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Three Marks

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On Saturday morning, Derek drove up to the house at the address that Stiles had texted him the day before. He was filled with more anxiety than he had even originally anticipated, which was saying something considering the tizzy he had managed to work himself into the night before. (Which meant he sat stoically on his bed and contemplated the unfortunate humor of the universe while not answering texts or calls and only getting a few hours of sleep.) Logically, he knew this wasn’t a big deal. But what was it like to Stiles? Was it a just a day trip? Was it a date?

What the hell was it supposed to be?

He hadn’t done shit like this in so long. Plus, as the Camaro rolled to a stop in the driveway, the sight of the sheriff cruiser made his blood pressure skyrocket. Technically, Derek had known that the sheriff would assuredly be there to see them off, but he hadn’t considered how this was meeting the parents until his saw the damn car.

Though his first instinct was to turn the car around and go to Sacramento alone, Derek forced himself to rip his fingers from the steering wheel, unbuckle the seatbelt, and climb out of the car. He quickly walked to the front door and raised his hand to knock. Sheriff Stilinski was faster than Derek, however, and opened the door before Derek could lower his fist.

“Derek Hale, I’m assuming.”

“Hello, Sheriff Stilinski. I’m here to get Stiles.”

“I know,” the sheriff said wearily. He turned slightly and gestured for Derek to enter the main room. “And call me John. You’ll be around awhile from what I understand.”

“I believe so, sir.” Maybe John would end up being even better than Paige’s father and Derek was worrying for nothing.

Derek stepped into the living room and quickly took in the cozy space. The nervousness was still flowing steadily through his veins with every beat of his heart, but he felt a little bit settled with the soft comfort of Stiles’ portion of the bond so close and the fact that the sheriff hadn’t pulled out a gun or anything. Yet.

“I ran your background check. Seems clean enough. You’re way too old for my son, but I don’t decide these things. You’re really being helped by the fact that my wife’s parents hated me when I bonded with her. Thought I wasn’t good enough. So, I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Also, my wife had been friends with your mother; I know you come from good people.”

“Thank you, sir,”

“You know he’s seventeen.”

“Yes, sir.”

Oh, please no.

“You’re nine years older—”

Jesus Christ, yes, he was aware. This was starting to go in a horrible direction.

“—and I know the laws get hazy when it comes to bonds. And I know that you didn’t have any control over this bond. But, I expect you to do what is right. The kid has never even had a girlfriend or boyfriend before.” The sheriff stuck out his hand. “So, it’s nice to meet you, Derek.”

Derek uncertainly reached out his own hand as the sheriff clutched it in a bone-crushing grip.

“Oh, and hurt him and I will hurt you.” The sheriff shook his hand firmly for a moment before releasing him.

“Yes, sir” was all Derek considered appropriate to respond. He hadn’t dealt with this shit since he was fifteen and Paige’s dad told Derek that he owned a rifle in case Derek knocked her up. Derek felt a pang as he thought about those experiences with Paige—but quickly pushed it down. He couldn’t just forget nine years with her, but now was not the time and he had promised her he would do his best. He had resignedly admitted to himself that that part of his life was over—Stiles was the next part. He felt the strength that lay in the bond, so there had to be something worth developing there.

“Stiles!” the sheriff called loudly. “Derek’s here!”

Stiles abruptly came bounding down the stairs, pushing his glasses back up on his nose as they slid down with his descent. “Perfect timing, I just finished a level on my game.” He smiled brightly. “Wolfenstien, remember? We should totally play sometime. Or another cooler game that feels more authentic. It’s just that I started this one, so I feel like I should finish it, you know?”

“Authentic? It’s a futuristic Nazi game.”

“Oh, no, now you are sounding like Scott!” Stiles groaned. He turned toward his father and narrowed his eyes. “First off, don’t you dare stop at that bakery for those cookies just because I am not here. I will know if you do.”

The sheriff raised both his hands up in mock surrender.

“Blood pressure,” Stiles directed briefly to Derek. “Second, please tell me you were nice to Derek. Third, I’ll text you when we get there and when we’re leaving, so stop worrying.”

“I was perfectly amiable,” John said.

Derek nodded.

“And you’re a natural disaster, kid. I never stop worrying about you.”

Stiles rolled his eyes dramatically before turning completely toward Derek. “Speaking of cookies, Derek, want any snacks?”

“Stiles, it’s about a two hour drive. We don’t need snacks.”

“You can never be too prepared. Plus, we totally have that Skinny Pop popcorn. Can you pass that up, dude?” Stiles smirked as he grabbed a bag from the kitchen table and swayed them in Derek’s face. “Also, maybe it will get you to calm down. You’re killing me here, dude. I mean, I know that you get a shit storm every day, but I don’t deserve retribution!”

John looked at them confusedly. “What are you talking about, Stiles?”

“The bond,” Derek responded carefully. He didn’t really want the sheriff to know all of the particulars of how their bond functioned. He hadn’t even told his parents or Laura how it felt to him, even when they finally had their family meeting mid-week.

Stiles thankfully seemed to pick up on his discomfort. “Alright, it’s time to go. Let me grab a water—actually, I’ll grab a couple just in case you change your mind. And let me get my computer so I can maybe do homework on the way.”

Stiles sort of flailed around when he moved, Derek noted, as Stiles retrieved the waters and thrust them and the popcorn into Derek’s arms before running upstairs. Derek and John stood together in uncomfortable silence until Stiles flew down the stairs with a couple of books and his computer tucked under his arm. He was brimming with energy and smiled at Derek excitedly.

As the three of them made their way back toward the door, Derek noticed for the first time that the television was displaying a football game. Without really thinking about it, Derek turned to John. “Preseason game?”

“Yeah. Seahawks look pretty strong. You a Raiders fan or 49ers fan?”

“Raiders.”

“What about baseball?”

“Dodgers.”

John suddenly smiled and clasped Derek on the shoulder. “At least my son bonded with someone with the right loyalties. You should come over and watch a Raiders game sometime, since my son is apparently incapable of focusing on a football game for more than two minutes.”

Stiles stuck out his tongue.

“Sure,” Derek said honestly. “My older sister Laura is an avid fan. Scary, actually. But my younger sister Cora, Paige, and my parents both don’t really care for it, so I usually lose the TV battle.”

John nodded at him sympathetically as he opened the door for both men to walk through. “Well, you’re welcome here for the first regular season game.”

He gave Stiles a quick hug and nodded at Derek with what almost looked like trust on his face before closing the door. Thank god Derek didn’t answer 49ers—he might have never been able to work out of that hole.

“Nice job, man, dad is already changing his mind about you, I can tell.” Stiles said as they walked to Derek’s car. He shook his head. “I’m a Mets fan and it irritates my dad to no end. He’s going to end up loving you more than me.”

Derek seriously doubted that “love” was even close to being in the John equation at the moment.

Derek slid into the front seat of the Camaro while Stiles practically bounced into his seat.

“Let’s do this!” he said enthusiastically.

“You have been to Sacramento before, right?”

“Uh, yeah, why?” Stiles asked confusedly.

“I don’t think it’s quite as exciting as you think it is.” Derek responded.

“It’s the journey, dude, not the destination. I can finally interrogate you while you are stuck in a small space with me and can’t abandon ship.”

“You probably should have waited to tell me that plan when we were on the interstate and I couldn’t still kick you out,” Derek said sarcastically as he put the car in reverse.

Stiles smirked. “Like you’d want to face my dad again after that.” He turned to Derek as they were pulling out of the driveway. “By the way, what did dad tell you? I know he pulled the bad cop routine, I want to know how bad it was.”

“He basically told me that he’ll kill me if I lay a hand on you.”

“Fuck, does he want me to be a virgin forever?” Stiles moaned before freezing. “I mean, not that I’m assuming that you want to have sex with me. I know that you, uh, um, just…whatever, you know. I have no expectations, really. I don’t like expect you to throw me over the table and—”

“Stiles, you can stop there.”

“Right,” Stiles said, turning a splotchy pink. Derek was struck by how much he liked seeing the color run through Stiles’ neck and cheeks.

“Honestly,” Stiles said as his blush died down, “I’m just glad to be close to you because the rest of this week has been fucking miserable. I mean, it’s better than it was right at first, but I just feel off all the time. Nausea and constant nose bleeds one day, headache another.”

Derek felt guilt flare through his gut. “I fucking hate that, Stiles.”

