Stiles watches his friends from his station behind the bar. He watches as Lydia gushes to Allison about some triumph, eyes ablaze. He watches Isaac and Erica argue, nearly identical smirks battling for smuggest. He watches Boyd watch them from behind his steaming mug, smile barely hidden. He watches Scott sweep his hot chocolate right off the table and onto this floor with his elbow. Stiles sighs and continues to wipe down the espresso machine.
“Barista, there’s a spill,” Lydia calls out to him, voice lifted over the shouts of “Party Foul McCall strikes again!” and laughter.
“Sorry, I’m off the clock,” Stiles calls back. He holds up a dingy once-white towel and shakes it in their direction. He launches it toward them and Scott snatches it out of the air.
Just as Stiles is rounding the bar to oversee Scott’s clean-up, someone knocks on the locked front door. Derek peers in at them over the closed sign (a seasonally appropriate ghost holding a “sorry, we’re dead!” banner). Stiles’ chest clenches, as usual. Derek looks put upon, as usual. Stiles diverts his path to fuss over the skeleton garland stretched across the length of the bar. Boyd goes to let him in.
The bell over the door jingles, Derek sets off the cackling motion detector witch by the door, he doesn’t say a word as he joins the table. Stiles listens to them but still hasn’t turned around. Derek still hasn’t spoken. He must be tired. Stiles cringes and grits his teeth and pretends to arrange the packaged treats in front of the register.
“There’s still coffee,” Stiles says over his shoulder. “Get it yourself.”
He hyper focuses on straightening a stack of fliers for Beacon Hill High School’s upcoming musical while Derek makes his way around the bar.
“The pumpkin spice is still out,” Stiles mutters, gesturing with a nod toward the lone bottle left where the syrups reside.
“Thanks,” Derek says.
This is never going to get easier.
“Stilinski! Stop cleaning, it’s Cards Against Humanity time, bitch!” Erica commands, knocking a deck of black cards against the edge of the table for emphasis.
Stiles takes the seat next to Scott, Derek sits on the other side of Isaac. They’re as far apart as they can manage and it’s still too close.
Hours later, after Boyd had thoroughly horrified all present and swept the game and everyone stopped being able to fight off their post-work exhaustion, only Lydia remained.
“You know how long it’s been since junior year of high school?” Lydia asks pensively.
“Uh…?” Stiles vocalizes, flipping the last unoccupied chair onto the table.
“Thirteen years. That’s how long we’ve all been friends.”
“Getting sentimental?” Stiles teases. He remembers the joy and elation of finally getting directly invited to a Lydia Martin party. If only young Stiles had known what was in store for him…
“No, just thinking...”
“Oh, just how you and Derek have pretended to tolerate each other for so long… It’s impressive, really. Thirteen years, wow…”
Something in Stiles smarts at that; the memory of an ache compounded on by a fresh blow. He doesn’t comment, he has nothing to say.
“For the peace and happiness of our friends, and that of Beacon Hills at large, can you please give us a warning if you two are ever headed for a nuclear fallout?”
Stiles scoffs. “What are you talking about?”
“The tension between you two rises with each passing year. For awhile there, it seemed to be turning into the sexy kind, but now it feels more like the murder kind.”
“I don’t hate him,” Stiles says, waving his hands at her to get her to stand. He’d like to go home sometime this century… She huffs at him but gathers her things and waits for him to flip her chair, turn off the lights and lead her out the door.
“You sure about that?” she asks, hovering behind him while he locks up.
“But does he hate you?”
“Maybe. It’s not like we talk.”
“But why not? It’s just weird. We hang out with him constantly, always have, and you two just… have no relationship.”
Stiles doesn’t have the energy to prevent the image of Derek’s sleepy smile and messy hair and smooth expanse of warm skin. The knife in his guts twists.
“His birthday is coming up,” Stiles says, as if to prove that they do have some sort of relationship.
“I was thinking of throwing him a party.” The use of the word “party” lands for Lydia the same way it does for Stiles, judging by her scoff. “Or… thing.”
“Why?” she asks, sounding more like he’d suggested a group outing to a Star Trek convention than throwing their mutual friend a party.
Stiles remembers it like it happened last night: Derek’s skin bathed in the lamplight, sheets tangled around his legs, the sad lines etched into his face finally starting to smooth out under Stiles’ fingertips. Stiles can remember how his pillowcase smelled, how Derek’s hair felt silky against his palms, how Derek sounded when he finally broke down and said something authentic through a tight jaw…
Lydia looks up at him, skepticism written all over her. Stiles resolutely looks away, wrapping his arm around her shoulders to walk her down the street to where her car is parked.
”I’ll change your mind next year, I promise,” Stiles had whispered. “You’ll love every second of it.”
A half-hearted scoff from a man too tired for pretense….
“You don’t believe me?”
A shrug. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“Consider it a gesture of good faith,” Stiles says after a few steps.
“He hates parties.”
“And he hates his birthday. A lot.”
“So I’ve heard,” Stiles agrees.
“I tried to get him a cake one year, you know? I just wanted to do something nice! Not even a dinner or a party or anything, just a cake! And so I asked him what kind he liked and he wouldn’t answer. And you don’t know what he’s like, but I’ll tell you right now that you have never seen a more stubborn person in your life—“
“I’m stubborn,” Stiles reminds her, trying to get her to stop talking about how much he doesn’t know Derek Hale. Stiles knows Derek Hale.
“Nothing like him,” she argues, slowing to a stop next to her sleek, black car.
“I just want to do it,” Stiles says, voice soft. “If it’s a bust, it’s a bust and the rest of us will have a good time without him. But I have a good feeling about this.” He ends the statement with a crooked, confidence inspiring grin.
Lydia sighs, defeated. “Do whatever you want. Let me know if you need anything.”
Stiles glowers at him from the other side of Scott. Lydia elbows him hard in the ribs but he only lets the glare slip into indignant hurt for a second. Derek would tell Stiles he didn’t like him either if it weren’t for the fact that he can already feel Erica’s nails biting into his arm. She’ll draw blood if she has to.
“Heeeey!” Isaac says, standing up suddenly and placing himself in between them. “You guys made it, that’s great,” he says. His hand falls on Derek’s elbow and Erica releases him – an exchange of custody – and he finds himself being ushered toward the kitchen under the guise of “helping me with uh… something!”
“It’s not your day,” Isaac reminds him, stern suddenly. “Allison said if either of you ruin Scott’s birthday, she’s going to do horrible things to both of you.”
Derek scoffs, bristling a little. He’s not the one who ruins things, that’s Stiles and his big fucking mouth. “What’s she going to do, huh?” Derek asks, aggression seeping into his tone. “Put us in time out?”
