They were halfway through the season when the L. A. Queens lost their third defensemen to injury. Finstock, the head coach, had called the team to a meeting to discuss their plan to solve this issue. Stiles expected he would call up one or two of the Baby-Queens from the AHL. Manchester was on the other side of the US but they could probably fly them in in time for the next practice and the game in a few days. Or maybe one of the defensemen weren’t actually injured for the season like the reports said? Stiles expected a lot of things, but none of those things were Derek.
“This is Derek Hale. An unrestricted free agent whose contract just ended with the Falcons. He is our new puck-handling defensemen. So say hello, everybody!” Coach Finstock slapped Derek in the back and he grunted. There were a few mumbled hellos, but aside from Scott’s none of them felt genuine or enthusiastic. Derek Hale looked like the most unfriendly guy Stiles had ever seen, and he had seen a lot of frowns and angry glares over the course of his days with the way he couldn’t stop running his mouth. It was no wonder the team wasn’t taking to him much.
“He speaks French but he knows enough English to play hockey. Oh, shut up, Greenberg. Probably more English than you and you’re a native English speaker, so don’t give me that look.”
Finstock left for his office and as soon as he was gone, the team pounced with evil little grins. Newbies had to be initiated into the pack. Most of the staff cleared the area, rolling their eyes and more concerned with their own work, but Stiles tended to stay and watch. He was the same age as a good portion of the players and grew up with one. He figured he had some sort of duty to stay.
It did not go as expected. Derek Hale’s glare was not a bad case of grumpy-at-rest face. He meant it. He completely ignored the former newbies finally getting to do what was done to them when they joined up and fought back against the older, more experienced crowd. Needless to say the team did not take kindly to that. One didn’t join a new team and then immediately try to establish themselves as alpha male. It didn’t work that way.
In practice the team refused to pass to him and ignored him enough to get by without coach noticing. Derek did not burst out or argue or anything, he just let it happen. And ignoring it made the team even angrier.
Their first game with Derek Hale was a disaster. The team kept up their refusing-to-acknowledge-him-on-the-ice thing, but it was mostly an accident. They had gotten so used to it in practice that they did it automatically in the games. The Queens lost 5-1 and of course they blamed it all on Derek, who shouldered it quietly.
The game of ignore-Derek-Hale continued into the next game, which they lost as well. Coach Finstock was expectably furious at the team, but yelling at everyone only made the anger at Derek more prominent.
“I wish Coach Finstock would stop putting him in the game or something. Trade him even. He doesn’t like us much and we don’t like him much. There’s no chemistry and all we do is fall over each other trying to see who hates the other more.”
Scott was frustrated. He didn’t usually use their weekly bro-date at Pizza Palace to rant as hard as he was about the team. Stiles understood it. He may not play hockey anymore, but when the chemistry was off and the team hated each other, it wasn’t easy to make things work.
“Maybe it’s some sort of French Canadian thing. The silence and the angry stares and stuff.” Stiles shoved a few curly fries in his mouth when he was done talking, desperate to do anything but deal with the Queen’s problems during his downtime.
Scott rolled his eyes. “Stiles we have other French Canadians on our team and even they hate him.”
Stiles sighed. “Yeah I know. It was a joke. Well a bad joke. But still.” He paused to sip his coke. “We don’t have very many options here. We can pull up from the AHL team but they have a fresh team this year and most of them aren’t NHL ready. Besides, Hale’s a good player. We’ve seen him in action on the Falcon’s.”
Scott’s shoulders slumped. “Yeah, I know,” he grumbled.
“Just give him a chance maybe. If you reach out maybe others will follow and we’ll start winning games again. I mean, you’re the alternate captain. The team likes you, Scott.”
Scott wasn’t happy, but he would do it for the team. The Queens needed Derek Hale to be a valid team member and the only way to get that to happen was to cooperate with him.
Scott was the first to start passing to Derek Hale. Danny, the goalie, immediately followed suit. He was such a nice guy that it probably hurt him to leave anyone out because of the team, especially one that was the last line of defense before the goalie.
One or two other teammates started including Hale as well by the end of the practice. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a start, and having five men on the ice outside of the goalie instead of four and one they won’t pass to on the ice would definitely give them less of a disadvantage.
The situation improved a little, but everything was still hostile between Hale and the rest of the team.
After practice it was Stiles’ job to do any last minute cleanup checks and close down the rink until the next time it was used. There was usually a buffer before the next group, usually a peewee hockey practice, took the ice to make the Queens more comfortable because while they loved their fans, most of them could not entertain them day after day after practice. Some players tried, like Scott for one, but he’d inevitably start talking about Allison or completely confuse the fans with his inability to do an interview and the whole thing would turn into a mess.
Sometimes a team member took advantage of that buffer time and used it to work on their shots or something, but that was rare, thankfully for Stiles. He was required to be the last one to leave, and while he didn’t have a family to visit or much of a life outside of hockey, he still considered playing video games and exercising his Netflix account to be a life and he’d really like to be doing it.
As he was doing his usual checks, Stiles could hear pucks hitting the boards and the sound of someone skating around. There wasn’t any yelling or jeering, so he determined it was only one person, whoever it was.
Twenty minutes later Stiles was done with his checks and there was still someone on the ice. He found himself hoping it was Scott or Danny or someone else he knew pretty well just waiting for him to get done so they could get a pizza or something. Waiting was kind of a bitch and if it was Scott he could tell him to get a move on.
It wasn’t Scott. Or even Danny. It was Derek Hale.
He was broad-shouldered, and with the pads, even more so, and his movements were quick and controlled like a lion in the hunt. Surprisingly, he was a pretty good puck handler. Stiles mostly considered the title “puck-handling defensemen” to be sort of oxymoronic because most weren’t particularly great at puck handling. Maybe enough to be better than the regular defensemen, but still not that great. Derek Hale on the other hand, he was pretty good.
Stiles walked out on the ice after about another twenty minutes, a little frustrated because he’d for sure missed a raid on WoW because no matter how fast he drove, he was not making it home in four minutes.
Hale stopped moving when Stiles got in his general vicinity. His brows were furrowed in frustration and his face was flushed with exertion. Despite the general sweatiness, Stiles was surprised he was so attractive when he wasn’t scowling at everything.
“You’ve, uh, got twenty minutes before the next group of people hit the ice,” Stiles said, a little nervous. Hale may not have been glaring, but he still had an intense look to him that made Stiles uncomfortable.
Hale slowly nodded his head before replying, “Thank you.”
Stiles couldn’t help it, his eyebrows rose. He expected a gruff, angry voice to come out of his mouth, like the little he’d heard in bits and pieces of trash talk when Hale was near the bench. It wasn’t anything like that. Just a normal voice, albeit accented, but normal.
The Queens were home up against the Anaheim Geese when one of their players decided to be extra rough with Danny while he was screening him during a power play. It wasn’t enough that the Geese were up one player, no, he had to shove Danny into his goal too. The ref was turning a blind eye to it and Coach Finstock was up to his ears with anger. If they gave up a goal because of one stupid referee, he was going to throw a fit.
To the team’s surprise, next time he shoved Danny, Derek Hale shoved him back. Next thing anyone knew they were dropping gloves and the crowd was roaring, the Queens with them.
There was a murmur in the bench and Stiles heard things like, “Geez, I didn’t know Hale had it in him” and “Yeah, well, you’ve always gotta protect your goalie. Doesn’t matter if you don’t like the team you’re playing with.”
Derek Hale came out of the fight with a gash over his eyebrow, blood pouring down over his eye and onto his cheek, but he was grinning. The other came out worse with a broken nose and probably what would be a black eye. Hale definitely won that fight, and the crowd ate it up, cheering as he made his way to the box.
