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Stiles wasn't entirely sure when it all started. It was the kind of thing that had just crept up on him, added to itself in incremental stages, a little here and a little there, until one day it was just kind of there in its entirety. It had constructed itself out of a crooked smile, an afternoon of laughter, fingers on the small of his back to guide him through a crowd. It had built up through an excess of kindness, even when he hadn't deserved it, maybe especially when he hadn't deserved it, a loyalty that had never wavered.
It was also the kind of thing that seemed like a natural progression, just the way things were supposed to be. Everyone fell in love with Scott McCall after a while. Frankly, it was mostly a surprise that it had taken him so long.
It was just one of those things, something to be tucked away and to remain unacknowledged because Scott, Stiles was sure, had never looked at him in that way. He couldn't blame Scott for that, either. It was another universal truth. Just like the fact that everyone fell in love with Scott's easy honesty and candid nature, no one fell in love with Stiles' sharp-edged deceitfulness and evasive sarcasm. He was almost coming to become comfortable with the notion, and he certainly wouldn't ever push Scott about it. Their friendship was sacred enough to keep his silence. Some secrets weren't meant to be shared even with your best friend.
Even when your best friend was unintentionally torturous about it, lingering in the locker room after lacrosse games with his shirt off and the sweat slowly drying on his collarbone, pooling in the hollow of his throat, where Stiles wanted to dip his tongue in like he'd done once, with puddles of Pixy Stix dust and packages of Fun Dip. His mind immediately latched onto the analogy and he couldn't help himself, he spent two full days thinking of that space on his best friend's skin as Scott's Fun Dip and wondering what flavor it was.
Another of life's mysteries that Stiles was frustratingly destined to never know the answer to. He'd thought about asking Kira, once, but after she's delicately informed Scott and then the entire pack that she was probably asexual and that she loved them all, very deeply, especially Scott—because everyone fell in love with Scott McCall—she didn't want that kind of relationship, Stiles thought it was probably classless to actually ask. At least, that was what he was sure he'd be told, if he'd asked, and he was slowly growing to believe that life was easier if he didn't antagonize the few people in the world who could put up with him. Unless he meant to antagonize them. It was a fine line. A fine line that probably didn't involve him knowing what Scott's Fun Dip tasted like.
God, he needed to stop calling it a Fun Dip, even in the privacy of his own mind.
Stiles realized he was really in deep one day, a few weeks later, when he couldn't pull his eyes away from Scott's hands as they fussed with food in the cafeteria line. It was such a completely mundane, terribly uninteresting activity, but still Stiles couldn't help the angle his thoughts took, wondering mutely what Scott's hands would look like contrasted against the skin of his own stomach or shiny-slick with something other than the thin treacle left behind in the wake of unholy green substance the school wanted to pass off as Jello. (More like Hell-o, Stiles had said once, in seventh grade, and the name had stuck even when they'd switched schools and transitioned from 'middle' to 'high'.) He hadn't even noticed how he'd been wetting his lips over and over until Scott leaned in, all concern and electric blanket warmth, asking if Stiles was thirsty.
Oh, was he. But Scott was most definitely not going to be providing the relief Stiles so craved. Not this time.
It was just another thing he could add to the endless and endlessly growing pile of 'things' that would pop up at random like groundhogs and try to distract his train of thought. It was a hazard field his tracks had been laid over, and it wasn't as if his particular train was the most sturdy, although the Adderall did shore it up in pieces. Stiles was well used, at this point, to his mental dialogue suddenly making a hard left into new territory, he'd learned long ago how to prevent from dragging those around him along for the directional changes when he didn't care to. The particular neighborhood he was finding himself in lately was new, but even the results of it he'd been coping with since he hit puberty. The object of his affection may have shifted, but his body's general willingness to be ready to go at any time and any place, despite a lack of people to go with, hadn't budged an inch.
