"I should fire you."
The words are good-natured, almost joking, but Derek can't stop the trickle of fear that snakes down his spine. Henry, his boss, jokes about this a little too frequently for Derek's comfort.
"Nobody would come to the shop anymore," he jokes back, eyes trained on the espresso machine in front of him. "You know what really works on your clientele." Derek shoots Henry a sunny, fake grin.
Henry snorts and shuts the register, moving on to the next one. "It sure ain't your sunny disposition."
Ah. This again. Henry is forever trying to get Derek to lighten up. Derek insists that he doesn't need to be lighter with the patented Hale good looks on his side.
"Whatever keeps the co-eds coming back," Derek replies as he moves on to the next machine. "You know it's not because of the coffee."
"In all seriousness," Henry says, chuckling, "I'm thinking about hiring someone new to do your job..."
"And giving you mine."
Derek gapes at him. Sure, Henry's getting on in years, but Derek had assumed that his boss would keep coming in and closing up until the day he died.
"...a raise of course, as well as a shiny new name tag. Waddaya say? Wanna be Java Hut's new manager?"
He's suddenly struck by a vivid, overwhelming, terrifying mental image: himself at seventy, handing over the keys to a faceless twenty-something. His life wasn't supposed to be like this; he had plans, dreams and goals that didn't include raging fires and over-priced espresso. He wanted to be an engineer, a thinker, a doer, and instead he spends five days a week slinging coffee at bright-eyed kids while ignoring every girl who comes in and tries to pick him up. He realizes he's been wiping the same steaming wand for five minutes and Henry's looking at him expectantly. He opens his mouth to say no— no way, I don't wanna be like you, I want to go and be something and matter to someone, I want to get out of this shitty town and make a name for myself, I don't want to be stuck here forever —but what comes out is,
"If I get to help pick the new hire."
Henry beams at him and Derek can practically hear the deadbolt sliding home. This is his life now.
He comes in a lot, the kid. Derek likes to think he's not a creeper, but there's just something that keeps him watching. Kid's name is Stiles, but Derek can't tell if it's a last name or a first name; it’s what that freckled guy calls him when they come in to get coffee before class. Stiles (and Derek kind of hopes it's his first name; it suits him) is tallish and skinnyish and cute in an excited-puppy-that-never-stops-talking way. Derek feels like he knows way more about Stiles' life than he should, because seriously, Stiles never stops talking .
Today he's got a shorter kid with him. Derek pretends he doesn't notice that this kid—with his floppy hair and crooked jaw—is sitting far closer to Stiles than Freckle Face does. Or that Stiles seems real happy today. Or that...
Derek sighs. He's such an idiot.
Derek knows it's stupid, but he can't help liking the way Stiles says his name.
"Yeah?" Stiles is at the counter, baggy shirt loose around the collar. He's grinning at Derek, eyes bright. His friend is still at the table, poring over the textbook in front of him.
"So listen, my friend Scott is having a rough time in his mechanics class and I was wondering if you could help him out?"
Derek blinks. "You what?"
"If you could..." Stiles' smile is starting to slip. "I mean, I know you're good with cars—"
"How?" Dammit, his voice is rougher than he intends and he watches Stiles deflate a tiny bit more.
"I just, um, you helped my friend's girlfriend with her car? Like three months ago?"
"Oh... oh yeah. Um, I'm working?" That wasn't supposed to be a question. "But if you guys can hang out for an hour, I'm off at six?" That either. What is it about this kid?
"Yeah, sounds great!" Stiles turns back to the table, and then spins around to the counter again. "You wouldn't happen to have any past-date pastries you could sell me cheap, would you?" Stiles whispers as he leans across the counter. He smells kind of good, like berries and brown sugar and old books. "I skipped lunch because Scott was having some kind of existential life crisis and I'm starving ."
Grinning a little, Derek reaches under the pastry case and pulls out the plastic container they keep the old stuff in. It's full of bagels and muffins and scones and at the end of the day, a guy from the college comes in and takes them to the Salvation Army. He sets the tub in front of Stiles and waves his hand. "On the house, kid."
