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Three Marks

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Jesus Christ, there were so many youths here.

Derek turned to send a withering glare Laura’s way. “Why the fuck couldn’t you babysit this teenage party again? Why the hell am I stuck doing this?”

Laura smirked that annoying I-am-the-older-sister-and-far-superior smirk. “Because, Der-Bear, I am engaged and have important wedding items to attend to.” Derek suppressed an eye roll. Like he hadn’t heard that excuse a thousand times since the damn ring got shoved on her finger. “And Der-Bear, you should probably refrain from using such language in front of the little children,” Laura said smoothly with a wicked look in her eye.

Paige, who had remained silent up to this point, gently laughed and patted Derek’s arm. “Derek it’s not a big deal. We can handle a little ‘babysitting’ before we leave for our trip tomorrow. And I’m sure Cora really appreciates it.” She tucked a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear and turned her amused face toward Laura. “Go ahead, Laura, we have this taken care of.”

Laura smirked that smirk again and then picked up her bag and confidently began to stride down the hall where they had been talking toward the back door. “Bye, Derek. Bye, Paige. Love you, enjoy the trip tomorrow!” She paused with her hand on the door knob. “You know, if you survive the night.” She winked and then yanked the door open and disappeared through it.

Paige gave that soft laugh and patted Derek again, this time on the cheek.

“Derek, I don’t think that we have to be hall monitors here…I just think your mom wanted to make sure an authority figure was here to make sure the place doesn’t get destroyed. Or that anyone gets any ideas about her bedroom.”

Derek looked at her small smile which lit up her soft, round face and dark brown eyes. The eyes were so genuine. He groaned and heaved a sigh. Christ, he was so easy for the women in his life to manipulate. How else did he get stuck in these situations? His mother, Laura, Cora, Paige, and god, Kate—

“Can we please just find a room with as few of these youths as possible?”

“Youths?” Paige laughed, “God, Derek, they are seniors in high school.”

“Exactly,” he muttered darkly.

“Okay, let’s get out of this hallway and I promise you we’ll find as secluded a spot as possible for your anti-social self,” Paige teased.

Paige grabbed his hand and yanked him forward to walk towards the front room.

The front room was filled with high school seniors celebrating before they went back to their last year of ridiculous cliques, social anxieties, college preparation, popularity scales, meaningless sport dedication, and constant drama.

Why the hell wouldn’t you wait and celebrate when that shit was over?

Cora had better fucking appreciate this.

The music blasted through the room, some pop radio shit, and teenagers seemed to literally be teeming through the room, laughing, talking, dancing. There were several couples making out in various corners of the room and kids ducked their solo cups behind their backs as Paige and Derek passed—as if Derek didn’t know they contained alcohol.

As if he was some kind of idiot. Though, maybe they had a point. Only an idiot would end up in this position. He was twenty six, for Christ’s sake, he should not be attending a high school party, even as a chaperone. Add that to the list of reasons why he didn’t become a high school teacher.

Tomorrow, Derek and Paige were leaving for Hawaii. Everyone, Paige included, knew what this trip was for. Hell, she had been with him when he went to pick out the ring. He was ready to just ask her and have a few days to relax and be away from his meddling family.

The family that, instead of giving him the evening to contemplate this great life change and get his wits about him, blew up his phone a day ago asking ridiculous favors.

The conversation had been something like this:

“Derek,” Cora begged, “please come up and be at the house for my party. It’s not like you’d have to actually do anything, please—”

“No.”

“Derek,” Cora said in the exasperated tone of someone who was dealing with the most unreasonable person on the planet, “it won’t fucking kill you! Come on—”

“I said no, Cora.”

“Derek, Laura has already bailed on me. Some wedding emergency—”

“That’s a shame, I guess you’ll just have to cancel.”

“Derek!” Cora yelled, sounded scandalized. “I swear to god,” she muttered darkly.

“I doubt even God could sway my opinion.”

“God, maybe not,” Cora said in a solemn voice, “but mom, maybe.”

“Mom wouldn’t seriously ask me to come the night before my vacation and—”

“Don’t be too sure about that,” Cora said stiffly and hung up.

Derek had rubbed his hands over his face and closed his eyes. Why did he have so many sisters? He had gone back into the living room at his house in Sacramento after grabbing a beer from the kitchen and had sprawled unceremoniously on the couch next to Paige who was reading some Steinbeck novel. He had received a text from Laura five minutes later.

 

6:37 PM

Laura Hale

>Come on, Derek!

>Seriously, I have a wedding emergency. Mom needs someone here.

>Don’t be a dick about this.

 

Derek had rolled his eyes and ignored the messages. This wasn’t his problem.

At least, it wasn’t until his mother called a few seconds later.

“Hi, Derek,” his mother had greeted.

“Hi, mom,” Derek had replied with a sinking feeling in his stomach. All she had done was say “hi” in that no-nonsense-Talia tone and he already knew he was going to give in.

He was such a pushover.

The sound of something crashing to the floor to Derek’s right and the sudden halt of Paige in front of him ripped him out of his thoughts.

Derek whipped around to see a tall boy, all thin limbs with soft blue eyes and light curly hair. He met Derek’s eyes and immediately turned a pale scarlet. Derek must have given off an angry glare because the kid’s eyes became frightened.

“Isaac!” someone called to the kid.

The kid continued to stare at Derek like he was afraid to tear his gaze away. Derek, on the other hand, looked to the scene of destruction and saw only a picture frame on the ground, not looking much worse for wear. He sighed. At least it wasn’t dad’s precious vase from Japan. That would have been a shit storm.

Derek focused back in to hear the kid apologizing profusely and to see a young girl had appeared at his shoulder and grabbed his hand to pull him somewhere. She was pretty, slight but looked strong, with dark hair and eyes, and a bright dimpled smile which she was flashing at everyone.

“It’s fine, seriously,” Paige was saying with a bit of a laugh in her voice, “just put it back up there for us, please.”

The kid, Isaac, Derek guessed, carefully placed the frame back in its place. It was a picture of the whole Hale clan, probably a couple of years old.

“Ready, Isaac? Everyone is ready outside,” the girl said.

Isaac nodded quickly and mumbled a “sorry” again before receiving another laugh and a little wave from Paige. He let the girl, who Derek heard him call Allison, lead him away. Derek spared him one more glance and noticed a scarf around his neck—seriously, in the middle of summer?

Derek looked at Paige with eyebrows raised and simply said, “See? Youths.”

Paige rolled her eyes and reached to tug him forward again.

“Just come on, you idiot,” she said fondly.

After a moment, Derek realized that she was leading him to the side room off of the front hall. It was small, so no one would probably find it worth occupying, but close enough to the main room and front door that they could monitor things fairly easily. Paige always had been smart.

Before they could make it to the room, Derek felt someone grab his arm.

Jesus, what now?

He turned to be face-to-face with Cora, her skin flushed with excitement and probably something else.

“Derek!” She said breathlessly, “God, thank you for being scared shitless of mom and being here. This is awesome.”

“My pleasure,” Derek droned, “next time mom decides to go out of town on a job when you want a party, sign me up.”

Cora rolled her eyes heavenward and proceeded to ignore Derek and throw her arms around Paige.

“I’m so glad you came too! Isn’t it awesome? Oh, and we’re about to do the bonfire outside, do you want to come, Paige?”

Paige smiled brightly and hugged Cora tightly back. “I would, but someone has to make sure your brother doesn’t eat anyone.”

“I’m not going to eat anyone,” Derek grumbled.

“Okay, excuse us, glare at someone until they explode,” Cora stated drily.

Some guy pushed forward through the crowd toward them—the new guy Cora was dating. Derek furrowed his eyebrows and thought—what was his name again?

Lincoln? Lance? London? Landon?

Whatever his name was, he was obviously a douchebag preppy boy with his too-nice hair and lacrosse co-captain jacket.

“Cora, we need that lighter. Hey, what’s up?” The kid—Landon, Derek was 99% sure it was Landon—flashed his too-white teeth in greeting. Paige seemed to have noticed Derek’s distaste.

“You guys go have fun,” Paige said turning to Cora and shooting an accusatory look at Derek.

Cora flicked her hair back and smirked (eerily similar to Laura) and disappeared with Landon into the crowd.

“Come on,” Paige insisted, “before you actually do glare someone to death. Can’t you just be nice?” she asked, exasperated.

“No,” Derek replied with his usual eloquence.

They safely made it into the room without any more detours, and Paige took the chair in the corner while Derek leaned against the wall next to her.

Now that they were settled, Derek could begin to focus on the small tug in the back of his head, which has started a few minutes ago when Laura left. It felt like the beginning of a headache that foreshadowed torrential agony, but currently refused to spill over into full-fledge pain—so it let him just anxiously wait for the onslaught. He closed his eyes and rubbed the side of his head.

This damn party.

“Are you okay, Derek?”

Derek turned to see Paige’s concerned face looking up at him.

“I’m fine. Just this noise,” he said. “I’m ready for Hawaii, so I can avoid things like this.”

Paige smiled beautifully. She gently took his hand and said, “I’m ready too. So ready. It will be so nice to just be the two of us.” She squeezed his hand slightly. “I hope that Laura doesn’t think that we are trying to take anything away from her wedding,” she said in her soft voice.

Derek shook his head. “I’m sure she is just excited that once her wedding is over, she’ll have another one to plan. Or at least to try to,” he said with a sigh.

Paige laughed at that and then the two of them fell into their soft chatter.

God, he loved her. When they have been in high school, he had thought that she was just one of those band nerds, not worth a basketball, baseball, and lacrosse star’s time. And then in the ways of the universe, they had slowly worked into each other’s lives—he had learned to appreciate her cello abilities and then her loyalty, diligence, patience—goodness. Granted, there had come a time when appreciating someone wasn’t enough to overcome some argument, fight, unhappiness, and they had briefly broken up. Derek has filled that space with Kate, the complete opposite of what he had been missing with Paige. And, god, how that had turned out. Derek couldn’t even think of the situation without guilt and overwhelming pain. After that, however, he apparently hadn’t learned his lesson and tried to hook up with a girl in their class, Jennifer. That didn’t go quite as he had planned either—and he had called Paige all broken, and without any obligation, she had come. She came and she gently fixed the worst broken pieces, and they were together again by the end of high school. He wanted to hopefully have her always. He never knew what she saw in him, but thank god for it.

Derek suddenly felt the tug get worse. Like the cup had tipped further and the threat of pain spilling out had gotten stronger, just hanging over the rim—

“Derek, seriously, are you okay?”

Paige stood and lifted a hand to his forehead.

“It’s just a headache, I doubt you can do anything for it.”

Paige’s eyes looked worried as she said, “I can at least get you some Advil. I won’t even have to use my MD for that.”

She turned to walk out of the room in search of ibuprofen, when they heard mumbling and the sound of feet approaching.

“Fuck, why me? It’s not like I know where Cora is or my way around…Cora?”

One of the party-goers entered the room and repeated his sister’s name.

Paige began to speak with the kid and Derek looked up and caught a glimpse of him—a boy with messy brown hair and a lot of moles, tall and gangly with a slightly upturned nose, and eyes behind black-rimmed glasses—

The soft, honey-brown eyes caught his and then the pain finally surged forward.

Derek thought he might have heard the kid gasp and Paige cry out as he quickly slid to the floor. The pain was excruciating. It was traveling through his bones, all leading toward the same central point on his torso. Suddenly, the pain felt like it was radiating from just that point, trying to push through his skin and flow outward—then the pain halted and was replaced by the feeling of being tied to something and trying to pull away. Like a rubber-band that was tied under his skin being pulled by some unseen force. It was such a foreign feeling that Derek could barely understand it or compare it to anything he’d felt before. It was like constantly being tugged toward something, something you needed—

And then there was pain again, but this time it was in only three places—his arm, below his clavicle, and next to his heart, all on the left side. It felt like the skin was being sliced apart, ripped open, flayed off—

And suddenly it was done.

Derek opened his eyes and blinked back a haze. His head felt like cotton. After a second, he was able to get back some of his bearings and as he looked to Paige, who was crouched in front of him with a panicked look, and all of the blood around him, a realization began to bloom in his head.

No. He was too old. He was outside of the normal age range. He had Paige. This wasn’t how it normally happened anyways…

He looked across the room and saw the boy on the floor, looking about as bad as Derek felt, also surrounded by a small pool of blood. The kid was clutching and unclutching his fists, breathing deeply, and looking completely out of it. Derek also noticed with a vague sense of curiosity that Laura was behind the kid, holding him up and looking stricken. But, there was no time to wonder what she was doing back, there was something more important—

He focused on the kid’s shirt, where the blood had soaked through, and took a deep breath.

A spot had bled through the arm of his long-sleeve plaid shirt and Derek could see a streak of blood on his undershirt extending from about his shoulders to half-way down his ribs.

No. This was impossible.

Derek leaned his head back against the wall and squeezed his eyes closed. Maybe the darkness would erase the reality in front of him.

“Fuck.”

● ● ●

When Paige finished her MD and was matched with the Bonding residency program she wanted, Derek wasn’t surprised. Paige was kind, understanding, and overwhelmingly empathetic, so it made her perfect for dealing with people who had bonded. It was a sensitive situation which required the right type of people to deal with it. He had always through that she secretly hoped that they would bond in college—he often wondered if she was disappointed that they hadn’t. Not that it was uncommon to not bond; only about 30% of the population did. Once he reached twenty five, he knew there was little to no chance for him to bond, same for Paige, so they had carried on…

Yet, here he was, almost twenty seven and—

“Oh my god, there are three,” Paige breathed.

“What?” Derek heard Laura question croakily across the room.

Paige placed her hand on Derek’s non-blood soaked shoulder. “Are you okay, Derek? Derek? You’ve been out for a few minutes, I need you to talk to me.”

“Three?” He mustered hoarsely.

Paige shifted a little and replied in what was obviously as calm a tone as she could produce at this point, “That’s not important right now, we need to get you to Dr. Morrell at the hospital, and this boy—”

And this boy. It was at those words that the full weight of the situation seemed to crash down on Derek’s lungs and press out all of his air.

And this boy.

“I’m not gay,” Derek said tensely, trying to pull himself up higher.

Paige and Laura both seemed to be looking at him with the cautious and wary eyes of someone approaching a flighty animal.

“No one said you were, Derek,” Paige nearly whispered, “but we have to get both of you to the hospital. I’ve never seen a bonding like this before.”

“I’m not gay,” Derek repeated, louder this time. Were they not listening to him here?

“Derek,” Laura began and then was cut off by a small, gentle raise of Paige’s hand.

Paige turned to Derek and all of a sudden, it wasn’t his Paige in front of him—it was Clinic Paige, the Paige he had only seen at a distance.

“Derek, it is very common for bisexual people—”

“I’m not bisexual.”

“—to bond with either sex, not just the opposite one or the one they are drawn to more,” she continued as if he hadn’t tried to interrupt.

She was even using that calm, clinic voice that she normally reserved for patients. This shit wasn’t happening to him.

“And if it is the sexual aspect that you are worried about, there are some bonds that are platonic, even if they are rarer.”

For some reason, this didn’t make him feel better.

“I’m not bisexual,” he repeated, “and I don’t need another platonic relationship.”

Paige calmly responded, “Well, there is obviously something, Derek. But we can discuss all of this later, we need to get you both to the hospital.”

“No!” Derek shouted, managing to push himself to his feet and lean against the wall. God, he was so tired. Paige took a small step back.

“No, I am not going to the hospital with this guy! This little kid my sister’s age with fucking hipster glasses who probably plays video games 24/7 and eats vegan food. I have not just bonded to some high school fucking kid. Especially with some guy!” Derek yelled, almost hysterically.

“Well, maybe I don’t want to be bonded to you either, asshole,” came a voice from the other side of the room.

Paige and Derek whipped around to look at the boy on the floor and Laura, who was still holding him, looked down and tried to get him more upright.

Derek saw the boy finally seemed to have come back round, the sheen no longer in his eyes and signs of understanding flickering across his face.

He didn’t look happy.

Paige immediately flew over to him, feeling his pulse on his neck and placing the back of her hand on his forehead.

“What is your name?” Paige asked quietly.

Derek didn’t care what the hell his name was.

“Stiles,” the kid on the floor replied.

Stiles? What kind of a name was that? Stupid fucking hipster name. This situation was becoming more ridiculous by the minute.

“And your last name?” Paige continued.

“Stilinski.”

Stiles Stilinski? His name just got worse somehow. Though, it now sounded familiar for some reason.

“Okay, Stiles, I really need you to cooperate with me, alright? We are going to get you and Derek to the hospital so we can get the Marks cleaned and everything, okay?”

Stiles just shrugged and continued to look displeased.

Derek could only imagine that expression was reflected on his own face. No, he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t compare himself to this kid at all.

“Asshole,” the kid muttered again.

Stiles allowed himself to be supported into a standing position by Laura and then Paige walked toward Derek.

“You are going to come with me Derek, but I’d rather you make this easy for me and just follow my instructions.”

She was still Clinical Paige, but there was a sadness to her tone—the tone of someone who had realized they had lost something precious.

Make this easy for me.

Derek suddenly felt gutted when he realized what was implied behind that statement and all of the fight left him. He slouched forward and let himself be supported by Paige’s shoulder. He was only going for Paige.

“We cannot make a scene with this,” Paige said quickly. “We are under the privacy clause, Laura, because they are not registered yet.”

“Almost all of the kids are at the bonfire,” Laura said nervously. “And I have my car right by the back door from when I came back to get my wedding book.” Laura shifted under Stiles’ weight.

Stiles remained resolutely silent.

“That’s perfect,” Paige breathed. “Let’s hurry, we should have already been on the way, I’ve never seen this before, and three Marks…”

She signaled for Laura to move forward and together the women dragged the two men out the back door to the car quickly, with little to no interference and only a few strange looks.

“Thank god for that bonfire,” Laura supplied as they buckled Derek and Stiles in the back.

Derek wasn’t thankful for anything right now. He just slid as close as possible to the door, away from Stiles on the other side, and placed his forehead on the window. He willed one last glance at Stiles and saw him in a similar position on the other side.

This was unreal. This couldn’t be true. His life was too set for this to happen. He felt the car start up and heard the low whispers of Paige and Laura in the front seats and took that as his cue to close his eyes and allow the darkness to take him.

● ● ●

This was bullshit.

Stiles hadn’t wanted to go to that party in the first place. First off, it was at Cora Hale’s house, the girl he had maybe spoken seven words to their entire lives. Second, his dad knew all about the party (small towns and chatty parents) and there was literally no plan he could conceive (and he definitely had tried) where he could sneak in drunk since his dad didn’t work that night.

So, very sober Stiles wouldn’t be able to handle the third important reason he hadn’t wanted to go—there would have been no delightful, hazy buffer between his low tolerance and the douchebaggery of people like Jackson Whittemore and Landon Cress.

But Scott had insisted. Something about senior year, and wanting to take Kira out, and an “epic” bonfire. Stiles had finally agreed to get Scott’s puppy dog eyes off of his conscience.

So, they had walked up to the house, which is located on the Reserve, a ways out of town, healthily arguing about video games as Kira happily led them to the house—

(“I’m telling you, man, there was just something about the new Wolfenstein that just didn’t feel…genuine.”

“Seriously, Stiles, genuine? It’s an alternate reality WII game, how genuine can it be?

“Dude, don’t knock my feelings, there was just something off about this one…”)

And as they walked through the door, Stiles was rewarded for being such an awesome friend and giving up a blissful night of video games and pizza (and one of the last summer nights) with a headache.

A weird, tugging headache that made him sick to his stomach.

But, Stiles is awesome and trudged into the party, which was in full force. He had awkwardly hung around Scott and Kira, ogled across the room both Lydia (though they established the friendship playing field a long time ago, he was still allowed to admire beauty) and Danny (because unlike Derek fucking Hale, Stiles was very open about his bisexuality), and dealt with just as much douchebaggery as anticipated.

And then they were outside by the bonfire and someone had wanted Cora (Stiles wasn’t paying attention to the particulars) and couldn’t find her, and then no one could find her or Landon. And somehow (“Stilinski will do it,” Jackson had yelled to cheers) Stiles was assigned with finding the missing Princess and her Prince.

Stiles had muttered curses as he weaved through the house he didn’t know. They were probably making out somewhere. Or having sex in her room. And Stiles was not walking in on that. Not going upstairs in general. So, Stiles exited the main room and noticed a small room off of the front hall. Perfect make out spot—and his last stop. No one could say he didn’t try.

Stiles had continued to grumble and call out Cora’s name and quickly entered the small room. There were two people, no Cora. One was a small woman with a kind face and the other was an older guy. They were most assuredly the two chaperones he had heard about, Cora’s hot older brother and his girlfriend.

And the dude was hot. No matter how much this sucked, Stiles had to say that he bonded with someone out-of-his-league hot. Derek was his height, but built like a god, and he had dark scruff over beautiful facial feature, and those eyes—

Those damn eyes are what got him into this mess. If he hadn’t made eye contact, maybe he wouldn’t have had his headache explode to full force and a horrible agony take over his body. The pain had been too consuming for him to decipher much, and Stiles was 95% sure he blacked out twice.

And when he had finally come to the point where things made sense again, he realized he was covered in blood and some asshole (Derek Hale) was pronouncing his heterosexuality to the world.

Derek had obviously recovered before Stiles and more quickly put together their situation. Stiles had wanted to be more vocally sarcastic and irritated through the whole thing, but he was obviously worse off than Derek.

The nausea that he had experienced when he entered the house had been overwhelming after the incident and Stiles was lucky he managed to get a few words out and get to the car.

“Mr. Stilinski?”

Stiles stopped picking the thread on the hospital bed sheets that he had zoned out staring at and focused on the new presence in his room. He hadn’t even heard someone come in.

The doctor, Dr. M. Braeden from the embroidery on her coat, came closer to his bed and smiled an easy, sure smile at him. She was a pretty lady, dark skinned with long wavy hair and confident, intense eyes.

“Mr. Stilinski, since you are now conscious and out of any danger, I’d like to ask your permission to inspect your Marks.”

“Ask my permission?” Stiles asked blankly.

“Yes, Marks are very personal and intimate. Now that we are no longer worried about you, I will never touch them without your permission. I was bonded before my husband died, and I would have never appreciated someone touching my Marks without reason. It made my bond feel tight, anxious.”

Stiles stared at her. “What do you mean ‘make the bond feel anxious?’ You make it sound like a person.”

Dr. Braeden continued to regard him with calmness and patience.

“Your father was bonded before the loss of your mother, correct?”

Stiles felt a pang of something in his chest. “Yeah.”

“If I may suggest, ask him when he comes to pick you up later if you still do not understand. He may explain it better than myself.” She smiled that sure smile again and then stood quietly by the side of his bed.

Oh, right, she probably wants an answer.

“Umm, sure, you can touch my Marks.”

“Thank you so much, Mr. Stilinski. I apologize if it is uncomfortable,” she said smoothly as she put on a pair of latex gloves and moved toward the bandages under that horrible hospital gown she had him in.

She carefully pushed the gown down on his chest and up on his arm and slowly removed the bandages. Each bandage, once freed, revealed raw skin with red marks starting to crust over.

Stiles started at them in fascination, despite himself. He couldn’t clearly see the one that flowed along the underside of his clavicle like a vine or the one that was more in the sternum area closer to the heart that looked more like an organized symbol. He’d need a mirror to get the full effect. But he knew enough about Marks to know they were larger than normal. Definitely larger than the scar on his dad’s back.

The one of his forearm, however, he had a perfect view of. It was an intricate design of lines that almost looked like some kind of maze—and it was larger than even the other two marks.

Something in Stiles’ head ticked forward and he began to wonder—wasn’t three a lot more Marks than usual…

He opened his mouth to say something, ask the thousands of questions that exploded suddenly in his mind, when Dr. Braeden sighed.

“Amazing,” she breathed, “absolutely amazing.”

She reached down and gently touched the mark on his arm.

Stiles was suddenly filled with nausea, the same that he had felt at the Hale house, and there was a flood of unease and all he could think was that only Derek should do this…

Stiles jerked his arm back quickly and looked to Dr. Braeden, who didn’t look very surprised. “Sorry, I…I don’t think I’m going to need my dad to explain anything,” he said miserably.

Could he please repeat? This whole thing is bullshit. He was obviously crazy bonded to some guy who didn’t even want him.

Dr. Braeden just smiled that same smile and replaced his bandages, careful to avoid the Marks.

“Your father brought you some clothes while you were out,” she said, pointing to a chair in the corner with a small stack of clothes. “If you don’t mind, Mr. Stilinski, would you please get dressed and signal for the nurse? You, Mr. Hale, and I have a very important meeting in about fifteen minutes about your bond. It will probably last about an hour and then you will be free to go.”

And then there was that damn smile again as she left as quietly as she had entered.

Stiles sat frozen for a second, too overcome with shock and questions. There was so much he wanted to say. Dr. Braeden was lucky he didn’t have the energy to blather. And then his normal jitteriness returned and he jumped up to get dressed back in human clothes for basically the biggest meeting of his life. The meeting that Dr. Braeden had spoken of like it was nothing more than a little chat and then he could continue on as normal. Little chance of that.

Stiles finished carefully pulling on his shirt and then groaned into his hands. Why didn’t Scott just listen to his advice and avoid that party like the plague? He had had a damn good video game night set up, too.

Well, Stiles Stillinski was fucking awesome, and if anyone could deal with this shit, it was him. He could research the shit out of it, at least. Stiles walked towards the wall and pushed the small button for the nurse.

Let’s get this show on the road.

● ● ●

Stiles hadn’t paid much attention to the standard hospital room that he had been placed in to recover, but as the nurse (who was definitely not Mrs. McCall) led him into a small consultation room in an area of the hospital he was unfamiliar with, he began to observe more closely.

This section of the hospital seemed quieter, more private somehow.

The room was painted a light, neutral color and the décor appeared to be trying to give the impression of a normal living room, rather than a typical hospital room. Over a large window on the right, there were lightly striped curtains and below the window was a soft green couch. The walls were covered with what appeared to be landscapes interspersed between an alarmingly large number of pictures of different couples. In the middle of the room stood a beautiful wooden desk, in front of which Dr. Braeden was leaning against and behind which another doctor he didn’t know sat in a plush chair. In front of the desk sat two cozy chairs, the same soft green as the couch. Stiles could see the back of Derek’s head over the top of one of the chairs, indicating he was the last to join this little shindig.

Both doctors smiled at Stiles as he made his way into the room and toward the unoccupied chair. It appeared that Dr. Whoever had perfected that same smile as Dr. Braeden. Maybe it was a prerequisite for the Bonding residency.

As Stiles settled into the chair, he diligently ignored the man next to him.

Dr. Braeden began, “Mr. Hale, Mr. Stilinski—”

“Call me Stiles,” Stiles blurted out.

Stiles could feel Derek’s glare being turned toward him.

Dr. Braeden smirked. “Would you mind, Mr. Hale, if I called you Derek, as well?”

Derek seemed to grunt out an affirmative.

Dr. Braeden turned slightly and gestured to the woman behind the desk. “This is Dr. Morrell,” she introduced. Dr. Morrell tipped her head toward them in response. She was dark-skinned, like Dr. Braeden, with long straight hair, thick eyelashes, and a thin, toned build. She had dark eyes and an almost crafty expression.

Dr. Braeden turned back to focus on Stiles and Derek. “Dr. Morrell is the normal attending bond specialist here in Beacon Hills and the surrounding areas. However, I am a specialist who focuses on more advanced cases and have come at Dr. Morrell’s request to oversee your case and subsequent sessions before registration.”

Subsequent sessions? Stiles immediately opened his mouth to question what the hell that meant, when Dr. Braeden held up a hand.

“If you may, please refrain from any questions until after I give you a short break down about bonds, specifics about your bond, and the requirements for registration. After that, I will answer anything you are wondering to the best of my ability.”

Stiles saw Derek nod out of the corner of his eye and then replicated the action.

God, this whole ordeal was making Stiles freak out. He began to bob his leg up and down and twitchily played with his fingers. Stiles had barely had time to fully wrap his mind around this situation and now they were talking about things like registration. With a specialist for fucking advanced cases. He felt jittery and unfocused, like days before a test when he’s forgotten his Adderall.

“Now,” Dr. Braeden started, “the basics I’m going to go over I’m sure you know the majority of—especially you, Derek, since you’ve been through college—”

“Excuse me,” Derek said gruffly and turned suddenly to Stiles and slammed his hand down on Stiles’ leg, holding it still. Stiles flipped his head irritably to look at Derek.

Derek look exasperated and said in an even more exasperated tone, “Could you goddamn calm down? I am never going to be able to sit through this while feeling your ridiculous levels of anxiety the whole time. And stop moving your leg, you’re practically jumping up and down.”

Stiles stared at him incredulously.

Dr. Braeden and Dr. Morrell just seemed mildly interested.

“Look, you ass—”

“Boys, please,” Dr. Braeden said with a slightly raised voice. “I know this can be a difficult transition, but let’s remain civil. I suppose before I begin with my introduction, I can ease in with a question.”

Stiles and Derek grudgingly turned their attention back toward her.

“Do you feel the emotions of the other person?”

Stiles paused for a moment. Now that she mentioned it, he could feel an undercurrent of something, something he automatically knew was projected from Derek. But, before he could come up with a way to express this other than saying “kind of,” Derek immediately spoke.

“Yes.”

“Distinctly?” Dr. Braeden asked.

Derek paused and then almost tonelessly recited, “About fifteen minutes ago, he was sleeping or something. And then it was shock, curiosity, confusion, frustration, curiosity again, then anxiety, then anger.”

Stiles stared at him again.

“Stiles?” prompted Dr. Braeden

“Uhh…kind of?” Apparently he wasn’t going to get any better than that. “I feel a general idea, I guess…but nothing so…specific.” It almost made him feel guilty for some reason.

Dr. Braeden hummed appreciatively and then said quietly, “Very interesting, that explains some things…”

Well, at least someone was getting some marvelous clarity.

“As I was saying earlier, I’d like to begin in some basics. I’m sure you know the majority of the population does not bond, but there are still a great deal of people who do. The typical time frame is as follows—people begin to feel the bond pulls all around them around age nineteen and then they fade around age twenty four. This age range is why bonding is so often considered a college experience. However,” Dr. Braeden turned her attention more toward Derek as she continued, “there are plenty of situations outside of this range. I personally consider anything from fifteen to thirty years old perfectly normal.”

“When you bond, you are intricately tying yourself to another person. You have no control over who you bond with and there is no breaking bonds, unless maybe a Class I minor. Even then, the bond is never truly broken.”

Dr. Braeden paused and started hard at Stiles and Derek as if wishing to convey that this is a point she hoped they paid attention to.

And there was the answer to one of Stiles’ top five questions.

“Every bond is unique,” she continued, “but in general there are shared feelings, shared health (usually in the form of faster healing and stronger immunity), and a general sense of each other’s presence. We think that bonds are our bodies’ way of becoming more balanced. To help fill the parts of ourselves that are missing and to encourage and push us in ways that we ourselves normally wouldn’t.”

Bullshit. There is no way Derek Hale is going to balance him. Maybe drive him crazy, but…

“There are six classes. Classes I through V are further divided into subclasses, major and minor. Now, I won’t go into all of the semantics of how we decide how a bond is labeled, but Class I’s are the weakest, often with one small Mark and milder bondings, and Class V’s are some of the strongest, often with one or two large marks and more intense bondings.”

Dr. Braeden eyed them both carefully. “You are none of these classes. Your bond is the sixth classification—”

“Oh my god,” Stiles couldn’t help but moan, “we are crazy bonded. I knew it.”

Derek just set his face into an even deeper, angry, despondent glare. He looked like he was gritting his teeth away to nothing.

Dr. Braeden gave Stiles the same look Mr. Harris did when Stiles has interrupted class. It was enough to stop his outward moaning, but he was still groaning internally, damnit.

“The sixth classification is Class X.”

“We are the X-Files,” Stiles murmured.

Dr. Braeden seemed to have decided to ignore him and continued on, “There are only five cases of Class X bonds in the United States, of which you are the newest.”

She surveyed them with a fondness that Stiles didn’t really think they deserved at this point.

“You are possibly my new favorite case since my only other Class X that wasn’t registered just had their Registration Day. They were another male couple—”

Stiles saw Derek bristle a little at that classification.

“—but they were both in high school in Lawrence, Kansas. At opposite ends of the social caste system, typical.” She shook her head and seemed to smile at some joke Stiles missed.

“Class X is a bond so tight and strong that we don’t really understand them. They tend to grow stronger as time goes on. The couple I just spoke of began as a Class V major that continued to grow until they were the strongest bond in the country. If we subdivided Class X, they would be Class X major.”

She brought her hands together, interdigitated her fingers, and gave them that intense stare again.

“Yours is stronger. It is undeniable. Even the moment of your bond taking place was the most extreme we’ve ever documented. We don’t really know the implications of your bond. If I had control over the system, you would be a new Class. So,” she said slowly, “I would think it’s very important for you both to be very cautious and feel out your limits. You need to be understanding of each other, hard as that may be. I suggest staying in close proximity and learning about each other and what the bond needs—”

“I can’t,” Derek interjected. “I don’t live in Beacon Hills anymore, I live two hours away. And traveling is a part of my job, I leave to go out of town every few weeks.”

“My suggestion is that you find a way to work this out.”

Derek’s face, if possible, seemed to grow even cloudier at this apparent lack of sympathy.

“Class V bonds often produce physical effects—usually minor headaches, nausea—when the individuals in a bond go certain distances away from each other. I can only hypothesize what the effects will be for the two of you. That is why I have suggested close proximity.”

Stiles felt like, for the second time today, that he had been struck numb. This was definitely reaching the level of too much.

“My final comments about your bond are about your Marks. There are three, as I am sure you have become aware. This is highly unusual.”

No shit, Sherlock. This whole situation was unusual.

“The role of Marks is unique to each bond. I’m sure you will discover yours.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. Well, wasn’t that cryptic? But whatever, research was his forte. Research was his bitch. Maybe Google could give him some damn answers about this mess.

“We’ll go over the particulars of how to register closer to the date, but for now, know that registration is when you receive all of the legal benefits that come with bonding. At this point, you only really have control over the other’s medical situation if the other were to become incapacitated. Since you are tied together, this cannot be denied to you. Anything else, including your distinction bracelet, will be received on your registration day about nine months from now. It is normally six, but Class X requires more time by law.”

Registration Day: a.k.a. the future worst day of Stiles’ life.

Dr. Braeden suddenly rolled her eyes. “I think it’s ridiculous, myself. You should be able to register the day after it happens—what are you going to do, get cold feet at the alter?” She rolled her eyes again. “Stupidity. But, you’ll meet with me here once a month just for us to monitor any dangers, see how you are transitioning, and talk through any complications. Finally, before you go and try to sort through all of the information I just threw at you, it is imperative that I inform you of the privacy clause. Stiles in underage—”

Another uncomfortable shift from Derek.

“—so that makes this trickier anyways, but besides that, it is standard protocol that as few people are told about the bond as possible; or, if the Marks are seen, the details are not divulged. At least until registration day. It allows a more private development of the bond. I’m going to insist that you uphold this.”

Anddd—there is that stare again.

“You are allowed to tell your parents and I am going to say only one friend, please.”

That would be Scott, obviously.

“Derek, your sister and Dr. Krasikeva obviously know, but the situation was dire and I won’t limit you to them. You still may speak to a close friend.”

Stiles assumed Derek’s shrug was a grateful one.

“I think this is especially important for you, Stiles. High schoolers can be cruel when they are jealous or don’t understand something. I’m sure you know this.”

Being at the bottom of the high school food chain, yeah, he was pretty aware of this, thanks.

“I am aware that unbonded people, especially young teenagers, call this ‘The Curse.’”

Dr. Braeden looked at them now with a softness in her eyes. Stiles felt a deep undercurrent of feeling from Derek. He had been able to tune out a lot of the emotions bleeding over the bond, but this one was more consuming.

“It is a not a curse. We love who we love for a reason. We bond with whom we bond for a reason.”

Stiles saw Dr. Braeden shift one of her hands to place her fingers over a scarred Mark on the top of her other hand, close to the wrist. She had one other on her neck that extended just over the collar of her white coat.

“This is now your journey to get to know one another and I suggest you take off on it running. Fighting it will just make this unnecessarily difficult for you both. Here is my card; call me if you have any questions, concerns, etc.” Dr. Braeden handed them each a crisp black and white business card.

“Do you have any questions?”

Stiles decided that getting out of this room and trying to process was more important than any questions he had at this point. He shook his head vehemently.

Shit, he deserved some curly fries after all this. But, then his dad would want some, and he definitely couldn’t have any—oh, god, he’d have to talk about this with his dad. That was going to be so horribly awkward.

“No,” Derek said quietly.

Dr. Braeden and the ever silent Dr. Morrell smiled at them both as if this was the expected response.

“Well then,” Dr. Morrell said suddenly, also holding out cards for them both to take, “good luck.”

● ● ●


 

“Set me as a seal upon thy heart, As a seal upon thine arm: For love is strong as death; Jealousy is cruel as Sheol; The flashes thereof are flashes of fire, A very flame of Jehovah.”

-Song of Solomon 8:6

 

Chapter Text

Derek sat miserably at the kitchen bar in Boyd’s apartment clutching a beer like a lifeline.

“My life is ruined.”

Boyd didn’t hold back an eye roll. “Your life is not ruined, Derek.”

Derek gave him a hard look.

“Well, I’m not going to lie and say that this isn’t damn complicated. But your life certainly isn’t over,” Boyd said in a sympathetic voice.

Derek placed his beer down hard on the counter and said agitatedly, “I have fucking bonded with a fucking teenage boy. Complicated doesn’t even begin to cut it.” He paused for a second. “And I know I’ve lost Paige.”

Boyd’s faced softened considerably and he placed a hand consolingly on Derek’s shoulder. “Man, for that part of the situation, I cannot imagine what it is like for you—or for Paige. If Erica was all of a sudden taken from me, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Boyd patted his shoulder gently and then continued, “As for how the bond feels, I can’t say too much to that either. I obviously don’t know what it feels like, and the closest I’ve really come to it was my grandparents. But as for the boy stuff, I think we can at least talk that out.”

Derek took a swing of beer and then put his head and his hands, groaning, “Seriously, Boyd?”

Boyd stepped back from Derek’s shoulder, went around to the other side of the kitchen counter, and gave Derek an evaluating look. “Yeah, man, seriously. First off, there’s nothing wrong with being gay or bisexual—”

“I know there is nothing wrong with it,” Derek growled around his beer bottle.

“Yeah, I know. You just don’t want anything to do with it because you want to be the guy with Paige who marries her and has two kids and lives in a house with the metaphorical white picket fence. There’s nothing wrong with being that guy, but you’re not that guy. I don’t think you’re gay, but do you remember when you told me in the seventh grade that you thought the Parrish kid in our class was cute?”

Derek could feel the tips of his ears beginning to burn scarlet.

“Yeah, I haven’t forgotten,” Boyd said drily. “It wasn’t a big deal to me then and it isn’t a big deal to me now.”

Derek groaned again. How the hell did he remember that?

“I’m just saying, man, that this isn’t a part of yourself to be ashamed of. I know that it may be difficult—I’m not saying you have to adjust in two seconds, but it must a part of yourself worth exploring or you wouldn’t have bonded the way you did,” Body said steadily. “And if we are talking about the same kid, Sheriff Stilinski’s son, right?”

Derek nodded slightly. “I saw him get into the Sheriff’s cruiser when we were leaving the hospital.”

“Right, well, then we’re talking about the same kid—kind of slight and gangly? Parrish was totally like that when we were in school. I’m just saying, I think you might have a type—”

Oh, god, enough of this.

“Okay,” Derek hissed out, cutting Boyd off. “I acknowledge the fact that I’ve always admired a certain type of guy. I’ll accept the damn bisexual label if you want. I just…just didn’t ever think this was the way my life would pan out,” he ended gloomily.

“I don’t think anyone really expects to bond, you always figure it’s something that happens to someone else.”

Why in the hell couldn’t it have happened to someone else?

“Can we just stop talking about this for now?” Derek asked as he violently rubbed his hands over his face.

Boyd held up his hands as if in a signal of retreat. “Sure, man, I’ll let it be. Just one more question—what did you think of the Stilinski kid?”

Derek wanted to say that he had a stupid name and stupid fucking hipster glasses, and the kid was obviously a nerd who radiated too much energy, when he suddenly felt a wash of warmth brush gently through the bond—Stiles was content, so much so that it was flowing over Derek’s own unhappiness—

“He has a cute nose,” Derek said through the openings between his fingers. He immediately scrunched his own nose up. Jesus, did he really say that?

Boyd just continued to look at him, unfazed. “Again, Derek, it isn’t something to be embarrassed about. It’s just you. And once you are able to, there are bigger issues with the bond I think you need to worry about.”

Like how the kid was seventeen and definitely underage? And in fucking high school? Like how Derek had a whole life in Sacramento and a good job that he was just supposed to just drop and suddenly pick back up in Beacon Hills?

“I thought we were done talking about this?”

Boyd held his hand up again, “Alright, man, that’s cool. I talked way more than I normally like to anyways.” Boyd smirked at him a little. “Also, Erica is going to be home soon, so I’d suggest making yourself scarce soon unless you want the truth of your pity party dragged out of you.”

Derek knew Erica well enough to know that she’d stop at nothing until she knew exactly what she wanted to know. He shivered a little at her terrifying resolve.

“Yeah, I’d rather avoid her. It’s almost seven anyway, I’m meeting Paige soon,” he said quietly.

Boyd gave him another sympathetic look as Derek pushed his beer away, slid off of the kitchen stool, and began to make his way toward the door. Boyd patted his shoulder—he had always been such a good, steady friend to Derek.

“Call me if you need anything, man. I’m here for you.”

Derek made his way down to his Camaro and tried not to think about the life-shattering conversation that he was bound to have in a few minutes. Paige was a doctor who constantly worked with strengthening and supporting bonded couples; there was no way that she would do anything to interfere now that Derek was bonded himself. That’s just how Paige was.

At least when his mother had come to pick him up from the hospital, Talia had just looked at him sadly and said, “I’m here when you’re ready to talk.” Derek had appreciated her decision not to pry—he had already maxed out on the amount of time he was comfortable talking about his feelings after a small conversation with Boyd and couldn’t imagine having the strength to talk to Paige if he had been forced to evaluate the situation with his mother as well.

Derek pressed the top button on the car remote and heard the click signifying opening locks. He opened the door, slid into the front seat, and froze. He didn’t want to do this.

This was like willingly walking in front of a firing squad and giving the signal to fire.

Suddenly, he felt that small brush of warmth again across the bond. Derek had been resolutely ignoring the wave after wave of emotion he sensed flowing from Stiles. The kid felt too damn much. His emotions jumped so quickly, and Derek couldn’t handle that right now—he had his own shit to deal with.

But this warmth was different from the other emotions…it was gentle, and felt like home. Something about it seemed to give Derek’s muscles the spark they needed to contract, and he put the keys in the ignition, started the car, and headed toward Paige.

● ● ●

Paige was sitting at a small table on the edge of the deserted park located a small ways from the Reserve. When they were teenagers at Beacon Hills High School, the whole crew of them used to come up here and hang out, taking advantage of the usual emptiness of the place. Derek had so many memories at this park: carefully holding Paige’s hand, Boyd and Erica flirting around each other, sneaking a couple of his parent’s beers here with Boyd, Erica insisting they all get on the swings, the laughing and talking of the other friends who they were no longer close to, but remembered fondly. Paige had asked to meet at a neutral location and suggested the park, but now that Derek was here, he realized this certainly didn’t feel neutral.

As Derek walked forward, he noted the softness of her face, the dark hair blowing slightly in the wind, her dark eyes focused on something in the distance, her ankles crossed over each other, and her hands gently clasped in her lap.

She looked as ordinary as normal, and yet seemed completely different. She looked distant, like something you would run toward in a dream and never reach.

The crunch of Derek’s feet in the grass must have reached her ears because Paige suddenly turned in his direction and focused on his approaching form. She smiled her soft smile as he came forward.

And so the end began with a smile.

“Derek,” she said in greeting and stood to wrap her arms around him in a hug.

“Hi, Paige,” he said quietly, hugging her back cautiously. Normally, at this point he would kiss her, but he didn’t think that was an option any more. He felt awkward in a way that he hadn’t felt for a long time around Paige.

The awkwardness continued to stretch into the silence that settled over them as they both took a seat at the table.

Paige seemed to be the first to be unable to stand the silence as she sighed.

“Are you okay, Derek?”

No. No, not at all.

“I’m fine.”

“I don’t mean about the whole thing, I know that’s nothing ‘okay’ can cover—I mean physically. I was pretty scared when you bonded.”

“I’m okay.” Derek itched to scratch at the bandages covering the newly formed Marks.

“And Stiles?” Paige prompted. “I was really worried about him, and they told me that he made a full recovery, but I had wanted to check on him before he was discharged. I just never got a chance.”

Paige and Stiles couldn’t be in the same room. Last time they were together, the strongest bond in the country was formed. Put them together again and it would probably be like two universes colliding.

“He’s fine.”

“How has he been since your meeting with Dr. Braeden and Dr. Morrell? Are there any strange effects with the bond?”

Considering Derek hadn’t said a word to Stiles since before the meeting was over, he didn’t know how to answer those questions. Best to just remain silent.

Paige began to frown a little. “Have you talked with him at all?”

“No,” Derek said timidly, afraid of the storm he knew was coming.

“You need to at least text him, Derek.”

Text him about what? Oh, hey, you know this shitty bond thing— let’s grab a beer and chat about it. Oh, wait, you have four more years, make that a Coke.

“I didn’t get his number.”

Paige stared at him with disbelief. Derek figured after all this time she should have known better than to have such high hopes of him in a situation like this.

“He certainly didn’t ask for mine either,” Derek responded moodily.

“Derek, you are pouting like a teenager. And I don’t think that you really understand this situation,” Paige said, beginning to sound upset.

“Dr. Braeden explained—”

“No, that’s not what I mean.” Paige took a breath. “I deal with bonded couples all day, Derek. She probably told you the basics and all of the things of surface value. I doubt she explained the importance of the bond because that is something that you learn, not something you explain. I interact with these people every day—I know how precious it is.”

Derek watched as Paige’s eyes began to become glassy with unspilled tears.

God, had his life actually been happy a couple of days ago?

“That’s why I know your bond is important. And everything about your bond is so strong. You remember how people bonded in college?”

Derek nodded lifelessly.

“Then you know how strange your bonding was. Bond selection usually take time, with a great deal of interaction, conversation, touch. The Marks, in turn, slowly start to cut the surface of the skin. A bonding typically takes about a day. People don’t just look across rooms and bond like you and Stiles did. As a doctor, your bonding was one of the most amazing and beautiful things to witness, watching it develop so strongly. I’ll probably never see anything like it again. As your girlfriend,” Paige whispered, tears now spilled from her eyes, “it was the hardest thing to ever see.”

“I’m sorry,” Derek spoke quietly. It was fucking inadequate, but eloquence wasn’t going to happen right now.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” she said hurriedly, reaching across the table to squeeze his uninjured arm which he had placed on the surface. “I just need you to understand. I need you to understand why I need you to promise me that you are going to try. I know how you cut yourself off emotionally, but you have to promise me not to do that to Stiles. I need you to do what is best for you and for Stiles. Just promise; please, Derek, promise.”

Derek couldn’t do much more in that moment then murmur, “I promise.”

“And,” Paige continued bravely, “I love you, Derek. You know that. I will probably always love you and will always be your friend.” She took a stuttering breath. “But, I need to not be in your life right now. It’s not fair to you, and it’s certainly not fair to Stiles. I can’t get in the way of your bond development. I would never forgive myself. So, please let this be as easy as possible.”

Derek remembered Paige’s face the other night, the sadness in her face. Make this easy for me.

“I’m going to go to your house and get my things on my own. I’ll leave the key in that little pot on the back porch. I’m very thankful that we procrastinated choosing whose place to live in, it makes this a little easier.”

Derek didn’t quite agree.

“You’re just being selfless,” Derek said quietly.

Paige gave a small laugh that was devoid of any humor that became a half sob. “No, Derek. No. Don’t say this is because I’m selfless. It’s because I’m selfish. I love you, Derek. We’ve been together a long time and I want what is best for you, which is why I’m doing this—but, I don’t think I can watch this unfold. It will hurt too much. That isn’t your fault or Stiles’ fault, it’s just the way it is. I’m not strong enough.”

Paige paused a moment as they both took in her words. “I’m still going to be a bridesmaid in Laura’s wedding, if that’s okay with you. She and I talked about it, and she is still one of my closest friends—”

“God, Paige, of course. Just…of course.”

Paige looked relieved and looked down at her hands in her lap. “I really want to be there for her, thank you,” she said before murmuring, “Thank god Laura forgot her wedding book and had to turn around that night. I have no idea how I would have dealt with you both by myself.”

She then looked up at Derek with a steady gaze. “Marks usually don’t develop near the heart. We think it’s some kind of defense mechanism, to avoid tying another person with so vital an organ. But yours are so close. You have a love waiting which has no built in hesitation; that’s pretty amazing.”

As Paige began to stand from the bench, Derek realized that she meant for this to be the end of the conversation. To walk away. He quickly reached into his pocket and extracted two small, black boxes and placed them on the table. Inside were the rings they had bought together before their intended vacation.

“These are yours,” he said as he slid them across to her.

Her eyes flitted down to the boxes and surprise filled her face. “No, Derek, I can’t take these from you. Please return mine and get your money back.” She pushed them both back his way. “And as for your band…you may want to save it for Stiles.”

Derek knew his face lit up with disbelief, despite his efforts to keep it neutral.

Paige shrugged and said, “I’ve seen enough of these relationships to know that the post-registration vacation is often used for proposals.”

Post-registration vacation? Fuck, who came up with this stuff?

Paige stood fully this time and took a couple of steps toward a very still Derek. She carded her fingers very gently through his hair and then bent down to give him a small, chaste kiss. She straightened and said, “He plays lacrosse, did you know that?”

No, Derek didn’t, and he also didn’t know how on earth Paige had gathered this information.

“There is a practice of in a couple of days after their first day of school. Would you go watch?”

He sighed. “Maybe.”

She gently brushed through his hair again and said, “Remember what you promised me.” She stepped away. “And, Derek, I know I said I wanted to step back for now, but please—if you or Stiles ever have any questions or need anything for the bond, I’m always here for you both. Always.”

And then she was turning around and making her way through the empty park, past the rusted swing set, quickly moving out of Derek’s sight, just as if she was nothing more than one of his other faded memories of this place.

● ● ●

“Man, this is crazy!”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “I don’t know if ‘crazy’ quite covers it. How about ‘fucking horrendous mess?’ Or we could go with ‘disaster of the ages?’ Or ‘how to bond yourself to a walking death glare!’”

“Death glare?” Scott asked, confused.

Stiles just threw himself on the bed and buried his face in his arm. “God, I’m going to be a virgin forever!”

Now it was Scott’s turn to roll his eyes. “I feel like that might be an exaggeration, Stiles.”

“You had Allison and now you have Kira, so you really can’t talk, dude. That ship sailed a long time ago—I would know, I have to hear all about it.”

“And now you have Derek.”

Stiles flipped onto his back and spread his arms wide across the bed. “Yeah, no, I mean, I’m bonded to the guy, but I don’t really have him. Trust me, it’s a no go. And I can’t pursue anyone at school because I’d feel like I’m doing something wrong. Plus, Derek looks like the type of guy to be super territorial; he’d probably tear someone’s throat out just for looking at me.”

Scott gave him a puppy-dog look of sympathy.

Stiles sighed deeply. “Well, at least he’s hot, dude. Because there would have been zero justice in this situation if he hadn’t been out of this world hot. So, I mean, at least he’ll be good to look at. He’d probably look even better if he didn’t look so pissed off all the time, but…”

“At this point, when I picture the guy in my head, I’m seeing the head of a wolf on top of a ridiculous body.”

“Yeah, a sour wolf,” Stiles said sarcastically. “Here, I’m sure a little Facebook stalking of Cora will give us what we need for a visual.”

Stiles leapt up from the bed and quickly slid into his desk chair before flipping his laptop open. He clicked on the internet icon, logged into Facebook, and typed Cora’s name in the search bar. Cora’s profile picture was one of her and Landon at some party that Stiles and Scott probably hadn’t been invited to, but her cover photo was one of her family on what appeared to be a hiking vacation. They seemed to have reached the top of a cliff and had lined up with Derek’s parents in the center, Derek on his father’s side, and Laura and Cora on their mother’s. Derek looked the happiest that Stiles had ever seen him, smiling brightly and seeming totally at ease. It was almost unsettling to see his face with a smile—but, Stiles had been right, Derek was somehow even hotter when he didn’t look ready to kill someone.

Stiles belatedly wondered who had taken the picture.

“Yeah, he looks like he would have girls all over him. He has to do weights or something.”

Stiles resisted rolling his eyes again. “We definitely haven’t chatted about our extra circular activities yet, Scotty, but I’ll be sure to let you know.”

Scott shrugged and sat down on Stiles’ bed. “I mean, I guess it could be worse, Stiles. I’m sure it will all work out somehow.”

“You’re always such an optimist, Scott, it’s one of the things I love about you. I don’t agree with you, but you know, I appreciate the sentiment.”

“I don’t know, man, I mean, I don’t really know anyone else who is bonded. Except I knew your dad was,” Scott said before he looked at Stiles curiously. “What did your dad say when he found out?”

Stiles flopped back in the desk chair, flailing his head back a little. “Dude, it was so awkward. You know my dad and I aren’t good with talks like that. He isn’t happy, you know, but there’s nothing he can really do about it. Except maybe threaten Derek to feel a little better. He basically just told me that he’s been there and if I ever need to ask any questions, he’s here. Then he just patted me with that sad look on his face and offered to get food. So, of course, we went down to the diner, grabbed curly fries, and then we came home—end of story.”

Scott just gave him a sympathetic look. Scott was so good with the big, innocent eyes.

Stiles sighed and rubbed his face roughly. “I’ve basically been hibernating the past couple of days, playing Wolfenstein to try to see why you think this one is better than the old one, and just, you know, letting my brain try to freaking adjust to all this bond stuff.”

“Yeah, man, thank god your dad called me and told me you were sick, otherwise I would have been freaking out. After a while, I couldn’t find you at the party and at first thought you had hooked up with that Heather girl from your English class last year—”

Stiles snorted. As if he’d be that lucky.

“But then I couldn’t get in touch with you at all the next day and started to get worried.”

“Sorry, dude, it was just too crazy.” Stiles moved his fingers to his temple and rubbed gently. “And now I have this headache that won’t go away— at about three o’clock this morning, I came to terms with the fact that it’s because Derek Hale isn’t right fucking next to me.”

“Are you going to be okay to go to school? What about lacrosse?” Scott asked.

“No clue, dude. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”

Scott shrugged again and hopped off the bed to grab a Playstation controller and offer it to Stiles. “Video games?”

Stiles smirked and snatched the controller. Scott was the most awesome best friend ever—he knew how to help Stiles work through just about anything. “Video games,” Stiles replied.

● ● ●

Scott and Stiles had played games until about ten o’clock when Mrs. McCall had called and informed Scott that summer was over and it was time to come home. Stiles had managed to get a few fitful hours of sleep before waking up and carefully choosing an outfit to cover the obvious bandages and, subsequently, the Marks beneath them.

God, how was he going to change for lacrosse? Oh, shit, he was going to have to play in the long-sleeve practice uniform. In this heat. Who would believe he actually wanted to do that? Everything about the bond was getting more inconvenient by the second.

Not to mention the damn headache seemed incapable of letting up. From what Stiles could gather on Class V and X bonds during his research hunt, if you multiplied the strength of his and Derek’s bond by the usual side effects, it was probably unlikely to ever let up unless he got substantially closer to Derek.

Stiles climbed out of his jeep once he made it to BHHS and was almost immediately intercepted by Lydia as he walked through the front doors.

“Stiles,” she said in greeting.

Stiles looked at her piercing stare and confident, no-nonsense stance. Oh, god, he couldn’t do this. She was going to read him like a book, and then she’d tell that douchebag Jackson, and he’d spread it to all of the lacrosse team, and—

“Lydia! Hey, Lydia, what’s up? Hey.”

Lydia cocked her head at him slightly. “Are you freaking out Stiles? You look like you are freaking out.”

“What? No, why would I be freaking out? I mean, there is literally no reason for me to be freaking out,” Stiles attempted to scoff.

Lydia didn’t look convinced. “Sure,” she said as she twirled a stray piece of red hair, “I’m sure I’ll just figure it out later.”

Stiles seriously hoped not.

Seeming to grow tired of their conversation, Lydia grabbed his arm and yanked him forward to walk toward the lockers. “I’m sure that you’ve heard about the partner assignment that we have to do for Richard’s advanced physics class. I wanted to let you know early that we are doing the project together. I have certain grades that I need to get, and I don’t really trust anyone else in our class to be competent enough.”

They had reached the lockers and Lydia released him to flick some hair behind her shoulder. She crossed her arms and looked him up and down. “Honestly, I’d question your ability too, but you are up for salutatorian after me so you’re the only option, really.”

“Plus, you know, we’re friends,” Stiles said wryly.

“That was a secondary component to my decision,” Lydia said with a smirk. “Speaking of, where did you disappear to at the party? You know I need some kind of stimulating conversation after being around Jackson’s friends for too long.”

Stiles was suddenly brought back to the reality of his situation after momentarily forgetting. “Oh, um, yeah, I…uh, got kind of sick.”

“Sick? Stiles you only had like one drink. I know you’re not that much of a light weight.”

“It was, uh, a different kind of sick,” Stiles said lamely.

Lydia’s expression was of total suspicion as she raised an eyebrow. “Okay, Stiles, seriously, what is going on?”

Stiles was saved from attempting to come up with any other excuses as the bell sounded throughout the hall.

“Oh, sorry, Lydia, got to hit first period! See you at lunch,” Stiles said as he hurriedly fled down the hall to slide into the seat next to Scott in English class. Scott gave him a grin and a hello and with curious eyes seemed to be ready to ask Stiles about the very topic he’d very much like to avoid. Uttering even a word about this at school would be too stressful—anyone could be listening, including the innocent-enough looking Danny who was seated behind Stiles. Stiles clasped Scott on the shoulder and said, briefly, “I’m fine, dude.”

The first day of class was never actually productive, just teachers trying to implement their status as head of the class and going one of two routes: the hard-ass or the best friend. And there were also syllabi. So many syllabi. Their new English teacher seemed to be going down the best friend road, and Stiles could pretty much assume that this class would take little effort.

Thank god, too, because that headache was even worse and paying attention was pretty much not going to happen.

The pain wasn’t overbearing, but it was a constant ache and then at intervals was sharp, like the tip of a needle that slightly pricked a finger. It was like there was a small fishhook fastened into the front lobe of his brain, which hurt enough, but someone also just kept tugging—and with each tug was the prick of the needle.Stiles moved through the day attempting to ignore it completely, or to at least not let it cause him to be in a haze all day long.

He must have been fairly successful in his attempts at normality because at lunch no one seemed to notice anything off, except, of course, for Lydia—her sharp eyes always noticed everything. It was how she was so calculating; not only was she smart enough to make everyone around her seem like intellectual plebeians, but she observed everything with a constant eye for potential strategy or weakness.

Seriously, was there any question as to why Stiles had had a crush on her for so long? She was a queen.

The only person who made a comment, however, was actually Isaac who, after pushing away his tray and making nauseated face, asked if the lunch special was making Stiles queasy too. Stiles managed out an affirmation and hoped that excuse might be able to carry through any potential lacrosse awkwardness as well.

After the school day came to a merciful close, the boys headed toward the locker room to get ready for the first lacrosse practice of the year. Just one, little practice and then Stiles could go home, down a bottle of Advil, and have a mini-pity party in private.

“It’s going to be a tough run for captain this year, but I’m feeling pretty confident,” Jackson said with a smirk as Danny pushed open the creaking locker room door.

