Stiles loves his job. Mostly. Like, maybe sixty-seven percent loves. For right out of college that's pretty good, right? And among people working in the Chicago O’Hare airport he's positive he's in the 99th percentile of job enjoyment.
Sure, stocking the books is both boring and physically demanding, lunch options are limited, and there are seriously grouchy morning customers. The commute may not be great, and he seriously had never wanted to have such an up close and personal relationship with TSA procedures...
Wait, but the good stuff. Stiles loves working for Lydia, for example, because she is brilliant. Who else could run a nationally recognized independent bookstore out of an airport, much less one not-so-lovingly nicknamed O’Hell? Only open for two years, and she’s already looking at expanding the franchise to Dallas. On top of learning the business from the best, Stiles also gets a fifteen percent discount on books. That’s pretty sweet, right? And finally, when all is said and done, he really does love putting the right book into the right hands.
Especially when those hands are as attractive as the ones attached to the hot businessman who just stormed in.
The store is mostly empty, so Stiles can just enjoy watching the guy browse. He’s about Stiles’ height, though more heavily muscled. Dark hair and pale skin, sharp nose and cheekbones, bright hazel eyes framed by thick, curling lashes and a pair of fucking impressive eyebrows. He must be some kind of high-powered executive, going by the sleek, expensive-looking fabric of his tie and his perfectly tailored suit. Hot Businessman wears the white collar look very well. The guy looks stressed as hell, though, which also fits with the whole successful executive thing. Probably. Stiles wouldn’t know much about ‘‘successful.’’
Hot Businessman picks up one of the new release display books, glances at the back cover, and tosses it down again. He scans the staff favorites wall with an expression like he’s considering ripping some of them in two. From the way his arms fill out his slim-fit suit-jacket, he could probably rip a phonebook in half.
“Can I help you?” Stiles asks, wandering casually over. Help you come on my face, maybe?
He gets a grunt in return.
Which, okay, that’s fine. Maybe Hot Businessman hasn’t had his coffee yet. Yes, it’s four in the afternoon, but…well. Anyway, Stiles is a professional.
“Long flight, huh?”
“And a long layover,” the man bitches, seemingly unable to help himself from making the quick complaint. Before the sentence is even out of his mouth, he cuts a glare at Stiles, as if to indicate that yes, he may have been tricked into saying actual words--but he’s mad about it.
Stiles grins back, only gritting his teeth a very small amount. Customer service, baby. “Where are you headed?”
“Gosh, long flight still ahead of you, then,” Stiles says, thinking serves you right. “How long is the layover?”
The man’s lip curls into a truly impressive snarl as he says “five hours.”
“Wait, really?” Stiles boggles. Okay, Hot Businessman gets a pass on being kind of an asshole. Five hours in O’Hell? Stiles would be pissed too.
“Somehow, according to our travel agency, this is the most ‘policy compliant’ flight from San Francisco to JFK. So unless I want to pay out of pocket for every flight I have to take during this fucking merger negotiation? Five hour layover. Every time.”
“Shit, who made those policies?”
“My uncle,” Hot Businessman says. He gets a far off look in his eyes. “Sometimes I want to rip his throat out. With my teeth.”
“I would, too,” Stiles says sympathetically, even though teeth-related violence isn’t exactly his jam. “So you’re looking for a book to take your mind off for the next… four hours on the ground, two and a half in the air. Anything specific in mind?”
“Something good,” Hot businessman offers, which is supremely unhelpful, but at least he seems to get that. “I don't know. I'm exhausted.”
“What do you like?”
“Fiction mostly? Literary fiction,” he shrugs. “It has to be well written. Don't give me the latest Dan Brown, any of that shit. No ‘young adult’ either,” he finishes, complete with air quotes.
Stiles gives him a flat look. Some YA is great, okay? But that’s an argument for later. Or it would be, if they were actually going to see each other later, which they’re not. “Well, that’s what you don’t like. What do you enjoy? Gimme some favorite authors.”
“The classics, you know--Tolstoy, Dickens, Fitzgerald. Flannery O’Connor, I guess? Alice Munro, Ian McEwan... I really liked Bel Canto.”
Stiles purses his lips, then darts off, bends down and grabs a paperback off a low shelf. “How about this one?”
“Never Let Me Go,” Hot Businessman reads aloud, then flips the book to skim the blurbs, eyes narrowing. “Clones? I don’t do genre fiction.” He looks suspicious, but then he’s not putting the book down.
“It’s very literary,” Stiles protests. “Kazuo Ishiguro, the author, he also wrote Remains of the Day. You know, with the butler?”
“Oh? I...think I saw the movie.” Hot Businessman looks embarrassed to admit that, which is adorable.
High school Stiles may have gleefully hopped right on the express train to mock-the-shit-out-of-you town, as his best friend Scott would undoubtedly point out, but he’s not here. Besides, post-grad Stiles is well aware of how easy it can be to miss out on one thing or the other. He smiles to show he understands, and doesn’t judge. “You can pick that one up next, if you like this.”
The other man nods, holding the paperback more possessively all of a sudden. They make their way back to the counter and Stiles rings him up.
Hot Businessman--Derek Hale, according to his credit card--signs the receipt and turns to leave, but before he can cross back out into the busy terminal, Stiles calls out, “Wait!”
Derek turns, eyebrows quirking up in surprise. He really is gorgeous, Stiles thinks, and feels himself flush a bit at how forward he’s being. “Look, you need to go to Kofe by Intelligentsia. Just hop on the tram and head to terminal 5, you’ll see them. They’ve got better coffee than the Starbucks here, tons less foot traffic, and some damn comfy chairs. Best spot to read in the airport.”
Hot Businessman Derek Hale blinks at him. “Thanks.”
“No problem,” Stiles says, waggling his fingers in what he’s sure is an embarrassingly flirty goodbye.
Derek waves back with a little smile before he steps out of the store and is lost in the crowd.
Yeah, Stiles likes his job just fine.
Stiles is stocking books the next time Hot Businessman Derek Hale swings by. “Oh!” he exclaims, almost dropping the teetering stack of Life After Life hardbacks in his arms. “You’re here again! I mean, uh, can I help you?”
The thing is, Hot Businessman Derek Hale looks pretty damn good in “sharp-professional-headed-for-a-hostile-takeover” mode, but now? Now he is in “going-for-drinks-after-a-hard-day’s-work” mode and Stiles could actually lay down and die happy: his suit jacket is tossed over his briefcase, his tie is rumpled and loosened just enough to let him undo the first two buttons of his shirt and show off the hollow of his throat, his hair is mussed, and to top it all off, his white shirt sleeves are neatly rolled up to display his very well muscled forearms. They have tendons and veins and a dusting of dark hair and Stiles should probably remember to breathe at some point.
