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One life stand

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Stiles shifts the messenger bag to his other shoulder, wincing at the weight. It’s ten-thirty and he’s on his way home from the library. He’s been studying late, hoping to catch up on the assignments he’s behind on, and trying to forget that he’s low on money again.

He scans the street quickly before he crosses to avoid a man who wears his hoodie a little too low over his face, who approaches another sketchy-looking dude further up. Stiles is pretty sure that there will be a deal happening soon, and he doesn’t want to see too much.

There’s a stale loaf of bread and a couple of potatoes beginning to sprout waiting for him when he gets home. His bank account is close to empty, and a particularly big group project has limited his time to work. So it’s only natural that he slows for a second when he notices the sleek, black Porsche coming down the street. That kind of car doesn’t show up in a neighbourhood like this without a reason. Especially not when driving that slowly.

However, given his regular outfit of jeans, white t-shirt and plaid button-up, it’s a surprise when it slows enough for him to catch up to it. It’s even more of a surprise when the window rolls down. He makes a quick decision; someone in a car like this could probably pay a lot of money for someone like him.

He leans down to peer through the window. “Looking for company?” He never does this. He never walks the streets. He isn’t that stupid. Until now.

To his surprise, the person in the car isn’t some sleazy old man or woman, but a guy who looks like he’s in his thirties. A hot guy in his thirties.

The guy blinks, then frowns, and Stiles realises immediately that he’s made a mistake. This isn’t a john. During the few seconds of silence, Stiles’ pulse manages to skyrocket and he feels a little bit dizzy.

“I’m not,” the guy says, clearing his throat. “I was going to ask you for directions.”

Shrugging, Stiles tries to look like he’s not embarrassed or halfway to a panic attack. “To where?”

The guy looks down at a note lying on his dashboard, and then gives him an address in the fancier part of Manhattan. Stiles isn’t surprised. He’s been in the neighbourhood a couple of times.

“Yeah, you’re definitely in the wrong place, buddy,” he says, and the guy rolls his eyes.

“I can tell. How do I get there?”

Stiles starts explaining, but the guy just looks confused.

“Don’t you have a GPS?” Stiles asks, after he’s tried three times to describe the route.

“I did, but it gave up on me thirty minutes ago.”

“I’m sorry, but that’s the best directions I can give you, dude.”

The guy seems to hesitate. “Did I misunderstand, or are you a prostitute?” he asks bluntly.

Stiles winces. He’s been called worse things while working, but yeah, while working. The guy seems to take his expression as a confirmation.

“How much do you charge an hour?”

“Why?” Stiles asks, his throat feeling a little dry suddenly. “Changed your mind about company?”

“No. But I’m willing to pay whatever you’d make with a...client, for you to get in the car and get me to my place.”

For a moment, Stiles hesitates, but then he realises that he can get enough money from this to buy groceries and other stuff that he needs without actually having sex with someone. This guy sort of looks like a serial killer, with his pale, piercing eyes and the serious set of his mouth, but Stiles hopes that he isn’t.

“I’m not sure you could afford it,” he says, stalling a little as he tries to make up his mind. All his brain chants is: stupid, stupid, stupid.

The guy gives him a sceptical look, and okay, considering the car he drives he probably can pay for Stiles to give him directions.

“Four hundred,” Stiles says, and ignores the voice in his head. It’s less than what he normally charges an hour, but he’s pretty sure no one is willing to pay that much for giving directions.

The guy immediately leans across the passenger seat to open the door. “Get in.”

Stiles hesitates for a second. This guy could very well be a murderer. On the other hand, that goes for all his clients. And four hundred bucks for giving directions instead of pretending to be someone’s boyfriend or having to fuck them? Worth the risk.

The car smells new, and the leather is stiff underneath him as he slides in and shuts the door. He places his messenger bag on the floor between his feet, and gets another sceptical look from the guy.

“What?” Stiles asks him.

“You don’t really dress your part, and that bag looks heavy.”

Stiles shifts in his seat, suddenly feeling a bit uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s easier to separate his work from the rest of him, like they don’t belong to the same life.

“I wasn’t really planning on working,” he mutters and wonders if this is a good idea after all, when they drive past his building. “I was on my way home from the library.”

“You in school?”

“Yeah, graduating in eight months.”

“What’s your major?”

“Turn left here,” Stiles instructs, instead of replying. He doesn’t want to talk about the real him. “So, what do you do?” he asks instead as the guy turns the corner.

“Business.”

“You’re not from New York, I take it.”

“California.”

“Me too.”

They’re quiet for a while, and it feels okay as long as they’re moving, but when they cross the bridge to Manhattan, they get stuck in a traffic jam, and the silence becomes awkward.

“Nice ride,” he says, tapping at the seat, as he watches the woman in the car next to them. She looks like the average stay-at-home mom, with a van and a child’s car seat in the back. She glances to the side, and smiles when they make brief eye contact. Stiles wonders what she sees when she looks at him.

“Thanks,” the guy replies, and then sighs. “You know, I didn’t expect there to be a lot of traffic at this time of day.”

“It’s Manhattan. There’s probably some event, or accident.” Stiles shrugs.

There’s another long silence, during which they move approximately eight feet forward. This time, it’s the guy who breaks it.

“How did you end up doing what you do?”

The curiosity is understandable in a way, and Stiles probably would be, too.

“It was an accident, actually,” Stiles confesses. He’s always worried, when talking about this, that he’ll accidentally pocket-dial his dad, who will hear his confession.

The memory of that first time always makes him cringe internally. He was out clubbing, and in hindsight, his outfit might have been a little extreme. But he felt lonely, touch-starved and stressed, so hooking up with that guy had been great. It wasn’t until the morning after, when there was a wad of bills on his bedside table, that he realised what had actually happened.

“I see. And then you kept doing it?”

At first, he’d been terrified and grossed out for accidentally selling sex. He had stuffed the money in an empty jar in his kitchen cabinet, and tried not to think about it. But then, he’d been low on money again, and had taken the jar out to count the bills. It was frightening to realise how much he’d made in such few hours, far more than he made a month working at the coffee shop.

Stiles shrugs again. “I need the money.”

“It’s dangerous.”

He wants to roll his eyes at that, because no shit. “I know, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still need the money. I figured it’s safer than living on the street.”

The guy is silent, and for some reason, Stiles feels like he should say something more.

“I tried all the minimum wage jobs already,” he says, because he has. He’s done ridiculous hours for a crap wage in coffee shops and grocery stores. “I had to work my ass off to get the same kind of money as I do now by working one night a month. I need to keep my grades up to keep my scholarship and you know, my future. I had to prioritise. And I don’t walk the streets. I’m not that stupid.”

“Except for tonight,” the guy points out.

“Well,” Stiles says, and looks out the window again. “I assumed that a car like yours can only be in a neighbourhood like that for one reason. I wasn’t going to pass up on the opportunity to make good money.”

“So four hundred is an overcharge?”

Stiles snorts. Clearly, this guy has no clue what sex costs. “No, I charge four hundred and fifty an hour. But I figured that I can’t do that for giving directions.”

“If they pay that much an hour, you have to be good.”

Shrugging, Stiles glances at the guy, briefly noting the soft-looking fabric of his sweater, in stark contrast to the sharp edges of his pressed shirt collar. “It’s not really about the sex part. Most just want a boyfriend experience, which means that I basically pretend that I’m in a relationship with them. Sometimes it’s dinner and a movie, before anything happens at all. Sometimes they just want to feel like they got home from work to someone waiting for them.” It feels awkward admitting to it. Somehow it sounds worse than just selling his body for money at street corners, when it’s said out loud like this. “I guess it’s more about being good at pretending.”

The guy hums, nodding to himself and takes a right when Stiles tells him to, effectively ending the conversation about his work.

“So, what brings you to New York?” he asks.

“Business. The company I work for has an office here, and they want me to take care of it.”

He says it in such a deliberate, vague way, like he’s choosing his words with care. It makes Stiles suspect that there’s more to that story, but he doesn’t push it.

“You never told me your major,” the guy points out, as Stiles directs him onto another street.

He decides to compromise. “I want to work with human resources. You know, talent management and stuff like that.”

“Strategic HR?” The guy nods to himself. “Could be interesting.”

“Yeah.”

“I prefer numbers myself.”

For some reason, Stiles has no trouble believing that.

They’re mostly quiet the rest of the way. It isn’t that far, and Stiles keeps the conversation to safe subjects, like what their coffee orders at Starbucks are. When they run out of safe subjects, Stiles just looks at the skyscrapers that surrounds him, towering on each side of the street, and aches a little bit. These condos probably don’t have the draft that his apartment has, or the smothering heat during the summers. The risk of getting mugged when going out late to buy milk is probably considerably less as well. But maybe that’s because people around here aren’t likely to buy their own milk.

The guy pulls up in front of an impressive building on the Upper East Side, disgustingly close to Central Park. Stiles wonders what it must be like to have this much money, because, let’s be honest, there aren’t that many people who can afford these condos.

“So, this is it,” he says, and rests his hand on the handle for a moment before he steps out of the car. He’s only half-expecting to actually get paid, and riding in this car is a bit of payment in itself. But the guy pulls out his wallet and hands over a wad of bills. It takes a second before Stiles realises that this is way more than four hundred. “This is too much,” he says quickly, worried that the guy will disappear into the garage before Stiles can give the money back.

