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Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire

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"Pity about your farm," Kate Argent said.

A year ago, and Derek still held everything about that moment in his head, tying himself to the real world whenever he felt like letting go and drifting off on a cloud of guilt and self-loathing. Kate's smirk, the way she held her shoulders to push her breasts out, the jut of her hip blocking his way, her fingers like claws around the crinkled pages of his contract – all held in crystal clarity in his mind. It was his anchor.

"Yo, Derek, two minutes," Greenberg said. Derek released the breath he'd been holding, mind focusing once again on the present, and nodded at Greenberg's retreating back in the makeup station’s mirror as the P.A. took off for Craft Services. Derek didn't know how he managed to eat on set; for a cooking show, they had the worst catering he'd ever tasted.

No one but the Argents ate the food Stiles prepared for the actual show. And Stiles, but under the table.

The soundstage was bustling as Derek stepped beneath the lights – Stiles cursing at a pot of too-thin sauce while Adrian Harris, their guest chef for today, paced the length of the counter, sniffing at the artfully arranged dishes. Harris' toadies followed at his heels.

"Your chorizo is unrecognizable," Harris proclaimed.

If that was his only complaint, they were doing well. It took Derek a moment, as it always did, to stifle his gag reflex as his nose was fully assaulted by the scents of six different kinds of cooked meat.

"They're scrambled in with the eggs and peppers," Stiles said, stirring his sauce. It looked a little better to Derek's trained eye. "Do you need me to explain the concept of a scramble?"

Harris stiffened. "Insolent ass—"

"Harris, you're not on until the second half of the episode. Why don't you take a seat in the Chef's Corner?" Derek interrupted him, crossing his arms over his chest and nodding to the side.

The 'Chef's Corner' being two rows of chairs off the stage, to the left of the studio audience. Kate usually sat there during filming until it was her cue to join Derek onstage. Derek tended to avoid that area, and the audience, too, really. Laura said the blogosphere had dubbed him 'Tall, Dark, Mysterious & Sinfully Delicious.' Whatever, Stiles was the only person who sat in the studio audience whose opinion counted. In a professional sense.

"You should have a care with your choice of sous chef, Hale," Harris said, turning smoothly and leading his minions with him to the audience.

"Sous chef! I'll sous chef him. Make him a damn knuckle sandwich and serve it with his liver and ff-ff-ffava beans," Stiles muttered under his breath. It was just audible to Derek's sensitive ears. Derek smiled to himself and took a step towards Stiles at the stovetop. "Fabio better not be coming over here to fuck up my sauce," Stiles continued, voice inaudible to all but a werewolf.

Derek changed course and continued to his stool at the counter, inwardly seething. He didn't know why he bothered to try with Stiles. It wasn't his fault the Argents wanted a different chef for the face of the show. Stiles was welcome to the damn thing.

"All right, places," Chris said, stepping onto the soundstage. "Leave that, Stiles. If it's not perfect yet, it's not going to be."

Derek ignored them both, and focused instead on the teleprompter. He liked to get the opening patter fixed in his head before Chris yelled, "Action!" His delivery was stilted at best, but according to the bloggers, that was part of his charm.

Chris took Stiles by the arm and led him offstage, the canned intro music started up, the audience clapped and stomped their feet, and then Derek was welcoming viewers to Dinner with Derek, today's menu featuring breakfast for dinner.

Derek stumbled through an explanation for how sausage was made and poked at the various dishes. Stiles sat in the audience, glowering, no doubt pissed with how unenthused Derek sounded. Kate entered the studio during a commercial break and Derek’s nose twitched. Her strong perfume cut through the maple and grease. She joined him onstage with Harris, sitting at the table and keeping up a stream of chatter while Harris made the guest dish – French toast bacon sandwiches. Originally, Derek was supposed to sit at the table with her, but the only argument he’d ever won regarding the show had him standing off to the side of Harris, commenting on the preparation. He was willing to bet he'd won that because Chris, for generally being extremely perceptive, had a blind spot for his sister. He thought Derek had been hired because Kate wanted to sleep with him, an action he'd like to prevent, not because she already had.

"And that's all the time we have for today, you lovely people," Kate said, wrapping up the show with the last word, per usual. "I'm Producer Kate Argent, and this has been Dinner with Derek. Join me in thanking Derek for sharing his delicious meat with us."

Derek looked stonily out at the audience as they blushed and laughed, clapping loudly. He was off the stage the second Chris called, "Cut!"

Not fast enough for Kate.

"Easy, tiger," she said, looping her arm through his. "Your pants on fire?"

She only said it to get a rise out of him. It just made him angrier that it worked.

"What the hell do you want, Kate?"

"Tut, tut, is that any way to speak to your producer? Come with me; I have to talk to you about tomorrow's show."

Tomorrow's show was on roasting chicken, a slightly better smell than fried sausages, but it probably required more hands-on stuff. Derek sighed and let himself be pulled down the hall to Kate's office. The offices in the studio weren't as well-appointed as the ones at corporate headquarters, where Victoria ruled over Argent Frozen Foods with an iron fist. She'd even convinced her father-in-law to retire and make her CEO which, unfortunately for Derek, gave Gerard more time to hang around Chris and Kate's studio.

"Now," Kate said, releasing her hold on him and giving him a practiced coy smile, "it's been awhile since you've handled breasts. You still have what it takes?"

"Kate—"

"Or are you a dark meat man? Thighs?"

She grabbed his hand and tried to put it on her thigh. Derek clenched his muscles, holding his arm to his side and desperately trying not to unleash his claws and rip out her throat.

"Okay, awkward!" Stiles exclaimed, walking into the office and trying to walk out at the same time. He promptly bumped into Chris Argent in the doorway, and only Derek's enhanced reflexes let him catch the pair of kitchen shears Stiles was brandishing in his right hand and prevent a stabbing.

"What's going on here?" Chris asked, looking at Kate.

"Spatchcock!" Stiles blurted out.

"Excuse me?" Derek asked. His cock had had nothing to do with that scene. His cock wanted to stay as far away from Kate Argent as it could possibly get; it was just his stupid legal contract that made him stay.

"Derek needs to spatchcock a chicken tomorrow, you're absolutely right, Stiles," Kate said and leaned across Derek to pinch Stiles' cheek. "Good boy."

The look on Stiles' face would have been hilarious if Derek wasn't so pissed off himself.

"What the hell is spatchcocking?" Derek asked.

"Cutting out its spine," the other three said in unison. Stiles and Chris side-eyed each other, but Kate continued. "You know what that's like, Derek, don't you?"

Derek stiffened his own spine, turned on his heel and walked away.

"Wait!" Stiles called after him. Derek could hear Kate and Chris whispering in her office, about Derek of course, and he walked faster. Without running. Stiles sprinted after him.

"Hey! I was talking to you! Derek! Jerkface!"

Derek spun and caught him before he tripped over one of the cables Greenberg was supposed to tape down, and rammed those damn shears into his gut.

"Really, 'Jerkface' does it?" Stiles muttered to himself. Derek tightened his hands around Stiles' waist for a moment, then released him.

"I don't need help using kitchen shears."

"Maybe not, but I've seen you around meat, man. You can't just attack the chicken all willy-nilly."

"I've never done anything willy-nilly," Derek mocked him.

"You never do anything at all," Stiles retorted. "I'm the cooking genius here, and my spatchcocked chicken is going to look ah-mazing. I don't want you embarrassing me with your demonstration of my stellar technique."

Derek counted to ten in his head. He only made it to four.

"Well if I do nothing, better live up to my reputation," he said, and took off down the hall.

"Nothing but sleep with the producer," Stiles muttered under his breath.

Derek was too far away for human ears to hear, but that didn't stop him. Stiles yelped and dropped the shears when Derek lifted him up with one hand, and shoved him against the wall.

"I don't sleep with her, and I didn't sleep with her to get this job. So stop fucking blaming me."

Stiles' eyes were huge as he nodded frantically. "Sorry, you're right; that was an asshole thing to say. I'm an asshole – I'm trying to work on it – but to be fair, you're kind of an asshole, too."

Derek grunted and set him carefully on his feet, then ran his hand over Stiles' chest, flicking off imaginary dirt as he mentally berated himself. What the hell had he been thinking, demonstrating not only advanced hearing but superior strength? Because he had to have noticed – Stiles weighed quite a bit more than he'd been expecting. All those long, lean muscles added up. Derek snatched his hand away. Stiles was still staring at him, bug-eyed, his mouth working soundlessly, but any second now—

"We're cool, right?" Stiles asked. Derek blinked. "I mean, you could challenge me to arm wrestle for your honor, which frankly, I think you'd win—"

"We're cool," Derek said quickly. "Sorry for the, um, manhandling. I'll see you tomorrow, Stiles."

He practically fled the building and didn't breathe easily until he was in the Camaro, ten miles out of town, with the windows down and the wind rustling through his hair. He slowly loosened his grip on the steering wheel as he traveled through the countryside until he was turning onto the dirt road that led to Hale Hill Farm.

PF came running out of the barn, bleating and tripping over his little kid feet, as Derek parked in front of the house. Derek hefted him up easily in his arms and scratched beneath his chin. The goat baah-ed and chewed on his jacket.

"I think I'm going into sugar shock just looking at you."

Derek didn't even glance towards the porch. "Then close your eyes, Erica."

She chuckled and sauntered down the three steps to the ground. PF paused in his chewing and bleated at her.

"No need to talk back, kid," she said, holding up her hands. "It's not my fault Laura asked to see your dad the minute he got home."

Derek reluctantly put the goat down and patted his head. "Go on, PF, I'll see you later."

Erica shooed PF in front of her, passing through the barn and out to the pasture with all the other goats. Derek flicked off a random goat hair before jumping up the porch steps and going into the house.

Laura would be in her makeshift office in the back. The house was roughly modeled after their childhood home, a sprawling monstrosity housing the entire Hale Pack, but known in the county as the hippie commune. Hale Hill Farm was not even a tenth the size of that operation, but then, there were just the two of them remaining, so why should it be?

"Derek," Laura called from down the hall. "I really think we could push back on the sexual harassment issue."

Derek sighed and stepped into her office. Laura looked up at him from her laptop. Today's episode was paused on a shot of Derek all stony-faced and Kate all… wicked and lecherous. Derek was biased.

"We're not pushing back on anything until we own this farm," Derek argued back by rote.

"This isn't right and you shouldn't have to put up with it!" Laura said vehemently. Also by rote. They'd had this argument so many times, he could say Laura's parts for her.

"I made this bed and now I have to lie in it," he said firmly. "It's only for one more year."

"That's one year too long," Laura muttered. "Look, Derek," she tried again. "I've gone over this contract with a fine-toothed comb. There is nothing that gives Kate permission to treat you like this. You're doing whatever show they want you to do, and getting paid pretty much a flat rate no matter how much the show brings in. Have you ever considered sabotaging it?"

He swallowed. "All I have left is my name," he said, his voice small. He would do it for her, though. If Laura asked, he would make Dinner with Derek practically toxic, destroying his reputation. Maybe it would be for the best – Laura could get some measure of revenge and maybe the Argents wouldn't have any other option but to let Stiles in front of the camera.

"No, I'm sorry." Laura shook her head. "I'm sorry I suggested it." She closed the lid of her laptop. "The Boyds are coming for dinner; I should get something started."

"Erica's already here."

"Then she can help me." She no longer asked him to help her in the kitchen. Or volunteered to help him, to be more accurate. Laura was a fairly lousy cook on her own, but she could chop vegetables. Derek had been the head cook for the pack from the time he was sixteen right up until the day of the fire over a year ago. Everything he cooked they made right there on the farm. Now Laura did the cooking. "Are you going to go commune with the goats?"

"Yeah, I need to look something up on my computer."

"That kid again?" she asked. He kept his face smooth, not that it mattered to Laura; she could already hear the uptick in his heart rate. "All right." She didn't press it for once, just pushed herself up from her chair and grabbed her cane. She leaned up to kiss his cheek before shuffling by him.

Derek watched her go, the familiar pain of helplessness a lead rock in his gut. An Alpha werewolf should not have a limp, but her leg had never fully healed from the fire, for some reason they couldn’t figure out. Electrical fires were tricky, hence why they'd always been so careful with the machinery of the farm. At least until they put Derek in charge of the generator and it killed them all. Laura was sure it was faulty machinery, but Derek knew better. It had to have been his fault. It was his responsibility and when he went back to sniff around the scene, he'd smelled no outsiders. It had to have been his negligence. Laura was the only one he'd been able to save, and even that he'd messed up.

He grabbed his laptop from his bedroom and went out to the barn. He could hear Erica in the kitchen with Laura now, so at least dinner would be edible. In the barn, the dairy cows, Rosalie and Jasper, eyed him suspiciously until he moved through to the pasture. He'd never seen such stand-offish cows before. Maybe they were mad that Laura had given Jasper a boy's name.

PF came clattering over when he stepped out into the pasture and pranced around his feet until he settled on the ground between the roots of his favorite tree. PF curled against his hip and promptly fell asleep. The other goats ignored him, chewing their cuds and occasionally letting out a bleat. Jacob, their old stud goat, continued in his endless climbing of the goat obstacle course Derek and Erica made them last season.

Derek sighed, scratched his fingers through the hair on the top of PF's head, and went to his bookmarked pages for Sizzlin' Stilinski's Cooking Tutorials. Ah, so that was spatchcocking. It was fairly gross, but looked straightforward enough. The Stiles on YouTube dropped the chicken, washed it off, and said no one would ever know. Derek smiled. Whoever was filming laughed, the camera jiggling along, and then the picture went out for a second. When it came back, Stiles was at a table in what looked like a dorm common area with his guests, a tall curly-haired boy, a short red-haired girl, and a dark-haired girl with massive dimples. There was an empty spot, for the cinematographer, Derek supposed. He watched Stiles carefully carve up the flattened chicken. The camera lingered on the girl with dimples until Stiles squawked and it focused back on what Stiles was doing. The skin of the chicken was extra crispy from the high heat. Derek had seen enough. He paused the video. It stopped on a close up of Stiles' face, mouth open in a loud laugh.

Derek shut the lid and leaned back against the tree.

Stiles was a good cook, at least technique-wise. Derek had never eaten his cooking. The smell of burning flesh turned his stomach since the fire, a fact Kate was well aware of when she built a show around his face.

Derek met Kate during his first year of graduate work at Cornell, in the Department of Food Science. She'd been finishing up in their School of Hotel Administration. It was a match made in heaven, he thought. He'd always been quiet and shy, and Kate was open and gregarious, a California blonde just like he'd seen on TV. They were complements. He told her everything, all his secrets laid out to share with another person for the first time – about growing up on a commune in Vermont, about his dreams to open his own vegetarian restaurant, and, after long conversations with his mother, even about being a werewolf. He brought her home to meet his family, his heart in his throat. She'd had to leave early due to a family emergency back in California, and after dropping her off at the airport, he'd gone to check in on the restaurant he worked at every summer break. His family burned to death while he was grilling burgers for customers.

Kate was incredibly understanding, helping him move with Laura to the west coast, as far away from their awful memories as they could go. He gave up his grad school plans and started working for the Argent food empire at a large restaurant in Beacon Hills, Kate's hometown. He didn't last long there, the smell driving him crazy. Then Kate had floated her idea of making him a TV cooking show star. That didn't interest him, but it made Kate happy, and the new mortgage and Laura's physical therapy bills were piling up. He didn't even read the contract before signing, trusting Kate to make it good.

He was such a blind fool.

The sound of approaching footsteps jerked him out of his reverie. He stood up, tucking the computer under his arm and nudging PF awake with his boot.

"Uncle Derek! Uncle Derek!" Erica and Boyd's small son called, waving frantically as he raced his dad down the last stretch of the dirt road into the farm's front yard. "Hi! Hi! We brought spinach! It makes you strong!"