Stiles rolled his eyes. Douchebag. The king of douchebags, actually.

“I don’t know, Jackson,” Danny said, “I’ve heard that there are a few new freshmen who are really good. And Landon did a summer league to keep in shape.”

Jackson scoffed. “No way is some freshman going to beat me out. And Landon? Yeah, he’s good, but I’m at least twice as good as he is.”

“Landon is really good, I saw some of his new moves at Cora’s party,” Scott said with a smile.

Jackson’s face turned thunderous, and he clamped his lips in a tight line. “Shut the hell up, McCall, no one asked you.”

The bickering continued as they opened up the lockers, but Stiles zoned out of the conversation to fall in a state of panic. He felt like the Marks were shining brightly through the bandages and his clothes, like everyone could see them and were just waiting for a sleeve to slip up so they could point it out. Stiles decided the only route was to quickly take off his plaid shirt and keep the long-sleeved undershirt as he threw on his practice jersey.

“You’re going to have heat stroke,” Danny said matter-of-factly next to him.

Jackson looked over at Stiles and smirked that model-douchenozzle smile. “I always knew you were modest and chaste, Stilinski.”

“I just have a penchant for layers,” Stiles said drily. Next to him, Scott seemed overcome with anxiety to look cool with everything and determinedly remained silent.

The door to the room suddenly busted open and Coach Finstock strode through, looking maddened. “Bilinski! McCall! Whittemore! Lahey! Mahealani! This isn’t a damn slumber party! Get your asses out of here and get to the field.”

“Yes, Coach,” they all mumbled in unison and began to head out to practice.

“Oh, and if you see Greenburg, tell him that I know it was his damn fault. I’m currently figuring out what meaningless task I’m going to assign as punishment!”

As they jogged out onto the field, Stiles began to feel something lighten in his chest. The headache began to fall to a small ache, and then, total relief as they arrived at the center of the field—the fishhook had been slipped out and a band aid slapped on.

God, Stiles had almost forgotten what his normal brain function felt like without pain. But that must mean…

As they began their drills, Stiles kept glancing around the field as he tossed the ball around and finally, at the very edge—there stood Derek Hale, leaning against a tree and looking unfairly beautiful.

Did he not realize that sitting on the edge of the trees watching them practice was screaming crazy stalker? He could at least come sit in the bleachers and look less creepy.

Stiles reluctantly felt a sense of appreciation. Even if Derek was hiding in the trees looking like a psycho murderer on the loose, Stiles could at least practice lacrosse without feeling ready to die. He felt a wave of strong relief and continued practice with an energy and determination that even seemed to catch Jackson’s attention. Once practice ended about an hour later, Stiles waited until the rest of the team made their way back to the locker room before saying his goodbyes to Scott and making his way over to Derek, who had remained faithfully by his tree the entire time. Stiles couldn’t have handled the anxiety of trying to change again anyway; heading straight for home would be a much better option. Derek would just be a small detour.

Derek raised an eyebrow at him as Stiles approached.

“Uh, hey Derek, what’s up? You know it’s kind of creepy, you lurking around the edge of the woods like that—”

“You’re not horrible. You’re not good, but you’re not horrible, either.”

Stiles sputtered slightly. “Uhh, what?”

“Why don’t you ever try to dodge and go to the left? You always go the right.”

Stiles blinked. “Have you been talking to Coach?”

Derek’s impassive face turned curious for a moment. “Where are your glasses? Are you blind out there? That would explain some things, anyways.”

Stiles attempted to not feel too affronted. “I have contacts, you moron,” Stiles said, “I just kind of hate contacts, man. So normally I stick with the glasses. Why, you have a fetish or something?” Stiles felt a soaring sense of triumph when Derek’s ears began to be tinged with pink.

Suddenly, Derek brought his palms to his face and shook his head. “Seriously, Stiles? You feel victorious for trying to embarrass me?

“I don’t think I tried, I think I did embarrass you,” Stiles said with a smirk. His face fell a little as he considered Derek’s statement. “But, can you really sense my feelings that strongly? Like you always know how I feel? God, that’s so fucking violating.”

“Trust me, I don’t enjoy it,” Derek said flatly. “I’ve mostly tried to ignore it. You feel too much.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry, man, I’ll get right on trying to suppress my emotions for you.”

Derek huffed and shot Stiles an agitated glare. “I didn’t come here to talk about this shit, I just…I had heard that you played lacrosse,” Derek said as if the words physically pained him to say, “and I think I could help you. Be better, at least.”

Stiles could feel his jaw hanging open slightly.

Did Derek Hale just offer to help him practice lacrosse? And spend voluntary time with a “high school fucking kid?”

“Are you serious?”

Derek just shrugged.

Stiles took that as a confirmation and stood for a moment in shocked silence. “Do you even know how to play lacrosse?”

Derek began to look exasperated. “Yes, Stiles. My senior year I was a co-captain. I had had enough of baseball and they had just started lacrosse here, so…” Derek shrugged again.

Something clicked in Stiles’ head and he did some fast math. “Were you the year we won State?”

“Yeah,” Derek said.

Stiles pushed a hand through his hair and considered the offer. Well, he was bonded to the guy. He was a co-captain on the State winning team, which means he had to at least be decent. Stiles looked at Derek’s built form—he was probably awesome, honestly. They should probably be meeting anyway to work out what all this was going to mean to them, and at least this would give the meetings a purpose for something other than awkwardly trying to talk it out. All of this, combined with the fact that Stiles felt vibrantly better than he had in the last several days, seemed to prompt him to quickly say, “Uh, then yeah, I guess. Yeah.”

Derek nodded. “When do you want to meet?”

Now it was Stiles’ turn to shrug. “I guess Saturday? I mean, that’s the only day that I don’t really have anything. Well, other than Friday, but Friday nights are kind of sacred, you know? Like Scott and I usually game a little, and we have lacrosse Monday, Wednesday, and Thrusday, so it’s kind of a rest day from that too. And I work Tuesday nights and Sunday morning. But uh, yeah. So, Saturday?”

Derek watched Stiles impassively through his speech and replied, “Saturday is fine.”

“Okay, cool.”

Derek nodded again and began to turn as if to lead them both toward the parking lot.

“Wait! Shit, hold on, let me go get my bag. Don’t go, you know, too far,” Stiles said a little desperately.

Derek looked at him with knowing eyes. “It’s hurting you.”

“Yeah,” Stiles said dejectedly, “it has kind of sucked ass, man.” Stiles ran back to the thankfully empty locker room, grabbed his bag, and then met back with Derek to head toward their cars.

Before the silence could get too heavy, Stiles turned toward Derek. “I would offer to return the favor…you know, tutor you in chemistry or something. But, I get a feeling those services are unnecessary.”

“I don’t know,” Derek said drily, “I got a C in chemistry in college, you may still be able to help me with a thing or two.”

“Something about you, though,” Stiles indicated Derek’s form by waving his hand up and down, “tells me you might need tutoring in awesomeness. Like Wolfenstein, Star Wars, and high fat diets.”

“Jesus Christ, I’ve seen Star Wars. Who hasn’t?”

“Scott,” Stiles muttered darkly.

“And,” Derek said smugly, “when you were, what, four or five and learning how to go to kindergarten—I was sneaking to Laura’s boyfriend’s house to play Return to Castle.”

Stiles found himself halting suddenly and stared at Derek, astonished.

“You do that a lot, you know,” Derek continued, “the staring thing.”

“Dude, how old are you?”

Return to Castle came out in the early 2000s, and Stiles obviously knew that Derek was older than him, but that would make him—

“Twenty-six.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles choked, “When I was almost eleven, you were already nineteen and in college!”

“Fuck, are you seriously going to do that?” Derek groaned. “You don’t need to make this worse by making it sound fucking creepy.”

“Dude, you’re the one who just said that I was five when you were sneaking out to play video games. Kind of started it. Besides,” Stiles smirked as they reached his jeep, “they all just say that age is just a number, right? And I’m almost eighteen, just another few months.”

Derek didn’t seem to be paying attention to him any more—he was too busy staring at Stiles’ jeep in nearly comical horror. Stiles could even feel it stretch across the bond.

“Is this seriously what you drive?”

“Yes!” Stiles said, offended. “You can talk bad about my age and glasses and lacrosse abilities, but you had better not say a fucking word about my jeep.”

“It looks ready to break down any second. This thing is a fucking death trap.”

“I said not a word!” Stiles shouted. “Dude, this is my baby, leave her the fuck alone. What the hell do you drive?”

Derek continued to stare at the jeep with extreme distrust as he pointed across the parking lot at a sleek, black Camaro.

Of fucking course he drives a Camaro.

“Whatever, dude, I mean, if I die in a horrendous car crash, then you’ll be free of the bond, so whatever, right?”

Stiles realized even before Derek froze that those words were probably just a choice example of his inability to think before he spoke. Stiles felt a flood of emotion so strong this time that he even was able to pick out the particulars: anger, unhappiness, horror, and confusion about those feelings.

Derek shot him an infuriated glare as he dropped his arm back down to his side.

Stiles felt his face began to get splotchy pink as he raised a hand to his hair and brushed through it nervously. “Sorry, dude.”

“Do you have a phone number?” Derek responded, seeming determined to ignore the previous comment.

“Oh, uh, yeah, what’s your number? I’ll text you and you can add me.”

Derek recited the number and Stiles added it in his contacts before quickly typing—

5:18 PM

>and now our phones r bonded too ;)

He hoped the smilely face was enough of an apology for his previous foot-in-mouth syndrome.

Derek opened the text message and appeared satisfied. They both then stood by the jeep awkwardly, realizing they needed to separate, but not really knowing how.

“Bye, Stiles” Derek stated abruptly, and Stiles watched Derek’s retreating form as he flipped around and made his way back to his car.

“Bye, Derek,” Stiles said quietly and he thought he felt the bond flicker in something very akin to distress. As Stiles clambered into his front seat, he saw the Camero drive away from the parking lot, and he felt the fishhook slowly slip back into his brain—and the ache returned.

● ● ●

Derek slipped through the backdoor into the hall and tried not the think about the last time he had made his way down the same hall with freshly cut Marks and supported by Paige’s shoulder. He had crashed at Boyd and Erica’s apartment the past few days to avoid the looming Hale family conversation he was doomed to be a part of soon.

(Erica had stared at him when she first saw him at the door and demanded to know why he wasn’t in Hawaii.

“Paige had a pretty big case come up and we have had to push it back a few days.” It had been close enough to the truth that Derek had managed to look fairly normal.

“Fuck, of all times! You need to have some serious marathon sex when you get there to make up for lost time,” Erica had said as she itched her pregnant belly.)

But, Derek could already feel that it was time to seek refuge at the Hale home—Erica seemed to be tuning into the fact that something was off and he wanted to avoid any probing questions. So, Derek made his way down the hall and into the main room before ascending the stairs. He made his way to the third door on the left—the room he hadn’t really called his in at least five years. Throwing his bag to the side, he sat on the bed before laying back and closing his eyes.

He felt about as numb as he had since Paige walked away from him at the park, but watching Stiles play lacrosse had brought him a kind of unexpected ease. Stiles was a gangly player, but he played with heart and intelligence—he just needed some work. Which, Derek supposed, was why it had been so easy to offer to help Stiles out as a way to ease into everything. And Derek had felt a sense of guilt—he had been able to feel how miserable Stiles had been all day at school, and he had been able to feel the pain. Derek didn’t really feel any significant pain of his own when they were apart, but he sensed how relentless Stiles’ hurting was. It made him extremely uncomfortable. Apparently, Dr. Braeden had been right about the whole proximity thing.

It was fucked up that Derek felt guilty for not constantly being right next to Stiles. Did this bond want them to have no privacy, no separate lives?

Derek thought back with a pang to Paige. I need you to do what is best for you and for Stiles.

It was so surreal not talking to her every day.

Derek suddenly heard the sound of doors closing and voices engaging in loud conversation. He sighed and made his way downstairs.

And so begins the onslaught.

Derek walked into the kitchen to see his parents unloading groceries as Laura showed Cora wedding things on her phone by the counter.

Cora looked up at Derek briefly and then did a sharp double-take.

“Derek?!”

“Hey, Cora.”

“What the hell are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in Hawaii,” Cora said confusedly.

Derek looked at his parents and Laura, who all seemed to be cautiously watching the scene in front of them. None of them, however, showed an inclination toward helping him out just yet.

“I know that. We aren’t going.”

“Why is something wrong? Is Paige okay?”

Derek shifted uncomfortably and crossed his arms. “Paige is fine.”

“Well, then what’s going on? Are you rescheduling? Because I mean—”

“Paige and I broke up,” he blurted out quickly.

All eyes moved to Cora as she froze.

“What?”

“Paige and I aren’t going to Hawaii, we aren’t getting engaged. We talked about it and…we agreed that we aren’t good for each other,” he finished lamely.

Anger flashed across Cora’s face. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Cora—” Talia finally spoke as she began to make her way to her youngest daughter.

“You’ve been together like ten years! She’s like my other sister! She’s in Laura’s wedding!”

“Paige is still going to be in my wedding,” Laura confided as she put a hand on Cora’s arm.

Cora jerked away. “Why would she after they broke up? How could you do this?” Cora inquired furiously, turning to Derek. “I know it has to be your fault and Paige is just doing whatever to make you happy!”

There was more truth to that statement than Derek wanted her to know.

“I love Paige! We all love Paige! How could you screw this up?” she continued hysterically. “She is the best you’d ever get, you’re such an asshole!”

Apparently the universe didn’t agree with the former statement when it bonded him to Stiles.

“She broke up with me,” Derek said, feeling like he was throwing Paige under the bus.

“Bullshit,” Cora scoffed. “She would never do that. You were just together at my party. She had picked out a ring and everything.”

“She did, Cora,” Laura said quietly. Talia laid a hand on Cora’s shoulder.

“This makes no sense,” Cora said tearfully.

Well, that was the truth.

Derek had spoken with his parents and older sister and they had all decided that the privacy clause should extend to Cora for as long as possible. She was in class with Stiles and even an unintentional comment to a friend or to Landon could make Stiles’ life worse than it needed to be right now.

“Paige and I love each other,” Derek said quietly. “She will always be my friend. But we can’t be more than that.”

“And she won’t drop out of our lives. Paige loves us too, she is still one of my best friends, and will be at all of the wedding stuff,” Laura supplied.

“Cora, you need to respect your brother and Paige’s decision. It was mutual and only they can know what is best for their relationship,” Talia said lightly from Cora’s shoulder.

Derek’s father Stephen remained silent from the sink and seemed too nervous to pitch in any comfort. Derek envied his ability to remain out of the line of fire.

“And,” Talia continued, “Derek is going to be staying with us for a while as he gets everything worked out.” Talia gave Derek a sympathetic smile.

“So, everyone knew about this but me?” Cora asked, angrily again.

“Cora, it’s—”

“I’m going upstairs,” Cora announced as she furiously pushed past Derek to stomp up the stairs.

“Well, that could have gone better,” Talia sighed as she moved to pat Derek on the arm gently. “I’ll talk to her.” Talia then made her way out of the kitchen.

Derek wearily took Cora’s empty seat at the counter.

“Thanks for all the help, Dad,” Laura said haughtily.

“I wasn’t touching that situation with a ten foot pole,” he replied as he resumed shelving the groceries.

Laura rolled her eyes. “And people wonder where Derek gets it from.” She turned toward Derek. “How did today go? Paige said you were going to see Stiles.” When she said “Stiles,” Laura lowered her voice dramatically. He felt a twinge of jealousy that Paige had confided in Laura.

“I got his phone number.”

“Well, at least that’s a start toward a date!” Laura sounded somehow amused, even after the horrific scene in the kitchen and the lack of humor in the entire situation.

“We’re bonded, not dating.”

“You had better watch how loudly you say that when Cora could walk back in at any minute,” Stephen commented mildly from in front of the refrigerator. Laura huffed.

Derek knew his father was just trying to get Laura off of his case, and he couldn’t appreciate it enough. Laura was not who he wanted to talk to about all this right now—she would just tease him the entire time.

“But, there’s more we need to talk about, just the four of us,” Stephen remarked lightly.

“Later,” Derek said. He pushed away from the counter and retreated back to his room. His conversation with Stiles had been child’s play compared to this.

The next morning, Derek woke from a fitful sleep at about six when he felt a surge of emotion from Stiles. Derek was too hazy with sleep to pinpoint the feeling, but he was jolted enough to be unable to go back to sleep. Derek stretched a little as he sat up in bed and proceeded to change into an old Berkeley t-shirt and an even older pair of running shorts from one of his drawers. Things would be better if he tried to keep something at least similar to his routine at home. He didn’t have access to the gym in Beacon Hills, but he could at least run around the Reserve. Derek carefully crept past Cora’s room, quietly made his way down the stairs, and out the backdoor. He began to jog as he neared the trees and he slowly felt the haze of sleep and stress slowly fade.

Running was simple. One leg in front of the other and deep inhales and exhales. There was nothing except the sharp contraction of muscles and the wonderful ache of activity. After a couple of miles, Derek felt lighter than he had since before Cora’s party. His mind was still an endless stream of thoughts about Paige, work, bonds, Marks, and Stiles—but it was a slower trickle, clearer.

He was able to think about Charlie. The dog had been put up in one of those kennels for until Derek got back from Hawaii. So, he’d have to go back to Sacramento and get him eventually—longer than a week and Charlie would be resentful for a while. There were so many loose ends that Derek needed to get sorted out. Especially with work—he had an assignment in Montana in a month and several California travels planned in the next few weeks. How was he supposed to do that and leave Stiles so far behind? The kid got sick when he was on the other side of small town USA, Beacon Hills. Derek could only imagine how bad it would be if he went a state over. But he liked his job and had worked damn hard to get to where he was in the company, so he wasn’t about to give that up like he’d unwillingly given up Paige.

After about four miles to a clearing and four miles back, Derek took a hot shower before scavenging through the drawers for more clothes left during summers in college. He desperately needed to go back to Sacramento—he had been living out of a small bag he’d brought for Cora’s party, borrowed things from Boyd, and old clothes. Derek pulled out his phone and saw a series of text messages from Stiles.

6:34 AM

Stiles Stilinski

>dude sry i freaked out this morning

>i thought all my project research got deleted

>my friend lydia would have murdered me

>but i thought about it later and i realized that you could prob feel that

>so sry

>and i’m not dead or anything

 

Derek rolled his eyes, feeling a sense of annoyance, mixed with blossoming fondness. Derek experienced a surge through the bond.

Well, at least the spaz didn’t lose the damn file.

Derek scrolled through his contacts and listened to the dial tone after selecting “Work Front Desk.”

“Speights Media, this is Meredith speaking,” said a voice dreamily on the other end.

“Hey, Meredith, this is Derek Hale.”

“Oh, hey, Derek! I thought you were supposed to be in Hawaii?”

“Could you forward me directly to Lynette?” Derek asked, ignoring her question.

He wasn’t quite sure how Meredith had gotten the front desk job—she was young and a little strange with short curly hair, but as much as she was in her own world, she managed all of the callers with ease and had perfected the art of inter-office messages, written or otherwise.

“She said no, didn’t she?”

“No, Meredith,” Derek sighed, “just transfer me.”

“Or you bonded.”

Derek, as he felt his jaw drop, had never felt more taken aback in his entire life, including the day he bonded. “What?”

“I had always sensed that you had a strong pull, like you were waiting for someone.”

Derek closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He focused on the dull pulse of the bond. It was like the fucking universe was having a field day with him the past few days.

“Meredith, just transfer me, damnit.”

“Okay, cool. So you did bond?”

“Meredith,” Derek growled.

“Transferring to Lynette Speight’s office,” Meredith said in a song-like voice.

Derek had gone to Berkeley for college because that’s the place he and Paige had both liked. She had always known that she’d be working toward medical school, and Derek decided to major in accounting. Derek liked to be left alone and numbers were the same thing over and over again; they were simple and constant. He ended up being good at it, and while Paige was in her first year of medical school at UC Davis, Derek got his masters and CPA. He had begun looking for a job in Sacramento so they could be close and almost immediately stumbled into an accounting job at Speight’s Media—a big-time, world-wide multimedia development company that had started in Sacramento and was based there. The position had been exactly what he wanted with good pay and a nice little cubicle.

The universe however, seemed incapable of letting Derek stay in his comfort zone.

After about his third week of working at the company, Derek had gotten up to fax some account numbers when he noticed everyone stiff and at attention. Noticing his confusion, the girl in the cubicle next to him whose name he hadn’t bothered to learn (she smiled too much, it was disturbing) had leaned over to whisper to him.

“Lynette Speights herself. At the end of every month, she comes to look over the books. She doesn’t trust anyone.” The girl had nodded solemnly as Lynette walked down the hall toward the exit and completely ignored all of the accountants as she complained loudly to her assistant.

“I hate that fucking PR guy. And that blond what’s-her-name bitch is not the face I want for this company—”

Derek had stepped back to move out of her way, and she had glanced at him for a second before freezing and then crowding into his space.

“Smile,” she had said in so demanding a tone that everyone in the accounting department stared at him worriedly.

Derek had been taken aback as fear for his job set in. He flashed his most charming smile, hoping it didn’t come out as a grimace.

“You’re perfect, look at those bunny teeth,” she had breathed. “What do you know about PR?”

“Nothing,” Derek had said confusedly. “I was just hired to accounting a few weeks ago.”

“That’s even better, a mind I can mold to my liking. You’ll learn after I help you,” she had said flippantly. “Macy over at that car company is going to trip over herself to buy whatever the hell you dangle in front of her.”

After a great deal of begging, Derek had been allowed to keep his accounting job, but had ended up as a face of the company, traveling to meetings and PR events every few weeks. The pay was incredible, but he was doing a lot more talking an anticipated. Lynette ended up loving him, probably because they shared similar personalities. She was no-nonsense and didn’t want to take anyone’s shit and liked consistency and quiet. She made Derek a head accountant, and now at the end of the month, he brought the numbers via flashdrive to her office personally. They skimmed them over and ate lunch together. This had been his routine for a little over three years.

The words “This is Lynette Speights” brought Derek out of his reverie.

“Lynette, this is Derek.”

“I know. What the hell are you doing calling me from your vacation? I can survive a week without you. Are you engaged to that girl yet?”

“I have a problem, Lynette,” Derek stated instead of answering her questions.

“What kind of problem?”

Derek paused. He had thought about coming up with an excuse, but this was Lynette, this was his job, this was the best way—fuck the privacy clause. “I bonded.”

“Oh, Derek. I’m sorry, I know—”

“It’s not that,” Derek mumbled, “I bonded Class X.”

“Class X? That’s a real thing?”

Yes, yes it was.

“The kid gets sick when I’m more than five steps away from him.”

Through her silence, Derek sensed Lynette’s dawning horror as he assumed the implication of his statement began to settle in.

“Fuck.”

Derek agreed.

“We’re doing a Skye conference call right now. I want to be able to see your face so you can’t lie to me. Tell me everything.”

So Derek did. He felt more exhausted at the end of the conversation than he had after his run this morning. They had spent hours discussing how to deal with the situation. Derek offered to let her let him go, but Lynette had sniffed, offended, and said there were too few people in this fucking place she liked to do something as asinine as that. His face was also something she didn’t want to share with competitors. Plus, she wasn’t getting sued for bonding discrimination.

In the end, the decision was he could continue to do his accounting work from a work laptop, which he could come pick up and bring back to Beacon Hills. For his meetings, he would only do local ones for a couple of months to gauge what the bond’s boundaries were. But, she still needed him for England in a few months—he agreed, considering he didn’t want to miss it.

After Derek logged out of Skype, he stared blankly at the screen.

He fucking hated complication and change, and they were both following him like hunting dogs.

He looked at the old bookshelf in his room and snatched Slaughterhouse-Five from the middle shelf.

Distraction. That’s what he needed.

He opened the cover and read mindlessly until he looked back up at the clock and saw that it read 3:45 PM. Cora would be home soon after her practice, and he sure as hell wanted to avoid that situation. He glanced back at the book and then grabbed his keys to the Camaro. He could continue this at that coffee shop in town they used to go to in high school. He needed some coffee at this point anyway.

● ● ●

Stiles stood at the counter and took the next girl in line’s order.

Low and behold, a caramel macchiato. He had made about one hundred today—it seemed like it’s all that girls wanted this time of year. But, he made a mean macchiato, so he wouldn’t judge their decision too harshly. Stiles wrote the girl’s name down on a cup and then quickly moved to the machine.

He gracelessly stumbled over a container on the way and turned to shoot the girl a grin. She giggled slightly and grinned back. After he handed the girl her coffee, he smiled at her as he told her to have a good day. She began to say something, but Stiles completely ignored her as he looked up and saw Derek Hale walk through the tinkling door. Derek looked tired, but as handsome as usual. Now it was no wonder why Stiles had felt pretty decent the past thirty minutes—Derek had been making his way closer to him.

When Stiles refocused on the girl in front of him, she looked confused by his lack of attention until she turned and saw Derek. She rolled her eyes and grabbed her drink. “The cute ones I like are always gay,” she muttered before stalking out of the shop.

Stiles didn’t bother correcting her to his particular orientation—with the Marks on his arm, it wasn’t worth it, really. And now he only had the time it would take to serve three more customers to stress out about how to engage with Derek, especially since he was 95% sure he woke him up this morning through the bond. He had texted Derek, but unsurprisingly he didn’t respond.

Derek seemed so out of it that when he made it to the counter, he appeared to not even notice Stiles at first. Then his eyes sharpened and some kind of understanding flickered across his features.

“Stiles.”

“Dude, what are you doing here?” Stiles burst out.

Derek raised an eyebrow and pointed at the sign above Stiles’ head. “Coffee. And I figure since Erica is pregnant, I’m less likely to run into her here. You were anxious about talking to me.”

Stiles had no idea who Erica was and he didn’t really want to acknowledge that last statement.

“I woke you up this morning.”

“It was fine,” Derek said impassively.

Stiles looked down at the book in Derek’s hand. “Are you resonating with Billy Pilgrim’s lack of life control?

Derek looked at him with what Stiles though might actually be humor. “I’m thankfully not jumping through time, Stiles.”

Thank god Derek was the only customer in line right now because this conversation was getting longer and more embarrassing by the second—there didn’t need to be any more witnesses.

“That’s not what I meant, dude. But, just, um, are you going to read here?”

Derek shrugged, “I had planned on it.”

“Cool, dude, just—if you hang out for another hour or so…I, uh, get a break,” Stiles managed.

“Sure,” Derek said.

Stiles grabbed a cup from the side of the counter. “Okay, awesome. Coffee, black?”

“Yeah,” Derek said, sounding surprised.

Stiles rolled his eyes as he quickly poured the coffee. “Man, anyone could have seen that coming.”

Derek just accepted his coffee, paid, and pointed with the handing holding the book toward a table near the side window. Stiles nodded and worked through another hour of coffee desperate people before slipping into the chair across from Derek. Derek appeared to be only a few pages from finishing, and Stiles hated to be that obnoxious guy who interrupts right before you know the freaking ending.

Derek didn’t look any more annoyed that usual, however, as he closed his book and looked up at Stiles. They sat in silence for a few seconds.

“You are a barista at a coffee shop,” Derek suddenly droned. He shook his head. “Of course you are.”

“Dude, I have to make money somehow! I’ve got college next year and if I get in where I want, I’m going to need it,” Stiles began to turn a little pink, “and if you haven’t noticed my car is gracefully aging, so she needs tune ups sometimes, and I make fucking awesome coffee—”

“You don’t really have to worry about that anymore.”

Stiles’ mouth was gaped open, mid-speech. “Not worry about what, my car?”

“It is a death trap,” Derek said murderously, “but no, I—”

“Don’t say stuff like that too loud! Roscoe might hear you!” Stiles said indignantly.

Derek looked at him blankly. “The car might hear me?”

“Yeah, she’s sensitive about that kind of stuff.”

Derek’s blank look continued. “Okay, pretending the car has ears, she can hear through the glass of the shop from across the parking lot?”

Stiles settled back slightly in his chair. “Well, I guess we are in a safe zone right now.” He sat back up suddenly and narrowed his eyes, pointing a finger at Derek. “You’re not trying to replace her, are you? Because we won’t be separated!”

“What, no, nothing about the car,” Derek managed, exasperated. “I meant about college. I mean, I’ll pay for that.”

Stiles felt his face harden. “I don’t want your pity, dude.”

For a moment, Derek looked slightly taken back and then his expression was replaced with his normal, agitated glare. “It’s not about pity, Stiles.”

“Then what the hell is it about?”

“It’s about giving you what you need.”

“I’m not your responsibility,” Stiles scoffed.

“I have three giant Marks that indicate the universe thinks otherwise,” Derek replied smoothly. “Where do you want to go anyway?”

Stiles hesitated. He didn’t really tell anyone about his future plans. He always felt guilty because they involved leaving his dad (his diet would certainly go to shit) and because he felt like talking about it too much would jinx it. “Stanford.”

“What do you want to major in?”

Stiles shrugged. “I’ve been thinking about forensic sciences. But my mom used to tell me how smart I was and that she could see me going somewhere like Stanford. So, I feel like if I can get in there, I’ll be doing what I’m supposed to do. And Lydia wants to go there too. Lydia could go to MIT if she wanted, but apparently she is aggressively against moving to that side of the country.”

“Lydia?” Derek asked, confused.

“Oh, yeah, Lydia. I used to have a massive crush on her because she is smart and perfect, but we’re just really good friends now. We work together on school stuff a lot. She’s totally going to be valedictorian. One time we did this Latin project—”

“Speaking of school, was it better today?” Derek interrupted, apparently uninterested in their Latin exploits.

“Uh, yeah, I mean I feel like it was better since we talked yesterday. But I still get these headaches, they kind of suck. But…you knew that didn’t you? You probably sensed it or whatever. You’re like the water-downed version of Professor Xavier.”

“I was telling you the truth when I said what I did last time…I mostly ignore it. But I know you freaked out this morning. You were annoyed when first at school. You got curious, angry, happy all throughout the day. Lunch was particularly happy.”

“It was nacho day. I love nacho day,” Stiles mumbled.

Nacho day was the best day.

“I don’t really think about it that much, but the strong ones are enough that I sense the emotions plenty to remember them.” Derek shrugged.

Stiles shook his head and slouched in the chair. “That doesn’t get any less violating every time I hear it. It has to suck, feeling that all day long.”

Derek just shrugged again.

Derek fiddled with his empty coffee cup for a moment. “Listen, I need to run back to my house and deal with some things, but I don’t want…you know. I wanted you to know that I have to leave.”

Stiles blurted, “I could come with you.”

Derek gave it long moment of contemplation and then slightly nodded. “Okay. We can go this Saturday instead of practicing. We can start that next weekend.”

“Cool, yeah, that sounds good. Sure, Saturday. Where is your house again, exactly?”

“Sacramento.”

“Oh, okay, yeah, that’s not too bad of a drive.” Stiles took advantage of the falling silence to take a moment to evaluate the man in front of him. He couldn’t tell if Derek was just tired and unhappy or if the guy genuinely suffered from resting bitch face. Even if it was the latter, his features allowed him to pull it off. And his eyes, which Stiles had originally assumed were just brown, were lit up by the afternoon light filtering through the window and displayed a beautiful mixture of color. His dark, nearly black hair was a perfect complement to them. Stiles couldn’t help but wonder how gorgeous Derek and Paige’s children would have been.

Derek fiddled with the cover of his book. “I guess I am something like Billy Pilgrim. Some alien force has transplanted me back to a time when I have to worry about high school, lacrosse, college.”

“Do you like the book?” Stiles asked curiously.

Derek laughed and his face was so bright that Stiles decided that it couldn’t possibly be resting bitch face. “I didn’t really think about it that much. I read this in high school for Mrs. Carter’s English class. I just needed a distraction and I didn’t totally remember the plot. I like Cat’s Cradle better.”

Stiles scrunched up his nose and shook his head a little. “No thanks on that one.”

“Well, what do you like to read?” Derek questioned with a mild interest. Stiles realized that this was probably the most personal question that Derek had asked so far in their acquaintance. Stiles opened his mouth to respond.

“Stiles!” Stiles and Derek both turned to see an irritated Isaac approach their table. “Stiles, seriously, man, your fifteen minutes were up forever ago. I’m not dealing with this alone.”

Fuck. Stiles hadn’t considered how suspicious it would look when he was sitting at a table talking to Derek Hale. No one in their right mind would even put them in the same room.

Isaac suddenly froze and his skin flushed a pale scarlet as he registered who was sitting across from Stiles. Derek squinted at Isaac for a moment and then recognition flashed across his face. Stiles felt a sharp prickle of fear of being discovered cross the bond, but it faded quickly. “You’re the kid that knocked that picture frame over. The kid with the scarf in the middle of summer.” Derek must have rapidly decided that Isaac was a puppy that didn’t pose much of a threat.

Isaac somehow managed to turn even pinker. “I’m really sorry about that again. And you never know how chilly a house will be,” Isaac mumbled.

Derek seemed to be barely holding back laughter, and Stiles couldn’t stand the awkwardness for another moment. “Isaac, this is Derek Hale. Cora Hale’s brother. He’s going to help me train for lacrosse as a favor to my dad. But that’s on the down low, so you know, shush,” Stiles half lied.

Derek nodded at Isaac and Isaac returned the gesture jerkily.

Stiles pushed back the chair and moved to throw his arm around Isaac’s shoulder. He smiled widely at Isaac. “Alright, let’s go continue being caffeine enablers. Sorry I was a super horrible friend and left for so long; you know I have trouble shutting up.” Stiles smirked at Derek and began to turn Isaac back toward the front of the shop.

Crisis temporarily averted. Isaac wasn’t an incredibly observant person, so hopefully he didn’t consider this too out of the ordinary.

“Are you really going to train with him? He’s terrifying,” Isaac loudly whispered as they walked away.

This time, Derek definitely did laugh.

It was a really nice laugh.

● ● ●


 

“And so it goes...”
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Chapter Text

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

Chapter Text

After their Saturday in Sacramento, Stiles had woken up the next morning knowing that they should leave fairly early to get back in time for his work at the coffee shop. He had trekked up the stairs to the sight of Derek already deep into a work out. Stiles couldn’t help but stare. The guy was so chiseled—he had his back to Stiles, doing pull ups shirtless so that every muscle was defined and beads of sweat dripped past a tattoo of the same symbol in his room. When he had turned around once Stiles got his attention, Stiles had hoped he didn’t embarrass himself by salivating or something. On the ride home, Stiles had googled the symbol and discovered it to be a triskelion—he had spent the majority of the car ride reading as much as possible about its origins. Derek had almost seemed unsettled at Stiles’ unusually extended silence.

Derek had returned Stiles and after an awkward conversation with Stiles’ dad—

(“Did you give my son any illegal substances?”

Derek looked at Stiles pointedly. “No, sir.”

Stiles threw his hands up.)

—and even more awkward goodbye, Derek had left the house to head back to the Hale’s, pulling the bond with him.

Stiles spent the next week at school attempting to focus in class, which wasn’t abnormal, but his lack of focus was intensified by the effects of the bond. As Stiles felt out the bond during the week, he began to recognize different pulls and reactions at different times. It was as if he felt Derek’s movements—when he woke up, worked out, fell asleep. All of it was incredibly distracting, but probably not was more so than the nose bleeds. Stiles had some headaches and always a slight underlying sense of nausea, but the nosebleeds were continuous and relentlessly steady. Stiles went to bed with a bloody tissue and woke up with a bloody pillowcase.

To make matters worse, Stiles couldn’t stop thinking about Derek in general. About how his beauty was somehow increased by his smile, and his video game collection, and how comfortable it had felt to spend the evening with him watching TV, his dry sarcasm, his quiet nature, and his awesome dog. He knew that there was so much under that gruff façade—Stiles liked him and liked walking through Derek’s life.

On Tuesday, Isaac mentioned Derek at lunch as he looked up from their table and saw Cora pass by with Landon.

“How is practice with Derek?” Isaac asked, his eyes trained on Cora.

So much for keeping it on the down low.

“Practice with Derek?” Kira asked confusedly.

Thank god Jackson hadn’t joined Lydia yet.

“Isaac, seriously? Shit,” Stiles said, exasperated. Isaac had the decency to at least look apologetic. The whole table stared at him expectantly, except for Scott who continued to play with his food.

“I’m training extra with Derek Hale. Yes, the same Derek Hale that is Cora’s brother. And I don’t know; we haven’t started yet—that’s this weekend. And I swear to god, keep this to your fucking selves. If Jackson finds out, I won’t hear the end of it.”

Before anyone else could respond, Lydia spoke up. “Well, good for you, Stiles. From what I understand, Derek was very good when he played—he’ll make sure you’re at least in first rotation. This won’t affect our project, though, will it?” Lydia gave him a cool gaze.

“No, it won’t affect anything at all. Except maybe make sure I go from really sucking to only kind of sucking,” Stiles laughed.

“Derek Hale?” Allison asked cautiously.

“Yeah, he owed a favor to my dad,” Stiles responded.

“I saw him at the back-to-school party…my dad always said that we owed the Hales for something to do my aunt.”

“Your aunt?” Stiles said curiously.

“Yeah, I used to be close to her. She was like a sister to me, but she did something horrible and now she’s in jail. My dad refuses to even visit her.”

Stiles opened his mouth to ask more questions, but Jackson and Danny walked up to the table and slipped in next to Lydia. Stiles sent a pointed glare the to the rest of the table as if daring them to continue their conversation in front of the doucheking himself. Thankfully, there had been no need to worry since Lydia immediately began to complain to Jackson, and Danny started up a discussion with Stiles about their computer class. Though their opinions on Jackson differed, Danny and Stiles were friends and always managed to help each other out in class.

Early Wednesday morning, Stiles met Lydia before school to do a progress report on their individual research on the topic Lydia had chosen for their project. As he was going through some of his notes, Stiles felt a small trickle below his nose and wiped it away; he was becoming desensitized to seeing blood on the back of his hand. Lydia, however, obviously wasn’t going to ignore the situation.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Lydia demanded as she stared at Stiles. “This has been happening non-stop all week.”

The problem is Derek is on the other side of town and he’s asleep and Stiles’ most basic instinct is to go get in bed with him.

“I’m fine, Lydia. Can we just finish going over this? School is going to start soon.”

“Bullshit. People don’t have such constant epistaxis for no reason. You haven’t been right since Cora’s party,” Lydia claimed furiously. “And not that I don’t respect your initiative, but you haven’t ever shown any interest in improving your lacrosse skills and now all of a sudden you’re practicing with Derek Hale? And Scott isn’t asking questions, so he obviously knows what’s going on—so in other words, there is something going on,” Lydia concluded.

Stiles buried his face into his arms on top of the desk. “Lydia, please. I’m fine and I don’t have the energy for this right now.”

She nodded and returned her gaze to her computer. “Fine, I’ll play along. But don’t think that I’m going to forget anything.”

“I would never dare assume something like that,” Stiles murmured weakly into the folds of his arms.

By the time Friday evening rolled around, Stiles was almost too tired to even have the usual guy’s night with Scott. The thought of disrupting their ritual was the only thing that gave him enough energy to drive over to pick Scott up from Dr. Deaton’s veterinary hospital. Scott was working at the office to save up for a new motor bike. He hadn’t quite achieved that goal yet, so Stiles was appointed to pick him up.

As Stiles walked through the door, Dr. Deaton stood at the counter flipping through some files. Stiles swore the guy practically lived in his clinic.

“Stiles,” Deaton said in greeting as Stiles walked forward into the room.

“Hey, Dr. Deaton, is Scott—”

“The pulls have always been incredibly strong with you,” Deaton interrupted mildly as if they were having a mundane conversation about the weather. “But so soon is fairly rare. And as much as I have been around the Hales, I never felt much around Derek. To be honest, it was strange how absent the bond pulls were with him–it was if he had already been decided. I suppose this explains all of that.”

First: no, that didn’t explain anything other than the fact that Deaton is fucking cryptic.

Second: how the hell did he know about him and Derek?

Third: wasn’t this dude just a veterinarian?

As if reading Stiles’ mind and ignoring Stiles’ twitching and agape mouth, Deaton continued calmly, “Dr. Morrell is my sister. She asked me to look out for you since Scott is so close to you and he works for me. But anyone paying attention can tell that you bonded.”

“Uh, they can?” Stiles managed finally.

Deaton didn’t respond, but merely handed Stiles a small bag and a tiny jar. “Here.”

“Um. Uh, what is this?”

“Mountain ash and crushed Aconitum. It can help if you allow it to.”

Yeah, totally fucking cryptic.

Mercifully, Scott appeared from the backroom and said his goodbyes to Deaton so that he and Stiles could begin to the walk back to the jeep.

As they settled in their seats and Stiles started the engine, Stiles turned to Scott with a look so pleading that Scott’s eyes grew almost comically large with concern.

“Scott, you have to promise one thing tonight.”

“What, Stiles?”

“We don’t talk about any of this. We just play video games and are our general selves. Can we do that?”

“Yeah, Stiles, we can,” Scott said, clamping a hand on Stiles’ shoulder.

Friday night helped Stiles recover slightly, but by Saturday morning, Stiles was ready to head over to the Reserve and get some actual relief by being close to Derek. Even though he had a feeling he’d be working his ass off at any practice that Derek led, Stiles would welcome any exhaustion that didn’t feel like it derived from being stretched out. Stiles drove up to Hale house around nine and saw that Derek was already outside by the back of the house warming up. He was gorgeous, thankfully clothed with a shirt this time, and obviously energized at the prospect of activity. Stiles parked the car in the front yard and walked over to where Derek had set up a makeshift lacrosse field—he had somehow managed to find two nets and so much lacrosse equipment that Stiles didn’t even need the stuff he had brought. Derek stopped his warm up and jogged over to Stiles.

“How are you?” Derek asked as if he already knew the answer.

“To be honest, dude? By about Wednesday, I was ready to send you a text message to come climb through my window at night like the creeper you are because I cannot stand these nosebleeds for much longer. I have to be anemic by now.”

Derek cringed slightly. “I know you haven’t been feeling good. Hopefully this weekend helps. And I’m not a creeper,” Derek added as he began to guide Stiles over to the equipment.

“Sure, of course,” Stiles replied mockingly.

“What position do you play?” Derek inquired, ignoring Stiles’ comment. “At your practice you just sort of ran drills and no real plays, so I wasn’t sure.”

“I’m mainly an offensive middie. Or I would be if I wasn’t fulfilling the important task of making sure the bench was warm.”

“I was defense, but the basics improve any position. And if you get asked to play a defensive middie then you’ll be prepared.”

“Ah, I figured that you carry around a long stick,” Stiles joked with a smirk.

“Fuck you, Stiles.”

Stiles cackled with laughter. “Oh, I don’t hear you denying anything.”

“So you must have a short stick?” Derek said with an impressive arch of his eyebrow.

Stiles sobered quickly. “Oh, touché, man, touché. I totally set myself up for that one.”  

“Oh, but I don’t hear you denying anything,” Derek mimicked.

“Well, look who’s getting snarky now.”

Derek smiled that full, beautiful smile like in the pictures at his house. Stiles wished he could always make Derek smile like that.

“I don’t think anyone can help it after being around you for a while.”

“Probably not,” Stiles said off-handedly.

“Okay, well, I think that first off we should just warm up and run for a while, and then we can do some passing drills. I think we should end up mainly doing one-on-one exercises to work on your moves around defenders and to improve scoring. This isn’t going to be some bullshit practice—I know that you are decent enough to improve and I plan to make sure that happens.”

This was going to be way worse than a normal practice.

“I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?” Stiles asked somberly.

“Stretch a little bit and then we can run,” Derek said instead of answering.

Stiles did his normal stretches that he would do before any practice. As he reached down from a standing position to grab his ankle, he saw Derek watching him closely from where he stood. “You were totally checking me out,” Stiles said loudly.

“No, I was not,” Derek replied immediately.

That response was a little too quick.

Stiles straightened and stretched his arms as he evaluated Derek. “Am I attractive to you at all? I mean, I keep asking Danny if I’m attractive to gay guys, but he won’t really give me an answer.”

Derek colored in a way Stiles hadn’t yet seen.

“You’re fine, Stiles. I don’t know, do you think I’m attractive?” Derek managed, exasperated.

“Are you serious, have you looked in the mirror? And you have these teeth. They’re so cute.”

“What the fuck is it about my teeth? Lynette called them rabbit teeth or something the first time she saw me.”

“They are adorable, dude, not going to lie.”

“Stop.”

Stiles laughed, “Why, am I making you uncomfortable?”

“Would it make you uncomfortable if I told you that I thought you had a cute nose and I liked your moles?” Derek hissed back.

Stiles froze slightly, and Derek seemed caught off-guard by his own words.

“I don’t know if ‘uncomfortable’ is the proper word for how I feel, dude,” Stiles said carefully.

More like ready to jump Derek’s bones.

“Yes, I think you’re attractive,” Derek burst, his skin a pale shade of pink. “Now can we please start our run?”

Training with Derek wasn’t anything like training at Beacon Hills with Coach Finstock. The pace was relentless and Derek was constantly on him to run faster, work harder, go a little further. Running was like a race, and no matter Stiles did, he couldn’t quite keep up with Derek. The passing drills were more intense than Stiles could have ever anticipated with just the two of them. Derek endlessly critiqued him on basic stances and the way he turned the stick. There was no wonder why Derek had been first line. Or really any wonder why he had been an overall sports superstar.

The only time Derek had really gotten close to Stiles was the few times the other weekend when Derek touched his wrist. Once they began drills, however, Derek seemed to forget his resistance to being in Stiles’ space and would grab anything—his shoulders, arm, wrist, hand, foot—to correct some position. Stiles felt every touch like a new Mark was forming on his skin.

After a couple of hours of drills and short fifteen minute water breaks, Derek established the rules and set up the field for a one-on-one drill.

“Obviously, there’s no goalie, so I’ll try my best to fall back and play goalie. But I just mainly want to work on your footing around defenders.”

Stiles was bent over and breathing harshly. He held a thumbs up to signal that he understood.

Derek didn’t seem to show much sympathy toward Stiles’ exhaustion, but he offered an incentive. “How about this, Stiles? For every goal you make against me, you get to ask any question and I have to answer.”

“Stipulation: no one word answers,” Stiles wheezed as firmly as possible.

“Done.”

Stiles hit his stick against the ground and stood up straight. “Let’s do this bitch, then.”

Derek rolled the ball strongly toward Stiles, who scooped it up and began cradling the ball as he charged forward toward Derek. He surged to the right, a distance away from the goal, so that he could hopefully draw Derek from the goal before getting around him and scoring from an open position. Derek seemed to anticipate his movement, however, and moved to the right just as quickly. As Stiles attempted to move back to the goal, Derek beat him and executed a stick check so quick and hard that Stiles’ stick flew from his hands.

“Yard sale,” Derek said haughtily. “I told you that you need to go left more.”

“You’re a son of a bitch,” Stiles snared as he picked up his stick. “Again.”

After about thirty minutes and still without a single goal, Stiles reached his limit.

“Are you some kind of fucking supernatural comic book character?” Stiles shouted angrily.

“Good genetics,” Derek said smugly.

Stiles yelled in frustration and, without thinking, jumped to tackle Derek.

Derek hadn’t been expecting the move and they both tumbled to the ground. Derek laughed loudly and soundly as he pulled off his helmet. Stiles replicated the action and buried his face in Derek’s chest, catching his breath before he raised his head again. Derek unconsciously brushed Stiles’ hair from his forehead. Stiles skin tingled where Derek’s fingers touched him, and he suddenly became acutely aware of their position.

“Come on, Stiles,” Derek said tauntingly in Stiles’ ear. “You can’t get it in the net one time?” Stiles repressed the urge to punch Derek in the face. Derek had too pretty of a face, and it would probably end up doing more damage to his hand than anything else. “Get it in and we’ll be done for today.”

Stiles took his position from the center of the field and quickly scooped up and cradled the ball that Derek sent. He imitated the very first attack that he had done for the drill, moving to the right before jerking suddenly to the left. Derek was thrown for a second and though it didn’t take him long to catch back up, Stiles still saw an opportunity. He began evading more than attacking, moving from right to left, back and forth. Finally, he saw an saw opening and the ball sailed through the net.

Stiles collapsed to his knees. “Thank you, Jesus fucking Christ and Avatar the Last Airbender,” he cried. “We are going in and I’m eating your entire pantry now,” Stiles ordered to Derek.

“A deal is a deal,” he said with a smile. “Nice job. And what is the Last Airbender?”

“A show. Airbenders avoid and evade before attacking,” Stiles gasped as they threw all of the gear into a pile.

Derek laughed and shook his head. “Whatever helps, I guess. Good job, Stiles.”  

Stiles and Derek made their way toward the house. Derek somehow seemed like he had taken a light jog, breathing just slightly elevated and a light sheen of sweat. Stiles, on the other hand, was drenched with sweat and his legs were like jello—if anything, his stamina would be improving by just trying to keep up with Derek.

As they entered the kitchen, Stiles heard the typical chatter of a family and saw Mr. and Mrs. Hale, Laura, and a man he had never meant before. The man was tall and thin, with dark hair and strong features, and a friendly smile and clear, blue eyes. The man’s eyes settled on Stiles and were suddenly filled with confusion.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Oh, uh, I’m Stiles,” Stiles replied hesitantly.

“I’m helping him with lacrosse, Robbie,” Derek offered.

Robbie. The name of Laura’s fiancé. Considering the scene, there was no one else he could be. And he obviously didn’t know about the bonding situation.

“You’re helping a teenager with lacrosse?” Robbie laughed loudly and extended his hand toward Stiles, “You must be something special, kid.”

He had no damn idea.

Stiles shook his hand as Robbie continued, “I’m Robbie. I come with Laura.” He received an affectionate shove from her.

Laura stuck out her hand next with a broad smile. “I’m Laura, Derek’s sister. I know we met for about two seconds the other day at Cora’s party, but it was pretty crazy, so I figured I should introduce myself again.”

“I’m Talia, Derek’s mother,” said the taller, older beautiful woman standing over food preparations. She obviously had a calm, controlled disposition, but the power radiated off of her—her presence demanded instant respect. “And this is my husband, Stephen.”

Stephen Hale was sitting on a bar chair, deeply invested in a crossword puzzle. He raised a hand in a small wave.

Basically, this was meet the family time. Between Cora and Derek, Stiles had pretty much guessed that they were a family of intimidating people, but this confirmed it. They all seemed friendly enough, but scary and beautiful, all carrying a kind of power—even Stephen’s general indifference had an underlying layer of authority.

“I was just about to make some lunch, Stiles. We’d love for you to join us,” Talia continued from the other side of the kitchen.

“Oh, uh, sure. I mean, I don’t want to intrude.”

“No, not at all! It would be wonderful to get to talk with you,” Talia stated with a warm, but resolute smile.

“Well, would you mind if I borrowed a shower? I have to be making being in this room pretty difficult…”

They all chuckled as Derek spoke. “You can use my bathroom. I’ll give you something to wear again.” Derek began to lead him out of the kitchen and toward the stairs.

“Again?” Stephen asked mildly, not looking up from his crossword.

Derek shot his father a withering glare as they exited the room and the laughter in the kitchen escalated.

When they reached Derek’s bedroom, Derek quickly found some old clothes and pointed out the adjoining bathroom before informing Stiles that he’d take his own shower downstairs. As Derek turned to leave, Stiles called to him hurriedly, “Oh, Derek, don’t think that I forgot that you promised me a question. I’m going to put it in reserve for the opportune moment.”

Derek looked at him almost fondly. “I look forward to whatever random shit you have to ask,” he said as he left the room.

Stiles looked around the room. For the second time in a couple of weeks, Stiles found himself being able to observe Derek’s most intimate living space. This room was more personalized than the entire house in Sacramento—mostly decorated with high school paraphernalia, especially Cyclones basketball. The majority of the room was covered in books. Charlie was fast asleep on Derek’s bed—Stiles suppressed the urge to pet him since he looked so peaceful.

After Stiles quickly took a shower and pulled on Derek’s old T-shirt and sweatpants, he went back downstairs to the same scene as earlier, except Talia now had something in the oven and Derek still wasn’t back yet.

“So,” Robbie began as soon as he saw Stiles return, “that must be your old Jeep out there. I didn’t even think much of it when we first got here. What year is that? Early 80’s?”

Before Stiles could respond, he heard a voice behind him speak. “Oh, don’t call it ‘old’ too loudly, Robbie, it may hear you and get upset,” Derek said as he appeared in the kitchen.

Robbie looked confused as Stiles turned to Derek. “I love my Jeep more than you’d ever love your persnickety Camaro, so shut your mouth.”

“He’d better love that car for what it cost him,” Stephen commented with the same placid manner as before.

“Last time I checked, my car wasn’t that expensive compared to Laura’s Q7,” Derek responded in a tone frighteningly similar to his father’s.

“Shut up, Derek, my car—” Laura began irritably.

“I guess I can’t argue with you there,” Stephen directed at Derek, ignoring Laura and filling in a new set of letters.

“Dad! I work hard and there is nothing wrong—” Laura attempted.

“So, Stiles, Derek tells us that you want to attend Stanford and maybe go into forensic sciences?” Talia interrupted firmly. Everyone fell silent as the attention returned back to their guest.

“Oh, uh, yes, I want to go to Stanford. I’m thinking of something like forensics. I’m good at that kind of stuff. But, I figure I have time to figure it out.”

“So, Stiles, what do you like to do for fun?” Laura asked immediately once he was done speaking.

“Are you going to ask me if I like music and what my favorite movie is too?” Stiles replied sarcastically. Derek and Robbie both snorted with laughter and Talia smiled.  

Laura laughed loudly. “Well, aren’t you so sassy? I don’t think Derek is ready for you as a pupil.”

“Come on, Laura, you have to admit that it was starting to sound like a bad first date or an online dating entry,” Stiles said as he slipped into an open bar stool.

“You think I’d be a bad first date?” Laura asked with mock hurt.

“You’re a pretty face, but all that law must have depleted your conversation skills. Don’t worry, you’re still better off than Derek.”

Laura cackled and pushed at Derek’s arm. “Oh, I like this one.” She focused on Stiles again. “Speaking of, how are you handling this idiot? I’m sure practicing with him can be difficult,” Laura asked with a meaningful look.

Stiles noted that Talia, Stephen, and even Derek were suddenly paying much greater attention to his words. “He’s like a plush doll of a wild animal—initially slightly intimidating, but actually super fluffy and adorable. He’s all marshmallow filling.”

The Hales including Robbie burst into laughter while Derek rolled his eyes. Stiles considered it a great victory that Mr. Hale stopped his crossword to laugh.

“Derek is a pretty awesome guy. I’m really glad that he got stuck with helping me out with lacrosse,” Stiles said more seriously, looking determinedly at Derek who had a strange expression on his face. Talia looked incredibly pleased before retrieving baked chicken from the beeping oven.

“What do you do, Robbie?” Stiles asked to diffuse the atmosphere.

“Oh, I’m a—”

Suddenly, the front door burst open and slammed shut—and a second later, Cora entered the kitchen in a workout outfit and earbuds in her ears.

Shit, Stiles hadn’t even considered Cora.

Cora paused for a moment and took in the scene in front of her in bewilderment.

“What are you doing here?” she asked finally to Stiles.

“Uh—”

Just hanging out with my bonded. Your brother. No big deal.

“Apparently, Derek has taken a little bird under his wing and is teaching him to fly,” Robbie filled in with a smirk.

“I’m helping Stiles out with lacrosse,” Derek supplied again.

Cora’s confusion only seemed to grow. “You are helping someone in my class? With a sport? Do you have a brain tumor?”

That actually was a theory for why bonding happened, but Stiles had ruled that out as a likely one. The percentage of bonding was too high.

“Cora, your brother is perfectly capable of giving some of his time,” Talia commented firmly as she finished with her food. Stephen remained silent next to her, but did nod in agreement. Laura was up and setting the table and Robbie was getting salad together.

“Not the brother I know,” Cora said with increasing bewilderment. “The brother I know would say that high school sports didn’t matter anyways and that high schoolers were childish and petty and he didn’t want anything to do with them.”

Stiles raised an eyebrow and glanced at Derek. Derek met his eye and shrugged slightly. He didn’t seem willing to deny her statement.

“Who cares why Derek had an emotional aneurism and decided to help him out—I fucking love this kid,” Laura offered with a small push at Stiles’ arm as she finished her assignment. “He’s hilarious.”

“Yeah,” Robbie added, “he and Derek together are quite the pair.”

“I basically forced him,” Stiles exclaimed suddenly. All eyes turned toward him. “My dad is the sheriff and he had spoken with Paige—you know she has a shift here every week—on a case at the hospital. Weird shit goes down there all the time,” he continued. “So, anyway, my dad mentioned to her that I play lacrosse and she said that Derek had played on the team that last won State and that Derek was stuck in town for a while. I’m an okay player, but not very good, so I found him one day and harassed him until he agreed to help me out. He owed my dad a favor, so he gave in.” It was probably safest to stick with the same lie he had told at school.

“And now he’s staying for lunch,” Talia said with authority.

“Weren’t you supposed to be going out with Landon?” Stephen spoke finally.

“Yeah, but I got completely bored with his stupid friends. So I just went to the gym. And now came home to Derek continuing to go crazy. First Paige, now this…”

“Let’s all please make our way over to the table,” Talia said resolutely. As they all walked over to the chairs around a long, wooden table, Cora continued to stare at Stiles as if he had sprouted two heads. Stiles sat down in line with the middle of the table, and Derek pulled the chair out next to him.

There’s no way in hell he was that weird.

“Are you wearing Derek’s clothes?” Cora asked Stiles in disbelief as she seated herself across from him.

“Uh, yeah. I didn’t bring any, you know, and after we practiced they invited me over for lunch, and we were pretty nasty after training for so long, so he lent me some—”

“This is like living in the twilight zone,” Cora murmured.

“If it makes you feel any better,” Stiles added, “it blows my mind that he even speaks to me, so, you know.”

“I’m sure that’s not the only thing that it blows,” Laura commented from further down the table.

Talia sent her a glance so frightening that even Stiles cringed.

“You’re probably just a pet project since he broke up with his girlfriend,” Cora continued as if Derek wasn’t sitting right next to Stiles.

“Probably,” Stiles commented drily, “but at least I’m getting free extra lacrosse practice with a hot dude. If he drops me, I won’t be much worse for wear considering my daily high school social standing.”

“I’m not dropping anyone,” Derek voiced harshly, shooting Cora an agitated glare.

This family really knew how to speak emotion through gazes.

“You want something to drink, Stiles?” Derek asked next, turning to Stiles.

“Uh, water would be fine. Thanks, man.”

Derek headed back to the kitchen, grabbed a glass, filled it with ice, and then let the water from the refrigerator door flow to the top of the glass.

Cora watched him in disbelief. “Seriously, we still have time to get a CAT scan for him,” Cora directed to her parents. “He’s practically being sweet to some random kid in my class and it’s freaking me out.”

“Stiles isn’t random,” Talia replied calmly. “And that’s enough, Cora. Did you ever think that you might be making our guest or your brother uncomfortable? Now, Stiles, tell us about lacrosse.”

The rest of lunch was spent with Cora staring at Stiles suspiciously and alternating questions from Laura, Robbie, Talia, and even occasionally from Stephen. Derek remained quiet as usual, but he remained close to Stiles, tense and ready. Stiles could actually feel the protective waves through the bond. He had a feeling that this was a bond thing that Derek couldn’t really help.

By the time Stiles put his plate in the sink, the exhaustion of the week and the morning’s workout plus the stress of navigating the Hale lunch had left him wiped. He wasn’t sure how to appropriately tell them that he was leaving, when Derek unexpectedly did the task for him.

“Stiles needs to go. I’ll go grab your stuff and meet you at your car,” Derek announced before immediately leaving the room.

“Thanks so much for lunch, it was awesome. It was nice to meet all of you. See you at school, Cora,” Stiles said to the group in front of him.

“Hope to see you around, man!” Robbie called out.

