Scott's never been able to keep a clean workspace, no matter how many times Derek lectures him. After the first few accidents, Derek had ordered Scott to move as far away from the furnaces as possible, but even still, there's workplace safety etiquette to follow. If you're a glassworker, it's prudent not to leave flammable material all over your shitty desk. Scott's desk is littered with loose papers. Were it any other time, Derek would leave the mess as is so Scott can learn his lesson when he inevitably loses something, spills ink on something else, or maybe accidentally burns some sketches into crisp ashes.
But before he can walk past the desk, something catches his eye.
The designs on the papers. They're really good. Flowing shapes, balanced structure; they're drawn well too, annotated with lengths and widths, even shaded in detail to show light reflecting off the glass. They'd make beautiful products.
There's no way Scott drew these.
Derek flips through some of the other sketches, growing more and more impressed with each one, occasionally feeling a flicker of jealousy lick in his gut. But there's not a single signature on any of them, though clearly they were all drafted by the same hand. Derek searches the rest of the desk for a clue about the artist, but the only notable thing is a yellow post-it on Scott's planner, stuck on crookedly, on it a message scrawled in Scott's familiar chicken-scratch.
TRY S's DESIGNS!!! ASAP FOR BDAY
Twelve years ago, glassworking wasn't anywhere on the list of jobs that Derek pictured himself having as an adult, but then again, he didn't exactly picture his entire family being dead either. After the fire, he'd gone through a rough patch: he had a tough time dragging himself out of the bed in the mornings, going back to sleep at night, doing all the normal things in between eating meals and washing dishes and listening to the news. His body was in a near-constant state of trembling, and he found it hard to use his voice. Most of it he dealt with through therapy ¬– he was given prescriptions by doctors, but Derek was never really fond of pills – and what he couldn't, people chalked up to his crappy personality, which was lucky. He was excused for a lot because of his face and body. Derek had hated that, but sometimes he shudders to think how differently his rehabilitation would have gone if some people hadn't been charmed by his tragic Romeo image and hadn't bent over backwards to get him what he wanted.
Glassblowing, for instance. Fire was the biggest thing that Derek couldn't stand after the one that had killed his family, and his psychiatrist said that while this was completely understandable, if Derek felt up to trying, he could start him on a program to reacclimatise him to it, so that he wouldn't go practically catatonic whenever he caught sight of any size of flame or the smell of smoke. Being afraid of fire wasn't the worst phobia to have, and it didn't really inconvenience him once he found an apartment with an electric stove, but Derek didn't want to have the fear at all. He was stunted enough. Flinching every time someone on the street asked him for a light was just stupid. So Derek said, yeah, sure, let's try, and they worked their way up: from flicking on a lighter to lighting a candle to dealing with burnt bread, his progress was good, if a bit slow. One day near the projected end of his treatment, he was taken to a glassblower's museum, just to watch with the rest of the tour group, but Derek lingered behind afterwards, caught on the gorgeous, translucent shapes that the gaffer was pulling into formation from a mold of hot red lava, as if he were a god handling creation itself. He'd caught Derek's eye, surveyed the muscles resting inconspicuously under Derek's leather jacket, and asked if Derek had any interest in taking part in one of his workshops. Registration was already closed, but he'd be willing to make an exception for Derek. Apparently, he was in the market for an apprentice.
And it'd stuck. Derek enjoyed it. Fire didn't scare him much anymore, and not at all when it was confined inside the huge stone furnaces of the studio, warming Derek's bulb of glass, softening it enough for Derek to mold into whatever he wanted. Derek liked the method of it, the repetitious movements of going back and forth from furnace to bench to heat and reheat the glass; he liked using the wood block to contour the glass, smoothing a nebulous blob into something solid and singular, delicate too; he liked the concentration it took to be careful so the glass wouldn't ooze out of shape, wouldn't chip or break off; he liked the quiet of the work, punctuated only by the hum of heat and the clanging of tools. Whenever he was working the glass, Derek's heart calmed, and the ghosts that sometimes took hold of his mind stopped their screaming. It was good.
When his senior teacher announced his retirement, Derek decided to pack up his bags too. He left New York and returned to Beacon Hills, where he set up his own tiny workshop. It wasn't that he'd particularly missed Beacon Hills or anything, but he didn't fit in New York, found it too raucous and too jarring – plus, it wasn't like he could ignore his old house forever. That was another thing his therapist had recommended: go home. Stay, if he wanted. But the goal was to get some closure.
