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"This place smells like cat piss," Stiles declared, following Derek through the door he'd just knocked off its hinges. The apartment inside was small and cluttered, crammed to the gills with junk.

"Consider yourself lucky you've got a human nose," Isaac groaned, coming in behind him. "It's a lot worse than that."

"Will you two stop?" Derek said irritably. "Breathe through your mouths and help me find that book. Don't touch anything," he added, turning a glare on Stiles, who'd been about to pick up a cloudy bottle of unidentifiable liquid. "This place belonged to a witch. There's no telling what's cursed."

"Deaton said I could sense magic if I tried," Stiles replied sullenly.

"And can you?" Derek asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

"No," Stiles muttered, dropping his hands to his side. Derek snorted and ventured further inside. Stiles followed, fighting the entire time to keep his hands to himself. It was hard; the apartment was crammed full of weird shit he was dying to investigate. There was a large one-horned skull balanced on top of a stack of old newspapers that he was pretty sure belonged to a unicorn, and what looked like a bundle of dried night-blooming wolfsbane, which was super rare and would make an excellent addition to his growing collection of herbs. Focus, Stiles.

"Hey, over here," Derek said, and Stiles found him standing in front of a massive bookcase.

Stiles sighed and moved to stand next to him. "What was it called?"

Derek pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and offered it to him. Stiles squinted at the faint writing, hard to see in the dim light of the room. "Claussen die Zaubersprüche, die den Körper beeinflussen, volumen zwei? Jesus. I hope you've been brushing up on your German."

Derek scowled, shoving the paper back in his pocket. "Deaton said it wouldn't be a problem," he said bluntly and turned his body away, staring at the shelves. Stiles rolled his eyes and crouched down to search the lower shelves. The way Derek was acting, you'd think he didn't want to cure Scott, who'd been in convulsions since they'd killed the witch five hours ago. Actually, Scott dying would probably make Derek's life a lot easier, but that was so not an option for Stiles.

He scanned the shelves slowly. There were a lot of books crammed in there every which way - upside down, bindings hidden - and there were papers and other thin fragments of ephemera shoved in between. Stiles dragged his gaze away from something that was either a desiccated lizard or a fossilized sandwich and pulled at a book whose binding was so worn the gilt letters were illegible. He flipped it open and found the title page, but it wasn't the right book, just some old tome on pagan love spells. When Stiles shoved it back onto the shelf, he dislodged a stack of papers, which went slithering to the floor. Derek cast him a sardonic look, which he wholeheartedly ignored.

Stiles went to tidy the pile then paused because one: this was not his apartment and thus not his problem, and two: he'd caught sight of the corner of a glossy photograph sticking out from under a pile of sheet music. It called to him for some reason and, with a stealthy glance up at Derek, who was glaring at the books above him, Stiles tugged the photograph free. He froze.

"Found it," Derek said above him, pulling a thin volume off the shelf. He looked down at Stiles and made an irritated noise. "I told you not to touch anything!"

"Hey, hey," Stiles replied peaceably, staring at the photograph in his hand. It was a portrait of a boy probably eleven years old, wearing a baseball uniform. Pretty normal, except that the boy looked just like Derek. He had the same heavy eyebrows, same toothy grin (not like Stiles had ever seen Derek really grin, but he had smiled before. Once. Or twice.). "Hey, is this you?"

"What?" Derek snapped, reaching down to take the photograph. The second his fingers fixed around the edge, Stiles felt a powerful shock run through him, tingling down his arm and through his ribcage. He let go with a yelp. Derek glowered at him. "I told you." He turned his eyes to the picture and his frown deepened. "This looks like you."

"Huh?" Stiles scrambled to his feet and leaned over to stare at the picture. "No way. That is definitely a mini you. I never played baseball."

"Baseball?" Derek repeated, sounding perplexed. "What do you see?"

"Little you in a baseball uniform," Stiles replied. "Why? What do you see?"

"It looks like you learning how to ride a bike," Derek replied. "There's a woman with your nose holding onto your handlebars." He spun around, snapping, "Isaac!"

Isaac, who was staring into a fish tank full of pond scum with a bored expression on his face, turned. "What?"

"What do you see?" Derek demanded, waving the photograph at him.

Isaac squinted at it. "It's blank," he said.

"The Mirror of Erised," Stiles said, thinking of Harry Potter. Then he blinked, a flush rising in his cheeks, because he did not need Derek thinking that he was the object of his desire. Isaac caught the reference and grinned wickedly.

Derek glared at Stiles, and Stiles' words had gone over his head, like so many pop culture references did, which was a relief. "I swear to God, Stiles, if I'm cursed now, I—”

"Yeah, yeah," Stiles sighed, used to Derek's threats. "Can we go heal Scott now or what?"

Derek continued to glare, but slipped the photograph inside the book and stalked out to the car. Stiles beat Isaac to the passenger's side and put his feet up on the dash just to piss Derek off.

-

Back at the vet's office, Deaton took the book from Derek with a glad smile and spent twenty quiet minutes flipping through it. Stiles stood next to Scott, who was laid out on the examining table. He'd stopped convulsing now, though his skin still rippled like the reflection of sunlight off water. It reminded Stiles uneasily of the way Jackson's skin had turned when he became the kanima.

Nearly twelve hours ago they'd started hunting the witch, a tall, severe-looking woman who'd been on Derek's radar since she crossed into Hale territory a couple months back. She hadn't taken it too kindly when Derek tried to stop her forming a coven; their first skirmish in the woods a couple weeks ago had left Allison in the hospital with a broken leg, and Stiles had had to go to Deaton with a bad case of what appeared to be him slowly turning into a tree. Erica had screamed with laughter.

They'd fared better this time. Boyd had taken a bolt of magic to the chest, but all it had done was knock him off his feet. Scott had been cursed while holding the witch back so Derek could get at her throat. Stiles glanced over at Derek, who was leaning against the wall looking broody. He'd washed his face of blood when they'd brought Scott to the vet, but there was a spot at the corner of his lips that he'd missed and he kept running his tongue over it. The sight pulled at Stiles in a weird and uncomfortable way and he turned his head, watching Deaton instead.

"Ah," Deaton said quietly. "As I suspected, it's a curse that targets the neurological system. I thought it might have come from this book."

"Do you know how to fix it?" Stiles asked anxiously.

"Certainly," Deaton smiled, closing the book. He had Stiles help him prepare some sort of herbal concoction that smelled strongly of sage and turned dark blue when thy activated it. Derek, who'd come close to watch, stepped back with an uneasy look on his face. Deaton poured the mixture over Scott's chest and Stiles helped him rub it into his skin. Scott's body relaxed slowly, the tremors ceasing. When he woke a few minutes later, he was confused but cognizant, and Deaton gave Stiles the okay to take him home. Isaac helped him walk Scott out to the car while Derek stayed behind to talk with the doctor. He completely forgot about the photograph.

-

He remembered a few days later when Derek came swinging through his bedroom window, which he did so often it didn't even startle Stiles any more. He barely lifted his head from his homework when he said, "Hey, dude. What's up?"

"I have a problem," Derek said sourly.

Stiles did lift his head at that. He knew it cost Derek a lot of pride to admit when he had any sort of issue, and he respected that by turning off the volume on his computer (which was blasting the dulcet tones of Kanye West) and giving Derek his full attention. "What's wrong?"

Derek went silent then, of course, his lips tightening. Stiles sighed. "Is it something life threatening? Because you should probably speak up if it is. No? Okay…are you and Scott fighting again? Is it about the pack? You gotta give me something here, dude."

Derek scowled and muttered, "I need you to be my mate."

Stiles stared at him, his mouth falling open. "Are you asking me to marry you?" he asked weakly, when he had enough air back in his lungs to speak. "Don't we have to date first?"

"Not for real, you idiot," Derek snapped. He heaved an exasperated sigh and sat down on the edge of Stiles' bed. "Look, I've gotten word that there's a pack headed our way."

"Good pack or bad pack?" Stiles asked warily.

"That remains to be seen," Derek replied, the corners of his mouth twisting downward. "A distant cousin of my father's married into the pack - she was the one who gave me the heads up, but it appears there's been some upheavals in their pack structure. I don't know if this is a hostile visit or not. I don’t even know how many there are."

"Do you think they're coming to challenge you?" Stiles asked, drawing his knees to his chest. Derek shrugged, and Stiles could see the frustration in his eyes.

"I don't know," he said, his jaw working. "They might be, which is why I need the pack looking as strong as possible."

"And so you need a mate," Stiles said flatly.

Derek sighed again. "It's an important part of becoming an alpha," he said, adding bitterly, "One that I obviously have not fulfilled. So I need your help."

"Why me, though?" Stiles asked. "Why not someone from the pack?"

"You are part of the pack," Derek responded irritably. "And you have qualities that the others don't. You're known along other packs."

"I am?" Stiles asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise. "Really?"

Derek nodded. "It's uncommon for humans to run with the pack. They respect that."

Stiles grinned. "Cool. So what do you need me to do?"

Derek blinked, looking a little shocked. "You'll do it?"

"For the pack, yeah," Stiles agreed. "And I mean, if these guys come and they mean trouble, I'm going to be in danger, right? So we should probably try to stop anything before it starts."

"Okay," Derek said slowly, suddenly looking uneasy.

Stiles frowned at him. "What?"

"You should understand," Derek said uneasily, "when an alpha's mate is of the opposite gender it’s - not always, but often - for convenience. The strongest beta will have the strongest children, right? But when the mate is of the same gender, it…it's a different sort of bond."

"It's love, you mean," Stiles said helpfully, and it was weirdly gratifying to see Derek's cheeks flush. Even his ears went pink.

"Yeah," the alpha muttered.

"So what you're trying to say," Stiles said slowly, "is that we're going to have to seem like we're in love."

Derek nodded, not meeting his eyes.

"You know I'm not eighteen, right?" Stiles asked, grinning faintly. He'd never seen Derek look so human.

"It's not real!" Derek snapped, going even redder.

"I know," Stiles said cheerfully. "So what do I have to do?"

Derek heaved a great sigh. “If this pack has good intentions, I’ll invite them to stay at the house, and if that’s the case, I need you there. It has to seem like – like –”

“Like we’re living together,” Stiles filled in patiently, since Derek seemed to be struggling with the words. Then his eyes narrowed. “Do I have to sleep there? Because Dad is so not going to be okay with that.”

“If they’re sleeping there, you need to be too,” Derek said, rubbing at the back of his neck. “The house needs to smell like you live there.”

“Do we have to do anything physical?”

Derek froze, panic flashing over his face. “No, not – no. We have to act like we’re close so – I don’t know.”

Stiles laughed. “Dude, this is killing you,” he said sympathetically. “If I get all touchy-feely, are you going to be able to handle it?”

Derek looked a little hurt, which was a little weird. Stiles had never seen him go through so many facial expressions before. “It’s not real,” Derek repeated, not looking at him.

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles sighed. “So how much time do we have?”

“Only a day or two,” Derek said, getting to his feet. He seemed on more comfortable ground now, face relaxing into its normal grumpy look. “I’m going to call a pack meeting tonight, but I didn’t want to spring this on you then.”

“Thanks,” Stiles said and it was nice, really. Derek wasn’t usually so considerate. As the alpha turned to leave, he blinked and said, “Hey, did you talk to Deaton about that photograph?”

Derek frowned at him. “The – oh. I didn’t. It’s still in that book, and he has it.”

Stiles stood up from his chair and said, “Follow me. I think I know what you were talking about, dude.”

Derek looked a little perplexed, but followed him out of his room and down the hall. Halfway down the stairs, Stiles stopped and pointed at a picture hanging on the wall. “Is that what you saw?”

