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Life Measured with Coffee Spoons

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If anyone asked Derek Hale what his favorite coffee shop was, he would vehemently deny that he had one.

That was a lie, of course. There was one.

He had first stumbled upon it after one especially violent argument with his uncle that had ended in, “ Control your goddamn associates before I kick them to the curb and you with them!” Like it was his fault Erica and Boyd were suddenly looking into another law firm—all right, maybe that was his fault. But he couldn't control their every move and thought, and the more he yelled at them, the more he would only push them away.

What he needed after that was some air.

Isaac, one of the more efficient paralegals, stuck his head out of his glass office door as Derek stalked past. “Everything all right in paradise?” he called after Derek’s receding back.

“Shut up, Lahey,” was Derek's growled reply. He didn't even bother to look around; he knew Isaac would be wearing a smirk that would only enrage him further. He just continued down the hall, past associates and partners—who were familiar with his and Peter’s arguments by now—and clients, who looked at him in awe and a vague sense of fear as he brushed past them angrily, heading as fast as he could without running toward the elevators.

The sun was just beginning to set as he made his way out onto the sidewalk, taking deep breaths of (subjectively) fresh city air to try to calm himself down from the rush that arguing with his uncle always gave him. He decided then to take out his frustrations on his legs and the pavement beneath his feet, so he picked a direction and started walking.

That was when he stumbled upon The Silver Bullet.

It was probably too late in the day to justify having coffee, but he didn't care. Coffee was routine and familiar to him, like an old friend, and he was desperately in need of something comforting before he strangled someone (most likely—and preferably—his uncle Peter).

When he stepped in, he was greeted by a rush of cool air and the strong smell of fresh coffee beans. The outside of The Silver Bullet hadn't looked like much, just the standard New York coffee shop, but the inside was actually pretty nice—the walls were painted a warm burnt orange color and the ceiling was high and lofty, making the small room seem spacious. Admittedly, the only silver objects in the entire place were the espresso machines behind the counter; everything else was decked out in rich colors of brown and red, which had the effect of making him feel like he had stepped into an oven. Shelves lined the walls, filled with different mugs of every color imaginable. As Derek approached the counter, he saw that they were mugs from countries all over the world. He wondered who had collected them all.

There was only one person behind the counter, but there must have been someone in the back, too, because as he turned to greet his customer there was a shout of, “I refuse to have a best friend who has never watched Star Wars!”

The employee just shook his head in a fond sort of way and turned to Derek at last. “How can I help you?”

Derek scanned the board above his head for a few seconds—covered in drinks with strange names and ingredients he wasn't entirely sure would go well together—and decided it was best to just keep it simple. “Coffee, black. Tall.”

To his surprise, the employee raised one dark eyebrow. He seemed to fit in perfectly with the shop around him, with his dark hair and brown eyes that contained more warmth than Derek was used to seeing. “Sure you don't need something stronger than coffee?”

Derek flushed then, just slightly; he hadn't realized his bad mood had been so evident. He really did need something stronger, but he didn't drink on the job and, besides, he was already there. “Coffee's fine.”

Across the counter, the employee still looked skeptical, but he entered it into the register anyway. “One tall black coffee, coming up.” He took Derek's money and gave him the change before he turned around and poured coffee into a styrofoam cup with the shop's logo on it. He snapped a lid on and handed it to him over the register. With a boyish smile that—honest to God—looked and felt like a ray of sunshine lighting up Derek’s increasingly shitty day, he said, “Have a good evening, sir.”

“You, too,” Derek replied, a little starstruck. He was pretty sure his voice still came out in a growl, but whatever. The employee was still smiling brightly when Derek took his coffee and, as he pushed out of the shop and into the cool evening air, he instantly missed the warmth.

But he took note of what street the shop was on—you know, just in case he wanted to come back one day. He had an awful lot of arguments with Peter, after all.

If anyone asked Scott McCall who his favorite customer was, he would vehemently deny that he had one.

That was a lie, of course. There was one.

Stiles called him ’the Suit,’ which was accurate enough—he did indeed wear expensive-looking tailored suits. He usually came in a bad mood and left not exactly happy, but with his anger abated somewhat. Scott felt a little proud of that, that he was able to make someone a little happier with just a cup of coffee. A cup of his coffee, no less.

Well—not his coffee exactly. The Argents still owned the shop, but they scheduled him most days, anyway. Probably because they also had to schedule Stiles, and they didn't trust Stiles unless Scott was working with him as well. There were others, too—the Argent’s daughter Allison worked there occasionally, when she wasn't at the archery range or in class. There was Lydia, a bioengineering student with a sharp tongue and bright lipstick and who was probably smarter than all of them combined. And there was Danny, too, their resident tech expert who was dating this guy, some high-up corporate lawyer, who always took him out on expensive dates that Danny told them all about the next day. Others had come and gone, but the five of them had remained over the years.

“Suit's here,” Stiles announced to Scott in a whisper one day as he passed him, full cups in hand. Scott, at one of the machines, looked over in surprise—it was lunch hour, and the Suit never usually came in around lunch.

“I enjoy a man in a nice suit,” said Lydia, who was working with them that day. She nodded appreciatively, turning around to watch him come in as she expertly handled the machine next to Scott's. “His friend's cute, too.”

“A friend? Wow, color me surprised,” Stiles mutters under his breath, snapping a lid on an iced coffee and turning around to look. Indeed, the Suit was there, joining the long line with a curly-haired man wearing an equally expensive looking suit.

“Stiles, you were the one who suggested he was a cyborg that ran entirely on caffeine,” Scott replied. “And you’re surprised he has something as simple as a friend?”

“Okay, maybe ‘severely underwhelmed’ is a better choice of words. But you have to admit, he doesn’t exactly seem like the outgoing type.”

Scott just rolled his eyes and let the comment slide. He turned to the register and began to take the next order, only half paying attention; the other half of his brain was more focused on watching the Suit and his friend as they advanced in line. Neither of them was talking—the Suit was typing absently on his phone and his friend was staring at the billboard above Scott’s head, obviously trying to decide what to order.

It seemed like both seconds and hours before they were standing in front of the register at last. Both Stiles and Lydia were busy with other orders, so Scott waited on them instead. “Let me guess,” he said to the Suit, “tall coffee, black. And you?”

His friend’s eyebrows rose so far they nearly disappeared into the shadow of the curly hair that fell across his forehead, but he finally said, “I’ll have the same. But iced.” As the Suit fished out money to pay for them both, Scott heard his friend lean over and say, as though Scott couldn’t hear, “How often do you come here again?”

“Sometimes I need a walk after arguing with Peter,” the Suit replied. “Wouldn’t you?”

His friend’s eyebrows rose again, this time in amusement. “Must be pretty often then.”

Scott had to step away to make their drinks just then, so he lost the thread of the conversation, but he filed away the small tidbit for later—taking wild stabs at guessing who the Suit actually was had become one of the most entertaining new pastimes between The Silver Bullet employees.

As he handed them their drinks, he heard the Suit’s friend say, putting away his phone as though he had just been using it, “Derek, we have to take these to go. Erica just texted me and she really needs those files before lunch is over.”

The Suit just shook his head irritably and said, “Thanks,” as he accepted the cups from Scott’s hand. Scott just nodded, a little dazed. Derek. Well, the Suit had a name, now.

He desperately wanted to tell Stiles—who would immediately use it to think of some new wild theory that Scott would probably roll his eyes at—or Lydia, who would immediately give him that look which meant he was probably way too invested in this random customer and should get a life or maybe a significant other. But both of them were busy taking and filling orders at the moment, which was what Scott should have been doing just then, too.

So he sighed, pushed the new information to the back of his head, and got back to work.

He actually didn’t see the Suit for a week after that, but that was mostly Victoria Argent’s fault. Danny had taken a week off to visit his family in Hawaii and the morning rush was even busier than the afternoon rush, so she had to reschedule him with Danny’s morning hours instead of his usual late afternoon hours. He didn’t mind, exactly—he knew that when Danny got back and his schedule resumed normalcy again, Lydia and Stiles would inform him of any new developments. That is, if there were any.

When the week was over and he was finally back at his normal shift, he tried to pose the question innocently to Lydia, but she was having none of it—she raised an eyebrow, letting him know silently that she thought he was way too invested in someone else’s life, before she said, “No, he’s only been in once. Didn’t bring his friend again, either.”

“I have a new theory!” Stiles interjected loudly. Fortunately, the lunch hour rush had just passed and the shop was empty. “I think he’s a secret agent from a vague, yet menacing government agency, and his name… is Francisco.”

Lydia rolled her eyes and walked away, grabbing a damp rag and beginning to wipe down the counter in an effort to avoid the conversation. Scott just laughed. “Seriously, dude? First off, his name’s Derek. And second off, I’m pretty sure he’s not a shady secret agent. Like, at least ninety percent sure.”

“You’re going to be sorry when you find out that I’m right,” Stiles replied, waving a finger at him. Then, he paused. “Wait, how do you know his name is Derek?”

Scott grimaced, just then remembering that he had forgotten to tell them. Even Lydia looked over curiously. “His friend said it when they were in that day two weeks ago. Well, I don’t know if they’re friends, actually. Their conversation made them seem more like coworkers.”

Stiles threw his arms up in the air and said, “Well, then. Thanks for keeping us informed!”

Scott just shook his head and was about to respond before the door opened and in stepped a customer.

And who else would it be but Derek.

“Oh, uh—” Scott stammered, while Stiles cleared his throat and looked away in an incredibly poor attempt to cover up the fact that they were just talking about him. “How can I help you? The usual?”

Derek nodded and pulled out his wallet. In the same movement, he held up the laptop case in his other hand. “Do you mind? You have wifi, right?”

“No, no—I don’t mind. We don’t mind.” Scott cleared his throat and cursed his sudden awkwardness. The sudden appearance of the person they had been gossiping about had just thrown him off, was all. “And yes, there’s wifi.”

It didn’t take him long to make Derek’s coffee and give him back his change. This time, however, unlike all the other times, Derek didn’t immediately head for the door—he sat down at one of the tables and took the laptop from his bag, taking a sip of his coffee before opening the lid of his laptop and beginning to type.

“What do you think he’s doing over there?” Stiles whispered to Scott. “Do you think there are government secrets hidden in that computer?”

Lydia smacked him with a towel as she passed.

Stiles hissed in pain, shrinking away from her. “What the hell was that for?”

“For being an idiot,” she replied matter-of-factly.

Scott just shook his head and, with nothing better to do, looked over at Derek again. He was typing furiously but frowning, and a crease had formed between his eyebrows that looked like it had a permanent spot in the center of his forehead. Scott felt a small pang of pity as he realized that the poor guy probably hated his job, but his thoughts were interrupted as a large group of people—clearly tourists, as at least fifty percent of them were wearing ‘I ♥ New York’ t-shirts—entered the shop, and the three of them scrambled to take their numerous and complicated orders.

When the tourists had finally left and the coffee shop blessedly quiet again, Scott looked over to find that Derek was still there, but instead of working at his computer he was talking into his phone.

“Of course they would send over every personnel file ever—” he was saying, running a hand through his hair in irritation. “Tell Erica and Boyd to go through them, and see if you can wrangle Isaac into helping them, too. And if Paige calls again, tell her I’m out.” There was a pause, and then an equally irritable, “Jackson, please—Peter’s been breathing down my neck all week and I needed to get out of there for a while. Can you really blame me?”

“I think he needs another coffee,” Lydia whispered, sagging against the counter—Stiles was currently doing the same against the wall, looking like he was about to fall asleep. She looked pointedly at Scott. “Or maybe several shots of alcohol.”

“I’ll make him another,” Scott replied, ignoring Lydia’s answering smirk.

It was quick work, and before he knew it Scott was sliding over the counter and crossing over to Derek’s table. He had already hung up his phone and was back to typing at his computer.

“Looks like you need another,” he said. Derek looked up, his face registering shock and confusion just long enough for Scott to catch it. He smiled reassuringly and added, “Don’t worry. It’s on the house.”

“Thanks,” Derek replied, finally relaxing as the tiniest of smiles appeared on his face.

“So what exactly do you do?” Scott asked after a pause, taking a seat on the other side of the table. He figured he might as well ask and get it over with, before Stiles came up with any new theories and Lydia injured herself from rolling her eyes too hard at them.

Derek, already back to typing, looked up from his screen and raised an eyebrow at the question, as though the answer should have been obvious. “Uh… I’m a lawyer.”

Scott nodded appreciatively. “That’s… cool. What’s it like?”

“Kind of awful, actually,” Derek said with a bitter little laugh. When Scott frowned, he added, “It’s a family business. I didn’t exactly have a choice. My uncle took me and my sisters in when we were teenagers and practically forced us into the job—not that I’d know what to do otherwise, anyway.”

“That sucks, though,” Scott said, frown deepening. “Is this the uncle you always argue with? And that’s why you come here?”

To his surprise, Derek flushed a little and looked down at his keyboard. “Yeah—you heard that the other day?”

Scott couldn’t help but smile again. “I have good ears. Who was that, anyway? Your coworker?”

Derek nodded. “Isaac. He’s one of the less annoying paralegals.”

Scott was just about to ask him another question when the door to the shop opened and another large group of people walked in. They didn’t look like tourists—more like the kind of people who identified as hipsters and listened to indie music and always put pictures of their coffee cups on Instagram. Scott sighed and stood up. “I have to take this.”

Derek didn’t reply, but Scott didn’t expect him to. He stood and made his way across the shop, sliding over the counter again, hearing the sound of Derek’s fingers behind them as they returned to the keys, typing furiously.

Unfortunately, the new group had a long list of extremely complicated orders just like the last one, so Scott, Lydia, and Stiles were occupied for what seemed like hours trying to fill them all out. Unlike the last group, however, they all decided to stay and occupy the remaining booths and tables. Derek, alone in his corner, was already packing up his laptop and looking vaguely annoyed.

Picking up his coffees, he discarded the empty one in the trash by the door and, as if knowing Scott would be watching, turned around and offered him a little wave before pushing out the door and into the summer air.

Scott raised his hand to wave back, but he was already gone.

“Is this the mysteriously good coffee Isaac said you go out for all the time?”

Erica was in his office again, unannounced as usual—but, then, she only ever came into his office to annoy him. Just outside the door, Jackson the secretary answered Derek’s glare with an apologetic shrug. Meanwhile, Erica was leaning over his desk and stealing the still half-full styrofoam cup from beside his computer.

She took a sip, then grimaced. “It’s cold.”

“That's because I've been busy,” Derek replied irritably. “Why are you in here again?”

“I'm on hold at the employment office,” she replied, “trying to find leverage for Paige’s case.”

Paige Madison had applied for a high-up position at the musical instrument manufacturing company where she worked and had been denied eight times; that was when she had been recommended to Hale and Hale, suing her boss for discrimination. It was a fairly easy case, one that Cora had handed down to Derek and his associates because one of her clients was giving her difficulties and she didn’t want the Madison case to fall by the wayside.

Still, he didn’t like any of his cases to be treated with such flippancy. “And what if they take you off hold?” he scolded. “Who's going to be there to pick up the phone?”

Please,” Erica said, scoffing. “The last time I called for a case, they had me on hold for two hours. Besides, Boyd’s down there watching the phone for me.”

Derek sighed. “Then what is it that you need to talk to me about?”

Erica pursed her lips, seeming to weigh her options, before she looked up at him with deceptively wide, innocent eyes and asked, “Is the coffee really that good?”

Derek blinked. Then, “What?

“I mean,” she continued, waving a hand vaguely at the coffee cup still on his desk, “you go there all the time. Are you sure it's for the coffee?”

“So, what, I'm not allowed to have a new favorite coffee shop?” Derek shot back, eyes narrowing. “I have to have some ulterior motive?”

“Well, Isaac told us you got a bit dewy-eyed when a certain employee served you the other day.” There was a full-blown smirk on her face, now; she wasn't even bothering to feign innocence anymore.

Instead of denying it, Derek just asked, “Why do you care about who I get dewy-eyed at, anyway?”

She put a hand to her heart dramatically and replied in a voice full of fake concern, “We just want you to be happy, Derek.”

Derek just shook his head and turned back to his computer. “Get out of my office.”

His voice came out in a growl, but that didn't seem to intimidate her. She just stood, a short laugh escaping her lips, before she blessedly fled his office at last.

“’Dewy-eyed,’” Derek said to himself, face twisting into a disgusted grimace.

“I know,” Jackson said over the intercom. “Personally, I can't see you getting dewy-eyed over anybody.”

That earned him a glare and a, “Shut up, Whittemore.” And then Derek reached over and pointedly turned the intercom off.

“I did some snooping last night,” Stiles was saying. Scott was only half paying attention as he handed off two cups to Allison, who was working with them that day. The lunch rush was just getting started and already the shop was bustling with people.

It was a minute or so before Scott could answer. “Cool. What did you find out?”

“Well, now that we know he's a lawyer,” Stiles continued, “I googled him and—Scott, he works at Hale and Hale.”

“Stiles—” Scott was trying to make someone's hazelnut frappe and couldn't be bothered to play 20 Questions just then. “I don't know what that means.”

“Hale and Hale? Scott—that's, like, one of the largest corporate law firms in New York. Derek and his sister are senior partners and their uncle is a founding partner. It’s, like, a big deal.”

“That still doesn't mean much to me, Stiles.”

“Are you kidding? Have you never watched Suits? We are definitely having a marathon the next time you come over.” Stiles shook his head and continued, over his shoulder as he handed off an order to a group who was waiting, “That means he's probably filthy rich! He's got all those tailored suits, probably lives in a penthouse apartment—hell, I bet he drives to work in a limousine.”

Scott was going to answer, but both Stiles and Allison were busy and the next customers were waiting in front of the empty register. “How can I help you two?”

“I don't know,” the blonde woman said. She was smirking a little as she turned to her friend, a dark-skinned man wearing an expensive suit that reminded Scott of Derek’s. “What does Derek usually get?”

“Derek Hale? The lawyer?” Scott asked. He received a triumphant smile in return and took that as a cue to continue, “Uh, tall coffee, black.”

Great,” she replied, smile growing even wider. “I'll have one of those and a vanilla bean frappe. Boyd?”

Her friend looked over the menu for a few seconds before he answered, “Black tea, tall.”

A minute later and Scott was handing their orders to them over the counter. “You know Derek, then?”

“He's me and Erica's boss,” Boyd replied.

“We know he comes down here a lot,” Erica explained further. “We wanted to see what all the hype was about and, well, I guess we found out.” She was smirking again, and Scott had the distinct impression she was talking about him. But before he could think too much about what that meant, Erica gave him a small little wave before she turned around and left, Boyd trailing after.

“Here,” someone said, setting something on his desk. Derek looked up to find Boyd, smiling apologetically. “Erica told me to take this up for you. She said she thought she had probably barged into your office too much for one week.”

“Well... thanks.” Derek picked up the coffee and took a sip. It was still hot. “Where did you get this?”

Boyd sighed. “Where do you think I got it? Erica and I went to your favorite coffee shop for coffee before getting lunch today.”

Derek swore to himself under his breath. “Tell Erica to stop being so interested in my nonexistent love life,” he said irritably. Then, his face softened a little. “Thanks for the coffee, though.”

“Any time, boss.”

Boyd was just beyond the reach of Derek’s glass office door when he turned back, watching as Derek, already back to work, took another sip of coffee and smiled.

Smiled .

Boyd just shook his head and let out a sigh, sharing a look with Jackson the secretary before turning around and heading back to the bullpen. He just hoped this crush of Derek's would end well for both parties. If not—well, they would all have to suffer for it.

Chapter Text

The next time Derek came in, his favorite employee wasn’t there.

There were two girls behind the counter instead, and he tried not to feel disappointed. It was long past noon and the lunch rush was past, so they were leaning against the equipment and chatting, only looking up when Derek approached the counter.

“Hi,” the redheaded one said, pushing herself off the espresso machine and approaching the register. “Scott’s not here today, sorry.”

It took him a few seconds to register what she had said, and even then he didn’t really understand. “What?”

“Come on, we all know Scott is your favorite,” she replied with the barest hint of smirk on her cherry-red lips. She looked down for a second to enter in what he hoped was his usual order before she continued, “It’s his mother’s birthday. He always takes the day off when his mother is involved.”

Derek still didn’t know what to say to that, but he felt obliged to at least say something. “Right,” was the single word that came out of his mouth, and it made him feel stupid and awkward and the redhead was smirking at him fully now. Dammit, all he had wanted was a cup of coffee and a friendly face—was that too much to ask?