Isaac rolls his eyes. “Can you two just ignore each other for once—“
“I always ignore him! He’s the one who—“
“No, no, Derek, you know I love you and would pick your side but you pushed him into the duck pond last week, so…”
Derek crosses his arms and refuses to back down. He’d pushed Stiles into the duck pond because he’d called Derek’s Camaro a “short dick compensator.” For the record, it isn’t. For the record, maybe pushing him into the duck pond was a bit much…
“Whatever,” Isaac says, heading back to the living room.
Derek sticks by Erica and Boyd while ignoring Stiles’ death glares from across the room until they head out for the night.
They do a good job of ignoring each other until the second bar. Derek’s a few drinks in and his head is spinning. Scott’s arm is slung around Stiles’ shoulders, their bodies loose and familiar with each other. Stiles is laughing at whatever Allison is saying, eyes bright. And… well. Derek’s not blind. Derek’s always hated how much he likes how Stiles looks. No one as annoying as him should look that good.
It’s the beer talking.
Stiles shows up behind him in the line for the men’s bathroom and Derek totally isn’t thinking about arguing with him and shutting him up by shoving him against a wall and…
“Good thing there aren’t any bodies of water around,” Stiles says, wicked smirk plastered on his sharp face.
“I’m not above shoving your head in a toiler,” Derek snaps back.
“You’re a fucking asshole,” Stiles says, sly and cutting.
Derek’s about to say something but Stiles licks his bottom lip and shoves his hands in his pockets and he’s… staring. He’s staring at his mouth. Derek feels his face heat up and he’s thankful for the dim lighting.
Stiles’ eyes flick from his eyes to his lips and then sweep over his body before settling back on his eyes. Challenging.
“What?” Derek asks, shifting uncomfortably. The line moves forward a few feet. Stiles leans against the wall.
He keeps looking at Derek like he’s going to pounce. Maybe he’s thinking of dunking Derek’s head in a toilet instead.
“You’re too much of an asshole to deserve being this good looking,” Stiles says. The line moves ahead again.
“You too,” Derek says before he can think better of it.
Stiles lifts an eyebrow.
Derek doesn’t have to face the encounter for much longer because the line moves again.
It’s dreary outside the wall of windows facing sleepy Main Street and a calm playlist wraps the whole coffee shop in a sleepy haze. Violet, psychology major and super heroine barista, has a textbook open in front of her and her chin in her hands. Aside from an older gentleman seated at the café table nearest to the witch, there hasn’t been a customer in awhile. Stiles has a notebook out and flipped to a blank page. He taps his pen against the counter and ignores Violet’s irritated glances.
“PARTY,” he writes. He scratches it out. “Kick Back??” He scratches that out too. “Derek’s Thing.” Good enough. He casts his mind back to the things he knows Derek likes…. He likes pasta and roasted vegetables. He likes craft beer. He likes the smell of bonfires and the chill of fall on his neck. He likes cinnamon and caramel and pumpkin. He loves his friends and his coworkers and his teaching job…
The bell over the door jingles, the motion detector witch cackles, Scott slaps the counter. Stiles doesn’t bother hiding his still empty list.
“You gonna spill it on my floor?” Stiles asks, looking up.
“You betcha,” he says, grinning. Stiles starts inputting Scott’s usual coffee run order, Violet abandons her textbook to set to making the triple shot espresso Scott’s boss gets every day. “So you’re planning a thing for Derek, I heard… He hates parties.”
“I know he does.”
“So are you planning on torturing him or…?”
Stiles huffs. “It’s not going to be a party, it’s going to be a… thing.”
“What kind of thing?”
“Like a chill gathering of loved ones,” Stiles says, flapping his hand vaguely.
“Oh, so you’re not coming then…?” Scott teases.
Stiles knows it’s a joke, knows that it’s barbless and harmless… but he still winces. “You know what I mean.”
Scott hands him his credit card and drags the notebook toward him to look. “So you have no idea what to do, do you?”
Stiles swipes his card, hands it back. “The three pillars of a successful gathering are food, drink, and ambiance, Scott. I got this.”
Scott takes his pen and scribbles a couple things while Stiles turns around to make someone’s iced tea.
“For the record,” Scott says. Stiles doesn’t look at him. “Derek doesn’t hate you. I asked.”
Stiles’ heart stops. “What do you mean you asked?”
“I mean that I said, ‘Yo, Derek, why do you hate Stiles?’ and he said ‘I don’t.’”
“When was this?” Stiles sets the iced tea in front of Scott and busies himself with Scott’s hot chocolate.
Stiles lets out a faux-disinterested “oh” and ducks under the counter for a drink carrier. “I mean, I don’t hate him either,” he says before straightening.
“Apparently not,” Scott says, tapping the notebook to reference the party. Hang out. Kick back. Thing.
Stiles doesn’t look at what Scott had written until he leaves. Scott hadn’t written anything but a cheeky “You have a crush on him!!!” followed by a bunch of smiley faces. Stiles heaves a sigh that’s dejected enough to get a sympathetic smile from Violet before she heads back to her homework.
Derek thinks deeply on a good metaphor the entire way to BEANcon Hills, Stiles’ stupidly named café. (He’d muttered as much at the grand opening and Derek had been in serious danger of getting socked in the face for it…)
It’s almost like the feeling of wanting to drive into oncoming traffic. But it’s more like feeling compelled to follow through with a dare to eat something gross. But it’s neither of those things.
He parks his short dick compensator car right outside and tells himself he’s just there for the coffee. It is the best coffee in town… He needs a pick-me-up to get through grading the rest of his AP US History essays.
He decides that it’s like putting your hand as close to the fire as you can even though you know it can still singe your skin… It’s the heat-seeking impulse, it’s liking the burn.
Derek makes sure his phone is in his hand and his sunglasses stay on so he can look as put upon and annoyed as possible as he approaches the counter.
Stiles plants his hands on the bar and leans forward, jaw tight.
“Uh, hey,” Derek says.
No colder or warmer than usual.
“What’ll it be?” Stiles asks when Derek doesn’t offer up his order.
“Oh. Um. Latte.”
Stiles continues to stare. Derek stares back. “What size?” Stiles says, agitated.
“Right, uh, large.”
Stiles half turns toward his barista while he swipes Derek’s card. “Violet, large latte? Make sure you spit in it.”
That’s more like it.
Derek glares, Stiles smirks at him, Violet “uh…”s uncertainly.
“Don’t spit in it,” Stiles clarifies. She turns away from them and Derek swears he sees the beginning of an eye roll.
“You think I’m hot,” Derek blurts out.
“Yeah, as in I heard you say it.”
“Like I said. Hearsay. I also think you’re a jackass.”
“The feeling is mutual,” Derek says, pretending to regard his phone.
“So you think I’m hot, huh?” Stiles asks.
