for goodness sake, Derek," she made a face at him that he recognized as horrified, after a moment, "no one should have to smell like high school. That's just wrong."

He glowered at her and buried his face against Danielle's shoulder again, taking comfort in her sleepy rumble.

Danielle reeked of high school and he'd spent the entire afternoon with her, so Laura was full of crap.

-----

Sleep was a myth, and had been for six years.

He dreamed of fire. Of Gwendolyn never being born. Of Dominique losing her mate before learning the term. Before learning the word 'werewolf' outside of fiction.

He dreamed of blond curls and a smiling mouth that left him waking in a cold sweat every time.

The end result was that he didn't dream much at all. The nightmares kept him awake, before they had a chance to haunt him.

That night, however, there were no traces of ash or teeth in his thoughts. He still spent more time exercising than sleeping, but it wasn't out of fear.

It made no sense. It shouldn't have mattered. But.

Stiles would be eighteen in less than a year, and he didn't know when.

Stiles hadn't told him.

It shouldn't have mattered. His life didn't follow 'should's very often.

-----

Idiot asshole client didn't seem to be bi and had more of a sense of humor about Vic's little prank than was reasonable to have expected, which was a relief. And the work he wanted was interesting, if under-researched. Considering the comment he'd made about not seeing the point of perusing the portfolios, 'under-researched' was far better than Derek had been hoping for.

They'd be able to work together and the client didn't murder his scent or surroundings with cologne. Those were the important bits.

Stiles' consultation, on the other hand, happened in the coffee shop across the street. Because Cara was both insufferable and lived to torment Derek, who had a clear view of their table (and Stiles, in that red hoodie again) past his client's shoulder.

He'd forgotten all the reasons why Cara was his favorite. It was like they no longer existed.

Derek watched them once his own appointment was over, pretending to be involved in sketching which, to be fair, the consulting counter was ideally suited for. Their discussion involved laughter and flailing gestures that nearly upset their drinks, but there was a sketchbook between them that both of them were working in. It lasted far longer than it should have, stretching past an hour before they finally got up.

And when they were done, Stiles hugged Cara on the sidewalk and...left.

Cara's breath smelled of espresso and sugar with no milk, but there were traces of milk and chocolate on her hands and sleeve.

-----

Laura stopped by that evening to pick Cara and Vic up for a girls' night out. (One of the advantages of marrying into a family of werewolves, Cara had told him, was that they never had to worry about alienating their designated driver.) She took in the parlor with one inhale and a glance at Derek before grinning. "Awwwww...is somebody feeling left out?"

Derek glared and didn't bother responding, because his sister. was. impossible.

"Hey Laura! We'll be out in a sec," Vic called from the back, failing entirely in her familial obligation to rescue Derek and Laura from ever being left alone together.

"No rush," Laura called back, because she was evil, then walked around the counter to press against Derek's side. "Closing on your own?"

Derek nodded and leaned in to meet her weight. Because his sister was impossible. "No appointments, store's already mostly clean. It's two hours of sketching and maybe glaring at drunk idiots."

"Hmm. Suddenly I'm jealous of your night." She shoved against his shoulder, lightly for them, and set them rocking a bit. "Only I get to intimidate drunk people too so--yeah, never mind."

They were quiet for a moment, swaying loosely to the rhythm of jazz from a pub down the street, since it was Derek's turn on music and the stereo had been turned off once the last appointment was over.

But of course, the quiet could never last.

"You still smell atrocious, little brother," Laura huffed, eventually. "But I can smell Little Red again, so. Seriously. What the hell. Did somebody stab your pet fish?"

"I don't have... Who would stab fish?"

Stiles came immediately to mind. Not as someone likely to stab fish, but because the visual was so random his brain immediately pulled it up as a Stiles-inspired tattoo. Derek was officially insane.

"Oh my god, and now you smell even sadder." Laura straightened abruptly, wrapping an arm around his neck and pretending to bite his head. A couple walking on the opposite side of the street slowed down briefly to stare, then hurried quickly past. This was Derek's life now.

"How does fish stabbing make you sad," she muttered around his hair, "it was supposed to be funny."

Derek ignored her as best he could. Because his sister was impossible.

-----

More and more of Danielle's classmates started turning eighteen, as the end of the school year began to loom. Which meant a flood of teenagers wanting to define themselves, or rebel, or celebrate, or whatever. Derek honestly didn't care.

What he did care about was how many of them wanted to just come in, pick a design off the wall, and walk out an hour or so later with a tattoo. And how many of them had no concept of what kind of cost they were looking at.

A lot of them walked out cringing or determined, at the cost. A lot more walked out in a huff when someone explained that they could make an appointment, but wouldn't be seen right away.

More than he would have expected actually had ideas, or questions about how the art worked and if they could get something original done. He had a commission for a chicory-inspired leg piece that he was actually looking forward to.

If only the brats would back off and let him draw.

Derek saw Stiles outside the shop sometimes, hands shoved deep in his hoodie's pockets and frowning at the gawkers. He didn't usually stay long, but he sometimes waited until he'd caught Derek's eye, gave a little wave or a helpless shrug.

And Derek had thought he couldn't like obnoxious, self-entitled teenagers any less.

-----

Derek and Paul had been tag-teaming Gwen for hours, taking turns between acting as prey for her to track and sitting with Jacob while he worked on controlling his shift better. It was something Gwen was supposed to be working on as well, but she was too hyper to sit still and her fidgeting and whining hadn't been helping Jacob. At all.

The only one of them with any energy left at all when they came back to the house was Jacob, but Gwen still managed to perk up as Paul carried her inside, twisting around to scan the room. "Mommy?"

Sighing, Paul jiggled Gwen a bit, trying to change her focus. "Smells like your mom's with your big brother, kiddo. Do you want a..."

"I want my Mommy," she yelled, trying to wriggle out of Paul's grip. "Matt had his turn!"

Derek winced at the growl he could hear from upstairs. Not angry, just...resigned.

He hadn't known they could growl in resignation until Tania and Gwen.

Jacob whined and scampered for the stairs, rushing ahead of Derek on his way up to Matt's room. Derek smiled apologetically at Tania at the top of the stairs. She looked as exhausted as he felt, and still smelled strongly of the hospital.

She smiled back, but the expression was barely there.

When Derek caught up, Jacob and Matt were already curled up in a ball on the bed. The room smelled like Matt's misery, dried tears, and Tania, worn thin and exhausted and covered in hospital.

Derek joined them anyway, and they stayed like that until dinner.

-----

Stiles was either actively avoiding Derek, had the world's worst timing, or the universe was conspiring against him. Derek, not Stiles. Because Stiles didn't seem to notice that every time he came in while Derek was working, Derek was stuck in the back with a client.

Every. Single. Time.

It shouldn't have mattered. Stiles was still around, and Derek could follow his rambling almost as easily from the back as he could when they were sitting side by side. Not that they did that, often. Or more than the once, actually. So it shouldn't have mattered. Derek wasn't a huge participant in their conversations anyway, so it was practically the same, right?

Besides, it had only been two weeks since Cara had gotten her tattoo. Two weeks since he'd really seen Stiles.

Derek exhaled slowly through his nose and forced himself to concentrate on his lines while Stiles called back a goodbye and left.

-----

Laura stopped teasing him.

For his family, that was one step short of his mother staging an intervention by chasing him around the preserve until he collapsed.

It said something that he wasn't sure which would be more effort; pretending to be in a better mood or an enforced run.

-----

When Stiles came through the door, grinning and bouncing with giddy energy entirely at odds with the light but steady rain outside, Derek was surprised enough to freeze. He barely recovered in time to flip his sketchbook closed before Stiles was leaning against the end of the counter.

Stiles had never tried to peek at Derek's sketches, so far as he knew, but it would be a bit awkward if he did and recognized his own hands on the paper.

It wasn't Derek's fault that Stiles had the perfect hands for a design a pianist had commissioned. But still. Awkward.

"Heeey," Stiles started, leaning forward until his shoulders were only a few inches from the top of the counter then rocking back to brace his elbows like a normal person. Normal-er person. "Hi. Long time no see. Like, seriously, we are not counting waving from the back, here. I don't mean seeing as in, y'know, registering your visual aspect because that is totally insufficient. I just--" He stopped briefly to breathe before exploding again, "Please tell me you still don't have any appointments today."

Derek blinked, trying to process the too-fast words and everything else Stiles had brought with him. He was short of breath and even for Stiles' above-normal baseline, his pulse was racing. He was flushed, but the uneven splotchiness suggested exertion more than embarrassment. So he'd been running.

That made sense, with the rain.

He was also wearing that damn red hoodie again. It wasn't soaked through, but the shoulders were heavily spotted. So was the sleeve he'd just used to dry his face.

"No," Derek started, and tried to force himself to relax even as Stiles seemed to be trying to vibrate his way through the counter. "No appointments today."

Stiles exhaled loudly and slumped against the counter before straightening up and moving to snag a stool. "Fuck. Finally. You have been obnoxiously popular, dude."

Derek scowled and pointed at Stiles with the unsharpened end of his current pencil. "You are not Tony. You do not call me dude."

"Weeeeell," Stiles drew the word out, leaning to one side and tilting his head back as though deep in thought. Or giving the most sarcastic display of submission Derek had ever seen. "You got one right. Out of two. So, y'know, fifty percent accuracy. Not great, but it could definitely be worse. Dude."

It was hard to look mad when Stiles was saturating the air with happy, smug, playful, friendly. A damp Stiles was a fragrant Stiles, apparently.

Derek huffed and flipped his sketchbook open again. To a different commission.

Stiles babbled about his day, his school work, his teachers. His report on Moby Dick had gotten a good grade, but several baffled comments about his decision to reference Kill Bill for comparison. Derek grunted at appropriate points to let Stiles know he was listening at least as much as usual, occasionally making more pointed commentary by looking up from his sketching to stare at Stiles until he scaled back on whatever exaggeration he was making.

Stiles didn't stay still while he talked. He fidgeted with the business card display, then picked the cards back up and re-arranged them neatly after he'd knocked them over. He paced the room looking for new pieces of flash or photos on the walls, or leafed through a portfolio for the same thing. It wasn't like he never shut up, either. He was quiet whenever he found something to catch his attention. (Twice, it had been Derek. But neither moment lasted.)

When the silence caught and stretched out for nearly a minute, Derek looked up.

Stiles was back on the stool, one leg swaying idly and the other braced against one of the supports, with Tony's portfolio open in his lap. The tattoo Stiles was looking at was one of a paired set, which was only half completed. A sketch of a thigh with a branch wrapped around it and a single apple hanging just above the knee on one page, and a photo of a tattoo (half healed, half still raw) on the other. A viper, as realistic and lifelike as Tony could manage within the limitations of their craft, curved around a thigh to let its head mirror the position of the apple.

It was beautiful and worth the attention, but Stiles was frowning. He traced the bend of the snake from its head upward with just the tip of his finger before shaking his head and looking away.

He gave an embarrassed laugh when he saw Derek was watching him. "That's amazing, isn't it? The scales must've taken forever."

Derek nodded agreement, but Stiles was staring at the photo again. "I wonder if you could do something like that around the base of the neck. Do you think that'd..."

The image was immediate: Tony's head bent over the work, Stiles' head tipped up to keep his jaw out of the way.

Derek saw red, his vision flickering with an incomplete shift until the pain of claws turned inward to pierce his palm let him focus enough to calm his pulse.

"...Derek?"

He took a deep breath. It was the placement that was the problem, not the implication of Tony doing the work. Tony was good, definitely better than Derek at fine detail realism. Besides, neck designs were always problematic for Derek, if they stretched past the spread of a bite over the nape. Something that close to the throat...

"You okay? Derek?"

"I'm--"

"Bleeding, holy shit!"

Stiles shot off the stool in a maneuver that was half controlled and half collapsing and rushed into the back. The first aid kit was in the bathroom, and it wouldn't take him long to bring it back.

Growling quietly at himself, Derek grabbed his pencil bag with his clean hand and unzipped it with his teeth. He had just enough time to slip a plastic pencil sharpener into his bloodied hand, crush it, and shove the pencil pouch out of sight before Stiles was back.

But at least he had a reason for the blood, now.

-----

Another week and Stiles had a consultation scheduled with Tony. On another of Derek's days off.

It was pretty obvious that Stiles had started avoiding him. In a weird way that involved still hanging out while he worked, occasionally.

Vic and Tony passed Stiles' folder back and forth, but they never left it in the shop which made it very difficult for Derek to sneak a look. Cara just giggled when he asked about it.

Derek decided that he hated everyone, and stopped asking.

Chapter Text

"This is so fucking unfair," Tony grumbled from where he was slumped over the consultation counter. "Why do I need to be here if I can't even have appointments for five hours? Why not just close the damn shop?"

"You realize I'm the only person with no say in this, right?" Derek sighed and glared at the display counter. He'd pulled everything out and reorganized some of it, wiped down the internal shelves and cleaned the glass. He was too agitated to draw, this close to the full moon and with Niq in the hospital, but the only front tasks left were mopping (stupid to do, midafternoon) and giving the window display a similar treatment. Which he'd done a few days before, so that would be...stupidly redundant.

Days this slow should not be allowed to exist.

Tony lifted his head and glared. "You could skip it and keep me company here, so we could get actual work done." He let his head flop down again, missing Derek's eye roll. "That's the first day Juanita's going to be available to start work on her other leg, too. This sucks."

There really wasn't anything else Derek could reasonably do. "I tried to talk my way out of it."

That was enough to get Tony's attention, his head lifting again and actual interest in his eyes. "How'd that go?'

Derek huffed and rolled his eyes at Tony.

Tony groaned and dropped his head again. Derek contemplated re-sorting the jewelry display by comparative shininess.

-----

Nothing had changed in the last hour, aside from the jewelry display. When the bell rang, Tony didn't even budge, just worked a hand free and waved. "Hey Stiles."

"How'd you know it was me?" Stiles asked, squinting suspiciously at the top of Tony's head.

"I know what time it is," Tony offered, muffled but dry.

There was a brief pause before Stiles shrugged and nodded. "Touche."

"Is there something you wanted, Stiles?" Derek asked, ignoring Stiles' ever-evolving bitch face as he sidled over and pulled a stool up to the end of the counter.

"You're joking, right? I stopped having reasons months ago." Stiles planted his elbows on the counter and leaned over to peer down at the display. "...hunh. Shiny."

Tony laughed into his arms, but kept his moping posture. Because he was just as ridiculous as everyone Derek was actually related to.

Stiles blinked and looked up. "Oh, right. Next week's the weird one for this month, right? I wanted to double check the schedule."

He made a grabby hands gesture at the appointment book, and Derek handed it over easily. It wasn't like he could understand most of the names in it anyway. With all the different methods they used to shorthand people in, it was a miracle any of them could read it.

"What the hell is up with the twentieth?"

"That is proof that everyone I work with hates me," Tony offered, helpfully.

Derek rolled his eyes again. "Graduation. Tony doesn't have any obligations that day, so he mans the shop."

Stiles scrunched his nose up, frowning at the book then up at Derek. "You...oh, right. Danielle. She's...Hale. Duh." Stiles bobbed in place, his frown turning more thoughtful. "It's going to be weird without her around for Lydia to play off of."

He tapped the page suddenly, switching tracks. "It'd make more sense to make that an appointment-only day, wouldn't it? Like you guys did over the holidays." Stiles pushed the book back toward Derek, shrugging in response to his eyebrow. "The rest of Tony's week looks brutal, and he'd still be around to make appointments and answer questions, right? But he could close up when he needed to be in back."

Tony had his head up and was blinking at Stiles by the time he was done. "That I might be able to convince Vic to do. You're a fucking genius."

"Not yet, but I'm looking forward to it," Stiles shot back, grinning.

Derek's eye twitched and he started pulling out the jewelry again.

-----

"Is it a bad thing that I'm mostly hoping Gwen doesn't get held back a year so we don't have to do two graduations in a row, in twelve-ish years?"

Derek grunted a response, trying to stay still.

"Oh, whatever." Vic pulled the machine up and away from his back and turned it off. "Sorry, should've mentioned. I've got the edges shaded in, so a little twitching on your part isn't going to mess anything up, let alone just talking."

"Good to know."

She went back to refreshing his ink and Derek closed his eyes, focusing on the vibration of the machine, Vic's heartbeat and the sound of her breath, the voices and steps of the people outside, the clatter of dishware from the restaurants and bars. He found it soothing in a way not even his family always understood.

"I don't think it's bad," Derek said, after she'd moved about an inch down the current swirl. "Could stand to have better reasons, but s'not bad in general."

She chuffed at him, digging her knee into his thigh. "My reasons are what I was talkin' about, dumbass."

"You should just be glad I'm not falling asleep on you."

Vic snorted but the nudge of her knee against his leg was affectionate this time. "Yet."

-----

Maria Hale's opinion on graduation was that if she felt obligated to suffer through the ceremony, then everyone had to suffer through it with her. Grandmother Hale was the only one with a free pass to sit it out, but she hadn't used it yet. No one was quite sure if she went for the eavesdropping, to enjoy the misery of others, or out of support for the pack. They were all possible.

They made family history twice that year. Not only did Niq have a legitimate excuse to miss the ceremony (born at eight pounds one ounce and only alive because the birth had happened at the hospital), the graduating student had actually tried to run away.

He honestly didn't know what Danielle had been thinking. They were werewolves.

Niq was unbearably smug after she finally brought Erin home. Danielle was still moping, when she wasn't quietly freaking out about college.

Having an entire school's worth of teenagers suddenly available during the day didn't change the activities of a tattoo parlor very much either, past the initial flood of newly-eighteen-year-olds coming in to support each other. Once the gawkers were mostly weeded out, it just left the kids who were serious about the work, and that was hardly a blip on the radar. So at work, things mostly remained the same. Except for where it concerned Stiles.

For one, it was finally too warm for that stupid hoodie to make another appearance.

But mostly, it was that Stiles was around more. A lot more. He'd come in for an hour or two in the mornings, or stop by after lunch. His scent started becoming part of the general backdrop of Tinge rather than a heavy addition that faded out sometimes. More often than not, Stiles had a library book with him. Sometimes art books (usually focused on tattoos, which surprised absolutely no one), but mostly mythology, folk art, and books on symbolism and design.

"Tattoos of frogs are awesome."

Derek glanced up and raised a patient eyebrow at Stiles, who had foregone his now-customary seat at the end of the counter to curl up on the window bench with an oversized book.

"I mean, I don't want one," Stiles continued, "but they're really cool."

Derek snorted and turned back to his sketch. Technically, he should be working on finalizing the embellishments of a skeletal bat, but Stiles didn't generally stay this still for very long, and he was more interesting. The bat wouldn't take long anyway, and he had another few days.

Moments like this were why he had two sketchbooks, these days. And if asked, he could always call it portraiture practice.

"I saw one on the internet that was mostly just an outline, with some of the shading blending into the darker half of a yin-yang. That was pretty awesome, since frogs are linked with yin energy for the Chinese." Stiles nodded to himself, pulling one of his exaggerated faces. "But if you aren't making an obvious cross reference like that, they're just...frogs." He let the book fall open against his chest and slumped down further, outlining vague shapes above him.

And he was staring. Again.

Derek bent his head back to the sketch before Stiles could catch him, but Stiles didn't look down from the ceiling once as he plugged away at his train of thought. "Like, if you combined a frog and Celtic knot work, you could make an argument for making connections to healing. But if you were using Japanese symbolism, it'd connect to money and travel. So if it's just a frog, it could be pretty much anything." Stiles shook his head and propped the book up again, lips twisting in what might have been disapproval or irritation. "Or nothing. Or, y'know, just a frog. Animal symbolism is tricky."

The hell. Derek set his pencil aside, turning to give Stiles a pointed look. "What are you even reading?"

Stiles blinked and looked up, surprised. "Uh. Medieval art history?"

"Of course."

Some days, he really had no clue what was going on in Stiles' head. Derek sighed and turned back to his sketch as Stiles held the book up against his chest, tapping his fingers against the cover. "It's pretty neat stuff. Not a lot of frogs, though."

Tony leaned in on Derek's right, their shoulders not quite brushing. "I don't know how the hell you guys end up on these topics."

"My fault," Stiles piped up cheerfully, while Derek slammed his sketchbook closed and glared.

When the hell had Tony gotten back from break?

-----

Summer break also meant that all three of the terrors were home all the time.

Derek smelled his father first. It was at least a few hours old, but it was mixed up with Gwen and Jacob's excitement.

Grinning, he angled the course of his run away from the direction it smelled like the cubs had been traveling. There was a stream down that way, and some nicely astringent tangles to hide in. Excellent location for an ambush.

He'd have to find out if one of the cubs had selected it, or if his dad had pointed it out.

Derek looped around, curving to approach the thicket he was thinking of from downwind. His bag made it hard to maneuver, but the undergrowth was easily manageable in this part of the preserve.

It was sound, not scent, that let him know he'd misjudged. A branch creaked under shifting weight, giving Derek time to duck into a controlled roll under a low hanging bough before Gwen and Jacob landed, growling and frustrated, right where his back would have been.

His father was laughing nearby, hidden behind a tree, but he wasn't interfering.

Derek crouched and smiled at the kids with his eyes before taking off, vaulting a downed tree as their happy howls echoed behind him. His bag wasn't enough of a handicap to let them catch up, so he kept his pace even and didn't try too hard to throw them off his trail.

The chase was fun, and if he could keep them interested until he got home...

He broke the treeline with less than a minute of lead before the terrible two caught up. "Stacia!"

There was a hesitation before Stacia shrieked inside and came thundering down the stairs. Derek stopped at the edge of the porch, toeing his shoes off and throwing them and his bag up near the door.

Then Stacia was there, leaping and latching onto his back like the clever little monkey she was, and the cubs were growling as they caught sight of the treeline.

"Remember to keep your head down," Derek reminded Stacia, feeling her nod rapidly against the back of his neck.

Then he was running again, Jacob and Gwen snapping at his heels while he tried to run and dodge and evade with a fragile human stuck to his back.

He didn't even bother trying to throw them off, this time. Not with Stacia shrieking in delight.

-----

Stiles' folder didn't come to the shop anymore.

Tony shrugged when he asked. "I'm done with my bit. Vic's finishing it up."

-----

The library books were joined by notebooks, then sketch books, as sweet traces of graphite and ballpoint ink melded with Stiles' normal scent.

The days Stiles brought a sketchbook up to the counter were Derek's favorites. Not that he could figure out what Stiles was going to have done based on his sketches, since they were just as varied as his conversations, but it was easier to talk, somehow, when they could pass a pencil back and forth or compete for space on a page.

Stiles wasn't an art prodigy, but he'd obviously been practicing. It wasn't hard to guess why.

Then again, it was also still Stiles.

"What is that, a potato?"

"My friends need to be punished," Stiles intoned, as though that made any sense at all, and sketched in the rough lines of a jar around the lumpy, bent oval he'd plopped in the middle of the page.

Derek stole the pencil back to do the hatching for the lid. "You don't make sense."

"Dude. Watch a movie every so often, would you?"

Derek didn't look up, but Stiles' scent grinned for him.

-----

The house was nearly empty when he got home that afternoon.

Derek toed his shoes off by the door and followed his nose and ears to the study, where Dominique and Danielle had holed up. Niq had her head craned back against the arm of the chair, trying to see around the back to the door, while Danielle's hand was just barely visible as she waved from where she was probably curled up on Niq's feet.

He could smell rabbit. Niq was wearing her literally-bunny bunny slippers. Danielle's position made so much more sense.

"I don't have freaky werewolf senses over here," Niq commented dryly. "Are you family or a burgler?" There was a scuffle then a soft, petulant growl from the couch. "Go eat the burgler, Danielle."

"'S just Derek," Danielle grumbled, before shooting up and eyeing Derek hopefully. "Can we get burgers? I think we deserve burgers."

"I deserve to sleep for a month, and to be done with breastfeeding already, I swear to god," Niq groaned as Derek walked around to stare down at her from the end of the couch. Her hair was pulled up off her neck with an oversized clip, and Niq just looked wrong with her hair a mess and no makeup. The sweats and bunny slippers were, at least, somewhat normal for lounging at home.

As advertized, Niq had her sweatshirt unzipped and Erin was happily taking advantage of the open nursing bra.

Niq tilted her head back again, giving Derek a pathetic look. "In lieu of that, I will accept offerings of burgers. Drive in burgers. And curly fries. Because you're going to make me eat a salad too."

Danielle shot up with a triumphant noise, already scurrying to get her purse.

"Vegetables are important for both of you," Derek pointed out.

"Lies," Niq muttered, making a face.

Derek snorted and shook his head. "Where's everybody else? I don't think we should leave you two alone."

"Olivia's around. Not sure where." Niq shrugged, unconcerned. "Paul and your parents are out with the terrors at the nursery. They're doing weeding and learning about vegetables and insects. And they're doing that so Peter and Tania could spend the afternoon with Matt. They're in town, I think."

And Laura was still at the garage.

Danielle came thundering down the stairs, while their grandmother simply bypassed them, jumping directly from upstairs. She shot Danielle a mischievous grin as she headed into the study, and ruffled Derek's hair as they passed one another. Never mind the fact that he had at least six inches on her.

Derek huffed, but his grandmother just grinned. "You kids go have fun. Don't get anything for me. I've already eaten."

He knew. She still smelled of blood.

Danielle didn't need any more prompting, though. She grabbed his arm and practically dragged him out the door.

He'd complain about being bullied into going back to town in his running clothes, but really. Drive in.

"You don't really need me to come with, you know," Derek felt obligated to point out, as Danielle herded him toward the passenger side of her car.

"Yeah, well." She paused for a moment, shrugging before pulling the door open and ducking inside. "I'm leaving soon. I'm kinda freaking out, okay?"

Derek sighed and folded himself into his seat, then reached over to cradle Danielle's neck while she drove.

-----

He missed Stiles' next visit, but there was a plastic bag on his hook in back, holding a DVD with a post-it note on the cover.

Watch and Learn - Stiles

-----

Laura tried to tease him about watching a Disney movie, but she settled in to join them when Matt pulled her down and curled up in her lap.

By the time the credits started rolling, Laura's legs were hooked over Derek's and they both had an arm tucked around Matt. Paul had settled on Derek's other side, instantly gaining a Stacia in his lap, and Peter had just poked his head in.

Laura squinted at the screen then looked down at the pleading eyes of the three terrors. "Okay. Let's watch it in Spanish next."

Jacob growled softly but Gwen was already fetching Laura the remote. "No captions!"

-----

Stiles thankfully didn't ask why his DVD had gone missing for so long. The toothmarks Gwen had left in the case would have been hard to explain, and the replacement copy hadn't shown up yet.

Lilo and Stitch was a miracle. Gwen would actually sit still and watch until the credits were over.

Derek drew Pudge, sandwich and all, in the corner of the page he and Stiles were talking through. Stiles laughed and drew in another fish, narrower and with more exaggerated markings and eyes. "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

And that.

That was catching.

Derek glared at Stiles as the earworm worked its way into his brain, but Stiles just stared back placidly before sketching in a quick, cartoony version of the Tinge front counter, with Derek glowering behind it.

It was Stiles' first attempt at a person other than himself, or a setting. Derek didn't put too much thought into what he felt about that.

-----

He still had that song stuck in his head by the time he'd gotten home. According to the internet, Stiles' fish had been from something called Finding Nemo, which was...all about fish.

Derek forwarded the link to his mother. Gwen loved the fish in Lilo and Stitch more than anything else, aside from Stitch.

-----

A few days later, he returned Stiles' (new) copy of Lilo and Stitch by shoving it in Stiles' bag while he was sitting with Cara and a client who liked listening to them babble. The note he'd left inside was a sketch of a pickle, a potato and a spoon, with the text One of these things is not like the others.

Two days, and Stiles passed him a note via Tony, while Derek was with a client. You say po-tay-toh, I say po-tah-to. Somehow, spoons are involved. The majority of the page was taken up with a cartoony depiction of Stiles' face, sticking its tongue out.

It wasn't bad, really.

He kept it, and didn't examine why.

-----

It only took two days after the new movie arrived for Derek to deeply, deeply regret suggesting Finding Nemo to his mother. The song was even worse in person, and Gwen never failed to shriek at the first scene with the shark. And the anglerfish. And the whale.

But it kept her calm, and the kids were picking up Spanish and French faster than the adults could keep up with.

-----

The next time Stiles' sketchbook visited, they filled pages with potatoes in hula skirts, stereotypical hula girls, and cartoon versions of everyone in the shop plus several of Stiles' classmates, sometimes with accompanying stories.

Stiles nodded solemnly as he stared down at one of Derek's hula-skirted potatoes that was being hugged by a dark haired hula girl that Stiles had sketched in. "That? That is something no one should ever have as a tattoo."

"Yeah."

-----

It was an understood law of the Hale household that things will break. They've broken windows, walls, furniture, the staircase railing, virtually everything in the kitchen except the tea strainers, and more light fixtures than anyone wanted to contemplate.

Derek's mother and uncles knew carpentry, because they'd had an unstoppable need to destroy furniture as children. Derek and Laura could replace a window in record time if they had all the materials, and had more experience patching and painting walls than they wanted to admit to. If something with an engine needed fixing, it was best to ask Laura, Peter, or Danielle. If it had to do with electrical wiring or plumbing, it was Danielle, Paul, or Derek.

All together, they probably could build a house and have it not suck.

DVD players were still beyond them.

Gwen didn't take that very well.

-----

Derek waved at Vic as he slipped in through the back, and rolled his eyes when she just pointed at her ears. She knew his ear buds weren't actually connected to anything, and that he could hear perfectly well with them in. It was just a matter of appearances.

He took them out and stored them in his arm band all the same. "Anything new?"

"Good morning to you too." Vic snickered and shook her head, gesturing him on toward the bathroom. "You've got a consult at noon. Robin lady finally called back. Other than that, nada. No change."

Derek nodded acknowledgement and went to change into his work clothes and drag a towel over his hair. The bell at the front door rang, but between the muffling of the walls, the radio station Vic had turned on for the morning, and his own muttered curses when his bootlaces decided to tangle, he couldn't tell anything more than that. When he opened the door, though, Stiles' scent had joined Vic's.

"...Thursday?" Vic muttered. "Will that timing be okay?"

"Yeah, it's late enough."

Vic laughed. "Uh-huh. You are crap at staying on topic. I wasn't putting you anywhere except at the end of a shift, since you'll probably run over."

"Hey! No fair bringing up the truth."

Vic laughed again and was sliding the appointment book away when Derek came around the corner. "Have you figured out what you want for that yet?"

"Heeeeeey, Derek." Stiles waved awkwardly with an exaggerated smile stretched across his face. Vic snickered before turning to face him, not even bothering to try looking innocent.

"What are you two up to?"

Stiles looked supremely disappointed in him. "Do you really want to know? It's me. Worse, it's VIC."

Vic nodded sagely, armed crossed under her chest and appointment book safely fenced in by her hips.

"Exactly. It's you and Vic. That almost implies that I need to know."

"In good time, Derek. In good time." Stiles leaned over the counter to give his arm a friendly pat, ignoring Derek's incredulous eyebrow. "Uh, wow. Do your workouts work out? Your arms need zip codes."

"What."

A pair of young men walked in then, holding hands. They took one look at Stiles, half draped over the counter and pawing at Derek's arms, then the taller of the pair smirked and bumped hips against his partner. "I think I like it here."

Vic slumped sideways against the wall and slid down it, giggling hysterically.

Stiles managed to escape while Derek was forced to deal with the customers, and of course they didn't want anything complicated enough to let him pawn them off on someone else. Why would reality be that kind?

-----

He had no new consultations scheduled at all on any of the next few Thursdays.

He wasn't admitting to anybody that he'd checked.

Chapter Text

Derek hated the front desk the least, so when Cara's birthday rolled around, that's where he was. He had two appointments (a touch up and a small addition to a previous design) over the eight hours that he'd be there, and he only had that because Cara had to take a break once every few hours.

Tony would sulk. Vic would eventually crack and close the shop entirely.

The shop was leaking happy-Cara by the time he got there, and Tony didn't wait for Derek to change before he ducked out, laughing and dodging balls of lavender wrapping paper as he went. Cara made a face at the door when it closed behind Tony, then went back to cleaning up her work station. "I am so invoking Laura on his ass. Jerk gave me prunes."

Snickering, Derek walked over to ruffle her hair. "You're thirty-six. Practically a baby still."

"Says the twenty-something," Cara scoffed, waving him off. "Come on, go change. My next appointment's in half an hour."

"Yes'm."

The bell rang just before Derek was finished, and even with the door closed he could hear Stiles shouting, "Happy birthday!"

He heard a scuffling noise from the front as he opened the door. Most likely, Cara was trying to duck behind the counter to hide her blush, or she'd failed to get off the stool gracefully and had fallen into the wall when she couldn't get her legs underneath her.

Again.

Snorting, Derek dropped his bag off under his hook and wandered up to watch the show.

Stiles hadn't even made it all the way inside. Whether she'd fallen down or not, Cara had made it out from behind the counter to grab Stiles up in a hug halfway to the register. She was bright red, grinning and laughing as she let Stiles pull away to hand off her birthday spoils; a coffee, a pastry bag that smelled almost offensively of chocolate and coconut, and a card.

Stiles turned and beamed at him as soon as Cara was occupied trying to juggle everything. He pulled another cup out of the carry tray he was holding and held it out for Derek. "Here, I got something for you too."

"Isn't he the sweetest?" Cara was...trying to open her card. With her teeth, because she hadn't put anything down.

Derek shook his head and took his coffee from Stiles, then started nudging Cara back toward the register counter so she could put something down.

He waited to try his coffee until Cara was settled and ripping into her card and Stiles was laughing at her from the stool they'd stopped putting away. Cara's amusement tapered off into curiosity as Stiles tensed in his seat and started scratching at his nose, but Derek was hardly paying attention to that.

This was his drink. His stupid, fussy drink that he rarely bothered with unless he was having a crap day.

Derek stared down at the cup for a moment, then turned his attention to Stiles, who was grinning like a loon. Next to him, Cara was wide eyed and amused.

In retrospect, it was a good thing the macaroons had overpowered the smell of the coffee. Stiles had obviously been betting on a reaction, and Derek asking about the drink before it even reached his hand would have been--something. Not good.

"How?"

Stiles shrugged, grin widening as Cara giggled next to him. "Uh. Well, I like the place across the street and all?" Stiles started, "but I knew that Blake's is the best place in town for...well, that." He pointed at the bag, which reminded Cara to go digging and resulted in another happy squeak as she discovered her coconut filled bounty; two gigantic macaroons with dark chocolate swirled over the top. "And...your sister's kinda creepy, y'know?"

Derek groaned and covered his eyes with one hand. Danielle. Cara jumped up to sit on the counter and watch them, exactly like they were never supposed to do, so Derek had to drop his hand again to swat her until she pouted and moved to a stool instead.

"I mean, we never really talked--I was going to say much, but no. I don't think we ever talked when she wasn't working, which doesn't usually count." Stiles shook his head. "Point being? She knew I knew you, and that was just freaky. I didn't think she'd have been able to pick me out of a lineup as someone who attended the same school as her."

She probably couldn't have. But she'd have known his smell from Derek, especially with a month for the sense of high school to fade.

"Danielle recognized you?" He'd have to talk with her about that.

"Not right away," Stiles admitted, grimacing. "I was kind of waffling over what to get you. I mean, I knew she was your sister and I could probably ask her? But I thought that might be weird. Then she just kinda squinted at me and asked if the third drink was for you." The smile came back, with something soft and warm in his expression that Derek couldn't identify. "You two must be close. I mean, I have no idea what she made you. She didn't charge me for your drink, though."

Derek huffed and looked away, then stiffened when Cara snickered.

"Oh, that's easy," Cara drawled. "Derek doesn't actually like coffee, see. It's more that he likes really hot coffee ice cream. He gets a white chocolate mocha breve with a single pump of almond syrup."

Stiles barked a laugh and Derek slumped against the counter, sipping his drink sulkily.

-----

Cara devoured one of the macaroons, despite the fact that they were about the size of one of Derek's fists. The other one she wrapped up carefully in some of the shop's cling wrap and hid in her bag for later.

Customers came and went while Stiles and Cara chattered, occasionally digging at Derek's barely-coffee drink of choice. (Not that Stiles had any room to talk. With the macaroons put away or consumed, Derek could finally confirm that Stiles' drink was just a hot chocolate.) More cards were dropped off for Cara, both by customers and the occasional friend.

It was loud and full of intrusions. It should have been annoying, but with Stiles and Cara spending most of her free time half leaning against one another, laughing and filling the space with happy and green, it was hard to feel anything but mellow.

Most of the day's appointments were Cara's, because that was honestly what she wanted to spend her birthday doing. Which meant that of course Murphy came knocking when Cara ran over.

Literally. Colleen Murphy, with her partial sleeve of over-saturated forget-me-nots that needed a few extra flowers added, for balance.

"It's a curse of my name," Colleen confessed to Stiles, as Derek headed back to check in with Cara.

"Cara..."

"I need ten minutes to finish, Derek." And Cara was calm, almost placid as she kept the machine moving while she talked. "It's not worth rescheduling for."

The bell rang and Derek wanted to growl.

"Hi! Welcome to Tinge."

Cara lifted the machine away from her client and turned to exchange a startled look with Derek. He turned on his heel and hurried up to the front.

"Uh, hi." The voice was almost familiar. A woman who was working on a bird of paradise with Vic, he thought. He mostly remembered the contradiction; the flamboyant ink and hesitant demeanor. "I just...need to reschedule a consultation?"

Colleen was sitting at the consultation counter now, one hand over her mouth to hide her smile. Stiles was...behind the register, opening the appointment book like he did it every day. "Sure thing. What's your name, and when was your appointment?"

Derek stared for a moment, but kept his expression neutral when the client glanced his way before answering Stiles' questions.

Stiles slapped a post-it note on the appointment book with the information, once he'd confirmed it against the schedule, rather than changing anything himself. Otherwise the process was--almost exactly the same as when any of them had to do the same thing.

Which probably shouldn't have surprised him, considering how much time Stiles spent watching them.

Vic's client left, and Stiles offered the book to Derek with a sheepish shrug. "Uh. I hope that was okay. I mean, if you guys just need ten minutes, I'm pretty sure I could do that. So Colleen doesn't have to wait?"

"Go for it!" Cara called from the back, and Derek shrugged before gesturing Colleen into the back.

Colleen laughed, already pulling off her over-shirt to bare her arms. "Thanks, Stiles. Feel free to come back and keep me company later, if you want."

Stiles laughed and waved them off.

When Cara had finished with her client she took the time to clean up her area rather than rushing off to relieve Stiles. Derek could hear them talking about how he'd taken the notes, and Cara's approval for his use of post-its. Then Colleen was grinning past his shoulder and Stiles was pulling a stool over (Vic's. again.) to sit at his side, automatically settling at the perfect distance to not disrupt Derek's work.

It felt like he belonged there.

-----

The family celebration was a little...wilder.

Cara and Vic brought salmon and ostrich meat for the grill, carefully packaged in several empty veggie-burger boxes. Because Cara was a Hale, married in or not.

The bonfire was lit early, so they could have a few s'mores before dinner. Niq took over the grill with Erin tucked into a sling, while Tania and Vic kept Matt and Stacia occupied in the kitchen, ripping up herbs, mixing the salad, and cutting easy vegetables.

Everyone else ran. Cara was flushed and panting at their center, but that didn't stop her from playing with the rest of them. Danielle shifted human just before half-tackling Cara with a hug and darting away again. "You're it!"

Cara laughed and waited, winding her way through the trees at her own slow speed. Another It was chosen among the wolves and they kept playing, weaving through the woods and dodging close to Cara to make sure she never felt alone.

Maria bounded past Cara, freezing and ears perking up when Cara tensed and crouched. Derek paused behind a tree to watch. His muscles were shaking with the effort to keep himself still and quiet, to not laugh.

Cara crouched further and smiled before she bolted, away and to the side. The wolf that was his mother yipped joy and gave chase, knocking Cara to the ground and snuffling her face happily before Cara had gone ten feet.

Well past them, Peter and Paul were laughing as Cara wriggled onto her back and smiled without teeth up at her alpha.

"You're it."

Maria's ears twitched annoyance and she snorted before taking off after her brothers.

-----

The first time Stiles came in after the temperature really started rising, he was wearing less clothes than Derek had ever seen him in. A t-shirt and long, loose shorts. No layers, but he wasn't foolish enough to wear sandals into the shop, at least. It was still surprising to see his legs at all. More surprising to see the definition in them and that they were tanned, considering they never seemed to see the light.

"Hey...uh." Stiles blinked and stumbled to a stop before he'd reached the counter. "Um."

Derek blinked slowly at Stiles and raised his eyebrows, waiting.

"Okay, right. Um, just. Wow, you have arms." Stiles blinked several times rapidly and turned away to grab his stool, but not before Derek saw the flush crawling up his neck. "I mean, obviously you have arms. Your profession kind of requires that you have arms. And with the whole, yeah, accidental groping of your biceps that one time. It's just-- They're there."

Derek rested one elbow on the counter and braced his chin in his hand, waiting to see how much worse this would get before Stiles managed to stop.

If he'd known that switching to a tank top would be this entertaining, he'd have done it ages ago.

Stiles gestured wildly over his head once he'd gotten his stool in place, glowering at Derek as though he knew exactly what Derek was doing. "And you are not helping, with the eyebrows and the staring and oh my god, dude."

He was flushed and flustered, his sweat making his scent more pronounced. Earth, spices, sour-wood.

Musk-spice-apple.

That was new.

Derek watched as Stiles huffed and pointedly pulled out his sketchbook. The embarassment was still there, but the flush was mellowing in pace with that new scent the longer Stiles kept his attention diverted.

The new scent spiked again when Derek reached over to pull the sketchbook closer. When Stiles' eyes flicked up to track the movement and froze on Derek's bare shoulder before snapping back to the book.

Derek bit the inside of his cheek and turned his attention to the sketchbook to distract himself before he memorized the scent of Stiles' want.

Stiles drew a fast impression of Derek, with an angry, glaring face and arms like a gorilla. Derek retaliated with a picture of Stiles off to one side that was all thin, flailing limbs. He smiled when Stiles finally reached over to punch his shoulder lightly as Derek was adding the ninth arm.

-----

Gwen bit a girl at the park.

Derek didn't find out until he got home and was able to sense the distress and tension. She hadn't shifted in public, hadn't done damage past bruising, but she had lost control. She had hurt people.

She had shifted once Peter had gotten her into the minivan and out of sight. She'd also bitten his arm, deep enough to cause a mess that couldn't easily be explained away, before she'd started to calm down.

Gwen didn't get to go into town anymore. Not until her control improved.

Laura, Paul and Danielle were curled up in a pile with Stacia and Matt in the big room. Derek wormed his way in once his father had given him the news, hooking his legs over Danielle and bracketing Matt between himself and Laura.

Paul rumbled quietly as Danielle relaxed and pressed her face against his knee.

-----

"I made cards for everybody," Stiles announced a few days later as he strode in, handing Derek the pink envelope from the miniature rainbow in his hands. It was still punishingly hot more often than not, but Stiles had switched to layering thin overshirts over tank tops.

"...why?" Derek frowned at the envelope, but waved Stiles through to the back so he could see Tony and Cara.

His envelope had an Angry Birds theme sketched in around his name, only with Angry-Derek face's and potatos instead of birds and pigs.

It said something that he could recognize Stiles' Angry-Derek face without effort or hesitation, even in such a ridiculous context. He suspected it was the eyebrows.

"Because I'm going on a trip with my dad. I'll be gone for a couple of weeks, and I'm going to miss you!" Stiles' voice rose as he wandered further into the back. Cara and Tony aww-ed in sync, which was just typical.

Derek frowned but opened his envelope, carefully ripping around the stegosaurus sticker Stiles had sealed the flap with. The cover was a decent copy of one of Derek's hula-skirted potatoes. The shading was a little sloppy, but otherwise...

Inside was a comical drawing of Derek scowling behind the counter, then smiling cheerfully at a group of customers, then scowling worse than before with little rain clouds and skull-and-crossbones behind his head, and the giggling heads of Vic, Cara and Tony peering around the wall at him. A scrawl at the bottom said Cheer up, sourpuss!

On the opposite page was a cartoon of Stiles languishing dramatically in the passenger seat of a car while an older man sang and looked cheerful behind the wheel. The mangled nature of the notes around his head implied at least part of the reason for the exaggerated torment Stiles was displaying.

Under that was the text I'll be thinking of you., and at the bottom...

It was one of the best Stiles drawings he'd seen so far. A self-portrait, still cartoony but more realistic than most of his work, leaning out a car window and staring into the distance. He had a pencil over one ear and was holding several pages loosely in one hand, either not caring or not noticing that several pages were flying away.

Derek checked the back of the card, but the only decoration there was a continuation of the blown away pages. He cleared his throat softly and carefully put the card back in the envelope so it could join the slowly growing collection of Stiles-art on his wall.

It would be easy to read into the card, but he wasn't sure what it was he should be looking for. Besides, it wasn't like he was the only person to get one.

When Stiles came back to the front, all smiles and flushed from being noogied by Tony, Derek just nodded and held up the envelope.

"You're getting a lot better."

Stiles...drooped. His scent went...soggy? Damp, anyway. But he shrugged and dredged up a grin before the moment stretched long enough to be commented on. "Thanks, man."

Then he left. For two weeks.

-----

Stiles' prediction of how those two weeks would go was disturbingly accurate. He could practically feel the little thunder clouds and bones hovering around his head, and he could smell the amusement coming off Vic, at least. Cara seemed torn between amusement and honest sympathy, and had taken to leaving candy at the register for him. (It made him think about Stiles.) Tony, strangely, seemed more relaxed than ever.

"It's hard to find you intimidating like this, dude." Tony commented one day, shaking his head and smiling like he wanted to laugh. "I mean, I know you could still wrap me around a telephone pole. But seriously."

Derek hated everything.

-----

Gwen hated everything too.

She shifted more often, and rarely went a day without crying. Having her parents around wasn't helping as much as it should have, and they could only stay home so often.

The heat made her cranky, which meant they couldn't let her out, which meant she got angry, which meant she shifted. Which meant, sometimes, that she hurt someone.

No one slept well while Gwendolyn was locked in the safe room, howling.

No one was sleeping well. Period.

Chapter Text

Derek growled and shoved his head further under his pillow when his phone buzzed. It was the morning after a full moon run. That meant he didn't work and that he'd probably only been asleep a few hours. It was also the best sleep he'd had in a week because Gwen had finally been exhausted enough to pass out.

The phone buzzed again. He reached blindly for it and pulled out from under the pillow enough to read the screen. Vic.

He glared at the phone, weighing his choices, but the combined forces of 'boss' and 'family' had him sighing and flipping his cell open on the third ring. "What."

"It really is amazing you're capable of interacting with customers at all."

There was a bit of distortion from the phone and static from wind on her end, but Vic sounded smug rather than cajoling, so it wasn't likely she needed him to come in for an extra shift. "I get paid to be nice, then," he muttered, and checked his clock. Alright, six hours of sleep. It still wasn't enough. "Does this call have anything to do with me being paid?"

"Nooo," she said, drawing the word out until Derek was gritting his teeth. "I just figured I'd give you a call on my break like the kind and loving cousin that I am and let you know Stiles is back. He was disappointed when he realized this was one of our weird weeks. But I know you've missed him too, so..."

On one hand, he hated seeming predictable, let alone pathetic. On the other hand-- "He's still there?"

"Yup. I slipped out after we got the hugs over with, and he's settled in with Cara and the tiki-mask guy."

Which meant he'd be there for a while. "Thanks."

"Yah-huh. See you soon."

-----

He managed to catch a ride into town with Danielle, who didn't have the advantage of either making her own schedule or working for understanding packmates, so was pulling an afternoon shift at Blake's. It only cost him the promise of a babysitting-free Saturday night to convince her to leave a bit earlier than she'd wanted.

Derek slipped in through the employee entrance and into the shop itself, grinning when he saw that Stiles was perched on a stool facing the other way. Thankfully, Cara shared the Hale pack's sense of what sort of situations were funny. She saw him coming but didn't telegraph it, just returned to her work with a smile.

When Cara finished taping the bandage in place over the new tattoo, Derek took the last step forward and hooked his chin over Stiles' head.

It wasn't a risk he'd have taken if he was human, especially with someone like Stiles; all movement and joints, half the time. And Stiles didn't disappoint, slamming his head into Derek's jaw as he jerked in alarm, then catching Derek hard in the side with a flailing elbow when he tried to turn. It hurt, but not that much and it was gone before Stiles had managed to re-orient himself.

"Oh my fucking god, don't do that to me." Stiles slumped with a hand dramatically splayed over his sternum once he'd figured out it was Derek. Cara had completely lost it behind him, reassuring her client that everything was alright around gasping laughs.

Stiles rubbed a hand over the back of his head and Derek winced along with him, belatedly re-thinking his approach. "Dude, you're lucky I have a hard head. Man. Is your jaw okay? I hit you pretty hard."

He had, and right into the sensitive spot toward the back. But it wasn't even sore, now. "I'm fine. Maybe your head isn't as hard as you think."

"Well, that isn't necessarily a bad thing." Stiles grinned up at him, moving out of Cara's working area so they could talk without being too obnoxious. "You, sir, are not on the schedule today."

Derek shrugged, but there was no way he could play this off entirely. "Vic called. Said you missed me."

That earned a round of stuttering indignation and a wave of green-tinged happy. "That is a total lie." Derek just stared at Stiles until he slumped, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. "Okay. Maybe I had expressed some slight level of disappointment that you weren't here, but it wasn't like it was a big deal or anything."

"Mhmm." Derek ran a hand over Stiles' head, smiling at the irritated flapping the gesture merited. "Come on, I'll buy you a hot chocolate or something."

He nudged Stiles further into the back where his bag was hanging. On Derek's hook, even.

Stiles raised a judgmental eyebrow in his direction. "Hot chocolate? Not coffee? I mean. I brought you coffee."

"...Cara said you don't usually drink coffee. With her, anyway." Which was a lie. Cara never talked about their chats at the coffee shop, whether they were consultations or not. But she always came back smelling more strongly of chocolate than anything else, outside her own breath, and the one time Stiles had brought a drink in with him, it was hot chocolate.

That was kind of difficult to explain to someone who didn't know about werewolves, though.

Stiles gave him a suspicious look, but grabbed his bag. "That's kinda stalker-ish, Derek. I'm just sayin'." He shrugged, the wary slant to his shoulders set aside easily as he called a goodbye up toward Cara and Vic and slipped through the door. "But yeah, that's normally how it goes. I would kinda kill for a burger or something, though. Haven't had lunch yet."

"Lunch it is, then."

"Floyd's?" Stiles offered, even as he peered around the alley the back of the shop emptied into. "They have the best fries."

Of course Stiles was addicted to the same fries Niq was. Derek laughed in the back of his throat and gave Stiles a nudge in the direction of Floyd's. "That's fine."

"Did you know that Floyd's has never actually been owned by somebody named Floyd?" Stiles was close to vibrating at his side as they walked, mouth moving faster than his feet. "When drive-ins started going out of fashion, the place was bought by a Zachary. He left it to his son Steve, without having done much with it. Steve's the one who made it Floyd's. Because he thought that sounded like a guy who should own a burger joint.

"Steve expanded the building so they could be a proper sit down place, and kept the drive-in facility mostly for character. Now it's retro and fashionable." Stiles rolled his eyes and sidestepped almost into Derek's side to avoid a puddle of something. He didn't move quite as far when he stepped back out of Derek's space. "Steve wanted to name his kid Floyd, but his wife threatened to divorce him. Then they only had girls anyway. I think Olive's running the place now. It used to be Heather, but I think she finds being an EMT less stressful."

Stiles turned toward him with an expectant smile and Derek felt himself smiling back before he had a chance to think about it.

Then Stiles was off again, filling their walk with pointless trivia. It was weirdly soothing.

-----

Stiles didn't even bother with the menu, once they'd been seated. He shoved it off to the side and opened his backpack, eyeing the table skeptically for a moment and rubbing his fingers over it before pulling out a notebook and a few pencils.

He flipped to the back of the book and set it between them, even as Derek was setting his own menu aside.

"You should start," Stiles said, holding a pencil out. "I have been drawing long enough now that I've become aware of how much I suck. The internet tells me that's a normal stage of development, so don't tell me otherwise."

Derek snorted and started penciling in a stairway crossing one corner of the page. Outline complete, he turned the notebook to start on upside-down arches and another set of stairs.

Labyrinth offered wonderful inspiration and solutions to the difficulties of drawing with someone with a different concept of where 'down' was.

Stiles had started drawing little creatures making their way over the first set of stairs when the waitress came to take their order. They were distorted and impossible, hovering somewhere between Jim Hensen and Dr. Seuss.

They were also far more interesting than food. Stiles kicked lightly against his shin to remind him to order, then made a horrified face at him when he requested a salad instead of fries.

He liked vegetables. That wasn't a bad thing.

Stiles scoffed and went back to drawing but...he was quiet. Derek hadn't bribed his little sister to bring him into town in order to hang out with a pod-person.

He nudged at one of Stiles' feet. "How was your trip?'

Stiles startled, his pencil skidding across the page before he could pull it up. Derek turned the random line into a slightly curved flag pole for the tiny puff of fur Stiles had been drawing to carry.

The flag pole was about ten times its height, but why should that matter?

Derek carefully sketched a tiny stegosaurus onto the flag, then gave it shading so it would look like it was waving in a breeze while Stiles blinked at him.

Eventually, Stiles grinned. "It was okay. Kinda weird. We were visiting my aunt. My mom's sister. She's kind of the only extended family I'm allowed to see, who knows who I am."

Allowed to see? Derek gave Stiles a curious look, but he was already plunging ahead. "I mean, it's not that I don't have more extended family. My aunt has a boatload of cousins who've had kids, so I have all these second cousins over in Nevada and...elsewhere. I dunno." He shrugged, turning a frown down on the page where he was trying to draw a flying thing with teeth chasing the stegosaurus flag. "I mean, I don't really keep track of the ones we see every couple of years, y'know? We just get introduced again every time we wander over. Let ourselves get dragged to a church thing even though Rachel, that's my aunt, rolls her eyes about it. I don't think she goes, like, at all, when we aren't there. Which is kinda weird, but whatever."

Derek sketched in a girl with limbs that were too-thin and too-long to sit on a landing between two mismatched staircases, her hair falling in dramatic swirls into the air above her head. Stiles added a small school of fish swimming through and around her hair.

"It's great to visit, but I'm kinda glad we don't go more often. Rachel and Dad don't have much in common except, y'know, my mom. So we go to a lot of movies, which mostly works. But..." He paused, shrugging uncomfortably. "I remind her of my mom, even if I don't look much like her. So sometimes she gets this tight look on her face when I do something, and I can't even tell what it is I'm doing to make it happen." Stiles glared at the page and drew a bat-like-thing in amongst the flying fish. "Sometimes I think that's really why she goes to church when we visit."

Their little city of stairs was starting to get too populated, so Derek snagged the book and flipped the page before setting it back. "That doesn't sound like fun."

It sounded horrible, really. And completely alien. His mother's aunt had a daughter, he knew, who had wanted marriage and family and nothing to do with werewolves.

He'd never met either of them, or his great-aunt's mate. They'd severed their ties and left the pack before his grandfather had settled into being the alpha, after their mother died.

It was still a touchy subject for the family. More traumatic than losing Vic and Edward's parents and grandmother in one night.

"Eh," Stiles offered, shrugging as he frowned at the page before sketching in the shape of a head. The shoulders he gave it were entirely out of proportion, but Derek wasn't going to call him on it. "It was fun, I just...have issues. I dunno."

He exhaled heavily before looking up and grinning at Derek again. "The church thing was actually fun this time, though. They were doing a bake sale and social to raise funds for their choir, who really do kick ass and deserve new robes or whatever. So it was low on the religion and high on the singing, cookies and gossip."

Derek filled in another figure, leaning toward the upside-down (to her/him) shape Stiles was forming. He made a curious noise, and that set Stiles off again.

"One of the couples had the most ridiculously adorable four year old in existance." Stiles frowned, carefully erased the line of an arm, giving it a bit more curve and changing its position as he went back to it. And suddenly the horrible proportions made more sense. Four year olds and adults looked nothing alike. "All blonde curls and gigantic green eyes and a gap in her teeth. Totally weapon-grade cute."

Derek translated that as a blonde (and probably paler) Stacia, only a bit younger. He figured it couldn't be that far off. His figure became a woman, with wide curious eyes and a sharp nose.

"I think the cute is the only reason she's still alive," Stiles added as he started working short, riotous curls around the chubby little fingers he'd given his drawing. And...clumps of something. "Her mom bought her a rice krispie treat and apparently turned away at some point? I don't really know. All I know is that one moment everything was normal and the next people were practically falling over laughing. Because hardly any of that rice krispie thing went into her mouth. Most of it went into her hair."

Some of the curls looked like snakes. Derek gave the mouth he was working on subtle fangs, and sketched in the impression of a nest of snakes flowing from the woman's head. He could work with a medusa. Snakes were more interesting than most hair, anyway.

Stiles' drawing developed a mostly impressionistic face. Faint lines where the curve of a cheek should go, an impression of gapped teeth, closed eyes and a snub nose. He hadn't finished yet when he stopped working, started tapping the eraser against the page as he watched Derek's snakes take shape.

When he put pencil to page again, he filled the space between their drawings with--a lumpy column.

Derek quirked an eyebrow at it, forcing a smile down when Stiles scowled and blushed at him. "Shut up, okay? Just--shut up." Derek let his other eyebrow join the party and Stiles pointed his pencil at him. "No, seriously. Talking for you includes the eyebrows."

There was a snort of laughter and their waitress was right there at the edge of their table, sliding plates in front of them. Stiles made a face and grabbed his burger, accidentally knocking a fry onto the notebook and smearing the page with grease before he was able to snatch it back up.

Derek smiled at the blissful noise Stiles made at getting that first fry into his mouth, then turned back to the waitress, who had no real reason to still be hanging around.

"Just holler if you need refills or anything," she told him, winking and grinning before she walked away.

What the hell was that about?

Stiles was managing to eat with one hand, while continuing to draw with the other. The lumpy column now had more distinction at Derek's end, and Stiles was drawing something wrapped around it, but entirely flat.

By the time he was a few bites into his salad, he realized it was a snake. A snake wrapped around an arm.

The irregular shaping suddenly made sense. It was still kind of horrible, but it made sense.

Derek wiped his hands clean and waved Stiles off the book, flipping the page and drawing a few quick models of hand-to-elbow for Stiles to work with before going back to his burger.

Stiles kept drawing one handed around first his burger, then clumsy handfulls of fries. He was still sketching in coiled snakes, bodies shaded lightly just to make them stand out, rather than anything coherent done with them. The first of the new arms didn't have multiple turns. Instead, Stiles started with an ouroborous, the mouth eating the tail toward the outside of the arm, up near the elbow.

"Are snakes a thing now?" Derek asked, honestly curious. It hadn't been that long ago that Stiles had been complaining about animal symbology, had it?

The corner of Stiles' mouth quirked up and he let his next fry fall back onto the plate. "Yeah, I guess. I mean, I don't want a snake tattoo? Not now, anyway."

The next snake coiled three times like a gauntlet from wrist to mid-arm. Stiles left the head and tail for last, overlapping them at the back of the wrist, so the three lines briefly became one.

"They just...it feels right?" Stiles shrugged. "I think I'll want one eventually, but I don't know why yet, so yeah. It's gonna wait."

He drew another coiling snake on the third arm, with the tail starting at the elbow and coiling three times before stopping, headless, just below the wrist. "--you can create illusions with tattoos, can't you?"

Derek pushed his plate aside and leaned forward, giving Stiles an expectant look. Stiles was looking through the page more than at it, his voice as distant as his eyes.

Frowning vaguely, Stiles tapped his eraser against the unfinished snake. "Could you put a head on both sides of the wrist? Without it being obvious, from most angles."

He turned the idea over in his head while Stiles abandoned his pencil to finish off his fries. When the image settled, he grabbed Stiles' pencil and changed the fourth hand-model he'd drawn in, making it thinner with lumps for the styloid process and--the lumpy bit on the palm side, which he could never remember the name of.

Whatever.

He implied a shallow curl coming from one side of the snake, hooking up around the styloid to where a head could go. The other side of the snake he continued, ignoring the new curve and creating another that flowed mostly naturally from the body. Sketching in a rough diamond over where the two bodies diverged from the original, Derek used the floating point to decide where the other side of the split should to and traced both necks back to it. The join was neatly contained at the back of the arm, where it would be least visible.

Derek glanced over to where Stiles was grinning, leaning forward to get a better look, and he smiled. "Yeah. Looks like it's possible."

Their waitress came back, proving that she had horrible timing as she waved their tab at them and asked if they wanted anything else. Derek gave her his card before Stiles had even fumbled his wallet out, and quirked an eyebrow at his glower.

"You offered to buy me a coffee---or the equivalent thereof, anyway--not lunch," he pointed out. Derek shrugged and smirked, earning him an exasperated eyeroll. "Okay, fine. But I'm contributing to the tip. Or covering it. I don't know, since you didn't even let me see how much lunch was."

He put his pencils away, turning the notebook and grinning down at the designs before stowing it in his bag as well. He gave Derek a narrow eyed look once the bag was closed. "Not rejecting to my ideas anymore?"

"This one has merit." Derek shrugged, looking away. "You're more serious about it, now. That goes a long way."

Derek didn't look back at Stiles, but his voice was warm as he said, "Yeah. I guess I am."

-----

It wasn't until Stiles had left that Derek realized he didn't have his running gear. That he'd look a bit odd running through town in jeans and boots.

He sighed. It was a long walk to the edge of the preserve.

Maybe first thing in the morning after an intense moon run wasn't the best time for him to make plans.

Chapter Text

For the kids, September meant that classes started again. The first day Matt, Stacia, and Jacob left for school was...bad.

"What do you mean he's calling out sick?" Vic hissed. There was the muffled sound of a door closing from her end of the connection, barely audible over his mother's sigh. "He doesn't get sick. He can't get sick."

"He can be wounded, Victoria." And no one was foolish enough to argue with his mother when she used that voice, all steel and power and not a hint of give to it.

Derek lost track of the words after that, drawn into the pain searing down his leg. He tried to focus on the taste and feel of the leather in his mouth, on his breathing, on Tania's voice or Peter's steady heartbeat.

It wasn't enough when new pain cut in over the old. The world flickered on the edge of black, and Derek pushed it over the edge.

-----

When he woke again, his leg still hurt, but it was in the vague, itchy sort of way that meant his body was probably trying to eat stitches.

He was on the green couch by the smell of the blanket draped over his shoulder. Even so close to his nose, the blanket was faint in comparison to the lingering impression of blood that clung to the room. He was stretched out across the length of the couch, with Tania's thigh under his head and her hand smoothing his hair back. And she was...

Apologizing.

Derek shook his head, pushing himself up. "Stop it, Tania. It's not your fault."

"I don't know what else we can blame them on." Tania twisted her hands together and scowled down at them, as though they held the secrets she was looking for. "She's better now, but the smell of blood was--" Tania sighed. "Maria and Peter are out running with her now." She lifted her head to give Derek a wry look. "I think she's forgotten that we let everyone else go to the 'real' school, but not her."

But she'd remember when they came home, if not sooner. Derek groaned and Tania nodded, sharing the thought.

"This is a horrible day," Derek remarked. "Do you need to take the stitches out? They feel like they're--" Tania was already shaking her head. Derek bent his leg to the side and leaned down to look at it. There were two scars, one a neat line down the back of his thigh and the other a rough swipe across it, just above the knee. There were no stitches.

None visible, anyway.

"I had to use string, because they're all internal." And werewolves didn't have the luxury of stitches that would dissolve. "Gwen cut through one of the tendons when she tackled you, so we had to reattach the muscle. The stitches were just to hold it in place until your healing caught up."

"Great."

Tania barked a laugh, shaking her head. "Take it easy. This isn't a light injury."

He hummed agreement. "What about you? You're supposed to be on duty today."

"McCall was able to switch shifts with me. I've covered enough family emergencies for her that she still owes me." Tania grimaced at her watch. "I should go clean up, though. You'll be alright?"

"Lots of food and fluids, walk cautiously, don't be an idiot," he recited obediently, before shrugging and adding, "and don't dig the stitches out, no matter how much they itch." Tania laughed, and he gave her a smile that was probably weak, even if it was sincere. "I'll be fine."

She smiled and leaned in to nuzzle his hair before leaving.

-----

The next day, Derek didn't bother looking up when the bell rang. He'd heard Stiles coming from half a block away, the combination of his heart rate and his steps unmistakable.

"Hey," Stiles offered instead of a greeting, before draping himself over the counter to squint up at him. "You okay?"

Derek snorted and gave Stiles a gentle shove against the forehead to get him off the counter. "I'm fine."

"But you weren't here yesterday." Stiles snagged his stool and glared at Derek. "Vic said you were sick."

"Stomach bug," Derek grunted, turning his attention back to his sketchbook. "Not pleasant. Done now."

Stiles paused a moment and Derek could feel his stare. "Wow. You're so...wordy today."

Sighing, Derek swapped his professional sketchbook out for the one he kept for random doodling. It was already more than half full, mostly of 'conversations' with Stiles.

"Ahunh, words suck. Got it." Stiles nodded, pulling out one of his own pencils. "I'm going to have homework like this, this year. Eventually, anyway. Supposedly." He made a face at the page and started drawing in a...giraffe? Maybe? It had a long neck, at least. "I figured, I could try art or I could do second year Spanish and, really? I suck pretty hard at Spanish."

Derek smirked and gave the giraffe thing a speech bubble. Mis amigos necesitan ser castigados.

Stiles stared at it for a long moment before pointing at Derek without looking up. "Jerk." Derek laughed, and hid his grin in one of his hands when Stiles finally looked up to make a face at him. "You know, I didn't have to come here and make sure you were okay. I could have stayed home and played video games. But noooo, I wanted to see you." Stiles rolled his eyes extravagantly, but he was smiling. "I have one last week of freedom, dude. Let me enjoy it, would you?"

In response, Derek drew a jar around the giraffe.

He'd forgotten. Stiles would be going back to school, only coming in after class.

He'd start smelling like high school again, instead of Tinge.

-----

There were no more serious injuries.

Gwen was moved to sleep with her Aunt Maria and Uncle David for a while, since they were the only ones who always had flexibility in their schedules. Stacia moved back in with Jacob, and Gwen's things were moved into one of the empty rooms, so her scent could start filling the space.

If Stacia and Jacob were gone already when Gwen got up, she'd whine a bit but she didn't. lose. control.

And if she did, Maria was there with a growl, a heavy hand, a howl. Because Gwen was only six, but she was still a werewolf and she would obey her alpha.

Whether she wanted to or not.

-----

The math assignments showed up first.

"Every other teacher needs to assign readings, or gives the students a bit of a transition period," Stiles groused. "But not math. Oh no. Why would we need to review before diving into a new and wonderful world of formulae? I don't know either."

Derek finished making a schedule change and shoved the appointment book away before sliding over to watch Stiles work.

He hadn't brought math in, last year. It just hadn't shown up.

It was starting to make sense why.

Stiles flicked a pen back and forth in his left hand, the pencil in his right tracing out symbols and numbers with hardly any hesitation. The problems were like waterfalls, a starting point with a steady downward flow of numbers. Stiles only paused when he flipped the pencil up between two fingers and checked something on his calculator.

Derek shook his head as Stiles made a frustrated noise and flipped to the back of his page for the last three lines of a problem. "I hated math."

He'd never thought it looked beautiful before.

"Yeah, well." Stiles shrugged, frowning as he set up the next problem on a new page. "I figured Lydia would notice me if I was good enough at it." He paused to snort, and didn't look up to catch Derek's frown. His scent was...strange, twisted up with conflicting impressions. His voice was off as well; self-depreciating and not-quite-hurt. Sore, in a way that didn't relate to his throat at all. "The stupid thing is, this class is going to be easier for me than it is for her. Math's just...it's straightforward. It's easy."

Stiles looked up, smiling wryly. "But that's the problem. It's easy for me, because it's straightforward and I can follow along fine. It's harder for Lydia because she's brilliant." More sore-ness there, and frustration alongside honest admiration that was...honestly, strong enough to be a bit disturbing. It made Derek want to growl and drag Stiles home with him. "She's just...amazing. And she's going to change the world, and win a Nobel Prize, and probably eventually be the first write-in presidential candidate."

Derek hoped his face was conveying his skepticism sufficiently, because he didn't think it would all fit in his voice. "And this means she'll have trouble in math?"

"Not trouble," Stiles scoffed, waving the idea off as ridiculous. "Mostly, she knows how to do so much more already. It's hard for her to hold her back to just the simple stuff."

"Simple," Derek stated, hoping his disbelief came through as he picked up Stiles' last page, eyeing the problem. He couldn't even tell what it had been asking, let alone what Stiles had done to answer it. He did suspect that the banana in the margin was extraneous, though.

"Well. Straightforward." Stiles shrugged again, already caught up in the next problem. "Have rules. Have problem. Apply rules to problem until problem becomes answer. Double check. Done."

He was already halfway down the next page.

"I would've thought you'd like math," Stiles teased, glancing up with a grin. "No words."

Derek watched the pencil flow from one symbol to another, considering the lines it made, before sliding back and pulling out his personal sketchbook. "Give me a math problem. An easy one."

The pencil stopped moving as Stiles looked up, frowning in confusion. "Uh... What is three cubed?"

It felt like a flower, so Derek drew three oblongs, curving up from a central point. He layered petals around them, one point for each oblong and another two overlapping the base of each. The petals grew smaller and he did it again, three petals to one, from the previous set. He drew in the sepals and some base greenery, because the image wouldn't be complete without it, and slid the book over to Stiles.

"...just becaue it's a different language, doesn't mean it's the right one?" Stiles guessed, adjusting the book so he could get a better look.

Derek nodded and pulled his sketchbook back, contemplating what an equation would look like as an arm band.

-----

At the end of the week, Jacob was waiting for Derek at the treeline when he ran home. A quick glance toward the house showed no adults in easy range, but his dad was sitting on the porch with Stacia in his lap and Danielle curled up against his side. So Jacob wasn't entirely unsupervised, at least.

Derek crouched next to Jacob, letting his bag drop to indicate he'd be willing to wait if he needed to.

"I miss Gwen," Jac finally offered, scowling at the dirt.

Sighing, Derek ruffled Jacob's hair and pulled him in for a hug, smiling when he wriggled closer. "Not surprised. We can't let her hurt anybody, though."

Jacob nodded, sniffling a bit now that his face was hidden. "She bit her mom."

Derek froze, looking toward the house again. There wasn't a pull that meant his family was in distress, and the reek of anxiety wasn't there. But.

"What did Mom tell you?"

Jacob grumbled in his chest and rubbed his face against Derek's shoulder before pulling away and frowning up at him. "She said bitten wolves don't feel things right. That they're still like humans." His frown deepened, and he sounded doubtful. "But that's not right. Grandma and--"

Derek pressed a finger against Jacob's nose, quieting him. "Tania was only bitten a few years ago. The others were bitten before I was born. It's different. She's still more human than wolf. It's why Tania stays home sometimes, when we're playing. It's not...her instincts aren't the same, yet. And she feels things differently."

His father had explained that, the first time he and Laura had tried to play with Tania after she'd taken the bite, and he doubted either of them would ever forget it. Their mother hadn't used words when she'd expressed how upset with them she was.

Jacob nodded sullently, and Derek took his finger away. "Is Gwen gonna be okay?"

"I hope so."

-----

Roughly a third of the family drove Danielle down (and down, and further down) to UCI for her move-in weekend. Derek and Laura held her smushed between them in the minivan the entire drive down.

"Oh my gooood," she whimpered, leaning across Derek's chest to look out the window. "How did I think I'd survive this? There aren't any trees."

Laura flopped over her back, ruffling a hand through her hair. "There are so. And I heard this rumor somewhere that they have a pretty good comp-sci program."

Danielle grumbled and hid her face against Derek's shoulder, and they all ignored Peter when their uncle had to actually pull over until he had his laughter under control.

-----

The trip was epic, and Laura was no longer allowed that far south until Danielle either left or specifically invited her. But honestly, Derek just wanted to forget the whole embarassing thing.

-----

That Monday brought Stiles right after school, fidgeting and reeking of nerves in a way he hadn't for months.

Derek let him take his time as they settled in with a sketchbook. Waited while Stiles abandoned half-finished doodles to frown at the page or just move straight to something else.

When his leg started twitching, Derek flicked his nose with the blunt end of his pencil. "What."

Stiles scowled and rubbed at his nose. "Hey! Abuse!"

Derek resisted the urge to roll his eyes, knowing that a flat stare would get results faster.

"Fine, bossy," Stiles scoffed, twisting and bending to get a grip on his bag to pull it up. The move exposed a thick wedge of skin along his side, and Stiles flailed for a moment once he was upright, trying to keep his bag balanced while tugging his shirt down and belatedly remembering that he was still holding a pencil.

The folder he tossed to Derek was plain and blue, with the glossy kind of cover that didn't take doodles well.

"Go on," Stiles waved at the folder, refusing to look up from where he was fussing with his bag. "It's just my art homework. It's not going to bite you."

He flipped the folder open and...it was a maze, he thought. There were no obvious entry points but there were double backs and dead ends. But the real problem was the shape it made.

Three spirals, caught in a circle.

"I want to invert the colors for the final version, so the paths and the background are black, and the lines are white," Stiles explained, curling over his backpack and frowning at the page. "But that's a lot of coloring, so I need to finalize the design pretty soon."

For a high school art project, what he had now was probably fine. The lines were uneven and one of the spirals was offset, but the idea was there. "What was the assignment?"

"We were supposed to make creative use of having just two colors to work with." Stiles rolled his eyes. "I think about half the class is splitting an image in half and pulling a harlequin effect. That just didn't strike me as particularly creative."

Derek smiled, tracing the maze's path out from the center to try and figure out where the beginning point was supposed to be. Unless that was it. "You could always use contrasting colors."

"Oh my god, don't even," Stiles moaned, slumping in his seat. "I like complementary contrasts as much as the next budding art geek, but come on."

Derek snickered. He remembered what the early stages of art classes were like. More importantly, he remembered what the other people were like. Namely, horrifying. "So what did you want my help with?"

"The circles are killing me," Stiles admitted. "I know how the lines should go, by this point, but I just can't get the circles in the right position so it works. This one's off, somehow, I think." Stiles pointed to the spiral that was slightly too far out, slightly offset between the others. "But I don't know how to fix it."

"Stop thinking circles. Start with triangles."

They worked through creating an equilateral triangle. Through making a compass with a bit of string and a pin. Through finding the center for the outer circle.

The new page was a mess of pencil marks and smudged ink, but Stiles was going to end up tracing it regardless, so it didn't matter that much.

Stiles shook his head at the page, tucking it back into his folder and grinning at Derek. "Thanks. I mean, this is the sort of stuff I was hoping I'd learn. Not that the vanishing point and negative space aren't cool, but it doesn't help so much with the actual pen to paper part."

"Useful, not just cool," Derek corrected flicking Stiles' forehead this time. "And you have us for help with technique."

"Ahunh." Stiles laughed and scooted his stool over so he could lean against Derek's side. He smiled and ducked his head when Derek leaned back. Apple. Spice.

"Seriously, though. Thanks."

Derek hummed and brought a hand up to scuffle over the remains of Stiles' hair. "What is it with you and threes, anyway?"

Three cubed. Three snakes. Three coils. Three spirals, in a maze.

Stiles shrugged. "I dunno. It's been a thing, lately."

-----

Gwen hadn't bit anyone in a month. Hadn't lost control either, though she was still prone to shifting without warning and going a bit feral. She hadn't hurt anyone, though. It was improvement.

Her parents tried taking her into town as a special treat, when she went through an entire week of handwriting practice without having a fit. Nothing went wrong.

Gwen had a room to herself, away from anybody she might accidentally hurt, and sleep was no longer a horrible lie.

It wasn't perfect, but it was good enough to let them relax.

Chapter Text

There were a few very specific advantages to being a werewolf tattoo artist. He could smell when someone was too inebriated to get a tattoo, regardless of how they were acting. He could smell when ink had gone off, when the pain was getting to be too much, or if a client was ill. Even with the gloves in the way, he could feel a flinch or a twitch coming before it reached the surface of the skin.

Derek smelled Stiles before the bell rang, but he couldn't look up. It wouldn't do any good anyway, he was working behind the wall and couldn't see the door from where he was. And besides that--

He gritted his teeth and pulled the machine up and away again as the scent of the skin he was working on soured and a faint tremor shivered up against his fingers. Another spasm flinched across the man's back and Derek straightened for a moment, rolling his neck out while he had the chance.

Movement and red at the edge of his vision brought his attention up to see Stiles leaning around the wall to wave. Derek twisted his lips up in what was hopefully a wry smile and nodded back before turning his attention to the client again. Stiles took one look at the guy in the chair, grimaced and vanished back around the wall.

"Sure you don't want to break this up?" Derek offered. Again.

"Just finish it."

Derek rolled his eyes, since the client was looking the other way regardless, and examined his work. It was mostly just black work and filling in. It shouldn't be taking this long. It wouldn't take this long if the pain tolerance the idiot had boasted about apparently didn't extend to needles. At all.

It wasn't something Derek minded, usually. They charged by time, after all. But the client was rude, he was making Derek miss out on part of a Stiles visit, and there was also the fucking tattoo itself.

Any irony or amusement that had ever existed in doing wolf related tattoos had vanished a long, long time ago.

Half an hour later, Twitchy finally hit his endorphin rush and they managed a decent rhythm for a while, with Derek coloring in bands within the design rather than going straight across, to give the guy's skin a bit of a break. It had the additional benefit of looking intentional, since Twitchy was obviously hung up on appearances and there was no way they were going to have time for the whole thing.

Cara leaned around and knocked on his side of the wall. "Hey. Don't forget your consult. You're about five over already."

Derek bit back a snarl and looked at the time before cleaning up the band he was on.

"What?" Twitchy half turned when Derek set the machine aside. He sounded like less of an ass when he was doped up on endorphins.

"Out of time," Derek said, as he wiped the guy's back down and set the bandage in place. "Cara will help you schedule another session and go over your after care instructions again. We'll probably need at least forty five minutes to finish, with how twitchy you are to start, but it shouldn't take much longer than that."

Twitchy grunted but didn't protest, slipping carefully into his shirt and leaving with only minimal prompting. Derek stayed behind to clean up as quickly as he could, wiping the chair down and prepping the machines he'd used for the autoclave.

He'd forgotten about the consult entirely, since someone else had scheduled it in who knows how long ago. It hadn't been a name he recognized, and his brain kept trying to correct it to Stalin, which was unlikely. So now his day was even more annoying, since it meant he was probably going to not get any time with Stiles at all.

Cara and Twitchy were still going over after care when he finished up and came out. And he really needed to remember that guy's name, so he didn't call him that out loud. Stiles was curled up on the bench with...Cara's portfolio propped open on his knees, completely covering his face. The hell. His scent was angry and worried, which was new and didn't make any sense.

There was also no sign of Stalin, or anybody who might potentially be associated to that name.

Derek reached around Cara to grab the appointment book and flipped it open. Twitchy was Whitte. There was probably more to his name than that, but it was good enough. And his missing consultation was Stilin, not Stalin.

Whitte-whatever finally left, still a bit dazed but clutching his aftercare instructions like something precious. Which they were. He didn't have anyone else with him, which was unfortunate but not Derek's business.

Cara grabbed the appointment book back and gave him a pointed look, and Derek huffed back at her. "What?"

"Your consultation?" She prompted, gesturing toward Stiles with the appointment book. "Like I told you?"

Stiles was watching them over the top of Cara's portfolio, and his scent was losing the angry pepper note. Derek blinked at him then turned back to glare at Cara. "The book says Stilin, not Stiles."

"Yeah. Stilinski? His last name?" Cara stared back at him, eyes slowly widening. "Oh my god, Derek. Did you really not know his last name?" She broke out laughing when he glared harder, her scent spiking with nearly hysterical glee. "You are, like, the worst stalker ever."

"Because I'm not a stalker!" It was so hard not to growl. Cara was family, she'd understand. Stiles...wasn't. Really, really wasn't. And wouldn't.

Stiles was also laughing at this point, while hiding underneath Cara's portfolio as though that would help.

Derek walked around the counter and snatched the portfolio away so Stiles could see exactly how unamused he was. "Stilinski. The sheriff?"

"Ye-up. That'd be my dad." Stiles nodded enthusiastically, wincing when he bumped his head back against a leg and flailing to try and catch it before it could topple over.

Crap.

"I am definitely not a stalker."

He hadn't meant to say that, hadn't even been entirely aware he'd been thinking it, but it made Cara collapse against the wall and Stiles nearly fall off the bench laughing, which flooded Tinge with green, and bright, and happy. So it wasn't all bad.

Derek scoffed and wandered toward the back for his things while Stiles recovered. But his scent spiked into a metallic note that clashed badly with Cara, and he was only a few steps behind Derek when he grabbed his jacket off the hook.

He turned back to look at Stiles, confused. His hand was right on the strap of his bag, his shoulders were relaxing out from a clench that had drawn them in and up, the laxness of his face implied relief, even if he was rolling his eyes and doing his best to put on a show of exasperation.

Fear. That had been fear.

Of...Derek getting his things?

Of Derek leaving, maybe. That seemed more likely, but still strange.

"Floyd's?" he offered, watching Stiles' shoulders slump even further as a smile came back to his face.

"Yeah, okay," Stiles nodded along with his words, adjusting the grip he had on his bag. "I guess it's been a while since you've eaten, yeah?"

Derek jerked his head toward the door as he grabbed his bag and followed Stiles out. "Yeah. And twitchy clients always make me hungry."

Rabbits were twitchy. It was an unfortunate association.

Stiles laughed, loud and bright. "Twitchy? Oh, man. That is good to know."

That sounded familiar, and familiar might explain why Stiles had been hiding. Derek frowned at him. "Did you know him?"

"Yeah, we have a couple of classes together." Stiles shrugged, like that wasn't weird as hell. Twitchy didn't look anywhere near Stiles' age. "I won't use this newfound information against him, though. Or, well..." Stiles grimaced and shrugged. "I'll try not to, anyway. I know that'd look bad for you. It's just-- He's a jerk. It'll be nice to remind myself that he's 'twitchy' if I have to deal with him."

There wasn't much he could say to that, and he wasn't sure he wanted to.

Floyd's was coming down off the last dregs of the lunch rush, from the look of things. A waitress paused in wiping a table down to wave them in and toward a bank of seating options. Stiles shot her a salute and snagged a menu from the stack before seeking out a table based on, apparently, how clean the surface looked.

Stiles pushed the menu across the table to Derek and grinned when he just pushed it toward the edge of the table.

"Menus are for wimps, huh?'

Derek snorted. "We could have done this the last time we were here, you know."

Stiles shrugged and worked a folder out of his bag. Derek wasn't sure if he was intrigued or disappointed by the fact that it wasn't the same folder Vic and Tony had been passing back and forth at the beginning of summer. "I had the idea then, but I hadn't finished my research yet. I haven't found exactly what I want, but I've got a load of not-quite-rights."

"Is this a different piece than what you were working on with the others?"