Scott , though. At least he finally had a name.

Just as the redhead held out a hand to take his money, yanking him out of his thoughts, the door to the shop opened and in stepped three businesswomen, each wearing deadly-looking high heels and expensive suits. Derek handed the redhead the money and stepped aside, glad he no longer had to be the focus of her attention. She reminded him of Erica in a way that made him just slightly uncomfortable.

Lydia let Allison take the group of businesswomen because she had a plan.

Because, honestly, she was tired of the way Scott and Derek kept dancing around each other. It was evident from the way Derek came in every other day that he wasn’t just coming in for the coffee, and it was also evident from the way Scott perked up instantly whenever Derek walked in that the attraction was mutual.

And goddammit if she wasn’t going to do something about it, since no one else would.

When no one was looking—which was easy, because Allison was still taking orders and Derek was looking determinedly at his phone—Lydia reached for the black permanent marker they sometimes used to mark cups on busy days, picked a new styrofoam cup from the stack, and scrawled on it: His name is Scott McCall. Just ask him out already. Beneath that, she wrote down Scott’s number, underlining it twice and adding a couple exclamation marks just to make sure he saw it.

Then she filled the cup with black coffee and handed it to Derek as if everything was normal. “Have a nice day!” she said with a wide grin, and to her pleasure Derek looked a little terrified as he took the cup from her hands and left as quickly as he could.

“What did you do?” Allison asked her as soon as the businesswomen had left. She knew Lydia’s plotting face all too well.

“Nothing,” Lydia replied, but her smirk was so wide anyone would have known she was lying.

Derek hid the cup in the bottom of his desk drawer and tried his hardest not to think about it for the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, it was a slow day at the office—Erica didn’t stop in to aggravate him as usual, Boyd only popped in once to hand him some research he had done for a new case, and Isaac was busy with work for some of the other partners. Not even his own sister stopped in to say hello, and neither did his uncle, who hadn’t antagonized him all day. Really, the only reason he had gone down to The Silver Bullet in the first place was because he had been bored and—yeah, all right—he had wanted to see Scott, too.

And now there was an empty coffee cup in the bottom of his drawer that might be his ticket to actually seeing Scott. As in, dating him. Actually being closer to him than the Bullet’s counter allowed.

The thought made his stomach churn with a mixture of apprehension, nervousness, and a tiny bit of exhilaration. But then he pushed it to the back of his mind for the thousandth time that day and forced himself to concentrate on the computer screen in front of him, because no way was he going to get any work done if he kept thinking about a certain coffee shop barista.

Thankfully, he had dinner with Paige Madison, whose case he had just neatly wrapped up, scheduled for later that evening, which took up a large chunk of his time and attention. By the time he returned to his office, the sun had already set and there weren’t many employees left, save for a handful of first years in the bullpen working diligently on research for cases.

Jackson the secretary had already gone home, so Derek’s corner of the building was blissfully empty and quiet when he arrived. His mind immediately went to the coffee cup with Scott’s number written on it, still tucked in the bottom drawer of his desk. He wondered, as he bent to retrieve his briefcase on the floor by his chair, if he should rise to the bait. Call him. Ask him out like he really kind of wanted to.

It took him a few long seconds of standing in his quiet, nearly-dark office, weighing his options, before he finally sighed in a resigned sort of way and set his briefcase down.

He threw his suit jacket over the back of his chair and loosened the tie from around his neck before he sat down. It felt a little ridiculous to ask out a barista while wearing a Tom Ford suit and a silk tie when all he had ever seen Scott wear were jeans and t-shirts.

He ducked down again. Opened the drawer. Took out the coffee cup he had so sheepishly stashed away, then picked up the phone and dialed the number written in thick black lines and underlined twice. Pressed Talk before he could convince himself the whole idea was stupid and hang up.

The phone rang once, twice, three times. Derek’s knee bounced up and down, up and down, trying to contain his nerves and not quite succeeding.

Then there was finally someone on the other end. “Hello?”

Now or never . “Uh… Scott?”

“This is him,” the voice confirmed. “Who is this?”

“Uh…” He swore in his head, hating the way he stammered when he got nervous. “It’s Derek. Derek Hale.”

“Oh!” Scott’s tone immediately brightened. “What’s up?” Then, after a pause, “Wait, how did you get this number?”

“I’m not a creep, I swear,” Derek insisted. “I went to get coffee today and one of your friends wrote your number on my cup. With, uh… with the instructions to just ask you out already.”

To his relief, Scott laughed, and not in a way that made it seem like he was laughing at Derek, just the situation in general. “Who was it? Stiles?”

“The red-haired girl, actually.”

“That’s Lydia,” Scott said, and Derek could clearly picture him shaking his head fondly. There was another pause before Scott asked tentatively, “So… are you going to?”

“What?”

Scott cleared his throat. “You know, ask me out?”

“Oh,” Derek replied. The nervousness that had temporarily abated was back in full force. “I mean… yeah, if you want to.”

“Yeah,” replied Scott. “I do.”

Relief pooled like liquid sunshine behind Derek’s ribs. For the first time since picking up the phone, he smiled and, for the first time in a long time, it felt genuine.

“We should do pizza,” Scott was saying, sounding excitable. “I’m not a drinker and I definitely don’t want to do coffee. You wouldn’t think it, but working in a coffee shop, you kind of get sick of coffee after a while.”

“Pizza’s fine,” Derek agreed. “You wouldn’t think it, but being a corporate lawyer, you kind of get sick of complicated, fancy food and client dinners after a while.”

Scott snorted a little. “Can’t even imagine.”

They went on to pick a day—Thursday—and a time—six, when both of them would be off work. And soon after that, Scott was saying, “Well, I have to get back to my mom, so…”

“Right,” Derek said, and felt stupid for forgetting. “Lydia said. Tell her happy birthday for me, okay?”

Scott chuckled a little, a sound Derek immediately realized he found endearing. “Will do. Bye, Derek.”

After hanging up the phone, Derek had to take several very long, very deep breaths before he controlled his nerves enough to pick up his briefcase and hurry home.

When Scott set the phone down and reentered his mother’s kitchen, the first thing Melissa McCall asked was, “What was that about?”

He blushed and looked away to avoid her knowing smile and Stiles’—who was there on account of being a lifelong friend—expectant look. “I might have just landed a date on Thursday.”

“That's great!” she replied, smile widening.

Across the table from her, Stiles was gaping. Before Scott could reply to his mother, he asked, “Wait—does it happen to be with the lawyer guy?”

Scott bit his lower lip and, after a second, nodded.

Stiles let out a whoop of joy so sudden and loud it made both Scott and Melissa jump. “I knew it!” Stiles said proudly to Melissa. She just rolled her eyes at him, so he turned to Scott. “Didn't I know it? I knew it. You two are so cute together.”

His mom brushed Stiles' comments off with a wave of her hand and said, “Tell me about this guy. Is he like the lawyer Danny is dating?”

Scott told his mom nearly everything, even insignificant tidbits of his coworkers' personal lives. It was natural that she would immediately ask about Danny. “Kind of,” Scott replied. He took his place at the table again, where the remains of his mother’s birthday cake still sat. Then he began to explain Derek and his frequent visits to The Silver Bullet, and how Lydia had written his phone number on a coffee cup just that afternoon.

At the end of it all, Melissa reached over and pinched his cheek in an affectionate, motherly sort of way. Normally he would shrug it off, but it was her birthday, after all. “Well, I think it's great that you've got a date with someone new!”

“Our little boy, all grown up,” Stiles cooed. He reached across the table and pinched Scott's cheek, too. Scott slapped his hand away, but he was laughing.

It was Thursday and it was five-thirty and Derek hadn't even left the office yet. It took him a while before he finally managed to set his work down, grab his briefcase, and hurry off to the elevators as fast as possible.

“You're in a rush,” a smooth voice commented once the elevator doors had slid shut.

Derek jumped—he had, up until that moment, thought the elevator was empty. But when he turned around to face his companion, he found it was only his sister, Cora. “Had a long day,” he said by way of explanation.

“Oh?” She raised an eyebrow at him. “Sure you're not... going somewhere? With someone?”

He narrowed his eyes at her. After a pause, he asked, “Who told you?”

“Jackson,” she replied with a casual shrug. “He tells me everything.”

“It's because you terrify him.” Derek shook his head, then conceded, “Fine—I have a date. Don't tell Peter and definitely don't tell Erica or Boyd. Or Isaac, for that matter. I’d rather keep my personal life to myself.”

She nodded in affirmation, and mimed locking her lips and throwing away the key in response. “So who's the lucky girl? Or guy?”

“His name's Scott,” he replied, backing out of the elevator as the doors opened on the ground floor. “He's a barista.”

Cora just shook her head fondly as she followed him across the lobby. “As long as he makes you happy.” Before they parted at the main doors, she turned and said to him sternly, “You better keep me updated, though. I'm your sister—I have rights.”

He replied with only a smile and a nod and went to hail a cab.

To Scott, it felt like he had been waiting for hours for Derek to show when it had really only been ten minutes. Really, the clock hadn’t even struck six yet. Scott, sitting alone in a booth tucked into the back corner, was fiddling with his phone and trying to resist checking the time again when the door to Jeff's Pizza opened and—finally—Derek was the one who walked through it.

“Sorry,” he said as he slid into the booth, nervous, evident in the way he wouldn't quite meet Scott's eyes. “Things ran late at work and traffic was a nightmare on the way here.”

“It's fine,” Scott said with a wave of his hand, panic mostly abating. As Derek picked up a menu, he asked, “So what's going on at work?” He never pretended to be any good at small talk, but he figured he might as well give a valiant effort.

Derek frowned a little, and Scott almost wished he hadn't asked. “I just finished a big discrimination case but now I’m scrambling to work on all the smaller ones that fell by the wayside. So I’ve been busy with that, and my associates are giving me a hard time as usual because... well, they don't entirely like me.” He sighed, and finally looked up at Scott at last. “How was your mother's birthday, by the way?”

A few minutes passed while Scott recounted the night spent with his mother and his best friend. Just as he was finishing, a waitress came over and took their orders for drinks and pizza.

“I'm sorry to have to ask this,” Derek started, once the waitress had left them alone, “but... how old are you?”

Scott just nodded, smiling faintly. “It's all right. I keep forgetting you don't know much about me—well, I don't know much about you either, I guess.” He cleared his throat awkwardly and tried his best to stop rambling. “I'm twenty-one.”

“Twenty-eight,” Derek said after a bit of a pause.

“My birthday's in July,” Scott said, and his grin widened just a bit, “if that helps with the age-difference thing.”

Derek smiled, too, for the first time that evening. “I don't mind, really. The last person I dated was years older than me, too.” That last person was named Kate, and that was the first time he had voluntarily talked about her since they broke up three years earlier. But his disastrous last relationship wasn’t exactly first date talk, so he settled for asking, “Did you go to college?”

“Yeah,” Scott replied. “New York University. Biology major. I want to be a veterinarian.”

Derek nodded appreciatively. “Did you grow up around here?”

Scott shook his head. “Born and raised in Beacon Hills, California. But when I was a kid my mom and dad got divorced, so my dad stayed in California while my mom packed up and moved out here with me.”

They fell silent as the waitress slid their plates in front of them—two slices of pepperoni for both of them, Derek’s with extra cheese—and thanked her before Derek asked, “Do you see your dad often?” He desperately hoped it wasn’t a subject that touched a nerve.

Scott just gave a noncommittal shrug, took a bite of pizza, and said, “I didn’t used to. Then after college I decided to take a year and he offered me a place to stay because there was a position open as a veterinary assistant over there. There’s a lot less job competition in Beacon Hills than there is in New York City, so I figured I’d take him up on the offer. It wasn’t an ideal situation, ‘cause me and him still don’t get along, but it was a good opportunity to get some experience. So, I spent a year over there working and came back when it was time for me to start applying to veterinary schools. Haven’t had a word from any yet, though.” Scott frowned and took another bite of pizza, remembering to swallow before saying, “I’ve been talking a lot about myself, haven’t I?”

“It’s fine,” Derek assured him. “Your life is way more exciting than mine—trust me.”

Scott raised an eyebrow at him like he didn’t believe that was strictly true, but didn’t comment on it. They fell silent for a few minutes as they ate their food, but after a while, desperate for something to lift the awkward silence, Derek brought up the subject of other favorite restaurants and that kept the conversation going until they had finished their meal.

“This was nice,” Scott said as they exited Jeff’s into the cool spring air, the sun long since set. “And I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way. Don’t worry.”

“Good,” Derek said with a brave attempt at a smile. His stomach was doing nervous flips and it was making him a little nauseous. “We should do this again.”

“Well, you know my number,” was Scott’s reply, accompanied with an answering smile. “And I know your schedule’s probably busier than mine, so…”

“I’ll call you,” Derek promised as he finally managed to hail a cab, which pulled up to the curb. He opened the door but offered it to Scott, who ducked his head with a smile and a word of thanks.

For a moment, Scott hesitated, sandwiched there between Derek’s body and the open door. Derek wondered if Scott was going to kiss him—they were so close, it would have been easy to close the distance between them. He wondered if that was something he wanted, wondered if Scott was the kind of guy who kissed on first dates, if—

But the moment was gone; before Derek could do anything about it, Scott was saying, “Goodnight,” with a faint smile as he slid into the backseat of the cab, and all Derek could do was nod, still a little dumbstruck.

He stepped back as the cab pulled away from the curb, watched as it vanished into the flow of traffic and pretended he could still see it long after it had vanished down the road. Pretended he could still hear Scott’s heartbeat, beating a path back home.

Chapter Text

The second date came unexpectedly quick—Derek only managed to hold out until the next Monday before he was calling Scott again and asking, “Dinner tonight?”

But Jackson was making not-so-subtle throat cutting movements in his direction and Derek immediately saw why—Peter was on the prowl and heading straight for Derek’s office. Derek just shook his head slowly at Jackson to warn him if Peter gets in this office you are fired, took one second to thank whatever deity existed that his glass door was pointedly closed, and turned around in his desk chair to make sure Peter knew he was busy.

In doing all this, he completely missed Scott’s answer. “Sorry, can you say that again?”

“I said sure, I’d love to go,” Scott replied. “Trouble on your end?”

“My uncle’s in the vicinity,” Derek said. He didn’t turn around to check if Peter was actually still there; he didn’t want to give up the illusion just yet. Instead, he stared over the rooftops of the tall city buildings and asked, “So, tonight’s fine, then? Do you want to go out to eat, or…”

“I was thinking Italian,” Scott answered. “I know this great place in Little Italy. My mom and I go there all the time.”

Derek smiled at the thought of being taken by Scott to a place that was important to him—it was the little things that counted. “What time do you get off work?”

“Six, the usual.”

“I’ll be there.”

I’ll be there,” a mocking voice said from behind him, and Derek’s stomach dropped to his toes. “God, you’re ridiculous.”

Thankfully, Scott had already hung up and hadn’t heard any of it. Derek spun in his chair, replaced the phone on its receiver, and looked up at his uncle. “Is there a reason you eavesdropped on my conversation?”

“I wasn’t eavesdropping,” was the reply, accompanied by a wide smirk. “I don’t need to eavesdrop. I already know all about your coffee shop boy.”

Derek wondered vaguely who had spilled the beans, but decided in the next instant that it didn’t matter. Peter knew everything whether people told him or not. So all he could do was settle for a resigned sigh and a, “Leave Scott out of this, Peter. Now, what can I help you with?”

But Peter disregarded his last question completely. “No, I will not leave your little Scott out of this. I need you concentrated and ready to kick some lawyer ass, not distracted over chasing your little barista boy.”

“I already went on one date with him,” Derek shot back, fighting the urge to rise out of his seat. He hated arguing with his uncle but sometimes—well, most of the time—it was unavoidable. “Has my work slipped at all?”

“I don’t know,” Peter replied. He began to sift through the files scattered across Derek’s desk, picking them up one by one and dropping them back to the glass. “What have you been doing around here lately? Anything?”

“Merger,” Derek said through gritted teeth.

“Well,” said Peter, letting the last file fall from his hands; it was heavy and landed with a dull thud. “I think you should be working on that, instead.”

“I can’t. I have a date.”

Peter smiled, a cruel twist of his mouth, and said, “No, you don’t.”

“Yes—”

No.” Peter’s voice had risen to a yell. “Do I need to remind you of the disaster you caused with your last relationship? You know, the one that nearly brought down the entire firm in a flurry of bribery charges?”

“Those were completely unfounded,” Derek responded, his anger a quiet storm to his uncle’s raging hurricane. “She only did that to add insult to injury after she broke up with me and Scott… Scott’s not like that.”

“I don’t give a shit. You were never that good at relationships, anyway.” That one stung and Derek winced like the words were physical blows. “Leave the pretty boys to Cora. I will not have that merger fall through just because you’re too busy getting Italian with some kid who works in a goddamn coffee shop.” And with that, Peter spun on his heel and made to leave. But, before he could, he turned again and added, “Pick up your files and come with me.”

“I can do my work just fine in here,” Derek replied, letting a sharp, scathing edge come into his tone. “That’s why I have an office, you know.”

“I don’t want you escaping,” Peter replied. “No clearing your head tonight—no walks, no going for coffee. I don’t even want you to pick up the phone.”

Derek glanced longingly at the phone in its holster, at his cell phone beside it. He should call Scott, at least, to let him know he wasn’t going to make it to their date.

But, then, it wasn't hard to hear Peter's words in his head again, still ringing in his ears. You were never good at relationships anyway. Leave the pretty boys to Cora. Doubt started to crawl through him like a snake, thick and dark and poisonous. Frightened, and all too aware of Peter staring him down and waiting for him to follow, he shook it off, picked up the necessary files, and followed his uncle out the door.

Scott waited for an hour and a half before he finally gave up.

The waiter, a familiar face on account of the fact that he came there so often, gave him a sympathetic smile when he asked for the check. He couldn’t even muster a smile in return; all he really wanted to do was go home to his tiny but comfortable apartment, pass out, and not feel anything for a while.

He pulled his jacket tighter around himself as he stepped out into the cool night air before heading in the direction of the subway. Once he had found the nearest one, he took it back to Brooklyn. On the way back up to the sidewalk level, he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and called Stiles.

"There he is!" yelled Stiles by way of greeting, as though he had been expecting Scott’s call. Scott couldn't help but smile, even though there wasn't much he felt like smiling about at the moment. "How was the date?"

The smile slid from his face and he groaned. "It was terrible."

"Jeez. I always thought he was a little grumpy, but... was it really that bad?"

"I wouldn't have minded grumpy," Scott replied as he rounded the corner, feeling for the key in his pocket now that his building was in sight, "as long as he had actually shown up."

"What?" Stiles' exclamation of surprise was so loud, Scott had to yank the phone away from his ear.

"Yeah, I know," was all he replied after taking a second to collect himself, unlocking his front door and slipping quietly into the darkened apartment. "I don't know why. He seemed perfectly fine when he called and asked me out tonight in the first place."

There was a pause on the other end, and Scott could practically hear the gears in Stiles' head working in overdrive. "But..." he started, then paused. “Why would he call you, specifically ask you out, and then not show up?"

"Why are you asking me?" Scott replied irritably. "If I had known, I wouldn't have waited an hour and a half for him to come."

Stiles sighed. "I dunno, maybe he got caught up with work or something and couldn't find time to call."

"Maybe," Scott replied. Stiles' reasoning had occurred to him briefly, but hearing someone else say it out loud made him feel slightly better. "Hopefully he'll call me tomorrow. Or text me, or something."

"Well, Scott..." Stiles sighed again. "If he doesn't, rest assured I will find him and I will... do something violent to him, okay?"

"Thanks, Stiles,” Scott said, letting sarcasm drip from every syllable. “You're a true friend."

That Thursday, when Erica came storming into his office—Boyd chasing after her and Isaac slinking behind, looking interested in a guilty sort of way—Derek was halfway convinced his life was about to end.

"What is this bullshit I've been hearing," Erica exclaimed, not even giving him a chance to ask what she was doing in his office before she lit into him, "about you skipping out on a date with coffee shop boy?"

All Derek could do was frown and wonder how in the hell personal news traveled so thoroughly at Hale and Hale, but one glance at Jackson, who was watching but wouldn't meet his eyes, and the culprit was pretty obvious. Derek just sighed, looked up at Erica and replied, "None of your business, that's what."

"Erica—" Boyd started, reaching out a calming hand to her, but she swatted it away.

"You go dewy-eyed over this boy for weeks, go on one date, and then, what? Decide you don't like him that much?"