“You are more than welcome. It was wonderful to meet you, Stiles,” Talia said happily.

“Don’t be a stranger,” Stephen commented with a smirk.

Laura flung her arms around Stiles in a hug. “It’s good to see that Derek has someone who won’t take his shit,” she said quietly to him. “Call if you ever need anything.”

Upon seeing her sister’s reaction, Cora narrowed her eyes at Stiles more suspiciously than ever.

Once Stiles had extracted himself from Laura, he hurried out of the room and moved through the front door to catch up with Derek who was already standing outside his Jeep’s door. Stiles opened the car and threw in the clothes and equipment that Derek handed him. They stood together quietly for a moment.

“I’ll wash your clothes and get them back to you next week,” Stiles said finally.

“It’s not a big deal. I don’t care when you return them,” Derek said.

“I really like your family,” Stiles burst suddenly. “I mean, the women in your family are fucking scary, but I really like everyone. Robbie is really cool, Laura is crazy but funny, your dad is chill, and your mom is obviously awesome. Cora seems like she wants to kill me for making you go nuts, but I know from school that she’s an impressive human being.”

“They like you too,” Derek said quietly, “and I have a lot planned for our practice next week, so you’ll probably get to see them again.”

Stiles just knew that that translated into “I like you too.”

Stiles abruptly wrapped his arms around Derek in a fierce hug. He clutched the back of Derek’s neck and part of his shirt. Derek initially froze, but then he returned the hug warmly.

Other than when Stiles had tackled Derek, they had never been so intimately entwined.

Suddenly, Stiles felt a sharp pain radiate from all three Marks. The feeling of fresh blood dripping made his skin prickle slightly.

“Oh, fuck,” Derek groaned.

“Did that seriously just happen?” Stiles questioned with incredulity.

Stiles pulled up his now bloody sleeve and saw that the Mark on his forearm had extended up his arm into the crease of the elbow. He looked over at Derek whose arm revealed the same thing. Stiles could only imagine that there was a similar situation with the other two Marks.

The pull to Derek was stronger than ever.

“We really are the freaks among bonds,” Stiles commented in exasperation, failing his head side to side. “At least we know that Dr. Braeden will be getting some good pictures for whatever science paper I’m sure she’s writing on us.”

“I’m deeply comforted,” Derek muttered acidly. “What the hell does this mean?”

“I think it means that Cora isn’t getting rid of me any time soon,” Stiles replied lightly as he brushed gently at the blood and fresh wound on his arm, “and neither are you.”

● ● ●

After the Marks expanded, the bond felt tighter—a force to be truly reckoned with—but somehow Derek and Stiles felt freer. Derek wasn’t sure if they were just learning to navigate the bond better, or if when the Marks grew they were moving closer to developing the bond that they were supposed to have, which brought greater movement and freedom.

For the next few weeks, Derek developed as much of a routine as possible. Derek found that he liked running through the Reserve and the peace of the outdoors in the mornings, and then he spent the day doing his work. Completing the tasks that he did at the office on the assigned laptop thankfully did not prove to be a struggle. About midday, Derek worked out at the gym which he reluctantly joined—they didn’t have the equipment like his gym in Sacramento, but it would have to do. The only variation in his life was his time with Stiles. They had lacrosse practice every Saturday, where Stiles was slowly showing improvement. Stiles did not have natural lacrosse stardom ability, but he was so incredibly determined that Derek had a feeling Stiles would make first line by sheer mental will. He worked hard and refused to give up. Derek found that he began to look forward to those Saturdays when he could work with Stiles and watch him practice. Over the span of the sessions, Stiles managed to enchant both Talia and Laura and had become such a regular Saturday fixture that Cora almost seemed used to seeing him in her kitchen. Talia had told Cora not to tell anyone about Stiles and Derek’s practice sessions; though Derek didn’t know what reason she cited, Cora had remained silent even with Landon.

Derek also went to the coffee shop on Tuesday nights to read a book and drink the fairly decent coffee. Stiles hadn’t ever asked him to go, but Derek could tell that it made it easier for Stiles to work. And sometimes, Derek went over to the Stilinski’s house and read while Stiles did homework—always downstairs under the close eye of the sheriff. John seemed to have warmed to him, however, especially after Derek watched a couple of football games at their house. Derek found that he really liked John—he was calm and dryly sarcastic and agreed that the defense wasn’t looking very good.

Charlie often accompanied him to the Stilinski house since the dog was now firmly attached to Stiles. When they practiced, he had become a side-line cheerleader, panting as he watched the ball move back and forth—waiting patiently for when Stiles and Derek were done and Stiles would play with him. Stiles let Charlie sit on the couch at the Stilinski’s and cuddled with him and gave him treats just for being “cute.”

All that hard work toward Charlie's discipline was unraveling as Stiles spoiled him more and more.

During all of this time, Stiles and Derek had begun to text during the day and call for at least for a few minutes each night. The first week after the Marks expanded they did it unintentionally, just trying to keep up and see if anything noticeable had changed with the bond. By the end of the week, Stiles had realized that it helped his ailments, and Derek found that he felt calmer understanding the basis for Stiles’ emotional surges. Stiles said that it felt like it was developing the bond, and Derek was inclined to agree—the more Stiles was incorporated into his life, the more the bond felt like it was woven into the Derek and not just stuck on his skin. About the second week of constant communication, Stiles texted him:

 

1:15 PM

Stiles Stilinski

>why didnt we think of this before

>my quality of life is so improved

>even lydia is off my case  

>though she is prob just pretending and will strike later

 

Stiles was definitely more normal at school—he still got nosebleeds and headaches, but he complained about Jackson more than anything physical illness, talked about his project with Lydia, was getting his college applications ready, and went back to his normal hang outs with Scott. And apparently the team had noticed that Stiles was doing better at lacrosse.

Derek fell into this new rhythm almost seamlessly. Though he still missed his home, and Paige, and his friends (who he didn’t really see except for Boyd every now and then because everything was so complicated), he couldn’t imagine life without Stiles. He was such a strong presence and burned with amazing energy—Derek began to feel that he was feeding off of the excess that radiated off of Stiles. It was frightening to Derek how easy everything was and how domestic his routine felt with Stiles.

Everything felt too damn domestic.

Derek never dwelled on these ideas for too long because that meant dealing with feelings and bond issues that Derek did not feel comfortable dealing with. Feelings had never really been his thing. Though Stiles was very different than Derek, it was undeniable that Stiles was growing on him in a way that he would have never anticipated in the beginning when he first saw the bloody young boy on the ground with his hipster glasses and plaid shirt.

In early September, they took another trip to Sacramento for Derek to check up on the house. Stiles forced him to see some Marvel movie in the theaters—

(“This isn’t just some Marvel movie, Derek! This is the new Avengers movie!”

“It cost nine dollars a ticket to get in here. It had better be damn good.”

“It will be fucking good. Just shut up about things you don’t understand. I’m beginning to wonder if you’re more hopeless than Scott.”)

—and they played Perfect Dark (Stiles was determined to beat Derek), watched more TV shows in Derek’s collection, and visited with Lynette.

It was all oddly nice.

When they got back from Sacramento, Derek finally met the infamous Scott. He was also tall, with dark hair, two dark rings on his arm, and a dopey smile that accented big puppy-dog eyes. Derek had never seen Stiles happier than when he and Scott were acting like idiots together. Derek only met the kid for a few moments, but even during that short period of time, he was lost in Stiles and Scott’s inside jokes. He realized that he probably couldn’t handle the idealistic Scott the same way he had learned to accept Stiles and found himself silently thanking the bond for making his life difficult, but not impossible.

During the next week, Derek went on his first out-of-town business trip to a corporation further north in California. When he had left, Stiles had been biting his lip and his anxiety had coursed through the bond so strongly that Derek had almost cancelled. But during the couple of days Derek was gone, Stiles only reported nausea and more headaches, and when Derek returned, Stiles insisted that Derek go on more trips and, of course, England since it wasn’t that bad. Derek wasn’t so certain.

It seemed too good to be true.

By the end of September, Derek received a call from the hospital that it was time for their second session with Dr. Braeden.

As Derek walked into the hospital, praying that this would be short and painless, he saw Erica talking to the receptionist at the front desk. Before he could consider a way to hide (his immediate plan was to just drop into the fetal position), Erica flipped around and met his eyes in surprise.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” she asked in astonishment as she walked towards him.

Oh, god, no.

“What are you doing here?” Derek deflected.

“I’m fucking pregnant,” Erica responded, pointing a finger toward her bump.

“Erica—”

“Okay, I’ve known something is up, but why are you not in Sacramento? Did you get fired or something? And I haven’t heard from Paige in like two weeks, which is so weird—”

“Paige and I broke up.”

Derek felt like he was throwing Paige under the bus again and his guilt suddenly flared.

“What the fuck did you just say?” Erica cried, shocked. She rolled her eyes at an old lady who scowled at her. “I thought you just fucking said that you broke up with Paige,” she said more quietly.

“Mr. Hale,” a nurse said from the hall before he could answer, “Dr. Braeden is expecting you.”

Erica stared at him. “Are you dying or something? Is this why you didn’t go on your vacation? What is—”

“Derek, seriously, I have homework plus project work, we need to get this over with,” came another voice from down the hall.

Stiles came up from around the nurse, bouncing with his usual energy until he noticed Erica. His eyes flashed with recognition and he stilled momentarily before twitching absently with nervousness. Derek remembered Stiles at his house looking at the wedding picture containing Erica.

“Who is this?” Erica asked suspiciously.

No one answered her.

Erica looked intently at Stiles and then back at Derek. “Oh my god.” Her eyes grew wide. “Why are you going to that part of the hospital?”

“Erica, don’t fucking say it.”

The old woman now sent her stink eye toward Derek.

“Oh my god.” Erica took a step closer to Stiles. “I can’t believe this. What about Paige?”

Nope, Derek was not doing this.

“Erica, stop now or I’m walking away.”

Erica just continued to gauge Stiles as he fidgeted under her gaze. “Aw, but I’m not going to lie, he’s adorable.”

Derek grabbed Stiles and yanked him toward the nurse as he gestured at her to lead them. The nurse seemed caught off caught by Derek’s swift movements, but recovered quickly to begin to walk in front of them toward where the office was last time they spoke to Dr. Braeden.

“What? I didn’t say it!” Erica shouted as they hurried away.

“You alluded to it,” Derek called back.

“If my husband knew about this and I didn’t, I’m going to kill you!” Erica called in response. “You’re talking to me about this. And I’m calling Paige and leaving voicemails and texts until she picks up!”

Once they rounded the corner and Erica was out of sight, Derek felt like he could breathe again.

“So, uh, Erica seems…nice. And like her bun is almost done in the oven,” Stiles said as they continued to follow the nurse.

“No, Stiles,” Derek replied firmly.

“Uh, yeah, she has to be at least eight months or so—”

“Stiles, I meant I’m not talking about it,” Derek said, shooting Stiles a withering glare. “And have you ever seen a pregnant woman before? She isn’t due until the end of January.”

“If your eyes could actually burn whatever they were looking at, I’d be extra crispy by now,” Stiles said mildly as they reached the same room where they had first discussed the bond.

When they entered the room, Derek saw Dr. Braeden in the same position as the last time they had spoken—leaning against the front of the desk, directly in front of the chairs. The room looked exactly the same except for the addition of another person instead of Dr. Morrell. She was a pretty, slight Hispanic woman in nurses’ scrubs with curly hair and a kind, motherly face; she stood next to Dr. Braeden with her arms lightly crossed.

Derek began to make his way over to the same chair he occupied last time when he heard a gasp from Stiles.

“Mrs. McCall!” Stiles sputtered with shock.

That was Scott’s last name—so this must be his mother. Jesus Christ, did everyone know now?

”Did Scott tell you? I made him swear on our fifth grade secret hiding spot that he wouldn’t tell, and you can’t just break those kinds of—”

“No, Stiles,” Mrs. McCall interrupted gently, “Scott didn’t say anything. We haven’t talked about it in the slightest. Dr. Braeden just thought that you would appreciate having a nurse assigned to you that you felt comfortable with.”

“Plus, she’d probably find out anyway with you being here all the time,” Dr. Braeden added, breaking her silence.

“Isn’t there a thing called HIPPA? I could totally sue for any hospital gossip,” Stiles mumbled as he and Derek took their seats.

“I could also just see you walking down the hall to the Bonding Unit,” Mrs. McCall said drily.

“Oh, yeah, well, that’s probably true.” Stiles said with a shrug. He turned to Derek. “My stealth isn’t very impressive, obviously. You’re really good at coming up out of nowhere and surprising people, maybe you should help me with that along with lacrosse.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your creeper abilities. I mean, sometimes you come over to the house or I go to yours and I turn around and you’re just there. You’re like a grumpy ninja.”

“Your father gave me a key. I walk through the front door. I can’t help if you aren’t observant.”

“He gave you a key?!” Stiles sputtered. “He must like you even more than I thought. And I’m observant—I just don’t have super hearing slash vision to detect your ninja presence.”

Mrs. McCall laughed as she watched the exchange and then held out her hand for Derek to shake. “I’m Melissa McCall,” she said warmly. “You must be Derek.”

“Nice to meet you,” Derek replied as he shook her hand.

“Your father has to be dying,” Melissa directed toward Stiles.

“Because of his horrendous diet?”

“Because you bonded with an extremely attractive, older man. He’s dying,” Melissa quipped.

“Apparently not, considering he gave the extremely attractive, older man a key to our house,” Stiles pointed out.

“He probably just felt obligated. I can’t wait to tease him,” Melissa said with a mischievous look in her eye. “Well, boys, I need to go do my rounds and let you get started. Nice to meet you, Derek. Thank you, Dr. Braeden.”

“Thank you, Melissa,” Dr. Braeden replied as Mrs. McCall headed out of the room with a wave.

Stiles turned toward Derek. “Scott and I have been trying to get her and my father together forever. It’ll happen eventually—Scott and I are destined to be real brothers.”

“Alright, boys,” Dr. Braeden said firmly to gain their attention and signal the start of the meeting. “How have you been?”

“Okay,” Derek responded.

“Pretty good, actually, even though some of this bond stuff is annoying. Lydia and I are making great progress on our project (I actually need to work on it when we’re done today), and Scott and I have been destroying this new FIFA game, and lacrosse…” Stiles trailed off as he noticed Dr. Braeden looking amused and Derek raising a sarcastic eyebrow at him. “And…you probably just meant with the bond stuff. Yeah, yeah I’m with Derek on that—I’m okay.”

“Now that you’ve been bonded for a little while,” Dr. Braeden said as Stiles finished, “I can speak a little more freely about things and delve more into the bond. I always only give you what is crucial at first for you to process and then give you time to feel out your bond a little.”

Derek resisted a snort. It’s not as if they can really avoid feeling the bond.

“First of all, have there been any developments or problems that I should know about?”

“Well…” Stiles looked at Derek as if waiting for permission. Derek nodded. “…our Marks grew.” Stiles took off his outer plaid layer to reveal the Mark on his forearm.

Dr. Braeden’s interest seemed peaked. “What were you doing when this happened?

Derek said “saying goodbye” the same time that Stiles said “hugging” with a slight blush.

Dr. Braeden crossed her arms and smirked. “I think that response was very representative of you as individuals and of the type of bond effects each of you present. But, as for the Marks, this growth is very typical in the early stages of a bond, especially in stronger bonds. It’s giving the bond room to grow and happens often in milestones in your interactions.”

Derek nodded his understanding as Stiles gave a smile and a thumbs up.

“This is wonderful—this shows that you are progressing nicely in bond development and it seems that you are getting along and are comfortable around each other. You have obviously developed a relationship, which will make your lives much easier.”

Relationship. Derek shifted at the use of that word. That was getting too close to having to define what their situation was.

“Do you fight?” she continued.

As unexpected of a question, Derek realized that the answer was even more surprising. They bickered and Stiles kept him on his toes, but they didn’t fight. Even though they hadn’t had much time to, it was still amazing that they hadn’t yet, considering the circumstances. Derek and Paige never really fought, and if they did, the fights were mild and often quickly resolved; but that made sense considering Derek and Paige’s personalities and dispositions. Derek and Stiles had every opportunity to fight—and didn’t.

When Stiles realized that Derek wasn’t going to answer any time soon, he responded quickly, “I mean, I think I annoy the shit out of him, but we don’t really fight or anything.” Stiles made a half-hearted punching motion with his hand.

“That’s very good. Especially considering I thought that there would be bitterness between the two of you—you didn’t seem like you wanted to get to know one another last time we spoke. Which would be understandable considering how difficult this bond is and how different your lives are,” Dr. Braeden said in a pleased tone. “Now, for the heart of this meeting. I would like both of you to individually explain what the bond is like for you.”

Fuck no.

Derek immediately stiffened unhappily and felt his face pull into a frown. He still hadn’t really explained to anyone the intimate details of how his bond worked. He knew that Dr. Braeden’s job was to help them navigate and foster their bond, but Derek felt that she asked that question too casually. It felt incredibly private and the only person he wanted to share it with was Stiles. Stiles was the only one who would understand, anyway.

Stiles turned his head swiftly toward Derek and stared at him. He most probably was able to feel Derek’s acute discomfort. Derek met Stiles’ eyes and pleaded silently, hoping his desperation would filter across the bond, as well as his unhappiness.

Stiles seemed to get the message and nodded slightly before turning back toward Dr. Braeden who was watching them with an intrigued expression. “Derek and I haven’t really talked about it, but the way I see it, there are two different sides to our bond. Mine is derived from the need to be physically near people—I can always sense how far away he is. Not in like miles or anything, but a general idea. I feel best when I’m close to him. I have a physical reaction to being far away from him. Derek’s, though, is from how he’s a super internally emotional person. Some would call it emotionally repressed,” Stiles added snidely. “But my emotions are shared with him so he has no choice but to be aware of emotion. That’s what I figure anyway, I’m not exactly sure.”

Dr. Braeden looked impressed. “That was actually very well put. How did you come up with Derek’s?”

“I joked with him one time that it was a good thing that he had my emotions because he was a robot and then I thought about it, and I realized that’s probably exactly why he was stuck with my feelings.”

“Your intelligence has obviously not been exaggerated to me,” Dr. Braeden commented.

“How would you know he was right?” Derek asked suddenly.

“What do you mean?” Dr. Braeden responded with a curious glance.

“How would you know us that well?"

Dr. Braeden smiled larger than Derek had ever seen—the sight made him nervous, considering it made her look almost sinister. He immediately regretted questioning her infinite wisdom. “I’ve been keeping tabs on you. I have my ways. I’m the best at what I do.”

“Oh my god, that makes you sound like a Mafia hitman or a super spy or something,” Stiles said.

“Like I said last time, we firmly believe the bond is meant to help us balance ourselves. Derek lacks the ability to appropriately express what he is feeling,” Dr. Braeden said to Stiles before directing her words at Derek. “Stiles obviously has no trouble communicating his emotions. The point, most probably, is to learn to work through your emotions as you work through his. Stiles attaches himself to people, such as Scott and his father.” Dr. Braeden turned back to Stiles. “You dedicate yourself to being actively involved with the people you care about, which I’m sure has a lot to do with the loss of your mother,” Dr. Braeden stated kindly. "This flip side of the bond, physical and emotional, is actually a common manifestation; however, yours is obviously amplified.”

“Tell me about your problems, Stiles. The illness, pains, etc,” Dr. Braeden said, changing tracks. “Does anything make it better other than being close to Derek?”

Stiles turned bright red. “I’ve been doing a lot of research,” he said hurriedly, “and uh, yeah, I’ve done a few things. Like call and text Derek during the day.”

She looked at him expectantly.

“And I, uh,” Stiles glanced at Derek nervously, “I’ve been sleeping in some of Derek’s old clothes.”

That’s probably where that T-shirt went. Derek should have known.

He tried not to think about how much he liked the idea of them sharing clothes.

“I found in some medical articles,” Stiles continued, “that being surrounded by items that belong to the other person or at least remind you of the other person can be helpful in relieving stresses in the bond, particularly from distance. So that’s why I started sleeping in some of his stuff. It smells like him and the Hale’s house,” Stiles said, now an incredibly deep scarlet that extended to the tips of his ears.

“Also, Dr. Deaton—apparently he’s Dr. Morrell’s brother?—is my friend’s boss and he gave me mountain ash and Aconitum,” Stiles rambled, seeming unable to stop in his embarrassment. “I thought he was being crazy, I mean, hello, aconite poisoning. But then I looked it up and noticed that after being processed both of them were actually ingredients in medications given to help out for very strong bond effects.”

Derek stared at Stiles. When the hell had he found all this out?

“They don’t make anything go away, but they can dampen things. Doctors aren’t sure why, but they’ve been used for years and years in all cultures. The aconite is burned and you breathe in what is released or you breathe in a mist that has been laced with it. My room smells fucking awful, but it’s definitely helped. The mountain ash is super weird, and no one seems to understand it. But it’s bonds, so who really understands anything? As long as you sprinkle some around it will actually have an effect—but it’s best when ingested. They put it in teas and stuff. It tastes horrible, honestly, but I can get relief from a headache for at least an hour.”

“I have never had anyone give my meeting for me, but I think you might be on the way,” Dr. Braeden said with a laugh. “You’ve been reading actual medical journals, haven’t you? I’m impressed; I don’t think I’ve ever had a patient not in the medical field actually do that.”

Stiles colored slightly again. “Yeah. I mean, Wikipedia is good for general stuff and WebMD will basically tell you that you have cancer in your bond, but I figured it’d be safest to look at PubMed.”

What the fuck was PubMed?

Derek knew that Stiles was smart and determined, but he was always so distracted and goofy that Derek sometimes forgot to take him seriously. But Stiles seemed to be ceaselessly innovative and prepared.

“Actually using the ingredients in such a way as you described is very old school," Dr. Braeden said with a grin. “But you’re bond is so unique that it probably needs it in such a pure form.” She paused for a moment. “I thought Deaton was a veterinarian?”

“Yeah, he is,” Stiles shrugged. “Maybe dogs bond too? I mean, I’d believe it because I think Charlie is my soul mate.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Charlie only likes you because I let you give him treats.”

“Oh, you two are definitely my favorite case,” Dr. Braeden said with amusement.

Stiles reached out for a high five. Derek punched at his open hand and Stiles flailed for a second.

“I just have a few more things to say that I always think are important to emphasize. I see thousands of cases a year, and I like to put bonds in perspective. You are getting along, but I know that you probably still think that it’s unfair. Unfair that your ability to choose someone was diminished—though, technically, you are the one who chose them,” she said with an exasperated sigh.

She must have heard that one a lot.

“Some consider it invasive or unnatural. Why would you want to be forced with someone? But it’s just life. They are thrust into your life, yes, but most people in our lives are. Just as you can’t choose your mother, father, brother, sister—you don’t get to choose this. There must be something to love about the other person otherwise you wouldn’t have bonded. You would have just passed each other by like we pass people every day who mean little to nothing to us. Or you could have been friends or acquaintances. But sometimes people are meant to play a larger part in our lives. And sometimes we don’t expect them. The bond is just an insurance policy that makes sure that happens. It’s a natural biological experience.”

She looked so incredibly intense that Stiles had even stopped his normal fidgeting. This was obviously a no-nonsense woman who didn’t take anyone’s whining shit.

“You may challenge each other—but you’re meant to. You don’t have to like each other, you don’t have to love each other, but you need to respect each other and use each other as a frame of reference. The bond basically forces you to acknowledge the importance of the other person in the world and displays a person for you to examine their good and bad pieces, so that you can try to learn from them and grow. This relationship can be whatever you want—it doesn’t have to be romantic if you don’t feel that it is meant to be that way, however, the majority do.”

“When I was looking stuff up,” Stiles interjected suddenly, “I saw that sometimes people are in bonds and one of the people chooses to not be as involved…”

“It can be very difficult,” Dr. Braeden sad solemnly. “Some people refuse it and will not get registered.”

Stiles bit his lip, and Derek felt a surge of protectiveness. “We’re getting registered,” Derek said forcefully.

A wave of warmth surged through the bond.

“You’d regret not doing it. But once they say ‘and now you are sealed,’ there’s no going back. There is no un-registering. This isn’t a marriage. There is no divorce here—there’s no ending the bond, anyways, but legally registration is absolutely bonding.” She rubbed at the scar on her wrist. “Have you heard of the Berserkers, Derek?”

“Yeah,” Derek said in disgust, “there was always a group of them around in college. Paige couldn’t stand them.”

“Berserkers?” Stiles asked curiously.

“Ah, finally something Stiles doesn’t know,” Dr. Braeden said with a smile. “They are a group adamantly against bonding. They consider it a hindrance and something that you should be able to control. There are even bonded members, who often fight the bond as much as they can. As you can imagine, they are usually only Class I or II bonds. They speak out against accepting it and often antagonize bonded couples.”

“Isn’t that title a little extreme? I mean, Berserkers? Seriously?”

“You’ve obviously never been on a college campus with them screaming, standing on tables, throwing anti-bond papers at everyone,” Derek said drily.

“Berserkers in Norse history apparently wore a bear skin and would enter a trance of rage becoming incredibly destructive in battle. It was almost as if they became the bear whose skin they worse,” Dr. Braeden began.

“Badass,” Stiles said, pushing to the edge of his seat.

“The first of the present day so-called Berserkers took the name because they are angry and want to fight the bond as fiercely as possible. They want their actions against the bond to transform into a break in the bond. They want to lose all identity with the part of themselves that is a part of the bond. And when you meet them, Stiles, you will see that they are often as extreme as their name. They often cannot be reasoned with once they decide to take up the title.”

Yeah, and they were fucking annoying. Derek had dealt with them bringing pamphlets to his room at six in the morning before.

“They have been known to even try to break up bonds by getting in the way of the relationship. The most extreme Berserkers kill one person in the bond, usually the more emotional one, so that the physical person in the bond has a chance to ‘move on.’”

“Sounds like you’re the target, Derek. Thank god I get all of those nosebleeds because at least I’ll be alive,” Stiles said with a smirk.

“I don’t think you’d last long without me,” Derek said sarcastically.

“Probably not,” Dr. Braeden said seriously.

Derek and Stiles snapped to attention, staring at Dr. Braeden before looking at one another.

“Well, fuck you,” Stiles said, trying to push Derek who didn’t budge.

Derek couldn’t help but laugh.

“Do either of you have any questions this time?” Dr. Braeden asked after they settled down.

“Why is ours so much stronger than anyone else’s? There doesn’t appear to be anything special about us,” Derek asked quietly after a moment.

“Maybe it was overcompensation because you were supposed to bond, but the bond wanted to ensure that you would manage to be together despite your age difference, places in life, etc. Most often, strong bondings are couples that are completely opposite in most respects, but with similar core values or ideas. Maybe you and Stiles are just the epitome of this idea. Or, maybe all bonds want to achieve this level of bonding and you are just the select few who actually make it. We don’t know why people bond stronger than others. We honestly don’t know exactly why we bond at all. It’s just a fact of life.”

Dr. Braeden clasped her hands together with a clap.

“Well, if you don’t mind—”

When people started off like that, Derek most often did mind.

“—I’m going to chat with Derek alone for a little while alone and then next time I’ll talk with Stiles even though he basically already had a one-on-one with me today,” she said with a smile.

Derek nodded grudgingly, and Stiles hesitated a moment as if he didn’t want to leave Derek alone before popping up out of the chair with a grin.

“Thanks for all the info and keeping it short, Dr. Braeden,” he said as pulled a little at his shirt.

“It was a pleasure to get to talk to you, Stiles,” she said with the same large smile from the beginning of the session. “Let me know if you ever have any questions. And do you want some of the more conventional pills for the effects?”

“Uh, I guess, just in case,” Stiles answered. He turned to Derek as Dr. Braeden wrote him a script. “Are we still getting lunch? I should have plenty of time to do everything since we ended earlier than I thought.”

“My one-on-one might take a while—”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Stiles interrupted with a snort, “because you’re such a talker. I’m sure Dr. Braeden will get tired of carrying the conversation after too long. Remember not many people can word vomit like me.”

Dr. Braeden handed him the script and Stiles gave her a small wave. He turned to leave the room, but paused a moment as he stood over Derek’s shoulder. He hesitantly raised his hand and gently brushed Derek’s shoulder before saying, “See you soon,” and walking out the door.

Derek watched him go with a strange feeling tugging at his stomach and the bond.

“Did everything with work get settled?” Dr. Braeden asked to draw Derek’s attention back.

“Yeah, I spoke with my boss and made arrangements.”

Dr. Braeden nodded her approval. “Where are you living?”

Oh, god, this was going to be torture. It was like they were playing twenty questions—and not with the harmless questions Stiles came up with.

“At home with my parents.”

“Are your relationships with your family okay? Did you find someone to confide in?”

“Yes,” Derek answered, beginning to feel exasperated, “but I don’t really have anyone who understands—none of them are bonded. My friend Boyd, who I told, is married, but not bonded. Same for my parents and my siblings so far. I don’t even have a single set of grandparents who bonded. I didn’t really grow up around it. They all support me and Stiles, but I don’t think they really get it.”

“It’s hard for people who aren’t bonded to understand—and even when you first bond it is often hard to get rid of the previous notions about bonds.”

“I never thought it was a curse or anything. I listened to Paige’s stories. She always made it seem important,” Derek said quietly.

“How is Stiles?” Dr. Braeden continued.

Derek was tempted to just answer “okay,” but he got the sense she meant more along the lines of “what do you think of Stiles?” She probably won’t stop until she got a straight answer.

“Stiles is much more than I thought he’d be,” Derek answered vaguely.

Stiles was a tad too energetic and a little spastic, but he was annoyingly wonderful for many reasons.

Dr. Braeden looked ready to roll her eyes, but was apparently satisfied enough to continue, “Paige brought to my attention that you may have difficulty with the fact that Stiles is male?”

Derek wanted to die. “No. I’ve always noticed some guys, but I never thought much of it. I didn’t need to. They were just passing thoughts and I had Paige. I didn’t need to be anything other than completely straight. When you don’t really have a preference, it’s easier to ignore it.”

“Life isn’t mean to be easy.”

Derek wondered if she had learned that in Psych 101.

“I got that with all this shit. But if you’re asking if I have a problem with Stiles being a guy, then the answer is no. I didn’t like being exposed at first, but obviously all my friends and Paige had recognized it anyway. I’m attracted to him, okay? But I’d rather not discuss it.”

Derek could feel the heat radiating from the blush on his face as she nodded and moved on to the next topic.

“How does the bond feel? Do you experience any illness that needs to be addressed?”

“No, I just have to tune out an overload of emotion,” Derek said drily, ignoring the first question. “I don’t get anything like Stiles.”

“Well, Derek that is pretty much it for today. I know that you have a lunch to attend,” she said with a small smile. “But, I just you to know that I, and I’m sure your family and also Stiles, realize, Derek, that this is incredibly difficult for you. You had reached a point in your life where you thought the foundation for the rest of your life had been set. Now that foundation has crumbled and you are trying to build something new. Stiles is lucky in the sense that he will always simply be building from this one foundation.”

Derek nodded his appreciation and made a move to stand.

“But at the same time, Derek,” Dr. Braeden continued, obviously not done speaking, “consider that statement. Stiles will never have what we consider the ‘normal’ experience. He will finish high school bonded, go through college bonded, move into adulthood bonded. He will never experience anything else. He will have never had the extra experiences that you went through. So help him along the way.”

Derek couldn’t help but feel guilty at the prospect of taking something away from Stiles’ vibrant life. “I want him to experience as much as possible,” Derek said as he finally stood. “I don’t plan on stopping him from doing whatever he wants. I don’t plan on getting in the way. I’ll pay for wherever he decides to go to college. He can party, go places, try things—I’m not going to control him. Even if he wants to date someone else, I won’t stop him.”

“I get a feeling,” Dr. Braeden said kindly, “that Stiles doesn’t want to date anyone other than you. But, I’m glad to hear that you are doing well and that you are adjusting. You deserve happiness. Thank you for speaking with me, you’re free to go.”

Derek shook her hand and began the maze back to the front doors of the hospital. Outside, Stiles was waiting for him—Derek wasn’t surprised considering he had sensed that Stiles had never gone very far. Stiles’ tall, lanky frame was leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets and the sun shining into his spiked up hair and reflecting off his glasses. He smiled a beautiful smile when he saw Derek walked toward him.

“Survived? Told you it would be ridiculously short. What did you do without me to interpret your growls?”

“I managed somehow, though it was daunting without you,” Derek said sarcastically. “And why didn’t you tell me you were doing all that stuff for the bond?”

Stiles shrugged slightly. “It wasn’t really a big deal. Plus, I figured you’d be bored with it or something. I know you don’t really like talking about the bond, so I just did my thing.”

Derek stepped closer to Stiles and gently wrapped his palm around Stiles’ wrist and placed his fingers in their place on the pulse point. Stiles closed his eyes and shivered slightly. Derek wondered briefly how it would feel to be bonded the way Stiles had—was touch different for him?

They remained in silence for a second before Stiles opened his eyes and blurted out, “So, I’ll grab burgers and fries from the diner and meet you at my house?”

Derek really missed the food options of a big city.

“Yeah, that sounds good.”

Not seeming to care that anyone walking in or out of the hospital could see them, Stiles pulled Derek into a hug goodbye, even though they were going to the same place. It was an easy, warm hug, which Stiles quickly ended and began to make his way to the jeep.

Derek was suddenly struck with how different the end of this meeting was compared to the first one.

This time, he didn’t want Stiles to leave without him.

● ● ●


 

"I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun."

-Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Chapter Text

Stiles was awoken the next Wednesday morning by a soft knock on his door. Stiles blinked sleepily as he snuggled in the covers and looked at the clock on the bedside table. 5:14 AM.

What the hell? Didn’t anyone know the sacredness of sleep before six?

The door cracked open slightly as his dad stuck his head into Stiles’ room. “Stiles, there’s someone here to see you,” he said quietly.

Stiles felt the full warmth of the bond and knew that Derek was standing outside of the door. No wonder he had been sleeping so deeply. He grudgingly pulled himself up in the bed.

His dad opened the door all the way and revealed Derek on the other sided before wordlessly turning away and making his way for the stairs.

“Hey,” Derek said awkwardly.

“You can come in, dude,” Stiles yawned.

Derek quietly walked into the room and shut the door before looking around with mild curiosity. Stiles realized that Derek had never been in his room before this. Stiles become suddenly very aware of the state of his room—the mess of clothes and papers everywhere, the posters on the wall, the suspicious amount of tissues in his trashcan—and of how bad he probably looked after just waking up.

Derek crinkled his nose adorably after a moment. “That Aconitum stuff really does smell fucking awful.”

Stiles chuckled softly. “I’ve gotten so used to it that I don’t notice it much anymore.” Derek raised an eyebrow at him. “Okay,” Stiles said, “that’s a lie. It’s fucking awful.”

Derek laughed and then put his hands in his pockets as he shifted slightly. “I’m sorry that I woke you up and everything—”

“Oh, fuck, yeah, you’re leaving for England,” Stiles exclaimed, all dregs of sleep immediately lifted.

Stiles was suddenly sharply aware of the button-down shirt and blazer that Derek was wearing instead of his usual Henley. He was looking at Stiles with an anxious and regretful expression.

Stiles couldn’t help the draw to put himself as close as possible to Derek as he jumped out of bed and flung his arms around the older man in a crushing hug.

Derek was leaving him. Logically, he knew that Derek was coming back, that he was being an idiot for acting like this was the end of the world. But something about the idea of Derek being so far was filling him with a sense of loss and sadness that he could only equate to how he sometimes felt about his mom.

Derek seemed briefly surprised before hugging Stiles back strongly and moving his head to rest in the juncture of Stiles’ neck. “I’ll be back soon, Stiles. I promise. I’ll come see you right after I get back,” he murmured into Stiles skin.

“Dude, I know it’s just bond craziness, but I feel like you are going off to war or something. Flying to space and going get stranded like that Gravity movie. Sailing away and going to get eaten by a wave like the parents in Frozen.”

Frozen, Stiles?” Derek asked as he pulled away.

“Dude, that is an awesome movie. I have zero shame about my reference. That snowman is hilarious.”

“Do you have a thing for Disney princesses?” Derek said in amusement.

“Ariel is kind of hot, with those massive eyes and awesome hair. In hindsight, my childhood preference for her might have had something to do with the fact that she is Lydia’s princess look-a-like.”

“Sometimes I wonder what you watch in your free time, but then I get scared and stop thinking about it.”

“The amount of porn outweighs the amount of Disney, honestly,” Stiles said cheekily.

“I’m sure it’s some horrible, grainy shit,” Derek said mildly as he brushed his fingers over Stiles’ exposed Mark. “I’ll text you when I leave and when I get there, okay?”

“You’d better, dude.”

Derek smiled before beginning to walk away, back toward the door. Stiles felt a foreboding sense of dread with every step Derek took. He clenched his fist as he tried to tell himself to stop overreacting—but he was failing miserably.

“Can I ask my question now?” Stiles blurted in desperation, causing Derek to turn around.

“Your question?” Derek asked, confused.

“From the first lacrosse practice.” Derek nodded and Stiles continued, “What does the tattoo on your back mean?”

Derek looked surprised. “Sorry, I know that people with Marks don’t usually get tattoos, but I didn’t think that it would happen. And I know people often get them removed after they bond, but I just haven’t really thought about it—”

“You don’t have to get rid of it,” Stiles interjected. “I like it.”

Derek gave him a fond look. “For me, it means control. My mother gave it to me when I was younger and going through something—she said that each extension of the spiral represented alpha, beta, or omega, like in a wolf pack. You can be whichever one you want to be. The alpha leader, beta follower, or the omega that chooses to stand away from the crowd. You control the choices that you make.”

Stiles wasn’t sure how to respond, so he just rambled, “You know that wolves haven’t been in California for like ninety years? But they had this one wolf, OR-7 that migrated down to California and reintroduced the species.”

“He chose to be an omega?” Derek asked.

“I don’t think so. I think he just chose to be the alpha of a new pack,” Stiles said quietly. “What would we be?”

“I think you’d be the human that tags and studies the wolves and then protects them,” Derek said with a smile. “I’ll see you soon, Stiles.”

Stiles watched Derek complete the exit out of the room before returning to bed. By the time his alarm went off at six-thirty, Stiles had only managed to get another ten minutes of sleep. After dragging himself out of bed and quickly getting ready, Stiles took a few of the pills Dr. Braeden had prescribed, sprinkled some mountain ash in a canister of coffee, and jumped in the jeep to head to school. The pills and ash helped, but didn’t diminish the nausea as they had been able to the past few weeks. As Stiles met up with Scott and made his way to first period English, the sickness was sitting right at the pit of his stomach, threatening to pulse higher, and a tight headache was starting to form in the back of his head.

Derek texted him when he got to Sacramento to meet Lynette and the other representatives at the airport. Stiles looked up at the droning English teacher who had proved to be just as easy as he first anticipated before pulling out his phone.

 

7:45 AM

Derek Hale

>Stiles, are you okay?

>I know that you don’t feel good

 

>yeah, im fine

>it’s just a little worse that’s all

>and i think im psyching myself out

 

>Are you sure?

>It’s not too late for me to come back.

 

>fuck no dude

 

>Stiles

 

>derek i know you’re worried about me

>but ill be fine dude

>this is too important to you i can handle it

 

>I’d rather know that you aren’t going to die than go to England.

>I’ll keep in touch with you until our plane leaves in a couple of hours.

 

>sounds good man

>it’s already better since youve texted me

>tell lynette that I love her sassy self

 

>She says that you are her darling boy.

>And forced me to text that to you.

 

Stiles nearly laughed out loud. He had decided a while ago that Derek’s boss was completely awesome—she wasn’t afraid to be a bitch, didn’t let anything stand in her way, and was brutally honest about everything. Last time they had gone to Sacramento, she and Stiles engaged in a twenty minute conversation about the pros and cons of IUDs while Derek stared at them in horror. She had even pushed a meeting back to continue arguing her points. Needless to say, she loved Stiles.

>i have class right now ill text again soon

Stiles began to type “i lov—” when he paused with his finger over the “e” key. He froze in shock.

Where the hell did that come from?

Stiles immediately pressed the backspace key and erased the message before shoving his phone back into his hoodie pocket.

No time right now for that shit.

The texting with Derek had truly helped ease the nausea and headache, and they continued to message back and forth through the next period until Derek informed him that they were about to leave on the plane. As the texts ceased, Stiles still felt fine, until a little while later when he felt a sharp tug of the bond and his headache shattered, sending splinters throughout his mind, leaving a slight pounding.

Derek’s plane must have taken off. Fuck, these next few days were going to be unbearable.

All of his symptoms progressively got worse, though it developed slowly enough that Stiles was able to make it to lunch without terrible effort.

“Are you okay, Stiles?” Scott whispered as they walked to lunch.

“You know how I told you that Derek was going on a trip to England? He left this morning. It’s just messing with me.”

“Okay, man, but your nose has started bleeding and I haven’t seen it do that in a while.”  

Stiles reached up to his nose and pulled back a finger to see it stained with red.

As they grabbed their lunch trays and reached the table, Isaac scooted down for them and Allison was talking about a new security weapon that her dad had ordered to protect his facility.

Stiles looked down at his food and immediately felt overwhelmingly queasy. Eating wasn’t happening.

“Hey, Stiles,” Lydia said from across the table, “did you figure out that problem?”

Stiles looked up at her and saw her expression instantly become concerned. “Oh, yeah,” he said quickly, “I worked on it last week. I just misread a number, basically. We should be good. All engines are go.”

“Stiles, what is the matter?”

“Yeah, Stiles, you don’t look good,” Kira added from beside Scott.

“You look really pale—” Allison began with concern.

“I’m just coming down with a cold or something, not a big deal,” Stiles interrupted.

Isaac then asked Scott about the party this weekend and the whole table became engaged in the discussion of whether to go or not, thankfully taking any focus off of Stiles. After Scott gave the same reasons that he had given Stiles when he had wanted to go to the back-to-school party, Cora walked near their table and met Stiles’ eyes.

“Hey, geek,” Cora said to him as she walked passed.

Everyone stared at him again, except for Lydia, who merely raised an eyebrow.

“Since when have you and Hale been friends?” she asked.

“You mean other than in a fictional universe? Never. But she sees me all the time since I’ve been practicing with her brother.”

“How has that been going,” Kira asked, interested. “You’ve definitely improved at practice. You totally fooled me out during that drill yesterday.”

“He’s ruthless. Seriously, I’ve never been worked so hard in my life.” Stiles heard a harsh laugh behind him.

“Did I hear that you’ve never been so hard before? Finally get a girl to touch your dick, Stilinski?” Jackson said snottily as he walked over to Lydia’s side of the table. As he looked at Stiles’ face, his face scrunched up. “What the fuck is wrong with you, Stilinski? Are you on drugs?”

“Shut up, Jackson,” Lydia said with a glare so chilling that Jackson sat down and followed her direction.

“It’s good to know you’re concerned, Jackson, but I’m just coming down with something,” Stiles said. He was trying to ignore the pain, and he found that it was difficult to do so when people kept alluding to it.

And then, because the universe hated him, Landon Cress made his way over to talk to Jackson. Both of them together. Each fighting their damnest to be the biggest douche in the school. This was officially the worst day ever. Stiles ignored the douchebags’ discussion of the party this weekend to instead participate in his friend’s new found topic of college applications. Unfortunately, Stiles could barely focus as the nausea began to roll so strong that he felt tempted to gag. The pounding in his head was so loud that he swore his ears were beginning to ring.

Stiles zoned out for a moment and then as he focused on the table again, he heard Landon say to Jackson, “Cora’s family loves me. I think I even won over Cora’s future brother-in-law. I had won over Cora’s future sister-in-law, but her brother broke up with her right before he proposed to her—”

“Derek hates you,” Stiles commented before catching himself. Though he wished his fog-filled mind hadn’t let it slip, it was a true statement—Derek complained all the time about how he couldn’t stand Cora’s fake, arrogant, asshole boyfriend. Stiles always only added fuel to those fires. Derek could really find a way to say derogatory things about people you hate.

“How the hell would you know?” Landon said incredulously.

“Everyone knows,” Stiles replied cryptically. “If you can’t recognize Derek’s blatant hatred for you, then no wonder you think the rest of her family pretending to be nice to you means they like you.”

The entire table had fallen silent. Landon looked ready to surge forward and punch Stiles. The bell for the next period suddenly pierced the air and everyone jumped up from the table.

That was the definition of saved by the bell.

“You had better watch yourself, Stilinski,” Landon said murderously as everyone began to move back to the school building.

Scott fell into step next to him as they walked back to class. “Are you sure you’re okay, Stiles?” Scott said anxiously.

“I think I’m just working myself up because I know Derek is going so far away. I’m just freaking out and I need to calm down and get this shit under control.”

“You going to make it the rest of the day?”

Stiles had economics and then chemistry –he just needed to make it through both of those and then he could skip out of his last blow off class.

“I hope so, man. I’m just hoping that if I puke, it happens in Harris’ class. He’d hate that.”

As they settled into econ and Coach began to yell at Greenburg, Stiles just stared forward even though he felt Lydia’s eyes watching him carefully and Scott’s eyes flickering at him with worry every few seconds. The lesson was boring and Stiles could have figured out this distribution pattern on his own and everything was becoming unbearable. The bond seemed to pulse in pain, and Stiles felt aware of every micrometer that Derek moved away from him. About halfway through the class period, Stiles blearily realized that he was sensing fear and emotional pain from Derek.

He felt blood beginning to run steadily down from his nose and drip from his chin.

Stiles became aware that Coach was asking him a question, but everything was muffled and the world seemed to be swaying slightly. There was a hazy film over his eyes and the nausea was beginning to roll through his body down to his extremities and then like a wave, was pulled back only to crash through his body again a second later. Stiles wearily realized that everyone was staring at him and that Scott had pulled him upright to drag him out of the classroom.

“What the hell is wrong with Bilinski? He looks like death incarnate,” Coach asked.

“He, uh, just came down with a violent stomach bug that’s been going around. You may want to Lysol the classroom,” Scott lied quickly as Coach stared at him in horror.

Stiles doubled over and retched.

Fuck. He’d really hoped that would have happened to Harris, not Coach. He’d probably have extra laps now.

Stiles had never really questioned the bond or thought it was unfair, he’d just gone alone with it—but this was fucking unfair. Stiles could admit that he wanted the bond; he liked the attachment to Derek and he couldn’t even think about losing it. But this neediness to the point of physical pain was ridiculous and somewhat disturbing. It shouldn’t have to be like this.

This was fucking stupid.

The rest of the class had recoiled as far back from him as possible, but Lydia surged forward to help Scott support Stiles.

The world was tilting even more now and all of the energy was draining from his body.

“We need to take him to the hospital,” Scott said authoritatively, letting Lydia help him pull Stiles toward the door.

“Come on,” Allison said hurriedly, "I’ll drive.” Danny, with wide eyes, picked up Stiles’ bag and held it out to Isaac who grabbed it and rushed at Allison.

“All of my lacrosse players are touching his stuff,” Coach cried. “Stop it! He’ll infect all of you.”

Scott paused for a second at the door frame and pulled Stiles' phone from his hoodie, throwing the cellphone to Kira. “Call the sheriff while we’re on the way,” Scott said before helping Lydia haul Stiles out into the hall.

Once they made it halfway down the hall, Stiles thought that he smelled something burning—and suddenly heard a crackle of electricity before feeling like he’d lost control of his body. A second later, the darkness reared up and consumed him.

When Stiles slowly came to, he nuzzled down into the bed. It was such a comfy bed…he didn’t want to leave it. But why was he in a bed? Stiles opened his eyes and sluggishly registered that he was lying in a hospital bed. As he looked up, he saw the anxious faces of Paige and Dr. Morrell.

“He’s awake,” Paige said in relief. She sounded exhausted.

“The combination drip must be working,” Dr. Morrell commented, “but we can only give it to him for a few more hours before it becomes dangerous.”

The door to the room unexpectedly burst open to reveal Dr. Braeden, who immediately slammed the door shut again. Dr. Braeden looked infinitely more worried than Stiles had ever seen her. The usual confidence was absent as she rushed into the hospital room.

“How did you get here so fast?” Paige asked, astounded.

“I was thankfully in San Francisco for a new tricky Class V bond, and was able to catch a helicopter here. I have connections. Has anyone been able to get in touch with Derek?”

“No, he’s on the plane right now. We figure he’s probably feeling Stiles’ situation and trying to get in touch with us, but we don’t know what’s really happening,” Dr. Morrell answered.

Dr. Braeden began checking all of Stiles’ vital signs. “This isn’t going to help him. We need to get him to a space that is Derek’s. We need to take him to the Hale’s house. Surround him in pictures and as many Hales as possible, put him in Derek’s clothes, get that dog.” She sounded to Stiles like she was underwater. “I’ve never seen anything like this before, even with the other Class X bonds. It’s like his body is going into some version of shock.”

“He’s convulsed twice—tonic-clonic seizures,” Paige informed Dr. Braeden.

“Call the Hales. Tell them that we’re coming over. We’ll bring what we need. Derek is going to Europe, correct?”

“England. From the texts that we saw on his phone they left about ten this morning—their flight to England is estimated to be about eleven hours, so it’s only been about five hours into his flight.”

They’d read his texts? Definitely a violation. Hopefully he hadn’t said anything too embarrassing.

“I’ll call Talia right away and then I’ll head over first to get everything set up. I’ll call Laura too and tell her to come up to be around him. She can use Peter’s jet.”

Dr. Braeden nodded. “It seems so strange that Derek would still leave when Stiles felt like this,” she commented after a second.

Stiles immediately felt a flare of protectiveness for Derek. This damn thing wasn’t his fault.

Paige, apparently feeling the same way, frowned and said defensively, “Derek wouldn’t ever do anything like that. According to the texts, Derek knew that Stiles wasn’t feeling well, but Stiles felt okay enough for them both to think it was fine for him to leave. It probably didn’t start getting bad until the plane began to fly.”

“We can bring him in my car,” Dr. Morrell said, “the hospital won’t really want him to leave, so we should go out the back.”

Dr. Morrell, Dr. Braeden, and Paige all continued talking, but Stiles could no longer focus on the words around him. Derek’s intense worry and fear that he had felt through the bond earlier had escalated into panic. Stiles wearily wondered if this is what it was like for Derek all the time, feeling the emotions so acutely. If so, Stiles would be willing to argue that even with all this shit he was going through, Derek got the short end of the stick. It was overwhelming trying to sort out the feelings, distinguishing them from your own, and not letting them consume you. Derek’s panic was eventually so strong that Stiles couldn’t stand it—he closed his eyes and let the darkness take him again as the doctors fluttered around him.

Stiles awoke as he was being carried by Stephen Hale and Dr. Braeden into the Hale house. His eyelids felt heavy and sticky, and his mouth felt dry. Once they were in the house, Stiles saw the worried faces of Talia and Paige. Paige was standing with her arms crossed so tightly that she looked like she was hugging her sides, but Talia, even with her obvious worry, managed to stand calm and strong.

As they reached the stairs, Stiles licked his lips and managed to croak, “Cora?”

Everyone focused quickly on Stiles; he saw immense relief in everyone’s eyes that he was aware of what was going on around him.

“Your life is more important right now than the privacy clause,” Dr. Morrell replied, who was trailing behind Stephen and Dr. Braeden. “Dr. Krasikeva, did you get everything ready upstairs?” she directed to Paige.

Paige nodded as Talia spoke to Stiles, “Don’t worry, Stiles, we made up an excuse for her to go to a friend’s all weekend, she won’t be here.”

“We told her that plumbing problem had finally become a major issue and she should probably shower elsewhere. It got her out pretty fast,” Stephen said in his usual mild manner, though it was laced with concern.

Once up the stairs and in Derek’s room, Dr. Braeden made everyone leave so that she should help Stiles into some of Derek’s clothes that Paige had pulled out of the drawers. Just being in Derek’s room had a huge effect on Stiles—he felt more stable, more coherent as the haze in his mind cleared slightly. His muscles felt more like his own again. As he slipped on the sweats and faded basketball shirt, Stiles could smell something so distinctly Derek, and though blood still trickled down his nose and his head pounded, the nausea wasn’t so overwhelming that he felt the need to double over. Dr. Braeden seemed to notice his improvement with satisfaction.

Talia, Stephen, Paige and Dr. Morrell reentered and all were very attentive and worried, getting Stiles secured in the bed and with a drip and surrounding him with pictures and books, calling Charlie up on the bed, tucking a busted stuff animal close to Stiles’ arm.

So fucking bizarre. There was a demeaning quality to all this, needing someone so intricately in your life that you needed this kind of attention.

“There’s nothing demeaning about needing people, and certainly nothing demeaning about the imperfect parts of ourselves, including our health,” Talia said.

Apparently, he still didn’t have control over his mouth yet and spoke out loud. Either that or Talia could read minds. Which actually wouldn’t be too surprising.

“Have you heard from Derek?” Dr. Braeden asked as Dr. Morrell and Paige fiddled with some of the medical equipment.

“No,” Talia said. “We’ve attempted to get in touch with both him and Lynette. We have called both airports and the airline and have only gotten vague responses. We’re even using all of our contacts to get in touch with someone who works with air marshals to try and see if there was one on their flight.”

The doctors except for Paige and Stephen then left the room, whispering about something Stiles couldn’t find worth straining to hear. He turned over slightly and buried his face in Charlie’s coat before peeking his face back out for Charlie to lick his face. Charlie then place his head on Stiles’ hand like he could draw out the pain. God, Stiles fucking loved this dog.

He just wished Derek was here to complain about how Stiles was spoiling his dog.

Talia turned to Paige. “If this is happening to Stiles, what is happening to my son?”

“I don’t know,” Paige said quietly.

“He’s still my baby,” Talia said gracefully, “even if he is a twenty-six year old man. It’s so hard as a mother to accept that there is only so much you can do.”

“I would give anything to know if he was okay,” Paige replied, sounding ready to cry. “I still love him.”

“I know you do,” Talia said kindly, wrapping her arms around Paige.

Stiles felt a strike of pain—Stiles had gotten to the point where he had forgotten that anyone other than him had a chance at Derek’s attention. It was difficult to recognize how much time Paige had spent in Derek’s life and the part she played. For the first time all day, he felt a surge of something other than nausea; he felt simultaneous guilt and jealousy. He wanted to know if Derek was okay too. Derek was important to him too, even though he hadn’t known him as long as the two women. Derek was grumpy, sarcastic, and reserved, but he was dedicated, loyal, and caring.

There were three people in this room who loved Derek.

Talia looked down at Stiles and said calmly to Paige, “This poor boy doesn’t deserve this either. He’s a wonderful person. And I know my son well enough to know that Derek cares deeply for him already.”

Stiles leaned over the bed and began dry heaving, followed by a series of coughs. Talia and Paige rushed to his side, but just looked at him helplessly. As he regained his breath, he realized there were tear tracks down his cheeks.

Suddenly, the sheriff burst in the room, panicked. “Stiles,” John said hoarsely, “I was on a case, didn’t check my cell phone until we got back to the car. Stiles.” He immediately sat on the edge of the bed and brushed his hands on Stiles’ forehead. He turned to Talia and Paige. “Is my son going to be okay?”

“We don’t know—” Paige began.

“I asked if my son was going to fucking be okay!” he shouted.

“Hey daddy-o,” Stiles said quietly. John flipped back around. “I’m going to be fine.” The sheriff didn’t look convinced or any less anxious. “Honestly, dad, I refuse to go like this. This is fucking pathetic and slightly ridiculous.”

“Language,” John said with no heart.

“Also, could you text Scott for me and tell him I’m surviving?” he coughed. He didn’t have the energy to say much more.

John looked at the blood slowly trickling down Stiles’ nose. “I think I might be lying if I do that,” he said quietly, but he picked up Stiles’ phone where Paige had placed it on the bedside table and typed a message.

Despite feeling marginally better, Stiles still weaved in and out of consciousness simply due to exhaustion. When he was awake, everyone tried to find ways to ease the bond. They eventually had to take him off of the mountain ash and aconitum combination drip, but they brought things in such as random pictures and old family videos of Derek. Stiles felt a surge of strength on the latter—watching a seven year-old Derek playing basketball was cute enough to make anyone feel better.

After what seemed like an endless span of time, Stiles’ cellphone rang, the ID flashing an unknown number. John answered the phone and then held it out to him. Derek immediately said to him, “Stiles.”

Stiles couldn’t answer; he just let his breathing slow down and felt the bond began to calm down. The bond pulsed slower, and Stiles was suddenly aware that he could breathe much easier through his nose as the bleeding slowed.

“Ask me a question, Stiles. Ask me anything, please,” Derek pleaded, his voice pained and dry.

“Derek,” Stiles croaked.

Derek let out a breath of relief. “Thank fuck. The air marshal is giving me ten minutes to talk to you. When I land, I’ll talk to you until I get back on the other plane. I’m coming home right away.”

“What about the job?” Stiles asked.

He fucking hated that he screwed this up for Derek, but he was so damn happy that Derek was turning right around.

“I don’t care about that. I just fucking wish I could get home faster. From what I was feeling, I thought you were dying. So Lynette understands. She actually is how I’m talking to you—she scared the shit out of them by saying she would sue for infringement of bond rights, especially since the flight attendants took my phone.”

“Can you see the marshal’s gun?”

“No, Stiles.” Stiles almost thought he heard the usual exasperation that he’d come to expect from Derek. Stiles felt himself breaking into a smile. He already felt the pounding dispense slightly in his head and the nausea was more of a gentle roll than a crash.

Everyone around him looked incredibly relieved to see such a normal Stiles expression.

“Ask me anything, Stiles,” Derek repeated.

“Do you really look that good or do you have to work at it?”

“I put shit in my hair.”

“I knew it,” Stiles said mildly.

“Stiles, tell me that you’re going to be okay. I can’t lose you. I can’t.” Derek sounded like it was very hard for him to admit, but he couldn’t stop from saying it. “The pain I felt from you, it was unbearable—”

“You aren’t going to lose me. I wish it wasn’t going to take you so long to get back, not going to lie, but I’ll make it. I get the feeling you are stuck with me.”

“Is Charlie with you?”

“Yeah, he’s being an awesome pillow.” Stiles petted the dog as he hesitated a moment. “Are you okay? What happened to you?”

“I’m okay now,” Derek responded vaguely. “I just don’t think I’m ever going to be allowed on this airline again. Where are you?”

“At your house. Speaking of, your baby pictures are adorable and watching you play sports as a kid is my new favorite thing,” Stiles commented, as he realized their time was ticking.

“Fuck, what the hell did they show you?”

“Everything,” Stiles said simply. “You really grew into your ears.”

Derek gave a sigh and said quietly, “It’s good to know you can still say shit like that.”

“Here’s some more shit,” Stiles said, “if we had been in high school together, do you think we would have been friends?”

“Probably not,” Derek said honestly, “I’d probably have made fun of you. I wouldn’t have gone around punching you or anything, but I definitely wouldn’t have been nice.”

“I think I would have found a way to win you over as I ogled over you from a distance.”

“I constantly admire your determination.” Derek’s statement actually sounded truthful and lacking of any sarcasm. Derek then made a frustrated noise. “Stiles, they want me to give the phone back.”

“I don’t think they passed second grade time reading,” Stiles commented lightly, “because there’s no way that was ten minutes. But it’s okay, Derek, I’m going to be okay. Go ahead.”

“I’ll be back as soon as I can. I promise, Stiles. I promise. Just—” Derek wasn’t able to finish as the line cut dead.

“I’ll be waiting,” Stiles replied quietly and looked up from his reclined position on the bed to see everyone staring at him.

Stiles turned his head toward Talia, Stephen, and Paige. “Derek’s freaked out, but he’s okay.”

Talia smiled softly at the news. “Thank you, Stiles.”

“I love him too, you know,” Stiles said, as he felt moisture slip from his eye, down of the side of his temple, and into his ear. It felt incredibly important to say.

The sheriff froze in shock, but Talia just looked at him steadily as Stephen put an arm around his wife. Paige looked incredibly sad.

