Malia and Scott get into a slap fight over the remote control and Derek's not even mad. Not even when Stiles and Kira start a pool over who's gonna win. Not even when Lydia pulls out her cell to start recording the fight, though there was supposed to be a moratorium on cellphones tonight.
Okay, maybe his calm is tested when Cora steals the chips right out of his lap. And when Stiles and Kira decide they need to start providing wrestling-style commentary at an antisocial volume level. It's severely tested when there's a loud scraping sound, suspiciously like the sound of a coffee table scratching the wooden floor, and Malia and Scott freeze mid-slap to turn identical apologetic expressions his way.
Derek just shrugs at them. There's a moment of stunned silence before the slap fight starts up again. Tomorrow. He'll start being stricter tomorrow. Or whenever he's less glad about the pack all being back from college.
Things have been almost painfully quiet without them. Well, Liam and Mason continue getting into their share of scrapes. And it’s not really quiet on the supernatural front either, what with the Nemeton continuing to be an epic pain in the behind. Quiet volume-wise, he mentally amends. With beautifully comedic timing, Stiles and Kira start bickering even louder, this time about whether it's okay that Maria Hill's taking Tony Stark's place as Iron Man. As far as Derek can tell, they both think that it's beyond rocking okay, so he's not entirely sure why there is so much angry yelling.
He's also relatively hesitant to get them to stop, because whenever Stiles argues, the way he moves his hands is very... alluring.
Not that Derek has a thing for Stiles. That would be weird. He just has a thing for Stiles' hands. He's allowed to appreciate that his pack mates have attractive elements, right? It's just an aesthetic awareness and appreciation of a part, not an infatuation with the sum of that part and all the other… parts. Yeah.
"Oh hey," Cora says conversationally through a mouthful of chips. He'd yell at her for her appalling lack of manners, but he feels awkward stepping in. He did kind of get the people who would have taught her manners burned alive, so, uh. Anyway. "I forgot to tell you, I got a message from the Bower pack this morning."
"Yeah?" Derek manages, throat suddenly going tight. "I didn't know you still talked with them."
"They did put me up my first year of college until I got my own place," Cora says. "And my credit record is still grateful. Anyway, they're coming to visit and—" She trails off and stares at Derek, her eyebrows slanting in concern. "What the hell is wrong with your face?"
"Uh," Derek says, as everyone turns to look at him, expressions ranging from curious (Scott and Kira) to amused (dammit, Stiles) to concerned (Malia) to bored (Lydia, as always.) "It's just— Well—"
"Guys, maybe we need to come back from college more often," Stiles says, smiling crookedly at Derek. "Apparently words are something that you can lose from disuse."
"I use words when you're not here," Derek protests, feebly. "Lots of them. Sometimes all in a row. Maybe more lists of words than actual sentences, but—"
"Nice attempt at a diversion, bro," Cora says, leaning forward. "Why do you look like someone just passed gas directly into your mouth?"
"As that sounds like something Scott or I would do, I'd like to point out we have alibis," Stiles says. Scott reaches over and solemnly high-fives him. Derek despairs quietly at them for a second before remembering that yeah, he's kind of panicking.
Shit fuckity fucking Bower pack. "Well—" Derek starts. Cora raises both eyebrows. "Um. While Laura and I were in New York— It was a bad time for us, okay, I was grieving, and I wasn't exactly making good decisions—"
Cora's mouth falls open. "Tell me you didn't."
Derek winces apologetically in her direction.
"Shit, Derek," Cora says, thumping back into the seat and actually throwing her hands up in the air. "You have the literal worst taste in people. Jemma? Did you seriously date Jemma Bower?"
"No," Derek admits, sheepishly rubbing the back of his neck. "Michael?"
It kind of comes out like a question, mostly because Derek's never bothered coming out as bisexual to the pack. There hasn't really been much of a point. Since that thing with Greenberg's sister, Derek's kind of sworn off dating anyone. His track record is beyond crap.
"Oh," Cora says, tilting her head. Derek can feel the rest of the pack watching him curiously. For once, even Stiles doesn't have anything to say. Derek keeps his eyes locked on Cora so he doesn't have to look at the others. "Okay, yeah, I can see that. He's totally your type." She leans forward and smacks him on the leg. "What the hell were you thinking? Dating a Bower?"
"What's wrong with them?" Of course it's Stiles who's the first in the pack to find something to say. "Are they, like, super vicious? Because I've had my eye on a mountain ash lacrosse stick—"
"They're not dangerous," Cora says, rolling her eyes. "They're a lot of fun. Apart from the bragging thing. Ooh my watch cost quarter of a million dollars, ooh I had sex with a Calvin Klein model, ooh the stick up my ass is solid gold."
"And when you're an ex," Derek says, dolefully, "it's worse. Way worse. And they're coming here. Oh, god. I'm single. And a beta. And I live in a loft with a hole in it." He gets up, heading for the stairs.
"Wait, what are you doing?" Cora demands.
"Going to pack for an impromptu vacation, obviously."
"No. Don't you dare! I'm not handling them alone!"
"You're not alone, you have us," Scott tells her reassuringly.
Derek eyes the top of the staircase, wondering if he could leap it in a single bound. He knows he can go down stairs that quickly, but he really should have tested it in the opposite direction.
