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Dudeliet and His Bromeo

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August 2013

"GENTLEBROS AND LADYBROS!" thunders Chad D., team captain and, as far as Stiles can tell, uncontested authority on All Things Collegiate Lacrosse. Stiles notes a couple guys looking shiftily at Kate and Justine, the team's female members, but fuck that. Kira was one of the best players on the BHHS team. If these two are anywhere as good, Stiles will fall at their feet and thank them every day for playing. If... that's not weird.

Stiles snaps his attention back as Chad D. surveys the assembled mass of lacrosse players. As a shiny new freshman of middling talent, Stiles is at the bottom of the food chain, and that's fine. He's here to play lacrosse, earn his degree, and stay as far from supernatural catastrophe as possible at the university with the highest supernatural student concentration on the East Coast. He's going to be a Normal Boy having a Normal College Experience. Starting with listening to sage words of wisdom from his new captain.

"Dude-friends," Chad D. says, "we don't have many rules here, because rules are Not Chill." He looks around with a squinty gaze that's probably supposed to be intimidating. But when you endure Derek Hale's Eyebrows of Doom on a daily basis, the bar is set much higher than a probably stoned college junior can clear. "But the ones we do have, we follow with complete and utter fidelity." Chad D. clasps his hands behind him like an actual dictator and says, "We follow the rules with what?"

"COMPLETE AND UTTER FIDELITY," the underclassmen chant, not quite in unison. Stiles says it, too, even though "complete and utter fidelity" to any set of rules is super not in the cards for him. Like, ever.

Chad D. beams papa-bear proud and pulls an old-school ceiling screen out of absolutely nowhere. A list of seven rules is scrawled on it— on the screen, not projected from anywhere. Chad D. has a yardstick in his hand now—Stiles has no idea where that came from, either—and he slaps the screen with it. "RULE NUMBER ONE!" he shouts. "The absolutely, without argument, most ironclad rule: FFFUCK THE HAUSBROS!"

*

The highlight of Samwell new student orientation day three had been an activity known, for reasons Stiles barely understands, as Freshman Crouton. Every student organization had set up a table in Lake Quad and answered every bizarre question the incoming frosh could throw at them. Between lacrosse, Derek, and the pack obligations Stiles could never fully escape, even on the other side of the damned country from Beacon Hills, he wouldn't have time for a ton of other extracurriculars, but he wanted to make at least an effort at joining the main LGBTQ group, winningly named "The Queer Kids." He chatted with the students sitting at the booth, added his email address to the mailing list, and pinned a "PAN PRIDE" button to his hat at a jaunty angle. He turned away from the table and plowed into a guy who looked like someone had literally taken sunlight and turned it into human form.

"Oh, jeez, sorry," Stiles said automatically.

"No, no, my fault," the guy said, and, oh, that was one hell of a cute accent. This guy wasn't Stiles' type at all, but he catalogued the details in case he met anyone who'd be into small and southern. "I was, um..." Small and Southern looked around Stiles, and Stiles realized he was trying to look at the Queer Kids table without looking like he was looking at the Queer Kids table.

Stiles opened his mouth to say something about it, but Small and Southern looked at him with his giant brown eyes wide and terrified. Stiles got it. People talked like California was 800 miles of hippie liberals, but Beacon County had passed Prop 8, and his dad was an elected official, and—yeah. He understood being in a position where even acknowledging that you knew you were in a closet, let alone taking steps toward leaving it, felt like the scariest thing ever.

Stiles laughed and turned away from the table. He couldn't—wouldn't —do anything about the brightly colored button on his hat that proudly proclaimed him a member of the tribe, but he would do everything in his power to turn down the pressure for Small, Scared, and Southern. "Hey, I wasn't looking where I was going. I have a long and glorious tradition of falling over my own feet."

Triple S laughed and looked relieved as they moved along the rows of tables, neither of them particularly looking at anything they passed. "Honestly, I don't know why I'm here," he confessed. "I won't have much free time, between games and practices. I'm not the best student to begin with. Last thing I need is some club to distract me more."

"What do you play?"

"Hockey." He said it with a touch of wonder, like he couldn't believe it was true. Stiles knew how he felt. After being a perpetual benchwarmer for much of his high school lacrosse career, only coming into his own in the second half of junior year, the fact that he was on his college lacrosse team—even if his odds of getting game time hadn't improved much—still blew his mind.

"Sweet," Stiles said sincerely. "I hear the team's, like, wicked good."

Triple S smiled. "I heard that, too."

Stiles laughed self-consciously. "Oh, yeah. That's probably why you came here."

He couldn't say for sure, but he thought Triple S's gaze flicked toward the Queer Kids table. "Something like that," he said quietly.

Stiles moved them out of the flow of student traffic. "Hey, listen, I'm not feeling the Crouton, you know? Want to grab coffee or something?" Stiles would not have thought it possible, but Triple S's eyes grew wider, and the terror flooded back into them. "Not like—no!" Stiles said frantically. "Not—I'm not asking you out. Not that you aren't hella cute. But I'm in a relationship. A serious relationship. Like, really serious. Like, awkward conversation with my dad about how I'm too young to be this serious serious." He was aware that he was 1) babbling; and 2) sharing more about his personal life with a complete stranger than could possibly be healthy. He just wanted this guy to stop looking like he was going to either bolt or hurl. "I just—I am three thousand miles from home and my boyfriend is the only familiar face I'm going to see until winter break. I haven't really met anyone besides the lacrosse team—and they're great! But it might be nice to have other friends? And, I don't know. You seem... nice." He winced.

But Triple S had been steadily relaxing throughout Stiles' word-spew, and now he was downright beaming. "Well, aren't you a sweet thing," he said, delighted. "That boyfriend of yours is a lucky guy." He looked at the crowd of students rushing around the quad. "I haven't made many friends, either. The hockey team tries so hard, but they're quite the bros, and I'm not sure of my footing yet. So, yes, mysterious stranger, I would love to have coffee with you."

"Oh!" Stiles said, startled, and thrust out his hand. "Sorry. I'm Stiles."

Triple S shook with a small, lightly calloused hand. "Nice to meet you, Stiles. I'm Eric."

* * *

The thirteenth, but most important, Haus bylaw, Eric (Bitty? He's not sure how he feels about the nickname. After a lifetime of being "Junior" and "Dicky," he'd been looking forward to finally being "Eric" at Samwell. His professors will call him "Eric," but he'll spend far more time with these boys than with his professors) learns, is "FFFUCK THE LAX BROS." He stares at that rule with pursed lips, and when Shitty moves the tour along, Eric pulls out his phone, takes a picture of it scratched on the wall, and texts it to Stiles.

ME: apparently we're enemies? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The reply comes immediately.

STILES: i know??? this is some fox & hound level bullshit

"Bitty, keep up, ya beautiful southern belle!" Shitty yells from the kitchen. Eric laughs and moves to catch up, catching one last text from Stiles.

STILES: inter-team rivalries are bogus. got enough of that in HS

ME: Agreed. Let's still be friends.

 

September 2013

Stiles hates to admit this, because Eric (Bitty? The hockey bros call him that, but he's not sure he's allowed to—or, more importantly, how Eric feels about it) is the only real friend he's made at Samwell so far, but by the end of September, he sees why the general student body hates the hockey team.

  1. They are loud. They sit together in the dining hall and shout like they're miles away from each other. They drag a TV onto their front lawn and scream at what are either hockey games or gay pornos (it's hard to tell, given the noises they make). The one with the moustache has a bullhorn and is not afraid to use it.
  2. They are huge. And that's whatever, it's not their fault, but a couple of them don't realize that they are inhumanly large and need to keep an eye out for normal-sized mortals. Stiles doesn't usually think of himself as small, but the first time the enormous blond with the glasses sat on him, he had to revise his self-assessment. He's not sure how many more blows like that his ego can take.
  3. They are gross. The commentary from Eric's Haus tour had been scary—and Derek lived first in the burnt-out shell of his family home and then in an abandoned train depot, so Stiles knows from scary living environments. Sometimes, the team brings a green couch out to sit on when they watch their hockey pornos, and if they ever leave it behind when they're done, Stiles is calling the Health Department to collect it. They throw huge, loud parties that generate more trash and vomit than Stiles would have believed possible from a school with 6,000 undergrads. They have food fights and belch-offs in the middle of the dining hall.
  4. At the bottom of it all, they're... weird. The one with the moustache and bullhorn stands naked on the lawn and recites opinions from famous gender- and sexuality-related Supreme Court decisions. They do a lot of their studying (and smoking up) on the roof. One day, as he was walking past, Stiles saw four guys on the lawn, two (Birkholtz and Johnson?) singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," the others (Oluransi and Jack Motherfucking Zimmermann) singing "O, Canada." At first it sounded like a competition, but eventually Birkholtz and Oluransi started trying to mash them up. That wasn't even the weirdest part, though—when the guys headed inside, Johnson had turned, waved at Stiles, and called, "I hope you're enjoying the exposition!" before running up the stairs and into the Haus.

If that was exposition (whatever the hell that means in this context), Stiles did enjoy it. The hockey bros are weird, but they're kind of okay, too.

Doesn't hurt that they have Eric. And his pies.

 

October 2013

Here's the other thing: the hockey team is really good at hockey. Way better than the lacrosse team is at lacrosse. No one on the lacrosse team knows that Stiles has snuck into several hockey games since the season started, but today is his favorite so far—and the game hasn't even started. Today he's convinced Derek to come with him.

He's embarrassed to have stooped to it, but after weeks of trying to sell Derek on supporting Bitty, supporting Samwell, and seeing some damned fine hockey, Stiles won him over by reminding him about Jack Zimmermann. As soon as Stiles mentioned his name, Derek made that face that Stiles recognized as "you've convinced me, but I'm not going to let you know that yet." Stiles had grinned and kept arguing, waiting for Derek to be ready to agree.

Derek isn't a fan in the traditional sense. But Jack Zimmermann has suffered. If ever a celebrity would impress Derek, of course it would be someone who's fought his way back after losing what he held most dear.

They walk to campus. Derek stuffs his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket, and Stiles rests his hand in the crook of Derek's elbow. Scott calls it their "Victorian gentlemen stroll." It's a compromise between Stiles' desire to behave like any normal couple in public and Derek's (not entirely unfounded) worry that the pack's enemies could use knowledge of how much they mean to each other to hurt either or both of them. They could get away with more here, but by now it's ingrained, and whenever Derek puts his hands in his pockets, Stiles' hand gravitates to his arm.

Faber seems busier than usual. More cars clogging the visitors end of the parking lot; more people who look too old to be students—even nontraditional ones—streaming through the doors.

Derek tenses beside him. "Is there... another event or something?" he growls.

"I don't—" Stiles starts to shake his head and then freezes. "Oh, fuck," he mutters, earning a sharp glare from an elderly woman walking past. "I forgot it was Family Weekend."

Okay, that's not exactly accurate. Samwell advertises Family Weekend so heavily it's impossible to forget it's coming. But Stiles' family can't come this year, so he's tried not to pay attention to when. He squeezes Derek's arm and slides his hand away to give Derek space. "Do you need to leave?"

Derek considers for a second (a change Stiles appreciates from his act-first-regret-later approach when they first met) but then shakes his head. "I can stay for now."

Smothering his gratitude so Derek doesn't freak out about it, Stiles stuffs his hands in his hoodie pockets. "Thanks." Derek huffs, pulls Stiles' hand out of his pocket, and returns it to his arm. Stiles grins.

They're threading through the crowd (Derek may be glaring them a path) when Stiles spots a small blond woman peering into the trophy case highlighting Samwell's past hockey teams. It's a hunch, but Stiles has gotten good at knowing when to trust his hunches. "Hey, hang on a minute," he tells Derek, patting his arm, and then he sidles up beside her. "Excuse me, are you Eric Bittle's mom?"

The woman starts. Her eyes widen, and she puts a hand over her heart. Stiles grins hard. Yup, that's Bitty's mom, all right. "Well, my gracious!" she says, accent even thicker than Bitty's—although Bitty's gets stronger when he's startled, so maybe hers is the same. "You gave me such a fright!" She peers at him excitedly. "You a friend of Dicky's?"

Dicky. Stiles bounces on his feet. Oh, man, this is the best. He holds out his hand. "Yes, ma'am. Stiles Stilinski."

Her expression morphs to delight. "Oh, Stiles, honey! Dicky talks about you all the time."

Stiles smiles. "You too, ma'am," he says.

"Oh, you sweet thing," she says, smiling. "Call me Suzanne. Or Mama. Lots of Dicky's friends do." Her face falls. "I mean, if that's not—Dicky mentioned that you don't—" She blushes about as deeply as Bitty, too. "I'm sorry about your mother."

Stiles swallows. "Thank you. I—" He never knows what to say anymore, his mom's been gone so long. God, he still misses her so much, but it's not the same as when she first died. Being reminded of the loss now is both painful and awkward. He forces a smile and says, "I hope you enjoy the game. They're really good. Eric's really good."

She brightens. "You come a lot?"

"Not as often as I'd like. But when I've been able to, he's been good."

"Well, that sure is sweet of you, coming out to support him like that. I know he's said—" She breaks off abruptly, looking at something beyond Stiles and then away like she doesn't want to get caught looking at it. It reminds Stiles forcefully of the first time he met Bitty.

"Suzanne?" Stiles asks, jumping to red alert because that's how his brain works.

"Don't make a big deal out of it," she murmurs, leaning in close, "but an ominous young man in a leather jacket is staring at you from down the hall."

Stiles unclenches and laughs. "That's my boyfriend. I sort of... ditched him in the middle of the hallway to come talk to you, so he's probably pissed." He waves his hand around the excited throng of hockey fans. "He doesn't like crowds."

He watches Suzanne struggle to keep her expression in check. Ah. Boyfriend. Stiles realizes he has a golden opportunity to collect information about how Suzanne Bittle reacts in the presence of an actual queer person. "Well, then, that's, ah, nice of him to come with you. Is he a friend of Dicky's, too?"

Stiles chuckles and shakes his head. "Derek's not really a friend of anyone's," he says, knowing full well that Derek can hear every word. "Even himself." Stiles doesn't have werewolf senses, but he swears he hears Derek growl.

Suzanne looks bewildered. She pats his arm and says, "Well, you boys enjoy the game, now. It's nice to meet Dicky's friends."

Stiles sweeps up Suzanne's hand and kisses her knuckles, grinning at her faint, startled gasp. "And it's a real honor to meet his mother," he says, throwing her a wink as he stands.

"Oh, you," she titters as he lets go of her hand. "Get out of here, flatterer. Your young man looks fit to chew through that wall."

He probably does, at that. Stiles smiles at Suzanne again and then turns to go rescue his anxious apex predator from the masses of humanity.

*

The game is great—not that Stiles expected anything different. The student section is rowdy, but Derek handles it well for the first period and most of the second. He gets a few double-takes, mostly from other supernatural students (two omegas, a selkie, and a whole clutch of Unseelie), but a few from lust-addled humans. Derek glares at them, and Stiles doesn't have the heart to remind him yet again that some people find that more of an encouragement than a deterrent. Derek buys Stiles sodas and nachos, doesn't growl at anyone, and holds Stiles' hand between their seats for a hot second in the first.

Still, after almost a decade of near-constant threat assessment and hypervigilance, Derek can only handle so much crowd. Stiles isn't surprised when the buzzer sounds at the end of the second with the score standing at zero-zero and Derek pops to his feet, stares around wildly, and says, "I have to go."

Stiles nods and stands with him. "I'll walk you to the door."

With every step away from the arena, Derek uncoils a little. By the time they reach Faber's main doors, he seems almost relaxed and gives Stiles a gentle goodbye kiss. "Text me when you're ready to go, and I'll come get you."

Stiles rolls his eyes. "Derek, you don't have to—"

"Text me," Derek says again, more emphatically.

Stiles feels frustrated—between sparring and his spark, which is actually a useful magical weapon now, instead of an uncontrolled menace, he's more than armed against anything foolish enough to attack him between Faber and the apartment. But he understands that, for his own peace of mind, Derek needs to do what he can to protect Stiles. "Yeah. Okay."

Derek kisses him again and slips out of Faber and toward the apartment ("our apartment," Derek insists, but Stiles can't let himself think like that yet, not with a semester and a half of on-campus residency requirement looming in front of them). Stiles watches him go for a minute and then turns—and almost jumps when he sees Suzanne Bittle standing in front of him. She's also watching Derek go (who wouldn't watch that ass?), but she turns her gaze back to him immediately. "He had to go?"

Stiles shrugs. "He's reached his people limit."

"Well, I'm sure you want to get back to your other friends. I just thought I'd say hello."

Stiles rubs the back of his neck. "It was just Derek and me. The rest of my friends aren't… into hockey?" He wonders if Bitty's told his parents about the hockey-lacrosse rivalry.

Suzanne links her arm through his. "Well, then, come sit with me."

Stiles balks. He knows she's in the family section, which are really good seats and probably expensive. "Oh, Suzanne, I couldn't—"

"'Course you could," she says, steering him around toward her gate with an ease and force that makes him think of Kira. "Bunch of parents left at the buzzer, too. Plenty of room."

Helpless to do anything but comply, Stiles lets Suzanne lead him to the family section. There are, as promised, quite a few empty seats, and no one gives the new arrival a second glance. He and Suzanne chat easily during time outs—Suzanne even asks a few questions about Derek. During play, they take turns white-knuckling their seats and each other's arms. And when Bitty scores the game-winning goal, no one screams louder than Suzanne and Stiles.

* * *

"You going home for Thanksgiving?" Bitty asks on Canadian Thanksgiving.

The silence on the other end stretches suspiciously long, and Bitty wishes they were in the same room so he could see Stiles' expression and read his body language. "No, it's—" Stiles clears his throat. "We're staying here. Derek and me. Having a normal weekend."

Bitty will not pry. He won't. He's heard Shitty's lectures enough times. But it seems wrong, Stiles and Derek alone here on Thanksgiving. "I bet it's rough to get back to California just for a couple days," he says in his best "not prying" voice. "What about Derek's family?"

The silence that ensues is even longer and more fraught than the one before. "His sister's in Argentina," Stiles says finally, "and his cousin's back in Beacon Hills."

Bitty hums sympathetically. "And?"

"And what?" Stiles snaps, clearly on edge now.

"What about the rest of his family?"

Stiles takes a deep breath. "There is no rest of his family, Bitty," he says gently. "Derek, Cora, and Malia are all that's left."

Bitty feels like his heart's going to break in two. He can't imagine what it's like—he can't even imagine imagining what it's like. Coach's parents died when he was too young to remember, but he's got MooMaw and PawPaw and his parents and a whole flotilla of aunts, uncles, and cousins. If he lost them all, he's not sure he'd still be standing upright, let alone maintaining an apartment, a job, and a relationship. "That poor darlin'," he murmurs.

"My dad and stepbrother might come here at Christmas," Stiles says in a rush, like he realizes how close this conversation is to a mopey abyss.

"Well, that'd be wonderful," Bitty gushes, distracted for the moment from the mystery of Derek's family and why Stiles is so adamant that they will not be returning to California anytime soon. "What are you eating on Thanksgiving?"

Stiles chuckles. "Come on, man, we've talked about cooking." Indeed they have. About how Stiles and Derek are just good enough cooks to get through an average week without resorting too much to take-out or frozen meals, but they're no culinary masters. "It'll be the same thing we eat every day."

Bitty gasps. "But it's Thanksgiving!"