“Well, once Stiles tells us the details of Derek’s position and his plan for return, Dr. Morrell and myself need to return to the hospital for a little while. We’ll be back, of course, but we have other patients that need to be checked out and Stiles seems stable right now. Dr. Krasikeva will stay with you all and send us updates,” Dr. Braeden informed the room. Stiles told them about his conversation and then the doctors headed out of the door.

After talking to Derek, Stiles’ body seemed to have hit reboot. He felt the best since Derek left– he was still sick and wasn’t sure if he could keep anything in his stomach, but he felt incredibly hungry and his headache had died down. He knew it was probably only temporary because he could feel the pressure slowly building up, but he found that when the focused on Derek’s things, especially on his pictures, and on the family members who held Derek’s resemblance, he still managed to feel okay.

Laura got to the house about an hour later. She flew in the room and rushed over to Stiles to put her hands on his cheeks.

“Oh my god, are you okay? Paige texted me that you got to talk with him.”

“I’ve been better, but at least I got to skip chemistry with a valid excuse.”

“You’re too fucking funny for us to lose you,” Laura said with a laugh. “I’m here to help until Derek gets home.”

Suddenly, Robbie poked his head through the doorway. “Uh, hey, guys.”

“Who is this guy?” John asked suspiciously.

“Oh, this is Robbie! This is my fiancé,” Laura supplied quickly. She turned to Stiles again. “I’m so sorry, Stiles, I just freaked out when mom and Paige first called me—”

Stiles held out a hand to stop her. “It’s fine, Laura, seriously.” He nodded at Robbie.

“So, bonded with Derek, huh?” Robbie said as he walked over to pat Stiles on the shoulder.

“It’s a trial, obviously,” Stiles said weakly.

“For more than one reason, I’m assuming,” Robbie said with a smirk. “Glad to hear that you’re feeling better.”

After the room gained these new additions, the Hales, Paige, and John all chatted quietly while Stiles fell silent and yawned. He knew that they all weren’t leaving because they had been instructed to keep close, but he couldn’t fall asleep right now with all of them talking. He was tired and bored with no video games or television.

“Why don’t we play a board game?” Talia said suddenly.

“What games do you have?” Stiles asked.

“Let me go get some,” Talia replied as she walked out of the room.

Stiles sat up in the bed, wrapped in Derek’s blanket with Charlie curled up next to him.

“Mom is going to ask you to play Monopoly. Decline,” Laura advised with a hard look in her eye. “She just enjoys watching everyone become her bitch about halfway through the game.”

Stiles extracted an arm out of the blanket to pet Charlie. “I don’t know, Laura, that sounds like a challenge,” Stiles said lightly.

“It will be a blood bath,” Laura said in a sing-song voice.

“And…challenge accepted.”

Stephen chuckled from where he leaned against the wall.

When Talia returned, Monopoly was indeed one of the game options. Stiles chose it and sent a smirk Laura’s way. As the money was being spread around, they each carefully selected their token. Stiles chose the thimble, Talia chose the Scottie Dog, Laura chose the ship, Stephen chose the train, Robbie chose the car, and the sheriff chose the top hat. Once the game began, it didn’t take long for Stiles to recognize that Talia was definitely shrewd as she picked the other players apart—but Stiles was clever too. He found ways to counter and challenger her. The game was loud and competitive and enough to properly distract him.

“Oh my god,” Laura squealed about an hour later, “Stiles totally just won.”

Talia bowed her head, “I graciously accept defeat. You have a curious strategy; I couldn’t pinpoint it to try and counter.”

Stiles laughed before coughing weakly. “My strategy is that I have no strategy. I don’t have enough focus for that.”

“Stiles even beat you when he was basically dying from bond-distance phobia,” Laura said gleefully to her mother. “This might be the greatest day of my life. Minus the Stiles-looking-like-he-was-dying parts.”

“Are you sure you weren’t just going easy on me?” Stiles asked Talia.

She shook her head. “I never go easy on anyone in Monopoly. I’m the monarch of this group and I like everyone to know where they stand. I guess you continue to be a wonderful exception,” she said, her eyes twinkling.

“We should probably try to get some food in you,” Stephen said from beside Talia. Talia nodded and began to rise as she said, “We’ll at least get you some soup.”

“I’ll come with you,” John said, rising to follow the Hale parents out of the room.

“You should come to our wedding,” Laura said joyfully as they left the room. Robbie gave a thumbs up in agreement. “You’re bonded to Derek; you beat mom at Monopoly; you’re family. I’ll just tell Cora that I accidentally mentioned invitations in front of you and then felt like I should invite you or something.”

“I’m just sad you didn’t ask me to be a bridesmaid,” Stiles said in mock sadness.

“She’s a bridezilla; you don’t want to be her bridesmaid,” Paige said lightly.

Laura swatted at Paige with a laugh.

After managing to eat broth and crackers, Stiles fell deeply asleep, feeling as if he needed to sleep forever. He woke up briefly when Derek called during his layover, but Stiles barely registered the conversation, drifting in and out until firmly falling asleep. When he groggily woke up again, Stiles had no conception of what time or day it was. He hazily realized that he had been awoken by commotion downstairs. The only people in the room with him were his dad and Paige—Stiles assumed they had all taken partner shifts—who both seemed to be sharply focused on the clamor downstairs. They shared concerned looks and whispers.

Stiles opened his mouth to ask what was going on, when Derek burst in the room. The Hales and Dr. Braeden followed Derek into the room, but Stiles quickly only had tunnel vision for the man in front of him who was staring at Stiles like he wasn’t real. Stiles belatedly realized that he must have been asleep for a long time. There was a soaring satisfaction through the bond and a spreading warmth that went to the tips of his toes. Stiles almost felt lightheaded from the sudden clearness in his head and relaxation in his body. He made a move to sit up in the bed and move toward Derek, but Derek strode to the bed and climbed in with Stiles, not even seeming to care that several people, including Paige, where in the room.

The sheriff made a noise of disapproval, but was cut off by Dr. Braeden. She looked incredibly pleased.

Derek pulled Stiles close, intertwining their legs before wrapping his arms securely around Stiles. Stiles tucked his head into Derek’s shoulder and let out an involuntary dry sob as he clung to Derek. He felt like his control had finally come back and Derek was the anchor that would hold it down. Derek brushed through Stiles’ hair gently and then immediately pressed his fingers onto the usual pulse point of Stiles’ wrist. Derek seemed to gain immense comfort from the pulsing and let out a deep breath.

Over Derek’s shoulder, Stiles’ father looked ready to rip Derek out of the bed. The Hale crew looked lost as to how to appropriately react. Paige looked simultaneously pained and relieved.

Stiles ignored them. They weren’t important—Derek was important and he was here. He was close, the warm skin of his legs and arms pressed into Stiles’ skin and his breath moving Stile’s hair. The bond flowed gently between them.

“About time, asshole,” Stiles whispered sarcastically.

“I’m sorry,” Derek murmured so miserably and seriously that Stiles couldn’t handle it.

“It’s not your fault, moron.”

“I thought our bond was ending. Nothing felt right, not even the Marks. And I couldn’t lose it. I couldn’t lose you,” Derek continued in the same tone.

Stiles couldn’t help the affection and attachment that surged through him. He felt great comfort in being a necessity in Derek’s life, even if it was because of the bond. He snuggled as close as possible with Derek. “I’m here, Derek. Don’t worry, I’ll be annoying you tomorrow.”

Derek snorted. Ah, there was the Derek he knew.

“But,” Stiles said quietly, “for now, I wouldn’t oppose a nap even though I’m pretty sure I’ve slept more than half a day. It takes a while to recharge from this shit.”

Derek ran his fingers through Stiles hair again as Charlie moved on the bed to stretch out over both of their feet. “It is pretty fucking difficult to get much sleep in an airplane chair.” He moved his fingers down to brush over Stiles’ knuckles. “So, I could sleep.”

Stiles closed his eyes after receiving the confirmation, nodded, and allowed himself to be wrapped in the calming darkness.

● ● ●

As they flew along the interstate, Derek let Stiles flip through the radio stations for about ten minutes before slapping Stiles’ hand out of the way with a scowl. “I’m putting on a satellite radio station and you’re not changing it.”

“But Derek, don’t you feel like you at least owe me radio privileges?” Stiles said with a smirk.

“No. My guilt has passed.” His scowled deepened.

That was a fucking lie. Derek felt like he owed Stiles the world, but if he told the other man that, Stiles would milk it for all it was worth. And contrary to popular belief, Derek was not an idiot.

“Sure,” Stiles said smugly, as he reached forward and switched the radio station. He scanned the stations for a few more minutes before seeming to take pity on Derek and settling back. “So, you had to be lying about Lynette understanding,” Stiles commented after a moment.

Derek had to pause for a second to remember what Stiles was referring to. “Well, she doesn’t understand, but she likes you and she would rather neither of us die. She’s disappointed—okay, fucking pissed—but I’m not going to get fired over it. We’ll figure something out.”

Stiles didn’t look completely convinced, but he accepted the answer as he began to mindlessly ramble about some show that he had started to watch on Netflix.

The day after Derek had gotten back from traveling, he had woken up in a cocoon of sheets with Stiles firmly wrapped around him, breathing softly. After everything that had happened, Derek couldn’t even lie to himself about liking the feeling of having Stiles so close to him. He had extracted himself from the bed as Stiles continued to sleep like a rock and had gone downstairs to the kitchen to ask permission to take Stiles to the beach house for the weekend. He needed to be with Stiles, but he wasn’t going to sit around the house and let everyone observe them like animals in a zoo. Dr. Braeden had immediately advocated the venture, saying that they needed time alone together to properly ensure Derek, Stiles, and their bond were recovered. Talia had barely batted an eye before agreeing, but Sheriff Stilinski had practically required a blood oath, notarized promise of Stiles’ safety, and groveling to allow Stiles to go. Undeterred, Stiles had broken the sheriff’s resistance quickly by slipping into the kitchen and saying quietly, “Remember when mom broke her ankle in your junior year of college?” John’s face had visibly fallen and he had sadly turned to Derek to give permission. “I’m sorry,” he had said remorsefully, “it’s just my son is all I have left.” Derek had nodded. “And I forget sometimes what it felt like.” Stiles had then apologized profusely to Talia and Stephen to invading their home, which they had refused to hear.

“When is your birthday?” Stiles asked loudly, cutting off his own rant and bringing Derek back to the present.

“November. When is yours?” Derek questioned curiously.

“April 8th.”

“I thought you said that you were almost eighteen?”

“Oh, yeah dude, I was wrong that first time—I was ten when you were almost twenty and in college.”

Derek resisted the urge to smack Stiles’ head down onto the dashboard in front of him.

“Yes, I know when I was born and I know when you were born; I can do math, Stiles. But don’t say that shit out loud, I really don’t need to hear it.”

Derek saw Stiles wrinkle his forehead unhappily and pick forcefully at a string on his jeans.

“I don’t really think that it’s anything to feel weird about,” Stiles said in an uncharacteristically stiff voice. “It’s true. I’m just joking about it and you’re not. You don’t have to sound so uncomfortable about it. Besides, emotionally, I think we’re on even ground… and it’s not like we’re twenty years apart— in a couple of years, no one will even say anything about the age difference.”

Derek felt like he had struck a nerve that he didn’t know was there. “I’m sorry. I just don’t ever want to take advantage of you. I was taken advantage of once, and I would never want to do that to you,” he replied honestly.

Stiles sighed. “Yeah, I get it, I’m sorry. But I also know that you would never take advantage of me. And I would never let you do anything I didn’t want to. But you wouldn’t because you care too deeply about the people you love—not that you love me,” he added quickly, “but I’m your bond mate or whatever the hell they call it. Basically, you have a huge heart and are incredibly loyal. And I know that you are the number one member of the Stiles Fan Club, even though you try to pretend otherwise.”

Derek felt a blush rush over his skin. He’d blushed more with Stiles in the last couple of months than he had in years. Stiles didn’t seem embarrassed at all at his bluntness, but was determinedly straight-faced.

“I thought Scott was your number one fan?” Derek finally responded.

Stiles laughed brilliantly. “Oh, yeah, that’s probably right. I am the true love of his life. But you are at least number two. Well, actually, dad is probably number two,” he mused. “Okay, well, third. Still in the top five, so still significant!”

“As long as I’m above that Isaac kid, I’m good,” Derek said drily.

“Definitely ahead of Isaac, though it might be debatable for Lydia. Who would be your number one?”

“Probably my mom. I’m the only boy and I was the baby for ten years, so she probably spoils me more than she should.”

Stiles was shamelessly looking at Derek like he was the cutest thing Stiles had ever seen. After the English Calamity of Epic Proportions (as Stiles was calling it), he had apparently decided it wasn’t worth being even slightly timid or reserved around Derek.

“My mom was awesome too,” Stiles said softly. “She always encouraged me to be myself and told me that I could do anything.”

“I wish I could have met her,” Derek said truthfully.

Stiles laughed quietly. “Oh, she would have loved you. You have that kind-of-grumpy, sarcastic, cynical-but-actually-a-ray-of-sunshine thing going on— and those people where her favorites. She liked to bring out as much of the light in them as possible…which is probably why she bonded with someone like my dad. So,” Stiles cleared his throat and moved on, “who would be number two?”

“Boyd. Third would be Laura.”

“Oh, Boyd!” Stiles exclaimed. “Yeah, now that I’ve met Erica, when am I going to meet Boyd?”

“You didn’t really meet Erica…” Derek responded with a fond eye roll, “but, you can meet him whenever you want.”

“I’m holding you to that, dude,” Stiles said happily. “Oh,” he interjected, “I just remembered something about that circumcision stuff I was talking about earlier!

Circumcision stuff? Thank fuck that Derek zoned out for the majority of that topic.

The rest of the ride was spent in easy conversation and intermittent, teasing bickering—it was so comfortable now to spend time together. The bond flowed contently between them. Charlie remained obediently still and quiet on the backseat, spending most of the ride asleep. When they finally reached the beachside, Stiles eagerly watched as the landscape rolled by.

“I haven’t been to the beach in so long,” he admitted as they pulled up to the Hale’s beach house. Derek’s parents had purchased it when he was about eight and some of his best childhood memories included summers here. It was a large, two-story house painted a light green and covered in windows. Stiles stared at it after they got out of the car and stretched out their cramped legs. “Dude, I knew your family has a lot of money, but now I know that you’re totally loaded. This place is huge and it’s actually on the beach.”

“Down, Charlie,” Derek commanded as he opened the car door, ignoring Stiles’ comment. Derek had enough money in a trust to basically never work—but the thought of it made him feel useless, and Kate had made that money feel dirty. Maybe he could pull from it to pay for Stiles’ tuition, he thought idly, and actually put it to a good use.

Derek led Stiles into the house and toward Derek’s designated bedroom. Stiles was gaping as he absorbed the details of the interior of the house. Derek reached his room and threw his bag over by the dresser. The room was distinctly a vacation home space, the only personal effects being a few books on the bedside table.

“Oh, hell yes, Watchmen. Awesome,” Stiles said, walking over to flip through the graphic novel’s pages. “What’s this?”

The Third Policeman.

“Last I checked, you could still read,” Derek said sarcastically.

“Your asshole is showing,” Stiles commented in exasperation.

“I don’t think we’ve quite reached that part of our relationship,” Derek replied mildly as Stiles broke out into his distinctive blush. “It’s one of my favorite books,” he continued as if no lewd joke had been made. “I like to reread it often, so I eventually just left a copy here.”

“I’ve never read it before.”

“Well, take that copy and read it. I have several.”

Derek turned to lead Stiles to his room, when Stiles, who had not moved from the bedside table, exclaimed, “Can I stay with you? Not like…anything…just I slept so much better with you. And I’d like to give you a chance to be the little spoon.” Stiles’ anxiousness filtered through to Derek, but he had managed to feign confidence on his features.

Well, why the hell not?

Derek nodded approval and Stiles smiled widely. “And, thank god, the bed is a king. On that queen we didn’t have much room and you are so hot, I was dying by the morning,” Stiles commented.

“I know how hot you think I am, I can see you watching me when we practice.”

“Well, fuck, we’re Mr. Sassy today, aren’t we? But, yeah, you are wet dream material.”

Derek chuckled as he pulled Stiles into the living room before heading to the connected kitchen.

“Finding something not totally shitty to watch,” he said from the refrigerator.

“You might regret the decision to give me the remote,” Stiles said in fake seriousness as he settled on the couch, “but no take backs.”

Derek realized they had never just sat and watched random TV together with the exception of Lost and football. They only read, practiced, or did homework together. Derek grabbed the rest of the bags out of the car and then watched Stiles flip through all the channels twice while Derek made them sandwiches with some of the food they had brought. “God, and I thought the car radio was bad,” he whined.

“Never test the lack of focus of someone with ADD because they will always exceed your expectations,” Stiles said calmly, as he finally settled on a segment about supernatural legends on the History channel.

Derek brought over sandwiches, chips, and Cokes over to the couch, and they lazily watched TV for another few hours before deciding that they were ready for bed. Neither had quite recovered from the events of the last couple of days, and they were exhausted from the long drive. After they had gotten ready, Stiles ran and jumped on the bed, collapsing face down with an arm and leg hanging off the bedside. Derek pulled off his shirt and threw it by his bag before turning toward the bed to see Stiles staring at him. Derek suddenly realized that he was half-naked, about to get into bed with the guy he was bonded with.

“Sorry, I usually sleep without a shirt,” he said as he bent to reach for his shirt again.

“No, it’s fine, you can,” Stiles responded quickly, as he scooted over to the other side of the bed so that Derek could slip into the side closest to the dresser. Derek hesitated, but crawled into the bed without it, and felt incredibly awkward as he faced Stiles.

Fuck, this hadn’t been so complicated the other night. He had just gotten in bed with Stiles without thinking about it.

Stiles looked slightly nervous, but seemed determined to not let it stop him from shuffling closer to Derek. Stiles hesitantly reached out and touched the two Marks on Derek’s clavicle and heart which were normally hidden from him. Since their first lacrosse practice, the latter Mark was now almost completely over his heart. Stiles ran the tip of his fingers along the outline of the Marks, and the bond soared. Derek felt warmth, joy, and home. Stiles long fingers then began to brush down Derek’s abs, feeling the smooth skin and strong ridge of muscle. Derek wasn’t sure if it was because he hadn’t had sex in so long or if it was just because Stiles was so close to him, but he felt himself getting half-hard just from the light touches. Stiles hesitated for a moment at the elastic line of Derek’s shorts before running his fingers lower and feeling the outline of Derek’s dick. Stiles let out a shaky breath.

Now Derek was definitely half-hard.

Stiles stopped his surveying and looked up at Derek with dilated eyes as he breathed through his slightly open mouth. Fuck, Derek knew exactly what he wanted that mouth to do. But he couldn’t let that happen yet, and certainly not tonight.

Stiles sat up suddenly and pulled off his own shirt, throwing it to the side. Derek knew he should protest this progressing into anything further, but he just watched the planes of Stiles’ stomach and the flex of his muscles. Stiles didn’t do anything, however, except lay back down and pressed close to Derek, letting the skin of their chests and the cuts of their Marks slide together. “Goodnight, Derek,” he whispered.

“’Night, Stiles,” Derek whispered back before closing his eyes and wrapping his arms around the other man.

The next day, Derek was blearily awoken by Stiles shifting slightly. He turned to look at the clock on the bedside table and saw 12:23 PM.

Jesus, he hadn’t slept this late since college.

Derek carefully extracted himself from the soundly sleeping Stiles and quickly took a shower before heading to the kitchen to make coffee and late breakfast. As he was bringing his bagel to his mouth, Stiles trotted into the room with wet hair sticking up, indicating he had just taken a shower. Derek got up and poured him a cup of coffee.

“You’re like an octopus,” Derek said in greeting as he extended the cup to Stiles.

“And you’re like a fucking furnace,” Stiles countered with narrow eyes, “but it’s too comfortable being close to you.”

“Yeah, I figured since you were glued to me,” Derek responded mildly.

Stiles rolled his eyes and took a sip from the cup in front of him. “Not bad, but I probably should have made the coffee.”

Derek lightly smacked the side of Stiles’ head.

Once Stiles took a seat at the kitchen table, they ate their bagels in silence—and certainly didn’t talk about the night before.

Derek was putting the coffee cups in the dishwasher as he asked, “Do you want to go to the beach? It’s getting colder, but—”

“Uh, yeah, dude! We can at least walk on the beach. Feel the sand between our toes. I haven’t been here in forever, remember?” Stiles said excitedly.

They both headed back to the room to change—Derek pulled on a tank top, not caring that his Marks were showing. They wouldn’t know anyone here. They were free. Stiles followed his lead and only pulled on a short-sleeved shirt instead of his usual layers.

As they exited the backdoor and followed the short path to the beach, Charlie ran out of the door with them, wagging his tail happily. Stiles was radiating excitement as he began to jog lightly ahead of Derek. He turned back and yelled, “Come on, Charlie!” The dog moved quickly to jog alongside Stiles, until they hit the sand of the beach and the boy and dog sprinted toward the waves. Derek casually walked after them.

When he caught up with them, he hung back slightly in the dry sand as Stiles stood at the water’s edge, arms spread wide. Derek looked at Stiles—the moles on his cheek, slightly upturned nose, unruly hair, warm eyes, and his tall, slender, built frame. He wasn’t soft curves, but soft lines that defined a beautiful man. Derek let the gentle warmth of the bond flow over him, removed all mental resistance, and watched Stiles laughing brightly as he let Charlie chase him around the sand as the sunlight surrounded them blindingly. Derek couldn’t remember the last time he was around someone so free. Stiles ran directly in front of Derek, breathless and still laughing, and Derek could see how much Stiles’ moles stood out in the sun and could feel Stiles’ unfiltered happiness. Something caught in Derek’s chest and he ignored whatever Stiles was saying to him now to step forward and gently place his hands at Stiles’ waist.

Stiles froze and immediately stopped talking to stare incredulously at Derek.

Derek couldn’t blame him, considering Derek had never even remotely initiated contact like this outside of a few stray touches and when he returned wrecked from England.

But Derek needed. Something in the back of his head seemed to be telling him that this was long overdue, and he was surprised that the guilt of Paige barely last a second when he pulled Stiles forward and covered Stiles’ lips with his own.

The pressure of Derek’s lips on his seemed to jolt Stiles back, and he eagerly returned the kiss and placed his hands in Derek’s hair. Stiles’ lips were smooth and wet beneath Derek’s and it was so warm—and the bond surged forward, almost joyously, and then there was the familiar feeling of skin cutting and Marks extending.

Neither of them paid much attention to the now familiar sensation and deepened the kiss. Derek pulled Stiles flush against him, wrapping his arms around him tightly, and Stiles kissed him like he thought he’d never get this chance again, pushing his tongue forward—

They were startled a part when Charlie, who had been panting by their feet the entire time, barked loudly and subsequently whined as he tried to shake off a drop of Stiles’ blood, which had slowly dripped from a small line of blood on Stiles’ arm, from his nose.

Damn dog.

Derek and Stiles looked at each other blankly for a moment.

“Well…stubble is interesting,” Stiles said breathlessly.

Derek laughed so hard that Stiles began to look alarmed. “Come on, we should probably run back to the house and clean these damn cuts,” he said once he could catch enough air.

“Yeah, I figure getting sand in these would be pretty horrible.”

“Let’s not find out.”

After cleaning up, they both resolutely ignored the topic of their kiss as they headed back out to the beach. Derek always felt it was better to keep moving instead of really elaborating about things. And if he kissed Stiles again, fine, but he wasn’t talking about it. He recognized that probably wasn’t the best plan—it was bound to lead to miscommunication and confusion. And not talking about important things like the bond had probably contributed to the disaster that was the England trip. But for now, he was determined to stop worrying and throw around the lacrosse ball with Stiles on the beach.

He deserved some fucking peace for an afternoon.

After tossing the ball for a while, Derek pretended to pass to Stiles, who extended for a ball that wasn’t there and stumbled in his confusion. Derek laughed loudly as Stiles jumped at him, like in their first lacrosse practice. However, Derek was ready this time. He caught Stiles, lifting him briefly, before slamming both of them to the ground and pinning Stiles to the sand. Their bodies were slotted together and Derek could feel every deep inhalation Stiles made.

“You fucker—” Stiles laughed breathlessly.

“Daddy!”

They turned their heads to see a little girl, her blond hair in bouncing pigtails, pointing at them with the hand that wasn’t being firmly held by her father. The man was looked at them with a raised eyebrow. Derek and Stiles quickly sprang apart and stood up, brushing off sand.

“Oh, look, Daddy! They’re bonded,” she squeaked. “They’re soul mates! And they have a puppy!”

Well, that was bullshit. Soul mates were people in stories who were perfect for each other and never fought, but lived happily ever after with hearts in their eyes. They found each other under shooting stars and lived in clouds of love. By that definition, Paige had been closer to being his soul mate than Stiles. Though he knew the girl probably didn’t know better, non-bonded people, particularly Berserkers, tended to say “soul mates” with a derogatory connotation.

“He’s a super nice puppy. Do you want to pet him?” Stiles asked with a huge smile.

The little girl nodded hard and wriggled away from her father as Stiles brought the dog toward her. She shrieked in laughter as Charlie licked at her hand.

“Sorry,” the man said quickly, “she doesn’t like being quiet. We were taking a walk so her mom could get a break. I know you and your boyfriend don’t appreciate the soul mates thing.”

“It’s fine,” Derek said flatly. Boyfriend. That label sounded out of place too.

“Come on, Emma,” the man said as he grabbed her hand again. “Say thank you to the nice men for letting you pet their dog.”

“Thank you!” the girl cried with a frantic wave as her father pulled her further down the beach.

Stiles smirked and waved goodbye at the little girl. He commented after a moment, “I always thought I’d have kids because I would be a fucking awesome dad.”

Derek snorted. Yeah, sure, he’d be riot.

“I guess I won’t have one now,” Stiles continued, fiddling with his stick.

Derek began to sense that this conversation was going down an uncomfortable route. “You don’t know that,” he said carefully.

“Yeah, like we aren’t in all that big stuff together, asshole,” Stiles said irritably. “And though I’m sure everyone unfairly assumes I’m ‘the woman’ in our relationship,” he gestured to the man and girl who had just passed, “I lack a uterus. Which, thank god for that, that organ creates so much shit for those graced with it. But oh, of course, we can adopt a little girl to bring some estrogen in the home. We’ll name her Lola. Or we can do a surrogate,” Stiles commented bitterly.

Derek hadn’t wanted to talk about the kiss, so the universe decided to give Stiles the opportunity to contemplate their reproductive options.

Why didn’t he deserve some peace damnit?

Stiles began to look and feel serious. “You’d be the sperm donor, obviously because your family’s genes ensure beauty and perfection.”

Derek decided to play along for the moment and ignore his discomfort. “Maybe I’d rather you be the donor and make sure the kid is smart.”

“Yeah, and no offense, but your family is scary intimidating. I don’t know if I want my kids to inherit that glare,” he said more lightly.

Derek was aware that this was actually an important topic that they were somehow talking about—they just seemed to be discussing it in the only way that they really knew how, sarcastically and cynically. But this wasn’t a complication that they needed right now. Stiles wasn’t even in college yet.

“I know you have trouble focusing on the present, but we don’t need to worry about kids right now, Stiles. Let’s work out some of the other shit out first,” Derek advised quietly.

Such as the boyfriend idea.

Stiles looked at him with an intense expression.

“Besides, you have a lot to do before then, Stiles. Like write your personal statement and get your damn applications sent in early.”

That statement seemed to snap Stiles back to normal. “Oh, god, no, Derek, you sound like my dad,” he moaned.

“Write it while we’re here and then send them all in when we get back. You have an excuse not to be at school for a few days from Dr. Braeden, so get it done.”

“You suck.”

“I’m making sure it gets done. I can help too, if you need it,” Derek added. “And maybe your dad will be happier with me for taking you away.”

“If I mentioned that kiss from earlier, I seriously doubt that.”

Apparently, Derek wasn’t going to avoid talking about that either.

“Mention that kiss and I’m pretty sure he’ll lock you away in a tower,” he attempted to say casually.

“You got me there. And he’d probably lock you in a cell so that you can’t save me from the tower. No knight to save the damsel in distress. Or, I guess ‘mansel’ would be more accurate,” he smirked. “But that’s where he’d be making a mistake because I’d find a way to break out of that shit with or without you.”

Derek shook his head affectionately as he whistled for Charlie and began to head back to the house. “Well, I’m starving, how about you? I brought the ingredients for pork chops, I’m just going to go ahead and make that.”

“You can cook?” Stiles asked, astonished. “I’m trying to imagine you baking and my brain is rejecting the image."

“Paige was in med school and had no time, so I cooked a lot. I’m not the best, but it works. And I don’t really bake. I fucked up cupcakes for Cora one time and decided it wasn’t worth it.”

“So you mean besides your gorgeous face, crap load of money, and cute dog, you have cooking abilities? God, I got so lucky in the bonding lottery.” Stiles reached out and patted Charlie next to him. “But how do you fuck up cupcakes? You just grab a box and throw some stuff in. Theoretically, I could even do it.”

“I was trying to make them from scratch,” Derek answered with a shrug.

“Oh my god, your precious level just increased about ten points. I can’t even handle it.” Stiles extended his hand to pinch Derek’s cheek, but Derek batted his hand down with a scowl.

Stiles laughed as they entered the house. “So, can I help you make stuff?”

Derek made his way over to the kitchen and began pulling utensils out of drawers. “No. Honestly, I don’t trust you not to burn down the kitchen. You can stir things when I instruct you to.”

Stiles clutched his heart in mock-hurt. “Oh, of course, King Derek of the Kitchen. I’ll just be the lowly servant.”

“What the last thing you cooked?” Derek asked with a raised eyebrow.

Stiles paused. “Does putting leftover pizza in the microwave count?”

“And that is why you are on stir duty.”

Derek worked as quickly as possible with the meat, while giving Stiles the tasks of getting the salad ready and stirring the potato soup. They chatted idly and Derek pushed Stiles out of the way when he tried to get too hands-on. When he eventually pulled the meat off the stove top, Stiles banged through drawers and cabinets to find plates, bowls, and silverware to set the table. As they settled down to the table, Derek walked to the refrigerator and grabbed a couple of beer cans. Derek handed one to Stiles.

“Not worried about my dad anymore?” Stiles asked happily as he snatched the beer before Derek changed his mind.

“When I was on that plane, I thought you were going to fucking die—if I ever feel like that again, at least I’ll know I didn’t deny you a beer.”

“Good man,” Stiles said raising his beer slightly toward Derek.

They served food to their plates in silence and began to eat. Stiles suddenly let out an exaggerated moan.

“Dude, you are such a goddamn liar. You’re ‘not the best?’ You should be on Master Chef or something,” Stiles hailed as he shoveled more food into this mouth.

“It’s good to know that you won’t be difficult to feed,” Derek commented drily.

They continued eating, until Stiles put his fork down with a clatter and bit his lip. He then pulled at his hair slightly while exclaiming, “Okay, you have to tell me if we’re kind of something or not. I’m going crazy. I gave you your space earlier because you’re Derek and words are your poison, but I like you, and I like hanging out with you, and that kiss was awesome and I’d like to do it again, you know, eventually. And I was talking about kids earlier and you weren’t totally freaking out, so that’s something, right?”

This felt like the biggest statement of his life—bigger than saying out loud his choice of college, or a major, or answering his job interview questions, or asking Paige to date him or even to marry him. “We’re kind of something,” Derek affirmed hesitantly.

“Yeah?” Stiles breathed.

“Yeah.”

As important as it was, this conversation seemed incapable of any eloquence.

Stiles smiled so broadly that Derek wondered if his face hurt, and Stiles returned to the most normal he had been since England—asking Derek questions, rambling, buzzing with energy and never still. Derek felt the constant waves of happiness and relief through the bond. Derek was so used to feeling Stiles’ emotions—it was so normal for him now—that most often they were just flickerings that Derek incorporated into his life without really thinking about it. But in moments like this, they were strong enough to remind him of the power of their presence.

When they were done eating, Stiles insisted on cleaning the dishes, even though he apparently hated doing so.

“There’s something so gross about it. It totally gives me the heebie jeebies, it all feels so slimy, and—”

“I can wash them, Stiles.”

“No! No, no way, you cooked,” Stiles insisted. “Oh, god,” he whined as he dipped his hand in the water, “I swear things are growing in here, I can’t do it.”

Stiles somehow managed to complete the task, though he was by no means quiet about it. Derek almost wished that he had just pulled Stiles over and done it himself, instead of finishing his beer at the counter. But Stiles had been so eager that Derek couldn’t bring himself to stop the scene in front of him.

“What do you want to do now?” Stiles asked as he placed the last dish in the dishwasher. Before Derek could attempt to answer, Stiles continued, “Well, if you can’t think of anything, I brought a game and my PlayStation.” Stiles flashed a smile and a thumbs up. “Let me grab them from my bag.”

In a spastic flurry of motion, Stiles set up the game system, put a game in, and handed Derek, who had made his way over to the couch, a remote. Derek looked at the cover of the game laying on the coffee table. There was a strange, personified burlap bag on the cover and the title Little Big Planet.

“What the fuck is this?” Derek held up the offending item. “It looks like a voodoo doll on the cover.”

“They are adorable, shut up,” Stiles shot back, sounding affronted. “And we’re going to make you one.”

Derek had never played one of Stiles’ games before, and he couldn’t remember playing a video game that had come out after 2006.

Stiles’ game was now filling the screen, and his little sack avatar was failing around in a manner eerily similar to its gamer. The sack had a mustache and was wearing a Russian army hat.

These things were a fucking atrocity.

Stiles plopped down on the floor, putting his back up to the couch and gestured for Derek to do the same. Derek reluctantly relinquished his soft seat cushion. They sat close to one another, shoulders brushing and Stiles looped his right ankle over Derek’s left.

For some reason, Derek doubted Stiles did that with Scott when they played video games.

“I can add glasses because I know you like that,” he commented smugly as his avatar flitted around the screen. He clicked a menu and added Harry Potter-esque glasses to his bag’s face.

Derek turned on his controller and signed in as a guest. Stiles instructed him to the same menu he was on a moment ago and made comments on all the different decorations as Derek flipped through them.

“Oh my god, yes, the bunny tail to go with your teeth.”

“More teeth jokes, when will they end,” Derek said dully. “I’m going to get veneers and shut you all up.”

“No! I’d be so sad.” To his credit, Stiles sounded legitimately horrified. “Don’t fuck with perfection.”

As it turned out, the game was essentially a kind of creepy looking, little, gender neutral sack person who runs around and steps on bubbles and tried to collect stickers. Stiles’ favorite part appeared to be when he would suddenly get his avatar to slap Derek’s.

“What is the point? This just seems like a creepy Mario,” Derek toned as they worked their way through the training level that Stiles had insisted on for Derek to get the basics.

Stiles gave a fake gasp and said, “How dare you? That’s blasphemy.”

Charlie’s ears perked up at the gasp and immediately padded over and curled up next to Stiles on the floor. Since Charlie had been with Stiles while they were waiting for Derek to return from England, the dog had become even more attached and protective.  

They completed the level and Stiles led Derek into a multiplayer created level (whatever the hell that meant). Stiles, unsurprisingly, had no trouble navigating through the level, but Derek kept dying.

Stiles cackled as Derek burned again.

“You know what, you little shit? If we were in a real life video game, you’d die way before me. You’d probably be begging me to carry you after about two seconds in.”

Derek shoved Stiles slightly, so Stiles had to put out a hand to stop from tipped over.

“Oh, you’re on asshole,” Stiles said as he righted himself. He narrowed his eyes. “Get the car keys.”

“Car keys?”

Stiles brought his face close to Derek’s, nose brushed by Derek’s ear as he said quietly, “There was a huge sign for laser tag on this building off of the interstate a few miles before we exited, and I’m going to fucking slay you.”

Derek turned his head and brushed his nose against Stiles’. “Bring it on, Stilinski”

He felt the same boldness as he had on the beach as he dragged his fingers lightly around Stiles’ ear, brushing the hairline over the curve of Stiles’ glasses and causing Stiles to shiver. Derek then grabbed the shirt of Stiles’ shoulder and roughly pulled him up into a standing position. Stiles yelped loudly. Charlie jumped up as well and shot daggers at Derek.

“Fucking tease,” Stiles muttered darkly.

Derek smirked as he grabbed the car key and headed toward the door.

The laser tag building was as close as Stiles had said. Inside, it was a huge building covered in random geeky shit and endless amounts of arcade games. The very back of the room had flashing sign for the laser tag entrance.

Stiles paid at the front counter and then reached out and intertwined their fingers, holding Derek’s hand as he led him to the entry room.

Derek was suddenly struck with the memory of Paige leading him through the crowd of teenagers to the front side room at Cora’s party. He felt a familiar ache—she was an intricate part of his life and they hadn’t even really spoken since that day at the park—but it was soothed when he focused on the warmth of Stiles’ hand. He contemplated for a moment if they hadn’t gone in that room and Stiles had passed from his life—no random interrogations, no word vomit, no bonding side effects, no moving back in with his parents, no hindrances to his job, no video games, no random texts at three in the morning saying do you ever wonder how different Spiderman would be if he uncle hadnt died.

It would be shitty. Easier, maybe—but now that he knew Stiles, he couldn’t image not having Stiles to bother him. In any case, it would be more boring.

Once they were given the laser tag rules, the guide led them into a room filled with racks of vest and gun combinations, each of which had a name on the back of it. Stiles grabbed one a red one that said Cyborg, and Derek grabbed a blue one from the other side that read T-Rex.

“You’re going down, Hale,” Stiles said with a smirk as he walked to the red holding area.

Derek walked to the blue holding area and saw about four teenagers, who looked like this was their stomping grounds, and a young boy. The kid looked to be about eight or nine – the vest was too big for him and almost consumed his body. Derek wasn’t sure how the kid was going to run around in it. The boy was dark-skinned with wide eyes that looked nervous.

“Are you here alone?” Derek asked.

“My older brother brought me, but he and his friends said I couldn’t be on their team,” the kid said shyly.

Derek shook his head. “My older sister used to do that kind of stuff to me.”

“I hate being little,” the kid said forlornly.

Derek nostalgically remembered with a sense of relish the day when he realized he was taller and stronger than Laura.

“You’re not little,” Derek said, “you’re—” He looked at the kid’s vest. “—Godzilla. And we’re going to crush your brother’s team. Stick with me and you’ll be fine.”

The kid looked up at him appraisingly and then nodded more confidently. “You are pretty big.”

Derek nodded back. “And if you’re up to it later on, I’ll even give you a special assignment.”

The kid’s eyes somehow got even wider. “What kind of assignment?”

“There’s a tall, skinny kid with a Star Wars shirt on—I might choose you to take him down.”

The kid didn’t look nervous anymore—in fact, he gripped the gun tighter and appeared still and focused. He nodded at Derek. “I’m on it.”

Once they opened the doors and the loud speaker signaled the beginning, the kid burst through and ran out of sight. After about five minutes, Derek realized that he had never played laser tag before, but he was good at it. Derek had done courses before for training—this was the same thing just with a little added hand-eye coordination. He was faster than any of the other players, had much better aim, and quickly discovered how to use elements of the course to his advantage. He knew when to try to attack for the target locations and he knew how to sneak up on other players and tag them out. Derek couldn’t remember the last time he laughed as hard as when he tagged out that cocky asshole from the other team who was trying to sneak up on him.

Derek weaved through a series of walls on the top level and shot at a red player on the other team. The kid heard the beep signaling that he was hit, and he threw his hands up. Derek smirked and moved down the ramp leading to the first floor, ducking and avoiding a shot from a red player. He quickly returned the shot more accurately and took the kid out.

As he paused behind a wall, Derek looked out to the nearby hall and nearly died from laughter. Stiles, who Derek had taken out many times, was still being followed by Godzilla. The kid was actually pretty impressive—he knew when to duck, when to hide, and when to shoot. He had found Stiles fairly soon after the game had started and hadn’t let up on him. Godzilla had just shot Stiles again in triumph and was about to run to hide when the game end was signaled over the loud speaker.

Derek walked out from behind the wall and bent down to see the Godzilla better. “You’d make an awesome assassin,” Derek said with a smile, “and I’m pretty sure we destroyed your brother.” The kid gave Derek an enormous smile and a high five.

As they walked out of the game and replaced their vests, Stiles punched Derek on the arm. “You seriously sent that kid after me? He was ruthless, dude! It was like he had been trained as a spy or something.”

“I know,” Derek said solemnly, “I trained him. And I only train the best.”

“Oh my god,” Stiles said with an eye roll. “You are the worst, man. If you being buddies with a little kid weren’t so adorable, I’d almost hate you.”

They walked up to the screens outside of the exit door where the scores were posted. Derek had been right—they had crushed the red team. And Derek was decisively the top gunman by an impressive amount of points. Godzilla had rejoined his pouting brother and was smugly pointing out the score.

“Nope, I take it back,” Stiles said, “I totally hate you. You were the top player, dude! I think laser tag might be your calling. I mean, you were fucking awesome—like, that was some action-movie shit you were pulling in there. Next time, you are totally on my team.”

“So now that I’ve proven that I can destroy you in real life—”

“We return to virtual life so I can get revenge, I know,” Stiles finished for him. “Let’s go buy some credits and let me show you up at arcade games."

Derek rolled his eyes, but purchased the two cards with the cheapest credit option at the front desk and handed one to Stiles. Stiles immediately walked over to the skee ball section and swiped the card.

“This isn’t really a video game,” Derek commented as swiped his card on the neighboring skee ball game. The brown balls clanked down the shoot and were exposed for Derek to grab. He picked up one, rolled, and sent the ball through the one hundred ring. Derek heard a clatter next to him and looked over to see Stiles with his mouth wide and one of his skee balls on the floor.

“Are you serious?” Stiles asked in astonishment.

Derek wrinkled his eyebrows. “What are you talking about?”

“Do it again,” Stiles commanded.

Derek picked up his second ball and after rolling it, the ball shot through the one hundred ring on the opposite side. Stiles threw his hands up.

“I swear to god, you are a ridiculous human being.”

After wandering around from game to game, Derek spent his remaining credits on a large, flashing wheel. He swiped his card and spun the wheel, looking away to watch Stiles hilariously battle with a crane machine. Derek heard a ding and focused back on the wheel to see that he had won five hundred tickets. They began to spurt out of the slot as Stiles walked over with his mouth open again.

“You’re better at arcade games then me. Better at laser tag. What can’t you do? What am I going to bring to this bond?” Stiles said in mock horror.

“I’m not very good at talking about my emotions,” Derek offered.

“Oh, well, that’s fucking true. I’ve got that covered,” Stiles said as he brought the tickets up to the front counter to be counted. Derek looked through the clear display cases at the prizes available for different ticket numbers.

“What the hell are we going to buy? There are so many options,” Derek said sarcastically.

Stiles pretended to ponder the choices by moving from case to case. “Well,” he started in a business-like manner, “We have to buy something for everyone. I think the only true option for Kira is the Samurai sword because she fences, and a sword would make that shit cooler.”

The worker, a kid who didn’t look older than twelve, got one down for them. Derek accepted it while Stiles continued to scour the display.

“Okay, so Scott definitely needs that crazy-looking Frisbee, Lydia could always use more pencils for physics so that swirling purple flower one is a definite yes, Danny needs a challenge so we’re going to go with the assembly Lego car, Allison’s family is obsessed with fleur de lis so that ring is it…Isaac doesn’t need anything special, I’ll just grab him some candy.” The behind-the-counter kid rushed around trying to keep up with Stiles’ decisions. “There’s no way in hell that I’m getting something for that asshole Jackson.”

Stiles pondered for a moment and then smacked himself on the head. “Oh shit, dad! Hm…oh, yeah, this fuzzy picture frame, for sure. I’ll even put a picture in it and make him put it on his desk at work. And if that Liam kid comes to hang out with Scott again, well, sorry, nothing for him. Scott doesn’t need a little brother, he has me.”

“You sound a little bitter, Stiles.”

“Only a little? I meant for it to sound really bitter. What should we get your family?”

“My family?” Derek asked, taken aback.

“Yeah, like I think the tiara would be perfect for Laura since she is definitely the queen. Robbie would probably be a man who would appreciate this whoopee cushion. Oh, this card deck would be awesome for your mom because she is a beast at games; I bet poker is her ultimate! Oh my god, yes, and this giant eraser for you dad! He’s doing crosswords basically every Saturday when I go to your house and he’s a pencil man. Cora is super hard, though…”

Derek was struck by how ferociously Stiles cared for the people in his life. He wasn’t always nice, but Jesus Christ did the kid care.

“How about one of these little plastic animals. They are definitely a collectible piece of shit,” Derek volunteered quietly.

“Yes, totally! The wolf, obviously, in honor of your tattoo and our OR-7 conversation.” Stiles smirked at Derek. “I don’t know about you, but I feel like Cora would be an alpha. Laura too.”

“I know they would,” Derek replied.

No one messed with Hale women.

Stiles pointed to a box in a one of the cases and told the kid behind the counter, “Two of these.” The kid reached down and brought out two cheap, green friendship bracelets with black and orange hashes at intervals and two thick knots. Stiles proudly thrust one toward Derek. “I won it for you, dear.”

Derek rolled his eyes, but he reached out and took the bracelet from Stiles’ fingers.

“It’s like a pre-registration bracelet instead of a friendship bracelet,” Stiles said with the tone of someone trying to sound nonchalant, but failing.

Derek faintly felt Stiles’ nervousness, but ignored it as he slipped the bracelet onto his left wrist. Stiles slid his own on his right wrist and said in a seemingly joking manner, but with serious eyes, “And now you are sealed.”

Derek looked at Stiles for a moment and then repeated quietly, “And now you are sealed.”

● ● ●


 

“Place your token on the corner marked "GO," throw the dice and move your token in the direction of the arrow the number of spaces indicated by the dice. After you have completed your play, the turn passes to the left. The tokens remain on the spaces occupied and proceed from that point on the player's next turn. Two or more tokens may rest on the same space at the same time.”

-Monopoly instructions

 

 

Chapter Text

Stiles nervously tapped his fingers on his desk as he listened to the dial tone echoing from his cell phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey! Derek, yo,” Stiles rambled nervously, “Look, listen, I kind of have a bizarre favor to ask, and I mean, you totally don’t have to! But, it would really help me out and I—”

“Stiles.”

Stiles took a deep breath.

“Just tell me what the hell you want.”

“Um, okay, yeah. Uh, so I have this big presentation tomorrow and it’s with Lydia—and I know I’ve talked about Lydia, but you don’t really know Lydia, and she is a total Slytherin and would kill me if this got screwed up, and—”

“Stiles,” was the sigh on the other line.

“Could you come to my school tomorrow during my presentation?” Stiles blurted. “I mean, you don’t have to be in the room, just close to it at least because, dude, the headaches have been horrible lately and I can’t even focus with my Adderall, and—”

“Why have the headaches been so bad?”

“Not sleeping well. I think the bond might have gotten used to me sleeping with you.”

“The bond got used to it?” Derek said sarcastically. Stiles could practically see the raised eyebrow.

“I know, dude, I know, I fucking sound like Braeden. But there’s no other way to really word this stuff sometimes.”

“So what about this presentation thing?”

“This is a preliminary thing—the groups present, and if Mr. Richard chooses us then we get to move on, do more research, do an out of class experience, and then present again for scholarships and stuff.”

“When I was in high school, if I wanted a resume booster, I just volunteered at the library for a couple of days or something,” Derek said, sounding impressed. “Hopefully you put that shit on your applications.”

“Don’t worry, dude, I definitely put that I was working on it on there. Applications are pretty much 85% bullshit, you just have to know how to be creative.” Stiles cleared his throat. “But, I know it would be super weird for you to be there for no reason, but—”

“Stiles, you can stop being so nervous, Jesus. After everything that has happened, this isn’t really the weirdest thing you could ask. What classroom is it in?”

Stiles brushed through his hair anxiously. “It’s not in a classroom. It’s actually in the auditorium. We present to a panel of teachers and the class comes and is forced to suffer through it. The whole thing is presentations from a few disciplines—History, Sciences, Art. Anyone in an advanced class has to do one—the sciences are often partnered up for some reason, that’s why I’m with Lydia.”

Derek was quiet for a moment. The silence made Stiles itch to speak, but he knew Derek well enough by now to know that waiting for a few seconds would be much better than trying to force words out of him.

“This is a big deal, isn’t it?” Derek asked quietly.

“Oh, no, man, I mean, not—”

“What time is it?” Derek continued as if Stiles hadn’t spoken.

“Two o’clock. My friend Allison—I’ve mentioned Allison, right? The awesome chick who used to date Scott? Lydia’s best friend?—Allison is going right before us talking about this French-legend-history thing, and it’s probably going to be awesome, so you should totally show up for that one too.”

“Is your dad going to be there?”

“No, he’s on duty. Scott’s videoing it on his phone and is going to send it to him.”

“Well,” Derek started, “I’ll be there. I’d like to know what this damn project is that you keep talking about and had to skip practice for last week.”

Stiles still felt slightly guilty about that—but there was no way he was telling Lydia that he couldn’t meet. She could be so scary when she wanted to be. She had wanted to make up for time lost when Stiles was “sick.”

“What time does the whole thing start?” Derek continued.

“One. Lydia and I are the last group to go, though, so you probably don’t want to show up for like a hundred other boring presentations. I mean, plus ours won’t be that exciting. I’m pretty sure 99% of the people there won’t understand it.”

“I’ll be there at one. I’m…I’m glad you asked me, Stiles,” he said quietly. “Text me and let me know that you made it school tomorrow.”

“Yes, dad,” Stiles scoffed with an eye roll as Derek hung up. He felt the bond pulse with the warmth that was so common now.

It had been a few weeks since the English Calamity of Epic Proportions and the subsequent beach trip, and Stiles wasn’t entirely sure where they now stood. Obviously, they were still firmly tethered together, but their relationship was feeling more fluid, like it was evolving in an unstoppable direction. Stiles just wasn’t sure what that direction was. The trip had felt like a date weekend, Derek had kissed him, and when he gave Derek the bracelet, Derek had repeated the phrase back to him. The repetition had felt like he was saying so much more. They had slept together every night at the beach house—truly nothing but sleeping—and had exchanged small glances, touches, slight kisses. Since they had returned, this affection had not disappeared, but was definitely more reserved on Derek’s end. Stiles had never even been close to a situation like this, where something like dating could be possible, and he wasn’t sure how to read or react to anything. No matter what was going on, though, Stiles was incredibly grateful that Derek was coming tomorrow.

The next day, Stiles and Scott were at their lockers as Stiles informed Scott that Derek would be gracing Beach Hills High School with his presence.

“Derek is coming? That’s awesome, dude! That’s a big step, right?”

“He’ll just learn how much of a geek I am as he hangs out in the back of the room.”

“Like he doesn’t already know. You don’t exactly hide it, Stiles.”

“Yeah, and honestly, the nerdiness hasn’t stopped him from liking me a little so far, so I guess that’s hope for the future.

“So, what exactly are you?” Scott asked thoughtfully.

“We’re bonded and we’re…something else.”

“What the hell does that even mean?” Scott scrunched up his face in confusion.

“It means that we’re just doing whatever feels right and not labeling anything.” Stiles slammed his locker closed.

“So he’s not your boyfriend?”

“No, Scott haven’t you been listening?”

“Well, have you been paying attention? Because I’m pretty sure he’s your boyfriend. I mean, you pretty much went on vacation together. You text each other all the time and stuff.”

Stiles hit Scott lightly on the head. “It’s not that simple,” he commented as Lydia approached them. They immediately ceased the Derek talk.

“Are you ready, Stiles? I fully expect to move on to the second round of presentations,” Lydia said dangerously, as if daring him to deny that he was ready.

“I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll,” Stiles responded confidently as he hiked up his backpack.

Kira walked up to join them and took Scott’s hand. “I’m so glad it’s Friday,” she sighed.

“We should totally do something after the presentations,” Lydia commented as the four of them began to walk to class.

“Something in celebration,” Scott said with a smile. Stiles patted Scott on the back—his best friend was forever the optimist.

Later, after lunch was over, the group made their way over to the auditorium with the flood of other students. Jackson somehow found them in the crowd and attached myself to Lydia. To make matters worse, Landon spotted Jackson and decided that he wanted to chat with him. Now Stiles would have to sit near both assholes.

As they settled in their seats, Stiles felt the ease in his head and wash of contentment that signaled that Derek was incredibly close. Stiles tried to subtly look around, but couldn’t spot Derek. He abruptly stopped once he noticed that Danny was giving him a puzzled look.

After about an hour, Scott’s head nodded as he fought sleep, and Isaac yawned loudly. Stiles threw his head back in his chair in agitation, but Lydia remained attentive and focused.

Why the hell were they last?

Mr. Harris walked up to the microphone to announce the next presentation. “And now we have Caitlin Marvin to talk about bond psychology in her presentation titled ‘An Evaluation of the Psychosocial Development of Couples After Bonding.’”

The whole crowd seemed to jostle and wake up slightly at the mention of bonding—the subject never failed to capture an audience’s attention. Bonding was not at all uncommon, and many people had immediate family members, neighbors, and friends who were bonded. However, in high school, it was almost a taboo topic, and most people Stiles’ age assumed that it would only happen to someone else. Furthermore, the majority of the older un-bonded population seemed uncomfortable openly talking about it, even when people close to them were bonded. From what Stiles could tell on internet forums, it was a continuous issue—classic case of people not understanding what isn’t happening to them. But, people were always ready to whisper comments to friends, especially the more scathing opinions.

Caitlin, who Stiles immediately recognized as the vice-president of their Gay-Straight Alliance, began her presentation introducing several couples and their general story. Stiles shifted uncomfortably before quickly scanning through the program again. He eventually saw her project header, listed two above his own, and couldn’t believe that he hadn’t picked up on it earlier. Maybe then he would have been able to prepare himself.

Stiles tried his hardest to focus on Caitlin’s story of Kyle and Ashley and ignore the growing murmurs around him. This whole situation was making him antsy and uncomfortable, which he really didn’t need before his and Lydia’s presentation. Caitlin was speaking about four different couples—Stiles appreciatively noted that one was a lesbian couple and a second was a gay male couple.

“Can you imagine being bonded? It would suck,” a girl hissed behind them.

“Yeah, there’s a reason they call it the Curse,” the kid’s friend answered her.

“That’s why my brother joined the Berserkers—he was going to marry this girl and then she bonded, and pouf she wants to be with this other guy.”

Stiles had a flash of Paige’s despairing face as she looked at him after he had bonded with Derek. He felt his anger beginning to rise.

“People who bond are selfish,” Jackson said confidently on the other side of Lydia, “taking away someone’s option to get away from you. One person in the relationship is probably just desperate and latches themselves onto the other person.”

“My parents are bonded and I don’t consider them selfish,” Danny commented easily.

Stiles wondered sometimes if Jackson would have any voice of reason if he didn’t have Danny in his life.

“Your parents dated all through high school,” Jackson countered, “that’s different.”

“I’m trying to concentrate,” Lydia said to Jackson sharply, “and stay ready for our presentation. So for god’s sake, shut up.”

“Please,” Allison added from down the row, “I still have to go too.” Isaac gave her a quick peck on the cheek.

“Besides, guys, it’s really interesting. Listen to Caitlin,” Kira offered from beside Scott.

Thank god for the women of his friend group. Stiles didn’t know how much longer he could take this conversation—he felt ready to climb out of his skin.

“I personally agree with the Berserkers—if you don’t want that shit, you should fight it with everything you’ve got,” Landon said from the side of Jackson, ignoring the requests of the girls.

Stiles felt an immediate flash of rage.

Shut the fuck up about things that you don’t understand,” Stiles exclaimed furiously, flipping to look at Landon. “Shut your fucking mouth. And watch the damn presentation. Maybe your puny, unintelligent brain will learn something.”

All of his friends plus the rows immediately behind and in front of him turned to stare at Stiles.

“That’s strike two, Stilinski,” Landon said coldly. “I can’t wait until lacrosse scrimmage because you are going to pay.”

Stiles flipped Landon off. Thankfully, his outburst had caused his row to fall silent and managed to suppress the other whispers around him. Scott was giving him a concerned look, and Lydia was examining him carefully.

On the stage, Caitlin finished her presentation to a round of applause, and Allison pushed up from her seat and made her way to the stage.

“Stiles, are you going to be focused for the presentation?” Lydia asked quietly, which Stiles knew was her way of asking if he was okay.

“Don’t worry, Lydia, I don’t plan on receiving your wrath anytime soon,” he replied. She nodded as Mr. Harris announced Allison’s presentation.

True to his word, once it was their turn, Stiles presented just as he and Lydia had rehearsed and Lydia spoke with the poise, intelligence, and self-assurance that everyone expected. The majority of the auditorium looked fairly lost throughout their lecture, but as they descended the stage, Mr. Richard gave them a very proud thumbs up that Stiles took as a good sign.

When the six presentations that were moving on were announced, Mr. Harris walked up to the stage and named Stiles and Lydia, Caitlin, Allison, two partners who had worked on cancer research, Danny (who had presented in the technological sciences), and an art student. Basically, the teachers had chosen all of the groups that had done college level work, and they tried to get a representative from each discipline in the final six.    

“Your presentation was awesome, Allison,” Stiles told her as they all moved out of the row and huddled near the side of the auditorium, except for Jackson and Landon who had thankfully decided it was time to move on. “You too, bro,” he told Danny as Stiles clapped him on the back.

Everyone congratulated Stiles and Lydia as well and continued chatting, eventually arguing about whether to go to the bowling alley tonight or not.

“Isn’t that Cora’s brother?” Danny suddenly asked curiously.

“Oh, yeah, it is,” Isaac answered as he identified where Danny was pointing, “I wonder what he’s doing here. Stiles, do you know?”

Stiles sputtered for a second before saying, “No, I have no idea, why would I?” Allison looked at him quizzically.

Derek, who Stiles managed to pick out in the crowd, began to make his way over to their group.

This was not the plan. Was Derek having an aneurysm?

Shit, Stiles wasn’t prepared for this. Thank god that he was normally so spastic that this reaction wasn’t considered too unusual to his friends. They also never really seemed to know whether he was sarcastic or serious, so that helped with the lying that he was assuredly going to have to do.

Once Derek reached them, he slipped his hands into his jean pockets and managed to look totally calm and relaxed.

“Nice job on the presentation,” he said to Stiles, “though I didn’t understand most of it. Science was never my thing.” Derek turned toward Lydia. “And congrats on keeping him focused enough to get it finished on time—sometimes when we practice I feel like the drills will never get done.” He extended his hand for Lydia to shake. “I’m Derek Hale.”

Lydia reached forward to accept his handshake and turned a sharp eye at Stiles. She raised an eyebrow before turning back to Derek. “I’m Lydia, nice to meet you.”

“Stiles talks about you all the time,” Derek said, breaking the handshake.

“Stiles has basically told us nothing about you,” Lydia responded with a flip of her hair.

“Yeah, I mean, he’s not that important,” Stiles offered. Derek rolled his eyes.

“I wouldn’t expect him to. We just practice together. But he mentioned he was presenting today and I was curious on what the hell he’d be qualified to talk about. Plus, I’m stuck in Beacon Hills for a few months and I’m fucking bored.”

Lydia did not look convinced in the slightest that Derek and Stiles’ relationship was so impersonal. She began evaluating Derek suspiciously.

“I’m Scott,” Scott said quickly, apparently deciding it was best to pretend he didn’t know Derek. He began pointing to the other members of the group. “This is my girlfriend Kira, this is Allison, Isaac—I think you met him somewhere—and this is Danny.” They all waved in greeting.

“Congratulations to both of you too,” Derek added to Danny and Allison.

“What exactly do you do for a living that you could just skip out and come to a high school symposium presentation?” Lydia questioned critically.

“Modeling, professional athlete, or porn, obviously,” Stiles volunteered with a smirk.

“None of those would be very surprising,” Danny said as he looked Derek up and down with approving eyes.

