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How Derek Met His Smallest Fan

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Derek is standing in the fruits and vegetables aisle, trying to decide between two very nice looking watermelons, when someone small crashes into his legs. He looks down, moving his shopping basket out of the way, to see a pair of big, brown eyes staring up at him.

“’scuse me,” the boy says quickly and then steps on Derek’s foot in his haste to get to the end of the aisle and disappear around the corner.

Derek is still turned in the boy’s direction, trying to figure out what was so familiar about him – something vague about his scent – when a larger someone crashes into his back.

“Crap, sorry, I-”

Derek freezes at the sound of the man’s voice, an even more familiar scent hitting his nose. There’s a pause before he feels a hand on his shoulder forcing him to turn around.

“Derek?” Stiles says, and this is exactly what Derek was hoping to avoid.

-

It had been years since Derek stayed in Beacon Hills for more than a couple of weeks in a row. After the year Laura died and all the mess with Peter, the Alpha Pack and the Argents, he eventually came to the conclusion that the town didn’t want him around. He showed up every once in a while, mostly to deal with paperwork concerning his family’s properties, but he’d stopped making contact with Scott and the rest of his pack. He thought about them sometimes, when he had trouble sleeping and his brain didn’t have anything better to do but replay some of the most painful moments of his past. Sometimes he talked to Deaton on the phone, who gave him a summary of the supernatural events Derek was missing, but that was it.

Nothing much had happened in the years after he left for good. After that first streak of threats had fallen on Beacon Hills and Scott had managed to get rid of every single one, it seemed like the dodgiest side of the supernatural community had given up on the small town. The way Deaton painted it, Beacon Hills had become a safe haven for every creature who was looking for a place to live where strange events and behaviors were taken in stride by its inhabitants.

Still, Derek hadn’t been planning to return.

He went to New York first, on the second anniversary of Laura’s death, and stayed in the same apartment they had shared after the fire. He got a job at a construction site and just kind of existed for eighteen months. After that, he wandered all over the East Coast, finding jobs with odd hours and subletting basement apartments. He dated. He went out drinking with his co-workers. He ran into other werewolves who had no idea who he was but still nodded at him in passing.

Mostly, he felt invisible.

Cora was living in France, taken in by the same pack that had made a place for Isaac all those years ago. They talked once a week. Generally, Derek didn’t have much to say.

Cora kept needling him, asking him what he thought he was doing, if he was happy, if he was planning to float around the country until he disappeared, no one close enough to notice.

Derek didn’t know.

Then one day he woke up thinking about his old family home. The one that wasn’t there anymore. He thought of the land where he had grown up, now only open for the security company he paid to patrol the grounds and kick trespassers out.

Suddenly, after almost ten years, he thought of all the afternoons he had spent running around the forest with Laura and Cora and didn’t feel like his heart was breaking. He thought it would be nice to visit the place again. Walk around the preserve and try to find the tree where they had buried that time capsule when Derek was in the sixth grade. Find the creek that ran around the property, the one Laura had pushed him into once when he was eight and he had cried.

He couldn’t get it out of his head.

The following week he was entering Beacon Hills in a rental car. And over a month later, he was still there.

-

“Stiles,” Derek says in an exhale. His grip on the basket’s handle is hurting his hand. Stiles looks older. Of course, the last time Derek saw him he had been eighteen. He has to be around twenty-seven now. His hair is a mess, uncombed and rid of any product. There’s stubble dusting his cheeks. He smells like soap and maple syrup and a bit like dust. He looks surprised and tired.

“What the hell are you doing here?” He asks. Derek lifts his hand, the contents of his basket rolling to one side.

“Shopping.”

“No, shit. Are you-” He stops himself and looks around, a little wildly. “Wait, fuck, wait here. Hold this, don’t move.”

He shoves his shopping cart against Derek’s legs and practically runs around the corner. Right. The kid.

Derek stands in the same spot for almost five minutes, looking down at the mix of candy and frozen vegetables in Stiles’ cart. Stiles has a kid , he thinks. He’s an adult .

Derek feels old.

-

It took Derek almost a week to venture out of the preserve after he got there. He was staying in one the small cabins spread around the forest. They used to rent them out in the summer, sometimes, a lifetime ago. He chose the one closest to where the house used to be and spent the first few days making it livable. It wasn’t as run down as he had expected. He suspected people were still using the cabins when they could get away with it. Maybe the same people from the security company.

He didn’t care – it was less work for him.

His trunk was full of groceries, bedding and kitchen supplies. There was no need for him to go to town until he ran out of food. He told himself he was being ridiculous, what were the chances of running into anyone he knew? Beacon Hills was small compared to New York, sure, but you could still be anonymous if you wanted to, and Derek very much wanted to.

Still, he couldn’t make himself cross the limits of his family’s property until he was so desperate for something to eat that didn’t come out of a can that he was considering finding some kind of edible weed growing in the forest.

So he went grocery shopping.

Instead of sticking to the suburbs, though, he drove an extra ten miles to the more urban part of town and left his car in a crowded parking lot, unnoticeable among a sea of other dark SUVs. He was in and out of the store in twenty minutes, and he practically sped back home. He didn’t run into anybody he knew.

-

He got careless. That’s why he’s standing next to the watermelons now, holding Stiles Stilinski’s groceries. After that first time, when everyone around him was a stranger and the woman at the register barely even glanced at him, he started making the trip to the store a weekly thing. He liked the feeling of belonging but still being invisible.

And now here he is. Turning over in his head this new image of Stiles. Stiles who is a father. Stiles who is responsible of another human life, when he could barely take care of himself the last time Derek saw him.

When Stiles rounds the corner with the boy in tow, Derek can’t help but stare.

The boy has to be around six, he comes up to Stiles’ hip. His hair is cut very short, a few shades too dark to be blond. He’s wearing what can only be pajama pants, little Zs printed all over the light blue fabric. His t-shirt looks like half of a cheap Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume. He’s wearing small red crocs.

And when he looks up at him, there’s no doubt in Derek’s mind that the boy is Stiles’.

“Um, sorry about that,” Stiles says and Derek drags his eyes away from the kid to look at him. He seems uncomfortable. “I can take that back now.”

He reaches out for the cart and Derek awkwardly releases it. The boy lifts the arm he was hiding behind his back and drops a box of Oreo Pop-tarts inside. Stiles rolls his eyes and pretends he didn’t see.

“So, you’re back,” he says. Derek nods. His neck feels stiff. “Where are you staying?”

“The preserve.” His voice comes out hoarse and he has to clear his throat. The boy looks at him, big eyes assessing him. “Hello,” Derek tells him.

He sees Stiles’ hand tighten on the boy’s shoulder.

“This is Nate.”

“Hello, Nate,” Derek amends.

“Bud, this is an old…friend of mine.” Derek ignores the break in the sentence and nods.

“I’m Derek.”

Nate’s eyes grow so big he looks like a cartoon character. His whole face goes bright red and he turns to look up at Stiles, who looks exactly the same for some reason.

Dad,” Nate whispers urgently, a small hand closing on the hem of Stiles’ shirt. Derek’s own eyes bulge. Stiles is a dad.

“It’s too early for this,” Stiles mutters and closes his eyes.

-

When Derek eventually went exploring to the old site, he was surprised to find that nature had failed to claim back that area of the forest. He had been expecting weeds and fallen branches. But the clearing looked taken care of. The grass was long but bright green, not scorched like he had been fearing. Derek could hear the creek running close by, birds chirping on the tree tops.

For the first time in years he felt at home and he had to sit down. He dropped right in the middle of the clearing and imagined a house around him. He could do it. Not only did the very land seem to be waiting for something, but he could picture himself building a new house there, for once without his chest seizing.

He waited up that night and called Cora when he knew she was sure to be up and asked her what she thought. She didn’t say anything for a few seconds, and Derek started to get anxious. He wouldn’t do anything if his sister didn’t agree, the land was as much hers as it was his, but it would hurt to hear her refuse.

“You’ll be okay doing that by yourself?” She asked and Derek let out a breath.

“I think I will,” he replied and the next day he was calling contractors.

-

Nate is staring at Derek like he’s waiting for him to tell him the meaning of life. Stiles looks completely mortified. Derek has no idea what’s going on.

“What?” He asks, resisting the urge to take a step back.

“You’re Derek,” Nate says, as if Derek is not aware of his own name.

“Oh, God. I did not think my day would go like this,” Stiles’ cheeks are still flushed, he’s flattening his hair against his head and avoiding Derek’s eyes.

“Stiles.”

“I-” Stiles starts to say but Nate steps in front of him and yanks on Derek’s basket, making him look down at him.

“Can you really punch through a cement wall?” He asks loudly and Stiles lets out a nervous laugh. Derek is stunned into silence for a second before he makes a show of looking around them and leaning down to whisper, “Only you and your dad know about that.”

Nate’s eyes widen even more, his face breaking into a huge, gap-toothed smile.

“Can you show me?” He looks so excited, so much like Stiles for a second, Derek feels like he’s dreaming. Is he really having a conversation with Stiles’ son?

“Another time,” he says, flicking his eyes up to Stiles, who is watching Nate with a small smile on his face. When he catches Derek looking, his smile turns a bit sour.

“I may have told Nate about you, occasionally.” He runs a hand through his hair again. “Are you really staying at the preserve?”

“I’m rebuilding.”

Stiles nods.

“Are you… Dude, get your hand out of there.” He pries Nate’s small hand out of Derek’s basket. “Sorry, we’re working on our snooping tendencies.”

Derek looks at Stiles, his eyebrows going up, his mouth twitching without his permission. Stiles laughs again, scratching at his cheek, dropping his eyes.

“I kinda missed that look,” he says. He takes Nate’s hand and pulls him away from Derek. “Listen, come over for lunch. It’s Saturday, you’re not doing anything today, right? We can catch up. Anybody know you’re here?”

“Only Cora.” Derek is having trouble keeping up with everything happening right now. “I, uh, I was going to-”

“What?” Stiles stares. Nate stares. They are both daring him to refuse. Derek looks down at his groceries (toothpaste, cream cheese, a pair of socks) and sighs.

“I’ll put this back.”

-

They follow him as he drops every item where it belongs and then he trails after them as Stiles pays at the register. Nate keeps looking over his shoulder at him, and Derek tries to smile, but he thinks it comes out pained. Stiles keeps Nate’s hand in his all the way to their car.