"Is that so?" Derek asked, grinning broadly. The cows gave him disapproving looks when he ran through the barn, PF at his heels, to scoop up V the Destroyer in a one-armed hug. The little boy crowed in delight and threw his arms around Derek's neck, peppering his face with tiny sloppy kisses. He'd been into the Jelly Bellies recently.

"Whew, Sprout, you are one fast runner!" Boyd exclaimed, joining them with a large basket piled with produce from his and Erica's vegetable farm.

"I am?" Sprout asked. Vernon Milton Boyd V had ridiculously long lashes and was the most beautiful child Derek had ever seen, so of course the poor thing had been saddled with an equally ridiculous nickname. In all the time they'd farmed next to each other, Derek hadn't heard anyone call the boy anything other than Sprout. Derek was rescuing him by calling him V the Destroyer.

"You beat your dad," Derek said solemnly. "I bet you could beat me."

"Put me down; we have to race!!"

Sprout handily won, despite falling on his ass. Derek helped him wash up while Boyd continued in to the kitchen. Their downstairs bathroom had a special stool Derek made for Sprout, and his own Incredible Hulk toothbrush in the toothbrush holder for when Erica and Boyd took their produce on the road and Sprout stayed with Derek and Laura.

The nights the Boyds joined them for dinner were the best nights, Derek thought. Laura moved more easily and laughed out loud, and Sprout clambered into Derek's lap and set up camp. Erica and Boyd were the first and only friends Derek had ever made outside of the Hale Pack. Laura had had a few from when she went to college, but they were all back East, and her transition to Alpha had… not been smooth. Derek wasn't sure if any of those friends were still friends.

Erica and Boyd were different, though. If they hadn't been, Laura never would have offered when Sprout was diagnosed with leukemia. Now she had high hopes that the older Boyds would choose the bite for themselves, too, but even if they never did, they had already become Pack.

Erica helped Derek round up the goats and get them settled in the barn with the cows for the night after dinner, leaving Boyd to do the clean-up and Laura to entertain Sprout. PF trotted after them, bleating at the other goats to get in their places. Alice, Esme, and Charlie went easily enough, Jacob following behind a little wobbly from all his running in circles, but Bella and Edwina had to be chased down and shooed into the barn. Erica thought their names were a riot. Laura had named the first two goats Bella and Edwina. It made her eyes crinkle in amusement. She could've named them Ass and Cock and it wouldn't have bothered Derek, anything to make her a little happy again. Laura built up the farm, adding and naming more goats, while Derek worked for the Argents. It didn't matter if he didn't like the work; what mattered was Laura and Kate. It wasn't until Kate informed him in no uncertain terms that she'd never had any intention of marrying a filthy werewolf and as far as she was concerned, his purpose in life was to stand there and look pretty that the floor completely dropped out from under him. He sat in a stupor on the couch, missing weeks of work on his cooking show (it'd been Country Cooking then, inherited from some dead Argent). He didn't return until the day a lawyer showed up, waving Derek's contract and threatening foreclosure – or Dinner with Derek.

He'd work with Kate for his whole life in order to keep Hale Hill Farm, and the life that made Laura happy. And the goats. He was pretty damn attached to the goats. They'd put down roots here with their goats, made friends, and Laura was going to enter some of their goat cheeses in the Beacon County Fair this year, too. What was a little humiliation from Kate in exchange for all of that?

He almost changed his mind the next day.

The first person he saw upon arriving at the studio was Stiles – not an unusual occurrence, but this morning Stiles shied away from him. Derek kept his face carefully blank while his thoughts swirled. Should he apologize for how they'd left things yesterday? Or would that call even more attention to his other-ness? At least Stiles didn't come up with some flimsy excuse to avoid getting on the elevator with him. Derek slid his eyes to the left, surreptitiously checking Stiles out. In all the time they'd been working together, Derek had never seen Stiles wear a tie. It looked unnatural on him.

"That thing's tight enough to choke you," he said, breaking the silence. Diplomacy, Derek. He cleared his throat. "Want me to loosen it?"

Stiles jerked as if Derek had goosed him and dropped the folder he'd been clutching to his chest. Papers went everywhere.

"Oh my God," Stiles muttered under his breath. His phone fell out of his pocket when he bent down to pick them up. That was another thing – Stiles was wearing suit pants, the kind without deep pockets to ruin the line of the cut. He usually ran around set in cargo pants, pulling out half a kitchen from his pockets whenever needed.

Derek bent down and helped, accidentally bumping their heads together.

"Ouch!" Stiles exclaimed. "Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop helping me."

"Fine."

Derek retreated to his corner of the elevator and watched Stiles' ass bop in the air as he gathered papers and phone together. The fancy pants were definitely doing their job there. Stiles straightened, flushing, just as the bell rang for their floor. Derek got out first, throwing his arm up to solicitously hold the door open, but Stiles stayed put.

"Aren't you getting off?" Derek asked. If possible, Stiles turned even redder.

"I have a… thing… upstairs."

Upstairs? Gerard's office was on that floor, plus a bunch of faceless executives. What on earth was Stiles doing with them? The only thing Derek could think of was making a complaint against Derek himself. The blood drained from his face and the elevator door chimed insistently.

"You can really move your arm now," Stiles said, regaining a bit of aplomb in the face of Derek internally freaking out. Derek snatched his arm back and stalked down the hall to the set, snarling under his breath.

Once on set, he found out that their guest chef cancelled at the last minute, so Derek would be alone with Kate and her attempts at repartee. Wonderful. The Stiles-made finished product spatchcocked chicken was already cooked and waiting. The skin was just the right amount of crisped. Derek reached for the counter and closed his eyes, taking several deep breaths. He could do this. He willed away the mental images from the burning farm, the smell of his family—

He made it to the men's room before vomiting into a sink. There was someone else in there, but he couldn't smell anything except for burning flesh yet.

"Whoa, Derek!"

Water splashed in another sink, and then a damp paper towel was being thrust in his face. Derek took it reflexively and wiped at his face.

"Thanks," he mumbled, glancing up at Matt, their cameraman. Matt was an ingratiating little shit, always kissing Argent ass, and had figured out early on that Derek wasn't there by choice, and therefore paid him not a whit of attention. Except he didn't want Derek vomiting on camera, apparently.

"Yeah, man, no problem." Matt waved his hand, like it'd been hard to hand over a paper towel, but he was graciously declining his medal. "Have to learn your limits, you know? Lay off the body shots, am I right?"

Derek gave him a flat look. He could snap Matt in half without breaking a sweat. Matt took a hasty step back.

"Anyhow, you need some pills for that shit, see Greenberg. I don't do that sort of thing."

Derek ignored him, turning on the water in his sink to clean up the mess.

"Did you hear about Stilinski?" Matt asked, watching the swirl of water and… other things. Derek frowned.

"What about Stiles?" He would take it back if he could, as Matt's eyes lit up at his interest. That could come back to bite him in the ass later.

"He wants to fill in for the guest chef today! Got here an hour early to make a stupid presentation. Ha!" Matt gave him a conspiratorial wink. "As if the Argents are ever going to let him in front of a camera."

Derek's gut twisted. That was the reason for the tie, then. He knew Stiles wanted his own cooking show, but he didn't know the history there. If he could be subtle…

"Why?" Or just bluntly ask.

"Have you been living under a rock? Family drama, man! Stiles lives with the dude who's dating Allison Argent. He's lucky they even let him into the studio."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Derek asked. Matt rolled his eyes.

"They hate this dude, okay? He's the worst. The literal worst. And Allison broke off ties with her family to be with him. Fool for love," he continued bitterly. "She had other options."

Derek kept his snort to himself. He'd rather stick his hand in a blender and not heal than date Matt.

"Love is blind," he said finally, the pithy statement getting stuck in his throat. He fished for a breath mint from his pocket and popped it in his mouth. It was time to get the hell out of there.

"See you on set!" Matt called after him, the door swinging shut and cutting off his words, but Derek heard him anyway: "Asshole."

Stiles joined him ten minutes later. One look at his face was enough to tell Derek he hadn't been granted his wish to be on-camera. Stiles acted like a jerk sometimes, Derek would be the first to say so, but Derek was sure he really was a talented chef. Kate would never have hired him to do all the actual work if he wasn't. No matter what he thought of her, Derek knew that much at least was true. But should he say something to Stiles?

"I'm sorry it didn't work out," he tried while Stiles was futzing over the tomatoes on his platter, arranging them just so around the chicken. Stiles didn't look up.

"Condescension. Perfect."

Derek rolled his eyes. "I'm not being condescending!"

"Relax, I won't tell your secret."

Derek froze. Stiles had clearly not forgotten what happened yesterday, but what the hell conclusion had he drawn? Stile blinked, finally raising his head and meeting Derek's tense expression.

"I don't mean that one!" Stiles squeaked, glancing around. There was no one within hearing distance, Derek could have told him that if he wasn't quietly freaking out. Stiles took a step closer, lowering his voice. "That goes without saying. But I'm saying it, so you won't kill me."

"You have no idea what you're talking about," Derek said between gritted teeth. It was Stiles' turn to roll his eyes.

"Now you really are being a condescending ass! I was trying to be funny earlier, like the secret was that you're a jerk, and that's funny because everyone already knows it." He waited expectantly, but Derek just looked back at him, eyebrows drawn down in a scowl. Seriously, Stiles was the ass here and Derek had no idea why he even cared about the kid's poor feelings, or the way his dress shirt pulled at his unexpectedly broad shoulders. Which had nothing to do with anything. "Of course, nothing's funny if you have to explain it…"

"Shut up," Derek told him.

"Or what, you'll eat me?" Stiles' eyes widened at his own poor word choice. "I meant that literally. Or… fuck. Let's back up to the beginning of the conversation. What were you saying?"

Derek shook his head. He had been commiserating, or attempting to. Fat chance he'd do it again.

"I remember," Stiles continued. "You were apologizing for the Argents."

"I would never apologize on behalf of the Argents," Derek said with a snarl.

"Okay, I'm starting to get that, my bad. You were… trying to make me feel better." Derek nodded reluctantly. "No offense, dude, but you suck at it. You'd do a better job just standing there looking pretty."

Derek sucked in his breath. So it was like that. Great. "You can forget I fucking said anything."

He turned on his heel to stalk away, but Kate and Chris were entering the studio, and they had Gerard with them.

"Derek!" Gerard said in his fake jovial Santa voice. It made the hairs on the back of Derek's neck stand up. "We're going to do some promo shots and ads for Picnic Week after today's episode. That won't be a problem, will it."

Kate watched him expectantly, a typically predatory gleam in her eye, but she looked even more self-satisfied than usual and Chris looked uncomfortable. The combination did not bode well for Derek.

"Of course not," Derek said grudgingly. Picnic Week. They were probably going to have him splayed out on a picnic blanket while wearing a polo shirt and white shorts. Fuck.

"That's the spirit," Gerard said. "Now where's your makeup station?" he asked Kate, effectively turning to block Derek from the rest of the conversation. Derek rolled his eyes. Chris saw, his own eyes narrowing in dislike.

"I'll take you, Daddy," Kate said sweetly. "We need to get you gussied up for your guest spot."

She linked arms with her father and led him away. Derek rounded on Chris.

"Your father? He's the 'Guest Chef' today? What the hell is he going to make, PB&J?"

"It's not your place to question the decisions of management," Chris said irritably, as if by rote.

"They're stupid fucking decisions," Derek said bluntly. Chris squared his shoulders and took a step closer to him. Derek's lip curled. Kate ripped his heart out still beating and Gerard controlled his financial life support, which left Chris as the only available Argent punching bag.

"And what are you going to do about it, Hale?" Chris asked softly. "Roll over and show your belly to my sister? Get her to scratch you behind the ears?"

Derek went still. A rushing noise filled his head. The most ironclad rule in his contract was the werewolf secrecy rule. There were to be no references made to werewolves, no jokes about the possibility of werewolves, no displays of werewolf behavior, and most of all, no telling anyone else what Derek was. (Laura laughed bitterly when she saw that one, and Derek flinched.) Chris had never gone against it before, but Derek should've known the temptation would be too strong.

"Fuck off, Argent," he snarled. God, his mother would've been appalled at his language. He'd said the f-word ten times more since coming to work for Kate than he had the entire time his mom'd been alive.

"How articulate," Chris murmured.

"Uh, guys?" Stiles interrupted them. They both turned to face him.

"What?" they snapped in unison.

"I couldn't help but overhear that Gerard is doing the guest chef spot," Stiles said, hands on his hips – to keep from strangling Chris, Derek hoped. "You all realize we have nothing prepped for him, right? You know, since chefs usually come here with their own recipes and stuff."

"My father knows his way around a kitchen," Chris said dismissively. "He was a pastry chef for many years – published several cookbooks."

"Pastry," Stiles said flatly. Chris ignored him.

"And as to what he'll make – he'll just make what you were planning to make. When you made your pitch to us this morning. Bacon-wrapped scallops with a maple glaze, wasn't it?"

Stiles sucked in his breath.

"If you think for one moment that I'm going to let that old—"

"There's a fully stocked fridge right here on set," Derek interrupted him before Stiles could talk himself out of a job. Idiot. "Why don't we just open it up and let him make something? Like a 'create something from what you already have' type of thing?"

They both stared at him and he shuffled his feet. He could have ideas! Sometimes they were even good ones. And Stiles should really not be staring daggers at him right now, either. Chris was not the kind to have any compunctions about firing an annoying employee his sister did not have a hold over.

"Fine." Chris nodded. "But if anyone asks, it was Stilinski's idea."

So he wasn't immune to the politics of this place either, despite his last name. Chris gave them one last stern look and walked off in the direction his father and sister had gone.

"What just happened?" Stiles asked wonderingly.

"I saved your ass," Derek grunted.

"What? How'd you do that?"

"Has it really escaped your attention that the Argents don't give a shit about you?"

Stiles scowled at him, then looked away. "Became abundantly clear this morning," he muttered.

"And yet you didn't quit, so you must want this job pretty bad."

Stiles frowned at him, his hand coming up to absently tap at his jaw. Did he really have no idea what he looked like, doing that? Or was it a deliberate ploy?

"I do," Stiles confirmed. "But what about you?"

"That's none of your damn business." Derek pushed past him, moving over to the counter. They'd start filming in just a few minutes and he needed to memorize his patter. The audience was filing in, chattering loudly. Stiles side-eyed them and placed a cautious hand on Derek's arm.

"I meant, why do you want me to keep my job so badly?"

Derek shrugged him off. "You said it yesterday: I don't do anything around here." His lip curled into a sneer. "I just look pretty. Need you to do the work."

"I didn't mean it as a dig, you know." Stiles chewed his lower lip. "And you're still an asshole, but I don't think it's that. They'd just find another angle for the show if they got rid of me."

"What do you want me to say?" Derek asked quietly, splitting his attention between the teleprompter and Stiles.

"I don't know," Stiles said with a frown. He shook himself suddenly, like a dog coming out of the water, when the three Argents came back into the studio. "That's my cue to make like a tree and get out of here. Don't fuck up the spatchcocking."

And with that, Stiles exited stage right.

***

The show was pretty terrible until Gerard joined Derek and Kate on stage for the second half. Derek completely mangled his opening monologue, and the audience laughed each time he said the word "spatchcock." He did not fuck up the actual spatchcocking, at least until he picked the raw chicken up to place it in the pan and it fell with a sickening splat onto the floor. That could have been salvaged, but then Kate stepped onto the sticky juices the chicken left behind, slipped, and fell on her ass. The audience tittered, and Derek automatically held out his hand to help her up, stiffening the second before she placed her hand in his, remembering the last time he'd willingly touched her. Kate cooed in the direction of the audience even as her nails dug into his wrist.

"My hero," she purred, batting her lashes. Derek had to force down a fresh wave of nausea. Which only grew worse when she got to her feet and reached out to pinch his ass. "I'm sorry," she pouted, playing it up for the audience, "but it's just so hard to resist when it's right there. Am I right, ladies?"