Stiles almost couldn’t contain his laughter as he saw the pink tinge in Derek’s ears. That was usually the only obvious outward sign that Derek was incredibly embarrassed or uncomfortable—well, that and a deepening scowl. Stiles felt a sense of accomplishment. He was used to teasing Derek in private, but he was glad to know that it could be successfully done in public as well.

“I’m an accountant,” Derek responded finally. “I’m having to work from home in Beacon Hills for a few months.”

“That sort of sounds like the start of a porn,” Kira whispered loudly.

Derek raised an eyebrow at Stiles that Stiles translated into “I’m going to get you back so badly for this somehow. Or kill you.”

“Why are you in Beacon Hills?” Allison asked kindly, attempting to draw the conversation in a different direction.

If only she knew that was the worst possible question to ask.

Stiles froze slightly, but Derek looked unfazed. “We’re having a family issue. It should be dealt with in a few months, so I requested to be able to come here and help out,” Derek supplied smoothly.

Stiles was recognizing more and more why Derek was a face for Speights Media.

“How is helping Stiles with lacrosse? Does he drive you crazy?” Isaac asked with wide eyes.

Stiles wanted to punch Isaac in the face. He didn’t like to be reminded by other people that Derek could consider Stiles an imposition in his life. Derek seemed to immediately sense the off-feeling coming from Stiles and made a move to reach for him, but Derek quickly arrested the action as he realized how strange it would look.

Lydia stared at the two of them even harder.

Derek swiftly recovered. “Stiles is a pain in my ass. But he’s okay,” he said softly. He glanced at all of the teenagers staring at him. “Well, I need to get back home. Nice to meet you all. See you around, Stiles. Congrats again on the project.”

There was a resounding goodbye from the group as Derek raised a hand and gave a small wave before turning and walking away with the same grace as when he arrived. Lydia flipped around to Stiles.

“Okay, what the hell is going on between you and tall, dark, and handsome?” she asked with narrowed eyes.

Not enough.

“How is it that Stiles gets lucky enough to stare at that every Saturday?” Danny muttered, watching Derek’s retreating form.

Luck didn’t really have anything to do with it.

Scott was giving him puppy-dog eyes of sympathy while Kira, Allison, and Isaac also began to ask questions.

Stiles took an exaggerated breath and exclaimed, “There is nothing going on! First off, the dude thinks I’m annoying as shit. Second, he’s like twenty-seven and I’m a mere teenager. Third, he is way out of my league. Like seriously, the dude is in the majors while I’m still playing tee-ball.” Stiles fiddled with his hands while everyone listened to him. “I just think he’s bored and he feels bad for me. He’s practicing with me as a favor to my dad, so I think he feels this warped sense of responsibility for me. I mentioned that dad couldn’t come today, so he probably thought it was his duty or something.” Stiles was almost proud of how legitimate that lie sounded. Lace lies with the truth and they tended to sound fairly credible.

“Pity would make sense,” Isaac mused thoughtfully. The urge to smack him returned to Stiles.

Everyone else looked satisfied, but Lydia continued to appear incredibly skeptical.

“Well, are we going to head to the bowling alley?” Kira asked after a moment of silence.

“Sorry, guys, but I’m going to head home to meet my dad. Did you send that video?” Stiles directed to Scott.

“Yeah, man, he texted that he got it.”

“Thanks, bro,” Stiles said as he gave Scott a hug goodbye. Stiles then turned to Lydia. “We were awesome, as expected. I look forward to kicking ass at the next one as well.” Lydia rolled her eyes at him fondly and gave him a small hug. Stiles told everyone else goodbye and then began to walk, opposite of all of the traffic, toward the hall leading out of the back of the auditorium.

As he walked, Stiles realized that this meeting had been Derek’s introduction to his friends. Not exactly how Stiles had imagined introducing his first boyfriend or girlfriend to everyone, but he probably shouldn’t be so picky. And Derek wasn’t really his boyfriend. They were just…something else.

Stiles opened the doors to the hall and his footsteps clattered in the hall as he walked. Even though Derek had claimed that he was leaving, Stiles could feel that Derek was still at the school. He paused in the hall and closed his eyes, feeling the pull of the bond. After a moment, he opened the door for the music room. About three steps into the room, Derek pinned him to the wall.

“I’m going to get you back for that fucking porn line,” he hissed at Stiles.

Stiles rested his head back on the wall and tried to ignore the warmth of Derek’s body. “You were asking for it, dude! You just came up with no warning! I had no idea what to do!” he said with a smirk.

“I just…” Derek suddenly seemed uncomfortable, but made no indication of releasing Stiles. “I just know how you felt when everyone was being shitty about bonding during that girl’s presentation. And then you presented and…and I just wanted to tell you that you did a good job.”

That was about as close to a ramble as Stiles had heard Derek get.

Stiles broke out into a smile and felt emboldened by Derek words to push his fingers into Derek’s hair. “You’re proud of me.” Derek remained silent, face impassive. Stiles moved his face forward until his nose bumped Derek’s lightly. He continued to run his fingers through Derek’s hair.

Derek’s breath was a little bit heavier as he murmured, “I guess so.” He brushed his lips against Stiles’ and Stiles felt a surge of desire crash through his body. Before he could try to deepen the kiss, Derek pushed away from the wall, grabbed Stiles’ arm, and began to lead them out of the room.

“I can’t do this in here,” he admitted as they walked out the door. “Too many memories.”

“Whatever,” Stiles said desperately, “are we going to continue this somewhere else?”

“Stiles,” Derek sighed.

Stiles wanted to punch the wall in frustration.

They made their way down the back hall, out the door, and headed toward the parking lot. Stiles was about to ask if they were going to do anything now—preferably make out, but Stiles would take a chill evening too—when they almost ran into a familiar face. Stiles recognized the tall man with salt and pepper hair and striking blue eyes as Allison’s father.

“Hey Mr.—” Stiles began before being cut off by Derek.

“Argent,” Derek finished stoically.

“Hale,” Mr. Argent responded.

Stiles stared at them as they coldly gave each other looks of grudgingly mutual respect.

“Your daughter presented well,” Derek commented after a moment of silence.

“I’m surprised that you watched her presentation,” Mr. Argent replied coolly.

Yeah, there was a tension here that Stiles didn’t quite understand.

“She’s friends with Stiles,” Derek said as he gestured slightly at Stiles. “And why wouldn’t I? I have nothing against Allison.”

“Ah, yes, I had heard that you bonded.”

“Of course you did,” Derek replied.

Stiles panicked for a moment. How the hell did he know?

“He didn’t tell anyone, I’m sure,” Derek said, turning to Stiles quickly as he apparently felt the flood of fear.

“No, Stiles, I won’t tell Allison or any of your other friends,” Mr. Argent assured him. “I’m head of bonding registration for the state of California.”

“I thought you were in security or gun selling or something,” Stiles said confusedly.

“I’ve been involved in many projects,” he replied cryptically.

Stiles held back a sigh. There was never any way to get a straight answer out of people.

“Pretty surprising bond, I’m guessing. A Class X at your age with a talkative teenage boy?” Mr. Argent continued to Derek.

“I prefer the word loquacious,” Stiles interjected with a smirk.

Despite the tense conversation, Derek gave a half smile and Mr. Argent chuckled.

“And it’s not that I don’t want to sit around and talk about how crazy it is that Derek bonded with Sheriff Stilinski’s spastic son, but, I would feel much better heading out considering I don’t know if my friends have left yet, and I’d really rather them not see me leave with Derek.”

“Yeah, I’m sure your department would rather that you didn’t contribute to a breach of the privacy clause,” Derek added.

“I suppose not,” Mr. Argent replied as he began to turn away, “I need to find Allison anyways. Nice to see you, Stiles. And always a pleasure, Hale,” he finished sarcastically.

Stiles watched Allison’s father retreat farther into the parking lot. “Um, so what was that?”

“I’ll tell you later, I promise,” Derek said shortly.

“I’m holding you to that,” Stiles said with narrow eyes. “That shit is too weird to just leave me hanging.”

Derek just nodded as they strode over a few more spaces to Derek’s car on the edge of the parking lot. They stood silent at the car trunk while Derek fiddled with his keys. God, they were bad at parting ways—Stiles hoped that one day it would at least be less awkward. Stiles was snapped out of his thoughts as Derek suddenly spoke.

“Listen, let me drive you home. I’ll come pick you up and bring you back here to pick the jeep up before we practice tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Stiles breathed.

Derek nodded again and unlocked the Camaro. He seemed to be working up to saying something, but Stiles knew better than to push. The rule was to let Derek take his time. Stiles was about to walk around to the passenger side when he heard a cry.

“Derek?!”

Cora was a few cars over, staring at Derek with wide eyes. Stiles realized how close he and Derek were standing together and quickly took a step back. Cora, immediately followed by Landon, began walking towards them.

Just fuck no. When one bad situation happened to him and Derek, another was right around the corner. They never seemed to be able to get a break.

(Though to be fair, they might have brought this on themselves by being so open in the school parking lot.)

“Cora,” Derek replied as the couple reached them.

Before Cora could say anything else, Landon gestured to Stiles. “What are you doing with this loser?” Landon directed to Derek.

Derek glared at Landon so hard that Stiles almost felt bad for the asshole. “Stiles’ jeep is dead and he needs a ride home. His friends are all going out, so I offered.”

“But what are you doing here?” Cora asked, astonished.

Oh, fuck.

Stiles was close to freaking out, but Derek remained so calm next to him and through the bond that Stiles held off the panic for a moment. He clamped his mouth shut and allowed Derek to speak since he was so confident.

“Paige heard that there was a girl presenting on bonding psychology. She had been involved in one of the cases and was curious to hear how the girl interpreted the couple. She asked me to come and record it for her—if Paige and her superior like what they hear, they are going to offer the girl their clinic to shadow in for her externship.”

Well, damn, that was slick.

“Paige asked you to record a high school presentation for her?” Cora inquired disbelievingly.

Derek sighed. “Paige and I are still friends, Cora. I know that’s hard for you to understand, but we are. Do I need to call her right now and prove to you that’s what I was doing?”

Cora crossed her arms defiantly, and Derek replicated her action. Stiles watched the sibling exchange anxiously, but Landon seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself.

“Fine,” Derek said coldly. He pulled his cellphone from his pocket and dialed a number that Stiles assumed was Paige’s. Derek pressed the speakerphone button and extended the phone toward Cora. Stiles felt ready to hurl, though for once it wasn’t because of the bond. One wrong move and this could go south quickly—and Landon was the last person, other than Jackson, that Stiles wanted finding out about his bond.

“Hello?” came a small voice from the phone.

“Hey, Paige,” Derek answered, “Cora doesn’t believe me that I came to the school to record that girl’s presentation on bonding so you could decide on her externship. Could you please clear things up for her?”

“Oh, yeah, Cora, I couldn’t make it and we’ve been interested in her for a while. Thank you so much, Derek, by the way. How have you been Cora?”

“Fine. We miss having you around,” Cora said forlornly.

“I miss you all too, things have been so busy with residency. But, Cora, Derek isn’t lying. Derek and I are still friends and he was kind enough to do this for me.”

Stiles couldn’t help but be impressed by their acting together—no wonder they had been a couple for so long.

“Well, sorry to bother you, Paige. I’ll talk to you later,” Derek said with a smug look at Cora.

“No problem. I’ll get that recording from you soon. Bye, Cora, I hope school is going well!”

Cora seemed to accept defeat as Derek hung up the phone, but now said hopefully, “If you’re still doing favors for Paige, you must still like her.”

“Of course I still like her,” Derek sighed.

“Maybe you’ll get back together,” Cora continued confidently.

Shit, Stiles did not like this conversation.

Derek shook his head. “That’s not going to happen, Cora, I’m sorry.”

“What I really want to know is why you’re giving Stilinski a ride,” Landon piped up obnoxiously. “I’d leave him on the side of the road before letting that into my car.”

Derek looked at Landon with loathing. “You think you’re an awesome piece of shit, don’t you?” Derek asked harshly. Landon reddened slightly. “I know Stiles through his father and overheard that he needed a ride. Stiles may be annoying, but I can tolerate him a great deal more than you. Cora can choose who she wants to date, but I don’t have to fucking put up with you.”

“Derek!” Cora yelled angrily. Landon was now completely red. He looked like he wanted to retaliate, but was too scared of the older man.

“Uh, can we go now?” Stiles asked loudly. Derek flipped around to open the driver’s door as Stiles quickly made his way to his side of the car.

“Derek, fuck you!” Cora cried again.

“I don’t really care if you’re mad at me,” Derek said calmly as he slid into his seat. “Teach your boyfriend to not be an asshole and then this won’t be an issue.”

Derek and Stiles both closed their car doors as Landon was finding his voice enough to angrily say “This is bullshit.”

Despite the scene in the parking lot, they drove in comfortable silence for the first half of the short ride. Stiles eventually cleared his throat.

“I have to hand it to you, that was an impressive cover up, man.”

Derek clicked on the left turn signal as he turned the steering wheel. “I anticipated that I might run into Cora here—the school isn’t that big. I’ve been coming up with a story since I sat in the auditorium. When I saw that girl’s title in the program, I pretty much had it figured out. Once we saw Cora, I knew that Paige would answer, since I’d only call if it was important, and I knew that she’d go along with whatever I told her. Hearing it from Paige would be the best way to get Cora off my back,” Derek concluded with a hint of sadness. He gave his trademark shrug. “And congratulations on the presentation again. It really was good, Stiles.”

“Yeah, that’s primarily due to Lydia, but I did do some awesome research,” Stiles said appreciatively.

“Allison’s was good too. And that girl two ahead of you—the one who talked about bonds—that presentation was actually pretty interesting,” Derek commented before his features hardened. “Whatever the kids around you said during the presentation, don’t listen—it’s completely different when you get to college.”

“Landon seems to think that once he gets there he is going to join the Berserkers,” Stiles said offhandedly.

Derek’s face darkened. “I hate that little dick. I swear to god, I don’t understand why Cora doesn’t break up with that asshole.”

“He didn’t believe me when I said that you didn’t like him, though tonight might have changed that,” Stiles laughed triumphantly.  

Derek rolled his eyes as they reached the Stilinski house. “So he’s an oblivious idiot as well—Cora needs to fucking get rid of him.”

Stiles hummed his assent as they pulled into his driveway.

As he pulled the keys out of the ignition, Derek turned to Stiles. “Listen, can I come in for a second? I wanted to talk to you about something.”

Stiles silently thanked god and any other powers-that-be that Derek had given them a reason to go in together. He had been assuming that since the run-ins with Mr. Argent and with Cora that Derek would be done for the evening.

“Sure, of course, dude,” he said quickly.

They both made their way to the front porch, Stiles unlocked the door to the house, and then they stood quietly in the entry hall. Stiles shifted slightly until Derek reached out and grasped familiarly at Stiles’ wrist.

“Lynette wants me to go on a trip. She understands about all this, but she still wants me to be able to do my job in some capacity. I’m going to go on a trip to Oregon, about five hours away—only if you’re okay with it.” Stiles opened his mouth, but Derek held up a hand. “Let me finish. If you say no, I’m not going. This is our decision, not mine. Lynette will just have to reevaluate my position at the company, which I’m willing to accept if that means what is best for you. For both of us. If I go and it’s too much for you, then the same. I will never put you through something like England again.”

Stiles breathed slowly and looked down at the fingers enclosing his wrist. He noticed Derek’s shirt sleeve had been pushed up slightly and his eyes fell to a flash of green on Derek’s wrist. The friendship bracelet that Stiles had given him was now suddenly exposed. Stiles stared at it for a moment before meeting Derek’s eyes. Stiles’ own bracelet hadn’t been taken off since that weekend at the beach.

“I want you to go,” Stiles said quietly. “Seriously, Derek. First off, I’d like a little bit of hope that we don’t have to be glued to the hip for the rest of our lives. And things have been better lately. Like, I only got a nosebleed a few times this week. I know what to expect this time, and I’m pretty sure I can handle it better. And I just really want you to be able to do this. I don’t want to be the reason that you lose your position. That would just fucking suck. Please, go. If everything goes to shit, then we’ll deal with it. But for now, I’m willing to try if you are.”

“Okay,” Derek muttered. “I can feel your determination, so…okay.”

Derek released his hand from Stiles’ wrist and raised it to brushed Stiles’ cheek and neck. Stiles stepped forward and gently gripped Derek’s hip before bringing their foreheads together. He closed his eyes and felt the pulse between them.

Shit, there was just too much unresolved sexual tension and too many undefined emotions.

He knew Derek was going to be difficult about this, but it all needed to be resolved soon. As soon as possible.

Stiles heard the click of the door opening and turned his head to see his dad standing frozen in the doorway. The two men jumped apart from each other.

Fuck. Seriously, though, when was Stiles going to catch a break?

The sheriff looked at them awkwardly. “Well, this is a new development.”

“I mean, it’s new, but not new new,” Stiles said quickly.

“We’re not having sex,” Derek said immediately.

“It’s not even on the table?” Stiles asked gloomily.

“Stiles, seriously son, I’m right here,” the sheriff said in exasperation.

“I was just leaving,” Derek muttered as he began to stride for the open door. “Nice to see you, John.” He paused for a second before adding “Thank you, Stiles” with a backward glance as he walked out the door.

Stiles unhappily watched Derek retreat to the car and sighed as he began to feel the tug of the stretched bond. Stiles turned to see his dad wearing strange, sad expression on his face.

“That’s how I used to look when your mother left the room,” John told him empathetically. “I know,” he continued, “that we reached a silent agreement not to talk about it but, you know you can talk to me, right? At least tell me how you are, son.”

“I don’t know how you stood it, when mom died. Losing your bond. Because I can barely stand it when we’re on opposite parts of town,” Stiles said softly as he felt Derek drive away from the house.

“I knew what she wanted me to do, as hard as that was for me. And the Marks may scar, but the bond doesn’t ever really go away,” the Sheriff offered, gently touching Stiles’ arm.

Doesn’t ever really go away. Stiles decided that statement was something that wouldn’t take much convincing for him to believe.

● ● ●

Derek lifted up the bread on his sandwich and pulled off the tomato slices whose removal he had forgotten to specify to the waitress. Boyd, who had met up with Derek at the small café on the outskirts of down, was already devouring his greasy hamburger.

Jesus Christ, Derek missed better restaurant options.

“So how have things been, Boyd?” Derek attempted before taking a bite of the too-dry sandwich.

Boyd shrugged. “Work is boring. Erica is miserable, so I just want her to have this baby.” He put his burger back down on the plate. “But talking about me isn’t really why we met up here. You’ve texted me bits and pieces of what has been going on, but why don’t you give me a decent summary?”

Derek sighed, and as they finished their lunch, he quietly began to sum up the last few months with Stiles. For the most part, Boyd was his relatively silent self, but he listened attentively and nodded at intervals. At some specific points, Boyd even interjected with a comment.

“You brought the kid to the beach house? Shit, you’re gone on this one. It took you about three years to take Paige there.”

Derek remembered the day when Paige had finally gotten permission to come on the Hale summer trip to the house—it had been a feeling of sheer teenage victory.

“It was two years and that’s because we were teenagers, and I wasn’t allowed to bring her there. Her parents wouldn’t let her go, remember? And I had basically felt like he was dying for a day, so I just wanted to take him away. So I could have him to myself, make sure he was okay.”

“How did it feel like he was dying? I mean, did you just sense something was off?”

Derek hesitated as he tried to articulate how it had felt on that plane—feeling his and Stiles’ mingled fear and anxiety, the radiating pain from Stiles, the tearing pull of the bond, the sense the Stiles was too far and slipping away, the feeling like something horrible was happening—the feeling like his nerves were being pulled out, leaving tingling areas of numbness. He realized that no one, not even Stiles, had really asked him that before.

“It feels like your being tied up with a bunch of strings,” Derek began slowly, his brow wrinkled.

Boyd chucked softly, “I love when you try to explain your feelings.”

Derek shot him a glare before continuing, “And they are slowing being cut. You feel yourself dipping down and just know any second all of them are going to snap and you’re just going to fucking fall.”

Boyd shook his head sympathetically. “I’ m sorry, man.”

Derek shrugged before pushing around some crumbs on his plate and continuing his story. After finishing his description of their trip, Boyd interrupted again.

“So let me get this straight—you played laser tag and video games, let Charlie on the damn couch, cooked dinner for Stiles, let the kid sleep in the same bed as you, and hung out with him on the beach. Plus, you rewatched television shows, which you never do. I know you only have those DVDs because your family doesn’t know what to get you for Christmas since you are impossible to buy for, so they latch on to anything you might like.”

“Yes,” Derek growled.

Boyd leaned back in his chair nonchalantly. “Okay, just making sure. Because imagining you being that nice and accommodating to someone other than Paige makes my head hurt. You’re not even that nice to me and we’ve been friends for years.”

“Just shut the fuck up and let me finish getting this out.”

As Derek finished his description of the last few weeks, he felt a cloud of emotional exhaustion settle around him. He hated talking about this kind of shit, but Boyd had called him the day before and calmly told Derek that it was time to stop avoiding him and they were meeting for lunch.

“Shit, you saw Chris Argent? What did you do?” Boyd asked as Derek quieted.

Of course that’s what Boyd would focus on.

“Nothing. His daughter is Stiles’ friend.”

“Still. And how did you stand to be around his daughter?”

Derek laughed darkly. “I know you’re loyal to a fault, Boyd, but she’s Kate’s niece. She isn’t Kate.”

Boyd nodded slightly and they fell into comfortable silence. After a moment, Boyd spoke again. “Well, honestly, from everything you told me, he sounds like he should annoy you, but somehow manages not to. You sound pretty happy, Derek.”

“He does annoy me. He easily gets under my fucking skin. But he doesn’t…bother me. I’ve gotten to know him and gotten used to his endless chatter. And I think he’s gotten used to me. I don’t know. He’s just Stiles.” Derek fiddled with the friendship bracelet on his wrist which he hadn’t been able to bring himself to remove just yet.

When had he become so pathetically sentimental?

Boyd eyed Derek’s movements nonjudgmentally. “Maybe our bonds really are doing what they’re supposed to, even though we don’t understand it.” Boyd gave a small shrug.

Derek recalled back to the first time he had talked to Boyd about Stiles and the bond.

My life is ruined.

So far, he’d been proven a liar. (Or as Stiles would say—a lying liar who lies.) A more accurate statement would have been my life is undetermined.

After finishing up their conversation and saying goodbye to Boyd, Derek drove to the grocery store to get some things on his mom’s list before he ran home to get ready for his and Stiles’ session today. Thankfully, they wouldn’t be talking to Dr. Braeden today—he was over that shit. He appreciated that she took care of Stiles during the England disaster, but if he had to talk about the intricacies of bonds one more time, he might throw one of her green chairs across the room. He lived the bond day and night; that was enough for him. Today, however, they would be meeting with a lawyer to discuss the implications of registration. Chances were that Stiles had already researched the topic a freakish amount, so Derek could rely on him to ask any important questions.

Derek walked down the dairy aisle, grabbing some milk. He was getting 1%, and if his dad bitched about it, then next time he could buy his own damn milk. Derek took a few steps over into the produce area, walking up to the fruits. He turned an apple over in his hand, inspecting the firmness of the fruit as he looked up and saw a couple around his parent’s age. The woman was petite with short, brown hair, and the man was tall and thin with deep green eyes and blond, balding hair.

Derek froze.

Oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit.

As the woman opened the cold aisle’s door to grab a carton of buttermilk, the man looked up and met Derek’s eyes.

“Derek?” the man asked incredulously.

Derek had been dreading running into Paige’s parents since he’d been venturing out into Beach Hills after the bonding. He knew that he’d avoided the Krasikevas too easily so far—he’d been bound to see them sooner or later.

Mrs. Krasikeva immediately turned to her attention to Derek, her mouth firming into a slim line. Mr. Krasikeva strode up to Derek and angrily crossed his arms. “You asked me for my permission to marry my daughter. And I gave it. You had a ring.”

“Yes, sir,” Derek managed.

“Well, then do you want to explain to me why the two of you broke up and now I have a heart-broken daughter who is obviously miserable?”

Derek felt he had been doused in ice water.

“I didn’t know that she wasn’t okay,” Derek murmured as Mr. Krasikeva gave him a glare.

“That’s because you don’t even call her! And Paige won’t tell us anything, just that you ‘weren’t meant for each other.’ To hell with that, you two have been stuck together since you were teenagers, and—”

“James,” Mrs. Krasikeva piped up hesitantly, “Paige wouldn’t want you doing this. They are grown adults and have done what they needed to.” Mr. Krasikeva stopped speaking, but stood fuming in front of Derek. Mrs. Krasikeva spoke up more firmly than initially as she grabbed her husband’s arm, “James, let’s go. Derek, we wish you the best of luck.”

Derek remained frozen and silent as they disappeared around the corner.

As he was driving the groceries back to the Hale house, he was filled with an overwhelming guilt. Paige was the last person he ever wanted to hurt. She had been everything to him for years—and it wasn’t that he loved Paige any less now, or had forgotten her, or had forgotten all of the time they spent together and the plans they had made. However, he had begun to accept what Paige had asked him to: that Stiles was meant to be a significant part of his life.

Paige would want him to admit that he felt contentment with Stiles. Paige would want him to admit that though he mourned the life he lost, he didn’t want anything different than what he had right now.

That was fucking scary, but it was the truth.

Life wasn’t a straight line—it was a complicated weave and maze, like the Mark on his and Stiles’ arms.

Once Derek reached the front lawn, he put the car in park and leaned his head back against the rest, eyes closed and breathing deep. He focused on the connection to Stiles and felt the other mans’ general ease and warmth along with fluctuations of happiness. Derek relaxed and his mind cleared slightly.

He was probably really long overdue to talk to Paige. He deiced that as soon as possible, he would call her. If anything, maybe he’d be able to really explain to her about the bond.

Derek reopened his eyes and grabbed a bag of groceries before swinging the car door open.

Once all of the food was stored away and he quickly changed, Derek slipped back into the car and dialed the number for Speights Media’s front desk as he headed to the hospital.

Meredith answered almost immediately. “How is Stiles?”

Today, Derek had had to relive the last few months to Boyd and then had run into his long-time ex-girlfriend’s parents—he could not handle Meredith’s crazy on top of everything.

“He’s fine.”

“I’m sure you’re taking wonderful care of him. You seem like you’d be that way.”

This girl, dear god.

“Listen, Meredith, can you just connect me to Kali?”

He must have effectively projected his desperation in his voice because Meredith connected him without any further comments.

“What?” Kali answered, irritated.

“Kali, it’s Derek Hale. My accounting program has been glitching and—”

“So I heard about your fuck up in England. What was that about? Too home sick?”

Derek took a moment to focus on the calm of the bond again.

“Kali, I just need you to help me with this damn problem.”

He could almost see her bitch face.

“Just let me know next time you’re on the computer, Hale, and I’ll log on and fix the problem from here.” She rerouted his call to Lynette’s office without another word.

After a brief conversation with Lynette and the presentation of a new password—

(“Okay, new passcode: number of surgeries I’ve had on my left toe, first letter in my great-grandmother’s middle name (lowercase), third letter in the name of my third son’s college (uppercase), and the first letter in my favorite chips (uppercase).”)

—and informing her that Stiles wanted him to try to go to Oregon, Derek finally reached the hospital. He was guided back to the normal room by Mrs. McCall, who chatted with him easily and gave him a wink as she dropped him off at the room. It wasn’t hard to see where Scott got his friendly disposition.

As he walked into the room, Derek saw that Stiles was already in what had become his designated green chair. Stiles was slouched down with his neck resting on the top edge of the chair back as he scrolled on his phone.

“Okay, so there is this dog park—” Stiles immediately said without even looking up at Derek.

“Jesus, Stiles.”

“No, it’s awesome, Derek!” Stiles exclaimed as he looked up to see Derek taking his seat. “And Charlie needs friends. He doesn’t have a brother or sister puppy, so he at least needs to some interaction. I read some articles, and I think he would benefit from social situations.”

“Stiles, you are driving me crazy,” Derek said in exasperation. “Charlie is fine.”

“When Charlie starts showing signs of depression and lethargy, I’m blaming you, asshole,” Stiles replied warningly.

“If that happens, I’ll take all of the blame and even go with you to the park,” Derek commented drily.

Stiles gave an exaggerated sigh. “It’s a shame that Charlie took after your moody self too much. Poor thing needed me in his life sooner. He’s like a baby sour wolf.”

Derek rolled he eyes fondly, and Stiles reached across the space between their chairs and gently brushed his fingers against Derek’s knee.

“Oh, did you get my text about—”

“Yes, I did, and I’m not touching that shit.”

“But, dude!” Stiles pouted.

“There’s no way in hell.”

“You are seriously shooting down all of my ideas for no reason today. I mean, I even made a pro/con list for—” Stiles began until suddenly the door burst open, and a woman strode through the door and immediately took a seat at the desk.

She was an older Hispanic woman, with clever eyes and a feisty, no-nonsense expression.

“Hello,” she said confidently, “My name is Araya Calavera. I’m the lawyer who works on high class bonds like yours all over the country. States hire me to avoid problems, basically. I make sure that what is vital to those bonds is written into your registration. There are general registration inclusions—taxes breaks and laws that a secondary lawyer will help establish because each state is different—but I mainly write up the things specific to each bond.”

Stiles shot Derek a look, raising his eyebrows.

“So,” she said as she pulled few sheets of paper from a folder on the desk, “you must be Stiles (real name not to be disclosed) Stilinski.” She looked up at Stiles. “And then you are Derek Hale,” she finished as she raised her eyes to Derek.

“I’m going to keep this meeting as short as possible. This is in large part simply my introduction to you, and I just need to get the basics to start so then we can do everything else by video conference or email.”

Derek nodded at the woman across from them as Stiles open his mouth to say something; however, Araya spoke again before Stiles could complete his first word.

“Have you heard the saying ‘We bond with those who bond with us?’”

No, Derek had never heard that fucking stupidity.

Stiles stared at her as if she was crazy. “Um, no,” Stiles replied slowly, “but isn’t that a little redundant? I mean, I hope that you would know that you’ve bonded with the person who you bonded with.” Stiles’ face squinched up in confusion.

“It is a saying,” Araya continued as if Stiles hadn’t spoken, “to remind us that while one person is dealing with the bond, the other person is too. Remember that as we are doing this. I am not your doctor to play nice with your feelings about the bond—I’m here to make sure a Class X bond is properly filed so that each of you individually, your family, and the State will have no conflicts in the future.”

Fuck, the woman meant business.

“This is not a marriage. This is a federal documentation of your bond and the necessary requirements of your bond. First off, you know the medical details, I believe? If something happens to one of you, then the other person in the bond is in charge of every decision about their partner. If a hospital denies you this, especially with your bond, you’ll win a million dollar lawsuit. The family plays no part, and the injured person’s family rarely even goes back to visit. Second, we need to talk about belongings. Are there any things that you want your partner to gain partial possession of at registration or to inherit upon your death?”

“This sounds like a marriage,” Derek commented drily.

“No,” Araya snapped, “as I said before, this is not a marriage. There is no divorce. Once this is done, it is done. There is no immediately getting benefits. These things have to be specified or they are not taken into account.” She gestured to Stiles, “I doubt you really have anything at your age, but I know that you,” she turned to Derek, “have major possessions. For instance, would you like Stiles to have your house?”

Oh, fuck, were they really doing this right now? These sessions were getting worse as they progressed.

Silence prevailed for a few moments as Araya stared at them impassively. Stiles then managed to sputter out a reply.

“Uh, there’s a book. Not a book book, but a journal thing. My mom gave it to me before she died. I wrote entries in it for about five years until I filled it. It’s just random stuff and not really important, but I want Derek to have it if I die.” Stiles’ consuming flush covered his neck and face. “And, um, my Playstation. And I guess the games that go with it since they would be worthless without it.” Stiles turned to Derek, “I’ll entrust my computer to you, but bury me with it. I’d be too bored without it. My jeep goes to my dad because I don’t trust you with it.”

Stiles had just offered to leave him a prized possession from his mother and his Playstation—the significance of either wasn’t lost on Derek.

After Stiles finished speaking, an uncomfortable silence settled in the room as Araya scribed down some notes.

“Derek?” she asked, not even looking up from her papers.

Derek remained quiet.

She sighed and began to move on, talking about some other preliminary issue, but Derek wasn’t paying attention. He felt momentarily frozen until his brain clicked back on.

“Charlie.”

“Who?” Araya asked, sounding caught off-guard for the first time.

“Charlie, our dog.”

Our dog?” Stiles exclaimed, bewildered.

Derek ignored him. “I want Charlie to go to Stiles. And I want Stiles to inherit my house, car, trust, investments—everything. And when we register, he can be co-proprietor.”

Stiles sat speechless, mouth agape.

Araya nodded after a moment and took a few more notes. “I’m sure you have a nice family, but often, I’ve found that giving everything like this is often contested by the family if you pass. How would you have me counter that?”

“This isn’t a debate,” Derek said firmly.

“But if it were to become one?” Araya countered.

Derek shrugged. “Stiles has a physical bond, and if he loses me, I want him to have as much of me that is left. And Charlie goes to him no matter what. If anything, I at least want any of Stiles’ school expenses to be taken care of.”

Araya’s deadpan face suddenly broke into a wide, scary grin. “That line about Stiles being a physical bond will win you cases every time. So, you’re a smart one; I’m glad to know. You’ll probably want a copy of the registration papers before they are signed, I can tell. Also, my suggestion is that you make wills as soon as possible to have something to back the registration up. This is especially important for if something happens before you actually register to ensure that you get what you want even though it wasn’t officially documented yet. You have no idea how many horror stories I’ve dealt with where one of the partners dies a few weeks before registration and then there is a battle for the deceased estate.”

Derek sighed. Maybe Laura could draft something up for him and Stiles.

“Shit,” Stiles murmured, “this is getting way too adult.”

“I’m assuming that we don’t have to worry about children right now,” Araya continued, “and if it ever does become an issue, the original registration document can be amended later on.”

“And uh,” Stiles interjected, “say if we do get married? You know, just hypothetically speaking. Not that Derek and I are going to get married.”

Araya seemed ready to roll her eyes, but managed to keep her face fairly blank. “Then you’ll have the benefits and allowances associated with marriage plus the ones associated with a bond. You’re lucky to live in California and get married if you so desire, unlike those two poor kids I just finished with Dr. Braeden in Lawrence. It was fucking ridiculous. You’d think that since people of the same sex are bonded together and have been for ages that people would get it, but nothing will faze people. One boy’s dad is a pastor and the other’s dad is an firefighter. Both families were ready to lose their minds. The pastor wanted me to register them as a platonic couple, when obviously by the end these two were all over each other.”

“We aren’t all over each other. Stiles and I are just…” Derek trailed off.

“Friends?” Araya snorted. “Yeah, sure. We’ll see how long that lasts.”

“I think Mr. Verbose was looking for something more along the lines of “taking it slow,” but I mean, yeah, we’re friends. When people get married, don’t they always say some shit like ‘I married my best friend?’” Stiles offered.

Araya evaluated the two men in front of her. “You two are total opposites, aren’t you?” She shook her head. “That’s always how it is with these strong bonds.”

“Well, they do say that opposites—” Stiles began before Derek quickly leaned across and slapped a hand over Stiles’ mouth to cut him off.

“You are not finishing that fucking cliché.”

He felt Stiles grin widely beneath his fingers.

“Alright, boys,” Araya said with an actual eye roll. “Let’s continue.”

They discussed different registration issues for about an hour, and Araya wrapped up the meeting with a description of their impending registration bracelets.

“As I’m sure you’re well-aware, each different Class of bond is designated by a different color. The bracelets are more than identification—they register your heart rate, blood pressure, pulse, and the distance from one bracelet to the other at any given moment. This is mainly for medical emergencies. If you agree to registration, you agree to the bracelet, understand?”

Derek and Stiles nodded.

“Well, then I’ll write something up, a first draft, and get back to you with any questions. As I said, I’m going to assign a secondary lawyer to your case—it’s easier to have someone local to work with because, besides the obvious help that it gives me, things usually move faster. Now, I’ve already had a lawyer request to work for you: a Laura Hale,” Araya said as she turned her attention to Derek. “One of your family members, I’m assuming?”

“Yeah, my sister.”

“Is she acceptable? I have her here in a back room, just in case you consent. I always think it’s better to use someone the couple is comfortable with if you can, but I don’t know about your relationship with your sister.”

“Uh, yeah, I’m totally cool with that,” Stiles responded. “If anyone were to make sure that everything gets done, it’s Laura.” Derek also offered his approval with a nod.

With both of them in agreement, Araya quickly pulled out her cellphone and made a call in Spanish, which Derek internally interpreted to “You can bring the bitchy lawyer in now.”

They waited for a couple of minutes, but they soon heard Laura’s voice echoing close to the room. Derek noted that her voice sounded raised, and she suddenly strode in the room, looking furious. She immediately made her way over to Araya.

“Tell him that he is in breach of—” she hissed, seeming ready to breathe fire. However, before she could finish, a man in his mid-thirties wandered in the room. He was a little shorter than Derek and Stiles and had a smug smile and handsome features—familiar features.

Jesus Christ, shit, fuck. Peter. Derek put his face in his hands and closed his eyes. Stiles looked around at everyone in confusion.

Peter nonchalantly surveyed the room in front of him as Laura and Araya both berated him with reasons about why he couldn’t be there. He slipped his hands into the pockets of his well-tailored pants.

“Does someone want to explain on to me what the hell is going?” Stiles asked incredulously.

Peter focused intently on Stiles and gave a cheshire-cat grin. “Oh, Derek, he’s just adorable. Skinny, young, and adorable. And a boy—that’s a new development.”

Derek looked up from his fingers and sent Peter a withering glare. His Uncle Peter was only about five years older than Laura and had been a constant fixture in their childhood. He wasn’t a very good childhood figure—Peter was manipulative, extremely intelligent, and cruel, but always had enough charm to cover up any sinister intentions until it was too late. When they were young, he realized that Laura wouldn’t take his shit, so he turned to abusing Derek’s more susceptible nature. He was a part of the reason why Derek and Paige had shortly broken up when they had first started dating because Peter had whispered doubts in Derek’s ear about whether he was good enough for her. Peter had been a basketball star at Beacon Hills, graduated both high school and college early, been top of his law school class, and became partner of a major law firm in only a couple of years. Everything was a game to Peter, and he had no moral scruples holding him back. The only person who seemed capable of putting him in his place was his older sister Talia. Derek avoided him like the plague.

Ignoring the women still yelling at him, Peter sauntered in front of Stiles and put his hands on the arms of the chair and leaned forward as Stiles moved as far back in the opposite direction as he could. “Let me know if you get tired of Derek. I have a lot to offer.”

“Thanks for the offer, but rugged and grumpy is more of my type than arrogant asshole,” Stiles responded coyly.

“Get the fuck out, Peter,” Derek growled.

Laura suddenly walked up angrily and yanked Peter back from Stiles’ chair while Araya spoke furiously in Spanish on the phone. “Why are you here, Peter?” Laura spat.

“I have just been so very curious as to why you had needed my jet to fly down for a family emergency that I hadn’t already been made aware of. This situation is quite the surprise, I must say,” he responded slickly.

Suddenly, a gruff, serious man with the look of a bouncer walked into the room. Peter put his hands up in surrender, and with a final smirk, began to amble toward the door. As Peter slipped past the frowning security man, he reached the doorframe and turned to Derek. “Tell your mother to call me. I need a favor and it would be a shame for rumors to get started about you and your little friend here,” he added before he slipped out of sight.

Not his most subtle of threats.

“Well, that was thrilling,” Araya toned unhappily. “Are you still comfortable with Ms. Hale as your representative?”

“Yes, Peter isn’t her fault,” Derek snapped.

“Alright,” Araya responded. “Then that is plenty for today. I’ll be getting back to you soon. Though your bond is extreme and requires a little finesse in the registration, you really aren’t that difficult of a case for me.”

“What’s a difficult case?” Stiles asked curiously.

“A difficult case is the one I just conducted in Alabama where a thirty and a thirty-two year old bonded with a Class IV major bond—the thirty-two year old was married with two kids and a third on the way, and the thirty year old was about to be married. That’s a disaster. You two are both unmarried with no children, you obviously don’t have overinvolved parents, and you are getting along fairly well. It’s an easy case,” she expounded. Araya gathered up a few papers and said “Until later, gentlemen” as she strode out the room just as quickly as she had entered it, the frowning man following after her.

Stiles flipped around to Laura and Derek. “Okay, great, now that she’s gone, would someone like to tell me who Peter is and what the fuck that was?”

“He’s our uncle,” Derek answered sourly.

“Well, your uncle is certainly creepy and obviously drunk on some kind of power kool aid. This room couldn’t fit all of that ego,” Stiles said sarcastically.

“I’m so sorry, Derek. And sorry to you too, Stiles,” Laura moaned, “I had no idea he had followed me from LA until he walked into that holding room.”

“You have no control over Peter, Laura,” Derek said firmly.

Laura directed her attention to Stiles. “There’s a lot even Derek and I don’t even know about our family. We have a…complicated family. And, people are always trying to get my mother to help them—Peter must be desperate to try and blackmail her.” Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “Mom will put him in his place. Son of a bitch.”

Son of a bitch didn’t even cover it.

“Watch your mouth, that’s your grandmother you’re talking about,” Stiles intoned lightly.

“Joke’s on him, honestly. His partner Deucalion and I are actually breaking off and starting our own firm.”

Derek raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“You’re going to be a partner? That’s big shit, right?” Stiles asked.

“Congratulations, Laura. Being out from under Peter will be a relief, I’m sure,” Derek said genuinely.

“Oh, yeah, I can’t fucking handle it much longer with him,” Laura began.

Derek wasn’t sure how she lasted this long.

“We’re telling him the news after March so that at least this Christmas and my wedding will be civil and not filled with him plotting revenge or trying to force me to come back,” she finished.

“I can’t believe he doesn’t know or at least suspect something,” Derek murmured.

“Peter isn’t the only cunning Hale,” Laura said darkly. She crossed her arms. “Well, Stiles, you’ve met Peter and been threatened, so I think I can officially say—welcome to the Hale family. Paige was mild-mannered enough to handle it and I think that you are sassy enough,” she offered with a smirk.

After Laura departed with a promise to wait for Derek, Dr. Braeden came in to discuss Derek’s trip to Oregon and her recommended precautions for Stiles. The decision was that Stiles would bring some of Derek’s things over to the Stilinski house, put pictures in the room, and take care of Charlie.

(“It sounds like I’m building a shrine to you or something,” Stiles said with an eye roll.)

Stiles and Derek were instructed by Dr. Braeden to call, text, and facetime as much as possible and for Derek to drive to Oregon instead of flying. She insisted that Stiles wear some of Derek’s clothes during the day—

(“As if no one is going to notice me wearing clothes that much bigger,” Stiles said in exasperation.

“Your stuff is baggy anyways,” Derek offered drily, “Who would know the difference?”)

—and informed Stiles that a combination IV would be set up in his room for quick access after any potential emergency. Paige would be rotating to Beacon Hills that week, and she would be on call along with Dr. Morrell, so there would be two doctors on hand.

“I think,” Dr. Braeden mused as she escorted them to the door, “that since you know what it means to be separated that you will be able to handle it.”

Derek sure as hell hoped that was true.

She gave them her mysterious smile and a small wave goodbye as the two men walked down the hall toward the exit. As they walked out to the parking lot, Stiles messed with his hair before turning to Derek.

“Would you let my dad in the hospital room with you if something happened to me?” he asked quickly.

Derek tried to imagine the usually vibrant Stiles lying lifeless in a hospital and it made him bristle a little. “I don’t know,” he replied honestly.

“No, like, I’m asking. I’m really all he has left, you know. So, would you let him?” Stiles repeated with a pleading tone.

Derek wanted to say no. Having to deal with other people while dealing with the emotions involved with that scenario was not close to something he wanted to do. Usually, he would have never hesitated to say no to anyone else—even Paige would have had to reason with him. But, instead, he found himself saying quietly, “Yeah, Stiles, I will.”

Relief filled Stiles face. “And thanks for trusting me,” he began hesitantly, “with all of your stuff. And I mean, not just because you’d leave it all to me, but you said 'co-proprietor.' I know that kind of stuff isn’t easy for you and just…thanks. Even though it’s too much, man.”

Derek shrugged uncomfortably, “No one in my family has any use for any of my stuff and I don’t have anyone else to share it with.”  

“Your family,” Stiles muttered as they reached his jeep, “has deep secrets don’t they? There is something crazy going on, huh?”

Derek just shrugged again. “I don’t really know. Mom has a mysterious negotiator job that I don’t ask about. Peter always had some devious plan. But, I’ve always thought we were pretty normal even if my sisters are crazy.”

Stiles chuckled and seemed like he contemplated going in for a kiss, but realizing how public they were, he simply brushed Derek’s arm and said his goodbyes.

Derek walked to his Camaro, and Laura, true to her word, was leaned against it, waiting for Derek.

“I need a fucking drink so we’re going to get one,” Laura commanded in her don’t-mess-with-me tone. “You probably need one after Peter and being forced to spill your guts, anyways.”

One? He needed more than just one.

Derek nodded and remained silent as he and Laura slipped into the Camaro. As they drove away from the hospital, Laura watched Stiles’ death trap jeep make a turn the opposite way.

“I would have never expected you to deal with this like you have. I never even really thought that you’d give him this much of a chance,” Laura admitted quietly, breaking the silence. “He’s fun and I like him, but he is a kid."

Stiles is young, but Derek realized that at some point, he stopped considering him a kid. Derek hadn’t wanted to give him a chance, but Stiles hadn’t really given him an option.

“I didn’t either,” Derek began, “But I promised Paige.”

Laura nodded in understanding. “Paige told me about that. She’s an amazing human being.”

Derek wasn’t going to argue with that statement.

“And,” Derek continued slowly, “I can’t regret the bond. I can’t regret Stiles. And I don’t entirely know what that means yet, but I don’t want to think about it.”

(That night, Derek drank more than he had in a long time—probably since Erica and Boyd’s wedding. Or maybe college.)

The next week, Derek drove up to the Stilinski house before he began the drive to Oregon. He received an eerie feeling of déjà vu that he quickly shook off. The sheriff’s cruiser wasn’t there this time, which Derek was thankful for—he’d rather deal with this in private. Derek knocked at the front door and heard a faint “come in.” Derek made his way through the door and entered the house to hear clanging coming from the kitchen. He followed the sounds to the sight of Stiles, eyebrows furrowed in concentration and biting his lip, icing cupcakes at the kitchen counter. Derek stepped in closer and saw that Stiles hadn’t stopped with just regular icing; he had put designs and different candy pieces to make Halloween themed cupcakes mixed among cupcakes with the letters SM.

“I figured that I’d cook something sweet for you to bring to Lynette, Kali, and everybody on the trip,” Stiles commented without looking up, “just in case that I get crazy sick again and we need something to smooth over the fact that you have to skip out again. I had wanted to finish before you got here, but there’s only a few more to put icing on. Oh, and I was totally right, cupcakes are super easy, dude. I seriously don’t know how you messed these up.”

Derek walked up to the finished cupcakes on the counter next to Stiles and inspected them. He was actually pretty impressed, especially with the ones involving Oreo cookies as spiders.

“I know it’s a couple of weeks until Halloween, but I googled cupcakes and these came up on Pinterest, so I had to do them since they were so awesome.” Stiles looked over at Derek and displayed a huge smile. He had white powder on his nose and a smear of chocolate on his cheek, and suddenly Derek couldn’t help himself—he stepped flush with Stiles’ back and placed his hands on Stiles’ waist, burying his face in the juncture of Stiles neck.

Jesus Christ, he liked Stiles too much.

Stiles responded immediately by relaxing back into the touch and by turning his head, nearly brushing his lips with Derek’s. “I’ll be fine,” he murmured, “and I’ll call you if anything is wrong. Stop freaking out. Now let me get these packed up so you can leave.”

“Okay,” Derek said quietly as he stepped back and brushed his fingers on the the flushed skin of Stiles’ neck.

After Stiles handed him a Tupperware container filled with cupcakes and gave him a hug, he pushed Derek out the door with a final “Get the fuck out of here.”  

As Derek sped down the interstate, he was attentive to the bond, in tune and focused on every feeling Stiles had. He sense the same general emotions that Derek had come to always associate with Stiles, but could also identify apprehension and slight pain. The pain got worse the further he drove, but nothing close to when he left for England. After several calls to Stiles—

(“Dude, next time you call, I’m not going to answer for tough love purposes.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry for being concerned after the disaster last time.”

“Just chill, Derek. At this rate, you’re going to need a massage by the time you get there.”)

—and several miles without any worrisome fluctuations in the bond, Derek finally allowed himself to relax slightly.

A few hours later, Derek entered the Speights Media room of the conference center and offered Lynette a cupcake. He blamed the action on his overwhelming relief that things could actually be okay.

“Are you baking now?” Lynette asked disbelievingly. She lifted one out of the container and stared at the werewolf cupcake in her hand. “And making cute cupcakes?”

“No,” Derek huffed shortly. “They were Stiles’ back up plan just in case something went wrong again. I can’t believe he didn’t burn them, honestly.”

Lynette burst into laughter. “He must have been paying attention that day when I said that I’d do unspeakable things for a good cupcake. I fucking love this kid.”

Obviously, Stiles was better at paying attention than Derek gave him credit for, considering Derek didn’t even remember that comment.

Kali walked around one of the displays, fiddling with the wires. “Who the hell is Stiles?” she inquired suspiciously. “Is it that kid you brought a few weeks ago? Cousin? Boyfriend?”

“He’s no one,” Derek responded with a roll of his eyes. He extended the container toward Kali, who pulled out a cupcake—one of the spider ones that Derek had noticed earlier—after a moment of hesitation. She bit into it skeptically, and then quickly took another pleased bite before swiftly grabbing another cupcake and turning away dismissively to head back to her previously abandoned display.

“I don’t know if he’s your boyfriend, or some soccer mom, or what,” she threw over her shoulder, “but he’s a fucking keeper.”

● ● ●

“This is so impressive,” Cora said in awe as Stiles collected money from Talia, “Laura told me that you were able to destroy mom in Monopoly, but honestly, I didn’t believe it. Well, now I do.”

Stiles had come over to the Hale’s for one last practice before the Thanksgiving holidays, but as soon as he had reached the house, Laura had dragged him inside to visit with everyone. The Hale women had decided that practice would be forgone in order to host a Monopoly rematch game. Derek had initially been reluctant, but one look at Talia and Laura’s narrowed eyes following Laura’s comment about how she wouldn’t be seeing Stiles until after Thanksgiving (which Stiles took to mean that they were sad that he wouldn’t be joining them for the holiday) and Derek had simply glowered silently.

They had had an intense game, which Stiles had managed to dominate. In all honesty, Monopoly typically bored Stiles—it was long with so many parts and strategies, and he had trouble focusing after a while. However, there was something endlessly fun about playing with the Hales who took the game so seriously; Stiles made whatever move struck him as interesting at the time, whether it made sense or not, and his fellow players were always hilariously confused. Derek, who obviously cared least about the game and played with little enthusiasm, just rolled his eyes at Stiles the whole game, recognizing the younger man’s scheme. Stiles wasn’t sure if Derek was able to sense it through the bond, or if he just knew Stiles well enough at this point.

Cora, even though she seemed to have gotten used to Stiles, had huffed her usual annoyance at seeing him in her house, and she had seemed skeptical about his ability to play with her family when the game was initially suggested. As the game went on, however, Cora ended up sitting and staring at Stiles in amazement.

“And you somehow have managed to tame Derek’s dog from hell after only being around a few months,” she added as Charlie moved from his position on the floor next to Stiles to lick at Stiles’ fingers.

“I don’t get enough credit among your circle at school for being awesome, basically,” Stiles said as he raised his hand in triumph as Stephen announced him the winner. “And Charlie is the farthest thing from a hell dog. He’s the sweetest.”

And he was Derek and Stiles’ dog. At least, Stiles had considered that the truth since their last eventful session. Stiles remembered when in Sacramento Derek had told him I don’t trust you to not corrupt my dog—he wondered when that changed.

“Yeah, maybe to you. He always growls around me.”

“Maybe if you weren’t so obnoxiously mean to me, he’d like you more,” Derek commented mildly.

“Children,” Talia reprimanded calmly before directing her attention to Stiles. “I’d love to play you in chess,” she said hopefully.

Stiles laughed. “Uh, sure, but I can assure you that you’ll definitely destroy me.”

“We’ll see about that,” Talia responded with a small smile. “Alright, Stephen, Laura, Derek, come help me finish getting ready for lunch. Cora, why don’t you keep Stiles company for me until we’re done?”

Derek raised his eyebrow at Stiles before making his way to the kitchen.

“Why does Cora get the fun job?” Laura pouted as she followed Derek.

“Don’t worry, there’s plenty of me to go around,” Stiles called to her. He stood from his spot on the floor. “But is there anything I can do to help? I can’t sit still anyway,” he asked Talia.

She just shook her head as she also retreated to the kitchen. “We’ve got it, Stiles.”

After a moment of hesitation, Stiles joined Cora on the couch, and they both sat in awkward silence for a moment. Stiles opened his mouth to being to talk about the history of California colleges because he had researched it recently and it was something, but Cora surprisingly beat him to the punch.

“So,” she said uncertainly, “I know that you probably don’t want Landon to know that you’re here on the weekends, and mom has told me not to say anything, so I haven’t, but well, I just…”

“Don’t strain yourself, Cora,” Stiles drawled.

“Oh, fuck you. I just know that you probably don’t want Landon to know that you’re doing this extra training thing. And I just want you to know that you’re not a horrible nerd. And anyone who can kick mom’s ass at Monopoly is alright with me. So I haven’t told anybody and I won’t tell.”

She said the statement so genuinely that Stiles was almost startled. “Thanks” was all he could quietly reply. Mission to win over all of the Hales: Complete. He cleared his throat and asked, “Want to watch some TV?”

“Is HGTV okay?” Cora asked after flipping on the television.

“If it’s House Hunters, then I am 100% down.”

“It’s House Hunters International,” she offered as she reached the channel.

“Uh, even better,” Stiles replied as Charlie curled up by his leg protectively.

After agreeing with Cora over the stupidity of the show’s couple in choosing the second house, Stiles ate lunch with the Hales and then retreated with Derek to his room under the pretense of collecting leftover practice clothes.

Stiles entered the room first and immediately jumped on the bed. Derek waited for Charlie to trot into the room before shutting the door and plopping down in a chair next to the bookshelf, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. He always seemed exhausted and uncomfortable when dealing with both Stiles and his family. Stiles vaguely wondered if it had been the same way with Paige.  

Stiles looked over at the dresser and saw a small, white paper, out of place on the pristine dresser top. Stiles scooted to the edge of the bed to get a closer look and determined it was some kind of prescription. “What is this?” Stiles asked as he reached out and pulled it closer to him.

Derek cracked open an eye. “I was having headaches and thought it was bond related. Morrell checked me out and told me that she thought it was my eyes. I went to the eye doctor and apparently I need reading glasses. They’re in a case on the bedside table,” he murmured before closing his eyes again.

Stiles flew over to the table and pulled out the glasses. He began to smile so hard that his face ached.

“Why do you feel like that?” Derek asked warily after a moment, shifting in the chair. “You are too happy right now.”

“You called my glasses hipster glasses this whole time and then you buy some exactly like them!” Stiles exclaimed gleefully. He thrust the offending item forward for Derek to see.

“They are not anything like yours,” Derek said defensively as he stood in agitation.

Stiles took off his glasses and held them next to Derek’s new pair.

“They are like the same. You have fucking hipster glasses. I’m never letting you live this down,” Stiles chortled as he began to laugh uncontrollably, rolling around the bed.

“I’m never wearing them now,” Derek exclaimed, throwing his hands up. He made a move to grab the glasses back from Stiles, but Charlie jumped up to block his hand with a bark.

Stiles simply laughed harder. “Oh, dear god,” he gulped, trying to get air, “we’ve become that bonded couple. We’re going to start dressing just alike soon.”

“I did not come up here for this,” Derek said wearily.

“Why did we come up here in the first place?” Stiles managed to ask as he caught his breath.

“We didn’t practice,” Derek stated as if he was clarifying the wonders of the universe.

No shit, Sherlock.

“Uh, yeah, I noticed,” Stiles responded slowly, “but what does that have to do with—” Stiles began to cackle again. “Oh my god, you wanted alone time with me. That’s so cute!”

“No, I didn’t,” Derek said stiffly. “I would never willingly drag you away so you could tease and annoy me in private.”

Oh, hell yes he did.

“I’m officially growing on you,” Stiles said triumphantly.

“Like some kind of fucking mold, maybe,” Derek countered.

“Dude,” Stiles whispered as he crept close to Derek, “…fucking hipster glasses.”

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Derek moaned. He reached onto the bookshelf and grabbed a book before hurling it at the younger man. The book sailed clear of his head, and Stiles was only spurred on to laugh harder.

The bond pulsed brilliantly.

Over the next few weeks, Stiles knew he wouldn’t be seeing that much of Derek considering all of the holidays, upcoming finals, presentation research with Lydia, and lacrosse scrimmages with a few neighboring teams. He had also assumed that they wouldn’t be communicating much in general, considering the Hale house was overrun with family since Talia convinced everyone in their family to come to Beacon Hills for the holidays. Stiles wasn’t sure what excuse she had come up with, but he knew that she simply didn’t want to separate Stiles and Derek for long periods of time. Contrary to his assumption, however, he heard from Derek even more than usual. Stiles realized that Derek was miserable in the presence of so many people, but Derek didn’t want to bother Boyd or Erica who were with their family and he couldn’t complain to his sisters since they were among the throng of people—this left Stiles as the last person he could share his desperation with. Derek had seemed reluctant in his first messages, but after Stiles had enthusiastically responded, Derek appeared to have decided that he could confide in his bonded.

 

4:18

Derek Hale

>I can’t take this much longer.

 

>???

 

>There are so many people here.

>I have a lot of family and they have been here too long.

 

>theyve only been there like two days

 

>Two days too long.

>They keep asking about Paige.

>And Peter keeps smirking at me.

>And making not so subtle hints to my grandmother.

>He keeps making me run errands for him.

>Fucking kill me.

 

>you must be really unhappy

>because i dont think youve ever texted me so many words before

>but sadly i cant kill you

>who knows what would happen to me and i like life

>self preservation and all that

 

>Fuck you.

 

>now now dont take it out on me :)

 

>I’m about to pretend that you are having some bond shit.

>That’s the only way mom will let me escape.

 

>well if you manage to

>casa stilinski is always open as a bunker

>this thanksgiving is going to be just me and dad

 

>I envy your peace and quiet.

>Now they all want to know who I’m texting.

>Fuck this.

>I’ll message you again later.

 

>i look forward to it

>im pretty good at listening to complaining

>prob due to scotts whole deal with allison sophomore year

 

Stiles began to put his phone back into his hoodie pocket when it suddenly began to ring.

“Popular today,” the Sheriff commented drily from the kitchen table where he was sipping on a mug of coffee.

“Every day, dad,” Stiles responded sarcastically, “every day.” Stiles’ ID displayed an unknown number, but Stiles took the risk of answering it as he ran back to his room.

“We’re having a surprise party for Derek,” came the female voice on the other line.

“Well, hello, Laura. How did you even get my number?”

“Stole it from Derek’s phone. He’s currently being distracted by our five year-old cousins and I’m his older sister, seriously. It’s fucking ridiculous that we haven’t shared numbers, anyways. But, we’re having a surprise birthday party and you should be there even though you two are pretending not to be bonded. You’re the only person Derek will probably want there anyway, let’s be honest with ourselves.”

Stiles was jolted from the image of Derek playing with a bunch of little kids as the implication of the second half of Laura’s statement sunk in.

“I forgot that Derek’s birthday is in November! He hasn’t said anything!”

“It’s the twenty fifth. And Derek has this notion that birthdays aren’t that important. He and Paige didn’t let us celebrate either of their birthdays.”

