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Every stumble and each misfire

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Stiles’ muscles stretch and pull with stiffness with every step he takes up the countless stairs to the loft (he’s lying, they’re not countless, there’s one hundred and twenty steps from the parking lot to the floor of the loft). The elevator is broken and has been for ages. His entire being is heavy, from his feet to his eyelids, and only the promise of collapsing onto his couch and passing out for half of an eternity makes him keep going. Or, well, until he gets called into work again.

He’s done his fair share of double shifts during his five years with the Beacon County Sheriff’s Department, but some doubles are just more brutal than others. First, there was a car crash, which was just a great start to a shift. It was a three-car collision downtown with no real injuries, thank god. Emotions were still running high though. Stiles ended up having to wrestle a particularly angry Mr. Miller to the ground. His BMW had gotten a scratch and he had seemed determined to give the other drivers a couple of extra bruises. 

The cherry on top was the amused look from daddy dearest when Stiles brought Mr. Miller, who by then had been wildly screaming about police brutality, into the station. Once Mr. Miller was at least moderately appeased, Stiles was pulled away from the station by a call reporting an attempted break-in over in Lydia’s old neighborhood.

Nothing had been stolen, but Mrs. Everett swore that she had locked the back door before she went on her errands and it was wide open once she came back. Stiles nodded dutifully along to her tirade of how back in her day, she never had to worry about hoodlums and crooks, how this used to be a safe neighborhood and why didn’t they patrol as often as they used to? The Sheriff’s Department sure wasn’t what it used to be according to Mrs. Everett.

Horny teenagers noisily making out over at Makeout Point gave him the excuse needed to bid Mrs. Everett goodnight. It always brought him some sort of sadistic kind of joy to see their flushed, embarrassed faces, which had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he never had anyone to make out with at Makeout Point, because that would be highly unprofessional.

By nightfall the regular calls of drunk and disorderly came through, along with breaking up a rowdy high school party. Summer was drawing near and the warmer weather resulted in more or less out of control parties every weekend as the students of Beacon Hills High started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And that was just his first shift.

But hey, no one was violently murdered and there were no signs of supernatural shenanigans! Stiles calls that a win.

Once he has more or less crawled up the final steps, he fumbles with his keys and finally slides the door open. He’s greeted by the morning sun filtering through the large windows and the gentle tingle down his spine when he passes the protective ward running along the doorframe.

His trusted baseball bat, #12, may its predecessors rest in peace, rests against the wall next to the shoe rack. He kicks off his boots and attempts to toss his keys into the bowl on the hall table. It’s weird how he’s one of the best marksmen the department has ever had, but he more or less always misses that damn bowl by at least two feet. He grumbles as he goes to fetch them and shoves them into the bowl with his left hand while simultaneously trying to get his duty belt off. The belt, with gun and badge and all, gets put in the safe which is hidden in the kitchen island and only then he lets himself look over to the couch. He stumbles as he peels out of his uniform on his way over and collapses onto it in nothing but his boxers, socks and a pleased groan.

His body aches (but really, when does it not? It’s been aching for like a decade now) as he rolls himself into a blanket burrito. He heaves a great sigh and closes his eyes on the morning sun. He’s going to sleep so hard, it’s going to be great. Any second now, he’s going to pass out. Promise. Definitely. And he’ll sleep until, like, three because he’s an adult and he can do whatever he wants. Yep, that’s what’s going to happen. Soon.

He opens his eyes. The same morning sun greets him, reflecting off of the many potted plants in various shades of green spread across the loft, mostly centered around the window opposite the couch. He lets his eyes drift across the ones Scott and he somehow managed to hang from the ceiling a few years back and thinks about how he has to water those tomorrow.

He’s not very good at gardening, but ordering large amounts of herbs online had gotten expensive in the long run and his deputy salary really couldn’t take it any longer.  Someone in the pack had to do it and the loft is pretty much an ideal greenhouse as long as the windows are clean. Oh man, he better set an alarm to remind himself to water the plants, or he’ll forget it again. He hangs off of the couch and pretends like he doesn’t make an old man grunt when he reaches for his pants to dig out his cellphone. There’s no one there to hear it anyway. 

He’s momentarily distracted by a couple of texts. One is from Scott, a picture of him in his scrubs holding up what could only be a newborn kitten to the camera.

From Scott [05:46pm]
LOOK AT THIS BABY!!!!! <3 <3 <3 <3

From Scott [05:46pm]
AND THIS ONE!!!!

From Scott [05:47pm]
This one looks like you!

Stiles smiles. Maybe he should get a cat. Then he would have company, but still nobody that would mock him for his old man grunts. Win/win, really. Maybe two cats are better though, so they have each other’s company when he’s got long shifts.

To Scott [04:55am]
How is it fair that you get to cuddle kittens while I’m wrestling angry middle-aged dudes?

He doesn’t expect a reply anytime soon, because as a vet Scott gets semi-regular hours and sleep and stuff. Except for when he’s on call, but that doesn’t happen too often. Still isn’t fair. Stiles definitely drew the short stick with his career choice.

From Dad [02:07am]
Hope you got home okay, kiddo. Get some sleep.

To Dad [04:56am]
Yup. On the couch begging for the sweet release of death and regretting my career choice as we speak. Love ya, daddy-o

He’s just about to set his alarm when his phone vibrates with a notification. He gets a silly little thrill as he sees the icon with the tiny flame.

Congratulations! You have a new match!

Stiles swipes to open the app and grins when he sees his match with a Hayley. She’s cute. He won’t write now, he’s way too tired to come up with something clever, but he’ll definitely message her later. Or maybe just send her the seal gif that waves and says ‘sup. Works every time. 

Since sleep evades him, he figures that swiping for a while won’t hurt anyone. Maybe it could even lull him to sleep. It wouldn’t be the first time since he downloaded Tinder a few years ago, when he was done sulking after his last relationship crashed and burned.

It had taken him way too long to figure out that dating someone who wasn’t aware of the supernatural was way too much of a hassle. Sure, he was a practiced and gifted liar, but there was only so many times you could cancel on someone because you were bleeding out in the woods or saving your friends from bleeding out before they demanded some real answers. Answers Stiles wasn’t willing to give.

So, strictly physical and emotionally unfulfilling sex ensued and Tinder was a simple solution. Stiles liked simple solutions. He had far too little experience with simple solutions, they were few and far between. 

It was also mindlessly fun. Swiping.

Left. 

Left.

Left.

Nice. Right.

Left.

Left.

Eeeehm… ri- no, left.

Right.

Left.

Left.

Left.

Left.

Left.

Le-…

Oh.

Stiles froze, his finger hovering over the screen. He was pretty sure he forgot how to breathe and when he finally remembered, he croaked out a hoarse laugh.

Derek, 32
5 miles away 

Now, a lot of stupid things have happened in Stiles’ life.

Like, a lot. For example, his best friend was bitten by a werewolf.

So, Stiles is no stranger to stupid things. However, he would say that this is the absolute stupidest thing he has ever experienced. Because on the screen is fucking Derek Hale in a stupid green henley, looking down at the ground (probably to avoid the lens flare) with the stupidest fucking smile Stiles has ever seen.

Oh, but this isn’t even the stupidest part of the stupidest thing. Nooo. The stupidest part is that Stiles has not seen or heard from Derek Hale since Stiles’ eighteenth birthday, when the keys to the loft arrived in the mail with a note that said Happy Birthday, Stiles! Do whatever you want with it. – Derek.

Which was ten goddamn years ago.

And now he finds out that Derek fucking Hale is five miles away through Tinder? What the hell? What is he even supposed to do with this information? Stiles stares at the picture incredulously, lips forming noiseless words in an attempt to vocalize what he’s feeling, but to no avail.

Derek looks good. Stiles is just putting it out there. Older, sure, with tiny wrinkles by his eyes and mouth, but Stiles looks older too. He likes to think he’s aged like a fine wine, with the baby fat of his teenage years gone and a new confident spring in his steps. Derek has always looked good, though, even ten years ago. He just looks… different now, in this picture. Stiles is pretty sure he’s never seen Derek’s shoulders look so relaxed, or his smile so soft and wide. He looks happy. Stiles’ body aches again, in a way he can’t really identify. Longing, maybe, but nothing he has ever felt before.

He licks his lips.

His heart is thundering in his chest.

He swipes right.

He puts his phone on the coffee table and stares up at the potted plants. Well, he might as well water them now. There’s no way he’s going to fall asleep after this.

Stiles waters the plants, still wearing nothing but his boxers and socks. He tends to the holy basil, the false unicorn root and the lavender, the betony, the dandelion and the large motherwort situated right beneath the window. He even puts on his protective gloves and goggles to fertilize the various kinds of wolfsbane growing in its glass cabinet.