“Not a big deal. Thankfully, my friends obviously don’t love me very much and haven’t really noticed anything. It’s not your fault or anything, dude. You can’t be with me 24/7. I just didn’t do a very good job spinning the wheel when we were playing the pick-your-bond lottery.”

Derek huffed a half-laugh.

“So, I’ll start off small and normal with the questions: favorite color?”

Derek wasn’t sure if Stiles had established his list of questions beforehand or if he came up with them spur of the moment, but Stiles seemed to have an endless stream of them. He would be quiet for a few moments, texting, and then snap his head up and ask something about as random as Derek should have expected. None of the questions were about his family or job like Derek first anticipated; they were questions about his views on contraception in healthcare or whether StarTropics were a crucial part of Derek’s childhood. Derek wasn’t quite sure how this was helping Stiles get to know him, but Stiles seemed pleased with his results, so Derek wasn’t going to question anything too much. It wasn’t worth it, honestly. And at least the time for the car ride seemed to pass faster than usual.

Stiles paused after asking Derek whether he considered Mulan or Merida a more badass Disney princess.

(“I mean, technically Mulan isn’t a princess at all, she’s a nobleman’s daughter who marries a captain, but she’s in the lineup, so I’m going with that.”

“You’re just asking me some of these questions to shit with me, right?”

“No, dude, it’s a serious question.”

“Which one is Merida?”

“The one in the newer Pixar movie, Brave. Archery girl with poufy red hair. She refuses to get married and runs away. Mother gets turned into a bear. Don’t ask; it’s complicated,” Stiles advised at Derek’s questioning expression. “Anyways, she ends up learning about herself and her mother, blah, blah, and saves the day without a man.”

“Mulan.”

“Huh, why Mulan?”

“First of all, I’ve seen that movie. Laura loved it and I always had to watch what she did. Second, Mulan saves all of fucking China.”

“Cool, fair points.”)

Stiles was texting again. Derek wasn’t sure who he was spending so much time texting, but he was familiar and comfortable with the person on the other end. He would often laugh at the response before mouthing a reply. No matter whether he was texting or asking questions, Stiles never stopped moving. He was constantly fidgeting, long fingers playing with the seatbelt or chair or his shirt, leg bouncing, feet tapping the floor. The movements escalated when he was simultaneously pausing his interrogation and finding nothing to text.

“Who do you keep texting?” Derek asked, curiosity finally winning out.

“My best friend Scott. He is like my brother. Not my real bother because I don’t actually have any siblings. He’s only person I’ve told, and he’s super worried that you’re going to murder me, so I’m giving him minute-by-minute updates to assure him of my survival.”

“Why the fuck would I murder you? I’d just be hurting myself.”

“I don’t really think he gets the bond,” Stiles said nonchalantly, but Derek could feel Stiles' loneliness associated with that statement. “He thinks that if you get rid of me that you could move on. I mean, he doesn’t really think that you’re going to kill me, he’s just joking. But, even so, I don’t think he gets that cutting this,” he waved absently between them, “feels like the fucking worst idea ever. Like, just imagining it makes me feel uneasy and lost.” He was telling the truth—Derek could feel both emotions filter through the bond. “It’s like…it would feel wrong existing without you. Nothing would hurt worse.” Stiles was growing increasingly self-conscious and finally just shrugged.

Derek didn’t know what to say to that explanation, but he completely understood it. As much as he could wish this wasn’t a complication in his life, he could no longer directly wish for the bond to break. Derek was already too fond of the kid after a few patchy conversations and about an hour and a half in the car. Being with Stiles had started to feel significant and Derek couldn’t do anything to possibly hurt him. Plus, Derek wanted to listen to Stiles incessantly talk and to all of his stupid questions—it managed to irritate and interest him at the same time. Derek wasn’t going to say he liked Stiles, but he knew that he already appreciated Stiles’ wit, exuberance, and intelligence.

Honestly, appreciation was pretty big considering that was more than he gave most people he interacted with.

“Okay, favorite Harry Potter book?” Stiles questioned with the tone of someone trying to move on in the conversation.

“Order of the Phoenix.”

“Are you serious? Okay, that needs some explanation, that’s like the worst one. Also, not going to lie, I’m surprised you’ve read Harry Potter.”

“Stiles, unlike you, I was at reading age when they first came out, and just about everyone read them. I like Order of the Phoenix because of Harry’s conviction even though he ended up being wrong—he was just trying to protect the people he loves. And I read it when I was about fifteen. I had some shit happen and I guess I liked that things weren’t great for Harry either. He had to grow up.”

“You would pick the moody, angsty book. Got to keep up the mysterious Derek Hale persona,” Stiles joked with a smile.

“Can I ask you a question?” Derek asked, choosing to ignore Stiles’ statement.

“Sure, shoot.”

“Why are you asking me this stuff? Why don’t you ask about my family or Paige or my job or college or something?”

Stiles miraculously stilled. He took a deep breath and rubbed his hands through his hair. Derek was beginning to believe that was Stile’s nervous tick—not that it was necessary for him to recognize considering Derek could feel the sliver of anxiety run between them. “You’re a quiet guy, reserved. I don’t want to pry into places you don’t want to be pushed. I kind of want you to decide to tell me. Or at least give me permission to ask certain questions first.” Stiles shrugged. “Besides, I think a lot of the small details make up an important part of a person. And they’re usually the most fun to find out. All of the other big things will come out eventually. We’ve been smushed together by the universe, so I’m just trying to see why.”

Derek again wasn’t quite sure how to respond, but he finally said, “You can ask me whatever you want. I may not answer, but you can ask personal questions. And if you’re okay, I may ask some of my own.”

Stiles brightened immediately after Derek spoke and he returned to fidgeting. “Awesome, man. And yeah, that’s totally fine.”

For the next thirty minutes of the ride, Stiles didn’t use his new privileges and just continued to ask a random assortment of questions even though he seemed bursting to do otherwise.

“Okay, where would you rather live—Coruscant or Tatooine?”

● ● ●

They arrived in Sacramento about a quarter after eleven and continued to Derek’s house. Stiles had been to Sacramento a few times, but mostly for boring things like school field trips, so he had no idea where they were headed. Eventually, Derek turned into a neighborhood called “Garden Park” and finally turned at the fifth house on the left. It looked like a nice-sized house and quite a bit of land on the plot. It was two-stories with some kind of light brown stone on the façade and flowered landscaping.

Pretty okay for a twenty-six year old guy living in the city.

Derek drove the car down the driveway and pulled into the garage before popping the seatbelt free and climbing out of the car. Stiles immediately followed suit as Derek opened the backdoor of the Camaro to grab his bag. He signaled at Stiles after retrieving the bag, and he unlocked the door to the house before stepping through and making his way down the hall.

Stiles entered the house and closed the door behind him. The hall connected to a kitchen filled with stainless steel and granite countertops decorated with a red Kitchen Aid mixer before opening into a graciously sized living room with an enormous television above a dark brown, leather couch. As Stiles leaned against the counter closest to the refrigerator, he decided that the inside of the house looked like something outside of a rustic issue of a Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware magazine. Derek had disappeared, presumably to put his bag away.

What the hell did Derek do to afford this? Shouldn’t he be swimming in student loans or something?

“Hey, sorry, I wanted to throw that in the laundry room. I can show you around. It’s not very exciting.” Derek said as he reappeared from a hall on the right of the living room.

“A tour would be awesome!” Stiles couldn’t help but feel excited with the prospect of seeing Derek’s space. He tried not to feel embarrassed about the fact that Derek could probably sense that eagerness. “Nice to be back home?” he asked.

“Yeah, I feel like it’s been an age since I’ve been here. I didn’t want to come back, through, because…”

Of the guilt associated with leaving Stiles. Stiles knew Derek didn’t want to say it out loud, but it was the truth.

“Did you text your dad? I’d rather him not think that I kidnapped you,” Derek said instead.

“Oh, yeah, man, I almost forgot! Thanks,” Stiles exclaimed as he fiddled in his pocket and pulled out his phone. He quickly typed the message and then turned to Derek expectantly.

Derek nodded and gestured to the two connected rooms in which they were standing. “You know what these rooms are. Down the hall where I just came are the laundry room and a bathroom. Follow me,” Derek commanded in his usual no-nonsense tone as he moved to the hall to the left of the room.

