#19 The Plot Thickens

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Just as expected, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are flying by quickly. Stiles can’t believe Christmas is next Friday. In eight days, it’ll be Derek’s birthday. All of Stiles’ careful planning over the last few weeks will finally come to fruition. And it’s only nine days until day 106 officially begins, which is possibly even more important than the surprise party he’s throwing for Derek’s birthday Christmas evening. He’s spent a lot of time working out the details for what he wants to happen during the birthday masquerade ball, even if some of the action will be taking place as early as midnight on the twenty-sixth. There’s the primary plan, the ideal ‘everything works out as he hopes’ type plan, and there are three contingency plans in place to cover the most likely disruptions to the primary plan.

Stiles is very thorough because he wants everything to happen perfectly.

Today is one of two days off this week, and he has so much to get done it’s ridiculous. Since he has plans with Derek tomorrow to wrap Christmas presents and buy any additional gifts they realize they need once everything is more organized, that means he has today to finalize the majority of details for the party plans. Derek still doesn’t seem to suspect anything, so Stiles is relieved that everyone who has now been invited to the ball seems to be keeping it a secret as requested. The guest list consists of his pack, Derek’s pack, the Hale family, and Satomi, so it’s all people who are good at keeping secrets, so that probably helps a lot, too.

Laura is handling all communications with the Hale pack for him, so Derek doesn’t get suspicious if some aunt or cousin happens to call to ask for information. Lydia is dealing with Stiles’ pack, making sure everyone knows about the surprise and has the appropriate formal dress and masks to wear. Obviously, the guests just think it’s a surprise birthday party because Stiles doesn’t want to risk anyone blurting out his plans to propose to Derek at midnight. Even though Cora is in the loop regarding the rings, he’s been careful not to mention when he’s planning to give them to Derek. Just that he needs them before next week.

Only Scott, Allison, Lydia, and Jackson are in on every single thing Stiles is planning, though, and he trusts them with his life, so he knows they’re not going to spoil the surprises. While he personally isn’t very fond of surprises, he knows Derek really likes them, and he’s going to do his best to give him some really good surprises that will, hopefully, make him happy. In a way, Stiles is pretty proud of himself for coming up with such a detailed plan to not only celebrate Derek’s birthday but to also accept the mating bond between them and acknowledge the whole werewolf married thing. The fact that he’s managed to hold off on any formal acceptance until the last day of their deadline is pretty awesome, too, because he isn’t usually the most patient person once he sets his mind to something.

At the moment, he’s on the highway driving back to Beacon Hills after running an errand in Beacon Heights. It was a successful trip, and he’s feeling pretty pleased with himself as he sings along to the Spice Girls about wannabeing a lover. He’s due to meet Lydia at the Central Hotel at noon, where they plan to eat lunch and discuss the design plans for the ballroom with the hospitality manager. However, before that, he has to stop at Cora’s loft to pick up the rings because they’re ready, and he’s taking them to Lydia to keep safe for him because Derek’s nosy and would totally find them before the Big Day™ if Stiles is foolish enough to take them home.

There’s a spot available on the street near the lofts, so he gets parked and heads on upstairs. When he knocks on Cora’s door, Isaac opens it. “Hey, come on in,” he says, stepping aside. “Cora said you’d be dropping by to pick up something. She had to make a run to the store for red paint for a work project due this afternoon, but she told me to give it to you since you’re on some kind of deadline.”

“That’s cool.” Stiles is actually glad to not have to deal with Cora, in all honesty, so this just made his day a little better. “Did she tell you what it is I’m picking up?”

Isaac shakes his head. “No, she said it’s a secret. Something about fulfilling a special commission?”

“Right. I asked her to take care of something for me.” Stiles grins. Cora gets some bonus points for not telling Isaac about the rings for sure. “This is my only free day until the holidays, so I arranged to come pick it up when I had time.”

“Ah. Gotcha. Must be a gift then.” Isaac smiles. “Cora’s got a ton of talent, so whoever gets the gift she created for you will be thrilled.”

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Stiles admits. “You off today?”