For the amount of work they'd put into it and the number of short appointments they'd had for it, whatever they'd been working on should be fairly massive and intricate. But it was Stiles. Derek had spent nearly three times the amount of time on Cara's breast cancer fence than he would have for a usual client and he wasn't alone in that little quirk. Tattoos were personal, and when you knew the person the process of designing them just...took longer, sometimes. Sometimes, because the artist's own sense of the person went against the design they wanted.

"Oh yeah. Totally different tattoo." Stiles nodded with a playful grin. "I am apparently a horrible person. I made them collaborate."

The waitress appeared out of nowhere, making Derek flinch and possibly growl, if her startled jump was any indication. Stiles, thankfully, just barreled in with his order as though nothing was out of place, and the waitress shook off her reaction in favor of trying to keep up.

"You getting the same thing?" Stiles shot at him, barely waiting for Derek to start nodding before he'd gone back to the waitress. "And a double cheese bacon, everything but pickle, 'cause he's a weirdo, and a salad with Italian instead of fries."

"A-hunh." The waitress' eyebrows arched up as she glanced between them, but she picked up the menu and walked off when Derek didn't make any corrections.

He stared at Stiles. Stiles stared back.

"You memorized my order."

"I remembered it, that's different. Who gets a burger and doesn't get fries? I mean. Blasphemy!" He shook his head as though to clear his brain. "Besides, you remembered I don't usually drink coffee, and I've never gone for coffee with you."

"You brought me my favorite coffee."

"That was your sister's fault."

They stared again, until Stiles snagged his water for a long, pointed drink.

"What do you have Tony and Vic working on that you needed both of them?"

"Well, I didn't really need both of them. Tony probably could have done the whole thing but that's not..." Stiles frowned, shrugging uncomfortably. "I didn't want that."

Derek waited, patient in a way that only came from getting answers after months of wondering. Or hunting rabbits.

"I had a lot to think about, after seeing what you did for Cara. I wanted something like that. That really meant something. But when I thought about it, I had four things to represent, not one. And I had four friends. So it made sense to make it a--sort of a group thing? So I have all the designs I want, and something to remember everybody at the parlor by. Y'know?" Stiles nodded, not waiting for Derek to respond. "So, yeah. Cara's going to do the ink, Vic and Tony did the design. 'Cause Cara's normal style's just...yeah." Stiles gave an exaggerated grimace and shudder. "Not what I'm after."

"So where do I come in?'

Stiles looked like he was about a minute away from chewing on his folder, just so he'd have something to do other than talk. About this, anyway. "Well. Four things, right? I wanted...I wanted something for my mom. But I didn't want it to just be about what-- Yeah. Anyway," he coughed, clearing his throat before continuing. "But that's important too. And my dad, because he's--I think he got the short end of the stick, y'know? He had to deal with--with losing her, and raising me, and just...everything. So he has to be there too. So that's what the others are working on. And it's all one piece, because it should be. It's all mashed together." He took a deep breath and pushed the folder across the table to Derek, finally meeting his eyes. "This is for me."

Derek held the stare for a few moments before he took the folder. Stiles glanced down at the movement, which let Derek look away. He flipped the folder open and nearly stopped breathing.

The top sheet wasn't art, but a photocopy out of a book on the meaning and usage of the triskele. The next two pages were images, variations on the triple knot and triskele with notes scribbled in next to them. An image of three hares in knotwork had just a LOLno next to it, and a version with hounds said maybe? no. All the knots had a single diagonal line drawn through them. The notes on the spirals were more specific.

No endless line, next to one of the more labyrinth-like variations that had a single line doubling back on itself to create maze with no entrances or exits. No outlines, next to a variation with jagged points coming off the spirals where spirals weren't filled in. There was a triskele with a thick X through it and a note of WTF because someone had apparently done a plaid-filled triskele.

No central gap pointed to three different triskeles, one with a triangle at the center, one with a starburst, and the third with a yin-yang (which also had trying too hard scribbled in next to it). The triangle-gap had a second note of better spirals while the starburst said way too swirly.

There were notes on the amount of space between the lines of the spirals, on how thick the lines were, on every embellishment that had been added to the lines, on clean lines in contrast to more organic ones. Not plants existed alongside rep 3 at tip of spiral - only there or all through?.

The next few pages were obviously Stiles in origin. The overall shape was fairly similar to begin with and only grew more consistent with practice. The lines were just slightly thicker than the gaps between them, the spirals met at a central join a bit thicker than the individual lines, and each spiral had roughly three turns to it. Most of them were a bit uneven, a little lopsided and offset. But they were just practice. The ones toward the end had traces of triangles behind them.

Plates appeared on the table. Derek distantly noticed the waitress as not-a-threat and moved the papers out of the way by instinct. The last pages were hand written notes on the triskele, clips of other resources that had notes and highlighting worked into them, and the notes on the rejected symbols that were most likely just there because they'd been part of the process. The very last page was just a list. Animal, vegetable, other at the top tier, with various options and meanings with notes for contradictions before the page became too much of a mess of cramped text to deal with.

Out of habit, he checked the back of the page and the back flap of the folder just in case there was anything else (a drawing of a triskele using snakes on the folder itself, with the note poor snakes! pointing at where their tails merged) before closing the folder.

"Do you even know you do that?"

Derek looked up, surprised to see that Stiles' plate was untouched. Somewhat surprised to realize their meal had arrived at all. "Do what?"

Stiles shrugged and gestured at the folder. "You check the backs of things. You did it with my notebook one time, and that was before we'd even started drawing. I mean, you were helping me with my history last year, and you just flipped through my notebook once we'd covered the last of my notes, to see if I'd written anything else on the rest of the, like, fifty pages. You checked the backs of the cards Cara got for her birthday, when she passed them to you."

Derek raised his eyebrows and waited until Stiles huffed and looked away, as though that would keep Derek from noticing that he was blushing. "Which one of us is supposedly the stalker?'

"Hey, I'm just observant. Sheriff's kid, remember? Which, it's still really amusing that you didn't know that." Stiles grabbed a gigantic curl of a fry and shoved it in his mouth.

For all they managed to talk, they'd never really talked about Stiles, he realized. Or himself, really. Definitely not his family, and that was starting to feel like it might need to happen.

Maybe he could ask Vic for tips on bringing up the whole werewolf thing. But...

When had this escalated? Derek rubbed at his eyes, trying to remember when exactly Stiles had become someone he wanted around all the time, in a more than platonic way. Jailbait, he reminded himself firmly.

"...okay, you're starting to make me worried I've, like, offended your honor with my choice or something. We are technically supposed to be talking about the...you know, tattoo thing? Am I just-- I'm starting to feel like I should have talked with you about this first, and that's kind of weird. Do you..."

Derek reached across the table to nudge Stiles' plate toward him. He took the prompt and grabbed another fry to shove into his mouth.

"Not offended. Just..." It was a nasty thought, itching at the back of his mind, and Derek frowned, catching Stiles' eyes again. "Have you talked to anybody else about this?" he asked, tapping a finger against the folder. "Vic? Cara? ...Tony?"

Anybody, anybody at all, surname Hale?

Stiles shook his head and shoved another fry into his mouth instead of talking, which...probably for the best.

"Where do you want it?"

Stiles coughed and there was a sudden spike of embarrassment and arousal in his scent as he jerked his attention up from Derek's mouth to his eyes again. "Uh..."

Derek covered his eyes with a hand and dragged it down his face, inhaling slowly to try and disrupt Stiles' scent a bit. But he'd just had his hands all over something Stiles had spent considerable time holding, touching and carrying, so it wasn't very effective. "The tattoo."

Stiles coughed, red in the face but gesturing to the left side of his chest. "Ah, here. Heart-ish. The other design's going to go on my back, in the same spot."

That was a relief, at least. Derek nodded and cleared his throat, dragging his own plate closer. "We should talk about this. Back at the parlor."

Stiles squinted his eyes but actually finished chewing before responding. "Tomorrow?"

"Once we're done here."

Chapter Text

Cara made a face at Derek when they came back. "I know this is a great working environment, but really?"

"Hush, you." Derek shucked his jacket off and set it aside, and pushed Stiles toward the bathroom as soon as he'd put his bag down.

"Oh my god!" Cara trailed after them, sounding half affronted and half alarmed. "Do I need to call his father, Derek? Derek!"

Stiles was nearly as red as his hoodie by the time Derek pulled the door closed behind them, and his eyes looked like they were trying to pop out of his skull when Derek started taking his shirt off.

"Oookay. If you get any more naked, I think I really do have to call my dad," he said, his pitch slowly rising along with the intensity of his scent. "Which, just so you know, I probably wouldn't if this weren't, like, totally random and..." He trailed off as Derek turned his back.

Derek glanced over one shoulder when he heard Stiles take a step forward, catching sight of a hand being pulled back mid-reach. And he wanted. "You can--It's fully healed. I've had this for years."

And refreshed it at least once a year, but it wasn't like that mattered. The tattoo healed almost as fast as Vic could lay the ink down.

"That's..." Stiles touched his back then, just fingertips trailing briefly along a curved line, then pressing gently as he mapped out widths. But then the touch was gone again. "That is so freaky. It's just the right amount of swirly and the gaps are the right size."

Derek nodded, not entirely willing to respond yet. He was wrapped up in musk-spice-apple, and had to suppress a shiver when Stiles's hand came back, started tracing the spirals. He didn't want to disrupt that. Ever.

He could see the lines of it, in his head, lighting up with a warm glow wherever Stiles touched.

Eventually, Stiles let out an embarrassed cough and pulled away, fisting his hand and pressing it against his jeans as though he'd just figured out he had been very close to petting Derek. Like he wanted to protect the lingering sensation in his own skin. "Right. So. You asking if I'd talked to anybody else about this makes--more sense, now."

Derek grunted and stretched his neck out before pulling his shirt back on and turning around. "If you'd wanted the same placement, I'd have been skeptical of your highly informative head shaking."

That got a laugh out of Stiles, at least. "Uh, yeah. I could see that. But, ah, yeah that's--that's exactly what I wanted." Stiles made a face and rubbed the back of his head. "Is there some sort of rule against getting the same tattoo as your artist? I mean, if he's a friend, or," Stiles jittered, stepping back and looking to the side abruptly, baring his neck in a way that put unhappy knots in Derek's stomach. Because even if it wasn't instinct for Stiles, the gesture matched the nerves he could smell. "You know, someone you know. And it's not like I did it on purpose or anything, I just..."

"I like it, actually."

Stiles froze, one hand knotted in the hem of his shirt and eyes wide when he jerked his eyes back to Derek's face, his heartrate speeding up. "Uh. What?"

Musk. Spice. Apple. Twice as strong as before.

He hadn't meant to say that, but Stiles apparently just did that to him. And it felt right. Strongly, intensely right, so he stepped closer and said it again. "I like it."

"You..."

Someone rapped, hard, on the bathroom door. "Derek."

The bottom dropped out of his stomach and Stiles' eyes went wide and concerned at whatever he read in Derek's face. Derek hurried to open the door and step back so his mother could easily see that both of them were fully dressed, unharmed, and didn't smell of anything questionable.

...too questionable, anyway. She probably wouldn't recognize Stiles' arousal, but she defnitely knew Derek's.

Her eyes narrowed, glinting like they were only not turning red out of sheer strength of will as she looked both of them over.

And oh, did she smell pissed.

"Uh. Hi! You're--family, I take it?"

His mother's focus shifted abruptly to Stiles, and Derek tried not to slump in relief. Letting his...argh. Letting Stiles take the brunt of that wasn't exactly fair.

Then again, he didn't know that yet.

His mother smiled, no hint of teeth showing through. "I'm Maria. Derek's mother."

Stiles' shoulders twitched, but then he was stepping forward, smiling as he offered his hand. The scent of nerves and determination was almost enough to drown out the traces of spice and apple. "It's great to meet you! Derek doesn't talk about you much, but I guess that probably shouldn't surprise you. I mean, you've known him his whole life so it shouldn't be much of a surprise to you that he's not a big talker, right?"

"That's right. And you're Stiles?" His mother's smile widened, her eyes sliding past Stiles' shoulder to settle on him, far more amused than angry, now.

And when exactly had Stiles positioned himself between them? Derek didn't need to be protected from his own mother.

Much.

"Yeah, but. How'd you know that. I mean." He gestured broadly toward Derek. With both hands, just to make his point absolutely clear. "Derek."

Maria Hale laughed, covering her mouth with her free hand and moving to pat Stiles on the shoulder with the other. "Vic's family too, though a bit more removed."

"It's a good thing I already knew the Hales were a big group, otherwise this would be a devastating revelation," Stiles said, perfectly deadpan.

"Mother," Derek cut in. "What are you doing here?"

Stiles frowned at that, but the expression was barely a flicker, there and gone in a beat of his heart.

"You alarmed Cara when you came in off hours, shoved the sheriff's son into a bathroom and locked the door behind you," she said calmly, widening her eyes at him for emphasis.

Behind her, the edge of Cara that he could see slipped out of view, and-- Yeah, that sour-sweet-hot-metal was distressed-Cara all over.

He scoffed and turned away, showing his throat enough to make a point. "It wasn't locked..."

"Sorry, Ms. Hale. I think I kinda freaked him out."

His mother's attention zeroed back in on Stiles and she tilted her head inquisitively. "Explain."

It was...odd, watching Stiles interact with someone from outside Tinge. Strange to watch his mannerisms and remember what he'd thought of Stiles when he'd first met him. The way Stiles licked his lips during pauses, the loose gestures, the way his fingers sometimes twitched and shifted against the air. The way he so often looked away while he was talking, unless he was making a point.

None of it meant dishonesty or nerves, though they all increased when he was anxious or trying to get away with something. Mostly, it was just Stiles.

"We had a consult today, and--I kind of asked for, um, the same tattoo that Derek has? On his back." Stiles' shoulders bunched up and he turned around to give Derek an odd look. "And I really hope your mom knows you have ink, considering where you work. I don't really feel like I should need to apologize for this."

The front bell rang and Cara skittered past the bathroom on her way to greet whoever had just come in while Derek's mother barked a laugh.

"No, I know about that."

"Look, we should probably go." Derek offered, his voice lowered and tilting his head toward the front. "Have this discussion somewhere else, maybe?"

Maria's smile went a little predatory as she turned toward the back door, urging Stiles along with her. "We could bring Stiles back to meet the rest of the family. Would your father mind you joining us for dinner?"

Derek did his best to sit on a whine as he slunk after them.

Worst. Day. Ever.

-----

"I am still tempted to take off some skin for that little stunt you pulled, young man."

Derek slumped down a bit further in his seat, not taking his eyes off the road. Off the jeep his mother was following to the police station. "I didn't lose control. I just--I needed to show him."

"You needed to use words, Derek. We've talked about those, remember?" She sighed. "If nothing else, you owed Cara and Stiles an explanation of why you were suddenly possessed with the urge to drag him into a small, enclosed space."

He didn't respond, and she didn't make him. They both watched the jeep navigate its way through a four way stop in silence.

"What about Gwen?"

His mother tapped her fingers on the wheel, frowning through her words. "She's been doing so much better, and she needs to be around people. Having someone visit us will be good for her."

Derek huffed, hunching down further. "I don't like it."

"I'm shocked," his mother drawled, pausing briefly before changing topics. "Vic was definitely right, though. He is adorable. And the hoodie," she cackled, her fingers tightening over the wheel until the leather was protesting its mistreatment.

Derek thumped his head back against his seat. "Mother."

"I'm just saying." He refused to look, staring resolutely at the ceiling instead, but he could hear the grin in his mother's voice, smell her teasing affection. "Vic's been keeping us updated and for you, this is quite attached."

"He's seventeen." And he'd been sixteen when they'd met.

They pulled into one of the visitor parking spots at the station as his mother waved at Stiles before turning back to him. He didn't want to look, but he could feel the pull of her will against his and there was no resisting that.

She waited until he met her eyes before speaking softly and slowly. "Age is a number. It's important because it's the law, but what you need to focus on more is the person. Nobody miraculously changes just because they've hit a particular birthday, so don't tell yourself it's about his age. Look at who he is now, watch who he becomes. Use words, and use your brain."

His mother got out of the car and he followed, trailing after her toward the station.

Abruptly she shrugged, turning back with a mischievous grin. "If you don't use your brain, use his. He has good instincts."

"Seventeen."

"Protected you."

And there really wasn't anything he could say to that.

They were nearly at the door when Derek's skin went cold. His chest constricted suddenly and painfully, until it felt like his lungs were made of lead, and there was nothing in his head. There was nothing in his head.

He stopped, and his mother stopped with him, frowning as she peered into his face. Whatever she saw or felt as his heart rate kept tripping and racheting upward left her nodding. "Go wait by Stiles' jeep. We won't be long."

Derek didn't remember walking to the jeep, but the slick feel of the metal under his hands helped. The comforting sense of Stiles that was thoroughly soaked into the vehicle helped more.

Having a freak out in the parking lot instead of coming in to say hello in a calm and mature way was an excellent way to get on the sheriff's good side, Derek was sure.

It wasn't long. Stiles was laughing and alone as he came out, calling a goodbye to someone inside before shoving his hands in his pockets and shuffling across the parking lot. He was smiling, but there was a line of worry across his brow. "Heeey, Derek. You okay? You look kinda...damp. And paler than normal."

Derek snorted and pushed himself more upright. "I'm fine," he said, trying to force a smile.

Stiles just scowled back at him and took a step into his space to poke Derek firmly in the chest. "Don't you start giving me customer-smiles now, buddy. There is no freakin' way I'm going to put up with that if I'm meeting your probably-terrifying family, because your definitely-terrifying mother said so."

He caught hold of Stiles' hand when Stiles went to poke him again, but his shoulders relaxed, the pressure in his chest easing. "I'm fine," he repeated, and this time the smile came naturally.

"I'm not sure that's right," his mother cut in from far-too-close, making his pulse jump again, "but you're definitely doing better."

Derek huffed his irritation at her, and belatedly dropped Stiles' hand when she gave it a pointed look.

"You might as well ride with Stiles, Derek. It'd be bad form if we lost him."

Stiles slid into the jeep while Maria stepped in to be obnoxious and hug Derek before he could get away. She rubbed her cheek against his and huffed against his hair, her arms tightening until his body gave in and relaxed against her.

When she finally let him go, Stiles was drumming his fingers against the steering wheel and staring off in the other direction. He turned back when the door closed, grinning sheepishly. "Parents, huh. We ready?"

"Yeah."

"Not that I don't appreciate the company or the navigator," Stiles offered as he started the car and pulled out behind Maria's sedan. "But, your car? How're you going to get to work tomorrow?"

"I don't have a car."

The sentence hung in the air for several moments, the silence only broken by the faint noises of disbelief Stiles kept making. Derek started playing the alphabet game in his head, snagging letters from license plates as he waited.

"How the hell do you get to work, then? Or do just about, I dunno, anything?"

Derek grinned out the window, letting his teeth show a bit. "I run."

"You run."

"Yup." He popped the p at the end, enjoying the strangled sound of a stifled laugh that Stiles made.

"Dude," Stiles burst out abruptly, "your workouts actually have workouts."

Stiles laughed openly, and Derek hid most of his grin behind a hand. The seats were saturated with underlying notes of fat and high school, but for the moment everything was submerged in the scent of Stiles' joy. It was...nice.

"Soooo. That was your mom." Stiles nodded, eyes narrow as they tracked Maria's sedan. "She's intense."

Intense was just the tip of the iceberg, but there was no way he was explaining that. "Wait until you meet my sister."

Laura wasn't more intense than their mother, but she was less sane.

"Uh...high school?" Stiles tossed him a short incredulous look. "Coffee?"

Derek shook his head. "Older sister. Laura, not Danielle."

"You have an older sister?" That was honest shock in Stiles' voice. He didn't know what to do with it though, so he just nodded. "How much older?"

"Two years."

Stiles frowned and shook his head, then squinted as they turned off the last actual road and officially into Hale territory. "Uh. Wait..."

The tail lights of his mother's sedan disappeared around a bend as Stiles examined their surroundings, but at this point it would have taken effort to get lost.

"Okay, no, right," Stiles burst out suddenly, slapping his forehead. "We're going to your parents' place. That makes sense. So...where do you live?"

Derek shrugged. "With my parents."

"You still live with your parents?"

Stiles sounded incredulous, but that was one of the things he'd never understood about humans. How living apart was meant to show strength, somehow. "So do my uncles and their families. Live with my parents, I mean."

Vic had only moved out five years earlier, and that was just because Cara needed the familiar noises of town and easy access to the hospital for her peace of mind. Edward would be coming home to the pack's land once he'd finished his degree.

In Derek's eyes, the territory was actually kind of empty. They were missing an entire branch of second cousins. Two, sort of.

Stiles eyes were glued on the road, but growing steadily wider. He was also gaping slightly, which should have looked ridiculous, not kind of endearing. "That's--I knew you had a big family. I mean, everybody knows the Hales are a big family. You can't throw a beanbag without hitting a Hale, and we just aren't that small a town. But you all live in one house? I figured you were, y'know, spread out a bit."

It would've made more sense. It would have let them blend in better. It would have been safer.

They'd tried it. Everyone had been miserable.

In the distance, there was the rumble of his mother's howl and Derek felt a sharp tug behind his sternum. It was just his mother calling the pack in to explain Stiles, but it was hard not to get out and run ahead, all the same. He curled his fingers into his palm, feeling his nails grow out and press into the skin for a moment before exhaling slowly and drawing them back in.

"Vic lives in town. But otherwise, it's just one house."

"How many?"

Derek took a moment to pretend to think, though it wasn't necessary. "Living there? Sixteen."

Stiles swore under his breath and stopped the jeep. "Just. Oh my god, the grocery bills must be epic. And, like, bulk everything." He turned in his seat abruptly, hands fluttering in the space between them. His eyes were huge. "Are they all going to be there? Is your family a cult? Who doesn't live with you? How big is this house, anyway? Do you live in a Tardis? That's unlikely, but would be so awesome. And explain so much about you. And what the hell, that means you are actually running from all the way out here. What is wrong with you."

Vic and Laura had named this moment. They called it Hale-panic. That moment when the culture shock set in, whether they realized the reasons for it or not.

Derek settled in to listen, answering questions when he could, and enjoying the hell out of Stiles' disbelief.

Telling him about werewolves was probably going to be an epic spectator event.

Too bad Derek was going to have to be a participant.

Chapter Text

Stiles parked his jeep next to Maria's sedan, at the very end of the line of pack vehicles. "Hooooly shit."

"No one's going to blame you for staying here for a bit." Derek undid his seatbelt but made no move for the door, settling more comfortably into his seat instead.

Stiles just pushed his neck out further as he stared toward the house. Derek turned his attention the yard, where Tania and Paul were setting up the tables for a meal outside. The pack kids (babies excepted) were gathered in a rough circle to play a game under the direction of his dad and Grandmother Hale.

Considering the human warning, probably duck-duck-goose, rather than who's-the-bunny.

"Okay, no, I'm good. Just--there is no way I'm going to remember everybody's name. I am going to insult somebody so badly. Why did you let me do this? Why do you hate me?" Stiles fumbled with his own seatbelt without looking away from the family, but he had started smelling more curious than nervous now.

Or he did, until Laura appeared out of nowhere to stretch out across the hood of his jeep and grin dementedly at him.

Stiles jumped and squawked, flailing as his seat belt slipped and caught him around his neck.

Derek narrowed his eyes at Laura's grin and reached over to help extricate Stiles. He popped open his door for the sake of normality before gritting out, "Can we help you?"

"I want to meet Li--Stiles," she shrugged and pushed herself up to sit on the hood of the jeep. "And you took forever to get here."

"We stopped for Hale-panic," Derek sighed as he stepped out, ignoring Stiles' incredulous 'you have a name for that?' mutter.

Laura waved the issue off as irrelevant with a disbelieving snort, then hopped down to grab Derek in a hug that was half tussle. She huffed into his shoulder, her nose wrinkling against the fabric as she whispered "Ewww, you smell like high school. High school, Derek. Still so wrong" and subtly rubbed against him.

He was being scent marked by his sister in front of the underaged son of the sheriff who he kind of wanted to date. Why was this his life?

Stiles had gotten out of the jeep during the hugging and was now standing a few feet behind Laura, smelling amused and friendly and looking like he was about to die from not laughing outright at them. "So...Laura, I presume?"

That was all the reminder it took for Laura to whip around and start hugging Stiles instead, laughing as she lifted him up off the ground a little. "Hi!"

"Oh god. Please put me down."

Laura mashed her face against Stiles' chest instead of responding. She started gleefully chanting 'hoodie hoodie hoodie' into the sweatshirt; thankfully, softly enough that Stiles probably couldn't hear it over his own flailing.

"Told you." Derek shook his head in resignation. "Stiles, this is my older sister Laura. She's impossible, and doesn't know how to communicate like a normal person. Laura, this is Stiles, and he likes it when his feet touch the ground."

That made Laura snort, but she at least put Stiles down.

Stiles didn't smell upset, just grinning at both of them and taking a careful step back. "Uh, does that mean you think you do? Do the normal person thing, I mean. 'Cause I hate to tell you this, but..."

"I'm keeping him," Laura announced, hooking her arm around Stiles' and leading him toward where most of the pack was pretending not to watch them.

Derek followed a few steps behind, carefully ignoring how content he felt.

The game the kids were playing stopped before Laura had hauled Stiles more than halfway down the line of cars, Jacob and Stacia already running out to meet the newcomer. Matt was more cautious, hovering between the adults, and their grandmother was holding Gwen back with what looked like just a light hand on the back of the neck.

Nobody in the family tried to get away from Grandmother Hale when she had a hand on their neck. Not even the alpha.

He'd heard humans just pinched a person's ears. It sounded astonishingly less painful, but too prone to ripping with werewolves involved.

Stiles crouched down to be introduced to the kids, and just laughed when their greeting hug was more of a pounce, pushing him back to sprawl in the grass. "What is it with you guys? Pick me up, push me down... I want Derek back! He's less violent!"

Laura laughed loudly enough to cover their father's softer laugh, and the amused bark his mother gave from somewhere inside the house. Their grandmother just shook her head and led Gwen and Matt over to join the pile up on Stiles, to his increased laughter and joking protests.

Derek huffed amusement and circled wide around them to head inside. He wasn't going to be able to get close to Stiles until the kids were through with him anyway, and he might as well be useful.

-----

"You are so dead."

Derek raised an eyebrow at Stiles, pausing from where he was chopping tomatoes for the salad.

Stiles pointed accusingly at him with his unoccupied hand. "Don't you give me that look. You abandoned me. To babysitting. And you hid. Like a hiding thing."

Gregory gurgled happily from Stiles' left arm and waved a hand in Derek's direction. It made him want to rumble and rub against both of them until their scents merged into just pack for a while. Instead, Derek gave the baby a wooden spoon to chew on. "You seem to be enjoying yourself."

He smelled like he was enjoying himself. He reeked of baby, pack and general contentment so hard he was overpowering the tomatoes. Which was a feat, since they were almost directly under Derek's nose, along with the vine they'd come from.

"Totally beside the point. Hello." Stiles huffed at him and turned to lean his ass against the counter, grabbing the narrow end of the spoon and wiggling it for Greg. The baby growled in delight, hands waving as he tried to capture the spoon and hold it still.

It was a good thing Gregory hadn't shown signs of wolf yet. Tania had accepted the bite a full year before she'd gotten pregnant, and the likelihood of Greg staying human was slim at best.

"Would you rather be stuck here, cutting onions?"

"We don't need onions," Peter informed him haughtily from the other side of the kitchen island. "We could do with some lettuce ripping, though."

"Sorry. Hands full of baby," Stiles informed them cheerily. "Which I was told was a totally legitimate task and that I was helping, so I'm gonna stick with that."

Peter smiled and dumped the herbs he'd been chopping into the dressing jar before wiping his hands off and walking around to bury his face against Greg's tummy, much to Greg's wriggling, shrieking delight. Stiles threw Derek an alarmed look over Peter's head, and Derek had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.

"Peter! I swear to the gods, you are shameless..." Tania covered her face as she laughed, stepping into the kitchen to pull her husband away from their son. "Stop freaking the guest out. Is the salad ready?"

Grumbling quietly, Peter pulled back and kissed Tania on the cheek. "Almost. We're short on lettuce, though. Need another head torn up."

"I'll let David know." Tania turned her head and brushed a kiss over her husband's nose before winking at Derek and Stiles and flowing out again.

"Okay, the baby diving makes more sense, now." Stiles nodded to himself before turning to Derek and hefting Gregory up a bit. "Cousin? Via Tania and apparently-Peter?"

Peter laughed quietly, circling back to the dressing and sealing the jar. "I'm hurt, Stiles. We were introduced already."

"And you look a lot like your brother Paul, and I'm learning, like, at least ten new names tonight. Gimmie a break."

"Never." Peter grinned and moved to grab the last head of lettuce, ripping it down the middle just as a small herd of Hales descended upon them.

"Bathroom first!," David called out from down the hall, and Matt, Gwen, Jacob and Stacia ran through the kitchen, laughing and mildly filthy.

His dad was smiling indulgently as he made his way into the prep area, nodding to them as he entered. "They got excited at the idea of getting to help." Grinning, he paused to blow a raspberry against Greg's stomach on his way through, sending the baby into a flail of delight that nearly shoved the spoon up Stiles' nose.

"You had better be washing up!" he yelled down the hall as he stalked out of the room. "Otherwise I am going to eat your brains!"

Stiles stared blankly at him, and Derek shrugged. "This is normal."

"O-kay then."

-----

Once the newly-clean kids had been allowed to tear the lettuce into roughly mouth sized chunks (Matt being trusted with the much more important task of shaking the dressing, due to his advanced age), dinner was mostly ready.

Stiles had to be convinced to leave Greg with Peter, but was eventually lured out with the promise of grilled meat and assurances that Peter just needed to grab something a bit more baby-friendly for his son.

Dominique was presiding over the fire pit like a vengeful hearth goddess, Erin in one arm and flipping the last few steaks with the other. She whistled and waved her tongs in their direction once she caught sight of them carrying the salad and dressing out. "Hey! New kid! Bleeding or not?"

"Uh..." Stiles faltered, turning wide eyes to Derek.

"Your meat," he explained. "Moving, bleeding, pink or overcooked are the usual options."

Although honestly, most of the family thought pink counted as overcooked.

"Uh, pink?" Stiles called back at Niq, starting to wave before remembering the bowl of salad in his hands, and ending up jiggling the salad at her instead. Niq laughed, and Stiles slumped down a bit as he hurried after Derek. "Augh."

"Don't worry about it," Derek said softly, setting the salad and dressing in their usual spots and eyeing the table judiciously before gently hauling Stiles toward the empty slot next to the foot of the table.

Laura made wounded face at him from down the bench, which Derek happily ignored.

Stiles slid onto the bench without any issues, grinning across the table at Tania and nodding respectfully to Grandmother Hale as she took her seat at the foot of the table. "Hello again."

Olivia nodded solemnly back, a contented smile bringing out the lines her face was slowly admitting to. Tania grinned, and part of Derek's brain twitched at the show of teeth even as he sat across from her. But Tania was human at heart, Stiles was human, and it was best if at least a few of them still acted like humans. Derek knew that. It didn't stop his brain from twitching, but he knew it.

"Thanks again for watching Greg. He can be such a handful."

"Hey, no problem. He's an adorable grub."

Tania laughed and shifted to make more room as his dad trooped the kids and cubs contingent out. He helped settle Tania's kids in on either side of her, lifting Matt so he could slide in next to Niq while Tania pulled Gwen up on her other side, so she'd end up between her parents once Peter showed up.

David shot a look at Derek and Stiles, asking with his eyes.

Stiles fidgeted and Derek snorted, shifting down to leave space between him and Stiles. His dad grinned and settled Stacia between them, but he took pity on Derek and put Jacob on his other side, between him and Laura.

"She’ll need her meat cut up," he informed Stiles. "But otherwise, these two are pretty good eaters."

"Unlike some monsters," Tania added, mock grimacing down at Gwen, who growled playfully back but subsided under a stern eyebrow from her grandmother.

"I think I can handle a little extra knife action," Stiles said, smiling down at Stacia. "Especially for such a pretty little lady."

Stacia laughed and hid her face behind her hands, peeking through her fingers at Stiles with her military-grade gigantic brown eyes. Stiles beamed back, expression soft and scent turning even warmer and mushier than it had been already.

Paul coughed and dropped a good sized steak on Stiles' plate, moving past him quickly. At the other end of the table, Derek's parents and sister were laughing. Derek glowered at all of them and pulled Jacob's plate closer once he'd gotten his share of the meat.

Stiles was too distracted by cutting Stacia's steak to pay any attention to how odd everyone was acting. He had his arms wrapped around her and was conversing seriously about how large she wanted her bites to be, which appeared to be only slightly bigger than confetti.

The salad and bread were being passed around after the meat, starting with Olivia just as the steaks had but passing next to Tania and her kids. Peter arrived just after she'd passed the salad on and frowned at the excessive greens she'd left on his plate.

Paul had made his way entirely around the table and was just sitting down when Stiles finished with Stacia's aggressively diced meat and started pretending to chew on Stacia's head. Stacia was in heaven, shrieking and wriggling under the attention.

All the wolves were staring, except for Jacob. Paul let out a pleased rumble until Dominique smacked him upside the head and shoved a hunk of deer in front of his face.

Derek was so screwed.

"I don't want pieces, I want to use my teeth," Gwen pouted, trying to push her mother's hands away from her plate.

Olivia leveled Gwen with another judgmental eyebrow. Tania pushed a kiss against Gwen's head and kept cutting. "That's not polite, dear." More quietly, she added, "And remember, Stiles isn't family yet, so no toothy talk."

Screwed. For definition: see Hale, Derek.

Stiles looked up once he was done with Stacia's head. "What are we eating, anyway? It's...I mean, I don't think this is cow? Er, beef."

"Venison," Derek and Tania offered in unison.

"We're eating Bambi?" Stiles blurted out, then looked mortified as he checked the kids. Next to him, Olivia snorted indelicately.

Matt gave Stiles a disbelieving look. "Bambi wouldn't have fed everybody."

"My children," Tania muttered under her breath, "destroyers of civilization."

Derek shrugged at Stiles' disbelieving stare. "As a fawn, he's probably right. Bambi did make an impressive buck, though," he felt compelled to add, smiling at Matt's serious nod.

"Right," Stiles said, in a tone that implied he was thinking about cults again. "Okay then."

-----

It was a family joke that no Hale dinner was complete until meat was stolen, something was thrown, and somebody was bitten. Niq spent the entire meal openly snagging pieces from her husband's plate (Paul was still occasionally distracted by watching Stiles with his little girl). Jacob attempted to shove a slice of bread up Derek's nose (which didn't count) until Derek took it away to throw it over Jacob's head at Laura for laughing about it (which did). And his mother bit his father. Twice.

Typical dinner. Loud, insane, and generally terrifying.

Stiles fit right in.

Chapter Text

"Guests don't help with the cleanup," Olivia tutted at Stiles and tugged him away from the table when he stood to gather dishes. "Come for a walk with me instead."

Derek widened his eyes at his grandmother, but she simply smiled back and drew Stiles toward the woods.

All of the adults were snickering, and not bothering to hide it.

"Here," Niq said, pushing Erin into Derek's arms. "You're on baby and toddling duty."

Derek growled but automatically cast around for Stacia, Jacob and Gwen. They were at least roughly clumped together and hadn't tried to run off into the woods. Yet.

At least Matt was old enough to look after himself, now.

Gwen pounced on Jacob with a growl and Derek shot Niq a dirty look as he went to break them up. "You all hate me, and want me to suffer."

"Oh, grandma isn't that bad." Niq grinned and patted his arm as she moved on to help with the furniture.

If Derek had had that job, he'd at least be done soon.

-----

By virtue of settling Stacia with a peanut buttered apple in the kitchen once their parents took the babies back, Derek was able to con Gwen and Jacob into hunting him (in the opposite direction Stiles and Olivia had gone). So Derek had a lapful of Stacia and two completely zonked out cubs curled up against his sides when Stiles finally came back.

He smelled Stiles first, his inherent earthiness magnified by so long in the fresh air and tromping through the leaf litter. And the warm spicy notes that wrapped through it when he got close enough to see the kids was addictive and heady. So maybe, just maybe, his family didn't actually hate him and were instead the most irritating enablers ever. Maybe.

Stiles leaned over the back of the couch, resting most of his weight against it as he grinned down at Stacia and listened to Derek read aloud from My Side of the Mountain.

-----

Stacia fell asleep just before the introduction of the Baron, which was convenient since she adored the weasel and might never have gone down otherwise. But that left Derek entirely pinned under sleeping kids.

When Derek finally let the words drift off, Stiles moved away from the couch. But instead of leaving, he just walked around and collected the book, putting it away again before coming back and sitting on the coffee table.

Pulling his phone out, Stiles grinned and leaned back, taking careful aim as he whispered "Say cheese!"

Derek rolled his eyes instead, which wouldn't make a great photo but...

"Hunh," Stiles frowned down at his phone, squinting. "It's kinda...blurry. Hold on a sec."

Derek kept his head averted, focusing on Jacob who was starting to twitch in his sleep. He kept his head bowed and rubbed a hand over Jacob's back and closed his eyes when he saw the phone come up again in the edge of his vision.

There was a click and a pleased noise. When he looked up again, Stiles was chewing on his lip in concentration as he presumably saved and named the photo. "Hah. Perfect."

"Happy?"

Stiles beamed, holding his phone protectively against his chest. "Yeah. This has been great."

Then his eyes dropped to the kids where they were draped all over Derek and his smile went soppy again. And yeah.

Screwed.

-----

They normally wouldn't have bothered waking the terrible three (sleeping kids were the best kind of kids), but the parents had come to the conclusion that it really wasn't fair to let Stiles leave without letting them say goodbye.

Which meant hugs.

Derek only tamped down on a growl because it was a long line of pack and family that were pressing themselves up against Stiles. Laura, horrible traitor that she was, went so far as to kiss Stiles' cheek and rub her hand all over his hair.

Which was apparently just a dare for the rest of his family to behave even worse. Dominique pinched his cheeks, Paul held on for too long, his mother straightened Stiles' clothes, and Peter actually picked him up and pretended to walk away with him.

It was just a joke to make the cubs whine, but it drew Derek forward a step.

His dad laughed and pulled Peter back, giving Stiles just a quick half-hug himself before passing Stiles on to the kids. Which was why Derek loved his father best.

Stiles was still smiling but looking more than ready to be done by the time Derek caught him by the shoulder and steered him out the door. They both relaxed once they were outside and Stiles' smile seemed a bit more genuine when he turned to face Derek, walking backward toward his jeep. "Man. How do you survive your family? With all the touching and general happiness."

Smirking, Derek reached out to nudge Stiles' shoulder to steer him around the back end of Paul's truck, then caught him by the front of his shirt before Stiles could trip over backward. "Practice. And hiding."

Stiles nodded and let himself be shifted around to face forward again. "That explains the general kitchen servitude."

"Well. That and helping cook gets me out of dish duty."

"Sneaky. I like it." Stiles laughed and bumped up against Derek's side. The movement intensified his scent, all food, contentment, family and Stiles.

"I have got to remember to volunteer for baby duty faster next time, though." There was no hesitation in his voice as he said that, no doubt that it would happen, so Derek ducked his head and grinned as Stiles continued. "Your cousins are brutal, man. Especially Jacob. Dude's a biter."

"Jacob's not my cousin," Derek said, and his voice sounded flat even to him, but it was better than getting angry and demanding to know if Stiles was alright. If he wasn't, Derek would have known. Nobody would have been able to hide that.

It hadn't been Jacob they'd been worried about, though.

Stiles startled a bit, frowning at him. "He's not Gwen's... I figured they were twins. So...wait. Whose is he then?"

Derek coughed, looking up and to the side to hide his smile. "Jacob's my little brother."

The silence was deafening. Derek gave him a moment to process the age gap, but after a few steps, he turned back to Stiles and raised an eyebrow at the scrunched up disbelief on Stiles' face. "It wasn't exactly intentional. Mom joked about naming him Ripper for months after they found out."

"Ripper?"

"For what he apparently did to the condom."

"Oh my god!" Stiles shouted, slapping his hands over his ears and glaring at Derek when he laughed. "Dude. That's just wrong. I don't even want to know why that's not embarrassing for you."

He shrugged, but knew better than to explain. They generally didn't even explicitly tell even the humans in the pack how not-private sex generally was for the wolves, unless they opted to accept the bite themselves. Tania had blushed for weeks. "Like I said. Months."

"Yeah, I guess so." Stiles lowered his arms with a huff and swatted at Derek's arm. "Still. I didn't go through that, and I think your parents just forcibly adopted me, which makes them family which makes it weird. So ew."

Derek just shrugged. They were at Stiles' jeep, which meant Stiles was going to leave.

But Stiles didn't seem to be in any sort of hurry, instead leaning back against the jeep and grinning lazily at Derek. "So how old is Jacob?"

"He'll turn six a few days before Halloween." Derek slid his hands into his pockets, unsure about what to do with them otherwise. "That year was the worst. Gwen turned six back in August, and Stacia will turn six in January."

Stiles stared at him for a moment before exploding with laughter. "Oh, man. That's--I mean. What the hell? Was there something in the water up here that year or what?"

Or what.

Derek shrugged and looked up at the sky. The house lights were too bright and too close to let him see the stars, but it was still calming. And it was Stiles in front of him.

Stiles, who had no reason to interpret that gesture as anything but human. Whose teeth were mostly blunt. Whose nails were soft and fragile and short.

"Oookay," Stiles drawled, "setting aside that apparently awkward topic. Which, really, it should have been awkward before now because, y'know, sex." He snorted, smothering a laugh, and Derek looked down to return his smile. "Adults having sex, even. And your family. So yeah, no."

Stiles shrugged, shifting against his jeep in a way that was so intensely and intentionally casual that it entirely failed at looking casual. "You know, you never actually answered my question. Kind of like how your mom never actually finished that conversation once she got us here."

A fact that Derek was hoping would continue. Stiles seemed to have distracted the entire family well enough that she might actually have forgotten.

"What question."

"Is there some rule against me having the same tattoo as you?" Stiles shoved his hands into his pockets and turned away from the house, probably hoping that the comparative lack of light would hide the hint of a blush. "I mean, you said you liked it, but I don't really..."

"It's fine, Stiles," Derek cut in. "No rules. I'll bring my folder in tomorrow and make a few different sizes for you to look at. We can discuss any other changes you want to make then."

Stiles laughed. "Yeah. 'Cause it's definitely going to have to be smaller. Yours would make me look even scrawnier, even if we put it in the middle. It'd just be ridiculous on one side."

Neither of them wanted Stiles to go, he realized. Stiles was fidgeting with his keys and keeping his back to his jeep, and Derek himself was just...standing there, awkwardly, trying to remember how to talk like a normal person.

He hated words.

Derek reached out and cupped a hand around the back of Stiles' neck, pulling him up and away from the jeep. Stiles went along with the movement easily with a surprised 'meep?' until he realized he was just being pulled into yet-another-Hale-hug. Then his arms came up and he clung back, leaning in so they were cheek to cheek rather than having to look at each other.

Food, happiness, family, Stiles.

It was hard to let him go, but eventually Stiles fidgeted and started smelling awkward, so Derek released his grip and stepped back.

"So--"
"Do you want to do dinner sometime?"

Stiles blinked and gestured vaguely toward the house. "Um."

"No, I mean." Derek flushed, backing off another step. "Just with me. Out--somewhere."

Stiles...kept blinking.

"Stiles?"

"Oh my god, are you asking me out?" Stiles' words tripped over each other leaving his mouth, volume rising until Derek was painfully aware that most of his family had definitely heard that. "What. I mean. Was this some sort of weird family vetting thing? Are you a cult? You said you weren't, but you would, wouldn't you. And that would kind of make sense, actually. I mean..."

"Stiles." Derek covered his eyes with one hand, but Stiles' mouth snapped shut. He heard it. "No, we are not a cult. No, I am not asking you out because my family likes you. Yes, I am asking you out. On a date."

There. That was words.

"Okay. Yeah, okay, yes?"

Derek grinned, and Stiles grinned back. They were both nervous, but happy, so that was okay. "Okay."

He'd have to think about what to do about the sheriff. Later.

"So," Stiles started, coughing and looking down as if to hide his grin. Or his blush. Probably the blush. "Um, I think saying goodbye just got really awkward. I'll see you tomorrow, though?" He looked up again, smiling smaller but hopeful and happy.

"Yeah," he answered, pulling Stiles in for another hug and pressing his nose against Stiles' temple. Breathing him in.

In all honesty, right then Derek couldn't even remember if he was scheduled to work the next day, but it didn't really matter. He'd be there anyway.

Stiles flailed and muttered disparaging remarks about Derek's family and their hugging obsession, but he hugged back before thumping Derek lightly on the back and pulling away. "I do have to go home, you know. I mean, my dad does expect to see me occasionally."

Derek snorted but let go and stepped back to let Stiles get into his car.

He waited until Stiles' tail lights faded out of normal sight then shifted and ran alongside him until the trees thinned out too much to hide in. Then he walked home, in human form and at human speed, but with his senses pushed out as far as they'd go.

He still barely dodged Laura's tackle when she attacked him in the trees closest to the house.

Laura rolled easily and jumped, using a tree to rebound into him and catching him around the neck. She dragged him into the leaf litter and hooked her legs around his waist, scrubbing her free hand in his hair. "Oh my god, little brother. You're a real boy."

Derek huffed and went limp. There was no dealing with his sister in one of these moods.

Chapter Text

Vic didn't stop grinning the next day, or bitching over the fact that she'd missed Stiles meeting the family in his unintentionally-ironic hoodie. Derek just counted himself lucky that he only had to spend two hours in the parlor with her before she was off shift. Cara had apologized twice, once with a hug and words and later with a hideously pink mug that said 'Fuck you, I'm a Fairy Princess' on one side. Because Cara had problems.

Tony had no idea what was going on, and was doing his best to avoid all of them and their insanity as a result.

By the time Stiles finally got out of class and showed up at Tinge, Tony was on break between appointments and Cara was in the middle of trying not to laugh at a client who wanted something Dali-esque with mushrooms that was sounding more and more like 'I just want a lot of gigantic, multi-colored dicks on my thigh' with every verbal description he gave.

It was safely out of Derek's preferred style and all the way in Cara's, so it was hilarious rather than potentially traumatic.

Stiles slowed down as he walked the short distance to the counter, grin melting into confusion and his head turning toward the client at the consulting counter instead of Derek. "Uh..."

"Don't ask," Derek muttered.

Stiles squinted for a moment longer before shrugging and dragging his stool over to the edge of the counter. "So. In the hopes of preventing awkward, you're actually serious about the dating thing? That wasn't, like, family induced insanity, or something? 'Cause I think your family might do that."

Derek snorted and turned back to the sketch he was working on. "Not to me. You?"

"If they did, it hasn't worn off yet." Stiles shifted his stool closer and bent his head to look at what Derek was working on. And when had he stopped minding that? "Dad figures we should invite you to dinner next, by the way," Stiles added casually. "Aaand we kind of haven't had the 'Dad, I'm bi' talk yet."

He carefully lifted the pencil away from the paper and pointed the blunt end at Stiles. "Don't do that while I'm working."

Stiles rolled his eyes and backed off, turning to face Derek and bracing his hands against the edge of the stool between his legs and damn it. Derek dragged his attention back to Stiles' face and glared when Stiles just grinned at him. "Ahuh. I saw that." He shifted again, hands on his knees and not bothering to bring his legs together at all. "You can still back out, you know."

"No." He wasn't sure he could. Knew he didn't want to. "You're the expert on your dad. So?"

"We should actually do something. In a date-like sense, I mean. And soon. I can tell him you're my boyfriend next time he asks about inviting you over, so we can get the initial reaction over with." Stiles shrugged. "He's not going to like the age thing, but..."

"I don't like the age thing," Derek growled, flipping his book closed and storing it away for later. A glance back at Stiles told him that his expression had shut down. Not quite wary, or what he thought wary would look like on Stiles, but definitely reserved. "Idiot. I still asked."

Stiles nodded, smile slowly returning to his face even if he didn't relax entirely. "Yeah, true. It's the Stilinski charm. Absolutely unstoppable and irresistible. It's like a superpower."

"Mmhm." Derek smiled and pulled out his other sketch book, sliding it over to Stiles and flipping it open.

Stiles was fishing a pencil out of his bag before Derek had finished the gesture. "So where do you want to go for dinner? Anywhere too fancy would look at us funny for doing this, which would suck."

"Hmm." Something relaxed in Derek, curling warm around his gut. "Trust me to handle it? Tomorrow night at four."

Stiles' eyes slid up from where he was drawing a tiny, angry version of his father who appeared to be--lecturing a tiny stegosaurus. This was, in Stiles' words, becoming a thing. "Okay."

"I have the size variants on the triskele for you, before you go. Don't let me forget."

They exchanged smiles, more of a grin on Stiles' end, and went back to sketching. A wolf joined the stegosaurus, standing alert and ready a respectful distance behind it. Or something close to respectful distance, at least. It was hard for Derek to judge distance when his reference points were a tiny man and a thigh-high dinosaur.

-----

"Okay, yeah, this is not working."

Derek lifted his eyebrows, but didn't look up from cutting around the last triskele. Stiles didn't explain, though. He walked away.

Frowning, Derek hurried with the last few cuts while listening to Stiles make his way into the back and--into the bathroom.

Mirror. That made sense.

Derek set the scissors aside and followed with the template, rapping his knuckles against the doorframe once he reached it.

"You're joking, right?" Stiles was rolling his eyes when he pulled the door all the way open, gesturing Derek in. "I didn't even close it all the way."

And Stiles wasn't wearing his overlayer. Either of them, since his hoodie was draped over Derek's jacket in the back. The tan button-up he'd been wearing earlier was gone, leaving him just in a black t-shirt with a bullseye across the chest.

Stiles went back to frowning at the mirror as he held one of the cut outs up, but the movement pulled at the fabric, making a fold right under the paper. Huffing in annoyance, Stiles put the paper down and pulled his shirt off.

Derek grabbed the stool he used when he changed shoes and propped the door open. The last thing he needed was for Cara to call his mother again, this time because she had the right idea.

"Here," he forced out, handing Stiles the design. His voice was too gruff and abrupt, but he was having a hard time looking at Stiles' chest and thinking about size and placement.

It was a lot easier to wonder what that skin tasted like. Whether it would flush if he touched it. If Stiles was ticklish. How warm he'd be.

"Thanks," Stiles muttered, swapping out the designs and grimacing. Even distracted as he was, Derek nodded honest agreement at Stiles' "Waaaay too small. Okay."

It went on like that, with Stiles lifting designs and making faces (speculative or unhappy, there was always a face), and Derek pretending like he was paying more attention than he was.

"I can't quite... Okay, here."

Then Stiles' hand was closing over his wrist and pulling it to his chest. Derek's fingers spread instinctively to hold the template down while Stiles let his shoulders relax, but he wasn't thinking about the design. He was feeling Stiles' heartbeat, not just hearing it. He was nearly touching that skin, the heat of it bleeding through the paper.

Stiles' pulse kicked up a notch and Derek looked up, caught his eyes in the mirror as Stiles swallowed heavily.

And yes. That skin would flush if he touched it. It already was.

Even with the door open, Stiles' scent, Stiles' want, was overpowering in the small space.

"Um," Stiles swallowed again, breaking their gaze to seek out another piece of paper, pulling it up to trade it out with the one Derek was holding. He shivered when Derek stepped closer, when his fingers spread past the edge of the paper. Just a bit. "Right. So." He exhaled heavily, eyes fixed on their reflections. "Yeah. It's...uh. A little too small. And that one, the last one, it was a little too big. Can we, ah..."

"Split the difference," Derek nodded. "Easy."

"Okay. Great," Stiles nodded jerkily, inhaling slowly. "We should, ah, probably..."

"Right." Derek let his hand drop, turning to gather up the other almost-right while Stiles pulled his shirt back on.

The smell of apples and musk was making him lightheaded.

He didn't mind.

"So. Tomorrow. Four thirty. And probably no tattoos," Stiles grinned, bouncing on his toes. "Want to meet here, or..."

"I'll pick you up at home."

If they were going to tell the sheriff, they weren't going to start out by hiding.

The expression on Stiles' face softened, even as his grin spread. "Great." Then he stepped in, pushed a kiss against Derek's mouth, and darted out the door, snagging his over-shirt on his way out. "See you then!"

Cara was nice enough to only laugh a little when she came to fetch him out of the bathroom a minute later.

-----

If he was less of a Hale, Derek would enter Paul's personal territory from the road. But as quiet as he was, he was still a Hale.

And entering from the woods when there were trainees around never stopped being funny.

"Fuck!" One of Paul's minions startled backward and tripped over a pail of feed. He wasn't going to hit anything on his way down, so Derek just raised his eyebrows at the spectacle.

"I don't care who that is. You're an ass," Boyd called out from the other side of the hutches.

Derek smirked and walked over to offer the kid a hand up. The kid with horrible taste and poor decision making skills, and who was trying to pull his hand back while Derek investigated the sloppy barbed wire band around his wrist. "What kind of idiot are you," he grumped, glaring at the tattoo. It was a day old at best. "This should be wrapped up."

There was a heavy sigh as Boyd came around the edge of the hutch, stripping his gloves off as he walked. His eyebrows arched up pointedly when he came into view. "Derek. Always a pleasure. Now let go of Trent."

Derek lifted Trent's hand and shook it lightly by the wrist. "Trent. Is an idiot."

Trent was also starting to put more pressure behind trying to get his hand back, so Derek let it go and leveled him with a glare. "Who gave you that? Did they even cover aftercare with you? Did you tell them you work around animals?"

Even Boyd was frowning at the kid now, though he looked more put upon than actually upset. "...I'm siding with Derek on this one. Where are your gloves?"

"...I'll go get them," Trent managed to eek out, eyes wide, before he ran off.

"Wash your arm with the kitchenette soap, not the bathroom!" Derek yelled after him. "And put some gauze over it!"

Boyd chuckled and shook his head, "Always a pleasure to watch you work. Do you terrorize your customers into doing what they're told too?"

Derek shrugged. He tended to do whatever he thought would work.

"Paul's in greenhouse three. Try not to knock anyone else over, yeah?"

He didn't bother dignifying that with a response.

The trip across the nursery grounds was uneventful. Paul didn't need that many helpers this time of year so there were just a few students scattered through the grounds. Boyd was the only one worth talking to, so far as he knew. The only one who'd been around more than a year. Definitely the only one who understood his uncle's jokes.

Greenhouse three was small, only about forty feet long, and fairly empty at the moment. Paul was at the back, carefully transplanting seedlings into pots. He didn't look up from his work, but nodded a greeting as Derek approached.

"Can I borrow your truck tomorrow?"

Paul liked words even less than Derek. Or maybe more than anybody else he knew. Paul didn't have problems articulating anything he cared to talk about, he just...didn't, usually. Unsurprisingly, his only response to Derek's question was a 'go on' gesture between sprouts.

"I want to do something special for the date," he admitted. "But it needs sturdy, not flashy." Derek paused and shrugged when Paul looked up. "And I don't want to ask anyone else."

Paul laughed and nodded. "Good luck."

-----

He didn't sleep well. His dreams were a restless blur of running and heat.

Chapter Text

Stiles was out the door almost as soon as Derek pulled to a stop out front. He gave the truck an amused glance before leaning inside.

"Hey, hi, um..." Stiles blinked, expression suddenly hesitant. Derek quirked an eyebrow at him, waiting. "Right. So. Am I dressed okay?" Stiles blurted out. "I just. I realized I have no idea what you have planned, and I might have gone a bit insane. So I have, like, four outfits picked out upstairs and my room looks like Tropical Storm Laundry took place in it, which it kinda did, and I didn't wind up changing at all so I'm kind of already failing at the whole dating thing and..."

Derek turned and grabbed a bag of cookies out of the back and pushed them at Stiles. It had worked with the fries at the diner, and it seemed to work now. Stiles didn't start eating, but he did shut up while trying to make sense out of the cookies.

"What you're wearing is fine," Derek assured him. "I didn't dress up either." Which isn't to say he hadn't thought about it, but it wouldn't have been practical.

"Dude, you were born looking good. You don't have to dress up," Stiles scoffed. He started to climb up into the truck then stopped and rolled his eyes. "Hold on." Stiles ran back to the house and locked the door, and Derek tried very hard not to look like he was laughing about it as Stiles ran back.

Subterfuge was not his area of expertise.

"Oh shut up," Stiles huffed, sounding amused. But he was smiling as he clambored up into his seat. "So where are we going, and why do you have cookies? And why are we in a truck?"

"It's my Uncle Paul's," Derek offered, and grinned when Stiles scowled at him.

"Whatever, Mr. Secret-Pants. I'm picking the radio station, if you're going to be like that."

Derek snorted, then grimaced as Stiles turned the volume up before scanning over several stations. He swatted at Stiles' hand, but just got a bright laugh in return. "You are too easy."

When Stiles settled on an oldies station, of all things, he surprised Derek by turning the volume back down. He could still hear it just fine, but he doubted it was more than a murmur to Stiles.

Stiles shrugged. "I just like the background noise."

-----

Stiles threw an incredulous look at him when Derek finally parked the truck. "Okay, seriously weird now. Are you sure that you aren't mixing up 'date' and 'psychotic break'? Or maybe 'axe murder'?"

Derek blinked slowly at Stiles and slid out of the truck, heading to the bed instead of starting to haul their supplies out. He'd just popped the tool case open when Stiles leaned against the other side of the truck with an expectant look. It quickly turned into pure shock when Derek pulled the axe out, and Stiles jumped away before glaring at him.

Snickering, he put the axe back away. "That's not why we're here though," he explained, before locking the box again and reaching behind the driver's seat for the blankets.

"You are such a jerk," Stiles sighed, poking his head back in to watch Derek. "So. This is still a date?

Derek shrugged, looking around for somewhere flat to set up. "You said nothing fancy."

"I also said dinner. Or rather, I think you said dinner. Which, regardless." Stiles threw his arms forward dramatically, gesturing at the trees as though he thought Derek might have missed them. "Not something I equate with middle of nowhere, y'know?"

"We aren't in the middle of nowhere." Derek eyed the grass then flipped out the thicker of the two blankets; it was too close to damp to risk just using the softer one. "We're on the edge of my family's property, having a picnic."

Stiles finally walked over to help straighten the blankets out. He kept his face down and his voice even, but his scent was spicy and vanilla-soft. "A picnic? Best you could think of for a first date was a picnic?"

He could feel his eyes smiling. "Ahuh."

"We're having a picnic in October."

"Yup."

"Cool."

Derek grinned down at the softer blanket as he shook it out.

-----

A mistake some humans made, when they learned about werewolves, was to think that scents had a hierarchy that would make sense to them. That some were better, nicer, or more desirable than others. Humans used scent as an ornament. To a wolf, it was information.

Gasoline didn't necessarily smell any worse than tree bark. Perfumes were frequently too much scent, but they weren't bad on principle. And when they were, it tended to be a matter of individual taste.

That wasn't to say that there wasn't some value in bringing Stiles out into the woods, however. There was just as much complexity in the woods as there was in the city, but there were less people, here.

Here, there was no family that wasn't either coming from Paul's truck or several days old. Scents left over from Tinge and the school were fading and easy to filter out. The people scents, here and now, were predominantly just the two of them. It made things easier.

Stiles had laughed when Derek unpacked the sandwich makings, but then proceeded to build a monstrosity while Derek was still unloading the bags.

"If that's what you're going to eat, you shouldn't be complaining that I didn't make your food for you," Derek commented, shaking his head.

"Heathen," Stiles returned through a mouthful of sandwich. "Pickles and mustard are where it's at. The meat and bread is just a bonus."

Stiles shifted closer as Derek unearthed bottles of water and juice, plates, and containers of salad and potato salad. He gave the little battery powered lamp a weird look, and reached out when the pie appeared, but Derek had been expecting that and snatched it up and out of reach. "That's for later."

Stiles huffed a pout but settled down again. If he was pressed up against Derek's side now, neither of them were likely to complain about it. "You're a party pooper. I don't know why I like it."

"It's my charming personality," Derek drawled, quirking an eyebrow at Stiles when he laughed.

Derek made himself a sandwich while Stiles helped himself to the salads with one hand, continuing to eat with the other. Stiles made a horrified face at Derek when he made a second sandwich with potato salad in it.

"You put pickles on your sandwich. You don't get to judge me," Derek told him.

"Pickles belong on sandwiches, potato salad does not," Stiles insisted. "And if you hate pickles, why did you bring them?"

In response, Derek forked a small pile of pickles onto his plate and ate one plain.

"Okay, no. The picnic was a horrible idea." Stiles bemoaned, but his eyes were laughing and his lips fighting a losing battle against a smile. "I'm not sure I can kiss someone with such weird food habits."

Derek shrugged and pushed down a smile of his own. "I'm sure you'll manage somehow."

The last thing he unpacked was his pencil bag and the sketchbook. It was a bit nicer than he usually bought, with heavier paper and a spine that would let it lay flat without fuss.

Stiles gave it a curious look as soon as it came out. "New book?" he asked, licking a spot of mustard off his thumb.

Derek shrugged and handed over a pencil. "Book for us."

Stiles grinned down at the book and shifted closer; vanilla-soft spice, apple and musk. "So what do we want to start with?"

Derek drew in a comical little stegosaurus in one corner, and Stiles started drawing a self-portrait, lying on his stomach and holding a hand out to the tiny dinosaur. Derek huffed at that, eyeing Stiles out of the corner of his eye. "I thought you were the dinosaur."

Just like at the diner, Stiles had his sandwich in one hand and his pencil in the other. Swallowing hastily, he grinned and shook his head. "No way, man. You are totally the grumpy little spiky-saur in this relationship. And I am totally taming you with love, kindness, and demonstrations of general awesomeness."

Derek huffed again, but didn't argue.

They left the first page just with those two figures, because it felt right. The second page became a conversation.

Stiles had mentioned Scott before, when he was talking about the kids in his class, but he hadn't realized they'd been close. Stiles talked about the first time he'd snuck out at night, so he and Scott could visit the graveyard and win a bet. The drawing that accompanied that featured a kid Derek had to assume was Scott lying flat on the ground and gaping up at a tree. Stiles was only in the image as a pair of legs protruding from the leaf cover and kicking wildly. There was an unamused woman with dark hair and a bathrobe watching the whole thing.

Overall, it had been unsuccessful.

In repayment, Derek told Stiles about how Laura had gotten it into her head to be an archaeologist when she was eleven, and dug herself into a pit she almost couldn't get out of before someone realized she'd been missing for too long. As he talked, he filled in a rough impression of a square hole with a defiant, young Laura glaring up out of it. She hadn't wanted to be rescued, she'd just wanted them to bring her a ladder.

Stiles drew his father in his uniform, then out of it, sitting on the couch with him and throwing things at the television. Stiles told him about how they had a hard time talking sometimes, so movie marathons were their favorite bonding activity. Derek added a little stegosaurus curled up and sleeping next to the couch, and smiled when Stiles laughed.

He couldn't talk about his family's favorite bonding activity, and Stiles had participated in the second. Instead, Derek drew his mother from when she'd been pregnant with Jacob. He picked a day when she'd just curled up on the couch and demanded a steady flow of hot chocolate as tribute, and complained nonstop because there was no easy way for her to comfortably curl up for a prolonged sulk at seven months.

He didn't use words, but he didn't really have to. Stiles went back to talking about the movies, and how it started.

"It was my mom, y'know? It seems like that's how everything starts." Stiles stabbed at his potato salad and, really, it was fast becoming some fairly alarming mashed potatoes. "She loved Kung-Fu and cheesy action movies. And seriously, the more horrible they were, the better."

He was silent for a while, watching Derek's pencil as he carefully traced in the impression of dark circles under his mother's eyes. "We had to find something else to watch, after."

Stiles distracted himself by telling Derek about taking meals out to his dad and sitting with him in the office or a patrol car. He talked about learning the police codes so he could keep track of what was going on when he wasn't there, and the police scanner he wasn't supposed to have. But the picture he drew looked more like a hospital room than anything.

"What's that?"

Derek blinked, refocusing on the book. He hadn't really been thinking about it. The hospital room just cut off on one side and it had looked unbalanced so he'd...bordered it.

With fire.

Unsettled, he pushed the book back toward Stiles and set his pencil aside. It was his turn, but he couldn't...

His sandwich probably hadn't done anything to deserve being bitten into so furiously.

"Oooookay," Stiles drawled, leaning down to force himself into Derek's range of vision. "You realize you don't need to talk, right?"

Derek snorted, and Stiles glared at him. Then he shoved the book back. "You don't need to explain it, or use words. But tell me what that was."

Stiles at least had a good enough idea of what he was doing to present Derek with a blank page. He frowned at it. "I haven't done this in ages."

Instead of asking about that, even though he was grimacing and twitching like it was an act of torture, Stiles went back to keeping his mouth occupied with food instead of words.

Derek considered the page. Actual images were out. Werewolves he could work around. Kate he couldn't, and she didn't have any place in a sketchbook that was just for him and Stiles.

So he drew the shape of the feeling in his head, instead. Alarm at the relapse made three heavy, overlapping circles. Fear was a thick bar on the left, hairy with uncontrolled strokes.

Those he knew.

The sour note in the back of his throat became a cloud of scribbles in one corner, the outline almost looking like a butterfly. The tension in his temples was a few slashes at the bottom, the tension in his jaw flowed across them like a wave.

It wouldn't be complete without fire, so he sketched it in fast and sloppy, crawling up the outer edge of the fear, wishing he had charcoals the entire time.

When he looked up again, Stiles was staring and chewing so slowly Derek wondered if he'd forgotten he had something in his mouth.

Eventually, Stiles blinked and swallowed before squinting back at Derek. "Your brain likes to talk in abstract art?"

He sounded skeptical, but Derek shrugged. It wasn't far off. "There was... I needed therapy for a few years." He probably still needed therapy. It'd gotten too hard to edit werewolves out of his life, for his therapist. "This was easier than talking."

"It's actually...weirdly pretty." Stiles frowned at the page. "I mean, I don't think it's a very nice feeling. But it's compelling to look at." Suddenly he grinned and bumped his shoulder against Derek's. "What would drawing me look like?'

Derek raised an eyebrow at Stiles. "Like...you? I'd hope, anyway."

He had examples at home, if Stiles was really curious. But he'd rather not admit to those.

"No. I mean like this," Stiles said, tapping his finger against their book. "What do I make the inside of your head look like?"

Colors immediately burst out, and he shook his head. "I couldn't draw that. Not-- Not with just pencils."

Stiles hummed and gave Derek a narrow look before nodding. "Alright."

To take his mind off it, Derek flipped to a new page and drew a line up of his younger relatives. He talked about how weird it was to suddenly have another baby in the family, when Danielle was nine. How hard it was for Matt to feel normal, when the three terrors were such a cohesive unit that he was decidedly not part of, and there was such a gap between him and Danielle. With Danielle gone, it was even worse. The next step up was Derek, and that was an additional five years added on.

He couldn't talk yet about how Matt was the only born human, between Vic and Stacia. How he'd been five when his mother had taken the bite, and he'd cried for days. How they weren't sure how to fix how alone all of it left him feeling.

It was enough for now.

-----

"Didn't you bring anything to cut the pie with?"

Derek snorted and handed Stiles a fork. "Didn't figure we'd need it. Just don't get any on the book."

-----

When it got too dark to draw, even with the lamp, they moved to the truck bed. The blankets made a decent cushion, and Derek knew the solution to the dropping temperature. He sat with his back against the cab and pulled Stiles in to sit between his legs instead of next to him. Stiles laughed and smelled embarassed, but he didn't try to get away.

It didn't take long for him to relax. The night was full of the soft buzz of insects, and Derek's nose was filled with contented Stiles, sugar, damp wool and crushed grass.

He almost expected Stiles to fall asleep after the first few minutes passed in comfortable silence. Nothing had kept Stiles still and quiet for very long, before.

"My mom died when I was eleven."

Derek pressed his nose against the skin behind Stiles' ear instead of saying anything.

"She started getting sick when I was nine. Cancer. Not breast cancer. Lung." Stiles paused and took a deep breath, one of his hands coming up to wrap over Derek's where they rested against his chest. "It was in her lungs."

He kept talking, quiet and serious in the dark. About how his mother had joked about finally having an excuse to take up smoking. How they'd opened her ribs on one side to take part of her out, and bought them nearly a year of hope. How his dad had broken down after they found cancer again, and Scott's mom had taken care of them both for a while. How Stiles had learned to cook and do laundry by watching her, and still wasn't very good at either. He talked about breaking down over horrible movies and his dad taking care of him afterward. About cocoa and popcorn and movies he'd never watched with his mom.

When the words trailed off into broken silence, Derek held him tighter and started to talk.

"The last time I was at the station, I was giving a statement against the woman who'd tried to have our house burned down."

Stiles went still against him, fingers biting into Derek's arm.

"It was almost seven years ago. Tania had just found out she was pregnant with Gwen a few weeks before. She was home when..."

Nearly everyone had been home.

"Fuck," Stiles breathed, slumping down and half turning to press his cheek against Derek's chest.

Derek held him tighter and nuzzled against his hair. He wasn't ready to talk yet about how it had happened, how he was involved. But it was a start.

"Was that--"

"The reason for the fire"

But Stiles was shaking his head. "No, I mean. The other day, when we went to the station to talk to my dad..."

Ah. That.

He made himself nod. "It was...bad. I hadn't told my mother what I knew at first. She hauled me down there herself and she was so angry." Derek snorted and pressed a smile against Stiles' scalp. It was only slightly forced, but he needed it. "And of course, a statement means words."

Stiles' laugh was weak, but sounded genuine. "Oh yeah. Even without all the other crap, that would've been torture for you." He squirmed a bit, shifting up and turning to throw Derek a worried frown. "Six... That was before Dad was sheriff, right? Was he involved in the case?"

"I don't think so. Not in a major way, at least."

"Oh good," Stiles sighed, relaxing back against him again. "It'd kinda suck if he already knew more about you than I do." There was a pause, Stiles head tilting in thought before he did his best to look up at Derek without changing position again. "Uh. I can't promise he won't look you up with all his sheriff-y resources, though. I mean, I don't know that he will? But."

Derek shrugged. "S'okay."

It might be better, honestly. The only thing the sheriff might find was record of him being traumatized by being manipulated into an underage relationship.

And possibly the incident with the bacon and the high school's sign. But that had been Laura's fault and they'd only gotten a warning anyway.

"Hey," Stiles said, wrapping an arm around himself to poke Derek. "I can feel you thinking deep and profound thoughts. Or something, anyway. Share."

"Did you know," Derek started, talking slowly, "that the authorities tend to frown on decorating signs with meat products?"

There was a long pause, then Stiles was laughing helplessly, his head thrown back against Derek's shoulder and smelling so sweet and perfect that it took all his control not to taste.

He contented himself with hiding a grin in the curve of Stiles' neck and breathing deep.

And in that moment, it was easy.

"I can't draw you, because it's all color with no end." Stiles went still against him, going so far as holding his breath until Derek poked him in the side to make him laugh. "You're orange and green, with only yellow and light where they meet. You don't have any lines or edges and it just...spreads."

The scents in his nose were changing. The spices blooming, something sweet and citrus winding through the rest. It made delicate coils of thin red lines wrap around the nebula that Stiles had made, adding depth rather than defining space.

And now he remembered why he'd stopped. All the good feelings were too hard to share.

"So what you're saying," Stiles said slowly, his voice quavering just a bit, "is that you're a giant sap."

Derek hummed agreement and brushed his nose against Stiles' neck again. It wasn't like being a sap was a bad thing, and Stiles obviously approved.

He could smell it.

-----

Eventually Stiles started to nod off, and Derek moved them back into the cab of the truck to drive him home. Stiles sat in the middle of the bench, legs spread around the gear shift and leaning warm and pliant against Derek's side.

By the time they pulled up outside the sheriff's house, Stiles had fallen asleep and was drooling on Derek's shoulder. Derek jostled him gently and Stiles stretched out as he woke up, then straightened and gave Derek a soft smile.

"Thanks," he said, before leaning over to kiss Derek goodnight.

It wasn't a hurried, embarrassed peck, this time. Stiles was still half asleep and his aim was a bit off center. He was smiling but his lips were almost lax. It made Derek want to bite and push in, but...this wasn't want. It wasn't lust. Stiles smelled content and sleepy and affectionate above all else.

So Derek let Stiles pull away. Kept his eyes closed while Stiles got out, only opening them once he was sure they wouldn't shine blue.

By then, Stiles was already out of sight.

-----

Derek wasn't in the mood for dealing with Laura or Peter. Or, really, most of his family. He felt raw and stretched, like Stiles had taken away his skin.

He left Paul's truck with everything still in it on a turn-out off the family road, and he ran.

Circling away from the house, Derek kept to the edges of the property and veered away from any fresh scent of family. The familiarity of the woods helped. The dense scents of moss and decay, the frantic scrabble of squirrels who felt too exposed to simply freeze, the thrum of insects in the air and rodents in the ground.

It lasted an hour until someone found him. His grandmother ran alongside him, bumping their shoulders together when he slowed before bounding ahead.

Running was instinct. Running was freedom. Running meant avoiding non-pack but otherwise simply letting his brain...stop. All the words and colors slipped away. He didn't care about time or plans or complex worries. They were sufficiently fed, they had a den to return to. They had family to protect and shelter with. Therefore, for now, there were no problems.

They ran together until dawn, and never spoke a word.

Chapter Text

Peter was already in the kitchen when Derek and his grandmother came in from their run. He didn't say anything as Olivia bypassed the kitchen in favor of a shower, or when Derek went straight to the sink and washed his hands to the elbows.

By the time Derek was done, there was a bowl of mushrooms on the island behind him with a cutting board and knife.

"Sliced, please. Stems intact. Quarter inch or so."

Derek nodded and set to quietly prepping the mushrooms. Then potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, onions.

It was familiar. Comforting. Peter had gotten used to having kitchen-hands at work, jumping to his whim and doing whatever prep work he needed, so he'd brought the position home to his family. Even Vic had been pulled into learning the differences between knives, types of cuts (with the knife, and of meat), and the best ways to prepare stored food for later.

By the time his parents came down, Peter had a serve-yourself Sunday morning feast set up, and was pulling together the beginnings of a stew for dinner.

His mother leaned against his back while he cored the parsnips his uncle had most recently set aside for him. "Hey kiddo. How did things go?"

Derek frowned down at the vegetable he was very precisely maiming. There were words for this. For feeling empty and full at the same time. Raw, stretched, cored out and completed.

There were words. None of them were right. All of them felt like they'd break.

(He could draw it. White on white, endless overlapping circles. Stop occasionally to throw in a pale tone, but remember to run mostly over it with the white again. And another page for harsh, bleeding scratches in tones of red-orange and soft-red.)

"Oh, kiddo. You don't do anything easy, do you." His mother wrapped her arms around his chest, squeezing until his ribs were creaking in complaint and he slumped back against her strength.

They stayed like that until his father nudged them apart, handing them both plates of food and crowding Derek away from the parsnips.

"Thank you, David," his mother leaned in to kiss his dad's cheek, and Derek didn't bother to hide his eye roll as he fled the scene.

Not that he got far before his mother caught up.

She chuffed amusement and shouldered him toward the little games table in the living room. "We are talking, young man. Even if we have to resort to charades."

So Derek sat, and shoved a forkful of fried potatoes into his mouth.

Which made him think of Stiles, and the french fry trick, and goddamnit.

"Okay," his mother started, leaning forward on her elbow and holding his eyes. "You smell totally love struck. Worse than my brothers ever did, which is pretty damn impressive."

He took another bite of potato. Vindictively. His mother huffed irritation at him. "Even more impressive is how fast this happened. Wednesday, you were normal. Thursday, you were infatuated. Now it's Sunday, and I'm worried you might be in love. What the hell, son of mine."

He fidgeted with his fork and went still when it brushed against where he should have had callouses from drawing.

Words were wrong, sometimes. But Stiles talked to him without them.

His mother growled softly when he stood up, but she didn't try to stop him. It had shifted into a curious burr by the time he returned with his sketchbooks.

He didn't bother trying to explain, just flipped open his previous personal sketchbook to a few pages before he'd started drawing Stiles, and let his mother flip through from there. It was just an occasional sketch every so often at the beginning, he knew, but by the end more than half of it was Stiles.

Derek ate while she flipped through the first book, then offered her the second and growled when she tried to ask a question. There were only about twenty pages completed in that one, mostly detail studies of Stiles and a few of their conversations, so it was only a few moments before he passed over the newest book. The one they were sharing.

Maria huffed a laugh at the image of Stiles and the stegosaurus and shook her head as she turned the page. He wasn't expecting her to frown at the next page, or to hiss and drop the book before her claws came out when she flipped another page.

He'd almost forgotten about the fire, and the emotional abstraction. They'd drawn so much more, after that.

Sighing, Derek reached across the table to turn past the serious part of their evening. His mother relaxed at the light hearted portrait of the youngest members of the pack, and laughed when she moved on from there.

Eventually, she shook her head and gave him a look that suggested she deplored his chances of surviving without a pack to look after him. "Alright. Not so sudden, then. Just you being dense."

He huffed annoyance and his mother reached over the table to rub her hand through his hair as she stood. "Alright. It's been nearly a year and he hasn't run screaming yet, so that's a good sign."

That earned a snort from Derek, since he was relatively certain that if he'd been nicer or friendlier, Stiles wouldn't have stuck around to begin with. Maria rolled her eyes but continued undaunted, "You know the rules, brat. He needs to know what we are if you're serious, and before you start having sex."

Derek covered his eyes with one hand, making a distressed noise in the back of his throat. But his mother was just as impossible as Laura, so she just scratched her nails through his hair. "Yes, I know he isn't legal yet. And if I had even half a leg to stand on, I'd tell you to wait. But between me and Paul I really, really don't. So instead I'm just telling you to be smart about it, okay?

"No sex until he knows. Preferably no sex until he's eighteen, but he definitely needs to know before then. And we're going to have to have a talk about his dad. Okay?"

Whining, Derek nodded.

-----

"Hey Derek. Catch."

Derek turned back toward the house and darted to the side just in time to catch a shrieking tasmanian devil of a cousin. Gwen twisted in his arms as soon as he had her securely, growling and sinking her teeth into his arm. Wincing, Derek frowned down at her and pinched her nose firmly before glaring up at the second story window Gwen had come out of.

"What the hell, Laura," he muttered, glaring up at the empty window his sister had vanished back into.

Laura shrugged as she reappeared in the window, then jumped out to land nearby. "You were handy, and it was that or drag her through the house."

Gwen let go of his arm to gasp in a breath, and Laura ducked in, shoved a knotted rope toy into her mouth. "Here. Chew on that."

Derek cautiously removed his grip on their cousin's nose, letting Gwen snarl and bite down into the rope to her hearts content. Laura wrinkled her nose and stepped around Gwen to look at his arm. The bite was already healed, but... "Sorry about your shirt, though. Hope you weren't heading anywhere." Then her eyes narrowed and she stepped in closer, inhaling softly. When she spoke again, her voice was flat and unimpressed. "Have you even slept?"

Derek grunted and grabbed the far edge of the knot, tugging on it to work the lingering soreness out of his arm and make Gwen sink her teeth in and growl. "Talked to Tania yet?"

Laura narrowed her eyes at him but let it go after a moment with a curt shake of her head. "No. I just came in to wake her up, since the others were already at breakfast. Figured running her first would be the best bet, but I've only got so long before I head in to work."

"I'll do it. I need to think anyway."

Laura smiled and punched him in the arm. Lightly. For them. "Thanks. I was almost worried I was going to have to call out sick and miss all those Sunday morning oil changes."

She gave an exaggerated roll of the eyes and he snorted in response. "You'll let Tania know where her little monster is?"

"Of course."

Her hand was soft on his shoulder as she walked past him. Derek waited until she was out of sight before sighing down at Gwen.

Then he dropped her, holding her up just by her grip on the rope until her thrashing let him steal the rope away. She howled and lunged after him, giving chase as he set off into the woods.

His family threw six year olds out second story windows in order to manage their mood issues. How did you explain that to a human?

-----

It took hours to wear Gwen down to a panting wreck, and she still didn't shift back to human. Derek carried her back to the house thrown over his shoulder, ignoring her tired little growls and the occasional kick.

He hesitated just inside the trees, feeling and smelling for any trace of other, but only the welcoming scents of family greeted him. The scent of his father was strongest, so he followed it around to the back. It wasn't a surprise to see him ready with a hose and a worried smile.

"You're a mess, son."

Derek unceremoniously lifted Gwen and held her up in front of him, and his dad nodded. "Yeah. She's worse." He grimaced, sniffing warily at his niece. "Is that..?"

"She found a dead raccoon," Derek admitted. "And I didn't hear her veer off fast enough."

His dad grimaced. "You are astonishingly unsanitary, princess."

Gwen chuffed happily at the recognition, feet kicking and trying to wriggle out of Derek's grip.

Her happiness turned to shrieks of betrayal when David finally turned the hose on and sprayed them down.

-----

Derek left Gwen with his dad, for a real bath and then breakfast, before running off again. He could hear his mother and Peter bickering back and forth in the kitchen, and he wasn't sure he felt up to actual words on the Stiles issue yet. Which his mother might understand for a bit longer, but Peter wouldn't.

So he left his wet and dirty shirt behind and took off into the preserve.

The woods were a balm. Quiet and green in a way that was just as chaotic and messy as any city. The noise was still there, in the shifting of branches and leaves and everything that ran, scurried, flew, buzzed, called, or burrowed, but it was a collection of noises he was accustomed to. It was soothing.

He ran for miles, curling through the preserve before veering off toward somewhere familiar.

The walnut was a giant. They'd estimated its height at over seventy feet when he was younger, and their father had been teaching Laura about angles and comparisons.

It was also as familiar as a friend.

Derek jumped up, hopping from branch to branch until he'd found a spot that felt right. He settled with his feet still braced on the branch below him, crouching low and leaning to let the trunk take his weight.

He had to tell Stiles. If it was serious.

How the hell was he supposed to figure that out? Were the rules different if it wasn't serious? Did his mother want the sheriff to be in the know?

What would Stiles think? How would he react? How would his father react? How likely was it that guns would be involved?

Derek didn't know the Sheriff. He'd been worried about threats already, just over the age difference.

And they still didn't know what was going on with Gwen. Why she was such a terror sometimes, and wouldn't settle. Could he risk exposing Stiles to that?

"What's on your mind, pup?"

Derek startled and leaned forward so he could look down at his grandmother, where she was smiling up at him. "Want a friendly ear?"

It took him a few moments to decide, but Grandmother Hale was nothing if not patient. She waited until he nodded before jumping up, scaling the tree as he had until she was perched by his side. Like they were sparrows instead of werewolves.

This was another of those things that would seem strange, he realized. His grandmother was well into her seventies, looked to be in her early fifties, and could out-run and out-jump most Olympic athletes. Without shifting.

She watched him for a few moments before scooting over and pressing up against his side, squeezing him between her warmth and the trunk. "So?"

"Mother thinks I should tell Stiles about the family."

Olivia nodded, unsurprised. "You smell disgustingly in love, grandson. And it snuck up on you to boot. That can't be helping." Derek snorted but didn't bother to reply, so his grandmother continued, softer and more sympathetic. "It doesn't entirely explain this behavior, though. What is it you have twisted up in your head?"

"Is it fair to bring him in to all this? With Gwen, and the hunters, and his father."

"That last one sounds like it's more about you than him," she pointed out, and Derek huffed. He let his weight sink back a bit, his head dropping between his shoulders. His grandmother laughed, leaning over to nuzzle his hair. "It's true. And Gwen hasn't hurt anyone who couldn't heal from it yet. And she's had plenty of chances."