The audience cackled and hooted. Derek wanted a sinkhole to appear at his feet and swallow him up. He wrenched himself away from Kate and faced the camera, snarling that they were stopping for a commercial break. Chris immediately approached him, berating him for stopping the action early. Derek let the words cascade over his head, looking beyond Chris – Matt was watching the playback on his camera and smirking, Greenberg was doublefisting a couple of sandwiches from Craft Services, Gerard joined Kate and the two of them put their heads together, and Stiles was… staring at him, a stricken look on his face. He turned bright red when he felt Derek's eyes on him and tripped over a prop tray, just barely catching it before it fell.

"… and the cue is right there on the damn teleprompter! Are you even paying attention to me, Hale?"

Derek looked back at Chris.

"You're in charge, and I'm less than human, so I should keep my damn mouth shut. That the gist?"

Chris's jaw worked. Derek wished, not for the first time, that he could smell actual emotions or at least interpret them with some accuracy. Chris's heart rate was elevated, he was sweating beneath his cologne and at some point recently he'd walked into something and got a bruise – Derek could smell the pool of broken blood vessels under the thin layer of his skin on his upper left arm. Chris was agitated, but was it just about Derek calling break early, or taking his cue from their earlier conversation and making his own werewolf reference?

"Keep them in your pants, gentlemen, this is a family show," Kate said, joining them sans Gerard, who'd snagged Stiles by the ear and pulled him over to the set fridge. Derek fought the irrational urge to go over to them and shove Gerard back. Stiles deftly twisted out of Gerard's grip and pointed out several things in the fridge.

"You need to take your own advice, Kate!" Chris seethed at her. "For God's sake, stop feeling him up on camera!"

Derek jerked his head back to stare at him in surprise.

"The housewives of America appreciate a good grope fest," Kate retorted. "I'm giving them what they want."

"I think 'the housewives of America,'" Chris said, using the most sarcastic air quotes Derek had ever seen, "prefer it when the gropees look like they want to be groped."

"Then there you go." Kate patted Derek on the shoulder. He took a step back, hackles rising. "Derek, act like you want to be groped. You used to like that."

The thing about Kate was that her heart rate seldom ever changed. When she used to tell him she loved him, when she picked the newly-orphaned Derek and Laura up from the airport in California, when she suggested the show, when she told him she would never ever marry him – always the same steady thump. He'd thought it soothing until she dumped him with all the emotion she'd use to order dinner. The only time it changed was when he told her about werewolves and nowadays, when she cut loose with an especially sharp barb. She enjoyed those little zings.

"Come along, kids, let's get this show on the road!" Gerard called over from the stage.

Stiles snagged at his sleeve as Derek passed him, changing places on the set. "Courage, man," he whispered, and pressed his long fingers briefly against the softer skin of Derek's inner forearm.

Derek kept that ghost of a touch in the back of his mind through the rest of the show, grounding him and creating a kind of buffer between himself and the two Argents on stage with him. It went much smoother than the first half. Gerard played up his kindly grandpa angle and told cutesy anecdotes of Chris and Kate playing in the kitchen when they were kids – Derek would have been charmed, if he hadn't known the Argents. The dish Gerard cobbled together from the contents of the fridge was, he said, very similar to what he'd make his kids if he was going out for the evening and leaving them to fend for themselves. He called it Daddy Stew, and the audience awwww-ed while he cut up sausage and Kate pretended to blush.

Finally Chris called for a wrap and the audience filed out, laughing and talking excitedly. Several shot Derek hopeful looks, but he busied himself with cleaning up the kitchen set. Gerard made a beeline for Matt, to watch the playback, dragging Kate with him. All three Argents were crowded around the camera now, and Derek heard Stiles sidle up beside him at the counter.

"They're really monsters, aren't they?" Stiles asked softly.

Derek grunted. Stiles took it as agreement.

"I mean, I knew they were, but I still thought… I don't know, it's stupid." Stiles scraped at a nonexistent smudge on the counter with one long finger.

"You thought you were talented enough they'd give you a shot regardless?" Derek suggested.

"Mmm, you think I'm arrogant and naïve, awesome."

"Shut up. You know that's not what I meant." Derek turned on the faucet to rinse out his sponge. The running water should cover the sound of their voices. "But now that you know for sure, what are you going to do about it?"

Stiles tapped absently on the counter. Derek wished he wouldn't; those long fingers were incredibly distracting.

"Why do you stay?" Stiles asked, instead of answering the question. "Do you even like to cook?"

Derek shut off the water and squeezed out the sponge. He could feel Stiles' eyes on his hand before they jerked up to look him in the eye. It was… nice.

"It used to be my favorite thing in the world to do," Derek admitted. "I lost heart."

Stiles' lips parted as he started to ask another question. Derek found himself unconsciously leaning forward, drawn in by the glistening lower lip, when—

"Hale!" Gerard called. "Come with me."

"It's time for the picnic promos," Kate added, narrowing her eyes at Stiles. Derek stepped between them, keeping his movements loose and casual.

"Where is it?" he asked.

"Studio B," Chris informed him. "I'll see you later, Father," Chris addressed Gerard. Derek was sure the man's eyes lingered on him as he left, in something close to regret, but that couldn't be right. It still nearly brought a shiver – if Chris was regretting something, this did not bode well for the promo session.

He was right to worry. Monica from Makeup, a woman whose advances Derek had rebuffed more times than he could count, joined them, along with a couple of Matt's groupies to adjust the lighting. Danny usually did the lighting and was the main reason Dinner with Derek looked as professional as it did, but Danny was nowhere to be seen. Looking around the room, Derek couldn't spot a single ally – except for Stiles, if he counted as that, who Kate had strong-armed into helping hold the cue cards off camera. So no script or teleprompter. This was just getting worse and worse.

And then Gerard told him to take off his clothes.

Kate smirked over her father's shoulder at him.

"Kate tells me that our market research has shown our audience wants to see more skin. So we'll make it racy!" Gerard clenched his hand into a fist for greater emphasis. "Only we're calling it zesty. Picnic Week this year is full of zest. Strip to your skivvies, we'll drape the picnic blanket just so and that should do it. Right, Kate?"

"Sounds perfect to me," Kate murmured.

Derek fumbled with the buttons of his shirt. He was not ashamed of his body. Kate thought she was winning here, using public humiliation, but he was not humiliated. Sex sold. Open any magazine in America, or just about anywhere else, and you could see the truth of that. Watch any commercial. And the more people who tuned into Dinner with Derek, the better their ad sales, the greater the chances Kate wouldn't move him to something truly awful – like the show on circus foods hosted by a clown – and the faster Derek could pay off the farm and never see another Argent again for as long as he lived.

The air smelled heavy with arousal by the time he was down to his boxer briefs. A muscle fluttered in Derek's jaw. A small part of him wanted to gauge Stiles' reaction, but at the same time, he didn't dare look at him, and with all the people in the room having the same reaction to Derek, he couldn't pick out Stiles' individual smell. Monica simpered as she stepped forward to touch up his makeup and brush over his body. Her lips pursed at his chest hair, but he was hardly going to shave to make her job easier for one photo shoot and a couple of ads. He stretched out on the blanket and twitched a corner up to cover his underwear.

"It needs something, wouldn't you say, Stiles?" Kate asked. Derek finally looked at him. Stiles' eyes were fixed on the far wall.

"Oh, I don't know – maybe food?" Stiles said, bright spots of color in his cheeks. "Seeing as how this is a cooking show?"

"Flowers, you're absolutely right." Kate elbowed him hard in the side. "Come on, look at him. Don't you think Derek would look so much better with a bunch of flowers? Maybe one stem in his mouth, like he's just waiting for you to join him. You meaning the customers, of course, not you."

"Leave him alone, Kate," Derek grumbled from the floor, and then Stiles really did look at him. Derek's stomach clenched. Stiles didn't look turned on. He looked pissed.

"Whatever," Kate said, stepping back and gesturing Matt forward. "Earn your keep, Daehler! Let's get some footage!"

He did wind up posing with the flowers for the print ads. He had his spiel for the TV promos memorized after the second run-through, but Stiles seemed fairly desperate to keep the large boards in front of his body, so he didn't say anything. It was a pretty miserable shoot, with Gerard keeping up a flow of suggestions to make things zestier throughout, until by the end Stiles looked downright murderous and even Monica from makeup was giving Gerard the stinkeye.

Derek draped the picnic blanket around himself like a toga when Matt eventually called cut for the final time. Stiles barked out a surprised laugh, the tension loosening a bit in his shoulders, and Derek allowed himself to hope that Stiles' anger wasn't directed at him.

"Now you just need a laurel crown," Stiles said, nodding at Derek's bare head. Derek glanced over his shoulder. Kate and her father were huddled around Matt for the moment.

"You don't have to… you know." Derek shrugged his shoulders in their direction.

"I think that needs more words," Stiles said, shifting on his feet.

"I signed up for this," Derek tried, even though he hadn't, not really. "You don't want Kate as your enemy."

"What, so I'm not allowed to be mad when she treats you like a plate of tasty sausages?"

Derek raised an eyebrow. "Sausages?"

Stiles blushed. "Substitute what you will there."

"I will. Look, Stiles, I appreciate your concern, but this is a TV show, and as much of a prick as Gerard Argent is, he was right – skin sells. I would have to do this for any show on any network. At least I didn't have to douse myself in flour."

Derek was pretty proud of that little speech, and considered the matter closed, but Stiles had to get in the last word, as usual.

"It's not the poses or costumes, dude." Stiles bit his lip. "Hey, have we become friends today? That's what it feels like to me, with this camaraderie thing we have going on." He gestured between them, his long fingers splayed out. "And I know I've been a dick to you sometimes in the past – you've been a dick, too! But Kate – it's her attitude, man. She shouldn't treat you like that."

"Hey, Julius Caesar!" Kate called over from the camera, while Derek was still trying to keep his emotions in check. Had he just made friends? With Stiles, his rival/ally/occasional object of distraction/desire? "Put your clothes back on. Stilinski's free show is over."

"Enough, Kate," Derek snarled, a bit of the wolf seeping into his voice.

The room went incredibly quiet.

"Watch your tone with my daughter," Gerard said softly, and smiled – cold and deadly, like a snake getting ready to strike.

"She should watch her tone with him," Stiles muttered under his breath. Derek winced. It wasn't nearly low enough. Gerard went apoplectic.

The roars were still echoing in Derek's ears – "Ungrateful lout!" "Talent-less hack!" "Impudent child!" – as he dragged Stiles down the hall to the employee lounge. Stiles looked shell-shocked.

"I can't believe I got fired," he mumbled. "Survive all that time, only to wind up on the chopping block because of my big mouth."

"It was my fault, too," Derek grunted, finally pausing to pull on his clothes. Stiles stared at him.

"Au contraire, mon frère," he said after a moment. "You tried to save me my job several times. I'm the idiot who disregarded all warning signs." He squeezed his eyes shut and banged his head against the wall. "I can't believe I did that!"

"Stiles!" Derek grabbed him by the neck to prevent yet another blow. "Get a damn grip!" Stiles blinked at him. "Okay," Derek continued, "is there anything here you want to take with you?"

"I always wanted that knife set," Stiles said wistfully.

"Anything here that you own?"

"No, I… I didn't trust them with my stuff. For damn good reasons, it turns out!"

"Focus. Do you need a ride home?"

Stiles drove a hunk-a-junk Jeep, Derek knew, but he didn't recall seeing it in the lot when he got in this morning.

"Um, well, here's the thing! It's a pretty funny story…"

Derek sighed. "I can drive you. Do you have someone there that can keep you from falling into a bottle?"

"Yes!" Stiles nodded. "But, you know, not right now."

Derek weighed his words very carefully as Stiles looked at him and he looked at Stiles. Oh, fuck it.

"Do you like goats?"

***

"...and then, when we were thirteen, we took Scott's little cousin to this petting zoo, and a goat ate her hat," Stiles said, his forehead pressed to the passenger side window as he watched the countryside flow by. "She flipped out and threw the worst tantrum I have ever witnessed. It was insane in the membrane. The goat, though, was totally zen about the whole thing and started following someone else around. Marcella was highly offended and chased after him. Until she fell in a teeny tiny pile of goat turds. That's actually the only time I ever babysat."

Derek snorted, and Stiles turned in his seat so the back of his head was now pressed to the glass.

"Hey, you asked how I felt about goats!" he said, grinning.

That was true. Derek still couldn't believe what had possessed him -- not to ask about goats, but to then ask Stiles back to the farm. Sure, he'd been worried about Stiles. They were friends now, and friends worried when their friends got fired. Friends offered... comfort. He could feel heat crawling up his neck. Platonic comfort, like beer. Stiles was probably expecting to find beer at the farm. Shit. Maybe Derek could text Erica when they got there, but then that would mean she'd bring the beer over and meet Stiles. It was a pickle.

"I haven't even gotten to my favorite goat story," Stiles continued, eyes gleaming and one long finger absently tapping his chin.

And that right there was the crux of it. Derek didn't want to share Stiles just yet. Which wasn't exactly a platonic thought to have.

He cleared his throat. "Dare I ask?"

Stiles squirmed deeper into his bucket seat. "Picture this," he said, gesturing dramatically to set the scene. "Junior year of college, second semester. Lydia's just got back from a semester abroad--" Derek made a mental note to ask who Lydia was "--and Jackson decides to throw her a 'Welcome Back' party to try to get back into her good graces. This is like, after the fourth time they broke up.

"So anyhow, there's this big party, and the day of the soiree, Lydia finds out that he'd been sleeping with not one, not two, but three girls. Not while she was in France, because they were 'on a break,'" Stiles' fingers hooked into perfect little air quotes. "But over the summer before, when they were definitely together. She flips the fuck out, as you do, and she and Scott -- Scott's good with animals -- borrow a goat from Scott's boss and sneak it into Jackson's room. He's running around, getting things ready for the party, and not until he goes upstairs -- he lived in this swanky-ass frat house -- to take a shower does he discover Murphy. That's the goat,” Stiles added, turning to Derek.

"Murphy has had at least one bite of every article of clothing in his closet, and the shoes! Oh my God, the shoes! It was amazing!" Stiles laughed just thinking about it, his mouth open wide. Derek tried not to stare.

"At any rate, Jackson's got one sweaty t-shirt and pair of track pants to his name, and he comes running for my blood--"

"Why yours?" Derek interrupted.

"Oh, I used to have a little, well, no, it was quite large -- I was madly in love with Lydia for years. Like ten years. But. I wasn't anymore. Jackson was insanely jealous, anyhow, because who wouldn't be jealous of me, am I right?" Stiles smiled a little self-deprecating smile and glanced out the window. Derek tried not to feel jealous of Lydia. "Anyhow. Story," he said, looking back at Derek. "He comes gunning for me, but I'd planned ahead. While Scott and Lydia were goat-wrangling, I was in a study group with Allison and Danny. Two witnesses! One of whom was -- still is -- Jackson's best friend. You know Danny, we -- well, just you now -- work with him on the show."

"Tech Danny?" Derek asked, startled. "You went to college with him?"

"And high school. And lost my dude-virginity to him. And one time puked on his shoes. But that's neither here nor there."

Derek drove silently and scowled at the landscape. He needed to get a grip. He had no claim on Stiles, especially not on Stiles-before-Derek-met-him. But what if he still had a thing for Danny? He couldn't remember what Danny looked like. Dimples? Dark hair?

"Hey. Are you okay with the whole... bi thing? Because if you're not, I'd really--"

"No, that's." Derek paused for a moment. How to explain? "That's how I expect people to be."

Stiles' eyes widened. "Really?"

"It's just... how I was raised?"

"What, were you raised on a commune?"

"Yes."

"Oh! Really?" Stiles leaned forward excitedly. "Like a free love commune? Those actually exist?"

"It wasn't... free love, like everyone slept with everyone else. It was just being open to loving someone regardless of their gender." Derek shrugged. Laura had taken various theory classes in college, and seemed to change her mind from semester to semester about what their family should identify as, and if they were doing it "right," but Derek had never been a fan of self-reflection. Especially after Kate.