Derek blinks at him, eyebrows raised. “Uh, I wanted to say thanks. The book was great. Sad, but… I finished it on the flight and I’ve been thinking about it this whole week. I really enjoyed it.”
“Oh, good,” Stiles beams. Appreciative Derek is something he could get used to. Stiles can think of quite a few of things he could do for Derek to appreciate. No, bad train of thought--focus! Customer service. Books. “What did I tell you? It wasn’t a big, scary sci-fi book after all, was it?”
“Obviously not,” Derek says with a dramatic eye roll. He’s still kind of a jerk, which is absolutely not a turn on. “What, you need to hear me say it? You were right, Stiles.”
Stiles’ name sounds very, very good in Derek’s mouth. “You know my name?”
Derek’s eyebrows silently, yet very clearly, say ‘you’re an idiot,’ as he points to the name tag on Stiles’ chest. “I’m buying books, right? I can read.”
Stiles flushes. “Oh, that. Just part of the uniform. Forgot I was even wearing it.”
“I’m glad you are,” Derek says. “It’s a little strange not to know each other’s names at this point, right? I’m Derek.”
“I know,” Stiles says, and then winces. “Your credit card.”
Derek looks surprised, and then laughs. “I forgot about that. Well, I guess we’re on the same footing, now.”
“Even steven,” Stiles agrees, and in the amiable silence that follows he’d almost swear that Derek glances down at his lips.
“So, I thought I could get Remains of the Day? Like you suggested?”
“Coming right up.” Stiles ducks into the literature aisle to find the book, and preens a little as he brings back a copy. He’s unreasonably pleased that Hot Businessman Derek Hale remembered his suggestion.
He rings Derek up, and their fingers brush when he hands over the book. Is it forward to write his number on the back of one of their bookmarks and slip it into the book at page 69? It’s probably forward.
Instead he spends the next hour of his shift figuring out the schedules for all the flights from SFO to JFK that layover in Chicago (United 458 seems the most likely) and writes up a quick request to Lydia that she line up his shifts with said layovers for the next few months. That particular request might skim right past “forward” into “creepy” territory, but at least this way it’s only Lydia’s reaction (Jesus, Stiles, he cannot be that good looking) he has to deal with. Hot Businessman Derek Hale will never have to know.
At first, it seems his mildly stalkerish gesture will come to nothing but annoyance at the weird hours he’s now working, because a week and a half goes by without a sign of Hot Businessman Derek Hale. And then, like sunshine parting the clouds...
“Hey, you’re back again!” Stiles doesn’t sound desperate, does he? Maybe a little.
“Yeah, I have to fly out for yet another emergency meeting about stock options for the merger. I’ll probably be working on these terms through October,” Derek says, like Stiles was surprised that he was back at O’Hare. It’s almost as if Derek thinks those two things are the same - like, if he’s at the airport of course he’ll come to the bookstore and buy something.
“So, did you like Remains of the Day?” Stiles prompts.
Derek blinks, and makes a rather pensive expression. “Hm, yes...”
He doesn’t expand on the thought after trailing off, and Stiles gets the feeling his mind is somewhere else. In fact, it’s pretty clear there’s a whole chain of thought he’s not sharing. It wasn’t a good recommendation, was it? Shit. Stiles may have lucked out with the surprise genre home run, but another bad one and Derek might not come back.
“Murakami!” he suggests in a bit of a panic. “That’s what you should read next. You’ll like him, he’s kind of like Hemingway! Only with more surrealism. And cats, and pasta, and Jazz. And you know, attractive plump women with nice ears? Plus he’s Japanese. And… well, he’s not really like Hemingway at all,” Stiles admits with a sigh.
Derek laughs, all his attention back on their conversation. “Then why compare the two?”
“I don’t know, they do both go for fairly declarative prose…and you seem like you might be into Hemingway, I guess? I was trying to convince you.”
“Why would I be into Hemingway?” Derek says with a ‘go on’ twitch of his eyebrows.
Stiles clears his throat and tries to put some thoughts together that aren’t sonnets about the color of Derek’s eyes. “Just you know, Hemingway’s the original man’s man, and you seem like you might be sort of a man’s man, too. Manly. A man who likes men.” Stiles’ rambling trails off awkwardly.
“Really,” Derek says, his expression blank.
Stiles brain belatedly catches up to his mouth. “Oh shit, not like that. Sorry, I didn’t mean that you look gay! I mean, not that looking gay is bad. Or that you can tell someone’s sexuality by the way they look, obviously! I mean, look at me and my three layers of dude-bro flannel, and I’m totally bi.” He laughs awkwardly, clears his throat. “Um. Not that you… asked.”
Derek gets crinkles at the corners of his eyes when he finally lets his stoney expression crack into a huge grin. “It’s fine. I’m not offended. You can stop digging that hole there.”
“Oh, thank God,” Stiles sighs. He can actually feel how hard he’s blushing; this is terrible.
“I don’t particularly care for Hemingway, but I’ve actually read some Murakami,” Derek continues. “After Dark and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I’ve been meeting to read more, though. What do you think I should go with?”
Stiles, shockingly, has some strong opinions about that. They use up most of Derek’s layover discussing the relative merits of different Murakami books, which ones share which themes, and which of his signature details would really have to be included in a Murakami drinking game (“Finish your drink every time someone makes pasta or puts on a jazz record!” Stiles insists. “You’d die,” Derek replies). They talk about what Derek likes about his writing (his focus on alienated individuals figuring out their place in society or trying to find more intimate human connection) versus the things Stiles does (the refreshing way he mixes the surreal elements of his writing so seamlessly with completely realistic, banal details).
In fact, it’s not till later, when Derek leaves with Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World and Norwegian Wood, that Stiles realizes Derek actually gave neither an admission or denial of sexual attraction to men, and considering the circumstances he really should have tried harder to get that.
He has plenty of time to dwell, because that interaction is followed up by two miserable weeks during which Stiles doesn’t see Derek at all. He tries not to read anything into it (C’mon Stiles, you recommended a hugely popular author he’d already read, why would he bother coming back?) but he can’t help cursing himself for not smoothly working his phone number into the conversation, not just his sexuality. What if Derek did want to get in touch but wasn’t traveling to New York for a while? Yes, clearly, Stiles thinks, dropping his head onto his forearms. That’s definitely the most reasonable assumption: near-stranger Hot Businessman Derek Hale would call him in a hot second if only he had his number.
Over those two weeks, despite his best intentions, Stiles works himself up to the point that when Derek finally rolls in, looking like a storm cloud of well-dressed rage, Stiles is surprised enough that he can’t even voice a basic ‘can I help you?’
