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Counting to Infinity

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The news comes while Stiles is driving home from school, in the form of a garbled message over the police radio he had stolen (borrowed) from his father some months ago, informing him of a series of explosives going off in the woods. His Jeep swerves a little as he shouts, “What the fuck!” very loudly, and then he’s swinging around and speeding towards the woods.

He slows a little as he approaches, staring at the smoke curling up into the sky. Sirens are wailing in the distance, and he knows there’s no way he’ll be able to get into the woods with his Jeep, so he turns and heads for home, half-formed ideas of sneaking in on foot filling his mind.

Such thoughts flee immediately when he enters his room and sees Derek crouched on the floor beneath the window, covered in blood.

“Oh my god!” he exclaims, running over.

Derek looks up at him, and Stiles tries not to shudder at the dazed, faraway look the werewolf gives him.

“What happened, are you hurt, was it the Argents, how did they set fucking explosives, are you hurt, oh my god, there’s blood everywhere,” he rambles as he runs his hands along Derek’s body, fingers snagging on his tattered clothes.

After a moment of frantic searching, Derek catches his wrists and says, “I’m fine,” but his voice sounds funny. “Healed.”

“Are you sure? ‘Cause you’re covered in blood, dude,” Stiles says. He tugs insistently at Derek’s shirt until Derek gets the hint and helps pull it off over his head, but when Stiles gets a good look he realizes that Derek was right; he doesn’t have any open wounds. Just a lot, lot of blood staining his clothes and body. He is in desperate need of a shower.

He says as much out loud, but Derek doesn’t respond, just stares at him, so Stiles hauls him to his feet and steers him towards his bathroom.

He waits until he hears the shower start to run, then sighs and goes to sink into his chair, propping his elbows up on his desk so he can rest his head in his hands and groan.

He has a headache.

Seriously, explosives?

Okay, well, first, he needs to figure out what the hell was up with those explosions, and if Derek is going to be okay going home. Because if not, they’ll have to figure out how to keep him hidden until it’s safe. If the Argents are behind this, he’s going to need to talk to Scott and Allison, although Derek might not like that. But who cares what Derek likes when he nearly died. Given the amount of blood on him, it’s a wonder he wasn’t blown to bits—

Thoughts of finding Derek’s bloody, dismembered body in the woods make Stiles’s stomach twist and he tries to block out the image because it doesn’t matter—Derek is alive—and he rubs his forehead a little harder than he should in an attempt to expel the thought.

He pushes himself back from his desk and busies himself with searching through his drawers. When Derek comes out of the shower, Stiles sheepishly hands him the largest clothes he could find, but Derek just takes them without a word.

“Hey,” he says, staring at the ceiling as Derek dresses, “so I really need you to tell me what’s going on, okay? What’s the situation? Or, like, what the hell even happened? Because I’d sure like to know why explosives were going off in the woods. And who set them.” Derek doesn’t answer, so he keeps pressing. “Is this a new threat? Is it something we have to worry about? Were they targeting you—are you in danger?”

Derek finishes dressing and walks to Stiles’s desk, where he rummages around until he produces a sheet of paper and a pencil.

It isn’t healing, he writes.

“Wha—” Stiles starts, but Derek taps the paper and shoves the pencil at him.

What isn’t, Stiles writes, frowning, and Derek snatches the pencil from him and writes, in shaky letters, My hearing.

“Oh. Shit.”

You’re deaf?? he writes, just to make sure, and Derek glares at him like he’s an idiot. Stiles holds up a placating hand. “Okay,” he mutters. And, again, “Shit.”

What happened in the woods? I heard there were explosives. Like, bombs or something? Or, what? What happened?

As Derek sits down and writes his response, Stiles grabs another pencil for himself so they don’t have to keep sharing. Then he leans over to read what Derek’s written.

I think there were mines—there were a lot. Appeared almost overnight. I don’t know who set them. So, not the Argents, probably. I was investigating. One of them went off, set off a chain reaction. My other wounds healed, but my hearing didn’t. Something’s scratched out that Stiles can’t read, then it says, So I came here.

Why here? Stiles wants to ask, but he doesn’t.

He’s staring at the paper contemplatively for a few seconds when Derek tacks on a sorry to the end of his message.

The apology surprises Stiles, but he waves it aside. Don’t worry about it. I’m guessing it’s not safe for you to go home?

Derek gives him another you’re-an-idiot look. Obviously not.

Don’t get snarky with me, you sourwolf. I’m the one letting you stay here.

Derek looks at him, surprised, and Stiles snorts and says, What, did you come here expecting me to turn you away? Have a little faith.

Though, to be honest, he’s a little surprised at himself, too. There’s no reason Stiles shouldn’t turn Derek away and send him to his own pack or something—and why didn’t Derek just go to them in the first place?

But it’s not like Stiles can just send Derek away after he showed up looking like he did.

Derek’s expression changes to something unidentifiable, then he nods a little. He looks really tired then, as if the day’s events have caught up to him, whatever adrenaline carrying him here in his state finally wearing off, and Stiles feels a surge of empathy.

Get some rest. You can have my bed.

Derek hesitates, then nods again and stands up.

“Wait,” Stiles says, the word trailing off awkwardly. He puts his hand on Derek’s arm to stop him.

Is—he hesitates—it permanent?

Derek doesn’t even look at him as he shrugs, and he doesn’t wait for Stiles’s reaction before he turns sharply and heads for the bed.

Stiles lets him go, and sighs. Now what?

He ends up making himself dizzy pacing around his room, waiting for his dad to get home. Because he has to tell his dad, this time, if he’s going to be giving Derek a place to stay, and Stiles figures it’ll go better if he tells him right away rather than wait for him to find out.

And, well, it’s not like Derek’s a fugitive this time, so how bad can it be, right?

He plops down in his chair and scrolls through his phone’s contacts list, just to give him something to do (besides stare at the werewolf currently sleeping on his bed). He hovers over Scott’s name for a moment, but ultimately decides against calling his friend. Scott and Derek aren’t exactly on the best terms right now, and, unlike with his dad, he’d rather save that conversation for later.

When he hears a door open and close, he practically bounds downstairs to meet his dad.

“Dad! Hi. What happened in the woods? Something about explosives?”

“I won’t even ask how you know about that,” his father sighs, even though Stiles is pretty sure he knows about the radio. “There isn’t much to say. We don’t know who set them, or why. We’re working on it. I’m actually about to go out again.”

“Oh, okay,” Stiles says. “Well, um, before you go, I have to tell you something. Uh.” Suddenly, it’s a lot harder to say what he’s thinking. Seriously, though, how is he supposed to tell him? So, you know Derek Hale? That guy? Yeah. I’m sure you’re familiar with him, ‘cause you arrested him for murder once. Even though it turns out he was innocent. Um. Well, he’s kind of staying here and he’s in my room right now? Is that okay?

And that is exactly what Stiles says out loud. Verbatim.

His dad stares at him. “Stiles!” he says.

“What?” he squeaks.

“Why is Derek Hale, a person of interest, in your room?”

“He was exonerated?” Stiles suggests, as if that will help.

The stare turns into a glare and a demand for an explanation.

“Okay, so I’m maybe acquainted with him,” Stiles admits. “More than I previously let on. A lot more. But the point is, he was caught in the explosion. Or—er, near it?” Right, a normal person wouldn’t have been able to survive whatever wounds Derek suffered when the mines went off. Stiles suppresses a shudder. “Anyway, he lost his hearing, okay? Can’t he stay for a while?”

“He’s deaf?” his dad asks, and Stiles nods.

“Yes, Dad. Like I said, he lost his hearing.” He can see his dad beginning to waver, unwilling to turn away someone in need, so he says, “Please? Just for a few days. I need to make sure he’s okay.”

His dad concedes, and even though he still looks uncertain, Stiles counts it a success.

“Thanks, Dad! Love you,” he says, hugs him quickly for good measure, and runs back upstairs.

Derek is still asleep when Stiles reenters his room. Stiles just watches him breathe for a minute before he catches himself staring (not for the first time) and forces himself to walk to his desk, where he attempts to do his homework but winds up spending his time wondering how he’s supposed to help Derek (wondering why Derek had come to him, of all people, for help), wondering who set those goddamn explosives in the first place, wondering what it’d be like if his hearing was suddenly taken away. He can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like.

In the end, he gets about half his homework done before he drags an old sleeping bag out of his closet and lays it on the floor next to the bed. He crawls inside and, mentally exhausted, falls asleep in minutes.

 

X

 

Derek wakes up dizzy and disoriented. He’s not sure where he is, and that alone should make him snap to alertness, but he feels far too sluggish, and all his muscles ache. So he remains laying on the unfamiliar mattress for a moment longer and closes his eyes again.

He breathes in and smells Stiles, and remembers that he’s in his bedroom. Inexplicably, the realization puts him more at ease. Something about Stiles’s scent makes him think, safe.

Then he remembers why he’s here in the first place, and his sleepiness is driven off as memories of yesterday’s events come rushing back.

He pushes himself up, ignoring his tired muscles’ protests, and strains forward, trying to hear something, anything—but there’s nothing. Only dead silence.

He really is deaf.

He inhales sharply, squeezing his eyes shut tightly. To be completely honest, he’s trying very hard not to cry right now.

This isn’t something he can just bounce back from; his sense of hearing is a huge part of him. He relies heavily on it, not just along with his other senses, but sometimes more than them. More often than not, his very survival depends on his hearing. And now it’s just gone, leaving Derek vulnerable.

It’s unnerving, it’s terrifying

It’s difficult to breathe.

Derek curls in on himself on the bed, gasping and struggling to take in air and regain control of his breathing, to fight off the wave of panic that’s overwhelming his mind.

