Stiles has never seen Derek smile. Never. He wonders if he has always been this way or if before, he did smile. The image is sweet; Derek’s lips turning upwards and his eyes free and light for just one moment. God, Stiles shouldn’t be jealous but he is. He knows it’s wrong but he wishes that he was the only one to see that smile. Before his family died, did he smile freely? Was he happy?
He can see it in every step; the pain radiates off him. It’s in his eyes and the lines around his mouth. That frown seems permanently etched on his face and Stiles would do anything just to see it go once. Derek tries to put off this demeanor; tough and cold. He acts like he doesn’t care. Stiles has been there, though, and he can see through it.
He can see the passion and life beneath that skin. It runs like a waterfall in his breath and blood. Stiles is sure if he dug down deep enough, he’d be able to dig out the rot and rebuild. He doesn’t say anything but he sees the pain and anger; the need to be loved and the rejection. Every move Derek makes echoes what he’s feeling in that moment.
It would be easier if he didn’t shut himself off. Yet something about that makes Stiles want it more. He wants to be the one to get under Derek’s skin and make him feel. He wants to be his life and the breath in his lungs. Maybe it’s the thought of making someone glow again. Maybe he’s just curious.
At least, it started out as curiosity. Somewhere down the line, it became something more. He started to need it. It felt like a knife carving out his chest every time he saw the pain on Derek’s face. He grew to recognize the slight breaks in his voice and the different looks in his eyes. It wasn’t noticeable to the untrained eye but more and more, he saw it. The more he saw, the more he wanted. Needed.
It became a kind of contest with himself. Each time he saw Derek, he’d try to see what made him tick. He’d try small things and large, grand gestures. He was willing to go to the ends of the Earth just for one twitch of the lips. God, he just needed for him to smile. He needed to know he wasn’t completely broken. Maybe what he really wanted to know was that he could make Derek smile… That Derek would smile for him.
He found himself bringing Derek flowers and fixing up small things around his house. He would bring him dinner or lunch. He hated the thought of Derek sitting there alone in his decrepit old house, eating whatever he could scrounge up. Stiles would send him texts; “good morning”, “good night”, “how was your day?”. He texted him little jokes that he found funny and hoped made Derek at least smirk.
Derek never really responded to the texts. Everything Stiles did confused him; Stiles could tell. He didn’t say anything the first time Stiles gave him flowers; just took them with a raised eyebrow. But after awhile, Stiles could see Derek melting, slowly becoming more comfortable and himself. It made his heart pound and head spin.
The thing he noticed was that Derek was actually really nice. He was the type of guy to help the elderly with their groceries and open the door for the person behind him. Stiles realized that the threats were just to make people scared of him so they’d stay away. Another thing Stiles realized was that Derek was scared. He was scared of getting close to people and every time Stiles did something nice, Derek’s eyes briefly flashed, trying to think if there was some ulterior motive.
“You know, I don’t want anything from you,” Stiles said one day.
“What?” Derek replied, voice cold and confused. (It was a front, though, because his eyes were soft.)
“Every time I do something for you, you get this look. But I’m not trying to win you over just to screw you over. I don’t want anything.”
“You must want something.”
Stiles turned his eyes up to the ceiling for a minute and nodded. “Well okay, you’re wondering why I’m so nice to you? Honestly, all I want is to see you smile… Just once. Call it twisted curiosity.” Stiles beamed at Derek who just looked utterly confused.
After that, Derek’s eyes were different around Stiles. He couldn’t quite explain it but they were more affectionate. His tone was softer, too. Something about that made his stomach flutter.
When he couldn’t sleep, he would call Derek. The calls were always Stiles rambling until Derek fell back asleep and Stiles fell asleep to the sound of Derek’s breathing. He sounded peaceful when he slept and the sound of the phone’s static mixed with his breath. Something about it was comfortable and made Stiles feel warm and peaceful. Safe.
He wasn’t sure what Derek was thinking those nights but he didn’t seem to mind. Maybe he could see that Stiles was in pain, too, no matter how much he didn’t act like it. He just hid it differently. But when he was around Derek, everything else turned off. All he could see and feel was Derek. His sensations were filled with Derek until he was swimming- drowning.
He didn’t know when but at some point he fell in love. It was on one of those phone calls when he realized it. He was halfway between sleep and consciousness. His heart was fluttering and his chest ached. He wanted to be there next to Derek; head on his chest to listen to the sound of his slow heartbeat and breathing. Then the thought just came. “I’m in love with Derek.”
It wasn’t quite a movie moment. He just shrugged it off and fell asleep. When he woke up, the call was still going and he listened to the static and the sound of Derek’s footsteps. He heard the sound of water and imagined Derek getting up and taking a shower. Did Derek sit there and listen to Stiles breathing for a few minutes or maybe a few hours until he felt like getting up?