“Didn’t you charge four hundred and fifty and hour?” the guy asks.

“Not for giving directions,” Stiles protests, also silently wondering who has nine hundred bucks in cash in their wallet just like that.

“They were good directions.” The guy doesn’t exactly smile, but there’s a warmer tone to his voice than before. “Be careful,” he adds, before he disappears around the corner.

Stiles quickly stuffs the money in his pocket and hopes that no one wants to mug him. He knows that it’s pity money, but right now he’s grateful, because this means that he can postpone needing to work for some time.

Apparently, fate has a different plan. His computer breaks down the same week his roommate announces that he’s moving immediately, leaving Stiles with doubled rent and a desperate need for a new computer. Nine hundred dollars won’t cover that.

When his dad calls, he lies through his teeth, but mostly he just wants to cry. “No, I’m okay,” he promises. “Matt moved out without a warning, so I need to find someone that can take his room.”

“But he’s still paying this month, right?” his dad asks, and Stiles wishes that they were in a better financial position, so that he’d be able to ask for help.

“Yeah, of course.”

Except that Matt isn’t.

Moving to New York for college was expensive on its own, but Stiles really wanted to see something other than the West Coast, and his dad supported the idea. With the scholarship and the money from his mom’s life insurance, as well as the money his dad had been able to save up for him, he had more than enough to pay for tuition and living expenses. But then his dad got shot during a drug cartel bust. Which, in itself, is something Stiles never thought he’d hear about in Beacon Hills. His dad was only able to work part-time, and the money saved for Stiles’ education disappeared frighteningly quickly when it was time to pay the medical bills.

It’s not that Stiles is bitter about it. He loves his dad, and honestly, having his dad is way more important than a college degree. So, prostitution was never a thing Stiles considered, until he had to. Until he realised that his grades were starting to slip, because of how much time work took from studying. Until his dad asked how his financial situation was, and Stiles lied again.

He knows there are a lot of people who do sex work and enjoy it. That there are people who do the same thing he does because they want to, deciding that they might as well get paid for doing something they like. But Stiles isn’t one of them.

He doesn’t do it that regularly. A couple of times a month at most. He finds his clients online and he sticks to hotel rooms they have to pay for. He doesn’t feel as disgusting anymore, and he’s able to keep his grades up. He’ll never have to do it again after graduating, and there’s only eight months left. It’s nothing compared to how long he’s been doing it for.

In the end, Stiles ends up on his usual site and realises that he’s going to have to make some kind of long-term contract. Long-term meaning more than a couple of sessions, in case it takes him a while to find a roommate who isn’t a complete psychopath.

As he updates his ad, he thinks about removing some of the things he won’t do, just to attract more people. Many of the really rich dudes are into bondage – which Stiles definitely isn’t up for with someone he doesn’t trust – and way heavier stuff than that. He’s always refused to do that sort of thing before, but maybe that’s what will save him from living on the street.

He bites the pad of his thumb for a moment, weighing the pros and cons. The pros being a bigger target group for his services. The cons...well, pretending to be some creep’s kid. For his own sanity’s sake, he decides against it, and keeps his usual Wills and Won’ts. If he doesn’t get a good offer within the week, he’ll make the changes then.

Within three hours, some dude offers him an outrageous price, and if Stiles wasn’t so desperate he’d decline. There’s always something fishy with someone offering that much so soon. Instead, he agrees to a dinner the following night to talk things through, to see how it feels.

It turns out that the man – because he’s very much a man, probably in his forties – must be quite wealthy. He takes Stiles to one of the better restaurants, and even offered to send a car to pick him up, but honestly, Stiles trusts the druggies in the subway more. He calls himself Deucalion, and he orders oysters and bitter champagne that makes Stiles’ stomach churn.

Deucalion is dressed immaculately, and he’s got perfect teeth – probably veneers. There’s too much jewelry for Stiles’ taste, with a ring on each finger, slim gold chains around his neck, and a Rolex that probably costs more than Stiles’ tuition. Stiles wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to be a part of the mob.

Deucalion is very nice, and he talks with a smooth voice that makes Stiles suspect that he’s used to convincing people on a daily basis. He doesn’t push any sexual subjects, doesn’t look at Stiles like he’s a piece of meat, and doesn’t grope him when he takes Stiles’ jacket. Everything seems good, but still, there’s something. Something in his eyes that makes Stiles’ stomach turn itself into knots, that makes him feel queasy. If it wasn’t for the money, he’d be out of here already. He’s never even thought about ignoring his gut feeling. Well, until now.

He looks around the restaurant to get a break from his own brain, and also to avoid watching Deucalion eating his oysters, because ugh. His gaze doesn’t pause until he spots someone familiar. It’s the guy who asked for directions, and he’s having dinner with another guy in a suit. There are folders on the table between them, and no alcohol in their glasses, so it’s most likely work-related.

“I just need to use the bathroom,” he says quietly, and gets up before Deucalion has a chance to say anything. He doesn’t really need to use the bathroom, but he needs a breather and a moment to think. The restrooms are empty, and in the dim light from a crystal chandelier (in the bathroom!), his reflection looks pale and lost. As he leans over the sink to splash water over his face, someone else walks in.

“I would stay away from him,” a familiar voice says, and Stiles looks up. It’s the directions guy again, and he’s frowning.

“Who?” Stiles asks, but he already knows.

“Deucalion. He’s bad news.”

“How d’you know?”

“I don’t know him, but I know of him. He’s got a reputation for exploiting prostitutes and some of them never seem to show up again. I would stay away from him.” He repeats the last few words with more determination this time.

Stiles sighs, sagging against the sink. He doesn’t even ask how the guy can know all this when he’s only been in town for a month. “I had a bad feeling,” he confesses, because why not? He might not know the guy’s name, but he seems to be an alright dude. He paid Stiles nine hundred for directions.

“Then why are you still here? Did you already agree to something?”

“No.” Stiles shakes his head. “But I really need money. A lot, and fast. And he’s really my only option if I don’t want to become homeless and fail to graduate.”

“How’s that?”

Stiles swallows. He thinks about lying, but it’s not like this guy doesn’t already know what he does for a living. “My roommate moved out without a warning. Left me with the entire rent. My computer crashed and I really need to buy a new one for school.” He sucks in a breath. “And you know, maybe live a little. Eat food and maybe treat myself to Starbucks from time to time.”

The guy is quiet for a while, before he opens and closes his mouth once, then opens it again. “Do you ever offer just your company for money? No sex. Just company?”

“Not really,” Stiles shrugs. “I guess I could, but the money wouldn’t be enough. They pay for the sex, not my awesome sense of humour.”

“How much do you need?”

“A lot.”

“Give me a number,” the guy presses.

Stiles tells him his rent. “Plus money for a new laptop. Preferably yesterday.”

“And for living,” the guy supplies.

“Yeah.”

“I could use someone to accompany me to things,” the guy says casually. “I get invited to a lot of events and dinners that I’m expected to bring a date to. In California I would’ve had my sister do it, but that won’t be possible here.” He looks at Stiles for a moment. “I’m not interested in sleeping with you, but I’d be willing to pay you whatever you need for your company a few times a month, as long as it works with your class schedule.”

Stiles gapes. “What?” he asks after a moment.

“Just think about it. And I’m serious when I say that you need to stay away from Deucalion. He’s not a good guy.”

He hands Stiles a business card and disappears out the door. Stiles stares down at it.

 

TRI Skel Venture Funds
ABO Group


Derek Hale
Managing Partner
New York Office

At least he has a name now. He hesitates, but eventually walks back out again, wondering if he’s really been in the bathroom for a long time, or if it’s only in his head.

“So,” Deucalion says as soon as Stiles sits down. “How do you feel about this arrangement?”

Stiles is quiet for a moment. “To be honest, I think I’ll have to decline.”

Deucalion smiles. Stiles can’t exactly pinpoint why, but it sends icy shivers down his spine. “You know how to get a hold of me, should you change your mind.”

Stiles stares up at the ceiling in his bedroom a few hours later. He’s sick to his stomach, knowing that he needs to pay his rent in a few days and he doesn’t have enough money. He’s checked his bank accounts ten times, just to make sure. Sighing, he picks up his phone and types in a text for Derek, not wanting to call since it’s the middle of the night.

< I’ll agree to this, but I will need an advance to be able to pay my rent, and get a computer for school.

It takes forty minutes before he gets a reply, during which he’s imagined a few hundred possible ways that he won’t be able to come up with enough money. Unless he wants to call Deucalion and take him up on his offer.

> I’ll see to it. Come by the office tomorrow and we’ll discuss the details. I’ll make sure that you have a check when you leave.

Stiles lets out a breath, and something tight in his stomach loosens.

< Thank you for doing this.

> You have no idea how horrible it is going to events alone, when you’re expected to bring a date. I’m doing this for selfish reasons.

Stiles doesn’t believe that for a second.

TRI Skel Venture Funds is located in a fancy business district in Manhattan. Stiles pretends not to see the names of the other companies around here, because that’ll only force him to realise how much money Derek must be making. Well, that only works until he steps through the entrance, and everything is marble and glass, and there’s a man who asks him for his ID and who he’s supposed to meet.

“I have no scheduled meeting for someone with your name, sir,” the man says and squints at Stiles’ driver’s license. Stiles’ heart begins to race, anxiety clawing in his chest. He’s been played.