The hall was short with two doors on the left side and a door and a staircase on the right. Derek extended a finger toward the left side. “That’s a bedroom and a bathroom,” he said before pointing toward the door on the right, “and that’s another bedroom. It’s mainly just for my parents or Laura and Robbie if anyone comes to stay. Boyd and Erica come down sometimes too.”

Stiles could tell that he wasn’t going to get a full tour where you actually went into all of the rooms, but luckily he had other things he was interested in.

For instance, all of that name dropping.

“Uh, who is Erica? You mentioned her at the coffee shop too. And, uh, you could add who Robbie and Boyd are as well.”

Derek didn’t immediately respond as he began his assent up the stairs. Stiles quickly followed him, taking the stairs two at a time to keep up with him.

Well, Derek had said that he didn’t have to answer questions if he didn’t want too.

“Erica is Boyd’s wife. They are both are my good friends from high school. Robbie is Laura’s fiancé. He’s fine, I like him better that all of her other boyfriends before him. He’s what she needs.” Derek finally answered as they paddled up the steps.

Oh, god, what did Laura think of Stiles? What about Mr. and Mrs. Hale? Cora didn’t even know he existed at school. He’d been so worried about Derek that he hadn’t really considered that there were other people to impress. He wondered if he would have received Derek’s approval if he had bonded to one of Derek’s sisters.

As they made it to the top of the stairs, Derek pointed to a door on the right. “That’s a study, I mainly use it as a workout room. And that,” Derek said as he pointed to the left, “is my bedroom and bathroom.” Derek hesitated for a moment, probably deciding whether Stiles was worthy enough at this point, before finally moving to enter one of the rooms that he had named—his bedroom.

The kitchen, living room, and halls were all fairly impersonal with neutral colored walls and standard decoration. There had only been a few pictures here and there of Hale family members, Paige and Derek, or people Stiles didn’t really know. Stiles assumed the other bedrooms, bathrooms, and study were all on the same order.

Though Derek’s bedroom also lacked a great deal of personality, Stiles noted as they walked inside that it had more personal touches than the rest of the house. A medallion with a swirling symbol on it, a stack of worn books, an old baseball. There was also an especially large number of pictures in this room—mostly of Derek and Paige at varying ages. It was extremely tidy and clean, like the rest of the house.

“Paige didn’t have much here, but it is all definitely gone,” Derek said nearly to himself as he opened up an empty drawer.

“How long were you two together?” Stiles burst quickly.

In the car, Stiles had tried to hold back on the really personal questions even when Derek had told him that they wouldn’t be completely unwelcome. He had wanted to wait until he felt like he had worked Derek to that point. But, being here in Derek’s room, surrounded by so much of him, and seeing so much of Derek and Paige’s life encased in little frames caused Stiles to crack.

“Nine, almost ten years.”

“Shit, are you serious? No wonder you hated me when we bonded,” Stiles said quietly.

“I don’t hate you, Stiles. You kind of annoy the shit out of me, but I really don’t hate you.”

After he spoke, something seemed to possess Derek to grab Stiles’ wrist. He placed his fingers over the area below the wrist in line with the base of the thumb above the steady beat of Stile’s pulse. Derek was silent for a moment as he took in the feeling of the pulse below the skin. He looked into Stiles’ eyes—a fondness was there despite Derek’s less than complimentary words. Stiles was a good deal slighter than Derek, but they were nearly the same height as he stared straight back.

Derek raised Stiles’ shirt sleeve slightly and brushed gently over the Mark on Stiles’ forearm that had become visible. Stiles was suddenly filled with a soaring feeling that maybe things could end up okay after all.

“We weren’t married. We were about to be engaged,” Derek said finally, releasing Stiles wrist.

“Why didn’t you and Paige get married sooner? Have cute brooding babies?” he asked hoarsely with feign indifference.

“Paige wanted to wait until she was done with medical school. I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t,” Derek said with a shrug. “This is complicated enough.”

Damn right.

“How did you meet?”

“In high school. Paige is from Beacon Hills too. It’s a really long story, I’ll tell you another time.” Derek must have registered that Stiles’ face fell slightly because he added, “I promise.”

“Can I ask you a question?” Derek continued, leaving against his dresser. “It’s been bothering me for a while.”

“Oh, uh, yeah, sure,” Stiles sputtered, taken aback that Derek would really want to know anything personal.

“Is Stiles your real name? Stiles Stilinski is a horrible name for a kid. No offense.”

Stiles burst into laughter. “None taken, dude. No, Stiles is a nickname I gave myself, from Stilinski, you know? My real name is a monstrosity—I was named after my mom’s father. My mom adored him and decided that I should have the same name.” Stiles shook his head, still chuckling. “Dad is a sucker, so he didn’t fight it and I was left with the unspeakable name.”

Derek looked at him expectantly. “Well, what is it?”

“Oh, no way, dude. We may be bonded and all, but no one knows my name. That’s a superior privilege. Scott knows, but he can’t pronounce it, so I’m safe on that account.”

“I guess I will live in suspense,” Derek said with a small smile. “Speaking of your mom, where was she?”

Even after all of these years, that question still hurt.

Stiles ducked his head and began fiddling with his hands. Derek must have felt his sudden discomfort and sadness because he began to look at Stiles in concern. “I forgot that not everyone knows. My mom passed away about seven years ago. She had frontotemporal dementia.”

Derek closed his eyes. “That’s why your dad said your mother had been friends with my mom.”

Stiles looked back up curiously. “I didn’t know that. We could have crossed paths before and not really known it. Actually, we probably have considering we live in Beacon Hills.”

“I’m sorry,” Derek told Stiles, opening his eyes and ignoring Stiles’ comment.

Stiles knew that people always said that because they didn’t know what to say. It gets the point across that they don’t really get your pain, but they wish that you weren’t experiencing it. With Derek, though, Stiles knew that it wasn’t really like that—he could feel the despair through the bond.

“It’s okay, man. I mean, it’s been a while. I just still miss her. And my dad took everything pretty hard.”

“I just,” Derek paused, unsure, “I just had a moment in my life where I thought I was going to lose my family. As Cora constantly tells me, I’m ‘grumpy’ enough as I am now—I couldn’t imagine if I lost one of them. I’d be miserable.”

His whole family? Stiles wanted to know what that meant, but he could tell that was a pretty deep question. Yeah, they probably weren’t there yet.

“You never get over it. That whole ‘time heals all wounds’ thing is total bullshit. But you learn how to live with it. You learn how to adjust. You could too. Look at how you’ve dealt with all this.” Stiles waved his arm in a circle as if to emphasize this point. “I know I’m just a high school kid, but I know, dude,” he continued. “I know you basically had your life figured out. You haven’t told me what you do, but looking at this fucking house, you do pretty well. I had known you and Paige were serious before you told me you had been together basically forever. I know that I’m a wrench thrown into your life. But I like you, dude: you have this gruff-guy-but-really-a-marshmallow thing going on and I can appreciate your dry humor. And…I think we can both adapt.”

Derek didn’t really seem like he knew how to respond, but that was unsurprising to Stiles. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the guy didn’t really know how to do feelings. Or words, really.

“Sorry, sometimes I can’t shut up and, uh, I realize that I jumped from one heavy topic to another there,” Stiles said quickly.

“I’m an accountant,” Derek stated quietly.

“What?” Stiles asked, shocked.

“An accountant,” Derek repeated.

“No, I heard you, I just thought I was going deaf. Or crazy. This is totally going to fulfill new fantasies I didn’t know I needed.”

Derek rolled his eyes and abruptly seemed back to his old self. “And I promote the company. That’s why I go on trips every few weeks.”

Now that made more sense. That face could sell anything.

“Actually, work is the real reason I needed to come back to Sacramento in the first place. I’m going to head over to the office and pick up some things so I can work in Beacon Hills for a while. You can just stay here, or if you want to come…” Derek said, trailing off.

As if Stiles was going to pass up a chance to see the place where the magic happened.

“Oh, yeah, I’ll come! I’d like to observe you in your natural habitat. I’d get bored here, anyways,” Stiles replied.

“Well, let’s go. I’m sure Kali is ready to kill me for making her wait as long as I have.” Derek walked past Stiles and made his way out the door toward the stairs.

Stiles trailed after him. “Kali?”