He earned respect from some of the other team members that day, especially from Danny.
As weeks passed, Derek Hale continued to use up every little bit of time in the buffer zone and Stiles stopped scheduling raids during that time. It was annoying, but Stiles managed to read all those bestsellers he bought from years before but never got the chance to read. He even started reserving the ice for a little more of a buffer just so Hale could stay after practice longer, though Stiles wasn’t sure what to make of his motivation for that. Hale continued to earn respect as the season went on with little things like scoring a short handed goal when they were tied, and continuing to stand up for teammates he may not even like when someone gets a little too rough with them behind the ref’s back.
The season was maybe five-eighths through and Stiles is maybe halfway done with The Da Vinci Code when Erica visited during the buffer zone. Hale looked up when he heard the door open and shut, but turned back to his training when he saw it was not the peewee group that reserved the ice next. Stiles didn’t notice until Erica plopped down onto the bench next to him.
“I saw your crummy jeep in the parking lot and thought it was strange you were still here so I came to make sure no one murdered you or something,” she started, crossing her legs over the boards in front of them, dangling her heels over the ice. Stiles snorted, gesturing at Hale practicing precision drills. Erica grinned.
“Yeah, I saw that. But hey, wasn’t I nice to make sure you weren’t the subject of the next horror movie?”
“Yeah, super nice. I am super indebted to you Miss Erica. How can I ever repay you?” Stiles shut his book. He would gladly leave the book for some human conversation.
“For starters,” she said, winking, “introduce me to that.” Stiles already knew whom she was pointing at, but looked anyway.
“Derek Hale,” he laughed, “but shouldn’t you be more concerned about your boyfriend?”
Erica waved him off. “Isaac’s been the biggest turd lately. He’s going through a rough patch here,” she gestured at the rink, “and insists on taking it out on everyone and everything around him.”
Stiles made a noncommittal grunt and Erica continued. “And I don’t care how shitty of a week he’s having, I’m not taking it, so I went out for a drive and ended up here. He’ll call me in a bit to beg me back home anyway. So I’m perfectly entitled to look at some nice eye-candy while he’s thinking about what he’s done, I’d say.”
Stiles laughed. “I don’t think he’s going to see it that way. He turns into one of those guys that tracks his image in every surface reflection when you even glance at another attractive person, as if to tell himself he’s still strong and beautiful and still the prettiest girl at the dance.”
“Mmm, he knows I love him anyway. We’re shitty to each other but we’re shitty together.”
They were quiet for a bit. They were good friends once, and if they hadn’t met just after Stiles swore off relationships and Erica ended a messy one, they might have been more, but lately they had drifted. Sometimes Stiles blames it on Isaac, since he took up so much of her time, but that would be dumb. He would have to blame Scott’s absence on Allison if that were the case and he’d stopped doing that since they started college years ago. It did not make it any less unfortunate though.
Hale came over minutes later, sweaty and exhausted. “I am finished,” he said with a nod and began to skate over to the locker room opening.
“Hey, Derek,” Erica shouted and Hale froze. He didn’t turn around but he didn’t move closer to the locker room either. “Where are you from?”
Hale’s shoulders relaxed and with a wave in Erica’s direction he answered, “Quebec.” He disappeared into the locker room. Stiles noticed that he had stopped breathing when he ended up gasping for a breath when Hale was no longer visible.
Erica grinned in triumph. “I thought so.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “He speaks French. He’s French Canadian. You’ve only got so many guesses before you hit the primarily English speaking provinces.”
Erica laughed in response but didn’t say anything else.
Stiles got quiet, shrinking into the bench a little bit. “Y’know I think that’s the most he’s ever said at one time to me.”
Erica raised her eyebrows. “Really?” she started, “maybe it’s because you’ve got a pretty girl next to you.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly it.” Stiles rolled his eyes and punched her in the shoulder. She fell over onto the bench laughing. He went still and quiet for a moment and Erica gave him a curious look. “I sometimes wonder if he doesn’t know English enough or something. Like maybe he’s a super talkative dude when he’s speaking in French, but as soon as English comes into play he’s lost and he ends up coming off as aloof.”
“Well does he talk to the other dudes on the team who speak French?” Erica asked after a pause.
Stiles sighed. “No. But they sort of hate him, I think.”
Erica shrugged. “Maybe he’s just quiet.”
Isaac called when Stiles was in the process of packing up the ice rink and Erica left shortly after with a wave goodbye.
He was in the parking lot digging through his pockets for his keys when he heard, “Merde!” Stiles glanced around, confused. He was under the impression that he was the only one around for at least another hour until the ice aerobics class showed up.
Derek Hale was half shoved under the hood of a Camaro, tinkering with something before kicking the ground in anger. Car troubles. That would explain it.
Stiles continued on toward his jeep, finally finding the keys underneath his wallet in his back pocket. He was about to drive out of the parking lot when he heard the slam of a hood and a few more angry sounding words. Stiles sighed. Under any normal circumstances where the person with car trouble was someone he didn’t like or didn’t know, he’d continue to drive off. People had phones nowadays. They’d call for a tow. But despite how little Stiles felt towards Hale, especially after the cocky son-of-a-gun had treated his team like he did, he was still his teammate and he felt he had an obligation to help at least. So he turned his ass around and stopped right in front of Hale.
He leaned across the seats to throw open the passenger door. Hale jumped at the noise but recovered quickly, turning around to glare at Stiles.
“Get in,” Stiles said simply. Hale raised his eyebrows, eyes sweeping over the jeep with disinterest before giving Stiles a pointed look that clearly said, “Not in that car.”
Stiles sighed and gestured at the passenger seat again anyway. “Don’t be an asshole. Here I am, being a Good Samaritan for once, and I should remind you that you’ve been nothing but a cocky little penis wrinkle to my teammates, so this is extra undeserving, and you won’t even accept it. My Jeep’s just too ugly apparently. Says the guy with the Camaro that won’t work. And—“
The sound of the passenger door closing interrupted Stiles, and when he looked over Derek Hale’s large frame was situating itself on the passenger seat. “The, ah, Shop on Central,” he said, and Stiles nodded in understanding.
It was quiet for a few blocks and Stiles heard Hale fidgeting. At the next stop sign Stiles glanced over. Hale was the picture of concentration looking at something on his phone, with his brow furrowed and his tongue poking out of his mouth.
“What are you doing?” Stiles asked once his eyes are turned to the road again.
Hale licked his lips and finished reading whatever he was looking at. “Google Translate.”
“Oh. I mean I guess that would work but I can’t really type what I want to say into it while I’m driving and I can pretty much guarantee that I will butcher any French that thing tries to get me to say.”
Hale smirked and set the phone on his lap. “No, it is for the shop to make things easier. I can understand English, but I can never find the right words to say.”
Stiles snorted. “Yeah, well I speak English and I can’t find the right words to say half the time either.”
“And you still talk?”
Stiles could hear the teasing tone in his voice. “Yeah, well, I’m cute enough to get by with it. You’re the grumpy bear who chooses to glare at everyone instead of using a little thing called basic conversation skills.”
“If you think so.” Oh, Hale went there. Hale freaking went there.
“Okay, fine. Look, Derek, I am adorable. You put me next to a freaking kitten and measure us with a cuteness machine, it will go off the charts when it hits me.”
There was a pause before Derek answered and Stiles looked over. He had a pinched look on his face, like he smelled something bad but can’t figure out where it came from. “I do not understand,” he started and Stiles’ mouth dropped open to apologize, that he forgot. But then Derek began again. “I suppose I do not understand idiot.”
