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the difference between going back and going home

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Just another guy more than half way home
Never getting sick of this drive alone
Looks like I got what I wanted
Just maybe not the way that I thought it should go

So I'm coming home
Keep your eyes on the road for me I'm coming home

-butch walker, "coming home"

*

When Derek was ten years old, he made Stiles a promise.

In the middle of the forest, with the blade from a rusty pair of scissors, Derek pricked the end of his finger; Stiles looked at him like he was crazy when Derek grabbed Stiles’ hand and did the same thing to him.

As Derek pressed the bleeding tips together, he looked Stiles in the eyes and said, “I will never leave you.”

*

Stiles shifts uneasily in the airplane seat. He can feel the descent, taking him closer to Beacon Hills. He hasn’t been home many times in the last decade, just for a few days a couple times a year. He’d gone to grad school on the east coast, and after that he’d gotten a job. He always meant to come back home more, he really did. But he was busy, and then there was a project, and not enough money, and before he knew it, almost ten years of his life had passed.

He glances out of the window. Tracks of land and mountains spread below, unrecognizable from this height. It’s hard to think that he was moving back to Beacon Hills, that he was jobless with no idea what the next step should be. Maybe coming home should have more fanfare, maybe he should feel something more, but it’s hard to think about things like that when his dad is lying in a hospital bed.

The woman sitting beside Stiles eyes him in irritation. Six hours cooped up in a plane with nothing to distract him except bad in flight movies has gotten him on edge. He’d thankfully not had a panic attack, though he’d come close a few times. He’d channeled his energy by fidgeting, and as the seatbelt sign flickers on overhead, Stiles feels like he’s going to claw off his own skin.

Stiles rents a car and takes it straight to the hospital. The moment he steps through the automatic doors, he feels an uncomfortable lump settle in his chest. This visit won’t end the same way - it can’t. Stiles’ dad is the only thing he has, and even though they talk to each other a few times a week and see each other every few months, Stiles wants to reconnect. He wants to remember what it’s like to eat breakfast with his dad every morning, watch baseball games in the summer and argue about the food his dad is eating.

He can’t die. There’s still too much Stiles wants to say to his dad.

His dad’s room is on the fifth floor, and Stiles hesitates just a moment before going inside. On the phone, the nurse had said his dad had a heart attack, and Stiles wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. The only thing he knows is that it was bad. After a few moments, he flexes his shaking hand, takes a deep breath, and steps inside.

The sheriff is asleep on the hospital bed. Quietly, Stiles walks over, taking in the tubes coming out of his arms and the soft background beeping of the machines. It feels so familiar that Stiles feels like he might faint, but he grips the edge of the bed and forces himself to look at his dad’s face.

He looks older, even though Stiles saw him just a few months ago when they’d taken a trip to Jamaica. Maybe it’s the overhead lights, maybe it’s Stiles’ imagination.

Stiles plays on his phone and then reads in the uncomfortable plastic chair in the corner. It’s torture, sitting in the room with nothing to focus on but the soft, rhythmic beeping and the nurses coming in to check on him. When the sheriff finally stirs, Stiles sends up a silent prayer of thanks.

“Dad?” Stiles asks quietly as he approaches the bed.

“Stiles?” The sheriff blinks as he struggles to push himself up. “When’d you get here?”

“Few hours ago.” Stiles messes with the blanket, fingers moving over the fabric, smoothing it absently.

“You should have woken me up,” he says with a frown. “I fell asleep while I was waiting on you.”

Stiles smiles. His dad looks more like himself, looks like maybe he won’t just wither away and die at any minute. Some of the buzzing in his limbs calms. “Doesn’t matter. I’m here now.”

“I’m glad, there are some things we need to talk about before – “

Stiles shakes his head and refuses to cry. “No. You are absolutely not even going to think about that. People make it through triple bypass surgery every day. You are no different.”

“Son,” the sheriff says gently, “I know it’s not what you want to talk about, but we need to.”

It’s that moment when Stiles realizes that although he’s thirty, he’ll never be an adult when it comes to his dad. He doesn’t want to deal with adult things like wills and life insurance and safety deposit boxes. But Stiles isn’t a child anymore, so he steels himself and goes over the details with his father.

Afterwards, Stiles goes down to the cafeteria just to have something to do. He gets himself a coffee because he knows it’s going to be a long night. He drinks it down in almost one go; it tastes terrible, but it helps him think about something other than his dad’s surgery in a few hours.

When Stiles gets back to the room, he hears another voice and pauses outside the door. He knows that voice, would know it anywhere despite the fact that it’s been forever since he’s heard it.

“Anything I can get you, sir?” Derek asks, and Stiles steps silently to the door to peek in. Derek’s wearing his uniform, standing tall, muscular, and self-assured. Stiles’ body starts buzzing for a whole other reason completely.

Stiles isn’t sure when Derek went from being his best friend, to being his acquaintance, to being a stranger. It’s weird, because even after so many years, the man standing just a few feet in front of him feels comfortable, familiar. If Stiles blocks out everything else, he could pretend that things were like they used to be. But Stiles knows that the last time they were Stiles-and-Derek had been just after Derek graduated from high school.

Sometimes that seems more like yesterday than nearly fifteen years ago.

“Hey,” Stiles says, finally pushing the door open and stepping inside the room. Derek turns to him, a surprised smile on his face. Stiles knew what Derek looked like; they’re still friends on Facebook. He’d seen photos of Derek in his uniform, had even commented on the first picture Derek posted with a beard. But it was different seeing him in person.

The beard fits Derek’s face in a way Stiles never thought possible; pictures really didn’t do it justice. It makes Derek look more mature, more imposing. His face has barely aged, save for the few lines around his eyes, and his body has filled out. He looks fantastic.

“I didn’t know you were coming,” Derek says.

“My dad’s having surgery,” Stiles snaps. “Why wouldn’t I be here?”

An expression of hurt flickers across Derek’s face, but he quickly schools his features. “Yeah, of course,” Derek says. “I’m glad you’re here.” He gestures towards the sheriff, who’s watching them both closely. “I just came to check on the sheriff before his surgery.”

Stiles kinda feels like an ass, though a justified ass. He may not make it back to Beacon Hills as often as he wants, but his dad’s having surgery. That trumps everything. “I’m glad you’re here,” Stiles says, giving Derek a tentative smile. “I’m sure Dad is, too.”

“I should probably get back to work.” Derek reaches out and squeezes the sheriff’s shoulder. “Parrish said he’ll try and drop by tomorrow, and I’ll come as soon as I can.”

“Thanks, Derek.”

Derek nods, then stops in front of Stiles. “It was good seeing you, Stiles.” He hesitates, but then he gives Stiles an awkward hug. Stiles is too shocked to do anything except stand there motionless for a moment, bringing his hands up just before Derek steps away. Derek gives him a last look before exiting. Stiles stands rooted to the spot, staring at the floor where Derek had been standing, filled with a longing he hasn’t felt in a long time.

“Well, that was awkward,” the sheriff says as Stiles drops into the chair.

“I’m aware,” Stiles scowls, rubbing his eyes.

“It’s a pity you two lost touch over the years,” the sheriff says. “He’s a good man.”

Stiles is pretty sure he already knows that.

*

Derek found Stiles in the forest, curled underneath the tree with the tire swing hanging from the branch that Uncle Peter had hung back in the summer. Derek approached carefully; he wasn’t quite sure what to do. Stiles’ mom had been in the hospital for the last few days, and Derek had overheard his mom talking to the sheriff on the phone just an hour ago. It didn’t take much to figure out that Stiles’ mom wouldn’t be coming home.

When Derek got close enough, he could hear Stiles crying. No, crying was the wrong word.

Sobbing.

Stiles was sobbing. Deep, guttural cries that wracked his body; Derek could see the convulsions from a few feet away.

Derek looked around in confusion when he finally dropped to the leaves beside Stiles. A pair of scissors lying on the grass by Stiles’ dirty elbow, and locks of his hair on the ground. Derek didn’t quite understand what Stiles was going through – no one in his family had ever died before – but his heart hurt anyway. His best friend’s mom was dying; it was almost like losing his own.

“Stiles,” Derek whispered. When Stiles didn’t move, Derek hesitantly placed a hand on the middle of Stiles’ back. Finally, Stiles looked up. His face was streaked with tears, eyes puffy, leaves sticking to the dampness on his cheeks. But more shockingly, Stiles’ usually shaggy hair had huge chunks missing, like he had tried to chop it all off. Just like his mom’s.

Derek reached forward and pulled a leaf from his cheek.

Stiles didn’t say anything; he knew Derek knew. Instead, he held out his arm, where there was a shallow bleeding gash. “I cut myself,” Stiles sniffed. Derek could see it; Stiles was clumsy on a normal day, but add scissors and trying to cut hair from the back of his head while crying? Injury.

Derek brought the hem of his t-shirt to his mouth, wet it with spit, and wiped the blood away. Then, Derek picked up the scissors, raised himself onto his knees, and finished what Stiles had started.

It wasn’t long before Stiles’ hair was gone. The cut was rough and uneven, some patches longer than others, but Stiles ran his hand over it with a tiny smile on his face. “Do you think she’ll like it?” he whispered.

Derek nodded.

Stiles didn’t say anything after that, which was the weirdest part of everything. Stiles never shut up, and he never stopped moving. But he was curled in on himself, staring at the forest floor, eyes a million miles away. And Derek, well, Derek was ten years old. He didn’t know how to comfort his best friend when his world was ending. He knew how to chase Stiles through the woods, how to make him laugh, and how to ignore him when he was being too annoying.

But Derek didn’t know how to make him feel better when his mom was dying. Derek thought maybe there wasn’t a way.

“Hey,” Derek said. Stiles looked up, his huge brown eyes full of tears. Derek picked up the scissors and pressed the point into the tip of his index finger.

*

Stiles is literally going out of his mind. It’s been two hours since his dad went into surgery, and he knows that it will take hours before he’s out, but those two hours were the longest of his life. He’d called Scott, but eventually Scott had to go to eat dinner and help his kids with their homework. He finished the book he’d brought with him on the plane, and his phone battery was dead, despite the charger being in his car. Stiles didn’t want to leave the waiting room just in case.

He’s pacing around the room and doesn’t notice when someone enters through the doorway until he’s turned a corner. Derek’s standing there watching him, concerned expression on his face. He’s changed into normal clothes, a worn pair of jeans and a grey Henley. Stiles stops in his circuit around the room.

“What are you doing here?” he asks. The words come out sharper than he intended, and he instantly regrets it. “That’s not what I meant.”

“It’s okay,” Derek smiles, holding up a bag. “I hope teriyaki chicken from China One is still your favorite.”

“Ohmigod, you are my hero,” Stiles nearly moans, his stomach growling at the mere mention of Chinese. Derek takes an empty seat near the corner of the room, and Stiles sits beside him. “I can’t believe this place is still open,” he says as Derek hands him a Styrofoam container. It’s been so long since he’s eaten this, and when he opens the top, he closes his eyes and just inhales. It smells like heaven.

Stiles shovels three consecutive bites into his mouth, barely chewing before he swallows. Derek watches him in amusement before opening his own container.

“Let me guess,” Stiles says. “Pepper steak.”

“Nothing else,” Derek replies.

“Glad to see some things haven’t changed,” Stiles says. Derek takes a bite and looks at Stiles thoughtfully. “Why are you here?” Stiles asks when he can’t take the weight of Derek’s gaze any longer.

“Thought you might be hungry,” Derek says. Stiles doesn’t quite believe him, but he doesn’t say anything.

They talk about work as they eat. Stiles enjoys listening to Derek’s stories about being on the force, and Stiles tells Derek about his job in DC. “That sounds really important.” Derek looks impressed, and Stiles laughs. “You must be making the big bucks.”

“Was,” Stiles corrects. “I don’t work there anymore.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Stiles scratches the side of his face. “Dad doesn’t know yet. It happened a few weeks ago. Downsizing, that kind of thing, you know? I was going to tell him, but then he had the heart attack, and…” He sighs.

“Stiles, I’m so sorry,” Derek says.

“It actually worked out for the best I think,” Stiles says. “Dad’s gonna need someone to take care of him after the surgery, and I figured maybe coming back to live in Beacon Hills for awhile wouldn’t be a bad idea.”

“You’re moving back?” Derek asks.

Stiles nods. “Never thought I’d be moving back to Beacon Hills, that’s for sure.” He huffs out a bitter laugh. “Funny how things turn out, huh?”

“If it’s just your dad,” Derek starts carefully, “You don’t have to uproot your whole life. We can take care of him, me, Parrish, and Yukimura. We have already discussed it.”

Stiles clasps his hands between his knees, unable to pinpoint his emotions. It’s nice to know his dad’s had people looking out for him without Stiles there, but there’s something sour about the idea that his dad has a life full of people that doesn’t include him.

“I want to be here,” Stiles finally says. “I really don’t want to be anywhere else, actually.”

Derek nods and takes their empty containers over to the trashcan. When he sits back down, he says, “I wish it was under different circumstances, but I’m really glad you’re back.”

Stiles turns to look at Derek, who’s looking at him earnestly. It’s stupid how much he misses Derek in that moment, misses the Derek he used to be friends with. Maybe his dad is right; maybe they can get a fraction of what they used to have.

“Me, too.”

*

“Wait up!” Stiles yelled. Derek just pedaled faster. “You’re a jerk.”

“And you’re slow!” Derek laughed as he rode his bicycle around a sharp curve. He heard Stiles somewhere behind him griping, but Derek tuned him out as he crested the top of the hill. As soon as his bicycle started rolling down, Derek stood, balancing himself between the pedals, and lifted his arms. It almost felt like flying.

“Show off,” Stiles shouted from behind him. Derek gripped the handle bars and turned so he could smirk at Stiles. Stiles was still trying to learn how to ride without hands, never quite able to balance himself enough. Every time he raised his hands, the bicycle wobbled.

They rode along the main road that cut through the preserve, no real destination in mind. It was Friday, their last real day of freedom before school started. The next day, Derek’s mom was taking him, Laura, and Cora school clothes shopping, and then Sunday they had to make sure they had everything ready for the school. They both wanted to take advantage of the day.

Carpe Diem, Stiles had yelled earlier. Derek didn’t know what it meant, but Stiles had said he read it somewhere and it meant seizing the day. So that’s what they were doing. Carpe dieming.

“Bet you I can beat you to the top of this tree,” Stiles said, jumping off his bike while it was still rolling. He stumbled as he ran towards the tree at the edge of the clearing, his bike crashing to the ground with a thud.

“Bet you you can’t,” Derek yelled. Stiles had already climbed a few branches before Derek even reached the tree. “What are we betting?”

“Our favorite comic,” Stiles declared. “I want that X-Men comic of yours.”

“You’re gonna lose,” Derek shouted. It didn’t take very long for Derek to catch up with Stiles. Stiles’ hands were smaller than Derek’s, his arms not as strong. Stiles slipped on two branches, and once almost fell completely out of the tree. But Derek grabbed his shirt, keeping him from tumbling down twenty feet. “Don’t make it easy for me,” Derek grinned, and Stiles shrugged him off with a grunt.

Derek made it to the top first. “Haha, I win!” Derek started heckling Stiles, calling down insults until he realized Stiles was now going back down the tree. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t want to play anymore,” Stiles said.

Derek frowned, because that wasn’t what he meant to happen. He easily made his way down the branches, jumping the last few feet so he could catch up with Stiles. He grabbed Stiles’ arm, but Stiles snatched his arm away.

“What’s wrong?”

“This is stupid.”

“It was your idea!”

“It was a stupid idea!” Stiles yelled.

Derek ran around to the front of Stiles and pressed both of his hands against Stiles’ shoulders, preventing him from going any further. “Stop. What’s wrong?”

“You’re stupid.”

“What did I do?” Derek exclaimed.

“You always win!” Stiles shrugged Derek’s hands off him petulantly. “You’re faster, you’re stronger, you can ride without no hands, and on Monday, you’ll be cooler because you’ll be in middle school while I’m still stuck at the stupid baby school.”

Oh, Derek thought. That’s what this was about.

“Hey,” Derek said, throwing an arm around Stiles’ neck and putting him in a loose headlock. “I’m just going to sixth grade. Doesn’t mean anything.”

“You’ll be at a whole other school,” Stiles mumbled against Derek’s shirt. “With cool people, and girls, and I’ll be nothing but a stupid kid.”

“Do you know what they do to sixth graders?” Derek asked as he let go of Stiles. “They put their heads in toilets, and steal their underwear in gym. Laura said the first week of school, eighth graders sneak into the locker room during gym and steal our clothes so we have to wear sweaty gym shorts all day. And she also said that sometimes, they make you smell dirty socks and dirty shorts.” Derek dropped down to the ground with a thump. “I don’t want to go to middle school.”

Stiles crouched on his knees beside Derek and stared at him in shock. “You don’t? But middle school is so cool.”

“Not if you’re getting your head stuffed into toilets.” He looked at Stiles in a panic. “What if they make me smell someone’s dirty socks? Or they steal my pants?”

Stiles shrugged. “I don’t think they do that stuff.”

“But Laura said they did!”

“Then we’ll call my dad,” Stiles said. “I’m pretty sure stealing someone’s pants is illegal.”

“Won’t help me stop from getting humiliated in front of the whole school. At least you’re a fifth grader. Being a fifth grader was cool. You were like, the king of the school.”

Stiles picked idly at some grass and didn’t look at Derek. “Yeah, but you’re not gonna be there.”

“You’re not gonna be at middle school either.”

Stiles looked up. “I didn’t think about that.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “You’re a doofus.”

“I still think you’re stupid because you’re better at climbing trees than me,” Stiles pouted. “I want to beat you in something one day.”

“You’re better at me at a lot of things,” Derek said.

“Name one.”

“School.”

“You make all A’s, dummy.”

“But you’re still smarter,” Derek pointed out. He shoved Stiles and laughed. “You’re dumb.”

“You’re dumb.” Stiles leapt on Derek, pushing him back onto the ground, which started the two boys in a wrestling match. When Derek ended up pinning Stiles, he grinned down at him triumphantly. “I hate you,” Stiles said, but he was grinning.

“I hate you, too.”

They stayed out there, climbing trees, digging for worms, and catching frogs until the sun was going down. As soon as they turned down different streets towards their own houses, Stiles yelled, “I’m not giving you my Batman comic!”

Derek laughed and replied, “I don’t want your stupid comic anyway!”

Monday at lunch, when Derek was sitting alone in the cafeteria because he hadn’t made any friends yet, he opened his lunchbox and saw the comic underneath his ham sandwich and apple. The post it attached to it said, I told your mom to put this in your lunch. Now you can kinda eat lunch with me. Just don’t get food on it, or I’ll punch you. - Stiles

*

“Sit down,” Derek says. Stiles ignores him and continues pacing around the waiting room.

“Is it supposed to take this long?” Stiles mumbles to himself, hands moving frantically through his hair. “They’d tell me if something was wrong, right? If there were complications, or – “

Two large hands grab Stiles’ hands and still them; Stiles pulls himself from his head and glances at Derek now standing in front of him. “Stiles, your dad is fine,” he says slowly. “Now please, come sit down before you drive me insane.”

“I can’t stand this waiting,” Stiles says as he follows Derek back to their seats. As soon as Stiles sits down, he starts beating a rhythm on his knee. Derek grabs his hand and laces their fingers together. Stiles freezes and looks down at their hands, but after a few moments of focusing on the warmth of Derek’s palm, he starts to relax.

“He’s going to be fine,” Derek says softly.

“He’s going to be fine,” Stiles repeats. “But what if he’s not fine?”

“Stiles, your dad is the strongest man I’ve ever known.”

“This is all my fault,” Stiles whispers. “If I’d been around more, if I’d have paid more attention to what he ate, then he’d – “

“No,” Derek interrupts, shaking his head. “You are not going to blame yourself. This is not your fault.” He squeezes Stiles’ hand, and Stiles feels grounded by the tight grip. He tries to believe Derek, but it’s still hard not to blame himself. When he’d lived at home, he’d watched what his dad ate like a hawk. He still kept on his dad about his eating habits, but he has been living three thousand miles away; how could he know if he was telling the truth?

Derek holds fast to Stiles’ hand until the pounding in his chest subsides and his knees stops jiggling. Now that Stiles is sitting still, he feels drained. He closes his eyes for a few moments and doesn’t know he’s nodded off until he feels his head knock into something solid. He jerks away and realizes that his head had fallen onto Derek’s shoulder.

“It’s fine,” Derek says. Much to Stiles’ disappointment, Derek pulls his hand away, but only so he can wrap his arm around Stiles’ shoulders. Stiles remains stiff for a few moments, but then he gives in and lets Derek comfort him. Derek pulls him closer, and Stiles snuggles against him.

“Thank you,” Stiles whispers.

“Welcome,” Derek responds quietly.

“I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve talked to you,” Stiles says after a few minutes, shifting so he can look up at Derek.

“Why are you apologizing?” Derek glances down at Stiles, and Stiles realizes he had forgotten the exact color of Derek’s eyes. Something about that makes him sad. “I’m the one who went to college and stopped coming around as much.”

“See, I thought it was because I went to college and stopped coming around as much,” Stiles says.

Derek smiles. “Maybe it’s a little bit of both.”

“Kinda sucks how we lost touch,” Stiles says, settling his head on Derek’s shoulder. “Remember when we were inseparable?” Derek nods, but doesn’t respond. Out of the corner of his eyes, Stiles notices Derek rubbing his fingertip. “Hey! You remember that?”