"Dude, we can fix this," Cora says, holding up both hands. "So your dickish ex is coming to town. We can stop Michael being an asshole. We'll put a tarp over the hole in the loft. And you lost your Alpha status saving your baby sister from a marauding Darach. That's not embarrassing, it's heroic."
Derek makes a soft sound because he's almost convinced.
"It's just the single thing that makes you pathetic," Cora says. Derek frowns at her, because that doesn't sound even remotely helpful. "But that's fixable too. We just gotta hook you up with someone. Make sure you don't look like a total loser."
"Thanks," Derek says, dryly, one hand inching up the stair rail.
"C'mon. C'mon. We can figure this out." Cora snaps one hand dictatorially and Derek sighs and reluctantly slinks back to his seat, sitting back down.
Stiles looks over at him curiously and his mouth opens.
Derek points a finger at him. "No."
"I didn't even say anything!" Stiles protests, scowling.
"You and Scott are banned from making plans," Derek says. "Banned."
"Seconded," Lydia says, without looking up from where she's taking selfies by the window. "Anyone who disagrees wasn't there for spring break."
Cora twists in her chair. "What happened during spring break?"
"It's a long story," Kira says. "But Coach definitely regrets asking Scott and Stiles back to 'show the team how it's supposed to be done.'"
"I saw him in K-mart yesterday," Malia adds. "He's definitely still got a limp."
Derek winces on Finstock's behalf.
"But," Stiles says, "we could totally set you up with an awesome fake boyfriend? I mean—"
Derek does not give Stiles a chance to elaborate on what he means. "No," Derek says. "No way. No fake boyfriends. Are you kidding? That only works in unrealistic books where no one's a werewolf with truth-detecting super skills."
"Besides," Scott says, wrinkling his nose, "you're the only pack member really available to play pretend, bud. And no offense—" Scott wrinkles his mouth too, wondering how to best phrase it.
"I am never fake dating Stiles," Derek hisses. "Never."
Stiles narrows his eyes for a second, but his face relaxes and he shrugs. "Yeah, okay," Stiles admits. "I get it. Stiles is the worst boyfriend ever."
"You turned Martin's hair pink," Scott says. "The day before he was due to get his headshots taken."
"It was an accident!"
"And Wes still won't talk to me," Lydia says.
"You do kind of suck at the boyfriend stuff," Malia agrees, sniffing loudly. "Once there's nothing left for you to 'fix'."
"Okay, okay, I get it, you can stop insulting me now," Stiles says quickly, holding his palms up in surrender. Derek does not stare at his fingers. He does not. "And, Malia, um, though, you still could do more with your hair—"
Malia growls at him.
Stiles actually squeaks and scoots over the floor to hide behind Derek's legs.
"Don't worry," Stiles says, patting Derek's knee. Derek looks down at Stiles' fingers on his leg and Stiles, damn him, leaves his hand there, just cupping his leg gently. "We'll all help."
Derek should say no. He really should. But Stiles grins up at him supportively and gives one of those damn winks that make him say yes to everything.
"Okay," he blurts.
"So we've got three weeks," Cora says, rolling her eyes. "That's plenty of time for us to help you find a real girlfriend or boyfriend."
Derek eyeballs her warily and slides out his smartphone, surreptitiously booking a flight to Tahiti.
For when whatever harebrained schemes the pack come up with inevitably fail.
"Make sure you go the long way round via Blue Street," Scott instructs, looping another lead around Derek's hand. The summer break was too short for Scott to get a job with Deaton, but he puts up a card in the local shops as a dog walker, and he gets plenty of repeat customers. "That way you'll run into the parents dropping kids off at the kindergarten."
"Right," Derek says, looking down dubiously at the five dogs straining at their leads.
"Thanks for doing this," Scott says. "Mom's been on at me to fix her night stand for months and I haven't had a spare hour."
"So you're just using me?" Derek asks.
Scott gives him a double thumbs-up. "Just taking advantage of a mutually beneficial situation."
Three hours later, Derek turns back up at the McCall household, missing several shirt buttons and with a slightly murderous expression on his face.
"Uh," Scott says, on opening the door.
Derek wordlessly hands the dog leads over.
"Did you get any numbers?" Scott asks, hopefully.
Derek also passes over a handful of business cards.
"These are great!" Scott enthuses. “Stiles, look.”
Derek freezes, so frazzled from his experience that he hadn't even thought to smell to see if there were any other pack members around. Stiles' head pops up over Scott's shoulder and he beams at Derek.
"You've got lipstick on your face," Stiles sing-songs, waving his finger enthusiastically at his own left cheek.
Derek stares wordlessly. After the morning he's had, he's not sure whether he can take Stiles and his hands doing things. It's not fair, really, it isn't.
Stiles' second eyebrow raises up to join the first and he turns to punch Scott in the shoulder. "I hope you told him to avoid Blue Street. There's been protests there all year about them building that new kindergarten so near the red light district."
Derek stares at Stiles. Scott's face creases into a wince. Derek has to fight not to glare at Scott, because although werewolves probably don't have heat vision, if it turns out that his mom forgot to tell him about a certain (potentially awesome) werewolf power, Scott probably shouldn't be his first victim.
Especially if he wants Stiles to have anything to do with him in the future. Which is a weird first thought to have, but Stiles and thoughts about superpowers do go hand-in-hand.
"They built a kindergarten near a known—?" Derek makes a complicated gesture in the air.
