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The Road to Self-Actualization Is Littered with F-Bombs

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Stiles cleared the hedge with less than an inch to spare, his skirt flapping around his calves, and very nearly face-planted in a kiddie pool, thankfully empty of any kiddies but unfortunately full of water. He went skidding across the yard, arms windmilling madly before catching himself enough to start running again.

"Mama, mama, that man is wearing a dress!" a little girl shrieked. She ran and hid her head in her mother's knees, the garish bear's face on her bikini-clad butt seeming to leer at Stiles.

Stiles pulled a face and yelled back over his shoulder, "It's a skirt and blouse set!"

Yeah, that showed them. He rounded the corner of the house and caught sight of Mr. Mikel's hairy legs climbing into an idling van. So much for his mini-skirt restricting his movements anymore. The van took off with a squeal of its tires before a panting Stiles could get within ten yards of it.

"Oh, f—"

***

It all started that morning, when they figured out Mr. Mikel—

No, scratch that. It started a week ago, when Stiles had arrived back in good old Beacon Hills to celebrate his final Spring Break of college in the lamest way ever: at home. Derek had followed the Sheriff home from work and said—

No, really, it had started in sophomore year of high school, when Stiles heard that half a body was discovered in the woods. Or even earlier yet, to the first day of kindergarten when Stiles dropped his Pudding Snack on the floor and a little boy named Scott McCall offered to share his.

Surely Stiles could lay the fault of this little escapade at Scott's door? Or Derek's. Really, Derek should take credit for this, or split it with Stiles’s dad, who had, after all, approved the undercover operation and Stiles’s role in it in the first place.

At any rate, the short version of the tale was that Stiles and Scott had an epic bromance, an I've-got-your-back-and-you've-got-mine kind of partnership, and it'd been that way for sixteen years, forgiving a few bumps in the road (namely, werewolves, Allison, Derek, Isaac, acts of violence, different colleges, dating parents). So when Scott had called before Spring Break and wanted to know if Stiles was going to be coming back to Beacon Hills to offer moral support while Scott worked every extra hour Deaton would give him at the animal clinic, Stiles said okay. His other option was an exorbitantly priced week-long booze cruise with his ex, her boyfriend, her boyfriend's best friend, and about a dozen of their friends, none of whom Stiles could really stand. Hanging around the animal clinic for the win!

The night before Stiles got home, the animal clinic had been robbed. Among the stolen items were tranquilizers, medicines, some equipment and one blue dino chew toy. The bastards. Scott was frantic, the Sheriff was perplexed, and Beacon Hills Deputy Derek Hale found their sole clues: a hospital gown caught in the drain pipe outside the building and one lone fluffy slipper, half-shredded by Buzz Lightyear, Mrs. Anderson's puggle who'd been staying overnight with a bad case of hypochondriac owner.

Stitched into the tags on the gown and slipper were the words Fields of Hope Spa & Retreat. The sheriff sighed heavily when he saw them. "Oh, f—"

***

"Welcome to Fields of Hope Spa & Retreat's First Annual Couples' Retreat on Self-Actualization: How Can I Be a Twosome If I Don't Know My Onesome, I'm Cheryl!"

Stiles blinked at the receptionist. Even for him, that would have been a mouthful. Derek grunted.

"We're super excited to have you, this week is going to be so awesome; Stan has really done a fantastic job, so many couples have had amazing breakthroughs, and you will, too, even if you're a couple days late in the retreat, don't worry about that at all! Not at all!"

Stiles laid a hand on Derek's bicep. Either the claws or a gun was going to come out any second now, and then there'd be bloody, bloody carnage.

"Thanks for that, Cheryl," Stiles said warmly. "My partner and I would like to check in and get in touch with our onesomes."

Derek gave him a look. He seemed to be rewriting history in his head. Hell, no. This was Derek's idea. Stiles squeezed and Derek grunted again.

"Nice bracelet," Derek mumbled as Cheryl handed over two brightly colored folders. "Where'd you get it?"

Subtle, Deputy Hale.

"It was my Christmas bonus last year! Or as we say at Fields of Hope, a gift given during a season of love and understanding." Cheryl flashed her dimples at them. "May I see your IDs, and I'll register you in two shakes of a doggie's tail."

Stiles handed over his fake ID from high school and Derek pulled out one he'd had made during the Alpha Pack Debacle. Derek had pushed for getting new ones made for their undercover expedition to Fields of Hope, complete with hyphenated names and the same address, but Dad put the kibosh on that – too expensive, not enough time and he had a headache, Stiles could tell.

"Alrighty then, Mr. Biggerson," Stiles took back his ID with a grimace, "Mr. Scully," Derek pocketed his. “Now, here at Fields of Hope, we have a strict no cell phone policy.” She flashed her dimples at them yet again, as if that would make it any better. No phones, were they nuts? Derek handed his over without comment and nudged Stiles with his elbow. No way.

“Come now, Mr. Biggerson, you can’t be connecting with yourself if you’re too busy talking with outsiders! Look, each couple gets a lock box!”

She brandished their box at them. It was bright pink and said ‘Grrrrrl Power’ on it in gold glitter.

“Come on, Stiles, how can you resist the box? There’s glitter.” Derek’s eyes glinted in the lamplight. The bastard was enjoying this and privately, Stiles always got a little kick out of it when Derek looked happy, but this was his phone. And besides, what if they had to check in with Dad about the case?

“You can always come in here and use my phone if you have an emergency,” Cheryl wheedled. Derek raised one eyebrow. Stiles had told him he thought that was so cool this one time Derek, Scott and Isaac visited him at college and Stiles got completely trashed. He’d regretted it ever since, but he still put his phone in the pink box. Cheryl spun the dial on the lock and placed the box in the closet, on a shelf with dozens of other boxes. At least he still had his camera, in case they needed pictures of evidence. They could always steal the box later. Derek gave him a Look, like he knew what Stiles was thinking (he probably did) and he didn’t approve.

"If you would follow me," Cheryl continued, smoothing her skirt, which was clearly from Target and Stiles was going to enjoy rubbing Derek's nose in that fact, "I will show you to your suite."

Derek hoisted up their joint duffel bag (an argument which Stiles let him think he'd won – he'd gone online already and saw that everyone wore pajama-like uniforms at Fields of Hope, so no need for Stiles to sacrifice any of his vintage t-shirts for the job) and Stiles carried their folders. Cheryl chattered on as she led them through a courtyard with gardens and a fountain. Several couples were sitting on benches, wearing matching pajamas and exchanging Deep Thoughts. They all looked very happy.

"I hate the way you load the dishwasher." Stiles overheard a woman saying as they walked past one of the benches. "It makes me want to stab you with a serving fork."

Her husband grinned doofily at her. "I hate the way you belittle my love of the Red Sox. Can't you get into your thick skull that it's a fucking way of life?"

They leaned across the bench and kissed.

"Um, Cheryl?" Stiles interrupted her story, something about the history of the building that housed the spa. "What's going on out here?"

"It's the Kissing and Sharing Hour! Don't worry about missing it this morning; we have it twice a day!"

Stiles walked right into Derek's suddenly still back and bounced off, landing on his ass.

"Oh, f—"

***

**The Twosome Checklist: How Well Do You Know Your Partner?**

"Hey, listen to this." Stiles twisted on the surprisingly small bed, ("We don't buy king-size to encourage cuddling!" Cheryl had chirped in reaction to the look on Derek's face when he caught sight of the bed. Stiles wished he'd been able to document it somehow.) and glanced over at Derek. Derek was arranging the toiletries in their spacious bathroom ("But don't you fret, okay? Because the Jacuzzi is built for two!") for at least the third time. Dude had a lot of shaving cream and aftershave. "In order to be a good half of our twosome, you should know the name of my kindergarten teacher, where I would most like to go on vacation if we had a million bucks, and my definition of the perfect date."

"That list is moronic. This room is moronic. This entire place is moronic."

Stiles gaped at him. "Coming here was your idea! I was just going to…" (play video games and get Scott to let me into the clinic to play with the puppies) "… do other very important things on my Spring Break."

Derek snorted. "You were going to play video games and roll around with the puppies at the animal clinic."

"Okay, fine. It would still be more fun than being with you when you're in this kind of mood. And it doesn't negate the point that you chose this." Stiles frowned. "Why did you choose this?"

"Weren't you paying attention at the station?" Derek finally left the bathroom and, misjudging the size of the bed, threw himself down onto the mattress. Stiles gave an undignified squawk and rolled off the other side. Derek kept right on talking. "This is the fifth animal clinic hit in the county. There's obviously a ring of thieves at play here. We need to catch one of them so we can find the others, and we know one of them was here on Friday, when this dumbass retreat started."

"And you thought it would be fun to blend into a couples' retreat with yours truly," Stiles muttered, pushing himself back up onto his knees and eyeing the bed.

"You're deputized," Derek said, as if that was the end of the discussion. First, they never talked about that time. The code name for that time was That Time We Never Talk About, and it was the code name for a very good reason. Second, they also never talked about Stiles’s five-year, off-and-on-but-mainly-on crush on Derek; it was one of the cornerstones of their somewhat antagonistic but still warm friendship. Third, Derek could have gone with Donna Murphy -- she'd been watching his ass ever since Derek joined the sheriff's department, plus she had a county-issued firearm and a badge -- but Derek had frowned, looked at the website over Stiles’s shoulder and said, "This is a couples' retreat. I don't know anything about the other deputies. You need to come, Stiles."

"We don't talk about that. And for the record, I don't think it's fair that I get punished for you being so anti-social you can't fake being a couple with one of your co-workers."

"Duly noted."

A knock sounded on the door. Stiles scrambled to his feet. "Who's there?" he called.

"It's Frank."

"Um, that's nice. What do you do, Frank?"

"I deliver things."

"What kind of—"

"What the hell do you want?" Derek interrupted them both. Stiles felt a little relieved.

"I'm delivering your resortwear for the week," Frank announced. Derek climbed off the bed, motioning Stiles behind him, and refused to open the door until Stiles rolled his eyes and stepped aside. A man, presumably named Frank, held out two ribbon-wrapped bundles of cloth, said, "Enjoy your stay!" and left.

The clothes were really soft, loose yoga pants and ringer t-shirts, plus copies of the robe and slipper they'd found at Deaton's clinic.

"The sooner we blend in with the locals, the sooner we can take a look around," Derek said, thrusting a bundle at Stiles and tossing his own on the bed before pulling his shirt off. Stiles whirled around and retreated at a dignified pace into the bathroom to change. He had his limits.

***

An hour later, Stiles had discovered no less than three easy ways out of the retreat while still avoiding the main gate, that Cheryl used Clairol to get her hair that pretty strawberry blonde color, and that, though creepy beyond belief, Frank the delivery boy was probably too stupid to be involved in a ring of thieves. Plus, the pajama outfits looked amazing on Derek, damn him.

And then it was time for Sharing and Kissing, the afternoon version.

Derek had this look on his face that made Stiles think he’d really thought they could find the culprit, take him in for questioning and arrest the whole ring before he had to sit on a bench across from Stiles and kiss him for an hour.

"Jolly afternoon, twosomes!" An older man in a leisure suit came bounding into the courtyard, waving to all the assembled couples. "Welcome to our Sharing and Kissing Hour! We have a new couple just joining us for their first session today – please, stand up, Derek and Stiles Biggerson-Scully, and say hello to your fellow travelers on the path of self-actualization!"

And there's the hyphen, awesome. Stiles stood up and had to pull Derek up, as well. A busty blonde from across the courtyard catcalled them as everyone else clapped and smiled.

"And now to begin!" They sat back down, the blonde throwing a wink at Derek. Stiles was sorely tempted to flip her the bird. "Remember, each partner shares one thing and then you kiss! The afternoon session is for things we like about each other. Think nice!"

The other couples started talking as Stan left the courtyard. Stiles looked at Derek. Derek was checking out the exits.

"Now would be a great time to search the other rooms," he mused. "We can say you have an upset stomach or something."

"Really? I'm the one with the upset stomach?" Stiles snapped. He should have known he wasn't going to get anything out of this week. Over the years, his rather embarrassing crush on Derek had ebbed and flowed, nearly disappearing entirely for that magical year (in hindsight, it'd been miserable, but at the time he thought it had to be heaven) he'd been Lydia's boyfriend. He’d thought that, just maybe, Derek insisting Stiles accompany him to the retreat meant he was not utterly repulsed by him. Apparently he thought wrong, and never mind that Stiles didn't really want to spend an hour kissing his platonic male friends, either.

"No, no, no, gentlemen." One of the instructors came over, gently chiding them. "The afternoon session is for nice things. Compliments. Derek, can you compliment Stiles?"

Could he? Stiles couldn't look him in the eye.

"Uh, Stiles…" Derek began. The instructor nodded encouragingly. "You have pretty eyelashes."

Stiles’s jaw dropped. He – what? Derek was complimenting him on… his looks? Stiles couldn't have been more surprised if Derek had stood up and started singing 'I'm a Little Teapot.'

"Awww. Now you, Stiles." The instructor smiled beatifically.

"I, uh, I like…" Crap, what could he say without giving too much away? Why hadn't he planned for this? It would have been so much easier to share like the couple they'd passed that morning. "I, um, like the way you…" Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck! "… ask me to go on fun outings with you. They're… fun." The instructor was giving him a weird look. Danger, Will Robinson. "Because you're there." Moment saved.

"Lovely. Now kiss, and do it again." She waited expectantly.

Sweat broke out on Stiles’s palms and beaded his upper lip. Derek leaned forward, his gaze intense. Stiles was sure his own face resembled that of a deer caught in the headlights. He tried to get a hold of his confidence. He'd kissed people before. Lots of people! And one of them had even been a dude. He totally knew what he was doing here. He threaded his fingers in the hair at the nape of Derek's neck and pulled him closer.

Derek's lips were softer than Stiles had been expecting, his breath minty fresh, and he parted his lips right away. Stiles made a low, needy noise in the back of his throat and immediately licked into Derek's mouth. Derek's hands were on his hips and Stiles could feel him squeezing, fingers slipping under the soft cotton shirt to caress his skin.

The instructor cleared her throat and Stiles startled, finally pulling back.

"Very nice," she said, cheeks pink. "Do continue."

She moved away to critique someone else's makeout skills, presumably.

"Got her off our case," Derek said. "Come on."

He tried to stand up, but Stiles yanked on his neck. "Are you nuts?" he hissed, heart racing. Dammit, Derek could definitely tell the effect the kiss had had on Stiles, and he was just humoring Stiles by not breaking his grip, too. Had he been humoring Stiles with that bit about the eyelashes? Stiles tried to pretend that wouldn't hurt. He squeezed Derek's neck. "Everyone is looking at us."

It was true. Even the couples who were actively engaged in kissing each other were watching them. Derek cursed under his breath and swooped in for another kiss. This time he took control, licking into Stiles’s mouth and pressing him into the back corner of the bench.

Stiles didn't get any more compliments for the rest of the session, but he did get plenty more kisses. By the time the hour was done, he had a raging hard-on he knew Derek could feel, smell and see.

Fuck.

***

Dinner that night was served as a shared meal. The Biggerson-Scullys would be joining a group consisting of the busty blonde from the courtyard and her husband (the Mikels), a pair of empty-nesters (the Shoemakers) and a couple barely older than Stiles who were worried that they'd married too soon (the Youngs). The next morning they would start group counseling with them. Stiles couldn't stand them after one measly dinner; he had no idea how Derek kept a lid on his temper. After dinner was Onesome Meditation. Stiles spent it breaking into Cheryl's office and pilfering the files of the guests who'd signed up for the retreat.