“You’re riding shotgun,” he announces as he unlocks the trunk and drops his bags inside. “I don’t trust you to follow us in your car.”

“What happened to the jeep?”

Stiles looks at him as if he just asked the most ridiculous thing imaginable.

“It’s been almost ten years, Derek. Did you think everything would start back up just the same as it was when you left?”

Derek tamps down on the apology that almost escapes his lips and sets his shoulders.

“I guess I didn’t think you would ever be mature enough for a grownup car,” he says instead and his eyes slide down to Nate, who is still looking at him. Derek doesn’t think he’s blinking. “Your dad used to be a real pain in the butt.”

Nate frowns at Stiles, letting go of his hand. Stiles looks hurt. Derek thinks he made a mistake.

-

The drive to Stiles’ place is quiet and tense. Nate is surprisingly grumpy and serious for someone so small. If Derek had ever imagined what Stiles’ kid might act like, it wouldn’t have been like this. He wonders what Nate’s mother is like.

Stiles is quiet, too. He stares ahead and doesn’t even turn the radio on. Derek regrets his comment back at the parking lot. He feels like he poked on an old wound and reopened it.

Ten minutes into the trip, he catches Stiles looking at him out of the corner of his eye.

“You’re different,” he says when he realizes Derek is watching him.

“It’s been ten years, Stiles.” He smiles a little and Stiles frowns.

“This is so weird.”

“What’s weird?” Nate asks from the back. He sounds affronted.

Derek turns around in his seat. Nate is sitting behind Stiles, seatbelt done and hands folded on his lap. He can’t believe this is Stiles’ kid. Then he looks at his outfit. Stiles is also wearing what are probably his sleeping clothes. They look like they woke up, realized they didn’t have anything to eat and simply walked out of the house.

“I’m weird,” Derek tells him.

“You’re not.”

“I’m not?”

Nate shakes his head. He’s clutching at his knees, his little knuckles white.

“Thank you, Nate.” He sits back properly. “Nate says I’m not weird.”

“Who the hell are you…?” Stiles trails off, checking the rearview mirror.

“You said hell!” Nate announces loudly and Stiles winces, caught.

-

Derek doesn’t know what he was expecting, but a two-story house in a nice, seemingly expensive neighborhood isn’t it. His surprise must show on his face, because Stiles snorts as he parks in the driveway.

“Maybe I’m doing really, really good these days. How would you know?” He gets out of the car before Derek can reply. Behind him, Nate is fumbling with his seatbelt, and Derek leans back and helps him.

“I’ll show you my room,” Nate says as Stiles opens the door for him. “Do you like Lego?”

“Um, yes.”

Derek is not used to people getting this comfortable with him this quickly. Especially kids. He is used to be seen as intimidating, distant, unapproachable. He wonders just how often Stiles has talked about him to his son.

“Derek and I have to talk first.” Stiles helps Nate jump out of the car. “You can play after lunch.”

Nate scowls, little brows furrowing. “What’s for lunch?” He asks, sullen.

“Mac and cheese?” Stiles looks at Derek, who nods when he realizes that they are waiting for him to approve. Nate grins. “Want to get everything ready while I bring these bags inside?”

Nate runs to the door, tries to open and runs back to get the keys from Stiles.

“Mac and cheese’s his favorite,” Stiles says softly as he’s taking the bags from the trunk. “But he’s only allowed to eat it once a week. And he gets to cook it.”

“Will he be okay?” Derek asks, looking at the front door, now hanging open. He can hear pans clattering from inside the house.

“He knows not to touch the stove.”

Derek takes all the bags as Stiles locks the car and leads the way to his house. Inside it smells clean and airy, like they left all the windows open before they went out. The house is large and modern, all open doorways and clear hardwood floors. It’s also a complete mess. They walk into a small hall where they kick off their shoes and then up three steps into a sitting room. There are cardboard boxes piled up in every corner, piles of papers and old-looking books, toys and movie cases strewn around the floor. Careful not to bump into anything, they go through a wide archway that leads to the kitchen, which is pretty much in the same state.

The boxes here are labeled KITCHEN in what must be Nate’s scrawl.

Nate is standing on a small stool at the sink, pouring water into a pot. When he looks back to wave Derek over, he spills most of it down his front. He doesn’t seem to care, though. He just huffs in annoyance and starts again.

Derek leaves the bags on the counter and goes over to help.

It’s been years since he’s been around kids, and everything about Nate kind of fascinates him. From his thin arms straining to hold the pot in place, to his tiny, scrunched up nose. Standing on the stool, he doesn’t even reach Derek’s shoulders.

He’s explaining the process to make the best macaroni and cheese in his high, serious voice, checking that Derek is listening every once in a while. Behind them, Stiles is putting the groceries away, quietly cursing every time he trips over something on the floor.

“Sometimes we make our own and sometimes we make the real one in the box,” Nate is explaining. “I like our own when my dad makes it but I like the box one when I make it best.”

“Nate is the best chef in the house,” Stiles says. “And the best artist and the best spider finder.”

“Dad is the best story teller.”

Derek looks behind him to see Stiles smile to himself as he picks up a pile of papers from the table and puts it on the counter next to an old toaster.

“How long have you been living here?”

“Like one million days,” Nate replies, measuring macaroni carefully.

“Two months,” Stiles says, laughing.

“How many days is two months?”

“Sixty-one.”

“It feels like a million,” Nate sighs.

“How long have you been back?”

Derek turns around, holding his hand out to Nate, who is slowly pouring the right amount of salt into his palm. Stiles is not looking at him, but Derek can hear his heart’s rate pick up slightly. Like he knows Derek is watching him.

“A little over a month.” Stiles hums, still clearing the table. He’s still thin, but he’s filled out since high school. His shoulders look rounder than he remembers. There are also dark circles under his eyes, and his face is a little too pale for this time of the year. “I’m staying in one of the cabins in the preserve.”

“Cabins,” Stiles repeats, frowning. “Are these new cabins or were they always there? Why didn’t I know of these cabins?”

“I’m actually surprised you didn’t know,” Derek muses, raising an eyebrow, and Stiles mirrors him. “Where do you think I stayed those first few months?”

He watches Stiles’ face go thoughtful and then clear with realization.

“But you’re rebuilding?”

“Maybe just building. I’m not planning on living by myself in a house designed for fifteen people.”

“Is that a crack at my house of choice? I’ll have you know the rent is a steal. I seriously questioned the owner’s sanity when I read the number.”

“How many rooms?”

“Let’s just say there’s plenty of space for guests.”

-

Nate is staring at Derek as he puts a first forkful in his mouth. He chews slowly, squinting as if he’s assessing the quality of Nate’s dish and then looks the boy in the eye.

“This is the best macaroni and cheese I have ever tasted,” he declares, completely serious. Nate breaks into a smile.

“Really?”

“I’ll have to steal the recipe.” He shoves more into his mouth and watches Nate go pink with happiness as he digs in.

“Stop being cute with my kid, please,” Stiles mutters so only Derek can hear. When he looks over, he sees that Stiles looks about as happy as Nate.

“I’ll eat your share if you don’t hurry up,” he tells him and Stiles pulls his bowl closer to him, glaring.

“I’ll stab you with my spork.”

-

After lunch, Nate hurries upstairs to watch a show he never misses on TV, his Lego plans forgotten. Derek and Stiles sit across from one another, the remains of Nate’s masterpiece between them.

“This is so fucking weird,” Stiles eventually says, cursing freely now that they are alone. “Who knew you were good with kids.”

“Who knew you had a kid.”

“Um, everyone but you.”

There’s a pause, Derek looks down to his hands resting on the table.

“How old is he?” He asks after a few seconds and hears Stiles sigh.

“Going on seven.”

“He’s…he looks like you.”

“He looks nothing like me.”

“He does.” Derek looks up. “When he smiles he looks just like you.”

Stiles looks so tired. He’s slumping back on his chair, his hair pointing everywhere. Derek wants to ask what’s wrong, but he feels like he’s not entitled to. He doesn’t regret leaving, but maybe he’s starting to regret cutting off all communication with Beacon Hills. He wonders who else has kids. Who left, who stayed. Did they go to school? Did they get married? Who is Nate’s mother? Why can’t Derek smell her in the house?

“Where have you been?” Stiles asks first, and Derek tells him. He talks about New York and about working weird hours and being tired all the time. He talks about working in construction and in copy editing and farming and bar tending. Only Derek talks. By the time he starts telling Stiles about cleaning out the cabin he’s staying in, he’s only learned that Stiles is working in something related with books, and that’s it.

Stiles listens and asks questions and slouches further and further into his chair. It’s barely five in the afternoon. Derek can hear the TV upstairs, a door swinging open and closed as if pushed around by a breeze and, when he concentrates, Nate’s even breathing.

“Sorry,” Stiles says around a yawn. “We’re having trouble adjusting to the new house.”

“You’re not sleeping?”

“Well, Nate is not sleeping, so I’m not either.” He pauses, looking at the clock hanging next to the fridge. “Is he asleep?”

“Yeah.” Derek tilts his head to the side, picking up all the little noises around them. “I think he fell asleep with the TV.”

“Shit,” Stiles mutters and rubs at his eyes. “He’ll be up at midnight.”

“You should sleep now, then.” Derek stands up and starts clearing the table. “I’ll go.”

He starts washing dishes – Nate used an alarming amount of pots for only one batch of macaroni and cheese. When he’s done, he’s expecting to find Stiles asleep on the table. He jumps when he turns and finds Stiles’ eyes on him.

“You’re not going to ask me anything?”

Derek wipes his hands on his jeans. “Next time.”

“Give me your phone.” Stiles holds out his hand. Derek gives him his phone.

-

By the time Derek is back in the grocery store’s parking lot getting his car he has five new texts.

told everyone you’re back

varying degrees of anger and surprise. expect stern talking to’s

nate is saying your name in his sleep, not sure if cute or creepy…

did I mention you look good for an old man?

ignore the last message I’m sleep drunk. good night.

-

Earth is being dug up, a perimeter is set up. The basic outline of the new house is decided. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen and dining room, living room. The basement will stay open for now, he’ll think about adding new rooms later, after everything else is done. They say it will take between two or three months. He doesn’t want wood paneling, he wants cement blocks and bricks. He wants the best electric installation he can afford and an alarm system that will alert him if even a squirrel steps too close to his front door.