"Open-air brothel?" Stiles finishes for him. "Yeah, I know. Insane, right? And you wanna know the most ridiculous part?"
Derek shrugs. His day probably can't get any worse.
“Dad oversaw the protest. And he says the complaints have come solely from the local churches. The parents themselves? Apparently couldn't care less about having prostitutes roaming around near their kids." Stiles gives a wide, expansive shrug. "Can you believe it?"
"Yeah," Derek says through gritted teeth. "Yeah, I can believe it."
"Oh dude," Stiles breathes, elbowing Scott out of the way a little, either to get better access to mock Derek or to protect Scott. Or probably both. "Did the kindergarten moms think you were a gigolo?"
Derek doesn't want to answer that question.
Of course, the silence is damning. He hopes that one day Stiles will stop laughing. Derek jabs his finger at both of them. “If either of you tell the rest of the pack about this I'll rip your throats out."
Scott, the little shit, just looks amused. "You must have done something, man," Scott says, shrugging easily as he handles the dogs. "I've done that route every day for the last four weeks and not gotten a single business card."
"I didn't do anything," Derek hisses.
Scott purses his mouth. "Did you talk to any of them?"
"Despite what Stiles thinks—" Derek starts, glaring at Stiles.
"When did I get dragged into this?" Stiles interrupts.
Derek ignores him. "Despite that, I can and do talk to people who aren't pack." Scott continues to give him a flat look, so Derek elaborates, "Yes, I talked. They talked back."
Scott leans against his door jamb, looking at Derek speculatively. "And what did you talk about?"
"Well," Derek says, "the first mom I talked to asked if I liked horror movies, which, y'know, I get. Some people just have a sixth sense about the werewolf thing."
"Especially when you go out of your way to scowl like a B-movie villain," Stiles says.
Derek glares, but then realizes he's proving Stiles' point. Dammit. "Her grammar was the only scary thing going on. I was polite!"
"Okay," Stiles says, slowly. "Do it for me blow-by-blow. What exactly did she say?"
Derek thinks about it to make sure he gets it exactly. "Are you like, a horror something?"
Stiles makes a choking sound which might be laughter but Derek prefers to think of it as shared outrage over such poor linguistic skills.
Scott breaks in when it's clear from his face that Stiles isn't going to be able to speak coherently for a little while. Unlike Stiles, Scott looks concerned. "So what did you say to her?"
"I tried to be polite. So I said yes, and then she asked where you were, and I said that you had a thing with a night stand," Derek says, frowning. "And you were taking advantage of me, but it was a mutually beneficial arrangement, and—"
Stiles makes an explosive sound out of his mouth and it becomes an uncontrollable belly laugh that makes him stumble backwards out of the doorway, almost out of sight . Derek stares, appalled, as he stumbles over to the dogs and starts cooing at them, thanking them for showing 'Uncle Derek' a good time.
"Y'know, the dogs are probably some sort of code too," Stiles says, brightly."Like the doberman means you like it rough, chihuahuas mean you like 'em pretty and poodles - well, you don't probably want to know what a poodle means."
"Sorry," Scott says, looking genuinely apologetic. "I really didn't know. At least now I know to avoid that route in future too?"
Derek glares moodily in response. He hasn't had anything to mentor Scott about for years. He guesses it's probably nice that Scott thinks he still has some lessons to learn from him.
Even if it's how not to be mistaken for a prostitute by Beacon Hills' parents.
"Well, this has been more than excellent," Stiles says, straightening up from the dogs and patting Scott on the shoulder. "But time and library opening hours wait for no man. I gotta go." He sidles past Scott and moves to walk around Derek before pausing and looking Derek straight in the eyes. "I can borrow five dollars, right?"
Derek is opening his mouth to ask Stiles what he's talking about when Stiles leans forwards and snags something from Derek's waistband: a fistful of one dollar bills with phone numbers written along the edge.
"Thanks, Derek!" Stiles chirps and moves at a run towards his Jeep. Derek alternates for the next minute between staring after Stiles, scowling at Scott and glaring down at the mess of ones still in his pants.
"These places are depressingly full of wannabe hipsters," Malia says, spooning the cream from Derek's drink into her mouth before starting on her own. "So it should be perfect for you."
Derek squints at her but settles back into the admittedly comfortable armchair, quite willing for this to work. Apart from the fact that it should lessen the impact of some of Michael's teasing, a new girlfriend or boyfriend might be nice. Someone to hang out with when the rest of the pack go back to college. Someone to see movies with, or go to dinner with. Someone who might cut down the number of nights he ends up on Skype, surreptitiously watching Stiles' fingers fly every which way as he exuberantly describes the hijinks he and Scott have gotten to on campus this time.
Derek definitely has a thing for nice hands. Maybe that's something he can look for.
The door jingles and Derek looks up with cautious optimism as a beautiful blonde-haired girl comes through, wearing body-hugging running clothes and a smile that widens when she notices Derek checking her out.
"No," Malia says, disdainfully looking down and digging into the first of four cupcakes she made him buy for her.
"No?" Derek repeats. He looks at his cousin. "Why?"
"She smells too desperate," Malia says. "You want a girlfriend, not someone who's gonna poke holes in all your condoms."
"True," Derek allows, slowly.