"I think the Shoemakers are retired CIA," Stiles announced when Derek turned back up at the room after his own Onesome Meditation. "Or maybe just weird. Where did you go?"

"Searched the storage sheds," he answered. "Nothing but Miracle-Gro."

"We should steal Cheryl's keys tomorrow and make a copy so we can get into everyone's rooms," Stiles suggested.

"Good idea, you can distract her by talking about her hair again."

Stiles paused with one hand on the Youngs' file. "It's a beautiful color."

"And you have a proven track record of liking that color." Derek batted the Youngs' folder out of Stiles’s hands. "Don't waste your time with them. They smelled like sexual frustration, not thievery."

Stiles’s cheeks heated. Sexual frustration, great. Good to be reminded that Derek knew that smell very well, having got a whiff of it off Stiles earlier that night. What the hell had he been thinking when he agreed to this thing, anyhow?

"They could be sexually frustrated thieves," Stiles said, and yanked the folder back. "Sexual frustration can drive a body crazy." He really needed to stop talking. Now.

"Well you look into that; I'm going to take a shower."

"What, no Jacuzzi Twosome time?" Stiles muttered to his retreating back. Derek shut the bathroom door behind him with a tad more force than necessary. Stiles sighed and turned back to the files.

By the time Derek got out of his epically long shower, Stiles had divided the files into stacks of 'No way,' 'Maybe' and 'Sketchier than Peter Hale.' Derek's lips twitched at Stiles’s post-its.

"You only put the Mikels in the sketchy pile because you didn't like Mrs. Mikel," he said.

"That is a perfectly valid reason," Stiles said loftily. "And you better have left me some hot water."

He waltzed off into the bathroom and almost choked on the steam. Great. Still, though, the water pressure was amazing and the water was hot enough for him. Stiles tried not to think about Derek using this shower just a few minutes ago, how his naked body must have gleamed under the water, whether or not he was thinking about Stiles’s eyelashes while he touched himself…

Fuck.

Derek had left Stiles the side of the bed farthest from the door and Stiles climbed in gingerly after his shower. There was just enough room that they didn't have to touch. Though Stiles was sure Derek could smell the spunk on him despite the half hour Stiles had spent in the shower and practically half a bottle of shower wash he'd used to disguise the scent. He was certain it would take forever for him to fall asleep, but the next thing he knew, sunlight was streaming in through the window and he was wrapped securely in Derek's arms, with Derek's hot breath damp against his neck and Derek's impressive morning wood against his hip.

"Oh my God," Stiles gasped. Derek's arms tightened around him and he rocked against Stiles’s body. Holy shit this was not happening. "Derek!"

Derek's eyes flew open, and for the second time that trip, one of them fell off the bed, but this time it was Derek.

Breakfast was incredibly awkward. Derek frowned at his heart-shaped pancakes so intently, even Mrs. Mikel avoided him. Stiles dropped his grapefruit four times and cursed Derek under his breath, though of course Derek could hear. Stiles had worked hard at toning down the flailing since leaving high school; it was completely unfair for Derek to throw him off his game so badly. He was frowning almost as deeply as Derek by the time they had their first group session, Helping Your Twosome Partner See You As a Fully Realized One. Their instructor, Jody, was the same woman who'd been encouraging them to kiss during the Kiss and Share Hour. The day was shaping up to be a real winner.

"Welcome, Group Unicorn! Let's hug and begin."

"Wait, when did we become Group Unicorn?" Stiles asked. Mrs. Shoemaker threw her arms around him.

"We decided before you joined, dear. It was unanimous."

Awesome, they were in a group consisting of pre-teen girls. Out of the corner of his eye, he could spot Mrs. Mikel thrusting her breasts at Derek when she hugged him. Oh, she was going down. And not in the good way. Not that he had ever thought about going down and Derek before! Okay, in the past half hour he hadn't. Mr. Young gave him an extremely awkward hug, and then Mrs. Mikel was moving on to him, and finally to Stiles.

"Oh my God, your partner's muscles, you are sooooo lucky," she cooed into his ear. "I bet he's an incredibly tender lover, you can tell by his melancholy eyes." She pinched Stiles’s ass and moved on, leaving Stiles gaping behind her.

"Your wife is insane in the membrane," he informed Mr. Mikel, and gave him a bro-pat on the back during their hug.

"Right, let's get started!" Jody called, slapping her hands together.

Everyone settled on huge squishy pillows on the floor, one couple to a pillow. Stiles kept sliding off until Derek opened his legs and pulled Stiles back against his chest. Oh, boy. Looking around, though, they actually came across as the most comfortable and natural couple there. The Shoemakers sat Indian-style nearly on the floor and leaned their arms on the huge poof of pillow between them. The Youngs sat stiffly side-by-side, knees drawn to their chests. Mrs. Mikel draped herself over her husband while shooting Derek what Stiles could only surmise she thought were subtly sultry looks.

"In this session, we're going to share some of the interests and hobbies that are important to us – things that we don't do with our partner, but we want them to respect," Jody said. "Things that make up Who We Are. Derek and Stiles, perhaps you would like to go first?"

"Oh, you know, someone else could totally go first," Stiles said, while Derek said, "Sure," at the same time.

"Well, this is a pickle! Let's compromise. Derek, you go first, and Stiles can see how it's done."

Stiles craned his neck up to look at Derek. It was comfortably warm in his arms, though Stiles had to keep thinking unsexy thoughts for his scent and heart rate to remain normal. He wondered if Derek was going to tell the truth here.

"Hello, everyone." Derek flashed a charming smile around at the circle. Stiles felt his eyebrows rise and forced them back down again. "My name is Derek and I'm addicted to running." The circle erupted into canned laughter; it was like they'd fallen onto the set of The Stepford Wives or something. Children of the Corn. "I run very fast and for long distances. Stiles doesn't care for it."

Well that was… okay, mostly true. Stiles had just spent so much of the last few years running for his life, he didn't see how it could be deemed 'fun,' though he still did it to keep in shape.

"That's very interesting, Derek," Jody said, nodding her head. Over her shoulder, Mrs. Mikel licked her lips and breathed heavily at Derek. The hell? Stiles was right there! "Would you say you are running to get away from something, or to get someplace you desperately want to reach?"

"Um."

"How does the running make you feel? Why is it this particular activity speaks to you?"

"Well, I—"

"Great, you think on those and write your answers in your Onesome to Twosome Journal before lunch."

Derek shifted, and Stiles half-expected to be dumped on the floor while Derek stormed angrily out of the room.

"Now, Stiles. What do you like to do as a Onesome?"

The only thing that popped into Stiles’s head was masturbation. And once he thought it, he couldn't un-think it.

"Well, Jody…" Think, think, think! "I like – wait, no, I don't do that alone – or there's the – but no." Stiles was getting antsier and antsier as everyone just stared at him. God, couldn't they look away? Derek's thumbs rubbed circles onto his stomach, but instead of calming him down, it made him even hornier than all the thoughts about masturbation. Oh God. "I talk to my mom!" he blurted out. "Yeah, that's, that's what I do by myself. But uh, Derek gets that, so, um…"

Derek's thumbs had stopped moving, his palms flat against Stiles’s stomach and his chin resting on Stiles’s shoulder. Stiles felt horribly exposed in the spotlight of the Unicorn Group, but Derek was like a great big protective teddy bear at his back.

"So you don't like to talk to your mother in front of other people?" Jody asked.

"Well, she's dead."

And there were the pitying looks, score! Why the hell had they signed up for this again? Right, someone was stealing from Fido and Spot. Derek looked right at Jody and growled.

"All right, the Youngs! How about you go next?"

Over the course of the next hour, Stiles learned that Marcie Young played on a women's volley ball team and was pissed her husband never went to the games; Brian Young cosplayed as Legolas with some friends from online and didn't appreciate the way Marcie rolled her eyes each time he went to a con; Al Shoemaker was still angry that his wife had 'accidentally' thrown away his Three Dog Night vinyl records during a move in the 80s; Barb Shoemaker felt that Al didn't support her desire to go back to school for taxidermy (Stiles’s eyebrows shot up at that one – he'd put the Shoemakers in the 'maybe' pile last night); and then the Mikels had their turn.

"I like puppy play," Candy Mikel announced. "I used to be into pony play, but the outfits had so many straps. Ted didn't like the straps. Puppies only wear a collar."

Stiles never thought he'd be one of those guys – an asshole who made fun of someone else's kinks. There was a term for it on the internet. But every word out of Candy Mikel's brightly painted mouth made him want to throw up. It was just because it was her, not because of what she liked to do to get off, and the way she directed every damn thing at Derek. Seriously, there were seven other people in the room!

Jody cleared her throat. "There is no kink shaming here, everyone," she said firmly, and that was the phrase, exactly.

"Ted doesn't like the growling," Candy continued, her eyes sparkling as she looked across at Derek. "I think growling is sexy."

"Lady, that is one puppy you do not want to provoke."

"Mr. Biggerson?" Jody asked, frowning, and apparently he had said that out loud.

"Um. I meant, that's very provocative. And playful. You get down with your bad self, Candy. You and Ted."

Everyone was looking at him like he'd grown two heads, but Derek made an amused huff against his neck, so who cared what they thought.

"I like songbirds," Ted Mikel said, and seriously, what? It took Stiles a moment to remember that Ted hadn't gone yet. "Candy thinks they're noisy."

"And they shit everywhere," Candy supplied helpfully.

"Ted has the floor now," Jody reminded her gently. "Go on, Ted."

"I like that they're noisy."

There hadn't been any songbirds at the clinic, and Deaton saw very few birds. Beacon Hills: Not an Oasis for Songbirds. But Candy, she was creepy and it had nothing to do with her kinks and everything to do with her continual attempts to hit on a guy she thought was in a relationship with another man. Candy kept the Mikels firmly in that sketchy pile. And Stiles would have thought the same way even if he hadn't been the other man in that relationship. He was sure of it!

Jody escorted them to the Kiss and Share Hour, preventing an opportunity to slip away and do detective work. She was getting to be a pain in Stiles’s ass. Derek looked really pissed to miss out on time to conduct a stealthy search. At least, Stiles hoped that was the reason he glowered through the whole hour, and not because Stiles got into the spirit of the thing and told him about the many less-than-stellar things he did that made Stiles mad. Derek wasn't even trying to come up with things, just kept re-hashing 'annoying' and 'nosy' and 'talks too much' before shutting Stiles up with increasingly longer kisses. All in all, Stiles was feeling a bit punch drunk by the time they broke up for Group Activity Time.

The Activity took place in a corner of the grounds and included all the couples at the retreat. Everyone milled around in front of a large wall covered in a patched-together drop cloth. Stiles exchanged a glance with Derek; whatever this was, it didn't look at all promising. He craned his neck around, but couldn't spot Cheryl's distinctive hair in the crowd. They needed to come up with some plan to swipe her keys, and avoiding whatever nutty crap Stan had in store for them was an added bonus. Group Activity Time effectively put the kibosh on that when Stan himself bounded out once again, this time sporting a megaphone. Frank tagged along in his wake.

"Attention, twosomes! Today's group activity is one of my all-time favorites: The Wall!" Stan gestured grandly, and Frank tugged at one corner of the drop cloth. The whole thing came down on his head, revealing a rock climbing wall with a platform at the top. There were no safety wires. Surely that was illegal?

"I'm going to split you into two teams," Stan continued, bouncing on his toes and ignoring Frank's flailing form. Mr. Shoemaker stepped forward and promptly got drop cloth in the face. "One half of your twosome per team. And here's the fun part: no netting!" A couple non-Unicorns tried to wrestle the drop cloth off of Frank and Shoemaker and fell on their asses. Stiles had to hide his face in Derek's shoulder to prevent an extremely obnoxious snicker. "We are our own safety nets!" Stan cried. Candy rolled her eyes, grabbed the cloth and yanked hard. Frank came tumbling out. "When you get to the top, you ring your team's bell. Once one team's members have all rung their bell, they are the winners!" Stan flung his arms wide, forgetting he was holding a megaphone and promptly braining Frank with it. "Whoops."

Stiles’s shoulders were shaking, and he just knew Derek's eyebrows were as close to his hairline as they could possibly go. He knew if he looked to check, though, he'd totally lose it. He turned his face completely into Derek's arm and was surprised to feel Derek's hand at his waist, fingers squeezing. It was nice, comfortable. Derek had loosened up a lot over the years, especially around Stiles, but they were practically hugging, and Derek had definitely held him during the meeting, not to mention waking up in Derek's arms. It wasn't all just the stupid retreat. He hoped.

"Okay! Now that's settled," Stan said in his normal voice, eschewing the megaphone. "Let's count off in ones and twos."

This was a terrible idea and someone was going to get hurt. Stiles rocked at the wall climb, but Mrs. Shoemaker? She was a grandmother. Not that there was anything wrong with that. It was just – really, no safety nets? He caught Derek's eye as they separated and Derek grimaced in understanding. No way could they sneak off and steal keys or search rooms if there weren't any damn safety nets. Derek would have to be everyone's safety net.

"Right, teams." Stan clapped his hands together and beamed around at them all. "On the count of three!" Candy smirked at Stiles from her place next to Derek, and Stiles’s lip curled. Oh, she was going down. "Three!" Stan yelled. There was a split second while everyone froze, wondering if he was going to count backwards, but then Marcie Young scrambled for the wall and Al Shoemaker followed right on her heels.

No one fell, surprisingly enough, and everyone got into the spirit of the thing, yelling and cheering and ringing bells. Derek was the fastest, of course, despite holding back. It was probably only obvious to Stiles, anyhow. Derek flashed him a smile when he reached the ground again, looking almost carefree and Stiles felt his stomach lurch. Not a good thing when he was meant to be climbing a wall.

Stiles was halfway to the top before he realized Candy was next to him, climbing for her team.

"Nice technique," she said, just barely loud enough to be heard over the teams' cheers. "Nice ass." And then her foot slipped. It was deliberate, Stiles could tell, but he still reached for her, trying to prevent her fall. Only there were no safety cords, and he went tumbling backwards.

"Fuck!" he gasped. He was going to squash Barb Shoemaker and break both their heads – except he landed with a grunt in Derek's arms. Shit, Stiles was the heroine. It was so unfair, never mind that it was warm and safe. The other Unicorns gathered around to slap Derek on the back as everyone else cheered and clapped. Stiles looked up the wall at Candy and gave her his best death glare. The woman was a menace, and he was going to—

His brain short-circuited when Derek kissed him. It was a definite romance novel kiss, billowy white shirt unbuttoned down to the navel, hair swept back by the wind, weak in the knees kind of a kiss. Only Stiles was still being held and this was a little ridiculous. A lot ridiculous. But he clung to Derek's neck and kissed him right back, heart racing. What was their angle? What was this accomplishing? He couldn't think, mind too full with the slide of lips on lips and the taste of Derek in his mouth.

He was royally fucked.

***

They caught a bit of a break in their case during lunch. Derek spied Cheryl eating alone at a table by the window and grabbed Stiles by the elbow. They walked over as nonchalantly as possible, but she was thrilled to see them and proceeded to talk their ears off while Stiles surreptitiously stole her keys and passed them under the table to Derek, who then excused himself to use the bathroom.

The session after lunch was supposed to be Creating Art Together. Stiles peeked into the rec room, his mouth going a bit dry at the sheer amount of glitter. He nearly leapt out of his skin when a hand landed heavily on his shoulder.