He manages, after an indiscernible amount of time, to sit up again, and that’s when he notices a piece of paper on the bedside table. It’s a note from Stiles.

Derek,

Had to go to school, didn’t want to wake you up.

I had to tell my dad you’re staying here, but don’t worry about it. If you want to eat, you can have anything—uh, you might want to look in the freezer. And just. Yeah. Do whatever. But don’t break anything. And DON’T run off and do something stupid. I’ll be back this evening after lacrosse practice and we can work stuff out then.

Stiles

Derek feels he has more self-preservation instincts than Stiles gives him credit for. He isn’t going anywhere today.

Now that he’s more or less collected himself, Derek can tell that the house is empty, so he assumes Stiles’s father must have already gone to work. That’s good. Derek doesn’t really want a face-to-face with him yet. He looks at the clock and realizes that he’s already slept half the day away.

He wanders down to the kitchen and quickly discovers that the Stilinskis do not have much in their fridge. Whether they’re due for a restock or they always run on such a low amount of food, Derek isn’t sure. That is, until he opens the freezer and discovers a treasure trove of frozen dinners.

For a brief moment, he wonders if Stiles eats these every day, and he imagines him sitting alone at the kitchen table, doing his homework and eating a microwavable meal while his dad is at work. How often does Stiles feel lonely?

The question unsettles him; Derek had always been a loner, but Stiles… For some reason, he’d always imagined a kid like Stiles must have a lot of friends, but he realizes now that Stiles is always just hanging out with Scott, who, nowadays, is mostly just hanging out with Allison.

Derek grits his teeth and pulls out a random box from the freezer, determined not to think about it—he doesn’t know why he cares, anyway—and pops the meal into the microwave.

He eats, then spends the rest of the afternoon wandering around the house, trying to adjust to his deafness. But it’s not easy; his senses are meant to work in tandem and with one of them out of commission, he feels completely off-balance. His sight and smell just can’t accommodate for his lack of hearing—it’s like a part of the world has been shut off to him.

By the time he has the layout of the house memorized, it hits him again that he can’t hear and that for some reason it’s not healing and he may very well spend the rest of his life like this. The thought is too much for him to handle.

And that’s how Stiles finds him that afternoon, sitting hunched in a corner of the bedroom, knees tucked tightly to his chest, face buried in his arms. He’s not going to scream, even though he really wants to—but he has a feeling that’ll just make everything worse. Because he won’t even be able to hear himself scream.

And he’s not crying, he’s not, but he still flinches and turns away when Stiles touches him, lifting his arms up in some reflexive attempt to ward him off. He doesn’t want Stiles to see him like this, on the verge of another panic attack.

Stiles moves away, but he’s back again a few seconds later, and then there’s a miniature whiteboard in front of his face, the words Are you okay? written across it.

He chances a glance at Stiles and sees the open concern in his face as he shoves another board, marker, and eraser at him.

Derek takes it and immediately writes, No, because how could he be okay with everything that has happened? Why is Stiles even asking?

Right, stupid question. Anything I can do? Stiles asks.

He points to the “No,” bitter.

Stiles hesitates, then writes, I just want to help.

Go away. I don’t want to be seen like this, Derek thinks, but what he writes is, You can start by leaving me alone.

Derek can sense the irritation as Stiles writes, I’m the one giving you a place to stay. Don’t be ungrateful.

It’s the horrible truth, but Derek knows he’s practically defenseless right now—without Stiles, he’d probably be dead already. On top of that, Stiles can kick him out any time he wants, the second Derek steps out of line.

Derek is very aware that he has to watch what he says from now on. He starts to write an apology, but Stiles stops him, placing a hand over his.

It’s okay, he says, and Derek desperately wants to believe that it is. But everything is so very far from okay right now.

One question though. Why didn’t you go to the rest of the pack? Where IS the rest of your pack?

And that…Derek doesn’t really know. Why had he come here? He just remembers being in a daze of pain and fleeing from the forest with half-healed wounds, running mainly on instinct when his feet had taken him here.

That’s two questions, he replies, stalling, and Stiles levels him with a look, so he sighs and writes, Does it matter? And then he can’t help but add, Unless you want me to leave, because I can.

NO. Jesus. I was just wondering.

Stiles bites his bottom lip, and Derek shifts uncomfortably. I thought you had lacrosse practice? he asks, because he’s not going to explain that he wanted to test Stiles. And because he doesn’t want to ask the all-important, Why are you helping me?

Ditched, Stiles replies easily. I was worried about you.

Oh. You didn’t have to do that.

It’s no big deal.

But it is, Derek knows, because Stiles has always wanted to play in an actual game of lacrosse, and missing practice isn’t upping his already low chances.

Anyway, we should talk about what happened yesterday. You really have no idea who did it? When Derek hesitates, thinking before he replies, Stiles continues, Or if you’re not ready to talk about it yet, that’s cool, too.

I already told you, I don’t know. That’s what I was trying to find out. It was probably hunters, so it makes sense to assume I was the target.

You don’t think it was the Argents though?

It didn’t smell like any of them that I know. It could be they have someone new.

Stiles twirls his marker between his fingers. I should ask Scott.

Don’t. Derek isn’t exactly Scott’s favorite person in the world right now. And in this state—what if Scott decides to turn on him?

He’s going to find out sooner or later.

Then make it later.

To Derek’s surprise, Stiles agrees.

Fine. Stiles moves to lean against the wall beside Derek, their shoulders brushing together, and begins doodling random shapes on his whiteboard.

Derek stares at his whiteboard. He feels like he should thank Stiles, or something. He’s actually still trying to find out if he has some ulterior motive, because it’s not like Stiles owes him anything.

But for now, he swallows his pride and writes, Thanks for letting me stay here, elbowing Stiles lightly when he doesn’t notice.

Stiles reads the message and grins brilliantly at him. Some of the tension between them eases then; he seems to take the thanks as an invitation to have conversation, and promptly begins writing paragraphs of inane babble on his whiteboard. Derek indulges him, although his replies are notably shorter than Stiles’s; it’s not like Stiles cares.

They end up talking for a few hours about nothing special, although it’s Stiles who leads their discussions. Sometimes Stiles will mutter to himself as he writes, and Derek tries not to let it show how much it hurts that he can’t hear him when he does.

Do you want dinner? Stiles asks at some point. My dad will be home late today.

And Derek’s earlier suspicions seem to be confirmed as they go to the kitchen to make TV dinners.

Does your dad work late often? he asks as Stiles digs into his meal.

Every now and then. Not much usually happens here, but, I mean, ever since the werewolf things started happening…

Derek winces. Sorry.

No no no I wasn’t blaming you. None of it is your fault. Just…yeah, he’s been busy lately.

Derek can’t think of anything to say in reply, so he just stares at his food, and the rest of the meal passes without further conversation.

So, um, Stiles says when they’ve finished eating, I was going to ask if you wanted to watch a movie, but that’s obviously a bad idea. Do you want to read a book?

We can watch a movie, Derek replies, because he has a feeling Stiles is bored. Put on subtitles.

Stiles agrees easily, and that’s how they end up in the living room watching Meet the Robinsons.

They’re at the part where the Bowler Hat Guy has brought a dinosaur from the past to kill Lewis with when Stiles’s dad arrives and Stiles pauses the movie to talk to him.

Derek shifts awkwardly, bothered by the fact that he doesn’t know what they’re saying and knowing that they’re probably talking about him. When the sheriff looks at him, he offers his hand, which the man shakes.

He repeats his expression of gratitude on his whiteboard, but Stiles’s dad just nods once, turns to say something to Stiles, and leaves. Derek’s questioning look is ignored as Stiles just taps the remote and continues playing the movie.

It’s a nice movie, but it makes Derek miss his family, which makes him restless by the time the credits are rolling. Stiles, meanwhile, is grinning stupidly and writing about how Meet the Robinsons always makes him feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Derek can practically feel the contentment radiating off of Stiles as the boy turns to him, eager to share the feeling, but his face falls when he sees Derek’s expression.

Did you not like it?

Derek’s reply is a curt, It was fine, and, without waiting for a response, he stands up and makes his way to the bedroom.

Stiles follows, and Derek can tell he’s confused and a little hurt. But Stiles doesn’t say anything else, just starts unrolling the sleeping bag beside the bed, and Derek realizes belatedly that Stiles must have slept on the floor last night. He stops Stiles at points to the bed, and Stiles looks between him and the bed, confused.

Derek sighs. It’s your bed.

Stiles hesitates for a moment longer, then shrugs and climbs in while Derek kicks the sleeping bag open for himself.

Last night, he was exhausted and fell asleep within seconds. Tonight, memories of Laura and his parents and fire surround him. Tonight, he’s painfully aware of the suffocating darkness and complete lack of sound, and he knows it’s going to be a long night.

In the past, when he was restless and unable to sleep, Laura would tell him to count her heartbeats. Her steady heart would always calm him, but now Laura isn’t here and he couldn’t listen to her heart beating even if she was. So instead he presses his hand over his chest and counts the beats of his own too-fast heart.

 

X

 

Okay, in retrospect, showing a happy family movie to the guy who’d lost his entire family may not have been the best idea, but now it’s Saturday, his dad has already left for work, and Scott is going on a (secret) date with Allison, which means Stiles has zero obligations and a full day to spend with Derek to make it up to him.

They do attempt to deal with serious matters first, though. They talk (using the whiteboards, of course, which Stiles bought after school yesterday) about their current situation, and Stiles tentatively asks if Derek thinks he’ll ever heal. Derek doesn’t give a clear answer, but he points out that, after the fire, Peter was basically catatonic for six years while he healed, and that it may just be a gradual process.

Although, he adds, writing slowly, he healed much faster after he became the Alpha.

Stiles bites his lip and tells Derek that’s he’s sure he’ll heal, in time.