There was that word again—dewy-eyed. He shook it off like an irritable fly and said, pointedly turning back to his work in a way he hoped would be taken as a dismissal, "My personal relationships are none of your business, Ms. Reyes. Get out of my office."

Isaac let out a low whistle as Erica bristled. "Your utter failure at relationships is the only thing that amuses me around here anymore, and, to be honest, the happier you are the less shit you like to dump on us. So it is kind of my business."

"Thank you for the reminder of how completely terrible I am at my personal relationships," Derek shot back scathingly, looking up again just to glare at her. "Now, if you please—"

"All right, all right—" A new voice suddenly joined the fray. "Break it up. Out, all of you. I've got actual business to discuss here."

Thankfully, it was Cora, and the others were just fearful enough to leave when she demanded. Though Erica didn't look happy at being forced to go, Boyd looked relieved at avoiding a bigger confrontation where Isaac looked disappointed that a larger one hadn't actually happened.

"Is this about the merger?" Derek asked once they were finally gone, looking down at his desk again to reach for a file, "because I'm just about done with the contract and I think I made just enough compromises to keep both parties happy—"

"This isn't about the merger," she said softly, and he looked up at her, startled, because he knew that tone of voice. She only used it when she was either telling him bad news or talking to him about a family member—only once had it been both. Now, all he could do was wait patiently for her to continue, which, after a moment, she did. "This is about Scott."

Of course it was. “I’m not really in the mood for a lecture,” Derek replied. He turned back to his work, hoping she would understand the dismissal, too.

“Well, too bad. You’re getting one anyway.”

“Then you should have just left Erica to it, because she was already halfway to chewing me out before you got here.”

“Well, I know you better than Erica Reyes does,” Cora replied. Her voice was still soft, but he detected an edge of heated anger beneath it. “So I’d rather give you the lecture myself.”

“Fine,” Derek said. He wasn’t in the mood to fight with her any more than he already was. “Talk to me. Lecture me. Whatever.”

“I won’t take long.” She perched on the edge of one of the chairs in front of his desk and asked, “Did you skip out on your date with Scott because you didn’t feel ready, or because Peter told you not to?”

“What do you think?”

“Probably a mixture of both,” she said. “Am I right?”

Derek fidgeted in his seat. “Yeah, mostly.”

She shook her head. “You know you can’t let Peter direct your entire life, right? I mean, if it was up to him, you would be working twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, all year round.”

“And he still wouldn’t think I was a good lawyer.”

“That’s not the point,” she replied, leveling him with a glare for daring to interrupt. “The point is that you let him manipulate you into leaving home, into taking the bar, into taking this job—you can’t let him manipulate you out of a relationship, too. Christ, Derek; you deserve better than that, don’t you think?”

“He manipulated you into this job, too.”

“We’re not getting into that right now. Because, you see, I actually like where I am. Unlike you.”

“Fine—but what if he’s right?” Derek couldn’t meet her eyes; the words were barely out of his mouth and he already felt childish. “What if I just can’t do relationships? You remember the whole Kate ordeal. And what if he’s right, it does take away from my time here? I can’t just ditch my livelihood for a relationship that might not even work.”

She shook her head in exasperation. “Have you talked to Scott since you stood him up Monday?”

“No.” That was the short answer. The long answer was that he had wanted to—laying there in bed that night, as the clock passed eleven and then twelve and one and two. He had lain there for hours, staring at the cell phone on his nightstand, wondering if he should call, wondering if it was too late.

Cora just shook her head and stood at last, heading for the door, obviously thinking he was a lost cause. “Then how do you know it won’t work if you never even tried?” she asked, pointedly raising an eyebrow. With that said, she left, closing the glass door behind her.

Derek sighed. Stood, restless. Looked out over the rooftops again and weighed his options: on one hand, he could piss off Peter by going back to Scott and asking for a second chance; on the other hand, he could let himself believe all of what Peter said was true and continue on with his job and his increasingly lonely social life.

“Come on,” Jackson said over the intercom—dammit, why was he always listening—like he was the voice of Derek’s conscience. “Go apologize. I’m tired of you moping around because Peter took your toy away.”

“Thanks for the analogy, Jackson,” Derek replied sarcastically, barely able to contain an eye roll. But then he pocketed his cell phone and, after only a second of hesitation, his wallet as well, just in case he actually bought a cup of coffee. “If Peter comes in, tell him I went out for lunch, but don’t say where.”

“Aye, aye, captain.” Jackson gave him a two-fingered salute, smirking as he watched Derek disappear down the hall.

The Silver Bullet was almost empty save for a table by the window occupied by a couple of college students. Derek was grateful—the shop’s employees were already throwing him death glares and he didn’t want anyone to witness the showdown that was likely going to occur.

“Can I talk to Scott? Please?” he asked in a low voice as he approached the corner. The dark-haired one—Allison, he vaguely recalled—blinked at him once, unsmiling.

Then Scott’s best friend was there—Stiles. He was glaring, mouth twisted into an angry grimace.
“If you don’t leave within the next five seconds, I’ll throw you out, I swear to God.”

Everything about him rubbed Derek the wrong way. “I don’t need to explain myself to you,” he snarled. “I just want to talk to Scott. That’s all I’m here for.”

“He doesn’t want to talk to you,” Allison replied scathingly, shooting him a look that told him she clearly thought he was a little slow on the uptake. “So, no.”

Time to resort to some groveling; Derek internally winced at the thought. “Listen,” he said, trying to make his tone a little less harsh, “I fucked up. I know. But if Scott could just give me a second chance—”

“Let me talk to him, guys,” a voice said, and Derek breathed a sigh of relief. Scott wasn’t smiling, and didn’t look particularly happy to see him, but he motioned for him to come behind the counter all the same.

“Listen—” Derek started again, but he interrupted.

“We can talk in the back,” was the reply, short and a little weary. Scott led him around the coffee machines and through a door to the back room—half a kitchen and half a break room.

Scott had clearly been washing dishes from the breakfast rush that had long since passed—trays for muffins and bagels, glasses for the espresso shots, tongs for serving. He disregarded that now, though, throwing the towel that had been slung over his shoulder onto the counter. Then, he turned and regarded Derek with one eyebrow raised, leaning against the counter, waiting for him to talk.

Derek sighed. “I’m sorry about Monday.”

Scott’s only reply was stone-cold silence. Derek had never seen such a lack of warmth in those eyes.

“I got caught up in work,” he continued. “My uncle made me stay and work on this merger since it was so difficult and important to the firm and… I just, I got caught up and I didn’t realize what time it was until it was too late.”

Still nothing. Then, “You could’ve at least called.”

The hurt in Scott’s voice was so plain that Derek nearly winced. “I know. And I should have. But… I got home late, work was busy…”

“Derek,” Scott interrupted, “can you please stop feeding me excuses and just tell me you don’t like me, so I can get back to work and you can get back to work and we can get on with our lives?”

“I do like you,” Derek replied. He ran a hand through his hair and groaned a little. “That’s the problem.”

Scott frowned, brow furrowed. “How is that a problem?”

“Because my uncle… he doesn’t like that I’m in a relationship. And he’s doing everything he can to mess it up for me.”

“Screw him.”

“I wish,” he replied, letting out a humorless laugh. “But he’s my boss, too. I see him every day whether I want to or not.”

Scott shrugged. “Screw him anyway. He may be your boss, but that doesn’t mean he can control your personal life, too.”

Grow a spine . That’s what everyone seemed to be telling him lately; maybe it was time he listened.

“You’re right.” Derek chanced a glance at Scott’s face and found it a little less closed off, a little less hurt than before. He sighed and tried to smile. “Give me a second chance? Please?”

It took a second or two, but eventually Scott smiled. “All right, fine.” Then, pointing at him threateningly, he added, “Just don’t screw it up this time.”

Relief flooded through him and he promised, “I won’t.” Then, hesitantly, he asked, “Are you free tomorrow night?”

“Maybe.” A sly smile, but not an unwelcoming one.

“Can we try for Italian again?”

Scott smiled for real that time. “Fine. But if you ditch me—”

“I won’t,” Derek promised. “I wouldn’t dare. That’s what second chances are for, right?”

He received a nod in reply. Then, Scott half-turned and looked morosely back at the sink. He sighed a little. “I should probably get back to these now.”

“Yeah, have fun with those,” Derek replied. “But I have to go back and work on a merger contract, so don’t feel too bad. I’d rather do the dishes for you.”

Scott laughed. “I think you’re underestimating how terrible and boring dish washing is, but okay. Text me later,” he added.

With an awkward little wave, Derek went out to the front of the shop again, pleased but with heart beating fast like he had just run a marathon.

Still, he had the distinct pleasure of seeing Stiles’ and Allison’s stunned and slightly exasperated expressions as he turned to smile smugly in their direction, before pushing the door open and disappearing into the warm spring air.

Chapter Text

The next evening, Scott rode the elevator up to the offices of Hale and Hale, nervously twisting his hands behind his back. He already felt like an alien on a new planet in his t-shirt and jeans, which he had realized too late was way too informal for the high-end firm. At least he'd thought to bring along his well-worn leather jacket against the cool day; it made him look slightly more dressed up, he thought. Or, well, he hoped.

Even with the jacket, he still received strange looks from men in three piece suits and women in pencil skirts and Christian Louboutin heels. He brushed them off and continued on down the maze of halls until there it was: a glass-walled office with Derek Hale, Senior Partner stenciled onto the door.

But before he could quite make it there, he was accosted by a man he remembered was named Boyd, recognizing him from the time he and Erica had come into the coffee shop a few weeks before.

"Hey, Scott," he said; his words were friendly but his expression a little wary, a little worried. "What are you doing here?"

Scott tried hard not to be offended. "Meeting Derek. We're going out for dinner. Why?"

"Peter's on a rampage," Boyd replied, leaning in conspiratorially. "Merger tanked. It's actually probably best that you came for Derek. I'm sure he needs rescuing."

Scott, fearing the worst, nodded. "I can handle it. Thanks, Boyd."

"Better move fast." Boyd's eyes widened as he glanced over Scott's shoulder. "Peter's on the move."

With another nod, Scott wasted no time getting to Derek's office, shooting a smile at the secretary before pulling the door open and ducking inside.

"Finally," Derek groaned, setting down the file in his hands.

"Yeah, Boyd warned me you had a bad day," Scott replied. "Heard your uncle—"

"Heard that I what?"

Scott froze. Didn't even dare to look around for a few seconds, before he steeled himself and turned to face the speaker.

Peter's expression was the height of unamused. "You must be the coffee boy," he remarked.

Scott had never imagined his first meeting with Derek’s uncle in great detail, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to go like this. Still, that didn't mean Scott was about to let Peter walk all over him. "Scott McCall, actually," he corrected, trying to at least be polite about it. He held out a hand as a sort of peace offering. "Nice to meet you."

The hand was pointedly ignored. "You're not leaving," Peter said to Derek. "Not until you and your associates fix this shitstorm of a merger."

"Well, it's kind of difficult to do that when one half is ignoring our calls and the other is threatening to drop us as their lawyers. Not to mention that it's nearly seven o'clock and everyone with half a mind is home." Derek bent down to retrieve his briefcase and stood. "I'm calling it a day. If you'd like to stay here until all hours of the morning trying to get both sides to cooperate, be my guest."

The silence rang with tension, and Scott had the distinct impression that had been the most Derek had talked back to his uncle in years.

"Come on, Scott," Derek said. Peter was still trembling with rage where he stood. Derek took Scott's hand, much to his surprise, and tugged him out of the office.

"I have half a mind to fire your sorry ass!" Peter finally exploded. "If you walk out now, I don't want to see your face around here tomorrow!"

"Derek—" Scott started, half turning as they fled, looking back at Peter who was still standing, fists clenched, in the middle of his nephew's office. "You're not going to lose your job, are you?"

Derek sighed. "Probably not. It's not the first time he's threatened it."

When they finally made it to the elevators, Derek slumped against the wall and passed a weary hand over his eyes. For the first time, Scott realized how tired Derek really was.

"You all right?"

Derek nodded, eyes closed, leaning against the wall of the elevator like it was the only thing keeping him standing. "I'll be fine. It's just been a really long day."

Scott sidled up against the wall next to him, pressing their shoulders together. "We could just order takeout instead, if you want."

"You know… that would be perfect." Derek's eyes opened, and he looked over at Scott with a grateful smile.

The elevator dinged as they reached the lobby. There was a sleek black town car waiting for them outside. The driver was a man named Garrison; Derek quickly introduced him to Scott before he said, "Home, please."

Derek called for Chinese on the way over, so that by the time they got there it wouldn't be long until it was delivered. By the time they arrived at his apartment, the sun was just about to set, though it was hard to tell because of the clouds that had begun to gather, threatening rain.

Derek couldn't even manage a smile for the only other person in the lobby as he and Scott crossed it and got into an elevator again, heading for one of the top floors. When Derek unlocked the door to his apartment—a penthouse, just as Stiles had predicted—Scott gaped. His entire apartment could have fit inside Derek's expansive living room and kitchen, and he could have bought all his furniture twice over with the money it had probably cost for the upscale kitchen appliances, the sleek leather couches, the huge flat screen television mounted to the wall.

“You can turn the TV on,” Derek informed him as he shut the door behind them. He was already unbuttoning his jacket, briefcase on the floor, and heading for a door that probably lead to his bedroom; Scott could tell he was itching to get out of his suit. “There might be a basketball game on or something, if that’s what you’re into.”

Scott said nothing, just watched him go. When the bedroom door was opened and shut—giving him a split-second view into the space beyond that didn’t reveal much—he drifted into the living room and immediately towards the window, curious as to the view.

When Derek came back out five minutes later, Scott was still preoccupied with looking down at the street below, watching as people streamed below him, tiny as ants, going about their daily lives.

“Nice, isn’t it?” Derek asked, standing beside him. He had changed out of his three piece suit and into a pair of jeans and a soft, well-worn Harvard t-shirt. Scott looked over and found his gaze fixed firmly on the nearby rooftops, on the sky.

“Yeah,” Scott replied. Derek looked over at him, then, eyes searching his face. The silence between them grew heavy like a lead ball just waiting to drop; they were standing closer now than the night of their first date, when Derek had helped him into the cab. It would be so easy to just—

The doorbell rang.

Derek wordlessly turned to get the door; Scott, with a heavy sort of sigh, dropped down onto the couch and reached for the remote. Instead of a basketball game—he had always preferred lacrosse to basketball, anyway—he found a marathon of Friends and decided that it was just as good as anything else and perfect for a night of staying in and getting takeout.

“Probably a better choice,” Derek commented from the kitchen as he returned from the door, bag of food in hand. Scott could hear the smile in his voice even though he couldn’t see it.

Derek rummaged around in the kitchen drawers for silverware before he sat down beside Scott and handed him his takeout box of sesame chicken, then pulled out his own box of General Tso’s. For a while, there was comfortable silence as they ate, occasionally breaking it to comment on something or laugh at the TV. It was nice, it felt familiar; to Scott, it could have been Stiles beside him for all he cared, except it wasn’t, and that was what mattered.

It wasn’t long after the Chinese had been disposed of that Scott noticed Derek was asleep. Friends had gone to a commercial break when he thought to look over, wondering why Derek hadn’t said anything for a while. That was when he realized he had dropped off to sleep at last; his eyes had drifted shut, his body had sunk deep and relaxed into the couch, and his head lolled so it was nearly touching Scott’s shoulder. His face, usually closed off and tense from the stress of his daily life, was smooth and unlined and untroubled. It was strange. And also really, really cute.

Scott thought he should probably leave, but he was so comfortable nestled on Derek’s couch with his stomach full of Chinese takeout and the familiar warmth of a body next to him. Just one more episode, he told himself. Just one more episode, and then I’ll go. Maybe I’ll leave him a note, or something.

No sooner had the words passed through his mind than he was asleep, too.

Derek woke up to the sound of an alarm with a stiff neck and his head on someone’s shoulder.

The person below his head shifted. Derek frantically tried to remember what he had done the night before, why he had woken up on his couch instead of in his bed, and who the hell was beside him until his brain finally caught up with the rest of him—Scott.

“Shit.”

Definitely Scott.

Derek finally stirred, sitting up and rubbing his face blearily. “What time is it?”

“Quarter after five. Time for me to go to work,” Scott groaned. “Victoria switched my shift yesterday. She wants Allison and I to open with her to see how Stiles does when I’m not around to keep him in check.”

To Derek’s dismay, Scott yawned and stretched, then stood to grab his phone from the kitchen counter, where the alarm was still blaring. Derek, looking over at him, took a second to note his sleep tousled hair, his half-lidded eyes, before asking, “Do you need a ride? I could call Garrison. Peter told me not to come in to work today, so it wouldn’t be much trouble.”

The grateful smile that spread over Scott’s face made something warm stir in his chest. “That would be great. Thank you.”

In the end, he called Garrison to drive Scott back to his apartment so he could change clothes into something he at least hadn’t worn the day before. Before Scott vanished out the door, however, Derek insisted on coming with him.

“Why?” Scott asked, though he was smiling as he watched Derek grab a dark leather jacket from the hall closet. “I mean—it’s just my apartment building, and you don’t even need to leave the house today if you don’t want to. Well, technically you don’t.”

“I want to,” Derek insisted. “Besides, I want to know where you live. Come on—he should be down there by now.”

“My place isn’t as… uh, exclusive as yours is,” Scott said, a little nervously, as they stepped into the elevator. “Just FYI.”

“It’s fine,” Derek replied. He offered him a reassuring smile. “I didn’t always live in a penthouse, you know.”

The drive to Scott’s place was quiet in a comforting sort of way, like an echo of the night before. Garrrison was smiling knowingly in the front seat, but neither of them paid any attention, too absorbed in their own thoughts to care.

Derek got out of the car with Scott when they pulled up to the curb of his Brooklyn apartment, pretending not to notice Garrison as he pointedly looked away, down to the phone in his lap.

“Thanks for the ride,” Scott said, a little awkward. “And Chinese last night. And for letting me crash on your couch for a few hours.”

“No problem,” Derek replied. A small smile broke through. “Text me sometime today if you get bored, okay? I have a feeling Peter’s not going to want to see my face around for at least twenty-four hours, so I might need some entertainment.”

“Done.”

And then Derek kissed him.

It wasn’t even a particularly romantic moment, which probably meant it wasn’t a very inspiring first kiss, but Derek didn’t care and knew that Scott wouldn’t either. It was a cold, foggy spring morning but the kiss was soft, warm where they touched—lips, hands on arms, hands on waists.

When they pulled away, Scott’s smile hit him, as always, like a ray of sunshine. He bit his lip, ducked his head, and finally said, “Have a good day, Derek,” and the next second he was gone.

Derek pointedly ignored the smirk Garrison threw him as he got back into the car, but he couldn’t help the smile that crept over his face as they pulled away.

About a week later, once things at work had calmed down somewhat, Derek called Scott to ask, “Are you busy tomorrow night?”

It was the first time he had asked Scott out since the Kiss, though not the first time they had talked since then. Derek could hear the smile in his voice when Scott replied, “Not that I know of. Why?”

“One of my clients is hosting a charity benefit and invited me and my associates along. You could come with us, if you’d like.”

There was a pause. Then, “How fancy is this thing?”

“You’d need a tux.” Derek prayed that he hadn’t asked too late, prayed that he already had one even though he knew it would be a stretch.

“Don’t worry, I have one,” Scott said, and Derek allowed a small sigh of relief. “I haven’t worn it since my dad’s wedding last year—he insisted that I buy it rather than rent, just in case I ever needed one in the future—but it should still fit, right?”

Derek tried not to feel any more nervous than he already was. “Yeah, sure. See you tomorrow night, then?”

And, true to Derek’s word, a sleek black car arrived in front of Scott’s building at exactly quarter till seven the next evening. A minute after the car’s arrival, there was a knock at the door.

“In a second!” Scott called from the bathroom as he fiddled uselessly with his bowtie. After a long moment of struggling, he finally gave up and, letting it hang loose around his neck, went to answer the door.

He drew in a sharp breath as he caught his first glimpse of Derek, dressed in a classy tuxedo, blacker than night, that molded perfectly to the lines of his body. “Hi,” he said, a little breathless. He glanced hurriedly down at his own tuxedo—unfortunately a little small, with his shirt half buttoned and bowtie drooping sadly around his neck. “Uh—I’m not quite ready yet.”

“It’s fine,” Derek replied coolly. Scott stepped aside to allow him into the hallway.