"Derek! You're not wearing your bell!" he exclaimed, heart pounding.

"We're not playing with glitter," Derek said firmly. "Come on."

He steered Stiles with an arm around his shoulder, leading him to a side corridor before the Shoemakers showed up outside the rec room and gave them away. It'd been a couple years since Derek had really manhandled him. The arm around the shoulder was actually quite companionable. Stiles slipped his own arm around Derek's waist, just in case someone walked by and saw them together.

"I copied the master key," Derek said in a low voice. "We have an hour to go through the sketchy names."

"Should we split up?" Stiles tightened his fingers on Derek's hip, nudging him away from the courtyard and toward Rosemarie and Curtis Duncan's room – a pair of married teachers who took several international trips each year. What teacher had that kind of money?

"No, you won't be able to hear anyone coming."

"And let's face it, you haven't had enough of me this week and can't bear to be parted."

"Yeah, that's it exactly." Derek cuffed him gently on the side of the head, almost soft enough to be a hair tousle, and gave him the small smile that, according to Stiles’s careful observations, only came out around the pack. "Whose room is this?"

"The Duncans." Stiles said. "Questionable finances."

Derek moved into the bathroom once he got the outer door unlocked – Stiles was beginning to think Derek was a little obsessed with the bathrooms at this place – and Stiles rifled through their suitcase. It was a cheap Louis Vuitton knock-off. Hmmm. And in the inner pocket were the Duncans' wallets, featuring four credit cards apiece. Okay, so, they were probably paying for everything on credit and drowning in debt. Nice.

"I think they're using credit cards," Stiles called to Derek, "but all the cards are in their real names, so no multiple identities."

"I have a feeling that will stop soon," Derek said, coming out of the bathroom. "Pregnancy test in the trash. According to the box, it's positive."

"Awww, baby! Born into debt, so, I mean, that could be better. Most people have healthy debt, but eight credit cards? And, let's see," Stiles did a quick count, "six additional store-specific cards. That's a bit much."

Derek nodded in agreement, though Stiles knew for a fact Derek had one of those cards with no credit limit. He got to use it sometimes, signing as 'Derek Hale' at the hardware store and Bed, Bath & Beyond when Derek moved into an actual house. The shopkeepers didn't bat an eye, but refused when Erica and Isaac had tried to use it, much to Stiles’s amusement.

Derek knelt to look under the bed, then lifted the mattress up to check its lining while Stiles looked through the nightstands. He found copious amounts of KY-to-double-your-pleasure, no condoms, a tin of mints, and a dog-eared copy of the Kama Sutra. Complete with suspicious stains. He went into the bathroom to wash his hands while Derek checked the closet.

"You know, Derek, as much as I like to solve a good mystery," he said, drying his hands and arranging the towel to the same level of arty disarray afterwards, "there are just some things about my neighbors I really don't want to know. You hear what I'm saying?"

There was no response. What, Derek was going to ignore him now? He poked his head out of the bathroom and found Derek standing in front of the open closet doors, forehead wrinkled and mouth slightly parted.

"What's up, doc?" Stiles asked, joining him. "Holy shit!" he yelped, slamming the closet doors shut. "Those are not for your virgin eyes!"

Derek gave him a scathing look. "I know what those things are, Stiles, I'm a cop."

"That you are, big guy. Let's move on to the next name, shall we? Nothing to see here."

Derek rolled his eyes, but allowed Stiles to drag him from the room. Stiles took a deep breath while Derek re-locked the door behind them. He could totally keep his composure when confronted with a harness and dildo, a cock ring, a butt plug and nipple clamps in front of Derek – and after all, cops saw all sorts of stuff, Stiles knew that better than most. The look on his face, though, was not a cop’s detachment, and Stiles had unfortunate firsthand knowledge of how Derek reacted to things that made him uneasy or scared -- by going still and subsequently lashing out. It made Stiles want to shield him from the world. Which was stupid, clearly; Derek could handle anything. But other than that one incident during the Alpha Pack Debacle, Stiles had never heard of Derek having so much as a one-night stand with anyone. Sex was something they never talked about, though Stiles knew way more about Scott and Allison in that regard than he wanted to, Isaac told him about all of his relationships, and his other friends weren't shy about sharing details. Derek was the only one who never talked about it. And even now, as they moved down the hall to June and Henry McAllister's room, Derek was walking with his tell – his confident strut just a half pace off, his shoulders too stiff. Maybe no one else would be able to notice, but it was a neon sign to Stiles, screaming for him to drop it, give Derek some space.

"The McAllisters raise show dogs," Stiles said quietly. "Toy poodles."

"Sounds sketchy as hell," Derek commented, some of the tension draining out of him.

The McAllisters, despite their business, had no animal care products in their room, nothing to tie them to the Beacon Hills Animal Clinic or any of the other clinics who'd been hit by the bandits. They went through six more rooms, working quickly and efficiently, before finally finding something in the Mikels' room.

"Ah-ha!" Stiles cried, pointing triumphantly at the bottom of the Mikels' closet. "I knew it would be them."

Derek hurried over and peered over his shoulder. "Uh, Stiles?"

"No, no, no! I know the boxes are empty—"

"The plain brown shoeboxes?"

"They were trying to be all nondescript and sneaky! They just took the goods out and handed them off already!"

"Stiles—"

"It makes perfect sense!"

"Stiles! When would they have done that? Everyone has to sign out if they want to leave the premises. The Mikels haven't left."

"A minor, inconsequential detail. They could have snuck out! There are three other exits."

Derek looked back at the boxes, and then at Stiles. "Stiles. Did you notice the alarm systems on those exits?" No, no Stiles had not. "Three of your sketchy couples have signed out for a couple of hours during the retreat. The station is accounting for their movements."

"What? You didn't tell me that!"

"It's police business!"

"What – are you kidding me right now? What am I in right this second? Police fucking business!" Stiles threw his hands up in the air. "Dammit, Derek, I thought we had broken you of this annoying habit!"

"And which habit would that be?" Derek asked, his voice dangerously low. Stiles ignored the tone. He had every right to be pissed at Derek. What happened to all that character growth? What happened to Stiles’s hard-won trust, huh?

"The one where you don't tell me important information that I need to know! You got better! Don't backtrack now."

Derek matched him glare for glare before his features unaccountably softened and he took a step back. "You're right," he said. Stiles blinked. Had Derek… smelled something, or felt something coming off of him, to make him change his mind? "I should have told you that."

"Yeah! You should have," Stiles said with no real heat. Derek had seriously just agreed with him that he, Derek, was in the wrong and Stiles was in the right. "Hang on." He reached into the pocket of his robe, whipped out his camera and, stepping in front of Derek and grinning, snapped their picture. "Needed to document the occasion."

"Stiles—" Derek started, and froze. "Come on, they're coming back."

Stiles shut the closet door with one last glance at the empty shoeboxes and followed Derek out into the hall. Derek had just relocked the door and pocketed the keys, pulling Stiles a couple of steps from the door, when the Mikels rounded the corner. Candy was wearing a glittery tiara, the result of their Creating Art Together. Her eyes narrowed when she saw them.

"You naughty boys!" she called down the hall. "Why did you skip the art session? I didn't think you'd want to miss out on the glitter, Stiles."

The fuck? Stiles was going to—

"We needed some time alone after Stiles’s near-death experience this morning," Derek said, sliding his arm around Stiles’s waist and squeezing. "When I saw him falling, my life flashed before my eyes, and all the best parts were with Stiles here. I just had to be close to him right away."

Stiles couldn't help it. He smirked broadly at Candy. Yeah, you nutjob, you tried to take my man and it brought us even closer. How do you like them apples?

"Close. Yeah," Ted said. "Hey, remember when I got into that car accident, babe?" he asked his wife, turning to look at her. "You sent me on that golfing trip by myself."

"You needed your space!" Candy exclaimed, hands on her hips.

"I hate golf!" Ted retorted.

"We're just gonna go make out some more," Stiles said loudly, lacing his fingers with Derek's and tugging him past the arguing couple. "What do you think?" he whispered as they turned the corner. "Can we afford to skip the Kiss and Share to hit the other rooms on our list?"

Derek was just opening his mouth to reply when Stan spotted them from down the hall. Oh, shit.

"Yoo-hoo, Biggerson-Scullys!" he crowed. "A little birdie told me you missed out on the fun with glitter. I do hope everything is okie dokie!"

"Yeah, Stan. Stanley. Stan the Man. You know how it is, when you get these, uh, urges, and there are sky rockets in flight—"

"We were making love," Derek interrupted him. "Sorry, Stan."

Making love? Making love? Stiles barely stopped himself from wincing.

"Never apologize for love, my dear boy," Stan said firmly. "One day you will be an old man like me, and look back on your afternoons of trysts with your firm, young bodies." He squeezed both of them around their deltoids. Stiles devoutly hoped he was doing a marginally better job of keeping his face smooth than Derek. "Those are the memories that will keep you warm at night!"

"Awesome," Stiles said faintly.

"Now, it's off to the Kiss and Share Hour for you!" Stan gave them each a healthy pinch in the ass and shooed them in front of him, out to the courtyard with the kissing benches. Stiles could not wait to fill out his evaluation when the retreat was over.

"All right, campers!" Stan yelled, a little too close to Stiles for comfort. He rubbed at his ear as he and Derek made their way to a bench as far away from Stan as possible. "For today's Kiss and Share Hour, let's share secrets!" Stiles cut his eyes over to Derek, who was studiously ignoring him and staring at Stan, though the tips of his ears had turned a violent pink. "And remember – the afternoon is for nice things! Carry on!"

Stiles licked his lips. Secrets. Well. This had the potential to get rather awkward. Who was he kidding? Everything about this was rather awkward.

"We don't really have to do this again, right?" Derek muttered. Or they could avoid awkwardness altogether and just make out.

"Okay, fine," Stiles agreed, and leaned forward, lips parted, eyelids already closing.

"Stiles."

He let out an involuntary little "oof" when his chest collided with Derek's hand. Dude had muscular hands; they were like miniature brick walls. Brick hedges in front of the brick wall of Derek's chest.

"What? And ouch," Stiles said, opening his eyes.

"I meant this whole… thing," Derek said, raising his eyebrows in what he probably thought was a meaningful way. To Stiles, it just meant Derek was trying to back out of something he'd dragged Stiles into in the first place.

"What the hell, dude," Stiles said, plastering on a huge fake smile for the benefit of anyone watching them. "If you want to get out of this thing, the way to do it is not to kiss me in front of the whole retreat when you are under no obligation to do it then. And the touching! You touch me all the damn time here. And – making love! Seriously, who says that?"

"I meant telling the truth during these stupid hours," Derek said after a pause, his eyebrows knitting into a frown. "What's wrong with making love?"

"Nothing, if you're a sixty-five-year-old female romance novelist. But we say other things. Things that are less corny."

"You expected me to tell Stan that I was fucking you against a wall?"

Stiles swallowed hard. "No, you should've said I was the one fucking you."

Stiles had never actually seen anyone's mind get blown before, but Derek's face – that was going in the Pictionary for "mind = blown." Stiles didn't know whether to laugh or feel offended. Jody chose that exact moment to pounce.

"Looks like you shared a doozy, Stiles," she congratulated him. "Don't forget to kiss!"

Stiles lowered his eyes. "Impossible to do with you around," he muttered, and then Derek was tipping his chin up and kissing him. It was different from their previous kisses. More… intent behind it. Wasn't there? Maybe Stiles was imagining it. Wishful thinking and all that. But no, that was a definite moan on Derek's part before he broke away.

"Stiles," he said, his hand caressing the back of Stiles’s neck. "This isn't really a secret." Stiles’s heart began to pound. Was Derek about to call him out on his huge crush? Or admit to feeling… something? "But I'm not really good at being anyone's friend. You're my closest friend. You know that, right?"

Holy shit. He was being unequivocally friend-zoned, despite the kissing, and the squeezing, and the hand-holding. He needed to say something. Anything.

"I think I'm going to throw up."

Derek frowned at him. "No, you're not. You don't smell—"

"Dude." He patted Derek's pocket, fingernail hitting something hard and metallic. "I'm going to throw up."

"Jody!" Derek called her over, and made some excuse about Stiles’s delicate stomach while Stiles tried to keep his emotions in check. He was Derek's closest friend. That was good, nice, and normally he'd get warm, fuzzy feelings from it. But not anymore. Agreeing to this retreat was the dumbest decision he'd ever made, and that included going into the woods at night to look for half a dead body while the killer remained at large.

Stiles let Derek maneuver him from the courtyard with an arm around his waist, but stepped away as soon as they were out of sight.

"I need to lie down," he said. "For realsies. You can look at the other rooms yourself, right?"

"Is this because of what I said?" Derek asked. Stiles sighed and forced himself to look Derek in the eye and oh my God, how could he have been so callous? Sure, Derek didn't feel the same way about him, but Derek was offering his friendship, which was unheard of, and what had Stiles done? Said he was going to throw up. Smooth. Real smooth. Like butter.

"No!" he said vehemently. "No! Thank you. For your friendship. You're very—very important to me. And I actually do have a headache. Nothing a little nap won't clear up. You'll be okay, right? I'm sorry, I should have led off with the BFF stuff."

"Yeah, that's fine." Derek pressed his lips to Stiles’s forehead. "Get some rest. I'll let you know what I find. That's something I do now."

Stiles couldn't help his smile. "I'm rubbing off on you!" he said delightedly.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Derek said, once again flashing that private pack smile.

***

"I'm telling you, Jody – I don't care if you're way into Ryan Reynolds over Christian Bale, Batman is hands down cooler than the Green Lantern. I can't let you go out in public spouting this anti-Bruce Wayne drivel!"

Stiles’s one-on-one Onesome Counseling session was going a little less KA-POW! and a bit more *grunt*. For starters, his nap hadn't been very relaxing; he kept imagining he could still smell Derek on the sheets and that just left him frustrated. Then Derek checked in before the counseling session with the encouraging word that, no, he hadn't found anything.

And then Stiles got Jody for a counselor.

"Interesting," Jody mused. "Tell me, Stiles, why do you think you are so drawn to the Bruce Wayne figure? A rich orphan boy, living apart from everyone, a cave dweller, fighting crime on behalf of people who do not understand him and frankly, fear him. It all seems a bit far-fetched."

Stiles’s mouth dropped open. How had he never seen it before? Derek was Batman! Dammit, Stiles was forever doomed to play the role of Robin. At least he wasn't Alfred.

"Mr. Biggerson?"

"Jody?"

"Do you have any further insights here?"

"Uh, just that tall, dark and broody seems to be my thing."

"I see." Jody gave him a vaguely disappointed look. "Our hour is up. Onesome Meditation is before dinner. Chad is leading a session on breathing exercises out on the grounds – I highly suggest you attend."

"Sounds groovy!" Stiles enthused. They'd have to avoid the grounds in their search.

But Derek wasn't back in their room when Stiles returned. He distracted himself by looking through his notes once again, then rearranging the toiletries – huh, Derek used a conditioner on his beard/stubble; no wonder Stiles was escaping the Kiss & Shares with only minor stubble burn -- then by doing a dozen jumping jacks. He was standing on his head when Derek stumbled back into the room, his face utterly blank. It reminded Stiles of the Derek he’d first met back in high school, and that was not on.

“Derek! What the hell happened to you?” he asked, falling forward into a graceless sprawl, smooshing his face into the carpet. Yuck.

“I got held up. Are you ready?”

