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*****

One more mile has been Stiles’s mantra for the last 419 miles. He’s walked some of it, hitched part, and bused the rest. His money had run out somewhere around mile 187, but Stiles is nothing if not crafty. It’s only taken a month to get into the northern part California, where there were more trees than people and more forest land than parking lots. It’s the perfect place to hide out and wait.

When Stiles was fourteen his dad died issuing a run of the mill traffic ticket in downtown Los Angeles. His mom had died three years previous and there wasn’t any else to take Stiles in, so he’d gone into foster care. Some families had been nice; most hadn’t.

Stiles had waited until he’d had some money saved up; not much, but enough for some camping gear, a sturdy bag, a few sets of clothes, and enough left over for a bus ticket north. It had taken two years, but he’d done it and now he’s waiting everything out. If he can make it not even two years on his own, he’ll be eighteen and free from the state’s watch.

The sign on the side of the road reads Welcome to Beacon Hills, and Stiles is so tired and so hungry and aches all over that he decides then that Beacon Hills is good enough for him.

Stiles walks until he sees the town--city, really. It’s small enough to have something of small-town charm, but large enough that he won’t stand out around town as someone new. His stomach rumbles and he pats it sadly, telling it not today, because he needs to set up camp and then walk around the town for a bit to get his baring.

He finds a small open space, just big enough for his tent and a fire-pit. He hopes it’s far enough away from town that no one will see the smoke and come running. For now he doesn’t light anything up--he’s not eating today, it’s an off day--and he needs to make sure that he’s safe where he is, which means a couple of days without a fire to draw attention.

His tent goes up without a hitch and Stiles is sure he could do it in his sleep if needed. It’s almost dusk and the sun is falling in the sky, already hidden by tall trees and hills. Stiles lays out his sleeping bag and inflates his pillow. He secures his tent and slips a knife to his side and stares up at the nylon of his ceiling until he falls asleep.

 

 

Beacon Hills, Stiles finds out in the morning, is full of abandoned buildings. A building is better than the forest and when Stiles finds an abandoned mall, he’s sure he lucked out. It’s huge and even if teenagers go there to hang out and smoke (which Stiles found no evidence of), he could pick an empty store and park it without (too much) fear of discovery.

He spends the rest of the day staking out the mall, carefully listening to hear if anyone comes in or not, but by nightfall it remains empty and Stiles can’t believe his luck.

He sleeps in an empty store that doesn’t look too bad and with a door that locks.

In the morning he retrieves his stuff and sets up camp inside his new home. He has one year and nine months before he’s safe from the state. He falls asleep that night with a smile on his face for the first time in a long time.

 

 

It doesn’t take long for Stiles to scope out the best dumpsters in Beacon Hills. There’s an Italian restaurant on First that dumps more food than Stiles could eat, and a Starbucks on Third that throws out sandwiches whole at the end of the day, no local shelter to give them to. He also manages to scrounge up buckets out of various dumpsters and fills them up in the middle of the night with water from a park three blocks east of where he’s staying. But most importantly he figures out that if he goes to the local high school right after the janitor unlocks it for the day he can steal a shower in the locker room and still have time to leave without notice before anyone else arrives.

Food, water, and shelter are his basic needs, but as the weeks pass, Stiles resigns himself to knowing that he needs more than that. He hides out in the library almost daily, reading whatever passes his fancy, until he notices a cork board near the back entrance. There are sporadic job listings pinned there and Stiles zooms in on the one asking for a yard boy and offering to pay cash.

He yanks it off the board and stares at the words, looking for any sign that this isn’t a job offer for under the table pay. Stiles has a state issued ID card and his birth certificate (filched from his last group home), but he doesn’t have his social security card and even if he did, as soon as he applies for an actual job, he’s pretty sure the state would be flagged somehow.

There’s an address on the bottom of the flyer and it says to ‘come by’ so Stiles heads for the front desk, asks for a map of Beacon Hills and gets to work.

 

 

Mrs. Iverson is well into her eighties and is somehow completely charmed by Stiles. She gives him the job on the spot and plies him with cookies, sandwiches, and homemade lemonade. Stiles has to pace himself on the food even though he eats a little better now thanks to Maggio’s and Starbucks, but he’s still too thin and he tries not to eat everyday so he doesn’t get used to it again. Getting un-used to it was hell the first and second and third time around.

Stiles doesn’t know how to do half the stuff she wants him to do, so he spends his mornings in the library reading landscaping and gardening books before he heads over to Mrs. Iverson’s around lunch. Her yard needs a lot of work and apparently the local neighborhood association has been on her case about it, but it’s only her and she didn’t know how else to go about hiring someone other than posting on a cork board in a library no one but Stiles seems to go to.

It takes almost three weeks to turn her yard into something resembling ‘nice’. By the end of it Stiles thinks he’s probably lost some weight, put on a little muscle, and tanned a bunch. He’s also decided he likes the iced lemon cookies better than the shortbread ones.

When he finally finishes her yard looks better than most on the street and Stiles grins with pleasure as he takes it all in. Honestly he feels a little sad that he’s finished because it kept him busy and put some money in his pockets, but he’s proud of the work he’s done and he has standing bi-monthly visits scheduled to keep up the upkeep.

As he heads back home, he’s stopped before he reaches the end of Mrs. Iverson’s block and before he knows it, he has another offer for some landscaping, and then another, and another.

Stiles has a job.

 

 

He doesn’t go crazy with spending his money. In fact, he rarely spends any of it. He splurged on some new shoes and some new boxers and a couple of tank-tops to wear while working, but he saves the rest. Stiles wants a mattress. Every couple of weeks the Goodwill in town gets a mattress in stock and soon Stiles will buy one--when he figures out how to get it back to his store.

He’s had enough money for a couple of weeks now, but a mattress is awkward to carry and Stiles has no real way of transporting one. An air mattress has been considered, but ultimately Stiles had decided he wants a real mattress, something to make his empty abandoned store a little bit more like home.

There’s a small pile of cleaning supplies Stiles had purchased when he’d first started working and he’d spent a solid weekend just scrubbing down everything in the store until it shined again. He’ll buy some lanterns or something after he gets the mattress, but for now he does everything by candle-light since there are no windows that face outside. He’s thought about moving, but it’s safer this way.

Eventually he decides he’ll just have to bite the bullet and pull it home. He goes it close to closing and buys it. His own mattress. He waits outside with it until the store closes and it gets dark. The shopping cart he…borrowed…is still where he left it and Stiles awkwardly heaves the mattress on top of it and starts off on the convoluted way home he’d plotted out earlier--it’s a way that keeps him off main roads and hidden from houses as much as possible.

It takes a few hours to walk back, but it’s worth it when he sleeps on a real mattress for the first time in half a year.

 

 

Just before Stiles turns seventeen, trouble finds him in the form of Derek Hale.

 

 

Stiles meets Derek in the woods. There’s a lake about a mile in that Stiles likes to go swimming in. It’s popular in the summer, Stiles knows, but in the fall there’s hardly anyone around. Less people is always good for Stiles because it means less questions. He’s more or less known around town as the yard boy, but as all of his clients pay him under the table, none seem keen on asking him too many questions. Stiles prefers it that way as he’s never been one for lying.

It’s late in November when Stiles heads out to the lake. It’s been raining off and on, but it’s not that cold and Stiles thinks that must be a perk of California, even northern California. He’s not far enough north to get snow, another perk to Beacon Hills.

He finds Derek sprawled out and bleeding on the path to the lake.

Stiles crouches down and gently shakes him. “Hello?”

The man remains silent and Stiles takes the opportunity to push up his t-shirt to get a better look at where the blood is coming from. There are claw marks across his abdomen slowly oozing blood.

Stiles pats around for a wallet and flips to the driver’s license. “Derek Hale,” he reads. He reaches in his backpack and pulls out the single bottle of water he’d packed for the trip. Stiles squirts a little bit on Derek’s face because he doesn’t have too many other options. He has no cell phone and if Derek has one it’s not in a place accessible to Stiles.

Derek moves his hand, batting at his face and weakly knocking Stiles away from him. “Stoppit Laura,” he slurs, not opening his eyes.

“Dude, I’m not Laura,” Stiles informs him. “Do you have a cell phone?”

“Phone?” Derek mumbles. He finally opens his eyes and reels back as soon as he sees Stiles. It must have really hurt to do that by the way Derek hisses and curls around his stomach.

“To call an ambulance,” Stiles says slowly. “You’re bleeding pretty badly, dude.”

“Don’t call me ‘dude’,” Derek grumbles and sits up slowly. “I don’t need an ambulance.”

Stiles shoots him a doubtful look. “You were mauled by a freaking cougar or something, Derek. You need medical attention. And maybe psychiatric help because normal people would be all over an ambulance being called.”

“I’m fine,” Derek snaps and then winces.

“You look fine,” Stiles agrees. “Very fine. In such fine shape that you could run a marathon right now if asked.” He rolls his eyes. “Seriously, you need to get those looked at.”

“Did you see anyone else?” Derek asks.

Stiles blinks. “Um… No? Was someone else with you when you were mauled? Did they get mauled, too? Oh my god, is this a multiple mauling?”

Derek stares at him. “What?”

“I don’t know!” Stiles says, throwing his hands up. “You’re bleeding all over and resisting medical attention and asking if I’ve seen someone else and also, dude, I’m pretty sure I can see your spleen or something because those claw marks are deep.”

“My spleen is on the other side,” Derek tells him. “And I was by myself.”

“Wait, really? Your spleen is on the other side?” Stiles frowns. “I could haves sworn--”

“Really,” Derek cuts in. “You should go home, it’s not safe out here.”

Stiles eyes him. “This is Beacon Hills, dude. I’m pretty sure the only bad thing that ever happens here is when Mr. Johnson’s dog gets loose and tries to hump Mrs. Watson’s golden retriever.”

“Don’t call me ‘dude’,” Derek repeats with a glare. “And plenty of bad things have happened, just because you live in your happy suburban life doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen.”

“Uh-huh,” Stiles says doubtfully. He knows bad things happen. His whole life is proof of that, but he’s pretty sure Derek doesn’t care or need to know about any of it. “Is your car around here? I can at least help you to it if you intend on being a stubborn dumbass about this.”

“I’m fine, just…go,” Derek tells him. He drags himself towards the edge of the path, far enough to lean against a tree.

Stiles finds himself shrugging out of his sweatshirt, setting it on top of his backpack. He pulls his shirt off over his head, aware that Derek is watching every move he makes. Stiles approaches slowly. He pours water onto his shirt and then reaches out and presses it carefully to Derek’s side. “I’m Stiles,” he says quietly.

Derek coughs a little and leans his head back to look up at Stiles’s face. “Stiles?”

“Stiles,” he repeats firmly. “It’s not as though anybody names themselves, okay?”

Derek shifts painfully and reaches around to his back pocket. He pulls out a cell phone that looks to be in way better shape than Derek is. He presses a button and the screen comes to life. Blood smears across the plastic and Derek scowls at it and then pushes it against Stiles’s chest. “Call my…” he hesitates. Derek exhales, “My mom,” he says finally.

Stiles scrolls down contacts to find ‘Mom’ and presses call. He puts it on speaker so Derek can talk if he wants to.

“Hey, baby boy,” a woman answers, the smile in her voice evident. Derek looks pained at the greeting, but doesn’t say anything.

“Um,” Stiles clears his throat. “Hi, is this Mrs. Hale? Derek was kind of attacked in the forest and he’s refusing an ambulance and said to call you but if you could talk him into the ambulance that would be great, because he’s kind of bleeding all over the place.”

“Where?” she asks, and Stiles can hear a car starting in the background.

“You know the path to the lake?” Stiles asks, and she makes an affirmative noise. “We’re on that, about ten minutes in. Uh, should I be calling an ambulance?”

“His father is a doctor, dear,” Mrs. Hale says kindly. “Derek has an…aversion to hospitals. I’ve already let his father know to meet us there. If I may, who am I talking to?”

Stiles glances at Derek, who is actually looking better than he did when Stiles found him unconscious. He’s also drinking Stiles’s water. “I’m Stiles,” he answers. “I was on my way to the lake when I found Derek and I stopped to help.”

“That’s quite kind of you,” Mrs. Hale says. “So, Derek is conscious? Derek, dear, can you hear me?”

“Yeah,” Derek mutters.

“How bad is it?”

“I’m fine,” Derek repeats grumpily.

Stiles blanches. “Dude, you’re bleeding out everywhere! My shirt will never be the same! I think you need to redefine your definition of fine.”

Derek shoots Stiles a betrayed look for whatever reason and says again, “I’m fine, mom.”

Then Mrs. Hale laughs. She laughs. It’s not a huge belly laugh or anything, just a light chuckle, but still. Her son is bleeding out all over the forest and she’s laughing at him. Or Stiles. Or possibly both of them. “I’m sure you are, child,” she says, and Stiles can hear the mirth in her voice.

A few seconds later a man comes running up the path, “Derek!”

“There’s Derek’s father,” Mrs. Hale says. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

The phone call ends and Derek’s father comes to a halt next to them, taking in the scene. He kneels down next to Derek and gently pulls Stiles’s hand away to get a better look at the wound.