-

Stiles calls him Sunday afternoon. Derek stares at his phone, debating whether to answer or not. There’s a pile of blueprints on the table in front of him that he is supposed to approve by tomorrow and he has dinner in the oven. Stiles’ contact picture is a shot of his haggard face the day before, taken with the front camera of Derek’s cellphone. Even blurry and small on his screen Derek feels the weight of his stare, dark eyes boring into his.

He picks up.

“Stiles.”

“Derek,” Stiles’ voice is loud and alert. After staring at his picture, Derek had been expecting barely a sleepy murmur. “What kind of greeting is that?”

“What?”

“Let’s try again.” He hangs up and a second later Derek feels his phone vibrating against his ear. He picks up again.

“Hello, Stiles,” he sighs.

“Wrong!” Someone very young laughs. “Guess who?”

“Mmh,” Derek hums, pretending to think. “Is this Nate?”

“No!”

Derek frowns. He looks at his screen again, and doesn’t recognize the number.

“I give up, then,” he says. “Who is this?” But his phone is vibrating again.

“Hello?”

“That wasn’t me, that was a baby!” This time he’s sure it’s Nate.

“I’m sorry, I’m not good at this game,” Derek says, hoping he doesn’t get hung up on again. “Of course you sound older.”

“Yes,” Nate confirms, settling the matter quickly. “You’re invited to dinner.”

“Tonight?”

“Yes.”

“Are you going to cook?”

“Scott is going to cook. Dad says you can’t say no. Can you bring ice-cream? Dad forgot.”

Derek sits back in his chair, he wasn’t expecting to be ambushed so soon.

“What’s your favorite flavor?” He asks. He can hear a lot of voices in the background. Stiles and Scott, several women, a small child talking excitedly.

“Chocolate and banana!” Nate announces. “And Dad says…Dad says to tell you we are at Grandpa’s house.”

“Got it,” Derek sighs.

“Will you show me how to punch through a wall today?” Nate whispers, his voice sounds muffled, like he’s covering the receiver with his hand. Derek can’t help but smile.

“Your grandpa wouldn’t like that.”

-

The old Stilinski household is a lot closer to the preserve than Stiles’ new house. It takes Derek only fifteen minutes to get there, even after taking a detour to get Nate’s ice-cream. There are five cars parked in front of the driveway and the entire house is lit up. Derek can hear everyone talking inside even with his windows up.

A hush falls over when he turns off the engine. He’s expecting the door to open but nothing happens. If he strains, he can hear someone shushing the kids, and then he sees curtains twitching and two small faces appear at the front window. Nate waves.

Feeling out of place, he gets out of his car and walks over to the door, ice-cream held to his chest. Again, he expects the door to open when he reaches the top step, but it remains closed even though he can hear someone waiting on the other side. With a sigh, he knocks.

“Who is it?” A laughing voice calls from the other side and Derek rolls his eyes. Leave it to them to make this as awkward as possible.

Still, he swallows his pride and says his name out loud.

The door opens and Derek is greeted by a slightly-grayer-than-he-remembers Sheriff Stilinski. He claps Derek’s hand firmly, eyes crinkling in a smile. “Long time no see, son.”

“Yeah, uh.” He fumbles with the ice-cream, scrambling for something to say. “It’s good to see you, sir.” He winces at himself but the Sheriff just pats his shoulder and ushers him inside. He’s instantly tackled by Nate, who crashes into his legs and looks up at him, a big smile on his face.

“Did you remember the ice-cream?” He asks just as a toddler catches up to him and clings to his small back.

“Ice-cream?” She says, doing a pretty good imitation of Nate’s tone.

I’ll take the ice-cream.” The sheriff plucks the bag from Derek’s hand and walks further into the house. “None of this until after dinner.”

“Aw, Grandpa!” Nate calls, following him.

“Aw, Grandpa!” The little girl choruses, running a little unsteadily behind him.

“He’s not your Grandpa,” Derek hears Nate say before they disappear around a corner.

Derek is left standing in the entrance hall, the door still open behind him. There’s a collection of shoes just next to him, only two are child size and he recognizes Stiles’ sneakers from the day before.

“What the hell are you doing?” Derek looks up to find Stiles staring at him. He still looks like he could use about ten hours of sleep and his smile is not completely reaching his eyes. “You planning on running away?”

“No,” Derek replies. He’s not. He just doesn’t know what to do. Two days ago he wouldn’t have even imagined he would be doing this. The last time he was in the same room as the people currently waiting for him at least half of them were covered in blood. Stiles had still been mostly broken, not yet recovered from the Oni. Allison and Isaac had left for France, Erica and Boyd were not part of Derek’s pack anymore – Scott was their Alpha.

Derek wasn’t anyone’s anybody.

Derek still isn’t.

“Then close the door, lose your shoes and get in here,” Stiles says, eyebrows high on his forehead, arms crossed in front of him, like he’s daring Derek to disobey. Even a grown adult with a kid, he’s still a little shit.

Derek kicks off his boots, pulls the door closed and joins Stiles at the entry way.

Was Stiles always this tall? Derek thinks he may have been left a couple of inches behind. He didn’t notice the day before, but Stiles seems to have grown into the big hands that looked so out of place when he was a teenager.

“Happy?” He asks, standing in front of him.

Stiles’ wry smile makes another appearance.

“Let’s just have dinner, okay?”

-

Everyone turns to look at him as soon as Derek steps into the next room and he halts. His back straightens without his consent, frozen under the five pairs of eyes suddenly trained on him. Stiles walks into him with a soft oof.

They are all sitting around a coffee table, glasses and bottles scattered on the top. Scott stands up, expression serious. There’s something about him that makes Derek want to take a step back, but it lasts only until Scott smiles, and he looks seventeen all over again. Except for the beard.

Melissa McCall and Lydia are sitting together in a worn-looking armchair, each a glass in their hand. Erica and Boyd are standing, slightly behind Scott, smiling. No one looks like they’re going to attack him. No one looks ready to fight, or demand answers or throw a drink at his face.

Behind him, Stiles nudges him to keep walking.

Scott gives him a big hug, patting his back and everything.

“You look good, man,” he says when he releases Derek, holding him at arm’s length and giving him a quick onceover. “The hair is a little out of control, but other than that, you don’t look older than twenty-nine.”

“Your beard makes you look forty,” Derek replies and Scott laughs, shakes him a little by the shoulders.

“I like the unwashed mountain-man look,” Erica says.

“I wash.” Derek brings a hand up to his admittedly shaggy hair.

“We wouldn’t have let you in if you didn’t.” Boyd wraps his hand around Derek’s, thumps his shoulder and tightens his grip as he says, “It’s good to have you back.”

“I definitely remember you a lot less hairy, though,” Lydia says from his spot next to Scott’s mother. Her eyes roam from Derek’s face to his chest. “Everywhere.”

“I think we can move on from the body hair talk now, guys.” Stiles walks around Derek and flops down in Scott’s vacated seat. “We are all older and hairier.”

“Speak for yourself,” Lydia sniffs, taking a sip from her drink. “And I wasn’t complaining.”

“You look great,” a new voice offers, and Derek turns to see Allison coming in behind him. “But it’s not like Cora and Isaac didn’t send pictures, occasionally.”

“What?”

“Just because you didn’t ask after us doesn’t mean we didn’t ask after you, dude,” Stiles says. When Derek just stares at him, he sighs and continues, “Isaac keeps in touch, he sees Cora almost every day and so we have a collection of Skype screenshots large enough to compete against these two’s external drive worth of baby pictures.” He nods towards Erica and Boyd.

Derek blinks and decides to focus on what’s in front of him instead of asking Stiles why he let Derek talk himself hoarse the day before if he already knew about him from his little sister.

“Congratulations,” he says to Boyd and Erica, who beam. “She’s beautiful.”

Something beeps in what Derek assumes is the kitchen – he didn’t spend much time in Stiles’ house back in the day – and Scott excuses himself. Nate mentioned he was cooking dinner.

“Sit down, you look ridiculous,” Lydia tells him and Derek drops down on the seat next to Stiles’. He looks around him, all their faces are familiar and yet he knows next to nothing about who these people are now. The room smells like all of them, even Scott’s scent when he hugged him was a mix of a lot of little scents that Derek knows make up the whole of them.

Stiles, underneath that strange combination of maple syrup and dust, smells like pack.

Pressed against him to make room for Allison, Derek can feel Stiles’ heartbeat steadily drumming along. He can feel him breathing, relaxing further into the couch as if he’s seconds away from falling asleep.

“We’re all waiting for you to start talking.” Erica gestures a ‘go ahead’ with her hand, nails a dark purple.

“About what?”

“Try the last nine and a half years.” Lydia raises an eyebrow at him. Her hair is cut just over her shoulders, still wavy and a brighter red than he remembers.

“I thought Isaac kept you updated,” Derek argues, knowing it’s pointless. Nobody even bothers to answer, they just stare. So Derek finds himself retelling a summarized version of the stories he told Stiles just the day before. They all seem to listen attentively – Ms. McCall nodding him along, Boyd and Erica never taking their eyes off him, even though Derek knows they must be tuned in to whatever their daughter is doing.

Stiles is a solid weight against his arm.

“Didn’t you work for a newspaper for a while?” Allison asks at one point. Derek is already telling them about the construction plans.

“Only for six months, back in Maine.”

“Writer?”

“Editing.” Derek feels Stiles shift, sees him turn his head towards him out of the corner of his eye. “Graveyard shift.”

“They still have newspapers in Maine?” Lydia asks, sounding as if the mere idea is idiotic. “Haven’t they heard of the environmental movement?”

“This was five years ago, and it was a very small publishing company. I don’t think anyone outside the payroll read it.”

“That makes it even more of a waste,” Lydia sniffs.

There’s a clatter somewhere inside the house and then a series of running footsteps approaching. Nate skids into the sitting room in his socks and tumbles into Boyd’s lap.

“Watch it, buddy,” Stiles says, so softly only Derek hears him. The toddler appears a second later, going straight to her father, laughing and throwing her tiny arms out. Her skin is a dark, golden brown, her hair a mop of dark curls bouncing on her head, a couple pink barrettes barely holding on.

Boyd picks her up and sits her on his shoulder.

“Lucy, have you met Derek?” Erica asks her, grabbing one of her flailing feet.

“Derek?” Lucy asks, looking around. Derek waves and Nate, seeing him, flies to wedge himself between him and Stiles. Stiles groans when a he gets a knee in the gut. “He brought ice-cream.”