So he dealt with it. He dealt with it in the shower and just before bed and twice on game days when he could manage it, although timing things in a busy high school was a challenge and he'd had at least one too-close call involving a stall in the third floor men's room and a natural predisposition to make noise. Or noises, plural. Many of them. Loudly. Basically, he'd figured out that trying to squeeze one out in secret in a public space was a privilege for other people, who weren't Stiles 'Oh Jesus, Fuck Me, Fuck Me, Holy God Yes' Stilinski.
It was just one of the many burdens he had to bear, like bearing the weight of the awareness of how devastatingly attractive his best friend had become. It wasn't like Stiles was going to stop being Scott's best friend just because Scott looked cripplingly good in a tanktop. (And he did mean cripplingly, it made his knees weak, it made him dizzy how good Scott looked in that black tanktop and Stiles was relatively certain that was only partly due to how often his blood was rushing down between his legs. At the very least he'd gotten plenty of practice learning how to operate with his brain at low capacity.)
Stiles' obstinate insistence on maintaining his status as Scott's Best Friend (TM) was, in fact, how he'd found himself at the quote-unquote party of the semester, for once not being thrown by Lydia Martin. Parties weren't exactly Stiles' 'thing' at all, let alone his favorite thing, but Scott had been invited in his capacity as lacrosse Captain and Stiles refused to abandon him to a night full of strangers and untrustworthy people. It was a sacred duty. He'd showered and shaved and put on a decent shirt and let Scott ride shotgun across town to the house of the girl hosting. He'd been told probably three times in the last twenty-four hours who she was and why he was supposed to remember her but Stiles couldn't be assed, especially when confronted with Scott's ass. It didn't really matter, because hardly anyone at the party was going to acknowledge his presence as anything more than mandatory, the fee that the social crowd had to pay to get to Scott.
A beer and a half into the night, Stiles was brought to the sudden realization that he'd misplaced his alpha by a ripple of laughter that flowed thick through the air to him from an adjoining room. Scott's voice was pinned in the center like the axle of a carousel, steady but having a lot less fun than everyone else around him, and Stiles frowned, bullying the door open with his shoulder to make his way through the river of sound and investigate. After all. Best friend. Couldn't abandon his buddy to even levity alone.
Most of the party attendees had gathered in a loose circle in the living room, gathered on the floor and in laps to make up for the fact that there weren't nearly enough chairs to go around. Too many butts and not enough chairs. Scott wasn't exactly in the center of the group, which was a little bit of a regression for Scott, but he was included, which was something Stiles could not have said for himself. He was smiling, maddeningly relaxed in a crowd of people he didn't know, and Stiles spent the next few moments trying to decide if Scott was legitimately the main source of light in the room. He couldn't quite keep from looking at the place where Scott's mouth pulled up into a dimple, like he could get lost in that dimple, fall through it into the secrets of El Dorado. There was a wealth of lost Spanish gold in the sunshine of Scott McCall's smile.
Three rounds of the game passed before it occurred to Stiles that the rest of the people in the room were playing Truth or Dare.
He'd never really seen the point in the game, but that was probably because Stiles had always approached life in the macro as an enormous game of truth or dare. When he chose to be honest, usually for effect, it was brutally honest, cannonball honesty, designed to barrel right through the broadside of someone else's mind and leave it full of holes. It was the most effective kind of barrage, because as rarely as he found himself standing on it, the moral high-ground and the rectitude of being able to say he'd told the truth had its own deep sort of satisfaction. Likewise, it didn't need to be a special witching hour or party game for Stiles to take up the noble mantle of a dare. He didn't even need to actually be dared. Impulsive behavior was a core part of his being, worked into the fiber of him, he was the one who took risks so that Scott could remain the steady foundation of everything that really mattered in this town. Stiles didn't require peer pressure or liquid courage, and with now almost two full beers in his system, didn't possess enough external awareness to understand why other people might.
Still, the game could be enlightening, and if Stiles could manage to be quiet and still for five minutes, he might learn something useful, to be tucked into the utility belt of his mind and examined later in the Batcave. He should totally start calling his room the Batcave. He put a pin in that idea too.