"Niq, Matt and Stacia know how to deal with an out of control wolf."

Olivia snorted. "And Stiles could learn. Not telling him is what puts him in danger."

One corner of Derek's mouth twitched, trying to curl up. "I'm not sure he could. It involves staying still."

Olivia snorted and butted her head against his. "He still needs to know about the danger if he's going to protect himself against it, grandson."

It was hard to think that way. Hard to think of it as anything other than asking Stiles to spend more and more time in danger. Even if the danger was his six year old cousin. (And Gregory, whenever he began to change. And possibly Erin, eventually.)

"The hunters aren't much better, as an excuse." Olivia blew an amused laugh against his cheek. "Not after that stunt your mother pulled. I swear Edgar's probably still rolling in his grave over that. Having the Argents back in town?" She swayed away and back, bumping against him. "I know you don't like it, but it makes us even safer. You know that."

He really didn't want to think about that. Not now.

"I'm scared, grandmother. What if he's scared of us? What if he leaves?"

"Better to find out sooner rather than later, don't you think?" She curled an arm around his shoulders and dropped her head against his. "You remember Thomas."

He remembered the aftermath of Thomas. He remembered Laura methodically ripping apart tree after tree, and breaking her car down into its component parts.

"That's part of what scares me."

His grandmother hummed agreement and stood up. "And that fear will rule you, until you tell him."

She jumped down through the branches and left him to think.

Chapter Text

Derek woke up in stages, which was unusual enough to feel strange and wrong even while barely conscious. Soft warmth, the neutral scents of his own space and lingering traces of pack.

Total darkness.

Derek blinked and pushed himself further out of his cocoon, but the world still wasn't making sense. No alarm, no nightmare, but...

He turned his head and blinked, staring until the numbers on his clock stopped squirming around in his brain and made sense. Four a.m. Of course the sun wasn't up yet. And the last time he'd seen the clock it was...seven.

Derek took another moment to process that then scrunched down into the tangle of blankets he'd wrapped around himself while he slept. He wouldn't fall asleep again, he knew that, but the world seemed less complicated under his blankets.

He yawned wide enough to crack his jaw and curled up a bit tighter. He felt almost...normal. Maybe. It wasn't a feeling he'd seen in a long, long time.

Clearly, he needed to stay awake for a day and a half more often.

The house was quiet, only the faint sounds of the pack sleeping inside. Outside, he could hear grass shifting under quiet feet. A quiet snort from his grandmother when her patrol disturbed...something. Raccoon or opossum probably. It was a lumbering sort of scurry.

That meant the other footsteps should be his father, and they don't sound wrong for his father. So that was fine.

All was well.

He drifted there, letting the sounds of safety and pack lull him into a doze until he heard the sounds of dawn. Different skittering, different chirping, the trees and house creaking as the air pressure shifts.

Tania shoving Peter out of bed, because he wakes up fully alert and she...doesn't.

Derek slid out from under his covers with a contented rumble and finds a pair of pants he can wear around the house before flipping his bedding into some semblance of 'made' and heading to the kitchen.

Peter was already there, brewing coffee for his wife and pulling together...

"Pancakes?" Derek shoved his head over the bowl with an appreciative sniff. He could smell maple already. Peter must have put some in the batter.

Laughing, Peter shoved Derek's face out of the way with an elbow. "Not if you hover like that. Make yourself useful and take Tania her first cup?"

His tone was exaggeratedly hopeful, but Derek snorted and pulled a mug down. "Sure." Peter tossed a disbelieving eyebrow at him, and Derek shrugged. "I slept well."

Peter hummed but just smiled and went back to breakfast while Derek waited for the pot to be full enough. He didn't really appreciate coffee, but Tania did, and she had opinions about it. And he appreciated Tania.

Paul wandered in, eyeing Derek and the coffee maker before hooking his head over his brother's shoulder with an inquisitive grumble. Peter just rolled his eyes. "Yes. Pancakes. Is everybody going to do this?"

"Yes," Paul and Derek answered in unison, exchanging a pleased smirk.

There was enough coffee, so Derek freed the pot and poured Tania's cup while Peter muttered about remembering why he never made pancakes.

They all waited when the silence lingered expectantly for a moment. But Danielle wasn't there to butt in and come sniffing from Peter's other side.

Derek huffed and added the ridiculous amount of sugar Tania liked in her first cup before heading upstairs. He passed his mother in the hall, her hair in hysterical disarray and eyes squinting in a bleary glower. When he slipped into Peter and Tania's room, he could hear her getting Jacob and Stacia up.

It was Monday. They had school.

Tania growled softly from under the covers but stopped after a moment and shoved her head out, sniffing and turning in his direction.

He pushed the coffee into her outstretched hand, smiling when she sat up just enough to curl around it, adjusting Greg in his little nest at her side. "You know you're not actually addicted anymore."

"Shush," she grumbled, before her eyes closed in bliss at the first sip. "Psychological addiction is a thing. Go away."

Derek went. Because nobody argued with Tania before her coffee.

Except Peter. But that was Peter.

While Derek made his way down the stairs, he had a great view of Jacob and Stacia wrestling with his dad in the entryway. It smelled like Olivia was still out somewhere, and sounded like Peter had bullied his brother into flipping pancakes while he saw to sausages. Matt was just coming down the steps behind him, still smelling like sleep and cotton.

It was kind of perfect, and Derek rested his hip against the banister while he took it in. The happy sounds of playful bickering and fighting. The smell of pack, happy, coffee, maple, fat, sweet-bread filling the whole house. The sheer relief of a full night's sleep.

Footsteps broke out upstairs. Tiny feet pounding in a run, just before Gwen started shrieking.

Derek caught Jacob without thinking about it, holding the cub up and twisting him until all the pointy bits were facing the other way. Jacob snarled, kicking and trying to get away. Get to Gwen.

Peter bypassed half the stairs and just jumped up onto the first landing. Derek could hear Tania pushing her blankets aside. Paul turning the stove off. His mother's soft comforting growl from where she caught Gwen.

Kitchen and breakfast saved from catching on fire, Paul stepped out and surveyed the scene before darting up the stairs to grab Matt, who'd crouched on the landing to make himself small and still, but ready to move if he absolutely had to. Derek still had his hands full with Jacob, and his father had Stacia penned in with a hug to keep her from squirming away.

Paul snorted and lifted Matt up onto his shoulders, taking a moment to listen to the house before starting back toward the kitchen. "Well. That was fun."

-----

The little moment of perfection didn't come back, but the terrors were eventually settled and appeased with pancakes and fatty meat. His mother and Tania were able to come down to join everyone else once Gwen was settled, curled up in bed with her father. And there had been at least some amusement for everyone at seeing Laura fall asleep at the table, hair unbrushed and wild from rolling out of bed hours too early.

Derek packed his bag and took off for work as soon as Tania had left to take Matt, Stacia and Jacob to school. It was an hour early, but he needed it. Needed the steady rhythm of his feet. Needed the uneven ground of the woods to focus on. Needed the calm of his breathing.

And if he still wound up being a few minutes late to work, at least Vic understood.

-----

Derek wasn't sure what was more annoying, the fact that his head kept snapping up when someone approached the door to check if it was Stiles, or the fact that he kept doing this even though he knew that Stiles was still in school.

He wasn't even sure he actually wanted to see Stiles, yet. He was still so twisted up, trying to sort out how he felt, what it meant, what he wanted it to mean.

Some part of his brain kept pointing out that he had contacts in New York. Vic would hate him for it, but she'd help him if he wanted to finish his apprenticeship with someone else. He'd just have to uproot himself from everything he loved and valued and move somewhere with too few trees, to take a job he'd probably hate, and probably deal with a roommate he'd almost certainly hate. That couldn't be more complicated than figuring out all of this.

The only time his brain shut up, really shut up, was when he was working. Properly working, not just manning the front desk like a trained monkey.

There was an anklet of poppies and lilacs. A cobweb behind an ear. A pair of wedding rings.

It was a reasonably busy day, and that was really the only saving grace to it.

But his head still came up every time it sounded like someone was approaching the door.

Vic took pity on him a little after noon and came around the wall to toss him a cleaned leg. "Give us something stark and eye-catching for the window. Pick a color and stick with it. You can have one additional shade for spot detail if you want it, but that's it."

He snorted and turned the mannequin leg over in his hands. "When by?"

"Tomorrow," she grinned, pushing away from the wall and walking over to mess up his hair. "You should be able to get an idea down and do the airbrushing at the end of your shift."

Derek rolled his eyes and batted Vic's hand away, but he set the leg aside carefully and pulled out his professional sketchbook to start working on ideas. Or, more accurately, to look through his previous ideas and see if anything he'd been playing around with might fit the bill.

Cara came in not long after, exchanging a kiss with her mate before complaining about the mess Vic had made. Derek wasn't sure if she meant something in the back or something at their apartment, and he wasn't going to ask.

Vic left. Cara changed the stereo from the mix CD Vic had let loop all day to the jazz station Derek preferred, thus cementing her position as his favorite for at least three days. Or until the next time she hogged all of Stiles' time. Whichever came first.

They hit a lull and he had his head down and was carefully identifying the interaction points of various curves for the design he was 90% sure he'd be using for the leg by the time the next customer came in. Derek's head hadn't come up before they'd hit the door, and he was going to call that a win.

He was counting it a win even though he hadn't looked up because it hadn't sounded like Stiles, even from a distance.

It was Thigh-of-dicks, so Derek just nodded and gestured him over to the consultation counter. He could hear Cara already walking toward the front, so he really didn't have to do anything.

Despite Vic and whatever mess she'd made, Cara's day was apparently made of sunshine and puppies. Thigh-of-dicks had a more coherent idea of what he wanted this time, and finally agreed with Cara that it would be more suited to his calf, if they put a flesh toned grass border in along the bottom.

Whatever. He was still Thigh-of-dicks to Derek. The mental image wasn't one that would go away.

But the design was going to be complex and colorful, with a lot of small, intricate and fantastical details. It was the kind of tattoo Cara loved, so she spent the next hour bouncing about like a chickadee on speed. It made an interesting counterpoint to the jazz.

Derek was engrossed in placing fragments from a broken arc when something eased in his chest, drawing his attention up to the door a moment before Stiles pushed it open.

His scent filled the space, even though he'd just come in. Even though he should be covered in high school. Even though he was still ten feet away.

And...this he recognized. Paul had talked about it. About always being able to find Dominique's scent, even under whatever (usually horrifying) perfume she'd had on. Even days later, or leaking out a building through a patio door she'd never really used.

His mother had been right. He had been dense bordering on willfully stupid.

It was just so much easier to understand when Stiles was there.

Stiles didn't immediately approach the counter. The sheepish smile he gave Derek faded into a confused frown as he sidled over to peer around the wall. He raised his eyebrows at where Cara was, from the sound of it, trying to dance and sweep at the same time, in the back.

Looking back at Derek, Stiles raised his eyes to the ceiling, then gestured vaguely between the speakers and Cara.

Derek ducked his head and grinned, shaking his head. "It has nothing to do with the music."

"Oh good." Stiles pulled his stool over to the counter. "So..."

Derek closed his sketchbook and stepped down to the end of the counter, braced his forearms against the glass so they were pressed up against Stiles' and smirked as he leaned into Stiles' space. "So?"

"...jerk," Stiles whispered, but he was grinning. His scent spiked into want and his heart rate skipped its way to a faster beat, coordinating oddly well with the sound of Cara's happy shuffle.

"So I've been told." Derek leaned in the last few inches and brushed his lips over Stiles'.

It lasted longer, this time. More than a peck, there and gone before it could be appreciated. This was a slow, gentle slide of lips, breath mingling in the space between them. Stiles smiled and leaned in, making the press harder, letting his lips part and his teeth brush the swell of Derek's lower lip.

Derek hummed low in his throat, just barely too high to be a growl, and nipped gently back at Stiles' mouth before pulling away.

It was har--difficult. It was difficult, not to chase the frustrated little noise Stiles made back down his throat. Instead, he leaned back and out of Stiles' space to--

--watch the warm brown of his irises return as his pupils contracted abruptly. The expression on his face sliding from hazy desire to confusion, then concern.

"Hey, are you okay?" Stiles leaned forward abruptly, reaching for Derek's cheek before his hand shied back uncertainly. "Your eyes..."

Were probably blue. And glowing. Derek blinked and covered his eyes with one hand, sinking his face down into the support of his hand and sighing.

"Derek?"

"I'm fine."

Stiles huffed and shoved lightly against his shoulder. "Yeah, I can tell. You're acting totally fine. This is, like, the definition of acting fine."

Derek lifted his head to level a mild glare at Stiles, once he was fairly sure he had his eyes under control again. "I'm fine."

"Dude. Your eyes are changing color," Stiles announced, standing up on the bottom rung of his stool so he could lean even closer. "I mean, really drastically changing color. That’s kind of awesome, in a bad-fantasy-novel kind of way, but it's not medically normal."

He felt his lips quirking up as he pushed Stiles back down onto the stool. "It even runs in the family."

Which was the honest truth, after all.

"I need to see this," Stiles stated, nodding firmly. "This is something I need to see."

"Next time we have you over," Derek hedged. "But speaking of family..."

Stiles rolled his eyes and made a grabby-hands gesture at Derek's sketchbook. "Dad totally Jossed me," he said, as though that made any sense at all. Derek shoved his professional sketchbook away and pulled out theirs instead, passing it over to Stiles. "He knew I had a date and he stayed up until I got home? So he was totally acting like a creeper and watching us from inside the house. Which was kind of not how I wanted to broach the subject, but it worked out alright. Or...y'know, not tragically, at least."

Derek nodded and pressed a pencil into his hand. Stiles opened the book to the page they'd left on, which so far was a random collection of birds and leaf shapes, and a single snake coiled up in one corner.

"So," Stiles started, selecting one of the birds that Derek had sketched in and shading in a black band around its neck. "We talked about the whole guy thing, and the bisexual thing. Then we touched on the age thing, and the fact that he was disappointed and unhappy that I hadn't told him first."

"That's a lot of talking. About things."

"Fun-ny!" Stiles mocked him, rolling his eyes. "But really, if it surprises you that I talk a lot, then I wonder who it is you went on a date with on Saturday. 'Cause it wasn't me."

Derek smiled and added some geometric markings to a jay's tail. "So what's the verdict?"

"Well, I'm glad you waited until today to kiss me," Stiles said with a faint blush, "because I was able to honestly tell my dad that you hadn't even kissed me yet. And I think that helped."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. That--it went somewhere kind of weird." Stiles shrugged and turned his attention more firmly to the bird he was carefully shading in. "But he's willing to believe that maybe you're not a creeper, since you're not pressuring me. And since I might have told him you're looking forward to coming over to meet him. So you have to actually act like that's something you want to do. Sorry."

"Don't," Derek hesitated, trying to find words to go with what he was feeling. "I do want to." He raised an eyebrow and smiled at Stiles when he jerked his head up in surprise. "Really, Stiles."

And it was true. He was worried about it, but Stiles loved his dad and it wasn't like he'd be able to stop worrying before they met.

Besides, it was probably best to get the first meeting over with before the Sheriff had any reason to think that normal threats wouldn't be entirely effective.

The look Stiles was giving him shifted abruptly to incredulous. "You remember that he's the sheriff, right? And has guns? Well, a gun."

Werewolf, the back of his brain responded, but Derek kept it out of his mouth and smiled instead. "Won't give him a reason to use it. It'll be fine."

Stiles scoffed, but he seemed to relax. "You keep thinking that. One of us needs to be optimistic." Derek moved on to a raptor, and Stiles reached over to add a squiggle to each geometric repeat on the jay's tail. It was a good addition, and Derek grunted approval. Stiles leaned in against his arm, smiling.

"So, anyway," Stiles continued, "when would be a good night for you? To do dinner at my place and meet my dad, I mean. And, like, this week, maybe?"

Derek slanted a look at Stiles out of the corner of his eye. Stiles, who was frowning intently down at the sketchbook but not actually doing anything anymore. "What aren't you telling me?"

Stiles exhaled roughly, letting the air blow through his lips rather than opening his mouth. It was, honestly, kind of obnoxious and immature, and why did he insist on loving somebody so ridiculous?

"Okay, so. The thing is that Dad kinda doesn't want us dating until he's had a chance to 'talk' to you? Which I'm assuming means mentioning the gun, and the law, and all sorts of other horrifically embarrassing things, and I'm not sure if I should stay nearby out of solidarity or run away screaming to avoid having to hear it."

...and honest, and open, and brave, and intriguing, and okay, maybe he was still just thoroughly screwed.

"It's alright for you to hang out here, though?" Derek asked, pushing away from the sketchbook and reaching for the schedule.

"Yeah. We're never alone all that long, which, whatever." Stiles rolled his eyes. "I don't think the others are going to get all up in our business if we're kissing or something."

Derek snorted. "Not unless they were taking pictures, no." He glanced over the schedule just to make sure he had everything right, while Stiles spluttered in the background. "I open tomorrow and Thursday, so I'll be getting off work about the time you're off school..."

"So I could swing by and pick you up?" Stiles leaned over, grinning. "Tomorrow works. Thursday he'll be working in the evening, so not so good."

"Tomorrow, then." Derek added a note to his schedule that he'd be unavailable after three.

-----

That night, Derek set the leg and Stiles' finalized template aside for Vic. She'd file the design in with the rest of Stiles' materials, and from a work perspective, he was done. Now all they were waiting on was time.

...and he still didn't know when Stiles' birthday was.

Dammit.

Chapter Text

There was something in his room.

Derek's eyes snapped open just before it moved, launching from the doorway to his bed, pinning him down. He tensed, halfway through shifting before the scent registered.

"Laura." He left his snarl in the word, but Laura just laughed and shook her head so her hair brushed against his nose.

"So. You nervous?"

Snorting, he pushed one of her legs out from underneath her and used the brief moment she was off balance to shove her onto the floor.

"ow."

"Cry harder," he suggested, standing and twisting to get the kinks out of his back. He needed a harder mattress.

His alarm went off, but Laura beat him to it, spitefully hitting 'snooze' instead of 'off' before running cackling out the door.

Derek sighed and collapsed back onto his bed, seriously contemplating just lying there until his alarm went off again. "What did I do to deserve this family."

Upstairs in his parents' room, his mother snorted loudly. "Don't make us answer that."

How did Laura know there was something to be nervous about?

-----

"Thaaank-you!" Peter sang out, hooking Derek's bag up from the floor.

Derek growled and lunged after his bag, but Peter was faster than him and had it well out of reach by the time he'd had a chance to react. Also, it felt more than a little ridiculous to try and pursue someone while clutching a piece of toast between his teeth. Doubly so when peanut butter was involved.

"Now, now. No reason to be feisty. I'm just checking on something." Peter turned his head to grin at Derek, his hands busy opening the bag. When he got a look at his spoils, he made a pained noise. "Really Derek?"

God damn peanut butter. Derek did his best to chew pointedly in his uncle's direction before reaching for his milk.

"No. This simply won't do. I'll help." Peter breezed out of the room, still holding Derek's bag. "I'll be in your room. You finish eating."

Like hell. Derek folded the rest of his toast in half and shoved the entire thing into his mouth, grabbing his glass as he headed upstairs after his uncle.

Who had his head buried in Derek's closet. What. The hell.

"This is better." Peter pulled out a grey button-up shirt Derek hadn't worn since he'd graduated from art school. "If it fits. Here, try it on before you go."

He didn't hand the shirt to Derek, but hooked the hanger over the door. Then he started examining Derek's shelves. "You have a pair of jeans that aren't ripped, right? I know it's fashionable, but this is meeting the parent, not trying out for head cheerleader."

Derek, caught swallowing the last of his milk, tried furiously not to choke on it.

"Oh good, you do. And of course they're black." Peter sighed and shook the jeans out, eyeing them critically. "Colors exist, nephew."

Shaking his head, Derek snatched the jeans away from Peter. "No. Laura bought those."

"For your next date, then?" Peter grinned with all his teeth, but it was aimed into the closet. "Maybe you could go bowling."

"Ooooh, competitive ass ogling." Dominique poked her head in, one hand cupped loosely around Erin's head to keep it steady, just in case. "Can we make it a family event? I want to watch."

Derek whined and cast around for his bag, edging toward it and his bed. "Can we not do this? How did you know I was meeting his dad tonight?"

"David ran into him at the grocery store last night." Peter pulled himself out of Derek's closet long enough to quirk a critical eyebrow in his direction. "Which you'd know, if you weren't devoting so much effort to avoiding your family."

"Maybe if my family wasn't being so ridiculous..."

Niq blew a kiss at him. "We love you too." She pulled the grey shirt down off the door and leaned in further, waving the hanger in Peter's direction. "I remember this shirt, it is not going to fit. He'd bust the shoulder seams." She turned back to Derek and chuffed irritation at him, almost as well as a wolf. "Seriously, Derek. You need to weed out your clothes occasionally."

Peter made a noise of agreement from inside the closet. "He still has some of his painting clothes in here."

Because he still used them. Sometimes even for painting.

"Niq, darling, do you have time to do some shopping today?" Peter asked, pulling his head out. "He needs a decent outfit for tonight, and his working clothes do not cut it."

Derek huffed but sat on the bed and resigned himself to being ignored. He hadn't had much hope of resisting Peter's interference, but with Niq involved there wasn't even much point to even trying.

He maintained that there was nothing wrong with a black t-shirt and blue jeans, though. The jeans were only a little ripped at the hems, anyway.

"I can eyeball shirts, but I'll need a size for pants. Oh! Can you grab out that pair with the pocket ripped off?" Niq finally stepped into the room, leaning around Peter. "Those looked great on him before Danielle ripped the ass out."

"You think he still has those?" Peter made a face but ducked back into the closet.

Niq rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on. It's Derek. Of course he does."

Technically, he did. As rags. Not that he was going to bother telling them that. "If you're doing this anyway, can I go now? I'd like to get to work on time."

Peter and Dominique both waved him off, and Derek slunk out with his bag.

His dad caught him at the door with a pat on the shoulder and a sympathetic look that was mostly spoiled by the upward tick at the corner of his mouth.

Derek glared at him, even though his heart wasn't really in it. "This is your fault."

The smile finally spread over his dad's face as he shrugged, smiling down at Greg when the movement earned him a sleepy protest. "Want a ride in today?"

"Are you kidding?" Derek snorted and took off into the woods, letting the rhythm of the run sink into his bones and settle his thoughts.

-----

It was a short shift for work, but it felt endless. The two appointments he had were both for fairly stark blackwork pieces, neither of which required his full attention. Niq breezed in just before 2:00 in one of her full on 'trust me' skirt suits and carrying a garment bag.

She looked about as out of place as possible. But she also wasn't wearing her perfume yet, which was a plus.

Derek folded his arms on top of the counter and slumped down to rest his head on them, squinting up at her. "Really?"

Niq rolled her eyes. "I didn't want to wrinkle the shirt, so I took measures. I didn't buy you a suit." She jiggled the bag at him. "Do you have somewhere to hang this up? I can take the bag with me if you want, but I don't have a lot of time here."

He snorted but stood up and took the bag. "Open house?" he asked, walking around the counter and gesturing for Niq to follow.

She groaned as she trailed after him, the sound of her heels clipping over the linoleum making a sharp counterpoint against the silence that went along with Derek being alone in the shop. "I wish. No, I've got a pair of newlyweds to show around. She wants modern, he wants homey, and they don't really know what they're looking for yet. I'm hoping that actually seeing some houses and talking out the pros and cons of the various options will help."

Tony came in while Derek was pulling his assigned outfit out of the bag, which resulted in a bit of awkward shuffling while Dominique smothered a laugh in the background.

"Hello," Tony grinned at Niq, sliding back around Derek while he tried to extract the hangers without much elbow room. "Who are you and what's going on?"

"That's my aunt," Derek gritted out, before Niq could answer. "Dominique, who is married to my uncle Paul, who has easy access to chain saws, shovels, and pruning shears that would make you weep. She's also the evil soul-twin of my uncle Peter, who has easy access to cleavers. So don't start."

Niq pouted at Derek but didn't bother trying to correct him. She couldn't, after all. It was pretty much true.

Tony shrugged and winked at Niq. "No harm in looking?" They traded grins as Tony moved past her into the shop proper, though he didn't go far. "But you didn't answer my other question. What's going on?"

Derek was busy staring in consternation at the dark blue dress shirt he'd unearthed, so Niq jumped on the chance to answer. "We're trying to make him look like a respectable adult for when he meets the Sheriff. A respectable adult who wears colors."

"False advertizing," Tony chortled as he disappeared around the wall, heading further into the parlor. "Next thing you know, you'll be trying to convince the poor man that Derek doesn't also hate happiness. Seriously, man, how do you stand the quiet?"

The shop stereo kicked on, set to a soft rock station and soft enough that Derek didn't want to claw his ears off, at least.

"I like quiet."

"And you like your monochrome wardrobe," Dominique said, leaning in to pat his shoulder. "We know. We just want you to look nice for tonight. And," she added, gesturing to the shirt, "I didn't get a color you don't already wear. Most of your jeans are technically blue."

Derek gave her a dry look and handed the garment bag back. "Not that blue."

"No, but. Baby steps." She leaned in to take the bag and kissed him on the cheek before turning to leave. "Trust me, it'll do wonders for your eyes. Oh, and wear the t-shirt under the button up. And leave the top layer open a few buttons! You want to look nice, not stuffed up."

"Too late," Tony offered from the prep station, which had Niq laughing brightly as she left.

-----

The plan was that Derek would step out a few minutes before the end of his shift to change, so it wouldn't be horribly obvious that his family had decided they needed to dress him for the occasion. But then they had a walk-in for a consult.

Derek and Tony were both leaning over the pages the customer had brought in when Stiles showed up, trading motifs back and forth and turning them to see how they matched up side to side or in diagonals. Stiles raised his eyebrows at the little cluster they made, but Derek just gestured him over with a smile.

The customer smiled nervously at Stiles, scooting over so he could pull another stool into the huddle. "Um. Hi?"

Stiles grinned at her before looking over the designs, frowning faintly. "What is that?'

"It's...blackwork motifs?" she offered, laughing incredulously. "For embroidery. I mean. I thought this would be a neat thing to do? But..."

Tony stole one of the squares Derek had been using and he nearly growled at him over it. "It is. I want to do this." The back of his brain was ready to hunch possessively over the commission, even though they hadn't discussed...anything, really.

Technically, it had been Tony's consultation. But he'd called Derek over once she started pulling her examples out, and as far as he was concerned that meant it was his now.

Stiles snorted and rolled his eyes at them, when the customer continued to look confused. "Here," he said, getting up from his stool and fetching Derek and Tony's portfolios from the bookshelf. "That's Derek, and this is the kind of work he does. The other portfolio is for Tony." He pointed at Derek, "You. Get your stuff, you're off shift. Tony can schedule her next consultation."

Derek wanted to grumble, but the woman was leafing through his portfolio with almost as much interest as they'd given her pile of motifs. Which was a good sign.

"Mine," he said anyway, poking Tony's shoulder as he headed to the back to...change clothes. Damnit.

Rolling his eyes, Derek turned around to call back, "I need to change."

"What?" Stiles frowned and looked up from where he was looking at the blackwork designs (the traitor). "Why?"

"Because you told my family I'm meeting your dad tonight."

Tony curled his head down and tried to hide a snort as a cough (useless) while the customer just looked baffled. Stiles's face transitioned quickly from confused to sheepish. "Oh. Uh. ...whoops?"

"Yeah." Derek grabbed his bag and the prescribed outfit and headed for the bathroom.

The jeans fit, but Derek doubted Dominique had actually gotten the measurements from a pair of jeans he could still wear. They weren't as bad as the jeans Laura insisted he'd need if he ever wanted to get a date (shows what she knew), but they were...not subtle. And the legs didn't fit over his boots, so they had to go inside.

The shirt was better, loose enough that he could still move his arms without feeling like he was going to cut off his circulation. Or rip something, which was actually more likely.

He tucked the shirt in as best he could and eyed himself in the mirror.

It was him plus color, and some buttons. Whoop-de-do.

Derek sighed, stuffed his work pants into his bag and headed back out.

The customer was talking scheduling with Tony at the register and Stiles was sitting on Vic's normal stool, slowly spinning himself from side to side with one foot jiggling in a nervous rhythm.

It was kind of amazing how he managed to pick out Vic's stool almost every time. Aside from Vic herself, Derek was the only one who could identify it reliably from all the other identical wheeled stools.

Up at the front, Tony confirmed an appointment for the next day with Derek, and Derek grinned, not caring that he was baring his teeth at Stiles, because Stiles was looking down and this meant that he got to play with those fascinating blocks of delicate lines and curls.

So of course, that's when Stiles looked up.

If asked later, Derek would guess that Stiles had tried to both continue his gentle twisting and take a step forward at the same time. In the moment, all that really registered was Stiles' mouth going slack, then his eyes going wide and panicked as he fell off the stool in an ungainly heap.

Derek crossed the distance a bit faster than he should have, but he doubted Stiles would have noticed even if he hadn't immediately slapped a hand over his eyes. He didn't smell significantly hurt and there was no trace of blood, so Derek waved Tony off when he peered around the wall. "I got it."

He righted the stool and crouched cautiously next to Stiles, testing how well the jeans moved with him. Just in case. "You alright?"

Stiles didn't smell hurt, but he did reek. Arousal and alarm primarily, slowly being matched by the rising sour-wood of embarassment. Derek bit his lip, trying not to smile.

Okay, maybe he owed Niq a favor.

"Why does your family hate me?" Stiles still had a hand over his eyes, but he was otherwise apparently content to spread out on the floor. Which, frankly, was disgusting no matter how much or how often they cleaned it. "I thought they liked me. Then they did this."

"You don't like the shirt?"

Stiles dropped his hands to glare at Derek. "You. Look. Like. Sex." he enunciated carefully, and Derek tried not to laugh. The bell on the door rang as Blackwork Embroidery left, and Tony walked over to sit on the consultation counter to watch the show.

"You look like sex," Stiles repeated, "and I have to have dinner with you. And my father. With you. Looking like that." He thumped his head back against the mat before making a face as he finally registered what he might be lying on. "And I need a shower now, and oh god," Stiles flushed, reaching up to cover his face again. "I didn't mean it that way. I was not talking about-- It's just-- The floor. And--"

"Stiles."

"Shutting up."

Derek shook his head, swallowing his laughter and snagging one of Stiles' hands to pull him up. "I just thought you might appreciate being stopped."

"Yeah." Stiles nodded, letting Derek stand and pull him up. But then he was frowning faintly and staring at...Derek's knees? Derek glanced down briefly to see if he'd gotten dirty, but his knees had never even touched the floor and there didn't seem to be anything else wrong.

"So, right." Stiles nodded again, pulling his hand back to brush off his ass as well as he could. "Now that I've thoroughly embarrassed myself. Shall we?"

-----

Derek had to roll his window down while Stiles drove to keep from choking on the hormones and nerves.

Chapter Text

Stiles' home was small, but that wasn't surprising. Most human houses weren't designed to hold upwards of twenty pack members. What was surprising was how...empty it felt, once they got inside.

"So, yeah," Stiles puffed his cheeks out and exhaled slowly, looking around as he rubbed a hand over his hair. "Uh, not as impressive as your place, but it's just the two of us now. And yeah."

Stiles stopped abruptly and braced himself against a wall to toe his shoes off, so Derek crouched to unlace his boots. "It has the advantage of quiet," he offered, not really able to comment on the rest.

"That is definitely true," Stiles nodded. "And generally speaking, nobody's going to sprawl over your car in the driveway, which I seem to recall being a problem you have."

Derek snorted, looking around. From a pack perspective, the house was tiny. Not suitable for more than seven or eight, and that was assuming half of them were kids or unattached adults willing to share sleeping space.

But there were only two strong impressions of people. Stiles was easy to identify, and the other had to be his father. They mingled and meshed in the way that family should, Stiles smelling a bit more of wood and earth and his father of spice and gun oil, but at the base nearly the same.

"But, yeah. So. House," Stiles interrupted Derek's thoughts, turning around and spreading his arms out. "Living room, fairly basic. Television, couch, coffee table. And the stairs, which go upstairs." He gestured broadly toward the stairs, spreading another wave of nervous-Stiles to overlay the more entrenched scents. "That's where the bedrooms and bathroom are, and Dad's office. Not that he uses it much, but we like to pretend.

"And, yeah, dining room." Stiles pointed to the round table in the adjacent room, in case he might have missed it. "Again, fairly basic. Y'know. Table. Chairs. And conveniently, it's connected to the kitchen."

Derek stopped Stiles from trying to introduce him to the kitchen by getting a gentle grip on the back of his neck. "Slow down. Breathe."

Stiles went still at the touch, leaning back against his hand with a shaky exhale. "I'm fine. Just nervous."

"I'm the one who'd be getting shot at."

Stiles' jaw dropped and he gaped for a moment before laughing. "Oh my god," he gasped, shoving at Derek's shoulder. "That doesn't help, jerk."

Derek ducked his head and smiled before giving Stiles' neck a light squeeze and dropping his hand. "It made you laugh."

"Yeah, fine, whatever." Stiles rolled his eyes, looking away. "Uh, I should probably. Dinner."

"Want help?"

Stiles shot a suspicious glance his way. "Why?"

He shrugged, aiming for nonchalant. "Just offering."

In all honesty, he remembered a bit too well some of the cooking disasters Stiles had described on their date.

"I can cook, you know," Stiles asserted, his scent going peppery and stubborn. Derek raised his hands in surrender, not that it stopped Stiles. "I mean, I'm no expert but it's been years since I couldn't manage something basic. So you just stay out of the way."

Stiles poked his arm for good measure before stalking toward the kitchen with a "Want anything to drink?" tossed over his shoulder.

Derek ran a hand over his face, exasperated and grinning all at once. "I'm fine."

Alone in the living room, the scents were easier to pick apart. Stiles and what Derek assumed was his father, yes. Those traces were strong, soaked into the room over years of contact, but they were also oddly...stale. Like the people who lived here avoided it.

It was...sad.

Also creepy as fuck.

Those weren't the only people scents, though. When Derek pressed a hand into the cushions of the couch, he could smell another. Male, teenager, more earthy than Stiles and carrying heavy traces of antiseptics and dogs. It was old, though. Months, at least.

It was strange, there being only one person who visited often enough for their scent to sink in. Had visited.

Why weren't there others? Why had this one faded?

Stiles...spent a lot of time at Tinge, particularly over the summer. Was that irrelevant, an indication of a problem, or the cause?

In the background, Stiles started humming. It was just a few brief snatches of something that he repeated and expanded, as though he was trying to remember how it went, but it was enough of a distraction to let Derek turn away from that thought.

If he let it, his brain would tie itself in knots from the possibilities when there was no way to know without asking Stiles.

No way that wasn't intrusive or seriously creepy, at least.

Snorting softly, Derek turned away from the couch to continue exploring. The other scents of the space were unsurprising: dust, grease, alcohol, gun oil, soap.

There was a trace of smoke and beeswax he tracked to one corner. A pillar candle, rarely burned and gathering dust, arranged at the center of a ring of fake flowers.

The fabric of the flowers had the faintest remnants of a woman's scent clinging to them, and Derek backed off so quickly he might, maybe, have tripped.

And possibly only barely managed to keep himself upright by slamming a hand against the wall.

No claws. Small miracles.

"You okay?" Stiles' head followed his voice around the corner from the kitchen.

Derek pushed himself back up with as much dignity as possible. "Yeah, fine. Just..."

"Tripped?" Stiles offered with a grin. "From the looks of it...on air?" Derek rolled his eyes with an annoyed huff and Stiles' grin stretched wider. "Ahunh. That's what I thought." He jerked his chin toward the wall. "You knocked one of the photos sideways."

Stiles disappeared again, leaving Derek to blink at the wall. The photo he'd bumped was of Stiles, smiling tiredly up at the photographer from a bench, wearing a BHHS uniform and a lacrosse stick braced against his shoulder.

He hadn't even noticed there were photos on the wall. They...didn't have much of a scent.

Derek carefully pushed the frame back into something approaching straight, and glanced over the cluster around it.

They were all Stiles.

A toddler in the bath with a crown of bubbles and giving the camera a look of perfect disgust. A little older than the terrors, with a tooth missing and holding up a fish nearly the length of his forearm. Another, about the same age, getting ready to swing a wiffle bat at a T-ball. Matt's age, or around it, holding an award of some kind in front of his chest. Slightly older, in a little league uniform and holding up a small trophy. Same age visually, leaning against another boy and laughing with a birthday cake in front of them. The lacrosse photo.

The age difference niggled at his brain, and Derek went back to the birthday photograph. Counted the candles.

Eleven. Stiles' mother died when he was eleven.

Unsettled, Derek looked away from the little constellation of happy memories. They were displayed openly, but...

There were no scents of strangers in the house. This was a closely guarded territory, and it left him feeling that he'd trespassed, somehow.

The closeness of the house was suddenly smothering; like there wasn't enough air inside the walls. It was too dense with the scents of only two men, stale loneliness and sadness and a desperate edge of effort.

In the kitchen, Stiles was humming again, with the occasional muffled thump or thunk suggesting he was poking through the fridge and cabinets. The sound wasn't familiar or comforting on its own, but Stiles was.

Derek let himself be drawn toward the kitchen and leaned in the doorway. He had to bite his lip to keep from laughing. Stiles was...

Dancing wasn't quite the right word. It was a sort of jerky shuffle with exaggerated head bobbing that, more than anything, reminded Derek of nature documentaries.

Specifically, the mating habits of birds.

Despite the noise, it looked like all Stiles had actually accomplished was getting out a bag of green bell peppers and...an onion, that he was carrying around the kitchen with him.

Stiles stopped in his shuffle for a moment to frown at a cabinet without opening it, his fingers tapping out a quick rhythm against his thigh. Derek took a step forward, then another when Stiles didn't react. "Are you sure I..."
"JESUS FUCK."

Derek stepped back quickly, avoiding the elbow Stiles threw out as he turned around, darting forward to catch him when he lost his balance. They blinked at each other for a few moments, Stiles' heartbeat hammering between them.

After a moment, the flush in Stiles' skin intensified, and Derek smiled. He spread his fingers out, pressing in lightly as he dragged them forward and down until his hands were settled on Stiles' hips.

Musk. Spice. Apple.

Addictive.

Stiles swallowed and poked at his chest with a glare that was so faked it was almost comical. "You are meeting my dad tonight. Stop that."

Derek had to hold back a happy rumble; settled instead for leaning forward and brushing their noses together before backing off. He grinned when Stiles deflated a bit, then grimaced and rubbed at his nose.

"Okay. House rule," Stiles said once he was done assaulting his nose. "Make some sort of noise while you walk. I don't care if you stomp your feet or sing showtunes or something but just, dude, noise. Okay?"

"Okay." Derek felt his lip twitching up, and didn't really care to rein the smile in. "Are you going to stop threatening me with produce, now?"

Stiles blinked and looked down at where he had been gesturing pointedly at Derek with the onion and grimaced. "Your fault. Totally your fault," he declared as he turned and set the onion down next to the peppers. "So, yeah. Produce. That's what I was doing." He nodded decisively, as though that had needed the confirmation. "I was thinking either spaghetti or stir fry for dinner. Because I am not as awesome at cooking as your family is. But either way, peppers will be involved because they're tonight's vegetable de jour."

"Stir fry sounds good." Derek leaned around Stiles to pick the onion up and listened as his heart rate bumped up again. "I can prep the vegetables if you want. You were talking about a shower earlier."

"I already said I don't...." Stiles blinked and sighed, slipping around Derek to poke his head in the refrigerator. "No, okay, that makes sense. Hey, how are you at slicing things thin? Because I'm, eh--yeah. So I don't use carrots because they come out all dense and unevenly cooked. But--"

Derek snorted and started looking around for knives and cutting boards. "Stiles? I can cut any vegetable any way you want it. Just help me get started."

Stiles took him at his word, hauling out carrots, summer squash, mushrooms, and...bean sprouts. Derek hoped Stiles didn't want those cut.

"Mostly, everything just needs to be washed and cut kinda thin. I'll start the carrots and onions first, because they take forever, then throw other stuff in as it makes sense, so it doesn't matter if the rest of it is weird and odd shaped." Stiles grabbed a plastic cutting board out from the drawer beneath the oven, unsettling more than a few pots in the process, before turning to a drawer for a knife.

It was a good thing he was looking away, because Derek didn't even think to hide his horrified look at the treatment those knives were getting. He was obviously spending too much time with Peter.

Stiles paused once he had things set out, blinking at the pile of vegetables he'd left out. "And the bean sprouts, obviously, don't need cutting. You can ignore those. I can leave them out if you want, I like to add them right at the end so they're still crunchy but--"

Derek pulled Stiles back and aimed him at the stairs, where Stiles had waved when he'd talked about his room. "Shower. Change. Calm down."

"Right."

Derek rolled up the sleeves on his shirt as footsteps thumped up the stairs. All of the produce and his hands needed to be washed, and he needed to investigate that knife drawer. Because what Stiles had pulled out was a boning knife.

Washing most of the vegetables didn't take long. He had to look around for a clean kitchen towel (well, 'look' in the sense of 'smell for laundry') and used a corner of that for the mushrooms. If they didn't have a knife block they almost certainly didn't have a mushroom brush.

Upstairs, the shower turned on and...that was the first shirt hitting the ground. Then the second.

Derek turned to the knife drawer to distract himself, jerking it open to send the contents rattling and focusing on that. The assortment of knives was...strange. Two boning knives, four steak knives, a cleaver, and a small chef's knife. Only the cleaver had a reasonable edge, probably because there wasn't much call to use it.

He was judging their kitchen. Derek snorted and resolved to spend less time with Peter. After he'd told his uncle enough to ensure that he'd have support for getting them a basic knife block. With knives.

And a sharpening stone, since there wasn't one of those in the drawer either. The chef's knife was sharp enough at least, so he wouldn't have to grimace his way through using the boning knife.

He started with the onions, mostly to get them out of his way. It didn't take a lot of brain power to trim, peel, split and slice an onion, though. Derek was fairly sure he could do it in his sleep, at this point.

Which meant when Stiles stopped humming with a brief yelp, a squeak of skin against a wet surface, a plastic clatter and a faint thump, he had almost all of Derek's attention immediately. But Stiles was muttering about stupid distractions and there was a bottle of some sort being put back in place, so it didn't sound like he was hurt.

Derek relaxed and went back to finishing off the onion, but he listened as Stiles ducked his head under the spray. As he wiped his face free of water and gasped once he emerged. As he groaned and, Derek thought, thunked his head against the wall. As he swore under his breath and...

The carrot Derek had just picked up snapped in his grip. He took a deep breath, grateful that he couldn't smell anything but the kitchen and vegetables and the general scent of Stiles' family, and set the carrot aside. There was a brief pause in the steady sound of skin on skin from upstairs and Stiles... The noise he made.

Derek closed his eyes and pushed the carrots and the squash out of the way. He was going to focus on the vegetables. Specifically, he was going to focus on the non-phallic vegetables, in the hopes of retaining some semblance of sanity.

He glanced at the mushrooms, but Thigh-of-Dicks' consultation was still firm in his memory, even if white button mushrooms weren't particularly disturbing on their own.

Peppers it was.

So Derek trimmed and seeded the first pepper, and didn't listen at all to the soft gasps and bitten off moans in the shower upstairs. He made his prepwork more engrossing as a coping mechanism, slicing the peppers in careful diagonal strips. The mushrooms wouldn't offer any challenge and, well, Thigh-of-Dicks. So Derek grabbed the carrots next after all, carefully cutting them into lengthwise chunks to match the peppers. The carrot he'd broken earlier needed a bit of clean up to make the edges straight, but they were less...problematic, in pieces.

Slicing carrots in lengthwise strips was never his favorite task, because it was finicky and largely unnecessary, but he threw himself into it with a ferver that probably would have made his family eye him warily and ask about clones or pod-people. It worked to distract him, though, which was what he'd needed.

So really, it was Stiles' fault when the front door opened without Derek even hearing a car pull up.

Derek flinched at the unexpected intrusion and the knife slipped, cutting into the base of his thumb, just below the joint. He licked over the cut and sealed his mouth over it as best he could with its awkward placement and rushed over to the sink.

His hand was healed and the knife clean by the time the sheriff came into his sight line, and Derek was abruptly grateful for the dull knife. If he'd been using one of Peter's, that wouldn't have been a shallow, easily healed cut.

"Uh. Hi." Derek shook the knife dry and attempted to smile at the sheriff. Who was still in uniform, and staring at him.

Chapter Text

In person, the sheriff's scent was more intense. The gun oil was stronger and the spices sharper. There was a sour smelling emotion with traces of carbon and graphite, but Derek had no idea what that was.

When the sheriff turned away, it was to look pointedly upstairs as the shower turned off.

Derek flushed and walked back over to the vegetables to start on the mushrooms.

"So," the sheriff started, still half turned to look up the stairs. "You're dating my son."

He kept his eyes on the counter and his head low, carefully slicing off the end of each stem. Although streamlining the prep process might not be the wisest choice. "Yes."

"He's seventeen. You're..?"

"Twenty three."

Stiles ran across the hall upstairs, swearing under his breath.

The sheriff hummed and nodded. "So in a year, he'll be three quarters your age."

Derek stared down at the knife, just resting against the cutting board halfway through a mushroom. That was a rather...horrible way to think about it.

Upstairs, Stiles' thumping around his room finally became localized and quieter. Derek hoped that meant he was nearly dressed and ready to rescue him.

It was astonishing how quickly he was running out of mushrooms.

"Look, son." The sheriff finally turned his full attention onto Derek. "You don't have to worry about the fact that he's the sheriff's son. You don't have to worry about the law unless you break the law, understood?" He waited until Derek nodded before he continued. "And that does include sexual activity with a minor, by the way. But I'm not going to abuse my position to make your life difficult, or to get revenge if you break his heart."

No more mushrooms. Derek nodded again, keeping his attention on the cutting board. Squash. Squash was his friend.

The sheriff walked over to pat him on the back. "That doesn't mean I won't make your life a living hell if you hurt him, mind. I just won't abuse my position to do it. Okay?"

"Understood sir."

"Call me John," and the sheriff sounded almost friendly as he walked to the fridge.

He raised his voice as Stiles came thumping down the stairs. "Want anything to drink? I can't believe he put a guest to work in the kitchen."

"He offered!" Stiles skidded into the kitchen and eyed the situation warily. His hair was just long enough that it was spiking a little from the shower, and he'd-- Well, 'dressed up' might be taking it a bit too far, but it was a clean t-shirt and the overlayer was lacking in plaid.

Apparently close enough to 'dressed up' to earn a pointed eyebrow raise from his father, but Stiles didn't react beyond pretending not to notice. Instead, he walked over to stand next to Derek and check on the vegetables.

The new clothes didn't smell of high school or Tinge, so Stiles just smelled of the house, and soap, and Stiles, and sex, because that wasn't a smell that just rinsed off.

"Dude. What. Do you have, like, magic knife skills or something? It looks like you shaved the carrots."

Derek hunched down into his shoulders, shifting away to keep from leaning in and sniffing. "You said thin slices," he offered as Stiles picked one of them up to boggle at the fact that it drooped to one side.

"Okay, yeah, not complaining." But Stiles was frowning down at the carrots and...

He picked up the last un-sliced chunk of carrot, holding it up at Derek and eyeing his hands. Because, of course, there were some blotchy spots of red that had sunk in and looked suspiciously like blood.

Derek focused on the cutting board. He could smell more blood but none of it was visible, so he said "we had enough carrot, and that piece looked off. I figured it would be best to leave it out." Derek plucked the carrot out of Stiles' hand and started gathering up the rest of the vegetable leavings. "Where should I put these?"

"The trash is under the sink," the sheriff offered, watching with an amused smile from his position against the fridge. "And that offer of a drink is still open."

"Anything's fine." Evidence disposed of, Derek rinsed his hands off again and dried them absentmindedly on his thighs. He probably wouldn't be touching any more food, so it shouldn't matter.

But Stiles was staring at his legs now, and the sheriff was staring at his son, and fuck.

If it would have helped at all, he would have asked if the sheriff had any whiskey. He knew they had it. He could smell where it was, and they'd already covered his age. But it wouldn't do anything.

Instead, he pulled out one of the smiles he used at work and did his best to ignore the way it made Stiles' eyes narrow. "Can I help by setting the table or something?"

The sheriff wasn't looking at either of them, calmly pulling two glasses down from the cupboards. "I think we can help by getting out of the kitchen. Here."

He handed one of the glasses to Derek, who took it numbly.

"Dad. Don't you think it'll be a bit distracting for me if I have to worry you're threatening my boyfriend in the living room or something?"

Boyfriend. Three quarters his age. Sheriff.

Derek inhaled slowly against the building pressure in his chest and turned to the sink to fill the glass with water.

The sheriff was chuckling behind him. "Well, you can stop worrying about that. We've already concluded the threatening portion of the evening."

"Dad, come on."

When Derek turned back, Stiles and the sheriff were having a wordless argument, tied up in eyebrows and mouths and hand gestures. It was familiar enough that the grip around his chest eased up and let him step forward to take away the small frying pan that had appeared in Stiles' hand while he hadn't been looking.

"Hey," Stiles complained as he turned toward Derek, looking confused.

Derek shook the pan at him. "Broad gestures and cookware do not go together." He hesitated a moment, distracted by the sudden wave of rich spices. From the sheriff. "This isn't a large enough pan anyway. Why do you have it out?"

Stiles' mouth worked uselessly for a few moments before he settled on frowning at the pan. Then he huffed and snatched it back, bending to open the drawer under the oven again and getting a different pan out.

Technically a skillet. He was definitely spending too much time with Peter.

The sheriff stepped in again, eyes creased in amusement as he settled a hand on Derek's shoulder. "Come on. Living room. We'll talk, and I promise," he emphasized carefully, eyeing his son, "to be on my best behavior. Alright?"

Derek fled to the living room before Stiles could object.

He sat in Stiles' normal spot on the couch, to keep his scent close, and drank half his water in an attempt to settle his nerves. In the kitchen the sink ran again, but if the Stilinskis were arguing, they were doing it silently.

After what felt like forever, the sheriff came out and set his own glass of water on the coffee table between them. He leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees, and cleared his throat.

"It's Derek, right? I didn't exactly give you a chance to introduce yourself." Derek nodded, and the sheriff continued. "So what's making you so jumpy, Derek?"

His head came up and he could feel himself frowning. "Jumpy?"

In the kitchen, Stiles was muttering to himself about overprotective fathers. His scent mingling with raw meat, soy sauce and ginger.

The sheriff grimaced and waved a hand negligently. "Agitated. Unsettled. Worried. Nervous. I mean," he chuckled, "it's perfectly natural to be nervous right now. Up to a point." He narrowed his eyes at Derek, looking so much like Stiles calling him on a moment of bullshit that it was astonishing. It still felt like a threat, though, so he dropped his eyes to the sheriff's hands. "You passed that point a while ago. So I'm giving you a chance to explain yourself, before I start worrying I made the wrong choice when I decided not to see if you had a file, before meeting you."

"It's--" Roiling blacks and reds, mixing but never blending, curled and bubbling at the bottom of a lethal drop. "Guilt," he said, recognizing the visual, the emptiness in his gut. "It's-- I know better, but..."

But it's Stiles.

"Not many people would jump to guilt, talking to me." The sheriff sat forward, expression thoughtful. "Not out loud, anyway. Should I have looked you up?"

He was nodding before he'd fully processed the question, but he couldn't make words work. Derek tried to focus on the scent of the ginger, trying to keep his thoughts together. Trying to keep calm.

The sheriff's expression was twisting, flickering in little spasms of reaction that Derek didn't know how to read. It was more subtle than the changes his son went through, but the similarity was undeniable.

...why was the ginger suddenly stronger?

"Oh my god, Dad, I told you," Stiles sighed, sounding aggrieved, as he thumped his way from the kitchen to the front door, trailing ginger and soy sauce behind him. "Derek's bad at words."

"And yet, they're a necessary skill for modern society," the sheriff drawled, breaking his focus to look up at Stiles. "What about the..."

Stiles snorted as he dug through his school bag. "Don't even. Seriously. If I mess up it's your fault."

It felt like there were about four conversations going on at once, only three of which he could hear and two of which were completely incomprehensible.

With a short, triumphant laugh, Stiles pulled the sketchpad he used for his art class out. He trotted to the couch and leaned over the back to hand it and a pencil to Derek. It was open already, to a page that had a Stiles self-portrait sitting in the lower left corner, with the spiky-saur curled up in his lap.

Stiles fled the scene again, but not before tossing "Don't think I won't be checking in" over his shoulder.

Derek blinked down at the sketchbook and added a little heart-bubble between the heads in the sketch, rather than looking back up at the sheriff.

Fine, it was sappy and cute. Whatever. Accurate portrayal of the moment and Stiles was the one who'd drawn them cuddling in the first place.

And once again, he was so screwed. He was starting to identify as the dinosaur.

"...maybe I should be making sure you know what you're getting into." The sheriff's voice sounded tired but fond, and the scrape of skin suggested he was running a hand over his face.

Derek smiled and shrugged, keeping his focus on the page.

It wouldn't be any fun if he really knew. But he liked it so far.

"So," the sheriff started again with a bit of forced cheer, "You think it'd help if I looked you up in the system. Which kind of implies there's something there to find. Unless you think that a lack of anything would set me at ease?"

Derek shook his head, but didn't look up from the shapes forming under his pencil. It wasn't anything sensible, just organic lines and shapes forming around the sketch Stiles had left for him.

"I remember an attempted arson. Seven, eight years ago?"

The tip of the pencil stilled and Derek stared down at the page, looking for any traces of fire.

No fire, but the scent of ginger was swelling. Not enough to completely overpower the other scents, but close.

The sheriff cleared his throat, leaning forward further but looking away from Derek now. "I know that it was the Hale property, and that there was a minor involved. But Sharon kept a really strict hand on the details of that one. Is that what I'm looking for?"

Derek managed to duck his head in an abrupt nod and carefully adjusted his grip on the pencil. It was thankfully plastic not wood, and he could feel the material starting to stress under his grip. "I--"

I gave a statement. The words were in his head, but his throat closed tight around them.

The sheriff's hand landed briefly on his knee, squeezing lightly before pulling away. "I'll find it. Here."

Derek took the remains of his water when it was offered and drank it gratefully, going just slow enough to make sure he wouldn't choke.

He shot a glance at the other man when the sheriff stood, pushing his own glass firmly in front of Derek. "Even if you won't take a drink, I think I need one."

The subtle tension in the sheriff's face and shoulders had loosened, and Derek felt himself relaxing in turn. He smiled, hoping the expression looked the way he felt: calmer and wry. "Sorry. I got my alcohol tolerance from my mother."

The sheriff's eyebrows shot up even as he started for the kitchen. "Sounds like there's a story there."

"It can be a story for the table," Stiles sniped from the kitchen. "If you can stop harassing Derek long enough to eat, anyway. Dinner's almost ready."

"What is dinner," the sheriff asked as he disappeared around the wall, "aside from a terrifying pile of vegetables?"

A truly terrifying amount of ginger, if Derek's nose was anywhere close to right.

Derek set the sketchbook aside and gathered up the glasses before trailing after the sheriff, uncertain of what he should be doing. If Stiles and his dad had patterns, they were small and enclosed. Derek couldn't see them, let alone figure out how he was supposed to fit into them.

"Stir fry," Stiles said, sounding much too cheerful for a simple announcement. "With turkey for protein and bean sprouts for crunch."

"Mm. Yay," the sheriff deadpanned. Derek came around the corner just in time to see Stiles rolling his eyes.

He cocked his head and glanced between the whiskey bottle in Stiles' hand and where the sheriff was skeptically poking at the stir fry with a spatula. That looked significant, but it probably wasn't an acceptable thing to ask about.

"Yeah, I can tell you're thrilled." Stiles capped the bottle and put it away and out of sight. "Anyway. It's serve yourself, because you're both here and that's just easier. So here." He handed his father the glass and nudged him toward a stack of plates and a bowl of rice were sitting out on the counter.

Derek set the glasses down and stepped up behind Stiles while his father was distracted. It was a bad idea. He knew that. Even through the ginger, Stiles still smelled of sex and so strongly of Stiles that it was heady.

He wondered if this was what getting drunk was like. Or having a drug addiction. All he knew was that things just felt easier when Stiles was close.

Stiles tensed for a moment, but he relaxed back until he was almost leaning against Derek's chest before he had a chance to pull away. It wasn't an embrace, but it put them close enough that Derek could turn his head and brush his nose against the hair behind Stiles' ear, drinking in his scent. Grin at the way he shivered.

"Is the rice supposed to be crunchy?"

"Uh..." Stiles twitched, then sighed heavily, and Derek pulled away with a soft laugh. "Not really. But I'm sure it'll be fine when you put the sauce over it?"

The sheriff snorted to himself but he had a few scoops of rice on his plate when he turned toward the stove. Derek followed after him when Stiles gave him a light shove.

The rice was crunchy, and the vegetables looked overcooked. He couldn't tell how badly overcooked by smell because now that he wasn't burying himself in Stiles, the scent of ginger was overpowering everything else.

A decent knife set for Stiles and his dad. And for himself, Derek was going to strand Stiles in the kitchen with Peter a few times.

He didn't have any reason to wait until Christmas for that to happen, though.

"So, what was that about your mother's alcohol tolerance?" the sheriff asked, settling into a chair. The wooden chairs didn't retain enough of an impression for Derek to know if they had regular seats, but the sheriff looked too settled into his chair for Derek to even think of him elsewhere at the table.

"It's a Hale trait." Derek shrugged and snagged his water glass, taking the time to refill it so Stiles would have to sit down before he did. "Most of us don't drink because it's too expensive to get drunk, and we have no reason to develop a taste for it."

Stiles sat next to his father, finally, and Derek sat next to him, across from the sheriff. The disadvantage of circular tables; you could never escape someone at them.

Derek kept his eyes down while the sheriff made a thoughtful noise, waiting until he'd had a chance to lift his glass for a drink. "I know my mom drank your predecessor under the table a few times." He fought back a smirk when the sheriff coughed and swallowed carefully. He did his best to look concerned when the sheriff cleared his throat and pinned him with a glare. "I think it was a bonding activity for them, or something."

"That's pretty impressive," the sheriff agreed, shaking his head.

Neither of them had taken a bite yet. Stiles stabbed a piece of turkey with a pointed look at both of them, but the face he made when he actually put it in his mouth wasn't reassuring.

The sheriff nodded, unsurprised. "Chinese?"

Groaning, Stiles got up and stole Derek's plate as well as his own. "Your fault. And we're not getting anything breaded."

"The beef with broccoli has vegetables," the sheriff called after him, tossing a small smile in Derek's direction.

"Ahunh. And they fry the beef, sooooo...how about no?" Stiles shoved the plates out of the way for the moment and fished a menu out of a drawer. "We're only getting one beef dish, so choose wisely."

The sheriff snatched the menu away from Stiles once he was close enough, then...offered it to Derek.

He shook his head, leaning back. "I don't like a lot of spice. Other than that, I'm really not picky."

Both Stilinskis rolled their eyes at that, but they settled into their rhythm again, hunching over the menu and debating different options with pointed fingers, grimaces and stern looks. They didn't quite forget his presence, they'd occasionally look up to check his reaction to a dish, but they didn't try and draw him in either.

It let him just watch as they slipped easily into each other's space, then startled out of it and had to re-negotiate. The sheriff's slow, practical movements were at odds with Stiles' alternation between completely still and fast, abrupt gestures.

They ended up getting the beef with broccoli, having conceded chow mein into steamed rice in return.

Chapter Text

When they had a bit of space, the Stilinskis fit together well. Less immovable object and unstoppable force, more patiently stationary object and unstopping force. It wasn't a combination that seemed like it should work, but it did.

But then, Stiles was involved. That was apparently just what happened when Stiles was involved. Or at least, that's the impression he was getting from the sheriff's stories.

"So to explain his point about the French Revolution," the sheriff leaned in, grinning widely as Stiles groaned and let his head thunk down next to the carton of kung pao chicken, "he used the school as an example, with the administration standing in for the nobility. In the process, he apparently got about halfway to accidentally," he closed his eyes and added with fervor, "I hope, convincing his class to join together as a mob and overpower the school administration."

"I hate you," Stiles informed the table. "I hate you so much."

Derek was hunched over in his seat, a hand over his mouth and the other gripping his thigh. Not the table, for fear of claws.

"The best part, of course," the sheriff continued with wry, malicious glee, "is that they were studying the American Revolution. Not the French one."

Derek didn't think he'd laughed this hard in years.

-----

The sheriff was a blues fan, and a sheepish follower of horrible police dramas and crime procedurals. (Derek sympathized. There was nothing quite like the horrible train wreck of watching what people thought you were.) He'd been a baseball player when he was younger, and hated cooked celery enough that he picked it out of anything that touched his plate.

Stiles had played lacross, which he knew from the photos. But--

"I quit last spring." Stiles punctuated his statement with a particularly vicious stab of his fork. That poor unsuspecting broccoli. "I practiced like I was supposed to, and I did my best, and I had the honor of keeping the bench warm. I got to play once, and that was only because half of first line was taken out by pink eye."

"That's--"

Reasonable, he meant to say, baffled by the hard note in Stiles' voice. But the sheriff cut in at the same time. "It's not always about whether or not you play, Stiles. There's a discipline to being part of a team."

Ah. Old family argument.

Derek turned his attention to the steamed vegetables, and patiently worked at picking all the celery out of the carton and onto his own plate while Stiles and his dad rehashed the topic.

"But I wasn't part of a team. I was a practice dummy, and nobody bothered to treat us any differently." Stiles' dad opened his mouth, but Stiles plowed right on ahead. "And I get plenty of discipline and character-building pain in track. Trust me."

"You're on the track team?" From the photos, he would have expected baseball.

That diverted the Stilinskis' attention back to him, and Stiles huffed in annoyance. "You don't need to sound so surprised."

"No, I just," Derek pushed the steamed vegetables toward the sheriff. He'd taken the celery, the least the man could do was clear out some of the baby corn, since he seemed to think that was actually food. "We should go running sometime."

Stiles snorted, rolling his eyes, but his scent curled up into a thick blend of warm spices. "Yeah, maybe. I'm more a short distances kind of guy. So..."

"So we'll have to do some endurance training," Derek added, smirking. Stiles just scowled at him.

The sheriff chuckled, shaking his head and taking advantage of the fact that Derek had moved all the baby corn to the top of the carton. "So how long, exactly, have you two been dating?"

Derek blinked at the abrupt topic change. "Saturday."
"Thursday," Stiles said at the same time.

The sheriff blinked at them and settled his chin on one hand, gesturing vaguely with the chopsticks in the other for them to continue.

Stiles rolled his eyes and slumped back in his chair. "The date, as in singular date, only one having occured so far, happened on Saturday. But he asked me out when I left his parents' place on Thursday."

Derek couldn't recognize the expression on the sheriff's face, let alone what those traces of pepper and sweet might mean. "The way Stiles was talking, I had the impression this was a slightly more established thing."

Stiles huffed and rolled his eyes, but he was blushing and keeping his face averted. He smelled more strongly of embarrassment now than when the sheriff had been teasing him with stories from his childhood.

"It is," Derek said, enjoying the spike of apple in Stiles' scent when he turned abruptly to stare at him, mouth gaping open. He kept his eyes tilted down, not entirely sure he wanted to face whatever was in Stiles' eyes right then. "I was apparently just too dense to realize it."

"That sounds like you're quoting someone," the sheriff smiled, but his eyes were narrowed and he was looking at his son, not Derek.

"My mother." Derek huffed, moving a hand to cover his eyes. Partly out of embarrassment, partly to add a bit more distance between himself and Stiles' stare. "She says I'm acting worse than my uncles did."

That got a snort from the sheriff as he pushed himself back in his seat. "That is pretty bad." He grinned and nodded when Derek lifted his head abruptly to stare in shock. "I used to get called out to your uncle's nursery all the time, back when he was setting the work placement program up." The sheriff shook his head again, chuckling softly. "That is not a man you expect to see staring off into space with a loopy smile."

Stiles snorted, but his attention hadn't wavered from Derek in the slightest. The sheriff raised his eyebrows, and Derek would have been worried about the looks he'd been giving his son if he didn't seem so much more relaxed. "How long have you two known each other, anyway? I know it's been a while, but..."

That got Stiles' attention, as he straightened up with a faint spike of alarm in his scent. "Uh. A while, yeah. How long exactly..?" he trailed off with an uncertain wince. "How would--"

"This is the sixteenth, right?" Derek didn't quite ask, focused on the image unfolding in his mind.

He didn't get an answer, just redirected their attention, but he thought he was right, so--twelve diamonds in a circle, two falling off and breaking. One diamond left orange pieces, the other green, orange forming another circle of twelve diamonds with another four in a cross. He pushed the green fragments away one at a time until..

Another circle. A perfect twelve. "Ten months and twenty eight days."

He focused outward again, to disbelieving stares from both Stilinskis, and he shrugged, curling one corner of his mouth up in a not-quite-apology.

"You have got to be fu--kidding me," Stiles exclaims, not looking away even with the guilty twitch and correction in the middle. "I'm not even-- I mean. We didn't like each other," he threw his hands up, reeking of exasperation. "How can you remember that?"

"Gregory's birthday was ten months and twenty six days ago," Derek ducked his head with a grin. "And yeah, I didn't like you. You were an obnoxious little punk. But you were definitely memorable."

"You..."

"Greg was born on the 20th, two days after you made a nuisance of yourself at the parlor."

"I did not--"
"So that makes the day we met November 18th," Derek added smugly. "Ten months and twenty eight days ago."

The sheriff wasn't even trying to hide his laughter. He didn't laugh with his entire body like Stiles did, but curled in around the sound. More like his own father.

"You're impossible," Stiles informed him dourly. He didn't seem to mean it, so Derek just shrugged in response. "No, seriously. Impossible. You are ruining my life, and everyone's going to side with you because you remember the day we met."

"Son, just," the sheriff shook his head, shoulders still hunched with amusement, "give up when you're ahead." Stiles gaped at his father and threw his hands up and out before gesturing pointedly at Derek, making the sheriff raise his eyebrows again. "He's known you for nearly a year and hasn't run screaming in the other direction, yet," he pointed out dryly. "Consider yourself lucky."

Derek choked on air, trying to laugh on an inhale. He bent his head and coughed into his forearm, keeping his fingers curled into the palms just in case. His eyes were watering by the time he looked up to find Stiles and his dad staring at him expectantly. "Ah," Derek cleared his throat and ducked his head, grinning at the table. "My mom said the same thing."

"Didn't know your mother knew Stiles that well," the sheriff remarked, ducking away from a playful swat Stiles aimed at him.

"Okay, all talking officially sucks," Stiles said, rolling his eyes as he stood and started collecting plates and empty cartons. "Are we kicking my boyfriend out or watching a movie?"

The sheriff eyed Derek with a faint smile. "I'm up for a movie if you are."

"So long as it isn't Lilo and Stitch or Finding Nemo."

"What?" Stiles frowned, looking up to fully share his disbelief. "I thought you liked them."

Derek grinned and ducked his head. "We're talking about movies, not sweet potatoes," he said, just to get a delighted smile out of Stiles. "And that's not the problem. It's-- Gwen wants to be Stitch for Halloween." He lifted his head again, smiling at Stiles' blank expression. "Stacia's going to be Lilo. I have literally lost track of how many times they've insisted we watch those movies."

"Uh. Sorry?" Stiles offered, but he looked too happy for Derek to take the apology seriously. "What about Jacob and Matt?"

"Jacob's going to be an astronaut, unless he changes his mind again. He wanted to be James Bond, but he thinks he'd be mistaken for Cobra Bubbles, since our parents won't let him have a gun. Or a martini." Derek paused while Stiles and his dad laughed, feeling warm and content. It wasn't that much different than being home, anymore. "Matt's going as Batman."

Stiles whooped and thrust one hand into the air in a victory gesture. Thankfully, there wasn't much left in the container he was holding to go anywhere.

The sheriff shook his head, chuckling under his breath. "I'm sure Stiles can help you broaden your viewing options a bit. I swear, I go to more kids' movies these days..."

"It's not my fault they're so awesome now," Stiles rolled his eyes and went back to gathering up empty cartons, but he was blushing.

Derek stood to help gather the rest of the dishes, only for the sheriff to wave him off. "You're a guest. And regardless of how the meal turned out, you already helped. Shoo."

"Yes sir," Derek agreed, wishing he had something to keep his hands busy. "Can I--"

"John, Derek," the sheriff, John, reminded him. "My name's John. And no, you can't. Go find our DVDs or draw or something."

It felt strange, not to be doing anything, but... Well, the cleanup for three went a lot faster than the cleanup for a pack.

So Derek wandered into the living room to sniff out the DVDs.

-----

Derek pulled a few familiar favorites out of the Stilinskis' collection and left them on the coffee table. It was tempting to sit in Stiles' spot again, soak up his scent, but.

Instead, Derek dropped into the seat right next to it, where there was an old and lingering trace of another male. It was probably just a friend, but they hadn't sat there in a long time and it made Derek feel better, to layer over the scent with his own.

It made him feel even better when he let himself curl up on his side, head and shoulders in Stiles' couch territory and breathing him in.

"You tired already?"

Derek twisted and smiled up at Stiles before pushing himself up. "Not really. Your couch is comfortable."

Your scent is comforting.

"Yes. Yes it is." Stiles grinned down at him before dropping into his spot, only blushing a little when it left them pressed together all along their sides. He leaned forward to grab the notebook, then diverted to the DVDs. "Oh, man. That's perfect." Stiles twisted around to call back to his dad, as he wandered back into the living room with a glass of water. "We're watching Star Wars."

John nodded, setting his glass down and squinting at them. "Anything you two need before I sit down?"

"I was going to wait until after, actually," Stiles rolled his eyes, squirming further into his seat. "Someone's going to need to put the DVD in, though."

"I can," Derek offered, moving to stand. "I forgot--"

John tried to wave him back down. "I can get it, I'm already up."

The offer made him hesitate, but he shook his head and started toward the door. More specifically, toward his bag. "No. I forgot our sketchbook. And we need more pencils."

"Alright," John said, and it sounded like he'd finally sat down. When Derek turned around, he and Stiles were having another silent conversation that featured heavily in raised eyebrows and rolling eyes.

Derek huffed at Stiles and picked up the Star Wars DVD, shaking it questioningly until Stiles pointed out where the player was hidden and grabbed a remote.

The opening music was just starting to swell when he went to sit down again. Stiles grabbed him by the waistband and tugged, pulling him in to sit a bit closer than he'd meant to. Close enough that Stiles had to wriggle to the side a bit to free the edge of his leg. John cleared his throat and gave his son a pointed look until Stiles lifted both his hands in surrender.

Derek just smiled and opened up their sketchbook, bracing it across Stiles' left thigh. He handed a pencil over and sank down into his seat. Stiles' arm stayed where it was, stretched out behind him and at the perfect height to support his neck.

Stiles and his dad talked quietly (usually) through the whole movie. Brief exchanges of quotes, a synchronized grumble about Han shooting first, commentary on the believability of the setting, the costumes, the people.

Stiles and Derek talked through the whole movie. Sketches of aliens and Tatooine. Cartoons of jedis, playing around with their robes. More aliens, playing with tattoos that no human would ever be able to pull off.

They made it almost all the way through the movie before Stiles made a Tattoo-ine joke.

-----

When the credits started rolling, Derek lifted his head to let Stiles reclaim his arm and stretch. "Okay," Stiles started around a yawn. "We don't have any adorable kids to indicate an end to the evening by drooling on Derek, so I'm taking care of that instead."

Derek felt his lips quirking up and almost chuckled when Stiles glared. "Not the drooling part. I think you get enough of that at home."

Stiles stood up and stretched again and John laughed under his breath (and hopefully not paying much attention to Derek, whose eyes were glued to the strip of skin Stiles' stretch exposed). "You're sending Derek off so early?"

There was a brief tightening across Stiles' shoulders, as he exhaled slowly. "Aaaactually, I'm driving him home." He shrugged when his dad turned a pointed eyebrow in his direction, but didn't back down. "Dad, he doesn't have a car. He runs to work, because he's crazy. And it's dark out, now. I'm driving him home."

John's eyes narrowed, but he nodded after a moment. "Alright. But keep in mind that I've got an eye on the clock."

Stiles scoffed and wrapped his hand around Derek's, giving him a gentle tug up off the couch and toward the door. "Yeah, well, just remember he lives out in the middle of the woods. It takes a while."

"Oh, don't worry. I know how long it takes."

John laughed again while Stiles rolled his eyes and grabbed a hoodie. (The red one. Of course.) Derek was fairly sure they were both blushing.

Chapter Text

The drive was quiet. Stiles tapped a rhythm against the steering wheel with his thumbs and kept an agitated, roving eye on the mostly empty streets.

Derek reached across the jeep and cupped the back of Stiles' neck, once they had a decent stretch of straight, uninterrupted road. He smiled when Stiles sank back into the touch, his shoulders slumping.

"You don't need to drive me home, you know." He pulled his hand back as Stiles thumped his head back against his headrest and gave Derek an incredulous look.

"I am not making you run home in the dark, Derek." He turned back to the road, shifting uncomfortably. "Besides, I was hoping for a goodnight kiss and I really didn't want to do that where Dad would be watching. Again."

"Going to walk me to my door too?" It might not be nice to tease, but riling Stiles up had been a hobby long before he'd realized what he really wanted.

The snort from Stiles wasn't the least bit embarrassed or cowed. "Uh. No. My dad would watch, but I think your family would take pictures. Or video." Derek smothered a laugh with his fist while Stiles continued, "I was actually figuring on stopping as far away from the house as you were comfortable with walking. Because as Laura proved last time, your family has, like, no boundaries."

Derek doubted Stiles would believe him if he said to just drop him off at the edge of the woods, but it was tempting.

It would cut at least five minutes off what John should be expecting.

-----

The house was brightly lit against the evening, but his family had left off the worst of the external lights. It gave them the illusion of privacy under the cover of darkness, even if Derek knew better.

Derek unbuckled his seat belt as soon as they passed the tree line, masking the click with a well known dip in the lane. He held the belt in place and directed Stiles to the first flat spot of grass he knew would hold a car, releasing the belt slowly and quietly while Stiles was distracted.

He was fully unencumbered by the time the engine was off. When Stiles turned toward him, mouth curving around a word, Derek was already there. It was a short kiss, just a peck, and Derek pulled back. Stiles made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat and pushed forward to follow--

--and stopped abruptly as the seat belt jerked him back.

Derek grinned and ducked his head even as Stiles blew an exasperated breath at him. "You did that on purpose."

"Yup." He hit the button on Stiles' seat belt and tugged it carefully out and around to make sure it didn't hit Stiles as it retracted.

The fact that that maneuver put him back in Stiles' space, his weight braced against the edge of Stiles' seat, was purely incidental.

Stiles huffed again, but his eyes were focused on Derek's mouth and he didn't quite manage to sound irritated. He certainly didn't smell irritated. The scent of Stiles' want filled the jeep so thoroughly that Derek thought he'd probably still be able to smell it weeks later.

There wasn't much room to think about that, because Stiles wrapped a hand around the back of his neck and pulled him in for another kiss.

Neither of them were apparently aiming, though, so he wound up kissing Stiles' chin with Stiles laughing against his cheek. Derek swallowed a rumble and moved up, catching Stiles' lower lip between his and inhaling his gasp.

It was a haze of mingled breath after that. The brush of open mouths, wet slide of a tongue, and breathing each other in until Derek almost couldn't tell them apart. He was lost in their scent, the feel of Stiles' hand in his hair, the press of his thumb behind Derek's ear.

The sting of teeth on his lip made him groan, and he could feel Stiles' smile against his skin. Stiles leaned their heads together, nose by nose and mouths barely separated. "'S kinda funny."

"Hmm?" Derek hummed, not really caring as he pressed in for another kiss.

"We're pretty much parking," Stiles snickered before nipping at his lips again. "In your yard."

Derek didn't have the words to understand that, let alone respond. Stiles' teeth moved to his jaw, scraping and pulling a shiver straight out of his spine.The tip of Stiles' nose brushed along the line of his jaw, Stiles' breath hot against his throat, fabric tearing--

--and Derek was falling forward and to the side, his cheek slamming into Stiles' shoulder before he could brace his other hand against the door.

Stiles yelped and curled around Derek, shock giving way to confused amusement in his smell. "Dude. What the--"

He could feel it, though, and Derek closed his eyes and buried his face against Stiles' neck with a groan. There were shreds of upholstery and foam under his claws. He couldn't ignore the stale, rancid-sweet scent of the padding and he was fairly certain Stiles would smell it as well, once he paid attention.

Derek flexed the finers of both hands carefully, making sure his claws were gone and discovering scratches on the car door to match the ones on Stiles' seat.

Thank fuck he hadn't grabbed for Stiles, when he'd fallen.

"Hey. Derek. You okay?" Stiles pressed a kiss against his temple, hands carding through Derek's hair and rubbing at his scalp in a way that really wasn't encouraging him to move. Ever.

Derek sighed and pushed himself up, trying on a smile that he was fairly sure was doomed to failure. "Fine. Sorry, I just--"

Ripped through your seat like a preteen with his first boner, was not an appropriate response, however true it was.

But Stiles' heart rate had kicked up again and he was shaking his head with an unsteady, disbelieving laugh, never taking his eyes away from Derek's. "Don't. I mean, not about-- Throw yourself at me whenever. Just not, like, while I'm standing or I'll end up with a broken tailbone. At least."

The moment was dead and eviscerated, but Stiles' pulse wasn't calming and his focus wasn't wavering. At all. "What's--"

"Your eyes are glowing," Stiles blurted out, closing his own eyes. His scent twisted, affection and want and fear tangling in a nauseous contradiction. "It's--they're not just blue. They, uh. They glow? And this," his arm flexed, drawing Derek's eyes down to where Stiles' fingers were curling through the gashes his claws had left in the seat. His hands were shaking. "Uh, this...wasn't there before. Which, by the way, you're paying for the repairs, 'cause I sure as hell didn't do it."

It felt like his world was breaking. He didn't have words for this. Couldn't draw it. Couldn't just think what he meant and let Stiles figure it out from the rest of him.

He needed to explain, but he didn't know how.

Stiles wasn't helping, flooding the air with fear, stubbornness, affection, nerves, want. How could one person feel so many things at once?

Stiles took a deep breath, opening his eyes and staring determinedly at Derek. "I get that this is maybe a secret, but you're kind of shit at--"

"I'm supposed to tell you," he interrupted. He couldn't stand to listen while Stiles broke his worldview down around him. "I wanted to tell you. I hadn't figured out how."

Still hadn't.

"Words are not your thing," Stiles nodded, his body and scent relaxing into something a bit less high strung. Then he gestured to his seat again. "This way kind of sucks, for the record."

Derek winced. "I'll get it fixed."

Stiles nodded, his scent smoothing out. Less fear, less want, settling into a fond sort of curiosity. It was the way he smelled whenever Derek let him look at what he was working on.

"So..." Stiles started, still nodding vaguely. "I'm just-- Your eyes turn blue, and apparently glow. I'm thinking this was your fingers somehow," he said, tapping his fingers against the rips, "because the spacing's right for it and that's where your hand was. You run at least a half marathon every day you work, while carrying those gigantic boots you work in, apparently." He flailed briefly, his hands flying up in exasperation. "And it's not exactly a flat route, even if you're following the road."

Derek blinked and pulled back in surprise, but Stiles just rolled his eyes. "There aren't a lot of places this far back in the woods. It wasn't hard to figure out with a little help from Google Maps. And by the way? You're still crazy." Stiles huffed and turned away, crossing his arms over his chest and...blushing. "Also, I weigh more than a loaf of bread, in case you didn't notice. Which you might not have, with the way you picked me up earlier. And I've never seen carrots go 'off' with red spots before."

"It was blood," Derek admitted, relieved when Stiles stiffened and went sour with worry instead of embarrassment or fear as he eyed Derek's hands again. "Your dad startled me when he came in, and I cut myself." He leaned forward, tugging one of Stiles' hands free gently and bringing it to his left hand, guiding Stiles' fingers to the base of his thumb. "Here."

Stiles' fingers clenched around his hand, pressing into the skin as though he could feel the cut if he just tried harder. "Oooookay."

"Was there anything else?" he couldn't help asking.

"Uh, noises." Stiles scrunched his nose up, feeling along the bones of Derek's hand now that he'd fully determined that the cut was gone. "You, yeah, but it's your whole family. It might just be a family thing, like, a behavioral quirk? But there's this...rumbling thing that you and one of your uncles do." Which was news to Derek. When the hell had he done that around Stiles? "And I just can't get my throat to do anything like that."

Stiles flushed again and cleared his throat, eyes darting off to one side before coming back to Derek with a stubborn glint. "And, uh, the...sniffing. That's a bit weird to me, but it might be normal and it's kind of hot anyway so whatever," he finished in a rush, the blood rising in his skin and flooding the air again with faint embarrassment and desire. "But I think that's it, unless your family's weird hugging issues are related. So..?" Stiles trailed off, waiting for Derek to take his turn. Fill in the blanks.

The werewolf shaped blanks.

"The hugging is a little related," he started with, trying to sort out words. "It's...scent. Sharing scents, learning about you and making you smell like us."

Stiles' face was sliding slowly into...something. Sometimes, his face was too expressive to read easily. His eyebrows were pinched together and slightly raised, his eyes were squinted as narrow as they could probably get with his brow where it was, and his mouth was slowly sliding open to just...hang there.

And his mouth wasn't a good thing to stare at.

Coughing softly, Derek turned his attention back toward the house, squinting at the windows before extending his hearing. It sounded like Tania, Peter and his dad were putting Matt and the terrors down. Probably because his mother, Laura and Niq were lining the closest window and staring intently at him.

Paul seemed less invested, standing behind Niq with his head tucked down to relay messages to his wife. He looked up and waved, probably because there wasn't any important talking to pass on.

His life. What even.

All the same, he had called it that this would be a spectator event. Damn his family anyway.

"Seriously? Is that it?"

Derek turned back to find Stiles glowering. "No," he blinked. "Just the first thing that occurred to me."

He ducked out of the way of a hand that was probably a swat disguised as a flail, but Derek wasn't sure.

"Okay," Stiles sighed, "I know words aren't your strong suit. So is there anything you can draw or write or sh--" Stiles flinched back, pressing himself into the car door again as Derek held his hand up and showed Stiles his claws. "--oooooh my god."

Derek lowered his hand but didn't let it shift. Instead, he curled them his claws in toward his palm and reached out to bump his hand against Stiles' again. Stiles took the cue and his hand, glancing up at Derek and not relaxing until he nodded.

The astringent metal of Stiles' fear went...really, really poorly with the musk, spice, apple that had already saturated the air around them. He kept spiking with that metallic scent; his breathing shallow, his heart rate jumping and calming and jumping again.

But he wasn't acting afraid, even if his body was, and Derek had no idea what to do with that.

Derek thought he might give anything to make Stiles feel safe, but he had to admit that watching Stiles plow onward regardless of what he was feeling was...interesting. Impressive.

Maybe he'd been wrong about what that scent was?

While he thought, Stiles had coaxed his hand open with light touches and gentle nudges. His fingers ghosted over Derek's, running over the edges of his claws and both sides of his fingers. "No calluses," he muttered, mostly to himself, before taking firm hold of Derek's pinky and testing the tip of the claw.

