Chapter 1: The Day Off
Stiles is positively sick of his clothes reeking of a hellish mixture of bacon grease and off-brand dish soap. Ever since he started working at
Hugs and Quiches Catering—
which, god, every time he says it out loud he has to fight back the urge to roll his eyes so hard they nearly fall out of his head—Stiles climbs into his beat up jeep at the end of the day and feels the awful stench filling up the air around him until he cranks a window open. The autumn breeze spares his lungs the misery of a car ride home trapped in that fog of food residue and sweat, but his clothes are never the same.
Admittedly the uniform could be worse; it’s a standard catering getup, no-nonsense black slacks and a simple white button-up. The killer flourish is a bright pink bowtie that sits snuggly at his neck. When Scott shoved it into his hands on his first day of work, Stiles was 99% sure it was some bizarre form of employment-hazing. Make the new guy wear the ridiculous pink bowtie while everyone else wears a black tie. Except no—everyone wears them. And everyone includes Stiles.
It’s almost worth it to see the look on Lydia’s face on her first day of work, her already round doe-eyes an even more exaggerated size as she raises a perfectly-sculpted brow, “You must be joking. That, on this?” She gestures to her criminally perfect body, still defiantly visible under the uniform that somehow looks hideous on everyone but her. Scott shrugs apologetically. With a dramatic sigh she snatches the bowtie from Scott and secures it at her neck, huffing, “well I’m sure I’ll make do.”
Instantly she looks adorable, like a picture-perfect cutout from some kitschy cooking magazine, hair perfectly tousled and the pink bow like some insanely charming trademark of her own creation. Stiles would resent her if he wasn’t still under the impression that some day in the unforeseeable near future, she would give him the time of day. Not that he wasn’t painfully aware that over the last ten years she’d said maybe a collective 20 words to him, not including his name and various niceties demanded by polite conversation. Whatever , he reminds himself in low moments, you’re older and cooler now. You don’t awkwardly gel your hair in the front anymore. He involuntarily shudders. Middle school was a dark time.
Catering is, generally, simple. Stiles took to it surprisingly well considering his general lack of coordination and tendency to break things. The key was finding him the right position; it was a lot like the lacrosse they had played in high school. Everyone had a place, a specific job they needed to perform for the whole team to operate like a well-oiled machine. Scott was good in the field, just like in lacrosse. He was out mingling, smiling that endearing smile of his and managing to keep people happy and well-fed. A newer hire was the human Ken doll named Jackson Whittemore. He has a jaw that could cut glass and he also happens to be Lydia’s boyfriend. Stiles sort of hates him, but swears it has nothing to do with the latter fact. Jackson, like Scott, belongs in the field; he glides around, convincing people who couldn’t spell hors d'oeuvres to save their life that the only thing they want is to try whatever concoction he is offering. It pains Stiles to admit he has a gift. Lydia of course could sell ice to a goddamn polar bear, so she’s out in the field too.
Really it’s just Stiles who’s stuck in the kitchens and the pantries and the work rooms, away from the crowds, doing the dirty work. He realizes that if he weren’t so busy, he’d probably be really lonely. Danny, who’s startlingly attractive but seems totally unaware of it, is their team leader. Thank god for that. Easy-going but with a strong guiding hand, he is exactly what they need to keep them all functioning. He ducks in on Stiles occasionally during events, smiling with two rows of perfect teeth, spouting encouraging words before ducking off to check on the rest of the group’s movements. It strikes Stiles that everyone is really attractive, really capable, really put-together—except for him. He sniffs the collar of his shirt and grimaces, hating himself a little more every time he thinks of Jackson strutting into the staging area demanding more mini-quiches.
So the team works, and Stiles mostly doesn’t hate it. He does, however, feel a sort of creeping sense of unease that he’s 22, still living at home with his overly-protective Sheriff father, and his stellar college grades have thus far not contributed to him getting a job outside of the food service industry. Catering makes sense for the others; Danny’s father owns the business, Scott is saving up to actually try to become a chef someday—go figure, and Lydia is only working there until she can save enough money to move to New York in the summer for a new high-paying job. Who really cares why Jackson’s there, honestly. But for Stiles, it’s just another chapter in the book of Stiles-doesn’t-think-about-the-future-because-it’s-scary-and-weird . Catering’s not bad, but it’s certainly not what he imagined spending his life doing. As the weeks drift by, he can’t help but feel stagnant; like he’s the only one there with totally zero fucking clue as to what he’s doing with his life.
The only thing that breaks the monotony is when out of the blue, Danny stops him mid-cleanup and says, “I’m hiring someone to help you out back here.”
Stiles tenses up, blinking and stammering, “What? Is this because I knocked over that tray of egg rolls last week? Because I swear it was—”
Danny waves him off. “Stiles, I told you that’s not a big deal.”
“Then why? I do fine back here, don’t I? I work hard. I haven’t broken a plate in two weeks.” Stiles jabs two accusatory fingers at Danny.
“This isn’t a replacement, calm down. You should be thanking me. You need some backup in the prep department. And I’m gonna have you start rotating in to working the rooms, anyway.”
Stiles’ mouth hangs open. “What?”
“Yeah, Scott needs to get more experience in prep if he wants to go to culinary school. The team needs to be well-rounded. We’re already short-staffed most days and I need you out on the floor too sometimes.”
“Okay, but I still don’t see why you need to hire someone else to pick up my slack in particular if I’m not creating any slack?”
“Honestly Stiles, you’re impossible. Alright.” Danny sighs and checks over his shoulder. “I need to hire someone else to help out because we’ve got competition. Happy?”
Stiles frowns, setting down a box of potatoes and wiping his brow with his sleeve. “Competition? From who?”
“Valhalla Catering. They’re new in town, some family-owned business. Have you heard of the Argents?”
“I think so,” Stiles nods. “Didn’t one of them like, stab someone over a kitchen dispute?”
“So we have to step up our game.”
“Yeah. So in the next couple of days I’ll be interviewing people, and you should have a new trainee by Friday, alright?”
“Wait, trainee?” Stiles repeats, struggling with the idea that he’d be responsible for the mentorship of anyone when he’s barely able to manage himself. For a moment he relishes the thought of being the seasoned veteran, of taking some poor schmuck under his wing, teaching them what few tricks of the trade he’s gathered in his three months of work. Then he remembers his almost daily flailings and embarrassments, thankfully unseen by anyone but himself. Now he’ll have a witness to every excruciating moment of clumsiness. Perfect.
“You got a problem with that?” Danny’s smiling that ridiculously charming smile of his, the one that totally made Stiles spill his cup of apple juice down his shirt in fourth grade the first time he saw it. Danny could tell you he has to amputate your left arm and also gouge out one of your eyes, and if he smiled at you like that, you’d be thanking him and apologizing for his trouble. It’s excruciating in the best way.
“Nope, no problem, everything’s good bossman.” Stiles flashes him a thumbs up and his own grin, which is far less charming and probably a little cartoonish-looking, if he really thinks about it.
Danny pats him on the shoulder and chimes, “Good work today Stiles. See you at the Lawrence Wedding on Friday, yeah?”
Stiles gives him a boyish salute before gathering up the last of their supplies to stuff in his jeep. Scott passes him on the way out, but the way he avoids Stiles’ eyes and says he doesn’t need a ride anymore makes Stiles a little more than suspicious.
“I’ve gotta go for a run,” Scott fumbles, loosening his bowtie.
“In that?” Stiles points to the dress shoes and slacks.
“Er, no, I’ve got a change of clothes, just—thanks anyway Stiles! I’ll uh, see you Friday! Tell your dad I say hi.”
And with that Scott’s bounding away from the jeep and out of sight, like Stiles is some kind of leper or serial killer and not his best friend, not even a friend at all. Scott tends to lean towards unusual in some of his social behaviors, so Stiles lets it slide. There’s nothing he couldn’t get out of Scott if he really wanted to know, anyway. It’s not like his computer is that hard to get into. Scott’s had the same password since he was about twelve. Shoving the boxes of leftovers into his back seat, Stiles climbs into the jeep and cranks the engine on, saying a silent prayer that it actually wheezes to life. It groans, stuttering a moment before kicking itself awake, and Stiles can breathe again.
He rolls onto the main road and tries to remember why he’d felt such a strong need to get out of Beacon Hills for college, why this place had felt so small and claustrophobic when he was in high school. The impulse that made him flee was matched only by the intense desire to come home when he was done, as though something about Beacon Hills was pulling him back. He’d yell at his dad that it was a black hole, the stupid old woods-embedded no nonsense town. That despite his best efforts, it kept pulling pulling pulling him in, wouldn’t let him go. And as his jeep slinks along the winding unlit roads, he can’t help but wonder what it is about this town that makes him feel like there’s more to it than he ever gave it credit for. Stupid and old and woodsy as it is.
As the jeep slows to a stop outside of his childhood home, Stiles is surprised to see the kitchen lights on, a sign that for once his father has managed to beat him home. Not that he won’t have to disappear at a moment’s notice—but the sight alone is comforting in the dark. Stiles drags the leftovers inside, ones he knows his dad will appreciate. If Stiles isn’t home, his dad won’t eat; not because he doesn’t want to, but because he doesn’t really know how to cook for himself. After Stiles’ mom passed away, Stiles pretty much took over cooking for the both of them, and while he’s no professional chef, he gets the job done better than his father could ever hope to do himself.
“Dad, I’ve got little beef kabobs and baby pies, just for youuu!” Stiles sing-songs, pushing the door open with the toe of his shoe.
His dad is slumped in a chair at the kitchen table, hand cradling his chin, fast asleep. Dark bags rim his eyes. Stiles throws his bag down and drops the keys into a bowl near the door, still carefully balancing the small tray of miniature foods. He pads into the kitchen, sliding the tray onto the counter and by some miracle manages to do so without a) totally knocking over the food b) tripping over himself c) waking up his dad. He stares for a long moment, marveling at how old his father looks, especially when his face is relaxed. Usually the wrinkles just seem like a result of his dad scrunching his face in frustration, or animatedly retelling a story from work; but now, even with that placid expression, his father looks so strangely old, tired. It makes Stiles feel—well, sad. He feels it strike him hard in the chest, like something about his father has changed. The superhero Sheriff in his young eyes suddenly has a chink in his armor.
Stiles realizes he’s staring and nudges his dad awake. He snorts, head falling out of his hands and whipping around to find Stiles.
“Oh, jeez, Stiles, it’s only you.”
“Yeah dad. Just me. I brought you some food,” he motions to the tray and smiles.
“I thought I told you to stop stealing from work.”
Stiles shakes his head. “Not stealing,” he corrects. “Danny says I might as well take it, because anything that doesn’t get eaten gets thrown out. Safety reasons, you know. So actually, I’m doing a good deed. Saving good food from going to waste. You know, there are—”
“Alright, got it. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” His dad cuts him off, picking up a beef skewer and eying it skeptically.
“Hey, I made that, don’t look at it like it’s got some disease.”
His dad smiles and takes a bite, then makes a face that says, Not bad .
Stiles puffs out his chest and slides into the chair across from his dad. As he eats, they don’t talk much, but Stiles feels himself relax as the hint of age disappears the more his dad smiles. By the time half of the tray is gone, his dad is slumping over the edge of the table, on the verge of sleep. Stiles helps him up and dumps him on the sofa in the living room, smiling down affectionately as the Sheriff starts to drool.
When his phone goes off next to his head at an ungodly hour of the morning, Stiles does what any normal person would do: he snaps awake so violently that in his attempt to silence his phone he rolls out of bed and cracks his head on his nightstand.
“FUCK!” His hands scrabble for the phone as it clatters across the floor, the Scooby Doo theme song blaring at an obnoxious decibel.
“Hello!” he practically yells into the receiver, hand pressed to his temple. A round bump is already starting to form and there are stars in his eyes that aren’t going away regardless of how much he blinks.
“Stiles?” The honey-smooth voice of Danny cuts through the cloud of pain.
“Huh? Er, yeah, Danny, morning—what’s up? I thought the wedding thing was tomorrow—”
“Yeah, it is. I was wondering if you could come in today? I’ve got that new hire I was talking about here, and I was hoping you could give him some training today so he can test the waters tomorrow.”
Stiles groans. Doesn’t even try to mask it. He can hear Danny chortling on the other end, clearly delighting in forcing Stiles awake at 7:30 to come in to work on his day off, all to take some idiot and teach them how to make glorified pigs in a blanket.
“Sometimes, I really don’t like you Danny.”
“I know. You coming in?”
“That a yes?”
Stiles massages the lump on his forehead, scratches his chest. “Yeah, that’s a yes. But I’m getting paid, right?”
Danny says yes with a laugh, and hangs up. Stiles takes a deep breath before collapsing onto the floor and writhing around. He allows himself that moment of frustration before he stands and dresses himself.
A couple advil and a short car ride later, Stiles scowls in the parking lot of Hugs and Quiches . As he strolls inside, he’s expecting to see some young high schooler, all acne and irritation, clearly only hired because his parents forced him to get a part-time job. Stiles knows his type; the type of kid he was surrounded by in high school. Socially awkward but tries hard to be likable, with a good heart but just always falling short of his mark. Yeah, he knows that. He can work with that.
But that’s not what’s standing next to Danny. What’s standing next to Danny at a solid 6 feet tall is the human equivalent of a Redwood, or some other physically imposing piece of nature. He’s anything but a high schooler. He actually looks a little older than Stiles himself, and the way he stands projects an air of reckless confidence that makes Stiles openly stare. He can’t find a single flaw. There’s not even a hint that this guy has ever had a pimple in his entire life. Hell, he’s probably never even seen a pimple before. His skin is frighteningly unblemished, the sharp line of his jaw masked by a thick coat of dark stubble that matches his equally dark, unblinking eyes.
From the minute Stiles walks through the door, those eyes never leave him. He can feel them sizing him up, searching him from head to toe. But there’s something else there, a strange feeling that those eyes know him, that he’s looking at him that way because he recognizes him. Stiles feels oddly exposed, and painfully aware of his inability to grow so much as a single hair on his chin.
“Hey Danny.” Stiles hovers in the doorway, passing his keys between his hands. He can’t shake the eyes of the new guy. The room feels uncomfortably tight.
“What’re you doing? Get in here, c’mon.” Danny waves him over and says something to the mountain of muscle before stepping aside to make room for Stiles.
“I’ve got to go get some stuff ready for tomorrow, but you know the drill. Basic layout and coordination plans, menu prep, general how we do things around here, got it?” He glances over to the new guy, offering him a warm smile before turning back to Stiles. “Thanks for coming in today.”
Stiles nods, eyes following Danny as he leaves him alone in the kitchen with the walking romance novel cover model. There’s an uncomfortable silence, the two of them just standing there like they don’t speak the same language. For all he knows, they don’t. This guy hasn’t said two words since Stiles walked in.
“So...” he starts awkwardly, scratching the back of his head with a weak smile. “I’m Stiles. I didn’t get your name.”