Stiles pushed himself to his knees. “No. What happened?” Derek gave him a blank look. “Stop that!” Stiles snapped.

“I’m not doing anything!” Finally, his voice sounded a bit livelier. Exasperated, but Stiles would take it over blank.

“That’s exactly my point! You looked blank, man. And you just said I’m your closest friend, and what do friends do?”

“Be annoying?”

“Exactly! Now tell me what happened.” Stiles put his hands on his hips. He should have stood up, too, but he’d already chosen his position and now he’d look ridiculous. His foot was tangled in his robe; it was a disaster waiting to happen.

Derek sighed and sat down at the end of the bed closest to Stiles. “It wasn’t – look, I laid it on a bit too thick in the stupid onesome session, and my counselor thought I needed extra work. Okay?”

“Extra work on being alone?” Where the hell were they finding these counselors, anyway? What Derek needed were things like extra hugs and more people. If the counselor thought he was bad now, she should have seen Derek pre-pack. Nowadays he lived with Erica and Isaac, and Boyd was there all the time; they’d all chosen to go to school somewhere they could still live at home. Plus Stiles knew for a fact everyone close by had Sunday dinner at the McCalls; Stiles, Lydia and Jackson went during the summers and whenever they were home from their college.

“No, extra work on not…” Derek shrugged his shoulders and didn’t meet Stiles’s eyes. “On not depending on my twosome so much.”

“Wow.” Stiles stared at him, eyes wide. “Derek Scully, when you win your Oscar, will you still remember us peons?”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Shut up, Stiles.”

“No, I think you mean ‘Stiles, your animal magnetism is too much for me. How can I focus on bettering my onesome in the face of such awesomeness?’”

And there, right there, that was a smile on Derek’s face, all traces of the blankness swept away.

“Animal magnetism?” Derek slipped off the bed and before Stiles knew it, he was getting pounced on by a two hundred pound werewolf. “A hyena, perhaps?”

“Oh, shit!” Stiles managed to squeak out before the tickling. He would forever blame Scott for letting it slip to the pack that Stiles’s greatest weakness was a tickle attack. He shrieked with laughter as Derek tickled his stomach. He finally got a punch in by sheer accident, and then they were rolling across the floor in a ball of flailing limbs before they careened into the wardrobe and collapsed. Stiles looked up at Derek, panting, trying to take a mental picture of Derek with hair askew and flushed cheeks and eye crinkles. It was almost like he was going to lean in and give Stiles a kiss, a real kiss, not related to the retreat at all. Stiles’s lips parted.

There was a pounding on the door, and Frank’s voice called in, “This is Frank, the delivery man! I’m delivering a message! Dinner tonight is a group picnic, please report to the kitchen to make your basket.”

Derek huffed a laugh, the moment gone. “We’re not sitting near the Mikels.”

Stiles grinned back at him, and tried not to act like he wasn’t severely disappointed in how that tickle session ended.

***

On any other night, Stiles would have found the picnic dinner to actually be fairly awesome. For one thing, there was a bonfire, and for another, there were s’mores. But he was a bit of a jittery mess from rolling on the floor with Derek, and really, really needed some onesome time to take care of a few things. Alas, it was not to be. They got roped into staying out quite late because Stan and Frank? Not so good with fire maintenance and even worse at putting one safely out. Both Stiles and Derek needed showers after that sooty fiasco, and they crawled into bed a bit wrung out.

Stiles fell asleep on his side, facing the wall, but woke up with Derek's naked body on top of him.

"Derek," he moaned, his voice hitching on the syllables. Derek's mouth was all over him, which made sense, since Stiles was naked, too. Everything was sweat-slick and hot, and Stiles thrust up as Derek ground down. He was so hard, they both were, so hard and so perfect and Derek was… glowing. Because… they were outside, in the moonlight. How?

"Derek," Stiles moaned again, and the friction increased, chasing away Stiles’s doubts. They were where they were supposed to be, clearly. Derek was holding him tight, so tight, and it was the best feeling in the whole world.

"Derek!" Stiles gasped as he came. And woke up.

Euphoria was replaced with humiliation fast enough to cause whiplash. There was no moonlight or nakedness, just Derek's shocked face in the dim light of dawn filtering through the blinds. And the sticky sheets, stinking of Stiles’s wet dream.

The absolute worst part about the whole thing was that finally, Stiles had stumbled into a situation that left him utterly speechless. Words, words, words, why were they so hard to form? He couldn't move a single muscle, either, and there was no way he could hide out in the bathroom if he couldn't get there. Even his eyesight was going, it must be, as the room was getting dimmer.

"Stiles!" Derek's voice was loud and jarring. Ah, so it was one of those panic attacks, the kind where he stopped breathing and forgot he had done any such thing, as opposed to the more cinematic flaily and gaspy kind. Perfect, he was going to pass out in a pool of his own come.

But then Derek was pulling him easily out of the bed and dragging him across the floor and into the bathroom. Derek stood behind him, propping him up in the shower, fully clothed, as hot water pounded down. Stiles took one shuddering breath, then another and another. It was a lot easier to breathe if he couldn't see Derek or feel the mess on the bed. Only now he was breathing too much.

"Stiles?" Derek asked, alarmed by Stiles’s heart rate, no doubt.

"Could you please just leave?" Stiles managed to gasp out. "Please. Please."

He crouched on the tiled floor of the shower stall for the next half hour, listening to Derek moving around on the other side of the bathroom door, changing the sheets and doing fuck-all until he finally left the room altogether.

***

Stiles skipped breakfast to call Scott from the phone in Cheryl's office.

"How's my favorite Undercover Brother?" Scott asked happily. He was eating something crunchy; Stiles could hear what sounded like the munching of peanut butter on toast, a Scott favorite.

"You gotta get me outta here, dude." Stiles had graduated to dry clothes and sitting beneath Cheryl’s desk. Progress, ladies and gentlemen, with a capital 'P.'

"Are you in danger?" Scott asked. The munching stopped, and there was the scuffling of footsteps. Isaac. They were probably at the clinic. "You want us to come get you guys? What does Derek say?"

Stiles laughed humorlessly. "No, me. I need you to get me. Can't Isaac take my place? He can cuddle Derek, and I can set broken doggie bones. It's the world's most perfect plan!"

"Um…"

"Forget it." Stiles stood up and started pacing. The walls of the office were covered with pictures of happy couples; it was nauseating. "Scott, I'm fucked. I'm so fucked. I can't look him in the face! How can I look him in the face? I haven't done that since I was twelve. Well, fourteen. Okay, seventeen, fine, you happy?"

"Uh…"

"Why does all the humiliating shit happen to me, huh? Remember that thing with the fish heads? And that thing with Mrs. Gulliver's hamster, oh my God, that was the worst, I almost forgot about that, but this topped even that. Oh my God!"

"Stiles!" Scott barked into the phone. "You're flipping your shit and it's freaking me out!"

"Oh." Stiles squeezed his eyes shut and banged his head, gently, against the wall. "Sorry. I'm sorry."

"Okay. It's okay." It sounded like Scott was opening and closing a door with creaky hinges. "Can you tell me what actually happened?"

Stiles paused. "Is Isaac still there?"

"No, dude, I came outside. He can't hear you from this distance."

Scott was a very good friend. His best friend, bros-for-life. Stiles took a deep breath. "They have scheduled make out sessions at this place, okay? That must be why… I've had to kiss him dozens of times. Dozens! And we share this teeny, tiny bed, and last night…"

"Whoa, did you guys finally have sex?!"

"What? No! Well, I did, but I was, um, asleep and that's why it's so… wait, what do you mean 'finally'? Why would you say 'finally'?"

"I'm confused."

"You're confused?"

"Stiles, man, I don't know how to say this nice, but… I kind of already knew about your thing for Derek, and his thing for you."

Stiles slid to the floor. "Derek has a thing for me?" he whispered. No way could that be true. They were friends and it had taken literally years to get to that point. At no time had Derek given any indication that his feelings were anything other than platonic. He had just friend-zoned Stiles, for heaven’s sake!

"Oh my God, dude, I thought this was just one of those things we didn't talk about, like That Time We Don't Talk About. I mean, geez, even our parents know!"

Stiles was glad he was already sitting. His dad knew? His dad, who had willingly sent him on an undercover mission to a couples' retreat, despite the fact Stiles didn't technically work for him, knew about… okay that made a lot more sense now, actually.

"Why do you think what you think you think?" Stiles asked. "What are your facts? Present a case for me, Scott, buddy, old pal, old friend of mine."

"Well, uh… really, we're going to talk about this?"

"Scott!"

"Okay, okay. Um. It's not just the freaky werewolf smell thing, but honestly, you both smell a little, um, you know. Into each other? Not all the time! It's just, like, this thing. Beneath all the other smells?"

"You can smell horniness directed at a particular person?" Another thought occurred to him. "Can you smell jealousy?"

"That's more like a vibe-thing? Like, when you were with Lydia, Derek wasn't all that jealous, but when you dated that British chick, whoa, dude, it was fucking miserable to be around him."

"He wasn't jealous of Lydia? I thought Lydia was the love of my life!"

"Come on, dude, really? Everyone knew she'd get back with Jackson eventually. Even you knew that. That's why you were such an anger ball all the time. But with the British chick – Abby? Gabby?"

"Leslie."

"Shit, sorry, bro. Anyhow, with her, you were all, 'Maybe I'll go to grad school at Oxford,' and 'I morphed our faces together; Leslie and I would make the cutest kids!' That was creepy, by the way."

"Shut up, I was drunk. I also did Stan Lee and George Lucas."

"Ugh, don't remind me! I still have nightmares!"

"But, really, Derek was jealous of Leslie?"

"He didn't want you to leave," Scott said simply.

"That's hardly proof! You didn't want me to leave, either. Right?"

"It was totally different! He was all 'Stiles, don't leave me, Stiles, I can't live without you, hold me, Stiles!'"

"Okay, now you're being the creepy one," Stiles said, flushing. Had Derek felt that way, really? Leslie had been a tumultuous year, originally a rebound from Lydia who Stiles had needed such a long recovery period from post-break-up, he was still technically in recovery. He hadn't noticed Derek acting any differently, though there had been that one weekend last summer when Derek took him up north to a deserted beach and let him get drunk and cry out all his Leslie angst. He couldn't really remember details, but Stiles thought there must have been some kind of cuddling going on, as there'd only been the one tent. Still, that whole trip could be chalked up to Derek learning how to be a good friend and looking out for his heartbroken bro. Stiles had done similar for Scott in the Romeo-and-Juliet portion of Scott and Allison's relationship.

"Look, bro, I have to assist Deaton with a surgery for Mr. Snuffy in ten minutes – are you going to be okay? I could ask Isaac to come get you."

"No, I've calmed down a bit. A smidgen. A wee small amount. I can face the music, walk with my head held high, be a man!" If he said it enough, he might convince himself.

"Yeah, okay," Scott said dubiously. "How's the case going, by the way? Thankfully we have everything we need for Mr. Snuffy, but…"

"Yeah, the case. The case." Stiles had to turn his train of thought around. "Ummmmmm, okay. We've eliminated over half of our suspects, so that's good."

"Good! Your dad was here yesterday, by the way."

"Did he find anything else?" Stiles asked dubiously.

"Not after Derek had already been here, plus me 'n' Isaac went over everything again; you don't have to tell Derek that. No, your dad wanted to ask us about the stuff that was stolen – to figure out what it did."

"Hmm, figure out what the thieves were trying to accomplish, and find them that way. Nice work, Papa Smurf! What'd he find out?" Stiles grabbed a spa notepad from the stack on Cheryl's desk and paused, pen in hand.

"Well, they took a bunch of stuff that act as anesthetics for animals, depending on dosage and size of animal. Not really any medicine-medicine."

"So… stuff to put animals to sleep, but not stuff to operate on them or cure them of anything?" Stiles had the sudden mental picture of all the neighborhood dogs, doped to the gills. They looked like zombie dogs. He shuddered. "What about the other shelters?"

"Same shit. Your dad checked."

"Huh." Zombie dogs, shuffling along, blank eyes and swollen tongues hanging from their mouths…

"Quit thinking about zombie dogs, Stiles."

And that right there was why they'd be bros forever and ever, Amen.

"Right, got it, no undead dogs. Though I wonder—"

"Mr. Biggerson?" Cheryl poked her pretty strawberry-blonde head into the office. "You don't want to miss the Kiss and Share Hour!"

On the other end of the line, it sounded like Scott was choking on something. Peanut butter toast, it was a real health hazard.

"Yeah, that'd suck," Stiles sighed. "Just about done here; thanks for letting me use your phone. You're an angel."

Stiles gave her a winning smile. She smiled right back at him, dimples deepening in her cheeks, and stepped out of her office.

"Hey, Scott?" Stiles whispered into the phone.

"Do you still need to be rescued?" Scott whispered back in a high voice. He was a terrible whisperer.

"Hold that thought. You've given me a plethora, nay, a virtual cornucopia of shit to ponder. You are absolutely, one hundred percent, no doubt in your mind certain that Derek is attracted to me?”

“That is a very uncomfortable question. And yes.”

Stiles was the only one in the office and therefore had no compunctions about punching the air in triumph.

“Okay. Okay. I’ll talk to you in a couple of days. Hopefully before, with a dastardly thief in tow. I have to go kiss Derek for an hour now.”

“Oh my God.”

Stiles hung up and gave the phone a friendly little tap. He was centered, calm and completely able to face Derek again after the humiliation of that morning. The feeling lasted the entire way to the courtyard before vanishing in a puff of smoke the minute he saw Derek.

Derek had lightened up a lot since becoming a deputy, the police force seeming to have an opposite effect on him than it had on most everyone else who joined its ranks. He was still intense, still doled out his words sparingly and there was nothing to be done about being tall, dark and handsome. He would never be carefree, but he seemed content. That Derek was not in evidence in the courtyard.

Derek’s face was carefully blank, but tension held his shoulders in a foreboding line, his jaw tight and eyebrows nearly joined into a dark vee above his eyes. Stiles swallowed hard. Fuuuuuuuuuck.

"Howdy, campers!" Stan bounded in from the opposite corner and did a little soft-shoe, complete with jazz hands. Stiles could barely hear him over the rushing in his own ears. Derek… Derek was going to eviscerate him. Stan continued on, something about the passage of time and the best price of lemons, for all that Stiles heard. He moved as if in a trance over to the bench by Derek. He couldn't look away from his supposed life partner; it was like one of those nature documentaries his dad always fell asleep watching. And here we have the adult male werewolf, slaying his prey, one Stilinskus Hornius, with only a glare from his preternaturally gorgeous eyes. The prey goes down in a crimson arterial spray, wallowing in humiliation, hormones and the sinking feeling that he would rather simply be going down. "So, remember – mornings are for getting it all out there. Hang your unmentionables up to dry!"

Everyone settled onto their benches and soon the courtyard was filled with the low buzz of angry whispers and perfunctory kisses. Stiles lowered himself gingerly to the bench and waited for the axe to fall. His heart was jackrabbiting in his chest, probably driving Derek insane. Groovy. He barely bit back a yelp when Derek straddled the bench, arms bracketing him in, and Derek's face – Derek's pissed off face – stopped a mere inch from his own.

"You are always complaining that I don't tell you things," Derek hissed at him. "Well, here's something – you're a fucking hypocrite."

Stiles gaped at him. "What are you – I talk all the time! Non-stop! You're always telling me to shut up!"

Derek kissed him, a biting, angry kiss, over in two seconds. "But you don't fucking say anything!"

