The drive home seems a lot longer than it had before. Derek parks in the same spot as before, and it seems exactly the same except that now instead of a nervous mate and a lifetime of possibilities, all he has is the lingering scent of hurt and his own rage. He gets out of the car and carefully closes and locks the door. If he slams it the way Stiles had, the way he wants to, the window will break.
He goes into the house and heads straight for his room, not looking or listening for any of his family members, or caring. He’s only been in his room for a few minutes before there’s a brief knock on the door, and without waiting for a reply, his father opens it and comes in. Aaron surveys his son, the scent of anger and pain, and gives a sigh. “Okay,” he says. “Let me have it. Both barrels.”
Derek shows teeth without thinking. “No. Get out.” The words come out as a growl. It’s clear that his father only has a few seconds to remove himself before Derek shoves him back out the door. He has no desire to talk to his father now. What would be the point? As far as he’s concerned, it’s just another dick move, being willing to talk after the damage has been done, after refusing to listen when it counted.
Aaron sighs. “I take it that ‘I’m sorry’ is the last thing you want to hear?”
Derek’s lip curls again. “It won’t make him come back. He wasn’t on the list!” On second thought, maybe shouting at his father is a good idea. If nothing else, it might make him less likely to go for someone’s throat. “It was chance, an accident, a miracle that he literally fell into the room I was in and acted like himself because he wasn’t on the list. And you and mom ruined it. Because he was pretty fucking clear on his opinion when I drove him home. So why don’t you and mom go find me some chick to knock up, since that’s apparently what you actually want.”
“Oh boy.” Aaron rubs both hands over his face. “It isn’t – no. I guess I can’t say that. Your mother – well. Let’s just say that she takes rebuilding the pack very seriously. You know that. And she’s been hard on you, and I’m sorry. She’s sorry, even if she’s too proud to admit it. I’ll talk to her. But as for Stiles . . . did he actually say he was refusing you?”
“You know, Laura already has two kids,” Derek snaps, but then takes a deep breath before he goes off on a rant. Instead, he answers his father’s question by delivering Stiles’ last statement word for word. “ ‘Derek, I am so pissed off right now that everything you say makes me want to kick you in the crotch. Just shut the fuck up and take me home.’” The words are burned into Derek’s memory and echo in his ears, both because it was the first time Stiles had addressed him by name and because it’s probably the last thing he’s ever going to hear from his mate. “Sounds pretty final, doesn’t it?” he adds, his tone dryly sarcastic. “I was trying to apologize, but he just . . .” He stops, not even sure what he wants to say about this disaster his family has handed him in place of what should have been a happy occasion.
“Look, I’ll go talk to him, okay?” Aaron says, when Derek turns away. “Apologize on behalf of the family, explain the . . . misunderstanding. Will that help?”
“I have no idea.” He doesn’t think it will. Some gut instinct tells him that Stiles won’t take any better to Aaron’s apology than he had to Derek’s. He wants to smile at the idea of Stiles laying into his father the same way. He had found someone amazing. But then lost him just as quickly. “But you can try. He’s Sheriff Stilinski’s son.”
“Well, the sheriff has always been fair to us ‘wolves. We’ll figure this out.” Aaron reaches out and tousles his son’s hair like he’s a child. “Okay? I’ll grovel if I have to. I’ll explain everything, talk to his dad if I need to. We’ll get it straightened out.”
Derek just nods, even though he isn’t feeling that hopeful. Aaron gives his shoulder a squeeze before leaving the room, leaving Derek sitting there miserable and angry and clueless about how to proceed. He wants to believe his father will be able to set things right, but after seeing the way Stiles was in the car, he can’t. It’s not the anger that he thinks Stiles won’t be able to get over - it was that scent of humiliation, of shame, that he thinks will be much harder to defeat. Stiles really did believe he had been the butt of an extremely cruel joke.
With nothing else to do, he broods, glowering out the window as if he expects it to fix all his problems. He doesn’t look up again until he hears a heartbeat behind him, then footsteps, and Peter wanders in. Derek wants to tell him to go away, but doesn’t quite dare. It’s impossible to say on any given day what his uncle will be like. Earlier he had certainly seemed to be his lucid, snarky self, but now he’s got that vague look in his eyes that often accompanies one of his spells.
“I remember when I first met Olivia,” Peter says, sitting down on the edge of the bed, and now Derek knows he can’t make Peter leave. It’s an unspoken family rule that when Peter wants to talk about his deceased mate, you shut the hell up and listen. “It was like the entire world stopped revolving for a few minutes. It’s amazing the way you can recognize that in a person. Just by seeing them for the first time.”