For the next three hours there is a steady stream of single adults, and Derek's quite optimistic about a good third of them, at least, but every time he thinks 'eh, maybe', Malia's got a reason why it's not a good idea. The guy with muscles smells like fourteen cats. The redhead with the Game of Thrones shirt smells like she's been up all night crying. The brunette with a tattoo of a celtic dragon curled around her wrist is too short.
"You're just making things up now so I keep buying you cake," Derek accuses Malia, when she says the next guy has suspicious hair. "Maybe I'll try Kira's suggestion tomor—"
Malia glares at him and growls a little.
Derek winces. "So... same time tomorrow?"
Malia smiles and steals his cookie.
After Malia's weird coffee-shop plan, Derek ends up doing his day job — translating web pages — for the rest of the afternoon. He gets a little stuck on the movie blog translation though, because his Japanese isn't great. Even a consultation with Kira doesn't get Derek any closer as to how Army of Darkness became Captain Supermarket, although she does give him a new fun list of insults that they can use to smack talk Stiles and Scott to their face. The frustration is definitely enough to make Derek give up for the day.
He ends up driving into Beacon Hills on a whim, just following his stomach, eventually finding himself in the Wright Bros' Diner on the corner of Albany Drive. He slinks up to the counter, wondering whether Devon is still a waitress here, and whether she's still dating that scumball Jace. While dating a waitress might not impress Michael Bower, Devon's a babe by anyone's standards.
"Derek. Hey, Derek."
Before Derek can find out if Devon is around and available, he's being madly waved over by Scott, Kira and Stiles. Derek wants to pretend to be annoyed or too cool to be seen with them, but they've been away for months and he misses them. He smiles and Stiles slides over to make room for him.
The booths in Wrights are always a little cramped and Derek ends up pressed against Stiles, being jostled every now and again as Stiles makes notes in the margin of his copy of Introduction to Linear Algebra and scowling at it.
"If it's an introduction text and you're having trouble with it—" Derek starts.
Stiles digs his elbow into Derek's side and glares. "I'm not. Julia's the problem."
Devon comes over to the table with a plate of fries for Kira and shakes for Scott and Stiles. She takes Derek's order - burger with extra curly fries and a strawberry shake - and bounces off.
"Devon broke up with her douchebag boyfriend last week," Kira says.
"Who's Julia?" Derek asks, leaning in to look at what he hadn't noticed — a small netbook hidden under the textbook cover. "Please don't tell me she's someone you're going to set me up with. I haven't exactly had a great dating history with women named Julia."
Stiles pulls a commiserative face, because yeah, the last Julia was a mass-murdering, magical asshole. They've had to kill her three times over the last four years. It's exhausting. Forget trying to find a new someone, Derek just needs to find Scott Pilgrim to battle all of his evil exes for him.
"Jace was an asshole," Scott says to Kira. "Really glad Devon's rid of him."
"Absolutely gonna set you up with this Julia," Stiles says. He pulls out the netbook and pushes the textbook to one side. "It's a programming language. Highly dynamic, high number of mathematical functions, and the best part?" Stiles waggles his fingers over the keyboard, as distracting as always. "Lydia learned it in a module last year so I can use her notes."
"Ah," Derek says.
"Here's your food," Devon says chirpily, leaning an unnecessary distance over the table to give Derek his food. When he looks up, she blinks rapidly several times.
"There's this eyewash my sister uses when she gets something in her eye," Derek tells Devon. "I'll text her and ask for the brand name for you, if you want."
Devon stares at Derek flatly. "Thanks," she says, in an odd sort of voice, slamming down the container of condiments on their table and stalking off.
"You're welcome," Derek says and turns back to Stiles' long fingers dancing over the small keyboard. "How does this Julia work?"
Across the table, Scott rolls his eyes at Kira. Stiles has probably been talking about Julia all day and boring them silly. Well, at least Derek can save them from some of it now that he's here.
"How did your thing with Malia go?" Stiles asks, as something loads on the small screen.
"You mean the transparent effort to get free baked goods and caffeine all morning?" Derek asks.
"Ah," Stiles says, flickering an amused look at Derek. "Lydia's got you tomorrow night, yeah?"
Derek sags. He's been trying not to think about it. Stiles nudges him with his knee. "She said to dress nice. I don't even know what she means by that."
"Maybe that black button-up you wore last Christmas?" Stiles says, tilting his head thoughtfully. "And the jeans you wore that time the ogre got stuck down Liam's well? You got the slime out of them, yeah?"
"Yeah," Derek confirms, although thinking about it he hasn't worn those jeans for a good couple of years. He's pretty sure they're still slime-free. "Okay."
"Okay," Stiles repeats, and grins at him before bringing up a block of text onscreen. "The cool thing about Julia is how freaking easy loops are. Take a glance at this beauty, I'm just using the code to find me some prime numbers, and you know how much the punctuation in C++ gives me a headache."
"Practically a migraine."
"Yeah," Stiles says. "Look how pretty this code is, man—"
Derek settles back in the seat, watching Stiles' fingers fly over the keyboard, and ignoring the matching raised eyebrows from Kira and Scott. They're not grateful at all for him saving them from getting all the geek speak. Oh, well. Maybe gratitude's just going out of fashion or something.
"Speed dating," Derek says, flatly.
"Speed dating," Lydia repeats, spraying something into his hair which makes him splutter. Then she pulls out— a makeup kit?
"I'm not wearing makeup," Derek hisses.