But the guy just keeps staring at Stiles like he’s got three eyes, like there’s something in his teeth or his skin is turning blue. It’s unnerving, the way they flit over his face, never stopping to rest on any one spot for too long. It’s as if he’s trying to find something hidden in the freckles dusting his neck and cheeks.
Stiles extends a hand, but it’s left untouched. The nameless employee looks down at the hand, then back up at Stiles’ face, then back down, and back up. As if saying, You think I’m gonna touch that?
“Right,” Stiles mutters, clenching his hand and returning it to his side, frowning. It’s not like he has cooties. Isn’t it rude to not accept a handshake? Stiles waits for him to answer him, but this guy doesn’t seem to budge. He can barely tell if he’s breathing, to be honest. Why does Danny always have to hire the weirdest people he can find in Beacon Hills? The pimply high schooler Stiles imagined is starting to seem really good now.
“What happened to your face?”
Stiles is so startled by the question and the deep tone of his voice he can only blink in confusion. His face? What happened to his face? Nothing, nothing’s wrong with his face. If he’s not mistaken, he should be insulted. He was born with this face, he can’t help it. He knows he’s not exactly romance novel material, but Stiles never thought he was that bad.
“Well, not all of us have can have your bone structure.” Stiles is trying desperately to lighten this guy up, but he’s having none of it. He doesn’t laugh. Doesn’t even crack a smile. Stiles balks, feeling very out of his element. Even when people don’t find him funny, they usually at least have the courtesy to give him a pity laugh. It’s like this guy doesn’t care how awkward this gets. He’s not doing Stiles any favors.
Without warning, Danny’s new hire reaches out and lightly touches just above Stiles’ temple, the soft pads of his fingers skimming over the tender skin. He nods at the forgotten injury and withdraws his hand. Stiles flinches away, the pain suddenly returning to the surface along with the fog of a faint blush over his cheeks. Stiles’ hand flies to his face.
The hell? Who’d heard of the strong, silent, and clearly not even remotely concerned by people’s personal bubble type? One minute, he ignores a handshake, the next he’s randomly caressing your forehead. Danny definitely likes the weird ones.
“Oh,” Stiles’ fingers run over the small lump. He’d forgotten about the purpling bruise until now. “I uh, bumped my head this morning.” He’s certainly earning high marks with this new guy. Really impressive, he’s sure to follow Stiles’ directions now. Because Stiles seems like such an authority figure. He seems really responsible and capable. He’s only been there for five minutes and has established himself as a weird-faced babbling klutz. Stiles’ one chance to actually boss someone else around for a change, and he’s blowing it. Dammit, why couldn’t it have just been a high schooler?
“Are you going to show me how to do this stuff or are we gonna stand around all day wasting time?” he snaps, folding his arms across his stupidly broad chest. Honestly, it’s like Stiles is trying to make friends with a grizzly bear or something. What’s the point? As Stiles gathers the supplies and pulls out a training booklet, he can sense the mounting frustration coming from the person beside him. His silent trainee makes a move for the freezer, totally ignoring Stiles’ attempts to get the example station set up.
“Where are you going? Hey, you’ve got to look at how I organize these!”
He returns a second later, a bag of ice in hand. Without a word, he presses the ice to Stiles forehead, his face set in a scowl. It’s almost too ridiculous. Who looks that angry when administering first-aid to someone?
“Jeez, I’m fine,” Stiles grumbles, snatching the ice from him and leaning back out of his reach, shooing his baseball-mit-sized hand away.
“Ingrate.” The trainee mutters, turning to face the outrageously ornate napkin displays Stiles pulled out for him to study.
“Hey buddy, don’t start with me! You’re the one who’s being difficult.”
“You heard me! You think I want to be here right now? It’s my day off and I’ve got to deal with a sourpuss who won’t even tell me his name, treating me like I’m some toddler with a concussion.” Stiles doesn’t realize he’s twisting a napkin in his hands, taking a strong step towards the grump, who, at this moment, has a look of genuine shock over his sharp features that Stiles would appreciate if he wasn’t so irritated.
“I outrank you by—well at least a couple months, and you ought to be listening to me. If, you know, you want to get out of here at a reasonable hour.”
There’s a long pause. Stiles throws the napkin on the counter and steps back with a huff, the trainee’s face twisted into what looks like a mix of irritation and amusement. There’s the tiniest flicker of a smile tugging at the corner of his lips, but it’s gone as soon as Stiles thinks he sees it.
“You’re wound like a top,” he says sedately, collecting the mauled napkin and smoothing it out. With a sigh, he adds, “It’s Derek,” like he’s offering Stiles a hard-won victory instead of his stupid name. “I’m Derek, and I’d appreciate it if you’d stop screeching at me. It’s too damn early, and folding napkins isn’t exactly my idea of fun, alright?”
Stiles stares at him, dazed. Just who the hell is this guy? He has the creeping sensation that this isn’t the first time they’ve met; the broad shoulders and dark eyes—even though Stiles couldn’t place them, something about him seems strangely familiar. Even the way he yells at Stiles has a weirdly familiar air to it.
“Are you gonna show me your magic folding methods now, or?”
As he demonstrates a crown fold, Stiles can’t shake the feeling that he’s met Derek before. Stiles watches him attempt a Lily fold, his nose scrunched with focus.
“You’re not a very good teacher,” Derek complains. “How the hell am I supposed to get this to look like that?” He rolls his sleeves up to his elbows, revealing a small woven bracelet.
“Hey, wait a minute—” Stiles yelps, grabbing Derek’s wrist.
Wordlessly, Derek yanks his arm free and raises a brow. Stiles drops his hands in embarrassment, but points at the bracelet.
“I know that!”
“You don’t say.” Derek goes on crafting the napkin, the hint of a laugh at his lips.
“Oh my god, wait, seriously? You—but,” Stiles can feel his ears burning, eyes wide. It’s finally hitting him, why this guy seems so familiar. “You’re Derek.”
“I just told you that.”
“Derek Hale .” Stiles corrects. “You lived down the road from my house,” he fumbles with his words, counting off on his fingers. “What was it, twelve years ago?”
Derek shrugs, finishes a near-perfectly executed Lily fold. “You’re just now figuring this out?”
“You knew who I was, but I didn’t recognize you.” Stiles feels like an idiot. A total idiot. A bumbling, bruise-faced, klutzy, name-and-face-forgetting idiot.
“People forget people’s names all the time. I’m not going to cry myself to sleep at night.” Derek holds up the napkin display, his lips curved into the closest thing to a smile Stiles has seen all day.
“In my defense, you look totally different. I mean, you look like you ate the old you, and then started bench-pressing cars for good measure.”
Derek shoots him a look.
“What? It’s true.”
“You look exactly the same.” Even though it’s probably an insult, Derek’s voice somehow doesn’t make it sounds like one.
“Wow, rude. I’ll have you know I too can bench-press a car.”
“Yeah, a Matchbox car.”
“Oh, you’ve got jokes? And here I was thinking you only knew how to grumble insults.”
Derek angles his face away from Stiles, as though ashamed to have let himself show anything but veiled irritation for his new supervisor.
“Well,” Stiles smirks, “You better hope you’re never pinned under a car with only me to save you. See if I help you with my superhuman strength then.”
There’s another stretch of silence and Derek pushes the napkins aside.
“Are you gonna teach me the rest of this stuff? The only person who will be trapped under a car will be you if you don’t get me out of here by 4.”
Stiles mouth drops open and he throws a napkin at Derek’s face.
“Look who’s the ingrate now. And here I was thinking we were going to go back to old times, when you at least pretended to tolerate me.”
Something shifts in Derek’s face, a faint change in expression that Stiles can’t place. Like the sudden closing of a door that had mistakenly been left ajar. Derek’s eyes linger on Stiles for only a few seconds, but it feels like he’s sifting through his thoughts, and coming up empty.
“Yeah well, this isn’t the playground, Stiles. And no one’s pretending anymore.”
Derek’s voice is quiet, and he’s not looking at Stiles. He reaches for the booklet and rounds the counter to sit opposite Stiles. It feels like a punch to the gut that Stiles wasn’t expecting. He knew Derek hadn’t been his biggest fan when they were kids, but he at least thought they were on friendly terms? They’d gotten along well enough in school, even though Stiles was three years his junior. Stiles’ memory was a little foggy on Derek, because he moved away right around the time Stiles’ mom passed away, and he had pretty much tried to block out that whole period. Which was probably why he’d had trouble remembering Derek. Which is seeming more and more ridiculous to him now that he thinks about it.
So maybe Stiles had been wrong. Maybe Derek really had just been putting up with him when they were kids. And now that they’re older, what’s the point in pretending you get along with someone when in reality you don’t? At least Derek is honest; that’s more than Stiles can say for most people. Besides, your coworkers don’t have to like you. They just have to work with you.
Stiles doesn’t need Derek to like him. He needs Derek to respect him. And sometimes it’s easier to get someone’s respect when they don’t like you anyway.
Stiles clears his throat and nods, avoiding Derek’s eyes.
“Right, of course. Well, then. Let’s just...get this over with.”
Chapter 2: The Lawrence Wedding
Stiles would be lying if he said he hates working weddings. If he’s being honest, or being tortured into admitting the truth, he kind of loves them. Okay, really loves them.
There’s something about the whole atmosphere of a wedding that he can’t help but love. There’s a certain level of ridiculousness that can only fly on wedding days. The reception is where all of the tension of the event is released, where people say, To hell with looking presentable! They’re playing the electric slide, and dammit, I’m gonna slide! Everyone’s a little out of their mind, a little too happy, too excited for people other than themselves, which is kind of great. Two families coming together to share in the joy of two people they adore; the abundance of drunk relatives creating endless entertainment. And the boundless hope of single people that, Hey, maybe one day that could be me.
Unless, well—you’re Stiles. In which case, you’re too busy spending most of your time trying to figure out how to get your new trainee to stop scowling at you long enough to do his job. You’re definitely too busy with that to actually think about anything like your love life, or the general lack thereof.
“You have the attention span of a goldfish,” Derek harps, shoving an empty tray into Stiles’ hands. It hits him hard and he winces slightly, glowering back at Derek as he shoots Stiles something that borders on a smirk. “You really love these things, huh?”
Stiles wrinkles his nose and shrugs. “I mean, it’s better than some of the other gigs we run.” He can feel Derek studying his expression, that incisive look he always has, like he’s picking you apart.
“Liar, you eat this shit up.”
Stiles glares at him.
“Any day now,” Derek says and flexes his hands expectantly, waiting for a new tray.
“Shut up,” Stiles grumbles, annoyed that he can’t think of anything better than that. Instead he makes a face at Derek as he hands him a platter of spinach phyllo triangles. Derek glances down at the food, a look of vague irritation flitting across his face before he sighs and turns to leave.
“Yeah, good luck with that one! No one likes spinach!” Stiles calls after him, pumping a fist in the air and praying that Derek will return ten minutes later without a single thing missing. Except Stiles kind of loves spinach and he makes a damn good spinach phyllo triangle, so the likelihood is that Derek will come back in ten minutes and assault him with another empty tray.
“He bothering you?” Scott chirps from beside him, seemingly having appeared out of nowhere.
Stiles jumps and squeaks an “Oh my God Scott, can you not do that?” and shakes his head, lightly punching Scott on the arm. He follows Scott’s eyes over to where Derek has stopped to talk to Jackson, probably bonding over their mutually square jaws or something. It’s really true what they say about people surrounding themselves with others of similar levels of attractiveness. Not that Stiles thinks Derek or Jackson are exceptionally attractive—Liar, his thoughts interject, and he feels a pang of self-hatred before reminding himself that you’d have to be blind to think the two of them, or anyone who works for Hugs and Quiches really, were anything below abnormally-above-average-looking. You can’t fight biology.
When Stiles came in to work he was admittedly a little thrown seeing Derek in their uniform. Yesterday he’d been in beat up jeans and a simple button-up, nothing flashy. Stiles had been too busy trying to convince Derek that learning the different stacking methods of their supply closet was truly invaluable to his well-being to pay attention to how Derek looked in his clothes. But it’s always a real test of someone’s appearance when they’re put in the work getup. The high-necked oxford and bubblegum pink bow-tie are real killers; they make you look like you’ve stepped out of a bad 80’s movie.
Stiles had foolishly hoped Derek would look oafish in it, like he’d raided someone’s dress up bin and been stuck with an ill-fitting shirt, his dad’s slacks, and office-drone shoes. But of course Derek looks like he’s just stepped out of a magazine, like the uniform was custom-made for him, like pink is his damn favorite color. It’s irritating, to say the least. Derek can’t even have the decency to look awful while blatantly ignoring all of Stiles’ directions. He just stands there looking straight-up Vogue Beacon Hills and ignores Stiles’ threats that unless he starts listening to him, he’ll tell Danny that he’s actually a convicted felon and should be fired immediately.
Stiles sighs dramatically, trying to remember his job only a few days earlier. How different and beautiful those days seemed now.
“While I appreciate your protectiveness Scott, I’m fine. He answers to me, remember?”
Scott makes a valiant effort to not make a face that says that what Stiles has just said is totally a pipe-dream, that it’s laughable that Derek would actually listen to anything Stiles has to say. He smiles and nods supportively, and Stiles could hug him if he wasn’t busy loading up a tray of artichoke and spinach fondue.
“Don’t worry man, I’ve got it under control. He’ll be at my beck and call any day now, just you wait.” Stiles offers up the tray to Scott, who just grins and trots off into the crowd.
The reception is going smoothly, the team cycling in and out of the kitchen to refill trays and pitch in with him before ducking back out into the party. Stiles doesn’t mind sitting back and watching; he’s good at it. But something feels off, like he can’t enjoy the scenery as much tonight. It’s just that he can’t shake the feeling that for what feels like the first time, he’s the one being watched.
He’ll catch it inadvertently—Derek’s eyes fixed on him. They dart away just as Stiles connects with them, as though repelled by their meeting. The first couple of times Stiles chalks it up to his imagination. He goes about his work, trying to ignore the burn of eyes on him. But as the reception wears on, Stiles doesn’t just think Derek is watching him. He knows it.
“So much for peaceful coexistence,” Stiles grumbles, fumbling with a celery stalk and nearly knocking over an entire tray of crudités.
Lydia sidles up to the counter, a look of complete boredom tinged with irritation dancing across her face. She loops a strawberry blonde curl around her finger and says in her painfully silky voice, “So why’s the creepy new guy always staring at you?”
“What?” Stiles almost chokes, trying to convince himself that the first time in about eight months that Lydia has actually initiated a conversation with him, it isn’t about Derek.
“H-he’s not always staring at me.” Stiles suddenly feels very exposed. It’s not like he can control Derek’s tendency to angrily stare at him; if he could, he would have told him to quit it the first five times he noticed it. But Stiles just assumed it was part of his decision to not act like they’re chums, to not hide his irritation. Which as far as Stiles is concerned, is not ideal, but fine. The only problem is that other people are starting to catch on.