Talking with Stiles is like playing chess. It’s infuriating. It’s tactical and deliberate and all about conquering each other and forcing each other into corners.
“Yeah,” he says with a shrug. Disinterested. Disconnected.
Stiles hands him his drink and walks away without saying another word.
By the end of the day, Stiles has a list. He leaves the coffee shop in good hands, pats the cackling witch on her rearing head as he goes, and heads off to Lydia’s.
Beacon Hills in the fall is ideal. Highs in the 60s, lows in the 40s, amber tinted afternoons, crisp blue skies. Stiles gets in the Jeep and turns on the windshield wiper to shake the leaves off the windshield and absolutely does not think about driving out to the preserve to make out like teenagers this very time last year. Absolutely not. He waits for the Jeep to warm up while he looks at a catering menu.
At Lydia’s, he proudly presents his list at her kitchen table.
“This sounds downright pleasant,” she says, looking at him suspiciously.
“I told you I could do it.”
She continues to look suspicious even as she opens her laptop. “He likes that brewery—“
“Over in Beacon Heights,” Stiles blurts out. He knows. “Tiddlywinks, right?” he asks, trying to play it off.
“Yeah… I’ll call about getting some kegs.” She bites the inside of her cheek and keeps her eyes focused on the screen but Stiles knows the wheels in her head are turning at an alarming speed.
“And I’m going to get Melvin’s to cater,” Stiles says. He stares at his hands and fidgets with the fraying edge of the notebook paper.
Lydia makes an agreeable sound.
“Scott and Allison’s house is perfect for this. Right on the edge of the woods, fire pit, big living room, big enough kitchen. You already have pretty much every hot beverage option covered. We’ll need hot water dispensers…” she trails off, distracted by her own typing. “Danny said we can use his projector.” She looks up finally. “How’d you know his favorite movies?” she asks, softly. Knowingly.
Stiles carefully folds the list into smaller and smaller squares. He shrugs. “Who doesn’t like Indiana Jones?”
Lydia huffs, goes back to typing. Stiles waits for her to finish, waits to be exposed. After awhile she closes the laptop and slides it away.
“This makes a lot of sense, actually.”
“What does?” he asks, playing dumb.
She rolls her eyes. “You know, I think you guys would get along just fine if you actually got to know each other, you’ve both matured tremendously. Anyway, when do you want to go shopping for all this?”
Stiles opens his mouth to stand up for himself and closes it again. “Whenever,” he mumbles instead.
The first time they kiss they go straight for tongue.
But before that, Derek had told Stiles to shut the fuck up. And then Stiles had looked determined to fuck him over. Scott yelled at the both of them to quit fighting. Derek followed Stiles to his Jeep and shoved him against the side of it and…
“I can’t fucking stand you” turned into a rough, sweaty grip on the back of his neck and bodies flush against each other and the filthiest kiss Derek has had since college, probably.
Allison texts him later that night asking why they can’t go a goddamned night without fighting anymore and Derek doesn’t have an answer. Derek’s mouth still feels the push and pull of the kiss and he can’t get the memory of Stiles’ mouth tasting like wine out of his head.
They kiss a second time the next day.
Derek wakes up to someone pounding on his door and Stiles shoves him the second he answers it.
“Asshole,” Stiles hisses, pulling the door closed behind him. That’s all it takes for Derek to grab him by the face even though he’s already halfway there.
The resulting kiss can only be described as… a cacophony. Uncoordinated, biting, discordant, amelodic, Stiles’ hands in Derek’s hair (tugging) and Derek’s hands twisted in Stiles’ shirt (tugging). Pushing and pulling, clashing…
Satisfying in a way that Derek forgot kisses could be. A release.
When Stiles pulls away, his eyes are sharp and bright. His lips are swollen, his hair is messy. His shoulders heave with his breath.
And then he leaves. Slams the door. Gone.
Lydia doesn’t look up from her phone as Stiles stacks a family sized box of apple cider packets on top of a family sized box of graham crackers. She’d tried to get him to buy hot chocolate too but he staunchly refused. His own mix was better.
“Allison said they already have a lot of throw blankets and stuff, so we should be fine,” she says after awhile. She slides her phone back into her purse and her eyes zero in on the marshmallows on the shelf. “They have those flat ones for s’mores,” she murmurs more to herself than to Stiles and reaches out for them.
“No, get the jumbo ones,” Stiles corrects. Derek had once told him the appeal of s’mores lied in their inherent messiness.
She narrows her eyes at him but grabs the jumbo ones anyway.
“If they have those cinnamon flavored ones, grab those too,” he says, feeling his cheeks go splotchy.
“What are those for?” she asks.
“Hot chocolate.” He stops himself before saying they’re Derek’s favorites, but part of him thinks Lydia got the gist of that anyway.
“Why am I starting to think that you know Derek better than we thought you did?” she asks.
Stiles shrugs. He tugs her by the front of the cart around a corner and tries to distract her with the Costco-sized jar of Nutella.
“Stiles,” she reprimands. He wiggles the jar at her. “I know, I’ve seen it!” She bats at him to put it down. “Cinnamon marshmallows, really?”
“They’re good!” Stiles argues.
She heaves a sigh. “Okay, but… you already knew about the brewery, you already knew what food to get—“
“Who doesn’t love Melvin’s? I chose them for purely selfish reasons—“
“But you argued with me about ravioli and you know what? You were right. He hates ravioli, I asked him….”
“So do I,” Stiles lies.
“No you do not,” she snaps.
No, he doesn’t, she’s right.
“And,” she continues. “The movies. And the drinks. And the… I don’t know! The way you’re approaching it! It’s like you get him. The last time I saw you two willingly talk to one another was months ago and it was because the Mets had beat the Giants and you wanted to gloat and it didn’t end on a positive note. You two don’t like each other, so how do you know this stuff?”
Stiles shrugs and turns around to continue down the aisle. “Don’t know, but I need powdered sugar, so…” He doesn’t need powdered sugar…
“I’ll figure this out, you know I will, so make it easy for me,” she says when she pulls up alongside him in front of the powdered sugar.
He shrugs. “It’s a fluke.”
“He asked me how your dad’s shoulder was doing the other day...”
“So?” Stiles asks, petulant even though his cheeks are burning. They’d been together when the Sheriff had gotten hurt on the job.
“It was just weird that he would…”
She drops it.
Derek sits in his car outside of Stiles’ apartment building and thinks back on the last half of high school. He remembers going through all the motions. Homecoming dances, class trips, SATs, proms, summers, graduation. He hadn’t been interested in any of it junior year, he was still in mourning. He’d clung to Allison and his friends and they brought them into the newer, larger group that had formed in his absence. He’d grown to love them fiercely. He’s still friends with most of those people. He sees them all the time. He knows where they are at almost any given time.