“What?” Derek asks, and Stiles lifts his index finger.

“You rubbed your finger.”

“Oh.” Derek ducks his head and blushes slightly. “I didn’t forget. Too bad I’ve done a bad job of upholding my promise.”

“I don’t know,” Stiles says, grabbing the hand in Derek’s lap and lacing their fingers again. “Doesn’t seem like you forgot.” He tilts his head, and Derek’s looking at him with a soft expression. Then, Derek leans down slowly and presses his lips to Stiles’.

The kiss is soft and over too soon, but Stiles feels something in him he hasn’t thought about in a long time.

“I’m sorry,” Derek says, resting his forehead against Stiles’. “I shouldn’t have done that. I can leave if you want.”

“No,” Stiles says. “My dad is having open heart surgery, and I want you here with me.” Derek smiles softly, and Stiles squeezes his hand. “I just want you to hold me because I’m pretty sure I’m going to fall apart otherwise.”

Derek pulls Stiles against him tighter, and Stiles closes his eyes, comforted by Derek’s arm around him, the weight of Derek’s hand in his, and the sound of Derek’s heartbeat in his ear.

*

“GIVE IT BACK!” Stiles yelled as he chased Derek down the sidewalk. Derek snickered as he held the note above his head. He’d hit a growth spurt, so he was a few inches taller than Stiles now, so even if Stiles caught up with him, he wouldn’t be able to reach.

“I think Lydia lives around here somewhere, doesn’t she?” Derek threw over his shoulder. “I think she’d be interested in knowing her new name is Mrs. Lydia Stilinski!” He laughed against as he looked at the paper in his grasp, with Lydia’s name written in curly letters, hearts all around it, and a huge SS + LM in the corner.

Suddenly, Derek felt a sharp pain on his shoulder. He spun around just as Stiles chunked something at him. The object hit Derek painfully in the stomach. “Ouch!” He doubled over, just as another rock hit his leg. “What the heck are you doing?”

“I hate you, Derek Hale!” Stiles yelled, throwing another rock at him. “I’m never speaking to you again!”

“That’s fine! You’re just annoying. That’s why Lydia will never like you,” Derek bit back, a bruise already forming on his stomach from one of the rocks.

Stiles screamed angrily as he rushed Derek, catching him by surprise and knocking him onto his back. His head hit the sidewalk with a harsh thump, and he was dazed for a moment as Stiles straddled him and started punching him. But with Stiles’ slight frame and lack of coordination, he wasn’t doing much damage.

“Get off me, freak!” Derek growled, pushing Stiles off of him with as much force as he could muster. Stiles went flying backwards, his head hitting the sidewalk with a loud crack. “Oh crap, Stiles!” Derek yelled in a panic. Stiles kinda just laid there, not moving with his eyes closed.

Derek stared at Stiles, terrified he’d killed him. “Stiles! Oh god, I’m so sorry, please open your eyes!”

“You’re really loud,” Stiles finally said, pushing himself up onto his elbows and touching the back of his head gingerly. When he brought his hand around, it was covered in blood. “Oh god, there’s blood.”

“Come on,” Derek said, helping Stiles to his feet. They were only a block from Stiles’ house, so Derek kept his arm around Stiles as they slowly made their way to the Stilinski resident, Stiles swaying slightly on his feet.

Derek didn’t say anything; he felt horrible. Stiles was his best friend in the entire world, and he’d just been playing around. He didn’t mean to break Stiles’ head.

Stiles’ dad was home, and when they walked inside and he noticed them, he leapt to his feet. “What happened?”

Derek opened his mouth, ready to confess everything, but Stiles spoke first. “You know me, Dad. Can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.” Stiles gave him a crooked smile, and Derek gawked at Stiles. He knew Stiles was going to rat him out to his dad, but he didn’t.

“Come on, kiddo. Let’s get you in the bathroom and see if you need to go to the hospital.” The sheriff ran a hand down Stiles’ arm and stared down at him with concern. Derek didn’t let go of Stiles, worried that if he did Stiles might just fall out on the floor.

Stiles sat on the closed toilet lid while the sheriff examined the wound. Derek hovered awkwardly in the doorway, feeling like the worst kind of bug on the planet. Stiles totally deserved to squish him. The sheriff cleaned Stiles’ wound with some peroxide, and after declaring it not serious enough for the hospital, looked at both of the boys seriously.

“You two need to be careful,” he said. “You just run around carelessly, and one day you’re going to get seriously injured.”

“It’s not a big deal, Dad,” Stiles rolled his eyes as he walked over to stand beside Derek.

The sheriff frowned, shaking his head as he stared them. “You two are nothing but trouble, do you know that?”

“Duh,” Stiles said.

The sheriff smiled and wrapped an arm around both their shoulders as he exited the bathroom with them. “Derek, wanna stay for dinner? Pizza and a movie, maybe?”

Derek looked at Stiles, unsure. Stiles wasn’t looking at him. “Um…”

“I get to choose the movie tonight,” Stiles said.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Derek said, feeling relieved. If Stiles wanted him to stay for dinner, he couldn’t be that mad.

While the sheriff ordered the pizza, Derek followed Stiles upstairs to his bedroom. When they were inside, Stiles shut the door and spun around to face Derek. He glared at him, and Derek’s pretty sure he’s never seen him that mad.

“You’re an asshole,” Stiles stated. Then he pushed Derek. “I don’t know why I said you could stay for dinner, I hate you.”

“Stiles, I’m really sorry.” Derek dropped on to Stiles’ bed miserably. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Well, you did!” Stiles touched the back of his head gently. “Actually, it really freaking hurts.”

“You pushed me first!” Derek exclaimed.

“Because you said Lydia wouldn’t like me because I’m annoying!” Stiles deflated a little at that. “Am I really annoying?”

“A little,” Derek answered truthfully.

“And Lydia won’t like me because I really am annoying.” Stiles sat on the bed beside Derek. “I know I’m annoying. I just can’t help it.”

“I like you when you’re annoying,” Derek said.

“Who cares? You’re not Lydia.”

“Doesn’t it mean something that I like you and it doesn’t bother me when you’re annoying?”

“You’re still mean to me.”

Derek rolled his eyes and pulled the crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. He shoved it at Stiles. “I wouldn’t have really given it to her. I was just teasing.”

“Sometimes you’re mean.”

“But you like me anyway,” Derek said. “Like I like you when you’re annoying.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Derek picked at Stiles’ comforter. “I really am sorry about your head. I would never hurt you on purpose.” He lifted his eyes. “You know that, right?”

Stiles nodded. “I know it was an accident.”

“I’ll make it up to you.”

Stiles grinned. “Yeah, you will.”

*

Derek walked into his room, and the first thing he noticed was Stiles’ overnight bag thrown in the corner. That hadn’t been there when he’d gone downstairs to dinner.

He looked around his room, checked under his bed, but didn’t see Stiles anywhere. But when he opened his closet door, he found Stiles plopped down in the middle of Derek’s sneakers, head resting on his knees.

“How did you get into my house?” Derek asked.

“The key in the frog by the front step,” Stiles said like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Why are you in my house?”

“My dad. He’s…not well again.” Stiles rested his chin on his knees and refused to look at Derek again. Derek knew what Stiles really meant was that his dad had been drinking again. Derek loved the sheriff; he was like a second father to him. But the last couple years since Stiles’ mom had been hard, and there were phases when the sheriff drank too much. He never did anything bad, like hit Stiles or drive or yell – he was the sheriff, after all. But he got really sad and cried and talked about Stiles’ mom, and it usually gave Stiles panic attacks. Usually Stiles could help stop his dad before he drank too much, or he spent the night with Derek or Scott.

Stiles had never ended up in Derek’s closet before.

Derek was about to say something when they heard Derek’s mom walking down the hall. Stiles looked at the door in a panic. “Don’t let her know I’m here.”

Derek nodded as Stiles reached out and closed his door. He had just picked up his book and dropped onto his bed when Talia opened the bedroom door.

“Who were you talking to?” she asked, leaning against the doorframe and eyeing him suspiciously.

“Uh, no one,” Derek lied. “I was, um, reading out loud.”

“Reading out loud,” Talia said. She arched an eyebrow and swept her eyes around Derek’s room. Derek watched her nervously, hoping she wouldn’t realize Stiles was there. But then her eyes fell on Stiles’ bag in the corner, and dang it. He should have kicked it under the bed or something.

Talia went straight to the closet and opened the door to find Stiles staring up at her fearfully from the pile of shoes. “Hello, Stiles,” Talia said, her voice a mixture of warmth and frustration. “Why are you in Derek’s closet?”

“It’s roomy?”

Talia rolled her eyes. “Out.” Stiles reluctantly pushed himself up and toppled out of the closet. “What’s going on?”

Stiles didn’t answer. He stared at the floor, toeing the carpet nervously. Talia crouched down and gently lifted his chin with her finger.

“Stiles, does your dad know you’re here?” Stiles shook his head, and Talia sighed. “I need to call him so he can come pick you up.”

“Mom, no!” Derek exclaimed, and Talia shot him a look. “He, uh, rode his bike over here. He can ride home.”

“In the dark?” Talia asked. “I think not.”

“Mo-om,” Derek said, trying to get his mom to read his mind.

“D-erek,” she replied.

“It’s okay, Derek,” Stiles said quietly. “My dad isn’t feeling well. I didn’t want to disturb him. I was hoping I could spend the night even though we have school tomorrow? I brought my books and I’ll be quiet and do my homework and – “

Understanding flittered across Talia’s face, and she nodded. “You can stay, Stiles. Did you bring clothes for school tomorrow?” Stiles looked panicked as he shook his head. “You can wear some of Derek’s. Now, I do have to call your dad. You get started on that homework, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Stiles ran over to his back pack and hefted it onto Derek’s desk, papers and pencils scattering out of it.

Derek snuck out of the room while his mom was on the phone with the sheriff and hid right outside her room so he could listen.

“I know, John,” he heard Talia say. “Stiles is fine…no, he’s not mad. He’s worried because he loves you.” Derek glanced back down the hall towards his bedroom, where he could hear Stiles singing the math problems he was completing. “I can get Jeremy to come over if you need…I miss her, too.”

Derek didn’t want to listen anymore. Thinking about the sheriff, who was usually so strong, drunk and upset about Stiles’ mom…it always upset Derek too much. He didn’t know how Stiles dealt with it.

He did his homework silently, trying to concentrate on reading about the animal kingdom while Stiles sang his homework aloud. Talia came into the room later, and Derek could tell she’d been crying.

“You boys okay?”

“Did you talk to my dad?” Stiles asked, thumping the pencil so quickly against the paper Derek was afraid it was going to go flying across the room.

“He said for you to have fun, and he’ll pick you after school tomorrow.” Talia ran a hand over Stiles’
buzzed hair with a smile.

“He’s not usually like this, you know,” Stiles said quietly. “He just…his heart gets sick sometimes.”

“I know.”

“He’s a good father,” Stiles whispered. “I hope he doesn’t think I came over here because I think he’s a bad dad. He’s the best. I just think it might be better if he’s alone when he’s heart sick.”

Talia leaned down and kissed the top of Stiles’ head. “He knows that. He said to tell you he loves you.”

Stiles nodded, and then she left the room.

Laura brought them cookies later, and Cora bugged them until they played a game of Candyland with her. After they set up the air mattress and turned out the light, Derek was almost asleep when he heard gasping breath from below.

He crawled out of bed and slipped underneath the blanket behind Stiles. Stiles’ body was shaking, his breath coming in too fast gasps. Derek slipped his arms around Stiles’ body and held him tightly. “Breathe Stiles,” he said into his ear. “Listen to my breath and copy me.”

It took a few minutes, but soon Stiles was breathing mostly at the same rhythm as Derek. He was still shivering, but he had calmed significantly.

Derek didn’t move after Stiles stopped trembling. Stiles didn’t say anything; he just covered Derek’s arms with his hands, and Derek held him tightly until Stiles fell asleep.

*

The sheriff comes out surgery and has to stay in ICU for a few days. Parrish, Derek, even Kira and Greenburg come by the hospital to check on him, and his room is filled with flowers from the precinct. Late that night, Derek finds Stiles in a chair in the hallway outside his Dad’s room.

“What are you still doing here?” Derek asks when he sees Stiles staring absently at the wall.

“What are you doing here?” Stiles checks the time on his cell phone. “It’s late.”

“I knew you’d still be here,” Derek replies. Gently, he grabs Stiles’ arm and tugs him out of the chair. “Go home, Stiles.”

Stiles shakes his head. “I’m not leaving him. What if – “

“Go. Home.” Derek gives him a firm stare. Stiles wonders if this is the same kind of stare he gives criminals. It is kinda intimidating. And that causes Stiles to laugh. “What’s so funny?”

That just sets Stiles off. He slumps against Derek, hysterically laughing for no reason. Maybe I’m losing my mind, he thinks as he feels the hysteria bubbling out of him. Derek just stands there until Stiles sobers, wiping his eyes and breathing heavily.

“Feel better?” Derek quirks an eyebrow at him.

“A bit, yeah.”

“Go home, Stiles. You’re giddy from exhaustion, you need some sleep, and you need a shower.”

“Are you saying I smell?” Stiles asks, another hysterical laugh escaping his lips.

“I’m saying you need to go take care of yourself.” When Stiles glances at his dad’s door, Derek says, “The doctor said he’s going to be fine. You’re not doing him or yourself any favors by staying here. I’ll stay here if it’ll make you feel better.”

Stiles looks at Derek in surprise. “You’d do that?”

“Of course.”

Stiles scrubs a hand through his hair, then rubs his eyes with the heel of his hand. “Fine. I’ll go home. But not because you’re making me, but because this chair is killing my back, and the smell is starting to make me nauseous.”

“That’s not the hospital, that’s you,” Derek teases, and at Stiles’ glower, he grins. “Come on, I’ll walk you out.”

The drive to the house seems to take forever. It feels weird returning to his childhood home, especially with his father not being there. The house is eerily silent, and he walks around for a bit, just getting his bearings. Now that he’s alone with nothing to distract him, he wishes he’d agreed when Derek had offered to come with him. But he can do this. Besides, he’s not sure what was going on with Derek, and there was too much inside Stiles’ brain right now to deal with their rekindled friendship.

The house looks exactly the same as it has the last few times Stiles has been home; he realizes with a start that he had been back as recently as March. It feels like so much longer.

The first thing Stiles does is check the cabinets and the refrigerator. Take out containers are stacked in the fridge and in the trash. And wow, nothing smells worse than old Chinese food, so Stiles takes the garbage outside and tosses it in the curbside bin. Then he puts in a new bag, pulls the huge can into the middle of the kitchen, opens the refrigerator door, and tosses everything that is remotely bad into the trash can. There’s something cathartic about throwing away the bad food, though with each container he feels guiltier and guiltier.

After he finishes the top shelf, the silence in the house is too deafening, so he turns the stereo on full volume. He presses play on whatever CD his father last left in the player. It’s a classic rock CD, one of his dad’s favorites, and Stiles sings along to the songs he’s had memorized since he could barely walk.

He’s on the third loop of the CD and scrubbing out the underused vegetable bins when the music stops. Stiles spins around, reaching for whatever can work as a weapon closest to him as his heart pounds. He yelps when a body enters the kitchen, and he swings the broom at them.

“What the hell?” Derek yells, ducking just before Stiles clocks him with the wooden handle.

“Shit!” Stiles drops the broom to the floor with a clatter. “I am so sorry.”

“I think that might constitute assaulting an officer,” Derek says, but he’s grinning.

“Bastard,” Stiles snaps, going back over to the sink to grab his sponge. “What are you doing here? I told you I was fine.”

“I can clearly see that.” Derek surveys the room.

“The last thing Dad needs to do is come home to temptation,” Stiles says, scrubbing the vegetable bin with more force than necessary. “A lot of this was spoiled anyway. There was a science experiment in half of this food.”

“This could have waited,” Derek points out.

“No, really it couldn’t,” Stiles argues. He turns on the faucet and runs water into the bin. “That’s the whole problem here. If I wouldn’t have waited to check on him, if I wouldn’t have kept putting off making him go to the doctor, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Stiles – “

“And you,” Stiles spins around and points an accusatory finger at Derek. “You and your little police force care so much about him now, offering to take care of him so I don’t have to, coming by the hospital and sending flowers and all, but where were you when he was eating take out and not exercising regularly?” His voice is rising, getting angrier by the minute. But dammit, he’s just so fucking furious. “If you cared so goddamn much, why didn’t you prevent this?”

“Stiles, you need to calm down.”

“How can I calm down?” Stiles explodes. “I leave and my dad has a heart attack, and I come home to find his food reeking of heart disease, and no one, not even me, cared enough to do anything about it!”

“That isn’t true!” Derek yells. “We tried to help him eat better, but he’s a grown man and stubborn as hell.” Derek grunts and runs a hand through his hair. Under his breath, he says, “Apparently it runs in the family.”

Stiles glares at him before he turns back to the sink. This is why he wanted to be alone; he didn’t want to argue or talk about things.

“You’re still a stubborn ass,” Derek grunts, but he shrugs off his jacket and hangs it on one of the chairs. “Fine, what can I do?”

“What do you mean, what can you do?” Stiles snipes. “You could leave.”

“Stiles,” Derek sighs.

Stiles yanks his hands out of the water and angrily wipes them on a towel. “Why are you here, Derek?” He throws the towel onto the counter, but misses and it falls to the floor. “Why were you at the hospital last night, and why are you here now? We’re not friends anymore. We’re Facebook friends who used to be friends. That’s it.” He’s angry; he’s angry and hurt. All the pain and betrayal is as fresh for Stiles as it was ten years ago.

Derek glares, though the hurt is clear on his face. “You’re alone, I know that. I may not have talked to you in years, but I know how scared you are right now. I know what your dad means to you. I know how terrified you are to lose him, and I’m pretty sure that hasn’t changed since you’ve moved away.” Derek pauses and they glare at each other for a few beats. Then Derek deflates and he slumps against the counter. “Look, I know we both lost touch. Life happens, people grow up, and they grow apart. The people you say you’ll be friends with forever when your’e fifteen turn out to only be a memory later. Despite everything, Stiles, I still care about you. I want to help; I want to be here for you.” He takes a deep breath, and then adds, “but only if you want me to.”

Stiles rubs his eyes. They’re burning from the lack of sleep, and his entire body feels heavy, like it’s made of lead. Stiles just doesn’t know how much more he can take. “Yes, of course I want you here,” he says after a few moments. Derek is here now, and maybe that is all that should matter. “I just don’t have the energy for some heartfelt reunion, though.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “I think we can skip that part and just be friends.”

Stiles looks around, feels the itching beneath his skin. “Can we finish the kitchen? Please? I just…need to finish this before I go to bed.”

Derek nods and pushes up the sleeves of his shirt. “Just tell me what to do.”

It takes them almost two hours, but they get the kitchen spic and span, from scrubbing the refrigerator shelves and stove to clearing the bad food from the cabinets to mopping. When they finish, Stiles is about to drop, but he feels accomplished. It’s such a stupid thing to feel accomplished about, but it gives him a tiny sense of control.

“Bed now,” Derek says, placing his hands on Stiles’ shoulders and leading him upstairs into his old bedroom.

Stiles falls face first on the bed, and as Derek starts to leave, Stiles calls out. “Where are you going?”

Derek hovers in the doorway. “I was going to sleep in the guest bedroom.”

Stiles shakes his head. “No. Stay in here and talk to me until I fall asleep.”

“Are you serious?”

“You’re the one who won’t leave me alone,” Stiles says, rolling over onto his back and toeing off his sneakers. “I want you to catch me up to speed on your life. Loves, disasters, trips you’ve taken, restaurants you’ve liked.” He closes his eyes and lets himself sink into the mattress.

“Stiles, it’s 3 a.m.”

“Don’t care.” He pats the bed beside him, and a second later the bed dips with Derek’s weight. “I still can get you to do anything I say.” Stiles grins, his eyes still closed.

“I never did what you said.”

“Liar,” Stiles says. “Tell me about stuff. How are Laura and Cora?”

“You talk to them on Facebook.”

Stiles opens his eyes and frowns. “I’m not asking what their latest public status or picture is. I’m asking how they are, really.”

Derek scratches his beard lightly. “Cora is fine. She’s working on a graduate degree in San Francisco. English, something with Renaissance literature. She’s been seeing the same guy for almost a year. Laura’s been having a rough time. She’s been having some marital problems, she actually brought the kids down and spent a week at Mom and Dad’s a few months ago.”

“Is she going to divorce Logan?”

Derek shrugs. “I don’t think so. She loves him, but they just can’t get it right. The kids are good, though. Macy is the spelling bee champion for her school, so she’s going on to the state championship, and Brad is taking piano lessons. He’s really good.”

Stiles stares at the far wall as he thinks about Laura. “Poor Laura. I hate that. She deserves to be happy.”

“I hope they work things out. I think they will. They started seeing a marriage counselor last week.”

“Do you talk to her often?”

“Just about every day.”

Stiles smiles and pats Derek’s arm. “Good. That’s good.”

He rolls over onto his side as he slides under the covers. “Tell me more stuff. I don’t care what about. Actually, no. Tell me about your favorite TV shows from the last five years.”

Derek talks about various shows, some Stiles has seen, others he hasn’t, and somewhere along the way Stiles falls asleep.