"What, as opposed to you, Mr. Fount of Feelings?"

Derek growled, and Stiles felt teeth against his lips before Derek started speaking again.

"You fucked me in your sleep and then freaked out and kicked me out. That made me angry. That the feeling you want to hear?"

Stiles’s heart stuttered. “You were angry I had a panic attack?” he whispered, incredulous and, once again, humiliated.

Derek’s lips pressed briefly against his.

“No! I was angry that you tried to take care of it alone. I was angry that I caused it. I was angry that you would fuck me in your sleep and not tell me if that’s what you – if that was something you wanted – damn it, Stiles, you were my closest friend!”

Stiles’s heart plummeted to the bottom of his slippered feet. ‘Were.’ He had been Derek’s closest friend, until his stupid lust and feelings boiled over and fucked everything up. He couldn’t even get angry at Derek, and he wanted to, really badly. This had been Derek’s idea, and Derek kept kissing him, and Derek had snuggled him with morning wood in evidence the day before. But Derek clearly hadn’t wanted to, no matter what Scott had smelled, and Stiles – Stiles clearly did.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice finally above a whisper. “I’m sorry.”

He squeezed out from under Derek and blindly made his way through the courtyard, stumbling a bit in his stupid slippers. He should have followed his first instinct and gotten the hell out of Dodge that morning. It would be torture to stay with Derek for the rest of the retreat.

Stiles was halfway back to their suite when he saw them: down at the end of a corridor, where two halls met, were Marcie Young and Frank the delivery guy, and something fishy was definitely going on there. First, why wasn't Marcie kissing her husband? And second, Frank, really? Stiles had crossed him off the list! Was he doomed to screw everything up this week? He crept closer. This would have been a whole lot easier with Derek's hearing. He put that out of his mind and hid in a doorway.

"…have to get me another!" Marcie. "It can't be right!"

"If the line is blue, does that mean it's a boy?" Frank. And Frank was truly an idiot. An idiot supplying pregnancy tests, so maybe that wasn't all he supplied? First the Duncans and now Marcie. They'd have to re-look at Frank.

"No, you moron!" Marcie's voice was shrill, and only picking up steam for her tirade, but Stiles missed the rest of it when the door he was leaning against abruptly opened behind him.

"Whoableaurgheep!" he yelped, and fell on his ass into the suite of… Candy Mikel. Really, was no one kissing their husbands today?

"Mr. Biggerson," Candy murmured in a sultry purr. "Did you want to talk to me?"

She leaned down and grabbed Stiles by the back of his robe and pulled him fully into her room, shutting the door. Stiles scrambled to sit up, his back against the door, but Candy just saw it as invitation to get into his personal space. Which she did by straddling his hips. Hoo, boy, her breasts were mere inches from his chin. Her very full and real, no enhancements for Candy, her breasts were probably the least fake things about her. That hair definitely came from a bottle. And his mind was wandering, great.

"I've seen you watching me," she continued in the same tone. "Your eyes are always on me, imagining me like this—"

"Oh, hell no!" Stiles burst out. Loudly. "Lady, get off of me!"

She looked so affronted, Stiles would laugh, but come on, he'd been staring at her? He reached out and lifted her off him. Her eyes opened wide, and Stiles was getting a little sick of everyone being surprised when he made a display of physical strength. He ran with fucking werewolves, he had faced down an Alpha Pack and That Time We Don't Talk About. Stiles might be lanky, but those were some lanky-ass muscles.

"You have your facts jumbled," Stiles said firmly. "You're the one who's staring at Derek. And he's mine, not yours! Do you have any idea how long I've wanted him? I love him, he's with me, you no touch! Hands the fuck off!"

Candy gaped at him. Stiles knew how she felt; he kind of wanted to gape at himself. He'd become a caveman. One who used the f-word in front of a stranger and got all scarily possessive. Ugh.

"Um. That came out a little harsh," Stiles started, shifting awkwardly on the floor. He needed a bit more space to actually stand up, but Candy was still staring at him.

"Look, I'm… I'm really sorry about that," she said. Her voice had completely changed from sultry porn star to girl next door. "I shouldn't be trying to poach someone else's husband just because my own is so unsatisfactory."

"Oh, that's—"

"It's just, Ted used to be like Derek is with you, and I miss that! I want it back, you know?" She twisted her hands in her lap and sighed. "I can't recall the last time Ted held me, or paid attention to what I was saying, or dragged me out of a meeting because he just had to make love to me right away. I want the magic back."

Stiles squirmed uncomfortably. He always felt guilty lying to someone who was near tears, but there was no way he could tell Candy why Derek held him, or why they really snuck away. None of his real relationships would have garnered this kind of envy.

"Every relationship has its bumps in the road," he said, trying to sound conciliatory and reaching for the first platitude he could think of. "I mean, just this morning I pissed Derek off so much that I had to leave the courtyard." He swallowed hard at the memory.

"Oh, honey." Candy leaned forward and gripped his shoulder. "He'll cool off. He's so in love with you."

Stiles winced. Derek was a good actor, that was it.

"Don't make that face," Candy chided him. "I see him watching you when you're not looking. He's a bit of the stoic type, I get that, but the eyes don't lie. He loves you so much."

She couldn't possibly be right, or at least not in the way Stiles could admit to himself that he wanted.

"Thanks, Candy," he said, and that was one thing he never thought he'd say. "I'm sure Ted will come around."

"Do you really think so?" Candy asked, pressing in close again. Her breasts were very pillow-like and her cleavage sparkled with what looked like body glitter, but honestly, no, Stiles didn't think that Ted would 'come around' even for their awesomeness. It was just something people said, like "Bless your heart" or "Phantom Menace was as good as A New Hope" – nobody actually meant those things. It was supremely awkward for him to feel any sort of sympathy for Candy Mikel, but he did.

"If he's got half a brain, he'll never let you go," Stiles assured her, and never mind that it could be taken two different ways. Sympathy only went so far.

She smiled at him and patted his cheek. "Thank you, Stiles." She bit her lip, looking surprisingly young. "Do you want to know a secret?"

***

Candy's secret turned out to be a back way into the kitchens and the location of the snacks cupboard – "Real snacks, not like dried fruit and shit," she said, and Stiles was going to have to work at disliking her if this continued – and they spent the rest of the Kiss & Share Hour huddled in a corner of the kitchen, giggling over Jelly Bellies and Hershey's Kisses. Stiles could almost forget that he'd have to face Derek again soon and withstand the waves of anger, disappointment and betrayal rolling off of him.

But Derek wasn't at their next session, We're All One Parental Screw Up Away From Being Serial Killers. Stiles worried over his absence for the whole hour, not least because he really needed a receptacle for his snark. "Doctor" Costanza had to have printed his diploma off the internet, and he definitely didn't have any kids himself. Stiles had taken several psychology courses, but he didn't need them to snort his way through Costanza's outlandish theories. Nutter.

When Derek didn't turn up for The Art of Masturbation, Stiles beat a hasty retreat and went looking for him. He walked down the hallways, hissing Derek's name outside suite doors, turning up nothing. Either Derek was continuing the search and utterly ignoring Stiles, or he was brooding somewhere and didn't want to be found. Both options sucked. Stiles was crashing hard after his sugar high with Candy. Wallowing was definitely called for; at least until lunch. After lunch, Stiles was going to come up with a foolproof plan to repair his and Derek's friendship. It would involve… Stiles wasn't sure what it would involve; that was why lunch was needed, to clear his head and boost his confidence with the liberal application of fried potato in some form.

Their bed was calling to him. What better place to wallow in all his feelings of inadequacy and guilt than the scene of the crime. He shed his robe and the super comfy pajamas on the way from the door to the bed and settled beneath the clean sheets Derek had put on that morning. Clean sheets, because Stiles had defiled them and the beautiful friendship of Stiles and Derek, which had never had any problems before then. Even wallowing, self-loathing Stiles had to amend that last one.

"What the hell, Stiles?"

Stiles’s eyes flew open. Derek stood at the foot of the bed, glistening wet with a towel wrapped around his waist. Steam wafted out of the now-open bathroom door. Huh. Derek must have been in the shower, washing his perfect pectorals, scrubbing down his washboard abs, soaping up his muscular thighs… Stiles blinked. Derek was still glaring at him, all stiff and angry and whatever calming effect the shower had had was totally lost now. Great. Stiles even ruined Derek's wallow.

"You missed The Art of Masturbation." Stiles said the first thing that popped into his head, and could have bitten off his tongue. "I mean, so did I, not that I need advice in how to… um." Wow, he hadn't had this kind of verbal diarrhea in years; what the hell was the matter with him? "Anyhow, you weren't there, and I was worried and I feel like an ass. I'm an ass."

"Are you finished?"

"I'm never finished. But I could shut up now."

Derek sighed. He somehow managed to look even more tense, shoulders and eyebrows hunched and that jawline, shit, before he took a deep breath and released it and his tension together.

"I reacted badly," he said simply, and sat down on the bed next to Stiles.

Stiles blinked, opened his mouth, thought better of it, blinked some more. "What?" he managed at last.

Derek's lips quirked. "If you want it in Spanish, you're going to have a long wait."

"You don't speak Spanish. You're… you're joking," Stiles said wonderingly. It wasn't as if Derek didn't have a sense of humor, and a completely ridiculous affection for slapstick and Abbott and Costello which Stiles had discovered the week he had the flu senior year, but he didn't really tell jokes. Or deflect with jokes. That was Stiles’s forte.

"And I skipped the masturbation thing because I needed to make a phone call."

Stiles waited expectantly, but Derek didn't continue.

"Okay. I made a phone call, too. I mean, before masturbation. The masturbation talk. Which I didn't attend." Please, please, please, for the love of all that was holy, could he stop saying 'masturbation'? "Not that I think there's anything wrong with masturbation! I do it several times a day myself." Could someone please just kill him? He squeezed his eyes shut and drew his knees up to his chin. "I'm regressing here, Derek. You're making me nervous that I fucked up so badly, and now I'm babbling about masturbation, which is something I thought I had finally gotten under control. The babbling, I mean, not the—"

"Stiles."

Stiles’s jaw snapped shut. Quiet settled over them, except for the tiny drip-drip-drip coming from a faucet in the bathroom.

"I've been seeing a therapist," Derek said, finally breaking the silence.

The first thing that popped into Stiles’s head was Derek is dating a therapist, but he caught himself before he could blurt it out and allowed the words to make sense in his head.

"Oh," Stiles said. Had he sounded surprised? He was, a little, though if anyone could benefit from therapy, it was Derek Hale. "That's good, right? You're getting something out of it, despite the – wait, have you said that you're a werewolf?"

"No. It's been… helpful… anyhow."

"Well, good for you! How long have you been going?"

"Three years." Stiles gaped at him a bit – Derek had managed to hide that for three years? – but Derek just continued talking. "Your father insisted I go at first. Said there was no way I'd pass a psych eval without it." Derek’s lips quirked up again. Twice in one conversation, and a weighty conversation, at that.

"Point to Dad. I mean—"

"No, he was right." Derek stretched out on the bed and, after a moment, Stiles followed suit. This was Surreal Day, so why not? "That phone call I made was to Dr. Tess. Look, I have issues," his nose scrunched when he said the word, like he found it distasteful, but Stiles thought it looked adorable, "about sex and trust and permission and," he shrugged his shoulders, difficult to do while lying on one's back, "and I reacted badly."

"Derek," Stiles said slowly. He had to step carefully here. "I am really sorry about what happened. What I did." A part of him wanted to be mad at Derek for volunteering Stiles for this assignment in the first place, but Stiles had taken enough psychology and sociology -- not to mention being fluent in Hale Speak -- to know that that would not help at all.

"And I'm sorry I took my anger out on you."

"So are we… you said I was your closest friend, like past tense, but are we still? I still want us to be, you know. Close friends." He knew Derek could tell he was anxious from his heartbeat and perspiration, but hopefully he couldn't tell that Stiles was partially lying. A conversation where Derek revealed he'd been going to therapy and had boundary issues with sex was not the place to say, 'Guess what? I've been half in love with you for years and would really like to take this thing to the next level. Physically.'

"You're still my closest friend, that was just – I didn't even realize I said 'was' or you would take it like that."

Relief flooded Stiles and he couldn't resist giving Derek an awkward, we're-both-lying-down hug. It would have been fast, but Derek brought his arm up and patted Stiles on the back, releasing him quickly. Which was a good thing, since mostly naked, wet Derek was raising certain feelings in Stiles that would totally negate their entire conversation.

"Hey, you realize this is the most mature conversation we've ever had with each other," Stiles said, settling back down on his pillow, "and you're wearing a towel and I'm in my Batman boxers."

Derek slanted his eyes at him. "These towels are very fluffy. You know who likes fluffy towels?”

"Isaac!" Stiles supplied, eyes shining.

"I should really bring him back something."

"We'll sneak him out a full set," Stiles said, laughing, feeling better than he'd felt in days. Until an idea occurred to him, causing him to choke. "Oh my God. Derek!" He sat up abruptly and clutched at Derek's shoulder, eyes widening. "We are such idiots!"

"What the hell?" Derek started to ask, eyebrows knitting together.

"No, listen! The slipper, the shit you found at the scene – laundry – red herrings!" He'd reached that stage where full sentences eluded him, but Derek had gotten almost fluent at Stiles-speak over the years.

"If you say we could've caught a thief without having to go on this stupid retreat," Derek began, but Stiles shut him up again.

"Derek, we could have caught this thief without having to come on this stupid retreat!" Stiles said excitedly. "We should have gone undercover as commercial launderers!"

Derek opened his mouth, shut it, and then threw his hands up in the air in a move that was eerily reminiscent of teenage Stiles. "So you think at least one thief has access to the laundry from this place, and decided to leave it behind to throw us off the scent?"

Stiles tried not to stare at the way Derek's towel shifted and twisted as he sat up, nearly giving Stiles an eyeful that he was rather hopeful he'd get.

"Yeah," he said, tearing his gaze away. "Or that was a mistake, or, hang on, does the animal clinic have laundry facilities on site because – oh wait. They do."

How had he nearly forgotten that? The first time he saw Derek in nothing but his underwear was in the laundry room of the animal clinic, standing in front of the washing machine. It was industrial strength; a good thing considering the stained clothes they usually put in it. Stiles had certainly never forgotten what Derek looked like in that moment. His mouth fell open a bit as he got lost for a bit in the memory.

"You were thinking they used the same service?" Derek asked. He snapped his fingers in front of Stiles’s face. "Stiles. Isaac does the laundry there."

"Yeah, you're right. But the commercial laundry thing is still a good idea!"

Derek nodded. "I searched the basement here already – no laundry facilities. Come on, let's go call your dad and tell him to check that angle." Derek was already moving towards the door.

"Uh, hate to break it to you, buddy, but you're naked." Stiles stopped him with a pang of regret. It would have been awesome to watch Derek running around the retreat in nothing but a towel.

They got dressed with a minimum amount of awkwardness, but Cheryl refused to let them use her phone until they joined her for lunch. Apparently word had spread around the retreat that something was wrong with the gay dudes, and absolutely everyone stared at them all during the meal. Cheryl didn't seem to notice, and chattered away about her wild and crazy days in marching band. Derek's jaw twitched incessantly and his shoulders hunched under the weight of the stares until Stiles slid closer and rubbed at his back. Beneath the layers of cloth was the triskele tattoo. Stiles had always viewed it as something of a magical spot (and honestly, a total turn-on to watch the swirls of black ink shift and flow when Derek worked out shirtless); whether it was or not, Derek relaxed into the touch and soon enough, people stopped gawping at them.