Just as he starts thinking about having to take on Deucalion’s offer or end up homeless, the man continues, “But Ms. Martin told me that Mr. Hale would have a visitor around this time. I will give them a call. Please wait here.”

Stiles breathes through his nose, terrified that he won’t even be let inside the elevator, and watches the men and women in crisp suits hurry past him, scanning their ID badges before walking past the turnstiles. His skinny jeans and plaid have never felt more out of place than here, and even touching the sleek desk, behind which the man is now speaking on the phone, feels wrong.

“Mr. Hale is awaiting you. Take the elevator to floor sixty-five, and Ms. Martin will meet you there.”

The man opens a side gate to let him through, and hands Stiles a badge that says visitor to put on his shirt.

It feels like the longest elevator ride in Stiles’ life. There are two other people in the elevator, but they get off on floors forty-one and forty-seven respectively, leaving him alone for almost twenty stories. The walls inside the elevator are metallic and shiny, making him wonder if no one ever places a hand there after eating a donut, or if there are employees who constantly polish them.

As soon as the elevator stops and the doors open with a ding, a petite girl with red hair and a sharp look in her eyes that makes Stiles feel like he’s being observed, rises behind her desk to meet him. Her name tag says Lydia Martin.

“Mr. Hale is this way,” she explains, and motions for Stiles to follow her. She walks very quickly in her shoes, and even though her legs are much shorter than Stiles’, he has a hard time keeping up. “He’s very busy today, but told Isaac to make time in his schedule for you.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, hoping that his face isn’t as hot as it feels.

“I wouldn’t expect you to be his type, but really, no one knows his type. I shouldn’t be surprised.”

It takes Stiles a moment to realise that she probably thinks that he’s Derek’s boyfriend. For a second, he wants to protest, but what’s he going to say, anyway? No, I’m not his boyfriend, I’m just going to accompany him to all these events and get money for it. So he just stays quiet.

Derek’s office is huge. It’s almost the size of Stiles’ apartment, not that that’s saying anything. The entire back wall is made of glass, with a great view over Manhattan, and there’s a collection of baseballs in a cabinet. Stiles wonders briefly why one needs a few couches, a lounge area and a desk in the same office, but maybe that comes with being the managing partner of an entire company like this.

“Hey,” he says awkwardly, when he spots Derek behind his desk, phone pressed against his ear. Derek holds up a finger, and continues to talk for a few minutes, sounding stern and displeased, before he hangs up with the words: “Just get it done today.” He’s wearing a suit, and the frown on his face smooths somewhat when he looks up again.

“Please sit,” he says, gesturing towards the chair opposite of his desk.

Stiles does so, awkwardly, looking anywhere but at Derek. He feels like he’s in a job interview. But the view, the view is absolutely incredible. He doesn’t understand why Derek sits with his back against it all. He thinks he can see the Empire State Building from here.

“So,” Derek begins and leans back in his chair. He’s wearing a tailored button-up, crisp white, with cufflinks that sparkle in the sunlight when he moves his hand. The suit jacket is hanging over the back of his chair. “I’m glad you could make it.”

“Sorry I’m a few minutes late. The subway was delayed and this isn’t my usual neighbourhood, so it took me some time to find the right place.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Derek reaches for a tray placed on the edge of his desk, and his shirt stretches a little over the muscle curving his shoulder. Stiles really doesn’t understand why he needs to hire someone to accompany him to events. There must be models flinging themselves at his feet for a chance to be his plus one. “Anything to drink?”

Stiles glances at the tray for a second. He’s pretty sure that one of those crystal bottles contains whiskey and the other one bourbon.

“Do you have water?”

“Sure,” Derek says and pours himself a glass of whiskey before he presses a button on his desk. “Lydia, could you get someone to bring a glass of water for my guest, please?”

A moment later, a guy walks in with a glass of water, placing it carefully in front of Stiles on a coaster, and then leaves immediately.

“Have you had time to think about this?” Derek asks, and Stiles pauses as he reaches for his glass.

“Have you?” he counters.

The corner of Derek’s mouth quirks upwards slightly, but it’s only for a moment. “Yes.”

Stiles takes a breath, because he truly has been thinking about this, and there are a few things that bother him. “Okay, so there are a few issues.”

“Do tell.”

Stiles spins the glass on the coaster, watching the ice cubes slowly turn with the motion. “I doubt that I have the right clothes to wear. I mean, this–” he gestures towards his body “–is basically the fanciest outfit I own.”

“I’ll arrange for suitable clothes for whatever event we’ll attend. I’d have to arrange for my own anyway.”

Stiles nods his understanding. He’s okay with that. Clients have asked him to wear all kinds of weird stuff, so this will be no different. “I’m not sure I’d be able to pass for a real date. I’m not a socialite.”

“You’re a college student,” Derek points out, like this is something that changes everything.

“So?”

“You’re obviously smart. I also have connections at NYU, which would explain how we met.”

Blinking, Stiles turns that over in his head. “So you’re suggesting that we fake a relationship?”

Derek shrugs lazily. “Not necessarily, but if you’re repeatedly going as my date, someone will eventually ask how we met. I doubt they’d find the real version very satisfying.”

“They might, if they want to sell your ass to the tabloids.”

Derek snorts. “Very true.”

Stiles is silent for a while, drawing in the condensation of the glass with his fingertip. “No sex?”

“No sex,” Derek confirms. “How often will you be able to attend an event?”

“Dunno.” Stiles shrugs. “Maybe once a week, depending on deadlines and exams and stuff.”

“We could work that out. I have a price proposal. I’m willing to negotiate.”

He pushes a paper across the desk and Stiles glances at it. For a moment, he’s sure that he’s mistaken. There has to be a comma missing there somewhere.

“Um. Is this the total price, or...?” he asks, despite the fact that there’s a per month at the end.

“A month. I figure we could keep the arrangement until you’ve graduated, unless you change your mind, which you’re perfectly open to do. But this will require some standby, hence the number.”

Stiles swallows. It’s a lot of money. For nothing, really. He knows that you should never settle for the first price proposal, but this is already a lot more than he hoped for. “It looks good.”

The problem is that he can’t really ask for an advance now, can he? Maybe he can use the computers at school until he’s able to buy himself a new one. They’re slow and it would require him to be there as soon as the library opened in the mornings, to make sure he got one. On the other hand, that would be good for his self-discipline. But then he thinks about his rent, and his stomach drops. It’s not possible to ask for more than this.

“Do you want to sign a contract?” Stiles asks.

“So that there will be proof of me buying your company for money?”

“Yeah, probably a bad idea,” Stiles agrees. He knows that he has the upper hand in this anyway. Even if not everyone would believe him if he went to the tabloids with the story, it would still be interesting enough to sell issues, and Derek’s image would be tainted.

“You’ll be paid in advance,” Derek assures him. “It’s not a lot of money for me to lose if you’d decide not to show up and disappear, but it’s a lot of money for you not to receive if you accompanied me to an event and I didn’t pay.”

“Yeah, that’s true.” Stiles shifts uncomfortably, because those nine hundred bucks for directions were okay somehow, but now it feels a lot more awkward, knowing that this guy is paying him an overpriced rate for just hanging out with Stiles, just to make sure that he doesn’t sell his ass – literally.

“What would be the best way to contact you?” Derek asks.

“Text, I guess. I study a lot, and I tend to find calls annoying when I’m concentrating on something else. I can choose to answer the texts when I take coffee breaks.” He shrugs.

“Alright, I’ll stick to texts mainly.”

“I mean,” Stiles hurries to say, realising that he should probably be on hold 24/7 for that salary, “if you need to get a hold of me fast, you can always call. It’s just that I prefer texts.”

“I’ll be sure to notify you a week in advance for every event, if possible. If not, you’re free to decline. You’re also free to decline if you’re too busy with school and classes.”

“So I’m really getting paid without actually having to do anything?”

Derek shrugs. “If it happens too often, we should probably think about cancelling the arrangement.”

Stiles nods. “Yeah, that’s true.” He feels sort of numb. More so than he ever has before, even that time when he told someone that he doesn’t do oral without a condom, even if they have a fresh STD result available. He felt so much like a prostitute then, and now, he can’t shake the feeling of being someone’s charity project.

“I also want an exclusive arrangement.”

Stiles looks up at that. “So I can’t date anyone during these months?”

Nodding, Derek pins him with his gaze. “Yes, will that be a problem?”

Stiles looks down at his glass again, realising that he still hasn’t had any water, and shakes his head. “No, it’s not like I’d have the conscience to date someone while doing what I usually do anyway.”

“It’s not a control thing,” Derek explains. “It’s just that it could cause a stir if the tabloids found out.”

“Are you famous or something?”

“Not in the sense of actors or reality stars, but my name is quite well known in the business world. If there was a lack of news, I guess it could be of interest.”

Stiles looks at him for a moment, briefly wondering how old Derek really is. “You’re taking a big risk here.”

“Regular dating is a risk, too.”

An odd, prickling sensation spreads across his scalp, and his gaze gets stuck somewhere outside the window. “I just realised something,” he says absently, ignoring the previous topic.

“What?”

Snapping his gaze away from the window, he finds Derek looking at him intently. His eyes are very pale, compared to the black of his hair and beard, and the tan of his skin. “You don’t even know my name.”