“He most definitely is staring. Trust me, I know staring, and he’s staring.”
“I don’t get it either,” he mumbles, assembling a new tray for her. “I think he really hates me.”
Lydia makes a quiet noise that Stiles can’t quite figure out; it’s something between a laugh and a sigh. She offers nothing except her hand, and the commanding word, “Tray.”
He snaps into action and finishes off the tray, handing it to her with a small nod and a smile. It hits him that that was probably the longest conversation he’s had with Lydia that didn’t involve him stammering or making an awkward joke, and he’s happy for a brief moment until he remembers it was exclusively about Derek’s intense murderous stare. The stare that has been steadily directed at him for the bulk of the evening. So Stiles goes right back to mashing potatoes while imagining they’re in the shape of Derek’s face.
Aside from a few minor catastrophes that Danny manages to handle with relative ease along with the help of Stiles, the reception goes surprisingly smoothly. As the evening winds on, Stiles watches the party ebb and flow, couples drifting on and off the dance floor to the soft sway of the live band’s throwback music. It’s a beautiful reception, everything bathed in soft purple light. He almost wishes he could have worked the crowd a little, but the kitchen is his comfort zone, the safe space where he’s left to his own devices. It’s a nice little safe haven, even with the controlled chaos occasionally punctuated by Jackson’s griping about cougars hitting on him, or Lydia laughing about the cougars hitting on Jackson, or Scott constantly asking Stiles to cover for him while he ducks outside to make strange phone calls. Which, yeah, he’ll definitely have to ask him about later.
It’s all comfortable in an odd way, a steady rhythm he’s well-adjusted to now.
Only when Derek enters does Stiles feel vaguely unsettled, like the balance has shifted in the room and he can’t get his footing right. Everything Derek does puts him on edge. It must be Stiles’ belief that he somehow needs to avoid Derek while also occupying the same space; keep him at arm's’ length as best he can.
As Stiles wipes down the counter, Derek appears in the kitchen, tossing a tray across straight across the clean streak of marble Stiles just finished wiping.
“Hey! I’m trying to clean up here.”
“They’re about to throw the bouquet,” Derek says matter-of-factly, snatching the towel from Stiles’ hands.
“So?” Stiles tries to steal the towel back, but it’s a pathetic attempt. Derek’s got a good inch or two on him, and all it takes is one strong arm to push him away.
“So, don’t you want to try to catch it?” Derek says with the hint of a smile, apparently enjoying this game of keep-things-out-of-Stiles’-reach-to-annoy-him.
“Are you kidding me?”
“Does it look like I’m kidding?” Derek nudges Stiles out of the way and wipes the spot where he threw the pan, finishing the rest of the counter for good measure. If Stiles wasn’t so irritated he’d thank him for chipping in, even if it’s out of spite. That’s certainly more than anyone else does.
Stiles shrugs. “I have no clue, I don’t exactly know what you look like when you’re kidding. Frankly, I was unsure you were a fan of kidding at all. And anyway, why are you talking to me?”
“What?” Derek tenses up, spinning to face Stiles.
“Why are you talking to me?” Stiles repeats, finally managing to snag the towel from Derek while his guard is down. “Weren’t we going to just act like we don’t exist to each other?”
“What?” Derek says, voice low.
“What do you mean what? Am I not speaking English?”
Derek scowls, his eyes narrowing into a look that says Stiles should definitely not try using even a vaguely antagonistic tone with him again.
“Okay, sorry, I just mean...you were pretty clear yesterday about us not being friends or even like casually getting along? So I just figured we’d be as civil as possible at work, but you’ve been giving me death glares, and no I’m not imagining it because other people noticed too so I am just—”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You said you weren’t going to pretend to like me anymore.”
“And that pretty much means I should keep my interactions with you to a minimum right? So as to not aggravate you and whatnot?”
There’s a short pause, and then Derek does something Stiles can’t quite believe. He laughs. A warm, genuine laugh that comes from his chest and actually makes Stiles feel like he told a joke he intended to be funny and this laughter was his reward. Except it’s not—because Stiles is genuinely confused and starting to believe that Derek is actually suffering from a split personality disorder or something, because that’s the only way he can explain his behavior.
“You make no sense. You haven’t changed at all. That’s what you got from that conversation?” Derek’s not laughing anymore, but there’s a mirth buried in his sharp eyes, hidden behind those thick rows of eyelashes.
“What do you mean! You said that yesterday, like, I swear I’ve got it almost verbatim. And you were all glowery and bossy and what else could I get from it?”
Derek’s just staring at him again, the same mystified look he had yesterday when listening to Stiles talk. Like they’re communicating in different languages, like Stiles operates on an entirely different frequency that Derek just can’t translate.
“Yeah well, you’re incomprehensible, so.” Stiles wipes his hands with a rag and shoots Derek a frustrated glare, which probably looks more confused than anything else. Which, admittedly, he is. All Stiles wants is to pack up, go home, sleep, and forget about the word puzzles Derek has apparently been setting up for him without his knowledge.
But without warning Derek leans forward and says in a low, amused tone, “So we’re even.”
Stiles can smell his cologne and sweat, and it’s a strangely potent mixture that makes him a little dizzy from the proximity, like he wants to push Derek back out of his air space so he can breathe again, but he’s just frozen there instead, his big eyes staring up at the solid wall of muscle half-smirking down at him. It’s a little unreal, if he’s being honest. He doesn’t know if Derek is going to laugh in his face or slam him into the wall; it’s a lot of very conflicting feelings that Stiles doesn’t quite know how to respond to, so instead he just keeps blinking at Derek’s intent eyes.
What Derek does next is certainly not what Stiles expected—he actually grabs Stiles by the arm and drags him towards the reception area. All the while Stiles is writhing and pinching Derek’s arm, muttering “No no no, I’m not going out there, you can’t make me! Okay, maybe you can, but—unhand me rogue! Oh jesus you’re not—you can’t be serious,” but none of it phases him, Derek just keeps tugging him along like a small child, and Stiles becoming more alarmed, whispering rapid-fire into his side, “Derek only girls go for the bouquet, Derek I’m not even in the wedding party, oh I’m gonna kill you, stop it you big goon, oh my god, Derek I don’t even know the bride—”
Derek pulls him to a halt just behind the rim of girls swarming for a chance at the bouquet. There’s the vague whisper of a full smile on his lips, but he’s fighting it back. Stiles stares at his face hard, very hard, and thinks Yes, I hate you right now. Look at your stupid stupid face, so stupid. Just you wait. I’m gonna make your life Hell. But he can’t shake the feeling that he doesn’t think Derek’s face is stupid, that he’s actually sort of glad that he dragged him out of the back, that someone tried to include him in the actual event for once. Derek’s eyes are locked forward, and he’s listening to the bride’s speech about how she hopes her cousin Jessie catches the bouquet because her boyfriend won’t quit dragging his feet. The whole room is hushed in that moment, the low violet light mingling with the smell of flowers and Stiles’ own food. The bride keeps talking, Derek keeps his eyes ahead. Stiles’ is only barely listening, but it’s great. It’s gold. And Derek knows he loves every minute of it, and Stiles doesn’t understand why he’s doing this.
Stiles’ eyes search Derek’s face, half-hating him, half-thankful. It’s then that he looks down at Derek’s hand still wrapped lightly around his wrist and feels his heart jump.
And then he gets hit in the face with the bouquet.
It’s sort of a blur, the moments between Is Derek holding my hand? and Holy shit I just got hit in the face with a bunch of flowers. Apparently the bride has quite the arm, and Stiles happens to be standing directly in the line of fire where she just happened to overshoot her crowd of bridesmaids and joyful relatives. Derek releases a full-blown laugh for a half second before he smothers it and pulls Stiles backward as the sea of girls rush them, clambering for the fallen bouquet. The insane thought that Derek planned the whole thing definitely crosses Stiles’ mind, but he’s too overwhelmed to really consider the logistics it would demand.
Stiles just stands in place, totally stunned. He manages to mutter, “Does getting hit in the face with the bouquet sort of count as catching it?”
Derek just chuckles and says, “I’d say so.”
Stiles can feel Scott and Lydia and Jackson staring at them, likely because the two of them are standing uncharacteristically close and Derek has something like a smile on his lips and Stiles just abandoned the kitchen to get hit in the face by a bouquet he had no interest in catching. And if you aren’t looking carefully, at a distance it might look like they’re holding hands.
Some girl has claimed the bouquet and the crowd breaks out in a chorus of congratulatory claps and laughter, but Stiles can’t hear much of anything over the sound of his heart hammering away in his chest. It might be the adrenaline, or it might be the feeling of Derek releasing his wrist for the first time since they left the kitchen and saying with a strange warmth in his voice, “Well, I guess that means you’re next.”
Sorry this chapter is a bit on the short side (is 3,000 words short? how does fic work) and took me longer to write than I wanted, but I appreciate your patience and the kind words of encouragement I've already received! You are all so wonderful, I hope you enjoyed this!
Chapter 3: The Fall Festival
Stiles isn’t exactly sure when he realizes it, but Derek is funny. In a weird, unpredictable way—but funny nonetheless. In the last few events they’ve worked together, it would creep up on him in little moments when they were alone together. Derek would make some passing comment or twist his face into a ridiculous expression and Stiles would find himself giggling, actually giggling before he could stop himself. Somewhere between Derek sort-of-holding-his-hand and the birthday party they worked two days ago, they had forged something like a truce between them. Stiles knew that beneath all Derek’s bite and snarl there was a person who enjoys laughing, even though he’d never admit it. Seeing that is a drug for Stiles; trying to draw out that unwilling laughter is his new favorite game. Watching Derek’s face contort as he tries to hide his amusement is one of the highlights of his day, and Stiles isn’t quite sure how he feels about that.
Mostly he tries to ignore it, to not over-analyze it as is his natural inclination. This tentative friendship or cease-fire or whatever it is makes working together easier, and Stiles isn’t about to argue with that.
After a bit of prying, Stiles coaxes Scott into coming clean about why he was being so secretive and jumpy. Stiles shovels a fresh baked tray of cookies into his mouth and demands the truth, and Scott crumples, clearly wanting someone to confess to; Stiles always was that person for him.
"So you know Valhalla Catering, right?”
"Right, our sworn enemies. Something about them stealing half our clients after not even a week in town. Danny’s dad hates them.”
"Yeah. So it’s run by the Argents, and they’ve got, uh, a daughter, who is sort of amazing...”
"Scott, I don’t like where this is going.”
"Her name is Allison and she’s more beautiful than an angel and I swear she has the brightest smile in the world and she makes me laugh and I think I might actually—”
"Okay, let me stop you there. You’re always quick to jump into things bro, and while admittedly, romance has never been one of them, don’t you think this is...you know, a bad idea?”
Scott lowers his eyes, crestfallen. He picks at the hem of his shirt, unwilling to meet Stiles’ gaze.
"I mean, don’t her parents hate you?”
Scott nods. "They think I’d only date her to try to steal company secrets or sabotage them or something. Seriously, like I’d do that? That’s way too much work and I just want to maybe get the chance to make out with Allison and take her on nice dates and hold her hand, who cares if Valhalla gets more business...”
"The Mahealanis do, for one,” Stiles frowns, though the puppy-dog look on Scott’s face is making him want to smile. "Look, how does Allison feel about all this?”
Scott perks up at her name. "She wants to be with me, I think. I hope. We’ve snuck out together a couple times, but I don’t want to get her in trouble.”
All Stiles can do is groan. "Alright, fine, man. I will support you in this no-doubt-doomed relationship, only because I love you and you are obviously going to do it whether I give you the thumbs-up or not. Just, keep the heart-eyes to yourself as much as you can, and maybe hold off for a little bit until her parents lose your scent, okay? I can’t deal with you when you get all puppy-love with me. I’ll do my best to cover for you when need be.”
Without hesitation Scott jumps on Stiles, smothering him in a hug that Stiles has to fight his way out of in order to breathe, wheezing, "Ugh you are the worst,” through a giant smile.
There’s not much Stiles can complain about until Danny announces their next event. They’re all gathered at the Hugs and Quiches office, Stiles relaying a story to Scott about how his father nearly smashed his face into the fridge when Stiles brought home a bag from Whole Foods containing only greens, wheat, and oats for him, "To start a diet.”
As soon as Danny walks in it’s like someone’s opened a window; all fresh air and birds chirping and the smell of springtime even though they’re only a few weeks away from Halloween. He doesn’t have to say anything; everyone just eases into a peaceful quiet, waiting for him to give orders.
"Well, there’s good and bad news,” he begins, eyes scanning the five of them. "Good news is, Beacon Hills wants to hire us to work the annual Fall Festival.”
Stiles fist pumps and Derek punches him in the arm, prompting Stiles to shoot him a death glare as Danny continues.
"Bad news is, we’re not the only ones working the festival. Since we’re really only staffed to run smaller events and this one will have at least a thousand attendees, they’re bringing in Valhalla Catering to help out.”
"Boo, their food smells like butts, right guys?” Stiles nudges Scott in the ribs. He just nods, obviously uncomfortable and obsessing over what this gig means for him and Allison. Behind him Lydia is whispering something to Jackson, who undoubtedly has that awful grin on his face like always. Derek’s just sitting there, breathing, invading Stiles’ space with his mere existence. Stiles tugs at his collar, trying to refocus.
"So, I’m going to coordinate with the Argents and we’ll arrive early to prep the event, get everything set up, establish order with their crew. It should be a great night, and we only have to work part of it, so you should still get to enjoy some of the festival after work.”
Stiles has mixed emotions about the Fall Festival. Lots of mixed emotions. Mostly bad emotions, really. Two years in a row in high school his Dad signed him up to volunteer and he got stuck at the kissing booth. A whopping total of four girls and one lucky boy were the only people to take him up on his services, which certainly did a lot for his fragile ego. The person who relieved him of his duties, however—
"You know, last time I was at the Fall Festival, as I remember, we were also working together,” Derek says from beside him, a smug grin drawn across his stupidly angular face.
Of course he remembers. Stiles was a gangly, awkward teenager—not too different from his current self, really—and Derek was in his first years of college, home to visit his family. Derek was also not too different from his current self then; all muscle and ever the tall and silent type. Annoyingly brooding, and annoyingly good at convincing all of the festival attendees that the kissing booth hadn’t even been open until he stepped into it. Derek had been nice to him in that moment, when they stood behind the booth together for those few short minutes before they exchanged shifts. His memory was a little fuzzy, but Stiles swears he can remember Derek actually trying to convince him that when he first worked the kissing booth like Stiles, no one wanted to kiss him either. Stiles vaguely remembers calling him a liar, but appreciating the effort.
"Shut up, Derek. Memory Lane is closed, especially that particular stretch of road. Those were dark times I’d prefer not to revisit, thank you very much.”