“But birthdays are awesome!” Stiles said in horror.

“Exactly,” Laura said confidently, “so I plan to right his erroneous thinking. It’s going to be at Boyd and Erica’s. Erica is awesome and a fellow evil mastermind, and she already called Derek and told him that he is coming over for his birthday to have dinner with them. When he shows up, we’ll all just happen to be there. We’re going to meet there at six thirty, and he’s getting there around seven. Since I figure that you want as little attention as possible drawn to the fact that you are present, you can come after we’ve done the surprise, but before cake and presents and all that.”

“Derek is going to hate this,” Stiles said mildly, “so I’m obviously on board.”

Laura laughed. “I knew I could count on you. I just thought he needed something—whether he wants it or not—after dealing with all this shit the past few months. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“My baby brother has officially reached his late twenties. It makes me feel better since I’m almost thirty.”

“If I can make a suggestion,” Stiles said drily, “don’t mention his age when I’m anywhere in the vicinity.”

Laura snorted. “He can get fucking over it.” Stiles heard loud yelling on the other side of the line. “Okay, Stiles, I have to go,” she muttered quickly before hanging up.

Stiles stared at the phone as the line went dead.

Shit, now he had to buy Derek something. What the hell do you buy Derek Hale as a present?

His eyes were still trained on the screen as a text message alert buzzed in from Derek.

God, it’s been a Hale inundation the last hour.

 

4:36

Derek Hale

>We are now having “cousin time.”

>There are 25 of us.

>That is too many to go around the room and give an “update.”

>I’m going to regret saying this, but

>(But I’m losing my mind, obviously)

>I wish you were here.

>You could talk enough for the both of us and keep these people occupied.

 

Stiles smiled broadly, his heart lifting strangely as he read the message. He belatedly recognized the stream of warmth he had probably just sent through the bond.

He’d figure out something to get Derek. Something at least marginally awesome.

The next week, Stiles nervously walked up the stairs to the apartment door of Boyd and Erica. Laura had texted him the address the day before, and as he drove up, he had realized that it was the super nice apartment complex that had been built a couple of years ago about five minutes from downtown Beacon Hills. Stiles listened to the sound of the clamoring voices behind the door for a moment before raising his hand and quickly knocking.

The door immediately swung open to reveal Erica at the threshold. She looked slightly more pregnant than the last time he had briefly seen her at the hospital, but she was just as beautiful as in the wedding picture in Sacramento. She was tall, with curves, and long, blond, wavy hair, and large, warm eyes.

“Oh, hey, Batman,” Erica said with a large smirk as she made room for Stiles to enter the apartment, which was filled with people and loud chatter.

“Batman?” he asked, confused.

“Yeah,” Erica said as she led him to a back wall around from the crowd, “I don’t know your name, my husband refuses to tell me, and you had on a Batman shirt when I saw you at the hospital.”

Stiles laughed. “I kind of like Batman, you can just keep calling me that. And I’ll call you...”

“Catwoman?” Erica ventured. She leaned against the wall with a sigh.

“I don’t know if you’re worthy yet. Let’s say nickname to be determined. I’ll just call you Erica for now.”

She laughed and extended her hand. “Then let me fully introduce myself; I’m Erica Boyd plus a little extra.” She pointed at the large bump of her stomach.

“Boyd!” Erica called suddenly across the room to a tall, dark-skinned, buff man with deep eyes and handsome features. Boyd turned, and once his eyes settled on Stiles, walked up to his wife and guest.

“Boyd,” Erica announced once he reached them, “this is Batman who you unfairly know more about than I do. Batman, this is my husband and Derek’s best friend Boyd.”

“Boyd Boyd? Wow, your parents hated you even more than mine hated me during the naming process,” Stiles joked as he shook Boyd’s hand.

“Well, it’s Vernon, but I doesn’t like to share that,” Boyd replied in a deep voice. He looked at Stiles for a second and then let out a hearty laugh. “You know, I hadn’t even seen a picture of you? I thought I kind of knew what you looked liked, but I didn’t look you up or anything because it felt like I’d be prying. But, shit, you are exactly Derek’s type.” He continued to chuckle deeply as Erica began to laugh.

Stiles ran in hand through his hair in slight embarrassment. “Derek has a type? Of guy?”

“Oh, fuck, yes,” Erica said confidently. “I think the only person who didn’t want to admit out loud that Derek was bisexual was Derek. I mean, it was obvious that he was really attracted to Paige—but he wasn’t very picky about where he looked, you know? And for guys it was always kind of the same.”

“Tall, kind of gangly, long fingers, the ‘cute’ factor,” Boyd listed.

Stiles couldn’t help but glance down at his hands.

“He totally had a thing for Parrish when we were in middle school. Parrish was little then…he’s not so much anymore,” Erica said with a smirk.

“Parrish? Like the guy who is one of my dad’s deputies?”

Before the conversation could get any more interesting, Stiles felt a jolt and looked up through the crowd of adults incessantly talking and kids running around to meet Derek’s eyes. His eyes were filled with relief and something else Stiles couldn’t pin point—he didn’t read emotions, that was Derek’s job. Stiles felt like the bond wanted to drag him forward and closer, but he simply gave Derek a small wave and received a nod in return.

“Okay, Boyd, go be my bat signal and tell Laura that Batman has landed,” Erica said beside him.

Boyd held out his hand toward Stiles, and the younger man took a moment to realize that he was requesting the box Stiles had almost forgotten was under his arm. Stiles quickly thrust the box forward, and Boyd silently took the gift out of Stiles’ hands. Boyd slipped through the crowd to murmur to Laura, who immediately searched through the crowd until her eyes settled on Erica and Stiles. She smirked broadly. Erica gave Laura a thumbs up, and Laura loudly announced that it was time for cake and to sing Happy Birthday.

Derek, arms folded tightly, was standing behind a folding table which had been brought into the living room and covered with a tablecloth covered in cartoon balloons. At Laura’s words, the hoard of people encircled the table, crowding as close as possible to Derek. Stiles knew that the overwhelming majority of the people there were Derek’s family, and as he observed the crowd, he was able to recognize many similar, attractive features.

Beauty was definitely not lacking in this family.

Derek looked extremely uncomfortable from all of the attention and scrutiny from the numerous family members and friends, and Stiles watched him unconsciously mess with the friendship bracelet which was still miraculously located on his wrist. Derek seemed ready to die as a chorus of Hales began to sing; he locked eyes with Stiles in exasperation, as if pleading for Stiles save him. Stiles couldn’t help the laugh that escaped him.

Fat chance of that happening. Stiles wasn’t about to ruin Laura’s plan—she may kill him.

“So,” Erica said casually as the song ended and the cake was being cut, “how does it feel with Derek being twenty seven?”

A.k.a—how does it feel to be to be a teenager when Derek most definitely wasn’t? Yeah, Stiles wasn’t playing that game.

“Why would I feel any different? I’m not the one getting old,” Stiles responded.

“Are you calling me old?” Erica gasped teasingly.

“Well, if the shoe fits on your pregnant, swollen feet…then yeah.”

Erica punched his arm, surprisingly strong, causing Stiles to tip briefly. She smirked at him. “So what are you two exactly? I finally talked to Paige and she refuses to break patient/doctor confidentiality. Boyd is silent as a rock. Derek would rather die than tell me anything. I know better than to ask any of the Hales.”

“Privacy clause, Erica; it’s a bitch.”

“Yeah, there’s no way they can expect that shit to work,” Erica said with an eye roll.

“I’m not really sure of exactly what Derek and I are,” Stiles admitted, “but I’m pretty sure we’re at least friends.”

As he finished speaking, Stiles suddenly saw Charlie burst through the crowd and run toward him, panting. When he reached Stiles, Charlie evaluated Erica before deeming her worthy and then sitting protectively in front of Stiles. He growled threateningly at a young boy who traveled too close to them.

Erica stared at the dog. “Are you kidding? You’ve been worthy of mentioning for like five seconds and you’ve already won Charlie over? It took me over a year for him to even let me pet him.”

Our dog.

“I’m irresistible,” Stiles said softly as he ran a hand over one of Charlie’s ears. “And I’m the nice parent.”

Stiles focused on Derek as Laura announced that the birthday boy would now be opening presents. Derek looked like he would rather be chained to a wall and electrocuted than let people watch him open gifts. Stiles assumed that Derek’s current stoic facial expression was to help cover up his impending dislike for the majority of what he was going to receive—his discomfort, however, couldn’t be completely masked.

Erica evaluated Stiles for a moment. “It must suck, not being able to be up there with him.”

Stiles bit his lip and stared at Derek who continued to look supremely uncomfortable. “Yeah, it kind of does. But I can feel the pull—I know he wants me up there.” Stiles shrugged. “So I have that.”

“That’s so weird,” Erica murmured. “How does it feel to be bonded to his grumpy ass?”

Stiles opened his mouth to answer, but Erica quickly held her hands up. “Oh, god, you have the look. I’ve been through this scene already in college. I should have known better than to ask someone who bonded how they feel about their bond mate.”

“The look?” Stiles asked, confused.

“The lovesick look,” Erica clarified.

“Well, isn’t that what bonding is? The disease where we‘re so lovesick that we try to physically attach ourselves together?” Stiles answered as Derek was staring blankly at a freshly opened box filled with a container of protein powder. It was Derek’s third to receive so far.

Erica laughed. “I like you. You’re bitchy. Derek needs that to keep him on his toes.”

“I’m glad to have Erica approval. I feel like it’s important Derek isn’t badgered constantly about how much you hate me.”

“Damn straight. Though, I don’t think Derek would put anyone’s opinion above you. He has the lovesick look too,” Erica said in a meaningful tone.

Derek’s next present was from Cora—a book whose cover Stiles couldn’t read from the back wall. Derek probably couldn’t help the relief that flooded his face.

A man with dark hair who looked a little older than Stiles had been designated as the person to hand Derek his gifts from the stack on the edge of the table. (Stiles assumed he was one of the countless cousins.) The man selected Stiles’ gift next, drawing his brow in confusion as he looked at the wrapping.

“Here’s one,” the man informed Derek, “but it doesn’t have a card. Who the hell would use Avengers paper?”

Derek shook his head as he accepted the gift. “Probably someone who has seen the movie three times in theaters paying the ridiculous price three times.”

Stiles rolled his eyes from the back of the room. Subtle, Derek, subtle. And Stiles saw what Derek did there—an under-the-radar insult. Derek just didn’t understand true dedication: when a movie was fucking awesome, you watched it three times in the theater.

The family members around Derek had blank and confused looks at his statement. Derek opted to ignore them and to begin to open the box. Next to Stiles, Erica snickered at the scene in front of them.

Once he had the box unwrapped, Derek pulled out three Henley shirts. Instead of Derek’s usual muted and neutral colors, the shirts were a blinding yellow, bright red, and an electric purple. Stiles had attached small notes to each shirt with a safety pin: on the yellow, “ray of sunshine through the Derek Gloom”; on the red, “the blood of your gym enemies”; and on the purple, “to bring out your eyes.”

Stiles thought the shirts were a good representation of how their bond should be. Stiles didn’t want to force Derek to do anything or to change him; Stiles just wanted to add something to Derek’s normal life.

Not that he’d ever admit that sentiment—that shit would be way too embarrassing.

“Clothes. Boring!” yelled a small Hale kid in the crowd.

Though he had been fairly passive with all the other presents, Derek stared at the shirts for only a second before breaking out into a deep laugh. Some of his family members almost looked alarmed at his reaction. (Stiles couldn’t blame them—Derek laughing brightly wasn’t a usual occurrence.)

“Do you know who they are from?” the cousin present-handler asked curiously.

“No,” Derek responded calmly, “there’s no note, remember?” Laura snickered next to him.

After a few more presents hilariously attempting to contribute to Derek’s work out habit—kale cookbook, special water bottles, and more protein powder—the attention left Derek, and Stiles was surprised to see him slip away from the crowd to make his way over to Stiles and Erica’s wall.

“You knew about this and didn’t tell me?” Derek hissed at Stiles once he reached them.

“I’m more afraid of Laura than I am of you,” Stiles said simply.

“Just proving that he isn’t stupid,” Erica remarked offhandedly.

Derek shot her a glare before turning back to Stiles with a raised eyebrow. “Shirts?”

“I know that practicality is of high importance in your life, so I went for something useable. And I’m not sure what it is about Henleys, but you seem to love them, so I figured that you needed some new ones. In better colors than black, brown, and dark green. Plus, I wasn’t sure if you wanted super advanced whey or elite whey protein.”

“I’ll probably wear the red and purple ones,” Derek said with a small, fond smile. “Never wearing that yellow one, though,” he added.

“Stiles!”

Hearing his name, Stiles looked over Derek shoulder to see Stephen Hale walking toward them.

“Stiles. Oh, good,” Stephen said happily, pulling out his new crossword. “My children are incompetent. I need a five letter word for “Used with steel to create sparks,” starts with—”

“Flint?”

Stephen paused to fill in the blanks and then looked up at Stiles appreciatively. “You know, when Derek first bonded with you, I was wary. But it’s times like these when I know there is nothing to worry about.”

Stiles wondered if all parents were this easy to win over.

“Seriously, dad? You can’t put that stuff away for two minutes?” Laura said in exasperation as she appeared suddenly at Stephen’s side.

“They are brain exercises, Laura, I can’t just stop exercising my brain,” Stephen responded as if this were the most obvious thing in the entire world.

“Hello, Stiles” came a voice from Erica’s side. Stiles turned to see the gorgeous, calm face of Talia Hale.

Almost all of the immediate Hale family members surrounding him wasn’t very inconspicuous, but whatever.

“I love the shirts you got Derek,” Talia continued. “I think you should wear the yellow one for the family Thanksgiving picture,” she directed at Derek.  

Stiles send Derek a shit-eating grin and Erica chortled loudly. Derek glowered at them both.

Stiles watched Cora break through the crowd of people and curiously head over to where her family was huddled. “You got invited to Derek’s birthday?” Cora exclaimed in surprise as she laid eyes on Stiles.

Make that all of the Hale family surrounding him.

“I invited him,” Talia said firmly.

“What can I say,” Stiles said with a shrug, “I’ve been adopted by your family.”

He said it jokingly, but he felt that it was partially true. He felt mutual warmth spread through the bond.

“And who is this?” came yet another voice from behind Derek. The small Hale pack parted to reveal Peter and an elderly woman whose features were reminiscent of Talia. The speaker had been Peter. He was equipped with a sinister smile and directed an arrogant gaze at Derek. Charlie, who had been resting quietly at Stiles’ feet, began growling. The man made Stiles’ blood turn cold for some reason—every time Stiles was near him, every sense told him to flee. Now, however, it was the dark look that Talia was giving Peter that made Stiles skin crawl; she was frighteningly furious.

A hush settled on the crowd and all eyes settled on Talia. Peter’s smile faded slightly and regret seemed to flicker across his face. “I know how much you like having blackmail to hang over people’s heads and to play your games,” Talia said quietly, “but I suggest you stop. I’m working on helping you, but I don’t have to, Peter. Mother, this is a friend of Cora’s who Derek is helping with lacrosse.” Peter fell into a reproachful, but submissive pout. Cora looked confused, but didn’t dare question her mother.

The older woman, most assuredly Peter and Talia’s mother, didn’t seem even slightly interested in the young man in question or Talia’s threat. Instead, she turned her focus to Derek. “I’m so glad we were able to celebrate your birthday, dear.” She patted his arm before commenting forlornly, “But it’s a shame Paige couldn’t be here.”

“She’s busy with rotations,” Laura said stiffly.

“And we aren’t getting back together,” Derek added, looking at Stiles.

“You never know,” Grandmother Hale said confidently.

“Mother, why don’t we go look at Laura’s wedding book that she brought?” Talia suggested, ushering everyone else away from Erica, Stiles, and Derek.

“I know something is up,” Cora hissed firmly to Stiles before trailing after her family, “And I will find out, Stilinski, mark my words.”

Stiles gave her a smug wave. He liked Cora, which was surprising considering they had never been friends; he had been worried, however, that Landon would be there, but thankfully didn’t see him tagging along behind Cora. He must have taken insult to Derek’s words from their encounter in the high school parking lot.

Erica whistled. “Remind me to never fuck with your mom.”

Stiles watched the retreating forms of Derek’s family. “Want to escape?” he murmured, brushing his fingers against Derek’s. “My dad isn’t home tonight if you want to come over and read in peace or something.”

“Yes,” Derek said so quickly that Erica choked with a snort.

“Skipping out on your own birthday party? Jesus, Derek, you’re fucking hopeless,” Erica sighed.

Derek surprisingly threaded his fingers through Stiles’, brushing his thumb over the pulse point. “And I’ll be fucking happy when I’m out of here. If I have to listen one more second to my grandmother giving me the third degree about Paige or Aunt Cecelia talk about her new grandbaby, I’m going to kill myself.”

Erica eyed their now joined hands. “Not even going to tell Boyd goodbye?”

“Boyd is locked in a deep discussion with Robbie about hockey statistics. He’ll be fine without me telling him anything,” Derek said mildly, beginning to pull Stiles toward the door. “Charlie, come.”

Charlie obediently followed the two men as they made for the exit.

Stiles turned Erica, who was trailing after them. “It was nice to meet you, Erica. You’re pretty awesome,” Stiles said honestly as Erica beamed. “And…I’m Stiles.”

Erica crinkled her nose. “That’s your name? What the hell kind of a name is Stiles?”

“The kind of name that is a nickname for something worse.”

“I think I’m sticking with Batman,” she said with a wink as Derek dragged Stiles out of the door.

After Derek and Stiles reached the jeep, Derek released him hand and hopped in the jeep. Stiles ignored Derek’s muttering about dying in the ugliest car possible.

“You’re still not forgiven for not telling me about this,” Derek said more loudly. “I don’t even know how you kept it secret since you can never shut the hell up.”

“Laura, dude. She sent me texts for days threatening me if I spilled the beans. She’ll scare you into silence, man.”

“You could have at least given me a hint,” Derek pouted. “I hate shit like this.”

Stiles laughed. “I kind of got that. You were so uncomfortable that the bond was almost making me edgy.”

“I just want them to go back home,” Derek said longingly. “But they’re coming back for the Christmas holidays, so I only get about a three week reprieve.”

Stiles glanced over at Derek’s gloomy face and simply wanted to kiss him, but he was driving and they hadn’t really kissed since the music room on presentation day so he didn’t want to push anything. Even if he did want to kiss that face about 99% of the time.

By the time they got home, Stiles had a request on Instagram and Facebook from Erica Reyes Boyd. Derek, unsurprisingly, didn’t have a Facebook, but Erica posted pictures with him anyways. Stiles suddenly had more stalking material than when he had scoured through most of Cora’s Facebook pictures.

After an unspoken agreement to head to Stiles’ room, Derek scanned Stiles’ bookshelf before grabbing the Hunger Games, stretching out on Stiles’ bed, and flipping the book open. Charlie jumped onto the bed and curled up by Derek’s side. Stiles settled on the bed next to Derek’s feet, crossing his legs Indian-style, balancing his laptop on his knees. He flipped through Erica’s pictures, every now and then sarcastically commenting or directing a question to Derek, who would respond without even looking up from his book.

The only other person Stiles had ever felt this comfortable with was Scott.

As the Christmas season rolled around, no matter how much Laura texted that he was missing out on Hale traditions, it was deemed too suspicious for Stiles to spend holiday time at the Hales. Once break started, Stiles spent a lot of much-needed bro time with Scott. He also hung out with his other friends, especially the wonderful Lydia who was the only person he could talk with about different colleges. Everyone else, with the exception of Allison who had applied to universities in France, had only applied to local schools.

But no matter how much he loved Scott, or Lydia, or the rest of his friends, Stiles acutely missed Derek. After a week of not seeing him, the bond felt tight, and the symptoms, which Stiles had managed to diminish to the point where he could ignore the residual effects, suddenly flared again. He slowly felt an increased underlying nausea and slight headache, and by Christmas Eve, he had his first nose bleed in ages. Thankfully, Derek had planned to sneak out on Christmas evening to attend the combined Stilinski/McCall Christmas under the claim that he was going to see Boyd and Erica.

On Christmas day, the Sheriff refused to let Stiles open any presents until the McCall’s joined them for lunch. The presents were located under a moderately sized tree covered in all of Stiles’ homemade ornaments from years past and all of Claudia Stilinski’s sentimental favorites. The rest of the house contained a modest number of Christmas decorations, but no expense had been spared on the tree—other than the ornaments, it was covered in lights, ribbon, and popcorn garlands. Stiles always felt as if he owed his mother’s memory to ensure that her favorite Christmas piece was properly presented with enough holiday spirit.

When Scott and Melissa arrived, lunch was filled with dishes, including turkey, sweet potatoes, and Claudia’s famous casserole. Afterwards, they scarfed down Mrs. McCall’s Christmas red velvet cake before opening presents and settling in the living room to watch Christmas movies. Stiles elbowed Scott to point out how close John and Melissa were sitting on the couch.

“Ah, here he is,” Mrs. McCall announced loudly around five o’clock as Derek finally slipped through the door, Charlie running in from behind him with a bark.

“Merry Christmas!” Stiles and Scott yelled at him simultaneously. They fist bumped in celebration of the jinx.

Derek returned the phrase in a quieter tone and then greeted Mrs. McCall, shook the Sheriff’s and Scott’s hands, and brushed Stiles’ arm as he settled in the chair that Stiles had already placed next to him in anticipation of Derek’s arrival. Stiles felt a swell of satisfaction as he realized that Derek was wearing the red Henley from his birthday under what appeared to be a new leather jacket.

Derek took a deep breath. “It’s so nice here. Quiet.”

“We like to keep things low key,” Melissa said with a smile.

“I had needed to get away from my family hours ago, but they wouldn’t let me leave,” Derek said forlornly as he glanced at Elf on the television. “Thank god they are leaving tomorrow. The fact I have to see all these people again at Laura’s wedding is too soon,” he added just as miserably.

Stiles rolled his eyes and shoved at Derek’s immovable shoulder. “Stop being such a cry baby.” Stiles hopped out of his chair and immediately ran over to the Christmas tree to grab a couple of the few remaining presents. “Okay, let’s get down to it. I want to give Charlie his present!” He walked back to Derek and thrust a gift into his hands—again wrapped in Avengers paper—before squatting down to rustle the dog that had settled comfortably between Stiles and Derek.

Charlie pulled his head up and watched as Stiles extended a new collar forward and shook it around. It was a nice leather collar with a shiny silver tag and triskelions pressed into the material. “I told you I was going to get him an awesome collar, and look at this thing,” Stiles said, beaming at Derek. Charlie barked loudly in what Stiles interrupted as approval.

“There was nothing wrong with his collar,” Derek toned, “but go ahead, put it on him.”

Stiles slipped the collar around Charlie’s neck and Derek tore the paper off of his present. As the wrapping fell to the floor, a book titled Introduction to Polish was revealed in Derek’s hand. Derek eyes widened in slight surprise, and Stiles felt something strange, but electrifying move through the bond.

“Still not telling you my name, so don’t get your hopes up,” Stiles commented lightly as he scratched behind Charlie’s ear.

“We should have just named him Thomas like I wanted to,” John directed mildly to Derek.

“Honestly, I think Thomas might have been too boring for him,” Derek joked quietly. “Thanks, Stiles.”

“And,” Stiles added as he offered Derek another package and waited for the other man to pull off the paper, “the Hunger Games series – because I know how much you actually liked them and figured you should have your own collection.”

“You got him books? And clothes for his birthday? What’s wrong with you?” Scott asked with a squinched nose. Stiles stood and swatted at Scott’s head.

“We have come to expect a little more…random gifts from Stiles,” Melissa offered with a laughed.

“Stiles is the only person who has bought me stuff I’ll really use,” Derek said softly. “I don’t really like to have extra things.”

Derek and Stiles met each other’s eyes and stared for long enough that Scott cleared his throat.

Melissa turned to John and rolled her eyes at the boys in front of her. “Would you like some red velvet cake, Derek?”

“I’d love some,” he responded politely.

“Perfect, I’ll get you some while I’m making Scott’s hot chocolate,” she said as she walked over to the kitchen.

Stiles pointed back toward the tree. “I have just a few little things for your family. Don’t forget them when you leave.”

“I’m sure you won’t let me forget,” Derek muttered sarcastically. He reached into the bag that he had dragged in with him and extracted an expensive whiskey bottle with a small bow, which he handed to John. The Sheriff cracked a grin and nodded in thanks. Derek then pushed the rest of the bag toward Stiles. “There’s a card from me and a few things from my family.”

Stiles immediately grabbed the envelope and ripped it open. Inside was a generic Christmas card with a wreath on the front hovering over the words “Happy Holidays.” Stiles cracked it open to find a folded piece of paper and a small note from Derek.

Stiles,

I know I treated you like shit when we first bonded. I would apologize for that, but I don’t really think I can. My life was fucked and I don’t think I could have reacted any other way. But, I know you didn’t ask for this any more than I did. It fucked up your life too. And if I had to bond, I guess I’ll admit that I’m glad that I bonded with you (even though you can drive me crazy) because you somehow know how to deal with me. Even though we’ve only known each other for a while and we’re different people, I think we understand each other. I’m sure Dr. Braeden would point out that that is probably why we bonded, but I can only stand so much of that psychological bonding bullshit. And I know the bond makes you feel like you have to have me around. You don’t really need me. You are smart, brave, and dedicated enough without me around. But you have me if you want me. I don’t ever want to hold you back. I respect you, Stiles, and I want you to experience what you need to. If you want me there with you, then hopefully it won’t be something that will make me fucking miserable. What I’m trying to say is that I think there’s hope that we can make it through this without killing each other.

And you’ve gotten better at lacrosse. Thanks for working hard.

-Derek

Stiles was certain that his heart had to be beating so loudly that everyone in the house could hear it. He unfolded the piece of paper and revealed a folded check for several hundred dollars. Stiles breathed shallowly, on the verge of freaking out, as he noticed a post-it note that was attached to the other side of the paper which said for use on Steam and at that video game store you go to all the time.

“Oh my god. Did you really give me this much for Steam? I…I don’t know what to say.” Stiles looked up at Derek, whose ears were turning pink, and knew that the older man would be able to sense through the bond that Stiles meant so much more than that. He didn’t know what to say about the composition of words that Stiles doubted Derek would ever actually say out loud. He didn’t know what to say about how he felt and the sense of security gained from them. The card meant more to him than the money ever would—Stiles was putting it on his wall, no matter how potentially embarrassing a situation that might create with Derek in the future.

“That’s a first,” Derek said, his voiced containing a twinge of embarrassment.

“I’m so happy right now that I could kiss you in front of my father,” Stiles stated truthfully and boldly. Derek’s ears darkened.

“Please don’t,” John said from his seat on the couch, his eyes knowing. “I like to pretend that you two are in one of those hands off relationships.”

“Like a courtship?” Scott asked, seemingly oblivious to the depth of the exchange between his best friend and Derek.

“Yeah, like a courtship that lasts forever,” the Sheriff offered.

“Even the courtship people eventually get to hold hands once they get engaged,” Stiles interjected lightly.

“Well, I don’t see a ring on your finger yet…” John drawled with a sharp eye on Derek, “and hopefully not any time soon.”

“There are other presents in there for you to open, Stiles,” Derek said desperately.

Melissa, face filled with laughter, walked back into the room and handed Derek his cake and Scott a mug.

Stiles quickly opened the rest of the presents in an effort to put Derek out his misery. The first box revealed new, expensive cleats for lacrosse with alternating patterns of white and bright red from Laura and Robbie. The second box was from Erica and Boyd (and Baby Boyd) and contained a set of Batman comics. Stiles paused for a moment to text Erica a snarky thank you. Erica had gotten his number from Laura, and over the last few weeks, they’d become texting buddies. He bitched about high school, and she bitched about being pregnant, and they talked about adorable baby-related things together. She was quickly becoming one of his go-to people. To be honest, Stiles kind of loved most of the people from Derek’s life that Stiles had inherited through the bond.

Finally, Stiles opened the present from Talia and Stephen to find a new X-box system.

Scott choked on his hot chocolate when he saw the box. Melissa rolled her eyes and patted her son soundly on his back.

“What the hell is this?” Stiles asked with wide eyes.

“Sorry,” Derek said as he leaned over to get a better look at the gift, “I didn’t tell her which gaming system you used and I guess she just took a guess.”

“No, dude,” Stiles explained as he flailed around a bit, “this hasn’t come out yet. Like, how did she get it? This is too much, dude.”

Derek shrugged. “I guess she just had some kind of connection.”

“You family really is in some kind of secret-service-Mafia-cult thing, aren’t they?” Scott said in awe.

Stiles was betting on most probably. There was at least an 80% possibility.

“What the hell are you telling people about my family?” Derek asked Stiles in exasperation.

Stiles was spared having to answer by the sudden blaring of Derek’s phone with the obnoxious ring tone that Stiles had set during one of the many occasions he stole Derek’s phone.

“I will figure out how to change that back,” Derek muttered darkly as he answered the phone.

Stiles smirked. Yeah, right.

The caller was Laura, informing Derek that their grandparents were beginning to be disgruntled about his absence, and Talia was suggesting that he return to the house. Derek hung up the phone in such gloomy misery that Stiles had to contain a laugh. Derek seemed incredibly reluctant to leave, looking around the room with a deep longing, as if he were about to go to war and never return to the peaceful living room.

“Alright,” Melissa said with a clap of her hands, “before you leave, I think you two boys need a Christmas picture.” She held out her hand for a phone, and Stiles immediately pulled his out to give to her.

Stiles yanked a hesitant Derek over toward the tree and called Charlie over to them. Stiles pulled Derek down into a kneeling position on Charlie’s level and then gave Mrs. McCall a thumbs up. She took the picture with a smile, and Stiles immediately made it his phone background and sent it to Derek. “You need to print one out for your house. There aren’t any of me there and it’s not fair,” Stiles said with a fake pout.

Derek rolled his eyes at Stiles, and Stiles was filled with a deep warmth—an almost overwhelming warmth as the bond swelled with emotion.

He just really loved Derek. He hadn’t allowed himself to really think about it since the English Calamity of Epic Proportions, but it didn’t make it any less true. And the beach adventure and subsequent weeks had only made it worse.

God, Derek was an asshole about 70% of the time, and he was reserved and grumpy and he needed to add a chill pill to his morning routine, but shit, did Stiles love him. Stiles loved his dry humor, the way his forehead wrinkled when he was really focused on a book, the free look he had when he ran, the way he pretended to be stern but still snuck Charlie treats, the love he had for his family, and all of the other little things. Even though Stiles admittedly didn’t know everything about him and though there was so much time that they needed to spend together, Stiles knew that he wanted to learn and take that time—and he’d probably only end up loving Derek more.

Derek made his way around the room and told everyone goodbye. As Derek walked in front of Stiles, he seemed incredibly torn before coming to some inner conclusion, and with a determined face, pulled Stiles forward and gave him a chaste kiss on the lips. Derek pulled away just slightly, breathing in Stiles’ space, before immediately making his way out of the door. Stiles refused to look at his dad, or Mrs. McCall, or even Scott; instead, he grabbed his phone and texted Derek.

6:21

>in front of my dad

>ballsy

 

>I was hoping the whole Christmas thing would be a buffer.

>If we had been alone, it would have been better.

 

>ohhh talk dirty to me

 

>No.

 

Stiles wanted to text >just fuck me then, but he had a feeling that would scare Derek off for a while.

“You have it bad,” Scott commented from behind him. Stiles still refused to turn around and see their judgmental faces.

No shit, Scotty.

A few days later, Stiles knew that all of Derek’s family had left except for Laura and Robbie, so Stiles texted Derek to see if he could go over to their house to thank Talia and Stephen for the present. He and Scott had been messing around with the new system and the features were incredible. Stiles figured that a gift of that magnitude deserved at least an in-person, late Merry Christmas. Derek’s response indicated that Derek, Laura, and Cora would all be out doing something for a while, so Stiles considered it a prime time to deliver a gushing thank you.

When Talia opened the door and saw Stiles, she broke into a large smile and invited him in the house. She and Stephen refused to listen to his claim that he didn’t deserve such a present, but they accepted the thank you and led him to the living room to visit. Stiles was finally able to observe the Christmas decorations that Laura had nearly waxed poetic about—his eyes immediately fell on handmade ornaments Derek must have made in school when he was very young. They were circles, covered in meticulously placed red and green stickers, with small pictures of Derek in the middle.

Talia followed his gaze. “Derek made those for me and Stephen when he was in the first grade.”  

“It’s hard for me sometimes to imagine Derek as a little kid. He’s so grumpy,” Stiles said with a laugh.

“He was always my more reserved, sensitive child, but he wasn’t quite as ‘grumpy’ when he was younger,” Talia said with a smile. Her eyes brightened, and she gracefully got up from her chair to retrieve a book from one of the shelves in the living room.

“Good thing Derek isn’t here,” Stephen said casually.

Stiles opened the book after Talia handed it to him and discovered that it was a photo album. He recognized that the pictures started at Derek’s birth and smiled so largely that his face hurt.

This was fucking gold.

He flipped through the pages almost greedily, breaking into laughter when he came to a picture of Laura holding a baby Derek so tightly that he was screaming. “Oh my god, look at Laura!”

“They were always quite a pair. Derek was my baby for so long until Cora,” Talia said fondly.

“Cora was quite a surprise,” Stephen added candidly.

Stiles moved through the book, watching Derek morph from a baby into a six or seven year old playing baseball. He turned a few more pages and then paused on a picture of Derek and a woman with a white medical coat on—they were in the very familiar meeting room in the hospital with green chairs facing a large desk. Stiles stared at the Hales in confusion.

“You know,” Talia said quietly as she looked at the picture, “I wasn’t really surprised when Derek bonded. I had been more surprised when he hadn’t bonded by the time he turned twenty four. When he was young, around five to nine, he used to complain about a pulling sensation. We had no idea what to do with him. It sounded like the bond pulls, but he was so incredibly young. One time, I asked more questions about it and Derek, about six at the time, told me that he was missing three parts. An arm, a lung, and a heart.”

Stiles unconsciously touched the Mark on his arm. Holy shit.

“He cried for two hours after he told me that. So, after that conversation, Stephen and I called in a specialist.” She pointed to the woman in the picture. “Nothing came of it. But now look,” she said with a gesture at Stiles’ right side, “the Marks are located in the places that he mentioned as a child. I think he’s been looking for someone to fill those voids for a long time.” She looked at him pointedly.

“He must have been really desperate to choose me,” Stiles responded lightly before continuing through the pictures, making his way into high school pictures. Paige began to crop up in a few, but the majority of the pictures appeared to be sports-related, particularly baseball and basketball. He slowed down once he reached some pictures of Derek as some kind of counselor at the BHHS camp for kids during the summer. “I grew up doing this camp, mom loved watching me be clumsy at all the sports…I think she thought it was cute,” Stiles said with a laugh. Talia gave him a bright smile.

Stiles turned the page and froze. Stiles felt his jaw fall open, causing Stephen to lean closer and squint at the picture.

“Is that you?” he asked Stiles incredulously after a moment.

Stiles stared at the picture. There was Derek, probably about 16, with a young Stiles standing next to him, holding a basketball. Stiles had an enormous smile as he hugged the basketball that seemed enormous next to his tiny frame. Derek must have been his team leader or his partner for one of the days. Other than the fact that it was kind of weird to so blatantly see the age difference between himself and the guy he’s made out with, there was something so extraordinary in the fact that he and Derek had always been in each other’s lives in the small town of Beacon Hills—they had probably crossed paths so many times before Stiles had walked into that hall room at that party.

He jolted as he felt pain spike at the Marks and felt the ooze of blood trickling down his chest and arm. He pulled up his shirt sleeve and stared disbelievingly at the newly cut addition of the Mark on his arm, a sliver of Mark extending down the pulse point that Derek always grabbed.

Shit, this stuff was supposed to be over with by now.

Talia and Stephen stared at his arm with looks of concern and incredulity respectively, and when Stiles’ phone began to ring, he answered without even looking at the screen.

“What the fuck just happened? We aren’t even together!” Derek cried immediately.

“What the hell doesn’t happen when you’re crazy bonded?” Stiles answered calmly. “And for future reference, I’m blaming that fact on you.”

● ● ●


 

“I'm hooked on a feeling
I'm high on believing
That you're in love with me”

-“Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede

Chapter Text

“So,” Stiles gasped as they walked from practice back to the house, “we have a few days off for faculty workshop, and my dad is also going out of town for a few days for some police force thing. I’m not entirely sure why, I zoned out when he was talking about it. But, yeah, so he said that it would be okay for you to stay at the house with me. You know, if you’d want to stay with me or whatever.” Stiles’ deep breaths lifted like a silver fog in the cold air. He attempted to shrug nonchalantly, but Derek could feel his hope through the bond.

“Yeah,” Derek said lightly as they reached the house, “yeah, I can do that. Being at home this long with my parents again is starting to smother me anyway.”

They headed to the kitchen as they normally did to get some water before showering; however, as they entered the room, Derek had to stop short from crashing into Stiles who had frozen, staring at something ahead of them. Derek looked in the room to see his mother, father, Cora, and a young man sitting at the counter.

Landon Cress.

“Landon came to visit me,” Cora said immediately, with an apologetic look on her face.

“Stilinski?” Landon asked in surprise. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Derek’s been helping me practice,” Stiles replied stiffly. He was coiled as if ready to run away or attack—whichever may prove more necessary.

“Lacrosse?”

“What other sport do I play, Landon?” Stiles answered in frustration.

“I knew there was no way you were randomly getting better,” Landon said gleefully.

“Stiles has been working very hard,” Talia interjected.

“I’m sure he has,” Landon said quickly, as if he just remembered that Cora’s parents were in the room. “Some people just lack natural talent and have to work harder. What did you have to do get Derek to help you? Talked his ear off about some worthless subject, probably,” he added with a laugh to Cora and her parents.

Derek was not dealing with this little fucker.

“Landon,” Cora admonished helplessly. Derek noted with satisfaction that, unlike the alternation in the parking lot, Cora seemed much more concerned about Stiles than Landon.

“Listen, douchebag—” Stiles began, until Derek cut him off.

“Get out,” Derek said dangerously.

“Derek,” Talia said softly while holding her husband’s arm, as if keeping Stephen from running away from the conflict.

“Get out,” Derek repeated, ignoring his mother. “I already told you that I didn’t have to put up with you, you little piece of shit, and I meant it. Get out of this house.”

Landon had flushed red, but beneath his embarrassment, he was vibrating with anger. “Is he sucking your dick or something?”

Derek felt through the bond, rather than actually saw, Stiles expel the energy to pounce forward at Landon. Despite the fact that Derek would like nothing better than punch the kid himself, he reflexively moved forward and wrapped his arms around the younger man’s stomach to pull him back and keep him from reaching Landon.

“That’s enough!” Talia exclaimed, uncharacteristically loud. “Landon, we do not speak to guests like that in this house. That goes for you too, Derek.”

“Landon, let’s go,” Cora said firmly and yanked Landon out of the chair with surprising strength, dragging him toward the door. “Mom, I’ll see you guys at dinner.”

A hushed silence fell over the kitchen as the scene ended as quickly as it had started. Stiles, unsurprisingly, was the first to break the quiet. “I’ll go ahead and head over to my house. I’ll see you later, Derek,” he said uncertainly to Derek. “Bye Mrs. Talia, Mr. Stephen.”

“I know that he was being nasty, son, but you may want to lay off—” Stephen said cautiously after they heard the sound of the front door closing from Stiles’ exit.

“Lay off? That snot-nosed brat was insulting Stiles to his face. Do you not get it? I can feel everything that Stiles feels. Do you know how awful it is to sense his feelings getting hurt even if it’s just for a second? That’s my bonded that Landon’s hurting while the rest of you just sit quietly and let the little shit say whatever he wants. I was a jock in school too, and I wasn’t a saint, but I was never such a dick,” Derek said, voice steadily rising. “That kid is going to be gone before long—we all know that Cora deserves better than that asshole. But Stiles isn’t going anywhere. Do you want me to admit it? Do you want to really say it? Okay, fine, I will.” Derek pulled at his hair and his parents stared at him as if he were going crazy right in front of their eyes.

“If I live with anyone, I’m going to live with Stiles. If I get married to anyone, I’m going to get married to Stiles. Okay? There, I said the damn thing.” His father’s eyes widen to the point of where they were bulging out of his face. “I know none of you can understand what I feel with Stiles, but I’d appreciate it if you were on our side instead of Cora’s bullshit boyfriend who we all don’t actually give a flying fuck about. The only person Stiles is going to blame is Landon, but I blame all of you. Stiles is better than Landon could ever dream of being anyways.”

As Derek observed the startled expressions of his mother and father, he passingly wondered if he had ever made such a long speech in front of his parents. “Like I told Laura, I don’t regret Stiles or the bond. And I’m too sick of pretending and all of the lying to put up with this bullshit.”

“Do you love him?” Talia asked quietly.

Derek froze. “I can’t say shit like that yet. And I am fucking done talking about this.” Derek stormed out of the kitchen, up the stairs to throw together an overnight bag, and out the door to hop into the Camaro and drive in a haze to the Stilinki’s.

“Dude,” Stiles exclaimed as Derek walked through the door, “look what came!” He extended it excitedly for Derek to see.

The card stock was a thick, cream paper with a simple gold border and embossed, swirling, gold script—the invite to Laura’s wedding.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Fredrick Hale

Request the honor of your presence

At the marriage of their daughter

Laura Talia Hale

to

Dr. Robert Dale Collier

 

“I’m also invited, it appears,” John piped up from the kitchen.

“I’m sorry, Stiles,” Derek began, ignoring the invitation.

“Dude, I’m already over it, let’s not even bring it up.” He added after a moment, “I’m fine.”

Derek didn’t really believe that, even though the bond felt normal, but he was willing to humor Stiles, especially in the presence of the sheriff.

John welcomed Derek properly as he walked into the kitchen. After offering him a sandwich, which Derek declined, the sheriff instructed, “Come with me upstairs and I’ll show what we’ve set up for you.” Derek watched Stiles throw his hands up and roll his eyes before retreating to the living room.

Derek followed John up the stairs to a small guest bedroom off the hall. “This is your bedroom,” John informed him, “You can wander from this room, but I’m just warning you that you may lose a ball or two if you chose to spend your night elsewhere.” He clapped Derek soundly on the shoulder and began to make his way downstairs.

Derek wondered if the sheriff had any idea that he and Stiles had slept together every night at the beach.

Derek threw his bag on the neatly made bed and followed the sheriff back down to the living room where Stiles was sitting on the couch, typing on his computer. The sheriff told Stiles goodbye, shared a firm handshake with Derek, and headed out the door. Derek joined Stiles on the couch.

“You didn’t bring Charlie?” Stiles asked, not looking up from his screen.

“I was a little angry when I left, I’m sure I left a lot of things,” Derek replied drily.

“Charlie isn’t a thing,” Stiles said in mock horror. “We’ll have to go get him tomorrow.”

Damn Stiles’ attachment to the dog. And damn the fact that Derek would probably go get the dog for him.

“Okay,” Stiles continued, “so I’ve decided that we’re having a pizza/movie/video game night.”

“So basically the same thing we always do when we hang out?”

“No need to get snippy about my awesome plans.”

“I would rather cook,” Derek added.

“Uh, yeah, I’m never against that. You’re a fucking kitchen god. And if you want to make spaghetti, I wouldn’t complain. And if it was soon, since we didn’t have lunch, I would also be unlikely to complain.”

Derek (unsurprisingly) cooked spaghetti, and after dinner on the floor with Netflix in the background, Derek accepted a challenge at Mario Kart. After a few minutes of battling around the track, it was obvious that this was one game that Derek’s years over Stiles would be of no help. Stiles didn’t play fair, either—he shoved Derek when his avatar crept close to Stiles’ or yelled loudly when Derek was trying to make a tight turn. Derek immediately began to retaliate, but it was no use. This was obviously Stiles’ game. After the fifth race, Stiles crushed Derek again and jumped up with a laugh, doing a goofy victory dance.

“You have to calm down,” Derek said tiredly, “or I’m going to have to tie you down or something.”

He realized his mistake before Stiles even smirked.

“I’ll let you tie me down if you’re into that.”

“I’d rather you tie me down,” Derek toned seriously. He cracked up laughing as Stiles stumbled into the couch in shock. He didn’t think he’d ever joked about sex like that with Paige, but he had found that the best way to spar with Stiles was to give it to him as good as he dealt it.

“Jerk,” Stiles said with narrowed eyes. “You probably meant more along the lines of Game of Thrones torture or something anyway.”

“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t watched that show.”

“You haven’t watched Game of Thrones?” Stiles asked, horrified.

“I wasn’t very interested,” Derek replied simply.

“But dude, you would totally resonate with Jon Snow.” Stiles flashed a grin at him. “You both have the silent, but strong and loyal type going on.” Derek rolled his eyes. “And it’s so much more than that. I can’t believe I’ve known you all these months and haven’t recognized this horrible error on your part.”

Stiles, before Derek could respond, leapt up and grabbed a set of DVDs from the cabinet. He placed the first disc in the player and then settled close to Derek, hooking his ankle over Derek’s. The situation was a far cry from when they watched Lost together all those weeks ago in Sacramento.

Derek skeptically watched the introductory credits, uncertainly increasing as the pretentious melody played around a complicated-looking map. After the first episode, he still wasn’t convinced, but he needed to know things. Before he knew it, they were suddenly watching the end of the final episode of the first season, and Stiles’ feet were in his lap as the younger man sprawled over the length of the couch.

Derek stared at the screen. “No, they aren’t going to do that. There is no way they are going to let that little bitch of a king kill Ned Stark.” Stiles began to cackle as the sword fell. “What the fuck?! I just watched this whole season and they fucking killed him? Why even watch the rest? Why the hell did I listen to you and watch this show?

Stiles continued to laugh hysterically. “This is been so much fun, watching your reactions since I know what is going on.” He sobered after a moment. “I have the books, you know.”

“They’re books?”

“Oh, yeah, dude. I have the set, I can run upstairs and grab it for you. They’re long, but you read books so fast I don’t know how you absorb the words, so you’ll finish in no time. You’ve been needing something new anyways, you must have reread your high school bookshelf like six times now.”

“I could give them a try, I guess.”

“So, dude, do you want to watch the next episode?”

“Only because I’m invested in Arya. She dies and I’m not doing this shit anymore.”

“Isn’t she badass? And bro, everyone dies on this show, don’t get attached to anyone.”

Stiles moved to put in the DVD for the next season, but Derek shook his head. “I didn’t mean tonight. Look at the time; it’s late and I’m tired.”

“Old man,” Stiles sighed, but he helped Derek pick up and followed him up the stairs.

When they reached the second-floor hall, Derek headed toward the guest room, but Stiles grabbed his arm.

“No, dude, we’re not playing that fucking game. I don’t care what my dad said—there’s no way that you’re spending the night and not sleeping with me.”

“Stiles—”

“Tell me you don’t want to and I’ll let you go sleep on the shitty mattress.” Stiles pushed up Derek’s sleeve and grabbed the Mark on his arm, something he had never done before. Derek felt an explosion of feeling so overwhelming that he was momentarily light-headed. “It’s just me. You don’t have to pretend, dude,” he said simply.

Derek hesitated before nodding, grabbing his bag, and allowing himself to be led to Stiles’ room. He brushed his teeth and changed quickly, holding his shirt uncertainly before catching Stiles’ eye. Stiles raised an eyebrow at him.

Decision: no shirt.

Derek slipped into bed and waited until Stiles finished in the bathroom and hopped under the covers. Despite his expectation of Derek, Stiles had opted to keep his shirt on.

Hypocrite.

Stiles turned off the bedside lamp and moved toward the center of the bed, settling close to Derek. The warmth of the bond and of the man’s body next to him settled over Derek and he let his fingers find Stiles’. Derek listened to Stiles’ gentle, steady breathing, and he began to slip into sleep when Stiles suddenly whispered, “You know, you made me two promises a while ago that you haven’t kept.”

“What?”

“You said you’d tell me the story of how you and Paige got together and what the hell went on with Chris Argent.”

Derek was jerked awake from the haze of exhaustion. He should have known better than think that Stiles would ever forget things like promises, no matter how fleetingly they were spoken. He wasn’t comfortable talking about these things. He didn’t want to talk about these things. He never talked about these things; even with Paige, it was only mentioned sparingly. But under the covers in the cocoon of warmth, looking at the shadow of Stiles’ face, he was surprised to find that he felt capable of divulging those stories to the uncharacteristically still man lying next to him.

“I don’t really tell people this shit. Other than my family, only Boyd, Erica, and Paige know.”

“I think I’ve earned a spot among the elite,” Stiles muttered in annoyance.

“When I was fifteen,” Derek began, ignoring Stiles comment, “I met Paige by being an asshole to her. She was trying to practice the cello, and I was being a typical fucking jock. But she didn’t take my shit, and I noticed her—and she was beautiful and talented and I wanted to get to know her. We were dating before long.” He took a breath. “After a few months, Paige and I had been fighting over something stupid, something that we would have probably forgotten about in no time. But then I met Kate.”

“Kate?”

“Kate Argent.”

“Oh,” Stiles said in surprise, “Allison’s aunt? She said that her dad said that he owed you because of her aunt.”

Fucking Kate Argent.

“The Argents had always been in competition with my family. Honestly, our families have never really liked each other. During the time of Paige and my fight, my mom managed to beat out Gerard, Allison’s grandfather, on several crisis management contracts. Gerard had decided to pretend to extend an olive branch and had hosted this big dinner for all of us. And there was Kate—she showed interest in me and made me feel special. She was beautiful, and older, and charming, and I fell straight into that charm all told her all about my teenage problems. She convinced me to break up with Paige." Derek gave a dark laugh. “God, I was such an asshole.”

Jesus Christ , reliving his deepest regrets always sent a burning self-hatred through his veins.

What would Stiles think of him?

“We started to see each other in secret a little while after I ended things with Paige. In hindsight, I should have known that someone her age wouldn’t be interested in a fifteen year old kid.”

“Yeah, that’s fucking unfathomable,” Stiles commented sarcastically.

“It wasn’t our situation, Stiles. You’re not fifteen, either, thank fuck. Either way, if we weren’t bonded, no one would be overjoyed with us together. Imagine you bringing me home to your dad voluntarily. He would have shot me.” He brushed Stiles neck. “But the truth is that I wouldn’t have given you the time of day if we hadn’t bonded.”

“Well, that’s comforting,” Stiles said humorlessly. “I don’t really know how I feel about this open, sharing mood of yours.”

“Do you want me to stop? Because it’d probably be a fucking relief.”

“No,” Stiles said sulkily.

Derek sighed as he continued. “Kate and I had sex, which Paige and I hadn’t done, and she made me feel important.”

“She slept with you?” Stiles cried, sitting up on an elbow. “Allison’s aunt has to be like—”

“She was twenty four when we were together,” Derek said, arching an eyebrow.

Stiles immediately shut his mouth and slipped back down.

“That’s not to say,” Derek added quietly, “that it was okay. And after realizing that she was manipulating me, it was something I had to deal with for a long time. Do you understand why I don’t ever want to take advantage of you?”

“I told you, you aren’t taking advantage of me. I’m not you. You’re not Kate. Obviously, because you actually care. This isn’t a game. This is a relationship. One that we’ve worked fucking hard to develop. We respect each other. Nothing will happen unless both of us are cool with it. I’ll understand if you have to get comfortable with things, but, dude, have you felt this bond? We’re safe with each other. And I’m young, but I’m about to head to college, and I’ve dealt with some serious shit already."

Sometimes, Derek realized how fucking lucky he was to have bonded to Stiles.

“So,” Stiles said hesitantly, as if wary that he was pushing Derek too much, “how exactly did she manipulate you?”

“I was with Kate for a few months and thought I was in love with her. I told her things. She used them as intel—and one day, when Laura and I were taking Cora somewhere, Kate broke into our house to get access to my parent’s accounts. My entire family was there for a reunion, which she knew, and she held everyone up at gunpoint and locked them in the basement.”

“Holy fuck, this sounds like a deranged horror movie,” Stiles breathed.

“She couldn’t find what she was looking for, and in her anger, tried to burn he house to the ground—and all my family with it. Apparently, Argent was going under, and Kate would rather murder innocent people than watch that happen. Thankfully, Laura had forgotten her purse,” Derek said thoughtfully, “Laura is never forgetful, but she seems to know when she needs to be—”

“Her purse, her wedding book,” Stiles murmured.

“So, we headed back to the house. We heard screams, saw smoke, and called for help. When the police showed up, her own brother came in and stopped her. Peter did the trial, got her and her father put in jail, and made sure he gave her family a bad name. Gerard officially went out of business, and Chris Argent had to pick up the pieces.”

“I was in therapy for a while,” Derek continued quietly, “but didn’t know how to deal with anything. And this girl, Jennifer, showed interest in me and, being an idiot teenager would hadn’t learned from what had just happened, I wanted to hook up with her and be normal. Apparently, she had been dared to get in bed with the guy who had almost had his family burned to death. Boyd found out, and I just shut down. Paige showed up to our house one day and refused to leave me alone. She didn’t talk like you, just…sat there and did homework. Or brought her fucking cello in my room and practiced. Eventually, I went back to normal, I guess. Paige and I were together for good. And the whole thing faded out of everyone’s mind. It wasn’t like I was actually an orphan or lost all my family—I had almost been. My mother made it very clear that I needed to learn from my poor decisions, but I shouldn’t blame myself for what happened—she said that I had been taken advantage of. I still blame myself, anyway, but it’s been a long time, and I can deal with it.”

Derek had never felt so bonded to Stiles as in the moment he finished his story.

But he was definitely done talking about this shit.

He knew that Stiles felt sympathy, concern, and a host of other feelings for him, but Stiles thankfully, seemed to realize that Derek didn’t need that directed at him right now. Or maybe he just didn’t know what to say.

“How is this even your life? And then you bonded with me?” Stiles said lightly, “You have some shit luck. No wonder you’re even suspicious of the check-out bagger at the grocery store.”

Derek huffed. That girl had too mischievous of a look every time he went in that godforsaken place.

“It’s been a long time. I’ve had a lot of good between now and then.”

“Thanks for telling me, Derek. Seriously,” Stiles murmured, “thanks for trusting me.”

Silence settled between them, their breath mingling as they remained close together.

“I wish my mom had been able to meet you. I wish she had known that we bonded,” Stiles added softly.

“What was she like?” Derek whispered, as the darkness and the desire for sleep pressed around him.

“She was awesome. Funny, smart, happy. Always helping people. She would have liked you.” Stiles pushed even closer to Derek. “Because you’re a good person, even though you don’t think you are,” Stiles finished as sleep finally consumed them both.

The next morning, Derek extended his arms upward as Stiles entered the living room, looking rumpled from sleep.

“You look hot,” Stiles said unabashedly as he watched Derek stretch. “What exactly are you doing?”

“I don’t really have anything to work out with here, so I decided to do some yoga after my run.”

“You’d make a fortune teaching yoga, you know. Yoga Derek. It has a nice ring to it,” Stiles said cheekily.

Derek ignored him and continued to stretch until Stiles walked back from the kitchen and offered him a mug of coffee.

Stiles, true to his word, really did make good coffee.

Derek’s phone on the coffee table lit up, indicating a text message. Stiles reached down and grabbed it, seeming to retrieve it for Derek, but immediately opened the phone. His eyes widened.

“Oh my god, you made our Christmas picture the background on your phone,” he exclaimed joyfully.

“Give me my phone.”

“Nope,” Stiles said as he dodged away from a lunging Derek. He laughed as Derek chased him around the room.

Stiles was quick, but Derek was faster and his reflexes sharper. After a moment, he had Stiles pushed him against the wall, using the position to triumphantly pull the phone out of Stiles hands and put it into his pocket. As his adrenaline tapered down, he realized how close he was to Stiles. He stared at Stiles’ eyes and flickered to a mole on the side of his cheek.

“Fuck this,” Stiles breathed suddenly, as he crashed forward to kiss Derek.

The kiss was deep, and Derek ran his hands over all of the parts of Stiles that he wasn’t already pressed into—his neck, his arms, his hair—before pulling back slightly.

“We can’t.”

“Yeah, we can! We both want to—I can feel it through the bond. And we talked about it last night!” Stiles said, almost angrily. “Do you know how overdue this is?”

“Yes, Stiles, I do!” Derek yelled. “I went from having sex all the time to not at all! And then you always look so—” He growled in frustration. “I’m always around you and not able to fuck you like I want to!”

Stiles pushed even farther into his space, lips barely separated from Derek’s. “Well, fuck me now,” he challenged.

Derek nearly growled, and Stiles’ already wide pupils blew open even wider as Derek pushed even closer to him and kissed him hard. Derek’s lips moved desperately over Stiles’ until he broke away to lay a gentle kiss on the mole he was looking at earlier and moved to press his lips against Stile’s neck.

The sounds Stiles’ made were enough to drive him crazy.

Stiles fumbled with his belt until Derek slapped his hands away, deftly pulled the belt off, and pushed Stiles’ jeans to the floor. Stiles stepped out of them before Derek pulled Stiles’ shirt off and pushed him back against the wall. He felt the warmth of Stiles against his leg and groaned.

The bond swelled around them, vibrating with how close they were and their increasing heart rates.

Derek released a deeply breathing Stiles to remove his own shorts. As he undid the tie, the phone in his pocket began to ring. Derek froze as his brain fuzzily processed the situation.

What the hell were they doing?

After a moment, he reached into his pocket, and Stiles’ breath hitched unhappily as Derek answered the phone.

“He’s almost here, man,” Boyd said far too calmly for someone about to become a father. “You and Stiles should head over to the hospital soon, if you can. Erica wants to see you two more than our families, honestly, but if you want to wait a little while, you can avoid the majority of the craziness.”

There was a reason he and Boyd were friends.

“Erica is having the baby,” he informed Stiles after hanging up with Boyd.

“You know that shit can take hours, right? I’m not waiting at the hospital forever,” Stiles said, reaching for Derek’s shorts in determination.

Derek grabbed his hands. “She’s been in labor since early this morning, you idiot, but she is having the baby right now. Boyd called to ask me to come and meet my godchild. And you’re supposed to come too.”

“She was in labor and you didn’t tell me?” Stiles gasped, momentarily distracted. “No wonder she didn’t answer my text this morning! It was a good one too.”

“I didn’t think it would matter until she had the baby.”

“Oh, you’re useless,” Stiles sighed as he snatched his shirt and pants from the floor. “And Erica is learning that she chose the time to deliver when I was finally going to have sex with you. She’d better feel horrible.”

“You talk about our sex life with Erica?” Derek asked in horror, as he readjusted himself in his shorts.

Stiles snorted. “My constant state of blue balls is brought up occasionally, yes, but we basically just talk about annoying shit from our day.”

Somehow, that didn’t comfort Derek.

Derek rolled his eyes and grabbed his keys from the hall table. “Come on, we can grab a burger first and then head over there when all the family has filtered out.”

“This isn’t over, Hale,” Stiles informed with narrowed eyes as he followed Derek to the car.

As they entered the hospital room after lunch, Erica looked tired, but overwhelming happy. Boyd appeared as composed as ever, but couldn’t contain the smile that was situated on his face.

“Say hello to Vernon Milton Boyd V,” Erica demanded proudly, gesturing to the bundle in what appeared to be a raised plastic box on wheels.

“I couldn’t convince her not to do it,” Boyd said forlornly to Derek, as Derek clapped him on the back in greeting.

“Boyd, it’s a family name! You are a fourth and we had a boy—obviously he needs to be a fifth. What would your mother say if we didn’t?”

“Probably nothing.”

“Well, too bad. I just pushed a baby out of my vagina, and so I get final say.”

“Can’t really argue with that, bro,” Stiles said as he walked over toward Erica.

Erica shot Boyd a triumphant look.

“How are you doing, Erica?” Derek asked.

“Super tired, but I’m so happy.”

“Bitty Boyd,” Stiles said fondly as he walked close to the tiny, sleeping infant.