*

Derek walked into the police station alongside his parents. It didn’t matter how many times he’d been in the station; it still made him nervous, like he had done something wrong. He had no clue how Stiles didn’t feel so guilty every time he walked through the doors that he immediately confessed every bad thing he’d ever done. Derek knew Stiles got into all sorts of mischief every day.

The sheriff met them just outside his office. “Thanks for letting Stiles stay with you,” he said with a weary smile. “We’ve got a murder case, so it’s going to be a long night, which wouldn’t normally be a problem, but I’m afraid Stiles might overhear or see something he’s not supposed to. Some of the images are not appropriate for a twelve year old.”

“It’s not a problem,” Jeremy said.

“Derek’s been missing Stiles,” Talia said, ruffling Derek’s hair affectionately.

“Mom,” Derek groaned, shying away from her touch.

Talia smiled. “Even though they both go to the same school, Derek doesn’t like that the eighth graders are on a different hall than the seventh graders.”

“Stiles complains about that every day. Scott’s on a different team, and Derek’s on the eighth grade hall. So basically, it’s nothing but complaining and rambling about Lydia Martin.”

Derek walked away from the parents, already embarrassed enough. He didn’t need his mom telling people that he got sad because Stiles wasn’t in his class. Sure, he had Boyd, and Boyd was awesome, but he wasn’t Stiles. Plus, although Derek would never admit it, Derek was jealous that Stiles spent so much time with Scott. Derek liked Scott; Scott was cool. But he was Stiles’ other best friend, and Derek was worried that one day Stiles would get tired of him and then Scott would be his only best friend.

Derek entered the sheriff’s office. On the couch along the wall, Stiles was laid out sleeping, covered with a thick blanket and clutching the worn stuffed giraffe he’d had for as long as Derek had known him. He crossed the room, and jostled Stiles’ shoulder to wake him.

“But it wasn’t my hamster,” Stiles muttered.

“Such a weirdo,” Derek said.

Stiles blinked at Derek as he sat up. “What are you doing here?”

“You’re spending the night with us.”

“But it’s not picture day,” Stiles mumbled sleepily as he rubbed his eyes. The picture day after Stiles’ mom died, the sheriff hadn’t known about it, so Stiles’ yearbook photo had him in mix matched clothes and dirt on his cheek. Ever since then, he’d spent the night before picture day with the Hales.

“Your dad doesn’t want you to see the crime scene photos,” Derek explained. “Too gruesome for babies.”

“Not a baby,” Stiles muttered, standing up and grabbing his giraffe and pillow. “Just because you’re thirteen now doesn’t mean you’re any more mature than me. I still know you watch cartoons.”

Adventure Time doesn’t count,” Derek said, shoving Stiles.

“You totally watch Phineas and Ferb and Scooby Doo on a regular basis.”

“You said you’d never tell anyone about that.”

“I’m not telling anyone,” Stiles said. “I’m just reminding you.” Derek rolled his eyes as Stiles grabbed his overnight bag from the sheriff’s closet before leaving the office.

“Hey kiddo,” the sheriff said, dropping a kiss on top of Stiles’ head when he sleepily bumped into his dad.

“I’m spending the night with Derek?” Stiles yawned and clutched his pillow more tightly.

“Yeah, I just don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be around the station during this case.”

“Cause it’s murder.”

“Yes.”

“You never let me see any of the fun stuff,” Stiles pouted.

“Jeremy will take you to school with Derek, and then I’ll pick you up after school, okay?” Stiles nodded, and the sheriff gave him a hug. “Be good for the Hales.”

“Yes, Dad.” The sheriff kissed the top of his head again. “Be careful. And no donuts or French fries.”

“I know.” Stiles moved towards Derek, who took Stiles’ bag for him. “Love you.”

“Love you too, Dad.”

Derek followed his parents and Stiles out of the station to the Hale’s car. When Derek went to get into the right side, Stiles came up behind him. “I want to sit on this side.”

“No, this is my side.”

“Please, Derek. I like sitting on the driver’s side.”

“No.”

Stiles gave Derek sad, puppy eyes, and Derek rolled his eyes as he stomped towards the other side of the car. “Fine. It’s just a stupid seat.”

After they got home and had settled into bed, Stiles got off the air mattress and stood beside Derek’s bed holding his pillow and giraffe. “Can I sleep with you?”

“What’s wrong with the air mattress?”

“I don’t want to sleep on it.”

“You always sleep on the air mattress. Go to sleep, Stiles.”

“But Derek,” Stiles whined.

Derek groaned in frustration as he scooted over to make room for Stiles. When Stiles didn’t get into bed, Derek rolled onto his back and opened his eyes. “Now what?”

“You’re on my side of the bed.”

“Ohmigod,” Derek growled, switching sides of the bed. Stiles grinned as he crawled over Derek and nestled himself between Derek and the wall. “Comfortable now?”

“Yes,” Stiles replied. A few minutes later, Stiles said, “Hey Derek?”

“What?”

“Thanks.”

*

“Stiles, I can walk inside the house without any help,” the sheriff complains as Stiles hovers around. “I didn’t have surgery on my legs.”

“The doctor said not to overdo it. You need to be gentle on your heart for awhile.”

“I hardly think that walking from the car to the living room is going to give me a heart attack.”

“Not funny, Dad.”

“Wasn’t trying to be.”

After they get inside the house, Stiles helps the sheriff settle on the couch, then makes him a lunch from the physician provided menu. When Stiles sets the plate of grilled chicken and vegetables on the TV tray, the sheriff frowns. “Where did this come from?”

“I went shopping while you were in the hospital. Actually, I cleared out your entire kitchen, got rid of all the bad stuff, and stocked it with heart healthy foods.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” he says as he starts to eat.

“Yeah, I did.” Stiles takes a bit of his own lunch, which is the same as the sheriff’s. “We take care of each other, right?”

The sheriff looks at Stiles for a few beats, then nods. “Yeah, we do.”

Stiles does the dishes after they finish lunch, and then he sits beside his dad on the couch and watches a movie. “You know you don’t have to babysit me,” the sheriff says. “I know you’ve got to get back to work eventually.”

“Well, Dad, about that.” Stiles shifts on the sofa and tries to figure out how to break this to him without, like, upsetting his heart.

“Stiles,” the sheriff says with a sigh. “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything!” Stiles exclaims. “I just, um, kinda lost my job about a month ago.”

“What?”

“Don’t get upset! Your heart!”

The sheriff rolls his eyes. “My heart is fine.”

“You just had heart surgery!”

“Stiles…”

Stiles huffs. “The company downsized, and I was let go. I was going to tell you, but I had to get over the fact that I had no job, and I was waiting for the right time, and then you had your heart attack.”

“How are you paying your bills?”

“Savings.”

“Stiles, you need to be out looking for a job, not taking care of me.”

Stiles chews on his lip before saying, “I’m moving back to Beacon Hills.”

The sheriff gives Stiles a sad look. “You know you don’t have to do that.”

“I want to,” Stiles says. “It’s not just for you, but for me. I miss you, and I want to spend more time with you.” He runs his hands along his pants leg. “Plus, I’ve reconnected with Derek, and I think that’s a good thing.”

“Are you sure you want to move back?” the sheriff asks him seriously. “Of course I want you back, but I want you to do it because you want to, not because you think you have to take care of me.”

“I want to,” Stiles says. “I want to move back.”

And as the words leave his mouth, he realizes they’re the truth.

*

Stiles has been in Beacon Hills a week when he runs out of clean clothes. He’d just thrown together enough clothes before running to the airport to catch his plane. Now that he’s decided to move back, he’s trying to figure out how to get his stuff across the country.

“I need to go back to DC soon,” he tells the sheriff when they’re out for their morning walk. The autumn air is cool, so add an appropriate jacket to his list of things not with him. “I need to pack up my apartment.”

“I can go with you,” the sheriff offers.

“Um, no.” Stiles shakes his head. “I don’t think flying and packing and moving boxes is within the limits of what you should be doing.”

“I’m not a fragile flower,” the sheriff grumbles.

Stiles squeezes the sheriff’s arm. “I know that, Dad. But you’re still recovering. I appreciate the offer anyway.”

“So, when are you going to go?”

“Well, my rent is due next week, and since I don’t have a job, I’d like not to have to pay another month’s rent.”

“Okay, so what’s the problem?”

“There’s no problem! Who says there a problem?” The sheriff gives him one of his patented Dad looks. “Fine. I don’t want to leave you.”

“Stiles – “

“I don’t like the idea of you being alone right now! Just…humor me, Dad,” Stiles begs.

The sheriff sighs, but he nods. “Derek, Parrish, or one of the other officers can stop in occasionally.”

“Who’s going to make your dinners?” Stiles asks. He chews on his thumb, staring at the fallen leaves as he tries to figure out just how he’s going to be in two places at once.

“I can cook.”

“You don’t need to be cooking. You need to be resting.” Stiles shoves his hands in his pocket. “I can make you some meals, stick them in the freezer like I used to do in high school. You can microwave some of the vegetables…” Stiles trails off, going over it in his head. “This could work.”

“I think I will be fine while you go pack.”

“Would Derek, Parrish, or Kira really look in on you? They wouldn’t mind?”

The sheriff shoots Stiles an unreadable look. “No, they wouldn’t mind.”

“Still, I’ll call them and double check.”

“You’re worse than your mother,” the sheriff says with a smile. “She was like this, too. A little mother hen, always worrying.”

“Are you calling me a chicken?” Stiles laughs. The sheriff just rolls his eyes.

*

Stiles finds Derek’s squad car parked across from the elementary school. He’d called the station and convinced the dispatcher to tell him where Derek was. Maybe Stiles had played a little dirty and told the dispatcher it was for his dad. He wasn’t beneath using his dad’s recent surgery to get him what he needed.

Stiles approaches the car, opens the door, and drops inside. Derek looks at him in surprise, then glowers. “What are you doing? I’m on duty.”

“I aware of that, Deputy Hale.” Stiles lets his eyes roam over the squad car, takes in the empty Styrofoam coffee cups, bags of sunflower seeds, and fruit stashed in various places. “This doesn’t look like a proper squad car. Sunflower seeds? Fruit?” He picks up a banana and shakes his head. “Where are the donuts? The Little Debbie cakes?”

“That’s stereotyping.”

“I grew up at the police station. It’s not stereotyping if it’s true.”

Derek rolls his eyes and takes a sip of his coffee. He turns his attention to the elementary school across the street, where parents are already starting a carpool line to pick up their children. The car is cold, and Stiles shivers and rubs his arms.

“So, who did you piss off to get elementary school duty?”

Derek turns his head to glare at Stiles. “I didn’t piss anyone off. It’s my day. It’s not like Beacon Hills is the nexus of crime, so most of my job revolves around patrolling the schools and dealing with traffic violations.”

“Sounds thrilling.”

“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here.”

“You mean, other than brightening your day with my mere presence?” Stiles flashes him a huge grin.

Derek snorts. “Keep telling yourself that.”

“Don’t deny it. You haven’t seen me in like three days. Admit it, you missed me.”

“Yes, it’s been absolutely torture without you here,” Derek drawls. Stiles laughs. He missed this, the back and forth that was his and Derek’s normal banter. He’s never found someone who can match their level of conversation.

Derek’s attention turns to the school parking lot, and then he steps out without a word. Stiles watches as Derek approaches a car idling in the middle of the street. Stiles can’t see Derek’s face, only the expanse of his back in the oversized brown department jacket and the long line of his legs. Stiles is impressed by how flattering the uniform pants are on Derek, how lean and strong they make his legs look. Not many cops can wear the uniform quite like Derek. And as Stiles watches women approach Derek and talk to him, he knows he’s not the only one who appreciates Derek in the uniform.

Stiles quickly turns his attention away from Derek’s uniform pants and the shameless flirting and starts messing with the controls in Derek’s car. He flips the lights on and off, then picks up the radio and holds it up to his mouth like he used to when he was a kid in his dad’s car. The second time Stiles turns on the flashing lights, it draws Derek’s attention. Stiles can see the scowl all the way across the street, and it makes him smile.

Derek leaves the woman who was totally putting the moves on him and stalks across the street in irritation. “Are you insane?” Derek exclaims when he opens the door. “Are you trying to get me fired?”

“Please,” Stiles rolls his eyes. “I used to do this when my dad took me on patrol with him. Sometimes, he’d let me talk to Tara on the radio.”

Derek gives Stiles a stern look. “No,” he snaps, yanking the radio from his grasp.

“You’re not fun.”

“I’m at work!”

“Yeah, directing traffic and flirting with bored housewives.” Stiles can’t help but think the way Derek gets so flustered is adorable. “There were at least five women checking out your ass as you walked back to the car.”

“Why would you tell me something like that?” A flush creeps up Derek’s neck and across his cheeks, which causes Stiles to throw his head back and laugh. “And I wasn’t flirting.”

“Ohmigod, I embarrassed you.” Stiles claps his hands giddily.

“I’m not embarrassed.”

“Liar.”

“These women are mothers, grandmothers, and nannies. They’re picking up their kids, for god’s sake.”

“And checking out your ass,” Stiles laughs. “Maybe if you didn’t wear your uniform pants so tight…” Derek balks at him, and Stiles shrugs. “Of course I looked. And might I say, Deputy Hale, you are looking mighty fine in those uniform pants.” Derek’s flush deepens and Stiles thinks that maybe it’s the cutest thing he’s ever seen.

“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here,” Derek grunts.

“You mean other than freezing my balls off and watching you flirt?” Stiles wraps his arms around himself and rubs his arms again. “I need a favor.”

Derek’s eyes sweep over Stiles shivering in the front seat, and he shifts so he can shrug out of his jacket. “Here, put this on. Where’s your jacket? It’s cold outside.”

“Thanks, Captain Obvious,” Stiles rolls his eyes. “That’s part of the favor.” Stiles gratefully takes the jacket and pulls it on. He wraps it closely around him, trapping in Derek’s warmth. He takes a moment to close his eyes as he starts to unthaw.

“What’s the favor?” Derek prods, and Stiles eyes’ snap open.

“I need you to watch my dad for a week or so.”

“Why? Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ve got to fly back to DC and pack up my stuff. Dad is fine, but I just don’t want him to be alone all day. I’m leaving him meals that he can heat up in the microwave, but if you, Parrish, Kira, or hell, even Greenburg could check on him a couple of times a day? I’d really appreciate it.”

“Of course,” Derek responds.

“I’m not gonna ask you to help him clean the incision on his chest, because that’s a level of care even I don’t look forward to, but just can you make sure he cleans it? If it gets infected, then – “

“It’s no problem,” Derek cuts in, looking at Stiles seriously. “Is there anything I can do to help you with the moving stuff?”

“I wish,” Stiles laughs. “I’m not looking forward to packing up my entire life. But unpacking it again is going to be even worse.”

“Let me know if you need anything.”

Stiles smiles. “Helping out with Dad is the biggest thing I need, so thanks.”

“When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow. I booked the flight this morning.”

“I’ll go over there tomorrow after my shift.”

“Thanks, I really appreciate it.”

Stiles opens the door, but realizes as he’s about to step out that he has on Derek’s jacket. When he starts to take it off, Derek lays a hand on his arm. “Keep it. You need it more than I do.”

“I can’t.”

Derek shakes his head. “I’m fine. You still look a little blue around the edges. But I guess that’s normal. You were always cold-natured.”

“And you always ran hot.” Derek smiles as Stiles gets out of the car. He grips the edge of the door and leans down to stick his head inside. “Thanks again, Derek.”

“Any time.”

Stiles hesitates, opens his mouth to say something, but then nods his head and shuts the door.

*

“This is going to be the best trip ever!” Stiles exclaimed. He was walking ahead of both Derek and the sheriff, arms full of the sheriff’s tackle box and gripping the three fishing poles precariously. Derek had offered to help, but Stiles had refused to let anyone carry the fishing equipment. Derek got stuck with the cooler and bag of food instead.

“Slow down, Stiles,” the sheriff laughed. Stiles was already out of sight in the trees ahead, heading towards their favorite fishing spot at the lake.

“There are fish to be caught!” Stiles yelled from wherever he was.

“Not if Stiles scares them away by yelling,” the sheriff told Derek. Derek smiled.

Stiles suddenly appeared in view again, arms empty and bouncing on his feet. “Come on! You two are slow!” He ran towards Derek and grabbed his hand to pull him along as he ran towards the fishing spot. Derek kept pace with him, and helped Stiles to keep from falling when he tripped over an exposed root. Stiles didn’t need any more skinned knees; he had two already.

“This is it.” Stiles looked around proudly, wide smile on his face. “This is the special Stilinski fishing spot.” The spot was nestled in a cove on the lake, with trees shading the shore. There were multiple spots worn in the dirt along the edge of the lake to stand or sit while fishing. “Well, what do you think?”

Stiles was looking at Derek like his opinion meant everything. Derek grinned widely. “It’s cool.”

Stiles’ grin matched Derek’s. “The coolest. Dad’s been fishing here for like forever. Mom used to like to come here, too. Dad said she used to put me in the boat when I was a baby. She’d make me a little bed of blankets in the bottom of the boat and let me sleep while she and Dad fished.”

“Really?” Derek asked, and Stiles nodded.

“All right, boys. Let’s get your hooks baited. Fish aren’t gonna bite nothing.”

Derek took his fishing pole and looked at it helplessly. He’d been camping and hiking and even hunting with his family, but he’d never been fishing.

“Sheriff, can you show me?” Derek asked.

“Sure,” he replied, crouching down beside Derek. Stiles sat on the dirt beside them, tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth as he put a cricket on the hook. “Watch me. It’s not hard.” Derek followed the sheriff’s movements as he showed him how to place a worm on a hook. It really wasn’t hard at all.

“Look, Derek,” Stiles said, jumping up and pressing his hand in Derek’s face. “Bug goo.”

“Gross!” Derek laughed, pushing Stiles’ hand away as Stiles tried to wipe his fingers on Derek’s cheek.

“Goo fingers! Goo fingers!” Stiles wiggled his fingers closer to Derek’s skin as they both laughed.

“Stiles,” the sheriff said, “I thought you wanted to fish.”

“Oh yeah!” Stiles immediately lost interest in what he was doing and ran over to pick up his fishing pole from the ground.

Derek watched as Stiles and the sheriff cast out. The sheriff flicked his fishing pole smoothly and gracefully, whereas Stiles kinda flailed as he threw the line out. Derek mimicked the other two, and although his float didn’t land as far out as he hoped, it still wasn’t half bad.

“Oh! I forgot!” Stiles exclaimed, throwing his fishing pole down so he could run over to the bag. He rummaged around in it and let out a satisfied noise when he found what he was looking for. “We can’t fish without our fishing hats!”

Before Derek could take his eyes off his float, Stiles had run over and tugged a khaki bucket hat on his head. Derek pushed it out of his eyes and saw that Stiles was wearing a matching hat.

“You look like a dork,” Derek said.

Stiles’ face fell. “But they’re cool. They’re our fishing hats. You can’t fish without the fishing hats, right, Dad?”

“Right,” the sheriff said. He was now also wearing a similar hat as he recast.

“You don’t have to wear it,” Stiles said, going over to pick up his fishing pole.

“I’m wearing it,” Derek said. “I can’t fish without the fishing hat, can I?” He smiled, and Stiles lit up.

“Right. The hat brings fish.”

They had only been there for half an hour before Stiles got his first injury. “Owowowow,” Stiles repeated as the sheriff tried to extract the hook from Stiles’ thumb.

“You’re supposed to use bait, not your finger,” Derek teased.

“Shut up, or I’m going to wipe bug guts on your face.”

After Stiles had cast out, Derek dug a worm out of the container and snuck up behind Stiles, who was watching a frog hop across the ground. He yanked the waist of Stiles’ pants and Superman briefs back and dropped a worm into his underwear.

Stiles stood up and started screaming, and Derek fell to the ground laughing. “You jerkface!” Stiles yelled, now dancing around and wiggling.

“What’s going on?” the sheriff demanded, and Derek kept laughing on the ground.

“Derek put a worm in my underwear!” Stiles unbuttoned his pants. “I think it’s in my crack! There’s a worm in my crack!” He shoved his hands down the back of his pants, finally pulling out the worm. He started to run towards Derek, but he’d forgotten to button his pants, so they slid down his hips, causing him to trip and fall down face first beside Derek. That just caused Derek to laugh harder.

“Boys! Really!” the sheriff exclaimed behind them.

Stiles pushed himself up, crawled towards Derek, and squished the worm on his cheek. “There, you’re an icky wormburger.”

“You’re the wormburger, cricket brains,” Derek said as he rolled over to pin Stiles to the ground. They started wrestling until the sheriff grabbed them both by the collar and pried them apart. Derek had a squished red wiggler on his face and a stick in his hair, and Stiles had knocked off his hat, had dirt on his cheek, and his pants around his knees. They just looked at each other and laughed.

“Idiots,” the sheriff said fondly.

After lunch, Derek hooked his first fish.

“Reel it in slowly,” the sheriff instructed from where he hovered behind him. Stiles had abandoned his fishing pole still cast into the water in favor of bouncing next to Derek excitedly. “That’s it, you’ve got it, Derek!”

A moment later, Derek pulled a wiggling bream out of the water. “I caught a fish!” he exclaimed excitedly. “Look, Stiles, I caught a fish!”

Stiles ran over to the bag to grab the camera as Derek finished reeling in his line. He held the pole and watched as the fish hung from the hook and jerked back and forth. Stiles snapped a picture while the sheriff grabbed the line and held it for Derek.

“Take it off the hook,” the sheriff said.

Derek wrinkled his nose. “I have to touch it?”