Stiles squints at it, because it looks…definitely not half as bad as it did ten minutes ago when this whole thing started. In fact, it barely looks like a few scratches and not the deep gouges that Stiles is certain he saw. And he’s not wrong, he knows, because there is blood everywhere. No way did the scratches Derek has now bleed as much blood as there is.

Derek shifts a bit as his father pulls at what’s left of his shredded shirt. For a second Stiles swears he saw black lines on Derek’s dad’s arm, but then they’re gone and Derek is pushing himself to his feet.

Stiles blinks and then shakes his head because it’s not the first time he’s hallucinated, even if this time there’s evidence saying he didn’t. He grabs his hoodie and slips his arms through it, standing up himself and slinging his backpack over his shoulder. His shirt is still bloody and in his hands, but Derek reaches over and takes it from him.

A woman comes jogging up and from the way she pulls Derek into a hug, it can only be his mom. Stiles isn’t sure how old Derek is, but Derek looks relieved and relaxed when his mother hugs him. He doesn’t fight it like other people his age might. Stiles wouldn’t, but Stiles hasn’t been hugged in years and sometimes late at night he hugs himself in bed, aching and wishing it were someone else.

Stiles slowly backs away, because it’s become a family affair and Stiles isn’t family. He’s almost out of sight when Derek’s father catches up to him. “Wait!” he calls.

Awkwardly Stiles waits for him and wishes he’d been just a little bit faster to slip away.

“Thank you,” Mr. Hale offers. “For helping Derek.”

“It’s no problem,” Stiles answers, because doing otherwise hadn’t even occurred to him really.

“I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself earlier,” he says, holding out a hand. “I’m Jon, Derek’s father. And you’re…Stiles? Was it?”

He nods and shakes Jon’s hand. “Stiles, yeah. Nice to meet you.”

Jon reaches out with his other hand and clasps Stiles’s between them. “Please, come to dinner tonight. Or tomorrow night, if you’re busy. We can’t begin to repay you for helping Derek, but this could be a start.”

Stiles is already shaking his head. “Oh no, no payment required. I’m a payment free person. Just someone doing their good deed for the day.”

“Please,” Jon repeats earnestly. “I’m sure Talia, my wife, would love to thank you properly as well. Derek is… He’s our youngest, and just… Please.”

“Um.” Stiles blinks and tries to think of a way out of it but his mother had raised him to be polite and Jon looks incredibly hopeful for whatever reason. “Sure, I guess,” he says finally.

Jon lights up. “Tonight?” he asks. “Or is tomorrow better?”

“I think tomorrow,” Stiles says. Today is a light snack only kind of day. Tomorrow he was scheduled for some dumpster diving or maybe a cheap burger from the closest fast food place.

“Tomorrow, then,” Jon grins. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a business card, handing it over. “Our address is on the front and that’s my cell phone number if you need to get a hold of me. Is six o’clock okay?”

Stiles finds himself nodding as he pockets the card. “Six. Sure.”

Jon hesitates and then leans in and gives him a quick hug. “Thank you again, Stiles. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow night for dinner.”

Later Stiles tries hard to remember what that hug had felt like, but he comes up empty and he can’t help but be jealous of Derek and his hug-supplying parents.

 

 

The Hales live in the forest about a mile and a half from the road. The bus stops a mile from where their road even starts, but Stiles had looked everything up before going, so he knew he was in for a bit of a walk. He thinks about maybe buying a bicycle to get around on, but for now he has to walk where the buses don’t run. It’s not as though one would run to the front door of the Hale’s house anyway.

When he finally spots a house, it’s less of a house and more of a mansion. It’s huge and three stories tall. There are a few other buildings around it. A garage, Stiles thinks, and what looks like a greenhouse, and a few other places that Stiles hesitates to call cottages, but cottages fit’s the description. Despite the garage, there are--Stiles counts twelve cars parked in front of the house.

He wonders exactly how many people live there and suddenly he feels really self-conscious. His mother had taught him never to show up empty handed, so he’d splurged on a cheap, but nice looking store bought cake from a grocery store on his way there. He hopes that wherever she is, she’s proud of him for trying to live up to the things she taught him. His father, too.

The cake feels heavy in his hands after walking for two and a half miles and his palms feel sweaty. His jeans seem cheap and Stiles is suddenly worried that he still smells like the Goodwill he bought his shirt from.

He doesn’t know what he’s doing there. The Hales are obviously rich and Stiles has almost nothing but a mattress to his name. He lives in an abandoned shopping mall and mows lawns for whatever amount of living he actually does.

As he gets closer, he can hear people inside. There’s laughter--a lot of laughter. Kids are squealing, followed by an adult voice telling them not to run in the kitchen.

This is a family.

Stiles feels out of place even as his feet move him closer. Part of him wants to run. They have no way of finding him, no way of trying to make him go to another dinner, but he’s tired after walking two and a half miles and he’s hungry. The worst part about living in the mall is the lack of electricity. Even if Stiles could afford a mini-fridge or a microwave, he has no way of plugging them in. Generators are way more than Stiles will probably ever be able to afford. He’s limited to keeping food on hand that doesn’t need to be chilled or heated and that won’t rot if it sits out all day.

As he walks past the first row of cars, the front door flies open and three kids run out of it. They dart past him without a second glance and Stiles feels invisible all over again.

“You just gonna stand there?”

Stiles snaps his head up to find Derek leaning in the doorway. He looks a lot better than yesterday and now that he’s not bleeding all over, he looks…mildly attractive. Stiles gapes at all the muscles trying to make their way out of Derek’s t-shirt.

Derek rolls his eyes and stalks across the front yard to relieve Stiles of his cake burden. He glances down at it and says, “Thanks.”

“Maybe it’s not for you,” Stiles shoots back.

Derek rolls his eyes and leads him up towards the house. He disappears inside, leaving Stiles to follow at will. The cake seems small now that Stiles knows there are so many Hales afloat. In the store it had seemed huge for four people, maybe five if Laura is a sister and not a girlfriend.

He takes the last step into the house and is struck by how warm it looks and feels. People live here, he thinks. It looks expensive and like a mansion from the outside, but inside there are a few toys strewn out and shoes at the end of couches and under the coffee table.

“You made it,” Jon says from his left. He smiles and Stiles wonders what it’s like to be so perpetually happy the way Jon seems to be.

“Thanks for inviting me,” Stiles says politely. He looks around for Derek but doesn’t spot him. There are three other adults in the living room, talking about something that Stiles can’t here. “Derek looks better.”

“He’s a quick healer,” Jon says. “It wasn’t as bad as all the blood made it out to be. A few stitches and he was good to go. Had to fight to keep him home from work today, though. Kid’s stubborn as hell.”

Stiles remembers Derek refusing an ambulance and nods in agreement. “He seems to be.”

Jon slings an arm across Stiles’s shoulder and leads him into the living room. He gives Stiles an apologetic look. “There’s kind of a lot of us, and none of us expect you to remember our names by the end of the night, but I’m going to introduce you around anyway. If you forget a name, just ask, no harm no foul.” Then he points to people and starts listing off names and how they’re related to Derek.

Stiles has always been good with names and it takes a little more concentration than he’d used to exerting to get himself to remember them all.

When Jon finishes, Stiles has been directed through most of the house so he could be introduced to people wherever they were. He has twenty-three names in his head by the end of it all and for some reason he doesn’t want to mess up with them.

“Dinner!” he hears called from downstairs.

Jon leads him back downstairs and into a room they hadn’t gone into, probably because no one was in it. It turns out to be their dining room and it takes up the entire backside of the first floor. The longest dining room table Stiles has ever seen in real life is stretched from one end of the room to the other with comfortable looking seats (and two high-chairs) spread out around it. The chairs aren’t squished together, giving the impression that there’s always room for more.

It seems to be a free-for-all where you sit where you want to. Stiles watches as people clamber into seats without breaking conversation. Babies are loaded into high-chairs and kids too tall to see over the table and placed into booster seats.

There’s food already on the table and drinks are being passed around and brought out of the kitchen. Stiles can’t actually believe how much food is on the table and he wonders if they eat like this every night of if it’s special because of him. He doesn’t think it’s special, Stiles isn’t special, but he can’t imagine that every night there is a feast worth of Thanksgiving.

Jon leads him into a seat near the end with Derek on his right. Jon takes the seat on Stiles’s left while Derek’s mom settles next to him at the head of the table.

There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to how or when people load up their plates. Stiles accepts every dish Derek passes to him and puts a little bit of everything on his plate. When the plating frenzy seems to die down, Stiles glances at Derek’s plate to find it almost overflowing with food, and everyone else’s pretty much the same. In comparison Stiles’s food takes up about half of his plate and he felt awkward enough about taking that much.

Everyone seems to be waiting for some sort of signal to begin eating but Stiles thinks he missed it looking at Derek’s plate again because soon enough everyone is digging in.

Stiles pokes at the food he doesn’t recognize and he pokes at the food he does. He hasn’t had a home-cooked meal since his second foster home. He digs his fork into the mashed potatoes and savors it slowly.

The taste overwhelms him for a moment, because it tastes so much like what his mom used to make. He’s hit with grief and pain that he’ll never have hers again. He chokes down another bite, trying to reign his emotions in because a breakdown at the dinner table is the last thing he needs.

After a few minutes of the sound of eating, conversation seems to resume everywhere. Soon it’s almost like Stiles is at camp again with the long tables and the sound of talking filling up the room.

When Stiles looks up, he finds Talia staring at him with a friendly expression. She smiles and says, “Tell us a little about yourself, Stiles. I don’t believe I’ve seen you around town before. Are you new?”

Stiles shrugs a little and swallows the cauliflower he’s been attempting to chew. He’d never had it before and it turns out he doesn’t really like it at all. “I’ve been here for about, uh, seven months.”

“Did you move here with your parents?” she asks.

“Just me,” Stiles answers quietly.

Talia frowns a little at that but doesn’t ask his age, and Stiles doesn’t offer. “Are you working? Or still in school?”

“I’ve been doing some yard work around town,” Stiles says. “It keeps me busy.”

“Oh, you should talk to Sean,” she smiles. “He’s the one with the green thumb around here. We grow a lot of our own vegetables and fruits thanks to him. He owns a nursery in town.”

“Greenwinds?” Stiles asks.

“That’s the one,” Jon confirms. “You been there?”

Stiles nods. “I was there a few days ago getting some new stuff for Mrs. Henderson’s yard.”

“Do you enjoy gardening?” Talia asks. “Or is it more of just a job?”

“I like it enough,” Stiles says with a shrug. “You’re not always lucky enough to do what you love in life to get by.”

“Too true,” Talia nods. “My kids have all been fortunate enough to pursue their passions, but I know not everyone has the choice.”

Jon glances past Stiles to Derek. “Take Derek here,” he says.

“Dad,” Derek grumbles.

“Hush,” Jon tells him. “Derek was twelve when he came to us and said he knew what he wanted to do for a living, and we’ve done everything we can to make that happen.”

Stiles glances at Derek. “Let me guess… You’re a human grumpy cat model.”

From further down the table a woman bursts out laughing and says loudly, “He’s got your number, Der!”

Derek’s parents both laugh while Derek shoots glares at everyone and slumps down into his seat. “I’m a pastry chef,” he harumphs. “I make wedding cakes.”

“Is that why you’re so grumpy?” Stiles asks. “Because you have to deal with engaged couples all the time?”

Talia chuckles. “Derek came out frowning when he was born,” she says. “He was about a month and a half early and I don’t think he ever got over not being able to stay in the womb longer.”

Derek huffs next to him but doesn’t deny it. Stiles tries not to laugh at the idea that Derek has a permanent grudge against his pre-born self. He pats Derek on the arm and says, “It’s cool, man, we all have our hang ups.”

“It’s not a hang up,” Derek denies and with that he dives back into his dinner, clearly done with the conversation.

“Oh,” Stiles remembers suddenly. “Now the cake I brought feels really inadequate.”

Talia smiles at him warmly and says, “No, dear. It’s perfect.”

It’s late when he finally escapes the Hales. They’d roped him into board games he hadn’t played in years and wouldn’t let him leave without a promise that he’d be back next week for dinner.

So it’s almost eleven when Derek stands up and says he’ll walk him out. Stiles isn’t really looking forward to walking back in the dark, and he’s not even sure the buses run this late, so he might end up crashing in a park he saw along the way.

Derek follows him down off the porch and Stiles zips up his hoodie to try and fight off the November chill. “Thanks,” Derek says finally. “For helping me.”

“You’re welcome,” Stiles smiles. “Thanks for dinner. It was nice meeting everyone. Your family seems really nice.”

“They are,” Derek mutters. He looks away from Stiles and out over the various cars. He squints a little and says, “I don’t see yours.”

Stiles shoves his hands into his pockets. “I walked,” he tells Derek. “I don’t have a car. I took the bus to the closest stop and hoofed it the rest of the way.”

Derek eyes him and then says, “Wait here,” and disappears into the house. He’s back a minute later with keys jingling in his grip. “I’ll drive you,” he says heading for a shiny black sports car that’s not blocked in.

For a moment Stiles is frozen, his brain whirring at a hundred miles an hour until he remembers that there’s an apartment building a couple of blocks down from the mall. He can have Derek drop him off there.

Derek’s car--if it is his car and not another family member’s--screams money as much as everything else did today. Stiles feels inadequate again and tugs at his sleeves, pulling then down over his hands.