They reached the auto shop as soon as Derek finished and Stiles can’t even protest to defend himself before Derek is out of the car. Derek reached across the jeep and Stiles closed his mouth. “Derek Hale,” he said and gestured at his open hand. Stiles shook his hand and said, “Call me Stiles.” Derek nodded and shut the passenger door, heading into the auto-shop to presumably call a tow.
What a dick.
The Queens had their games against some of the Eastern Conference starting the next Monday and they were on a plane Sunday morning. Scott was Stiles’ plane buddy, as always. And as always, Scott was stuffing his face with snacks and calling Allison as soon as they took off and electronics could go on, and as soon as they landed.
“Look, Stiles, you don’t freaking understand how good it is with Allison right now. Like, you know how her dad hates me—“
“Yeah I know Scott.”
“—right? He actually tolerated me for her birthday party on Thursday. It was great man, fantastic even. Like he—Dude what are you looking at?”
Stiles jumped, a guilty smile on his face. From his seat and the angle Derek was at, he could just make out him talking to Isaac.
Scott leaned over Stiles measuring the angle Stiles was looking at with his hands to try and figure it out. Stiles sighed in exasperation, but restrained himself from lodging a couple fingers into Scott’s visible armpit. The guy was ticklish as hell there and it would maybe distract him enough to let it go.
Scott turned just enough to look at Stiles. “Boyd?” He asked and Stiles looked over at Derek again. Boyd was in the seat directly behind Derek. He shook his head no, knowing Scott was very good at telling when he was lying. Sometimes Stiles thought he could hear his heart beat speed up or something.
Scott turned back around towards Boyd. “Y’know, I thought it was Hale at first but I can’t think of a reason—oh man, it was him?”
Stiles shrugged. He froze when Scott said Derek’s name so it wasn’t like he could lie about it now.
“Y’know, I’m actually pretty glad you made me be nice to him. I mean, we still don’t get along well but now we can actually tolerate each other. Plus he’s made some friends I guess. Maybe he’s not that bad of a guy.” Scott gestured at Isaac and sat back in his seat.
“No, he’s pure evil through and through. The evil reincarnate. You were completely right about your feelings towards him.”
Scott laughed and leaned back forward to look at Derek. “What makes you say—Dude he’s looking at us.”
Stiles jumped and looked over, and sure enough Derek was looking at them. “Holy shit, he looks like a creep.”
“Well we were talking about him so maybe he heard his name or something, besides, he’s turned back to Isaac now.”
Stiles glanced over to make sure and sure enough Derek had turned back around. “Nah, he’s still just evil. Probably has some weird French Canadian voodoo under his belt.”
“Dude, what makes you even say that.”
Stiles leaned over, close to Scott. “Okay, last Thursday right? He gets car trouble and me being the Good Samaritan that I am—“
“Dude you’re like the opposite of Good Samaritan when it comes to people you aren’t friends with. Especially when the team doesn’t like them much.”
“—shut up Scott. I am totally nice. Anyway, me being the Good Samaritan that I am, and everything my supposed best friend says is not true, I pick him up to take him to the auto shop on Central. And the whole way there he does nothing but insult me. Called me ugly to my face and stupid in the next breath.”
“Yeah, I see what you mean now. He’s totally evil because he called you stupid.” Scott rolled his eyes and Stiles frowned at his teasing tone.
“And ugly!” Stiles insisted.
“Oh, sorry. And ugly.”
“You know sometimes I wonder why I’m your friend.”
Scott shoved him into his seat and reached over to give him a noogie. Jackson, the Queen’s Captain, leaned over the seat in front of them and threatened to punch them in the throat if they didn’t shut up.
Derek continued to stay after practices to work on his skills when they got back from their games against the Eastern Conference and Stiles finished another book. A week had passed since then.
“Do you play hockey?” Derek asked one day, reaching behind the boards next to Stiles for a water bottle he’d stashed there after practice.
Stiles set his book down, laughing. “I did. In high school. I was never any good, but Scott though. You’ve seen him. He was just as great in high school.”
Derek raised his hand to stop him. “I do not want to talk about Scott. You should play me.”
Stiles really laughed then. “You’re kidding right? Did you hear the part when I said I haven’t played since high school? How bout the part when I said I sucked? Because I’m pretty sure I mentioned both of those things.”
Derek looked uncomfortable. “Yes, well, I am a defensemen,” he said as if that explained it all. And it did, really. Stiles understood what he was getting at. It was difficult to practice defensive skills when all one had was cones. A moving body, that was what was needed.
“I’ll think about it,” Stiles eventually answered.
Derek nodded his head and set his water back down on the bench.
He didn’t ask again until a few days later, and Stiles turned him down again.
The third time he asked though, that was when he finally got an answer he could work with.
“You should play.” Derek was determined this time through, Stiles could see it in the way he clenched his water bottle, knuckles white and fingers tight.
“I don’t know. You’re a big strong hockey player and I’m a scrawny little thing who hasn’t played for years now. I don’t even think I have pads anymore.”
“I could buy you pads. I have a Camaro.” Stiles snorted, as if money could solve all the problems there were with the idea.
“I’m sure you could. Unfortunately, money does not buy me skills.”
“I do not care how good you are.”
Stiles sighed. “You’re not going to give up on this, are you?” Derek shakes his head no.
“Okay, look. If we make the playoffs, I’ll play you.” It wasn’t the best choice of bets for Stiles since the Queens would have to lose a lot of games in the rest of the season not to make playoffs, but by the time they would find out the Queens would have heavy enough practice that Derek wouldn’t have time for the extra practice. And judging by Derek’s face, he knew that too.
“Okay,” Derek finally answered, and Stiles wondered if he’d regret the decision.
God, Stiles looked ridiculous.
It was time for the Queen’s annual visit to the children’s hospital and Stiles managed to draw the short end of the stick. Not only did he have to steel himself to keep from crying every kid or so, but he had to wear the mascot suit. Don’t get him wrong, Riley was a pretty fly looking tiger, but Stiles sweated balls in the suit and he couldn’t take it off just in case a kid saw him in there and ruined the magic.
The players usually cycled through the charity and morale boosting events, but some volunteered every year for one of the events in particular. Boyd was one of those players when it came to visiting kids at the children’s hospital. Didn’t matter which staff members or players went, but one could always expect Boyd.
As for the other cycled players? Isaac Lahey and Derek Hale were visiting the kids too.
“Last year you’ll remember we had you split up into pairs so we could have you greet more kids in a shorter timespan. We’re not doing that this time. You’ll all be going together followed by a short meet and greet in the cafeteria for any kids who we weren’t able to fit in the route but still want to meet their hockey heroes.”
Stiles shifted in his suit. He’d really like to get this over with as soon as possible. The tunnel vision was a little annoying, the recycled breathing made it impossibly hotter in the suit, and it was a wonder Stiles hadn’t tripped more than three times in the hundred yards he’d walked in the suit thus far.
From the little he could see through Riley’s mouth, Derek had his perpetual intense-but-not-quite-a-glare look on and the female hospital staff member kept switching from running her eyes down his chest and avoiding his not-quite-glare. He could certainly empathize with her because holy hell did Derek make a black t-shirt look good, even with the glare plastered on his face. Isaac looked a little bored but managed not to start picking at his nails like Stiles had seen him do during one of Coach Finstock’s extra long “inspirational” speeches. Boyd was not in his field of view, but Stiles imagined he probably looked like he loved doing this, considering he came every time the Queens did the event.
One of the staff members handed Isaac a copy of the route map, which Boyd promptly stole, but Isaac managed not to look too upset about that. As soon as it was in his hands, Boyd immediately started walking and the hospital staff followed. Apparently he knew the hospital pretty well.
Stiles managed to get one step in before he felt the awkward length of cloth and fuzz on Riley’s feet slide oddly against the floor. Whelp, here was fall number four. Stiles braced himself for impact, throwing his head just so that the open tiger’s mouth would keep him from hitting his head funny, but was surprised to feel himself being jerked back.