“Oh, I like that,” Erica cooed.

Boyd cringed at the nickname. “I don’t like them together,” Boyd said thoughtfully, looking between Stiles and Erica.

“You told me to bring him,” Derek said with a grin.

“Too fucking bad. Stiles is my new favorite,” Erica added before exclaiming, “Shit, I swore that I wouldn’t cuss as much around the baby. I mean, that’s not good, right?”

“It seems like it’s really working out for you,” Stiles commented drily. “You should probably avoid words like ‘vagina’ too.” He scooted closer to the baby.

“You can hold him if you want,” Erica told Stiles, “just watch his neck.”

Stiles gingerly picked the baby, slightly fearful, but with obvious excitement. “Okay, I already love him.”

“If you two adopt one day, make sure it’s a girl. If you do a surrogate, oh well, I guess we can’t be picky,” Erica commented lazily.

What the fuck?

“Setting our children up already? Also, as shown by me and Derek, gender doesn’t have to really be an issue in relationships…but uh, yeah, it has to be a girl because I’m kind of partial to the name Lola right now.”

“Oh, that’s so cute!”

Derek started in horror. “It’s a horrendous name.”

“You didn’t say that at the beach.”

“That’s because I thought you were joking! I didn’t know that it was a viable option for my hypothetical child.”

“The best part is that he thinks it’s up for discussion,” Stiles whispered loudly to Erica. She snickered.

How the fuck did they keep circling around to talking about future children?

Bitty Boyd suddenly began to cry loudly in Stiles’ arms, and Stiles immediately handed him to Derek in panic.

“Why are you giving him to me and not his father?” Derek asked in exasperation as he took the baby from Stiles. Surprisingly, the baby immediately quieted and cooed sleepily in Derek’s arms. Boyd, Erica, and Stiles stared at him and the bundle in his arms.

“You’re a baby whisperer,” Stiles said in awe.

“And you’ve officially deemed yourself our number one babysitter,” Erica said from the bed.

Derek glanced down at the small head poking out of the swaddling blanket and fleetingly thought of holding a baby with honey-colored eyes.

He was so fucked. Not that this was news.

He felt Stiles staring at him, and met his eyes, feeling a pulse of emotion from Stiles—the same emotion that Stiles had been pushing through the bond for a while now, the one Derek usually ignored with all of the others. This time, the flare of the emotion was overwhelmingly strong, and he knew, as he looked into Stiles’ warm eyes, that it was love.

Stiles loved him.

And that changed everything and nothing at the same time.

They spent the rest of the day at the hospital under Erica’s insistence, and when they got back to the house, despite what Stiles had claimed earlier, they simply retired to Stiles’ bedroom quietly and put on Netflix. Derek pulled Stiles close, and Stiles hummed appreciatively and happily as he buried his face in Derek’s neck.

The next morning, in the depths of sleep, Derek felt a strange prickling sensation threatening to pull him out of the comforting darkness. He jerked awake, somehow processing that he felt like he was being watched. Derek turned over to see the Sheriff standing next to the bed looking down Derek and his son curled together. Derek stared back at him, unsure about what to do. Stiles, still asleep, shifted slightly, brushing his leg against Derek’s.

“You’re lucky that you’re clothed,” John said drily. “Coffee?”

Definitely coffee. And maybe something stronger to go with it.

● ● ●

Derek fiddled with the bowtie around his neck as the other groomsmen jostled around Robbie, laughing and drinking beer.

He fucking hated tuxes. Or suits.

Robbie looked relaxed, as if he wasn’t about to make a supposedly life-long commitment, and walked over to clap Derek on the shoulder. “We’re almost brothers, man.”

“I’m glad,” Derek replied honestly.

“I’m happy we’ve come to that. You called me a hopeless preppy when you first met me.”

“You’re still a hopeless preppy, but you’ve obviously fearless—you’ve been with Laura for five years. And about to say that you’ll stay with her longer.”

Robbie burst into laughter as a soft knock came on the door. Derek waved Robbie back to his pack of groomsmen before he went forward to open the door.

Paige.

Paige stood behind the door, her soft brown hair pulled up into an elegant braid, eyes perfectly lined, thin frame beautifully filling out a long, dark blue dress, and skin gleaming.

It felt like an age since he had truly seen her. The last time he had been with Paige was after England, and he had been too out of his mind to even really think about her presence. The last time he had called her had been to fool Cora—though he had vowed to call her again, every time he picked up the phone, he didn’t know where to start.

“Hi, Derek.”

“Paige.”

“Can I talk with you for a minute? I promise I won’t keep you from Robbie long.”

No matter what happened, there were few things he could deny Paige.

Derek nodded, quickly closing the door behind him, and following her a little ways down the hall.

“I’m sorry,” she began immediately with determination, “that I didn’t call you after everything that happened to Stiles when you went to England. Dr. Braeden asked me not to. I understand why—so you wouldn’t rely on me and would work through the bond—but I don’t want you to think I didn’t care.”

“I know that you always care, Paige,” Derek said softly, reaching for her hand.

“And I’m sorry that I never really called you, even after talking to Cora. I just couldn’t possibly interfere with what you were developing with Stiles.” Tears began to glass over her eyes.

“I didn’t call you either, Paige. You don’t have to apologize for that. You have nothing to apologize for at all. I owe you the apology—I left you,” he said miserably, “and was immediately with someone else.”

“You bonded, Derek, you didn’t leave me,” she responded in a chiding voice. “When people start to really start to understand the bond, they start to really understand the other person. It’s like experiencing two lives at once. So, he’s become your focus. I’ve slowly tapered off in your mind. That’s how these things work.” The tears in her eyes spilled down her cheeks. “Laura, Dr. Braeden, and Dr. Morrell have told me about the two of you. He challenges you, pushes you out of your comfort zone. You like him. And I’m so incredibly glad that we went to that party and you found him.”

Paige was the most empathetic person alive, and she never lacked grace.

“That’s why you’re too good for me, Paige.”

“You’re a wonderful person, Derek, and you’ve always been good enough for me. But now you’re right for Stiles. He’s wonderful too.”

“Stiles and I are both assholes.”

Derek had probably never said a truer statement.

Paige laughed and wiped lightly at her face, attempting to remove the water. “I can’t mess up my makeup, Laura would kill me.”

“Let’s avoid a Laura freak out as much as possible.”

“That’s already happened after the flower incident,” Paige remarked mildly. She paused before boldly continuing. “How are you, Derek? And Stiles? Are you happy?”

“We’re good, Paige. And I’m…” he swallowed. “Yeah, I’m happy.”

He squeezed her hand. “How are you, Paige?”

“I’m fine, Derek. Honestly. And—” She closed her eyes briefly and took a breath. “I’m seeing someone. A cardiology resident. He had a longtime girlfriend who bonded, and we started off talking about that similar experience and then we found things in common. Not that I ever mentioned your name or talked about Stiles! I would never breach the privacy clause. But I’m okay. I know that you are happy, and I’ve found someone who understands and makes me happy.”

“That’s great, Paige. Really.” Derek felt as if a weight had been lifted off of his heart.

“Can we be friends again?” Paige asked quietly.

“You’ve been my best friend since I was sixteen, Paige. I’d give anything to have you as my friend again,” Derek replied earnestly.

“Anything but Stiles,” Paige said with a small smile.

Probably not Stiles,” Derek corrected drily. “It would depend on how annoying he was that day.”

She laughed again and Derek watched the curve of her lips and the lightening of her eyes. It should have been difficult to look at her, especially considering they were supposed to be planning a wedding for themselves at this point. But, he was just so happy to have the promise of having her back in his life. Not everything was resolved, not even close, but Derek felt the beginning of closure—it was a start, at the very least.

“Oh, and I know that my parents saw you. I just want to apologize for anything that they might have said.”

“They were fine. Your dad was never my number one fan. I’m sure he’s glad to have a reason to really hate me,” Derek replied lightly, as another bridesmaid ran down the call toward Paige, informing her that they needed to get ready to go.

The ceremony began half an hour later, the sun shining brightly on the chairs lined up in neat rows and the scattered yellow and navy flowers. As the procession began, Derek walked up the aisle with Cora, separating from her at the end to stand next to Robbie’s best man. His eyes scanned the crowd of chairs until they fell on Stiles and his father. Stiles met his gaze, giving him a thumbs up and a giant grin. Derek couldn’t help but return the smile. When the bridal march began, Laura began to ascend the aisle, guided by a beaming Stephen. Laura looked as beautiful and strong as ever in a soft ivory, lace dress, and her long veil flowing past her dark hair. She met Derek’s eyes and gave him a confident wink.

Derek thought of when he was five and Laura beat up the kid in his class who was making fun of his ears, of when he was thirteen and she snuck him a glass of wine at Christmas, of how she comforted him after Kate, of their pillow forts and explorations of the Reserve. He was so grateful to have her as older sister, and he was filled with an overwhelming joy at her well-deserved happiness.

The ceremony was short, quickly reaching the “I do’s,” and they were hurriedly ushered to the reception at the Reserve’s elegant banquet hall. Derek was so busy with Laura, Robbie, other family, and endless pictures that he didn’t really see Stiles until the party was well underway.

After the photographer thankfully gave them the signal that they were done for now (a blessing for her, considering Derek had been a few seconds away from throwing her camera across the room) and the wedding party began to disperse, Derek felt a strong pull on the bond. He turned around and finally was able to really see Stiles—he had brushed his hair down so that it looked neater than normal, and his hands were in the pockets of a suit that accented his lithe frame and brought out his warm eyes.

He looked amazing.

“You did an excellent job of walking,” Stiles greeted.

“Hi, Stiles.”

“Laura looked awesome. Not going to lie, I teared up a little. Or a lot.” Stiles gestured toward one of the tables along the wall of the room. “Want to come check out the cake with me?”

Derek followed closely and contently behind Stiles. He wanted to reach out and grab the younger man’s man, but resisted.

“Oh,” Stiles said as they reached the cakes, “he’s a dentist.” Robbie’s cake was a giant tooth with a toothbrush and other instruments surrounding it. “Hell yes, free dental care!” He pumped his fist as Derek rolled his eyes with a huff. “I’ve been wondering what he did since he never got to tell me. And so, basically, this proves that all the Hales have a thing for nerds. Cora is fighting it, but she has all of college to figure it out.”

“Paige isn’t a nerd.”

“Dude, seriously? She was a band geek who played cello in her free period. She was a bio major who went to medical school and decided on a Bonding residency. She’s at least partially a nerd.”  

Before Derek could respond, he was summoned a table over to the main wedding cake for cake cutting pictures. He and Stiles shared a quick goodbye before Derek suffered through another onslaught of photographs. He felt Stiles' humor at his misery through the bond, and in retaliation, focused on a feeling of irritation to spike through the bond.

After the pictures were over, Derek was led to his family’s table for the meal. Stiles and the sheriff had ended up at a table with Peter and Malia. Peter smirked at Derek, his eyes glinting.

Peter, despite his evil, had managed to fall in love and convince the woman to fall in love with him. (Derek had actually liked her, which meant she had been way too good for Peter.) She had gotten pregnant when they were young, around eighteen, and they had a daughter, Malia. They had gotten married during college, but unfortunately, she died in a car accident a few years later. Peter had become even more malicious since his wife’s death.

Currently, Malia was talking with Stiles a little too animatedly for Derek’s liking. Of all his cousins, Malia was one of the most tolerable, which was surprising considering she was Peter’s daughter. Derek didn’t mind spending time with her, but he wasn’t so attached to her that he was okay with her flirting with Stiles.

“Don’t worry,” Talia whispered next to him as she realized where Derek was staring, “I’ve dealt with Peter.”

“What did he want?”

Talia rolled her eyes. “The man is my younger brother—you think he’d just pick up the phone and ask when he needs something, but he doesn’t like showing weakness. Malia’s grandparents were trying to gain custody of her, even though she’ll technically be an adult soon. I’m sure Peter did something to warrant the attempt, but he wanted me to speak with the judge to ensure that she wasn’t taken from him. Also, he found out about Laura and wanted to use your situation to blackmail me into forcing her to stay with him.”

Jesus Christ, he has no fucking shame,” Derek said in exasperation.

Talia began to answer, but was cut off with the arrival of his Aunt Cecelia. After her greetings, she immediately began to show the pictures of her grandbaby that she had received since Christmas. Cora, next to Derek, sat looking extremely unimpressed at the slew of baby photos.

As Cecelia showed more and more pictures of the baby on her phone, Derek became conscious of how much of his phone was now dedicated to Stiles. The pictures were all of Charlie and Stiles, Stiles playing lacrosse, Stiles messing around, and pictures Stiles had taken of Derek. Stiles had been thrust into his sphere initially, maybe, but it was more than that now—Stiles had managed to bleed into all areas of his life and now he fit.

After a moment, Derek stood up under pretense of getting another drink, when his father came bustling over with Laura and Robbie in tow.

“I know that we paid that woman a ton of money to take fancy pictures the whole time, but let me take a picture with my camera of all my kids so I don’t have to wait six months for it,” Stephen said as he waved around a small digital camera. Cora and Derek immediately gathered close to Laura and Robbie and waited for Stephen to turn the camera on.

“Stiles get in the picture!” Laura called suddenly, waving him over.

Stiles stood and walked over from his table, but hesitated. “Uh, I mean—”

“Why would Stiles get in our family picture?” Cora asked confusedly.

“Because he’s been like an honorary Hale for months,” Laura explained.

He was definitely more than honorary at this point.

“It’s really okay, Laura—” Stiles began again.

“For practicing with Derek?” Cora continued, forehead wrinkling.

“It’s my wedding and I want him in the damn picture!” Laura exclaimed in exasperation. Laura stomped over, grabbed Stiles, and stuck him close by Derek. “If it’s that upsetting to you, we can take one after without him, Cora.”

“You are so weird sometimes,” Cora said in bafflement.

Derek brushed his fingers against Stiles’ and attempted to contain his laughter. Robbie, however, was fully laughing.

“Now, children,” Stephen said lightly as he raised the camera, “stop fighting. Stiles helped me complete my last two crossword puzzles, Cora; he’s more of a dedicated child to me than you are.” Cora rolled her eyes. “Now, scoot together and take this picture.”

They pressed closed together and were all momentarily blinded as the flash shone brightly.

Eventually, Derek managed to escape from the table, family, and groomsman duties to slip out into a small, empty side room. He listened to the muffled sounds of yelling, singing, and pounding of the music as he sipped his drink.

“What are you doing over here?” Stiles asked as the young man suddenly entered the room.

“Hiding. I can only stand the questions from my family for so long. I knew that seeing them now would be too soon since Christmas.”

Stiles laughed as a new song started out in the main room. As the song progressed, Derek found himself asking Stiles, “Do you want to dance?”

He wasn’t sure why he asked. Maybe it was the infectious joy of a wedding. Maybe it was the fact he was on his third Jack and Coke. Maybe it was because Stiles looked so damn good.

Stiles seemed taken aback, but he nodded and said quietly “Yeah, I do” before stepping forward and gently wrapped his arms around Derek’s shoulders. “I mean, I can only really sway, but…”

“Thankfully, I can sway too.” Derek wrapped his arms around Stile’s waist and pulled him close.

Derek might not be having a wedding soon, and he and Stiles may be an odd couple who were bonded too tightly, and there would be probably be hurdles and complications in the future, but, for now, he was just glad he could have this.

● ● ●

As soon as the clock hit twelve o’clock on April 8th, Stiles was sent about fifty texts from Scott, all of them to some extent containing the message “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” and including balloon emojis.

 

12:01 AM

Scotty Sunshine McCall

>HAPPY BIRTHDAY

>18 man!

> Now you can buy cigarettes and vote and join the army and stuff

> Happy birthday!

 

Technically, Stiles wouldn’t be eighteen until 8:07 a.m., but he appreciated the sentiment.

Eighteen didn’t really feel any different from seventeen—he was the same Stiles that he was yesterday. Still trying to beat his current video game, still only halfway through his English paper, still only barely able to grow out facial hair. But even so, no matter how unchanged he felt, eighteen was going to be the year of biggest changes in his life. He was bonded and soon would be registered, about to present his final presentation for senior year, play his last game of lacrosse, graduate from high school, about to move away and go to college. And he was pretty sure he was in love.

Stiles quickly texted back a thank you, and continued to play video games until his dad came to tell him goodbye before his night shift. Before he left, the sheriff gave Stiles a hug, a “happy birthday,” and a promise for a present when he returned home. Stiles fell asleep not long after to the gentle hum of text messages from Allison, Isaac, Kira, Lydia, and Danny.

Stiles awoke to the small buzz of his phone vibrating on his bedside table. He groggily turned over in bed and blearily fiddled with his phone to eventually identify that he had a notification from Instagram. He opened the app to reveal that Erica had posted a picture of Bitty Boyd playing with toy that Stiles had given him a couple of weeks ago. She had captioned the picture with “Boyd V is missing Uncle S and wishing him a happy birthday!

Shit, that baby was so cute. He might be the cutest baby ever.

Stiles might steal him next time he watched him for Erica.

He turned to look at the clock—it read 10:34 AM. In other words: way too early to be up on his birthday weekend. He could get in at least another two hours.

Stiles snuggled deeply into the covers and closed his eyes again, only for them to snap back open as his phone began to ring. With a groan and muffled curse, he answered the phone as he pulled the covers halfway off his body.

“We’re going to eat dinner at the diner, go to that new club for a little while, and then hit up the bowling alley for the karaoke and night bowling,” Lydia said in a no-nonsense voice. “Oh,” she added as an afterthought, “and happy birthday.”

“Thanks, Lydia, my queen,” Stiles replied sarcastically, “what would I do without your micromanaging?”

“Be ready at five o'clock, Scott will come get you. And please choose your wardrobe carefully. Nothing plaid, Stiles.”

Lydia hung up and Stiles sat up in bed with a sigh. Now he’d never be able to fall back asleep.

He reached to place his phone back on the night table before hesitating halfway through the motion. He pulled the phone back toward him and began to type a message to Derek.

Son of a bitch hadn’t told him happy birthday yet.

10:50 AM

>i demand to see you today

 

>I’m already on my way to your house.

>I texted Scott.

>He said that you and your friends have plans later today.

>So I figured I’d come over now and give you your present.

 

>WHAT IS IT??????????

 

>No.

 

>derek!!!!

>and since when did you and scott text

 

>We don’t. But I got his number the first time I met him.

>Just in case there was an emergency.

 

>tell me what you got me

>please!!!! tell me

 

>No.

>And before you ask again—

>No.

>you are the most infuriating sour wolf on the plant

 

>Sour wolf?

 

>oh wow dude i forgot that ive never called you that to your face

>its just a pet name

>baby, honey, and sweetheart all didnt seem good enough

>i liked lovebug but decided against it

 

>I’m not responding to any of this.

>I’ll see you soon.

>And happy birthday, Stiles.

 

“Die, bitches!” Stiles cried as his game avatar slashed a machete at a bunch of mice on the ground. He had decided to wait for Derek in the living room and was sitting leisurely on the floor with a wire stretching from his laptop to the back of the TV.

The door creaked open and Stiles heard the familiar ring of Derek’s voice. “What the hell are you playing?”

“Derek! Hey! I’m playing Dishonored, I bought it with that money that you gave me for Christmas. I’ve bought so much and it still is only about halfway used.”

“I’m glad to hear that you’re so fiscally responsible.”

“Anyways,” Stiles continued, ignoring Derek, “I’m this guy trying to save the stolen princess in a plague-filled world. The rats are basically flesh-eating, so you have to kill the little bastards. So fucking awesome.”

Derek watched him play for a moment. “What is the point of this game?”

“Dude, I just told you!”

“This is why I never played a lot of video games when I was younger. I just played with Laura when she was desperate. She is the only reason that I am better at Perfect Dark than you are.”

“Shut up. Also, you love StarTropics, don’t lie to me.”

“It’s an exception,” Derek sniffed. “I really don’t like video games.”

“I know, dude. But I really like them, so I honestly don’t feel any remorse for making you play them with me.”

Derek snorted and crossed his arms. “I’ve noticed.”

“Okay, dude, enough of this—where’s my present?”

Stiles turned to glance at Derek who uncrossed his arms and had look nervousness flicker across his face. Before Stiles could ask why, Derek went back out to the front porch, grabbed something, and walked back in with a small dog carrier with a bow on top. He placed it in front of Stiles before squatting down to join Stiles on the floor.

“I know that your dad—”

Stiles clamped a hand over Derek’s mouth. Stiles felt like he couldn’t breathe as he removed his hand from Derek’s face and opened the carrier door to see a tiny, sandy-colored Labrador puppy. The puppy looked up at him with huge, round eyes. Stiles slid his fingers to the collar around her neck and read the inscription:

Lola

Beacon Hills, CA

530-833-6965

 

“But you complain about Charlie all the time,” Stiles breathed.

“I complain about you all the time,” Derek commented lightly, “but that doesn’t mean I don’t like you. Same for my sisters, my parents, and Charlie.”

Lola took a step forward and licked Stiles’ fingers.

Stiles flung his arm around Derek and kissed him. Derek froze momentarily before returning the kiss and placing a hand on Stiles’ waist. Stiles let out a half sob.

“Are you okay?” Derek asked, unsure. “I mean…you feel happy,”

“I get it, you know,” Stiles croaked, “like, I fucking hated you in the beginning. Well, at least until you offered to help me with lacrosse. But I mean, I get it. The balance thing, why we bonded. We kind of flow together, you know? I help make you less like a mature, grouchy robot and you make me grow when I need to. Like this,” Stiles gestured to the puppy, “I blathered on and on about dreams and having some baby and you just fucking got it and you gave me something that is ours, but something that I have to take care of, yet is, you know, manageable for me at present.”

Stiles wasn’t quite sure how Derek was remaining upright with the onslaught of emotion he was probably feeling across the bond.

“I didn’t really think of it that way,” Derek said cautiously, “I just—”

“You did,” Stiles insisted, “unconsciously or whatever. You’re just not fucking perceptive enough about yourself to realize it.”

“I just thought that you needed to get that name out of your system. And shut up about Charlie needing a brother or sister every time you play with him.”

“You’re such a fucking sap. You act all tough, but I see through you, Derek.”

“There’s nothing to see through when you can feel my damn emotions through the bond.”

“Dude, you’re the feelings pro. I really can’t feel your emotions that often.” Derek looked slightly relieved at that statement. “When did you get her?” Stiles asked.

“Boyd’s sister has a lab that just had puppies. They were giving them away, and I asked if I could have one. I know your dad doesn’t want a dog and you’re about to leave for college, but I figured that I could—”

“I got in all of them,” Stiles said suddenly.

“What?” Derek asked, confused.

Stiles didn’t bother answering, but instead ran upstairs and reached in the lower drawer of his desk to retrieve several envelopes. He flew back down the stairs and returned to his place on the floor, next to where Derek sat petting Lola’s head as she napped. Stiles picked Lola up carefully and held her close.

Stiles had gotten in everywhere that he applied, including Berkeley, University of Oregon, UCLA, Brown, Princeton, Rutgers, Columbia, Pomona—and Stanford.

“Jesus Christ, Stiles,” Derek said as he looked at the letter heads. “That’s fucking incredible. What did you get on the SAT?”

“2370. Lydia got a 2400. I probably could have gotten higher, but I was too lazy to take the test again and really study for it.”

“We never really talk about school, and I know that you’re smart; but you’re really fucking smart, aren’t you? This research shit that you’re doing with Lydia isn’t just some high school project, is it?”

“I get a puppy and praise all in one day,” Stiles said as he cuddled with the tiny lab. “I’m smart, Derek. It just doesn’t really matter.” He shrugged. “You’re the only other person I’ve told. Well, I mean, my dad knows. Oh, and of course Scott knows. And I’m sure Lydia telepathically found out.”

“So technically I’m third or fourth on the list,” Derek said drily.

“Fourth or fifth since I went to my mom to tell her first,” Stiles clarified softly.

Derek brushed his arm. “Did you visit any of these schools?”

“Not really. I visited Berkeley and Stanford.”

“Well?”

“Well what?”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Did you decide on Stanford?”

“Probably,” Stiles said as he cuddled with Lola. He didn’t want to part with her when he went to the dorms.

Dorms. Fuck.

“What are we going to do?” Stiles murmured quietly.

“About what?”

“How am I going to go away? Are you going to go back to Sacramento?”

Derek just looked at him silently. Poor guy hated dealing with this feeling stuff.

“Honestly, Stiles,” Derek responded slowly, “I don’t know how to deal with this shit any more than you do. But I meant what I said in that letter. Do what you have to and we’ll deal with it. Do I want to go back to Sacramento? It’s been nice being close to Boyd and Erica again, but fuck yes. I’m living in my parents’ house until we register because they insisted on it—but after that, I’m out of there. But I can go wherever you need me to. We don’t have to figure it out all today. We still have time. And I guess we can talk to Dr. Braeden or Dr. Morrell for advice if we need it.”

“I guess I should send my commitment to Stanford before I start freaking out anyway,” Stiles replied lightly.

“Hurry before they regret their decision,” Derek said in a deadpan voice.

“Asshole,” Stiles said fondly as he unsuccessfully attempted to shove Derek.

Derek stayed until about four, alternating between reading and bickering with Stiles. And though the last thing that Stiles wanted was for him to leave, Derek announced that it was time for him go after receiving a warning text from Scott. Stiles walked with Derek to the driver’s side door of the sleek, black Camaro. He shifted from foot to foot and brought a hand up to his hair.

“I’m glad you like her, Stiles,” Derek said quietly, talking Stiles’ other hand, running his thumb over the Mark.

“I love her. And to be honest,” Stiles continued, unable to stop, “Derek, I love you.” He felt Derek’s body stiffen slightly in surprise, and Stiles swiftly let go of Derek’s hand, flipping around toward the house. He refused to look back at Derek as he walked back into the house and immediately shut the door, leaning his back against it. Along with his statement, Derek could probably sense all his emotions (hell, he could probably feel the pounding beat of his heart), and Stiles should probably be freaking out. But, as he walked over to Lola, holding her close to his chest as she closed her eyes sleepily, something settled inside of him. His adrenaline was pumping, and he probably shouldn’t have run away from Derek, but he was so relieved to have just fucking told him. Derek would just continue to treat him the same way as if nothing had happened anyways—when Derek didn’t know how to deal with something, he ignored it.

About an hour later, Stiles’ friends arrived at the house and filled into the living room, each person staring at the puppy curled up on Stiles’ couch.

“You got a dog? I thought your dad said you couldn’t have a dog,” Scott said with his adorably confused face.

“She was a present.” The best present ever. He looked at Scott meaningfully until his friend’s eyes widened in understanding. He couldn’t wait to tell Scott everything.

“Who the hell got you a puppy as a present?” Isaac asked incredulously.

“She’s not just a puppy! Her name is Lola and she’s my baby,” Stiles replied indignantly.

Isaac’s scarf must be too tight if he didn’t realize that.

“She’s so cute!” Kira squealed, reaching out to pet her.

“And Lola is such an adorable name,” Allison added as she also gathered around the small dog.

“I know, right?” Stiles said triumphantly.

“We’ll have to set up a playdate with Prada, Stiles, but for now, can we go? She looks old enough to be alone for the amount of time we’ll be gone, just put her in the carrier.”

Stiles rolled his eyes and muttered, “Micromanaging again,” before following her instructions and piling in Lydia and Allison’s cars. They went to the diner as Lydia had mentioned, meeting up with Danny and his boyfriend since Christmas, Ethan, who went to a private school a county over. Ethan had brought his twin brother, Aiden, who Lydia kept inspecting appreciatively.

“What about Jackson?” Stiles whispered to her as they settled into their table.

“Doesn’t mean I can’t look. And he decided not to come, so he can’t be jealous,” she replied with a flip of her hair.

Stiles stuffed his face with a giant basket of curly fries before he was dragged out the door and hauled to the club on the edge of town. As they wandered deeper into the room, Stiles watched as they slowly lost the couples to the dance floor. Isaac and Allison were the first to give a small wave before disappearing into the crowd, but Scott and Kira soon followed. Stiles realized with horror that he was slowly being abandoned, but as he flipped around to beg Lydia not to leave him, she was already slipping off with Aiden.

He turned to Ethan and Danny to see a sympathetic look on the latter man’s face. He didn’t want sympathy because he didn’t have a significant other present—he wanted someone to be pissed off with him that his friends were bailing on him on his birthday. Before he could say so, Danny’s look changed to a mischievous one as a young man a little shorter than Stiles with sandy blond walked up to their group.

“Stiles, this is Aaron. Aaron, Stiles,” Danny introduced as he grabbed Ethan’s hand and began to pull him away. “Why don’t you guys hang out for a while?”

Oh, hell no.

The guy, Aaron, flashed a smile at Stiles. “Can I buy you a drink, birthday boy?”

They were setting him up? Did Scott know about this? He had better have tried to fucking stop this. Or Stiles would have also accepted a little heads up.

“I appreciate that, but no thanks.”

The guy put his hand on Stiles arm, unknowingly over the Mark, and though it was separated by a layer of shirt, Stiles was filled with a prickling, uncomfortable feeling.

“Come on, your friends said that you’re single.”

“I’m not, actually.”

The guy thankfully released his arm. “Are you seriously going to lie? Or are you straight or something?”

Pushy douchebag.

“I’m not straight. Want to see a picture of my boyfriend?”

Maybe the action was reckless, but he couldn’t help himself at this point. And logically, the best way to shut this guy up was to show him the hotness that is Derek Hale. He belatedly realized that this was probably the first time he had ever referred to Derek as his boyfriend out loud. He wasn’t quite sure if that was even the truth, but it didn’t really matter.

Stiles pulled out his phone and brought up his pictures, swiping until he landed on the picture of him, Derek and Charlie at Christmas. He thrust the phone in Aaron’s face.

“This is him.”

“No fucking way.” Aaron stared at the phone in disbelief.

“Uh, yeah. This is us at Christmas with our dog, Charlie. And,” Stiles flipped to another picture, “here’s a picture of us with his two sisters and brother-in-law at his older sister’s wedding.” Stiles let Aaron bask in the gorgeous sight that is Derek in a tux before swiping through more photos. Stiles eventually paused on another. “We practice lacrosse together, and I forced him to take a selfie during a session.”

“No offense, but how the hell did you bag a guy like that? I mean, you’re cute, but…”

“But I don’t look like an underwear model? It’s my excellent personality. And his affinity for awkward guys.”

“I can’t really be offended by your rejection anymore.”

Stiles snorted. “That’s comforting, man, but I didn’t really care if you were offended or not.”

Stiles began to stalk toward the dance floor without a second glance at Aaron and searched determinedly for Lydia until her found her flirting with Aiden off to the side.

“I’m ready,” he said firmly.

Lydia looked surprised at his tone. “Did you—”

“Yes, but I’m ready,” he repeated.

He’d much rather go bowling and focus on not completely sucking at the sport than being basically the ninth wheel, watching everyone else be open and happy while he had to struggle through some kind of blind date. If he was going to be at this club, he wanted to have Derek—to dance with him more than just that one song at Laura’s wedding, to bother him until he bought him a drink, to be with him. Tomorrow, Stiles decided furiously, he was forcing Derek to spend the entire day with him, Charlie, and Lola.

Scott and Kira appeared next to them, breathing slightly labored from dancing. Scott’s brow furrowed as he saw the look on Stiles’ face. “What’s wrong?”

“They set me up on a blind date with one of Danny’s friends.”

Scott obviously had known nothing about this plan because his eyes widened comically and his face filled with shock.

That made Stiles feel marginally better.

“We didn’t tell you, Scott, because you know how you are about secrets—”

Before Lydia could even finish, Scott’s eyes flashed protectively, and not even Lydia could stop him as he determinedly began to usher everyone out of the door, including Isaac and Allison who they intercepted along the way to the exit.

The bowling alley was much calmer, and Stiles felt his irritation fade away slightly. His friends didn’t know. They were overbearing—but if he didn’t have Derek, he probably would have been thrilled to give Aaron a chance. Ecstatic, even. But now, everyone would just be a comparison to Derek, and no one could possibly match up.

As they decided teams, Kira and Scott opted out of playing to do karaoke, and Allison challenged Isaac to a hunting video game.

Danny turned toward Stiles as Lydia got up to bowl. “What happened with Aaron? I thought you’d two hit it off.”

“Honestly, man? Not really my type. I had to lie about having a boyfriend.”

“What is your type?” Ethan asked curiously.

“Tall, dark, and handsome,” Stiles jokingly echoed Lydia's words from their presentation day. The truth of the words was lost on his friends.

“How vanilla of you,” Danny said with a smirk.

Lydia released the ball and it rolled down the alley for a breath or two before scoring another strike.

“Dude, I get attached too easily.” He thought of the overwhelming sickness and ache as Derek had moved farther and farther away from him to England, and then of the soft coat of the puppy waiting for him at home. “Even if it’s just a night out, I need someone who might be willing to stick around.”

But honestly, he just needed that person to be Derek.

● ● ●


 

“And now at last I am free, and I can finally tell you, without fear of danger to you, all that I feel in my heart.”

-extra from Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices

Chapter Text

Stiles looked left and right before slipping around the side of the school. He immediately saw Derek, who was leaning against the side of the building waiting for him, looking as gorgeous as ever. Stiles jogged up close to Derek and called his name. Derek looked up and smiled the beautiful smile that Stiles had hoped for so long that he’d be able to bring out. Stiles felt a rush of affection for the older man.

“Has he decided the line up?”

“Not yet, Coach always waits until we’re on the field.”

“You’ve been playing well in the last few games—just remember what we’ve been working on and you’ll be fine.”

“I feel like I’m going to throw up,” Stiles moaned.

Derek laughed lightly and pulled Stiles into a gentle hug, running his fingers along the bottom edge of Stiles’ hair. “You’ll be fine. Good luck. Now go or you’ll be late.”

“Seriously, that pasta is threatening to come up.”

“Go, Stiles.”

Stiles reluctantly parted from him, and began to jog in the opposite direction of Derek back toward the field. He slipped into the outskirts of the team huddle, joining Scott and catching the end of Coach’s recitation of the Independence Day speech. He looked up in the stands and saw Derek move through the stands to sit next to John. Well, their pretense was that Derek was helping Stiles with lacrosse as favor to Stiles’ dad, but Stiles was a bit shocked. Derek usually didn’t go near the bleachers to avoid raising suspicions about why he was there, especially since Cora attended all of Landon’s games. The girl in question seemed to have noticed Derek because she had gotten up in the stands to go talk to him.

“Alright, guys,” Coach yelled as Stiles focused in again. “This is it. This is the game that is going to get us to the championship. Don’t screw this up for me. Especially you, Greenberg. If you screw up, I’ll have you all run laps after the game until your legs are bloody stumps. Now get out there and beat these prep school brats!” Coach pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his back pocket. “First line: Whittemore, Cress—” While Coach continued to read names, Stiles watched them turned to each other and nod, as if affirming that this was the way it was supposed to be. “—Yukimura, Lahey, Mahealani, McCall, and Bilinski.”

“What?” Landon and Stiles both exclaimed at the same time.

Stiles had been playing a lot recently, even during the playoff games, but he was usually the second rotation. He was basically the number one sub, and this was a huge game.

Coach Finstock turned to Landon. “He killed it in practice yesterday, Cress, and he was the only one who didn’t look ready to die by the end. I don’t care if the kid is taking illegal supplements, he’s first line. Now shut the hell up and get on the field!”

Thank god for Derek and his ridiculous workout expectations. Suck on that, Cress.

The Beacon Hills’ Cyclones were playing Devonfort Prep, and from the moment the game started, it was brutal and physical. Weaving and dodging felt impossible, and offensive players would cradle the ball only to have it knocked out a second later. Somehow, amid the chaos, both teams had managed four scores by the time there was five minutes left in the game.

As the seconds ticked off the clock, Stiles scooped up a free ball resulting from a scuffle with one of the opposing middies and ran toward their goal. He ran as fast as he could, envisioning the runs with Derek, always trying to keep up with him in the Reserve. Stiles surged forward, managing to beat most of the crowd of players. However, as he reached scoring distance, there was a huge defender on the right side. He faintly heard Coach screaming something about wanting to see a birth certificate.

Stiles took a split second to observe the kid and realized that he was about the size of Derek. Stiles flashed to every practice that he had had with Derek and pushed his entire body to the right. He practically felt the entire crowd of players shift that direction before spinning to the left and immediately throwing at the goal while the goalie was in mid-movement.

The ball sailed in, putting Beacon Hills ahead, and the red and white stands erupted into cheers. Stiles could actually, distinctly feel the soar of pride and ecstatic thrill from Derek. It somehow made the moment even better. Stiles put his hands up and yelled as Scott, Kira, Isaac, Danny and several of his other teammates embraced him tightly.

Another few minutes were left, but after several desperate attempts by Devonfort, neither team scored, and Beacon Hills won.

They were going to the State Championship game.

The team pushed together, jumping up and down as they roared in celebration, and Stiles was fairly certain that Coach was weeping with joy. Stiles, however, immediately flew up to the stands. He didn’t even care that his dad was right next to Derek; he jumped up and flung his arms around his bonded. Derek squeezed him back and quickly pressed a kiss into his hair.

That had to be sweaty.

“You didn’t throw up,” Derek congratulated with a grin.

“I regret every time I told you to go fuck yourself when you’d make me run an extra mile at the Reserve.”

“And when you called me a dick for making you practice one-on-one every time?”

“That too.”

The Sheriff rolled his eyes at the display of affection and subsequent exchange, but happily received the bear hug that Stiles pulled him into after he let go of Derek.

“Congratulations, son. I’m so proud of you,” John told Stiles as he patted him on the back.

“Stiles!” Stiles turned around to see Scott at the bottom of the bleachers, waving him back toward the field. Stiles separated from his father and turned back to Derek.

“Go celebrate with your friends,” Derek said quietly as he brushed the Mark on Stiles’ arm.

After a quick wave, Stiles followed Scott down to a deep part of the field, away from the crowd of fans, where the team and their friends had gathered together postgame. Landon came forward with a long crosse and raised it above his head crying out. The players all raised a hand and grabbed onto the shank of the elevated stick, joining in on the cry. Stiles gripped the stick with his right hand next to Jackson’s.

Jackson looked at him in slight annoyance at being so close, but his face suddenly turned curious. Stiles’ held his breath as his mind immediately registered his error. His Marks had extended too far down his arm, and with his arm raised, his shirt exposed the streak of the Mark down his pulse point. It was as if ice had been injected into his blood stream, and he yanked his hand away from the stick. Jackson was faster than him, however, and grabbed his wrist before Stiles could move away.

“Jackson, please,” Stiles begged quietly, “please, leave this alone. It isn’t just me that is involved in this. No matter how much you hate me, you can’t do this—”

Jackson just gave him a douchebag smirk and said “Got a secret, Stilinski?” as he gripped Stiles’ wrist tighter and quickly pushed the shirt sleeve up, exposing the spiraling Mark on Stiles’ forearm.

“Well, looking what you’ve been fucking hiding, Stilinski!”

The closest people in the huddle turned their attention to where Jackson had exclaimed, and then they immediately focused on Stiles’ arm. Like a wave, one head after another turned to them as everyone fell horribly silent, except for Cora, who let out a gasp.

Well, it was kind of surprising that this hadn’t happened sooner, but shit.

Everyone stood frozen as they stared at the Mark on Stiles’ arm. Stiles was rigid, but seemed coiled and ready to spring away at any moment.

“You’re bonded,” Lydia suddenly breathed, breaking the silence. “I can’t believe I didn’t put the pieces together. Everything makes sense now.”

“That’s why you missed school,” Isaac stated quietly.

Stiles remained still and silent, breathing hard. Scott appeared torn, not knowing whether to quickly drag Stiles out of the situation or let Stiles come up with an excuse first.

“What the fuck?” Landon said laughingly.

“I will never forgive you for this, you asshole,” Stiles said vehemently to Jackson, ignoring everyone else.

“Doesn’t that give you an unfair advantage? Super strength or something? Is that why you got better at lacrosse?” Jackson continued jeeringly.

You’d think he’d be fucking grateful that Stiles won the game for them, but obviously not.

Murmuring and questions began to swell among the team as Stiles saw his closest friends giving him surprised, but sympathetic looks. Scott protectively pushed Jackson back, and Stiles answered as he watched Jackson stumble unceremoniously.

“No, you fucking idiot, it doesn’t give you super strength. Do you know anything? Do any of you? I can just maybe heal a little faster if I get a cut. I got better at lacrosse because I fucking practiced extra outside of normal practice.”

“I can’t believe you have the Curse,” Greenberg practically shouted from the back.

“Who is it with?” one of the freshman, that damn Liam kid, questioned.

“No,” Stiles breathed. “I’m not telling any of you who it is. Any of you. And it’s not a curse.”

“It’s some nerd freshman or something, isn’t it Stilinski?” Landon cackled. The rest of the team joined in his laughter, except for Kira, Scott, Danny and Isaac. Lydia and Allison began to separate themselves from the group, both with worried glances.

“Come on, Stiles,” Scott said, finally, “let’s just get out of here.”

“I don’t know,” Landon continued, ignoring Scott, “it might be a guy. I’ve always had a feeling you were gay.”

“Is that a problem?” Danny said smoothly from the side.

“Oh, no, of course not, man,” Landon said hurriedly, turning toward Danny.

“And what the hell are you getting at, Landon?” Cora exclaimed suddenly. “What the fuck are you trying to say?”

Cora’s face was pale and her eyes were widely fixed on Stiles. She wasn’t looking at the Mark, however; she was staring at Stiles’ face like she had never quite seen him before. There was a mixture of apprehension and dawning understanding on her features.

Landon seemed rather surprised by the shift of the scrutiny towards himself. “That Stilinski is a prime freak. I mean, if anyone would get the Curse in high school, it’d be him.” Everyone’s attention moved shockingly fast from Stiles to the feuding couple.

“You’re acting like this is some freak thing. All of us about to graduate are only about a year from the bonding years. What makes you think it won’t happen to you? No one knows who or when. I bet for you, karma is going to be a serious bitch,” Cora said angrily. “And how dare you pick on Stiles? Because he’s smarter than you? Because he showed you up in the game tonight and should take your spot in the State game? Because he’s funny and people genuinely like him? Because my family gets along with him and they hate you? Because you’re jealous that he’s bonded so that makes him even more ahead of you?”

Landon was staring at her speechlessly. Silence had returned to the gathered team, but this time it seemed simply that no one was brave enough to speak and incur a deepening of Cora’s wrath. Stiles felt his mouth gape slightly as Cora continued to come to his defense.

“We’re done, Landon,” Cora said coolly.

“What?!” Landon sputtered in disbelief.

“Are you deaf as well as being a useless bully?” Cora asked harshly.

“Karma is already on your case, dude,” Stiles said smugly.

Cora rolled her eyes at him and stepped forward to grab his arm. “I’ve got him,” she told Scott and began to pull him away from the scene and toward the school. Scott put a hand on Stiles shoulder, unsure, but one hard Hale glare from Cora, and Scott was backing up to allow her to take him. “Call me, later, man,” Scott whispered by his side, worriedly.

“Oh, and Jackson,” Lydia said unexpectedly with a flick of hair as Stiles was being led away, “we’re done too.” Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles could see Jackson turn pale and begin to stammer in shock.

There was some kind of justice in the universe.

Cora silently led him with a death grip into the school, past the locker rooms, and into an abandoned classroom on the left. The door slammed shut behind them, and she flipped around to stare at him again with those wide eyes. Stiles bounced from foot to foot uncomfortably.

“The dude was an asshole, you deserved better anyways,” Stiles said nervously.

“It’s Derek isn’t it?” Cora whispered.

Stiles contemplated for a moment if there was any stake in lying, but he knew Cora would know the truth eventually, and he’d rather not have her completely hate him when she did. He nodded.

Jesus, now it all makes so much sense!” Cora threw her hands up in such light-hearted relief that it was now Stiles’ turn to stare at her.

“I fucking knew that he wouldn’t just break up with Paige! And he was so nice to you! And he offered to help you practice; that made zero sense, Derek would never do something like that. When did it happen?” Cora asked quizzically.

“Your back to school party,” Stiles answered in astonishment at her reaction.

Cora began to laugh. “I totally forced him to go to that party because Laura couldn’t chaperone. Oh, he must have such a grudge against me.” She paused. “God, it must be horrible, being bonded to Derek. He is so…grumpy and dry. How do you even get along?”

Stiles burst out into laughter and clutched his stomach as he doubled over.

“I’ve learned to deal with his grumpy self,” Stiles responded after he caught his breath, “and we get along a lot better than you’d think. I think the bond helps, though…we feel things about each other. That’s kind of the point.”

“I’m basically getting another brother,” Cora said with more happiness that Stiles had ever really associated with the girl. “I mean, I’m pissed at you for making me lose Paige, but you’re okay.”

“To be honest, this isn’t really the reaction I was anticipating when you pulled me in here,” Stiles admitted.

Cora huffed. “The most important thing to me is family. You’re a Hale now. You’re family now. How else would I react? Plus, you can beat mom’s ass at Monopoly, we’ve needed you for years.”

“Well,” Stiles said, “thanks for shutting Landon down. I’ve been waiting to see that happen since about fifth grade when he crushed my solar system project. I had spent like four hours trying to get the models to the appropriate size representation. And thanks for being cool with it. I mean, there’s nothing much I can do about it, but I’d rather you be cool with it, you know? But you can’t tell anyone that it’s Derek. At least until after our registration day. First off, he’ll kill me. Or find some way to punish me, like taking away my Charlie visiting rights. Second, I don’t think either of us are ready for all of Beacon Hills to know—every old lady in town whispering about us would be a lot to deal with right now.”

“I swear to not tell anyone, Stiles. Actually, I promise to not even tell my family that I know. I will pretend to remain ignorant.” Cora cocked her head slightly. “I’m assuming my parents know?”

“And Laura.”

“Seriously?! He fucking told Laura and not me?”

“She kind of found us right after it happened. She had to take us to the hospital with Paige, so, not really Derek’s fault, dude.”

Cora threw up her hands irritably. “Whatever. I can’t believe they all knew but me, but whatever.”

The pulse of the bond, which had been pounding and uncomfortable since Jackson grabbed his wrist, flowed a shock of worry so strong that Stiles felt light-headed. He had forgotten that Derek so acutely sensed his reaction to everything—and the extreme situation of the last half hour must have Derek suffering from emotional backlash.

Which means Derek had pretty much come to the conclusion that Stiles was dying or in some kind of horrible life-threatening situation.

“Listen, Cora, I’ve got to go call, Derek. I’ve basically put him through a rollercoaster, and he is about to have a coronary.”

Cora shrugged. “Sure whatever,” she said before punching him on the arm, “see you around, Stiles. Probably soon at my house, swooning over my brother.”

He pulled the door open as he gave her a small salute with his free hand. He swung out the door and sprinted to his locker to yank his phone out of his bag. The locker room was blissfully free of any of his teammates—he had had enough of their stares tonight.

 

9:03 PM

Derek Hale

>What the hell is going on?

 

9:07 PM

Derek Hale

>Stiles

>You are freaking out

 

9:15 PM

Missed Call – Derek Hale

 

9:21 PM

Missed Call – Derek Hale

 

9:24 PM

>I’m going to fucking kill you for doing this to me

 

9:36 PM

Missed Call – Derek Hale

 

9:42 PM

Derek Hale

>If you don’t answer me soon, I’m going to call your father

 

Stiles immediately swiped over a missed call and listened to only one ring before Derek picked up.

“I’m going to kill you, Stiles.”

“I know, Derek, I’m sorry, but I’ve had a shitty few minutes, okay? Cut me some slack. We were celebrating and they saw my Marks. They don’t know it’s you,” Stiles reassured, talking as fast as he could, “but, Landon and Jackson and other assholes on the team were jerks about it. I couldn’t do anything to stop it, dude, it just happened so fast. Jackson just grabbed me. But Cora totally saved me—she broke up with Landon, by the way, I know you’ll be happy—and now it’s over.”

“Stiles,” Derek said pained, “are you okay?”

“Yeah, man, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. It fucking sucks, and in the moment I was ready to die, but now I think I’m okay.”

“I hated that Landon kid from the start.”

“Well, to be fair, I’m pretty sure you hated me at the start too,” Stiles said lightly.

“I never hated you. I just wanted you to disappear.”

“So much better,” Stiles replied drily.

“Cora stood up for you?”

“Apparently, she has grown fond of me after having me around so much,” Stiles responded, hoping the fact he was lying didn’t filter through the bond.

“Now everyone will know at school.” Derek continued in concern.

“Oh, yeah, school is going to suck,” Stiles admitted, “but honestly, it probably won’t be much worse than it is already.”

“I’m sorry, Stiles. If I could, I would fucking beat the bastards up.”

“It’s not your fault, Derek. That honor goes to Jackson. We’ll be registered soon, anyways, I guess. And besides, I scored the goal tonight that is taking us to the State championship, nothing should be bothering me.”

“You did do really well, Stiles.” That translated from Derek speak into “You were awesome tonight, Stiles, and I’m super proud of you.”

“Shit, I wish there was something I could do,” Derek repeated.

“Naw, we’ll just have to take it as it comes. Pretty usual for us, honestly.”

“So you’re not going out with the team?”

“Oh, negative on that,” Stiles laughed, “they were all looking at me like I was a zoo animal. Plus, I’m not facing Landon or Jackson any time soon, even if their women did put them in their place.”

“Then we should celebrate your win.”

“Curly fries from the diner…with a milkshake?”

“If that’s what you want.”

Stiles did a fist pump in the air. “Hell yes. I’ll meet you over there in ten. Now let me call Scott and tell him that I’m alive.”

Stiles hung up quickly, and as he dialed Scott’s number, he felt the bond course with something deep and warm and content; he felt calm and he felt safe.

● ● ●

School was a torturous hell for Stiles.

Landon Cress, Jackson Whittemore, and their crew had launched a crusade against Stiles to make him as much of a spectacle as possible. A portion of their fury was probably due to the loss of their girlfriends, both of whom they were too afraid of to retaliate against; in comparison, Stiles was an easy target.

Stiles didn’t even attempt to deny the situation at school, knowing that Derek could feel his constant anxiety and aggravation throughout the day. Instead, Stiles texted him all day, cursing and complaining at the school-wide reaction to his Marks. It had reached the point where Stiles was losing the ability to say any word other than fuck.

Derek was fucking sick of worrying about the whole thing. He was sick of Stiles being persecuted.

Thankfully, Stiles’ friends had proven to be extremely supportive. Derek was fairly certain that the only reason Stiles wasn’t going crazy was because the people he cared about the most seemed to have wholly accepted the fact that he was bonded. None of them pressed for the identification of his bond mate and only asked harmless questions. Danny had given Jackson the cold shoulder, and even Cora was hanging out with Stiles to attempt to dissuade the bullying.

By Friday, however, Derek was done with the stupid high school games, and he wasn’t even technically an active participant. The whole thing was bullshit, considering the seniors were only several months from entering college and potentially bonding themselves. Morons.

Something needed to be done.

He had never really been good at rational. He did what he thought was logical, but that didn’t mean it was rational, as Paige used to inform him. But as of now, Derek thought that there was only one suitable plan of action—to go to the high school and confront the assholes himself. Screw the privacy clause.

Derek slipped around the edge of one of the school buildings near the cafeteria. Lunch had just ended, and he scanned the students slowly dispersing from the area to head back to class. His main target was Landon, but Jackson would do as a backup. Unfortunately, neither of them seemed to still be outside, and he doubted he could creep down the halls and not be suspicious. On the edge of the yard, however, he saw the kid on Stiles’ lacrosse team that Finstock was always ragging on. Derek was fairly certain that he was a part of Landon’s posse. He—what was his name again?—could work.

Greenfield? Greenstone? Greenwell? Greenberg?

Greenberg, that was it.

Derek swiftly flew over to the kid and pulled him back toward the side of the building. The kid let out a small shriek as Derek pushes him toward the wall.

“You’re Greenberg, right?”

The kid nodded frantically, looking ready to pee in his pants. Derek rolled his eyes.

“You’re one of Landon and Jackson’s little fucking followers? Making Stiles Stilinski’s life hell?”

“He has the Curse,” the kid squeaked out hurriedly, as if that explained everything.

“I don’t fucking care. This is what you’re going to do. You’re going to tell Landon that you’ve been told that Talia Hale knows about the times he snuck into Cora’s room at night—”

She didn’t really, but Derek unfortunately did. Just another pitfall of moving back home—he learned things he didn’t want to know.

“—and if he doesn’t let up on Stilinski, she’ll be sure to share with his super conservative parents. As for you,” Derek added as Greenberg quaked with nervousness, “you are not going to tell Landon that I’m the one who told you. You’re just going to deliver my message, and then you’re going to lay off of Stilinski.”

“I don’t even know who you are,” Greenberg whimpered.

“Good,” Derek said firmly. “Now are you going to do it?”

“Yes! Yes, right now. Yes, yes, I am.”

Derek released him, and Greenberg shot off toward the classrooms.

Idiot youth.

His phone buzzed, and Derek looked down to see a text from Stiles.

 

1:15 PM

Stiles Stilinski

>dude i know youre at school

>i can feel how close you are remember?

>creeper

 

>I had things to take care of.

 

>please tell me you didnt rip anyones throats out

 

>No. Hopefully I just scared a couple of people shitless.

 

>i appreciate the attempt but

>i can take care of myself dude

>im just trying to ignore it

>i dont want to give the assholes the satisfaction

 

>You’re smart, right, Stiles?

 

>…is this a trick question

 

>If I had blackmail on Landon Cress and could get the message to him

>Would it be smart to use it?

 

>blackmail????

 

>The walls in our house are thin.

 

>oh no nope no details necessary

 

>I also once caught him smoking a joint behind our house.

>I don’t really care what scares him, as long as something shuts him up.

>I know you can take care of yourself

>But I’ve wanted to put him in his place for a while.

 

>was it therapeutic

 

>Very. Do you think Scott could give up your Friday night?

>If you want to.

 

>yeah it was a pretty rough week

>ill head over after school

>who did you scare the shit out of by the way

 

>Greenberg

 

>hahahahaha classic

 

Derek drove back to the Hale house and felt more content that he had in a week. And with a more relaxed flow of the bond from Stiles, Derek finally began to work on his latest accounting project until the system began to glitch. (Again.) He sighed at the universe’s obsession with torturing him and called Kali. He had requested her direct extension so he wouldn’t have to go through Meredith.

“Damnit, Hale, what are you doing now to my electronics?”

“Nothing, Kali. It’s not my fault you’ve given me fucking faulty computers.”

“Shut the fuck up. Just deal with it for now and when you come up here to go to New York, I’ll trade it out for a new one.”

Derek paused. “New York?”

“Oh.” Crackling and crashing sounds reverberated through the phone as Kali messed with something on the other line. “I don’t have time for this. Talk to Lynette.”

Derek immediately began to hear the transfer tone as Kali pushed the button. After a moment, Lynette answered.

“Lynette Speights.”

“Lynette, it’s Derek. What is this about New York?”

Lynette sighed. “I had hoped to ease you into the idea. I know that North Carolina had made you nervous, even though Stiles only got nose bleeds for a week, but we have a huge production in New York in few days.”

“A few days!”

She had been going to wait until the last minute and then try to guilt him into going, damnit.

“Will you go?”

“I’ll have to talk to Stiles first,” Derek groaned.

“Good. He’ll say yes,” Lynette remarked before promptly hanging up.

Derek put down the phone as he heard the front door creak open. He made his way to the living room to see Cora, Stiles—and Lydia Martin.

Today was going to be one of those days…which was sad, considering how well it had started out.

“Look at who got here the same time as me,” Cora said with a smirk, “so I figured I’d let them in. Have fun doing whatever.” She winked at Stiles before running up the stairs to her room.

What the fuck? Why was she acting like that?

A very terrifying idea began to blossom in his mind. What if—?

“Derek, you remember Lydia?” Stiles questioned nervously, restlessly moving.

“Yes,” Derek said slowly, staring at the smug look on redhead’s face. “Why are you here, Lydia?”

“I requested to come. I wanted to meet you officially as Stiles’ bonded,” Lydia commented smoothly as Stiles turned a pale, sickly color. “It was obvious who he bonded with,” Lydia continued, “but I’m assuming that you both don’t want it said out loud until you’re registered.”

Well, Derek supposed it shouldn’t be a surprise that the genius girl was perceptive enough to figure it out. Honestly, out of all of the people to know, Lydia was the least threatening to him. He was more worried about extended family and his friends. Obviously, her knowledge would affect Stiles, but Derek barely knew the girl—and he was fairly certain that Stiles would be relieved to have her in the loop.

Stiles put his head in his hands and groaned. “I knew that you had figured it out, but I had really been hoping I was wrong. And you won’t have to wait long, we’ll be registered soon. We’ve been bonded since—”

“Since the back-to-school party. Yes, everything made perfect sense once I saw the Mark,” Lydia stated before sitting down on the couch and signaling for the men to do the same.

Derek hesitantly perched on the edge of the loveseat, only to find myself the subject of a minor interrogation about his life. Lydia had no problem asking personally questions, Derek had no problem remaining silent or merely grunting, and Stiles had no problem interjecting with sarcastic comments. After what felt like an eternity, Cora came down the stairs and mercifully cut off the barrage of questions.

“Hey, Lydia, want to go dress shopping? That boutique downtown is having a sale. Lindsey just texted me.”

Lydia immediately jumped up from the couch and grabbed her bag. “Oh, absolutely. I need to look for a prom dress anyway.” She turned to whisper to Derek, “You had better treat him right. I know many ways to inconspicuously poison people.”

She and Cora began to walk to the door as Cora turned back, a giant grin spreading across her face. “We’ll leave you two alone since I know you’re secret friends. House is all yours. Don’t get too crazy,” she said coyly as she stepped out of the door that Lydia held open for her.

Oh, she knew. She knew. Now both his sisters could give him hell.

He turned and shot Stiles a withering glare. Stiles just gave an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders.

“Up for an impromptu lacrosse practice? I know how you hate deviation from routine, but…”

“You’re running an extra lap for that,” Derek said fondly as they headed to the back door.

Over the next few days, Stiles was nearly back to his normal level of happiness, which gave Derek a huge sense of relief. Landon must have gotten his message because the guys had left Stiles alone, and taunting had faded to curious whispers instead of catcalls. As for Lydia, Stiles was so excited to be able to talk to her that Derek had to actually exert some effort to ignore the feelings.

However, on the day that Derek was meant to leave for New York, Stiles had been acting weird. The bond felt tight and strange, and even though Stiles had told him that he didn’t have to go by the Stilinski’s house before leaving for the airport, Derek flew up the drive way, entered the house, and burst into Stiles’ room. Stiles was sitting in his desk chair, staring moodily at something on the computer. He jumped when he saw Derek and quickly slammed his computer shut.

“I’m not looking at pictures of you. I’m not a creeper like you are,” Stiles said immediately.

“I’m not having that England shit happen again,” Derek said, dangerously low.

Stiles stood up, shot him a look, and fiddled nervously with his fingers.

“What the fuck is wrong? You were okay when I went to Montana and North Carolina. You told me to go to New York. I mean, I know you’re taking all the precautions now, but I’m not getting on that plane if something isn’t right—”

“Do you love me?” Stiles burst out.

Derek froze.

“I mean,” Stiles rushed, “I told you I loved you. And you didn’t answer that that was fine, but you went to school and risked getting arrested for attacking a kid to make sure that the jackasses left me alone, and I just watched this documentary on plane crashes and I was thinking about how easily you could fall out of the sky and die—”

Derek needed to block out the damn History Channel, Stiles always got consumed by those documentaries.

“—and it made my Marks hurt, and then I through about it and realized that you hadn’t reciprocated and how horrible it would be for you to die in the plane crash—I mean, I know you aren’t actually going to crash, statistically, but the principle is—”

“Stiles,” Derek cried, “of course I love you! Can you not feel it in the damn bond? I even love the things I can’t fucking stand about you!” He hadn’t really meant to say it, but it was probably about time.

“But is it just because of the bond?” Stiles asked quietly.

