Part the First
It's Friday night. Stiles sits down at his computer, notepad in hand, and starts what has become his weekly ritual. He opens Craigslist.
It didn't start out this way. This wasn't the plan. Stiles had entered college with the same dumb hope and optimism with which he had started high school (and hadn't that been an epic mistake). It was going to be AWESOME! He and Scott were going to be surrounded by people just like them!!! Dorks ahoy! Geeks R Us! He would find himself a non-Lydia who thought he was AWESOME, and they would ride off into the sunset with matching diplomas and get jobs and life would be AWESOME!!!!
So, yeah. Stiles left for college all \o/ \o/ \o/, but by the end of the first semester, it had turned into more of a \o?
Because, the thing was, all those assholes who had ignored him in high school? Turns out that they went to college, too. And continued to ignore him. And it's not that he didn't enjoy the house parties--mobs of people thrashing around to loud music. Stiles could thrash with the best of them and spent many enjoyable hours with limbs flying, sweat dripping, and a goofy grin on his face. But it seems he didn't have the face that made non-Lydias want to drag him into darkened corners to have their wicked ways with him. Apparently he had the face that made non-Lydias coo and then drag him off to ask for advice on how to get hot guys to like them. They liked to pet him, but the kissing… not so much.
It wasn't that he hadn't tried. He had tried. He wanted to find People-Like-Him. Unfortunately, what he found were People-Who-Were-Not-Cool. They were trying to be cool. He had gone to social events with the kids who dressed all in black and tried really hard to talk about World Issues and Social Norms and Politics. But Stiles had a hard time taking anyone who spoke in Capital Letters seriously. And, well, he just wasn't that interested in what they were talking about. Stiles had learned long ago that he did better with a wide array of random facts, but didn't enjoy delving too much further than "did you know that elephants are the only mammals that can't jump?"
He was too scrawny and distracted for college sports, too cute and perky to be a really good stoner, too flaily to be an intellectual, and too smart to be a frat-boy. The college groups were just like the high school groups, but more intense and less forgiving. So, at the end of the first semester, he ended up in much the same place he had been in high school--hanging out, reasonably content, with his best friend, Scott.
This was actually… fine. Stiles might have preferred the AWESOME that he had been anticipating, but he didn't mind tearing around campus with Scott. Friday night movie marathons at their apartment, weekend video gaming extravaganzas, and just being away from home was not that bad. In fact, all things considered, it was pretty fucking good. So Stiles settled in for a nice college experience that would be not unlike his nice high school experience, but with more alcohol and longer papers.
This worked beautifully.
For the first year.
Then. At the beginning of sophomore year. Scott met Allison.
This was great for Scott. Stiles hadn't actually believed that Scott would ever meet anyone who could actually put up with him for any extended period of time. Add to that the fact that Allison was freaking EPIC and amazing and gorgeous and it was no wonder that Scott went all ♥______♥
And really, Stiles was totally thrilled at first, too. Their weird little family of two and just become a family of three, and he loved hanging out with Allison and Scott.
But soon it became clear that, well, the weird little family of two was still a weird little family of two. It had just shifted… like some kind of fucked up Venn diagram. At first there was the Scott-and-Stiles part and the Allison-and-Scott part and the awesome middle part that was Stiles-and-Scott-and-Allison. But day by day, the Scott-and-Allison part peeled away, leaving a little lost bubble of Stiles hanging out on his own.
It wasn't intentional. It was just the way things worked. Stiles would ask Scott if he wanted to go see a movie, and Scott would have already seen it with Allison. Stiles would come home with DVDs for a movie marathon, only to discover Scott's door closed, with a tie hanging around the handle. Suddenly, Stiles was alone, and he wasn't quite sure what to do about it. He didn't begrudge Scott or Allison, he was just a little :(((((
He just wanted a little something for himself.
That's when it started.
Okay. Actually, it started with the couch. Which was gross. Really gross. And finally, when one day Stiles came home to find old macaroni and cheese ground into the seat cushions and what he really really really hoped was not dried semen on the back cushion, he decided to take action. He went onto Craigslist to find a new one.
He did. It was an appalling monstrosity with a damask rose pattern and clawed feet that he purchased for $45 from a woman whose mother had just passed away. When you looked at it for too long, it had the unfortunate side-effect of causing nausea, but it was clean and comfortable, and Stiles installed it in the living room with a sign that said "THIS IS A NO-SEMEN COUCH. SEX IS FOR BEDROOMS" taped to the back cushion.
But that is not the point.
The point is Craigslist.
The point is the Craigslist Missed Connections section.
Which Stiles had never even heard of.
Until the couch.
The thing is, that Missed Connections is one of those things that you can happily go your whole life without knowing about. But once you know, it's hypnotic. All these cryptic little messages that Stiles guesses will never get to their intended recipients. These cries for a connection ranging from the sweet to the insanely creepy. From the sexual to wistful.
He started out just reading them. He couldn't help it, really. That little piece of him that wondered if anyone out there noticed him was the impetus, but it quickly went from I-wonder-if-that-could-be-me to I-wonder-what-the-story-behind-that-is.
It was only a matter of time until he started posting his own.
So this is where we begin. It's Friday night. Stiles sits down at his computer, notepad in hand, and starts what has become his weekly ritual. He opens Craigslist and peers down at his notebook.
It had started as a lark. He had wondered whether anyone ever replied to these things. Or rather, if the intended recipient ever replied. What were the odds, after all? Minuscule. Non-existent. And somehow, knowing that made it even more fun. He kept a list all week. Faces he connected with. Pairs of eyes he met over the produce section, on the bus, in the library. Smiles exchanged while waiting for a beer or the elevator or a professor's office hours. And on Friday night, he wrote…
Whole Foods Produce Girl
your earrings twirled and your pony tail fluttered
as you put away the fruits and veggies.
your smile made my heart skip a beat
thanks for saying hi.
Wednesday Library Mom
your kids were screaming and you looked so tired.
but I could tell that you love your kids and that you're
DOING YOUR BEST
hang in there!
Guy on the 21A 7:23 a.m. bus
I see you every day. You always wear a blue suit and a red tie. You look stressed to hell. You need to relax.
He works his way down his list, reliving his week and the people he encountered. He's never had a response. At least, not of the non-creepy variety. Of course he's gotten the "you sound hot, call me and we'll fuck" responses, but never anything from the intended recipient. It doesn't really matter. Not in the long run. He's not looking for a response. He's just looking to put a little goodness out there, to connect even when he's not connecting. It's like throwing messages in bottles into the ocean. You don't do it with the belief that a specific someone might find it.
He likes noticing people. He likes thinking about what might happen if the intended recipient ever did see it, and recognize it as them. Would they smile? Just for a minute? Or be creeped out? Does it matter?
He gets to the last entry in his notebook and grins. In the last year of doing this, he's never requested an actual contact. No "please email me!" No "I'd really like to see you again." But hey, first time for everything. Right?
Hot Guy at Beacon Hills Starbucks
Last Tuesday I spilled my latte on your leather jacket. You had blue eyes & fangs. Let me apologize properly? I'll buy you a coffee.
He takes a breath and hits Post.
Derek glares. He knows it's a little hard to distinguish it from his normal expression, but he makes a real effort to deepen the grooves between his eyebrows and then to communicate this down the phone lines to his sister through silence. It is, perhaps, not as effective as he might have hoped.
"Did you do it?"
"Derek, sweetie, I realize you have been… out of the world… for a while, but the way phones work is that you talk, in a verbal way, with noise, into the little device, and by some miracle of science, I admit that I'm not too clear on the details, I am able to hear it in my corresponding device. So, let's try again. Did. You. Do. It?"
"Yes," he replies.
"Yes, you are responding to me? Or yes, you did it?" Laura's exasperation is palpable.
"Yes, I did it"
Laura takes a deep breath, or maybe it's a sigh of relief. "Good. That's good. How did it go?"
"Come on, Derek, you have to work with me here. The Council is losing patience with you and I will come home if I have to. Please. Please work with me. I love you."
Derek takes a breath. Talking is hard. Laura knows this. But he knows that she's been taking hits for him from the Council. That they wanted him institutionalized. Confined. And Laura stepped in like the protective big sister she was and took responsibility. Promised that she would keep track of him, submit progress reports, and that if he hadn't improved within two years they could reassess. It's been a year and a half and he has made progress. He's talking now, if only occasionally. He's in his human form at least 80% of the time. He's working and supporting himself, if in a solitary manner.
Laura knows this. But she also knows that he has to start interacting with people. The Council won't take kindly to an ex-feral hermit. He'll be completely suspect and probably at least temporarily institutionalized to help him regain his interpersonal skills. He knows he wouldn't survive an institution.
"It went…okay," he says.
"You took your work into the gallery?"
"And?" Laura is losing patience.
"And it was fine, okay? I took my work in. I said hello. I got paid. I left. I did not have a nervous breakdown. I did not have a panic attack."
"And the other part? You went to get coffee?"
Derek returns to glaring. He thinks there must be something a little not-right that Laura is acting as his kind-of-psychiatrist. Sisters should not have to take on that duty, and brothers should not have to do stupid little tasks that their sisters make up on the spur of the moment, including buying overpriced coffee at a Starbucks.
"Yes. I got coffee."
"And?" Laura sounds a little like she would rather be at the dentist than on this phone call.
"And I probably got third degree burns from it," he says.
"I went in. I purchased coffee. I behaved like a normal person, and then this kid ran into me, spilled his coffee-milk-sugar concoction all over me and babbled incoherently. I… may… have lost control of my eyes and teeth."
"But that's it! I just glared at him and got out! It's fine."
Laura breathes for a moment. "Okay. Well, it was your first time interacting with people in a while. And… well… I probably would have been pissed about that too, but — OH MY GOD!!!"
Derek jerks, startled. "What! Are you okay? Is everything okay?!"
Laura is shrieking over the phone. "Tuesday?! You did this all on Tuesday, right?"
"OH MY GOD!!!!!!" Derek pictures Laura flailing all over the kitchen, and hears a glass break in the background. "Shit!"
Derek holds the phone about six inches from his ear. "You want to tell me what's going on? No pressure, but I'm kind of curious."
Laura starts babbling at a rate that may actually surpass the speed of sound, which explains why Derek only catches the odd word: "Tuesday…. latte…. jacket…. missed connections…. Craig."
