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the nerd party

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It’s definitely some kind of torture that on the day the seventh and final Path of Wolves novel comes out, Stiles still has to go to school like it’s not the most important day of the year or anything.

And okay, so it’s not like anyone else in Beacon Hills has even heard of these books except Scott, and then only because Stiles can’t shut up about them, but still. Stiles spends the entire day practically vibrating out of his skin with the anticipation. He’s pretty sure he hasn’t taken in a word any of his teachers has said today. The only reason he doesn’t try to make a break for it during lunch is that he can’t afford another detention on his record, and even so, he’s still sorely, sorely tempted to risk it. In the end, he has to get Lydia to hide his car keys from him.

(He was going to ask Scott to do it, but Scott would have caved as soon as Stiles started begging, and Stiles is definitely not above begging, so Lydia it is.)

The instant the final bell rings, though, Stiles is out of there, flying across the parking lot and gunning the Jeep. The bookstore probably only ordered a few copies, and if Stiles isn’t holding one of them by the time he leaves, somebody’s about to get murdered.

Not that he actually expects any competition, but it’s better not to let these things go to chance. He already messed up once by procrastinating on pre-ordering until they were sold out; he didn’t think it was possible for a Path of Wolves novel to be sold out. He was wrong, and now he’s paying for it by having to physically go to the bookstore to get it.

Either Stiles vastly overestimated how many copies the store was going to order, or else he vastly underestimated how many people in Beacon Hills read these books, because when he skids to a stop in front of the New Releases shelf, there’s only one copy left. One beautiful, perfect hardcover copy.

Lucky for him, one copy is enough.

Except that when he grabs ahold of it, someone else does, too.

For a long second, Stiles can’t even believe what he’s seeing. Another hand, on his book. Another hand that’s not letting go, even though Stiles has already clearly and unambiguously grabbed it by the spine and isn’t letting go, either.

Stiles turns his head incredulously to get a look at this usurper, and it’s Derek Hale. As in, made-of-muscles, leather-wearing lacrosse captain Derek Hale.

Until this moment, Stiles wasn’t even sure Derek could read, and now he’s trying to steal Stiles’ obscure eight-hundred-page fantasy novel. What.

“This is the last copy,” Stiles says.

“I know,” Derek says. He doesn’t let go. Neither does Stiles.

“Look, you probably won’t even like this. It doesn’t have any sports in it.”

“It’s my favorite series,” Derek says, and Stiles just—gapes.

A light dusting of pink is starting to creep into Derek’s cheeks, but he doesn’t back down or take it back or say, “Just kidding!” or anything. He just stands there, staring at Stiles, waiting. And still holding onto Stiles’ book. That’s an important detail.

Finally Stiles’ brain kicks back online enough for him to get out, “Wait, hold up. You read Path of Wolves. You.”

“Yes. Me.”

“‘Read’ as in, you’ve read all six books, cover to cover?”

Derek shifts a little, looking away, and mutters, “I’ve read all of them so many times I practically have them memorized.”

Stiles narrows his eyes. “So when Gwynneth shoots Serafin with the wolfsbane arrow at the end of the last book and then just leaves him there to die and it’s pretty much implied that no one’s going to find him in time…”

“I hid in a blanket burrito in my room all weekend and wouldn’t come out,” Derek nods solemnly. “After I threw the book against the wall.”

“Holy shit,” Stiles breathes. “Marry me.”

Derek smirks. “Does that mean you’re going to let go now?” he asks, and Stiles abruptly remembers he’s still holding onto the book with a death grip.

“Oh. Um.” Stiles stares down at his fingers, willing them to uncurl, but… it’s just really difficult, okay? It’s right there. He is actually, physically touching this book, after two whole years of waiting, and now Derek wants him to just let go. Ha. Ha ha.

“I touched it first,” Derek adds, and Stiles scoffs because that is such a lie.

“I’ll pay you to let me have it,” Stiles says. “I’ve got like fifty bucks in my wallet.”

“I’ll pay you more.”

“I’ll pay you and I’ll wash your stupid flashy car for, like, a month.”

“It’s technically my sister’s car.”

“Whatever. I’ll still wash it.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll—”

Someone to their left clears their throat, and Derek and Stiles both turn to look. It’s a store employee. His nametag says BOYD. “We have more copies of that one in the back, if you’re interested,” Boyd says blandly, but there’s a bit of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“Oh,” Stiles says.