“Head of IT. She takes care of all of the computers for our main branch. She’s a little terrifying, but incredibly efficient. Give her a job and she gets it done. Her nickname is the Black Widow, though, because she gets sick of her employees easily and fires people even after a good job,” Derek commented as they made their way down the stairs and through the living area and backdoor.

Stiles made his way over to the passenger side and Derek started the car. Derek drove the car out of the neighborhood and made his way back to the interstate, heading downtown.

“Like I said earlier, I need to travel for work…” Derek began in a hesitant tone as they sped past neighboring cars.

This guy was a fucking speed demon.

“They’re going to be local for the first few, places closer in California, but they’ll need me in England in a few months,” Derek finished as the car soared past a FJ Cruiser. He clutched the steering wheel and looked incredibly worried about Stiles’ potential reaction.

The word “England” made Stiles feel a little uneasy, but if he was a little more nauseous or if his headache was a little worse then it wouldn’t be unbearable. Derek obviously cared about his job, and Stiles didn’t want to get in the way of that—even if every instinct in his body was to stow away in Derek’s luggage and go with him. His life would just suck for however long Derek was gone.

“Yeah, I mean, you have to do what you need to, man.”

“Are you sure you’re okay with that? I know how you feel at school. I don’t want to go that far without you telling me that you can handle it,” Derek said firmly.

“I can handle it,” Stiles asserted. “How long will you be gone?”

“It’s a week-long conference.”

Also known as an eternity.

“Totally doable, man.”

“You don’t really feel quite as confident as you’re saying.”

Stiles put his head in his hands. “That’s so invasive, I swear to god. Listen, I want you to go, okay? You’re going. Period.”

Derek sighed. “Okay. We’ll figure something out.”

They continued the rest of the ride in silence before exiting off the interstate and driving to the edge of downtown in front of a large, tall building that was covered in glass with a sign out front that read “Speights Media.”

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, your rollercoaster ride has ended. Please watch hands and feet as you exit the vehicle,” Stiles toned as they got out of the car and made their way toward the building.

“It’s okay, I know that you aren’t used to a normal car speed after driving that clunker around,” Derek responded lightly.

“How dare you bring my baby into this,” Stiles muttered threateningly as they neared a set of large, gold-trimmed doors.

Derek pushed open one of the massive doors and began to stride across the large entry room. The room was decorated modernly, but as a whole, was a very stark space. Derek approached the front desk, where a young girl with short, curly hair sat smiling absentmindedly.

She rested her arms on top surface and leaned forward as they reached the desk.

“Meredith,” Derek said.

“This must be who you bonded with,” the girl, Meredith, loudly whispered.

What the fuck? Derek told the freaking front desk girl at this office? Stiles stared at her, horrified.

Derek, however, didn’t appear to be fazed by her comment. “I already told you, I didn’t bond, Meredith,” he said tiredly.

“Oh, yeah, of course. I know they have that silence thing at the beginning or whatever.” Meredith winked at Derek and then looked back at Stiles and smiled a dreamy, knowing smile. “He’s cute. Not quite my type, but cute.”

Stiles opened his mouth to retort that he didn’t think he was Derek’s type either, but Derek cut him off.

“Meredith, I don’t have time for this shit. Please tell Kali that I’m here to pick up the computer.”

“Kali is waiting for you on seven. I’ve already sent her a message that you are here.”

Stiles had no idea how she had been able to do this, unless she was psychic and had known they were coming beforehand, because he hadn’t seen her hands move from their interlocked position on the desk in front of her.

She smiled that same absent smile again. “I’ve also informed Ms. Speights of your arrival. She’ll be waiting for you in her office after you meet with Kali.”

Derek nodded and turned on his heels toward a set of elevators on the left. Stiles quickly followed him, turning his head to look back at the girl at the front desk.

“How—”

“No one knows. If you ask her, she says ‘the whispers.’ It all gets done, so I don’t ask questions,” Derek said before Stiles could finish asking.

They entered an available elevator, and Derek punched the button for the seventh floor. When the doors pinged open, Stiles was greeted by a sight similar to the lobby floor. The room was streamlined and sleek and had screens everywhere. Derek immediately strode out of the elevator and headed down the hall.

Patience was obviously not Derek’s thing.

He led Stiles to an office down on the far end of the hall and pulled open the door to reveal a beautiful, tall woman with caramel skin. Her long, dark hair hung freely, and she had on shorts and a crop top, along with bare feet. Stiles assumed this was Kali. The look on her face was definitely hard and intimidating, and her presentation seemed incredibly informal for a place like this—somehow, it felt like she was challenging the preconceived rules about uniform. She looked up at them and agitation flickered on her face.

“Fucking finally, Hale. Here,” Kali said as she snatched up a computer case from her desk and thrust it toward Derek. “The accounting program is on here. It’s connected to all of the accounts and books with a secure system. You need to enter a security login. Lynette will give it to you, she’s too paranoid about that shit. When you log in, it will clock your work time, etc. It’s a computer; you should know how to work it. If you have any questions, don’t come crying to me, call Davis or Ennis or whatever the name of my assistant is at the moment.”

“Nice to see you too, Kali,” Derek said drily. “Thanks, I should be fine.” He put the strap of the case over his shoulder and made to exit the room. Stiles began to follow him out.

He’d never felt more like a little trailing puppy.

“Hold on,” Kali said with her arms now folded across her chest, “why the hell are you getting special treatment anyway? Lynette doesn’t even give special treatment to her own children. If they couldn’t do their job properly, she’d fire them in a heartbeat.”

“Are you asking if I’m fucking her?” Derek asked impassively from the doorway.

“That’s exactly what I’m asking. Especially since you are supposed to be in Hawaii getting engaged.”

“Fucking Lynette would be like fucking my mother,” Derek answered. “So, no. I have a family emergency. And Lynette likes me better than her children—she’s told me.”

Kali just huffed and glared at Derek’s blank face. As she turned around to return to her desk, her eyes settled on Stiles, and she seemed to suddenly acknowledge his presence in her room. “Who is this?” she asked, almost curiously.

“No one, Kali,” Derek replied, “good talking to you, as always.” He completed his exit through the doorway and made his way down the hall back toward the elevators.

Stiles gave Kali a small wave and hurried out of the room to hop on the elevator with Derek. This time, once the doors closed, Derek pressed the button for the twenty-fourth floor. After another silent elevator ride, Derek led Stiles to a set of doors that mirrored the ones with gold trim on the outside of the building. He raised his fist and knocked three times before stepping back and lowering his hand so that accidentally his fingers gently brushed Stiles’ own.

Stiles recalled back to Derek’s fingers hovering over his pulse point at the house; he shivered.

The doors suddenly flew open and Stiles looked down at a small, slight woman, maybe around five feet tall. She was a beautiful mixture of Caucasian and Asian descent, dressed in a plain black dress and with her dark hair drawn up in an elegant twist. She had a shrewd, calculating look that was immediately directed toward Stiles.

“So, this is him?” she asked Derek.

So Derek had told his boss about the bond. It made Stiles’ skin prickle slightly, but he supposed that it was probably a necessary evil. Derek had to figure out a way to keep from getting fired.

“Yeah. Lynette, this is Stiles. Stiles, this is Lynette Speights.”

Stiles timidly extended his hand for her to shake. He wasn’t quite sure about how to exchange pleasantries—Derek hadn’t prepped him enough for this trip.

Lynette glanced at his hand, but didn’t extend her own hand to relieve Stiles’ awkwardness. Instead, she flipped around and made her way through her enormous office to sit in the chair behind her desk. The office continued with the same theme as the rest of the building, though it contained a few extra personal pictures on the wall.

They followed her into the office and took a seat in the chairs across from her desk. Derek nodded to Lynette, who nodded back.

No wonder Derek had claimed that she liked him better than her own children—these two were obviously both cut from the same cloth. The cloth of as-few-words-as-possible and continuous-angry-glare.

“So, Stiles can I see your Marks? I’d like further proof that this bond happened,” she said stoically.

Derek didn’t appear to be taking this lack of trust personally.

“Uh, sure.” Stiles extended his arm again and pulled his shirt sleeve up to display the whole Mark on his forearm.

“Thank you. Now, I have lunch for both of you so we can chat for a while,” Lynette said, handing Derek and Stiles a package wrapped in white paper. She looked at Derek and unexpectedly stretched her lips into a bright smile. The change in demeanor was enough to give Stiles whiplash. “I missed you. Without you around, I’ve had to deal more with the people who annoy me. It must be hell being back at home with your parents in that tiny hometown of yours.”