Derek frowned at the photograph, five-year-old Stiles being pushed along on a bike by his mom. “That’s it.” He turned his pale eyes on Stiles. “The photo you saw – it used to hang in our living room. I was in Little League.”

Stiles snorted. “Cute.”

Derek looked back at the picture on the wall and said, “I’m going to go talk to Deaton. I’ll text you when I get the pack gathered.”

“Okay,” Stiles agreed, and watched Derek disappear back upstairs. A moment later, he heard the faint sound of his window opening and closing, and then the house fell silent.

Stiles sat down on the stairs, glad his dad wasn’t home and he didn’t have to pretend to be interested in his latest tales from work. He was suddenly very unsure that’d he’d done the right thing in saying yes to Derek’s plan. He liked Derek. In the two years since they’d first met, he’d come to understand that though Derek seemed like an asshole on the outside, he used a lot of anger and bravado to cover up a huge amount of insecurity and uncertainty. It made sense, really, considering what had happened to his family, but it had made for a lot of confusion that first year after Scott was bitten, while Derek tried to figure out how to be an alpha and run a pack. He’d told Stiles, sometime after the fiasco with Jackson, that he regretted forming his pack the way he had, and he’d take the bite back if he could. Stiles had never told anyone this, because having Derek’s trust was way too important.

It was kind of strange. At this point, Derek was definitely a friend. Not a best friend, but a good friend, maybe, and he told Stiles things Stiles was sure he didn’t tell anyone else. Even small things, like how he’d just told him he’d been in Little League; that wasn’t something he’d share with the rest of the pack. Stiles didn’t know where that level of trust came from, but it probably came from the time after the Jackson ordeal, when Erica and Boyd had disappeared for a while, and Isaac was trying to become Scott’s new best friend, and Lydia and Jackson disappeared off to who-knows-where, and Stiles and Derek just ended up kind of lumped together, the two spare wheels.

Stiles still wasn’t sure what had possessed him to start hanging around Derek’s derelict shell of a house, or why Derek let him, but Derek had let him help with the rebuilding of the house. He’d learned a lot about carpentry that summer, and a lot about Derek – he was more open to questions when he was distracted, less likely to get irritated when he was busy installing sheetrock. Derek even asked him questions sometimes, and Stiles was more than happy to talk. Scott had been furious with him when they’d gone back to school in the fall, but Stiles shrugged it off because he was sick of Scott acting like he knew what was best, and hurt by the way he’d been brushed off all summer for Isaac’s company.

But as for being Derek’s fake boyfriend…Stiles chewed on his lip anxiously. He wasn’t going to lie; he’d thought about dating Derek before, and more – Derek was a frequent player in his sexual fantasies, and why not? He was hot as hell, and Stiles had seen him sweaty and shirtless countless times, which – hello, no excuses needed. But the thing was, despite this friendship that they’d built, it was still pretty delicate, and he was more afraid of ruining it than getting rejected by Derek. And if he had to pretend to be Derek’s boyfriend and it felt real, that might ruin him. It worried him how easily he’d agreed to go along with it. He’d joked about Derek not being able to handle getting hands-on, but he wasn’t so sure that he’d be able to do it himself.

Stiles thought about texting Derek and saying I take it back, but ultimately decided not to, because it wasn’t just about him and Derek – it was about protecting the pack, and that took precedence over his little crush. He could do this.

Derek texted him later, a simple my house at 8 and Stiles dithered in his room for a while before grabbing his lacrosse bag and stuffing a bunch of random stuff from around his room into it. If it needed to seem like he lived at Derek’s, he should probably start as soon as possible.

At the pack meeting, Derek explained his plan, which earned Stiles a lot of concerned looks. Scott seemed the most upset, which made sense; even after more than two years, he still didn’t like or trust Derek all that much, and Stiles and Derek’s friendship still made him sour. Erica seemed to find the whole thing hilarious but then, a lot of things made her laugh.

After the meeting ended and everyone else left, Stiles brought in the bag from his car and said, at Derek’s curious raised eyebrow, “You want me to stink up the house, don’t you?”

“Did you have to bring your lacrosse gear?” Derek replied, wrinkling his nose.

Stiles rolled his eyes and said, “There’s regular clothes in there too, you big baby. I’m leaving this here, and I’ll be back tomorrow. When do you think the other pack’s going to arrive?”

Derek thought about it. “Monday, probably,” he said finally. “Could be as early as tomorrow evening, though.”

Stiles sighed. “Fine. I’ll come by in the morning.”

-

Stiles arrived around ten the next morning and knocked on the front door. He could have let himself in; he had a key, which was another weird sign of Derek’s trust. He’d been the only person in the pack to get one, beside Isaac, who lived at the house sometimes. He didn’t just go in, though; it had occurred to him that he didn’t really know much about Derek’s sleeping patterns. He’d always kind of had it in his head that Derek was an early riser but then, he was a night person too. Maybe he slept during the day.

Certainly, when Derek opened the door a few minutes later, he had clearly just woken up, his hair flat on one side, dressed in a t-shirt and tight boxer-briefs that Stiles really shouldn’t stare at. He stared at the shirt instead, emblazoned with the words Beacon Hills Lacrosse and a huge number twenty-four and said accusingly, “Is that mine?”

“Need to smell like you,” Derek replied absently, turning away from the door but leaving it open, the closest Stiles would get to an invitation to come inside. Stiles stepped through and shut the door, trailing Derek into the kitchen.

“Do I need to smell like you too?” Stiles asked, settling himself down on a stool at the counter as Derek punched at the coffee maker.

“Probably.” Derek leaned against the kitchen counter, rubbing a hand over his face. "This may not work," he admitted.

"It will or it won't, dude," Stiles replied with a shrug. "We'll just have to do our best. Lucky for you, I'm a great actor."

"Your cheeks flush when you lie," Derek pointed out, pulling a pair of mugs from the cupboard.

"What?" Stiles clasped his hands to his cheeks. "I have a tell? You never told me!"

Derek shrugged, pouring coffee into the mugs. "I can hear you lie anyway."

"Will this new pack be able to?" Stiles asked anxiously. "Dude, if they can hear me lie, this really isn't going to work."

Derek frowned, passing him a mug. "Maybe you should pretend to be mute."

"Yeah, like I could ever keep my mouth shut that long," Stiles replied scornfully. Derek snorted his agreement and sat down on the other stool. They drank their coffee in silence and Stiles wasn't surprised when he took his first sip and it was exactly how he liked it; there'd been enough late-night stakeouts with coffee runs that everyone in the pack knew each others' orders. Derek liked his with no cream and about half a cup of sugar stirred in.

Derek finished before Stiles did and disappeared upstairs. Stiles drained his cup slowly, enjoying the cool breeze rolling through the open windows. The light in the house was soft and green, dappled with the shadows of leaves. It was quiet out here so far from town, peaceful. He could see why Derek hadn't wanted to move, why he'd worked so hard to rebuild his family's house. Stiles had never asked but he had a feeling that Derek had rebuilt it to look exactly the way it had when he was a kid - not that there was anything wrong with that. It was a big house, and Derek had worked hard to make it a comfortable place for his pack.

Stiles finished his cup and gathered Derek's to wash. He stood at the sink for a while, staring out at the shifting trees, not really thinking about anything. He didn't hear Derek come back into the kitchen but suddenly he was there behind him, his arms touching the counter on either side of Stiles, his chest warm and firm against his back. Stiles jumped about a foot in the air, his heart hammering into overtime.

"Dude, personal space!" he exclaimed, twisting around to face the alpha. The decision was mistake, because it put his face about two inches from Derek's, perfect kissing distance. Shit. Derek frowned.

"We need to get used to being close to each other," Derek said, dropping his arms and taking a step back. Stiles noticed that he'd put on pants but was still wearing his lacrosse shirt. It fit Derek way better than it had ever fit him. "Wolves don't have personal space, Stiles. We communicate through touch and expression, not through speech. This new pack will get suspicious if we don't touch. You need to control your heart."

"Yeah, I'll just turn down the dial I had installed," Stiles replied sarcastically. "I can't just stop it, dude."

"Just try to relax," Derek scowled. He handed Stiles a piece of cloth and said, "I brought you a shirt."

"Thanks," Stiles sighed, tugging his own shirt off and slipping on the one Derek brought him. He didn’t miss the way Derek’s eyes flashed red when he did, or how his nostrils flared. "Ugh, did you go running in this? Is this covered in your man-sweat?"

"As opposed to this one being covered in your boy-sweat?" Derek retorted, tugging at the collar of Stiles' lacrosse shirt.

Stiles narrowed his eyes at him. "Touché."

Derek rolled his eyes and said, "Make yourself at home. I need to call Peter."

"Noooo," Stiles groaned. "Peter 2.0, really? He creeps me out, dude."

Derek heaved an exasperated sigh and said, "I don't want him here any more than you, but he knows a lot more about pack relations than I do. I need his advice."

"You know he's going to want to come up here when you call, right?" Stiles scowled. "He loves a show."

"I know," Derek sighed. "I can't fuck this up, though."

"He's going to come up here and laugh at everything and try to hit on me," Stiles grumbled. "He's like my dad's age, dude. It's super creepy."

Derek made a rumbling noise low in his chest, his eyes flashing red again. "He's not going to bother you," he said firmly. "I'm not going to tell him about our plan. He'll respect our bond."

"You're not going to tell him about us? Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"I can't trust that he won't tell," Derek replied, looking frustrated. “He likes to test limits.”

"Well, do what you have to, I guess," Stiles shrugged.

Derek gave him a long look before saying, "I want you to feel safe here."

Stiles gave him an unconvincing smile and said, "No one's going to feel safe until this strange pack's gone. I'll be okay."

Derek watched him for another long moment before nodded and leaving the kitchen, already dialing Peter's number. Stiles listened to him go, heard his low "Peter," before the front door opened and closed. Stiles shook his head. It had been a relief when Peter left town after Jackson's kanima adventure. He claimed he wanted a change of pace, but Stiles knew it was really because Derek hadn't taken too kindly to the way Peter had used him and Lydia in the whole resurrection thing. As far as Stiles knew, Peter was living in Malibu, though he'd come back to Beacon Hills a couple of times in the past year. There'd been a murder of banshees last spring that they'd needed him for, and he'd spent the whole trip making smarmy jokes and uncomfortable remarks about Stiles' lips. Stiles shuddered and hoped that Derek was right when he said Peter would respect their fake romance.

Stiles spent the day scattering his things around the house, trying to make it look as though he lived there. Derek kept appearing out of nowhere and touching him. He knew he was supposed to be getting used to it, but it still scared the shit out of him.

"You're getting better," Derek said approvingly.

"Can't you whistle or something before you do that?" Stiles asked irritably. "I'm going to have a heart attack before they get here."

Derek gave him an exasperated look and changed the subject. "I heard from my dad's cousin."

Stiles raised his eyebrows. "And?"

Derek sighed. "It's a little complicated. Apparently the pack split and there's six of them headed this way. I'm still not sure if they're hostile - they're seeking new territory, but they're asking for sanctuary for at least a week, and I have to help them."

"Why?" Stiles asked. "Couldn't you tell them to keeping moving?"

"I asked Peter, and he said that since the request came from family, I can't turn it down."

"But what if they're coming to scope us out and take over your territory?" Stiles asked, feeling concerned.

"It's entirely possible," Derek said, his mouth going thin, "but my hands are tied."

Stiles sighed. "Where are they coming from, anyway?"

"Near Lake Tahoe," Derek replied. "Up in the mountains."

"Are they rednecks?" Stiles asked, a grin spreading on his face.

Derek cleared his throat and slowly said, "They're…rough around the edges." Stiles burst into laughter. Derek glared and snapped, "I'm making dinner."

"Wait, wait," Stiles called, trotting after him. "Hold up. Is Peter coming?"