“No, I’m doing overnights this week because of people’s vacation times and a need for coverage. Anyway, Caitlin wanted extra money for Christmas, and it pays more doing graveyards, so I went ahead and volunteered with her. At least it’s usually busier at night.” Isaac shrugs. “I’ll be glad to go back to days, though, because my sleep schedule is screwy when I have twelve hour shifts that are inconsistent.”

“Extra money is definitely good. I’ve actually been covering some vacation time in recent weeks for that exact reason.” Stiles nods. “The holidays are always an expensive time of year, and my gift giving list increased this holiday season.”

“Yours did?” Isaac laughs. “Think about us, Mom. We went from four in our close-knit pack with Cora and Laura as extras to a billion because your pack is so huge.”

“I hadn’t considered it that way.” Stiles grins, not even bothering to scold Isaac for calling him Mom because it’s pointless. “Allison was saying something a few weeks ago about next year possibly just drawing names for gifts.”

“It might be a good idea. I guess it depends on what everyone thinks would be best.” Isaac smiles. “I know it would help financially because not all of us have a Hale trust fund.”

“Exactly!” Stiles nods. “Or a Whittemore one. I know. We can just let Jackson, Derek, Cora, and Laura buy everyone expensive gifts and the rest of us can draw names.”

“I think you know what Cora would tell you to do with that suggestion,” Isaac says dryly.

“I’m sure it would be very creative and involve my ass.” Stiles snorts. “Speaking of Cora, I should probably grab the thing I’m picking up and get moving. I have several errands to run today plus lunch with Lydia later.”

Isaac walks over and picks up a rather large box. Stiles arches a brow because it looks better suited to a toaster than rings. Isaac hands it to him, and Stiles is surprised by the rather substantial weight. “That’s it,” Isaac says. “She said to tell you to let her know if anything’s wrong or needs changed. If it is, she can probably can get it fixed by next Wednesday.”

“I’ll be sure to text her,” Stiles promises. He isn’t exactly sure what Cora’s got in this box, but he hopes she isn’t fucking with him and that the rings are actually finished. “You did manage to get Christmas off, right?”

“Yeah, I agreed to work New Year’s Eve for someone, so he’s taking my Christmas shift.” Isaac smiles. “You know, it’s the first time since I’ve known him that Derek’s going to actually have a party for his birthday. I’m glad you’re arranging this, Stiles. He deserves to have a great day.”

“He definitely does,” Stiles agrees. “I just want it to actually be a surprise, so I hope he doesn’t figure it out beforehand.”

“Erica and Boyd are being very careful not to even mention his birthday, since he normally doesn’t make a big deal out of it or anything. I think you’ll be able to keep it a secret until that night because no one is likely to say something accidentally to spoil the surprise.”

“I figure everyone invited is good at keeping secrets, so it’ll be fine. Anyway, I’d better get out of here. Nice seeing you, Isaac.”

“Bye Mom.” Isaac flashes a cheeky grin before hugging him, scenting his neck slightly then letting go.

“If you keep that up, I’ll ground your ass.” Stiles wags a finger at him before leaving the loft. He goes downstairs to the Jeep, driving to the parking lot of Target and parking near the end. Once he’s parked, he opens the box. There’s a thick book inside, which accounts for the weight, and nothing else. Pulling the book out, he snorts when he sees it’s a complete collection of fairy tales from around the world. He opens the book, not all surprised that there’s a hole cut into the pages at the end of the Cinderella chapter.

“Cora thinks she’s got jokes,” he mutters, even as he admires the delivery method because, well, it really is his and Derek’s thing, and he might even just give Derek the whole book instead of the box with the rings.

Speaking of, he pulls the box out and opens the lid. The rings are gorgeous. Platinum bands that are shaped in a pattern that would look interesting to anyone without supernatural knowledge, and the inside of each has a triskelion, infinity symbol, and a protection rune etched into the platinum. Stiles holds them in his palm, closing his eyes and murmuring a string of words that he’s been memorizing for this. There’s a pale yellow glow and then the runes are activated. They’ll add a layer of protection for both of them should anything supernatural try attacking in the future.