The drive is silent except for Stiles handing out directions. There might have been a shorter way to get to where the apartment building is, but Stiles doesn’t know the area Derek lives in that well and he’s amazed he managed to direct them out of it and in the right direction at all.

“This is me,” Stiles says quietly as Derek pulls up to the front of the building.

Derek nods. “See you next week,” he says.

When Stiles reaches the door to the apartment building, Derek pulls away from the curb and drives off. Stiles waits until his taillights disappear around a corner before he heads off to his mall.

 

 

Somehow dinner at the Hales becomes a weekly thing. Stiles finds out that they really do eat that way all the time (or at least every time Stiles has eaten with them) and that’s kind of weird, but cool.

Derek is sort of his favorite Hale, no matter how much funnier his siblings or cousins are. He’s grumpy in a sullen, hurt kind of way. He’s not the youngest in the Hale house by far, but he’s…coddled a little. He’s protected. There’s a fragility to him that the other Hales don’t have and Stiles wonders what happened to make him that way.

Stiles hasn’t had someone to mollycoddle since his dad died and Derek takes to it with grouchy aplomb.

The Hales are also all really touchy-feely. Stiles is pretty sure they’re trying to warm him up to actual hugs and stuff, but Stiles wouldn’t mind one now. Even Derek is sure to swipe a hand across Stiles’s back or arm sometime during the night. Stiles feels warm when it happens, like maybe he belongs just for a little while.

He gets sick sometime in December. It probably wasn’t the best idea to be trimming hedges in the rain, but Mr. Marcus had begged because his brother or something was coming in for the holidays and his yard looked terrible (but it doesn’t really, Mr. Marcus is just a perfectionist.)

Stiles actually has money for cold meds this time, but the idea of trekking all the way into town to go to the store is too gargantuan to even face. Instead he hides out in his sleeping bag, hoping he has enough water to make it through this.

When he finally surfaces--he’s not sure how many days later--there are 22 missed calls on his pay-as-you-go phone that the Hales insisted he needed, and 42 text messages. He figures he missed dinner.

He texts back to Talia that he’s sorry he missed dinner, he’s been sick, but he’s better now. Not even a minute later he receives back an offer of chicken soup. And while Stiles would like nothing more than to be eating chicken soup right now, he’s not up to pretending he lives in the apartment building, especially since she’d probably want to come in. He sends back a ‘no, but thank you’.

Generally Stiles uses the public bathrooms in the park, but he has something rigged up a few stores over for if he can’t make it there in time and it takes all he has to stumble that far to relieve his bladder. The drains in the bathrooms here still work, but without water to wash it down, they generally smell for a little while after--something Stiles learned the hard way-- so it’s usually worth the extra steps to another bathroom, but when he’s finished this time he doesn’t have the energy to make it back.

He slides down a wall and decides to rest for a few minutes.

He startles awake and it takes a few seconds to get his bearings. Scrubbing a hand over his face, he wearily stands up, leaning against the wall. It’s hard to tell passage of time in the mall and Stiles’s watch is back with the rest of his stuff, but from the way his body aches, he’s pretty sure he’d been sleeping for a while.

There are more missed calls and texts when he makes it back to his store. Talia sounds increasingly worried with each one and even Derek, who isn’t a big phone person to begin with, has texted a few times asking if he’s alright.

The last one from Derek reads: I’m coming to get you. It was sent ten minutes ago which means Derek will be outside the apartment building in about two minutes with the way he drives. Stiles couldn’t make it that far even if he left now.

I’m fine, he texts back. Not there right now anyway.

Tell me where you are, Derek answers. We’re worried. Mom made you soup anyway.

I’m fine, Stiles says again. Maybe he’s picking up Derek’s bad habits. Planning on going back to sleep now.

His phone beeps a couple more times after that but Stiles doesn’t check it. He knows he needs to get more water and some kind of food, because the granola bars he has on hand aren’t going to feel good against his sore throat, but while he feels better, at least not feverish, he feels generally weak still.

“Fuck my life,” Stiles mutters as he lays down again. He tells himself just one more nap and then he’ll venture back out into the world.

This time when he wakes back up, he has no idea where he is. He’s in an actual bed and there are windows to his right. The room is decorated but empty of personal items, the way a guest room is.

Someone knocks softly on the door before opening it. Talia is there, with Jon who is carrying a tray of food. They both look incredibly sad and disappointed and Stiles gets a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach, one that says this isn’t a dream or a fever-induced hallucination.

Jon sets the tray down on the bedside table by Stiles and Stiles’s stomach rumbles at the sight of food.

Talia smiles sadly, “Go ahead, dear,” she says, gesturing to the soup and plate of fruit they brought him.

They take a seat at the foot of Stiles’s bed, one on either side, as Stiles eats. The door opens again when Stiles is halfway through his soup and Derek enters without knocking. Talia and Jon both try to shoo him out, but Derek frowns and crosses his arms over his chest and Talia sighs but eventually nods.

Stiles can’t remember the last time he had fruit and it tastes delicious as he digs into the bowl of it on his tray.

Talia makes a soft, hurt noise, and it sounds so weird coming from the person who is clearly the matriarch of the house. “Stiles,” she says gently.

Stiles shoves another piece of fruit in his mouth and doesn’t look up.

The bed dips next to him and since no one at the foot of the bed has moved, Stiles can only assume it’s Derek. A warm solid arm wraps around his shoulders and Derek scoots in until Stiles is mashed up against him. He turns his head a little and presses his face into Derek’s shirt. Derek’s other arm comes up around him and Stiles can’t breathe in the best way.

“You’re ours now,” Derek says gruffly. “We won’t turn you over. Just…be ours, okay?”

“I’m seventeen,” Stiles says, because he has to.

“We know,” Talia says. “Derek brought your stuff back with him and we found your birth certificate. We’re keeping you anyway.”

Stiles sniffs. “Okay,” he whispers.

The tray on his lap is moved and he finds himself in a group hug with Derek and his parents and no one lets go until Stiles does first.

 

 

For the first few days, Stiles feels lost. They let him pick which room in the house he wants for himself and Stiles picks one with a balcony and its own bathroom, which isn’t even the most extravagant of the bunch. But it’s his now, just his. Derek and Laura bug him about painting it a color he likes instead of the neutral beige it currently is. Peter talks about switching out the furniture to something more to Stiles’s taste. Talia and her sister Emily keep asking about things like curtains and sheets and towel colors.

And Stiles just feels lost.

When he was younger, you couldn’t pay him to shut up, but now Stiles isn’t much for talking. He still can’t stop himself from jiggling his leg or tapping his fingers, but his ADD doesn’t express itself so verbally anymore, though Stiles wonders if it was possibly a lack of people to talk to.

Either way, he takes to silently following Derek around. At first Derek had eyed him but hadn’t said anything, then he tried to convince Stiles to hang out with his parents or his siblings, and now, day four, he seems to have just accepted it.

Stiles is there in the morning when Derek leaves for work, standing silently by his Camaro. Derek rolls his eyes but unlocks his door and lets him in. He sits silently in the corner of the bakery all day, just watching Derek work.

He thinks he’s in shock, maybe. If shock is something that makes you follow around someone who barely tolerates you without speaking a word all day.

He doesn’t sleep well at night. There are too many unknowns in his situation right now. He knows the Hales, but he doesn’t know the Hales. He doesn’t know why they would take him in, why they would house him and feed him and (if Laura had her way) clothe him. They’re good people, he knows that, but good people generally just donate into the bucket outside shops at Christmas time. Good people don’t take in homeless kids off the street, that’s more the stuff of saints.

Stiles thinks he could ask Derek. Derek would give him short, concise answers. He could ask Talia or Jon, too, but they’re too much like parents and Stiles isn’t ready for that yet.

Derek’s room is on a different floor than Stiles’s is and the floor creaks with every step he takes towards it. When he finally gets there, Derek opens the door before Stiles can knock and gestures him in. He doesn’t seem to mind that it’s after midnight and he has work the next day. In fact, it looks as though Derek was still up, also. His computer is on and so is one of the lamps in his room.

One of Derek’s cousins--Amelia, age nine--is curled up on Derek’s bed sleeping. It’s kind of weird, but Stiles shrugs it away. The Hales are all strangely close and Stiles has seen any number of them asleep on top of another one in the living room.

Stiles looks around until he spots a notebook on Derek’s desk. He grabs it and scribbles, will it wake her up if we talk?

“No,” Derek answers quietly. “Just don’t yell or anything.”

Stiles nods and paces quietly in front of where Derek has sat down in a rolly chair near his desk. “Why did you take me in?” he asks.

“You’re ours,” Derek answers simply, as though that solves everything.

“I’m just this kid,” Stiles says, running a hand through his too long hair.

Derek shrugs. “Ours.”

“Should I be…” Stiles bites his lip. “Should I be earning my keep somehow?”

For a moment Stiles swears that Derek’s eyes flash gold, but then it’s gone as quickly as it came. “No,” he growls out. “There is no ‘earning your keep’ necessary.”

“I didn’t mean--I just meant like… I can do dishes or something. I can cook. Or-or babysit,” Stiles gets out. “Not-not something else.”

“You’re seventeen,” Derek says. “Be seventeen. Don’t worry about anything else.”

Stiles tries not to sound bitter as he laughs. “I don’t know if I can remember what that’s like.”

“Learn,” Derek tells him. “Heal.”

“I don’t want your family to get in trouble for letting me stay here.”

“Mom’s working on adoption papers with Aunt Lila.”

Stiles stops pacing to stare at Derek. “What?”

“Aunt Lila works for the state,” Derek says. “She has an in. She’s also seeing about emancipation if you want that instead, but that’s a little harder to swing since you don’t have a living income and you’re not currently enrolled in school. I think Peter’s offered to home-school you, if you want. Or there’s online classes.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, too surprised to manage much else.

“Mom has been trying to talk to you about it, but you’ve been kind of avoiding her,” Derek says, with just a hint of accusation. “We want you to stay, Stiles.”

Stiles licks his lips and tries out, “Stiles Stilinski Hale.”

Derek smiles, and it’s soft and warm, just for Stiles. He stands up and tugs Stiles into a hug and at that moment, Derek is his favorite person in the world.

 

 

The talk with Talia and Jon goes one hundred percent not the way Stiles expected it to. For one, he finds out that they’re mostly all werewolves with a few exceptions. For another, just. Werewolves.

Mother-fucking werewolves.

That kind of explains the touching and the cuddling and all the food and possibly other strange things Stiles has noticed but put off as nothing.

“Hey.” Stiles looks up to see Derek in his doorway. “Mom said she told you.”

Stiles nods. “She gave me a book.”

Derek hesitates, “Can I come in?” Stiles nods and Derek walks in and hesitantly sits on the edge of the bed near Stiles. Close enough to reach out and touch, far enough away for some personal space. “Did she offer to turn you?”

“Yes,” Stiles says quietly, looking down at his hands. “She said I’m Pack either way. That my answer won’t change anything; I’m always welcome here.”

“Are you going to?” Derek asks.

“Not yet,” Stiles answers. “Not now, anyway. Maybe in the future… But I don’t know, Derek. It’s kind of a lot to take in, you know?” He pauses. “Do you want me to?”

“Yes,” Derek answers softly. Stiles almost can’t hear him. “But it doesn’t matter what I want,” he continues. “You’re Pack either way, Stiles.”

Stiles leans forward so he can rest his forehead against Derek’s shoulder. He rubs his face there for a few seconds, scent-marking as Talia called it. Derek makes a quiet noise of approval and reaches up to cup the back of Stiles’s neck.

Derek turns his head and presses a soft kiss to the side of Stiles’s forehead. His breath ghosts along Stiles’s ear as he whispers so quietly, “Mine.”

And Stiles doesn’t know what that means, but he agrees anyway. “Yours.”

 

 

After Stiles is there for a few weeks, Derek takes him hiking alone. Generally when they hike there are cousins or uncles or aunts along with them, but this time it’s just the two of them.

When they reach the summit, Derek stops and sits down at a rock, his feet hanging over the edge of the cliff they’re on. He eyes Stiles as Stiles carefully sits down next to him. Stiles has never been known as the most coordinated person around.

“It’s almost Christmas,” Derek says.

A few more days and it will be. Stiles’s first Christmas with people he likes--loves, even. He went with Laura and Ryan (one of Derek’s cousins who’s actually older than Derek) to the mall last week and tried to get something small for everyone with the little money he had.

“Yep,” Stiles nods, leaning his head sideways to rest on Derek’s shoulder.

They sit there in silence for a while. Stiles matches his breathing to Derek’s and their chests move at the same time. It’s cold outside, but the Hales had bundled him up well before letting him out of the house. Derek has on just a t-shirt and his leather jacket and the jacket isn’t even zipped up. Stiles feels a bit like a marshmallow man next to him.

“When I…” Derek huffs. “When I was fifteen, I met this girl. Kate.” The way he says her name make Stiles’s heart break. “She was older. I thought I loved her. I was young and stupid and she…she turned out to be a hunter and she tried to kill my family and that’s-that’s why…everything.”

Stiles turns his head and kisses Derek’s shoulder through his jacket. “How much older?” he asks.

“She was twenty-three,” Derek answers clinically. “I was in therapy for a long time. It took me two years to say the word rape in conjunction with what she did. I’m not… I’ll never be like I was before.”