"He's driving up tomorrow," Derek replied, looking disgruntled. "Sorry."

"Knew it was going to happen," Stiles replied, watching Derek pull a huge amount of meat out of the fridge. "Want a hand?"

They made a massive amount of food, and Stiles knew better than to question it. Sure enough, Isaac showed up in the middle of preparation, and Erica appeared a few minutes later. Between them, the three wolves put away an astounding amount of food.

After dinner, they all collapsed amongst the comfortable couches and deep cushions Derek had filled the living room with to watch a movie. It was clearly something they did often, judging by the familiarity Erica displayed with Derek's entertainment system, and Stiles couldn't help feeling a little jealous. Sometimes the pack got pizza after meetings, and sometimes Derek came to his house to watch movies, but they'd never done the whole thing together as a big group. He thought they should. In revenge, he threw himself down on the couch next to Derek, smacking his elbow into his stomach. Derek grunted and retaliated by leaning his weight back against Stiles. Touching, Stiles thought, and let him, because it was pretty comfortable.

After the movie ended, Isaac disappeared upstairs to his sometimes-room and Erica skipped out with a cheerful wave. Stiles dug his elbow into Derek's side. "Do you want me to stay?"

Derek pursed his lips. "If you want to," he said eventually. "They could be here at any time."

"I figured," Stiles replied. "I've got school tomorrow but I brought my books just in case."

It was still too early to go to bed, so they watched another movie. As the opening credits rolled, Stiles slumped lower into the couch and asked, "Did Deaton say anything about the photo?"

"He said he couldn't sense any magic in it," Derek replied. "And he didn't see anything. No picture."

"Huh," Stiles said, deflating further. "Weird."

"Yeah," Derek agreed.

Stiles fell asleep leaning against Derek but when he woke up later, the room was dark and Derek was no longer next to him. He came into the room, a dark shape in the doorway as Stiles sat up and rubbed at his eyes.

"Everything shipshape?" Stiles asked, stifling a yawn.

Derek snorted and said, "You need to go to bed."

Stiles made a humming noise of agreement and followed Derek upstairs, but he stopped outside of Derek's bedroom. It was the one room in the house he'd never been in; the space was like a den, a private place for Derek alone where everything was familiar and smelled like him. As far as Stiles knew, none of the other weres had ever been in there, and he was hesitant to go in now. "You sure about this?" he asked the alpha.

Derek turned to look at him, his expression calm. "I trust you," he said simply, and went into the room. Stiles took a deep breath and stepped in after him, feeling almost like he was entering a church.

For a man with a history so seeped in doom and gloom, Derek's room was surprisingly bright, the walls a soft light gray, the curtains white. There wasn't much inside - a big bed, a dresser, and a bookcase - but it felt lived in, just enough clutter to give it some life. Stiles tried not to stare at the few photographs hanging on the walls. Over by the bed, he heard Derek sigh.

"Go ahead and look," the alpha said. "Nothing in here is going to curse you."

Stiles stepped closer to the wall hesitantly. "How'd you end up with these?" he asked carefully, looking at a picture of a family picnic. "I kind of assumed, with the fire…" He trailed away uncertainly.

"It was kind of strange," Derek said slowly. "My youngest sister was still in elementary school, and she'd done this genealogy project. She should have brought it home months before, but kept forgetting, so it was still at school when the house burned. Her teacher gave it to Laura after the funeral."

"That's…an unfortunate coincidence," Stiles said slowly. The picture next to the family picnic was of a teenage Derek, his arm slung around the shoulder of an older girl with the same dark hair and toothy smile - his sister Laura. He stared at the pure, carefree happiness on Derek's face. Seeing it kind of stung, because he knew Derek hadn't been that happy in a long, long time. Stiles hoped that someday he might be that happy again.

He turned away from the wall to see Derek watching him silently, his face neutral. "What?" he asked.

Derek shook his head and replied, "Nothing. I put the clothes that were in your bag in the dresser, if you want to change."

Stiles shrugged and said, "I'll sleep in this. Gotta soak up your scent, right?"

Derek half-smiled and nodded, then turned his back and began taking off his pants. Stiles swallowed and turned to face the wall, fumbling with his own. The bed suddenly looked far too small to fit two grown men (or one grown man and one nearly-grown teenager). He knew Derek could hear his heartbeat ratcheting up, but maybe he was feeling benevolent that evening, because he didn’t say anything about it. Stiles slipped under the navy comforter and fiddled with his phone while Derek shifted around beside him.

“This is weird,” he said finally, setting his phone on the nightstand.

“Yeah,” Derek agreed. Stiles cast him a sneaky glance, but the alpha lay with his back to him.

Stiles lay on his back, staring up at the white ceiling. He tried not to fidget. “Do you really think this is going to work?”

Derek sighed. “Just go to sleep, Stiles.”

Stiles did, but it took a long, long time.

-

When Stiles woke in the morning, his alarm blaring shrilly by his ear, Derek wasn’t in the room. Stiles stumbled around blearily, searching through Derek’s dresser for his clothes, though he took one of Derek’s shirts to wear under his plaid button-up – the whole smell thing, right? When he’d dressed, he went downstairs and found Derek in the kitchen making breakfast. Derek turned as he came in, nostrils flaring. He looked vaguely interested when he saw Stiles, but it was way too early in the morning for Stiles to be drawing conclusions about anything, so he just sat down on a stool and said, “Morning.”

“Morning,” Derek echoed quietly. He was still wearing Stiles’ lacrosse shirt. Stiles tried not to stare at the way it stretched across the broad plane of his shoulders and curled his fingers around the cup of coffee that had been waiting for him.

“So you think the pack will be arriving today?” he asked, not picking up the cup, but dragging his fingers along the warm ceramic rim.

“Could be any time,” Derek replied.

“Are you going to be okay if they do? I mean – the rest of us are going to be at school.” Stiles frowned down at his mug.

“I’ll be fine,” Derek said, turning and placing a plate down in front of Stiles. Stiles stared down at the ham and cheese omelet, wheat toast stacked on the side.

"Whoa, thanks, dude. Do you always do this? Because if so, we may have to get married. For real."

Derek cast him a baleful look, dumped the dishes in the sink, and said, "I'm going back to bed."

"Hey, is Isaac still here?" Stiles called after his retreating back.

"No," Derek rumbled, and a moment later, Stiles heard him ascend the stairs. He looked down at the breakfast that Derek had prepared for him, his stomach twisting. Had Derek woken up just to make him food? He craned his neck to peer into the sink, but there was only a pan in there, no evidence that Derek had made food for himself. That was…nice. That was really nice, and he didn't know what to make of it.

It was too early in the morning to be drawing conclusions, he reminded himself, and ate his breakfast without pushing the thought any further.

On his way to school, Stiles took a detour to the gas station on the edge of town. It was a bit out of the way, but the gas was cheaper and they had the best iced coffee in Beacon Hills, so it was worth it. He filled up the Jeep and was inside building himself a massive iced coffee when he noticed two pick-up trucks come rumbling into the station. He watched them absently, stirring cream into his drink. The trucks were older models, rusted in places, and the people who came spilling out of them were just as rough. He stared at the Nevada plates, wondering why that felt so important. Then it hit him; Lake Tahoe straddled the border between California and Nevada. The pack was coming from Lake Tahoe.

"Fuck," Stiles breathed, almost dropping his phone in his hurry to get it out of his packet.

It rang five times before Derek answered, sounding irritated and sleepy. "What?"

"Dude," Stiles whispered. "I think our guests have arrived."

"What?" Derek repeated, more sharply. Stiles could hear rustling noises, like he was getting out of bed. "Where are you?"

"The Shell station on Holden Road," Stiles replied. He turned his body so it wouldn't be so obvious he was watching the pack, but they seemed unaware of his presence and in no hurry to come inside, lounging against their trucks and laughing with each other. "Shit, what do I do? There's a dude out there who looks like he could bench-press two Boyds."

"Don't do anything," Derek ordered, and Stiles could hear him thundering down the stairs. "Try to avoid their attention, but if they talk to you, be confident. This is our territory."

"Okay," Stiles said weakly. "They - oh, no." His dad's cruiser had just rolled into the lot, pulling up in front of the store.

"What?" Derek snapped. “Are you okay?”

"My dad just showed up," Stiles muttered. "I've gotta go."

"I'll be there soon," Derek promised, and hung up.

Stiles moved away from the windows, watching in the reflection of the fridge doors as his dad got out of his cruiser, casting an idle glance toward the group around the trucks before coming inside. Stiles made no attempted to avoid his searching eyes; his Jeep was still outside, not exactly inconspicuous.

"Hey, Dad," Stiles greeted, slipping a hand into his pocket, trying to act casual.

"Stiles," the sheriff said. "Don't you have somewhere you're supposed to be?"

"I'm on my way!" Stiles said defensively. "I've got ten minutes before class starts."

"Uh huh," said his father, looking unimpressed. "And where were you last night?"

Stiles cursed in his head. He'd totally forgotten to come up with an excuse, and he needed to be gone the whole week. "I was at Derek's," he sighed, deciding to go for the truth. He watched his dad's lips go thin and sighed again. His father knew about Derek and the pack - Stiles had told him everything after the fiasco at the sheriff's department with Gerard Argent and the kanima. He didn't like the late nights Stiles spent out in the woods or the danger he put himself in, and he definitely still harbored a lot of distrust for Derek, but he also seemed to understand that the pack was important to Stiles. "Look, Dad, there's - there's something that's come up with the pack, and I'm going to have to spend the next week or so there."

His dad did not look happy. "You've got school," he said pointedly.

"I'm still going to school," Stiles replied, rolling his eyes. "I'll do all my homework."

"I don't like this," his father said bluntly.

"Neither do I," Stiles assured him, "but it's something I really have to do." He snuck a glance past his dad at the group out by the trucks. They were starting to pull together, making moves to head inside. He began sidling toward the register. "Dad, I'm sorry - I have to get going. Can I stay at Derek's?"

The sheriff sighed. "Do what you have to, son. Just be careful, please."

"I will," Stiles promised. He slipped around his dad, hurriedly paid for his coffee and gas, and turned to the door. The pack were walking toward the station and he slipped outside quickly, taking a wide tangent across the parking lot so they didn't cross paths.

There were six of them, like Derek had said - three men and three women. The men wore Carhartt pants and big work boots, and the big one at the back had on a John Deere trucker hat. The women all wore too much make-up and low-cut shirts and jeans that hung low on their hips. They looked - well, not to be rude, but kind of trashy. He wondered which one was the alpha, because none of them looked particularly powerful.

They all swung their heads to watch him pass, though, and he picked up his pace unconsciously. Where the fuck was Derek? He'd just gotten the Jeep unlocked when a feminine voice behind him said, "Excuse me."

All of Derek's sneak-attacks yesterday must have paid off because Stiles didn't jump, though he did almost drop his coffee. He turned around to find the unfamiliar pack behind him. It was one of the girls who'd spoken, a hesitant smile on her face. Stiles looked at her plump face, probably only a couple of years older than him at most. Was she the alpha?

"Yeah?" Stiles said, realizing he hadn't responded. His eyes flickered across the parking lot to see his dad standing next to his cruiser, a frown on his face. Stiles shook his head faintly and his father’s frown deepened, but he climbed into his car regardless. Stiles loved him a lot, in that moment, for trusting him.

The girl's eyes followed his gaze, watching his father back out of his parking spot, then returned to him. "I'm sorry," she said, "but we couldn't help noticing that you—”

"Smell like an alpha?" Stiles asked boldly, glaring at her. Confident, Derek had said. He could do that.

The girl blinked, a little taken aback. "Yes," she said, her own confidence thrown. "You - are you the human that runs with the Hale pack?"

