The thick journal is leather bound and on the first page, in tiny cursive writing it says,
"To The Person That Conquers My Little Brother's Possible Heart: Safety Tips, Cheat Codes and Partial User's Manual."
"What is this?" Stiles asks, reverently.
He can feel the gravity of this moment when his eyes catch 'By Laura Hale, The Responsible One' at the bottom of the page. He's standing in the middle of Derek's loft, holding something Derek probably regards as holy. The last fingers to brush these pages belonged to a young woman whose passing broke a part of Derek that couldn't be fixed.
A minute ago, he was in a screaming match with Derek. The same old; Stiles saying he's useful, Derek saying he knows so, but doesn't want him in danger if it's avoidable. Stiles telling Derek that Derek's not the boss of him, Derek getting defensive at having his maladaptive sense of authority bucked.
And so it goes.
In the midst of the fight, though, to Stiles' dismay and confusion, Derek literally choked on words. Stiles could tell he was trying to say something, but the words wouldn't come out. He stormed into his room, brought the journal out with him and handed it to Stiles. And now they stand with a cautious quiet. Derek replies,
"Laura made it. I wasn't allowed to read it. I don't know what's in it. She left it in a safety deposit box. She left instructions with it, to give it to…"
Stiles' heart stutters, but all Derek can manage to say is, "You."
Stiles isn't always tactful or tasteful, but he is rarely ashamed of that. This is one of the few times he doesn't open his mouth, in fear that whatever might come out could break the moment. He and Derek are having a shared space of time and it is heavy, crackling like lightning, it is hot and electric and suspended around him. He turns the first page and there are notes.
1. Our mom calls him 'bun' and 'bun bun' when she's feeling playful with him, because of his rabbit teeth. He's so paranoid about them. Feel free to use that information for good or evil. (He makes it worse by how much he loves carrots. He looks so dumb eating carrots.)
2. He was 10 when he saw Homeward Bound and he cried for an hour. Like, obviously he was young, sure, but too old to be inconsolable for an hour.
3. In the 8th grade, the school cafeteria stopped selling strawberry milk – Derek was the only buyer of this milk, by the way. Derek, singlehandedly, petitioned for its return, harassed (literally – there were threats involved) the administration and school council and principal until they brought it back. He bullied the entire basketball team into buying them every day. PTA moms feared him. He was unstoppable. They'd put a spoiled, pubescent, young werewolf in a high school full of hormone-addled teens and taken away his only vice. They didn't know they'd created the perfect storm. He was so powerful.
4. He prefers Pepsi over Coke. Maybe he's a communist, I don't know, I refuse to take responsibility for this.
Stiles looks up to Derek with wide eyes and he asks quietly, "You've… never read this?"
Derek only shakes his head. Stiles flips through the pages with his thumb, thinking it must be hundreds of pages of information. He stops on one page because he swears he sees a superhero name. He is right.
33. He hates Batman. Isn't that weird? He loves Superman and Spiderman. When he was introduced to Spiderman, at 7 years old, he said to me, "I like him cause he's just like me, but spider."
34. He will eat any dried veggies or fruit. You can woo him with dried mango. I guarantee he'll go weak in the knees if you bring him dried mango.
35. Derek taught me not to slut-shame.
Stiles flips to a random page, further down, trying to pick only one to read.
72. Every new driver has a 1st accident. Derek had his while I was in the passenger seat because he got distracted by booty across the road. Seriously. Just some fine booty, bending over to pick something up and suddenly we're parked on a fire hydrant. Dad wasn't even mad, he just laughed at Derek for like 30 years.
Stiles laughs out loud at that and then notices Derek scowling. Derek's eyebrows are communicating anger, but three years into befriending Derek, Stiles now knew what they meant. These particular eyebrows meant he was feeling judged and left out. Stiles doesn't know if he should share what he was reading. It feels like a sacred bond between himself and Laura; a girl he'd never met, but she'd wanted to meet him, apparently. She'd left these insights for him and him, alone. He wants to hoard her wisdom.
"Derek," Stiles begins, "Laura…" He glances down at the open page and finishes, "…really cared about you."
Derek looks shocked and then very suddenly too close to crying. Stiles' heart sinks and he wonders what the hell the protocol is for a crying Derek Hale. He wasn't ready for that to happen in his line of reality. It doesn't happen, though; Derek schools his features into false bravado when he says, "Yeah, I – of course. I know. What did she say?"
Stiles smirks a little, glances down at the thick journal and replies, "Uhm. A lot."
Derek looks insatiably curious, but Stiles interrupts anything he might ask with, "Derek, why… why are you giving this to me?"
There's a pregnant pause and Stiles is scared now that he's said whatever it is that's going to break the moment. Derek's mouth opens, but nothing comes out again. Stiles' brows curve, "Are you giving up? Cause, dude, you'll find someone – I know your track record isn't great, but you'll eventually find someone to give this to. Look, I – "
"Shut up, Stiles," Derek groans, massaging the bridge of his nose, "That's not it."