"Eh." Bitty hears the shrug in Stiles' voice. "Derek kind of hates Thanksgiving anyway. We'll eat pasta and ice cream; I'll pretend to get ahead on homework; Derek will rant about genocidal colonists and the perils of collective superstition. Which is, really, more ironic than you will ever know, but that's Derek for you."

Stiles is putting a good face on the whole "enlightened Samwell student who doesn't celebrate The Man's oppressive holidays" thing. But Bitty knows Stiles, and he knows that Stiles is disappointed that there won't be anything special about the day for him and Derek. "Oh, hon," Bitty says softly. "I'd invite you to Hausgiving in a heartbeat, but—"

"I know," Stiles says with a shaky laugh. "No lax bros in the Haus."

Bitty laughs, too. "No hard feelings, Hatfield?"

"Never, McCoy." Stiles pauses a minute and then says, "Hey! You can come to our place for Thanksgiving. Unless, I mean—are you going home?"

Bitty blows out a big breath. "No I am not. I wanted to, but those tickets are too darned expensive. I'll be home at winter break, and that will have to be enough. But I'm not about to impose on you and Derek on Thanksgiving."

Stiles laughs again. "Bitty. You just heard me say it won't be a big deal here. Come on. Come over. You can make as many pies as you want. I promise they won't go to waste. I can spend time with you; you can fuss over us; and you can meet Derek. Everyone wins."

"Except Derek." Bitty won't deny that he's been dying to meet Stiles' mysterious boyfriend, but he has the sense that Derek doesn't much like... well. People.

"He wants to meet you," Stiles says, so earnestly that Bitty's willing to believe even if it turns out to be a big ol' lie. "Come on. What do you say?"

What Bitty says is, "What kinds of pie do y'all like?"

 

November 2013

Bitty makes what feels like a thousand pies for Hausgiving. He puts two in boxes in the refrigerator and labels one "MooMaw's Ditch Weed Pie" and the other "Rutabaga Crumble." Even his boys have their limits.

He stays at the Haus that night, in Johnson's room. Johnson was the first to leave for break and had offered Bitty his room, saying, "It's great foreshadowing, bro."

Thanksgiving morning, Bitty's running around trying to get himself in order when the doorbell rings fifteen minutes early. He swears and hops to the door, full ready to give Stiles a piece of his mind, but—

"Oh!" Bitty says, and a little squeak maybe leaves his mouth.

He doesn't like to be disloyal to his boys. They are an awfully attractive bunch. Not that he, erm... looks at them. Like that.

But. The man standing on the sagging Haus porch is quite possibly the most attractive one Bitty's ever seen in person. He's tall and broad-shouldered, with short black hair and beard. His eyes are... green? blue? gray? They dance between colors, with flecks of gold throughout. And he has this... air to him. A sense like he could pick you up and toss you around a little, nbd.

Bitty becomes aware that he's standing in his doorway, staring at this gorgeous stranger, and he hasn't said anything besides a squeaky "Oh!" Years of training kick in, and he smiles his most gracious smile. "Hello there! How can I help you?"

The guy huffs. "You ready?"

Bitty blinks at him. "Ready?"

The guy makes an impatient "come on" gesture. "To go."

"Go?"

The guy casts his eyes heavenward and mutters under his breath. He smiles, and it is terrifying, like maybe wild animals taught him how. "I know I'm early, but Stiles said you'd be ready by one."

Bitty feels his eyes widen to the size of dinner plates. "Did—are you Derek?"

The guy (Derek?!) lowers his eyebrows and squints. It looks weirdly adorable on such a menacing guy. "Yeah?"

"Well, my gracious!" Bitty trills. He moves aside and motions Derek into the Haus. Derek does so cautiously and seems to be... sniffing the air. And, from the look on his face, not at all liking what he's smelling. Rude. It may not smell like roses and fresh-washed sheets, but what does Derek expect from a sad old house full of college athletes? Honestly, things are so much better than when Bitty got here. "I thought Stiles was gonna be picking me up."

Derek's shoulders sag. "He told me you he would text you. Scott called. They're… themselves."

Bitty pulls his phone out of his pocket and checks his texts. Nothing since last night when Stiles had sent him a series of borderline obscene emojis followed by the word "PIE" and about three dozen exclamation marks. "Must've slipped his mind," he says apologetically.

Derek shakes his head and says, "I blame Scott." Bitty gets a feeling he says this a lot. "So, are you ready?"

"Oh! Of course. Let me grab the pies quick, and we'll be on our way. Have a seat if you want—but not on the green couch. It's a biohazard."

Derek looks distastefully at the offending couch. "It's... not growing things, if that makes you feel better."

Bitty pauses in the kitchen doorway and looks at Derek, curious. "Now, how would you know a thing like that?"

Derek shrugs and looks sheepish. "Just have a good nose for it."

Bitty grins. "Aren't you a sweetheart," he says as he crosses to the kitchen, calling, "Just need a minute to put these in the carrier!" Another lie; the pies have been stowed in the carrier since his last teammate walked out the door this morning. But there's no need for Derek to know that, and Bitty has to send this text.

ME: u didn't tell me derek was picking me up!!
ME: u ALSO didn't tell me derek is an underwear-modeling serial killer!

STILES: whoops?
STILES: uh hey listen also he has CRAZY good hearing, so he prolly knows u're not doing whatever u said u were doing instead of texting me
STILES: sorry

Bitty's sure he must blush clear down to his toes as he shoves his phone in his pocket, pulls the pie carriers off the counter, and puts on his best "taking a check" face before sweeping out of the kitchen to face his doom.

Derek's leaning against the wall scowling at his phone when Bitty comes into the living room. Bitty's about to clear his throat to get Derek's attention when Derek pushes gracefully away from the wall and shoves his phone in the pocket of his (very tight) jeans. "Ready?" he asks.

"All set!" Bitty carols, hoping he doesn't sound like a loon.

"Here, let me—" Bitty's pie carriers aren't terribly heavy, but Derek takes them from his hands like they weigh nothing at all.

Derek must catch a glimpse of the pie labels before he settles the carrier in back seat of his surprisingly mundane Toyota hatchback, because his only comment as they pull away from the Haus is a dry, "Ditch weed and rutabaga?"

Bitty doesn't smack those impressive biceps, because Derek is driving and Bitty's a gentleman. But he does tsk and say, "Don't you chirp me, Mr. Hale. My kitchen sits smack in the middle of HQ for 23 hockey-playing college students—and that's just varsity. If I want anything to survive in that refrigerator for more than an hour, I gotta be creative in my labels." From the set of Derek's eyebrows (which Bitty's heard a lot about from Stiles), Bitty knows he wants to ask something. Bitty smiles. "Since Stiles said you had pumpkin and apple taken care of—and please tell me that boy didn't buy them at a store—"

Derek smiles softly. "They're homemade. Just not our home."

Bitty nods, mollified. "I brought strawberry cream and peanut butter."

Something like wonder crosses Derek's face. "Strawberry cream is my favorite," he says.

Bitty hides a smile behind his hand. "And peanut butter is Stiles' favorite." He takes a chance on patting Derek's arm, because frankly the boy looks like he doesn't get enough touch. "Don't you worry, Derek. Got your back."

*

Thanksgiving is both easier than Bitty expected and one of the hardest things he's done in ages. Maybe harder than working through his checking problem.

Stiles and Derek are wonderful hosts. Nothing in their apartment matches, and there's a "college student chic" vibe in both the décor and the cattywampus approach to dinner (turkey noodle soup and cranberry walnut muffins in deference to the holiday; it's not exactly traditional, but it's better than the pasta and ice cream Stiles had predicted). But they are gracious and attentive to Bitty and each other; the conversation is easy; and no one even suggests turning on any football games. It's not his mama's Thanksgiving, but it's more than he expected from a fellow student and his boyfriend.

And therein lies the problem. He hasn't spoken the words out loud yet, but what's inside Bitty gets harder to deny every day. The thing he came to Samwell to figure out. The thing that's been inside him long as he can remember, that he hasn't had the guts to name even to himself, in case someone could take one look at his face and know. All semester this thing's been stirring like a dragon waking from a deep sleep, but he's ignored it, and things have held like that. Being here, in this apartment that Stiles navigates better than his dorm room, working around Derek like they've lived together for years, easy and open and obvious in their affection, makes that thing in Bitty open its eyes and pick up its head more than it ever has before.

Bitty remembers being knee-high to a grasshopper and hearing a story about a Pride celebration in Atlanta come on the news. Mama'd sniffled, shaken her head, and said, "Those poor people. Their lives must be so hard." Life doesn't seem hard for Stiles and Derek. It seems like the easiest, most natural, most beautiful thing in the world. And... and Stiles' family and friends know he and Derek are together (hard not to, when Derek's packed up and moved clean across the country to be with him), and Derek's sister knows, and the lax bros know, and... and everyone knows, and the world hasn't ended.

It makes Bitty want. It makes him want something he's never allowed himself to think about, never allowed himself to bring into the light and name. He still can't let himself name it, but he's watching it play out in front of him, and he wants it. Badly.

It's near time to head back to campus, and Bitty thinks he'll walk. It'll be nice to have those ten minutes of movement to counteract all the food. It's frigid, of course, 40 degrees last Bitty checked. But he's got a heavy coat, and a hat, and Mama's last care package had the most divine thrummed mittens that keep his hands nice and toasty. He goes to find Stiles and Derek to thank them and tell them he's heading out. He'd last seen them in the kitchen, arguing over the last slice of apple pie (not as good as Bitty's, but acceptable, and lord, but these boys could pack it away! Hollow legs, PawPaw would say), but the kitchen's empty. Bitty listens for a minute and hears quiet voices on the balcony. He crosses toward the sliding door, ready to knock or call out. Then he freezes.

It's nothing… untoward. Derek's sitting back on a lounger, Stiles settled between his legs, back against Derek's chest. Derek's arms wrap around Stiles' waist; a plate with a slice of pie rests on Stiles' leg. As Bitty watches, unable to look away, Derek forks up a bite of pie and directs it, badly, toward Stiles' mouth.

Stiles laughs hard, covering his mouth with one hand and fending off the fork with the other. "Listen here, asshole—" he starts, though it's hard to make out around his laughter.

"What's wrong, Stiles?" Derek asks, all wounded innocence. "I thought you wanted to share the pie."

"Gah! I hate you, sasswolf."

Derek gives a rumbling laugh and nuzzles his face into Stiles' neck. Bitty just catches Derek's quiet, "Love you, too."

In maybe the worst display of bad manners of Bitty's life, he turns, lifts the empty pie carriers off the counter, and walks out of the apartment without a word. He'll send a thank-you note tomorrow. Right now he needs to be away from here, before the thing slowly waking in his chest opens its eyes and devours him whole.

 

December 2013

It's difficult to remember, because Bitty spends so much time at the Haus, and Stiles splits his time between the lax house, the apartment, and the weirdly chill funeral home where his magic teacher lives and works, but Stiles and Bitty technically live in the same dorm, and sometimes their paths cross there. Today, their paths take the form of Stiles frantically pounding out his final paper for Psych 151 while Bitty flops face-down on Stiles' bed, looking like he wants the pillow to eat him.

Bitty's been here about ten minutes. He all but fell into the room, groaning dismally, and immediately assumed the melodrama position. Stiles has been in the middle of his concluding section for over an hour and refuses to acknowledge any emotional or psychological crisis until he's done with that. Bitty's not bleeding, vomiting black goo, or missing any limbs; he can commune with the pillow for a couple more minutes.

When the conclusion is as good as it can get at a first draft stage, Stiles closes his laptop and turns to face his prone friend. "You want to talk about it?"

Bitty groans, long and pitiful, face fully immersed in the pillow. He says something that sounds like "Radon and Hodor" until Stiles remembers that two of the hockey bros go by the nicknames Ransom and Holster.

"What about them?"

Bitty sighs and turns his face enough for Stiles to see his mouth. His answer is much clearer, though no less plaintive, when he says, "They're trying to set me up for Screw."

Stiles flips through his mental file on the hockey team, complete with their ridiculous nicknames. "This is Birkholtz and Oluransi, right?" he asks. When Bitty nods forlornly, Stiles grins. "Dude, that's great. Those dudes know, like, anyone who plays any sport at Samwell. Like, even the intramural table tennis club. They'll find you someone amazing."

Bitty's expression darkens, and he squeezes his eyes shut. "Yeah, but—but they're trying to—I haven't told them—" He huffs. "They keep trying to set me up with girls, because they don't know that—" Big breath in. "—I'm gay."

Stiles wants to get up and dance. He wants to sweep Bitty off the bed into a big, swinging-around hug. He wants to shower Bitty with rainbow flag confetti (he has some, a gift from Erica for Pride last summer). Instead he forces himself to sit, hands folded in his lap, and wait to see what direction the conversation takes next.

Bitty takes another huge breath and scrambles so he's sitting upright. "Woo!" he says, laughing. "That was—that's only the second time I've said it out loud," he admits.

Stiles puts his hand over his heart. "I'm honored to be among the first," he says sincerely.

Bitty laughs softly. His gaze drifts to Stiles' cork board. "Does it get easier?"

Stiles knows where he's looking, a picture pinned right in front of the desk, because a reminder of what's waiting for him is very motivational while he's studying. It's one of the only pictures of just him and Derek, without the rest of the pack. Mason took it during Lydia's "holy fuck we survived to graduation" party. Derek and Stiles are sitting side by side, Derek's face turned toward Stiles' shoulder to avoid lens flare, Stiles' cheek resting on Derek's head. The look on Stiles' face, and the lines of Derek's shoulders and neck, show two people at their most content, wanting nothing more than to stay right here, with this person, for as long as the world will let them.

The sheriff still isn't 100% thrilled about Stiles and Derek's relationship. But the first time he saw that picture, he'd given Stiles a crushing hug and said, in a suspiciously damp voice, "I'm not going to cry at your wedding."

Stiles picks his words carefully. "It gets... easier," he says, "but it may never be easy. At least it isn't for me. Maybe things'll be different for you. But it—at some point it starts to feel more important for people to know than for them not to. Then you'll take all the energy you put into hiding and put it into being open, instead."

Bitty takes that in, looking thoughtful. Usually they're well-matched wells of words (or maybe Wellies of words, heh), but Bitty has a better handle than Stiles ever will on when it's wise to shut up for a minute.

"And, uh—" Stiles scratches the back of his neck and glances at the picture again. "Some people wait until they're with someone before coming out, so they can focus on a relationship rather than an identity. That's a valid choice, and if it works for you, go for it. But I find being in a same-gender relationship just... makes hiding less possible. I mean, god, I know it sucks, but we live in a world where it isn't always safe to be out. And when you're Eric R. Gayguy, living your life, you don't have to tell anyone. But once you're Eric R. Boyfriend, it becomes—I mean, you can hide, if you need to, but it takes a lot more energy." Stiles puts a hand on Bitty's arm and says, "But that's a problem for another time. For now, be… happy and gay!" They chuckle. "Seriously, Bitty, congrats. I'm so happy for you."

"Thank you, Stiles," Bitty says, beaming. "I doubt I'll ever want the whole world to know—gracious, I haven't even told my mama—but I feel better with you and Shitty knowing."

Stiles grins. If he'd had time to think about it, he might've guessed that Shitty would've been the first person Bitty told. They've never met (because Shitty's the most adamant of the hockey players about not mingling with the lacrosse team), but from what he's been able to observe, Shitty's a damned good friend to Bitty, and Stiles is glad he's in Bitty's corner. "Uh, you know, on that topic, that time I met your mom? She was really good about me and Derek. And, like, I totally get that people react differently when it's their own kid— believe me, I so get that. I'm just saying that if you ever decide you want to tell her, I think she may, like, surprise you with how she reacts." Bitty pales, and his smile slips, but he nods jerkily. "And, listen," Stiles continues, "any time you want to talk about boys or vent about how fucked up the world can be toward queer people, my ear's open."

Bitty smiles. "Thanks, hon."

"Oh, and!" Stiles leans forward excitedly, twirling his pen around his fingers, "if you want me to help you find a guy, I'll have you know that I my matchmaking skills are renowned."

Danny and Mason are very happy, and they always give Stiles credit when people ask how they got together. That counts as "renowned," right?

Bitty laughs and pats Stiles' hand. "That's awful sweet of you, Mr. Stilinski," he says, "but I got more than enough matchmaking going on for me at the Haus." He sighs and shakes his head, now much more fond exasperation than despondent panic. "Guess I'll have to tell Ransom and Holster that dog won't hunt." He grimaces. "Think they'll be upset?"

Stiles rolls his eyes. "I think they'll stagger around dramatically, demand to know why you didn't tell them sooner, and then switch to a different spreadsheet." When Bitty blinks at him, Stiles rolls his eyes back in the opposite direction and says, "This is Samwell. 'One in four, maybe more' isn't just clever publicity; it's, like, solid stats. I'd bet you all of Derek's money that your boys have spreadsheets that cover every permutation of gender identity and sexual and romantic orientation. They've got your back."

Bitty laughs and slumps over onto Stiles' pillow like the conversation's drained him too much to stay upright. "You say the sweetest things." He shakes his head. "All right. They are my boys, and I am loyal to them, so I will let them find me a Screw date. But if it doesn't turn out so good, I'll let you take over for a while."

Stiles laughs and sticks out his hand, which Bitty shakes sideways so he doesn't have to sit back up. "Deal."

*

Bitty's Screw date is awful. Stiles doesn't see much of Bitty, because he's too busy taking selfies of himself and Derek to prove to the pack that, yes, Derek voluntarily dressed up and came to a college dance. But the glimpses he can catch tell a sad (if typical) story of Bitty's date moving from nice enough to embarrassingly drunk to puking on Bitty's shoes.

Stiles starts the spell as soon as he gets home.

It's not a love spell. Love spells are gross and unethical and anyway they rarely work like you want them to. Heck, what Stiles is doing is barely a spell at all. It's... opening his physical and magical senses, which allows him to be aware of compatibilities between people. It's how he figured out how good Danny and Mason could be together.

So he's ready. When Bitty says, "I'm not looking now. I reckon Screw put me off dating for a bit. But when I'm ready, why don't you give it a try?" he puts it in motion so he'll have options available when Bitty gives him the go-ahead. Sometimes he likes using his tendency toward hypervigilance for good.

* * *

Winter break is uneventful. Bitty goes home to Georgia, eats more cookies than Jack Zimmermann would approve of, answers his relatives' questions about "that liberal school of yours," and goes so deeply back into the closet he sees Narnia.

The SMH group text provides consistent comic relief. Shitty blows it up periodically with rants about both the secularization of religious holidays and the imposition of Christian norms on a secular nation. Holster texts back a picture of himself and his sisters grinning and holding plates of latkes, with the caption "Delicious and unassimilated." Which sends Shitty off on a different rant about historical pressure on American Jews to conform, but at least he's not talking about Christmas anymore.

When they come back for their game on the 29th, campus is mostly empty. There's a magic to the place, coated in a fresh layer of snow and muffled in solitude and silence. Bitty stands on the back steps of his dorm and watches the wind blow the snow in gentle swirls around the street. He feels peaceful.

He takes a picture and sends it to Stiles. "Happy Holidays from Samwell University," he writes.

A few seconds later he gets a picture back—Stiles on the balcony of Derek's apartment, so bundled Bitty can really only see his eyes. But they're crinkled at the corners like he's smiling, and he's holding his thumb up. "welcome back dude!" the accompanying text reads, "derek says come over any time"

Bitty laughs and pockets his phone. He assumes that Derek most emphatically does not say that, but it's nice of Stiles to extend the invitation anyway.