Stiles’ mouth gaped open and any sort of yell he was going to release when he hit the floor dissipated in his mouth. There was a hand on his shoulder, judging by the little pressure he could feel through Riley’s shoulder pads, steadying him. It was Derek. Of course.
“Your legs do not work?” Derek said with a teasing tone and Stiles wanted to give him a very inappropriate gesture with a highly idolized hockey mascot’s hand. He opted to glare at him through Riley’s mouth instead, which did absolutely nothing considering the light had to hit it just right for someone outside the suit to see inside.
Derek squeezed his shoulder and shoved Stiles a little forward. “I suppose it is a good thing that I am hockey player then,” Derek said, fingers wagging between them. “Fast reflexes,” he finishes with a grin.
Stiles did flip him off that time after a cursory glance around the corridor for kids. “Good thing my hands work just fine though, hunh?” he quietly said (he hoped) as Derek passed him to step into room 209 first, where Boyd, Isaac, and some hospital staff were waiting around a little girl’s bed.
To be honest, Derek was pretty freaking terrible with kids. Stiles didn’t know why he expected differently. Maybe it was some sort of vain hope that if someone was so bad with adults, they might stand a chance with kids. But Derek was bad with both. If Derek couldn’t impress grown men with his alpha male routine there was a better chance in hell for him to impress kids.
He alternated between standing in a corner and glaring at the kids, and standing in a corner and grunting one word answers at kids. Neither went over particularly well in the long run and Stiles found himself doing stupid shit that the kids seemed to love anyway to distract them away from how mean Derek acted or looked. But Stiles could only dance and fall over himself for so long, and he was happy when Boyd and Isaac joined in, making jokes to get Derek to react a little more or stepping in front of Derek with their large frames.
By the end of the fourteenth or so kid, they had gotten it down to an art and Derek was glaring a little bit less and talking a little bit more. But all that work had seemingly been undone when Boyd talked about the sixteenth kid, a burn victim who was going to be released in a week or so when the kid’s relatives could pick him up.
Stiles saw Derek freeze and his shoulders hunch over when the words “burn victim” were uttered, but Derek kept walking and Stiles figured he must have seen something else because of the mask and everything obscuring his vision.
It was no trick of the light, however, as Stiles saw later when they entered the room. Derek’s steps became short and jilted, and Stiles could see sweat trickling down Derek’s neck off of the little hairs on the nape of his neck. It may have been hot in Riley, but Stiles knew that the hospital itself was at a cool temperature. Derek was pale and he couldn’t focus his glare on the kid, choosing to stare at the IV bag hanging just to the kid’s right instead. Something was up with Derek, and judging by the way Isaac and Boyd were looking at him, Stiles wasn’t the only one who noticed.
They were halfway through the kid’s time slot when Derek darted. Pushed his way between Boyd and Isaac and ran right out of the door. The hospital staff around them stared dumbstruck after him, while the kid looked like he was about to cry. Boyd was quick to cover it, telling the kid that Derek had been feeling sick all morning and how he had a bad case of the nerves for the next game against his old team the Falcons. That caught the kid’s attention, curious that even professional sports players got sick or nervous, and Stiles was able to slip out. Isaac waved after him to let him know that he saw Stiles, but made no move to stop him. Stiles was oddly thankful of that.
Derek was nowhere in sight and Stiles knew better than to try and run after him in a giant tiger mascot suit, especially when Stiles tripped just walking in it. He managed to get ahold of a nurse and ask if she’d seen Derek, and after a quick description she directed him to an unused room where, sure enough, Derek was sitting inside.
Stiles wasn’t sure that he’d recognize that the form hunched over and sitting small on a hospital bed was Derek Hale if it hadn’t been for the fact that the form was wearing the same clothes. His palms pressed wearily into his eyes and he looked like he was holding all the weight of the world up on his shoulders, but had given up somewhere in between.
He knocked on the door as he entered to make sure Derek knew he was in there, though how someone missed hearing a man in a tiger costume walking about, Stiles didn’t know. Derek didn’t peer out of his hand cocoon until Stiles sat down next to him and the familiarity of Derek’s glare pierced the side of Riley’s head.
The weight of the glare disappeared and Stiles was pretty sure Derek may have been crying, or at the very least letting loose some very wet sounding sighs. Stiles bit his lip, wanting to turn ever so slightly and run his hand down Derek’s back or something. But he didn’t. His hands stayed in his own lap, twitching every so often within the confines of Riley’s hands.
Here was a man, so tough and strong, breaking down next to him. Stiles didn’t expect anything like this could ever happen, especially not to someone like Derek hale, but it was happening and Stiles was at a complete loss for what to do.
“You okay?” he asked quietly when Derek’s breathing had evened again and Stiles felt rather than heard, Derek nod his head.
They were quiet for a while, and Stiles turned to give Derek the privacy to wipe any evidence of what had happened off his face.
Stiles licked his lips. He didn’t know what to do, how to make Derek feel better. And Scott said he was supposed to be good at this. What a lying asshole.
“Hey it’s hot and shit, oops I mean stuff because there are kids here, so I’m just gonna take Riley’s head off if that’s okay with you,” he ends up blurting out and Derek just gives him a strange look behind red rimmed eyes. “Okay, clearly you don’t care. So just don’t tell anyone, y’know? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure the publicist would have my freaking head if Riley got caught with a person inside him. Ruin’s the magic and all and I am shutting up now.”
Derek had more of an amused looking stare on his face then and Stiles tallied that up on the mantle as one for Stiles and zero for Sad-Derek. And maybe an erasure of one on the “Scott-is-a-lying-asshole” mantle Stiles had started keeping around when he met Allison.
It turned out removing Riley’s head is less of a solo man job and more of an outside-the-suit man job. Stiles struggled for a good five minutes at least on his own before asking Derek for help.
“Don’t just sit there with your thumb up your butt,” Stiles whined. “Be a nice guy and help me.” Derek’s lip quirked but he made no move to help. Stiles sighed and tried again, muttering about asshole hockey players under his breath.
It was only when Stiles managed to accidently throw himself into the bedside table that he felt Derek’s hands lift Riley’s head off. “Geez, Stiles. That was so easy. I should’ve done that from the beginning but I felt like watching you suffer because I am the world biggest asshole.”
Derek made no response to Stiles’ taunting, instead choosing to set the head on his other side, away from Stiles’ hands. Stiles huffed out a breath and wiped some sweat off his brow.
The room was silent again, the only noise coming from Stiles shifting aimlessly against the hospital sheets in Riley. He turned to speak several times, mouth gaping open wide, but always hesitated when his eyes ran the length of Derek’s unsettled frame. Derek didn’t notice as far as Stiles knew, however, his focus shifted entirely onto glaring hard at his own palms resting across his knees.
Stiles sucked in a breath when Derek turned to look at him, his heart drooping heavily into his stomach. He opened his mouth once, then twice, then three times before he actually said anything, and when he did Stiles has to hold his breath to keep from drowning Derek out. “Thank you. I was feeling…” There’s a short pause before Derek continued, as if he was trying to find the right words to say. “Light headed. I was feeling light headed.”
Stiles nodded his head slowly, mouth suddenly dry. Derek was glaring off to his side, probably at Riley’s mug, and Stiles could see a little red tingeing Derek’s ears, but maybe he’s just reading to far into it. All he knew is that he wanted to reach out and maybe squeeze Derek’s shoulder or leg or something, and it took everything in him to keep his hands in his lap.
But maybe just a little touch would be okay.