It takes the better part of an hour to tend to them all and his phone is still lying quiet on the coffee table. He gathers up his uniform from the floor, lifts it up to his nose to sniff and grimaces before he tosses it in the laundry basket in the bathroom. He lifts his arm, sniffs at his armpit and grimaces once again. He takes a shower and definitely doesn’t think about Derek Hale at all. He hasn’t thought of Derek Hale in a decade, why start now? (He’s lying again. He thinks of Derek Hale everytime he steps into the loft).

After the shower, Stiles pulls on a fresh pair of underwear and does the dishes. He puts on coffee. His stomach starts growling and he makes himself a bowl of cereal. He eats it on the couch while he mulls over how much of a pain in the ass it would be to somehow infuse blackberry, ivy and rowan into the doorframe for protection. Maybe around the windows as well? Sure, he’s like a million feet up, but supernatural shit isn’t averse to flying. Something could be thinking of crashing down through the roof.

His phone vibrates and Stiles absolutely does not throw himself at it. And he sure as hell doesn’t sigh in disappointment when it’s just a text from Scott.

From Scott [07:33am]
Not to be that guy, but you’re not really known for making wise decisions ;)

Uhm, rude.  

To Scott [07:33am]
Excuse YOU

To Scott [07:33am]
you would be dead without me

To Scott [07:34am]
and my wise decisions

For a few seconds he considers telling Scott that he saw Derek on Tinder, but thinks better of it. Derek is probably not even going to swipe right and Stiles would rather avoid being on the receiving end of Scott’s well-intentioned pity. His phone vibrates again. Scott sent a smooch emoji. It makes Stiles smile.

...

 

He goes about his day and resolutely does not look at his phone. He does the laundry and goes as far as to fold his socks. He sorts through his wolfsbane bullets, concludes that he has to text Chris about a restock and makes a grocery list. He changes the rumpled sheets of his bed on the top floor and his body is screaming for him to lay down and go the fuck to sleep, but his mind won’t slow down enough for him to stop moving. It won’t stop dissecting the whole situation.

Derek Hale is five miles away. Derek Hale is not straight. Derek Hale looks good. Derek Hale has Tinder, which must mean that he at least is emotionally stable enough to be intimate with random strangers. Which, you know, isn’t always a given in their world. Then again, hooking up with strangers isn’t always a sign of sanity. It could also be a sign of a burgeoning possession by an ancient Japanese demon of chaos. But well, statistically speaking, at least a modicum of emotional stability seems more likely.

Stiles goes for a run. The loft isn’t situated in the nicest of neighborhoods, but it’s not too far from the woods and Stiles has made a path for himself there. He never ventures too deep on his own though, he’s not suicidal (anymore). A run like this used to make him breathless and dizzy, but despite his body’s frequent protests, he’s never been more in shape. He actually kind of likes running now. As long as he’s not running for his life.

It doesn’t matter how much he pushes himself, it won’t stop his brain from asking questions he doesn’t know the answer to. Where is Derek? Why is he back? What has he been doing for the last ten years? What the hell possessed him to create a Tinder profile? He honestly can’t be struggling to get laid, right? Is this Cora’s work? Why hasn’t Derek reached out before? If he’s back, why hasn’t he gotten in touch?

The last question makes him slow to a jog and finally stop, leaning against a tree as he catches his breath. If Derek is back in Beacon Hills and haven’t contacted any of the pack… maybe he doesn’t want to? That’s the most logical answer, right? The realisation settles heavily and uncomfortably in the pit of Stiles’ stomach.

He walks the rest of the way home, trudges up the one hundred and twenty steps and takes another shower. It’s past lunchtime, but he doesn’t have the energy or the appetite for anything more extravagant than buttered toast.

He supposes he should try to get some sleep.

 

 

When Stiles wakes it’s to complete darkness and the thundering of heavy rain against the windows. He sluggishly reaches out for the lamp on bedside table and turns it on. His phone shows the numbers 02:14 and that he received a message from Hayley, his most recent Tinder match, four hours ago. He doesn’t open it. Instead he gets out of bed, pulls on a pair of sweatpants and pockets his phone. He absently scratches his grumbling stomach as he makes his way down the spiral staircase and turns on the light on his way to the kitchen. He’s pretty sure he’s got a portion of casserole hiding somewhere, courtesy of Melissa, and he digs it out of the freezer. He sits on the counter while it heats in the microwave.

Stiles likes the loft when it rains. Sure, it gets chilly with all that space and subpar heating, but the constant noise of the rain drowns out everything else. Even his own mind, most of the time. It allows him to calm his thoughts in a way that’s not always a given. The sparse lighting cast over the plants across the room adds to that feeling of calmness, resembling the tranquility he sometimes feels when on his run in the woods.

In a truly acrobatic, well-practiced move, he manages to grab the dish from the microwave without having to jump off the counter and pokes at it with a fork. It’s still a little frozen in the middle, but he’s too lazy to put it back in.

His phone vibrates in his pocket and he pulls it out to squint at the bright screen.

Congratulations! You have a new match!

His heart does not skip a beat, nu-huh, and it might seem as if he’s fumbling so hard with his phone that he nearly drops it, but that’s merely a mirage.

Stiles swipes to show his matches, where the message from Hayley rests unopened and… There it is. Stiles can do nothing but stare at it, the round little icon with Derek’s stupid, perfect picture where he’s relaxed and happy. Stiles gapes at it a little. They matched. They matched. That means that Derek Hale, right this second, at half past two in the middle of the night, saw Stiles’ picture and swiped right.

Stiles wonders where he is. Derek. The app still says five miles away. Where is Derek at half past two somewhere around Beacon Hills? Is he checked in at the hotel downtown? Does he have an apartment, a house, a home around here? Is he lying in bed, unable to sleep, staring at his phone and wondering what Stiles is doing?

Stiles taps on the icon to open up the chat. He needs to write something. Anything. But what? What kind of message do you send to a long lost friend (friend?), whose life you saved over and over and he saved yours in return, but then you haven’t spoken for ten years? On Tinder? Wait, does this mean that Derek finds him attractive? Or is it just a “ha, what are the odds of us reconnecting through Tinder, how have you been” kind of thing?

What are you wearing? Eh, no.

So, when the fuck were you going to tell me you’re back in BH? A bit too aggressive.

Does this mean that my attraction to you in high school was mutual, but you held back on account of me basically being a child and you are now open to exploring the intense, overwhelming feelings I held for you, which I only realized I had the moment I thought I watched you die? Maybe too honest.

Stiles’ half-scalding, half-frozen dinner sits forgotten on the counter as he glares at his phone in concentration. He’s so focused that he nearly jumps in surprise when a message pops up on the screen.

From Derek [02:36am]
Hi, Stiles. 

Stiles literally chokes on nothing.

To Derek [02:37am]
Hi

From Derek [02:37am]
I didn’t think you’d be awake.

From Derek [02:37am]
Not that I’m really surprised.

To Derek [02:37am]
Yeah my circadian rhythm is fucked

To Derek [02:38am]
What’s your excuse? 

From Derek [02:38am]
Nightmares.

The sheer surprise makes Stiles release the breath he’s been holding. Wow. 2 am is apparently honesty hour. The Derek that Stiles knew would never have admitted to having nightmares. A calm settles in Stiles after Derek’s confession and he leans back against the wall.

To Derek [02:39am]
That sucks. 

From Derek [02:39am]
Yeah. 

To Derek [02:39am]
Want to talk about it? 

From Derek [02:40am]
No, it’s alright. It’s nothing new.  

Yeah, lord knows Derek has been through a lot of shit to concoct nightmares of. Stiles hesitates before he sends his next message. 

To Derek [02:41am]
Soo… back in BH, huh?

From Derek [02:43am]
Last night. I would have told you, all of you, but it was late and I wasn’t sure if you guys still had the same numbers.

To Derek [02:43am]
It’s fine, I get it

To Derek [02:43am]
Just kinda weird way to find out you’re back in town

To Derek [02:43am]
through TINDER

To Derek [02:44am]
Tinder, Derek?

From Derek [02:44am]
Haha, I know. It’s a recent development. Cora set it up for me.

From Derek [02:44am]
Haven’t used it much.

Stiles doesn’t know why that last message appeases something deep within. He glances up to the ceiling and notes that the rain must have stopped, because he can’t hear it anymore. He looks at his now cold casserole and grimaces. He could reheat it, but...

To Derek [02:46am]
I’m hungry.

From Derek [02:46am]
Eat?

To Derek [02:46am]
I want pizza. I think I might drive down to Patty’s in a couple of minutes. Just fyi.

From Derek [02:47am]
Duly noted.

To Derek [02:47am]
Wouldn’t mind company

To Derek [02:47am]
If that wasn’t clear enough

From Derek [02:48am]
Thanks, Stiles, I got that.

Stiles grins and jumps off the counter, tosses the casserole in the trash can beneath the sink and sprints up the stairs to find something decent to wear. It’s kind of a bitch to wrestle himself into the pair of jeans he usually reserves for nights out with Lydia at 3 am, but it’s Derek. Derek. He’ll suffer through skinny jeans for Derek. He can’t look as if he’s trying too hard though, so he chooses a plain t-shirt and his red hoodie (not the one Derek saw him in last, that one got ripped to shreds by angry fairies a few years back). It’s not until he’s shoving his feet into his shoes that he stops to think.