Stiles couldn't help but preen a little internally. So they knew about him all the way in Nevada? That was kind of cool. On the outside, though, he remained serious. "No," he said. Time to test the lie, because they might as well find out sooner or later whether it was going to work. "I'm the human that's mated to the alpha."

He didn't expect the pack's reaction. They all stepped back a few feet, their stances becoming slightly defensive - not aggressive, but almost like they were worried. Stiles could have laughed out loud. They thought he was a threat?

"Our apologies," the girl said nervously, casting an anxious glance toward one of the other women, who looked to be about Derek's age. The woman, a dirty-blonde with pale blue eyes, frowned at Stiles. "We didn't know Alpha Hale had a mate."

Stiles raised his eyebrows, sliding a hand into his pocket. Luckily, he didn't have to say any more, because Derek came whipping into the parking lot at that moment, slamming the Camaro to a stop just a few inches from Stiles' back bumper. The alpha came surging out of the car, slamming the door behind him, a furious expression on his face. The new pack drew back further, uneasy expressions on their faces, but Derek ignored them for the moment, getting right up into Stiles' space. He slid a hand around the back of his neck, red light flickering in his pale eyes. Stiles’ pulse skipped at the touch, his lips parting in surprise.

"Everything okay?" Derek murmured, a dangerous rumble in his voice.

Stiles swallowed and nodded, so glad his dad had left. He curled his hand around Derek's bicep, a silent I’m all right. Derek nodded shortly and turned, keeping his hand on Stiles' shoulder, fingers tense against him.

"Explain yourselves," he snarled at the foreign pack.

The woman around Derek's age stepped forward, one hand raised peacefully. "Alpha Hale," she said carefully. "I'm Tessa Sweeney, alpha of this pack. We meant no harm to your mate." Stiles thought she sounded a little disdainful and resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her.

Derek stared at her for a long moment before snapping out, “You asked for sanctuary. What are you running from?”

Tessa wrinkled her nose, disdain now plain on her face. “My old mate and I had one disagreement too many and most of the pack sided with him. We’re looking for new territory, but it’s been a long journey, and we’re tired. Please,” she added, and it looked like it hurt her to say the words, “we ask for your help.”

“Fine,” Derek said dismissively. “Go to your cars. I’ll lead you to the house.”

The female alpha bobbed her head in thanks and led her pack back to the trucks. When they’d all clambered back inside, Derek turned to face Stiles.

“You want me to come with you?” Stiles asked, casting an uncertain glance at the trucks.

“No,” Derek said, moving so he had his back to the other pack, blocking Stiles from their sight. He lowered his voice, leaning in close. “Did they do anything to you?”

“No,” Stiles said truthfully. “We were just talking.”

“Okay.” Derek turned his head slightly, as though he were listening to something. “You should get to school. Let the pack know what’s going on.”

“You sure you don’t want me to come with you?” Stiles asked again. “It’s going to be just you and them.”

“Peter should be here in an hour or so,” Derek replied, sighing a little. “I’ll be fine.”

Stiles grinned and murmured, “They believed me, dude.”

Derek smiled faintly. “So I noticed,” he said. “You’re doing well.” He stepped back so Stiles could climb inside his Jeep, but leaned against the door as Stiles pulled his seatbelt on.

Stiles rolled down the window and said, “Keep me updated, okay?”

Derek nodded and leaned forward, wrapping his fingers in the front of Stiles’ shirt so he could pull him sideways and plant a kiss to his temple. It was so abnormal and non-Derek that he couldn’t help but make a face. “Really, dude?”

“They’re watching,” Derek murmured, letting him go with the ghost of smirk on his face.

“Right, right,” Stiles muttered, forcing a smile and turning on the Jeep. “I’ll talk to you later.”

Derek stepped back so Stiles could pull out of the station. He drove to school, rubbing at his forehead; he could still feel the phantom touch of Derek’s lips there, faint and warm on his skin. He worried that the rest of the pack would be able to see it, burning there like a brand.

Stiles was five minutes late to Chemistry, but he shrugged off Mr. Harris’s scathing remarks and slipped into his seat next to Scott, who wrinkled his nose. “You smell like Derek,” he said in an accusing whisper.

“Well, I’m wearing one of his shirts, so that makes sense,” Stiles muttered, pulling his books out of his bag. He could smell it too, even though this shirt was fresh – faint wheat and wood smoke. It was kind of reassuring.

“I don’t like it,” Scott said mutinously.

“It’s too late, dude,” Stiles replied. He raised his voice just loud enough so Harris wouldn’t hear but the rest of the pack in the room would. “The other pack’s arrived.”

Up at the front of the class, Isaac twisted around to look at him, a concerned frown twisting his face. He leaned over to whisper to Lydia, who also turned around to look at Stiles, frowning.

It wasn’t until lunch that the whole group was together and Stiles could explain what had happened at the gas station. The pack sat in silence for a few minutes after he’d finished, digesting the news with uneasy looks on their faces.

“Have you heard from Derek?” Erica finally asked, twirling one of her blonde curls around her finger.

Stiles checked his phone. He’d texted Derek as he left math class, and now he had a new message from the alpha.

they asked if there were any farms nearby and came back with a COW from somewhere and now they’re roasting it WHOLE in the backyard

Stiles cackled and passed the phone to Isaac, who bit his knuckle to keep from laughing.

“Oh my god,” Erica whispered gleefully when the phone reached her. “Do you think he’s going to last a week?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles said, reading the message again and giggling. He texted Derek back: is peter there??

Derek responded almost immediately. he LOVES them. Says this is better than duck dynasty. What does that even mean?!

Stiles snorted and said i’ll show you later

tell the pack to come over after school, Derek wrote. I need SANITY.

“Oh, come on,” Scott groaned when Stiles passed on Derek’s request. “I’m supposed to go study with Allison after school.”

“Yeah, study,” Erica said scornfully. Scott glowered at her.

“We can pick her up on the way,” Stiles said. “I’m thinking the bigger the pack seems, the better off we’ll be. Unless you want Beacon Hills taken over by another pack,” he added pointedly.

"Fine," Scott sighed, though he looked mutinous.

-

When they rolled up to the house after school, it looked busier than Stiles had ever seen it, what with Derek's car, the two trucks belonging to the new pack, and a flashy silver thing that had to belong to Peter - apparently a penchant for sports cars ran in the Hale family.

"Looks like a party," Allison remarked, while Scott scowled in the backseat.

"Sounds like it's going to be," Stiles replied. He spotted Derek wending his way between the cars and climbed out to greet him. "Hey. Are you crazy yet?"

Derek heaved a sigh. "They aren't that bad," he said, moving around to the other side of the Jeep to help Scott get Allison out and into her wheelchair. Scott scowled at him, but Allison smiled. She and Derek had had a rough time after her mom died, but with Allison serving as liaison between her family and the pack, their relationship had improved greatly. Stiles suspected that Derek had begun to think of Allison as a younger sister, which was awesome. Her presence certainly did a lot to temper Scott's resentment.

Derek straightened as Lydia pulled up to the house and she and the betas spilled out of the car. "Come on," he said, looking faintly pleased that everyone had shown up. "I'll introduce you all."

"How'd the cow taste, Dad?" Erica quipped cheerfully.

Derek turned a dark look on her and said, in a deceivingly pleasant tone, "Call me 'Dad' again and I'll break your arm." He added, somewhat more peacefully, as he turned to lead them around the side of the house, "The cow's not done yet, anyway."

As they rounded the corner of the house into the backyard, Stiles skipped forward a few steps so he walked at Derek's side. He put on his acting hat, as it were, and slipped his hand into Derek's. Derek looked at him, faintly surprised, but his fingers tightened around Stiles', reassuringly warm.

Behind them, Scott made a gagging noise, and Stiles cast him a glare over his shoulder. "Cut that out," he scolded. "We're a family." For some reason, the words made Derek tighten his grip on Stiles' hand, but Stiles kept his glare focused on Scott.

"You're not my real mom," Scott muttered, avoiding his eyes while Allison giggled. Stiles grinned and turned to meet the new pack.

There was a huge fire roaring in the backyard and what looked to be an entire cow roasting over it. The Sweeney pack stood around it, chatting cheerfully with each other. Stiles could see Peter and the alpha, Tessa, standing on the other side of the flames. It occurred to him that before that morning, he'd never met a were outside of Derek's pack, and he wondered if the two packs differed in any way.

A long round of introductions followed. Tessa's pack, as the guests, were first. The youngest boy, who was probably twenty or so, was Devin, her brother. The huge kid who looked as though he could bench-press Boyd was Sean, and he seemed to be some sort of cousin of the siblings. The oldest man was Max, and he was married to Derek's cousin, Liz, the oldest of the women. The girl who Stiles had spoken to at the gas station was their daughter, Nicole.

Derek introduced his pack one by one, and ended with, “You’ve already met my mate, Stiles Stilinski.” Stiles watched Peter when Derek said it, gauging his reaction. He knew that if anyone would be able to sense the lie, it would be Peter. The man tilted his head to one side when Derek said it, a faint smile on his lips, but he didn’t seem to see any falsehoods in his statement. Indeed, when he found Stiles by the fire, after the introductions were complete and everyone had broken into little groups, he seemed happy.

“It’s about time,” Peter said to Stiles, catching him off guard.

“What?” Stiles asked, distracted by the way Sean was able to turn the spit, rotating an nearly thousand-pound animal all by himself. Talk about monster strength. Stiles blinked and frowned at Peter. “What’s about time?”

“You and Derek,” Peter said genially.

“Oh,” Stiles said blankly. “Um. Right. Yeah, it is.”

“So how long has it been?”

“Since what?” Stiles asked guardedly. Since they’d had sex? Or what?! God, Peter was such a fucking creep.

Peter raised an eyebrow at him. “Since this whole thing started between the two of you? You’ve been dancing around each other for ages.”

“We have? I mean – yeah, we have.” Stiles glanced over at Derek, who was talking to Tessa and Devin, his hands jammed casually into his pockets. He began sidling away from Peter. “It was a while ago, definitely after the last time you were here. Uh – I’m just going to go check on him. Derek, I mean.” And he ducked away, leaving Peter staring after him. God, he hated the way that dude made him feel – like all the baths in the world weren’t enough to get the crawling feeling off his skin.

Stiles popped up next to Derek, who took a hand out of his pocket and slid it around Stiles’ shoulders without even looking at him. Stiles didn’t mind; Derek felt reassuringly real after talking to Peter, who still smelled faintly of death and fire, even to Stiles. Tessa’s eyes slid to him, pale blue and unfriendly. Enough years at the lower end of the social totem pole had taught him a lot about gauging people’s feelings toward him, and his gut told Stiles that she didn’t like him in the slightest, though he had no idea why. Devin watched him as well with the same pale eyes as his sister, his expression unfathomable. He was good-looking in a lean, thuggish sort of way, though he’d look a lot better if he shaved off his half-assed attempt at a beard.

“Alpha Stilinski,” Tessa said, and whoa, that was weird. Alpha? Stiles supposed it made sense – if he’d been a girl, being Derek’s mate would make him the alpha female, so he supposed now he and Derek were both alpha males. Not really, of course, because this was fake. “How long have the two of you been mated?”

This question again? Stiles sighed internally. He didn’t need Derek tightening his grip around him, warning him to behave. “About six months, I think,” he said easily, “but we knew each other for a while before that. Right?” Stiles added, glancing over at Derek, who smiled faintly, one side of his mouth quirking up.

“You think it’s a good idea to have humans in your pack?” Devin asked bluntly. His eyes flickered over to Allison in her wheelchair. “Especially a hunter?” Tessa shot him a furious look, and all the good cheer dropped from Derek’s face.