Isaac knocked on the door, breaking whatever tension was in the air, and Stiles may have jumped a little in surprise, not that he would ever admit it. “We finished the route. You guys ready to head to the cafeteria?”
Derek nodded his head, standing up and pressing Riley’s head into Stiles’ stomach until Stiles fell backwards onto the bed. “Yes. I am ready.”
It was nearing the end of the season for the Queens and Stiles was dreading the bet he had made with Derek. The team was leading their division by a substantial amount of points and they could lose three out of their four remaining games and still hold their lead of the division, and division leaders automatically made it into the playoffs. They were pretty much guaranteed, and judging by Derek’s face, Stiles knew that Derek knew that too. He had to uphold his end of the bargain.
Stiles thought about forgetting his skates, but Stiles was well aware of how many extras there were laying around the arena and Derek would make him borrow a pair of his own if Stiles claimed to not know where those other skates were. Not having pads wasn’t much of an excuse, since Derek had actually gone and bought some for Stiles after Scott found out about the bet and was determined to get Stiles to play hockey again too. Derek said that Scott had chipped in, but Stiles doubted that considering the utter confusion that had been written across Scott’s face when Stiles asked him about it. But then again Scott wasn’t always aware when it wasn’t in the moment or didn’t involve Allison.
So he was forced to reluctantly suit up. Stiles felt awkward and out of place in the gear, like he was a forty-something year old parent trying on their teenaged kid’s clothes to make themself feel younger.
Derek grinned at him when he came out of the locker room and stepped on the ice. It was a strange feeling, cutting into the ice and gliding across instead of walking across on sneakers like he had done for years. It felt a lot like greeting an old friend, and Stiles wasn’t sure if the feeling in the pit of his stomach was joy or dread.
“Ready to have your ass kicked?” Derek asked, tapping his stick against the ice. He had a determined-intense-glare on today, instead of his usual I-am-annoyed-with-your-existence-today-Stiles glare.
“Yeah, my ass is ready to be kicked to high heavens by your ass because clearly you are a freaking hockey player and I am a lowly manager.”
“You are not so good at trash-talking.”
“I’ll have you know I was exceptional at trash-talk,” Stiles states matter-of-factly and Derek rolls his eyes. “I may have been a crappy player but a kid's gotta be good at something, and sure, it wasn’t really allowed at the high school age, but I can tell you I was skilled at running my mouth.”
Derek grunted. “I can believe that.”
Stiles gasped in mock offense. “I can’t believe you just said that. How rude.”
Derek grunts again and waves him off. “What do you play?”
Stiles sighed. He thought he had maybe gotten Derek distracted enough to forget about whatever he had planned for today, but he should have known better. Derek was always super focused. He could win an event in the fucking Olympics on focusing. “Did. What did I play. And I happened to be pretty exceptional at playing the bench.”
Derek shook his head and skated a circle around Stiles. Stiles didn’t even try and follow him with his eyes.
“You must have had a position, yes?”
Stiles did. Left wing. It was the one position Scott couldn’t really play because of how he held his stick so Stiles just sort of shoved himself there. But that was years ago and Stiles could have only gotten worse in his time off. “Yeah. The bench. Official position and everything. I bet it was listed next to my name on the roster.”
Derek huffed, obviously displeased with the answer. “Fine. Let us see who has the most accurate shot then.”
Stiles wanted to laugh. He was terrible at those sorts of games, a fact proven once he and Derek started playing.
“You were not joking about this bench thing,” Derek stated, skating in circles behind Stiles as he licked his lip in concentration, lining up his shot.
Stiles missed of course, but not before he muttered a quick “shut up” to Derek.
He had lost four games so far. That wasn’t particularly unexpected, considering Stiles hadn’t played in years and Derek was a seasoned professional. But Stiles expected Derek to throw a game at least once. That was what people who were clearly going to win were supposed to do. They were supposed to lose at least one game to make the other person feel good about themselves even though they were well aware that the game was thrown.
Stiles voiced this opinion and Derek only snorted, making another shot. “I win. Again?”
Stiles frowned at Derek’s turned back, imitating Derek’s words in a high-pitched voice. Derek didn’t respond and Stiles counted that as at least a tally on his side. “Fine. Again. Because clearly I need to be beaten again just to make you feel more masculine, Tiny-dick.”
Derek lined up his shot and missed by a few inches. Stiles took a deep breath and took Derek’s place. He could do this. He could not-miss. That was a thing he could do. Stiles pulled back his stick and let loose. The puck slid against the ice, and against anything Stiles had thought, the puck slid right into the net.
“Whaaaa! I’m winning! Derek the puck went in! Swoosh, right into the net.” Stiles threw his hands in the air and he did a mini dance to the best of his ability on skates on the ice.
Derek snorted and took Stiles’ place. “It is too bad that one shot does not win you the game.”
“You know sarcasm is more of my thing.” Derek rolled his eyes and shot Stiles a look. “So maybe you should, y’know, stick with the whole glaring thing you seem to like so much.”
Derek pointedly shot Stiles a smile as if to prove that he didn’t glare all the time and Stiles thought it was the scariest thing he’d ever seen, to be honest. “Okay, that. That you should never, under any circumstances do again.”
Derek of course made his next shot, and to their surprise Stiles’ went in as well.
“Suck on that, Derek!” he shouted. He could do this. Stiles could win this thing. Just look, he was on a roll already.
“Two shots do not win,” Derek answered, face tight as he lines up for the next shot.
Stiles got the impulse to cheat. If he just sort of threw his body into Derek’s while he shot, the puck would go nowhere near the net and Stiles would still be up one. It was hockey. They checked. It wouldn’t matter right?
His body moved before he actually willed it to and next thing he knew he was sprawled across Derek on the ice, his helmeted head crushed in Derek’s armpit. Stiles did not actually plan to knock Derek over, but he ruled it an accidental fluke and looked for the puck. He could see the puck from where he was, about three yards from the net. Cheating so totally worked.
“Yes! Eat that, Derek!” Stiles shouted, lifting his hands to slap lightly at Derek’s chest from where he was laying. Derek grunted and Stiles swore he heard a growl too.
Jesus, Derek was glaring hard. “Get. Off.”
Stiles froze, but he recovered quickly and narrowed his eyes at Derek. “You’re not the boss of me.”
Derek only growled in response and Stiles immediately scrambled off. “Yup, getting off. That is a great idea, Derek. Don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself.”
Derek stood up with an air of dignity, straightening his clothes and pads as if his ass hadn’t just been knocked onto the ice by one hundred and forty-seven pounds of pale skin and bones. “We will play one on one now,” he said matter-of-factly, and Stiles’ mouth dropped open.
“No. No-no-no-no-no. You do not just get to switch the game when I’m actually winning for once.”
Derek glared at him and Stiles shut his mouth. “Okay, one on one it is then, big guy.”
For the most part Derek went easy on him, never really checking him or being too rough when Stiles had managed to get the puck, but Derek was still making creamed corn out of Stiles. He didn’t even want to know what the score was for fear of embarrassment. Surely no one had ever lost as bad as Stiles was. Surely they would have scored at least one point. But not Stiles. Stiles was pretty sure he was playing the worst game of one on one ever to grace the ice in the state, hell, the whole world.
“Y’know this isn’t really fair,” he gasped out at one point. It wasn’t even fair. Stiles looked like a mess, sweating balls and panting for breath, while Derek wasn’t even breaking a sweat. This was easy for him.
“Yes, but I am not the one who cheated,” Derek retorts. And another point for Derek.
Then a miracle happened. Stiles actually managed to steal the puck away from Derek and get a little bit of a breakaway. Somewhere in the back of his mind he thought he would make it, at least get one point, but those hopes were crushed pretty darn quick.
Derek’s body careened into Stiles only moments later and pushed him into the boards. Stiles mournfully watched the puck, and probably his only chance at scoring, slide away.