Instead it‘s Derek who speaks up first. “I want something distracting. With murder in it.”
Stiles thinks for a second, tells himself what the hell, and strides purposefully to the Mystery section to grab a hefty black and white paperback. “Here, Tana French. She’s one of my favorites, and there’s definitely murder, but...”
“Sure,” Derek says easily, taking the book from Stiles and walking directly to the cash wrap.
“It’s genre fiction,” Stiles warns, jogging after him.
“I trust you,” Derek says, quirking an eyebrow like it was stupid of Stiles to think otherwise.
And oh fuck, if that isn’t hotter than it has any right to be.
“You doing okay?” Stiles finally has the sense to ask. “You looked pretty pissed when you came in.”
Derek grimaces. “Work’s been miserable--lots of long hours even without the travel. And now I have to go finish writing up the new agreement during my layover when all I want to do is read. But once I give them the revised terms this evening, I should have a chance. I’ll tell you what I think of Tana French next time,” Derek says with the first smile of the day. Easy and confident--of course, next time.
From the level of relief he’s experiencing, Siles has to admit he is one hundred percent gone on Hot Businessman Derek Hale.
Stiles almost has to rub his eyes when Derek comes back a mere three days later. “Hey, dude, back so soon?” Stiles asks, as soon as he realizes it must be real life because his imagination could never quite capture Derek’s eye color in the vividness currently in front of him.
“Return flight,” Derek explains breathlessly. “Fucking five hour layover on the way there, but I only get 30 minutes on the way back. I have to run for my plane every time. But this book, Stiles. I need the next one, like yesterday. I’ve never read something this long this quickly.”
Stiles beams. “I know, she’s amazing, right? But…uh, you could have bought them when you got home, right?”
“What?” Derek looks genuinely confused.
Honestly, it shouldn’t feel this good to know Derek thinks of Stiles as his one and only source for books, but hell if Stiles is going to correct him.
“Here,” Stiles says, quickly gathering a stack of the rest of the Dublin Murder Squad series.
“What? Oh my god oh my god there are four more?” Derek looks at Stiles like he’s made Christmas come early, opens his mouth to say something more, and then quirks his head to catch an announcement; “-ate 23, United Flight 458 now boarding at gate 23” the tinny voice repeats. Derek hesitates, and from the look on his face he knows he needs to run if he wants to make the flight; Stiles is well aware gate 23 is at the other side of the terminal. But Derek’s still got a hand on his butt like he’s pulling out his wallet.
“Here, they’re on the house,” Stiles says, pushing the stack into Derek’s arms. “Just go, catch your flight.”
“No, no, you can’t just...I’ll pay.”
“I’ll buy them for you, it’s fine. I get a discount,” Stiles says, brushing off the protests. “Shoo!”
“Thank you,” Derek says, reaching out to squeeze his hand before scooping the books into his arms and dashing off.
Stiles rings himself up for the books, and then spends the rest of the shift remembering the brief pressure of Derek’s fingers on his like some kind of love-sick idiot. Which, you know, if the shoe fits...
Stiles does occasionally help people who are not Derek Hale. For example, he’s trying to coax a particularly picky couple into actually buying the books they’ve been hemming and hawing over for the last half hour (John Grisham and Nicholas Sparks, respectively) the next time Hot Businessman Derek Hale comes in. Derek waves, and Stiles mentally curses the couple taking up his time (“But how much like The Notebook is it,” the woman asks. “Very,” Stiles says.)
When he finally finishes with them, though (“Maybe I’ll just get it on my Kindle,” the man says. “Awesome!” Stiles says.), Derek is still hanging around, flipping through Gone Girl. Stiles’ stomach flip-flops a bit at the fact that he’d waited that whole time just to ask Stiles about a new book. It’s a high-traffic Sunday afternoon, and Lydia is also on shift if Derek had just wanted to be checked out.
“Dunno if you’d like that one,” Stiles says, gesturing to the book in Derek’s hands. “I can’t believe you’re already done with the Murder Squad books, though.”
Derek blushes a little. “Oh, I’m not. Still working my way through Broken Harbor.”
Stiles half wonders why he’s even there if he still has reading material, but decides not to press too hard. After all, what else would Derek do stuck in O’Hell for five hours? Instead he says, “Oh, sweet! What part are you at? What do you think?”
“They just found the sleeping bag up in the other house,” Derek says rapidly, suddenly intensely focused. “Which is crazy, right? I thought for sure it was an inside job. It doesn’t add up for it to just be some psycho random, does it? And the animal…”
“Right?” Stiles sets his elbows on the counter, settling in for a long conversation. Derek is leaning in too, bringing their heads close. They end up chatting about the three books Derek’s already read, comparing and contrasting while Stiles tries very hard to not spoil any of the later ones. It’s easy and fun, and Stiles realizes that every time he comes around, Derek is by far the best part of his day.
Lydia comes out of nowhere, muttering to herself. “Cinnabons! As if anyone needs more junk food in your stupid airport!”
Stiles had almost forgotten she was still at the store. “Did the rental space fall through after all?”
“Yes,” she sighs, and then realizes he’s not alone. “Well, hello,” she says, smiling at both of them. “Am I interrupting?”
“Oh, no - this is Lydia who I told you about,” Stiles says. “She’s the owner. Lydia, this is…”
“Let me guess, Hot Businessman Derek Hale?”
Stiles chokes on his own spit. No, no, and no. This is not happening; he tries to make a ‘stop talking or so help me’ gesture at Lydia without Derek seeing. She remains unphased, giving Derek an approving once-over. “Well, I can see why you asked me to change your schedule to line up with all the United 458 flights.”
Stiles boggles in horror. Has she been possessed by a demon with the inexplicable need to humiliate him? Is this secretly a nightmare, and he’s about to look down and realize he’s naked, too?
But Derek looks...not appalled? Kind of flattered, even? “So that’s why you’re always here? I was starting to think you were the only employee,” he jokes.
Stiles laughs, a tad hysterical. “No, one of many.”
“Indeed,” Lydia says. “In fact, look at the time. I think your shift is over.”
It’s not, and Stiles is just about to protest as much, because he could use the money, when Derek interrupts.
“Well, actually I was just going to go get that coffee. If you wanted to…you know. Also get coffee. With me. That is, if you’re not heading straight home.”
“Yes! I mean, no. No to home, yes to coffee,” Stiles stutters. He takes it all back, Lydia is a goddess.
They grab a corner table with two arm chairs at Kofe, and Derek buys an Americano for himself and a mocha for Stiles, insisting it’s barely a dent in what he owes for the Tana French series. Stiles can’t stop smiling. Yes, it had seemed a bit like they were flirting before, but this. This feels like an honest to God date with Derek, who had actually been the one to ask him out. Who must, in some small way, like him. Romantically, maybe.