“How else do you think you’re gonna get it off, wormburger?”

“Shut up, cricket brains.”

“Boys,” the sheriff sighed. He showed Derek how to get a hold on the fish without getting finned, and then instructed Derek to try. It took a few moments for Derek to get enough courage to touch the fish. It was slimy and cold, and twitched violently when Derek touched it. He jerked his hand away and glanced up at the sheriff, who nodded encouragingly. Derek started at the head and ran his hand along the fish, but it jolted in his grip. The fin sliced into Derek’s palm and he jumped back with a yelp.

“You okay?” Stiles asked.

Derek looked at his palm, which had a long, shallow cut on it. “It’s fine,” he said, even though it stung.

He watched as the sheriff expertly got a grip on the fish, carefully took it off the hook, and then tossed it back into the lake. He smiled at Derek as he placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s easy to get finned by a fish. Just wait until you catch a catfish. I had a catfish gash me open real good once.” He squeezed Derek’s shoulder. “It’s okay, you’ll get it soon.”

Stiles handed Derek a wet wipe to clean his hand, and then he held Derek’s palm as he placed a Scooby Doo band-aid on it. “Don’t worry,” he whispered, “Dad still takes my fish off the hooks, too.”

*

Stiles spends four days in DC packing up his life. He rents shipping containers and has his belongings shipped to Beacon Hills, and then he takes a plane home.

He calls his dad every night to check on him. Everything is fine, despite Stiles’ worrying. Derek is at the house watching movies with his dad three of the times he calls. Derek even walks with him in the evenings since he can’t walk with him in the mornings when he’s on shift.

This news shouldn’t surprise Stiles, but…it does. He knows that Derek has always cared for his dad, that they’ve been working together for awhile now, that they eat breakfast together once a week. But Stiles had just expected to hear his dad say that Parrish stopped by, or Derek called on his way home from work. He didn’t expect Derek watching movies with his dad or going on his daily walks with him.

Stiles can’t think about anything else on the flight home. He knows he should be thinking about more important things, like where he’s going to live, finding a job, how long he can live off his savings before he’s stuck at the McDonalds.

But instead, he’s thinking about Derek. He’s hasn’t really had a lot of time to examine this change of events with him. In a short amount of time, they went from former best friends who never talked to friends again. Stiles realizes with a start that they’d slipped back into a routine. Derek had even stolen the last curly fries off his plate when they’d gone to dinner with Parrish, Kira, Danny, and Greenburg last week. The only other person Stiles ever let steal curly fries from his plate was Scott.

Where did this new friendship come from? The Derek who was hanging out with his dad and patrolling local schools was essentially a stranger. But if he was a stranger, then why did Stiles feel like no time had passed between them at all? And worse, why did he feel something loosen in his chest every time Derek was near?

The answer was obvious. So much had changed in Stiles’ life in the last month that Derek was a constant. Though it’d been so long since they’d been in touch, they had fallen back into a familiar rhythm that was comforting when everything else in Stiles’ life was in chaos.

*

Stiles is surprised to see Derek and his dad waiting for him next to baggage claim at the airport. “What are you two doing here?” Stiles asks happily, giving his dad a firm hug. “I was going to take a taxi.”

“And waste a hundred bucks,” Derek says with a smile. “Your dad wanted to come pick you up, and I knew you’d have a fit if he was alone, so…”

Stiles smiles. “You didn’t have to waste your Saturday afternoon taking him to the airport. I’m sure you had better things to do.”

“I didn’t mind.” Derek goes over to the baggage carousel and grabs Stiles’ suitcase when it circles by. “Let’s go.”

Stiles was going to ask how Derek knew that was his, but he just follows them outside instead. “Want to grab some dinner on our way back?” the sheriff asks.

“I could eat,” Derek says.

“I’m starving,” Stiles agrees. “I’ve only had the plane snack since breakfast.”

Derek stows Stiles’ suitcase in the back of his SUV while the sheriff insists on Stiles taking the front seat. When they’re back on the highway, the sheriff asks, “So when are your belongings going to arrive?”

“In a few days,” Stiles explains, “and I don’t even want to think about how much that cost. Maybe this was a bad idea.” He chuckles quietly.

“Do you really think moving back is a bad idea?” Derek asks evenly. A little too evenly. Stiles glances over and takes in his rigid posture, the grip on the steering wheel.

“No,” Stiles replies. “It’s absolutely not a bad idea. In fact, I think it’s the best thing for me to do.”

“Good.” Derek nods. “That’s good.”

Stiles glances over his shoulder at his dad, and his dad’s got that same unreadable expression on his face. He turns his eyes back towards the road, flush creeping across his cheeks.

*

Stiles throws his keys down as he enters the house. “Dad? Have you seen this?” he calls out as he walks through the house in search of the sheriff. He finds him on the back deck, reading a book. When he hears Stiles, he looks up and pulls off his glasses.

“Hey.”

“Did you know about this?” Stiles hands the sheriff the flier he’d found taped to a pole in the grocery store. The sheriff takes it from him, places his glasses back on his face, and reads it before groaning, but Stiles doesn’t miss the smile around his lips.

The flier reads, BHPD Chili Cook Off! Join the community for a day of fall festivities and chili tasting made by Beacon Hills’ finest! Vote for your favorite and help us choose the chili king or queen of the police department. Don’t miss the chance to dunk Interim Sheriff Parrish in the dunk tank, or eat Edna’s famous blueberry pies.And then in small letters near the bottom, All proceeds will go to help with the medical bills of Sheriff Stilisnki.

“I can’t believe them,” the sheriff mutters, shaking his head fondly.

“Do you need money?” Stiles asks, taking the chair beside the sheriff. “I didn’t know you were struggling.”

“I’m not,” the sheriff says, setting the flier aside. “I mean, the surgery wasn’t cheap, and I have good insurance, but there are still some things it didn’t cover and – “

“Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you ask me for money?”

The sheriff frowns. “I’m not going to ask my grown son for money, especially when he doesn’t have a job.”

“Dad,” Stiles sighs, running a hand over his face. “Are you okay? Financially, I mean? You don’t need to be stressing about stupid stuff like this.”

“It’s fine,” the sheriff said. “They’re overreacting.”

Stiles nods, though he doesn’t quite believe him.

*

The Chili Cook-off is held Saturday at the local park. Stiles and his father get there about an hour after it starts, and the parking lot is so full they have to park down the street in the grass. A golf cart comes by, picks them up, and drives them to the entrance. From the crowd, Stiles thinks the whole town is there. There are craft booths set up, popcorn, cotton candy, and other desserts being sold, and even a petting zoo. “How in the world did they get all this together?” Stiles asks his dad as they walk by a lady selling quilts.

It takes forever to actually make it to the section of the park where the Chili contest is being held. People keep stopping the sheriff to talk to him, ask after his health, and give him well wishes. A lot of the people also talk to Stiles, and Stiles is surprised by how many people are thrilled he’s moving home. He can’t count the times he hears, “I know your dad is just over the moon you’re moving home; he talks about you all the time.”

“He’s so proud of you, living out in DC with a fancy tech job,” Mrs. Miller tells him. “But I know he’s happier to have you moving back to Beacon Hills. He always said it wasn’t the same without you around.”

Stiles watches his dad talk to the people of Beacon Hills as he mulls over what the people said. After awhile, he walks up beside his dad, claps him on the shoulder, and gives him a smile. His dad looks happy, and that makes Stiles happier than anything.

The chili stations are setup near the back of the park. “Do I get to eat any?” the sheriff asks.

“Depends,” Stiles says. “Only if the chili’s made with ingredients on your food list.”

“I think it’s pretty cruel to have a Chili Cook-off for the sheriff who can’t even eat the food,” the sheriff grumbles, causing Stiles to laugh.

They visit each station, speaking to the deputies who’ve entered the competition. Most of the chilis aren’t within the sheriff’s diet, so Stiles pulls him away and unfortunately doesn’t taste them himself. Solidarity and all that, though his stomach grumbles at all the delicious smells.

Near the end, they find Derek behind the table, talking to Kira. “Well, look who entered,” Stiles grins as they approach. There’s a huge pot in front of him and a card with #8 written on it. Kira’s is labeled with #9. He smiles and speaks to Kira before turning his attention to the pot of chili in front of Derek.

“Do you two want some?” Derek asks as he picks up the spoon. Kira turns to serve some people who’ve approached her station.

“Depends,” Stiles says.

“Stiles is monitoring my food. I couldn’t even eat a bite of Edna’s pie,” the sheriff gripes.

Derek smiles and grabs two sample bowls. “Well, I think Stiles will approve of this,” he says as he pours chili and then hands the bowls over. “It’s a heart healthy vegetarian chili.”

“Really?” Stiles asks in surprise.

Derek nods. “I looked online for a recipe specifically for the sheriff. I figured a Chili Cook-off for our sheriff who had a heart attack without heart healthy chili was kind of pointless and hypocritical.”

“Wow,” Stiles breathes, feeling something inside his chest clench.

“It was no big deal, really,” Derek replies as Stiles takes a bite. He watches Stiles carefully, gauging his reaction. Surprisingly, it’s delicious. The right amount of spice, but instead of meat, it’s filled with squash and peppers along with beans.

“Ohmigod,” Stiles moans as he takes another bite. “This is delicious.”

“Really?” Derek’s cheeks pink under the praise.

“It is really good, Derek,” the sheriff agrees. “Well, warden, can I have some more?” Stiles glances over at the sheriff, who has already cleaned his bowl. He laughs. Either the sheriff also thought it was delicious, or he was just shoving whatever food Stiles allowed him to have in his mouth. Either way, watching his Dad holding out an empty bowl and asking for seconds was hilarious.

“Only if Derek can give me some more, too.”

“I think I can spare a few more cups.” Derek hands over two more small bowls, and Stiles ignores the way his heart flutters at the thought of Derek trying out heart healthy recipes.

*

“Stiles?” Stiles turns around at the sound of his name and comes face to face with Laura. “Ohmigod, Stiles! It’s really you!” She engulfs him in a hug, clinging to him for a long time. When she finally pulls away, there’s a soft smile on her face. “I am so glad to see you.”

“You, too,” Stiles says. “You look great.”

“So do you!” she exclaims, giving him a once over. “You finally grew out of your awkward phase. I never thought you’d be this hot.”

“That’s supposed to be a compliment, right?” Stiles drawls, and Laura laughs. “What are you doing here? I thought you lived in Oregon.”

“Logan and I brought the kids down so we could spend the weekend with Mom and Dad. It just worked out that the department’s festival was this weekend, too.” A moment later, a blonde man approaches and slides an arm around Laura’s waist. “Stiles, I’d like you to meet my husband Logan. Logan, this is Stiles.”

Logan offers his hand. “Ah, I finally get to meet the famous Stiles.”

Stiles looks at him in confusion. “The famous Stiles?”

“Oh yes. I’ve heard all sorts of stories about you from when Laura and Derek were growing up.”

Stiles groans. “Lies, I’m sure.”

Laura laughs as Logan says, “I think my favorite was the Halloween when you busted the windows out of Laura’s boyfriend’s car.”

“We didn’t bust the windows,” Stiles says, “we keyed it and slit the tires.” Logan shakes his head with a smile. “Hey! He cheated on Laura, Derek and I couldn’t let him get away with that. But the whole thing was Laura’s idea. She was quite wild back then,” Stiles grins fondly.

“Oh, I’ve heard the stories.”

“All of them?” Stiles asks with a smirk.

“I think this conversation needs to be broken up right away,” Laura interjects, looking between them with a frown.

“Has Laura told you about her black clothes wearing, raccoon eyes, pot smoking phase?” Stiles grins evilly.

“I’ve heard a little,” Logan says, leaning towards Stiles with interest.

“I have pictures.”

Laura pokes her finger against Stiles’ chest. “You behave. I have blackmail on you, too.”

“It’s only blackmail if I’m afraid of it getting out,” Stiles says. “Who are you going to tell that doesn’t know the kind of shit Derek and I got up to as teenagers?”

Laura harrumphs. “Mom and Dad are walking around here somewhere,” she says, effectively changing the subject. “Mom was thrilled when Derek told her you were moving back to town.”

“I hope I see them. I haven’t seen your parents in forever.”

“Mom wants to see you, so you have to find her,” Laura says. “Speaking of which, I need to go find my children, but hopefully I’ll see you soon. You should come to Oregon with Derek next time he visits.”

“Um, okay,” Stiles says as Laura hugs him and kisses his cheek.

“I’m so glad you’re back,” she whispers against his hair. “And I can’t tell you how happy Derek is.” She pulls away, gives him a smile before Logan shakes his hand and they disappear into the crowd.

Stiles meanders through the festival, taking in the groups of people coming out to support the police department, and as a result, his dad. It makes him feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and helps him remember what a special place Beacon Hills really is. It makes coming back home not so difficult.

“Popcorn?” someone asks as Stiles walks by a booth. He pauses and sees the sign for the Beacon Hills EMTs, so he drops a dollar in the charity donation bucket and takes the popcorn from the man.

“Stiles?” one of the EMTs says. “Stiles Stilinski?” Stiles glances at the guy, who looks vaguely familiar. He wracks his brain, trying to remember the face. Thankfully, the guy notices Stiles’ expression. “It’s Mason, from lacrosse?”

“Oh yeah!” Stiles exclaims with a smile. “Hey man, how are you?” He and Mason chat for a few minutes, and then Mason takes a break so he can walk around with Stiles.

“Are you glad to be back?” Mason asks as he scoops up a handful of the proffered popcorn.

“I am,” Stiles nods. “It’s going to be a bit of a switch, though, from a big city to a small town again.”

“I’m so jealous you’ve lived in a big city,” Mason says. “I think some place like DC would be amazing.”

“It was great,” Stiles agrees. “Always something to do, lots of great bars, and the food. Ugh, I will miss the food.”

Mason nods as he rubs his hands together. “Well, I know it’s not as fancy as DC, but I’d love to have dinner with you.”

Stiles does a double take. “Are you asking me out on a date?”

Mason ducks his head bashfully. “Yeah.”

Stiles lets his eyes travel over Mason’s body. He’s still lean, but more muscular and broader than he was in high school. He’s definitely attractive, and Stiles remembers liking him when they were on lacrosse, and he seems like a nice guy now. Plus, it’s been a long time since Stiles has been on a date. He nods his head. “Sure, I’d really like that.”

Mason smiles, and Stiles thinks he has a really nice smile. “Give me your number and we can set it up for sometime this week.”

After he leaves Mason, he continues walking around. So, this is good. He has a date. With a cute guy. This is a good thing.

He finds himself at the chili cook-off tables again, where Derek is packing up his stuff. “So, how did it go?” Stiles asks as he approaches the table.

“I lost to Greenberg,” Derek says with a shrug. “Not surprising. Not many people are going to vote for a vegetarian chili, and Greenberg’s chili is legendary.”

Stiles walks around behind the table and helps Derek put away the plastic spoons and bowls. “I voted for your chili,” he says.

Derek straightens and looks at Stiles. They stay like that for a beat too long, until Stiles tears his eyes away and points to the left over pot. “What are you going to do with that?”

“I was going to see if you wanted to take it home,” Derek says. “Or maybe I can bring it over sometime this week for dinner?”

“Yeah, that’d be great.” Stiles places a hand on Derek’s arm and squeezes. “Parrish told me this whole thing was your idea. You didn’t have to do this.”

Derek doesn’t look at Stiles; instead, he rearranges the items in the box on the table. “It wasn’t that big of a deal. Your dad said the insurance didn’t cover everything, and he knew if you knew about it that you’d give him money, and that you didn’t have it because you just lost your job.” He finally lifts his eyes. “I just wanted to help.”

Stiles shakes his head with a smile. “You organize chili cook-offs for my dad, and you make him special vegetarian chili. You really are too good to him.”

Derek studies Stiles for a moment before looking at the ground. “It’s no big deal.”

Stiles slips his arm through Derek’s and lays his head on Derek’s shoulder. “It is a big deal, and I appreciate it.”

Derek smiles, and Stiles helps Derek load the boxes into his SUV.

*

Derek hovered around the entrance to the theater, constantly checking his watch. Stiles was supposed to be meeting him and the others for the 7:15 show, but Paige wanted to see the movie that started at 7:10. He just had to see Stiles before he went into the theater with Paige.

“Hey Derek,” Paige said as she walked up to him. Derek felt his heart racing, his palms starting to sweat. He licked his lips and tried to find the courage to speak. She was so beautiful, her dark hair falling around her shoulders and wearing a soft sweater that looked pretty with her eyes.

“Hey,” he finally managed. He led them to the ticket window, and paid for both their movies with his allowance. Paige blushed and pulled her hair behind her ear when he handed her the ticket.

They found a seat in the back of the theater, not because Derek thought anything was going to happen, but because he liked the way the screen looked from farther back. “Do you want a soda?” he asked nervously, “or candy?”

“A soda would be great.”

“I’ll go get it.”

Paige smiled as Derek left his seat. Derek felt jittery inside, like he couldn’t quite calm down or concentrate. He didn’t know what was wrong with him; girls didn’t usually make him feel this way. When he entered the lobby, he hoped that Stiles was already there, because he needed to talk to him before the movie started. Just as he suspected, Stiles was standing with Scott and Isaac by the arcade section. Derek came up to them, grabbed Stiles’ arm, and pulled him aside despite his loud protests.

“Dude, what the hell?” Stiles shrugged out of Derek’s grip. “Where have you been? We’ve been waiting on you. I texted you like five times.”

“Um, so, about the movie…” Derek shifted from one foot to the other nervously. “I’m actually here with Paige.”

“Paige? As in cello girl Paige?” Stiles asked.

Derek nodded with a grin. “She was hanging around the band classroom after school, so I went in there to mess with her after basketball practice, and we started talking, and Stiles, she’s amazing. We didn’t leave until after five, when the janitors kicked us out, and then we talked for fifteen minutes by our bicycles. She mentioned going to a movie, and I couldn’t say no.”

Stiles frowned. “But we were supposed to see Space Zombies! We’ve been planning it for like a month!”

“I know, and I am so sorry, but Stiles…a girl wanted to go to the movies with me!” Derek didn’t quite know why Stiles wasn’t happy for him. An actual girl wanted to go on a date with him. “I’m totally freaking out! I’m on a date with a girl. And not just any girl, but Paige.”

“I haven’t seen you all week,” Stiles whined. “Friday night is our night. We never hang as much as we used to since you went to high school. And now you’re blowing me off for some girl!”

“Paige isn’t just some girl!” Derek exclaimed. “I thought you’d be happy for me!”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’m happy for you.”

“You don’t seem very happy.”

“Whatever,” Stiles said. “Go enjoy your date.” He turned and stormed away to where Scott and Isaac were waiting. They both looked over at Derek after Stiles said something, and he waved sheepishly. Scott scowled while Isaac gave him a thumbs up and a smile.

This was stupid. Stiles was just a stupid kid who was jealous because Derek finally had a girlfriend. As he stood in line at the concession stand, he wondered why Stiles couldn’t be happy for him. They’d both talked so many times about how they’d wanted girlfriends, and now that Derek had one, Stiles was being a jerk.

“You okay, little bro?” Laura asked when Derek approached the register to order.

“Fine,” he snapped as he handed her his money.

“You might want to order first,” she said, and he mumbled a response. She frowned, but gave him his two sodas and box of candy.

As Derek walked back into the theater and saw Paige smiling at him, he decided Stiles was a stupid jerk and he didn’t care that he was mad. Derek was on a date with a beautiful girl.

*

The sheriff answered the door when Derek knocked on it the next day. “Hey Derek,” he said with a smile. “Stiles isn’t here.”

“He’s not?” Derek’s shoulders slumped. “Oh.”

“He’s out with Scott. I think they’re at the arcade, if you want to go join them.”

“No, it’s okay,” Derek said, already stepping off the porch. “Can you tell him I came by?”

“Sure thing.” The sheriff waved as Derek picked up his bike and pedaled away.

Derek didn’t see Stiles until afterschool on Monday. Stiles didn’t text or call, and Derek didn’t text or call him either. But when Derek turned onto Elm Street on his way home, Stiles was sitting on the concrete ledge near the corner, waiting for him.

“Hey,” Derek said, braking in front of him.

“Hey.” Stiles kicked a stone with the toe of his beat up sneaker. “Dad said you came by Saturday.”

“He said you were with Scott.” Derek didn’t try to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

Stiles raised his eyes and glared at him. “You don’t get to be mad that I was out with Scott. You totally dropped me for some girl.”

“I didn’t drop you!” Derek exclaimed. “I went on a date. I thought you’d be happy for me!”

“I am happy for you!” Stiles replied. “I know how much you like Paige. But did your date with her have to be on Space Zombies night?” He crossed his arms across his chest. “I’ve been looking forward to that movie for like ever, and then you completely blow me off right before it started.”

“But I couldn’t say no to Paige,” Derek said, taking a seat on the ledge beside Stiles.

“You could have told her you had plans,” Stiles said. “You could have taken her to the movies on Saturday.”

“What if she wouldn’t have wanted to go with me then? What if she thought that I didn’t like her because I said I had plans?”

Stiles looked at Derek in disbelief. “You’re an idiot.”

“Well, you’re a jerk.” Derek stood up, stormed over to him bike, and yanked it up from the sidewalk. “I just wanted to hang out with Paige. I thought my best friend would be happy for me.”

“Where are you going?” Stiles yelled as Derek hopped on his bicycle.

“Away from you!”