Derek smiles slightly at that. “I was wondering when we’d get to that.”

A part of him feels as though he should show his ID, and probably his birth certificate, too, but that feels too personal. Barely anyone knows his real name. “You can call me Stiles.”

“It’s not your real name?”

He knows what Derek must be thinking, because don't all prostitutes work under fake names? Stiles usually goes with Jamie.

“No,” Stiles confesses, shaking his head. “It’s my nickname since I was a kid. Only my mom and dad can pronounce my real name.”

Derek looks at him for a long moment, before he nods, as though he’s accepting this answer. His phone starts ringing a second later.

“I guess I better go,” Stiles says, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. Everything is conflicted right now, it seems. He’s worried about his rent, but still relieved that he’ll have an income for the foreseeable future. Has their agreement even started yet? If not, he might be able to work tonight to pay for his rent. Paying for food usually works out somehow.

He blinks when Derek waves a hand in front of his face, realising that he’s zoned out.

“Sorry.”

“Here’s a bunch of information. Read it before Wednesday.” Derek pushes a folder into his hands. It’s a bit heavy and Stiles sighs internally. He doesn’t have the time for reading anything other than research right now. Well, either way, it’s better than any other option that he has.

“Alright. Thanks. See you.”

He exits just as Derek reaches for the phone. Lydia stands up behind her desk when he walks past her, and presses the elevator button for him.

“Thanks,” Stiles says again.

“You’re welcome. Next time you drop by, you only need to ask for Mr. Hale in the lobby, and you will be let through.”

Stiles just nods, feeling too dizzy to speak. As soon as he sits down on the subway train, he feels like crying again. There’s only been a few times he’s cried over his work before. And now...it’s not exactly because he’s going to sell his company to Derek for money – he’s done way worse than that. But when he spots the homeless man on the other side of the window, as the train slows at the next station, realisation dawns on him: he’s going to be there soon, too.

A few people crash in the library at school on occasion, but he’s quite sure that not a lot of people manage to spend entire nights there without getting caught. Possibilities spin in his thoughts, but none of them seem doable. He’d have to win the freaking lottery to sort this out, and he doesn’t have any money for a ticket.

He briefly thinks about asking Derek for an advance again, but maybe he’ll cancel the entire deal if Stiles gets pushy. He can probably survive on the street for a couple of weeks, before he gets his first paycheck and is able to find a new apartment.

Or maybe he can talk to his landlord, explain the situation and promise to pay double next month.

He runs the couple of blocks from the station to his apartment, pretending that his shortness of breath is because he’s way out of shape, and not because he’s tiptoeing the line to a panic attack. Deciding to talk to his landlord tomorrow, prepared to beg on his knees and everything, he uses his phone to post an ad on Craigslist looking for a new roomie. Hopefully no psychopath contacts him.

He tries studying, but his thoughts are somewhere else, and things get boring quickly without access to a computer. Instead he decides to go to bed early, and grabs the folder Derek gave him on his way to the bedroom. Sleep isn’t likely to happen anyway.

Most of the information consists of copies of articles mentioning Derek’s family. Stiles suspects that he asked one of his employees to put together some information, because he has a hard time picturing Derek googling himself. According to an eight-year-old article, Derek’s family consists of three kids, including Derek, and two parents. Stiles’ own family feels measly in comparison, since it’s only him and his dad now.

Sometimes he wonders what it’s like to grow up with siblings. He’s suspected for quite some time that his parents wanted to have more children, before his mother got ill. Stiles was five at the time, and she was sick for years and years. She was gone long before she actually died, and sometimes he thinks about when he really lost her. Maybe it was when she no longer recognised him. But, then there was that last night, when he sat with her and she was suddenly so clear and present, like she wasn’t dying at all.

He shakes his head, forcing himself to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s not like he needs to think about even more depressing subjects right now.

Derek’s family seems to be one of generations of success. The company he works for is huge and disgustingly successful. From what Stiles can figure out from reading the articles, the money Derek’s paying him isn’t anything but pocket change to him. To Stiles, it’s a fortune.

Just as he starts thinking about his rent again, wondering if it’s worth taking the risk to put another ad on the usual site before this whole business thing with Derek starts, something falls out between the sheets of papers.

And there it is. A check. He picks it up, fingers trembling slightly, and as he turns it over he prays to all the higher powers he can think of that it will at least cover his rent. He reads the amount, and then again, wondering if he’s mistaken.

Four thousand dollars.

Four. Thousand. Dollars.

It covers his rent and a computer. Just like Derek promised.

He sucks in a shaky breath and presses the check to his chest for a moment, closing his eyes before he looks at it again, just to make sure that he isn’t dreaming. He types out a text for Derek.

< Thanks for the check. You just saved my ass from being homeless.

It takes half an hour before he gets a reply.

> I did promise to cover your rent and a new computer, didn’t I?

< Wasn’t sure if you remembered.

> Why didn’t you ask when you were here?

Stiles rolls his eyes at that.

< You offered me a lot of money every month. I couldn’t ask for more than that.

> 1st rule in business: always make sure you get what was agreed upon.

< I’ll remember that.

< Also “here”? Are you still at work?

> I’m always at work.

Stiles snorts to himself. He doesn’t have any trouble believing that. Being a workaholic seems to be a common trait among successful businessmen.

< It’s past midnight. You should get some sleep in that fancy new place of yours.

> If you say so.

Stiles doesn’t believe him, until he gets another text forty minutes later.

> You got your wish. I’m at home, in bed, already bored.

The relief from realising that he won’t be homeless at the end of the month has made him full of energy and so giddy that he can’t sleep, so Stiles replies.

< You’re supposed to sleep, not have fun.

> I do think this is why people are in relationships. Talking in bed before going to sleep is probably more fun than going over contracts.

< I thought you weren’t supposed to work. PS I don’t think that’s all they do tbh

> Let’s pretend that I didn’t have to google “tbh”

> And you only told me to go home, not to quit working.

< Quit working!

Almost instantly, he gets an exclamation point in reply, causing him to smile. Derek’s probably going to bed, then. It’s weird, Derek feels less formal and stiff on text than in person, and Stiles assumed that it would be more the other way around.

Thirty minutes later, he falls asleep, still smiling. His ass has just been saved, and his chest feels lighter than it has in a long, long time.

The following day, he goes to pay his rent and buys himself a brand new computer. He’ll have a steady income over the next six months or so. Hopefully long enough for him to have time to get a real job after graduation.

The first time he hears from Derek is on a Monday, two weeks later. It’s a short text, only informing him of an event next Friday. Thankfully it’s just a show-and-mingle thing, but Stiles still needs to dress better than he usually does.

> Drop by Suit&Tie on Thursday at 6 PM for clothes.

Stiles googles the address to find what subway station is closest. He hurries from his Corporate Social Responsibility class, feeling overly warm and a little sweaty, with his bag digging into his shoulder from the weight of his books. He doesn’t expect Derek to be there, but as he half-stumbles through the door, the first thing he sees is Derek leaning against the desk, talking to some guy who looks exactly like every other douchebag Stiles has ever met.

“Sorry I’m late,” Stiles says, trying to smooth the wrinkles on his plaid shirt with his hands as he looks around.

“Only just got here.” Derek shrugs, and when Stiles checks his phone, he notices that he’s only two minutes late. Thank god.

“I didn’t realise you’d be here.”

“Wasn’t going to, but then I figured I could use an early evening from work.” Derek shrugs again. “This is Aiden. He knows what’ll be appropriate for you to wear.”

“Oh.” Stiles feels a little uncomfortable under Aiden’s scrutinizing glare. “Well, I’ll wear whatever you want me to.”

“You have this hipster thing going on,” Aiden says, and it’s clear that he doesn’t approve. Stiles doesn’t agree really, but he assumes that it would be stupid to voice this now. It’s just clothes. “We’ll go with something similar.”

During the next forty minutes, Stiles tries on pants, shirts, more pants, more shirts, and he ends up with something that looks semi-casual and doesn’t completely go against his entire identity. It’s pretty comfortable too, and he’s allowed to wear Converse – albeit clean ones – so he’s pleased.

He feels awkward when Derek pulls out a black AmEx and pays for his bags, but it’s a part of his job, so what’s he going to say? It’s not like he can afford these clothes anyway. It’s a little weird when they step outside, because how do you say goodbye to someone who’s not quite your friend, but isn’t exactly a stranger either?

Derek fishes out his car keys, and hands Stiles the bags. “Want me to drive you home?”

“Nah, it’s too far.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “It isn’t. Come on, get in.”

Stiles manages to somehow get in the car with all the bags, without causing himself or the car fatal injury, so that’s a win at least. The rumble of the engine is familiar, even though he’s only ridden in it once before.

“Thanks,” he says quietly as Derek drives them through endless streets.

“No problem.”

The rest of the ride is quiet. Stiles feels like he should say something, considering that his new job is to socialise with people. Clearly, he’s not really proving to Derek that he’s worth the hefty salary.

“Nervous about next Friday?” Derek asks him suddenly, as they stop at a red light.

“Yeah,” Stiles confesses. “I’ve never been to this sort of thing before.”

“I’ll pick you up at five, and we’ll go together.”

Nodding, Stiles drags his fingertips over the leather of the car seat, trying to distract himself. “Will there be photographers?”