To Derek [02:59am]
You’re coming, right?  

From Derek [03:00am]
Yes, Stiles, I’ll be there.

Stiles would deny it if anyone asked, but he pretty much skips the entire way down the one hundred and twenty steps to the parking lot. Patty’s is on the other side of town, but it’s also the only 24h diner within a 40 mile radius and they’ve got pizza, so it’s worth the trip. Not that Stiles wouldn’t drive 40 miles to see Derek. He’s pretty sure he would drive to the other side of the world if Derek only asked him to, and isn’t that a crazy revelation to have about a guy you haven’t seen in a decade?

The parking lot outside Patty’s is nearly deserted when Stiles parks and gets out of his cruiser, the asphalt dark and wet and the air crisp after the rain. The neon sign on top of the building seems to be singing its last verse and the flickering light nearly makes him miss the figure leaning against the railing enclosing the outdoor seating area. The figure can probably hear Stiles’ heart wreak havoc inside his chest at the sight of him.

“Still lurking in the shadows, huh?” Stiles calls out and even he is surprised by the apparent fondness in his voice.

Derek pushes off the railing and steps forward and Stiles is close enough now to see him roll his eyes. There’s a small smile tugging at Derek’s lips though.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t recognize me if I wasn’t,” Derek replies dryly and Stiles laughs.

“A valid concern,” he agrees, nodding his head.

Stiles stops a few feet away, a little overwhelmed with the need to hug Derek, but unsure of if it would be welcomed. Derek’s hands are shoved into the pockets of his leather jacket and though his expression is warm, he doesn’t make a move, so Stiles doesn’t either.

“Hi, Stiles,” he says, softly, and is it possible to miss the way someone says your name? Because Stiles is pretty sure he’s been missing it.

“Hi, Derek,” Stiles replies and fuck off, he does not sound breathless.

“So… pizza, huh?” Derek says and nods towards the doors.

“Oh yeah, definitely!”

Reminded of his hunger, he jumps to open the door, holding it open for Derek as they step inside the diner. Warmth envelops Stiles and he’s not sure of if it’s the temperature within the diner or the way Derek’s shoulder brushes against Stiles’ as they find an empty table. It’s not exactly a hardship, since there’s only two other guests there, seated at opposite sides of the diner. They sit down somewhere in the middle, by a window overlooking the parking lot. Derek nods towards the cruiser.

“Deputy Stilinski, I take it?” He asks.

“At your service,” Stiles replies with a wink and salute.

“I’m not surprised.”

“No? Why-”

“Welcome to Patty’s, what can I get you?”

Stiles blinks up at the waiter. He hadn’t even noticed him approach. He looks back at Derek.

“Wanna share a pepperoni pizza?”

“Sure.”

“Cool. A pepperoni pizza to share, please. A Coke for me and…?”

“Water, thanks,” Derek adds.

“Coming right up,” the waiter replies tiredly with a polite smile and turns to leave them both scrambling to pick up their earlier conversation. Derek saves them from the awkward silence.

“You were always solving things,” he says and there’s a gentleness to his tone that Stiles can’t remember ever having heard before. “Even back then. Saved us more than once. It’s no surprise that you ended up in law enforcement.”

There’s a gentleness to Derek’s entire being that wasn’t there ten years ago, now that Stiles can truly look at him. Derek has shrugged out of his leather jacket and all of that bulging muscle is still there, hiding beneath a trademark henley, but there’s something in the lines of his body, something in his posture that screams of contentment. And the smile he’s wearing. Stiles had only seen a hint of it around Braeden way back then.

“I guess not,” Stiles replies with a shrug, scratching at the back of his neck, suddenly flustered.

“Do you like it?”

“It’s tough as shit,” Stiles admits. “There’s always something to be done and it’s not always fun. Most of the time it’s not fun. And the hours are crazy. Which is why I’m here at 3 am. I can barely keep track of the days. And dad has seemingly never heard of nepotism, a tried and true method, because he cuts me zero slack. Zero!”

“But you love it,” Derek states knowingly and Stiles deflates, smiling.

“Yeah, I kinda do.”

There’s a couple of grey hairs in Derek’s shortly trimmed beard. Stiles tries not to stare. He clears his throat.

“So, uhm… Jeez, I don’t even know where to start,” he begins. “I’ve got like a million questions.”

“I’m not surprised by that either,” Derek smirks and Stiles had almost forgotten that Derek could be a little shit.

Poking his tongue out at Derek, Stiles continues undeterred:

“Why are you here? I mean, back. Why now? Not that I mind, uh, definitely not, just… why?”

The waiter returns with their drinks and Derek thanks him and takes a sip of his water before replying.

“A hundred different reasons, I suppose. I had been thinking about it for a while. To… reconnect,” he starts and his eyes flicker up to meet Stiles’ for the briefest of seconds. “I’ve been talking with the county about buying back the land up at the preserve-”

“Weren’t they supposed to build new houses up there? I saw the plans, but there hasn’t been any progress for like, years.”

And just like that, the smuggest little grin graces Derek’s face and Stiles can’t help but mirror it.

“There have been a surprising amount of appeals brought up against the project,” he says innocently. “They’ve been at a standstill for a while now.”

Stiles snorts inelegantly with amusement.

“Sounds like a solid plan though. It’s Hale land. County shouldn’t have taken it to begin with.”

“I wasn’t really in a state to fight them over it back then,” Derek admits.

“But you are now?”

“Yes. Or so my therapist says. She was the one to suggest driving down here. I think she knew that I wanted to, even though I never said it.”

He hopes his surprise isn’t too evident on his face. There was a time when Derek held anything that could be perceived as a weakness close to his chest, hidden in the deep V of his eyebrows, but there’s none of that guarded, hard expression left. Only openness. It tugs on something in Stiles, urges him to reply in kind.

“Well, for what it’s worth, I’m glad she did.”

 

 

The waiter brings their pizza over and they share both the pizza and facts, stories and secrets they’ve hoarded during the last decade spent apart. Stiles eats the most of the pizza, but Derek offers up the most tidbits of his life, like he can’t help it, like he’s been waiting for this moment. It’s overwhelming and fascinating to see this side of Derek and Stiles can’t believe how easy it is to share a pizza with Derek Hale at 3 in the morning. After having stumbled over his own uncooperative tongue and racing heart to begin with, the words now flow readily between them. As if the time when the same words would have gotten stuck in the backs of their throats, the time when eyes met and desperately tried to convey a message that never really got through, never existed to begin with.

Derek tells him of how he travelled with Braeden to Venezuela, where he met up with Cora and then ultimately parted with Braeden. He speaks only briefly of it, of how she got another contract, but Stiles can’t detect any hard feelings. Derek spent the time in Venezuela brushing up on his Spanish by pouring over a friendly pack’s library and translating any interesting text or scripture he could get his hands on. Cora liked the climate, maybe the pack even more, but didn’t object when Derek found an apartment for sale in New York City. It wasn’t home, but it was familiar and it was easy to disappear in the large city. He tells Stiles of how he by pure chance caught Isaac’s scent one day and nearly stumbled over him, Isaac having done the same. He mentions the absolute torture of seeing Cora and Isaac aggressively flirt with each other every chance they got and how he highly suspects that Isaac might be spending the night now that Derek is in Beacon Hills. Eventually he comes back to the therapist, of coming to terms with needing one. Stiles can relate.

He doesn’t mention Kate.

Stiles offers up every gruelling story he can remember from the deputy tests in return. He tells Derek of every memorable supernatural baddie sweeping through town, of the death of baseball bat #4, which is a particularly horrid tale, and how he got the scar on his forearm (a completely different story). He spills the dirt on every remaining pack member and grins as he describes dad’s and Melissa’s wedding.

He doesn’t say a word of the nightmares, the crushing sensation he used to feel compressing his chest, the suicidal recklessness that lead to him getting dragged, kicking and screaming, to a therapist. Another time, he thinks. They have time.

 

 

The morning sun spills through the windows of the diner when Stiles’ phone chirps. There’s nothing left of the pizza.

From Dad [04:48am]
Need you down at the station. 

Stiles sighs.

“Duty calls?” Derek asks before emptying his second glass of water.

“Duty calls,” Stiles confirms.

They pay and make their way out into the quiet morning. Derek walks him to the cruiser, close enough for their shoulders to brush every other step. It’s not often that Stiles is comfortable in the silence. He likes to fill it with noise, any noise. Now he holds his tongue and it’s not a hardship at all. He fishes the car key from his pocket and turns to Derek.

“So, uh… don’t be a stranger?” He tries and it makes Derek huff out a laugh.

“I’ll be around for a while,” Derek replies.