Derek just chuckles and ruffles Stiles hair before heading for the door. Stiles is too shocked to swat his hand away, and instead his jaw just drops open and he watches Derek pause at the door, glancing back at him with an odd light to his eyes.
"But those were such good times. You’re just remembering them wrong.”
"What does that—” Stiles starts to stammer, but Derek is already gone, off talking to Scott and acting like everything he does is totally normal and not entirely baffling to Stiles on a daily, hourly basis.
As Stiles makes his way to the catering tent, he breathes into the warmth of his scarf, cursing himself for not bringing gloves. His father warned him that it would be cold, but he insisted ‘Gloves are for the weak!’ and out he went bare-handed. Now he’s rubbing his hands together, grinning sheepishly at a concerned-looking Danny.
"I prefer ‘punctually-delayed’.” Stiles beams, pulling off his coat and slinging it over a stool.
"You’re punctually-delayed by ten minutes, so get going,” Danny nods at the team, already hard at work. Stiles gives him a deep bow, then sneaks up beside Scott.
"Hey man, can you fill me in on what we’re supposed to do tonight?”
Scott tugs at Stiles’ shirt. "Get rid of that, first off.”
"Excuse you, I thought you and the Argent girl had something going on. I’m not some floozie you can just ogle at your leisure.”
"You wish. I’m talking about the uniform. We’re wearing Fall Festival shirts, to ‘blend cohesively’ with Valhalla. Grab one and get changed.”
"One of these days you’ll give in to temptation and I will have to fight you off with a stick, I’m sure of it.”
"Alright, alright. You are a handsome man and I would be so lucky, but you need to get changed now. Go.”
"Thank you.” Stiles grins, then dashes to a nearby bathroom with a Fall Festival shirt in hand. He closes the door behind him, stripping off his white button up and shuddering in the cold. It’s only then that he takes a solid look at the new shirt, a horrendous orange monstrosity replete with grinning jack-o-lanterns and the phrase ‘FALL in Love with Beacon Hills!’ across the front.
"Oh my god.” Stiles groans. For the first time in his life he’s wishing for his normal tacky uniform.
Without so much as a knock, the door swings open and Derek is filling the narrow frame. His eyes are running over Stiles’ bare chest, his brow quirked.
"Hey!” Stiles manages to squeak, drawing the orange shirt in front of him like a shield. "Didn’t you learn to knock?”
"You didn’t even bother to lock the door, you’re lucky it’s me and not some random festival-goer. And I did knock, you clearly weren’t listening.”
"You clearly didn’t care to actually wait for an answer. And I was in a rush, I thought I locked the door...what if I’d been naked?”
Derek just gives him that unnerving stare he always gives him, then casually shrugs his shoulders. "Then you’d have been naked. Do you plan on putting that shirt on any time soon or do you intend to just stand there with it until the whole event is over?”
"My my, someone’s snarky this evening,” Stiles mutters while pulling the shirt over his head. Once dressed he stands and tries to kick Derek in the shin. "Do you intend to just block the door until the event is over? Why are you even here anyway, other than to annoy me?”
Derek props an arm against the door.
"Danny sent me to tell you that you’re working the front booth with me, instead of working prep in the staging area.”
"What?” Stiles almost yells, eyes wide. "Wait—what? Why?” People passing by are definitely starting to stare at the two young men arguing in the entryway to the one-room bathroom. Oddly, Derek seems unfazed.
"I don’t know, I don’t ask questions, I just follow orders. And orders are you work the crowd tonight. We’re outside handing out goodies to kids, so get excited.”
Stiles buries his face in his hands. "Like this night couldn’t get any worse.”
"Working with me is that bad, huh?”
Glancing up from his hands, Stiles can’t help but be surprised by the genuine look of concern on Derek’s face. It’s gone in a matter of seconds, but Stiles is waving his hands and stammering, "No—no, I mean, I just...you know I have mixed feelings about this stupid festival.”
Derek’s eyes narrow and a small smile tugs at his lips, as though he’s stumbling on a forgotten memory.
"Anyway, let’s go before Danny actually kills me,” Stiles grumbles, pushing on Derek’s arm until it gives way to allow him passage. His eyes search the tent for Scott but he’s out of sight. Catching a glimpse of fiery strawberry blonde hair to his left, Stiles darts over to Lydia. Lately they’ve been more than civil to each other, exchanging small conversations and jokes. He doesn’t dare jinx it by calling her his friend, but it’s certainly the closest they’ve been in years, which is more than he ever really hoped.
"Lydia, what’s the plan? I, uh, well you know I don’t generally...”
"Work the crowd,” she finishes his statement for him, plump red lips drawn into her trademark it’s-cute-how-hard-you’re-trying smile.
Stiles simply nods, tugging his scarf back around his neck.
"Grab the baskets of desserts, that’s our main job; the Argents are doing most of the heavy-lifting because they’ve got more staff. Just smile, it’s not hard to give candy to kids, Stiles.”
She makes it sound easy, but he can’t help but feel everything is easy for you when you’re Lydia—beautiful, intelligent, magnificently talented. When you’re Stiles, it’s a whole different story. When you’re Stiles, you’re awkward, clumsy, loudly humorous. Not exactly working with the same goods.
"Right, got it. Giving candy to babies. Easier than stealing candy from them, right?”
Lydia gives him a blank look.
"Tasteless joke, won’t repeat. Moving on.” He grabs a basket and dashes out from the security of the tent, his eyes adjusting to the bright twinkling orange and purple lights hanging from every small town stall dappled with bright orange pumpkins and cornucopias. Everything is covered in corn stalks and cobwebs, bright and cliched and cozy and undeniably Beacon Hills. It’s all beautiful in its weird, kitschy way, something he’d forgotten he missed until this very moment.
A small child in a cape tugs at Stiles’ leg, grinning expectantly and pointing at the basket slung over his arm. He’s missing his two front teeth and Stiles can’t help but laugh at the idea of this tiny human trying to gum his way through a caramel confection, so he just hands him a delicately wrapped baggie of chocolates and waves as he dashes back to his mother.
"Surprisingly easy,” he mutters to himself, feeling comforted by the knowledge that kids don’t avoid him and candy the way people avoided him offering kisses years ago.
He feels a tug on his arm and he’s about to offer another bag of candy until he sees Scott, deep brown eyes wide with fear.
"Stiles, you gotta help me!” His voice is desperate.
Stiles takes a step back, shaking his head.
"No, no you don’t! Not the puppy eyes Scott!”
"Please, I’m pretty sure if you don’t help me I’m going to get murdered tonight.”
Stiles doesn’t bat an eye. "What did you do?”
But he doesn’t need an answer, because he sees his answer standing across the field, handing out gourmet candy apples. Her dark tousled curls are unmistakable in front of a giant sign reading Valhalla Catering, and she’s glancing over in Scott’s direction at far-too-frequent intervals.
"Oh Scott, you didn’t! I thought you said you were going to stop sneaking around and come clean about your relationship, or stop seeing each other until her parents calmed down. Have you no self control?”
Scott nods. "None. I need you to run interference for us. If her parents see us together...”
Stiles waves him off, pulling him aside. "Yeah, yeah, Romeo and Juliet, a plague a’ both your houses, I get it.”
"You’re the best, you’re the best friend in the world and I love you and—.”
"Save it, we’ve still got a long night ahead of us. We’ll see if you’re still saying that if I can’t help you through this.”
Scott pulls him into a tight hug before dashing off, that ridiculously endearing smile plastered over his face as he greets another guest on his way to the tent. Stiles wonders how anyone could ever dislike Scott, even these fearsome Argents; he’s got to be the most easy-going, genuinely sweet person Stiles has ever met, and Stiles isn’t quick to give out undeserved compliments. Hating Scott is like hating a puppy.
Suddenly everything goes dark. Stiles feels his scarf wrapping around his face. He tries to tug it away, but it just keeps swirling around him, two large hands brushing against Stiles’ forehead as they pull the scarf over his eyes.
"Hey!” Stiles finally manages to tug the scarf from his face only to find Derek smirking down at him. "What the hell man, you trying to smother me?”
Derek shakes his head. "Never.”
"You are a sociopath,” Stiles says, adjusting his scarf. Derek’s basket is empty, of course. "You going back to get more?”
"No, I actually uh, was offered a non-catering task. Since the Festival seems understaffed, and we’ve got the desserts under control.”
Stiles raises a brow. "Non-catering? What, you gonna go drive the hay wagon?” He’s about to laugh at the idea of Derek carting kids around in one of those giant monstrosities until Derek says, "No, actually—they want me to work the kissing booth.”
Stiles almost chokes, feeling all the embarrassing memories of their last festival encounter rushing back. Does Derek delight in causing Stiles pain? Repeatedly wounding his ego?
"I can’t see why,” Stiles snaps, and Derek’s actually looking at him like he thinks Stiles is being serious. Like not in a million years could Stiles imagine a single reason someone would want to kiss him. It’s laughable. Obviously Stiles knows why they’d pick Derek. It’s a no-brainer. Get the tall hot guy to stand there and every person in a five mile radius will come running.
The look on Derek’s face is actually making Stiles feel guilty, which is even more annoying than the fact that Derek yet again gets to flaunt his superior charms in front of Stiles.
"Sarcasm,” Stiles clarifies.
"Your mother tongue.” Derek almost laughs. Almost.
Something about the way Derek says that sends a jolt through Stiles. He can’t help but love the idea that Derek actually enjoys his sarcasm, that he knows it and appreciates it when so many others find it annoying. Scott can only tolerate so much. It’s nice to think someone else gets it. And also something about the way Derek says tongue...Stiles doesn’t want to think about it.
"Yeah well, it’s all I know.” Stiles hands out the last bags of his own candy and starts back for the tent, Derek in tow.
"So,” Derek begins slowly, a blend of caution and curiosity in his voice. "You think I should do it?”
"What?” Stiles didn’t realize Derek was given a choice in the matter.
"Sarcasm right? ‘I can’t see why.’ That means you can see why they'd pick me. So that’s your backhanded way of saying you think I'm qualified?”
Stiles scrunches his nose, even more annoyed that Derek’s making him openly admit that yeah, everyone in Beacon Hills would probably line up in the freezing cold to get a kiss on the cheek from him. Handsome bastard.
"Look, anyone with lips is qualified to stand behind a cardboard box and accept kisses. Doesn't mean they should.”
He can’t place the irritation building inside of him, spilling into snarky replies and the creeping desire to convince Derek to stay with him in catering instead of revisiting that hellish kissing booth. He shouldn’t give a shit if Derek goes and kisses every last person in Beacon Hills—but there’s the unsettling, creeping sensation that maybe he does. He tries to refocus. At least it’s not him being told to go relieve that nightmare. Thank god it’s not him. But it is Derek, and somehow that almost seems worse.
"So you think I shouldn't?” Derek’s staring at him intently, and Stiles is doing everything in his power to avoid those deep hazel eyes.
"Why does it matter what I think you should or shouldn't do with your lips? Bottom line, I need you here to help me. You know I’m not used to working outside of the kitchen. Does that count for anything?”
And that’s all it takes—Derek actually smiles. A genuine, satisfied, toothy smile that makes Stiles feel a bit like his hands aren’t so cold and maybe the kissing booth isn’t all that bad after all because talking about it somehow brought that smile out of a guy who spends 90% of his day working with a steely poker-face?
"I'd say it does,” Derek concludes.
"Good, then let Jackson get his mack on in your place.” Stiles says the words quickly, definitely uncomfortable with how much he feels like he just demanded Derek stay by his side for no reason other than his irrational hatred of the kissing booth and their relationship with it.
"Alright.” Derek says simply, adding, "I’ll go tell Jackson.”
"Alright.” Stiles has his back to Derek, and he’s reloading his basket when he feels something soft on his shoulder. He glances over to see a pair of dark brown wool gloves carefully balanced there. Before he can protest, Derek cuts him off.
"Don’t fight me on this, just take them. You need them more than me.”
Derek’s already marching away from the tent when Stiles tries to stammer a thank-you. He feels unnaturally warm as he pulls the gloves on and sees Derek talking to Jackson, his bare hands stuffed in his pockets.
After almost three hours and innumerable bags of candy, Stiles retreats to the catering tent with Derek, laughing as Derek complains about the ‘little germ carriers’ otherwise known as the kids of Beacon Hills. A fun fact Stiles learns in their time together tonight; Derek’s a total germaphobe. It’s oddly endearing, but Stiles keeps that to himself.
Danny told them to reconvene around 9:30 when they would break down their supplies and call it a night. Stiles spends most of the half hour of cleanup listening to Scott’s play-by-play of his efforts at dodging the Argent parents thus far. Stiles pats him on the back, tells him he’s proud, but recognizing the worst is still ahead of them.
"Alright, you guys can go enjoy the rest of the festival. The whole thing closes up around 11, so take some time to relax. As always, thanks for your hard work.” Danny smiles and waves them off, leaving to go over paperwork or something equally awful with the staff of Valhalla.
Scott is giving Stiles a look that would make you give up your first-born child if he asked, all sweet desperation and trust and we’ve-been-friends-forever and I’ve-helped-you-through-hell-so-help-me-please and Stiles can’t help but laugh. If it was anyone else he would have told them to fuck off, but it’s Scott, and it’s been this way since they were snot-nosed kids. Whenever Stiles was in trouble, Scott would come and bail him out, and vice versa. That would never change, and Stiles felt that security in friendship every day of his life. Frustrating as it could be, he knew he’d do whatever he could for Scott, because he’d do the same.
"Go on,” Stiles mouths, nodding in Allison’s direction. Scott beams, then nods towards a pretty woman with dark curly hair who Scott unmistakably gets his sweet smile from. Ms. McCall weaves through the crowd, eyes scanning the faces for her son, but he’s already gone, threading his way through the sea of people.
Stiles glances around, trying to busy himself so he won’t have to lie to her. He’s never been good at lying to Ms. McCall, even though it’s pretty much effortless with everyone else. It’s then that he notices the steely-eyed couple in charge of Valhalla Catering making their way across the festival grounds.
"Oh for fuckssake,” Stiles groans, dragging his fingers over his scalp in frustration. How the hell is he supposed to keep everyone busy long enough to let Allison and Scott sneak around?
Stiles jumps at the sound of Derek’s voice. He’s so anxious he’s nearly bursting out of his skin, and Derek standing unnervingly close isn’t helping. But it’s when he’s staring up at him that Stiles realizes maybe he doesn’t have to do this alone.
He’s sure as soon as Derek punches him or walks away without saying anything he’ll be reminded how totally unhinged he must be for asking, but at this point, Stiles is desperate, and it would be somewhat nice to not have to deal with angry parents by himself.
"Well, actually, I might need your help.” Stiles prepares himself for a quick ‘fuck no’, but instead Derek says,
Just like that, without hesitation. How? And Stiles is so stunned that Derek hasn’t refused him outrightly that he’s just gawking at him until Derek nudges his arm and he blinks himself back to life.