“That, um, sounds good,” Derek says, which is probably a bit more helpful for Boyd.

Boyd nods curtly and heads off to the back room.

Stiles finally lets go of the book. Derek does, too.  

“Well,” Stiles says, “that was surprisingly anticlimactic.”

Is it weird that Stiles feels disappointed all of a sudden? Because now Derek is going to go up to the register and buy his copy and leave. And Stiles doesn’t want that. Well, he definitely wants to get home as fast as possible and start reading this book, but he’s also never met another real life Path of Wolves fan in the flesh before, and he’s bursting with questions, starting with how the hell Derek even knows about this series.

Only, Derek is kind of intimidating, just standing there all well-muscled and frowny, so Stiles keeps his mouth shut.

Derek checks out first. Stiles expects him to rush out immediately afterwards to go read his book, but instead he idles by one of the displays near the door, shopping bag hanging from his wrist, while Stiles buys his own copy. It’s definitely an unexpected move, and Stiles decides to ignore it. He’s probably reading too much into it, anyway. It probably has nothing to do with him.

He reconsiders that assumption when he finally heads for the door and Derek abruptly abandons whatever he was looking at in favor of falling into step beside him. He even holds the door for Stiles, looking away instead of meeting Stiles’ incredulous look.

Outside, Stiles takes a right and Derek does, too, his bag from the bookstore bumping gently against Stiles’ with the motion of their steps, and just like that, he and Derek are apparently taking a walk through the parking lot together. Okay then.

Stiles is parked near the side of the building, under a lamppost. On his way in, he hadn’t been paying even a shred of attention to his surroundings, too focused on getting to Path of Wolves, but now he’s calmed down enough to notice Derek’s black Camaro parked just two cars down. (And yes, he does know what kind of car Derek drives. When a hot guy drives a hot car past him in the school parking lot, Stiles tends to pay attention.)

There’s a woman in sunglasses and a crisp button-down leaning against it, obviously waiting for Derek. For a second Stiles assumes she must be Derek’s girlfriend. She’s certainly gorgeous enough, with shiny dark hair and cheekbones sharp enough to rival Derek’s.

Then she slides the sunglasses off, and Stiles recognizes her: Laura Hale, Derek’s big sister. She’d been a senior when Stiles was a freshman, not to mention the first ever girl to join the BHHS lacrosse team.

Before Stiles can quietly veer off to his Jeep, Laura waves him over. “Stiles, right?” she says when he hesitantly drifts closer, trailing in Derek’s shadow. “Fancy seeing you here. I was wondering what was taking Derek so long, but that explains it.”

There’s something teasing in her tone, but Stiles gets the feeling it’s not directed at him. She and Derek are having some kind of complex conversation with just their eyebrows. It’s over in a few seconds. Laura breaks out in a smug, knowing grin, and Derek hunches his shoulders a little and shoots her a mutinous glare before opening the passenger side door and tossing his bag from the bookstore onto the seat.

Laura looks unfazed. “So,” she says to Stiles, “got any plans for this afternoon?”

Stiles holds up his book. “You’re looking at ‘em.”

It seems to be the answer Laura’s looking for, because she shoots him a shark-like grin. “Awesome. You know, Derek’s probably going to be doing the same thing. He hasn’t talked about anything else for a week. Maybe you guys could hang out together, have a little Path of Wolves nerd party or something. I’d be happy to give you a ride if you wanted to come over.”

Stiles starts to say, “I’m sure Derek doesn’t want—” and Laura, bizarrely, slaps a hand over her mouth to muffle a sharp laugh.

Derek flips her off over the roof of the car and turns to Stiles. “You can come over if you want. I mean. You’re the only other person I know who likes these books, so…”

It’s a pretty lukewarm invitation on the surface, but there’s something about the way Derek says it, watching him almost shyly, that makes Stiles think he’s more invested in Stiles’ answer than he wants to let on.

And, well, Stiles certainly isn’t about to pass up the chance to talk to an actual, in-the-flesh Path of Wolves fan. That’s not an opportunity that comes up just every day.

“Okay, sure,” Stiles decides, because fuck it. “Sounds like fun.”

Chapter Text

The backseat of the Camaro is tiny and smells faintly like perfume, and there are already a few shopping bags from the mall back there. Stiles ends up sitting with his book on his lap and his knees pressed against the back of Derek’s seat.