“It’s not a red carpet event,” Derek clarifies. “There might be photographers inside, but it isn’t likely that the pictures will end up anywhere but on the website.”

Relieved, Stiles nods again. “Okay.”

“Did you get yourself a new computer?” Derek asks then, changing the subject.

“Yeah, of course.” He still gets that bubbly feeling in his stomach whenever he uses it.

“Good.”

Derek’s voice sounds a little odd, but Stiles can’t pinpoint why.

“What? Did you think I bought drugs with the money?”

Derek shrugs, but when Stiles looks at him more closely, he seems embarrassed. “I can’t possibly know, can I?”

“Do you think I’m some sort of crack whore?” It just sort of slips out. And yeah, it’s a little harsh and a lot judgmental.

Derek blinks, and he glances over at Stiles for half a second, before turning his attention back to the road. “No, of course not. It’s just that...well, drug use is more common than people seem to be aware of. I just wanted to make sure that the money was spent on something you have use for.”

“If I was a drug addict, I’d probably have use for meth.”

Derek snorts as they come to Stiles’ block. “Touché.”

“If you want to check for yourself, it’s sitting on my kitchen table.” There’s this heavy weight behind his breastbone, but he doesn’t know why. All things considered, it’s not an weird question at all.

“It’s okay,” Derek assures him. “Thanks for offering though.”

He still feels a bit offended. Like it isn’t a common enough thing to suspect that someone who sells his body for money might be doing drugs as well. That’s not unheard of, is it? But he isn’t one of them.

“This is me,” Stiles says, as they come to his building.

“This one?” Derek asks, slowing down. And yes, Stiles can understand the scepticism on his face. The building is old, made of brown bricks. The fire escape on the outside looks like it’s going to fall down any moment, and considering what it feels like climbing it, it probably isn’t that far from the truth. There’s a lone front wheel from a bike chained to a lamppost outside, left behind when someone stole the rest some time last year. It’s not a well-off neighbourhood, and it shows. It’s not as bad as it could be, though, and Stiles is grateful for that.

“Yeah. Thanks for the ride.”

“You’re welcome. See you next Friday.”

“See you.”

He feels awkward as he walks up the stairs. Derek waited for him to get through the front door, clearly, because Stiles could hear him drive off just as he started climbing the staircase.

Somehow with their arrangement, Stiles thought this was more of a pity job for Derek. But now he realises that Derek just sees him as a prostitute. Which he is.

The computer sits on his kitchen table, just as he told Derek, when he gets home. Silvery and shiny. He snaps a picture of it with his phone and sends it to Derek before he can stop himself. No caption, just the pic.

It’s chilly indoors. It’s the middle of October, so the temperature is dropping, and the heating in the apartment is expensive. Right now, he sticks to an extra hoodie and two pairs of socks. Going home to California over Christmas break will be amazing, considering how chilly it’s going to be in NYC by then. Thank god his dad bought the plane tickets several months ago.

Living with Matt, he became used to being locked up in his own room constantly, and the furniture in the combined living room and kitchen has mostly been used by Matt and his asshole friends. Sometimes Stiles is certain that he can still smell alcohol and smoke on the cushions, and has to open a couple of windows. Right now, though, it feels like a quiet relief to sink into the couch with his new computer and go over the responses to his Craigslist ad. Up until today, there have only been creeps replying. Creeps that are so creepy that he can even tell that they’re creeps from their messages.

But today, there’s one. A guy named Scott McCall has replied, and he seems like a pretty legit dude. He’s even linked to his Facebook profile, and based on the little information that is available for the public, Stiles thinks he seems pretty cool. He’s in a relationship with someone named Allison Argent, and he’s from a small town pretty close to where Stiles grew up. They’re even the same age and Scott is also a student at NYU.

Suddenly his skin buzzes, and there’s that little spark of hope. Of things looking up. Maybe, maybe. He replies to Scott’s email quickly, asking for a meet-up over coffee to see if a roommate thing can be arranged. Then he just sits there, stalking Scott’s Facebook profile for fifteen minutes, searching for something that will blow his cover and expose him as a psychopath. But there’s nothing. Scott replies just as Stiles has put Derek’s name in the Facebook search instead. There’s a number of smiley faces and a YES in capitals. Stiles thinks that Scott must be too good to be true.

The heavy feeling from earlier has disappeared. The new hope of Scott being a good roommate makes it easier to go to bed that night, and he even makes sure that he looks decent when he goes to meet up Scott at the coffee place around the block the next day.

Scott is a ray of sunshine, captured in human form. He’s all smiles and hugs Stiles, even though it’s the first time they’ve met.

“Wow, this is so awesome, dude! I lived in a dorm until now, but I can’t stand it. Honestly.”

Stiles grins, knowing exactly what that’s like. “I feel you. That’s why I had to move out.”

“So, what’s the place like?” Scott asks after two hours of talking about everything. Stiles feels like he’s known Scott for a thousand years and then some.

“It’s a two-bedroom apartment, so you’d have your own room. We share a bathroom, and the kitchen and living room is combined, but I think it could work out. I’m not a neat freak, but not too messy, either.”

“It’s cool. I usually keep my messes in my own space, you know?”

Stiles knows exactly.

“So, what’s your personal life like?” Scott asks suddenly, when he’s gotten a refill of his coffee. “D’you have a special someone?”

Scott has already mentioned Allison, who seems to be the most perfect human being ever. That’s probably why they’ve been together since first year of high school, Stiles assumes. He hesitates now, though. Explaining Derek is difficult, but it feels like he has to, on some level. It seems like Scott wants to be his friend, not just someone who shares a front door with him, and he’ll probably realise that something’s going on.

“Uh, I’m sort of seeing someone. It’s very new, so.”

“Cool, dude. Gimme a name!”

Stiles flushes a little. “Derek.”

Scott cracks the brightest, warmest smile Stiles has ever seen. “Aw dude, you look so happy.”

Against his better judgment, Stiles nods. What else is he going to say? This arrangement will probably last for quite some time, and it’d be awkward if Scott didn’t think that he liked Derek for real.

It’s not like Stiles hasn’t already decided that Scott will be his new roommate, but he still waits to make his decision when he gets home, just to make sure he’s not rushing anything. Scott replies with a heart, the goddamn dork. Stiles thinks they might become best friends.

As he’s lounging on the couch, eating in front of the TV with a window open, he gets a reply from Derek. He had forgotten about even sending that picture, and now he feels like an idiot when he sees Derek’s text.

> I want to apologise. It was never my intention to be offensive. This is all very new to me, and I don’t know much about your world. I have a lot of assumptions that most likely are incorrect.

Stiles feels like he’s some kind of alien specimen. He doesn’t want to be rude, but he replies anyway, against his better judgment. At least he has a roommate now.

< Well, “my world” isn’t some exotic place. I’m a college student. I don’t have time or money for drugs.

< Sorry, I’m overreacting

He sends the second text a moment later, realising that he’s risking his employment. It isn’t like Derek really needs him.

A second later, Derek calls him and Stiles hesitates for a moment, before he accepts the call.

“I know you prefer me texting you, but I’m not great at expressing myself like that, so I hope it’s okay for me to call.”

“Yeah, sure.” It’s odd, hearing Derek’s voice in his ear. There are only a few days left until the event now, and Stiles really doesn’t want to get fired before even getting a chance.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” Derek says, repeating his text. “I don’t know a whole lot outside of doing business, and, you know…”

“Socialite stuff?” Stiles provides, when Derek trails off.

“If you want.”

“I’m sorry for being rude,” Stiles says, swallowing his pride. “I was just frustrated.”

“I get that. I was being ignorant.” The other end is quiet, and considering that it’s late, Stiles suspects that Derek is alone at the office. Working late, probably. That seems like a standard thing for him.

“Who isn’t, though? It’s not like it’s the most prestigious line of work.”

“Well,” Derek says slowly, and it seems like he’s choosing his words with care. “Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice, do you?”

Stiles shrugs to himself. Like he doesn’t know that already. “Yeah. At least I’ve found a roommate.”

“That’s good,” Derek tells him, and the conversation becomes awkwardly quiet after that. “Are you still available on Friday?”

Frowning, Stiles pushes a couple of forgotten spaghetti noodles around on the plate. He’s made tomato sauce from ketchup and garlic. It’s not that great. “Yeah, of course. I thought you were going to fire me.”

Derek snorts at that, like it’s something funny. “I can use a reality check every now and then.”

Despite the seriousness of the matter, Stiles smiles to himself. He’s trying to figure out who Derek is, but it’s hard. They haven’t known each other for long, but Stiles is usually terrifyingly good at this. “Well, I’m glad I can provide with something.”

“You’ll do a lot of providing on Friday, let me assure you.”

With any other client, Stiles would get a chunk of ice settling in his stomach. But his arrangement with Derek is different. There are no expectations of what outfits he should wear, or what back-breaking positions he should assume. He’s just gonna talk to people. Be polite and stuff. He can do that. Totally.

Come Friday, Stiles’ stomach is in knots. He’s standing outside, waiting for Derek to pick him up. His new clothes are a bit stiff, feeling like restraints compared to his regular, well-worn jeans and t-shirts. Still, he thinks he looks pretty good. That douche Aiden seems to know what he’s doing, because even though Stiles can’t put together an outfit to save his life, he can at least tell when someone looks well-dressed or not. Today, he’s part of the former group.