The house was still in tatters, of course, and the rest of the town had barely changed either when Derek got back. Every street sign and mailbox was in its proper place, only it seemed to host an entirely different set of people who Derek barely recognized. A lot of his childhood friends had moved elsewhere for school or better jobs, and the ones who'd stayed Derek didn't care to visit. That suited him fine, though. More than fine. Derek wasn't big on socialising. His workshop was close to the woods and far away from the town centre, where Derek could work in peaceful solitude.
But it wasn't long before he'd hired Scott. Glassblowing was much easier with two sets of hands versus one, and some of the pieces Derek wanted to create couldn't be made well if he didn't have someone to help him. Scott was in his last year of community college and wanted to take a year off to save money before going to veterinary school, and Derek had caught him lurking around the woods multiple times, sometimes walking with his girlfriend, sometimes peeking through the windows of Derek's studio, his body thrumming with the restless, unmotivated energy typical of a young adult on the brink of entering the real world. He hadn't leapt at the chance to be Derek's aide, but had been interested enough to give it a shot. That had been a point in his favor; not a lot of people could stand to be around Derek on a daily basis. Scott complained a lot about Derek's surliness, but at the end of the day still did decent work.
He couldn't call Scott an apprentice because Scott didn't have plans to do this full-time. Scott found it fun, but didn't take as much joy in the work as Derek did and didn't put that much effort in his sketches. Most of his products were based off Derek's old designs, but that was fine too. Derek was in glassblowing for his own needs, not to foster dedication to the craft across generations.
Truthfully, he didn't have what it took to be a master craftsman, anyway. Nor did Scott, not by a long shot. Derek hadn't even considered that Scott had any particular talent that lent to glassblowing in particular, besides his good-natured tenacity and his willingness to shrug off injury, until Derek saw those sketches tossed so carelessly on Scott's desk, bringing something new and vibrant into the usual brick-walled monotony of Derek's den of glass.
Scott comes back from lunch with a cell phone stuck under his ear. "No way, I'm not shitting you! It was green! Like, summer grass green. Uh, like... oh. But it wasn't St. Patrick's Day. Ooooh, right, yeah. Totally. Except it smelled, like – dude. It was gross. Let's just leave it at that." He sees Derek glaring at him and his eyes widen, flitting from Derek's crossed arms to the assorted clutter swamping his desk, and he hastily derails his call. "Wait, shut up, sorry, I gotta go. My boss is right here. Yeah, him. Yeah, see you soon! Call me when you get on the bus, okay? Kay, bye." He hangs up and shoves his phone into his pocket.
"Scott," says Derek.
"Hey," says Scott. "Uh, I was going to clean it up, I swear."
Derek picks one of the sheets on the pile (neatened now, centered in the middle of the desk) and holds it for up Scott's review. It's a drawing of a red vase, tall and gently curled, like a spiral staircase. It's one of Derek's favorite designs of the lot. "Who drew these?" he asks.
"You have a friend who works with glass too?"
"No, he's in graphic design. He's at CalArts." Scott beams. "They're great, aren't they? He wanted a really wicked present for his dad's birthday, so I offered to make him something out of glass, and then suddenly he's sending me all these awesome drawings. By actual mail. He's way talented, right? It's not just me who thinks so."
"No," Derek says. "They're good."
"Hey, while we're on the topic, can I bring him over to the studio sometime, let him see us in action? He's been nagging me about it nonstop since I told him I started working here."
Derek's surprised. "Your friend's in Beacon Hills? You said CalArts."
"Oh! No, he's in Valencia, yeah. But he's coming back tomorrow for a week! For his dad's fiftieth, like I said. That was him on the phone, actually. His name's Stiles."
Stiles, Derek thinks. "How many of his designs are you making?"
Scott shifts on his feet. "Um. I was thinking... one? Because that's all Stiles asked for."
"Hm," says Derek, staring at the drawing in his hand. He feels – sorry, about that. They're amazing designs. They should all be something more than a few strokes of pencil on paper. He looks back up at Scott, who seems to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Derek fleetingly wonders how Scott talks about him to other people. "Bring your friend by," Derek decides. "I'd like to meet him."