The conversation is, at first, stilted in that first date way. They casually touch on the weather in California (“No seasons! Almost fall and you’d think it was summer.”) and from there to Stiles’ memories of California growing up, his dad, and then on to Derek’s sisters and uncle. By that time it’s started to feel very natural, and they drift easily into book talk. And then, about an hour and a half in, the book talk turns personal.
“I keep thinking about Remains of the Day.” Derek gets that far off look again, like when Stiles first asked him about it. “It perfectly captured something I had been feeling for a long time. I mean, how the butler’s just chugging away at that meaningless job for his whole life. He occasionally senses that something’s wrong, but he doesn’t do anything about it until it’s too late. I don’t want to end up like that. I don’t want to focus so much on doing what Peter says and trying to please him that I forget what I want. And it’s not just the travel. It’s all the meaningless weasely contracts for rich assholes, the same bullshit every time. Sometimes I feel like I should go…go work in a bookstore. Like you.”
Stiles scoffs. “Honestly, you don’t. Trust me. You don’t have to be a high powered lawyer to feel like you’re frittering your life away. I mean, at least you’re doing something important. Most days it seems like I’m just drifting. I mean, I like this job well enough, but my degree is in business. I was supposed to be a biz dev consultant or something for a hot new start-up and instead I’m working retail.”
Derek’s brows are drawn down and he shakes his head. “Don’t sound so dismissive. You’re amazing at your job. I used to hit the gym when I was stressed, or scan shitty blogs. Now, I’m reading more than I have since college. I feel like I’m turning back into a real, thinking person.”
Stiles smiles down into his coffee. Retail might not be his forever job, but when you put it like that...
“Ah, shit, my flight’s in half an hour.” Derek says, checking his phone. “I should get going.” Then he blinks in surprise. “It’s funny how short my layovers feel these days.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I’ll see you again soon?”
Derek beams. “Definitely. I wish I could tell you when, but I just don’t know. Depends on when the next meeting is set.”
And Stiles should go for the phone number now, it’s the perfect time. But then again, Derek’s only ever in Chicago on his way to a meeting, he can’t even say when he’ll be there next. What would they talk about on the phone? Somehow Derek ends up on the tram back to terminal three before Stiles can decide if it’s even a good idea to ask, much less get the words out.
After their coffee date, Stiles finds it even harder to wait until Derek comes through O’Hare again. He keeps having ideas that he really wants Derek’s opinion on, and there’s nobody around he wants to talk to instead. Plus he really, really needs to know if Derek guesses the killer in The Secret Place before the reveal. But it turns out to be a full three weeks of waiting--three long, boring weeks that seem to go on forever. On the upside, Derek is done with the whole Murder Squad series when he finally does come in. In fact, complaining about how he already wants the next book to be published is the first thing Derek does.
“Just, her descriptions and characterization… What could possibly follow this up?” he asks, gazing up at Stiles in second-hand awe.
Stiles smiles; awe is a pretty good look on Derek (Who is he kidding? Everything is a good look on Derek). “Well, if you’re still all trusting and up for my suggestions, how about Bone Clocks? It’s David Mitchell, you’ll know him from all the buzz around Cloud Atlas.”
“Isn’t that sci-fi?” Derek asks with a suspicious look.
“Soft, literary, timey-wimey sci-fi,” Stiles assures him. “But I’ll get you reading Asimov yet!”
Derek laughs. “Maybe by January.” It’s September, now, complete with incredibly shitty weather, and Stiles thrills with all the implications. Derek is talking about what they’ll be doing in January. That’s 2015! Stiles tries and fails to bite down on a wide grin.
“So, coffee?” Derek asks, with a hopeful waggle of eyebrows.
Stiles grimaces, coming back to reality. “I wish I could, but my break isn’t scheduled ‘till four when Liam gets in. There’s nobody here to cover for me.”
“Oh,” Derek says, visibly deflating. “I need to eat something before the flight, though.”
“No, of course. You should go,” Stiles says, scanning Bone Clocks and running Derek’s card mechanically. He hopes he sounds encouraging, even though Derek going so soon is the last thing he wants.
Derek takes the book and leaves.
But then he comes back. On his return he’s armed with Starbucks coffee, a limp looking sandwich, and a scone; he didn’t even take the tram for good food in his hurry to get back. Stiles is so flattered he doesn’t mention that it’s against store policy to eat around the books. They split the crumbly scone over the cash wrap and debate the literary merits of spaceships, Stiles giggling and brushing sugary flakes from the front of Derek’s sharp suit where they’d landed after Stiles made him laugh halfway through a bite.
They’ve migrated quite close together by the time Liam gets in at four, and Stiles straightens guiltily. They’re mostly talking books, which is semi-professional, right? None of the other customers have looked like they needed help, anyway. But it’s not just that. It’s also that Stiles isn’t sure exactly where he and Derek stand. They’re not strangers anymore, but they’re not something else yet, either. He doesn’t want Liam asking questions or making assumptions before they get a chance to figure out what “something else” might be for themselves.
Liam clocks in automatically, with a polite smile at Stiles and Derek.
“Hey, can you handle the register?” Stiles asks. “Might get a bit busy with all the weather delays, but I wanted to grab my break.”
“Sure, I’m good,” Liam says, even though there is clear terror in his eyes. The kid is almost annoyingly earnest. Scott would love him, and for that reason alone Stiles likes him too.
Stiles gives him a nod and and thumbs up before turning to Derek. “I know it’s pretty close to go time for you, but at least I can walk you to your gate.”
“Okay,” Derek says. He dips his chin as he says it, with a nervous smile. How a guy who wears a suit with the casual grace of Hot Businessman Derek Hale can still seem shy around someone like Stiles is a mystery of the universe--but one of the good, magical kind of mysteries.
There are no seats at the gate, as it’s packed with people waiting on delayed flights, but they manage to find a free space to sit in front of one of the windows. Derek boosts himself up onto the broad ledge, and Stiles hops up to sit next to him--both of their feet dangle a good four inches off the carpet.
“I feel like I’m in kindergarten,” Stiles murmurs, bouncing his heels off the wall.
Derek chuckles, kicking his feet out as well. They bump into Stiles’ a few times, little playful nudges that send jolts of electricity up Stiles’ leg straight to his chest. It really does feel like being a kid again. All he needs to do is pull Derek’s pigtails or offer to split his chocolate pudding.
