361 North Gulph Lane is a tall, skinny house, with an even narrower front porch and a white picket fence all the way around it that’s only as high as Kevin’s furry golden butt.
Every day, Kevin sits at the gate at his most dignified, chest puffed out and tail a slow wag, watching dutifully as the three Clemson kids—ages six, eight, and nine—cross the street to the aging Beacon Valley elementary school.
He stands at attention for Carrie Bless—a serious eight, wearing her Hall Monitor pin with visible pride—and her little sister, Meg, wearing her karate gi for the third day in a row. He hangs the front half of his body over the fence, wiggling into an enthusiastic petting from Mathew, and then backs up a respectable ten feet from Andy, who’s helplessly afraid of him, even if he’d never admit it out loud.
Stiles watches from his seat on his front step at 8:15 in the morning, a cup of coffee cradled in his palms, and only whistles Kevin back to his side when the last little Moony, always running late, races across the crosswalk, backpack bouncing against the backs of his legs.
Stiles stretches and yawns as he gets to his feet, hitches up the sagging coveralls he has tied around his waist, and figures it’s about time he got to work.
At five years old, his mom used to tell him, Stiles never reached for an object he didn’t want, couldn’t have, or anything that wouldn’t end up in his immediate grasp. He never dropped a toy, spilled a drink, sprinkled crumbs. His dad said he had a stubborn brain and sticky fingers, but his mom—his mom insisted he had magic.
When he was nine, his mom died, and it seemed like all of Stiles’ innate grace died with her. Clumsy, too tall, too gangly. His dad said: this is growing up. His healer insisted: this is repression. It’s only natural. It’ll resolve itself. Just wait until he’s eleven.
His dad, a great wizard, looked at Stiles and hugged him and swallowed his own sadness and said: I’ll love you no matter what.
At eleven years old, a murder of crows blanketed the yard outside Stiles’ window and no school owls came.
361 North Gulph Lane is three and a half stories, but the and a half is invisible from the outside. Kevin follows Stiles all the way up, past the master bedroom, down the hall to the winding attic stairs, into the chill of the open owlry. He pokes his nose at a sleepy Tatertot, who flaps awake with a startled hoot, and then glares down at Kevin’s happy face, gets a lick across his belly feathers for his trouble.
Stiles laughs, then holds up his hands in surrender when Tatertot turns his angry eyes on him.
He says, “I give you treats, you can’t be mad at me.”
Tatertot shifts on his perch, fluffs out his wings, and then glides over to land on Stiles’ shoulder and nip at his ear. He’s a flecked and handsome western screech owl—common, generally unfriendly, but smart and affordable. He’s semi-pleasant for food and pets, takes pride in his appearance, and does a tolerable job of messenger between Stiles and his dad and his friends.
Today, Stiles sets out a plate of cold roast chicken and writes:
Tell your minion to stop lurking. He’s not very good at being inconspicuous, and I’m pretty sure the school kids are going to freak out when they notice him hiding in the bushes. I’m fine, Kevin’s fine, Tater’s fine. Stop worrying.
Say hi to everyone for me.
Stiles rolls up the paper, ties it to Tatertot’s leg—he pecks at him with his beak in protest, then goes back to his meal—and says, “Whenever you’re done, dude,” and heads back downstairs.
The magical community of Beacon Hills, population 265, is supernaturally inclusive. Partially because of the proximity to Sunnydale, and also because its founding purpose, hundreds of years ago, was to protect the giant magical asshole tree, also known as the only Nemeton currently active in the United States.
Which is why Scott and half a dozen other werewolves have a pack house and therapy classes and run a little café on Main Street. None of them had wanted Stiles to move out of town.
Tater scratches at Stiles’ window while he’s tiredly scraping together a late dinner. When he lets him in, he perches on the counter next to the stove and refuses to let Stiles’ near the scroll clutched in his claws until he feeds him half of his half-assed burger.
The note says:
Please tell me there isn’t a wolf at your door. Oh my god, Stiles, it isn’t one of MINE! GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!
Stiles snorts into his hands. Out of the fully warded house that his dad insisted on? Out to where the stranger wolf could get him? Yeah, Scott. No.