> 5 min late

He sighs when he sees the text, but that at least postpones getting to the event with an equal amount of time. He’s terrified. Surely, he’s going to say a lot of inappropriate things, or spill something very colourful on his very white shirt, or on someone very important.

He’s far away in thoughts of his own failure when a limousine slows down in front of him. Stiles panics for a second, until the door opens and Derek’s on the other side.

“Wow, fancy,” Stiles remarks, and gestures vaguely at the car, before he climbs in.

“I figured I might want a drink.” Derek shrugs. He’s wearing a suit, but then again, when is he not? He looks good, and his beard is trimmed shorter than usual. “You ready?”

“Not really,” Stiles confesses. “I’m mostly terrified.”

“So am I. Most people don’t get used to these things, to be frank.”

Stiles eyes him carefully. He looks as immaculate and confident as always, but the glass of whiskey in his hand is a telltale sign.

“Will there be important people there?” he asks, and winces internally when Derek nods.

“Yes, to me and my company, but that’s nothing you have to worry about.”

“Unless I offend them.” Which he might, because it’s happened before. When he gets nervous, all his filters just seem to disappear.

“Unless you offend them,” Derek agrees, and the corner of his mouth quirks upwards.

Stiles kind of wants to have a drink as well, just to calm his nerves, but he’s quite certain that he’ll only make a complete fool of himself if he does. Instead he tries not to pull at his clothes too much, and stares out the window. The ride is short, and he feels like he’s trembling all over when the driver opens the door for them.

Stiles does his best to exit smoothly, and thinks that he succeeds somewhat, since he doesn’t trip over his own feet. When Derek gets out behind him, he feels a little less awkward and terrified. Until he notices the red carpet in front of him. Shit.

“You said that it wasn’t a red carpet event,” he whispers accusingly.

“Relax,” Derek says, his voice low, and he grasps Stiles’ elbow to urge him forward. “There’s not a huge crowd. It’s not a red carpet event by definition. There just happens to be a red carpet. You’ll do great.”

Stiles feels like he’s in a daze. There are people around him, dressed in suits and cocktail dresses. He feels a bit lost, like the world is spinning too fast around him, as Derek leads him up the red carpet. He’s pretty sure that Derek exchanges a few words with people along the way, laughing politely and Stiles just tries to smile. The blood is rushing in his ears, so he can’t hear a thing.

The press of Derek’s palm against the small of his back is oddly comforting, and grounds him a bit. As they enter the doors, they face even more people. However, unlike walking down a red carpet in front of a crowd outside, Stiles doesn’t feel like he’s being watched. It’s more private, despite the crazy amount of people around them. Letting out a breath, Stiles relaxes a little, and Derek turns to him.

“You okay?”

“Yeah.” Stiles nods and shakes his head at the same time, making him feel a bit like a bobblehead. “It’s just overwhelming. I guess this is why I’ve never done it before.”

“You did fine,” Derek tells him, and it sounds sincere. “It’s always overwhelming. It’s about masking your feelings. I doubt that anyone is comfortable at these events.”

“Narcissists,” Stiles says. “Narcissists are comfortable at these events.”

Derek laughs.

It gets better after that. A steady stream of people comes up to talk to them, and Stiles likes listening to their conversations. It’s mostly about business, and after an hour at most, he’s certain that a lot of business deals are made at events like this one. That must be why it’s so important for Derek to go.

Watching Derek is fascinating. Stiles had just assumed that he wasn’t very sociable and that he would be uncomfortable in these situations. But Derek is all smiles, shaking hands, laughing and cracking a few jokes. Whenever the business of his company is brought up, it’s like someone’s lit a fire behind his eyes. Stiles listens closely when Derek talks about investing in projects that people talk to him about.

“Why didn’t you want to invest in his project?” Stiles asks, as a man leaves them. “It sounded really cool.”

“It is,” Derek agrees. “But there’s a competitor coming out with a similar product next week. I’ve already invested in that project. It would be unethical to invest in this, too.”

Stiles listens even more closely after that, figuring that he can learn a few things. Derek must have an incredible memory, because whenever someone mentions a project his company has invested in before, he can talk about it like he did the investment personally. Even the people that are turned down seem to glow when they leave.

He sticks to Derek’s side for the rest of the event, shaking hands whenever someone offers him one, which isn’t that often. For once, he really enjoys being the observer. It’s like someone has presented him with a whole new species.

He’s brought back to engaging in reality when one of the photographers come up to them. “Can I take a picture, Mr. Hale?”

“Of course.”

Stiles is just about to take a few steps to the side, when Derek snakes his arm around his waist. He manages to find his smile just before the flash goes off. Hopefully that picture never sees daylight.

“Is this your date, Mr. Hale?” the photographer asks, scribbling on a notepad.

“That’s correct.”

“What’s your name?” the photographers asks, barely looking up at him, still scribbling furiously. Stiles glances at Derek for a second, who nods.

“Stiles Stilinski.”

There’s a pause in the scribbling. “Could you spell that for me, please?”

Sighing internally, Stiles does so and turns to Derek as soon as the photographer has left them. “Is it always that awkward?”

“More or less,” Derek says, and the next moment someone else is there to shake his hand, allowing Stiles to breathe.

It’s a little past eleven when Derek finally asks him to leave. It’s a blessing, a very quiet blessing, when he slides into the limousine and the door closes behind him. Collapsing back against the seat, he’s suddenly extremely tired.

“You alright there?” Derek asks him as he gets in on the other side.

“Yeah, just overwhelmed. And tired.”

“It’s draining,” Derek agrees. “Was it too much?”

“What do you mean?” Stiles asks, looking over at him.

“Do you want to call the deal off?”

The question surprises him. Sure, it’s draining, but pretending to be someone’s boyfriend for a night is even more so. At least he doesn’t get the urge to shower for five hours after this. “No, it wasn’t so bad. I’m sure it’ll be easier next time. I’m just not used to it.”

Derek nods at that, staring out the window on his side. He looks tired too, Stiles notes, and the brilliant smiles are suddenly gone.

“Tired?”

“A little bit, yes,” Derek confesses.

“When did you get to work this morning?”

“Five-thirty. I had to make up for lost time, since I would have to leave earlier to get here on time.”

Stiles can’t help but shake his head at that. “I’m sure all the work you did in bed the other night would make up for that.”

Derek shrugs. “I don’t have a whole lot to do that isn’t work-related.”

“Figures.”

They’re quiet for a while after that. Stiles enjoys being able to hear the sound of his own breathing. The car turns heads from people on the street sometimes, and he wonders if they’re curious about who’s inside. A rich dude and a prostitute. Probably a more common combination than you’d think at first.

“How’s school?” Derek asks him suddenly.

“Good. Busy.” Stiles forces his gaze from the window to look at him. “I have some assignments to hand in and stuff like that.”

“Are you getting enough time for studying?”

“Yeah, for once I feel like I’m actually on top of things.”

Derek nods, and for a moment he looks pleased. “Good. How’s your computer?”

“It’s my new best friend.” Stiles actually looks forward to getting home just so he can use it. It’s so fast.

Derek snorts.

“Thanks. For the check. I can’t explain how much that meant to me.”

“I’m just glad to help.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says again, but it feels inadequate somehow.

Saying goodbye is a little awkward when Derek drops him off outside his building. Mostly because he isn’t sure what level their actual, personal relationship is on. If they continue this deal, he assumes that they’ll become friends sometime down the road. However, before tonight he never considered that this isn’t at all about pitying Stiles, but that Derek actually wants someone to accompany him to events. But the question still stands: someone like Derek wouldn’t have a hard time finding a date. He doesn’t even have a nasty personality, as far as Stiles can tell.

The apartment is dark when he locks the door behind him. Scott’s moving in within the week, but it still feels strange being here alone. The feeling of freedom has been wearing off quickly, and now he mostly feels lonely and exposed. After undressing, he hangs the clothes in his closet. Maybe Derek wants him to give them back. Probably. He read somewhere that it’s common to rent outfits, so maybe that’s what Derek did.

He lies in bed for a while, unable to fall asleep. Derek’s life is so very different from his own. It’s a world that Stiles wasn’t even sure existed outside award shows and those reality TV series about rich people.

He pushes the thoughts away when his phone lights up with a text from Derek.

> Thank you for your company tonight.

Someone really needs to teach Derek what a smiley is.

< Thanks for bringing me along. It was fun!

> 2nd rule in business - be a good liar.

Stiles scoffs. He is a good liar! He’s been doing things no one can find out about for years, and no one knows. If anyone’s a good liar, it’s him, he just picks his moments.

< Maybe I wasn’t trying very hard

> Let’s hope so.

He’s quite certain that Derek is smiling, wherever he is. It’s just hard to tell in written text.

< Are you at work?

> Yes. I had to go back to brief a few things.

< You should value sleep more

> I’ve already told you that I find it too boring.

< Sleep isn’t boring, it’s heavenly

He sets the alarm for tomorrow morning, and puts his phone on his nightstand, before passing out almost immediately.

The following week, Stiles is preoccupied with school work. He’s got a couple of assignments to hand in (really, who decided that a personal development plan was a good idea?) and quizzes to do. His paper isn’t exactly writing itself, either. He hasn’t heard from Derek since Friday, so it seems like their contact is strictly tied to the professional stuff. That’s fine, of course, so naturally he’s a bit surprised when he gets a text while studying in the library.