“Oh, that’s just great,” Stiles snapped. Derek spun around to face him. “Just leave again. I never see you anymore because you go to another school and have basketball and lacrosse and homework, and now you’ve got a girl, and all that stuff is just more important than me.” Stiles turned away from Derek and looked down the street. “At least I still have Scott and Isaac.”

“Is that what you think?” Derek yelled, throwing his bicycle back onto the sidewalk. “Stiles, you’re my best friend. None of that stuff is more important than you.”

“Paige is more important than me,” Stiles said quietly.

Derek sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “She’s not more important than you, but Stiles, it’s a girl. I can see you whenever I want. Paige may never want to see me again.”

Stiles turned to him with a look of betrayal on his face. “But it was Space Zombies. Space Zombies on our night.”

“Look, how about we go see Space Zombies this Friday? Just me and you. Not even with Scott, Isaac, or Boyd.” Stiles didn’t look like he was quite ready to forgive him just yet. “What do you want me to say, Stiles? I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, but I’m not sorry I went on the date with Paige. I’m actually really pissed that you’re mad at me because I just had my first date and I didn’t even have anyone to tell about how she let me kiss her.”

“You kissed her?” Stiles exclaimed with a smile on his face.

Derek nodded, unable to keep the grin off his face. “I kissed her.”

“Do I get details?” Stiles asked.

“Of course.”

“Can Laura take us to the drive-in to see Space Zombies this weekend? Because dude, it’ll be so better if we can make our own commentary.”

“I think she’s off Saturday.”

“Awesome. We can sit on the hood of her car and eat junk food and yell at the screen.” Stiles knocked his shoulder against Derek’s. “Am I still your best friend?”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Of course, dummy. Whose house did I run to on Saturday to tell about my date?”

Stiles grinned. “What was kissing a girl like?”

*

Derek climbed the tree outside Stiles’ window, which was harder in the dark than it was during the day. He found himself slipping a few times, and he had to go slower so he didn’t fall out of the tree. When he finally hefted himself onto the branch right outside Stiles’ window, he took a few deep breaths. Stiles was inside his room, on his laptop. Derek tapped on the window, laughing when Stiles jumped from fright.

Stiles’ eyes landed on the window, and he glared as he came over to unlatch it. “You scared the crap out of me,” he said as he lifted the window. “What are you doing climbing trees, you creeper?”

“It’s late,” Derek said as he slipped inside the room. “Your dad is downstairs, and I’m technically supposed to be home. I didn’t want him to tell my mom.” Stiles sat back on his bed while Derek took the desk chair. “What did you do tonight?”

“Scott, Isaac, and I went and rode go-carts at the Mega Maze. It was awesome.” Stiles grinned. “Isaac crashed into the wall like five times.”

“Man, I’m so jealous. I love go-carts, especially when Isaac crashes.”

“Well, you were off being all cool and stuff with your girlfriend,” Stiles teased. Derek’s glad that Stiles finally got over his jealousy where Paige was concerned, but he still sometimes missed hanging out his friends, especially Stiles.

“That’s why I came over,” Derek said. He rolled the chair over to the bed and glanced at the door, like he could see if the sheriff was on the other side listening. “I have to tell you what happened.”

“Okay.”

“So, I went to her house, and her parents weren’t home.”

Stiles grinned excitedly. “Yeah?”

Derek nodded, barely containing his own grin. “We were kissing – “

“With tongues,” Stiles interrupted.

“Yes, with tongues. And she let me put my hand under her shirt. And bra.”

Stiles’ face went slack with surprise. “You touched boobies!”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Yes.”

“What did they feel like?” he asked. “I bet they were awesome. Please tell me they were awesome.”

“It was awesome,” Derek laughed. “They’re kinda…soft and warm.”

Stiles smiled dreamily. “I bet Lydia has the softest and warmest boobs in the world.”

“Focus, Stiles.” Stiles reached out, grabbed Derek’s hands, and then rubbed his hands all over them. “What are you doing?” Derek exclaimed, yanking his hands back.

“Your hands touched boobs, and now that I touched your hands, it’s kinda like I’ve touched boobs, too.”

“Ugh, Stiles, that’s my girlfriend you’re talking about.” Derek shoved Stiles. “Pervert.”

“But you got to touch boobies! I want to touch them so bad, Derek.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “You’re a weirdo.” He lowered his voice. “She also touched my dick.”

“What?” Stiles yelled, eyes going comically wide.

“And no, you can’t touch my dick because a girl touched it and through transference that means someone touched your dick, too,” Derek stated, covering his crotch with his hands.

“I don’t want to touch your ding-dong. Gross. I bet it’s all gross and smelly.”

“You’re a freak,” Derek laughed.

“Well, what did it feel like when she touched it?” Stiles asked eagerly.

“It was just through my jeans, but it felt really good. So much better than when I touch it.”

“I’m so jealous,” Stiles laughed, tossing a pillow at Derek’s head. “I need someone to touch my dick so bad.”

“Maybe when you get to high school in the fall, you can get over your obsession with Lydia and find a girlfriend,” Derek said.

“I will never give up my love for Lydia, you know that,” Stiles said. “She will fall in love with me one day. And I will get to touch her perfect boobies.”

Derek tossed the pillow back at Stiles’ head, which escalated into a full blown pillow fight. They were standing on Stiles’ bed, beating each other with pillows when the door swung open. They froze, staring at the sheriff standing in the doorway.

“Stiles, would you like to explain why you are beating Derek with a pillow on your bed when Derek isn’t even supposed to be here?”

“Um, it’s a Derek robot I keep in the closet?” Stiles tried.

Derek looked at him like he was crazy. “You’re so bizarre.” He hit Stiles on the side of the head with the pillow, causing him to fall onto the bed. Derek snickered.

“Your mother called,” the sheriff said with his arms crossed. He gave Derek his Dad stare, which was scarier than his Sheriff stare. “Seems you were supposed to be home over an hour ago.”

Derek glanced at the clock, and jumped off the bed in a panic. “Crap! She’s going to kill me!” Derek yelled as he started for the doorway, but the sheriff put up his arm to block his path.

“Stop,” the sheriff said, but Derek still managed to bump into his arm. “Your mom said you could spend the night if you wanted to, but you had to call her first.”

“Awesome!” Stiles jumped from the bed to the floor. “I’ll go put on the pizza rolls.”

“Hold it.” The sheriff grabbed the back of Stiles’ t-shirt after he slithered between him and the door. “Derek needs to tell us when he’s coming over, not just sneak in your window and worry his mother.” He gave both of the boys stern looks. “Understand?”

“Yes, sir,” they said in unison.

“Don’t stay up too late,” the sheriff said as they started down the stairs. “I’m taking you both to the diner for breakfast.”

“Whoo!” Stiles exclaimed as he jumped down the last few stairs, landing on the first floor on unsteady feet.

“Awesome, sheriff! Thanks! Can’t wait!” Derek yelled as he followed Stiles into the kitchen to help with the pizza rolls call his mom.

*

Stiles is upstairs, unpacking one of the boxes that arrived earlier that day. He’s leaving most of his stuff packed, but there are some books and clothes that he wants now. He puts on a fresh plaid shirt and hoodie, glad to be out of the same few he’s been wearing for the past couple weeks. The clothes smell stale, like boxes and dust, but he’s too lazy to rewash all of them.

A knock lands on the door, and Stiles smiles when he turns and sees Derek leaning against the door frame. He’s wearing his uniform, arms crossed over his chest. “Hey.”

“What are you doing here?” Stiles asks as he folds a shirt and places it in a drawer. Derek steps inside the room and surveys the mess.

“Settling in?”

Stiles shrugs. “My things arrived yesterday. Currently, they’re in a storage locker until I can find a place. But I figured I probably should get some clothes and books so I wasn’t wearing and reading the same things.” Derek reaches into the box, pulls out a shirt, folds it, and then hands it to Stiles. Stiles places it in a drawer. “I know you didn’t come over here to help me put away my laundry.”

“I actually brought dinner,” Derek says. “The chili from Saturday.”

“Mmm. Good, I’m starving.” Stiles walks out of the room and down the stairs. “How was work?”

“Fine,” Derek says. “Uneventful.”

“Do you want some clothes?” Stiles asks as he pulls the lid from the container of chili Derek left on the counter. “That way you don’t have to stay in uniform?”

Derek shakes his head. “Thanks, but it’s not too bad.” While they heat up dinner, Derek ends up taking off his belt and shirt, leaving him just in the pants and a white t-shirt. Stiles raises an eyebrow at the articles lying on the table, but doesn’t say anything.

During dinner, which they eat in front of the television watching an old Western the sheriff left it on, Stiles’ cell phone rings. “Hello?” he answers as he sets his bowl aside and walks into the kitchen.

“Stiles, it’s Mason.”

“Hey!” Stiles says brightly, glancing back into the living room where the sheriff and Derek are both watching him. Stiles walks out onto the back deck, pulling the door closed behind him.

“So, what are you doing tomorrow evening?”

“Nothing,” Stiles replies.

“Want to go to dinner around six? There’s a great sushi place in downtown.”

“Yeah, that sounds great.”

“Good,” Mason says. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“Me, too.” Stiles ends the call and reenters the kitchen. Derek’s at the sink, rinsing the bowls out. “You’re a guest; you don’t have to do that.”

“I haven’t been a guest in this house in like twenty years,” Derek chuckles. “Everything okay?”

“Huh? Oh! The phone call? Um, that was Mason. Do you know him? Few years behind me in school. He’s an EMT now.”

Derek nods as he wipes his hands on a towel. “Mason, yeah, I know him.”

“He asked me to dinner, so we’re going to that sushi place on the square tomorrow night.” Stiles doesn’t know why he feels embarrassed telling Derek about his date, but he feels himself blushing under Derek’s gaze.

“You’re going on a date?” Derek asks.

Stiles shrugs. “Yeah. I figured it might be fun. I couldn’t tell you the last time I went on a date, or had sex. Oh god, what has my life become?” He drops his head into his hands and laughs bitterly.

“You’re planning on having sex with him?” Derek exclaims.

“Dude, my dad is in there,” Stiles hisses, slapping Derek’s arm and pointing towards the living room. He grabs Derek by the wrist and drags him out onto the back deck. It’s cold, even wearing the hoodie. Derek’s in short sleeves, and he automatically wraps his arms around himself. “I’m not planning on having sex with Mason,” he says, leaning back against the wooden railing. “But I’m not ruling it out, either. Is there some reason I shouldn’t have sex with him?” Stiles asks. “He doesn’t have like an STD or something, right? Have you had sex with him?”

“What? No!” Derek exclaims. “I haven’t had sex with Mason, and he doesn’t have an STD. That I know of.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“I didn’t say there was a problem!”

“He’s hot,” Stiles says. “And sweet.”

“He’s okay,” Derek states.

“What? You don’t think he’s hot?”

“Jeesh, yes, he’s hot, I guess. I’ve never really given him a thought.”

“I thought you dated guys, too,” Stiles says.

“I do!” Derek hugs his arms closer to himself. “But that doesn’t mean I’ve slept with every gay man in Beacon Hills.”

Stiles snickers, and Derek starts laughing. “Who have you slept with?” Stiles asks.

“Men or women?” Derek asks. Stiles shrugs. “Danny.”

“Hey, I fucked Danny, too!” Stiles slaps Derek’s chest. “That’s kind of creepy, that we’ve both fucked him. When did you do it?”

Derek scratches his beard as he thinks. “Few years ago. After one of the police charity balls.”

“College,” Stiles beams proudly. “I beat you. I fucked Danny before you did.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “I don’t think it’s a contest.”

“Don’t take this from me, Derek.” He giggles, but then chews thoughtfully on his thumb. “I haven’t really thought much about what will happen on my date with Mason,” Stiles says. “I just thought dinner with another person might be nice.”

Derek smiles. “I hope you have fun.”

“Thanks.”

They go back inside and wash the dishes together as they discuss various chili recipes. “We’ll have our own chili cook-off,” Stiles says as he places the clean bowls in the cabinet. “You and I can make different kinds of chili, and eat until we’re about to explode. Ooh! We can marathon some TV shows, too.”

“Remind me to have other plans that evening,” the sheriff says as he enters the kitchen.

“Why? It sounds awesome.”

“You two and lots of chili? I think I’ll stay safely away from the house for that night. Maybe for the next day or so.”

Derek laughs while Stiles looks scandalized. “What are you trying to say about us, Dad?”

“That I’ve spent enough nights trapped with the two of you to know when to disappear.”

Stiles shakes his head. “And to think, Dad. I was going to invite you, even let you eat some of the chili.”

“I think I’ll pass, Stiles,” the sheriff whispers as he claps him on the shoulder.

“Pass gas,” Derek mumbles under his breath, and Stiles bursts out laughing.

The sheriff shakes his head. “I never thought I’d miss fart jokes and be glad to have a house full of boys again.”

“We’re not boys, Dad. We’re men,” Stiles argues.

“Could have fooled me.”

Stiles scoffs at the sheriff’s retreating back. “Can you believe him?” Derek just laughs as he lets the water out of the sink. “Wanna play video games?”

“You wonder why your dad thinks we’re still boys,” Derek says, following Stiles into the living room.

“Dude, you are never too old for Xbox.”

*

Stiles goes to dinner with Mason Wednesday night. It’s fun; Mason’s intelligent, attractive, and funny. He has great stories and can even eat sushi with chopsticks. But after dinner is over, Stiles gives Mason a hug and passes on the offer to go back to his place. He’s not sure why, but he just doesn’t feel like giving Mason the wrong idea. He likes the guy, but doesn’t feel anything more than friendship between them. They make plans to go bowling later in the week with some other people in town, and that’s the end of it.

Stiles walks the streets of Beacon Hills afterwards. It’s not late, only a little after nine, and he doesn’t really feel like going home yet. He’s not sure what’s wrong with him. He had a good time, but the only thing the date did was make him sad. It makes him miss Malia, which is stupid because they haven’t been together in over a year. But sometimes he wonders if he made a mistake in breaking up with her, if maybe he had been running from commitment. It wouldn’t be the first time he got lonely, only this time he wasn’t in DC so he couldn’t call her and crawl into her bed in the middle of the night.

He’s ambling down Walnut Avenue when a car rolls to a stop beside him. It doesn’t surprise him that it’s Derek’s patrol car. “Hey.”

“I thought you were on a date.”

“I was.” Stiles nods. “Went to sushi, had a great time.”

“Okay,” Derek says, driving the car slowly alongside Stiles. “Then why are you walking around town alone?”

“I need to buy a car,” Stiles says. “I didn’t need a car in DC, you know? I took the Metro everywhere, or a cab. I think I need to get a car. But first that requires a job, but since I have absolutely no idea what the fuck I want to do with my life, that is obviously going to be a problem.”

“Stiles, are you okay?”

“Fucking dandy.”

“Get in the car.”

Stiles stops and bends down so he can see Derek more fully through the open window. “No. It’s not that far to my house. I’m good.”

Derek huffs in frustration. “Get in the fucking car.”

“As an officer of the law, I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to swear at pedestrians.”

“Stiles,” Derek growls.

Stiles relents and slides into the front seat of the cruiser. “Happy?” he bites out.

“I’m on duty until eleven. Just…don’t touch anything, okay?”

“Whatever you say, boss.” Derek makes a U-turn and drives back towards town. “It’s probably against regulation that I’m riding along with you,” Stiles points out.

“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Derek says.

Stiles stays silent as Derek patrols the streets of Beacon Hills. The town is quiet and dead; the most exciting thing that happens is that Derek picks Stiles up from the side of the street. They don’t talk much, mainly because Stiles doesn’t want to disturb Derek at work, plus he doesn’t really feel like talking. He plays on his phone, the only noise in the car the police radio.

At eleven, Derek asks, “Do you want me to take you home?”

Stiles twists in his seat, pressing his back against the door. “Wanna go get something to eat?”

“I thought you went to dinner.”

“I did. But it was sushi. That was gone a long time ago.”

Derek shrugs and drives them to sports bar on the north side of town, the only restaurant still open this late. When they walk in, people greet and speak to Derek as they make their way to a booth in the back. Derek orders them two beers and a huge basket of hot wings to share.

After the waitress drops off their beers, Derek gives Stiles a hard stare. “Talk.”

“About what?” Stiles takes two large gulps of his beer, causing Derek to raise his eyebrow and look pointedly at the glass. “I was thirsty.”

“You had a date, you ended up roaming around town by yourself, and you didn’t say anything the entire time in the car.”

“You were working!”

“Like that would stop you.” Derek takes a long sip of his beer, watching Stiles carefully over the rim. “Stiles,” he starts as he sets it back down. “You can talk to me about anything, you know that, right?”

“I think I’m going to need more beer for this.”

Derek orders them two more beers, but doesn’t press Stiles to talk. Instead, he tells Stiles about his day writing citations for code violations. “I did pull over two people who ran red lights,” Derek says.

“Did you use the siren?” Stiles asks.

“No.”

“Ugh, you’re so boring,” Stiles grins. He’s on the bottom of his second beer, his cheeks are warm and his body feels loose. The waitress brings the huge basket of wings, and Stiles grabs one and starts picking at it. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Okay.”

“I had a great time,” Stiles starts, then takes a bite of the chicken wing. He chews while thinking. “You know those dates you go on that are great on the surface. You and the person have a perfect time, he or she is amazing, but you just don’t feel into it.”

Derek nods as he licks sauce from his fingers. “Yes. That’s completely normal.”

“Mason was great, you know? There is literally no reason for me not to have gone back to his place, because he offered,” Stiles adds, raising his eyes and locking gazes with Derek. “He would have slept with me if I’d have wanted.”

“Why didn’t you?” Derek asks, taking another wing from the basket. “Fucking him doesn’t mean you’ve got to go on another date. Or maybe you would have liked him more.”

“I know,” Stiles says, dropping his cleaned bone into the growing pile. “I just didn’t want to do that to him. How lame is that?”

“I don’t think it’s lame.”

“It’s so stupid,” Stiles starts, “but I found myself missing Malia tonight.”

“That was your girlfriend in DC, right? The brunette in your Facebook photos?”

Stiles nods. “Malia Tate. We dated for, god, five years? Broke up about a year ago.” He sighs and wipes his hands on a napkin. “I don’t know why I keep getting so melancholy about her. I’m the one who broke up with her.”

“Why?” Derek asks.

“I loved her, actually I loved her quite a lot. But I always felt that she loved me more than I loved her.” Stiles looks at Derek, searching for some kind of understanding. Derek nods in encouragement. “She wanted to get married, she kept hinting about it, talking about all our friends who were getting married. One day, she finally asked me to marry her. I panicked, and that’s when I knew it was over.”

“Why did you panic?”

“Because I couldn’t see myself married to her, having kids and buying a house and all that. It’s not that she wouldn’t have been great, but…” Stiles shakes his head, pausing the words that just seem to be coming from a place he usually ignores. “I don’t think I’ve talked about this with anyone, not even Dad, and he took me camping right after we broke up.”

“Why now?” Derek asks, and Stiles looks at him, his head fuzzy and confused.

“Because I still feel like you know me better than anyone. How stupid is that? We haven’t seen each other since we were in college, and I feel like you’re still the only person who gets me.”

“It’s not stupid,” Derek says quietly. “I feel the same way.”

Stiles smiles. “We’re both stupid, maybe that’s why we’re still friends.”

“Maybe.” Derek sticks his finger in his mouth and sucks some of the sauce off, and Stiles grabs another wing.

“I loved Malia, but I wasn’t in love with her. I loved being around her, and hell, I’ve fucked her at least five times since we broke up, but she just deserves someone better than me. I want her to have someone who loves her as much as she loves them, and that’s just not me.” Stiles stares sadly at the table until Derek covers his forearm with his hand.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Derek says. “I actually think that’s a good thing.”

“You mean I’m not a selfish prick?” Derek shakes his head. “She called me that, you know. A selfish prick, and a whole lot of other things. She was…god, she was explosive, in everything she did. Wild and fierce, lived by her own rules, and it was exhilarating to be with her. And the sex, fuck, the sex was amazing. But there was always something missing, and no matter how long I stayed with her, I never found it.” He grabs a wing and pulls some chicken off with his teeth. “When I told her it was over, she threw my clothes off the balcony and broke a whole lot of dishes.” Stiles laughs at the memory. “She wasn’t happy.”

“Do you still think you did the right thing?” Derek asks. “Or do you wish you’d have stayed with her?”

Stiles shakes his head. “No. I definitely did the right thing. She deserves better.” He licks his fingers and grabs another wing. “But sometimes I think, what if everyone on the planet has one perfect person for them, and I was Malia’s? The irony, though, is that Malia wasn’t my perfect person, and my perfect person is somewhere else, in love with their perfect person who doesn’t feel the same way about them. What if our perfect person isn’t always reciprocal? There are six billion people on this planet; what are the odds that you are going to find your perfect person in your small little world? It’s impossible. So, either you end up alone, or you end up with someone who thinks you’re their perfect person but you never achieve that same feeling because your perfect person doesn’t love you.”

“Wow, I didn’t know you were that cynical and jaded.”

Stiles shrugs. “I think that’s how the world works. Most people end up either in unhappy marriages, or they just settle for mediocre relationships because two people who are perfect for one another are rare.”

Derek shakes his head. “I don’t believe that. Yes, there are six billion people on this planet, but true love finds a way. Your fate is entangled with one specific person, and no matter where that other person is, whether they are down the street from you or in another part of the world, fate has a way of making sure you come together eventually.”