Derek sighs and hangs up. Laura will call back. She always does.
The phone rings.
He contemplates not answering, but that never goes over well with Laura, so he picks it up. "Hello?"
"YOU ARE A MISSED CONNECTION!!!!!!" Laura trills in his ear.
It's odd. Because even though Derek has no idea what she's talking about, it's almost like he has his sister back. This is not the long-suffering, patient woman who has painstakingly walked him through recovery, poked and prodded him when he regressed, set tasks for him and wrote up reports about him. This is his sister. His loud-mouthed, enthusiastic sister who has too much energy and too little time and a laugh too big for her body. He hadn't realized how much he missed her until he caught a glimpse of her again.
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
And Laura explains. Explains about Craigslist and what the Missed Connections section is and how she reads it every night for both Beacon Hills (because she likes to imagine that it's her old high school buddies gone crazy) and San Francisco (because those people? are nuts).
"I'm emailing you a link to the post!" she says excitedly, "and Derek? Your next task? Is that you have to respond. By this evening. I'll be checking in, and this is for real." Her voice goes serious for a second. "I realize it's kind of ridiculous, but I want you to do this. Interacting with strangers is the next step, and this is a way to do it. So tonight. I'll call you tomorrow. I love you, baby." She hangs up before Derek has a chance to reply.
Derek looks dazedly at the phone and pretty much goes, "WTF?!"
His email beeps and a link appears to a Craigslist post.
Hot Guy at Beacon Hills Starbucks
Last Tuesday I spilled my latte on your leather jacket. You had blue eyes & fangs. Let me apologize properly? I'll buy you a coffee.
It was posted yesterday and he wonders a bit why the kid didn't post it on Tuesday. There is a bit that says "Reply to: email@example.com". He glares. Laura is serious. He knows this. He knows that she will drag him into the world with every ounce of her incredibly formidable will. There will be no getting around this. The urge to change, to run, to howl, and to hide comes over him quick and fierce. His heart pounds frantically. He remembers a time before. Before the fire. When his family was whole. When he had boundless confidence and a future. Before he… well… best not to think about it.
He looks a little despairingly at the computer, and clicks the link.
Part the Second
It's Sunday morning and Stiles staggers out of his bedroom. Scott's in the kitchen. Stiles blinks.
"I thought you were staying with Allison all weekend."
Scott scowls. "Her crazy-ass mother came to visit and I didn't want to be murdered by her laser-beam-crazy-eyes. How was your weekend?"
"Oh, you know, went out and had an orgy with three women and two men who made it their life's goal to give me as many orgasms as possible. The usual."
Scott laughs and says, "You stayed in and did your weird little Craigslist thing again, didn't you?"
At this point, Stiles goes from Zen-Sunday-morning to I-am-a-cranky-friend, because really, Scott and his desire to have sex with his girlfriend is the whole reason for his "weird little Craigslist thing". And it's not like Stiles has the monopoly on weird. Scott is one step above testing to see if sticking a knife in a toaster is really that bad an idea.
Stiles snags his laptop off the kitchen counter and turns it on. "Yes. I did my weird little Craigslist thing."
Scott pauses. "I really don't get why you do that. I mean, it's not like you actually meet anyone that way."
Stiles shoots invisible daggers out of his eyes and wonders why Scott doesn't fall down dead in a pool of blood. "Well, I don't understand why you watch Desperate Housewives, so we're even."
"Geez, man, I was just teasing. What crawled up your ass?" Scott looks like a kicked puppy.
Stiles boots up his computer and sighs. "Sorry. I just…. I like it, okay? It makes me happy."
Scott raises both hands in surrender and smiles. "Okay. I get the message. No more teasing about the Craigslist thing. Who'd you write to this week, anyway?"
Stiles smiles. "Some girl I saw in the produce section of the Whole Foods, that dude I always see on the bus, a really stressy mom in the library, and the werewolf guy I spilled coffee on last Tuesday."
"Dude, you spilled coffee on a Were? How did you even know that he was a Were? I mean, it's not like they advertise themselves."
"His eyes and teeth changed." Stiles say absently and blinks. His email has finally loaded.
"Dude, you okay?"
"He wrote back." Stiles is staring at the unopened email. "I can't believe I got a response." He's smiling a smile that is half bemused and half bewildered.
"Well? What does it say?"
Stiles bites his lower lip and clicks. His smile disappears.
"WHAT. THE. FUCK!?!"
Scott looks at him, confused. "What does it say?"
Stiles is simultaneously crushed and pissed. "It says 'NO'." He starts pacing all over the kitchen. "That's it! Why the fuck would someone bother to respond to a Craigslist ad just to say NO!?!??! It makes no sense! I mean, why not just ignore it? I wasn't expecting a response. What kind of fucking asshole would go out of his way to respond with "no?!"
"Are you sure it's from him?" Scott asks, peering over his shoulder at the email. "I mean, there's nothing except that one word. This could be from anyone."
"OHHHHHHHHH, it's him. I can tell! That font just screams 'I'm a grumpy werewolf with a stained leather jacket!' Trust me. This is not the way the prank responses go."
Stiles is all sad and mad and confused and almost on the verge of tears.
It's not that he had anything riding on this when he posted the ad. He had expected nothing. But to get… this. To get this blatant rejection. Why? It's like this this guy had nothing better to do than to go out of his way to be a jerk. God. Stiles apparently can't even make non-connection connections properly. He feels… empty and depressed suddenly. And feels even worse for how awful this is making him feel. This is ridiculous. He doesn't even know the guy. And he's obviously a jerk and not worth knowing anyway. This is not something to get all /o\ about.
Scott gives him a squeeze and says "Come on. We'll go drinking tonight. By the end of the evening, you won't even remember this guy. You probably won't even remember your own name."
"It's Sunday. I have class tomorrow."
Scott grins. "You can skip. Just this once. In the name of forgetting the guy you never actually knew."
Stiles puts on his I'm-a-brave-little-toaster face, gives a half-smile, and says, "Okay."
Derek waits for the phone call. Laura has never been one for patience when she wants you to do something, so he's pretty sure she'll be calling as soon as she thinks she can get away with it. He knows that he's going to catch hell with her for what he did, but the thought of responding, even via email, to someone he didn't know from Adam, was just way too much.
He had looked at the ad and typed and hit send before he could think about it further. It was an asshole move. Even having been out of the world for as long as he had been, he knew that. But with his blood rushing in his ears and his eyes blurring, he just reacted without thinking about it. His entire body said NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO and, well, that's what came out. Laura was going to skin him.
The phone rings.
He closes his eyes and answers, "I fucked up."
"Well shit. What did you do?" Laura asks.
"I said 'no'"
He knows a lecture is coming. He feels 12 years old again, waiting for a punishment he knows that he deserves, but Laura surprises him. She laughs.
"Well, I knew as soon as I hung up that it was maybe not the best approach. I just got a little carried away in my excitement." There's a pause, followed by, "I think we should just chalk this one up to a failed experiment in our quest to make you fit for human company again."
Derek feels a weight lift, "It was really an asshole move."
He can hear Laura's smile down the phone line. "Yup. It really was. But let's look at it this way. A year ago, you wouldn't have even been able to send the response, much less acknowledged after the fact that it was an asshole move."
"Are you ready for your next quest?" Laura chirps, and Derek has a sudden image of himself, wielding a sword against a fire-breathing dragon. Then he realizes that he really wishes that it was a dragon quest. Fire-breathing dragons would be easy compared to whatever Laura had in store for him.
"I want you to go have a drink."
"Tonight. It's a Sunday night. It won't be crowded. I want you to go to a bar, sit at the bar, order a non-alcoholic drink, god knows you have enough problems with your control, and talk to one person… nicely. One comment about the weather, or their shoes, or whatever. After you finish the drink and talk to one person, you can come home, okay?"
He cringes and his hand tightens on the phone. There was a time when this would have been fun. That time is not now.
Resigned, he says, "Okay."
Stiles is feeling no pain. The world spins and twirls around him in a blur of music and colors and he smiles. Alcohol was such a good idea. Scott is AWESOME! Scott is the best friend ever. Scott is… where is Scott? Oh hey!!! There's Allison! And Scott! In the corner!!! Stiles definitely does not want to know what's going on under that table. There is not enough alcohol in the world to make that okay. No siree. But…. one more little drinky couldn't possibly hurt. He'll drink. He'll say goodnight to the lovebirds. He'll pass out. This is the Best. Plan. Ever.
He staggers his way over to the bar and careens into a living, breathing brick wall.
"WHOAAAAAAAAAAAA! Sorry 'bout that! Really! Just gotta find my feet…" His hands grasp the neck and jacket in front of him. "…I'll be outta your way in a jiffy. Really. So sorr………."
He looks up in the glaring, cranky face of Asshole-Hot-Starbucks-Werewolf-Guy.
Derek is in hell. In the form of a bar. With people in it. If this is "Sunday night slow," then he shudders to think about what a Friday is like. He's accomplished Duty Number 1. He's sitting at the bar, drinking a coke as fast as he can. When the last drop is gone, he looks around for A Person To Talk To and spots a woman sitting halfway down the bar. He breathes, walks up to her, and says, "Nice shirt."
She turns and smiles and says, "Thank you so much!"
Oh god. It looks like she's going to say more. Derek attempts a smile that he's pretty sure comes off more as a grimace and says "Have a good evening." Then he turns and heads for the door. He does not look back. He's so close to freedom. Just through the door, out into the fresh air, and then he can retreat to the solitude of his home.
A body slams into him and he feels one hand clamp around his neck and the other clinging to his jacket. Then he hears babbling, ending with a cut-off apology, and then a slurred, pissed off "Asshole-Hot-Starbucks-Werewolf-Guy."
NO. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! He looks down at the Craigslist kid who ran into him at the Starbucks. Shit.
He glares again. The kid is plastered. Barely keeping himself upright and obviously headed to the bar for more. Derek sighs and steels himself, then sticks one arm around the kid's back and says "You need to go home."
The kid glares the glare of the unfairly rejected and says, "You were mean!"
Derek's glare softens, just a tad. "I know."
Glazed eyes peer up at him. "Why?"
"I don't know, but you still need to go home. You are beyond your limit. You gotta name?"