This time Stiles kisses Derek’s cheek, his skin prickly cold from the winter chill. “Have you dated at all since then? Do you date?”

“No,” Derek says. “I’m…” He seems to choke on the words. “I don’t think that’s something I can do anymore. I’m messed up, Stiles. And it’s just how I am now.”

Stiles turns himself in towards Derek, stealing body heat and touches. He slips a hand under Derek’s shirt and lets his palm soak in the warmth. Squeezing his eyes shut, so he doesn’t have to look at anything, Stiles starts to talk.

He tells Derek about how the first couple of foster homes were nice, but couldn’t take care of him for long. He talks about being shuffled around until all he had left of his own was a battered picture of his parents together. Stiles tells him about an older kid at his fourth home who pushed him around and got him into trouble, blaming him for things Stiles didn’t do.

And then he tells Derek about his fifth home. About how it doesn’t matter how many lectures on bad touch you receive, because once it’s happening to you, it’s hard to find a way out. He talks about how he wanted to die and be with his parents. About how no one cared. About the way he hurt night after night.

Then he tells Derek about running away, about saving what he could and making a run for it. The rest stops and the endless walking and being so cold, so hungry.

When he finishes, his legs are over Derek’s lap and Derek is cradling Stiles against him. Warm tears have soaked into Stiles’s hair and Derek is rocking them both back and forth and Stiles isn’t sure whose benefit it’s for, but he likes it.

Derek says, “Mine, mine, mine,” over and over, and he sounds as broken as Stiles feels.

He doesn’t really know what it means to be Derek’s. It’s not sexual, it never has been, and Derek is more like a brother, more like family, than a potential love interest. Not that Stiles is ready for any kind of love interest. He’s still trying to put the pieces of his life back together, still trying to sleep all the way through the night.

Stiles lets himself sink into Derek’s grip. He lets Derek hold them both together for a little while. And that’s when he feels it. A slight tug in his chest, wrought with grief and pain and love. Then he feels more. Like tiny little threads straight into his heart.

Bonds, he thinks. Pack bonds. Talia said this might happen. That when Stiles has completely accepted his place in the Pack, they’ll form. One for each of the Hales. He touches one, carefully. Not the big one that he thinks is probably Derek, but a smaller, still bright one. He immediately receives a pulse of warm motherly feeling. Talia, then, or maybe Emily.

Stiles slowly goes through all of them, testing, gently tugging. The Pack responds in kind, sending bursts of goodwill and peace and love towards him.

He saves Derek’s for last.

He doesn’t tug on Derek’s bond so much as try to stroke it gently. Derek mews a little and tugs Stiles in closer. His bond hurts in a way the others don’t and Stiles thinks it must have to do with the way Derek is hurting now. So he keeps stroking it, just soft pets of love and faithfulness.

They sit there for hours. Their stomachs grumble for a while and then give up. Stiles feels numb, achy, but surrounded by Derek. The sun sets colorfully over the trees until it’s nothing but black everywhere.

When Stiles tilts his head back, he can see thousands of stars, too many to count. He tries for a while, but then stops and enjoys the view.

Derek is quiet now and their bond feels better--less grief and more love. Stiles thinks that between them, the grief won’t ever go away, but it’s quieter now, pushed slightly into the background.

“I love you,” Derek rumbles quietly. Stiles can feel the words vibrate from Derek’s body into his.

Stiles hides his face against Derek’s chest, under his leather jacket, and says, “I love you, too.”

“No one will ever touch you again unless you want them to,” Derek says fiercely.

“Promise?” Stiles asks, and his voice breaks in the middle, but he doesn’t care, not with Derek.

“I swear on my life,” Derek answers. “On everything I am.”

And Stiles believes him. He hugs Derek tight. “Same,” he whispers. “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Derek’s heart pounds underneath Stiles’s ear and he murmurs, “Thank you.”

 

 

They don’t get back to the house until close to one in the morning. Stiles is tired and hungry and cold but somehow it doesn’t feel at all the way it used to. Maybe it’s the knowledge that there’s a bed and food and heat to come, that he has a place to go.

Talia is still up when they arrive, mugs of hot chocolate waiting for them in front of her along with two plates of food. She ushers them into one of the family rooms, the one with a fireplace and Stiles doesn’t sit as near to it as he wants to because Derek never sits close to fire and Stiles would rather be close to him than warm. He eats when Derek nudges at him and tries not to curl protectively around his plate.

He’s become a statistic, he knows, a food hoarder. The whole bottom drawer in his dresser in his room is filled with food and there’s a box with cans and a can opener under his bed. Stiles even has food secreted away in Derek’s room, though Derek has never called him on it and never moves it when he finds it.

“Peter has left a couple of books about Pack bonds outside your door, Stiles,” Talia says warmly. “As you expressed some interest in them when we spoke before.”

Stiles swallows and says, “The one with Derek feels different.”

Talia looks between them and then closes her eyes. Stiles can feel her gently brushing against the bond and he shifts uncomfortably. “Ah,” she says as she opens her eyes. “Jamie and Jason have a similar bond, I’m sure they would answer any questions you have about it.”

Jamie and Jason are Peter’s kids. They’re younger than Stiles by a few years, but are almost as fun as Peter is. They’re also twins.

Derek startles at that information. “A pairbond?”

“I believe so,” Talia nods. “You have consistently and insistently said Stiles is yours, Derek. What did you think that meant?”

Derek just grunts and keeps eating.

Talia doesn’t even try to hide her smirk. She then turns back to Stiles, “I want to warn you, before Christmas, Stiles, that some of the Pack may have gone a little overboard with your gifts this year.”

Stiles blinks. “What?”

“As we have so many people, we generally do a one gift per person from each of us kind of thing,” she explains. “Or sometimes we go in with someone else for something more expensive. But seeing as you have very little, many of the Pack may have indulged their need to…help you.”

“Help me?” Stiles repeats.

Derek sighs and says, “What she’s trying to say is that you’ll probably end up with a horrible amount of clothes and books and movies and stuff because you’re kind of the new baby of the family and we like to spoil the kids.”

Stiles isn’t all that sure he likes being likened to a baby or a kid, but whatever pride he has left aside, he isn’t going to say no to any of that. “Oh.”

“I just felt I should warn you so that you don’t feel as awkward when you end up with more stuff than the others,” Talia says with a smile.

In hindsight, this is probably a little bit Stiles’s fault. Various family members have been making noises for weeks about taking him shopping for anything and everything and Stiles kept putting them off, preferring to hang out with Derek. “It won’t…. The kids wont be jealous or anything?”

Talia’s face softens. “None of the children could be stopped when insisting you needed several things. Shopping with them was…a new experience when it was for you.”

“Oh,” Stiles flushes. The Hales are wealthy and they’ve never hidden that fact, but they don’t really flaunt their wealth either. Their children aren’t spoiled (at least not more than other kids) and the adults don’t wear diamond rings or ten thousand dollar watches or Armani suits. He turns to Derek, “What did you get me?”

“It’s supposed to be a surprise,” Derek says, stabbing at some carrots on his plate. Then he shrugs and says, “I got you a laptop.”

“Derek,” Talia scolds mildly.

Derek sounds unapologetic when he says, “Not everyone likes surprises.”

Stiles doesn’t like surprises. He did, as a kid. But then he grew up and realized that it was better to know what’s coming, what’s next, than to be blindsided. He leans his shoulder against Derek’s in gratitude as he keeps eating.

Talia sighs and says, “You two.” Stiles feels warmth over his bond from Derek, something small and light that he’d hesitantly call joy. “Don’t stay up too late, okay?” She stands up and then leans down to give them both a kiss on the forehead before heading up to her room.

“So,” Stiles says, turning to face Derek. “What kind of laptop?”

Derek seems to think it over and then tells Stiles everything he knows about it while they finish their meals.

 

 

The next day, Stiles learns that culinary schools normally have two tracks--pastry and then the normal culinary arts (non-desserts). He also learns that Derek did both tracts and then an internship in France with…a pastry chef whose name Stiles can’t pronounce, and then another internship back in California before he opened his own bakery in Beacon Hills.

“There can’t really be enough weddings in Beacon Hills to sustain your place, though, right?” he asks from behind the counter. The side not in the kitchen. The reason he learns all that about Derek’s schooling is because Derek kicks him out of the kitchen, politely, and tells him to come back when he had even half of Derek’s experience.

Apparently the kitchen in the Hale house is mostly Derek’s domain. Or at least, when Derek is in there, everyone else makes themselves scarce.

Derek looks up from where he’s prepping food to cook tomorrow for Christmas Eve dinner. “I get customers from all over,” he says.

“What he means,” Laura says, coming up behind Stiles and draping an arm over his shoulders. “Is that Derek is famous enough to get requests from the San Francisco area and beyond. He has another kitchen set up in… Where?”

“Los Altos,” Derek grumbles as he goes back to chopping up something Stiles can’t identify.

“Los Altos,” Laura repeats. “That he bakes out of for Bay Area events. He’s pretty well known in the culinary world at this point.”

“Do you have lots of people who work for you?” Stiles asks. He’s trying to remember if he’s actually seen other people when he goes to work with Derek.

“Isaac,” Derek says. “He delivers for me and works in the front a lot.”

“Blond hair?” Stiles asks. Then he holds his hand up over his head to indicate height. “Tall?”

“Yeah,” Derek answers. “He has school, though, so he’s not always there.”

“You have one worker? Who doesn’t even bake?” Stiles gapes.

“Derek has trouble letting other people touch his stuff,” Laura says with a laugh.

Derek throws a grape at her. “Leave.”

Laura catches the grape and then eats it but she leaves with a wink, giving them the semblance of privacy again.

“Who bakes the other stuff you sell?” Stiles asks curiously.

“I bake everything,” Derek answers. He glances up and then pushes a carton of raspberries towards Stiles.

Stiles pokes at them before shoving a handful in his mouth. He wants to help Derek, but he doesn’t know how to offer his help. He doesn’t want Derek to have to reject him because he’s not good enough.

“You signed up for school?” Derek asks.

“Yeah, Peter got me set up,” Stiles tells him. “It’s kind of one of those go at your own pace ones for injured people. It’s been a while since I was in school so it might…” he trails off. In truth, he’s worried. Stiles remembers liking school before he was shuffled all around the system, reading the same book in English three different times or jumping subjects in math class. He’s worried he wont remember enough to even still be in high school.

“Is it an all day thing?” Derek asks.

“I have to be logged into the module system for at least four hours Monday through Friday,” Stiles says. “But after that it’s up to me if I want to do more.”

Derek nudges the raspberries at him again and Stiles shoves yet another handful into his mouth. He forgets to eat a lot and Derek is always on his case about it. “You could, if you want,” Derek says. “Do your school stuff in the morning and come by the shop in the afternoons. I could teach you how to do some of the easier stuff. Pay you.”

Stiles blinks. “You’d do that for me?”

Derek rolls his eyes. “I’d do anything for you, you idiot.”

“Derek, be nice!” he hears Talia call out from somewhere in the house.

“Come hug me,” Stiles demands. He’s afraid for a second that Derek won’t, but then there he is, coming around the counter. He tugs Stiles into a tight hug and only lets go when Stiles does.

 

 

Talia hadn’t been kidding when she’d warned him about how many presents had his name on them. There are twenty-three people in the house other than Stiles and Stiles probably has about half of the presents. It’s insane. He pushes some onto Derek and makes him help unwrap some, otherwise they’d be there forever.

Talia and Jon gift him with keys to a car that Jon promises to teach him how to drive while Talia promises that he can get his license as soon as they get all the legal stuff for him straightened out. Apparently it’s a car that’s been in the family for a while that no one uses and Stiles wonders what it’s like to be rich enough to have a car that no one uses. It’s his now, he supposes, even though it’s way too much and he tries to give it back. Derek ends up taking the keys and shoving them in his own pocket so that Stiles has to keep them.

He gets clothes and books and bathroom mats and blankets and everything he’d had to leave behind in his old life. And at the very end he gets a large envelope that has all the receipts for everything he’s received in case he legitimately doesn’t like something or something doesn’t fit and he needs to take it back.

Stiles tears up for a second and pushes his face against Derek, letting the cloth of his t-shirt soak up his tears so that nobody can see them even if they can smell them. Then he turns and he goes around giving everyone hugs and pats and as much gratitude as he can offer.

Derek helps him haul everything up to his room. It takes a few trips to get everything, but they manage. The rest of the family is doing the same and Stiles thinks it’ll be time for lunch soon but right now he just wants to lay down with Derek. He makes grabby hands for the werewolf and Derek stops trying to put stuff away and comes and lies down with him.

“Good Christmas so far?” Derek asks, nuzzling at Stiles’s neck.

“Yeah.”

“Did you have any traditions with your family?” Derek asks quietly.

Stiles nods and sinks a hand into Derek’s hair. “Mom made cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Dad liked his with raisins but I liked mine plain, with lots of icing. Then presents, I guess, and lunch. Dad worked a lot on Christmas day, so we saved a more traditional dinner for a couple of days after. Mom and I usually watched movies at night and had frozen pizza for dinner. It’s not much, you know, but it’s… It gets harder and harder to remember everything the older I get.”

“Write it down,” Derek says, his lips moving over Stiles’s skin. “Next year, I’ll make cinnamon rolls.”

“With lots of icing?”

“With lots of icing,” he promises.

