Derek is only half awake but immediately on alert at the sounds of an intruder in his house. Before he has a chance to figure out if there’s an actual threat or not, though, a shout from downstairs stops him.
“It’s just me! Go back to sleep!” Stiles yells.
Derek groans, rolls over and goes back to sleep. Whatever the kid is up to can’t be bad enough to warrant getting out of bed at three in the god damned morning.
Obviously, where Stiles is concerned, this is exactly the wrong attitude to take. And if Derek had been fully awake at the time he would have realized that.
He gets up the next morning to find, sitting in the middle of his living room, a couch. It’s a muted green color with patches that have faded to grey from wear, and the back has been clawed at a couple of times by a house cat, but otherwise it’s in decent condition.
Derek stares at it for a very long time, the thing looking awkwardly out of place as the only bit of color in the burnt out room. Eventually he decides that the best course of action is to just ignore it.
Two days later he comes home from a run to find the air disturbed. Someone’s been here, and that someone drives a Jeep.
Stiles is gone now, thank god, but has left another confusing token of his presence. A floor lamp.
Its shade is faded and dusty from age and it isn’t plugged in since there are no working outlets around, but it sits beside the sofa like it’s mocking him. Like Stiles is trying to recreate a furniture store advertisement in the middle of a fire pit. Derek wonders if this is some sort of strange art project for school.
But he continues to ignore it, because he has this insane hope that if he doesn’t fall for the bait then Stiles will eventually get bored and leave him alone.
But this is Stiles we’re talking about.
The next day there’s a coffee table. The legs are uneven, making the thing wobble every time Derek so much as walks by it, and there’s a scratch in the varnish from one end all the way to the other. Of course, it still looks better than the entire rest of his house combined.
After the area rug and the ottoman, Derek can’t take it any longer.
He makes his way over to the Stilinski house, avoids the Sheriff by heading straight for an upstairs window, and then pins Stiles against the side of the desk so that the kid’s ass digs into the edge and he looks like he’s about to fall over backwards on top of it and send all the electronics there toppling to the floor.
“Is this a joke?” Derek asks, low, making it a threat.
Stiles flounders, caught off guard, his mind still stuck on the part where a werewolf just appeared in his bedroom and manhandled him without warning. “What? No! I mean. Wait, is what a joke?”
“My living room.”
“Oh, right. That.”
Derek waits, but Stiles doesn’t continue. He gives the kid an expectant look and Stiles almost jumps at the movement of Derek’s quirked eyebrows. Like Derek’s eyebrows could kill him.
“No, it’s not a joke.”
“Then what the hell are you doing?”
“Uh, Chemistry homework.” Stiles waves at his abandoned laptop.
Derek growls. “What are you doing to my living room?”
Stiles shrugs. “I was bored, my neighbor was getting rid of his couch, you were the only person I could think of who could use one.”
“And the rest of it?”
“Well once you had the couch it just made sense to keep going.”
Derek narrows his eyes. “You get bored a lot, don’t you?”
“It’s a gift and a curse.”
Derek eases up and takes a step back so that Stiles can stand up straight and rub gingerly at the seat of his pants where the desk probably left a decent bruise.
“Well you can stop now,” Derek says.
Stiles frowns. “But what about the entertainment center?”
“I don’t have a TV.”
“That was gonna be next.” He grins.
Derek rubs a hand over his face in mild exasperation. “I don’t have electricity either.”
“Oh.” It sounds like the end of it, but then: “Do you want electricity?”
“Are you seriously offering to install new wiring in my house?”
“No, I’m offering to call a professional to do it. Actually, scratch that. I’m offering to look up the number of a professional for you to call. It’s your damn house.”
“Exactly, Stiles. It’s my house. Stop trying to decorate it.”
Stiles scoffs. “I don’t think electricity counts as interior design.”
“It was cheaper than an armchair. And more versatile. What are you complaining about anyway, you’ve got like an actual living room now. And I managed to kill a few hours of insomnia. Win-win.”
Derek doesn’t actually know what to say to this, and it’s incredibly exasperating that the kid maybe has a point. Maybe. “Just... stop it. If I wanted furniture I’d get it myself.”
He turns and heads back for the window, considering the conversation well and thoroughly over. He’s given his order. That’s that.
“Whatever, dude, I’m calling an electrician,” Stiles says, petulant. “Try to restrain the urge to disembowel him.”
Derek turns. “I’m not paying for that.”
“Well okay, but I don’t think he’ll be happy about it after he’s done all that work.”
“Stiles.” Derek growls, warning. “I don’t want any of this. What exactly are you trying to accomplish here other than thoroughly pissing me off?”