The look Stiles shoots him is worth any shit he might get from Henry later.
Turns out Stiles' friend isn't stupid, just genuinely bad with cars, which is something Derek can work with. For an hour and a half, he works with Scott and tries not to watch Stiles take notes on Dostoevsky. Stiles proves to be extremely distracting, and after a while Derek gives Scott a complicated set of problems, leans back in his chair, fingers laced behind his head, and openly watches Stiles.
Stiles is... interesting. He's never still, ever. Some part of him is always twitching, be it fingers, feet, or lips. He seems to constantly forget how short his hair is and has tried to shove a pencil behind his ear for the third time in fifteen minutes. His teeth are white and even, a little big in the pretty bow of his mouth. Derek doesn't often let himself think about Stiles' mouth, but he can't help it; the kid never closes it. Even now when he's staring down at a fresh sheet of paper, his mouth is open, parted like he was mid-word and forgot how to speak.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Derek sees Scott watching him. He doesn't say anything; Scott nods and goes back to his notebook and Stiles lets out a huge sigh. He checks his watch—a bulky silver thing that's slightly too big for him but still so very Stiles—and sighs again.
"You sigh a lot," Derek says, letting his eyes slip closed before Stiles looks up and catches him staring at the soft-looking skin of Stiles' neck.
"I have work in ten minutes," Stiles says. "You'd sigh a lot too if you had my job."
"I work at Hot Topic, and no, you are not allowed to judge me."
"Stiles, I'm twenty-seven and I work in a coffee shop," Derek says, opening his eyes. Scott is watching them from under his lashes and Stiles is packing up, not even looking at him. ”No judgements here.”
"Dude, are you kidding? I'd love to work here."
"Yeah! Free coffee, and it's right by my dorm? Man, it's practically a dream job. Much better than selling shitty merchandise to kids with bad taste in music."
"Well," Derek starts, waiting until Stiles is looking at him. This is a capital-B Bad Idea but, "We're hiring right now if you want to come back in on Tuesday and apply?"
For a brief second, it looks like Stiles is going to hug him. Derek is blown away by how little he minds the idea of it. As it is, Stiles keeps up a constant stream of grateful chatter as he pushes in his chair, hugs Scott with one arm and heads towards the door. He shouts, "See you Tuesday!" over his shoulder and disappears.
Derek stares at the empty doorway until Scott taps his elbow with a pencil.
"I hate to be an asshole, but can we get through this? I really don't want to fail."
Derek suppresses a sigh and buries himself in diagrams of alternators and fuel injection flow charts for another forty-five minutes.
He tries (and mostly fails) not to think about Stiles the entire time.
Derek spends his weekend alone. He’s okay with it. Mostly.
He watches the news, flipping to sports any time a story concerning fire splashes across the screen. He orders enough Chinese food to last three days and doesn't talk to anyone but the woman on the phone and the delivery girl. He thinks about getting a puppy, going so far as to get in the shower so he can go pick one out before he remembers that he lives in an apartment and that puppies tend grow into dogs. He doesn't have room for a dog. He accidentally catches a Jersey Shore marathon and entertains the idea of dating, just in general. He's not thinking about anyone in particular, just about how nice it would be to have someone around.
He doesn't think about dating and Stiles.
And if he does...
Well, he doesn't.
He sits on his balcony, pack of cigarettes in one hand, and thinks about picking the habit up again. The smokes go unsmoked, but he leaves the half-empty pack on the table anyway. He works out a lot, pushups and situps and pull ups and squats and a million other things he hated in high school, but he can do them all in his house without having to leave. He takes another shower and doesn’t bother getting dressed before falling into bed and yanking the stack of quilts up to his chin. He doesn't really like to run the heater and sometimes when it gets cold he can’t tell if it’s the air or his bones. He hopes it’s the air, but when it takes him several hours to fall asleep, sometimes he thinks the cold just lives in his bones.