“Yes,” the alpha said flatly, red light flickering in his eyes. Stiles sighed, but before things could get worse, Max came meandering over to announce the cow was done and it was time to eat.

Stiles had to help Derek carve the beast, as was tradition, apparently, and he learned a lot more about cow anatomy than he ever wanted to, while the Sweeney pack called out helpful butchering tips, apparently old pros. Later, the wolves got tipsy on some kind of moonshine laced with a strain of wolfsbane that wasn’t deadly, just vaguely hallucinogenic. Stiles sat between Lydia and Allison and watched the wolves stand around the fire, laughing uproariously. He yawned widely; he kept forgetting it was only Monday.

Lydia gently nudged him with her elbow and said, “Is this going to turn out okay?”

Stiles turned to look at her. “What do you mean?”

Lydia jerked her head toward the fire, where Derek stood talking to his cousin Liz. “With him.”

“We’ll be fine,” Stiles said.

“Not ‘we,’” Lydia said sternly. “You.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

Lydia narrowed her eyes at him, then looked over at Derek and said, “We can talk about it later.”

“Okay,” Stiles agreed, not quite sure what had just happened. He watched Scott stumble over to them and lean down to kiss Allison and said, “Buddy, you are drunk.”

“Am not,” Scott said, looking injured and wobbling where he stood. “Can’t. Drunk. Can’t get drunk.”

“Uh huh,” Stiles said, unimpressed.

Allison giggled and said, “You smell like a wino.”

Even later, Stiles lay in bed next to Derek and listened to how quiet the house was. Isaac had gallantly given up his bed to Allison and Scott, and he and Erica and Boyd were sleeping on the floor of his room. Lydia, unimpaired, had driven herself home hours ago. Peter and the Sweeney pack had been settled into all the remaining guest rooms of the house, which were plentiful.

“All I can smell is roast beef,” Stiles complained to Derek. “I think I absorbed enough juice through my pores that it’s changed my DNA. I’m half cow now. You’re mated to a cow man.”

“Are you drunk,” Derek rumbled into his pillow.

“I didn’t touch a drop,” Stiles retorted. “Are you?”

“I don’t like feeling like I’m not in control of my body,” Derek replied. “So no.”

Stiles stared up at the dark ceiling for a while. “Is this how it used to be like? With all your family?”

Derek was silent for a long time. Stiles stared at his back, worried he might have offended him. Eventually he said, “It’s…similar. It feels right, having so many people in the house.”

“I don’t think Tessa likes me,” Stiles said.

“I picked up on that,” Derek said, sounding bemused. He flipped, turning to face Stiles. The faint light from outside reflected off his eyes; Stiles could see when he blinked. “I don’t think their pack likes humans very much.”

"There were humans your family though, right?" Stiles asked curiously.

"Yeah, but that's just it - they were family," Derek replied. "Most humans don't – can’t understand the pack bond. It's unusual for humans to joins pack that aren't related to the family."

Stiles hesitated before asking, "Do you ever regret letting us in the pack?"

"Of course not," Derek replied roughly. "You may not be wolves, but you’re all important. You're like family now."

"Okay," Stiles said, relaxing a little. "Cool."

-

When Stiles woke the next morning, he was laying on his back. Derek’s side was pressed up against his, the alpha laying on his stomach with an arm thrown across Stiles' chest. Stiles lay still for a while, staring idly up at the ceiling. He wasn't bothered by the closeness of Derek - it wasn't like you could really control your body while you were sleeping - not until Derek shifted in his sleep and tried to pull Stiles against him. And as much he wanted to indulge in the closeness, that was a bad path to head down, because this wasn’t real. This wasn’t real. Instead, Stiles jabbed an elbow into Derek’s ribs and said, "Cut it out, dude. I'm not spooning with you."

Derek's eyes shot open. "Sorry," he muttered, rolling away onto his other side.

"Don’t worry about it," Stiles said, slipping out of bed so he could get dressed. He thought he could feel Derek's eyes on him, watching him change, but when he glanced over his shoulder, he found the alpha sitting on the edge of the bed, staring out the window.

They went downstairs together in the end, and found that Liz and Max had taken over the kitchen and were producing a truly astounding amount of breakfast foods. They went into the dining room instead, where they found most of the pack laughing with Nicole and Sean.

Breakfast was an enjoyable, lively affair. Stiles sat next to Derek, who didn't speak much, his eyes flickering from face to face, watching the wolves. He seemed relaxed, though, all the lines of his body loose.

Tessa and Devin hadn't shown up by the time Stiles and the betas needed to head to school, though Derek didn't seem concerned. He gave his keys to Boyd so the betas could take his car to school, and he helped Scott get Allison into the Jeep. He didn't say anything when Stiles said goodbye, just raised his hand in farewell as they pulled out of the driveway.

The next couple of days passed in much the same way. He went to school, then returned to the house, usually with all the betas in tow. Each night there was a huge meal and time spent around the fire in the backyard (no more cows, though), and he got to know the new pack. Tessa and her snotty attitude aside, he liked them. Max and Liz were kind, and their daughter was cheerful and full of life. Sean looked big and slow, but he was sharp as a tack. Even Devin, despite the fact that he always seemed to be watching Stiles, didn't seem that bad. Stiles was even starting to like Peter; Derek had been accurate in his prediction that Peter would respect their fake bond. He hadn’t made a single creepy comment about Stiles, though he had made plenty of smarmy remarks about Stiles and Derek’s relationship, which Stiles bore with a tight smile. Outside of that, though, Peter was actually helpful sometimes.

Derek relaxed more than Stiles had ever seen him. Apparently having more wolves around did him a world of good, because he was talking and making jokes. He was getting pretty free with affection, too, and not just to Stiles - he was always touching the betas, brushing his hand across their shoulders, the backs of their necks. Though Scott said, resentfully running a hand through his hair after Derek ruffled it in passing, he thought it had less to do with affection and more to do with making sure Tessa knew what belonged to him. Stiles wondered if he was right.

Certainly, Derek seemed to have grown weirdly protective of Stiles. He was always waiting outside for Stiles to arrive after school, and he walked Stiles out to his car every morning, even if the other pack wasn't in sight. His hands were in almost constant contact with Stiles’ body, sliding around his waist, curling against his fingers, rubbing against the back of his neck. There were a couple of moments when he got so close Stiles thought Derek was about to kiss him and his heart just stopped in his chest. It never happened, but Derek did bump their foreheads together once, staring into Stiles’ eyes with such a warm smile on his face that it didn’t feel right for him to be on the receiving end, not when it didn’t mean anything.

Stiles wasn't going to complain, because it felt good, even if it didn't exactly feel right. He knew it was all just an act, which was maybe the problem, but Derek was being so overly friendly he almost didn’t seem like himself. Maybe that was why Devin was always watching Stiles. Stiles was guilty too, though, brushing against Derek whenever he could, sitting so close at dinner that their thighs touched.

On Thursday morning, Stiles woke up entangled with Derek, as he had every morning since Tuesday. He was on top this time, chest to chest with Derek, one of the alpha's arms curled across his back, hand pressed flat to the space between his shoulder blades. Stiles wasn't going to lie; it felt fucking nice to be held like this, and he had to work hard to remind himself that it wasn't real no matter how well their bodies fit together, or how easy everything felt, like they'd been doing this for ages. It wasn't real, no matter how much he wanted it to be. There'd be no kissing, or fucking, or - shit, he was fucking hard and he hadn't even noticed.

Stiles slipped out of Derek's grasp, cheeks burning. Derek grumbled something discontentedly and rolled over, still asleep. Stiles breathed out a soft sigh of relief, glad Derek hadn't awoken to find Stiles' boner stabbing him in the stomach, and slipped quietly out of the room, heading for the bathroom.

He took a long shower, willing his erection away, but it was being stubborn. Stiles slid a hesitant hand around himself, his breath hissing between his teeth at the touch. Even the knowledge that wolves had pretty excellent hearing couldn't scare his boner away, and he engaged in the quickest, quietest jerk-off session he'd had since his dad took his bedroom door away when he was fourteen and got caught trying to steal a bottle of whiskey. He came with a soft, choked-off noise, pleasure curling his toes, and congratulated himself on a job well done.

Preemptively, as it turned out, because when he opened the bathroom door, Devin was standing outside with a towel in his arms and a smirk on his face. Stiles took an unconscious step backward, suddenly feel entirely too exposed with only a towel wrapped around his waist.

"Shouldn't your mate be helping you with that?" Devin asked softly, and they both knew what he was talking about.

Stiles swallowed. "That was just a warm-up," he replied loftily, trying to make his tone as casual as possible. "For the real thing."

Devin watched him with that same strangely blank expression he always watched Stiles with. "You know what's strange, Alpha Stilinski?" he asked casually. "Your heartbeat never changes - and neither does your mate's. It makes it pretty hard to tell when you're lying, but there are other clues. Your scent, for example. I'm making you nervous right now, but why? It's not like you're hiding anything…right?"

Devin leaned in close to Stiles, opening his mouth to say something, but pulled back abruptly as a door opened further along the hallway. Derek appeared in the doorway to his bedroom, leaning against the doorframe in a way that was far too casual. He didn't say a word, but the way his eyes glowed red in the dim light of the hallway said everything. Devin's pale eyes flashed gold, but he stepped away from Stiles, who sidled around him, retreating to the safety of Derek's room. Derek remained in the doorway for a long moment, staring Devin down before finally turning and shutting the door.

"Are you all right?" Derek demanded immediately, pushing into Stiles' space, curling his hands around Stiles' biceps.

"Can you not?" Stiles said irritably, feeling suddenly claustrophobic. He pushed at Derek's hands. "I'm fine, Jesus. Just let me change in peace."

Derek stepped back, hesitating a moment before nodding curtly and saying, "I'm going to start breakfast."

"Whatever," Stiles muttered, rooting around in the dresser. He was running out of clothes. He heard the door open, then close, and slumped. Devin knew something was up, and that couldn't be good. He didn't know what would happen if the pack found out that Derek had been lying about Stiles being his mate, but he couldn't imagine they'd be happy. Stiles rubbed a hand across his face. Fuck.

When Stiles went downstairs, slipping nervously past the closed bathroom door, he found Derek the only one down there. He hadn't started on breakfast like he'd said, but stood at the kitchen sink, staring out at the backyard. He turned when Stiles entered the room though, a frown on his face.

"I'm okay," Stiles said, before the alpha could ask.

Derek's frown deepened. "What was he saying to you?"

Stiles sighed and stepped up to stand next to him at the counter. "I think he suspects we're not actually mates," he said, very quietly.

Derek's eyebrows drew together. "Why?"

Stiles shrugged. "I don't know. I thought we were doing a pretty good job. Is there something we haven't done?"

"Of course there is," Derek said bluntly, though his cheeks went a little red.

Stiles stared at him. "What - oh." They hadn't had sex. They'd barely touched. "Oh."

Derek turned away from the window with a strangely intense look on his face, and leaned in close to Stiles, slipping one hand around his waist. Stiles swallowed. It was nothing unlike what they'd done around the pack, but they were alone now, and it felt different, done with intent. "This okay?" Derek asked quietly, and Stiles could feel his breath, warm on his lips. Derek’s other hand came up to cradle the side of his head, thumb rubbing along his cheekbone.

"Y-Yeah," he stammered, heart picking up its pace.

Derek paused there for a moment before leaning forward, pressing his mouth to Stiles'. He pulled back almost immediately, giving Stiles a chance to protest or escape. Stiles didn't move, though, and Derek leaned forward again.