"So, then, you're bi?" Stiles asked. Derek could hear his heart rate speed up.

"I don't really think about it that much," he said honestly. He glanced across at Stiles and laughed out loud at the gobsmacked expression on his face.

"Oh my God! I think that's the first time I've heard you laugh!" Stiles exclaimed, eyes wide and cheeks flushed. He smiled broad enough to crack his face in two. "It was fucking magical; do it again!"

"I can't laugh on demand," Derek said, rolling his eyes, but he kept smiling. Surely he laughed sometimes. He laughed with Sprout. "So what did… Jackson… do to you?"

"Hoo boy, I completely lost my train of thought," Stiles said. "Um, Jackson. Let's see. I think he would have gone medieval on my ass, but Allison and Danny protected me."

"Allison?"

"Scott's girlfriend. They've been together forever."

Derek turned that over in his head. Stiles lived with Scott, and according to Matt, Stiles lived with the guy who was dating Chris Argent's daughter. So therefore…

Stiles cleared his throat. "Um, I should probably tell you—"

"Allison's an Argent."

"Yeah, but… you know she's nothing like them, right? She wouldn't ever—"

"I get the picture," Derek snapped. He hadn't meant to snap. An awkward silence descended on the car. It was broken by Stiles, naturally.

"So Jackson almost faceplants into our table," Stiles continued his tale. "He's all frothing at the mouth and shit. And Allison asks him what he's doing there – like shouldn't he be getting ready for the party. Doesn't he have enough clothes to choose from? It was a pretty great prank. The payback was a bitch, though." Stiles shuddered. "Even though he never had proof it was me. Still, best party ever. Jackson didn't go to it, and Lydia dumped his ass for good."

Derek glanced across at Stiles. He was smiling like he was savoring the memory.

"Of course, she still wouldn't go out with me, but like I said – I'd moved on." Stiles sat up straighter in the passenger seat. "How far are we from your farm?"

"Ten more minutes," Derek answered. He hadn't warned Laura. He probably should have. He fumbled one-handed with his phone and sent her a text.

BRGNG STILES HOM IN 10

That should do the trick. He preferred using proper grammar, but emergency texts got a pass.

"Do you know Boyd Vegetables?" Stiles asked, looking out the window. "That's near here, right?"

"They're our neighbors. And… friends." He had not been counting on Stiles to know the Boyds and vice versa.

"Really? Cool! Isaac buys his vegetables from them; he says if I ever get my own show… well, I should use their veggies."

"You should," Derek agreed. "When you get your own show, which you will."

Laura would stare in shock at the positive statement. Derek was a little surprised to hear himself say it, too.

"Thanks, man. I bet I could seduce Danny away from the Argents. Not like that!" he amended quickly. Derek must have given something away with his expression. "I mean like with the promise of a better job for a more awesome show. I mean—"

"I know what you mean. Dinner with Derek sucks."

"Hey, you're not half bad."

Derek snorted.

"No, I mean it!"

"Sure, I just can't stand the smell of cooking meat and I have to watch your old YouTube vids to figure out what we're doing. Other than that, I'm peachy."

"You watch my old YouTube vids? Sizzling Stilinski? Really?" Stiles asked excitedly.

"I sure as hell never spatchcocked a chicken before."

Stiles puffed his chest out with pride. "Yeah, I'm just laying down the – oh, wait! If you saw that one, then you've seen Lydia! And Isaac and Allison. Scott filmed it; he's in school still, getting an animal science degree. Wants to make nature films."

"The camera work was… good." He really wanted to ask which one was Allison.

"Allison was the one with the dimples, in case you were wondering."

Derek looked at him out of the corner of his eye. Stiles smiled guilelessly.

"So what did you mean, you can't stand the smell of cooking meat?" Stiles asked.

"I… it just." Derek cleared his throat. "We always ate what we grew. On the farm. Not a whole lot of meat. My family, except for my sister Laura, all died in a fire. I could smell… I used to be the cook, and I was going to school for nutrition and. I just." He gripped the steering wheel tighter and stopped talking.

"I'm so fucking sorry," Stiles blurted out. "That's the worst thing I've ever heard."

"Yeah."

"Did Kate know about this when she put you on the meat-cooking show?" Stiles asked, his eyes narrowed.

"Yeah. She was… she was my girlfriend then."

"You have horrible taste in women," Stiles said immediately. "Sorry, that was rude. But true."

One poor attempt at a relationship with a woman hardly constituted a pattern, but Derek had been thinking about a man lately anyhow.

"We need to get her hooks out of you," Stiles said, making a fist and banging it against his knee.

"I have a contract and I need the money."

"Contracts are made to be broken!"

"I think you'll find the opposite of that is true."

Stiles waved his hand in front of his face. "Tiny, inconsequential detail." Derek gave him a look. "Sorry. I don't mean to handwave your pain, but maybe you need a little more sturm und drang. Maybe we both do."

Derek shook his head. "Kate eats sturm for breakfast and drang for elevensies. That's not the way to go."

And he was not considering it. There was too much on the line, with Laura and the farm. He glanced across at Stiles as he turned onto the long dirt road that led to Hale Hill Farm.

"You said 'elevensies,'" Stiles murmured. Derek flushed and Stiles shook himself, peering out the windows. "We're here?"

Derek parked the car and got out just as PF came running through the barn, limbs akimbo, bleating a greeting. Derek scooped him up in his arms, laughing, and got an enthusiastic head-butt for his troubles.

"Awwww!" Derek turned. Stiles was half-out of the car, his phone held up to his face as he snapped pictures of Derek and PF. "That was beautiful, man."

Derek rolled his eyes, but couldn't help the slight curve of his lips. "This is PF. PF, this is Stiles." He set PF on the ground and let him approach Stiles. The goat ran right over and butted him in the shins.

"Oof. Nice one." Stiles leaned down and scratched the top of PF's head. "So what does PF stand for?"

"What does Stiles stand for?" Derek countered.

"Easy. Stilinski."

"PF is short for Pierre Fromage," a new voice announced. "Derek named him after our favorite uncle, Peter. He always had a cheesy flair for the dramatic." Laura stepped carefully down the front steps. She made the cane look like it was just there for show. She always did when she met someone new, not letting them see how much she needed it until she trusted them. Well, trusted them enough. "Stiles. I'm Derek's sister, Laura."

Stiles shook her proffered hand. "I like your farm."

"You haven't seen it yet," Laura said.

"I've seen PF. And the way Derek talks about this place…" His voice trailed off. Derek wished he'd continue. How did he sound to an outsider when he talked about the farm?

"Then Derek can show you around. Would you give us a minute, please?" Laura grabbed Derek's arm, her nails digging in as she let him take most of her weight, and dragged him over to the porch.

"Uh, sure," Stiles said uncertainly. Derek watched him bend and make friends with PF. Stiles was still wearing his dress pants; he should borrow a pair of something rougher for the tour. Not that Derek had anything that would fit.

"Ground Control to Major Derek," Laura said dryly, her voice pitched low. "You brought a guest here, with literally ten minutes' warning?"

"Stiles got fired for… he got fired today. By Gerard Argent," Derek protested. "I just – I wasn't really thinking."

"What have we said about plans, Derek?" Laura said patiently. It was embarrassing.

"That helping our friends is more important," he argued, crossing his arms.

"Stiles is a friend?" Laura asked, raising an eyebrow. "I hadn't gotten that impression before. From the way you rarely ever said his name." Her eyes narrowed. "Or from the way you were ogling his ass."

"Well, he is," Derek snapped. Laura bared her teeth, and Derek ducked his head. "Sorry. I can get him to leave in a while."

"No," Laura said slowly. "I want you to have friends. Especially one you'd go to this much trouble for. I'm just going to vet him horribly at dinner, you realize."

Derek winced. "Maybe he'll leave before that."

"Unlikely. He's already become besties with PF."

Derek looked back over at his precious goat. PF had his front hooves up on Stiles' knees and was getting scratched behind the ears.

"Show your friend around," Laura said. "I'll call Erica and get her to help make a presentable dinner."

"Ask her to bring some beer," Derek said, his shoulders loosening as tension slowly seeped out.

Laura raised her eyebrows at him, but didn't say anything else before going back into the house.

"So," Stiles said as Derek joined him, "do I pass muster?"

"Enough for a tour." Derek whistled at PF, and with a last blissful glance at Stiles, the little goat trotted up to him and took his place as tour guide. "This here is the yard," Derek said, gesturing to the front of the house where they were parked. "That's the house, and that's the barn." He paused. He was going to go down in history as the worst host ever.

"Wow, don't put yourself out too much on my account," Stiles said, rocking back on his heels. He was smiling, at least.

"I'm going to take you through the barn. We have a couple of dairy cows and the goats. They're dairy, too."

Derek and PF led the way, Stiles falling into place easily on Derek's left. It was weird, showing someone else this stuff. Derek had planned to give Kate a tour of the farm soon after they moved in, but that had never materialized. She'd ooh-ed and aww-ed over the commune, asking lots of questions and wanting to know how everything worked. He supposed, now, that the devoted girlfriend routine had all been an act, easily discarded when he grew depressed and morose after the fire.

Stiles at least seemed to know what a barn should look like. He nodded approvingly at their neatly shelved gear and took in a deep breath at the smell of fresh hay. Out in the pen, the cows ignored them but the goats came over to bleat and sniff, headbutt and nuzzle. PF snorted at Renesmee when she got too close. Stiles laughed at the names, his mouth splitting his face as his body folded in on itself. Derek tried not to stare.

They stopped at the sheds Laura had set up for creating her dairy products – milk, cream, butter, cheese.

"Very sterile," Stiles said approvingly, looking around at the gleaming surfaces. "I am officially not scared of eating your food."

"Thanks," Derek said dryly. "Here, try this."

He opened the fridge and took out Laura's test block of goat cheese, wonderfully creamy with just a slight bite. Derek broke off a piece and held it out to Stiles, who didn't bother with using his hands, just leaned over and took the cheese from between Derek's fingers with his teeth and tongue. Derek stopped breathing. He could feel heat flooding his body at the look Stiles was giving him, eyelashes partially lowered, but nothing coy about his intent. Stiles slowly ran his tongue over his lips, ostensibly licking up any cheese he missed. Derek knew what that tongue felt like now. He parted his lips, and PF bleated loudly from outside the dairy shed.

"Derek!" Laura called from the house, loud enough that even Stiles could hear, as evidenced by the way he jumped almost a foot in the air. "Sprout's coming to you!"

"Okay," Derek muttered, trying to get a handle on his breathing and erratic heartbeat. He could hear Sprout approaching, laughing when he spotted PF, the two of them doing some kind of kid greeting outside the shed.

"Who's Sprout?" Stiles asked, his eyes a little wild.

Derek opened the door and swept Sprout up in his arms, the child laughing and squealing.

"This here is V the Destroyer, otherwise known as Sprout," Derek said, bouncing Sprout on his hip. "Sprout, this is Stiles."

Sprout squawked and went into monkey mode, wrapping his limbs around Derek's torso as much as he could reach and burying his face in Derek's neck. Stiles looked a little taken aback. Derek had the feeling he hadn't spent much time with little kids.

"Sprout and his mom and dad own Boyd's Vegetables," Derek told Stiles. "They raise cabbages, and rutabagas, and robots."

"Hey! We don't raise robots!" Sprout said indignantly, pulling away to pout at Derek.

"Oh, my bad. I meant pants," Derek said.

Sprout collapsed into giggles, finally loosening his hold on Derek and sliding to the ground.

"We don't grow pants!" Sprout reached up and tugged on Stiles' hand. Stiles crouched down with an 'Oof!' and Sprout cupped his hands around Stiles' ear to whisper loudly, "Uncle Derek is super silly."

"I've been telling him that all year," Stiles whispered back.

Sprout beamed and took Stiles by the hand. "Come on, Mama and Aunt Laura are making dinner." He held his other hand out to Derek, and Derek obligingly took it, squeezing gently. Sprout skipped once and then flung himself forward, Derek lifting his chubby little arm and Stiles gasped, his fingers slipping on Sprout's arm.

"What just happened here? What are we doing?" he asked. PF gave Derek a look, like how could Stiles not know to grip and lift, but Sprout chattered about airplanes and flying, and the next time he lifted his feet, Stiles swung him along with Derek.

"Didn't you do this with your mommy and daddy?" Sprout asked.

"Ah, my mom was pretty sick when I was a kid," Stiles hedged.

"What happened to her?" Sprout asked, eyes wide.

"Um…"

Derek could see the pain in Stiles' eyes, and the uncertainty of how to talk about that with a child.

"I think she's up in Heaven, Sprout," Derek said quietly. "With my mom and dad, and your Grandpa Reyes." It had taken a while, but Sprout grasped the concept of death once he found a dead frog by the pond on the Boyds' property. After that he'd been able to wrap his head around Derek and Laura's missing family, and his own deceased grandfather.

"Oh," Sprout said in a small voice. He let go of Derek's hand and flung himself into Stiles' arms. "I love you, Stiles!"

Stiles' arms automatically wrapped around the little boy, patting his shoulder awkwardly.

"Uh, thanks, Sprout," he said, shooting a panicked look at Derek. Derek nodded his approval. "Perhaps we should…" Derek mimed picking Sprout up. "…lift up these boxes…" Derek narrowed his eyes in confusion. "…and be nice to caterpillars…" Caterpillars? What the fuck? "…and try our luck with…" Derek looked at PF. The goat looked back at him. "…um, goats, because this is a goat farm, and did you say something about dinner?"

"Yeah, my mom sent me to get you guys for dinner," Sprout said, pulling away and wiping his face on Stiles' sleeve. "Don't worry, we're not eating caterpillars."

Sprout took them both firmly by the hand and marched them off to the house, PF at their feet. Derek tried to catch Stiles' eye over Sprout's head, but Stiles avoided him, his cheeks flushed. Derek smirked. Caterpillars, the hell?

"Go wash your hands," Sprout demanded, once they stepped through the back door. "I have to help in the kitchen." He puffed his chest out proudly and promptly ran into his mother's legs. Erica helped him to his feet with a grin and a wink at Derek and Stiles before turning back to the stove. Derek blinked. No teasing introductions? No meaningful looks? Laura must have said something to her. Or she was saving it for dinner. Maybe they should eat on the porch, or someplace a little farther away, like Alaska.

"Hurry up, Derek, this will be ready in five," Laura said, her eyes on Stiles instead of the pitcher of water she was supposed to be filling. She still turned it off in time.

"Bathroom's this way," Derek muttered, leading Stiles down the hall. Stiles followed, tripping over his feet as he stared at the walls. Laura had painted them, every wall a mural. A picture was worth a thousand words, and she'd decorated the lower floor of the farmhouse with the history of the Hale family and their commune. She left the upstairs bare.

"Dude," Stiles breathed, stopping abruptly at the entrance arch to the living room. The back wall there was a sunset over the Green Mountains, as seen from the back porch of their grandparents' cabin.

The murals kept the family alive in Laura's heart; it was why she did them in the first place. It was why Derek spent most of his time outside or up the stairs in his bedroom, the stairs Laura never climbed. It made for uneasy rest, sleeping above ghosts, but he did it for her.

"Was this your—" Stiles started.

"Yeah. Laura did them," Derek mumbled.

Stiles tore his eyes away from an intricate flower design that framed the entranceway. "They're beautiful," he said. Derek nodded wordlessly, his eyes hooded. "But a little creepy, considering the subject matter."

Derek was startled into a laugh. "You haven't seen the back hall yet." He placed his hand on the small of Stiles' back and steered him into the bathroom. Stiles immediately tripped on Sprout's stool.

"Sorry about that," Stiles said. "Cool stool."

"Made it for Sprout."

"Cool kid."

Derek met Stiles' eyes in the mirror.

"I don't know anything about kids," Stiles admitted quietly.