Stiles just looks at the rings, touching them gently, unable to believe he’s reached a point where he not only accepts the mating bond, but he also wants Derek to be his husband. Not just werewolf married, but human married, too. It still sometimes seems like it’s happened too soon, but it doesn’t stress him out or worry him like it did before. Instead, it just feels right in a way he can’t explain. He puts the ring for him on, making sure it fits, and it does fit perfectly. Derek’s ring should, too, since Cora totally knows his size. Looking at the ring on his finger makes it all too real, and he can’t help smiling as he thinks about Derek’s reaction to his surprise next weekend.

With a shake of his head, he comes back to the present. Stiles pulls off his ring and carefully puts both of them into the ring box. When that is tucked into the book, he sets the book back in the cardboard box for safe-keeping. He quickly texts Cora to tell her the rings are awesome and nothing needs changed. A quick look at the clock tells him he still has a little over an hour until he’s meeting Lydia for lunch. With that in mind, he heads to the florist so he can scratch something else off his long ‘to do today’ list.

Malia and Kira helped him out by making arrangements for some of the floral decorations at the ball, and he’s supposed to drop by to approve everything today so the arrangements can get created and delivered next week. Lydia has already given her approval, after making a couple of changes to better suit the colors in the Central Hotel ballroom, but Stiles gets the final approval since he knows more about what Derek likes, and he also knows what the original masquerade had been decorated like and what he wants to accomplish with this party.

The women in his life have done a great job with the flowers. The florist is very helpful addressing a few more specific ideas he has in mind, and it’s easy to add that to his order. The arrangements are classy and formal, but not overly expensive, so it’s a great combination. Stiles is trying to keep this under a certain budget because he plans to pay Jackson back for what he can’t afford to cover at the moment. It’s costing more than he originally thought it would, but it’s still coming in under the number he came up with when thinking about repayment details. While he’s at the florist, he buys a single lily and puts it in a nice little vase that she’s selling. It’ll make for a nice surprise for Derek when he goes home later, and Stiles likes making Derek smile.

When he gets to the Jeep, he checks the list on his phone and marks one other thing off of it. There isn’t enough time to do anything else before meeting Lydia, so he drives on over to the Central Hotel and gets there ten minutes early. It’s the fanciest hotel in Beacon Hills, a leftover from the Gold Rush days that’s been restored to the whole hoity toity style it used to be back in the 1800s. Stiles has been here a couple of times, for prom and for Lydia and Jackson’s wedding reception, and he knows it’s a perfect location for Derek’s surprise party.

There’s a hotel restaurant that serves really good food, at a rather ridiculous price, and that’s where he goes to meet Lydia. She’s already there, of course, studying the menu with a thoughtful expression on her face. “Anything good?” Stiles asks as he sits down. He grins when she looks up at him. “I’m actually early. Can you believe it?”

“It is an unusual phenomenon, but at least you’re rarely ever late,” Lydia says, smiling as she closes her menu. “I’d suggest the ginger chicken because it’s delicious.”

“Alright. I’ll trust your judgement.” Stiles nods. “I just got done with the florist. The flowers look great. I think they’ll fit this space really well while also capturing some of the feel of the other masquerade ball.”

“Well, that’s what we want. To capture the feel of the ball where you two met but to make it different because your relationship has changed in the weeks since.” Lydia takes a sip of her water. “Did you get the rings from Cora? Are they beautiful?”

“Yes, and yes. She’s got a great design for the band, and the symbols I wanted etched on the interior are perfect.” Stiles runs his fingers through his hair. “I’ll show you after lunch, if you want. Thanks for keeping them for me, by the way. I figure Derek would somehow know to snoop around and would find them, and I want it to be a surprise when I propose and everything.”

“Of course. I don’t mind keeping them at all. I’ll bring them with me Friday night,” Lydia says. “While I’d like to see them, I think I can wait until after you’ve given them to Derek. I know how special this moment is going to be for you, and it’ll mean more if Derek’s the first person who gets to see his ring.”

“Yeah, it is a special moment.” Stiles looks up as a waiter approaches. They place their orders then he continues. “I never thought I’d be proposing to someone when I’m only twenty-five, and certainly not to someone I just met three months ago. Not that the time really means anything. I’ve learned that recently. When it’s real and means something, there’s not any kind of time requirement.”