"Okay," Stiles said, nodding as he slipped his hand into Derek's, lacing their fingers loosely like the claws weren't even there. "So what next?"

There was a disbelieving snort of laughter from the house, but Derek was too busy gaping at Stiles to worry about it. "You..."

Stiles frowned, hand twitching and almost pulling away before Derek could draw his claws away and hold back. He was tense again, though; his arm nearly shaking with how tightly he was holding it. "What? Did I--"

It was a little awkward, with their hands tangled between them, but Derek leaned across the faint space between them. He moved slowly, and smiled when Stiles cut off his words with a sharp inhale that was definitely more want than fear, somehow.

He gave Stiles plenty of chance to pull away, but wasn't surprised when he pushed forward instead. That was just Stiles.

It was their second kiss all over again, only they were both completely awake and it was Derek who needed to express something. Gratitude, affection, disbelief.

Maybe love.

When they pulled back, Stiles was smiling and relaxed again. He squeezed Derek's hand and shifted in his seat to face him more. "So? What's next?"

Derek laughed, and Stiles scowled at him, pushing a finger into his chest. "Hey, no laughing. I am being awesome about this."

There was a chorus of laughter from the house and Derek smiled, ducking his head for a moment. "You are. You're amazing." He had to say it. Had to. Before there was any more of a chance for things to go wrong. Derek took a deep breath and closed his eyes, gently squeezing Stiles' hand before pulling his fingers up and away from skin. "Don't. Run."

Then he shifted.

Derek gave Stiles a moment before opening his eyes again. A moment to tense up and swear. To push himself back with another spike of that horrible, acrid metallic scent. To get his breathing under control. To lean forward. To--

The back of his hand brushed against cotton as Stiles cradled it to his chest. And that was Stiles' breath on his face.

"Dude. That is so cool."

He opened his eyes to find Stiles only a few inches away, eyes roving over his face like every minute detail needed intense study. Stiles' heartrate was thrumming like a jackrabbit against his hand, and the metallic scent hadn't faded in the slightest. But he looked fascinated, not frightened, and there were other scents. Apple, richer and more complex even under the harsher metals. And...happy, green and sweet and bright.

"You are so confusing," he said carefully around his fangs. Stiles' eyes dropped to his mouth and he folded his hand further closed over Stiles' automatically. The claws brushed and caught against his skin and Stiles inhaled shallowly, his heart skittering up another notch.

It felt like fear, but Stiles reached for his face, for his fangs, with his free hand. He stopped before getting anywhere close and wet his lips with his tongue. "Can I--"

Derek didn't make any move to stop him. Opened his mouth when Stiles' hand moved in again.

It was easier to let Stiles draw his lip back than to bare his teeth. The light press of Stiles' thumb against his skin was...anything but threatening. Derek let his eyes drop mostly closed and focused on the scent and the feel of Stiles, so close.

There was still want past the fear. And...wonder, maybe. Somewhere between curiosity and joy.

The scrape of skin against his lip was amazing. Stiles moved slowly enough that Derek could feel the ridges of his fingerprint. Then Stiles guided the upper lip up and the rest of his hand just fell into place along Derek's jaw.

Stiles laughed and his hand slid further back, leaving room for Stiles to lean in and rest their foreheads together. "Yeah. That noise."

A bit of gravel made its way into his rumble. Embarrassment, in part, but not enough that he'd bother to try and stop.

"Seriously. You're kind of purring, Derek." And he could hear the grin in Stiles' voice.

"'m not a cat," he growled, and opened his eyes to confirm what his nose was telling him. He growled again and watched Stiles' pupils dilate, felt his breath hitch, smelled the want that was finally starting to overpower the metal again. "We're werewolves."

Stiles brushed their noses together and pulled back with a smirk. "Nope. You're still a spiky-saur."

Derek rolled his eyes and shifted mostly back to human, just leaving his eyes. "Is there--"

The air soured with metal that tasted like terror. Stiles lurched back in his seat, but--

He was trying to take Derek with him. Pulling on their shared hands and reaching across to grab and yank on the back of his shirt. It was awkward and ungraceful and could have dislocated his shoulder with more power behind it, but it did get him facing the right direction.

With the light behind her, his mother was just a silhouette against the house. The only thing visible were her red, red eyes.

Chapter Text

"Calm down," Derek murmured, twisting to try and work himself and Stiles' arms into a less awkward and painful position. "That's my mother."

"Hooooly..." Stiles' heart sounded like it was trying to beat its way out of his chest, but he lost the death grip on Derek's shirt at least.

His mother was finally close enough to open the door and duck her head in. Stiles relaxed a bit more once he could see her face in the faint light of the jeep's overhead might-as-well-be-a-glowstick, and she smiled at him before turning to Derek with an impish smirk, cooing "Protected you."

Derek rolled his eyes and hunched further down in the seat. His family. Impossible.

"Uh. What?" Stiles asked, even as he finally separated their hands and moved his up to Derek's shoulder. Where it was perfectly situated to try and pull Derek away from the threat again, if it was necessary.

His mother's smirk softened and she leaned more of her weight against the door, sagging in as far as was probably comfortable. "I'll explain later. Right now, I just wanted to clear up something." She turned her attention to Stiles, eyes still alpha red. "You're staying here tonight. David's already on the phone with your father with an explanation, so don't worry about that."

"Oookay, hold on." Stiles pushed forward suddenly, leaning over his grip on Derek's shoulder and...keeping his chin tucked. Guarding his throat. "No. I am not staying tonight. You don't get to decide that."

Maria's eyebrows shot up, "I kind of do. We need to explain a few things, and I doubt your father would be happy with you getting home at two."

"Uhuh, still no." Stiles rolled his eyes, and...it was fascinating. His heartrate was elevated, he was breathing shallowly, the terror-scent had dulled back down into the sour metal that Derek was certain meant fear, now. But there were determined pepper notes growing, and the tension coiling in Stiles felt poised to attack, not run and hide. "Why can't we have this talk tomorrow?"

"Oh, we'll talk again. And soon," his mother tilted her head, keeping her own throat guarded with the angle she chose. "But you don't strike me as the type to leave this alone, and I'd rather you not start off with bad information. And," she sighed. "I believe you won't say anything about us, but you need to understand how dangerous it is to do so. What kind of danger you'll be dealing with, if you remain our friend."

Stiles didn't relax at all, but his scowl was thoughtful at least. Maria smiled and tilted her head the other way, "And Derek's working late tomorrow. If we do this tonight, you two can snuggle while we talk."

He hated his family.

Derek tried to sink into the upholstery, taking comfort in the fact that Stiles was slowly turning hoodie-red next to him.

"...okay. Hold on a sec." Then Stiles was shifting away, leaning further over and attacking his glove box. Old receipts and a few maps fell out, and Stiles squirmed further over, and--

Derek sighed and thunked his head back against his seat and stared resolutely upward, not at the wiggling ass that was about ten inches from being across his lap.

It was a little harder to ignore the hand braced on his thigh.

"Ahah!" The glove compartment closed with a sharp snick, and the hand on his thigh squeezed briefly before being snatched away. "Ah...sorry," Stiles muttered as he wiggled back into his own seat.

When Derek looked down again, his mother's head was ducked until her hair covered her face and her shoulders were twitching in silent laughter. He glared at the top of her head but turned back to Stiles when he heard a sharp rattle.

Stiles had an Altoids tin, his head rocking from side to side as he frowned down at the contents. It smelled like metal, only a trace of harsh mint and the dry, powdery smell that went hand in hand with most medicines.

Before he could ask, Stiles snapped the tin shut. "Okay, spending the night here wouldn't be world ending. But I have school tomorrow, and I need clothes and my bag before that, so..."

"So we'll get you up early," his mother interjected, raising her head to smile again. "Don't worry too much about it for now, we'll talk about the logistics inside." She made a show of checking her naked wrist for the time. "If you two want the illusion of privacy, you can stay out here for about ten more minutes. Then we'll need Stiles inside so he can get caught up on the story and call his father."

"Thanks, Mom," Derek smiled up at her and leaned out, effectively nudging her far enough away that he could get a grip on the door. She jumped back with a laughed 'Rude!' as he swung the door shut.

Stiles snickered and shook his head before frowning thoughtfully at the dashboard and biting his lip. "So it's-- Is it everyone in your family? They're all--? That's why you said that, about the eyes. And why most of them don't act quite right." He blinked rapidly for a moment, his focus flitting back and forth between Derek's eyes, the house, and the dashboard. "Is that why your grandmother looks like she should be your mom? 'Cause really, nobody old in your family looks old enough, except maybe--" Stiles bit that thought off and sucked on his upper lip, eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Yeah, no. Does the smelling thing mean your senses are enhanced? Can they hear us from the house? Can you see in the dark? What about--"

He didn't have any food, so Derek covered Stiles' mouth with his hand instead.

Stiles made a frustrated noise and tried to bite his hand.

"I can't answer your questions if you don't shut up," Derek pointed out.

Stiles rolled his eyes and tried to bite Derek's hand again, tilting his whole head in an attempt to move his mouth away from the curve of Derek's palm. Derek snorted amusement and let Stiles have the edge of his hand to chew on, which made Stiles' eyes go wide and surprised even as he bit down gently with an inquisitive noise.

"We're werewolves." It seemed like a good place to start.

Stiles rolled his eyes again and made a noise Derek could only interpret as go on.

Or, more accurately for Stiles, yeah, and that's freaky but we've covered this and it's no freakier than the eye thing and the claws or, y'know, the insta-makeover thing your face did or your mom, so how about answering the questions I was actually asking?

"Most of the family is a werewolf, but it's not everybody," he explained. "Vic and Cara are human. So are Dominique, Matt, and Stacia. We don't know about Greg and Erin, yet."

Stiles released his hand and pulled back to free up his mouth. "So that's five out of sixteen?" Stiles frowned as he shifted to lean more against the door and face Derek more. "Technically five out of fourteen, if we don't count the babies. Or, no. Vic and Cara don't live here, right? You said sixteen people live here. So five out of sixteen. Erm, again."

"Six out of seventeen," Derek corrected. "Vic's brother Edward is studying abroad. He's human."

Stiles nodded, eyes distant. "So... Cara's essentially married in, right? And Dominique. But Matt and Stacia were born without the fangy stuff, even though their dads--"

Derek offered Stiles his hand again. Stiles glared at him and grabbed the hand in his own, but once he'd laced their fingers together he moved Derek's hand to a more comfortable position and closed his teeth over the index finger instead.

"Werewolf parents do not necessarily mean werewolf kids. With a human and werewolf, a kid is more likely to match the mother, but even two werewolves will occasionally have a kid who's entirely human." Stiles hummed agreement, so Derek continued. "We don't age more slowly, but it might seem like it. We heal quickly, and don't get sick nearly as easily. And yes, we have enhanced senses. And yes, they can hear us from the house, but it's...it's sort of like knowing there's a radio playing in the background. You can know it's there without knowing what's playing. If they make an effort, they'd be able to understand us. But they'd have to make an effort."

Stiles snorted around Derek's finger and gave him a mocking look. Derek shrugged in response. "Yeah, they're making the effort." He heard his sister laugh sharp and loud, and sighed. "And so am I. Laura's laughing at us, by the way."

Smiling, Stiles bit down lightly before pulling Derek's hand away from his mouth. "That's because Laura is awesome, but has no boundaries."

"I'm going to regret introducing you two..." Derek mused, while his sister's triumphant cackles rang out in the distance.

Stiles grinned and nodded. "Probably. So...is the mouth thing just normal for you?" Stiles nipped at his finger, in case he'd forgotten what mouth thing Stiles was talking about. As if that was possible. "I mean, for werewolves. It's kinda weird for me, but hey. Working."

Derek shrugged a shoulder and looked away. "I didn't have any food, and you're always putting something in your mouth when you're working through something. I thought it might help you...I don't know, slow down?"

"So not normal, just an us thing." Stiles nodded. "Okay. So, right. The hugging. The frankly excessive hugging, general touching-ness, and overall lack of personal space bubbles. You said that's a scent thing?"

"Mostly," Derek nodded. "It's a scent thing, but it's also. It's--the hugging isn't--" He chuffed annoyance and rolled his eyes, trying to make the shapes and impressions in his head turn into words. "We touch more than humans, but it's not-- Some other packs prefer more space and less touching. So it's not strictly a werewolf thing, it's...a Hale thing?"

He heard Tania say 'a Hale thing,' in a choked off, hysterical voice before he realized how else that could be interpreted. Right on cue, Laura chimed in to comment on what kind of 'Hale thing' Stiles wanted to get in touch with. Derek blushed and focused intently on Stiles' heartbeat, not wanting to hear what else his family would come up with.

But Stiles was nodding like that made sense. And thank goodness, probably couldn't see how flushed Derek was with how dark it was.

He raised Derek's hand to his mouth again and gave it a quick, affectionate bite. "I think I can deal with going inside, now. Plus, I'm kind of curious what they told my dad."

And suddenly Stiles had dropped his hand and was out the door.

"Probably car trouble," Derek said, once he had his own door open and had stepped out. "Laura's a mechanic."

Stiles was making his way carefully around the back, one hand skimming over the windows. "Great. Just what I need, more reasons for my dad to hate my jeep."

"At least your boyfriend's sister is a mechanic." Derek grinned and made his way to Stiles. "You can probably get preferential treatment."

He could hear Laura grumbling in the distance, but he really didn't care.

Stiles was squinting suspiciously at the ground, but looked up with a sheepish grin when Derek approached. "I wouldn't object to that."

"Any particular reason you wanted to head in right now? I think we have a few more minutes on Mom's decree."

Derek could feel Stiles' blush. "As much as I love my car, it is not built for, uh, closeness. That beats out pretending like we're alone, especially since I know we're really, really not, now," he rolled his eyes. "Can you help me make it to the house without falling flat on my face?"

Derek snorted and curled an arm around Stiles' waist, biting back a smile when Stiles leaned in against him. "Tall order."

Stiles elbowed him, but Derek didn't care. He wasn't quite ready to head inside yet. Derek leaned in and pressed his nose against the hair in front of Stiles' ear, whispering, "You smell frightened."

Stiles twitched, accidentally elbowing him again in the process. "Wh-- You can smell that?" He went entirely still and tense, but it felt like processing, not panic. It was getting hard to tell from his scent; so many strong emotions still lingering in his clothes. "You can smell emotional states," he eventually stated, his voice flat, before whacking Derek's chest with the back of his hand. "You rotten cheater."

He sounded as amused as indignant, so Derek just shrugged. "It's not universal. You need to learn what each person smells like, for anything detailed. But yeah," he agreed, smiling against Stiles' cheek. "I cheated."

Stiles snorted and leaned his weight against Derek, taking a long moment before talking again. "My boyfriend comes with claws and fangs that are really kind of ridiculously sized for his body. So does the rest of his family. His family who decided that kidnapping me for the night was the best plan, and got my father involved before they checked to see if that would be okay with me. That's pretty freaky, Derek."

Derek rumbled and pressed their cheeks together, "You'll have to get Tania and Niq to share their 'coming out' stories," he said, ignoring Tania's indignant yelp in the distance. "They're pretty entertaining."

The laugh Stiles pressed against neck was a relief. "Oh, man. Yeah, good to know I'm not alone here."

"You just smell frightened," Derek tried again, "you aren't acting it. That's what's odd, actually."

The only people who had ever responded this well had been his father and his grandmother, and they both had--extenuating circumstances.

Stiles pulled back and gave Derek a look that spoke volumes about the kind of idiot Derek was being. "Okay, first of all, this kind of is me acting scared, for future reference." Which he emphasized by flicking Derek's nose, making him startle back a little. "Secondly. Werewolves? Seriously. Werewolves. That is so fucking cool."

Derek snorted and bumped his head against Stiles'. They'd have to talk later, about the cubs and how much they could hear. But for the moment, they were asleep and it didn't matter as much.

They stood like that for a moment, with Derek's nose pressed behind Stiles' ear and Stiles hiding his face in Derek's shoulder, before someone back at the house started tapping insistantly on the glass.

"We should get inside," he sighed.

"Yeah, well, you're still in charge of that," Stiles muttered into his shoulder. "Get to leading, if you want to go anywhere."

They pulled apart and Derek curled their hands together, walking slowly with Stiles until he'd gained more confidence in their footing and stepped more normally. The tang of his fear was persistant but not overwhelming, and the trust he was willing to put in Derek, even after everything he'd learned, was...

He felt reality shifting again when he realized Stiles' steps didn't significantly speed up once he could see the ground himself.

It made Derek's head fill with dawn colors and creams, uneasy clusters of deliately folding shapes that cupped and layered each other until there was no distinguishable outline. But it was also green lines, curling and twisting around themselves but never quite touching. It was all sinuous curls and ordered chaos of the type that he'd never been able to re-capture on paper.

Not the kind of art he could share, either of them, but something to hold close and cherish. Something he could describe to Stiles later, maybe.

But, of course, Laura was waiting on the patio.

She grinned at them just before they hit the distance Derek could have lunged at her from, teeth bared but playful. Not that the attitude behind the gesture kept Derek from growling at the implied threat. Stiles twitched at his side, but his grip on Derek's hand got tighter, didn't try to jerk away.

"I'm just so happy we can share the joke, now," Laura started, subtly adjusting her weight so she could jump or run if she needed to.

Derek growled again, more protest than threat this time, but Stiles just squinted suspiciously at his sister. "What joke?"

Laura smirked and pointed at Stiles. "You, Little Red, followed a wolf off the path and wore a red hood."

The expressions that crossed Stiles' face were more a series of spasms than anything. Incomprehension, enlightenment, embarrassment, amusement, hilarity. Derek sighed and adjusted his grip on Stiles' hand to keep him balanced and mostly upright as he nearly curled himself down into the ground with his laughter.

Laura smelled smug as she bounced up and darted inside, doubtless to bask in the amusement of the rest of the family who were nearly as incoherent as Stiles was.

Derek hated them all. Really.

Except Stiles, he thought, as the boy finally straightened up again and leaned heavily against his side, panting for breath around helpless giggles.

"Oh, man. I'm a stereotype without even trying."

"Yeah," he said fondly. "Yeah you really are."

-----

By the time Stiles was steady enough to head inside, the family was mostly recovered. Mostly. The cascade effect of one person sending another into a new fit of laughter had mostly calmed down, at least.

The noise had woken Gwen, though. Tania passed them as they took off their shoes, biting her lip around a smile and taking the first flight of stairs in three short jumps.

Stiles' mouth fell open a bit as he watched her. "Did she just-- With a baby?"

"Tania wouldn't drop Greg." Derek rolled his eyes, reaching over to tug on Stiles' hood until he unzipped the jacket and let Derek help pull it off.

"But she just. Is that normal?"

Derek snorted and nudged Stiles toward the main room. "If we're in a hurry, we usually just bypass the stairs entirely. Tania was trying to be quiet so she wouldn't wake another kid up."

"Another?" Stiles frowned thoughtfully at him, then jumped when Peter said "The laughter woke Gwen up."

Stiles twisted around to glower at Peter, who smirked innocently from...one end of the larger couch. A couch that had a conpicuous gap in the middle. Between Peter and Laura.

The only other spot left open was the armchair that Tania usually claimed. And no.

Stiles started to take a step forward but stopped when Derek pressed up against his back and hooked his chin over Stiles' shoulder. His weight was a warm comfort against Derek's chest as he glowered pointedly at Niq and Paul.

The loveseat wasn't anywhere near as comfortable as the couch, but he was not sitting between Laura and Peter for this. He didn't trust them even when they weren't obviously up to something.

Tania returned, rolling her eyes at the stand off before reclaiming her armchair. "I left Greg with Stacia and moved Jacob to Gwen's room. They were too agitated to sleep without company."

"Alright. We'll have to hope she's okay in the morning," his mother sighed, rubbing her cheek against his dad's shoulder. "Can we stop with the western showdown now?"

Dominique chuffed amusement and Paul hid a grin against her hair before they stood up and moved to the couch; Paul dropping next to Laura and affectionately butting their heads together and Niq curling up in a tiny ball of smug around Erin, between her mate and her evil soul-twin.

Derek nodded his thanks and pulled Stiles toward the only seat that now didn't have any extra family he'd have to share Stiles with, while Stiles snickered.

And of course, the entire affair just set his parents off again, which set off Tania, which set off Peter, and soon everyone else in the room was laughing helplessly. Again. Derek sighed and flopped down, tugging Stiles after him and onto his lap. Stiles flailed with a muffled protest as Derek stretched out with his knees hooked over the far end.

"Oh, Gods, SHHH. The kids!" Tania protested, covering her mouth with both hands as though that would help keep the giggles in.

Stiles sighed and went lax abruptly, letting his head thunk back against Derek's shoulder and kicking one of Derek's feet with his own. "This is so not normal. You know that, right?"

Derek snorted and nuzzled Stiles' hair. He smelled of embarrassment, but also happy and want. So.

Screw normal. If Derek had to deal with his ridiculous family and their ridiculous sense of humor, he was getting as much touching as supernaturally possible, damnit.

Chapter Text

"So, werewolves?" Stiles offered when the room quieted down again, still a bit flushed and embarrassed by the degree of cuddling Derek had instigated. "What the hell?"

But Derek's mother was already shaking her head from the other couch (the one that wasn't entirely made up of of evil grins, Paul and Erin), a hand cupped over her mouth to keep the laughter inside. "No. No. We'll start laughing again." Clearing her throat, Maria raised her head and attempted to look dignified. His father snorted in renewed amusement without even lifting his face from where it was buried in her shoulder. She bit his head in retaliation, and Stiles convulsed in a quickly stifled laugh at the gesture.

"As I was saying," his mother tried, starting again. "We should start by making sure we're all on the same page, with what we're telling Stiles' father."

"His car just wouldn't start again," Laura offered from where she'd curled up into Paul's side. "They parked out away from the house because, let's face it, if his dad isn't expecting that they'd want to sneak a few kisses in, he's delusional."

Stiles covered his eyes with a hand, but that didn't do anything to hide the flush spreading over his face. "He pretty much said he'd be timing my progress."

Laura just nodded, accepting the underlying implication easily. "Exactly. So you got here, necked a bit." And there was an impish smile and exaggerated eyebrow waggling. "Which...you totally did anyway, so the timing isn't even that far off. Then Derek got out, Stiles tried to start his jeep, and nada. No go. So Derek came in and hauled me out to take a look at it, and I griped about the lack of light or long enough extension cords. And our dad decided to be all sensible about it and called your dad to let him know what was up while we were doing that. And now, I've said I can't figure out the problem until morning, when I'll have some light to work with."

Their mother nodded and glanced at Stiles to make sure he didn't have any objections. "Worst comes to worst, if your car can't be 'fixed' tomorrow, one of us can give you a ride home for your bag and then to school. And your car might as well be stranded where there's a mechanic willing to poke at it for free anyway." She shrugged, looking amused. "Obviously, none of that's actually an issue unless your car really doesn't start tomorrow, but if your dad needs to hear it or you want an excuse to come straight here after school, it's all as true as it can be."

"Am I going to have to do this a lot?" Stiles cut in. "Lie to my dad, I mean."

Some of the red came back to his mother's eyes as she watched them for a moment. "It depends. I want him to meet the family first. Get to know us more personally. I think it'd be in our best interests if he knew, but," she shrugged again, "better safe than sorry."

"We wanted to tell Sharon," his dad cut in. "She was very helpful to us, before she retired. I think she suspected something, but--"

"She did," Olivia snorted. "I warned you two off getting her involved because she asked me to keep her out of it."

His mother frowned and shoved her feet further under her mother's thighs. "You never told me that... Why didn't she--?"

"Hey, this is fascinating," Stiles interjected. "But maybe I should call my dad, while you hash that out?"

His mother huffed at being interrupted, then again when his dad shifted out from where she was leaning on him. His dad smiled down at her, where she flopped over with her head resting crookedly against the arm of the couch. "I'll help with that."

"I am not being unreasonable," his mother objected, but it was hard to take her seriously when her head was half crammed under a cushion.

Stiles moved to follow his dad out of the room, and Derek tightened his grip slightly, letting Stiles yelp and flail as he rolled partly off of Derek and...hung there.

"Hah hah. Can I go use the phone, now?" Stiles tried to twist around to glower at Derek, but his position was lousy for it. "And don't think I'm not going to remember this. There will be revenge."

Snorting, Derek adjusted his grip to let Stiles get his feet on the ground and straighten up and away. "Do you want me to--?"

"Nah," Stiles waved him off and headed out of the room. "You seem pretty comfy."

"Comfy to lie on too, apparently," Laura added with a speculative glance his way.

Derek didn't have a chance to growl at her before Stiles was calling back, "Finders keepers! I found it, I'm keeping it!"

That probably wouldn't have worked if Paul hadn't pulled Laura closer, hooking his chin over her head and rumbling until her eyes started drifting closed.

They weren't cats. That didn't mean they hadn't learned any lessons from them.

There was a muffled ring, a click, and Stiles was saying "Hey, Dad. So yeah, about that timing thing..."

Derek's mother pushed at Grandmother Hale's leg. "Why didn't Sharon just talk to me about that?"

"She didn't know you were the alpha," Olivia said calmly. "She didn't know there was an alpha to go to. Going to the oldest member of the family probably seemed safest."

Derek pushed his attention away from their conversation. Discussions about the old sheriff didn't affect him. Discussions with the current sheriff did, and he was currently sighing over the phone.

"You realize the timing is incredibly suspect, right?" John's voice was dry but resigned.

"Yeah, well. Welcome to my life," Stiles huffed. "So. Good news or bad news, first?"

"What's the bad news?"

"The jeep's still not starting, and we can't get enough light out there for Laura to really look at it, and it's kind of stuck here for tonight." John groaned, but Stiles plowed on ahead. "The good news is that Laura's going to look at it for me in the morning, and the Hales have offered to let me stay the night to avoid all the tedious back and forthing. I--"

There was a burst of static that was probably John sighing directly into the receiver. "I can come out and get you. Do you have--"

"I have enough meds for tomorrow," Stiles protested. It sounded like he was rolling his eyes. Derek would know. "They offered to give me a ride home then to school, if I need it. And my guest room will be far away from Derek's with many light sleepers in between, okay?"

Peter barked a short laugh before smirking toward Niq and Paul. "Odds they're both blushing and avoiding eye contact, even though they can't see each other?"

"Ten'll get you one," Paul muttered, making Laura snort into his shoulder, before going back to repeating what Stiles and his dad were saying for Dominique.

"...it helps." John finally said, reluctantly. "I can come get you. Are you sure--"

"Dad, if Laura can get my baby up and running in the morning, I'd like to be here for that. And I'm not imposing. Kind of the opposite, really. You should be on your toes," Stiles warned, voice turning joking. "I think they want to keep me."

The sheriff hummed thoughtfully. "Maybe they'd buy you off me." He paused to chuckle before continuing over his son's offended spluttering. "I'd rather have you home, but if you're not imposing..."

Derek's dad came back, a smile just barely creasing his face. Maria flipped him off when he stared down at her expectantly, and he chuffed at her before pulling her up enough that he could reclaim his seat.

"I'm really not."

"Alright then. Call me in the morning, okay?"

"Thanks, Dad." Stiles took a quick breath and cleared his throat. "Ah, I was also thinking that maybe it'd be good to meet the rest of the Hales? I mean, I know you probably know most of them, 'cause you're freaky like that, but. You know."

There was a groan over the phone and a rubbing noise. "I've just gotten used to the idea of you dating, and you've both already done the meet the family thing. Do we really need to--"

"They have babies," Stiles blurted out. "Two of them. Less than a year old." There was a long pause before Stiles continued on, sounding smug. "And four kids under ten. They're kind of ridiculously adorable. Like, all of them. And normally, I only have you but I kind of feel like I have them now too? And they're awesome, and you need more awesome in your life."

John snorted and that was definitely the sound of his hand hitting his face. "You're brutal. Fine. You can--" He kept talking, but it was mostly drowned out by Stiles' triumphant crowing. "--know when. Okay?"

"Got it. Love you, Dad."

"Love you too, kid."

There was a click, then a--skip? Shuffle? Shuffle-skip? Derek had no idea, but it sounded like hopping was involved. Stiles' mouth was already starting to open as he stepped back in, but shut it with a click and gave the room a suspicious once over. "I don't need to go over what was said, do I."

Niq flashed him a grin. "Paul filled me in as you were talking."

"Okay. Creep-pers." Stiles rolled his eyes but he was smiling. He walked back over to the loveseat but stopped and stood awkwardly just out of reach. Derek grumbled and stretched an arm out, tugging Stiles in and gently maneuvering him back into place once Stiles took his hand.

Stiles yelped and blushed and his family started snickering, but Derek didn't really care. He pressed his nose against Stiles' neck to take in the happy-embarrassed-want-pack-Stiles with a happy rumble he was sure Stiles could feel, not just hear.

Stiles was pack now. He could do that.

Niq snorted, and Derek lifted his head to see her smirking in his direction. "You would totally leave a deer on his patio, wouldn't you."

Paul slumped in his seat and grumbled.

"A deer?" Stiles yelped. "You're...not kidding. Holy--" He abruptly straightened up a bit and twisted around to pin Derek with a glare. "No dead animals. Dead animals require prior consent."

That sent them off again, in desperate smothered giggles as they tried to avoid waking the kids up. Paul wasn't laughing, sighing in resignation and staring pointedly at the wall, even as he rubbed his mate's back to soothe her through the hiccups that came with this round of hysteria. His parents were curled together, his mother hiding her face in his father's torso and occasionally pausing to gasp for breath.

Stiles rolled his eyes then looked expectant at Derek, eyebrows raised.

"No dead animals without prior consent," Derek agreed, trying not to smirk too obviously. Paul growled softly in his direction anyway.

"Thank you." Stiles relaxed back down against him, wiggling a bit to get comfortable and making a smug noise when Derek grabbed his hips to keep them still. "So. Okay. What else do I really, really need to know? Weird freaky courtship details like dead animals counts as something I really, really need to know, by the way."

"Werewolf hunters," his father offered, which sucked all the humor right out of the room.

Stiles flailed a bit, almost sitting up and his mouth gaping as he tried to form words. Derek laced their right hands together, tugging up and letting Stiles finish the movement. Stiles slumped back against him again, raising their hands until he had Derek's index finger clenched lightly in his teeth.

Derek made the executive decision to not think too strongly about how much he was enjoying that.

David waited until Stiles was still and quiet again (and his eyebrows at how they'd arranged that were only slightly mocking) before continuing. "We have a truce with one of the oldest families of hunters. They abide by a code that means we're safe so long as we don't harm any humans. But not all hunters follow that code, or care about the truce. If you're a friend of ours, it's possible they might target you."

"It is possible," his grandmother added, nodding faintly. "You don't live close enough for us to protect directly, and that makes you more of a target. But between your father's position and the fact that you're human?" She waved the concern off.

"You weren't this reassuring to me," his father said, smiling to bare his teeth at Olivia over his wife's head.

Stiles chewed absentmindedly on Derek's hand, letting himself relax and slump down into him while he listened and watched.

Making himself small, Derek realized. Small and still and out of sight.

Oblivious to or ignoring their guest, Olivia shrugged one shoulder at her son-in-law. "You were in more danger."

"No hunters lived here, then," David growled. Tension pooled in Stiles' shoulders at the noise and his teeth went still, barely indenting the skin but still holding on. "Nobody even knew about this pack."

"And now everyone knows," Derek's mother said, with a note of finality. "The hunters, the major established packs, probably most of the mystics. That's the whole point of the truce and the work we do, now. No hunter can attack us now without starting a war."

Stiles' teeth scraped over Derek's skin as he pulled their hands away, shifting up and forward enough that Derek moved their hands to brace him against falling off. "So, just to make sure I understand this right. You guys are worried about being attacked, or having people close to you attacked, by humans who would presumably be doing very illegal things with, like, no provocation they'd be able to explain without sounding completely insane?"

Derek's mother snorted, nodding. "Yeah. Like I said. It would be good for us if your dad knew."

"Uh, yeah. Understatement." Stiles rolled back down but he didn't really relax this time. His grip on Derek's hand was tight and there was something bitter and damp working its way into his scent.

"Well, that topic's destroyed everything pleasant and good," Peter interjected before his sister could respond. "I vote we move on to nudity."

Stiles choked and turned red. Again. "What?"

Tania covered her face with one hand and growled under her breath. But for Peter, that was practically applause.

Derek was fairly sure everybody remembered the first time Tania had come to the house, after learning about werewolves. His mother and grandmother had been chasing him, his father, and both of his sisters out of the woods and back to the house, without a stitch of clothing between them.

It had gotten loud after that.

"What my uncle means," Derek broke in, before they could get distracted from the point. "Is that most of us grew up with clothes being...optional."

"Optional my ass," Olivia snorted. "Nudity is so much better than dressed, especially when it comes to cubs. You would not believe the amount of clothes you go through otherwise. And teenagers!" She rolled her eyes dramatically before poking Maria's leg, eliciting a sullen growl. "Not only do their brains get scrambled by their own hormones, they end up wearing everyone else's."

"Which is why it's so funny that Derek likes smelling like you so much," Laura butted in finally, smirking at Stiles. "Because you totally smell like high school."

Stiles grimaced extravagantly. "I think I'd have preferred to not know that, actually."

"I don't even notice it anymore," Derek admitted, pushing his nose into the crook of Stiles' neck again. "I just smell you."

"Okay, yeah, that's too creepy for Hallmark." It sounded like Stiles was rolling his eyes, but he shifted his head to give Derek more access anyway.

"In the interests of other things Stiles needs to know," Tania started, sounding resigned. "Gwen."

Peter reached across the space between their seats to take Tania's hand. "Gwen," he sighed, "has some...behavioral problems."

"She has fits," Tania corrected. "Goes nearly feral, and we don't know why. It's why we're still home schooling her."

Stiles nodded slowly. "Okay, yeah, that's a problem. And...you know she's a werewolf, so she has all the..." He gestured vaguely with his left hand then made something that might have been construed as a clawing gesture.

"Yeah," Derek confirmed, pressing his nose more firmly against Stiles' scalp. "Tiny, fanged, and mostly out of control."

"That... sounds terrifying, actually." Stiles twisted until he could frown over his shoulder at Derek. "Is that why you acted so weird when I told you Jacob bit me?"

"Jacob bit you?" His mother shot upright, only kept in her seat by her mother's hand on her legs and her husband's grip around her waist.

Stiles held his hand up in a placating gesture. "Woah. Okay. Yeah, but it was mostly my hoodie, and it was a perfectly normal six year old bite."

Grandmother Hale nodded and patted her daughter's leg. "And Stiles handled it perfectly."

"You need to talk to me more often," his mother sulked, pushing at Olivia's thigh with one of her feet again.

"Yeeeah, okay." Stiles sighed, gesturing broadly with his free hand. "Gwen? Fits?"

"You'll know if it's happening," Dominique offered. "It's not subtle, and it takes a while to get dangerous, so you'll have warning. The important thing is to stay still and try to keep calm."

Peter nodded. "If you run or seem panicked, she might perceive you as prey. We haven't had any problems with that yet, but." He shrugged.

"But everyone in the family has had years to learn how to deal with an out of control werewolf," Dominique interjected wryly. "Cara and I are the only ones who didn't grow up with it."

Tania snorted, covering her face with one hand. "My complete failure as a werewolf really came in handy, in that respect."

Peter huffed annoyance and tugged on her arm. Tania pulled back with a playful growl and in seconds they were engaged in a tug-of-war that had pulled her armchair snug against his couch.

"Children. Really." Grandmother Hale snorted at them, her eyebrows arched in judgmental amusement.

Peter, being Peter, stuck his tongue out at her.

"Oh my god," Stiles cut in, rolling his eyes. "You guys have no idea how weird it is that I'm the one saying this. Can we focus, please?"

Derek snorted against Stiles' neck. "Mom, is there anything else we really need to cover, tonight? Stiles has to get up pretty early."

"Oh right," his mother sighed, rolling her eyes. "School." She moved to sit up like a normal adult, with her feet on the floor and everything, then narrowed her eyes at them. "Werewolves can do casual sex. Just ask Peter," she talked right over Peter's yelp of objection. "But anything beyond that tends to be serious. Even bitten werewolves will often focus obsessively on one person, and take a long time to recover if it doesn't work out."

Stiles nodded, but he sounded wary. "So, you're basically an entire family of my best friend. Good to know. But--" He tensed abruptly, sitting up a little and making Derek grunt when Stiles' weight moved entirely to his abdomen. "Wait. Are you giving me the 'hurt him and we'll hurt you' speech?"

Considering he was talking to an alpha werewolf, Stiles sounded far too delighted at the prospect of being threatened.

"Not exactly," his mother pursed her lips, sounding a bit put out. "Though that is part of it. I just want you to be aware that if Derek is involved in this? He's comitted." She shrugged. "And yeah, if you lead him on or betray him, I'll probably rip out your liver."

"That's awesome."

Derek groaned and pulled Stiles back down so he could bury his face in Stiles' neck again. His family was impossible. His boyfriend was almost worse.

Chapter Text

"See if you can find some things for him to wear."

Derek huffed irritation as his mother pushed him toward his room, glaring back at where his sister was herding Stiles up to the third floor. She wasn't having much luck in hurrying him along until Derek caught his eye with a smile.

"Oh, don't be a baby," his mother scoffed, but she smelled fond and amused. "It's not like you won't know exactly where he is. And you can go up to see him again when you bring him something to sleep in."

"Why do you think I have anything that'd fit him?"

Not that the thought of Stiles in his clothes wasn't appealing. His clothes, his scent--

His mother flicked him in the forehead, making him jump and ripping his attention back. "Because you never get rid of anything if you can help it. And it's not like you're that much bigger than he is."

He huffed again and glared, but went for the storage bins under his bed. They weren't that close in size. Stuff from college was probably his best bet. It was possible that he'd been shorter than Stiles then, but width wise they'd have been close.

And really, why stop at clothes to sleep in?

He followed his mother's footsteps with his ears, as she headed back downstairs. Listened as Laura gave Stiles the tour of upstairs, explained the weird plumbing in the bathroom, guided him into a room and--

"Wait, no. Not this one."

Stiles' feet stumbled back a few steps and his voice was muffled when he said "Wha-- Why?"

"You'd be right over Jacob and Stacia."

"What. My pulse is going to wake them up?"

"Uh..."

"...seriously?"

"Well, Jacob might. It's just-- He and Gwen don't know you that well. And yeah, they could hear your heartbeat. It's a stranger in the den sort of thing."

"Oh my god," Stiles whispered, and it sounded like he'd thunked his head (or a hand, maybe) against Laura's shoulder.

Derek ducked his head and snorted, sorting through his pile. "Jacob's in Gwen's room anyway, Laura. Remember?"

Upstairs, Laura swore and started pushing Stiles back toward the original room.

"Oh my God," Stiles hissed. "Make up your mind!"

The grey dress shirt, and a dark red one he just never wore. Stiles liked layers, so it was alright if they were a bit big. A few t-shirts from his first year, mostly plain but there were a couple of band shirts from groups that never made more than underground fame.

"Hey, wait. Between the dinner and this mess, did you even have time to do any homework?"

There was a pause that Derek was fairly sure translated to Stiles rolling his eyes. "It's okay. I'm a few days ahead on everything but my English reading, and I can catch up on that during lunch."

"Somebody's the teacher's pet," Laura teased.

Stiles snorted. "Yeah, no. Just...had some good reasons to apply myself."

One of his exercise shirts would do for a sleep shirt, and a pair of flannel pants worn into softness. They'd be too big, but they had a drawstring.

Upstairs, it sounded like Laura had thrown Stiles onto a bed. At the least, he'd hit the mattress with a surprised huff and then thrown something soft at Laura.

"Oh my god," he hissed, trying to keep his voice down. "Weren't you just implying my pulse would wake the kids up?"

Laura snickered and...threw back whatever Stiles had thrown at her. With a bit more force, from the sound of it.

Sighing, Derek flopped on his bed and covered his head with his pillow. He trusted Laura not to hurt Stiles, but she was acting like a cub.

And if he happened to be lying on the clothes he was offering Stiles, that was nobody's business but his.

-----

Laura had Stiles face down in the blankets, pinned at his shoulderblades, and was grinning down at his flailing by the time Derek stopped hiding in his head and made it up to the guest room. "Say aunt."

Derek paused and leaned against the doorway to watch the show.

Stiles' flailing stilled for a moment so he could gesture his exasperation before thrashing to turn his head enough to talk. "Isn't it supposed to be uncle?"

"I'm a girl. Don't care," Laura sang. "Now say aunt!"

"Uh, no?" Stiles shook his head, rubbing his face against the covers. "That'd be weird."

Laura frowned down at him, confused. "What do you mean?"

"Wouldn't that mean I was dating Derek's kid?"

Laura froze up at that, her face twisting up into a pained grimace. Stiles used the distraction, squirming out of her grip and managing to tip her over in a squawking mess along the way. "I win!" His raised his hands in victory and turned toward the door, beaming when he saw Derek there. "You saw that, right? I totally won."

"What were you even doing?" Derek asked, shaking his head in bewilderment.

He cared a lot less about what they were doing. A lot more about Stiles, happy and flushed and triumphant, and wanting to share it with him.

"I bet him he couldn't get free if I got him pinned," Laura sulked from her dead-cockroach sprawl across the mattress. "He said I'd have to pin him first. He only half won."

Stiles snorted, puffing up in pride. "Nuh-uh. Werewolf, human? That was a foregone conclusion. I totally outsmarted you."

"I hate you so much right now," Laura declared, covering her ears. Probably to try and block out the fact that the rest of the family was laughing at her from all over the house.

"Yeah, well. You still owe me a ride to school in the morning." Stiles shrugged and poked Laura in the forehead. "And a feasible explanation for why my car stayed broken."

She'd have done that anyway, but there was no need to point that out. "You're coming back tomorrow, then?"

Stiles nodded, and Derek...wasn't entirely sure how he felt about that. He wouldn't be around, so Stiles would be left alone. With his family.

That smelled like a disaster of embarrassment just waiting to happen.

"Yeah. I figure we can cover more ground if it's, y'know, less than the whole family?" Stiles grimaced. "Or all the adults, at least. Your dad suggested it. He said it should just be him, your mom, Olivia and Peter, tomorrow. And Gwen, so someone would be watching her, and..."

Derek held a hand up. "I get it." He walked over, dropping the clothes balanced in his other hand over Laura's face. She flipped him off, and he knew that meant she knew he loved him. "You might be able to wear some of these. They're too small for me."

"Hopefully not too short," Stiles snorted, pulling the clothes off Laura's head and sorting them into piles. "Thanks. It'd be nice to just need to grab my bag and go, in the morning."

Laura smirked, linking her hands behind her head. "Yeah, that's real nice of Derek," she drawled. "I'm sure it doesn't have anything to do with making you smell more like him."

Derek grabbed a pillow to drop on her head, since Stiles had already claimed the clothes. For his part, Stiles just coughed and blushed, but he was smiling. "Uhuh. Well, thanks anyway okay?"

"But now get out, so you can sleep?" Laura offered, muffled but audible through the pillow. "Better get your smooching in. 'Cause I'm not leaving you two alone in here."

"Oh my god," Stiles went bright red and sour-wood, twisting around to press the pillow down against Laura's face briefly, making her flail and laugh. "Could you just. No," he declared, lifting the pillow to glare down at her. "Both of you out."

Derek snickered and grabbed hold of Laura's shirt, pulling her off the bed when she protested.

She found her feet almost immediately. And her voice. "What? My face was covered and everything! It was perfect!" Derek closed the door behind them, ignoring her pout. "Why couldn't your boyfriend be an exhibitionist?"

"Oh My God, Laura. No," Stiles nearly growled through the door. "Not my kink! I am never having sex in this house."

Well, that was one human who figured out pretty quickly that werewolf hearing didn't turn off out of modesty. He was pretty sure Dominique was still intentionally blocking those thoughts out.

Laura pouted all the way back down to her room. "Your boyfriend's no fun at all."

Derek just shrugged. It wasn't like he wanted to share.

-----

No matter how friendly they were, it was hard to adjust to someone new in the territory.

Somewhere upstairs, Tania growled softly and, from the sound of it, kicked Peter. Dominique had moved to a guest room after just a couple of minutes of Paul's twitching. Derek was fairly certain his parents were still having a silent argument downstairs over which of them would get to take the first patrol of the night.

Hardly anyone's pulse was where it should be. Even Laura was grumbling about not living in dorms anymore, and she could generally sleep through anything.

Derek's last coherent thought, before drifting off to the sound of Stiles' breathing, was that he probably wouldn't be able to sleep at--

 

 

"-ope!"

Derek jerked awake, rolling up into a crouch before he'd even processed the fact that awake meant 'had been asleep'.

No attack. Nothing in his room. Laura--

"No, no, no, no..." Laura sang, quietly but persistantly. Under her chanting was the sound of cotton slithering against itself as she--

Pulled herself up off the floor? What was--

Upstairs, Stiles hummed loud enough to be heard over Laura's litany. Derek focused on that. Heard Stiles gasp his name.

Froze.

That was--

Stiles was--

"Derek," Laura hissed, keeping her voice down. "I am sleeping with your boyfriend. By myself if you don't get up right this instant."

"...mmm...your--"
"No!" Laura nearly yelped, with a sudden and adamant rustle of her bedding. All of which sounded like it was being dragged off the bed with her.

Derek grabbed his pillow and started toward the door, but froze when Gwen whimpered.

"No, no, no, no..." Laura softened her chanting into a gentle tune.

Upstairs, his father started humming along with the tune. Peter joined in after a moment, despite Tania's sleepy growl.

Derek made his way into the hall as Gwen calmed down, catching just a flash of magenta from the staircase as the trailing end of Laura's sheet disappeared up over the railing. He followed, taking as few steps as he could without disturbing baby werewolf ears.

Stiles' door opened, he gave one last sleepy mumble, then a quickly muffled screech.

Derek hesitated at the top of the stairs, listening as Jacob and Gwen snuffled and rearranged themselves. Didn't wake up.

When he finally made it into Stiles' room, Laura was crouched over Stiles and had a twist of her sheet pressed against his mouth. "Oh my god, Stiles. So. Traumatizing."

Stiles flailed and pushed at the sheet, but he whispered at least. "What-- Why-- Wh-- Augh!"

Snorting, Derek closed the door behind him and crossed the room, crawling into Stiles' bed and doing his best to ignore the sudden uptick in his pulse. "You were talking in your sleep."

Stiles gaped for a moment, before turning nearly the same shade as the sheet and covering his head with it. "Oh my goooooood."

"Joking about wanting to listen to you guys make out is funny. Listening to you have a wet dream is just mentally scarring, okay? Now stop defiling my bedding," Laura grumped, snatching the sheet away and starting to haphazardly fold it. "We're sleeping here tonight."

"...how is that going to do anything but make this even more embarrassing?"

Laura smiled at Stiles and wedged her sheet-cushion between her hips and his before curling up on her side and pinning Stiles on his back with an arm over his stomach. "This wouldn't be awkward if you weren't human."

While Stiles spluttered, Derek arranged himself on Stiles' other side, hooking his lower leg under one of Stiles' and letting a hand curl up on his chest. "Just close your eyes and think about puppies."

"Puppies." Stiles didn't sound impressed by his advice.

"Puppies," Laura repeated firmly, pinching Stiles' side. "Because puppies curl up together non-sexually for warmth and comfort all the time."

Stiles sighed, long and drawn out. "Okay. This is still the worst idea ever. Puppies. Okay."

Laura was out as soon as she had a minute of silence. Stiles squirmed, but Derek and Laura just moved with him, keeping him secure and comfortable without thought. And, in Laura's case, consciousness.

They'd had a lot of experience with this. With Danielle. With Matt. That had always been nightmares, but the principle was the same.

It took nearly half an hour, but Stiles adjusted and relaxed. His arms were pinned, but it hadn't taken long for him to figure out that if he moved, they'd move with him. So he twisted to his side and Derek rolled onto his back, sliding an arm around Stiles' shoulders when he kept curling forward. Laura grumbled in her sleep, but she was pressed up against Stiles' back as soon as he settled, reaching across him to clench a hand in Derek's shirt.

Stiles snorted and Derek turned his head to nuzzle Stiles' temple. "shh. Just sleep."

"Easy for you to say," Stiles whispered back, but he was smiling and already sounded half out of it.

Then he was asleep, and Derek followed after.

-----

The first thing that registered as he woke up was the fake shutter sound of a camera phone.

Derek slit open an eye to glare at Laura, who was doubled over with the effort of keeping her laughter silent, then at Peter who was lounging in the doorway. Smirking.

"What?"

Stiles answered his rasp with a sleepy murmur that didn't sound at all coherent.

And Derek could feel it.

Because Stiles had his mouth smashed up against his hand.

Twitching, Derek lifted his head to take in his position. Which involved, apparently, spooning Stiles. Who had a firm grip on his wrist, despite being asleep, and was holding it in convenient biting range.

And thank fuck, they'd apparently twisted the covers between them at some point in the night. And that he'd woken up first.

What was his life.

Laura took another photo and Derek groaned, pulling away carefully. Still asleep, Stiles whined as Derek carefully removed his wrist, then grumbled and flopped onto his back before rolling again and wiggling into the warm spot Derek had left.

"Awww..." Laura cooed, snapping another shot.

Derek wasn't awake enough to deal with her. He threw the extra bedding over Stiles, head to knees. Stiles started to thrash himself awake and Laura stopped bothering to keep her laughter silent.

Peter stepped back to give him room to leave, still smirking, but Derek couldn't really work up the energy to care.

He had an appointment with a bathroom. Even if he had to kick someone out of one of them.

-----

It wasn't unusual for him to go for a run before breakfast, if he didn't need to leave right away. And it wasn't like he went far; just around the secondary perimeter. He wasn't avoiding Stiles.

Much.

Just until he could see Stiles and not turn red, thinking about how he'd said Derek's name in his sleep. The way he'd said it. How it had sounded. How he'd felt, waking up. Christ.

His phone chirped as the loop brought him close to the house again. Derek slowed to a walk as he checked his screen.

Stiles is fine. Gwen. Get home.

Derek nearly dropped his phone, trying to shove it in his pocket and run at the same time, and he really. Didn't. Care.

Chapter Text

Laura stopped him at the doorway, hands hard against his chest. "Did not realize you were so close."

"What--"

--there was no growling.

His pulse was still pounding in his ears but it was easier to hear, now that he was still. The strained quiet of the house. Floorboards on the second story creaking under someone's weight. Faint whines from the kids in the kitchen. Slowly steadying heartbeats scattered all throughout the house. Gwen talking.

Gwen talking. Rapid fire, miserable, lisping around fangs, but talking.

What happened turned into What the fuck in his head, but crisis or not, Tania would skin him alive for dropping an f-bomb around the kids. He stared at Laura and pressed forward against her hands, letting a growl start just enough that she'd be able to feel the threat. He needed answers.

"Uh," Laura grimaced, shrugging as she dropped her arms. Finally. "Apparently, Stiles is a Gwen whisperer?"

"Stiles." The word felt flat and heavy, even to his own ears.

"Yeah, that sounds awful," Stiles said, as if on cue. Talking to Gwen. Standing right next to her, with his heart pounding too fast to be healthy. Up on the second floor, where he couldn't see them. "I know you three are close. Have you talked to anybody about why you can't go to school with the others?"

"I know why. I'm bad and I hurt people, so I don't get to go out."

Gwen's heartbeat stayed steady, but all the adults he could hear stuttered. In the kitchen, Tania whined. Derek was fairly sure he flinched, but he couldn't feel it. Too focused on listening.

His mother's low growl from the third floor was probably the only thing that kept the entire pack from converging on Gwen, then. The bond between them all was thrumming with distress and the need to comfort and heal.

And a bit of stale panic. That was probably his fault.

"Hurting people is a problem," Stiles said seriously, and how the hell was he this calm? Or-- No. His voice was calm. His heart was still-- "But I think you need to talk to someone to get the full story. Let's go find your mom."

Tania was at the base of the stairs before Stiles had finished talking.

"I want Daddy," Gwen sulked, but she'd lost her lisp and she was walking with Stiles.

Tania hesitated, glancing through the door at Derek and Laura with a conflicted look. But it wasn't like they had answers for her.

Nobody had ever had answers for her, when it came to Gwen.

"Okay. But I heard your dad's going to be here all day, and your mom's leaving for work soon."

"...I want Mommy."

Tania bypassed the stairs, jumping straight up to the landing.

"Gwen whisperer," Laura muttered, nodding. She was tracking Tania, staring up at the ceiling as though she could see through it as Tania hurried toward the next set of stairs. "I didn't hear how it started. We were all panicking and I was tuning in to their heartbeats and feet too much to catch what he did, but..."

"We'll discuss it later," Peter said, firm and tense and...the only adult in the kitchen. "Right now, I could use a hand here."

He could hear Tania and his mother starting to talk to Gwen in soft, gentle tones. Stiles' heart rate was still too fast, but it wasn't moving away from Gwen.

Laura bumped against his side before heading in for the kitchen and reassuring the other kids that Gwen was okay now.

It broke something in him, when Stacia asked, quiet and hopeful "Does that mean she can come to school with us?"

He wanted to run again. Push everything away and let his mind empty of everything but his footing, his breath, his pulse.

Not able to hear Stiles. Not able to know he was--

Shaking his head, Derek stepped inside and pushed his way into the kitchen, nudging Laura away from the counter. "You're still Stiles' ride. Go get ready for work."

She growled but didn't object, leaving Derek with one finished and cut sandwich and a messy spread of school-lunch accoutrements.

Jacob twisted around as soon as Laura was gone, staring instead of repeating Stacia's question from earlier. Derek leaned down to press his head against Jacob's, pushing his attention back toward his plate. "Nothing's changing today. Not in terms of schedules. Finish eating."

He pushed Peter out of the kitchen next. It wouldn't have worked if Peter had been doing anything other than staring fixedly at the ceiling. Peter growled a protest, but Derek just pushed harder. "You're useless, I need something to do. I'll clean up."

It didn't take more than that.

He wasn't left alone. Paul wandered in, juggling Erin and sighing his way through making another pot of coffee one-handed. He sat with the kids and kept them focused on eating their breakfasts and making sure they were on track for leaving on time, while Derek finished prepping their lunches. Dominique was lured in by the fresh coffee and perched on an empty spot of counter while she drank it, wearing nylons, slippers and an oversized t-shirt.

Niq stretched out a foot to kick at Derek's elbow as he was slipping the sandwiches into the bags. "Is that Stacia's? There's no mustard."

At the table, Stacia made a distressed noise and twisted around in her seat to look. Because Stacia was bizarrely attached to cheap yellow mustard.

And pickles, actually. She could bond with Stiles over their horrible taste in sandwiches.

"I'll fix it," he grumbled. "Just--"

He'd mixed the sandwiches up. Stacia's sandwich was in Jacob's bag. Matt's sandwich (turkey and ham, and all the veggies but no cheese) was on the counter so Jacob's sandwich should--

Derek stared at the sandwich in Matt's bag. It had turkey and ham and no cheese, not extra ham and extra cheese and only tomatoes and sprouts.

Sighing, he pushed the extra sandwich out of the way for the moment. At least he hadn't put the sandwich makings away yet.

It wasn't actually possible to block out the world, though. No matter how busy he made himself.

"Okay, yeah," Stiles said at one point, "you guys are serious about the touching."

And at another point, "You never did answer my question. Butterflies or flowers?"

He heard Tania swear at the time and a series of muffled thuds while Peter laughed.

"Does it happen often?" from Stiles, and "Often enough to be a concern. But it's not Pen-gwen's fault. As far as we can tell, it isn't anyone's fault," from Peter.

Then "you should get going," from his father, and more thumps. Stiles' heartbeat moving away from the knot around Gwen.

The lunch bags were finally packed with the correct sandwiches and the right snacks. Niq stayed on hand to double check just in case, only jumping down off her perch once all three bags were finished and sealed up.

Derek glared at the extra sandwich then pulled it closer and grabbed the mustard.

He knew someone who could probably use it.

Tania hit three stairs on her way back down to the first floor. Stiles hit all but the bottom two. Paul shooed the kids out to collect their bags. Derek crouched to dig out a paper bag, grabbing a granola bar as long as he was there. Stiles bolted into the kitchen, stopping just short of running into Derek from behind and wrapping him up in a hug.

"Hey, sorry," Stiles muttered into his hair. "Didn't really--"

Stiles laughed as Derek hauled him around for a more proper hug. Tilted his head back when Derek pressed his nose to his throat and murmured into his skin, "You're okay?"

He didn't need to ask. Didn't need Stiles' nod. He could smell it. Fear, yes, but no blood. There was no pain lurking beneath his skin for Derek to draw out.

Stiles did smell...off, though. Hints of sour and dry lurking in his usual spices and earth.

Mostly, Stiles smelled of pack, worry, fear, Laura and Derek and want and Stiles and Derek.

"We gotta go!" Laura called from the other room.

Stiles started to pull away, laughing when it made Derek whine. "I'm fine. I'll see you later, right? And we can--talk. Or-- Yeah."

Derek didn't know which of them had pushed forward, but they were kissing again. Hot. Short. A flash of wet when Stiles licked his lip. Bit it.

"Stiles!"

Derek pushed the bag with the sandwich and granola bar against his chest, smiling when Stiles grabbed it. On instinct, if the confused look on his face meant anything.

And he was gone, smiling and biting his own lip as his gaze dropped to Derek's one last time before he was waving and out the door.

Derek closed his eyes, just feeling for a moment. He could hear Stiles hitting the ground outside and running along the packed dirt of the drive. He could smell him still. Picture him. The red over-shirt that wasn't actually too big at all. The faded band tee with the blue paint on the hem that stretched more than he'd have guessed.

Laura's Camaro rumbled to life, pulling out and down the lane.

Derek exhaled slowly and started cleaning the kitchen.

-----

"Derek, I swear, if you don't get your head out of your ass..."

He hunched over as much as he could on his stool, slanting a wary look in Vic's direction. "What?"

Vic sighed and took the last couple of steps into his space to lean heavily against his side. She plucked his pencil out of his hand and tapped the sketchbook with the eraser. "What's this?"

"Cartoon bats," he drew out, hoping it sounded as much like 'are you crazy or just blind?' as it should. "With a heart, and a symmetrical design behind the heart made out of swoopy lines. It's a commission."

The look she shot him was withering. "I can see that. And I was here an hour ago, for her follow up consultation. But I seem to recall that it was a cheerful design, then. And that she liked it that way."

"Yeah?" Derek blinked and frowned down at the design, and...oh.

"The bats look possessed, Derek. Possessed by a sadness demon."

He sighed and snatched his pencil back. "I'll fix it on the color draft. I was planning to copy the bats from my initial sketch anyway. Their faces were perfect."

"So, what, the faces on this version don't matter?"

"I'll fix it, Vic," he growled, earning a flick on the nose. Either for his poor manners or because Tony had a client in back. "I can't help it if these bats are just...morose."

She stared at him for what felt like a small eternity before giving in to the giggles and burying her face in his shoulder. "These bats are morose."

"Vic--"

"These bats, drawn by you, are morose."

Derek slouched further and wormed his arm free so he could wrap it around her shoulders and scratch her head. Messing up her hair was only a secondary motive.

"They're your bats and they'll be morose if they want to."

"Shut up, Vic."

She giggled out a hiccup and lifted her head, staring at him with undeniable fondness. "You should give them your eyebrows. Just on this sketch."

He did. Because his family was impossible.

Then he drew the whole damn thing again, with happy bats, so Vic would leave him alone.

-----

The embroidery consult finally rolled around, and Derek was convinced he'd met the art equivalent of the love of his life.

Her name was Yuriko Rivers, and she wanted a thin branching design up her right side from her ankle to nearly her armpit.

"It's just, it's a simple thing, you know?" she said, keeping her eyes on her hands where she was fidgeting with one of the paper squares she'd brought in again. "But at the same time, it looks really complex. I don't care if you make up your own motifs, so long as you use these ones in prominant places and yours look like they fit."

Yuriko slid three squares across the counter at him, eyes still averted and her mouth drawn down into a frown. "They were my grandmother's favorites. She-she worked them into practically everything."

"She's the one who taught you?" he asked, turning the squares to face him and letting them form lines and curl off into fronds in his head.

Yuriko nodded, a wistful half-smile on her face when he glanced up. "Yeah. Twice. I taught myself the third time, and it stuck. We just never saw eye to eye on how to embroider or what looked good. Pretty much the only thing we agreed on was..." She waved at the designs between them and laughed suddenly, covering half her face with one hand. "Jeez, sorry. I didn't mean to--"

"It's fine," Derek shook his head, flipping his sketchbook open to a new page. "I don't mind hearing the reasons. It helps, sometimes."

He let a simple profile flow out, not focusing on making it anything other than a body to start from. "I'll take some photos of you before you leave, and next time you come in this will be more accurate. But right now, what are you thinking for the number and placement of the branches? How big do you want them to be?'

It wasn't like drawing with Stiles, but it was comforting in its own way. Yuriko talked with her hands in small, contained gestures over the sketchbook as they worked out a rough idea.

Their next consultation was going to be spectacular.

They took the photos in the back, out of sight. Yuriko red faced and using the fact that she had to keep her arms up as an excuse to cover as much of her head as she could, then went to wrestle with scheduling. Their first easy overlap was a week and a half out, and he penciled her in over her objections. "It's big, but it's a lot of repetition. I'll just be making a few small sections at first, to make sure I've got the right idea."

He was already thinking about how nicely a tendril of dot-work mist work would look, threading behind the base design. It would be easier to show her both ways and let her decide, before getting too far in.

As soon as she turned to head for the door, he had his sketchbook out to start playing with some of the shapes in his head.

"Ack!"
"Shit!"

Derek jerked his head up, startled to hear her gentle voice swearing.

He was a lot more startled to find Stiles clinging to the doorframe, laughing and off balance where he'd apparently fallen forward when Yuriko pulled the door open.

She was fidgeting with the hand not braced against the door, but Stiles waved her off with a smile. "I'm fine. Really. Do worse to myself all the time."

"I am so sorry," Yuriko said, but she'd moved her free hand to cover her mouth and was giggling through the apology, even as she held the door while Stiles righted himself and strolled through like that was exactly how he'd planned to make his entrance.

Stiles gave her another smile before turning to Derek, and the smile turned into a grin. "No problem. Really. My attention was, ah, elsewhere."

She glanced back and forth between them, eyebrows raising as she headed out the door again. "Riiiiight. Bye! Thanks again, Derek!"

Derek waved, but his attention was mostly on Stiles. Stiles, who was still wearing Derek's clothes. Stiles, who those old clothes were almost too small for. Stiles, who smelled properly like Stiles again without the odd dry-sour notes he'd had that morning. Stiles, who was bouncing over to his counter with a dopey grin. "I thought you were going back to the house after school..."

Stiles shrugged, pulling his stool out and taking his normal spot at the end of the counter. "I am. But Laura doesn't get off for another half hour. She's going to pick me up here."

"How'd you get here?" The school was at least three miles out and Stiles definitely hadn't had time to walk that. Derek pulled their sketchbook out regardless, since Stiles was there now.

He could doodle lines and curlicues in it just as easily as in his professional book. Anything he wound up really needing could be copied over later anyway.

"Lettie drove me," Stiles tossed out, as though that was an everyday occurrence. "And really. I'm on the track team and you have no leg to stand on when it comes to doing your traveling by foot."

That wasn't a conversation he was interested in getting into. "Who's Lettie?" he asked instead, leaning in a bit to take a subtle whiff.

Female and young, not surprising. High school, not surprising. Coffee, dust, sweat, floral deodorant, citrus perfume, leather.

Stiles poked him in the forehead with an amused smirk. "Lettie is also on the track team. I don't know her that well, but she works at Turn the Tables. That hipper-than-you music place a few blocks down?" Derek nodded understanding and Stiles grinned again. "We blasted Gaga the whole way here. It was awesome."

Derek huffed amusement and flipped the sketchbook open, handing Stiles a pencil but keeping the book close to himself so Stiles would have to lean in.

"You okay?" Stiles kept his attention down on the page where he'd started a sketchy triskele. The question seemed casual, but it didn't sound it.

"What do you mean?"

Stiles scoffed and flipped his pencil around to poke Derek's shoulder with the eraser. "You're more blank than usual. Hesitating before talking. Staring a bit more openly than you normally would. Altogether, it's giving you this fabulous 'hi, I'm mentally unhinged' vibe, but on you I think it's probably more like a divide by cucumber error."

"A what?"

"There you are," Stiles grinned, just a flash of teeth before he was talking again. "And I'll explain later. You'll love it. But seriously. What's up?"

He didn't know how to answer that. Didn't know what the answer was. Derek opened his mouth and closed it again with a sigh. "I don't--"

Stiles' face fell and that-- He didn't want that. But he didn't--

"I don't know what to be scared of, anymore," Derek heard himself say.

That was--more honest than he would have preferred.

"You--" Stiles pulled back, face twisting into a confused scowl. "What?"

"Everything I've been afraid of," Derek bit out, trying to get it over with as quickly as possible, "has just been--it hasn't been anything. I try to plan for it, and then it's just--"

It's nothing. Not an issue.

Like Gwen. Like werewolves. Like anything that might make Stiles leave.

All it left was this. Them. What was happening between them. And that--

It should have terrified him, after everything. But it was Stiles and it didn't. Which--

"You scare me," he offered, because it was as close as he could figure out in words.

Stiles gave him a flat look and bumped their shoulders together. "Okay, now you're not making any sense. You, big and muscley. Scary. Me, a hundred and fifty two pounds of pale, mouthy teenager." He grimaced and held his hands out, palms up, pretending to weigh something. "Not that scary, actually." Derek smirked and hummed agreement. Felt his mouth stretching into an honest smile when Stiles pulled a face and jerked his arms outward, scent twisting with pepper and cedar. "Seriously? That's all you're giving me here? What's so scary about me?"

Derek dropped his attention to Stiles' hands. There were so many answers to that. They all made his gut curl in on itself until it felt like his ribs were being pulled out of shape. "You could leave," he whispered.

Stiles froze, his mouth dropping open. His scent was...everything. Nothing. Confused enough it almost made Derek want to sneeze.

Sighing, Derek flipped the sketchbook closed. Then frowned as Stiles reached out to open it again. "We aren't using it."

"Yet," Stiles sighed. "But it helps sometimes, right? Like, the hand thing helps my brain slow down. It seems like the art thing helps your brain. So, coping mechanisms. Let's not throw them out."

"I don't--" Derek growled and pulled Stiles in for a kiss. He kept it light, pulling back when Stiles pressed in. Stroking Stiles' neck with his thumb and just trying to breathe in and absorb Stiles until he could understand him.

Stiles pulled away with a nip, flushed and smelling of stubborn and want. "Okay. That's awesome, but. You don't?"

"Deserve you."

That earned him a frown, but the bell rang before Stiles could respond. Derek leaned away and smiled for the stranger while he closed their sketchbook. Again. "Can I help you?"

Stiles pulled the book away from him and shifted back along the counter, drawing while Derek talked piercings and Vic's schedule with the walk in, and set him up with an appointment the next day to get his septum done.

Laura was walking in while the customer was walking out, though she managed the transition more gracefully than Stiles had. "Hey lovebirds. Had enough time to coo at each other?"

"No," Stiles snorted, passing the book back to Derek. "But I doubt we're going to get any more of that with you here."

"Still not a fan of the peanut gallery, hmm?" Laura sighed and walked over to rub her hand through Derek's hair. "Well?"

Derek huffed at her and pressed a kiss against Stiles' cheek, smiling when he turned to make it something more. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Yeah you will," Stiles grinned. "Your shift's over just in time for me to pick you up. So...it's a date?"

It was still new enough to be a thrill, to make him smile helplessly. Derek nodded and let Stiles pull away.

In the sketchbook, Stiles had left him another spiky-saur. This one was flattened out with a little stormcloud over its head, with a very sketchy Stiles leaning down to kiss its nose. Under the drawing, Stiles had written in You deserve me if I say you do.

But that was half the problem, wasn't it.

Chapter Text

Derek was fairly certain that if his life depended on being able to recount his work day after that, he'd be screwed.

Tony referred another consultation to him. He remembered that. Mostly because Tony had stared at him for a bit before grabbing the appointment book and scheduling it as a follow up instead.

It was a good thing Tony always took very thorough notes, since Derek was going to have to create a draft from them.

Cara hadn't been in, at least. He was positive of that. There was no chance that Cara could have spent more than a few minutes in the same room with him right now without trying to hug the air out of him. Especially since she knew that was pretty much impossible without wolfsbane and could squeeze as hard as she wanted.

Everything else was an incoherent smear of curving lines, precise angles, and rote exchanges.

An hour before he got off shift, when he was alone and had already finished the basic cleaning and pre-closing, he turned his phone back on. He had nothing to do until someone came in or he could lock the doors, didn't feel like drawing, and he was bored. There'd maybe be a message or two from his family, then he could play Angry Birds or--

Seven new messages.

Seven.

Derek tapped his way through the prompts to the messages menu. Four picture messages from Laura, three texts from an unknown number.

Blame Laura. Miss you

then

Stiles btw. How did we not exg #s?!?

and

your family Omg. Gave me more clothes. Scent thing or h8 my clothes? Inquiring minds wtk

The pictures were Stiles. The first, unsurprisingly, of them curled up and still asleep that morning. And John needed to never see that, even if they were both clearly dressed.

Next was just Stiles, also from that morning. He was squinting, almost glaring, his mouth pulled into a sulky frown, and his hair was flat along the right side of his head and sticking out in weird tufts on the left. He was hunched over a pile of blankets and sheet that he'd balled up in his lap and looked...grumpy. And adorable.

Derek bit his lip and clicked to the next image. Stiles in Laura's Camaro, hand half covering his face and laughing. His cheeks, ear, and the base of his neck were all flushed red, and his eyes were squeezed shut. Trees behind him, so probably taken just after they got home.

The last image was Stiles and Matt, Stiles leaning over Matt's shoulder to point at the book between them, his other hand a blur between their heads. Matt was grinning at Stiles rather than looking at the book, while Stiles' face was all constrained excitement.

Derek set the third photo as his background and checked the time before sending a text back to Stiles.

Dont know. Scent yes. Miss you too

-----

He was less than a minute from home when he felt it. A trickle of mirth and mischief from everywhere and nowhere at once.

Then he was eating dirt.

His mother huffed amusement against his neck while Derek focused on shoving the dead leaves and dirt away from his face. As much as he could with a paw planted solidly between his shoulderblades. "Did you want something, Mom?"

She huffed again and stepped to the side, nosing at his face and throat when he sat up.

"Yeah, Mom. You're a ninja," he sighed, tilting his head and letting her rub and lick his face clean. "I'm certain you weren't cheating at all."

His mother snorted in his face and pushed at his chest with her muzzle until he fell over again. She licked his cheek and bounded off again, back on patrol.

In the distance, he could hear his grandmother laughing.

Derek sighed again as he pushed himself up. "Why do I put up with you? I should see if John would just let me move in with them."

His mother's bark was mocking, but at least she didn't circle around for another sneak attack.

-----

It was always a bit strange, coming home after almost everyone else was asleep. Familiar but not, at the same time. Quiet breaths and slow, steady heartbeats throughout the house. The lingering scent of antiseptic and illness that always followed Tania home, the loam and rabbit dander that trailed Paul, paint and markers and glue, Niq's perfume, Grandmother's tea, the vaccuum cleaner that was starting to burn out, meatloaf and gravy and leeks, and--

Stiles.

The living room smelled like Stiles. The kitchen smelled like Stiles. The handtowel in the downstairs bathroom smelled like Stiles.

Derek was not stealing the towel for his room. He'd never hear the end of it.

He washed off the remainders of his mother's playfulness as best he could without heading upstairs and running a shower. And if he used the same towel Stiles had, it was just because it made the most sense. Small area, small towel.

There were leftovers in the fridge for him, he knew. He just didn't feel like eating. Instead, he crept upstairs and to his room, and--

It smelled like Stiles.

Derek shut the door carefully behind him and crept toward his bed. It didn't smell like anyone else had been inside, but someone from the family had definitely been helping. He'd said they'd given him more clothes, but--

Stiles' shirt from the day before and the one he'd been wearing that afternoon were folded neatly and left on his pillow. They hadn't been washed.

Stiles was definitely handling the werewolf news better than anyone he'd ever heard of, except maybe his dad.

-----

He dreamt of skin. A heartbeat against his chest. Soft lips. Shared breath.

It was intimate. Languid. Gentle.

Then there were fingernails against his stomach and the air was gone.

Derek woke with a gasp that was both useless and painful. It was habit to roll onto his stomach and press his face into his pillow. He heard a worried rumble from...somewhere. Snarled as much as he could in response. Pressed harder.

His hitching breaths slowed with his heart rate, and he relaxed. Let himself try to breathe again.

Stiles.

He could only smell Stiles and himself. No trace of her.

Also, he'd ripped his pillow.

Derek sighed and pushed himself up, running a hand through his hair as he blinked at his clock.

Four a.m. Good enough.

-----

"Why are you in my kitchen again?" Peter teased as he headed for the sink to wash his hands. "You kicked me out yesterday. Are you planning on staging a coup? You're allowed a coup if that's cinnamon rolls I smell." Peter ducked down to squint at the ovens. Not that it did him much good, as the one he wanted was turned off.

Derek rolled his eyes. "Double batch, on the last rise. Couldn't sleep. Baked instead."

"Ever a font of information," Peter drawled. "Eggs in the other?"

"Frittata," Derek confirmed. "Used up the spinach and mushrooms, since they were getting kind of old."

Peter hummed approval. "So...hash browns and meat?"

Derek shrugged, not that Peter bothered waiting for actual approval before pulling out a bag of potatoes to start scrubbing.

"Going to share Stiles with the rest of us again today?" Peter grinned when Derek growled and pushed a grater and the first cleaned potato at him. "Or ever again, apparently."

"Have to share him again," Derek snorted. "I need to leave him with you for dinner prep sometime."

"Why?" Peter eyed him warily and started stacking potatoes as Derek tried his damndest to catch up. Werewolf speed was only good for so much when combined with kitchen equipment that really wasn't built with them in mind.

"Dinner was so bad he agreed we should just order in." Derek smiled at his uncle's faint grimace. "Also, they have a knife drawer."

Peter squeezed right through a potato.

"I thought we were doing hashbrowns, not a mash."

That got him a glare, but it wasn't his fault his uncle was just too easy about some things.

-----

It should have been an easy, cheerful morning. Easier than the previous day, at least. No stranger in the territory, plenty of food made in advance and lunches packed up before the kids were even awake.

He even managed to avoid any sandwich incidents.

So it should have been fine.

Should have.

Instead, Gwen woke up first, ripping gouges in the walls of her room before Peter could make it to the third floor. Jacob woke up surly, and Stacia was sulky. Erin was fine when Paul brought her down, but Greg just wouldn't stop crying.

Grandmother Hale called the landline. She'd misjudged a jump on her last circle of the far perimeter and needed help. His mother had dragged Tania out with her to track Olivia down, but no one knew why it was necessary. Her pain was only a dull throb along their bond, but it wasn't going away.

The only bright spot that morning had been the cinnamon rolls.

-----

Peter had already left to drive the kids into town by the time his wife and sister returned home.

It was just a broken leg, but it wasn't healing as fast as it should.

"We knew my age would catch up with me someday," Olivia said, shrugging off her daughter's worry. "It's not something I can actually run from."

-----

Derek was double checking his bag when his phone buzzed. New message.

Go brevity! Sleep ok? Shrts = dads fault

He was going to assume Stiles meant his dad, not the sheriff. Otherwise, he was seriously missing something in translation.

Shirts great. Thank you.

He didn't want to talk about how he slept.

-----

Whose idea was it to make morning so early?!? was waiting for him when he got to work, with Sugar = best following by the time he'd finished changing.

Derek shot back Sugar from? but didn't get an answer.

The first two hours were slow, with just an appointment for Cara to let in and one called in reschedule. Derek's phone buzzed again while Cara was finishing up the after care spiel and logging the payment. She somehow finished up in time to hook her chin over Derek's shoulder to see Coke. Also biology = so much better than chem

Cara snorted into Derek's shoulder. "Oh man. Have you been holding this brilliance out on us?"

"No," Derek sighed, rolling his eyes. "We...never exchanged numbers." He clenched his eyes shut as Cara collapsed back onto her stool, laughing. "Shut up. He was always here anyway."

"Ahunh. Right." She smiled at him and leaned forward expectantly when his phone tried to vibrate out of his hand. "Is it another text? I wanna see!"

Derek rolled his eyes again but tilted the phone her direction.

Biology right before lunch = omg whyyyy

Cara laughed again, and sent him out for coffee and sandwiches. Despite the fact that apprentice did not, in fact, mean minion.

-----

There was a consult with someone who wanted a band of tentacles knotted together with no origins for any of them that ran late. Then an actual appointment, a series of circles along the outside of an ankle with a band connecting around, all in rough, uneven lines.

It made him feel sick, honestly. The design felt like fear and alarm.

When he was finally done, Derek checked his phone again. Two messages, both from Stiles.

Caf fries still horrible. Don't understand HOW followed by Just got latest assigned book. Omfg teacher hates us and wants us to diiiiie time stamped a bit over an hour later.

He shot back an eloquent ???, got a response of thpearl sounds super depersing twenty minutes later.

Derek snorted. Depersing?

It was actually hard to get that down, though. His phone kept trying to fix it for him.

Shut up i speak words came back after half an hour.

His chest hurt. It was still two hours and another appointment until his shift was up.

-----

Derek was cleaning up his area when the bells rang and "Hey, Tony. Is the hot guy with no tattoos working today?"

Tony laughed, and Derek felt his ears heating up. "Haven't heard you call him that in a while."

His space was clean enough. Derek tossed his rag into the dirty pail and headed back into the employees area to gather his stuff.

"Yeah, well, I've seen his back. I know better, now, so it's funny again."

It didn't take long to grab his bag, so he started toward the front just in time for Tony to lean around and pin him with a judgmental look. "What exactly were you doing, that meant being shirtless around the mascot?"

Stiles made an incoherent sound of protest, but Derek just rolled his eyes. "Showing him my tattoo, genius."

"Ahunh," Tony snorted. "Whatever. So are you two heading out?"

"Official date number two," Stiles snorted, rocking forward on his toes as he grinned at Derek. "Unofficial date number how the hell are our families this involved anyway."

Stiles was wearing one of his shirts again. A dark blue henley someone had snuck into his clean laundry (probably Niq, via Paul), that he'd worn just a few days ago.

Tony shook his head at them. Derek didn't really care. He was close enough to lean in and press his nose against Stiles' hair. Stiles laughed and leaned into the touch, even if his ears were blushing. "You are so weird."

Werewolf, he wanted to say. Could, now, if it weren't for Tony.

Besides, it wasn't his fault that smelling himself on Stiles was so addictive.

"So what are you two doing?" Tony cut in. "Assuming you don't plan on hanging out in the lobby all day."

Derek pulled away enough to see Stiles stick his tongue out at Tony. But then he turned to Derek and they were just...staring at each other.

"Uh..."

Derek shrugged. "I didn't plan anything."

"Well, great," Stiles laughed, shaking his head. "Second date fail. We figured out when, but not what."

Tony slumped over the counter, laughing into his sketchbook. "Oh, man."

"What's not as important as who anyway." Derek shrugged, and smiled when Stiles blushed and bumped their shoulders together.

"Sap," Stiles muttered, but he was grinning and smelled of bright happiness. "But we are definitely not dating Tony. So. Bye Tony!"

Tony managed to raise a hand in a lazy wave, even if he didn't bother raising his head again. Derek didn't bother, just stepped ahead so he could hold the door for Stiles, who squinted suspiciously at him as he walked out.

"I'm not sure if that's just good manners or a dig on yesterday's little doorway adventure."

"Have I ever held the door for you before?"

Derek smirked when Stiles hit him in the arm.

"So, wait, is this actually our second date? I mean, do we have to count dinner with my dad?"

"Or dinner with my family," Derek teased, to see Stiles roll his eyes.

"Dinner with your family was not a date. I didn't even know it was an option then. Jeeze."

Stiles unlocked his jeep and leaned across to get Derek's door while he walked around. He was settled in with his seatbelt in place and fiddling with the key by the time Derek slipped into his seat.

"I've got an idea," Stiles started, staring straight ahead at the dash. "But it might be a kind of crappy one."

"Okay." Derek fastened his seatbelt and smiled when Stiles didn't respond, just slanted a halfhearted glare in his direction. "No, really. Let's do it."

"You're not going to ask what it is?"

Derek shrugged and slouched in his seat. "Nope."

Chapter Text

Stiles drove them to the park.

Not the patch of green across from the smaller library that most parents took their little kids to, with the recycled rubber 'gravel' and the plastic slide that smelled of urine within a few days of every cleaning. Stiles took them to the edge of town, to the park that was more an expanse of short grass interrupted by the occasional tree.

There were tires half buried in the ground, and a concrete tube that ran under the trailing end of the hill created to give the swingsets a large enough flat surface. Once upon a time, there'd been a jungle gym with a slide, but he only knew that from old photographs and Vic's stories. The city hadn't had the funds to keep it maintained, after their tiny attempt at an industrial boom had died. The most prominent features left were the pavilions; open structures with giant grills at either end, ready for a family to bring in the meat and charcoal themselves. Assuming there wasn't a burn ban, at the time (which was asking a lot for most of the summer).

It smelled almost wild. The only thing separating the park from the preserve was a chain link fence, barely visible through the trees.

"Well?" Stiles leaned forward against the steering wheel, squinting at him. "Crap idea?"

Tables, benches, open, green, shelter in case of rain, nearly deserted in more than just the current moment because of the season-- "Great idea."

It was perfect.

"Really?" Stiles grinned and hopped out of the Jeep, meeting Derek as they rounded the front bumper.

"Yeah." Derek bumped Stiles with his hip and started toward the path. "My family comes here all the time. I love it here."

Stiles grinned and pressed against Derek's side, herding him away from the cluster of tables he'd been ambling toward. "Yeah, us too. Usually with Scott and his mom, or some of the deputies."

"And let me guess...in summer?" Derek snorted, trying to hold back a smile as he glanced from Stiles to the tables and back again. "You have something against those tables?"

"Yeah, I can't remember which one Scott threw up on when we were kids."

Nearly all of the tables had some sort of unfortunate biological history, but there was no reason to point that out. "Ahunh. What about those?" he asked, gesturing to the next clump.

"Used to be splintery. I still have a grudge," Stiles sniffed and gestured to the next table along the path. "I have no reasonable objections to that one."

Reasonable. Lips twitching, Derek pulled Stiles past it. "It smells funny."

Stiles spluttered but kept up with only a brief stumble. "Are you serious? Okay. What about..." Stiles hummed, tone playful. "No, nevermind. That table makes me think of Laura. That's a no."

"A table makes you think of Laura," Derek repeated, laughing.

"That's what I said. How about the next one?"

Derek shook his head, trying to control his face. "Poor cosmic alignment."

Stiles laughed, letting his weight sink against Derek. "Oh my god, that is the crappiest reason yet."

"Complaining about a vomiting incident from nearly a decade ago didn't exactly set a high bar." Derek pointed out. "What about the next table."

"I dunno," Stiles mused. "I think it's too close to my hair color. I feel like I shouldn't be seen associating with it."

But that wasn't a no. Which was a good thing, since it was the last table, tucked into the edge of the thinned out trees.

Derek pressed against Stiles' side and turned, gut clenching as Stiles moved with him, bringing him face to face with that smile, and...