Stiles sips his third beer and laughs. “I didn’t know you were a romantic.”

Derek smiles. “I still believe in love, even if I’ve never been in love. It’s too depressing to think that there’s not someone else out there who’s perfect for me. And if that person is out there, what’s the point of us being perfect for one another if he or she is living somewhere else?”

“What if you meet your special someone, but that person dies and you fall in love again? Are they both for you, or was it the first? Or the second?” Stiles asks. “Like, if my dad falls in love again, will that mean my mom wasn’t his perfect person?”

Derek leans close as he grabs one of the two remaining wings. “I think you’ve had too much to drink.”

Stiles laughs. “That is probably true.” He lays his head on his arms, and the room starts spinning slightly. “I think I always miss Malia because she was the last relationship I had, so it’s all I have to fall back on.” He cradles his head on his hands so he can look at Derek. “I can’t believe I’m this sad because I didn’t want to fuck the hot EMT.”

Derek smiles. “I think it’s kinda sweet.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “That’s because you’re a romantic.”

“Maybe.”

“So, Romeo, tell me about your epic loves. You can’t have been single since I last talked to you. Not looking like you do.”

“Are you saying I’m attractive?” Derek asks.

“Pfft, like you need me to tell you how fucking hot you are. Even in high school, you could walk into a room and girls would throw themselves at you.” Stiles grins at how embarrassed Derek looks. “Too bad no one knew how lame and awkward you really were.”

“Didn’t help me much with the girls in high school,” Derek says.

“Did you ever see Kate again?” Stiles asks.

Derek nods. “I saw her once when she was visiting her brother, sometime when I was in college. But then her brother moved somewhere else, and I never saw any of them ever again. She was married when I saw her. It was weird.”

“I can imagine.” Stiles waves his hand around. “But enough about creepy women. Tell me of the hot, beautiful, wonderful women and men you’ve dated.”

Derek shrugs. “Girlfriend and boyfriend, dated one girl while I was at the academy, a US Marshal, an English teacher, had a boyfriend for about two years awhile ago. Other than that, it’s been mostly dating and one night stands.”

“What happened with the boyfriend of two years? I don’t remember seeing him on Facebook.”

“He wasn’t the Facebook type,” Derek says, taking the last remaining wing. “His parents didn’t approve of him being gay, so that was one of the main reasons.”

“Is that why you broke up?”

Derek shakes his head. “No. He didn’t like dating a cop, and he also didn’t like living in Beacon Hills. He wanted very different things for his life than I did, so he broke up with me and moved to Seattle.”

“Sucks.”

“I got over it pretty quickly.”

“Not your perfect person?” Stiles teases.

“Definitely not.”

“When did you realize you were bi?” Stiles asks.

“College.”

Stiles smiles and finishes of his beer. “I was a bit shocked when I found out via Facebook,” he emphasizes with a mock glare at Derek. Derek smirks.

Derek pays for the wings and beer, and then Derek drives them around back roads with the windows down. “What do you regret?” Stiles asks. His face is turned into the wind, and if he closes his eyes, it feels like flying.

“Not much.”

“You can’t regret nothing,” he says, opening his eyes and turning towards Derek.

“I sometimes regret never leaving Beacon Hills,” Derek says. “The only place I’ve been that’s not within driving distance is New York, and that was just once. I wish I could have traveled places.” He glances over at Stiles. “I sometimes envy you living all the way in DC.”

Stiles snorts. “There is nothing to envy.”

“You had a great life there, and new experiences. That’s probably what I regret.”

“I regret never sleeping with Lydia Martin,” Stiles giggles.

“Really? Thirty years of things to choose from, and that’s what you choose?”

“I would still give anything to have sex with Lydia. She will be the one regret I always have.”

Derek chuckles. “You’re ridiculous.”

“I sometimes regret leaving my dad,” Stiles says. “My mom left him, and then I left him.”

“That’s not how he sees it,” Derek replies.

“You can’t know that.”

“I do, actually,” Derek says. “He tells anyone who will listen how proud he is of his son, who moved all the way to DC to do IT work for the government. He might have missed you, but he bragged on you all the time.”

Stiles stares at Derek for a few quiet moments. “Thank you.”

“It’s the truth.”

“But still. Thank you.”

*

“I don’t understand,” the sheriff said, looking around at the huge lines around him. They were standing in line for the midnight showing at the newest, most awesome sci-fi fantasy movie to come out since Star Wars. The sheriff had brought them because Derek was only fifteen so he couldn’t drive them yet, and neither of them were old enough to be out that late without a parent.

“What’s not to get, Dad?” Stiles asked. He was wearing his movie t-shirt and his command crew helmet he’d bought at the comic book shop. Derek had just gone with the matching t-shirt. “You’re no fun, Derek,” Stiles had said.

“You’re the uber geek,” Derek had pointed out. “I’m excited about the movie, but I don’t feel the need to dress up or buy action figures.”

“I don’t know why we’re friends sometimes,” Stiles had said. The older they had gotten, the less Derek had been interested in comics and science fiction. He preferred sports and girls, but he still enjoyed doing Stiles’ geeky stuff with him, especially now that Scott was dating Allison and was basically obsessed with the girl. Besides, Stiles let Derek drag him to baseball and hockey games, he came to all Derek’s basketball games, and he and Scott had even joined the lacrosse team with him, Isaac, and Boyd.

“Why are we standing in line to see a movie at midnight we can see tomorrow?” the sheriff asked.

“Ugh, duh, Dad. It’s the midnight showing.”

The sheriff stared at Stiles, waiting for him to elaborate. When Stiles didn’t, Derek said, “It’s a super fan thing. That way you’re the first to see it, you don’t get spoiled, and you see it with other super fans.” The sheriff still didn’t look like he understood, but he didn’t ask any more questions.

“I think Captain Prescott is gonna be the best adaptation from the book,” Stiles said as they started filing into the theater.

“No way,” Derek said. “Morgo is totally gonna be the best. He’s the best in the book, and the guy playing him is great. Did you see him in that British TV show?”

“I introduced you to that show, lame-o.”

“Then how can you think Prescott’s gonna be the best?”

“Because I just know.” Stiles slapped Derek’s arm. “What about Shanna? I think she’s going to be awesome.”

“Totally.”

“What are you two even talking about?” the sheriff asked as they took their seats in the middle of the theater. “You sound like you’re speaking another language.”

Stiles looked at Derek and grinned. “We are. The Stiles and Derek language.”

The sheriff shook his head. “Want some popcorn?”

“And soda!”

“No!” Derek and the sheriff shouted at the same time.

“What?” Stiles asked.

“You have enough sugar right here,” Derek said, holding up the huge bag of sour gummy worms. “I don’t want you vibrating your way through the movie.” Stiles rolled his eyes and grabbed the bag.

The sheriff fell asleep before the movie even began, but Stiles and Derek stayed up through all of it, and then argued the whole way back to Stiles’ house about whether Captain Prescott or Morgo was the best.

*

“She’s totally gonna kick us out,” Stiles whispered as they made their way towards the ticket booth. Laura’s best friend Suzy was at the counter, popping her gum and boredly flipping through a magazine. “She’s not even there.”

“Let me handle this,” Derek hisses. “And calm down.”

“I am calm!”

“Hi,” Derek smiled as he approached the window. He could almost feel Stiles rolling his eyes.

“Hey Derek. Laura’s working concessions tonight.” Suzy popped her gum and turned back to her magazine.

“Can I go inside and see her?”

Suzy shrugged. “Sure.”

Derek grabbed Stiles’ sleeve and pulled him inside the theater. Laura was behind the counter, restocking candy. “Hey, Laura,” Derek said.

“What are you two doing here?”

“Um. We were hoping you could let us in to see a movie.”

“No.” She shook her head.

“Come on, Laura,” Stiles whined. “You’re the coolest because you work at a movie theater. But what’s the good in my best friend’s hot older sister working in a theater if I can’t score free movies out of it.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “I let you in to see a movie last week.”

“But now it’s this week,” Stiles said. “Please.”

“Don’t you have anything better to do than disturb me at work?” Laura glared at them. “Where’s your money?”

“I have no money,” Derek said.

“Liar.”

“I bought a new video game,” Stiles said.

“Come on, Laura. We’ll go see the shitty movie no one bought tickets to.”

Laura rolled her eyes and glanced towards the guy who takes tickets. She sighed. “Wait here. But if you get caught, I had nothing to do with this.”

“I love you, Laura,” Stiles called behind her. “You’re my queen.” She turned around and sshed him. “Your sister is the best.”

“You say that every time she lets us sneak into free movies.”

“Because it’s only true then. The rest of the time, she’s kind of a weirdo. Have you heard the music she listens to? Or read those books? Ayn Rand? And dude, she reads Russian novels for fun.”

Laura started flirting with the ticket guy, so Derek and Stiles snuck behind him and down the hall. They slipped into the new blockbuster that just came out, taking two seats in the last row and throwing popcorn at the people making out below them.

Halfway through the movie, Laura comes stalking up the stairs, usher flashlight in her hand. She angrily shines it in both their faces. “Out,” she hissed, pointing down the aisle.

“You’re disturbing people,” Stiles whispered. As if on cue, a few people turn around and shush them.

“Now,” Laura snapped, grabbing Derek’s arm and yanking him out of the seat. Stiles followed behind, tossing popcorn at the back of her head until she grabbed the popcorn container and dumped it in the trash.

“Hey! I wasn’t done with that!” Stiles exclaimed as they walked into the lobby. “I paid good money for that!”

“You did no such thing,” Laura snapped. “You both are banned from the movie theater.”

“Laura,” Derek whined. “You can’t kick us out.”

“I can definitely kick you out.”

“Please, we’ll be good,” Stiles begged. He even got down on his knees. “Please, my dark princess. I will do anything you want.”

“You’re an idiot.” She glared at Derek. “Do something with your friend.”

“What am I supposed to do with him?”

Laura sighed and pulled him up. “Look. I don’t get off shift until midnight. Go sit in the last theater, it’s some dumb kids movie no one’s buying tickets to. Stay there until I come get you.”

“Yes, ma’am.” They giggled as they ran down the hall towards the theater. The movie sucked, so they end up talking the whole time.

“Do you think Laura would buy us alcohol?” Stiles asked as Derek tried to perfect his popcorn mouth trick.

“She’s not twenty-one yet,” Derek said. “She’s only eighteen.”

“Cigarettes then?”

“Why do you want to smoke?”

“I don’t.”

“You can steal your dad’s liquor if you really want to get drunk,” Derek said as he tossed up a kernel, which landed on his nose instead of his mouth. “You and Scott went to the preserve and got drunk a couple of weeks ago.”

“I think he suspects I stole it,” Stiles said.

“That’s because you drank most of the bottle.”

“What about pot?” Stiles asked. “Laura smokes weed, do you think she’d let us have some?”

Derek turned to Stiles. “Why are you suddenly interested in alcohol, cigarettes, and pot?”

Stiles shrugged and slumped lower into the seat. His legs were spread wide, his knee bumping against Derek’s. “I’m fourteen. I’m bored.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “She might. I know she’s got some, she came back from hanging out with Suzy and her boyfriend stoned the other night.”

“Have you tried it?” Derek shook his head. “Why not?”

“Just haven’t thought about it.”

“Would you do it with me?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Awesome.”

When Laura came to get them later, Stiles was standing at the top of the aisle steps, tossing popcorn at Derek who was standing at the bottom. “What are you two losers doing?”

“Derek’s trying to catch popcorn in his mouth. Watch.” Stiles closed one eye and aimed, then threw a popcorn kernel at Derek. Derek caught it in his mouth. “Ta-da!”

“Great, my brother’s a circus seal.” She turned to walk out. “Come on.”

In the car, Stiles kept looking at Derek nervously, trying to silently get him to ask. Finally, Laura said, “What’s Stiles trying to get you to ask?”

“Nothing,” Derek replied.

“Stiles.”

“Can you give us some pot?” Stiles blurted. Laura slowed the car and turned to look at Derek with her eyebrow raised.

“Does my baby brother want to get high?”

“This was a bad idea,” Derek grumbled.

“I don’t mind,” Laura said. “Want to do it right now?”

Derek said “No!” at the same time Stiles said, “Yes!” Laura looked between them in amusement. “Which is it, boys?”

“Yes,” Derek said.

Laura drove them out to the preserve, not too far from their house. She parked in a clearing deep in the forest, then led them along a trail onto one of the small mountain outcroppings. They sat in a circle, and Derek nervously watched as Laura pulled an already rolled joint from her purse and lit it. He wrinkled his nose at the smell, and just stared at it when she held it out for him.

“Well?” she said as he exhaled. Derek looked at Stiles, who was nodding encouragingly. So, Derek took the joint and inhaled. The smoke burned his chest, and he started coughing, which caused his entire throat, lungs, and air passages to feel like they had been scorched. Laura just laughed. “Easy there.”

Stiles took small little puffs, and Laura tried to show him how to inhale since he wasn’t doing anything but blowing it out of his mouth. Derek passed on taking another hit, his chest still burning from the first one. Laura laid back and put her earbuds in her ears. Derek laid back on the stone alongside Stiles, who was staring at the sky.

“How do you know if you’re high?” Stiles asked.

“I don’t know,” Derek said. “I guess you just feel different.”

“I don’t think I feel different.”

“I feel like I burned my chest.”

Stiles giggled. “You sucked that thing down like you were a Hoover.” Stiles imitated Derek, making an exaggerated sucking face, with his cheeks hollowed in.

“I did not.”

Stiles giggled some more. “You totally did.”

“I think you’re high.” Stiles just giggled some more. “Definitely high.” Derek didn’t feel much different, except that the sky was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen.

“Do you think there are aliens?” Stiles asked. “Like real aliens? That live on planets and have like their own societies?”

“No.”

“There is no way we’re the only beings in the universe.”

“Why haven’t we had contact with them?”

“We’re too far away. And our technology sucks.” Stiles giggled. “Sucks. I wish somebody would suck me.”

“I thought we were talking about aliens.”

“Ew, I don’t want an alien to suck me.” Stiles paused. “Actually, I would totally let an alien suck me off.”

“You would?”

“Don’t discriminate, Derek. Aliens have feelings, too.”

“What if the aliens sucked your brains out of your dick?”

“What a way to go.”

“You’re such a ridiculous, horny idiot.”

“So horny,” Stiles groaned. “I need someone to play with my dick. Anyone. You had Paige play with your dick.”

“I told you not to bring her up,” Derek snapped.

“Dude, she moved like three months ago.” Stiles rolled his head to the side. His eyes were wide and slightly unfocused, his lips parted. Derek had never noticed Stiles’ lips before, but they were nice lips. Pink and full, in a really nice shape.

“You have nice lips,” Derek blurted. Stiles just burst out laughing, and Derek started laughing, too. When Stiles looked at him again, Derek noticed that Stiles’ eyes were very pretty. “Ohmigod, I think I’m high.”

“Duh,” Stiles laughed.

“God, I’m high. This is all your fault.” Stiles just giggled.

A few minutes later, Stiles said, “I think I have a crush on Danny.”

“Mahealani? Like from lacrosse?”

Stiles nodded. “Yep.”

“Are you high? Is this the pot?”

“Yes. I mean. I’m high and that’s probably why I’m telling you now.”

“Wait,” Derek rolled onto his side to face Stiles. “How long have you had a crush on Danny?”

“For awhile.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Derek asked. For some reason, the fact that Stiles didn’t tell him he had a new crush hurt his feelings.

Stiles stared up at the sky. “I thought you wouldn’t like me anymore.”

“Why?”

“Because I realized that I like guys, too.”

“Stiles, you just said you’d get a blowjob from an alien. Having a crush on a guy isn’t nearly as weird as that.”

“But that was fake,” Stiles said, finally turning to look at Derek. “Me liking guys, that’s real.” Stiles chewed on his lip nervously. “I don’t want you to feel weird around me because I also like guys.”

“Stiles, you’re my best friend. Nothing you did could ever make me feel any differently about you.”

“Are you sure?”

Derek nodded. “How did you know you had a crush on Danny?”

“Well, I saw his dick in the locker room and liked it.”

“Really?” Derek asked.

“Kinda. I mean, I’d kinda liked him before that, but that was when it totally blindsided me.” Stiles looked away and said, “You swear it’s not weird for you? Cause like, I’ve seen your dick and – “

“Stiles, it’s fine. Just because you like guys doesn’t mean you like me or my dick.”

“Thanks,” Stiles said. “And don’t tell anyone. I haven’t even told Scott.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Why would I tell anyone?”

Stiles leaned forward and kissed Derek quickly on the lips. “Thanks, Derek.” Stiles grinned at him before jumping up and howling at the moon. He glanced at Derek. “Come on! Howl with me!”

Derek thought what the hell, and stood beside Stiles and howled at the moon.

*

Stiles gets a call from Derek on a Wednesday afternoon. He’s been in Beacon Hills for over a month, and he still hasn’t found a job. He basically sits around with his dad all day, watching TV and reading. It hasn’t escaped his attention what a thrilling (sad) life he’s living.

“Hey,” Stiles greets.

“I need a favor,” Derek says.

“Yeah, sure,” Stiles replies without question.

“Laura’s at my house. She had a fight with Logan, and I don’t get off work until late. Can you go hang out with her for awhile?”

Stiles immediately gets up and jogs upstairs to his bedroom. “Yeah, that’s not a problem at all. Do I need to bring anything? Food, drinks?”

“Nope. Just go and be with her. She’s really upset.”

“Heading out the door right now,” Stiles says as he pulls on a hoodie and grabs his keys.

“Thank you, Stiles. This means a lot.”

Stiles smiles. “You’re welcome.” He ends the call, asks his dad if he can borrow his car, and then drives out of town towards Derek’s house. He lives not far from his parents, in a small house plopped in the middle of a grove of trees. Stiles has only been here once since he’s been back, and it’s kinda weird to be in Derek’s house without Derek there.

“Hello?” Stiles calls when he opens the front door. “Laura, you in here?”

“Stiles?” Laura yells from the living room. He finds her on the couch, eyes red, clutching a box of tissues and watching a cooking show. “What are you doing?”

He doesn’t answer; he crawls onto the couch beside her and folds her into his arms. Laura slumps against his chest and cries.

After Laura has cried all the tears she can, Stiles orders them pizza and finds a movie on HBO. He doesn’t say much, mainly because he doesn’t want her to cry again and he’s hardly the relationship expert. She starts fidgeting halfway through the movie, and Stiles glances over at her.

“You okay?”

“Do you want to get high?” she asks.

“Right now?” he exclaims.

She nods, reaching beside the couch and grabbing her purse. She rummages around inside until she pulls out a slender case, opens it, and takes out a joint.

“I thought you had kids.”

Laura rolls her eyes. “That doesn’t mean I can’t smoke a little pot occasionally. Logan and I do it once every month or two, when we want to relax.”

“What the hell,” Stiles says as Laura looks for a lighter. “I haven’t done this since college.”

She lights the joint and inhales, then smiles as she exhales. “I remember when you were fourteen and begging me for pot. You were so cute.”

Stiles rolls his eyes as he takes it from her. “You were encouraging the delinquency of minors.” Stiles takes a slow hit, holds it for a second, and then exhales. “You should be ashamed.”

“Better you were smoking with me than with the idiots you went to school with. I always knew you and Derek were safe.”

Laura puts on music as they pass the joint between them, and it doesn’t take long for Stiles to start feeling relaxed and loose. He closes his eyes and enjoys the cadence of the music as it washes over him. The last few months have been so difficult, and it’s nice just to take a moment to chill.

“I don’t want to divorce my husband,” Laura says suddenly. Stiles opens his eyes and looks at her. She’s relaxed into the couch, head resting on the back cushions and staring at the ceiling. “I love Logan.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“We just can’t seem to get it right.”

“I don’t think people ever get it right,” Stiles says. “I think relationships are a façade that everyone believes, but they just lead to heartache and disappointment.”

Laura looks at him. “I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to be cheering me up. That’s not very cheerful.”

“Sorry.” Stiles stares at the flickering of the candle on the coffee table, zones out until he hears Laura’s voice. “What?”

“Marriage is hard. There are only so many hours in a day, and with a full time job, two kids, and responsibilities, you just don’t get to feel like you’re doing more than going through the motions. I never feel sexy, I never feel like a woman. Logan and I fuck sometimes at night, and then roll over and pass out. And that’s just when we get a chance to fuck. I have a better relationship with my vibrator than my husband these days. It’s easy to fit the vibrator in my schedule.”

Stiles giggles, though he realizes it’s not an appropriate time, but Laura starts giggling, too. “I need a new vibrator,” Stiles says through giggles. “I think mine is packed in storage.”

“That’s an unfortunate packing fail,” Laura responds. “Does Derek have a vibrator?”

“What?” Stiles exclaims. He flushes at the thought of Derek with a vibrator, and yeah, that’s somewhere his way-too-high brain doesn’t need to be going. “I don’t know!”

“You don’t?” Laura asks. “If anyone knows that kind of stuff about him, it’s you.” She giggles.

“Sex toys haven’t come up in our conversations since I moved back,” Stiles snorts, finding the idea of talking about sex toys with Derek hilarious.

“You should find out.”

“Just to see how red Derek’s face gets,” Stiles laughs. “He gets embarrassed so easily.”

“It’s because he’s so uptight,” Laura says. “Walks around like he’s got a stick up his butt.”

“Or a vibrator,” Stiles says, and they both burst out laughing.