“Do you want to tell Derek how old you are?”

“Like this!” She holds up her hand in front of her and Nate sighs as if this is something that he has to deal with often, “That’s two, you’re three.”

-

There’s a small altercation right before the meal, in which Nate announces that he’s going to sit next to Derek but there’s not enough space for Lucy to sit on Nate’s other side, so everyone has to change seats before tears are shed. Nate drags his chair closer to Derek than is comfortable for either of them to eat, asks him if he likes ice-cream. Lucy stares at Nate as if she’s committing every word he says to memory.

Can three year-olds have crushes? Derek is not sure, but Lucy seems to be carrying a pretty big torch for the youngest Stilinski.

Derek is engrossed in a serious discussion about the best dessert foods when he realizes that no one else is talking. He pretends he doesn’t notice everyone’s eyes are on him and just agrees with Nate that anything containing chocolate is instantly at the top of the list.

When Lucy loudly confesses she likes rice pudding the best, Nate instantly turns to her to try to convince her of how wrong she is. It’s only then that Derek looks up and finds no one is trying to pretend they’re not staring.

“D’you think Scott needs help?”

“Surprisingly enough, he turned out to be the most competent in the kitchen of the bunch,” the sheriff says. “After Nate, of course.”

“I only know how to make mac and cheese and cereal.”

“That’s impressive for a nine year-old.” Melissa (as she insisted Derek to call her) gives Nate a smile.

“I’m six!”

Six? Even more impressive.”

Dinner is lasagna. Scott finally appears carrying two steaming platters, his forehead damp. Everyone makes room in the table and Lydia starts serving.

Derek can’t really remember the last time he shared dinner with a large group of people. He’s hesitant to start thinking about it, he’s pretty sure the last time was with his family and it’s only recently that he’s managed to think about those days without hurting and this is not the time or place to get nostalgic.

Everyone is talking about their weekend, about their jobs, their plans for the summer. Erica and Boyd’s conversations seem to revolve around Lucy more than anything else, Allison and Stiles are talking about some sort of translation. The sheriff and Melissa are making sure that the kids’ food makes it to their mouth and not the tablecloth. Lydia and Scott are seated at the far end of the table, huddled together and talking quietly among themselves.

Scott catches Derek’s eye and smiles, inviting him to ask.

“You haven’t told me anything about you,” he says instead.

“We have to make you suffer for a while, man.” Stiles hasn’t eaten much, Derek notes. His plate is still half full, while everyone else is on their second helping. “I mean, you come back and you don’t even bother to tell anybody….”

“I thought Cora kept you well informed,” Derek says, sharper than he intended.

“That’s not the point.” Stiles drops his fork and just like that, the pleasant atmosphere at the dinner table disappears.

“I didn’t think you would want to hear from me.” Derek tries to keep the resentment out of his voice, but he doesn’t think he’s very successful. “You couldn’t get rid of me fast enough the last time I was here.”

“What even are you talking about?”

“No one wanted to get rid of you,” Erica says.

Derek can’t say it out loud, but he knows. Back then, when everything was a mess and all the pain was still fresh. After Peter died the second time, after Scott finished establishing himself as Beacon Hills’ Alpha, what was Derek supposed to do? They had made it clear from the start that being part of the same pack as him was out of the question. He couldn’t even get involved with someone without them turning out to be a threat.

A serial-killing demon had taken over Stiles right before his eyes, Erica and Boyd had almost died without anyone even knowing – sealed away in a vault, Isaac had ended up moving to another continent. Not even his sister stayed. Was Derek supposed to stay, among all the memories and the people that came to him only when it was a matter of life and death?

“You disappeared,” Scott says. “And you just didn’t come back. You always came back before.”

“Deaton knew I was leaving,” Derek is aware he sounds defensive, but it’s a roomful of people against one, and he’s feeling attacked.

“As if Deaton ever told us anything not completely cryptic.” Stiles sits up, eyes boring into Derek. “It took months before Cora said anything.”

“Are you fighting?” Nate asks loudly. He sounds like a tiny parent, chastising his kids. He’s glaring at Stiles, his hands flat on the table, butt half out of his chair.

“No one is fighting,” Melissa assures him. “They just don’t know how to talk like adults.”

“You are not supposed to raise your voice,” Nate explains, his voice definitely a few notches too loud, but no one mentions it. Stiles just looks at him quietly, sighs.

“Sorry, Nate,” Scott is the first to say.

“You’re right, we shouldn’t raise our voices,” Erica follows.

“You tell them, bud,” Boyd winks at him.

Nate looks around the table, huffs and says, “Can we have ice-cream now?”

-

Before eight, Nate and Lucy are passed out on one of the couches and Derek and Stiles have been shamed into doing the dishes.

Stiles washes while Derek waits with a dishcloth in his hands, both in complete silence. Derek can hear everyone talking at the table, the smell of coffee still strong in the kitchen. Stiles is scraping at an oven pan like it personally insulted him, color high on his cheeks.

Derek allows himself to look at his profile.

The stubble on his face is darker than the day before, his hair is damp and sticking up from the steam and because he keeps rubbing his arm against his forehead. His mouth is turned down at the corners, his eyes tired.

“Did you sleep at all last night?” Derek asks before he can stop himself.

Stiles is quiet for a few seconds before he sighs, “Nate woke up at around two, wouldn’t go back to sleep.”

“How long has he been having trouble sleeping?”

“Since around the time we moved, I guess. He was better when we were back at the apartment.”

“Apartment?”

Stiles sighs again, gives the pan a few more aggressive scrubs before he lets it sink in the hot water. “I own a store downtown. A small bookstore, like, for special books. Our kind of books.”

Derek stares. Stiles is talking down at the sink.

“There’s a small apartment above the store. We lived there since Nate was about Lucy’s age until I found the house.”

“You and….”

“Me and Nate,” Stiles says with finality. Derek doesn’t push it.

“He doesn’t like the house?”

“He hasn’t said anything.” He picks the pan back out of the water. “But he’s angry, I think. He acts like he can’t stand me.”

“That’s not true,” Derek says but now that he thinks about it, Stiles may have a point. Nate does seem a little quick to get angry at Stiles.

“You didn’t know him before,” Stiles continues. “He trailed after me like I was a superhero, I swear. He wouldn’t leave a room without giving me a hug. Now the only time he seems to care about what I’m saying is story time.”

He trails off, and Derek swears his cheeks go a little redder.

“That’s something.”

“That’s…that’s not even about me, he just likes the stories. And now he won’t need them anymore.”

“Why not?”

Stiles doesn’t say anything. He washes dishes and Derek dries them and puts them away.

Later, when they’re finishing up, Stiles speaks up.

“I’ll text you the store’s address. Allison and Lydia help me out sometimes, but mostly it’s just me. You could keep me company, if you’re not doing anything. I’ll…I’ll tell you about the things you missed. In payment for the ice-cream.”

“You don’t have to pay me back for the ice-cream.” Stiles says nothing. “Is Nate going to be at school?”

“Summer vacation. Man, remember when summers were supposed to be all about doing nothing?”

Derek frowns, “He goes to work with you?”

“Day camp.”

“Is that… I mean, how safe is Beacon Hills? Lately.”

“Most of the group leaders are supernatural, actually.” Stiles takes the dishcloth from Derek and wipes his hands dry. “Nate’s is a werewolf.”

Derek’s frown deepens, shoulders tensing.

“Are they in Scott’s pack? Who-”

“It’s Boyd!” Scott yells from the dining room.

“Are you eavesdropping?” Stiles yells back. There is no answer. “Okay, it’s Boyd. But there are other werewolves around. And no, they’re not in Scott’s pack. But there’s no other Alphas, either.”

-

Everyone is getting ready to go when Derek and Stiles join them in the dining room. Boyd holds a sleeping Lucy in his arms as Erica tugs a jacket around her tiny shoulders, Allison is rummaging through her purse for her car keys and Scott and Lydia are, to Derek’s surprise, going home together.

“It was good to see you,” Scott says over another hug. “You need to invite us to the house warming when you’re done.”

“Yeah.” Derek awkwardly pats Scott’s back. “I, uh, I will.”

When they break apart, Stiles is staring at Derek as if he’s embarrassing himself. Derek scowls in his direction as Erica pulls him into a shorter but more painful hug. She pinches the back of his neck between two very sharp nails as makes him promise he’ll keep in touch.

It’s not until everyone is gone that Derek realizes that he was supposed to leave with the rest. In the house, only Melissa and the Stilinskis remain, and Derek feels suddenly out of place.

They are all sitting around a new batch of coffee, Nate still curled up on the couch.

“Do you mind if Nate and I crash here tonight? I don’t want to risk him waking up,” Stiles asks, his cheek resting on his folded arms.

“Of course you can stay, sweetie,” Melissa says and oh. This is another new development, but Derek is less surprised about it. Even he had been able to predict a Stilinski-McCall union back in the day, and not necessarily of the parent variation.

“Are you staying too, Derek?” The sheriff asks and Derek almost chokes on his coffee. It burns on its way down.

“No, sorry. I shouldn’t have stayed so late.” He coughs, feels his eyes watering and catches Stiles’ smiling eyes as he sets his mug down.

“Boy, did you become way less cool over the years,” he mutters into his arms and Derek wants to kick him under the table, but that would only prove him right.

After a few seconds of silence, the sheriff finally breaks.

“I’m sorry, I have to ask.” He pins Derek with a look. “Are you really here because you’re rebuilding you family home or should I warn the station to be on high alert? Because I’m sorry, son, but your arrivals are usually…eventful.”

The silence this time is deafening. Derek looks down at his coffee, unable to look at the people that have witnessed firsthand the trouble he usually drags behind him everywhere he goes.

Dad,” Stiles says, sitting properly.

“No, he- You’re right to worry.” Derek looks up, meets the sheriff’s eye. He doesn’t look angry or like he’s about to kick Derek out. He looks honestly curious. “I haven’t been in contact with any supernatural people pretty much since I left. I’ve met some in passing, but that’s it. And I definitely haven’t been dating for a while, so that’s something.”

He tries for a smile, but no one seems inclined to make light of the moment. The fact that he’s able to joke about it is enough to make Derek look down at his coffee again. He expects to feel ashamed. He doesn’t.

“You should stop by at the station, meet some of the new deputies,” the sheriff eventually says. “They’re a bit more knowledgeable than before.”

“Same with the hospital,” Melissa adds. “We have a whole new branch of staff dedicated to unusual treatments.”