"I got that with the caterpillars," Derek said, and tapped his eyebrows.

"I panicked! There's nothing wrong with caterpillars."

"Just wash your hands."

Stiles regained more of his equilibrium by the time they all gathered around the table, Derek thought. Which was good, considering the assessing looks Laura and Erica leveled at him. Boyd joined them, slipping in beside Sprout and giving Stiles a quiet nod.

"Boyd," he said, holding out his hand across the table.

"Oh, man, I know your vegetables!" Stiles exclaimed, shaking his hand heartily.

"Biblically, Stiles?" Erica asked with an arch of one delicate eyebrow. "They're my vegetables, too, you know."

"Stiles' friend buys his vegetables from you," Derek interrupted, and started passing the platters around the table, Laura first. She waved him off, gesturing for him to start on his other side with Stiles. Right, human etiquette deemed the guest was served first. He could tell Erica's handiwork in the crust around creamy mushroom tarts and took two of those before passing, rules be damned. Erica swung her gaze to Derek, narrowing her eyes over the interruption, but Boyd took the bait.

"That's cool. We've got a bumper crop of zucchini right now."

"I could eat zucchini until it was coming out of my ears," Stiles said happily. Sprout burst into giggles.

"Zucchini coming out of his ears!" he howled. "You're funny, Uncle Stiles!"

Stiles smiled uncertainly and Derek leaned to his side to whisper, "That's a good thing."

"Thanks, Sprout," Stiles replied. "Most people just say I'm funny looking."

Sprout laughed harder. Derek reached across the table and took his plate to start cutting up his food. He clearly wasn't going to touch it while he was being entertained. Derek could feel Stiles' eyes on him as he sliced into a mushroom tart for Sprout and cut up the pile of sautéed veggies (mostly zucchini). It was a heavy look.

"So, Stiles," Laura said, her voice abruptly silencing everyone else, even Sprout. "You got fired today. What are you going to do tomorrow?"

Derek's nostrils flared as he stared at his sister, but unlike children, socially awkward conversations were Stiles' specialty.

"First, rude. Second, I view this as a righteous firing. As in, I'm right, they're wrong. I don't feel bad at all. Tomorrow, I'm going to make my dad an awesome dinner, or go to the vet clinic and play with the puppies, or plot with Derek here how best to take down the Argent Empire. Or maybe I'll do all three, or maybe I'll get a mani-pedi. No matter what I do, I'll be doing it with a spring in my step, believe you me!"

Erica leaned back in her seat, her lips twitching, but Derek was focused on Laura's reaction.

"Do you always run your mouth like this?" she asked coolly.

"Enough," Derek cut in. He looked his Alpha in the eye. "Stiles is the only one who ever stuck up for me there. All the things you say about the Argents? Stiles said to their faces."

Laura shifted her gaze to Stiles. He smelled mildly aroused and his heart was beating wildly in his chest. Derek could feel Stiles' eyes on him; he didn't dare look back.

"You told them off?" she asked.

"Kate Argent is a—" Stiles' eyes darted across to Sprout, watching the proceedings with huge eyes and a twitchy nose. "—very bad person. She was a f—total b—jerk to Derek."

"You don't know the half of it," Laura murmured. Derek caught her eye and nodded slightly. Laura's eyes widened. "Or maybe you do. Okay." Her eyes sharpened on Stiles. "You can stay," she said formally.

Sprout heaved a big relieved sigh and dropped to all fours beneath the table, only to crawl up again in Derek's lap.

"I'm glad it's over," he said in a small voice.

"You and me both, Sprout," Derek said, kissing the top of the little boy's head and wrapping an arm around him. Next to them, Stiles' scent changed subtly and his heart beat did a strange skip. Derek finally allowed himself to look at him. Bad idea, as Laura, at least, could smell how un-platonic his regard was for the other man. Stiles looked a little flushed still, his mouth half open, and if Derek was being honest, utterly desirable. He glanced quickly away.

"So, Stiles," Erica began, unexpectedly coming to the rescue. "Where'd you learn to cook?" She took a big bite of her tart, flaky crust peeling off to fall back down to the plate.

Stiles and Erica talked food for the rest of dinner, with the occasional interjection by one of the others. Derek practically hummed with pleasure at the look of admiration in Stiles' eyes when Laura mentioned Derek had attended Cornell.

Stiles was helping Sprout clear the table when his pocket started vibrating with a text message, obvious to everyone from his slim dress pants. He yelped, managing to put his stack of plates down before pulling out his phone.

"Crap," he breathed. "I'm really sorry, does anyone mind if I call him back?"

Laura waved him off, and he stepped outside. Derek thought about not listening in, but gave up when Stiles' first words were, "Oh my God, are you okay?"

"Holy shit, Stiles, what happened to you today?" It was a male voice, and there was something strangely familiar about the tone of it, though Derek was almost certain he hadn't heard it before.

"Totally got fired, but don't worry about me – Chris Argent is at the apartment?"

Derek exchanged a look with Laura and both of them moved closer to the back door. Erica glanced between them, sighed, and took Sprout by the hand. "We're going to draw you a bath while Daddy does the dishes, okay, Sprout?" she whispered, leading Sprout down the hall.

"Nah, man, he left. But he was acting really weird – even for him. You know how usually he ignores me? Today he practically shoved his face into my face. And then he – wait. Did you just say you got fired?"

"Yeah. Sucks to be me."

"Stiles. Where are you?"

There was a long pause on Stiles' end of the line.

"Um. At Derek's goat farm?"

"Derek? The super hot cranky dude you think is a werewolf?"

Laura dropped into her chair with a thud. Derek reached blindly for her hand. Stiles knew?

"The alleged werewolf, and it's not like we've learned anything useful about werewolves; I can't tell that he is one. It was just – he's really, really strong, and the Argents really, really dislike him. And who else do I know who's really, really strong and equally disliked by the Argents, save the only one who matters? You, mon frère. My friendly neighborhood werewolf."

And the hits kept coming. That had to be Scott, Stiles' roommate, the guy the Argents thought was 'the worst,' according to Matt. Well, now that made sense. Laura's claws dug into his hand as Stiles and Scott continued talking.

"I should come over there, make sure you're safe!"

"Scott! Come on, he doesn't want to hurt me."

"What about all those times he snapped at you, huh? And yesterday, when he threw you against a wall?"

"It was kind of sexy, actually."

Laura bit back a laugh as Derek's cheeks heated.

"Stiles!"

"Okay, okay! It's the farm next to Boyds' Vegetables. You know it, right?"

"No, but Isaac will. I'm bringing him and Allison. She'll have to – damn. Stiles, there's more I have to tell you about Mr. Argent's visit. I'll tell you when I see you, okay? Stay put, and don't let on that you know what you know. You know?"

"What am I, chopped liver? I can be cool. I'll be so cool, you'll find us by the dulcet tones of Vanilla Ice, Ice, Baby… Dun-na-na-dun-dun-dun-dun."

"Dude, I'm hanging up on you."

"You love me."

"Yeah. So be careful."

Derek let go of Laura's hand and crossed to the sink. He was nonchalantly drying the dishes by the time Stiles shut the back door behind him.

"Um. Do you need any more help with the dishes?" Stiles asked hesitantly.

"I'm done washing," Boyd said, wringing out the rag and placing it over the faucet. "Derek?"

"He's going to let the rest air dry," Laura said. "Have a seat, Stiles."

Stiles swallowed nervously and tried to catch Derek's eye, but Derek kept his lashes lowered as he moved past the human to sit on Laura's left side. Boyd joined him, leaving Stiles alone on the right side of the table.

"Did you know that werewolves have excellent hearing?" Laura asked, with no preamble. It was her right as Alpha to speak first, but Stiles was Derek's… friend, or whatever he was.

"Meep," said Stiles.

"I take it your werewolf friend isn't a born werewolf, or he would know more about these things," she continued.

"Holy shit," Stiles whispered.

"Indeed. And you just – told him where to find us. That was stupid. But you know what was really, really stupid?"

Her eyes glowed red as she leaned forward.

"Laura—" Derek started.

"Oh my God!" Stiles moaned.

"Betraying my brother," Laura snarled, claws extended, reaching for Stiles' face. Derek was just as surprised as she was when he threw up an arm to block her. Derek’s blood dripped on the table, the spatter loud in the sudden quiet.

"Derek!" Stiles exclaimed, half-falling out of his chair to get to a dish towel to wrap around Derek's bloody forearm. "Oh my God! You can heal, right? I've seen Scott heal from a broken arm, it was super fast, does it hurt bad, you know I didn't betray you, you know that, right? Scott wouldn't hurt a fly; he was just worried about me, we're like brothers. You'll be okay, you're healing. Tell me you're healing."

Derek blinked at the onslaught, but Laura had no problem answering.

"He's healing fucking slow, because I'm the damn Alpha!"

Laura never swore, and that more than anything caused Derek to shake out of his strange stupor. But then he had no idea what to say. Had Stiles betrayed him? Was that what that was?

"Stiles," Boyd said smoothly, cutting through the Hale drama like a knife through butter. "Is this Scott person going to attack us?"

"What? No! He just." He paused to take a breath. "Look, Scott got bitten by a rogue werewolf a couple of years ago, okay? He's had no one to train him or anything. We did it all ourselves, me and Allison. They're not coming here to hurt anyone! They just want to keep me safe."

"Yeah? Who's Allison?" Laura asked.

"Well, okay. So, she's an Argent… but she left her family!"

"You can't trust Argents," Laura said, shaking her head. "An Argent woman, in love with a werewolf? It's fake, and it's not going to end well. You should get out for your own safety."

"Allison isn't Kate," Stiles argued.

"What about you?" Laura shot back.

Derek let out an involuntary whimper. His head was splitting, his arm stung horribly and Stiles… Stiles knew he was a werewolf. Had suspected he was. But, if he'd known… why had he come out to the farm? And that moment in the dairy shed, was it real? It had felt real. Derek wanted it to be real, but he was a lousy judge of character.

"Hey. Little brother." Laura shuffled over to him and laid her hand, gently this time, over his bloodied forearm. The pain seeped away. "I didn't mean to hurt you."

It was the closest he'd get to an apology, and more than he deserved. Stiles watched them with round eyes. He looked impossibly young. Derek wished he'd look away, but at the same time he was greedy for the attention.

"Derek," he said, licking his lips. "I didn't mean to hurt you, either. You helped me when you didn't have to. I was thinking we're… we're friends, right? Allies, at least?"

The thing was, Derek could kick him out. Tell him they should never see each other again, and they wouldn't now that Stiles no longer worked for the Argents. But it was the complete opposite of what he wanted to do. He hadn't paid attention to his instincts with Kate, so bowled over by everything about her. The experience of her. Stiles, on the other hand, he watched with his eyes wide open.

"Yes," Derek said finally, looking down at his arm. The wounds were starting to scab over.

"So when is Scott going to get here?" Boyd asked, ever practical.

"Probably about twenty minutes," Stiles said, biting his lip.

"In the meantime," Laura said, settling heavily into her chair at the head of the table. "Spill. When did he become a werewolf? Who's his Alpha? How did you figure it out about Derek?"

Stiles sat next to Derek and began to talk. He was holding back some, Derek could tell, but he didn't blame him. Much. Whoever Scott was, it was obvious that he was very dear to Stiles, and you don't just tell your best friend's life story to a newly-met pack, even if one member was a fellow human. Boyd sat across from Stiles, arms folded over his chest, leaning back in his chair like this wasn't the most interesting tale he'd heard since the awful week before Sprout took the bite. It was all a façade, though. For being a human, Boyd was incredibly attuned to the moods of his Alpha and Laura was seriously on edge.

Sprout came running down the hall in his Falcon pajamas a few minutes into it, making a beeline for the comfort of Derek's lap and good arm. Laura began to ease the tension in her muscles at the sight of his quivering little flannel footies, and by the time Erica joined them, Sprout had stopped shivering.

"…and then the next week we found the guy – the Alpha – and he was, um." Stiles glanced at Sprout, leaning back into Derek's chest and watching the proceedings with half-open eyes. "Bi-sected," he said, chancing that Sprout wouldn't know what it meant. Erica flinched in the process of pouring a glass of water and mopped up the drips, muttering to herself low enough that even the werewolves couldn't hear. She brought the glass to Laura and trailed her fingers over Sprout's wet hair before sitting beside her husband. Both Boyds adopted the same pose. Derek didn't think it was intentional.

"And Scott's eyes didn't turn red?" Laura asked intently. She tapped one fingernail against her glass. "He never pledged to another Alpha?"

"Red? No. And we haven't come across any other Alphas."

"Hmmm." Laura took a long drink of her water. "Tell me about the Argent girl," she said. Her glass hit the table with a 'thunk.'

Derek stood up, his grip tightening around sleepy Sprout.

"I should check on the animals."

"Derek—" Stiles started.

"Let him go." Laura waved her hand at him in a clear dismissal. She pointed at Stiles. "You stay."

"I'd rather go with Derek."

"I don't care. Tell me about the Argent girl."

Stiles shut his mouth with a snap and glared at her. Derek paused in the doorway, eyes flitting between Stiles and Laura. It was Erica who broke the impasse with her typical lack of tact.

"What's the deal, Stiles?" she asked. "You'll tell us about your best friend, but not this other chicky?"

"She's dating the best friend, and her family just fired Stiles," Boyd said quietly.

"Oooh, drama." Erica could smile with an edge sharp enough to draw blood, and she did so now, leaning across the table to seize Stiles' arm. A low growl rumbled in Derek's chest, taking him by surprise, but Erica didn't let go. "If she's dating a known werewolf, I probably don't have to worry about this. But that's my son over there. If you bring someone here who wants to hurt my son, I will rip you the fuck apart. I don't need claws for that."

Sprout snuffled and blinked, trying to wake up. Derek tightened his grip. He was back at the table again, his free hand reaching for Stiles to… do what, he wasn't sure. He just needed everyone to stop talking for a minute, let him think. Let him get away and do something so he'd stop feeling like a branch in a raging river – but he couldn't just leave Stiles here.

"That's disturbingly violent, thanks for that," Stiles said. He held his body loose, as if Erica wasn't still gripping his forearm, but he smelled of sweat from nerves.

"You're welcome," Erica said, letting him go and giving his arm a little pat. Derek shifted on his feet, hesitating, and he hated hesitating instead of acting—

The sound of tires on the dirt road leading up to the farm caused both Derek and Laura to stiffen and look to the door. Sprout let out a squawk, finally waking up. The humans in the room exchanged glances. Boyd wordlessly got up to take Sprout back from Derek.

"What's going on, Daddy?" Sprout asked in a piercing whisper.

"Stiles' friends are here," Boyd replied calmly. The car was close enough now that he could hear it, too. Derek flexed his arms, regretting the absence of Sprout's weight in them, though it would be easier to defend his pack without a child clinging to his neck. His pack and Stiles.

"I would just like to reiterate here, they're not here to hurt you," Stiles said, eyes darting around to each of them.

"Derek, you and Stiles let them in; bring them here," Laura said. "The animals can wait, little brother."

Derek turned on his heel and left. Stiles swore and scrambled to his feet, nearly knocking over his chair before catching up to Derek in the hall.

"Derek! Why are you—would you slow down?" Stiles asked, grabbing for Derek's sleeve. Derek let him. They were at the door anyhow. "Look, I feel like you – I didn't do anything wrong! Why are you acting like I stabbed you in the back?"

"They're right on the other side of this door," Derek said. It was an answer and a non-answer both. The truth was… he didn't know what to think. About Stiles, about a new Argent, about Scott, about a – no, two – werewolves on his and Laura's property. "There are two werewolves out there," he said, not bothering to keep his voice low. Laura and the two wolves would be able to hear him regardless. "Did you know there'd be two?"

Stiles looked chagrined. "I—"

Derek closed his eyes, wishing he could block his ears as well. It figured Stiles would find some way to withhold information from werewolves. Still, Derek shoved him behind his own body before opening the door. He kept his stance protective, ready to act, but not itching for a fight.