It’s times like these that he wishes a goddamn phone will work in Beacon Hills, because laboriously sending Scott another note back will take too long to matter. He’s not even set up on the Flu network. His house is 100 percent no-maj, except for the hidden owlry and his self-heating coffee mug—that will have to be pried out of his cold, dead hands—and, arguably, Kevin.
But, okay, speaking of—
If the wolf isn’t Scott’s, that still doesn’t mean it’s a danger.
Kevin’s non-reaction to the werewolf is telling but not definitive. Kevin would try to make friends with a moose, if he could. He’s regularly dispassionate about squirrels, leaves his outside water bowl half full for the birds, and has some sort of cross species love affair going on with the Hershels’ cat. These are all generally non-threatening type animals, though, and the one time Tatertot actually bit Stiles for real, Kevin had growled a low warning deep in his throat.
So probably, if the wolf wanted Stiles’ dead or maimed, Kevin wouldn’t have sniffed the bush so thoroughly before waggling his butt as he pranced away.
Stiles frowns down at Kevin. He’s panting, mouth open and tongue lolling, paws dancing back and forth expectantly, because if Tater got some, well then… Stiles sighs and tosses him the rest of the burger. He wasn’t really hungry, anyhow.
Stiles knows he’s lost weight. He’s working too hard, doesn’t sleep enough. He’s lonely. But his options had been to continue living in an entire world that doesn’t respond to him, or set out on his own where he can watch TV and drive a car and use a computer and not feel like a freak, and it’s hard now, but he figures in another couple years it’ll be totally worth it.
There’s a garden shed in back of his house that’s just perfect for Apparating. His dad makes a point of visiting at least once a week, and Scott brings him pastries every Friday and Saturday.
Stiles jerks awake at midnight to a knock at his backdoor and opens it to a harried Scott saying, “Sorry, sorry, this is the earliest I could get away,” with a sheepish expression. “Are you alright?”
Stiles hangs on the doorjamb and gestures down his body. “Do I look alright?”
Scott cocks his head. He says, “Yeah,” but also, “You look exhausted, dude,” and sweeps him up into a bone-crushing hug.
“Hi,” Stiles says, and hugs him back.
Over the cinnamon cake Scott brought and a fresh pot of coffee, Scott says, “You can’t leave the house until we figure this out.”
Stiles scoffs. “First you tell me get out, now you tell me stay in.” He waffles his hand back and forth, grinning, and Scott slaps at his palm.
“Shut up, you know what I mean,” Scott says. “Werewolves are dangerous.”
“Full moon werewolves are dangerous,” Stiles says. They’re on the new moon, and wolves that can change outside of that time of the month normally have a pretty good grasp on their animal nature. “He’s probably just curious.”
“He probably wants to eat you.”
Kevin rests his head on Stiles’ knee and Stiles scratches him behind his ears. He says, “Kevin likes him.”
“Kevin can be bribed,” Scott says, frowning.
“Not when eating me is on the table,” Stiles says. He’s ninety percent sure Kevin would warn him if that was the case. There’s still that tiny sliver of Kevin that would probably sell his own tail for cheese. “If I let you poke around the yard, will that make you happy?”
Scott grimaces. “I kind of already did.”
Unsurprised, Stiles drums his fingers on the table and says, “Well?”
“Well, nothing,” Scott says, disgruntled. “Scent trails end at the edge of the yard, but they’re all faint, like he left hours ago.”
“Maybe he was just passing by.” It could be true. He puts on a wide smile for Scott that neither of them is buying.
Scott lets it slide, though. He’s learned to pretty much let everything slide, Stiles rarely likes to ask for help, and he certainly doesn’t want it given to him freely outside of an emergency—there’d been way too many magical invasions of his privacy, growing up. He’s here to live a normal life, and not be the weirdo at the end of the street. That’s the whole reason he got Kevin in the first place. A golden retriever offsets the fact that he also has a pet owl.
At the door, just before he leaves, Scott turns back and says, “Maybe I should just get Malia to stop by in the morn—“
“No.” Absolutely not. Stiles does not want his ex-girlfriend beating up his possible stalker. Malia doesn’t understand the words moderation or extenuating circumstances.