Stiles twitches and huffs a sigh and then makes a show of rolling his eyes to cover his sudden embarrassment. “I just... Look, that house is falling down around you. You can’t live there forever.”
“So that means that you probably aren’t sticking around for very long. Right? I mean, if you were staying in town for any significant length of time then you’d find a place to crash that had things like running water and ceilings.”
“So I just thought that, you know, I’d give you some incentive to stay a little longer.”
“A second-hand couch is supposed to be incentive to put down new roots in Beacon Hills?”
“Well... Yeah. Kinda.”
Derek shakes his head. “I don’t understand. Is this your roundabout way of trying to tell me that you don’t want me to leave town?”
“Er. Yes. I guess it is.”
Derek stares at Stiles for a long moment, baffled. “...Why?”
Stiles shuffles his feet and averts his eyes, even though there doesn’t seem to be anything outright embarrassing in the content of his next words. “Because, dude. If you’re not here then it’s just me and Scott again. One werewolf who is extremely bad at being a werewolf and one loser human with ADHD does not make for a very strong front against the forces of evil.”
“Forces of evil?”
“Yes. You may not like me much, and vise versa might I add, but you make a worthy ally.”
“A worthy ally,” Derek repeats him again. “This isn’t The Lord of the Rings, Stiles.”
“Whatever. The point is that lately I seem to manage to get myself into a life-or-death situation at least once a week and you’re a lot better backup than Scott is. If you leave town I’m not sure I’ll make it to graduation.”
Derek eyes him, scrutinizing. Stiles doesn’t appear to be lying, but he doesn’t appear to be telling the whole truth either. “So this is about survival?”
Stiles nods. “Sure. Let’s call it that. I got you a living room set because I don’t wanna die.”
Derek starts to tell him how insane that is, how insane he is, and to stop already, seriously, enough is enough. But instead he closes his mouth without sound, heaves a long-suffering sigh, and waves it off with a terse, “Fine.” And then he leaves.
A week later he has electricity.
Only in the downstairs area, since the second story is a little too far gone to bother with. And the electrician eyes him with the kind of fear that has less to do with Derek’s musculature and piercing stare and more to do with the fact that he thinks Derek is a potential future unabomber. But then suddenly, one evening, the lights work. And Derek finds himself standing in the middle of his small, awkward, second-hand living room set, uncertain how to feel. He never planned on staying in this town for longer than absolutely necessary. He still doesn’t. But for some reason he just paid a man to install working outlets in his childhood home.
Stiles shows up two days later with a large box sticking out of the back of his Jeep with something Swedish written across it.
Derek frowns at it from the porch, letting Stiles drag it out of the car and thunk it down onto the dirt by himself. “What is that?”
“Put it together and find out. I gotta run meet my dad for dinner.”
“It’s new,” Derek says. Because he’d assumed all of the other crap Stiles kept leaving was either found on the side of the road or bought off Craigslist for maybe ten bucks. This thing is fresh from out of the warehouse.
“It’s Ikea.” Stiles shrugs, and then gets back in his Jeep and drives off.
What it is... is an entertainment center. It looks even more ridiculous in his living room than the rest of the furniture, all clean lines and sleek, modern surfaces. Derek kind of hates it, but can’t bring himself to say so aloud.
And the more he looks at it the more he starts to not hate it. Starts to realize that it might not necessarily be as gaudy or intrusive as he initially thought. It might even be... pleasant.
He buys his own TV before Stiles can. He really doesn’t know where the kid gets his money, and he doesn’t want to have to find out the hard way that Stiles’ college fund all went into furnishing a condemned building in the woods.
Derek prays that that’s the end of it, but isn’t really surprised when he’s about to go to bed one night only to be interrupted by the catastrophic sort of noises that usually signal Stiles’ arrival. When he gets downstairs he finds the boy sitting on the living room rug, earnestly hooking up a DVD player to the TV.
Stiles glances up at Derek’s entrance, then back down at what he’s doing. “Relax, I got it at the Goodwill. Fifteen bucks. You can even pay me back if you want.”
Derek doesn’t respond, just watches him until he finishes with a triumphant look on his face, like he’s managed to defeat some particularly diabolical enemy on the battlefield. Stiles turns everything on, stands up and holds out two DVD cases. “Pick your poison.”
Invader Zim volume one and Slither. Derek doesn’t recognize either of them so he doesn’t bother answering. He gives a put-upon sigh and sits down on the couch.
Stiles grins and puts in one of the DVD’s.