Soon, Stiles couldn’t sleep without the sound of Derek breathing by his ear. And Derek wouldn’t tell him, but neither could he. He found comfort in Derek. At night, he began to imagine Derek’s body curled around his, arms wrapped protectively around his chest, hands folded together. He could feel the warmth radiating off of Derek’s body as they fell asleep wrapped in one another. He was falling deeper in love with each night.
Derek was always quiet. For some reason, Stiles couldn’t get him to open up and talk. Stiles was beginning to think maybe he didn’t know how. But Stiles was content to wait and fill the silence himself until Derek was comfortable enough to say something.
Stiles talked a lot and, when he got passionate, he talked with his hands. He’d often get that way around Derek because he did all the talking. Derek’s face would soften slightly and his eyes would take in every movement as if they were water and he was dying of thirst. Stiles liked to watch Derek watch him. The more he watched him, the more he seemed to change before his eyes.
Derek became something shining and glowing with life. His eyes would crinkle when he saw Stiles and his face would relax. His voice had less of an edge and he moved with ease. He didn’t seem to be weighed down with pain like he used to. He still didn’t smile but that was coming- Stiles could feel it.
Getting to know Derek was odd and Stiles loved every second of it. He liked the way Derek looked at him and the light touches on his wrist and back and neck as if Derek needed to touch him to believe he was there; as if it was as essential as breathing. He liked how Derek would make little jokes and, when Stiles laughed at them, his eyes would shine with pride. He liked how Derek would give him small, protective looks filled with something that Stiles couldn’t quite pick out but always gave off a sense of “mine”. He liked how sometimes Derek would just stare at him; eyes so filled with love and tenderness that it took Stiles’ breath away.
He came to find out small things about Derek like his favourite book genre was western and he secretly loved rom-coms. He found out that Derek had no concept of personal space, preferring to somehow be touching Stiles every second. He learned that Derek didn’t like the dark and would stretch out in the sunlight like a cat and his favourite colour was green. With everything he learned, he wanted to know more.
He needed to know every single thing about Derek until he could recite them in his sleep. He wanted to memorize every pore; trace every line until he could recognize every single one. He wanted to be able to draw Derek with his eyes closed. He wanted to know every single rise and fall of his chest until they could breathe in time. He wanted to know what made his heart race. Everything.
Derek became a puzzle and a project. He would text him at random times just to ask a question that suddenly came to mind. When they were together, he asked endless questions; from something as inane as Derek’s favourite food to his views on the meaning of life. He liked to hear Derek speak. He liked the little pauses he would take when he was thinking or how he would drift off in the middle of sentences because he was thinking too much. Everything about Derek was amazing to him.
Somehow, Derek still didn’t smile. Stiles couldn’t figure out why. He had done everything he could possibly think of. It was obvious that Derek was happy, too. Yet, there was still a part of him that Stiles couldn’t find. He could feel it. It was always there- some part of Derek that was still, and always would be, closed off. He wanted to unlock it but he couldn’t find the key. It was somewhere just out of grasp and if only he could reach it. He hated that even a tiny part of Derek was closed off to him. He needed all of him.
One day, he was lying in Derek’s bed and he finally found it. Derek’s arms were wrapped around him and Stiles was staring up at him, fingers tracing his face, moving from eyes to lips to nose and jaw line. Derek’s eyes were closed and his breathing was slow and steady. He wasn’t asleep; every now and then, he would suck in a deep breath and Stiles could almost hear his heart hammering away in his chest.
There was something so peaceful and innocent about Derek right then that Stiles just couldn’t contain himself. He couldn’t say how long he’d been waiting to bring it up but now the words just slipped out. “You wouldn’t believe how much I love you,” Stiles whispered, thumb pausing over Derek’s lip. Derek’s eyes fluttered open and he gave Stiles that look again; the one he could never parse out. Then something broke and suddenly the floodgates were opened.
In that moment, Stiles finally had all of Derek. He could feel it seeping into his bones until his soul was drenched completely in Derek. Everything between them suddenly became one, flowing together until you couldn’t pick it apart. They were woven together; an unbreakable thread. Underneath his thumb, Derek’s lips slowly pulled upwards. It was small and tender but his eyes were completely free and innocent.
Derek didn’t have to say anything; it was understood. Slowly, Stiles moved forward until their lips were pressing against each other. The kiss was short and chaste but Derek was sweeter than anything he had ever tasted. Stiles pulled away and inspected Derek’s face; lips slightly parted, eyes closed peacefully, disbelief etched in every inch of his face. His face was tinted pink as his eyes dreamily opened. He stared at Stiles with an expression that he had never seen before.
Stiles opened his mouth to say something- anything- but Derek smiled again. At that, he couldn’t speak if he wanted to. “I still don’t believe how much I love you,” Derek replied softly as his hand curled around Stiles’.
Stiles grinned freely, barely able to contain himself. “I finally made you smile,” he said in awe. Derek let out a low laugh and to Stiles, it sounded like angels singing and bells ringing and everything crashing together at once. He had a new project to work on and that was making Derek laugh as much as possible. There was no way he could live without hearing that again every day.