Scott’s shoulders slump. “Fine. Just be careful.”
“Always, dude. Goodnight.” A bro hug and a see-you-later and then Scott disappears into the garden shed and Stiles is left with Kevin, who looks just as eager to get back to bed as Stiles feels. He has to get up in five hours. He has to have breakfast, feed Kevin, let him watch the school kids, get to work. This is all fine.
And now—he perks up a little bit, ruffling the top of Kevin’s head—now he gets to find out who the stranger wolf is that’s stalking him. This is probably going to be fun.
He waits until the Clemsons go past. Until the Bless sisters wave to him. Until three of the Moonys, Mathew, Andy, and the littlest late Moony run past. Kevin splits his time between the front fence and the bush, torn between greeting all the kids and making friends with the lurking wolf.
He’s not even making much of an effort at hiding this morning. Stiles can see the tip of his black tail poking out.
Finally, Stiles says, “I have coffee that I’m willing to share if you come out.”
There’s a rustle. The tail disappears and a snout takes its place. Kevin yips and licks at it, and the wolf growls low and loud enough to startle him into stumbling backwards.
Stiles is halfway to his feet to grab for him, but Kevin just bows playfully and jumps right back into the wolf’s face.
“Huh,” he says, watching with wide eyes as Kevin and the wolf scuffle across the front walk and then, uh, chase each other into the backyard. “Huh.”
The most Stiles gets out of the strange werewolf that morning is a huff of acknowledgement when he finally has to call Kevin inside and get to work.
“Are you just that fucking lonely?” Stiles calls after him, but the wolf hops over the fence without a backwards glance.
361 North Gulph Lane has three neighbors. The houses on either side of Stiles’ are blocky brick cottages. One has a converted garage, and the other has a large deck and an above ground pool. Directly behind Stiles is an aging match to his own skinny monstrosity—the yard is overgrown, the windows are always dark. The porch sags and the walls look wonky.
The Hershels to his left tell him Olivia Hale used to live there: nice old lady, partial to dogs.
“Died about three years ago,” Mitch says when Stiles asks. “No one ever came to claim it, after.”
Stiles nods like he agrees, says, “Has anyone thought about tearing it down?”
Mitch looks interested for all of three seconds before his eyes go blank. He coughs into his fist, says, “I’m sorry, did you say you needed to borrow something?” and Stiles barely resists the urge to curse under his breath.
Stiles is almost entirely certain that Olivia Hale’s old house is where the wolf lives.
He stands at the window that night and thinks about why.
Why there’s a werewolf living in Beacon Valley, presumably all alone. Does he have a pack? Is he a serial killer? Does he gnaw on the bones of his victims? Is he a wizard?
He’s probably a wizard.
Which means that there’s a good chance the house behind Stiles’ house is spelled to look that way, and goddammit, he left Beacon Hills for a reason, he hates not knowing things.
His fingers twitch against the windowpane. The moon is a sliver. He can see Orion’s belt above the trees.
At the very least, Stiles thinks, he should go exploring. Yeah. He nods his head. Why wouldn’t he do that?
Stiles isn’t technically a no-maj, so even if there are wards surrounding the house to disorient the typical Beacon Valley resident, Stiles doesn’t feel them. He hops the laughably short white fence at the back of his yard and crouches down in the tall grass on the other side.
He glances over his shoulder once—Kevin is standing at the screen door, watching him, tail a slow wag when he sees Stiles looking.
He thinks, don’t bark, and Kevin’s tail wags faster.
With a heavy, resigned sigh Stiles slips through the yard and around the side of the house. Closer up, the washed out gray of the siding looks fresh and white. Candles burn in every window. There’s a trellis of hot pink roses, huge blooming lilac bushes and Stiles can smell something delicious cooking through an open kitchen window. A peek through shows a spoon stirring itself in a pot on a stove. Something heavy sits itself on the base of Stiles’ throat, there’s a familiar tightening of his chest, and he has trouble catching his breath. Goddamn wizards. Stiles’ life was never going to be normal, was it?