There was a blonde girl with blue eyes too big for her face—Stiles thought she might be the actual host of the party but he wasn't certain—who was turning to face Scott where he sat folded up near the coffee table. There was something devious about her expression, a look that Stiles felt like he should probably be able to recognize, probably would be able to recognize if he wasn't so far into tipsy. Her eyes flicked towards Stiles himself, and then back to Scott, and her voice purred in obsequious way that was not at all a match for how high-pitched it was. “Mmmm, McCall, you haven't had a turn yet. Truth or dare.”
Stiles settled his shoulders back against the wall, eyes hooding. Scott would pick truth. Scott always picked truth. He picked truth even when there was no game being played, no social pressure leaning on him to do it except for his own moral compass. The only real problem was that Scott would occasionally give truths that belonged to other people. The only real problem was Scott's voice, warm and rich in the room, saying, “Dare.”
That was the point at which the world started to tilt dangerously to the side.
Intrigued and taken off-guard by Scott's deviation from his pattern, Stiles' eyes fluttered open again and he straightened, pushing off of the wall with his shoulders. He didn't exactly feel focused, but he was trying despite that, fixing his eyes on Scott's face and all but ignoring the girl from whence the dare was to be coming.
Which turned out to be a mistake, because her voice floated over like it was made of wet gauze, saying, “Okay. Since you couldn't even be separated from him long enough to come to the party alone, I dare you to make out with your buddy Stilinski.”
Stiles' swiftly-tilting planet upended completely and all of his mind's crockery shattered on the floor.
Even partly drunk, it was too much of a lie for Stiles to try and make himself believe that he'd never thought of it. He thought too much of it, he thought about it all the time, every moment that his mind could get away with sparing for it. Scott's uneven face in his hands, breath hot along his neck, voice sweet in Stiles' ear. Hands on his shoulders, his hip, down the length of his spine, pressing fingertips into his skin. He thought about Scott's lips on his own, fingers in his hair, he did so much thinking about it. The problem was that he was certain Scott had never done a moment of thinking about it.
But then it was out in the open, it was there, laid bare, tied down to the sacred altar of teenager truth or dare, wrapped around Stiles' heart, and Scott was the one looming up over it, athame in his hand.
It was a casual cruelty, an unintentional kind, the only kind Scott knew how to use, that brought that ritual dagger down right through the center of it all.
“No.” Scott's voice was solid and heavy, a concrete block dropped through the floor and dragging Stiles with it. He should have remembered that Scott's marriage to convention was one of convenience and that even Scott McCall could call it off if he felt the need. Blood rushed heavy in Stiles' ears, drowning out anything but the sound of Scott's voice, the borderline disgust and absolute certainty in the way he said, “Absolutely not, no. I take it back, truth instead.”
Stiles didn't need any more of Scott's truths. He'd had enough of them, right there, in those two hateful little letters. Choking on his own sound of distress so that it wouldn't hatch into the room instead, he pushed free of the wall entirely and shoved himself around the corner, out of the room.
Out of the hall. Out of the house. Out of the sudden sound of concern in Scott's voice, echoing his name behind him.
“Stiles, what the hell.”
He'd known this would happen eventually. He'd known that Scott would catch up eventually, and it wasn't really like Stiles had gone to ground being that he'd immediately retreated to his own room and locked the door and window. The knowledge that he couldn't hide from the consequences forever didn't make him any happier about them. He burrowed his head in under his pillow and didn't say a word.
“You left me at that party! You were my ride! I had to walk home! It was like eight miles! Eight miles, dude!”
Stiles scrunched his face up against the fabric of his sheets and crammed the pillow down over his ears.
“Stiles, I know you're in there, I can hear you breathing.”
He sucked in his breath and held it for a slow ten count as if that was going to change anything at all.
“Okay, I can hear your heartbeat, dude, come on. Just let me in and let's talk about whatever happened.”
The breath exploded back out of Stiles' lungs in a humorless bark of a laugh. “You already know what happened, Scott.”
“Actually, no, I don't, I have no idea, you just left, Stiles, come on, let me in.”