As Laura pulls out of the parking lot, she fiddles with the radio and settles on “Teenage Dream.” Derek glowers out the window like the poster-child of ‘angsty teen’ but doesn’t say anything, and Stiles fights hard not to snicker.

The drive takes about twenty minutes, because it turns out the Hales live way out over by the Preserve. Stiles notices Laura glancing at him now and then in the rear view mirror, appraising and weirdly gleeful, but she doesn’t say much, and neither does Derek. That suits Stiles just fine. He’s still kind of in shock that his day has suddenly taken this sharp left turn into Bizzaro Land. Stiles never thought in a million years that he would ever be going over to the Hale house to hang out with Derek after school—or that he would even want to.

*

The Hale house is bigger than Stiles expected, but then again, he’s pretty sure he heard somewhere that Derek comes from a big family, so maybe it’s not that surprising.

Also, he’s starting to catch on to the fact that the Hale family is loaded. When they get inside, Stiles immediately sees about fifteen different antique vases and expensive-looking paintings in the foyer alone. He puts his hands in his pockets so he won’t be tempted to touch anything. He has horrifying visions of him knocking something off a shelf and breaking it and having to pay up more money than he makes in a year working his after-school job at the cinema.

Derek doesn’t seem worried about it, just leads Stiles confidently across the echoing foyer to the stairs.

Laura calls after them, “Hope you guys have fun up there!” with a weird emphasis on “fun.” Stiles is lost.

Derek apparently isn’t. “Shut up, Lar,” he mutters, glaring daggers at her over his shoulder.

It seems to delight her, and she wanders off still laughing obnoxiously.

Stiles and Derek barely get halfway up the stairs before another Hale appears at the top—Derek’s mom, if Stiles had to guess.

“Derek? I didn’t know we were having guests,” she says, eyeing Stiles curiously, and Stiles gets the impression that the Hales don’t normally have a lot of guests.

He glances over at Derek, who’s looking sheepish. “It was kind of a last-minute thing. This is Stiles, from school.”

Derek’s mom frowns. “I’ve heard that name before somewhere.”

Stiles smiles his best charming-the-parents smile and tries to help her out. “I’m Sheriff Stilinski’s kid?”

“Oh, yes,” she says, flashing a knowing little smile at Derek. “That must be it. Well, it’s nice to finally meet you. I’m Mrs. Hale.”

“Can we go now?” Derek asks. It looks like he’s gritting his teeth.

Stiles holds up his book, hoping to defuse some of the weird tension in the air. “We were just gonna go read in Derek’s room.” A nice, wholesome, scholarly activity that’s sure to gain parental approval.

Derek’s mom nods graciously. “Of course. Have fun. But Derek,” she levels him with a weirdly knowing look as she steps aside to let them pass, “keep the door open, okay?”

Mom,” Derek says, sagging his shoulders, but Mrs. Hale just crosses her arms. He sighs, “Okay, yeah, fine,” clearly embarrassed, before jogging the rest of the way up the stairs and past her. Stiles hastily follows him.

“Why did she say that?” Stiles asks when they’re safely in Derek’s room. Derek pushes his door so it’s almost but not quite shut. “What does she think we’re going to do, start a secret Path of Wolves cult in here or something?”

“Uh, not exactly,” Derek coughs, ducking his head.

Before Stiles can really process that, he’s forgotten all about it because he’s just noticed that on the back of the closet door is the exact same Path of Wolves poster he has in his room, the one that shows Serafin standing backlit in a misty forest with his bow drawn and his companion owl on his shoulder.

“That’s awesome,” Stiles says, pointing to it. “I have that one, too. It’s like we’re twins.”

Derek drops his backpack on the bed, making a face. “God, I hope not.”

Stiles makes a face right back at him, because rude, and then turns around, taking in the room. He was expecting something more jock-like, honestly, like some sports trophies on a shelf or posters of girls in bikinis. Instead it’s cozy and comfortably messy. The walls are a calming sage green and there’s a crowded floor-to-ceiling bookshelf along the wall facing Derek’s unmade bed. And, well, Stiles didn’t exactly think Derek was lying earlier about liking Path of Wolves, but it’s still a nice bit of extra confirmation to see the whole series sitting prominently on the top shelf.

Stiles runs a finger fondly along the familiar spines and then glances back at Derek, who’s just watching him, face unreadable, from where he’s sitting cross-legged on the bed.

“Okay,” Stiles says, because they desperately need an icebreaker, “question time. Who’s your favorite character?”

Derek says, “Serafin, duh,” and Stiles grins.