He jerked back, turning away from Stiles' collapsing smile and stalking toward the table they'd sort-of-not-really chosen. His hands were shaking as he dropped his bag at the edge and he curled them into fists. Tried to get them under control.

"Hey," Stiles' voice was soft and confused, his hand warm on Derek's shoulder.

"Sorry. I--" His words cut off when Stiles shoved at his shoulder. He let Stiles turn him around. Nudge him into sitting on the bench.

Stiles smiled down at him and leaned in until their foreheads were touching. Derek let his eyes fall closed, breathing Stiles in and focusing on the feel of Stiles' words against his skin. "I'm kind of crazy about you. Even when you freak me out."

He snorted. "Noticed that."

"Yeah, well," Stiles sighed and huffed a laugh, his forearms moving to rest against Derek's shoulders. "I'm just awesome like that. I'm also totally going to invite you to the winter formal, just so you know. And prom, if you're still hanging out with me by then."

Derek's eyes snapped open as his head jerked back, so he could actually see Stiles' face instead of a too-close blur. He had no idea what kind of face he made, but it almost hurt and Stiles burst out laughing. "Oh, man. Your face."

"I didn't even go to my prom," Derek complained, nipping at Stiles' chin.

"All the more reason to come to mine," Stiles continued, unperturbed. "And now you know you're crazy about me, even when I freak you out."

Derek pulled his head back to stare. "I really didn't doubt it."

"Good." Stiles nodded, apparently deciding to brazen out the fact that he was blushing like mad. "Because Dad said something weird again, and I'm thinking we need to talk and I'm worried it's going to get into freaky territory." He pulled back then, smacking Derek's shoulder lightly. "If you want to cuddle for that, you're on logistics. I'd probably give one of us a black eye--"

He laughed when Derek pulled him down, turned him and swept one of his legs over the bench with his own. And Derek thought he could get addicted to that. To Stiles trusting him and just letting him move them both.

Derek tucked his nose behind Stiles' ear as Stiles settled in, getting his backpack situated in front of his lap and wiggling back against Derek's chest until he was comfortable. "No eye contact and slightly more dignified than sitting in your lap. I approve."

"So what did your dad say?"

A hint of metal twisted through Stiles' scent, hardly there at all in the flood of the rest of him. "Well, we already had an excruciatingly embarrassing talk about not letting you pressure me into anything I wasn't ready for. I'm sure that's a shock," he added, with a tone that told Derek he was rolling his eyes. "But when I got home last night, he wanted to make sure that I knew I shouldn't pressure you into anything you weren't ready for either. And we had a horrible attempt at a talk about the importance of communication and respect in relationships."

He'd probably found Derek's statement, then. Derek dropped his head against Stiles' shoulder and tried not to laugh.

"Th-- Dude, this is not funny," Stiles said, even though it sounded like he was trying not to laugh now too. "That was excruciating, okay?"

"I know."

"Yesterday was full of awful things and you hate me," Stiles sighed, thunking his head lightly against Derek's. "It's clear now."

"Mhmm."

Stiles snorted and bumped their heads together again. "You weren't supposed to agree with that one."

"Mmm."

"You are totally stoned on smelling me right now, aren't you," Stiles said, amusement coloring every word.

Derek made an agreeable noise and rubbed his nose against Stiles' neck, drawing out more of the musky spice-vanilla-apple-sweet-Stiles that was blanketing his world.

"Your dad told me about this," Stiles continued. "And totally unlike my own father, he said I should take shameless advantage when it happens. I guess I'm glad he trusts me not to be too horrible, but really."

He sighed and pushed back against Derek. Nudged their heads together. Asked softly. "What made you freeze up?"

"Kate," he mumbled into Stiles' skin. Listened as Stiles' heart picked up a notch. "That...lean and turn move. It's something she did."

He felt like he wanted to be sick just talking about it. But it was...possible, if not easy, wrapped up in Stiles like this. His scent everywhere, his heartbeat thrumming through Derek's ribs, his hands clenched over Derek's sleeves.

Stiles gave him a moment before tilting his head back and pressing his cheek to Derek's jaw. "Who was Kate?"

Possible.

Barely.

"I loved her," he admitted, mentally flinching at how flat he sounded. "She tried to kill my family."

Stiles was quiet, after that, with something wet and sour working its way into his scent .

After a minute of silence, Stiles moved his bag to the table and--pulled away. Derek had to force down the instinct to cling, to hold Stiles close and keep him there. If Stiles needed to get away, that was-- That had to be fine. He couldn't--

Stiles didn't leave. He turned around and plopped back down on the bench, scooting forward until he could tangle their feet together and pull Derek into a hug.

"Okay, crap idea," Stiles muttered into his hair. "Park benches, totally not suitable for cuddling."

Derek couldn't bring himself to care. Stiles had pulled him right down into the hollow of his throat, and the twinge in his back was easy enough to ignore for that.

He didn't want to move again. Ever.

"So. New idea," Stiles said, his voice thrumming against Derek's face. "This can be our table next time, but right now what I want is a sofa. So why don't we head back to my place for some totally innocent cuddling and we can deal with horrible conversations later."

Derek huffed and nuzzled further into Stiles' neck. "Don' wanna move."

Stiles laughed and pushed Derek back. "It'll be worth it, I promise."

-----

The drive was unusually quiet. Stiles flipped the radio to one of the jazz-heavy stations Derek used at Tinge and slid the volume down until it became one with the Jeep's rumble, and they didn't talk.

Derek closed his eyes and let the world fade out a bit. He didn't need to know where they were. He knew where Stiles was, by his heartbeat and the immediacy of his scent, discernable even in an environment as soaked in him as the Jeep was.

He knew he was safe and that, for a little while, he didn't need to think. That he could just be.

They slid to a stop (at an intersection, according to his ears and the cars rolling into movement ahead of them) and Stiles' hand was there for a moment, knuckles brushing his thigh in a soft hello before vanishing back to ths gearshift.

Derek didn't need to see where they were. He knew enough.

-----

"Home sweet home," Stiles muttered as they turned into a stop. "For me, anyway."

Derek opened his eyes finally and blinked. The sheriff's car was nowhere to be seen.

Stiles pointedly didn't meet his eyes as he slipped out of the Jeep, focused instead on his things and unlocking the door. He didn't say anything until they were inside, setting their shoes aside.

"So, yeah. Dad's not home. Won't be until pretty late." Stiles exhaled sharply and shot a nervous look his way. Why he was nervous, Derek couldn't tell. There were too many options. "That's no big deal, right? Because we're both totally mature and not rushing into anything."

Derek snorted, and Stiles rolled his eyes. "Couch," he said firmly, and gave Derek a gentle shove. "I'm going to get a soda. You want anything?"

"Just...water." It didn't seem smart to refuse Stiles the ability to do something for him, right then.

Stiles nodded and bobbed his way into the kitchen. Leaving Derek alone in the living room.

Again.

It still felt awkward.

Derek moved both of their bags to the coffee table and settled in on the far end of the couch from Stiles' normal spot, his back half against the couch arm and one leg curled up to give him a surface to draw on. It didn't take much to get his sketchbook out. His professional one, since he had homework and probably wasn't the only one.

"What the hell, dude," Stiles huffed as he rounded the couch and set their drinks down. "That is improper cuddling posture. I call foul."

Which was...fair. Stiles had been more than clear about his intentions, nerves or not. And it wasn't like he didn't want the contact. He craved it.

But his skin was crawling with a sensation he didn't understand.

"Do you have homework?"

Stiles glowered, and didn't sit. "I am not spending our date doing homework."

"Homework is important," Derek said placidly, keeping his eyes firmly on his pencil. "I have some designs I owe Vic anyway."

"Uh-huh." Stiles reached over and took Derek's sketchbook away. He didn't fight it. He hadn't been working yet anyway. "Cuddle first, then homework." Derek opened his mouth to object, but Stiles levelled a finger at him. "Cuddling. Ten minutes."

Derek didn't bother answering, just handed over the pencil and slouched further into the couch, stretching his leg out to make room for Stiles. He'd planned on bringing his other leg up, but Stiles dropped a knee into the space before he could.

"Can I just--" Stiles blushed, scent flooding with stubborn and musk-spice-apple. He braced a hand against Derek's thigh and leaned in. "I want to smell you."

The twitch wasn't something he could control. Stiles grimaced and started to pull back, eyes going wide when Derek reached up to stop him.

"I'd-- Okay." Derek cleared his throat and pulled Stiles in.

He didn't have to pull hard; Stiles stretched out over him as soon as he had permission, pressing his nose into Derek's neck and clutching at the sides of his shirt.

It didn't feel like a threat, even if it probably should. He could feel Stiles' breath, hot and wet against his throat, intensifying Derek's scent and mixing his own with it, even if Stiles wasn't aware of it.

Stiles moved, nosing under the collar of his shirt, and-- Stiles' thigh pressed against his, settling in and asking for more room.

It was a bad idea, and so much more than cuddling, but Derek moved to give Stiles what he asked for.

They were still offset. Stiles was too low for their hips to line up, leaned too much of his weight against the leg Derek had braced against the ground to have decent leverage.

It should have been more sexual than it was, but Stiles just--relaxed and breathed. He still smelled of want, but it was soft, not sharp and immediate. His heartbeat was calming.

It would have been easier to deal with, Derek realized, if Stiles had been after sex. Sex was an intimacy he at least knew what to do with.

They'd fallen into a rhythm, breathing in time, when Stiles moved again, dragging the tip of his nose against the skin of Derek's shoulder with a disgruntled noise in his throat that he probably wasn't even aware he was making. Derek cupped the back of Stiles' head and guided him up to the crevice under his ear. Their hips slid closer, almost in alignment as Stiles' lips parted and just rested against his neck, maddeningly doing nothing.

Derek closed his eyes and thought about puppies.

"What do I smell like to you?" Stiles whispered, once they'd gotten settled. "Is it just a general people smell or..."

God, of course he wanted to talk. While he was doing that.

Derek swallowed and took a deep breath. Which didn't help at all, since all he could smell was Stiles and want and mine. "It's-- Everybody has some basic scents in common. You learn to ignore those, focus on what's unique."

"And me?"

"Earth, spice, wood. 'S nice."

There was a pause, then Stiles snorted. Right against his neck. And it still felt awesome. "Are you getting stoned on me smelling you?"

"Scenting," he corrected, rubbing his fingers over Stiles' hair and ignoring the question. "You're scenting me. What do you smell?"

"Your family uses Tide," Stiles mumbled into his neck. "You...smell like people," he sighed, and it sounded disappointed. "But kind of...loamy, too. Like leaves. I don't know. I wish I did."

"So I smell like dirt?"

Derek grinned when Stiles grumbled at that, twitching like he was going to lift his head before curling in tighter against Derek's neck. His hands moved, flattening against Derek's sides for a moment before--

He wasn't aware of twisting and bucking up, but the next thing he knew Stiles was laughing and had wrapped his arms around Derek to hold on. It meant his fingers were no longer scraping over the flesh beneath his ribs, so Derek would take it.

With his breathing under control, Derek started to relax. Then Stiles' arms loosened, hands sneaking toward Derek's sides again, and Derek clamped his arms over Stiles', holding them in place with a soft growl.

Stiles...didn't seem to mind.

Derek closed his eyes, caught between savoring the want pouring off Stiles (sharp, immediate, and intense) and pushing him away. "Stiles..."

"Sorry. 'S this pressuring?"

There was definitely pressure involved. "It's not--"

All thoughts fled his mind at the sound of a key in the lock. Stiles pulled away, blushing, but the door was already opening and he was still pretty much kneeling between Derek's legs.

"Wh- Oh shi--"
"Oh my God, Scott."

Stiles pushed up off Derek's chest, flushed and blotchy and smelling like emotional soup. The want was still there, but sour wood and something metallic and peppery was starting to take over.

Derek pushed himself up and pulled his leg from the floor up to curl between them. He wanted to think he wasn't blushing, but wasn't willing to lie to himself. The kid, Scott apparently, was still standing in the open door, gaping at them. Derek sighed. "Mind closing the door?"

Scott closed the door, but he was still gaping. It wasn't a great look, but it seemed to come naturally to him. "Were you just having sex on the--"

"Oh my God," Stiles moaned, turning and thunking his head against Derek's shoulder. "No. Everyone is still wearing clothing, dumbass." Not that it would have stopped them. "And was, probably, going to stay that way!"

Derek smirked and pressed his leg to the side against Stiles' inner thigh, grinning while he flushed and fumbled his way off of it. "Probably?"

"Shut up, I can dream."

"What's going on?" Scott moaned.

"I think your friend's traumatized," Derek offered, and stretched out to grab his sketchbook again.

Stiles snorted. "More like he's traumatizing me." But he sighed and turned toward Scott, leaning back against Derek's legs when he pulled them up and nudged his toes under Stiles' ass. "Scott, this is my boyfriend, Derek. Derek, this is Scott," he said, gesturing vaguely between them. "And, by the way, he has a key to my house. Which I'm kind of regretting right now."

Scott not only smelled like antiseptic and puppies, he had the eyes to match. Wounded puppy was really the only way to describe that look. "Hey, come on. It's not my fault you were...doing that. There."

Just when he'd thought the conversation couldn't get any more awkward. Stiles seemed to feel the same way. Derek couldn't see his face, but the way his shoulders slumped and that soft almost-sigh usually accompanied rolling eyes. "You're right. And I should definitely have been expecting you to just barge in like everything's normal. Did you want something?"

Scott frowned and shifted his attention to Derek. "I didn't know things weren't normal, man. Since when do you have a boyfriend?"

Derek turned his attention firmly down to his sketchbook. This wasn't really a conversation that involved him. Not really.

Maybe he should leave.

Stiles reached back and grabbed hold of his jeans, as though he'd been able to feel that thought. "Officially? Last week. But Derek's kind of been a big deal in my life for a lot longer than that."

"Well why didn't you say something?"

"One word answer?" The metal-pepper was overpowering, and the edge in Stiles' voice was vicious. "Allison."

Derek glanced up to see Scott reeling back, gaping again, but Stiles wasn't done. "Don't get me wrong. Allison's great. She seems really sweet and awesome. Which I can only figure is true, since you've been kind of blowing me off for most of the last year."

"That's not--"

"I staged an intervention, Scott. Do you remember that?" Stiles' voice was dry, but it mostly sounded like pain. "This is your brain, this is your brain on Allison?"

"That comic you drew about ice cream?" Scott sounded confused, and from that description Derek couldn't really blame him. "I thought that was just--saying I was whipped or something."

"No, I'd have used whipped cream if I'd been doing that. That was me saying you were a complete mess and had totally lost what little cool you'd had. Which you'd know, if you'd been listening to me explaining it."

His boyfriend, ladies and gentlemen. Derek doodled an ice cream cone in one corner. He wasn't going to get any work done like this anyway.

"I was...thinking about Allison."

Stiles sighed. "Yeah. 'Cause I mentioned her. I know." All at once, the tension bled out of his back. "Do you want to work on homework or something? You're kind of crashing our second ever date, but that's what we were going to do anyway."

"...yeah, it looked like it." Derek risked looking up again, but Scott's expression had softened into something wry. "Derek has homework?" he asked, shooting a doubtful look over at him. "Really?"

Derek lifted and shook his sketchbook. "Tattoo apprenticeship. I have homework."

Scott watched him silently for a moment before nodding. "You don't talk much, huh? I can see why Stiles likes you."

Derek ducked his head to hide his smile, but there was no masking his snort. Stiles growled (growled!) and elbowed his leg. "I'm feeling mocked and I don't like it. Scott. Homework. Yes or no?"

"Yeah," Scott sighed, swinging his bag down and thumping across the room in a lope that Derek was certain belonged solely to male teenagers. "That's not why I came over, though! I just realized--" He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, which took that as encouragement to puff up like a cockatoo's crest. "Yeah, that I haven't really seen you much."

"Yup. You're a crap friend." Stiles snorted and listed to one side, flailing until he could get a grip on his bag and start digging notebooks out. "Thankfully, I'm very forgiving."

"No you're not," Scott grinned and flopped into Stiles' usual spot. "You never let anything go, dude."

Stiles rolled his eyes, shifting his legs off the couch and curling his arm over Derek's knees to brace his side there instead of his back. "Yeah, well. You're just lucky that includes all the times I was a jerk, or got you in trouble, or hurt, or--"

"Might wanna shut up while you're ahead, and I still remember that I was the jerk this time."

The words weren't always friendly, but the tone was lighter now. The barbs more playful than hostile. Derek bit his lip against a smile. Their banter would have fit in just fine at the family table. They just needed to be trained into bread throwing and biting.

"So what've you got?" Stiles asked, kicking Scott's ankle as he dug through his bag.

Scott kicked back, but missed. "Not a lot. You're not in most of the classes I'm--"

"Yeah, shut up," Stiles cut him off. "I probably know it anyway. Sit."

Chapter Text

"Why can't the teacher just explain it like that?" Scott scowled down at the page. "That actually makes sense."

"Your teacher probably hasn't thought to use your totally justified fear of your girlfriend's parents as an example of why people were willing to risk death in order to overthrow their government," Stiles pointed out, and Derek snorted. Again.

He'd been doing that a lot while they studied.

Stiles turned to frown at him and jiggled Derek's knees with the arm he'd thrown across them. "Are you seriously doing any better, slacker?"

Derek turned his sketchbook around and offered it to Stiles without hesitation. Watched Stiles' face while he flicked through the latest pages.

"...okay, not a slacker."

Scott leaned over Stiles' shoulder and Derek's hands twitched with the desire to snatch it back. But it wasn't anything personal. The designs were close enough to done.

"Dude, that is so cool." Scott didn't reach for the book, at least. He just nodded as Stiles flipped pages, eyes flicking back and forth as he took the drawings in. Derek used their distraction to grab his personal sketchbook and throw out a quick impression of their faces.

Abruptly, Scott's face lit up, his mouth stretching out in a grin that seemed to change his entire facial structure. "That's cat feet, isn't it?" He looked up at Derek, flinching a little at whatever look Stiles was giving him. "I mean. Foot prints. Of cats?"

"Yeah," Derek confirmed, smiling when Stiles turned an incredulous stare his way. "Vic wanted design options for a deceased pet, that weren't portraits."

Stiles choked on a laugh as he turned the page again. "So...I'm guessing that's what the little gravestone with the dead bird in front of it is for too?"

Derek shrugged. "People mourn in different ways."

Scott only looked a little disturbed.

-----

It was interesting, watching Stiles interact with someone his own age.

Stiles flopped against the couch, throwing his head back dramatically while Scott grimaced. Derek did his best to capture it with just a few quick lines, because sure enough, Stiles was moving again a moment later. He left his back against the couch but his arms were sweeping through the air in broad gestures.

Derek abandoned his normal techniques for those, taking a page from Stiles' more animated approach and letting the arms bend and twist on the paper in ways they couldn't in reality.

Scott laughed and Derek flipped two pages back, adding more detail to the wrinkles around his eyes. He wasn't really paying attention to their conversation, too wrapped up in the lines and images they made, but Scott didn't seem like a bad kid from what he'd heard. A little flighty and prone to either-or thinking, which didn't help him understand his history homework at all, but overall he seemed okay.

Just...a kid. Scott was definitely a kid.

And he was Stiles' age.

Stiles erupted up from the couch, stalking across the room to--fetch something? A book?

Derek had just jotted down enough lines to remind him later of the dichotomy between long, straight-legged strides and noodle-arm gesticulations when Stiles hit the stairs and proceeded to fall up them in a vaguely coordinated way.

He blinked, and Scott turned a sheepish smile his way.

There was no time to write it down, but the visual was immediate. His and Scott's heads in sloppy pencil, viewed from over the back of the couch with a rough Oh Hell over his own head.

"You don't actually need to threaten me," Derek offered, gesturing weakly with his pencil when Scott looked confused. "The sheriff covered that, and I think my family likes Stiles more than me, so..."

"What? No!" Scott looked caught somewhere between horror and hilarity, and Derek just blinked back at him before flipping to a blank page. He had to try and figure out how Scott's face had done that.

Scott wasn't done yet. "I don't need to. Stiles is plenty capable of defending his own honor, man." His face split into another impossible grin. "I mean. If he's not up for it, I could do it for him. He put together a whole list of ways to get back at someone for heartbreak. I mean," Scott's expression crumpled, heading back into befuddled and awkward, "that was in case Jackson broke Lydia's heart, but I figure it still applies."

Upstairs, Stiles was swearing under his breath and it sounded like he was actually moving furniture. Derek glanced toward the stairs and back at Scott. "He's mentioned Lydia before."

Scott nodded, apparently not seeing anything strange about that. "Yeah. I mean, I guess it makes sense. He's hardly tried talking to her since school started."

Which didn't tell Derek anything he wanted to know, but Stiles was heading back.

"Have any embarrassing Stiles-stories?" Derek asked, grinning at the way Scott's eyes shot toward the staircase with a playful smile of his own.

"Oh, man. Do I have any that aren't?"

"Aren't what?" Stiles asked as he came back into range, squinting suspiciously at both of them. "What were you talking about? Wait," his expression collapsed into mild horror. "Why did I leave you two alone? How did I not realize that was a bad idea? Oh man..."

Derek ducked his head to hide a smile while Scott laughed.

Scott was a kid, yeah. But he seemed like a pretty good kid.

-----

Eventually, Stiles started pushing his books to the end of the coffee table and Scott was picking through the stacks they'd made for things to shove in his own bag. Derek slipped his sketchbook between the couch cushions while Scott's attention was diverted, just as a precaution.

A stupid one, according to Stiles' eyebrow. Derek rolled his eyes in response.

"So..." Scott grimaced, and Derek tried not to smirk too obviously as he waved. "Yeah. Um."

Stiles sighed and pulled Scott into an awkward hug before pushing him toward the door. "Bye, Scott. See you tomorrow?"

"Yeah, definitely." Scott grinned back, then offered Derek another awkward wave. "Bye. Sorry again for, uh, yeah."

He fled, tossing a fast "Oh, and thanks!" back through the door just before he closed it.

Stiles turned back toward the couch and promptly covered his eyes with one hand as the lock clicked into place.

"Considerate of him."

"Yeah," Stiles said dourly, his face going red. "I'm sure that's it."

He sighed as he dropped his hand, shooting Derek a sheepish smile. "So, for our second official date, we managed to not make any plans, freak each other out, bring up traumatic ex-girlfriends, get cuddle-blocked by Scott, and do homework. How, exactly, did we fail this bad?"

"Didn't fail," Derek shrugged. "Spent time with you. Learned more about you. Met someone important to you. Got to hold you. Sounds like win to me."

It was worth the embarrassing, painful honesty for the way Stiles jerked and stared at him. "Oh my--" He started to gesture, bringing his hands up then slapping them back down against his thighs with a disbelieving laugh. "You are seriously the biggest, cheesiest sap in the world."

Derek shrugged again, trying to repress a smile. "You like it."

"Yeah," he grinned. "Sorry about that though. I mean, not the..." Stiles gestured blankly at Derek before finally coming back and flopping on the seat next to him again, laughing when Derek stretched his legs out to rest across his lap. "Just. Scott. I'm sorry about Scott."

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask if he did that a lot, since they seemed to have the kind of friendship that thrived on that kind of ribbing, but he held it back behind his teeth.

"I mean, I knew he had a key, obviously," Stiles continued. "He just...hasn't really...been here?"

"Wanna talk about it?"

Stiles went still for a moment before shaking his head slowly. "Not now? I just-- I'm not actually mad at him right now, and I'd like to enjoy that for a little longer."

"Alright," Derek agreed, and poked at Stiles' side to make him jump. "What about your homework?"

"Ugh, spoilsport." Stiles pushed Derek's legs out of his lap but made no move toward the piles of schoolwork. "I finished some of it while I was helping Scott, and the rest of it's going to take more attention than I can manage with you around. So no."

"Alright."

Stiles snorted. "Trust me. I don't want my grades to start slipping right as we start dating either. So..."

"Maybe we should do something about dinner." Derek grinned at Stiles' exasperated expression. "We probably shouldn't go back to necking on the couch."

"...there was an alarming lack of kissing for necking on the couch," Stiles pointed out, but he still sighed and pushed himself up. "Though probably more actual neck than usual."

"Food, Stiles. You should probably consume it."

Stiles scoffed but headed for the kitchen. "Which is your way of saying you're hungry, admit it."

He shrugged. "I could eat." Stiles threw a pen at him, but just laughed when he caught it.

"Come keep me company," Stiles said, which...sounded ominously like he was planning on cooking. The thought apparently showed on his face, since Stiles glowered at him. "I'm serious. I am reclaiming my honor." He paused a moment, making a face before shrugging and turning toward the kitchen. "Which, really, means you need to be in the kitchen with me. So hop to it."

At least this way he could keep an eye out for problems.

-----

The knives were still a travesty.

Stiles put him on onions, which was only mild torture. Then bacon, stashed in the recesses of the freezer.

"Cut that into fairly thin chunks. It defrosts just fine in the pan if it cooks on the side."

While he cut, Stiles--sorted. A can each of black beans, lentils, and diced tomatoes were lined up next to the stove, followed by a carton of low-sodium chicken broth from the fridge. Little glass jars of spices were clustered behind them, with Stiles just poking at them and occasionally lifting one for a sniff and slowly developing some sort of order.

The bacon went into a pot on medium high heat. Then half a package of ground chicken sausage from the fridge once the bacon went limp, and the onions once the sausage was mostly brown. Stiles passed him a can opener while he poked at the meat with a spoon, and Derek took the hint, opening everything that Stiles had laid out.

"See, this kind of thing I can make in my sleep," Stiles groused, turning the temperature down and starting to uncap the spices. "So long as nothing weird is going on. But by this kind of thing, I mean heavy, fatty, delicious messes. Not so heart healthy, really."

Cumin, celery seed, paprika, coriander. Derek watched carefully as each spice was pinched out, sprinkled in, and moved to the other side of the stove.

"I mean. This would feed, like, four of me. At least. But it's safe to do sometimes, 'cause Dad thinks lentils are the devil. Which, really, I might let him have a little bacon with his chicken sausage if he'd eat it with beans. Beans are supposed to be good for cholesterol, right?"

The meat mixture was a rich, brown, alarming smelling mess in the bottom of the pan by the time Stiles put the tomatoes in. The lentils and beans were drained but not rinsed before they were tossed in too. "Dude, no, you don't want to clean that off. It's important."

It looked horrific, but it was actually starting to smell edible.

Stiles glared at his pot of slop and added chicken stock until the mixture loosened up a little, then scraped along the bottom for any remaining stubborn bits. "Could you taste this? I'd normally use chili powder too, but I don't know what your wolfy sensibilities are like."

"Chili's better than cayenne," Derek offered, grabbing a spoon from the drawer before Stiles could offer him the mixing spoon.

He was a werewolf. He couldn't get sick. He didn't have any germs that could get Stiles sick. Peter had so much to answer for.

It still looked alarming, but it...honestly wasn't bad. "It doesn't need chili."

In fact, it was disturbingly well balanced.

Stiles nodded, but he was frowning at the pot. And had no compunctions against tasting with the mixing spoon himself. "More paprika, though," he muttered to himself, and...put away all the spices, leaving just the paprika on the counter.

"You can taste the paprika in this?" He could, but. Werewolf. He had the impression humans mostly used it for color, not--

Stiles snorted, grabbing the jar and pushing it toward Derek's face. He didn't know why, paprika wasn't tha--

"Shit," he pulled back, eyes almost watering.

It wasn't burning like a stronger chili would have, but it was a lot stronger than he'd planned his sniff around.

"People don't taste paprika because they use crappy, old paprika," Stiles said, setting the jar aside. "I have a deal with a neighbor. She goes through the good stuff fast enough that it doesn't get too stale, and I run errands for her when I need more."

"...you should introduce her to Peter."

Stiles laughed. "Yeah. Maybe if he's really nice to me."

Derek felt something warm and loose settle in his chest. It had rough, jagged edges like fear, and the comfortable loops he associated with family.

Seemed accurate enough.

"Bowls are over there, if you're not terrified of this," Stiles pointed blindly. He gestured more up than down, so it was probably one of the two upper units. Derek could work with that.

Derek started turning to explore his options, but hesitated when he saw Stiles cap the paprika and put it away. "Weren't you going to add more of that?"

He saw Stiles' hand twitch on the cabinet door, but couldn't smell him past the fragrant pot. "Eh. Doesn't really need it." Stiles shut the door and turned back with a smile that looked mostly honest.

Mostly.

Derek grabbed the bowls down and pushed one at Stiles. "So... This doesn't seem to suck."

"Yeah?" Stiles eyed him warily, but took the bowl.

"Yeah. So what happened with the stir fry?"

"Argh, you suck," Stiles made a face at him before dishing up a serving of whatever-that-was and poking Derek with the bowl until he exchanged it for the empty one. "I'm not used to ginger," he grumbled. "Still trying to figure out how much is enough and where too much is." Stiles' heart stuttered up for a moment and Derek frowned. "Was it just the ginger that was bad last time?" Stiles made a face. "Wait, no, I was the only one crazy enough to--"

"The ginger's what kept me from trying it," Derek cut in. "It was intense even from the living room."

Stiles scrunched his face up at Derek, then let it go lax with a heavy sigh. "And neither me or Dad knew about the wolfy thing, so warning me about it would have been weird."

Plus it hadn't occurred to him, but Derek just nodded agreement.

"It kind of surprised me that you didn't ask about my meds," Stiles said, turning his back to Derek and heading for the couch again.

Derek blinked after Stiles before following. "What do you mean?"

"When your mom ambushed us in the car and informed us I'd be staying the night, rather than asking like a civilized being," Stiles drawled. "I checked the emergency stash in my car, to make sure I had enough medication for the morning. Nobody in your family asked about it, though."

"It's not our business," Derek shrugged. "If you were family, we'd want to know. So we could help. But--"

Stiles flopped onto the couch and cut Derek off with a grimace. "What do you mean help?"

"Pick up prescriptions," Derek offered, sitting close enough that they could touch but hopefully not wound each other while eating. "Call them in or remind you to. We'd know how you smelled after taking them, so we could remind you if you'd skipped a dose."

The expression on Stiles' face was hovering somewhere between fondly resigned and weirded out. "Invasive much?"

Derek grinned and ducked his head. "We'd want to help. Packs aren't very good at boundaries, but we can learn them, to some degree."

Tania had helped with that. Significantly.

"Yeah, well." Stiles snorted. "I take Adderall for ADHD, which mostly means I'm a spazz who forgets stuff. For instance? Whether or not I added ginger." He shoved a spoonful of his glop into his mouth with a pleased hum, then shrugged and, "prby."

"Swallow first, then talk."

Stiles rolled his eyes and swallowed pointedly. "Probably. As in, that's probably what happened, with the stir fry."

And the paprika. Derek nodded.

That seemed to be the end of that conversational thread, though, and Stiles hunched down into the couch.

Silence.

Only not, really. Derek could hear both their hearts beating, the scrape of spoons against bowls, the never-attractive sound of chewing. Silence was generally metaphorical, for werewolves.

Also, awkward.

"Your--uh, dad has heart problems?"

Stiles made an indignant noise and gave him a look that seemed to radiate 'you tried' before pulling the spoon out of his mouth and chewing. Derek just waited. He didn't know what other options he had, really.

"It's not really problems?" Stiles offered eventually. "More like...flags. His blood pressure's a little high, and he's on medication for his cholesterol even though his numbers aren't bad enough to make it necessary. Which makes me think there's a family history, but-- Yeah." Stiles sighed, shifting until he could melt against Derek's arm. (Not a big deal. He could eat with his left hand just fine.) "And his lifestyle doesn't really help. Being the Sheriff and healthy, sit-down meals don't really go together."

Derek hummed and made a mental note to talk to Tania. And Peter. Again. "It sounds like you don't know much about your dad's family."

"That's okay. Near as I can tell, your dad was already in the family," Stiles quipped, busying his mouth with another large bite.

Brat.

"He took the pack name when he married Mom. His parents-- His mom knows about the pack, and isn't happy about it. His dad doesn't know anything. I'm pretty sure he thinks we're a cult."

"Dude," Stiles laughed, "everyone who meets your family probably thinks you're a cult. 'Wolf pack' and 'cult' look really similar from the outside."

His parents, their marriage, and all the complications and quirks of it were really not something he wanted to talk about, with Stiles. "Why is this suddenly about my family? My parents aren't that--"

"Nuh-uh," Stiles cut him off. "You are not going to end that sentence in a factual way. Dad said you're twenty three? And Laura's older than you, right? So if your parents got married before having kids, your dad took your mom's name in... Wow, the 80's?" Stiles blinked, then turned to share a shit eating grin. "Their wedding pictures must be epic."

They were. So were the stories that went with them.

"If you don't want to talk about your dad's family, just say so and I won't ask."

Stiles went quiet and Derek let him, slipping an arm around his shoulders and leaning in to get a better whiff of his scent. It was interesting, tracking the minute changes the food made.

He wondered when the sheriff would get home. If he should be gone before then.

"Dad's family is why my parents moved to California. Mom said it was as far away as they could get without jumping ocean or wanting to kill each other over the climate." Stiles' voice was flat, his scent twisting with damp metal as he set his bowl on the coffee table. "I know my mom had a restraining order against at least one of them, and that my parents did their best to make sure none of them ever found out about me, but that's about it."

Derek put his own bowl aside, even though it was half full, and curled into Stiles until he was pinned against the sofa arm and starting to smell warmer.

"My grandfather had a sister," Derek offered once Stiles' scent had settled and he'd started to relax. "My great-aunt. She found her mate in the sixties. My great-grandmother was the alpha at the time, and not happy with my great-aunt and her wife."

"Oooooh shit," Stiles mumbled against his shoulder, and Derek snorted.

"Putting it lightly. My aunt's mate was a human with no interest in taking the bite, which was another point against her, as far as the alpha was concerned. They lived apart from the pack for a long time, but my aunt was still tied to it. Her parents wouldn't let her leave, but wouldn't accept her mate."

Stiles nodded and squirmed until he was turned a bit more toward Derek. "So... Questions." Derek made an encouraging noise and waited through Stiles' amused snort. "Right. Uh. Mate?"

"Werewolf for married, or a spouse."

"So it's not a sex thing?" Stiles asked, then laughed when Derek whined. "No, seriously. I'm just..."

"Mom told you not to trust the internet," he groused.

Stiles was already shaking his head. "I'd have asked anyway. And I don't trust the internet," he scoffed. "I use it to formulate questions. Which, yeah, you should probably be worried about. But whatever. So. Sex thing? Not a sex thing? Answer the question."

"No, not a sex thing." Derek flicked the tip of Stiles' ear. "It's a title, and a-- It's a bond. There's no--" He sighed, rubbing his forehead. "The pack is connected. It's a--network, I guess, of bonds. I don't know how to explain them, I just--"

"That's fine," Stiles interrupted. "I don't need the insider perspective. Just-- You said it's like being married, is there some sort of ceremony or..."

Derek was already shaking his head. "No. There's no ritual to it, it just...develops, when the relationship is right."

"Right?" Stiles made a face. "What does that mean? How long does it take? How do you know?"

How could anyone miss it? Derek sighed and tucked his nose closer to Stiles' ear. "The bond is in your head, it's hard to miss once it forms. We don't know what 'right' is, and it usually takes years."

"Okay," Stiles said, but he was frowning and still smelled like processing, so that was a topic Derek expected to hear about again. "So what happened with your great-aunt and her, uh, wife?"

Derek paused, considering. There was only so much of that story he could share without getting into territory that, to a human, meant murder.

"She left the pack after my mother took pack leadership from her grandmother," he settled on. "The connection between pack members isn't just emotion, it's-- Right now, Mom can tell if one of us is hurt. We can all--" Stiles leaned in and grabbed the collar of Derek's shirt in his teeth. His eyes were closed and he wasn't tugging or chewing just...holding. Right next to Derek's neck. Derek cleared his throat and tried to reclaim his thoughts. "We can feel it, if there's a lot of distress or pain. If something has to happen, the alpha can...not quite force the issue, but it's close. The bond is a tangible thing, to us."

Stiles hummed but didn't react, other than shifting an inch or so along Derek's collar.

"When a new alpha takes over, those bonds are weakened," he went on. "My great-aunt-- She knew my mother disagreed with the previous alpha. She knew my grandparents had disagreed. But they wanted a human life. They severed themselves from the pack and left. Mom would have tried to follow her and convince them to come back, but the pack was too weak. We just...lost them. My aunt became an omega instead of trusting us. We have no idea if she's okay or--"

They were silent for a few moments, just pressed together.

Eventually, Stiles let go of his shirt. "Why tell me that?"

"Because it's painful, and what you shared sounded painful too."

"Not like that," Stiles snorted. It sounded more amused than anything, but Stiles' face was serious when he pulled away. "Did you actually want to know about the Scott thing?"

Derek didn't consider that worthy of a response, and just stared at Stiles expectantly.

Stiles rolled his eyes. "It's boring," he warned, but it didn't sound like that was going to stop him. "Scott met Allison on the first day of school last year. She'd just moved here, and he loaned her his pen...then had to borrow one from me because his spare turned out to be dead. Which, luckily, she apparently thought that was cute. Anyway--"

Derek let the words wash over him, nodding at the right spots and piecing together the blurbs and offshoots into a larger picture. It wasn't a surprising picture, but it made sense.

Boy has friend. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in sickening, giggly infatuation. Boy is around less, talks to friend less, forgets about plans with friend. Friend withdraws and waits for boy to get his head out of his ass. Friend makes other friends. Boy stays oblivious, so friend drops shared activities. Boy notices, they talk, things get better.

Boy and girl have problems. Boy talks about them with friend. Friend tries to help. Problems solved, boy and girl happy together again and meander toward the metaphorical sunset. Friend flails behind them and stops bothering. Friend gets on with own life, acquires werewolf.

Boy realizes hasn't seen friend much recently, and walks in on friend and werewolf necking on the couch.

Alright. So the werewolf wasn't quite normal, per se.

"I know that-- I mean, this isn't just Scott's fault," Stiles sighed, sounding resigned and put out. "I know there are things I should have done, or could have done differently. I just-- I still feel like it's more his fault, and that I've been pulling all the weight for a long time, now."

Derek moved his legs and tugged Stiles in until he was caught up against Derek's side in a loose hug. "Even I know you could have handled that better," he said, ignoring Stiles' amused snort of 'harsh' against his shoulder. "But I only know your side and you're my--"

He lost the word.

Stiles twisted to frown up at him and--

Fuck. That trace of concern was just his imagination. Or his family, somehow. It wasn't--

The feeling intensified as Stiles moved, pressing Derek back to get a better look at him. "Hey, what's--"

Fuck.

-----

"You ran away from Stiles?"

Derek shoved his head between his mother and the couch, groaning and trying desperately to block out his mother's screeching and his father's laughter.

Chapter Text

He was reaching for the black.

It came in messy, incomplete lines that skipped and shook in his brain. Uneven charcoal being raked carelessly over a rough canvas. Bits of debris scattered everywhere and smeared, fading back to white.

He hated white. It never meant anything good, inside his head.

Voices moved around him, dancing from casual to alarm and back again.

"Shh," his mother breathed against his temple. "Close your eyes. Come on, now. Come with me."

Derek let his parents move him. There was growling, and soft leather against his face, and the voices went away.

He sat with the white, trying to pin the canvas down so he could cover it properly. His parents were there, warm and comforting on either side, talking in hushed words that weren't aimed at him anyway.

It helped.

-----

There was a crick in his neck, when he'd pulled his brain together enough to start paying attention to the outside world again.

There was a crick in his neck because he was curled up in the big armchair in the study. Which, yes, was big, but still not intended to support someone of his size coiled up entirely between the armrests.

"--missed Danielle calling, this afternoon." That was his father, perched above his head. "We told her about you and Stiles, by the way. She yelled for ten minutes."

"That's just because you upstaged her," his mother added with a grin in her voice, from his feet. "She's got a boyfriend too, now. Apparently, she was having a hard time not pouncing on his tail, and he noticed."

"He's a mascot for their school." He could hear his father's grin. "In case you were wondering why he had a tail to begin with. Danielle says it's very fluffy, and swings when he shakes his--"

"Stop," Derek groaned, finally. "I don't need to know my baby sister is getting more tail than I am."

Both his parents choked. It was worth the effort of talking.

Derek pushed himself a bit more upright and rolled his neck out. His mother raised her eyebrows at him from her perch on an armrest and asked, "So. Stiles?"

Groaning again, Derek grabbed the afghan from the back of the chair and pulled it over his head. A warm weight rubbed across his scalp through the blanket and his dad said, "Take your time."

"No," he sighed, scrunching his knees up and letting himself slump into the chair. "It's-- I felt him."

His parents were silent and still, but a building pressure across the bond let him know that he needed to be a lot more specific. Quickly.

"I froze up, he was concerned and I could feel it, in my head. It changed with-- With him. With everything. I don't--"

"Calm down." His mother leaned her weight onto his hip, practically smothering him with reassurance and comfort. "It's not a mate bond, it can't be. You've only been dating for a week for fuck's--"

"They've known each other for a year, though," his father interjected, voice quiet and calm, an automatic counterpoint to his wife. "It's still short, but it might be possible."

His mother snorted and sat on him, curling over Derek and pressing him into the chair until he felt more like a chick under a hen than anything. "We were unheard of and we'd dated for nearly two years. I don't think so. There has to be another explanation."

That was a calming thought. It shouldn't have been, Derek hated not knowing what he was dealing with, but the unknown was preferable to--

"Why were you so frightened?" his father asked. "If it is a mate bond, what scares you?"

This was exactly the conversation none of the three of them wanted to have.

"Don't you think," he bit out, "that seventeen is a little young to make lifelong decisions?"

His mother snorted. "No."

"Yes," his father sighed, and there was a scuffing noise and a growl that suggested he'd swatted her head. "It usually is."

Maria made an accepting humm at that. "Usually, sure. But it works out sometimes. You know that."

"You two don't count," Derek grumped. "You were the same age, anyway."

Mostly.

"I was still seventeen when our bond formed," his father pointed out calmly. "And I don't regret a single decision we made. Especially not Laura."

There was a wet noise above his head and Derek rolled his eyes under the safety of his blanket. "Anyway," his mother started. "This is solvable so far." Derek twitched, surprised, and tried to sit up but his mother just leaned more of her weight against his shoulder. "But I want to know what else is eating at you, before we get into that. What is there aside from the age, kiddo?"

"He's-- He's going to leave," Derek sighed. "College."

Most of the time, he was able to forget about that. He didn't even know what Stiles was planning for college, yet, but...

"So you'll follow him," his father said, calling Derek three kinds of idiot with just his tone of voice. "Even without the bond, you probably would have. Vic said it would be good for you to spend a year or two with other artists anyway, didn't she?"

Derek snorted, but couldn't deny how much of a relief that was to hear.

He would have followed Stiles, if Stiles didn't mind it, but having his parents' support still meant a lot.

"His father," Derek started, but his mother cut in immediately. "Is coming over for lunch on Saturday. We've already set it up."

His father chuckled and patted Derek's knee where it stuck out from under his mother's hips. "All this will do if it is a mate bond is hurry that up a bit."

"Anything else, kiddo?"

"Nothing I can think of," he admitted.

"Excellent. Now," his mother bent down to talk closer to his ear, her voice dropping. "Did you know that new bonds can be--encouraged away? When it's necessary."

That was almost enough to get him out from under the blanket. "What?"

"Your mother and I wouldn't have needed the pregnancy, otherwise," his father added with a chuckle. "It was a common threat, with the last alpha. We'll have to research it, but it is a possibility."

"Alan will know, if Olivia doesn't,"his mother confirmed, sliding off him finally and taking the blanket with her. Because she was a horrible alpha.

Derek blinked against the light and sat up a bit more normally. He didn't want to force something like this on Stiles, but--

That didn't mean he wanted it taken away, either.

His father slid over the chair arm and draped against his side, rumbling quietly. "We aren't doing anything without knowing our options. And now you know we have options. Aright?"

He nodded, but... "I don't want to lose him either."

"If Stiles wants out? You let him go," his mother said, calmly and precisely and ignoring the way she was crushing Derek's chest with just her words. "But, hopefully, this isn't a now or never thing. We can't be the first people to have to tell a bond it had to go away for a little while. And, hopefully, someone's written down how to do just that."

His father nodded and gave his wife a shove off the chair so he could stand up. "If they haven't, we can contact that pack out in Nebraska I visited a few years back. Their alpha had a similar situation, with a more established bond."

From the floor, his mother snorted. "I'm the alpha, damnit. Why are you always dropping me on the ground?"

"To show you I love you," his father beamed down for the half second it took before Maria jerked one of his legs out from under him.

Derek pulled the afghan back up over his head. He didn't need to watch his parents flirt.

-----

It wasn't a surprise to see most of his family loitering around in the hallway outside the study. They knew better than to try and butt in on a closed-door conversation, but there was nothing stopping them from listening in.

Laura stalking over and hitting him upside the head hard enough to make his vision go blurry for a moment was less expected.

Their mother growled as Derek pulled back to a more defensive position, but Laura growled back. "Uh-uh. He deserved that." She scowled at him and--threw her phone at him. Catching it was reflex, and that was all that saved it from an ignoble fate against the hardwood floors. Or his face. "Text Stiles. He's pissed and you apparently left your phone there, with the rest of your shit."

Derek blinked and whined as most of the family bit back snickers with varying levels of success.

He retreated to his room, ignoring Laura's possessive growl over the loss of her phone. He needed the privacy.

-----

Sorry. I freaked out. Derek

As an explanation, it...was horrible. But he hated Laura's phone keyboard even more than his own.

Laura's phone chirped almost immediately, with Omg, u suck.Will call when im done yelling

He replied with How long you think? and tried not to wince when Stiles immediately shot back Tuesdy, or sigh too obviously when a Jk followed right after.

It was an accident, initially. He hit the wrong key or brushed the screen or something, but then he was staring at another message of Ffs. He okay? from about an hour earlier.

He scrolled up.

U home? Is derek ok? If he is im srsly pissed

I'm home, Derek's not back yet. Something happen?

Omfg. He left abt 10 min ago? Left everthng here

Oh My God, is it That Hard to hit all the keys?

Derek muffled a snort against his arm. His sister, in all her ridiculous glory.

Your house to home is a 12-14 min trip, I'd guess. What happened?

If hes no tther mby i should cal. Less typng

Der just got home.

Ffs. He okay?

If he wasn't so upset, I'd snag you a picture of this. He's hiding UNDER mom.

Der's freaking. I'm going for a walk. Will call when I'm out of range of casual ears.

K

His own message was next, and Derek closed out of Laura's messages guiltily. He shouldn't have looked at that. Not only because he'd abruptly realized that was an invasion of privacy, but because now he had a sullen weight coiled in his stomach.

He hadn't just made Stiles angry, he'd scared him.

Worse, all he'd really done was learned that Stiles was mad (already suspected), that he'd worried Stiles (fuck), and that any actual information about what was going on in Stiles' head--wasn't available.

Unless he asked Laura.

Before he could make a firm decision about how much of a horrible idea that would be, Laura's phone started playing Hey There Little Red Riding Hood and he nearly broke it with his haste to answer it just to make it shut up. "Stiles?"

He could hear Laura cackling downstairs, and tried to limit his focus just to the phone. Just to Stiles.

"I cannot believe you ran away," Stiles drawled. He didn't sound angry now, at least. Though disgruntled and disappointed were both strong contenders. "Seriously, after all the shit we've talked about, that was what made you flee in horror?"

"It wasn't what we were talking about," Derek sighed. "I'm not sure how to explain. Just--"

"I'll bring your stuff by the shop tomorrow," Stiles interrupted. "Or I could bring it by the house. You've got tomorrow off, right?"

"Yeah."

"Cool. I'll bring it by the house, then. I'm pretty sure your family would be willing to play fetch for me, if you run off again."

The tone was teasing, at least.

Derek sighed and ran a hand over his face. "I'm-- I shouldn't. It should be...okay."

"You ran away," Stiles pointed out. "I'm kind of assuming you're really, seriously, not okay right now."

There was no arguing against that. "I...talked with Mom. It's-- Uh. It's an us thing, and she didn't really have a specific answer for it? But she knows where to get one, we think. So it's--okay."

"Wow you're articulate." Stiles sounded like he was trying to bite back a laugh. "Don't worry about it. Well, I mean, you should definitely worry, 'cause there are going to be so many words tomorrow, but don't, like, try to hurt yourself explaining. You can do that tomorrow, when we have your family for interpretation and you can resort to charades."

Derek groaned and flopped over, burying his face in one of Stiles' shirts. Over the line, Stiles laughed. "Yeah, knew you'd be thrilled about that. But seriously, if this doesn't involve me then I'm figuring it's some weird, werewolf puberty thing, and you're a little old for that, y'know? So I'm thinking it involves me. And if it does, you or someone is explaining tomorrow. Got it?"

"Yeah," Derek sighed, because they'd have to anyway, even if they were still short on explanations. "I'm sorry if I worried you."

"If? Oh my god, Derek. I'll just-- I'll talk to you tomorrow, okay? And ease off the heart attack inducing runs through the night, if that's not too much to ask."

"Technically, it was late afternoon."

"I hate you," Stiles said, but he was laughing again. "So much."

Derek smiled, rolling onto his side and wishing, just for a moment, that Stiles was there with him. Tucked in next to him in his bed and laughing. "I love you too."

Stiles' laughter hiccupped and Derek was fairly sure that if they'd been face face, he'd have heard Stiles' heart stutter at hearing that. "Yeah. Uh. I should go. Homework, still, and you're a horrible distraction when I'm mad at you, too. So."

"Night, Stiles. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Night, Jerk."

He hung up before Stiles could, not sure he could handle anything more drawn out.

Chapter Text

It wasn't that Derek had a problem with Alan Deaton.

The man just came with horrible associations.

Every time he saw Alan--on the street, in a store, at a coffee shop, a cafe--he went straight back to terror and anger, jagged lines clawing at his stomach while his parents and the Argents forced accusations and venom into a workable treaty under Alan's soft voice and relentless stare.

Alan had been the only safe place to look. So now, Derek couldn't see him without remembering the rasp of Gerard's voice, the clipped precision of Victoria's, the pointed smooth chill of his mother's.

He'd never been to Alan's office before, though.

"He's a vet?" Derek asked, hunching into his shoulders and glaring.

"Glad to know you're not too twitterpated to read," his father drawled while his mother poked warily behind a dumpster with the tip of her shoe. Something clicked open and she darted forward, coming out with a key.

Derek grumbled, but refused to protest on the grounds that he wasn't prey. He'd learned that lesson as a cub.

"Come on, both of you," his mother sighed, rolling the door up. "Alan's only got so much of a break between his early appointments. Hup to."

Any space designed to take deliveries and haul trash through smelled horrible, and the clinic's was no exception. Derek followed his father through while his mom took care of locking up, but holy fuck he hadn't been expecting the clinic itself to smell even worse.

The scent of harsh chemical cleaners was strong enough to make his eyes water. He had a glimpse of a room that...honestly reminded him more of Peter's kitchen at the restaurant than anything. Wide counters along every wall, a large island in the center.

Persistent note of blood in the background.

He didn't see much of the clinic, letting his parents guide him by touch while he tried to adjust. The cleaners stung, but they were familiar at least. A thousand times stronger than what Tania brought home on her clothes, even on the worst days, but similar all the same. They passed a room holding cats at some point. Even the cleaners were less offensive than the reek of litter boxes, and even without that, the chorus of yowling and hissing as they passed would have cinched it.

Otherwise, the trip was pretty much a blur.

Next thing he knew, his mother was pushing him down into a chair and offering him a tissue. "Here, wipe your eyes then under your nose. It'll help clear the smell out."

"Sorry," his father added, but without much trace of sympathy. "I think we forgot how bad the smell can be, if you aren't used to it."

"Why are you used to it?" Derek grumbled, wiping the tears away and focusing on their scent--him but not-him, simple and easy to understand.

His mother laughed, her voice and amusement dulling as a door closed behind her. "Because we used to volunteer here all the time."

Derek exchanged a look with his father and huffed his irritation when his father just smirked back.

Alan's office was small and snug, with only one small window and busy with comfortable clutter. A love seat layered with blankets (and dog hair), books lined up new next to old on the shelves, an oversized cushion on the floor next to the desk his father was leaning against.

More importantly, the only cleaners the room smelled of were softer. The bindings in some of the books smelled worse. There was no masking the scent of dog, or the mixed traces of people and drugs, but it was at least a stench he could understand. One that didn't actually hurt.

The door opened again and Derek twisted to watch his mother and Alan walk in, his mother pressing him back down into the seat as she walked past. "Stay there."

Alan chuckled as he settled down on the other side of the desk, moving paperwork and random detritus aside and making room for a notebook with blank pages. "Maria explained that she wants to keep your friend's identity a secret, if possible, and she didn't tell me much about what's going on," he started, as Derek's parents pulled the blankets from the love seat and settled in. "So why don't we just start with when you met, and we can work from there."

-----

"You didn't like him?" Alan sounded almost amused. It was the most honest emotion Derek could remember seeing on him. Or honest seeming, at least.

Derek scowled and rubbed his forehead. "No. He was just this obnoxious teenager."

His mother snorted, but Alan smiled. "When did that change?"

"I don't--"

"When did it start to change," Alan clarified.

Sighing, Derek closed his eyes and tried to remember. To focus. (To forget 'When did she first approach you?' and 'How did you feel about that?' Burn them from his mind.)

Stiles. Just Stiles.

He let the colors spread out, exultant and vibrant, and felt his way through the nebula layer by layer. Voices continued around him, then doors and bells and excited barks and howls in the distance, but none of them were part of this. Weren't what he was looking for.

The coil was dark blue and dense, twisting under and through most of the cloud. Strong enough to hold the world.

the effect that life has on the skin

"The second time I saw him," Derek said, only realizing that voices had gone quiet around him when he opened his eyes. "He'd actually thought about what we'd been talking about. About permanence. He didn't just go for the obvious answer, he'd put effort into it. I-- I don't know. I still thought he was obnoxious, but I guess...he was worth having around, then."

His mother was gone, out in the front, laughing and talking with someone he didn't know.

Alan hummed and sketched a wavy line across a triangle he'd already drawn in his notebook. Derek had no idea if he was just doodling or if his lines had meaning, and he doubted Alan would explain if he asked. There were no words though. Not yet.

-----

His mother came back, Ms. Martin's papillon (whatever that was--presumably a dog) apparently returned to her loving clutches, and patted him on the head when David filled her in. "Oh kiddo."

Derek bit back a growl. "Alan asked when it started. It's not like St-- like he was helping."

Which led to talking about googly eyed tattoos, and doors on foreheads, and mermaids having sex, and within two minutes, his mother was choking on laughter. "Oh my god, Derek. That's adorable."

"I wouldn't have kicked him out if his ideas weren't so horrible," Derek grumbled.

Alan just smiled patiently, but his father laughed. "Derek. He was pulling your pigtails."

That was...possibly true.

Fuck.

-----

They worked through most of the year like that, recalling countless stupid stories and moments that, in retrospect, meant more than he'd thought. And of course, through it all, Alan just kept smiling vaguely and raising his eyebrows and managing to pull more words out of Derek than he thought he was capable of. Mostly by not saying much himself.

The worst part was that Alan didn't have to leave very often, to deal with his clients. Derek's parents were dealing with everything except the cats and the actual exams.

Alan smiled at Derek as his parents swapped out, his father curling up on the love seat again while his mother went to fetch a lab on its way in to have its cast taken off. "Did your mother tell you why she's so good at this?"

"She said they used to volunteer here."

It was honest enough, but Alan's smile widened and spread into his eyes as he glanced over at Derek's father. "Her mother made her volunteer. Maria had...trouble, with pets."

His father snorted. "You mean she freaked out anything that had more of a survival instinct than your average teenager."

"So what was your excuse?" Derek shot back, and tried to ignore the predatory edge in his father's smile.

"Spending time with your mother in high school. It was a good cover."

-----

"You said he went away over the summer?"

"For two weeks," Derek confirmed. "He brought cards in for everybody at Tinge."

Alan set his pen aside and just...stared. Expectantly.

Derek huffed and ran a hand through his hair. "He smelled...odd. When-- I complimented him. I said he'd gotten better, and his scent went-- Weird. Soggy." Derek felt his nose scrunch at the memory. "I didn't know that was possible."

"What did the card say?"

"'Cheer up sourpuss'," Derek recited. "And 'I'll be thinking of you', on the other side."

That was easy enough to remember. The card was still pinned to the wall above his bed.

Alan leaned forward, eyes intent. "You'd been talking with him through sketches before that, hadn't you? What did the art say?"

That-- Huh.

"It said I'd miss him," Derek said slowly, closing his eyes and letting the card drift through his vision. "That he knew I'd miss him. That--" Those mangled notes, and Stiles' comical anguish. "That he'd rather be at home sometimes. That he'd--" The wistful look on the more serious self portrait's face. I'll be thinking of you. "--remember me. Think about me, at least when he was drawing. That he knew me," there'd been something on the back of the card, "and would miss me."

It said 'I love you', and he'd complimented Stiles' technique.

Alan smiled knowingly and leaned back, adding shading to his notes while Derek slumped and hid his face in one of his hands. For once, his parents stayed quiet.

"Was he right?" Alan asked, when Derek was almost ready to move his hand and interact again.

Yes, but-- "About what?"

"That you'd miss him."

"Like breathing."

-----

"Oh my god, I don't know you," his mother moaned, covering her face with her hands.

Derek's face was burning. "I didn't think we'd get much privacy, after that," he bit out. "It was...good." Sitting with Stiles as the light went out, watching his face by lamp light, hearing him laugh while eating straight out of the middle of a pie. That didn't deserve mockery. It'd been perfect. "We enjoyed it, that's what matters. It-- We...talked."

Alan's eyes narrowed thoughtfully, but he didn't seem to mind when Maria dropped her hand from her mouth and cut in. "With actual words?"

"Yes," Derek growled, slumping further into his chair. He could feel his neck starting to flush and he wanted nothing more than to run out and hide. Preferably somewhere on the preserve.

"What did you tell him, Derek?" Alan's voice was unexpectedly firm, and Derek curled into himself, shaking his head.

It took a moment to make his throat work. To bite out a "No."

He could feel his mother's frustration. His father's concern. Alan was silent, his scent betrayed nothing, his heartbeat was steady.

Derek closed his eyes and remembered. Stiles curled warm and lax against his chest, speaking painful truth away from him and into the dark. Stiles taking in the jagged lines Derek felt in his head and trying--wanting--to understand.

It felt old. Ancient. Like it was carved into his bones at birth.

It hadn't even been a week, yet.

"Alright," Alan said finally. Derek opened his eyes at his mother's hiss and watched Alan cut a stern look her way.

It was exactly like Grandmother Hale's, and Derek abruptly wondered just how long his family had known the man.

His mother subsided and Alan turned back to him with a faint smile. "Alright," he repeated. "What about what he told you. Did that have equal weight? Equal value?"

"I...guess?" Derek shrugged, unsettled. "I don't--"

But Alan was already nodding, and he watched as a curving almost-spiral spread across the complex pictogram of Alan's notes.

-----

There was a rumble of a car outside, and Derek caught his parents rock-paper-scissoring whose turn it was at the edge of his vision.

Alan sighed. "Derek. Focus, please."

"Maybe I should--"

His father scoffed and pushed him back down into the seat on his way out. "No."

Alan quirked an eyebrow at him while he slouched down as far as he could. "So. Your date was in the shower when his father came home?"

Derek whined.

-----

By the time they got around to discussing that moment on the couch and Derek's graceless retreat, he didn't have the energy left to feel embarrassed by it. Although for once, Derek didn't feel judged for his reaction. Alan just nodded and frowned at his notes, going back and adding sharp angled lines to previous curves. "Ah. So that's why you're here."

-----

Alan frowned at the design in his notebook and tapped the pen cap against the page. "I want to go back to the vacation your young man took in summer. When he brought in the cards. Think back to that. Think about how you felt about him, then."

Derek sighed and let his head sink into his hand again, eyes first. He'd been sitting and thinking for too long already. His brain was tired and stretched too thin and he thought he'd give just about anything to just leave. (His mother was out front again, and still managed to send the impression of both growling at him and agreeing across the bond.)

He could remember that, though. A confused sort of ache that felt like an unresolved more, even then. Stiles had been a friend, but--there'd been more. He just hadn't realized what yet.

"Good," Alan sighed, his elbows sliding against the desk. "And when he left?"

Not pain, nothing that kept him from functioning, but constant. An ache. An annoying absence, conspicuous in the hole it left. Like a missing tooth, maybe. Before it started growing back in.

"How did it feel when you left Danielle behind, at school?"

Derek's head snapped up, eyes wide. "What--"

A sharp ache. A hole. Something missing, impossible to ignore because it was missing.

Looking solemn, Alan nodded. "That explains half of it, at least."

"The peanut gallery would appreciate more words," his father cut in, voice dry.

"Derek didn't see this young man as pack before he left, but he reacted to the absence that way," Alan said, as though that wasn't an impossible statement. "If this is a mating bond, it might have formed so quickly because something similar to a pack bond was already there. But that's only a theory, and it only addresses what might have happened, not why."

The door pushed open and his mother stuck her head in. "Is there something we can get or do that would involve leaving, that would help you figure this out? I'm starving, my husband's starving, my kid's starving, and you have a cat in the lobby."

Freedom. Temporary, but. Free!

Alan sighed and nodded as he stood. "I respect that you want to protect him, but I need to speak with this young man."

Derek could think of plenty of things he wanted less, but most of them involved blood and death. Stiles and Alan in the same room just sounded like a bad mix.

He just wasn't sure if it was bad like oil and water, or more like oil and a strong spark.

"It would help if I could see his drawings as well," Alan continued, turning his calm stare on Derek again. "That card in particular, if you still have it."

-----

His mother didn't start the car, once they were all in. Instead, she sighed and twisted around in her seat. "Lemon chicken, that horrible eggplant thing you like, and barbecue pork chow mein?"

Derek nodded, even as his dad grumbled, "Is there a reason we're going to the bad Chinese place?"

"Shut up, you're ordering," his mother chirped with a smile that was all teeth. "And then you're ordering a couple large take-and-bake pizzas, and another party's worth of Chinese from the better place. Add chicken fried rice and sweet and sour pork to that first order."

"We could get the pizzas at the grocery store," his dad pointed out as his mother finally started the car and got them moving. "It's a little out of our way, but that would line up the other restaurants for the trip home, and cut down on our waiting time."

"Deal." His mother caught his eye in the rearview mirror and smiled, softer this time. "You just stay shut up back there, okay honey? You did great."

Derek nodded and curled up against the window, closing his eyes and letting the world fade into the familiar thrum of the car and the comfort of his parents nearby.

-----

Nobody made him talk all the way through lunch.

It was fantastic.

-----

Derek froze just inside the door to his room. Everything was exactly as he'd left it, and that was exactly the problem.

The cork board above his bed still had his schedule for the month posted, photos of his family, reminders about events he needed to know about, random fractures phrases and bits of art he liked, just as it always had. Only it was all pushed off to one side to make room for his stalker wall.

Alright, so it was drawings not photos, but it felt the same, in his gut.

Stiles had probably given him a few drawings that weren't on the board or in his sketchbooks, but Derek couldn't remember any off hand. There were little creatures and people on random scraps of notebook paper or the backs of receipts, in addition to the ones he'd pulled out of his sketchbook so he could see them all the time. (There were, he realized, a lot of spikysaurs represented.)

There were also drawings of Stiles. His own. The ones he'd liked best.

He organized his life on that board, and he'd devoted half of it to Stiles without really thinking about it.

It wouldn't have been that bad of a realization if he didn't know that Stiles had been in his room.

Been in his room and hadn't said anything about it. Derek had no idea how to deal with that, he just knew he didn't want to do it in front of Alan.

Chng in plan. Will meet u@ schl.

Derek hated texting. He wasn't really a fan of phones. They were convenient, sure. Also tiny, fragile, weird smelling, constantly dirty, and expensive to replace.

He didn't get a reply immediately. Stiles was probably in class.

That was fine. Derek took the time to figure out the best way to tell his parents (or not) about the new plan and pull down the drawings Alan had asked for. That took all of...twenty minutes. The pictures did, at least. He didn't think he'd actually finish making a decision about his parents until he actually brought it up with them.

Derek sat on his bed with a huff and tried to ignore the nearly half-empty cork board that suddenly just looked--wrong. There were other drawings, though. Several sketchbooks worth.

He kicked the art supplies box out from under his bed and dug his last few sketchbooks out. Stiles probably didn't account for much more than a quarter of any one of them, but that was--still a lot. These plus their shared sketchbook, which Stiles still--

That sketchbook was in his bag, at Stiles' house. The other one, his most recent personal book, was in Stiles' couch. And Stiles had seen him put it there.

Derek curled in on himself and thumped his head against the stack of sketchbooks in his lap. His life.

-----

It was almost an hour before the high school let out when his phone finally buzzed.

Im kping ur stuf hostage n case u run agin

Good enough.

Derek shot off a quick Deal. then started bundling everything up that he'd need to take back to Alan. He considered changing for ten seconds, before remembering that Stiles had his running shoes. That was fine. It just meant he'd have to stick to the preserve, not the roads, so it didn't matter if he wasn't dressed appropriately for a human making that trip by foot.

He tracked his mother down to the study, dropping his selection of drawings in front of her on the desk. "I'm going to meet Stiles at the school. We'll meet you at the clinic."

Maria's eyebrows shot up, a smile dancing in her eyes. "Oh you will, will you."

She sounded amused, and Derek could hear his father and Tania laughing in the kitchen. Derek sighed. His family.

"Yes, we will." He dropped his head forward, sighing and offering submission at once. "I want a chance to explain to him, so he's not walking in blind."

Which was true enough not to disrupt his heart.

His mother probably knew that wasn't the entire story, but she reached over to rub his neck and push him upright again. "Alright. We'll see you at Alan's."

Chapter Text

"Wow, you're subtle."

Derek smiled but didn't bother turning his head. "I wasn't trying for subtle."

"I hope you're pleased with your success, then," Stiles scoffed. He stepped around in front of Derek, occupying the fragment of space left between the Jeep and a burgundy Camry. "So... Hi."

"Hi," Derek returned, shifting his weight forward and brushing his nose against Stiles', taking in the scents of his day and reveling against his better judgement at the flash of giddy fondness he felt. "We should get going."

Stiles squinted at him but reached around to unlock the car. "In that case, you should probably be on the other side."

He walked a bit faster than he possibly should have, but it was worth it for the view of Stiles sprawled out to unlock the passenger door. Stiles rolled his eyes and made a face when he straightened up.

They didn't make it out of the parking lot before the mass exodus began, but they were able to back out into the lane before the entire lot froze up.

Stiles tapped out a short beat against the steering wheel while they waited. "So. What are we doing? Aside from talking, because that's non-optional."

Derek held back a sigh and just nodded. If Stiles only knew. "We're meeting my parents at the animal clinic. Do you--"

"Wait, Beacon Hills Animal Clinic?" Stiles asked incredulously. "Dr. Deaton's?"

"Yes," Derek said blankly, staring at Stiles. "How-- Scott."

Scott, who smelled like wounded puppy.

Stiles nodded, looking like he was biting back a laugh. "Yeah. He, uh, works there." He stopped bothering to hold back, letting the laugh spill out while he leaned an arm against his window. "Oh man. You're lucky there's lacrosse practice today, or I'd want to give him a ride and that would be, just--" He shook his head, still laughing, and worked the Jeep up another car length as the line moved.

Derek made a face. "Yeah, no."

They moved up again, and then the Jeep was sliding out of the parking lot, into the relative freedom of the street. His sense of Stiles firmed, drawing together like it was getting ready to pounce. "So. Last night."

"We have what feels like a mate bond forming," he said in a rush.

And that was a flash of panic. Stiles twitched and the Jeep lurched forward. The engine stuttered but they didn't stall or swerve into anything, so Derek figured they could call that a win.

Maybe he should have said something while they were still in the parking lot. And stationary.

"We-- What? You said--"

"Hence the running away," Derek grumbled, running a hand through his hair. "It's-- It shouldn't be there. Not-- Not yet, anyway."

Stiles' heart stuttered at the 'yet', but he was grinning and smelling like warm contentment. "Okay, yeah. So--what part about this means that we go talk to a vet? I mean. Are you sick or--"

"No. For-- We don't go to the vet, Stiles." Derek rolled his eyes and slumped back into his seat. "And we don't usually get sick. Alan's a friend of Mom's. He's not really-- He isn't part of the pack, but he's helped us before. To make the treaty with the hunters. After." Stiles nodded and Derek let his eyes fall closed, glad he didn't have to explain. "He knows things we don't, and he won't-- Alan won't prioritize the pack over you. Which-- We wouldn't mean to, but--"

"Not intentionally. Yeah, I get it." Stiles nodded, head pulling his shoulders along in an awkward bob.

He was more relaxed now, but focused; his eyes were narrowed and his tongue was, for fuck's sake, resting against his bottom lip.

Derek sighed and rolled his window down a couple of inches. He was going to need the ventilation. "There was something else," he started, trying not to flinch when Stiles shot a look his way. "Uh. You were-- You were in my room. Before."

"I told you, that was your dad's fault," Stiles insisted. "It wasn't my idea! Uh, that time, anyway."

"That time?" Derek thought he'd have noticed if it had happened twice, but now Stiles was blushing.

"I wore one of your shirts, today," he blurted. "I was thinking, uh. If it's a scent thing, I could--y'know, return it? And you could give me another one."

Oh.. "Pull over."

"What?" Stiles' pulse jack rabbited up, a tang of alarm working its way into his scent. "But. What did I--"

"Just pull over, Stiles."

Stiles sighed explosively but found a fifteen minute loading zone to tuck the Jeep into. "What? Was tha--"

Derek shoved his seatbelt out of the way and pushed himself up and over the console, catching Stiles' words and gasp in his mouth, trying to push gratitude back in return.

Their teeth clashed and Stiles huffed a laugh into his mouth, getting a hand into his hair and holding him close. The angle was terrible, his arm was bent in an uncomfortable contortion, and Stiles couldn't seem to stop laughing, making their teeth clack.

But it was the best kiss, because he could feel Stiles' joy and giddy disbelief melting down his spine. Because Stiles kept laughing.

Because he pulled back on a gasp, turning his head to the side so Derek could nuzzle in against his throat and asked, "Is that you?"

A rumble built up in his chest as he pressed closer, basking in his mate's scent and the possessive wonder that was reaching out for him.

They stayed like that for a minute before Derek's arm upped its protest and started shaking.

Stiles laughed and shoved Derek back into his own seat, making a big show out of checking on his Jeep and their surroundings (which, fair, if Stiles had let up on the brake, they'd probably be closely acquainted with the shiny Mazda parked in front of the loading zone).

It didn't do anything to mask the bright flush in his cheeks, though. Or the way he was smiling like he didn't even realize it, unselfconscious and brilliant.

Derek snapped his seatbelt into place and settled back in his seat. He was perfectly aware of the smug little grin on his own face, and couldn't have cared less. It was well deserved.

"So," Stiles coughed, checking traffic before changing his mind and turning back to Derek with narrowed eyes that were entirely at odds with his continued dopey grin. "Um. What? Something about me being in your room."

Right. That.

"I had a stalker wall and you didn't even call me on it."

He hadn't meant for that to come out as...fond. It made Stiles laugh, though, so it couldn't have been all bad.

"You totally-- Wait. Had? You took it down?" And in an instant, Stiles was frowning, one hand twisting on the wheel while his scent went muddled and conflicted.

"Temporarily," Derek said, amused at the way Stiles relaxed and bristled again almost immediately. "Alan wanted to see them."

"Right. Uh, why?" Stiles finally eased them out onto the road again.

The conversation was getting complicated. "In a minute. Stalker wall. You didn't say anything about it."

Stiles' scent spiked to amused, with a melting-sugar note of fond. "Well, it's not like it was a real stalker wall. No photos or evidence of surveillance. It was--" Stiles shrugged, freeing one hand from the wheel for emphasis before pulling it back down to shift gears. "Some of those drawings were old. Like, I think some of them were from before I knew I liked you. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I beat you to that. By, like, months."

"Consciously, at least," Derek agreed. "Mom thinks it's hilarious."

"Uh, yeah. 'Cause it is," Stiles snorted, grinning and twisting around to check for cross traffic. "But what's the big deal? You have creepy tendencies. You stare too long and only insult the people you care about to their faces. You're kinda obsessive. You having a pseudo wall-of-crazy wasn't really a surprise. I mean, for you it's--I dunno. Kinda sweet?"

Stiles was grimacing a little, but his mouth was melting into a grin and Derek just wanted to fade out of reality and ignore the topic at all costs. "Right. Well, good. Uh. Alan. We're--the mate bond. If that's what it-- Stop laughing."

Derek huffed, but his mate actually pulled over. Again. This time to rest his head against the steering wheel and laugh until he started to cry.

"Oh my god, why do I love you," Derek groaned, thumping his head back against the seat.

Stiles just laughed harder, hiccuping around vague attempts at words and sending tiny quivers of happy pain along their bond when his diaphragm started protesting.

-----

They made it the rest of the way to the animal clinic alive by virtue of agreeing not to talk about their relationship or anything related to it until they were parked.

Stiles set the brake and turned to Derek, amusement still bubbling strong in his scent. "So are we going to talk about our feelings, now?" he asked, with an incredibly poor attempt at keeping his face straight.

"No," Derek growled, flicking his seat belt out of the way and pushing his door open.

"Oh c'mon." Stiles stumbled out of the Jeep after him, but took an extra moment to grab Derek's bag out of the back. Derek waited at the front of the Jeep for Stiles to close and lock up. "We were having such an open, sharing time."

Stiles bumped against his side as they walked toward the clinic. His smile was irritatingly catchy. "Come on, I'll give you a freebie," Stiles wheedled. "Anything you're curious about?"

"When's your birthday?"

And there went his mouth without his brain's permission. Again.

For his part, Stiles just blinked at him a few times before his mouth started twitching up into a disbelieving grin. "Uh. April? Early April. It's, um, it's the eighth. Of April."

Derek squinted at Stiles, hand steady on the clinic door. "Why is that funny?"

"Vic already worked out a draft schedule for April, Derek," Stiles said, trying to hold back yet more laughter at Derek's expense. "Mostly based around the fact that you're going to have my birthday off, except for one appointment. Right after school's out."

Oh.

It was a day for strangely intimate revelations, apparently.

Stiles just shook his head and pried Derek's hand away from the door so he could let them in.

Alan was behind the counter already, head bent over the keyboard and carefully picking out the keys as he typed. When he glanced up at their entrance, his eyebrows shot up and-- Resignation? "Stiles. I feel like I should have guessed."

Stiles shrugged, abruptly tense and smelling of nutmeg. "You sound like my dad," he grumbled before perking up. "Wait. Does this mean you're actually going to let me in your office?"

Alan sighed but held the counter door open and gestured them in toward the back. "I'm afraid so. Your parents, Derek?"

"Said they'd meet us here," he filled in. "I wanted to let Stiles know what was going on before--" Derek gestured helplessly, not really sure how to sum up the insanity that his day had been.

"I understand."

Stiles slipped ahead of them with no hesitation, zeroing in on Alan's office with a palpable excitement. (Well, Derek could feel it, at least. That was kind of the point of the meeting.)

Alan sighed behind Derek, but it sounded more fond than irate. "It's easier keeping ferrets out of places they don't belong."

Stiles was holding a small skull when they followed him in. He rocked back and forth on his feet in front of a bookshelf half filled with--

Derek hadn't seen that, before. It was only half books. There were statues and jars of sand or liquid acting as bookends, and an assortment of bones, stones and ceramics lined up in the open spaces.

That was odd.

"Undoubtedly, you will have one of these of your own soon," Alan sighed, suddenly there and plucking the skull out of Stiles' hands, ducking away from his automatic flail with an ease that suggested exposure, if not practice. Stiles glowered at him but tucked his hands into his pockets and backed away from the shelf, stilling abruptly when Alan asked, "What book caught your eye?"

The air in the room felt heavy for a moment, before Stiles reached up and tapped a faded orange spine. The tension broke and Alan pulled the book down, gesturing Stiles back toward his desk with it. "Have a seat. We have a lot to discuss."

Alan kept the book, setting it on the short filing cabinet shoved under his desk, out of their immediate line of sight. "Do you have the drawings, Derek?"

Realizing he was still hovering in the doorway, Derek shook his head and walked over to take the chair next to Stiles. "My parents are bringing them. But--" He turned to Stiles. "You have my sketchbooks, right?"

"Yeah..." Stiles didn't make a move toward Derek's bag, frowning at--

Alan sighed pointedly and stood, leaning across the desk to take his notepad away from Stiles.

"Hey!" Stiles frowned, but bent to dig through Derek's bag as soon as his hands were free. Derek's phone was tossed in the general direction of his head before the sketchbooks started coming out, but Derek didn't mind. It wasn't like it was hard for him to catch.

"Do we need all of them?" Stiles shook their shared sketchbook in one hand, drawing Derek's personal sketchbook out with his other hand. "I mean, I still don't get why this is important. Sooo..."

"Whatever you've drawn in, Stiles," Alan clarified. "Or, if you'd rather draw something new?"

Stiles hesitated, thumb sliding back and forth over the edge of their sketchbook before sliding both books back into Derek's bag. "Yeah, sure. Can I..?" He gestured at Alan's notebook before grabbing a pencil.

"What interests you about this drawing?" Alan held the notebook up, with the shapes and doodles he'd made as notes earlier facing Stiles. "You seem quite fixated."

Stiles rolled his eyes. "I'm not fixated. It's just-- It's weird." He waved his pencil at the drawing, eyes narrowing. "That's, just, really ugly. And it doesn't seem the kind of ugly that's intentional or because of a learning curve. But it feels really familiar, too? Like I've seen it before."

Alan pushed the notebook toward Stiles. "Those are my notes on what Derek told me about your relationship."

"Normally, that sort of thing is probably supposed to be confidential," Stiles muttered, frowning at the design as he pulled it closer. "But, I guess, well. Vet. Also, no words."

"Indeed. But it's possible to hide a great deal of information in a drawing, isn't it. And this makes it much harder for someone else to read." Alan leaned back in his chair, retreating into the bland facade that protected his thoughts even from werewolves. "What do you see there?"

Stiles studied the drawing, eyes darting back and forth over the page. Derek's sense of him solidified, focused and calm and curious.

The drawing was a mess of scribbles, but it was still about him, somehow. If anybody but Stiles examined it like that, there's no way he could have waited through it. No way he'd have left it in someone else's hands.

But it was Stiles, and he knew most of what they'd talked about anyway.

"This is important," Stiles finally said, tapping on a design like an infinity symbol that crossed over itself twice instead of once. "It's connected to the bond," he continued, moving his hand to tap at another line that curved down to almost touch the infinity loop then changed direction and angled straight up and away. "And some sort of turning point, I think?"

Alan hummed and stood up, leaning over and ripping the drawing out of the notebook, rolling it carefully and storing it in a drawer even while Stiles spluttered.

"What the-- Okay, look, you asked me to try and--"

"That design was when you left, over the summer," Alan interrupted, voice calm but insistent. "You gave Derek a card?"

In his mind, Stiles felt--defensive. Prickly. "Yeeeeah. So?"

"Something about your relationship changed, then. And I believe it was very important, yes. But how did you know that line stood for the bond?"

Stiles shrugged, sinking a bit in his chair. "It wasn't just that line. There were a lot of short lines, interacting with different designs. I just figured that the repeating element was what you were focused on."

His heart beat stuttered, and Derek shot a look his way. He couldn't place the lie, though.

Alan smiled. "I think there's more to it than that, but I'll leave it for the time being. You were going to draw?"

"Yeah. Right." Stiles huffed a grudging breath, twisting the notebook so the longer side was facing him. "What should I draw?"

Alan didn't answer, and Stiles' presence in Derek's head grew increasingly uncomfortable, a tight knot of defensive anger and worry.

Derek reached across to steal Stiles' pencil. Stiles huffed again, amused and fond instead of annoyed. He went digging for another pencil while Derek pulled the notebook closer and started drawing.

He sketched in a double-crossed infinity loop, freehand but still more balanced than Alan's had been. Stiles laughed when Derek started drawing lines in down one side of the loop and started filling in the other side with dots in random sizes. "Is this even going to work?"

"It might," Derek shrugged, unconcerned.

It didn't. The stripes and polka dots met in a messy explosion of squiggles and chaos that leapt off the strip entirely. The dots turned into confetti, the stripes into streamers, and before Derek realized what they were doing, they'd filled the page with fireworks and fanfare.

Stiles turned to him with a grin, bashful pleasure swaying between them when Derek returned it.

Then Alan cleared his throat.

They both startled, turning back to Alan and shrinking in their seats a bit at his bemused smile. "Thank you. I think I have an idea of what's happened now. But..." Alan shook his head, sighing. "Derek. Where are your parents?"

Blushing, Derek shrugged and pulled his phone out. He shot a question mark at his mother and had a reply almost immediately.

Shit! On our way.

He showed Stiles the message, smiling at the way his mate curled forward in laughter before turning to Alan to explain. "They're on their way now."

"Excellent," Alan smiled, folding his hands on the desk in a way Derek felt was ominous, though he didn't know why. "Would you mind running out and fetching some tea and coffee for everyone? There's an excellent cafe at the end of the block, and I'd like a chance to talk with Stiles one on one for a bit."

Chapter Text

He didn't like Alan, he didn't like having to leave Stiles with Alan, and he didn't even like coffee.

Stiles had just asked for raspberry in his hot chocolate.

What was his life.

The person ahead of him shuffled off to the side and the barista turned a friendly smile his way. "Hey."

"Hi," he offered lamely, casting a quick glance back up at the menu board to remind himself of their sizes. "I'm going to have four drinks. All sixteen ounces and to go."

The barista bobbed, her almost-curls bouncing crazily as her head and shoulders moved in sync while she grabbed four cups and lined them up. "Okay, what's next?"

"Mocha, dark chocolate if you have it, with cinnamon and an extra shot. Extra hot four shot non-fat latte. Raspberry hot chocolate--" Derek blinked, eyes flicking up to the board again. "Ah, shit. He didn't-- Do you know Alan Deaton?"

"No problem hon," the barista laughed, grabbing a tea bag and ripping the packaging open. It smelled of mango over the tea notes. "On a day like today, he usually gets a mango tea latte."

Derek scanned the menu board again. "It's--not just tea?"

He could smell the chocolate and cinnamon mixing already, and the raspberry with a sweeter chocolate for Stiles' drink. They didn't block out the mango-tea or the cacophony of coffee, sweeteners, fresh produce from the back, the traces of souring milk streaking bits of the counter, just added to the noise. It made it hard to focus.

"Oh, it's not on the menu. We just make it for Dr. Deaton, and the regulars who've picked it up," the barista assured him around the steady clack of pulling shots. "It is tea. With steamed milk and a little syrup for sweetener. Coconut for mango, usually. Vanilla for Earl Grey."

Derek blinked and leaned over the counter enough to catch her eye. "I think I need to add another drink."

Her name was Erin, and she had Stiles' infectious cheer without as much spastic and sarcasm. She also had a lot more focus, carrying on a short, mostly one sided conversation about their regular non-menu items while pulling together his mother's mocha and Stiles' chocolate.

It wasn't as much fun as talking with Stiles, but it was alright. Which is why he was relaxed and leaning against the counter when the first hint of unease hit him.