He sucks in a thin thread of air and then abruptly relaxes against a warm furry body burrowing up into his side. Of course. Kevin jumps so his paws are on the windowsill. He’s got a sixth sense for Stiles’ impending panic, selective hearing, and a way to get out of locked places that would be on the creepy side of uncanny, if Stiles stopped to think about it too hard. He licks the side of Stiles’ head and Stiles admits defeat. They should leave.
And then a man walks into view. A beautiful, strong-shouldered man in a tank top and a red-stained apron, and Stiles dearly hopes this man—wolf—doesn’t kill people and eat them.
Stiles’ stunned stillness is followed immediately by Kevin barking a loud, excited hello in his ear.
The man jerks his head toward the window, eyes flashing red, and Stiles stumbles backwards and yells at Kevin to run.
It’s no actual surprise that Kevin doesn’t run. Stiles doesn’t bother slowing down, though, because Kevin and the wolf are friends—kind of—and Kevin is much more likely to get out of this alive.
He scrambles into the shed and reaches for the emergency portkey his dad left him, but—he takes a moment, a deep breath, listens to the non-stop excited barks from Kevin echoing in the night, and realizes that there’s only a very slim chance the wolf will want to actually hurt him. He hangs out quietly in his bushes every morning. He plays with his dog. The most Stiles will probably get here is some loud yelling about trespassing. Right?
Stiles drops his arm and curls his fingers into a fist. The only thing that will definitely happen if Stiles uses his emergency portkey is that his dad will make him move back home.
When Stiles finally gathers up enough nerve to leave the shed, Kevin has gone quiet. He’s waiting for him by the back door, tongue lolling as he pants. Stiles scans the yard, warily making his way to the house, but there’s no sign of wolf or man.
Kevin bumps his side, spins and impatiently pushes ahead of him when he pulls open the screen door. He goes right for his water bowl.
Stiles locks the door and runs his hands through his hair, tugs on the ends.
Okay. Okay, so that didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. He wonders, a little hysterically, if he just shouldn’t have gone up and knocked on the wolf’s door. Peeping in windows is probably worse than lurking in bushes, right?
He says to Kevin, “Scott must never know about this,” and goes upstairs to bed.
Stiles has an old blue jeep. It was technically his mother’s, but she never drove it after her parents died. No real reason to leave Beacon Hills, after that. She was never a very good driver, anyway.
Stiles learned from sheer blind persistence, the Beacon Valley library, and a mechanic at BV Auto that had watched him piteously as he stripped the gears again and again in a CVS parking lot before stepping in to help.
Joe taught him how to fix her up, too, and eventually all the other cars in the shop, and Stiles fell into the payroll like an accident and just never left.
Stiles likes tinkering with engines. He understands cars in a way that would seem like magic, if Stiles had any magic to speak of, and if he just wasn’t really good with his hands.
He works long, satisfying hours and tries not to think about how much of a weirdo he still is, and focuses on the positives: he’s pretty sure him and the garage receptionist, Heather, could be considered friends now. There’s Danielle at the coffee shop that knows him by name and beverage choice and occasionally slips him free scones. The shelter where he adopted Kevin from calls him once a month to check up on him. Sometimes he talks to the crossing guard in the mornings.
Small, baby steps. It’s only been a few months since Stiles moved here and stopped commuting from Beacon Hills. Stiles is charming, pretty soon he’ll probably even know his above ground pool neighbors’ names too.
His dad shows up for dinner and he talks very carefully about how proud he is of Stiles, which basically means that Scott blabbed.
“It’s not a big deal, Dad,” Stiles says.
“What’s not a big deal?” his dad says in a pointed way that means he knows, but he wants Stiles to actually tell him.
“We don’t have any problems,” Stiles says. “He likes Kevin, and he keeps to himself.”
His dad sighs. “Son…”
“I don’t want to hear it!” Stiles says, waving a hand. “It’s not like I want a wizard lurking around, Dad, but I’m not going to make it an issue unless he does.” One of the big things they aren’t saying: some wizards don’t properly appreciate Squibs. Like he’s a blood taint—an abomination.