Derek shrugged and unwrapped his sandwich. “It’s alright.”

Stiles unwrapped his own package and uncovered freshly toasted bread that appeared to be encasing salami and prosciutto. He lifted the sandwich to his mouth as Lynette suddenly focused her attention to him. The scrutiny on her face had returned and the smile departed. “I’ve been calling you the Little Homewrecker in my head, but you’re kind of too adorable for that.”

Stiles wasn’t quite sure how to respond to such a statement, so he just ventured “Most people just call me Stiles” before biting into his sandwich.

To his surprise, Lynette cracked a smile. “Where do you want to go to college, Stiles?”

“Stanford.” This was beginning to feel like a bizarre job interview.

“Do you actually have a chance of going or is it just a pipe dream?”

Stiles began to babble nervously, “Oh, uh, yeah, I’m second in my class right now. There’s no way I can ever compete with Lydia—I’m smart, but she’s like Brainiac level. But I’m really good at biological research and, actually, basically any research. I like calculus and physics too. I’m pretty good at chemistry, but Harris is an asshole, so I just can’t pay attention in his class—”

Stiles stopped as he realized both of them were staring at him. Lynette smiled brightly again.

“Talks a lot, doesn’t he?” Lynette commented, amused. “He’ll fill all of your silent gaps nicely, Derek. And, Jesus, you don’t have to be so nervous, kid. If you bonded to Derek, then you must at least be okay; I won’t kill you.”

“Do you really like Derek better than your kids?” Lynette’s praise of Derek pulled the question almost unconsciously out of Stiles’ mouth. Damn his foot-in-mouth disease. Stiles sat horrified that he had stepped over bounds.

Lynette was unfazed, however, and actually seemed to contemplate the question. “Depends on the kid. I have five. Not because I wanted a bunch of kids, but I just liked being pregnant. The kids came with it. Once my husband and I split, that was the end of that, though. The first two kids are pretty on par with Derek, but my third child?” Lynette shook her head. “Unbearable. My fourth is my favorite. Great ambition, excellent work ethic. The fifth is still young, but Derek definitely beats him.”

Okay, maybe this wasn’t so bad after all.

Stiles couldn’t help the laugh that left him. “You must be hard pressed if Derek is the best you can get.” Derek just continued to eat his sandwich and looked only marginally affronted.

“Think you could do better?”

Stiles feigned a scoff. “Oh, please, of course. And I could do anything without glaring people to death. Plus, like you said, I’m adorable.”

“Lynette likes my glare,” Derek chimed in, unexpectedly smug. “She calls it a smolder.”

She nodded solemnly. “He has women eating out of the palm of his hand. I can sell programs with his face alone. Probably more valuable than being cute.”

“I would say that I can help out with the gay and bisexual crowd, but Derek probably still has me beat there,” Stiles replied mildly. Derek choked a little on the final portion of his sandwich. Lynette’s eyes lit up with sudden interest.

“That’s so true,” Lynette mused, “I’ve been using him for manipulation one-sidedly, but now anything goes. I hadn’t even thought of that. I must be slacking in my middle-age.”

Derek placed his head his hands and shook his head slowly. “Fuck no.”

Lynette smirked, “Fuck yes.” She looked at Stiles in appreciation before offering to Derek, “He’s quite the character, isn’t he?”

“I don’t know how I put up with him, honestly,” Derek replied sarcastically.

Stiles smirked at Derek. “You like me. Despite your better judgment, you like me. You’re trying to fight it, but don’t, dude. I have so much awesome to share.”

Lynette laughed loudly. “Well, I know I like you. It may be just because you’re Derek’s, but it’s true. And that’s rare, so enjoy the privilege. You’re a cocky little shit. But you obviously have higher than normal intelligence, so I respect that.”

On her thick wooden desk, her phone abruptly went off with an alarm. Lynette pulled it closer and evaluated the clock. “Well, that’s all the time I have to give. Time for you to go. Derek the code this week is my second son’s first initial (capitalized), the number in my favorite television show, the number of cats I own, and the last letter in the name of city in which I was born. Text me every Monday for a new one.”

Derek smiled genuinely and nodded. “Got it, Lynette.”

“I will miss you and our quiet lunches,” Lynette stated sadly as she rose and began to escort them to the doors. “Especially since I no longer have an excuse for the idiots to leave me alone during this time.”

Lynette gave Derek a side hug in a display of affection that Stiles wasn’t really anticipating from the small woman. As Stiles turned to say his own goodbye, Lynette replicated Stiles’ original movement from when they had entered the office by extending her hand for a handshake.

This display of civility was probably something you had to earn. Win for Stiles.

“Nice to meet you, Stiles,” she said before cocking her head toward Derek. “Take care of him for me.”

● ● ●

Derek ignored Meredith’s small wave and knowing wink as he made his way back through the lobby to head back to the car. Stiles, on the other hand, smiled back widely and waved.

“I kind of like her crazy,” Stiles said thoughtfully as they exited the building and climbed back into the car.

Derek grunted, threw the computer case in the backseat, and started the car. “Is there anything you’d like to do now?” he asked cautiously, afraid of the answer.

“What do you want to do?” Stiles countered.

“Nothing really. I told you Sacramento isn’t very exciting. I just kind of want to spend some time at my house.”

“Sounds good, man,” Stiles said settling back into his seat.

Derek backed the car out of its parking spot and rolled out of the lot. As they reentered the interstate, Derek remembered his second errand of the day. “Oh,” he said to Stiles, “before we head back to the house, I need to pick up Charlie.”

Damn dog was probably frantic by now.

“Charlie?”

“My dog.”

“There’s no way you have a dog, that house is impeccable.”

“He’s well-trained. And I like things to be neat.”

Stiles snorted. “Understatement of the year, dude.”

“Paige made me get him at one of those things at the mall when they have all the homeless dogs out for people to pet. She played with him for a while and then all of a sudden we were taking him home,” Derek recalled with a shake of his head.

“You’re a sucker, aren’t you?” Stiles laughed.

That’s probably the actual understatement of the year. Exhibit A: Cora’s party.

On the way to pick up Charlie, Derek took advantage of Stiles’ focus on the city moving outside the window to consider the meeting with Lynette. Usually, someone fidgeting nervously in his or her chair, talking incessantly, and asking random questions would drive her crazy, but she appeared to be making an exception because she knew Derek needed the support. Or she was just having a good day. Nevertheless, she seemed to genuinely like Stiles. That idea wouldn’t be too farfetched considering it wasn’t hard to like Stiles—he had open, witty nature and a sincerity that managed to penetrate his words and actions even when he was being sarcastic. Derek was incredibly thankful that everything went so easily with Lynette; it made him feel safer about his job. As for the rest of the office visit, Kali had barely even registered Stiles’ existence and would soon forget him—Meredith, in contrast, continued to be incredibly observant and relentlessly dedicated to claiming he had bonded. She was bound to be annoying about it every time he had to call the office from Beach Hills.      

Fuck, he wouldn’t be able to live with her once it finally came out that he had actually bonded. He didn’t know if he could handle the dreamy, self-satisfied smile that was sure to come.

“How the hell are you supposed to figure that code out?” Stiles suddenly piped up from the passenger seat.

“It’s something I learned early on with Lynette. It’s one of the reasons she likes me, I think. She drops random facts about her life into conversation and then expects you to remember them to be a part of her codes. I figured it out the first time, mainly from luck. But, it was enough for her to trust me to help her with the books,” Derek responded.

“What is this one?”

“Capital C, the number two, the number zero, and a lowercase p.”

“Dude, now I can totally hack your files,” Stiles smiled mischievously.

“Like you’d have the patience to sort through all the numbers,” Derek said with an eye roll.

“Yeah, probably not, that sounds pretty boring. At least not without a good dose of Adderall.”

At the end of Stiles’ comment, Derek finally pulled into the parking lot for Kozy Kennels and Veterinary Hospital. As he unbuckled and opened the car door, Derek wearily swore to himself that this was last stop for the day. Stiles followed him toward the small building with the same unending energy that he’d displayed throughout the rest of the day. Derek found himself hoping that some of it would rub off on him for the ride back to Beacon Hills, otherwise he was going to be on par with a zombie soon—ignoring the flares from the bond all day was a taxing exercise. Stiles followed after him, bouncing with exuberance and bright eyes.