"Er, well really Scott needs my help and I need your help to help him so by extension you’re helping Scott so really it’s not me so much as him you’re helping but—”
"You need my help.” Derek repeats, really seeming to enjoy it.
And now it’s starting to make sense to Stiles, why Derek would help him. Even though Stiles is quick to assume the worst, Derek was never one to deny help to him when he needed it. It makes sense, really; It’s a power trip, it’s having Stiles owe him yet again, like Stiles always has owed him. For all the little things he did for Stiles when they were kids—never asking for anything in return, but all those favors piling up in Stiles head like a massive debt he could never repay. Because even though Derek never mentioned the times he would walk Stiles home from school to ward off bullies or the times Derek loaned him coins for gumballs when his dad was late picking him up from school or the subtle reassurances that the kissing booth really wasn’t a big deal—Stiles never forgot, and he always knew he could never pay him back, even if he tried. Because what could Stiles offer Derek in return? It gave him headaches as a kid, trying to rationalize why he’d save up his allowance but chicken out of ever paying Derek back. It was like somehow, it would be an insult. And Stiles was left feeling out of balance with him, like he was this small, awkward burden that wouldn’t go away.
"As much as it pains me to admit it, yes.” Stiles finally forces the words out, already regretting asking him.
"Explain,” Derek says while Stiles eyes flutter over the ever-shifting crowd. Ms. McCall is chatting with one of the women who operates a small boutique downtown, but he can’t spot the Argents, and that’s making him nervous. So Stiles lets the words pour out, outlining the Argent-McCall scenario as quickly as possible and throwing up his hands at the end.
"You two never change, huh? And all these years I thought it would be you and McCall, but he actually managed to get a girlfriend. Albeit his mortal enemy or whatever, but still.”
"Hey, shut up.” Stiles doesn’t want to think about his very old, very obvious crush on his best friend which yeah, he now knows Derek was probably very aware of. Just great. Stiles can see Scott and Allison ducking into a games tent, and Ms. McCall is walking in their direction. The same direction the Argent parents are headed. Of course. Stiles wants to evaporate or turn into a puddle of goo or basically do anything but have to explain anymore of this to Derek.
"Oh my god, okay you see that woman over there?” He points to Ms. McCall, his voice getting desperate.
"Oh, yeah. Your memory is good.”
"I pay attention.”
"You’ve got to distract her while I go handle the Argents, okay?”
"Wait, why can’t you—”
"I can’t lie to her,” Stiles cuts him off, already dashing from the tent. All he can do is pray that Derek will actually help him here. Weaving through the crowd, Stiles can see the silvery hair of Chris Argent just feet away, his absolutely terrifying wife at his side. There’s something almost feline about her, the way her eyes narrow into critical slits whenever you talk to her, her smooth yet powerful movements. It’s unnerving. They’re both weirdly terrifying for caterers.
"Hey, excuse me!” Stiles yells, almost half of the immediate crowd turning to stare at him. "No, not you,” Stiles paws a teenager away and dashes over to the Argents, who thankfully paused outside the tent.
"Can I help you?” Chris says, a look of concern over his handsome features. Stiles can see where Allison gets her good looks; both of her parents are definitely beautiful in their own fierce, intimidating ways.
"Uh, yeah,” Stiles fidgets, realizing he hadn’t really planned beyond stop-them-before-they-get-inside. "I’m from the catering staff at Hugs and Quiches,” he clarifies, gesturing to the front of his shirt like it’s some form of ID. The Argents are staring at him blankly, and Stiles can see Scott over their shoulder. It takes Scott a minute but he notices Stiles, then spins in circles as though uncertain where to go.
"I, um, wanted to thank you,” Stiles mumbles, watching out of the corner of his eye as Scott grabs Allison’s hand and darts out of the back of the tent. "For working the event with us. You guys, you make good food.”
The Argents exchange a look and Chris smiles indulgently at Stiles. "Well, you’re welcome? You guys weren’t terrible.” And then he shrugs, just as his wife leads him into the tent. Stiles wrinkles his nose, feeling vaguely insulted but too stressed to care. He turns around and spots Derek on his periphery; he’s smiling to himself until he notices Stiles watching him. Derek nods in the direction of the toy gun shooting range, where—and Stiles almost can’t believe it—Sheriff Stilinski is in the process of winning Ms. McCall a giant teddy bear. Stiles eyes almost bug out of his head. He power walks over to Derek and punches him hard in the arm, but Derek doesn’t even flinch.
"The hell!” Stiles snaps, mouth hanging open. "I just told you to distract her! Why would you get my dad—oh God,” Stiles runs his hand through the fuzz of his hair.
"Close your mouth, you’ll catch flies,” Derek chuckles, shrugging calmly. "Anyway, you told me to distract her. Not how.”
Stiles could smother Derek, the way he’s beaming at him—like he’s proud of himself. Stiles doesn’t like the way his father is smiling at Scott’s mom, the way they’re laughing together like there’s some insanely funny secret they’re not sharing with anyone else.
"It was either your dad flirts with her, or I do.” Derek adds, studying Stiles’ eyes.
The thought of Ms. McCall with Derek or his dad is almost too much. He buries his face in his hand and mumbles, "You are the worst, Derek.”
"Just let it happen,” Derek says lightly, "They seem to like each other.”
"The. Worst.” Stiles repeats, only bringing his face from his hands long enough to see the Argent parents exiting the tent and making a beeline for the ferris wheel, where Allison and Scott are waiting in line. "You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Stiles groans, glancing back at the Argents who are definitely heading for the two lovebirds.
"What?” Derek’s trying to follow Stiles’ gaze.
"This night isn’t going to do me any favors, is it?” He draws in a deep breath and looks back to Derek. He gives him his the best desperate-puppy face he can muster, trying to channel Scott. "You still willing to help me?”
Derek nods. "How could I say no to a face like that?”
"Good.” Stiles grabs him by the wrist and tugs him into the crowd, almost jogging to the ferris wheel. The Argents are just behind them and Stiles literally jumps in front of them, cutting in line to separate them from Allison and Scott who are only a few couples ahead. He can hear them say, "What the hell, is that the kid from before?” but he mumbles a quick, ‘Sorry!’ and faces forward.
Derek leans in towards Stiles. His lips are uncomfortably close to Stiles’ ears as he whispers, "What are you doing?”
And Stiles knows this is an opportunity to help Scott, but it will definitely make his life hell for the next half hour, and probably the rest of his life.
"I had promised to ride the ferris wheel with Scott,” Stiles lies, and loud enough that the Argents definitely will hear him. "But I wanted to ride it with you, so I had to ask him to go with someone else. One of the girls from Valhalla took pity on him, thank god.”
Derek is staring at Stiles like he’s possessed. Stiles still hasn’t released his wrist, and Scott and Allison are climbing into one of the baskets, smiling like no one else exists. It would be really sweet if Stiles couldn’t feel the heat burning across his cheeks and ears, just knowing Derek could say ‘the fuck are you talking about?’ at any moment. Like Stiles saying all of this wasn’t embarrassing enough.
"I owe him, because he really didn’t want to, you know? But he’s a good friend.”
Stiles swallows and tries to smile at Derek, pleading at him with his eyes, ‘please don’t say anything, pleeeease, I know it’s awkward but please.’ It’s another one of those moments where it feels like Derek is reading him like a book, studying each flicker of his expression and pulling out some understanding without speaking.
Derek pulls his wrist free from Stiles’ grip. For a half-second Stiles feels lost, almost like Derek slapped his hand away, like he’s saying, ‘you have to be kidding me.’ But just as quickly as he feels that pang of fear, he feels Derek’s sliding his hand into his own and giving it a reassuring squeeze, saying, "Well, I guess I owe Scott too.”
And in that moment Stiles can’t tell where the words for the Argents end and the words intended for him begin. It’s strangely real, even though Stiles knows they’re just messing around, trying to convince Allison’s parents that Scott is only with her to do him a favor. So why does it actually feel like Scott is the one doing him a favor, instead of the other way around?
It’s their turn to get into a basket and Stiles half-stumbles inside, still completely thrown off by Derek helping him along. The door closes and they lift forward. Stiles tries to look up at the baskets above them, and he can just barely make out Allison and Scott, leaning close together. It’s a small victory, even knowing how weird things are going to be with Derek because of this.
They’re halfway up the wheel when Derek finally says something to break the awkward silence.
"So. Scott’s lucky we’re around.”
"Oh, yeah, he really does owe us big time.” Stiles laughs uncomfortably and shifts in his seat, slowly starting to realize just how high up they are—something he was fighting to ignore. He was so caught up in trying to help Scott that he’d momentarily disregarded the fact that heights are one of the things he absolutely loathes. And as if on cue, just as they’re about to round the top of the wheel, the ride halts. The basket swings slowly, and Stiles can barely hear the operator yelling something from below about technical difficulties.
"This happens all the time,” Derek complains, completely unfazed. But Stiles is frozen in place, trying very hard to will himself into being totally calm until the ride begins moving again.
"Are you okay?” Derek sounds concerned, and Stiles pulls his eyes away from the ground long enough to mumble something back.
"Huh? What? Who’s not okay? I am great, I am wonderful. Top of the world, literally. Oh god—yep, just really, uh, fantastic right now. In this tiny metal basket, like a hundred feet in the air. Everyone looks like dots, isn’t that just...great.”
"I don’t think you’re really breathing.”
Derek places a hand on Stiles shoulder. He is feeling a little light-headed, but he was just attributing that to exhaustion.
"I, uh, might have a slightly severe fear of heights and an intense dislike of ferris wheels due to their, uh, height-ful-ness.”
"Why did you jump on here then?” Derek sounds alarmed. "God if I’d known, I wouldn’t have—”
"I wasn’t thinking! I just wanted to help Scott. I might have temporarily ignored my phobia. Is that a thing? Can people do that? Oh god why isn’t it moving yet...”
Derek rarely says his name, so the sound of it on his lips is like a breath of fresh air. Stiles tries to focus on Derek’s eyes, and for a moment he almost forgets he’s afraid. That is until the ferris wheels starts up again, lurching them forward. Without thinking, Stiles latches on to Derek, snagging his hand in his and squeezing it, hard.
"Sorry,” Stiles breathes, but doesn’t let go. He glances over the edge and presses his eyes shut as they begin their painfully slow descent.
"Hey, look at me,” Derek says softly, "Just focus on my eyes and don’t look down. We’re fine.”
Stiles nods feebly.
"Hey, I know what’ll help. Talk to me. you love to talk, you’re great at it. I usually can’t get you to shut up.”
"Hey, offense! I am fully capable of controlling how much I talk, and I’ll have you know I often am keeping to myself when I’m around you, because you’ve always got that grumpy face on and don’t seem like you’re much of a talker yourself—”
Derek’s smiling. Stiles knows he’s probably blushing, which is just, ugh. The entire scenario is ridiculous.
"Oh shit, okay, okay, you’re right. But, maybe the issue is that I have to fill in the gaps left by your constant silence. You’re not exactly the easiest person to talk to, you know.”
Derek barely blinks he’s watching Stiles so carefully. If you could be crushed under the power of someone’s gaze, Stiles is pretty sure he’d be a pancake courtesy of Derek Hale by now.
"What do you mean? I’m an open book.”
Stiles snorts. "You’re about as open as a bank on Sunday.”
"Go on, ask me anything.” The way Derek says it sounds like a challenge.
Stiles is working up the courage. He knows what question he wants to ask; it’s been eating at him since Derek first said it, and not knowing where he stands is making Stiles weird around him.
"Fine. Did you actually—did I irritate you, when we were kids? Did you hate me, back then?”
Derek’s eyes are wide and he’s looking at Stiles like he’s speaking a foreign language again. He gets that look a lot when they’re together. He’s silent, like he’s trying to find the words in whatever language it is Stiles speaks so that he can understand. Stiles can feel Derek’s hands tense in his, but he doesn’t pull away. It’s almost like he’s pulling him in tighter, like he’s worried Stiles is going to let go. But Stiles is probably just imagining that.
"Why would you ask that?”
"Because of what you said, about pretending to like me like when we were kids.”
"God, Stiles, you really are dense. Look, you want me to be honest?”
Stiles nods, focusing every ounce of his energy on Derek’s face for fear of glancing over the side and losing the shred of calm he’s clinging to.
"You were annoying as hell most of the time when we were kids, always following me everywhere like a lost—”
"Hey, whoa, okay, maybe not that honest!”
"And I did not follow you everywhere. You just happened to be everywhere, all the time. Like everywhere I went, bam, you were there. So, maybe you were the one doing the following, huh? You ever think about that?”
"Unknowingly stalking you all over Beacon Hills?”
"Can I finish?”
Stiles sighs, his hands still tight over Derek’s. By all accounts this is weird, but by no means unpleasant. "Go on.”
"Even if you annoyed me sometimes, I never hated you. Never. I mean, I don’t get suspensions for just anyone. Certainly not for people I hate. Brian Nelson will vouch for that.”
"What do you mean what?”
"That was you?”
For a solid month Brian Nelson mercilessly tormented him. Stiles would go home every day feeling like shit, but wouldn’t tell his dad because he didn’t want him to worry. Until one day the bullying stopped. Brian never spoke to him again. It did, as his memory serves, maybe coincide with Derek getting suspended from school; but Stiles never imagined the two events were connected.
"I didn’t have to say much. He was pretty tiny for a bully, especially one younger than me.”
Stiles is staring at Derek; not because he’s afraid anymore, but because he’s amazed. He’s practically forgotten they’re on the ferris wheel at all. He’s reeling from the idea that Derek actually stood up for him when they were kids, and he never knew it. They're almost back on the ground, and the sound of people yelling and chattering is pulling Stiles out of his trance.
"….point is, when I said that the other day, I just meant that even if I sometimes I pretended to get along with you when we were kids, I’m not pretending anymore. I’m not going to act any differently than I feel. So if it seems like I like you, I’m not pretending.”
Their basket skims the platform and Stiles is just sitting there, tightly gripping Derek’s hands. Derek’s peering past him, fixed on something over his shoulder. Stiles glances back to see the ride operator staring at them.
Stiles quickly snaps his hands away, stammering, "Right! Great ride, good job sir, prime ride-operating work there. Except for the three minute delay. You know.”
Standing several yards away, Scott is smiling brightly at them, Allison out of sight. The Argent parents are climbing off the ride themselves, and brush past Stiles and Derek without saying a word. Derek nudges Stiles forward, and he almost trips as he makes his way over to Scott.
"You are the best friend,” Scott says as he pulls Stiles into a giant hug. "Seriously, just—you were awesome tonight. I’m sorry if it was too much trouble, but man—thank you.”
"Yeah, yeah, you owe me. You owe us,” Stiles corrects, pulling himself out of the hug and nodding to Derek, who is in the process of backing away. "Hey!” Stiles’ brows knit together and Derek stops, like he was caught trying to escape.