The werewolves and the Argent girl were not interested in reading his body language.

"Stiles!" gasped one, the boy who wasn’t in the YouTube vids. He had to be Scott, based on his reaction and his smell, which blended heavily with Stiles' and the other two on the front step. "Are you okay?"

His teeth were already lengthening into fangs, and the tall, curly-haired boy – Derek hunted his memory for a name from Stiles' chatter, something biblical like Abraham or Isaac – flexed his claws. How the hell had they survived this long?

"Calm the fuck down," Derek snarled, and maybe he could stand being a bit more diplomatic. "Use your senses. You can tell Stiles is fine."

"Hey, Scott," Stiles said, placing his hand on Derek's shoulder and squeezing gently, in assurance or warning, Derek's couldn't tell. "We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?"

Scott obviously didn't get the Star Wars reference, as he looked at Stiles like he was crazy. Stiles sighed.

"One day, man," he muttered under his breath. "It's okay," he said in a louder voice. "Everyone's in the kitchen. Let's just hash this out there. Derek, this is Scott, Allison, and Isaac. My dear friends who are the least violent people in the world, this is Derek. Come on in."

Allison watched Derek with hooded eyes, but she took Scott's hand and followed him in, Isaac on her heels. They stopped in a little cluster in the front hall and Stiles squeezed past them to show them the way. Derek kept an eye on the Argent girl as they walked the short distance down the hall. She didn't look much like Kate. And she was holding hands with a werewolf. But. Derek was a notoriously bad judge of character. He'd feel better about the whole thing once Laura assessed the situation. As for the two werewolves, they didn't act like Omegas. Or Alphas or Betas, really. And Stiles hadn't said anything about this Isaac kid. Were there more? The red-haired girl from the YouTube videos, the one Stiles had called Lydia, his old crush – was she also a werewolf? Had Stiles been playing him for a fool this whole time?

He'd worked himself into a silent funk by the time they got to the kitchen. Laura was sitting in her customary place at the head of the table. Boyd sat on her left, facing the newcomers, Sprout on his lap, looking much more alert, and Erica next to him, looking deliberately casual. Which meant she was ready to cut someone. Stiles took a hesitant step towards the bench on the other side of the table, his three friends hovering around him. Derek snorted.

"We may be a wretched hive of scum and villainy, but no one here's going to bite you," he said.

Stiles let out a low laugh and sat down. Allison, interestingly enough, squeezed in between him and the end of the bench, so she was closest to Laura, leaving Scott and Isaac to sit on Stiles' other side. Derek took up position by the door and watched the backs of their heads. Laura let the silence drag on until finally Stiles broke it.

"So! This is pretty awkward, huh?" He rubbed his hands together. Derek wished he wouldn't draw so much attention to his long, flexible fingers. "Not quite as bad as Allison's twenty-third birthday dinner, though, so maybe I shouldn't complain…"

"What happened at your birthday dinner, Ms. Argent?" Laura asked.

"My mother disowned me, Ms. Hale," Allison answered readily enough. Her voice was cool and calm, not revealing any emotion she had over the event. If she had any at all.

"And why was that?"

"You know why. It's why we're all here, isn't it? Werewolves."

Scott's eyes flashed golden, as if proving her point. Derek rolled his eyes.

"I'm here because I live here," Laura said, ignoring Scott's display. "This doesn't explain your presence here."

"We came to get Stiles," Scott said, flushing.

"Good for you," Laura said crisply. "There he sits. I believe you know your way out."

"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Stiles interrupted. "Let's not be hasty. I came here of my own free will, we can leave whenever, that's great. But Scott, you said Mr. Argent came by the apartment earlier. Did he say anything about work that Derek will need to know?"

Scott stilled, and Derek had his answer.

"It wasn't about work," Scott said. He looked at Sprout, who blinked back and gave him a tentative smile. "I don't… it's not appropriate for kids?"

"Sprout's a member of my pack. He stays." Laura's tone brooked no arguments.

"Wow, really? You're a baby werewolf?" Scott asked, leaning across the table to get closer to Sprout.

"He has more control than you," Derek muttered. "Sprout, eyes."

Sprout scrunched up his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them, they glowed golden. Isaac gave a low whistle of admiration and Sprout beamed at him. He'd found his favorite amongst Stiles' friends, apparently.

"Huh," Scott said. "But… you're not werewolves?" he asked, looking to Erica and Boyd.

"Not yet," Erica said, folding her arms beneath her breasts and giving him her trademark attitude.

"I buy your vegetables," Isaac said quietly. "I don't know if you remember me." He jerked his eyes away from Erica's impressive cleavage, his face a bit pink.

"Oh, yeah," Erica said with a low chuckle. "I remember you."

Boyd cleared his throat and Erica gave him a wink.

"What did Chris Argent tell you?" Laura asked, bringing them back on task. Derek braced himself for what would come out of Scott's mouth. Stiles already knew that Kate had once been his girlfriend. It couldn't get much worse than that, but Scott was exuding a level of nervousness that didn't quite match what Derek was expecting.

Scott and Allison exchanged a look. It was Allison who answered. "He was… really shaken. The FBI showed up at his house, looking for my aunt. They want to take her in for questioning."

Derek blinked rapidly and tried to keep his face impassive as his mind whirred.

"For what?" Laura asked sharply.

"He didn't say. I don't think he knew. But they asked my dad for help tracking her movements from when she was on the East Coast." Allison looked down at her hands. "She was at grad school in New York. I didn't even know she never finished. We used to know everything about each other."

"I weep for you," Laura murmured, ignoring the angry glares from Stiles' side of the table. She was staring at Derek, anchoring him with just a look, and he clung to it desperately.

The FBI? What the hell had Kate done? He remembered the last time he'd seen her in Vermont, seeing her off at the airport to, reportedly, handle a family emergency.

"How long?" he asked, his voice a croak. "How long have you been a werewolf? How long since the Argents cut you off?"

"It was junior year of undergrad," Scott answered. "About two and a half years ago."

"And I'll be twenty-four in three months," Allison said. Her fingers tightened around each other, and for the first time Derek noticed the diamond ring on her left hand. It looked old, probably inherited from one of Scott's relatives and cleaned up for his future wife. "But my grandfather… he already knew. He said he knew right away about Scott. My dad just found out at the dinner. I think, if my mother hadn't been there, or Gerard and Kate, maybe he would have listened to me."

"Did Kate Argent know about werewolves when Scott was bitten?" Laura asked, leaning forward. Derek's stomach roiled.

"Yeah," Scott answered. "Gerard and Kate came to see me, after the bite. Told me to keep my head down. Said they were going to get Allison to break up with me. But she didn't."

How lovely of Allison, Derek thought, numb. Kate had known? She'd fucking known, the whole time Derek was debating on how best to tell her, worrying over her reaction, discussing her with his mother – how to break the news, bring her in, help her adapt – and she'd known? Had none of it been real?

"Derek. Derek? Derek!"

Derek blinked. Stiles was freaking out, his hand still waving frantically in front of Derek's face. Derek reached out and caught his wrist. Stiles filled his vision, blocking out the sight of everyone else staring at him, though he could feel their eyes like hot brands. Derek focused on Stiles – his eyes wide, his breath ragged, his heartbeat a sharp staccato, his sweat tinged with the sour scent of fear – until Sprout let out a shuddering wail.

Derek was outside in the blink of an eye.

He took huge, gulping breaths of air, clenched his fingers into tight fists, and ran. He could hear Laura calling for him, but with her leg, there was no way she could catch him. The leg that was his fault because he'd invited Kate Argent into their lives. It was his fault, all his fault, so much worse than when he'd thought he'd just been careless. A part of him, however tiny, had always thought that maybe Laura was right, and the fire hadn't started because of his neglect of the generator. What a horrible way for her to be right.

He ran as dusk painted the world with shadows and full night fell, but there was no escaping the tug of pack. Eventually he had to turn back to the farm, to Laura and Sprout. He doubted Stiles was still there. What must he think of Derek now? It wouldn't be hard for someone like Stiles to put two and two together and find out why Derek ran.

The shame caused him to stagger. He caught himself on a post of the fence surrounding the goat pen. His nostrils flared as a stranger's scent assaulted his nose. Scott. So Stiles must not have left.

"I was starting to think you weren't coming back," Scott said, folding his arms across his chest.

"Why would it even matter to you?" Derek asked bluntly.

"It wouldn't," Scott admitted. "We're not friends, and you could have been a lot less hostile. But honestly? You and your sister and that little kid in there are the first werewolves we've ever met. Everything I know about who I am Stiles discovered on the internet."

Derek gaped at him. "You want… werewolf tips?" Derek's life was one big disaster area; you could probably see the destruction from the moon. This kid couldn't possibly be telling the truth. Derek needed to clear his head so he could pay attention.

"Well, maybe not from you," Scott said. The lack of tact was… annoying. "Look, Stiles is my best friend. He's practically my brother." Holy hell, it was going to be one of those speeches. "When our parents get married, we actually will be brothers. And I can't just let my brother—"

"I haven't done anything," Derek interrupted quickly.

"I know you haven't," Scott said, frowning. "Why haven't you?"

Derek took a step back. He'd missed something along the way. "You don't have to warn me off."

"Stiles is the strongest person I know," Scott said dismissively. "And I know Allison and my mom, so that's saying something."

"Were you paying attention at all in there? I'm fucking toxic!"

"Stiles doesn't care!" Scott exploded. "You think I didn't try to talk him into leaving during your epic Run of Manpain? Trust me, if it'd been up to me, we would have been out the door in the opposite direction two seconds after you ran away. But Stiles is the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, and you, buddy, are the King of Lost Causes. So grow a pair, go in there, and talk to him!"

There was only one way he'd found to deal with so much self-righteous anger. Derek whistled, and Pierre Fromage came trotting over. Derek picked the kid up and plopped him in Scott's surprised arms, then walked away.

"Hey!" Scott yelled after him.

"Baaaah!" PF said, and sneezed.

"Oh my God, you are the cutest thing I've ever seen in my life!" Scott dropped to his knees, babbling to the goat.

Worked every time.

Derek's hand faltered on the door handle. He needed just five more seconds. Five more seconds to fix his face before seeing them all again. Stiles yanked the door open.

"Derek," he said evenly, his mouth tight, his body held rigid.

"I—" No other words were coming.

"Oh my God," Stiles burst out, and there was the Stiles Derek knew – pacing the floor, running his hands through his hair and tugging on the ends, every muscle animated as his mouth ran a mile a minute. "What the fuck, Derek? You just left! And I can't even be mad at you, not really, which sucks, because I really want to be mad. I want to be furious! A year on that damn show – a year! A whole year to stop hating each other, and then you run off? But I get it, really, she totally Darth Vader-ed you. Except you're not Luke, you're definitely Chewie. And I'm Han. Actually, you should be Leia. Not because of… anyhow, the point. She betrayed you. I'm not going to betray you."

He finally paused for a breath and Derek took the opportunity to grab his hands and haul him in closer.

"Thank you," he said softly. "I needed air."

Stiles nodded mutely. Their faces were close enough Derek could see each individual eyelash, play connect-the-dots with moles. A part of Derek still wanted to turn tail and run, warring with the part that itched for a violent retribution against Kate and the part that wanted to forget everything else except for the feel of Stiles' skin beneath his hand.

Laura exhaled loudly, breath coming out in a sigh with just a twinge of exasperation. "Sit down, Derek," she said. "Allison and I have been talking, and you need to hear what she has to say."

It wasn't an easy conversation for any of them. Allison, despite the estrangement with her family, still loved them. She and Kate were separated by less than ten years, and she grew up looking to Kate with the adoring eyes of a younger sister. But she wasn't completely blind to her family's faults, and Chris's visit had clearly shaken her. Derek tried paying close attention to what she was saying, but everything he pushed out of his mind during his run came hurtling back in, and he hunched against the blows. Boyd and Erica sat on either side of him, Erica in full-on caring mode. For her. Which meant an occasional hand on his shoulder and refraining from snarky remarks. She was perhaps distracted by her son, curled up in her lap and snoring gently.

"All right," Laura said, after about an hour of re-hashing Chris's visit and Derek's relationship with Kate, "I hate to say this, but I think we need to talk to those FBI agents."

"Why is that such a bad thing?" Stiles asked. "I know some FBI agents can be total pricks—" he and Scott fist-bumped each other over Allison's head for no apparent reason—"but if it puts Kate behind bars, no offense Allison, then yeah, you really need to talk to them."

"That's not the point," Laura said. Red bled into her eyes as she continued. "If what we suspect is true—" Derek shivered in shame, but couldn't look away from her “—then this is pack business. The government doesn't get a say, and they sure as hell haven't helped us in the past. This woman made it her mission to destroy my pack, and I cannot abide that. Everything she does on that fucking show is calculated to create the most damage. If she gets within a mile of my brother again, I will rip her throat out."

The words hung like a promise over them – calm, assured, true. At that moment, Laura looked every inch the Alpha.

"I know I can't understand how you feel about this," Allison said slowly, "but you're not killing my aunt."

Laura and Allison locked eyes. Derek's hackles rose, and two sets of golden eyes narrowed at him from across the table. The tense showdown lasted until Stiles knocked over the glass of water on the table and everyone leapt back, as if it contained acid.

"Sorry, sorry!" Stiles exclaimed. "Is it just me, or are we all a little on the jumpy side tonight?"

"Stiles," Derek grumbled, and Stiles flashed him a quick smile.

"I propose a truce for tonight. Laura, you did say you wanted to talk to the FBI. Allison, you want to know the truth, too, and keep your dad out of it, am I right?" Stiles waited for her terse nod before plowing on. "So maybe we should all stay in one place and keep an eye on each other until we can sort this out?"

Derek stared at him. Was he out of his mind?

"Let me get this straight," Erica said, a smirk playing across her lips. "You've just invited yourself and three of your closest friends to spend the night at the house of a man you really want to—"

Derek slapped his hand over her mouth. The tips of Stiles' ears were bright red.

"It's not a terrible idea," Laura said slowly. Derek could practically see the wheels turning in her head. Whatever she was thinking, it was not 'get Derek and Stiles alone together,' unlike Erica. "The women can stay in my room, the men in Derek's."

Ah. Two Hale pack with one of… whatever Stiles' group of friends called themselves. And three and three upstairs.

Scott protested, but Allison was oddly silent. The way her eyes tracked Laura made Derek very glad that Erica would also be with them. Stiles pulled Scott aside for a hurried conference in the hall that every wolf in the kitchen listened in on anyhow – it was mostly about some 'bro-code' they had between them that Derek couldn't follow – and then it was decided.

Derek woke Sprout up enough to brush his teeth and use the bathroom one more time. By the time they made it up to his room on the mural-less second floor, Scott had stripped down to his boxers and was meditating on the floor with his eyes closed. Boyd, bare-chested and wearing a pair of UC Berkeley sleep pants, watched him with a raised eyebrow. He and Erica had pajamas here, along with Sprout, though they usually slept in the guest room. Tonight, though, Boyd had no intention of leaving Derek alone with two strange wolves. And Stiles.

Stiles had taken off his socks, that was all. He was perched uncomfortably on the edge of Derek's California King, a mistake made by the mattress store which had been one hell of a nightmare getting into the room. Now, though, Derek was grateful for its huge size, especially when Isaac opened the door from the bathroom, emitting billows of steam.

"Great shower," he said, jerking his thumb back over his shoulder.

"Glad you enjoyed yourself," Derek said drily. Were those his pajama pants Isaac was sporting? Derek's nostrils flared. Yup, those were definitely his pants. Wonderful. They were a bit high water and loose around the waist on Isaac.

"Your pants look funny on Isaac," Sprout whispered.

"Do you like them?" Isaac asked, cocking his hip and turning his ankle, like a supermodel. Sprout nodded and ran across the room to him, squealing when Isaac hefted him up into an awkward hug. It was the kind of hug people who loved kids but had no practical experience gave.