“You know, I don’t really get why you were so adamant that I play you when it was always pretty clear I was going to get my ass handed to you,” Stiles pouts, and Derek lets out a short laugh before pulling away.
“Because,” Derek answered and he laughed again.
The breath from his laughter brushed against Stiles cheek and suddenly Stiles felt himself focusing on it. A light warmth spread through his body when he thought about it, fingertips lightly tracing the path of Derek’s breath. Stiles stared in confusion after Derek’s retreating back as he skated over to the lost puck. He felt strange, light almost, and he didn’t know why.
Derek was scoring another point when it hit him. He had a crush on Derek Hale.
Oh, God. Fuck. When had that happened?
Stiles hadn’t been interested in dating another person for years after he decided that no one compared even the slightest bit to the giant obsession he had over Lydia. He had forgotten what a crush felt like and didn’t recognize the signs.
Derek turned to Stiles with a grin on his face, raising his stick over his head and probably celebrating his hundredth goal or whatever. And Stiles felt like he had been punched in the stomach.
The practices continued, and to his dismay, Stiles’ little crush kept growing. He found himself trying to interpret every little smile or quirk of Derek’s brow and turn it into some secret meaning that all pointed to Derek liking Stiles back. It was stupid and made him feel stupid, but it also gave him hope. Derek wouldn’t hang out with Stiles if he annoyed him, right?
Scott, Boyd, Isaac, and Erica joined the practices after the couple of days when Scott found out that Derek had gotten Stiles to play again, where Scott failed. He accused Derek of monopolizing Stiles’ time, but in the end it didn’t matter. Usually Stiles’ team got a handicap because of how bad Stiles really was in comparison to everyone, even Erica. Apparently she was a pretty amazing natural athlete and she’d watched so much hockey in her life that she just picked it up. Stiles would be lying if he didn’t admit that he was jealous.
The Queens were nearing the very end of the season, with a few games left of the regular season. They still had the playoffs, of course, but the end of the season crunch time still pushed the players hard. It was during one of those near-the-end-of-the-season practices that a frantic staff member gestured for Derek.
He handed a phone to Derek, who had his “confused” glare on (not that Stiles had memorized every twitch or anything, of course not…) and Derek took the phone into the locker room. The staff member followed him in moments later and came out looking scared with his phone in hand. Stiles was curious, but Coach Finstock drew his attention back to practice. That was right. He still had a job to do, even if his feelings for Derek decided to make him forget about that.
About thirty-minutes later Stiles was both curious and concerned and even Coach Finstock was having a hard time keeping him focused on practice. The same staff member that gave the phone to Derek called Coach Finstock over towards the benches and started whispering. Coach Finstock’s eyebrows rose and he gestured for Stiles to come over, which Stiles very readily did.
“Look. Hale just lost a family member and I need you to get him in the right state of mind for practice. We need him for the game and the playoffs, and hey, you’ve lost someone too so get to it and get him out here.”
Stiles’ mouth opened in shock. Hale lost a family member? As in they died? Sure, he had lost his mom to cancer but that had been years ago. It was a dull wound in comparison to what Hale was probably feeling. He would have no idea what to say. Not to mention that this stupid crush he had left his tongue feeling dry and useless in his mouth whenever Derek was near. Jesus.
The locker room was trashed. Benches were overturned, pads were thrown about, and bags were laying about nowhere near their owner’s locker, but Derek was nowhere in sight.
Stiles could hear water running so he made his way to the bathroom portion of the locker room after checking the showers. Derek was there hunched over at the second sink. The water was running pink under his hands and Derek kept reaching for the soap, wincing every time he ran it over his hand.
Stiles came closer to get a better look and made a trained effort to keep his eyes at a safe, non-bloody place, like Derek’s chest or higher, after seeing the first bit of flayed skin on his knuckles. Derek was staring at him through the mirror, and Stiles knew he’d been caught.
“What happened?” Stiles asked and Derek turned back towards his injured hand, glaring at that instead of Stiles. The question was loaded. What happened that called him out of practice? What happened to the locker room? What happened to his hands? What was happening to their friendship? In truth, Stiles knew he wanted the answer to all those questions, but he would take what Derek wanted to give. He probably always would.
“Punched the wall,” Derek finally grit out, turning off the sink.
Stiles glanced at the walls and stifled a chuckle in his throat. They were concrete. No wonder Derek’s hand looked like it did.
“Did you break anything?” Derek shook his head no, grabbing some paper towels to carefully pat his hand dry.
“Okay, right one of the benches and sit down. I’ll grab a first aid kit out of the office.”
Derek grunted but when Stiles came back with the kit in tow, he found that not only Derek had listened, but he had also righted two of the other benches.
Stiles crouched down in front of Derek, hands already opening the first aid kit and gesturing for Derek to give him his hand, but Derek shook his head. “I will do it.”
Stiles sighed, but didn’t want to deal with a hurt angry Derek so he relinquished the first aid kid and sat down on the bench opposite him. With fumbling fingers, Derek got right down to it.
They sat in silence for a while, the only sounds in the locker room coming from muted shouts from the ice and the scratchy sound of Derek wrapping his knuckles.
When he was done, Derek looked up at Stiles and gestured at the mess in the locker room. “I will fix this.” He looked completely dejected and tired, like he’d spent years training for a marathon and when he crossed the finish line, he found out the guy he knew from work that didn’t do anything but slack off and drink had crossed it three minutes before.
Stiles smiled gently at him, wishing he could reach over and hug him and comfort him in his arms. He wanted to make that frown go away. “I’ll help you. If you want.”
Derek shook his head. “No,” he said and Stiles felt his smile drop. He hated to see Derek like this.
They sat in silence again, with Derek staring at his hands and Stiles staring at Derek, and Stiles bit his lip, debating if he should open his mouth and talk or not. Scott had always said he was good at cheering people up, or at least good at making them forget their troubles for a while. But that was when the person in question had a natural disposition to laughing, and Derek was more likely to glare in silence than grin and laugh.
“I,” he started, speaking before he had completely thought about it. Derek glanced up, focusing his attention on Stiles and Stiles knew he had to continue. “I know how you feel,” he finished, looking just to the left of Derek.
Judging by the anger that had just flooded into Derek’s face, that had been the worst thing to say. “Vous n'avez aucune idée comment je me sens. No idea how I feel.”
Stiles panicked, he needed to fix this. Derek had already destroyed the locker room and coach would have his head if Derek did anymore damage to his body punching concrete walls or Stiles himself. He threw his hands up in the air in defense. “I lost my mom, Derek. To cancer. I know how it feels to lose someone.”
Derek scoffed, standing up and towering over Stiles with his full frame. “You are not alone. You did not lose your entire family in one night and your dernière restant—fuck! I do not have the word—sister in another.”
Derek stayed long enough to unearth his skates from the mess in the locker room and stormed out of the locker room. Stiles swallowed and sunk deeper into the cubby he had fallen in when Derek stood up. He was such an idiot. One big stupid idiot. If that was how he comforted people he was crushing hard on, he was never going to be in a relationship.
Once Stiles had done a few deep breathing exercises to keep himself from crying in Jackson’s locker and gathered his wits enough to clean the locker room, he went back out on the ice only to have Coach Finstock’s mug in his face.
“Whatever you did, whatever you said to him, it was the worst possible thing to do.” Stiles swallowed and glanced over to where Finstock was pointing. Derek was there, playing sloppily and pissing his teammates off with unnecessary roughness and constant slashing. “Now I’d ask you to fix this, but you did such a wonderful job of it before that I’m strongly reconsidering that option.”
Stiles bit his lip and tried to calm down his breathing. “Yeah, but coach he just lost a family member. You can’t expect him to be at his best after that.”