They watch for a couple of hours. It’s nice, in a weird sort of way. Stiles seems to have already watched these things a hundred times each, but his enthusiasm over certain scenes or lines is almost infectious to the point that Derek has to put a bit more effort than usual into not smiling and laughing along with him.
At one point he lets slip something close to a chuckle, and Stiles’ head turns on him sharply, eyes wide, like Derek Hale laughing is a sure sign of the apocalypse.
At around midnight Derek rises, tired, and tells him to get out.
Stiles rolls his eyes, but starts to collect his things without argument. At the door, he pauses and turns back around. “Hey. Was this... Was this okay?”
Derek quirks an eyebrow. “It was fine. Though you have strange taste in movies.”
“If by ‘strange’ you mean ‘awesome.’ And I wasn’t talking about... Whatever. I don’t know what I was talking about. I just get the feeling you’re only humoring me.”
“I am only humoring you.”
“Oh, well, fantastic. Glad we had this talk.”
“Humoring you is more than I would have done a month ago if you recall.”
Stiles thinks on this a moment. “Yeah. I guess that’s true.” Then he smirks. “Wanna humor me again tomorrow night? I’ve got Kids in the Hall.”
Derek doesn’t know how to take that. “The furniture I can almost understand. Almost. But I fail to see how biweekly movie nights fall into your little survival strategy.”
Stiles swallows and grabs the back of his neck. “Uh, well I was gonna keep it up with the home furnishings plan of attack, but then... I mean, look at this place. No amount of Crate and Barrel is gonna make this dump livable. So I figure... you’re leaving. It’s inevitable, isn’t it? Nothing I can do about it. You’ve got nothing keeping you here. But then I thought...” He gives a half-hearted, embarrassed shrug.
“You thought what?”
“I thought that I should just try to give you something that would keep you here. Like, I don’t know, a friend.”
Derek is a little stunned by this, but keeps his features hard. “A friend,” he repeats, monotone.
“...You don’t like me,” he says, confused as to why Stiles would need reminding.
“I sort of don’t like you,” Stiles says awkwardly. “But I used to really not like you. And before that I hated you. And before that I was terrified of you. So it seems like we’re moving in a generally upward direction here. Next stop: friendship. I could make a graph for you if it’ll help.”
Derek is at a loss for words so he resorts to his old standby, the icy glare.
Stiles’ breath hitches a little in fear, but he plays it off coolly. “So we on for tomorrow or what?”
Stiles snorts and opens the door to leave. “Liar.”
“If I find you on my doorstep with a DVD tomorrow night, Stiles, I will rip out your spleen.”
Stiles actually laughs at that, bounding off the porch to his car in the dark. “Yeah, okay. Let me know how that works out for ya.”
So they watch Kids in the Hall the next night.
A week later it’s Tremors. Then every episode of The Middleman. Then Starship Troopers and Apocalypse Now, which proves to be a strange combination.
Derek starts to wonder if the furniture and the electricity and the television set were all just an elaborate ruse to turn the place into Stiles’ own private movie theater.
When Derek wakes up on a Saturday morning to find that Stiles somehow slipped inside his home without him waking up and noticing (he is, apparently, getting far too used to the kid hanging out around here) and is now watching a DVD of Looney Tunes from his seat on the rug while eating a breakfast burrito, Derek figures it’s time to put his foot down.
“Get out,” he says, standing in the doorway half dressed and still a little bleary-eyed and sleep-tousled, so possibly he’s not as menacing as he’d prefer.
Stiles keeps his eyes on the TV screen and says around chewing. “Don’t worry, Captain Grumpy, I got you one too.” He motions with his head vaguely to the side, where sits a greasy brown paper bag. It smells fantastic and Derek is momentarily distracted. For a split second he actually considers sitting down cross-legged on the floor beside Stiles, eating the offered breakfast and watching Bugs Bunny all morning.
But obviously that can’t happen.
“I mean it, Stiles. I get what you’re trying to do, but it’s time to stop.”
Stiles finally turns his head to look up at Derek, scrambled eggs hanging precariously from out of the center of the tortilla and foil in his hands. His brow furrows in confusion but something in his eyes looks like it’s already braced for getting hurt. “What? Why? I got you a burrito.”
“And yes, fine, I’ll let you pick the next movie. You don’t have to get all dramatic about it.”
Stiles sets down his breakfast but doesn’t get up from off the floor. “No,” he says, jaw set in determination.
“You can’t say ‘no’ to this. This isn’t something you get a vote in.”
Stiles crosses his arms over his chest. “Well I’m not leaving.”
“You realize exactly how easily I could pick you up and literally throw you out the door, right?”