Like now, for instance. Scott and Allison are safe at home. Erica is working the night shift at the hospital, Boyd is probably picking up dinner for her. Lydia is still in her office. Isaac is currently texting him from a disastrous date.
Knowing where everyone is, knowing that they’re okay… that’s one of the most important things.
But anyway, Derek’s not sure when he started hating Stiles. He’s not sure why. All he can really remember of the early stages of their (for lack of a better term) relationship is Stiles emphatically rolling his eyes every time Derek spoke. He remembers a couple awkward conversations that ended in uncomfortable silence. He remembers getting closer to Scott and Stiles getting less and less friendly as he did so.
But most of all, he remembers a fist fight at Lydia’s graduation party. But he can’t remember what it was over.
Derek has answered the “why can’t you guys just get along?” question the same way for the last decade: “He’s an asshole.” Derek wonders how Stiles has answered the same question.
The only time Derek can remember liking Stiles was when he was there in the Sheriff’s Department when he and his sisters were brought in for questioning after the fire… But he hadn’t known him then. And afterward, he almost felt too bare and raw to face him. Derek shakes the thought and gets out of the car.
When Stiles opens the door, Derek barely gets a greeting out before Stiles tugs him inside. He doesn’t have to say anything at all. He gets his hands firmly on his ribs and pulls him close.
Stiles kisses like he’s starving. Derek can’t stop picturing him naked. Stiles is determined not to talk. Derek is determined to see how far he can take this. Stiles drags him toward the couch, Derek follows.
Allison answers the door in a gust of cinnamon apple scented air and pulls him inside with a bright grin. “Danny set the projector up, Scott and I have been playing Mario Kart on it all day,” she confesses in a conspiratorial whisper. “Scott wants to get one now.”
“Sorry,” Stiles says, smirking.
She leads him into their spacious living room. They’ve already pushed the couches to the walls and the center of the floor is covered in throw pillows. The projector projects a blue screen at a large spot of their blank white wall.
“The fire pit is good to go too,” she says, heading to the sliding glass door that leads out to the yard.
Allison is amazing, Stiles loves Allison. He listens to her ideas about the set up and nods along.
“This is really nice of you, Stiles,” she says after a couple beats of pleasant silence spent looking out over their leaf-strewn yard toward the line of trees.
“Ah, it’s nothing,” he says. “Everyone deserves a good birthday.”
She nods in agreement. “I think he’ll like this.”
She smiles sadly at him, as if she knows the weight of Derek’s birthday. He supposes that she does. She’d known his family back before…
Derek and Allison have been friends for forever. She’d just started dating Scott when the Hale house burnt down. Allison, Lydia, and Boyd started hanging out with them when Derek and his sisters were off staying with someone else in the family for a couple months. When he came back, Allison brought him into the group and kept a close eye on him. No matter how sympathetic Stiles was, he could never figure out how to talk to him. He’d never figured out how to get beyond their initial awkwardness, Derek’s coldness, Derek’s lack of patience with him, Derek’s bad moods… In hindsight, especially now that he knows him, he wished he’d tried a little harder.
“You two…” she says, turning to face Stiles head-on.
He shrugs and looks away.
She nods, understanding. Is it really that obvious? What exactly does she understand? That Stiles has feelings for him? That they have history? What? Stiles doesn’t bother asking, he doesn’t want to know.
“You have shit timing,” Stiles says when he answers the door. He’s wearing an oven mitt and holding a sizzle pan, some sort of sauce splattered on his shirt. He kicks the door open all the way for Derek to enter and heads back to the kitchen.
“Mock Trial got out early,” Derek explains, taking in the orderly chaos of Stiles’ kitchen.
He stares at a mounted mug rack bursting with bizarre coffee mugs and feels like he’s accidentally seen someone naked for the first time…
Derek has learned more about how to get Stiles off than he has ever actually bothered to find out about him.
He knows that Stiles likes it a little rough but he had never known that Stiles has one of the biggest and most extensive tea collections Derek has ever seen, and that’s the sort of thing you think you’d know about a person you’ve known for over a decade.
To his credit, this is the first time Derek’s ever seen his kitchen. They usually don’t even get past the living room.
“Mock Trial?” Stiles asks after he’s dumped whatever he had in the pan into a casserole dish, mixed it with something in a boiler pot, and shoved all of that into the oven.
“Yeah like, teenagers playing lawyers,” Derek explains, examining a small tin covered in Japanese writing.
“I know what Mock Trial is, but what does that have to do with you?”
“I’m the advisor.”
Stiles stares at him like he’s accidentally gotten a glimpse of him naked for the first time. Derek blushes and he’s not sure why.
“You used to make fun of Isaac for being in Mock Trial,” he blurts out, turning back toward the oven.
He’s not wrong.
“First year teachers sorta get railroaded into advising sometimes, and the old advisor had just retired back when I started so I ended up with it,” Derek says, scratching the back of his neck. He thinks back to earlier when one of his freshmen girls cross-examined a senior until he almost cried and smiles fondly. “And now I love it.”
Stiles nods while setting a timer and then looks back at Derek. “So…” he starts, eyes shifting toward the mugs on the wall behind Derek. “You like teaching?” he asks.
Derek nods. “Yeah.”
“You like tea?” Derek asks.
“Yeah, I mean… I like… beverages in general. Hence the shop…” He looks around his own kitchen like he hasn’t seen it in awhile and wrings his hands. “Are you hungry? ‘Cause I just put in this pasta bake thing, I don’t know if it’s going to be any good or anything, I’ve never made it before.”
Derek has known Stiles for so long he can’t even really remember what it was like not knowing him anymore. And now he’s standing with him in his kitchen, making small talk about their jobs as if they’re strangers.
“I mean, it’ll be in there for like 40 minutes so we can uh, tune into our regularly scheduled programming if you want,” Stiles says, without a hint of actual seduction.
Derek shrugs. “If you want.”
“Isn’t that why you’re here?”
Yes. But the routine had been thrown off by Stiles not dragging him inside and slamming him back against the door with a hungry kiss, so…
Derek shrugs again. Stiles lifts an eyebrow that speaks a whole paragraph, hitting all the finer points like “so we’re just going to stare awkwardly at each other for 40 minutes?” and “what did I do in a past life to deserve this?” and “I have no idea what to do with you if it’s not fighting or fucking.”
Derek clears his throat. “Tell me about your tea stash,” he says, gesturing stiffly toward the madness on his counter.
“Oh. Sure. Um…” He steps closer and picks up the tin Derek had been examining. “I got this one in Japan. It’s a really nice matcha, which is like nothing too fancy but it’s really drinkable, you know? Scott thinks the one I use at the shop tastes like grass so I wouldn’t waste this on him, but if you’re into green tea you can try some if you want.”
“You’ve been to Japan?” Derek asks.