Stiles can’t help himself from asking.

“How long is a while?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“Things.”

“Fine, be vague, see if I care,” Stiles sniffs and Derek just looks so goddamned amused. Stiles has to do it. Go in for the kill.

Stiles can feel Derek’s shoulders stiffening beneath his hands, but only for a brief second, when Stiles hugs him. His arms wrap tightly around Stiles.

It’s not one of those polite, nice to see you one-armed hugs. It’s not even a clap on the back bro hug. It’s the kind of hug that crinkles clothes, that leaves the scent of Derek’s skin in Stiles’ nose and the imprint of his steady heartbeat against Stiles’ chest. The kind of hug that screams the words they’re too chickenshit to speak out loud.

I missed you.

I missed you.

Derek is warm and Stiles doesn’t want to let go, but a second chirp from his phone forces him to step back. There’s a lump stuck in his throat and he doesn’t dare to speak around it, so he simply nods and climbs into the cruiser. Derek waves before Stiles pulls out of the parking lot. Stiles sees him walk back to his own car in the rearview mirror.

 

 

John jerks a little in his seat when Stiles raps on the open door to his office, his forehead furrowed in deep lines. 

“What’s up, pops?”

John waves for him to come inside and Stiles shuts the door after himself with a final glance out at the quiet station and the other deputies working through paperwork.

“Got a call about some ‘weird people up to no good’ up by the preserve,” John replied with a sigh, scratching at the back of his neck. “It’s probably nothing and I would’ve put Ramirez and Bennett on it, but you know how I feel about sending people up there this close to the full moon.”

“It’s fine, I’ve got it,” Stiles nods in understanding.

“Parrish is here as well, take him with you.”

“Aye, aye, captain.”

He’s halfway out the door when his dad speaks again.

“Apparently Derek Hale is back in town.”

Stiles stops, turns his head and narrows his eyes.

“How can you possible know that? Do you have spies everywhere?” He asks incredulously.

John looks unimpressed.

“You should know by now that I absolutely do.”

Stiles rolls his eyes.

“I don’t suppose that’s why you’re wearing your spiffiest jeans and that dumb smile, is it?”

Stiles does not blush. He does not.

“Spiffiest, dad? Really? Also, no. Can’t a guy just want to look good before 5 am?”

“Sure, kiddo. Keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better.”

Stiles honestly can’t figure out what he has done in his life to deserve such rude treatment. From his own father of all people! His jaw drops in wounded shock before he finds a suitable retort.

“Get that smug look off your face, it’s not sexy.”

“Melissa seems to think differently,” John grins and looks down at his paperwork again, clearly dismissing Stiles.

“Oh my god, ew, shut up, I’m leaving, Jesus!”

 

 

Jordan drives them up to the preserve after Stiles has changed into his uniform. Jordan tells him about his uneventful shift and they tease and joke, up until they pull off on the smaller road leading into the woods. The tension grows within the car and Stiles double-checks that the small canister of mountain ash is safely secured to his belt. It’s been years since something truly went down in the woods, but they’ve both learnt the hard way to never let their guard down when being enveloped by the trees.

Jordan parks and Stiles swallows hard before getting out. Even though the early morning seems calm enough, Stiles won’t relax. He can still feel its presence. The nemeton. Sometimes it’s just a low humming beneath his skin, easy to ignore. Sometimes it’s more insistent, like a vicious tugging on his heart that he refuses to listen to.

Jordan shoots him a glance.

“You okay?”

“Fine,” Stiles insists truthfully. “It’s not bad today.”

A playful mist curls over the forest floor to the right and Stiles takes the lead around it, keeping a safe distance and never looking at it for too long, knowing that if he did he would glimpse the mischievous faces and shimmering locks of the dancing sprites. They’ve come to an agreement years ago, but Stiles figures it’s better to be safe than sorry and he’d rather not get those boils again.

Jordan and Stiles keep quiet as they move through the forest, listening after anything that could indicate where these “weird people” might have gone. It’s probably just some rowdy kids. Most of the time it is. Then again, sometimes it isn’t and that’s why Jordan and Stiles are the ones getting the bottoms of their trousers wet in the dewy grass and not any of the other deputies. Deaths within the Beacon County Sheriff’s Department has dropped rapidly ever since they got into that routine.

They must have trudged through the woods for fifteen minutes before they hear the voices. Stiles halts and listens carefully, but he can’t make out the words yet. He looks to Jordan, who nods up ahead and Stiles continues walking, now extra careful to keep quiet.

The voices sound confused, bordering on panicked. Definitely young. Kids, Stiles thinks. Called it. He knows that there’s a clearing up ahead, they’re probably there.

“... gone? What do you mean he’s gone?”

“I dunno, he went that way!”

“And you just let him?”

“She was hot, okay?!”

Stiles and Jordan are covered by the foliage and the kids, two girls and a boy, are arguing in the middle of the clearing, four sleeping bags spread in a disarray on the ground around a since long put out fire.

“Uh, NO, it’s not okay!”

“Oh my god, get off my back, he’s fine, he’s just getting laid!”

Stiles rolls his eyes and with a nod from Jordan they step into the clearing.

“Well, hello-”

“Oh officers, thank god you’re here!” One of the girls exclaim, the one that had been speaking judging from the frankly terrified look the boy throws her way. “Our friend is missing and this idiot just let him walk off on his own while we were sleeping and-”

“He wasn’t on his own, alright!” The boy interjects in an attempt to defend himself. “There was this girl and-!”

“Okay, okay, calm down, everyone,” Jordan says gently and the kids fall quiet. “We’ll find your friend, but we need to start at the beginning. What are you guys doing out here?”

Stiles lets Jordan do the talking, that sweet handsome face always charms the witnesses, while he pokes around.

“We’re seniors at Beacon Hills High and all the seniors are in on this competition,” the girl who up until then had been quiet says. “We’ve got a list of stuff to do and they’re worth points and the team that wins gets a special prize. Sleeping one night in the preserve gives the most points.”

Stiles bites down on his lip to keep in the fucking morons that wants to roll off of his tongue. The clearing is seemingly undisturbed apart from the kids’ sleeping bags and empty chips bags. There’s no sign of a struggle in the clearing or right outside of it.

“... there was this girl though, or woman really, she just showed up and we hung out for a bit and she seemed really into Oliver…”

A tiny bird chirps from a branch, a tickling noise like laughter. Stiles narrows his eyes at its brown head and gray wings tinted with orange. It looks right back at him and he knows with certainty what has happened. He swirls around towards the kids, who all jump in surprise.

“Pretty short, like super long hair and cute as fu- frick, right?” He asks and Jordan looks at him knowingly.

“R-right…” the boy admits with uncertainty. “Wait, how did you know that?”

“We’ve met before,” Stiles says. “Okay, kiddos, pack up your stuff. Parrish here is going to take you guys back to our car and I’ll go find your friend. Come on, hurry up.”

The kids skitter into motion, gathering up their shit and Jordan steps closer to him, concern marring his face.

“Stiles,” he starts.

“I’ve dealt with her before, I’ll deal with her again, it’s cool,” Stiles replies with as much conviction as he can muster up. “Get them to safety. I’ll scream if I need back-up.”

“Seriously, Stiles.”

“Come on, it’s going to be fine. She likes me.”

Jordan hesitates, but the kids are almost done packing and he knows that they need to get moving.

“Fine. But I’m calling backup and as soon as they arrive, I’m coming after you, okay?”

“Deal,” Stiles grins.

They shake on it before Jordan turns to the kids to usher them out of the clearing. Stiles watches them go before he turns to the bird, still perching on the same branch and watching him quietly.

“Okay, asshole, I know you’re her spy. Where did she take him?” He asks.

The bird looks decidedly unimpressed with him and he knows it won’t show him the way, but it might give him a hint. Sure enough, it takes off to disappear through a particularly thick set of bushes and when Stiles goes the same way, he finds the leaves and grass disturbed.

His heartbeat quickens marginally with every step. He’s not scared. Lord knows he has dealt with worse. The humming beneath his skin intensifies and he knows that she has taken the poor kid deeper into the woods, closer to the nemeton. He remembers the path he’s on from the time she took Liam and knows where she is before he hears her soft, sweet whispers.

The mistress of the forest looks up from straddling Oliver’s thighs when Stiles breaks through the tree line, her smile dimming slightly at the sight of him.

He stops and gestures towards the boy, eyebrows raised.

“What the actual fuck, Huldra?” He exclaims accusingly. “We talked about this! Only 60+ and certified assholes. This is a child.”

Huldra has the audacity to actually roll her eyes at him. When she releases the grip on Oliver’s shirt his torso sinks to the ground and his head lolls to the side, the stupidest, most lovesick grin on his face.

“Oh come on, deputy, you’re no fun,” she whines in her soft, sing-song voice. Her long, blonde hair falls in front of her face and exposed breasts as she caresses Oliver’s cheek lovingly. “I’m tired of old men. And look how cute he is.”