Craigslist kid glares and says, "Stiles. Stiles Stilinski." And when Derek raises an eyebrow, "Shut up! You don't know anything about me or my name!" and then trails off in another mutter of, "Asshole-Hot-Starbucks-Werewolf-Guy."
Derek hauls Stiles over to the bar, asks the bartender to call a cab, asks Stiles if he's here alone, and then sends a waitress off to inform Scott and Allison that Stiles is getting a cab home.
Once they're outside waiting for the cab, the fresh air seems to enliven Stiles and he starts talking.
"I really don't understand!" He wails. He sounds angry and petulant and hurt. "You could have just not replied? That's what everyone else does. Why would you go out of your way to be such an asshole? You don't make any sense at all… and you know what?"
"I don't actually hold my alcohol very well." Stiles is earnest. Big brown eyes looking concerned.
"Really. I hadn't guessed."
Stiles's eyes get bigger and he says, "I don't feel very well."
Then he unceremoniously doubles over and throws up all over Derek's shoes.
Derek is going to kill Laura. And make her buy him new shoes. And a new jacket.
Stiles looks up, "I feel a little better now."
The cab pulls up and Derek mutters a prayer to the heavens and heaves Stiles over to the waiting car, shoves him inside, and asks, "Where do you live, kid?"
Stiles looks bewildered, "Home?"
Derek pushes him face-down on the seat, snags his wallet out of his back pocket, fishes out the driver's license, and hands it to the driver of the cab. "Can you get him here?"
The driver looks at the address, shrugs and says, "Sure. It'll run about $15.
Derek gives him $45. "Get him there, and make sure he actually gets into the house. Kid? Where's your house key?"
Stiles is leaning up against the opposite window of the cab now, and looks like he's going to pass out, but he fumbles in his pocket and pulls a key ring out triumphantly. Derek grabs it, gives it to the driver and says "Make sure he gets inside."
The driver just pockets the extra cash, grins and says "No problem. Happens all the time."
Derek gets ready to shut the passenger door, when he hears a mumbled "thank you" coming from the interior. He slams the car door and the taxi speeds away. He looks down at his vomit-covered shoes and wonders briefly if he will ever see the humor in this situation and heads for home.
He is going to kill Laura.
Part the Third
Stiles wakes up curled on the floor next to his bed, clutching a wastebin and wondering how the skunk that crawled into his mouth and died managed to get into the apartment.
He whimpers, crawls into bed, and passes out again.
He doesn't actually feel much better when he wakes up the second time, but he manages to stagger to the bathroom, turn on the shower, and sit down on the floor of the tub. He lets the hot water beat down on his head and wonders how the hell he got home last night.
He remembers the drinking. God, does he remember the drinking. And he remembers seeing Scott and Allison snuggled up in the corner booth. And he remembers...
Stiles's body flails around and he cracks his head on the soap holder. He lets out a wail and curls up in a fetal position. Oh. My. God. OHMYGOD! OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!
At the bar.
And Stiles ran into him. Again. And then...
...and then he threw up all over Asshole-Hot-Starbucks-Werewolf-Guy's shoes. Because he is just that smooth.
It's just not fair! He was supposed to never see Asshole-Hot-Starbucks-Werewolf-Guy again, and if he did see him again, Stiles was supposed to be disdainfully distant. Aloof. He was supposed to glide smoothly by, with his head held high.
Throwing up on the guy's shoes, while kind of satisfying in the abstract, is possibly the most humiliating thing ever. Stiles has vague memories of babbling and whining, too. And then Asshole-Hot-Starbucks-Werewolf-Guy had put him cab and made sure the driver got him home.
Which was, all things considered, kind of sweet. In a distant, asshole-ly, I-care-but-not-enough-to-actually-get-in-the-cab-with-you kind of way.
Stiles turns off the water, dries off, yanks on a pair of sweats, and heads into the kitchen. Scott's already sitting on the counter, and is holding a mug of coffee. Stiles makes grabby hands and Scott laughs and gets up to pour Stiles a mug. Scott? Is a prince among men.
"So," Scott says. "Did we succeed? Did you forget the evil Craigslist guy?"
"What?!" Scott's eyebrows go all wobbly. "What is your problem? Aside from the hangover, I mean."
Stiles feels like a pathetic, wilted, plant. "Did you see the guy who got me a cab?"
Scott nods, "Yeah. He was totally hot, man! I don't even swing that way, but..."
"THAT WAS THE GUY! THE CRAIGSLIST GUY! AND I THREW UP ON HIS SHOES!" Stiles collapses into a melodramatic heap on the floor.
Stiles imagines that Scott is trying to figure out a way to run out of the apartment and still maintain Best Friend Status.
*still more silence*
Scott cough-laughs, "That... um... geez..."
Scott. Is. Laughing. Scott is a treacherous traitor who laughs treacherously in the face of his friend's pain and humiliation.
Stiles glares. "I'm turning you in for a new best friend. I just want you to know that. As soon as I can actually stand up without wanting to vomit, I am exchanging you for a new model."
"Awwww, man. I'm sorry, but I just... that's... hilarious! I mean, it's awful, but hilarious." Scott is whooping. If Stiles were actually capable of any kind of rapid movement, he would make his displeasure known in a stunning display of vigor and martial arts. As it is, he just curls his melodramatic heap into a tighter ball on the kitchen floor.
"He was nice," Stiles mumbles. "And I threw up on his shoes. And I don't think that I said Thank You to him for taking care of me."
Scott crouches next to Stiles on the floor and attempts to get him to uncurl. "Look," he says, "go back to bed. Sleep for a few more hours, and we can decide what to do after you're feeling a little better."
Stiles looks blearily at him, nods, and heads into his bedroom. He curls up into a little ball of misery and sleeps for another four hours.
When Stiles wakes up, he feels like something approaching a human. Maybe not an actual human. More... like a robot trying really hard to be humanoid. Like Wall-E.
When he emerges into the living room, Scott is on the couch looking determined.
"You need to place another ad."
"On Craigslist," Scott continues. "It makes perfect sense! You know that he'll read it, and you can apologize and just politely ask again to get into his pants! Because let me tell you, if I can recognize that the guy is super-hot, then he's definitely super-hot. And you might have been drunk as fuck last night, but I saw how he looked at you."
Stiles's face does this scrunchy thing and he says, "You saw how he looked before or after I threw up all over his shoes?"
Scott starts laughing again, "Ok. I admit that that was…maybe not the best way to go about wooing him, but… what harm could one more teeny-tiny ad do?"
Stiles glares. "One: I thought you didn't like the Craigslist thing. Two: The first ad did plenty of harm. And three: What part of I threw up all over his shoes didn't you understand?"
Scott fetches Stiles's laptop and says, "One: The Craigslist thing is weird, but I never said I didn't like it. Two: Please. It was one little email and a drunken evening. It doesn't count as harm. And three: What's a little vomit between Craigslist frenemies?"
He opens the laptop. "Just one more ad. And if it doesn't work out, I promise that I will never speak of it again… except when I'm drunk… or you're drunk… or at your wedding… or…anytime I feel like it."
Stiles hunches over his laptop. This is a bad idea. An epically bad idea. Scott has never had a good idea in his life and Stiles is already regretting this with every fiber of his hungover being.
He pulls up Craigslist.
It's Tuesday and Derek is on edge. Laura didn't call yesterday. This is odd, because usually when she gives him A Quest, his phone is ringing four seconds after he was supposed to complete it and he is bombarded with: How did it go? Are you ok? I want all the details!
But Monday has come and gone with nary a peep and now it's Tuesday and Derek is in his studio, trying to force a recalcitrant piece of mahogany to his will, and the longer he goes without a phone call the edgier he gets.
"Well, I'll be damned! It worked!"
Derek can hear the smugness in Laura's voice and a growl starts rumbling low in his chest. "What worked?"
"I didn't call, and you did! Did you realize this is the first time you have made the first move since… you were out of the world?" Laura sounds like a weird combination of gleeful and proud.
Derek's eyebrows crowd together. "Aren't you going to ask me how it went?"
Laura laughs. "You called me. That means you're in charge of the conversation. Besides, I know how it went. You went to the bar, the Craigslist boy ran into you again, he threw up on your shoes, and you put him in a cab. Well done, by the way. It sounds like you were practically compassionate."
Derek looks dazedly at his phone. Last time he checked, Laura wasn't imbued with any kind of mind-reading powers, though he wouldn't put it past her to have someone following him around. He puts the phone back to his ear. Laura is laughing.
"Check your email, darling brother. I've sent you a link."
Derek nestles the phone in the crook of his shoulder, opens his laptop, and clicks the link.
Asshole-Hot-Starbucks-Bar-Werewolf-Guy (you know who you are)
I'm sorry I ran into you again. And that I threw up on your shoes. So, I guess we're kind of even for you being an asshole. Or maybe I'm down one, because… vomit? Anyway, I'd still buy you a coffee, but I understand if you'd prefer to never see me again in your life. Either way, thanks for getting me into the cab and home safely.
Derek suppresses a grin. The first in… well… a long time. He remembers the weight of the body slamming into his. He remembers big, earnest eyes. He thinks vaguely of the shoes now residing in the trash can. "Are you going to make me respond again?"
He hopes she says yes.
He hopes she makes him.
He needs an excuse.
"It was enough of a disaster last time, I think we should just bypass the disaster and decide that Craigslist is not the answer to our problems."
Sometimes he hates his sister.
"But…" Laura continues. "I need to talk to you about something."
Derek braces himself. And Laura explains that she's been speaking with The Council. She tells him that they have decided that he needs to actually show up at his gallery showing in four months. That it's close enough to the two-year mark that it will be his final evaluation. Laura will be there. Several Council members will be there. Mobs of people will be there. He will have to mingle. He will have to chat. He will have to blend in well enough that they decide that he's okay.
She explains that if he can do this, then they're finished, and he can hear the hope in her voice. The exhaustion and worry and stress of the last few years ringing down the phone lines more clearly than the actual words. They'll be finished and she can go back to being his sister, and they won't have The Council breathing down their necks. If he can't do this, The Council will recommend institutionalization, at least temporarily.
His vision blurs. Four months. He's come a long way, but four months is not very long.
Part of the problem is that he doesn't have any people here to practice on. His family (aside from Laura) is dead. His friends are long gone. It's hard to practice human socialization without, um, humans.