“Just give me a minute,” he replied, throwing him a quick smile before hurrying off to the bathroom again, calling behind him, “You can sit down—or whatever—”

“Nice place,” Derek said, loud enough so Scott could hear. “It reminds me of the apartment I had when I first moved to the city.”

“You didn’t grow up here either?” Scott called back, running a comb through his hair one last time, just to make sure it looked perfect.

“No,” came the reply. “I’ll have to tell you about it sometime.”

The promise of a sometime in the future made Scott smile at his reflection. Then he remembered that they were probably running late, so he buttoned the final button on his shirt, turned off the bathroom light, and went back into the living room.

Derek was standing in front of his couch, looking out of the window at the building across the street. He turned as Scott entered.

“I, uh… I need help with this bowtie,” Scott said sheepishly, holding up the limp material.

“They can be tricky,” Derek replied a little awkwardly, taking the tie from Scott’s hand. He stepped closer and wound it around his neck, making sure it was tucked beneath his collar, before he began tying the knot.

Scott felt like he couldn’t breathe. The only sounds in the room were Derek’s quiet, even breathing and the sound of his fingers slipping over the smooth fabric. They were standing close, achingly close, and despite Derek’s calm, collected expression, Scott could feel the electricity jumping between them and knew he felt it, too. It would be so easy to just lean in and—

“There.” Before Scott could do anything, Derek was pulling away, the bowtie knotted and taut around Scott’s neck. “Come on, let’s get going.”

“Right,” Scott said, letting out the breath he had been holding. He took a moment to compose himself before following Derek out the door and into the town car parked below.

Garrison promised to pick them up whenever Derek called and then drove away, leaving them at the curb in front of a tall building.

The party itself was held on one of the higher floors, in an ornately decorated ballroom with floor-to-ceiling windows and a balcony just visible beyond them. Everyone there was similarly dressed—men in tuxedos, women in long, beautiful gowns and jewelry that sparkled and threw reflections onto the ceiling from the multitude of lights.

“Wow,” Scott said. He knew his eyes were wide and he was probably gawking, but there was just so much to look at—ornate decorations, waiters carrying trays full of drinks and hors d’oeuvres, rich men and women drifting across the room, occasionally stopping to talk to each other.

Derek disappeared from his side for a second, but returned with two flutes of champagne taken from a waiter’s passing tray. He pressed one of them into Scott’s hand, smiling slightly.

But before either of them could say anything, a voice from behind them said, “I was wondering when you’d get here.” Scott and Derek turned to find a woman wearing a shimmering gold dress, hair in an elegant bun, who was smiling at Derek. “Who’s this?”

“Scott McCall. He’s my date,” Derek answered. He cleared his throat nervously and turned to Scott. “Scott, this is my sister, Cora Hale.”

“Nice to meet you,” Scott said to her, shaking her hand with the one that wasn’t holding his champagne.

She had a deceptively strong grip and a sharp, slightly vicious smile. “Nice to meet you, too. I’m glad my brother finally got his head out of his ass and asked you to join us.”

Scott laughed nervously, unsure of how to respond. Derek frowned, but he didn’t comment on the insult. Instead, he asked, “Not to be rude, but why exactly are you here? Mrs. Fenris is my client, not yours.”

“What? I’m not allowed to be somebody’s date?” she asked, eyes wide an innocent, her vicious smile turned simpering. After a second, she sobered and explained, “Boyd brought me. I think he’s chasing down the waiter who was carrying the champagne… ah, no, there he is.”

“Boyd,” Derek said without further ado as his associate approached, handing a glass to Cora, “this is Scott McCall. Scott, Vernon Boyd. One of my associates. I think you’ve met before, but—”

“Nice to meet you… again.” Boyd had the same strong handshake as Cora but there was nothing malicious in his smile, only warmth. “Have you met Erica and Isaac yet? They should be somewhere around here.”

Derek’s nose wrinkled subtly. “I know why Erica’s here, but why Isaac?”

“She coerced him into coming with her,” he replied. “She didn’t want to come without a date, she said, even if it had to be him.”

“There she is,” Cora said. Derek grimaced, but she only grinned. “Not Erica, just Mrs. Fenris. As her lawyer, you should probably go talk to her.”

“I hate you,” Derek muttered, but there was no venom in it. “Come on, Scott. I’ll introduce you.”

As Derek led him away, he couldn’t help but ask, “You said this was a charity event, right? What charity is this for, exactly?”

“Something about orphans, I think,” Derek replied.

“You don’t even know?”

“It’s my job to keep the client happy,” he explained. “And if that means coming to her charity benefit and giving her a large donation courtesy of Hale and Hale just after getting her out of a potentially disastrous fraud charge, then I’ll do it. Who cares if I don’t know exactly what it’s about? The point is that I came.”

Scott didn’t have any more time to question him before Mrs. Fenris, a tall old woman wearing a dark floor-length gown and practically dripping with diamonds around her neck and fingers, turned to Derek and exclaimed, “There he is! The man of the hour. You know—” She turned to the woman next to her and said, “Josie, this is my lawyer, Derek Hale. He and his team of associates got me out of the most dreadful lawsuit last month; I simply had to invite them. Have they all arrived?”

“Not all of them yet,” Derek replied, placing an overly polite smile on his lips. “Boyd is around here somewhere and sister, Cora, is here as well. Erica is on her way.”

“You’re Peter Hale’s son, then? Or his brother?” Mrs. Fenris’s friend asked.

Scott felt Derek stiffen beside him, but somehow he managed to keep the polite smile on his face. “Neither, ma’am. His nephew.”

“It’s still a family business,” Mrs. Fenris explained, waving a dismissive hand in the direction of her friend. “Now, Derek, who on earth is your shadow?”

He looked around at Scott as if, in the midst of all the pleasantries, he had forgotten he was there. Scott, for one, was feeling like a child next to the multitude of high-class adults he had faced that night already, but he managed a smile, anyway.

“This is my date, Scott McCall,” Derek said, and to Scott’s surprise he felt the heavy weight of Derek’s arm as it settled around the curve of his waist.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” Mrs. Fenris said, shaking his free hand. Her friend Josie took a glass from a passing waiter and, seemingly bored, wandered off into the rest of the party. Mrs. Fenris commanded his attention again by asking, “Are you a lawyer, too?”

“Oh, no—” Scott stammered, flushing. “I’m studying to be a veterinarian, actually.”

“Well, best of luck to you,” she replied with a smile that seemed polite but not entirely genuine. “You two gentlemen have a nice night, now. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.” And with a last little nod, she turned and vanished into the crowd.

Scott and Derek were silent for a moment, watching her leave, before Scott asked, “Did she do it?”

“Do what?”

“Actually commit fraud.”

Derek shrugged. “Does it matter? I got her off the charge anyway. All that counts is that she’s satisfied with my services and I can’t exactly be a very satisfactory lawyer if I walk around thinking all my clients are guilty.”

“Right,” Scott replied, though something about the explanation didn’t settle right in his chest. But, he reasoned, that was why he was going to become a vet and not a lawyer.

Just then, they were greeted by another one of Derek’s clients, and another one after that, and another after that. At least Derek did the introductions and most of the talking; Scott was content to simply observe, watching the room at large and taking tiny sips of champagne in between shaking hands with wealthy socialites and business owners.

Once there was a lull in the flow of clients—not all of them Derek’s, some Cora’s and some even Peter’s, who had recognized him all the same—there was a cry of “Finally!” behind them and Scott turned around to see a blonde woman he recognized, wearing a shimmering green dress and smirking widely. Behind her was a curly-haired man dressed in a tux who nodded awkwardly to Derek.

“Yes, finally,” Derek said with a sigh. “Scott, this is Erica Reyes, my other associate, and that’s Isaac Lahey, a paralegal at the firm. Erica, Isaac, this is Scott McCall.”

“Barista boy makes an appearance at last,” Erica said, smirk growing as she shook his hand. “I’m glad to see my boss finally did something right.”

Like with Cora, Scott had no idea how to reply to that. He just nodded, shook Isaac’s hand with a, “Nice to meet you,” but otherwise remained silent, letting them talk.

“You need to greet Mrs. Fenris,” Derek was saying to Erica. “She was looking for you.”

“We already saw her when we came in,” Erica replied, but before she could continue, Isaac, who was looking towards the doors, interrupted.

“Derek—your uncle is here.”

Sure enough, there he was: Peter Hale, dressed in a fitted tux, hair slicked back and champagne already in hand. Even from across the room, he looked intimidating and powerful. Derek’s entire body stiffened as, looking over Erica’s shoulder, he caught sight of him among the crowd clustered around the doors. “Shit.” He looked hurriedly at Scott. “If he knows I brought you here…”

Scott felt like the floor had dropped out from beneath him. “Derek, wait—” But he was already pulling on Scott’s hand, trying to remove them from the situation.

“I’ll distract him,” Isaac promised. “I have to talk to him about some contract work, anyway. Come on, Erica.”

“Anything for Derek and his coffee boy,” Erica said, winking as Isaac led her away to go accost Peter.

“We have to find Mrs. Fenris,” Derek said in Scott’s ear, having finally managed to pull him behind a pillar and the large fake plant next to it. “Then we can leave.”

“Can’t we just talk to him? Can’t I at least try to make a better impression on him?” Scott hissed as Derek peered around the plant to make sure his uncle was distracted.

“Not tonight; not when that shitstorm only happened a week ago,” was the whispered reply, as Derek took his hand again and led him in a wide berth around his uncle to the doors. He could see Mrs. Fenris greeting two women and a man just inside the rightmost door. To Scott, he added, “We should get pizza.”

“Fine,” Scott replied in a grumble, ignoring for the moment that they were wearing tuxedos and would probably get strange looks for eating something as casual as pizza while wearing them. “But you better tell me what the hell your uncle’s deal is, because I’m tired of being afraid of him.” Still, he couldn’t be upset for long—it was kind of exciting, tiptoeing and hiding behind guests in order to avoid the gaze of Peter Hale.

“Mrs. Fenris,” Derek said as they approached, “I’m so sorry, but an emergency has come up and we have to leave.”

Her eyes widened as she turned her focus from the newly arrived guests to them. “Oh, I hope it’s nothing too serious!”

Derek shook his head. “It’s just something small but it really requires my attention. I’m so sorry we couldn’t have stayed longer, but Boyd and Erica are still here, as well as my sister and my uncle.”

“Go on, go,” she told them with a wave of her hand. “I hope everything is all right!”

“Thank you,” Derek replied with a terse smile.

“Yes, thank you for everything,” said Scott, smiling at her as well, hoping he came off as smooth and polite rather than nervous.

But before he had any more time to worry about his appearance, Derek was pulling his hand again and he followed willingly, out the doors, into the hallway, and onto the elevator.

“Do you think he saw us?” Scott asked with a grin.

“Hope not, or I’ll get hell for it on Monday,” replied Derek, slumped wearily against one of the elevator walls but grinning, too, like he had just won a marathon. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, presumably to text Garrison, and asked, “Pizza, then?”

“Sure,” Scott replied. “You have a lot of explaining to do.”

“I know,” he agreed. The elevator reached the first floor and the doors slid open. He gestured. “After you.”

Twenty minutes later, they were digging into fresh, hot slices of pepperoni pizza. It was oddly reminiscent of their first date except with the addition of the tuxedos.

After a few moments of quiet eating, Scott set his slice down and looked across the table at Derek. “Okay, start explaining.”

He sighed and set his pizza down as well, fiddling with the straw in his Coke. After a second, he sighed. “You’re going to have to hear it from the beginning to understand everything.”

“Try me.”

He sighed again, and began, “Before I was born, my dad and my uncle Peter created a firm together—Hale and Hale. But, you know, the job is tough and doesn’t always allow for a personal life. So, after a while, my dad decided he wanted to settle down, so he moved to upstate New York with my mom and let Peter take over.

“When I was in high school, my house burned to the ground with my family in it.” He didn’t pause to ruminate on the fact, just kept talking. “My sister, Laura, and I were in school at the time. Cora was the only one who escaped alive. My uncle was the only family we had left, so we packed our things and moved to New York. Under his guidance, we graduated high school and went to college for our law degrees—we were more or less required to become a part of the family business. Cora took to it immediately, but me and Laura, not so much.

“Laura eventually packed up and moved back to our hometown in New York. She wanted to be a photographer, not a lawyer, and no matter how many times Peter told her she could do both of those things at once, she didn’t buy it. I think she’s in California now but—well, that doesn’t matter.”

“What about you?” Scott asked. “Why did you become a lawyer if you didn’t really like it?”

Derek spread his hands as if to say have you seen me. “I didn’t have a grand life plan like Laura did. Honestly, even now I wouldn’t know what to do with my life if I wasn’t a lawyer.” Scott nodded, and Derek took that as permission to continue. “Anyway—Cora and I spent a few years as associates at the firm before being promoted to junior and then senior partners. Really, we only made it that far—okay, I only made it that far—because we were related to Peter. He kind of runs our lives, if you haven’t noticed.”

Scott frowned. “Is that why he doesn’t like me? Because I’m interfering with your life, or your work, or whatever?”

“Pretty much,” Derek replied with a resigned sort of shrug. “He thinks you’ll distract me. And… well, my last relationship didn’t go over so well with him, either.”

Scott simply raised an eyebrow.

“Her name was Kate. We went to Harvard together,” he explained. “We dated for a few years but it eventually fell apart. Part of it was due to work, to be honest—I worked for my uncle and he refused to hire her, so she went to a rival firm and that didn’t make for the happiest of relationships. She broke up with me eventually. And then she sued me and my uncle for bribery. Tried to prove we had bribed her into taking a job at Hale and Hale which she, out of the ‘goodness of her moral heart,’ refused. That was three years ago. Peter hasn’t trusted me with a personal relationship since.”

“Must be lonely,” Scott commented. Earnestly, he added, “You know I’m not going to turn around and sue you if we break up, right?”

Derek finally managed a small smile. “Yeah, I know.”

Scott shrugged, taking a thoughtful bite of pizza before saying, “Maybe if Peter just met me again, when he’s not pissed off—”

“I don’t know if that’s an event either of us would survive. You sure you want to test your luck?”

Scott smiled. "No harm in trying."

“Then what do you suggest?”

“What about a family dinner?” Scott asked. When Derek winced, he sighed. “Come on. We’ve been on a few dates, we like each other, we’ve kissed and all that—we’re considered together now, right?”

“Of course,” Derek replied. He managed a smile that quickly faded. “But… my family? At dinner? Together? Doesn’t sound like a great idea.”

Scott just shrugged again. “It’s going to have to happen sometime. And my mom makes great enchiladas.”

Derek sighed. “Fine.” He couldn’t help it—that earnest smile, that hopefulness was too convincing.

Across the table, Scott’s smile widened. “Great! We can do it at my mom’s house some time next weekend, maybe. You can invite Peter and even Cora if you want, and we’ll go over and talk and eat home cooked Mexican food and everything will be fine.”

His optimism was contagious, and Derek couldn’t help but smile, too.

Pizza finished, they left the shop, shrugging their jackets on again against the cool night air. Then, Scott suddenly laughed.

Derek smiled, quirked one eyebrow and asked, "What?"

"We just ate pizza in tuxedos," Scott replied, "after ditching a party James-Bond-style to avoid one of your relatives."

Derek's grin widened. "And?"

They stopped at the corner of the sidewalk, waiting for the stoplight to change, because Derek didn't want to call his driver yet; honestly, he just didn't want the night to end. "And," Scott was saying, "that's probably the most interesting date I've ever had."

And then he kissed him. Casually, almost chaste.

Then Derek sighed a little and leaned into it; suddenly, one of Scott’s hands was tangled in his hair, and Derek’s hands slid into Scott’s jacket, around the warm curve of his hips.

The light finally changed, but neither of them noticed.

Chapter Text

A few weeks later, Scott finally decided, “Let’s do it.”

They were lounging on Derek’s couch again, empty boxes of Thai takeout littering the coffee table in front of them, the television turned to some cheesy horror film they were only half watching.

Derek looked over at him where he was slumped against one end of the couch. “Let’s do what?” he asked, a little nervously.

“Family dinner,” Scott replied, and smiled when Derek groaned in response. “Come on. What, did you think I’d forgotten about it?”

Yes,” was the emphatic reply. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Scott leaned over and rested against Derek’s chest, arms folded, looking up at him with a boyish smile. “Come on. We can do it. We have to do it sometime.”

Derek studied his face for a long moment before he finally sighed and gave in. “Fine. I suppose Peter’s calmed down enough by now to—” But he was cut off as Scott kissed him, and he finally smiled a genuine smile and kissed him back.

The thing was, Scott had it easy—all he had to do was convince his mom that a dinner with Derek and his family was a good idea. But Derek had to convince both Cora and Peter to not only meet Scott’s mom but also eat a home-cooked meal with her, which he was ninety-nine percent sure was something they hadn’t experienced for quite a long time.

The next day at work, Derek figured he’d stop by Cora’s office first as she would be the easiest to convince. When he opened the glass door to her office, slightly more spacious than his, she looked up from the papers fanned across her desk and asked, “Can I help you?”

He didn’t bother to sit in one of the plush leather chairs in front of her desk; instead, he just stood between them, too nervous to confine himself to a chair. “I need a favor.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What kind of favor?”

“Kind of a big one,” he replied. A pause. Then, he explained, “I need you to come to dinner with me at Scott’s mom’s house."

She leveled him with a half-hearted glare. "And why is that such a big deal?"

"Because I need you there to stop me and Peter from going at each other’s throats."

"Of course you do," she replied with a weary sort of sigh. She looked down at her desk, frowning and considering, before she met his eyes again and said, "Fine. I'll go. But only because you asked so nicely." And with a wink, she dismissed him.

And so, with dread a heavy weight in his stomach, Derek went to his uncle’s office next.

“I’m a little busy,” Peter said before he could even knock on the open door. He looked up from his work and added, “You know, if you couldn’t tell. And, speaking of being busy, shouldn’t you be busy doing work, too?”

Derek cleared his throat awkwardly and said, “I need to ask you a favor.”

“No, I’m not giving you a raise. No, you can’t have a longer lunch break. And no, you can’t have any days off. Does that answer your question?”

Beginning to get vaguely annoyed, Derek replied, “No.”

Peter looked down at his computer again and said, “Then you’ll have to ask me later, because, as you can see, I’m up to my eyeballs in work, here.”

Frustrated, Derek blurted out, “I want you to come to dinner at Scott’s mom’s place with me and Cora.”

Derek waited breathlessly in the wake of his outburst as Peter looked up from his work again. The silence in the room was heavy with tension, just teetering on the edge of a violent argument—not like that was any different than usual. All Derek could do was stand there in the empty doorway and get what was coming to him.

All of a sudden, Peter sighed. The tension pulled back from the edge a little. Then, he asked simply, “Why?”

“Because you haven’t properly met Scott yet,” Derek replied, “and as we’re sort of dating, and you and Cora are the only family I have around here, I figured it was about time that we all met.”

“And is Cora going, then?”

“Yes.”

Peter threw his hands in the air, raised an eyebrow in confusion. “Then why the hell do I have to go?”

“Because it’s important to me,” Derek snapped, nerves finally breaking. “Because even though you might not like Scott, I’m still dating him and that isn’t going to change any time soon, and you’re going to have to get used to it.”

There was another pause in which Derek thought Peter might just start an argument, but instead he just turned back to his computer and said, a little bitterly, “Fine. I’ll go to this stupid dinner thing. Just… tell me when and where.”

Bowing his head a little, Derek replied, “Thank you.”

“Of all the things to thank me for…” Peter shook his head. “Get out of my office.”

Derek got out, a smile on his face and his heart a little lighter.

And so, that Saturday, Derek found himself standing outside Mrs. McCall’s apartment door, flowers in hand, waiting for someone to answer his knock.

It was Scott who answered, smiling brightly. “Hi,” he said, a little breathlessly.

“Hey,” Derek replied, and he couldn’t help but smile in return. He held up the flowers and added, “These are for your mom.”

“Awesome, she’ll love them.” Scott turned and shouted behind him, “Derek’s here! And he brought flowers!”

“Great!” was the reply.

“Come in,” Scott said. “The enchiladas are almost ready. My mom’s about to put them in the oven.”

Scott stepped aside to let Derek through. Immediately, he was assaulted by the smell of Mexican food—spices and cooking meat and warmth. The kitchen was lost behind an archway at one end of the small but clean living room. To the side, by the windows, was a dining table covered with a dark red tablecloth, candles just waiting to be lit, and a bowl of fake but brightly-colored fruit. All in all, it was quaint and warm and homely—Derek just hoped that Peter and Cora would keep any snide comments to themselves.