It’s not long before he steers the conversation towards more general topics, although Stiles knows they can’t keep putting off the questions like, How long are you staying? Are you going to go back to your pack? What will you do if your ears don’t ever heal?

But, for now, at least, he’s willing to ignore such thoughts and convince Derek to play video games with him, which they end up doing for a better part of the day.

It only takes playing a few rounds of a first-person shooter for Stiles to decide that werewolves’ heightened senses and increased reflexes improve their gaming performance somehow. Because that’s obviously why Derek beats him three-fourths of the time.

Stiles even asks once, Are you cheating with your werewolf powers?

Derek fixes him with a raised-eyebrow look, and Stiles scowls and resumes his endeavor to even out his win-to-lose ratio.

There is a small problem, though: While they play, Stiles will often reflexively shout out loud before remembering that Derek can’t hear him. And then he’ll feel bad about it and mentally scold and warn himself to keep his mouth shut, only to yell again a minute later.

And it’s not just when they play games; mealtimes between them are still awkward, because Stiles keeps trying to talk, forgetting that Derek is deaf. Or, he doesn’t forget, but his mouth has an unfortunate tendency to run off before he’s thought his words through. And his mind wanders while he eats because he’s not focusing on anything in particular, so sometimes the words just start tumbling out and—

Yeah, it’s awkward.

And that night, he can’t even get to sleep. He tosses and turns for about half an hour before he grabs his whiteboard, scribbles, I can’t live with you sleeping on the floor if this is gonna be a long-term thing. Now get up here, and kicks Derek awake.

He shows Derek the board, and Derek…doesn’t respond. Well, besides just staring. So Stiles kicks him again.

After a long moment, Derek relents and climbs onto the bed. Stiles moves over to give him room, rolling so that his back is facing Derek, and tries not to think about how Derek didn’t say anything against long-term.

-

Sunday, Stiles has been somehow reeled into seeing a movie with Scott and Allison that afternoon.

“No, I really want to be here,” he assures them as he pays for his ticket. “Love being the third wheel and all that.”

“Oh, come off it, Stiles,” Allison says, smiling. “I know you want to see this movie.”

Stiles grumbles indistinctly, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t want to see it.

“Let’s go, then!” Scott says, steering them both toward the theatre. He pauses, one hand on Stiles’s back. “Stiles, you smell like Derek.”

Stiles starts a little guiltily. When he woke up that morning, he was full-on cuddling with Derek, arms wrapped around his torso, leg thrown over his. He hopes Derek didn’t notice; he was still asleep when Stiles woke up, so he slipped out of bed first.

He clears his throat nervously and asks Scott, “Do I?”

“Yeah, a little,” Scott says. His tone grows urgent. “Have you seen him recently? Did he threaten you?”

“No, no,” Stiles waves Scott off. He words his sentences carefully, knowing Scott will be able to detect a lie. Equivocation is key. “He didn’t threaten me.”

“But you saw him.”

“Yeah. He hardly even spoke to me, though.” Vocally, at least. “Don’t worry about it.”

Scott squints at him, but Stiles is saved by Scott’s confidence that he would have noticed if Stiles lied to him.

They go into the theatre and Stiles is able to enjoy the movie without any problems. He doesn’t even feel (that) awkward when Scott and Allison start cuddling next to him.

He does elbow Scott when they start making out, though.

“That’s very disrespectful to the movie,” he hisses.

Scott pushes him away but pays attention to the movie again, so Stiles counts it as a win.

Afterwards, Stiles convinces them to walk to the nearby bookstore before they go to dinner. They split up (rather, Stiles ditches Scott and Allison, who stay together), and Stiles wanders up and down the rows of books.

He pulls out some titles that interest him, and that he thinks Derek might like, too. Or, who is he kidding, he has no idea what Derek likes, so he just picks out a couple of books that he wants for himself, including The Fault in Our Stars, because he’s a Nerdfighter and an avid fan of John Green’s writing, and for some reason he hasn’t gotten around to reading his latest book yet. For laughs, he also looks for a book about wolves and ends up getting a novel called The Sight by David Clement-Davies, which actually looks pretty cool.

Then he leaves the fiction section and wanders over to the reference section, where he hunts for American Sign Language books. He ends up pulling three texts he thinks might be useful off the shelf and tows his finds to the checkout line.

Scott and Allison are there waiting for him, empty-handed.

“Geez, Stiles, I thought you just wanted to browse,” Scott says.

“I found some books I like,” Stiles defends himself, sighing when Scott leans forward to look at his selection.

“American Sign Language?”

Stiles shrugs. “I kind of want to learn it.”

“This isn’t like that time you wanted to learn Japanese? Or German? Or god-knows what other languages that you don’t take as a required class for school?” Scott asks. “You’ll give it up by the end of the week.”

“Hey, that’s not fair!” Stiles says. “I just think it’d be cool to know sign language, okay?”

Scott shrugs, but he doesn’t find anything wrong with Stiles’s answer, and Stiles steps forward to pay for his books.

They go to dinner next; they decide to go for pizza rather than go to one of the nicer restaurants. Scott and Allison can save those for their proper dates, thanks.

Stiles had hoped that the rest of the night would go by without any more talk of Derek, but luck is not on his side, it seems, because it isn’t long before Scott mentions that they haven’t seen Derek’s pack in a while.

“I mean, they kind of just…dropped off the radar, y’know?”

Stiles shrugs. “Maybe they’re just laying low after the whole Kanima thing.”

There’s an awkward silence at that. It’s still an uncomfortable topic.

Anyway,” Stiles says, clearing his throat, “it doesn’t matter, as long as they’re not looking for trouble or anything, right? So let’s forget about this werewolf stuff.” He laughs nervously, and, forget Scott, Allison must know something’s up now. Stiles should really shut up. Except, of course, he doesn’t. Instead, he says, “I don’t think Derek’s gonna be causing any problems anytime soon, anyway.”

Scott perks up. “Why?”

“Er. No reason,” he says. “Just because. I don’t know!” He flails a little in his seat. “Like I said, he probably wants to lay low. Get the Argents off his back—uh, sorry Allison.”

The girl just shakes her head. “No worries.”

“But yeah. It’s just a feeling… But, anyway. Did you see about those explosives in the woods?” Okay, that was a very poor change of topic.

Scott looks at him strangely. “Yeah, Stiles, we talked about that on Friday, remember? It was all over the newspaper.”

“Right! Yeah, I just.”

“Did your dad find out anything new?” Allison asks.

“No?” Stiles says. “But do you think it could have been hunters after Derek?”

“There are a lot of better ways to kill a werewolf than setting off explosives,” Allison says.

“Subtler, maybe,” Stiles counters. “But big booms are good for—shit.”

“They’re good for shit?”

“Shut up, Scott. I have to go.”

“Wait, what? Now? Where are you going?” Scott demands.

“Nowhere!” Stiles realizes the stupidity of his answer a second later. “Okay, somewhere! Look, I really need to check this out, okay?”

“Is it dangerous? Should we go with you?” Scott asks.

“Nope, I’m good. Thanks!” Stiles smiles apologetically, tosses some cash on the table to cover his share of their dinner, and sprints for his Jeep.

He’s been driving for maybe ten minutes when he realizes that Scott is following him. “I don’t know what I was expecting,” he mutters, and pulls over.

Scott parks his car behind him. After a minute of just sitting there, Stiles sighs, gets out of his Jeep, and stalks over to the other car.

Allison rolls down the window for him, saying to Scott, “I knew he’d see us.”

“Uh, duh. You’re not very subtle.”

Scott leans over to talk to him. “Look, I don’t know what you’re planning, but I’m not about to let you just run off alone.”

“Your concern is touching, Scott, but I really need to do this one by myself,” Stiles says.

“Stiles—”

Stiles grits his teeth. “Look, if I promise to explain everything to you later, will you let me go tonight?”

Scott hesitates, even though he knows Stiles actually sucks at withholding information. He can’t help it; he has to tell someone the things he learns. But Scott is considering his offer anyway.

“Promise you’ll be careful,” is what he finally says.

“Aren’t I always?” Stiles asks.

“No.”

“…Touché. No more following?” Stiles checks.

“No more following.”

“Good.” Stiles turns around and gets back in his Jeep.

Even though Scott promised him, Stiles keeps checking to make sure that he isn’t being followed as he makes his way into the woods, abandoning his car on the outskirts. Luckily, Scott doesn’t seem to be anywhere around, so he hurries to the old Hale house.

What greets him is a pile of rubble. The already half-destroyed house has been completely decimated.

“Oh my god,” he says under his breath as he stares at what remains of the house, of Derek’s home.

Did Derek have any belongings in there? Last reminders of his family? Were they all gone now? How must it feel to lose your home?

Feeling nauseous, Stiles forces his feet to move, turning around and—

—running straight into Scott.

“Dude!” Stiles shoves Scott’s chest, not as hard as he could have. “You said you wouldn’t follow me!”

“I changed my mind. What are you doing out here?” Scott asks, crossing his arms.

“Following up on a hunch.”

“You think they were after Derek, then? Do you know who did it?”

“No,” Stiles says, glad he can answer that honestly. “I have no idea. I just wanted to look at the house.” He starts walking, and Scott falls into step beside him.

Scott waits until they reach the Jeep before talking again. “I think we should find Derek,” he says, pulling the passenger door open.

“Whoa, wait, what are you doing,” Stiles says instead of answering.

“What?”

“Where’s your car?”

“I followed you on foot,” Scott says, and Stiles throws his arms up in exasperation.

“Great,” he says, “so, what, you follow me and now I have to drive you home?”

“I need to get back before curfew,” Scott whines.

“Yeah, okay,” Stiles mutters, climbing into his Jeep. “You’re lucky I can’t hold grudges for very long.”