"I’m uh, gonna head out. I’m kind of tired. Long night,” he says, giving Scott a quick wave. "You two are cute together. Don’t mess it up.”
Scott just beams back, and shouts a thank you after him. But Stiles feels very much like he’s being brushed off, like something significant has happened between them, and Derek’s pretending it didn’t. Like they rebuilt a bridge only to flood it.
"Wait,” Stiles calls after him, mouthing ‘one sec’ to Scott before darting after Derek. His long strides make it difficult for Stiles to catch up, but he’s tugging at Derek’s sleeve to make him stop. "Hey, I...I just wanted to thank you, for, well, everything.”
Derek’s face is mystifying. Always that unreadable expression, simultaneously amused and withdrawn, the most inviting and confusing face Stiles has ever encountered.
"It’s no big deal,” Derek says with a small smile, nodding in Scott’s direction. "It’s good to see people really caring about each other.”
Stiles swallows hard, trying to find the words he really wants to say but can’t wrap his head around. Something more profound than a simple ‘thank you’. It’s like he’s twelve all over again. He just can never get it right with Derek.
"Well, it was good. You and me, not trying to kill each other.” Stiles laughs awkwardly and then says, "Oh!” and begins tugging Derek’s gloves off, but Derek catches his hands and shakes his head.
"Keep them. They fit you better anyway.”
Stiles can feel the rush of all the times their hands have touched in simple, thoughtless moments, and he wonders what it would be like to grab Derek’s hand and really mean it. It’s a crazy thought, a thought that catches him off guard, and he’s left standing there alone as Derek waves and heads for his car. Stiles is so transfixed on the outline of his broad back that he doesn’t even hear Scott walk up next to him, not until he says, "What was all that about?”
And Stiles just holds the gloves a little tighter and sighs, "I think he doesn’t hate me.”
Sorry this took so long to post; basically I have a host of excuses, none of which you guys want to hear. I'm pretty sure everyone who read this fic has given up on it, but since it took me so long to post chapter three, it's 7500+ words long! so that's part of it. it's a hefty chapter because brevity is not my friend. and AO3 has been fighting me on posting this; so here goes nothing!
Chapter 4: The Finstock Bacchanalia
Happy Halloween! Stiles and co. work a Halloween party for Coach Finstock, and things definitely take a turn for the unexpected.
When the words “orgy party” leave Scott’s lips, Stiles is pretty sure he blacks out for a couple seconds, because he can’t remember anything else that follows. Scott waves a hand in front of his face and laughs.
“You can’t be serious,” Stiles mumbles.
“Well, Danny didn’t call it an orgy party, but that's what I got from the description of a 'Greek Bacchanalia' online.”
“Bacchanalias have nothing to do with Halloween.”
“Finstock is having an orgy-themed Halloween party, and we have to cater it?” Stiles repeats, barely understanding his own words.
Scott is surprisingly calm. He shrugs, adding, “And we have to wear costumes.”
“Let me die,” Stiles groans dramatically, flinging himself over the table of the catering office. “Our old high school coach is having an orgy party and we have to be there, in costume.”
He feels like he's going to puke just thinking about it.
“It'll be alright man. If it's any comfort, you'll probably see less of all the...action. Danny's got you scheduled to work prep that night.”
Stiles nods, only slightly placated.
“Yeah, I guess there's that.”
Stiles knows when he gets the call from Danny saying Jackson has been vomiting for three straight hours and can't work the Finstock party that it's going to be a terrible night. From the outset that means they're switching to a team-kitchen, team-floor plan, because they'll be short-staffed. Every man for himself, essentially. And that means Stiles will have little to no respite from the sea of middle-aged men and women at Finstock's questionably themed party looking to get some ass.
With much bitterness he draws a black dot on his nose and whiskers on his cheeks before tugging on a headband with cat ears. He was too lazy to figure out a legitimate costume, and the ears had been lying around from previous lazy Halloweens as a backup plan. He tugs on his Hugs and Quiches uniform and ignores the fact that he looks like a cat in human clothes, like nothing at all, really. He's satisfied to look unremarkable, though; the last thing Stiles wants is to look like he is someone actually attending the party instead of working it.
When he pulls up to Finstock's house with Scott, it's almost too much. The house is bedecked with horrendous red and black streamers, plastic grapes and vines hanging from every window. It's like Finstock is trying to merge Halloween with a totally absurd conception of what Greek debauchery would look like in the 21st century.
“Scott, I really can't do this. This is gonna emotionally scar me for years, don't make me do this.”
Scott places a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “We're not in high school, Stiles. We're adults, this isn't going to be an issue if we don't let it be one. Besides, maybe a hot cougar will pick you up. You have been looking a bit lonely lately--”
Stiles swats Scott's hand away and glares. “I am just fine, thank you. Just because you like spending your every waking moment with Allison doesn't mean I hate being on my own, okay.”
“Whatever you say man.” Scott is smiling at him knowingly, and it makes Stiles feel exposed.
“What are you supposed to be, anyway?” Stiles nods to the red, white, and blue ensemble covering Scott.
“Captain America!” He says cheerfully, pulling a garbage can lid from the back seat. A white star is painted across it, and Scott is beaming wide. He really did love that movie.
“Charming, as always.”
“Let's go bud,” Scott tugs Stiles out of the catering van and helps him hoist their supplies inside.
Danny is already setting up in the kitchen, dressed as a frustratingly-hot Han Solo, and an unsurprisingly sexy-witch Lydia is absently checking her phone in the corner. Stiles only realizes his eyes are still searching the room when Scott nudges him and asks, “Looking for someone?”
"No,” he snaps defensively, throwing the keys on the counter. “Just looking for a clock so I can start counting down the hours until this night is over.”
As they begin setting up their trays, someone in a frightening wolf mask walks through the kitchen door. Aside from the mask, it's not much of a costume; heavy boots, a pair of jeans, and a dark red flannel shirt. Only one other person on their team would give so few shits about dressing up--
Derek pulls off the mask and says, “I just checked on Jackson, he's doing much better. A bit dehydrated, but better. Should be fine once he gets some rest.” He's clearly looking at Lydia, who sighs softly with relief and nods appreciatively at Derek.
He glances over at Stiles and a hint of a smile plays on his lips. Taking his place across from Stiles, Derek starts arranging the vegetable trays. They're silent until Derek says in a low, amused tone, “You look adorable.”
It takes Stiles a good five seconds to realize Derek was referring to him, and his face immediately lights up with embarrassment. God he knew he hated costume parties for a reason.
“Shut up I hate you,” he mutters, carefully dicing a tomato while refusing to look at Derek.
“You do not.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “Big bad wolf, obviously.”
Stiles glances up to catch a smirk flickering across Derek's stupidly smug face.
“You could have been Little Red,” Derek adds, meeting Stiles' eyes before he can glance back down at the tomatoes.
“Bet you would have loved that,” Stiles says, not daring to look up again.
“I would have.”
There isn't a hint of sarcasm in Derek's voice, and when Stiles looks up, it's missing from his eyes as well. There's nothing but a wide smile on his lips, and it sends a jolt through Stiles.
Before he can say anything, the door swings open and Finstock is standing there, in what Stiles can only hope he'll be able to mentally bleach from his memory. He's wearing what looks like a Christmas wreath around his head, and a deep purple toga that ends above his knees. It's awful, to say the least.
Stiles wants nothing more in that instant than to liquify and disappear through the floorboards, but unfortunately, he's not Alex Mack, and unfortunately, Derek has clapped a strong hand on his shoulder and is holding him in place.
“Be nice,” Derek says into his ear.
Stiles shivers, snapping, “I'm always nice.”
“I will murder you in your sleep,” Stiles whispers through gritted teeth, forcing a fake smile as he waves at a retreating Finstock. Derek kept him locked in conversation with their high school lacrosse coach for well over ten minutes, and Stiles is damn-near-homicidal at this point.
“Testy,” Derek says with a chuckle, finally releasing his steel grip on Stiles' shoulder.
Stiles jerks away, stomping over to Scott and putting on his best pouty face.
“I want to go home.”
“We can't bro, you know that. And besides, you know that doesn't work on me,” Scott gestures to Stiles' protruding lower lip and smiles affectionately.
“Everything sucks, and I can't be held responsible for anything I do as a result of the emotional anguish this job has caused me, okay?”
Scott pats him on the shoulder and repeats, “Okay” before handing him a tray of blood orange martinis and shooing him in the direction of the main party.
Lining every hallway and sofa of Finstock's house are 40-somethings dressed in horrifically scant clothing, many openly making out and grinding up on each other on any available surface. Stiles has to actively restrain himself from making a gagging noise—or just actually gagging. He pauses occasionally in front of the more well-behaved guests, couples talking quietly in porticoes or seated on benches. He offers them a drink and moves on, praying that he's one martini closer to going home.
It's when he feels a hand on his ass that it all goes to hell.
He flinches at the touch, whipping around to snap “what the fuck?” at a particularly bald, toothy man eying him up and down like he's on display in a storefront window.
Stiles tries to be polite. “Excuse me, sir, but I'm trying to work, so could you please refrain from touching me without my permission?” He tries to walk away, but the man side-steps to block his path. It takes everything in Stiles to not punch the creep in the face.
“I'll say it again, please--”
“I thought this was a party, I thought we were supposed to have fun.” He reaches toward Stiles, but before his hand can connect, a set of very broad shoulders covered in a stretch of dark red flannel separate him from Stiles.
Stiles has never been so relieved to see Derek in his life.
“I believe he asked you politely to not touch him again,” Derek says, voice low. His left arm is at his side, hand opened protectively across Stiles.
“God, so uptight. I was only messing around, what's a little fun gonna hurt? He doesn't look that upset.”
Stiles can feel a sudden shame churning his stomach. Like because he didn't say 'fuck off, creep' he was asking for it.
“Well, I'm upset.” Derek takes a step forward. The man takes a step back, raising a brow. “We came here together, so I'd prefer if you don't touch him anymore. I'm not going to say it more than once.”
Stiles feels a bit like he's gone temporarily deaf—like the sound around him is suddenly deadened, and he can only hear his heart pounding and the low, comforting tone of Derek's voice.
“You and him?” he says incredulously.
Derek turns towards Stiles and takes his hand into his. It's so warm, Stiles feels like it's burning him from the inside.
“Yeah. Me and him.”
“Oh please,” the creep says, trying to step around Derek to get to Stiles again. “I don't buy that for a second. Come with me boy, I'll show you a good time--”
Without hesitation, Derek pulls Stiles in close to him, out of reach. He brings his face into his hands and gives him a look that says, without question, I'm sorry. It's strange and Stiles can't tell why but he's too confused and upset to try to parse any of it out.
And then Derek kisses him, soft but sure, and Stiles can't breathe. He feels seasick, like the world around him is shifting uncontrollably. His legs go like jelly, and it's scary, vulnerable, passionate. He feels like he's on a carousel—he wants to stop the ride and get off, but he clings closer to his perch, refuses to let go. Because in all that tumult, there's that pillar, anchoring him to the certainty that he's going to be alright.
The man's voice is distant and Stiles can barely make it out in the dull buzzing that is his thoughts as Derek finally pulls away from him. The man could be tap-dancing in a clown suit and it wouldn't register with Stiles. All his brain can process is, Derek Hale just kissed me. Derek Hale just kissed me. Derek Hale just kissed me.
Derek's thumb absently strokes Stiles cheek and his breathing is hitched. Stiles tries to focus. Derek manages to mumble, “Stiles, I'm—I'm sorry, that was out of line. I just—I thought—”
They stare at each other for a long moment, neither quite sure what just happened. But this time, it's Stiles who closes the distance between them.
Stiles isn't sure how it's happening or why it's happening but it's like his brain is malfunctioning and erroring out on that single line: Derek Hale just kissed me. It's sent him over the edge. It's like nothing make sense so he might as well enjoy the moment and the way Derek's lips feel against his and the steadiness of Derek's hands on his hips and the way it feels like everything and nothing is right with the world.
Because maybe it's the heat of the room or Derek trying to keep creepy balding guys away from him, but they go from zero to sixty and Derek’s pushing Stiles up against the wall and hungrily running his hands up and down his body like its definitely not for show, but it is, right? Derek's pressing a knee between Stiles' legs and he's painfully aware of the way his pants are painfully tight and how painfully he wants Derek to stop touching him like that because god what is happening—but he also never wants him to stop which is an even stranger, more undeniable need?
“Stiles,” Derek says his name low and heavy, like the word is a drug. People are definitely staring but Stiles is having trouble concentrating on anything but Derek's tongue licking a long hot stripe down his neck.
“I can't breathe—what's happening oh god, am I hallucinating, am I high? This is reality tv or something. I'm dead, aren't I—” Stiles is jabbering nonsense into the crook of Derek's neck and shoulder, completely at a fucking loss for what to make of the current situation.
“Stiles.” Derek repeats, this time more desperate, his voice carrying a devastatingly ragged edge to it that makes Stiles convinced that yes, he is very much dead, and yes, this is some sort of comatose dream-world he has entered into because how the fuck else can he explain the events of the last five minutes other than divine intervention?
“We've got to—we can't—it's fucking Finstock's, this isn't happening? Christ Derek," Stiles is rambling into Derek's kisses and it's like hearing his name is a trigger. Derek pulls Stiles closer, literally lifts him off the ground like its normal, like Stiles is a paperweight, and carries him over to a vacated sofa in a side room. He lowers Stiles onto the plush red cushions and just stares down at him with a look that utterly defies Stiles' comprehension.
Derek's weight is pressing down on him, hot and definitely this is not for show Stiles thinks, this is more than that right?
Just as Derek bends low to kiss Stiles again, a sharp yelp halts them, sending both of them jolting upright.
Scott looks at them like they've grown two faces, and he manages a soft "...uh, guys?"
Stiles scrabbles upwards and nearly collides with Derek's chin in his haste to sit up.
"Hey! Oh! We were just, it's that, we, this guy was hassling me and—Derek here, he was, helping. We had to pretend, you know? So uh—mission accomplished!"
Stiles glances at Derek and he has this unreadable look, his hazel eyes clouded over. The only thing Stiles can place is hurt, but it's gone as quickly as he thinks he's seen it, replaced by that perpetual stoic, bristling irritation.
“Job well done,” Derek snaps, climbing off Stiles and running a hand through his thick mussed hair before grabbing his tray and storming out.
“Stiles?” Scott squeaks, but Stiles eyes are trained on the path Derek took and the taste of him lingering on his lips.
“I'm gonna need you to pinch me, buddy.” Stiles says, feeling like he's very much about to pass out.
AHHHHHH! I literally haven't updated in what seems like months, but I sat down and wrote this out because how could I not post the Halloween chapter ON Halloween? Even though only about 3 people are still reading this, I hope you enjoy it. :)
Chapter 5: The Stuart Birthday
For two weeks, it's like Derek has vanished.