Lydia raises one perfect eyebrow.
All of the others had been such a bust that Derek nearly wants to cry when the last guy on his speed dating rotation actually seems okay. His name is Greg and he's a photographer for National Geographic and he got an award for shooting ("Photos, I swear!") black wolves in Yellowstone national park. He's got a great sense of humor and even though his fingers aren't anything to write home about, Derek's got a thing about watching artists at work, so he can probably work up some enjoyment watching Greg work his camera.
"How about you?" Greg asks. Derek manages to explain about his current work and Greg seems really into Derek's language skills. Greg regales him of a tale when he'd been stuck for fourteen hours in an airport with an Italian manager who could sort of speak French, a French man who could speak Spanish, and a Spanish guy who could manage broken English. He's a natural storyteller and Derek's genuinely laughing at the end of it, especially when Greg bemoans his inability to speak anything more than English. He's intimating that maybe Derek could join him on his next expedition when Derek gets nervous and nearly knocks his water glass over.
Greg reaches out to steady it, smiling up at Derek, and then he blinks at Derek, his mouth wrinkling a little. "Dude," Greg says, unsteadily, "are you wearing makeup?"
It's Stiles that comes to find him afterwards and sadly explains that, even though Derek had ticked Greg's box, he had no mutual matches.
Derek looks at him grumpily, throwing a cotton facial pad aside in frustration. Either the makeup Lydia put on him is somehow permanently bonded to his skin or she's put it on somewhere he can't find. He can feel it on his skin, unnatural and irritating. He shouldn't have let Lydia put it on him in the first place, but Lydia's kind of a dating expert. He'd trusted her.
And maybe she was right. If Greg was narrow-mindedly weirded out about makeup, the werewolf thing probably would have been a total dealbreaker.
"I'm sorry," Stiles says, stepping in and taking over, putting eye makeup remover on a pad easily and pushing at Derek's face until it's tilted towards him. Stiles' touch is surprisingly gentle as he carefully curves the pad around his eyes. "Dating kinda sucks, huh?"
"Especially speed dating," Derek agrees.
"You did have twenty numbers of people wanting to date you," Stiles says in a level, almost conversational tone, as he discards one peach-colored pad in favor of picking up a clean one. His fingers deftly curl around the small bottle of remover fluid. Derek has to suppress a shiver that comes out of nowhere. Probably just disappointment at the failed speed dating. Stiles brushes a few more times, his touches lingering, and then throws the pad in the trashcan. "Nearly got it all."
Derek wrinkles his nose. Next time, he's definitely not letting Lydia put any makeup on him. He feels more like himself. Like Stiles is stripping him down to his bones with cotton and chemicals. Or just with the confident, gentle touch of fingertips to Derek's skin.
"Do you ever get tired?" Derek asks. Stiles frowns, goes to open his mouth, and Derek fights a flush at the obvious space for a joke that he's left open. "Fixing all of us?"
"I'm trying to quit that," Stiles says. "And not just because Kira's deportment lessons may or may not have left three different people with concussion."
Derek squints. He doesn't exactly like the reminder that he doesn't get all the news of their college misadventures, but he doesn't know how to phrase his disappointment without sounding like the old guy that's just jealous he got left behind.
"Anyway," Stiles says, "it's a work-in-progress. Less Stiles trying to fix the world makes everyone in the world much happier and less injured."
Derek arches an eyebrow. "So—"
"I'm not fixing you," Stiles says, looking slightly injured at the implication. "Dude. No. I'm helping. There's a difference. Besides…"
Stiles' smile when he looks Derek in the eyes is off-center and warm. "There's nothing to fix."
Derek's gut feels hot, tight, and his palms feel suddenly sweaty. He looks away, the impulse to disagree impossible to ignore. "Pretty sure there's a pile of corpses littering my past that might argue with you."
"Then you're lucky," Stiles says, swiping at Derek's forehead with another pad. "Because after that necromancer thing last year, we unfortunately have firsthand proof that arguing with the dead is yet another skill I can add to my resume." Stiles' levity cools as he says, in a more serious, low tone, "And they'd be wrong. You're great as you are. And if the Bower pack come here and they can't see that, then as far as I'm concerned, they can take a long walk off the nearest short pier, okay? I'll smack anyone who shittalks a member of this pack. Even if you're shittalking yourself."
Derek's definitely blushing, because Stiles wipes at his cheek and looks confused when there's no red pigment on the cotton. Thankfully Stiles doesn't mention it.
"Lydia gave me your match card," Stiles says. "Some of the women apparently insisted you have their numbers despite your lack of response. Do you want it?"
Derek shakes his head. "No."
Stiles nods like he expected that answer. "If only one guy caught your eye, he must have been pretty special."
Derek shrugs with one shoulder. "He's no—" You, Derek's brain was about to say and oh boy, that's ridiculous. It's just the relief deep in his bones that for these few weeks of summer, he's not as alone as he is during the weeks they're away at college. "No George Clooney," Derek finishes, distracted by Stiles' fingers coming for his face again.