“So, we should find Derek, right?” Scott presses once they’re driving.

Why is he being so persistent, oh my god.

“Why? I thought you didn’t like him right now?” Stiles grits out. Right now, he’s just trying to come to grips with the fact that whoever set the explosives brought down Derek’s house; he’s so not in the mood to talk to Scott about this.

“But he must know what happened, right?” Scott asks.

“Maybe, maybe not.”

Stiles drives maybe a little quicker than he should have and all but throws Scott out of his car before hurrying home.

Derek is in bed when he arrives, but he’s not asleep, because he sits up when Stiles enters the room.

Is something wrong? he asks.

Of course he can tell. Stiles wonders if he can smell forest on him, too. He lunges for his whiteboard, dropping the bag with his books beside the bed, and writes, They blew up your house.

Derek looks at him.

Aaand you already knew that, didn’t you.

He nods once.

Why didn’t you tell me?

Derek shrugs, and Stiles looks pointedly at his whiteboard, so he writes, You didn’t need to know.

Um, yeah, kinda did.

It’s not your business.

Stiles taps his board impatiently at that. As long as you’re staying here, it is.

Derek proceeds to engage Stiles in a glaring contest, one which Stiles is sure he’s failing. Still, he maintains his stare for as long as possible until he finally gives up, writes, FINE, YOU KNOW WHAT, GOOD NIGHT, on his whiteboard (in all caps to emphasize his exasperation) and drops huffily onto the bed without even bothering to change into pajamas.

He’s staring blankly at the wall when Derek’s whiteboard enters his field of vision. Sorry. I didn’t want to worry you.

Derek, apologizing? He’s been doing a lot of that lately. It’s unlike him, but Stiles is too tired to dwell on it. So he just sighs and reaches back blindly until his hand meets the side of Derek’s head, and he pushes him down to the pillow.

Right now, he just wants to sleep.

 

X

 

Derek will never admit it, but he likes sharing a bed with Stiles. They go to bed with their backs to each other, but Stiles is a sleep-hugger and will half the time end up wrapping his arms and legs around him. Derek doesn’t mind, because it comforts him to feel Stiles’s chest move as he breathes, to feel the soft thumps of his heart against his body, to feel his breath tickling him as he exhales. To feel another warm body pressed to his. It makes Derek feel not so alone.

But he feels shameful for liking it and, besides, he doesn’t want to pretend that it’s something that it isn’t. Because it isn’t anything.

Stiles has already left for school, anyway, when Derek wakes up the next morning. Like on Friday, there’s a note for him on the bedside table—except this time the note sits on a small stack of books.

I totally forgot to tell you last night, but I bought some books I thought you might like to read. Since, you know, you probably don’t want to just sit around all day. I’ve got other books you can read, too, but, uh… We were at the bookstore anyway? So I was like, why not. Have fun.

Stiles

A peace offering, Derek thinks. As if Stiles is the one who needs to worry about those.

At the top of the stack is a book called The Sight, and Derek quickly discerns that it’s a wolf book. No doubt it’s Stiles’s idea of a joke.

He starts reading it anyway because he doesn’t want to think about things like getting in touch with his pack just yet. He’s done a pretty good job of convincing himself that his ears will heal; he just needs to wait a bit longer. A few more days at most.

When Stiles comes home, he’s still reading, and Stiles gives him this stupid grin, so Derek glares at him and quickly writes, There’s nothing else to do.

Sure, Derek.

Derek tries to intensify his glare, but he’s not sure if it works, because he can see Stiles laugh at him.

Stiles convinces him to play video games with him that night, and Derek can feel the boy’s body beside him, shaking with laughter, and it strikes him that he actually misses the sound of Stiles’s voice. He misses it.

And it’s ridiculous, because Stiles talks a lot and it gets annoying fast, but now he misses it. Never mind the fact that he will still write paragraphs and paragraphs of text when they converse via whiteboard.

A few days, he tells himself. His ears will heal and then Stiles will run his mouth non-stop again until Derek is sick of it, and then Derek will laugh at the idea that he ever missed hearing him talk.

Still, despite the apparent friendship between them now, Derek is cautious, wary of overstepping his bounds, aware that he could very easily be kicked out, and that he has no choice but to accept Stiles’s help for now. He has no doubt in his mind that this isn’t just hospitality; Stiles will surely ask something of Derek once he is fit and able.

And he’s firmly convinced himself by now that he will be fit and able again soon. Which is why he’s unprepared for what happens when, the following day, he wakes up in the middle of the night and sees the glow of the computer screen lightening a corner of the room. Stiles is sitting in front of the computer and Derek gets up, meaning to drag him back to bed—it’s a school day tomorrow—but he freezes when he sees the computer screen.

Stiles at least has the decency to look guilty when Derek spins the office chair around, trapping the teen between his arms.

He mouths something that looks like Hi, Derek, smiling nervously. Derek glares and points to the screen.

Stiles shakes his head a little but otherwise doesn’t respond, so Derek stalks back to the bedside table to get his whiteboard.

It’s when he returns that he notices the books on the desk, and his jaw tightens.

Stiles, what is this?

Stiles drums his fingers on his desk, then opens a text document to type, What’s what?

Don’t play dumb with me, Stiles. The website. The books.

Oh. It’s just. You know. I thought it might help.

Coping with deafness? American Sign Language?

You know, to help you get along. We don’t know if it’s permanent, or—

It’s not, Derek says, because he has to believe that it isn’t. He has to heal, because what use is he to anyone deaf? I’m healing.

Are you? The look he gives him isn’t challenging at all; Stiles is genuinely hopeful for him, and it makes Derek’s heart clench unexpectedly.

Well, not yet, but

He breaks off. He doesn’t know what else to say.

It’s been nearly a week, Stiles taps out.

Only a week. Not even a full week. This is only temporary.

Right. So. This is temporary, too. Until you get better.

Derek clenches and unclenches his fist. He doesn’t like this. Stiles is looking up sites on how to cope. Learning sign language. That just makes the whole thing feel a lot more permanent, and Derek doesn’t like it. Never mind the fact that Derek has no idea why Stiles is going through all this trouble in the first place.

After a few minutes of a standstill in which they both stare at each other without saying or doing anything else, Stiles starts typing again, eyes shifting to look at some point over Derek’s shoulder.

But instead of making another case in his defense, he just asks, Have you ever just given in and had a good cry?

Derek doesn’t know where Stiles is going with this, but he doesn’t want a fight and so he replies honestly, I don’t have time to waste crying. Wet eyes and a couple stray tears don’t count.

But what he doesn’t say is that he can’t afford to cry. He can’t be perceived as weak, by anyone.

‘I can’t afford to cry,’ right? Stiles asks, as if reading his mind. That’s what I thought when my mom died. I couldn’t cry because I didn’t want to worry my dad or anyone else.

Stiles still isn’t really looking at him. It’s like his eyes are staring blankly through Derek as his fingers clack away on the keyboard. Even though I really, really wanted to sometimes, I’d just keep it all in. I’d have panic attacks sometimes, but I never let my dad see. Then, one day, I was with Scott, and I just broke. He was there for me; he let me cry on him. And, the thing is, I did feel better afterwards. I mean, it didn’t fix anything, so it still sucked, but.

He pauses and meets his gaze awkwardly.

I’m just saying, I have a shoulder for you to cry on. If you want.

Derek wavers. Then Stiles lifts his arms up, hesitant and inviting, and Derek all but collapses in them, giving in to his tears for the first time in over half a decade. He fists his hands in the back of Stiles’s shirt, burying his face in the crook of his neck as he drags them both down to the floor.

He thinks Stiles might be saying something to him; even though he can’t hear it, he can feel the vibrations in his throat. It’s somehow comforting, even if he can’t hear the words he’s saying.

He cries, not just for himself, but also for people that he hasn’t allowed himself to properly mourn, like Laura and Peter—his uncle, Peter, not the demon that killed his sister and tried to kill him, too—but after a while his mind goes blank and he just cries. He’s not sure how long he stays there on the floor, pitifully weak and vulnerable and clinging to a boy who owes him nothing but gives him everything. But it’s long after his tears have subsided and he’s been trembling in Stiles’s arms that Stiles finally pulls him gently up and leads him to the bed. Even after they lay down, Stiles doesn’t let him go.

Derek slides his hand from Stiles’s arm to his chest, searching, and goes to sleep counting the steady, reassuring beats of his heart.

When he wakes up the next morning, even though it’s early, Derek feels as if he’s had the most restful sleep he’s had in a long time. Stiles was right; he does feel better, if not more than a little embarrassed about his breakdown. But, somehow, it makes him feel a little better than it was Stiles who saw him reach his lowest point, rather than anyone else.

There’s something about Stiles that Derek can’t quite understand. Actually, there’s a lot about Stiles that he doesn’t understand.

He looks at Stiles, who is currently sprawled out all over the bed, half of his body is on top of Derek. Before Derek can do anything about it, Stiles rolls over and falls off of the bed.

Derek smiles a little when Stiles pops up, still looking half-asleep, and Stiles brightens when he sees him. His face falls just as quickly, and he reaches for his whiteboard and asks, You okay? Feeling better?

I’m fine. He wants to add a thank you but he’s not sure how to say it and sound sincere, or fully capture just how grateful he is to Stiles. For everything.

I just thought it’d be easier to communicate if we learned sign language, Stiles explains. I’ve been studying.

For how long?

Not long. I got the books the Sunday night, after the movie, so only a couple of days now. Figured I should learn the basics before showing you.

Why are you doing all this for me? Derek asks, because he has to know. This can’t just be so he will owe Stiles.

He’s surprised at the annoyance that flashes through Stiles strongly enough that Derek can sense it.