He doesn't come in to work, doesn't show up unannounced at Stiles' house to give him asinine assignments from Danny, doesn't so much as breathe a whisper of his existing in Beacon Hills. Not that Stiles is looking for him—because Stiles definitely doesn't catch himself staring at the door at the office, expecting a particularly broad set of shoulders to sulk through. He doesn't turn corners and feel a twinge of hope that he'll bump into a gruff, stubbled man with a penchant for making fun of him. Not that Derek's increased presence in Stiles' dreams seems inversely proportional to the amount of time Stiles sees him in the flesh, but Stiles has been dreaming about Derek. A lot. More than he cares to admit.
And they're not exactly dreams about Derek knitting him sweaters or running through fields of daisies; though, Stiles thinks, those might be nice too.
It's strange, the feeling settling in his gut whenever he's left to his own devices long enough to really think about what transpired the last time they saw each other. He feels his cheeks burning at the memory of it, a flash of heat rushing through him that makes him feel itchy and light, like he might crawl out of his skin if he doesn't think about something else soon. But he doesn't want to stop thinking about it; he wants to climb into that moment and live in it for a while, held by nothing but the feeling of Derek's arms around him, blotting out everything else.
It's dizzying, to say the least.
Stiles realizes his little preoccupation has become a problem when his father starts waving a hand in front of his face in the midst of a slapdash dinner he prepared.
“I know my cooking's bad, but can't you at least pretend to be enjoying it?”
“It's good Dad, sorry. Just, stuff on my mind.”
“Oh?” he nudges his arm, giving a knowing look. “Lady problems?”
Stiles rolls his eyes.
“It's Lydia, isn't it?”
“Not that again Dad.”
If Stiles is being honest, Lydia hasn't even crossed his mind in weeks, which is in itself some small miracle. That girl had managed to occupy his thoughts for the better half of twenty years and now he barely gives her the time of day—at least in the way his dad is implying. In Derek's absence he's spent more time with her, Lydia seeming almost sympathetic to his sudden mood-swings and irritability. She never comments on the fact that his eyes often flicker to the seat where Derek usually resides and then dart away, a little sadder for the journey. If he wasn't mistaken he'd think that Lydia's trying to distract him, and he appreciates it, though he won't admit it.
Scott is all kindness and support, which although grating at times is ultimately the thing that keeps Stiles sane. It's like a little jolt of good-vibes when he gets to spend time with Scott, and for that he's grateful.
As the third week of Derek's absence creeps up, Stiles feels almost better—almost like the itch is gone, like the uncertain ache in his chest has subsided. Like his brain isn't spinning at a constant blitz every waking moment, trying to figure out just what Finstock's party meant. It feels like he's ready to just say fuck it, and move on.
Stiles walks in to the catering office and Derek's sitting with his chin in his palm at the table on the opposite side of the room, speaking in low tones to Jackson.
It knocks the wind out of him.
Stiles literally freezes in the doorway, involuntarily making a move for the exit in a panic before catching himself and speed-walking to his usual spot. He's careful to never look back at where he thinks he's seen Derek, because Stiles is now 98% sure he's gone past mere dreaming and day-dreaming to straight up hallucinating Derek back into his life.
He gives himself a full thirty seconds, seconds that he painstakingly counts out in his head—one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand—before allowing his eyes to drift back towards Jackson's seat.
And sure enough, Derek is carrying on like he didn't just disappear off the face of the earth for three weeks. He's clean-shaven, wearing a frustratingly well-fitting leather jacket, and worst of all—he's smiling. He has the nerve to nod at Stiles when he notices him staring, the fact that they'd almost ripped each other's clothes off in a public place not seeming to cross his mind in the slightest.
Stiles spends the entire team meeting stealing glances at Derek and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Why Derek didn't say anything to him, what his utter radio silence could have meant now that he's calmly sitting not twenty feet from him acting like he's ready to bake a fucking cake. Stiles would think he's still imagining him into existence if it weren't for Jackson continually turning to whisper things into Derek's ear.
Nope, definitely not a hallucination. Definitely the real, breathing Derek Hale, in the flesh. And he hasn't so much as blinked in Stiles' direction since that one meager nod. Stiles can hardly sit still. It's not just unnerving, seeing him sitting there; it's downright maddening.
When the meeting ends Derek collects his things and is out the door so quickly Stiles feels like the room is spinning, and Derek's already got his keys in the ignition by the time Stiles makes it to the parking lot. He stands there dumbstruck as Derek pulls away, the sinking feeling in his stomach only worsened by the vague sensation of that all-too-familiar ache returning to his chest.
He swears under his breath that he wishes Derek would have stayed gone, but knows that's a lie he'll never be able to convince himself is true.
Three days later they're setting up for a kids' party, the Stuart's small white-picket-fence house turned into a monstrosity of moon bounces and streamers. Scott's explaining his most recent dance with danger in the form of the Argent parents, and Stiles' can only bring himself to halfheartedly listen. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Derek lifting trays of cupcakes with cat-faced frosting and it's honestly too distracting. Everything Derek does irritates him. When Derek looks at him, irritated. When Derek doesn't look at him, irritated. When Derek looks at anything or does anything or doesn't do anything, irritated.
They've literally not spoken since Finstock's and it feels like some awful compulsion, like the words are threatening to fly out of his mouth when he's even within shouting distance of Derek. Why did you kiss me? Why did you leave? Why did I like it so much? Why hasn't it happened again—he catches himself around that line of thought every time and feels his face burning. The worst is when he's thinking about that night and finds Derek watching him, like he can see the thoughts spinning around in his head. It feels so awfully weird, like he's transparent and his every potential unchaste thought is laid out in plain view for his now-silent coworker. A coworker, Stiles would defiantly add, is the one who grabbed him in the first place, the one who kissed him hard and fast, the one who opened this godforsaken can of unholy worms.
At one point Derek tries to take a heavy crate from Stiles' and he pulls his hands away so fast he nearly falls over. It's not a proud moment, but the idea of even touching Derek has him so keyed up that he can't even look in his direction. As Stiles storms off, he manages to shout over his shoulder, “I've got it, just back off!”
He knows he's being childish. He knows he's being unreasonable. But it's a knee-jerk reaction; it's out of his control. After he snaps at Derek he feels guilty, but he can't shake the feeling that the minute he stops being mad, he'll have to deal with the other feelings he's been fighting tooth and nail to bury deep, deep down.
Stiles is setting up trays of cookies outside when he notices Derek across the pool. He's crouched low on bent knee, and he's honest-to-god putting a band aid on a comically tiny girl's arm. It's enough to make Stiles want to jump off a bridge. It's sickeningly sweet, and Stiles knows he's openly staring and he just does not care. He feels Lydia tap him on the arm and say, “Close your mouth, you're going to catch flies” with a light laugh. But he can't deal with Derek smiling at little kids and trying to help him and being generally well-mannered instead of a total fucking mess like himself. It makes him mad. It makes him insecure. Because why is he so all over the place when Derek seems fine?
Before he can argue with himself any further, a pack of children rush past him and Stiles is in the pool. That's it—one minute he's angrily staring at Derek, the next, underwater. His legs are tangling in the tarp that covered it, and he wonders in a half-dazed second of chlorine inhalation if he should just stay down there, but there's a hand in the water and he reaches for it without thinking.
As Derek pulls him out of the pool Stiles thinks he definitely should have stayed underwater, but it's too late, because he's dragging him to his feet and ushering kids out of the way so he can bring him around the side of the house and out of sight. One of the mothers is apologizing profusely and Stiles can hear Lydia reassuring her that 'it's fine, he's a great swimmer,' which although true doesn't excuse the fact that some little gremlins just shoved him into a pool and he could have cracked his head and drowned. Stiles staggers into the garage behind Derek and collapses onto a workbench before breaking into weak laughter.
“This has to be a joke,” he mutters, wiping the water from his eyes.
Derek is just staring at him. He takes a halting step forward, as though testing Stiles' willingness to allow him closer. He's honestly too spent to care, so he instead tugs a soggy shoe off and throws it across the garage. Derek retreats into the house and returns with an armful of towels, wrapping one around Stiles' neck.
“Of course the kids love you, and they try to drown me.” Stiles towels off his hair, sheltering himself with the safety of jokes, because this is the first time he's really been alone with Derek and he's soaked to the bone and pretty sure that if he gets angry he'll just look even more ridiculous.
Without a word, Derek starts unbuttoning Stiles' shirt, his fingers slowly working their way down the front of his chest.
“Whoa!” Stiles leans back, eyes wide. He can feel a flush creeping up his neck and into his cheeks. Derek's fingers pause at the fourth button. There's a vague smile on his lips.
“You were talking instead of taking this off. If you don't change soon you're going to catch a cold.” He nods to his hands and adds, “Do you mind?”
Stiles feels like he's practically burning from the inside out, the way Derek's standing just between his legs, fingers near his ribcage. He wonders if the heavy pulse of his heart is traveling outward enough for Derek to feel his heart rattling in his chest.
“Uh, nope, as you were.”
Derek quirks a brow and makes quick work of the rest of the buttons, ignoring Stiles' “Well this is, uh, intimate,” as he peels off Stiles' wet shirt and wraps another towel around his shoulders.
Derek's watching him as he pulls the towel closer to cover his chest. There’s a look Stiles would almost call affectionate on Derek's face, but that seems a stretch. They're silent again, the only sound between them the loud laughter and noise streaming from the backyard.
Stiles wants to say something—wants to say so many somethings. It's all so confusing, so frustrating and weird and impossible to parse out. He's spent the last three weeks picking it apart in his head, why he's felt so listless and bored and angry. And he knows the answer, but he's honestly too scared to say it out loud to himself because then it's real. It's something he has to own to, and god knows he's not ready for that.
It's not that Stiles' can't admit that he's attracted to Derek. His very real crush on Danny in high school was something of a running joke between himself and Scott. He dated a couple guys casually in college. But for years Stiles thought he wanted Lydia, and for years he'd told himself he hated Derek. He was disagreeable and moody and unreadable and had never seemed like Stiles' biggest fan.
But the thought of the rough scrape of Derek's beard along his cheek and the smell of his skin and the way Derek sometimes watches him out of the corner of his eye sends everything all haywire and twisted up and weird. Because maybe he doesn't hate Derek, maybe he doesn't hate him at all.
There are things they don't talk about; like the boat wedding where Derek got sick and Stiles spent upwards of an hour rubbing his back and pressing a towel to his forehead. Like the time Stiles got drunk on wine coolers and Derek let him sleep in his hotel bed while he took the sofa. Like the time less than three weeks ago Derek pressed him up against a wall in a room full of people and kissed him like he's never been kissed before, like something very, very important depended upon it. They certainly don't talk about that.
And Stiles has never been very fond of math but when he adds it all up in his head it comes out to a lot of not talking and a lot of weird restrained looks and avoidant touches that leave Stiles wanting to scream or laugh or do anything really other than spend another ten minutes in Derek's company pretending nothing happened between them.
So finally he asks the question that's been eating away at him for three weeks:
"Why did you kiss me?"
It's like a massive weight has been lifted off his chest and he can finally breathe again, until he realizes Derek will actually have to answer, and his lungs immediately constrict again.
“Took you long enough,” Derek says with a laugh.
“You've been thinking about it all day. All week, really. Your face has had that scrunched concentrated look it gets when you're thinking really hard about something you want to say to me but you're concerned about what I'll say. Well, that, and you looked pissed.”
“That's a very specific look. I have a look for that?”
“You definitely do.”
Stiles feels himself starting to smile because this is something like banter and the world hasn't imploded just yet and Derek's actually smirking at him and it's enough to give him damned butterflies, which Stiles really doesn't need right now considering Derek didn't answer his question.
“You kissed me,” Stiles starts again.
“You honestly don't know the answer to that?”
Stiles swallows hard. Too scared to take a leap.
“You were saving me from that creep.”
“God Stiles, in some ways you're more of a child than those kids who pushed you into the pool, you know that?”
“Hey!” He defensively clutches the towel tighter. The November chill is unforgiving.
“Fine, you don't want to answer, then try again, new question.” Derek's jaw is set and his eyes locked on Stiles.
“Fine. Why did you leave?”
It hits Stiles square in the gut, and he can feel himself deflating. The answer he didn't want, laid out with two sharp words.
Stiles shakes his head, shrugging. “No, I mean, it's not like it meant anything, right?”
Derek laughs; it's a hollow, ragged laugh, like the wind's been knocked out of him.
“Listen, Stiles, I can't keep doing this—pretending and evading. I left because I was angry, I left because I was sick to death of setting myself up for failure, okay?”
There's a jagged edge to his voice, like he's really going to lose it and all of the reserve he's built up for the last week will break. Maybe he didn't have it all together. Maybe Stiles is really as oblivious as Lydia says he is.
“What are you talking about?” Stiles is genuinely confused, and not just by the very strong urge telling him to reach out for Derek's hand. He keeps it at bay, but only just.
“Look, I know you've been friends with Scott since you were practically in diapers. And I'm not an idiot, Stiles, I know how you feel and that you don't want me messing up your chances with him now. So I'm backing off, okay? That's why I left. I left so I could try to get past all that, to give you space. And—just—you're making it really goddamn hard for me, alright?”
Derek's rubbing his forehead and pacing in front of him, but Stiles can't help feeling like he's entered an alternate dimension and nothing is making sense.
“I'm sorry, can we just—can we backtrack a second because you kind of lost me at—do you think I, I mean...do you think I have feelings of a non-brotherly, non-platonic nature for Scott?”
Derek stops and gives Stiles an incredulous look.
Stiles glances around himself, down to his bare feet and at the ceiling of the garage. Nope, definitely still in Beacon Hills. Definitely still half-naked and soaking wet.
“Do you—are you saying you think I have feelings of a romantic sort for Scott McCall?”
For a half second Derek looks utterly baffled, blinking furiously and studying Stiles like he's telling him some elaborate joke that he just doesn't understand.
Stiles bursts out laughing.
It's all too much and he can't feel his feet because it's so cold and his pants are sticking to his legs and chafing and Derek thinks he's in love with Scott and it's really, really too much.
“Oh my god, NO. Just—I love Scott, yes, but like a brother. A very brothery brother. The most brotherly of brothers. I may have had a tiny crush on him when we were younger, but that was truly nipped in the bud and now I don't look at him any differently than I'd look at like, I don't know, a favorite couch?”
Stiles is staring at Derek with his mouth agape, laughter creeping back.
“You thought I was in love with Scott? Scott! Dude, just, why?”
Derek turns his back to Stiles and throws his hands in the air.
“Jesus Stiles! You spend all your time with him, you always seem like you can't get away from me fast enough when Scott's there, like you're worried he'll—...” Derek stops himself, massaging his temples.
Derek turns to face him, expression uncertain.
“He'll think we're together...or something.”
Derek shakes his head.
“Like that. I mean, do you even—what do you think of me? You just—” and Derek can't even finish his thought, he's so frustrated. He takes two steps towards Stiles, leans in towards his face, and stops himself. There's a look of total seriousness on his dark features.