When he wakes up on Tuesday, he doesn't spend an extra forty minutes picking out jeans and styling his hair and staring at his face, trying to decide if he should shave or not. Because it doesn't matter that the jeans he picked fit him like a glove or that his shirt is the perfect compliment to the breadth of his shoulders. It doesn't matter because Derek doesn't want anything. He hasn't really let himself want anything or anyone in a long time.
It never ends well.
One thing he does let himself want is coffee, so when he finally gets to work, he fixes himself a medium Americano and contemplates the benefits of a caffeine IV drip. Henry grunts a greeting, but otherwise ignores him in favor of some pretty terrifying bookkeeping. He absolutely does not spend the first half hour of his shift watching the door like a hawk.
Okay, so maybe he does.
Which is why he's so surprised when he turns to help the next customer and it's Stiles. Stiles, who normally subscribes to the jeans-and-t-shirts way of life, is currently wearing a crisp white shirt and a skinny silver tie under a navy blue blazer with the sleeves rolled up a little. Stiles literally looks good enough to eat. His brain sputters a little, but his voice is steady when he asks, "Stiles, right?" Cool as the proverbial cucumber.
"The one and only," Stiles says with a wide grin. "Still looking to hire?"
Derek nods. "Let me start you a drink and then I'll grab the boss."
"No, it's okay. I don't really have — "
"On the house," Derek cuts him off, pulling a medium hot cup off the stack by the register. "What's your poison?"
Stiles rattles off a long, ridiculous combination that sounds absolutely appalling to Derek's black-coffee-and-espresso-only soul, and sits at a table while he waits for it. Derek calls Henry out as he finishes the drink, securing a top neatly over an offensive amount of whipped cream. He hands Henry the cup and promises himself he won’t watch the entire interview. Deciding that now is a perfect time to reorganize the menu board, Derek grabs a step-ladder and ignores Henry and Stiles. Mostly.
Twenty minutes later, Stiles has a new job and Derek has a reason to see him four to eight hours a day, five days a week.
Derek wonders if he can trick himself into being less excited about this.
" — and then I told her that I didn't care how attractive she was, she was gonna do her own damn half of the project or I was gonna be that guy and snitch. She didn't actually do anything and she got a D and I got a B so, ah! Shit — "
Derek isn't at all surprised to see Stiles hastily mopping up steamed milk. Again. Stiles looks up at him, sheepish, and shrugs.
"You know..." Derek starts.
"Yeah, yeah. Only one machine is automatic. I know, I know. I just..."
"Forget which is which?"
Derek shrugs. "You'll get used to it."
Stiles nods and grabs the 2% from the fridge under the counter, starting the drink over. So far, Derek's been vaguely impressed with Stiles' inherent barista abilities. Stiles took to the syrup-shot system so quickly, Derek's almost jealous; it took Derek five weeks to learn what Stiles has perfected in two.
They work well together; Stiles has this infectious laugh and Derek smiles more now than he ever did. Their sales are up and the best part is that they're not even trying. Derek just feels better with Stiles around. Stiles has either has no concept of personal space or chooses to eschew the entire ideal because he stands too close and frequently touches everyone and at first Derek was thrown off completely but now he craves it, craves every tiny brush of skin against his.
"So I was thinking — "
"Shut up, I was thinking we should hang out this weekend."
Derek means to reply, really he does, but whatever it is that takes thoughts and turns them to words must be broken because he just stares at Stiles with his mouth open.
"I mean, for all I know, you live here, sleeping with the syrups and never escaping that old-milk smell. And that's just too tragic to contemplate. So do you wanna hang out? We could grab a pizza and watch a movie or play Call of Duty or something. My roommate has a huge TV — way too big for our dorm, but whatever — and the mini-fridge is stocked pretty much all the time. Sounds good, right?"
His smile is so earnest, so open; he really wants Derek to say yes and something in Derek's chest tightens a tiny bit.
"I dunno, man..."
"No, listen," Stiles interjects, face deadly serious. "I'll let you pick the toppings and you can have the good side of the bed and the cold drinks from the back of the fridge — "
"I just think..." Derek says, trying not to grin. "I just think it'd be easier to hang out at my apartment."