Stiles Stilinski, Scott's best friend, grew up in Beacon Hills too, apparently. He's the same age as Scott so he must have been ten to Derek's seventeen when Derek's family died; they wouldn't have attended the same schools. Beacon Hills is a small town though, so that night Derek lies in bed and plumbs through the dusty archives of his childhood memories, trying to remember if he'd ever caught a glimpse of the kid at a town assembly, the supermarket, any lacrosse games. It's a lost cause; he comes up blank. But Derek hadn't known the first thing about Scott McCall when they met either, even though Scott had sort of heard about him. Although that's kind of a given. Derek's story is still being bartered as hot gossip around these parts.
Stiles' father is the sheriff of Beacon Hills, of whom, at least, Derek has some prior recollection. He'd been a deputy still when he'd taken Derek's statement about what Derek had seen when he'd finally managed to break into his burning house, and Derek remembers the soft, sad look in the man's eyes as he'd bent down to squeeze Derek's shoulder and said, "I'm real sorry, son. You don't deserve any of this."
It hadn't made Derek feel any better at the time, but in the coming years, during those long stretches of guilt and grief that were crippling enough to turn any man inside out, he occasionally came back to those words, uttered with such sincerity, You don't deserve any of this, and took a little comfort in knowing that there was someone in the world who believed the best of him.
The sheriff is a good man. Derek wants to know what his only son is like. He's curious – what type of person had produced those impressive artworks?
The next morning, he rises early and makes the fifteen minute drive to his studio without encountering any other cars on the road. It's still dark out, the dawn barely broken, and Derek is eager to get to work today. He lights up the furnace as soon as he gets in, gets his supplies, puts on his gloves and glasses, and goes over to Scott's desk, where Scott has haphazardly left the stack of Stiles' art overnight. Derek is a bit baffled at that; if they'd been his renderings, he'd have wrapped them in individual plastic sheets, clipped them in a binder, then brought them home to use as brainstorming fuel. But it works out for him now – he can borrow some of the designs, see what he can do with them, then get rid of the evidence without Scott noticing.
Not that Derek thinks Scott would mind, but Derek's not a fan of asking permission or explaining himself. It's just easier this way.
He starts with the red vase. It doesn't look terribly complex, just one large piece of glass needed, and the formation of a good shape will all be in the rotation of the iron rod on the marver, the steel block against which Derek spins his glass.
He finishes in forty minutes. It looks nothing like the picture. The neck is too short, its spiral too curved. The shade of red isn't quite right. The sides are too thick.
Frowning, Derek deposits the vase into his annealer furnace to cool off, sticks his punty into the fire to gather new glass, and tries again.
Half an hour later, he has another finished product, and it looks slightly better than the first, but it's still not good enough. Not nearly. The upward curve of Stiles' vase is incredibly subtle, and Derek's is graceless in comparison; it makes the entire vase look like a shoddy imitation.
Attempt number three is just pathetic.
Derek sticks it in the annealer, stares the three failures there lined up in a neat row, growls, and slams the door shut.
By the time Scott shuffles into the studio at 9:40, ten minutes late, there's no trace of any red vases, and the original drawing has been returned carefully to its siblings nested on Scott's desk. Derek grunts a hello from his own worktable at the other end of the floor, and turns back to his sketchbook, which remains, as it has for the past few days, frustratingly blank.
Actually, Derek would be the first person in line to tell you that he's an uncreative curmudgeon. Art had never been his forte in school. His room in his old house had held plain white walls for Derek's entire tenure there, regardless of how many times Laura and his cousins had prodded him to paint it, to give it a little "pizzazz, come on, Derek." Derek doesn't care about pizzazz. He cares about functionality, efficiency. He likes things simple.
That isn't to say that he doesn't appreciate art. His mother had been a talented painter, and Laura had dabbled in photography during college. Derek had been her biggest (and most stoic) fan, but Laura had never considered going pro, saying the job had lost all meaning now that any idiot with a camera and a computer could make magazine-quality photos. She enjoyed it best as a hobby. She used to take a yearly trip up north to Alaska where she volunteered in a conservation group, and there would document wolves in their natural habitat.