Cheryl was still talking as she led them back into her office, and didn't stop until Stiles picked up the phone. She gave them a sunny smile.

"I'm so glad you guys made up!" she said out of the blue. Actually, it may not have been out of the blue at all, but Stiles had to admit he'd tuned Cheryl's chatter right out.

"Ummmmm?" Stiles said back. The phone was already ringing, and his dad usually picked up quickly. This could get awkward.

"It can be a lot of stress, doing a conference like this," Cheryl said, nodding. "Someone usually has a meltdown."

"Sheriff Stilinski," Stiles’s dad said over the phone line.

"Yo, dad," Stiles greeted him, and sent a desperate look at Derek. Derek switched on his fake charming look, always unsettling to Stiles, and put his arm around Cheryl, leading her away.

"Have you found anything?" his father asked.

"We're fine, thanks for asking."

Over in the corner of the office, Cheryl was completely mesmerized by Derek's face, her mouth open and head tilted back to stare at him with stars in her eyes. It was utterly ridiculous, Stiles surely never looked at him like that; they were the same height so no head tilt necessary.

"This is a social call?" Stiles could practically hear his dad's eyebrows rising over the phone. Scary. "The honeymoon phase is over already and you need to be rescued?"

"Come on, give me a little credit!" Stiles protested, never mind that he had just begged the same from Scott earlier that morning.

Cheryl giggled, and Stiles could have sworn he heard the phrase "super duper adorbs" pass the mighty Alpha Derek Hale's lips. He slid off the corner of Cheryl's desk and just barely caught himself from taking a tumble.

"Sorry, kiddo," his father said, not sounding sorry in the slightest. "So what's the deal, then? You're not using your 'ER now' voice."

"My 'ER now' voice."

"Pending disaster."

"Ah." Cheryl giggled helplessly, and Derek smiled broadly at Stiles over her head, his eyebrows doing this complicated maneuver to convey something like 'look, I got the human lady to laugh at my no-doubt-wretched joke; do I get a cookie?' Stiles’s heart fluttered strangely in his chest.

"Stiles."

"Eh?"

"Did you actually have a reason for calling?"

"Right. Yeah, a good one." Stiles turned his back so he couldn't see Derek's attempts at flirting. He'd definitely have to tease Derek about the 'adorbs' later, though, come to think of it, Derek had probably picked that up from Stiles, so maybe 'no' to the teasing. "I had a thought." He lowered his voice. "Laundry." He paused for dramatic effect, but his father didn't rise to the bait and Stiles had to finish up the thought on his own. "What if our thieves use a commercial laundry service as a front? That way they can get into lots of places, the back ways, too, probably. What do you think?"

He was not expecting his father to laugh.

"Hey!" Stiles protested.

"Oh don't be like that!" There was still mirth in the sheriff's voice. "It's just, son, you went on a couples' retreat. With my deputy. And there might be no connection between the resort and the ring of thieves. I would call this karma."

"That's not how karma works!"

"Then I will call it something I can tease you with for the next five years. So. We'll look into the laundry on our end. Do you know what company they use?"

Stiles looked back over his shoulder. Derek was telling Cheryl a story and had her complete attention. Stiles frowned. He had definitely heard 'then when Stiles was seventeen…' which, no. No sharing Stiles’s awkward teen years.

"Um. Give me a second, Dad."

It was probably a story about him being a huge klutz or something. Well, five years later, and Stiles was slinking around the corner of the desk like a ninja. Cheryl's monthly invoices folder was just sitting there, closed, in the middle of the desk. Stiles glanced back to the far corner of the room. Derek was gesturing wildly in a rather crude impersonation of Stiles, much to Cheryl's amusement. Stiles felt his cheeks burn. They damn well better catch these thieves, after the amount of humiliation he had to go through. He flipped the folder open. Caterers; electricity; housekeeping; a party supply store for one dozen red bouncy balls – Stan, totally; laundry. Score!

"Nickel for the Washerwoman," Stiles whispered into the phone. "1253 Petunia Street, Clover Downs."

Clover Downs was about a ten minute drive away, and as far as Stiles could remember, had not been hit by the ring of thieves. Don't shit where you live, apparently.

"Don't shit where you live," his father mumbled into the phone, distracted by writing it down. Stiles smiled to himself and shut the folder. Another glance up told him Cheryl hadn't noticed anything. She was too busy sighing at Derek's 'and that's how I knew I loved him' line. Stiles’s breath caught in his throat. Fake love, he had to remind himself. His fake boyfriend loved Stiles’s klutziness, and wasn't that cute? Cheryl certainly thought so.

"Okay, Stiles." His father's voice grabbed for his attention, and Stiles blinked, focusing back on the phone. "We're going to look into this. You stay put. No need to spook anyone, just in case."

"Yeah, awesome plan. Would hate to miss out on the next make-out session."

"The next – what?" His father asked sharply.

"Nothing! You go be a tough and commanding presence on the streets of Clover Downs. Don't slip in the detergent and break your leg; I'd have to come back here and feed you Veggie Casserole a la Stiles for a month. Love you, Pops, gotta go!"

"Stiles," his father sighed. "Are you really okay? I mean on a… a personal level?"

"Yup!" He lowered his voice, though there was really no way Derek wouldn't be able to hear him. "Me and Derek – our friendship can withstand the awkward."

It could, he really felt that after their breakthrough conversation on the bed. And if Stiles never said that his feelings might perhaps go a bit farther than friendship, well, surely he could live with that.

His father said his good-byes, and Stiles hung up the phone. Derek and Cheryl were still talking, probably the longest conversation Derek had had in his life. Stiles hung back, unsure about the protocol for interrupting a cover conversation, but Derek stretched his arm out so he ducked easily beneath it.

"Stiles!" Cheryl exclaimed. "Derek is so romantic! He was telling me all about your early courtship—" Courtship? "—and I have to ask, did you really save him from drowning?"

"Uh, yes. Yes, I did!" And in all that time, Derek had never once brought it up again.

"So romantic!" Cheryl squealed again. "Is that when you fell in love with him, too?"

"Ummm…" Stiles stalled for time as his brain short-circuited at the too. He had to keep reminding himself that this wasn't real, which should worry him more than it did. "I think I beat him there."

Derek's arm was warm and heavy across his shoulders, his body more relaxed than usual against Stiles’s side, but when Stiles spoke, he could feel a thrum of tension go through Derek.

"Always a competition, huh?" Cheryl asked, eyes sparkling.

"Something like that," Derek agreed. "Thanks for letting us use your phone, Cheryl, but we should probably head to the next event."

"Oh, you'll love it!" Cheryl enthused. "We're making chocolate-covered strawberries and other things that you can have tonight in your Jacuzzis." She blushed pink at the mental image of the two of them naked in the Jacuzzi, feeding each other chocolate-covered strawberries. Stiles was pink-cheeked right along with her. He hoped there'd also be bananas.

There were.

Candy Mikel shot him a wink when they joined the rest of their group in a corner of the kitchens. She didn't even look at Derek. Stiles returned the wink as best he could.

"You get an eyelash on your eye?" Derek asked out of the corner of his mouth while Bob, their leader for this session, droned on about the properties of melted chocolate and the one time he got some on his Bon Jovi at Madison Square Garden t-shirt, but it was okay because it was a knock-off.

"No, I was winking," Stiles said quietly.

Derek's eyebrows shot up.

"Shut up," Stiles told him.

Derek's eyes narrowed.

"I was talking to the brows."

Derek bumped shoulders with him, light enough that Stiles only had to take one step back to steady himself. It was the perfect angle to see Derek's lips curve in a smile.

"… but then I went to see them on the Jersey shore this other time, and that shirt was real!" Bob finished up. "Okay! So. Fruit! You take your fruit, and you dip it in the chocolate, and after it hardens a bit, you can squiggle some designs and shit on them. Cool, right? So everyone come up and pick your fruit!"

The Youngs got in a bitter argument when Marcie seized the cherries and Brian went for the oranges ("Cherries, Brian! You should be used to balls this size!"), and Candy Mikel got in a passive-aggressive war with Barb Shoemaker over the bananas. Stiles managed to filch one banana during their stand-off and re-joined Derek at the strawberries. Derek was picking and choosing each piece of fruit with precision care, ignoring the Youngs and Bob to his left as Marcie slowly had a meltdown.

"Good choice," Al Shoemaker said, nodding his head approvingly at the strawberries. He was practically yelling to be heard over Marcie's hysterics. "Strawberries are an aphrodisiac, you know."

"So I've been told," Derek said mildly.

"Barb's allergic," Al said. "We haven't had sex in three years."

The entire room grew quiet at that. Marcie hiccupped.

"And yet you're still standing by the strawberries," Barb muttered. Her fingers tightened so hard on her banana, the fruit came squirting out of its skin and hit Candy in the face. Candy squawked, flinging the mush aside and accidentally getting Brian in the eye.

"Hey!" Brian exclaimed.

"Stop throwing bananas at my husband! I'm the only one who can do that!" Marcie wailed.

"She hardly meant it!" Ted snapped. He picked up a handful of pineapple chunks and flung them at Brian. “See the difference?”

Stiles’s mouth dropped open as the other six began a full-fledged food fight, drawing in session leader Bob with a cherry to the nose.

"Oh my God, Derek, can we please—"

"No," Derek said calmly, dipping a strawberry into chocolate and giving it a critical once-over.

"But I have always wanted to get in a food fight!"

"You had three food fights last summer, and one was even at that burger joint over on King Street."

Stiles’s jaw dropped again. "You know about that one?"

"Erica had steak sauce in her hair." Derek gave him a patented Derek Hale Bitchface. "It was an uncomfortable night for us all."

Stiles couldn't help it. He started to laugh. Derek picked up one of his chocolate-covered strawberries and squished it against Stiles’s cheek, smearing it down his jawline.

"There," he said, and licked the fruit juice off his fingers. "Food fight."

***

The entire Unicorn Group was banned from the Kiss & Share Hour and sent to mandatory group counseling with Doctor Dick, the retreat's tough love expert.

"Unicorns!" he barked, pacing the floor and glaring around at their fruit-smeared faces. Stiles bounced on the balls of his feet, unable to keep still. The Erotic Fruit Session had definitely been his favorite of the retreat thus far. He wished he'd had a chance to take a picture of Derek, dripping with cherry juice, with pineapple bits in his hair, laughing his head off as he rubbed chocolate into Stiles’s hair. Stiles had never seen him laugh quite that hard before, which was a shame, as he had a gorgeous laugh.

"You know what it tells me when eight grown-ass adults can't handle their fruit?" Doctor Dick continued. Stiles bit back a snicker. Derek assiduously avoided his eye, lips twitching.

"It tells me that you lack the proper respect, for your fellow Unicorns…" Doctor Dick stopped pacing, put his hands on his hips and roared, "… and for yourselves!"

Brian Young squeaked, and Stiles went into a coughing fit.

"You, sir." Doctor Dick focused on Stiles, eyes going comically wide. "Congratulations, Mr. Wise Guy. You've just volunteered to go first."

Derek glared at Dick and patted Stiles on the back. "Why don't you explain what he's going first for, and then he'll decide if he wants to?"

And now Stiles really was choking. Derek had always been a little uneasy around authority (read: a lot), always caught between wanting to follow rules and thinking he had to make all the rules himself. The only authority figure Stiles had seen him defer to was Stiles’s dad. Derek and Deaton's heated 'discussions,' on the other hand, had obtained legendary status.

Doctor Dick reared back as if slapped, recovering by wagging his finger under Derek's nose and hissing, "He's lost the first spot to you, sir."

Stiles snorted. "Way to make people want to participate in your little activity, buddy."

"As I was saying," Doctor Dick said, very quietly. "Respect." His back went ramrod straight as he marched back into the center of the room, leading a band of one. "Respect!" he said again, and pulled out his notecards. "Love," he read off the top one, blinked, flipped to the second one, and looked up again. "They're related. So… we're going to practice self-love."

It was too much, and Stiles wasn't the only one with a red face.

"Oh, good, I skipped that session this morning," Derek said blandly, and Stiles lost it. There was nothing so awesome as when Derek let his sense of humor out to play. Stiles laughed so hard he cried. Candy Mikel was laughing, too, and even Marcie Young started to smile again. Doctor Dick's shoulder slumped.

"Awww, come on, man, you set that one up," Stiles told him. "Hey, don't feel bad. What were you planning to have us all do?"

"Everyone was going to say one thing that they loved about themselves," Doctor Dick sighed. "And I had a speech about respect."

"That all sounds really interesting, but I'm going to take a shower instead," Derek said.

"Just a minute," Al Shoemaker protested. "I want to do that first thing."

His wife snorted. "Really, Al?"

"Yes, really." He turned and faced the group. "I love my patience and perseverance."

"I love that I'm so friendly!" Candy blurted out, right on his heels.

"Well, I love that I can see through bullshit," Barb snapped.

"I love that I don't take things personally," Ted said ominously, throwing his arm awkwardly around his wife.

"I love that I'm enthusiastic about the shit I love," Brian chimed in. "Like cosplay."

"I love that I'm competent, even when surrounded by idiots." From Marcie, and the Youngs glared daggers at each other.

"What about you, Stiles?" Candy asked, snuggling into her husband. "What do you love about you? I love your smile and your hands and the way you love your man."

Oy. That wasn't awkward at all. Thanks for that, Candy.

"Um," Stiles started. Love, love, love. All you need is love. Love lifts us up where we belong. "I love about me… that…" This was so difficult. How the hell had the others just spouted shit out? This was… Derek was watching him, face carefully blank, but too carefully. Stiles could read him, now, after six years, and he had an answer. "I love that I don't give up on the people I care about."

Derek gave him a tiny nod and stood up, taking a step towards the door.

"Mr. Scully?" Doctor Dick interrupted him. "One thing you love about yourself? Please?"

Derek froze. Stiles gave him an encouraging smile and shrugged his shoulders, as if to convey, 'hey, it wasn't that bad.' Derek looked up at the ceiling.

"I… love… that my friends can count on me to pull their nuts out of the fire."

Stiles’s face broke into a wide grin. God, he felt so proud. Look at Derek, loving himself! In a totally non-sexy way. Though, of course, it was rather sexy, that confidence in his own abilities. Rawr. Stiles threw his arms around Derek's neck and gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek. Mmmm, strawberry.

"All right, Unicorns dismissed, go take your damn showers." Doctor Dick was back to being a gruff blowhard, but Stiles really couldn't give a shit.

Derek reached out and ruffled Stiles’s hair, sending chocolate flaking as they made their way back towards their room. Cheryl caught up with them as they were nearing the courtyard.

"Stiles!" she said. "Your dad, Mr. Biggerson, called me and left a message for you." She reached into her pocket and pulled out a note on scented pink paper. "It says he picked up your suit at the dry cleaners, but your shirts weren't there. They might be ready tomorrow, but don't bother calling him about them."

"Okay, thanks, Cheryl," Stiles said on autopilot. Don't bother calling him? Derek went a bit stiff next to him. "We have to get cleaned up now; thanks again for the message!"

Derek took his hand and pulled him wordlessly down the hall to their room. Stiles’s mind was racing. He had an idea what his father's message meant, but it didn't make him happy.

"Derek, do you think—"

"Wait."

Stiles held his tongue until they were back in their room with the door closed, and even then he waited, albeit impatiently, as Derek went stock-still and sniffed the air.