Stiles' face creases into a quirked smile. He hasn't changed much in his years away at college. His shoulders are broader, maybe, his movements a little more graceful, like he's finally grown into the length of his limbs, finally been able to fill himself in a way that he never could before. His real age shows only in his eyes. There's experience in them now. Loss that shouldn't be there, and a warmth that flourishes regardless. It's all bolstered by a quiet strength that's always been Stiles' best asset, beneath the volume and the exuberance. It's not all bluster and misdirection. Stiles can hold his own, in a physical or a mental battle. It's been a long time since Derek didn't trust him. So long that Derek can't remember anything past this quiet, burning admiration. Stiles isn't his anchor, but he is a constant, and maybe that means more. Derek's anger, his anchor, keeps his wolf side under control.
Stiles keeps his human side under control. And that's important too. Humans can be monsters just as much as a werewolf can.
"Wait, didn't you once say George Clooney reminded you of your dad?" Stiles asks, leaning back judgmentally. He still doesn't move his hands away from Derek's face, though, so he can't be too weirded out.
"Uh," Derek says.
Stiles just laughs, gently. "You're weird."
"Speak for yourself," Derek sniffs, trying not to lean into Stiles' touch.
"We're weird," Stiles says.
"I couldn't have said it better myself," Cora sniffs, stomping sleepily through the room and heading towards the fridge. Stiles grins.
Derek feels like he ought to be cranky at Cora, but Stiles just winks at her and doesn't move away from Derek, and he can't quite work up the energy to be mad.
It's about the fourth hour of wandering aimlessly around the mall when Derek realizes that Kira doesn't really know what she's doing.
"How am I supposed to know how to pick up guys?" Kira hisses. "The only way I ever run into guys is by complete accident." She winces apologetically at Derek. "Usually by doing something embarrassing."
Derek glances at her thoughtfully.
Cora wakes him up by laughing louder and longer than is humanly possible. Being a werewolf isn't always a good thing, Derek thinks. He's surly as he stumbles downstairs to find Kira's put all the photos up on Facebook and Cora's gleefully trawling through and liking them all.
"I don't even want to know how she got you into that outfit," Cora says between giggles. "And you need to read the comments. Stiles is right — the heels do really nice things to your legs."
Derek plain ignores her, but does peek over her shoulder.
Stiles is kinda right about the heels.
Cora (and for some reason unbeknownst to God, Man or Derek, Sheriff Stilinski)
"When did you two become friends?" Derek asks.
Cora and the Sheriff give Derek matching looks that say that he's being a complete idiot.
"We're firing range buddies," Cora says. "Obviously."
"Obviously," Derek repeats, faintly. "So... what's the plan?"
"Blind date," Cora says.
"My new deputy is..." Sheriff Stilinski squints at his beer sadly. "Well. Like you."
"A born werewolf?" Derek asks.
"Not exactly," Cora says, slowly.
Derek frowns at them both.
"Supernatural," Sheriff Stilinski says. A little too loudly.
"I love that show," the bartender sighs.
Cora eyes him the way she normally eyes Derek: judgmentally. It's a nice break for Derek at least.
It turns out his blind date is a kidnap-loving, dolphin-shapeshifting Encantado and not a mostly-harmless, kidnap-phobic Water Nymph, as she'd told Cora and the Sheriff. And somewhere around the second drink, she talked him into a small walk outside, and then tried to drag him into the river to be her husband. Thankfully Cora manages to keep hold of Derek and Stiles manages to smash the Encantado with a fire extinguisher stolen from the bar and the Sheriff shoots her with her own service weapon.
All four of them lie gasping on the river bank, the Encantado's dead body sinking into the water.
"Hey," Derek says, breathing heavily, the Encantado having managed to steal a large chunk of his life force with her claws. "What are you doing here?"
"Uh," Stiles says, "taking a break. Thought I'd come out to get a drink with my favorite... dad."
"Unlike Malia," Sheriff Stilinski says, "you only have one dad."
"As far as you know," Stiles says, winking at his dad.
The Sheriff glares at him.
"So you just happened to be at the bar when Derek came in for his date with Echo?" Cora asks, pushing herself up and shrugging off her mud-drenched overshirt.
"Wait, Echo?" Stiles asks, incredulous. "You had a deputy literally named after one of the top ten most famous dolphins in the world and you didn't think to check her for being an Encantado? Seriously?"
"Echo's a nymph in mythology," Cora sniffs, but does look a little chastened. "But okay. Yeah. Missed the ball on that one. Sorry, Derek."
"What for?" Derek asks. "This is just proof that it's not my choices that are the problem — I just shouldn't be dating women full stop."
"Well," Stiles says, thoughtfully, "that makes my plan a little easier."
Derek quirks an eyebrow at Stiles and just receives one of Stiles' trademarked winks in response.
Derek appreciates Stiles' plan. He's nervous about it, but he appreciates it.
It's nice and it's simple and it's kind of obvious, but Derek could do with some straightforwardness in his life. Especially as this plan is kind of the opposite of anything straight.
"I haven't been clubbing in ages," Derek yells through the bathroom door. There's a clatter of coat hangers as Stiles continues looking through Derek's wardrobe. "I'm not even sure I remember how."
"Relax," Stiles yells back. "It's like falling off a bike."
"I'm pretty sure that's not the saying," Derek says, wrapping a towel around his waist and pushing out into the bedroom to see what Stiles had decided he's going to wear this time.
Stiles looks across at Derek briefly, but then turns his gaze back to the bed. Stiles' face seems red, but it is kinda hot up here, Derek thinks. Maybe he should get a tower fan for each of the bedrooms. Michael Bower probably has a mansion with central air.