“I’m going to hold you to that,” Stiles says. He inhales deeply, smelling Derek and something more uniquely Pack. “Nap?”

Derek rearranges them a little and doesn’t answer, just snuffles into Stiles’s neck and goes to sleep.

 

 

Stiles likes baking with Derek. Really, Stiles likes everything with Derek, but he especially likes baking. He likes it when Derek starts explaining recipes, passion clear in his voice. He likes it when he gets it right, cookies coming out perfect and Derek leans over to give them a look of approval. Stiles even likes working in the front of house when Isaac isn’t there, selling cupcakes and brownies and cookies to random citizens of Beacon Hills.

Most days he brings his laptop with him and is logged in and working during the lulls and sometimes Derek will come over and hook his chin on a shoulder and see what Stiles is doing and Stiles likes that. He likes the intimacy, because Derek is his best friend, his best everything, and he likes that Derek feels free to do those things with him.

Sometimes Stiles just sits there, the way he did before, and watches Derek decorate cakes. Stiles is jealous of all the artistic talent Derek has because Stiles can barely draw stick figures much less anything else, but Derek… He makes elaborate cakes and decorates them with royal icing and fondant and other things Stiles can never remember the name of.

Occasionally Derek lets Stiles practice with cupcakes, making small swirls across a ganache topping. He’ll wrap his hand around Stiles, moving it with his as you would a child. And sometimes Stiles thinks that Derek thinks of him as a child, and he’s surprisingly okay with that. There are times Stiles feels fourteen inside, as though his life has been on pause since his dad died and is only now starting up again. Too often that’s not the case and Stiles remembers everything that’s happened since then. But he likes that Derek helps him, that Derek lets him be a child for just a little while longer instead of forcing him to be his physical age.

Today he’s making cookies while Derek takes a consult with a bride and her sister. The sister--Jennifer--has been sneaking small, subtle glances at Derek throughout the meeting and normally Stiles would feel a tinge of uncomfortableness from Derek along their bond. A feeling of stuck and awkward and scared. Today is different.

When the sister isn’t looking, Derek is glancing back.

As the bride looks over wedding cake sketches, her sister pointing out small details, Derek is unobtrusively looking the sister over. What Stiles feels from him is curiosity. Longing. Nervousness. And a small degree of want.

It makes him want to wrap Derek up and tell him it’s okay to like someone, to think a girl (or boy) is pretty.

While the bride and Derek smooth out details, the sister wanders over to the counter and peruses various baked goods. Stiles walks over from the back and offers a smile. “Would you like to try something? Free of charge.”

Jennifer blinks and says, “Oh, you don’t have to do that.”

“All wedding consults get something,” Stiles says, which is a complete lie, but he’s Derek’s bro, in a matter of speaking, and Derek is never going to say anything so Stiles needs to help him out. “Really,” he insists. “What looks good?”

“Everything,” she says with a quiet laugh, but her eyes land on a brownie near the end and Stiles reaches in and plates it, sliding it across the top of the glass counter. “Thank you,” she says with an easy smile.

She’s beautiful, Stiles thinks. There’s a soft wariness in her eyes, but her smile is genuine.

“I’m Stiles,” he introduces. “Derek’s brother.”

Jennifer glances back at Derek and then looks again to Stiles. “Jennifer,” she says. “Jennifer Blake.”

“Do you live in Beacon Hills?” Stiles asks, propping a hip against the counter in a casual manner.

She nods. “Just moved here last summer. I teach English at the high school. My sister lives a few towns over, but I’ve heard really great things about Derek’s cakes and told her she needed to check this place out.”

“Derek and I are glad you did,” Stiles tells her. “We sell coffee in the morning, early, and we’re on the way to school, if you ever want to stop by. Derek makes really good coffee from what I’ve heard.”

“Not a drinker?” she asks.

Stiles squishes his nose up. “Nope, tastes pretty gross. I’d rather just chug a Red Bull.”

Jennifer laughs. “I think that stuff tastes atrocious.”

“To each their own,” Stiles says. “So, what grade do you teach?”

“Eleventh,” Jennifer answers. She squints at him. “You don’t go there, do you?”

“Nah,” Stiles says with a shake of his head. “I’m home-schooled. There’s another guy who works here who does, though. Isaac? Isaac Lahey.”

She smiles, “He’s in my third period class. Very smart.”

“If you stop by in the morning, you’ll probably see him. He works a bit before school and after, and then does a lot of the driving for us on the weekends. It’s pretty hard to find a competent cake driver, or at least harder than you think.”

“No sharp turns I’m guessing,” she grins.

“Exactly!” Stiles nods. “And Derek is here in the mornings, too. He comes in pretty early to do the baking and stuff, but he’s not much of a morning person, if you ask me. He gets kind of grumpy.”

“I heard that!” Derek says, craning around the bride to level a look towards Stiles.

Jennifer just laughs. “I’m not much of a morning person myself.”

“I’m a noon person,” Stiles says. “That’s when I really thrive.”

“A noon person, huh?” she repeats. “I’m not sure I’ve heard that before.”

“Midday is best-day as I like to say,” Stiles chirps.

Jennifer grins. “So you’re open in the mornings for coffee… Every morning?”

“We’re open from six to ten, Monday through Friday,” Stiles affirms. “And Friday through Monday we’re open from two until six. I’m trying to convince Derek to hire another baker so he has more time off, but he likes the workload.”

“His girlfriend must be pretty patient, then,” Jennifer says hesitantly.

Stiles tries not to beam. “He’s single,” he tells her. Normally he wouldn’t give any kind of information about Derek out to anyone, but Derek is still sneaking glances at her and the bond isn’t sour with sadness and hurt the way it is when other women flirt.

“Me, too,” Jennifer says, then flushes. “It’s just that it’s been and adjustment--teaching and everything.”

A glance towards Derek shows him listening attentively to the conversation he’s not taking part in as well as him wrapping things up with the bride. “Tomorrow morning,” Stiles says, nudging the brownie towards her again. “First coffee’s on us.”

Jennifer nods. “I’ll be here.”

 

 

That night, Stiles follows Derek’s movements with his head as Derek paces back and forth in his room. Stiles is sprawled out on Derek’s bed where he’ll probably spend the night.

“I can’t,” Derek says and it’s more of a pained whine than words. “I shouldn’t.”

“It’s coffee,” Stiles says.

“It’s more than coffee,” Derek shoots back. “Especially after the way you practically pimped me out.”

Stiles rubs along their bond. “She seems nice.”

“So did Kate,” Derek hisses.

“Hey, come here,” Stiles says, stretching out an arm in Derek’s general direction. Derek hunches in on himself but walks over to the bed. Stiles pulls him down on top of him and lets Derek bury his face in Stiles’s neck. “You have me this time,” Stiles says quietly. “Every step of the way.”

“I can’t do this,” Derek mumbles. “I’m not who I should be.”

“Alright,” Stiles accepts. “But who is?” He rubs a hand up the back of Derek’s shirt, caressing warm, smooth skin. “If you don’t want to do this, then don’t. I just didn’t want you to stop a door from opening.”

“I don’t deserve a second chance,” Derek whispers.

“Then think of this as a first one,” Stiles tells him. “Your first chance with someone honest and real.”

“I’m not sure I’m ready to spend less time with you,” Derek confesses quietly.

“It’s just coffee, Derek. If more happens we’ll work with it, okay? Stop borrowing trouble,” Stiles chides.

Derek burrows into him. “‘Kay,” he mumbles.

 

 

When Stiles arrives at the bakery the next day, Derek is…giddy. Well, giddy for Derek. Which isn’t the same as giddy for other people, but Derek is giddy nonetheless. He tugs Stiles into his side and rubs their cheeks together and hums a little as he does it.

“So she came?” Stiles asks.

“For coffee,” Derek confirms. “And a muffin.”

“She doesn’t look like the muffin type,” Stiles muses.

Derek raises an eyebrow at him. “Muffin type?”

Stiles shrugs. “Did you talk to her or make Isaac serve her?”

“I talked,” Derek says. “She smiled.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he whispers. “Yeah.”

 

 

It happens on a day that Stiles doesn’t go to Derek’s work. He’d stayed home to babysit--something about a girl’s night out? That starts at noon? Stiles tried not to ask too many questions, just accepted the babies handed to him and told them to make wise decisions.

So he’s home with all the kids and a suspicious lack of other adults when Derek gets home from work. Derek looks furious and as soon as he catches sight of Stiles their bond explodes with anger and guilt and vengeance. Stiles takes a moment to set down Stella (the youngest baby in the Hale household, topping off at five and a half months), before he tackles Derek into a hug.

Derek calms down slowly, shoving his face into Stiles’s neck and taking long breaths. “Isaac,” he says. “His dad. Hits him. He’s hurt. There was blood. I smelled blood.”

Stiles runs a hand down Derek’s back. “Where is he now?”

“He ran,” Derek says in a hurt voice. “I couldn’t--there were customers. I wanted to.”

“We’ll talk to your mom when she gets back,” Stiles says. “She won’t deny you this, Derek, okay? You know she won’t. We can help him.”

Derek squeezes Stiles to him tighter. “Mine,” he whispers. “Safe.”

“Hey, let’s cuddle with the kids until your parents get home and then we’ll work something out.”

“Kids?” Derek lifts his head and looks around only just now noticing that the living room has all the Hale kids piled in front of the tv watching Despicable Me. “Where is everyone?”

“Ladies night out?” Stiles guesses. “I think the guys took this as an opportunity to…do whatever grown men do when the women aren’t around. Cigars?”

Derek gives him a look. “And the teens?”

Stiles shrugs. “It’s only seven, they’re probably out doing whatever teenagers do when their parents aren’t looking.” He pauses. “Cigars?”

“Have you eaten? Have they?”

“We’ve all eaten,” Stiles nods.

“Peanut butter and jelly!” Spencer, age five, says helpfully.

Derek narrows his eyes at Stiles. “Tell me you didn’t.”

“Um.”

Stiles.”

“They had to eat!” Stiles defends. “And you said I wasn’t allowed to use anything in the kitchen! They were hungry.”

Derek buries his face against Stiles’s shirt. He takes a deep, calming breath and then looks back up. “And you ate, too?”

“Yep.”

“Are you hungry still?” Derek asks, finally standing up. He reaches down and pulls Stiles up after him.

Stiles shakes his head. “No, I’m good.”

“How much longer on the movie?”

Stiles looks over at the screen and guesses, “Ten minutes?”

“Fine,” Derek sighs. “Then bed. Let’s put the babies down now so we only have the other five to deal with later.”

Derek grabs Mikey while Stiles takes Stella and follows him up to the nursery. Derek is better at getting them to sleep, so Stiles leaves him to it while he goes down to start cleaning up the kids’ mess.

By the time the parents (and older kids) get home, the younger kids are all asleep and Amelia is curled up between him and Derek on Derek’s bed. She has nightmares, Derek had explained, and for whatever reason had latched onto Derek when she was younger. Derek had sounded embarrassed when he’d explained it to Stiles weeks ago, but Stiles knows he’s secretly happy about it. Her and Stiles have Derek being their favorite in common.

Derek brushes a kiss on her forehead as they quietly creep out of Derek’s room and downstairs.

“Mom,” Derek says quietly.

Talia looks up and the smile fades slowly from her face. She pulls Derek to him and croons, “Baby boy, what’s wrong?”

She pries the story out of Derek with the ease of a mother used to reticent children. Derek seems more reluctant to speak about it with his mother than he had with Stiles and Stiles can’t help but wonder why. Is it because Stiles knows Isaac? Because Stiles has been abused in the past? Because Stiles isn’t his Alpha?

Whatever the reason, the story emerges haltingly. By the end of it, Derek is begging his mother to do something, to help this boy that all of them barely know. And Derek doesn’t ask for things. Stiles is pretty sure that the last thing Derek had asked for is him.

“We’ll talk to him,” Talia says. “We’ll talk to the father, too.”

“We have room…” Derek mumbles.

Talia nods, “But we can’t just take him, Derek. We need to do this the right way or we won’t be of any help at all to Isaac.”

Derek’s hurt stretches across the bond and ache blossoms out from the center of Stiles’s chest. Stiles steps forward and gently tugs Derek from his mother’s grasp. “Come on, let’s go to bed.”

Tomorrow is Saturday and the bakery doesn’t open until two to the public, but Derek normally takes wedding consults in the morning. Stiles makes a mental note to check out Derek’s gmail calendar in the morning just to make sure there isn’t a consult being forgotten in the midst of everything.

Stiles pushes Derek down between him and Amelia and curls up behind him, rubbing Derek’s stomach until the older man falls asleep. He stays awake for a while after that, guarding Derek’s sleep and smoothing out nightmares before they start, he finally drifts off as the sun comes up.

 

 

Stiles doesn’t go with them to talk to Isaac and his dad, so other than what passes through his bond with Derek, Stiles has no idea what’s going on.

But about two hours after they left, the Hales pull into the driveway and Stiles watches from the porch as they exit Talia’s hybrid SUV. There’s Derek, Jon, Talia, and…Isaac.

Derek looks up and meets Stiles’s gaze and Stiles runs down the steps to tackle Derek into a hug. They hit the side of the vehicle, but Derek is careful to keep Stiles’s head from hitting the side. “He’s ours,” he whispers into Stiles’s ears.