Are you really asking me that? Why wouldn’t I be doing this? He pauses for a second, then adds, And if you pull that not trusting each other bullshit on me again, I am going to punch you. Because if I didn’t trust you, I wouldn’t let you stay here where you could kill me in my sleep. And if you didn’t trust me, you wouldn’t have come here in the first place.

It’s true. Derek came here for a reason. Consciously or not, he’s come to associate Stiles with safety. Stiles, who protected him and kept him alive that night at the pool for no reason other than, apparently, he didn’t want Derek to die, showing him a kindness no one else has.

He’s not used to this. He hasn’t trusted anyone since Laura. Hasn’t trusted anyone outside of family since…the first time he did.

I don’t understand, he writes, because he honestly doesn’t.

He can’t name the look Stiles gives him.

Look, Stiles says after a moment, I was kind of hoping we could be friends? And kind of even more hoping we were already there?

He wants to take Stiles and shake him by the shoulders. He wants to ask why, why him, of all people? Why help him? Why want to be friends with him? What does Derek possibly have to offer?

You can go ahead and tell me I was being stupid now, Stiles adds.

Instead, Derek tells him, We’re already there.

When Stiles smiles, Derek has to pause to wonder when the expression became so endearing.

 

X

 

I need to talk to Scott, Derek tells him that morning as Stiles is about to leave for school.

He borrows Derek’s board to answer, Whoa, what, why? Not that Stiles is exactly complaining; Scott’s not (totally) stupid, and he’s noticed Derek’s scent on Stiles. He can’t hide the truth forever. But he wasn’t expecting Derek to be the one to let Scott in on what’s been going on.

I need him to get a message to my pack.

Oh. Well. Considering Derek’s been here for nearly a week, Stiles supposes it’s about time. He’s surprised Derek’s Leather Troupe hasn’t come barging in on them already.

I’ll bring him after school today, then?

That’s fine.

 So Stiles goes to school. There, he’s barely opened his mouth to say hi when Scott says, “Stiles, I smell Derek all over you. Have you seen him?”

Oh. Right. Yeah, don’t mind that, I was just kind of holding him through a breakdown last night, he thinks.

There’s something about seeing someone cry, about someone letting you see them at their most vulnerable. It sort of…humanizes them. Not that Derek is a human, per se, but as far as Stiles is concerned, he’s a hell of a lot more human than the monster than burned his family alive.

The point is, Derek trusted Stiles with his vulnerable side and that…makes Stiles really happy. There’s been a shift in their relationship. Not a dramatic one, but a subtle change that’s there nonetheless.

And he said that they’re friends.

Also, Scott is still waiting for an answer, so Stiles says, “Y-eah. About that. Think you can come over today? After school?”

“Well—” Scott glances away, presumably in the direction of the Argent house. Or, actually, Allison. Because Scott’s super werewolf senses are probably pinpointing her exact location or something vaguely stalkerish like that.

“I won’t explain anything until you come over,” Stiles says, and Scott agrees to meet him after school.

But, as it turns out, Scott and Stiles have different definitions of after school. Because Stiles defines it as right after the last bell, and it is currently fifteen minutes after school and Stiles is impatiently drumming his fingers on his steering wheel when Scott finally shows up, pushing his bike along beside him.

“Done canoodling with Allison?” he asks testily.

“What?” Scott asks, maneuvering his bike into the back of the Jeep—and, seriously, Stiles thinks as he ducks to avoid being hit, how does that fit?

“Why can’t you just bike to my place?” he gripes.

Scott ignores him. “I’m missing a date with Allison,” he says.

“A super-secret forbidden date that you shouldn’t be having anyway,” Stiles says, starting the car.

“Just call it an unofficial date, okay? Anyway, her parents think she’s going to a study group at the library. Well, she’s actually going now.”

“Good for her,” Stiles says. “Studying’s good.”

Scott complains about Stiles’s insensitivity, and Stiles rolls his eyes. His friend fails to take the hint and continues to talk about Allison the whole ride to Stiles’s house. Until he pulls up in the driveway, at least. Then, Scott is throwing himself out of the Jeep before Stiles even has a chance to park properly.

“Scott, wait!” Stiles calls, parking the car and hurrying after him.

Scott dashes upstairs and bursts into Stiles’s bedroom yelling, “I smell Derek—!”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, catching up. He leans against the doorframe as he catches his breath. “No shit.”

Derek is sitting on his bed, one of the ASL books open in his hands—after a bit more resistance and a discussion over breakfast, Derek finally agreed to try and learn sign language with Stiles. It’ll take a while to learn, but…Stiles doesn’t want to be presumptuous, but he also wants to think that they have time. Lots of time.

Scott stares at Derek, then Stiles. “What the hell is he doing here? Wait—has he been here all this time?”

“Uh—yes?”

“Stiles!”

“I’m going to explain, if you can shut up and listen,” Stiles says. He drops down onto the bed beside Derek. “Sit down.”

Sulkily, Scott moves to sit instead on the chair at the desk, glaring at Derek.

Stiles runs a hand through his short hair, exhaling loudly and trying to figure out the best way to explain everything.

Straightforward is the best approach, right?

“Okay, well, y’know the day of the explosions? Well, Derek got caught in them, and now he’s deaf.”

“He’s—”

“Yes. Deaf. As in, he can’t hear anything.”

“Hasn’t he healed?”

“No. Not yet, at least.” The and we don’t know if he ever will remains unspoken.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Scott demands.

“I’m telling you now, aren’t I?” Stiles crosses his arms. “Anyway, we need your help.”

“What?” Scott asks, sounding more than a little grudging.

“Derek needs you to get a message to his pack—”

“No way, no!” Scott interrupts. “They’ll kill me!”

“No they…okay, they probably will,” Stiles concedes.

He writes Scott’s concerns on his whiteboard and Derek looks over his shoulder before scribbling an answer of his own.

They won’t, because he’ll have my scent on him. And they’ll be able to tell that he’s not lying.

Stiles repeats Derek’s reasoning to Scott, who deflates a little. Still, he’s no less grudging when he asks, “What does he need me to do?”

Derek wants Scott to find his pack—they should still be hiding in an abandoned subway (abandoned subway, really?)—and basically tell them not to worry about Derek and that he’ll be back soon.

Something twinges in Stiles’s heart as he relays the instructions out loud. Derek’s hearing has shown no sign of healing so far; does he really think it’ll fix if he just waits a few more days?

Scott complains some more, but he eventually leaves, and Stiles turns to Derek, who is staring at the book in his hands and pointedly not looking at him.

Do you really think your hearing will…? Stiles, unable to complete his question, just eases the whiteboard into Derek’s field of vision.

Derek glances at it, then asks, What was I supposed to say?

Stiles shrugs helplessly in response.

Derek’s marker hovers over his board for a minute, like he’s about to say something else, but then he changes his mind. Stiles tries to quell his disappointment, because it’s only reasonable; just because Derek allowed himself to lean on him for one night doesn’t mean he’s suddenly going to confide in Stiles about everything. But that doesn’t stop Stiles from wishing he would.

Stiles decides to take the initiative anyway, because maybe Derek just needs some prompting. Are you sure it’ll be okay? I mean, they’re gonna know something’s up, right?

Derek begins and erases several sentences, finally going with, So far they’ve been following me out of a sense of loyalty and gratefulness.

It’s not an answer to his question, but it seems like a lead-in to something more, so Stiles makes a sort of but?/go on gesture with his hand.

You can’t respect a leader that’s not there. They could leave eventually.

But, wait, they still need training and stuff, right? Stiles asks. Can they handle full moons yet?

Derek just shakes his head and replies, I can’t help them with that. I can’t help them with anything anymore.

Stiles throws his arms up in exasperation. Okay, you’ve got to stop with that, he writes, and Derek furrows his brows at him. Stiles makes some extremely vague hand gestures that make total sense to him, and then clarifies, With the, you know, no self-esteem thing. You’re not useless. Come on, I’ll help you learn how to manage without your hearing, and then you can go back to your pack and it’ll be all good.

Derek takes a long time to respond, and then all he says is, Don’t bother.

Stiles looks at Derek in surprise. He shakes his head slightly to say, I don’t understand.

One step forward, two steps back. Derek is shutting him out again; his shoulders are tense, he won’t look at Stiles, and Stiles can feel the old wall coming up between them.

They’ll leave anyway. Everyone will.

It’s erased almost immediately after it’s written, like Derek is regretting saying it, but Stiles read it already and it’s too late to take it back. And the words strike a chord with him, because Derek is afraid of being alone.

Just like him.

Before he can reply, Derek writes something else down. And how about you? How long before you get tired of housing an invalid?

It’d be so easy to get annoyed with Derek right now, and, hell, he is, but he isn’t going to show it. Because Derek doesn’t need that right now, but Stiles is upset with him anyway, and it hurts like it did when Derek accused him of keeping him alive only because he needed him to survive.

Is that why you’ve been so quick to apologize for everything since you got here? I’m not going to kick you out, Derek, I promise. Just trust me.

Derek doesn’t reply, and Stiles has to close his eyes and take a deep breath to calm himself down. His grip around his marker has gone so tight his knuckles are white.

Why do you have so much trouble trusting people? he asks, and Derek says, Because they betray me in the end, and, fuck, Derek is so broken, and Stiles just wishes he could put all the pieces back together. And he’s trying, bit by bit, but he’s afraid that it won’t be enough, because the scars Derek already has won’t ever fade.

Is this about your uncle? Stiles chances to ask.

Not just him, Derek replies.

Who? Stiles asks, but Derek refuses to answer. In fact, he doesn’t say anything else at all, just pushes the ASL textbook between them and ignores further prodding.

Stiles signs and leans over so he can see the book better while trying to ignore the uncomfortable air between them.

When Scott calls, Stiles is at first grateful for the distraction, but Scott’s tone is the same unhappy one from earlier when he says, “There, I told them.”