By the time the new semester starts, Bitty feels ready to have Stiles suggest some guys for him. He's not looking for happily ever after, but if he can go on a few dates with guys who won't throw up on his shoes, he thinks that could be fun.

 

January 2014

"Guy-shopping" with Stiles, as Stiles insists on calling it, is nothing like Bitty expected, and he says so.

Stiles laughs and nods. "You're used to Oluransi's matchmaking-by-spreadsheet method. Nothing wrong with that. Lotta queer guys around here. Hard to find the right one." He grins and makes jazz hands. "Options!"

Bitty laughs and shakes his head no at the guy Stiles points out to him. Stiles makes a note on the piece of paper in front of him. Bitty's not sure the notes are in English.

They're at Annie's, tucked around a two-top by the front window so Stiles can spot guys coming inside and ones going by outside. "You, on the other hand," Bitty says, leaning across the table to poke Stiles in the arm, "seem to be pointing out guys at random."

Stiles' face twists, lips pursed, forehead wrinkled. "It's not... exactly random?" he says. He taps his fingernails against his coffee cup. "Look. On paper, Derek Hale and Stiles Stilinski are the worst idea anyone ever had. If Oluransi were doing this for me, Derek wouldn't even be on the page. Yet here we are, together since I was 17, and I guarantee we will be married within three months of my graduation. I respect the spreadsheet, but in matters of the heart, sometimes you gotta step back and let chaos reign."

Bitty makes a face. "That sounds like the Haus."

Stiles grins sharply at him. "Then you should have no problems with my methods. Him?"

Bitty looks at the man walking by outside the window, olive-skinned, lanky, with his dark hair in a short ponytail and a violin case under his arm. Bitty shivers. "A definite maybe." A guy who looks like that and is good with his hands? Yes, please.

"Excellent!" Stiles wiggles his eyebrows and makes another mark on the page.

"I don't get how you're going to find the ones I say yes to. Do you know all of 'em?"

"What? No." Stiles looks baffled. "I mean, I've seen a lot of them around campus, but, no. I don't know most of them."

"Well, then?" Stiles looks at him blankly, and he gestures around them. "How are you gonna find them again?"

For a second, Stiles looks... panicked. There's no other word for it. Then he puts his hand over his heart, bats his eyes, and says, "Bitty, have you no faith in the scientific method?"

Bitty flicks his napkin at Stiles' head. "The scientific method, yes. The Stiles method..." Stiles throws the napkin back and laughs. Bitty grins into his cup.

This coming out process is way more complicated than folks let on. First there was admitting it to himself. Then there was admitting it to other people. Now there's acting on it. He's only done that once before, so the process is still new enough to feel a little taboo. Saying "I'm gay" for the first time had been a huge moment in his life, but "gay," when you come right down to it, is kind of an abstract concept. Jumping from "I'm gay" to "I'm attracted to that boy" feels like almost as big a hurdle.

Bitty swallows. His peppermint mocha sits heavy in his stomach, and the sunlight reflecting off the snow stings his eyes. He shuts them for a second, and when he opens them, Stiles is watching him in that intent way he gets sometimes. Bitty smiles apologetically.

"Long day, huh?" Stiles says.

It hasn't been, but Bitty gratefully takes the out. He nods. "Yeah, I... this is fun, but can we be done for the day?"

"Yeah. Yeah, of course." Stiles stands and gathers his things. He grins. "Hey, next time let's do this at Faber before a game. Find you a hockey fan."

"Sure," Bitty says absently, trying not to think about "next time."

Bitty and Stiles bundle up (the New Englanders and Midwesterners are wearing light jackets and caps today. Bitty and Stiles are so heavily wrapped they can barely move, but it is cold out there; he doesn't care what anyone says) and leave the coffee shop. On the sidewalk, they debate whether to part ways here or go on together. Stiles has to run back to the dorm to grab a book he forgot for his 3:30 class. Bitty's done with his classes for the day, so he could go anywhere. He's itching to get back to the Haus and try another of the new cookie recipes MooMaw gave him over break. But he's still mad about Jack not wanting Bitty on his line, so he's not super interested in running into him right now.

He turns to walk with Stiles to the dorm—

—and runs right the hell into Jack Zimmermann.

Bitty staggers. He doesn't land on his ass only because Jack has crazy robot reflexes and grabs his arms to haul him upright. He stands there for a second with his hands on Bitty's arms, looking less hostile than he has in weeks. He, of course, is wearing his ultralight flannel jacket over a long-sleeve shirt, no hat, and the jacket isn't even zipped. Bitty feels cold just looking at him. (But he also feels warm just looking at him.)

"Whoa!" Bitty says weakly. "Musta hit an icy patch?" He looks desperately at Stiles, but Stiles is looking between the two of them with a frown, like they're a busted watch he's trying to tell the time by anyway.

Jack glances at Stiles, too. His face hardens, and he yanks his hands away from Bitty's arms. "Watch where you're going, Bittle," he snaps, moving around Bitty and toward the Haus. "And don't let Shitty know you're dating a lax bro."

"We're not dating!" Bitty yells. "And Shitty's not the boss of me!" His hands are in fists, and he's boiling with formless, directionless rage, like always after a bad run-in with Jack.

Bitty was a small, figure-skating, pie-baking boy in rural Georgia. He's no stranger to people disliking him. But Jack's dislike feels different, not based in anything he does but actually aimed at something integral to his personality. Bitty knows he shouldn't let that get to him, but it does. More than anything has in a long time.

The collision with Jack has jarred Bitty's bag and its contents. He rights it and turns toward the dorm with a determined spark in his heart. See if he'll bake cookies for any Haus that Jack Zimmermann calls home. "Come on, Stiles," he says, "let's get your book." He takes a few firm strides—and then realizes that Stiles isn't next to him. He pauses and turns, frown already forming. "What?"

Stiles is standing where he'd been when Bitty ran into Jack, still giving Bitty that broken-watch look.

"What?" Bitty asks again, worried now.

Stiles shakes his head. "Sorry. Nothing." He catches up in one and a half loping strides and slings an arm around Bitty's shoulders. "So. Gorgeous, broody men with tragic pasts who communicate via grunts and scowls. You and me got a lot to talk about, bro."

* * *

"Babe," Stiles says, flinging himself onto the couch, "my mojo's broken." He shoves Derek's computer to the side so he can stretch out with his head in Derek's lap. What's the point of working from home if you can't go at your own pace, right?

Stiles goes boneless with contentment as Derek runs fingers through his hair. "I didn't have any complaints about it this morning."

Stiles laughs delightedly and swats at him. "Pervywolf. No, but, listen. I went out for coffee with Bitty today, right?"

Derek nods. "Man-shopping."

"Don't mock that spell. It did the pack a lot of good. Here's the thing: I got a couple of okay matches for him, nothing to write home about. Then, on our way out of Annie's, he ran—like, literally ran—into Jack Zimmermann. I'm telling you, dude, my senses fritzed out, they matched so perfectly."

Stiles waits for Derek to scoff and say that's ridiculous. But he looks thoughtful for a minute, fingers massaging Stiles' scalp absently, and then says, "I can see that."

"What? No!" Stiles waves his hands. "Derek, they hate each other."

Derek hums again. Why does he do that? He knows Stiles hates that. Dad does it, too, which makes Derek doing it even more annoying.

"I mean it. You should've heard the way Jack yelled at him. And I'm pretty sure Bitty almost punched him."

"Huh," Derek says. "So… sort of like… Jack slammed Eric's head into a steering wheel and Eric said you should let Jack die?"

Stiles' mouth drops open. "Oh." He blinks. "Oh." His brain scrambles to rearrange pieces of the puzzle. Part of why he and Derek had treated each other so horridly when they met was to quash an attraction that neither of them had been ready to accept or deal with at the time. If Bitty and Jack are struggling with the same problem—"Wait, no." He shakes his head. "When I do this spell for queer dudes, I set it up to screen out straight guys."

"So?" Derek sounds unimpressed.

"So, the spell is obviously defective!"

"Are you sure?"

Stiles cranes his neck, the better to gawk at Derek. "Am I sure that a future NHL star is straight?" He pauses, frowning. "Actually…"

Derek strokes the sensitive skin behind Stiles' ear, and Stiles melts. "Think about what you've done with with your magic over the last year and a half."

Stiles feels a little diffident and a little cocky. "I'm marginally badass."

Derek smiles. "What's more likely: that you messed up, or that Jack Zimmermann's in the closet?"

Huh.

Stiles thinks about this. Stiles thinks about this a lot. He also, he's ashamed to say, does some googling. "Jack Zimmermann gay" returns a lot of Kent Parson/Jack Zimmermann fanfic links, which Stiles rapidly backs away from. "Jack Zimmermann Kent Parson" yields more helpful results—the most pertinent being that if the rumors about Jack and Parse are true, then Jack has a type. A type Bitty fits pretty damn well.

 

March 2014

Stiles considers himself a coffee connoisseur. Two years of all-nighters where he had to balance schoolwork with not dying has given him insight into factors like taste, convenience, economy, and caffeination levels. As far as he's concerned, the best coffee in all of Samwell is at Jerry's, and the best fancy coffee drinks are at Annie's.

Unfortunately, the lacrosse team, for reasons Stiles may never understand, is loyal to the Starbucks off the north end of campus, which is where Stiles sits now, drinking an oversweet dirty chai with Chad N., who's chugged his triple espresso and is looking at Stiles sternly.

"Stiles," Chad says, "at this time of year we start thinking about who's getting space in the house next year."

"Okay." Stiles chews on his straw and tries not to look like a baffled n00b. Even though he feels like a baffled n00b.

"Three spots are gonna be free come fall. And, like, usually those are totally for first line juniors and seniors. But sometimes we offer a space to an underclassman with, like, promise? As, like, a player and a bro."

Stiles nods. Dave's lived in the house since his sophomore year because he is, in Chad D.'s words, sick with the grill tongs. "Solid," Stiles says.

"We like you. You have, like, way less chill than we expected from a Cali dude, but your 'no fucks given' attitude works out pretty good for us."

Stiles' straw freezes, dangling out of his mouth. This can't be the conversation he thinks it is. The Chads aren't stupid.

"But." Chad holds up a finger, and Stiles drops the straw back into the cup. "We're worried about your relationship with the hockey player, in direct and flagrant violation of Samwell Lacrosse bylaw number 1. Number one, dude! Like, the very first one!"

"Okay, Chad, listen," Stiles starts, but Chad rolls over him with his prepared speech.

"According to the Bylaw Amendments of 2003, there are three situations where a member of the lacrosse team is allowed to interact with a Hausbro. One: when you're trying to wheel him. Two: when you're trying to scam him, like, for class notes or something. Three: zombie apocalypse." Chad taps a sugar packet on the table for emphasis. "So, like, we know you aren't trying to wheel him, because you're banging the only non-student to make The Swallow's 50 Most Beautiful since, like, the '80s."

Stiles groans. If no one ever brings that up again, it'll be too soon. Derek had been mortified, and what had seemed like a funny, ridiculous college-kid stunt had suddenly seemed invasive and objectifying, letting a bunch more people see Derek only for his body and overlook everything he is underneath.

"At first we thought you were scamming him for, like, pie and shit, 'cause we hear his baking is tight. But if you are, you're not sharing, which is, like, so against bro code it would mean, like, super-automatic disqualification for the house. And I don't see any zombies, so." Chad spreads his hands and looks at Stiles expectantly.

"So…" Stiles says. He doesn't mind Chad having enough rope to hang himself, but he'll be damned if he hands over any more himself.

"So—oh, yeah. Right." Chad sits up straight and tries to look imposing. It doesn't work well. "Mieczysław Stilinski, you stand accused of sustained violation of Samwell Lacrosse Bylaw #1. How do you plead?"

"Okay, first of all—" Stiles stops and shakes his head. "No, wait, changed my mind. First of all, you are not allowed to attempt my legal name again. Like, ever. I am invoking my rights under the Geneva Convention. Just, I mean, don't do it."

Chad looks abashed. Smart man.

"Second, I plead hella guilty by reason of it's an asinine rule." Across the table, Chad blinks. "Look. I get it. Chad D. is pissed because he and Knight banged during their freshman orientation and Knight didn't return his calls. That's a dick move. But, I mean, dude's hockey name is literally 'Shitty.' I don't know what Chad expected. And you can't force the rest of us to give up our friends because one hockey player violated hookup etiquette when he was 18. That's not bro, dude. Bitty's my second-best friend here. And he does give me pie, but it's not a scam. He does it because he's nice. Nicer than anyone on this team, for sure. And I don't share because you guys are assholes, and my boyfriend is an actual trash compactor in human form. It doesn't go to waste."

Chad leans across the table into Stiles' personal space and hisses, "We do not speak of Chad and That Man!"

Stiles groans. "Oh my god, emotionally constipated boys and their feelings." Chad's lips curl into a snarl, so Stiles moves on to his next point. "Three: what the hell makes you think I want a place in the house? I have a place to live next year. It's no Taj Mahal, but it's no nasty frat house, either. And I only have to share it with one person—who is my boyfriend. Which reminds me—four. Stop objectifying my boyfriend."

Chad stares at Stiles for a long minute. A really long minute. He seems torn between crying and hugging Stiles. "Dude, you are the literal best," he gushes. "Chad F. wasn't sure, but I knew we were making the right choice offering you a spot."

Stiles squints. "But… but I don't want the spot."

"Dude, that's cool," Chad says. "You can change your mind any time."

"I'm not—" Stiles pauses and holds up a finger. "Hold on a sec, okay?" He stands and heads to the counter. If he's going to wade into what looks like a long, trying conversation, he's going to need more caffeine.

 

April 2014

By the time the hockey season ends, Stiles knows these things for sure:

  1. No one at Samwell matches Bitty as well as Jack Zimmermann and vice versa.
  2. Neither of them has a clue about this.

Then Bitty takes a hard check during Samwell's game against Princeton. Stiles forces himself to look away from his friend, unconscious on the ice, and look at Jack instead. Now he also knows that:

    3. Jack may be closer to realizing it than Stiles has thought.

Sophomore year is going to be so interesting.

Chapter Text

August 2014

"Okay, tell me how it felt, and we can compare notes."

"Okay, so, it was like..." Scott recrosses his legs and settles more deeply into the couch. "It was like, I was okay, I mean, I thought I was okay. And then we did the ritual, and it was like this giant concrete slab lifted off my chest, and I'd never known it was there!"

Scott grins, clearly waiting for Stiles to agree. Stiles' shoulders slump as the weight of Scott's words drop on him, and he lists sideways into the couch cushion. From the armchair next to the couch, Derek makes a sympathetic noise and rests his hand on the back of Stiles' neck.

"Dude?" Uncertainty has never sat well on Scott's face. "Is that... did you not feel that?"

Stiles rubs his hands over his face. "No, Scottie, I did not feel that. I felt like... like my ears popping when the plane starts descending."

"Shit, bro." Scott looks like he's going to cry. "I'm sorry."

Stiles reaches out and rubs Scott's arm. "It's okay. I mean, popped ears are better than what I had before, right?"

"Right," Scott says, still looking uncertain. "And it'll be better once you come back to Beacon Hills, right?" Stiles isn't sure of that, but he can't say so when Scott looks so glum.

He'd been afraid of this. Afraid that when Scott, Allison, and Danny (as Stiles' proxy) completed the ritual marking the end of the first lunar year since they reached detente with the Nemeton, the three of them would feel a huge improvement, and he, all the way across the country, would barely feel anything. He doesn't regret moving so far away, but... he regrets moving so far away. He's all too aware of the concrete slab on his chest, and it hurts like a gutpunch knowing that he missed a chance to be rid of it. He pastes on a smile. "Is Danny okay?"

That had been Stiles' other worry. He, Scott, and Allison made the original sacrifice and also began the ritual restoring peace to the Nemeton. But the terms of their deal barred Stiles from the territory for 13 lunar cycles. They'd needed a proxy to complete the ritual. As a human with a bit of magical power, Danny had been the obvious choice, but Stiles had worried that he would be hurt or left vulnerable.

Scott smiles. "Dude, he's great. He did that ritual like a champ. He said the world felt oversaturated until the next new moon, like there was too much of everything, but he's better now." Scott's smile turns sly as he adds, "Mason seems relieved that everything's back to normal. I think Danny was running him ragged." He waggles his eyebrows.

Stiles sighs dramatically and bangs his head against the back of the couch. The unfairness of life quadruples whenever the supernatural is involved. "Great. I get popped ears; my proxy gets half a lunar cycle of extra-intense sex. What is my life."

Derek snorts. From the kitchen, Dad calls, "We can hear you, Stiles."

"Love you, Daddio!" Stiles calls. "You too, Mel!"

"Okay, Stiles," Melissa says, laughing.

Stiles' phone vibrates on the table. He glances over and sees a text from Bitty. He pops to his feet and shoves the phone into his pocket. "Okay, Derek and I are headed to the Haus to help Bitty finish moving in. Anybody want to help?"

Scott looks up as Derek puts his bookmark in his book and stands. "Hockey player?"

"Yup."

"Yeah, sure, I always wanted to see the inside of a scuzzy hockey frat."

Stiles laughs. "Probably not so scuzzy now that Bitty's living there. Boy's got standards."

"Maybe someday that will rub off on you," Derek says wistfully. In the kitchen, Melissa starts laughing.

Stiles glares but pops his head into the kitchen. "You guys want to come?"

Melissa waves her mug around. "I'm going to stay here and drink my coffee. With Kahlua."

Dad shakes his head. "I'm still recovering from moving Scott into his dorm."

Scott makes a face. "It wasn't that bad."

Dad stares at him flatly. "Says the werewolf."

Stiles laughs, claps Scott on the back, and steers their caravan toward the door. "Maybe we'll grab dinner after. Or Bitty can come here and cook. He's amazing."

"Stiles!" Melissa says sharply. "Don't make your friend cook for us after he's been moving all day."

"Well, okay," Stiles says, "but I won't say no if he offers."

Stiles, Scott, and Derek make their way to campus slowly. Scott and Stiles are catching up on news about their respective summers, and Stiles thinks Derek is having staredowns with the campus geese, who, to be fair, are extreme assholes.

The kid who opens the door at the Haus is tall and lanky, with dark hair flopping into his eyes and an eye-searing amount of turquoise Sharks apparel covering his body. When he says "Hey, can I help you?" his voice is full of enthusiasm and his mouth is full of metal.

Stiles smiles. "Chris, right? I'm Stiles, I'm a friend of Bitty's."

"Oh, swawesome!" Chris (he's got another name, like they all do—Soup, maybe? Stiles has enough trouble remembering who goes with the nicknames Bitty used last year; he hasn't had time to memorize the new ones) bounds away into the Haus, talking over his shoulder and walking dangerously close to everything in his path. "He's in the kitchen? I guess he's there a lot? Which is great!! No one in my family really bakes, so I'm excited about pie! Except, oh, I'm gonna have to work out extra to burn it off, aren't I? Oh, well! Bet it's worth it for pie!"

Stiles turns to give Scott and Derek a "get a load of this guy" look. But they're paying him no mind, sharply scenting the air and doing that wolf-brother silent communication bullshit that pisses Stiles off so much. Stiles goes on red alert, heart racing and hands curled in readiness as he scouts for the threat. "What?" he hisses.