"Maybe we can enroll you in a class?" Laura's voice is concerned-hopeful-desperate-wistful-stressed. "A club? You've been reading, right? What about a book club?"
Derek tries to imagine himself in a book club. It's a little like trying to describe the taste of coffee. Impossible. Twisting his mind up so much that he can't even make a mental picture out of it.
"Look. I'm going to think about some way we can get you interacting with people on a semi-regular basis. For now, I want you to just keep going into town. A couple times this week, okay? I don't care why. Go for coffee. Go to the library. Go to the park or the theater or the movies or the grocery store. Make sure you at least talk to a couple people, even if it's only in passing. Okay? We can do this. You can do this! I know it. And just think, in four months, it will be over and you'll have a free pass and can live as you please."
Derek nods, then realizes that Laura can't see him, "Okay."
"I love you, baby brother. I'll call in a couple days."
She hangs up.
Derek says "I love you, too" to the dial tone.
Four months. He thinks about Laura's faith in him. About the long years in the woods. About the babbling boy in the coffee shop. About the gallery showing.
He stares at the Craigslist ad and thinks that maybe it's time he took responsibility for his own recovery.
He hits the Reply link.
Stiles reads the email.
Thursday, 2:30 pm. Starbucks. You're buying the coffee.
Scott is peering over his shoulder and nudges Stiles. "See?"
Stiles goes all \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ and twirls his desk chair. Then his wild, happy flailing turns suddenly into /o\ /o\ /o\ /o\ /o\ /o\
This is happening. And now that it's happening, Stiles isn't so sure that he wants it to be happening. A date means there's a 96.4% chance that he'll be crying the piteous tears of the rejected by Friday morning. He's not stupid. He knows that he can be a bit… much… for most people, and Asshole-Hot-Starbucks-Werewolf-Guy, who is apparently named Derek, doesn't seem like the kind of guy who will sit placidly by and pat his hand and humor him. He seems more like the kind of guy who will just walk out without saying a word. And, god! He doesn't even know the guy! Not even a little! This was the stupidest idea EVER.
Scott listens to his semi-incoherent rant, laughs at him, and tells him to "just be yourself."
At which point Stiles hurls a pillow at him, tells him to stop spouting platitudes, and that he is the shittiest of all shitty advice-givers EVER. That this was ALL HIS FAULT. That he has already ordered his replacement best friend.
Scott just keeps laughing at him.
Stiles wonders whether it's possible to be hit by a car and nestled into a convenient coma between now and Thursday.
Part the Fourth
Stiles gets to the coffee shop late. It's not his fault! His Werewolf-Human Political Relations professor would not stop talking. He just went on and on and on and Stiles finally fled 15 minutes after class was supposed to end, ran across campus, and burst through the door to the Starbuck, flailing and panting and 10 minutes late.
Derek looks… unimpressed. He's parked in the back, corner table, eyebrows drawn down, not… scowling, but not smiling either. He looks…. stern. The word "aloof" comes to mind again. Stiles nods to himself. Aloof. Distant. Removed from the rest of the people in the coffee shop. But Stiles reminds himself that Derek was the one who called this little meeting of theirs. No one is forcing him to be there.
He's still panting from his sprint across campus and he's sure that he is officially the most un-suave person on the face of the earth, but he had given himself a stern talking to earlier that day. If Derek is really an asshole, better to find out now. Better to just lay it all out, than to try to pretend to be a normalish person and to find out later that his Stiles-ness is a bit too… well… Stiles-y. He blithely ignores the fact that he is following Scott's advice.
He therefore doesn't hide the giant grin that crosses his face when he sees his target in the corner. He just lets it loose, bounds across the cafe, untangling himself from his coat and hat and scarf and dumping his backpack next to his seat.
Derek looks… alarmed? confused? like he's about to bolt? Stiles isn't too sure. He definitely does not look thrilled. But then, from their previous brief encounters, Stiles thinks that maybe Derek only has one facial expression.
Stiles remembers the voice. Remembers Derek getting him into the taxi. Remembers… oh. Shit.
"So!" He says brightly. "Just to get this out of the way, I'm really sorry that I spilled coffee on you that first day, I'm really sorry that I ran into you at the bar, and… um…" He cringes. "I'm really really really sorry that I threw up on your shoes. And thank you for helping get me home that night. And since the first introduction was maybe a little... um... not the greatest, I'm Stiles."
He holds out a hand.
Derek ponders the hand and Stiles is just about to withdraw it when it's taken in a firm grasp. "Derek."
Stiles's already impossibly wide smile widens. "Coffee?"
Derek nods and they stand in line. Stiles is grateful for that little normalcy. Because this? This is kind of weird and more than a little awkward. Not…bad. Just…not comfortable. At all.
They return to their seats, coffees in hand, and Stiles says "So…."
OH FUCK! OH FUCK! OH FUCK!
THEY ARE GOING TO SIT HERE IN COMPLETE SILENCE FOR THE DURATION OF A CUP OF COFFEE AND….. ARGGGG!!!!! SO. FREAKING. AWKWARD!!!
So Stiles starts to talk. If there is one thing Stiles can do, it's talk. He talks about college and getting drunk with Scott. He talks about his family and his friends and how elephants are the only mammals that can't jump. He talks about his college advisor and how she's despairing because he hasn't picked a major yet and he's halfway through junior year and doesn't seem to be close to any established major in the school.
The gates are blown open and Stiles chatters about how he doesn't seem to know what he wants to do with his life and that he just took a lot of classes because they sounded interesting, and you know what? They were interesting! And he doesn't regret a single one of them… except for that one about urban planning, because the professor just sucked the life out of it.
It's actually… kind of cathartic. And as he talks, he sees Derek kind of relax a little. Loosen up. The expression doesn't change so much as… soften. He sees a glimmer of humor around the eyes.
By about 30 minutes in, Derek still has said next to nothing, but he does say "yes" and "no". Stiles thinks back to the linguistics class that his advisor told him was useless. Backchanneling. That's what Derek is doing. Giving brief, verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate that he is listening and that Stiles should go on. Stiles decides that he'll tell his advisor that the linguistics class was useful after all.
He starts winding down at about the hour mark, and Derek seems restless and like he's starting to get edgy.
"So…." Stiles says. "I'm really sorry! I seem to have just… um… talked. The whole time. God! I have no social skills at all! I'm so so so sorry! And, geez, I just…"
"I liked it," Derek says abruptly.
Stiles starts a little and looks at Derek sharply. "You…"
Derek breathes silently for a moment, then says, "I've… been out of the world for a while. I'm a little rusty on people skills. But I liked listening to you talk."
Stiles keeps looking at him, gaze steady. "You don't want to talk about it."
A glimmer of a smile touches Derek's mouth. "Not today."
Stiles pauses, then shrugs and stands to get himself ready to leave.
They head for the door of the cafe and pause just outside of it. Derek looks remote again, but Stiles thinks back to those minutes, off and on over the last hour, where Derek seemed almost approachable. He thinks, you know what? I'll probably never have a chance to do this again. So he says, "I had a nice time." And then he rushes forward to touch his lips to Derek's.
Noses crash together and Stiles hears Derek yelp and feel pain shoot up his head. Right. He flushes a deep red that crawls down his neck and studiously stares at his shoes. "God! I'm sorry! I just thought… I mean… I thought that maybe… I…. Fuck! I'm sorry!!!! I have to go. Bye!"
He risks one quick glance at Derek, and then runs for the coming bus.
Derek glares at the piece in front of him, then suppresses choked laugh. It is, in fact, a "piece." He has sculpted a giant penis.
His woodworking takes him in many directions. Sometimes the pieces are meticulously planned, and sometimes he just lets the wood take him wherever it seems to need to go. Apparently this wood needed to be, well, wood. He chokes back another laugh.
The phone rings and he looks at the display. Laura. Not that it would be anyone else. No one else ever calls him. He answers.
"I just made a giant penis"
Laura starts laughing, "Fantastic! It will be sure to sell."
"I should probably put a warning that says it's not intended for use. I'll call it "Wood Piece" or maybe "Piece of Wood."
Derek hears a choked sob on the other end of the line. "Laura?"
Laura seems to pull herself together and says, "You just made a joke. You just made TWO jokes. It's... god, Derek. It's been a long time since I've endured your awful sense of humor."
Derek is silent for a moment. It occurs to him that they haven't really talked about much except his recovery for more than a year, and before that... well, they hadn't talked at all. "I'm sorry."
"NO! Don't be sorry! Just... I'm happy." Her voice is wobbly and he can hear the tears.
Conversation is still so hard for him. Words just wriggle out of his grasp, especially if he thinks too hard about them, but he owes his sister so much. Surely, surely he can talk more, engage, be the brother she remembers.
"Stiles's chatter must have rubbed off on me."
Derek wonders vaguely if this is what Laura feels like when she talks to him. Sending sounds down the phone line and getting no response. "Laura?"
"The Craigslist-Starbucks Kid"
A high-pitched noise emanates from the phone and Derek winces. This is followed up by a stream of babble. Derek stops listening and ponders the giant penis sitting in the middle of his workbench. It really is quite... prodigious.
He jerks his attention back to the phone, "What?"
"YOU WILL TELL ME EVERYTHING!!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!"
And Derek does. Mostly. He tells her that he responded to the second ad and how Stiles was late and how he sat at a table and listened to Stiles chatter for close to an hour. He tells her how he wasn't really able to talk back, but how Stiles didn't really seem to mind all that much. He doesn't tell her about wide smiles and flailing arms. He doesn't tell her about the aborted not!kiss, though he does rub at his still-tender nose.
"Are you going to see him again?" Laura asks.
Derek pauses. "I don't know."
"It sounds like... maybe it went better than you thought it would?" Laura sounds a little tentative, a little hopeful.
Derek nods, "It did, but... I didn't do anything. I didn't hold up my end of the conversation." He thinks again of the aborted not!kiss and says, "I doubt he wants to see me again."
Laura is silent for a moment and then says, "Hon, the thing about relationships, any relationship, friends, lovers, brothers-and-sisters, is that you have to put yourself out there a little. You have to give and risk as much as you expect them to give and risk. I know you know this."
Derek nods to the phone and Laura goes on.