The kindergarten comment starts them talking about their first favorite books (Stiles: Amelia Bedelia; Derek: Paddington Bear). After that, the time passes too quickly with more discussions of the books Derek read before he met Stiles and the books Stiles is dismayed to find Derek’s never read at all. How can you even be an adult without reading Lord of the Rings? No, he insists, the movies do not count.
Stiles’ alarm goes off and he checks his phone for the time; 4:17. He squints as if that might change the numbers, and sighs in defeat. “Hey, I have to head back. Liam’s new, I shouldn’t leave him on his own too much longer.”
“Oh, definitely,” Derek says. He sounds about as forced as Stiles had earlier. They both slide off the ledge to hover awkwardly; there’s not real protocol for how this type of goodbye goes. Do they wave? Shake hands? Fistbump?
Somehow they settle on a quick, awkward hug. It’s hardly sexual, but Derek’s chest feels really good, broad and firm and warm. Stiles could get used to being held like this. Derek pulls back first, and for a moment his hands linger on Stiles’ shoulders and they’re standing so close it seems like they should kiss. But they don’t.
Instead, they step back from eachother. Derek tucks his hands into his pockets and Stiles starts walking back to the store. “I’ll see you next time,” he calls over his shoulder. He’s sure he’s blushing.
For the rest of Stiles’ shift, the PA system is a mess of delay notices and apologies from all the different airlines, and the store is bustling with people who suddenly have more time to burn than they planned on. Stiles is relieved when Mason clocks in and his own shift is finally over. He grabs his bag from the back room and is about to leave when he has an idea.
It’s almost certain that Derek’s gone, but Stiles walks by gate 34 all the same. Just in case. Some flights must have gotten out, because the floor is a bit more empty than when they’d had to sit on the window ledge. But then he spots a familiar suit...Derek’s still waiting after all, Stiles realizes with a frisson of excitement. At least he’s found a real seat. He’s hunched over his book looking beat, but when Stiles sidles into his peripheral vision and he glances up, the exhaustion is replaced with a big, toothy smile.
“Hey! I can’t believe you’re still waiting. At least they pay me to be here.”
Derek snorts. “No kidding. I keep thinking we’re boarding any second, but weather delays, mechanicals, you name it. Everything’s going wrong. I’m making progress on Bone Clocks, though.” he lifts the book to illustrate that he’s around a fifth of the way through. “Thanks for swinging by. The book’s good, but it’s nice to have some company.”
“I can stay,” Stiles offers like a question. “Until your flight boards.”
Derek beams, then looks quickly at his hands. “Thanks, but as you point out, nobody’s paying you to stick around in O’Hell,” he jokes. “You should go home, who knows how long it will take them to get the next flight off the ground.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a harried flight attendant says through the tinny announcement system. “Unfortunately the weather situation is not improving, and the runways are still closed. We will not be able to board any more flights to New York tonight. Please come to the front desk to inquire about rebooking or vouchers. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.”
Derek lets out a long breath, slumping down in his seat as if he’s melting of pure exhaustion. “Well fucking great. Guess I'm staying overnight in Chicago.”
“Man, that sucks,” Stiles says. “Do you need a ride? I usually take the L home, but we can split a cab if you want.”
“Oh, no,” Derek says grimly. “Hale Associates can eat the cost of a nice rental car and a really nice room. Just let me call the travel agency to get everything settled, I can drive you home on my way to the hotel.” he whips out his iPhone (it must be a 6; it looks like a different, sleeker species than Stiles’ old 4S) and dials quickly.
“Wait,” Stiles protests. “Don’t worry about getting me home. We can carpool, but you should just go straight to the hotel. I can take a bus from downtown no problem.”
Derek raises his eyebrows, side-eyeing Stiles as he puts the phone to his ear. “What, so I don’t have your address in case I’m a serial killer?”
“No,” Stiles scoffs, shoving Derek’s shoulder gently. “Just, it’s late and you’ve been here all day. Plus, you’ll have an early flight for your meeting, right? I don’t want to make you go out of your way. A ride downtown is already way better than the L.”
Derek looks like he’s about to protest, but the call finally connects and he starts explaining the situation to the travel agent with much more patience than he should be able to summon in the circumstances. Stiles counts it as a win.
“Shit, you get to rent cars like this on the company dime?” Stiles ogles the gorgeous black Camaro until Derek rolls his eyes, opens the passenger door and gestures for him to clamber in.
“Not technically, but if I have to wait out a winter storm in a strange city after literally ten hours in the world’s worst airport, then Peter can splurge.”
“Wow,” Stiles breathes, stroking the dash. This thing probably costs more than he makes in a year. It kind of makes him feel like a pricey call-guy or a spy or something.
They pull out onto the freeway. The sky has perversely cleared, and the stars and moon are sharp with the brightness that only seems to come after a heavy rain or snow. It’s late enough that the traffic is humming along, a nice change from the gridlock Stiles is used to. Suddenly, the Camaro’s engine goes from a purr to a sexy growl as Derek accelerates to pass a truck in the left lane. Stiles blurts out a startled laugh at the sharp, confident swerve.
“Don’t worry, I’m a good driver,” Derek says, glancing at Stiles from the corner of his eyes with a small, smug smirk.
Stiles just shakes his head. He should make some protestation about safety, but he can’t even pretend he wants to. Instead he sprawls in the leather seat, stretching his legs out and savoring the thrum of the car vibrating through him. Derek caresses the gear shift, looking as perfectly GQ engineered as ever.
And to think, this was supposed to be a normal work day. Right now Stiles is supposed to be riding on crowded, muggy L to his small, empty apartment to microwave dinner and watch Hulu. Instead, he’s here in this car with the sexiest man he knows using his vehicle handling skills to flirt with him. Stiles is giddy and aroused and it feels like anything could happen as they speed down the road.
Stiles is disappointed when all that happens is they eventually reach the exit for downtown, with all it’s red lights and turn signals, and even more so when they pull up to the fancy Hyatt where Derek’s agency booked his room. The valet takes the car, and Stiles turns to Derek.
“Thanks for the ride,” he says shyly.
“I wish you’d have let me just take you home,” Derek says, and he does look genuinely sorry. “Is this close to the bus stop? When’s the next one coming?”
Stiles squirms. “It’s just a block that way. They come every half hour, it’s fine.”
“Half hour on the hour?” Derek frowns at his watch. “You’ll just miss the next one.”
Stiles shrugs. The life of the wage slave is a familiar one for him. It wouldn’t be the longest time he’s waited for a bus.
Derek grabs his hand. “Look, come have a drink at the bar. On me. I can’t let you just wait around in the cold for half an hour.”
“Okay,” Stiles agrees quickly, squeezing Derek’s hand back. He’s all too willing to put off that lonely apartment, all to willing to see exactly how far this night can go.