“Yeah, dude, last year!” Stiles exclaims, laughing. “It’s like all I talked about for months, Lydia banned me from saying “when I was in Tokyo” for life!”
Derek loses track of time listening to Stiles talk about Japan and his tea collection. He asks him about the mugs and Stiles says Scott started it back in high school by buying him a tacky mug at a thrift store for his birthday to throw him off the scent of his real present (a gift that has long been forgotten in lieu of the “Meowy Christmas!” mug). Stiles always gets tacky mugs for his birthday now. Derek has never given him one, Derek didn’t even know this was a thing. Derek makes a mental note to change that.
“So, Mock Trial?” Stiles asks when he sets a steaming plate in front of Derek at the kitchen table. “You love it?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Tell me about it, then.”
Stiles’ hands aren’t shaking, they’re just… cold. It’s cold out. Which is perfect. Scott cusses over the breeze blowing out all his attempts to get the fire pit to light. (Erica shoves him out of the way with her hip and gets it lit in record time.) The water heaters are plugged in and warming up on a bench by the sliding glass door. The bored teenager sent to deliver the food is setting up the spread as quickly as possible. Stiles feels nervous.
Stiles wonders, for half a second, if Derek will storm out in a fit of rage. And then he wonders if he’ll force himself to stay and suffer out of politeness. He wonders if he’ll get punched in the face. He wonders if he’ll want to punch Derek in the face himself. It’s not a distant possibility, half their forced interactions usually resulted in that desire anyway…
It’s not a surprise party. Derek will get to Scott and Allison’s at a certain time for dinner, the main group of them will already be there, the birthday celebration will slowly dawn on him. And then more people will show up. Stiles invited the other teachers at Derek’s school that he knew Derek liked, his sisters, some of the guys Derek plays basketball with on the weekends. People he knew Derek loved. People Stiles had heard lovely stories about.
Everyone present was someone Derek loved, except for Stiles. Stiles didn’t let that thought take over even though it smarted.
Stiles chews on the side of his thumb while wandering around between the details. He makes an escape plan. He’d stay long enough to eat, socialize a bit, and then excuse himself. He’d go home and he’d go to bed. He would not be upset. He would not think of this day exactly a year ago. He would not think of any of the other days. He would not miss Derek Hale. He refused.
“This is festive,” Boyd says, appearing near Stiles in the backyard. He has his telescope slung over his shoulder in its case. He sees Stiles looking at it. “It’s a clear night, figured it’d be cool to have,” he says with a shrug.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Stiles agrees.
Wood smoke, cold air, hearty food, a sharp current of apple cider and beer… Stiles knows this is perfect. He looks around at their smiling, laughing friends and knows. Derek will be happy. Derek will love this. Indiana Jones is queued up and ready to go on the projector, Derek will be more than happy.
“I think he likes you,” Boyd says in a low grumble so no one else will hear.
“Huh?” Stiles asks, shaken from his wallowing.
“Derek? I think he likes you. Weird, I know.” The last part is said with loving mockery. Stiles elbows him for it. “I mean, I know it doesn’t seem like it, but Erica and I have a theory. It’s like elementary school flirting, almost, you know?”
“Oh, uh…” If only he knew.
“I’m just saying it seems like you’re giving him a shot with all this.” He gestures around.
Stiles splutters at him in lieu of a real answer and Boyd wanders off to set up the telescope, laughing.
That’s what they think this is. A first step in a flirtacious turn of events rather than the last leg of a journey away from Derek. Stiles wishes they were right.
The thing with Stiles was that he was… annoying. And very attractive. But the longer Derek actually talked to him, the less annoying he was. He was still attractive though. Maybe even more so.
The weirdest part was that they worked. Derek felt comfortable with him. Derek liked seeing him putter around the kitchen, liked when he left a shirt behind on accident, liked the smell of his shampoo, liked his laugh, his mouth on his, the sex, the conversation before and after (and sometimes during). Derek liked him. Finally.
He more than liked him, actually. He liked him a lot. Stiles seemed to like him back, though Derek couldn’t be sure of the degree.
When Stiles gets off work, he smells like coffee and caramel and cinnamon and vanilla and--
“God damned pumpkin spice, I honestly hate Starbucks for making pumpkin spice such a thing, like yeah it’s good but I went through two of those huge syrups today alone. Anyway, I brought you one,” he presses a warm thermos, a real thermos, into Derek’s hand. “It’s really good if you sub half the pumps with vanilla. And to be honest I only started doing that because rations were low, I can’t last the week at this pace!”
“Hi,” Derek says, smiling.
“Hi,” Stiles says back, grinning.
“Boyd thinks I’m seeing someone,” Derek says to cut to the chase.
“Scott thinks I’m seeing someone too. Allison just thinks I’m hopped up on caffeine.”
“For the record, I agree with Allison.” He takes a sip of his drink and Stiles is right, it’s pretty good.
“Yeah well, Lydia thinks I just took her sex toy website recommendation, which I find very offensive.”
“Our friends suck,” Derek laughs. His stomach drops when Stiles locks eyes with him, lips curled into an agreeing smirk.
“Hey, but you were very convincing when you called me a long armed freak in front of everyone the other day, though I think it lacks some of your usual bite.”
“It’s hard to be mean to you.”
“That’s the blow job I’m about to give you talking,” he explains with a serious nod.
Derek thinks it’s more than that… but also that.
Stiles makes a point of being out of sight when they hear Derek’s car pulling up. He’s in the kitchen needlessly checking on the bags of ice shoved into the freezer. He hears the door bell, their friends shushing each other in the other room and scrambling toward the dining room table. He closes the freezer door and leans against the counter.
“Stiles,” Erica hisses from the doorway. “C’mon.” She gestures for him to come out to the living room, but Derek and Scott are still in the front.
“Nah, I’m just…”
“Being a big baby, c’mon.”
Stiles enters the dining room right as Derek and Scott do. Stiles makes eye contact with Derek and looks away, toward the set table full to the brim with food and drink. Lydia did a great job. The word “birthday” doesn’t appear anywhere, it’s all just… vaguely celebratory.
“What’s this?” Derek asks, cautious.
Stiles braces himself for fallout.
“It’s dinner!” Allison says, gesturing around with her arms. “Nothing fancy!”
“Uh huh…” Derek says, though Stiles thinks he can sense a note of amusement. Maybe.
“That’s it, just dinner,” Lydia says.
“What’s the occasion?” Derek asks.
“Your birthday, asshole,” Erica drawls. Boyd nudges her with a sharp look.
Stiles chews on his bottom lip, ready to run.
“Wow,” Derek says softly. Stiles doesn’t look up just in case Derek looks his way. “This is…” Awful, a blatant violation of the boundaries I have set in all our years of friendship, a slap in the face, Stiles’ worst deed… “This is really nice, thank you.”