"Bed now, Sprout," Boyd said firmly.

"Can I sleep with Derek?" Sprout asked, wiggling out of Isaac's hold.

"I have to shower off my run," Derek told him, "but then I'll be out and I'll join you."

"Wait, where are we all actually sleeping?" Scott asked, opening his eyes.

Derek gestured to the bed.

"All of us?" Scott's voice rose.

"It's pack sleepover!" Sprout said excitedly, bouncing on his tiptoes. "You're a werewolf! How come you don't know about pack sleepovers? It's for stalks and bonds."

Scott blinked.

"He means bonding," Boyd rumbled, picking up his son and tossing him onto the bed.

"You're welcome to the floor," Derek said and went into the bathroom, firmly shutting the door behind him.

It occurred to him as he got the water going that maybe it had been another part of Laura's plan – the pack bonding. Scott and Isaac were Betas with a dead Alpha. Laura was an Alpha in need of more Betas. There was just this one hurdle of the Argent connection to get over first. Very small hurdle. Derek snorted and stepped beneath the spray.

He never took very long in the shower, and especially was not planning to spend long in there with two non-pack werewolves in the other room. Plus Stiles, who he'd resolutely not fantasized about in the shower before, but that was before their moment in the dairy shed. If ever there was a mood-killer, though, it was the prospect of meeting with FBI agents in the morning to go over his relationship with Kate and find out what they were thinking she'd done.

He was going to have shitty nightmares again, he just knew it.

By the time he got out of the shower, everyone else had settled into the bed. Isaac draped his long frame across the foot of the bed, just a couple bare inches separating his face from Scott's feet. Boyd slept in the middle of the bed, Sprout curled up on his chest, already drooling with his small bum in the air. Scott's eyes slit open when Derek turned out the light in the bathroom and he looked meaningfully at the far wall. Derek followed his gaze and sighed.

Stiles was curled into a human pretzel in the window seat. Derek looked back at Scott. Scott made this complicated face, complete with wide nostrils, blinking eyes and twitchy eyebrows. If he was supposed to be conveying a message, he failed utterly, unless his message was to say no to drugs. Derek shrugged his shoulders and crossed the space to Stiles.

"Stiles," he said quietly.

"I'm fast asleep," Stiles mumbled.

"Uh huh." Derek rolled his shoulders, glanced back at Scott whose face was no help whatsoever, and easily picked Stiles up.

Stiles squawked, flailed, and accidentally hit Derek in the nose. Derek dropped him in a graceless heap on the bed.

"Smooth," Scott muttered, shooting him a dirty look. That one, at least, was perfectly clear.

"There's plenty of room for all of us if you stop thrashing," Derek said.

"Maybe I wanted the window!" Stiles protested.

"You wanted a two-foot space with no blanket?" Derek asked, crawling into bed behind Stiles.

"Maybe I like sore muscles!" Stiles shot back, his cheeks darkening as he realized what he said. Scott snickered loudly. "Shut up, you're asleep!"

"I didn't hear anything!" Scott choked out.

"If one of you wakes up my son," Boyd said, not even bothering to open his eyes, "you're sleeping with a forty pound fuzzy inch worm on your chest."

Scott mimed zipping his mouth shut. Isaac let out a loud snore, exclaimed "Cabbages!" and immediately fell back asleep.

Derek stretched out on his back. He could just fit with the smallest space separating him from Stiles' body. Stiles rolled onto his stomach, buried his head beneath a pillow, and mimicked the deep breathing of sleep. Derek stared at the ceiling.

Sprout sometimes slept in his room with him when the little boy spent the night, and there were a couple of nights when Sprout was first diagnosed with leukemia that all the Boyds and Hales slept in Derek's bed. Last Christmas, as well.

It was very different from sleeping beside Stiles, with four other bedmates.

Derek closed his eyes and tried to convince himself that he was on the verge of sleep. He did a good impression, as eventually Stiles emerged from his pillow cocoon, and very softly leaned into him. It was the lightest of touches, and instead of setting Derek on fire, it soothed him enough to fall asleep.

He didn't have any nightmares.

Derek awoke very early the next morning, his body remembering he needed to get up and feed the animals even if his mind was distracted by the bodies in his bed. Particularly the one wrapped up in his arms. Stiles slept with his mouth open, his lips pressed to the bare skin of Derek's collarbone. Some time in the night they'd become completely entangled, legs and feet slotted together with Derek's hands slid up beneath Stiles' shirt, all the better to hold him close. Stiles had one arm curled around Derek's shoulder and the other hand in Derek's hair, fingers lax. Derek could feel Stiles' morning wood against his thigh.

He gave himself a whole minute to enjoy the experience of waking up with Stiles before gently extracting himself and giving Stiles a pillow to hold. He was sure Scott opened a watchful eye to catch him leaving, but when he paused at the door, everyone in the bed stayed put.

The cows ignored him as he went about his morning duties in the barn, but the goats more than made up for their standoffishness, butting against his shin or thigh before ambling out into the pen or eating some of the feed he put out for them. Jacob consented to letting Derek brush a couple of burrs from his fur. It was soothing, reminding him of mornings spent in the kitchen back in Vermont. Slicing up peppers and grating cheese, whisking eggs and milk, sautéing spinach. The smell of onions caramelizing on the stovetop, mushrooms browning in butter and olive oil. The sizzle and pop of omelets. He'd have four pans going at once with breakfast made-to-order, and no one's food was burned – except for Uncle Peter. He loved the charred taste.

Jacob bleated plaintively, and PF came running up and clambered into Derek's lap. He'd sat down, or fallen, or something. He wasn't sure; the earth was kind of swimming before his eyes. Tears. He was crying.

PF licked at his cheeks and bleated softly as Derek really cried for the first time since the fire. His hands clenched in the goat's coarse hair as the dam burst, an ugly, sobbing cry, but then mourning was rarely graceful and dignified. His shoulders shook with it and his heels drummed the ground, dislodging his little comforter until PF could bat his way back under Derek's arms. He clung to the goat until he could take a full breath and blink the tears out of his eyes.

He was amazed to see that the world looked just the same. Not much time had passed. Except for PF, the goats in the yard and the cows in the barn looked utterly disinterested in his crying bout. Perspective. He gave PF a tremulous smile and grateful pat, thankful that the kid had no words to express his reaction to Derek's grief.

Derek stood on weak knees and hobbled back into the house, strength returning with each step. PF followed at his heels as he washed up in the downstairs bathroom. Derek's stomach rumbled loudly.

It was high time he cooked something.

Sprout found him in the kitchen half an hour later, peeling sweet potatoes while PF dozed at his feet. Derek pulled a chair over to the counter and instructed Sprout in how to layer the thin slices of sweet potato with the thick cream he made of goat cheese, heavy cream and butter. It wasn't traditionally a breakfast dish, but it was what he wanted to make. They covered the top with crumbs and slid it into the oven.

"Okay, V. What do you want for breakfast?" Derek asked.

"Cinnamon buns!" Sprout exclaimed.

Something sweet, of course, but Derek liked working with yeast. His younger cousin Mae used to insist on being the one to drizzle them with frosting; it was very serious business. Sprout liked playing with the dough while Derek kneaded it, trying to match Derek's movements but getting distracted by pulling off tiny fingerfuls of dough to eat.

While the dough rested, Derek rooted through the crisper for veggies from Boyd Farms and started slicing up peppers. His knife flew over the cutting board. Chop, chop, chopchopchop! Sprout laughed delightedly. A coffee mug crashed to the floor.

Derek turned his head. The women stood in the doorway to the kitchen, last night's coffee from Laura's broken mug creeping towards their toes. Laura's face was painful to look at, bright and hopeful and full of tears. Erica looked delighted and proud as she sniffed the air appreciatively. Allison glanced at the other two, clearly confused as to their reactions. It was, after all, breakfast.

"Good morning," Derek said gravely. "Allison, what do you like in your omelet?"

Laura laughed, a strange noise bordering on fingernails against a chalkboard, and hobbled into the kitchen, heedless of the broken crockery and cold coffee. Derek wrapped her in a bear hug and just hung on.

Breakfast was a long, drawn-out affair, as everyone lounged around the table, much more relaxed than the night before. The werewolves could feel the change in the air, and the humans reacted to the loosening of tension, even if they didn't understand it. Stiles watched Derek at the stovetop with almost the same amount of wonder that Laura did. The noise he made at the first bite of sweet potato-goat cheese casserole was damn near pornographic. Scott thought so, too, judging by the napkin he balled up and tossed at his best friend's face. Allison laughed, flashing her deep dimples, and Isaac leaned over to get a second scoop. Everyone sat around long after they polished off the omelets and casserole, waiting for the cinnamon buns to bake and the rest of their food to digest. Laura smiled so hard Derek thought her face would split.

The peaceful calm was interrupted by the buzzing of Derek's cell phone.

"It's Gerard," Derek said tensely.

"Sprout, honey, you're going to have to be very, very quiet, okay," Laura said, sitting up in her Alpha posture. Sprout nodded, eyes wide, and Derek answered, hitting speaker phone.

"It's Saturday," he said mildly.

"I'm fully aware of the day," Gerard said. "I'm not an invalid yet." Derek watched Allison's face as Gerard continued talking. She was still, thoughtful. Resolute. "I don't give a shit what day it is. We're meeting."

"We?" Derek asked.

"You, me, Kate. My imbecile son has something else he needs to get done."

Allison's lip curled in distaste and Scott laid a hand on her shoulder.

"What's so important we have to meet today?" Derek asked, injecting a bit of surliness into his voice. Gerard would never believe him if he rolled over easily.

"Did you completely wipe yesterday from your mind, Hale? You're going to have to pull your weight around here now that Stillman has fucked off. What can you cook?"

"It's Stilinski," Derek growled, and immediately wished he could take it back.

"I don't care what the hell his name was. He was a dumb kid, like a thousand dumb kids before him, too busy thinking with the wrong head. Forget him. Kate says you used to be a real chef. You're going to be one again. We'll do this at your farm. Should set you at ease."

Derek counted to ten in his head, reminding himself that they wanted the Argents at the farm. It would be easier to catch and hold them here, on their own territory, despite Laura’s threat from last night. He opened his mouth to agree, but what came out was, "I'm not cooking for you."

"You sure as hell will if you want to keep your precious farm. 12:00. You can make us lunch."

Gerard hung up. Derek's hand clenched around his phone, shutting it off.

"That man used bad words. I don't like him," Sprout declared.

"That's a popular opinion," Stiles said, bright spots of color on his cheeks. "Stillman? Is he fu—kidding me with this crap?"

"Yes, he was very mean to you," Laura said drily. "Let's focus on the meeting, though. Noon, and he said Kate would be with him." She raised an eyebrow at Allison, who nodded, her face hard.

"I'll call my dad." She got up and stepped out onto the back porch.

"Um, what's your policy on listening in on phone calls?" Scott asked.

"Forget it, Scott," Stiles answered before Laura could respond. "They're a nosy group of wolves in the Hale house."

But Derek didn't want to hear it. Nerves were starting to creep in again. In just a few short hours, Kate would be here, and, if all went according to plan, so would the FBI. He never really thought things would ever come to a conclusion with Kate, and yet.

He escaped out to the barn and climbed into the hayloft. Kate liked the hayloft in Vermont, had even made a suggestive comment about sneaking up there with him, but then she left early. At least she hadn't completely tainted his memories of the barn. The hayloft was where he played with his cousins when they were kids, swinging on a rope tied to a high beam and letting go, falling for one weightless moment before landing in a soft pile of hay. It was a precious place.

Stiles found him there after about half an hour, juggling a couple of hot buns in one hand as he climbed the ladder up.

"Before you say anything, your goat told me where you'd be," he said when he reached the top.

"PF's a traitor."

"Guess I'll eat both of these myself then," Stiles said, looking around for a likely pile of hay to act as a seat. Derek hooked his foot around Stiles' ankle and tugged. Stiles started to fall, windmilling fiercely, and Derek caught him, lowering him gently to the wooden floor before deftly reaching around and taking one of the cinnamon buns. It smelled amazing; he hadn't lost his touch.

"Chris agreed to bring the FBI here," Stiles said after a moment. Derek grunted and took a bite. Perfection.

"He's going to lose his father and his sister," he said after he swallowed.

"I think," Stiles said slowly, "that he thinks he lost them long ago."

Derek swallowed the last of his bun and watched Stiles pick at his own. Maybe he didn't like it. Maybe Derek really had lost his touch.

"What did Laura say about Kate coming here?" he asked, desperate for a reason to distract Stiles from the sub-par cinnamon bun.

"Hmmm, I think she's seeing an advantage to it now," Stiles said thoughtfully. "I guess she and Allison had quite the discussion last night before bed. Whereas we were boring and went straight to sleep. We totally missed our opportunity for a pillow fight."

Stiles' cheeks were pink again. Derek wondered if he was thinking about what they did get up to last night. If he concentrated, he could still feel Stiles' skin beneath his hands and feel Stiles' lips on him. Stiles darted a look at him from beneath his lashes and immediately looked away again.

"Shit," Stiles said, laughing weakly. "I'm not usually quite this… what's the opposite of suave? Bumbling, obvious, dorktastic – well, no, actually, I usually am. I just, um, I know my timing sucks, but sometime, after today… would you want to, uh—"

"Derek! Stiles!" Erica called. "Laura says the FBI are at the foot of the drive! Haul ass!"

"Dammit," Stiles muttered.

"Yes," Derek said. No one had ever really bothered asking him out before. He got hit on, people assuming he was easy, and then they got pissed when it turned out that he wasn't.

"Yes, meaning a date? To be clear, I'm planning to woo you. There will be drunken serenading and home cooked vegetables in your future."

"That sounds exactly like what I want," Derek said honestly.

Stiles broke into a huge grin and leaned over to kiss him – a respectful, chaste kiss, until Derek caught him as he was pulling away. He did want the wooing, but he wanted Stiles most of all, and he channeled that all into the kiss, a messy, nuzzling sort of kiss. Stiles moaned and curled one hand in Derek's hair, tugging him even closer.

"You guys need to stop making out now," Scott called up the ladder to the loft. "They will literally be here in one minute."

Stiles huffed a laugh, breath ghosting over Derek's lips, and pressed one last kiss to Derek's forehead.

"You ready for this?" he asked.

"No," Derek answered. "But I want to get it over with."

He helped Stiles to his feet and brushed hay off him while Stiles shoved the rest of his mangled cinnamon bun in his mouth.

"Itswuwwymorfwem," he said, swallowed, continued, "I was just too nervous to eat it before."

"Nothing to be nervous about," Derek said, giving Stiles a small smile. God, he felt nearly euphoric right now after just one kiss. They needed to get out of the hayloft fast, or the FBI was going to get an eyeful. He clambered down the ladder with less than his usual grace. Scott gave him a sharp look and immediately dragged Stiles off in the opposite direction. Derek straightened his clothes and went into the house. Laura raised her eyebrows and Erica gave him a smirk. He ignored them both and poured himself a cup of coffee.

They could hear the tires crunch in the gravel outside. Derek took a deep breath, centering himself, reminding himself of what was at stake here. Laura answered the knock at the door herself.

It was decided that Laura, Derek, Allison and Scott would be the ones to talk to the FBI. Though Derek was sure Isaac was keeping the Boyds and Stiles apprised of the situation, from where the others all huddled together in the living room. It felt a little odd to be sitting on the same side of the kitchen table as Allison, but as the agents delved deeper into their files, he was glad of her presence.

Kate was wanted in connection with five arsons in three different states. The last one, they suspected, was the Hale farm in Vermont, resulting in the deaths of numerous people.

Derek sat there, numb. After last night, he suspected as much, but to see it laid out in black and white in a tidy little FBI folder, complete with photographic evidence – that was his home, his family. Burnt to the ground and butchered, and now the FBI wanted to know why.

Allison reached over and took his hand, squeezing hard.