“So, you must be Derek.” While he had been looking around, Scott’s mother had stepped from the kitchen, a smile on her face as wiped her hands on the kitchen towel tucked into the waist of her jeans. “Nice to finally meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too, Mrs. McCall.” Derek handed her the bouquet of flowers.

“Oh, don't call me Mrs. McCall, it makes me feel old. Please, call me Melissa.” And with that, she pulled him into a hug. “Thank you for the beautiful flowers.”

Scott, who had been looking on with a soft, fond smile on his face, asked, “Peter and Cora will be here soon, right?”

“I hope so,” Derek replied. “Cora texted me earlier and let me know she was still coming, so—”

Just then, the call box buzzed. “Must be them,” Melissa said, going over to let them know they could come up. Soon enough, there was a knock at the door, and she opened it to find both Peter and Cora behind it.

“Mrs. McCall, how wonderful to finally meet you,” Peter said smoothly. He had brought flowers, too—bigger and fuller than Derek’s bouquet, and Derek had to choke down his annoyance at being one-upped, trying to remind himself that the night was not a competition between them.

“Nice to meet you too, Mr. Hale—but, please, call me Melissa.” She turned to Cora. “And you must be Derek's sister.”

“Cora,” she corrected, not unkindly. “It's nice to finally meet you as well.”

Melissa stepped aside to let them in. “Dinner's almost ready. Hope you like enchiladas; they're an old family recipe.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Cora replied with a reassuring smile, though Derek could see her nervously watching Peter, who was surveying the room with a careful eye.

“How small, and... uh, quaint.” Peter turned to Melissa with a smile sharper than knives. Both Derek and Cora tensed as her own smile turned a little strained.

“Well, I think it's cozy,” Cora said before Peter could add anything more. “You have a lovely home, Melissa.”

“Thank you,” she replied with a relieved sigh. Something in the kitchen buzzed. “Oh, I should probably get that. And find a vase for all these flowers.” Hurriedly, she disappeared into the kitchen again. Scott, after only a second of hesitation, followed after her.

Once they were gone, Derek took the opportunity to glare openly at his uncle. “You just had to make a snide remark, didn't you?

“What? It's the truth. I could fit ten of this apartment into mine.”

“Doesn't mean you have to say anything about it,” Cora snapped. She glared at both of them. “Let's just... try to make this night as nice as possible, all right? No fights, no subtle insults, just pleasant conversation and some homemade enchiladas. Understood?”

Derek and Peter both nodded sullenly and looked away.

A minute or two later, Melissa reentered the room with a steaming dish in her hands, her wide, genuine smile firmly back in place. Scott followed behind her with a dish full of rice and serving spoons for both.

Wordlessly, the Hales took seats at the table, Derek immediately gravitating towards Scott. Once seated, Scott reached beneath the table for Derek’s hand and squeezed it gently with his own, and Derek looked over at him with a grateful smile.

The table was silent for a moment while dishes were passed around and plates were filled. Cora, across the table from Scott, took a bite and nodded appreciatively. Turning to Melissa on her left, she said, “You said this was a family recipe, right?”

Melissa nodded. “It was my mother’s. We used to make it all the time when I was a kid.”

“Well, it’s amazing,” Cora replied with a bright smile. On her right, Peter nodded, too, but without much heart.

There were a few more moments of awkward silence before Melissa began asking the Hales about being lawyers, and at last a continuous stream of conversation got going. Derek mostly observed and listened, noting that Peter was actually trying to keep his temperament in check. At one point, Scott, watching him watch everyone else, wrapped an ankle around his with a secretive smile and pressed their knees together.

When Peter and Cora were done talking about the world of corporate law, Melissa dived into her job as a nurse. They listened to it with mild attention, laughing when she told them stories about her more interesting patients, and in that way the dinner passed quickly.

When it was all over, Derek nominated himself for dish duty with Scott, just to get some time alone with him even though it meant leaving Peter and Cora with Melissa.

“How do you think it’s going so far?” Scott asked in a low voice, grinning at him as he scrubbed a dish clean.

Derek shrugged, unable to return his smile; he was still nervous about the rest of the night. “All right, I suppose. At least my uncle has managed to keep himself mostly in check. I was fully prepared for him to be a complete asshole, but…”

Scott nodded in sympathy and handed him the plate to dry. “I think my mom likes Cora, at least.”

“Hopefully,” Derek replied, and at last he managed a soft smile. “Just think, after this we might not have to mix our families ever again. I’m still intent on keeping you as far away from Peter as possible.”

Just then, Melissa came in, eyebrow raised like she had definitely heard the last part of their conversation. But instead of commenting, she said, “We’re having ice cream for dessert. You can put down the dishes for now.”

But as they reentered the living-room-slash-dining-room, bowls and spoons in hand with Melissa taking the tub of ice cream, they noticed Peter was standing.

“I should get going,” he announced as they entered, wearing a smile that looked more like a grimace.

“Oh, you…” Melissa held up the ice cream and raised both eyebrows. “You don’t want to stay for dessert?”

Peter shook his head politely. “No, I should really be getting home. I took some files that I really need to be working on.”

That was a flat-out lie. Derek knew for a fact that Peter, who valued his free time, never brought anything home if he could help it. Doing work after-hours was what Cora, Derek, and the associates were for.

“Well… all right then.” Melissa set the ice cream down on the table and followed him to the door. After a pause in which her brow was still wrinkled in confusion, she said, “Thank you for coming. It was nice to meet you.”

“And you,” he replied. He reached behind him and twisted the knob, letting the door swing open. “Thanks for the meal.”

And with that, he was gone. The door shut firmly behind him.

“Well, then,” Melissa said. A quick sigh escaped her lips as she turned to the rest of them. “No offense, but…”

“Is he always such a dick?” Cora finished for her. “Yeah, he is. Don’t worry about it. He’s rude to everyone.”

“I’m surprised he stayed as late as he did, to be honest,” Derek added. “Like Cora said, don’t worry about it. We’re the nicer Hales.”

“From what I’ve seen so far, I’ll definitely take your advice,” Melissa replied. She took a deep breath before, hands falling at her sides, she asked, “Still want ice cream? I’m afraid all we have is vanilla, but…”

“That’s fine,” Cora said quickly, earnestly, as if trying to make up for her uncle’s behavior.

The ice cream was, as Melissa had informed them, just plain old vanilla served in brightly colored bowls that Cora seemed to love, and to Derek seemed homey in a way he barely remembered. The conversation was subdued, the television turned to the news in the background as they ate. Scott had his ankle pressed to Derek’s again, a comforting point of contact. The conversation flowed more easily now that Peter wasn’t there to make them nervous.

Once they were done, all four of them pitched in to help with the dishes. Melissa turned on music and they worked quickly but not without conversation.

“I should really get going, too,” Cora said once they were back in the living room again. “Not because I’m an asshole but because I need at least eight hours of sleep and I have a ton of work to do tomorrow.”

Her words prompted Derek to look at his watch for the first time all night, and with a start he realized it was nearly ten o’clock. “I should get going, too,” he said. “I know Scott has to open tomorrow morning.”

“Unfortunately,” Scott replied with a groan. Then, he added, “Come on, I’ll walk you down.”

Cora threw a wide smirk his way but Derek valiantly ignored it. Instead, he turned to Melissa and said, “Thank you so much for the meal and for having us over. Everything was wonderful.”

“Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it,” she replied with a smile, pulling him into another hug. She turned to Cora and gave her a hug as well, adding, “Don’t be a stranger. Come by any time.”

“Thank you,” she replied, face suddenly vulnerable as if remembering her own mother for a second before she extracted herself from Melissa’s arms. “Come on, Derek. Let’s go.”

Scott accompanied them down to the sidewalk; Cora’s driver was already there, and Derek’s driver had just texted him to let him know he was on his way.

“Thanks again for everything,” Cora said to Scott before getting in the car. “It was great meeting your mom, and it was nice to finally talk to you for more than a minute.”

“You, too,” Scott replied with a smile, “and no problem. Have a good night.”

As Cora’s car drove away, Derek reached for Scott’s hand and said, “That didn’t go half bad.”

“No,” Scott replied. He looked over at Derek, a tender smile still on his face, and pressed their palms together. “It went better than I expected, to be honest.”

“Me, too,” Derek agreed with a soft snort of laugher. “And, hey, who knows—maybe Peter will start to warm up to you after this.”

Scott shrugged. “Maybe.” He knocked his shoulder against Derek’s and said, “It doesn’t really matter, though, does it? I’m not dating Peter. I’m dating you.”

“Exactly,” Derek replied, and leaned in to kiss him.

They were still entangled in each other when Garrison finally pulled up in the town car. He gave them a few seconds before blowing the horn, startling them apart.

Derek regretfully drew his hands from the warm depths of Scott’s jacket. “I guess I better get going,” he said, a little sheepish, blush coloring his cheeks. “Have fun opening tomorrow. And text me, if you get the chance.”

Scott nodded in agreement and kissed him one last time, tender and slow. When they broke apart again, there was a smile on his face. “Have a good night, Derek.”

“You, too.” And as Derek got into the car, he couldn’t keep the smile off his face, either.

Everything moved at a steady pace from there until, one evening a few weeks after the semi-disastrous family dinner, Scott texted Derek with a simple: Come to the Bullet.

The sun was just beginning to set between the tall New York buildings and Derek still had a stack of paperwork to go through, but the text brought a smile to his face and, hell, he needed a break anyway.

When he arrived at The Silver Bullet, he was surprised to find the sign on the door turned to Closed and the coffee shop nearly dark. For a second, he wondered if it was some sort of prank or a surprise party or something equally ridiculous but, resigned to the worst, he tried the door, found it unlocked, and stepped inside.

No one jumped out from behind the tables or the counter, but he could hear voices in the back room. Quickly, he crossed the shop, slid over the counter, and made his way to the break room where the voices were streaming from.

The second he walked into the doorway, Scott was in his arms, pressing their bodies together, shaking. For a moment, Derek wondered if something had gone horribly wrong, that something terrible had happened—then, once Scott pulled away, he realized that he had been laughing. With a slow smile spreading over his face, Derek asked, “What’s all this about?”

“I got accepted!” Scott exclaimed. “I got accepted to vet school!”

“That’s… that’s great,” Derek said, grin growing even wider. “Where to?”

For one disconcerting moment, Scott’s smile faded. “Ohio State.”

Derek felt his stomach rocket towards the floor. Ohio.

“I know it’s kind of far away,” Scott was saying, hands still laying warm on Derek’s shoulders, “but it has one of the best veterinary programs in the country, and…”

“That’s great,” Derek said again, hoisting a brave smile onto his face. “I’m really proud of you, Scott.”

And as he pulled Scott into another hug, he finally noticed everyone else in the room—Melissa, Stiles and a man standing next to him that could only be his father, Lydia, Danny, Allison and who he assumed were her parents. All these people would lose Scott, too; all of these people would miss him. At least he wouldn’t be alone. And at least he had a few last months with Scott before he left.

With that thought, his smile became easier, his dread replaced by hope and a swelling sense of pride.

They would make it work.

Chapter Text

Scott's birthday was in July.

Derek knew this vaguely. It had lingered in the back of his mind ever since it had come up on their first date. As the month began and the days began to pass by, Derek suddenly realized he didn't know the exact day; he intended to rectify this by calling Melissa, but it was Melissa who called him first.

Fortunately, she didn't call him at work—she called his cell phone, right as he was ducking out the door of The Silver Bullet, coffee in hand and a smile on his face from his daily visit to Scott.

“Derek?” she asked, as if it could be anyone else. When he answered affirmatively, she continued, “I want to talk to you about Scott’s birthday.”

“Good,” Derek replied, a little relieved. “I was going to ask you about that. I know it's in July, I just don't know what date...”

“The nineteenth,” Melissa answered, “but that's not why I called. It's his twenty-second birthday and I know it's not a milestone, but he was at his dad’s last year at this time, so I just really want to make this one special.”

Derek grinned. “Sounds great. How can I help?”

On the day of July nineteenth, Scott woke up to a call from Stiles.

“What d’you want?” He groaned sleepily and rolled over. It was ten o'clock, but he liked to sleep in on his birthday; that was the whole reason he had taken the day off, for starters.

“Happy birthday!” Stiles shouted on the other end; Scott had to yank the phone away from his ear to avoid being deafened. “Okay, I have good news and I have bad news.”

Scott resisted the urge to groan again. “What is it?”

“Well, the good news is that me and your mom are going to take you out to lunch today.”

“Okay. And the bad news?”

Stiles sighed. “The bad news is that Lydia had a family emergency and can't come in for her afternoon shift.”

That time, Scott really did groan again. “They couldn't have scheduled Allison instead?”

“I didn't even want to ask. Victoria scares me, man.”

Scott rubbed his eyes with his free hand. Sleepily, he agreed, “Fine. I'll do it.”

“Danny will be there with you,” Stiles reminded him, “so it won't be all bad.”

“True,” Scott admitted. He was trying to feel optimistic but it was hard, what with the fact that he didn't take many days off in the first place and it was his birthday, for God’s sake. Oh well, he thought to himself, a little resignedly. To Stiles, he said, “I should go get ready. I'll see you later, I guess.”

“Later, dude,” Stiles replied, and then he hung up.

A few hours later, Scott was sitting beside his mother and across from Stiles and his girlfriend, Heather, who had tagged along and had even handed him a birthday card with a small, shy smile. They had gone to the Italian place Scott loved so much, the one he realized he had never yet taken Derek to. He made a mental note to rectify that.

Speaking of Derek, he hadn't heard from him all day. Scott wondered if he had forgotten but, with a twinge of disappointment, he just shoved the thought to the back of his mind and tried to enjoy the meal.

Afterwards, instead of returning to his apartment or even going back to his mom's for cake or something similar, he went to work. At least Danny was there, smiling as he said, “Hey, Scott. Happy birthday.” Fortunately, it was late afternoon and the shop wasn't very busy, and Scott was used to the afternoon shift. They spent a lot of time talking idly about college and grad school and even a little about their lawyer boyfriends.

And thankfully, by the time his shift was nearly done, Derek finally texted him with a simple, Come over.

And then, a moment later, I'll get Garrison to pick you up.

You don't have to , Scott replied.

Of course I do, it's your birthday , was the answer, complete with a smiley face. Scott felt a smile of his own grow wide and genuine across his face, and he tucked his phone into his back pocket again, a little more hopeful about the night than he had been before.

Danny had left already, so Scott closed up the shop on his own and lingered outside to wait for Derek’s driver. When the sleek black town car pulled up to the curb outside the bullet, he smiled and got in.

Garrison grinned at him in the rearview mirror. “Happy birthday, Scott.”

“Thanks,” he replied graciously as the car pulled back into traffic.

When he arrived at Derek’s building, he took the elevator up to his floor and knocked on Derek’s penthouse door, expecting it to swing open immediately, but it didn't—it remained pointedly shut no matter how long he stared at it. He wondered idly if Derek was in the bathroom or something equally mundane as that. He decided he might as well try the doorknob and, to his surprise, he found it unlocked.

The door swung open to reveal a darkened apartment. Wary, he looked around for a moment and, finding himself alone, took a step inside anyway. And another step, and another, until he had cleared the hallway and was standing on the threshold of the kitchen.

That was when the lights flicked on and there was a deafening shout of, “Surprise!

Scott’s jaw dropped in shock as he took everything in: all his friends, who had jumped out from under the kitchen table and from behind the coffee table and around the doorway to Derek’s bedroom. There was Stiles and Heather; Melissa and Stiles’ father, still in his police uniform; Allison and her parents and Danny and Lydia, who had a smug smile on her face that told him she’d had a hand in planning the whole thing; even Erica and Boyd and Isaac and Cora and Jackson and of course Derek, standing in the middle of it all, a wide, satisfied grin on his face that spoke of a job well done.

“Happy birthday, Scott,” he said, and that was when Scott burst into laughter and ran to hug him.

Cake was eaten, presents were given, and all in all Scott had the time of his life. Suddenly, his bad day started to make sense—Lydia had skipped out on her shift that day to help Derek decorate because, as she explained, “He's completely useless in that regard.” Derek hadn't texted him until later that night because he had been busy setting everything up, and Stiles and Melissa hadn't given him presents at lunch because they had been planning on giving them to him later.

Afterwards, so late at night it was nearly morning and everyone had left except Scott himself, he found Derek out on the balcony just beyond his bedroom.

“So how did you get roped into this one?” Scott asked, only half joking, as he stepped out into the cool night air beside him.

“Not roped,” Derek replied, shooting him a sidelong smile. “I volunteered.”

“Well, I’d say it went pretty good,” Scott said. He nudged him with an elbow and then, more seriously, added, “Thank you. For everything.”

“You're welcome, Scott.” And with that, Derek leaned over and kissed him.

One breathless minute later, Scott pulled away with a smile, pressing their foreheads together to retain their closeness. In a whisper, he said, “I love you.”

There was a beat of silence. With growing anxiety, he thought maybe Derek wouldn't say it back, that maybe he was taking things too fast, that maybe they hadn't reached that point yet, or—

But then Derek gave him a quick peck on the lips and replied, “I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

And before they both knew it, it was August.

Not much had changed between them during the summer. Despite the threat of Ohio looming over them, their relationship had still progressed until Scott was staying at Derek’s place more nights than not, so much that most of his things had moved from his apartment to Derek’s. While it was true that Derek’s apartment was bigger than Scott’s, more to the point, his bed was also bigger and far more comfortable.

On other fronts, Peter had settled into pretending Scott didn’t exist, but Melissa invited Scott, Cora and Derek over for dinner at least once a week, and Derek was starting to realize how much he and his sister enjoyed having a mother-like figure in their lives again. Boyd and Erica continued to work for him and even threatened to quit much less often than usual. Sometimes, they even joined Scott, Derek, Cora, and occasionally even the rest of their various friends at Melissa’s dinners, like the events were ways to merge both Scott and Derek’s worlds into one.

And Scott continued to work at The Silver Bullet, fiercely devoted to it even as his time in New York grew shorter. As for Derek, he didn’t mind his own job so much anymore, as long as Peter left him alone and he could still walk down to The Silver Bullet to buy a cup of his usual black coffee.

Everything was fine. For a time, anyways.

The day before Scott left for Ohio, Derek woke up to an empty bed.

But he didn’t have to look far—Scott, wearing nothing but a pair of sweatpants, stood outside on the balcony just off Derek’s bedroom, looking out at the city.

Slowly, Derek rolled out of bed and padded across the room to the door. When he slid it open, Scott jumped a little as if he hadn’t been expecting the interruption, but relaxed when he saw who it was.

Derek didn’t say anything, just looped his arms around Scott’s waist and pulled them chest-to-back, bare skin against bare skin. He dropped a kiss on the back of Scott’s neck before he asked, “What are you thinking about?” even though he already knew the answer.

Scott sighed and Derek felt the movement against his chest. After a long moment, he replied, “Leaving.”

Derek was silent for a while. Then, he said, “But just think of the fancy degree you’ll get. All the animals you’ll help save and all that.”

“Yeah,” Scott agreed, laughing a little, silently. “I’m gonna miss this, though. New York. The Bullet. My mom. Stiles. You.”

“This isn’t the eighteenth century,” Derek reminded him. “Cell phones and Skype are things that exist. Hell, I could send you letters, too, if you’re in the mood to be a bit archaic.”

Scott laughed again, louder, then spun to face him and planted a kiss solidly on his lips. “You’re such a smartass at eight in the morning.”

Even though it was Scott’s last day and probably should have been more memorable, they kept it simple—Scott cooked breakfast (because after a certain pancake incident, it was agreed that Derek was never allowed to cook ever again) and they ate quietly at the dining room table as the morning light streamed through the windows. It was a Thursday; Derek had taken the next two days off work and Scott’s last day had been just the day before. They showered and dressed and, with nothing left to do after that, they decided to go for a walk.

And, of course, they somehow ended up at The Silver Bullet.

“The place where it all began,” Scott said wistfully, looking up at the sign.

Derek nodded and squeezed his hand. “Want to go in?”

As they pushed in the front doors, it was like nothing had changed; the walls were still a warm orange, still decorated with shelves of mugs collected, Derek now knew, by the Argents on their various travels around the world following Chris Argent’s weapons business. Danny, Lydia and Allison were behind the counter, and they were all smiling a little sadly as Scott and Derek approached them.

Lydia, with a marginally braver smile, stepped up to the cash register and asked, “What can I get for you?”