"So," Stiles mutters intelligently, casting his eyes down at the spine of the journal; he feels hopeful and terrified and weirdly honored and fearful of misreading, "this…"
"Is for you. For you," Derek completes.
Stiles' moves his eyes back to Derek and Derek nods. He can't get the most important words out, but he says again, "You. You."
Stiles looks down to the page he randomly selected and it says,
98. Derek got pantsed at his 14th birthday party. He can't even hear someone bring it up without his ears getting red.
99. Oh yeah – his ears turn red if he's embarrassed.
100. Hug him. I know this isn't really like the rest of my points and stuff, just hug him. I hug him all the time and I worry that when he eventually moves out and gets his own life, that no one will do it. He's a tactile guy that has a lot of issues asking for affection. Hug him, even if he doesn't 'need' it. Hug him and make it too long. Those are his favorites. (He'll say otherwise; don't believe him.)
101. He can moonwalk. I don't know how he knows, but he can waltz and tango too. I get this inkling that Uncle Peter taught him how. (A/N: If Derek hasn't mentioned Uncle Peter, he was wounded the night our family was killed. Derek loved Uncle Peter a lot, even though he could be a jerk sometimes. Derek really looked up to him.)
102. He hates all things spinach. Dry spinach, cooked spinach, spinach in shakes, baked into breads, put into pasta, steamed, boiled or made into dip or cream. He abhors spinach. I don't even get how. I don't know what awful, traumatic thing happened to him as toddler that made him the horrible, spinach-hating person he is today, but I bear no responsibility for this.
103. When I was 15, I was scared about my dance recital because a lot of my family would be out of town and none of my friends could make it. Derek was the only one available to come support me and he brought the school debate team, football team and basketball team (boys and girls). He and three other jocks ushered heartbroken parents out of their first row seats and basically stole them. He was an absolute menace and then had the entirety of the first four rows in the auditorium whistling and barking inappropriately as soon as I came on stage. I was literally dancing to Swan Lake and had to not laugh at what sounded like a football game audience. I heard him yell out, "GOT-DAM, HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A JETÉ BATTU SO FINE?" and one of his douche basketball teammates yelled back, "I KNOW I HAVEN'T, GOT-DAM!" He and his teammates screamed and whistled when I was done and then held up their lighters for like 5 solid minutes. Mom grounded him for a week. (It was one of the kindest things he ever did for me and I'm smiling just writing this down.)
104. He once fell asleep standing up. It was kind of amazing, actually.
"You…are giving this to me," Stiles hesitantly says more than actually asks, but the curious insecurity is evident in his voice.
Derek nods and Stiles' gaze is heavy. He starts mapping Derek's expression, starts wondering how he's going to fit this new information into his brain's Derek Hale schema. He wonders if Laura knew Derek misrepresented himself so much that she knew this would come in handy. He wonders what possessed her to make it, if not to help him express what she knew he was always too scared to say he needed or wanted. Stiles smiles shyly and adds, "Because… you love me."
Derek freezes and Stiles grins more widely. He steps towards Derek and Derek looks like he's contemplating running.
"What did it say in there?" Derek asks again, looking suspicious and nervous.
Stiles tilts his head and chews his lip, trying to put together how to explain it without spoiling his and Laura's secret.
"How… to love you, I guess…"
Stiles ignores Derek's disbelief and confusion and just wraps his arms around Derek's hulking torso. Derek makes a strange kind of grunt of surprise and takes a long moment to put his arms around Stiles too. Stiles realizes he's not yet told Derek he loves him back. That he's not yet said that he's been in love with Derek since he was sixteen. He decides he will. He'll say it once he's done with his hug. Done with his too-long hug.
"Stiles, you can let go now," Derek tries.
Stiles smirks and fights a laugh before replying, "No. Not yet."
Derek sighs long-sufferingly, but Stiles knows better. Now, that is.
What Stiles doesn't know is what's waiting for him on the last page of the journal.
1000. He loves you a lot. He loves you more than he knows what to do with. I know this because I just finished talking to him about this journal and who it must be given to. He loves you like the sun will rise, like it will set. He loves you like the pull between the tide and moon, he loves you more than what he is made of. He loves you in spaces that have no more room, he loves you at times that there is none left. He loves you so much that it is not a part of himself, it is an entity all its own. It lives and loves beyond him and the tight restraints of terrestrial space and linear time. He loves you and he might not say it; not because he's dumb (even though he can be), but because he knows there is no way to say it. He can't equate it. He can't relay it. He can only feel it and live it and give it to you. And you're someone that can love him that strange way he is. And I'm so, so glad he's finally found you. I'm so glad he has you. Finally. Finally.