Stiles had imagined this moment, usually when he was laying in bed with his hand on his dick. He'd woken up before, hard and aching from dreaming about Derek Hale's fucking mouth, and apparently for good reason, because he was soft and demanding and everything Stiles had ever fantasized about. Their kiss started out gentle, almost tentative, but then Derek seemed to decide that Stiles wasn't going to break, because he found himself being pressed back into the counter while Derek licked into his mouth and Stiles, he - he fucking loved it. He looped his arms around Derek's neck, pulling him in tight and close, and even though his breath hitched when Derek grabbed his thighs and lifted him onto the counter, he didn't protest. He could feel Derek’s heart hammering against his and wondered how on earth Devin couldn’t hear it. He dug his heels into the backs of Derek's thighs and hissed when Derek turned his head and sank his teeth into the spot where Stiles' neck met his shoulder.

Someone coughed and Stiles' eyes flew to the doorway, where Tessa stood, Isaac lurking behind her, his face bright red. Derek paused, but didn't lift his head, his forehead pressed to the side of Stiles' throat. Stiles was pretty sure his eyes were burning red. Tessa looked pissed, but Stiles stared back at her boldly, even though his heart felt like it was about to escape through his ribcage. This was supposed to be his house, right? His mate? He could make out with Derek in the kitchen if he wanted to. Stiles swallowed, his cheeks burning red. He'd just made out with his pretend mate. He'd just made out with the dude he'd had a crush on for ages, but it wasn't supposed to get real. Fuck fuck fuck.

Derek straightened to watch Tessa step around them and pour herself a cup of coffee. Stiles slid off the counter, swallowing again when Derek's hands followed his movement, fingers curling in the loops of his jeans.

"Hey," Stiles said hoarsely, tugging himself free. "Um, so I - I've gotta get to school."

"Stiles," Derek began, but Stiles shook his head furiously, glancing over at the tense line of Tessa's back.

"Need a ride, Isaac?" Stiles asked loudly, while Derek frowned at him.

Isaac looked as though he didn't know whether he wanted to laugh or puke, but he said, "Yeah, that'd be great."

They left Derek looking perplexed and headed outside.

"Don't you dare say anything," Stiles muttered, as they climbed into the Jeep.

"My lips are sealed, Mom," Isaac retorted, though he kept snorting the whole way to school.

Stiles had a lot of trouble concentrating that day. He kept remembering the feeling of Derek's mouth on his, the way his fingers had dug into his thighs, the scrape of his stubble against his skin. Scott looked sick, and Stiles was pretty sure it was because he smelled like arousal, but that - that was Derek's fault.

"Hey," Stiles said suddenly at lunch, breaking through a conversation Scott and Isaac were having about their English homework. "Can you tell when I lie?"

Scott blinked, looking perplexed. "Most of the time. Why?"

"Because this morning Devin told me that Derek and I – our heartbeats don’t change."

Scott tilted his head curiously. "Okay," he said. "Let's test it out. Lie about something obvious."

"Uh," said Stiles. "I hate your guts. I'm in love with Mr. Harris. I hope my dad gets shot on the job. I—”

"Okay, okay," Scott said, waving his hands placatingly. "I can't hear it." Isaac nodded in agreement.

"Huh," Stiles said. "That's really weird. Why do you think that is?"

Scott shrugged. "Beats me. I'm working today, though - you could stop in and ask Deaton."

That was exactly what Stiles did. After final bell rang, he and Scott got into the Jeep and drove over to the veterinary office. While Scott set about mopping the floors, Stiles stood in Deaton's small office and explained the problem.

"Curious," the vet murmured. "And it's just you and Derek?"

"We're the only ones Devin mentioned," Stiles replied, absently playing with the hem of his hoodie.

"Very interesting," Deaton declared. "I can't think of anything off the top of my head, but I'll do some research and let you know what I find."

"Do you think it could have anything to do with that photograph from the witch's apartment?" Stiles asked uneasily.

Deaton tilted his head thoughtfully. "I found no trace of magic in that paper," he said, "but perhaps it's worth a second look." He shuffled through a pile of books on his desk until he found the one they'd retrieved from the witch's apartment, and flipped through it until he found the small square of glossy paper tucked inside. Stiles could see the picture of Derek even from that angle, his cheery grin under a hard plastic helmet. Deaton held the photo to the light, frowning at it.

"There's nothing," he murmured. "Hmm." The vet opened a drawer and pulled out a small flat stone with a circle carved through its middle.

"What's that?" Stiles asked curiously.

"A witch stone," Deaton replied absently, holding it up to one eye like a monocle. "It allows me to see a greater breadth of magic than what's visible to the naked eye."

"So?" Stiles asked uneasily. "Do you see anything?"

"Yes," Deaton said simply. "There's a thread connecting you to this piece of paper."

“Oh,” Stiles said, his stomach twisting. “What about Derek?”

Deaton shook his head. “Without him here, I can’t tell. Here,” he added, sliding the photo and the stone across the desk. “Take them. See if there’s a connection to Derek and let me know.”

“Okay,” Stiles said slowly, taking the paper and the stone. He said goodbye to Scott and sat in the Jeep for a few minutes, staring down at the photo, rolling the stone between his fingers. He kind of didn’t want to know if there was a connection to Derek, because what if that meant this whole thing was fake? What if this stupid photograph had connected them somehow, and the reason Derek had been so super friendly lately was because of some weird spell? What if they were being forced to like each other?

It felt like a bottomless pit had opened in his stomach. He didn’t want it to be fake, but the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Derek had never shown any interest in him before. He wouldn’t have asked Stiles to be his pretend mate in the normal way, not when there were other options like Lydia, who was a heck of a lot smarter and attractive than he was. The kiss that morning had been just as fake as their relationship.

Someone tapped on the window and Stiles jerked his head up to see Scott standing there, looking concerned. “Are you okay?” he asked, his voice muffled by the glass.

“No, I – I’m fine,” Stiles said loudly, and those were not tears burning at the corners of his eyes, they were not. “I’m going to my dad’s.”

Scott didn’t look convinced, but he stepped back so Stiles could reverse out of the parking space and roar out of the lot. When he got home, Stiles checked his phone. There was one message from Derek.

Are you coming back

Stiles sighed. It wasn’t like he was mad at Derek. He just wanted to avoid him for a little while longer. Course I am, stupid, he texted back. Dinner with dad, be back later. Then he shut off his phone, because he didn’t want to be distracted.

The house seemed quiet and empty after the days at Derek’s. Stiles was outraged to find leftover pizza – pizza! – in the fridge and dumped it into the trash before making a nice chicken caesar salad instead. Too late he realized he should have checked the schedule hung on the fridge, because his dad wasn’t getting home until eleven, but that was fine. Stiles ate some salad and put the rest in Tupperware, then hunkered down on the couch for some sulking and television-watching, where he accidentally fell asleep.

When Stiles awoke, the room was dark. Someone had turned off the television and draped a blanket over him, and according to the clock on the DVD player, it was nearly one in the morning. He groaned softly and powered his phone back on, expecting a slew of messages. There were only two, both from Isaac.

R u ok, dereks not saying nething but i think hes worreid

The second text read heads up: dereks headed ur way

It had been sent an hour ago. The pit in Stiles’ stomach deepened. He untangled himself from the blanket and went over to the window, pulling the blinds aside. The first thing he saw outside was his dad’s cruiser sitting in the driveway, which solved the blanket mystery. The second thing was Derek’s Camaro parked on the opposite side of the street, with Derek leaning against the hood, looking small. Stiles sighed and went outside.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I got worried,” Derek said, and there he went again, telling Stiles things he’d never admit to anyone else. “I wanted to know you were okay.”

“I am okay,” Stiles said, spreading his arms wide so Derek could see he was uninjured. “I fell asleep.”

“All right,” Derek said, looking uncomfortable. “Look, this morning—”

Stiles sighed again. “I’m not mad,” he said. “Or upset, or anything. You just – caught me off guard.”

“Sorry,” Derek muttered. He lifted his pale eyes to stare into Stiles’. “Are you going to come back?”

“Why?” Stiles asked, crossing his arms over his chest. “Because you’ll look bad if I don’t?”

“Yes,” Derek said, but he sounded ashamed to say it. “But I want you there, too.”

Stiles squished up his face, thinking about the photograph, but shrugged and said, “Fine. I’ll meet you there.”

Derek watched him a moment longer before nodding and getting into the Camaro.

Back at Derek's house, they went inside without a word. Sean and Devin were hanging out in the living room watching late-night tv, and they both looked up when Derek and Stiles came in. Devin had a very unfriendly look on his face. Stiles avoided his gaze and followed Derek upstairs.

The next morning, Stiles woke on his side with Derek curled around him. He tried to relax but it was hard to keep his heart steady when he didn't know what was real and what wasn't. Derek shifted around him, his hold tightening, then releasing when he seemed to realize something was wrong.

"Stiles," he said quietly. "If you're not - if this is about yesterday, we - "

"Stop," Stiles said, pulling himself over the side of the bed, reaching for his pants. "I just - I need to check something."

"Okay," Derek said slowly, sitting up. His brow furrowed when Stiles sat up with the photograph and witch stone in his hands, but he said, "I figured out why Tessa's here."

"Yeah?" Stiles replied, nervously rolling the stone between his fingers, building the courage to look through. "And?"

"She's here to find a new mate," Derek said quietly, as Stiles raised the stone to his eye. He swallowed; there was a bright red thread running from the center of the photograph to Derek's heart, one from the photograph to Stiles, and another that ran between the two of them, heart to heart.

"Oh," Stiles muttered, lowering his hand. "You?"

Derek nodded grimly. Stiles bit his lip. "Are you going to do it?"

Derek blinked, looking a little hurt. "No," he said, frowning. "She's kind of a bitch. And I have you."

"No you don't," Stiles said sharply. "This isn't real, remember?"

Derek slid his hands over Stiles', quietly asking, "Why are you so stressed?"

Stiles jerked his hands free and scrambled backward, nearly pitching over the side of the bed in his haste to get to his feet. "Because I don’t know what's going on," he said furiously, and it was embarrassing how his eyes burned. "Are we still acting? Because I can’t tell. This stupid photo's fucked everything up. Whatever you're thinking about me, whatever you're feeling - it's not real. The photo’s done something to us – it’s forcing us to act like this."

Derek stared at him. "The photograph," he said flatly.

"Now we're connected," Stiles said bitterly, jerking his pants back on. "See for yourself."

Derek picked up the stone and held it to his eye, looking between Stiles and the photograph, his mouth a grim line. "I know what I'm feeling," he said finally, sounding stubborn.

"No you don't," Stiles insisted. He rubbed a hand over his face. "Dude, I can't do this. I can't stay here, not knowing what's real and what's not. I can't."

"Stiles," Derek began, but Stiles shook his head.

"I'm going to spend the night at home," he said. "I don't think we should be around each other. I really want this to be real and if - if it's not, I don't think I can keep this sham up."

Stiles left, leaving Derek open-mouthed behind him. It hurt, but he knew he had to get out of there before things got any more serious. Before either of them got hurt.

School sucked. He failed a test because he was too busy stressing out over Derek. Scott kept saying things like, "Derek's an idiot," and "It was stupid to try and pretend you were his mate," until Stiles got so mad he jumped to his feet in the middle of the lunchroom and snapped, "Can you fucking stop? Maybe if you had actually supported the pack for once, we could have come up with a better plan!"

Scott stared at him, looking like puppy that had just been kicked. Stiles grabbed the remains of his lunch and left.

When he went home, his dad was sitting at the kitchen table. He looked surprised to see Stiles, though his expression quickly turned to a frown. "Why's your neck bruised?"

"Huh?" Stiles' hand flew to the tender spot where Derek had bit him the day before. "Ugh, fuck. I give up on today. Officially."

The sheriff frowned. "Everything all right?" he asked. "I wasn't expecting you back yet."

"It's fine," Stiles sighed. "I just - I'm going to go take a nap."