Derek grinned. “Tall coffee, black.”

“I’ll have the same,” Scott added with a softer smile. “Keep it simple.”

Lydia shook her head as she put their orders into the register. When she took the money Derek handed her, she said, “You two are a pair, aren’t you?”

Scott and Derek didn’t reply, just smiled a little wider.

Before giving them their coffees, Allison set them down on the counter and reached across it to pull Scott into a hug. “I’m gonna miss you.”

He wrapped his arm around her back and pulled her as close as he was able. “Gonna miss you, too.”

Then Lydia, with a little sigh, made it a group hug. Scott could smell the sweet scent of her hair as she wrapped one arm around his shoulder and one around Allison’s. And after only a second of hesitation, Danny shook his head and joined it, too, and Scott began to laugh to keep from crying because dammit if he wasn’t going to miss these people just as much as he would miss his mom and Stiles and Derek.

Just as quickly as it began, the moment was over; Scott pulled away, took one coffee and handed the other to Derek, trying to ignore the sense of loss that had suddenly opened up like a hollow space between his ribs.

“Good luck, guys,” he said to them with a little wave as he and Derek turned to leave. “I’ll be home for Thanksgiving, so I’ll see you soon.”

As they called out their own goodbyes, Derek rested his free hand on the small of Scott’s back and guided him gently out of the shop.

The next morning, there was no time to linger on the fact that Scott was leaving; Stiles and Melissa came over and helped pack all of Scott’s bags into the back of Stiles’ jeep before they were taking off for the airport.

The ride flew by in a blur—Derek had been trying his hardest to make it last as long as possible, to take the time to trace and memorize every quirk of Scott's lips and the way they moved when he talked, the way he felt pressed to Derek's side and how their fingers felt tangled together, but before either of them knew it, they had arrived at the airport.

Scott's bags were carefully taken from the trunk of the Jeep and they each helped him roll them through the airport doors, into the lobby with its high, arching ceilings and the background murmur of others hurrying to catch their own flights.

"I don't know if they'll let all of you through security," Scott admitted, "so I guess this is goodbye."

At his words, Stiles immediately turned to him and pulled him into an achingly tight hug, causing Scott to drop one of his bags just to be able to hug him back.

"Couldn't you have gone to school somewhere closer?" Stiles asked, and over Scott's shoulder, Derek could see how desperately he was trying to put on a brave face.

"I'll be home for Thanksgiving, don't forget," Scott replied. "And, hey, at least it's not as far away as California, right?"

Stiles sighed and pulled away at last. "Yeah, but I missed you like hell when you were in California, too."

Scott replied with only a sad smile and, at last, turned to Derek. He didn't say a word, just stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Derek's neck; Derek wrapped his around Scott's back and clutched him like an anchor.

And shit, now there were tears stinging at the back of his eyes. Derek Hale didn't cry—the last time he had cried was when he'd learned of the fire, years and years ago. Or, well, maybe tears of frustration when Kate had been trying to single-handedly bring the firm to its knees. But even that had still been three years ago, and things were different, now.

So, so different.

"Love you," Scott said, a little muffled, into the fabric of Derek's shirt.

"Love you, too," Derek replied. It was strange, now that he thought about it, how easily those words left his lips nowadays. With one last shuddering breath, he forced himself to pull away.

When Scott hugged his mom, she only looked momentarily sad before she lifted a mask of neutrality to cover it. "Call us when you get there, or get settled, or whatever," she told him. "Don't you dare forget, okay?"

Scott drew away from her and, bending down to pick up the bag he had dropped, replied, "I won't. Don't worry."

The three of them watched on as Scott arranged his bags in a way he could manage to carry. Then, with sad, wide eyes, he looked up at them again and said, "Well, I guess this is it."

"Go on," Melissa said, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder reassuringly. "Don't you worry about us. Go off and do great things and call us at least once a week or I'll have Derek fly out there to sue you. Got it?"

"Got it," Scott replied, with the barest hint of a smile. He sighed, adjusted his grip on the straps of his bags, and said with an air of finality, "Bye, then."

And with a little wave, he turned around and headed in the direction of security, and they watched his receding back until he disappeared amongst the crowd.

Derek didn't go to work that day; his entire insides felt hollow, like some vital part of him was suddenly missing. Even thinking about the pile of case files and the many voicemails left for him by clients made him want to crawl beneath his covers and never come out again.

And in the end, that was exactly what he did. A light rain began to fall as he finally quit his valiant effort of watching television and padded across the quiet apartment towards his bedroom. Kicking off his jeans, he burrowed down beneath the sheets and the comforter and curled into a ball. Remembering all the times he had slept there curled in the same way next to Scott eased him a little. In the stillness of the apartment, he could almost imagine that Scott was still there.

The other pillow still smelled like him. Derek pressed his nose to it and finally, lulled by the rain, drifted off to sleep.

Scott's off-campus apartment at Ohio State was bigger than his in New York, which made sense because he was sharing it with two other people.

Matt was nice, in a way—certainly polite, and passionate about what he did. He carried his camera around everywhere and seemed to love bragging about how he had loved Ohio State's photography program so much that he had stayed for his journalism masters despite a handful of bad experiences (Scott tried asking around, but all he gathered was that it had something to do with a wild party and the swimming team). But other than his arrogance and his tendency to mutter darkly to himself while working at his computer late at night, Scott found him to be a friendly guy.

Kira was nice, too—friendly and accommodating even though she was sharing a space with two guys. However, it was clear that she was fiercely devoted to her studies. She explained that her mother had inspired her to be a doctor and, for her sake, she was determined to work hard to achieve her goal. So, she spent most of her time locked in her room, studying, so often that Scott almost felt guilty when he wasn't, too.

Still, even though things in Ohio were going well, Scott still missed New York. Every time he thought about its crowded streets and yellow taxis and working at The Silver Bullet and going to his mother's dinners with Derek by his side, he felt a sharp pang of homesickness in his chest. But he talked to someone from home at least once every few days, whether it was his mom or Stiles or Derek or occasionally one of the employees of the Bullet.

And in that way, the days and weeks began to fly by, new but starting to become familiar.

Chapter Text

"You're sulking," Cora informed her brother one day as she barged carelessly into his office.

Derek normally wouldn't have minded—unlike Erica, Cora had a habit of barging in to discuss business rather than something mundane—but he was busy trying to clear his desk of the stacks of files it had accumulated over the past few weeks and couldn't be bothered to discuss his mental state just then, and he told her so.

That was when she laid a slip of paper on his desk.

"What's this?" Derek asked, but instead of waiting for an answer he picked it up and looked at it himself. It was a plane ticket for Columbus, Ohio, departing tomorrow.

"I have a client there," Cora explained with a sly smile, "and I'm sending you as my representative. And if you happen to see other people there, well… that's not my business, now, is it?"

Frustrated, Derek said, "Cora, I can't take this. I have a mountain of work to do here, appointments tomorrow—I can't just get up and leave."

"Don't you have associates to do that kind of thing for you?" she asked pointedly, eyebrow raised. "Come on, Derek. You've been sulking ever since Scott left a few weeks ago, and you're no good as a lawyer if all you can do is think about your boyfriend five-hundred miles away. So, take a few days off. Go see him. Hell, surprise him with it—I'm sure he'd love it."

Derek sighed again. "But I can't just—"

"You can," Cora assured him, leveling him with a weighted look. "Jackson can reschedule your appointments. Erica and Boyd and even Isaac can take those stacks of files. Peter will get over it. Go."

There was a long pause as Derek stared at his sister. He knew there was no ulterior motive behind her actions, that she really was just thinking about his mental well-being, but it seemed too easy—sure, Derek talked to Scott on almost a daily basis, but he had still laid awake at night just yearning to see him, wishing desperately that he was beside him again. And now there was a plane ticket in his hand and a clear way out and it seemed unreal, almost, that by the next day he would be able to see Scott again.

"Fine," he finally said. "Just tell me about this client of yours, and when the meeting—"

But Cora leaned in close and whispered, "There is no meeting." And, with just a wink, she disappeared out the door, leaving Derek with nothing but a plane ticket and a warm feeling in his chest.

As he pulled up in front of Scott’s apartment building just off campus, Derek’s stomach began to churn with nervous energy. He wondered if Scott had changed at all during the few weeks they had been apart, or if he had found someone else he liked better than Derek, or—

He shoved his reservations to the back of his mind and stepped out of the car. Then, leaning against it as nonchalantly as possible, he took out his phone and dialed Scott’s number.

"Hey," Scott said as he picked it up; Derek could hear the smile in his voice, and it eased his mind somewhat.

"Hey," was all Derek replied. "What are you doing?"

"Bit of studying. Nothing too fascinating, just some basic biology."

"Good," was the reply. Derek managed to make the single syllable have an almost mischievous edge to it, and before Scott could ask what he was being mischievous about, he added, "You should look outside."

Eyes on the window he knew from description was Scott’s, he watched as the curtains parted and Scott’s face appeared. "I don't see any—oh."

He had finally noticed him. Derek put on the most self-satisfied smirk he could manage and watched as Scott’s jaw dropped open.

On the other end of the line, Derek heard the phone fall to the floor. The next second, there was the sound of receding footsteps in the distance, and a few moments later, the front door opened and Scott threw himself into Derek's open arms, pressing their bodies as close as physically possible.

"You're here!" he exclaimed, and Derek could feel his chest rumble as he laughed. "Oh my God, you're really here!"

Derek didn't want to speak just yet; for the moment, he was just content to press his face into the crook of Scott's neck and breathe him in, every inch of him. He still smelled the same, still felt the same, still looked the same—it was like no time at all has passed since the day he had taken off for Ohio so many weeks ago. And if he pretended hard enough, he could imagine they were still in New York, that it was still summertime and everything was in its place.

At last, though, they pulled away from each other. Scott was still wearing a smile that made him look like a child at Christmas and, with his hands still clasping Derek's shoulders, he asked excitedly, "How did you get here?"

Wearing a warm smile of his own, Derek replied, "It was Cora's idea. She basically dropped the ticket off on my desk and told me to go see you, so I did."

"Is Peter gonna get mad at you?" Scott asked, brown furrowing for a second in concern.

"Well, Cora does have a client in Columbus, except I don't actually have to meet with them. But Peter doesn't have to know that." And with a smug smile, he leaned in to kiss him.

It was a needy kiss, one Derek didn't think he was capable of until that moment, but it felt so right to have Scott's lips pressed to his again, to just see his face again, that he didn't even care how desperate he came across—well, and also because he knew Scott was feeling it, too.

They broke apart after a few seconds, much to Derek's distaste, but Scott explained, "I'm pretty sure my roommates are watching."

"Oh," was all Derek replied, "right." He looked over Scott's shoulder and found no movement except for a curtain hastily being yanked shut. He just shook his head and added, "I guess I should meet them sometime, huh?"

“Yeah, probably,” Scott said with a lopsided smile. “Come on. You have bags? Or are you only here for the day?”

“Depends on if I get an angry call from my uncle today or not,” Derek replied, but his grin had turned mischievous again.

“Maybe if he doesn’t notice you’re gone, you can just stay here forever,” Scott said, only half joking. He reached out and intertwined their fingers, leading him towards the building. “Think about it—you could quit your job, move in with me, and help me study all the time.”

Derek laughed and said nothing, but part of him was sorely tempted to take the offer. But then he remembered all his responsibilities in New York and the fact that, if he did truly leave, Peter would track him down and murder him—or worse, sue him.

Once they reached Scott’s apartment, they opened the door to find both of Scott’s roommates on the living room couch, desperately trying to pretend they had just been watching television even though it was turned to a shopping channel.

Scott just shook his head in mild exasperation and said, “Guys, this is Derek. Derek, this is Matt and Kira.”

Kira, at least, looked up and waved, adding a, “Nice to meet you,” for good measure. Matt just gave him a nod and turned back to the television, and after a moment he stood up and drifted towards his room.

“He’s kind of an asshole,” Kira explained sheepishly, sharing a glance with Scott. “I mean, he even took some time to warm up to us.”

Scott nodded. “But he’s okay now, though. Well, sometimes he gets in these moods where—”

And the two of them continued on in that fashion, talking quietly and telling Derek stories about their sometimes sullen and occasionally creepy roommate. Derek tried to listen and not be resentful, but he couldn’t help it—all these new experiences and friends and memories that Scott had and he was no longer a part of them, which felt strange and unwelcome and settled far too heavily in his chest.

After a few minutes, Scott checked his watch, then turned to Derek. “Should we go get lunch? There’s a good pizza place around here that isn’t usually crowded.”

Thankful for the opportunity to get away and be alone with him, Derek said, “Sure.” And with that, he waved goodbye to Kira and they started for the door.

The pizza place Scott took him to was nice in its own way. It was within walking distance, and though the inside was small it was clean and white; they took seats by the window where the sun streamed in to warm them as they ate slices of pepperoni pizza, Derek’s with his usual extra cheese and Scott’s with olives.

“I never knew how good pizza with olives was on it until Matt ordered it and I didn’t have the heart to say no,” Scott explained to him. “I mean, it’s like—”

Derek let him talk. He had heard most of the stories over the phone so he tuned out and just watched Scott’s mouth move excitedly, his eyes bright with new experiences. He talked about his roommates, his new friends, even his teachers. Deaton, his biology professor, was his favorite; Harris was his least favorite. Finstock taught Matt and apparently liked to yell a lot, and a woman named Morell taught Kira medical French.

Most of Derek was proud of Scott, and happy that he was happy, but the other, darker part of him was still a little resentful, a little jealous. He tried his best to will it out of existence, but he couldn’t manage to push all of it away.

“So how’s it going at the firm?” Scott asked, taking a bite of pizza which had mostly remained untouched while he’d talked.

Derek was almost thrown off by the question directed at him, at his life, but he recovered quickly. “Boring,” he said truthfully. “In fact, I almost wish something interesting would happen. All I seem to do anymore is meet with clients and take the most basic of cases. Sometimes I wonder if Peter just sets it up that way so I don’t have the chance to screw anything up.”

Scott frowned sympathetically. “That sucks. Hopefully things get a little more interesting soon.”

“Yeah,” Derek said with a soft sort of smile, “but I don’t mind the quiet so much.”

When they left the restaurant—hand in hand, which felt wonderfully normal—Derek checked his phone to find seven missed calls.

Four were from Peter, two from Jackson and one from Cora.

“Shit,” he muttered under his breath. It seemed like the interesting stuff had finally caught up with him. He should have knocked on wood or something; leave it to him to jinx himself. “This is why I shouldn’t leave my phone on silent.”

“What’s going on?” Scott asked, pressing against his side to peer at the phone screen. “I mean, you can call them back, if you want. I don’t mind. It looks like it might be an emergency, so—”

Derek just nodded and, fearing the worst, called Jackson; he was the one most likely to give it to him straight.

“Hale and Hale, Derek Hale’s office. How may I help you?”

“Jackson, it’s me,” Derek replied. “What’s going on?”

“Thank God,” Jackson said. “Christ, where the hell have you been? I called you, like, twenty times and you wouldn’t freaking pick up—”

Derek took a breath to steady himself before he interrupted his secretary’s rambling. “Jackson, tell me what’s going on.”

“You’re being sued.”

Derek almost dropped the phone.

He didn’t, of course—it was a nice phone—but he did stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk. Scott tugged at his hand before Derek finally shook himself out of it and kept walking, asking under his breath and trying to be nonchalant about it, “What for?”

“Negligence. Remember Paige Madison?”

Derek swore under his breath; Scott looked over, concerned. “Yeah, I remember her.” He had been taking her case around the time he’d discovered the Silver Bullet, and he had been rather proud of how he’d turned the easy but potentially messy case into a positive outcome for the firm. Now, it seemed, not so much.

“Well, she thinks you did a shit job of handling her discrimination case and she’s suing you for malpractice.”

“With what lawyer?” Derek asked, trying to ignore the way his stomach felt like it had dropped to his toes. It wasn’t an everyday lawyer who had enough balls to sue Hale and Hale—Peter might have been an asshole, but he was still an excellent lawyer, and no one wanted to cross him.

“Jennifer Blake,” Jackson replied. “She’s a new partner at Alphas. Well, she was a partner before, then got fired, then somehow wound up back in their good books again and—let’s just say it’s a long story and not important right now.”

The mention of Alphas made Derek seriously consider moving to Columbus instead of going back to face the firm that was the Hale’s biggest rival. Still, “I thought Alphas were corporate lawyers.”

“They are, but Blake specializes in malpractice. That, and she’s a damn good lawyer. Ruthless. Like Kate.”

“Great. Just what I need.”

“No, what you need,” Jackson said, “is to get your ass back here as soon as possible.”

If it was possible, Derek’s stomach fell further, opening up a deep pit of dismay in his chest. “But—”

“I know you’re frolicking through the flowers with Scott right now, but this is your job on the line. This is the firm’s credibility on the line. Hell, if that doesn’t make you want to come back, then I’m sure Peter can fly out and convince you.”

Derek didn’t reply; angry, he tore the phone away from his ear and hung up.

“What was all that about?” Scott asked, one eyebrow raised. He squeezed Derek’s hand in concern.

He hesitated. “Just… an unhappy client,” was all he replied, trying his hardest to hoist a reassuring smile on his face. “But my uncle wants me to come home.”

“Already?” And the look on Scott’s face nearly killed him.

“Well, not right this second, no. I mean, I can probably stay till tonight—”

But Scott shook his head. “I don’t want you to be hanging out with me if that means you’re missing something important at work.”

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Derek replied. The lie tasted bittersweet on his tongue; all he could hope was that it was convincing. “I could still probably stay the night and catch an early flight tomorrow morning.”

Scott was still frowning, but at last he conceded, “Well—if that’s what you want to do.”

“Of course it’s what I want to do,” Derek said. He untangled their fingers only to sling an arm around Scott’s waist and tug him closer. “I mean, I wish I could have more time here, but my job is a pain in the ass. As you know by now.”

“Yeah, I know,” Scott replied, and at last a hint of a smile graced his face.

“Now, why don’t you show me around campus?”

So, Derek spent the night. It was strange sleeping there, in a different bed, in an apartment that contained more than just the two of them, but he slept curled protectively around Scott all night just like always, and it felt right even though they weren’t home in New York.

Scott woke up to see him off even though it was early in the morning, barely five; when Derek returned from showering, Scott was still blearily trying to wake up, still tangled in the covers. He pulled Derek down for a lingering kiss when he reached over to grab something from his suitcase and Derek let him.

But all too soon, they were at the airport, a backwards version of that day so many weeks ago. Without a word, Derek tugged Scott towards him and pressed his nose to his shoulder, breathing him in, already afraid of forgetting what he felt like and smelled like and tasted like.

“Call me when you land,” Scott said, voice slightly muffled in Derek’s jacket. “I mean, if you have time. Or just text me. Whatever. Let me know you’re okay.”

Derek just nodded, still trying to memorize the way Scott’s body felt against his.

But after their embrace had gone on far too long—Derek had a flight to catch, and Scott had a class—Scott gently extracted himself from Derek’s grip, kissed him one last time, and said, “See you.”

Derek, pressing their foreheads together, stole one last kiss and replied, “Love you.”

“You, too,” Scott affirmed. “Now, go. You’ve got a flight.”

So Derek went, but not without turning around for one last glance at Scott, to find that he was still standing there staring after him wistfully.

“Nice of you to show up this morning.”

Derek stopped dead in the doorway of his office; Peter was at his desk, sitting on his plush leather chair like the whole world belonged to him.

Before Derek could even reply, Peter continued with an icy coldness that froze Derek to the bone, “I thought Jackson would tell you to come back immediately.”

“Well, you know how secretaries are,” Derek said, trying not to let his guilt show. “Forgetful.”

Peter just shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

Derek sighed. “Fine. Punish me, fire me, whatever, but I really just want to get this malpractice shit put away as quickly as possible and I can’t do that if you’re sitting at my desk.”

“You’re the one that laid this on your head in the first place,” Peter observed. Correctly. “If you hadn’t been such a shit lawyer, oh—when did this case take place again?” He pretended to think, then snapped his fingers and threw a fake, sarcastic smile in Derek’s direction. “That’s right: when you were dating barista boy. Isn’t that funny?”

Derek swelled in fury. “If you’re trying to blame this lawsuit on the fact that I was dating someone—which I wasn’t yet at the time—you’re going to need a better argument.”

“And you’re going to need an even better one if you want to make this case disappear as fast as possible.” Peter finally rose from Derek’s desk chair and, leveling him with a look, said, “Get it done.” With that, he was gone.