They smoke another joint, eat all the left over pizza, and raid Derek’s kitchen for more food. They’re sprawled out on the couch, discussing recent Oscar films, when the front door opens. Derek walks into the living room, his eyes scanning the empty pizza boxes, bags of chips, and ice cream containers. When his eyes fall on Laura and Stiles, they just start laughing.

“Are you two high?” Derek exclaims. “What the hell is wrong with you two?”

“Oh no, Officer Hale is going to arrest us!” Stiles yells through his laughter. Derek crosses his arms across his chest as he glares at them, and coupled with his uniform, it just sets Stiles off.

“Un-fucking-believable,” Derek mutters as he leaves the room.

“Should we be worried?” Stiles asks, a moment of paranoia hitting him.

“What’s he going to do, arrest his sister and best friend?” Laura hiccups and reaches for the pizza crust sitting on the table.

Derek returns wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, and he huffs and grunts as he clears away their mess. Stiles finds himself becoming increasingly worried that Derek’s mad, that maybe they stepped over a line by getting high in Derek’s living room.

“Shit,” Stiles sits up and rubs his face. “Derek’s never going to speak to me again.”

“What?” Laura asks.

“He’s a fucking cop and I got high in his living room!” Stiles stands up and starts pacing around the room. “Oh god, what was I thinking? He’s going to arrest me and I’m going to go to jail and dude, my dad is gonna be so pissed.”

“Chill out,” Laura says standing up and going to the bathroom.

But Stiles can’t chill out. He walks into the kitchen, muttering to himself. Derek’s stepping back into the house from carrying the garbage outside, and Stiles crosses over to him quickly. He slides his arms around Derek’s waist and clings to him.

“Stiles?” Derek asks, and Stiles just holds him tighter.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles mumbles against Derek’s neck. “Please don’t hate me.”

“What are you talking about?” Derek brings his hands up and runs them down Stiles’ back.

“I’m sorry I got high with your sister. It’s Laura’s fault. It was her idea and her pot. I was just an innocent bystander.”

“Innocent, yeah right.”

Stiles snuffles against Derek’s neck, drags his nose and lips against the warm skin. Derek’s beard scratches against his cheek lightly, and Stiles just inhales, breathing in Derek’s scent. He smells faintly of cologne and sweat, woodsy and not at all unpleasant.

“Hey, let’s go check on Laura,” Derek says, and Stiles reluctantly extracts himself from Derek’s arms.

Laura has curled up on the floor in a blanket cocoon. “Hey Derek,” she says. Derek crouches beside her and runs a hand over her head. “Are you going to arrest us?”

“No,” Derek says softly. “How do you feel?”

“Better, but still really sad.”

Derek kisses her cheek before coming to sit beside Stiles on the couch. Stiles stretches out, laying his head in Derek’s lap. Derek doesn’t protest, and after he finds something on TV to watch, he drops his hand to Stiles’ head and starts rubbing his hair. Stiles sighs contently, and Derek slides his fingers between the strands and starts lightly scratching his scalp. Stiles can’t help the sound that escapes his lips.

“I didn’t know you had magic fingers,” Stiles murmurs, pushing into Derek’s touch. “I feel like I missed out all those years ago. You could have been scratching my head all through high school.” Derek chuckles. Stiles dozes as Derek’s fingers massage his scalp, only waking when Derek stops. “Why did you stop?”

“Thought you were asleep,” Derek says quietly. “Laura’s passed out.”

Stiles looks over at where Laura is still cocooned in her blankets. “If you love someone like Laura loves Logan and can’t get it right, what hope is there?”

Derek’s hands return to Stiles’ hair, but they just brush through the strands lightly, and Stiles finds this is just as soothing. “They’ll figure it out. Every couple goes through rough patches.”

“Why do you think you’ve never been in love?” Stiles asks. “You’re such a romantic, yet never been in love.”

“I haven’t met my one person yet.”

“How do you know?” Stiles asks.

“You’ll know.”

“What if you make a mistake?”

“I think it’s something you just get. Like, you knew Malia wasn’t the one for you. You’ll know it when you meet the one.”

“What if I’ve already met them but don’t realize it?”

“I guess you’ll figure it out eventually.”

Stiles hums in response. A few minutes later, he says, “Laura asked me if you have a vibrator.”

“What?” Derek exclaims.

Stiles giggles. “We were talking about vibrators, and she asked me if you had one. I don’t know why she thought I’d know. I can barely keep up with my own vibrators.” Stiles rolls onto his back so he can look up at Derek. “So, do you?”

“You’re asking me if I have a vibrator,” Derek says flatly.

Stiles nods. “I have one. Actually, I have a few. But that’s beside the point.”

“No, I don’t have one.”

“Why?”

Derek shrugs. “Never really thought about it. My hands were always enough to get the job done.”

“You do have nice hands,” Stiles mumbles, shifting back onto his side. When Derek starts running his fingers through his hair again, Stiles closes his eyes and smiles. “I’m glad you’re not married. That sounds selfish, but if we were in relationships, we wouldn’t be here like we are.” He’s starting to doze when a thought suddenly occurs to him and his eyes fly open. “We’re not normal.”

“What?”

“Grown men don’t do this. Run fingers through their best friend’s hair, stuff that we do. We’re weird. Are we weird?”

“It’s normal for us.” Derek drags his hand down and squeezes the back of Stiles’ neck. “That’s all that matters, I guess.”

Stiles likes the sound of that, that it’s their normal. He falls asleep with his head in Derek’s lap, Derek’s fingers in his hair.

*

Stiles wakes up on Derek’s couch, his eyes dry and his mouth like cotton, and he’s got a crick in his neck from the weird angle he slept in. He sits up and rubs his eyes. Laura’s still on the floor, on her back, her mouth hanging open. Stiles tiptoes out of the living room so as not to disturb her.

Derek’s in the kitchen, eating eggs and reading the newspaper. “Morning,” he says as Stiles stumbles over to the coffee pot. Stiles mutters something that might be English, but until he has his morning coffee he can’t be expected to function. He pours himself a mug and sits at the small breakfast nook across from Derek. He yawns.

“Sleep well?” Derek asks.

“Surprisingly, yes,” Stiles says after he takes a sip of coffee. “Got a crick in my neck, but the arm of the couch wasn’t the best angle.”

Derek fixes Stiles some eggs and toast, and Stiles digs in eagerly. When he’s cleaned his plate, he brings his and Derek’s plates over to the sink and rinses them. “Are you mad about last night?” Stiles finally asks.

“No,” Derek says after a moment. “I’m not mad.”

Stiles nods, unsure what to say. He wants to say he’s sorry, but it feels unnecessary and not enough at the same time. He loads the dishwasher, internally freaking out.

When he sits back down, Derek says, “I’m really not mad. You don’t have to look like you’re afraid I’m going to suddenly arrest you.”

“Maybe you should.”

“You probably deserve it,” Derek says.

“I don’t think of you as a deputy,” Stiles starts. “That’s all I’ve ever known my dad as, the sheriff. But you, you’re my friend. We used to get high with Laura in high school and steal my dad’s alcohol. It’s hard to think of you as an officer of the law.”

“Well, I am,” Derek says. “But I’m still your friend, and Laura’s brother.”

“It’s a weird position to be in,” Stiles states.

“It is.” Derek leans his elbows on the table. “I’m not mad, it’s not a big deal. Just don’t do it again?” Derek finishes pleadingly. “I don’t want to have to arrest you.”

Stiles smiles. “I’m pretty sure that’s not going to be a problem.” He laughs. “Besides, you’d never actually arrest me.”

Derek frowns, but says, “You’re probably right.”

Laura comes shuffling into the kitchen then, blanket wrapped around her and hair sticking everywhere. “Where’s the coffee and the breakfast?” Derek rolls his eyes, but gets up to make her breakfast.

*

On Friday night, Stiles gets text from Derek. Wanna go to the movies tonight?

Stiles figures he has no other plans, so he agrees. He meets Derek at the multiplex just before eight. Before Stiles can buy his own ticket, Derek purchases two from the automated machine. “Derek,” Stiles groans as Derek hands him the ticket with a smirk. “I have money.”

“You have no job. I have plenty of money.”

“I know what a cop makes, you don’t have plenty of money.”

Derek holds the door open as Stiles walks inside. “I’m a single guy, and my car is paid off. I have enough money to buy you a movie ticket.”

“And candy,” Stiles says. Derek shoots him an amused look. “Hey, if you’re gonna just be dropping money, I want some Junior Mints and a Sprite.”

Derek hands Stiles his debit card and lets him order. Stiles gets two kinds of candy, a large popcorn, and one drink. When Derek eyes the one cup, Stiles says, “You get free refills. What’s the point of paying another six bucks when we can share? You don’t have cooties, unless…” Stiles eyes Derek suspiciously. “Do you have cooties?”

“I think you have cooties,” Derek teases as he grabs the cup from Stiles’ hands and takes a sip.

They sit in the back of the theater, away from all the other movie goers. “Reminds me of being in high school,” Stiles says as he watches Derek expertly toss a piece of popcorn into his mouth. “Remember when Laura used to let us sneak into free movies?”

“And bitch about it every time,” Derek adds.

“Those were some good times,” Stiles smiles. “Didn’t seem like it at the time, but nothing since then has really ever compared, you know?”

Derek nods. “I know what you mean.”

“I miss Scott,” Stiles says as he steals popcorn from Derek’s lap. “He’s got kids and lives in Florida. I miss Isaac, too.”

“I haven’t seen Boyd since we graduated,” Derek says. “We’re friends on Facebook, but it’s not the same.”

“You ever wonder why you lose touch with the people who once meant so much to you?” Stiles asks. “Like, you and Boyd were like the silent Doom Brothers. You were both terrifying. No one fucked with you two.”

“Well, you and Scott were attached at the hip,” Derek says.

“What about us?” Stiles asks. “We were inseparable.”

“I don’t know what happens,” Derek says thoughtfully.

“I think I know,” Stiles says. “You go to college, and you’re living in a new place, and there are new people, and suddenly school means something, and you say you’ll stay in touch, and you mean it. But you come home less, and then you get a job, and it’s Christmas, but everyone’s busy, and then you graduate and go to grad school, and you look up one day and realize it’s been ten fucking years, and you still think of people as your friends, but you haven’t talked to them in almost a decade.” Stiles feels sad at the realization, but he feels like that’s the summary of his life at this point. It’s no one’s fault, and it’s not that he didn’t care about the people, or would have done anything differently. But before he realized what had happened, he was much farther from where he originally started.

Derek reaches out and grabs his hand. “Or, in my case, you go to college and come back, and everyone else is gone, and you’re happy with your choices, you just wish more people had stayed around because it’s not easy to make friends when you’re an adult and working a full time job.”

Stiles turns his hand over and threads their fingers. “Maybe it’s just not easy, no matter what you do. People just go their separate ways. That’s life, people leaving and moving on.”

“Sometimes they come back,” Derek says, squeezing Stiles’ hand.

“Yeah, sometimes they do,” Stiles murmurs. His heart does something inside his chest, and he’s not quite sure what’s going on, but he doesn’t take his hand from Derek’s during the entire movie, and something about that feels okay.

*

After the movie, Stiles walks with Derek to his squad car. “I can take you home if you want,” Derek offers.

Stiles shakes his head. He needs some time to think, because he’s pretty sure something just happened, and he needs to figure out what. There’s a buzzing under his skin, and he’s got to get his head together. “It’s okay. I walked; it’s not that far.”

“It’s almost eleven,” Derek argues.

Stiles leans against the car and smiles as he crosses his arms over his chest. “Are you worried about me?”

“I’m a cop; it’s my job.”

“I don’t think that’s it,” Stiles says.

“Fine. I’m worried.” Derek looks at him, and the expression on his face gives him pause. For the first time since he got back, Stiles really pays attention to the way Derek’s looking at him. There’s a softness to his eyes, and an intensity in his gaze that Stiles can feel all the way to his feet. He’s not sure Derek’s ever looked at him like this, not even since he got back.

“Why did you kiss me that night at the hospital?” Stiles blurts.

“What?” Derek’s eyes go wide, a blush spreading across his cheeks. Stiles finds himself wanting to reach out and touch it, and that should unsettle him more than it does.

“You kissed me. Why?”

Derek shrugs. “Why did you kiss me that first time we got high? Or before we jumped into the quarry?”

Stiles chews on his lip, thinking about the moments Derek mentioned. “You made my dad vegetarian chili,” Stiles whispers. “And brought me chicken teriyaki from China One and sat with me at the hospital all night.” Derek’s looking at him in confusion, but things are starting to fall into place for Stiles.

He steps close to Derek and kisses him on the cheek. “Good night, Derek.” He smiles as he starts to walk away. “Thanks for the movie.”

Stiles stuffs his hands in the pockets of his jacket as he walks down the street, wondering when Derek fell for him. But more importantly, he wonders when in the hell he fell in love with his best friend.

*

Derek knocked on the window, scaring Stiles, who was on his bed. Derek laughed; that never got unfunny.

“One day,” Stiles said, throwing the window open so Derek could come inside, “I’m going to be jerking off when you randomly show up. Or maybe I’ll be having sex. And when you see my pasty ass, you’ll be sorry you didn’t text first.”

“Nope, I’ll be too happy you’re finally getting laid,” Derek grinned.

“What do you want?” Stiles asked, sitting back in his computer chair.

“I need you to cover for me tonight.”

Stiles leaned forward interestedly. “Oh? And why do I need to do that?”

“I have a date.” Derek nervously messed with the string on the hem of his jeans.

“So?”

“I don’t want my family to know.”

“Why?” Stiles stared at him suspiciously. “What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s, um, kinda older.”

Stiles balked. “What? When in the hell did you meet an older girl? I saw you two days ago!”

“I met her last night, at work,” Derek said. “Her name is Kate, and she came in with Allison. She’s her aunt, and she’s like twenty two or something. Stiles, she is so fucking hot. And she’s totally interested in me. But my mom will flip if she knows.”

Stiles sighed. “Fine, but only if I get all the juicy details.”

Derek slapped Stiles’ thigh. “You’re the best.”

Juicy details, Derek. There better be juicy details. Because I need something. My right hand is starting to lose her spark.”

“Your right hand is a girl?” Derek asked.

“Oh yeah, and my left is a guy. Sometimes they’re more interested in each other than me, though.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “You’re an idiot.”

“An idiot who’s covering for your lame ass,” Stiles said. He leaned forward until he was eye to eye with Derek. “Juicy. Details.

*

Derek pulled up to the curb in front of the Stilinski household. The sheriff’s cruiser wasn’t in the driveway, and the house was dark. He blew his horn, and Stiles came out of the house a moment later, locking the front door behind him before hurrying across the yard and getting into Derek’s car.

“Hey.”

“Hey.” Derek drove away with no destination in mind.

“So, what’s up? I thought you were seeing Kate tonight.”

“I did,” Derek said.

Stiles glanced at the clock on the dash. “It’s early. Did you have a fight?”

Derek shook his head. “She had to be up early tomorrow. She’s doing something with her brother.”

“Derek, are you okay?” Stiles asked, leaning closer to look at him. “You seem a little…off.”

“We had sex.”

“You and Kate?” Derek nodded. Stiles slapped his arm happily. “Dude, that’s great! You lost your V-card.” When Derek didn’t respond, Stiles said, “I feel you should be happier than this.”

“I’m happy.”

“You don’t seem happy like a dude that just had sex. When I lose my virginity, I’m going to like send out announcements.” Derek didn’t laugh, and so Stiles slumped back in his seat. “Fine,” he said more seriously. “Talk. What’s going on? She didn’t hurt you or anything, right?”

“No,” Derek said. “It was fine. Sex was great. She’s aggressive and knows what she wants.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“I don’t know!” Derek exclaimed, hitting his hands on the dashboard. “I just…thought I’d feel different after I had sex.”

“Did you come too fast? Cause like, they say that can happen your first time.”

“I think I came at a normal time,” Derek said. “I don’t know. She didn’t say anything about it.”

“What was it like?” Stiles asked. “What did it feel like?”

Derek scrunched up his face. “Squishy.”

“You just had sex, and the only way you describe it as is squishy?” Stiles shook his head. “Maybe Kate doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

“Oh she knows what she’s doing,” Derek said.

“Maybe you don’t know what you’re doing,” Stiles said.

“Probably.”

“Well, they say the first time can be kinda disappointing, so maybe it gets better the more you do it?” Stiles nodded, his hands flailing around. “That’s got to be it. So, you just keep having sex with Kate, and it’ll get better, right? Practice makes perfect.”

Derek frowned. “Yeah, that’s probably it.”

Stiles slapped his arm. “Hey, you’re a man now!”

Derek didn’t feel like a man, but he didn’t know what to tell Stiles. Stiles just thought it was cool he was having sex, and Derek was pretty sure sex was supposed to feel different than the way it did. Sure, he got off, but he felt kinda empty and sad afterwards, and he didn’t know why. But maybe Stiles was right; he’d just keep having sex, and maybe it’d start feeling like Derek thought it should.

*

Saturday afternoon, Stiles finds himself driving his dad’s car towards the Preserve. He hasn’t been this way in so long, and it makes him happy to see that not much has changed. The trees and forests are still there, they haven’t been cut down and turned into shopping complexes or apartments.

He turns down familiar roads and cuts across familiar paths. He remembers riding his bicycle along these roads, passes the place where he fell off and scraped his arm and leg (he still has the scar), can almost hear him and Derek shouting at each other. It makes him sad that those boys are just ghosts now, memories buried so deep they may be lost forever. He eases to a stop, turns off the car, rolls down the window, and just listens. The fall air is cool and crisp, a soft breeze rustling the yellow and gold leaves in the trees.

He tries to remember how many times he and Derek rode out these roads, either after school or during the summer. If he cranes his head just the right way, he can see the huge rock in the woods, the one where they used to sit and eat lunch, the one where Derek practiced his speech for the sixth grade competition, the one where Scott first told them about Allison Argent, the one where they first noticed Isaac’s bruises, the one where Boyd sat every year on the anniversary of his sister’s death, the one where Stiles made the rules for their Wolf Pack that consisted of him, Derek, Scott, Isaac, and Boyd. He knows it’s stupid to miss something that was so long ago; he hadn’t realized it at the time, but the days the five of them ran around together were some of the best days of his life.

Stiles starts the car and continues driving until he turns down a driveway almost hidden amongst the trees. The Hales live in the middle of the preserve, away from just about everyone. When Stiles drives around the curve and sees the house, he smiles. It looks exactly how he remembers it.

As Stiles parks the car, he thinks maybe he should have called. He hasn’t seen the Hales since he moved back to Beacon Hills, and he thought it was time he visit them. But now that he’s sitting in their driveway, he’s thinking perhaps just showing up out of the blue is rude.

But he can’t back out, because the front door is opening and Jeremy is stepping onto the porch. Stiles gets out the car, and Jeremy smiles broadly when he realizes who it is.

“Stiles!” he greets warmly as Stiles walks up to the porch. He pulls Stiles into a hug. “What are you doing here?”

“Figured it was time I came to say hello.”

Jeremy opens the door and leads Stiles inside. “Talia has been wondering if you were ever going to come see us. Derek talks about you all the time.” Stiles feels himself blush slightly. “But we know you’ve had a lot going on, taking care of your dad and moving back.”

Stiles follows Derek’s father through the house, which has gone through some decorating changes since the last time Stiles has visited, but everything feels familiar and like home. The house even smells the same. “Talia,” Jeremy calls as they walk into the kitchen. “Look who finally decided to visit.”

“Stiles!” Talia exclaims when she sees him. Her face lights up as she crosses the kitchen to pull him into a huge hug. He hugs her back just as tightly, feeling quite emotional. Talia was the closest thing he had to a mother as a teenager, and it’s so good to see her after so many years. Talia doesn’t pull away for a long time, and when she does, her eyes are damp. Stiles’ might be a little damp as well, but Talia doesn’t call him on it. “I am so happy you’re here.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t come before now.”

She squeezes his arm. “I knew you’d come when you were ready.” She takes a step back and gives him a once over, going as far to make him spin for her. “You look so great,” she nods approvingly. “I’ve seen pictures, but that’s not the same as seeing it for myself.” Talia starts tearing up again, and she wipes her eyes with a laugh. “Look at me! I’m so ridiculous, but I can’t believe you’re grown now. I remember when you used to come running through that door with muddy shoes and scrapes bleeding everywhere.”

“It’s weird,” Stiles says. “I don’t feel old most of the time.”

“Pfft, you’re not old, dear.” Talia points to the stool at the kitchen island as she walks over to a bowl.

“Let me rephrase,” Stiles says as he takes a seat. “I don’t feel like an adult most of the time.”

“Who does?” She shrugs. “You’ve done quite well for yourself, though. Good career, worked for the government. Impressive.”

“I’m homeless, jobless, and carless,” Stiles says, more bitterly than he intended.

“Oh sweetheart,” Talia says, reaching out to cup his cheek. “You will never be homeless.” She pats his cheek so hard it stings, and then points to the bowl. “I’m making cakes for tomorrow. Laura and Logan are bringing the kids down for the day. You can help.”

“Laura and Logan are coming down?” Stiles asks. “So, they’re okay?”

Talia nods. “They’re figuring things out. I think they’re going to do something just the two of them while the kids are here.” Talia orders him to measure out ingredients listed on the recipe. “Derek tells me you helped Laura the other night while he was at work. We appreciate that.”

“I love Laura,” Stiles says simply. “Though I didn’t really do anything.”

“You were there. That’s sometimes all another person needs.”