Frowning, his dad says, “I just want you to be happy.”
Stiles says, “I’m fine,” which isn’t necessarily the same thing, but they both leave it at that.
Stiles opens his door to a wolf that night at half past nine. Or, uh, a human-shaped wolf, looking equal parts angry and embarrassed, if the flat eyebrows and red-tipped ears are any indication.
Stiles says, “Uh, hi?” and really hopes the wolf isn’t there to rip his throat out for all the trespassing the night before.
All the guy says, though, is, “You have my Nana’s dog.”
Stiles hears the scrabble of nails on hardwood as Kevin races down the stairs, the jingle of his tags and his heavy, excited breath.
“Come again?” Stiles says, watching the tick of the dude’s—Hale’s—jaw, as he clenches his teeth. Kevin leaps at Hale and Stiles catches his collar to hold him back.
“Kevin,” Hale says.
“How did you… you know what, it doesn’t matter.” Stiles tries to shove Kevin behind him, but Kevin just jerks out of his hold and lurches forward to shove his nose in Hale’s crotch. Stiles palms his face and mutters, “Read the room, dude.” Kevin can be so embarrassing.
But then Hale balances down on his haunches, rubbing hands all over Kevin’s head and neck, and Stiles thinks about how the shelter told him Kevin had been returned five times before Stiles got him, so of course, of course, it makes perfect sense that he was Olivia Hale: Werewolf Grandmother’s goddamn dog.
Hale says, “We didn’t know what happened to him,” as Kevin rolls over and presents his tummy for rubbing, the shameless hussy.
“Look,” Stiles says, then pauses when Hale looks up at him, pinning him with eerie hazel eyes. He swallows hard, throat dry. “Look, it’s great that you know him and all, but I adopted him fair and square.” Oh god, what would he do without Kevin? Be a pathetic loser with a snippy owl and no friends in town. Almost no friends, maybe, but he’s still not entirely sure Heather and Danielle count.
Hale’s eyes widen. “I’m not—”
“You can visit him,” Stiles says. That’s a far as he’s going to go. Olivia Hale died three years ago, that’s plenty of time for a werewolf to find a dog if he’d really wanted to.
Hale ducks his head, red staining the tops of his cheeks. He says, “Okay,” and Stiles can see the barest hint of a smile at the corner of his lips.
“Okay,” Stiles echoes faintly. Great.
What have I done? Stiles asks himself the next morning, sitting next to a fully humanoid Hale—Derek—both of them awkwardly cradling coffee cups and watching as Kevin goes through his morning meet and greet routine with the neighborhood kids.
Stiles starts and stops several conversations while Derek looks plain disinterested in anything he has to say.
Finally, Stiles says, “So…wizard, huh?” which he figures is only slightly better than pointing out the whole werewolf thing. “Was your Nana, uh…”
“Squib,” Derek says shortly. He slants Stiles an unreadable glance. “We all loved her anyway.”
Stiles bobs his head. He says, “Good, good. I mean, you know, that’s good,” because it would have sucked a whole lot of balls if somehow Derek missed how Stiles is not exactly a wizard himself, too. No one wants to relive the Theo fiasco.
When the last little late Moony runs across the street, Kevin waggles his butt back up to the porch and muscles his way in between them, sitting down with a huff, plopping his head on Stiles’ arm, arching furry golden eyebrows up at him for attention.
“You’re ridiculous,” Stiles says. And then he glances over at Derek and says, very graciously, “I have to go to work, but you can still play with him if you want.”
It becomes a thing. A morning thing, where Derek shows up for coffee and then shucks his human form while Stiles is packing up for work. By the time Stiles starts his jeep, he’s got a wolf and a dog both staring at him from his front porch as he drives away.
And it’s not weird, no matter what Scott says during their early Friday morning pastry date.
“I should meet him,” Scott says.
“No way.” Scott isn’t his alpha, that’s not how this works. They’ve been over this a million times.
“As your friend,” Scott says. “As a concerned-about-your-wellbeing friend, dude. And, you know, I’m more worried about the wizard thing than the,” he shrugs a shoulder, “werewolf problem.”