Stiles whips his head up in surprise. Derek’s eyes lock with his. He smiles. Stiles turns back around and goes into the kitchen.
Stiles is already talking as he walks into the room, Derek barely has a second to catch up. “—So first of all, did I mention that your sister scares me? She said our espresso beans were stale? How would she know? She tried to say she could taste it but I think she’s just trying to scare me. And, as I mentioned before, she does. Always.” He stops for a second to set his bags of take out containers on the counter and kisses Derek on the cheek. “And then,” Stiles says, voice close to his ear. He shoves Derek playfully away from him and starts rifling through the bags. “She let slip that it’s your birthday.”
Stiles stops talking and decidedly doesn’t look up at him. Derek mouths wordlessly, sensing that Stiles expects him to say something.
“So I got takeout,” Stiles says to save Derek from himself. “And I guess we can…” he trails off and shrugs one shoulder sorta demurely. His cheeks are flushed from the cold, his dark hair sticks out from under his beanie in an endearing way.
“I don’t celebrate it,” Derek says.
“Your birthday?” Stiles clarifies, looking up at him.
Derek nods and casts his glance to the side, crossing his arms over his chest uncomfortably.
Stiles hmms and turns to get plates out of the cupboard. “I mean, I hadn’t really realized that we never celebrated your birthday until your sister came in to insult my espresso. I mean, why would I have noticed, right? It’s not like we liked each other. But anyway, after she insulted my espresso, she complimented the décor so I guess the shop gets a sorta stamp of approval from Cora….”
Derek wants him to keep talking. He wants him to keep filling Derek’s empty loft with sound and brightness. He wants him to talk until he fills the whole space up with words so that they still hang in the air when Derek wraps him up and kisses him quiet. He wants to leave the shitty, depressing day he’d had behind him and move on.
Luckily, Stiles powers on in his monologue about his day and leaves the birthday thing alone. When they’re done eating, Stiles keeps on talking through slicing and plating a big piece of cake.
“Don’t,” Derek warns, feeling weary.
“What? Don’t what? It’s cake,” Stiles says. “You can eat cake whenever you want, no occasion necessary.” He grins at Derek and presses the plate into his hands. “It’s carrot cake, that’s not even birthday appropriate.”
“I love carrot cake,” Derek defends, reluctantly accepting it.
“I know,” Stiles says, leaning into him.
Derek’s not sure when this whole thing turned from purely physical to… this. He lets himself soak it in for now, a birthday gift to himself, and ignores that looming knowledge that things will get messy soon enough. Stiles has his face pressed into Derek’s neck, his arm draped across him. His skin is soft and warm everywhere they touch. His breath is still coming in fast and deep and Derek has his thumb pressed to his wrist to feel his quickened pulse. Derek feels a deep contentment that only comes from this… from sex with Stiles and riding out the afterglow with Stiles and thinking about Stiles…
“You’re not an asshole,” Stiles says after awhile. It sounds more like an admission of something greater though.
“Thanks,” Derek answers dryly, but he turns his head a little to press a kiss into Stiles’ hairline.
“Why don’t you celebrate your birthday?” he asks with a sleepy, uncertain voice.
Derek thinks back to the Stiles he would have threatened physically for asking and he weighs that against how he feels about him now… “I just…” he starts. Stiles shifts a little to look up at him. “It’s a hard day for me,” he admits in a whisper. Stiles’ arm tightens over him and the other hand grips his harder.
“Got it,” he says softly.
“It just reminds me that my parents are…” Dead. But the word gets stuck in his throat.
Stiles kisses him on the cheek and whispers something comforting. Derek pushes the subject away and curves his body closer to Stiles.
“What would you do if I threw you a party?” Stiles asks after a long stretch of meaningful silence.
Derek groans. “I hate parties.”
“I know, I mean… a gathering, a thing.”
Derek shrugs because he doesn’t want to say he’d hate it.
Stiles seems to understand that’s what he means anyway because he lets out an indignant sound. “I’ll throw you a party next year and you’ll love it.”
“It’s not worth it,” Derek says, trying not to go cold on him. Stiles drags his arms away from Derek and repositions them around Derek’s head on the pillow as he hovers over him a little.
”I’ll change your mind next year, I promise,” Stiles whispers. “You’ll love every second of it.”
Derek’s heart twists just looking up at him, his face sincere and sweet. He makes a dismissive sound to distract himself from whatever it is he’s feeling.
“You don’t believe me?”
“I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“Challenge accepted,” Stiles says, grinning before pressing a loving kiss to Derek’s forehead.
Stiles suffers alone in the kitchen while listening to everyone laughing and laughing and serving themselves out there. Lydia pokes her head in to give him a long, searing, judgmental look before heading back out with a, “He’s fine, he’s on the phone!” delivered to all present.
He waits until they’re settled in the living room before he heads out to get his own dinner. He reminds himself to act natural and bow out early gracefully once other people start arriving. That way, he can avoid whatever nuclear fallout there might be when Derek realizes he’s being tricked into having a birthday party… thing. Whatever. Stiles puts lids on things to keep it warm for the other guests and schools his face into a neutral expression before walking into the living room.
“No birthday song, I draw the line there,” Derek is saying emphatically when Stiles sits on the opposite side of the room.
“C’mon, Derk,” Erica pleads, smiling sweetly at him. “Just one little birthday song.”
“No! Don’t call me Derk, Erk.”
“Don’t call me Erk!” she argues back playfully.
It’s going well. It’s all going well. It keeps going well through dinner. The doorbell rings and Stiles swears it’s going to go badly but Derek stands up and hugs all his teacher friends when they appear and he’s all smiles and Stiles swears it’s going to go wrong any minute. He’s imaging being shoved through the sliding glass door when the next surge of guests arrive but…. He doesn’t. When Derek’s sisters and sports buddies arrive, it’s just more smiles and more hugs and Derek’s been successfully hoodwinked into a party. And he doesn’t seem to hate it.
Maybe he’s just pretending.
Stiles is thinking of leaving when Scott thrusts a beer into his hand. “Good job, buddy,” he says, gesturing around. There are people piled onto blankets on the floor watching Indiana Jones. There are people laughing around the fire pit outside. Derek is laughing with someone out on the deck, red plastic cup in hand.
“I told you I could do it,” Stiles says, going for confident.
“I knew you could,” he says, grinning. “You’re crushin’ hard, I can tell.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Mock Trial is reading over the case he just passed out when Derek gets a text from Stiles that reads, “Got distracted thinking about your dick while making a frappe, forgot to put the cover on the blender. Hate you!” A picture of Stiles frowning and covered in what looks to be the beginnings of a blended mocha comes a little bit later.