Stiles steps closer to peer down at the kid. Still breathing, at least. From this view he can see the murken wood of Huldra’s back.

“Did he tell you his name?”

“Oliver,” she says and smirks up at Stiles.

Well, fuck.

“Huldra, you know I don’t want to kill you, but if you don’t let go of that boy right now I won’t have a choice.”

“Oh, please, you don’t know how,” she says, her voice now tinged with mild annoyance, and gets to her feet, suddenly advancing on him and Stiles stumbles back.

“Don’t sass me, young lady,” Stiles fires back and that makes her crackle, all of that sweetness gone in an instant.

“Young lady? Young lady? How dare you, I’ve been here since the first seed of this forest touched the ground, and you-!”

Stiles aim has never been any good, but when he tosses the canister of mountain ash and believes that it will find its mark, believes with all of his heart, it explodes over Oliver’s limp body and cascades over him in a perfect circle. Stiles stares. Huldra stares.

“What… what did you do?” She asks, turns her back to Stiles to reach for Oliver, but as her fingertips brushes against the barrier she jumps back with an angry shriek. “No! NO! He’s mine!”

“Nope, sorry, now you can’t get to him,” Stiles pipes up and she swirls towards him, her face contorted with anger.

Well, double fuck. He should have thought this one through a second time. Huldra might not be able to get to the kid, but she could still get to Stiles.

Stiles would like to say that it’s the first time he’s been running through the woods, hunted by a lethal naked lady, but then he would be lying. Branches and bushes tear at his clothes and bare arms and his shoes are completely soaked through by now, but she’s hot on his heels and he can’t stop.

“Parrish!” He yells, as loud as he can while pretty much not being able to breathe. “PARRISH! SOME HELLFIRE, PLEASE!”

If you can’t outwit the mistress of the forest, fire is the only way to scare her off. Somehow he doubts that the lighter in his pocket would make any difference, but a hellhound might.

“PARR- oof!” A tree root that hadn’t been there half a second ago reaches up to curl around his foot and Stiles crashes to the ground, teeth clacking together and tasting blood. He tries to scramble to his feet, to get away, just a little further. Huldra is already there though and her face is smooth and sweet again, knowing that she’s caught her prey.

“Shame,” she sighs. “I liked you. Why won’t you just tell me your name? I promise to treat you well.”

Stiles is about to throw back a retort, but it drowns in the roar echoing through the trees. Jordan, skin black and crackled and entire form on fire, comes into view like the beautiful, hellsent angel he is.

“Oh, thank fuck,” Stiles gasps and lets his head drop to the wet ground in relief.

He doesn’t look, but he hears when Jordan’s hellfire connects with Huldra’s skin, he hears her agonized shriek and the sizzling of magic on fire, feels the buzzing of the nemeton under his skin and the pull on his heart and-

Silence. Absolute silence.

Stiles opens his eyes to get an eyeful of Jordan’s junk. Saying that was the first time would be a lie as well. He looks up to meet Jordan’s furrowed eyebrows and pouting lips.

“What?” Stiles exclaims faintly, out of breath.

“Seriously, Stiles?” Jordan replies, unimpressed.

“What, I told you I would scream if I needed you. Which I did.”

Jordan just glares.

“Oh my god, you’re always so dramatic,” Stiles complains as he climbs to his feet. “Come on, we better get the kid before she comes back.”

“You know your dad is on me about the costs of my uniforms,” Jordan complains sullenly as they trudge back through the woods.

“Blame me, he’ll get over it. You know, we really should get on with making that Hellhound supersuit. You can wear it under your uniform and just rip the uniform off before you go a’ blazing.”

“Well, when you pull shit like this I don’t really have time to undress.”

They squabble all the way to Oliver, who is still unconscious, but breathing and furthermore, completely safe within in the mountain ash circle. Stiles lets out a relieved sigh and breaks the circle, allowing Jordan to help the kid up.

“Is he going to be okay?” Jordan asks, frowning at Oliver’s silly grin.

“Oh yeah. We just gotta get him to the car and drug him up a bit. She got his name, so we’ve got to break the spell. Maybe something amnesia inducing as well. I dunno, I’ll cook something up from my stash.”

It takes them a while to carry Oliver back to the cruiser, where the Sheriff waits with Oliver’s friends safely tucked away in his cruiser. The Sheriff rolls his eyes at the sight of Jordan’s naked body and Jordan glares at Stiles in return. Together they manage to get Oliver into the empty cruiser while the sheriff keeps his friends occupied. Jordan goes to fetch himself a new set of clothes in the truck and brings Stiles his bag.

“Hey, Oliver,” Stiles says, giving him a light slap. “Time to wake up, buddy.”

Seemingly reluctantly, the kid finally opens his eyes, blinking at Stiles in confusion.

“Where… where is she?” He mumbles softly, sounding suspiciously like Scott did at 16 when he spoke of Allison.

“Oh, you weren’t feeling well so she took you to us so we could help you,” Stiles rambles while digging through his bag until he finds the correct concoction. Spurge laurel and valerian. Bingo.

“She’s so sweet. I love her.”

“Yeah, she’s a real doll. Okay, open up, this is going to make you as good as new.”

Oliver thankfully opens his lips and Stiles pours a couple of drops of the brew into his mouth. Oliver coughs at the burning sensation and the next second Stiles’ meets his eyes they look far brighter and clearer. The lovesick look is gone. Pleased with himself, he brings the next vial to Oliver’s lips.

“Drink up. You’ll feel better.”

He gives Oliver a pat on the knee before grabbing three more vials and walks over to his dad.

“You alright, kid?” John asks, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You’re looking a bit pale. And bruised.”

“I’m fine. Took a nosedive. They better drink these.”

John eyes the vials and nods.

“Good. Is he going to be okay?”

“Yeah, he won’t remember a thing.”

“Good, good. Drive him home, will you? I’ll take care of these guys.”

“Gotcha, pops.”

By the time Stiles and Jordan drop off Oliver at home, he firmly believes that he and his friends had a fun night in the preserve, but got caught and brought home by the Sheriff’s Department. None of the kids remember ever having met Huldra.

 

 

Stiles actually gets off work at a decent hour that evening. He thinks his dad pities him and his split bottom lip. He makes his way home and it feels as if the stairs are actually killing him. He probably got some bruises after that crash. He walks through the door, tosses the keys and completely misses the bowl, locks away the badge and gun and drops down on the couch with a wounded old man grunt. He knows he’s been through worse, much worse, but that still doesn’t prevent him from feeling like absolute crap.

His stomach growls but the mere idea of getting off the couch right now makes him ache. After seconds of deliberation he decides to order in. Because he’s worth it. With a lot of wriggling he manages to fish his phone out of his pocket and blinks in surprise as the screen lights up with a notification.

Tinder [02:10pm]
Derek has sent you a message!

Stiles finds himself smiling. He can’t believe he saw Derek this morning. It feels like forever ago now. Stiles is surprised by how desperately he wants Derek here with him right this second.

Nah. That’s a lie. He’s not surprised at all.

From Derek [02:10pm]
It was nice catching up with you.

Stiles props his feet up on the coffee table and scoots down on the couch until he’s comfortable, his eyes never leaving the phone screen. He knows his silly grin looks stupid, but he can’t help it.

To Derek [03:55pm]
Couldn’t even keep away for twelve hours, could you? Always knew I was irresistable. 

To Derek [03:55]
But you know, same. 

He can picture Derek picking up his phone and reading Stiles’ message, can picture his reaction - a violent eyeroll. He likes to picture the eyeroll followed by one of those soft smiles. He hopes it is. Stiles isn’t expecting his phone to buzz with a notification right away.

From Derek [03:56pm]
You’re something alright. 

From Derek [03:56pm]
Are you off work? 

To Derek [03:56pm]
Yup. Just got home. Daddy-o probs felt sorry for me. 

From Derek [03:57pm]
Why would he feel sorry for you? 

To Derek [03:57pm]
That thing I was called in for this morning was a mistress of the forest. She had taken some high school kid. Didn’t like it when I took him back. 

From Derek [03:58pm]
Are you alright? 

To Derek [03:58pm]
I’m good. Just some bruises and a split lip.  

To Derek [03:58pm]
Have decided to never leave my couch ever again. 

From Derek [03:59pm]
Good call. You’ll only get yourself into trouble. 

To Derek [03:59pm]
Lol you’re the one to talk, Trouble McTroubleson 

From Derek [04:00pm]
“Lol”? Really, Stiles?  

To Derek [04:00pm]
Hey, I’m still below 30, I’m allowed, old man 

To Derek [04:01pm]
Ugh, I was gonna order in, but I’m dreading the moment the delivery guy gets here and I have to get off the couch. And paying. I like my money.