Stiles' grin is so wide, Derek is pretty sure his face is going to split in half.
"Awesome! Okay, how about I just come home with you after work on Saturday? I can take the bus back to campus later that night? Man, this is gonna be so great!"
This is going to be a disaster.
Derek isn't necessarily an untidy person; he keeps himself and his apartment generally clean, doesn't leave dishes around, and takes out the trash every week. But he doesn't dust. He hasn't vacuumed in at least a month and can't remember the last time he cleaned the bathroom.
And does his house smell? He stalks through it, trying to see if it smells like dust or mold or anything. He never opens the windows and rarely goes on the balcony. Should he shampoo the carpets? Or would that be too obvious? He stands in the living room, hands on his hips. Should he just do his laundry and hope the clean linen smell will cover it?
He should definitely clean the bathroom. He sits on the closed toilet and drops his head in his hands.
He misses his mom.
It's not often he lets himself think about her and when he does, it’s a kick to the chest and he’s out of breath. She'd know exactly what to do, how to clean without making it look like he tried too hard. He misses her. He misses her smile and how she always smelled like cinnamon and now his eyes are burning and he refuses to cry in his bathroom. He hasn't cried in a long time.
He takes a deep, deep breath and grabs the cleaner from under the sink. It's time to get shit done.
It takes him three hours, four trips to the laundry room, and two entire bottles of 409. He sleeps with the windows open to try and disperse some of that Pine-Sol smell hanging in the air and when he wakes up on Saturday, he's pretty proud of himself. The place looks good. He runs to the grocery store before his 9am shift, picking up a few drinks and snacks. If he picks up some fruits and vegetables, it's because he really should start eating better, not because he doesn't want to look like the proverbial bachelor in front of Stiles. Because he doesn't care what Stiles thinks about the contents of his fridge. Right.
Derek is pretty sure he's not fooling anyone, but he's pretty committed to the I-don't-like-Stiles facade at this point. If he can just convince himself...
Saturday shifts are generally unpredictable. Derek had really been hoping for a quiet shift, but no. They're slammed the entire morning; two of the high schools have field trips and the students meet at Java Hut; a group of women from the Protestant church come in at eleven and are still there when Derek clocks out; a steady stream of lost vacationers come in, ask for directions, and leave without ordering anything; poor Stiles has to deal with not one but three different customers who send him to the stock shelves in the back to search for the perfect commuter mug. At least Stiles doesn't spill anything.
When he clocks out at two, Derek is so exhausted, he almost forgets about Stiles. He's barely paying attention when he unlocks his car and it isn't until Stiles pulls the locked handle on the passenger door that he remembers they had a date. A not-date. A hang out date. A time to hang out. He unlocks the door and Stiles slides in and turns to look at him.
Stiles is grinning, wide and contagious, and Derek feels the corner of his mouth turn up as he starts the car.
"Do I still get to pick the toppings?"
"As long as you don't pick onions."
"No onions. Got it." Derek pauses. "Beer?"
"I'm..." Stiles pulls a face and looks out the window. "I'm not twenty-one yet."
Derek blinks, eyes back on the road. He didn't know... God, Stiles is so young . Next to him, Stiles heaves a huge sigh. Derek takes another two seconds to decide how to respond.
"I won't tell if you won't," he says, reaching forward to turn on the radio. "Do you even like beer?"
"I like some beer. I like Miller and Budweiser, but not light. I like Coors Light — "
"Me, too. Coors Light it is."
The rest of the drive passes in relative silence, only broken by Stiles occasionally singing softly. When they pull into Derek's apartment complex, Stiles lets out a low, impressed whistle.
"You live here?"
"No, seriously, you live here? This place must cost more a month than tuition for a quarter. Jesus Christ, why do you work at Java Hut if you can afford to live here?"
Derek shrugs again, incredibly uncomfortable. He never thinks about it, but his complex is pretty pricey. Stiles follows him through the courtyard and past the fountain.
"Are you married?" Stiles is squinting suspiciously up at him. "Did you marry a rich old lady who pays for you to have—"
"What? No, I just—"
"Are you in the mob?"