Around them Talia and Jon have called out people to help carry Isaac’s stuff in.

“His dad isn’t going to make a fuss?” Stiles ask.

“He signed temporary custody papers. Isaac turns eighteen in three months, and then it won’t matter,” Derek explains.

Stiles glances over to where Isaac is standing with a lost expression holding Stella in his arms. “On baby duty already?”

“Can’t freak out while holding a baby,” Derek shrugs.

Which, that logic is seriously flawed, but Stiles isn’t going to be the one to say anything about it. He detaches from Derek and slides his hand down to thread his fingers with Derek’s as the other man doesn’t seem ready to let him go yet.

He walks over to Isaac with a smile, “Hey, Isaac. I’m Stiles.”

Isaac glances at their joined hands but just says, “Nice to meet you.”

“Let’s go pick you out a room before they start bringing everything in,” Stiles says. “That way they’ll know where to take it.”

“A room,” Isaac repeats softly. He follows them into the house and Derek points out the empty room on the first floor, the three on the second, and finally the one on the third.

“Did any strike your fancy?” Stiles asks. There’s an empty room on the second floor near Stiles’s room and down the hall from Derek’s and Stiles is willing to bet that that’s the one Isaac is going to go for. He wants familiar and right now that’s Stiles and Derek.

Isaac shifts Stella in his arms--which, Stiles is really impressed he hasn’t tried to offload her yet because babies get heavy after you’re stuck holding them for more than ten minutes--and turns to look at them. “There was one on the second floor with, um, blue?”

“All yours,” Stiles tells him.

“They’re moving your stuff in now,” Derek says.

Stiles wonders if they had the werewolf talk with Isaac already because if not, that’s a pretty weird statement to make. And from the look Isaac is giving Derek, Stiles is betting he had some kind of abridged werewolf version and that’s it.

“Mm,” Stiles says, leaning in towards Derek. “Make me lunch?”

“Yeah,” Derek nods. “Okay.” He gives them a look and then heads down towards the kitchen.

Stiles makes grabby hands for Stella, but Isaac seems reluctant to hand her over, even if he does. Stella is probably the best baby Stiles has ever met. She’s quiet, which makes her win at everything. Stiles rubs his face against hers for a few seconds so she gets a whiff of Pack.

“It’s a scent thing,” he explains at Isaac’s look.

“Because you’re…werewolves,” Isaac says carefully.

Stiles nods. “Right. I mean, I’m not, but most of the Hales are.”

“She is?” Isaac asks, indicating Stella.

“Too young to know,” Stiles tells him. “But she’s Pack, so she’ll react to it either way and I guess they’ve found that scenting babies is better than not scenting them even if they don’t turn out to be werewolves, so…”

Isaac nods. “Cool.”

“How about I hand Stella off and we work on unpacking your room,” Stiles suggests.

“Can she…” Isaac hesitates. Stiles tries to give him an encouraging look. “Can she stay with us?”

Stiles raises an eyebrow. “Sure. I mean, probably. Unless Sarah or Kris comes to get her. Otherwise, hey! Free babysitting.”

Isaac’s room is full of garbage bags and a few duffle bags when they get there. Isaac looks embarrassed as he explains, “Didn’t really have a lot of suitcases for stuff, and nothing’s really breakable so I just…”

Stiles sits down on the bed, carefully balancing Stella in his lap. “Hey, dude, no judgment. I used to eat out of garbage cans, so I can’t really say much about moving your clothes ten minutes in clean garbage bags.”

Sadness hits him from several bonds at once, Derek’s included, but Derek also seems to be making an effort to comfort him. It’s a nice thought, but Stiles didn’t mean anything by it except stating facts. He’s sure he’s going to hear about it from someone later, though.

Isaac gives him a slightly confused look, but he doesn’t pry. Instead he starts putting his clothes away in the dresser. Stiles stands up and sets Stella carefully on the bed and then makes little pillow boundaries all around her so she won’t roll off. She’s far enough in the center that she probably won’t anyway, but Stiles isn’t going to take any chances.

He starts digging through another bag, and soon they’re both working in companionable silence.

Derek tugs on the bond in a ‘food is ready’ kind of way about twenty minutes later. Stiles is back on the bed with Stella and Isaac is organizing his cds.

“Food, dude,” Stiles says, sitting up.

“Did they call us?” Isaac asks, setting the music down.

“Derek did,” Stiles answers. He collects Stella back in his arms and says, “Come on.”

Kris takes Stella from him when he reaches the bottom of the stairs. He leans in and rubs cheeks with Stiles in thanks before walking away.

“You’ll get used to it,” Stiles tells Isaac quietly.

No one else is in the breakfast nook area that’s connected to the kitchen. It has a smaller table than the dining room, meant for just a handful of people at a time and it’s where Stiles prefers to eat, if honest. The dining room is still slightly intimidating.

There are three plates laid out with chicken salad on all of them, no Derek in sight. Stiles sits at a place setting and gestures Isaac into the other.

Derek comes in holding a bowl of fruit salad and sets it in the middle of the table and then nudges something else towards Stiles. “Peter says you skipped breakfast,” he says.

Stiles makes a face. “I didn’t skip-skip breakfast. I slept through it. There’s a difference.” He looks down at the small dish Derek placed next to him. It looks like everything except the kitchen sink fell into there. He has no doubt that whatever it is is going to be nutritious. It will probably also taste weird. Derek doesn’t answer, just puts a huge spoonful of fruit on Stiles’s plate and Stiles watches it mix in with his salad. “Ugh. You are the worst.”

Derek leans over and gives him a kiss on the cheek that lands closer to his mouth than doesn’t. Stiles feels a rush of love from the werewolf and stabs a piece of melon in response.

“So are you, uh…” Isaac trails off. “I thought… Ms. Blake?”

Stiles looks up in time to see Derek blanch. “We’re not dating,” Stiles rushes to assure him. “Derek is definitely slowly putting the moves on Jennifer. He’s totally just my brother, dude. We just have like a…thing. Like, a bond thing.”

Amazingly, that doesn’t seem to make sense to Isaac. Stiles just has no idea how to better explain it to him. He’s clingy with Derek because he needs something stable to hold on to after years of transience. Derek is clingy with him for too many reasons for Stiles to really grasp. He knows that Derek is relearning that touch can be okay, that not everyone who isn’t family is going to feel like Kate. He knows Derek needs someone to hold onto, someone to hide in.

“Does everyone have a bond…thing?” Isaac asks.

“Only if you’re lucky,” Derek answers. He kicks Stiles’s foot and grumbles, “Eat.”

Stiles eats and only glares a little at the bowl of mystery food Derek mixed together for him.

 

 

Derek has two older brothers that Stiles has never met. They didn’t come home for Christmas last year because of work, but it’s announced in February that they’re coming home for the first week of March. They apparently work in LA and both married into the Sheppard Pack there.

It’s complicated, Derek explains. They’re Sheppard Pack, but also Hale Pack. He didn’t really say more than that. Stephen, Stiles knows, married Ryan last year. Derek says that they’ve been in the honeymoon phase for five years. (Stiles secretly thinks that’s kind of sweet, but doesn’t say anything.) Tyler married Alicia three years ago.

There’s a year between Tyler and Stephen, but they’ve always been close, Derek tells him. When Stephen decided to go to UCLA, Tyler followed, and when Stephen found a job there, Tyler did, too. They don’t have a pairbond, but Derek says they might as well.

Derek is uncharacteristically excited to see both of them. Stiles knows that Derek talks to them regularly and Stiles has even said ‘hi’ once or twice while Derek Skyped them.

By the time they arrive, Isaac is settled in and Stiles almost feels as though he’s always lived there.

It’s cold when they pull into the driveway and Derek wraps his arms around Stiles from behind while they wait on the porch for them. Stiles unashamedly steals as much of Derek’s body heat as possible.

“Baby brother!” Tyler says with a grin.

Derek lets go of Stiles and jumps down from the porch and wraps Tyler up in a tight hug. Stephen abandons the suitcases and goes to join them. After a moment, Laura is there, too, and the four Hale siblings group hug on the front lawn.

Then someone, who can only be Ryan, wiggles into the group followed by a woman who must be Alicia. Someone says something that Stiles can’t hear and the group breaks into laughter. Even Derek, who doesn’t laugh much at all, is grinning and chuckling with them.

Stephen and Tyler grab their suitcases and start making their way towards the house. Stiles can feel their eyes on him briefly before they move on to the rest of the Hales standing around waiting.

Family gets first hugs, along with a nip on the neck from Talia. When Stephen reaches him, Stiles isn’t sure what he’s going to do, but after a long look, he reaches out and pulls him in. Stiles can’t smell the way the wolves do, but even he can feel that Stephen is slightly…off.

“The other Pack bonds,” Derek whispers in his ear, and Stiles startles because he doesn’t remember Derek moving back towards him.

Tyler leans in and does the same thing when Stephen moves onto Isaac. Ryan and Alicia offer their hands and politely say it’s nice to meet him.

Stiles is brimming with curiosity, dying to ask about other packs and how the Sheppard Pack is different from the Hales, but he stays quiet, leaning into Derek.

When greetings are over they pile back into the house and Stiles only has a moment to wonder if he’s intruding, just a little, before Derek uses the bond to let him know how dumb that line of thoughts is.

 

 

Derek wakes him up in the middle of the night and dresses him warmly before all but carrying him out of the house. Stiles is still sleepy enough to be confused, but he’ll go anywhere with Derek, so he just lets it happen.

They end up walking out to the lake about half a mile from the house. Tyler, Laura, and Stephen are already there and from the looks of it are getting a head start on the wolfsbane booze mixture that Stiles knows Peter makes.

There’s a small bonfire going and Derek sets him down carefully on top of a blanket near it and then slides down behind him letting Stiles use his body as a chair. A flask is nudged into his hands and from the smell of it, it’s vodka. Stiles has never had alcohol before, but he feels safe here, with Derek. He’s never seen Derek drink either, but Derek accepts the cup that Tyler hands him and downs half in one go.

Stiles has to wonder if they planned it this way, but by the time they finally get around to interrogating Derek, the bond is fuzzy with drunkenness and Derek is pliantly happy, planting wet kisses on Stiles’s neck every few minutes.

“So, baby bro,” Stephen starts off. “What’s been going on? And I don’t want to hear about some crazy bride who wants a Dracula cake. Tell me something real for once.”

“Real?” Derek repeats. He leans forward and knocks his head against Stiles’s. “I have Stiles now.”

Tyler laughs. “We see that.”

“And Jennifer,” Derek continues. “I’m officially her boyfriend.”

It only took two months of flirting over coffee. They’ve only gone out on a couple of actual dates, but the emotions are there.

Tyler and Stephen exchange looks. “Jennifer?” Stephen asks.

“Jennifer,” Derek nods.

“We’re gonna need a little bit more to go off of then that,” Stephen replies. “Why haven’t you mentioned her before? Have mom and dad met her?”

“We’re going slow,” Derek says. “Stiles has met her.”

Their eyes flicker over to Stiles. Tyler’s gaze narrows, “About Stiles…”

Stiles feels his heart quicken and Derek’s arm tightens around him. “He’s mine,” Derek tells them.

“He’s Pack,” Tyler agrees quickly. “Can’t you date him, Der?”

Stiles wrinkles his nose and says, “Derek’s straight.”

“He’s a werewolf,” Stephen says with a roll of his eyes.

“So you’re not straight?” Tyler asks.

Stiles shrugs. “I’m sort of really fucked up. Don’t really know what I am.”

Stephen leans in. “No one’s really told us your story. I mean, one day Derek is talking about some kid who comes to dinner and the next thing we know he’s pairbonded and spends all his time up in your grill.”

“Up in my grill,” Stiles repeats slowly. “What?”

“Stiles is still sort of catching up on teenage lingo,” Laura cuts in. She turns to him, “What they mean is that you and Derek are a package deal these days.”

Stiles likes to think he’s just like every other seventeen year old out there, but then someone will say something--usually pertaining to pop culture--and he’ll be reminded that he spent basically a year of his life on the streets and two years before that being shuffled around the system with little tv or internet access. His own saving grace is that Derek is usually just as baffled. He reads while Stiles watches movies and does Sudoku while Stiles catches up on all things internet.

“Oh,” Stiles says with a smile loose from alcohol. “Yup. Package deal. That’s us.”

Tyler and Stephen seem to accept that and return to grilling Derek about Jennifer. They seem determined yet careful. Gentle. The way you need to be with Derek sometimes.

Stiles is almost asleep when Derek jerks and says, “No, definitely not.”

It takes actual effort to bring himself back up into consciousness to figure out that Tyler and Stephen want to meet Jennifer.

“Derek,” Tyler says, though it’s more of a whine.

“Stiles has met her,” Derek holds. He says it in a way that implies that Stiles is the only one who needs to meet her. That Stiles can judge how much she’s going to hurt Derek.

“Stiles isn’t your family,” Stephen says sharply. “He wasn’t here last time.”

The words cut and claw at him. He feels cold and his chest hurts and he wants to turn around and curl up inside of Derek and make it so that the world is just the two of them.

“You haven’t been around,” Laura says angrily. “Stiles is Pack. He’s family. He’s Derek’s. If you’d come home more often you would have met him before now, but you’d rather be off with that other pack than with family. So fuck you, Stephen. Stiles is more family than you are these days.”