To Derek [04:01pm]
i’m huuuuuuurting :(

To Derek [04:01pm]
Ok it’s not too bad but still 

Derek doesn’t immediately reply and Stiles figures he got bored of Stiles’ whining. Stiles opens up his contacts to flick through the different numbers, trying to decide if he wants Indian or Thai. He doesn’t truly want any of it, he just wants like… something with potatoes or like soup or whatever, but that would mean having to go to the grocery store and he’s just not about that life right now.

From Derek [04:11pm]
Want me to bring something over? 

Uh. What? 

From Derek [04:11pm]
You would still have to open the door, but you wouldn’t have to pay for it. You took the bill this morning after all. 

Stiles stares at his phone, trying to make sense of the words. Derek Hale wanted to bring him food? Derek Hale wanted to bring him food?  

To Derek [04:12pm]
uh YEAH 

From Derek [04:12pm]
What do you want? 

You and everything you have to offer. 

To Derek [04:12pm]
Whatever is fine. But like potatoes. Or soup. Or potato soup. I dunno, surprise me. 

From Derek [04:12pm]
I’ll try.

Jeez, he didn’t even have to try, he had already done it.

 

 

Stiles must have dozed off, because he’s jolted awake by three short knocks on the door. He rolls off of the couch and drags himself to the door to push it open. Derek’s there, looking as gorgeous as ever with a bag of groceries. Stiles’ mouth drops open. 

“Are you actually going to cook?” He exclaims. 

Derek cocks one eyebrow in what Stiles can only describe as judgmental bewilderment.

“Yes? Is that a problem?”

“No, no, I just didn’t know that you did that sort of thing.”

Derek rolls his eyes and tries to step past him and into the loft, but comes to an immediate stop when he attempts to cross the threshold.

“Wha-” Derek starts, frowning, before he catches Stiles’ smug grin.

“Protective ward, baby. You can’t cross unless I invite you.”

“Magic?” Derek asks and Stiles can hear the impressed wonder in his voice. Stiles tries not to preen.

“Just a little,” he shrugs nonchalantly with twinkling eyes. “But by all means, step right in.”

Derek hesitates, but tries again and this time he steps through the door. He doesn’t make it very far Stiles notices after he has pulled the door shut and turns around, nearly walking straight into Derek’s back.

Oh, right. The loft is looking a little different from the last time Derek saw it.

“Is it weird?” Stiles asks. “Being back here?”

Derek’s eyes sweep over the couch and the pillows and blankets Lydia helped Stiles pick out, the stained coffee table, the large bookcase and the countless of plants that completely overpowers the room.

“A little,” he admits and he looks to Stiles. “But I like what you’ve done with it.”

“Yeah?”

Derek nods and there’s that little soft smile that Stiles can’t get enough of. Stiles gestures for Derek to take the lead to the kitchen, which he does and puts the grocery bag down on the kitchen island. While unpacking the bag he glances at Stiles.

“You can go change if you want,” he says and Stiles is instantly reminded of that he’s still wearing his uniform, dirty from his rumble through the woods.

“Uh, yeah, good idea. I might shower?”

“That’s fine. I’ll get things started.”

It feels a little odd to leave Derek alone in the kitchen, unpacking the groceries and probably rummaging around Stiles’ cabinets and who knows what Derek will find in there? It feels odd to undress while knowing that Derek is so close by, that Derek can hear him get out of his clothes and turn on the shower. It doesn’t feel wrong though.

Stiles steps under the hot spray and hisses a little as the water hits the sore scrapes on his arms. Maybe Derek hears that too. Or how Stiles’ heart beats harder in his chest just by thinking of Derek hearing his every move. Thank god that there’s no way that he can know that Stiles’ skin flushes bright red when thinking of him.

Stiles has to put on the cold water before he gets out of the shower.

By the time Stiles joins Derek in the kitchen there’s two saucepans on the stove, the oven is preheating and Derek is chopping onions. All of the ingredients are spread out on the kitchen island, potatoes and stacks of fresh herbs, cans of coconut milk and chickpeas, jars of different spices next to a loaf of bread and Derek looks up as he enters the room. He doesn’t quite smile, but it’s a close call.

“Feeling better?” He asks, turning around smoothly with the cutting board to dump the finely chopped onion into one of the saucepans. A sizzling noise erupts as it hits the hot oil and the air fills with a mouthwatering aroma.

“Still aching, but at least I’m relatively clean now,” Stiles replies. “Is there anything I can help with?”

“I thought you were never going to move again?” Derek teases as he returns to the kitchen island with the cutting board to chop up the vibrantly green herbs. Stiles spots parsley, basil and oregano.

“Eh, I changed my mind,” Stiles says with a shrug.

Stiles could have sworn that Derek almost chuckled.

“It’s alright, there’s not much to do. You can just sit down.”

Stiles hesitates, but Derek seems sure, so Stiles jumps up on his regular spot on the counter to watch Derek flutter about his kitchen. It’s a surreal sight. Stiles likes it.

“Sooo… What did you do today?” He asks while Derek’s back is turned to him and he doesn’t let his eyes linger on Derek’s exposed arms or the space between his shoulder blades, the space where Stiles knows that Derek’s tattoo hides beneath his shirt.

“Had a meeting with county,” Derek replies. “Made them an offer. They’re going to draw up a contract.”

“Wait, really? That’s great, Derek.”

“Yeah."

Stiles can’t see his face, but he can hear the happiness in his voice. He likes hearing it.

Stiles interrogates Derek thoroughly while Derek cooks, about the deal with the county, dirty details on Cora and Isaac, of where he acquired his cooking skills. Derek humors him. He doesn’t hold his words, he doesn’t keep secrets. It’s the most arousing experience Stiles has ever been through.

There’s a curry stew puttering on the stove and garlic bread yummifying in the oven by the time Derek slows to a stop and leans back against the counter next to Stiles.

“And now we wait,” he explains, arms crossed over his chest.

Stiles does not stare.

“Now we wait,” he agrees and start to smile, but… “Ouch, fuck!”

Right. Split lip. He brings his hand up to gingerly touch his aching lip. At least it’s not bleeding. When he looks up again, Derek is watching him carefully.

“That looks painful,” he said, a frown on his face and he raises his hand as if to touch. “Can I?”

Can he what? It doesn’t matter, Stiles nods anyway.

The first touch of Derek’s thumb to Stiles’ slightly swollen bottom lip stings, but is soothed by the rest of Derek’s hand carefully cupping Stiles’ cheek. Stiles doesn’t dare to breathe. Derek’s eyes are firmly on Stiles’ lips.

He doesn’t feel it at first. The absence of pain. It starts out gentle, pulling away the initial burn of Stiles’ bruised skin, but it spreads from his lip to his neck and back, reaches every fingertip and runs through his knees to his feet. It digs into muscle, loosens knots and envelops his joints, dragging the ache out to disappear into his bloodstream. The veins on Derek’s wrist pulsates with black pain.

Stiles’ deflates with a shuddering gasp, his eyelids fluttering shut as the tension is drained from his body. Everything calms but his heart.

Because Derek doesn’t need to touch his lip to draw the pain from it. Stiles knows that. Derek knows that. Derek knows that Stiles knows. And yet.

Fuck, his heart hurts. Despite Derek leaching the pain away, it won’t stop thundering in his chest, it won’t stop aching, yearning. It must be as loud in Derek’s ears as in Stiles’.

Derek’s fingers flutter against Stiles’ jaw.

“You must know,” Stiles murmurs and his voice is hoarse, vulnerable like it might crack.

Derek clears his throat.

“I know,” he confesses quietly.

“For how long?”

“Since… since the possession.”

Stiles might laugh. He doesn’t.

“Then you’ve known for longer than I have,” he croaks and Derek’s hand leaves Stiles’ lip to settle on the back of Stiles’ neck. Steadying him. “Why haven’t you done anything about it?”

“Why haven’t you?” Derek wonders.

“I didn’t get it. Not until it was too late. And you left. Since then I’ve been waiting for you.”

Derek’s fingers are warm around Stiles’ as he brings it to rest over his chest. Derek’s heartbeat is a nervous pitter-patter, not unlike Stiles’. Stiles’ eyes flicker up to meet Derek’s.

“God, Stiles,” Derek exclaims breathlessly and he looks as if he aches as much as Stiles. So Stiles lets his hand bunch in Derek’s shirt to pull him in, to wrap him up in his arms, to feel him flush against his body and his hair against his lips, his scent heavy and intoxicating in his nose. Derek replies in kind, his fingers digging into Stiles’ back and his ragged breath brushing the sensitive skin of Stiles neck.

They hold each other and the ache stops.

 

 

They eat the curry stew in bowls, side by side on the couch, their shoulders pressed together. Stiles laptop is set up on the coffee table playing the first documentary Stiles’ had seen when opening Netflix. Stiles thinks it has something to do with the secrets of MI6, but he’s honestly more focused on how solid Derek’s thigh feels against his.

“This is delicious,” Stiles says, dipping a slice of the garlic bread in the stew.

“I’m glad you like it,” Derek replies with a smile.