The fire had burned up everything, though. All of his mother's paintings, his cousin Claire's sketchbooks, and all of Laura's photos save for one roll of film, which had been banging around Derek's backpack at school that day, reminding Derek in his sister's voice that he needed to get it developed before heading home. (He still hasn't developed it; it sits in its plastic cylinder, in a small box under Derek's bed.) Derek hadn't reacted well to any of this. It was worse because he did actually think their loss was a shame, aesthetically. Derek's own crappy skills aside, he had an eye for good art – or at least, art that pleased him, in a way beyond the assembly line "oh, so cool" sentiments that most people doled out for things they thought were pretty but didn't understand.
Glasswork is fit for Derek in another way: he doesn't have to be some sort of Picasso to do it well. Of course the more creative the glassblower is, the more he can experiment with the medium, make fantastical shapes, animals and flowers and surreal motifs, but normal, bland things like dishware and urns are always in demand, and these Derek does well with a technical precision that he likes to think would have make Laura proud. He's made hundreds of the plainest sculptures imaginable, but they still shine prettily under the light, still boast of a perfect symmetry that pleases the eye. It's nothing incredible, but it's what Derek can do.
But these days, it's not quite enough.
Maybe this is him finally getting bored. He'd wondered, in the early days, if it would ever happen; since he didn't mind routine and wasn't terribly ambitious with his career plans, he'd thought that art ennui would be a long way off, if it came at all. The base purpose of this whole endeavor, from the start, had been to keep himself calm, keep busy, keep himself from getting depressed again, and so as long as he didn't start hating it, Derek had figured boredom was a small blip on his life's radar of worries. But recently, he's been feeling dispirited, a little lazy and a lot tired, so he decided to try some new sculptures, maybe muck his way through to something halfway interesting. A bouquet of lilies. A family of frogs. He made them, and they were all right, but he wasn't satisfied for very long. He wanted to do something fresh, new, uniquely him, with form and consistency and color that were as recognizable as Derek Hale's as his signature stamp.
Three days of on-and-off sketchbook glaring, however, and all Derek has to show for it is an overstuffed recycling bin.
He hadn't even known what kind of "new" he'd been looking for until he saw Stiles' art. Derek wants to create what Stiles has drawn, but more, he wants to create how Stiles has drawn. Something in his own style, with an inimitable flavor. There are glassworkers the world over who become renowned for their take on one particular piece of glass: specialties of platters, pendants, figurines. Derek doesn't have a speciality yet.
He wants one. It's taken him a while to admit, but he does. It'd be... nice.
But he's uninspired. No concrete ideas. When he puts pencil to paper, nothing comes out but directionless squiggles, all wrong. In his head, he can manage some vague feelings for what he wants to reach for, but there's nothing whole. Too many parts in metaphorical shadow to complete a full structure. It's as if he's looking at what he wants through a thick wall of frosted glass, but when he tries to focus on the image, it blurs away, like a smudge of paint, and leaves him in the dark.
He thinks that's the problem. He wants to make something beautiful, but nothing beautiful ever keeps in the depths of Derek's mind.
Scott leaves Stiles' work on his desk overnight again, and Derek doesn't waste the opportunity. He tries building three separate sketches several times (an elliptical plate that curves inward at its minor radius, a mug that has a handle resembling the f-holes of a violin, a simple ball infused with alternating stripes of blue and black), and none of them had seemed too difficult at first sight, but Derek can't perfect a single one. His products turn out too obnoxious: colors too bold, curves too steep; it's like the first weeks of his apprenticeship all over again, when Derek's hands were composed of clumsiness and impatience. Except he's supposed to have gotten past that phase, long ago.
Around ten in the evening, he stops trying, giving in at last to the growling of his stomach. He goes home feeling frustrated and jittery; he knows it's unrealistic to expect himself to perfect Stiles' inventions in one day, but – he'd felt something from those drawings, and for some reason, he'd thought he could.
That night, he has a nightmare about his family. Laura's screams, his mother shouting their names, his father's hands, digging hard into the meat of Derek's bicep, yanking him to the ground, then shoving him forward, the muffled stench of burning things, his cousins wailing, Uncle Peter kicking toppled furniture out of their way, and the smoke, furling inwards, sticking to Derek's eyelashes, sliding up Derek's nose, gripping at his tongue like a cloth, muffling him, suffocating him, muting him, and everything is so hot, and his sister is yelling at him to get out, get out now while you can, DEREK—
He wakes up gasping for air like a drowning man, his sheets soaked through with sweat.