Scott points at his eyes. Derek mouths "werewolf." Which, duh Scott's a werewolf; Stiles was the one who told him— oh. Derek must mean a different werewolf. Not this kid, or there would be snarling already, but. Somewhere in the Haus. Well, shit.

Soup's still talking about Bitty's pies when Scott and Derek lift their heads and turn toward the stairs. There's an ungodly racket, and then someone charges down the stairs full-bore. Stiles braces. It's Bitty's naked friend Shitty, the one who declaims SCOTUS decisions on the lawn. Stiles recognizes him mostly because he's naked.

Shitty plants himself at the bottom of the stairs, head swinging from Scott to Derek and back. He looks at—and past—Stiles a couple of times, but when he catches sight of Soup standing to the side, he latches onto Stiles as the most acceptable target. A finger thrusts out at Stiles' face, and an indignant voice thunders, "LAX BRO IN THE HAUS!"

"Oh, for fuck's sake," Stiles mutters. He stomps forward, grabs the offending finger, and hauls Shitty up the stairs. He glances at Derek and Scott. "Come on." They startle and move to follow.

"Chowder!" Shitty calls desperately. "Sound the alarm! Alert the guard! Warn Bitty!"

Chowder ("Soup" was better) stands, baffled, at the bottom of the stairs, watching them go. Bitty's voice faintly calls, "Shitty Knight, what are you hollering about?" but they're moving too fast for him to catch up.

At the top of the stairs, Derek sniffs and then points to a closed door. Stiles barges through it, and—okay, yup, that is definitely Jack Zimmermann sitting at the desk looking confused; nut up, Stilinski, he's a student here; he puts his pants on and over one of the greatest asses in hockey history one leg at a time like everyone else. Derek moves ahead and leads them through the bathroom—good god , this house is an architectural nightmare—and into another bedroom. Scott and Derek sniff and nod. Stiles lets go of Shitty's hand and shoves him toward his desk chair. He hopes Derek had the presence of mind to close doors behind them as they went, because this conversation is about to get weird.

"You gonna behave?" Scott asks Shitty, which, really, Scott?

Shitty agrees, judging by the way his eyes flash gold and he snarls, "You're in my den!"

Scott flashes his eyes back, and Derek looks ready to attack at the least provocation, so Stiles jumps in like he does best.

"Whoa, hey." He holds up his hands in the classic nonthreatening pose, which doesn't work because his fingertips are sparking orange. "Let's hold off on the snarling and mauling for the time being, okay?" He looks around. No one looks like they're going to launch an assault this instant, which is the best he's going to get. "Okay. Great. Introductions." He straightens. "Stiles Stilinski, emissary of the McCall Pack, Beacon Hills, California."

Shitty's eyebrows go up. "You're a long way from home, Emissary."

"I am also," Stiles says, ignoring that, "and more relevantly to this conversation, Samwell class of 2017 and a friend of Bitty's."

Shitty crosses his arms and says petulantly, "And a lax bro."

Stiles smiles at the absurdity of caring about sports rivalries when they were on the brink of a bloodbath ten seconds ago. His fondness for Bitty's ridiculous teammates is bizarre but undeniable. "Nobody's perfect."

"Hey!" Scott protests.

"Don't bother, Scottie," Stiles says. "You've walked into some old-school Jets-Sharks shit here." Stiles makes Vanna White hands at Scott. "This is my alpha and stepbrother, Scott McCall of the McCall Pack of Beacon Hills." He makes the same gesture at Derek, who raises his eyebrows. "This is my one true boo, Derek Hale. Relationship status: it's complicated with the McCall Pack of Beacon Hills." Scott makes a hurt noise. Stiles ignores it. They've been having this argument since Derek came back to town and refused to join Scott's pack. They're not going to sort it out now.

Shitty's eyebrows go up. "Hale?" he asks. "Shit, man, I'm sorry."

"Thanks," Derek says gruffly, and Stiles is really, really proud of him. It's taken Derek a lot of time and therapy to be able to respond to condolences for his family with anything other than snarls.

Stiles waits, but that appears to be all anyone currently has to say about the Hale fire, so he makes a gesture at Shitty. "And you are?"

Stiles holds his breath, because if he becomes the first Samwell student to know Shitty's given name, that's cachet for life. But the guy smiles sadly and says, "Shitty Knight, omega."

Derek looks thoughtful for a second. To anyone else he probably looks constipated or hungry, but Stiles recognizes when he's sorting through the treasure trove of werewolf-related information his parents and grandparents stuffed into his head as a kid. "Knight," he says, like he's tasting it. "The Buchanan Pack in Boston?"

Shitty's face contorts into an unreadable expression. "Like I said," he says. "Omega."

Derek nods. "I don't blame you."

"Shits? You okay up here? Chowder said—" The bathroom door opens a crack, and a short, dark-haired woman pokes her head around. "Oh," she says softly.

It's a tense and awkward moment, which gets weirder when Derek's eyes widen, and he bows to her and says, "Bà mụ."

Stiles chokes. How did he miss that? He starts to bow as well, but she fixes him with a look that promises a world of hurt if he follows through.

"Do not," she snaps. She glares at Derek and adds, "You cut it out, too."

There's a slight curl to Derek's lips as he straightens. "Of course, bà mụ. My apologies."

She growls as she comes into the room and closes the door behind her. "It's a job title, dipshit. Like if I went around calling you 'Editor' all the time." Stiles has no idea how this woman knows that Derek's an editor, but he's equal parts terrified and turned on by all the unspoken menace in the room, and he hopes the werewolves will have the tact to ignore it. "Call me Lardo."

Derek looks gobsmacked, and Stiles figures he does too as he demands, "You're Lardo?" From the stories Bitty told last semester, he expected Lardo to be a six-foot-plus dude intent on out-drinking half the campus. He hadn't expected a woman who comes up to his chin. He castigates himself for making assumptions. The women in the pack must never know of this.

Lardo's eyes sparkle—actual sparkles, not metaphorical ones— as she stares at him. "That a problem?"

"What? Oh, no! It's the greatest thing ever," he says.

"Bitty's friends with a lax bro," Shitty bursts in.

Lardo pats his hand absently. She's clearly checking out the dynamics in the room. She has to see the way Scott and Derek are trying to place themselves between Stiles and danger, and the way Stiles keeps moving closer to the danger, because there is protocol here, damn it, people. He doesn't mind breaking the rules when the situation calls for it, but he has not studied for two years under Alan "needlessly cryptic asshole" Deaton and Lou "I'm going to spew words at you for two hours. Pick the important ones" Pollack so everyone can ignore the shit he knows and plunge them into a pack war.

"Look," he says, "I'm a Samwell student, which means I'm bound by the same neutrality agreements you are. Derek and I live in an apartment north of campus, on Oak. Derek's not a student, but he signed the territorial agreements when we got here. He only comes to campus for lacrosse games and hockey games, anyway."

"And to use the libraries," Derek adds quietly, which is adorable, if unhelpful.

"You're not a fucking student!" Shitty protests, like that's the important part here.

"My public library card is cross-registered." Derek got his public library card their first week here, because he is an adorable squishy nerd. Stiles wants to climb him like a tree and then pinch his cheeks.

"So, there you go." Stiles spreads his hands. "We're all lone wolves here." He bobs his head. "Except that I'm a lone emissary. And Lardo is apparently a lone midwife."

Lardo rolls her eyes. "It's a job title. Managing these nitwits is much harder."

Stiles grins. Lardo is tiny and terrifying. He's in love. Derek smirks at him, and Stiles makes a face back before telling Lardo, "We're not looking to start anything. We're just here to help Bitty move in."

Shitty looks at them like he's sure that was a lie, despite the steadiness of Stiles' heartbeat. Then he looks at Lardo. She doesn't speak, but they clearly have a conversation of some sort, because Shitty throws his hands up and says, "Fine. As long as the True Alpha isn't staying, I guess it's okay. Just... keep your lax stank out of my Haus."

"No no no no," Stiles protests. "Bitty lives here now. There is no way—"

"Christ, I mean, like, shower before you come over or something, Jesus," Shitty says, peeved.

Stiles subsides and ignores Derek's snicker. "Oh." He looks at Shitty, then at this architectural and hygienic nightmare Shitty calls home. "Uh..." He rubs the back of his neck and glances at Derek. Derek shrugs and makes a "your call" gesture. "Yeah, like I said, we live on Oak east of Fielding. No other werewolves in the building. If you wanted, you know, a getaway." Scott beams at him, and Derek gives a small nod, and he feels like he could collapse with relief.

Shitty looks completely taken aback. "I—yeah. That might be swawesome."

Stiles grins. "Swawesome!" he echoes.

Shitty and Lardo turn identical grimaces on him. "No," they say.

Stiles starts laughing. Scott looks horrified, which makes Stiles laugh harder. Swawesome.


November 2014

Bitty scrubs pots with the vigor of a man possessed. Stiles' cookware has never been this clean.

Bitty thinks of himself as a young man of fortitude. But there are limits to what even a young man of fortitude can be expected to endure. Going to the apartment of his one non-hockey friend and finding Jack Zimmermann in the living room exceeds that limit.

Bitty doesn't like to be nosy or judgmental (I do not, Jack Zimmermann, you keep your face to yourself), and he's always glad when his boys make friends outside the team. He's been... rolling with Derek and Shitty's friendship because they've been good for each other, and because everyone deserves a safe space to practice their religion.

Bitty's not stupid. Stiles is never available at the full moon. Shitty gets real cranky when they have a game on a full moon. Derek talks about "my land" in Beacon Hills with a pride that speaks of deep stewardship and reverence. More recently, as Derek gets more comfortable around him, Bitty's discovering that the guy's got a Shitty-level aversion to clothes. Bitty knows how to put the pieces together.

He tries not to be hurt that none of them have told him they're Pagans. He knows that's hypocritical of him—he'd known Stiles and the team almost a full semester before he told any of them that he's gay. And he's listened to enough of Shitty's rants about how people's personal information is like an extension of their bodies, and that they don't owe it to anyone. But he hopes they know that Bitty can keep a secret (if it is one), and that it wouldn't change their friendship.

So, though it seems like the strangest match ever, he's made peace with Shitty and Derek being friends, and with sometimes coming to his home away from Haus and finding Shitty there. Bitty's at the apartment to see Stiles, and Shitty's there to see Derek, and they don't interact much, beyond the occasional froyo run or late night chat, after Bitty's homework is as done as it's going to get and Shitty and Derek have honored the Moon Goddess or whatever they do in Derek's room with the door shut. Apartment!Shitty is different from Haus!Shitty or hockey!Shitty, and Bitty feels honored that he gets to know yet another side of his friend.

But Jack Zimmermann? This apartment is Bitty's sanctuary, and Jack is—Jack is.

Bitty can admit that he's infatuated with Jack. Smitten with him. Gone on him. Basically, Eric Bittle has a crush on Jack Zimmermann the size of—well, the size of Jack Zimmermann's butt, and that crush is not going away anytime soon. It definitely isn't going away while Jack sits less than a hundred feet away on the other side of the island counter, curled up on Stiles and Derek's lumpy brown couch in sweatpants and a soft-looking, stretched-out Penguins T-shirt, reading some giant old book about the history of Fascism in Spain and Portugal. So Bitty scrubs, and he keeps his back to the living room so he won't see that.

Feet clomp across the narrow strip of linoleum that demarcates the kitchen, such as it is, and a body settles against the counter at Bitty's hip. "It's a lot, isn't it?" Stiles murmurs.

Bitty squeezes the pot handle in his hand and scrubs harder. "What's a lot, darlin'?" he asks with more cheer than he's feeling.

Stiles waves toward the living room. "All the silent brooding hotness."

Bitty laughs. It sounds hysterical. "It's different without Shitty," is the most he'll allow.

Stiles makes a sound. "Jack and Lardo showed up together one time. I had to take a twenty-minute shower with the water as cold as it goes."

Bitty bangs the clean pot into the drying rack and grabs a Pyrex casserole dish harder than he needs to, hoping the clanging covers his words. "What's he even doing here?"

"Bitty," Stiles says with all sincerity, "I have no idea. He showed up with Shitty a couple weeks ago. Shitty and I got into an argument about the long-term ramifications of US vs. Windsor, and the next thing I knew, Derek and Jack had been on the balcony for an hour, talking about their tragic adolescences and bonding over a mutual love of history, brooding, and muscles. It was like having two Batmans here." He frowns. "Batmen? Batsman?"

Bitty leaves Stiles to ponder the plural of "Batman" and goes back to his furious scrubbing. He'd wanted Stiles to say that Jack's only here because Derek is an expert on some subject Jack's writing about, and that as soon as the paper's done, Jack will be gone. Instead it sounds like Jack and Derek are friends now, that they've bonded. Jack will probably be a fixture around the apartment. Bitty asks himself how he feels about that. What he feels is like a giant, swirling mess.

"Hey," Stiles says, "you want to get out of here for a while?"

Bitty collapses with relief. "Do I ever!"

Stiles pushes off the counter and wanders around it so he's technically in the living room. "Babe?" he says. Derek and Jack both look up, and Bitty bites the inside of his cheek hard to hold in the hysterical giggle that wants to break free. Derek rolls his eyes, and Jack looks back at his book. "Bitty and I are gonna bounce."

Derek puts his open book (also on the history of Iberian Fascism, only in Spanish, because Derek is helping Jack with a paper, and Bitty is possibly going to die) facedown on the arm of his chair and rises to his feet, stretching as he goes. Bitty knows it isn't right to ogle a guy while he's working the kinks out, especially while that guy's boyfriend is inches away, but Derek is seriously gorgeous, and he moves with the grace of a jungle cat, and Bitty is but a mere mortal gay boy. Derek pads across the space, his feet in their adorable laddered socks making no noise against the hardwood floor, and slips his arms around Stiles' waist. He looks deep into Stiles' eyes, face solemn, and says, with the gravity of a royal proclamation, "'Kay."

Stiles laughs and shoves futilely at Derek's chest. "Nerd," he scoffs happily. Derek leans in and kisses him, soft but intense. When Bitty catches a flicker of tongues, he forces himself to look away.

Of course now he's looking at Jack, who's looking back with a faint scowl marring his forehead. "You okay, Bittle?" he asks, and noooooo. Bitty cannot handle Concerned Captain Jack. He's finally figured out how to deal with Driven Captain Jack, who wakes him up at four in the morning for checking practice and gets on his case about protein intake. This Jack, who worries about his teammates and wants to help? This Jack is new, and Bitty has no defenses against him.

Bitty smiles weakly. "I'll be fine, Jack. Promise."

Jack scowls more, unconvinced, but he nods and goes back to his book.

"Any idea where you're going?" Derek asks.

Stiles looks at Bitty, who shrugs. Then Stiles grins. "Oh, shit, it's Thursday." He takes a hand off Derek's arm and smacks Bitty's bicep with the back of it. "Samwell Sinema!"

"Stiles," Bitty groans. Samwell Sinema shows free movies in one of the science buildings. It's full of movie snobs and smells like acetone.

"No, come on," Stiles says, warming to the idea. "It's The Great Escape tonight, which you've never seen, which is a travesty."

Jack looks up, eyes sharp. "Bittle, you've never seen The Great Escape?"

Bitty shakes his head and widens his eyes. "I've seen Escape to Witch Mountain," he says and waits for the explosion.

Stiles chokes, and his face turns dangerously red. "Okay, no. Just—no." He tries futilely to wrestle out of Derek's hold. "Let me go, ox, how is this fair?" Derek smirks and is of no help whatsoever. "Okay, that's it," Stiles says when he finally breaks free, tugging his shirt down and glaring at Derek. "We're going, and that's final."

"Okay, fine," Bitty says. He pulls the drain plug and focuses on the water swirling away.

Which is a bad idea, because it leads him to miss that Jack has stood and crossed the room to stand beside him. Misses it until Jack is right there, breath puffing against Bitty's cheek as he says, "Mind if I tag along?"

Bitty turns his head slowly, but it's not enough time to come up with a cogent answer. Does he mind that the guy who's in his head 24/7 wants to tag along to the movie? On one hand, of course not. Jack's a great guy, now that they've stopped hating each other. He's earnest, sincere, smart, and funny in a dry, quiet way. Also, Bitty thinks he's lonely and could use more time with his friends.

On the other hand: fuck Bitty's life.

Bitty's vaguely aware of a frantic, whispered consultation going on past the edge of his peripheral vision, but he can't pay it any mind, because Jack is looking at him, waiting for an answer. Before he can do anything besides stare at the mesmerizing blue of Jack's eyes, Derek comes over and claps a hand on Jack's shoulder. "Sounds great. I'll come, too."

If Bitty were the sort to go around randomly dropping kisses on people, Derek would be getting a big one. Derek will save him. Derek will give Jack someone to talk to other than Bitty. Bitty can survive this.

*

Bitty cannot survive this.

When Jack and Derek decided to come to the movie, Bitty had been so focused on having a Jack-buffer that he'd overlooked one glaringly obvious fact: Stiles and Derek are basically married. Which makes this feel like a double date. Which it's not. Jack Zimmermann is the straightest thing to skate out of Québec. Bitty's a wisp of a gay boy who makes good pies and has good speed on skates. This is not a double date.

But Stiles and Derek are the cutest thing. They walk with Stiles' hand resting in the crook of Derek's elbow, matching strides and moving around obstacles together like they've been doing it for decades. When they stop at the sole traffic signal between the apartment and campus, Derek presses a kiss to Stiles' temple, whispering something in Stiles' ear that makes him laugh—not the big, loud laugh Bitty's used to, but something quiet and soft that makes the corners of his eyes crinkle and is just for Derek.

Bitty stares at the DON'T WALK signal harder than it's probably ever been stared at, and when it turns white, he's across the street like a shot, not even checking to make sure the cars have stopped. He doesn't look at Stiles and Derek more than is absolutely necessary for the rest of the walk. And he definitely doesn't look at Jack and imagine what it would be like to be that close to him.

Jack insists on buying Bitty snacks. Bitty considers arguing but then considers the cost of that set of collapsible measuring cups he's had his eye on and graciously lets Jack buy him a box of Junior Mints. Jack doesn't look over as he reaches for his Sno-Caps. "Not quite ready for Adult Mints, eh, Bittle?"

Bitty stares at him, gape-mouthed, as he walks away. The girl working the concessions table murmurs, "Dude," and holds out her fist. Bitty bumps it in a daze and doesn't consider until after he's walked away that she probably thinks Jack is his boyfriend. He almost goes back to correct her but decides the world won't end if one random Samwell student thinks they're dating. It's... nice. Dangerous, but a level of danger he's willing to live with.

The ideal seating configuration is Stiles and Derek between Jack and Bitty. Bitty tries, and he knows Stiles does, too. But something gets turned around, and Bitty ends up between Derek and Jack. He sits, arms tight against his torso, feet flat on the floor, staring straight ahead. His box of mints sits abandoned on his leg, and he doesn't register the beginning of the movie because two of the most beautiful, muscly men he knows are sitting next to him, throwing off heat and being painful to be around. He's not sure how he can do anything but sit perfectly still and try not to die of mortification.

Five minutes in, Derek leans over and whispers, "Stiles says 'Batmeese.'" Bitty lets out a choked laugh. The people in the row behind shush them, and Bitty doesn't care. He can breathe again. He leans forward enough to give Stiles a grateful smile, pats Derek's arm, and settles in to watch a movie, eat his candy, and ignore Jack Zimmermann's presence at his right elbow.

Two out of three isn't terrible, right?