Stiles was half expecting Derek to be lurking in his room, but with some stroke of luck, the room was empty. Stiles drew a line of mountain ash along the window just in case, placing it on the outer sill so Derek wouldn't even be able to touch the glass. He pulled the curtains shut and flopped down onto his bed. Stiles shut off his phone, and jerked off, because there was no fucking creepster Devin to bother him here, then fell into a very irritated nap.

In the evening, Stiles woke long enough to eat dinner and see his dad off on his late-night shift. He did some homework and watched a movie on his laptop, then went determinedly back to sleep.

He was woken in the morning by his dad, because he'd forgotten to turn his phone back on, and so had missed his alarm.

"You going to school today?" the sheriff asked. Stiles groaned into his pillow. His dad patted his back with a sigh and said, "Whatever's going on, please work it out."

"I will," Stiles mumbled.

He took a bleary shower, head in a daze. After dressing, he went downstairs and froze, because Derek was sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in front of him.

"How'd you get in here?" Stiles asked suspiciously.

Derek rolled his eyes. "Your father let me in."

Stiles scowled. "That doesn't sound like him."

"He's worried about you," Derek sighed.

"Uh huh," Stiles said, slipping past the table to get to the coffee maker. "And did nothing I said yesterday stick in your stupid brain?"

"I heard you," Derek said, looking exasperated, "and I talked to Deaton. I thought you might want to hear what he had to say."

"Oh," said Stiles. He leaned against the kitchen counter. "Okay."

Derek gave him a long look before saying, "He said it does look as though that picture did something to us."

"Oh," Stiles said again, deflating. He should have known.

"He also said that a spell like that can't make something out of nothing," Derek said carefully, raising his cup of coffee to his lips and taking a long sip.

Stiles lifted his head. "So...what does that mean?"

Derek smiled faintly and said, "It means I wasn't wrong when I said I knew how I felt."

All the air went out of Stiles in a shaky rush. "But the spell," he said quietly.

Derek rose from the table, coming to lean against the counter next to him. "Deaton said all it did was enhance how we felt about each other. If we'd disliked each other, we would have gotten worse."

"But we like each other," Stiles said. He looked at Derek. "Right?"

Derek snorted. "Obviously."

"Why didn't you say something before?"

Derek sighed, slipping a hand around Stiles' waist. "I was trying to be patient," he said. "Wait until you were eighteen. I didn't want to get shot by your dad."

"He'd probably try to shoot you even then," Stiles retorted. "Is he asleep, by the way?"

Derek lifted his eyes to the ceiling. "Sounds like he's settled," he said.

“Good,” said Stiles, and leaned forward to kiss him. Derek made a very pleased-sounding noise and slipped his other hand around Stiles' waist, pulling them flush together. It wasn't as rushed as it had been yesterday, though a small voice at the back of Stiles' mind was shouting that he was going to be late for school. Fuck school, the other voices in Stiles' head declared. He smiled against Derek's lips, threading a hand into the soft hair at the base of his neck.

“You’ve been driving me crazy,” Derek muttered, his breath warm on Stiles’ lips. “You’ve smelled like us all week.”

“Must be hard,” Stiles said sympathetically, shuddering as Derek mouthed at the bruise he'd left the day before, his lips gentle. “Tessa’s going to be pissed.”

"She already is," Derek muttered, one of his hands slipping under the edge of Stiles' shirt, seeking skin. "Couldn't care less."

"Hey, wait," Stiles said, grabbing him by the shoulders. "Serious question - why don't you tell them to leave, then?"

"Because I told them one week," Derek replied. "And the full moon is tomorrow. I'd rather know they're here than run the risk of being attacked on the full moon."

"Oh," Stiles said. "Well. Carry on, then."

Derek grinned and pushed Stiles against the counter, bringing their hips together in a sharp, swift moment that wrought a sharp moan from Stiles. He moved to brace his arms against the counter and accidentally knocked his coffee cup off the edge, sending it smashing to the floor. Derek laughed against his neck before straightening abruptly.

"What?" Stiles asked.

"Your dad's getting up," Derek replied, staring up at the ceiling.

"Crap," Stiles muttered, grabbing at his arm. "Come on."

"But your cup," Derek said, as Stiles pulled him down the front hall.

"I'd rather Dad find that than you grinding against me," Stiles replied, half-grinning as he pulled Derek out the front door.

"Fair enough," Derek said, as they stopped next to the Jeep. "Will you come back to the house tonight?"

"Sure," Stiles grinned. "Can we make out in front of Tessa again?"

Derek snorted. "Let's not push our luck," he said. "I'll see you later."

"See you," Stiles echoed, watching Derek stride across the lawn to the Camaro before climbing into the Jeep.

School was - whatever. Stiles didn't pay attention to most of it. Stiles apologized to Scott for yelling at him and Scott muttered something about trying harder in the future. Stiles sat in class and stared at the clock and thought about Derek and how Derek liked him and it wasn't fake. The minute the final bell rang he was out of his seat, dashing out of the school and into the parking lot.

It occurred to him, as he jammed the Jeep into drive and whipped out of the parking lot, that maybe this was happening too fast. A week ago, he and Derek had just been friends. This morning, they’d been making out in his kitchen. Stiles chewed at his lip. Should it have been such a surprise, though? They’d been friends for a long time, and if he thought about it, there had always been things he’d been too nervous to read into, things he’d been to scared to try and make something of lest he ruin the friendship they’d built. The way Derek was always close, for example – at pack meetings, he always sat next to Stiles, or crouched near him during late-night stake-outs. The way Derek offered him information so freely, or the way he was the only one beside Isaac who’d gotten a key to the house. Maybe all those things had been Derek’s way of showing Stiles how he felt without pushing the boundaries.

Derek was waiting when he got to the house, leaning against his car with his hands in his pockets. His expression was casual, but he smiled when he saw Stiles, which made his heart leap because that smile was for him. It almost didn't feel real when Derek stepped forward as Stiles shut the Jeep door, wrapping his arms around him. Stiles didn't complain; now that this was, like, an actual thing, he wanted to touch Derek as much as he could. And so he did, slipping his arms around Derek's neck, sighing as Derek nuzzled his face against Stiles' throat. Stiles could hear and feel him breathing in deeply, inhaling his scent.

"Hey," Stiles said quietly, when Derek's grip loosened.

"Hey," Derek murmured, straightening and giving Stiles a soft smile.

“Is there anyone around?” Stiles inquired softly. “I want to ask you something.”

Derek lifted his head, eyes narrowing as he looked around the trees. He shook his head and said, “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah,” Stiles said. “I just – well. What are we now?”

Derek frowned faintly. “What do you mean?”

“Us,” Stiles replied, with a worried glance toward the house. “I’m not really your mate, am I? I don’t think I can just jump into it like that.”

Derek glanced toward the house as well, then back at Stiles. “I wouldn’t ask that of you,” he said gently. “We don’t have to rush into this.”

“Oh, I want to rush,” Stiles said, curling his hands in the folds of Derek’s leather jacket. “I just wasn’t sure what to label us.”

“Boyfriends? Partners?” Derek hazarded, touching his forehead to Stiles’. “All that I care about is that we’re together.”

Stiles smiled and tilted his head forward for a quick kiss. “I am so good with that,” he said. Derek smiled faintly in response. They turned together, finally heading into the house, fingers entwined.

It was a strange evening. The betas showed up for dinner and so did Scott, who was trying hard to be positive, so Stiles spent most of his time hanging out with them, but the other pack seemed unsettled. He didn't have any problem with the betas, but he thought they were picking up on the way Tessa was staring at him with open hostility, and it was making them all uneasy. Devin watched him too, like he always did, his expression calculating.

Stiles didn't let himself care. He had a good time with his friends and when everyone went to bed, Derek pressed him down into the mattress, kissing him softly, running his hands over every part of him. They let the pressure build until it was too much to resist and then they pushed their pants to their knees and rutted against each other until Derek came with a low moan, his finger scrabbling to push up Stiles' shirt so he could spill across the soft skin of his stomach. Stiles followed a few seconds later, arching under Derek with a shocked, stuttering cry.

After, they lay on their sides facing each other, breathing quietly, and Stiles said, "Did everyone just hear that?"

"Probably," Derek said, with what was probably the closest he'd ever get to a shit-eating grin. He slid a hand up Stiles' chest, trailing his fingers against the damp cotton of his shirt. "Do you care?"

Stiles grinned. "Not particularly.”

“Good,” Derek murmured, pressing their foreheads together. “When everyone’s gone, I’m going to make you scream.”

Stiles swallowed, color rising in his cheeks. “C-can’t I make you scream?”

Derek grinned. “If you want.”

“Oh,” Stiles said faintly. “Oh. Rad.”

“Yeah,” Derek echoed, looking smug. “Rad.”

“Hey,” Stiles said quietly, after a few minutes of silence. “How did you find out what Tessa’s after, anyway?”

Derek’s lips curled back in a disgusted snarl. “She tried coming onto me when you were at your dad’s,” he replied, soft enough that Stiles could barely hear him, which was probably a precaution against anyone listening in.

“And you shut her down?”

“Gladly,” Derek said meanly.

“Good.”

-

The next morning, Stiles woke up with Derek wrapped around him, one leg pushed between Stiles’. It was late in the morning and if Stiles listened carefully, he could hear people in the kitchen downstairs, probably making breakfast – or possibly even early lunch. He made no effort to rise, enjoying the closeness of Derek. He listened to the alpha’s steady breathing and thought about how Derek must trust him, to remain asleep when Stiles woke, relaxed enough that the change in Stiles’ heartbeat didn’t wake him.

One of the windows was open and he couldn’t see out of it, but he could hear rain falling, water pattering against the leaves of the trees outside the window. The air rolling in was crisp and smelled like damp soil and greenery and he could have laid there forever, breathing in the rain and Derek, safe and warm in the cradle of Derek’s arms. His stomach ruined it before long though, rumbling mutinously. Stiles jabbed Derek with his elbow.

“You ever gonna get up?”

Derek growled and sank his teeth into the back of Stiles’ neck. Stiles yelped and elbowed him again, harder. “Dude, I’m hungry!”

“Fine,” Derek grumbled, letting him go. “You need to take a shower.”

“I do not,” Stiles replied, hopping out of bed.

Derek rolled onto his back and said pointedly, “Yes, you do.”

“I do—” Stiles paused in the middle of pulling his shirt off. There was cum on his stomach, dry and flaking. “Oh.” He looked over at Derek. “Do I reek?”

Derek smiled faintly. “Not to me,” he said evenly. “But to the others – yes. We need to be careful today.”

“Because of the full moon?”

Derek nodded, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and getting to his feet. “Everyone will be on edge. I don’t want to push any buttons.”

“Fair enough,” Stiles said, letting his shirt drop back down. He looked at Derek, considering. “You want to help me wash it off?”

Derek grinned ferally.

-

Stiles was woefully lacking in the sexual experience department – until the previous night, the most he’d ever done was a rushed make-out-and-mutual-hand-job session in the showers with Danny one afternoon after lacrosse practice more than a year ago. In the shower, though, Derek coached him through his first blowjob, and fucking hell. It probably hadn’t been that great, but the way Derek flushed at his touch, the noises he made, fuck – it made Stiles feel powerful. Derek hadn’t even tried to keep quiet – which Stiles totally resented, because hadn’t Derek been the one to say they needed to be careful today? Not push buttons? He didn’t think Derek saw the way Tessa’s eyes burned red when they eventually made their way downstairs. Her fury made Stiles worry that she hadn’t given up her aspirations of becoming Derek’s mate.