“Are you okay?” Derek asked sarcastically.

“Um, yeah! I’m so excited; I love dogs. Dad won’t let us get one because he’s convinced that we’d accidentally not feed it and stuff,” Stiles replied, ignoring Derek’s tone.  

After entering, Derek strode in front of Stiles to walk up to the front desk and flash his most charming smile at the receptionist. She blushed and smiled shyly at him. Derek faintly remembered her as the girl who had checked Charlie in the week before.

“Hi, my name is Derek Hale. I’m here to pick up my dog, Charlie. I know I’m a little past normal check out time for the day…”

“Oh, no, that’s fine,” the girl said quickly. “I don’t have to charge you for an extra day, you’re not that late. Let me go get him.” She scribbled something on the paper in front of her and walked through a side door with a lingering glance back at Derek.

“Wow,” Stiles remarked next to him, “seeing the PR face in action is pretty impressive. If you didn’t hide that smile so much, think of all that you could do.”

“You like my smile, Stiles?” Derek said drily.

The blush that had consumed Stiles earlier returned in full force. The light pink flooded Stiles’ cheeks and flowed down his neck, disappearing under his shirt collar. Derek wanted pull down the collar to see how far the color could extend.

Shit, redact that thought.

Mercifully, the front desk girl returned from the backroom with Charlie in tow. Charlie was a dark grey Tamaskan with white front paws. He was tugging at the collar with a whine until he caught sight of Derek and immediately began to demonstrate his best behavior.

“God, he’s huge,” Stiles observed with a smile. “He looks like an awesome cuddle buddy.”

Charlie looked at Stiles curiously. Derek took the leash after the girl extended it toward him and led the dog back to front desk so he could check Charlie out and pay.

“I don’t know about that—he can be difficult. He doesn’t trust very easily. I’m surprised he hasn’t started growling or something,” Derek commented as he handed over his credit card.

“Another classic case of a dog imitating its owner,” Stiles remarked jokingly.

Charlie shuffled forward and sniffed Stiles curiously. He appeared to pick up a scent that he liked because he began panting happily and wagging his tail.

And Derek had thought his dog had better instincts than to immediately trust a seventeen year old kid. Not that Stiles was very threatening.

“Dude, he seems awesome to me,” Stiles cooed as he leaned down to scratch behind Charlie’s ear. Charlie closed his eyes and panted in appreciation.

“Oh, god, you can’t spoil him.”

“I’m not spoiling him! I’m just giving him the love such a cute puppy deserves.”

“He stopped being a puppy about three years ago when I blinked, and then he was curled up in the back of my car.”

Charlie began licking Stiles hand. “Whatever, man. I’m attached already. You’re great, aren’t you? I bet Derek has you trained to do all kinds of tricks,” Stiles said sweetly to Charlie. “I know he’s strict, but I’m going to be so much fun, just wait and see.” Charlie licked Stiles’ face as Stiles laughed.

Derek had never seen Charlie warm up to someone so quickly. Even with Paige and himself, the dog had been wary until being home with them for a few weeks. Derek had a feeling that Charlie could sense the bond between him and Stiles and derived his faith from it.

Add that to bond-related phenomenon.

The girl at the front desk, who looked to be about mid-twenties with short brown hair and a nametag that read Rebecca, handed him the checkout receipt. “Here you go, Mr. Hale. Is this your brother? I’ve never seen him in here before with you and Ms. Paige.”

Apparently he’d interacted with this girl on more than one occasion. Well, they did come here a lot.

“No, he’s not my brother,” Derek responded as he took the receipt.

“Oh, who is he? Should I put him down as one of Charlie’s contacts?”

Derek froze at the question. Who was Stiles? How the fuck did he answer that?

Stiles was watching Derek with an amused expression, probably not even needing the bond to sense Derek’s discomfort.

“Yeah, you can add him,” Derek said, deciding the first question wasn’t worth attempting. Stiles’ face filled with shock.

“Oh, okay. What’s your name, sir?”

Stiles stumbled forward and responded, “Stiles Stilinski.”

“Um…can you spell that for me?”

Stiles laughed as he spelled out his name and then recited his phone number.

The girl opened her mouth as if to ask another question, but Derek was more than ready to be done with this place. He instinctively grabbed Stiles’ wrist to pull him out and began to lead Charlie out of the door. Rebecca looked down at the hand wrapped around Stiles’ wrist and flushed deep red as she seemed to come to a certain conclusion about the touch.

The door jingled as they exited and Derek couldn’t block the confusion and hopefulness swelling from Stiles’ side of the bond. He quickly released Stiles’ wrist.

“So, um, about the dog contact thing—” Stiles began as they reached the car.

“No,” Derek said with finality.

“Okay, cool, not talking about it.”

Derek opened the driver's side door and signaled at the dog patiently thumping his tail by Derek’s side. In response to the signal, Charlie obediently climbed into the backseat and curled up on the cushion, alert and still. After they were all situated in the car, they finally began the drive back to the house. Derek turned the radio off, and everything was blissfully silent until Stiles spoke up again.

“Why did you name him Charlie? He looks like a mini-wolf, you had so many options.”

“He deserved a normal name, not a stupid one.”

“Wolverine. Mooney. Romulus. Remus. Sirius. Oh, sorry, I’m starting to go full Harry Potter. But you get the point.”

“Charlie suits him just fine. Paige liked the name.”

Stiles shifted a little at hearing Paige’s name. “I guess it’s too late anyway. I’ll have to get him a really cool collar or something to make up for it,” he said.

Derek rolled his eyes. “You do that.”

After about fifteen minutes, they arrived back at the house. Once the three of them were inside, Charlie happily wandered over to his pad and lay down. Stiles walked over to the kitchen counter and began to touch and inspect everything on its surface: knife block, mixer, the plaque Laura had gotten him as a house warming present that read Hale.

Derek watched him absently for a moment before decided that it was time to wrap everything up. Stiles could keep examining the room while Derek was getting his things together. “So, I’m going to go get the suitcase that I had packed for Hawaii and other clothes and pack up Charlie’s stuff, and then we can head back.”

Stiles’ nervousness rushed through the bond and he kept fiddling with some of the drawer knobs. “Can we just stay here for the night?” he asked hurriedly. “I haven’t really gotten to see everything.”

“No, Stiles, I don’t think that’s the best idea.”

Stiles turned toward him with a pout, and his disappointment pushed through the bond.

Maybe Derek wasn’t easy for just the women in his life to manipulate.

“Your dad will never okay it. If he does in some alternate universe, then sure,” Derek said resignedly.

“And…challenge accepted, dude,” Stiles responded eagerly. “We should shake on it to make sure you can’t back out.” Stiles stuck out his right hand.

Derek wasn’t sure what possessed him to do it, but he reached toward the arm and wrapped around the wrist again for the third time today. He didn’t know why he was drawn to the pulse point below Stiles’ wrist, but the rushing blood signifying Stiles gave him a settling comfort. He raised the shirt sleeve as he had done upstairs, but this time he pressed his free fingers along the length of the Mark. “I swear,” he murmured.

He looked at Stiles face and saw his eyes somewhat glazed and his pink lips slightly open, breathing deep. Derek was flooded with guilt and uncertainty, but also warm affection and security. He thought of Paige and of discovering Kate’s wickedness; but he also thought of Stiles petting Charlie and of Laura, when Derek was about five, holding a flashlight under the blanket tent and whispering about magic and finding a bond mate.

He was just so fucked.

Derek released Stiles and quickly took a step back. Stiles looked shaken as he fumbled with his phone. He scrolled for a moment before raising it to his ear.

“Dad,” he said hoarsely before clearing his throat, “Dad, hey. So, uh, we did everything Derek basically needed to do, but I haven’t really gotten to hang out at his house or with his awesome dog, and I just really think it’s important to get to know him more, you know? I haven’t even been able to properly judge his movie collection yet, and I—”

Stiles paused for a moment as he listened to the voice on the other line. Stiles briefly removed the phone from his ear, flailed his head, and rolled his eyes before replacing the phone to his auricle. “Yes, it was my idea, but I don’t have a sinister subplot going on here.”

Derek was absolutely winning this challenge.