*

After the movie, Bitty knows he needs to head straight to the Haus if he wants to get any sleep tonight, let alone do any homework first. They stand outside the Samwell Sinema building for a minute chatting, and Bitty isn't entirely surprised when Jack says goodnight to Stiles and Derek, too. Jack has exceptionally regular habits, so of course he's going to go home and straight to bed. He's not going to lie on his back until three in the morning pining over a straight boy while he pretends to do homework.

Bitty gives Stiles a huge hug, like always. He gives Derek a smaller hug, also like always. Then he smiles weakly at Jack. "Walk back together?"

Jack gives him a small but genuine smile. "Of course."

Bitty turns to wave goodbye at Stiles. Stiles is staring at him, that godawful broken watch expression he remembers from last winter. Worse, Derek's expression is identical. Bitty scrubs his hand over his face, but he doesn't think he has anything on it. Well. Sometimes his friend are plain old weird, and he's okay with that. He turns back to Jack and resolves to forget about it, but he knows he doesn't imagine Derek whispering, "Even I feel that."

"It's getting worse," Stiles says mournfully.

Bitty will never know what they're talking about, and he's not sure he wants to. He has bigger worries. He has to walk home across campus with Jack Zimmermann.

It's not that they've never been alone before (hello, checking practice). But there's something about tonight. It's in the way dusk settles over everything, smoothing the rough edges and giving campus an ethereal dark blue glow. It's in how close Jack walks to him, their shoulders brushing, their strides adjusting to accommodate the height difference. It's in the silence that falls between them, comfortable and familiar. It's in the way Bitty hadn't been able to stop thinking about the night as a double date and now can't stop feeling like this is that date's logical continuation, like Jack's going to walk him to his door like a gentleman and kiss him goodnight. That is dangerous thinking, but nothing he tries makes his brain stop thinking it.

"So," he says desperately, "what did you think of the movie?"

Jack smiles. "I ought to ask you that, eh? I'm not the one seeing it for the first time."

Bitty launches into a word spew like he hasn't embarked on in ages, talking about the script and the pacing and the hot air balloon. He talks like he's got the first idea about film studies, absurdly grateful for Holster's habit of analyzing every rom-com and musical he watches with the same gravity most film experts reserve for serious Oscar contenders. He bullshits his way through an impromptu movie review like his life depends on it—which, at this second, he feels like it does.

Bitty's torrent of words carries them to the Haus. Jack chirps him twice but otherwise stays silent and lets Bitty talk. Butterflies flock in Bitty's stomach as they stand on the porch. Jack offers him that crooked smile and opens his mouth to speak. Bitty leans closer to hear whatever pearl will drop from Jack's lips. "You have your keys?"

A strong wind rushes through Bitty, knocking those butterflies off-course. In his fantasy about Jack walking him to the door at the end of their date, he managed to forget that this is Jack's door, too. His fingers fumble the keys as he pulls them out of his coat, and for once he's glad the porch light is weaker than it should be, so Jack can't see him blush.

The kitchen light is on, and Bitty holds his breath, feeling like the first person they meet will pop their small, peaceful bubble. But it's Ransom, face-down over one of his 800-page textbooks, an empty pie tin by his hand. He's sleeping fitfully while muttering about lipids.

"Oh, you poor thing," Bitty murmurs as he pulls out his phone to text Holster an SOS.

Bitty lingers in the kitchen, contemplating making something, or at least assembling ingredients so he can make something tomorrow. Then he looks up and catches sight of Jack, one foot on the first stair, one on the second, looking at him expectantly. His breath catches in his throat, and he walks determinedly toward the stairs. "Thought you came back to do homework, Bittle," Jack says, softly so as not to disturb the coral reef.

Bitty makes a face. "Baking is so much better than homework."

Jack does that thing where he laughs without making a sound and herds Bitty up the stairs.

When they get to the spot between their rooms, they pause. Bitty feels awkward again, and Jack looks like he might feel the same.

"Well, uh—" Jack starts.

Bitty laughs. "Yeah."

There's a thud and faint cursing from the attic.

Jack grins and collects himself. "This was fun," he says, and his sincerity makes Bitty ache.

"Yeah, it was."

"We could do it again sometime?"

Bitty smiles. "I'd like that. Be hard to drag Derek out again, though."

Jack shrugs. "Maybe just you and me next time."

Bitty's brain screeches to a halt while his heart speeds up. This wasn't a double date. It wasn't. But he can't keep from doing the very simple math that double date minus double is just... date. Is Jack Zimmermann trying to date him?

No, that can't be right. They're friends now. Friends go to movies. That's a thing, right? Friends grab coffee and go to movies and get up before dawn to practice checking. Bitty needs to get his train of thought back on the right track before it kills someone—most likely himself. He smiles. It may even look genuine. "I'd love that, Jack."

"Great." In the attic, Holster thumps again. "Well, goodnight, Bittle," Jack says. "Get some sleep, eh?"

Bitty nods. "Night, Jack." They let themselves into their rooms. Bitty closes his door and forces himself not to slump against it like an '80s movie heroine. Sleep. Hah.

Forty-five minutes later, Bitty's staring at his ceiling, notecards long forgotten by his hand, when his phone buzzes. It's a text from Stiles. Bitty grins when he thinks about what Stiles has probably been doing since they parted ways to keep him from texting until now. Then he blushes, because he didn't mean to picture it, but now he can't get it out of his mind. He scrambles for the phone so he can read the message before he gets himself into more hot water.

STILES: ruok?

Bitty stares at the screen until it goes dark and contemplates this. Is he okay?

The thing is... Jack is straight. Or, if he isn't, he's locked that part of himself down tight. But sometimes Bitty looks at Jack and thinks... he thinks, I'm not wrong. Like when they were baking for their final project and Bitty realized he'd gone and developed feelings for Jack. Like all the times he swears Jack's eyes have lingered on his ass in practice. Like when Jack walks him home after a movie and dawdles over goodnights in the hall.

There's a chance Bitty's not wrong about this. But he can't do anything about it, and that makes it worse.

Bitty groans at his ceiling and picks up his phone. That one word stares up at him, waiting patiently. ruok? Bitty types the only honest answer: idek


December 2014

Stiles strikes out the last note on his page and squeezes Danny's name into the December 25 square on his calendar. Christ, this was easier when they all lived in Beacon Hills full-time. Actually, it was easiest when Stiles was magically banned from the territory and they had to plan this shit without him. But he and Derek are going home over the break, and he is damned well going to make the most of the experience.

"Okay," he says, glancing at the screen, "I think we've got it."

"Thank fuck," Malia says fervently. "This is boring. Why can't we just meet in the Preserve and kill stuff?"

Kira laughs. Stiles is pretty sure they're holding hands out of frame. "That was last week, sweetie," she says.

Stiles grins and looks at his calendar. "So. Everyone who's in town by the 16th should head to the Argents'. Chris and Allison will fill us with delicious fried potatoes and chocolate coins; Isaac will fleece us at dreidel."

"It's all in the wrist, Stilinski," Isaac says, his waggling eyebrows making it seem really dirty.

"Dad's new girlfriend doesn't know about the supernatural yet," Allison says, leaning forward across Isaac. "So if we could keep the wolf in the bag, that'd be great."

"Noted." Stiles adds it to the page. "Christmas Eve at Boyd and Erica's, so Erica can show off her sexy new kitchen."

"It's pretty sexy," Boyd agrees, deadpan. Everyone cracks up.

"On Christmas Day, everyone head to Dad and Mel's for the traditional Overindulgence Potluck Brunch and the newly traditional birthday party for Derek. Anyone who gets him a Christmas-related birthday present answers to me. Get there anytime after ten; we'll eat at eleven."

"Mark your ingredients!" Danny says. "Yeah it's cool that werewolves can still have allergies, but we don't want a repeat of last year's Mason-balloon incident." Mason glares at Danny while Danny tries to pretend he's not laughing.

"At six, we'll caravan to the Mahealanis' to watch Danny's ascension to next-level hipster."

Danny's mouth twists. "Can trumpet players be hipsters? I'm not sure I'm ironic enough."

Mason squeezes his arm. "Honey, you joined a steampunk garage band. With costumes." It's an irrefutable argument.

"Danny and I will arrange the carpool." Lydia isn't even looking at her camera; something about having schoolwork to do, unlike the rest of you slackers. "You will not argue with your assignment."

"Boxing day at the Whittemores', because the one truly useful thing Jackson's learned in London is how to extend Christmas for another day. He says there might be actual boxing, if anyone thinks they can take him."

Now Lydia looks up. "That's not what—"

"I know." Stiles rolls his eyes. "If you have things to box up for the servants, I'm sure you'd be welcome to do that, too."

Lydia snorts and goes back to her homework.

Behind Stiles, the bedroom door opens. He figures it's Derek and doesn't bother turning around. "And then Lydia's traditional New Year's Eve blowout," he says.

"Lydia and Jordan's New Year's Eve blowout," Lydia corrects him.

Stiles makes a conciliatory gesture and drops his pencil. He wishes Samwell would give him math credit for coordinating the vacation schedules of a 17-member werewolf pack. It reminds him of those logic puzzles he and his mom used to do when he was little: "The person who lives in the burned-down house doesn't like carrots. The person who drives the Porsche moved away. Everyone hates wolfsbane."

"Well, hello, handsome!" Erica calls. Again he assumes she means Derek until she adds, "Aren't you going to introduce us, Stiles?"

Stiles startles and glances over his shoulder. Bitty's standing behind him, staring at the screen like he's literally spellbound. "Oh, hey!" Stiles scrambles to gather his notes, which have moon phases and dates all over them. He replays the last few sentences in his mind to make sure no one said anything supernatural-related. He thinks they're in the clear.

Erica winks and says, "Stiles, you didn't tell us what a high quality of man you're hiding up there," giving Bitty a smile like he'd be a tasty snack. Bitty looks three seconds from bolting.

"Erica, can you not? For, like, five seconds?"

She shrugs. "Well, I mean, I could."

Stiles sighs. "Everyone, this is Eric. Eric, this is… everyone."

Erica squeals with glee. "Eric and Erica! We would be the cutest!"

"You are literally sitting in your fiancé's lap."

Boyd shakes his head. "Yeah, but you know I don't care."

Bitty raises his hand. "I care." His gaze sweeps the screen, and he sags with relief at the sight of a familiar face. "Hey, Scott."

Scott beams back. "Hey, Bitty."

"That's Bitty?" Kira demands. She slaps a hand over her mouth.

"You didn't tell us he's hot," Erica gripes.

Stiles scowls at the camera. "I made a friend. He's hot." He quirks an eyebrow. "Better?"

"Much!" Erica says sunnily.

Boyd reaches around Erica toward the camera. "We done here?"

"Yes, please," Allison says fervently. There's a chorus of goodbyes and a cacophony of chimes as everyone signs off.

Stiles closes out the call and swivels his chair toward Bitty, rubbing his hands over his face and through his hair as he goes. He loves his pack. It's a draining sort of love. "Hey, Bitty."

Bitty looks like he's been stampeded by a small antelope herd. "That was... your pack?"

Stiles grins. Referring to his pack as a pack has been the funniest thing in the world. The supernatural students get it instantly, and the others think he's referring to how large and unruly his friend set is. "And that wasn't even all of them," he says. "Sorry I didn't warn you. I assumed you were Derek. Not many other people wander in and out around here."

Bitty blushes. "Derek let me in. Said I could come on back. Was that not okay?"

Stiles smiles and shrugs and tucks the information away for later. If Derek is giving Bitty free rein of the apartment, they've basically adopted a small Southern hockey player into their pack. And Bitty doesn't even know it. Stiles isn't sure how he feels about that, but Derek's acceptance of Bitty warms his heart. "It's fine. Just... you're liable to get an eyeful if you keep doing it. They don't always wear that many clothes."

Bitty opens his mouth and then closes it again. He tilts his head and looks thoughtfully at the darkened screen. "I reckon it's like living with Shitty. Times about twelve."

Stiles laughs and pushes his chair away from his desk. He studies Bitty and sees the tense way he's holding himself, how he's not quite making eye contact. He looks stressed. It's not end-of-term stress, because he's done for the semester. "What's going on?"

Bitty twists his hands together and looks past Stiles' ear as he says, "If I said Kent Parson, would that name mean anything to you?"

Stiles stares. This is 150 percent not what he imagined Bitty wanting to talk about. "It… might."

Bitty makes eye contact, sharp and focused, hesitance gone. "What do you know?"

Stiles has to tread so carefully here. What he knows he shouldn't, and what he surmises won't help. And anyway this is none of either of their business. "Bitty," he hedges. Bitty's chin juts out, and Stiles sighs. No one is more obstinate than Eric Bittle when his chin looks like that.

Stiles stands and pats Bitty's shoulder as he walks past. "We need a lot of alcohol for this conversation."

Bitty's story comes out in fits and starts between the drinks Stiles sweet-talks Derek into mixing for them. Derek tended bar to help pay for college; Stiles has said on more than one (drunk) occasion that his cocktail shaker should be classified as a deadly weapon. Bitty tells him about Epikegster (Stiles had intended to go, but Derek had gotten out of the shower and was walking around the apartment dripping wet and naked, and Stiles had suddenly had a more pressing engagement), about the time he'd spent with Jack, and about Kent Parson's arrival. The story gets hazy, because Bitty was drunk then and he's well on his way to drunk now, but Stiles gets the impression that Jack and Parson disappeared and Bitty, in a noble if doomed effort to avoid doing anything he'd regret later, had tried to get into his room and ended up overhearing part of the conversation going on in Jack's room.

And, Bitty confides, maybe more than conversation. "I don't make a habit of listening at keyholes," Bitty informs him primly around his fourth? fifth? drink. "But a boy's got ears. I know what kissing sound like."

Stiles' breath catches, and he chokes on his drink. Bitty pounds his back sympathetically (if unhelpfully). Passing through on the other side of the room, Derek raises his eyebrows, but Stiles waves him away. "So you think," Stiles says carefully, "Jack and... Kent Parson?"

"I know how that sounds," Bitty wails. "I mean, my goodness, a couple of hockey players at their level—"

"Bitty," Stiles says, "queer pro athletes are totally a real thing. I mean, look at what's his name—"

"Yeah," Bitty says quietly. "Look at what's his name."

Stiles subsides. He gets what Bitty's saying. Even if Jack and Parson are a thing (were a thing? His dubiously collected intel suggests that the relationship ended with Jack's OD, and that even when it was going on, they weren't particularly good for each other), it has to be one of the most deeply hidden things around. The NHL may have been a prime force behind You Can Play, but its prevailing culture says you can't play if you're openly queer.

"There were rumors," Stiles says slowly. "When they played together in the Q, there were rumors."

"Rumors." Bitty snorts. "Holster and Ransom told me about the rumors. They showed me fanfic about the rumors. I don't want rumors. I want answers."

Stiles turns that over for a second. "Why?"

Bitty looks up sharply, eyes more focused than Stiles would've imagined possible given his level of inebriation. "Why what?"

"Why do you want answers? Whatever's between Jack and Parse is between Jack and Parse. Why does it matter to you?" Like Stiles doesn't know. But he needs to hear it from Bitty.

Bitty makes a frustrated sound and thunks his glass on the countertop. "Because if Jack was—if Jack is —" He stares at his clenched hands as he says, "Do you ever get the feeling that Jack and I are—that we might—"

Stiles' breath wheezes out sharply. Here it is. The conversation he's been avoiding for almost a year, since Bitty collided with Jack outside Annie's and Stiles' world fuzzed out for two seconds. He always thought he would lie if Bitty asked. But now that Bitty is sitting next to him, drunk and despondent, Stiles' heart aches for him, and he can't force the lie past his lips. "Yeah," he says. "Sometimes I do."

*

Two days later, Stiles is making peanut butter toast for breakfast when Bitty texts him a screenshot from his phone. It's a text from Jack that says only, Thanks, Bittle. Bitty adds, he liked the cookies i guess?

Stiles glares at his phone while he sucks peanut butter off his thumb. "You don't deserve Eric Bittle or his cookies, Jack Zimmermann," he mutters.

The silence from the living room takes on a shocked pendency for a split second, and then Derek bursts into a deep, rusty, gorgeous laugh.

Stiles' face heats to near-nuclear levels. He yells, "That is not what I meant, gutterwolf!" Still, while he waits for Derek to laugh himself out, and for his blush to subside enough that he's willing to be in the same room with the jerk, he texts back, that's a good sign right? If Bitty wants to share his cookies—literal or metaphorical—with Jack Zimmermann, that's nobody's choice but his own. But Stiles will be keeping a closer eye on Jack from now on, that's for damned sure.

*

Stiles slides his foot across the boundary into McCall pack territory. He does it with one eye closed, half expecting the land to rear up and throw him out. Instead, the sense of relief that floods through him almost takes him to his knees. It's not his relief. This is the land embracing him, eagerly accepting a piece of itself that's been missing for too long. Stiles throws back his head and howls. It's a weak imitation of what the shifters can do, but it resonates through the territory just the same.

Seconds later, he hears an answering call, loud and deep, shaking the ground with its power. Scott, Stiles thinks, and a grin stretches his face. The others join in, all of them, not just the wolves, and Stiles is amazed to realize he recognizes them all.

At his elbow, loudest of all, Derek. Stiles' heart could burst from all this happiness. He turns his grin on Derek, and Derek smiles back, smaller, softer. And he realizes—Derek's proud of him. Not just happy for him, or relieved that this is almost over, but proud. Stiles' next breath comes hard as his heart thumps double-time for a few beats. "I love you so much it's gross, dude," he says.

Derek rolls his eyes, but his smile doesn't dim. "Such a romantic," he says.

Stiles barks a laugh. "Race you to the Nemeton!" he calls and takes off.

He loses, of course.

Stiles skids to a halt inches from the Nemeton. He hasn't been here in a year and a quarter, and the changes are staggering. New growth pushes its way up, lush and healthy. The atmosphere around the spot is lighter now, more even. It feels healthy.

But Stiles hesitates. The last time he touched the Nemeton, all sorts of shit had gone down. They've done everything in their power to fix it, but what if that's not enough? If he has to go through that bullshit with the Nogitsune again—people died. Members of his pack almost died. He can't—he can't

He doesn't notice his breathing's sped up and his vision's narrowed until a hand lands on each of his shoulders and he realizes he's lost sight of Derek in his peripheral. He collapses backward against Derek's chest. Derek's arms come around him, holding tight, anchoring like he always does. "Hey," Derek murmurs in his ear. "Hey, Stiles."

"Derek, I can't."

"You can." Derek's voice doesn't hold a hint of a hesitation or doubt. He believes in this. Believes in Stiles. That gives Stiles the courage to step out of Derek's hold and place his palms flat on the stump.

A shock wave rushes through him, magic and power and the heartbeat of the land, pulsing through him, breaking up everything he hasn't realized he's been carrying, shoving it away. He's so light he could float away.

He starts to laugh, giddy with it. He feels Derek behind him, ready to jump in the second Stiles needs it, and that awareness keeps him from doing anything he'll regret. He pushes little pulses of magic through his fingers and into the wood. It's a drop in the bucket compared to the massive amounts of magic this place produces, but it's a sacrifice freely given, and the Nemeton hasn't had that in far too long.

The shudder that rushes through him is huge, like the world has breathed out through him. He rocks on his heels but manages to keep his hands planted. He feels hollow and restless, but they aren't his emotions. He bows his head, humbled that the Nemeton would let him experience that for even a second.