Derek had been right when he said everyone would be on edge. The heavy rain kept the wolves indoors during the day, and they ranged about the house restlessly, picking small fights with each other. The two packs stayed mostly apart, which was probably a good thing. It was a relief to get out of the house in the early afternoon, when Stiles and Scott went on a grocery run. The wolves were always ravenous after the full moon run, and even before this whole mate thing, Stiles had always taken it upon himself to make sure there was plenty of food waiting for them when they came back.

“Hey, dude?” Scott said hesitantly, as Stiles contemplated deli meats.

“Yeah?”

“Um.” Scott scratched a hand through his hair. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

Stiles frowned at him. “For what?”

“For being such a brat.” Scott laughed uncomfortably. “Look, I – I know I haven’t been very supportive of anything involving the pack. Or you. Or Derek. And I – this week’s kind of made me open my eyes? I know Derek doesn’t know what he’s doing a lot of the time, but I’d rather have him as an alpha than Tessa. A-and I can tell he thinks you’re important and if you’re happy, then I’m happy for you.”

Stiles turned to look at him, a grin splitting his face. “Dude,” he said, “don’t give yourself a heart attack admitting you like Derek.”

Scott scowled. “I don’t,” he said grumpily. “But you do. So I’ll do my best to be—”

“A contributing member of society, i.e., the pack?” Stiles finished for him, still grinning. “Hey, remember all those times you told me, in great detail, about you and Allison’s sexcapades? Well, let me tell you about our shower this morning—”

Scott howled and tackled him. It was a miracle they weren’t kicked out of the grocery store; they received a very stern lecture from the deli manager and meekly went on their way. Scott continued to look horrified, which had Stiles snorting all the way through the store.

They returned to the house and Stiles settled into the kitchen. Derek hovered around; he seemed unwilling to leave Stiles by himself, so Stiles set him to chopping vegetables for a casserole. Liz turned up to help, which he was grateful for, because it had occurred to him that he needed to make twice the amount of food that he usually did. He liked Liz, anyway; she wasn’t much like Derek, though she had the strong Hale nose, and she seemed the most friendly of the Sweeney pack. Stiles wondered if that had more to do with the fact that she had married into the pack, because she was related to Derek, or if that was just the way she was.

There was a tension growing in the house, so tight Stiles felt like he almost could have plucked it like a string. When night finally fell, the pack spilled outside with grateful noises. It was still raining heavily and the moon wasn’t visible, but that didn’t matter to the wolves; they could feel the pull of the full moon whether it could be seen or not. The mood of the packs changed; suddenly people were laughing again, chatting and shoving at each other playfully. To Stiles’ surprise, the Sweeney pack stripped out of their clothes and stood around casually, wholly unconcerned with their nakedness. Derek’s betas turned to look at their alpha, who shrugged with a faintly surprised look on his face, a sort of do what you want gesture. The Hale pack stripped too, looking kind of excited but far less comfortable. Stiles caught Scott’s eye and Scott gave him a look that clearly said don’t you dare tell Allison about this. He grinned.

At 9:05, official moonrise, the packs headed into the woods. Derek was the last one to leave; he waited until the rest had disappeared into the trees before turning to look at Stiles.

“Keep your eyes open tonight,” Derek said, his pale eyes flickering toward the forest.

“Why?” Stiles asked, tilting his head to one side. “Do you think something’s going to happen?”

“I’ll got a bad feeling,” Derek replied, slipping a hand into his pocket. He pulled out a small vial and pressed it into Stiles’ hand. “Wolfsbane.”

Stiles bit his lip. “You really think they’d do something?”

“I think Tessa’s desperate,” Derek said, moving to pull off his rain-dampened shirt. “We’ll watch the pack, but there’s six of them and six of us – and you.”

“I’ll be careful,” Stiles promised.

“I know.” Derek took his face in both hands, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “Be safe.”

“You too,” Stiles replied solemnly.

Derek smiled grimly and turned away, tugging down his pants and underwear. Stiles watched him trot across the backyard, breaking into a sprint before he hit the trees. He watched Derek’s pale form until he blended in among the shadows and Stiles could follow his movement no more.

Stiles went back inside, despite the unease now shuddering through his bones. He resisted the urge to lock the doors, because the pack had to get inside somehow, and returned to the kitchen, because there was still food to finish. He had a hard time concentrating, though; little noises kept making him jump. Around midnight, he thought he heard the front door open and close and he forced himself to walk around the first floor, checking each room. There was no one there.

“Easy, Stilinski,” he muttered, fingers running over the vial of wolfsbane in his pocket.

It got worse when the howling started up outside a few minutes later. The wolves didn’t usually call on the full moon, preferring to keep their presence in Beacon Hills on the down-low. The sound made Stiles’ skin crawl. He walked over to the back door and peered out the window, but he couldn’t see anything in the darkness. When he turned around, however, Devin stood in the middle of the kitchen, arms crossed over his bare chest. Stiles froze.

The were tilted his head to one side mockingly, a faint smile dancing around his lips. He hadn’t shifted and Stiles didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing, but his eyes were pure liquid gold, faintly luminous even in the light of the kitchen. “Alpha Stilinski,” Devin said cordially. “Did I startle you?”

Stiles swallowed. “No,” he said resolutely.

Devin grinned. “You’re lying,” he said. “I can’t hear it, but I can smell you starting to sweat. I can taste it on the air.” He snapped his teeth together and Stiles could see that his incisors were long and wickedly pointed.

“What are you doing back here?” Stiles asked, trying to sound firm, but he couldn’t help stepping back as Devin stepped forward, until he hit the door and there was nowhere else to go.

“I wish you could taste your fear,” Devin said, licking his lips. “It’s delicious.” He moved in close to Stiles, his face only inches away. Stiles stared into his golden eyes, trying to ignore the sweat pooling in the small of his back and the way his heart hurt because it was beating so hard.

“Fuck you,” he managed, and Devin’s grin turned nasty.

“Other way around,” he snarled, grabbing Stiles by the shoulders and spinning him around, slamming him against the door.

“W-what are you doing?” Stiles yelped, his voice going high-pitched with panic when Devin pressed his weight up against him, grinding his hips against Stiles’ ass. The beta fisted his hand in Stiles’ hair, forcing him to bend his head back.

“My sister’s going to kill your alpha,” Devin murmured into Stiles’ ear, laughing cruelly when Stiles’ breath hitched at the words. “His pack will become ours, but you’re a loose end we don’t need. You’re dying tonight, Alpha Stilinski, but no one said I couldn’t have a little fun first.”

“Fuck,” Stiles whimpered, fighting against Devin, but even if he hadn’t been a were, Devin had a good five inches and at least fifty pounds on him. He kept Stiles pinned easily, one hand pressing his face to the cool glass of the back door, the other fumbling with the button of Stiles’ pants. Stiles could feel Devin’s erection against his back, felt his teeth biting into the meat of his shoulder, and desperately thought Derek. Be safe, Derek had said. Stiles hiccupped and managed to get his hand into his pocket before Devin shoved his pants down, fingers curling around the glass vial. He brought his hand over his shoulder, smashing the glass into Devin’s face.

The beta screamed in pain, reeling backward. Stiles spun around, breathing heavily. He darted around Devin, who was clawing at his face, spiting blood, a heavy black liquid running from the cuts in his face. Stiles’ fingers coiled around the heavy knife Derek had been using to chop vegetables and he swung around to face Devin, fury surging through him.

Devin looked up, his face raw and bloody, eyes swollen from the poison, and hissed frantically, swinging a clawed hand at him. His claws cut across Stiles’ chest, shredding his t-shirt with ease, but Stiles didn’t back down, using all his strength to slash the knife across Devin’s throat. Red blood sprayed from the wound, splattering across Stiles’ face, and he spluttered as Devin hit the floor, the golden light fading form his eyes as blood pumped from the wound in his neck. Stiles watched him until his chest stopped moving and then he burst out the back door, still clutching the kitchen knife.

“Derek!” Stiles wailed, running for the trees, adrenaline pumping through him. His pace slowed as figures emerged from the forest – first the Sweeney pack, then the Hale pack behind them. Stiles stopped dead, his heart sinking. Where was Derek? Had Tessa killed him? He couldn’t see either of the alphas.

“Stiles?” Scott called, when suddenly there came a roaring from the trees. Derek came pounding out of the forest, sending the two packs scattering. Stiles sobbed, dropping the knife and rushing to meet Derek in a headlong sprint. He threw himself at the alpha, who caught him with a groan of relief.

“Oh fuck, oh fuck,” Stiles moaned, fisting his fingers in Derek’s damp hair. He could feel himself starting to shake as the adrenaline left him and the cold rain and shock of what he’d done began to hit him.

“Where is he?” Derek snarled. “Where’s Devin?”

“I killed him,” Stiles said weakly, clutching at him with trembling fingers. “Holy shit, I killed someone!”

“Stiles,” Derek said, worry in his voice, “did he—”

“No, no, no, stop.” Stiles pressed his head against Derek’s shoulder and that was when he saw that Derek was hurt, a huge flap of torn skin hanging down his side, exposing muscle and pumping blood. “Oh fuck, Derek, is that bone? Holy shit – Erica, Erica, get the first aid kit!”

As Erica sprinted into the house ahead of them, Stiles pulled at Derek, stumbling across the yard. Derek kept pulling back, resisting him, saying, “Stiles, I’m fine, but you, you’re—”

“Stop,” Stiles said, almost cried, and Derek shut his mouth, worry furrowing his brow. The look deepened when Stiles pulled him into the house and he saw Devin’s body on the floor. Stiles couldn’t look, because he’d throw up if he did, and hauled Derek into the living room. Erica came skidding in, handing Stiles the first aid kit while the rest of the wolves gathered in the doorway, silent and worried. Stiles hissed when he saw the wound in Derek’s side in the light, weeping blood. Enough battles with supernatural creatures had left him with a good knowledge of the power of werewolf healing, and he knew the wound needed to be stitched shut before it could heal properly, but his hands were shaking too hard to thread the needle.

“Erica,” Derek said, folding his hand over Stiles’. Erica stepped forward, biting at her lip, and gently took the needle from Stiles. Stiles breathed out shakily as Derek said again, “You’re hurt.”

He was, Stiles found. Devin’s claws had shredded his shirt and left four long lines across his chest. They weren’t deep, but they were bleeding freely, and Derek gestured at Scott to come forward and help. Stiles clutched at Derek’s hand as Scott bandaged his chest, shivering uncontrollably. Tears kept swelling and receding in his eyes, never quite spilling over. When Scott and Erica had finished fixing them up, Derek pulled Stiles to his feet and said to the wolves in the doorway, “Go to bed. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

The packs dispersed and Derek and Stiles supported each other up the stairs and into Derek’s bedroom. There, Derek helped Stiles get into bed before pausing, leaning over him. “Do you want me here?” he asked carefully.

“Yes,” Stiles whispered.

Derek seemed to sag and he climbed into bed behind Stiles, carefully arranging himself on his uninjured side. He put his arms around Stiles, taking great trouble not to put any pressure on Stiles’ injuries. Stiles shut his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Did you kill Tessa?”

“Yes,” Derek said quietly. “Stiles, you—“

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Stiles said abruptly, rubbing his hands over his face, which was still splattered with Devin’s blood.

“Stiles,” Derek murmured, pressing his forehead to the back of Stiles’ neck. “Even without the bite, you are a wolf. You’re an alpha – my alpha.”

If Stiles cried then, salty tears spilling between eyelids squeezed tightly shut, Derek didn’t say a word, but held him tight, close and warm and solid and real. And when, years down the road, Stiles still sometimes wakes in a fevered sweat, surfacing from a dream of warm blood splattering across his face, Derek says nothing then either, but strokes his hands up and down Stiles' ribs, presses their bodies together until Stiles’ heart steadies and he drifts back to sleep. Derek closes his eyes and relaxes, because nothing matters, except that they are together.