"It sounds to me like he's kind of done everything so far. He placed both the Craigslist ads, he asked to meet you, he shouldered the conversation. Hell, he even bought the coffee. This tells me two things."
"What?" Derek asks.
"First, a guy doesn't do that if he's not interested, okay? He's made a continued effort to be around you, so I think you can assume that he wants to be around you. Second, he is going to assume that you aren't interested unless you put forth a little effort."
Derek is silent.
"SO," Laura says, "you need to do a little bit of giving and risking and putting forth effort if you want to see him again. Do you want to see him again?"
Derek thinks again of laughing eyes, "yes."
"Then, hon? You need to email him and ask for another meeting. I can almost guarantee you that the ball is in your court here. And Derek?"
"I'm proud of you."
After Laura hangs up, Derek sits, staring at his giant penis sculpture. Shit. This is probably not worth the effort. But... But there was something there. Something that kind of lightened in his chest when they had their weird little coffee date. For a few moments here and there, he felt... almost normal. Almost like... before.
He gets up, runs his hand over the head of the giant penis, and fishes his laptop out from under a stack of papers.
Stiles has been moping for two days. He doesn't even know why he's moping. It's not like the not!date was that great even before the not!kiss. He remembers the AWKWARD AWKWARD AWKWARD and thinks that it's probably for the best that they've just gone their separate ways.
Except that he's moping. He's moping enough that he's driving himself crazy, and Scott sought refuge at Allison's last night, declaring Stiles to be a moping moper who mopes and that he's being annoying. Stiles knows this. He even knows that he's being ridiculous.
ARG! He has to just let this go. There are other fish in the sea. Or... werewolves in the woods? Or... something? Either way, it's totally time to get past this.
His email beeps at him and he glares. HE IS HAVING AN INSPIRATIONAL EPIPHANY HERE!!!
He opens the email.
I realize I'm not the greatest conversationalist, but bloody nose aside, I'd be interested in seeing you again. If you're interested.
\o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ :D :D :D :D :D :D \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/
Stiles stops leaping around the living room, sternly reminding himself that the last time he did this, he ended up with a sprained ankle. He contains his joy and sits down at the desk. He firmly reminds himself that this doesn't matter, that whatever happens with this he will be fine and awesome and OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!
I like ice cream.
Part the Fifth
It's practically blizzarding when they meet for ice cream. Stiles is wrapped head to toe in a now familiar, garishly colored scarf, hat, and... Derek peers closer... yes. Mittens. He's wearing mittens.
Derek doesn't realize he's staring until Stiles says, "It's scientifically proven that mittens keep you warmer than gloves."
Derek looks at him. "It's snowing."
Stiles's nose is red from cold and he's smiling. "Yes. Yes it is," Stiles affirms.
"We're getting ice cream and it's snowing." Derek says. He thinks that he must sound like a particularly slow child.
"And going for a walk!" Stiles says.
"Look," Stiles says. "I like ice cream. It is one of my favorite things. I like snow. It is also one of my favorite things. We are going for a walk, because you seem more comfortable outside than in enclosed areas. And because I like snow."
Derek continues staring. Stiles is... kind of scarily astute. It's like underneath this babbling, flailing kid is a brain that is taking everything in, assembling it, and making unnervingly accurate assessments of the world. Derek remembers that sudden, penetrating stare he got at the coffee shop. "You don't want to talk about it" Stiles had said. And Derek had felt completely caught for a single instant, and then Stiles had just let it go, like a freed butterfly. Just watched the moment fly away. He had stood up and they had walked out of the coffee shop and that sharp, astute stare had turned back into bright, brown eyes, and the arms had started flailing again and Derek had forgotten.
Until Stiles just matter-of-factly states that Derek appears to be a little on the claustrophobic side and they are therefore going to be taking a stroll outside.
In a fucking blizzard.
With ice cream.
What the fuck has he gotten himself into?
Derek has a sneaking suspicion that it doesn't matter. It's too late for him. Maybe the butterfly didn't get away after all. He follows Stiles into ice cream shop, which is pretty much deserted.
Stiles orders a monstrosity of an ice cream with fruits and sprinkles and syrups and a waffle cone sitting precariously on top. Derek orders chocolate.
They venture back out into the falling snow and walk across the street to the park. Stiles starts up his rambling monologue again. This time it seems to be revolving around the last few days of classes and friends and the fact that the largest snowflake ever recorded was 15 inches wide and 8 inches thick and is it true that werewolves have to turn into wolves on the full moon?
Stiles turns to look at him. "Well, I mean, even post-Integration there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of information available to the public and all the movies show you guys changing on the full moon. So, I was just wondering...."
Stiles trails off.
"No." Derek answers.
"No? Then why....?" Stiles is looking quizzical and Derek is... surprisingly... not offended. The question is genuine and Stiles just looks mildly interested.
"Why do some people go to church every Sunday?" Derek responds.
Stiles hesitates and then the light bulb goes on, "Oh! I see! So...."
Derek nods, "Centuries of tradition and dogma and culture. Pack is... important to us. Traditionally, we gather on the full moon to re-affirm pack bonds, not unlike the way you humans have traditional times for re-affirming your own beliefs and cultural bonds. It's not physiologically necessary, but it is important nonetheless."
Stiles appears to process this and says, "So you gather with your pack every full moon?"
Stiles stops walking and looks at Derek again. That same, bright, intense gaze settles on his face in that same unnerving way. "You don't want to talk about it."
Derek feels his lips twitch, ever so slightly, into the tiniest of smiles. "Not today."
Stiles grins, and just like that, the lighthearted atmosphere returns. "Ok," he says. "Maybe next time."
The smile widens. "Next time." Stiles says. "Admit it. You had a good time. You laughed...like... one and a half times, and you did your smile-grimace thing 6 times...." *pause* "Sourwolf."
The eyes are mischievous. Derek stops. "Are you teasing me?"
"Of course not! Though... I'm surprised you got chocolate. I thought dogs couldn't eat chocolate." Stiles's smile is so wide his nose is starting to crinkle with it and he looks at Derek, his body tensed and poised for flight.
Stiles laughs and bolts.
Derek doesn't chase him. Derek is much to dignified to chase him.
A snowball hits Stiles in the back of the head.
Stiles turns, laughing, and calls out, "So... next time?"
"You'll email me?"
Derek nods again.
The grin is bright, the lips nearly blue with the cold, the nose bright red. "Good! I have to get to class, but... I guess I'll see you around then!"
A final wave, and Stiles runs off to whatever ridiculous class he's probably running late for.
Part the Sixth
There is a next time.
And a time after that.
And one after that.
After the one disastrous Movie Incident, Stiles goes out of his mind trying to think of things to do outside in the middle of winter. It's clear that Derek really doesn't like to be trapped inside, and when he is, he's almost always by a window, with the window open if it's possible.
More often than not, they just stick to walks outside. Stiles thinks that by the end of winter they'll have probably explored every park in town and a good portion of the woods.
They talk. Or… Stiles talks and Derek listens, and somewhere in all the babbling, Stiles starts to sort out how he might actually be able to finish his degree sometime before he's old and grey, maybe even on time. He's not sure how Derek does it, since aside from the intermittent bursts of information, Derek mostly just nods and says yes and no and uh huh, but Derek seems to keep him calm and focused enough to actually start making plans about his life.
And the Stiles-to-Derek talking ratio improves. It starts out at 99:1, but after a couple weeks, it was more like 9:1, and now Stiles thinks it might actually be more like 8:2. It's not like Derek is a talker, but he does talk.
Derek shows Stiles one of his wood carvings and Stiles is completely amazed. It's beautiful and he can't stop running his hands over the abstract curves and ripples, can't stop looking at the way the light plays off the colors and shapes. Then he laughs and tells Derek that he should carve things that are useful, not porn for the fingers.
Derek carves him a pair of Dutch clogs.
Stiles clomps around in them until the guy in the apartment below his and Scott's threatens homicide.
Stiles. Is. In. Bliss.
He has a new friend who he now sees at least once a week, and sometimes a couple of times. He stops writing ads on Craigslist and he feels calmer and more content than he has in a long while. Even Scott has noticed that he's happier. But… the thing is….
There are no kisses.
There aren't even any more aborted not!kisses.
And Stiles is grateful for his new friend, he really is. If this is what he gets, then he'll take it and be happy. But he sort of really wants to kiss Derek. And by "sort of really", he means HE WANTS IT LIKE BURNING!!!! But it's now been nearly two months and therefore it will just be awkward because they have developed a pattern. A pattern that doesn't involve kisses. Nudges? Yes. Slaps to the back of the head? Yes. Shoves up against trees? Yes. Kisses? Not so much.
Also, Stiles still doesn't know what Derek's deal is. He knows that Derek has A Deal. Judging from the way Derek goes all stiff and silent when things come up, and the fact that he is the most socially awkward man Stiles has ever met, he's pretty sure that Derek's Deal is actually a Big Fucking Deal. He is dying of curiosity. He kind of wants to know everything there is to know about Derek, but getting information from him is not unlike Atreyu trying to pull Artax out of the Swamp of Sadness. Fruitless and not a little heartbreaking. Stiles really doesn't want Derek to die in the Swamp of Sadness.
So he doesn't push. They dance around the stuff the Derek obviously doesn't talk about. Stiles approaches and retreats, approaches and retreats. He comes at it from different angles and tries like hell to show that he's trustworthy and non-judgmental. He's become adept at changing the subject, lightening the mood, tap dancing around issues like a pro.
Until the Hugging Incident. Things kind of fall into place after The Hugging Incident.
Derek wonders vaguely when he lost complete control of his life. Two and a half months ago, he was happily ensconced in his studio, dutifully fulfilling the tasks Laura set for him.
Laura has stopped setting tasks for him. Instead, she pries all the details out of him. Where do he and Stiles go? What do they talk about? What's Stiles like? When can she meet him?
Derek answers as much as he can, but feels oddly protective of his time with Stiles. Stiles is… Well. Stiles. Is. And Stiles's stiles-ness pushes in on his life. It's not bad, it's just different, a little awkward, a little scary.