Something cool and damp touches his hand. Then another, and another. He lifts his head and discovers a handful of tendrils growing out of the Nemeton's new trunk creeping toward him. Several brush the back of his hand; a bolder one curls around his wrist.

"Stiles," Derek says, voice low and strangled with worry.

Stiles stares at the vines in awe. "It's okay, Derek," he says quietly. "Everything's okay."

As if they'd been waiting for permission, every green shoot on the Nemeton's stump rushes forward, petting him like a child might, touching his palm—he's holding hands with the Nemeton. "I don't remember the others mentioning this," he gasps, laughing.

"I don't think it happened to them," Derek says. Wonder fills his voice. "Nemetons know their own—Satomi says that all the time. It knows you. It's... claiming you?" Fear and maybe jealousy twists in his voice.

"Derek," Stiles says with a hint of admonition. "it claimed me the first time I touched it. This is... better. This is mutual. We belong to each other now."

The vines and shoots tighten at the words and then release. The Nemeton has reestablished its claim on him; it can be magnanimous and let him go about his life, secure in the knowledge that, in the end, he'll come back to it.

Adrenaline and endorphins flood Stiles. He's never felt this awake and alive. The familiar instinct to flee, fight, or fuck rushes through him. He turns to Derek, and the world's tinged orange. His eyes must be glowing. Derek's eyes flare blue in response. "Come here," Stiles growls, a note of command in his tone.

Derek sways forward like he's going to obey. Then he stops. His gaze flickers between Stiles and the Nemeton. He tilts his head defiantly and offers a slow, wicked grin that Stiles wants to bite. "No," he says. He strips off his shirt and flings it, and by the time Stiles gets it away from his face (maybe with a little covert sniffing thrown in), Derek's at the far edge of the clearing. Derek calls, "Catch me!" and disappears from view.

Stiles' answering grin is wild as he tucks Derek's shirt in his back pocket and takes off in pursuit.

Flee, fight, and fuck. The best of all possible worlds.


March 2015

"Truth."

Bitty thinks about this truth carefully. He wants to ask Stiles so many things. Wicked things about his and Derek's life. Secret things about what, exactly, happened when they went back to Beacon Hills over winter break and why they'd stayed away so long before that. He wants to know why Stiles has stopped trying to find him dates and why Derek keeps glaring at Jack—fond glares, but glares all the same. But none seem quite right when everyone's so schwastey.

Newlywed Truth or Dare is more fun with more players, but it's not a bad way to spend a quiet Thursday night when Derek's between manuscripts, Bitty's first Friday class is at one, and Stiles has no Friday classes, the jerk.

"Okay," Bitty says, "which three hockey bros would you most like to make out with?"

"Ooh. Nice one." From his position on the floor, Stiles tilts his head against the couch and thinks hard.

Derek doesn't need any time. He scribbles on his notepad and rips off the top sheet, handing it to Bitty. Bitty puts it in his pocket without looking.

Stiles lifts his head. "Okay. This is a mean question. You know that, right?"

Bitty blinks. "Good heavens, why?"

Stiles throws the hand not holding a drink in the air. "You're all so hot!" Bitty grins. "Okay. First off, you. Second—"

"Wait, what?"

Stiles stares at him. "You. You're first on my list."

Bitty stares back, appalled. "Stiles. Honey. No."

"Why?" Stiles whines. "You fit the criteria: hockey bro—" He puts up his index finger. "—who I would make out with." Middle finger. He looks at Bitty expectantly, fingers waving back and forth like antennae.

Bitty laughs and swigs his drink. "Yeah, but, at this point you're, I don't know, family."

Derek snorts. "Invalid argument. If we were doing this in Beacon Hills, Scott would be first on his list."

"Like he's not in the top five on yours, bucko," Stiles shoots back, and Bitty watches in fascination as a faint blush steals up Derek's neck.

"I am not an option, Mr. Stilinski, and that's that," Bitty says firmly.

"Ugh, fine," Stiles grouses. "This messes up my whole list."

Bitty stretches his leg and nudges Stiles with his toe. "Less whining, more truthing." Stiles and Derek laugh.

"Okay, okay," Stiles says. "Then, first, Lardo."

Bitty's eyebrows shoot up. "Really?"

"Really," Derek says emphatically.

Stiles shrugs. "Small women who can kick my ass verbally and physically. A well-known type of mine."

"Huh," Bitty says.

"Uh, two... the one. With the curly hair. Who falls down a lot."

Bitty nods sagely. "Nursey. Good choice."

"And, uh..." Stiles looks embarrassed, and he directs his voice toward the ceiling as he says, "Jack. Sorry."

"Well, my goodness," Bitty says, "no need to apologize for that! Jack's for sure on my list, too!"

"I know," Stiles says, looking at him earnestly. "That's why I apologized."

Bitty slumps. Oh. Stiles and Derek are the only people Bitty talks to about his awful crush on Jack, though he's sure most of the team's caught on by now. He's tried to hide it, but he can't seem to control his face around Jack. "Well, uh." Bitty clears his throat. His face feels hot. He fumbles in his pocket and comes out with Derek's paper. He unfolds it, reads it, and bursts out laughing.

0 - Eric

1 - Larissa

2 - Jack

3 - Derek

Stiles crawls over to look at the paper. He turns around to glare at Derek, and Bitty pictures it from Derek's angle: Stiles on his hands and knees, watching Derek over his shoulder. Bitty looks away quickly. "What does that mean, 'zero Eric'?" Stiles demands.

Derek pokes a socked toe against Stiles' ass. "It means I know you both. You were going to list him first, and he was going to say no. Zero Eric."

Bitty hides a laugh behind the paper. "Well, everyone's here. You just got Jack and Nursey in the wrong order."

Derek crosses his arms. "I didn't think he was going to be nice," he grumbles.

Stiles cackles. "Your turn, Bitty," he says as he slides back to his original position on the floor between Derek's feet.

Part of Bitty wants to choose dare. He's getting stuck to this spot; it might be nice to run a shirtless lap around the building or ask the scary next-door neighbor for sugar. But the apartment is warm, and the carpet is surprisingly plush, and his body informs him that it's not up for anything more strenuous than reaching for another drink, so, "Truth."

Stiles grins and rubs his hands together while he thinks. "Okay," he says with unconcealed glee. "Erichard Bittlingford Bittler the Third—"

"That is not my name!" Bitty squawks, laughing.

"What's up with you and the Weasley?"

Bitty blinks. He stares. "Dex?"

"I don't know their names! It's a fucking Dostoevsky novel over there; everybody's got five names, and there's more of you every year, and I can't keep track. So. Tall redhead, lots of freckles, may someday grow into his ears."

Bitty scoffs. "Dex. And nothing is up with us." That's a lie, and Derek looks over sharply like he knows it. But it's not what Stiles thinks, and it's none of Stiles' business.

Stiles subsides grumpily, arms crossed. "That's a shot," he says.

Bitty raises his eyebrows. "Well, now, that's interesting."

"Refusal to answer," Stiles shoots back.

Derek cuffs Stiles on the back of the head. "Giving an answer you don't like isn't the same as not answering." Before Stiles can argue further, he adds, "It's my turn anyway." He shoots Bitty a challenging glance. "Dare."

Bitty grins. He loves this game.

*

Bitty's washing the dishes when Derek comes in to put away his mixing equipment. He keeps his gaze on the cabinet in front of him, and there's a slight tension to his shoulders as he says, "He's taken care of. If you were worried."

Bitty looks up. Stiles is dancing drunkenly around the living room, picking up the detritus of Newlywed Truth or Dare and loudly singing some electronica song that Bitty doesn't recognize. But Bitty has a feeling Derek's not talking about Stiles. "Okay?" he asks slowly.

"Dex. He, uh, got the new binders he needed." Derek pauses and then adds, grudgingly, "Three of them."

Bitty squeezes the shot glass in his hand so hard it squeaks. He remembers his mounting dread as Dex's expression grew bleaker and bleaker, checking the price of a suddenly necessary new computer against the price of everything else he'd budgeted for the semester. "Derek, those things are not cheap."

Bitty's glad he knows to watch the back of Derek's neck. Sure enough, there goes the blush. "He did some electrical work for me in the building." Right. Derek bought the building at the end of last year, something Bitty can't quite wrap his mind around. "We made a trade."

Bitty's eyes narrow, and he turns fully, leaning his hip against the sink so he can stare at this ridiculous man without getting a crick in his neck. "Okay, but in order to trade them, you had to have had them to start with."

"Oh!" Derek turns, too, and Bitty startles at the small, proud smile curling his lips. "A guy in the pack had top surgery over winter break. He doesn't need them anymore." Derek acts very interested in the dishtowel hanging over the stove handle. "I had him ship them here."

Bitty smiles and says, "I'll make extra cookies next time I send a package to Melissa and the Sheriff, ask them to pass 'em along to say thanks. Everyone likes cookies, right?"

"You don't—" Derek huffs. "He's happy to help."

"Derek Hale, were you raised by wolves? My mama taught me to always say thank you. So you tell him thank you from me, and let him know he'll have cookies soon enough." Bitty takes a deep, steadying breath. "I've been having this recurring nightmare where I walk in on Dex in the Haus kitchen, and he's trying to bind with Saran wrap." He shudders. "Hasn't been good for my beauty sleep, I'll tell you that."

Bitty's shocked when Derek squeezes his shoulder and, after a brief hesitation, kisses his cheek. "Still plenty beautiful," he says.

Bitty freezes. Then he laughs shakily. "Why, Mr. Hale, you are a sweet thing."

Derek blushes furiously and moves away, staring into his cabinet even though everything's put away. Bitty pats Derek's back and takes pity on him, wandering into the living room to make sure Stiles hasn't brained himself on the furniture. But his heart feels a hundred times lighter, and he hopes Derek appreciates the magnitude of what he's done.

Bitty thinks, for about the millionth time, how lucky Stiles and Derek are to have each other, and how lucky he is to have them as friends.

 

April 2015

They lose in the final. It hurts, and it sucks, and there's not much else to say. They wanted to win for themselves, but even more, they wanted to win for their seniors. For Jack, who has the eyes of the media on him at all times, the loss is one more blemish on a record the talking heads already think is unworthy of the NHL. For Shitty, this was the last hockey game he'll play, beyond the occasional shinny or rec league game. It's no way to end.

Bitty doesn't look at his phone until the bus is cutting through the night toward Samwell. He squints against the too-bright light, looking at the predictable flood of text notifications. Most are from his parents, a bittersweet chronicle of the game. They end with heartfelt condolences that Bitty can't deal with now.

Sprinkled in between are texts from Stiles and Derek, even a couple from Scott and Sheriff Stilinski. Scott and the sheriff send their regrets. Derek sends a coffee mug emoji, which is Derek-and-Jack shorthand for "I'm here if you need me." Bitty's eyes sting, and he hastily wipes them with the back of his hand.

Stiles had been commenting on the game up until the last buzzer, but he's sent nothing related to the outcome. Instead, his first text timestamped after the game is a gifset of Disney princesses replaced by sloths. A rapid stream of cat pictures, robot gifs, and dance videos follows. None of it is remotely related to hockey.

One tiny flake of Bitty's stress and disappointment chips away and falls to the bus floor, and extreme gratitude rushes to fill the space. Bitty texts Stiles a sunflower emoji, offers Chowder an earbud, and settles in to watch ten minutes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing to electro-swing.

 

May 2015

Stiles is done with everything. Finals taken, papers turned in, presentations given. He wants to sleep for a month. Instead, he has to put on a fucking tie and deal with a huge crowd so he can watch the lacrosse seniors graduate. He doesn't even like the team seniors. Chad K. is a raging ass-stick, and Chad J., while less douchecarroty, is a walking collection of annoying habits and useless facts about airplane design, and Stiles will be glad to see the back of him.

He's going more for Bitty and Derek than anyone else. Because Derek and Bitty are losing Shitty and Jack.

Okay, technically, they're all losing Shitty and Jack, but it doesn't hit Stiles the same way it does the others. He hasn't bonded with Shitty over being born werewolves separated, by choice or circumstance, from their birth packs, trying to make some other way through the world. He hasn't bonded with Jack over silence, sadness, social awkwardness, and a commitment to overcoming the worst of their demons.

He hasn't played on a team with Jack and Shitty for two years and lived in a house with them for one. He feels like he knows Jack better than he did before, after taking History of Criminal Justice together this semester. But Jack Zimmermann doesn't let a lot of people in—and neither, for that matter, does Stiles Stilinski. There's a distance between them that Stiles can't figure out how to cross—hasn't tried terribly hard to cross, if he's honest.

And he's not hopelessly pining over either of them.

Losing these guys is going to devastate Bitty to a level he hasn't been willing to admit. Eric Bittle, king of cheerfully stuffing his problems into an oven and slapping a lattice crust over it, is going to bravely bake his way through graduation, and then he is going to collapse on Stiles and Derek's couch in a sobbing heap. These are things Stiles knows.

It's a beautiful day, sun and a few clouds, if chilly, because they're a bunch of numbskulls who came to Massachusetts for college instead of going to Arizona or... Barbados or something. Stiles curls his tie around his fingers and lets it go, smoothing it to the tip and repeating the process.

A strong, hot hand closes around his. "Stiles. It's okay."

A couple sitting a few rows up are craning their necks around, idly curious, and Derek watches them with a faint frown.

"What?" Stiles whispers. "Trouble?" Better than sitting through graduation.

Derek shakes his head. "For a minute they kind of smelled like Jack?"

Stiles looks at them and then rolls his eyes. "Derek. Those are obviously his parents. Look at them. Jack looks just like that guy, except his eyes, which look like hers." Stiles may also have read an article or twelve about Bad Bob Zimmermann when he was researching Jack.

Mystery solved, Stiles thinks, but if anything, Derek looks more distressed now. His fingers twitch, and he gives the weak smile that usually precedes leaping into battle against several larger opponents. "I'll be right back," he says.

"Oh, no." Stiles jumps to his feet. "If you're going to talk to Jack's parents, I'm coming with you."

Stiles expects Derek to put up a fight, but he nods and leads the way. When they get to the Zimmermanns' row, Derek bypasses Bob completely and standing in front of Alicia. "Ms. Lindqvist," he says softly.

Alicia looks up sharply. "My goodness. No one's called me that in years." A line forms between her eyes as she looks at Derek, tilting her head to one side. "You look familiar. Were you in the Q with Jack?"

"No, ma'am. My name is Derek Hale, and I—" He swallows and looks down. His hands are loose fists at his sides.

Alicia's hand covers her mouth. "Talia's and Andrew's son!" She's out of her chair in a flurry of motion, gripping Derek in a fierce hug. "Look at you, all grown up!" she murmurs. When she steps back, her eyes are damp, and Derek looks sniffly, too. "I was heartbroken when I heard about your family." Everybody gets real fucking interested in their shoes for a second. "Are you—did you go to Samwell?"

"No, ma'am," he says. "CUNY." He turns and gestures toward Stiles like he's showing him off. "My boyfriend just finished his sophomore year here."

Stiles, for his part, is reeling. Alicia Zimmermann—née Lindqvist, apparently—knew Derek's family. And now Derek and Jack have been friends for almost a year, and as far as Stiles knows, Derek's never mentioned it.

Stiles collects himself enough to shake hands with Alicia and Bob, murmuring "ma'am" and "sir."

Alicia raises an eyebrow at him. "And you are?"

"Stiles Stilinski, ma'am."

Bob and Alicia look at each other, startled. "Stiles?" Bob asks. "Stiles the lacrosse player?"

Holy shit Bad Bob Zimmermann has heard of me I'm going to die.

Bob looks back and forth between Stiles and Derek. "Jack's mentioned you," he tells Stiles, and, god, that's Jack's voice, mellowed by a couple decades. Being near him is like studying a time capsule of what Jack's future looks and sounds like. "Which means—"

Alicia lets out an incredulous laugh. "Derek, I'm so sorry. He's probably mentioned you, too. But there's a Derek on the team. We never realized he was talking about two different people."

Derek smiles softly, looking pleased at this news. "It's okay," he tells Alicia. He hates being the center of attention; he must love that Jack tried to shield him from the good-natured prying he's ascribed to his parents on more than one occasion.

"Well, it's wonderful to see you again," Alicia says sincerely. "I worried about you and Laura after the fire. I made a few discreet inquiries, but you'd... disappeared." She pauses. "CUNY, you said?"

Derek nods. "Friends of Mom's in New York took us in until we got on our feet. We stayed in the city even after that."

"And how is Laura?"

Derek's face twists into the expression he always gets when he thinks about Laura, and about everything that came after her death. Stiles rests a hand on his lower back to ground them both as the wave of grief rolls through. "She... she died. Four years ago."

"Oh, honey," Alicia murmurs. "Have you been alone all this time?"

"I—" Derek blinks fiercely and holds out his hand. Stiles takes it and holds on tight. "We found Cora," Derek says, voice rough. "She escaped the fire and ran away. She lives in Argentina now. And one of Uncle Peter’s daughters is—” He glances at Stiles, who shrugs. He doesn’t even try explaining Malia. “I—" Derek squeezes Stiles’ hand. Stiles is not going to cry, damn it. "No, ma'am," Derek says, turning back to Alicia. "I'm not alone now."

Alicia smiles. "Good," she says firmly.

"Would you boys like to sit with us?" Bob asks.

Stiles is about to demur. Sitting and making small-talk with Jack's parents for the thirty or so minutes until the ceremony starts sounds like Derek's idea of torture. But Derek stuns the shit out of him by smiling shyly and nodding. "Thank you, sir," he says softly as he moves to take the empty seat next to Alicia.

"Honey," Alicia says, laughing, "you aren't thirteen anymore. You can call us Bob and Alicia."

Derek scowls while Stiles feels a lot of conflicting feelings about wee thirteen-year-old Derek saying "ma'am" and "sir" to his parents' friends. He sighs and slumps into the chair on Derek's left.

Alicia leans behind Derek to look at him. "Stilinski, did you say?"

Stiles struggles upright. "Yes, ma'am," he says. It's automatic. Derek snickers, and Stiles flicks his arm.

"Hmm. Any relation to a Deputy Stilinski?"

Stiles' eyes pop wide. "Uh, yeah, um—it's Sheriff Stilinski now, but—yeah. That's my dad." Alicia looks at his face more closely. Stiles tries to hold still under the scrutiny, but he's at sea now. "Did—do you know my dad?"

Alicia shakes her head. "No, but Talia had a friend with the biggest crush on him. I only met her a couple times, but it was always 'Noe is so kind' and 'Noe is so smart' and 'Noe's ass in that uniform.'"

Derek kind of chokes. Stiles is completely choked up. In all the world, only one person had called his father "Noe." "Yeah, that—that was my mom." Derek's arm slides around his shoulders, and he leans into the warmth and support.

A delighted smile breaks over Alicia's face. "Oh, good. I'm glad they worked that out. Goodness knows Talia tried to shove them together enough times." She falls silent, and Stiles sees her mouth "was." She turns and looks at them, face serious again. "Oh, boys," she murmurs. Derek stares stoically ahead while Stiles gives an unconvincing smile.

How any of them managed to survive Beacon Hills is a mystery that Stiles will never solve.

They're here ridiculously early, so almost fifteen minutes pass before the crowd gets thick. They're in the front row of this section, so they have a clear escape route, but it's still a lot of people. Stiles squeezes Derek's hand as the seats around them fill up. "You okay?" Derek squeezes back and nods.

A chaotic tumult rolls into the space. Stiles sees Samwell students and alumni making a face that is very familiar to him. "Ugh," someone behind them says. "The hockey team."