The bar is understated in a way that screams wealth. The tables and chairs are dark mahogany, and the light fixtures are heavy-looking modern glass swirled in creamy oranges and yellows. The bartender in a crisp white button down is pouring something frothy and pink into two elegant martini glasses for a pair of lovely women sitting at the bar. It should be the most appealing thing in the world to sit and drink with Derek here. Yet they both hesitate in the entryway, neither of them urging the other to a table or couch.
“Do you really want to get a drink?” Derek asks quietly.
Stiles shakes his head.
“Do you want to go upstairs?” Derek asks, his voice husky and unsure.
Stiles turns to him, heart thumping, edging closer so his chest is pressed against Derek’s side. “Yeah,” he says.
“Oh my god, what even is this room?” Stiles moans at the elegant expanse of architecture laid out in front of him. It’s all glass partitions and cream carpeting, with modern art that actually looks good and a wide desk in dark wood that matches the frame of the king bed against the back wall. It’s like something out of Better Homes and Gardens, not even recognizable as a hotel in the way that the Holiday Inns he and his dad used to stay in when they traveled were hotels.
“Fuck. Being you must be great,” Stiles says, dragging his fingers across the glossy surface of the desk. All of a sudden, he’s not sure he belongs here.
Derek makes a noise of disgust low in his throat as he kicks off his shoes. “All this, it’s just stuff. Once the novelty wears off, it doesn’t mean anything. And you’d be shocked how fast the novelty wears off.” He sighs, and sits heavily on the bed like he doesn’t even notice he’s wrinkling the million-thread count comforter. “I’m sick of first class, sick of these hotels and all the fancy dinners with assholes I don’t even like. I even hate the fucking suits.”
“Man, even the suits?” Stiles says.
Derek gives him a tight half-smile, and then shakes his head in one sharp, distracted motion. “It’s not like the people we represent need any help. It’s all tax loopholes and hostile takeovers, shit like that. Peter always says that’s where the real money is, but I don’t know what I’m accomplishing with any of it. Talking with you is the only time I feel like myself. God, that’s a messed up thing to say. I’m sorry, it’s been a long day.”
“No, it’s…me too,” Stiles admits in a tiny voice. “I can barely believe it’s been almost three years since I graduated, and I haven’t done any of the things I wanted to. It’s like being on autopilot. The only times I don’t feel like a cog in the machine are when I’m reading or when I’m with you.”
Derek looks up at Stiles, eyes intent on his and his face in a serious set that’s almost unfamiliar--usually they’re laughing together, chatting easily about some book. Even their bitching over coffee hadn’t been this intimate.
Stiles walks to the bed, coming to stand between Derek’s knees. He swallows thickly. He’d known, when Derek said “upstairs” that this was the offer, but it somehow still feels like too much to ask. Derek leans back on straight arms, his eyes half-closed and dark with desire.
It only takes the minute widening of Derek’s knees to prompt Stiles to lean forward and press a kiss to Derek’s waiting lips.
For a moment it’s almost chaste as they both acclimate to the switch from ”just friends” to more. Then Derek opens his mouth, moaning into Stiles’, and drags him down on top of him.
Stiles revels in the almost-forgotten feeling of a firm body underneath him, and the entirely new taste of Derek’s mouth. As the kiss turns hungry, their hips roll and thrust together, clumsily seeking friction until Stiles can’t take the lack of it anymore. He hitches up his knees to crouch over Derek and pull off his t-shirt. Derek squirms out of his pants, and before they’re even past his ankles Stiles is making short work of the buttons on his shirt.
Derek curses softly as he pops Stiles’ fly and pulls his jeans down; Stiles rolls onto his back and kicks them the rest of the way off. Almost instantly, Derek is covering him, pressing short little kisses to his mouth and jaw as he runs his hands over Stiles’ freshly exposed chest, down to his abs and hips and back up his arms to pin his wrists above his head.
Stiles arches up against Derek, revelling in the feel of skin on skin. He’d be embarrassed at the noises he’s making, except that this is Derek. He trusts him. Anyway, if he wanted to mock Stiles, after the five minute rant on Lord of the Rings would have been the time to do it. Stiles feels a whole new wave of want, and he wraps his legs around Derek’s hips, shuddering as their cocks brush against each other.
“You, uh, got stuff?” he blurts, weirdly shy about naming specifics. It feels too common, somehow, to ask for a condom and lube.
Derek’s still distracted with kissing Stiles’ neck and rutting up into his abs, but he breaks contact to murmur, “Yeah, front section of my luggage. In the left pocket.”
Stiles rolls off the bed and crouches in front of the carry-on to quickly pull the small bottle and foil package out, and then yelps as a playful swat lands on his ass as he stands.
He turns with a surprised laugh to find Derek on his feet too, standing close. “I was trying to do you a favor, letting you stay in bed,” Stiles says, pretending to be disappointed. “So...do you usually, uh, pitch or catch?”
“Either. What do you want?” Derek asks.
“You topping,” Stiles says decisively. He’s happily versatile too, but the memory of Derek trapping his wrists, dominating him ever so slightly, is still on his mind. “You topping is good.”
“Alright,” Derek says with the same self-confident smirk from the car. He turns Stiles gently towards the wall and then pushes him against it, tapping his stance wider with a foot. He kisses his way down Stiles’ back and then woah, okay, they’re doing that, Jesus. It’s not quite the first time Stiles has been rimmed, but none of his other partners have seemed so fucking into it. Stiles braces himself against the wall while Derek works him open with his tongue and fingers. It’s torturously, deliciously slow. Stiles didn’t even know you could do this without feeling any burn or sting.
“Bed,” Stiles pleads when Derek finally gets up to three fingers. “I swear to god my legs are going to give out if you keep doing that.”
They tumble back onto the mattress, laughing breathlessly. Stiles lays on his back and watches Derek roll the condom on, enjoying view as he lazily strokes himself. Derek crawls over him and presses his knees up and open in a way that should make him feel exposed but instead only feeds the desire pooling in his stomach.
He hears himself make a needy whine when Derek pushes in, but while he just wants to be filled up, now, Derek somehow has the patience to pull back before thrusting into him only a little deeper the next time. Stiles is almost out of his head when Derek finally bottoms out and starts fucking him for real.
It’s hard and fast, just the way Stiles likes it--and he makes sure to let Derek know. He’s always been a bit of a talker, in bed as well as out of it. Derek takes instruction like a dream, and it’s not long before he has the angle exactly right, hitting Stiles’ sweet spot every time.
“Just, just…” Stiles gasps, past the point of forming full sentences, and Derek reaches down to wrap a hand around his cock and stroke. Stiles comes almost instantly at the touch, riding out his orgasm in the slick of his own come.