"Secretly a model? Or a gay porn star?"
"What?" His eyes are big, innocent, and his hands are spread wide.
"I just... inherited a lot of money when my family died." After spending three nights in jail for arson even though he was two hundred miles away when it happened. "Plus I had money saved up." College fund, enough to get a PhD from any university in the state. "And then a trust fund." He doesn't look at Stiles as he unlocks the door. "So, yeah, I have money. Probably more than I should." Finally, he turns back, holding the door open. "Is that gonna be a problem?"
Stiles opens and closes his mouth a couple times before shaking his head. "Not if my being poorer than shit won't be a problem."
It's Derek's turn to shake his head as he shrugs out of his jacket.
"So," Stiles says. "Pizza?"
Derek orders two pizzas from the place down the street and bribes the guy into bringing a six-pack of Coors Light with him. They eat and they talk and they watch some godawful science fiction movie and Stiles complains the whole time but instead of being annoyed, Derek kind of thinks it's adorable. Or he would if he let himself think things like that. Stiles falls asleep sometime around seven and instead of watching him sleep (like the creeper he is), Derek tosses a blanket on him and decides to start dinner. When Stiles snorts himself awake at eight-thirty, there's chicken and salad and soda and a few half-hearted protests about Derek not driving him back to campus. Stiles loses that battle but before he leaves, he makes Derek promise to hang out again next weekend.
It becomes routine after that.
They go to work, go to Derek's, and order take out. Stiles falls asleep about half the time. Derek doesn't tease him. Much. Sometimes Stiles brings homework and studies at the table while Derek watches the news. Sometimes Derek falls asleep in front of the TV and wakes up under a blanket. Sometimes they fall asleep together and wake up side by side and kind of cold and those are Derek's favorite times.
About six weeks in, Stiles stays the night. They fall asleep between episodes of Law and Order and Derek wakes up during a basketball game, thoroughly disoriented. Stiles is snoring slightly, arms crossed over his stomach, leaning into Derek’s space, and there's daylight pouring through the blinds. Derek blinks twice before grabbing the oft-used afghan off the back of the couch and turning off the TV.
They don't really talk about it, but now Stiles stays the night and Derek learns how to use the sleep mode on his TV.
He shouldn't be surprised when Stiles asks him out one Sunday night. Shouldn't be, but he is.
“Think we should go out. Like on a date.” Stiles is lounging on the floor by the couch, barefoot, one leg on the coffee table. Derek is pretty sure he heard Stiles’ stomach growling earlier, which has to be the reason Stiles asked him out. He’s just hungry and once he gets some food in him, he’ll realize that he doesn’t want to date Derek .
“Yes, a date,” Stiles says, hoisting himself up off the floor. He looks around for his socks and, upon failing to locate them, moves towards Derek’s bedroom, still talking. “A date. You know, where two people who like each other go out in public together.” Derek can hear him rummaging first in the closet, then through the bottom drawer of his dresser...Stiles’ drawer...the drawer where Derek keeps all of the shit Stiles leaves at his apartment and oh Christ, are they already dating? Shit.
“—we’re practically already dating anyway," Stiles says, voice slightly muffled. "I figure we should make it official or something.”
“I...” Derek starts, but the words get caught in his throat when Stiles exits the bedroom, dressed and dressed well. For a date. A burgundy button-down under a light grey jacket and actual dress pants instead of jeans. "I..."
"Go get dressed. I'm not taking you out in that."
Derek looks down, having momentarily forgotten what he's wearing. A dirty, oversized Styx shirt and basketball shorts. Oh. Well, in his defense, he didn't know he was going on a date.
"I should..." Words seem to fail him, but Derek's body remembers movement well enough. He stumbles to his bedroom, panicking a little. He has no idea what to wear. He strips down to his briefs and stands in front of the wide-open doors of his closet. He wonders if he can just close his eyes and wear the first shirt his hands touch. Probably he could. But then pants? And shoes? Does he even have dress shoes? Oh God, this is going to be terrible —
"Look on your bed, you idiot."
