“Gimme a firewhiskey on the rocks, barkeep.”
Derek slides a butterbeer across the bar counter.
“You’re not funny at all, you know,” Stiles says, slouching onto his usual stool. He pops the cap anyway and slurps the foam from the lip of the bottle. “I’m of age, now,” he says. He puffs his chest out. “I can order whatever I want.”
“Not from me, you can’t,” Derek says. He swirls a towel around the flute of a wine glass in a practiced motion.
[Derek remembered the first time Stiles walked into the bar. He knew Stiles’ face even then, he recognized him, but only in the vague way he also recognized those Slytherin twins or the little redheaded girl or the boy who always wore an old-fashioned flashbulb camera around his neck. Derek watched them all through the smoky glass window. He watched them like he watched hundreds of students from his place behind the counter, all of them laughing and talking and passing on by the bar.
Stiles was the first one to ever open the door. He was a scrawny fifth-year back then, his cheeks flushed red as his scarf. He ordered a butterbeer and sat in a dim corner, following Derek and Laura with his eyes. Eventually, he got up and left again without speaking a word.]
When Derek turns his back to put the glass up, Stiles flicks the butterbeer cap at him. He misses. The cap clatters to the bottom of the wine rack.
“Remind me again how you made the Quidditch team?” Derek says. He rests his hip against the edge of the dark wood counter. It’s a slow day, even by the Hog’s Head’s standards.
“By my natural talent and athleticism,” Stiles says, grinning. He’s got a butterbeer moustache. “And food poisoning,” he adds thoughtfully. “It was the kidney pie. I fucking hate kidney pie, so I was the only one not puking my intestines up on tryout day.” He wipes his upper lip and then sucks the butterbeer off his fingertips.
“A food poisoning you arranged?” Derek says.
“What? No!” Stiles says, and then he frowns. “That would have been awesome, why didn’t I think of that?”
“You’d never actually do it,” Derek says.
Stiles deflates. “You’re probably right,” he says. He rubs out the ring of moisture his bottle left on the wood. “It would make Scott cry, I think. So that would be bad.”
[The third time Stiles came to the bar was the first time he spoke to Derek. He shuffled up, hand scrubbing the back of his head, and said: “So. My best friend is a werewolf. But he’s kind of different.”
Derek stilled. “So what?”
“So, you’re a werewolf too, can’t you help?” Stiles said, and then he squawked when Derek grabbed the front of his shirt and dragged him all the way across the bar counter, smashing a half-filled glass of brandy along the way.
“How do you know?” Derek snarled at him.
“It’s so obvious,” Stiles said, and the color drained out of his face when Derek’s knuckles whitened. “I just meant that I pay attention, you know! Little detail things. I read lunar charts, medical books, all that fun stuff. I promise you,” he said, and his eyes were huge, “I promise that I’m the only person who’s ever given enough of a shit to watch you long enough to figure it out.”
“Who’ve you told?” Derek demanded, and he bared his teeth.
“Nobody,” Stiles said. “Nobody, I fucking mean it. Do you think I would have opened with ‘my best friend is a werewolf’ if I wanted to hurt you?”
Derek released him.
Stiles fell back against the bar, his shirt glittering with glass shards. He was drenched in brandy. He sat up and wiped his palms on his jeans “So you’re going to help me help him, right?” he said, and Derek realized that he was completely fucked.]
Derek counts out the money in the till. Stiles watches him. His eyes shine clear brown in the winter sunlight, like brandy in the bottle.
“Scott was supposed to be here with me, today,” Stiles begins.
Derek rolls his eyes and elbows the till shut. It’s the beginning of a worn complaint.
“But he went to Madam Puddifoot’s with Kira,” Stiles says. “His new girlfriend.” He bites down on his lip.
“I thought he said he was in love with Allison,” Derek says.
“I mean,” Stiles says, “I’m pretty sure he still has a thing for Allison. Who’s dating Isaac, who definitely has a thing for Scott. And I heard Kira going on about Allison’s beautiful eyes the other day,” Stiles says, and he makes a face. “So knowing Scott, this will probably all end in a four-way.”