It takes him over twenty minutes of standing by his open window, eyes on the white moon hanging in the cloudless sky, before his heartbeat settles back to normal.
They're just dreams. Derek hadn't actually experienced any of that; he hadn't even been inside the house. The biggest physical injury he'd sustained was a burnt palm, when he'd gripped the knob trying to wrench open the front door, and a few bruises on various body parts, when he'd then tried to smash his way through it. He'd been confused at first: there had been a strong smell of smoke, some of it seeping out under the door, but no fire alarm, no sound at all coming from inside the house. Then he'd noticed that all the windows were shut tight, and painted from the inside with a thick layer of gray, their uniform matte disturbed only by thin streaks and irregular blobs of dark – tracks of finger and handprints, clawing for air.
The firefighters had later called him lucky. If he'd gotten home from lacrosse practice just one hour earlier – well.
But Derek still gets the dreams of burning, sometimes. Sometimes, he swears he can feel lashes of fire, deep in his bones.
A wasted day to a wasted night. Derek doesn't go back to sleep, though he tries for hours. It's a quarter past ten, sunlight blasting through his entire apartment, when he finally hauls himself out of bed and to the bathroom to try to wash the red out of his eyes. He's in a foul mood when he gets to the studio, and it's made worse by seeing Scott missing from his workbench. Instead, there's a stranger, some kid with a large red hoodie and an ugly buzz cut, who's bent over by Derek's metal shelving, poking at some of his recently finished products. Derek watches as the guy picks up an ashtray, testing its weight in his hand.
"Hey!" Derek barks.
The guy jumps. The ashtray falls, crashes on the cement flooring. Splits into three malformed slices.
"Oh shit, whoops, sorry," says the guy, hurriedly kneeling down and reaching for the broken pieces, then thinking better of it with his fingers barely an inch away from jagged glass.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Derek says, advancing on him. "Get the fuck out of my studio."
The boy gapes at him, huge mouth dropping wide in anxiety. "Dude, I didn't hear you come in. You scared me! God, your thing, sorry, look, I'll pay for it if you want—"
"I want you to get out," Derek snaps. "Who are you? Who let you in here?"
"Scott did, but he's gone right now. He forgot his planner at home and went back to get it and he did tell me not to touch anything, but I swear to God I'm not as clumsy as I used to be in high school. You just – you shouldn't have snuck up on me like that, come on."
Stiles, Derek thinks. "You're Scott's friend." His voice must still be sharp, because Stiles winces as he pushes himself to his feet.
"That's me," says Stiles, going for a grin. He holds his hand out. "Stiles Stilinski. I'm guessing you must be Derek, the glass guru?"
Derek stares down at Stiles' offered hand, then even further down at the glass chunks littered at Stiles' feet.
"Clean that up," he says, turning away. "Broom's in the corner. And you're paying double."
"What!" Stiles squawks from behind him. "Double? What's it even worth, anyway? You've got like, ten of them. Dude!"
Derek knuckles viciously at one aching eye. God. So Stiles is a loud-mouthed, clumsy, fuzzy-headed idiot. Figures that the author of the first pieces of art to light some sort of spark within Derek would be the exact type of person he can't stand to be around.
He shouldn't even be surprised at this point. Derek is the most unlucky person he knows.
The ashtray is worth maybe five dollars, maximum. He charges Stiles fifteen. Stiles barters with him for ten full minutes but Derek doesn't budge, and eventually Stiles slaps two bills onto his table, grumbling like a sick cow.
"I hope you realize you're perpetuating the starving artist stereotype," he says, wagging a finger at Derek's face.
"I'm not poor," says Derek.
"I meant me!" Stiles says, appalled. "I'm the starving artist and now I'm short fifteen bucks!"
Derek shrugs. "Then you shouldn't have been touching my stuff."
He's a huge hypocrite. There are probably more of Derek's fingerprints on Stiles' design sketches than Scott's or Stiles', combined.
"You should learn to take some responsibility," says Stiles, still whining. "Since it was you who scared me."
"I know how to take responsibility," mutters Derek, brushing past Stiles to get his gear ready.
"Oh, so you're just a jerk. I see. That makes it cool then."