> How does your weekend look?

< As in: do I have space for an event?

> Exactly.

Really, he needs to teach Derek how to use smileys.

< Depends on what kind of event. Will be super busy til Friday, but should be OK after that if it’s nothing major

> It’s short. I need to attend a launching event for a new product, but I don’t need to stay for more than a couple of hours.

Stiles kind of feels like he doesn’t have time, but he gets paid for this and a few hours won’t be so bad. Also, the alternative is way worse. He’ll just switch out his video gaming time for the event, and he’ll be good.

< Okay! What should I wear?

> Semi-casual clothing. Drop by Suit&Tie whenever you have the opportunity. Let me know a couple of hours beforehand.

< Aye cap

He should be able to squeeze in a trip there tomorrow after his last class. It won’t be that much of a problem. As he turns to his books, his back aching from sitting bent over them for too long, he decides to stay an extra hour tonight just to make sure that he doesn’t get behind.

In the end, he stays an extra four, which has him leaving for the subway at two am, dead tired and probably with marker spots all over his face. When he looks at his phone, desperately trying to distract himself from falling asleep at the station, he notices another text from Derek.

> Great. It won’t involve the same amount of mingling.

< Good. Mingling isn’t my forte

> Why are you awake?

< Heading home from the library

> Now?

< Yes, now

> It’s past 2 AM.

< Had to study

When the train arrives, he gets on the car with the most people. It’s a relief when an old lady gets off at the same stop as him. He has no clue what she’s doing up this late, or why she’s alone, but he hates walking alone on nights like these, so he’s grateful. But studying requires late nights at campus sometimes, and he likes his bed too much to sleep in a chair somewhere.

It’s only when he’s locked the door safely behind him that he picks up his phone again.

> If you’d rather postpone until next weekend, that’s okay by me.

< You gonna ask them to have the release event a week later?

> No, I’ll go there by myself and you can come to another event with me next weekend instead, if you have more free time then.

< It’s fine. I got most things done tonight

> Let me know if you change your mind.

Stiles feels a bit uneasy with the way Derek allows him to decide for himself. It makes it hard for him to see this as a job-only thing.

< 1st rule in business, make sure you get what was agreed upon.

> Touché, but education is more important.

< Fret not. I’ll attend both events with you, should you wish

Stiles doesn’t know how he’ll make his schedule work with that, but it shouldn’t be impossible. Truth be told, if he is forced to go back to his old ways, he would have much less time for studying, since planning and worrying would take up so much more brain capacity.

Maybe he can do a fitting for both events tomorrow. That would make things easier.

Scott moves in the next day as well, and Stiles loses a couple of hours since he can’t resist helping Scott getting settled in. It’s just so nice having someone around the place again.

“So, how’s Derek?” Scott asks, when they’re on the couch eating pizza.

“He’s good.” Stiles checks his phone briefly. Still fifteen minutes left before he has to leave for class, and then clothes fitting. He wonders if he’ll ever feel not-awkward when Scott brings Derek up in the conversation.

“Yeah? Still unsure of what you guys are?”

“Pretty much. I think it’ll stay that way for a while.”

Scott shrugs. “That’s okay though, as long as you both feel okay with it.”

Clearing his throat, Stiles concentrates on picking the mushrooms off the pizza. “Yeah, it’s easier like that for now.”

Scott looks thoughtful for a moment, and then nods. “What are you doing this weekend?”

“I have this thing with Derek on Saturday, and then studying. You?” He says the first part quickly, hoping that Scott will concentrate on the studying and Stiles’ attempt to steer the conversation back on him. Of course, he has no such luck.

“A thing?” Scott echoes.

“Yeah, like some kind of release event. Not sure. No big deal.”

Scott looks like he wants to ask, but then decides against it. “So it’s okay if Allison comes here on Saturday?”

“Yeah, sure. Just don’t let me hear or see anything if I’m home.”

Grinning, Scott grabs another pizza slice. “I’m making no promises, dude.”

Rolling his eyes, Stiles gets up and crams the last bit of his pizza slice into his mouth. “Hey, I’m glad you’ve finally moved in, but I really need to get to my class. You okay from here?”

He has no clue how Scott gets any of that, through all the pizza. “Sure thing. When will you be home?”

“Not sure. I have to do this thing after class.” It’s so new to him, living with someone who asks where he’s going and when he’s coming back. His dad will be thrilled to find out.

“You have a lot of things to do,” Scott remarks.

“Ugh,” Stiles sighs. “Tell me about it. I have to go and get fitted for clothes for Saturday.”

“Ah,” Scott nods knowingly. “It’s fancy?”

“What?”

“The thing you’re going to?”

Stiles doesn’t know why he doesn’t want to talk about this. If Derek was his boyfriend, he’d take Stiles to these things, too. It’s not like Scott suspects anything, unless Stiles doesn’t stop making it weird whenever it’s brought up. “It’s a release event for a product. I don’t know what it is.”

“It sounds fancy.”

“Yeah, I think it is. I don’t know a lot about these things. It’s not my world.” He picks up his messenger bag from the kitchen chair, grimacing at the weight.

“But it’s Derek’s?”

“Yeah. It’s kinda what he does. I mean, except for working twenty hours a day. I’m barely even exaggerating.”

Scott’s eyes grow big at that, and yeah, Stiles just made it obvious that Derek’s no college student. “Wow, I can see why you’re not sure what you guys are.”

Stiles would give a lot of money to know exactly what Scott is thinking right now: if he’s confused about whom Derek is, if he couldn’t care less, or if he suspects something. Stiles hopes that he doesn’t. Hopes, because he’d be too ashamed to ever look Scott in the eye again, and he very much wants Scott as a friend. He could use a friend.

He texts Derek as soon as he’s out the door.

< Dropping by S&T after my class in 2 hrs ish

> See you there.

He’s a bit early, and another douchewad is working today. He looks like someone Stiles would find on billboards, wearing expensive brands or maybe nothing but a watch.

“Uh, hi,” he says a bit awkwardly, as he enters. He had hoped that Derek would be here already, but he’s not. “So, um, I was gonna…”

“I don’t think we have your kind of style here,” the guy says after giving Stiles a very disapproving once-over. “And not in your price range.”

Stiles doesn’t know what to say to that. He can feel his face growing hot, and probably bright red. “No, I was supposed to be here.”

“We’re not accepting resumes right now.”

“No, I was supposed to be here for a clothes fitting?”

“I don’t think we’re in your price range,” the guy repeats again.

“How about my price range?”

Stiles turns around, only to find Derek standing there. He’s wearing his usual suit, crisp button-up and in this very moment, Stiles is able to see him the way the clerk probably does right now. He looks like he belongs on Wall Street, with a watch that probably costs more than this guy makes a year very visible on his wrist. There’s just this air of power around him that makes Stiles kind of want to bow his head.

“I’m sorry?” the guy says.

Derek gives him a level look. “Unless you’re able to explain this misunderstanding in a way that satisfies me, I’ll take my business elsewhere.”

Suddenly, Stiles has to bite his lip to prevent himself from grinning.

The clerk looks from Derek to Stiles, and then back to Derek. “He’s with you?”

“Yes. I called you earlier, didn’t I?”

“Uh, yeah, you did, Mr. Hale.” The guy starts looking through the papers in front of him. “I’m sorry. I thought the fitting was for you, not…” He gestures at Stiles, like he’s a smudge of dirt on Derek’s shiny shoes.

“What’s your name?”

Uh-oh. Stiles has worked similar jobs long enough to know that that’s never a good thing.

“Jackson.” There’s a beat of silence. “Whittemore. Jackson Whittemore.”

“Thank you, Jackson. I assume that from now on, you will accommodate Stiles here in the best way possible. We are attending a semi-casual event on Saturday. He needs something to wear.”

The look on Jackson’s face says: clearly. But Stiles doesn’t care, because he’s got this buzzing going on underneath his skin. He might be slightly attracted to Derek just because of the way he radiates power. It’s also scary, because Stiles realises that he’s sort of become the person he used to hate when he was in Jackson’s position. Well, Stiles would’ve never refused someone for not looking like they belong in an Armani ad. Isn’t that what these places are for?

The following hour, Jackson really makes an effort. He makes Stiles try on pants in smooth materials that he doesn’t know the name of, and he even takes measurements to get the fit just right. Even for the shirt. Jackson explains that semi-casual clothing means that he’s allowed to skip the tie, but that a button-up is appropriate. He also suggests a pair of loafers that make Stiles think he’s going to look like a pimp, but when he tries them on, they look quite good.

“I might suggest a cashmere cardigan to look approachable.” Jackson says, when he steps back, as if to scrutinize his creation, then he turns to Derek. “What do you think?”

Stiles is surprised to find that Derek isn’t busy with calls or answering emails on his phone. Instead, he’s sitting in the armchair Jackson provided to him, fingertips resting together, as though he’s trying to solve a puzzle.

“I’d agree with that, yes.”

“Glad to hear I have a say in this,” Stiles mutters.

Jackson glares at him. “Considering how you dressed when you came here, your say should be revoked permanently.”

Stiles makes a face at that, but Derek snorts out a laugh. Oh well, clothing has never been his favourite thing anyway.

“He scrubs up nicely,” Jackson comments, again towards Derek.

Derek fixes Jackson with a look that suggests his comments aren't entirely welcome, before he gives Stiles a quick once-over.