“Don’t ever use ‘Scott’ and ‘four way’ in the same sentence again,” Derek says.
Stiles laughs so hard he slips sideways out of his stool.
[On Stiles’ fourth visit, a floppy-haired boy trailed him in.
“Scott, this is Derek. And Laura,” Stiles said, nudging Scott forward.
Laura folded her arms. “This is the one? Jesus,” she said. “I’ve got my work cut out.”
Scott had great brown earnest eyes. Derek had never met anyone so young and sincere looking in his life. It made his knuckles itch. He was almost grateful when Laura took Scott with her to the back room and left him alone at the bar with Stiles.
“I hope no one outside saw that,” Stiles said. He snagged a butterbeer from underneath the bar and settled onto a seat. “It probably looks like Scott is a hooker. Or Laura is a hooker. Or maybe Scott is a hooker-in-training. Laura’s hooker protégé.”
Derek ignored the joke. He leveled a flat stare at Stiles. “Why are you doing this for him?”
“Seriously?” Stiles asked, and when Derek kept on staring at him, he sighed and hooked one of his gangling legs around the crossbar of the stool. “He’s my best friend, man. My mom died in my second year, and I was-not great, for a long time. Not a good person to be around. But he stayed. So it’s my turn to stay for him.”
At the end of the day, Derek forgot to charge Stiles for the drink.]
Stiles pulls himself back up. His hair sticks out in all directions. “Sorry. I was just-“
“Demonstrating your talents,” Derek finishes.
“Fuck you,” Stiles says, but the corner of his mouth twists into a smile. He tips over the empty bottle. “I’m done with this, can I get something else? Vodka sour?” he says hopefully.
Derek makes him a Shirley Temple.
“You’re not as cute as you think you are,” Stiles says, but he fishes the cherry out and pops it in his mouth.
“The night regulars like me,” Derek says.
“The night regulars,” Stiles says, and he pulls the cherry stem out from between his teeth. “The regulars. You mean, like the owl post office lady who walks around with the little brown bird under her hat? Or Finstock, the psycho Defense Against the Dark Arts professor? Yeah, I know he comes here, he always smells like gillywater. That man is unhinged.” He points the stem at Derek. “You, my friend, need to get out more.”
[The door to the Hog’s Head sat lopsided and heavy on its hinges, digging a half-moon track on the inn floor. Derek liked it that way. When the door opened, he could hear the scrape and drag of the door, better than any alarm bell.
It was a Wednesday night and the bar was crowded as it ever got. Derek heard the familiar scrape and he turned to see Stiles stepping over the threshold, hood pulled up to cast a deep shadow over his face. Derek looked to Laura for help, but she was busy serving up a smoking goblet of absinthe to a green-skinned woman in a turban.
“What the fuck are you doing here at night?” he hissed, when Stiles sidled up to the bar.
“So there’s a situation,” Stiles said, and he looked almost bored, but Derek could hear the quick rabbit-patter of his heartbeat.
“This better be good,” Derek said.
“Oh yeah,” Stiles said, and he leaned in close. “Four students in the hospital wing. Unicorn turned up dead in the Forbidden Forest, completely drained of blood. I’m thinking it’s a darach.”
“A darach,” Derek said. “Really.”
“Yeah,” Stiles said. “Hogwarts administration didn’t believe me, of course, but tonight is the crescent moon, and you know what that means for darach rituals.”
“You’re asking for my help?”
“I’m just keeping you informed,” Stiles said. “Whether or not you help us, that’s your choice. Either way, me and Scott are going into the forest tonight.”
The Hog’s Head closed early that night.]
“I get out,” Derek says.
“The front lawn doesn’t count,” Stiles says.
“I get out,” Derek repeats.
“Yeah? How about outside of the village? How about past the general Hogwarts area? When was the last time that happened?”
Derek mulls over it. “Three years ago.”