Derek makes a low keening noise full of hurt and Stiles runs a hand over the arm around his stomach.

“Stephen didn’t mean that,” Tyler says, shooting a look at Stephen. “We just want to make sure you won’t be hurt again, Der.”

Stephen crosses his arms over his chest but doesn’t say anything, just stares at Stiles and Derek. Stiles feels uncomfortable under his gaze and he guesses Derek does, too, because Derek stands up in one swift movement, taking Stiles with him.

“We’re done here,” Derek says quietly. “You leave Stiles alone or you deal with me.”

“Yeah?” Stephen asks, standing up. “And what are you gonna do, little brother? Run to mom again?”

Derek growls at that, and when Stiles looks at his face he can see that Derek’s fangs have grown out. Stiles touches Derek’s arm. Derek’s eyes flash blue but he gathers Stiles to him and takes off back towards the house.

“They’re jealous,” Derek says as he tucks Stiles back into bed.

“Jealous?” Stiles asks sleepily. “Of Jennifer?”

Derek rolls his eyes. “No, stupid. Of you.”

“Me?”

“They wish they had a pairbond,” Derek tells him. “They probably think I don’t deserve one.”

Stiles lifts his hand up and cups Derek’s cheek. “Well, I say you do, so it doesn’t matter what they think.”

Derek nuzzles his hand for a second. “I should let you sleep.”

“Is Amelia in your room?” Stiles asks. He waits as Derek listens for her heartbeat.

“No,” he answers with a shake of his head.

“Then don’t be dumb,” Stiles tells him, tugging on Derek’s shirt. “Sleep here.”

Stiles is almost asleep when he feels Derek’s mouth open against the back of his neck. “I’d fight the world for you,” he says, lips forming words against Stiles’s skin.

He loses himself to sleep before he can say, “Same.”

 

 

Derek avoids his brothers after that, hiding at the bakery with Stiles and Isaac. He doesn’t even say goodbye when he leaves no matter how much Stiles tries to talk him into it.

The days change slowly, the way they do in California. There’s a smattering of rain, then sunshine, then more rain, then more sun. It’s late in April by the time Stiles really looks at a calendar. Derek spends more time at the shop and less time at home. He says it’s because wedding season is starting, which it probably is, but it’s been a while since Stiles has had to care about what time of year it is in regards to anything but season change.

Derek spends a couple of nights sleeping in his break room at his Palo Alto kitchen before deciding just to commute. He’s spent weeks apart from pack there, Laura tells Stiles, but those two nights were the longest he’s spent away since Stiles came to live with them. Stiles is glad (though feels bad) Derek decided to commute instead, even if it means really long days for the werewolf.

Stiles finds himself settling in with the Hales. He picks out new curtains for his room and Isaac spends a weekend helping Stiles paint in return for Stiles helping him paint. He finally feels as though he fits in with more than just Derek.

Isaac turns eighteen on a Wednesday and Stiles wakes up to him at the foot of his bed before the sun is even fully up.

Stiles rubs his eyes, “Sup, man?”

Isaac fidgets with Stiles’s comforter for a few drawn-out seconds. “Um, Talia has offered me the bite,” he says finally, eyes darting up to look at Stiles and then back down to the blanket.

“Derek told me,” Stiles says. He glances at a clock. “Oh, happy birthday. I’ll be more enthusiastic about it later in the day.”

Isaac smiles. “Thanks. So, about the bite…”

Stiles blinks and tries to figure out why Isaac is in his room at five in the morning to talk about this. “Yes?”

“Are you going to take it?” Isaac asks.

“Yeah,” Stiles says honestly. “Maybe not now, but eventually, yeah.”

Isaac looks up at him. “So you won’t mind if Talia bites me this weekend?”

“Why would I mind, dude?” Stiles asks, furrowing his brow. “It’s totally cool if you want to.”

“If she bites me now, they’ll have to wait a few months before biting you,” Isaac answers. “And you were here first, so I just wanted to make sure that it was okay with you.”

“Way okay,” Stiles says, nodding emphatically. “Definitely okay. I have no plans to be bitten in the next few months, so go ahead and get your wolf on, dude.”

“You’re sure?” Isaac asks.

Stiles rolls his eyes and sits up. He leans forward and grabs Isaac by the front of his pajama shirt and drags him down with him. “One hundred percent sure,” he says. “Now sleep, k? It’s your birthday, you’re supposed to sleep in and then convince Derek to make chocolate chip pancakes in the morning.”

“French toast,” Isaac mumbles.

“Chocolate chip French toast,” Stiles sighs.

“Is that even a thing?”

“Shut up, I’m dreaming,” Stiles answers, shoving his face into Isaac’s hair.

“K.”

 

 

To be honest, Stiles doesn’t even know how it happens. One minute he is riding his bicycle into town, heading for Derek’s bakery, and the next he’s being pulled into the forest by a crazy looking werewolf.

At least one of his arms is dislocated and Stiles is pretty sure he’s bleeding from his leg from a scrape against a rock and things are kind of blurry and he keeps losing consciousness, but other than that he thinks he’s okay. Mostly.

He doesn’t know what the omega wants, but it must be desperate if he’s willing to take a kid who’s part of a wolf pack. Also there must have been a car ride at some point because Stiles wasn’t anywhere Derek couldn’t get to in five minutes if running and it’s already been…a while.

Derek feels like a giant ball of rage and fury and with every second Stiles can feel him getting closer. Talia is there somewhere, too, along with Peter, Laura, and Sean; all racing towards him.

There’s a burning pain in his arm and when he can right himself enough to look at it, he sees a gaping bite wound, bleeding profusely.

Ouch.

The omega starts running again, dragging Stiles along with him and Stiles is all but sure his arm is going to be pulled off sometime in the course of all of this, because it hurts and Stiles can’t feel anything but blinding pain.

“Derek,” Stiles chokes out. He doesn’t mean to. Derek probably has his senses pushed as far as they can go and Stiles thinks he’s close enough to hear him. He doesn’t want Derek to hear him like this, to blame himself, to push his body so hard it breaks before he even reaches Stiles.

Then there’s nothing and it takes Stiles a moment to realize he’s been thrown. He’s conscious long enough to feel himself hit a tree and hear a roar but then just silence.

 

 

Everything hurts when he wakes up. Every single inch of his body.

“Stiles?” That’s Derek. “Stiles, please. Say yes, Stiles.”

And Stiles can’t do much right now, but he can say yes for Derek. He doesn’t know what yes really means but he doesn’t care, not when Derek sounds like that. “Yes,” he whispers.

 

 

This time nothing hurts. It doesn’t take long to figure out why.

He recognizes the inside of one of the smaller houses on the Hale property, the one werewolves go to when they need help with control. It has sound-proofing and minimal furniture and the door can lock from the outside if needed.

Isaac spent last week in there, after his change.

Stiles turns his head and finds Derek looking at him, eyes full of sorrow and guilt but with an unfiltered amount of happiness.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says.

And even though Stiles didn’t want to be a werewolf for at least a few more years, he is one now and that’s okay. Derek smells like home and his Pack bonds are brighter and Stiles thinks he could get used to this.

“Sorry your mom had to change me so soon after Isaac,” Stiles says, voice raspy with disuse.

“That rule was for your benefit,” Derek says, even though Stiles knows that already. He knows having two newly changed wolves in the house will be hard and might create some instability, but it is what it is.

“You knew I was going to ask for the bite,” Stiles says gently. “So no more guilt from you, mister.”

Derek manages a half smile. “You didn’t want it so soon.”

“I didn’t want a lot of things I got too early,” Stiles says. “This is by far the best of them, though.”

“How do you feel?” Derek finally asks.

“Dumb for letting a random omega get the best of me,” Stiles answers.

Derek rubs a thumb back and forth across Stiles’s forearm. “We’ve come across some like him before. They’re dangerous because they’re so far gone and they think biting people will give them a pack, will make them an alpha.”

Stiles nods. “What day is it?”

“Saturday,” Derek answers. “You were attacked on Thursday, slept through Friday, and now it’s Saturday.”

“Have I earned myself a week in the dungeon?” Stiles asks, smiling.

Derek snorts. “This is hardly the dungeon, but, yes, probably. Depends on how you do. How do you feel?” he asks again.

Stiles takes stock. His shoulder doesn’t hurt at all and his leg is no longer throbbing. The bite mark on his arm has long healed and his vision seems to be okay. “Hungry,” he decides.

Derek leans down and kisses his forehead. “I’ll make you anything you want.”

It takes a greater man (werewolf?) than Stiles not to say, “Peanut butter and jelly sandwich!”

 

 

In June, Derek pulls Stiles into the closet full of cleaning supplies at the bakery.

“Is this the part where you ask me to go steady?” Stiles grins.

“Do you want to?” Derek asks, sounding serious.

Stiles blinks. “Um. No?”

Derek just shrugs and then crowds in a little bit. “I think I might stay at Jennifer’s tonight.”

“You think you might stay at Jennifer’s tonight,” Stiles repeats slowly, testing the words out. “In like a on the couch kind of way or the other way.”

Derek looks nothing but uncomfortable when he says, “Other way.”

Stiles knows that Jennifer and Derek have yet to sleep together, mainly because Derek tells him everything and the little he leaves out Stiles can pick up over the bond. They’ve been together for about four months and Stiles doesn’t really have anything to compare it to, but he thinks that’s probably a pretty long time to date without sleeping together.

“So when you and her…uh…you know…is that gonna be weird in the bond? Like, I’m not going to be chatting with your mom and then suddenly be really horny, am I?” Stiles asks.

Derek looks pained as he says, “I don’t think so? Maybe? I won’t if you say no to this.”

“Of course I’m not saying no!” Stiles tells him. “Dude, this is awesome, for you, I mean. But, like, just…you know…be careful. No glove, no love kind of thing.”

“I don’t know if I can do this,” Derek says softly. “What if I get there and I can’t? What if nothing happens?”

Everything Stiles knows about sex he learned from the internet and also the one werewolf sex talk that Talia gave him and Isaac.

“Has nothing happened before?” Stiles asks curiously. “Like when you’re making out and stuff?”

Derek shifts weight. “It does sometimes.”

“You’ll be fine if you go slow,” Stiles says, reaching out and grabbing Derek’s hand. “Like, Talia said girls like to go slow anyway because they heat up slow like crock pots.”

“Crock pots,” Derek repeats.

“Yeah,” Stiles nods. “She said guys are kind of like rocket ships, but girls are crock pots, and slow is good because then they can simmer longer before they’re…cooked? I don’t think she said cooked, but I can’t really remember what she said.”

Now Derek looks worried. “She did tell you about how things actually work, right?”

Stiles shrugs. “Yes? I try not to think about it, though. She did say that not all girls are crock pots, but you’re probably supposed to figure that out for yourself.”

Derek squeezes his hand. “It’s just that I haven’t…since Kate. Like, what if I’m really bad at it, or something? How do I know if she likes it or is faking it?”

“Dude, you have werewolf senses,” Stiles says. “I think you’ll be able to figure out if she’s enjoying it or not. And I think it’s okay to be bad at sex in the beginning, it’s not like an inherent talent people have. It’s more one of those things you get better at the more you do it.” He pauses. “Are you worried about wolfing out? Or flashbacks? Or what?”

“Flashbacks,” Derek mumbles. “Maybe wolfing out, I don’t know.”

“But you’ve done stuff with her and you were fine then, right?” Stiles asks. He knows Derek’s gotten to at least second base because he can smell it on him when he comes home.

“Yeah,” Derek admits.

“Then just go slow,” Stiles advises. “You can be a crock pot, too. Nothing wrong with crock pots. Everyone likes a good slow cooked meal, okay, dude?”

“The crock pot analogy is starting to disturb me,” Derek informs him.

Stiles wrinkles his nose. “Me, too.” He leans in and rubs his cheek against Derek’s. “You’ll be okay. And if you aren’t, I’m here this time.”

“Thanks,” Derek whispers into his ear.

“No problem.”

 

 

Derek spends Friday night at Jennifer’s place and it is pretty awkward feeling what he feels through the bond so Stiles covers it up, just a little, enough that he can keep tabs on Derek but also enough to give the other man some privacy. When Derek comes home Saturday night smelling like sex and Jennifer and contentment, Stiles is pretty sure Derek’s parents start planning a party just for that. (Which, awkward.)

 

 

Stiles pulls at his tie again, trying to loosen it. In hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have worn a tie. Derek isn’t even wearing a button-up shirt. He’s in a black v-neck because he can pull things like that off.

Next to him Derek sighs and reaches over, tugging the tie free and then shoving it into his pocket. “I told you not to wear it,” he grumbles.

“I wanted to look nice!” Stiles exclaims. “This is important.”

“You’ve met her,” Derek says.

“This is different,” Stiles argues. “Now that you’re officially girlfriend and wolf-friend, it’s different.”

Derek rubs a hand over his eyes. “You know she doesn’t know. Can’t you just say boyfriend like everyone else?”

“I could, but this annoys you more,” Stiles grins. He taps his fingers on the booth in front of him. “She’s late.”

“She’s not late,” Derek sighs. “We’re early. She still has--” he looks at his watch, “--fifteen minutes.”

“Can I get a milkshake?” Stiles asks.

“If you want one,” Derek tells him.