"Here you go," Stiles says. "This should get you enough of the right sort of attention."
Derek nods. He really appreciates the picks: just a simple short-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of black jeans that he's always personally thought do nice things for his ass, and consequently tend to be relegated to the back of his closet. Stiles must have really gotten in there to find them.
"Just a couple of drinks, then out onto the floor," Stiles says. "It'll come back to you."
Derek nods and moves to drop the towel. Stiles spins on his heel rapidly.
"I'll, uh. I'll be downstairs," Stiles says, his voice a little high pitched. Derek rolls his eyes. Humans and their aversion to nudity will always amuse him.
Stiles has ordered a cab for the Jungle, which is probably a good idea, especially if Derek ends up leaving with someone. The notion has him feeling antsy, like there are bubbles in his stomach. Good bubbles, maybe. He's thrumming with energy, so much so that in the back of the cab when they finally get going, Stiles has to lean over and put his hand on Derek's knee.
"You're jiggling," Stiles says. "Don't stress about it. There's plenty of time until the Bower pack gets here. If you don't feel up to tonight, we'll reschedule."
Derek looks at him gratefully. "I am nervous," he admits. "But it's better going in knowing you've got my back."
Stiles' reaction is indecipherable in the darkness of the car. Not because of the shadows, but because of the interplay of his expressions, rapidly dancing across his face and disappearing before Derek can grasp hold of them. His eyes reflect gently in the small space between them and Derek can't look away. "Always," Stiles says, in a low voice that seems to travel right through Stiles' fingers into Derek's bones.
Derek stares back at Stiles, his chest thumping hard with the honesty of Stiles' single word, and he opens his mouth to say something, something that seems super important, something that's to do with Stiles' fingers on his knees and warm breath on his face and the intensity of his eyes on Derek's face. Something to do with the long, rambling Skype conversations while Stiles is at college and Derek's miles and miles away, missing them with all his heart.
"That'll be thirty dollars," the cab driver interrupts loudly, sounding bored as the neon lights of the Jungle's sign filter in through the window.
The line into the Jungle is as long as always, but they don't even get there — as soon as they walk by, one of the bouncers steps away from the door to beckon Derek closer. Stiles makes a move as if to join the line, but Derek firmly loops his hand around Stiles' waist. Stiles swallows, his eyes nervously darting between the two large bouncers still at the door, but they look him up and down and nod, waving them both easily through and into the club.
"Normally I have to wait hours to get in," Stiles says, leaning right up into Derek's personal space, clearly forgetting Derek's werewolf hearing. His long fingers link around Derek's wrist. "Guess you're my lucky charm."
"I'm not a leprechaun," Derek says.
Stiles just laughs at him and leads him to the bar. "Okay, here's how it goes," Stiles says, as they sit at one of the booths at the back of the club. "I'll be right here. You go out there, mingle, shimmy those hips, bat those absurdly long eyelashes. Make sure you get their name and I'll zip it through to dad for a background check, make sure you're not picking up a nutcase. Or at least not a nutcase that gets caught, anyway." Stiles creases his mouth and then does spirit fingers. Oh god, that is not a movement that should be attractive in any way. It kinda really is, Derek thinks, his stomach jumbling nervously.
"Okay," Derek says. "Okay."
He does sit and have a drink with Stiles, because it feels weird to just leave him back here, but Stiles insists he doesn't feel up to much dancing. Derek feels ridiculous and antsy and oh god, these pants are so freaking tight, and he's about to turn around and find some excuse to spend the whole night with Stiles when a guy comes up to him, all long limbs and artfully tousled brown hair, and he lets the guy tug him by his belt loops onto the dancefloor.
From then, it seems like Stiles is right. It is like riding a bike. There's nothing much to forget. This is something Derek can do. Move his hips to the rhythm of the music. Give long, lingering looks just on the right edge of filthy. He dances twice with the guy who dragged him onto the floor, and a couple of times with a limber guy with a dapple of moles across his exposed shoulder blades that Derek wants to count with his fingertips. Then twice again with a man older than him with whisky-colored eyes and a pink mouth that Derek's almost tempted to press up against his own, but he catches a glimpse of Stiles watching him across the dance floor, mouth wrapped aggressively around a straw, and the urge fades away.
Derek doesn't dance with the same guy more than once after that. There's a willing parade, sure, but after a while the faces and bodies start to blur together, and he can't remember which ones he liked more than the others.
He leaves the dancefloor after an hour, the hope that had pulled him onto it dwindling with every step. This isn't going to work. He's going to end up going home without even a number. He's gonna be single, alone and mocked by Michael Bower forever. Derek doesn't know what Stiles was thinking, bringing him here. He wants to know. He stops at the bar and grabs a soda before sliding into the booth opposite Stiles.
Stiles stares at him like he's grown another head.
"What?" Derek asks, sipping at the drink. All that dancing's definitely made him thirsty.
"Don't tell me you're giving up," Stiles says, gesturing at the floor of writhing bodies.
"I'm having a break," Derek says. Stiles nods and looks down at his drink, playing with the straw. "And considering giving up," he admits.
Stiles glares at him. "You know you could literally have your pick of any guy in here tonight, right?" He spreads one hand out wide, gesturing at the dancefloor. "Everyone's been watching you for the last hour." He sounds a little angry about that, actually.