Stiles grins and turns. There they are, the entire team minus their seniors, making their loud, disorganized way toward the bleachers in the back. Stiles looks for Bitty, and Bitty's eyes pop wide when he sees who they're sitting with. Stiles grins, and Bitty gives him a glare that promises retribution later. Stiles chuckles and falls back into his seat.

"Oh, that's right!" Alicia says. "You're friends with Eric."

On her other side, Bob mutters something. The only Québécois Stiles knows is a handful of excellent profanities he's picked up since Jack started hanging out at the apartment, but he recognizes "Bittle" in any accent.

Derek frowns, and Alicia elbows her husband in the ribs. «Derek parle français, cheri,» she murmurs. Bob grunts and crosses his arms.

Stiles pokes his arm. "Is he bad-mouthing Bitty?"

Derek huffs an almost-laugh. "No. He thinks something's going on with Jack and Eric."

Stiles flings his hands in the air. "I give up!" he exclaims. Derek snorts and catches his hand on its way down. Bad Bob Zimmermann ships Bitty and Jack. And in less than eight hours, Jack will be on a plane to Montréal, and then he'll move into his swank new apartment in Providence, and Bitty will be in Madison and then back at Samwell. And, yeah, maybe Stiles will be able to find him a boyfriend now that Jack isn't casting his giant shadow over every other guy in the joint, but he will never find as good a match, and it isn't fair. To anyone.

The commencement ceremony is long and boring, surprising exactly no one. There are endless, droning speeches. There are awards and honors and commendations. There are awkward handshakes and awkward photo ops with the Dean Mathias and President Her. And then it is finally time for the students to walk across the stage.

Stiles claps for the Chads, because it's expected, and for the queer, supernatural, and queer supernatural students he knows. When Kleinhoffer, Brandy, crosses the stage, Stiles inches forward in his chair. He is so ready to know what name Mr. and Mrs. Knight inflicted upon their innocent son when he came into the world.

But the hockey team's ready, too, because as soon as Kleinhoffer, Brandy has her diploma in hand and Dean Mathias is turning back to his notes, a thunderous chant of "SHI-TTY! SHI-TTY! SHI-TTY!" booms across the space, drowning out whatever the dean says. Stiles collapses back in his chair. Alicia and Bob roll with laughter. Derek looks amused, and everyone around them looks ready to kill.

Stiles and Derek congratulate Shitty and Jack. They hug Bitty ("We will talk about this later, Mr. Stilinski," he mutters before they separate, and Stiles doesn't scare easily, but he's scared of this promise). They say polite goodbyes to Bob and Alicia (who swears they'll do lunch the next time she's at Samwell, because that's not weird at all). Then they slip away, out of the mass of people making Derek twitch.

The evening yawns in front of Stiles, empty and anticlimactic. Campus is a scurrying hive of activity, students moving out of dorms and rushing to make good on final paper extensions. But he's more than settled, here in the apartment he's called home for a year—longer, if he's honest about how little time he spent in his freshman dorm. He's restless and at loose ends—always a dangerous combination, as anyone who's ever known him would attest.

Derek's in the living room, slumped in a corner of the couch. He's got his elbow on the arm and his cheek resting on his fist. He's so deep in his microhistory of cod (what even?) that Stiles could parade in front of him naked and not catch his attention. But he also has his feet on the coffee table, an accepted signal that an interruption wouldn't bother him.

Far beyond the point of subtlety (which has never been his strong suit anyway), Stiles drops into Derek's lap. Derek gives a startled grunt but puts his book on the end table, out of harm's way, so Stiles knows he read the mood correctly. Derek's hands move to Stiles' ass—to stabilize him, he would undoubtedly say if asked—and Stiles wriggles happily to get more comfortable.

A faint smile curves Derek's lips as he asks, "Do something for you?"

Stiles sighs and drapes his arms around Derek's neck. "I'm bored," he says.

The smile grows sharper. "What would you like me to do about that?"

Stiles is no better at nonchalance than he is at subtlety. He leans forward and kisses Derek with all the force of his pent-up energy and is pleased with how breathless and discombobulated Derek looks when he pulls back, rubbing his cheek against Derek's beard. "I have a few suggestions," Stiles says and then leans back enough to pull off his shirt.

Derek's eyes darken. "I'm always willing to listen."

Stiles smiles, happier than he can say that that's true. Despite the rocky beginning of their association, they're now very good at listening to each other, and Stiles wouldn't trade that for anything.

Especially when it's going to get him laid.

*

Later, showered, dressed in his comfiest slouching around sweats and too-big CUNY T-shirt, and much more settled, Stiles checks his phone and curses when he sees the time. Exactly half an hour ago, Jack Zimmermann's plane left for Montréal.

Bitty's in Madison. Stiles swipes to the text screen to check in with him and is startled to see the three gray dots already blinking. They vanish, come back, vanish, come back while Stiles watches in horrified fascination. Bitty has Samwell Men's Hockey's fastest skates and fastest thumbs. He should've been able to send five texts in the time it's taken him to try to write this one.

Before he can overthink, Stiles sends his usual check-in: ruok?

Blink. Stop. Blink. Stop.

He's not surprised when his phone rings. Bitty's face grins at him from above two cookbook-perfect strawberry pies. Stiles answers immediately. "Is everything all right?"

"Stiles," Bitty says. He sounds breathless, like he's run halfway across Georgia to say hello. "Stiles, have you ever found out you were wrong about everything?" His voice is light, and it quavers like a laugh is hiding in it.

Stiles remembers holding Derek up in the pool. He remembers looking at Derek afterward and seeing, for the first time, not a snarling adversary but a guy whose whole life was barely treading water and yet got back up and kept trying. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I have."

"I—I wish I could—well, anyway, it's been quite a day, let me tell you!" The laugh escapes. It's bright, full of wonder and promise.

"But you're okay?" Stiles prompts gently.

"Yes," Bitty says emphatically. "Yes, I'm... everything's perfect."

Stiles' grin is so wide his face aches with it. "Good," he says. "I'm glad. Goodnight, Bitty." If they stay on the call longer, Stiles will pry, and Bitty will cave, and Stiles doesn't want that. Whatever Bitty wants to tell, he'll tell in his own time—or he won't. It's none of Stiles' business. He can make a guess anyway.

Derek doesn't look up when Stiles comes into the room. He's settled onto the couch in his pajamas, looking so sleepy and soft that Stiles wants to wrap him in blankets and hold him forever. He knows Derek will try to read one more chapter before bed but nod off in ten pages, like the grandpawolf he is. Sometimes Stiles still can't believe that he gets this, that Derek lets him see the quiet, vulnerable parts of himself. He wants to value that gift always.

Stiles leans against the end of the couch and waits for Derek to notice him. When he does, he cocks his head and lifts his eyebrows. Stiles smiles. The world seems so beautiful right now. "Jack may call you tonight," Stiles says.

Derek smiles back, pleased at the thought of a call from Jack. "Yeah?" He looks at the phone in Stiles hand, and it's not that Stiles forgets Derek's enhanced hearing, but sometimes he doesn't think the implications all the way through, like the fact that Derek probably heard his conversation with Bitty.

Stiles smiles wider and comes around the end of the couch. "Yeah. He might say..." Stiles pauses and laughs quietly as he drops onto the couch next to Derek. "Actually, he might not say much at all." Stiles leans against Derek, and Derek wraps an arm around his shoulders and kisses the top of his head. Sometimes, Stiles thinks, not much needs to be said.

Chapter Text

November 2015

Okay. Werewolves are a thing. Werewolves are a very real thing, and a whole mess (pack?) of 'em live on Jack's floor.  Bitty sinks to the ground, covers his face with his hands, and tries to breathe.

The werewolves are gone. He'd seen them loping away from the building, their hands-and-feet gait one of the weirdest things he's seen on what is far and away the weirdest day of his life. But he's not so naïve as to think they're gone forever, and meanwhile Jack is bleeding out of four ragged gashes that Bitty does not want to explain to an EMT or the Falconers' medical team. They need help. Someone discreet—someone, ideally, to whom the idea of werewolves in Providence won't sound completely insane.

Even while Bitty's hindbrain jibbers in fear, other parts quickly and quietly put pieces together. The way the werewolves had scented the air as they stalked toward him and Jack—Bitty's seen that. Derek did it the first time he walked into the Haus. He does it every time he walks into a new place.

Bitty's also seen Shitty do it.

That is a breakdown for another time. Shitty is getting ready for some huge exam, and Lardo has promised "REAL ACTUAL DEBALLIFYING DO NOT START WITH ME DEX" to anyone who distracts him for anything short of nuclear holocaust. So Bitty takes a deep, shaky breath, pulls out his phone, and calls a number he's had since freshman year but never had occasion to use.

"Hello?" Derek asks when he picks up, formal and confused.

"Uh, hey, Derek. It's, uh. Bitty." Deep breath in, deep breath out. "I've got… kind of an awkward question for you."

*

Stiles is mid-rant when he and Derek show up at Jack’s apartment door, a giant duffel bag slung over his shoulder. "—swan in like the lord of the fucking manor—"

Derek is also in the middle of a tirade, so they probably haven't so much been arguing with each other as shouting over one another. "—barge into their den unarmed—" he says as he enters the apartment and slams the door behind them.

"Hey!" Stiles flicks his hands. Orange light, like a banked fire, glows between them. Bitty gasps. He thinks about a lot of things about Stiles from the past two years that never quite made sense. Magic, he thinks. It's as good an explanation as any. Stiles says, "Who you calling unarmed?" He squeezes his hands closed, and the light disappears. He steps closer to Derek and drops his voice, cajoling. "Think, babe. What are they going to do if they come back and smell another wolf in their den?"

Derek snorts, but Bitty sees from the set of his shoulders that he's going to give in. "About the same as if they smell magic," he grumbles.

Stiles laughs. "Buddy, did you learn nothing from the vampires?" Bitty immediately makes himself forget he heard that. Stiles snaps his fingers. Derek's eyes narrow and his nostrils flare. Stiles grins. "I'm going to find our snarly friends, and you, buster, are going to give Jack that heavenly pain suck you do. Okay?"

In lieu of answering, Derek kisses Stiles. When they part, he's smirking. "Lord of the manor, huh?"

Stiles smirks back and pats Derek's cheek. "You're a Hale. You don't know any other way to be." Stiles drops his hand, turns, and squeezes Bitty's shoulders. He looks intently into Bitty's eyes and says, "It's going to be all right."

Bitty gives a choking almost-laugh. "How can you say that?"

Stiles' expression turns wicked, and the same orange glow Bitty'd seen in his fingers illuminates his eyes for a moment. "Because this," he says, "is what we do." There's something so... un-Stileslike in the moment that Bitty shudders. But he doesn't doubt the sentiment for a second. Stiles steps back and claps his hands, breaking the moment. "Okay! Game plan. Derek's staying here with you. I'm going to the den, see what I can learn about them."

Bitty shakes his head. "They aren't there. I saw them take off."

Stiles grins. "Even better."

Bitty opens his mouth to protest. Then he closes it. They've clearly entered an area of life beyond the law. He nods. "Okay."

"If the pack requires Derek's particular skills, we'll switch. But he can do all sorts of things that I can't, and I have a trick or two he doesn't, so it wouldn't exactly be a fair exchange, so fingers crossed for this way working."

They step back into the hall and Bitty points in the direction the werewolves came from. "Down there somewhere."

Derek lifts his head and does the scenting thing. "West side, second door from the end," he tells Stiles.

"Thanks, helpfulwolf." Stiles kisses Derek's cheek, hands him the bag, and saunters up the hall, spine slouched, hands in his pocket, Samwell Lacrosse snapback turned backward. He looks for all the world like a confused dudebro who accidentally wandered into a rich-people apartment building and isn't sure how to get out. Derek steers Bitty back into the apartment, crowding up close so that his broad frame blocks Bitty's view of whatever Stiles is doing at the other end of the hall.

Derek strides over to where Jack lies on the couch, shirtless, unconscious, and bleeding sluggishly out of the four angry slash marks on his chest. He settles on the narrow sliver of space left and takes Jack's hand in both of his. Bitty watches in disgusted awe as black lines snake up Derek's arms, disappearing under the sleeves of his gray Henley.

"What are you doing?"

"Drawing his pain," Derek says tersely.

"Oh!" Bitty puts his hands over his mouth and sobs once, overwhelmed with gratitude. He creeps forward until he's at Jack's head. He sinks to his knees and strokes Jack's hair carefully. "Can all werewolves do that?" He glances nervously at Derek. He doesn't know the etiquette here, doesn't know what he is and isn't allowed to ask. Mama and Moomaw would be appalled at how nosy he's being, but there is a werewolf in his boyfriend's living room, taking away pain from Jack's werewolf-inflicted wound, and Bitty feels the need to know everything he's up against.

Derek looks thoughtful, rather than offended, as he says, "Every werewolf has the ability, but some bitten wolves never learn how to use it."

Bitty blinks. He hadn't thought about there being different kinds of werewolves. "So there's bitten and..."

"Born," Derek says shortly.

Bitty knows not to voice the thought that immediately follows, which is that the death of Derek's family suddenly seems less tragic accident and more "someone hated us because we're different." Bitty closes his eyes and focuses on breathing until he can do it without sobbing. "Why isn't he waking up?"

"I can't heal wounds. I can only take pain away so his body can work on healing faster." Derek touches his fingers gently to the injuries. "Did the alpha do this?"

Bitty's eyebrows jump up. "I'm sure I wouldn't know," he says.

Derek huffs the world's tiniest laugh. "The one whose eyes glowed red."

Everything was such a blur that Bitty barely remembers it now. He can only convince himself it was real because Jack's unconscious and wounded and he just saw Derek do what he did. "I... think so?"

Derek nods. "Alpha wounds take longer to heal than if one of the betas had done it."

Derek's eyes aren't red. "Is that what you are?" he asks. "A beta?"

Derek makes a strange sound in the back of his throat. "Technically, I'm an omega," he says. "A wolf without a pack."

Bitty is a bad friend. Over the past two years he's thought a lot about Stiles' dad, his friends, and the life he left in Beacon Hills. But he hasn't thought much about what Derek left behind. Because Derek's always seemed more self-contained, more content to bloom where he's planted, so long as he's with Stiles. Now Bitty wonders if Derek's simply more inured against loss.

Then his mind catches up with what Derek said. "'Technically' you're an omega?"

Derek has stopped drawing pain, but he's still cradling Jack's hand. "I've belonged to several packs," Derek says quietly, "and I've been omega. My life now, with Stiles, doesn't feel like either." He snorts. "Stiles calls us a two-pack, but I refuse to indulge him."

Bitty laughs softly. He rests his hand on Jack's cheek and gives his best MooMaw-approved glare at his closed eyes. "You get better, Jack Zimmermann, you hear me? You gotta heal up and get back to hockey. The Falcs n-need you." He shakes his head fiercely to dislodge the tears. "I n-n—oh, Jack." He buries his face in Jack's chest and sobs.

A broad hand lands heavily between his shoulder blades, radiating heat through his shirt and into his back. His sobs double, shaking him like the last stubborn leaf on a tree. Derek keeps his hand in place until Bitty cries himself out. He doesn't move or speak, just sits, solid as a rock and breathing steadily, keeping his eye on Jack while Bitty falls apart. Bitty's never appreciated him more.

Bitty sits up and wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. Derek offers a tissue from god knows where, and Bitty holds it with shaking hands and blows his nose loudly. “Is… is Jack a werewolf now?” he asks, real damned proud of how even his voice sounds.

MooMaw says not to ask a question you can’t handle the answer to, but no way was Bitty not asking that. But to be honest, what he wants is for Derek to laugh heartily—at least, as heartily as Derek laughs—and say, “Oh, Eric, that’s not how werewolfing works.” After all, Derek said born and bitten wolves, and thought Bitty’s memories of the attack are a jumble, he’s pretty sure nobody bit Jack.

What he gets is Derek humming thoughtfully in the back of his throat, gently running his fingers over the gashes on Jack’s chest and saying carefully, “The claw marks don’t look deep enough to turn him.”

Bitty stares at him in gape-jawed horror. How do Derek and Stiles live with this level of chaos every day? “That’s… you can—an alpha can do that?”

Derek nods grimly. “A lot of people think it’s old wives tale, but—” He snaps his mouth shut abruptly, but Bitty hears what he’s not saying: his experience proves otherwise.

"So," Bitty says, real damned proud of how even his voice sounds, "that’s good. I mean, I’m sure being a werewolf’s fine and all, but I don’t think we’re equipped to deal with it just now. What happens next?"

"That depends on Stiles," Derek says. "He'll ward the apartment either way. What kind of wards and what else we do depends on if the pack moves on or if they broker a treaty."

Bitty's eyebrows go up again. "Stiles? Brokering treaties?"

Derek laughs. "Stiles is really good at this stuff when the supernatural's involved. It's why he's the emissary."

Eventually, Bitty wants to know what that means, but he has more pressing concerns. "What do you mean, 'ward the apartment'?"

Derek points at the windows and doors. "Make it so no werewolf can get in." He gives a shy smile. "Except me, if that's okay."

"Yeah, of course! It's—" Bitty freezes and then says, carefully, "Could he make it so no werewolf with, I don't know, bad intentions can get in?" He laughs awkwardly. "It'd be so embarrassing if all of a sudden one of the Falcs couldn't get in." He cants a nervous glance at Derek. "Or one of our old teammates?"

Derek's jaw clenches. "I don't know what you're talking about," he says tensely, and Bitty sighs, feeling like their progress of the last twenty minutes has been erased. Then Derek rubs his hand over his face and says, "If you suspect that another werewolf may be... central to your life, you'll want to tell him about what's going on. He can decide for himself what to do." His face looks pinched as he adds, "You might also keep in mind that he's omega, as well. Once he knows you're aware of his secret, he might... latch onto you as a safe haven. Born weres tend to be very tactile. Be prepared for a lot of cuddling. Naked."

Bitty laughs loudly, on solid ground for the first time in hours. "Well, that won't be any change!"

Derek chuckles. Then he freezes and tilts his head. "Stiles is back," he says, quiet and tense.

Bitty's muscles tighten. He glances at Jack, still unconscious but with much better color since Derek took his pain. He wishes so fiercely that Jack would wake up, but at the same time he's glad Jack's missing all this helpless waiting. When Derek doesn't say anything more, Bitty elbows him. "Well?"

"Heartbeat elevated, but strong and steady," Derek reports, and in spite of the situation, Bitty is in awe that he can just... announce something like that. "Gait even, no limp." Derek sags against the side of the couch, eyes falling closed. "He's okay," he says, and the relief flooding his voice spurs Bitty to slide over, wrap his arm around Derek's waist as best he can, and rest his head on Derek's shoulder. Derek presses his face into Bitty's hair and takes a deep, ragged breath.

Bitty watches the door. When Stiles doesn't appear, an awful thought strikes him. "Derek? Where's Stiles?"

Derek lifts his head and listens. "He just got on the elevator."

Bitty stares at him. "Where was he when you started hearing him?"

Derek waves toward the front of the building. "Coming up the walk."

"Derek Simon Hale, we are nine floors up. Just how good is werewolf hearing?"

Derek's only reply is a slow smirk. Bitty groans and buries his face in his hands. Derek rubs soothing circles on his back. "I never heard anything I shouldn't," he says, and, bless him, he probably thinks he's helping. "Our parents taught us not to eavesdrop, and to forget as best we could about things we'd overheard accidentally."