Derek tuned out the honestly horrifying idea of a peanut butter mocha to focus on Stiles. The bond wasn't as solid, still able to be stretched by distance, but when he reached--

Panic white.

He was still sliding down the counter when he came back to himself. Was able to brace himself against the floor and get upright again, wave Erin off when she scurried around the counter. "I'm fine."

That was a lie. His sense of Stiles was throbbing in an unhappy mix of emotions almost as complex as the smell of a coffee shop, but even harder to parse out.

He needed to get back.

Erin frowned at him but retreated back around the counter, steaming the next pitcher of milk and doling it out quickly and efficiently into the waiting cups of mango tea. "That's the dark cinnamon mocha, raspberry chocolate, and both teas. Your latte will be up in just a minute."

She left him a strip of happy face stickers for the holes and a four-cup carrying tray, which at least gave him something to focus on other than the panic-guilt-fear gnawing at the back of his brain.

-----

Stiles was calmer but still upset when Derek walked back into the clinic, but he wasn't in Alan's office anymore. Somewhere further back, in the realm of horrible smells.

More importantly, Derek couldn't get past the counter. It felt like the air was pushing his hand back. He couldn't even reach the customer service bell. "Hello?"

There was no answer and Derek rolled his eyes at himself. Humans. Right. "Hello?" he tried again. Louder.

"Ah, Derek," Alan said, not bothering to raise his own voice as his chair scuffed against the plastic mat under it. "Sorry, the front counter has some extra protection, just in case." Alan appeared out of the back and pushed the counter door out, and the barrier in the air vanished.

"What was that?"

"The counter's lined with mountain ash," Alan explained, heading back to his office. "Just a deterrent to the supernatural, for the obvious entrance."

"Hmm." Derek turned that detail over in his head as he followed Alan. He'd have to try and remember to ask his parents about it, since they were obviously aware with how much time they'd spent at the counter. "What did you tell Stiles? He was upset."

Alan half turned with a faint smile that didn't seem entirely sincere. "Yes, he was. He's in one of the spare exam rooms now, playing with a litter of kittens someone left on my doorstep," he continued, heading into the office rather than taking Derek where he wanted to go, which was to Stiles. "I don't have any dogs healthy enough to really distract him right now, unfortunately."

And kittens meant Derek would probably upset them if they could feel him nearby. Stiles did feel calmer, but that was the only improvement. Their bond was a throb of misery to one side of his mind, and Derek thought he might be on his way to understanding what a headache felt like, because of it.

Derek didn't try to bite back the growl he felt building in his throat as he set the coffee tray down on Alan's desk. "What did you tell him?"

The loading dock door rolled open again, across the building, and Derek could hear his parents' heartbeats making their way inside, his mother's footsteps moving faster and lighter after a few moments.

"I don't think the bond came from you, Derek." Alan said as he unloaded the tray, turning the cups until he found his own, the only blank cup outside of the one in Derek's hand. "Stiles has always had an innate magic, waiting for something to latch onto. His friend Scott is the same way, but his magic settled when he was much younger, which is normal. Stiles' never had. Until now."

Derek's mother walked in, zeroing in on the desk and the offering of coffee on it.

"Is that why you wanted the drawings?" his mother asked, sniffing out out the cinnamon in her drink and claiming it with a neat snatch before retreating back into the corner. His father came in a moment later and dropped the stack of drawings off for Alan, but visually checked the remaining cups to make sure he wasn't getting anything but coffee and milk.

Alan nodded, setting his cup aside and pulling the drawings in to examine them. "I didn't know it was Stiles at the time, but it makes sense. Most people would have settled by his age."

None of this was addressed what he needed to know. Derek inhaled slowly and leaned forward, setting his drink on the desk before he accidentally crushed it out of frustration. "Alan," he tried, keeping his voice even and calm. "I need to know why he's upset."

The look Alan turned on him was-- Sympathetic, he supposed. "Because it might mean that Stiles has accidentally magically coerced you, Derek."

Derek felt his heart jump around a cold, painful sensation building in his chest. His parents' shock echoing along their bond didn't help. He almost missed it when Alan continued. "I need to examine the drawings to know one way or the other, but I wanted to give him a chance to respond to that possibility with a bit of privacy."

"You told him he--" Derek stood up and headed for the door, not caring about the clatter behind him as the chair fell over.

He needed to get to Stiles.

"Well that's the exact opposite of what we were worried about," his mother drawled with forced calm as the door swung shut behind him.

The back of the clinic still smelled eye-watering horrible, but it was easier to work through it with a focus. He bypassed the exam rooms and knocked on an unmarked door that had Stiles' heartbeat and a cluster of tiny blips scattered around him. "Stiles?"

And there was the hissing. And Stiles yelping and twitching as the claws came out. "Shit!"

"Sorry."

The Stiles that slipped around the edge of the door and carefully nudged a fuzzy ball of hissing grey and white hatred back with the toe of a shoe was...wrong. He shoved his hands in his pockets and looked everywhere except Derek. His head was lowered and his shoulders curled in loosely, like he could hide behind them.

Derek took a step forward, and Stiles took a step back.

It felt like his heart was breaking. Both their hearts.

"Deaton told you, right?"

"He told me something," Derek snorted, stepping in again and getting Stiles' back to a wall. "I'm sure he thinks it's an option, but it's not."

There, finally, a flicker of Stiles' eyes coming up before darting to the side again. "You can't--"

"Stiles, I've been drawing you for longer than that."

That made Stiles freeze, his mouth hanging open and bright surprise echoing through their bond. "What?"

Derek sighed and rubbed his nose, wishing they could be anywhere else to talk about this. But the idea of doing it in front of his parents and Alan--

His parents were inevitably listening in, but he didn't want witnesses.

"I draw you. All the time. It's-- At first, it was just...practice. Something to do when you were hanging out on the window bench." Derek huffed and waved a hand at Stiles' face, shoving his other hand into a pocket to get it out of the way. "You make great shadows."

"...thanks?" Stiles managed, after a moment of silent gaping. He still felt painfully off balance. Like he couldn't be certain of where the ground would be, on his next step. HIs next breath.

"I used your hands in a commission," Derek offered. "I normally think of Tony's hands or Vic's for stuff like that, but yours just felt...perfect. Then I realized I had, like, three pages of profiles and face studies and random doodles of your arms, when you gesture like you've lost track of your own body. When I'd just been trying to draw your hands."

Stiles snorted and covered his mouth and nose with a hand. He was leaning back against the wall, more relaxed now, but even better, he was looking Derek in the eye. The sour notes were leaving his scent, and the doubts were fading into amusement.

"I only started keeping a personal sketchbook because it was awkward having to flip around the random doodles of you when I went over my work with Vic. I used to just have one at time, and now I have three and it's all because of you," Derek stepped in again, brushing his nose against Stiles' and smiling when his breath hitched. "I've been drawing you since-- I guess not long after your birthday. Months before you started drawing in the shop."

"Not before I started drawing at home, though," Stiles muttered, but he leaned into the touch. Brushed a barely-there kiss against the edge of his mouth. "Thanks, though."

Derek angled in for another kiss, swallowing the happy hum that one of them made at the contact before taking a few steps back. "My parents are here now, and I did leave Deaton alone with the drawings. He might have answers if we go back to join them."

"Yeah," Stiles said with a smile and reached for his shoulder, pulling him back in. "In a minute."

-----

"So, there are drawings of yours I haven't--"

"Don't ruin my moment, jerk."

-----

Stiles' hot chocolate and the remains of Derek's tea-mango-latte-thing were guaranteed cold by the time they made their way back to Alan's office, but that really wasn't their main concern. They were both more focused on the faint but reassuring smile Alan gave them as soon as they came in. "It's not the worst case scenario."

In the background, Derek's parents were still curled together on the loveseat, almost exactly as he'd left them. David was head and shoulders in Maria's lap, and she was just putting away the book she'd spread over his back to read.

"Thank you," Stiles sighed heavily, flopping back into his seat like all his strings had been cut loose.

Alan's smile widened and he shook his head, leaning forward as his expression closed down into something more solemn. "I am sorry for alarming you."

"No, I get it," Stiles waved the apology off as Derek sat, and the odd thing was that he apparently did. His heart stayed steady, and the sense of relief singing along their bond was threaded through with gratitude. Derek reached for his hand as it dropped, and Stiles just wrapped them up together as though it was normal. Something they did. "You know about--" He gestured vaguely with his free hand, but Derek had no idea what he was talking about. "So yeah. I got to have my freakout in peace and hey, there were kittens! It was for the best."

His mother straightened in her seat at the mention of kittens, prompting a growl from his father, and Derek didn't even want to think about what that meant.

Alan started gathering up the drawings into a neat stack again. "What it looks like happened is a mixture of-- Well," he smiled, shrugging. "Different types of unintentional magic."

"Alan," Derek's father protested, sounding half asleep and entirely ready to be done and home again. "Please cut to the chase."

"Stiles' magic is manifesting through his artwork. More accurately, it manifests with art. He was able to read something from my notes, which I take that way specifically because they should be nearly impossible for anyone else to understand." Alan sighed and took a moment to give Stiles a look that was both resigned and exasperated, and yet somehow fond.

Stiles sank further into his chair, muttering under his breath, "shouldn't use such an obvious code then."

Someone approached the clinic door, soft brushing footsteps dancing around them and a leash jangling. His mother stood up, dumping his father gracelessly on the seat in her haste to get out to the front.

"Anyway," Alan continued, straightening the stack and shifting his attention to searching his desk for--something.. "Not all of Stiles' drawings are magic, but many of them have been. Without training, it isn't anything exceptionally powerful, but they almost certainly accelerated the bond."

Derek's father twisted around in the seat until he'd found a new comfortable position. "And the other unintentional magic?"

"The pack bond itself." Alan shrugged and tied Derek's bundle off with a piece of twine that came out of who-knows-where. "I would say, based on what I know of Derek and Stiles and their histories, that they were both simply primed to bond intensely, when they did. Add in the magical encouragement, and it just--" He held his hands out, palm up in a gesture that could have conveyed helplessness, or been trying to suggest a mushroom cloud. "Exploded. For lack of a better term."

"We aren't a team," Stiles muttered, amusement bright in his scent and their bond. "We're a time bomb."

Derek reached across with his free hand to flick Stiles in the head.

"Everybody's a comedian," Derek's father groaned, pushing himself up. "But we can't quite joke about this yet." He stood and crossed over to lean against Alan's desk, leveling Stiles with a serious look. "Do you really think you're ready to be married? Because you might be able to walk away from a mate bond once it's fully formed, but you have no idea the damage you'd do in the process."

Fear and guilt flickered across the bond and Stiles tried to pull his hand away. Derek held on, waiting until Stiles relaxed into the reassurance he was wrapping his mate's presence with before letting go.

Stiles inhaled slowly and met David's eyes, pepper spicing his scent. "If I'm not ready to get married, I'm really not ready to get divorced, if that's what you're suggesting."

"I believe," Alan cut in, "that we should be able to keep the bond from solidifying further, without going quite that far."

The relief that washed over him was exponential: his own, Stiles', his father's, his mother's. In front of him, his father's shoulders sagged with it. "We were hoping, but--"

Alan was already nodding. "If it was just pack magic, it wouldn't be possible. But Stiles' magic was simply fueled by intent, and it developed the bond far faster than it should have. So the same magic should be able to hold it in place until he's ready."

"Uh, no. Wait a minute," Stiles leaned forward, frowning. "When I'm ready? What about--"

"I am."

Stiles startled and twisted around to face him, nearly falling out of the chair in the process. He didn't even seem to notice Derek's father at his back, holding him steady. "What?"

Derek shrugged and tried to convince himself he wasn't actually blushing. "I am ready. I'm just... I don't think I'm ready for you to be ready."

Fond exasperation brushed against him from two directions. His mother was, for once, more understanding than his mate or his father.

"We do tend to operate on a different scale of commitment than humans," his father admitted. "Maria mentioned that the night you stayed over, I think."

Stiles made a disbelieving face at him, but nodded. "Yeah, whatever."

That was a topic Derek knew he'd be hearing about again.

"Regardless, I think we've reached at least a temporary resolution," Alan said, bracing his hands on his desk and standing. "Stiles has agreed to train with me, at least temporarily. I think it would be best if you two don't spend much time alone together, for the next few days, and particularly not spend any time drawing together." He aimed a wry look at Stiles. "Or at all, in your case."

Stiles rolled his eyes, but he was already nodding. "Yeah, I know."

Derek's father snorted and pushed off from the desk. "If we're done, we should probably deal with the fact that I believe my wife is in with the kittens."

Alan laughed, because he was a horrible person who delighted in the misery of others.

"Cats hate us," Derek hissed, slumping in his chair when Stiles snickered with a sharp spike of incredulous amusement.

His father just gave him a pitying look. "Only because you can't control yourself enough to put them at ease. Making that argument only--"

"We are definitely adopting kittens," his mother said, from across the clinic. "At least two."

Derek grimaced and hid his face in his hands while his father laughed and explained the situation for Alan and Stiles.

His life. What even.

Chapter Text

Stiles laughed, crouched down and leaning over to look under the cabinet he was leaning against, and apparently oblivious to the way his shirts were riding up in back. "Yeah, Mrs. Hale's apparently friends with Dr. Deaton. Weird, huh?"

Scott snorted, dangling some feathers on a string to try and tempt one of the soon-to-be members of Derek's family out from behind the cabinet. Because of course his mother's favorite out of the litter was mischievous and adventurous, and had managed to eel out of the exam room.

And of course, hiding kitten just meant 'training exercise' to his mother. Derek slumped further against the doorjamb he'd chosen for his lurking and tried to figure out how to feel like 'pack' rather than 'predator' to a tiny feline brain.

"Yeah, maybe. But it's good he had someone to call who knows that they're doing," Scott said, letting the string fall still and just twisting it with the feathers brushing the floor, now. "These guys are too young to be on their own, so they're gonna take a lot of care. I mean, they're old enough that they can poop on their own," Scott continued cheerfully, not paying any attention to Stiles' horrified grimace-flail-lurch combo, "and they can eat out of bowls okay, but only three of them are on solid food so far."

Scott grinned over at Derek, nearly missing the white paw that finally appeared around the edge of the cabinet. Stiles poked Scott's shoulder to draw his attention back, and Scott let the kitten try to bat at the toy ('try' being an operative word) a few times before pulling it away just a little.

Down the hall, his mother left Alan's office and headed down their way. She felt excited, but that feeling had been a steady and slowly growing thing since she'd heard the word 'kittens', so that didn't tell him much.

The kitten half-pounced, half-fell out from behind the counter in a flurry of white and grey limbs, and Scott tucked it up easily in one hand. "There we go. Kitten rescued!"

The kitten mewed, somehow managing to sound disgruntled, and tried to wriggle free. Derek strongly doubted the kitten thought it needed rescuing.

"My hero," Stiles drawled, one hundred percent sarcasm, even as he claimed the toy and held the feathery end up to catch the kitten's attention again.

"And mine," Derek's mother chirped, quirking an eyebrow at Derek's position as far away from the kitten as possible while in the same room before grinning at Scott. "Thanks for getting her out of there while Alan and I hashed out the details."

"No problem," Scott beamed, holding the kitten out like an offering. A suddenly content, purring offering.

Derek narrowed his eyes at the kitten. How was his mother was doing that?

Maria scooped the kitten up, nuzzled her face into its--her--shoulder, and promptedly handed her over to Stiles, who nearly fumbled the kitten onto the floor and back into the welcoming embrace of behind-the-counter.

"Sorry," his mother said, flashing Stiles a mischievous smile. "David and I are going to head out and pick up some extra supplies. Would you two be alright driving the kittens home once Alan has everything squared away here?"

"You're taking them today?" Scott blurted, expression falling comically before he realized what he'd said and tried to backtrack. "I mean--"

His mother ruffled Scott's hair, smiling at him like he'd just performed a trick. "You'll see them again soon. They're going to need shots, and we'll have them in to get fixed as soon as it's possible. Besides," she added. "You're a friend of Stiles', right? You two can come over and visit."

Kittens apparently weren't the only thing his mother was adopting. But... "I thought we were just taking a few of the kittens." Derek could feel himself frowning, even as his mother shot a pointed look his way. Maybe he'd been supposed to be listening in while his parents talked with Alan, but he'd been a little distracted by trying not to freak out the fluffy ball of instinct.

"It's better to not break the litter up, so we're taking all five of them for now," his mother said. "We might only be keeping two of them, but we'll be taking care of the whole lot until they've figured out how to be cats and are old enough to be adopted." She shrugged. "Assuming we can give them up."

Stiles snorted, quickly looking away when Derek glanced his direction. He felt amused. More amused than the situation warranted.

"Right," Derek offered, resigned. "Of course."

Five tiny kittens, two babies, two five year old werewolves and one five year old who might as well be.

This was a brilliant plan.

"You're sure it's okay if I come over?" Scott glanced helplessly from Maria to the kitten and back again, guilty hope practically radiating off of him.

"Sure," Derek's mother agreed with a grin and a faintly smug feeling. Because she was horrible. "In fact, we're having Stiles and his father over to dinner tomorrow. You can come too, if you're free."

Scott's face lit up. Stiles grinned too, but he felt confused.

-----

Five kittens and a werewolf are stuck in a Jeep.

It sounded like a joke. Derek just wished the punchline wasn't so loud.

"Oh my god," Stiles muttered, for the third time since they'd left the vet. "Don't they need to breathe or something?"

The steady chorus of mewls and mrowing from the carrier in the backseat suggested that no, no they didn't. Derek just sighed and kept his eyes closed, trying to push his irritation down and feel some sort of connection with the kittens.

The kittens lowered their volume.

It lasted just long enough for Derek to feel hopeful, before they picked up again with even more fervor than before.

No wonder his parents and Alan let Stiles drive him home, even though they weren't supposed to be alone together for a while. They weren't.

-----

"Okay, I can't take this anymore," Stiles sighed, and pulled the Jeep over, throwing his four-ways and the brake on. "Roll the window down about halfway before you get out."

Derek shot a glance at Stiles before doing as he said and eyeing their surroundings. They were on a road bordering the preserve, so he could run home easily enough from--

He was still thinking about that when Stiles hopped out of the Jeep and walked around to his side, taking a few steps toward the trees before turning around halfway to look expectantly back at Derek.

Oh.

Derek grinned and followed, hooking his fingers into Stiles' pockets once he got close enough. Stiles grinned back, relaxing and feeling--just happy. Derek still couldn't pick out the scent of it, his nose still recovering from the adjustment the clinic had taken, but he knew it would be there.

The mewling protests wound down to a halt, and Derek kept Stiles from continuing his backward amble. "They've stopped."

Stiles glanced past Derek, lip twisting up in a wry smirk. "So you can piss off cats up to a range of about twenty feet."

"With a car door in the way," Derek added, amused. "I was able to get a lot closer with a wooden one."

Stiles hummed, stepping closer absently. It could have been provocative, but this close Derek could feel the buzz of Stiles' brain working. He leaned in and nuzzled into Stiles' hair, seeking out his scent and waiting for him to talk.

"Your mom is, like, a cat whisperer," Stiles started. "So we know that's possible. You were right outside the door when you upset them the first time, and even then it wasn't a problem until you talked. Did your parents give you any pointers, or advice, or...anything?"

Derek sighed, pulling back grudgingly. "Dad said I should try to make the kittens sense me more like pack than a predator. Cats are all predators, though, and they don't form packs. I don't understand how that's supposed to work."

"Well, your dad was probably using language for what you feel, not what the cats would actually feel. Right?" Stiles rocked back on his heels, staring into the distance and apparently trusting Derek to keep him balanced. "Like, what does predator mean to you? How do you know you're dealing with a predator?"

"The way they focus," Derek started, trying to wrap his brain around words instead of the shapes twisting into place behind his eyes. "A predator knows it's capable of doing harm. Even if it's not trying to threaten me, there's the potential for a threat to be made, all the time."

That was usually his experience with cats, actually. They were excellent hunters and, even thoroughly outclassed, they always seemed to have an eye on how to attack, in case they needed to.

"Your grandmother's capable of doing harm," Stiles snorted, sounding and feeling amused. "Like, stupid amounts of harm, judging by how everybody reacts to her. And she's pretty damn intense. So--what's the difference?"

Grandmother Hale was intense. She was what his mother called 'healthily paranoid', could be vicious, and was still one of the best and most capable fighters in the family. But--

"...I'm not supposed to feel safe, I'm supposed to feel like I'd fuck everybody else up to protect them?"

He sounded incredulous, even to himself. Stiles just shrugged, grinning. "Works pretty well with me."

Derek snorted and pulled his hands away from Stiles' hips, letting Stiles flail back as he tried to correct his balance. "Whatever you say, kitten. Shall we head back and try again?"

"Very funny," Stiles muttered. Derek shot him a grin and turned back to the car, but Stiles caught up with him after just a few steps and pulled him to a stop again. "Wait, I wanted to ask something before we get in hearing range of your house, and I don't want to bet on our backseat chorus staying calm."

He hummed inquisitively and leaned back against Stiles, enjoying his warmth, and the strength hinted at when he just braced his feet and let Derek lean.

"Just..." Stiles trailed off, feeling conflicted and frustrated, before bursting out with, "how exactly do you guys keep the werewolf thing a secret?"

Derek laughed, and Stiles pushed him away. He stumbled a few steps, out of habit. "I'm serious! I mean, you meant to tell me anyway, so whatever with that. And you guys are having my dad over so your family can get to know him before letting him in on the secret, I get that. But Gwen freaks out sometimes and goes wolfy at people! Having her around my dad is just asking for the beans to get spilled unexpectedly! And now Scott might be coming too, and I don't even know if I can tell him or not, and--"

Derek turned around and pressed the knuckles of his first two fingers against Stiles' mouth. Unsurprisingly, Stiles bit him and glared over his hand.

"I don't know what happened with Grandma," Derek started, keeping his voice calm. "I know that Dad's parents were told about the pack, or at least one of them. One of his grandparents or great-grandparents had been a human that left their pack, so they had some context for it. He left them, though, and didn't have a lot of friends." Stiles hummed against his fingers but the bite had gentled, turning into thoughtful-gnawing.

"Vic was one of the first people Cara met when she moved here. She keeps in contact with her family and visits them, but they aren't close enough physically to need to be brought in, and Cara doesn't seem to mind smudging the truth a bit, for them. Dominique was new to the area too, and I haven't heard her talk about her family at all. I'm sure Paul or one of the other adults knows what's going on there, but." He shrugged.

Stiles snorted and pulled away from Derek's hand, snagging it to hold against his chest instead. "You realize that you're an adult, right?"

"I didn't grow up that way," Derek admitted easily, smiling when Stiles laughed again. "Your situation's most like Tania's. She grew up here, her family's here, all of her friends from her pre-college years are here. I'm pretty sure her Facebook contacts rival the phone book listings for Beacon Hills."

That earned another snort from Stiles, and a mutter about phone books being outdated anyway. Derek ignored him. "Tania decided not to tell her parents, even though she hates lying to them, because she thinks it would just frighten them. She did tell her brother. He took it okay, but only came out to see us once after that. He moved down to San Francisco, and when Tania wants to see him, she goes to see him there. As far as I know, he's doing his best to ignore the fact that we exist."

Stiles frowned, swaying a little in place. "Well. That sucks."

"It just is," Derek shrugged. "Tania told two of her closest friends about us, too. They were both fine. One of them got married and moved away, but they keep in touch by e-mail and she still asks after the family, apparently."

"What about the other one?"

Derek ducked his head and grinned. "Flora. She gave us a huge discount on the flowers for Paul and Niq's wedding, as well as Tania's, and always sends us a box of cookies and a ton of holly for Christmas."

There was a wave of incredulous humor from Stiles, even before he choked on a laugh. "Wait. Flora's Floral Secrets? That flower shop down the street from Tinge that has a huge--"

"FFS in the window," Derek nodded. "Yup. And yes, she knows what it stands for. According to Tania, it's practically Flora's motto while she works."

"Oh my god," Stiles slumped against Derek's shoulder, giving in to the laughter for a moment. "I knew I liked her. Or, who I assume is her. It's always the same lady when I go in, for--"

Stiles cut off over a stab of old but pointed grief, and Derek rubbed his back. "Yeah."

"Yeah," he sighed. "But, yeah. She's hilarious, and she gives me a discount."

Derek hummed in happy expectation, and felt Stiles go alert in response. "Probably her not-an-asshole discount. She knocks the price down to what she would charge everybody, if most of them didn't make her life miserable."

"Oh my god," Stiles breathed, giddy delight thrumming through their bond. "I adore that woman."

"Can we head back to the car now?"

"Let me recover, jerk. You've rearranged my worldview."

"With flowers?" Derek snarked, grinning when Stiles poked his side in response. It did get Stiles to stand up straight in order to glare at him, though. "But seriously. Werewolves wasn't enough?"

"It's your fault I know about magic too," Stiles pointed out. "So really, that's twice just today. You should be more sympathetic."

"Hmm. Nah," Derek smirked and stepped away again, idly moving toward the Jeep again.

"Would it be okay if I talked to Flora, then?" Stiles asked, trailing after Derek and shoving his hands into his pockets. "About the werewolf thing, I mean."

"Yeah, just be careful."

Stiles' answering grin was brilliant. "Cool. And you're talking within ten feet of the Jeep, now. I think you're doing better with the kittens."

He'd forgotten about the kittens, actually.

It turned out, kittens that had conked out in a complicated tangle of limbs and fur didn't care as much about riding in a car with a werewolf.

They didn't talk, not wanting to risk waking up the chorus again, but it was remarkably comfortable just coasting by on the vague push and pull of contentment and affection between them. It gave Derek time to think about the cats, and the safety of having a predator as family, rather than lying about being harmless to be a friend.

It didn't feel like that should be very hard. They were cute, as well as tiny and mostly useless at protecting themselves, so far. It was even worse when they were sleeping: curled and lumped together, finding comfort in touch and family. Just like his own.

Chapter Text

The miracle of silent, sleeping kittens lasted almost until the Jeep was parked.

Derek was still twisted around to watch the kittens sleep and saw the first flicker of twitches shuddering through the visible paws and ears. Then eyes were opening on yawns and grumpy mews as the pile of fur slowly wiggled itself apart into five distinct and protesting kittens.

He frowned. "I thought I was--"

"You were," Stiles cut him off with a spike of amusement, throwing the brake on and turning the engine off.

Derek could hear it now. Jacob's feet and Jacob's heart, raised to an excited thrum, with Tania swooping in behind him. By the time he'd turned around, Tania had Jacob caught up over her shoulder, still at least twenty feet out.

That was worth thinking about. Later, when the yowling in the backseat weren't reaching a pitch that was made Stiles wince and flee the vehicle.

"Sorry," Tania called over, walking Jacob back to the house. "We weren't expecting him to be excited enough to make a break for it."

Somehow, Derek didn't think that was all there was to the story. Not with the way she kept darting glances at the back of the Jeep. It wasn't worth fighting over, though. "No problem. It'd probably be best if Mom was out here to help bring the kittens in, though. I don't think they'll be able to calm down otherwise."

"Hush, you," his mother muttered from inside. "These things are such a pain to assemble. I'll be down in a moment."

A moment turned into a minute turned into three turned into more, but Derek had a hard time caring. They'd pulled out the carry case and the supplies Alan had sent with them to sit on the grass and the kittens were calmer with the distraction of new smells and vegetation poking into their tiny world.

And besides that, he had a Stiles who was perfectly content to lean back against his chest and let him cuddle while they waited.

Nothing to complain about, really.

-----

The 'things' his mother had been dealing with turned out to be baby gates. For the moment there was just one, blocking the door to the ground floor guest room nobody ever used. The kittens' room, now.

Of course, that made fitting everyone inside a bit...interesting.

Derek set the litterbox in the corner behind his mother's spot on the carpet and glanced around before taking a position next to the closet. The terrors, well accustomed to sitting on the ground, had plopped themselves in front of the bed without hesitation. Matt had claimed the foot of the bed for himself, while his parents and Greg took the upper end. With the way they were arranged, Peter's feet tucked neatly behind Matt's back and he was within arm's reach of his mother for a hair ruffling, if necessary, but he had some space to himself.

"Niq," Peter drawled, all languid amusement. "Why are you getting up on the dresser?"

Dominique ignored him until she was secure enough on her perch to glare over at Peter and thrust a foot out. As if anybody in the family could have forgotten about her slippers. "I'm not playing keep-away with kittens."

"You could just take them off," Tania suggested, tucking her head down to hide a smile in Gregory's hair and leaning back into Peter where he'd stretched out behind them.

"My feet would get cold," Niq sniffed, brushing her hair back over her shoulders before holding her hands out toward Tania. "Pillow me?"

Tania tossed a pillow over while Derek's mother shook her head. "You could put on socks instead."

"Blasphemy," Derek intoned, perfectly in time with Niq and Peter.

Dominique had worn her real-bunny bunny slippers straight through the summer, whenever she wasn't dressed for work. She was hardly going to stop just because of some kittens.

Stiles snorted from the far side of the baby gate, settling off a chorus of unhappy mrowling as it jostled the carrier. "Okay, in-jokes aside, can we come in yet?"

Derek's mother waved him in and settled herself in the open space next to the litterbox. "Yeah, we're just about set. Laura?"

"Yeah, yeah, on my way," came the answer from the kitchen. Then, as she moved closer and was able to raise her voice for the humans in the room, "Cara and Vic can't make it right now, but they said they'll be here for dinner."

Stiles carefully maneuvered himself and the kittens past the baby gate and set the carrier next to Maria. Putting him just--close--enough--to--

Derek snagged a belt loop and gave him a gentle tug, reaching up to steady Stiles when he lost his balance and hauling him carefully into his own lap.

"I'm sensing a theme in the seating arrangements, around here," Stiles groused as Derek nuzzled into his neck, but it didn't sound entirely sincere.

Besides, it wasn't like there were any non-floor options left. He was just being hospitable.

"Good enough," his mother replied to Laura, tearing her attention away from grinning at Derek and Stiles. "Neither of them are werewolves, anyway. Are we ready to start?"

"Define 'ready'," Peter muttered, keeping a wary eye on the carrier. He felt prickly. Agitated and distrustful. Which--they were kittens. Each one weighed less than a pound.

"Uh, aren't we missing a few people?" Stiles asked, hunching back against Derek when Maria turned toward them. "Well, I mean, your husband? And Niq's husband, and isn't there another baby? And--"

Niq clapped a hand over her mouth, snorting and shaking her head.

"David's asleep," Derek's mother explained, shooting a mild glare at Niq. "I think Erin is too. That would be the other baby."

"And Paul and Olivia are patrolling," Derek added, as Niq nodded in confirmation, saying "Yeah, Erin went down for a nap. Finally."

"Anyway," Maria raised her voice a bit, carefully enunciating. "We're going to be taking care of these kittens for a while. Now, everybody's already at least learned how not to terrify Paul's rabbits into keeling over," she started, then smirked when Stiles' hand shot up. "Except for Stiles, but again with the not a werewolf."

Stiles huffed and slouched more firmly against Derek's chest. He had no complaints, just buried his nose in Stiles' hair again.

"Cats aren't rabbits," his mother continued. "Rabbits are prey animals, and it's enough to simply focus on the fact that you aren't hunting them. That's enough to tell them you're not interested, so long as you don't try to interact with them. Cats, however, are also hunters, and you probably will be interacting with them. It's not enough to make them think you don't want to eat them, you need to convince them that you don't mean harm."

Peter snorted and raised a hand from behind his wife, mimicking Stiles and earning a soft jab in the ribs from Tania. "Is it okay if I just avoid the cats?"

"Temporarily," Maria grinned, letting her teeth flash. "But I want to keep some of them as part of the family, so you might want to get used to it."

"Avoiding sounds good," Laura grumbled, still not coming into the room. "I can do avoiding."

Derek snorted and quirked an eyebrow at his sister, smirking. "It's not like you to want to start at the back of the class, Laur."

Laura and Peter both bristled, but Tania barked a short laugh before getting her mouth covered, and Stiles was almost vibrating with amusement.

Before they could respond, Jacob put his hand up, twisting his body to push it as far as it would go and wriggling his fingers.

Maria nodded at him, and Jacob burst out "So how do we make them like us?"

"It helps if you think of them like family," his mother replied. "Like you think about Erin and Greg, even. Because they're little, but you know not to hurt them, even though you can. Right?"

Gwen was frowning seriously and nodding, but they'd had to have a lot of talks with her about identifying people she needed to be careful of. It probably shouldn't have been surprising that she seemed to understand, even when Jacob was still frowning.

"Derek and I talked about that a little, on the drive over," Stiles offered, twitching like he was suppressing the urge to fidget. "It's like, objectively, your alpha's scary, right?" He glanced over at Maria with a helpless shrug. "She could hurt you really badly. Do you think she would?"

Stacia snorted, a long rude noise that she had definitely picked up from her mother (and Niq knew it, judging by the way she flushed and covered her face), but Jacob and Gwen restrained themselves to disbelieving looks and emphatic head shaking.

"That's kind of how you want the kittens to think about you, I think," Stiles continued with an encouraging smile. "They're going to know you're scary and could hurt them. The trick is making sure they know you'd f-- Uh. Fight, other people. To protect them."

Derek hid his nose in his mate's neck to muffle his snort. Stiles twisted to jab an elbow back into his side.

"That's another way of thinking about it," Maria agreed, smug pride radiating out from her as though she'd picked Stiles out herself. "But it'll take time and practice, and it'll work best if you all work on your own, or with me, David, or Olivia."

"Not Paul?" Niq cut in with a sharp lift of her chin. "And how do the humans fit in with this?"

"Paul's good with animals. He's not going to need a lot of help, but he's mostly a natural at it. I'm not sure he'd be able to help someone who actually needs to think about it," Maria explained. "And having humans around can help, if the human knows how to interact with cats. Which leads to another important point." She focused on the terrors, expression stern. "Be very careful with the kittens. Even Stacia could hurt them without meaning to. If they hide, or run away, or hiss at you? Leave them alone. Don't pull on their tails or their ears, don't hold them on their backs, or like a teddy bear. Okay?"

The terrors nodded, and twisted around when Tania cut in. "Sometimes, the best way to get a cat to come and play with you or let you pet it is to just be still and quiet near them. Like when you're doing your homework. They'll get used to you and might come over."

It wasn't hard to pick up the wistful note in Tania's voice, and Derek realized all over again that she'd grown up human. She might have had pet cats when she was younger. She might have loved cats.

"We do have plenty of toys too, but for right now I just want to get the kittens out of the box and able to wander around," his mother said, reaching for the metal grill covering the top of the transport box. "I'm going to take them out one at a time, introduce them, and let them go. They'll probably go hide, and that's fine. Just let them. Okay?"

She didn't wait for a response, opening the cage and scooping out one of the smaller kittens, all skinny and lanky, and nearly black with just a tiny patch of white on its throat. "This is Pitch."

"You named them already?" Derek asked, trying not to laugh.

His mother shot him an arch look and dropped Pitch into Stiles' lap instead of letting it go like she'd said. "I'm the alpha."

Pitch froze, shaking and mewling in distress but pressing into Stiles' hands, as they came up instinctively to shield--it.

Derek huffed and glared at his mother. "Their scents are all over each other. Is Pitch a boy or a girl?"

"Pitch is a boy," his mother said, almost covering up Stiles' incredulous "You can smell gender?"

Almost.

"Sex, actually," Peter grinned, not bothering to hide his teeth. "Gender is a social construct."

Derek felt Stiles tense up in his arms, but it wasn't-- It wasn't aimed at Peter, and it wasn't embarrassment. The tension was focused inward, not toward Peter, but the pulse across the bond was sympathetic and affectionate, more than--

Pitch. Pitch had gone quiet and was trying to shrink into Stiles' lap. Peter was a predator, and a threat, still focused in their direction.

Exhaling slowly, Derek unwrapped his arms from around Stiles' stomach and tucked them under Stiles' arms, adding his hands to the barrier Stiles had built between Pitch and the rest of the pack.

He didn't think naturally in words, or in feelings. He built a wall in his head instead; bricks following the lines of bone and muscle and mortared with tendon and skin. Stiles' hands were a familiar comfort for a cat, so he let those walls be a home and made a fortress of his own.

Stiles pressed back into his chest, laughing and gleeful, as Pitch relaxed in his lap and started nosing around at the folds of Stiles' clothing. Still quiet, but calm now.

Derek's mind was suddenly thrumming with surprise from most of his family and enough pride and joy from his mate and his alpha that he knew there was no hope of retaining his composure. He hid his face in his mate's neck instead.

In a rare act of mercy, his mother let him. "So that's wonderful and unexpected. But yes, that's Pitch and Pitch is a boy. And this," she said, her voice turning sweet and adoring. "This is Patch, and Patch is a girl."

He didn't even have to look up. Even if he hadn't recognized the hiss from the fuzzy white and grey demon his mother had fallen so abruptly in love with, there was only one kitten with patchy coloring in the litter.

Derek didn't think a fortress would help him with Patch. She seemed like the Laura of the litter, and would probably settle for no less than charging into battle with a Mongol horde at her back.

Or playing with a feathery toy. One or the other.

Patch was either released or managed to get away on her own, and Derek lifted his head to watch her slink off to the side and under the dresser. She curled up there, tail tip flicking and staring out at them with wide eyes from her chosen shelter.

So that was Patch. Probably the troublemaker of the litter. (After all, his mother's tastes were fairly predictable.)

His mother was already lifting out another kitten, though. Or rather, two. They were about the same size, both striped dark grey over light with white feet, bellies, throats, and jaws. They weren't identical, but the differences were all subtle.

They were also both loud. Derek had figured that the drama queen on the drive over was the kitten now known as Patch. Apparently not.

"These girls are going to be Scritch and Scratch," his mother said, raising her voice a little to be heard over the protesting yowls. She set them down, and they immediately vanished under the dresser with Patch. They didn't stay there, though. One slunk out along the wall after a moment and darted under the bed, while the other crept as close to the door as it could while remaining under cover and sniffed at Laura's feet.

Maybe Derek had been wrong about there only being one troublemaker.

"I'm not expecting us to be able to tell those two apart until we get to know them," his mother continued, already pulling the last kitten out and into her lap. "And until we get to know them, I'm probably just calling them both Scritch-scratch. We can figure out which name goes with which cat later."

Laura stared down warily at the kitten investigating her toes, but choked on a laugh all the same. Tania just covered her eyes with one hand, and even Matt looked quietly judgmental (though that wasn't unusual when he thought his family was being ridiculous).

"This boy is the last kitten in the litter," his mother continued, unperturbed. "And I thought we'd call him Stitch."

Gwen squealed in delight, straightening up like a bolt but not trying to get to her feet, at least. Stitch went wide-eyed at the attention, limbs flailing as he tried to escape Maria's hold.

Stitch was the only kitten in the litter smaller than Pitch, and was a soft, muted grey on grey stripe, far less dramatic than the Scritch-Scratch twins. He also had less white than anyone except for Pitch, boasting just a rim of white around his left front paw and some paler lines around his eyes and nose.

When Maria let him go, he shot behind her and mewled in distress at the wall until Derek tugged the closet open and gave him somewhere dark to hide.

"That's all of the kittens," his mother announced, standing up to move the carrier to the corner opposite from the litterbox.

It made sense, he supposed. The box was probably the closest thing the kittens had to something that smelled like safety and family.

"This is their room for now," Maria said, dusting her ass off. "David and I will handle their care for the first few days, but everybody's going to get integrated eventually." She paused to shoot an amused glance at Laura, then Peter. "That includes playing with them, which can only be done if they're comfortable around you, feeding them, which will require being able to keep them from freaking out, and cleaning their litter boxes, which doesn't really require anything. So," she concluded, clearly delighting in the alarmed looks Laura and Peter were giving her, "consider that incentive to learn how to get along."

-----

They ended up moving almost everyone to the floor and playing cards, ignoring the cats for the most part and letting them creep closer to sniff legs and feet before running away again. Peter escaped early on, leaving his wife muttering about his cowardice into her hand. Dominique wasn't particularly interested in playing Go-Fish with the terrors, and slipped out when her husband came back from patrolling.

Pitch eventually climbed out of Stiles' lap and, surprisingly, turned out to be the most adventurous of the kittens when it came to meeting the pack. Maybe because he'd felt safe and protected for so long. Maybe because Peter had left, and Peter was the one who'd scared him the most. Regardless of why, Pitch was the first kitten to wander over and investigate the terrors, and actually let Gwen pet him, though he was still shy of Jacob and Stacia.

One of the Scritch-scratch twins ended up in the middle of the game, having darted in after a card someone had dropped. She skidded through the fishing pond and froze, apparently realizing she was surrounded by werewolves before spazzing her way through the game and back under the bed.

Stacia won a round, and Stiles collapsed out of Derek's lap to sprawl on the floor, groaning dramatically to make Stacia laugh. "Okay, I give up. And I should probably head home anyway."

Derek claimed a kiss before letting him stand up (just a peck, nowhere near enough) and didn't object when his mother pushed a half-asleep Jacob into his arms. Stiles was headed into the kitchen anyway, so he wasn't leaving yet. Derek had time to help put the terrors down for a nap.

It was easy enough that day, at least. The excitement of the kittens had tired the kids out, so it was just a matter of herding them, yawning, to their beds and out of anything that might pinch or tangle. Gwen actually fell asleep before Maria had finished getting her out of her pants.

When he was free from that, Derek sought Stiles out in the kitchen.

Not, he realized when he got there, that Stiles had been there the whole time. Because instead of the black t-shirt he'd been wearing earlier, Stiles was wearing a grey henley now. One of Derek's favorites, actually. One he slept in because it was old and stretched out and worn soft. One that kept his scent through even the most aggressive washing.

Stiles shot him a sheepish grin and stepped into a hug, ducking his head to press his nose against Derek's jaw. "Hope you don't mind. Left the other one on your bed."

Fuck. Derek groaned, letting his eyes fall shut and hooking his hands around Stiles' hips to pull him closer.

Somewhere upstairs, his mother was muttering a reminder that he didn't have permission to have sex in the kitchen. Because she was a horrible, horrible person.

The scent of spice-apple-musk exploding under his nose was enough to distract him from that, though. It wasn't important. What was important was the way Stiles was smiling against his throat and muttering, "I'm going to take that as a no."

"So much no," Derek agreed.

He could have stayed there forever, he thought, with Stiles feeling like love and want and quiet comfort in his mind, and smelling the same as a bright spot that was all his in the broader landscape of family-pack-home. Only he was getting hard, and Stiles was getting hard, and--no.

The negation wasn't a rejection but it was--sharp. Unexpected.

Stiles pulled away, stepping back like he'd been burned. "What--"

Then he was frowning, his alarm pressing against Derek's shock and melting into confusion.

Words probably would have helped, but Derek didn't have any. Instead, he reached for Stiles' hand and pulled him back in, pressed his nose into Stiles' palm. Breathed in the scent of Stiles and kitten and Stiles-and-Derek until he could calm down the jagged, jangling fear in the back of his mind.

Stiles sighed and pulled his hand free, but just to get a grip on Derek's shoulder and reel him in, tugging until Derek's nose was buried in the crook of his neck. It was just them, there, and Derek could swear his bones were melting away.

"Better," Stiles chuckled, rubbing his fingers through Derek's hair, around the base of his skull. "Okay now?"

"Yeah. Sorry."

Stiles flicked his ear. "Not needed. It was probably a good idea to stop us there anyway," he admitted, turning his head so Derek could feel the grin against his temple. "I'm still not an exhibitionist."

A muffled chorus of snorts and snickers erupted all over the house, and Derek was torn between laughing, groaning, and dying of embarrassment. His life.

Chapter Text

Derek followed Stiles' Jeep to the end of safe tree cover, again, and walked back. He made it halfway before he heard a familiar engine and angled toward the road.

It was Cara behind the wheel, so he stepped in next to the road and waved instead of jumping out from behind a tree.

Their Volvo drifted up and jerked to a stop before Vic leaned out the passenger side window. "Want a ride, or a race?"

"Race," he grinned, flashing a little teeth before taking off along the road, sprinting to get his speed up before he had to veer into the trees. Behind him, Cara whooped and hit the gas.

Cars were still faster than werewolves. Really, the race was Cara's competitiveness against her anxiety, but it was a good excuse for a run.

Derek beat them home, but circled around to follow them in. It was a good excuse to be right there when the doors opened.

"Why are you always picking up my mate?" Vic complained, as Derek swept Cara up (and up) into a hug to hear her happy shriek. "If you keep this up, I'm going to make you come in tomorrow after all."

Sighing, Derek let Cara down. "Rude."

"Totally rude," Cara agreed. "But anyway. Maria invested in hissing balls of evil?"

He hadn't actually said hi to Vic yet, but he could multitask.

Derek bent a bit more than he needed to, to hug Vic, and slipped down to get a good grip around her thighs when she went for his neck. "They're inside," he offered cheerfully, hauling Vic up against his shoulder and heading for the house.

"Put me down!"

-----

Cara stood outside the room and eyed the kittens as suspiciously as Laura had. Vic scrabbled in over the baby gate, grinning at Matt as he introduced them to the kittens.

He did a decent job at keeping a straight face before breaking out Stitch's name.

Vic actually managed to talk Cara and Laura into coming inside the room for a while, to sit on the temporarily-kitten-free bed and talk, while the kittens tried to figure out what to think about the werewolf in the room.

-----

Dinner was loud and raucous and empty.

There was more biting than usual, with Vic and Cara at the table, and it wasn't worth keeping track past the first three. There was no bread, but there was pasta so that was thrown instead. (Niq at Peter first, then Matt at Gwen, though that had been more laughter and play than anything. It wasn't like anybody was exactly surprised most of their clothes were going to need washing, after a spaghetti night.) Conversation was loud and animated, with Olivia demanding to be filled in about the Stiles situation, a full two rounds of school updates to make sure everybody heard everything, Peter and Paul discussing the rabbits and how many of them the restaurant was going to need over the next week, and Vic nearly choking on her salad when Derek admitted not knowing about April and Stiles' birthday.

And then, of course, there was another dinner to plan.

"So who's cooking tomorrow?" Niq threw out between stealing half a meatball off Paul's plate and defending her own from Peter. "I've got that open house, so I won't be much help."

"If Derek doesn't mind assisting, we can probably get most of the prep done in the morning anyway," Peter noted, grinning when Niq realized her husband was stealing her salad while her attention was diverted and helping himself to one of her meatballs while she retaliated against Paul. "Are there any allergies, or..?"

The attention of the table swiveled toward him, but Derek was occupied cutting Jacob's spaghetti into more manageable sizes. They could wait.

"Whatever the plan is, I can help with the actual cooking, if the usual suspects are out," Olivia offered, breaking the pause. "Of course, Maria could always--"

"Nope," his mother announced, glaring at her own mother. "No, nyet, non, noh. I am not cooking. I handle the money, not the meals."

Grandmother Hale just raised an eyebrow at the outburst and waited it out. "Maria could always pick up a few pies, after her meeting tomorrow. So we wouldn't have to worry about dessert."

Maria sniffed and stabbed her salad viciously. "I don't believe for a minute that that's actually what you were going to say."

"I can text Stiles about allergies," Derek interrupted, before they could get too far into a tug-of-war over parent versus alpha. Again. "But I know he's worried about his dad's health. His heart? Something about cholesterol."

Really, these weren't topics he normally had to think about.

Thankfully, Tania nodded and picked up the slack. "So lean meats. Vegetable heavy, light on eggs and dairy fat in particular." She flipped her fork around and reached across the table to poke her husband with the blunt end. "That kale and potato thing would be good. We'd just need to go light on the butter."

"I'll roast some garlic for it," Peter agreed. "It'll make the reduced fat less noticeable. Do we have the kale, or do we need to get a shopping list together?"

"There's kale," Paul said. "Plenty of tender greens still, too. No fruit, though, and the tomatoes will be going soon."

It was a familiar and comfortable routine, ideas and information passing back and forth. With Danielle and Edward off at school, he was as intensely surrounded by family as he could be.

He couldn't ignore the lingering gap in his mind, though. The faint impression of Stiles where he'd had a bright pulse for hours that day.

It felt wrong.

-----

Dinner tmrw. Allergies? Tanias on the heart thing.

Derek glared at the text. He probably should have gotten Stiles' e-mail address, but if he did that he'd probably have to cave and get a smart phone so he could check it more often and--

"mew?"

Blinking, Derek pulled his focus from his phone and walked back to the study doorway. He couldn't see anything, but there was a tiny, agitated heart beating away from under the armchair.

"Uh. Mom? Problem."

There were two tiny hearts beating in the kitten's room, not five.

Derek stretched out on his side between the armchair and the door, trying to remember how to make the kitten understand he was safe. The kitten started to relax, just a bit, when his phone buzzed.

Safe. He was focusing on being safe, he was--

His phone buzzed again, and according to Stitch's pale blue-green stare, he wasn't doing a great job anyway.

"Ooooh, bugger," his mother muttered from the doorway.

-----

"Alright, new rule," Maria sighed from the bathroom she'd cornered Patch in. "The baby gates are fine so long as someone is in the room with them. Otherwise, keep the door shut."

Derek remembered Patch's determination to slip out of the exam room, back at the clinic. This was not going to last.

From her hiding spot in the back of the pantry, one of the Scritch-scratch twins blinked at him, but made no move to come out.

"I thought you were already accustomed to dealing with--" Peter started, only to be cut off by an extremely abbreviated snarl from his sister.

A moment later, his mother was back to sounding entirely calm. "Just at the clinic. I never brought them home. Obviously."

-----

It only took forty minutes for him to escape kitten-retrieval and check on his messages.

No shellfish. Shellfish bad

It was the clearest and best spelled text he'd ever gotten from Stiles. Pod person? But no, it was followed by-- Whn shld we get ther e?

Still Stiles, then. The shellfish thing must be serious. But he'd seen Stiles and his father eating shrimp. The shrimp dumplings had, in fact, been the only part of their Chinese order they hadn't argued over or even discussed. Shellfish = Scott? Btwn 4 & 6 is fine.

Derek had just enough time to pass the shellfish note along to Peter, brush his teeth and wash his face before the reply came through.

Yah its not fun. SPEKING OF

What--

His phone rang.

"Hi, Stiles," he drawled, trying not to grin into the receiver as he stepped out into the hall. Laura rolled her eyes at him over her own toothbrush, before the door swung closed on her.

"Hi. And shut up with the judging," Stiles griped, "I had a question and texting is evil."

"Shoot."

Stiles sighed and went quiet. There was a tapping in the background as Derek slipped into his room. Agitated fingers against something. His thigh, maybe. (Derek had to pull his brain back from thinking too much about that.) "Okay, so Scott's sometimes not the brightest. Usually just when it comes to Allison and History. You've gotten that by now, right?"

"He had a date tomorrow, didn't he."

"You're a genius," Stiles declared, dry enough to make jerky with. "I told him your mom wouldn't suddenly hate him if he wasn't able to show tomorrow, and that you guys might not even mind if he brought her along, so long as he asked first, but he thinks that'd be rude." There was a pause, then a scuffle of fabric. "Which, yeah, maybe. But I'm asking anyway. Her best friend talked them into another double date, and I know they're kind of hoping for an excuse to get out of it, because those have always been kind of horrible, and--"

"Stiles," Derek cut in, trying not to laugh. "I'll ask, but I doubt it'll be a problem. We'll already be on good behavior because of your dad, and feeding one extra teenager isn't exactly a hardship."

He pressed the phone against his shoulder, muffling the receiver without blocking the speaker, and listened to the house. Olivia was out on patrol already and his dad was still asleep, but his mother and Peter were both up on the third floor. "Can we handle another human guest tomorrow?" he asked, pitching it to be heard and continuing when he could feel their focus turning toward him. "Scott's girlfriend, he forgot he had a date."

"Should be fine," from his mother. "Do we know who she is?"
Overlapped with, "Check for allergies," from Peter.
While against his shoulder, Stiles said "See, that's exactly what I told Scott!"

"Not really. Her name's Allison, but that's all I know," Derek answered his mother, before pulling the phone back up to his ear.

Stiles was still talking. "And, I mean, yeah. Probably rude to just assume, but that's the whole reason why asking exists, right? Only, okay, not really, but--"

"It's fine, Stiles." He was going to get through this call without laughing at his ma--boyfriend. He was. "Scott can bring her along, but the cooks would like to know about food issues for her too."

"Cool," Stiles was practically beaming through the receiver. "I'll ask Scott. Thanks."

"No problem," he replied, sitting on his bed and reaching for the shirt Stiles left him. "I hope you realize, though, that they're kind of going to be on a double date anyway."

Derek reveled in the long silence over the phone, bringing the shirt up to his face and nuzzling into it while he waited.

"Oh my god," Stiles finally moaned. "I'm not sure if that's the best or the worst. I don't want to go on a date with Scott!"

"I can't tell you how happy I am to hear that."

Stiles made a thick noise of protest somewhere in his chest, and Derek set the phone and the shirt aside so he could change for bed.

"He's like my brother," Stiles continued after a moment, voice hovering somewhere between shocked and disturbed. "Only I think I might be more okay with dating my brother. Or-- You know. If I had one. He's just--Scott. That's-- Oh wow, so wrong."

Derek bit his lip and tossed his shirt into the hamper by the closet before shucking out of his jeans.

"I mean. I'm not actually dating Scott if we're on a double date, right? 'Cause I only want to date you, and I'm pretty sure that would mean that Scott had been dating Jackson and oh my god." Stiles groaned and there was a loud fump in the background. A body landing on a mattress at close proximity. "So wrong. So, so wrong."

Derek picked the phone up again and stretched out across his bed. "I promise, you and Scott aren't dating if you go on a double date," he said, trying (and probably failing) to keep his amusement under wraps. Thankfully Stiles wasn't close enough to feel it. "Also, it's a double date with most of my family present, so it's not like it's a very risque date anyway."

"Okay, yeah, true." Stiles exhaled slowly. "That might be, uh, a thing to try, though? Doubling with Scott and Allison, I mean. Not whole dates, but--"

He cut off, but didn't sound finished so Derek stayed quiet, giving him room.

"I actually like Allison," Stiles said, finally. "Like, she's awesome. It's fun hanging with her, and she's got a great sense of humor and she totally kills at first person shooters. You wouldn't believe it, it's crazy."

Derek nodded along, as though Stiles could see him. It was his usual response for when Laura started talking about exhaust systems or something else cryptic and unknown to him. It seemed to apply to Stiles too.

"So Allison's awesome, and Scott's awesome. Obviously. It's just, when you put them together--"

The distance didn't matter. He might not have been able to feel the twist of bitter loneliness, but he could hear it under Stiles' words. He remembered what it had smelled like. "I get it."

"Yeah."

"We'll see how it goes tomorrow," Derek said after another moment. "I wouldn't mind that, though. It's probably the closest we're going to get to normal dates until Alan gives us the okay anyway."

"Shit," Stiles hissed before groaning and, from the sound of it, hitting his mattress with a fist. "I forgot about that."

"We'll talk tomorrow," Derek promised. "We can go for a walk if we need to."

"Yea-- Hey," Stiles switched track abruptly, practically interrupting himself. "You think running together counts as being alone? I mean. I'm pretty sure I'd spend most of the time wheezing, so..."

"Ask Alan," Derek laughed. "In the meantime, get some sleep."

Stiles made a rude noise. "As if. I've got a busy night planned."

"Oh?"

He should have known not to ask, with the mischievous note in Stiles' voice. "Yeah. I want to get a quest or two done before I get ready for bed, then I figure I'll spend a while thinking about this afternoon in the kitchen, and that time you took your shirt off for me."

The words just flowed out, so matter of fact and playful that it took a moment for his brain to catch up with what he'd actually said.

Derek knew Stiles thought about him. Dreamed about him. But fuck.

He tried to bite back a groan, mostly failed, and Stiles continued with a pleased hum. "Oh man. And that time we parked in your yard. I'll think about it for quite a while. A nice loooong--"

"You're evil," Derek managed to grit out, bringing a hand up to cover his face, even though there was no way Stiles could see the way he was flushing.

There was nothing stopping him from hearing the way Derek's breathing had gone fast and tight, though. (At least he couldn't hear Derek's pulse.)

"Yup," Stiles confirmed, unrepentant and gleeful.

In her room, Laura sighed gustily. "I just brushed my teeth. I don't really need hot chocolate. You know that, right?"

She turned on her radio, got up and went downstairs to make some anyway. He tried not to feel too grateful.

Mostly, he really didn't want to be thinking about his sister at all.

There was another scuff over the phone and Stiles had his full attention again. The noise repeated and Derek let his eyes fall closed. Fabric and skin. Rubbing.

"I might skip the questing, though," Stiles continued, breath hitching. "Not sure I could focus on it, now."

"We should get off--" Derek started, shivering and fisting his free hand in his quilt when Stiles choked out a sound somewhere between a groan and laughter. "Get off the phone. Jesus, Stiles."

"I know," Stiles moaned, half apology and half pure sex. "Sorry, I didn't... I really did just mean to call about the other thing. But--"

Stiles' breath caught again, and his heart wasn't calming down in the slightest. And there was that rub again. With an added scratch.

It was easy to picture that. Stiles rubbing himself through his jeans, scraping over the fabric with blunt, bitten down nails.

"I'll be thinking about you too," Derek said, because there was no way he was letting this be a one-way exchange. "That night I had dinner at your place. The way you looked at me after I'd changed. The way you'd smelled."

There was a whine from Stiles' end, and that was the unmistakable sound of a zipper.

Derek smiled to himself and let his free hand slide down to palm himself. Finally. Decided to be a bit evil. Admitted softly "The way you sounded in the shower."

Stiles inhaled so sharply it sounded almost painful, but the whimper that followed it was anything but pained. "Fuuuuu-"

"Language," Derek chided, half reflex. "Sleep well, Stiles."

Stiles made a noise that might have been anything from betrayal to a mangled goodnight, and Derek ended the call. Pushed his phone out of the way and pulled the new Stiles-shirt back over his face.

Let himself remember.

-----

He slept great, though.

-----

When he woke up, it was to chaos.

There was food prep and various odd and overlapping work schedules and werewolf children to tire out and human kids to occupy and kittens to feed, groceries to buy, arguments over recipes, a kitten to retrieve from halfway up the stairs, more groceries to buy, more food to prep, a kitten to retrieve from the downstairs bathroom, a roast put in the oven too early and potatoes put in too late, a kitten to retrieve from a bookshelf and forget how it had gotten out of the room, how had it gotten onto the third shelf?

It was a flat out relief when Derek heard the Jeep approaching at half after four, and was pushed toward the door with Erin in one arm and a beer in the other.

"Here," his father sighed, ducking out of an argument about whether or not they were sure it was too cold to eat outside. "Go make sure the sheriff doesn't notice how crazy we are."

"Wha--"

"It's called a distraction," his dad grinned, turning back to intervene (again) between his wife and mother-in-law. "Babies and beer sounds like a good bet for this particular sheriff."

Derek wasn't going to argue against an excuse to get out of the house.

Stiles drove up to the spot they'd left open next to the house, but was squinting suspiciously at Derek through the windshield as he parked. "What--"

Derek offered John the beer first as he stepped out, earning a warm, smug smile.

"Seriously?" Stiles griped, rolling his eyes before falling out and practically jogging around the car. "This is totally why you wanted me to drive, isn't it."

John shrugged, moving politely out of the way so Scott and his girlfriend could clamber out before tipping the beer back for a long swallow. "Yup."

"The baby's for you too," Derek added, trying to bite back a smile when Stiles glared at him. "This is Erin."

John accepted Erin carefully, tucking the beer bottle around her expertly until he'd gotten her settled against his chest, grinning down at her and not flinching when her answering smile came with a snot bubble nearly the size of her fist. "Hello, Erin."

Stiles sighed. "Okay, fine, so you guys are totally geniuses at getting on my dad's good side. I see how this works."

Behind John, a girl with dark, sort-of curly hair slipped out of the Jeep with unexpected grace. Allison, apparently, and Derek wasn't at all surprised to realize she looked familiar. Stiles had drawn her before.

Scott followed right after her, falling out with far less grace, but Allison was already waiting to steady him and they were both laughing, so it apparently worked for him.

"Hi," Derek offered a wave toward the other teenagers and sidled toward Stiles, not entirely certain how introductions were supposed to go.

Stiles rolled his eyes. "Guys, this is Derek. Derek, Scott and Allison. Not that any of you probably couldn't figure that out on your own."

"I couldn't," Allison piped up with an innocent, open expression at odds with the tick in her heartbeat. "I was totally expecting a random model to greet us with a baby for your dad."

He liked her already.

"We might as well wait on introductions until we can entirely bury our guests in them," his mother called from the porch, just coming down the stairs and into view. "We'll want the excuse for Fuck."

Inside the house, Tania snapped "Language" soft enough that the humans wouldn't be able to hear, but Derek's attention was entirely on his mother. How fast her expression had gone tense, how pale she was, the frisson of fear and shock vibrating along pack bonds suddenly pulled taught.

Their guests were staring too, but it still took a moment for Maria to force a smile again and step forward. "Oh, wow, sorry. I just-- I wasn't--" She exhaled fast and sharp, not taking her eyes off of them. "I'm sorry. I just had a bit of a shock. Please just forget I was ever here."

Then she turned around and vanished back up the porch stairs.

Stiles was staring after her with his mouth gaping open, Scott and Allison had huddled against each other with confused frowns, and the sheriff's expression was carefully blank as he took another sip of his beer. Derek had no idea what his own face was doing. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.

But then his mother was past the wall, whispering, "Allison Argent. That's Victoria and Chris' daughter," and the bottom dropped out of his stomach, leaving something cold and empty in its place.

An Argent at their house. Again. Because of him. Again.

He had no idea what his face was doing, but he could feel a sudden spike of concern and alarm from Stiles. Could see the way Stiles' attention was suddenly entirely focused on his face, the way he stepped in close to press their arms together.

"I'll call her parents," his mother continued in the background "Paul, David, run a close patrol now. Peter, get out there and say she looks like Aunt Grace or something because I'm pretty sure I just made myself look more than a little crazy."

"It's not a lie," Olivia noted softly from a second floor window as the rest of the pack quickly shuffled into new roles. "She does look a little like Grace."

Derek turned a weak smile toward Stiles as Peter came running out, an appropriate amount of apologetic alarm on his face and Tania trailing after with a worried frown.

They'd had peace with the Argents for nearly seven years, now. Their treaty had been for everyone's benefit, and it was hard to believe the Argents would turn on them now. To the best of his knowledge, Allison hadn't even asked to come. Hadn't known it was an option. Might not have even known who Stiles was dating, since Scott hadn't known.

It was probably an accident, Derek told himself, while Peter apologized and tried to explain a lie, what sounded like miles away. A gigantic cluster-fuck of happenstance.

He didn't believe it. But he tried.

Chapter Text

"Hey," Stiles whispered, leaning hard against his side.

Derek blinked and looked up, to find that everyone had moved. He'd moved. Was moving. They were rounding the forest side of the house, heading back toward the herb garden.

"What--"

"You back?" Stiles frowned up at him, a broken half-smile blooming at whatever he saw in Derek's face. "You checked out kinda big time. While still tracking whoever was talking and reacting at the right times, which, let me tell you? Really weird to watch." And not pleasant, from the twisted sense of unease taking up one side of his head. "Especially since you're actually weirdly normal, like that." Stiles casually thumped his chest with the back of one hand, too light to be serious, even if he'd been human. "Which, I've discovered, I don't like. So."

Inside the house, his mother-- That was a laugh. That was a laugh forcibly redirected into a snort. "Oh god, no wonder Victoria wasn't answering. Sorry for interup-- Yes, well, I wouldn't be calling you if something wasn't wrong, would I."

"How long? What's going on? Where--"

Peter was still with Scott and Allison, headed toward the kitchen. Tania was talking with Stiles' dad in the main room (managing to keep the topic on escape artist kittens and babies, somehow). Grandmother Hale had the kids who could walk on their own outside, and for the moment it sounded like were 'helping' set up a fire pit (except for Matt, who would actually be helping). His father was circling in just close enough for Derek to hear.

Paul was too far out for ears, but Laura's car had just turned up the drive. Niq, Vic, and Cara weren't expected for an hour yet.

"Not that long," Stiles said, answering the only one of Derek's questions he could. "Minute or two, maybe. And, see, I don't know what's going on. Can you fill in some blanks?"

Derek huffed and pulled Stiles around the edges of the garden, toward the porch so they could sit. "The Argent family are the hunters we have a treaty with."

"I haven't heard anything from the patrols yet, so I'm going to assume this really is just an accident," his mother continued inside. "I doubt you'd be--relaxing, quite so strenuously if something was going down anyway." A pause, then she muttered, almost too low to hear, "No. Bad alpha. Must. Not. Crack. Jokes."

There was a rhythmic thumping from the study. His mother bouncing in place.

Stiles dropped heavily onto the porch next to him, muttering "Of course they are."

"Sorry. Yes, the point. Your daughter's here," his mother continued inside, relief flooding their connection a moment later, though none of it touched her voice. "Yes, Allison. Big surprise for us too, I promise." A pause, then, "No, I don't think she lied to you. She is here with her boyfriend. He's who we invited, actually. The rest was just teenager calendar management."

Derek pressed his nose against the skin in front of Stiles' ear and closed his eyes, let his hearing spread out until it was everything. Then he started translating.

"Peter has Allison and Scott in the kitchen. They seem to be getting along. Tania's talking babies with your dad, and taking him back to see the kittens. Mom's on the phone with the Argents and Grandma's got the kids corralled out front, where it's--"

Where it's safe, his brain finished.

They weren't going to risk having the kids trapped inside if there was the slightest chance they were going to need to run. The babies were inside, with Tania and John, but that was safe in its own way. They needed to be carried, and a human bystander who knew guns and a bitten-werewolf mother was--

Actually, that was kind of alarming to think about. But Greg and Erin were safe, and that's what was important.

"Allison's parents didn't know she was coming here," he continued. "They're--"

"No, Chris. You can't-- Put your wife on, before we regret this call." Another pause, and "Victoria. Aside from Allison, we have other guests. Purely human, unaware guests, who are nonetheless quite observant and shrewd. If your husband or any of his lackeys show up here without a good excuse, I can't--"

Crap. Derek sighed, wrinkling his nose when Stiles reached up to flick his shoulder. "They're what?"

"Allison's dad wants to come here. Mom's talking to his wife now. It seems to be going better."

It felt better, at least. The pack bonds were slowly loosening, still tight but no longer thrumming with tension. "Good. Now, does she know about the family business or not? What does she know about her aunt?" A pause, then his mother was snapping with more than a hint of snarl. "I'm not going to flash my teeth at your precious little girl, Victoria. I need to know what we can't talk about. And if we don't have some explanation to offer her for why we're acting oddly we have to lie to her. On your behalf which, I promise you, she'll find out about when she--"

"Derek?" It was a whisper, hardly even that, but it was hot against his ear and too close not to overpower everything for a moment.

Derek leaned back, shaking his head at Stiles and probably frowning. It would have taken too much effort to pay attention to what his face was doing, right then. He turned his head away so he could pitch his voice for gaining attention. "Mom."

"I know," his mother was sighing. "Ho-- Yes. Hold on, I need to hear--"

He could feel it, the moment his mother's attention turned to him. Not all of it, but enough. "John knows about-- About the fire, I mean. They have my statement, and I told him to read it. If he knows Allison's last name..."

He glanced at Stiles, who was frowning and shrugged when Derek caught his eye. "I don't... He might? I'm sure it came up at some point, but..."

"Fudge balls," his mother said cheerfully, the majority of her attention slipping away again. "Goose liver, platypus, tank."

Snorting, Derek shot a quick smile Stiles' way. "Wanna hear how bad Mom is at not swearing?"

There was a faint growl from his mother, but it was worth it for the way Stiles' face lit up at 'fudge balls'. For the way he laughed himself into hiccups, leaning against Derek to keep from falling over as he finished.

Inside, his mother sighed and finally responded to the shrill, angry squawking coming over the phone. "New information. This has gotten more complicated. One of our guests is the sheriff, and he's read Derek statement from the fire, at least. Recently. He may or may not know Allison's an Argent, but if he does he either hasn't made the connection, or is keeping quiet. But he'll figure it out eventually. Do you--? Yes. Fine, we can do that. Yes. See you soon."

The bottom dropped out of his stomach, and Stiles was pressing hard against his side again. Too fast to have been anything but the bond. "What?"

"The Argents are coming here. They're--"

"Alright everyone," his mother's voice pulled his focus in, not letting him ignore it. "We've got two extra guests for dinner. We're going to explain the fire but not werewolves to Allison, after her parents get here, so be nice to the poor girl. Laura, glad you're here. Now go let the boys on patrol know what's going on. Mom, you get your wish, we're eating outside even if we freeze. Make sure that fire's built up."

Derek turned back to Stiles and found himself on the wrong side of a frustrated glare. "They're coming here. They-- With your dad possibly knowing, we can't be sure it won't come up by accident, so they're going to come and explain the fire for Allison." Stiles gaped, and Derek shrugged. "The non-werewolf version, anyway."

"Great. That's-- Wow. Scott's going to be so glad he brought Allison over to see the kittens," Stiles groaned, slumping against Derek and smelling tired, moist, and sad.

Derek lifted a hand to pet Stiles' hair, refocusing his attention to check in with the rest of the pack. The bright laughter in the kitchen was easy to find, and unfamiliar. "...well, at least they've been with Peter. He seems to be bonding with Allison over grossing Scott out with roasted bell peppers."

Stiles was silent for a moment, the feel of him melting into something contemplative and mild. Then, "I don't think I want to know," and he was twisting and straightening and kissing Derek.

Derek let him in with a sigh, ignoring his mother's muffled "Really?" from from the house and the snap of Laura taking a picture as she paused on her way to the woods.

His family could shut up. He was allowed this.

At least for now, he was allowed this.

-----

They only had a few minutes to themselves before Tania offered to show John the gardens out back, because even the people who married into his family were evil. Then Stiles was corralled into helping with the furniture and kids, and Derek was herded into the kitchen. They were going to need a few last minute dishes if the Argents were staying (and if they weren't, it wasn't like the food would go to waste with ten werewolves and two teenage boys at the table).

Of course, the kitchen meant Peter and Allison, and occasionally Scott as he wandered back and forth between being helpful with Stiles and being helpful with Allison, carrying news between the groups as though they were human. Which--fair enough.

-----

It turned out Allison knew her way around a set of knives, which was only surprising because there was a cutting board involved.

"My family's really into food," she explained, smiling and relaxed but not once looking up or breaking pace as she reduced a handful of garlic chives to a consistency just this side of powder. "Both sides of it, actually. And my parents are really strict about knife technique."

Of course they were. Derek wanted to thump his head against a cupboard, but just frowned down at the rhubarb his uncle had him dicing.

Peter hummed approvingly at the neat pile of chives Allison transferred into a bowl for him and passed her a bunch of parsley, fresh from its last rinse. "They certainly are. Let me know if you need a part time job, Allison. I could definitely find room for you."

Derek's knife met the cutting board with a sharp thunk, bypassing the rhubarb entirely as he stared at his uncle. From the corner of his eye, he could see Allison frozen with the parsley clutched tight in one hand. The sweet-ozone tang that seemed to be her content baseline went staticky and barbed as she stared at Peter, eyes wide (Surprise, affront, confusion, something else? He didn't know her well enough to tell), before she frowned faintly and turned back to the cutting board and herbs.

For his part, Peter tossed a flash of an eyebrow at Derek before turning away, taking a moment before he apparently remembered who Allison's parents were. A grimace flashed over his face, but he shrugged it off a moment later.

"Sorry," Peter said, leaning over the island to give Allison an apologetic smile. "That probably came out of nowhere. I run a restaurant downtown."

From the yard, overseeing the bonfire and keeping an ear out for Allison's parents, Derek's mother muttered, "You run the kitchen, baby brother."

(Derek had never thought he'd be happy to have an Argent in the house, but at the moment it meant that his uncle couldn't start up that particular argument again.)

"Oh!" Allison said, knife stilling as she looked up, a blush rising to join the returning wide-eyed stare. "So you're-- You mean it?"

Her scent smoothed out again, sweeter and lighter than before. Smiling, Peter set a shallot next to her elbow. "I do. You're quite good at this."

"I'm only ever good at weird things," Allison admitted, dimples flashing before she returned to the parsley with intent. "What restaurant?"

"Lapin Grillé," Peter said, his scent twisting with tomato vine and brown sugar like always. "It's--"

"Just ask anyone around town where The Pin Grill is," Derek cut in, smirking at the glare his uncle shot his way. "If you ever need to find it."

"That's not what the name means," his uncle groused, mostly under his breath.

But Allison was laughing, bright and open. "Yeah, it's-- That's grilled rabbit, right? French?"

"Or broiled, yes." And Peter was smiling again, greensap-and-sugar smug and unbearably pleased that someone knew what it meant, if not the reference that went with it. Derek rolled his eyes and dumped the rhubarb into a bowl so he could start tossing it with sugar.

"What's French?" Scott asked, rounding the corner into the kitchen and heading to the sink to wash his hands without prompting. He hardly smelled like Alan's clinic at all by that point, wrapped up in dust and old wood and Stilinski-spice and Allison-ozone and pack and kittens over everything, from all the running back and forth.

He smelled more like-pack than not. It was confusing. They didn't really know each other, yet. Not well.

"Lapin Grillé," Allison filled in with a surprisingly good accent. "It means grilled," she paused, tossing a quick smile over at Peter. "Or, I guess, broiled rabbit. And it's--apparently Peter's restaurant?"

Peter was working on suffocating the room in happy-smug, but before he could answer out loud, Scott was turning away from the sink with an impossibly bright grin. "Wait, is that from-- Crud, I don't remember the name of the show," he said, frowning. "My mom loved it, though. About this guy who handles, like, really absurd situations, and--"

"Oh, here we go," Derek sighed, wiping his hands clean before looking for the lemon juice. "Now he's never going to shut up."

Peter had upgraded to beaming, and Derek was wondering how many days of cleaning it was going to take before the greensap-and-sugar smell stopped lingering. "The Middleman! Yes! That is exactly it! And it is my restaurant," Peter confirmed, as he handed a bowl of colorful, mismatched tomatoes to Scott. "Or at least, mine enough that I have say over hiring the kitchen staff. Here, wash these while you talk."

At least his uncle was happy. And probably going to try and tempt Scott away from Alan.

It wouldn't hurt to have more high schoolers working at the restaurant, though. Especially if they knew about werewolves too, which...maybe.

Either way, that kid his uncle had practically adopted a couple years back could probably use the company. And he could definitely use the support network beyond just Peter. Friends he wouldn't need to have so many secrets from would just be a bonus.

-----

The rhubarb compote was simmering on the stove for later, the herbed tomato salad was ready to go, the roast had finished resting and was being sliced possibly a bit thinner than Peter normally bothered with, there was a pot of rigatoni almost ready to be drained and dumped into the chunky tomato sauce and meatballs Derek had pulled out of the freezer and reheated, and there were two cars coming up the drive.

Only one of them was familiar.

Derek wiped his hands on a kitchen towel and glanced over at Peter. Peter didn't bother looking up, just nodded toward the door. "Take the salad out. Remember to keep it covered, it needs--"

"To be tossed again just before serving," Derek finished for him, grabbing the bowl. "And also, bugs. I remember."

The first thing he saw when he left the house was Stiles, standing with his back to the fire and frowning out at the road.

Not exactly subtle, but Derek couldn't be mad about that. (Especially not when Paul had broken away from the group to walk toward Niq's usual parking spot, even though there was no way the humans could hear or see anything yet.)

Also, it was just a really compelling visual. His fingers itched for a sketch book. For markers, or paint.

But then Niq was passing the treeline, and her heart was hammering away at nearly double time. She was ranting away in Spanish before she'd even gotten out of the car, but Derek was more focused on the SUV that pulled into the clearing behind her and was parking at the far end of the line.

His Spanish wasn't good enough to keep up with Niq on a tear anyway. Especially not when she ended up muttering it into Paul's chest.

"Uh, what--" Allison had a different variety of wide-eyed going on, and curled in against Scott's side with a disbelieving huff of a laugh. "Why are my parents here?"

Chris hadn't really changed. He'd mostly kept quiet, at the truce talks, but it was hard to forget a man who'd stood against the wall for hours, fingers just brushing the gun at his thigh. Staring. At him.

But he'd been weathered and harsh then, and he was harsh and maybe a little more weathered now. Looking at him was like a flashback of the worst sort.

Victoria was--worse, for all that she'd changed more. Different hair style, different dye, more stress lines, more laugh lines, less pain and hostility in her shoulders.

Same fucking terrifying eyes.

Derek dropped the salad off and headed for Stiles. Maybe they could do the world's slowest patrol, or just go for that walk, or anything to get them away from--

There was a tiny, angry growl and Derek could feel the attention of every wolf at the house twist away from the Argents. Honing in on Greg, sitting in John's lap while Tania ran Erin out to Niq and waving tiny clawed hands in the air as he tried to struggle free.

John's eyebrows had shot up high enough to be comical, but that was the only reaction so far.

"Why is this my life," Derek sighed, finally getting close enough to snag Stiles away from his position of glaring suspiciously at the Argents. "I'll explain to the sheriff, someone else get between Greg and the others, for--"

He bit off the fuck's sake, but that was at least half because Olivia had swept in behind Scott and Allison, and Paul was using the excuse of greeting the Argents to get between them and the shifted baby.

"What--" Stiles turned his glare on Derek, confusion and frustration and unease warring through their connection before going blank with shock, fear, and--squishy? "Oh, wow, that is the cutest thing. I mean, oh god, out of my dad's lap," Stiles hissed, low and intense as he sped up until he was dragging Derek toward his dad. "There's claws and oh my god, tiniest fangs. But. That's--"

"Focus, Stiles," Derek smiled weakly at John as they finally made it to his seat on the front porch. "Uh, hi. Sir." Derek winced as John turned the improbable eyebrows in his direction. But Greg was whining, high and thin in a way that didn't sound quite human, and that took priority.

Derek rubbed a hand over Greg's hair then down to cover his face. He wasn't Greg's favorite and he didn't hold the cub that often, but-- Greg went boneless, slumping forward and snuffling at Derek's hand, smelling familiar and family and pack.

When he looked back up, John was watching Greg again, staring as Greg's ears rounded out and the little patches of fur on his cheeks faded away. "Should we--"

"We should talk," John nodded, still staring down at Greg. "Inside?"

Chapter Text

Talking was easier said than done. For starters, where to go?

He hesitated just inside the door, considering his options. Victoria's voice, clear and sharp despite the distance, the walls, the fact that he was trying to not pay attention, decided him.

"Just-- Give me a minute."

John raised an eyebrow at him, but jiggled Greg patiently against his hip and it was absolutely not fair that he could keep up a sense of casual authority while holding a baby. Stiles stayed out of the exchange, too busy bending over and trying to get his shoes off without doing a header into the coat rack.

Derek--was not staring at Stiles. Right. He slipped into the main room and grabbed one of the cardigans off the chair Tania kept colonizing, a pillow from Peter's favorite spot on the couch, one of the little CD players from the entertainment center, a random handful of CDs.

He probably looked completely ridiculous, but he at least had a plan.

Outside, his mother, grandmother, and all three Argents were settling down near the bonfire. His father should have been with them, but he was just--gone. So were Jacob and Gwen, which was enough of an explanation. It sounded like they were still sorting out what to do with Scott.

John gave him an expectant look as he came back and Derek nodded toward the hall. "We're heading down to the basement," he said for the Stilinskis' benefit, and the pack's. "I need the space, and Greg will feel safer down there."

They followed him easily enough, though he heard John muttering back to Stiles "Why do I feel like we're in a spy movie?" and Stiles answering back "Right idea. Wrong genre."

His life.

-----

"Okay, I can tell you aren't trying to put my dad at ease here," Stiles drawled, a strange mix of amusement and trepidation coloring Derek's impression of him.

Derek set his supplies down on the stack of blankets between the mattresses and turned to glance back at Stiles. "What?"

In answer, Stiles just gestured wildly at the room, nearly unbalancing himself when the shoulder he had most of his weight braced against was no longer in contact with the doorjamb.

Amusing, but not very informative.

Derek tried to think about the room the way a human would, but he wasn't human. The floor was thick with rugs, around and under the bare mattresses crammed in the corners. His family's scents were overpowering, soaked into every thread for years.

He couldn't see the room. The scent of it was too thick.

"I don't-- This is just..." He hesitated, frowning and pulling a thin blanket out over the first mattress instead of taking the time to put sheets on them. "It's safe, here. It smells safe. Greg and-- Greg needs that."

Greg would much rather be with his parents and his alpha, probably. Derek needed it, but he wasn't going to admit that.

Didn't have to, from the soft sympathy-feel Stiles was leaking across the bond.

"Why are there chains in this room?" the sheriff asked--surprisingly mildly, considering--from the next door down.

Maybe Derek should have closed all the doors, instead of letting John take his time exploring.

Stiles sighed and turned back to collect his father from the distraction. "I'm pretty sure that's getting explained, Dad."

The chains weren't that bad. It was the kids' room. They had a good six feet of chain and while the benches weren't exactly comfortable, it was nice to have options.

He and Laura used to play go fish while hooked up to those.

Come to think of it, that's where Grandmother Hale had taught them how to play poker.

It wasn't control they needed right now, though. It was safety.

Derek finished covering the mattresses up and made a quick nest out of Tania's cardigan and the pillow that smelled like Peter before plopping himself down with his back to the wall to go through the CDs he'd grabbed.

Someone had slipped a compilation of Sousa marches into the mix. Again. Derek huffed annoyance and flipped past a disc of Bocelli, the useless (for adults) white-noise CDs of ocean and rain noises, and waffled a moment before setting the Mumford and Sons aside to put in ArchAndroid. It was more distracting, and Victoria's voice might stand out through the softer vocals on Sigh No More.

Derek hit play and adjusted the volume before pushing the CD player out the tiny half-window and letting the headphones dangle just inside, then sat down again and listened. Not so loud he'd miss a gunshot or shouting from outside, but it was enough to keep him hearing normal conversation by accident. Good enough.

"Hey," John protested from down the hall, followed by Stiles saying "No. You treat my boyfriend's house like a crime scene, you lose baby privileges."

Stiles' voice grew stronger, along with the sound of two sets of feet approaching. "Derek will probably answer your questions anyway, and besides that I'm not exactly thrilled with you keeping the tiny clawed wonder against your squishy side anyway."

"I'm not squishy," John muttered just before they rounded the corner to come in.

"Comparatively speaking, Dad, oh my god." Stiles rolled his eyes but zeroed in on Derek, offering Greg up when Derek held his arms out. "Would you just sit?"

John eyed the mostly barren room, probably judgmentally, before lowering himself carefully onto the other mattress. "Alright. So?"

"Most of my family are werewolves," Derek said, keeping his eyes down on Greg as he got the cub wrapped up, then cradled against his chest. Heartbeat, packmate, parent-scents, den-space: that's what calm, sleepy, baby werewolves are made of. "That's why Kate Argent tried to have us killed, and right now, upstairs, my mother is probably helping explain that to Allison Argent. Only without the werewolves, I think."

Stiles shook his head before sprawling out on the mattress next to Derek. "Wow, you're pretty bad at this."

"You're very bad at this," John corrected, and when Derek looked up he seemed even more judgmental than he had when surveying the room. (Down the hall, another set of footsteps started toward them, barefoot or nearly. He couldn't pick out a heartbeat over the music without opening himself up to the Argents again, though.) "Werewolves?"

"I can show you, but you already saw Greg shift earlier," Derek shrugged. "It's not as cute on an adult."