“Ha, guess that makes us opposites, then. I mean, yeah, Serafin is cool, but he can be kind of boring sometimes, you know? My favorite is Didrik.”

Didrik (or, as the fans like to call him, “DD,” short for “Didrik the Dick”) is the resident pirate scallywag-slash-outright-villain of the series. It doesn’t even make sense, in Stiles’ opinion, for there to be a pirate showing up in this kind of fantasy setting—it’s the middle of the goddamn Forest of Mysteries, there’s really no good reason for a pirate to be wandering around, and the author never even tries to explain it—but what can he say. These books have always been a little ridiculous, and he loves making fun of them almost as much as he loves reading them.

Derek looks hilariously indignant. “Didrik? Are you being serious right now?”

“Deadly,” Stiles nods.

“But. But he’s terrible. He betrays Serafin twice.”

“Dude,” Stiles rolls his eyes, “he betrays everybody. He’s wickedly intelligent and totally unpredictable. I love it. It keeps things interesting.”

They don’t actually end up getting much reading done, because that line of conversation carries them through almost an hour and a half of increasingly heated debate. It turns out Derek knows his stuff, and he’s got strong opinions that mostly line up with Stiles’, just not about Didrik, whom he apparently wants to laser-blast into a fiery pit.

“Okay, so maybe he is an evil dickbag,” Stiles finally concedes, slumping down in Derek’s desk chair, “but he always shakes things up, and I think he’s hot, so I root for him sometimes anyway even though I would hate him in real life and probably try to get him arrested.”

Derek blinks at him. “You think Didrik is hot?”

Stiles refuses to be embarrassed about this. "Yeah, I mean, he’s got this intense, moody vibe that gives me goosebumps every fucking time, and have you seen some of the fan art of him online? He’s got it going on.”

Derek is still looking kind of shocked, so after a long pause Stiles adds, “What, don’t tell me you’re some kind of homophobe,” because that would be tragic. Stiles kind of likes Derek now, and he’s having fun hanging out with him.

Derek shakes his head emphatically. “No, I just… didn’t think you were into guys.”

“Well, you can’t assume anyone is straight.” Not that he would’ve thought, before this moment, that Derek had ever wondered whether Stiles of all people liked guys or not, but whatever. Stiles supposes everybody gets curious sometimes, even about strangers.

“I know you can’t tell by looking or anything. I just…” Derek shrugs and looks down, fiddling with his phone in his lap without actually turning it on. “I heard you had a thing for Lydia Martin, so…”

Stiles doesn’t even have to ask how Derek knows that. It’s been common knowledge ever since Stiles asked her out, or tried to, back in freshman year. He walked up to her with a bunch of flowers in the hallway between classes, and Lydia glided right past him without even glancing at him when he tried to start a conversation. It’s kind of infamous around the school. Who knows, Derek might’ve even seen it firsthand. It was a pretty crowded stretch of hallway.

“Yeah,” Stiles sighs. “I think I’ll always find her insanely attractive, but I’m learning to move on. I mean, she’s always dating someone else, and we’re actually kind of friends now because we have AP Calc together. Plus, I’ve discovered there are a lot of hot people out there of all genders.“ Like Derek, his brain supplies, not that he’s going to say so.

Derek looks up at him then, kind of shyly, and says, "Yeah, I mean. Bisexual. Me, too,” and Stiles is glad he’s not the only one feeling a little awkward with this whole conversation.

Derek looks like he’s about to say something more when a door slams downstairs, and he says instead, “That’s probably Cora getting home from soccer practice.” He looks relieved at this excuse to change topics.

Half a minute later, a girl maybe a year or two younger than Stiles pokes her head in, holding a pair of muddy cleats by the laces, and says, “Who are you?”

Stiles says, “Stiles,” and Cora smirks and says, “Oh really,” and Derek scrambles up from the bed and slams the door in her face.

“Have fun in there with Stiles!” she calls, muffled through the wood, before apparently retreating.

“I keep getting the feeling everyone in your family knows something they aren’t telling me,” Stiles complains as Derek returns to his spot on the bed.

Derek sighs and flops down on his back, tugging at his hair. “I kind of started reading Path of Wolves because of you, okay? I overheard you raving about it at lunch one day freshman year and that’s what made me pick up the first book. I guess they think it’s funny that now we’re hanging out.”