“Pretty good interpretation of my vague request of potatoes and soup.”

Derek snorts.

“Well, I tried my best.”

“Good job. Although, I’m gonna get garlic breath now. Could be kind of awkward when I try to kiss you later,” Stiles confesses and stares resolutely at the laptop. He can still feel Derek’s eyes on him.

“I’ve suffered through worse,” Derek eventually replies and Stiles can hear him smiling.

 

 

It’s dark by the time Derek gets off the couch to bring their plates back to to the kitchen.

“I should probably get going,” he says.

Stiles wants to ask him to stay, wonders if Derek wants him to ask him to stay. He pushes off the couch as well.

“You don’t have to,” he manages after gathering up some courage.

Derek ducks his head and smiles and Stiles is so goddamn smitten, it’s insane.

“I have an early morning tomorrow,” Derek says and he sounds apologetic, as if he truly wants to stay. Stiles supposes that’s enough for now.

They load the dishwasher together and then Stiles follows Derek to the door. Derek shrugs into his leather jacket while Stiles pulls the door open. He’s leaning against the doorjamb when Derek looks up, ready to go. Their eyes meet and Stiles could swear that Derek’s cheeks are pinker than usual. It’s enough for Stiles to reach forwards and gently coax Derek closer by grasping the lapels of his jacket.

“I did say that I would try,” he murmurs.

“You did,” Derek agrees quietly.

He has imagined kissing Derek a thousand times. Has imagined being kissed by Derek a thousand times more. He has thought of Derek pushing him up against the wall and just taking since he was 16, frantic and violent. Then it was pure attraction and arousal, a fantasy of someone older, someone hot and dangerous with a cool car. By the time Stiles reached his twenties the imagined touches turned lingering, but none the less passionate and rough. The older he became, the more reluctant he was to admit who he was thinking of during lonely nights while he touched himself.

There’s nothing rough or frantic about the way Derek folds his hands around Stiles’ hips, or the way his eyes flutter between meeting Stiles’ gaze and dropping to Stiles’ parted lips. There’s actually something decidedly uncool about how hot Derek’s flushed skin is beneath Stiles’ fingertips as he drags them across Derek’s cheek and neck. Emboldened by Derek’s apparent nerves, Stiles leans forwards and brushes his lips against Derek’s. It’s a light, soft touch and he’s mindful of his bruised lip, but it still kicks his heart into overdrive. Derek’s response is to release a heavy breath, his shoulders sagging as the tension leaves with it and his hands tighten a fraction on Stiles’ hips.

It might look chaste and sweet, but it’s probably the most intense kiss Stiles has ever experienced. Including the kiss of death he received from a rather feisty water sprite a few years ago. It’s the kind of kiss that makes you lose track of time and space and Stiles wants to wallow in it, in Derek’s warmth and scent. Even in the sensation of his prickly beard.

“You better go,” Stiles murmurs eventually. “Before I convince you to stay.”

“Wouldn’t be too difficult,” Derek admits and a tiny, whining noise escapes Stiles before he puts his hands on Derek’s shoulders to gently push him back a step.

“Yep, you’ve gotta skedaddle, right now. Shoo!”

Derek laughs and ducks back in to steal another brief kiss before he steps back.

“Bye, Stiles,” he says with a final glance over his shoulder and then he disappears down the stairs.

“Bye, Derek.”

When Stiles goes to bed that night, with Derek’s new number safely programmed into his phone, he deletes Tinder.

 

 

“Ah, there it is,” John comments as he passes Stiles’ desk.

Stiles looks up in confusion, his mind having been buried in the tedious paperwork scattered across the desk in front of him.

“Huh?”

“That dumb smile. You’re wearing it. Again,” John informs him.

Stiles could try to deny it, but hell, he can’t. His cheeks are actually hurting from all the unconscious smiling he’s been up to during the last twelve hours.

“Yeah, yeah, you were right,” Stiles sighs in mock defeat, leaning back in his chair. “I was wearing my spiffiest pants for Derek Hale. This dumb smile is his doing. Last night I smooched the fuck out of him. And if you don’t get off my back about this, I will tell you all of my deepest, darkest, dirtiest fantasies about him, all of which I intend to make into reality. Capisce, pops?”

John looks equal parts disgusted and impressed.

“Well played,” he says. “Let’s agree to never speak of this again.”

Stiles gives his dad both a wink and two finger guns. John shakes his head in amusement and makes his way over to his office. He pauses in the door opening.

“Stiles?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m happy for you.”

Yep, the dumb smile is back in full force.

“Thanks, dad.”

 

 

Stiles drives by the animal clinic after work. It’s almost closing time and the last happy pet owner is making their way out the door when Stiles has parked the cruiser. Scott is in the doorway, waving them off.

“Bye, Mrs. Peters! Bye, Lady Fluffington!”

How Scott manages all of those pet names without completely cracking up is beyond Stiles. It must show on his face as he approaches Scott, because he grins knowingly when he pulls Stiles in for a bro hug.

“Not a word,” Scott says and Stiles laughs.

“I didn’t say anything!” Stiles exclaims in his own defence.

“She goes by Lady Fluff for short.”

That’s it. Stiles cracks.

Scott locks the door and turns off the lights as they make their way into the back, giggling helplessly. They have a routine down by now, whenever Stiles manages to stop by during closing time. It has become somewhat of a tradition and Stiles tries to find time at least once a week. He does the sweeping and disinfecting of the examination table while Scott feeds the animals that are staying the night for observation. Scott’s co-worker Marigold shows up an hour or so after closing time to take the night shift.

“How’s Kira?” Stiles asks while he rummages around the dark closet for the broomstick.

“She’s alright,” Scott replies as he props open the door leading to the backroom, so they can talk freely. “A bit stressed with all the stuff that needs grading before the seniors graduate.”

“Yeah, I get that. Sounds tough.”

“Yeah. Hey, did you know that Der-”

“Derek is back in town and we matched on Tinder and we went for pizza in the middle of the night and I realized that I’m in love with him and we kissed and I think he’s the one, Scott, I really do, I’ve never felt anything like this before, is this normal?”

It all comes out in a rush and he gasps for breath afterwards, clutching the broomstick close to his heaving chest. Scott pops his head through the door, mouth agape as he stares. He begins to form a word, but then stops, thinks, tries again, but no.

“Wait. Derek has Tinder?” Scott eventually settles on and it’s Stiles time to gape.

“That’s what you got from all of that?”

“What? It was a lot of shocking information, I had to settle on something.”

“Uh, could you maybe focus on the other parts? Like the fact that we kissed and it was amazing and I want to do it for the rest of my life?”

Scott has the nerve, the gall, to chuckle. Stiles throws his hands up in exasperation and then fumbles to catch the broomstick before it falls to the ground.

“Dude, I’m pretty sure you’ve loved him since you were like, 17. At least. And he’s been gone on you since forever.”

“Wha- how? How does everyone know this? I didn’t get it back then, how could you get it?”

“I dunno, you’re pretty slow sometimes,” Scott teases.

“Haha. Very funny.”

Scott preens as if Stiles wasn’t sarcastic as fuck.

“He used to look at you sometimes,” Scott offers as an olive branch. “Like… like he was fascinated, or something? And his heart always started beating faster whenever you were nearby.”

Stiles eyebrows practically shoots through the roof.

“What?”

“True story.”

“And you didn’t think to tell me this? The fuck, Scott?”

“Figured it wasn’t really my place to tell.”

Scott is right, of course. It wasn’t. God knows that Derek has had more than a few decisions ripped from him. Some by Scott himself. Stiles can understand that Scott didn’t want to cause any more damage.

“Yeah,” Stiles sighs and slumps down in the nearest chair.

“But he’s back now,” Scott says with a smile. “And you guys kissed.”

“We did,” Stiles says and dammit, there’s the dumb smile again.

“That’s great, dude.”

“Yeah. I think it is.”

 

 

Stiles goes for a run around his usual trail. It’s rare that he goes for late runs like this one, but the sun hasn’t set yet and he’s feeling restless. That werewolf mojo had done wonders for him and it has never been easier to push himself to take longer, faster strides. He’s worked up a sweat by the time he reaches the point where his trail twists, to take him out to the edges of the woods again. That’s when he sees the dark shadow in the corner of his eye. His heart trips over the next beat and a rush of adrenaline makes his next steps wobbly.

He cries out in horror when a large, black wolf skids out on the trail right in front of him. Its eyes flashes blue.

“Oh my god, Derek! Don’t fucking do that, you nearly gave me a heartattack!” Stiles exclaims, hand over his racing heart.

The wolf, Derek, doesn’t look the least bit sorry.

“Asshole,” Stiles grumbles. “You enjoyed that, I just know it.”

He had forgotten how impressive Derek is in his wolf form. Sure, he had only caught a glimpse of him that time in Mexico, but it was a sight you didn’t easily forget. Despite this, the details of his black, shiny coat and the intensity of his eyes had escaped Stiles’ mind.