“I still can’t believe you were trying to schedule your emotions.” Lydia shakes her head. “Only you, Stiles.” She smiles gently. “You’re really sure that you’re ready for this? Proposing and marriage and babies in the future are pretty major steps. It wasn’t that long ago that you were being your usual cynical self about romance and love.”

“I know I can be cynical and an ass about that stuff,” Stiles admits. “I still am, in a general sense, but I can acknowledge that I was wrong about romance being ridiculously overdone and that love has a certain definition. I’m a huge sappy romantic, it turns out, and my feelings for Derek can’t be defined at all. I’m fully aware that there are some huge steps coming up in my life, but I’m ready. I want to marry him, Lydia. Instead of scaring me, the idea makes me really happy. I mean, I still think marriage is about legality and that love is really all you need to have that a true commitment to each other, but the legal stuff is important, and Derek’s got a more traditional view about marriage than I do, so it’s an easy compromise to make.”

“Then you have my complete support,” Lydia assures him. “We’re going to make sure all your plans are executed perfectly next Friday, and it’s going to be exactly how you imagined. Derek’s going to be so surprised and you’ll be able to be smug for years about pulling this party off.”

“I’m trying not to get too nervous about the ways things might go wrong.” Stiles smiles wryly. “You know me, though. I keep thinking about all the possible ways he might find out that would ruin the surprise or worrying that maybe he’ll think it’s too soon for rings or I don’t know. I’m going to be glad when Christmas is finally here and we can do the holiday thing then get to the birthday party stuff so I can stop stressing myself out.”

“Don’t stress yourself,” Lydia scolds. “Derek has been ready for a ring since the night I met him. His feelings for you aren’t exactly concealed, you realize? He might be stoic and somewhat grumpy expression-wise, but his eyes really are windows to the soul.”

Their food arrives, and he changes the subject by asking about her research while they eat lunch. When they finish, they have their meeting with the manager overseeing their ballroom rental. Lydia negotiates extremely well, and all of their requests are easily met. It isn’t like they really plan to do much different except use colors from that first masquerade ball, and Stiles has pictures that Satomi sent him of the alcove where he and Derek met that he’s going to recreate as closely as possible here at the Central so they can sneak away from the birthday party to have sexy times like they did when they met.

Once they wrap up at the Central, he gives the box with the rings to Lydia, kisses her cheek, and then heads towards the center of town where his next errand awaits him. Birthday cakes are important, so he’s ordering from the best bakery around since he can’t make anything as delicious as they can with the limited time he has next week. He tries various samples before settling on his order for Derek’s cake, which involves a Batman and Superman theme that he knows will make Derek snort when he sees it. He buys a few other things when he’s there because everything looks and smells delicious. When he gets to his Jeep, he pulls his phone and marks another task as completed on his list.

After a quick stop at the store, he’s got all of his errands finished. He drops in to see Allison, so he can play with Tori and make nonsensical noises at Luke while talking to her about some of his second, third, and fourth plan scenarios depending on possible issues that could come up regarding the surprise party. She lets him rant and then points out how silly he’s being, and it makes him feel better. Between her and Lydia’s advice, he’s able to calm down enough to stop focusing on the possible issues and concentrate on how amazing it will be when Derek is totally surprised and Stiles’ plan is a success.

Stiles pulls into the driveway a little after five. Derek’s already home, which means he’s probably cooking. He’s taken to spending time out at the Hale compound helping the builder and doing manual labor that has his body looking even more muscular than before, as if he needs more than a twelve pack. It also makes him sweaty and dirty when he comes home, and, well, Stiles has recently discovered that he’s got a kink for going down on Derek before he has a chance to take a shower after he’s worked outside all day. There’s just something raw about it that appeals to him, and Derek doesn’t seem to mind at all.

“Hey babe, I’m home. I brought you something,” he calls out as he enters the house. He stops in his tracks and sniffs, recognizing that smell even though it’s been fifteen years since he’s smelled it. He walks into the kitchen, finding Derek standing by the oven with a hopeful expression on his face. “Did you…is that…”

“Yeah.” Derek ducks his head and smiles. “I’ve been practicing at Laura’s off and on for the last few weeks, but I finally got them perfect, according to your dad.”

“Oh God.” Stiles feels his eyes stinging with tears, and he wipes the back of his hand over them. “He said they taste like Mom’s?”