“Sounds like you’re still in one piece. Now, was that so hard?” Stiles asks, grinning into the phone even though smiling is the last thing he feels like doing.

“Shut up, Stiles. They threatened me,” Scott complains.

“Suck it up. You’re a big, manly werewolf.”

“Yeah, speaking of big, manly werewolves—”

“Before you say anything,” Stiles cuts in, “you should know that I’ve probably thought about all of your Derek-related concerns already and I’m still letting him stay here. Still have anything to say?”

“Yeah. I don’t think you should let him stay with you.”

“Did you even hear a word I said?” Stiles asks, growing exasperated.

“Yeah, I did, and I still think it’s stupid. Why are you letting him stay there? You can’t trust him!”

“Why can’t I? What’s he gonna do to me?”

“Kill you?” Scott says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

“Did you notice that a) he’s deaf and b) I’m helping him?” Stiles snaps.

“He wanted to kill Jackson!”

“But it all worked out in the end, didn’t it? I mean, things were a mess for a while, but yeah. All alive and well.”

Scott exhales loudly but says nothing and Stiles clenches his teeth. He doesn’t know why Scott is so worried, anyway. Derek has only ever killed monsters and actual threats to the general population, and Stiles is neither a monster nor a threat.

A hand touches his shoulder, and he turns, surprised to see Derek watching him, looking concerned. Stiles feels a smile tugging at the corner of his lips despite his annoyance (both previous and current).

“Look,” he says into the phone, “I’ll be careful, but he hasn’t exactly given me a reason not to trust him. And if you don’t trust him, well. Can’t you at least trust me?”

Trust, trust, trust. Why has that been such a problem lately? Stiles knows what he’s doing, okay?

“Scott?” he says when Scott doesn’t reply.

“I guess,” Scott concedes after a moment longer, and hangs up.

Stiles stares at his phone. “Bye to you, too.”

He tosses the phone aside on the bed and looks at Derek. He’s written a question for him.

Are you okay?

Yeah. Fine. Scott delivered the message.

Did he upset you?

Stiles shrugs a little. That obvious?

Yeah.

It’s no big deal. Don’t worry about it.

Derek doesn’t look convinced, but instead of prying, he says, About earlier, I’m sorry.

Stiles shakes his head. He’s not mad anymore, just…kind of sad?

But Derek shakes his head, too, and continues, I’m stressed. The truth is, I’ve been worrying about my pack for days now. And I just—

Stiles stops him there. I get it. It’s okay. Look, just…one step at a time, right? Communication first. He jabs his marker at the ASL textbook. Then we work on you being a badass werewolf even without your hearing. But for now, don’t worry about it.

The look Derek gives him is almost a smile that somehow manages to make Stiles’s heart jump.

He feels a lot better now as he continues to study the ASL textbook with Derek. So, of course, his dad pulls him aside while he’s on his way to the kitchen for some juice to ask, “Is Derek okay with sleeping on the floor?”

“Huh?” Stiles answers, because he’d forgotten that Derek’s move from the floor to his bed had been an unannounced change. “Uh, yeah, he’s totally cool with it.”

“We can set up the guest room.”

It occurs to Stiles that his dad must already know, and from there, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what he’s hinting at. “You never cared when Scott crashed on my bed,” he blurts out without thinking (but what else is new?).

His dad frowns at him. “When you were kids. You’re not children anymore. And besides, how well do you know Derek?”

I feel like I know him better than Scott sometimes, Stiles thinks, then hates himself for it. That was totally uncalled for and he needs to mentally apologize to Scott immediately. Sorry, Scott. You’re my best friend forever and I love you.

Because of course that’s not true. Even though he and Derek have been talking a lot the past few days, it’s not like they’ve really talked about anything significant. There’s still a lot more he doesn’t know about Derek; their talk earlier proved that much. And just because Scott has been spending more time with Allison lately doesn’t mean they’re not best friends anymore. His dad is right; he doesn’t really know Derek that well at all.

But here’s the thing: He wants to. He wants to get to know him better. He wants Derek to trust him with his secrets and he wants to be able to trust Derek with his. He wants to be close to him.

He wants to know why Derek chose to come here, of all places, when he was injured.

But that’s yet another thing: The only reason they have been spending so much time together lately, the only reason they have spent any time together at all, is because circumstances have forced them together.

“How long are we letting him stay here?” his dad asks.

The more important question, Stiles thinks, is, ‘How long does he want to stay?’

 

X

 

Scott pities him. Derek could tell from the moment he started writing on his whiteboard in order to communicate with Stiles. When he realized just how helpless Derek has become, that’s when Scott agreed to take the message to his pack.

Derek doesn’t like the new way Scott looks at him. He doesn’t want the pity, because he’s—he’s managing. Sort of.

Stiles is helping him, anyway.

But he doesn’t understand why Stiles is willing to do so much for him. He thought earlier that maybe it was time he stopped imposing on Stiles. Cut ties before he gets in too deep—although it might be a little late for that.

But Stiles surprised him, of course.

Derek wishes he could trust him without reservations, but Kate hurt him far too badly for that. Because Stiles has given him so much and Derek is still waiting for the catch. But the looks Stiles keeps giving him say there isn’t one.

Now, though, something is bothering Stiles, but Derek can’t tell what. He doesn’t say anything, either, just dodges the question when Derek asks, and tells him that his dad is offering to clean the guest bedroom for him.

He doesn’t need to if it’s too much trouble, Derek replies, surprised. Is this somehow their way of letting him know that he can stay longer? Is Stiles trying to prove that he doesn’t plan to kick him out anytime soon? He doesn’t ask.

Stiles smiles at him wryly. Nah, he wants to. I don’t think he likes us sharing a bed.

So that’s it, Derek thinks, except Stiles seems to be worried about more than just his dad. But when he asks again, Stiles just waves him off and says that they should help clear the bedroom.

The guest bedroom of the Stilinski house is more of a storage room, mostly for the work the sheriff brings home, but other things litter the room, too, and files and cardboard boxes filled with old junk cover the bed entirely.

Stiles’s dad is already there, taking things off the bed, and Stiles and Derek pitch in. Soon half the stuff is out of the room and the other half is piled against the walls. It’s still messy, but at least he can use the bed and walk across the room without tripping over something now.

By then, it’s late, and Derek thanks the sheriff who just nods curtly and leaves. Stiles wishes him good night, and then he’s gone, too, leaving Derek alone in the unfamiliar bedroom.

Sleeping without Stiles is strange. Even though it was only for a handful of days, Derek has grown used to feeling Stiles next to him at night, and he liked the way it felt to sleep with another person—with Stiles. Now, he’s alone in the guest room, and it’s dark and he can’t hear anything, and he feels very trapped.

It takes a long time to fall asleep at first—a lot of counting is done those first few nights—and then there’s a night when he wakes up feeling distressed, blanket tangled up in his legs, claws digging into the pillow.

He sits up in bed, breathing deeply to calm himself down and forcing his claws to retract.

That’s when he realizes that he’s not the one in distress; it’s Stiles. Stiles, who is so upset right now that the feeling hits Derek all the way from the other bedroom.

The second he realizes it, he’s up and out of bed and throwing the door to Stiles’s bedroom open.

Stiles looks up in surprise, tears streaming down his face. He’s sitting in the middle of his bed and there’s…a book lying open in front of him.

Stiles shakes his head at Derek and mouths the words, I’m fine.

Except he clearly isn’t, so Derek crosses over to the bed and sits down at the edge. As Derek grabs the book in front of Stiles, Stiles shakes his head again, rapidly, and reaches for his whiteboard.

The book is called The Fault in Our Stars. Derek hasn’t read it yet—he’s been working his way through Stiles’s bookshelf—but it looks new, so he supposes Stiles must have been bringing it to school to read.

Oh god no this is so embarrassing please just go away is what’s written on the whiteboard Stiles pushes at him. Fallen tears stain some of the letters, and Derek frowns.

It’s not embarrassing, he reassures him. You saw me cry, and now I’m seeing you cry. We’re even.

Yeah, but I’m crying over a BOOK.

Derek shrugs and reads the synopsis. It…looks like a romance, cancer book, which just kind of screams depressing already.

But he’s not going to judge Stiles for crying over a book, even if his reaction seems a little…extreme. Instead, he wraps his arm around Stiles’s shoulders and pulls him to his side. For a few minutes, Stiles just leans against him, body shaking with sobs, but after a while he calms down enough to write again. It’s just one sentence, but it’s enough to make Derek’s body stiffen with surprise.

My mom died of cancer.

If it wouldn’t make the situation worse, Derek would hit Stiles over the head with the book, because—Why on earth would you read a cancer book, then? he demands.

It’s not just a cancer book, okay. And it’s actually really funny at parts. Anyway, I got it ‘cause I love the author. He’s great. I just. I guess I thought I could handle it.

Idiot, Derek writes, but it’s affectionate, and he hopes Stiles can tell; Stile gives him a wan smile, so he thinks yes.

Tell me about your mom? he asks, and then Stiles is writing paragraphs about his mom and what his family was like, how happy they all were together, still leaning into Derek’s side all the while.

It never stops hurting, does it, Stiles writes at one point, between stories. It’s not a question. Sometimes it just hurts less.

Derek’s arm around Stiles squeezes him a little tighter; he knows all too well what Stiles means. The pain never really goes away; it just dulls, and even then, there are times when it seems to hurt as much as the first day. Yes, he knows exactly what Stiles is talking about.

Stiles writes until the marker slips from his fingers and he falls asleep still reaching for it. Derek pulls him back, laying him down and covering him with his blanket, brushing a tear from his cheek with his thumb.

He starts to go back to his room, then pauses and grabs The Fault in Our Stars.