Stiles doesn’t get why that’s funny and he doesn’t think it’s the whole story, but he lets it go because Derek doesn’t seem to want to talk about it. And anyway, Derek’s mom chooses that moment to yell up the stairs, “Derek, ask your friend if he wants to stay for dinner! We’re having chana masala!”

Derek looks at Stiles expectantly, and, well. Stiles likes the sound of free food, not to mention the chance to get to know Derek a little more.

*

When Derek and Stiles clomp down the stairs to the dining room, most of the family is already there, and wow, that’s a lot of people. Stiles does a swift tally in his head—six kids of various elementary-school ages, Laura, Cora, Mrs. Hale, and a man who looks about her age. Must be Derek’s dad, Stiles guesses, until Mrs. Hale introduces him as Derek’s Uncle Peter and explains that three of the little kids are his. (That’s a bit of a relief.) Apparently Derek’s dad is still at work.

Right before they all start eating, Derek’s mom sweeps a stern gaze over Laura and Cora and Derek’s uncle and says cryptically, “Remember what we talked about.”

Cora replies, equally as cryptically, “You mean, no bringing up Derek’s thing about you-know-who?” and Derek’s mom nods. A couple of Peter’s kids giggle.

Stiles’ mind immediately jumps to the obvious, and he can’t help it. He laughs. “Should I be worried?”

All the Hales turn their gazes on him in eerie synchronization, and Stiles elaborates, “Voldemort?”

Derek relaxes at that, even smiles a little, and says, “No dark marks here.” He even pulls his sleeve back from his wrist in illustration, and then Cora and all the younger kids are all scrambling to show Stiles their forearms, too.

Dinner goes by pleasantly enough after that. Stiles occasionally gets the impression that Derek’s mom and uncle are sizing him up, but they don’t seem too disappointed, so he tries his best to ignore it and not let it get to him.

Stiles ends up telling them a little about the Path of Wolves blog he runs. He didn’t plan to, but when he mentions the URL once, Derek drops his fork on his plate with a clatter and says, “Wait, metawoof? That’s you? I’ve read like every post on that blog.”

“I bet you have,” Laura mutters, just loud enough for everyone to hear, like it’s somehow embarrassing for Derek to like the books that much. Well, fuck that; Stiles gave up being embarrassed about his hobbies years ago.

Derek’s mom shoots her a warning glare before politely asking Stiles about the blog.

It’s obvious no one but Derek has read the books, let alone dipped a toe into fandom, but Stiles at least tries to give them some idea of what his tumblr is about. Basically, he researches folklore related to the fantasy world of the books and combs through every chapter to write in-depth analyses and theories about all sorts of little details readers might’ve missed. “So,” he finishes, “that’s basically it. Connecting the dots, finding clues, that sort of thing. I figure it’s good practice since I want to be a detective someday.”

Laura looks equal parts surprised and amused. “A detective, really? As in, someone who makes a living being observant?”

“Hey, I’m very observant!” Stiles protests.

Laura bursts out laughing so hard she starts choking and has to hastily grope for her water glass. After a few startled seconds, Derek’s uncle starts in, too, and even Mrs. Hale quirks a little smile, and Stiles is starting to think there’s something kinda weird about everyone in this family.

Derek isn’t laughing, at least. He kinda grumpily slaps his fork down on his empty plate before tugging Stiles to his feet. “C’mon, let’s go.”

“Dinner was awesome, thank you!” Stiles calls as Derek leads him out by the elbow, and even more Hales start laughing. Weird.

Derek stops when they get to the quiet darkness of the foyer. He kind of sheepishly lets go of Stiles’ arm. “Um, sorry about them. You want to hang out upstairs some more?”

“Actually…” Stiles checks the time on his phone. “I should probably pick up my Jeep from the bookstore and get home, or my dad’s gonna put an APB out on me. Do you want to get Laura, or—”

“I’ll drive you,” Derek says, quick, then bites his lip. “I mean. If you want.”

“Okay. If you don’t mind?”

He cringes a little at how formal it comes out sounding, especially after the easy way they were talking earlier, but Derek just smiles and says, “Nah. I don’t mind.”

Stiles feels warm all over.

*

Outside, they run into Derek’s dad on the driveway, just getting in from work. He looks a lot like Derek, except he’s fricking six feet tall with wavy salt-and-pepper hair and broader shoulders. Stiles is seriously impressed at how muscular and gorgeous and scarily-eyebrowed everyone in this family is.