Suddenly, Peter is Derek’s favorite family member, because that sounds an awful lot like an invitation to talk about Stiles. He might have to listen to Peter talk about Olivia, which isn’t one of his favorite pastimes, but he can handle that. It wasn’t that it was boring or that he had better things to do with his time. It’s just that he misses Olivia, too, so he doesn’t like to think about her loss and how much her death had broken Peter. So he talks about Stiles. “He literally fell into the room. Tripped over his own feet or something. His fingers are ridiculous and he’s too young. He was looking for his friend, who was waiting to meet Cora.” Derek can feel himself starting to smile, or maybe just frown a little less. “And he just started talking and he didn’t care that he was rude. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like that before.” He snaps his mouth shut, suddenly aware that he sounds like a twelve-year-old girl.
“Ah, young love,” Peter says, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “If it’s meant to be, everything will work out,” he adds, with a philosophical shrug. “And you’ll live happily ever after. Unless someone murders him, anyway.”
Derek winces. He knows his mother has very set opinions about The Fire, and a very strict policy about not encouraging Peter’s ideas that it had been anything but accidental. Derek always feels caught in a three way tug-of-war between his mother’s beliefs and wishes, his knowledge that Peter was one of the smartest people he knew and not often wrong, even if he is a jerk and now unbalanced on top of it, and ugly dark things in his own head, memories of the fire that burned every time he tried to look at them too closely. So he officially had no opinion on The Fire. He never wanted to talk about it. Or hear about it. And if Peter doesn’t mention it directly, Derek doesn’t have to care about his mother’s rules. “No one is going to murder him.” He shakes his head and adds, “It’s all wishful thinking. Dad thinks he can fix this by apologizing.” He gives a huff of dark amusement.
“Well, it’s a place to start.” Peter hums contentedly, staring out the window. “I spoke with your mother.”
“About Stiles?” It’s never a good idea to assume anything with Peter.
“About her tendency to be a brass-plated, overbearing bitch.”
“Oh.” Derek considers this. “How’d it go?”
“About as well as it always does.” Peter gives an elegant shrug. “I reminded her that she might have chosen her mate back in the Paleolithic era, but some of us actually remember what it’s like, and it’s quite possible that making her only remaining son miserable isn’t a brilliant way to go about rebuilding her pack.”
Derek flinches a little at the words ‘only remaining’ but sucks it up. Then he realizes that Peter had handed him a weapon, both against his mother and something to use against Stiles if things got truly desperate. He could threaten to leave the pack if that was what it took. He was pretty sure that Stiles would know nobody playing a joke would do that. It was drastic. But something he could keep in the back of his mind. “No. And I’m sorry he isn’t who she wants, but I won’t change my mind.”
Peter waves a hand and says, “Oh, I’m sure she’ll come around after you’ve gotten him pregnant.”
Derek makes a face at his uncle. He’ll only put up with so much. “Whatever it is you’ve been smoking, I beg you not to share.”
Peter’s head tilts to the side. “Let’s go see how Cora did,” and just after the words leave his mouth, Derek can hear the sound of her car coming up the road. It’s harder with hers because the Prius is quieter than most of their other cars, but Peter’s always had the best hearing out of any of them. He gets up off the bed and heads out of the room without waiting to see if Derek is going to follow. Derek does. Cora is the only family member who can claim total innocence right now, and he isn’t mad at her.
She comes in cheerfully enough, flipping her long dark hair over one shoulder. “No luck,” she says blithely to her mother’s questioning look. Talia hadn’t put too much pressure on her. She’s only sixteen. It’s not a bad idea to start looking that young, but most ‘wolves don’t meet their mates until their early twenties. Her gaze lands on Derek and lights up immediately. “Okay, spill! Where is she?”
Derek blinks at her, startled. He would think that she smelled Stiles’ lingering scent in the entry way, but if she could, she would know his gender. “How did you . . .?”
“Come on!” Cora presses, giving him a friendly smack on the arm. “The girl who made you laugh, I heard you, I know you brought her home. Share!”
Derek swallows. “Boy. The boy that made me laugh. I did bring him home. His name is Stiles.”
“And?” Cora asks dramatically, even though Laura is desperately waving at her in the background to try to get her to leave the subject alone before Derek explodes. Talia has one hand pressed against her forehead, looking like she’s in tremendous pain. Peter is just leaning against the wall, face blank.
“Why don’t you ask Mom?” His voice is cold and hard because he knows his mother is sorry, but she still hasn’t actually apologized, and he’s still incredibly pissed off. He puts a hand on Cora’s arm for a few moments, though, warm and gentle, because he isn’t angry at her.
“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, Derek!” Talia snarls, her eyes flaring red. “It was an honest misreading of the situation. You can’t blame me for the conclusions I drew when you showed up with a sixteen year old boy!”
Derek snarls right back, despite the clear warning signs that tell him to keep his place and back down. “Do you honestly think I’m petty enough to do that to someone? Beyond that, when you accused me of bringing him home just to make a point, I told you that you were wrong. Did it sound like I was lying? Did you even bother to listen or check? No. You were too busy being pissed off that I brought home someone with a penis!”