“Then I’ll just come right back in.”
“And I’ll just throw you out again. I wonder who’ll get tired of that game first.”
Stiles sputters and flails. “But, dude, you can’t just... I don’t understand. If I did something wrong tell me what it is and I’ll fix it.”
“You did nothing wrong, but we aren’t friends.”
“Sure we are. Did I tell you about the graph? I actually made a graph. I mean, I made it as a joke, but I thought you might get a kick out of it if I stuck it to your door or something one night.”
The sad thing is Derek probably would have gotten a kick out of it. It’s just that kind of irreverent and uniquely Stiles thing that would have made him bite back a smirk. Possibly even a smile.
But Derek pushes the thought to the very back of his mind where he stores all of those other things that if he let come to the front of his mind would only result in vulnerability. And Derek can’t afford vulnerability.
“Stiles, stop. We don’t like each other. That’s how it is. And even if you were to somehow insinuate yourself into my life as anything other than a nuisance, it wouldn’t make me stay in Beacon Hills for any longer than I was already planning to.”
Stiles swallows heavily. “So. You really are leaving.”
“’Eventually’ meaning soon.”
“I don’t see why not.”
“...Well fuck. I’m gonna die, aren’t I? I’m never gonna make it to college.”
“You’ll be fine. Just stop traipsing around the woods in the middle of the night.”
Stiles looks down at the abandoned burrito on the rug and is silent for a long moment. He licks his lips and blinks a few too many times, like he’s fighting back some renegade emotion. But, for all his enhanced senses, Derek can’t tell exactly what emotion it is.
“You don’t like me at all, huh?” Stiles asks, still not looking at him.
Derek sighs. “I like you fine. I wouldn’t have put up with you for this long if I didn’t. But that doesn’t make us friends.”
Stiles nods. “Alright.” And he stands up and heads out the door, leaving the food and the cartoons behind.
Derek feels bad about it for the next several days, but not bad enough to change his mind. Anyway, it’s a decent excuse to finally leave town. There’s no reason for him to be here anymore. The hunters are here and so are all the bad memories of his past and he doesn’t even have a pack to run since the only other werewolf in a hundred miles is Scott and Scott’s a stubborn little moron who wants nothing to do with anything that isn’t Allison Argent.
Derek gathers his things, all of which fit into a single duffle. He says a quick, silent goodbye to the ghosts of his family, and he heads out the door.
The couch is what stops him.
He huffs loudly, like he cannot believe himself right now, but then drops the duffle on the floor and heads into the living room one last time. He kicks at the rug absently and shoves the ottoman to the side. He watches the coffee table wobble with his steps, and then he sits down in the middle of the stupid green couch and stares at the Ikea entertainment center.
He stays there for a few minutes just letting himself idly wonder how the hell all of this stuff is supposed to add up to a “friendship.”
He tries to imagine what the graph would look like.
He sits there in silence for a solid hour before it hits him just how dense he’s been to think that a couch would be a key component in someone’s survival instinct.
Derek leaves then, but doesn’t take the duffle.
The Stilinski house is dark when he gets there. It’s too early for Stiles to be in bed, but the Jeep is parked out front so Derek wanders up to a second story window. Stiles lies on top of his bedding, fully clothed, headphones on, staring up at the dark ceiling. Occasionally he nods his head to the music or taps his fingers, but mostly he just frowns.
He doesn’t notice that he’s got company until Derek is standing literally right over him, at which point he flails backwards and hits his head on the wall.
Stiles tears his headphones off and throws them to the side angrily, out of breath from the sudden scare, and rubs his bruised skull. “Jesus Christ, man. Don’t do that.”
“Why did you get me a couch?” Derek asks without preamble.
Stiles stares at him like Derek’s insane. “What? Didn’t we already have this conversation? I was bored, couldn’t sleep, it was right there. Etcetera, etcetera. What are you even doing here anyway?”
“You got me a couch because you don’t want me to leave town.”
“Uh, right. We’ve had this conversation before too. You leaving town means no more cavalry to come bail my ass out of trouble. But you’re leaving anyway. And also we’re not friends. So, once more with feeling now, what are you doing here?”
“You don’t want me to leave town because you care about me.”
“Well sure, when I thought we were making progress in the friends department. But apparently we weren’t. And so I don’t. Care about you, I mean.”
“Yes you do. And you cared about me even before you tried to be my friend. That’s why you got me a couch.”
“I... Is not,” Stiles argues lamely.
Derek holds Stiles’ gaze and says in a tone that brooks no further argument. “I’m sorry that I didn’t get it until now.”