"All clear," he said finally, and released Stiles’s hand.

"Dad found their den, didn't he?" he asked immediately. "Only they weren't there, so at least one of them… is probably here? Else we could just call and ask. That doesn't make sense; let's just sneak into Cheryl's office—"

"Stiles!" Derek interrupted him. "As much as it pains me to say this, we need to trust your dad knows what's best for us in this situation. If he said don't call, he doesn't want us to call."

"More information is always better!" Stiles argued back.

"Not if the lines are tapped, or someone is watching Cheryl's office!" Derek said heatedly. "Looking into the laundry service might have tipped off everyone else in the ring. And if your dad is worried, then we should be worried. He knows what we're capable of, Stiles."

Stiles’s entire body warmed at Derek's use of 'we.' The utter craziness that was Stiles’s high school career had abated a bit after That Thing We Don't Talk About, but Stiles was still called upon for his own brand of badassery, moxie and superior wit every few months, and it was nice, more than nice, to hear Derek acknowledge it. Still…

"I'm not really good at sitting on my hands."

"I have met you before, you know," Derek said, smiling slightly. "I'm still getting used to this whole 'trusting other people's judgment' thing, too."

“But my dad—“

“Do you trust him?”

“Sure, but—“

“Right now, he doesn’t want us to draw any attention to ourselves. So let’s not. Come on, let’s go over everyone again. You’re really good at seeing patterns.”

Stiles stared at him. It had happened so gradually over the past six years, but Derek had learned patience. Or no, that wasn’t it exactly. He’d always been able to bide his time. What he’d gained was the luxury to do so. Way to go, Beacon Hills Police! It was just too bad Stiles had to wait along with him now.

"Fine,” he sighed. “But as long as you're being trusting, trust me when I say you really, really need a shower."

Derek snorted. "You first. You look like you took a header into Candyland."

"Says the dude who caused it," Stiles muttered, but he grabbed a clean set of resortwear and retreated to the bathroom, resolutely putting aside everything that had happened that day, from its disastrous beginnings to anger to friendship epiphanies to food fights, to focus on that whole case thing; the reason they were there in the first place.

***

They ate dinner that night in their room, surrounded by Stiles’s copies of folders and their notes. Frank was definitely looking more sketch, and he had connections to the Duncans, who Stiles wouldn’t be able to pick out of a crowd, and the Youngs, who—

“Are annoying little shits,” Derek supplied, “but I don’t think they’re hiding anything.”

“Yeah, they kind of wear their awfulness on their sleeves,” Stiles agreed, absently swiping a bit of pita bread through the last of the hummus. “Frank, though…”

“If Frank’s part of it, then there’s more than one member here. The man’s a moron.” Derek leaned down and stole Stiles’s pita with his teeth.

“Nice.” Stiles glared at him without any heat. Derek had already given him three-quarters of the baba ghanoush and he was pretty full.

“Mmmm.” Derek smacked his lips and pointed at the baklava. “You going to eat that?”

Stiles shoved it into his mouth. “Whamamumekel?”

“Now that you and Candy are winking buddies, you suddenly don’t think it could be them?” Derek asked.

Stiles swallowed. “She did know about the secret cupboard in the kitchen,” he acknowledged.

Derek frowned down at one of Stiles’s notes. “Ted said he liked birds. Do you remember?”

“In the… puppy play discussion?”

“Yeah. They’re stealing anesthetics, you have down here. For animals. Why would you drug a bunch of animals?”

“So they won’t attack you?”

“And they would attack you because…?”

“Because… they’re wild?”

“Wildlife trade,” Derek said, snapping his fingers. “Smugglers, not thieves.”

“So we’re a pit stop for exotic animals?”

“Why not? We’re near the coast, we’re out of the way, we’re close enough to trade routes, but far enough that no one is going to be looking at us too closely. Smuggle them up here…”

“…re-stock the knock-out juice, and send them on their way. I bet dad found empty cages and things at the laundry! It’d be too obvious if they used their own clinic as a front, so they chose a place that makes a lot of white noise and stole what they needed!”

“Exactly. But that doesn’t explain why they would come to a couples’ retreat.”

“Oh my God.” Stiles’s eyes widened. “Derek! What if they’re here because they actually need a couples’ retreat!”

Derek tilted his head. It made Stiles think of an overgrown puppy, but Derek never reacted well to the comparison.

“Think about it: animal smugglers are still people, as fucked up as the rest of us. What if they’re a couple and they really need to work on their relationship?”

“That describes everyone in Unicorn group, except for us.”

“It could totally be the Mikels.”

“Or it could be the Shoemakers.” Derek scrubbed his hand through his hair. “Okay. If we’re staying under the radar, our best bet is to engage them at breakfast and keep an extra close eye on them tomorrow morning.”

Stiles started to clear off the bed. “We’ll have them tied up in a bow before my dad even gets here! A kind of ‘sorry for messing up your crime scenes so much when I was in high school’ present.”

“What a father always wants to hear.”

Stiles grinned at him. He forgot, sometimes, how much fun it was to hang out with Derek one-on-one. Derek and Scott, though officially packmates now, were never going to be BFFs. There was too much water under that bridge, especially considering Derek’s issues with consent, and Scott’s daddy issues. It provided a just-barely-there thrum of tension whenever Stiles hung out with the both of them. His smile faded a bit as he looked back at the bed.

He hoped like hell he could keep it in his pants tonight.

***

Much to Stiles’s relief, he woke up with only the usual amount of morning wood. Of course Derek could feel it, since he was splayed across Stiles’s chest like his very own werewolf blankie, legs all tangled up and, yup, his own morning wood pressing into Stiles’s thigh. Stiles blinked his eyes open and found Derek staring at him. Figured.

"What's the story, morning glory?" he yawned, expelling a no-doubt pungent wave of morning breath and causing Derek's nose to wrinkle.

"You get the bathroom first," Derek said. There were definite perks to having a human's sense of smell.

"Do you realize I have never arrested anyone?" Stiles asked, rolling out from under Derek and right off the bed. He really had to practice that.

"Of course you haven't; you're not a cop," Derek answered, yawning himself and scratching at the hair on his chest. Stiles distinctly remembered Derek being smooth-chested in the past, but this? This was incredibly sexy. Derek caught him looking and raised an eyebrow.

"A mere oversight," Stiles said hurriedly. "Will you let me use your cuffs?"

"No."

"Spoilsport."

Stiles tried to think about boring things in the shower – fingernail clippings and tractors and that philosophy class he took freshman year – but nothing helped shake his jittery excitement. Until it hit him that, once the case was closed, there would be no reason to wake up next to Derek anymore. No reason to spend an hour exchanging kisses with him, to touch him just because, to tickle his dry sense of humor.

Today fucking sucked.

It went from bad to worse when they showed up at breakfast and Ted Mikel wasn't there.

"Candy!" Stiles exclaimed, taking the seat to her right. Derek swooped in on her left, all stealth-ninja in his resort pajama-like clothes. Or trying to be stealth-ninja; it was difficult to look badass in huggably soft pale blue cotton.

"Oh my goodness, the two most handsome men at the resort want to eat breakfast with me!" Candy gave Stiles an exaggerated wink. "I'll be the filling in your—"

"Yeah, let's drop the act, shall we?" Stiles interrupted her. "Where's Ted?"

"The act?" she asked, looking back and forth between the two of them. "Ted?"

"The dude you married," Stiles supplied while at the same time Derek said, "The innocent bimbo act."

Ouch. Candy's eyes hardened. "Listen, you GQ Muthafuckas. My husband is taking care of his own personal business. It's none of your damn concern, so back the fuck off."

She left in a huff, her hair practically bristling with annoyance. The entire rest of the resort watched her go, then stared at the two of them.

"Well," Stiles said briskly. "That could have gone a leeeetle bit better. But not a total loss. I have never been called a GQ Muthafucka. Crossing that one off my bucket list."

"Shit," Derek swore softly. "Are the Shoemakers watching us, too?"

"My dear, sweet love, the entire resort is watching us. Because we are GQ Muthafuckas."

It had a nice ring to it.

"Come on." Derek stood up. "Let's go sit with the other Unicorns."

The rest of breakfast was pretty bland after that, but how could it not be? The Shoemakers were both fairly quiet, unusual by their standards. Derek was starting to get frustrated and it was affecting the rest of the Unicorns. Stiles took his hand as they walked en masse to their first session of the day. His dad had damn well better act fast.

Jody greeted them at the door, grinning broadly.

"Good morning, Unicorns, and welcome to MissConceptions and MisterUnderstandings!" She opened the door with a flourish, and everyone entered to see Candy, bedecked in overalls, work boots and red flannel, slouching next to Ted, sporting a sequined mini-skirt, a halter top and high heels. "Can anyone guess what our theme is?"

"Cross dressing," Stiles promptly said. Derek gave him a little nudge.

"This morning is about our appearances," Jody said. "If we change them, do we also change our sense of self? Who are we if not what we look like?" She gestured at the Mikels. "Candy and Ted offered to help set the scene, and you are all invited to follow suit."

Hell yeah! Stiles was going to get to see Derek in a dress! Screw the arrest, this was going to be the best part of the day. He tugged Derek over to the boxes holding dresses, skirts and blouses and began to paw through them. The rest of the Unicorns started bickering in the background, but Stiles couldn't pay attention to that when there was a floor-length red sundress just screaming Derek's name.

"You have got to wear this!" Stiles said, brandishing the dress at him.

Derek eyed the dress, strangely silent, before reaching out and touching the fabric. "I never wear red," he said at last.

"It would go great with your hair," Stiles said, and really, the color? That's what Derek reacted to?

"Did the Shoemakers seem more quiet to you at breakfast?" Derek asked, taking the dress from Stiles without even looking, too distracted by watching the Shoemakers argue, but Stiles wasn't fooled. If Derek really didn't want to wear the dress, there was absolutely nothing Stiles could have done to get him to take it.

"Quiet as the grave," Stiles responded cheerfully. "Oooh, 50s-style! I'm claiming that one!" He scooped up the poodle skirt, sweater and blouse. No footwear came even close to fitting him or Derek, sadly. "I think we need to go with a man-on-man defense here. You take the Shoemakers and I take the Mikels. You really screwed the pooch with that bimbo comment."

"You started it," Derek muttered, petulant as any five-year-old for at least one moment in time.

"Go change," Stiles told him, and leaned over to brush his lips against Derek's.

Derek gave him an odd look when he pulled away, but took the sundress and ducked behind one of the changing screens Jody had set up. Stiles surveyed the rest of the group to distract himself from the thought of Derek getting naked just a few feet away.

Marcie Young had stepped into a fuzzy Winnie the Pooh padded costume, her fingers absently rubbing the fabric as she watched her husband enthusiastically tear through the box of pirate costumes. For once, the Youngs had stopped arguing. The Shoemakers, on the other hand, had turned their usual bickering up to eleven. Interesting.

"Get your hands off my crown," Barb spat out, her knuckles white around the gaudiest plastic crown Stiles had ever seen. Al gave it a tug.

"You're not following the rules, Barb!" he said snidely. "We're supposed to dress as something we're not, and you have made it blindingly clear for the last thirty-five years that you are the queen of this castle!"

"Why don't you just go eat some strawberries, Al!" Barb hissed.

Damn, the Twosome Retreat just really didn't work for some people. Stiles shook his head sadly and gathered his clothes together. What the hell was taking Derek so long? It was a very simple dress, and—

"Oh my God!" Stiles’s jaw dropped open. "Derek, holy shit!"

"Do I look pretty?" Derek asked, arching a brow as he stepped fully out from behind the screen.

"Oh my God," Stiles said again. Yeah, he looked pretty. And hot, sexy and confident. It was a major turn-on. Derek Hale was working that dress. Stiles had been right; the color was perfect. The way it hung off his frame, the way it molded to his muscles, was all perfect. And when he took a step forward and it swished around his calves – that was perfect, too. Apparently Derek-in-a-dress was going to be a new kink for Stiles, awesome.

"You haven't changed yet," Derek said with an amused smirk. "Go on," he whispered, coming closer, and wow, there was hair in his cleavage, so weird, but perfect, too. "I'll keep an eye on Punch and Judy."

Hiding behind the screen definitely sounded like a good idea. Really, a cold shower would have been better, or some alone time that was more alone. Stiles did up the buttons of his blouse with shaky fingers. He needed to get a grip. Be a man! In a poodle skirt!

Stiles stepped out from behind the screen, and three things happened simultaneously: Marcie put on her Winnie the Pooh head, Barb and Al broke their crown with a loud snap, and the door to their room flew open.

"Beacon Hills Sheriff's Department," Stiles’s dad announced, striding in with two deputies at his heels.

Al threw his piece of the crown at them, missing and beaning Marcie in her huge, fuzzy head. She went down with a squawk, and Brian drew his plastic pirate sword and charged the Shoemakers. Who promptly turned tail to run for the windows, but Derek was there, tackling them to the ground with a flying leap that looked even more graceful in his dress. Stiles may have cheered, and he may have tried to hurry over to help, if Ted Mikel hadn't panicked and rushed for the door in the back of the room.

"Oh, f—"

***

The thing was, Stiles thought, as he raced down the halls of the resort, searching for Ted Mikel, it was decidedly hard to run in resort slippers. Ted, on the other hand, was wearing high heels. How the hell was he possibly still in front of Stiles? Stiles was a damn good runner, a result of running for his life for three years in high school. Things may have calmed down after The Thing We Don't Talk About, but Stiles kept up with the running. Yet Ted was still outpacing him. It was like he'd taken lessons from Agent Scully in how to run in heels.

Scully just made Stiles think about Derek, which was not conducive to chasing a man (criminal?) through a resort and out into the neighborhood. Shit. But why had Derek chosen Scully to be his last name? Derek was tall, dark and handsome like Mulder, he certainly believed in werewolves and other weird shit, also like Mulder, and he was haunted by the death of his sister, like Mulder. (Did Mulder's sister actually die for reals? Stiles couldn't remember.) He'd have to ask Derek about the Mulder thing, once he caught Ted and dragged him back to Fields of Hope.

Why was Ted even running? The Shoemakers had thrown things at the cops (at Stiles’s dad!). Clearly, they were guilty of something. What else could Ted have possibly done to warrant running from the cops? Ted disappeared around a corner, and Stiles put on a burst of speed to catch up. They were running through people's back yards now, great, but Stiles was closing in on Ted, just a few more minutes… and then Stiles landed in a kiddie pool and went skidding across it, thoroughly shocked a little girl, and saw Ted disappear into the back of a slow-moving van.

"Oh, f—"

***

He got the license plate number. Never let it be said that Stiles Stilinski couldn't at least do the bare minimum. His blouse and sweater set stuck to his sweaty chest as he turned and made his dejected way back towards the resort. Derek was going to be disappointed in him. He wouldn't say it, but in a way, his silence would be worse – full of pity for the slow human. Stiles tripped in his slippers and almost faceplanted. It did not improve his mood.

A car honked its horn from down the road, and Stiles squinted as it came closer. A pink convertible. Of course Candy Mikel would drive a pink convertible.

"Hey, good looking," Candy said, her voice soft and wistful, at odds with the come-on and the car. "I'll give you a ride back to Fields of Hope."

Stiles crossed his arms. It would be phenomenally stupid to accept a ride from Candy. "It's a perfect day for a walk."

"Please, Stiles," Candy pleaded. "I really need to talk to someone."