Stiles was almost certain he could hear the sound of Scott rolling his eyes. “Okay, if you don't let me in I'm going to go get a screwdriver and take the door off of its hinges and come in anyway.”
Groaning, Stiles dug his head out from underneath the pillow, staring incredulously at the door. He could just imagine Scott, the perfect picture of his lean body, the way his eyebrows wrinkled as he leaned in towards the door and tried to talk Stiles into opening it up. He rammed the heel of one hand into the corner of his eye, trying to chase the mental image away before it broke his resolve. “No, you won't, that's a me thing. We both know it's a me thing.”
There was a muffled thud which Stiles thought was probably Scott's forehead hitting the door gently. “And those years of watching you get us into trouble was not for naught, bro. Something is clearly wrong, and no matter how stubborn you try to be about this, I'm not going away until I know what's wrong, and if that means taking your door off of its hinges, well, it's a little off-center anyway and I'll just fix it while it's down.”
That seemed to be Scott's general modus operandi. Fixing things while they were too broken to protest. Wrapped around that particular realization was the secondary idea that Stiles wasn't going to be able to win this fight. Scott let him win most of them, but when it came down to matters like this, Scott had the patience of mountains, while Stiles was about as stable as the tides. So, like the tides, he gave in. He extricated himself from his bed and got up to unlock the door.
Scott opened the door tentatively as Stiles immediately returned to his bed, flinging himself face-down against the pillow. He heard the door close quietly and moments later the edge of his mattress dipped with Scott's weight. “Okay. So now's the part where you tell me what the hell is wrong.”
“Nothing's wrong.” Stiles muttered into the pillow. If he squeezed his eyes shut, he could pretend for about four seconds that he wasn't aware of Scott sitting next to him, magnetizing all of his insides until they felt pressed against one side of his body, crowded into his shoulder and his hip and all the places they shouldn't be.
“Stiles,” Scott sighed, and it was definitely a good thing that Stiles wasn't looking at his stupid puppy face and the wounded-worried way he must have been holding his features. “Something's wrong. Don't lie to me. I know you're not always the most thoughtful guy but I'm not gonna believe for a second that you would have left me in a stranger's house eight miles from anything without a good reason. So, what is it? Are you hurt?”
If only Scott knew. “No.”
“Is it your Dad, is he okay?”
The mattress creaked as Scott scooted further back onto it, trying to see Stiles' face. “Then what is it, Stiles? What's wrong?”
Stiles was determined not to let his face show, or to expose his grimace of near-pain to the mercies of Scott's enormous capacity to fret. “I don't wanna talk about it.”
“Oh, we're gonna talk about it. After an eight mile walk of shame, you owe me that much.”
And he did, really. Even Stiles had to admit that abandoning Scott without a ride home was pretty close to the edge of the pale of his own bad behavior. There was no real excuse for having done it, no explanation he could give that encompassed a why and his deviation from his already deviated norm except for the truth. He didn't want to admit the truth. He wanted to leave it behind, bury it in the roots of the Nemeton, and run as far from it as he could get. This was the last truth he wanted to embrace, which of course meant it was also the last truth he'd be able to run from.
Scott could be so annoying when he put his teeth to the idea that he could be doing more to care for someone.
“Fine.” Stiles spat the word straight into his pillow, which of course meant it snapped right back into his face. If he couldn't ignore it entirely, he'd weaponize it.“Fine, you wanna know. I'll tell you. It was you. You were the problem.”
There had been a hand reaching for him, maybe to run its fingers maddeningly platonically along his spine, or maybe just to try and save him from drowning in his pillow. Stiles knew it had been moving in his direction because he felt it when Scott froze in place, voice sounding suddenly rough and broken. “...what?”
He couldn't do it. He just couldn't do it. Stiles didn't even have to turn over and look at Scott's face to fear his sudden heartbreak, and the atrophied little kernel of conscience in the pit of his stomach started to spasm. If it had been anyone else, Stiles was certain that he'd have been able to crush it, or maybe that it wouldn't have even bothered to move at all, but Scott was the exception to nearly every rule Stiles had tried to set up in the kingdom of his own mind. To have Scott be upset, to have injured Scott by his own hand, especially to have it be even the least part intentional—Stiles couldn't have that.
