After Stiles left for college, Beacon Hills got quiet.
John knew that it wasn't Stiles' fault that Scott had gotten bitten; that Matt Dahler had massacred half of John's deputies; that Jennifer Blake had kidnapped John himself, leading to the revelation that the world was far stranger than John had ever imagined; but the fact remained that as soon as Stiles left town the murder rate plummeted back down to barely more than any other sleepy northern California town.
John would have never said that he missed running around like a vigilante, hunting down supernatural threats, but. . .
Well he might admit, if pressed, that his heart sped up a little when he ran into Derek Hale at Home Depot, and it certainly wasn't in fear.
Derek had been keeping a pretty low profile lately. The last time John had seen him was just before the new year, scraping the half-inch of snow and ice off of the walk in front of a modest bungalow on the west side of town. John was responding to Mrs. Filipowski's weekly noise complaint about Danny Thomas’s band practice, just as an excuse to get out of the station. Derek looked up as John was driving by, and John was surprised at how content he looked. John waved, and Derek waved tentatively back, and then John's car had rolled past.
That was over a month ago, and Beacon Hills wasn't large, yet until that Saturday afternoon in Home Depot John hadn't so much as caught Derek out of the corner of his eye.
Derek was glowering at the selection of wood fillers and didn't notice John walking up to stand beside him.
"Doing a little home repair?"
Derek startled, and then to John's bemusement, flushed. "I'm trying, sir."
“What are you trying to repair?”
“I scratched my floor.”
John manfully resisted making a joke about claws and the moon. “Ah. Well, I’ve always found the trowel-grade grain filler easier to use for floors – it’s thinner and doesn’t take as long to dry, and you can tint it for a better color match.”
Derek blinked, brow furrowed, then turned back to the shelves. After a minute, he took two steps down the aisle and began scanning the selection there. John watched him struggle for a minute, then grabbed the same tub of Famowood he had out in his garage. “Here. Try this one. And don’t forget the tint.” Then he continued with his own shopping.
* * *
Derek's eyes went a little wild and trapped when Tad steamrolled over his objection that really, he liked cold floors, and John had to bite his lip against a smile. But when Derek started flexing his fingers down out of Tad’s sight, John decided it was time to mount a rescue mission.
Putting on his best befuddled expression, John broke into Tad's monologue with, "Sorry, I'm looking for a desk for my son, you know, one of those old roll-top ones with all the cubbies for storage. Could you help me out?"
Tad's eyes brightened, and he dropped his conversation with Derek immediately to start herding John towards the back. Derek was watching John with a puzzled expression, so John winked at him just out of Tad's sight. He visibly got it, then mouthed "Thank you" and took the opportunity to flee immediately.
John let Tad ramble for a bit, then said he'd take the ugliest desk available. It was truly horrific, wood stained a sickly yellowish and covered in floral wallpaper on the sides and on the front of every cabinet. It would be a perfect welcome home gift for Stiles come summer break.
* * *
It was too much. John got his smile under control, then cleared his throat. “Do you need some help, son?”
Derek flushed, just like the last time. “No?”
“Are you sure about that?”
Derek slumped. “No.”
John clapped him on the shoulder encouragingly. “Good man. Always better to know when it's time to ask for help. Now tell me what you’re trying to do.”
Derek swayed into John's touch, then blinked and shook himself upright again. “One of the trees in my backyard lost a limb in that last big storm, and when I had someone out to take a look at it they said it was diseased. So I had the tree removed, but told the aborist I’d take care of the stump myself. It. . . isn’t going well.”
John chuckled. “Oh. Big mistake.”
Derek slanted a glance at John then grinned wryly. His whole face lit up. “So I’m discovering.”
John had a day off coming up, and the forecast was sunny and mild. “Want an extra pair of hands?”
* * *
John didn’t think he had any expectations for Derek’s house, but its sheer normalcy surprised him. It had a bit of a bachelor feel – big leather couch and no other seating, big flatscreen TV and a cupboard full of paper plates – but it was clean and there were curtains on the windows. (John hadn’t purchased curtains until he married Claudia. Come to think of it, he had never purchased curtains; the ones they put up after they bought the house were a wedding gift.)
But the thing that John was simultaneously most surprised and most pleased to see was the way some of the tension Derek carried in his spine constantly actually relaxed when the door to the outside world was closed. It made the whole place feel warmer than it had any right to, bare of rugs as the hardwood remained.
Derek was the sort of DIYer who always did his research, watching how-to videos on YouTube and printing out checklists before starting a project; it was good to see him focus on preparation before attacking something new, and John complimented him on it partly to encourage that habit and partly to see his pleased flush; but John had far more hands-on experience and a much more extensive toolkit, and Derek was happy to let John guide him a bit.