And-- Really? Derek glared at Stiles, throwing disbelief back at the curl of arousal he could feel.

Stiles shrugged sheepishly back, faintly blushing as he turned his grin toward his dad. "Ah, yeah. Cute's not the right word."

"Not the right word for what?" Dominique asked as she bustled in and did a controlled collapse onto the mattress right next to John, being just careful enough to make Erin squeep and flail her arms in delight rather than alarm. "Because I know you're not talking about baby werewolves."

John tensed and scooted away from Niq, who laughed and moved to give him a little more room. "Sorry. Habit."

John was shaking his head as Stiles offered up, "We were talking about werewolves, but not babies. Derek was going to show my dad what it looks like."

Which led to three pairs of eyes on him.

Derek sighed, but met John's eyes and blinked his own to blue, then pulled the shift forward when John just frowned, his heartbeat hardly changing.

That didn't last.

John rocked back, pulse kicking up a notch as Derek rolled the kinks of the shift out. (Stiles' pulse kicked up a notch too, but Derek was trying to ignore that.)

His fear smelled like Stiles'. Derek...could have done without knowing that.

"Oh-kay," the sheriff nodded after a few moments. "Werewolves."

Derek blinked the shift back and pressed a fist against his mouth, trying to hold back a laugh. It was just-- After Stiles, he supposed he should have known the sheriff wouldn't react as expected.

Niq didn't have his reservations. But she also wasn't laughing.

"I would be swearing so much right now if there weren't tiny sensitive ears everywhere," she snorted, irritated jealousy simmering over their pack bond. "Seriously. You two are unbelievable."

"Excuse you," Stiles protested. "I think you mean awesome."

Dominique rolled her eyes and clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. "I think I mean you're both taking this whole life changing revelation stupidly well, is what I--"

"Not really," John held up a hand, cutting Stiles and Niq off before they could get any more traction. "I'm just saving the meltdown for later."

It sounded like a joke, but he wasn't lying.

"Now, as entertaining as you two arguing would probably be," John continued, "I have a few questions."

Stiles and Niq settled back at the same time, turning their attention to the sheriff. Stiles relaxed but Niq...didn't. Still tense, still unsettled and uneasy and almost angry, but letting it go. For the moment, at least.

John didn't turn his attention to Derek, though. Kept his eyes on his son as his eyebrows arched up again. "Exactly how long have you known about this?"

Ah. That.

Stiles cringed, but managed to almost successfully turn it into a sheepish smile. Almost. "Uh. Remember when my car broke down?"

"Tuesday?" John sounded surprised, but Derek had no idea if that was over how long Stiles had kept a secret from him, or because he'd thought it had been longer.

Niq laughed, snorting into her palm and jiggling Erin soothingly when she started fussing. The bitter tang of her almost-anger was softening, at least.

"It was an accident," Derek explained. "I hadn't intended for him to find out, but then he did and we wanted to make sure we had time to answer his questions."

John eyed him for a moment, then sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I don't want to know, yet, how exactly that happened as an accident."

The 'yet' was...alarming. How, exactly, was he supposed to--

"God, Dad," Stiles voice was practically rolling its eyes as he slouched against Derek's side. Derek shifted Greg a bit more to his right and Stiles curled in to take advantage of the opening, pressing comfort along the touch. "Way to make it sound sketchy. You saw the eye thing, right? Well they freaking glow in the dark. So cool, but really not subtle when it's dark out."

That. That worked. It was even partly true. True enough Stiles' heart stayed steady. That he felt he wasn't lying.

Derek's relief tangled up with Stiles' amusement, both sides turning to an affection that echoed back and forth between them.

"I'll accept that," John nodded. "I don't think it's entirely true, but I can accept it as the non-traumatizing version."

"Here," Niq huffed, amused, and held Erin out for John. "I was told baby-therapy works with you, and she at least is probably a good five months off the possibility of shifting."

It was easy to see that it was true, too. John's shoulders visibly relaxed as he reached out for Erin, who was only fussing a little at the exchange. Who gave a happy chuff once she was settled against John's chest (Again. She'd spent so much time there already that day that he smelled familiar) and flailed a hand at his chin.

"And she might not at all," Derek added. "Dominique's human, so Erin has a mostly even chance of being human."

Niq groaned and scooted back on the mattress until she could slump against the wall. "Can we please not get into the math and weirdness of werewolf genetics right now, though. Short answer, magic!" she said, throwing her arms up at the end. She sounded light and amused, but Derek could smell exhaustion creeping in at the edges of the emotional soup she was working on.

"I see." John's face was calm and serious, if you didn't look at the crinkling around his eyes. "So. Magic."

Stiles' pulse jittered at that, and he coughed. "Uh. Yeah. We're gonna have to--" John gave his son a look Derek didn't know how to translate, but it made the jitters he could feel building in Stiles' brain deflate. "I might be kind of magic and I might have accidentally kind of...accelerated my connection to the pack?"

That look Derek could translate. It was a combination of 'you'd better not be bullshitting me' and 'I can't believe those words are coming out of your mouth right now.'

He saw that look aimed at Peter a lot.

"That's new too," Stiles continued. "That-- Ah, yesterday, actually, and it's not as weird as it sounds! Lots of people apparently have magic, they just don't have it in a way that actually does anything, where I actually need training, because I'm like that, and--"

Derek turned a bit and moved Greg to his right arm, so he could hook the left over Stiles' shoulder. Stiles took the hint, sighing even as he pulled the hand in and bit down on the side of Derek's index finger.

Whatever. Stiles no longer felt like a gerbil on Red Bull in his head.

"That's not werewolves," Niq said, drawing Derek's attention back to Stiles' father, who was staring incredulously at them. "That's just them."

-----

After that, they'd had to explain about pack bonds and mates--

John squinted at him for a short eternity before asking, "So is that-- You don't actually mate for life, do you? I mean. When you--" He gestured vaguely, but his discomfort and the grimace on his face managed to scream 'sex' loud and clear.

"See? These questions come up even without Google's help!" Stiles added cheerfully, while the earth failed to open up and end Derek's torment.

--which led back to Stiles' magic again--

"Wait a minute. What do you mean, you have one of those...bond things?"

"Partial! Partial bond, Dad. And I told you, we have that under control."

"I'd have an easier time believing you if you could go two minutes without chewing on your boyfriend."

--and he did remember to explain the chains--

"So it's just for the kids," John repeated slowly, like he was feeling each word out to make sure he actually had the right one as he said them. "The chains. Are for kids."

Niq was laughing into her hand, but Derek nodded. "It's pretty common for us to get fast before we get strong," he tried explaining. "A kid could get away and hurt someone if we didn't keep them locked up until we could trust their control."

John's pulse skipped, and he frowned. "Before they get strong. But you put them in chains like that anyway?"

"They're still strong. They wouldn't--" Derek hesitated, darting a glance at Niq, but he couldn't tell from her wide eyes what made her nervous. "Those chains wouldn't hold an adult."

John's scent soured with metal-fear and a weird nutty note Derek had no context for, and...probably that. Niq had probably been worried he'd say that.

--and more basic werewolf facts--

"Silver bullets aren't a thing, it's a translation error. Argent bullets are dangerous, because they're usually filled with wolfsbane."

That earned him a stern look from the sheriff. "Explain that."

--werewolf hunter facts--

"Supernatural hate crime," the sheriff groaned as he handed Erin back to her mother, before his stress could set her off. "Fantastic."

Derek jiggled Greg and rubbed his back, trying to soothe him back to sleep. It was probably a lost cause, with how intense all the fear and worry in the room probably smelled to him, but Derek had to try.

He didn't miss the way John kept frowning and glancing over at Stiles either, which wasn't helping to keep him calm.

--and Derek learning a few things--

"It doesn't matter if Stiles would take the bite or not, right now," Niq cut across the sheriff's question. "Maria wouldn't bite him. Not until he's fully bonded to the pack."

"I'm not sure I would," Stiles offered. "I mean. It sounds aweso-- Don't give me that look Dad it totally sounds awesome. But Deaton said the bite kind of cancels out human magic, so I'd--"

"Wait, what?"

Stiles twisted around to look at him, then startled back and away from his side as Greg fussed, claws out and leaving a couple small gouges against his jaw. Derek dropped his head to mutter soothing grumbles against Greg's hair and grabbed for a blanket corner to wipe the blood away.

"Uh," Stiles started. "You. Are you--"

"He'll be fine," Niq interrupted, before Stiles could get too worked up. "You've got a bad angle on it, but he's healed already. And this," she noted wryly, giving Derek time to finish cleaning up the blood and bunch the dirty blanket up next to him. "This is why we usually don't even let humans in the pack hold the werewolf babies unless everyone's totally calm. They're little emotional barometers."

Stiles and John were both nodding, but they were also staring and smelling fit to set Greg off again. Derek sighed and turned back to Stiles. "What do you mean, the bite would cancel out your magic?"

He startled then stilled, and Derek could feel his brain changing direction. "Uh, yeah. You didn't know that? I just-- I mean, does it matter?" He frowned suddenly, worried. "To you, I mean. If I stay human."

He shook his head, but Stiles was grinning before he'd even started the gesture, his own exasperated negation melting into Stiles' relief.

"Okay, yeah. I want to think about it, obviously, but I want to know what my magic does first, y'know?"

--and more evidence of why John was the sheriff--

"Okay, if you two are done with your mini-drama. Deaton? Alan Deaton? The vet?"

John looked torn between disbelief and hilarity. Stiles let his head drop back against Derek's shoulder, exposing way too much of his neck for Derek's comfort (for two different reasons, only one of which involved threat). "I'm no good at this secrecy thing am I."

--and in the end, they only really stopped because Laura stuck her head in the door.

"Okay, Werewolf Sunday School has to be put on pause for dinner. Cara and Vic have finally gotten here. Allison stayed and is in with Scott and the kittens, recovering. Her parents left. Their car should be out of hearing range and everything."

"What--" he started, but Laura shook her head abruptly.

"Mom wants to talk to all of you after dinner." She blinked, then shrugged dismissively, "Well. Not counting Niq and the babies. Are you gonna be okay with Allison?" she switched abruptly, her focus zeroing in on Derek. "Tania was planning on faking a headache so she could come in and eat with Greg, but if you need space--"

"No." The word was out of his mouth before he'd thought about it, but it was true. "No, it's fine. I'm okay with Allison."

The surprise-pleasure-relief he felt from Stiles in response to that was nice, as well as predictable. It didn't have much to do with his response, though. That had a lot more to do with the girl with the unexpected French accent, who was only good at weird things and told teasing lies with exaggerated, playful innocence for laughs.

He thought he might be okay with Allison. It was the Argent he had problems with.

Chapter Text

Allison caught him before he'd made it to the table. He'd hung back to hand Greg off to Tania, and suddenly she was just--there. Waiting for him on the porch with a mostly full pitcher of water.

Derek had no idea what his face was doing, but whatever it was made Allison wince when she saw it. "Oh, god, I'm being creepy aren't I. I didn't mean to be creepy."

"It's-- What did you want?"

She laughed, breathy and lost, cradling her hands in front of her like she could maybe catch the words she needed, if they'd just fall within range. (That's what it felt like when he did it, anyway.) "I just-- Do you--"

He could feel the steady pulse of his mother's concern and curiosity. Niq's blunt anger, Cara's confusion, the underlying currents of caution and unease from the entire pack. But he couldn't feel Allison. Couldn't parse the way her ozone sharpened until it smelled like there should be carbon there, from the lightning strike, or what made her jaw tense and shift forward like that.

"I'll give you space if you want it, okay? But I'm not going to avoid you just because our parents think it's for the best when they don't even ask you about it." Allison exhaled through her teeth, eyes cutting off to his left. "It's just-- You seemed okay with me in the kitchen? You knew who I was then, right?" She smiled when he nodded and barreled on "Right! So. You can have space if you want it, I swear, but I don't want to force it on you if that's not what you want. Does that-- Am I making sense?"

There were so many possible responses to that, but he settled on shrugging one shoulder as he walked past her. "Don't ask me. I'm just the model who hands out babies."

His entire sense of her stilled and she was laughing, bright and delighted as she followed him back to the tables.

There's a spot left for him on Stiles' right, which was good and most likely related to the fact that Stiles' right hand was planted against Laura's left shoulder and not budging. Allison was apparently on the other side of the table, on the far side of Scott from his own gap.

Not the best set up for a short, supposedly private conversation.

Past Stiles, Cara was laughing at the expression on Scott's face, as Vic stood and hauled her shirt up to show off the wings Cara had inked over her hips and the Twilight Sparkle cutie mark just above her navel. Because his family.

At least John looked amused.

-----

Cara bit Stiles' shoulder, and Derek's forearm when he reached around to shove her off. Niq kept her fork to herself for once, but Laura made sure the sheriff felt like part of the family by stealing an entire slice of roast while he wasn't looking. The rolls ended up just staying in front of Allison the whole night, after their first cycle around the table.

Turned out she had great aim with bread.

-----

"Hey, Stiles."

Derek paused from putting the benches up, and had to hurry to catch up with Paul before it was too obvious he didn't really need the help. (Putting the furniture away would have gone so much faster if Scott wasn't so helpful, really.)

Across the yard, Stiles was turning toward Maria, relaxed and attentive and-- For the first time, Derek wondered if he had pack bonds developing, as well. If his mother and Stiles were somehow already connected enough to pull that reaction out of him naturally.

"Would you mind driving your friends home, when we're done here?"

Stiles opened his mouth to protest (Derek could feel the negation. Didn't need to see it in his shoulders or his jaw.) but Maria was rolling her eyes and cupping a light hand over his shoulder. "Then, obviously, come back. Since I was hoping I could keep your dad for a bit."

"Ugh," Stiles deflated, blowing a sharp breath up as though his hair was long enough to get in his eyes. "Fine."

If there was more to that conversation, he missed it. Vic crashed into him once the bench was safely stowed away and hauled him off to one side. "Sounds like your weekend's been exciting."

Derek tilted his head, did a quick check. Scott was being chased off for goodbyes which, apparently, needed to include the kittens for some reason (Scott and Allison being besotted with the kittens, for instance). Allison was already in the kitten room, along with Stiles, his dad, and Derek's dad. All well out of hearing range for most humans. "Yeah, well. Surprise magic and mate bonds will do that."

Vic snorted and thumped her head against his shoulder. "Sorry. You're still gonna be good for your shift tomorrow though, right? You're pretty stacked up with--"

"I'll be fine. Cara's going to be with me, right?" Cara actually enjoyed manning the front desk, unlike her wife, and wasn't in quite as much demand as Tony. Derek nodded when Vic did. "Then yeah, tomorrow should be fine."

Sundays weren't usually that hectic anyway.

"I'll hold you to that," she warned, pulling him in for a hug and an obnoxious cheek kiss. "Now you better track down Cara. We've gotta get going."

He ended up carrying Cara piggyback out to their car, crammed in at the very edge of the clearing, past where the Argents had had to park. Which was fine. It meant she got her hugs in without Derek having to bend over. Win-win.

Stiles was waiting for him at the edge of the house when Derek walked back. Grinned and stepped into his space, brushed a cobweb out of his hair with a laugh, and claimed a kiss that was as much statement as it was affection.

Derek caught the back of Stiles' neck when he went to pull away and brought them together again.

He wasn't contested territory. He wasn't, and wouldn't be, a defiance. He was Stiles' mate, to love and be loved, inevitable and unending as the pull of the moon.

He tried to say that as much with the gentle slide of skin on skin, the brush of his thumb under Stiles' ear, the light press of teeth against his lower lip, as he did with his mind. With the bond that strengthened with proximity.

Stiles' pupils were blown when Derek pulled away, his jaw relaxed and swaying after Derek like an addiction.

And John was frowning and rubbing his eyes on the porch. Maria was behind him with a hand over her mouth and a smirk in her own eyes. (Peter, the asshole, was edging into the doorway to stand behind her with his hands over his ears. Which wasn't nearly as funny as he probably thought it was.)

There was the usual flurry of goodbyes, with Scott and Allison laughing as they were passed down the line that ended up forming for hugs and farewells, and Stiles complaining into Paul's shoulder that he was coming right back and could they just not? (Answer? No.)

The sheriff looked amused, and Derek wondered if he realized he was watching his own eventual fate.

Allison and Scott were crouched down at the corner of the building, listening to Jacob tell them something about crabs that was apparently of vital importance (mostly keeping the new people there and engaged, Derek thought), when Derek's mother came up behind him and hooked her chin over his shoulder. "Hey."

"I'm fine, Mom," he muttered, responding to the jittery edge of worry in her mind rather than her words.

Stiles was laughing, clutching at his stomach and bending down and not caring when Gwen pushed him over so she and Stacia could swarm him for another hug.

"I know," she sighed, and he could feel how tired she felt, just for a moment. "You did good, earlier. Taking care of yourself like that. Thank you."

He grumbled a non-answer and let her rest on the comfort of the contact, of being able to feel where the metaphorical cracks were and make sure the patches were still holding.

He was okay. As okay as he could be.

-----

The Talk, version 2.0, managed to go worse than the first one.

"Look," John sighed, once Scott and Allison were gone and Maria had hustled both of them into the study. "I am not happy with this. I was getting over the age thing, but now it's not just dating. This is more my seventeen year old son getting married. By accident."

It was kind of impressive that werewolves still weren't the main problem. Not directly, at least.

Derek claimed one end of the loveseat, after John took his favorite arm chair. (Which had to be coincidence. John couldn't smell out Derek's favorite places to sit.) His mother perched on the desk rather than taking an actual chair, creating a height advantage.

Derek's dad caught up with them, cupping a few tumblers in one hand, a bottle of single malt in the other, and kicking the door shut behind himself. John shook his head, lips drawn tight and raising a hand in rejection when David lifted the bottle in his direction.

"I'm not trying to convince you otherwise, Sheriff," his mother sighed, reaching for the bottle and pouring herself a finger and a half to sip at while David settled in at her side, leaning against the desk. "If I wanted to be negative about this, however, I could point out that your seventeen year old is trapping my emotionally stunted and traumatized son in a lifelong commitment that will cause extensive damage, if something goes wrong."

John startled back, frowning but not-- Not angry. Defensive, Derek thought. Bristling at the implication, but that was probably the point.

"Thanks, Mom," Derek drawled, sinking into the corner of the loveseat and grabbing a pillow to hug. He knew it wasn't making him look any more mature and adult, but it was soothing enough that he didn't care. "Way to stay objective."

"No problem honey," his mother returned, very intentionally missing the point and taking a sip of scotch before addressing their guest again. "That's not how I'm approaching this, John. I could, but I'm not. You need to understand that everything I just said, though? That's all true. Did anyone tell you about Stiles' magic?"

John nodded, sighing and settling back in his seat again. Not relaxed, but not as hostile either. "A bit. Not much. Just that it has something to do with his drawing, and that he's going to be training with the station's vet on how to use it, and that it accelerated his--" He trailed off, waving a hand uselessly at the air. "I can't remember exactly. Pack connections?"

"The mate bond specifically," his mother responded, nodding. "The actual pack bond will form between him and me, first, then branch out to the rest of the werewolves. That hasn't started yet, but it could. With his connection to Derek, Stiles might start bonding into the pack at any time."

There was a pause while John stared at the floor, nodding more out of habit than agreement, before he said, "Werewolves."

"It takes a while to get used to," Derek's father apologized, holding up the bottle again and pouring a finger out for John when he sighed and nodded more decisively.

His mother snorted and kicked her feet back against the walls of the desk. "Like you'd know."

"I was here for Tania," his father answered primly, handing John the tumbler. "And Niq. And Cara. And Thomas."

There was a burst of shock across the bond, then pain as Laura growled and took off for the woods. Directly from a second story window. (Thankfully on the other side of the house and well away from John's line of sight.)

The name got the sheriff's attention, though. And it was the sheriff's, more than John's. His eyes went focused and sharp the same way they had in the living room, when he'd asked about Derek's file, and downstairs when they'd talked about the chains and Alan's involvement. "Thomas?"

"You probably remember him," Derek's mother agreed. "But wait, just--" She sighed, gesturing with her glass. "We should give Laura time to get out of hearing range," she explained, shrugging when the sheriff's eyebrows shot up. "Our senses are probably much better than you're assuming. I brought the four of us in here to limit the amount of participation, not to keep the others from hearing what we say."

"Good to know," John agreed faintly.

"But, yes," his mother said decisively, once Laura's rampage had taken her across a stream that made it hard for Derek to keep track of her. "Thomas Wight. A deputy of yours, about three years ago now."

"I remember. And I remember, now, that he and Laura had been a thing," the sheriff frowned. "A serious thing, I'd thought."

"Until she told him about werewolves," David confirmed. "That was the day before he turned in his notice, so far as we know."

The sheriff grimaced, his expression starting to soften again. "I'd wondered about that. But--"

"I wanted to bring him up to make a point, Sheriff," his father interrupted. "I mentioned his name, and Laura had to run away to protect herself from this conversation."

"And probably to find a small tree to rip apart," Derek added. Because it was true.

Even with what had to be at least a mile between them, now, he could feel the rage Laura had built her pain into.

"I'm not sure it's going to be a small one," Maria sighed.

David nodded agreement. "Pretty sure it won't be." He leaned forward toward the sheriff, expression serious. "Laura and Thomas had just started forming a bond when that happened. A natural bond, not the growth-hormone version our sons have," he chuffed, waving a hand idly toward Derek. Derek did not throw his pillow at his father, but it was a near thing. "She hasn't dated since then. We don't mention him unless we have to, because it hurts her so much."

"And that's normal," his mother said, frowning down at her glass. "I'm not going to start worrying about Laura for another year, at least."

John held up a hand, a tic in his jaw just starting to make an appearance. "I'm sorry, are we in a pissing contest about who's going to be more hurt if they break up? 'Cause I'm not--"

"I just want you to understand why we're worried," his father interrupted. "We have context for human break ups and relationships, but you don't know how we work."

Technically, the sheriff probably had some context for worst case scenarios in broken mating bonds, but Derek wasn't going to be the one to bring up horror movies. They weren't accurate anyway.

"They're worried for Stiles too," he offered instead, and made himself look up as the adults turned back to him. "They don't know how you're coping with any of this, and they're on the offensive because you're the second emergency of the day."

The irritation from his parents was immediate, but it mellowed quickly into speculative curiosity when John just narrowed his eyes then sighed heavily, rubbing a palm over his eyes again. "Oh hell."

"The cubs are still up," Tania pointed out from the third floor. "For a little longer, anyway. Pull your claws in, Gweny, your pajamas don't need ventilating."

Derek snorted, and his mother rolled her eyes. "Right. Remember how I said most everybody could hear us? That includes two of the terrors. They're still getting ready for bed."

John grimaced, opening his mouth to respond before shrugging and offering a wry smile. "Phooey."

That startled a laugh out of Derek's parents, and John's smile was more genuine when he leaned forward to start talking again. "Alright, why don't we start over with some basic assumptions. Neither of these kids meant for this to happen. The situation can go pretty badly for everybody involved, we're all worried about how it's going to shake out, and I'm still not really coping with the whole werewolf thing. Can we start there?"

"We're scared," David admitted, while his wife rolled the last remains of her drink around her mouth, focusing on the burn. "We don't usually work directly with the Argents. Up until last year there was a retired hunter in the area that everything went through, and everyone was comfortable with that. Typically, law enforcement and hunters have been better allies than law enforcement and--"

"Okay, stop there," the sheriff cut in, his voice hard enough not to leave much room for rejection. "I do plan on talking to the Argents and getting their perspective on all this. I refuse to take sides with just half the story. In general, I'm not likely to take sides at all. Werewolf or werewolf hunter, I do not care. You obey the law, or you explain your reasoning to me why you couldn't. From a holding cell if necessary."

"That's all we're hoping for, John," Derek's mother smiled. "But we were worried. We wanted to have a chance to let you get to know the family a little better before we dumped all this on you."

John scoffed, shaking his head before she was even finished talking. "You wanted to make sure I'd think of you as people. That was something you had years ago."

"Alright then," Maria ducked her head, hiding a smile. "Let's try talking about that pesky bond again, then. It'd probably be best if we could get over any landmines there before Stiles is back."

"Better hurry, then."

The words were out before Derek realized he'd reached for Stiles, before he realized what that simple line would mean to his parents.

John's confusion smelled like Stiles' too, but it was the weight of his parents' focus that had Derek pressing into his seat and biting back a whine.

"Why," his mother asked (well, 'asked'), with the weight of red eyes in her voice even if they weren't showing.

"He's already on his way back," Derek twitched one shoulder up in an attempt at a shrug, finding a spot on the floor to focus on in favor of anyone else in the room. "I'd-- Maybe three or four minutes? I think he's still on the main road, but just barely."

He didn't think. He knew. Could feel Stiles approaching the turn, if not how he felt about it.

There was a brief pause, then the sheriff was asking, "So. What does that mean?"

"It means this entire situation is karmic retribution for how poorly I handled the arson case and the Argent treaty," his mother said cheerfully. "And that I'm wishing I drank for more than just the taste."

Derek's father sighed and pulled her tight against his side so he could nuzzle at her hair. "It means that doesn't sound like a partial bond. We're going to have to go talk to Alan again."

"I can't really tell how he feels?" Derek offered, still trying to make himself small. "I just--sort of feel where he is."

"Kind of like non-consensual stalking," John suggested, standing up and wordlessly requesting another finger of scotch from David. "On the stalker's part."

Derek's mother laughed, just a little bit shrill. "I think we'd all have been more comfortable without that particular comparison."

Stiles made the turn, and Derek felt a faint poke of curiosity and concern. Stiles picking up on his tension from a few miles out and reaching.

He'd have to tell his parents about that development. Just...later.

Definitely later.

Chapter Text

He was sitting on the porch steps when the Jeep rolled up. Stiles bypassed the line of cars entirely, parking directly in front of the house and throwing the door closed behind him as he scrambled for the porch. "The hell?"

He yelped and flailed a bit when Derek pulled him off balance and into a hug. Which was fair, since really, he was hugging Stiles' thighs and had his face buried in Stiles' stomach. But it was Stiles, so he relaxed into it once he was no longer falling over, worked his fingers into Derek's hair and rubbed over his scalp.

The bond and the fact that he could feel Derek melting probably had a lot to do with how dedicated he became to the head rubbing, and how quickly he was figuring out just where and how hard to press.

"Seriously, Derek. Still not a mind reader. What happened?"

Derek tilted his head up, pushing into Stiles' hands as he tried to pull sensible thoughts back out of the white static mess of his brain. It would have been easier, if not particularly helpful, for him to break out a sketchbook and a pencil and draw out his distress. Lay out the jagged lines of John's suspicions (concerns, more honestly, but the point was that he had reason for them and that--), the wispy curls of his own doubt, the noisy mess of his parents' defensive bafflement. He could see that, he could put it on paper faster that he could turn it into words.

But that would involve moving, and Stiles wouldn't understand it anyway.

Probably wouldn't, Derek corrected himself, remembering the incident with Alan's visual notes.

Inside, Tania was talking softly with John. About family, and choice, and the screaming fit she threw when she learned werewolves were a thing.

About feeling trapped by the mate bond. About not wanting to break it but not being able to accept it, and the month and a half of utter misery the whole mess caused before she'd been able to calm down. About hating Peter as much as she loved him. About how they hadn't been able to touch at all for most of that period. How she felt manipulated by the way touch forced sharing, and how horrible it was being able to feel the way she made Peter feel.

It was better, slightly, than when his mother had been trying to explain that physically abusive relationships didn't typically happen in mated pairs, without any tangible evidence to back her assertions up or any way to share a feeling. (Or at least, no way that didn't involve injury and bleeding.)

There was less shouting with Tania, at least. And one hundred percent less chance of Peter, since his wife had sensibly sent him out after Laura.

"Your dad's worried about you," Derek settled on eventually, breathing slowly and deeply and trying to bury himself in the scent and feel of Stiles. The anxiety that meant he cared. "He's-- It's okay."

Stiles' hands tightened in his hair, stopping just barely short of too hard. "Maybe. But you aren't."

"It doesn't magically make everything okay," Tania said, sounding almost disgusted with the idea. "We still fight, we drive each other crazy, we make mistakes, and we hurt each other. The worst thing is the pressure not to fight. It's so tempting to make up or compromise before either of us is really happy, because the conflict makes us feel horrible. It's not just unhappy, it's an itch in the brain. Like reality's just a little out of alignment.

"It wouldn't help, though. Making up too soon, I mean. The bond demands emotional honesty, there's no getting around it. But that itching feeling goes both ways. Making your mate miserable means, quite literally, that you're making yourself miserable too. There's no getting around it, and there's no way to enjoy it."

"I will be."

-----

Derek didn't let go of Stiles until the remaining and awake members of the family started swarming around John on the other side of the door. Even then, it was only because Stiles could hear his father's embarrassed muttering and pulled away, saying "Oh, man. I have got to see this."

Stiles leaned through the front door, arms braced to either side with his feet outside and head and shoulders in, and laughed. When Derek made his way to stand behind Stiles, John was awkwardly patting Paul on the back and from his blush, probably trying not to think about Niq, who was doing her damndest to hug both her mate and the sheriff at once.

"Oh man," Stiles muttered with a fake sniffle and pretending to wipe away a tear. "Never knew how badly I needed payback for all those awkward schoolyard hugs."

Derek snorted into his mate's hair and tugged Stiles back as John was released to shoot a disgruntled look his son's way.

But then Laura was there, still smelling of dirt and green and so much pine sap he couldn't smell her under it, and the sheriff had to stop and be hugged again. John was able to make it through the door once she'd released him, though, and by that time Stiles' laughter had calmed down to mild snickers.

The last thing Derek had been expecting was for John to sigh and pull him into a hug, not seeming to care that half of Stiles was squished between them.

"I'd be like this with anybody," John said, voice soft but gruff and weary. "I'd be worried if it was Scott this was happening with."

"Ew," Stiles muttered and tried to wiggle free.

His heart was steady, though. He at least believed it himself. "Thanks, sir."

John patted his shoulder before pulling away, tugging Stiles with him. "Come by for dinner again soon. Since you're apparently sticking around. We," he said, shifting his attention to Stiles. "Have a lot to talk about on the ride home."

"Yeah," Stiles agreed, abrupt to the point of being curt. "Yeah, we do."

They both smelled of pepper and metal, and Derek did his best to just be glad he wouldn't have to sit in on the showdown between Stilinski stubborn streaks.

He was still disappointed that they didn't start talking until they were out of easy hearing range.

-----

Derek managed to avoid anything too involved or awkward with his family, after that. Mostly, he just sat with Laura for a while and helped her clean the sap out of her hair and from under her nails.

It had been a long day of surprises and revelations, and by all right he should have been exhausted. And he was.

He just couldn't sleep.

Chapter Text

Derek had nothing against floral tattoos; they were usually fun to do and could look amazing. He kind of hated roses, though. They were overdone to the point of being gratuitous in a lot of cases, and a lot of the design ideas people brought in had just...terrible roses.

People just seemed to like bad art and awful roses. Particularly together.

This set of roses was horrible in a different way, at least. The grainy, blotchy, faded piece of paper in front of him had a cabbage rose motif that looked like it was rejected as wallpaper for being too kitsch.

"I'm really sorry, I'm not at my best today," Derek sighed, squinting at the paper in front of him and trying to kick his brain back into gear. "This is a really bad copy, though. I'm guessing you don't have any access to the original?"

The woman on the other side of the consultation counter grimaced, but she also started digging around in her bag. That was promising. "I do. I have it here, actually. I just-- I dunno. I thought you'd like it on paper?"

What came out of her bag was definitely not paper. Unfolded, the fabric was only about a foot and a half long and a bit more than two feet across. Those would probably never be more than best guess estimates though, since the edges were uneven and ragged, frayed to thread in more places than not.

"It's upholstry," his client explained with another grimace, "salvaged off a couch that was older than I was. I haven't been storing it well, apparently, but--" She shrugged, a tiny spastic twitch of her shoulders more than anything. "It has meaning to me, okay? I mean. I can't think of why else I'd be doing this."

Derek figured she actually meant getting a tattoo. He chose to believe she was also explaining her reasoning for the roses. "Having the fabric is better. So what are you actually looking for?"

-----

If Derek actually thumped his head against the consultation counter every time a client asked if he could take something and make it 'prettier' or 'nicer looking', the counter would be broken and he might have actually managed to give himself brain damage.

-----

Half an hour later, Cara was leaning over his shoulder with yet another example of Vic's work from her file in the office, this one a vibrant lily with thick lines and dense, emphatic shading. "Is this any--"

"Yes!" Lenore (Because of course rose-lady was going to forever make him think of Poe. Derek supposed he should just be glad she didn't want ravens) nearly fell over in her haste to stand up. "Like that, only like this too. Does that..? I don't know the words for this. Do you know what I--"

Derek looked at the two designs Lenore had pulled and rubbed at his temple. "You mean the line work. You want this," he pushed some of the papers aside to tap the fabric, "with this type of coloring," he touched the lily, "with these lines?"

The first piece she'd latched onto (the reason this was Derek's commission and not Vic's) wasn't even a tattoo. It was supposed to be, but the client had vanished after he'd approved the art.

Derek had loved it, though, so it was in his portfolio. A balanced cross infinity knot made of the impression of ivy, sketched in with rough lines in variable weights.

Lenore had loved it too, which was why Derek suddenly had to figure out how to make that work with kitschy roses and acid trip coloring.

"You're not expecting the end result to actually look like the upholstery, are you?" he asked, because he had to make sure.

Thankfully, Lenore actually looked horrified at the prospect. "No. Really really no."

Thank fuck.

-----

Cara was laughing at him.

Sure, it looked like she was just sitting at the consultation counter, sketching out the initial lines for a psychadelic bus design, but he could feel her and smell her and she was definitely laughing. She was just doing it inside her head.

Derek smiled their latest customer out the door with a sheet of aftercare instructions so they'd know what they might be getting into, an explanation of their pricing scribbled over the back, and the tongue-mostly-in-cheek 'So you want to get a tattoo' flyer Vic had put together to answer the most basic newbie questions.

"Try the thing with the vinegar," the guy offered over his shoulder before the door closed. "It's magic, I fucking swear."

The door swung shut behind him and Derek glared at his shoulders as he walked down the sidewalk.

"That's the third person today to think you're hungover," Cara noted, before she finally lost it and pushed her pad aside, slumping over to drop her head onto her arm and laugh. The sweet-metal scent was strong enough it would have made him gag if he wasn't so used to Cara's scents by now.

"Shut up," he huffed.

"No," Cara hiccuped, but her laughter did st least start dying down after that. Not that the quiet lasted for long. "I'm surprised Stiles isn't here."

Derek pulled out his sketchbook and started glaring at cabbage roses again. At the edge of his vision, Cara fidgeted with one of the mechanical pencils she preferred for her second and third draft sketching, her scent softening into something almost sour. More neutral and tentative than her usual.

"I mean," Cara continued, standing up and walking over to the register to lean against his arm. Because she was the worst. "It's Sunday, and yesterday he said he was already done with his homework. And you've been here for nearly three hours now, and no Stiles."

From Tinge, Derek could feel the edges of Stiles when he was at home. He'd been asleep when Derek got to work, awake for the last two hours, and had left home and the range that Derek could find him in half an hour before. "His dad learned a lot last night. He might not be allowed to come see me."

Cara's pain echoed his own. She pushed him around until she could lean against his other side so he could draw while she cuddled him.

Then, to show her love, she criticized his technique.

Most of the time, Derek honestly couldn't remember why she was his favorite.

-----

Shortly after noon, Derek could feel Stiles again. Just a vague impression of distance and presence at first, but it grew stronger; the feel of mate becoming recognizably Stiles, then swelling into warmth-worry-nerves-excitement.

He waited until the impression of Stiles was within a mile before leaning around the wall to call back to Cara, who'd abruptly decided to clean the back in a bid for something that would let her move around. "Stiles is on his way in, I'm heading across the street for drinks. Want anything?"

"My normal, thanks," she chirped, affection and happiness chasing the words. Then confusion. "Wait. How do you know that?"

He pretended like he hadn't heard her over the bell.

-----

Derek was leaning against the counter waiting for the drinks when Stiles walked in with all his red hoodied glory and made a beeline for him, slumping against his side. "You could have waited over at Tinge," Derek huffed, but he could feel Stiles' smile like it was his own. Knew exactly how little Stiles was buying his show of exasperation.

"You could've not run off right when I got here," Stiles countered. Which answered the question of whether feeling the where of each other went both ways.

Still. "I didn't run off," he protested, right as the barista slid Derek's second drink across the counter at him with an irritable, "Here's the hot chocolate."

Derek blinked at her, trying to figure out what, exactly, he'd done. She'd been cheerful and friendly when he ordered, and when she handed over Cara's americano. What--

At his side, Stiles bit his lip against a laugh that felt as baffled as it was amused.

Stiles. Stiles had come in, and curled up against his side like he belonged there. (Which he did.)

Derek sighed and paid a bit more attention to what she was doing as she made his drink, just in case.

He didn't need to, and by the time she handed the last drink over she was smiling again, if wryly. She was getting a fantastic tip the next time he came in on her shift.

Stiles grabbed his drink and Cara's before Derek could and headed for the door, bouncing lightly on his toes while he waited for Derek to catch up. They were barely out the doors before Stiles was asking, "Do you have anything scheduled today? I mean, soon. Cara too, I guess. Or--" He huffed and Derek's gut twisted with the feel of Stiles' nervy anxiety. "I need to steal you for a bit. Not for the reasons I'd prefer. Is that gonna be okay, or--"

"It should be fine," Derek cut in, bringing his free hand to Stiles' back and brushing his thumb back and forth over the tight spot between Stiles' shoulder blades. It worked as well on him as it did on Danielle, just enough tension leaking out that his shoulders at least stopped looking painful. "What's wrong?"

Stiles rolled his eyes and looked around pointedly. It could have just been checking traffic before crossing the street back to Tinge, but it wasn't.

"Fair enough."

-----

Cara pouted but flopped down behind the register with her coffee and waved them into the back once she'd gotten sufficient hugs of greeting from Stiles. "Fine. Abandon me. See if I care."

It was all show. The scent and feel of her was pure welcome and contentment, happy to have some of her favorite people where she could find them.

That earned a smile from Stiles, at least, and he leaned over to pretend to bite her head before heading back. Because he'd obviously been spending too much time with Derek's family, and particularly Vic and Cara. "Shouldn't be too long. Sorry."

And that was all he said, until Derek plopped himself down on one of the low tables in the very back and tried to look pointedly expectant.

Stiles pulled Vic's stool over and sat down, not complaining when Derek hooked a foot over his bottom rung. "So. I had to go see Deaton today, 'cause Dad knew something I didn't and I hope you meant it about only wanting to wait for my sake, 'cause otherwise we might be screwed."

Derek blinked and waited, but Stiles didn't seem interested in explaining what any of that meant. "That's vague and alarming, Stiles. What does it mean?"

"It means I'm apparently supposed to stop feeling you, at some point?" Stiles shrugged, grimacing and-- That was guilt, under the nerves. But then the rest of it was spilling out, almost too fast for him to track. "I knew things got weaker with distance, but it hasn't-- I can feel you all the time, Derek, and Dad said you can't, which makes this whole thing kind of lopsided and unfair and I don't know why, I mean, not really." He stopped to take a breath, but it wasn't long enough for Derek to react. "I kind of know why, but that's now, you know? I didn't before. And I don't really know now but I sort of know, and-- Anyway, Dad and I went to see Deaton which, oh my god, it was so much less awkward with your parents there, I don't know how that's true but it--"

Derek gave Stiles' stool a careful tug closer and poked his nose.

For a moment, the horrific jumble of Stiles' everything across the bond went blank and still in surprise. Derek took advantage of the moment to say, "Breathe."

Exasperation and fondness crept in, and so did the rest of the mess, but it was calmer and softer and Stiles actually did take a moment to just breathe, so Derek was counting it as a win.

"Start again. And try telling it in order this time."

Chapter Text

"I couldn't sleep last night," Stiles started, tugging idly at one of his hoodie strings. "I mean, I'd be okay for a little while, then I'd be awake. It was--" He sighed, slumping and jaw tightening, wrapping himself in guilt and confusion. "I was spreading out over my bed while I slept. Kept waking up when I hit the edge and hadn't found you yet."

"Why were you--"

"Dude," Stiles exploded, all indignation and disbelief. There was a creak from the front loud enough for even Stiles to hear. Cara was leaking concern and curiosity like it was an Olympic sport, but Stiles had already lowered his voice to a hissing whisper. "You feel miserable. It's not as bad now, but last night it was all weary and almost, like, sore but in your head, and--"

He cut off, ducking his head and curling in tight on himself, tangled up in guilt that-- It was different, but Derek couldn't tell why. "And?"

"You felt lonely," Stiles muttered, not looking up. "Why didn't you go find someone else to sleep with, or something? I mean. You and Laura did that with me, so..."

Derek pushed gently against Stiles' stool, rocking him into looking up. "It's not-- I don't--" He sighed. Words. "It's-- I don't sleep well, most of the time. It's been better lately but it doesn't-- I'd just keep them up too."

"Then come keep me up."

They both froze, staring at each other, until Stiles cleared his throat loudly and looked away, a flush spreading over his neck and face. "I mean. Just-- Dude, I apparently won't be able to sleep either," he finally settled on, huffing annoyance and turning back to glare at Derek. Which...whatever. The awkward wasn't his fault. "I'll talk with Dad about it, but if neither of us can sleep we might as well watch a movie or something. And maybe you'd be able to sleep with me there. I don't know. My sleeping brain apparently thought that'd fix everything."

It wasn't an unusual feeling, for mates. That didn't make it true.

Still.

"I'll think about it," he promised, because that was all he could do. 'Sore' was a good word for how it felt, when he was left lying in the darkness all night, startling awake whenever he fell asleep enough to feel the nightmares waiting.

It was a feeling that didn't go away with the morning, unfortunately, and it left him a little slow on the uptake.

"You can feel me when we're both at home," Derek said, and tried to ignore the sudden uptick in Stiles' pulse. "How is that--"

Being able to feel where Stiles, or apparently Derek, was at that distance sort of made sense. His parents could do that, and so could Peter and Tania. But Paul and Niq had the most intense bond for emotional leak, and last he'd heard, even their connection faded into just the sense of where around the five mile mark.

Stiles could apparently feel him past ten.

"Yeeeeah," Stiles drew out, wincing. "I-- Sorry? That's, uh, apparently me again." He exhaled heavily, rubbing a hand over his hair. "You know what a mate bond is supposed to be like, but I don't and-- Apparently, with what my magic is doing, knowing or not knowing affects things. Like, I didn't start feeling the bond until you told me you felt it. Then it was there, in my head, just a couple minutes later."

"But you know now," Derek said, frowning. "You know it shouldn't stretch that far, so--"

Stiles was shaking his head. "Yeah, I know better. And I know I'm not limited to that, and that you feel lonely and miserable sometimes, and I don't know how to intentionally turn it off?" He grimaced. "I don't know if I can make it stop. For now, anyway. And that's. Just. Really--"

Guilt was twisting Stiles' scent again, so Derek huffed and hooked his feet more firmly into Stiles' stool, reeled him in and leaned forward until he could steal a kiss.

He'd meant it to be something soft. A physical echo of his love, the absence of discomfort that even Derek could admit was probably not healthy (he'd worry about it later).

But one of Stiles' hands was brushing along his jaw and back into his hair, and there was a desperate sort of ache building between them and suddenly breathing didn't seem nearly as important as tasting.

He had a hand in Stiles' shirt and couldn't remember how it got there. Stiles' tongue was slick against his own, his hands on either side of Derek's neck now, holding them in place as he pushed forward and--

There was a tug against his legs.

Derek pulled back and looked down, remembering about the wheeled, potentially mobile stool only after he'd seen it. Actually tried to remember if the stools had a wheel lock or not before realizing what wheeled stool meant.

For instance, the fact that he was at work.

Stiles was glaring by the time Derek had pulled his focus up again. Glaring and leaning back with his fingers caught under the rim of the stool to keep himself from falling over. Also, not incidentally, drawing the eye down to the semi his jeans and spread legs were doing nothing to hide.

Fuck.

It didn't help that Stiles didn't feel as angry as he was presenting. It just made the glare hot instead of worrying.

Which was worrying, in a different way.

Stiles took a breath, his mouth already moving to shape words, when Cara cut him off, saying "Maybe I should get John's number. I could alternate between calling him and Maria!"

The lingering tug of arousal and want vanished abruptly on both sides of the bond, and Stiles turned to throw an exaggerated grimace at Cara. "Is that really necessary?"

Cara nodded cheerfully from her perch on the consultation counter (and seriously, how had Derek not heard her climb up there? That should have stood out even if he was...distracted) and wrinkled her nose at them. "It really, really was."

It was impossible to smell Cara over the intense and very present aura of Stiles, frustrated desire and embarrassment, but he did have a sense of her, weak as it was, if he looked. Apologetic and amused in equal measure with concern and worry.

She seemed to trust them, though. Hopped down off the counter and vanished behind the wall again, once it was obvious they were very definitely no longer in danger of forgetting where they were and doing something that might get Tinge in trouble.

"Your family is the worst," Stiles sighed, and Derek ducked his head to hide a smile. Felt Stiles' amusement at it anyway.

"I think I've been trying to tell you that since the beginning," Derek pointed out, changing the position of his feet so he could pull with one leg and push with the other, rolling Stiles around to sit more next to him.

Stiles rolled his eyes, but didn't protest. (Didn't feel like he wanted to protest, but that was an idea Derek would have to contemplate later.)

"We really need to talk about sex soon," Stiles said, matter of fact and grinning at whatever he saw in Derek's face or felt from the bond. "I mean, I don't really want to, because I think it's gonna be awkward as hell, but I think it might be necessary for my sanity."

Derek nodded. Or at least, he thought he was. Between the kissing and Cara and the topic change, reality felt a little detached and surreal. "Phones," he said, as though that made sense.

Apparently it was good enough, because Stiles laughed, amused and wry, and was nodding when he started talking again. "Oh yeah. I don't think we'd actually talk otherwise."

"No," Derek agreed, smiling at how Stiles perked up and focused, waiting for the punchline he could feel coming. "And we'd probably get interrupted before we could actually do anything else."

Stiles laughed, loud and disbelieving and so bright it almost hurt.

Derek was just glad he could joke about sex and mean it.

"Backing up to what was bugging you," Derek started, hesitating a moment to let Stiles nod his agreement and understanding. "Is it the emotional leaking that's the problem, or the fact that it's uneven?"

"Mostly just the uneven," he admitted with a shrug, a defiant trace of pepper sneaking into his scent. "I mean. I have been doing way too much reading about relationship issues and how to identify unhealthy ones lately, and I get that that's probably not what should be bugging me, but--"

"So you'll feel better when it fixes itself and evens out?"

Stiles stopped, his entire body going still (and slightly off balance. Derek moved his free foot back to the bottom rung of the stool to keep it steady) as he processed what Derek had said.

But he'd already answered. The tied-up feeling in his brain loosened, exchanging the choking-guilt that had crept in around the edges for a guilty sort of hope.

Because he was right. This wasn't healthy or sane, but it seemed to be where they were going.

"What do you mean?" Stiles settled on, after a moment. "Deaton didn't say anything about the bond needing fixing. He made it sound like my magic did something weird."

The thing was, Alan was probably right, and it was more likely than not that he'd been honest with Stiles. But he had different motivations than Derek did. And what Derek wanted, right then, was for Stiles to feel better.

Derek shrugged, taking a moment to pull his thoughts into order and figure out the wording he needed. "Mate bonds are reciprocal. You can't have a one sided bond, it just doesn't work. So it's your magic affecting the bond, not replacing it."

It was all true, and Stiles was nodding along with him, but frowning. "Yeah, I know that. But--"

"They're reciprocal," Derek repeated, building an image in his head. Two lines, side by side, with a network of webs developing between them as they extended out. "One side can't take or give more without the other side doing the same."

Stiles stared at him, but didn't feel like anything but relief and concentration. Derek made the lines do a few tricks while he waited, turning one red and having it veer off with the web stretching out until the second line was pulled back into place by the tension.

"So..."

Derek shrugged. "So if your side is doing something mine isn't, mine will adjust to match."

It was like lying to his uncle Peter, really. Talking about something else entirely was out, Peter always managed to ask the most obnoxiously astute questions. Vague wording didn't work for the same reasons.

Building a metaphor to talk about, though. That worked. And Stiles' magic worked based on what he knew, or thought he knew.

(Besides, Derek actually did think it was probably true. He just didn't know.)

It was worth the attempt for the way Stiles smiled at him, sheepish and relieved and just as uncertain about the whole thing as Derek felt.

"Better?" Derek asked, half teasing, and leaned away when Stiles swatted at the air near his shoulder. "I'll take that as a yes. Is there anything else?"

If he didn't have a feed straight through to Stiles' head, he'd have missed the hesitation before Stiles tried to shrug the question off. "Nah."

"Uh-huh." Derek leaned back against his hands and waited.

He was impressed. Stiles actually held out for a solid minute and a half before sighing heavily and glaring at Derek. "You're annoying."

"I know," Derek agreed with a smirk. "So what's--"

"I'm kind of sick of the mate bond," Stiles blurted and--

No.

It felt like the bottom had dropped out of Derek's reality. The color drained out, leaving a cold, blank white panic that made it hard to--anything. Even the bond was muted, the sudden spike of alarm from Stiles feeling distant and wrong, but--

That didn't really matter, did it? If he'd missed this, it didn't--

There was a clatter as Stiles knocked his stool over, eyes wide and stinking of fear. Rejection/negation/refusal scorched across the bond, but not at Derek, at what he'd been thinking, and Stiles was abruptly there, latched like a limpet to his side. "No! Shit! As a topic. I'm sick of talking about it, oh my god."

Derek took a careful breath and closed his eyes, pulling Stiles into a proper hug and focusing for a moment on the sound of Stiles' heart, the sound of Cara's heart and footsteps as his distress pulled her in, the sense and knowledge of safety and pack and belonging, and the fact that he wasn't losing it.

He'd get the static out of his head eventually. He would.

Really.

Chapter Text

"Okay," Cara sighed after a short eternity of hugging. "I have a shop to run still. You have a mate to fix," she added, glaring at Stiles, "so I'm shooing him off for a sick day."

"I'm not--"

Cara bit his shoulder, and he shut up with a sigh. She watched him for a moment before nodding, content in his silence, and continuing. "You're not broken-broken, but your brain's a little banged up and in serious need of a band-aid, okay? It's just easier to say fix, so shut up."

He'd been going to say he wasn't sick, but whatever. "I have more consultations scheduled, and that guy with the peacock armband was--"

"I have their phone numbers," Cara interrupted, and there was no give or leeway in her voice.

It was okay because it was Cara. Derek let her pull Stiles up and give him a shove toward the back with orders to grab Derek's stuff. Didn't object when she grabbed his sketchbooks and put them in his bag in all the wrong order while Stiles distracted him by insisting on a jacket. Scribbled him out of the day's schedule for a headache.

"Which is exactly what you're giving me," she explained, shooing them toward the door. "Go find a safe place. Use words. Feel better. Make out if you want, I don't care. Just don't do it here."

Then the door was closed behind them, and Stiles felt the same sort shocked, harried echo of confusion that Derek did.

"What just happened?" Stiles scrunched his face up, but snagged one of Derek's hands in his own and started walking. Hopefully toward his Jeep.

"Cara," was the only honest answer, and it had the bonus of making Stiles laugh. Which was good, because, "Weren't we supposed to not be spending time alone?"

Stiles glanced over, brain churning and eyes assessing behind the concern he was pulsing with. "Trust me?"

"Yeah."

That didn't even require thought.

-----

They didn't go to the Jeep.

Stiles was quiet while they walked, the skin of his hand hot in Derek's and the pink in his cheeks related more to wind and temperature than Derek, for once. His eyes kept moving, dodging and darting up over the buildings then down the street and over to check on traffic.

He felt...jittery. Emotions rocketing around too fast for Derek to get a bead on, nerves ratcheted up and only about three steps shy of fight or flight.

It was hard to anchor on something moving that fast. Something that conflicted. That ready to run.

Someone else was running. Darting around the two of them in her sprint for the bus.

A block or two down, someone else had a window open, sharing a Bee Gees song with the street.

There were children whining, engines rumbling, something burning in a cafe or something a block over, too many radio stations to count and about six million perfumes lingering and--

Stiles tugged firmly on his hand and they were moving to the side, a door closing between them and the world and--

It wasn't quiet, but it was suddenly a lot harder to hear anything else.

Derek blinked at the freezers lining the storefront, buzzing away in steady companionship.

"Do you like chocolate?"

Derek blinked at Stiles, and tried to make sense of the world while Stiles shrugged and turned back toward the freezers. "Bad day. We'll just take one custard and one chocolate."

The man behind the freezers had a quirk to his lip that looked amused as he bent to--

"Ice cream?"

Stiles snorted and freed his hand to count out enough bills to cover the tab, which--was probably for the best, considering. He left the money on the counter and the man just glanced over to give it a nod before handing Stiles the two cones.

"Isn't it too cold for ice cream?"

The noise Stiles made wasn't exactly a snort. It was too drawn out and outraged to be classified so simply. "No such thing."

Derek wasn't so sure. Why did he need his jacket if it wasn't too cold for ice cream? He took the cone of chocolate Stiles pushed at him anyway and trailed after Stiles out of the store, trying to sort out the question in his head. How the words worked. "I-- For people who aren't you, would that be--"

"Maybe," Stiles interrupted, "but they're wrong." He sounded arch and dismissive. Smelled like giddy good humor.

It made something in Derek relax, though he didn't know why. Everything was still too pale in his head, but the warm splashes of Stiles' affection and chatter kept appearing and spreading. It left the inside of his head kind of...pastel, but he wasn't complaining. It was better than white.

Stiles turned them at the end of the block, and Derek felt a smirk building. "We're going to the park?"

Not their park, where their families spent the summers and Stiles had claimed a table reminded him of Laura. The smaller, busier one just outside Beacon Hills' semblance of a downtown.

Stiles hummed agreement, traces of smug working their way through the bond and--

And smug smelled so much better on Stiles than it did on Peter. Sharp and sweet, somewhere unnamable between copper and cedar.

"Yeah," Stiles agreed, pulling Derek's focus out into the world again. Which was for the best, since he'd already started leaning in for a better whiff. "Based on the evidence so far, I think I'm going to be the genius figuring out how to be alone without actually being alone." Stiles felt like he was joking, but Derek didn't disagree. The hint of banter vanished though, the feel of Stiles sliding back toward concern "You okay? Or, I mean. Uh, better."

Derek hummed agreement, because it was accurate enough. It was hard to panic about the love of his life leaving him to an empty eternity when Stiles was holding his hand and insisting on buying him ice cream.

(The static was still there. Lingering at the edges like the worst kind of promise, just waiting for an opportunity to flow back in and drown everything.)

Stiles nodded, but it seemed to be reflexive. It looked like his attention was wandering, but the focus of whatever his brain was doing was sharp enough to cut. It crystallized and broke, then Stiles was tugging Derek over toward a bench on the far side of the playground.

"This looks like the best we're going to get, for avoiding prying, non-supernatural ears," Stiles said before dropping down on one side of the bench and licking a blatantly obscene stripe up one side of his cone.

Fuck.

"...nnh." Derek sat next to him, barely managing more than a controlled fall himself.

Stiles almost choked on his ice cream, bringing the back of one hand up to wipe at his mouth before glaring at Derek (not that the glare or the hand did anything to hide the sudden flush in his cheeks, or the spike of apple-musk-spice in his scent). "Dude. Really?"

Keeping his eyes on Stiles', Derek flicked his tongue over the top of his own cone and smirked as Stiles almost choked again, this time on air. "Oh my god, we should not be allowed to eat ice cream around children."

Derek snorted agreement and took a pointed bite off the top of his cone while Stiles wasn't looking. It at least looked a little less suggestive that way.

He was just glad Stiles had put them next to the merry-go-round. The kids were mostly on the other side of the play area, clustered around the swings and slide. Which...

"We should be fine here," Derek offered, turning away as Stiles gave in to the delusion that practically fellating his ice cream cone was a good way to deal with the problem. "As long as we keep our voices down and don't draw too much attention to ourselves."

It was Stiles' turn to snort and Derek looked back just in time to see Stiles wiping most of a stray drip from the corner of his mouth, most of his ice cream abruptly gone. Jesus. "Right. No sex on the bench, then."

Derek scrubbed a hand over his face and wondered if he was ever going to get that particular image out of his head.

"Okay, look," Stiles said, balling up the wrapper from his cone and fucking hell, where had the rest of it gone? But Stiles was still talking. "I'm sick of talking about the bond and everybody talking like it's something that needs to be fixed when it's not... I'm about ready to tell everybody where to stuff it, okay?"

"It's not--"

"And I'm sorry," Stiles cut in over him, blushing again and-- Guilt. Why-- "That wasn't a slip of the tongue back at Tinge. Or, well, it was but it's one I put some thought into. I needed to see-- I didn't think it would be that bad." It sounded like the words were being punched out of Stiles, his voice gone thin and feeble. And it hurt. It hurt like it had back at Tinge, but it wasn't Derek's this time, but an echo back of what Stiles had felt, and fuck. "And I'm sorry for it, but I'm not sorry I did it, because I'm pretty sure people are either lying to us or don't know what they're talking about, because if anybody thinks I can walk away from you when it does that, they're delusional."

Derek stared at the ice cream cone still in his hand. It was starting to melt, but he didn't think he could open his jaw around the mess of pain and relief and anger in his head in order to take care of it.

That wasn't going to end well, if they recovered from this conversation.

Stiles was still sitting quietly next to him, though. A constant pulse of guilt and apology and stubborn and love and they were a mess, weren't they.

"Here," Derek finally settled on, shoving the ice cream in Stiles' direction. "Eat that while I figure my head out."

That was about the most mature and practical he was capable of being, honestly.

It was a lot better than what he wanted to do, which was upend the damn thing right in Stiles' lap.

-----

It felt like it'd been too long since he'd done this.

Derek let himself get lost in a twisting line, let it curl back on itself and fold and fold again until it was almost an impression of petals. Almost. Not quite.

The line wasn't anything. It was the sound of the need for oil in the merry-go-round, from when some of the better bundled up kids had made a go of establishing their kingdom there before getting bored and moving on to the tires.

He could let it be a flower if he wanted, but he liked it as a sound.

Stiles shifted against his side, one foot curled up under his other leg and head resting on Derek's shoulder as he read. Because he still wasn't allowed to draw, but that didn't mean Derek could afford to stop.

Derek started another line. Let it curve with the rhythm of Stiles' heart.

-----

Stiles flailed when Derek leaned forward to grab his bag, barely catching his book before it hit the grass. "Whu-- Oh, uh."

He yawned, making a small sound of protest when his jaw popped, and Derek smirked down at his hands as he put his sketchbook away. "You fell asleep."

"Yeah. I, uh, got that." Stiles smashed a hand against his face then stretched his arms up over his head before letting them flop dramatically down. "So..."

"I think I can talk now." Derek reached over and poked Stiles' side before he could respond. "Maybe we could go for a drive? You're shivering."

"That's because I just woke up," Stiles grumbled, but it didn't feel like a real protest and he didn't resist when Derek offered him a hand up.

Didn't let go of his hand when they started walking.

-----

The Jeep, Derek realized, was probably where they should have all their arguments.

Stiles' hands were limited, but not still. His gestures reined in by the need to shift gears and steer, but not stopped. Driving meant that his eyes were mostly focused forward, scanning traffic and checking for danger. It gave Derek scenery to turn to, if watching Stiles became too much.

It didn't do anything for the fact that one of them had to start, so it took a few minutes of heavy silence before Derek sighed and said "Why."

Beginnings sucked.

Stiles' fingers tightened around the wheel, but he felt more like resignation than anger and he still reeked of guilt. "Because your parents and Deaton keep saying that we need to not complete the bond, because otherwise we won't be able to break it without permanent damage, and I wasn't sure I bought that. And now I really don't because that? That felt like it'd be pretty damn scarring, long term."

Derek waited. It wasn't long before Stiles exhaled sharply and rolled his shoulders as much as he could, while keeping control of the wheel. "I knew it was a shitty thing to do going in, but I needed to know. And I'm sorry. I'm just--"

"You want a reason to think the bond is inevitable," Derek cut in, and didn't stop at Stiles' indignant noise. "You want to take the guesswork out of it, and just trap both of us in something--"

"Something that both of us apparently want bad enough that we're distorting reality to get it?"

Derek closed his eyes against the steady shift of sidewalk, grass and asphalt flowing past as Stiles meandered toward the edges of town. Stiles wasn't wrong.

He wasn't right, either, and they weren't going to get anywhere like this. The whole discussion needed reframing.

It means age, he remembered, and the effect that life has on the skin.

"Tattoos are permanent," Derek said, pausing and swearing at himself in his head when he realized he had the thought but not the words for it yet. It felt like Stiles had plenty of words lined up behind his teeth, but he waited, thumbs beating out a rhythm against the wheel that was more nerves than impatience.

"There is tattoo removal," Derek tried again, opening his eyes so he could keep tabs on Stiles' expression. "You mentioned that, back when we first met." The first time he got Stiles' name, at least. "But the expectation is that a tattoo is going to be part of you forever. So it's permanent."

"This feels like a conversation we've already had," Stiles offered when Derek paused to consider his wording.

And really, it was the perfect opening. "It is. You said that for tattoos, permanence had to do with age and the effect life had on the skin. Remember?" Stiles nodded, even though he still felt thoroughly confused. "Think of the mate bond the same way."

Stiles' face scrunched up, expression caught somewhere between confusion and distaste. "I don't think I need to worry about you leaving me if I get wrinkles. That would be kind of--"

"Think harder than that," Derek drawled, slumping down in his seat. "Take a day if you need to, or a week, but--"

"Really think about it," Stiles sighed. "Yeah, I got it."

It was good enough for the moment, the tension in the bond easing to something tolerable again.

And for the longer term, well. At least he had more time to figure out words, now.

Chapter Text

Amazingly, the front yard was empty when Stiles drove him home. There were enough cars to suggest almost everyone was home, but still. No terrors running out to greet them, no Laura looking for material to tease him with, no parents being quietly judgmental after a phone call from Cara.

The last one wasn't horribly likely anyway, but still.

"I'll see you--" Stiles trailed off with a groan, rubbing a hand against his forehead. "Tuesday, probably. I've got my first lesson with Deaton tomorrow and Dad should be home for dinner. I'll text though. Maybe we can have that horribly awkward talk."

"Don't say things like that where my family can hear you," Derek sighed. "I'm working late tomorrow anyway so--"

Stiles snorted. "So we'd just be at Tinge. Like that's a hardship." Which--fair. But Stiles wasn't waiting for a response. "I'm not sure what kind of schedule the magic thing's going to take, yet. So."

Derek nodded and got out of the Jeep, and smirked when Stiles' surprised disappointment flickered immediately into suspicion, then bloomed into delight when he realized Derek was walking around to his side of the car. "Have a good night, Stiles."

"It's still early," Stiles protested. It didn't stop him from practically leaning out his window and clenching a fist in Derek's shirt, though.

-----

It wasn't quite so early when he finally made his way inside, though it wasn't late. The weird thing was that his family still hadn't made an appearance to mock him.

There didn't seem to be a reason for it, either. His mother was sprawled out on one of the couches in the main room, half asleep with her head in Tania's lap and her feet in Grandmother Hale's. Greg was in the reinforced playpen happily chewing on a stuffed fish (or he had been, until he caught sight or scent of Derek and threw the fish at him in excitement), and he could hear Niq and Paul upstairs, hopefully not trying for their third. (There were some family traditions that really didn't need continuing.)

It did explain why Olivia had Erin drooling against her shoulder, though.

Derek picked the fish up and returned it to Greg before sitting on the floor at Tania's feet and leaning in against her legs. "Where's Matt?" he asked, because that would probably answer where Laura was as well. Peter was working, and the terrors were back in the kittens' room listening to Derek's father read a story.

"Laura took him to the library," Tania offered, smiling when Maria interrupted, sounding drowsy and blissed out and smug "He wanted a book on cat behavior."

Of course he did.

Derek hummed understanding and debated his options for about half a second before twisting around to face his mother and saying "So, Stiles can feel me when we're both at home."

He was a Hale, even if he was usually a quiet one.

His mother spluttered and twitched, contorting until her face was smashed against Tania's knee so she could glare at him with one sleepy red eye. "What."

Even from ten inches away, it was more adorable than intimidating, alpha or not

Derek shrugged. "Emotional bleed, not just a sense of where I am. We can test it later, but there doesn't seem to be a limit on it so far. He's already gone to see Alan. It'll be fine."

His mother groaned and tried to crawl under Tania's lap, despite the agitated swats it earned her from her chosen shelter. (She didn't really mind. Derek didn't have that great of a read on Tania, but Greg's was perfect and Greg just laughed and threw his fish again. Which was apparently going to be a thing.)

(True to form, Olivia just laughed at all of them. She just did it softly enough to let Erin sleep through it.)

-----

His mom didn't make it to dinner. She snatched a few bites from the stove while Derek, Laura, and Olivia were cooking and went to bed early. Which was just as well, since Greg suddenly decided he hated carrots and clawed the table up before Tania could lift him out of the way.

It'd be easier to let her grumble about it in the morning. Especially, in Derek's opinion, since he'd probably get to sleep through it.

He volunteered to take the first half of the patrol with Grandmother Hale. It let his dad get a nap in, gave his mom a full night's sleep, and he was looking forward to the opportunity to sleep in. Which he wasn't going to get if he wasn't physically tired enough to keep the nightmares at bay, no matter how exhausted his brain was.

Olivia let him take the long circuit two times out of three, and he had to push himself to actually make the crossover points to check in. By the time his father came out to relieve him, he probably could have passed out on a tree branch.

He didn't dream.

-----

He woke up to a few texts from Stiles, just random thoughts that ended abruptly with Omg forgot ur working l8r 2nit. U asleep?

Derek poked at his phone, idly scrolling up and down the string of messages before realizing the messages were all within half an hour of each other, and stopped just after eight.

Good thing he'd turned the phone off.

He fired back a message of Up now and went to shower.

It was weird, not having to work around someone else in the bathroom. Not to hear the rustle and clatter and squabble he associated with his family in the mornings. Late as it was, the house was mostly (but not fully. not ever fully, ever again.) deserted. Between school, work, patrol and sleeping in (or just plain sleeping, in Olivia's case), it was just Peter, Gwen and Greg awake downstairs.

Weird, but not alarming. It would probably be more normal to wake up to this kind of quiet if Derek wasn't the only employee at Tinge who liked the early shifts.

Derek waited until he'd landed downstairs, fully dressed and intent on food, before checking for Stiles' response. Walked into the kitchen still grinning at the As I go into eng ntrly.

The suspicion that Stiles probably forgot to turn his phone off more often than not really, really shouldn't have made it more tempting to shoot him another text. Or ten.

"You're in good spirits this morning," Peter drawled, setting a skillet aside into the drying rack and reaching for another. "There's a plate on the counter. Nothing special, just--"

"Just what everyone else didn't eat, from the gigantic breakfast buffets you've been making lately?" Derek suggested, rolling his eyes. He found the plate easily enough. It was piled with food.

Peter shrugged, his scent softening when the movement made Greg flail and squeal happily from the harness on his back. "Well, you tried to show me up with cinnamon rolls."

Gwen snorted a giggle, but was very focused on whatever Peter had her reading by the time Derek turned around.

Derek rolled his eyes again and rolled up a piece of ham to bite in half. "I wasn't showing you up," he explained (again), with exaggerated patience. "I couldn't sleep, and baking was just something to do."

"A likely story," Peter sniffed, exchanging conspiratorial winks with Gwen that he had to know Derek could see perfectly well.

"The fact that I know how to bake at all is your fault anyway," Derek grumbled, eating the rest of his ham and retreating to the table.

It was a whole six feet away, but it was the thought that counted.

-----

The day stretched painfully. There weren't many texts from Stiles, and eventually Derek just put his phone in the register drawer to keep himself from checking it all the time. He was actually draining the battery.

He only had one consultation that promised anything interesting. A cow's head down the sternum with horns that stretched out under the collar bones, wearing a wreath of flowers and bells. The girl getting it didn't want any color to it, which promised to be a pleasing challenge.

After her was a regular of Vic's, who added a flower to his upper arm every time there was a birth or death in his family. (Close family only, he joked, because otherwise he'd look like a circus act. He was already running out of room on the arm itself. Half their meeting that day had been discussing where to spread to next; shoulder, forearm, chest, back, or other arm?) Then it was one of Cara's clients, in to complain about the artwork she'd approved and sat for and now didn't like anymore.

To Vic. On one of Cara's days off. Because she didn't know Cara's schedule (lie) and she didn't like confrontation (bullshit, but not a lie) and didn't really think it was her place to upset an artist and---

Derek turned up the music, propped the front door open, and tried to focus on the rhythm and traffic instead of the way Vic's pulse was slowly creeping up back in the office.

If the woman actually preferred to avoid confrontation, she'd picked the wrong owner to vent at. Cara would have actually been sympathetic and upset and wanted to make it better.

Vic just went straight to fury, no matter how good she was at keeping wraps on it (to other humans, at least).

Eventually the woman left, confident her complaint had been heard and possibly actually believing something was going to get done about it. (Or maybe she really did just need to vent about her own poor decision making. Derek didn't know.) Vic slipped out the back to, from the sound of it, kick a dumpster a few times before stalking off.

She came back about half an hour later with a handful of flowers and a takeout bag from the nearest Chinese place. The one his dad hated, but the one that most of the rest of the pack thought was the only place that made lemon chicken right.

Vic was in that camp, thankfully.

"Figured this'd help with the smell," she offered, sounding tired as she gestured vaguely with the flowers and dropped the food off just behind the wall. "I'll stick these in the office, then we can bitch about idiots and eat fried food."

Derek wasn't going to complain.

-----

Derek was washing his hands after taking the trash out back when he realized his sense of Stiles had moved.

Stiles-at-school was mostly either bored-irritated-impatient or focused-curious (sometimes focused-curious-irritated, or just focused-irritated). Right then, Stiles was a blend of the two, impatient but focused, curious and irritated and--mostly, in the wrong direction to still be at school.

He was seeing Alan after school, he'd said, and the time lined up with that. But the day before, Derek hadn't been able to feel where he was, when he was at Alan's, let alone what he was feeling.

It was probably a bad sign, but it left a warm feeling curling in his chest anyway.

Derek fished his phone out of the register. One new message. Free from schl! Now..other schl! Fk from Stiles.

He didn't bother trying to bite back the smile he could feel building. Replied with SCHOOL should teach spelling. Also can feel you right now. Couldn't yesterday when you were there.

It was only a few minutes before his phone buzzed again. U dn't usually spl that much btr. Deatn says of course and also stop distractng Stils

Another text arrived almost before he'd finished reading the first one.

I dont thnk u shld stop

The warm feeling in his chest went squishy. Like it was bleeding, but in a good way.

All the same, he didn't text back.

-----

Derek wasn't scheduled to close on Tuesday, but he was still working well past when school let out.

Monday's routine worked just as well for a slightly earlier start. He helped with the patrol and worked himself to passing out as best he could (Olivia was built for speed. Derek was not, and keeping up with her was harder than it should have been). It was Paul's day to stay home, but otherwise the morning was much the same.

Two of his texts from Stiles that morning had been a simple Brain so tired. More Deatn aftr schl. Ugh followed by Off at 9? Call after. Abt that stuff

He shot back Thnk we can stay on topic? and pretended his pulse didn't kick up a notch when Stiles replied with just No

How, exactly, was he supposed to get through the work day with that in mind?

-----

He was supposed to get through it on fond irritation and tedium, apparently. Much as he liked Tony, the man was a disaster when it came to keeping the back organized and he'd been the only one in the shop that morning when they got a new set of inks delivered.

Reorganizing the inks and other supplies barely filled the day around three consultations that were mostly Yeah, that thing you did that we talked about exhaustively about is good. Let's schedule.

He did finish off the initial sketch for the kitsch roses, though, and fired off an e-mail to Lenore that she could come in to see it, and make another appointment.

In his free time, he drew a couple of morose bats fluttering around acid-trip cabbage roses. It'd either make Vic laugh or be horrified for a few minutes.

So. Win/win.

-----

He would have liked the comfort that came with elevation. With having the high ground, and preferably the home field advantage of seeking out the ancient walnut tree he visited most, when he needed to think. But sound tended to carry more from the tree tops than it did from the forest floor, and being overheard by someone out for a run was something he didn't want to think about, let alone risk happening. So instead of making for his favorite tree, Derek found a felled trunk that hadn't quite graduated to nurse log yet, not too far from the main road along the edge of the preserve.

Plenty of sound dampening, a ready source of white noise, and enough debris that he'd probably hear an intruder before they realized there was someone sneak up on at all. Good enough.

Derek settled in and dialed. Wondered how Stiles felt about dirt and leaf litter and twigs as the phone started to ring.

"Hey," Stiles answered on the second ring, sounding happy but tired. "You at home?"

"No," he snorted. "Still a few miles out."

There was a pause, then "So, what. You're just...sitting in the woods somewhere?"

"Yup."

"Kinky."

Derek spluttered and tried not to flush, even though Stiles was miles away and couldn't see it. It was hard, though, with his laughter rich in Derek's ear.

"Oh my god, that was priceless."

"I had been thinking about what you'd think about just sitting around on the forest floor before you picked up," Derek drawled, trying to force composure and control back into his voice. "I guess now I know."

It was Stiles' turn for spluttering, Or at least, indignant squawking around laughter he couldn't quite keep under control.

"Anyway," Derek continued, once Stiles had calmed down a little, "I think you wanted to talk about sex." And he could feel it, the sudden shift in Stiles' mood from hilarity to something warm and wanting and wistful. Because, he assumed, they both knew they actually needed to talk.

"Ugh. Yeah. You know, combining the words 'phone' and 'sex' used to have much happier connotations for me."

"Stiles."

"Right," Stiles muttered. "So. Obviously. I want to have sex." Derek slapped a hand over his eyes and apparently successfully bit back the whimper that thought prompted, because Stiles just kept going. "And while I think you do too, you also want to not have sex, and that makes things kind of confusing and frustrating, so I figured we should try using words, horrible as they are. Because pressuring somebody for sex is wrong and bad but I'm worried I'm bad at not doing that, so I need help."

There was an audible inhale at the end of that, and Derek felt himself smiling. "Did you forget to breathe?"

"Shut up," Stiles groaned, a soft thump in the background confirming Derek's assumption that Stiles was in his room. Probably on his bed.

Fuck.

"Seriously, though," Stiles' voice broke through again. "I'm pretty sure you're okay with kissing, because you start it a lot of the time. And obviously cuddling and hugging, since that's, like, a family addiction or something. And grinding in the kitchen would have been not good, and so was the awesome kissing at Tinge, so--" Derek wasn't sure if he could feel Stiles' thoughts grinding along or if it was just growing familiarity. "Is it actually what we were doing, or where we were doing it?"

Technically, the answer was yes. But. "To be honest, when we get like that, I tend to forget where we are," he drawled, smiling when Stiles gave a frustrated little groan. "It's not-- I'm not worried about it affecting the bond. That's not the problem."

"No, I kinda figured that," Stiles agreed. "I was guessing Kate."

It felt a bit like getting kicked, but it was still better than it used to be. "I know the situations are different, that we're different, but--"

"But there's a similarity, and it's the one most people would be most focused on and the whole thing was traumatizing, if your reactions are anything to go from," Stiles listed off, calmly and fast paced. Like he didn't need to think about it. Anymore, at least. "I mean, correct me if I've got any of that wrong, but I started thinking about it when my dad warned me off pressuring you and I haven't really stopped yet. So, y'know."

"So what..."

"Dude, I just want an idea of what's going to set you off." There was a pause, and a rustle of fabric. "In a bad way, anyway."

Derek let that thought settle for a moment, still trying to get over the fact that he'd prepared for entirely the wrong conversation. "So you want, what, a set of ground rules?"

"I'm guessing no nakedness is kind of a given," Stiles agreed in an obnoxiously cheerful voice, for the thought he'd just planted. "And partial naked, since there's no real excuse for it anymore aside from ogling and touching, and, hey," the tone of his voice took a sudden turn for baffled concern. "We're having an unseasonal cold snap and you're just chilling out in the woods somewhere?"

He wasn't going to ask if that was an intentional pun or not. He wasn't. "The cold doesn't bother me much."

"That explains so much about you and jackets and ice cream."

Derek barked a laugh, and smiled when the warm feeling in his chest got a definite echo back. Weak, but there. "Yeah."

"So. Rules?"

"I don't know," Derek answered honestly. "I'll have to think about it."

More fabric shuffling, and a sigh. "Yeah, should've expected that."

"What's your schedule like?"

A snort, sudden enough to blast static at Derek's ear. "In direct opposition to yours. I can drop by Tinge tomorrow for a while, but I have school homework and magic homework, and I don't think I'd be able to focus on either at the shop."

"I think I'm supposed to approve," Derek sighed. "But I don't, really."

That at least got Stiles laughing. "Hey, the sooner I get the magic homework done, the sooner Deaton lets up on my spare time."

"Yeah, but--"

"I miss you too."

The call helped, but his phone didn't smell like Stiles. "Yeah."

Silence hung between them for a few moments, but-- It wasn't awkward. It felt right, somehow.

"Soooooo," Stiles drew out, lingering on the vowel until Derek was desperately trying not to picture it. "What're you wearing?"

Chapter Text

"You're not funny."

"I'm hilarious," Stiles replied solemnly.

Derek turned the thought over in his head. Looking for the trigger. Looking for the bomb.

The thing was, Stiles wasn't being serious. There was a splash of wistful hope in the weak impression the bond gave him, but mostly he was getting humor and levity and fond.

He didn't have to be either. "The same thing I wear every night."

A flash of shock, then a laugh that overloaded the speaker again. "Oh my god, no. I refuse to be the Pinky in this relationship."

Derek grinned into the receiver. "I'm surprised you got the reference."

"Animaniacs forever," Stiles intoned, then ruined it by laughing again. "But yeah, anyw--"

There was someone there.

Derek felt Stiles flash with a muted echo of his own alarm but lost track of the words that went with it as he turned and--

It was a bird.

There was a bird there, not a person.

"I'm fine," he sighed into the phone. "Hold on, I need to..."

Stiles was silent over the line, which was close enough to agreement. Derek brought the phone down for a bit and just let himself listen. Look. Smell. Feel.

The birds were gone, startled away by his reaction to them, and the woods were clear. Of humans, anyway. There were more birds, or the same birds, up hiding in the trees now, and all sorts of life that he didn't really need to be listening to.

Nature did not know the meaning of TMI.

"Stiles?"

"Yeah, still here," came the response, sounding just as irritable and worried as Stiles felt.

Derek nodded and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry. I just--" He sighed and admitted, "It was a bird."

A long pause, then, "A bird?" He made some sort of noise, or Stiles could just feel the agreement, because he went on with "A bird. A bird just scared you."

"It was just movement," Derek explained, even though the hilarity building across the bond was pulling his face into smiling. "I wasn't paying attention, and I thought there was someone standing behind me."

It sounded like Stiles held the phone away from his head this time while he laughed. Which was good. It let Derek hear it without a lot of static.

"Oh man, I'm sorry," Stiles' voice came back, wheezing and a little tinny at first like he'd started talking before the phone was back at his head. "I should not laugh at that, but-- I mean, you're kinda laughing at it, so..."

"It's fine, Stiles."

Derek smiled at the grumbly noise Stiles made. "It isn't always. You should be encouraging me in my efforts to be a more mature and responsible adult."

"Go do your homework."

"Not like that."

"Well you aren't technically an adult yet," Derek pointed out.

Stiles groaned. "Believe me, I know. Dad's been very clear on that subject." Another pause, then, "I'm trying to be good. That's not natural, for me."

Derek hummed, not even trying to hold back the teasing affection he felt. "I know."

"I think I should feel insulted by that," Stiles mused, "not proud."

"Whatever works for you.," Derek said, making himself look around and pay attention to his surroundings again.

"Okay, it's weird that I can feel that," Stiles cut in abruptly, stealing his attention. "Maybe we should go? I don't like how nervous you feel."

"I'm fine," Derek sighed. "It's not being out here, it's--"

He didn't know how to explain, but Stiles was already there. "It's how hard it is to pay attention to anything else, when I'm an option?"

It should have sounded teasing. Or mocking.

It was just a statement, laced with wry understanding.

Derek huffed irritation, and winced at the static. "You'll come by tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Stiles agreed, almost before Derek had finished asking. "We can look at schedules and see what we can work out."

"Okay. I love you."

"I love you too."

Derek didn't hang up, but Stiles did. With the sort of decisive immediacy that suggested he knew what was probably coming if he didn't.

There was no reason to stay out, but Derek stretched the last leg of his run home, looping out to weave through some of the patrol routes, just because he could. The terrors were asleep by the time he got in. So was Matt, who'd apparently passed out while watching something with his dad. Peter had also crashed, sprawled across the couch with Matt draped over his stomach and chest.

And on top of both of them was one of the Scritch-Scratches, curled up in a fuzzy snoring ball.

Tania was taking pictures.

His family.

-----

While he'd been working, the kittens had apparently been given free reign of the house. Because, in the immortal words of his mother, "It's not like we were having any luck stopping them."

Which meant that when Derek left the shower the next morning, Stitch was perched on the back of the toilet, sniffing inquisitively in his direction.

Derek tripped, denting the wall as he went. Stitch got wet and spazzed his way down and out the door. Laura laughed herself nearly sick, and his father just bemoaned the lack of evidence.

His family.

-----

"So. I heard there's kittens," was Tony's greeting, that morning.

Derek glared and stomped off to the bathroom to change his shoes. The sneakers really weren't the best for stomping.

"Going that well, huh?"

-----

It was a decent day.

A script-work wrist piece showed up early for their appointment. He had a consultation with a woman who wanted a campfire over her spine at T-10 and who started happily babbling about anatomy with very little prompting. They talked about feet and how they worked until she had to run back to work.

He designed two new legs for the window, though he'd have to get them approved by Vic and Cara before painting them up. (And he thought, maybe, Vic would want the simpler one for her own leg. She'd been talking about getting something water themed for her right, and the swirling lines that had flowed off the foot as he considered the paths the bones made might suit.)

Then Stiles was leaving school. His anticipation flickering bright in Derek's mind.

-----

Of course someone had to come in and ask questions just as Stiles was approaching their street.

Of course he had to be asking good, sensible questions and thinking in the long term and about how movement and design interact and all the things Derek actually liked talking about, when Stiles wasn't his other option.

The jerk.

Stiles wrinkled his nose at Derek over the customer's shoulder and headed for the back, calling a greeting back to Tony on his way.

"Uh..."

Derek turned back to his customer, blinking both at the realization that he'd turned to stare after Stiles and at the sour note the guy's scent had suddenly picked up. "Something wrong?"

"That kid just--" Mr. Questions gestured feebily after Stiles, and Derek honestly couldn't tell if he was confused, shocked, or something else, but his scent stayed sour and off. It set Derek's teeth on edge.

There was a scuffle from the other side of the wall, and Stiles came back, leaning over the gate with a wry smile. "Hi. 'That kid' is basically the shop mascot. You do not get to just walk back here, but I do because everybody here loves me and, more importantly, they've spent the last several months teaching me what I'm not allowed to touch. Okay? Okay. Good talk."

Stiles vanished again, leaving the customer gaping. Derek just shrugged. "That's pretty accurate."

