Like the physical therapy, Derek finds out about the knitting a few weeks in, when balls of yarn start showing up in the house, soft and pack-scented. There's alpaca from Erica, merino wool from Allison, acrylic from Scott, and they all migrate to a basket by the couch where Stiles likes to sit. The same couch, too, where they laid Stiles when they brought him in from the woods that night a decade ago while Lydia kept him tethered to life. Stiles moves slower now when it's cold out, crawls into Derek's bed at night and pretends not to notice when Derek pulls away his pain.
Stiles's aches sink like coals to the bottom of Derek's belly before they fade.
Derek came back to Beacon Hills so Scott could go down to Davis for college. Someone had to hold the territory. So Derek cashed out some stocks and bought a house, a big one on the opposite side of the Preserve near Lydia's mother. It's obnoxious, ostentatious, with six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a library, and a pool.
Lydia never came back to Beacon Hills to stay, but everyone else straggled home eventually, filled up the rooms that still smelled like fresh paint, spilled drinks on the floor and ground chips into the plush pile of the carpet. Scott and Allison came first, so Derek gave them the master bedroom. Erica, Boyd, Isaac, and Cora were the second wave. Last was Stiles. Boyd moved into Erica's room so Stiles didn't have to sleep in the library. (He slept in the library a lot anyway.)
Just as the pack trickled in, they've trickled back out, into homes and apartments of their own. Scott and Allison left six months ago. Allison's pregnant, big with it now; Derek helped Scott paint the nursery and assemble the crib last weekend. The only ones left in the rambling house are Derek and Stiles.
Derek should sell the house. The market's risen enough that he'll turn a decent profit, and it's ridiculous, wasteful to keep heating and cooling the whole damn thing. But to do that, he'd have to talk to Stiles, who doesn't seem likely to go anywhere any time soon. He's the librarian at the local middle school, and even on his days off, he spends hours in the pack library, researching, doing inventory before he trudges up the stairs to his room down the halls from Derek's. And into Derek's room, sometimes, too.
Stiles is 28, and he hunches over when the weather turns damp and cool, favors his left side. It wasn't until his hands were affected and his writing became small, crabbed, that he agreed to Scott's increasingly frequent suggestions that he get checked out by a medical professional who was neither a McCall nor a veterinarian. When Stiles got home from the first appointment, he chucked his backpack onto the floor next to the couch, then flopped down onto the cushions and folded in on himself. "Arthritis," he said to Derek, who was reading in the armchair next to him. "From—you know."
"I don't know," Derek said.
"Google it, figure it out," Stiles said.
Everyone in Derek's family was wolf, born or bitten. No one got sick beyond childhood colds, and everyone healed, up until they didn't. Apparently 80% of elderly Americans have osteoarthritis in their knees. Stiles's arthritis isn't an uncommon side effect of the kind of injuries he suffered, according to WebMD. "Come on," Derek said, shoving his phone in his pocket. "Want to—take a nap?"
Stiles sighed. "Fine."
It was high summer, but in Derek's bed they curled up together beneath the down duvet, the flannel sheets Derek bought last year. Stiles tucked his head beneath Derek's chin, and Derek put a hand beneath Stiles's shirt, resting it at the small of Stiles's back. Derek pulled Stiles's pain into himself, slowly, until Stiles's breathing evened out, until Derek could follow him into sleep.
Knitting is part of the physical therapy for Stiles's hands.
"To get me limber," Stiles says the first time Derek catches him in the act. His project is green, the stitches ridged and uneven, the shape trapezoidal. Derek doesn't know how much of that is intentional.
"That's good," Derek says.
He buys Stiles a set of interchangeable bamboo needles off the internet. Bamboo is lighter, and circular needles are supposed to keep the weight off Stiles's wrists and in his lap. Derek leaves them on Stiles's bed while he's at work, and the next night Stiles has transferred his current project to them, wood clacking softly on wood. "Thanks," Stiles says, lifting his head.
Derek teaches English at the county's virtual high school, so he doesn't leave the house a lot. He vacuums while Stiles is at work, does the laundry, makes dinner most of the time. It's different now that they're the only ones in the house, now that they've acknowledged, even tacitly, that Stiles needs a little extra help. On wet, chilly days, Derek tosses the throw blanket on the back of the couch into the dryer for a few minutes to warm it up before he drapes it over Stiles's shoulders. Online, it says that heat helps, heat and anti-inflammatory drugs and acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy and possibly surgery—
"You're like my dad," Stiles says as he peers over Derek's shoulder. "My dad with a smartphone."