Stiles flags the waitress as she walks by and asks for a strawberry milkshake, no whipped cream.

By the time Jennifer arrives, five minutes early, Stiles is halfway through his shake and well on his way to a sugar rush. He’s pretty sure Derek is regretting letting him order it.

Jennifer takes the seat next to Derek, so Stiles faces both of them. It’s kind of awkward, but it’s helped by the fact that she smells like Derek. She also smells noticeably happier just sitting next to the other man. Derek brightens, too, in his own Derek fashion and Stiles is kind of insanely happy for them both.

He doesn’t spend a lot of time with Derek and Jennifer together. For one thing, they’re both older than him, enough that he feels a bit like a kid at the grownups table. For another, he likes to give Derek some time to grow on his own and have his own relationship.

“Hello,” Jennifer greets happily.

Stiles waves back as he slurps up some more milkshake. He’s pretty sure the milkshake thing isn’t helping with the age thing. But milkshakes are delicious, so whatever.

Derek leans over and kisses her cheek and it makes Jennifer and Derek both flush and smell so happy together that Stiles feels just a little bit lonely for the first time since Derek brought him home.

Stiles drinks his milkshake while Jennifer peruses the menu. He’s not used to feeling like a third wheel with Derek; if anything they often accidentally make others feel like the third wheel. Now, though, Derek is holding her hand on top of the table and she’s absently stroking a finger along the top of Derek’s wrist. Stiles feels as though he’s intruding.

Eventually Jennifer sets down the menu and smiles at him again. “How are your studies going?” she asks.

She’s helped him once or twice with a couple of English essays; Derek is useless for stuff like that. “They’re okay,” he says. “Kind of sucks to have school in the summer, but I’m already pretty far behind. Peter said I could take time off if I wanted, but I just want to get this finished and move on.”

“Do you know what you want to do after?” she asks. “Are you thinking of college?”

The idea of college scares the crap out of Stiles. Too many unknown people. No Derek. No Pack. People who aren’t as traumatized as he is. Stiles has a hard enough time interacting with people who aren’t Pack, he doesn’t want to live among them, too.

“No,” Stiles answers.

Her face softens and Stiles wonders what Derek’s told her about him. He knows that Derek’s told Stiles almost everything about her. “There’s always online classes,” she says. “A lot of people get their degrees online these days.”

Stiles makes a face. “I don’t really like school.”

“Most people your age don’t,” she agrees. “I didn’t like it until I was in college and had more freedom and could really pick the classes I wanted to take. But college isn’t for everyone. You could always give it a try and then drop out if you don’t like it.”

“Maybe,” Stiles agrees. “I like working with Derek.”

“He seems pretty great to work with,” Jennifer smiles. “I’m sure with your family there’s a lot of things you could still do if you don’t go to college. Derek mentioned you did some landscaping last year. Do you still do that?”

Stiles shakes his head. “Not anymore. I miss it a little, but I like working with Derek more.”

“It’s good that you have that then,” she says. Jennifer blinks all of a sudden. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrogate you or anything, though it’s probably coming off that way.”

“It’s no problem,” Stiles tells her.

“It’s just, Derek talks about you all the time, so I feel like I know you a lot better than I do,” she says apologetically.

Stiles offers, “We could hang out more, if that would make it less weird?”

Jennifer smiles gratefully. “I would love that. Derek made it pretty clear when we started dating that you’re important to him. I honestly thought you were twins until I realized how much younger you are.”

“Close enough,” Derek says from next to her.

“I wish I were closer with my sister,” Jennifer admits. “We were pretty close when we were younger, then she met Rich and, well, you know how these things go, I’m sure.”

Stiles thinks about Tyler and Stephen and the hurt in Laura’s voice when she’d said they abandoned the Pack for their partners. He’s suddenly struck with fear about his relationship with Derek.

I’m not sure I’m ready to spend less time with you, Derek had said. Stiles hadn’t really understood what he had meant then.

Derek uses his free hand to reach across the table and pull at Stiles’s. “That won’t happen to us,” he says with surety. And it’s selfish, Stiles knows, but within those words is a promise that Stiles will come first. Stiles wonders if Jennifer hears it.

She must, because she says, “I would never get between your relationship with Derek, Stiles.” She says it softly, carefully--the way people speak to Derek so often.

He doesn’t want her to think that she’s always going to be second best or that Derek can’t and won’t put her first, because Stiles knows what that feels like. He felt it every time he stepped into a foster home that already had actual children of the foster parents living there. He wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone.

But she’s not a wolf, she’s not Pack, she can’t understand what it’s like for Stiles with Derek. For Derek with Stiles.

“You’re important, too,” Stiles manages to say. He pulls his hand back from Derek and wraps it around his milkshake glass, letting the condensation wet his palm.

When she smiles this time, it’s tinged with a little bit of sadness, “I know,” she says softly.

Stiles just sits there hoping he hasn’t just ruined everything for Derek.

 

 

The next morning Stiles feels miserable. He can hear the rest of the pack up and moving around but he settles for pulling the blankets over his head and burrowing further into the mattress.

Derek isn’t there; he went home with Jennifer after the date. He’d offered to go home with Stiles but Stiles isn’t that needy person who needs constant reassurance after being slapped in the face with the idea that some day Derek will have someone else he cares for more than Stiles. Well, he doesn’t want to be that needy person.

Stiles is almost eighteen, and even though the Hales have custody of him now and even made him Pack, there’s still a part of him that wonders if he’s going to be kicked out as soon as he’s an adult. He’s not theirs, he’s not anybody’s. He’s a kid without parents and family and who nobody else wanted.

He’s damaged.

Because he can, he stays in bed all day. He lets himself think of painful things. Like the way Derek is going to want to move out with Jennifer at some point, probably. He thinks about that one for a while.

Eventually he hears Derek’s car pull up and he hears Talia tell him quietly that Stiles has spent all day in his room and hasn’t eaten at all. He hears Derek come up the stairs with a plate of food his mother had pushed on him.

Derek knocks. “Stiles?”

“I’m not hungry,” Stiles tells him.

“Please?” Derek asks. “Just a little? For me?”

Stiles sighs. “Fine.”

He hears the door open and close and he feels the bed dip as Derek sits down. “I’m sorry about last night,” Derek says.

“Nothing to be sorry for,” Stiles answers.

“Stiles, please,” Derek says, voice weary and sad.

Fingers reach for the blankets and gently tug at them until Stiles loosens his grip enough for them to be pulled down from his face. His dinner sits on the bedside table but Stiles spares it just a glance.

Derek’s fingertips trace the lines of Stiles’s face. “I could be in love with you,” he says softly.

Stiles turns his face in to Derek’s touch. “No, you couldn’t,” he whispers.

“So it’s fair, then, to fall in love with other people?” Derek asks quietly. “To make them fall in love with me when it’s always going to be you first and them second? Nobody wants to be second best, Stiles.”

“It’s not a hierarchy of love.”

“No, it’s you and everybody else.”

Stiles takes in a shaky breath. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Derek asks.

“If I weren’t here there wouldn’t be a problem.”

Derek shakes his head. “If you weren’t here I would barely be alive.”

Stiles feels miserable all over again. “How is this even going to work, Derek? You’re going to want your own life eventually. Your own place. I can’t be there in your relationships, in your… In your marriage.”

Derek sighs and Stiles watches as he toes off his shoes and then strips down to his boxer briefs. He climbs under the blankets and wraps himself around Stiles. “This is why you’re not allowed to stay in your head all day,” he says with a soft chuckle. “I haven’t even thought of the word marriage. Jennifer hasn’t met my parents. She doesn’t know I’m a werewolf. And you’re half of me no matter what. I’m not ready for any of what you just said. Some days I think I’m barely ready to be dating. So, in your own words, stop borrowing trouble.”

Stiles sighs. “What did you bring me for dinner?”

“Lasagna,” Derek answers. “Your favorite.”

“Is there cake?” Stiles asks.

“There can be.” Derek pauses. “If you eat all your dinner.”

“Strawberry cake,” Stiles says, reaching for the plate.

Derek gives him a wet kiss on the cheek. “Well, duh.”

 

 

Jennifer Blake takes to werewolves with a strange kind of aplomb. She ends up more on the Stiles acceptance side than the Isaac. Isaac was grateful and a little bit scared, Stiles was curious and mostly in awe.

Derek told her over the weekend and then invited her to dinner Monday night.

She arrives with a list of questions and looking for all the world as though she’s been up for hours reading everything she could find on the subject. She probably has been.

Stiles thinks she may have a bit of romantic fascination with it all. It’s almost like something from out of her books. A beauty and the beast type story come to life. (Not that Derek is a beast, but he is furry and growly and clawy sometimes.)

The family loved her before she ever stepped foot in her house. They love her even more after she presents the list with a hesitant smile and an unwavering smell of love for Derek.

Most of the adults gather for drinks and dessert after dinner to talk to Jennifer more, mostly curious about the woman willing to take on Derek and all of his…specialness. Stiles sits on the stairs, just around the corner and out of sight from the living room. He’s close enough to hear but stays out of sight because he’s too young, really, to be one of the adults. No one would say anything if he did join them, but he’s finished socializing for the day. Or mostly finished, he amends, as Isaac comes to sit next to him.

Talia and Jon subtly grill Jennifer about anything and everything. Stiles already knew most of it, but Derek failed to mention her love for Goldfish--the crackers, not the animal.

He listens as she charms them, her heartbeat steady with truth and affection for Derek.

“I like her,” Isaac says from his right. “She seems good for Derek.”

“She is,” Stiles agrees.

“A boy from school asked me out,” Isaac confides. “When I went to the grocery store yesterday.”

Stiles turns to look at him. “Yeah?”

He shrugs. “I said yes and now he wants to go bowling. I hate bowling.”

“Who hates bowling?” Stiles asks.

“The finger holes in the balls creep me out,” Isaac says with a false shudder. “Little cesspools of germs. Also the shoes.”

“Dude, I’ve literally seen you eat food off the floor,” Stiles says, unimpressed. He crosses his arms over his chest.

“Five second rule!” Isaac exclaims. “At least I know we clean our floors. Bowling balls are a whole other arena of grossness.”

Stiles laughs, “So wolf up and tell him that you’d rather go somewhere else. Mini-golfing? Derek says people our age do that.”

Isaac scoffs, “Like Derek would know anything about what people our age do. I’m pretty sure he spent his time brooding in his room when he was our age.”

That’s probably true, but out of solidarity with Derek, Stiles declines to agree. “Movies? In movies they always go to movies.”

“Movies are a terrible place to take a date,” Isaac says with a shake of his head. “Especially a first date. You can’t talk to them or anything and you’re eating popcorn so your hands are gross and also other people are there.”

“I think you’re making this super complicated,” Stiles says. “And coming from me, that means something.”

“I just need a better alternative to bowling.”

Stiles thinks. “Dinner? Beach? Um, sometimes I see people walk around downtown together? I don’t know if that’s romantic, though, because sometimes downtown smells like the sewers. And it’s also really short. So it’d be like a ten minute walking date thing through a sewage smelling area.”

Isaac reaches over and pats Stiles’s knee. “It’s good you have Derek.”

It probably is. “So,” Stiles drawls. “Who is this guy? Do I know him?”

“Uh, do you know people?” Isaac asks. Which is a fair question.

“I know some people. Bakery people and yard people,” Stiles says. “Tell meeeee.”

Isaac grins. “His name is Danny. He’s on the lacrosse team with me.”

“And he waited until summer to ask you out?” Stiles questions.

“Better than having to worry about late nights and homework,” Isaac says with a shrug.

Stiles bumps his shoulder against Isaac’s. “You like him?”

Isaac turns to look at him and there’s a small, but real smile on his face. “He’s…nice, Stiles. Yeah, I like him.”

Stiles smiles. “Good.”

 

 

“Picnic tables make good beds,” Stiles says.

“It’s not a bed,” Derek tells him. “No falling asleep.”

They’re laying on top of a picnic table in the Hale’s backyard, a blanket underneath them and one on top, sharing a pillow as they gaze at the stars. It’s been a hot August, but cooling down enough at night that a blanket isn’t just a prop of human normality.

“I like the stars,” Stiles says quietly. “It’s like, they’ve seen so much, you know? Now they see me, too. I’m just this tiny part of their history.”

“You know stars can’t see, right?” Derek asks.

Stiles elbows him in the side. “Shut up. Can’t you just enjoy the night with me?”

“Stars pretty,” Derek says obligingly.

“When I thought I was going to die, alone and on the streets, I wanted to die looking at the stars,” Stiles confesses. “I thought if I could look at them for just a little while longer that I could die happy.”

Derek lets out a mournful noise. “I’ve never been more glad that an omega attacked me,” he says. “Maybe I never would have found you.”

“Hey, I found you, buddy,” Stiles counters. “Bleeding all over the path to the lake and acting like a loon.”

“I wasn’t a loon,” Derek grumps. “It’s not my fault you wouldn’t leave when I told you to.”

“Normal people don’t leave other people bleeding on the forest floor!” Stiles exclaims.

Derek nudges closer to him. “Do you still want to die looking at the stars?”

Stiles feels a smile stretch, unbidden, across his face. “Maybe.”

“You won’t be alone,” Derek states.

“No,” Stiles agrees. “I won’t.”

Above them he spots a shooting star, but he makes no wish.

- End -