“I will,” Derek promises.

“Not before you visit my place of employment, you won’t,” Stiles interjects. “My store is the heart of the community and we almost never see blood on the floor or criminal activity.”

“I hope you’re joking.” The sheriff points a finger at him. “I have no problem having the place shut down for inspection.”

“Of course I am,” Stiles mumbles into his arms, once again slumping down onto the table.

Two cups of coffee later, Derek is on his way to the door.

“Come by anytime,” Melissa says.

“And remember to stop by the station when you get the chance,” the sheriff adds.

Stiles was left sleeping in the dining room, Nate is a lump under a big blanket on the couch.

“Thank you, I will.”

“And check Stiles’ store for me tomorrow.” Derek stops in the process of stepping into his shoes and turns to the sheriff. “Something’s odd about these two lately and that place is a trouble magnet.”

“Odd how?”

“Not sleeping, barely eating, acting like they’re strangers who don’t even like each other,” Melissa supplies. “It started a couple of months ago. It wasn’t all great before, but you could tell Nate adored Stiles. Lately, I don’t know….”

“Stiles mentioned Nate acting strange,” Derek says.

“Believe me.” The sheriff holds the door open for Derek. “He is.”

-

The store, as it turns out, is nothing out of the ordinary. Well, okay, it apparently specializes in occult texts and, from what Derek understands, most of its clientele is not 100% human, but apart from that, everything seems normal.

Nothing feels off, and despite what Stiles said the day before, the floors and shelves appear free of blood.

The smell of dust, though, is overwhelming.

Derek stops breathing through his nose as soon as he enters, the little bell on the door tinkling above him. There’s no sign on the front window or any other way the place can be recognized as a bookstore from the outside. If someone were to peek inside, they would only see an old counter and, if they squinted, a random selection of used paperbacks scattered around the place.

Derek closes the door behind him and looks around. The floor is an old, battered ceramic that’s chipping at most corners. The bookcases pushed against the walls don’t match, and the shelves are sinking in the middle, even though they are mostly empty. The front window is big, it takes up most of the front wall, and the sunlight streaming through it is speckled with dust motes.

The only thing remotely modern and cared for in the whole room is what Derek assumes is Stiles’ laptop, resting on the counter and looking completely out of place.

Stiles is nowhere to be seen.

Derek steps around the counter and sits down on a rackety chair in front of the computer. He can hear Stiles somewhere further into the store, talking either to himself or into his phone, since his is the only voice Derek can make out without straining. He sounds harried.

There’s no way I can get that done for Friday.” Silence. “It’s two-hundred and fifty pages of a language I don’t speak fluently and there’s so much water damage on the thing that I’m afraid to handle it too much. ” Longer silence. “Yes, I understand that it’s vital for your negotiations but there’s-” Even longer silence. “No, I didn’t know that. Yes. No, I don’t want that. ” A sigh. “You will have to sign a release for that. Rush works are likely to- We will not be held responsible- Hello? Asshole.

Derek forces the chair to turn in the direction of Stiles’ approaching footsteps, and it creaks in a way that inspires little confidence. He stands up before the thing can collapse underneath him.

“You’re trespassing,” Stiles tells him. “And you’re early.”

He’s wearing a t-shirt that was probably black at some point in its life, but is now a mousy gray. The logo on the front is faded beyond recognition. Stiles’ arms are long and pale, which makes the thick hair covering them all the more shocking. Derek doesn’t think he’s ever seen Stiles in short sleeves before but he doubts it would have had the same effect on him ten years ago.

“I think that’s the brightest shirt you have ever worn in my presence,” Stiles says and Derek is relieved he’s not the only one staring.

“It’s hot out,” he says, looking down at his white t-shirt. There’s a hole near the hem.

Stiles opens his mouth to reply but shuts it with a click of his teeth before he says a word. “Not going there,” he mumbles to himself as he steps around Derek to get at his laptop.

“Who were you talking to?”

“Asshole client.” Stiles types his password in and opens a spreadsheet. He doesn’t seem to mind when Derek looks over his shoulder. He gets why when he can’t understand a single thing written on it. It’s mostly dates, initials and…zip codes? Strange combinations of letters and numbers, color coded and stretching down in a never ending list.

Stiles clicks on a few sections, writes notes and changes dates, all the while humming under his breath, chapped lower lip caught between his teeth.

“Why is he an asshole?” Derek eventually asks.

“He needs me to do a crazy big job for this Friday. I was supposed to have a month when I agreed.”

“Can’t you refuse?”

Stiles rubs his forehead with the back of his hand as he turns around. “Nope.”

Derek looks back at the screen, “What do you do here, exactly?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Stiles gestures around them, at the airport literature and century-old furniture.

“Should it be?”

“Nope.”

-

“Um, if I take you back there,” Stiles says a few minutes later, standing in front of a door leading to the back of the store. “I’ll have to break a mountain ash circle and uh, close it again when we’re inside it.”

“Okay.”

“Okay? Is that okay?”

“Yeah, it’s okay.”

Stiles side-eyes him as he unlocks the door and steps through it. Derek can feel the energy preventing him from walking inside, like an electric current vibrating in front of him. He waits for Stiles to break the circle, feels the release in the air just as it happens and he steps into a short hallway. A second later, the same energy is pushing at his back, now keeping him from leaving.

“Sorry about this,” Stiles says with a grimace, scratching the back of his neck. His arms are really…something.

“I understand,” Derek assures him, looking over his shoulder to the other end of the hallway. “What’s in here?”

“Oh, this is the real store.” Stiles rounds a corner and they enter a long, narrow room, covered wall to wall in old, leather-bound books. The smell hits Derek like a punch and he has to put a hand over his nose. “Yeah, I hear it’s pretty harsh for you guys back here.”

It’s not only dust. It’s an ancient smell, a mix of the old wood of the shelves and the crumpling paper of the books. The floor in this room is creaking hardwood, the lights long, fluorescent tubes hanging from the ceiling. Derek feels like he’s underground.

“Basically, I’m in the process of digitalizing these old things. As well as whatever my clients bring me. A lot of them are not in English, and the words are faded or half the content has been lost. It’s slow work.”

“Where did you get all this?” Derek asks through his fingers. It’s going to take a few minutes to get used to the smell.

“A lot of it was donated over the years. The Argents sent me a few crates a while back, when Allison was still in France. Some people bring me stuff to convert and then leave the original here, no use carrying it around when you can fit a whole encyclopedia in a thumb drive in your pocket.”

Derek steps closer to one of the shelves, peers at the titles as Stiles hangs back, looking at him.

“We found a few entries on the Hale pack a few years ago,” he says. “I can give the file to you next time you come over.”

Derek turns to look at him, finally lowering his hand and letting it hang loosely at his side.

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why all this?” Derek gestures around them and Stiles shrugs, looks away.

“It started as a way to help and it…escalated.”

“Is it dangerous?”

“Nah,” Stiles laughs, a short exhale through his nose. “Most of this stuff is harmless. Family trees, some common remedy recipes, a couple of old journals. It’s pretty interesting.”

When Derek doesn’t say anything, he continues. “I majored in Anthropology and studied enough Italian and Spanish to be able to work more or less on my own. Allison and Lydia chip in when I need help with French or Latin.”

“How much of it is already digital?”

“About half of it, I guess.”

Derek takes in the rows and rows of books and can’t help but being impressed.

“And all those books at your place….”

“I work from home a lot,” Stiles says shortly. “I’m here from nine to five, mostly, but I couldn’t meet my deadlines if I didn’t do overtime.”

“What about assistants or other employees?”

“There’s no one available that I trust enough.”

There’s another short moment of silence before Stiles clears his throat, runs his fingers through his hair. “Come on, I’ll show you upstairs.”

There’s another door at the end of the room and, when Stiles opens it, it reveals a set of narrow wooden stairs going up. Derek follows Stiles’ lead, the old smell left behind as they ascend.

The apartment is small and mostly empty.

“This is about it,” Stiles says as they step into the tiny living room. He points to a little hall on the side. “Bedrooms and bathroom are over there, kitchen here.” Derek can see a small kitchen on the other side of a half-open door. He walks to the sole window in the living room and looks out to the street below. Derek can see his car.

“As you can see, my current accommodations are definitely a step up.”

“I like it here,” Derek says without thinking. He can imagine Stiles’ rundown furniture in this place, Nate’s toys scattered around the floor. It feels lived-in.

“I kinda miss it. I’m thinking of turning it into an office.”

“Why don’t you?”

Stiles is silent and Derek turns to see him biting his lip in thought. His arms are crossed over his chest, the fabric of his shirt straining on his shoulders. Derek keeps his eyes on Stiles’ face.

“It’d be too easy to stay,” he says quietly, his voice unsure. The words are not even out of his mouth before he’s blushing, his eyes widening for a fraction of a second before he turns around. His shoulders look bigger with his back to Derek, and Derek is running out of safe places to look. “I’m such a shit.”

Derek is confused at first, leaning against the window as he looks at this older version of Stiles that is taking him an embarrassing amount of time to get used to. And then the words sink in and he pushes away from the window, takes a tentative step forward, making the floorboards creak.

Stiles’ shoulders tense up.

“You showed up at a really shitty time,” he says.

Derek keeps his mouth shut.

“Everything is,” Stiles starts to say but stops himself. Derek walks over to him, reaches out a hand that hovers over Stiles’ shoulder. He can’t make it touch. “Everything is just bad right now.”

There’s so much Derek wants to know. So many questions on the tip of his tongue that he has no right to ask.

With a sigh, he drops his hand. It lands on the warm back of Stiles’ neck. He wants to squeeze his fingers but doesn’t.

“I’m here, if you need help,” he says.

It takes a moment before Stiles looks at him. When he does, he has a pained, half-smile on his face.

“I might take you up on that.”

-

The week passes slowly. Derek stays in the preserve, supervises the setting up of the construction, texts Scott’s pack and talks to Stiles on the phone. He’s usually on speaker so that Nate can talk, too, and every day the boy has a new question.

“Can you lift a car over your head?”

“Can you see in the dark when your eyes go blue?”

“Can you run faster than a cheetah? They are the fastest animal in the world.”

“Can you really punch through a wall?”

Derek often wonders if Nate knows that half the people he interacts with daily have the same abilities as him. He grew up surrounded by werewolves and with Stiles as a father, there’s no way he’s not informed about all these things. And yet, he seems to have a fixation with Derek.