Derek automatically obeys, nodding even though Stiles is still in the living room, watching Nickelodeon, and can't see him. Sitting on the stack of quilts he never quite got around to folding is a black v-neck, a dark grey button-down, and black jeans. He... didn't even know he owned a grey button-down. Okay. He dresses quickly, snagging his belt off the dresser and shoving his feet into the first black shoes he sees. He will not be stupid about this. He used to date a lot. He can do this.
He can totally do this.
Their first date goes like this: Stiles, who insists on driving everywhere now that his Jeep is up and running (thanks to Derek), drives them to this fish and chips place by the water where you eat everything with your fingers. There's a lot of talking and a lot of laughing and a lot of shoulders brushing as they wander aimlessly up and down the boardwalk. Stiles spends almost fifteen dollars on carnival games before winning a small stuffed monkey he names Charles Hemmingsfield, the Third. There might have been some hand-holding too, but Derek isn't really one hundred percent on that. He just knows that he falls asleep happy after Stiles drops him off.
Their second date involved less clothes, more daylight, and a gnarly sunburn. Derek learns the shape of Stiles' shoulders and they way his skin feels under a thin layer of aloe vera.
Third time's a charm for Derek because on their third date, Stiles kisses him, a soft, almost shy thing under the weak orange light outside Stiles' dorm. Derek is a little shocked but mostly already addicted to the raspberry-sweet taste Stiles leaves behind.
Sometime between their sixth and tenth dates, Stiles stays the night, but sleeps in Derek's bed instead of on Derek's sofa. They have sex for the first time and it’s awkward and unhurried and perfect. Derek learns that Stiles tastes like raspberries and sunshine all over and Stiles gets to watch Derek fall apart.
The week of their eighth date, Stiles turns twenty-one and starts talking about grad schools and a hard knot of some unidentifiable emotion takes root in Derek's belly. It festers and it grows and on their twelfth date, they have an actual fight, a screaming match about everything and nothing, but mostly about how Derek is wasting his potential and hiding things and you should just fucking trust me, Derek; trust me like I trust you. Derek walks away, leaves Stiles with an empty table and two twenty dollar bills to cover the check. Stiles comes over later that night, throws rocks at Derek's window until he agrees to open the door. They talk all night, Derek mostly, but in the quiet moments when Derek isn't harshly grinding out his family history (how most of his family had been at his parent's ranch for Memorial Day when some nutjob woman with a history of kidnapping and arson set a fire in the basement that burned the house to the ground, killing everyone but Derek, his uncle, and his sister; unfortunately his uncle's sanity didn't survive the fire and he killed Derek's sister and then himself the following Christmas) Derek learns about Stiles, how his mom died when he was fourteen, how his father works too much, how much Stiles worries about him. He learns that Stiles has ADHD, that his real first name is Genim but he plans to have it legally changed to Stiles one of these days, that he graduated from high school early because his aunt homeschooled him for two years, that his best friend doesn’t really keeps in touch. He learns that Stiles always feels a little lonely, and because Derek knows exactly how that feels, he holds Stiles a little closer. When he wakes the next morning, he kisses an apology into the space between Stiles' shoulder blades and when Stiles wakes an hour later, he presses forgiveness into Derek's ribs with his fingertips.
After that, it's better. Stiles still pushes him to go back to school, but they're gentler pushes and Derek's mostly okay with them. Stiles spends more and more time at the apartment, enough that a drawer is no longer sufficient and Derek buys another dresser. Stiles kisses him when he comes over after class and sees it, pushes Derek right up against it, kisses him slow, like he has all the time in the world, like there's nothing more important in his life than Derek.
The intense way that Stiles feels about him—loves him even—is overwhelming. Most days, he's okay; Derek can handle the forehead kisses and the just 'cause presents and the lazy way they make love in the quiet hours before dawn. He's fine until grad school acceptance letters start rolling in and Derek realizes once again how much he's holding Stiles back. There's a rock in the pit of his stomach that whispers over and over that he isn't good enough, that he isn't right for Stiles, and as time goes on, Derek's more and more inclined to agree.