In the end, he stays up all night reading it. It’s good, and it makes him think, about oblivion and inevitability and love and infinities and—Stiles.

Confusing Stiles, who shows him undeserved kindness. Who wants to be friends with Derek. Whom Derek just might be falling for.

The realization kind of takes his breath away.

Not again, part of him thinks, you can’t fall in love again.

But this isn’t the same as before. He’s not a bundle of teenage hormones, like he was when Kate seduced him. This time, he took it slow. They’ve worked around obstacles—mostly Derek’s own paranoia—and they’ve gotten to know each other. He’s taken the time to fall in love with Stiles bit by bit—from the way he smiles at every little thing, to how he teases Derek and calls him ‘sourwolf,’ to his unconditional kindness, to his patience in dealing with Derek, to the way he realizes that Derek’s hostility is just a front for how broken and scared he really is.

Shit, he is way, way far gone. Definitely way too late to try cutting ties.

Derek shakes his head in wonder.

He returns the book to Stiles’s bedside table before he wakes up.

 

X

 

Stiles comes home from school to the scent of…he’s not sure what, but it smells really good. He trots over to the kitchen curiously and is surprised to see Derek standing at the stove.

Oh, man, is that spaghetti? Stiles had almost forgotten what real food smelled like; fast food and frozen dinners are his life, as he’s sure Derek’s noticed.  Is that why he’s doing this? Or maybe it’s because of what had happened last night? Oh, god, he totally cried all over Derek Hale last night.

And told him about his mom. Told him stories. So many things he’s thought about but hasn’t actually told anyone since her death.

Did he tell Derek that his favorite meal his mom made for him was spaghetti? Stiles’s breath catches a little in his throat; he’s surprised that Derek would remember such a little detail among all the other memories he’d rambled on about without really thinking—he’s not even sure how coherent he was last night. His memory is fuzzy.

He moves to stand beside Derek and gestures questioningly at the pot, and Derek responds by snatching his wrist and pulling him back, like he’s worried Stiles will burn his hand.

Stiles snorts—he’s already learned the hard way not to touch pots on the stove (that would be around when he became tall enough to actually reach them)—and runs upstairs to grab his whiteboard.

Derek is setting the table when he comes back down; he must have just finished cooking.

Dude, I didn’t even know we had stuff to make spaghetti, Stiles scribbles, and he’s practically drooling, definitely salivating, but who cares, because it smells fantastic.

Derek borrows Stiles’s board to reply, How often do you go grocery shopping?

Stiles actually has to think about that. Uh, I go every couple of weeks for milk and…stuff. I keep meaning to actually cook things, but I never do? So half the stuff ends up going bad and the rest sits in the pantry forever. And Dad works late half the time, so…

Derek sets a plate in front of him, piled high with spaghetti, and Stiles immediately dives into it. He’s kind of glad Derek isn’t able to hear the embarrassing moan that follows his first bite.

Derek must notice the look on his face, though, because he’s smiling a little when Stiles looks at him. I’ll go with you next time. You can’t just eat TV dinners every day.

So I keep telling myself, but it’s been working out so far. But, no, seriously? Is you cooking gonna be a regular thing? Because this is freaking delicious.

Maybe.

Stiles chuckles. He is totally on board with this idea. Maybe he can even get his dad to start eating better, something he makes attempts at constantly anyway.

Stiles shamelessly gobbles down his spaghetti, but Derek eats with more decorum. The silence between them when they eat has become something comfortable, friendly, even though their eyes keep meeting across the table and Stiles keeps smiling stupidly whenever they do.

Whatever. He’s happy, he’s totally happy that Derek did this for him, and there is no reason at all he shouldn’t show it.

“Oh, man, I love you,” he mumbles around a mouthful, then freezes for a second, because, okay, it’s one thing to casually tell Scott, his best friend since forever, and even Allison, because she’s awesome and they’re bros now, that he loves them, but it’s another thing to say it to a guy he’s only known for a few months.

Granted, they’ve grown rapidly closer the past several days, but still.

He continues eating. Hopefully Derek didn’t even notice his slip.

It doesn’t seem like he has, and Stiles eats the rest of his spaghetti in contemplative silence.

I could love you, he thinks, and feels strangely content.

When his dad gets home later that evening, Stiles points him gleefully to the food.

His dad smiles, but it’s a little sad. “Your mom used to make spaghetti all the time.”

Stiles swallows. “Uh—yeah,” he says, and clears his throat. “You should…you should eat some.”

“Yeah,” his dad sighs. “Thank you, son.”

“Thank Derek, not me. And, uh, speaking of Derek, about how long you’re planning on letting him stay here—”

His dad looks at him. “Was this part of your plan?”

“What? No!” He’s not lying, but that wouldn’t have been a bad plan, come to think of it. “He just decided to…” Okay, it really sounds like he’s lying. But he doesn’t want to remind him even more of Mom tonight. It’ll just make him sad, and Stiles doesn’t want that. “Look, Dad, he doesn’t have anywhere to go. Come on—you’ve seen his house.” What’s left of it, anyway, he remembers with a jolt. “Um.”

“The Hale house,” his dad says, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It was destroyed. Completely leveled.”

Stiles inhales. “Yeah. And it wasn’t much of a home before that. So.”

“He can stay,” his dad says. “If you’re fine with it. But he’s not—he’s not making you uncomfortable, is he?”

“Huh? No, of course not,” Stiles says. “We’re totally cool. We’re learning sign language.”

His dad looks at him. “You’re learning sign language.”

“Um. Yeah?”

His dad starts to say something, then stops.

In the end, he just says, “Don’t fall behind on your homework.”

Stiles grins. “Not to worry, Dad.”

-

Stiles lets Derek accompany him on his next grocery run, as promised. This is the first time he’s ever been excited about buying groceries. They’ve come up with a shopping list and Stiles has been writing down all the things Derek can make. Derek seems to be enjoying himself, too, and that makes Stiles feel really warm inside.

He’s looking over the fruit selection when Derek grabs his shoulder, hard. Stiles looks up, alarmed, but Derek’s not looking at him. He’s looking over him, at—

“Hello, Derek. It’s been a while.”

Oh. Well. Stiles clears his throat. “Mr. Argent.”

“Stiles.” Argent hardly glances at him, saying to Derek, “I was beginning to think you’d skipped town.”

“Yeah, well, I’d avoid you, too, after what happened,” Stiles can’t help but say.

Now Argent looks at him. “Contrary to popular belief, we weren’t the ones who set those bombs.”

Popular belief? “Maybe not, but you sure as hell aren’t complaining about them, are you?” So maybe Stiles should start thinking before he speaks, but he’s upset, okay?

“This isn’t business you should be concerning yourself about, for your own sake,” Argent says, then goes back to ignoring him in favor of addressing Derek again. “For that matter…what are you two doing here together?”

“We just happened to bump into each other,” Stiles says, shrugging. The movement causes Derek to drop his hand from his shoulder.

“I’m sure Derek can speak for himself,” Argent says with a pointed look.

Stiles starts to panic, and he leans back a little into Derek, trying to figure out how to convey to him that he needs to say something, when, as if reading his mind, he says, through gritted teeth, “I’m not looking for trouble.”

“None of us are, Derek,” Argent says. “And yet many times we find ourselves running into it anyway.”

“We-ell,” Stiles says, “uh—”

“Dad?”

And Stiles swears angels start singing as Allison steps into view, holding a cereal box.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

Argent doesn’t even look at his daughter. “Just chatting with Derek and Stiles here.”

“Well, you can stop bothering them. They’re not doing anything wrong.”

Argent hesitates, and Allison huffs a little.

“Let’s go, Dad. I still have homework to do tonight.”

“Yes,” he says. “Let’s go. I’ll see you boys around.”

Stiles smiles. But as soon as Argent is out of earshot, he mutters, “Or not,” and turns to Derek, who is staring at him.

They can sign a little bit to each other now (they’ve got key phrases down; the rest is broken sign language mixed with a lot of miming and gestures, and the alphabet to fill in the rest of the words for longer sentences) so Stiles quickly asks him if he’s okay.

Derek nods tensely and points to Stiles.

He nods in return, and exhales shakily. Running into Argent, definitely not on his agenda.

Stiles doesn’t feel much like shopping anymore. Let’s hurry up and finish.

Derek nods again and leads him away, fingertips resting lightly on his back.

A few minutes later, Stiles gets a text from Allison.

Sorry about my dad. Scott told me about Derek. You guys okay?

Yeah, we’re good. Thank you so much, I love you, you’re awesome, Stiles replies, because Allison is the best.

Still, they’re not ‘good.’ Clearly. Neither of them is, especially not Derek, who’s still tense, even when they get home.

But Derek doesn’t bring it up, so Stiles is the one who has to, after getting tired of staring at Derek staring at the ASL book for fifteen minutes without turning the page.

So, are we going to talk about that? Stiles shoves the whiteboard over the open textbook.

There’s nothing to talk about.

Bullshit. I can tell it’s still bothering you.

Derek lifts an eyebrow. You’re one to talk.

Argent scares me. I am not ashamed to admit it.

Derek doesn’t reply, so Stiles adds, Come on, you’re not the type to let anyone, even Argent, get to you like that.

The statement makes Derek agitated, and Stiles wonders if it was the wrong thing to say when he replies, Are you forgetting the part where I’m DEAF? I’m completely defenseless now, okay?

Oh, come on, you still have claws. And fangs. Hey, if you want, you can even shove me up against walls again, if it’ll make you feel better.

Derek actually seems to relax after he reads what Stiles wrote. He even smiles—honestly smiles. Not the little smiles Stiles will coax out of him from time to time, but a full smile that Stiles definitely needs to bring out of him more often. Because it’s—well, beautiful.