It was better to drive the dagger up behind his own ribs.
Stiles rolled over on his own volition, bumping up into Scott's frozen hand as he did. It knocked Scott's hand away like ice skidding under the fridge, but Stiles ignored it. He propped himself up against the headboard of his own bed, wedging his pillow downwards with the mass of his body. “Yeah, I didn't—I didn't mean it like that.” Even if he kind of had, in five seconds of indiscretion, like the way he lived his whole life, little thrashing indiscretions that he regretted later when he couldn't undo those knots even with the most clever of his fingers. “It's just...this is going to screw everything up. I don't want to talk about it, can we just forget about it?”
Scott frowned, and Stiles couldn't look straight on at it. He leaned in towards Stiles, tucking his head downwards and trying to make eye contact that Stiles was absolutely desperate to avoid. “No. Stiles, I can't just forget it. I can't ignore that you're upset and I especially can't ignore that I'm the one who made you upset and don't even know what I did wrong. Come on. Whatever it is, we can talk about it.”
There was no escaping from it. Stiles leaned forward and dug his fingers down into his hair, closing off his face from Scott while he opened up his chest instead and let Scott reach inside as he see fit to wrap his warm fingers around Stiles' heart. “...Scott. I like you. I like you. Okay? Yeah, like that. But you're my best friend, and I know you don't feel about me that way, and I don't want you to think being your friend isn't enough, 'cause it is, it's more than enough, it's so enough. I need your friendship more than I want...something else. So I didn't say anything, 'cause it was easier and it was better that way, and I thought maybe that'd be fine and eventually I'd just get over it and...” He sucked another breath into his lungs, trying not to let his mouth pull down too sharply along its corners and distort his words. “...that was fine, except then we were in that stupid room and the stupid girl dared you to make out with me and suddenly it was just right there and I couldn't even not look at it any more and you were looking at it too and you sounded so disgusted. And I knew, man, I knew you didn't want...but just having my nose rubbed in it...it was too much, Scott. It was too much. So I had to get out, and just kind of went.”
It was then, for the second time that night, that Scott so casually crushed Stiles' heart beneath the weight and breadth of his honesty, his fond, sympathetic exasperation. “Stiles. That's it? That's what was wrong? That's what I had to walk eight miles over?”
Anger rolled in over Stiles' mind like a killing fog. He tried to back away from Scott, to get out of his orbit and the sun-surface heat of his presence, but there was no space to move backwards into and the headboard rattled against the wall like hailstones. “That's it? I spill my freaking guts to you and all you have to say is that's it? Like it's nothing? It's just nothing to you? Am I just nothing to you, or the idea that I might have feelings some kind of fucking joke, or...I can't—you know what, no. I'm not doing this. I'm too drunk to do this and now I'm pissed, too, so why don't you just take yourself home and forget I did another asshole thing in a long line of asshole things and just--”
Scott lifted one hand and pressed it against the furious hinge of Stiles' jaw, maintaining enough pressure to make it clear he wanted Stiles to just be quiet for a few minutes. Defiance surged through Stiles' already-crowded chest and he had to spend his time fighting with the impulse to bite Scott's wrist just to make him go away and stop making him feel so electrified, every piece of him so wired that Stiles couldn't even tell if it was a good sensation or a bad one. “No, Stiles. That isn't what I meant. That isn't what I meant at the party and that isn't what I meant just now. Let me explain. Please. And then you can decide if you're still pissed at me.”
He wanted to refuse Scott the privilege. He wanted to throw his stupid, earnest face out right on its ear and deafen himself to all of Scott's reasonable objections and honest worry. He wanted to be divorced from these proceedings and unburdened by the very feelings Scott seemed to find so laughable. But he couldn't. Like with everything else, Stiles found it impossible to deny Scott. The best he could manage was a sullen, angry silence, locking his jaw against the feel of Scott's warm, broad palm against his skin. It was harder to lock his mind against the inaccessible notion of that broad palm elsewhere on his body.