Derek whips to him; it startles Stiles enough that he almost trips backwards. "Woah—"
"I'm letting you be here right now because you're friends with Scott, and that's about the extent of my goodwill. Don't push me. If you don't want to explain to your best friend why he lost his job today, then I suggest you go sit at Scott's desk and wait for him to come back. Quietly."
Stiles blinks at him, huge eyes frozen. "God, you're even more intense than Scott said," he says, as if he can't help himself, then high-tails it to Scott's desk. Derek holds back a frown, decides he doesn't care enough to ask, and gets back to work.
Only, Stiles stays at the edge of his vision the whole time like a leech, an attention parasite, one that spins in chairs and hums tunelessly and tosses him lingering, considering glances when he thinks Derek won't notice and clicks nonstop at pens and is in a constant state of motion – it's annoying as fuck. Like a fly in the room. Worse, not too long into Derek's determined attempt to ignore all distractions, Stiles pulls out some scrap paper on Scott's desk and starts doodling on it, with quick, even strokes of his wrist. When Derek notices, he nearly lets molten glass drip onto the floor. Stiles, drawing more. Something inside him actually jolts. How weird will it look if Derek just walks over there to watch? He can finish the bowl later.
But he doesn't go. Some unholy mixture of pride, fear and social awkwardness roots Derek to his workstation, demanding that his gaze stay on the bowl forming under his hands. It's just starting to feel a bit nauseating, the two desires warring within him, when Scott returns and Stiles hops up to greet him, abandoning his art. Derek is unaccountably relieved.
"Derek, you charged Stiles fifteen dollars for that ashtray?" Scott yells at him, a moment later. "That's totally extortion!"
"I knew it!" Stiles says. "He ripped me off. Like, sure it was a nice ashtray, but for fifteen – do you know how many chocolate bars I could have bought from the vending machine with that money? Like, fifteen. Derek!" he calls. "You're a con artist!" Then he sniggers at his own joke.
Derek considers throwing himself into the furnace to avoid the rest of this day, but in the end he's too cowardly to do that either.
Stiles manages not to break anything else that morning, but he has a few close calls. Scott shows off some of their finished products and then takes him around the studio, giving an overly simple explanation of all their apparatus (which Derek suspects are actually Scott's best attempts in being informative). Scott makes Stiles stand at a safe distance as he opens up their furnace to reveal the giant vat of liquid glass inside. Stiles is all smiles throughout, huge mouth open wide with pleasure, asking both dumb and not-so-dumb questions, and dropping exclamations like "cool!" and "bro, awesome!" practically every minute. There's a genuineness to him that's kind of hard for Derek to watch. Stiles' sincerity reminds him of the sheriff, and that makes Derek think about his own family. He pretends not to be keeping one ear dogged on their conversation at all times, and works doubly hard to appear busy when both men trudge to Scott's desk to talk about Stiles' designs.
Here their conversation grows abruptly hushed, as if they know Derek's trying to eavesdrop. But that's ridiculous.
"Stiles!" Scott unexpectedly bursts out, sounding distraught.
"Shhh! Dude, don't look at me like that, please," Stiles says. "I know I fucked up. Should I – I could get rid of them, start again."
Derek nearly breaks the piece he's scoring.
"Don't," he hears himself saying, before he can stop himself.
Scott and Stiles turn to him, bewildered. "What?" says Scott.
"Don't get rid of them," Derek clarifies.
"Wait, you," says Stiles, lips seeking out as if trying to form words.
"They're good," Derek scowls, though he's still looking at his marver, so he's scowling more at his candlestick holder than Stiles.
"Uh, wow, okay. Thanks," says Stiles.
Scott makes a short noise, half exasperation and half aggravation. Derek stiffens. What, like he can't give compliments? He's not allowed to be polite to Scott's best friend?
"He knows they're good," Scott says shortly, and tugs Stiles by the arm to pull him back to their private conversation.
Derek doesn't know what to say to that, so he doesn't say anything. If he notices Stiles periodically giving him curious glances over Scott's shoulder, then it's just sensible to pay no heed to them. He's not playing gracious host to Scott's tour guide. Derek isn't gracious. Stiles should have picked that up from their first interaction.