Every bit of trivia Derek drops on Nate during their phone calls appear to astound him. On Wednesday, Derek tells him that he can hear music playing a mile away if he wants to and Nate quiets in fascination before he lets out a small whoa that makes Derek fill up with pride, a little.

Stiles is always nearby while Nate asks his questions or tells him what he did at camp that day, and he usually interjects at the thirty minute mark, taking Derek off speaker so he can send Nate to brush his teeth.

Nate usually goes after making sure Stiles will go up to tell him a story soon.

“Does he know about Scott and everyone else?” Derek finally asks on Thursday.

“Yeah, but it’s not the same.”

“How so?”

“It just isn’t.”

That night Stiles calls him again close to midnight. Derek is in bed when his phone rings and he jumps to his feet when he sees Stiles’ picture on the display.

“What’s wrong?” He answers, he’s already putting his pants on.

“No one is hurt,” Stiles says. He sounds calm and Derek relaxes for a second before he realizes that Stiles wouldn’t be calling at this time if everything was okay. “I’m just a fucking idiot and I need your help.”

“What is it? Are you at your house?”

“Yeah.” Derek drops the phone on his bed so he can shrug into a shirt and step into his boots. He can still hear Stiles perfectly. “Look, can you come over and stay with Nate for a few hours? I have this fucking job and I screwed up some of the pages and I need to go into the store. The thing is due tomorrow morning.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Derek says. He’s already walking to his car. His heart is still beating a little fast. He knows everyone is fine, but he stills needs to get to Stiles’ home as soon as possible. He won’t relax until he’s there.

“Don’t kill yourself speeding, everyone’s fine.”

“I’m on my way.” Derek hangs up.

-

Stiles opens the door looking, in all honestly, like shit.

Derek hasn’t seen him since Monday and his insane hair and papery-looking face are a shock. He ushers Derek in impatiently, his eyes a little wild. He looks like’s he’s been living solely on coffee for the last three days.

“Are you okay?” Derek asks as Stiles tugs him into the sitting room.

“Yeah, yeah, just stressed out of my mind. This is the asshole client I was telling you about and it’s my fault, I messed up the formatting and I lost a bunch of-” He cuts himself off, shaking his head. “Not important.”

“Maybe I should drive you,” Derek offers but Stiles shakes his head again.

“Nate might wake up, someone has to be here.”

“You shouldn’t-”

“I’m fine, Derek. Just, please. Stay for a while.”

Stiles looks at him, pleading with his eyes. Derek doesn’t want to agree, doesn’t want to send Stiles off in the state he’s in. But he’s not seventeen and Derek has no authority over him. He nods.

Stiles’ shoulders sag in relief before he gives Derek the ghost of a smile.

“It’ll be okay.”

“What if Nate wakes up?”

“He’ll be thrilled to see you.”

“Call me when you get there.” Stiles gives him a look. Derek guesses it’s meant to be mocking, but it’s a touch too soft to pull it off.

“Sure thing, Dad.”

Derek refrains from pointing out that he’s not the dad in the room. In fact, the dad in the room is acting like a brat.

He sees Stiles off from the porch and doesn’t go inside until the car lights disappear around a corner. Back in the sitting room, he places his phone on the coffee table and paces. He can hear Nate sleeping upstairs. The fridge running in the kitchen, a faucet leaking. A window must be open somewhere in the house because a door is creaking slowly, as if a breeze is pushing it back and forth on its hinges.

Twenty minutes later he gets a text from Stiles telling him he’s at the store. There’s even a picture attached for good measure. Derek doesn’t reply, just drops the phone back on the table and falls onto the couch closest to him.

He didn’t see this room the last time he was here. It’s eclectic, so say the least. Derek guesses the house came furnished and Stiles just added his random selection of furniture to it. The couch Derek is sitting on is older than the rest, and smells of people and something sugary and sweet. The coffee table is modern and asymmetrical and is covered in crayon scratches.

Derek wonders how long Stiles is going to take. He leans backwards, his back sliding down a little against the cushions, and closes his eyes.

Something wakes him up some time later. He’s not sure what’s wrong at first. The house is quiet and dark but the hairs on the back on his neck stand up and his ears are prickling.

He sits up and looks around, letting out a sound of relief when he sees Nate standing under the wide threshold, looking at him.

“Nate, hey. Are you okay?”

Nate is quiet, small in his mismatched pajamas. His hair is sticking up on one side, a pillow crease runs from his forehead to his cheek. Derek smells sweat on him all the way from across the room.

“Nate-”

“Where’s my dad,” he says, tone so flat it doesn’t even sound like a question. His voice is hoarse with sleep.

“He had to go to work,” Derek explains as gently as he can, standing up. Nate takes a step back. “He’ll be back soon.”

Derek can hear the way Nate’s heart picks up, how shallow his breathing becomes before he takes in a shuddering breath. “Where’s my dad.”

His voice is louder and higher, bordering on panic and Derek starts walking towards him but stops when Nate cowers away.

“Nate, do you know who I am?”

Nate nods, his chin trembling. “Where-” He chokes on a sob that makes Derek’s chest tighten.

“He’s at work, he’s coming back soon.”

“He said,” Nate tries. “He said-”

Derek leans down to grab his phone and in the same instant Nate darts away. He runs towards the front door, bare feet slapping on the floor and Derek curses as he chases after him.

Nate practically leaps at the door, both hands taking hold of the handle and yanking. The door doesn’t budge, the lock secure in place. Panting, he rattles it, twists it, hangs from it in his desperation to get out.

Derek doesn’t dare approach, instead gripping the phone in his hand, undecided about calling Stiles. Then Nate starts kicking the door, bare toes connecting with hard wood as he lets out a high whine, and Derek has to grab him before he breaks a foot.

As soon as his hands are under Nate’s arms, he’s screaming. Derek lifts him up easily, but he’s struggling so much that he’s afraid he’ll drop him. He brings Nate against him to turn him around, squirming and wailing, and manages to maneuver him so they are facing each other.

Nate’s face is splotchy and red, tears and snot running down his chin as he howls, kicking out. One of his feet catches Derek close to the groin, which makes him tighten his grip. Nate stops screaming instantly, instead going completely still before another round of sobs rakes out of him, his chest heaving.

“Nate,” Derek says. Nate just cries, making weak attempts to get back to the door. Derek pulls him to his chest instead of holding him by the armpits. He slides his arm under Nate’s thighs and walks him back to the sitting room. Nate’s wet face is pressed against Derek’s neck as he sits on the couch again, now unsure of what to do.

“Nate,” he tries again. “Your dad called me because he had to run to work. He’s on his way back.”

Nate shakes his head against Derek, crying silently, fists clenched on Derek’s shirt. His small shoulders are shaking so much that Derek wraps his other arm around them, smoothing his hand up and down Nate’s back.

“It’s okay,” he says, awkward and dubious. Nate hiccups. “Did you hurt your feet?”

“My dad.” Nate’s breathing picks up again. “He said he wasn’t leaving.”

“He didn’t. He’s on his way back.”

“He didn’t say goodbye,” Nate whines, crying again. “He didn’t-” He breaks off, his sobs muffled by Derek’s shirt.

They stay like that for a long time. Derek doesn’t stop holding Nate and Nate doesn’t stop shaking. Eventually, he falls silent and his heart rate slows down. Derek keeps the hand on his back moving, running up and down, trying to project calmness.

“What are the stories you like?” He asks once Nate has quieted down enough. The little boy turns his head so that his cheek, instead of his nose, is pressed against Derek’s breastbone. He sniffs.

“Dad’s stories.”

“What’re they about?”

“About Scott and Derek and Lydia and everyone.”

Derek looks down at Nate. “What kind of stories?”

“About,” Nate takes an unsteady breath, as if he’s about to break down again. His eyes are brimming with unshed tears. “About Boyd and Erica in the place where they couldn’t get out and Derek punched the wall to let them out.

“And Isaac being really angry and Derek stopping him from hurting Stiles. And Allison shooting arrows and Scott doesn’t know how to howl and all the bad guys and Derek helps them beat them.”

He talks about Derek as a character in the story, as if right now that Derek and the one holding him are not the same person.

“Those are good stories,” Derek says after a moment. Nate makes a noise, another whine as he hides his face again. “Do you know about the lizard?”

“Jackson was in a bad mood and he turned into a lizard,” Nate mumbles.

“And what about the time at the pool? Do you know that story?”

Nate is still, thinking before he shakes his head. So Derek leans back against the couch and pats Nate’s hair as he talks. He has no experience telling stories, but he thinks the sound of his voice alone will be enough.

“The lizard had the power to freeze people if he touched them. One day, I…Derek was slow and he was frozen and fell into a big swimming pool. Stiles was there, and he jumped after Derek. Because Derek was frozen and he couldn’t swim. The lizard was afraid of water because…he didn’t like to take baths so he didn’t go inside. So for a long, long time, Stiles held Derek in the pool so he wouldn’t drown. They stayed for a lot of hours, and Stiles was very tired because Derek was heavy, but he didn’t let him go, even when Derek thought he would.”

“But Stiles doesn’t have super powers,” Nate slurs, half asleep already.

“Stiles didn’t need super powers to save his friends. He was very brave.”

Nate brings a hand up to his own ear, absently rubbing it as his eyelids drop. “And then what happened?”

“Scott arrived and shooed the lizard away right on time.”

“So who saved you?”

“I guess Stiles saved m-- Derek. First.”

The words sink in a moment later. He looks down and finds Nate’s eyes closed, tear tracks drying on his cheeks. Derek doesn’t dare to move. He realizes he doesn’t have his phone anymore, that he must have dropped it when he picked Nate up.

Slowly, he lowers his head against the headrest and closes his eyes. He’s going to stay like this until Stiles comes back, he doesn’t want to risk trying to put Nate to bed and waking him up. He wonders if this is a common occurrence but he doesn’t think so – Stiles would have mentioned it.

Maybe Nate was sleepwalking…but no, he had been alert. He hadn’t been scared of Derek, he had been scared of the idea of Stiles leaving him behind.

Somewhere in the house, a door is still creaking.

Derek rests a hand on top of Nate’s head and waits.

-

He wakes up to the sound of Stiles’ car pulling into the driveway, but he doesn’t open his eyes. He is stretched out along the couch, Nate half on top of him and half trapped between him and the back of the couch. One of his hands is on Derek’s ear. Derek didn’t know before tonight that six year-olds could move this much in their sleep.