Stiles’, “Being a werewolf isn’t a problem,” is rote by now, because Stiles has refused to let Scott wallow in misery since the day he’d been bit. They have a mantra, Stiles makes him say it whenever he thinks Scott’s getting melancholy about it again.
“I’m not talking about me,” Scott says.
“Derek being a werewolf isn’t a problem either,” Stiles says defensively, arms crossed over his chest.
“I know!” Scott says, “but being a wizard is!”
Stiles shrugs, digs his nails idly into the painted wood of his kitchen table. “I think he’s okay.”
“You thought Theo was okay.”
Stiles makes a face. “I thought Theo was a douchebag worthy of hate-sex, and I was wrong.” That’s not exactly how it went down, but Stiles refuses to acknowledge that he’d fallen for Theo’s slick charm at first. It’s one of his great shames, Stiles is usually a magnificent judge of character. He’d just been kind of willing to overlook the fact that Theo was pure evil because of that short period of time when Theo had been allergic to shirts.
Scott doesn’t look convinced.
Stiles says, “What do you honestly think he’s going to do?”
“I don’t know, man.” Scott slumps down in his seat. “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
Stiles stuffs the rest of his sticky bun into his mouth and says, muffled, “I’ll be fine.”
And Stiles is fine. He’s totally okay, everything is honky-dory. The weather gets hotter and the kids stop coming by in the morning and start saying hi to Kevin at all hours of the day on their way to the park, instead. Stiles and Derek have coffee or sometimes lemonade on the porch. Derek doesn’t talk all that much, but he doesn’t seem to mind whenever Stiles does. There have been snorts of amusement, Stiles has definitely heard them, and Derek ducks his head to hide smiles.
The first time it rained, Stiles invited Derek inside, and since then it’s kind of been a given that they have breakfast together every Sunday—it’s so normal and nice that Stiles doesn’t want to think about it too hard, or he’ll find some way to mess it up.
But then it does get messed up, and Stiles maintains it was from absolutely no fault of his own.
Stiles says to Danielle, “Neighbors bring other neighbors lemon squares, right? That’s a thing that people do?” and Danielle gives him an unimpressed eyebrow and says, “I don’t want to hear about your weird crush again.”
“It’s not a weird crush,” Stiles says. It’s more like a strange admiration, given that all he knows about Derek is that he lives alone and howls at the moon. “Muffins?”
“You said he tried to steal your dog,” Danielle says. She packs up four lemon squares, though, and says, “No muffins. The nuts are too iffy.”
“No nuts, right,” Stiles says, rubbing the back of his neck. He bites his lip and rocks back on his heels.
“Spit it out,” Danielle says. She neatly folds over the top of the lemon square bag and plops it down on the counter in front of Stiles.
Finally, Stiles says, “I think I have a weird crush.”
“I know you do,” she says. “If these lemon squares don’t work, come back for the brownies.”
The actual messing up doesn’t occur until Stiles knocks on Derek’s front door Sunday afternoon, lemon squares in hand.
Derek opens it with a scowl and Stiles shakes the bag in his face. “I’ve got delicious baked goodies,” he says. He’s downright baffled when Derek refuses to budge an inch out of the doorway.
“Thanks,” Derek says gruffly, and then, uh, they both seem at kind of a loss.
At the very least, Stiles is expecting an invitation inside. Stiles hasn’t been back at Derek’s house since the Peeping Tom incident, and that hasn’t seemed weird at all—Derek comes over to see Kevin, mostly, so why would that be weird—except right this moment. This moment, right now, where Derek’s shoulders nearly touch either side of the doorjamb, and how he subtly shifts to block Stiles’ possible view of anything as he bounces from foot to foot on the front porch.
So. So, obviously this is a wizard problem. Huh.
Stiles tries not to let his shoulders slump too much. He shoves his hands in his pockets, makes it more like a careless slouch. Thank Merlin Stiles wasn’t too invested, right. That would’ve been so stupid.
“Okay, so,” Stiles says. “I’ll see you around.”
Danielle must’ve talked to Heather, because there’s an enormous fudge-covered brownie in a bag labeled “STILES” waiting for him when he gets to work Monday morning.