“I know but that—shit! Someone get Greenberg off the ice. I wonder how that kid even made it to this league sometimes.” Coach was done discussing the topic, his train of thought on something else now. Stiles understood it. He was the coach and he had a duty to the team, not just to Derek and whatever trouble Stiles had gotten him into. Stiles would try and talk to Derek after practice like usual, fix it, if Derek would let him.
Derek didn’t stay after practice that day. Or the next, or the next after that. The pattern continued for a week and a half. Stiles tried to justify it, telling himself that Derek was busy with funeral arrangements or focusing on the upcoming playoffs, but Stiles knew that Derek would be there every hour of the day training if it really was the playoffs and Stiles overheard Derek telling coach that there wouldn’t be a funeral. So it had to be him. He was the reason Derek wasn’t doing the extra practices, and it hurt.
He had calmed down a lot since that day in the locker room, so whomever Coach Finstock sent to fix the problem did it well. But he still wouldn’t even look at Stiles, let alone talk to him.
Stiles couldn’t understand it. He wanted to rage and punch concrete walls before scaring Derek into submission in one of the cubbies because it wasn’t fair. So Stiles made a stupid mistake? He ran his mouth and said something he shouldn’t have. It wasn’t that big a deal. Everyone already knew that Stiles said stupid shit sometimes; Derek himself had been on the receiving end of that. So why wouldn’t Derek talk to him or even look at him. Stiles would even take one of his stupid glares if it meant Derek was paying attention to him. How fucking pathetic was he?
So the only option was that Derek hated him. Well and truly hated him. Why else would he ignore Stiles for so long? The locker room wasn’t a stupid mistake, it was a catalyst, a reason for Derek to stay away from Stiles and have it justified. And it hurt. It hurt a whole lot.
After a week or so and the final game of the season approaching, Stiles decided he’d give Derek one more chance to stay after practice. One more chance and then Stiles would give up on him. He’d write the whole friendship off as one big failure and try and forget about the biggest crush he’d had on someone since Lydia. He could do it. Ignore a problem enough and it would eventually go away. And if that didn’t work, Stiles would hope Derek was traded to another team or if worse came to worst, Stiles would find work on another team.
The day of the final chance came and Stiles was nervous. Derek played the best he had ever played since he heard the news about his sister, and Stiles was hopeful. Maybe since he was in a good enough mood to play well, maybe he had forgiven Stiles. Of course, he ignored the fact that Derek was completely and utterly ignoring him all practice as usual. Every “Good job, Derek!” was met with complete silence and no motion. Not even a wave to tell him to stop talking to him. It was the sort of ignoring that indicated that Derek wasn’t even aware he was ignoring Stiles. He just hated Stiles so much that it came naturally.
Despite that, he was still uncharacteristically hopeful waiting by the boards on the ice. Derek would come, Stiles would apologize, and then they’d have a forgiveness hug and maybe makeout a little in excitement over their rekindled friendship. The fantasy varied as he waited, going anywhere from playing a make-up hockey game where Derek would let Stiles kick his butt to having sex on the ice to eloping to Massachusetts to get married.
Five minutes passed, then ten, and then further still until there was only five minutes of scheduled ice time left. Stiles finally let his heart break then. It was over. He and Derek and whatever they had together was over.
Stiles slid against the board he was leaning on, slumping over when his butt touched the ice. He kept sniffling but tried to control his breathing anyway because he refused to cry over this. He refused to cry over someone as shitty as Derek.
Stiles gave up, of course, deciding if he was going to cry he might as well pour his snot all over the ice and hope Derek fell in it or something the next day instead of getting it all in his jeep when he went home.
Despite all the crying he did in building, he still balled his eyes out on the way home.
The day after the last game of the regular season Jackson held a party for all the Queen’s players, staff, and their plus-ones. They had practice the next morning at 9am, but the staff claimed that they weren’t the ones that had to skate hungover and the players decided one puke and headache filled practice was worth it. They made the playoffs and they damn well were going to celebrate it.
Stiles was dreading it, but he tried his hardest not to show it. He usually loved parties, especially parties Jackson held at his house because they were almost always fantastic. Throw a bunch of hockey players in with their staff and some alcohol, and it was almost always a prankfest that was somehow simultaneously classy. If it were any other year Stiles would be jittery with excitement and he and Scott would be trading insults back and forth with Jackson and Danny about who would get who the best that night.
But it was this year, and this year had Derek at the party.
Stiles came with Scott and Allison, who were chatting happily in the front seat about this and that on the way to Jackson’s. Scott kept shooting Stiles concerned looks through the rearview mirror, but Stiles ignored it. He was going to pretend everything was all right and he damn well expected Scott to be his best friend and play along.
The first half of the party Stiles managed to completely avoid Derek. He shot the shit with Scott and Boyd by the pool until Allison finished mingling with Lydia and some of the other players and decided Scott needed to come be man candy on her arm to show off, and Stiles and Boyd decided to head in with them. Stiles watched Isaac and Erica beat the shit out of each other on the X-Box in Jackson’s living room for a bit before deciding he had enough of their angry flirting.
It was when he headed off to the kitchen to rummage in the fridge for something less alcoholic to drink when he saw Derek. He was standing by himself in a corner, staring at something on the floor and absentmindedly sipping his beer, and Stiles felt his heart clench.
He looked so lonely and Stiles, even though he was dead set on ignoring it until it went away, still had a crush on him. He still wanted to comfort Derek.
Before he made the conscious decision to do so, his feet were moving and he was standing in front of Derek. Derek looked up at him, brow furrowed in confusion, and Stiles knew he was caught.
He licked his lips, mouth suddenly dry, and cleared his throat. “…Hi,” he finally said, smile forced wide on his face. Derek only nodded his head in greeting, choosing to substitute talking with taking another sip of his beer.
Stiles rocked back on his heels, feeling nervous. “So, uh, how are you doing?”
Derek removed the bottle from his lips only for a moment, just enough time to say, “Fine.”
It was awkward as hell and Stiles wanted nothing more than to curl up in a ball and cry. Again. But preferably not at a party and definitely not in front of Derek.
Stiles licked his lips again. This was okay. He could do it. He could make small talk and maybe rekindle a tentative friendship with Derek. Stiles had a chance here. Derek was listening to him for once and he was going to take it.
“Look, I’m, uh, sorry about what I said in the locker room. I shouldn’t have done it.” Stiles looked at the floor, not brave enough to look Derek in the face. He missed the distress look on Derek’s face for scuffmarks on their shoes.
A silence stretched and then Derek cleared his throat. “No, I am, ah, I am the one who is sorry.”
Stiles’ head popped up at that, searching Derek’s face for any signs of what he meant. Derek was looking off to the side, blushing.
“I wanted to say sorry to you, but I was scared. When I was no longer scared, you were no longer waiting for me.” It was carefully said in Derek’s calm measured voice and Stiles was afraid he’d miss it if he breathed. Stiles wanted to cry again, only he maybe wanted to act out all those fantasies he’d had waiting for Derek on the ice too. But it was okay; Derek still wanted to be his friend, or something like that.
Stiles broke out into a grin and he looked over at Derek’s face to see a small smile threatening to grow wider. “Good, yeah. Awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pissed that you ignored me, but I forgive you.” He finished his statement with a tentative punch to Derek’s shoulder. Derek didn’t even flinch, as if he were expecting it.
Derek set down his beer on the floor and rubbed his neck sheepishly. “Yes, I am sorry for that too. I was, er, scared—“
“Yes, I know that—“
“No, I mean. I was scared because I wanted to share my family with you. No! I mean I want to share what happened. I have never done that.”