Derek introduces them, and at hearing Stiles’ name Derek’s dad’s face absolutely lights up. He claps a proud hand on Derek’s shoulder and says, "I’m proud of you, son. I knew you could do it eventually.”

Derek stiffens and says urgently, “Dad, no, it’s not—” at the same time that Stiles ventures, “Do what…?”

Derek’s dad glances between them, uncertain, and then turns his frown on Derek. “He didn’t turn you down, did he?”

“Um,” Stiles says. “You mean that in, like, a romantic sense, or?”

Derek turns without a word and gets in the Camaro, his face bright red. He slams the door behind him. It doesn’t seem like a very good sign, and Stiles says, “Um,” again.

Derek’s dad glances between the opaque blackness of the car window and Stiles, like he’s observing some rare, interesting conundrum. “He hasn’t asked you out yet, has he,” he says after a long moment.

“He definitely has not,” Stiles says faintly.

Derek’s dad makes a face like ‘oops’ and scratches the back of his head.

Chapter Text

The first time Stiles ever saw Derek was probably at a lacrosse game. He’s gotten dragged along to them a lot by Scott over his high school life. At first it was because Scott had a crush on Lydia’s friend Allison, and then it was because he was dating Allison, and these days it’s because he has a crush on Kira Yukimura, AKA Jersey #15 on the lacrosse team.

Stiles never has much idea about what’s going on in any given game, and he’s never that interested in finding out. Freshman year, he spent most of the time sneaking looks at Lydia a few rows down on the bleachers. She came to all of the games that year because that was when she was still dating Jackson Whittemore. If Stiles was lucky, he’d manage to glimpse the entire back of her head through the crowd, and that was daydream fuel for a week at least.

These days, he and Scott actually sit with Lydia sometimes, and Stiles passes the time alternating between reading his book and glancing up now and then to watch the players.

He might not ever admit it to anyone but Scott, but he’s spent more than a few games specifically watching Derek, Jersey #4. He makes lacrosse look as elegant as dancing, except more predatory, and it’s kind of mesmerizing. Not to mention the flash of his calves as he runs and the way his uniform makes his torso look like a dorito. Um.

He’s seen Derek around in the halls, too, sometimes. He’s always surrounded by a swarm of other attractive, popular athlete-types, which usually includes Jackson, which means that when Stiles sees them coming, he usually gets the hell out of the way. That’s just how it is.

In all that time, Derek’s never looked like the kind of person who’d ever even be capable of something like embarrassment—or of wanting to ask out a nerd nobody.

Of course, this day has already established that Stiles might not have been the best judge of Derek's character. He didn't even think the guy liked to read, and he definitely never in a million years would've guessed that Derek would be interested in his blog, and yet.

Stiles isn’t really sure what to do about it, so he just says goodnight to Derek’s dad—who apologizes like five times and assures him Derek is a “good kid”—and heads for the Camaro. He applies some chapstick from his pocket as he goes, just in case, because even if he isn't usually an optimist, this feels like a good moment for making an exception.

It's quiet this far out of town, nothing but his shoes crunching on the gravel and, in the trees, the crickets and the rustling leaves.

Still, it feels downright noisy compared to the silence when he gets to the car. He opens the passenger side door, and for a moment Derek looks over at him, pale eyes glinting faintly in the light from the porch. Then, as Stiles slides in, he goes back to staring gloomily ahead out the windshield like he'd rather forget about Stiles' very existence, and yeah, this is weird.

This is really, really weird.

Like, Twilight Zone weird.

Stiles is having to do a lot of reevaluating of things tonight.

Maybe Laura's right and he should rethink the whole detective career.

On the other hand, Stiles is usually better at it than this. He can always, always tell when his dad has been eating junk food, for example. He's like the goddamn Sherlock Holmes of junk food detection.

Maybe he's just dumb when it comes to romantic stuff.

He just tends to assume certain things in that department, like that people aren’t interested in him like that. It’s generally a pretty safe bet.

If circumstances were different, Stiles would assume this thing with Derek was all some kind of elaborate prank, especially since Derek is all buddy-buddy with Jackson, who regularly refers to Scott and Stiles as "testicles one and two" and would probably love nothing more than to send Stiles into an angsty-breakup-music downward spiral all weekend.

Which is what would probably happen at this point if Stiles found out Derek’s dad was mistaken about Derek wanting to ask him out. It would be the Infamous Lydia Martin Rejection of Freshman Year all over again.