"Is he even old enough to get a tattoo?" Mr. Questions asked, relaxing enough to at least pretend to be joking.

It might not have been pretending, but it sounded like it.

"No," Derek confirmed. "His first appointment isn't for several months, still. But we were talking about your first ink, not his."

-----

Fascinating as Mr. Questions' design idea was (interlocking swirls and circles over the back, meant to follow and accent the motion of the back rather than strictly following the major muscle groups themselves, and yes, yes Derek was just scheduling that consultation for himself if Mr. Questions didn't specify a different preference), it was hard to focus just on their conversation when he could hear Tony and Stiles in the back.

"Vic would set you up. Trust me."

Stiles laughed, but it sounded forced. "Yeah, no. I doodle, I don't draw."

Tony snorted. "Uh. Since when? Also, that's what school's for," Tony drawled, voice dryer than summer. "And what is this? I know you'd been considering it. We talked about--"

"I know. I was there. Just--" Stiles sighed. Pitched his voice low. "Just drop it, okay?"

Yeah. Focus, what?

"Sorry," Derek sighed, isolating Mr. Questions' heartbeat to stay focused on him instead of Stiles. "When did you say you're available?"

-----

By the time Mr. Questions left, he had a list of website suggestions for further research, one of Vic's 'so you want to get a tattoo' flyers, an appointment for a consultation with Derek at the end of the month, and a lot of questions about Derek's relationship with Stiles. He was keeping them to himself, but the speculative looks he shot back and forth between Derek and the gate to the back area whenever Stiles laughed or said something loud enough for a human to hear were pretty blatant.

"He definitely thought you were banging the jailbait," Tony said, smug and amused and practically in Derek's ear.

Derek flinched away, barely keeping the growl in as he relaxed the tight focus on his senses. Let himself hear Stiles' heart (and Tony's) again. "And you don't?"

Tony arched an eyebrow at him and gave him a push toward the back. "I think Stiles would be floating around the ceiling like our own private little sun if you were, so good on both of you. Now go spend time with your boyfriend."

Tony could be his favorite. Just for a little while.

Derek headed back, smiling when he found Stiles glowering at a half unpacked drawer of supplies. "Hey."

"Hi," Stiles replied, but didn't look up. "Do you think Vic'd mind if I--"

"Yes," Derek reached around him to push the drawer closed. "Vic would prefer if you didn't act like you already work here." He waited a moment, listened to Stiles' heart beat stutter and settle on a slightly faster rhythm that before. "Is that what you and Tony were talking about?"

"It's just a thought," Stiles said, too calm to be anything but invested and trying to hide it. But why? "It might not be possible anyway, what with the whole--" He waved his hands to either side of his face, and Derek had no idea what that was supposed to mean.

He waited, but Stiles didn't explain. Even though he had to be able to feel Derek's confusion.

"The whole...what?" he tried, getting an eye roll from Stiles.

"Magic," Stiles hissed, and-- Oh.

That.

"Ask Alan about it," Derek sighed and ran a hand over Stiles' hair, almost smiling when Stiles didn't quite try hard enough to lean away. "It might not be a problem."

"That'd be a first," Stiles snorted.

Derek hummed agreement, because there really wasn't anything else he could do, then. "So. Schedules?"

Stiles groaned, but turned away from the drawer and leaned against Derek, which was nice. "Deaton wants me at the clinic Saturday mornings, Monday and Wednesday after school. Which isn't too bad, but chemistry is kicking my ass, and I'm a group with Lydia in English, which is also going to take up a lot of time."

"It's just you two in the group?" It'd been a while since he'd been in school, but they'd normally called those partnered projects, not groups.

A snort and a shrug, then "No, there's another two people, but they're not really involved because Lydia doesn't want them tainting her GPA. I mean, she doesn't want me messing it up either, and if this was chemistry or something she wouldn't let me be involved." Another shrug and Stiles leaned more against Derek's side, the feel of him twisting in a strange sort of half-reluctance. "But I'm good at comparative analysis, and she and I have really different views about the material, so she's letting me fight with her about it to make the project stronger."

He remembered that name better, now. Stiles had talked about Lydia, before. So had Scott.

"Your friend has really weird ideas about how group projects work," Derek offered, wondering if Stiles would notice the curiosity under it.

Stiles just laughed, short, abrupt and disbelieving. "Never let anyone know that you mistook Lydia Martin for a friend of mine. She might have me skinned and turned into a handbag." The thought made Derek want to growl, even if he could feel the lie. "No. Lydia Martin is a goddess set upon this planet to teach us the meaning of beautiful terror. She doesn't usually even acknowledge that I exist."

"Her mistake," Derek muttered into Stiles' hair, pulling him closer.

His head wasn't white, but it was a mess of dark shapes with tears and jagged lines appearing in bright toned flashes. He didn't like it.

"Not really. By the school hierarchy, I'm kind of a loser." Stiles shrugged it off, and...

He didn't smell upset. He didn't feel upset. Derek snorted to clear his nose and ducked his head to get at Stiles' neck instead, but no. Stiles was fine.

What.

Stiles' fingers were in his hair, then. Just rubbing gently as Stiles' scent bloomed with apple and lighter touches of the musk and spice Derek was so familiar with now.

"I know I'm awesome," Stiles said, sounding more amused than anything. "Validation is always nice, but I figured out my sophomore year that I was college awesome, not high school awesome. It's just--" Stiles exhaled loudly, slumping a little. "Lydia's both. She's all the awesomes. And middle school and high school were, like, this prolonged torture of watching her put the college-type awesome away where nobody could see it. So she's the pretty popular girl who's dating the captain of the lacrosse team and she deserves so much better than him, seriously, and--"

In his head, the shapes lightened and firmed and this. This was a texture he understood.

"You have a crush," Derek grinned against Stiles' neck, because this was finally starting to make sense.

The sour rush in Stiles 'scent wasn't a surprise. "I'm not--"

"I don't have to compete with the great and powerful Lydia Martin," Derek interupted, lifting his head to smile at Stiles. "I get it."

"Thank god," Stiles breathed, slumping against Derek. "'Cause yeah, I think the only reason I'm in a group with her to begin with is because I haven't been trying to talk to her?" He grimaced, which Derek mostly felt through the bond and against his shoulder rather than seeing. "And I think she wanted to know why. I still think she's amazing, but. I mean. I had you to focus on instead, and I think I have a type," Stiles said, his voice taking a sudden turn for the speculative. "I mean, you're both awesome in a really bitchy and impossibly hot sort of way, but they're really different kinds of awesome. So maybe I'm just drawn to bitchy, unbelievably hot people."

Derek patted Stiles's head, prompting him to straighten up and glare, which was perfect.

"That's not just you. I think that's actually pretty normal."

"Oh, cool," Stiles rolled his eyes then thunked his head back down on Derek's shoulder again. "I'm finally somehow normal. That's new."

"Schedules?" Derek tried, not certain he could keep from laughing if they didn't change the topic.

Chapter Text

"I just told you my schedule," Stiles pointed out. "It's your turn now."

"Are you implying you don't have my schedule memorized anymore?" Derek teased, smiling when Stiles made a face at him. "You used to."

"Yeah, well," Stiles huffed. "I've had a lot on my mind lately. So?"

"I don't work Monday through Wednesday, next week," he offered, smiling at the way Stiles eyes narrowed, the way his scent deepened. "It's the weird--"

Stiles cut him off with a groan, covering his eyes with one hand. "The weird week. Where, once a month, you don't work on or right after the full moon. Oh my god, how did I not notice that?"

"Most people don't automatically expect werewolves," Derek felt obligated to point out. "And without werewolves..."

Stiles waved his words off, scent going peppery with frustration. "Could've been a religious thing, or-- No, I really do think I should've gone straight to werewolves," Stiles admitted, tilting his head back and glaring up at the ceiling. As though that would help.

(It was distracting as fuck to have Stiles' neck on display like that, so if that was Stiles' goal, maybe it did.)

"You're not normally off more than two days for that, though," Stiles said, bringing his attention back down to frown at Derek. "What's--"

"Halloween," Derek reminded him. "Vic and Cara let me have the extra day so I could help with the terrors." Stiles opened his mouth, questions making his mind buzz, but Derek had a feeling he knew what was coming, so just kept talking. "Think a moment about six year old werewolves with access to a lot of sugar and a lot of other screaming, excited kids."

Stiles gaped for a moment before shrugging and nodding. "Okay. Fair."

"If--" Derek hesitated a moment, plowing on when Stiles just stared back at him and waited. "If you want, you could come over for Monday night. Your dad too, but it might be--" Terrifying, was probably the right word. "--a lot, for him."

The offer left Stiles beaming, though. "Seriously?"

Derek nodded, leaning in a bit to get more of the intoxicating mix of Stiles' excitement and happiness. "You might not see me much, we spend a lot of the night running the preserve, but you're welcome. If you want to come."

"I always want to come," Stiles said, waggling his eyebrows ludicrously.

Derek didn't push him off the table, but he considered it.

"Hey guys," Tony called from the front, not bothering to lean around the wall. (Trusting them to be good, or not wanting an eyeful?) "You've got ten minutes until Derek's next appointment is in. Just an FYI."

Stiles made a face, then checked his watch. "Crap. I meant to be home by now."

"Alan tomorrow, so I'll see you Thursday? I'm on mornings again, by then."

That earned him a smile and a kiss before Stiles bounced up from his seat. "I'll pick you up Thursday, then."

Derek followed him out to the front, watched him say goodbye to Tony and disappear out the door. Down the street.

"Man you have it bad," Tony shook his head, oddly sympathetic. "Sucks, doesn't it?"

"Sometimes."

-----

The appointment was an easy one; a traditionally styled mermaid holding a scroll over her chest with the words Fish Kills on it.

He didn't ask.

-----

Derek was within a mile of home when he smelled his mother. Sweet-musk and nutmeg and damp fur.

He slowed to a stop and howled, short and curious. Because it was the best way to ask "where are you?" when humans weren't around to matter.

Her answer came on the move, already heading roughly in his direction. Closing in on the bend in the creek where the crawfish were best, so he loped that way.

She wasn't hunting for the last of the year's crawfish when he found her, though. Her ears flicked back to acknowledge him, even as she dipped a muzzle rough with drying blood (rabbit, from the tufts of fur that hadn't fallen off yet) into the stream for a drink.

"I invited Stiles over Monday night," he started, settling down on a log much damper than the one he'd used the night before. His mother's ears twitched, back and forward, as she lifted her head to give him the full focus of her stare. "I'm not sure he'll come, but he wants to. He was embarrassed that he hadn't figured out I was a werewolf from my weird scheduling once a month," Derek shared, and grinned without teeth when his mother snorted and wagged her tail twice.

"Monday's one of the days he spends with Alan, though, and he has a lot of homework right now," Derek continued, "so he might not be able to spare the time. But I invited him, and his father."

The wolf that was his mother huffed her approval and stepped away from the creek to press her nose against his face. It left a smear of blood behind, but it's not like he cared.

-----

Gwen had another fit that night, but they'd sort of been expecting it. She was better with the kittens than Jacob, but they still wouldn't let her approach them.

It was progress, though. She shifted, but just flopped over in the study, howling and growling instead of trying to attack anyone.

Still not something they could risk happening in the grocery store, but. Progress.

They hoped.

-----

Wednesday was a blur. The affectionate loud mess that was his family at breakfast faded into the quiet of his run, then the quiet of the shop in the mornings. The noise built through the day, with Cara attempting to sing while she cleaned, the buzz of the tattoo machines, and the ring of the bell over the door.

Cara approved his leg designs. Vic approved the bolder one for the window. She wanted to think about the simpler one first.

He got a text from Stiles. What r u grinning at? But Stiles was at Deaton's by then, and shouldn't have been texting to begin with.

Derek wasn't sure how to explain, anyway, what a thrill it was that Vic--Vic, who'd gotten him interested in art to begin with, and never lied when something he did actually sucked, and who gave him a chance at tattooing as a career--Vic liked something that had just come out of his head, that wasn't drawn just for her or because of her, enough that she needed to think about it. About whether she wanted to share it, or keep it, or both.

He didn't think the words for that would fit in a text. The sharp-bright colors for it barely fit in his head.

-----

His mother was in the kitchen.

His mother was in the kitchen during dinner prep.

Derek paused in chopping the carrots and turned just enough to find her at the edge of his vision. Next to him, Laura was still chopping but had her ear cocked toward the door and a distracted frown on her face. Their mother wasn't doing anything, which was both a relief and confusing. If she didn't want a snack or to prove, yet again, why no one in the family wanted her to cook, then--

"You're in the kitchen, son of mine," Maria drawled, rolling her eyes. "And I want to talk to you. So I am in the kitchen."

--then that, apparently. Derek shrugged and went back to his carrots. "What are we talking about?"

"Stiles," she said, snorting amusement and shaking her hair back as she stepped closer, filling the kitchen with the warm-spice-old-leaves of her amusement. "Try to contain your surprise."

Derek smiled, ducking his head a bit further to hide the evidence. (Not very well, if Paul's smirk from the other side of the island meant anything.) "You'll never know it's there."

"Good," Maria laughed and claimed a mostly out of the way corner of the island and jumped up to sit on it. "So fill me in. Are you two okay? His scent on you is starting to fade."

Derek snorted and turned his head to roll his eyes at his mother. "Do I smell distressed? We're fine. I told you yesterday, between school and Alan, he's got a lot of work. He's going to come by Tinge after school tomorrow, so I'll get to see him then."

"And he'll come over, for the moon."

Paul and Laura went attentive at that, hands stopping as their heads came up to give Derek their full attention, anxiety leaking through the bond and only starting to relax when it wasn't echoed back. (Which...okay, they didn't know it had been Derek's idea, not his mother railroading him in the kitchen. To be fair, the railroading was normally more likely.)

"If he can," Derek hedged. "He hasn't--"

"You said he wanted to," Maria shrugged, as though that was the only factor that mattered. "It's Stiles. If he wants to be here, he will be."

Maybe it was.

"Just don't hold it against him if he isn't."

The exaggerated look of offense on his mother's face was worth the whole conversation.

-----

He couldn't run patrol with a morning shift. Couldn't afford to sleep in the way he'd need to, if he hadn't slept the afternooon away the day before.

Couldn't really afford to be up all night, regardless of why.

Derek pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes and wished it was dark enough to keep him from seeing. But it was less than a week to the full moon and of course the damn thing was hanging out in the sky outside his window.

He'd sleep eventually. Not enough, but some.

-----

When he turned his phone on again in the morning, there were three texts from Stiles.

1:30, I meant it. You can come over. Dad said ok so long as its movies

2:00, I have princess bride

2:03, Which i am watching w/o u

Well. It was proof he was keeping Stiles up anyway, if nothing else.

Derek texted a quick Sorry. Came out of his shower to Wtf apology. If you have contrl over it stop DOIN it. Otwise not ur fault

He was still trying to get his face back under control after that when his phone buzzed again.

Just wish I could help

Fuck.

-----

Thursday mornings at the shop tended toward excruciating boredom. Derek wished he knew why, but as it stood it gave him time to sketch or clean.

He was too unfocused to draw, so he pulled up the mats and mopped the back in chunks. Moved everything on the counters that could be moved and wiped down the spaces he couldn't normally get to. Dusted the display legs. Reorganized their jewelry display.

It hadn't had a complete overhaul since June, and they had some new seasonal jewelry that had just been kind of shoved into an open space on the top shelf, so it had been overdue anyway.

Then Tony came in and took up the physical-presence-for-walk-ins duty, so Derek could go paint up the design Cara and Vic had approved for the window.

It was nearly time for school to let out, by the time Derek finished. Mostly because he'd realized halfway through painting that he was an idiot and needed a stripe of something vibrant through the black he'd been branching and winding up the calf. Thankfully it was paint on plastic, not ink in skin, so he'd been able to fix it without having to worry.

Hopefully Vic and Cara wouldn't mind the sudden addition of magenta, but whatever.

"What's it like to live in your head?" Tony mused after Derek turned the sink off and started for the front, drying his hands. "Is it alphabetized? Sorted by color? Have you managed both somehow?"

The questions made a lot more sense when Derek rounded the corner and found Tony crouched on the wrong side--the retail side--of the front counter, staring at the jewelry.

Derek rolled his eyes and started pulling his stuff out of the nooks and crannies behind the register. "Just be glad we don't have an oven."

Tony's head came up slowly, eyes wide and faintly disbelieving. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me."

"No," Tony disagreed, tilting his head back and--augh. Derek was never going to get get used to throat tattoos. Not if he couldn't even get used to Tony's. Derek focused his attention more firmly on the shelf beneath the till and cursed the fact that he was already done. "I think I just heard you just imply that you bake. But there's never been evidence of this, so I must be wrong."

Derek snorted and threw a balled up failed sketch of a hummingbird in flight at Tony's head. "I would, but my family doesn't leave any evidence."

Tony didn't bother ducking or swatting the paper away, but he laughed and lowered his chin again, so Derek was counting it a win.

-----

"I should've known Stiles was picking you up," Tony called back later, as Derek was grabbing his bag. "You never pack up early."

Blatantly untrue, but there was no point in mentioning that.

The bell rang. "Hey, Tony," Stiles chirped, but his footsteps angled away from the register. "On your own today? Or, y'know, now anyway."

Derek waved as Stiles leaned around the edge of the wall. Tried to ignore the catch in his throat when Stiles grinned.

"Vic's going to be in soon," Tony said, drawing Stiles' attention back to the other side of the wall. "She should already be here, but she needed to go see that lug's sister for non-social reasons."

"What?" Derek asked, jogging up to the gate once he had another reason besides Stiles to hurry. "What's wrong with Vic's car?"

Tony snorted and was in the process of dropping his face into one hand as Derek rounded the wall. "Like I'd know? She said it was making a noise. She called in while you were out back."

"Out-- You mean in the alley?" Stiles asked, visibly perking up, curiosity sharpening his eyes as they cut to Derek. "Is there a new leg? What--"

Derek gently nudged Stiles shoulder toward the door. "Out."

"I feel like our relationship is regressing," Stiles griped, but his scent was full of apples and he went easily enough, just turning at the door to wave. "Bye Tony! Luck!"

Tony waved back and smirked when Derek gave him a half assed wave.

Whatever.

The door was already closed behind them, Stiles leaning in so their arms brushed, when Tony muttered "Obnoxiously, disgustingly adorable."

Derek took a deep breath, focusing on the smell of the street and, more importantly, Stiles, to keep from turning and glaring, over that. Because it was kind of amazing Tony wasn't more curious than he was. Didn't know about werewolves, or ask about the furry elephant in the room.

No point in giving him reasons to start asking.

Stiles leaned harder into his arm before pushing off and starting down the sidwalk. "Jeep's this way."

"I know," Derek smirked, and enjoyed Stiles' half flail. "Just like you knew I was getting my stuff when you came in."

That earned him a suspicious squint. "What--"

"You weren't curious about where I was. Didn't ask Tony about it either. Just went straight for the end of the wall."

Stiles frowned for a moment before snorting and rolling his eyes. "Good thing Dad already knows." He squinted at Derek next, speculative more than accusing. "You think about that kind of thing a lot."

Derek shrugged. "Have to. I felt you coming, I could have been waiting outside by the time you got there, if I'd wanted. But-- Can you imagine the ribbing I'd get from Tony?" He grimaced and Stiles laughed, leaning in against his arm. "It's the same as when I asked if it was too cold for ice cream. Fitting in is something we have to put effort into."

The nod Stiles gave that was distracted, his brain grinding hard enough that he nearly walked past the Jeep.

Derek smirked and nudged Stiles around to the driver's side. Followed him there and tucked his face into the curve of Stiles' neck as he unlocked the doors. Remembered what they smelled like together.

"Oh my god, Derek, the Jeep smells like me too. Stop huffing me in public."

Obnoxious as it was, he had a point. Derek grumbled but pulled away. Bumped Stiles aside and let himself in through the driver's door, tossing his bag into the back seat as he went. Braced one knee on the seat and worked his other leg between the gear shift and the wheel, twisting himself down into the passenger seat, and--

Musk-spice-apple.

Derek paused in his reach for the seat belt to blink out at Stiles. He was kind of surprised the cloud of lust wasn't visible.

Stiles cleared his throat and clambered in, blushing the whole way. "I refuse to apologize for that. You basically just wiggled your ass in my face."

"Ah."

He hadn't thought about that.

He'd have to remember it.

"Oh my god," Stiles groaned, but he felt like laughter, not upset. "You are the worst."

"Sorry."

Stiles snorted, but he sounded pleased. "You are not. We are definitely revisiting that talk about boundaries and rules, though."

"Is your dad home?"

The Jeep, just starting to pull forward out of the parking spot and into the road, lurched and stuttered but didn't quite stall. Kind of like Stiles' pulse.

"I hate you," Stiles sighed.

"Do not."

Chapter Text

They did go to the Stilinski house, but that was just as much because they hadn't bothered planning anything as Derek's suggestion.

"Seriously, we fail at dating," Stiles grumbled, kicking out of his shoes and putting his keys aside once the door was shut behind them. "We talk about when, why don't we ever talk about what?"

"Because it doesn't matter," Derek offered as he straightened out of his crouch, boots untied and laces loosened. "You matter. I matter. The what is just an excuse."

Stiles stared, pulse hammering and mouth hanging just open enough to be really, really distracting.

Derek cleared his throat and tugged free of his boots. "How are your lessons with Alan going?"

That changed the mood. Stiles rolled his eyes with most of his torso. "I can draw on my own again, so long as I'm careful. Apparently, a lot of my training is actually going to be reverse engineering, to figure out what I can do, then how I did it." Stiles sighed and headed into the kitchen, but he didn't tell Derek to stay put this time, so he trailed after. "Sounds like magic is pretty common, but most people develop something that's just, like, an extra sense. Like Scott," Stiles laughed, his scent going bright and metallic-wrong at the same time, even as he crouched down to rifle through a cabinet Derek had thought was just pots and pans. "Scott knows what people around him are feeling. Not feeling it himself," Stiles sat back abruptly to frown worriedly at Derek, and Derek wondered what he'd been leaking to warrant that. "More like he can gets little closed caption signs that tell him what someone's emotional state is like. Only with less typos, and a lot less literal."

"That's--" invasive, Derek wanted to say, but. Well. Scent. Hearing. Sight. He didn't have much of a defense there. He huffed annoyance and moved over to perch on the counter above the pots and pans, since Stiles' search had moved on, long legs stretching out to scoot him over to the next set of doors.

Stiles eyed him for a moment from the floor, one arm scuffling around under the counter, before he decided Derek wasn't going to say anymore and announced "It's pretty normal, apparently. Scott's pretty strong, which is why Deaton's thinking of teaching him more, but--" something crinkled as he reached an extra half-inch and Stiles made a pleased noise before diving into the cupboard headfirst.

(Blue boxers, an unhelpful part of Derek's brain noted as Stiles' shirt rode up. With a light grey plaid.)

"Damnit, Dad-- Uh, but. Yeah. It's a pretty common type of magic. Like, a. Thiiing." Something gave, and he had to listen for Stiles' voice around the tiny steel-drum-chorus of cans rolling free. "Survival mechanism. Unlike all this crap."

A bag of plain Ruffles appeared on the counter, bag crinkling again as Stiles released it and disappeared back into the cupboard, muttering to himself about sugar content and horrible hiding places as he re-stacked the cans he'd knocked over.

Derek could think of plenty of scenario where being able to tell what other people were really feeling would be a survival trait. (He remembered one.)

It wasn't something he wanted to spend much time on. "So what about you?"

"I am weird as fuck," Stiles said, re-emerging from the cupboard, mouth stretching into a grin around the words. He managed to mix proud and bitter until only the proud stood out, everywhere except the bond.

Stiles reclaimed the chips and ripped the bag open before shaking it in Derek's direction. (At least they weren't flavored, he thought, as he leaned over to snag a chip.) "It took forever for my magic to settle into something," Stiles continued. "Apparently, the usual age for that is, like, three to six. And when it did settle it was a way for me to influence my surroundings, not just get more information about them. Both situations are weird on their own, so I'm--"

"Amazing," Derek cut in, smiling when it made Stiles go still for a moment before finally cramming a gigantic chip into his mouth. "Which isn't exactly news. Did he say anything about you getting into--art, for a living?"

"Tattooing," Stiles corrected, cupping a hand over his face a moment later and brushing at the crumbs he'd just left everywhere. "Ahem. I mean. That's what I was-- It makes sense, right? And Deaton said it's actually a good idea. Something I can focus my magic on, so I don't lose--" Stiles' breath caught and he blinked, trying to catch up with his brain. "Practice, and-- Holy shit."

Derek slid off the counter and stepped in, plucking the chips out of Stiles' hands to set them out of the way where they wouldn't get crushed, leaning his forehead against Stiles' and just--feeling. Letting Stiles relax into the joy and hope that was filling Derek's head with twisting explosions in green, orange, and gold.

-----

He lost track of time, while they stood like that. They didn't separate until Stiles' stomach started complaining, though.

-----

Two turkey sandwiches later, Stiles tossed his napkin in the trash can and fixed Derek with a steady look. "You done any thinking about boundaries yet?"

"Yeah," Derek agreed, and something in his voice or over the bond made Stiles sit up straighter, his attention intensifying. But. "Done any thinking about permanence?"

Stiles groaned and slouched away from the counter. "Couldn't you have forgotten about that?"

"Nope."

Put-upon and fond was a good look on Stiles.

"Jerk," Stiles sighed, and headed for the living room. "Couch? Sketchbook?"

That sounded like a plan to Derek.

-----

They ended up with Derek's back braced against one of the arms, Stiles' back to his chest with the sketchbook propped against Stiles' legs.

Stiles' lines had changed. Stiffer than they had been, tending to hesitate at the wide point in a curve and often too hard, too dark. Lack of practice, or caution because of his magic? Stiles was already letting out frustrated little huffs whenever a particularly obvious example happened, so Derek kept his mouth shut.

"You said to think about it like I did with tattoos," Stiles started, around a twisting line that looked like smoke to Derek. "And that was all about looking at what people weren't actually saying."

Another twist joined the first, and Derek snuck his hand in under Stiles' to add a chimney. A campfire. A candle.

A lamp, he decided. A magic lamp, straight out of the illustrated book of fairy tales his family had read to him when he was the terrors' age. He still loved those delicate, simple lines far more than just artistic appreciation could explain.

"Most of what I found was about things that could affect your tattoo, like tanning, or injuries, or, y'know, pregnancy." Stiles continued. Derek glanced to the side to check and--yup. Stiles still looked like someone had just hit him with a fish whenever he thought about pregnancy and tattoos.

It only took a moment for Stiles to blink himself back to the present moment again. To pause then make use of his heavier, stiffer lines to start sketching in an engraved decoration around the base of the lamp. "Anyway. Thing was, all of it talked like the tattoo was what was being affected. The skin was there, but just as what the tattoo was on, right?" He made a guttural near-growling noise, pencil stilling and frustration flaring up between them, twisting his scent. "Like they were separate things. Like the tattoo wasn't part of someone by that point."

"And?" Derek prompted, after Stiles went silent for a moment to finish up the design he'd started, while Derek contorted his arm a bit to sketch in the lid and handle.

"And it was easier to think about, as things that happen to the person. More accurate too, since tattoo removal, right? That affects the skin too." Stiles' hand came up to gesture along with his point, and Derek took advantage of the moment to flip the book over so he could get at the handle. Stiles needed to practice drawing upside down anyway.

Derek pressed his nose into the crevice behind Stiles' ear when he took a moment to glower at the new perspective on their drawing. "Does this relate to the bond at any point?"

He could feel Stiles roll his eyes. Didn't need to see it. "I can't exactly research werewolf mating bonds," Stiles said, dry and matter of fact but with a spike of gleeful humor for-- "It's all porn."

"Don't use the internet," Derek groaned, letting his head fall forward until the bridge of his nose was mashed uncomfortably against Stiles' shoulder. "Ever."

Stiles just laughed and brought a hand up to rub through Derek's hair. Which was something he could stop doing around never, Derek attempted to convey through a happy grumble.

"Seriously though," Stiles went on. "Some of it might be good porn, but it's still porn and that's not the kind of research I was trying to do."

Derek was already bordering on not wanting to talk about this anymore. Almost wanted to ask what kind of research, exactly, involved porn.

Sadly (and fortunately), Stiles was on a roll. "I did the best I could, but all the--uh, human equivalents for us were kinda--" Stiles huffed, scent warping with resignation and frustration until the normal spicy-earth-apple smelled more like a soggy cinnamon bun.

Derek didn't try to stop the unhappy grumble that built in his chest. Abandoned his pencil in the spine of the sketchbook so he could focus on rubbing his face against Stiles' neck to try and cover the unhappy smell up.

And if it distracted Stiles into laughing and trying to squirm away, scent greening and brightening, all the better.

"Dude, this topic is your fault," Stiles huffed, finally pushing at Derek's head to make him straighten up again. "And it's--" He sighed, closing the sketchbook and setting it on the coffee table so he could slump back against Derek more completely. "There isn't an equivalent to us. I talked to Deaton about this enough to know that there are some things I don't have to worry about. Like-- Some of those stories end in body bags, and that's something you won't be capable of. According to Deaton, nobody in the pack will be capable of it, barring a pretty massive psychotic break on their part or mine."

That was true enough. Derek didn't remember Matt (the first Matt, Vic's uncle and his mother's cousin), but he knew the story. Knew the reality behind the animal attacks that had gotten his pack on the hunters' radar years before Kate had ever heard of them.

Knew how much it had hurt Peter to kill a packmate, a (might-as-well-be) brother, dangerously insane or not. But Peter was both pragmatic and philosophical enough to tell the story himself, make it a warning and a reassurance to all the kids. Because even if they lost themselves, if it was possible, it would be a loving hand that dealt with them.

If Tania went on a rampage and started ripping people apart, Derek knew part of the heartbreak would be keeping Peter from protecting her.

Derek's distress at the thought tangled with Stiles' until their bond was an uncomfortable knot twisted between them.

"Oh my god, this is the worst topic," Stiles huffed, twisting around and--shoving his face up against Derek's throat.

Stiles couldn't scent his distress the way a werewolf could, but he could distract like a champion. Derek had never been happy about a mind gone shock white before.

Their scents mellowed as the bond relaxed and Derek let himself just focus on the feel of Stiles' breath against his skin, and the disconcerting sense of safety that came with it.

"No more talking about that," Stiles muttered darkly, rubbing his face against Derek's neck in an echo (unconscious or not?) of what Derek had done earlier. "Words suck."

They still needed to talk about it, but Derek couldn't find it in himself to disagree.

Chapter Text

Waking up to a noise ending was strange. It was unsettling to wake up to the sensation of having missed something, and it always left him feeling groggy and lost in his own skin.

That was Derek's excuse for why he didn't register where he was until John was at the door, keys jangling and sighing at the empty click that meant it hadn't been locked.

Oops.

Stiles didn't react to the sound of his father at the door, just kept not-quite-snoring into Derek's shoulder. There was no time to move him before the door opened, so Derek just lifted a hand to rub at his face and craned his head around to look for a clock. There wasn't one visible from where he was stretched out, but the windows were dark.

Then the Sheriff's shoes came into view and Derek turned to blink up at him and wave.

John sighed again, glanced over Stiles, and retreated to the kitchen.

Yeah, that could've gone better.

-----

It took a few minutes, but Derek eventually got Stiles pushed enough to the side that he was able to slip off the couch. Stiles snuffled and kicked once before--

Well. In anyone else, Derek would have called the twisting-stretching-going limp combo 'settling in', but those words implied some level of comfort to him. Stiles had contorted himself in a way Derek had thought was unique to cats, and wedged his head into the corner of the couch.

Stiles snuffled and twisted into a slightly more improbable position, and Derek decided there wasn't any point in trying to figure it out. His mate was just made of rubber while asleep. He could adjust.

Then Stiles' legs flopped wider apart, and Derek fled for the kitchen. Because that was going to be less awkward.

The kitchen smelled of onion, in the muted way that meant one had been cut, then taken away from the air right after. It also smelled of John, beer, tomatoes, Ruffles, and butter, but fresh onions generally took priority, among basic kitchen smells. They were the scent equivalent of hot pink.

John nodded when Derek came in and lifted his bottle in greeting, but didn't look up from the pot he was overseeing. "Sleep well?"

The bag of chips was still on the counter, but now it was sitting next to John with the open end angled his way. It didn't seem prudent to mention that, though. Especially since Derek was fairly certain Stiles had dug up his father's snack food stash.

"Yes, sir."

"John," he corrected gently, not quite smiling. "It's still John."

Derek knew he was smiling, but he wasn't awake enough to be sure he was doing it the human way. The kitchen was definitely less awkward. "Sorry."

John shrugged and set his beer down, getting a grip on the pot and pressing something (a tomato, probably stewed but it could be hard to tell with canned stuff) against the side until it smushed. The pot was where the butter was coming from too, interestingly. And where the onion had disappeared to, Derek realized as John scraped the mashed tomato back into the sauce and stirred it back in. It weren't even diced, just submerged in the sauce as gigantic chunks.

That was definitely a tomato sauce he was making, though. Just...no herbs or other spices. Yet, anyway.

"Stiles says you haven't been having an easy time at that," John started, and Derek had to pull his attention back to the topic at hand. Stiles. Derek. Sleeping on the couch. Right. "He did talk to me about you coming over some nights, in case you were curious. And we had a long, horrible discussion about the kinds of things I don't want to know about, and why he thinks I don't need to worry about them."

Right. There was the missing awkward.

Derek opened his mouth to say--something, anything--but snapped it shut again at the deeply parental look he got. "If he thought anything was going to happen, he'd be using a different lie. Trust me on that," John said, mouth quirking up at the corner as he smashed another tomato. "So if it would actually help you sleep..." He let the thought trail off and shrugged. "Insomnia's a terrible thing, is all I'm saying.."

"Thank you," Derek said, parroting manners rather than trying to make sense of the mess in his head that felt like pack, embarrassment, and gratitude had smashed together and were still trying to sort out if they were in a fight or an orgy.

John shook his head and went back to the pot. "Son, I can't imagine anything less attractive than Stiles sleeping. Just consider this a two birds, one stone approach."

Derek flashed back to the way Stiles had twisted in the couch before emulating the kittens. To Stiles talking in his sleep, or to waking up with Stiles' mouth against his hand.

If John thought that, then it probably had more to do with Stiles being his son than anything, but Derek wasn't going to argue.

In the other room, Stiles snuffled, kicked something soft onto the floor, then followed it with a heavy thump.

The sheriff just nodded, like he'd been expecting that. "Would you mind checking on him? And while you're at it," he continued as Derek turned to comply, "tell him to get his butt in here and dig the good spaghetti out of wherever he's hidden it this time."

He was crunching his way through a chip before Derek even made the door.

"I'm on the floor, not deaf!" Stiles called back, just as Derek rounded the couch. He got a jaunty wave before Stiles was scrambling up, but he smelled/felt more embarrassed than hurt, at least.

Which explained the awkward sidestep and the hand rubbing over the back of his head, as Stiles bypassed Derek entirely and headed for the kitchen.

Derek sighed. Words sucked, but sometimes they helped. Even he knew that.

"You're staying for dinner, right?" John called from the kitchen, mostly covering the rude noise Stiles made when he got to the kitchen and could see what his father was up to.

"Yes sir," he offered, smiling when John made a rude noise of his own, deeper than Stiles' but otherwise...

"John."

-----

Dinner was simple, but good. Spaghetti with that strange, apparently intentionally herb-less sauce that somehow managed to taste rich and finished, even though Derek was fairly certain it only had three real ingredients. There was no garlic bread, which John regretted enough to apologize for, and no salad, which was pointed out three more times than necessary by Stiles. There was frozen broccoli, that they'd let him rescue from the microwave before it became mush.

"You two have any plans for the weekend?" John asked, in the lull after Stiles finished talking about his classes.

Derek couldn't feel the sheriff, but he could recognize the scents he and his son had in common. There was a tang that went with discomfort, for both of them. Somewhere in the range between citrus peel and onions.

He was trying, though. It was better than Derek had any right to expect.

"Not yet," he hedged, glancing over at Stiles who snorted and rolled his eyes before shoving another bite in his mouth. Right. "We haven't been so great at planning dates," he offered honestly, shrugging. "We usually just end up hanging out at Tinge or with family."

"Or both," Stiles muttered before swallowing. "Derek's working mornings, and I'm seeing Deaton both days. Plus homework," he added, at an eyebrow from his father. "We've got plans for next week, though."

Derek didn't bother waiting for a prompt, verbal or otherwise. "The full moon is Monday. You're both welcome to join us, if you want. It's not--" He hesitated, trying (and mostly failing) to get a read on John. "You don't have to. It's not a--test or anything. Not for either of you."

"Is it usually?" Stiles cut in, before his father could answer.

Probably for the best. He couldn't pick apart the soft musk and weird almost-melon scent John was giving off, but he could read the wariness in his face well enough.

"Not so much a test as--an indicator, I guess? How well someone handles a full moon says a lot about how well they handle what we are."

Stiles snorted, stabbing his fork at the last few noodles on his plate and keeping his head down to hide his smile.

John didn't bother trying to hide his. "So, based on current exposure..."

"As long as he remembers my mom is leading the run, not him, it should be fine," Derek finished, rolling his eyes and trying to hold back his smirk while Stiles elbowed him in the side.

-----

He could have stayed. John had said as much, before he left.

Derek ran home anyway, with a new shirt from Stiles tucked safely in his bag, wrapped up to protect the scent.

If it was too bad of a night, the run back wasn't terrible.

Besides, he'd need a change of clothes.

Chapter Text

He slept alright. Not great, but well enough that he didn't feel groggy, or have any texts from Stiles at alarming-o-clock when he checked his phone that morning. So that was something.

Gwen wore her Stitch ears all through breakfast. Stacia practiced roaring until her father scooped her up away from the table and carried her upsidedown to the yard. ("Why?" Niq moaned into her coffee, more smudged and lethargic than usual. Peter, ever his useful self, responded, "...because she's six?") Jacob was unusually quiet, nodding off against Matt's side who, in turn, leaned against his mother as she tried to feed Greg without getting her fingers chomped on or, worse, letting him break off part of a spoon. Dominique almost left for work with her hair still up in her messy sleeping bun instead of her normal twist.

Derek left for work with a change of clothes in his bag, just in case, and a grin that Laura had declared "too weird to deal with" when they passed each other on his way to the door.

Whatever. It was a good morning.

-----

At work, he spent most of his morning getting ready for a second consult, shuffling and re-shuffling his papers until Cara threatened to put him in a headlock. Then sent him out for sandwiches and pastries, because it was still Cara. If it wasn't a hugging problem, she moved on to distraction and food.

It worked wonders, as usual, but he wasn't going to tell her that. (Didn't have to, judging by the smug edge to her smirk.)

The point was, Derek hadn't ripped his designs with his fidgeting by the time Yuriko got there, ten minutes early and pretending like she hadn't practically bounced past their windows to the door. "Hey! Uh, sorry. I'm early. I can--"

Why was she apologizing? Derek froze halfway through picking his folder up, then jolted into motion again when Cara shoved him away from the register.

"Oh, please sit," Cara laughed. "He's been off the walls all morning. Would you like some water?"

"Uh, yeah. That'd be-- Yeah. Thanks," Yuriko smiled at Cara, but grinned at Derek and bounced a little as she sat down, leaning forward and smelling like pine and ozone. "Show me?"

The glass of water Cara dropped off was ignored in favor of the sprawling lines of embroidery motifs they spread out all over the counter. He'd made the initial design they discussed, a straight line with five branches of variable size, and realized too late that it was-- It just didn't feel right. Too rigid, too harsh. It was still there, but so were two others: a single, unbranching line with echoed motifs to soften the impact, and a more fluid line that twisted to follow the way Yuriko's body held its weight, with curling branches that hugged her ankle, just above the back of her knee, her hip, her shoulder.

She nearly screamed when she saw the twisting version, but by the way she pulled it closer to trace the lines of the branch that would curl over her hip, he thought it was a winner.

He was sure of it when she grabbed a pencil and started hesitantly showing him better ways to adjust the motifs to make them bend the way he needed them to.

-----

"You are asking her if you can photograph that for your portfolio, right?"

It was phrased as a question but it wasn't one, really. It was more Cara seeking confirmation that he wasn't a complete idiot. She'd sat next to him and leaned against his shoulder, quietly watching him sort the piles of notes and sketches he and Yuriko had left in their wake, ever since Yuriko had left.

Physically, anyway. The pine-y scent of her excitement was probably going to linger for hours.

He nodded, carefully folding the rejected options and clipping them together for the back of the file. "Yeah. She hates being photographed, though." They'd had to do it again. Closer shots of the areas he'd be integrating into the branches and a few more whole body shots from angles as well as head on. Yuriko had thought to wear leggings and a tight fitting tank top under the rest of her clothes this time, but she'd still blushed like a demon the whole time.

He hoped it was the camera, not body shyness. It was going to be incredibly awkward trying to do her hip, otherwise.

"I was thinking we might take a couple of detail shots," he continued, turning the full body sketch of the final concept toward Cara so she could lean in and see what he was talking about. "Shoulder and ankle, probably. The hip would be better, but--shy." He shrugged it off. "It might be an in progress shot, if she lets us photograph that at all."

"Fair enough," Cara agreed, pushing the art back at him and smiling when he snatched it away from her to keep it from getting wrinkled. "Put the detail shots in the portfolio with the concept art, then? To show the scope without having to throw her in, centerfold style."

"Yeah. It'd still probably take up a couple of pages, but..."

"But it's exactly the kind of work you want more people to ask for," Cara drawled, pressing up against his side and just smelling happy (and green, and light, and pine-y because apparently Yuriko was catching). "And exactly the sort of work you're going to want to show off, when you cruelly abandon us to follow Stiles to wherever." She tapped the corner of the file decisively then took it away from him. (That was fine. He'd have it back soon.) "We'll put it at the front of the portfolio when it's ready. Behind the wings or in front of them?"

"Behind, probably." The embroidery was better work, he thought, but the blockwork wings he'd designed for his first solo client were still his best known work.

For now.

-----

Derek felt Stiles coming, obviously, but he didn't budge from tracing out leg template after leg template. He was within sight of the door, and it wasn't like he could leave right away anyway.

When Stiles did come in, he was grinning like he couldn't help it. "What--" He cut himself off with a frustrated noise, glancing toward the back and scurrying up to the counter.

"The client can't hear you, and it's just Cara," Derek said, once Stiles was close enough to lean over and kiss. Because hey, it didn't hurt to reward caution.

Also, he wanted to.

Stiles was grinning again when he pulled away, dropping his bag on the floor and himself into a stool. "So what happened? You're all--giddy. It's weird. I mean, good! But weird."

So the sketches came out again. (Not that they'd gone far, between Derek needing to reference them as he worked on the hopefully-final design and anticipating showing them to Stiles when he came in.)

"Dude, I feel betrayed," Stiles muttered as he spread out the different silhouettes. "You didn't share any of this."

The bond and his scent, lemon-sharp and musky, suggested 'betrayed' was more like 'intrigued'.

"We had other things to focus on."

Stiles barked a laugh, but then Cara's machine cut off and they had to watch what they said again.

-----

Stiles had curled up in the window seat to wait, reading whatever torture he'd been assigned for English this time, while Derek finished up his shift at the consultation counter working on getting a grip on the details for Yuriko's ankle. The bottom branch was more of a root, a delicate twisting flourish (one of Yuriko's grandmother's motifs, stretched out and embellished just a little) that would curve around the outer malleolus ("The bony, sticky-out bit of the ankle," Cara had clarified for Stiles, when he'd talked her through what he was working on. "And I only know that because our apprentice is an anatomy geek.") and flow up into the main body of the line.

He finished up the curve he was working on when he felt Vic getting closer (when he saw Cara smile, dopey and infatuated, still) and went to pack up, but didn't bother putting his work away.

Just as well.

"Don't even," Vic dodged around him in the back, tossing her jacket at him and just dropping her bag next to the door instead of hanging it up. "Cara said it went well?"

Derek huffed and hung Vic's things up as she skipped out to review his initial work.

His cousins were more excited about this commission than he was.

(Not really.)

He hauled his bag up to the front and patiently pushed at Vic's hip until she moved to the side instead of blocking the gate entirely, so he could drop the bag next to Stiles. Stiles, who was packing up his own stuff and watching Vic and Cara mutter at each other over his drawings.

"This is a big deal, huh?"

"Not really," Derek tried, but the tail end was entirely buried under Vic and Cara's snorts.

"Our baby artist is finally starting to have enough in his portfolio to show a definite personal style and specialty," Vic cut in. "He's got plenty of work showing he's a competent artist, but this is a big design, showcasing exactly what he's good at. He doesn't have enough of that."

"Also, he's been kind of stupidly adorable about the embroidery stuff," Cara added, grinning with too many teeth to be kind.

Stiles laughed, and Derek tried to focus on everyone's joy instead of his own embarrassment.

-----

"I was thinking," Stiles said, half an hour later when Derek had been released and they'd both been thoroughly hugged goodbye. "We've gone out to eat together twice now."

"Ice cream," Derek pointed out, but Stiles waved it off.

"Doesn't count. That's dessert, not eating."

Derek snorted and hid his smile. "Okay. So?"

"So, neither of them was a date. We should fix that."

Derek ducked his head and grinned, bumping against Stiles as they walked. "Are you asking me out?"

"Looks like it."

-----

They went to Floyd's, because they were predictable. Stiles still remembered his order, and Derek kept losing track of the waitress because he had Stiles to pay attention to instead.

It was amazing.

It was probably the company.

Chapter Text

"I told my math teacher I had a family thing next week," Stiles explained, dumping his bag and closing the door behind them before toeing his shoes off. (Or trying, anyway. He caught the hem of his jeans, which kept him from getting enough leverage on one of them.) "I don't know if she doesn't know it's just me and my dad, or if she thinks family things are more important when the family's small." He shrugged, but he was half bent over to try and see why his shoes wasn't coming off and nearly fell over.

Derek caught his shoulder and held on until Stiles was steady again, then locked the door before working on his own boots. Quietly, because nearly braining himself on the floor hadn't exactly done anything to distract Stiles from his train of thought.

"So yeah. I've got next week's assignments, so I can do those ahead. I'm already, like, three weeks ahead in history." Stiles paused and Derek twisted a bit to look up, catching Stiles frowning and only halfway through shedding the jacket he was wearing over that-damn-red-hoodie. "I'll probably catch up to Christmas break soon, actually. Hunh. Cool." He shrugged and wiggled out of the remainder of his jacket. "Those assignments can take forever though, so I just do them when I have time. My English teacher has some kind of hard on for Halloween, so she told us already that we're doing a special unit on spooky short stories for next week. Poe probably," he grunted, rolling his eyes and leaning against the wall. "I hate Poe. If I have to read The Telltale Heart again, I swear..."

"Not that I don't love listening to you talk," Derek interrupted, bracing his hands against his knees to make it easier to keep an eye on Stiles and hoping he'd pick up on enough of the honest fondness through the bond to realize he wasn't being mocked. "But is there a reason you're giving me a rundown on how far ahead of your schoolwork you are?"

Stiles blinked at him, then made an impatient noise and gestured at his boots. "Dude, we can't make out on the couch while you still have those on. Chop chop." Derek rolled his eyes and went back to his laces. Because zippers were for people who wouldn't blow them out with the wrong twist of a super powered ankle. "I'm trying to explain that I'm going to have, like, practically no homework I need to do, between the full moon and Halloween. Deaton's letting me come in twice over the weekend too, so I can just head straight to your place after school Monday. Uh, if that would be--"

"Perfect," Derek reassured, finally pulling his feet free and straightening up just in time to see Stiles grinning, smelling like apples and warmth and spicy-musk. "That would be amazing."

"Uh, good." Stiles coughed and looked to the side, rubbing a hand over the back of his head, scent going a little soggy around the edges. "I don't know if Dad's coming or not. It's... Well, full moon. Kind of a busy time of month for him anyway?" Stiles grimaced. "So, even without the whole wolfy thing...yeah."

Derek snorted and stepped in so he could rest his hands on Stiles' hips and bump their foreheads together. "He isn't shooting us or trying to move away and take you with him. He's doing a great job of adjusting. We're happy."

"You guys have really warped perceptions of what good adjustment means," Stiles muttered, but his heart wasn't in it.

Derek suspected, based on the sudden wave of apple-spice-musk and the hands settling against his sides, that Stiles' heart was already on the couch trying to figure out if he could get away with grinding against Derek's thigh.

Fuck. He'd been aiming for reassuring, but all he could think about now was the heat and promise in those hands. The smell of Stiles. The way his tongue flicked out to wet his lips.

Right. Talking.

"We have experience with this sort of thing," Derek reminded him, his thoughts skirting around Thomas, and that horrible period when they thought Vic had lost Cara because of them. "Trust me. You're the anomaly."

"Along with your dad and grandmother?" Stiles snarked, before swaying closer and making a frustrated noise in the back of his throat. "So that talk about boundaries, and stuff? Can we do that before I die, here?"

Talking was a horrible idea. Want was stretching out along the bond, making Derek hyperaware of the space between them, of every inch they were touching.

"I had a thought about that." Stiles made an inquisitive noise, then a grumpy one when Derek pulled back enough to see both of Stiles' eyes at the same time. He really needed the space if he was going to make words work, though. "It involved an empty house, setting an alarm to give us warning before your dad should get home, and learning by doing instead of talking. Because we're not so great at that."

"Are you--" Stiles laughed and let his head drop down onto Derek's shoulder. "If we aren't actually having sex, I am probably going to end up jerking off in the bathroom," he admitted, words muffled. "Just so you know."

Assuming it wasn't Derek exiled to the bathroom. He'd be able to hear, though. Easier than he had when Stiles had been in the shower, and with less guilt because Stiles knew, now.

The thought put a warm curl in Derek's gut. One Stiles could feel, from the sudden hitch in his breath. "Consider it encouraged," he said, letting a bit of a rumble into his voice and hearing Stiles' pulse kick up in the best way possible.

"Oh my god, we need to get upstairs," Stiles muttered, pulling back abruptly and snagging Derek's sleeve (he was still wearing his jacket, fuck) and heading for the stairs. "We are not doing this on the couch. Okay?" He stopped abruptly, conflicted, and Derek nearly ran into his back. "Is that okay?"

"Fine," Derek confirmed, giving Stiles a bit of a push with the arm they were currently sharing possession of. "Go."

(Neither of them really remembered the stairs. Derek barely remembered shutting the door.)

Stiles stripped out of his hoodie and tossed it over the back of his computer chair before turning back to Derek, smelling of nerves and want and himself all jumbled in a heady mess. "Uh, I didn't exactly--"

He actually started tidying his desk. What the hell.

"Set an alarm," Derek reminded him, more to give Stiles something to do with his hands than anything. "At least half an hour before there's any chance of your dad showing up."

"Right," Stiles muttered, hands still busy with a stack of papers, eyes busy staring as Derek slipped out of his jacket, and not moving until Derek cocked an eyebrow at him. "Right! Not traumatizing my dad. Good plan."

Stiles pulled his phone out and focused on that while Derek emptied his pockets onto a free bit of shelf space.

"Okay, done." Stiles said, walking over to set his phone on one of the headboard shelves. "What--"

Derek stepped in behind him and nuzzled at the nape of his neck. Slipped his fingers into Stiles' pockets and over the bones of his hips, just because he could. Listened to the not-quite-whimper that caught in Stiles' throat. "You wanted rules, right?" He waited until Stiles nodded, then kissed behind his ear. "We go slow. Do whatever we feel like. If either of us needs to stop, we stop. If something feels wrong, we stop and see if we want to talk about it. And if we need to...be in different rooms, I am definitely going to be listening in. Just so you know."

"Fuck," Stiles bent his head back over Derek's shoulder (all of that neck, right there) and his hips twitched against Derek's hands. "That should not be that hot."

Maybe they should start in different rooms.

"You okay?" Derek asked instead, giving in to the temptation to brush a kiss against Stiles' throat.

That got him another twitch, a fantastic shiver, and a moan that was only half sex. The other half sounded (felt) like disbelief and regret. "Fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, that I think I need to excuse myself. So--"

Stiles squirmed loose of Derek's grip, but stopped when Derek got a hand on his shoulder. "I can--"

That earned him a snort and a light shove toward the bed. "Dude, if you're jerking off in my house, I want it to be in my bed."

Derek was fairly certain his brain short-circuited, at that. And Stiles wasn't done yet.

"If you're not, that's fine too, but let me imagine, okay? Here." Stiles thumped a box of tissues against his chest and gave him a shit eating grin before heading for the door again. "Lotion's on the headboard."

Stiles closed the door firmly behind himself and for a long moment Derek wasn't able to do more than blink after him.

Then the bathroom door clicked shut, and there was another dull thump, like-- Like a body slumping against the door, and Stiles was moaning even before Derek heard his fly go down.

And he was still standing in the middle of the floor, painfully hard, clutching a box of tissues so hard he'd ripped one side open.

"Fuck."

Derek tossed the tissues up near the pillows and stripped out of his shirt (and if he threw it into what looked and smelled like a pile of clean laundry, that was nobody's business but his and Stiles') before letting himself stretch out, face down in Stiles' pillow. He was rutting against the mattress before he'd had a chance to think about it.

He wasn't going to need the lotion. He was going to need the change of pants he'd brought.

In the bathroom, Stiles' breath caught and the bond flooded with pleasure, hot and sharp. Stiles did whatever-it-was again and Derek felt his back curl up in response, pulling him tight.

The space between them might as well have not existed. All he could smell was Stiles, all he could hear was Stiles, all he could feel was Stiles, belonged to Stiles, was because of Stiles.

He was glad for the pillow under his face, because whatever noise he made when he came, Derek was certain it was both loud and embarrassing.

Stiles' wasn't. Stiles' was just loud.

-----

It probably wasn't that long before Stiles started moving around again, but Derek couldn't be sure. His head felt stuffed and heavy, in the best possible way.

He tried to start moving when Stiles did, though. Wanted to assess the damage and clean up, if he could.

He ended up keeping an ear out for Stiles and just stripping entirely to get rid of his underwear. It was the best he could do, with the time he had and his bag still downstairs.

Derek was finishing buttoning up his fly when Stiles came back in. No knock, but...well, it was his room and Stiles could tell he wasn't still--

Right.

Stiles was already flushed and relaxed and fucking edible (and the wall of scent he brought with him, fuck), so the choked off noise he made when he saw Derek was definitely unfair. "Dude. Why--"

"If you finish that question," Derek interrupted, rolling his eyes and hoping he wasn't blushing. "You might end up in the bathroom again."

Not that that stopped Stiles' eyes from skipping around the room. The mauled tissues. The shirt Derek had rescued from on top of Stiles' laundry to bundle his underwear in, wrapped up and crammed in a corner. The untouched lotion on the headboard.

Stiles grinned. Derek threw one of his pillows at him.

Chapter Text

Stiles' scent was--more, in his room. Stronger. Purer. Lingering hints of exhaustion and sex overpowering the other traces of his life. Intimate in a way Derek wasn't sure a human could understand.

Stiles tossed the pillow back on the bed and stepped into Derek's space again, lip caught between his teeth in a look that was such pure calculation it was almost funny. Would have been funny, if it hadn't been making Derek's gut twist in an unhappy mix of arousal and nerves.

He wasn't a puzzle, or prey. He didn't want-- They shouldn't--

"Oh my god," Stiles sighed, expression dropping into guilty dismay with alarming speed. "How have I fucked this up already?"

Derek exhaled, slow and controlled, and took a step to follow Stiles when he tried to back off and give Derek room again. Let himself lean in until their foreheads and noses brushed together. Until they shared breath and Stiles relaxed and it felt unnatural keeping his eyes open.

He closed his eyes and focused on his breath, on Stiles' heart, on feeling.

There was a twitch at Stiles' side, his hand almost lifting then stopping. The bond surging with want that was more comfort than carnal, then just as abruptly twisting into a discordant pretzel of doubt and--guilt?

"You can--" Words sucked, and they felt weird lingering in the space between them anyway. Derek didn't growl, but only because he was positive Stiles would take it wrong. Instead, he reached for Stiles' hand.

Or, where he thought Stiles' hand was, anyway. He got an arm instead, because he didn't want to open his eyes. It worked, though. He could feel Stiles' shoulders relax, even with as little contact as they had, and Stiles didn't resist (didn't feel like he wanted to) when Derek pulled his hand up and pressed it against his side.

Stiles' fingers spread out like it was a reflex, hand slipping down until his thumb just brushed the bottom curve of Derek's ribs. It was heat and intimacy and vulnerability and comfort all at once, in just the span of a hand.

Derek failed at holding back a shiver, and Stiles pressed his smile against Derek's jaw.

"We're just making out, right?" Stiles' voice was whisper soft, but Derek could still feel the words against his neck. "Just...with you in no shirt, and in my room, and it's okay if we do something wrong, 'cause we'll just stop and talk."

He made himself nod and they both leaned in, chests brushing and knees bumping. He felt Stiles nod back, his nose scraping against the stubble on Derek's cheek. "We'll be fine, then. We're awesome at that."

Derek couldn't help it. He dropped his head against Stiles' shoulder and laughed.

It made Stiles sigh heavily as he tugged them toward the bed, but he felt too fond and relieved for Derek to take it that seriously.

-----

Stiles had no idea what to do with his hands. They'd be fine, with Stiles getting a finger hooked through a belt loop or curving around Derek's ribs, then they'd move and Stiles would sometimes suddenly not be sure if it was okay for him to put them on the bed, let alone anywhere on Derek.

They rolled so Stiles was leaning over Derek, flushed and grinning, and his hand just--stopped, before he could brace himself against Derek's shoulder. Flailed instead of detouring to the mattress.

Flailed worse when gravity caught up with him, and Derek had to brace him up or get a sternum to the nose. (At best.)

Derek curled up to bury his face in Stiles' shoulder and hide his laughter mostly out of habit. There was no hiding from the bond.

"Oh my god, shut up," Stiles groaned, but he was laughing too and then there were fingers threading through Derek's hair, rubbing at his scalp, and it was perfect again.

-----

They discovered that Stiles was ticklish along the backs of his arms when a light touch ended with Stiles twisting away, yanking his arm up and away and--into Derek's nose.

"Oh shi-- Sorry," Stiles gasped, trying to squirm his way back into Derek's space, sitting halfway up to give himself the room to rub his arm. "You--"

He went still, hand hovering worriedly in the air between them, expression flicking through surprise, confusion, indignation.

"Are you laughing?" he demanded, rolling Derek onto his back again and crouching over him like a hawk guarding a meal. "Seriously?"

Derek shrugged and raised a hand to wipe the blood away. Didn't bother trying to smooth the grin off his face. "Not technically." Just in his head.

Yeah, it had hurt. But the pain was there and gone and left behind the faces Stiles was making.

"Oh my god, you're the worst," Stiles huffed, settling into a more natural posture (straddling Derek's thighs, his brain insisted on pointing out helpfully) and going back to rubbing his arm.

-----

"It's weird, being fully dressed when you're mostly...not." Stiles huffed, fingers skating over the curve of Derek's ear and grinning at the shiver that got him.

Brat.

"Could take your socks off," Derek offered, most of his attention on the stretch of Stiles' throat. The intensity of his scent. Figuring out how to nuzzle without scratching the hell out of Stiles' skin. (Wishing he'd thought to shave.)

Stiles snorted, sharp amusement turning his scent lemon-candy sweet as he--

Derek snorted and pulled his feet away from the teasing poke of Stiles' bare toes.

"Could take my shirt off," Stiles said offhand, when their feet had settled down again. "That'd be fine, wouldn't it?"

Technically, supposedly, yes. But-- "You don't feel okay with that."

That brought up a swell of sour impatience (with himself, not with Derek), but did nothing to dispel the uneasy tangle of determination and doubt that had been sitting between them, growing in time with the twitches in Stiles' knees.

"It's just-- It's stupid," Stiles protested, short and vicious and full of snags and sharp tangles. "I took my shirt off for you before. I can walk around in public without my shirt. Why--"

"Why doesn't matter," Derek cut him off, hugging Stiles close and pressing a kiss to the corner of his jaw. "This is different, anyway."

"You're okay being shirtless," Stiles grumbled, but he was relaxing again. Scent softening. Tangles loosening.

Derek grinned against his jaw. "Werewolf. I run around the forest naked sometimes, remember?"

The same argument applied, Derek knew, but that wasn't the point. The point was the way Stiles' breath caught, how his mouth fell open just a bit and how the air went dense with apple-spice-musk again.

Derek nipped at Stiles' ear, and relished the noise he got for his troubles.

-----

Stiles couldn't trace a line up Derek's throat without pulling up memories better left forgotten. Derek couldn't get his hands on Stiles' ass without feeling guilty, but Stiles was more than happy to slip his hands in Derek's back pockets for a quick squeeze, once they figured out that was okay.

Teeth on Stiles' ears were good. Lips, tongue, fingers, and breath were off limits, on pain of the flailing and yelling of the incredibly ticklish.

Teeth on Derek's neck were--temporarily off limits.

That discovery sent Stiles rushing to the bathroom, the bond thrown open to too much, too much, too much...

-----

"I am making so much use of that, someday," Stiles remarked afterward, only mostly-coherent but happy, and still slumped against the bathroom door while Derek went downstairs for his bag. "If it's ever not bad."

This was not what Derek had been thinking when he packed a change of clothes.

Upstairs, the alarm went off.

-----

By the time John got home, Derek's old clothes were shoved under a few days worth of laundry, and Stiles' room was cleaned up enough that it didn't smell too much like sex (both at Stiles' insistence, and in spite of his grumbling). There were chicken breasts in the oven, baking in onions and leftover tomato sauce, and Derek and Stiles were trying to figure out how to make a salad dressing that wouldn't suck with only dried herbs, non-fat mayo and apple cider vinegar.

They might as well have not bothered. John took one look at them and sighed, running a hand over his face before he started for the stairs. "Aren't you two supposed to be taking things slow?"

"We are," Stiles protested, rolling his eyes but blushing. "Mostly."

Derek kept his attention on the ground mustard. Maybe, if he just focused on getting all the lumps broken up and refused to acknowledge anything else, he could ignore the fact that he was probably just as red as Stiles.

"Mostly," John muttered upstairs, soft and scornful and obviously not meant to be overheard. "Jesus Christ."

-----

Dinner wasn't as awkward as it could have been.

That wasn't saying much.

"I could have sworn you two were supposed to be keeping to public spaces," John pointed out, cutting into one of the chicken breasts with a little more intensity than the task really called for.

"Yeeeeeeeeeeup," Stiles agreed, bobbing in his seat as he rearranged his salad with far more precision and care that a bunch of greens really merited. "So, yeah. About that."

"Public spaces would mean less stubble burn," John pointed out, faux helpful, before shoving a forkful of chicken and rice into his mouth.

Maybe, if he really worked at it, Derek could vanish into the table. That sounded like an excellent plan.

Somehow, Stiles managed not to try and shield his neck. Derek was pretty sure he wouldn't have been able to manage that, but Stiles was-- Stiles was embarrassed and mad, not embarrassed and guilty. Maybe that was why.

Stiles set his fork down and braced his elbows against the table. "Not really. That's mostly just Derek rubbing his face against my neck." (John choked on the bite he'd just taken. Derek tried revisiting becoming one with the table.) "Which is actually entirely what he was doing. It's a scent thing," Stiles waved it off as unimportant. "But definitely tame enough for public. Promise."

John cleared his throat noisily, shooting his son a pointed look when Stiles reached over to rub Derek's back.

Not that Derek was there at all. Nope. Table.

"Son," John started, then sighed and rubbed over his eyes. "I'm worried about you. I'm allowed to do that."

"And I'm allowed to take care of my mate," Stiles said, as though that was just simple reality and not--

(No hesitation. No stutter over a word hiding a concept that was so new and so huge. No trace in his scent or heartbeat or the bond that he'd meant anything by it. Used it out of anything but reflex.)

Stiles had to feel that something was going on in Derek's head, but that didn't stop him. "And part of that's going to mean that, fine, I will talk to you about all the embarrassing details, if that's what it takes. But can you not put so much effort into traumatizing Derek? He comes pre-traumatized, Dad! It's a thing."

Derek was, sadly, not a table. He wouldn't have been able to hide his face in his hands if he was a table. "Tact," he offered into the tense, peppery silence between the Stilinskis. "It's a thing."

Stiles snorted, amused and affectionate but ultimately dismissive. "Not one I've heard of."

"You can say that again," John sighed, but he let Stiles move the conversation to weekend plans, after that.

Derek wished he wasn't so relieved, by that.

-----

Stiles caught him at the door, after dinner and an episode of something that, honestly, could have been a gritty procedural or a comedy. Derek hadn't been paying attention to anything past the scent and feel of Stiles leaning against his side, and the sketchbook between them. "You gonna be okay tonight?'

Probably not, but Derek smiled anyway. "I'd been thinking of spending it here, before all this," Derek admitted.

Stiles snorted. "I'd been wondering why you had clothes. Figured you'd just planned ahead."

"Not like that."

Stiles snickered and stepped in for a hug that was more of a full body scent exchange than anything, with the way he wiggled into a comfortable position. "I'll talk with Dad. It'll be okay."

At some point, someday, he was going to be able to take care of Stiles in return. Wouldn't be an unpredictable wreck.

"Try to sleep," Derek whispered against Stiles' temple. It was the best he could do, in the moment.

Chapter Text

It was dark, but Derek ran home. He didn't know what kept Stiles from insisting on driving him, if it was John's concern, or forgetfulness, or something Stiles felt through the bond, but he was grateful for it. For the quiet, and the dark, the air, the space.

The chance to smell a little less like he'd just had sex with his boyfriend.

(Which he had. That was what that was, separate rooms or not, in every court that counted.)

(He needed to not think about court.)

Derek focused on his run, on the mostly steady rhythm of feet over uneven terrain, on the burn that teased at the edge of his awareness when he pushed for more speed. On the scents held in by the trees.

The traces left by his grandmother's patrol were fresh. Recent. His father's were fainter. Almost dull enough that he might be on his way back around.

Derek ran faster. There was no world in which he wanted to know whether his father would laugh, applaud, or yell, on smelling him.

-----

His phone buzzed twenty strides before Derek hit the tree line. It was easier to wait until the trees were out of the way before swinging his bag around to pull the phone out. Less chance of snagging something on a branch, or--

Fck ys. Bed smells like u. Best evr

Derek tripped over his own feet.

At some point, probably in the far distant future, Stiles was going to stop surprising him.

Probably.

"I saw that," Laura announced gleefully from one of the living room windows before bouncing toward the door as Derek reluctantly let himself in (bending down to scoop up Patch as he went, because this was what life with kittens was like, apparently). "What did he say? The look on your face was--"

He could tell exactly when Laura caught his scent because she slid to a halt mid-sentence, the better to gape at him.

He took the opportunity to set his bag down and toe out of his shoes. (And to frown at them, because he'd apparently ripped through the mesh without noticing. There was a long gash along the outer edge of the right shoe. He was going to need to figure out some way of gluing that down or something until he could get another pair.)

He thought about getting his boots out, so he wouldn't have to carry them to his room, or getting a sketchbook out for after Laura was done reacting, but. The inside of his bag probably smelled like Stiles' house, and possibly even more incriminatingly than he did.

It could wait.

"Oh my god," Laura finally huffed, all exaspiration and irritation and launching herself at him in a hug anyway. Because Laura. (He was expecting it, but it still pushed him back a step, making Patch scrabble to flee from where she'd been investigating his shoes.) "I thought you were going to wait until he was eighteen, you weirdo. Are you okay? Is he okay?" Laura pulled back abruptly to frown at him. "I don't want details. I'm not asking how it was, just--"

He covered her mouth with a hand before she could make it any worse.

Of course, it was Laura, so all he really got was an immediate and disgustingly wet lick.

"Ugh," he grunted, pulling his hand away to wipe it on her shirt.

Laura didn't really notice, too busy making a face and licking her sleeve to scrub the taste off. "Oh, god, you didn't wash your hands enough."

Derek huffed a sigh and shoved Laura away. His life. What even.

"Maybe you could have this conversation somewhere other than the entryway?" Tania suggested from the third floor landing, leaning over the banister to stare judgmentally down at them.

And of course, that was just the perfect setup for his mother. "Agreed. How about my study?"

Which she was in, obviously. Because his mother was conniving but also kind of lazy, sometimes.

Derek shoved at Laura's shoulder as he pushed past her. She growled and jumped on his back in retaliation, and he ended up grabbing her thighs and giving her a piggyback ride all the way down the hall.

There wasn't really any point in protesting.

-----

Laura kicked the study door shut behind them, and just tightened her grip when Derek went to drop her. Derek huffed, dropped them both onto the couch instead, and tried to ignore the way his mother and sister both felt like approval as he did.

He tried to ignore the twitch to his mother's nose and amused smirk too, but it wasn't easy.

"I know you didn't want me in here so you could lecture me," he tried pointing out, but it just made his mother's smirk deeper.

"Pot. Kettle," she agreed before standing up from the desk and walking over to push Derek and Laura into a configuration she could sit next to and lean against. "I just wanted to make sure you're taking care of yourself. You've been a little on edge, lately."

Laura stifled a laugh and showed that she was worried too by biting his head. (She was lucky he loved her and had lived with her weirdness long enough to understand what she meant by it.)

"I'm fine," he tried, and sighed when his mother just leaned away so she could give him a deeply unimpressed look. "I will be fine. Stiles is...good. He's being good, about this."

Her snort was skeptical, but she didn't poke him for anything more. Leaned in again to press against his side. "Is there anything you need?"

A shower. A really long, thorough shower, so he'd stop feeling the need to flinch whenever he saw someone's nose twitch.

"I'm not going to sleep well," he said instead, and resolutely ignored his sister's subvocal whine. "Could I relieve Dad for patrol?"

His mother twisted an arm up to tweak his nose. "Relieve Mom instead. She's got her tea with the ladies tomorrow, the extra sleep would do her well."

And she'd cope best if Derek had to wake her up after only a few hours of sleep. He just nodded, accepting the unsaid.

"Ugh, you're the worst," Laura sighed, getting up and tugging at his shirt. "C'mon. I'll run with you for a while."

"Don't get distracted from actually patrolling," their mother reminded them, taking advantage of Laura's absence to kiss Derek's hair before releasing him. "And don't break the forest. They're hard to replace."

Derek didn't need to look over at his sister to know she was rolling her eyes along with him.

Laura stripped out of her shirt on her way to the door, already rolling her shoulders into the shift before she hesitated at the door. (There were no kittens, now. Laura still scared them, and Laura with a specific goal in mind scared anyone sensible.)

"Going to try for a full shift?" Derek asked, keeping his eyes down as he pulled his socks off. He'd leave the rest of his clothes. He didn't mind running dressed, had plenty of practice with it, and they'd learned it was always good to have someone who could pass for normal in any group.

Socks balled up and tossed into the corner with Laura's shirt, Derek flexed his toes until they cracked, claws there and gone in a blink of instinct. Passing for normal or not, he wasn't going to keep his feet tied up and confined if he didn't have to.

"Thinking about it," Laura agreed, humming before dropping her hands to her pants and wiggling her way out of them. (Derek still couldn't wrap his brain around how she could do that without gouging herself on a claw or punching holes in her pants.) "You mind? It's a good night for it."

He rolled his eyes, pushed past her on his way for the door. "Yeah. It's such a hardship for me when you can't talk."

Laura's bra went flying into the rest of her pile of clothes, and there were suddenly teeth snapping behind his lower back. Playful, teasing teeth. But still. Teeth.

Derek took off, mind already seeking out the rock-steady pull of his grandmother.

-----

Laura only lasted a few hours before the lure of sleep pulled her back to the house. She hadn't quite managed a full shift, but she came close. Had a snout full of predator's teeth and a full coat of fur for a good hour, even if her shape was still more human than canid.

The run was pleasant, with or without company, even if he never quite relaxed into it. He learned that there were a pair of illegal campers in their territory (harmless smelling and easy enough to avoid), that the badger by the creek had moved half a mile upstream from the last time he'd paid attention to it, that the bats had migrated, their musk-sharp scent starting to weaken even around their favorite roosts.

He ran until his mother slid out of the shadows, two hours before dawn. Sniffed at his hip and gut before snorting and pressing her shoulder to his leg.

Time to go home.

-----

It'd been past time, Derek realized, when he didn't lift his foot enough for the last step and nearly took a header into the porch.

He caught himself against the railing and froze, listening for anyone else awake in the house. His father was laughing softly in the kitchen, but he was already awake and didn't count.

(There was also the inquisitive thump of kitten heartbeats clustered near the door, which also didn't count but did remind him to catch Patch before she could bolt, when he opened the door.)

There were tiny glowing eyes ringing his bag, still abandoned to the side of the door, and a larger pair hovering in the kitchen doorway.

"You okay?" his father asked, padding closer with footsteps just as quiet as his voice.

Derek nodded, idly reaching for words and not surprised when he didn't find them. Patrolling was brisk air and constant movement, constant awareness. It wasn't hard to stay awake and alert, for that.

Home? Home was safety and warmth and family and he had a bed. The rest of the world was greying over, becoming obscure against that reality.

His father chuffed and sidestepped kittens to press against his side, herding him toward the downstairs bathroom. "C'mon, you'll feel better if you rinse some of the dirt off."

Running a shower would wake up most of the house, so Derek made do with a washcloth and exhausted apathy, scrubbing and rinsing until the water ran mostly clear. (He'd wash his sheets the next day. It'd be fine.)

His father was gone by the time Derek got out of the bathroom, already upstairs and in bed. Which sounded fantastic.

Derek took care with the steps, only skipping a few at a time to keep the noise down (and reduce the opportunities for rehashing that moment on the porch). It was only when he was in his room, stripping out of his clothes and picking up the shed twigs and leaves for the trash that he remembered his bag was still downstairs.

He didn't really need it, was just used to having it around, so he grumbled quietly to himself and slipped into bed.

-----

He only woke up twice with white, blunt teeth stretching like a threat behind his eyelids.

-----

Derek blinked down at his shoe, trying to reconcile the simple rip from the night before with the wide, gaping hole that was in it now. It was harder than it should have been, his brain churning and grinding along so slowly it felt like he was trying to think through bubblegum.

It wasn't until Stitch raced around his ankle and tumbled over the shoe, darting into it just before Patch caught up with him, that Derek realized what had probably happened.

What was happening then, actually, as Stitch stared out through the hole before taking a swipe at Patch through it.

Right.

Laura clapped a hand against his shoulder and steered him toward the door. "C'mon, grumpy-pants. I'll drive you to work."

She said something about thrifting and picking up a temporary replacement for him, but by that point Derek had realized she'd walked him out to her car barefoot and was more focused on digging his boots out of his bag. (Harder than it sounded, when he couldn't slip out of his seat belt and the bag was on the floorboard between his feet.)

Stiles' scent filled the car once he finally got the zipper open. Laura snorted hard enough to jerk the car slightly to one side, and Derek broke the zipper when he turned to growl at her.

His life.

-----

The less said about trying to lace up his boots while stuck in his sister's impractical car the better.

-----

Laura dropped him off out front instead of off the alley, so the sound of her engine was already fading by the time he'd found the right key to let himself in. (He never came in the front. Just like he didn't usually need the key for Vic and Cara's apartment, or the kitchen door at Lapin Grillé, or any of the four PO boxes the pack kept, or... Fuck, he had too many keys.)

Derek absently locked the door behind himself (he hated it when people walked in before he'd finished opening the till and making sure the shop was actually clean and set up right), pausing at a hint of paper and fresh ink that didn't belong first thing in the morning.

There was a letter in the mail box, white edges visible through the decorative mesh Vic bitched about and Cara was loudly appreciative for (Cara would forget about mail for weeks at a time if she couldn't see it).

Derek pulled the envelope out, unsurprised that it was unaddressed and unsealed. (It had to be a hand delivery. The post office didn't typically deliver in the middle of the night, and Derek had been the one to fetch and sort the mail yesterday and the day before.) He pulled the letter out and skimmed it as he walked through the shop, turning the lights on behind him as he went (because the lights were set up for someone coming in from the back, like he usually did).

It was another letter complaining about Vic and Tony's photographs in the shop window. Better spelled than usual, less focused on incoherent frothing rage, more of a 'Think of the children!' plea that looked like it could pass for rational thought.

Maybe it was rational thought. He wasn't really capable of passing judgment at the moment.

He left the letter in the office for Vic or Cara--one of them would be in, he just couldn't remember which--and hoped his day was done with the suck.

Chapter Text

There were a lot of reasons Derek loved his job. He got to draw most of the day. Talked with people about art, and designs they were passionate about. Had constant examples of people who had also made horrible life choices.

Generally speaking he had control over physical contact. Sometimes a client would touch his arm or leg to get his attention, and he'd been hugged by a few particularly happy customers, but generally he was the one touching them and that's the way he liked it.

When Cara finally came in a couple hours after opening, Derek had a mostly forgotten glass of water in one hand and was trying to awkwardly pat the back of the guy crying on him with the other.

Cara was an obnoxious mix of amusement and sympathy, but Derek didn't care because she was instantly dropping her bag and trotting up to the counter from the back door, not even taking the time to pull her coat off. "Oh, honey. C'mere."

She pulled a tissue from...somewhere. Offered it to the guy and helped him straighten up and walk to a window seat.

Derek had no idea how she'd done it, but he edged in close enough to leave the water near at hand then fled for the back.

"No, no, don't worry," he could hear Cara muttering, kind and light and all the things Derek didn't really remember how to be, most of the time. "I doubt he's mad, you just freaked him out because he's not so great at feelings. Now, what's up? Is this your design?"

Derek shut himself in the bathroom and ran the sink to give himself something else to listen to.

-----

Cara knocked, and Derek turned off the sink. She didn't wait for anything else, just opened the door and leaned in. "You okay?"

"I hate it when they cry," he muttered, starting toward the door and walking through it when Cara backed off to give him room.

Of course, it was Cara, so she was laughing at him. "Yeah, I know. And this one actually cried on you. That's gotta suck." She reached over to pat his shoulder before heading up to the front again. "He still likes your work best, so he has a follow up consultation to go over whatever you come up with for him. I scheduled it so I'll be here for it, though."

Derek grunted an acknowledgement and followed Cara forward once he'd dug out a couple of bottles from the cleaning cupboards. "That's fine."

Cara had already cleared the papers and trash off the counter, so Derek spritzed the air with rosemary water a few times. (Niq's idea, and not something they could do too often, but it was already dampening the lingering wood-sour-metal-salt traces Latte-man had left behind.)

He'd broken out the surface cleaner and was wiping down the seats, letting the sharp chemicals of the spray keep him focused and distracted, when Cara asked, "Do you want to know what's up with your client?"

"Later," he managed to get out, hating the way the scent of the cleaning spray got into his mouth. "Not--"

"Got it."

-----

Derek was taking a break from his random cleaning spree to fix the disaster that was their ink backsupply (apparently Tony had needed to find something in or behind the bottles. Again.) when a spike of agitation brought him back to his surroundings with a jolt.

That hadn't been Stiles.

Now that he was paying attention, the shop stank of Cara's anxiety and a spicy-sweet musk he didn't recognize, and Cara's voice was the sort of forced cheerful and pleasant that generally meant she was thinking about murder.

"...sorry, but it says on the first page of my portfolio that I don't do political tattoos, or sexually violent tattoos. It's my right to--"

"It's not like I wouldn't be paying for it," the guy (not a customer) spat (not taking that tone to Cara), a muffled thud suggesting he'd started leaning against the counter (Derek was already moving). "For fuck's sake! What's wrong with y--"

The not-customer didn't finish, too busy flinching back away from the sudden appearance of Derek at his shoulder.

"You should probably leave now," Cara suggested, tone mild but folding her hands under the counter to hide the way they were shaking. "If you'd like, I can email you a list of local artists who might be more willing to work with you."

She'd already be e-mailing a warning to those artists anyway, probably. She was good about that.

"What the fuck ever," the guy muttered, backing away a few steps before heading toward the door. (He never turned his back on Derek. Good plan.) "I don't need anything from you if you're going to be such a stuck up--"

Derek let himself growl, and didn't regret it at all when the guy flinched and practically ran out the door.

"Well," Cara said, fake cheerful and still shaking. "That was fun."

Derek huffed and listened until the guy's footsteps were too hard to distinguish from the rest of the Saturday afternoon crowd. Walked back around the counter to drape himself over Cara's back. "Want to close up?"

"I'll be fine," she snapped, then sighed and quietly took a slow breath, shoulders relaxing a little as she exhaled. "Sorry. And it is kind of tempting," she admitted, scrunching her nose up and tilting her head back to look at him. "But I've got the first inking for the penis garden today and I was really looking forward to it."

It took Derek a second to connect 'penis garden' to Thigh-of-Dicks, but he got there. "So do a holiday close. We can call our appointments and just close up to walk ins."

Cara's entire face scrunched up and he could feel the conflicting pulls of temptation and responsibility. "No. Or," she reconsidered, face relaxing as she tried to shrug and waggle her head back and forth with a werewolf draped over her back. "Not yet. Let's give the day a chance to redeem itself."

His day had had a chance already. It'd had several. All the same, Cara was the boss, so he just wrapped around her more securely and snuffled at what little hair she had. (She was probably due to dye it again, soon. He didn't feel the need to sneeze.)

Unsurprisingly, Cara reached up to push ineffectually at his face. "Gah, stop it. I must reek."

She did. Sour-metal-fake lemon, too close to most of the cleaners they kept in the shop for busting one of them out to have much of an effect. (He'd have doused her in rosemary water, if he thought she'd stand still for it.)

He didn't let go anyway. She'd smell better for the hug.

-----

An hour later, when they'd had to kick out a not-customer who refused to produce ID to back up her claim that she was over eighteen, Cara flipped the sign to Closed and turned around, smile forced and pointedly ignoring the red faced girl still shouting through the window behind her. "So. I'm thinking we need greasy take-out. What do you think?"

Derek thought the day was cursed, but stood easily and went to fetch his wallet and keys. "Let's go."

They didn't have another appointment for an hour. Plenty of time to get food, get back, and make some calls.

-----

They were hiding in the back with a bemused (recently arrived, unscathed) Tony (the bastard) and their second round of take out (two bags full of tacos. Round one had been to-go burgers from Floyd's) when Derek felt the change. His sense of Stiles one minute clear, if distant (awake, at Alan's, overwhelmed but not upset) then...not.

He knew what direction his mate was in, but otherwise--

Cara kicked his shin, shooting him a concerned look and darting a quick glance toward Tony. Who was watching him with narrowed eyes and a frown.

So. He'd probably been making some sort of not-human noise, then. Great.

"Sorry, I-- I'm just gonna-" Derek stood up and fled for the back door, stopping just long enough to grab his phone out of his bag.

"Is he okay?" he heard Tony ask, just before the door shut.

He did feel a little bad about sticking Cara with the inevitable questions, but she was more creative than him. Especially when it came to words.

(Her brain was always coming up with contingency plans anyway. They'd spent an afternoon, once, with Derek and Laura coming up with scenarios and becoming increasingly alarmed for how many of them Cara already had plans for.)

Derek slumped against the alley wall, pressing a button to wake his phone up and give him the lock screen.

He received a text before he'd started swiping in his code.

Dont worry, Stiles said.

Right. Because that was easy.

Derek glared at his phone, reaching for some sense of Stiles through the bond. Any sense, aside from general directionality.

Stiles probably couldn't feel him either, if he hadn't felt the need to follow up yet.

There was a solution to that, though.

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