Stiles was taken aback. Derek was glaring so hard at the television screen in the next room and Stiles would’ve thought he was actually angry at it if it hadn’t been for the blush adorning his cheeks.
“I’d, uh, be okay with listening, if that’s what you want.” Stiles mumbled, suddenly so small in the large room. He was afraid if he said the wrong thing Derek would scare off like a mouse.
Derek sighed and his shoulders slumped, as if a weight was lifted off his shoulders. “I would like to share it with you,” Derek said quietly. Stiles heart soared and he could barely keep himself from jumping up and hugging Derek.
And share he did. The conversation was limited, even with Derek’s improving English, but Stiles listened the best he could, commenting here and there about his mom. Derek only had an uncle left, but he could not find the English to describe what had happened to him, only able to use the words “burned” and “sleeping.” Stiles inferred he was comatose, but he wasn’t sure. He continued about his sister, how she was all he had since he was seventeen and how she had been so proud of him to make it to the NHL. She had been killed in a hunting accident. Then he talked about his family. How amazing they were and how full of love they were. How all eleven of them were burned alive in his house when the girl he loved set their house on fire.
Derek had swallowed back tears at this point, and tried to go on but Stiles stopped him. He started talking about the stupid shit he and Scott had done as kids instead, and Derek seemed thankful of that. But what did Stiles know? He was almost entirely focused on the fact that they were sitting close enough for Stiles to feel the heat rolling off of Derek and if he shifted just so, his thigh would brush against Derek’s.
When Scott came over to say that he and Allison were leaving, and Stiles had to say his goodbyes, Derek turned into his usual grumbly self but Stiles could see it in his eyes. He was happier, and that made Stiles happy too.
Scott was looking at him through the rearview mirror on the way back as well, but this time Stiles was legitimately happy. A little nervous because he definitely had the biggest goddamn crush on Derek and he had the tiniest inkling that maybe Derek felt the same way too, but happy. And for the first time in years Stiles decided to pursue a relationship.
With the playoffs about to start, the workload increased. Stiles spent most of practice taping sticks, sharpening skates, and looking over stats to present to Coach, while Derek had extra long practices with the rest of the team to go over video footage and work on their skills even harder. They played Vancouver in the first round and while Stiles was confident they’d win it, the team was taking extra care to make sure. He understood it, but it didn’t make him any less bitter about not being able to get Derek alone.
His chance came one day when a particularly hard check hit Derek wrong and a skate sliced open his calf. Hockey skates weren’t usually sharp enough to do that, especially not through the layers of clothing and padding it would take, but it happened.
Stiles was cataloguing equipment in the locker room that day when a member of the staff came in with Derek, supporting him off of his sliced calf to keep the blood spillage minimal.
“I can take care of it,” Stiles said, and the staff member gave him a questioning look but Derek waved him off.
“It is not deep. Stiles can do it.” Stiles grinned slyly, glad Derek seemed to want to get him alone just as much as he wanted to catch Derek alone. The staff member sighed but left anyway, telling them to call him over if it needed anything other than pressure and a wrap. Stiles waved him off, muttering about how he would know if it needed stitches or not by the sound of Stiles’ body hitting the floor from fainting.
Derek rearranged himself on a bench and Stiles silently opened the first aid kit. This was a particularly bad talk they were having. Absolutely no talking at all so far. But desperate to say anything, Stiles said, “I used to want to do this. Sports medicine.” He cleaned Derek’s wound with careful hands. “But then I realized how much I hated blood.” Stiles snorted and placed gauze on the wound.
“But you are touching blood now.” Derek said. It was a statement, not a question and Stiles appreciated it. He didn’t really want to tell Derek that it was taking intense focus on his part not to puke in Derek’s lap.
They were silent as Stiles began the final portion of wrapping Derek’s wound. What Stiles wanted to be when he grew up when he was younger was not what they needed to talk about. With a stuttering breath, Stiles tapped the bench with his pointer finger and gathered his courage.
“I had a crush on this girl, Lydia, for over ten years.” Stiles flushed and looked towards the locker room door. “She’s a real big hockey fan, but also incredibly smart and beautiful, though I was the only one who really knew how smart she was back when we were in school. She didn’t like me though, not like that. I managed to get to friends status in senior year, and that was nice. I knew she’d never like me the way I wanted her to, but it was okay.”
Stiles looked like he was at a loss for words, but Derek didn’t say anything back or encourage him to continue. Stiles finished the final touches on Derek’s wrap, but left his fingers there, smoothing out bumps that didn’t exist.
“I, um, ended up comparing every girl and-“ Stiles blushed and glanced around the room, “guy, I, um, dated after high school to her. And I was always disappointed when they were different. So I gave up dating. Never even considered it for the last 4 or 5 years.”
Derek’s face fell and he made a move to get up from the bench, grabbing his fallen skate and gesturing at the locker room door and Stiles knew he was talking about getting to practice or something.
“No—Wait! I mean. What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t consider it until I met you. You’re nothing like Lydia, well except maybe for the knowing stares but I never associated that with her. You’re sort of hairy, well really hairy, and I’m pretty sure she shaved everything considering she’s a girl and all. Plus redhead vs. your dark locks and even if she could hit really hard she has nothing close to your muscle tone and shit, I’m rambling. I guess, well, I guess I really like you. ” Stiles was desperate to make Derek understand, gesturing wildly and speaking so fast to get all the words he wanted to say out before Derek left.
Derek’s face was pinched and Stiles held his breath waiting for his answer. Finally he said, “Sorry,” and Stiles’ hopes fell. “I—you talk too fast. Je ne comprends pas. I do not understand.”
“Oh, um, don’t understand idiot, right?” Stiles muttered with a grin. He didn’t look up but he sort of hoped Derek caught the reference. “I said that I…that I really like you. And I hope maybe that you’ll consider dating me?”
Stiles fidgeted with the first aid kit, staring determinedly at the bandages. Derek’s face didn’t change from the pinched expression and Stiles didn’t know what to do.
“I mean, yeah, it’s probably a bad idea that I’m a manager and you’re a player but I really like you and this is the first time this has happened since Lydia—who’s dating Jackson off and on by the way—and I really want to try this out you know because I like—“
Derek cut Stiles off with a chaste, but rough, kiss to the mouth. It wasn’t a particularly good kiss since Stiles’ mouth was partially open from speaking and Derek’s upper lip had sort of slipped into his mouth, but Stiles’ heart fluttered in his chest all the same.
Holy God, this was happening.
His grin was so wide when he pulled back from the kiss that Stiles couldn’t help giving him a grin of his own in return. “Yes,” Derek said simply and Stiles was surprised he expected anything more. Derek was a man of few words and that suited Stiles just fine.
“Yeah,” Stiles began, a little breathless. “Yeah, okay. Let’s do this.”
When they returned to ice they were all smiles and flushed faces. Derek was skating fine, not his best but still pretty good for a sliced calf and his head in his clouds, and Stiles couldn’t keep his eyes off of those shoulders.
Scott skated over, matching Stiles’ happy expression. “He’s skating well. That’s good.” He reached blindly under the boards for a squirt bottle.
“Yeah,” Stiles said slowly, eyes never leaving Derek.
Scott paused mid drink to give Stiles a curious look. He opened his mouth to say something, ask about his friend’s mood, but was interrupted by Coach’s sharp, “McCall!”
“Oops, Coach calls. See you later,” Scott said, carelessly throwing the squirt bottle onto the bench. It was his version of a we’ll-talk-later and Stiles had no doubt that he’d have to talk to Scott immediately after practice, before he’d even get to talk to Derek. But that was okay. Everything was okay.
“Yeah,” he whispered, and Derek caught his eyes from across the ice and his face broke into a face-splitting smile. “Things are real good.”