Except, he used to fantasize religiously about getting to take Lydia on a date, whereas he's never thought about going on a date with Derek Hale. In part because he stupidly assumed that he would never have anything in common with a jock, but mostly just because what would Derek Hale ever want with him? Stiles is skinny and uncoordinated and weird and so, so not popular. And sure, people like Scott can appreciate all that, but that's because Scott is also so, so not popular. And because Scott has known him since they were in kindergarten.

So yeah, Stiles might've fantasized a few times about what it would be like to kiss Derek, purely because Derek is hot, but it’s basically an unwritten law of his life that it’s pointless to hold out hope for anyone wanting to date him, let alone someone hot and talented and popular.

Until now, apparently.

Stiles fiddles with the seatbelt and takes a few deep breaths. The inside of the car smells like leather, unsurprisingly, and like Laura's perfume and a little like mint gum. It's nice. Soothing.

Not that Derek seems all that soothed. There's a vein jumping in his forehead.

"So, um—"

"Look, no matter what my dad thinks, you don't have to worry," Derek says firmly, like this is something he's been rehearsing in his head. "I'm not going to hit on you."

"Oh," Stiles says. Deep breaths, deep breaths. "That's disappointing."

Derek glances over at him sharply. "What? Really?"

"No, I was just making the world's meanest joke. Yes, really."

"Then..." Derek bites his lip. Before he can keep going, though, his gaze sharpens and he leans forward over the steering wheel, craning his head a little, squinting up at the house. "Unbelievable," he mutters, reaching for the ignition.

"What?"

"My sisters and Uncle Peter are watching us from the window."

Stiles can't help but laugh at that as Derek guns the engine and starts backing down the driveway. "Surely they can't see much?" Out in the woods like this, it's pretty much pitch black except for the porch light.

"Never underestimate them," Derek mutters darkly as he pulls out onto the road.

Okay, then.

They get all the way to the first stop sign at the edge of the neighborhood before Stiles remembers. "So, you were about to say something back there?"

"Oh," Derek says. His hands tighten on the wheel. "Yeah. I guess."

Stiles sits back in his seat and gives him a minute. He can be patient. Kind of. Sometimes.

Finally, once they're on the main road, Derek says in a rush, "Can I ask you out?"

“I don’t think that’s how you do it,” Stiles says before he can help himself. “You don’t ask if you can ask. That’s just overly complicated. I mean, I’m pretty sure you just say, ‘Dude, do you want to go on a date with me?’ and see what happens.”

“I would never say ‘dude,’” Derek grumbles, which shocks Stiles into a laugh.

“Okay, then.” Stiles leans back in his seat. “Technicalities over. Commence with the asking-out.”

Derek tilts his head, almost sassily. “Okay. Stiles, do you want to go on a date with me?”

"Yeah, duh, but... can I just ask why? I mean, it's totally out of the blue. You don't even really know me."

"I know a lot about you. I watch you all the time."

Stiles' stomach does a somersault.

Derek’s eyes widen. "Uh. That sounded creepier than intended."

Stiles coughs back a laugh. “I'm pretty sure there's no way to make that not sound creepy, Derek."

Derek makes a frustrated noise. “I'm just... interested. I swear I haven't been, like, stalking you. I just pay attention. Like when I overheard you talking about Path of Wolves. A dozen people could have heard you, but they weren't listening."

"And you... were," Stiles says slowly. “Holy shit, that was like, four years ago.”

“Three and a half,” Derek grumbles.

"Dude," is about all Stiles can say to that. Not only is his love life taking its first glorious breath, but Derek has been pining. Or something. It feels weird to think of Derek Hale pining, or Derek Hale having dating problems in general. It seems like more of a lowly-nerd-on-the-social-ladder problem. "Were you ever going to make a move?"

"Well, I wasn't about to ask out someone who liked someone else," Derek says, with just a hint of 'you idiot' to his tone.

"Huh," Stiles says. "I wonder if that's why no one’s ever asked me out."

He means it mostly as a joke, because obviously the real reason is just that Stiles isn't very datable, except Derek makes this face like... like...

"Dude, no way." Stiles scrambles to sit up straight. "You mean—"

"I can't tell you who," Derek says in a rush. "It's not my secret to tell. They'd kill me."

And whoa. Hold up. "They? As in, nonbinary or as in, plural?"

"Plural."

"What? How many? And since when?"

"Nope, not telling," Derek says, biting back a smile. It's like he's enjoying taunting Stiles with this, the bastard.