They’ve put the second cake in the oven when Jeremy comes into the kitchen, talking to someone else. Stiles feels a flutter in his chest when he sees that it’s Derek, and he feels a tingling through his limbs when Derek smiles at him.

“What are you doing here?” Stiles asks.

“These are my parents,” Derek teases. “What are you doing here?”

“Realized I missed your mom and dad too much to stay away any longer.”

“Dad called and told me you were here,” Derek explains as he stands beside Stiles and looks into the bowl. “Mom coerced you into cooking with her?”

“It was fun,” Stiles says, grinning at Talia. “It’s been a long time since I baked.”

Talia’s looking at them with a huge smile on her face.

“Come on, Mom…” Derek groans.

Talia’s eyes get damp again as she looks between them. “My two little boys, in my kitchen, all grown up.” She sniffs, and skirts around the island to pull them into a hug.

“She’s going through menopause,” Derek whispers, which causes Stiles to laugh and Talia to smack him on the side of the head.

“It’s not just the hormones,” Talia frowns at Derek. “Though, that’s probably part of it. Hormones and hot flashes.”

“It’s not pretty,” Jeremy jokes, kissing Talia on the side of the head. “But isn’t she more beautiful than she was twenty years ago?”

Stiles smiles as he watches Talia slap Jeremy’s chest as he moves in for a kiss, and when he glances over at Derek who’s watching them with an open expression of joy, Stiles understands why Derek believes in love. He thinks about his own parents, who weren’t that different than Derek’s. His dad was always touching and kissing his mother, and Stiles can clearly remember how much they loved each other. Maybe if Stiles hadn’t watched his father ripped apart after the love of his life died, maybe Stiles would believe in love, too.

“You’re both staying for dinner,” Talia says a few minutes later, Jeremy still beside her with his hand around her waist.

“I don’t want to impose,” Stiles protests, but Talia shakes her head.

“I’m not taking no for an answer. I’m cooking, no arguments.”

“Like we could win with you,” Derek rolls his eyes, and Stiles laughs.

Stiles sits on the front porch with Jeremy, Talia, and Derek for awhile, just talking and catching up. He doesn’t realize how much time has passed until Talia excuses herself to go make dinner. After they eat, Stiles wanders upstairs as he refamiliarizes himself with the house. He finds himself going into Derek’s bedroom. Derek’s basketball and lacrosse trophies still line the shelves, along with various framed awards he won in school.

Stiles walks over to the bookshelf, eyes dragging over the titles. He’s read a lot of these books, and remembers vividly Derek reading others growing up. On the top shelf, there’s a framed picture of Stiles, Derek, Scott, Isaac, and Boyd in the Hale’s backyard the summer they were around thirteen. Beside it is another framed picture, this one of Stiles and Derek. Stiles thinks they must be around nine or ten, because his hair is buzzed and Stiles is missing his front tooth. They’ve got their arms slung around each other and are grinning at the camera.

“Here you are,” Derek says as he enters the room. “I wondered where you’d disappeared to.” He stands beside Stiles as he tries to figure out what Stiles is staring at. “I didn’t even realize these were still in here.”

Stiles turns, leaning forward and clumsily pressing his lips against Derek’s. Before Stiles can even figure out what he’s done, Derek’s wrapping his arms around Stiles and pulling him closer and pressing fervent kisses against his mouth.

This isn’t what Stiles meant to do. He’d been confused for days, but kissing Derek had not been an option. Stiles couldn’t risk losing Derek as a friend, would rather be friends than ever screw anything up. But now that Derek’s arms are around him, and Stiles’ mouth is opening under the gentle nudging of Derek’s tongue, Stiles wonders what he was scared about all along.

Derek feels right in his arms in ways that no one ever has before. He’s familiar and warm, easy and comfortable. Stiles tilts his head and opens his mouth so he can deepen the kiss, his hands searching for purchase on Derek’s chest. Derek kisses him softly and slowly, and Stiles realizes he’s learning something about Derek he’s never known before, and it thrills him to his core. He knows so much about Derek, but suddenly there is a whole new expanse of possibilities to discover, and as Derek pulls Stiles closer and Stiles feels Derek’s heart beating under his palm, Stiles realizes that he wants to spend the rest of his life discovering everything about Derek.

Stiles breaks away suddenly and stares at Derek in surprise. He studies Derek’s expression, lifts his hand to drag fingertips across Derek’s forehead, his nose, his lips. He’s looked at Derek thousands of times before, but it feels like he’s looking at him for the first time. Derek’s eyes are burning bright, and there’s so much love and hope in them that Stiles wonders how he’s never seen it before.

“You’re my one,” Stiles whispers in awe. He feels like something inside him shifted and finally fits together where before it was never quite right. “How have you been here this entire time and I’m just now realizing it?”

“Maybe we had to be at the right place, at the right time,” Derek says. Stiles knows no one has ever looked at him like this, like he’s the world. Stiles kisses him again, and he can’t quite believe that he’s doing this, that he’s kissing Derek. His best friend.

Derek pulls back, but kisses Stiles once again on the lips. “I think we might need to go back to my place.”

“Good idea.”

Derek runs his hands along Stiles’ arms, lacing their fingers when he reaches Stiles’ hands. Derek opens his mouth to say something, but changes his mind and brings Stiles’ hand to his lips and brushes a kiss across his knuckles.

He drops Stiles’ hands and exits the room, and Stiles remains glued to the spot for a moment. This is real; that just happened. Stiles kissed Derek, and Derek kissed him back.

Stiles smiles and follows Derek downstairs.

*

They give Derek’s parents some excuse about Stiles needing to check on his dad. They don’t ask questions, so it’s easy to thank them for dinner and leave. Stiles follows Derek the short drive to his house. Halfway there, Stiles gets a text from Derek.

Stop freaking out.

Stiles laughs, and it feels like his entire body is stretching apart with happiness. It’s ridiculous, but Derek knows him so well that he knows Stiles is alone in the car, freaking out completely about kissing Derek. Stiles is giddy when he presses the call button.

“We’re about to turn into my driveway,” Derek answers.

“You shouldn’t be texting and driving,” Stiles says with a grin. “You’re breaking the law.”

“But I know you, and I know that you’re back there, alone, freaking out.”

“You’re kinda scary,” Stiles says. “But awesome. It’s awesome and scary.” He ends the call as they park in front of Derek’s house. Stiles sits in his car for a moment, just breathing in and out slowly. Now that he’s outside Derek’s house, he feels nervous.

Derek walks over to Stiles’ car and opens the door. “Are you gonna just sit here all night?”

“My hands are shaking,” Stiles replies as he looks up at Derek. Derek gives him a soft smile as he gently tugs Stiles out of the car.

They’re standing chest to chest, and Derek takes Stiles’ hand in his own as he leans forward and whispers, “My hands are shaking, too.” He brushes a kiss against Stiles’ ear, and then pulls Stiles towards the house.

As soon as the front door is closed, Derek wraps his arms around Stiles’ waist and lifts him up. Stiles squeaks in surprise as he wraps his legs around Derek’s hips to help keep himself from falling. “You’re so strong,” Stiles laughs against Derek’s mouth, and Derek seems to walk a little taller at the compliment.

Derek carries Stiles into his bedroom and goes down onto the bed with him still in his arms. Derek kisses Stiles deeply, all his attention on Stiles’ lips and tongue. He pulls back a few minutes later to catch his breath, and brings his finger up to trace the outline of Stiles’ mouth. “I’ve always thought you had the most beautiful lips,” Derek says, voice low and gravelly. The sound of it ripples through Stiles, settling right behind his heart.

Stiles drags the backs of his fingers against Derek’s beard, eyes unable to decide what they want to focus on. All of Derek is so breath-taking that Stiles can barely think. He rolls the two of them over until Derek’s on his back and Stiles is straddling his hips. He leans down and kisses Derek again slowly, trying to memorize the texture of his lips, the taste of his mouth.

When Stiles sits up to pull his shirt over his head, he hesitates with his hands on the hem. Derek’s brow creases in worry, and he pushes himself up on his elbows so he can reach out and cup Stiles’ cheek. “What’s wrong?”

“What if this doesn’t work out?” Stiles whispers. “If we take this any further, we won’t be able to go back. I don’t want to lose you, Derek.”

“You’re not going to lose me,” Derek says, sitting up and settling his hands on Stiles’ hips. “I will be content to just be your friend. But Stiles, I’m hopelessly in love with you.”

“Really?” Stiles says, biting his lip nervously. He feels a flush spreading across his skin, made worse by Derek’s intense gaze. “You love me?”

Derek nods. “I think I’ve loved you since we were kids. I just didn’t realize it until now.”

Stiles grins. “Am I your one?”

Derek kisses him gently. “You moved three thousand miles away from me and didn’t talk to me for a decade, but fate brought you back to me.”

Stiles never thought he’d find love, but here Derek was in front of him, and for a moment, he feels like he can’t breathe. Derek tugs Stiles’ shirt over his head and tosses it to the floor, and all reservations Stiles has disappear.

They undress each other slowly, hands roaming over each other’s bodies as they discover each other’s secrets. Derek kisses the moles on Stiles’ face and neck, then follows the path across his torso and back. He touches them reverently, like they’re the most precious thing he’s ever seen. Stiles has never felt his blood rush through his veins at the mere brush of lips before, but every time Derek trails light kisses over his skin, Stiles feels himself unravel that much more.

Stiles isn’t nearly as patient when he starts undressing Derek. He laps at Derek’s nipples, taking the buds between his teeth before licking down. There’s no finesse to how he unbuttons Derek’s jeans, and he lowers his head to mouth at Derek’s cock through his boxer briefs.

“Fuck,” Derek moans, his hand going into Stiles’ hair.

“Underwear off,” Stiles orders, and Derek grunts when he lifts his hips to shimmy out of his remaining clothes. Stiles isn’t prepared for seeing Derek completely naked. He can’t decide if he wants to look at Derek’s cock, his soft balls nestled between his legs, the smooth planes of his stomach, or his strong thighs. Stiles leans down and licks the line of Derek’s hips, enjoying the discovery of every small sound Derek makes. When Stiles licks below his belly button, Derek arches, and when Stiles drags his teeth along his hip, he makes a small whining sound. But it’s Derek’s moan when Stiles sucks a bruise into his inner thigh that Stiles wants to never forget, and he wants to cause Derek to make that sound for the rest of his life.

“I want you to fuck me,” Derek says, voice breathy and wrecked, as Stiles licks a line up the side of Derek’s cock. Stiles meets Derek’s eyes, so loving and trusting, and suddenly it’s like he drowning in Derek.

“Yes,” Stiles says, surging up to capture Derek’s mouth with his own, kissing him hungrily. Stiles is still in his boxers, and Derek quickly strips them off until they’re rutting against each other like teenagers. “Yes, I want to fuck you,” Stiles breathes into Derek’s skin as he kisses across his jaw.

Stiles moves so Derek can get off the bed and walk over to his dresser. He pulls a bottle of lube and a condom from the drawer, but he pauses on his way back to the bed. His eyes sweep across Stiles’ naked body, and Stiles doesn’t feel his normal reaction to hide or shy away from the attention. Instead, he feels desirable and wanted, but more importantly, he feels loved.

“So beautiful,” Derek says as he crawls back onto the bed and captures Stiles’ mouth again. Stiles fingers Derek open slowly as they kiss, enjoying the way Derek contracts around him, the way his body stretches and opens up as Stiles adds a second finger and a third. He could stay like this all night, fingers buried inside Derek as he kisses the expressions off his face. Derek’s slack and relaxed, a look of bliss on his face that Stiles has never seen before. Stiles drops kisses on his chest before pulling his hand out and reaching for the condom.

Derek helps him roll it on, and having Derek’s fingers on his cock is an unreal experience. There is so much history in his touch, and Stiles can’t believe Derek is touching him so intimately. Derek pushes Stiles onto his back and straddles his hips. Stiles can feel the tip of his cock brushing against Derek’s opening, and he holds himself still as Derek slowly guides himself down.

Stiles keeps his eyes trained on Derek’s face, on the way his eyes are closed and his mouth slightly open. He’s so tight and hot around Stiles, and Stiles feels overwhelmed with the knowledge that this is Derek, his best friend since he was eight years old, that he is so deep inside him that it feels like Derek’s completely surrounding him.

“Hey,” Derek says, leaning forward and trailing his fingers across Stiles’ forehead. “Look at me, Stiles.” Stiles opens his eyes, didn’t even realize he had squeezed them shut. He can’t breathe, the intensity of this moment causing his chest to clench. “It’s okay. I’m here.”

“I think that’s the problem,” Stiles jokes, and Derek smiles before leaning down to kiss him. The movement causes Derek to shift on Stiles’ cock, and Stiles moans into Derek’s mouth. Slowly, Derek starts rocking back and forth, as Stiles pull himself together. It’s like twenty years of history has culminated in this moment, that everything Stiles has ever done has led him to this exact place.

Everything he’s ever done has led him to Derek.

Stiles leans up and grabs the back of Derek’s head, thrusting up into him and swallowing Derek’s moan. “I love you,” Stiles murmurs against Derek’s mouth, wishing he could crawl inside Derek and share how he feels. “I love you so fucking much.”

“I know,” Derek says, gripping Stiles’ shoulders and fucking himself back onto Stiles’ cock. “I love you, too.” Derek sits up and rides Stiles then, and Stiles holds Derek’s hips and marvels at how beautiful Derek is like this, his body moving as he rolls his hips, his muscles flexing and relaxing, his cock hard and curled towards his belly between them. Stiles reaches out and strokes him lightly, Derek moaning as soon as Stiles’ hand wraps around the shaft.

Then, Stiles rolls them over so Derek’s on his back, and it’s more of a flail of limbs than anything. Stiles ends up slipping with his head pressed into Derek’s armpit, and Derek laughs. Stiles lifts his head, grinning sheepishly. “This looks so much easier in porn,” Stiles says as he kisses Derek and slides back inside him.

Derek wraps his legs around Stiles’ waist as Stiles fucks him, and Stiles kisses along Derek’s shoulders as he trails his fingers along the inside of Derek’s arms until he threads their fingers together above Derek’s head. Stiles feels his orgasm building low in his belly, slow and steady, his legs and arms shaking where they are keeping him up.

“It’s okay,” Derek murmurs against Stiles’ neck. “It’s okay, Stiles, I’ve got you.”

Stiles falls apart then, coming as he thrusts deep inside Derek. His brain is completely entwined with nothing but Derek, he feels him in every pore, in every cell. He’s never felt more connected with another person in his entire life. When his breathing is under control, he’s quite aware of Derek’s hard cock trapped between their bodies, so he shifts while still buried inside Derek as he wraps a hand around his cock, and he only has to slide his fist a few times before Derek comes with a deep moan. Stiles keeps stroking him until Derek relaxes beneath his touch. Stiles rolls over then so he can pull off the condom while Derek grabs one of their shirts from the floor and wipes himself off, then reaches over and gently wipes his come from Stiles’ skin.

Derek rolls onto his stomach, soft smile playing around his lips. He looks so happy, so content, and it makes Stiles’ heart expand in his chest.

“Was that as intense for you as it was for me?” Stiles asks. “Because I’m pretty sure I’m never going to be the same.”

Derek reaches out and drags the pads of his fingers down Stiles’ chest. “I’ve had a lot of great sex, but it was nothing like making love to you.”

Stiles grins, despite Derek’s ridiculously romantic words. He drapes himself on Derek’s back, hooking his feet around Derek’s calves as he kisses the center of his back. He kisses around Derek’s tattoo, then trails his tongue along the outline. “The last time I saw this, it had just barely healed.” Stiles remembers that day vividly, going with Derek to get his tattoo the summer after Derek graduated, despite the fact that Stiles had fainted when he’d gone with Scott to get his tattoo the year earlier. “Your mom was so pissed,” Stiles laughs into Derek’s skin.

“She still doesn’t really like it,” Derek says. “Which is funny since Laura has three tattoos and Cora has two.”

Stiles traces the spirals with his tongue, feels Derek shuddering under his touches, and then places a firm kiss in the center.

“I’ve had a lot of people lick and kiss my tattoo,” Derek says, “but it’s never felt like it does when you kiss it.”

Stiles smiles against Derek’s back; for some reason, that knowledge makes him ridiculously happy. “Why, I wonder?”

Derek reaches out and grabs Stiles’ hand, brings it to his mouth, and kisses it. “Maybe because no one else was there when I got it. No one else knows me like you do.”

“Past,” Stiles says quietly, kissing the top spiral, “Present,” he whispers, moving to the second, “and future.”

Derek rolls over, pulling Stiles back on top of him. “It’s us,” Derek says. “Past, present, and future.”

“When did you know you loved me?” Stiles asks, idly running his fingers through Derek’s hair.

“We were eating dinner one night a few weeks ago, and I looked over and realized you were the person I wanted to eat dinner with for the rest of my life.”

Stiles hides his grin against Derek’s skin. “I had a small crush on you in high school,” Stiles admits, looking up at Derek with a blush. “More like hero worship, I think. I never gave it another thought until last night.”

“Last night?” Derek raises an eyebrow.

“You made my dad vegetarian chili and sat with me in the hospital.” Stiles stretches until he’s hovering just above Derek’s lips. “If that doesn’t mean true love, I don’t know what does.”

*

Stiles glanced at Derek nervously. Derek was nervous, too, but they were going to do this. They couldn’t chicken out now. “I’m not sure about this, Derek,” Stiles said.

They stood on the edge of the quarry, the glistening water fifteen feet below. A few ducks were swimming further along the water. Stiles and Derek were barefoot and shirtless, wearing only their boxers. Derek watched Stiles’ toes curl around the edge of the rock like it was trying to hold on.

“We have to do this,” Derek said. “This is our last hurrah! Our last adventure. I leave for college in three days.” Stiles got that sad look on his face like he did every time Derek mentioned going to college. Derek had told him time and time again that it didn’t matter that he was going to college; they would stay best friends, and Stiles would graduate in a year, and then they’d both be at college and could do whatever they wanted.

“What if we die?” Stiles asked, looking down at the water. “What if there’s nothing but huge sharp rocks down there? I’d like not to get impaled by a rock right before my senior year.”

“Laura said she used to come out here with her friends all the time.”

“Laura says a lot of things,” Stiles said flatly.

“Please?” Derek asked. “For me?”

“Dude, I have gone to get a tattoo with you, snuck out to the beach, gotten drunk and high, and hooked up with those girls we met at Jackson’s party. Isn’t that enough? Why this?”

“Because I want us to do something crazy before I leave,” Derek said.

“Like jumping into a quarry?”

Derek nodded. “Jumping into a quarry.”

“Fine.” Stiles sighed, then leaned forward and kissed Derek. Derek was surprised, but then found himself kissing Stiles back. Stiles’ lips were soft and tasted like grape jelly beans.

“What was that for?” Derek asked when Stiles pulled away.

“In case we die, I want to have done that,” Stiles replied, blushing faintly. “On three?”

“On three.” Derek steeled himself as he stared at the water. “One…two…” He glanced at Stiles. “Three.”

Derek grabbed Stiles’ hand and jumped.

*

“Are you sure about this, Dad?” Stiles asks as they wait in the diner. “You know I’ll support you in whatever you decide to do.”

“I’m sure, Stiles,” the sheriff responds, patting Stiles on the arm.

The waitress takes their order, so by the time Derek walks into the diner, his breakfast is waiting on him. “Hey, sorry I’m late,” Derek says as he approaches the table. He bends down and kisses Stiles before sitting across from him in the booth. “Had some reports to finish before I could come out here.”

“I ordered for you,” Stiles says as he waves the waitress over to bring Derek a fresh cup of coffee.

“You’re the best,” Derek grins as he picks up his fork. Since Derek and the sheriff had eaten breakfast together once a week at the diner, Stiles had started joining them. It was now their weekly ritual. The sheriff only relented to eating egg whites, tomatoes, and dry wheat toast or oatmeal and fruit because Derek and Stiles both ate it with him, too.

“So, Dad has something to tell you,” Stiles announces halfway through breakfast. Derek turns his attention to the sheriff.

“I’m officially retiring from the sheriff’s department,” the sheriff says.

“Really?” Derek says.

The sheriff nods. “It’s an election year, and Parrish is a shoe-in. It’s time I step aside and let you boys run things.”

“You know we don’t want that,” Derek says.

“I know, but it’s time. The heart attack gave me lots of time to think. And now with Stiles back, I think it’s time I focus on more important things, like family.” He smiles at both of them.

“I tried to tell him we saw him almost every night for dinner already,” Stiles says to Derek. “But apparently, that’s not good enough.”

“I’m tired. I want to fish and read and relax.”

“Do you think we can plan a fishing trip?” Derek asks. “I haven’t been fishing in years.”

“We should do it in the spring,” the sheriff says. “Get a cabin up in the mountains. There’s a lot of good fishing in March and April.”

“Sounds like a great idea,” Stiles says. “I’ll see if I can schedule a Friday off from work.” Stiles glances at his watch, and then jumps up. “Speaking of which, I’m gonna be late.” He leans down and gives Derek a quick kiss. “I’ll see you tonight. I’ll be home late because the hospital is putting in that new computer system, and I probably won’t be finished until late.”

“I know, you’ve already told me,” Derek smiles.

“Oh yeah.” Stiles kisses him again. “Have a good day. Stay safe.” He drains the rest of his coffee and waves to his dad. “Bye, Dad. See you later.”

“Love you,” Derek and the sheriff call after him, and Stiles grins as he races out of the diner to his car.

-fin