Stiles blinks, stunned into a brief silence. Then he takes in a shaky breath. “So does this mean you’re gonna stop being such a tool?”
Derek ignores the question. Says instead, “I was going to leave town today.”
Stiles practically jumps at this, limbs everywhere. “What? But... you can’t! What was the point of coming over here if you were just gonna take off? I thought...”
“You thought what?” Derek prods, wanting Stiles to say the words. Tell him he’s right about what he now suspects. He’s still worried he’s got it wrong. That this is just what “friendship” means. But it’s been so long since Derek’s experienced any form of relationship with another human being that it’s gotten all mixed up in his head to the point that vulnerability feels like a certainty now. Feels unavoidable.
Stiles struggles to find his voice, hands fighting with the air like maybe the right bit of sign language will magically form and tell Derek everything that Stiles doesn’t know how to with his vocal chords. Then he gets a determined look on his face, climbs off the bed and feels his way through the shadows over to his desk.
He pulls a piece of paper from out of a random notebook, unfolds it and squints through the dark to draw something on it. Then he turns around and hands it to Derek.
It’s a graph.
Derek stares at it for a long time, trying to decipher its meaning. The x-axis is marked in increments of time which he thinks are weeks, but Stiles’ chicken scratch would be hard to read even in broad daylight. The y-axis is just numbers, getting higher as they go up. A line goes steadily from coordinate (0, 0) diagonally towards the top, and is interrupted by small marks at varying points, 0 being “tried to make me cut off his arm.”
The last point, fairly high up, is labeled, “actually sat through all of The Middleman with me.”
But then the line keeps going on from there, in a new color of ink so Stiles must have just now added it, and then the line turns into an arrow to indicate that it might go on forever.
Derek looks back up at Stiles. “Cute,” he deadpans.
Stiles growls a little. He’s no werewolf, but his frustration is clear. “Don’t be a douche.”
“What does it mean then? The arrow?”
“What do you think it means? It means it goes on forever. If you want it to, anyway. I want it to. I want to have to sit down and make a new graph a month from now that could cover all four walls of this room.”
Derek kind of loses his breath.
“But I guess that won’t ever happen, will it?” Stiles continues. “Because you’re leaving. And even if you weren’t, we’re not friends. Right?”
Derek’s grip on the piece of paper tightens, crumpling the edges. It takes all of his willpower to meet Stiles’ eyes again. “...I’m not leaving.”
“You’re... not?” Stiles asks, wary. Overly-cautious of getting his hopes up, and who can blame him?
“No. But you’re right about the second part. We’re not friends.”
Stiles’ face falls so immediately, so tragically, that it’s like watching a time-lapse video of a child realizing Santa isn’t real. “Oh. Right. Okay.”
Derek steps forward and reaches one hand out to touch Stiles’ chin and lift his face up so that their eyes can meet again. “’Friends’ doesn’t really cover it is what I’m saying. We’re not friends, Stiles. We’re... this arrow. We’re something with a label that always changes. Something that doesn’t ever stop. It just keeps going.”
Stiles looks like he’s about to pass out from the sheer force of his emotions, but somehow the little twerp still manages to breathily joke, “Bet you say that to all the girls.”
Derek rolls his eyes and kisses him.
Derek hasn’t kissed a single living soul in far far too long. Unless you count getting licked and tortured by Kate, which he doesn’t. And so, even though he initiated the damn thing, there is a moment at the start, when their lips first touch, where he’s just as lost as Stiles seems to be.
Luckily his body knows how this is supposed to work even if his brain doesn’t yet remember. He fists a hand in Stiles’ shirt, crushing the graph between them. He licks his way into Stiles’ mouth, forceful but not quite violent, until he can feel that particular heat of the inside of another person all around his tongue as if it were all around his whole body.
Stiles tastes like summer; like cut grass and team sports and lake water. He tastes like boy; like spearmint toothpaste and the blunt end of a chewed ballpoint and the hint of something metallic. He tastes like energy and youth and everything the wolf in Derek never even knew it wanted.
They only pull away once they’re out of breath. Or, rather, once Stiles is out of breath, but Derek’s close enough.
Derek wishes he could tell him how much it all means, most significantly how much Stiles just caring means. Because having someone just give a shit about him feels like some sort of fucking miracle.
But it’s not in Derek’s nature to say such things aloud, and anyway he’s not sure the words even exist. Not adequate enough ones at any rate.
So he just knocks his forehead gently against Stiles’ and lets it rest there. Smirks a little. Lets it turn into a smile. And he says the only thing he can think of that might get the point across.
“Thank you for the couch, Stiles.”