And as he smiles at him, Stiles does, too, a small, self-conscious laugh escaping his throat. And then, because it feels right, he leans forward and closes the foot of space between them to kiss him.

For a second, Derek seems to start to kiss him back, then he stiffens and shoves Stiles away. The look he gives him is very much deer-in-headlights, and Stiles realizes that he has made a very big, very bad mistake.

He scrambles for the board. Okay, so that was a cosmically bad idea. Sorry. I just. I’m gonna— He points to the door awkwardly and shuffles backwards out of the room.

Under the blankets of his bed would be a very good place to go die of mortification, but, unfortunately, they kind of were in Stiles’s room already, which means now Stiles has nowhere to hide himself. So he just goes downstairs and lays facedown on the couch for about five minutes until he decides to call Scott.

 “I did something really stupid,” he blurts before Scott can even finish saying hello. “And, no, it doesn’t have anything to do with my dad or the police. This time.”

Scott waits, but Stiles doesn’t say anything else; he’s too busy reflecting on how he just made everything between him and Derek awkward forever.

“Sooo, what is it?” Scott asks after another minute of silence.

“Uh,” says Stiles, suddenly unsure about letting Scott know what he did.

“I’m going to hang up—”

“I kissed Derek.”

“WHAT?” Scott shrieks the word and Stiles winces, jerking his head away from the phone.

“Yeah,” he says. “So.”

“What did he do? Did he attack you? Oh god, is that why you’re calling? You kissed him so he tried to kill you? Do you need to go to the hospital?”

“Jesus, Scott, he didn’t attack me. He just…pushed me away.”

“Oh, okay,” Scott says.

“Don’t oh, okay me,” Stiles says. “I kissed him and he rejected me and now living under the same roof is going to be the most awkward thing ever.”

“So, wait, you like him, then?” Scott actually asks, and Stiles bangs his head on the armrest of the couch. Repeatedly.

“Yes, Scott. I do. I mean, I really haven’t thought about it that much yet, but, yeah.”

“What about Lydia?” Scott asks.

Out of the hundred questions Stiles was expecting Scott to ask him, that wasn’t one of them. “What about her?”

“I thought you liked her.”

“Oh, well, I do, but she’s with Jackson. Besides, I already confessed to her.” And got rejected. Huh. Stiles has the worst luck.

“Really?! When?”

“At the winter formal. But she was just looking for Jackson the whole time, so. Clearly she’s not interested in me. But we’re cool. I got over it.”

He’s not really over it yet (you don’t just get over a seven-plus-year crush like that), but at least Lydia actually acknowledges him now, which is a huge step up from pretending he’s invisible. Being friends is better than nothing.

He’ll always love Lydia, anyway; she’s beautiful, and smart, and nice. Well, when she wants to be. But it’ll just be a never-meant-to-be first love type thing.

And even if he’s fond of Lydia, she doesn’t make his heart beat faster anymore, doesn’t make him smile inexplicably every time he sees her. The littlest thing won’t make him feel warm inside. Not like with—

Not like with Derek.

“I really like Derek,” he realizes. “Like, really. A lot.”

I could love you. That’s what he thought before, right? Maybe he’s already there. Or a lot closer than he realized.

“Really?” Scott asks, and he’s disbelieving, almost like he’s asking, Why him, of all people? and Stiles scowls into the phone.

“He’s not as bad as you think.”

“You know, people tend to idealize their crushes,” Scott says.

“Oh, so that explains you and Allison.”

“No, Allison and I are above that,” Scott says with a touch of smugness.

“Really.” Stiles hopes Scott can tell he’s lifting an eyebrow at him. “Then tell me one of her faults.”

“Uh…”

“Exactly.”

“It’s not my fault she’s perfect!” Scott defends.

“Uh-huh. Yeah, I get it. Totally. Meanwhile, I can easily tell you some of Derek’s problems: He has major trust issues, like, seriously. And self-esteem issues, come to think of it. Abandonment issues? Yeah, he’s got those, too. And he’s stubborn, and he can’t take a joke half the time, which—actually, it used to be all of the time, so half the time is actually an improvement…”

Scott sighs loudly.

“Come on, you’re dating an Argent. How is this any worse?”

“Well—”

“Rhetorical question. Look, it doesn’t matter anyway, because Derek obviously isn’t interested.”

“I dunno,” Scott says, surprising him. “He doesn’t really get close to anyone. Sometimes I think he doesn’t even like me.”

“He doesn’t like anyone,” Stiles replies automatically.

“Exactly. But he likes you.”

Stiles hums into the phone, uncertain, because no matter what, Derek is still only here out of necessity.

“Just talk to him,” Scott says.

“Wait, then you’re okay with this?” Stiles asks. “With the me liking him? And the him maybe liking me?”

“Well—I don’t trust him right now. But you know him better than I do, and you gave me a chance to prove things could work with Allison. I have to give you the same chance.”

“That’s really wise and respectful of you,” Stiles says. “Is Allison there telling you what to say?”

“I think he caught us,” Scott says, voice muffled.

“Well, if she convinced you, then good enough for me. Love you, Allison,” Stiles says.

“Save that for Derek,” Allison says.

“You know, I still don’t think he likes me,” Stiles sighs. “But, I mean, I guess I should just get the talk over with anyway—oh, speak of the devil,” says Stiles as Derek walks into the room. “Well, if I don’t call back that means I died of embarrassment.”

“Can I have the Jeep?” Scott asks.

Stiles snorts and hangs up without answering.

He looks up at Derek, who has come to stand in front of him, and tries to smile sincerely. And fails. Miserably.

This…is going to suck.

 

X

 

Derek doesn’t expect Stiles to kiss him. When he does, Derek wants badly to kiss him back, but he can’t. There’s still so much Derek hasn’t told him yet, like the truth about Kate and how much Stiles really means to him. And those are things he needs Stiles to know before he can allow himself to take things further with him.

So he doesn’t kiss him back, even though it’d be wonderfully simple. Instead, he pushes him away.

And Stiles is hurt, Stiles is confused, Stiles is regretting his actions. And then he’s leaving, which is exactly what Derek has been afraid of. Except in pushing Stiles away, he caused him to leave.

He didn’t mean to hurt Stiles. Derek was prepared to be hurt himself, but he didn’t even realize that he might hurt Stiles instead. Which is what convinces him that he needs to fix it.

He finds Stiles in the living room, talking on his cell phone. He backs up a pace, but Stiles looks up at him, says something into the phone, and hangs up, so Derek approaches the coach again.

I’ve upset you, he writes, and shows the whiteboard to Stiles.

Stiles just stares at him for a minute, then shrugs.

Can we talk? Derek asks.

He nods, and scoots over so Derek can sit down beside him.

Now that he’s here, though, words escape him. How can he even begin to describe all he wants to say?

Stiles tugs the whiteboard out of his hands to write, We can just pretend it never happened.

Derek shakes his head. He doesn’t want to forget. He doesn’t want Stiles to forget. He wants to fix it.

Stiles is upset again, and nervous—Derek can read it all over his body.

I, he starts, but can’t finish what he wants to say. Instead he writes, I told you before that someone betrayed me. Someone besides my uncle.

Stiles nods.

It was Kate.

For a minute, Stiles just stares at the board. Then he mouths, ‘Fuck.’

And Derek explains what happened between him and Kate Argent. It’s the first time he’s told anyone about it, putting to words all his self-loathing and guilt and bitterness.

And Stiles, as always, surprises him.

It’s not your fault.

Yes, it is. I—

Stiles snatches the whiteboard away from him and starts scribbling furiously. Look, Kate would have found a way to get to your family anyway. You’re not responsible for what she did, so stop blaming yourself, because it’s not gonna bring them back and it’s not gonna make you feel better and Jesus Christ, Derek, six years is a long time to feel guilty, so you can stop now. It’s okay. You can still mourn for your family without feeling responsible for what happened to them.

Would that it was that easy to just stop feeling guilty, but Stiles’s words give Derek pause anyway. Stiles is looking at him with the face of someone who knows what he’s saying because he’s already been through it himself.

So he just replies, Okay.

Oh, no, Stiles says, don’t just say ‘okay’ to me. You have no idea what that word does to me right now.

Okay.

I’m serious, you jerk. Like, that single word just threatens to tear my heart out. Stop it.

Okay.

You—you read TFIOS, didn’t you?

Derek smiles, and Stiles lurches forward a little, like he’s going to kiss him again. Derek stops him with a hand on his shoulder and regrets it immediately.

I

Why is it so hard to write?

Stiles pulls the whiteboard from his hands and sets it aside. Then, slowly, he lifts his hand, fingers forming the sign for, I love you.

He can’t do it here.

Derek puts his hand over Stiles’s and closes his fingers over his wrist, tugging him up from the sofa and leading him back to Stiles’s bedroom. The room where they’ve spent so much time talking and getting closer to one another. The room where Stiles invited him to stay, and the one place Derek felt safe enough to let his guard down the day he lost his hearing.

As soon as they’re in the bedroom, Derek turns and pushes Stiles up against the wall, and it’s not what Stiles meant when he suggested it earlier, but it does make Derek feel better. Stiles’s breath rushes out in a gasp that Derek catches as he kisses him, and Stiles responds eagerly, body arching into Derek’s, arms crushed awkwardly between their chests where he’s fisting his hands in his shirt.

Stiles is all teenage inexperience and energy, and Derek’s hands move to cup his face as they kiss. It’s a perfect euphoric moment, and Derek feels like he can forget about his problems for a minute and just concentrate on Stiles standing right in front of him.

Derek thinks he could spend an infinity with Stiles.

Stiles winds his arms around Derek’s neck, and then he breaks the kiss and presses his face into Derek’s cheek, eyes slipping shut. And then he just breathes. For now, he seems content to just stand there and hug Derek, and Derek is content to just stand there and be held.