Sometime after their twenty-second date—a cosmic bowling misadventure—Stiles calls Derek his boyfriend when he's on the phone with his father and Derek kind of loses his shit. Quietly. Well, he's quiet for about fifteen minutes.
"I can't do this."
Stiles, intent on winning this round of Need for Speed, replies with, "Damn straight you can't. I already lapped you once, baby."
"No, I mean, I can't do this with you."
Stiles pauses the game. "Do what?"
"This!" Derek gestures between them and Stiles just stares at him with his mouth open. "Us, this...whatever it is—"
"Dating," Stiles say, slow like he's explaining physics to a five year old. "This is what people in the real world call dating, Derek. And you seem to be doing pretty fine to me."
He turns back to the TV as though that settles it, when clearly nothing has been settled at all, and something in Derek breaks.
"No," he snarls, yanking the cord for the controller out of the console. "Get out."
"Out, get out. Take your video games and your movies and your stupid Old Spice body wash and get out of my house."
Stiles is frozen on the floor, not even blinking, just staring up at Derek with wide, hurt eyes. Fine. If he won't get his shit, Derek will.
Derek stalks to the kitchen and grabs a trash bag, intent on removing every single thing Stiles brought or left over here, but when he spins around, he slams right into Stiles. Stiles doesn't say anything; his hands grip Derek's forearms, holding himself upright, and he tilts his head to the side a little, eyes squinted like he's trying to solve a particularly complicated puzzle.
"What?" Derek snaps, taking a step back. Stiles follows him, crowding into Derek's personal space.
"Just... trying to figure it out, I guess."
"What's there to figure out? I want you to go."
"But you also don't want me to go."
Derek rolls his eyes. "No, I really want you gone. Like now."
"Yeah, but why? You were fine literally ten minutes ago. What changed?"
"I just..." He doesn't really want to explain himself—doesn't know how. "Don't want what you want."
"That's not true either. If you're gonna break up with me," Stiles says, moving closer and closer until they're pressed together. "You should at least tell me why."
"I told you. We want different things—"
"I want you. You want me. What's different?"
"You want... It's... It's not that easy, Stiles."
"Uh, yeah it is. Or it can be. It's like you're being stupid on purpose."
"Fuck off," Derek growls, brushing past Stiles into the living room. He stops in front of the DVD shelf, but can't really remember which ones are his and which ones belong to Stiles. The titles go blurry and he blinks hard, trying to clear his head, to focus. He can feel Stiles watching him, sitting on the arm of the couch just watching, and it makes him twitchy.
"You're really not gonna give me a real answer?"
"That is a real answer. We're... not the same. No, not at the same... God, fuck, which of these fucking movies are yours?"
Stiles sighs and moves across the room to stand behind him. Derek is grateful because he's pretty sure he might be close to crying and he really doesn't want Stiles to see. Stiles rests one hand low on Derek's back, pinky brushing bare skin through a hole in his t-shirt, and reaches the other arm out to pull DVDs off the shelf and toss them into the bag.
"I just," Stiles starts, voice thick. He drops his forehead onto Derek's shoulder. "Wish you would tell me what I did ."
Derek closes his eyes. Because it's not Stiles; Stiles is perfect, good in a way that nobody else is good, smart and selfless and brave and sweet. He’s a million things that are too good to be around Derek, this empty, going-nowhere shell of a person with too much money and not enough anything else. He shakes his head and Stiles huffs out a laugh.
"If you say that it's not me, it's you, I swear to God, I will strangle you."
"It's... complicated?" Has his voice ever been so small?
"No, you're making it complicated. It's the easiest fucking thing, you and me."
"No, it's-I mean—"
"It's just math, Derek. It's me and you; it’s not rocket science and it's not Shakespeare." Stiles pulls away, takes the bag from Derek and drops it on the floor. He shrugs. "It's basic arithmetic and you, for some ungodly reason, never bothered to learn to add."
And then he's gone; the apartment door swings shut quietly and all Derek can hear is his own heartbeat.