“Dad, seriously, it’s not fair. Did you have this many restrictions when you bonded with mom? Mom would have wanted me to be here. I’m not just saying that to get my way, you know it’s true.” He listened again for a moment. “My age has nothing to do with it. And Derek would never hurt me,” he said so confidently that Derek was almost taken aback. “I feel better than I have in a week being close to him. And I can finally get to know him, sort of, away from everything at home. I just want a chance.”

If Stiles’ growing smile was any indication, Derek should be feeling less assured about leaving tonight. Well, at least he’d get a night in his bed instead of the too-small one in Beacon Hills.

Stiles looked at Derek triumphantly. “Yes, Dad, I understand. No, I promise. I swear I won’t, god, Dad. Yes, I will text you when we leave tomorrow and we will leave in time for me to get back for work. Dad, he has two guest rooms and a couch, I think I’ll be okay. No I didn’t bring clothes, I told you this wasn’t preplanned! I’m sure Derek can share. Okay, old man, seriously.” Stiles paused again. “Love you too, Dad. Don’t eat anything I wouldn’t allow.”

Stiles ended his call and shot Derek a bright smile. “So, I was thinking about ordering a pizza and scouring your movies for something to watch?”

Derek stared at him for a moment. “I’m almost impressed.”

Stiles just shrugged and responded, “When I’m determined, I get things done.”

“Obviously,” Derek murmured. “Okay, well, there’s a pizza place not far from here, I can call something in. My movies are all on that cabinet by the television.” As Stiles began to skip over to the living room, Derek found himself continuing, “And I have some old T-shirts and sweatpants. I can grab them for you. There’s probably an extra toothbrush too.”

Stiles looked like all of his dreams had come true.

Derek jogged up the stairs and searched one of the lower dresser drawers. He found an old, faded Berkeley T-shirt, probably from freshman year, that wouldn’t be too big on Stiles and some old sweatpants that had been dark brown in another life. He then entered the bathroom and rustled in the cabinet below the sink to find an extra toothbrush and some soap. Derek brought them all down to the second guest room—it was a little bigger than the first—and reentered the living room to find Stiles intently moving through his movie collection.

“I have some comments, dude,” Stiles said offhandedly as he heard Derek’s footsteps.

“I can’t wait to hear them,” Derek said drily as he found the pizza place’s number in his phone. “What kind of pizza do you want?”

“Meat lovers, 100%. Since dad isn’t here, I don’t have to worry about him eating any, so this is the perfect opportunity.”

Derek called in the order and then retired to the couch. He could see that Stiles had extracted a few movies from their place in the cabinet.

“Okay,” Stiles began, “some of these I don’t understand. Such as—” Stiles held up The Notebook.

“Paige,” Derek responded. She must have forgotten to go through the movies. He was hit with a now familiar pang.

“Shit, sorry,” Stiles said, coloring slightly. “Okay,” he said to recover, “this I understand—” The Fast and the Furious. “—because you have a fucking death wish when you drive.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“But this is another question mark,” Stiles continued, ignoring Derek. He stuck out Les Misérables.

“Also, Paige,” he said mildly, “though I do like that one.”

“Damnit. Sorry again. And really?”

“I probably resonate with Jean Valjean,” Derek replied tonelessly.

Stiles burst into rolling laughter. After a few moments, he clutched his stomach as his breath returned. “Nicely done, dude.”

“Which one do you actually want to watch?” Derek asked.

“The fine art of discovering conversation is lost on you, isn’t it?” Stiles commented airily. “Fine. Honestly, I kind of want to watch your DVDs of Lost. Your movie selection is lacking, but your TV collection shows at least those taste are pretty good.”

Derek rolled his eyes with a nod and put out his hand for the DVD case. Stiles handed it over, and Derek walked over to insert the first DVD in the player. After returning to the couch and grabbing the remote, Stiles joined him, though he firmly stuck to the other end of the sofa.

“Can I please hang out with Charlie?” Stiles asked hopefully.

“He’s not allowed on the couch.”

“Derek, I only get a little while with him. And I don’t want to sit on the floor with him.” Stiles protruded his lower lip. “Can we please make an exception just tonight?”

“No.”

“You’re going to be feeling my sadness the rest of the evening, dude.”

Derek covered his eyes. “Jesus Christ, so begins the slippery slope,” he sighed. Stiles punched his fist in the air in victory. “You’re a manipulative son of a bitch, aren’t you?” Derek asked drily.

“I prefer the terms intelligent and calculating,” Stiles said, smirking as he made his way over to Charlie’s pad to arouse the large dog from a nap. “Come on, Charlie!”

Charlie jostled out of sleep and began to trot after Stiles back toward the couch. Upon reaching it, Stiles sat back in his spot and patted the cushion next to him. “Come on, get up, buddy. Daddy Derek promised that it’s okay.” Charlie looked over at Derek as if asking for confirmation.

“Don’t call me Daddy Derek.”

“Am I tapping into an unknown kink?”

Derek hadn’t thought about it that way and he’d prefer not to indulge it.

“Charlie, up,” Derek commanded as he snapped his fingers over the couch. Charlie still seemed reluctant, like he was afraid of not passing some kind of test, but he jumped up and immediately put his head in Stiles’ lap.

“Now we’re ready,” Stiles said happily. Derek felt how magnified the warmth of the bond seemed as it pulsed between them. As he pressed play for the first episode on the start menu, Derek wondered idly how the bond felt for Stiles. It was obviously different, but they hadn’t even skimmed that topic. He had the sense that Stiles didn’t feel the constant flow like he did, but Stiles felt a more physical connection—like he was more in-tuned with the rubber band that Derek had felt during their bonding. As the Lost theme played, Derek firmly shoved all related thoughts down. He was too tired for this shit tonight.

Derek must have dozed off during the episode because he was awoken about thirty minutes later to Stiles saying “Classic Jack reaction” with a shake of his head as the doorbell rang.

Derek paid the delivery girl at the front door and placed a couple of slices on paper plates before grabbing a beer from the refrigerator. “What do you want, Stiles?”

“Can I have a beer?” Stiles inquired excitedly.

“No.”

“Are you serious?” Stiles asked, irritated.

“Yes.”

“Oh, come on, dude, don’t resort to the caveman talk. And we’re alone!”

“Your father is the sheriff of our town and owns weapons. When I return you and he asks me if I gave you alcohol, I want to be able to say ‘no’ truthfully.”

“Sober virgin forever,” Stiles told Charlie sadly as the dog licked at his face in sympathy.

“Forever might be an exaggeration,” Derek said, “time moves faster than you’d think.”

“Thank you, Yoda,” Stiles said mockingly. “And I guess it’s a Coke then. But it’s totally not fair that you’re going to be drinking a beer in front of me.”

“I’ve earned it. And I’m twenty-six, so my parents don’t care.” Derek handed Stiles his plate and a Coke over where Charlie’s head still rested in his lap. He grabbed his own plate and beer and settled back onto the couch. On the TV, it appeared that the second episode was about to start.

“One day I’ll be twenty six and my dad won’t care,” Stiles said with faux wistfulness, “and you’ll be old and who knows if you’ll be able to stomach beer anymore.”

“Yes, I hear that thirty five is the beginning of your body breaking down.”

They both scarfed down the pizza and tossed the plates on the coffee table in front of the couch. Derek continued to nurse his beer as the episode rolled on. Stiles was loud and talkative throughout the episode. He had a comment to make about everything—he babbled about the history of Walt’s comic and rambled about the unanswered topic of how people with medical problems didn’t drop dead from not getting their drugs. But Derek found that he didn’t really mind, somehow. It filled the space, making the room feel warmer and the white noise blocked out the thoughts that silence normally allowed, so he could finally rest.

Onto the third episode, Derek ignored the vibration of his phone. It was probably just Boyd texting to see if Derek survived the day. After a few moments, Derek felt his phone vibrate insistently and looked down at the caller ID: Laura Hale. Derek paused the show while Stiles took the moment to snuggle with Charlie.

“I told you he’d be a great cuddle buddy,” Stiles said happily from his side of the couch.

“It’s my sister, do you mind if I talk to her for a minute? She’ll just keep calling until I answer.”

“Oh, sure, man. Actually, I’ll give Scott a quick call when you’re on the phone.” Stiles scratched Charlie’s back and briefly buried his face in the dog’s furry coat. “I think I’m falling in love with this dog, man. Does bonding with you give me partial custody?

“We’re not registered yet, so I’m going to go with no. Besides, I don’t trust you to not corrupt my dog.”