Ouch. The trembling lips, the watery eyes, the ill-fitting overalls – Stiles was a goner. And Candy wasn't bad. Over the years, Stiles had honed his sixth sense to a fine point, honed it like a knife on something that hones knives. Candy was a lot of things, but a killer was not one of them. Besides, he needed to get back to his dad and report a missing Mikel as soon as possible.

Candy took a deep breath as he got in the car. She didn't put it out of park, her fingers clenching and unclenching around the steering wheel before she said, "Ted's leaving me."

"For someone who drives a white kidnapper's van?" Stiles asked. Candy winced.

"Yeah. Only it’s not going to stay white for long; they're gonna paint it, probably some kind of mural."

"Of…"

"Something from their show. Ted's joining a drag revue."

Stiles blinked. "No wonder he ran so well in his heels." Tact, Stilinski. Tact. "I mean… I'm sorry your husband is leaving you?"

Candy squeezed her eyes shut. "He doesn't think he can be a drag queen and still be married to me. I told him it was fine! I bought him new shoes! I took him shopping for sequins and makeup and everything! Why does he have to leave me?"

Stiles reached out and patted her on the arm. "Maybe… maybe he just can't wrap his head around the idea that you'd be happy with him? Like, being a drag queen isn't the status quo, and though he can believe you when you say you're okay, he's got some kind of noble 'I don't want Candy to have to deal with the stigma' thing going on in his own head."

It sounded like Scott and Allison senior year, actually; hurdle number thirty-two in their road to true love. Scott moped for three months about it until Stiles, Scott and Derek got trapped in an elevator together on a perfectly mundane shopping trip (seeing a psychic about a vision, but the psychic lived in a high-rise apartment building, so Stiles firmly labeled it mundane). Derek was so offended by Scott's attitude towards being a werewolf, but twenty minutes of a blistering tirade from Derek with no means of escape and Scott had changed his tune.

"I was hoping this retreat would help with that," Candy said morosely.

"You thought a Stan Fields special would fix things?" Candy glared at him. "I mean, that could have totally worked! But I'm going to introduce you to some friends of mine – they perform at Jungle – and Bob, I'm pretty sure, is married to a woman. You and Ted should talk to them."

"Oh, Stiles, thank you!!" She leaned across the gear stick and hugged him, pressing him tight to her bosom. "Your Derek is such a lucky man!"

"We're not – um, thanks," he mumbled into her hair.

"Can I ask you a question?" she asked, pulling back and asking another without waiting for a nod. "When did you know you were in love?"

"I –" He was going to deflect. He was really good at it, after all. But there was something about Candy's bright eyes and hopeful smile. "I‘ve been attracted to him forever. Who wouldn’t be, right? It waxed and waned, like... the moon. But it changed about, um, four years ago." He took a deep breath. There was a reason this was The Thing We Don't Talk About. "My father was in trouble," he said, glossing over the horrible details; the pain and blood and Stiles using a gun and Scott almost dying (again) and Allison going berserk (again, but on their side this time) and everything changing in Beacon Hills (again, some more). "And Derek saved him."

***

The Shoemakers were arrested for running a smuggling ring, transporting different types of parrots, monkeys and iguanas up from Central America and distributing them throughout the States and Canada. Stiles sat at his dad's desk at the station, looking through pictures. He had to stop fairly quickly. Illegal wildlife trafficking was a nasty, fucked-up business. The Shoemakers had hired one lawyer together. Stiles gave it about a week before she quit to preserve her sanity. The older couple argued fiercely throughout their booking process, throwing blame around like… like a howler monkey threw its feces, Stiles thought. Served them right.

He had only seen Derek in passing, except for their somewhat memorial reunion upon Stiles and Candy's return to the resort. Derek had practically pounced on him, bodily lifting him from the convertible and checking him for wounds. Stiles had a blister from his impromptu run and didn't appreciate the man-handling – well, not completely. The other deputies had clearly tried not to ogle them in their outfits (though Kendall Malone, the newest deputy, had definitely taken several pictures on her phone), and now Derek was already back in khaki, gun and badge in place. They'd had one whispered conversation about Ted before Stiles gave his dad his statement. That was it.

Honestly, it was a bit of a letdown. Stiles hadn't even gotten to see the arrest with handcuffs and rights and his fellow Unicorns gaping in awe. The Shoemakers had also implicated Frank in their ring (and insisted it was Frank who'd left the robe and slipper at Deaton's in the first place), but Kendall and Barry Watson had been dispatched to bring Frank in after everyone else was already back at the station. Really, Stiles had suffered all week long, and for what? The realization that he was in love with one of his closest friends? Thanks, universe, he could have done without that.

"Brought you your bag from the resort," his dad said, joining him in the office and plopping the bag in his lap. Thankfully, Stiles had packed one change of clothes, in case they had a pajama-free day. "Get your feet off my desk."

"Thanks, Pop," Stiles said, sitting up and rummaging through the contents, mainly Derek's toiletries. How many moisturizers did one werewolf need?

"The poodle skirt's a good look, though," the sheriff said, eying him critically. "Nice and full."

"Hardy-har-har," Stiles muttered. Ah, there was his spare t-shirt and jeans, buried under shaving cream and shampoo.

"Is that really the best you can do?"

"I'm tired! Some of us have been working our fingers to the bone doing tough undercover work."

His dad raised his eyebrows. "You told me you'd been spending the time kissing my deputy. How was that tough?"

Stiles flushed.

"Is there anything you want to tell me, son?" His dad's voice was so full of sympathy; Stiles had to get out of there.

"Just that I'm going to swing by the clinic and tell Scott and Isaac – and Deaton – what happened. With the Shoemakers," Stiles amended hastily. "I'll see you at home?"

"Yeah." His father gave him an assessing look. "I'll be there around midnight." Stiles stood up, slinging the clanking bag over his shoulder, and made to leave. His dad stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you. I know that wasn't easy for you. You went above and beyond, and I owe you my thanks."

Stiles gawped. His father had treated him like an adult for years now, but this was different. This was Stiles doing something his father couldn't do, and doing it well. Never mind that the thought of his dad going undercover as Derek's boyfriend made him simultaneously want to throw up and claw his eyes out.

"You're welcome," he finally got out, managing an awkward good-ol-boy handshake before making his retreat.

Derek wasn't in the main room when Stiles ducked out of the station bathroom, back in his regular clothes. He was going to miss that poodle skirt. Deputy Malone looked like she was going to ask him something, but instead she just gave him a collegial nod. Stiles got so many of those he felt like a bobble head by the time he made it to his jeep. His dad must have had it driven over for him. Best dad ever!

He turned the key in the ignition, sighing. He devoutly hoped there were puppies at the clinic.

***

Stiles headed up to his childhood bedroom, dragging his feet a little. It’d been eight hours since he and Derek had last kissed. If he’d known it was going to be the last one, he would have made it memorable. But it’d just been the brush of lips together, given without even thinking, while the rest of Unicorn group picked their outfits and complained in the background. And that was it, now he was back to being Derek’s closest friend. Which was great, really. He had trust! And respect! And affection! Who would turn their nose up at that? Not Stiles Stilinski.

He almost jumped out of his skin when he opened his bedroom door. It'd been awhile since he'd get back from school to find Derek lurking in a corner, but there he was. Stiles rather wished he'd had more time to appreciate Derek in the red sundress, but the spare uniform was a nice change of pace from all the black Derek used to wear back then. His clothes were different from when Stiles was in high school but the rest of him… no, the rest of him was different, too. Nowadays, Derek was, to quote Stan Fields, "a onesome in touch with his oneself" and it showed. The weight of the world no longer rested on his shoulders alone, only about thirty percent of it or so.

"Is this scare the shit out of Stiles day, for old time's sake?" he asked, his heart rate slowly returning to normal. "When did you get here? You were still at the station when I left."

It hadn’t taken long to swing by the animal clinic to fill Scott in on the Shoemakers and their dastardly deeds, especially as Stiles really hadn’t wanted to continue the conversation they’d started on the phone in Cheryl’s office.

"Ten minutes or so," Derek said.

"So what's up?" Stiles asked, sitting down on the edge of his bed. Derek took the desk chair. It was almost like being in high school again. "Did you miss me?"

"Yes."

That wasn't what he'd been expecting, but at the same time, it felt right.

"Kind of weird not to be in each other's faces, right? Though I can't say I miss our pajamas." Stiles patted his t-shirt, I WOULD CUDDLE YOU SO HARD in big bold letters all down his torso. Not that he had picked it for Derek, but… all right, he kind of had. "Glad you didn't get sick of me," he said, smiling.

Derek rolled the chair over, stopping when they were knee-to-knee.

"The counselors at that place were full of shit," Derek said, staring intently at Stiles’s face. Stiles blinked.

"Uh, no argument here." They were close enough that Stiles could see the exact place where Derek's eyebrows threatened to form a unibrow super group. Stiles was fascinated by it, conventional notions of beauty be damned!

"They kept telling me that you and I had the most stable relationship. The most loving."

Stiles swallowed. "Oh."

"You're my closest friend," Derek said, again, his jaw tightening as he looked away. And finally, Stiles heard the rest of the sentence, unsaid. And I can't fuck that up.

"You're an idiot," Stiles whispered. Derek jerked back, but Stiles seized his hands, trying to keep him in the chair. "I meant me. Or both of us. I can't believe that stupid place was actually good for something."

"Stiles—"

"Shut up. I've been your fake boyfriend all week. And you know what? It felt awesome. It's not going to ruin things if you want me back. What would ruin things is if we tried to act like nothing happened."

He paused for breath, panting slightly, and Derek stole it right out from under him with a kiss. Stiles wrapped his fingers around Derek's neck and tugged. They both went tumbling back onto the bed, Stiles taking Derek's weight with an "Oof!" that was quickly swallowed by another kiss, then another.

It was like the Kiss & Share Hours had been advanced screenings and this was opening night. Derek kissed him like he was dying of thirst and Stiles was a cool glass of water, plus one thousand other romantic clichés that tumbled through Stiles’s head until Derek shifted, grinding down into Stiles, and Stiles’s brain promptly exited the building.

"Stiles," Derek groaned, breaking the kiss to prop himself up on his elbows and look down. Stiles could only imagine what he was seeing, as Derek himself looked debauched enough to star in a cop porno. Yeah, Stiles had put that flush in his cheeks, bitten and licked those lips until they were red and swollen and glistening, tugged on that hair until it stuck up in clumps, perfect for his fingers. Stiles was basically a sex god.

"More!" he demanded, though his brain was still pretty much offline, and it came out closer to "Mwroar!"

Derek leaned down for a quick kiss that Stiles tried to deepen, but Derek had superhuman strength. And willpower, it appeared.

"Stiles," he said again. Dammit, he was going to put the brakes on this again.

"Derek," Stiles said, very seriously. "More kissing is a good thing."

"Yes," Derek agreed. "I only stopped because I'm not going to be able to stop again." He deliberately rolled his hips, and Stiles couldn't bother to bite back his moan. Derek smiled with a hint of canines, before sobering and giving Stiles an intense look. "This is going to change things."

"We've been dancing around this for six years," Stiles managed. "I think we need a change. It's good. It's better than good. Come on, Derek, I fucking want you so bad I gave up my phone for four days. If that's not love, I don't know what is."

Derek stared down at him, looking lost and vulnerable before Stiles’s words truly hit home and his face broke out into the most dazzling smile Stiles had ever seen. Holy shit, it really was like staring at the sun.

"C'mere," Stiles mumbled, pulling Derek back down on top of him. They kissed lazily for a few more minutes until Stiles started to get impatient. They needed to be getting naked and re-creating some of Stiles’s fantasies, pronto. Derek began to laugh against Stiles’s lips when Stiles fumbled at the buttons on his uniform.

"Tickling me," Derek muttered.

"Oh, ho, so I'm not the only one?" Stiles asked, grinning. Derek sat up, Stiles trying to follow suit, but Derek squeezed with his knees and Stiles fell back with a groan. It was all good, though, as Derek proceeded to efficiently strip them both, the uniform top and Stiles’s cuddle shirt landing in the far corner of the room, followed quickly by belts and then Derek was rising up out of his crouch to shimmy out of his pants.

Holy shit, they were really, really going to do this! Derek laughed -- he must have said that out loud -- and with a graceful move that Stiles would never be able to emulate, he rolled off the bed and kicked off his pants. And whatever underwear he'd been wearing; Stiles hadn't even had a chance to see what kind, it happened so fast. He'd save that discovery for next time, for now he was a little overwhelmed by a fully naked and aroused Derek Hale, reaching for his jeans and yanking them and his underwear down.

"Oh my God, you're beautiful," Stiles said, dazed. "And I'm naked."

Derek laughed again – it really was a miraculous sound – and stalked back over to the bed. It was the sexiest thing Stiles had ever seen, and he had seen Derek Hale naked (less than five seconds ago).

"Do you have any idea how beautiful I think you are?" Derek asked, and blushed furiously. "Shit, sorry, I'm no good at the – you know."

"I don't know; it really worked for me." Stiles sat up on his knees and pulled Derek back to him. "But if it makes you feel any better, we don't have to talk at all, we can just… get to the doing?"

Derek smiled again and pressed him into the mattress. Stiles gasped as their bodies rocked together, skin sliding against skin. This first time was going to be over so fast. He’d feel bad about that, but there’d be more times. They had the rest of Spring Break, and then the Future. Stiles could sneak Derek into his off-campus apartment, and wake Danny up in the middle of the night by banging the headboard against the wall that separated their rooms. (Payback was a bitch.) And after graduation, Stiles could move in with Derek and freak Isaac and Erica out by whispering sweet nothings in Derek’s ear in the early morning hours. And after that – Stiles was possibly getting ahead of himself. The right now was pretty damn fantastic; Derek panting against his neck, practically whimpering, and the feel of Derek’s hands on him. Next time, they’d go for the Sexual Olympics, but right now Stiles was busy reveling in being touched, in touching back, in memorizing the wondering sound Derek made when Stiles came in his hand and the look of release on Derek’s face when he threw his head back and came all over Stiles’s thighs and stomach.

***

Two hours and two orgasms later...

"Derek?"

"Mmmm."

"Tomorrow night – because we're doing this again tomorrow, you know, and lots more besides – anyhow. Those nights, let's sleep in your bed."

Derek gently carded his fingers through Stiles’s hair. He was probably making it stick up in weird shapes, but Stiles couldn’t care less. He had sex hair. Sex-with-Derek hair, which was even better.

"Are you saying you want to sleep with me in a bed that actually contains both of our bodies?" Derek murmured.

God, his post-orgasm voice was lazy and happy and warm and beautiful. It was hard to think of what to say in the face of such perfection, but Stiles was up to the challenge.

"Yes. Onesomes need their space, even when they're a Twosome."

Derek snorted. "No more couples' retreats for you."

"Good thing we don't need one." Stiles pressed a kiss to Derek's extremely comfy chest and started to drift off to sleep before something occurred to him. "Derek," he mumbled.

"Emmmmmmm."

"Why did you choose Scully for your last name? Why not Mulder?"

Derek was silent for a long moment. "Mulder always had to be right. It was annoying."

Stiles’s lips curved into a smile.

"I can feel you smiling, you know. I'm not that much like Mulder."

"Sure," Stiles soothed him. "He could be a real prick. Besides, Jody thinks you're Batman."

"You have Batman underwear. Are you going to make some joke about how I like to be wrapped around your dick?"

"Derek Hale, oh my God, I can't believe you said that!" Stiles had definitely been thinking it, though; it was just too perfect.

"Stiles?"

"Yeah?"

"Go to sleep."