Derek nods. “I wanted to make sure they were close enough before I made them for you. There are so many recipes, and your dad didn’t have your grandmother’s recipe anywhere. It was trial and error, but totally worth it.”

“I love you,” Stiles says, going over to kiss him thoroughly. “I can’t believe you made me dumplings.” He holds out the vase. “Sorry, I got so distracted by the smell that I forgot to give what I got you. It was too pretty to resist when I was walking by the florist earlier, and it made me think of you.”

“Well, you told me they used to make you feel safe and comforted,” Derek reminds him, stroking his cheek with his knuckles. “And I know you haven’t had them since your mom got sick, so I wanted to give this to you.” He takes the vase and smiles. “It’s beautiful. You know how much I like lilies.”

“It makes the kitchen smell like it used to when Mom made them,” he whispers, wiping his face against Derek’s chest. “You spoil me too much.”

Derek rubs his back. “No such thing as too much, babe.” He tilts Stiles’ head back and kisses him. “Are you hungry? We can go ahead and eat early if you want.”

“Sure.” Stiles nods, going to get them something to drink while Derek gets their plates ready. He sits down, smiling as he asks, “How’s the main house coming along?”

“Pretty well. They’ve broken ground on Laura’s house and Cora’s place, too. Just digging for pipes and foundation stuff,” Derek says, sitting down and watching him. “They’re expecting to have the main house done by late January if the weather holds, and the girls should have their places by early spring.”

Stiles takes a bite of the dumpling, closing his eyes and moaning because it tastes almost the same as the ones his mom and grandmother made. “Der, these are amazing,” he whispers, opening his eyes to look at Derek’s crinkly eyed smile. “Thank you for making them for me. Anyway, when will they start your place?”

“I’m glad you like them. I was a bit nervous they wouldn’t compare. As for, uh, my place, they’ll start as soon as I give them finalized plans.” Derek runs his fingers through his hair. “I’m willing to let Erica and Boyd’s place get started next, since I have a feeling Isaac’s likely to just move in with Cora by the time everything’s finished. I’d rather wait until we know what we’re going to do about our living arrangements before finalizing anything.”

“Maybe we can review the plans after the holidays,” Stiles tells him, watching Derek’s expression as he talks. “I’m thinking that maybe Liam and Mason would like to get out of their apartment and move in here to keep the pack house maintained and everything.”

“Stiles, you don’t have to…” Derek stops and smiles wryly. “I know, you wouldn’t have said that if you didn’t want to, but I know this place means a lot to you.”

“It’s a house. Sure, there are a lot of good memories here, but I’ve realized that I can make new memories with you in our new house.” Stiles shrugs. “Anyway, home is wherever you are, as cliché as that sounds, and I do think Liam and Mason could take care of this place easily. Besides, Mason’s been telling me about some guy he wants to ask out, but their apartment is small and that makes it awkward to have sex without Liam being able to hear everything, so this will be good for them. I just want a large pack cuddle room in the new place, and custom made dining tables so that we can always accommodate all of our packs whenever we want.”

“You can have anything you want,” Derek tells him seriously. “I mean, I was willing to stay here if that’s what you wanted because, like you said, wherever you are is home for me, but I like the idea of being able to design our own house and make it everything we want it to be for our future together. It’s almost like a fresh start for us, in a way.”

“I know what you mean.” Stiles nods. “It’s going to be fun figuring out what we want and planning out all the details together. It’ll definitely be something to look forward to after the New Year begins.”

“Next year is going to be a good year.” Derek smiles. “I’m just looking forward to December 27, in all honesty, because that’s after your deadline. I can’t wait to be with you without any ridiculous bets happening or time restrictions.”

“I never meant for my courtship deadline to stress you out,” Stiles admits. “It was one of those selfish times when I was thinking about myself and not considering anyone else. The betting thing was all your mom and Scott, though, so they deserve to lose, even if it’s meant having to wait so long to make things truly official between us.”

“It wasn’t selfish at all because you were worried about me not having real love, either,” Derek reminds him. “Besides, it’s worth it because we’ve ended up with a relationship that is built on trust and affection, not just due to a true mate bond. I’d wait however long is necessary for a public announcement because I know your answer, even if no one else does yet.”