He blinks around a burning in the back of his eyes—of course Danielle knew the lemon squares wouldn’t work. Nothing was ever going to work. Stiles is going to stuff this huge brownie in his mouth and then go back and eat a dozen more.
And the most pathetic part of all of this, honestly, is that Derek showed up that morning like nothing unusual had happened—like Stiles’ little lapse in judgement had absolutely nothing to do with Derek and Derek’s playdate with Kevin, and how he apparently sees hanging out with Stiles as an unfortunate necessity for that to happen.
Stiles had pressed his fingers into his forehead to stave off an embarrassing amount of tears and made excuses to go inside while they frolicked in the yard.
Heather says, “Oh honey. That bad?” while Stiles tries to choke down a 4 by 4 square of chocolate in one go.
Stiles’, “Of course not,” comes five minutes and one bottle of water later, and Heather just pats his shoulder and says, “Okay.”
She says, “You know, if he can’t see how—”
“Please don’t,” Stiles says. He’s heard this before: Stiles is amazing and not bad looking and, hey, apparently Jackson grudgingly thinks he grew into his shoulders pretty okay, so, you know, Stiles’ biased pack-friends led by his best friend have all given him a shaky thumbs up. That’s awesome.
The garage lights flicker, like something in the air senses Stiles’ complete and total frustration.
Heather backs off with a look, and Stiles knows her well enough by now to know it’s her weird stuff happens around you look, a look that Stiles would welcome if there was enough of all that weird stuff to make him whole.
Being whatever the hell Stiles is fucking sucks. Apparently he doesn’t really fit in anywhere. He rubs his hand over the top of his chest, hoping like hell he doesn’t throw up.
“Maybe I should move home,” Stiles says to Tatertot. He’s leaning out over the open owlry, watching Kevin attempt to tackle Derek in the backyard.
Tater hoots accusingly.
“What?” Stiles says. Tater just hoots at him again, and then nips at his finger until it bleeds. “Ow, oh, come on,” he shakes out his hand, “I know you miss roosting with Hash.” They were nest mates, that’s originally why Stiles’ dad had bought two of them, and Hashbrown’s only slightly more pleasant to deal with.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that Tatertot hasn’t always been Stiles’ favorite.
Stiles sighs, says, “I know. I’m not ready to give up yet either.” Maybe the problem is that he just hasn’t moved far enough. Being only twenty miles from a magical epicenter probably isn’t ideal. But he hadn’t wanted to quit his job, and it’s nice being close to home. This is the farthest he’s ever gotten from Beacon Hills in his entire life.
Maybe he needs to explore.
He thinks baby steps and starts planning a vacation. A car trip with Kevin. They’ll just go east, and see what they find. Joe won’t mind if he takes a few weeks off. Heather will probably be relieved, right.
He’s thinking about what he should and shouldn’t pack—Kevin’s stuffed monkey, definitely, but they can probably live without his five well-loved hoarded tennis balls, and the Raggedy Ann that smells like death—when Derek shows up at his door.
It’s Sunday, but Stiles had thought…
He says, “Sorry, I only have cereal,” because he didn’t think it was worth it to shop for bacon and eggs when he was leaving town. Also, you know, he thought for sure Derek would’ve realized by now that Stiles isn’t demanding his attention in exchange for Kevin’s.
Derek looks at the bags Stiles has haphazardly organized by the front door. “Going somewhere?”
“Yeah, I,” he shoves a hand through his hair. “I should have said. Sorry.”
Derek looks down at his hands and away. “How long?” he asks, and it’s so fucking awkward, how had Stiles not seen this? It’s so obvious now. They were never friends; Derek was just putting up with him.
Derek says, “Do you want me to, uh, look after—“
“Kevin’s coming with me,” Stiles says. He blinks up at the ceiling. “I’m sending Tater to my dad’s, but thanks.”
There’s a long lengthy pause, and Stiles determinedly looks everywhere but at Derek.
Then Derek says, “Tater?” and at that exact moment, of course, Tater chooses to soar in through the kitchen window and land on Derek’s head.