“I don't want you to think that this means I'm not pissed at you for driving drunk, because I definitely am, and I don't want you to think this means I don't think it was a dick move to leave me behind at that party, because it definitely was. But...” Scott leaned in a little, halving the distance that Stiles had tried so hard to establish, eyes locked on his friend's eyes. “Whatever disgust you thought you heard in my voice was your imagination. I definitely, definitely don't think the idea of you having feelings for me or the idea of acting on them is disgusting. The thing was, if we were gonna do anything, if we were gonna have our first kiss, I wasn't gonna let it be in such a cheap way like that.”
All of the air sucked out of Stiles' lungs like he'd been suddenly jettisoned into the vacuum of space. He let his mouth drop open, trying to work the words through it. When they finally came, they were raspy, grated into shreds by the tightness in his throat. “...what? Scott, I...”
Scott smiled, concern still laid out over the deep chocolate of his eyes. “If we're gonna have a first kiss, I want it to be special. I want it to be for us, and because we wanted it, not because we were forced into it because of some stupid party game.”
Stiles' world had lost all gravity. He was floating into the sun, staring straight into its face and knowing it was going to consume him one way or the other. “...Scott...but you...you're...”
“Surprised that you never said anything about being into me until today? A little. Shocked that you did it in the absolute most dramatic way possible, a way that could have resulted in harm to yourself? Not at all.” Scott's eyebrows smoothed out of their puppy-dog wrinkle only to angle upwards. “I've known you for a long time, dude. You're not nearly as ineffable as you think you are.”
“I was gonna say 'straight'.”
Scott's laugh was equal parts salvation and damnation. “...not even a little bit, pal. Don't look so shocked. You never asked. You just assumed.”
There was no escaping the heat pouring off of Scott's skin, the warmth starting to suffuse deep into Stiles' bones and light them up like dry kindling, because Stiles has always been dry and ready for burning. He couldn't think of what words were left to say, which ones might be the right ones since all of his words were too busy rattling through ricochets off of the sides of his skull. His only recourse was to surrender to the sun. Stiles' eyes slid down the surface of Scott's face, locking onto his lips and the broad, uneven set of them and their perfect kissable pout and fuck it all. He leaned in, he dove down, he submerged himself in the fire.
Scott met him halfway.
There were Scott's plush lips pressed against his own. There was Scott's hand, coming up to push its fingers through the hair at the back of Stiles' head and there was Scott, changing the angle slightly and oh. There was the click, the fasten, and the spark inside the tinderbox of Stiles' heart. It traveled down from his mouth as he swallowed it, the fire and the wanting, spread out through his chest and settled deep in the pit of his stomach and all Stiles knew, all he really knew in that one dizzy moment, was that he needed more. His voice bubbled up between them, popping like a soap shimmer, and he pressed forwards, making contact at the shoulder, at the chest, at the hip, trying to make all contact with all of Scott as fast as possible. Scott's tongue swept across his mouth and Stiles immediately let it inside, without thinking, because allowing Scott access to all of his tender, molten pieces was something he'd done without thinking for years.
By the time he pulled back, Stiles was shivering, like he'd swallowed a piece of the sun and the rest of him couldn't compare to the warmth now surrounding his heart. He blinked, trying to clear his vision, but no matter how many times he did, all he saw in front of him was Scott's face, features swept upwards in a content smile. His breath wheezed as it escaped his lungs, taking his voice with it. “...was...was that still cheap?”
Scott's smile intensified, in an unfair way, because things that perfect shouldn't be able to get more perfect, and Stiles had a moment of clairvoyance, an awareness that Scott was about to say an impossibly sappy thing right before he said it. “...no, that was priceless.”
Whatever tension, magical or otherwise, that had suspended itself between them as they'd pulled apart from the kiss broke and dissipated into motes of light. Stiles laughed, shaking his head, and reached up to plant his entire palm on the span of Scott's face and shove him backwards. “You nerd.”
“But we can do it again, right?”