Bitty reaches out without looking and pats awkwardly at Derek's knee. "Thank you, honey," he says, "but it’s not you I'm worried about. It's Shitty." Derek's just about stopped laughing when Stiles knocks on the apartment door.

Bitty jumps to his feet and crosses the room, tossing glares over his shoulder at Derek as he goes. He throws open the door, prepared to throw a dramatic snit about Derek being impossible, but one look at Stiles sucks the words—and the breath—right out of him.

Stiles' brown hair sticks up in a halo around his head, like he stuck a fork in a socket. Dark rings shadow his eyes, which are bloodshot and glowing orange. Dried blood crusts his nostrils and the corners of his lips. The gouges in his shirt, if Bitty had any way to check, would probably match the ones on Jack's chest. His hands, fumbling for something to support him, are singed black at the fingertips. Bitty steps forward and takes Stiles' weight.

As soon as Stiles looks stable, Bitty turns to face Derek, who is, unsurprisingly, right behind him. "This is him okay?"

Derek's face sets in grim lines as he eases Stiles out of Bitty's hold. "Unfortunately yes," he says. He looks around, but there's no room for Stiles with Jack on the couch, and he's too tall for the love seat.

"Come on. Guest room," Bitty says. Derek hefts Stiles like he weighs no more than a sack of flour and follows Bitty into the guest room, ignoring Stiles' protests that he can walk. Stiles sinks gratefully onto the bed, gripping Derek's hand as soon as he's settled.

Bitty settles beside Stiles' head and then jumps up again. "Goodness, where are my manners! Stiles, honey, do you need water?"

"Yeah, that—" Stiles stops for a short coughing fit. "That would be great, Bitty, thanks."

Bitty runs to the kitchen and gets Stiles a glass of water. Then he gets one for himself and Derek, as well. He glances at Jack as he passes, nervous and guilty about leaving him alone, but Jack is still unconscious (another worry in itself, but he can only deal with so much mind-numbing terror at a time), so he contents himself with detouring to the couch and kissing Jack's forehead. He pauses as he approaches the guest room, listening to the soft, steady murmur of Stiles' and Derek's voices. He can't make out what they're saying, but he knows the gist of it—it's what he and Jack will be saying to each other when Jack comes to.

Bitty realizes he's never been out of Derek's hearing range (also a nightmare for another time), but he deliberately makes a lot of noise when he goes through the doorway. Derek and Stiles fall silent, but neither moves. Stiles smiles wearily and takes a water glass. "Thanks, Bits," he says and drains half the water in one desperate swallow.

Derek stares at the glass Bitty holds out to him for so long that Bitty huffs and presses it against his hand until he takes the hint and grabs it. Bitty goes back to his spot near Stiles' head, but he doesn't settle. He just wants to hear Stiles' update; he's itching to get back to Jack.

"Those werewolves," Stiles says, his voice less gritty than before, "will not be returning."

Bitty's eyebrows go up. Derek's eyebrows, he notes, seem to be doing something much more complicated. Stiles calls them Derek's most reliable form of communication.

Stiles glares at Derek, so the message must've been at least partly chiding. "Chill, worrywolf," he says. "I didn't do anything I can't recover from. I tried to explain why eating the neighbors violated the building rules. When that didn't persuade them, I... encouraged them to move along."

"By electrocuting them?" Bitty blurts. "With yourself?"

Stiles grins. "I happen to be very good with fire magic, which electricity falls under." He swallows and looks down. "Very effective on werewolves." Derek scoots fractionally closer.

"So we're... okay now?" Bitty asks. "No more bad werewolves?" Not that he was looking forward to a consistent plague of murderous werewolves on Jack's floor, but this resolution seems... anticlimactic.

"It's..." Stiles looks at Derek and grimaces. Derek shrugs. Stiles nods and looks back at Bitty. "Problem is, some sick Telluric currents—uh, ley lines?—run through this part of Providence. A couple intersect in this building. For supernaturals, that shit is like living in a hot spring. So you have, like, a lot of supernatural creatures living here. All the rest of them are, you know, perfectly ordinary and want to be left alone to live their lives—although that reminds me, dude, like, never feed Mr. Santos in 412. He'll owe you a, like a life debt or something, and those get super fucking awkward.

"Anyway! The point is, a space like this could use some kind of anchoring community. Werewolf pack, vampire hive, Druid grove. You know the drill." He grins ruefully. "Or, well, you probably don't. I'm just saying, things get chaotic when you only have singles and small family groups. We'll put out feelers, see if anybody in the area—anybody without homicidal tendencies—is looking to move." He grins. "Dude, I'm kind of jealous. Even your home away from home is, like, mini Samwell."

The only reason Bitty's eyes don't get any wider is that they can't. "Mini Samwell?"

Stiles turns fire-truck red. "Yeah, uh, 'one in four, maybe more' is the motto of the Samwell supernatural population, too," Stiles says. "Just... nobody knows that."

"Well, my goodness," Bitty says faintly. As soon as Jack's regained consciousness and Stiles and Derek are back in Samwell, Bitty is going to have the longest, loudest breakdown of his life. Jack will have to buy a chest freezer for all the pies Bitty's going to stress-bake in the next 24 hours. For now, he drains his water glass, rises to his feet with what he thinks is admirable dignity, and says, "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I need to get back to my boyfriend."

"Oh, hey, yeah!" Stiles reaches out for a fist bump, which Bitty simply cannot give him right now. "Congrats on tapping the best ass in the NHL. And, uh, also for having a boyfriend who's a really good guy."

"SMH knows, but you can't tell anyone else," Bitty says automatically, like that's the important thing here.

"No! Of course not!" Stiles mimes zipping his lips. Then he ruins the effect by immediately speaking again. "No one knew about me and Derek for the first month, and we're part of an actual werewolf pack. No worries. Just." He offers a shy smile. "You guys seem good together. You always have."

Bitty raises an eyebrow. "Always?"

Stiles' smile turns sheepish, and Derek turns red. "Uh, werewolf sense of smell is really good," Stiles says. "Like, really, really good." Bitty looks at him for a second with narrowed eyes and then gasps as he unsuccessfully attempts to will a hole in the ground to open and swallow him. "Also," Stiles adds, "remind me sometime to tell you what happened the first time I tried to find you a guy."

Bitty's about to fight his mortification enough to ask Stiles to tell him now when Jack groans. Bitty races into the living room and drops to his knees in front of the couch. He takes Jack's hand and smoothes his hair off his forehead, barely aware of Derek and Stiles coming to stand behind him. "Jack, honey?" he whispers. "You waking up?"

Gorgeous blue eyes flutter open a fraction. "Bits?"

God, Bitty could drown in the relief he feels. He gives a little sob and gently lifts Jack's hand to his lips, pressing a kiss against bruised knuckles. «Ouias, mon chéri,» he says, and he knows Jack's still not all the way back because he doesn't chirp Bitty for his pronunciation. "I'm right here."

«J'ai eux un rêve bizarre,» Jack murmurs, holding tighter to Bitty's hand. «J'était attaché par un lougarou.»

Bitty has never been grateful that his French professor is a fan of badly dubbed bootlegs of cheesy '40s horror flicks, but he is now, because the only words he caught in there were "weird dream" and "werewolf." He looks desperately at Stiles and Derek, because what can he say right now that won't unhinge either of them? The truth sounds insane, but he can't lie to Jack about this.

Before he has to decide, Derek's moving forward, shaking his head. The shift is taking over his face, features rearranging themselves, eyes flaring that electric blue. «Non,» he tells Jack, «ce n'etait pas un reve.»

Derek may enjoy his dramatic reveal, but he clearly hasn't thought it through. Jack yells and tries to scramble away from Derek, only to be brought up short by the wounds on his chest, which much be excruciating. Bitty lets go of Jack's hand but rests his own other hand on Jack's shoulder. "Sweetpea," he says softly, "come on, it's okay. Derek's not the one who did this to you, I promise."

Derek freezes, apparently finally realizing why that wasn't his finest move. He doesn't shift back, though, just stands there looking like the world's most apologetic dog. Bitty continues speaking soothingly, quietly, to Jack, mostly in English but with a bit of garbled French thrown in. Slowly, Jack relaxes. He opens his eyes wider, and they look more awake, if clouded with pain. He looks past Bitty at Derek, and his forehead furrows with confusion. «Qu'est qui est'arrivé à tes sourcis?» he asks.

Derek huffs and looks guiltily at Stiles, who bursts out laughing. "Oh, man," he says, "did he ask about the eyebrows?"

Derek glares at him and comes back to the couch, letting his features smooth out as he goes. Jack watches in fascination. Bitty moves aside to let Derek perch next to him on the couch. Bitty touches his arm. "English, please."

Derek nods and turns back to Jack. "How much do you remember?"

Jack's breathing speeds up. Bitty throws Derek a dark look. Stiles has a long history of panic attacks; you'd think Derek would be more sensitive to the kinds of things that might set them off. Bitty turns his attention back to Jack, putting Jack's hand over his own heart. "Okay, honey, I need you to breathe with me," he says. "That's right. There you go. In... and out. In... and out. Good. You're doing so good."

They get Jack's breathing under control, and his skin starts looking a more normal color. He keeps his eyes squeezed shut tight as he grits out, "Red eyes. There were—and claws, god, they were huge, and—"

"Jack," Bitty says, firm but soft, "Jack, hey. You're safe here. There's nobody here with red eyes now. See?" He glances at Derek and Stiles. "Boys? Show him your eyes."

Derek instantly lets the blue shine in his eyes. Stiles is reluctant. "I don't—"

"Jack needs to see that the person who attacked him isn't here, Stiles," Bitty says in his best MooMaw voice. "Show him."

Stiles' lips purse, but he lets the orange glow back into his eyes. Jack startles, but then Bitty feels him relax against the couch cushions. "Are you one, too?"

"Nope!" Stiles says with forced cheer. "One hundred percent human. Just... with a little magic on top."

Jack snorts and closes his eyes again. "A little magic," he echoes weakly. "Crisse."

"A pack had moved into the apartment down the hall," Derek says. "Small and unstable, and their alpha half feral. He's the one who attacked you."

"Why?" Jack asks plaintively, and Bitty doesn't hesitate in climbing all the way onto the couch and gathering Jack into his arms—gingerly, mindful of his injuries, but fully, so he knows that what's happened here isn't his fault.

"I don't know," Derek admits.

"Bruins fans?" Stiles offers. Jack laughs and immediately winces, but it breaks the tension.

"They're gone now, honey," Bitty says, placing a kiss on top of Jack's head. "Stiles made sure of that."

"Thank you," Jack says, glancing at Stiles for a second before he closes his eyes again.

"Don't thank me yet, dude. I have to find someone else to move in there to stabilize the building. You might end up with some rowdy neighbors."

"Long as they don't try to kill us, they'll be fine," Bitty says archly.

Stiles crosses to the counter and rummages in the bag Derek brought in with him. Bitty had forgotten all about it. Stiles makes a tiny noise of triumph and comes back with a giant bottle of very large pills and a tube that looks like ointment. "Painkiller," he says, putting the bottle on the coffee table. "Nonopioid, non-addictive, very strong, undetectable by scientific means." He seesaws his hand for a second. "If the Falcs use magical drug testing, you have bigger problems than what's in here." Bitty sighs. He adores Stiles and knows he means well, but that spiel will make it next to impossible to convince Jack to take the pills. Stiles sets the tube next to the bottle. "Scar reduction cream. Actually, if you keep the wounds clean and use that three times a day for the next four days, it should keep scars from forming at all."

Jack sniffs. "Vanity."

Bitty pokes him in the arm. "Not vanity. Protection. Or do you want to explain to the guys where four giant claw marks on your chest came from?"

Jack freezes. "Câlisse de tabarnak," he mutters. Bitty thinks that for a minute Jack might actually have forgotten about hockey, about the fact that he'll have to go back to the locker room, the ice, the cameras. "I can't play like this." He raises his face to Bitty, and Bitty's not surprised to see tears glistening in his eyes. "Bits, I can't—the pain—"

Jack's not even two full months into his first season in the NHL, with the entire hockey world waiting to see if he falls or flies, and now he has to sit out at least one game, possibly more, because he's been attacked by a fucking werewolf. It is the very definition of unfair. "Oh, honey," Bitty says. He leans forward and rests his forehead against Jack's. "We'll figure it out. We always do."

"Say you were mugged," Derek says with the matter-of-fact tone of someone who's dealt with this a lot. "Or attacked by a wild animal. Mountain lion is the usual choice."

"If you go that route, pack some stuff and go away for the night. Say you were camping," Stiles adds. "Not a lot of mountain lions wandering around Providence."

Bitty throws Stiles what's probably a pretty bitchy look. "You want us to go camping? Now?"

"No, no." Stiles waves his hands. "You don't actually go camping. Go anywhere you want. Just let yourselves be seen leaving carrying backpacks and a tent, and say you were camping." He shrugs. "I've used both excuses. For most people, I'd say go with mugging. More believable in a city." He shrugs at Jack. "But you have a job where machismo's all the rage. Saying you were mauled by a wild animal while protecting your friends—that'll get you a lot of cachet."

Bitty hates that that matters, that Jack has to choose between two awful options based on what sounds best to SportsCenter and the kind of assholes who think subscribing to The Hockey News makes them hockey experts. But Stiles is right, and they all know it.

"Hey, Derek," Jack asks with the faintest hint of a smile, "you guys want to go camping?"

*

They do not go camping. Stiles, Derek, and Bitty make a big show of carrying sleeping bags and backpacks out the front door, being sure to say hi to the doorman every time. Then all four of them take the back elevator to Jack's car in the underground garage, and they go to Shitty's.

Lardo opens the door. She's wearing purple fleece pajamas but looks alert and in no way surprised.

Bitty is surprised as fuck, though, when Derek bows to her and says solemnly, "Bà mụ."

"How many times—" Lardo glares at him, and for a second Bitty would swear he sees smoke curling up from the spot on his head where her gaze is focused. "Cut that out and I am not fucking kidding," she hisses.

Derek straightens, and the smoke, if it was ever there, dissipates immediately. Derek's face is impassive, but Bitty sees a twinkle in his eyes and a tightness at the corners of his mouth like he's trying not to smile.

"Fucking werewolves," Lardo mutters as she disappears toward the kitchen, motioning for Bitty to follow.

He's about to when a godawful clatter starts in the back bedroom and rushes forward like an avalanche, culminating with a cry of, "JACK LAURENT ZIMMERMANN, YOU BEAUTIFUL FUCKING HUMAN DISASTER, WHAT ARE YOU MIXED UP IN THIS TIME?" Shitty flies into view, wild-eyed and naked, of course. He skids to a halt in front Jack and starts to throw his arms around him, but Jack winces and throws his hands up between them.

"Careful, Shits," he says, panicky, and Shitty freezes. He sniffs the air like—well, like werewolves do, apparently—and then he's pulling at Jack's shirt, ignoring Jack's startled protests and half-hearted attempts to block him. "Off, Zimmermann," Shitty growls, and whoa, Bitty's never heard that rumbling note in his voice before. "I need to see." Jack lowers his hands and lets Shitty lift his shirt enough to see the gouges, which maybe look a little better than before? They're not actively bleeding, so that's progress, right?

Shitty stares for a few seconds and then drops Jack's shirt and is across the room faster than Bitty's eye can track. He's got Derek pinned against the wall, eyes flashing gold. Bitty's not proud to admit he shrieks and dives behind Stiles—not that that helps, because Stiles is storming into the situation, trying to get between two snarling werewolves what the fuck.

"What did you do?" Shitty roars, right in Derek's face.

Derek's eyes flash blue, and there are fangs involved, good Lord. "It wasn't me!"

Shitty's digging his—claws? Yeah, those are claws—into Derek's arm, and he's literally spitting with rage. "What the fuck other werewolf does he know?"

"I would never—"

"You have before!"

There's a crack. Orange light flares. Shitty flies halfway across the room and slams into the couch, which somehow, miraculously, does not break. Stiles stands beside Derek, chest heaving, hands sparking orange, and Bitty's worried about what the force of that glare could do to Shitty.

Derek crosses to where Shitty's slumped against the back of the couch and crouches next to him, not touching, not blocking his escape routes. Bitty wonders how many times they've done this for each other. Their friendship finally makes sense to him.

"Shitty," Derek says. "Look." He gestures at Jack, who obligingly pulls up his shirt again.

Shitty swallows. "Alpha," he mutters.

"Yeah," Derek says softly. He's got his back to Bitty, but Bitty sees blue light reflect off Shitty's skin for a second.

Shitty looks at the others. "What happened?"

Stiles gives him the short version. Bitty suspects he's really glossing over his own role in it, but Shitty shakes his head and says, "Fucking sparks," with a shaky laugh. Stiles grins.

Eventually they move to actually sit on the furniture as it was intended. Shitty's still naked, and he doesn't grumble about sitting on the towel Lardo grabs for him from the cabinet under the end table. He curls up against her in one corner of the couch, her hand gently stroking through his slowly regrowing flow. Derek and Stiles pretzel themselves into the other corner of the couch. Bitty settles Jack in an armchair before sitting on the floor at his feet. Normally he'd perch in Jack's lap, but he doesn't want to aggravate the wounds, so he contents himself with holding Jack's hand and leaning his head against Jack's leg.

Shitty eyes their joined hands and glances at Stiles and Derek. "So everyone's in the know know, huh? Everything's out in the open."

"More or less," Jack says.

"I still wanna know what that was with Lardo when we came in," Bitty adds.

"You do not," Lardo says, almost prissily, and Shitty winces as her fingers tighten in his hair.

"It's... nice," Derek admits after a moment's awkward silence. "Not having to hide."

Bitty thinks about the night Jack drove to Samwell in the pouring rain, the night before they told the gang about them. Bitty'd asked about telling Stiles, but even given his friendship with Derek, Jack and Stiles didn't have the same trust level, and Bitty had agreed to wait. But he's happy that Stiles knows now, even if the circumstances are the absolute worst. And he's happy to know this truth about Derek and Stiles, and Shitty and Lardo, too, though it's really just opened the door to a ton more mysteries. Bitty leans forward. "All right," he says, "werewolf stories. I know you have 'em."

"What?" Jack asks.

"Eventually, I'm gonna drive you up a wall with all my questions about werewolves and sparks and whatever. Tonight I just want stories about your lives. If you're willing." He chuckles sheepishly. "And then maybe I'll tell you about how I thought y'all were witches."

The others grin, and Shitty laughs quietly. "Not a bad guess," Lardo says, "given the facts you had."

"Actually," Derek says, "I know a pack that became a Pagan coven as a cover for pack activities." He shrugs. "None of them were tied to any religion, before, but neo-Paganism turned out to be a good fit."

A slow grin spreads across Shitty's face. "That reminds me of a great story," he says.

Lardo's eyes sparkle. "The one about Alpha McCoy's oldest daughter?"

"Yeah!" Shitty beams and sits up, dislodging Lardo's hand. He turns to Bitty and Jack, slipping into storyteller mode. Bitty settles more comfortably against Jack's legs, preparing to be dazzled. "Okay," Shitty says. "The thing you gotta know is that this pack has adopted, I swear, like, thirty kids. And the oldest daughter—shit, I can't remember her name, but she went through this massive punk phase..."

Bitty looks at this configuration of his friends—it's strange without Rans and Holster and the frogs, but it feels right, all of them here. He squeezes Jack's fingers, and Jack squeezes back.