Derek dropped his briefcase on the floor and, with a weary sigh, sat in the chair Peter had just vacated. No sooner had he reached for his phone to check the multitude of messages he had missed when Paige Madison herself stalked into his office, Jackson trailing after her.

“Ma’am, you need to have an appointment—”

“I don’t give a damn about making an appointment,” Paige shot back at him, her sweet, pixie-like face contorted in anger. “He’ll listen to me whether he wants to or not.”

“Ms. Madison—”

“I don’t want to hear it,” she shot back at the secretary. “I need my case files. Now.”

Jackson looked around at his boss and said, voice slow and warning, “Derek—”

“I can handle this, Jackson,” Derek finally said, retracting his hand from the phone and running it briefly across his eyes in a tired sort of way. Jackson nodded warily and left, shutting the door behind him. “Ms. Madison, please have a seat.”

She looked briefly down at the chairs in front of his desk before saying, in a slightly calmer but no less angry voice, “No.”

Derek just sighed, knowing he was unlikely to convince her. “Then say what you want to say, please, so I can get back to work.”

She bristled at his dismissal. “You treated me like shit. I don’t know why I’m so surprised that you’re dismissing my concerns now.” She took a deep breath to steady herself and continued, “Not only did you tell me my case would go to court and then signed a settlement agreement without my knowledge, but I got fired. From the job you tried to help me keep in the first place. I mean, all I wanted to do was get a goddamn promotion but—”

“If your boss fired you,” Derek interrupted, unable to take her ranting any longer, “that’s against our settlement contract and you should be suing him, not me.”

“Well, it’s not like I would know that,” she replied heatedly, her voice climbing to a yell again, “because I wasn’t there when you drew it up!”

“You gave me license to do whatever I needed to do to solve your case,” Derek pointed out. “And the offer was a one-time deal that I couldn’t exactly reschedule. Really, this whole mess happened because your boss is an asshole, not because I failed you.”

She shook her head. “That’s bullshit and you know it. You’re a good lawyer, or you’re supposed to be, anyway; you could have figured it out. But no—instead I get a settlement way lower than I’d asked for and I got fired from my job no less than a few months later.”

Trying his best to remain calm and polite, Derek started, “Ms. Madison, please—”

“Just give me the case files,” she said. “If you don’t, I swear I’ll sue the entire firm. Give them to me.

It was a battle he already knew he would lose, so it was pointless to fight it. Still, he reached out to the intercom with reluctance and only after hesitating did he press the button to say, “Jackson, go down to the file room and retrieve Ms. Madison’s file.” And then, defeated, he added, “Please.”

Through the glass, Derek could see Jackson raise his eyebrows, and he was apparently so surprised at Derek’s politeness that he forgot to tell someone else to do the job and instead got up and did it himself.

“Would you like anything to drink? Water, or something?” Derek asked Paige, figuring he might as well continue on his polite streak in the hopes it would help diffuse the tension in the room.

She only looked down at him disdainfully and said, voice ice cold, “No, thank you.”

Derek’s cell phone began to vibrate and a quick glance verified that it was call from Scott. He let it go to voicemail.

Chapter Text

The rest of the week was filled with a flurry of activity, but not the good kind—calls with Paige, calls with her lawyer, and frequent arguments with Peter as Derek tried to handle not only the lawsuit against him but the rest of his caseload and the rest of his clients as well. Cora had promised to represent him in Paige’s lawsuit, since Peter had outright refused, but even with her help it wasn’t enough to lessen the constant stress. He constantly snapped at Erica and Boyd, even when they were doing their best to help him. Even Isaac and Cora were at the receiving end of his frustrations.

He occasionally brought his files home, but the emptiness of his apartment was suddenly so pervasive he couldn’t stand it—he wanted Scott in the kitchen making coffee, or watching television on the couch beside him, or bent over Derek’s work with his chin pressed to the top of Derek’s head and his arms wrapped loosely around Derek’s chest. It was an ache he could feel in every corner of his bones, in every quiet second that ticked by.

That Saturday, he woke up with the silence like a heavy weight crushing his chest, so he took his laptop and ducked into his favorite coffee shop pre-Scott in hopes of forgetting what it felt like to miss him.

And he had just opened the laptop screen when someone else sat down at his table.

“Can I help you?” he asked, staring determinedly at the screen in front of him instead of the presence across the table.

“Probably,” a familiar voice answered. “I figured it was about time we officially met.”

He looked up at last to find a woman sitting across from him, with a face he couldn’t place but a voice he knew. It took a few moments, but eventually he recalled: “Jennifer Blake.”

“Exactly,” she said. The smirk already on her face grew a little wider.

Derek just sighed, took a sip of his coffee, and raised an eyebrow at her. “What do you want? Actually, how did you even know I was here?”

Jennifer shrugged and looked around, leaning back in her chair to watch the other patrons. “Paige said this was where you two met for some of her meetings. It’s interesting that you came back here today.”

“My other favorite coffee shop was closed,” Derek growled in reply. “Now are you here to discuss something, or did you just come to taunt me?”

“A little bit of both,” Jennifer replied, looking around at him again, smirk still painted on her face. “You know you can’t win this, right? For God’s sake, you settled Paige’s case without even asking her consent. There’s no way you can create a counterargument that would hold water in a courtroom.”

Derek had to catch himself before he spoke. Then, with a glare, he said, “Well, even if I could, I wouldn’t tell it to you. Nice try, though.”

She shrugged again, looked away. “It was worth a shot.”

Just then, Derek’s phone began to ring. Incoming call from Scott. Both Jennifer and Derek watched it ring before he caught her eye again and asked, “Can I take this, please?”

It must have been something in his face that made her nod a little solemnly—after very clearly looking at the screen of his phone—before she agreed, “Fine.” And without another word, she stood and left him alone.

Derek picked up the phone and, with only a second of hesitation, answered it. “Scott?”

There you are—jeez, I’ve been trying to call you for the past few days. Would it kill you to pick up the phone once in a while?”

Derek winced internally at Scott’s clear annoyance, verging on anger. It was true though; he had only talked to Scott once since returning from Columbus; most of his other calls had gone unanswered, Derek simply too busy or too wrung out to answer. “I’m sorry,” he replied. “It’s just been really busy, and—”

“That’s what you said last time, too,” Scott interrupted him. Derek heard the pain clearly in his voice, and it hit him like a shock of cold water.

With a sigh, he tried his hardest to explain. “It’s just… been crazy here, Scott. I barely even get time to eat lunch anymore—hell, I haven’t been down to the Bullet in ages. I bring all my work home. I don’t remember the last time I went to sleep before midnight.”

“You can’t even send a text?” Scott asked. “Even in… in the bathroom or something? Or do you take your files in there, too?”

There was no edge of humor in his voice and Derek knew that he was intent on pressing the point, on arguing. But Derek was tired of arguing—Peter had worn him out a long time ago—and, in an attempt to explain again, trying to remain calm, he said again, “Scott, I’ve just been—”

“Busy. I know.” He sounded so defeated, and Derek wished more than anything he could take it all back and start the call all over again. “But, like, I have been, too. Like, did you know that my roommate got expelled last week? Matt? Because he apparently used his camera to take creepshots of girls on campus, and the police had to search our entire apartment to find all of them, and me and Kira had to sleep on one of her friend’s bedroom floor for one night? But, no, you didn’t know all that, because you didn’t ask.”

Derek was silent for a moment, trying to take it all in. On the other end, Scott was silent, too. Then, Derek blurted, “I miss you.”

There was more silence on the other end—angry, tense. His outburst had been hideously misplaced and he knew it, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t true.

“I’m not used to asking,” Derek continued, knowing full well that he was only digging his grave deeper, “because I’m used to you coming home and telling me. Or being right beside me, where asking takes much less time than if I have to pick up a phone.”

“Yeah, well.” Scott sighed, world-weary. “Things are different now.”

I wish they weren’t , Derek wanted to say. But then he remembered how he had told Scott a thousand times over how proud he was of him, how he had told him just before he’d left to think of the fancy degree you’ll get, all the animals you’ll help save. Things had changed for the better, but only for Scott—for Derek, things had only gotten worse.

It wasn’t until Scott said, “I guess I should let you get back to… whatever,” that Derek realized he had been quiet for too long.

Desperately, he interjected, “No, Scott—wait—” and he wanted nothing more than for Scott to be in front of him, so he could take his hands and let Scott see the pain in his eyes and know that if he left for good, Derek would never be the same.

But then Scott was saying, “No. I know you’re busy,” in a curiously detached way Derek had never heard before, and he knew then that the battle was lost.

Scott hung up without even an I love you, but Derek still said, “I love you, too,” back into the dead connection.

“I’ll kill him.”

“Stiles—”

“Swear to God I’ll do it. I’ll go up to his swanky little penthouse and murder him to death.”

Scott shook his head. “This tactic isn’t working, Stiles. In fact, it’s making me feel worse.”

He could practically hear Stiles’ frown across the phone line. “Well, he’s still a huge douchecanoe. And I swear I’ll at least give him a stern talking to.”

“I don’t want you to talk to him,” Scott replied. “He’s probably telling me the truth. I mean, he works at a corporate law firm. He’s probably really busy. Like, all the time.”

“That wasn’t a problem when you were here,” Stiles pointed out reasonably. “I mean, he still had time to go out on dates and stuff with you. Maybe he’s just being an asshat—”

“—and doesn’t want to talk to me?” Scott finished for him. “Yeah, I’ve been getting that vibe.”

Stiles sighed in frustration. "I'll do some digging for you," he said. "Maybe, I dunno, he just doesn't want to tell you something."

"Yeah, but we've been dating for how long, now? He should be comfortable with telling me things, you know? God," Scott suddenly said, then paused as the revelation set in, "what if he's cheating on me?"

"He might be an asshole, but he's not that much of an asshole," Stiles replied, but he sounded only half convinced.

"Then what the hell is it?"

"I don't know," Stiles admitted, and there was no teasing or sarcastic hint to his voice, just a resigned seriousness, and that was what hit Scott the hardest. "I'll see what my Google-fu can do, okay? Don't give up hope. I'm sure it's something simple."

"Okay," Scott replied dejectedly. He hung up the phone before Stiles could even say goodbye because he was tired of thinking about it, tired of talking about his relationship problems because the more he did, the more real that made them.

Five-hundred miles away, Stiles frowned again and opened his internet browser.

The door to Derek's office opened, but he didn't even bother to look up from where he was sprawled on his couch to see who it was.

"Derek?" a tentative, female voice asked. He cracked one eye open and found that instead of Cora, as he would have predicted, it was Erica.

"Go away," he growled, and shut his eyes again.

He felt the couch dip a little as she sat down by his feet. "All right, tell me what's wrong. Is this about Scott?"

"No," he answered, eyes still determinedly closed.

"Then what? I've never seen you this mopey over anything."

To his surprise, he found it easy to open up to her. Maybe because she was one of the only people he didn’t feel guilty complaining to—Peter was perpetually angry with him, Cora didn’t need the extra stress, and Scott didn’t want to hear about it, either. But it was Erica asking, so he answered, "Every meeting with Paige and Jennifer has gone terrible so far and I don't know how to fix it. On top of all that, Jennifer is threatening to leak the whole story to the press if I keep making settlement offers, but if I can't make them settle, they'll take the whole thing to court and it'll get out anyway." Derek sighed and opened his eyes at last, staring at the ceiling like he was trying to memorize the pattern. "And on top of all that, Scott is mad at me because I haven't had the time to call him and I'm afraid of telling him about the lawsuit because I don't want him to think I'm a failure. And speaking of people who are mad at me, everyone here hates me because all I do is snap at them because I am just so goddamn frustrated ."

"Boss?" There was another voice at his doorway, now, careful and concerned. Derek sat up a little and saw Boyd, Isaac lurking behind and Jackson determinedly trying to ignore the whole scene.

"Is there a reason my sorrows are drawing a crowd today?" Derek asked rhetorically as he sat up completely, running a hand through his hair in an attempt to straighten it.

"Shit, Derek—" Isaac started, perching on the edge of one chair as Boyd took a seat beside Erica. "For all the pushing away you've done to us over the past couple of weeks, you think you'd appreciate it when we pushed back."

"Listen," Erica said, "if you think you're actually going to push us away with all your yelling and your problems then you're wrong. I mean, yeah, you are kind of a shit boss sometimes and you can be a complete asshole when you're in a bad mood, but you're also in the middle of a crisis and we're not just going to walk out on you. Otherwise that would make us complete assholes and, well, I am many things but an asshole is not one of them."

Derek couldn't help but smile, even just a little. "Well, thanks... I guess."

Boyd nodded and said, "It's noon. Go down to the Bullet, get a coffee, take a walk, whatever. Just get out of here for a while."

Suddenly feeling a little more hopeful, Derek stood and said, "I think I will. And if Blake calls, I'll let it go to voicemail, dammit."

"Okay, Derek," Erica said, a little sarcastically. "You do that."

When Stiles caught sight of Derek Hale in the doorway of The Silver Bullet, he immediately bristled.

"Stiles—" Lydia started, already reaching out to pull him back. "Don't."

Stiles did. He slid over the counter and stalked right up to Scott's asshole boyfriend, mouth open and hand raised to point at him angrily.

"You're a dick," he said loudly, and a few of the café's patrons looked around at him in shock. "Do you have any idea how much you've hurt Scott in the past few weeks alone?"

Derek had a look on his face like he was severely regretting ever walking through the door. Slowly, a little guiltily, he said, "I didn't know Scott told you everything."

"I've been his best friend since elementary school," Stiles shot back, the unsaid dumbass lurking just behind his lips. "Why wouldn't he tell me?"

"Stiles, please," Derek pleaded, "I just want a cup of coffee to ease this shitty day, and—"

Stiles just smirked. "Sorry, but we don't serve coffee to disgraced lawyers." He paused to watch his words take full effect, to watch as Derek's eyes widened in shock and confusion. "Yeah, that's right. I thought I'd try to find out why you'd been too busy to call your boyfriend and figured it might take a while to come up with something, but all it took was five minutes on the New York Times website this morning."

He took his phone from his pocket and showed the screen to Derek. It was indeed the New York Times website, opened to an article entitled: Corporate Lawyer Sued for Malpractice—Second Major Lawsuit against Hale & Hale in Five Years.

Part of Stiles delighted in the way all the color suddenly drained from Derek's face.

And he delighted even more when, with a resigned grimace and without another word, Derek turned around and pushed his way out the door into the rainy afternoon.

Clearly, he needed something stronger than coffee.

Chapter Text

Derek was even more busy after the news came out about the lawsuit, not only with his increasingly desperate settlement offers in meetings with his former client and her ruthless lawyer, but also with the press that began to hound him and the immediate shunning from Peter that had started the day after the lawsuit broke loose.

Peter hadn't even yelled at him, only said in a disappointed voice as he tossed the newspaper article onto Derek's desk, "Looks like you've done it again."

As Cora failed to secure a settlement for him and Jennifer Blake determinedly moved the case to court, Derek's days began to blur into one gray, dismal, never-ending stretch of time. The only bright, shining spot in the future was the day Scott came home for Thanksgiving break. Even though time and a few more phone calls had healed—or at least begun to heal—the wounds caused by their fight, he still hadn't mustered up the courage to tell Scott about the lawsuit, though he suspected that he already knew. Stiles had probably told him, but there was Derek, still afraid to reveal the truth. He was beginning to think it was something he would keep to himself forever.

The day before Scott was due to arrive home, also the day before Derek's Thanksgiving break started as well, Peter came into his office and sat down at one of the chairs in front of his desk.

"I need to have a word with you," he said, and Derek was shocked; it was the first time Peter had voluntarily spoken to him over the entirety of the past few weeks.

Still, he was skeptical. "About what?"

Peter sighed, and Derek was taken aback by how serious he looked. "Derek, this is the second time we've been here in the past few years. Now, I'm not going to fire you or anything, because you're my nephew and, for all intents and purposes, this is only your second strike. But I want you to take this time off and... think about things, all right?"

Derek was so shocked at the concern in Peter's voice that for a second he didn't know what to say. Then, "What do you mean?"

"Maybe... reevaluate some things in your life. Some people, maybe. Figure out what's important to you and what's toxic to you and what you need to let go." And with that said, Peter stood up to leave.

"You're talking about Scott, aren't you?" Derek asked.

At the door, Peter shook his head. "Not necessarily. I could be talking about your associates, or your... uh, friends, or even me. Just reevaluate. That's your homework this weekend."

The word reevaluate made Derek cringe, but he knew his uncle was right—something in his life needed to change, and he was the only one who could do it.

When Scott got off the plane at JFK, Melissa McCall, Stiles, and Derek were there to greet him just the same as when they had sent him off, months ago.

Scott spared a hug for each of them before he hoisted his single bag of luggage higher on his shoulder and said, "Come on, I'm starving."

Dinner at Melissa's apartment was a familiar yet alien affair—Stiles and his father were there, and Cora, busy as ever, came late but was welcomed with open arms all the same. But Scott didn't press his ankle to Derek's, didn't entwine their fingers below the table, and Stiles kept shooting Derek glares across the plates of food. All Scott could talk about was school—his friends, his teachers, his ordeal with Matt the roommate, and all the new experiences that Derek had yet again not been a part of.

Derek let him talk. He laughed when everyone else laughed, but really he was only pretending to pay attention. Instead, he was thinking about what Peter had said, about reevaluating his life. About reevaluating the things that were important to him.

And right then, right there, seemed like a good place to start.

Scott walked everyone downstairs after the dishes had been cleaned—or cleaned for the most part, anyway. Stiles got into his Jeep with his father and honked as he drove away. Cora's driver picked her up not long after; she hugged Scott tight and said, "Tell your mom thanks for everything," just like she always did after Melissa hosted a dinner.

"Is your driver going to be here soon?" Scott asked, and immediately cursed himself because his words had made it sound like he wanted Derek to leave. He had felt the chasm opening between them all night, but what he really wanted was a chance to fix everything, even if they had to stand out on the dark sidewalk talking all night long.

"I didn't text him yet," Derek replied, a little sullenly, not looking at Scott but at a car that was passing by. "I wanted to talk."

"Good," Scott replied, trying for a smile that Derek didn't see in the night anyway. "I kinda wanted to talk, too."

Derek looked over at him, then, but after a second his eyes dropped to the ground, almost guilty. And suddenly Scott felt it, knew it, the weight of what he was about to say, and he wanted to reach out, to stuff the words back into his mouth—

Derek sighed, then, and said, "I think we need to break up."

It hit him like a ton of bricks, just like he knew it would. With nothing left to do, Scott let out a breathy, humorless laugh.

Derek finally looked up at him, eyebrow wrinkled in confusion. "Why are you laughing?"

"Because that's not how I expected this talk to go," he replied, shaking his head and looking out at the street like Derek had a moment ago. "I mean, I thought... I thought we could work it out, you know?"

"Scott—"

"I know about the lawsuit," he replied, speaking to another passing car. Then he continued, "Stiles told me about it, but it doesn't matter. Derek, if you think I think you're a failure or something, it's not true. Jesus, I wouldn't care if you worked at Hale and Hale as a lawyer or as a janitor."

Derek just shook his head. "But I am a lawyer, Scott." And out of the corner of his eye, Scott saw him look over at him with pleading in his eyes, so much desperation. "And I'm busy. And I don't always return your calls. And I never get to see you anymore because you're in Columbia and I'm stuck here and... I just can't do this anymore."

Scott's fists clenched in anger and frustration, and he turned to face Derek fully before shooting back, "So, you're just going to quit at the first hurdle?"

Derek wouldn't meet his eyes.

"Shit, Derek." Scott shook his head, but his voice softened as he said, "If this is about me being at school, I haven't looked at another guy—or another girl, for that matter, or anyone—since I got there. I've tried my hardest to text you or call you every day and even when you don't answer, I never felt angry about it because I knew you were busy and you weren't ignoring me on purpose. You know, Danny’s boyfriend, Ethan, he’s a lawyer, too. He works at Alphas. And Danny says he’s always busy but they work at it. I'm trying to make this work, so why can't you?"

His anger had overtaken him again by the end of his rant, and the silence rang with it. In a low, quiet voice, Derek countered only with, "Thanks for once again reminding me of how inadequate I am, Scott." His mouth thinned into a hard line and he mirrored Scott's position, hands clenched at his sides. "You know, my uncle was right. I really do need to start reevaluating my relationships."

"And this is how you do that?" Scott asked, incredulous, eyes wide. "By breaking up with me?"