Unmoving, he listens as Stiles unlocks the front door and kicks off his shoes. Derek is not sure what time it is, but he’s almost certain the sun is up. Stiles’ footsteps draw closer, pausing close to the couch.

“This is not fair,” he mutters, dropping something on the coffee table. He sounds exhausted. Derek still doesn’t open his eyes and Nate barely even stirs.

A second later Stiles sighs as he (assuming by the amount of noise) throws himself onto another one of the couches. It isn’t long before he’s snoring, somewhere by Derek’s feet.

-

The next time he wakes up is because someone steps on his stomach. He groans as Nate climbs over him to get up. Without a word, he grabs him and lifts him to safely deposit him on the floor, for which he receives a sleepy smile. Derek watches as Nate climbs onto the couch Stiles is currently sprawled on, sitting with his legs spread wide open and stretched on the floor in front of him, his arms limp at his sides, his head thrown back.

He doesn’t look asleep, he looks like he passed out.

Nate sits next to Stiles and takes one of his hands, burrowing into his side and closing his eyes.

Derek is wide awake.

He sits up, wincing. Sometimes, very rarely and usually for a couple of seconds before his metabolism kicks in, he feels his age. His neck is stiff and his shoulders are sore. The fabric on the front of his shirt is stiff in patches where Nate cried against him last night.

He looks at them again.

Nate looks very small and almost as tired as Stiles, both kind of turned towards each other in what looks like incredibly uncomfortable positions to sleep in.

Derek finds himself smiling before he turns in search of a bathroom.

He ends up upstairs after wandering through a few mostly-empty rooms on the ground floor. Stiles was right when he said he had enough space for plenty of guests, but Derek doesn’t really understand what he’s planning on doing with so many rooms.

Once on the second floor landing, he turns right and walks to the last door on a wide hallway. He looks into the rooms he’s passing. There’s an office, with a desk and more piles of books and unopened boxes. There’s Stiles’ room, an unmade double bed and a dresser is all Derek can see as he walks past it. He stops just as he crosses the last door on the left.

With a frown, he takes a step backwards and looks inside.

The room is dark, the drapes closed so tightly not even a sliver of sun is slipping through, but there’s enough light coming in from the hallway that Derek should be able to see.

He can’t.

He shifts partially, making his eyes flash so that they can adjust better, but he can only make out a darker area in a corner, probably a dresser. He presses a palm on the door to push it open and finds it blocked by something on the other side. He leans into it and it creaks as it slowly budges.

The room remains dark.

With his frown deepening at the strain on his eyes, he steps forward, intent on finding a light switch, only to be violently pushed back and almost tumbling to the floor in surprise.

He straightens with a grunt, clutching at his chest. His entire front feels cold, his fingertips are a little numb. It dawns on him that this must be Nate’s bedroom, and just as the store, Stiles must have it under strict protection.

Rubbing at his breastbone, Derek goes to the bathroom.

He catches his face in the mirror as he’s looking for mouthwash to borrow. His hair is overgrown and his beard is an inch or two away from officially looking like a bird’s nest. He touches a hand to his face. There was a time when he cared what he looked like. In the last couple of months, though, Derek can’t seem to be able to muster up the will to get a haircut or new clothes that are not fraying at the edges. He trims his beard when it gets obnoxious and doesn’t wear shirts with visible stains on them, but that’s as far as he goes.

He’s gotten used to seeing himself like this, to feeling like he doesn’t need to make an impression, but he wonders what it’s like for everyone else to see him again. He’s still taken aback every time he sees Stiles, grown up and scruffy, not eating properly or sleeping enough, just like the old days. Except now Derek wants to grab Stiles and shake him when he sees the way his pants hang from his hips. He wants to force him to sleep for an entire day and eat so much food that he won’t be able to get up.

Being away so long messed up Derek’s instincts – at the first sign of trust he’s already feeling way too protective.

He’s washing his face a couple of minutes later when he hears movement downstairs. He stills, hands half way to his face, listening. Someone is up and already in the kitchen.

When Derek returns downstairs, he finds Nate standing on his little stool, arranging a bunch of ingredients on the counter. He turns when he hears Derek enter, his eyes red rimmed and puffy, his face solemn.

“Good morning,” Derek says, walking over.

“Hello,” Nate mumbles, turning back to his task.

“Are you making breakfast?”

“I want to make pancakes.” He looks at the box of pancake mix in his hands. “But I’m not allowed to use the stove.”

“You want me to help?”

With his chin tucked to his chest and his eyes downcast, Nate nods. He’s quiet while Derek mixes the batter and preheats the pan, just looking at him work.

When Derek pours the first two helpings in, Nate slips out of the stool and busies himself setting the table. Derek watches him out of the corner of his eye, making sure he’s not about to trip over the books on the floor.

He’s almost done cooking when he hears Stiles stirring in the sitting room. Nate has just climbed onto the counter behind Derek to wait just as Stiles clears his throat from the door.

“What’s going on?” He asks, voice hoarse.

“Pancakes,” Nate says, which is apparently explanation enough, since Stiles doesn’t ask anything else.

Derek turns off the stove as the last pancake is done, and carries the pile of them to the table. He hears Nate dropping to the floor and following. Stiles takes a moment longer before he joins them.

“This one is Nate’s.” Derek places the pancake on the top of the pile in Nate’s plate.

“What’s it supposed to be?” Stiles asks, rubbing two fingers above his left eye.

“It’s a wolf,” Nate says, pleased as he pours half a bottle of maple syrup onto it.

Stiles looks like he wants to protest, so Derek takes the bottle from him. He wants to avoid a confrontation between them today. Nate pays him no attention as he digs in.

“What are we sorry for?” Stiles asks as Derek is putting two of the thickest pancakes into his plate, handing him the maple syrup.

“What?” He asks, confused.

Stiles gestures at the table. “Apology pancakes.”

Derek looks at Nate, whose shoulders are up to his ears as he munches on his food.

“Nate?”

They both watch Nate swallow, eyes trained on his plate. “Dad is sorry he left yesterday,” he says.

Stiles looks stricken.

“I am, buddy,” he says softly.

“And I’m sorry I kicked Derek,” Nate finishes.

This time Stiles’ expression is a lot more amused.

“You kicked Derek?” He tries to sound reproachful but misses the mark completely, one corner of his mouth going up as he glances over at Derek.

“But I’m sorry,” Nate insists.

“It’s okay, Nate. You didn’t mean to.” Derek tells him.

“And what is Derek sorry for?” Stiles asks, smiling now. He lifts his eyebrows at Derek, waiting.

“I-”

“Derek’s sorry he didn’t do the voices,” Nate beats him to it, talking around a mouthful of mostly maple syrup.

“The voices,” Stiles repeats, frowning.

“For the story.”

“Derek told you a story.”

Nate nods.

Stiles looks completely torn. He’s staring at Nate like he can’t believe what he’s hearing, the small smile slipping from his face, his fork lowering away from his mouth. For some reason, Derek feels ashamed.

“What about?” Stiles asks, his voice catching a little. Derek looks away.

Nate is suddenly alert. “Jackson froze Derek and he fell in the pool and Stiles saved him because he couldn’t swim and Jackson didn’t like to take baths.”

“That’s,” Stiles starts. “That’s a cool story.”

“And Stiles didn’t need superpowers,” Nate adds, as if agreeing.

“I bet he could use a few.”

Nate shakes his head. “No, he didn’t! He really didn’t have superpowers.”

“I know, bud. That’s great.” Stiles smiles, voice softening. Derek eats his pancake in silence.

Later, when everyone (even Stiles) has had second helpings, Derek offers to make coffee.

“Can I have some?” Nate asks.

“Nope,” Derek says, so Stiles doesn’t have to.

“But everyone in my class drinks coffee!”

“That can’t be, everybody knows that little kids who drink coffee stay short forever.”

Nate’s eyes widen as Stiles laughs under his breath.

“Is that true?”

“It’s what my mother told me, and she never lied.”

Nate sits backs on his chair, quiet as he ponders this new information. Derek can feel Stiles’ eyes on him, but he doesn’t turn around. Instead he looks up at the clock on the wall over his head. It’s half-past nine in the morning.

“Are you taking the day off today?” He asks as he sets up the coffee machine.

“Heck yes, I’m not stepping into that place until Monday.” Stiles sounds as if he’s stretching. “What about you, bud? Feel like going to camp?”

“Boyd is gonna teach us about beetles today.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

The bus picks Nate up at ten, and Stiles sees him off from the door, his coffee mug clutched in his hand as Nate hurries away, backpack bouncing behind him. There wasn’t a hug or a kiss goodbye, just a wave to Derek as Stiles wished Nate a good day. Derek watched from the sitting room, his own coffee cooling on the table.

When Stiles joins him, he sits on a different couch, sighing as he relaxes.

“How was it last night?” He asks after a couple of seconds. He sounds like he knows the answer.

“Does he always freak out like that?”

Stiles sighs again, sets his cup on the table next to Derek’s. “Sometimes, yeah. I thought he wouldn’t. With you. He likes you.”

“He wanted you to be here,” Derek argues instead of saying that Nate likes Stiles, too. “He almost ran out the door.”

Stiles buries his face in his hands, groaning. “I’m sorry.” It’s muffled and low, but Derek makes it out anyway. “I needed-- If he woke up while I was working here, I wouldn’t’ve been able to finish on time.”

Derek doesn’t reply.

“You told him a story,” Stiles speaks up some time later.

“He was upset.”

“You…you’re always the hero in my stories, you know.”

Derek figured as much, but hearing Stiles say it out loud makes him realize how strange that is.

“Why?”

Stiles shrugs. “You weren’t here, it was easy. He loves those stories.”

Derek nods. Stiles lowers his hands, finally, and looks him in the eye.

“I actually sort of want to kiss you.”

Derek knows. He can smell it and he can hear Stiles’ heart thumping against his chest.

“I never wanted to kiss you before.” Stiles goes on. “Well, not really. Not outside fantasy. But you’re nice to my kid and you made me coffee and you look like shit. It’s a dangerous combination.”

“I look like shit?” is all Derek can think to ask.

Stiles shrugs. “It’s okay, I do, too.”

They sit quietly after that, each finishing their coffee, sitting in separate couches. The tension is practically palpable and Stiles’ heart just keeps on thudding – the sounds fills the entire room.