“He does,” Derek agrees and Stiles resists the urge to unbutton his shirt at the neck.

“It sounds like I wasn’t nice before,” Stiles complains, as Jackson holds up the softest freaking cardigan for him to stick his arms in.

“Never said that.” It even looks like Derek’s smiling.

So Stiles concentrates on trying on the cardigan, turning around whenever Jackson tells him to.

“Remember to use discreet cufflinks and watches. It’s semi-casual.” Jackson doesn’t even look up from where he’s entering everything in the cash register. He’s made sure that Stiles now has two quite similar outfits, for the two upcoming events. Stiles pretends to be blind and deaf when he says the amount.

Derek doesn’t even blink. He just hands his card over and doesn’t seem to realise that this is more than what Stiles’ entire wardrobe cost before Derek came along.

“About the clothes,” Stiles says as soon as they’re outside. “Do you want me to give them back?”

Derek frowns. “We’re not the same size.”

“No, but they’re expensive. You could sell them.”

Derek shrugs. “It would cost me more to spend an hour selling them on Craigslist than on my work.”

That...Derek’s life must be so easy.

“So...they’re mine?” Stiles asks to clarify.

“Yes. If you want to sell them, go ahead.”

“No, no. I actually rather like them. Um, I might have use for them when I start working, too.”

Derek nods, smiling slightly. “An HR strategist can’t wear plaid and jeans?”

“In my book he can, but sadly I can’t employ myself.”

At that, Derek’s smile widens. “Maybe you will in the future. Can I drive you home?”

“I’m assuming that you’re gonna protest if I say it’s too far, so yeah, if you don’t mind.”

Derek gestures towards his car. “Wouldn’t ask if I minded.”

Scott is sitting in the living room watching TV when Stiles gets home. Derek dropped him off with the promise to pick him up on Saturday.

“Sup?” Scott asks, with a handful of chips halfway to his mouth.

“Good.” Stiles holds up the bags as some kind of proof of what he’s been up to. “Settling in okay?”

“Dude yeah, I’ve been running around in here all afternoon! The fact that I can’t even touch both sides of the room at the same time if I stretch my arms enough is amazing. I’m basically living the dream.”

Stiles can’t help but laugh. Somehow he doesn’t have trouble picturing Scott running around in the kitchen for hours.

“How was Derek?” Scott asks.

“He was good.” Stiles holds up the bags again, like they’re proof of him meeting Derek.

“You should’ve brought him in so I could meet him!”

Stiles blinks. Of course Scott, being the incredibly friendly person that he is, would want to meet the guy Stiles is supposedly dating. It’s just that he never counted on this, because Matt never cared about anything Stiles did.

“He had to go back to work.”

“Dude, it’s eight-thirty.”

Stiles laughs a little at that. “Yeah, which means that he’ll be there for another three hours or so.”

“Dude, you need some chips, clearly. Here.” Scott holds out the bag. “And maybe text him and say that if he wants to live past thirty, he might need to calm down.”

Stiles snorts, but grabs a handful of chips and sits down on the armrest of the couch. “He’s already past thirty.” Or so he assumes at least.

Scott waves him off. “You know what I mean.”

When Scott turns his concentration back to the TV, Stiles takes his phone out of his pocket and sends Derek a text.

< So my new roommate is under the impression that we are sort-of dating. It’s the easiest explanation. Also how old are you?

> That makes sense. 34.

It’s not as old as Stiles thought, considering Derek’s position in the company, and not as old as some of his former clients. But it’s still twelve years older than Stiles.

“You look thoughtful.”

Looking up, Stiles finds Scott watching him. There’s a pinch between his eyebrows, like he’s worried.

“No, I was just thinking that you’re right. He works way too much.”

“Maybe we could go out for dinner when Allison is here. And a movie?”

It’s not going to happen, but he can’t tell Scott that right away. A boyfriend would probably want to meet Stiles’ new roommate.

“Uh sure yeah, I’ll see if he’s up for it. How long is she staying?”

“Friday to Monday? Her flight is Monday evening.”

“I’ll ask him about Sunday? Since we’re busy on Saturday.”

“With that thing.” Scott grins. “But yeah, do! We need to set his priorities straight.”

Stiles isn't really planning on asking Derek, but he'll pretend. When this deal is over he'll have a great explanation for their breakup, and Scott will be none the wiser.

"I'm gonna head to my room," he says after a couple of handfuls of chips. "I have an article to read for my class tomorrow."

"Sure man. Do you want me to turn the volume down?" Scott is already reaching for the remote.

"No, it's fine. See you tomorrow."

"Sleep tight!"

Stiles feels a little awkward. Scott is so considerate and nice. It feels wrong lying to him in a way that he's only felt with his dad before, despite the fact that they barely know one another.

He manages to finish his article, even scribbling some notes in the margins regarding interesting points and things he finds weird. As soon as he puts it down, though, his mind starts drifting. He wants to pretend like Jackson’s greeting at Suit&Tie didn’t affect him, but truth be told, there are few moments he’s felt more degraded than that. That says a lot, considering his line of work.

Without thinking, he grabs his phone from his nightstand and types in a text to Derek.

< Hey, just wanted to say thanks for saving me at S&T today

The reply is almost instant.

> That behavior was unacceptable.

< Still. Thank you. I had no clue what to say

And Stiles is usually someone who always has something to say.

> I’m certain you can go in there in your pajamas and slippers tomorrow, and get the best service possible. It’s a shame that that wasn’t the case from the start.

Stiles sighs. Clearly Derek doesn’t realise that he’s trying to be grateful here.

< I’m trying to say thank you, just accept it already!

> No problem. You’re welcome. It was my pleasure. Et cetera.

Stiles snorts.

< You’re working, aren’t you?

> Currently distracted by your text messages, but I am at work, yes.

< Scott says you need to sort out your priorities

Stiles just types it on a whim. He can hear Scott’s muffled voice through the door, and Stiles is pretty sure that he’s talking to Allison. It’s sweet. Whenever Scott mentions her, he lights up like a Christmas tree connected to a nuclear power station.

> ?

Stiles is sort of amazed how Derek manages to write fully understandable texts with just one character. But yes, this needs explaining. Really, Stiles mostly wanted an excuse not to stare at the ceiling for an hour until he falls asleep.

< As I said before, Scott thinks we’re sort of dating. I didn’t know how else to explain going to events with you, and stuff. He’s asked a bit, so I’ve told him that you work a lot. At least that’s not a lie. Now he wants to make you sort out your priorities, since you didn’t come up with me after the fitting.

It’s weird just typing it out, like he’s crossing a line by doing so.

> I thought Scott was your new roommate who moved in today?

< He is. I don’t know. He has Jedi powers. I feel like we’ve known each other forever

> Well, tell Scott that I will have my assistant look over my priorities for me.

Laughing, Stiles rolls his eyes, wondering if Derek is this stuck-up with his employees too.

< That’s a great way to make people get a good impression of you

> And you’re wondering why I’m single.

Biting back a grin, Stiles quickly types back.

< Well I guess old men like you don’t know any better

> In Sweden, age discrimination is illegal, did you know that?

< Better not move to Sweden

> I think we both now know why you are single as well.

Stiles snorts.

< It’s pretty late. I think you should go home and sleep

< And now, when I’m being considerate, you should be confused over why I’m single

> My memory isn’t bad enough for that. I’m not that old.

> I will start making my way home, though.

He can’t help but wonder what Derek’s condo looks like. His building is flashy and looks ridiculously expensive, but Stiles also knows that sometimes the condo itself is too expensive to leave any funds for renovating.

< Don’t you like your place?

> I do. It has a bed and a fridge.

< Such luxury. Don’t tell me it’s a water bed

> I’m 34, not stuck in the 80s.

Grinning again, Stiles stares up at the ceiling. He could definitely be working for a less decent person. He really could.

Around thirty minutes later, eyelids drooping as he goes over the article’s conclusion again, he gets a photo message from Derek. It’s a picture of a bed. King size, by the looks of it, with big, fluffy pillows and well-made covers.

Stiles isn’t able to resist the urge to get up and snap a picture of his own messy duvet, papers spread out and a bunch of markers sorted by colour on a pillow.

> I think I prefer yours.

< That’s only until you’ve had the springs digging into your back

> Ah. Fair point. Studying?

< Just going over the last stuff for tomorrow. Working?

> I was about to go over contracts, but I don’t think Scott would approve of that so I’m not going to.

< I wouldn’t approve of that, either

Stiles takes a deep breath, knowing that he steps over a line here, with his next text.

< I don’t know you, and I don’t know if you’re always working this much. But it isn’t healthy to work from 6 am to 11 pm. You’ll hit a wall unless you start working less

> I’m only working because I have nothing else to do.

In frustration, feeling as though his point didn’t get across at all, Stiles sends:

< Well Scott wants you to have dinner and go to a movie with us on Sunday. But I’m assuming that you’re working so I’m going to say no

Also because events with Derek is a professional thing. It’s part of their deal. Starting to invite Derek for dinner and movies is definitely smudging the line between professional and personal. Sure, Stiles probably wouldn’t mind being friends, but pretending to be sort-of dating someone would make that difficult.

> I am, sadly. Business trip to Boston Sunday-Wednesday. Tell Scott I said thanks for the invitation, though.

< I will