“You’re amazing.” Stiles nods his emphatically because it’s totally the truth. “Have you found out when your family will be down for the holidays?”

“Mom and Dad will be here on Wednesday, and everyone else is getting arriving at different times on Christmas Eve. They’re staying in some of the vacant lofts in my building so there’s no hassle with hotel reservations or anything. I’ve told them that your pack celebrates on Christmas Eve, so we’re planning Christmas morning for our pack festivities,” Derek says. “Then the family dinner that afternoon with your family and mine.”

“We’ll be busy.” Stiles grins. “Also, since I haven’t mentioned it yet, I made plans that night for us, just the two of us, to celebrate your birthday.” He figures now is as good as any to lay the groundwork for getting Derek to the surprise party. “Reservations at a hotel for a delicious meal, and a room upstairs for our own private celebration after dinner.” He leers playfully. “Tuxes required.”

“Stiles, we don’t have to do anything fancy for my birthday.” Derek is smiling, though, so Stiles knows he’s happy that he remembered his birthday and made plans for them. He has no idea just how awesome the plans really are, but Stiles needs a cover story in order to get Derek into the tux, so formal dinner seems the best option.

“I know we don’t have to, Der. However, I want to, and I already paid a fee for the reservations because of the holiday, so we’re going.” He shrugs. “It’ll be like a present for me, really, since seeing you in a tux will definitely be worth having to wear one myself.”

“I can’t remember the last time I actually celebrated my birthday,” Derek admits. “I mean, we always have cake and presents, but it’s usually along with Christmas, and I haven’t even gone out with friends or anything to party since most places are closed on the actual day.”

“Well, this year, you and I are celebrating.” Stiles nudges his foot against Derek’s leg. “And we’ll celebrate every year, because birthdays are important. If you didn’t have one, you wouldn’t be here with me now, after all.”

“Alright. I’ll get used to celebrating it again.” Derek shakes his head. “I’ll also take our tuxes to the dry cleaners on Monday so that they are fresh for Friday night. I don’t think yours was ever washed after the masquerade, was it?”

“Um, well, there was quite a lot of shit happening in my life after that,” Stiles says, “so I just hung it in the closet and didn’t figure I’d need it again for a while. Dry cleaning is a great idea. One that I hadn’t actually thought of.”

“Always the tone of surprise,” Derek says, lips twitching before he laughs. “Hey, I do have good ideas occasionally, you know?”

“I’m not sure if you’re insinuating that I’m Hermione, in which case cool because she’s awesome and totally would have been in Slytherin, just like me, if not for needing to be conveniently in Gryffindor for Harry’s plot purposes,” Stiles muses, “or if you’re insinuating that I am a bossy know-it-all who misjudges you sometimes.”

“Is there a difference?” Derek arches a brow. “And I should have guessed your favorite character, but we’ve never discussed it before. You probably like the twins a lot, too, huh?”

“She’s great. Why? Who’s yours?” Stiles asks curiously. “And the twins are awesome. Obviously, JKR totally missed the typo in the published edition of Deathly Hallows, though, that says Fred died by having a wall fall on him since he isn’t dead.”

“Still in denial after all this time? As for character development throughout the whole series? That’s easy. Neville.” Derek shrugs. “Overall, it’s Harry, though, because he’s the character I related to the most.”

“Always.” Stiles smiles. “Well, yeah, Harry’s the main guy. Of course he’s a favorite.” Stiles nods. “Neville’s got a great development, though, so I agree with that choice. If you’d said Dumbledore, you’d have been sleeping on the couch tonight.”

“Is he anyone’s favorite?” Derek snorts. “Are you still hungry? I made brownies earlier.”

“I’m definitely hungry for brownies.” Stiles grins. “Why don’t you get them while I wash these dishes up then we can watch a movie?”

“Sounds good.” Derek kisses him when they stand up, stroking the back of his neck before he heads into the kitchen. “If you’re staring at my ass, you aren’t getting plates together.”

“I can multi-task, babe.” Stiles watches him walk away, the goofy grin on his face that he thinks is becoming pretty common these days. In a little over a week, he’s going to ask that man to marry him, and Cinderella can suck it because Derek is way better than any boring old prince.