Derek knows that Stiles wants to know more about him. Knows that Stiles knows that Something Is Up with him. Knows that Stiles is treading carefully and waiting for Derek to be ready. But Derek doesn't know if he'll ever really be ready. He doesn't talk about it. It's not like it was the greatest time. Telling Stiles would be like putting his stupidity, his weakness, his loss, his anger on display. Well-lit so that Stiles can see every nook and cranny. Derek doesn't want to go back there and he doesn't want to take Stiles there, either.
So he stays mute on the subject, and Stiles maintains his distance, and this works for them.
Until The Hugging Incident.
Derek can't keep his distance after The Hugging Incident.
It's about two months after he and Stiles started doing… well… whatever it is that they're doing. He had spoken to Laura earlier in the day and she had reminded him that the gallery showing was in two months. God. So soon. So soon. He will have to perform like a dancing bear and hope that he looks normal enough that The Council will let him be.
His nerves spike. It would be indoors. He would be surrounded by people. And if he can't… blend… they'll lock him up.
He should have just cancelled on Stiles, but Stiles is a little like crack, so Derek goes ahead with their plans. He buys coffee for himself, hot chocolate for Stiles, and meets him at the edge of the woods, where they are apparently going to go on a Winter Hike, which Stiles claims is A Thing.
Stiles is waiting for him there, all bright colors and flashing smile, but he takes one look at Derek and the smile disappears.
"What's wrong? Are you okay?"
Derek stops, hands Stiles his hot chocolate, and says, "I'm fine, why?"
Stiles is looking at him, all concern and confusion, "You are so very not fine. What's wrong? Do you want to cancel? We can do this another time…"
"No!" Derek is adamant. Now that Stiles is here there is no way Derek is letting him get away. His stomach is already unclenching. "I was just reminded of some bad news."
Stiles grins, "Maybe you need a hug!"
"I don't need a hug."
Stiles is advancing. "I think you need a hug. Don't worry! I give great Hug. If I could major in hugging, I would graduate with honors. I am a champion hugger."
Derek is backing up. "I don't need a hug. I need a Winter Hike. Really, no hugs necessary."
And then his arms are full of Stiles. It's a full body assault. Legs to legs. Hips to hips. Torso to torso. Derek feels a cold nose pressed into his neck, feels arms tight around his back.
For a minute, maybe two, he stands there, stiff and unyielding. Then he feels that cold nose nuzzle under his jaw. Feels breath against his throat. And kind of collapses down against Stiles. His arms tighten around Stiles's back and his face presses into Stiles's hair, which smells like shampoo and coffee. Stiles must have been studying in the Starbucks again.
Stiles wasn't lying. He is an expert hugger. It's not a static hug. Small movements of head and fingers, a slight shuffling of feet every few seconds make each moment get better and better. Derek can't remember being this close to a person in a long time.
The hugs lasts a lifetime. They're just standing there, at the edge of the woods, heads tucked in against each other, sharing space.
Stiles's hand comes up to rub at the back of Derek's neck and he mumbles, "See? Hugs make things all better." And Derek can feel the lips moving against his neck.
Derek's defenses crumble. He feels them just blow away, like dust, and despairs a little. He takes a deep breath and backs up. He says, "I think maybe I do need to cancel today."
And Stiles looks up at him, assessing and so very present in the moment, "Okay."
"But maybe tomorrow," Derek says, "maybe tomorrow we can do the Winter Hike?"
Stiles keeps looking at him, and gone is the flailing boy. Derek can tell that Stiles knows what he is promising. A story. An explanation. "Okay," Stiles says again. And then he smiles and gives Derek another hug. This one quick and hard. A grounding hug. "Tomorrow," he says. "Thanks for the hot chocolate!"
They walk in easy silence back to their respective cars.
Part the Seventh
"What do you know about Integration?"
It's not the opener Stiles is expecting, but he'll go with it. They're crunching around in the snow in a particularly aimless manner. Derek is tense and distracted and Stiles pretty much just wants to tell him that they can totally ignore this whole thing and go back to the way things were.
But with hugs.
Because that hug? Was the best. hug. ever.
"Um… I guess I know what we were taught in school? I was still pretty young when it all went down." Stiles thinks back to his 5th grade class. "I know that humans discovered the existence of werewolves about 25 years ago, a couple years before I was born, and that there was mass panic. People were thinking that they could be turned into a Were if they were bitten, and that you were all out of control savages, and that there was a lot of violence."
"And?" Ok. Apparently Derek wants to give him a history test.
"And the Werewolf Council and the human leaders worked together for a decade to decide on rules and regulations, and about 15 years ago we had Integration with bunches of laws about anti-discrimination and Changing and… um… other stuff I didn't really pay attention to. And I know that now things are better. Not great, but better."
Derek stops walking. "Do you know anything about the early years of Integration?"
Stiles looks at him, "Well, I was pretty young. Like… 5 or 6? I know that it didn't go well. The first 5 years or so were really awful and a lot of people got killed and there were hunts and riots and peace marches and talks about segregating the two populations and stuff. I know a lot about the Enforcers, because Scott's girlfriend is an Argent and her family were really big Enforcers. I mean, they still are, but things aren't as bad now. So… yeah. I guess I know things kind of abstractly? But it's not like there were a lot of Weres where I grew up, so it wasn't such a big deal where I was, and I was really young. I mean, I wasn't…like… reading the newspaper to keep up with events when I was in grade school."
Derek had stiffened at the mention of the Argents and Stiles watches him force his muscles to relax.
Derek nods, "The Argents were, and are, known for being some of the best Enforcers in the world. They were absolutely ruthless in the early days of Integration, but were also absolutely fair. They made sure that both sides toed the line. When there was an Argent in town, everyone was so scared of them that they forgot to be scared of each other. They, and the other Enforcers, made a big difference in those early days."
Stiles is watching Derek and wishing that they were inside, warm and curled up on a couch. Hell, there isn't even a bench to sit on. He looks around and finally plops himself down on the snow, under a tree, resigns himself to being cold and wet, and tucks his feet under him, knees up, chin on his hands.
Derek continues, "It was about five years into Integration. I was 17, and I met Kate Argent."
Stiles's gut twists. Because, the thing is, he doesn't know about Kate. He's had dinner with the Argents countless times in the last year and half, and he's heard just about all the stories about Enforcing and Integration. But the few times Kate's name is dropped, the whole room goes silent and still and it's awful. All he knows about Kate is BAD-WE-DON'T-TALK-ABOUT-THIS. What he knows about Kate is awkward, rapid changes of subject and forced good cheer. Kate? Is fucking scary.
Derek is pacing and Stiles just keeps watching him from his spot under the tree, sees his eyes go ice blue and his teeth lengthen. He vaguely wonders if he should be afraid. Derek doesn't look… in control.
Stiles listens as the story comes out in as few words as possible. Of course Derek trusted Kate. She was an Argent and an Enforcer. Trustworthy, if a little on the ruthless side. Completely to be depended on to be fair to Weres. She seduced him. She was beautiful and much older and had him in the palm of her hand, both figuratively and literally, in less than two weeks. He introduced her to the pack, showed her everything. And two weeks later, during a full moon pack meeting, she burned his house to the ground with his pack trapped inside. No-one survived. Hell, even Kate hadn't survived. The Argents hunted her down as surely and systematically as they would anyone else who broke the rules of Integration. They showed no mercy.
Stiles is completely silent. He doesn't know what to say. There is nothing to say. You can't say "I'm sorry." It's just an empty phrase that does nothing to make up for the horror of losing everything to an insane rampage. He just sits there, watching Derek pace, blue eyes darting around, nails lengthened into claws. He stays very still.
There is nothing but silence and the crunching of Derek's feet in the snow for long, long moments, and then Stiles says, very quietly, "Laura?"
Derek nods, gaze completely empty, "She was away at school. The only one in the pack left. The new Alpha. By the time she got back, I was gone."
"Out of the world," Derek laughs in this half-desperate, half-hysterical way. "The polite term for it."
"I went feral. By the time Laura got back, all she knew was that there was a burned out house and no one left. She didn't know to look for me." Derek's gaze is furtive, but no longer blue.
"I don't think I… understand." Stiles is still trying to be as still as possible, curled up small at the foot of the tree.
Derek looks at him and Stiles remembers the first days, full of glares and silence and Derek being so tight and uncomfortable and growly. It makes him realize how far they've come. It's been a while since Derek has been like this with him. Guarded and silent and remote.
"You know that it's not good for Weres to suppress their wolf, right?" Derek asks.
"Well, it's equally bad for them to suppress their human side. The average Were is human about 90% of the time and wolf about 10% of the time. That's considered to be normal and healthy, though "healthy" can range from about 95:5 down to about 70:30. At 70:30, you're considered borderline out of control and usually have to be monitored." Derek pauses and Stiles is still still still. Waiting and watching.
"When a Were is in wolf form, they retain their human mind, but it's kind of muted, pushed to the back. So... when bad things happen, sometimes we Change in order to distance ourselves from our human emotions. It's... not considered to be a healthy way of coping, but it's not at all unusual. Maybe... a little like a human turning to alcohol or drugs in the face of crisis."
Stiles nods again.
"If it gets out of control, goes for too long, the Were's human side is suppressed more and more. They lose their sense of humanity and remain Wolf. It's called 'going feral'. A lot of Weres never come back from it, and The Council keeps a tight leash on those who succumb. The last thing the Integration needs right now is a bunch of enormous wolves with no sense of humanity stalking the woods."
Derek hasn't looked at him at all throughout this little speech. If Stiles were feeling better, he would have given Derek an award for Longest Time I've Ever Heard You Talk Ever. But he's not feeling good. He's feeling sick and sad. "And this happened to you?"
Derek nods, a jerky, up-and-down motion of his head.
"How long were you....?"
Stiles gapes, jaw dropped. "Seven....?"
"Years." Derek finishes.
"How did you... I mean... You seem okay, now, and that seems like a long... You came back, right? How did you...?
Derek smiles the unhappiest smile Stiles has ever seen, "Laura found me."
He explains that the city called Laura and informed her that if she didn't do something about the burned-out house and the property within seven years, then the city would consider it abandoned, raze the house to the ground, and confiscate the land.
Laura had come back.
It was her family's land and she wasn't going to let it go to the city. She had planned to destroy the house and re-build... something... in its place. Her plans had been vague in the extreme. Just... something good to help wipe out the horror of what came before. A retreat. A garden. A sculpture. A playground.