“No! It’s just you!” Derek said despairingly. Oh, no, he didn’t want to do this.

Stiles just stared at him disbelievingly, and Derek reluctantly continued, “Of course the bond had something to do with it! I wouldn’t know you otherwise. But the bond didn’t hypnotize me and make me fall in love with you! I did that all on my fucking own.”

“So…are we dating?”

“Stiles,” Derek said in a weary voice, “what do you think we’ve been doing this whole time?”

“Existing together as bond mates? Two guys having bro-time as designed by the universe? You can’t tell me that it was obvious! You’re like a statue when it comes to emotion.”

“God, I bonded with an idiot. Stiles, I don’t really go around telling people I love them. But I’ve taken you on overnight trips, hung out with you every Saturday, come to the coffee shop when you’re working, had movie nights with you. I’ve played hours of fucking video games for you. I bought you a dog.”

“So you’re my boyfriend?”

Derek put his head in his hands resignedly. “Sure, if that’s what you want to call it.”

“That’s what I want you to call it.”

“I’m your boyfriend,” Derek replied in exasperation.

The bond settled between them.

Stiles paused. “Wait. You asked if I’d been able to feel it. Have you been able to feel that I loved you through the bond this whole time?”

“Yes.”

“Oh fuck. I’d be embarrassed, but I guess it doesn’t matter now.” Stiles flung his arms around Derek, gave him a hard, short kiss, and then pulled away. “Okay, you can go now.”

“Are you serious?” Derek asked incredulously.

Stiles raised an eyebrow at him. “Do you want to continue this conversation about our feelings? We can curl up on the bed and whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ears as you miss your flight.”

Derek threw up his hands. “You were the one being ridiculous before, not me!”

Stiles settled back down in his desk chair and grinned broadly at Derek. “You love me, now leave.”

Derek stared at him for a moment, moving to give Stiles a short hug before exiting the room.

On the trip, when Kali asked him how the cupcake boyfriend was, Derek simply responded, “He’s fine.” Lynette smirked knowingly at him.

When Derek flew back in to California, his flight landed late enough that he decided to stay at his house in Sacramento for the night and drive back to Beacon Hills in the morning. After dropping his bags off in his room and heading back downstairs to grab something to eat, Derek heard pounding on the front door.

If it was those missionary people, he wasn't going to hesitate to rip their pamphlet up in their faces.

He frustratingly opened the front door and came face-to-face with a very determined Stiles, holding a clear, plastic bag through which Derek could see lube and condoms.

Subtle, Stiles. Subtle.

“We’re dating now,” Stiles said firmly, pushing his way into the house.

“No.”

“This should have happened ages ago, anyways. Like at the beach.”

“No, we are not doing this. Your father will kill me.”

“He won’t find out if you don’t tell him! Because I’m certainly not going to!”

“Parents have this way of just knowing things,” Derek said darkly.

“You were totally on board that time at my house before we went to see the baby!”

“That’s because you’re fucking distracting.”

Stiles walked up and pushed flush against him. “Listen, I’m legal now—”

“I know that you’re legal now, but some line-in-the-sand number isn’t really what my concern is.”

“I love you,” Stiles said simply, “and I want to be with you. I want this.”

Derek wanted it too. And Jesus, did he love the man hovering close to him. It felt like it was finally theright time, but he couldn't help the underlying hesitation—this would bring the final, definitive shift in their relationship, and it was almost an overwhelming thought.

“We could wait until after our registration,” Derek said quietly.

“Dude, it’d be so cliché to wait until our registration night.” He pushed Derek’s shirt up and played with the hair trailing down into his underwear.

“Fuck, Stiles,” Derek moaned in agitation.

“That’s the idea,” Stiles said, flashing a grin.

Derek put his head in his hands. “That is an overused and terrible joke, Stiles.”

“Listen,” Stiles said cockily, “I’m going up to the bedroom. Either my hand can do the job or you can do the job. But, I’m getting off tonight. If you don’t want to join me, I’ll be sure to be extra loud for any business that you may want to conduct in here.”

Derek was already half-hard just from listening to Stiles talk about it. God, his resolve could only last for so long with Stiles’ lust and determination flowing across the bond in full force.

“I am not fucking you tonight,” Derek said, and then as Stiles began to open his mouth to retort, “but, I can probably suck you off. Hand job. Just…I’d rather start out small. Learn about each other.”

For all of Stiles’ confidence and pushing, he seemed rather surprised to be receiving a confirmation. He had frozen slightly and his mouth was half-open and eyes wide. “Oh, yeah, this is your first time with a guy too.”

Derek rolled his eyes and gently brushed his fingers at the hem of Stiles’ shirt that hovered just over his hips. Derek gripped the edge and pulled the cloth upward—Stiles, who still seemed to be in disbelief that this was happening, took a moment to catch on before he raised his arms for Derek to pull the entire shirt free. Derek scanned the toned, lithe body in front of him before raising his eyes to meet the warm, honey eyes that had enraptured him all of those months ago. Stiles fidgeted nervously under the scrutiny, but stilled with a shiver as Derek gently placed his fingertips on the smooth skin of Stiles’ chest. The warmth seeped through his fingers, the pounding of Stiles’ heart vibrating through his senses, and the muscles firm and tight. He skimmed his fingers upward and brushed over the Marks that he never really touched, lingering over the one that lay over the heart.

Stiles was beautiful, and Derek almost ached with the love he felt for him.

“I know I’m not Paige.”

“I don’t want you to be Paige,” Derek replied. The statement hurt slightly, but it was completely honest.

“And you know you’re not Kate, right?” Stiles asked timidly.

“I know that,” Derek said as he met Stiles’ eyes. “It’s just…us.”

“Just us,” Stiles repeated as Derek kissed gently behind his ear.

Stiles seemed to grow more confident the longer Derek idolized his body, and finally pointedly focused on Derek’s obvious bulge. “You know, we can take care of that. And me naked isn’t nearly as good as you naked, so we need to make that happen fast.”

“You’re not naked yet.”

“Well, we can take of that too,” Stiles quipped, as he began to forcefully lead Derek to the bedroom.

“When you are, I’m pretty sure I want to suck your dick.”

Stiles stumbled in surprise and yelped as Derek righted him. Derek laughed soundly as Stiles moaned, “You can’t just say shit like that.”

“I don’t plan on just saying anything,” Derek commented flippantly.

Stiles broke out in a grin and reached forward to run his fingers over the top of Derek’s pant line again. “Well, Hale, come on.”

Derek took Stiles' hand gently as both of them ascended the stairs.

Later, as they lay breathing heavily and were half-nestled in the blankets, Stiles turned his head toward Derek.

“You know,” Stiles said lazily as Derek buried his face in Stiles’ neck and kissed his shoulder, “I kind of can’t believe that the Marks didn’t grow. I mean, first a hug, then a kiss—you’d just figure that sex would be the next thing.”

Derek just shrugged slightly. He didn’t think he’d ever truly understand the bond, and he surely didn’t have the brain power to ponder its mysteries right now.

Stiles turned his face toward Derek’s and said, “You know, you’re just as gorgeous naked as I thought you’d be. And god, your dick. I hit the jackpot, really.”

Derek looked at Stiles’ honey-colored eyes, which were sleepy and content, and felt the overwhelming warmth of the bond as he began to rub circles gently on Stiles’ hip.

“You’re prefect, Stiles.”

Stiles suddenly jostled a little. “Oh my god, I’m not a virgin anymore! Finally, I thought it was never going to happen, seriously. I thought I was just going to live out my days vicariously through Scott’s exploits.”

Derek closed his eyes and shook his head. “Technically, it depends on your definition of virginity.”

“Yeah, and my definition is that my cherry is popped. Done, over, check mate. My virginity has left the building, the ship has sailed—”

“Somehow, Stiles,” Derek said drily, “I manage to say ‘you are perfect’ even though I hear you say shit like that all the time. Basically, this bond is making me lose my sanity.”

“Nah,” Stiles said sleepily, as he pushed as close as possible to Derek and closed his eyes, “it’s just making sure you remember you’re surrounded by awesome.”

Derek thought that it was more reminding him that love wasn’t always rational, and that we needed to let go sometimes to allow ourselves to really accept who we need in our lives. But, he didn’t really feel a need to argue, so he just pulled the blankets up higher and put his arms around Stiles before closing his eyes to be lulled to sleep by the bond’s steady flow.

● ● ●

As Caitlin presented her continued bonding research, Stiles tapped his foot up and down nervously, ignoring the irritated look Lydia was sending him. He had received information from Mr. Richard that a friend of his from Stanford was here, and if she liked Stiles and Lydia’s presentation, Stiles could potentially be up for a big scholarship.

Not that he’d apparently have to worry about paying for school, but the less he’d have to rely on Derek, the more independent Stiles would feel.

“It’s crazy that you’re already going through this,” Isaac commented to Stiles as he listened to Caitlin elaborate on one of her couples.

“It’s not that weird,” Lydia responded nonchalantly before Stiles could reply. “It’s like going through puberty early. That’s what the bond pulls are like in general: the flood of hormones that you get at a certain time of life. We always have pulls—we are always drawn to people—the pulls are just strongest at that certain time, so strong that we can feel them. Some people, they say, can always feel them strongly.”

“What Lydia said,” Stiles remarked to Isaac.

“Can you really sometimes sense if the other person is there or feeling happy or something like what Caitlin is saying?” Kira asked curiously. “Though I guess you’d have to have a strong bond like she’s talking about.”

Stiles laughed loudly, and all of his friends on the row looked at him. “You have no fucking idea, Kira.”

“So you’re bonded strongly?” Allison asked. “I mean, you don’t have to say if you don’t want to. I know we haven’t really talked about it.”

“I’m bonded stronger than any of those up there,” Stiles said smugly, nodding his head toward the powerpoint being presented.

“Those two girls are a Class V major bond. There isn’t anything stronger than that,” Danny said, looking confused as Caitlin finished to a small round of applause.

Stiles snorted. “I’m along the elite.”

Lydia pulled on his arm, yanking him up from the chair. “Come on,” she said, “we can talk about this later. We’re up next.”

As they began to work their way through the aisle and toward the stage, Stiles felt the anxiety and jitteriness rising until he was hit was wave of calm and confidence. He realized that Derek was pushing the feelings across the bond to try and temper his nervousness. He looked up toward the stands where he knew Derek sat and broke out into a grin. That was probably the second sweetest thing Derek had ever done after giving him Lola, even though he probably only partially did it to make Stiles extreme emotions stop.

Lydia and Stiles crushed the presentation, and Mr. Richard’s friend seemed very impressed, praising their work when she shook Stiles’ hand afterward.

Things were working out in his life. Big time.

Afterwards, he knew that Derek was going to meet his parents for dinner with some family friend named Satomi, but once the presentations were over, he went ahead and drove over to the Hale’s. He was let in by Cora, but she didn’t sit down to join him in the kitchen until he had already made a sandwich and was halfway through devouring it.

“Hey, brother-in-bond,” she said as she plopped down in the stool next to him.

“Ah, that was a clever take on brother-in-law. Witty.”

“Shut up, Stiles. So, as we all know, no one at school—well, except Lydia and Scott—knows that you bonded with Derek and I have not said a peep to anyone. I have pretended as if I know nothing. Derek thinks that I know, but everyone tells him he is crazy.”

“Like when Harry knew Draco was a Death Eater,” Stiles said solemnly.

“And as you know, I broke up with Landon for you—”

“Didn’t you break up with Landon for like girl power or something? Also, I’m sure the fact that he’s an asshole helped.”

“—and I was supposed to go to prom with him. And now everyone is taken. And since Derek won’t be going to prom with you—”

“Could you really imagine Derek at prom anyways,” Stiles commented offhandedly.

“Yes, actually. I watched him get ready and helped him take pictures with Paige before they got on the limo. That kind of stuff isn’t really his scene, obviously—he’d rather be in a cave on a deserted island reading—but he went because he was a high school senior with a girlfriend.”

The thought of Derek and Paige sharing that together made Stiles’ stomach clench unhappily, but he quickly pushed the image out of his head and berated himself for the jealousy. Derek hadn’t always been his, and Paige deserved to have what she did with him.

“Oh, well, yeah, I guess that makes sense,” Stiles said with a pause, “I forget sometimes that he went to high school. He’s such an old man.”

“My point, Stiles, is that you are going to prom with me.”

“Are you going to ask me properly? You could spell it out in lanterns at the beach, or in rose petals on my desk, or in side walk chalk outside my house before calling me to my window.”

“I’m not asking you at all. I’m telling you.”

“Well,” Stiles considered the statement, “I was just going to go stag, but this should be interesting.”

“Interesting? No, this should be fun. I don’t have to worry about entertaining a boyfriend. They’re so whiney.” Cora wrinkled her nose, looking so much like Derek that Stiles had to blink. “And who the hell says ‘stag?’”

Stiles ignored her question, but continued to tell her all of the plans that all of his friends (a.k.a. Lydia) had devised for prom night. As he was arguing with her over what color shoes he should wear, they heard the back door open and Talia, Stephen, and Derek filed into the kitchen.

“What are you two doing?” Talia asked with a smile.

“Oh, Stiles and I were just discussing prom details. We’re going to prom together.”

“What?” Derek demanded in shock.

“Stiles has been at our house almost every Saturday this entire year. Even during Christmas break, Derek insisted on practice for routine or whatever. But, anyways, I’ve learned that he isn’t a total dweeb. He’s a dweeb, but not completely.”

“Oh, you’re such a sweetheart, Cora.”

Cora ignored Stiles and continued, “So since the thing with Landon, I didn’t have anyone to go with and it’s happened like two weeks before prom, so all my friends are taken and it’s either go alone or ask the lowest of the low—like Greenberg. So, I had decided to go alone and then Stiles just mentioned that he was going ‘stag’ and I figured we could at least go together as friends. It’ll be awesome; I plan on having fun. He won’t be having a man period halfway through the dance, won’t want to be glued to me, won’t care about how we dance, and won’t want to skip out early to have sex.”

Cora sent Derek a broad smile at her final statement. Derek bristled.

“How do you know I wouldn’t want to sex you up?” Stiles asked in mock hurt.

Cora snorted. “Like I said, you’ve been here every weekend. And you’ve hit on me a number of zero times. Also, you just said that in front of my parents with no fear.”

“You know,” Derek said determinedly to Cora.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Cora replied smoothly. “And now, I need to meet up with Lydia and Allison at the gym. See you at school, Stiles.”

As she exited the room, Derek turned to his parents and repeated the same thing he’d been saying since Lydia came over to the house. “She knows.”

“No, she doesn’t,” Stephen said, “or she’d be flaunting it.”

“I’m sure that she just wants someone to go to prom with,” Talia added before patting Derek on the arm and walking with Stephen out of the room.

Stiles had to restrain himself from completely losing it with laughter over the Hale insanity.

Derek turned to Stiles and narrowed his eyes dangerously. “I know she knows.”

Stiles just shrugged, shooting Derek his typical shit-eating grin.

“I’m bonded emotionally to you. Your ability to lie to me is slim, Stiles. I can call your bullshit about 95% of the time. And I’m calling it now.”

“Even if she does, does it matter, dude? We have like a week before she finds out for sure. And she’s not flipping her shit, so…” Stiles shrugged again. “Are you embarrassed to tell her that you bonded with some fucking hipster kid in her class? She kind of knows me by now, dude.”

Derek groaned. “Yeah, she knows you. And she’s already teaming up with you to torture me.”

Stiles smirked. “Just wait until Laura shows up, dude.”

Derek sighed wearily.

On Friday night, prom, in line with Cora’s expectations, was actually incredibly fun.

If someone had told him last summer before that back-to-school party that he would be going to prom with Cora Hale, he would have told that person that they were fucking crazy. The universe scales didn’t tip that way. Yet, here he was, going to prom with Cora Hale as her date—and he had spent the morning hiding away off the Reserve trail, making out with her older brother, and had spend the mid-afternoon signing preliminary registration forms. In other words, it was the universe that was fucking crazy.

Stiles met Cora at the Hales and goofily exchanged the corsage and boutonniere with her while the Hales, including Laura, looked on. After the two of them took pictures, Cora forced Derek to take a picture with Stiles as ‘training buddies.’ Derek looked pointedly at his parents and Laura, but they seemed determined to remain oblivious.

Since Cora had found out that Stiles had bonded with Derek, she had apparently found him worthy of being a full-fledged friend. During dinner with all of his friends, Stiles came to the conclusion that she was actually pretty cool once you get to know her. It was a shame she took so long to hang out with them—she got along great with the girls, particularly Lydia, who was (unsurprisingly) going with Aiden.

Once at the dance, they took silly pictures at the front—

(“Okay, what is going to be our pose?”

“What?”

“Oh my god, Stiles, we aren’t dating or anything, so we don’t want to do that typical lame-ass pose. We need something exciting.”

“Oh, well, in that case, I can probably come up with a few ideas. First off: James Bond.”)

—danced from the start to the finish, joked about Derek, played a prank on Isaac, and badmouthed Jackson and Landon.

(“I don’t know why I didn’t get rid of him sooner.”

“Yeah, what gives? I mean, that douchebag?”

“He was available and a pretty good workout partner.”

“Fucking Hales and their workout obsession.”)

Stiles hadn’t really expected to enjoy prom, but it turned out to be the best high school dance he had ever been to, even with no alcohol involved (his father swore he would kill him and Stiles was afraid of Talia). Stiles also hadn’t expected to really like Cora, but he kind of loved both of Derek’s sisters.

After prom, before Stiles drove Cora home, they decided nothing could end before they got cheesecake and milkshakes at the diner.

“Anyone should be afraid of Laura, not Derek,” Cora said as they ate their cheesecake, “There’s a reason Laura is a top lawyer in LA. She’s nice in general, but don’t piss her off. But the person who you should really be afraid of is my mom. She is terrifying when she’s angry. She seems all calm, sweet, and understanding, but you don’t mess with her. That’s why Landon left me alone once that rumor went around about us sleeping together. He knows Derek will scratch him, Laura will maim him, and my mother will kill him.”

“What about your dad?”

“He seems pretty zen, huh? To be honest, I don’t really have my dad figured out. I don’t even know if he works. He always just goes with my mom on her trips, but I have no idea if he’s working too. Do you even know what my mom does?”

“Derek said something once about crisis management, but actually no.”

“Yeah, neither do I. Ask Derek and Laura. They don’t really know either. When I was little, I thought she was in the Mafia or something, but the governor came to our house one day to ‘talk about work.’” Cora did airquotes. “So I figured that she couldn’t be doing anything too shady.”

“Talking about work with potentially morally corrupt politicians? That should scream Mafia even more, come on.”

Cora laughed. “Either way, I have no idea. I don’t even know why we live on the outskirts of a small town like Beacon Hills and not some big city.”

“More inconspicuous for the black market deals.”

“All I know is my parents have a ton of money. Like millions of dollars. Laura, Derek, and I each have trusts with enough money that we’d never have to work a day in our lives.”

Stiles choked on his milkshake. “What? Are you fucking serious?”

“Yeah, you scored when you bonded with Derek. Gold digger.”

“He’s never told me that! I mean, I know that you’re loaded, it’s obvious with that beach house, but I didn’t think Derek was a trust fund baby. No wonder he offered to pay for me to go to college.” Stiles paused. “Why do you guys even go to college?”

“I can’t touch the trust unless I graduate from high school, get a college bachelor’s degree, and get some secondary education after that—you know, like Derek’s Master’s and Laura’s law school. It’s the rules of the trust.”

“Ensuring that you all still become normal human beings?”

“I guess so.”

“I'm not sure if it worked with Derek. Where are you going to college, Cora?”

“Berkeley. That’s where Laura, Paige, and Derek went and they seemed happy. Plus, their history department has an amazing study abroad program in South America that I want to work towards. What about you?”

“Stanford.”

“Of course.” Cora took a penultimate bite. “So, what do you and Derek even do together?”

“We just kind of hang out unless we’re practicing. Play video games, talk, that sort of thing.”

“Derek hates video games and hates talking even more.”

“I bring out the best in him, you know," Stiles offered with a smirk. "Derek also reads a lot,” he added as an afterthought. 

Cora shrugged. “Whatever. As long as you don’t force him to do fun things, I’m sure he’s fine.”

Stiles immediately thought back to Derek sprinting through the laser tag course and wondered how well Cora really knew her brother. He felt a strong desire to find a way to show her in the future.

After they finished, Stiles drove Cora back to the house and walked her to the door, feeling awkward for the first time during the night. How did you tell your sister-in-bond goodnight after prom? See you later, it’s been fun?

“Thanks for tonight,” Cora began before he could make up his mind, “I thought I’d have fun, and I was right. You know, you’re good for Derek. I mean, I still wish he and Paige could get married. Paige has been like my sister since I was seven. She’s been around forever, and I can’t just not want her here. But, Derek is happy with you. Like really happy. And I’ve decided that you’re kind of awesome and sarcastic. I like you.” She gave Stiles a kiss on the cheek. “See you at the registration. Welcome to the Hale family.”

A kind of comfort settled through him, and Stiles watched as she walked up the stairs to open the door, disappearing inside.

● ● ●

“They just had a good time.”

“But do you think it was too good? Do you think she likes him?”

“We could just ask her,” Stephen injected calmly.

This had to be one of the most painful conversations that Derek had ever been a part of, which was saying something at this point. The Hales, including Robbie, whispered furiously in the kitchen as Cora sat on the couch in the living room playing on her tablet. Derek remained resolutely silent.

“No, Stephen, you can’t—” Talia began.

“What if Cora actually likes Stiles and freaks out?” Laura asked worriedly.

Stephen walked to the doorframe and yelled into the living room, “Are you interested in Stiles?”

Talia placed a hand over her face, Laura opened her mouth in disbelief, and Robbie attempted to not laugh.

“What?” Cora shouted in horror. “Oh my god, no. No.”

The group in the kitchen filtered into the living room to gather around the couch.

“How do you know that he’s not interested in you?” Robbie questioned before receiving a punch from Laura.

“Stiles has been bisexual forever, and even though he’s had a crush on Lydia since like the third grade and had that thing with Katie in like seventh grade, I’ve always thought he swung a little more toward men.”

Cora gave Derek a big smile.

Derek glared back at her. She knew, goddamnit.

“Cora—”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh my god, I know. It’s their registration day tomorrow. Though you all think otherwise—well, except Derek, he realized that I knew—I’m not an idiot. I knew something was up for a while and then finally figured it out. And I bought a dress an age ago when we were buying prom dresses. Actually, Laura, I snuck into your closet and guessed which one you’d be wearing and got one similar. So we’d be cohesive or whatever.”

Finally, verification that he was right.

“Cora,” Talia began before being cut off by Laura.

“You got a green one?”

“Yeah,” Cora replied, “it’s lace too, similar to yours.”

“Oh, perfect!” Laura exclaimed. “It’ll go with the flowers.”

Derek’s smug look dropped from his face. “Flowers?”

Laura looked at him as if he were the most hopeless human being alive. “Yes, Derek, flowers. Did you not think that we were doing something nice for your registration? Did you think you were going to show up to the courthouse in jeans and a Henley?”

“Yes,” Derek said slowly. “And what do you mean ‘something nice?’” Derek thought he heard his dad snicker slightly.

Laura stared at him in horror. “I cannot believe would possibly think that you were going to wear casual clothes to your registration. I already had a shopping date with Stiles and bought his suit.”

“What?!” Derek cried. “You went shopping with Stiles?”

“Don’t worry, Der-Bear, I already knew your measurements, so I just went ahead and bought your matching one while we were there. It’s in your closet, didn’t you notice it?”

“What is ‘something nice,’ Laura?” Derek pleaded.

“Derek,” Talia answered as Cora, Stephen, and Laura cackled at Derek’s discomfort, “we just rented a little room in the courthouse. Melissa McCall and I are making a cake, Stiles’ friend—Danny, I believe—was going to play a little music, and Laura had bought a few decorations. Just a little something since we know you don’t like much—but it’s an important day, Derek.”

Laura smirked at him. As if he was going to fight their mother. Shit.

“Does Stiles know about this?”

“Derek, I went with him to buy a suit. Yes, he knows.”

That little bastard was going to stay quiet and then let Derek be surprised.

“I’m not wearing a tie,” Derek said firmly after a weary sigh.

“I bet Stiles thinks you look sexy in a tie,” Cora commented mischievously, “he has to have some kind of accountant fantasies.”

“Murder me,” Derek muttered gloomily.

The teasing, unfortunately, didn’t let up over the rest of the afternoon or the next day. Stiles, Laura, and Cora added him on a group text where the three of them mercilessly continued the onslaught. Derek had been dreading the three of them teaming up against him, but it was almost worse than he expected. Thankfully, as Derek pulled on his suit coat in the small dressing room (separate from Stiles’ since Laura refused to them be together before, and Derek was too tired to fight her), his family seemed to catch on that he’d like some peace before he was finally registered.

“You look happy,” Laura commented while straightening Derek’s very-present tie.

He was happy, minus the horrible clothes he was wearing. He fucking hated clothes like this.

“I am.”

Why were they making him wear this? This wasn’t a wedding, this was a bonding registration signing at the courthouse.

“You deserve to be happy, Derek,” Talia said with a smile.

“I’ve been happy,” Derek said in exasperation. “We aren’t doing anything different after this. We’re just letting the government mark us as official and continuing on. This isn’t as big a deal as you all are making it.”

“Stile is excited,” Cora remarked from a chair in the corner. “It’ll probably hurt his feelings if you don’t at least act excited too.”

Derek growled but allowed Laura to continue her pampering. After a moment, she tugged on his collar a little bit. “Derek,” she said hesitantly, “someone would like to see you real quick, if you don’t mind?”

“Who?” Derek asked confusedly.

“Next room over” was all she responded.

Derek slipped out of the room to see Paige gently leaning against the wall.

If it had been Stiles, he would have said something along the lines of “We need to stop meeting at ceremonies like this.”

“If you don’t mind,” Paige began immediately as she saw him, “I’d like to be here.”

He looked at her soft, brown, hopeful eyes and reached forward to draw her into a hug which she quickly returned. “Of course,” he replied softly. “I’m glad you’re here. It means a lot to me.”

Since Laura’s wedding, they had slowly texted and called each other. It would never be what it was, but at least he could still share things with her.

“You’re hating this, aren’t you?” she asked.

“I just want to get the bracelet and leave,” Derek groaned.

“Did you bring that ring with you too?” Paige asked with a hesitant smile.

This wasn't a wedding, damnit.

“We may be bonded, but I think we just need to date first. He has all of college before he even needs to think about that.”

Paige’s smiled widened. “I figured that you two would be more of a slow-moving romance.”

“Look how long it took me with you.”

“Good thing,” Paige said with a small laugh, “because you would have run into Stiles at some point.”  

“Derek,” Laura said suddenly, peeking out from the room. “They’re ready.” The Hales filed out of the room and began to walk with Paige down the hall as Laura pinned a small, white boutonniere on Derek’s jacket. “Good luck,” she said with a wink.

Jesus, there was no luck involved, unless he needed luck for the pen to produce enough ink to sign his name.

Derek walked in the opposite direction of his family, as he had been instructed when they first got to the courthouse, until he reached a small holding room in the back.

The pomp and circumstance for this business was fucking ridiculous.

He momentarily forgot how disgruntled he was, however, when he entered the room and saw Stiles leaning against the wall with his arms crossed loosely.

Derek stared at how handsome Stiles looked in the trim, gray suit. Maybe he owed Laura a silent thank you.

“Finally, dude,” Stiles said once he noticed Derek. “If I had known that you’d be a diva about this, I would have had them lie to you about the time. Your hair had better be perfectly styled.”

“Laura,” Derek said crisply as he continued to stare at the way the jacket sleeves were perfectly tailored to Stiles’ arms, emphasizing his long, elegant hands. Derek walked over to Stiles and put a hand on his neck, gently brushing with his fingers. “You look nice.”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “And we all know you look nice. Now let’s hurry and get this started. I’m so excited for the party,” he said, flailing his hands around, “because apparently your mom and Melissa joined forces on a cake and I want to taste that slice of heaven. Also, I want to see my friend’s faces when they see I got someone so out of my league. I mean, you’re not actually out of my league but everyone will assume that once they see your face.”

Derek was spared replying that practically everyone already knew by the entry of Araya Calavera, Dr. Braeden, and Dr. Morrell. Araya looked even more serious than usual and the two doctors’ faces had their typical small smiles. They each carried a small pack of papers.

“Alright,” Araya began quickly, “Braeden, you ask your question first and then I’ll get started. The whole registration should take about ten minutes. Afterwards, we’ve all been invited to a party by Talia Hale. I didn’t realize that was your mother; she’s a very important woman to know.”

Yeah, and try to survive her wrath if you don’t make your bed in the morning.

Dr. Braeden stepped forward toward them and shook both of their hands. “Congratulations, boys. Your adjustment to this bond was incredible, and you worked through more issues than most have to deal with.”

No shit.

“And would you consider signing this form allowing me to write about your bond and publish your names in an article I’m devising about Class X bonds?”

“I knew it,” Stiles said, smiling broadly. “I’m going to be on PubMed, hell yes.”

“No, I’d rather—”

“Derek,” Stiles said sternly, “Pubmed. If I take a Bonding class in college, I could reference an article about my bond. How cool would that be?”

Derek didn’t really think that it’d make much of a difference at all—it’d be a little weird if anything— but it was their registration day. He grudgingly held his hand out for the form, and Stiles punched his arm into the air in victory. Derek resisted shooting all three women a glare after they looked at each other as if Derek’s action of resignation was the cutest thing they’d ever seen.

After they signed, Araya held out two packets for Stiles and Derek to take, which on further inspection held a bracelet. The bracelet looked like it was made out of many small bands looped together with alternating colors of white, yellow, and pink with a strange electronic clasp. Stiles slipped his quickly out of the packet.

“Oh my god, what is this?” Stiles held the bracelet pinched between his fingers like it had offended him.

“Your registration bracelet.”

“No, I got that,” Stiles said, “I meant more along the lines of do we have the right ones or the ones meant for a nine year old girl.”

“He’s just worried that it will clash with his plaid shirts,” Derek said with a smirk. At this point, Derek just didn’t give a shit—the bracelet could have had Hello Kitty buttons attached and he would have just dealt with it.

“That’s the Class X bracelet,” Araya actually said apologetically. “The first acknowledged and registered Class X bond was a set of teenagers about fifty years ago – the girl was fifteen and the guy was seventeen. They asked them what they wanted and the girl wanted these…and the guy didn’t say anything.”

“Okay,” she continued when Stiles just shrugged, seeming to accept design, “when we go in, we’ll say a few things, blah, blah, you just respond with ‘yes’ or whatever. Then you sign the papers and have a chance to say a little something to each other, exchange the bracelets, and then I’ll say the final phrase and done—you’ll be registered.”

As soon as she finished speaking, she began to make her way to door, followed by the two doctors. Dr. Morrell, who had been silent as usual, turned around with a raised eyebrow. “Coming?”

They quickly fell in line behind the three women, eventually halting outside of a room with a small stand of white flowers by the doorframe.

Fucking Laura.

Dr. Braeden and Dr. Morrell entered the room, but Araya instructed them to remain outside the door for a moment until called forward. As they stood alone, they both shifted slightly in silence. Derek was hit with the implication of what was about to happen—he was about to be registered, practically the most legally binding thing that you could possible do, with a spastic, hyperactive eighteen year old kid who was obsessed with video games and research. And fuck, did Derek love him. The bond was such an intricate part of him by this point that he welcomed the flare of excitement and nervousness that he couldn’t ignore from Stiles.

Stiles ran his fingers through his hair, pushed his glasses more securely on the bridge of his nose, and fiddled with the friendship bracelet around his wrist. “I’ve kind of gotten used to this one.”

“I don’t on plan on taking mine off when we put the new ones on,” Derek commented unconcernedly. The bond filled with so much affection that Derek swatted Stiles on the head. Stiles turned a deep shade of embarrassed scarlet, and Derek snorted as they were signaled to enter.

When they walked in, there was a small crowd gathered around the two doctors and Araya—the Hales, Paige, the Boyds, the sheriff, Melissa, Scott, all the rest of Stiles’ friends, Lynette, Kali, and even fucking Meredith.

Jesus Christ, why were all these people here?

Erica waved Boyd V’s hand at them. Stiles waved back happily and then gave a thumbs up to his friends, some of whom were staring in surprise. Derek sighed and grabbed Stiles hand, pulling him forward. The room was decorated with white and green arrangements all around a few standard wooden chairs facing a small, dark wooden table in the front center of the room where the documents lay. When they were halfway to the table, Derek heard a small yip and broke his vow to ignore the crowd by looking over to the side where his family stood.

“Lola! Charlie!” Stiles cried, breaking away from him to rush over and pet the dogs. Charlie stood calm and still, looking Derek’s way as if proving that he was behaving, but Lola yipped and jumped at Stiles.

“Do you know how many strings I had to pull to be able to bring them? You’d better be thankful,” Laura said with a smirk.

“I’m sure all you did was flash a pretty smile like Derek does. But, yeah, I’m thankful.” Stiles hopped back up and made his way back over to Derek. “Our babies are here.”

“No. They are not 'our babies.'”

“Yes,” Stiles said brightly, grabbing Derek’s hand and leading him the rest of the way to the table.

Wasting no time, Araya pointed to the first document that they needed to stand in front of. “The bond may choose our mate, but we choose how to be with our mate. And you have both chosen to register yourselves to the state. Have you read this document and understand the implications of signing it?”

Yes, Derek had, twice. And he had made Laura explain every part of it.

They both gave an affirmation. Araya said a few more words and then showed them where to sign, handing them each a pen.

Derek looked down at the form and burst into laughter. Everyone stared at him quizzically until Stiles glanced at the form and realized with horror why Derek was laughing.

“Don’t you dare tell anyone,” Stiles said pointing at Derek, eyes like slits.

“How can I? I don’t think I could pronounce that if my life depended on it, even with the Polish book.”

“I’ll tell you later,” Stiles said darkly, “but you have to swear to never speak of it again. It’s like Fight Club rules.”

“I told you Thomas would be better,” the sheriff interjected from the side. Derek flashed him a grin.

Anything would have been better than that shit. No wonder Stiles had given himself his own nickname.

After they finished signing, Araya droned in a bored voice for a moment about the registration bracelets before asking, “Would you like to put on your own bracelets or put them on each other? It doesn’t matter which side they go on.”

“We can just—”

“Nope, we’re putting them on each other,” Stiles said firmly.

“You’re bossy today,” Derek said very quietly.

“And you’re rather yielding.”

Derek didn’t respond; he just held up the bracelet which he had carried from the backroom and waited for Stiles to lift up his arm. Stiles extended the wrist that contained the slim line of the much larger Mark, and Derek slipped the bracelet on next to the green one already present. It clicked and Stiles let out a yelp.

“They pinch,” Araya added belatedly.

Stiles shot her an annoyed look before turning to Derek and fiddling with the bracelet as Derek raised his own wrist. “So,” Stiles began hurriedly, “I know that you don’t like this kind of stuff and you’re probably already crazy with everything today, but I just wanted to say something because, you know, I don’t pass up a chance to talk.” He took a breath and continued quickly, “So, you’re super hot and everything, but I wasn’t really happy at first to be bonded to a grumpy, poor conversationalist who was almost thirty—”

He had only been twenty six when they bonded, dear god.

“—had an obnoxious workout schedule, and had obviously been a jock in his high school life. But,” Stiles paused, “now I know how lucky I am. I mean, you’re still all of those things I just said, but they don’t really matter. You’re funny and loyal, you’ve read more books than I think Lydia has, and you really care about the people who matter to you, and you’re willing to sacrifice yourself for them. You put up with me better than I even think my dad does, and I’m pretty sure we’ve reached the point where my word vomit doesn’t even faze you.”

Derek wanted to tell Stiles how much he appreciated Stiles’ bright presence in his life, but he didn’t think it’d be possible to articulate in front of all these people. He would have never given Stiles a second glance if they hadn’t bonded—what a loss that would have been in his life.

“We are going to challenge each other, and I look forward to developing our friendship, and our relationship, fighting with each other, and growing together. And yeah, maybe getting another dog.” He grabbed Derek’s wrist and anxiously pushed the bracelet on, brushing over the Marks.

The bond soared.

“And now you are sealed,” Araya said finally.

Derek linked hands with Stiles and allowed the now chattering crowd to begin to lead him to a larger room across the hall, similarly decorated to the signing room. There was another table, but it was located to the side with a massive, but simple, white cake in its center.

Derek wasn’t entirely sure if the women in his family understood that this wasn’t a wedding.

“Registration Day: a.k.a. probably one of the best days of my life,” Stiles said happily.

Stiles broke away from him with a wink to go talk to his dad, and Lynette tapped Derek on the arm.

“Fancy new jewelry,” she commented nonchalantly.

“I’m just glad those fucking sessions are over. The last one was a nightmare—I had to list the things I like about Stiles and the things I’d look most forward to in our future.”

“Stiles probably didn’t much trouble with that exercise,” Lynette said with a smirk.

“No, obviously not,” Derek replied with a small smile.

“So, it was the little fucker that you brought with you that day. He’s so little, he looks like a baby,” Kali interjected suddenly, appearing from behind Lynette.

“Kali.”

“Cradle robber.”

“Bitch.”

“Whatever you say, sugar daddy.”

Derek resisted the urge to strangle her.

“I knew you had a wonderful bond,” Meredith said dreamily from behind Derek, making him jump.

“Why are you here, Meredith?” Derek asked in exasperation.

“Derek does have a wonderful bond,” Lynette said firmly. “I fucking love Stiles. And since he gave me the idea to whore you out to both sexes, we’ve done pretty well. Hopefully you’ll be returning back to regular work soon? It hasn’t been the same without you around.”

“Probably. Stiles and I have to work out his school situation. But I’m going back to Sacramento starting tonight.”

“You’re leaving tonight?” a voice asked next to him.

Lynette waved him away as he turned toward Laura. “Yeah, Laura, I’m already completely packed and have everything in my car. I can’t help dad with one more crossword puzzle.”

She laughed lightly and pulled him into a tight hug. “You’re registered now Der-Bear, do whatever you and Stiles want to do. I hope you marginally enjoy the party. I personally think it looks perfect.”

Derek thanked her with a laugh and began to search for Stiles. He spotted him over on the side by Paige and heard them speaking as he moved closer.

“I’m sorry I took him from you,” Stiles was saying sadly and earnestly, “I know why you love him; it’s the same reasons I love him. I know he loves me, but I don’t think he’s completely gotten over you or anything.”

Paige looked up to meet Derek’s eyes as he walked forward to meet them and gave Stiles her soft smile. “Derek is good at compartmentalizing and pushing away difficult feelings, so even if he hasn’t, I wouldn’t worry. And you didn’t take him from me. You gave yourselves to each other, and it was time for me to find who I was supposed to share myself with. I will always love Derek. But there are many ways to love.”

When Derek finally reached them, Stiles turned around guiltily, but Paige simply squeezed Derek’s arm and wandered over to talk to Laura.

“You get to sleep with him?”

Stiles and Derek both turned to see Danny, eyebrows raised, standing at the head of a grouping of Stiles’ friends, including Lydia, Isaac, Allison, Kira, Scott, and even Cora.

“That’s no way to talk about a human being, Danny…but yes, yes I do.”

Stiles chatted with everyone and gave Scott some kind of extended handshake. He turned to Cora after a moment. “Your dress does match Laura’s pretty well, nice job.”

“Thanks, I try,” she said proudly, with a small twirl of her dress. “And Lydia helped.”

“It’s a gift,” Lydia commented lightly, giving Stiles a hug.

“You almost made me cry during that speech, Stiles,” Erica said suddenly, bursting her way into their group. “which is a pretty significant achievement. Bitty Boyd definitely shed a tear.” She handed Boyd V over to an exuberant Stiles, and all of his friends immediately milled closely around them, cooing at the squirming baby.

“From hunger, not Stiles,” Boyd said quietly, slipping to Derek’s side. Boyd clapped Derek on the shoulder. “Congrats, man. I know this frees things up for both of you.”

"Yeah," Derek said as he watched Stiles openly and happily engaging with his friends and family, "it really does."

The party wasn’t as horrible as Derek anticipated, but he was itching to leave by the end of the hour. The cake did turn out to be heavenly and the music was decent, but Laura made Derek and Stiles take an exorbitant amount of pictures, and he had to try to have a conversation with too many people. Derek broke away from the party to pack the dogs in the car and then returned to make his way over to the John to shake his hand before he attempted to drag Stiles away.

“Take care of him,” John said in his usual, mild manner with a touch of sadness.

“I’ll try my best,” Derek offered honestly. “And if you don’t mind, I’d like to take him to Sacramento with me tonight.”

He hoped the sheriff didn’t have his gun on him.

John laughed shortly. “You don’t really have to ask my permission any more. You’re registered. And lord knows my son never asks permission.”

“I’d think I’d rather still ask.”

John laughed more soundly this time. “I knew there was a reason I never quite hated you.” He drew a surprised Derek into a short hug.

After John released him, Derek gave him a nod before slipping over to Stiles, who was talking fervently to Erica about the technicalities of Instagram filters, and informed him that it was time to go. Stiles spent another fifteen minutes telling everyone their goodbyes, as if he were never going to see them again. Derek finally managed to drag him toward the door, but before they could exit the room, a new figure with a crisp suit and sleeked hair appeared in the doorway. Peter.

“Well, Talia, I have to say that I’m hurt that I wasn’t invited.”

“Peter,” Talia responded unhappily. “What are you doing here?”

“You didn’t solve my problem.”

Oh, typical. More Hale family bullshit and Peter showing up at random, inopportune times. His family was exhausting.

“I did to the best of my abilities.”

Even a corrupt judge probably realized that Malia deserved to be released from Peter's crazy.

“Well, it wasn’t good enough. There has to be more that you can do.”

“Contrary to what you believe, Peter, the world does not revolve around me. It also doesn’t revolve around you.”

“Well, I may have some incentive to work harder,” Peter replied silkily.

“What did you do, Peter?”

“The Berserkers may have heard whispers of a Class X bond…but they didn’t know who or where until today.”

“So you told them. This is between you and me, Peter, not you and your nephew. I’m sure the whole family knows now too?” Talia’s eyes flashed.

“I may have let it slip to mother that Derek was choosing a little-boy bride instead of Paige.”

“Would you like me to be your enemy, Peter? Because I can be your enemy,” Talia said so dangerously that the whole room seemed to take a cautious step back.

“Berserkers?” Stiles broke in suddenly. “You mean the crazy anti-bond people?"

“You wouldn’t want to deal with that, I’m sure,” Peter directed at Stiles. “I can still call them off.”

Derek, probably to everyone’s surprise, just snorted at Peter indifferently. “It was either he deal with Berserkers now or he deal with them at college in a few months. They’re a constant pain in the ass, and now you’ve just done him the favor of showing him how true that is. And I could care less what the family thinks—I never have cared.” Derek grabbed Stiles hand and began to pull him toward the exit again. “Now, fuck off, Peter.” Derek flipped him off with his free hand and continued the trek to the Camaro, listening to the raised voices of fighting Hales. This wouldn’t be the last time Peter tried to fuck something up—Stiles might has well get used to that too.

As they made it out the doors of the courthouse, Stiles’ eyes widened at the Berserkers that were, true to Peter's words, present outside of the building. As usual for a registration protest, they were standing in animal skull masks from the courthouse door to the registrants’ car. They were absolutely still and silent, holding pieces of paper with the same thing written over and over in scrawled handwriting: you are not destiny.

No shit. You bond by chance. Everyone meets by chance. Sometimes, people’s stories are just luckier than others.

“Why are they silent?” Stiles asked in awe. He reached forward and pushed at one of the bones hanging from a Berserker’s wrist, but the woman behind the mask remained perfectly still.

“They do silent protests if a minor is involved.”

“I’m not a minor.”

“You’re still in high school. Once you get to college, the full-fledge attack will start. They usually aren’t any real danger, but they are relentless. I think they are the only people in the world that Paige hates.”

“What do they do? Follow around 2.1 billion people and tell them to have a Hunger Games death match with their bonded and whoever survives gets to live bond-free?”

“Some of them try.”

“Oh, god, they are so creepy.” Stiles poked at a short man’s mask.

“Just ignore them,” Derek said, pulling Stiles to the car.

“There’s a lot more shit even though we’re registered, isn’t there?” Stiles asked as he buckled in, Lola barking happily in the backseat.

“Yeah, well, that’s your twenties. There’s bonding shit—but there’s college, dealing with adult decisions, finding a job. The Berserkers aren’t worth worrying about, trust me.”

“Oh,” Stiles said solemnly, “I do. As a man almost out of your twenties, you should know.” Derek, who had been driving slowly out of the parking lot, suddenly pushed on the breaks, sending Stiles tumbling back. “Jerk,” Stiles muttered darkly. “Oh!” he added, recovering quickly, “time to change the Facebook status to Bonded.”

The drive to Sacramento was normal for the two of them—Derek listened to Stiles ramble about whatever topic about the registration that came to his mind, giving answers to any questions directed to him, but remaining silent otherwise. There was a peace in this drive with Stiles, a familiar, comforting feeling.

When they reached the house, they threw the bags inside and then stood unsuredly in the living room for a moment. As split second later, Derek pushed Stiles hard up against the wall. Stiles’ pupils were blown wide as he yanked Derek’s head forward into a forceful kiss, rough with relief. After a few minutes, Derek felt Stiles pressing into his leg and wanted nothing more than to carry him up to the bed.

Instead, Derek pulled back slightly and put his forehead to Stiles, gently brushing his nose against Stiles’ cheek.

“I have to go to France in a month and a half. Lynette paid for you to come with me. She claimed it was because she couldn’t handle the damn bond screwing things up like England, but I think it’s because she likes you for some reason.”

“France?” Stiles said between deep breaths. Derek pulled back slightly and looked at Stiles’ flushed face, messed up hair, and wet, red lips. “Oh my god, are you asking me on a post-registration vacation?”

“Fuck no,” Derek said unhappily, “that shit is stupid. I’m asking you to come with me on my work trip. Plus, my family found out and decided to plan their own France trip at the same time. I figured it would be good since I’ll be in meetings a lot, and you’d still have people to explore with.”

“I’m basically going on a honeymoon slash Hale family vacation. This all feels like such a huge step.”

“So you’re coming?”

“Hell yes, dude! You expect me to say no to a free trip to France with you? Oh, can you speak French?”

“Yes, pretty well.”

“Oh, this is going to be awesome,” Stiles said beaming—and he looked so beautiful and radiant that Derek couldn’t do anything else but kiss him again.

“This is totally a post-registration vacation,” Stiles mumbled happily into the kiss.

Derek didn’t answer, just hoisted Stiles’ legs around his waist and carried him toward the bedroom.

● ● ●

“What the hell is Derek Hale doing here?”

The championship game was midday on a Sunday, and after another rallying speech from Coach Finstock, the Beacon Hills lacrosse team was stretching on the sidelines. The whole team looked up to identify the person in question.

“Cora’s brother?” Landon asked confusedly.

“Yeah, he’s like a Beacon Hills basketball legend. And I hear he was kick ass at lacrosse too.”

“He’s come to other games. He’s been helping Stiles with lacrosse,” Isaac supplied with a look at Stiles.

Stiles smiled brightly as everyone turned to look at him. “He’s here for me,” he said happily. Scott was laughing softly beside him.

After a moment, recognition flickered across some of his team members’ faces. Both Landon and Jackson’s eyes widened humorously large.

“Why would he be here for you?” Greenberg asked perplexedly.

“Must be a student-teacher thing,” Liam commented.

He was surrounded by idiots and baby freshmen.

“Seriously?” Stiles said exasperated. “After everything, you can’t fucking figure it out? Whatever.

“No,” Landon said firmly.

That’s karma, bitch.

“Oh, yeah,” Stiles said with a smug smirk, “you constantly insulted me in front of Derek and the rest of the Hales while I was bonded to him. That’s why Cora broke up with you. Well, that and because she realized that you are a douchenozzle.”

“There’s no way you bonded with Derek Hale,” Jackson added.

Stiles smirked, filling with a sense of justice that he had been waiting to feel since Jackson stepped on his fingers and laughed in kindergarten.

“He most definitely did,” Danny said nonchalantly. “Now why don’t you and Landon both focus on not screwing up royally in this game and looking even more like a bunch of assholes to him? And I’d personally like to come out of this with a win.”

The team continued to murmur and shoot questions at Stiles, but at least they all returned back to their stretches. Landon and Jackson stared at Stiles as if he had morphed into some kind of monster, but they too eventually settled back into their practice routine.

A few hours later, living up to Danny’s wishes, Beacon Hills managed to win after a tough game. The team erupted in cheers, screaming, jumping, and celebrating. As soon as Stiles could regain his senses, he exploded toward the bleachers, finding Derek, and wrapping his arms around him in a death grip.

“I’m proud of you,” Derek told Stiles with a smile.

“I didn’t score or anything, but I played hard and it felt good. Plus, you know, we won,” Stiles said brightly.

Stiles began fiddling with the bracelets on his wrist. “So, uh, the guys are talking about a victory party. And I know that a high school party is like the last thing you would possibly want to go to, but I’m pretty sure there’s going to be alcohol there and—”

“Are you asking me to a high school lacrosse party?” Derek groaned.

“I’m begging and pleading.”

“Why would you want me there? I wouldn’t be any fun.”

“I want my boyfriend to come, fucking sue me.”

Derek put his head in his hands. “You have no idea how much you owe me for this.”

Stiles let out a shout of triumph and then looked around expectantly. “Where’s my dad?”

“He’s just taking care of a security problem.”

“Security problem?”

“You’ll see,” Derek said, cringing slightly. “Get your stuff and I’ll go with you to the damn party.”

Stiles ran back down to the field to grab his bag and tell Scott that he’d meet him over at Danny’s house for what was sure to turn into a low-scale rave before meeting up with Derek to walk to the parking lot. As his feet hit the pavement, Stiles received a perfect view of the line of Berserkers surrounding the lot and a smaller circle around his jeep.

“These assholes again?” Stiles moaned. “Are they going to follow us around forever?”

“Things will only get worse when you get to college and their organization finds out you’re there.”

“I want to just throw a grenade at them,” Stiles said murderously before pausing. “Actually, there’s always that dude that jumps on the grenade and gives everyone hope. I need a rocket launcher.”

“There’s always someone who won’t accept who you are. You just have to learn to not give a shit,” Derek offered. “They’re always going to bother us because we’re a known, strong bond. Braeden said the other Class X bonds got followed around the same way.”

Stiles walked to the back of the jeep and pulled out a baseball bat, waving it around in the air. “Will you all fucking move away from my car so I can leave? You can all stare at me silently farther to the side!”

“Really, Stiles, a bat?” Derek asked with a quirked brow.

“Listen, not all of us are intimidating just by puffing up our muscles.”

Derek walked over to one of the Berserkers surrounding the car and gently forced her backward. Even with him holding her arms, she had no choice but to take a step back to keep her balance. Derek continued the process with the next Berserkers, until there was room for them to back the jeep out. Stiles stared at Derek and then at the bat in his hand before shrugging, throwing it back into the trunk, and hopping in the front seat to head to Danny’s.

Who knew that Derek was all peace and rainbows and sunshine?

The party turned out to be a hilarious experience for Stiles. The music pounded loudly, shaking the walls, and the lacrosse team and friends crowded the room, leaving little space to move, and making dancing an intimate affair. Derek was initially uncomfortable and decided to counter the feeling by drinking several beers so quickly that Scott was staring with an open mouth. It wasn’t long before Derek was fairly drunk, a side of him that Stiles hadn’t seen—but made Stiles deeply excited for all of the college parties he was going to drag Derek to. Drunk Derek was far more relaxed, joked even more sarcastically and lewdly, and danced with Stiles even in front of the surrounding high schoolers. He even more firmly put Landon and Jackson in their place by calling them out and scaring them halfway through the night. Stiles had a feeling that Derek was going to kill him the next day, but he decided that it was worth it to have Derek kiss gently behind his ear as the music played and the crowd flowed around them.

“Can I tell you a secret? I like drunk Derek,” Stiles whispered to Derek, early the next morning as they climbed into his bed. He silently thanked the universe for his dad having a late shift, not that John would probably stop them at this point.

“Can I tell you a secret? This doesn’t happen often.”

Yeah, Derek was definitely going to kill him tomorrow. Especially if he had a hangover.

Stiles snuggled close to Derek. “Want to watch the Game of Thrones episode that we missed?"

“I might fall asleep,” Derek murmured, breath already sounding heavy.

“That’s okay,” Stiles whispered, “I like watching the episodes with you. I don’t mind watching twice.”

“You feel happy,” Derek said sleepily, placing the palm of his hand on the middle of Stiles’ stomach where the bond had first felt like it was concentrated all those months ago.

“That because I am, Derek. I am.”

● ● ●

Derek settled in his chair on the lawn next to Sheriff Stilinski just as the graduates began to walk to their seats as the swell of a Beacon Hills graduations song issued through the surrounding speakers.

He just fucking hated wearing suits and, god-forbid, a tie, but he doubted anyone was coming to graduation in a Henley and jeans—so, this marked the third time this year that he was forced to suffer.

He shared a nod with John. “Are they here?”

“Oh, the Berserkers showed up before the crew could even set up the chairs. They’ve been here all night,” the sheriff said drily.

“Fucking Peter. If he had just shut up, Stiles wouldn’t have had to deal with this until college.”

“As you said, it will probably be worse in college,” John answered mildly. “At least now Stiles has time to prepare. And from what I understand, your mother is taking care of Peter.” The sheriff pointed over to the side of the stage. “Lydia and Stiles are over there for the valedictorian and salutatorian speeches—I posted my best deputy, Jordan Parrish, with them just in case one of the Berserkers goes crazier than usual.”

Derek choked slightly. Oh, fuck, hopefully Erica and Boyd didn’t tell Stiles anything about Parrish. Stiles wouldn’t let that opportunity slide.

After all of the graduates were seated, the long, drawn-out ceremony began, most of which Derek ignored. He had sat through this shit for Laura and himself, and he was fairly certain that there wouldn’t be any difference between those ceremonies and this one. Except, of course, for the speeches. He already knew Stiles’ speech by heart—Stiles had written the majority of it when they were together, asking for a word suggestion every now and then, and had practiced his presentation countless times to Derek. Apparently, Derek’s harshest criticisms were welcomed, and even his most sarcastic remarks sparked even better ideas from Stiles’ brain. Derek assumed it was more bond-connection magic at work. In all honesty, it was a very good speech—witty, dry, and inspiring, which were all the things Derek had come to expect from the younger man. However, even though Derek was fine with seeing Stiles more than he ever had before, he had been ready to tape Stiles’ mouth shut to avoid hearing another repeat.

Yet, as he sat in the uncomfortable plastic seat and listened to them begin to call the ‘M’ names, he realized that no one around him had heard the speech before and was suddenly ready to hear it again. (Not even the sheriff or Scott had heard it because apparently Stiles had been too self-conscious. Insecurity didn’t seem to really exist around Derek any more, however—maybe it was because between the bond and sex, they were too intimately involved for Stiles to care.) The night before, Stiles had told him happily that it was their speech. Derek didn’t really agree, considering Stiles had composed all of it and had done all of the work to be second in his class, but Derek appreciated the sentiment. He knew what Stiles meant—they helped each other. They helped with speeches or whatever else, even when one of them got frustrated and called the other one a dick, because they improved each other.

After the last person finally received their diploma, Lydia walked to the podium and gave a flowing, commanding speech that didn’t really surprise Derek. Stiles immediately followed, took a deep breath, and then began to clearly articulate, just a little too quickly, the words Derek could practically synchronize with the beat of his heart. Derek filled with pride—he was proud of Stiles for moving so gracefully through high school with such a huge burden; he was proud of himself for growing more than he thought he could; he was proud of both of them for having worked through so much.

And he was ready for the future and whatever shit it brought.

Parrish, Lydia, and Stiles all walked from the side of the stage to meet Derek and John once the final invocation was given.

As they approached within earshot, Derek could make out Lydia telling Parrish something, and Parrish laughing lightly as Stiles rolled his eyes at Derek.

“Are you psychic?” Parrish asked her.

“If I was, I would have known sooner than I did that Stiles had bonded.” Lydia tossed a strand of red hair back behind her shoulder.

Parrish inspected Lydia with an appreciative glance before looking up to address the two men in front of him. “Hey, Derek. How’s it going?” Jordan reached his hand forward to shake Derek before turning to John. “Sheriff, how are you, sir?”

The Sheriff greeted him warmly, and the group settled into small chatter for a moment, until Jordan signaled that he needed to return to work.

“I’ll see you later, Lydia. Seriously, please let me know if your mother needs help with that reflooring. I used to help Mr. Javis here in town as a side job all the time.”

“I may take you up on that before I leave for college.”

Parrish hesitated, shooting a look between the three men watching him, before apparently deciding to reach into his pocket and pull out a small notebook. He scribbled his number onto the paper and held it out to Lydia before telling everyone a polite goodbye and heading back to the other assembled deputies.

“You know, Lydia, Parrish is Derek’s age,” Stiles commented drily.

“Well, if you can get someone that much older, I definitely can,” she said with a small push at his shoulder.

“You’re going to MIT even after all that shit about not wanting to move. Think you could do long distance?”

“I could do long distance for that. Plus, I’d have to come back and see my mom at some point.”

“What happened to Aiden?” Stiles asked.

“Boring. My typical go-to arrogant jock. Do you see how beautiful that man is?” she inquired, nodding her heard toward Parrish.

“Oh, he’s hot,” Stiles affirmed before shoot Derek a knowing grin. “I know Derek thinks so too.”

Fuck, they told him.

Stiles swatted Derek on the head and ignored his dad’s raised eyebrow. “Ready to go see mom, dad? We can meet Derek over at the Hales in thirty and still have plenty of time before it starts.”

Talia had insisted, despite the sheriff’s protests, that they throw Stiles and Cora a joint graduation party at the Hale house. Derek had been reluctantly invited to go to Claudia’s grave with Stiles and John beforehand, but he could sense that it was something that they wanted to do together. Just because Derek and Stiles were bonded didn’t mean that there weren't pieces of Stiles that he wasn't quite ready to share yet.

Derek parted ways with the Stilinski’s and made his way into the house to see it expensively and completely decorated with flowers, strands of ribbon, custom-made banners, lanterns, and balloons. The entire scene looked like something out of one of Laura’s Pinterest boards. He was hit with the realization that his family must have really held back at his registration.

Thank Jesus.

He didn’t see Laura, Robbie, Cora, or his parents in the house, but followed a rustling in the kitchen. He only saw his mother, bent over the counter tinkering with something. “What are you doing?” Derek asked his mother curiously as he fiddled with the bracelets on his wrist.

“I’m replacing the picture in this frame. It’s a few years old and now we have Robbie and Stiles, so I felt like we needed to have everyone in it. There,” she said happily as she extended the frame for Derek to see.

He immediately recognized the frame. It was the one in the main room that Isaac had knocked down during Cora’s party last summer—there was a small chip in the corner where it had struck the floor.

That party night felt like an age ago.

The previous picture that had inhabited the frame had been taken at Thanksgiving a couple of years ago of the five of the core Hales. Now, it contained the picture from Laura’s wedding that Stephen had insisted on all of them taking.

“Think that’s a good one?” Talia asked. “I want to put it up next to the prom picture of Stiles and Cora.”

Before he could answer, Derek felt his phone vibrate several times and looked down at a new series of text messages.

 

12:32 PM

Stiles Stilinski

>i love you

>just in case I die in a fiery car crash on the way over there in my baby

>also thank god were going to france soon bc im craving a fucking croissant

>also i beat your high score on startropics last night bitch

 

Derek shook his head and looked back up at his mother who was waiting expectantly. He couldn’t help but smile slightly. “Yeah, mom, it’ll be fine.”

● ● ●


 

“Fare forward, travellers! Not escaping from the past
Into indifferent lives, or into any future;
You are not the same people who left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus”

- The Dry Salvages by T. S. Eliot