“Wowwww,” Cora says, under her breath.
Laura nods agreement. “Hey, so, uh, we’re gonna go . . . let you two hash this out. The kids don’t need to hear this.”
Talia snarls a little, but then nods agreement. “Peter, you too.”
“Oh, but it’s so rare I get to see my big sister flustered – ”
“Now!” Talia snaps, and Peter raises his hands in surrender, leaving with the girls. She takes a deep breath once they’re gone. “Derek, I am sorry that I misjudged the situation, but you can stop acting like I killed your puppy. I may not approve one hundred percent of your choice, but, well, it is your choice. Your father has gone to talk to the boy, and he’ll get everything straightened out.”
Derek forces himself to take a few deep breaths of his own. At least he had gotten his apology, even if it had come with another reprimand that he’s pretty sure he doesn’t deserve. But he keeps the snarl between his teeth. “You hurt him.”
“I’ll apologize to him, too. Now will you please come into the kitchen and have dinner with the rest of the family? It was Cora’s first time at the festival and I’m sure she’d like to tell us about it.”
Derek’s jaw clenches tight, because he doesn’t understand how his mother thinks that her blithe offer to apologize to someone who won’t be coming back should suddenly make all of this okay and make him feel better. He marches past her towards the kitchen, determined to get through the meal by only talking to his younger sister.
~ ~ ~ ~
Despite the fact that what Stiles really wants to do is throw himself down on his bed and have a good, old-fashioned sulk, he goes into the kitchen and starts making dinner. It’s past five o’clock, and his father will be home soon after what was surely a long day. Stiles doesn’t kid himself into thinking he’s the best son in the world – or even a very good one – but he tries to stick to his strengths. Having dinner on the table when his father gets home is something he’s been good about ever since junior high.
Not that his father always approves of his meal choices, but that’s not Stiles’ problem. He sticks some pork chops and potatoes in the oven to bake, and then starts peeling and chopping carrots. It’s somewhat cathartic. It doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to picture the carrots as a certain someone’s certain body parts.
“Does it bother you that I have a penis?” he asks in a gruff tone that doesn’t actually sound anything like Derek. “Oh, no, I’m cool, but everyone else seems to have a motherfucking problem with it. I – arg. Why am I still thinking about this. Piece of shit.” He chops at the carrot more strenuously. “You had to pick me, out of all the teenaged boys in the – God damn it, I’m thinking about it again.”
His timing is good, as usual. His father is just coming through the front door and toeing off his boots when the pork chops come out of the oven. The potatoes will be about another ten minutes. Stiles listens as his father takes off his gun and puts it away in the lockbox. He wonders what, if anything, his father knows. He was at the damned school, surely somebody had thought to say something to him about how Derek Hale had picked his beanpole, babbling son for a mate, just to annoy his parents about the entire process. “Hey, Dad,” he says, as his father comes into the kitchen. He tests the waters gingerly. “How’d it go today?”
“More exciting than some years, since someone was actually picked from Beacon Hills High, and then there were fights about it for some reason, but no riots, so not as exciting as other years. All of it got taken care of before I had to step in.” He shakes his head and rubs an eyebrow. “I don’t get it.”
“Which part, exactly?” Stiles says, getting plates and silverware out of the drawers.
“I can understand being disappointed about not being chosen, I guess.” Clearly, he doesn’t think it’s the end of the world. “But why get up in arms about who does get chosen? And it happens almost every time. Once you aren’t chosen, what business of yours is it, who someone else marries?”
Stiles shifts uncomfortably from foot to foot, staring at the oven as if he could will the potatoes to cook faster. “Maybe they feel like it’s an insult. You know, they’ve done all this work, then Derek fucking Hale sweeps in and picks someone who’s the exact opposite of what everyone would expect.”
The sheriff just shrugs. “There really aren’t any requirements to putting your name on the list. They don’t have to compete with each other like sharks. Maybe this will be a lesson on why it doesn’t matter.” He sighs and takes a good look at his son. He’s used to the fidgeting, that’s the ADD, but it’s different this time, somehow. “Stiles, what’s wrong?”
Stiles sneaks another glance at his father. He really doesn’t know. Somehow, he made it all the way through the last hour or two of the day without anyone saying anything to him. They probably didn’t know what to say. That’s good. That’s excellent. He can just pretend none of it ever happened and his father will never have to know about what has definitely been the most humiliating experience of his life to date. Which explains why he suddenly blurts out, “He chose me, Dad. Derek Hale chose me.”
That startles him. Not because he thinks his kid isn’t worth it, because he is, absolutely. But it certainly wasn’t how he was expecting the day to have gone. “You weren’t on the list. How’d it happen?” He pauses and then asks the more important question. “Are you okay with it? Because I don’t see a werewolf in my kitchen.”