“There you go,” Stiles says, slapping his palms on the counter triumphantly.
“Funny, I don’t see you getting out much, either,” Derek says.
Stiles’ cheeks go pink. “I get out. I have friends, loads of them, I could give you a list if I wanted to. We do friendly things. Teenager-type things.”
“Right,” Derek says. “That would be why you’re hanging around the Hog’s Head on Hogsmeade visit weekends.” He jerks his thumb at the window.
Stiles looks down at his drink.
Outside, the other Hogwarts students tramp through the snow and past the Hog’s Head. They congregate in loud, happy clusters, awash in the golden warm light of the Three Broomsticks and Zonko’s Joke Shop. But Stiles sits across from Derek at the bar.
[Sometimes, Stiles stayed at the school over Christmas. Other times, he came up to visit during the summer holidays.
“Fucking weird,” Laura said. “What kind of kid comes back around school during the holiday?”
Derek shrugged and ignored her. He figured that it was just something that you did, when your mother was dead and your father was a muggle auror.
“Sheriff,” Stiles would correct him. He was always sticky on that point. “Muggles don’t have aurors.”
Derek didn’t doubt that Stiles loved his father. But death cracked and reshaped families, and sometimes it took a long while to get used to the new seams. For a long time Derek had bad days, days when he looked at Laura and the urge to run seized him, because nothing made sense to him anymore.]
Derek finds a garish cocktail umbrella on the shelf under the counter. He leans over and sticks in in Stiles’ half-finished Shirley Temple, a peace offering.
“Festive,” Stiles says, and he’s smiling again. He fluffs the paper umbrella. “I’m gonna be real, I mostly just enjoy the mental picture of you picking this out.”
“I didn’t pick it,” Derek says. “Laura did.”
Stiles lifts his eyebrows. “Oh.”
“Tell her if you liked it,” Derek says. “She wants to add new drinks to the menu.”
“Yeah, how about no,” Stiles says. He digs a thumbnail into the counter, flaking off a chip of dark wood stain. “I’m pretty sure she fucking hates me.”
[Laura didn’t hate Stiles, but she didn’t like him either. To her, he was mildly inconvenient happenstance, like rain in the winter or a wildflower sprouting in her herb box. Mostly, her gaze skipped right past him. Stiles blurred around the edges of her sight. He belonged to the background scenery in her life.
Derek only ever saw Laura really look at Stiles once.
Derek and Laura snuck into the hospital wing while the rest of the school was at the big Quidditch match. Stiles shattered all the bones in his right leg fighting a water demon that rose up out of the Black Lake. He told his friends and his school teachers that he tried to practice for Quidditch tryouts by himself, and then fell off his broom and broke his leg. They believed him.
“Does it ever get old?” Laura said. She looked down at Stiles. “Saving them. Never getting any thanks.”
“Nah,” Stiles said, and his heartbeat stuttered. Lie. He forced a grin, splitting open the half-healed scab on his lip. “Besides, Scott sends me fruit baskets.” Lie.
Laura turned away to face the window, leaning in to the distant roar of the crowd.]
“Suit yourself,” Derek says.
“Easy enough for you to say,” Stiles says. “She’s your sister. You grew up with her.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you guys,” Stiles says. “But you two are just not the most approachable family in town. Or anywhere, really. And you guys work food service.” He shakes his head, drumming his fingertips on the counter.
“The bar does fine,” Derek says. He tugs his apron straight.
“Fine is good enough?” Stiles asks.
“Fine is better than before,” Derek says, and Stiles ducks his head at that.
[After the big fire, Laura and Derek ran. They leapfrogged across the country, from village to town to city. They took the train to the end of the line. When it wasn’t enough anymore, they started hopping countries. They never stayed anywhere longer than a month, until New York City.
Derek still hadn’t figured out why it was New York that made them slow down. New York was so fast, and Manhattan felt more alive than any other place in the world. The subways rumbled under his feet, like a great beast beneath the streets drawing breath. The city might have been built on the back of a monster.