"Yes," Derek replied. "That's exactly what I'm doing."

Scott felt the pain like an icy cold wave, anger and sadness and pain all mixed up and settling like a lead weight in his chest. He felt hot tears well behind his eyes and his fists curled tighter, fingernails digging half-moons into the skin of his palms. "You know what, Derek? Maybe it's about time you grew a backbone and stopped letting your uncle make all your decisions for you."

It hurt him to even look at Derek's face; with a last shake of his head, Scott turned and began making his way back in the direction of his mother's apartment, leaving Derek on the sidewalk, in the dark and alone.

The rest of the weekend passed in a blurred haze for both of them; Scott felt like a piece of him had been removed, like he had lost his own limb. Derek felt empty, hollowed out by the weight of his decision that he already regretted.

Scott didn’t tell Stiles, didn’t tell his mother; he flew back to Ohio with his secret tucked tight against his chest and tried to think about finals instead of the black hole that had replaced his heart.

Monday night, while trying and failing to study, was when the pain got so bad he felt his chest ready to burst. He had to tell someone. For five minutes he scrolled through all the contacts in his phone, past Stiles and his mom and his dad, past Lydia and Danny and Derek. Finally, he scrolled up to the top and, without giving himself a chance to think twice, pressed Call.

“Scott?”

“Hey, Allison,” he said with a tiny smile he knew she couldn’t see, but one he smiled anyways. It was just nice to hear her voice.

There was a short pause and he heard scuffling in the background, and he imagined her shoving papers and books out of the way and settling comfortably on her bed or in a chair. “Talk to me.”

Scott took one shuddering breath and forced himself to say, “Derek broke up with me.” Even admitting it out loud, it still didn’t feel real.

“Oh, my God…” Allison sighed, and he could imagine further the concerned, sympathetic twist to her lips. “I’m so sorry, Scott.”

“Me, too,” Scott said, and he was surprised how much his voice wavered. He leaned back in his desk chair, rubbed his face with his free hand, and sighed. “On Thanksgiving, too. After dinner, out on the sidewalk while he waited for his ride. Like it was nothing. Like I was nothing.”

“Is this about the lawsuit Stiles found out about?”

“It’s not even that. I wouldn’t have cared—I mean, I would have liked it if he had told me, but I understand that he has insecurity issues; I mean, whatever, that’s fine. I get that.” Scott sighed again. “But he said that his uncle told him to ‘reevaluate his relationships’ or something like that, so I guess I was the first thing to go.”

“That’s terrible,” Allison said. “I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks,” Scott replied, and the weight in his chest lessened a little. If he had called Stiles, he would have made death threats and stalked into Derek’s office right then and there, and Scott didn’t want that—he was determined to respect Derek’s choice, even if he hated it. But Allison was simply sympathetic and willing to listen, and that was what he needed most right then.

They talked for a little while longer, but not about Derek, only about the most mundane things like Scott’s upcoming finals and Allison’s work at the Bullet and her entrance into an archery competition that she hoped wouldn’t conflict with her finals either. She told him about how her grandfather, Gerard, had come into their lives again, trying to make her father go back out into the weapons business, but that Chris and Victoria were holding strong. “They wouldn’t let the shop go for the world,” she said, and Scott could only feel relief.

But before he even realized it, it was going on midnight. “I have to go,” he told Allison, a smile lingering on his lips. “I should get back to studying. Or maybe just get some sleep.”

“Okay,” she replied, and he could hear the concern loud and clear in her voice. “Listen, if you ever just need someone to talk to… call me once in a while, okay? I’m here for you.”

“Thanks,” Scott said and, heart a little lighter, he hung up.

Derek hadn’t left his office the entire week, except in the morning and the evening or when he was forced to by the necessity of work.

Which wasn’t such a problem anymore. Since the news of his lawsuit got out, his clients had been dropping like flies, either moving to Cora or Peter or the other partners or leaving the firm altogether. So Derek didn’t have much to do—no clients to call or meet, no cases to prepare for except the pro bono ones he had wheedled off Peter, which he had only managed by talking to him on the second day, bored as he was.

“You told me to reevaluate,” he said, barging into his office like Erica had done to him so many times, “so I broke up with Scott.”

Peter tried to frown but it came out more like a smirk. “Excellent. You’re making progress.”

You might just be next , Derek thought bitterly, but he pushed it to the back of his brain because he was there to beg for a case, not antagonize his uncle. “Now give me something to do. Please.”

One trip to the file room and one circuit around the associates’ bullpen later, Derek had a stack of files to work on. None of them were particularly exciting, but all of them were something.

Later that week, Cora knocked tentatively at his glass door. He quickly pretended to be busy with something and then waved her in.

“If you’re here to give me a lecture,” he told her before she could even say a word, “then you’re going to have to save it for later. I have things to do.”

“Oh, don’t give me that bullshit,” she snapped at him. “I’ve been working my ass of trying to construct a good defense for your case, so I think I deserve the chance to lecture you. Besides, Erica and Boyd came to me the other day because they’re thinking about quitting, again. You need to talk to them, Derek, you can’t just—”

“Let them quit,” he said, a little bitterly, still staring determinedly at the file in front of him. “I don’t care. Nearly all of my clients have left me; I guess I should offer my associates the same courtesy.”

She stared at him incredulously. “What the hell is your problem?” She shook her head. “Jesus, where’s the fight in you? When Kate was suing us, you walked around in a rage for weeks on end, and I’d rather have that than this… this moody, mopey thing you have going on.”

Derek flexed his fingers, trying to not let his temper get the best of him. “Can you please just… not, today?”

“Did Scott break up with you?”

The words hit him like a slap to the face; he winced, shook his head. “No. I broke up with him first.”

Cora sank into one of the chairs in front of his desk, shaking her head. “No wonder why you’ve been in a terrible mood lately—you cut off your last source of happiness. Derek, you’re an idiot.”

“Peter told me to reevaluate,” he replied tersely, already hating the sound of the word, “so I did.”

She sighed. “Of course Peter told you.”

“It was the right thing to do,” Derek snapped, finally looking up at her with a glare. “All I was doing was holding Scott back. Now he can be in Ohio and not have to worry about someone back home. He can do whatever he wants with whoever he wants without having to feel guilty about it.”

“And did Scott ever say that to you? Did he ever express that desire to you in any way?”

Derek didn’t reply, and that was answer enough.

Cora just shook her head and stood. “Grow a pair, Derek. You have to stop letting Peter control your life, because he isn’t trying to help you, he’s trying to ruin you.”

The words settled like a lead weight in his chest. How many times had people told him the same exact thing? And how many times had he not listened, and gotten hurt because of it?

Just then, his phone rang.

“Will you let me take this?” Derek asked Cora, who was lingering by the door.

She just nodded and, silently, still fuming, took her leave.

Derek picked up the phone, but before he could get a single word out, the voice on the other end was saying, “You’re lucky security wouldn’t let me up to your floor, because if they had I would have punched you in the face so hard.”

It took him a second to place the voice. Then, “Stiles?”

“That’s right, asshole,” Stiles snarled. “I’m calling because you hurt my best friend yet again, and to tell you that I ever see you in the vicinity of The Silver Bullet after this I will knock your teeth out with my fist. Understood?”

Derek disregarded all of what Stiles had just said and instead asked, “Can you tell Scott I’m sorry?”

Stiles laughed humorlessly. “What do you want me to tell him you’re sorry for? The time you broke his heart, or the time you ignored his calls, or the time you skipped out on a date with him months ago? You know, I’m starting to get the impression that lawyers shouldn’t date people, because they’re apparently terrible at balancing their work lives with their personal lives. Just a little tip for you.”

Derek fumed silently for a moment before hanging up.

The phone rang again a few seconds later, but he didn’t answer it. He wasn’t in the mood to be yelled at even more that day.

Chapter Text

A few miserable weeks passed, again in an endless haze. Derek was beginning to second guess his uncle’s advice and the direction he’d taken with it—his life hadn’t gotten any better since he’d broken up with Scott, only steadily, steadily worse. A little more hopeless. A lot less sunny.

As Christmas neared, Derek tried not to think about Scott, who was likely home for break by then. He didn’t venture in the direction of the Bullet just in case he was there, or just in case any of his friends there saw him. He didn’t feel like going anywhere, anyway; all he did was trace the familiar path from home to work and back. On weekends, he went to his old favorite coffee shop and always left with a bitter taste in his mouth, and he couldn’t tell if it was the coffee or the old memories, now tainted by the new ones that had outshone them.

“You look awful,” a female voice said, dropping down in the empty seat across from him as he sat in that old favorite coffee shop one Sunday morning, nursing a cup of coffee that didn’t taste as good as he wanted it to.

And of course, the woman who had sat down across from him was Jennifer Blake. “Go away, please,” he grumbled at her. “The court date isn’t until January and you’ve kicked my ass around enough for this year. Can’t you just leave me alone?”

She frowned at him, looking affronted. “Jeez, I’m not trying to kick your ass here. I’m just making conversation.”

“Yeah, but you’re thinking about it, though,” Derek replied. He rubbed a hand across his face, feeling the stubble across his jaw rough against his fingertips.

She just shook her head. “If you’d like me to leave…”

“No,” he said, much to his own surprise. He finally met her eyes and found them warmer, somehow softer than usual. After a pause, he added, “It’s nice having someone to talk to who doesn’t work with me or is related to me.”

“Yeah, I know that feeling,” she replied, staring down into the depths of her own coffee—tall, black, like his. “Seems all I do is live in the office nowadays. Hell, I might as well sleep there.”

There was silence for a moment. Then, Derek began to laugh. She looked at him with both eyebrows raised and waited for him to explain.

“It’s just…” He shook his head in disbelief, the smile on his face feeling alien. “Something someone said to me a couple of weeks ago. Something about how lawyers shouldn’t date people because they’re too busy working. Apparently we’re incapable of balancing our work lives and our personal lives.”

She didn’t smile, just nodded slowly. “I get it now. No wonder you look like shit… you just went through a break-up, didn’t you?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Well, the specific wording kind of gave it away,” she replied, and then she smiled a little, but it was only a bitter twist of her lips. “It’s okay. Whoever said that is probably right, anyway. The last relationship I had was with a coworker, which was a terrible idea. Ended up with me fired and having to wheedle my way back into a position again.”

Derek looked at her like he was just now seeing her for the first time. “Why would you stay with them, then? Why not go to another law firm?”

“There’s this thing called loyalty. You might want to try it sometime.” She took a sip of her coffee and stared at him over her cup.

“Yeah, but…” He shook his head disbelievingly and shifted in his chair. “Why would you stay if all they did was hurt you and tell you you’re not good enough?”

She shrugged, tracing the rim of her cup with one long, manicured finger and avoiding his gaze. Then, in a very soft, very timid voice, she replied, “Sometimes you just need somewhere to belong, you know? People to belong with. All that. Even if they’re not always good to you.”

“Even though people try to tell you to seek out better,” he added, and finally he realized what he had been talking about the whole time.

“What?” Jennifer asked, finally looking up at him to find his face slack, his eyes staring into the distance. “What’s wrong?”

With a nod to himself, he turned to her again and, voice more confident and commanding than it had been in weeks, told her, “Screw them. Screw the Alphas. You deserve way more than their approval—hell, you’re a good lawyer, Jennifer, and you deserve to be treated like one.”

“Well… thanks,” she said, raising both eyebrows in confusion but straightening a little, proudly, in her seat. “But why the sudden revelation?”

“I have to go fix something,” he said. “But have a great life. And thank you.”

He drained the last of his coffee, stood, and took off for the door, leaving her pleasantly surprised, confused, and a little bit thoughtful.

But by the time he arrived back at his apartment—still devastatingly empty and far too quiet—he had already begun to lose some of his nerve.

There was no one in New York he could talk to. His sister would either shoot his idea down entirely or else convince him to think about it, which would likely end in him abandoning the idea before it even got off the ground. He couldn’t very well talk to Peter, not about anything and certainly not about this. Erica and Boyd wouldn’t care. Isaac and Jackson would laugh at him. The idea of calling Melissa McCall or anyone who knew Scott was laughable.

At the end of it all, there was only one person he could call.

“Laura Hale speaking.”

A smile graced Derek’s face for the first time in a long time. “Hey, sis.”

She laughed. “Hey, bro. What’s happening? You never usually call unless it’s a holiday or my birthday.”

“Yeah, sorry,” he said with a wince. “I’ve—”

“Been busy? Yeah, that’s the excuse Cora always uses, too.” Laura sighed. “It’s fine. What’s up?”

Derek took a deep breath to steady himself, then blurted: “I’m going to do something really stupid tomorrow.”

There was a pause. “And?”

“And I want you to tell me to do it.”

There was another pause and Derek could just imagine the wild grin on Laura’s face right this second. “Are you doing what I think you’re going to do?”

“I’m doing exactly what you think I’m going to do.”

“Excellent.” She laughed a little again and said, “Do it. This is me telling you to do it, because you are going to feel so much better afterwards. I guarantee it. You will be the happiest you’ve ever been in your life.”

Derek grinned, too. “That’s what I’m aiming for.” Then, a little gentler, he added, “Thanks, Laura. I needed that.”

“Anytime, Derek,” she replied, and he knew she was smiling, too. “Good luck. And godspeed.”

Monday morning, prepared and ready to take action, Derek walked purposefully through the hallways of the firm but managed to once again lose most of his nerve by the time he reached his office.

His briefcase was empty. He set it down on the floor behind his desk on its regular spot. It was early; the office was just beginning to fill with people. Jackson was at his desk just beyond the glass walls, as usual.

Derek suddenly realized, as he looked around it, how sparsely decorated his office was—a few pictures here and there, prints of New York on the walls and photos of family, and one even of Scott, on his desk. The bookshelf was filled only with legal books. The chairs and couches were unused, and he knew they felt like it, too.

His heart began to pound beneath the weight of his expensive suit.

Jackson was looking at him strangely, watching him look around the room instead of taking a seat behind his desk. “You okay there, boss?” he asked over the intercom.

Boss . He hadn’t realized how much he hated that word until just then. “Yeah, I’m all right.”

Jackson just shook his head and turned back to whatever he was looking at on his computer. Derek was starting to lose his nerve again—honestly, why had he had the idea on a Sunday? It had given him way too much time to mull over and second-guess things, even with his encouraging call to Laura. But, finally, he steeled himself and forced himself to walk.

“Where are you going?” Jackson asked. “You know you actually have a client meeting at eight-thirty, right?”

“Yeah, I know,” Derek replied absently. “I’ll be back. I just have to talk to Peter.” And thankfully, Jackson let him go.

The walk to his uncle’s office felt a mile long, but eventually he arrived, lingering in the doorway until Peter looked up from the usual pile of papers on his desk. “May I help you?” he asked with utmost derision once he noticed his nephew.

Derek took a deep breath and, without hesitating for a second, said: “I quit.”

Peter’s eyebrows scrunched together as he looked up at him in confusion. “What?”

“You told me to reevaluate, to figure out what was important to me and what I needed to let go.” Derek shrugged, such a casual motion that completely conflicted with the way his heart felt like it might burst inside his chest. “I’m just taking your advice.”

Peter’s face was suddenly rigid with rage; his jaw clenched, his cheeks turned red. “You can’t just quit. You can’t just… after all I’ve done for you to get you to this point, you can’t just tell me you’re going to walk out on it all…!”

“Well, that’s exactly what I just told you,” Derek replied. “I’m tired of sticking around in a place where I’m not valued, not treated fairly and doing work I don’t particularly enjoy. So, you know what?” He took a deep, shuddering breath and said, “Screw you. I’m done.”

And he turned and walked out, leaving a dumbstruck Peter in the office behind him.

“What the hell did you do?” Jackson hissed at him as he approached his office one last time. “I just got a call from Peter saying—”

“I quit?” Derek finished for him. “Yeah, I did. Sorry, but I’m sure an up-and-coming partner here would love to have you.”

With that, he bypassed Jackson completely, heading for his desk and collecting his briefcase one last time. When he turned to leave, he found Cora there, mouth open in shock, Erica and Boyd and an always-curious Isaac lingering behind.

“You really did it,” his sister said, shaking her head in disbelief. And then, to Derek’s surprise, she smiled. “You finally did it.”

Derek smiled, too, relieved. “What’s the point of staying in a place where I’m unhappy?”

“Probably something we all should have asked ourselves a long time ago,” Boyd muttered under his breath, but Derek ignored him.

“Please tell me you’re going to go get barista boy back,” Erica said. “Please. If you ever do one thing for us—”

“I’m going to try,” Derek replied, smile growing even wider.

“Good,” Cora quipped. “But that’s not the only thing you’ll have to fix—I’ll have to tell Blake about this. With your resignation, she just might consider a settlement.”

He felt a little bit of relief shine through his adrenaline rush, and his smile grew wider still. Blake had nothing left to take from him—he was free now, no longer a lawyer and no longer connected to the firm. Money didn’t matter, if she decided to fine him; he had plenty. “Thank you, Cora,” he told her sincerely, and he hoped she understood that he was thanking her not for one thing but for all the things she had ever done for him. Then, he looked around at his associates and his favorite paralegal and said, “I guess this goodbye, then.”

This wouldn’t be the last time he saw them, he knew—especially not his own sister. But it would be the last time he saw them like this: as his coworkers, as his employees. And that was just fine with him. This was one choice he was sure he wasn’t going to regret.

“Good luck,” they called to him as he left. He turned to smile his thanks, because he was going to need all the luck he could get.

As it was, he waited just out of sight of the front door of the Bullet until the door opened and Scott and Melissa stepped out of it. He pushed himself away from the wall to make sure Scott saw him.

And he did. Scott caught his eye and his lips parted a little in disbelief at the sight of him there.

“I think I’ll go wait in the car,” Melissa said tentatively as the shocked silence dragged on, and behind Scott’s back she tipped Derek a hefty wink.

Scott didn’t miss it though. He looked between the two of them and exclaimed, “You set this up with my mom? What the hell is wrong with you?”

He had never seen so much open hostility on Scott’s face before, not even the night they had broken up. It almost made him want to turn around, to abandon the whole plan, but he knew he couldn’t, and he wouldn’t—for one thing, he had spent too long groveling and planning with Melissa to turn back now.

So instead of walking away, he said simply, “I quit my job.”

“You—” Midway through his next sentence, Scott seemed to finally realize what Derek had just said and backtracked quickly. “What?”

“I took Peter’s advice,” he explained, “and a little bit of Cora’s, and Stiles’, and yours. I quit. And I came to apologize for my shitty behavior. I was an asshole and I thought that by letting you go, you would be happier and I would get my life on track again. But that wasn’t it at all, because I spent all those weeks missing you and hating what I’d done and… even if you don’t want me back, I just want you to know that.”

Scott mulled it over for a few moments, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth and looking conflicted. Then, he raised an eyebrow. “You really thought that by breaking up with me, I would somehow be happier?”

“I thought that was what you wanted,” he replied, rubbing the back of his neck with a hand, ashamed. “I thought you would be happier if you were free. If you didn’t have me at home holding you back.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

He laughed a little. “Yeah, I know. I don’t know what I was thinking either.” Then he sighed and let his hand fall to his side again, sheepishly meeting Scott’s eyes. “Listen—”

“I know, I know—you’re sorry.” Scott sighed. Paused to think again. Then, “If I do take you back, you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot of making up for all this.”

Derek nodded in reply. “I know.”

“Like, you have to call me at least twice a day,” Scott continued, folding his arms to let Derek know he meant business. “I mean, now that you’re going to have an awful lot of free time, and all.”

“Of course.”

Scott was smiling a little, now. "And you have to go to The Silver Bullet at least once a week so Stiles will forgive you." He must have caught Derek's grimace, because his smile only widened. "And while I'm away at school you have to promise me you'll try to find out what you’re really good at, because you weren't very good at being a lawyer and we know how all that ended. Deal?"

Derek nodded, feeling hope beginning to blossom like a flower behind his ribs. "Deal."

Scott's face turned serious as he held out his hand. "Shake on it."

Derek shook—Scott's hand was warm and soft in his, everything he had remembered. And the next thing he knew, Scott was in his arms, molding to his body in a way that Derek could never forget, either.

"I missed you," Scott whispered in Derek's ear, before pressing his face to the side of his neck. "Jesus Christ, I missed you. Never pull something like that again."

"I won't," Derek promised. "I'm sorry—I'm so sorry."

And they clung together, there on the sidewalk in front of the coffee shop where it had all began, like the world was a sea and together they were an anchor.

Together, they would fix this.

They were going to make it work.