“Oooh, Mr. Hale has a boo,” one of the girls coos at him.
He bites the inside of his cheek to fight the smile he hadn’t even realized had appeared on his face. “No I don’t,” he argues. The kids are not convinced, if the chorus of “ooh OOOH”s and “awww”s are anything to go by.
“Violet won’t stop laughing at me,” Stiles texts. “Also she keeps suggesting dirty texts to send to you, I have to fire her.”
“What are some of her suggestions?” Derek texts back.
“I’m noticing a lack of sympathy that I find really troubling,” Stiles answers. “But she said I should say something about asking you to come lick it up. I’m not opposed to the idea, but I’m opposed to the borderline sexting.”
“Does it not count as sexting if you’re just telling me about what you would have sexted if you had listened to your barista?”
“Damn, Mr. Hale is getting his flirt on,” his star attorney teases.
“Focus on your case,” Derek reprimands half-heartedly.
Stiles only answers with a line of ghost emojis.
When they see each other later, it’s at Lydia’s house for dinner. They don’t say a thing to each other. Boyd and Scott sit in between them, joke about being a buffer while Stiles rolls his eyes and scowls.
Stiles is trying desperately not to drink too much to drive home, but Isaac presses another beer into his hand and stands next to him outside the inner ring of people gathered around the firepit. The smell of marshmallows, the crackling of the wood, the warmth settling into him… fuck.
“He’s having a good time, you did good, Stilinski,” Isaac says, gesturing over to the telescope where Derek, Allison and Scott are.
“Hey, that telescope was all Boyd.”
Stiles watches Derek take a sip of his hot chocolate and catches the private, joyful face he makes in response. Stiles shudders, thankful for the cold.
“You know what I mean,” Isaac laughs. “So are you two gonna try to be friends now?”
“No,” Stiles says a little too fast. Isaac probably smirks but Stiles can’t tell in the near-dark. He rolls the knuckle of his index finger against the cool side of the glass bottle to sooth the burn he got when trying to rearrange the wood not too long ago and considers just getting wasted and calling a cab. That’s totally acceptable.
“Hey,” Derek says, suddenly on the other side of him. Stiles watches Isaac not so subtly leave.
“Oh, hey, happy birthday,” Stiles says before taking a long sip from his bottle.
“Thanks.” Derek waits for him to finish. It feels like a dare. Stiles is not above chugging this whole bottle down, but he still hasn’t decided in favor of getting wasted so…
“Yeah, I am.”
“I heard this was your doing.”
Stiles shrugs. “I helped.”
A soft smile spreads across Derek’s face before he can turn his head away from Stiles to cough against his shoulder. “Well, uh, thanks. I mean…”
Stiles shrugs an exaggerated shrug. “It’s no problem, man. Glad you’re having fun.” Get wasted and call a cab or just leave? “I’m actually about to head out, though, so uh…” He looks down at his mostly full beer and then looks for someone without a drink in their hand to pawn it off to.
Only Derek is drinkless, his hot chocolate cup empty and crushed in his hand.
“I’m not gonna finish this, do you want it?” Stiles asks, holding it out to him.
Derek looks down at his hand. “What happened?” he asks.
The shiny surface of his newly burnt knuckle glints in the firelight, great, thanks… “Uh, occupational hazard, those fire pits sure are dangerous.” Derek takes the bottle and bends to set it down by his foot. He grabs Stiles’ hand on his way back up and tilts it toward the light from the porch. Stiles’ stomach twists and his heart lurches at the touch. “It’s fine, what are you doing?” he asks, yanking his hand away.
Derek looks a little hurt. “Sorry, my first aid certification is fresh, I figured I should use it. It’s not that bad of a burn so…”
“Yeah I know it isn’t. Thanks though, you have a good rest of the night. Happy birthday.”
Stiles walks away with as much control as he can. Not too fast, not too slow, just normal. He waves to Allison when she sees him blow through the living room, makes it to the front door before Boyd asks him where he’s going, gives him a bullshit answer about being tired, and practically jogs to the Jeep.
He’s waiting for the engine to warm up and truly trying to assess how sober he is when there’s a soft knock on his window.
It’s not going to work.
Holy shit, it’s not going to work.
Derek wakes up in Stiles’ bed, curled around Stiles, his nose buried in Stiles’ hair. He’s comfortable and content and… this isn’t going to work. Derek had just been fighting with him last night out of nowhere at Boyd’s place because it felt like they were supposed to. Derek remembers snapping at him as if someone else had done it. Derek had barely recognized the man yelling back at him. Their friends had pulled them away from each other. Boyd had dragged Derek outside to the balcony to tell him to cool off. Scott and Allison had Stiles in the kitchen.
Derek can’t even remember what they had fought about now.
The second Derek left Boyd’s, he drove to Stiles’ and waited outside his door. They acted like nothing had happened. They kissed (sweetly) and fell into bed and messed around until they fell asleep and now they’re here, cuddled up like a couple. Derek feeling guilty about the fight, feeling sorta dirty about not apologizing or even mentioning it before he called Stiles beautiful while kissing the inside of his thigh not an hour later…
It wasn’t going to work. Derek hadn’t dated anyone in five years, Derek hadn’t wanted to date anyone in five whole years. Old dogs, new tricks. Stiles and Derek would never stop falling into that decade old rivalry when their friends are watching. Derek would never be able to maintain a real relationship. Derek would never feel comfortable in the confinement of a relationship. Derek would probably end up fucking everything up if they tried and if they were out with their friends and something vile flew out of his mouth because that’s what they do, they yell… they push each other into duck ponds and up against brick walls and call each other horrible things and they fight….
It’s not going to work.
Derek pulls away from Stiles and sits up against the headboard.
He wants it to work but it isn’t going to.
When Stiles wakes up, he blinks up at Derek with a question on his soft, still-sleepy face.
“I’m sorry,” Derek says, hand training down Stiles’ arm because he can’t stop the movement once he’s started it.
Stiles shrugs and rolls around until he’s sitting up. “It didn’t mean anything, it was just… it just happened. I’m sorry too.”
“I don’t think this is going to work out anymore.”
“I didn’t mean it when I said you were a pencil dick, Derek,” Stiles says with a crooked smile. “Trust me.”
Derek shakes his head. That’s not what he means.
Derek misses him the second he walks out of that apartment knowing he won’t be coming back. And that’s how he knows he was right to go.
They go back to not talking and not fucking so effortlessly, Derek can almost convince himself their few months together were just a vivid dream.
The only weird part is the not fighting thing. Derek hardly ever sees Stiles at all for the first month, their schedules becoming oddly opposite. And then when things settle back down, they just… don’t fight. They don’t have a thing to say to each other or to disagree upon or to argue about. Their friends stop watching them like hawks to make sure they don’t throw each other out of windows or shove each other down stairs. No one even comments on it either, they just accept it like the storm is finally passing and they can finally find peace again.