"Foul slander," Derek says. His kids are doing a Shakespeare unit this week.
After the trapezoid, Stiles starts knitting actual objects. Potholders, dishcloths, scarves: easy stuff, rectangles. Then he buys a bag of blue wool and abruptly upgrades to something with intentionally weird shapes and cables. Derek can identify cables now. He even printed off a few patterns from knitty.com around Christmas, just a casual reminder of Allison's suggestions that he knit something for baby Vicky. Stiles obligingly made her a blanket.
"What's this one?" Derek says, fingering a completed piece. Stiles's stitches are straight, even. He's getting good at this, of course he is.
Stiles shrugs. "I don't know. Just—messing around. We'll see."
February dawns damp and gray, stays that way. Stiles spends five nights in Derek's bed in a row. They sleep in on the last one. It's a Saturday: no one will miss them.
Derek wakes up for real when Stiles shifts beside him, rolling onto his back and tilting his face up toward Derek. Stiles's eyes are closed, lashes long and dark on his pale cheeks, lips slightly parted, faded scar running along one cheekbone. He looks like a painting. Derek puts his hand on Stiles's arm and draws everything hurt out of him in slow waves so he can watch the tension in Stiles's sleeping body dissipate.
"Mmm," Stiles says after a few minutes. "G'morning."
"You should just sleep here," Derek says.
Stiles rubs his nose against the pillow."I do."
"I mean—" Derek says. "I mean—all the time."
That night, Stiles brings in his alarm clock and his pillow and the medication he takes at bedtime. He eyes Derek's nightstand for a moment before sticking the alarm clock and pill bottle on the window sill. For a moment, it seems like it might be weird, but then Stiles pulls back the duvet and climbs into bed. He's wearing his usual t-shirt and boxers with fluffy red socks that were a Christmas present from Melissa; they make Stiles's feet look like Elmo's. "Come on," Stiles says, holding up the covers so Derek can slide in beside him. "Big day tomorrow. I hear Isaac's making pancakes."
Stiles doesn't power through his mysterious blue project, which has large pieces that are difficult to cart around. He starts keeping a second project going that he can carry around. He's working on a hat for Lydia now, a cream-colored cloche that he'll felt in the washing machine when he's done. Derek tags along one day when Stiles goes to the yarn store downtown to replenish his supplies. The place is cozy and sunny, big windows and yellow walls, with square cubbies of yarn in a rainbow of shades as well as big skeins hanging on the walls. Derek stops to touch some of them, glossy silk and airy mohair, plush alpaca with strands as thick as Derek's little finger. There's yarn that's just for socks, superwash, reinforced, more adjectives that Derek isn't familiar with. He picks up a hank that's a mix of browns and blues and greens and brings it to the register before Stiles can surface from a conversation with the shop's owner, short and curvy beneath her delicate lace shawl.
Derek wears the brown-blue-green socks that Stiles makes to the middle school art fair at the end of the year. He hasn't been to something like this since Cora was in middle school. The old middle school was torn down years ago to make room for the current one, with its plate glass windows and ubiquitous three-prong power outlets, but Derek still feels a weird sense of deja-vu, like he's been here before. He follows the signs toward the library in the back, passes through the open door, and there's Stiles at the center of the parental hubbub, orbited by paintings and drawings hung on the walls. Stiles is talking to a woman in a tailored pantsuit, hands sketching something in the air as he stands straight and tall.
For a moment, Derek can't breathe, looking at him.
Stiles turns after a moment, catches Derek's eye. "Hey, Derek!" he says. "This is Caitlin—Ms. Cortez—she's the principal. Caitlin, this is Derek Hale, my, um—"
Derek extends his hand.
"Nice to meet you," Ms. Cortez says drily. She's smiling.
"Your 'um,'" Derek says later.
They're watching the old people channel, the one with all the Golden Girls reruns. Stiles is mostly asleep on the couch, with his feet in Derek's lap, eyelids at half-mast, knitting tumbled to the floor. It's his big project, the blue one with all the oddly shaped pieces. "What am I supposed to tell people?" Stiles mumbles. "We're not—roommates."
Derek doesn't really do personal conversations with people who aren't part of the pack. He rests his hand on Stiles's ankle. "I don't want to live with anyone else but you."
"We should buy a smaller house," Stiles says. Then he falls asleep.
Stiles's blue project grows steadily, the finished pieces draped over each other haphazardly on one edge of the knitting basket in the living room. Sometimes Derek touches them, squishing the springy wool between his fingertips. Maybe it's an afghan: those are supposed to take a long time to make.