“I’ll race ya?” Stiles suggests and Derek honest to god skips in excitement. It’s the cutest, most ridiculous thing Stiles has ever seen.

He’s no match for Derek, of course. Derek basically bounces in circles around him, brushing against his legs and in a particularly dickish move, presses his cold snout into the hollow of Stiles’ knee, almost tripping him. Stiles shouts curses after him all the way home.

“I don’t even know why I like you,” Stiles mutters as they take the stairs up to the loft.

Derek butts his head against Stiles’ thigh.

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles agrees, running his fingers through the smooth fur of Derek’s neck. “I’m lying, I know.” He does know why he likes Derek.

The last light of the day paints the loft in warm hues of pink and orange, the plants casting odd looking shadows across the floor. Stiles slides the door shut behind them.

“I’ll find you some clothes,” he says and jogs up the stairs to the bedroom to dig through his drawers. He comes up with his largest pair of sweatpants and an old BCSD t-shirt. He grabs some clean sweats for himself before joining Derek downstairs again.

Derek looks quite comical where he sits, like a huge dog, waiting in the middle of the room.

“This was the biggest size I could find,” Stiles explains and puts the clothes on the floor next to Derek. “I’ll go take a shower. Make yourself at home.”

He hears Derek’s shift before he’s even out the room, but resolutely does not look back.

 

 

Derek’s rummaging through the kitchen by the time Stiles gets out of the bathroom, squeaky clean. The BCSD t-shirt hangs surprisingly loose over his shoulders.

“I wasn’t sure that one would fit,” Stiles muses, hopping onto the counter.

“Hmm? Oh. You’ve bulked up,” Derek says matter of factly, head in the fridge, as if he had not even thought about it. Stiles doesn’t know why that makes his cheeks heat up.

“I guess,” he shrugs awkwardly, scratching at the back of his neck.

Derek looks up then and Stiles grows even hotter beneath his gaze.

“There’s no guessing. You have.”

Thing is, Stiles knows he’s in the best shape of his life. He just didn’t think that anyone else would look hard enough to notice.

“So, uhm… do you like it?” He asks carefully, eyes on his feet which are dangling off the counter.

He hears Derek close the fridge and step close. Derek brings his hand to Stiles cheek and he can’t help pressing into the touch.

“I’ve liked every version of you I’ve ever met. This one is no exception.” 

Stiles hazards meeting Derek’s eyes. The intensity of his gaze nearly makes Stiles squirm. It makes heat pool in the pit of his stomach.

“Who knew Derek Hale could be such a sweet talker?” Stiles murmurs, a shy smile gracing his lips.

“You have no idea,” Derek replies with an amused smirk. “How’s your lip?”

“Much better.”

“Good.”

The kiss is careful nonetheless, a soft brush of Derek’s lips against Stiles’. It’s still enough to make Stiles melt into it, reaching up to steady himself with his arms resting on top of Derek’s shoulders, his right hand settling on the back of Derek’s neck while the other takes a solid hold of the back of his shirt. Derek falls easily between Stiles’ spread legs and it sends an electric pulse of arousal through Stiles’ body.

Derek chuckles knowingly against Stiles’ lips.

“Oh, shut up,” Stiles mutters. “That’s classified intel, turn off your nose. And ears.”

“I can actually taste it as well,” Derek replies with amusement.

“You’re lying.”

“Hm, no, I’m not,” Derek argues and his lips drift down Stiles’ jaw and throat, leaving Stiles’ skin tingling in their wake. “I can taste it here, and here…”

As Derek gently pushes the collar of Stiles’ shirt aside to trail kisses along Stiles’ clavicle, Stiles starts to believe him. Every touch of his lips makes Stiles’ skin bloom a vibrant pink, makes Stiles’ arousal surge to the surface.

Stiles wonders what his arousal tastes like when it spreads on Derek’s tongue.

Derek’s hands, large and warm, touch Stiles’ knees and run up his thighs. It drags a whine from Stiles’ parted lips.

“Is this alright?” Derek asks, his hot breath and burning lips brushing against Stiles’ ear.

“Yeah,” Stiles hurriedly assures him. “Yes, definitely, more than alright.”

Stiles is convinced that he actually dies the second Derek cups him through his sweatpants. Because there’s no way this is real. There’s no way that he’s sitting on his kitchen counter drowning in the pinks and oranges of the dying sun while he shamelessly ruts against the palm of Derek’s hand.

He’s dead.

Or dreaming.

Or both.

He tries to count his fingers, those buried in Derek’s hair, those gripping Derek’s shirt but his mind won’t cooperate, can’t focus on anything but the overwhelming heat of Derek against him.

“Fuck, Derek,” he gasps weakly, the back of his head hitting the cabinet behind him.

Derek’s hands are fumbling with the drawstring of Stiles’ sweatpants and Stiles scrambles to help as soon as he figures out what’s happening. Thank fuck he opted out of underwear, he thinks as the sweatpants bunches around his ankles. Thank fuck he’s alive, he thinks when Derek takes his cock into his mouth.

 

 

Derek makes them the most luxurious looking grilled cheese sandwiches Stiles has ever seen and they eat them on the couch as the last rays of daylight fades and the loft is plunged into darkness. 

They trade secrets and when they run out of those, they trade kisses.

They sleep entangled with each other underneath the same blanket, Derek’s head on Stiles’ chest.

They wake hard and wanting. Stiles makes a mad dash up the stairs to fetch lube and nearly brains himself on the railing on his way down. It takes forever to get Derek to stop laughing and just fuck him already.

Stiles feels the morning sun on his back as he sinks down onto Derek’s cock. He sees it glimmering in Derek’s eyes before he bends to lick and nip at Derek’s exposed throat. He trembles helplessly in it afterwards as they try to catch their breaths in each others’ mouths.

They fall asleep again and don’t wake until Stiles’ phone goes off.

“Work?” Derek grumbles sleepily without opening his eyes.

“Work,” Stiles mutters hoarsely.

It takes them far too long to disentangle. Stiles should shower alone, but he doesn’t. There’s a couple of missed calls on his phone when he’s finally wrangled himself into his uniform. He shoots off a text to his dad, assuring him that he’s on his way. When he looks up, Derek is hovering uncertainly by the door.

“Stay,” Stiles says, firmer than he intends. “I mean. You don’t have to go back to the hotel. You could stay. Here. I’m cheaper.”

Derek ducks his head and smiles.

“Okay. I’ll stay.”

Stiles wears his dumb smile proudly all day.

 

~:~

 

Stiles doesn’t want to work another day in his life. He never wants to lift a finger again. He sits in his cruiser in the parking lot outside the loft and stares out at the heavy downpour. Great. It feels as if it’s been raining through the entirety of August. He’s going to get soaked, even though he parked as close to the door as he possibly could. Stiles sighs, grits his teeth and kicks the car door open. He takes off in a sprint and grimaces as it pulls on his bruised hip. Mr. Miller had had another violent episode in traffic and managed to land a kick before Parrish subdued him.

Water drips from his hair and clothes all the way up the one hundred and twenty steps. His shoes make a squishy, moist noise upon impact with the floor. He unlocks the door and slides it open, shivering at the familiar sensation of magic running down his spine as he’s crossing the threshold. He tosses his keys, misses the bowl by miles but decides to ignore it in favor of stepping out of his wet shoes. He locks away his badge and gun and finally lets his heavy eyes drift to his beloved couch.

Derek’s head peeks up above the back of the couch and he smiles kindly at the sight of Stiles’ defeated form.

“Hey,” he says, gentle as ever.

Stiles smiles tiredly in return, cold fingers fumbling with the buttons of his uniform. He wrestles his way out of it on his way across the room, so by the time he collapses on to the couch with an old man grunt, he’s wearing nothing but his boxers and socks. Derek chuckles and shifts so Stiles can rest his head on Derek’s thigh.

“Rough day?” Derek murmurs soothingly as he runs his fingers through Stiles’ hair.

Stiles can only muster up another old man grunt in return, pushing needily into Derek’s hand. Derek gets the message and doesn’t stop caressing his hair. Stiles’ body practically melts into the couch when the pain drain truly kicks in. The twinge in his hip subsides.

“I love you,” he whispers gratefully.

“I know,” Derek replies before returning to the book he’s reading.

The rain thunders against the windows. An earthy smell has filled the loft, as if the plants has been watered. Derek’s doing, without doubt. He never even needs an alarm to remember watering them. There’s a slight chill in the air, but Derek’s fingers buried in Stiles’ hair are warm, just like the blanket Stiles blindly reaches for, the blanket Lydia picked out for him. He could fall asleep right here. He probably will.

A once forgotten thought suddenly jumps to the forefront of his mind.

“I’ve been thinking of getting a cat. Or like, two cats. So they have company.”

Derek hums in acknowledgment.

“I like cats,” Derek says and Stiles allows his eyes to fall shut and his mind to quiet.

 

...

 

They get cats.