"You'll have to ask Kate that when she gets here," she said. "I suspect she's deluded herself into thinking that she's doing the right thing. She probably had help to get there," she continued, her voice bitter. "My grandfather, Gerard – you'll want to question him, too."

The shorter FBI agent frowned at her, but he addressed Laura and Derek. "You two seem remarkably friendly with Kate Argent's niece, considering what Kate did."

"Allison is welcome in our home," Laura said smoothly. Derek envied her the control she had. "Unlike some people, we can differentiate between who's evil and who's a friend."

"Great." The taller agent – Plant, Derek thought he remembered him saying – gave a soothing smile that looked a bit too much like a grimace. "So, uh, where can we stash our car out of sight?"

Erica and Boyd went with Allison, Scott, and the FBI to hide their cars next door at the vegetable farm, and Derek took the opportunity to talk to Laura alone.

"What are you doing with Allison?" he asked. "Pack bonding, giving her the benefit of the doubt? It's like you're…"

"What? Go ahead and say it, little brother."

"You want them for our pack."

"Yeah. Yeah I do." She ran her hands through her hair. "Aren't you tired? Of being so isolated? It was fine at first, but I – I need a pack again, Derek. I can't keep putting it all on Erica and Boyd. We need more. And you," she paused and took a breath. It was the most uncertain she'd let him see her since she became Alpha. "I'm trying to look out for you. I want you to be happy. And maybe it's really fast, to think that Stiles could mean something to you, but."

"It's not too fast," Derek said softly.

"Good." Laura reached over and covered his hands with her own.

"Hey, were you guys expecting anyone else?" Isaac called from the front room.

Derek glanced at the clock above the stove. 10:30. Shit.

"No," Laura said sharply. Derek helped her move quickly down the hall to join Isaac, Stiles, and Sprout at the front window. Derek went tense as a familiar smell reached his nose.

"It's Kate and Gerard," he growled. His phone buzzed frantically on his hip at the same time Stiles' played He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother.

"Scott, what's going on?" Stiles asked. Laura plucked Derek's from his pocket. Allison.

"Chris just called and he said he got a really weird message from his dad—"

"Gerard's driving up to the farm right now. Get over here!" Stiles yelled down the line. Next to Derek, Laura and Allison were having much the same conversation, minus the hysterics. Sprout started to cry. Derek picked him up and hugged him close.

"Derek, Sprout, Stiles – get to the barn and gather the animals. Isaac, you're with me," Laura commanded. "Move."

Derek was pulling Stiles towards the back door before he even thought of it, such was the influence of the Alpha.

"Uncle Derek, what's going on?" Sprout whimpered against his shoulder.

"We're going to be very brave," Derek told him, his hand seeking Stiles' for support. "And we're going to protect the goats and cows from some very bad people."

"The man who used the bad words?" Sprout asked, sniffling.

"Exactly."

Derek whistled for the goats, and for once they came when he called. Stiles helped him chase down Edwina, the final holdout, and convince PF to stay in a stall, and then all the animals were safely secured in the barn. Sprout clung to his back as he led Stiles up into the hayloft once again. It was the best vantage point to see what was going on in the yard. They peered cautiously through the wooden slats.

Laura and Isaac stood in the yard, facing Kate and Gerard.

"Well, maybe if you arrived when you said you would, Derek would be here," Laura was saying.

"The polite thing would be for you to invite us in," Kate said snidely.

"You, kid," Gerard said, pointing at Isaac. "Haven't I seen you before?"

Derek tensed as Kate swung her head to stare at Isaac.

"You're right, Dad," she whispered. "He's one of them."

Derek's nostrils flared. Scott and the FBI agents, followed closely by Allison, Boyd and Erica, were approaching the house, but they were still too far away because Kate was pulling her hand out of her pocket and firing her gun. The bullet tore into Isaac's shoulder, dropping him to the ground with a cry of pain. Laura's eyes turned red and Kate shifted her way. Derek didn't hesitate. He jumped out of the hayloft and slammed into Kate from above and behind. Kate gasped at the impact as her knees hit the ground, but Derek didn't give her time to realize what was happening. His claws tightened around her wrist and smashed her hand against the hard-packed dirt. The gun dropped from her fingers.

There were yells of "FBI!" and Gerard was roaring, Laura snarling, Sprout shrieking, but Derek was focused on Kate. She twisted in his grip and rolled onto her back.

"There you are, Derek," she said, laughing a bit crazily. "Did you see what I did there? I shot your little friend. Wolfsbane. Another wolf who died because he knew you."

"Isaac!" Sprout howled, and tried to jump out of the loft, too. Stiles grabbed him and pulled him back, but not before the breath caught in Derek's throat. Kate noticed.

"I'll go for them next," she whispered, raising her hand and making a gun with her grotesquely broken fingers. "Pow."

Derek roared, his eyes burning blue, and brought his arm up to slash her throat with his claws. Scott caught him by the wrist, breathing hard.

"No!" he shouted. "Derek, don't let her win!"

Derek froze. The FBI agents were right there, but neither blinked an eye at the evidence of werewolves all around them. Their guns were out, though – trained on Gerard and Kate. Off to the side, Isaac whimpered in pain.

"Isaac," Derek gritted out between his fangs. "How do we save him?"

Kate laughed. "As if I'd tell you that!"

"We know how," Agent Plant said. "Is that the gun she used?" He kept his own weapon trained on Kate and nodded his head in the direction of her gun, lying in the dirt a few feet away.

"Yes," Laura answered him.

"I didn't fire it," Gerard said quickly. "You have nothing to hold me on."

"Really? Is this your vehicle?" The shorter agent – Page, that was his name – kicked at Gerard's tires and peered in the backseat. "Looks like a sawed-off shotgun back there. Open the trunk."

Plant picked up Kate's gun as Gerard protested and revealed the bullets in the cartridge.

"Wolfsbane," he announced. Page tossed him a lighter without even breaking his argument with Gerard. Who the hell were these guys? "Can one of you give me a hand?"

Boyd and Allison stepped forward to help him break apart a bullet, light up the contents, and stuff them into Isaac's wound. Isaac screamed again, but then his wound started to close. Laura hovered, keeping one eye on Isaac and one on the Argents' trunk, stocked full of—

"C-4?" Page let out a low whistle. "You weren't kidding around this time."

"Wouldn't have to be a this time if someone could do the job right the first time around," Gerard said in a dangerously soft voice.

"Fuck you, old man," Kate muttered.

"Well!" Page rubbed his hands together. "Let's see about getting you two arrested, and then—"

"And fuck that!" Kate growled. She twisted again, but not towards her gun. No it was a knife she'd had up her sleeve. Of course she'd have one there, Derek should have known. It was all his fault. And it was so very, very cold. He heard Stiles yell his name, and the last thing he saw before blackness overtook him was the light leaching from Kate's eyes.

*** Epilogue: Six Months Later ***

"Is that it?" Stiles asked. Derek looked over at him, his eyes crinkling in amusement. Stiles' hands were literally shaking in anticipation.

"It's a feed supply catalog, Stiles," he said.

"Damn it all to Hades," Stiles muttered. He listlessly refreshed the page on his screen. "Phooey."

"Phooey? Really, Stilinski?" Danny paused in the entrance to the production office, which was really the refurbished dairy shed. It'd been in the living room before Laura got fed up with the whole thing, decided she really needed more space for her cheeses, and graciously let Derek re-do her original shed. "You won't be saying that when you see what I have here." He smiled broadly, dimples cutting deep.

Stiles shrieked in excitement, knocked over his desk chair and pounced on the proffered magazine.

"Oh my God," he whispered reverently. "Look at the picture!"

Derek and Danny both leaned over a shoulder to look at Stiles and Erica, standing behind the counter on the soundstage they'd built next to the barn. "Down on the farm with Stiles Stilinski and Erica Boyd, hosts of Bravo's 'Eat Your Veggies.'"

Stiles' finger traveled down the page. "An A!" he exclaimed. "They gave us an A! Holy shit! I have to call my dad! And Scott! Has Erica seen this yet? She didn't go into labor from the excitement? No of course not; she's way too early. That's crazy talk, that is. Oh my God!"

"Go make your calls before you go into shock," Derek said, rolling his eyes.

Stiles squeaked in excitement and ran out the door, clutching the magazine to his chest.

"You have more copies of that, right?" Derek asked.

"Twenty," Danny replied. "And I'm taking one with me when I go out tonight. Introducing myself as one of the producers of Bravo's newest hit has a certain ring to it."

He gave Derek an extra copy and slipped back out the door. Derek sat at his desk to read. It faced Stiles' desk. Danny had a smaller desk in the corner with the shelves holding his tech and camera equipment. Erica's desk was in the back, but she rarely spent time in the production office. She preferred being on camera.

Surprisingly enough, the whole thing was Laura's idea. Derek woke up a week after being stabbed through the chest by Kate Argent to find that things had changed while he was sleeping: Laura killed Kate, the two strange FBI agents took Gerard away, Chris shut down production on the cooking shows division of the Argent empire, and the Hale pack was growing. It was a lot to take in, and she didn't tell him about her show idea until a few days after. It wasn't Laura's style to treat him like he was made of glass, but then she'd never killed anyone before. He could see a subtle change in how she held herself, especially around him. Being an Alpha was never a light burden, and Laura had continually gotten the short end of the stick since becoming one. Her footsteps were even heavier now. Though not with worry. With purpose.

"I was talking with Allison the other day," she said, four days after he woke up. He just raised an eyebrow. "We were thinking about Dinner with Derek."

"What on earth for?"

"What if it was more like Dinner with Derek and Stiles?" she asked.

It was tempting, but not to him. He was just getting used to being back in the kitchen and craved his private time there, making all his old favorites for new, appreciative eaters; discovering Scott’s aversion to mushrooms, Allison’s love of pie, Isaac’s rapture over eggplant parm. And Stiles. Stiles ate everything Derek set before him. If Derek was seducing him with food, Stiles was seducing Derek with eating -- licking fingers, wetting lips, moaning in ecstasy. It was a dance, leading to a foregone conclusion that Derek just couldn’t bring himself to reach for yet. Soon. Very soon. He was just waiting for something, though he couldn’t place his finger on what.

Besides, he'd had his fill of the spotlight, and no intention of shining one on the fragile bond he was trying to grow with Stiles. But that didn't mean it wasn't a good idea. And thus Eat Your Veggies was born, completely separate from the Argent Empire. They got Danny, just like Stiles had hoped, and somehow wound up with Greenberg again, but those were the only two they brought on board from the old show. Erica was thrilled at the idea of being on television, and bringing her on helped clear up where they should shoot the show and what they should make.

Now they had their own production shingle – Hale Goats Productions – and the first few episodes were in the can. The Food Network passed, disgruntled over losing all their Argent shows, but Bravo snapped it up after Danny joined them for the pitch. They were even doing a special episode about the feast Stiles and Erica (and Derek, but behind the scenes) were making for Scott and Allison's wedding, just two weeks away. The wedding would take place in the big field between the Hale and Boyd farms. Allison was over a lot, talking logistics with Laura. The two were becoming close friends, something Derek never thought he'd see again.

At times like that, it was almost as if they'd never left Vermont, just the faces belonged to different people. It was an unfair thought to have, to the living and the dead, but Derek kept it to himself.

"Dad's getting it framed!" Stiles said, bursting back inside. "And Scott wants it signed, ha! When we were kids, I made him sign the newspaper when he scored the winning goal in lacrosse. There was this huge picture, and the camera angle – it was fucking obscene." He collapsed into his desk chair and looked across at Derek, beaming. "Here," he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a balled-up tissue.

Stiles hadn't forgotten his vow to woo Derek – chocolates, flowers, a haiku written on a post-it note, socks with Scooby-Doo characters on them, goat-themed kitchen gadgets, a miniature Han Solo frozen in carbonite – all handed over with a smile and a chaste kiss.

Derek's fingers fumbled at the tissue and pulled out a green plastic ring.

"Derek Hale, would you consent to be my date at my best friend's wedding?" Stiles asked, sliding to one knee.

"I'm already invited to the wedding," Derek said. "We're hosting it."

"Yes, well, I suppose I'll see you there," Stiles said with a sigh. "I'm just going to go—"

"Stiles," Derek cut him off. "I'll be your date anyhow."

The smile that broke out across Stiles' face was bright enough to put the sun to shame. Derek just had to pull him up and into a kiss.

It wasn't chaste this time. Derek didn't know what he'd been waiting for – maybe it was no one thing, a magic word that told him he could put his ex and grief behind him and start living again. Maybe it was the first time he could really catch his breath without feeling the sting of Kate’s knife. Maybe it was just a gradual process and the stupid green plastic ring was the final piece in the puzzle of Derek Hale, Man Ready to Move On. Whatever the case, he was exceedingly glad that Laura was over at the Boyds' for a prep meeting with Erica, Boyd, and Scott's mom to go over Erica's plans to give birth to her second baby at home. She should be gone for hours, he thought, as he took Stiles by the hand and led him across the yard, into the house, up the stairs and down the hall.

"Oh my God, is this really happening?" Stiles asked, hair already askew from Derek petting it and lips a shiny, swollen pink from Derek's kisses. Oh, it was definitely happening.

Derek pulled his own shirt off over his head before reaching for Stiles'.

"Oh my God, finally!"

Stiles enthusiastically reached for Derek's belt buckle, but got distracted when Derek began sucking a hickey low on his neck, which stopped for a dizzying ten seconds when Stiles slipped his hands into Derek's underwear and grabbed fistfuls of his ass.

"Nnnggarh, bed!" Derek declared.

"What was that first word?" Stiles asked innocently. "Did I make you incoherent?"

"You always make me incoherent." It was the simple truth.

They managed to work their way out of their pants and underwear after that, and collapsed on the bed, naked except for one of Stiles' socks.

"What are we going to do first?" Stiles asked, thrusting up into Derek's space.

"I want, I want to feel you," Derek said. It was difficult to put into words what he wanted. He wanted to be touching Stiles. He wanted to feel what it was like, to woo someone for six months and not give up, to feel enough for another person that you could make them want to wake up again. He wanted Stiles to know how much the slow seduction meant to him – more than gratitude, more than lust. And maybe some of that shone through his eyes, because Stiles let Derek hold him, let Derek trace muscles and moles with his fingertips and lips, let Derek touch him everywhere, rub his cheek against Stiles' thighs and chest and breathe in Stiles' musk, coax that first orgasm out of him with nothing but touching and kissing, and then clean him with his tongue. Stiles let him take his time, and hold him again while he recovered, thrusting lazily against his hip.

"Okay," Stiles said, when his heart rate returned to something close to normal. "I really, really want to suck you."

Derek's eyes went wide with surprise when he stiffened and came at that alone.

"Did – what just – oh my God, I'm magic!" Stiles exclaimed.

Derek's cheeks heated up.

"I—"

"Don't even think about apologizing! That was amazing. I got you to come just by talking about it. And I'll suck you later. In like, an hour."

"Might not take that much time."

"Even better!"

Stiles pulled him into a kiss, his hands coming up to slide around Derek's shoulders and bury themselves in Derek's hair.

"Can we sleep here, just us?" he whispered against Derek's lips.

"Stiles, honestly, as far as I'm concerned, you don't ever have to sleep anywhere else."

“Good thing I’m already lying down, or you totally would’ve made me swoon with that,” Stiles said, grinning up at him.

The front door opened and closed.

"Derek!" Laura called. "Can you come down here; we have to change a couple of dishes for the wedding."

The back screen door slammed closed.

"Uncle Derek, I got a new toy and I already broke it!" Sprout wailed.

On the floor, Stiles' phone buzzed with an incoming text. Derek could read it from the bed.

"Scott's freaking out because Chris wants to make the wedding cake," he said.

They looked at each other for a moment.

"Derek!" Sprout yelled again.

It was… nice… having pack again. He kissed Stiles one more time before hunting for their clothes.

They wound up with mismatched socks.