Eventually, Laura got a job bartending. Derek got a job cleaning that same bar. They saved enough to rent a shoebox apartment near the train station, where at nights when Derek laid his head to rest he could hear the thrumming pulse of the land.
Years slid past them, until the bitterly cold February morning came where Laura folded her hands around her mug of coffee and looked at the spot over Derek’s shoulder and said “We could take over the bar, maybe,” and he knew that she didn’t mean the one in New York.
So they came back to Hogsmeade and re-opened the Hog’s Head.
In Hogsmeade, Derek found that people had taken to calling the burnt out shell of their old home ‘the Shrieking Shack’, and for the first time he knew what it was to feel old.]
“Anyway,” Stiles says, and he waves aside the moment. “Some people are actually terrified of you guys, you know? Like, Scott nearly cried when he first met Laura. And other kids in my year think you’re intimidating,” he says to Derek. “But I know your secret.”
“My secret?” Derek says.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. ‘You look angry and intimidating,” and he traces a line over his eyebrows with his finger. “But I know that you’re actually just an overgrown goon in a leather jacket who never figured out how to approach people.”
“Hey,” Derek says, and he thinks that he should probably be offended by that.
“See?” Stiles says. He points. “Right there. Someone who didn’t know any better would have been worried you’d rip their throat out.”
“I could rip your throat out,” Derek says. “If I wanted to.”
“Intimidating,” Stiles rolls his eyes. “Truly. I’m sure you were hands-down the most terrifying member of the Hufflepuff Gobstones Appreciation Society.”
Derek freezes. “You can’t know that.”
“I know a lot of things I ‘can’t know’,” Stiles says, sketching air quotes.
“I may or may not have broken into the Hogwarts archived records,” Stiles says, “and gone through old school papers and club logs for any and all instances of ‘Derek Hale’. It may or may not have been for hypothetical blackmail purposes.”
“Are you sure you’re a Gryffindor?” Derek says.
“The hat did try to put me in Slytherin,” Stiles shrugs. “But I asked for Gryffindor, so,” and he drains his glass, crunching on the bits of syrupy ice at the bottom.
“Why?” Stiles snorts. “Because of Scott, duh. They sort alphabetically, and M is before S, so he went before me. He got sorted into Gryffindor. What was I gonna do, leave him behind? He would have never made it up to the common room.”
Derek smirks at that. At some point, he finds, he gave up even pretending to keep his hands busy arranging glasses or cleaning up the bar. Now he stands mirroring Stiles, elbows resting on the counter.
“You know what?” Stiles says. “The hat was probably right, I would have made an awesome Slytherin. Lydia disagrees, though. She says I lack the proper ambition. Ambition, hah,” Stiles says, and he brandishes his cocktail umbrella like a wand. “I’ll show her ambition. I’ll beat her on every exam this year.”
“Sure,” Derek says.
“Every exam except Ancient Runes, maybe,” Stiles says. He raps the cocktail umbrella on the counter. “She’s supernaturally good at that stuff, I wanna investigate her for academic performance-enhancing potions.”
“Slytherin,” Derek says, amused.
Stiles cocks his head to the side, like a dog that’s sighted a car to chase. “Hey,” he says. “What do you think of, when you think Gryffindor? Give me descriptives, give me adjectives.”
Derek thinks of Scott. “Stupid,” he decides. “And brave.”
“Stupid and brave, huh?” Stiles says. “I can do stupid and brave. Watch me.”
And then he leans in close, touching his fingers underneath Derek’s chin. His eyes flicker across Derek’s face, searching for something. Whatever he’s looking for, he seems to find it. He closes his eyes and kisses him, warm and toffee-sweet.
Stiles pulls back. “Stupid?” he says, and he begins to arrange his face into a twisted smile, like he’ll turn it into a joke, if he has to.
“Brave,” Derek says, and he pulls Stiles close again so that when Stiles laughs, he can feel the shape of it against his skin.