Stiles gets an idea. "So, hypothetically, if I kissed you, would you tell me?"

It's fortunate this stretch of road is mostly deserted, because the Camaro swerves over into the next lane as Derek whips his head around to stare at him.

Derek!

Derek hastily corrects himself.

“Oh my god,” Stiles gasps. He slumps back in his seat, palm pressed to his chest. Jesus, he didn’t think that through. “How about I just bring this back up when we get there.”

Derek nods tersely.

The last minute and a half to the bookstore parking lot feels more like ten, Derek’s hands white-knuckled on the wheel, Stiles’ leg jiggling and fingers drumming, jittery, because holy shit. Derek wants to kiss him.

Which... Stiles probably should've deduced from the whole asking-out thing, but it's just such a weird thought.

In a good way, though. The best way. The "about to open a new Path of Wolves book" way, the "no way is this NOT going to be amazing" way.

Derek swings the Camaro into the parking lot, running over the curb in the process, and pulls into the space next to Stiles' Jeep so abruptly that Stiles is a little surprised there's no screech of tires.

"Nice job," Stiles says. He means it to come out sarcastic, but it ends up sounding more breathy. God, that's embarrassing.

"We're here," Derek says, unnecessarily. He finally looks over at Stiles, and god. Stiles just really, really wants to french him.

Stiles would like to say that at that point he seduces Derek like he's James fucking Bond, like maybe he unbuckles his seatbelt and swoops in to kiss Derek all in one smooth move, maybe getting his fingers in Derek's hair, maybe even climbing into Derek's lap and doing some sinuous hip rolls because why not.

But of course, because this is his life, he starts to lean up over the gearshift and his seatbelt yanks him back, and then when he fumbles and gets it undone and starts leaning over again, he gets his mouth a tantalizing inch away from Derek's and his phone starts blaring "Every Breath You Take" from his back pocket. His luck, seriously.

"Ignore it," Derek says hoarsely, leaning in a tiny fraction more, his eyes on Stiles' mouth.

And wow, Stiles wants to, but that's his dad's ringtone, which is about as boner-killing as a bucket of ice water applied directly to the crotch.

"Ugh," Stiles groans. He flops back down in his seat and lifts his hips up to get at his phone. "Can't. One sec."

It's kind of funny how Derek's shoulders stiffen guiltily the instant Stiles says into the phone, "Hey Dad, what's up?"

“If I’m not mistaken,” his dad says, sounding amused, “the bookstore closed an hour ago.”

“That… is probably correct,” Stiles agrees. “And I have a perfectly respectable explanation.”

His dad sighs, but in an “I’m humoring you” way. Stiles is well-versed in Dad-sighs. “Let’s hear it, then.”

Stiles gives him his best rundown of the afternoon’s events: no mention of crushes or dates or potential kissing, and definitely no names. Info is a powerful bargaining chip; his dad doesn’t just get it for free.

“Son—”

“Oh, would you look at that, looks like we’re almost there! Bye! See you soon!” Stiles says in a rush, ending the call.

He looks back over at Derek, who’s glumly picking at a thread of his sleeve.

“I guess you should get going so you don’t get in trouble,” Derek says, because apparently Derek is one of those good kids who cares about getting in trouble with parents. Good to know.

Stiles shoots him a sly look. "You know what would be really unfortunate? If you got a flat tire on the way to drop me off at my Jeep."

Derek stops picking at the loose thread. He looks confused. "We're already here."

"Says who? And I mean," Stiles braces a hand on the console and a knee by the gearshift, levering himself over into Derek's space, "a flat would be just... terribly inconvenient. It'd probably take at least fifteen minutes to change it out, don't you think?"

"I could do it a lot faster than that," Derek says, settling a hand on Stiles' hip to steady him.

Stiles rolls his eyes. "No you couldn't. You're officially a nincompoop who slept through that lesson in driver's ed, because I'm not about to kiss you for anything less than fifteen minutes."

"Oh," Derek says, pleased, right before Stiles finally, finally kisses him.

*

It ends up being more like twenty minutes.

Derek is very, very incompetent at changing tires.

*

It's not until Stiles is almost home that it hits him: he never got Derek to tell him how many people have a crush on him, and he left his book in Derek's room. Goddammit.

Stiles will just have to invite Derek over tomorrow.

Just to read the book, of course.

That's what he's going to tell his dad, anyway, assuming his dad doesn't notice the stubble burn.

And if he does notice, well... There's always bribery.