“It was a joke, Dad,” Stiles says, his cheeks burning with embarrassment. “He just wanted to piss off his family by picking the last person he would actually want as a mate.” He reaches into the oven and pulls out the potatoes, an angry, jerky motion. “And he did it right in front of everyone, Jesus, so I couldn’t even say no.”
“You want me to shoot him?” Stilinski asks, his tone completely serious. He doesn’t normally make jokes about shooting people, being a police officer, but then again this isn’t entirely a joke. Derek could survive being shot a few times.
Stiles manages a wan smile. “Is that any way to talk about your future son-in-law?”
“Absolutely.” He waits until Stiles’ hands are empty of hot food and the oven is closed, then hooks an arm around his shoulders. “You’re the one I'm worried about.”
“Ugh, Dad, I’m gonna break out into hives, what with you talking about feelings and shit.” Stiles plops down into his chair and shoves the carrots closer to his father’s plate. “Whatever. It’s not the first time I’ve been embarrassed at one of these things. That’s what I get for trying to show Scott support. Next year I’ll just avoid the damned thing altogether.”
“I show you love and you give me carrots?” He says the name of the vegetable like it’s a dirty word.
“Carrots are good for you,” Stiles says. He rubs a hand over his face and lifts a pork chop onto his plate. “Look, I just . . . I don’t want to talk about it. Okay? Can we do the not-talking thing now?”
“Yeah, we can. At least for now.”
So they eat while Sheriff Stilinski talks about some of the other people who were in and out that day, how Erica Reyes looks more like a movie star at every Searching Ceremony and some people were surprised because the Boyd family’s oldest son chose somebody and he’s only seventeen. Stiles stabs at his potato and tries not to think too hard about everything that’s happened. They’re just finishing up when the doorbell rings.
“I’ll go see who it is, you clean up,” Sheriff Stilinski says, rising from his chair.
“Anything to get out of doing the dishes, huh?” Stiles calls after him. He doesn’t hear the door open. “What, who is it?”
“It’s Aaron Hale.” Sheriff Stilinski’s voice is thin and tight. “You want me to – ”
“Fuck, no.” The rage that Stiles has been keeping pinned down boils over. “I’ll handle this.” He marches over and yanks the door open. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Aaron looks a little startled by this opener. “I wanted to apologize – ”
“Yeah, sure, okay,” Stiles says. “We’re all really sorry that your son played me for a fool and almost certainly guaranteed that my life this coming year is going to be miserable while everyone laughs at me.” He sees Aaron open his mouth and says, “No, you know what, you don’t get to talk. All of you assholes have been talking all day. It’s my turn. And just for the record? Some of us measly humans don’t appreciate the way you ‘wolves come down all high and mighty, like, you’re the superior breed so you can just get away with whatever you want. You’re all used to people kissing your asses and I’m fucking sick of it. Nobody dares give it to you straight, so here it is, since my life’s shot at this point anyway: this whole mating ritual thing? It blows. You guys just snap your fingers and say ‘I want him’ and think it’s totally okay to just commandeer a sixteen year old’s life like that, and everyone goes along with it because oh, you can run fast and jump high and shit. I’m five hundred percent done with you assholes. You can tell everyone in your whole damn pack that. And if you ever show up here again, I will have you arrested for trespassing, because you’re not welcome here, do you understand?”
There’s not much Aaron can say to that, so after a moment, he nods and says, “Yeah.”
“Okay. We’re done here.” Stiles slams the door in his face. “Damn, that felt good,” he says, sounding a little surprised. “Probably really stupid though, huh?”
“Well,” his father says, “that’ll depend on how vindictive they’re feeling. But I’m not going to stand there and tell you to roll over and let them use you. You’re better than that.”
“Yeah.” Stiles leans against the door, rubbing one hand over his face. “You know what the worst part is?” he asks, and his father gives him a questioning look. “For a minute . . . I really did think it was real.” He feels his eyes start to sting, and wipes them impatiently. He’s not going to cry over this asshole who made a fool out of him. “Jesus, I’m an idiot.”
His father moves closer to him and opened his arms, making a beckoning gesture with both hands. Stiles sighs and steps into his embrace, resting his head against his father’s shoulder. It makes him feel a little better, if only a little. A minute later, he pulls away, “So, in unrelated news, I’m dropping out of school.”
Sheriff Stilinski huffs a quiet laugh and hugs Stiles tight. “No, you’re not. But you can stay home tomorrow while we think about how to handle it.”
“Fine.” Stiles wrinkles his nose. “But you should definitely take me out for ice cream. I didn’t make anything for dessert.”
“That sounds fair,” his father agrees, “especially given the carrots I suffered through.”
~ ~ ~ ~