They generally worked in a companionable, efficient silence. Derek always managed to anticipate what John would need next, handing over the drill or the putty knife just as John realized he needed it.
Derek always managed to anticipate John's needs, John discovered, because he was always watching John out of the corner of his eye. At first John was concerned – he couldn’t imagine how stressful hypervigilance would be with a werewolf’s senses – but then he caught Derek’s gaze, heavy and heated and a half-second too slow to flick away, on the curve of John’s bicep as he stirred the concrete for the new path in the backyard.
It was flattering. Stiles always teased John about 'his popularity with Beacon Hills’ widow population,' but Derek was a very attractive, much younger man. Not exactly the elderly widows (and the occasional widower) John normally attracted. John wasn’t immune to that sort of ego boost.
John decided to ignore it. Derek never did any more than look, after all. But as Derek came up with new projects and John dug deeper and deeper into his closet for tight t-shirts – look, John liked Derek and wanted Derek to be happy – it dawned on John that there wasn't really a reason for him not to make a move.
John hadn’t exactly chosen to give up on dating while Stiles was still at home. For a lot of those years he had been too broken up over Claudia’s death to look at anyone else. And when he started to notice again, well, it just seemed like too much hassle. He was Sheriff. He had no time and the whole county’s eyes on him, and even if they were mostly friendly and only sometimes lascivious, there was always that sense that they’d turn hostile the instant he tripped up. (A sense that was vindicated when they had turned on him for a while there in the mess after Scott got turned.)
And of course there was Stiles, who had responded to losing his mother by clinging even tighter to everyone else he loved.
But now Stiles was off on his own and John had managed to win a reelection amidst the chaos of the dead pool. He was pretty sure he could trust Beacon County to look the other way if he decided to date the last remaining Hale. John could probably afford to be selfish here.
Besides, Derek was a fan of wearing too-small t-shirts too, and jeans that sat criminally low on his hips. John only had so much self-control.
* * *
Derek gave him the perfect opening late one afternoon. John had been fiddling with the suspension shelving system they had spent the day hanging, convinced that they weren’t quite straight despite the level’s reassurance, and when he finally turned to pack up he discovered that Derek had already done it for him, gathering all his tools back into their cases and stacking them neatly on the console by the door. The cords were even neatly wound.
John felt unutterably fond, and he let that show on his face. “Thanks, Derek. You did a better job of that than I ever do.” He reached out to clap Derek on the shoulder, but somehow his hand shifted a little higher, gripping him warmly by the back of his neck.
Derek melted, eyes slipping half-shut and lower lip falling open just a bit.
He recovered quickly, mouth snapping shut, eyes focused determinedly anywhere but John’s face, flush climbing rapidly up his throat to darken his perennial stubble. John squeezed his neck more firmly then let go, trailing his fingers across Derek’s shoulders in what could only be read as a caress.
“It’s pretty late. I should get home. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
Derek swallowed, then nodded, still not meeting John’s eyes. That meant he missed the smug grin that John couldn't hold back as he took his leave.
* * *
“The tile looks great, well done.”
“You’re getting really good at all this stuff, Derek.”
John matched each bit of praise with a touch along Derek’s back, arm, hip. And each time Derek melted further into his space before pulling himself back together and turning bashful. But his embarrassment didn't stop him from finding yet more innocuous tasks to accomplish and then lay at John's metaphorical feet in more and more blatant invitation. John found himself using the deepest register of his voice to try and get Derek to shiver.
John started staying later, watching the sun set over beers and then the dinner Derek shyly offered. John complimented Derek with every other bite, and by the end Derek was squirming in his chair, alternately smoldering at John and looking shyly away.
When John ran his hand down Derek’s back with an absent-minded “Such a good host” as Derek started clearing the table, Derek abruptly reached his breaking point.
He was the one who pushed John up against the wall, pressing a desperate kiss to John’s lips like he expected John to push him away. John smiled into it, delighted, then opened up to kiss back.
Derek whimpered and ceded control of the kiss immediately, clinging to John’s shoulders and pressing his erection against John’s hip. John wrapped one arm low around Derek’s waist and tangled his other hand in Derek’s hair, tilting his head at just the right angle, and the way Derek went boneless at that had John catching up with Derek’s arousal quickly.
They kissed for several endless moments, then John slowly disengaged, stroking Derek’s hair soothingly until both their breathing slowed and Derek’s frotting turned languid. When Derek opened his eyes again, John ran his fingertips fondly over Derek’s cheekbones, then chucked him under the chin.
“Shall we take this back to your bedroom? You had me help you put that new bed together weeks ago, and I’d love to help you break it in.”