A lot of people have been watching him, Derek thinks, his mouth a little dry. Including Stiles. "I could have my pick of anyone?" Derek asks, slowly, cautiously, his eyes scraping Stiles' face.
"Of course you could," Stiles says, and he distinctly sounds moody now. "I swear. Just go up to anyone you like the look of, grab 'em, kiss 'em, bam. Yours."
The dwindled hope in his chest lifts a little. "Anyone?" Derek presses, carefully.
"Jesus," Stiles mutters under his breath, looking angry at himself. He shakes himself a little and glares at Derek. "Yeah. Anyone."
"Good," Derek says decisively, and leans across the booth, grabbing Stiles' face in his hands and pushing their mouths together. Stiles startles under his fingers, takes a moment to get with the program, but when he does, oh, oh. He kisses Derek like he's been waiting forever. Like Derek is something special. The noises Stiles makes against him travel right through Derek's skin to settle in his groin.
This is what he's been waiting for. This is why his life has been so quiet. His heart sings into that silence. You love him. You've loved him for a while now. And because his inner voice has been Stiles' voice for a long time, it adds in a sly, fond tone: Idiot.
He's not an idiot for loving Stiles. No, that's genius.
He's an idiot for taking so long to notice.
When he finally pulls back, he's terrified, but he holds onto Stiles' face, determined, not backing down.
"Wait," Stiles says, breathless, his eyes scraping Derek's face like Derek's the solution to a problem he's been stuck on all year. "Me?"
There's still a creeping doubt, heavy with the weight that there's no way on earth he could deserve Stiles, but Derek presses on regardless, faint heart never won fair maiden, and shit, Derek is never telling Stiles he's just mentally thought of him as a maiden. "You," Derek says, his voice a little unsteady, and yeah, he really should make an effort to use his words more.
"But— You didn't want to date me— As a solution to the Bower thing, I— And you—"
"I said I didn't want to fake date you," Derek says.
"Oh." The smile that Stiles sends his way is so beautiful that even with a lifetime's practice, Derek will never be able to describe it. He kisses it instead, leaning into it, and it feels like coming home. Like Derek's the one who's been away from Beacon Hills, not Stiles. "Um. Uh. We might need help getting out the club, though."
Derek frowns. "Why?"
Stiles laughs, buries his face in the junction of Derek's neck and shoulder, huffing a warm breath into Derek's skin that lights up his body from his head to his toes. "Because I think the rest of the guys in here will probably stab me from jealousy." He cups Derek's face in one gentle hand, those addictive fingers soothing against his temple. "I'm kinda going home with the hottest guy in the club."
Derek looks at Stiles. Finally lets himself look, like he hasn't allowed himself to before. Taking in the parts and realizing he's been in love with the sum all along. "I'd fight 'em," Derek says. "But only until they agreed to disagree."
Stiles smirks at him. "What? You think I'm the hottest guy in the club, huh?"
"I meant the hottest guy in the club is clearly the bartender with the Magnum PI 'stache," Derek says.
Stiles gasps and tries to call him an asshole, but Derek kisses the sound out of his mouth and Stiles seems pretty okay with that.
Derek probably should have guessed that the secret would get out before too long.
He hadn't planned it to be this quick, but then, his pack doesn't really seem to grasp the concept of personal space.
Otherwise they wouldn't be crashing into his bedroom at ass o'clock in the morning.
"Oh my god," Malia says, pointing at Derek and Stiles. "You decided to go with the faking-it plan after all?"
"Oh my god," Stiles groans back, "get out, get out." He throws a pillow at Scott who tries to cover his eyes with it — and then drops it, wrinkling his nose and looking appalled at the smell.
"I can't," Derek says. "It's gonna be at least twenty minute before it goes down enough for me to—"
Stiles' eyes go wide.
"Ewwww," someone in the pack says. Or maybe all of them say it. Serves them right for not knocking, Derek thinks.
"Suck it up, Scott," Stiles hisses. "You should have told me about knotting ages ago. Then I wouldn't be in this situation. Now. Scott. Malia. EVERYONE WHO ISN'T DEREK. GET OUT."
Derek avoids everyone's glances and busies himself making sure the blankets are at least hiding the visuals.
"You can stay," Stiles says, in a softer voice, looking up at Derek and smiling and smiling, unable to stop.
Apparently the smile is contagious. Derek can feel one stretch his face too.
"Actually though," Stiles continues, "you could move your hips a little to the left..."
"Ewwww," someone else says. Derek turns his head and growls and they scatter, shrieking.
"Shoulda left when I told you to," Stiles yells after the five of them. Well, Derek supposes, it could have been worse, it could have been—
"Stiles is upstairs. And busy. Very busy," Scott yells to someone downstairs. Derek freezes.
"Yeah, Derek, just like that," Stiles sighs and Derek forgets all about who Scott might be talking to.
(That's his excuse when Stiles sobs on his shoulder later, after Coach Finstock walks in talking about a weird shipment of mountain ash lacrosse sticks and leaves talking about balls.)
The next week, the Bower pack make various comments: about the terrible tarp barely covering the hole in Derek's loft, Derek's status as a beta, his... bizarre choice of mate.
Derek only runs them out of town at that last slight. Stiles isn't bizarre. He will concede that maybe he's an acquired taste. But if the Bowers can't tell that Stiles has very nice fingers, then Derek has absolutely no hope for them at all.