Derek wants to say something, but somehow the atmosphere feels fragile.

“Do you,” Stiles starts, a hand going to the back of his own neck, his eyes darting somewhere around Derek’s shoulder. “Would you, I mean, do you maybe want to go upstairs? With me? I—Fuck, I haven’t done this in way too long.” He groans, squeezing his eyes shut, color rising on his cheeks.

Derek’s grip on his cup is dangerously tight – he sets it on the table again before he makes a mess.

He shouldn’t. He shouldn’t because Stiles has a kid and Derek doesn’t even know who Nate’s mother is. He shouldn’t because Stiles is sleep deprived and possibly not thinking straight and Derek is not much different. He shouldn’t because every time he gets involved with someone bad things happen and he can’t afford to fuck up Stiles’ life, on top of everything else.

But he wants to. He wants to so much it must show on his face, because when Stiles opens his eyes after a long silence and looks at him, he half smiles and stands up.

Derek follows him out of the sitting room and up the stairs. He follows Stiles down the hallway and into his room, where the unmade bed feels like an ominous being waiting for them.

They stand facing each other just inside the closed door. Derek’s hands are clenched at his sides. He doesn’t know what he’s doing and yet he finds himself taking a step forward. He stops when he sees Stiles tense up, before he drops his shoulders and lets out a laugh.

“Sorry,” he says. “Keep going.”

Derek’s movements are stilted as he reaches out and places a hand on the side of Stiles’ face, feeling awkward. But Stiles tilts his head against Derek’s touch, rubs his scratchy cheek against Derek’s palm.

“How long?” Derek asks, voice quiet. Stiles meets his eyes, hooded and piercing. His own hands fall on Derek’s hips, clutching at his shirt.

“Just very long.”

“Why?”

“Adult life is complicated.” Stiles sighs, pressing his mouth against Derek’s hand as his eyes fall shut.

Okay.

When they kiss, Stiles’ lips are dry and chapped. Derek licks them before Stiles opens his mouth for him, and then everything gets wetter. Stiles tastes like coffee. He huddles against Derek’s chest as if he’s cold, his hands trapped between them as Derek’s frame his face and keep him in still.

Derek can do this. They both need it – it doesn’t have to be…anything else.

They hardly make any sound as they kiss. Stiles’ breathing is labored and their chins make raspy noises as they rub together. Derek moves his hands up to Stiles’ limp hair, digging his fingers into it. Stiles groans a little. Somehow he manages to slide his fingers up Derek’s shirt, his cold palms pressing against Derek’s taut stomach, making him shudder and pull back.

Stiles looks at him as his hands ride up, short nails scratching at Derek’s chest and catching in the coarse hair there. His lips are wet and red and Derek leans back in, swiping his tongue into Stiles’ mouth at once.

He doesn’t think as he pushes Stiles backwards and onto the bed.

Derek stretches on top of him, arranging himself between Stiles’ legs. His fingers remain in Stiles’ hair while Stiles’ clutch at his shoulders, slide down his sides and around Derek’s back to drop to the waistband of his jeans. Derek’s breathing stutters as he feels the tips of Stiles’ fingers dipping into his underwear.

He sneaks one of his hands between them, palms Stiles through his sweatpants and lets him lift his hips, rub himself against Derek’s fingers.

Stiles breaks the kiss to look down at where Derek is barely squeezing, his own fingers daring further into Derek’s pants until he’s got two handfuls of Derek’s ass.

They are quiet, the house and everything around them is quiet. The bed doesn’t make a noise of protest as they move around on it, trying to find a better angle for Derek to nudge his hips down. Slowly, dragging his body up and down until Stiles tightens his grip and pushes, huffing against the side of Derek’s neck.

His knees go up as he plants his bare feet on the mattress on either side of Derek, so he has better leverage to meet Derek’s movements. By now they’re both hard, Stiles obvious in his thin sweats while Derek is starting to hurt – he needs to get out of his jeans.

As if reading his mind, Stiles takes his hands away from Derek’s ass and quickly unzips him, pushing his pants out of the way as far as he can while keeping his back flat on the mattress. Derek sighs in relief, kisses Stiles again as he picks up the pace.

He feels Stiles’ fingers bumping into his and lets him take himself out of his sweatpants, helps him close their hands around both of them, the heel of Stiles’ hand bumping into the head of Derek’s dick.

He swears quietly against Stiles’ open mouth and looks down at where they’re pressed together inside their hands, dark red and leaking. He watches their erections appear and disappear between them.

Derek pushes down, holds his weight on his elbow as he brings his free hand up to Stiles’ face without looking. He runs his fingers through Stiles’ hair, pushing it back and away from his forehead as he tightens his grip and pulls slightly. Stiles pants above him, neck straining backwards when he tenses, groans as he comes.

Derek watches the ropes of come hitting both their clothed stomachs, rubs himself faster, his hand slick, pulling, and he’s coming not two seconds later with a gasp. He closes his mouth on Stiles’ shoulder, rides his orgasm out as Stiles’ heartbeat slows.

Derek’s fingers feel numb as he releases Stiles’ hair and pats it back against his head, both their chests heaving. He rolls away, landing next to Stiles with a grimace as he unsticks his other hand from their softening dicks.

Stiles groans, one of his arms now trapped under Derek.

“That was…fast,” he says, making Derek snort. “I feel sixteen all over again.”

“This definitely wouldn’t have happened when you were sixteen.”

“It did in my head.”

Derek turns to look at his flushed profile. “You hated me when you were sixteen.”

“First of all,” Stiles sighs, fidgeting as he tucks himself back in one-handed. “I didn’t hate you.”

Derek hums and lifts his pants back where they belong, but he feels too gross to zip back up. Stiles takes the chance to free his arm from underneath him.

“And second of all, even if I did, I wasn’t blind.”


The room is bathed in light from the window, and Derek can see the sweat shining high on Stiles’ forehead, the fading red splotches on his cheeks. His eyelashes are wet and stuck together and look longer than Derek knows they are.

Derek licks his lips.

“Have you—before…with another man?”

Stiles gives him a sideways look. “Yes, Derek.” His tone is condescending. “Don’t worry, I’m not going into shock because you came on me.”

Derek doesn’t say anything, busies himself wiping his fingers clean with his shirt.

“You?” Stiles asks a moment later, looking up at the ceiling.

Derek says, “Yes,” and leaves it at that.

“You can take a shower if you want, I’ll lend you some clothes.”

Stiles grunts as he gets up and starts rummaging in his dresser. Derek stands behind him, his pants undone. He’s ushered to the bathroom when Stiles finds a shirt for him. Later, with his hair still wet, Stiles invites him to leave, claiming he’s going to spend the day tidying up. He thanks him, doesn’t clarify what for, and practically closes the door in his face.

Derek drives back to the preserve in a daze, wondering if he imagined Stiles’ reluctance before kicking him out, or if it’s only wishful thinking on his part.

His lips are still tender when he arrives at the cabin. He looks around him once inside, at the clutter and the silence and decides that fuck it, he’s going to spend the afternoon sleeping. Safely away from his thoughts and the emptiness in his chest.

-

He doesn’t expect to hear from Stiles for a while, but his name flashes on Derek’s phone as it rings the following day.

He stares down at it for a moment, wondering what he’s going to say if this is some sort of… of booty call. Part of him (one specific part) would like to agree, while the rest of him knows that it would mean trouble. That he would come to regret it.

He picks up right before the call goes to voicemail.

“Hello…?”

“Don’t sound so terrified,” Stiles’ voice says in his ear. “You can always not pick up.”

“I didn’t-- What’s up?”

Stiles scoffs. “Nate wants to talk to you about something, can you give him five?”

“Of course,” Derek says at once, setting the vegetables he was chopping on the counter. He waits as Stiles passes the phone over.

“Hello,” Nate says. He sounds grumpy.

“Hi, Nate.” Derek leans back against the counter, tries to listen to the background noises on Nate’s side. “How are you, buddy?”

“I’m bored,” Nate replies. “Dad has to work and I’m not allowed to watch TV.”

“The day’s too nice to watch TV inside,” Derek supplies and Nate huffs.

“That’s what Dad said.”

“He’s smart sometimes.” That makes Nate laugh a little and Derek feels only slightly bad about it. “What about Lucy? Can you visit her?”

“Dad said she went to her grandma’s house.”

“I see, that’s too bad.”

“Can you come over?” Nate asks, his tone pleading. “I didn’t show you my Legos yet.”

Derek looks around him. He needs to be around the construction site today, has to supervise a material delivery and update the contractor on some changes he decided on the night before. He was just finishing lunch before heading out when Stiles called.

“Today is not very good,” he says, as softly as he can. He swears he can feel Nate’s mood darkening through the phone.

“Why?”

“I’m building a house, remember?”

Nate is quiet for a second. “Can I help you?”

“Help me build a house?”

“I build houses with my Lego all the time, Dad knows!” Nate sounds excited all of a sudden and then he’s yelling away from the phone. “Dad! Tell Derek I know how to build houses!”

What?” He hears Stiles yell back. Then Nate’s running with the phone to another room, Derek listens to his footsteps echoing around him. “What about houses?”

“Tell Derek I can help him build his house, I know how.”

“Wait, I can’t- Okay, hold it to my ear. There.” There’s a rustle, something scraping against the floor and then Stiles’ voice, loud and clear. “What’s this about houses?”

“You’re working from home today?” Derek asks.

“Yeah, I have some editing to finish.”

“What do you need? Your computer? That’s it?”

“Well, yeah, I guess. Everything’s already digital,” Stiles trails off. “Why?”

“You could come over, bring what you need to work with. I can walk Nate around the preserve.” Stiles is quiet and Derek wonders if he needs space. If he doesn’t want to see Derek again for a while, if it’s better to acknowledge what they did and let it rest, let it go cold and disappear with time.

But Derek is lonely.

And he knows Stiles is too because, why call him? Why not his father, or Scott?

“You can have lunch here,” he offers, tentative.

“I…that actually sounds good.” Stiles sighs and there’s another rustle as (Derek assumes) he takes the phone from Nate. “We’re both getting cabin fever in here. Nate refuses to play in the backyard.”

“There’s bees!” Nate yells somewhere in the background.

“Do you need to go online?” Derek asks. “I don’t really get a signal out here.”

“No, I have everything, I,” he pauses, sighs again. “Thanks, we’ll be there as soon as we change.”

“Call me from the highway, I’ll pick you up at the entrance.”