It’s all fine.
It’s better than the alternative.
But when Stiles’ birthday is on the horizon, Derek keeps an eye out for cheesy mugs everywhere he goes. He finds one at a huge Mock Trial competition in Sacramento that says, “You Can Trust Me, I’m Not Actually a Lawyer.” He leaves it on Stiles’ welcome mat when he knows he’s at the coffee shop and hopes it doesn’t return to him in pieces.
Maybe eventually they’ll be better off than when they started.
Stiles feels wide-eyed and shocked when he stares at Derek through his window. (Maybe he isn’t sober enough to drive, now that he thinks of it…) He stares long enough that Derek makes the universal “roll down your window” gesture. Stiles reaches for his keys and turns the car off.
“Hey, what’s up?” Stiles asks once the window is down.
“I wanted to say something,” Derek says. He doesn’t sound stern, exactly, but he doesn’t sound light and airy either.
Derek opens his mouth to start but just laughs humorlessly and rubs the back of his head, looking back toward the house like he regrets this. “I didn’t think that you would do this.”
“This.” He gestures toward the house. Stiles can faintly hear music and voices coming through the open door, echoing from the back yard.
“I just helped, don’t get weird about it—“
“I know you planned it. You said you would last year and you did. Everyone said it was all you, and I believe them. So… cut it out.”
Stiles snaps his mouth shut with a click of his teeth and officially has nothing else to say for himself.
“You said you would do this last year and I thought… I mean, I knew… thought I knew that you wouldn’t do it. I didn’t even think it was a vague possibility after… everything.”
“Okay.” What else is there to say?
“So why’d you do it?” he asks. He puts his hands on the edge of Stiles’ window and leans forward a little. Stiles feels like he’s being interrogated.
“Because you deserve to enjoy your birthday,” Stiles says, voice low to hide the swell of feelings.
Derek swallows audibly and drops his head. He balls up his right hand and knocks his fist gently against the top of the glass.
“Right,” Derek says finally, as if he doesn’t quite agree. “Okay.”
“That’s it. I’m not trying to torture you or make you feel indebted or guilty for… what happened. I just… think you deserve it. That’s it. No big deal.”
Derek nods over and over and over again before looking back up. “Come back inside, then.”
“Nah, I… should go.”
Stiles shrugs. He’s definitely not sober enough to drive. He’s just going to call a cab when Derek goes back inside and ask Scott and Allison to deliver the Jeep in the morning. “Kinda don’t want to be here.”
“Why not?” Derek presses. Stiles looks long and hard at him, wondering what kind of answer he wants. Does he want to figure out where they really stand with each other? Does he want to know if Stiles hates him or not? What?
Stiles thinks fondly back to the beer he abandoned and wished he had it now that’s he settled on a cab ride home… “Because it still kinda hurts to be around you.”
“Why?” Derek asks again, tone indiscernible.
“Because, birthday boy, I’m still hung up on you. Happy?” Stiles snaps.
Derek stops the nervous movement Stiles hadn’t noticed before and gazes at Stiles in shock.
“Come back inside,” Derek says again, softer than ever.
“I want you here.”
Stiles thinks he says Derek’s name again, but he can’t be sure. Derek reaches for the door handle and pulls the door open. He shoves his hands into his pockets and steps aside so Stiles can step out. Stiles shakes his head. His heart is beating so fast it’s practically vibrating in his chest and he can’t tell it to calm down no matter how hard he tries. He hates that he has a physiological response to something he knows can’t possibly be working in his favor.
But he steps out of the car anyway. He shoves his keys back in his pocket and closes the door behind him. His arms hang limply at his side.
Derek reaches down for his hand and gently holds it between them.
“It wasn’t going to work, remember?” Stiles says softly. “That’s what you said. We’d never learn to stop fighting, you’d never feel comfortable in a relationship, we had too much bad blood, it’d eventually kill us both…”
Derek shrugs. “Yeah, but I haven’t stopped missing you yet so…”
Derek drops his hand and stares at the ground, kicking at the gravel. “I um… this,” he says, gesturing back to the house again. “Is perfect. By the way. It’s… everything I would want, or… it’s everything I do want. It just reminded me of you.”
He says the word “you” with real weight to it. You, as in the experience of being with Stiles as a whole. You, as in… everything.
“Yeah, well. I wanted it to be nice so…”
“Would you go on a date with me if I asked?” Derek asks, bashful.
Stiles remembers Derek so vividly at the drop of a hat all the damn time. Stiles has no problem at all picturing him flipping through a magazine while hunched over a bowl of cereal in the morning or cursing his way through inexpertly making boxed macaroni and cheese. And then of course there are the sexy things too, Stiles has no problem picturing that either. But going on a date with him? Stiles can’t picture it.
“Yeah, I would.”
He would like to be able to picture it.
“Remember when you punched Derek in the face at my graduation party?” Lydia asks Stiles, propping her head up with her hand.
Derek tightens his grip on Stiles’ hand and sees Lydia’s eyes zero in on the motion. She smirks.
“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles says dismissively. “Remember when he punched me back? Don’t make this all about me.”
“What was that even about?” Boyd asks, not even looking up from the deck of white cards he’s shuffling.
Everyone starts talking at once. Derek catches Isaac saying it was over a band, Allison says something about arguing over a guy, Scott says he thought it had been a girl, and on and on and on. Erica shuts everyone up with, “They wanted to suck each other off so bad they had no idea what to do with themselves.”
“Jesus, Erica,” Stiles says with a disbelieving laugh.
“I don’t remember,” Derek confesses. He lets go of Stiles’ hand to wrap his arm around his shoulders instead. “Doesn’t matter.”
“Barf,” Erica comments, reaching across the table to take the deck from Boyd.
“You called me pretty and it pissed me off,” Stiles says.
Isaac stifles a laugh. Boyd snorts. Everyone else stares at them in amused shock. But Derek feels like he’s seeing the goddamned light after a decade in darkness…
“Are you serious?” Lydia asks.
“But you are pretty,” Scott says, jostling Stiles playfully.
Derek had meant it when he said it. It had just come out wrong. Condescending. Rude. Something.
“Would you punch me if I called you pretty now?” Derek asks.
“Nah,” Stiles says, flashing a loving smile at him.
“Gross,” Erica says in a singsong voice while she deals everyone their cards. “Less romance, more Cards Against Humanity.”
To get back at her, Derek kisses Stiles on the cheek.
“Yeah, this is still weird,” Lydia says with an eyebrow raise. She hides a fond smile behind her mug before she takes a sip.
“Should we go back to fighting?” Stiles asks her. He leans against Derek and links their arms. Derek joins him in staring at her.
“God, no, spare us.”