“Oh, fuck,” Derek moans a moment later, trembling into a rigid line as he comes hard.
Derek relaxes after that and drops his head to Stiles’ chest for a second to catch his breath. He manages to pull out and toss the condom before he slumps down into a boneless heap.
Stiles feels equally wrecked, and they stay laying exactly where they collapsed, sweaty and heaving. Derek is still half on top of Stiles, and tucks his forehead snugly into the crook of his neck.
“Shit,” Stiles mumbles into Derek’s hair. “This is you after an exhausting day, I’m having trouble imagining you fresh and rested.”
Derek chuckles and presses a sloppy kiss to his collar bone. “Challenge accepted.”
Stiles cards his fingers through Derek’s hair, and tries not to think too much about when, exactly, they think this will happen again. He gives up on them getting under the covers, and instead pulls one of the corners up until it folds over them like a cocoon. When he looks back down, Derek’s already out like a light. His face is relaxed and younger-looking in sleep, and Stiles brushes a light kiss to his forehead, almost overwhelmed with tenderness.
As he drifts off himself, wrapped in Derek’s arms, Stiles’ last thought is that he’s gotten himself into something much more serious than simply admiring a particularly hot customer in the store.
Stiles only wakes up when Derek comes out of the bathroom showered and, disappointment of disappointments, fully dressed. He’s wearing a fresh suit that he must have just ironed, because there is no way it came out of a carry-on looking that good. The effect as a whole is the opposite of the debauched-morning-after vibe that Stiles is pretty sure he’s rocking. The only thing about Derek isn’t completely put together is his hair, still wet and dripping from the shower, and Stiles would really like to lick the droplets that are clinging to his neck and muss the brushed-back style with his fingers until it looks like sex again.
Derek smiles apologetically, as if sensing his train of thought. “I would stay, but I need to catch my flight.”
Stiles grunts in agreement and snuggles back into their comforter nest as Derek ducks down to grab the clothes he wore the previous day, shoves them in his bag and goes back to the bathroom for his toiletries. Stiles watches him pack, lazily brushing a hand over his own stomach and thinking how easy this feels, how strangely familiar.
“Hey, Derek,” he starts suddenly.
“If you hate what you do that much, just quit. I mean, it’s a free country, right? I get that it’s the family business, but…you don’t need them. You could do anything. Anything you want.”
Derek stops packing to look at Stiles as if he’s seeing him for the first time. After a long moment, he says. “I--Thank you, Stiles.”
Stiles feels his heart twist. It’s not like Derek’s going to pick up the phone right now as they’re talking, quit his fancy job, cancel his flight, and crawl back into bed. Who even is Stiles to be giving life advice from his lofty vantage point as an hourly sales associate?
“We should exchange phone numbers,” Derek says. “Is that weird to ask, at this point? I don’t usually do this.”
“Me neither,” Stiles admits. And it would be easy, so easy to get Derek to list those ten digits and send him a flirty text, to save the number in his phone as Hot Businessman Derek Hale so he could be embarrassed when Derek inevitably found out he was still using that dumb nickname. He wants all that, but...Stiles twists the sheets in his hands.
“Are you ever gonna move to Chicago?”
Derek’s mouth twitches into a soft wince, and he looks at the floor.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “And I’m not moving to San Francisco on my salary and experience. I just…I don’t know if it’s a great idea to try to make this more than it is. You know?
“Yeah,” Derek says, his face closing off. “No, you’re right. I’m sorry.”
Stiles kind of feels like he’s making a huge mistake. Scratch that, he’s sure he’s making a huge mistake. Then again, falling even harder for someone who just happens to live in another state and, oh yeah, barely seems to have time to breathe outside of his job? That’s an equally effective recipe for heartbreak. It’s your classic Catch-22. Which reminds him, another book to recommend. Assuming that... “I’ll still see you at the store, right?” Stiles checks, a little desperately.
“Of course,” Derek says, confident and quick. “I really do have to go, I swear it’s not you. I’d love to stay and talk. Just, my flight’s in an hour and a half. I have status at Hyatts, though, so checkout isn’t until one. You can hang out, get a little more sleep.”
“Okay,” Stiles says. “Thank you.” He hopes Derek can tell he means for more than the hotel. Derek smiles like maybe he does, and then he grabs his briefcase and carry-on before heading out the door.
He’s always leaving, and Stiles is always staying.
And then, nothing. There have been other times when Derek hasn’t had a reason to fly up for a few weeks, but this is edging past Halloween, going from weeks into a month and a half.
The sex had been good, great even, but not enough to warrant ruining their friendly back-and-forth over. If Stiles had known how it would turn out, he never would have gone upstairs. Or shit, was it the phone number thing? Stiles hadn’t meant they should never see each other, just that he didn’t want to be getting his hopes up about a cross-country relationship with no prospects for more. Or what if...God, did Derek think Bone Clocks was terrible? Is that why he hasn’t come back like he promised?
By Thanksgiving, Stiles has reconciled himself to never seeing Hot Businessman Derek Hale again. Combine that with the fact that he couldn’t afford to fly back to Beacon Hills to be with his Dad and the McCalls for the holiday, it’s shaping up to be a pretty shitty month.
Stiles is so sure he’ll never see Derek again, in fact, that he doesn’t recognize him until he comes up to the cash wrap empty-handed and says, “Hey.”
“Hey!” Stiles exclaims back, dropping the pen he’d been chewing onto the floor. “You’re not…no suit.” There is, in fact, no suit. It’s been replaced with worn jeans and a soft green sweater that looks like it might have been knit by a relative. Derek himself is softer, too; he’s grown a beard, and his hair isn’t gelled as it had been when he first came in. He looks exactly how Thanksgiving break should look, all homey and warm, and Stiles is so happy to see him again he almost dives over the counter for a hug. Except that that would be crazy. Instead, he settles on stuffing his hands in his pockets and grinning.
“Oh, no. No suit,” Dereks says, looking down at his sweater as if to double-check. “I’m just on a quick layover going to my sister’s place in New York for Thanksgiving. I’m sorry I left you hanging, after...I really did plan on coming back sooner, but the other firm actually accepted our terms after my last trip. Peter was the one who flew up to get the signatures and wrap everything up, and I haven’t had an excuse to travel since.”
“Wow, so the big deal finally went through.” Stiles is relieved--all that stress for it to not be anything he actually did! “So are you up for a promotion?”
“Actually, no. After the merger went through and I had some time, I thought about what you said. And...well, I quit.” He offers up a shy smile like he’s looking for Stiles’ approval for the decision.
“What?” Stiles says. “Shit, you really did it! Congrats! Wait, is that weird to say? I mean, you’re not unemployed are you?”