“Do you remember that night on the ferris wheel?”
Stiles is pretty sure he's stopped breathing, but nods vigorously.
“Do you remember what I told you?”
“Uh...?” Words aren't exactly flowing freely in the scattered chaos of his mind.
“I'll remind you. I told you I wasn't interested in pretending anymore. That if I liked you, there would be no mistake about it. Well?”
Stiles is pretty sure his heart is going to burst straight through his rib cage.
Derek waits a few seconds, like he's giving Stiles an out, a chance to run. But Stiles is planted to that work bench and he's staring at Derek's deep hazel eyes and he can't imagine any reason he would ever run in any direction but towards him. And Derek kisses him, not as desperately as at Finstock's, but with purpose. Certain, soft, and slow. When he pulls away Stiles' eyes are still closed, his head fuzzy.
“Consider this your notice, Stilinski. Your move.”
And with that, Derek smiles and goes back into the house, leaving Stiles barefoot and heart-stopped in someone else's garage.
Oh well, it's been months? Basically I am the worst at updating, but lovely people have been encouraging me to return to this (not so) little fic! I'm sorry it's so drawn out, but basically all I know how to write is fluff and slow burns so you get that basically? Anyway, I hope those of you who are still reading this will enjoy!
It's not just that Stiles can't get the feeling of Derek's lips out of his mind—it's that every time Derek walks into a room it's like someone's lit a flame under him, like Stiles can't sit still or he might actually spontaneously combust or run through a wall or scream “I really enjoyed how you put your mouth on my mouth and I want to do it again but what does this mean?” at the top of his lungs without his own consent.
He's a mess. In every possible sense. Like a schoolboy crush on steroids. He can't even look at Derek without feeling his face flush, so he generally avoids looking at him at all. Except it's unbearable knowing he's ten feet away and Stiles can't touch him, or ask him about his day, even though the last time they spoke Stiles was soaked to the bone in chlorine and Derek basically told him the grown-up equivalent of “I like you like you and if you don't think I have cooties I think we should go steady”.
But Stiles is right back in middle school, trailing after Derek and wondering why the hell someone older and cooler than him even tolerated him in the first place. He can't wrap his head around it because he spent the better half of a decade convincing himself Derek was always going to be that strong-but-silent type who would move somewhere far away and marry a supermodel. But he's really just five feet away mixing cake batter, and in a period of only a few months Stiles has kissed him—really kissed him, even groped him—and Derek seems more than okay with the fact that Stiles isn't the supermodel of Stiles' own imaginings.
But instead of taking Derek's advice and making his move, Stiles avoids him. Flat-out. He takes the long way to the store rooms, uses Scott as a buffer, makes excuses to work opposite shifts. Because the idea of telling Derek that yeah, maybe he has feelings for him that he's been trying to avoid since he returned to Beacon Hills is more than a little terrifying.
And yet—Derek seems unfazed by Stiles' painfully obvious attempts to put less than a continent between them. He goes out of his way to be excessively touchy, the way he'll graze Stiles' wrist as he takes a tray from him, brush against him as they move past each other in the hallway in the rare intervals Stiles can't avoid him. And that's not even getting close to the looks Derek's shooting Stiles whenever he dares to meet his gaze. They'd be pretty unspeakable, if Stiles would admit he was registering them instead of acting blind to their effect on him.
Lydia pulls him aside during prep on a particularly busy day, nodding in Derek's direction.
“I'm sorry, but this is getting downright distracting. And a bit pathetic.”
Her expression is equal parts annoyed and amused, like she's secretly proud of Stiles but won't give him that until he does something about it.
“I have no idea what you're referring to, absolutely no clue.” Stiles shoves a tray of thinly-sliced cheeses across the counter to Scott. His best friend just beams and salutes, then carries them away.
Lydia rolls her eyes.
“Even Scott has noticed. He won't say anything to you because you aren't saying anything and he's too sweet to bring it up, bless his soul, but I on the other hand am not.”
Stiles mutters something about using “Lydia” and the word “sweet” in conjunction being a mortal sin and she punches his arm fiercely, tossing her curls over her shoulder.
“Honestly, if this goes on much longer I'm going to lock the both of you in one of the meat coolers until you either work this out or freeze to death. Because it's really on the verge of turning into a 'check yes or no if you like me' scenario, Stilinski, and we're above that here, aren't we?”
Stiles shrugs and tugs on his collar, only barely meeting her gaze.
“It's not—I don't—look, Lydia, it's just very—”
She cuts him off with a dismissive wave.
“If you say complicated, I swear I will smack those charming freckles right off of your face, you hear me?”
“Everything is complicated, Stiles. Especially relationships. That doesn't mean you just ignore it until it goes away. Because that would be a great shame, for you, and for him.”
Stiles marvels at the look in her eyes, a look he can only describe as a certain kindness one has for creatures in great suffering. Lydia presses a hand on his shoulder and smiles softly, kissing him on the cheek.
“You've got to do something, anything. I know you've got it in you.”
And with that she flounces off to Jackson's side, tugging at his bowtie and beaming like she was made from some perfect mixture of all the goodness and destructiveness in the world. It's no wonder that he thought himself in love with her for years—few men could know such a girl and not love her in some small but profound way.
But before Stiles can do that something, anything, Danny pushes the doors to the kitchen open and waves everyone in for an announcement. Stiles tries excessively hard to ignore the feeling of Derek's eyes boring into the back of his head.
“As you all may know, the NACE conference is this weekend, and we have to send three representatives of our staff. I will of course be attending, but used your co-evaluations and recommendations to decide the other two members of our staff who will be joining me.”
Stiles nudges Scott in the ribs, whispering, “What's he talking about?”
“National Association of Catering Executives? You get to eat great food and get tons of free stuff, it's great! We filled out eval's last week that would determine who goes, I think it was when you were...sick?”
Ah yes, sick. Meaning the day after the Stuart Birthday Party and Stiles was literally too scared to face Derek so he called in sick to work to avoid him. And now he was going to miss out on sweet catering swag because he's a coward. Karma.
“One of our newest employees will be joining me,” Danny says, motioning to Derek. Stiles feels his heart skip and he's suddenly very grateful that he did fake being sick and not nominate himself for this trip because the idea of spending four days in extremely close quarters with Derek is almost too much for him to handle in his fragile emotional-about-Derek-Hale state.
The team claps politely and Danny says in a clear, distinct voice, “Stiles.”
Stiles blinks several times, glancing around himself like he missed a question to which he unknowingly raised his hand to answer.
Danny chuckles, motioning towards Derek. “Didn't you hear me? The team voted you as the third member for the conference.”
Stiles stares blankly at them, taking a half-step forward when Scott claps a warm hand on his back and says, “Congrats dude!”
Shaky laughter trickles from him as he musters up a weak 'thank you' to Danny and the team, not daring to look at Derek. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Lydia beaming and waving two aggressive thumbs ups at him, a smug grin on her lips.
When the meeting is over he rushes to her and tugs on her elbow. “The hell? You orchestrated this whole thing, didn't you? No one would vote for me unless you told them to! NACE is the meat cooler, isn't it? It's the friggin' meat cooler, Lydia!”
She simply taps him on the nose and repeats, “You've got to do something.”
He's about to go off about the merits of minding one's own business when he feels a familiar hand on his shoulder, a warmth that reaches down to his skin.
“Well then, I guess it's you and me, roomie.”
Derek's waving a folder of papers in front of Stiles' face, looking deeply satisfied despite the obvious panic in Stiles' eyes.
“R-roomie?” He repeats, eying the folder.
“We're sharing a room. Wouldn't you know, Danny took the only single and left us to ourselves.”
Stiles is relatively sure his face could stop traffic it's so red, so he just snatches the folder from Derek and mutters, “awesome” as he practically sprints to his jeep.
Once inside he rolls up the windows and counts to ten, slowing his breathing and trying not to think about sharing a room with Derek. He tries very hard not to think about Derek changing in front of him, showering near him, sleeping next to him. For someone so emotionally and, admittedly, sexually frustrated as Stiles, this is quite possibly the worst thing he could imagine.
“I'm gonna die,” he whispers, slowing banging his head against the steering wheel. “I'm gonna puke, and then I'm gonna die.”
Stiles' knows the more than 6 hour drive with Danny and Derek shouldn't be unpleasant. Danny is always more the accommodating, so easy-going that it's almost impossible to feel uncomfortable in his company. But Stiles has to wonder if the nearly palpable tension between himself and Derek is too much for even the most laid-back of people. Because after about an hour of Stiles' dead silence, Danny actually asks if he should pull over, because he's worried Stiles is ill.
“I'm fine! I'm just tired. You made me get up at the ass-crack of dawn when we really don't even need to be there until tomorrow,” Stiles snaps defensively, tucking his chin into his shoulder and staring out the window as barren fields speed past them.
“You know it's better to check in to the hotel the night before. We'll have to be up even earlier tomorrow for the Opening Breakfast and Design Experience.”
Stiles rolls his eyes.
“Besides, the welcome reception is tonight. Don't want to miss that.”
Stiles can't tell if Danny is intending to be patronizing, but he's too tired to care. He rolls toward the window, trying to balance his head in the awkward space between the headrest and the window. It's then that he feels Derek prodding him from the backseat, pushing a neatly-folded sweater over Stiles' shoulder. It lands in his lap before he can protest, and Derek mutters, “Use it as a pillow. I'm not wearing it.”
He catches Danny glancing away from the road just long enough to eye the sweater, and Stiles swears he sees him crack a small grin before returning to his natural neutral expression.
“Thanks,” he manages, too weary to fight Derek this early. Instead, he tucks the sweater under the crook of his neck and tries not to show how much he loves the smell of Derek all over the fabric.
When he wakes up, they're at a 7-11 two hours outside of their destination.
“How long was I out?” he groans, stretching into the ceiling of the van.
“Almost 3 hours,” Derek chuckles. “You weren't kidding. You were tired. You even snored a bit.”
“Did not!” Stiles says, sounding a little like an alarmed ten year old. He folds Derek's now-rumpled sweater and hands it back to him. “Thanks.”
Derek stuffs it back in his bag. The pump clicks off and Danny climbs back in the van, tossing a look between the two of them.
“Aren't you gonna get out and stretch a bit? We've still got a ways to go.”
Stiles glances at Derek and jumps out the door without a word. After performing a number of exaggerated stretches and running inside to grab a ridiculous big gulp, he climbs back into the van to find Derek scrolling through his ipod, which is now plugged into the car's speakers.
“Hey!” he tries to snatch it out of his hands but Derek is too quick, leaning into the back seat with a grin. "Don't you know going through someone's ipod is like reading their diary?"
“Why do you think I find this so interesting? Not bad. I was expecting way more whiny teen punk though.”
“Says the guy whose ipod is probably just playlist after playlist of angsty Hoobastank. Or Creed.”
Derek rolls his eyes and dodges another wild grab from Stiles, seeming satisfied as he presses play. He hands the ipod back to Stiles and their fingertips brush, sending a jolt through Stiles. He hates that after all this time, Derek still has that effect on him, but it's sort of insanely gratifying to feel that rush from a simple touch. He doesn't let his mind wander to what other touches might do to his poor overwrought brain.
Steady drums pound out of the speakers as Danny pulls out of the gas station, and Stiles can feel that all-too-familiar burning sensation of Derek staring at the back of his head. He shuts his eyes and draws in a deep breath as the lyrics spill out around him, 'Every time you close your eyes, lies! Every time you close your eyes, lies!'
It's going to be a long trip.
The hotel is absurdly grand for something as unglamorous as a catering convention, but Stiles can't complain. There's a massive fountain in the lobby and a giant banner hanging in the atrium with “Welcome to NACE West!” in cheerful letters.
Danny checks them in and smugly hands Stiles the keys to his and Derek's shared room, not even bothering to hide his amusement. After loading them up with their welcome pamphlets and a bag of NACE swag (Stiles knows Scott will love 99% of the stuff in the bag so he doesn't bother opening anything), they take the elevator up to the 7th floor.
“Well, this is where we part ways. Reception's in a half hour, so get settled in and meet me in the lobby.”
“Wait—what? You're not even on the same floor as us?”
“Executive suite,” Danny says with a grin as the elevator doors close.
“Traitor!” Stiles shouts, not bothering to wait for Derek as he storms off down the hallway. He finds room 714 and says a silent prayer that Danny will have made the note for two queen beds. As the door swings open, Stiles almost slams it shut when he sees the single king.
“One bed, huh?” Derek says with a chuckle, brushing past Stiles to throw his bag on the foot of the bed. “You cool with the left side?”
Stiles is standing in the doorway, watching Derek pulling the curtains open and settling in like it's not totally weird for them to share a bed after where they left off.
“One bed.” Stiles repeats, slowly entering and jumping as the door closes behind him.
“Jesus Stiles, relax. I'm sure you've shared a bed with Scott before.”
It's true, he and Scott had shared a bed on multiple occasions when they were traveling to lacrosse tournaments. But somehow that hadn't seemed so totally overwhelming as trying to deal with the thought of sharing a bed with Derek; the idea of waking up next to him, maybe their limbs would be tangled together and god the way Derek smelled up close...
“Yeah, but this is...different,” Stiles manages, still hovering at the doorway.
Derek quirks a brow. “Oh, how so?”
Stiles swallows and just gestures at Derek, as if that's a sufficient answer.
“Oh," he pauses to open his suitcase. "It's weird for you because you know I'm into you.”
Stiles drops his bag and scrambles to pick it up, stammering, “For the—god, Derek—could you maybe not...when you say that it's—”
“This is gonna be fun,” Derek says with genuine amusement, tugging at the collar of his shirt. “Yeah, this is good.”
“I really don't think those are the words I would choose, but...”
“You should start taking that off,” Derek says abruptly, pointing at Stiles' grungy t-shirt.
“Um, excuse me?” His eyes are the size of plates.
Derek's pulling off his own shirt, and Stiles is almost certain for a half second he's going to have a straight up heart-attack and die on that gross hotel carpet because the sight of Derek's bare chest is almost too much for him to process.
“Uh, is this...” Stiles is just blatantly staring now and has lost any ability to care, because maybe he underestimated the perks of this potentially mortifying situation when he was focusing on how hard it would be for him to be around Derek and not talk about feelings.
“I meant you should take that off because we have to get dressed up for the reception. Get your mind out of the gutter.”
If the floor could open up and swallow him whole, now would be a good time. Stiles grabs his bag and makes a move for the bathroom, shouting over his shoulder.
“You're terrible, you know that, right?”
He can just barely make out Derek answering, “Please, you love it.”
As Stiles pulls off his t-shirt in favor of a slightly wrinkled button-up, he has to stop himself from agreeing with him.
hahahaha like I can even explain my delays in updating! basically, I've challenged myself to finish this fic before season 3 premieres. LET'S DO THIS.