She had spotted Derek her second day back. He didn't stand a chance against her. She was his sister. His alpha. And she was way stronger than he was.
Derek tells Stiles about how she fought for him with the Council and struck a deal. Give her a year. He would be under her constant supervision and if she could get him to Stage 1 recovery in a year, they would re-assess and consider keeping him out of the institution permanently.
Derek nods, "Human more than 50% of the time, fully verbal, full human understanding in wolf form."
Stiles is kind of insanely in awe of Laura. She had wrangled a year of personal, family emergency leave from her job. She had been tireless and determined. Completely unstoppable.
It had taken three months for Derek to change back to human form for longer than a few minutes at a time. Six before he said his first word.
Instead of a garden or a sculpture or a playground, Laura had planned and overseen the construction of a small house and accompanying studio. She had chucked a piece of wood into Derek's hands in celebration of his first word and reminded him of good times whittling with his father.
At month nine, Derek was saying short sentences, staying human 60% of the time, and surround by piles and piles and piles of wood sculptures.
Laura found a gallery.
The pieces sold.
At the year mark, The Council came, inspected Derek and struck the second part of the deal with Laura. Two more years. They had two years to get him back to full capacity, Stage 3 recovery. At the end of two years, if he accomplished that, he would be declared healthy. Otherwise, he would institutionalized for the remainder of his recovery.
Derek's expression is completely blank as he relates this to Stiles, and Stiles's mind is racing, all the puzzle pieces falling into place,
"What's Stage 3?"
"Human at least 80% of the time, able to socialize in large groups of humans and Weres without losing control, fully able to support oneself. Essentially, all parameters of normal."
Stiles laughs. The first one since they started this conversation and it startles them both. Derek looks at him, eyebrow raised.
Stiles's smile is lightning-quick and he says, "It's just... 'All parameters of normal'... I would fail that test spectacularly."
Derek seems to relax for the first time in what seems like hours. Stiles can see the muscles shift and go soft. "Ironic, isn't it?" Derek says, "That people who have been sick, have to be better than the people who haven't?"
"So how long do you have?" Stiles asks, "before your ultimate, final test?"
Stiles ponders, "That's why you were so upset yesterday?"
A short nod.
Stiles pauses and says, "Okay."
"Yeah. I think we've had enough heavy talk for the day, and now that I know what's up, we can work on things later. For now, there is something more important." Stiles looks up at Derek. It's totally time. "So... you're pretty much at Stage 3, right? and... like... way past Stage 1?"
Derek nods, wary.
"Which means that you're totally in full control and completely aware in your wolf form now." Derek looks like he's about to interrupt so Stiles pushes on, "And I'm totally your best friend."
The eyebrow twitches upward again. "You are?"
"Dude, I'm your only friend. I'm the best by default. So..." *shifty eyes* "ithinkyoushouldshiftbecauseireallywanttoseeyourwolfform"
Stiles employs the puppy dog eyes. They are powerful. He must remember to use them only for good.
Derek is glaring at him and Stiles increase the intensity of the puppy dog eyes.
Then... just like that... Derek is gone.
And there is a really fucking big wolf in his place.
Stiles kind of stops breathing for a minute because A) he was kind of expecting howling and this really gruesome transformation with skin ripping and cracking bones, not this fairy-godmother-esque POOF! I'm a wolf! and B) Derek is really. fucking. big. It's not like Stiles has seen a lot of wolves, but holy shit. Derek could probably crush his skull with his jaws if he had a mind to. And Stiles isn't scared, except that HOLY SHIT DEREKISAREALLYFUCKINGBIGWOLF so maybe he actually is a little scared.
Stiles makes no sudden movements. He really wishes he'd been standing up for this, because at least he'd feel less vulnerable on his feet. Stalk-still, hands clenched tight against his waist he says, "Derek? You in there?"
The wolf rolls his eyes and kind of slinks over to Stiles, belly low to the ground.
"Holy shit." Stiles breathes.
Derek raises his head, looks Stiles right in the eyes, and just barely touches his nose to Stiles's.
"Holy shit!" Stiles lifts one hand to Derek's neck and pulls back. "Holy shit! I mean, wow. You are so... just.... holy shit."
Derek rolls his eyes again and flops down, curled up next to Stiles, head on his thigh.
And Stiles... Stiles is just speechless for a moment, because he has the sudden feeling that this? This was a gift. An incredibly beautiful wonderful gift. "Wow." He says again, and buries his hand in Derek's fur and starts scratching.
Derek lets out a low rumble and Stiles laughs. A real, lighthearted laugh.
And then he leans into the warmth at his side and starts to babble.
"So. I figure we need a plan to get you up to snuff. Not that you're not already up to snuff, but you have to believe it, too, and lucky for you, I am an expert planner..."
Derek shouldn't have changed. Changing in front of humans, well, for the most part, it is not done. Weres are not a sideshow and Changing is deeply personal and done only alone or with other Weres. But Stiles is begging. And Derek thinks that, well, you don't actually get much more personal than telling someone that you went completely insane and lost every shred of humanity you ever possessed for years and years.
Still, it's not until he's hit with the pleading eyes that suddenly he just thinks, 'what the hell.' And he Changes.
He can smell Stiles's fear. It's not unexpected, but he's a little wounded that Stiles might possibly think that Derek would ever hurt him. Still, he understands it and tries to appear unassuming.
He can smell everything about Stiles. It's kind of amazing. Stiles is saying, "Derek? You in there?" and Derek rolls his eyes.
He gets as close to the ground as he can, and comes right up to Stiles. He touches his nose to Stiles's. See? he wants to say. See? You can touch noses without pain and bloodshed. But then he is distracted, because Stiles has stopped smelling of fear. He smells like joy. A straight-up shot of happiness. And Derek can feel Stiles's hand at his neck. It's...so... amazing.
He withdraws his nose and curls up, head on Stiles's thigh, and Stiles's hand finds that spot right under his ear and....
Stiles is starting to babble again. Derek doesn't pay attention. There are so many other things to notice in this form. Words are not the wolf's strong suit. But he lets the sounds wash over him. It is as soothing in this form as it is in his human form. He rumbles out what he hopes is an approving noise, closes his eyes, and lets Stiles's voice cleanse away the trauma of the day.
Stiles spends an hour and a half in the shower when he gets home. Derek might be impervious to cold, but Stiles just spent a crapload of time sitting in the snow and he doesn't care how warm Derek was, all curled up against his leg. His ass was numb, his lips were blue, and he was shaking with cold by the time he left the woods.
He doesn't regret it. Not even a little. His stomach is this big mess of FEELINGS right now, but he doesn't regret it. He and Derek just crossed the Rubicon, and even though Stiles is just ill with what happened to Derek and what Laura must have endured trying to get her brother back, there's another part of him that is still quaking with joy from seeing Derek's wolf.
It all twists and turns and he feels slightly nauseated from the conflicting feelings, so he just turns the shower spray hotter and curls up in the bottom of the tub and lets the feeling return to his limbs.
Later, legs shaking, he falls into bed and is comatose before he can even start to plan.
Art by annafh
Part the Eighth
Derek takes a breath. His stomach is churning and he thinks he might be sick all over the shoes that Stiles made him buy.
The last two months... have sucked. And been amazing. But mostly sucked. Stiles had had a plan and had relentlessly pursued it. Shoving Derek closer and closer to larger and larger groups of people.
He had a knack, it seems, for getting Derek just to his limit, and then backing off and taking him back out to the woods. With ice cream. And lots of silence.
But to the limit they went. Over and over and over again. A walk with Scott and Allison. Another movie. The dreaded mall on the day before Valentine's day. Then back out to the quiet of the park. A walk in the woods. A day off for Derek to work in his studio. Then, going to a crowded lecture hall. Heading into the gallery. Coffee in the middle of the Starbucks. Dinner with Scott and Allison and a number of friends that Derek doesn't remember the names of.
Derek would hate Stiles for it, except that it seems to be working. He remembers vaguely that there was a time when he wasn't a hermit. Maybe he's not naturally one, now. And each time he successfully goes out, retains his sanity, small-talks with a few people, and gets back to his house in one piece, he thinks that maybe... maybe he'll be able to get through the gallery showing.
Because, the problem is, that he doesn't just need to fake it for a bunch of humans for four hours. He has to pass muster with Weres who will be able to smell it if his eyes even think about changing. They'll be able to smell every change of emotion, hear every thump of his heartbeat. It's a lot harder to fake control. He needs to be in control.
And the last two months, well, they haven't been all bad. He's Changed more times in the woods with Stiles. There have been walks and Stiles has continued to be as irrepressibly chatty as in the beginning. Derek is smiling more easily and even laughing occasionally and feeling far more human than he has in a very long time.
And so it went.
And it went so fast.
And here he is. Standing outside the gallery. He can see his sculptures inside. Each lit warmly with a spotlight. People are already there, cruising from piece to piece, sipping champagne, and eating what are probably inedible appetizers.
Stiles said he would be here, but Derek doesn't see him. He doesn't know which would be better, to wait until The Council members get there to go in, or to go in and be well-entrenched by the time they arrive.
Probably the latter.
He takes a breath. He goes in.
It's all light and noise and people and it's hot. Someone presses a champagne flute into his hand and he looks blankly at it, thinking that the last thing he needs right now is alcohol.
And then the assistant of the gallery owner swoops in. He doesn't remember her name. Beth? Bette?
"Hi Derek! I'm so glad you could make it!!! In case you don't remember, I'm Betty!!!!" She's all exclamation points and perky smiles. He attempts a smile back and she drags him over to one of the pieces.
He's instantly surrounded by interested parties.
"This is a beautiful piece!"
"Can you talk about what it represents?"
"How did it feel when you completed it?"
"This looks like it represents inner turmoil, can you speak to that?"
He fumbles his way through answers.
And then he sees them. The three Council members. The same ones who evaulated him two years ago.
His pulse spikes.
They look at him and smile and make their way towards him.
WHERE IS STILES?!?!?!
"Sir." He responds.
The older, grey-haired man smiles at him and says, "It's good to see you Out in the World."
The man looks at him. "You seem a bit... unnerved."
Derek thinks about what Stiles told him. That sometimes it's best just to be honest about what you're feeling and why you're feeling it. That sometimes people just need an explanation and will understand.