Derek grins. “No. I work at a small nonprofit firm in the city now. Mostly representing victims of sexual abuse. It’s, uh, an important issue for me. I mean, my salary is half --literally half--of what it was, but...” He shrugs, still smiling. “I’m actually doing something I feel good about. And of course, no more twelve hour days or awful cross-country flights.”
“Oh,” Stiles says, going from ecstatic for Derek to dismayed in record time.
“Yeah,” Derek says, his own face falling. “I won’t really have much reason to fly through Chicago anymore.”
Stiles swallows. “Do…do you want my number? I can like, text you about all the great spaceship books you should read.”
Derek raises one eyebrow, giving Stiles a small, bittersweet smile. “You gonna move to San Francisco?”
Stiles laughs a little. “I guess that’s still a no.”
“Yeah,” Derek says softly.
He hovers for second like he’s going to say something more, then leans in quick and kisses Stiles over the counter. It’s just a quick, closed mouth thing, a soft press of lips and the new sensation of Derek’s beard against his chin, and it still sends Stiles’ heartbeat rocketing up with excitement and want. He’s still reeling--on second thought, he could definitely move to a different state for that--when Derek leaves, stepping out into the crowd where Stiles tries to keep track of him and fails almost instantly.
So that’s that. Without even the hope of Derek coming back, Stiles starts to realize exactly how little he has to look forward to at the bookstore. Sure, Lydia lets him help with book ordering, staffing, even the finances, but she has such a good handle on it that there’s not much to do but watch and learn and fill in the few times she’s on vacation. The majority of his work is stocking books, ringing customers up, and waiting around. There is also absolutely no room for career growth.
“Stiles,” Lydia says, snapping her fingers in his face. “Earth to Stiles?”
“Sorry, what?” he asks, sitting up straight for the first time in the meeting.
“I was asking you what you thought about bringing on another employee for the Christmas rush. Were you listening at all?
“No,” Stiles admits sheepishly.
Lydia sighs and closes her notebook. “Look, I know you’re bored shitless in this job, and I know you miss Scott and your dad. Maybe it’s time for a change.” She taps her pen on her red lips.
Stiles shrugs miserably. “A change to what? I’m not exactly swimming in job offers.”
Lydia gives him a small, mysterious smile. “You know I’ve been working on opening another branch of the store.”
Stiles slouches back down on his elbows. “Yeah, so?”
“Well, I finally secured a location. Frankly, I think you’d be the perfect person to manage it. Of course there’s significantly more responsibility, but it does involve a sizable raise to compensate.”
“Oh my God, really? I mean, yes, sold,” Stiles rushes to say. “No take-backs! One hundred percent yes.”
Lydia smiles like a cat with a canary--there was no doubt in her mind that Stiles would accept, that much is clear. “Well, then. Congratulations on becoming the General Manager for our brand new SFO branch.”
Stiles almost falls out of his chair. “Wait, SFO as in San Francisco, SFO?”
“Of course,” Lydia says, innocently. “Close to Beacon Hills, right? And I have a feeling you’ll like living in the city.”
Stiles loves his new job--no reservations, one hundred percent. He’s responsible for all the book ordering for the new location, which is probably the best part, plus hiring decisions, finances, advertising, and business reviews with Lydia. It’s stressful, sure, but he’s never bored. He’s added little touches of his own personality in all the displays, he can visit his dad or Scott any time he wants, and the extra money certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s perfect.
Or, almost perfect.
As it turns out, “small nonprofit firm in San Francisco” isn’t quite enough to go on to find an actual company with an actual address and employees page, and all the Google hits for “Derek Hale” are for his exceptionally SEO’d page at Hale Associates or news articles about cases he won for them.
It’s probably for the best. What would Stiles do? Lurk in front of the office until Derek came out and then leap at him saying,“Hey, you remember me?”
Stiles knows he should just give it up. All the same, he jolts to attention whenever he spots a dark haired person in a suit that’s about the right height and build, thinking maybe, maybe this time.
And then, a week before Christmas, it actually happens.
“Stiles?” a familiar voice exclaims and when Stiles stands up and turns it’s Derek striding towards him with the kind of momentum that says he’s going for a hug. He stalls at the last minute, though, coming to an abrupt halt a step away. Stiles is practically twitching with wanting to close the distance and touch him, but he doesn’t. It’s been too long since they spoke for that. He’s not even wearing a suit. Who knows what else is different, now?
Derek sways towards him, ending up a hair too close for strangers. “You’re really here. I saw the store name, but I didn’t think…” he breaks off with a laugh. “I’m starting to think you were lying. You must actually be the only employee.”
“Technically the branch manager,” Stiles says. He shrugs with calculated modesty.
“Oh, wow. Congratulations, that’s wonderful!”
Stiles beams, unreasonably pleased at Derek’s excitement. It feels just like old times and he’s forming the words to say, “Yes, it’s amazing except for missing you and could we maybe go get that coffee…?” when a bombshell of a blonde comes up from behind Derek and drapes an arm around his shoulder. Derek turns into the embrace, smiling.
“This is Erica,” he says.
“Oh,” Stiles says, hoping that heartbreak isn’t written all over his face. Of course Derek isn’t still waiting. It’s been ages, and look at him for fuck’s sake. While Stiles is just...
“Stiles,” he says, extending a hand.
“Wait, Stiles as in Hot Book Nerd Stiles Stilinksi?” Erica squeals. Derek hisses at her--literally hisses--and makes a very clear ‘shut up!’ face. She elbows Derek in the abs without looking at him. “Nice, I can see why you always booked those god-awful layovers even after Laura got Peter to change the travel policies.”
Derek’s face goes completely red. “I didn’t...I mean, I…it’s just…”
Stiles unconsciously brings a hand to his chest, brimming with emotion. “Wait, you voluntarily spent time in O’Hell? For me?”
“You…you got Lydia to change your hours for me.”
“You were the best thing about that job,” Stiles says faintly.
“You were the best thing about those business trips,” Derek says back.
“Here, smile for a picture,” Erica says, shoving Derek towards Stiles and pointing her phone at them. “Boyd and Isaac will want to see this.”
And suddenly Stiles has his arms full of Derek, who is clinging on to him for balance. They’re so close that Stiles can smell his shampoo and count the freckles in his gorgeous hazel eyes. And the kicker is, neither of them is going anywhere. Not this time.
In the picture Erica snaps, Stiles’ mouth is open in laughter and Derek’s eyes are wide with surprise. They’re both looking at each other like they’ve found the person who hung the moon.
Even though it’s low quality and a bit blurry, it ends up being the photo they use on their wedding invitations.