Sometimes, Derek thinks about what it would be like, if—if. If Stiles weren't so close already, wrapped around him every night, tucking in the tag on his shirt, throwing Derek's clothes into the wash with his own. If Derek hadn't been around when Stiles got sick. If everything between them weren't easy and comfortable. They didn't start out gentle, flinging words, flinging each other around.
Scott comes over one day while Stiles is at work. Like his mother, Scott is a RN, and he works for a pediatrician a mile from the pack house. "I brought Vicky," Scott calls from the foyer. He still has a key, of course."Got time for a lunch break?"
"Sure," Derek says. He closes his laptop. "Down in a minute."
Vicky is crawling everywhere now, so they have baby gates at each entrance to the living room for when she comes over. Scott drags a colander and a few pots out of the kitchen for her to bang on while the adults have lunch. "Da," she says, tugging on Derek's pant leg.
Scott pulls sandwich stuff out of the fridge. "She's calling everyone that this week,"
Derek scoops her up, touches his nose to hers; Vicky giggles and her eyes flash gold. She's a happy little kid, like Cora used to be. There's never been anyone in her life who'd be a threat to her. She looks like Allison, as much as a baby can. "Derek," he says. "Can you say that?"
Over PB&J (Vicky deigns to accept a nibble), Scott does his usual alpha-to-beta check-in, asking Derek about his week, what they still need to pick up for the Memorial Day barbecue, whether he and Stiles feel comfortable taking Vicky for the afternoon on Sunday. Derek didn't grow up like this: they all lived on top of each other, so why talk about what they already knew? He bristled at first, taking these questions from a kid. But Scott's methods worked, still do. Lydia and Stiles have weekly video chats, Erica's getting her master's in social work at UCDavis, and here's Vicky, chewing on a wooden spoon.
"Stiles says you're thinking of downsizing," Scott says. Derek chokes on his egg salad. "He and Allison were looking at some listings over by his dad's. I guess you could buy John out—he practically lives with my mom now—but maybe that would be weird."
Derek swallows. "No pool."
"We're going to put in an above-ground next year," Scott says. "Don't let that cramp your style."
Stiles comes home from his most recent doctor's appointment looking cheerful. "My hands are, like, 90%," he says, sticking them in between Derek and Derek's book and flexing, fingers flashing out from and curling back toward his palms. "My hip is—but my hands are good."
Derek reaches up and takes one of Stiles's hands, tugs Stiles's fingers out again until they're fully extended, long enough to wrap around Derek's wrist. There's still a frisson of pain lurking there that Derek can feel at a touch, but Stiles moves more loosely now after a year of relearning how to inhabit his body. "Show me," Derek says.
Stiles brings his other hand up to cup Derek's jaw, cradles it like Derek's made of glass. "I—wait, just a second?"
There's a full minute that Derek sits, bemused, while Stiles runs up the stairs, down the hall, and back. "Here," Stiles says, thrusting a crumpled gift bag that Derek remembers from Isaac's birthday party last month. "This is for you."
Derek tugs the wrinkled tissue paper out to reveal an enormous lump at the bottom. The moment he pulls back the tissue shell, he recognizes it: blue, cabled, the product of many nights on their couch together. When Derek shakes the thing out, he sees the full shape at last. It's a sweater. "I thought you weren't supposed to make these for anyone you're not married to," he manages. "Isn't there supposed to be a curse?"
"Please," Stiles says. "We've survived worse."
The new house is on the same block as Scott's. Sometimes Allison drops Vicky there while she runs errands, so the living room is the first baby-proofed and the last unpacked. There are bookshelves in every room except the bathroom: the old house, which seemed so empty those last few years, turned out to be surprisingly full. Boyd took charge of the pack garage sale, tagging and pricing everything, leaving Stiles to haggle and Cora to the cashbox while Derek and Erica hefted mattresses and lamps and chests of drawers.
Derek's mattress comes with them, as well as the one which Stiles used to sleep on—that goes in the yarn repository masquerading as a guest bedroom. The master bedroom still has old single-pane windows that they'll have to get Isaac to replace. For now, Derek hangs up thick curtains and puts their bed between the door and the radiator.
Some nights, Stiles burrows close, tucks himself into Derek the way he has for years, and lets Derek draw off the ache from his bones. Others, he spreads Derek over the duvet and maps Derek's body with his hands, deliberate and sure. Stiles presses kisses to Derek's belly, his chest, his inner arms, all the wounds that Derek's body has absorbed. There's room here in the dark for all their ghosts, beneath the eaves of their home and the soft sheets of their bed; room, too, in the light that comes after.