It takes Derek maybe fifteen minutes to shove all of Stiles’ belongings into that trash bag. He cleans out the dresser and the bathroom; he collects video games and magazines with shaking hands. It takes about twenty minutes of staring at stretched black plastic for him to realize he’s being stupid. Half an hour later, everything is back where it should be except Stiles. Stiles is gone and Derek doesn’t know how to make him come back.
Because he needs Stiles, because Stiles makes him happy. Because he doesn’t want to be alone anymore.
It takes Derek four seconds to grab a jacket, thirty to find his keys, and two to yank the door open and trip over Stiles, who’s sprawled out in the hallway outside his apartment.
“I, oh,” he sputters. “Um, hi.”
Stiles peers up at him, unimpressed.
“What are you... I mean, what?” Derek gestures helplessly at nothing, hoping Stiles will figure out what he means.
“You... You drove me here.”
Derek pulls the door closed and slides down against it. Stiles isn’t looking at him and it hurts a little.
“So. Where’re you going?”
“I was... coming to get you, actually.”
“To get me?” Stiles nods. “Of course you were.”
“To apologize, I think.”
“Because I was an asshole.”
“I’m sorry.” At least that didn’t come out as a question.
“You should be.”
“Well, good. I am.”
Stiles sighs. “Why are you sorry?”
It’s Derek’s turn to sigh. “For being an idiot.”
“Okay, I’ll just walk home,” Stiles says, groaning a little as he shifts to his feet. “When you figure out a real apology, call me.”
“No, wait!” Derek grabs Stiles by the wrist and pulls, tugging Stiles into his lap. “This is a real apology, okay? I’m sorry I was an asshole and I’m sorry that I tried to break up with you because you’re so... you and I’m...”
“You’re not really making any sense here,” Stiles says, voice soft as he adjusts himself more comfortably across Derek’s thighs.
“You’re too good for me and I thought...” He wraps his arms around Stiles. “I thought that if I made you leave before you realized it, it would hurt less.”
“What would hurt less? When I left? Derek, man, you gotta know that’s not happening.”
Derek shrugs. He knows no such thing. He’s used to it, used to everyone leaving, used to being alone.
“Derek, look at me,” Stiles commands, pulling back. “Look at me. I love you. I don’t want to leave, ever. I hate having to go back to my dorm and sleep by myself. I want to be around you all the time and you’re worried about me leaving?”
It makes sense when Stiles says it like that, makes a lot of fucking sense.
“I...” Derek pauses, smiling softly down at Stiles. He feels a little stupid, but mostly absolutely sure that now he knows what he want. He's even pretty sure he'll be allowed to have it. He just has to trust Stiles. “I’m not worried anymore.”
Derek stops counting dates somewhere around their thirtieth. For the first time in his adult life, he has a someone. He goes to sleep warm and wrapped up tight and wakes up cold but feeling just as safe. Stiles is a blanket hog. And he wears Derek’s socks even though Derek specifically asks him not to. Derek builds Stiles a bookshelf just to prove he can. They go on one double date with Scott and his girlfriend, Allison. Just one. Stiles moves in over spring break and they both move out the following autumn so Stiles can go to grad school in New England. They drive across the country and take three weeks instead of one and Derek can no longer say he’s never been kicked out of a museum.
When Stiles starts grad school in Boston, Derek starts as a junior at the same university. Derek gets a job at a Starbucks and refuses to let Stiles even think about working when he has so much studying to do. Stiles manages to befriend the women who live two doors down and they practically live on homemade baked goods for six months.
Derek relearns how to make friends and Stiles learns how to be patient.
When Stiles graduates, Derek sits in the audience with Sheriff Stilinski and when Derek graduates two days after that, the sheriff is gone, but Stiles is there. When they move to Southern California so Stiles can put his Masters in history to work, Derek buys a house and gets a job repairing airplanes. The hours are shitty but the pay is amazing and he and Stiles get the same days off.
Sometimes Derek thinks about how lonely he was before he met Stiles. And then he usually stops because Stiles is there and he remembers that he'll never have to be lonely again.