To his credit, Derek doesn’t even look surprised.
Stiles says, “You were supposed to stay with Dad,” and Tater gives him an indignant hoot and glides off Derek’s head to sit on Kevin, instead.
“You have an owl,” Derek says flatly.
Stiles is fucking bewildered. Is Derek angry about that? What, only pure wizards can have owls? “Why wouldn’t I have an owl?”
“I didn’t think—” Derek cuts himself off, cheeks red, and Stiles flails his hands and says, “Didn’t think what? That I even could?”
His chest feels tight and hot, and Kevin scrambles to his feet, dislodging Tatertot to wiggle up close, press his head into Stiles’ stomach. Stiles digs his fingers into Kevin’s scruff and tries not to cry.
He says, “You should leave.”
Derek opens and closes his mouth. “But I…”
“Derek,” Stiles says softly, thumbs smoothing over the top of Kevin’s head. He stares hard at the silky strands, each second Derek just stands there winding up all the tension in his back more and more, till he feels like he’s going to crack in half.
“But I didn’t mean…” Derek growls, low in his throat, and Stiles jerks his head back up to look at him, eyes wide. Derek says, hands clenched into fists at his sides, “I meant I didn’t think you’d want one.” He says, “I thought…” his chest expands on a deep breath, “…Nana moved across the country to get away from us. We’d visit, and we weren’t allowed wands. We had to use phones and cars and pencils.”
Stiles stares at Derek in awe. It’s the most he’s ever heard him talk at one time. It’s the most expressive he’s seen him, eyes dark with frustration. Derek has crow’s feet and bunny teeth, the cheekbones of a god and the flush of an embarrassed twelve-year-old.
Stiles says, faintly, “I have a self-heating mug.”
Derek laughs depreciatingly, posture deflating in something that looks like relief. He rubs his palms over his cheeks and says, “Of course you do,” and also, “Let me cook you dinner.”
“You know,” Stiles says, “if your Nana really wanted to move away from everything magical, she probably shouldn’t have bought a house within a half hour of the Nemeton.”
Derek has three pots on the stove, ingredients floating above them, spoons dipping in and then zooming over to hover in front of Stiles’ face for tasting.
Derek, back to him, hunches his shoulders a little, neck reddening. He says, “She, uh, hated magic, but Dad said she had some of the Sight.”
“Right,” Stiles says, trying to dodge around an insistent spoon. “So, what, she saw her happiness here?” Beacon Valley: home of all your small-town dreams.
Derek throws him a little glance. He has the red-stained apron on again, and the steam from the spaghetti pot has curled the front of his hair, the long bits over his ears. “No,” he says. “She saw mine.”
Stiles spent nearly all of his childhood being left behind. His mom passing wasn’t even the first time.
Stiles kept his training wand under his bed, since all it ever did was disappoint him. He couldn’t defend himself against bullies when they’d cover him with sand at recess. When they’d send imaginary monsters after him during tag. Scott was the only one who ever bothered to help him up, whenever he’d fall. Stiles learned not to trust anyone that laughed when he tied his own shoes. Anyone that didn’t know everyone had hands for a reason, as his mom would say, when they washed the dishes in the sink after dinner.
Derek says, “Are you sure this is okay?”
Kevin has his head hanging out the back window of the Jeep. Their bags are very neatly folded up into one small duffel, thanks to Derek, and Kevin is especially happy, Stiles thinks, that they could fit all five of his precious, chewed tennis balls and his super gross Raggedy Ann.
“Are you kidding me?” Stiles says. “This is great. I’m never going to run out of pants.” There are some advantages to being a wizard, after all, and Stiles gets to use them so long as Derek’s wand doesn’t accidentally take out the Jeep.
Derek catches his hand on the gear shift. He grins at him, wide and half-shy, and Stiles still doesn’t know exactly what to do with that—what to do with Derek being so sure about him, when Stiles still feels like he’s half a mess and stumbling through. Maybe this shouldn’t be okay.
But, you know, Kevin likes him.
Stiles’ heart feels open and light, like a handful of daffodils.
He leans over the console and kisses the corner of Derek’s smile.