"There is... a lot riding on this evening, sir."
The face looking at him softens just a bit.
"I understand that, Derek. But you should know that we aren't here with the goal to put you behind bars. We want to see you succeed, for so many reasons. We don't wish you any ill will."
Derek relaxes a fraction, and then a flash of bright color draws his attention, a familiar smell amidst the perfume and food and alcohol.
Stiles is standing in the door, unwrapping his scarf, arms flailing, smile wide.
He spots Derek and waves, dumps his coat and warmth-giving accoutrements on the unsuspecting doorman, and charges across the floor, only to stop dead in his tracks by the center piece. His head cocks as he considers it, and then his shoulders shake with suppressed laughter and he continues on in Derek's direction.
"There appears to be a giant penis in your showing!" Stiles smile is wide and he starts laughing. "And you named it Piece of Wood! And there are a whole lot of people standing around trying to sound intelligent while talking about it!! This is the Best. Gallery. Showing. EVER!!!!!!"
Stiles's arms are going full force and Derek is afraid that he's going to knock over the champagne glass at his elbow.
Stiles looks at Derek, flicks him between the eyes, and says, "If your eyebrows get any closer together, you're going to take 'brooding artist' to a brand new level."
"Stiles," Derek says again.
"What?" Bright brown eyes look up at him. "Are you going to drink that champagne, and if not, can I have it?"
Derek gives Stiles his champagne and then turns to the Council members. "Stiles, I'd like you to meet..." He flails. "I'm sorry, I don't recall your names."
The grey-haired man smiles, "Of course not. You were hardly yourself the last time we met."
Names are exchanged. Hands are shaken.
Stiles is just the same as he always is. Somehow the Stiles normality makes everything else seem normal, too. Like this is just one more time Stiles is forcing him out into the world and that soon he'll be able to return to his little cocoon and bask in the silence.
The first hour passes, and Laura arrives. Beautiful Laura, who glides across the room and gives him the tightest hug he's ever had, body shaking against his. Her grin is bright and infectious and her eyes are filled with tears and he thinks that the last time she saw him, he wasn't looking nearly so well. Frequent phone calls can only portray so much and she's looking at him like he's the second coming.
"Darling brother," she whispers up against his ear. "It's so good to see you again."
And then she turns and sweeps Stiles up in a hug and introductions are made.
The second hour passes.
Patrons come and go.
The Council members are not with him every second, and neither are Stiles or Laura. He moves from piece to piece, but he notices that when he starts to tense up, a minute later a warm hand is on his back, and Stiles is all up in his space whispering "So tell me, Sourwolf, does this represent the End of the Black Death or the Rebirth of Unicorns?" And then he spins off into the crowd.
Stiles has clearly had a couple of glasses of champagne and Derek can see him giggling with Laura in the corner.
The third hour passes and Derek starts wondering whether this will ever end. His pieces aren't that interesting. He wants everyone to leave. He wants a little peace and quiet. He's so tired.
An arm wraps around his waist and a hip bumps up against his. Stiles looks up at him blearily and says, "Is it over yet? Can we go home?" and Derek looks down at him and wonders when, exactly, Stiles became imperative to his survival.
He sighs, flicks Stiles on the nose and they walk around the gallery. It's emptying out. Slowly.
"Derek," the grey-haired man says. Damn. Derek has forgotten his name again. "Can we have a moment of your time?"
Derek feels Stiles tense against him. Then feels the arm around his waist give him a squeeze and Stiles says, "I'll go find Laura."
The three men look after him, and one of them says, "An interesting young man."
Derek droops from tiredness. "You have no idea."
"We've been watching you most of the night."
"We are... very impressed. There aren't many who could come back from what you went through. You had a few moments of tension, and we did notice your stress levels fluctuating, but you handled it. We are also very impressed that you accepted help from both your sister and your young man. There is no shame in needing help every now and again, and you were wise to accept it when it was offered."
Derek starts breathing again.
"So, consider your evaluation complete. You are free to do as you please and go on your way. If you don't mind, we would very much like to come back periodically and speak with you about this process. If we can help others in your position to heal, we would very much like to."
Derek is frozen. He did it. His heart starts racing and he starts sweating and OH SHIT HE SO DOES NOT WANT TO BLOW THIS NOW.
A hand lands on his arm and he looks into the eyes of the older Councilman. He's smiling warmly and he says, "We'll talk about it later, perhaps. I think your sister and your Stiles are waiting quite anxiously for you. Congratulations, Son. I know that this has been a hard road for you."
And then he and the other two men leave.
And just like that, he's free.
And then he has an armful of Laura, who is laughing and crying and clinging like a vine and he looks over her shoulder at Stiles who is smiling a smile that he doesn't think he's ever seen before. Kind of proud and sad and happy all at the same time. Stiles walks up to them and holds up a tiny wooden sculpture. It's a boy, sitting cross-legged, with a wolf curled around his legs, head lying on his thigh. "How much is this?"
And Derek looks at him and feels kind of split open, and says, "Free of charge." And he gently dislodges his sister, who's wiping at her eyes and laughing and apologizing and he says, "I think maybe I need a Winter Hike."
Stiles laughs and says, "No, you need a hug." And Stiles, Gold-Medal Champion Hugger, steps in and Derek is gifted with another of those hugs that he hopes will never, ever end.
Stiles sprawls out on the couch. He's had too much champagne and has been running on nerves and adrenaline for four hours. Or… maybe longer than four hours. The last two months had been a tightrope of nerves and adrenaline. He wonders if he pushed too hard, but tonight. Tonight it was all worth it.
There had been a moment there. A moment when he saw Derek and Laura hugging and he had been clutching that beautiful, tiny carving and he had thought, "It's over. He doesn't need me now." He thought about the fact that all of this had been about Derek trying to recover, and now he was free to be as much of a hermit as he'd like, and he'd leave Stiles behind.
And then Derek had looked at him. And Stiles had known that he was full of shit. Whatever it was that was between them, it wasn't just utilitarian.
Walking to the door.
And then that awkward awkward AWKWARD moment when the three of them stood outside the gallery and all Stiles could think was "I want to kiss you. I want to kiss you so badly. Please. Please please please please please kiss me."
And he had stared at Derek's lips and stammered "So…that went really well and congratulations because really this is so huge and you were amazing and I'm so happy for both of you that it went so well and oh my god it's really late and I'm really drunk and I have to go, BYE!"
There had been no not!kiss this time. He had just darted forward, given both Derek and Laura quick, hard hugs, and run off down the street, waving over his shoulder.
God. He was an IDIOT.
There's a knock at the door.
Stiles whimpers tiredly and gets up and peers out the peephole.
He opens the door. "Hi," he says.
"Laura says I'm an idiot," Derek responds.
*blink* *blink* *blink* *blink*
"Okay." Stiles is confused.
"She says I should have kissed you outside the gallery."
Stiles blushes beet red and says, "Well, maybe you were just trying to avoid a damaged nose."
Derek smirks and leans in and gently touches his nose to Stiles's, and Stiles is reminded abruptly of the wolf. "Oh my god, you asshole! You were being a teasing jerk that day and I didn't even know it. That is so not fair."
And then Derek tilts his head and kisses him, and Stiles shuts up and kisses back.
They stumble back into the apartment and the door slams behind them.
Part the Ninth
Derek wakes up the next morning with a drooling Stiles plastered against his chest. He's lying in the very-extremely-how-the-fuck-did-it-get-so-wet wet spot. Something jabs into his thigh and he fishes around. Oh. The open bottle of lube is now empty, having relegated its contents all over the bed.
Stiles stirs, opens his eyes, wipes his mouth, and says, "Hi." His smile is goopy and satisfied and sleepy and wide.
"Hi." Derek shifts. "I think next time we need to close the lube. And not crash into the coffee table. And not rip my shirt. And also, I think I might have a concussion."
Stiles's smile threatens to eat his face, "I've heard that practice makes perfect. We just need lots and lots and lots of practice."
"Mmmmmm." Derek agrees.
Stiles pokes him in the chest, "So. Does this mean I'm your mate for life?"
Derek snorts, "I'm sorry to burst your romantic bubble, but werewolves don't mate for life."
Stiles pouts, "But wolves do!"
"Actually, they don't. Wolves are serial monogamists."
"My world is crushed." Stiles sighs. "I was sure that if I just lured you into my bed you would be forced to bow down to your werewolf chemistry and never leave me."
Derek smiles, a little warily, "I'm not sure why you'd want that. It seems to me that I've gotten everything out of this friendship of ours, and you've gotten nothing."
Stiles pokes him again, "Are you kidding? I might actually graduate. Talking to you is like pouring all my spare change into one of those coin sorters. It's all a jumbled mess when it goes in, and they come out the other side in those neat little packets! Also, I like you; you're very ornamental."
"Huh." Derek falls silent and they consider this.
"So…where are we, exactly?" Stiles asks. "I mean, seeing as we're not Bonded Life Mates of Glory."
Derek looks at him, wary and a little bewildered.
"Stiles…." Derek gathers his thoughts. "I've had one other relationship of consequence and that woman murdered my family and quite literally drove me insane. It happened when I was four years younger than you are now. I'm not exactly the expert here."
Stiles appears to think this over and nods, "So… we're…"
"We are where we are. I like to think that where we are is Happy. Maybe we can just take it from there."
"I like Happy." Stiles responds. "I actually wouldn't mind staying in Happy for a while."
Derek rubs his chin over Stiles's head. "Me too."
Derek wants to go back to sleep, but the bed is SO WET and kind of slimy and gross, so he pokes and prods Stiles out of bed with the promise of coffee and more sex once they shower and change the sheets.
When they emerge from the room, Scott's door is tightly shut. They make their way out into the living room and see the wreckage of clothes and the broken coffee table. They definitely need more practice. There is a sign pinned to the back of the couch: "THIS IS A NO-SEMEN COUCH. SEX IS FOR BEDROOMS"
Stiles starts laughing. Huge bubbling bursts of laughter that fill up the living room and make Derek grin, because Stiles has the most infectious laughter ever.
Stiles is gasping for breath and he says, "Well, it is pretty disgusting."
Derek just keeps looking on in confusion, and Stiles grins and says, "You can get totally awesome couches on Craigslist, in fact, that's where I got this one!"
And then they head into the kitchen for coffee.