Derek stepped out of the room and walked down the left hall into the laundry room. Knowing Laura, she could ask anything and he’d rather be as far away from Stiles as possible when she did. Derek swiped the missed call and listened to the dial tone.

Laura answered a second later. “Hey, I texted but you didn’t answer. How’s the date going?”

“It’s not a date, Laura, Jesus.”

“Sure it isn’t, little brother,” Laura said sweetly.

“It was a day trip to run some errands, not a date.”

“Oh, excuse me, so you’re just functioning like an old, married couple.”

“Laura.”

“Just tell me what you did today and when you’re coming home. Mom wants to know too.”

His sisters were shameless when it came to using mom as an avenue to getting their way.

“We went to work to get everything worked out. Picked up Charlie. Now we’re watching a TV show. And I’m not coming back tonight, we’re coming back tomorrow morning,” Derek grit out.

“Okay, wait, so you brought him to your house. You basically took him to meet Lynette. You introduced him to Charlie. You came back to your house and watched a movie. Now you’re spending the night together. Do I need to lay it out any more for you, brother?”

Fuck, when she said it like that—

“We’re not spending the night together. Nothing is happening. He’s just sleeping in a room in my house.”

“Oh, god, Derek, of course you ignore the point,” Laura sighed. She paused a moment before continuing somberly, “But seriously, Derek, how are you? Are as okay as you can be with all this going on? We haven’t really gotten a chance to talk about it.”

“That’s because I’ve been avoiding you because I didn’t want to hear your shit.”

“Well, I’m very serious now,” she said softly.

Derek sighed. He and Laura only had a few years between them, and as much as he loved Cora, he had always been much closer with Laura. She was an integral part of the majority of his childhood memories and was who he always ended up turning to when he was growing up. He felt an urge to confide in her again.

“I’m okay. I’m just trying to go with everything and not think about it too much. I miss Paige all the time. But,” Derek took a breath, “I like being around him. He talks too much and feels too much, but I like him.”

“Derek,” Laura said softly again.

“I’m not saying it again. I’ll want to really talk about it one day, Laura, but not today. Probably not for a while. It’s all too much and it hasn’t been very long. But, eventually I’ll tell you everything like I’ve always have. I just need you to understand,” Derek continued.

“I have your back, Derek. Always. And I’ll be ready once you’re ready to talk,” Laura said confidently, sounding more like her normal self.

“Well, let me get back. We’re watching Lost.”

Laura laughed. “Love you, Der-Bear.”

“Bye, Laura.”

As Derek walked back toward the room, he paused in the hall as he heard Stiles’ speak. He must still be on the phone. Derek inched closer to the doorframe and listened carefully.

It wasn’t eavesdropping if it was in the open living room, right?

“He’s grumpy, man, but it’s just covering how fluffy he is. I like him.”

Hearing Stiles admit the same thing he had just confessed to Laura lifted a weight he didn’t know was on his chest.

“If this is how it feels to have someone, like how you have Kira…I don’t know, it’s nice. Also, he has the greatest dog in the whole world.” Stiles paused. “Cool, man, bye. Say hi to Kira for me.” Stiles waited another moment before speaking again, “Derek, you’re being a creeper over there, lurking in doorways.”

“I’m not lurking,” Derek said moodily as he finally made his way into the living room.

“You’ve been caught, dude, don’t deny it. How was Laura?”

“Typical Laura.”

Stiles laughed as Derek joined him on the couch again. “I only met Laura for like a second as she carried my bloody self to the hospital, so I don’t really know ‘typical Laura.’”

“Be glad. Otherwise she might try to meddle into your life,” Derek said solemnly.

“What does Laura do, exactly? Does she live in Beacon Hills?” Stiles asked.

“She’s a lawyer in LA. Pretty terrifying, honestly. She works for my Uncle Peter, who owns a big firm down there. She’s getting married next spring on the Reserve, so she’s been coming up to Beacon Hills to get ready.” Derek fiddled with the remote. “How was Scott?”

“On a date with Kira. They are disgustingly cute. You and Scott need to meet eventually because he’s my best friend forever and my chosen brother. You’ll love him, everyone does.”

“Yeah, I need to,” Derek responded honestly. Stiles had gotten a glimpse into Derek’s life, but Derek hadn’t really seen much of Stiles’. And he talked about Scott so damn much that he seemed like an important person to meet.

“Hey, can I go change before we finish the episode? It’s hard to completely relax with jeans on,” Stiles asked as he plucked at a jean leg.

“Sure. I put clothes in the second guest bedroom.”

“Thanks, man!” Stiles gently removed the dog from his lap before jumping up and running to the room like he had done it a hundred times before. Charlie trotted after him. Stiles definitely knew how to make himself at home.

Derek took the break as an opportunity to change as well and came downstairs to the sight of Stiles inspecting everything he could touch in the room, particularly the shelf on the wall.

“Berkeley?” Stiles directed at Derek as soon as Stiles saw him entered the room. Stiles pulled the old T-shirt he was now wearing above the worn sweatpants to emphasize the basis of his question.

Seeing Stiles in his clothes affected Derek in a way he hadn’t anticipated. He wanted to pull Stiles close, pull the bond close, and breathe in the smell of Stiles and him together. It was unsettling.

“It’s where I went to college.”

“I can’t believe I haven’t asked that, dude! But okay, cool. Did you like it? It’s on my list.”

“I liked it. It’s a good school,” Derek said with a shrug.

Stiles must have found that as a sufficient answer because he continued his inspection of the shelf. “What is this?” Stiles asked, pointing to a game.

Perfect Dark.

Derek rolled his eyes in fake desperation and said, “Youths.”

“Youths? Did you seriously just call me a youth?”

“It’s on point.”

“First of all, you are not an eighty year-old man. Second, I know what the game is; I was talking more about the format. It’s Nintendo 64. Do you even have a Nintendo 64?”

“Yeah. When I left Beacon Hills, my parents made me take all of the gaming systems. Honestly, Laura played them more than me, but apparently they decided that I needed it more. I actually read more than played games.”

Stiles shook his head, “Typical societal sexism. Not to wrong your parents, they’ve just fallen into the system.”

Derek stared at him. “You and Laura can never get together. And I’m pretty sure you and Cora don’t talk…we should keep it that way.”

“Why?”

“Because I get a feeling you would get along too well. And when they gang up on me, I don’t need you joining them.”

Stiles only seemed to be half listening to Derek’s response as he browsed the books that covered the majority of the shelf. “Are these books all in different languages?”

“Yeah, I speak a few languages. Sometimes it’s nice to see continuous text in whatever language I’m practicing,” Derek answered.

“A few? How many is a few?”

“About six? I like to learn them in my spare time.”

“That’s fucking awesome. Do you have a favorite?”

“I’m best at Spanish. But I currently enjoy Italian.”

“Maybe you can learn Polish, dude, be the second person in Beacon Hills who can pronounce my name.”

“I’d have to know your name to do that,” Derek said mildly.

“Yeah, no, I’ll pass,” Stiles toned. “This is fucking amazing, though. You can totally help me with Latin class.”

“I’m helping you with lacrosse and Latin? What am I getting out of this?” Derek asked.

“Basking in my presence, basically,” Stiles replied smoothly. “What’s this from?” Stiles had picked up a picture of Derek and Paige on either side of Boyd and Erica at the couple’s wedding.

“Boyd and Erica’s wedding. Boyd is my closest friend—he’s who I told about all of this. That was a couple of years ago.”

“Ah, now I can put faces to the names,” Stiles said quietly. He gave the picture a careful assessment before picking up another. It was of the whole Hale family during their hiking trip a few months back. “Oh, this was on Cora’s Facebook.”

Before Derek could respond, Stiles turned to face him and said boldly, “You look really nice when you smile like in those pictures. You should do it more.”

No matter how bold his words, there was that distracting blush again. Derek had no idea how to respond to the compliment.

“Want to play that game?” Stiles moved on quickly, plucking it from the shelf.

Derek hadn’t played a game like that in so long, but he was incredibly curious as to Stiles’ video game reactions. It actually felt like a fitting end to what had ended up being a rather decent day with Stiles. “You’ll never win. I have way too many years on you.”

“You’re on, Hale.”

● ● ●


 

“My, what beautiful blossoms we have this year. But look, this one's late. But I'll bet that when it blooms, it will be the most beautiful of all.”

-Disney’s Mulan