It's nearing noon when Stiles gives Scott a hug and tells him he better head out so Scott can get some professional slacking off done. Scott laughs and hugs back, but his mood is more subdued now, has been ever since they talked about Stiles' art. The pages are now all stuffed in a folder in Stiles' shoulder bag, and Derek would feel sad about that, not getting a chance to use Stiles' blueprints anymore, but if this means that Stiles isn't going to destroy them, then Derek's willing to let it go.
He doesn't expect Stiles to walk over to him to say goodbye, too.
"Thanks for letting me hang out here, man. Sorry again about the ashtray."
Derek glances up at him briefly from his glass. "Not going to harangue me to give you back ten dollars?"
Stiles' eyebrows rise in astonishment. "Would you, if I did?"
And drop back down. "Then I won't bother. You can suffer under the weight of your guilt if I end up dying of starvation at school. Or sugar withdrawal."
"Wow, you're kind of a dick, huh."
Derek smirks. "Go away, Stiles." But he doesn't mean it cruelly.
"Right, okay then. Maybe... see you around?" Stiles sounds hopeful, but also vaguely suspicious, almost as if he's unsure whether or not it would be a good thing to meet Derek again.
Derek grunts. Stiles lifts his hand, maybe to go for another handshake or try for a wave, but it doesn't get very high before he lowers it awkwardly. "Awesome. I guess. Bye!" And he practically runs out.
As soon as the door of the studio is closed, Derek asks Scott, "Is your friend an art thief?"
Scott stares at him in shock. "What? No!"
"Because if he is, you shouldn't let him get away with it."
"He's not!" Scott protests, looking incredulous. "He's the smartest and most creative guy ever, why would he ever need to steal somebody else's work?"
"People more talented than him have done it. Made their careers on it."
Scott's jaw hardens. "Well, Stiles isn't one of those assholes. He's the most willing to – like, in high school, for our science projects, I was literally the worst help ever and he would still give me so much credit even though my ideas were all shit and he'd make me feel really good for trying. He's just – like that."
Derek had gotten that impression too. "Then why would he want to get rid of his designs?"
"Because," Scott says, then snaps his mouth closed, eyebrows bent in confliction. "It's none of your business," he manages, sullenly.
Derek waits a bit, but Scott doesn't volunteer anything more, so Derek says, "Fine. Your fun time's over. I still want three plates done before you go home," and disregards Scott's petulant groan. They spend the rest of the day working in silence, each mired in his own world. Derek's willing to bet they're thinking about the same person, but for vastly different reasons.
When Derek has had enough of work for the day, he succumbs to the impulse that's been nipping at his heels for the entire long afternoon. Scott had clocked off hours ago, so Derek goes to his desk and paws through the disarray until he finds the loose papers Stiles had been doodling on earlier. There are only a few sheets, and they're loosely covered in unfinished shapes, a squiggle here, a zigzag there.
Boring. Nothing at all of value.
Derek lets out a breath, and tries to convince himself that he's not disappointed.
He needs bacon and potatoes and he's running short on eggs, so he takes a trip to the supermarket on the way home. Just as Derek's picking up a basket, he spots Stiles and his father heading out of the store, their cart piled high with grocery bags. Stiles does a double-take when he sees him and Derek finds himself frozen in place.
"Oh! Derek," Stiles says. "Hiya."
"Mr. Hale," says the sheriff. He nods back. "Hope Stiles didn't give you too much trouble this morning."
"Dad, come on, how old am I, really," Stiles says, arms flying.
"The studio's still standing," Derek allows. "I should probably be grateful."
"I'm sorry to agree. It could have been much worse."
"Oh my GOD," says Stiles, barrelling the shopping cart out of the store. "I'm going and I'm leaving you here! Get yourself home!"
"You'd strand your father two days before his big five-oh?"
Stiles calls back, "If he's being totally embarrassing, then yes. Adios!"
The sheriff watches him hurry through the parking lot, clearly amused. "Always nice to have the family back together, isn't it," he says dryly.
"Yeah," Derek says, uncomfortable, and almost flinches at the expression of horror dawning across the sheriff's face.
"Aw, hell, I didn't mean—"
"I'm so incredibly sorry. Stiles' quick mouth – guess you know where he gets it from, now."
"It's fine," Derek repeats, then just to prove he's not offended, he adds, "Your son's a talented artist."
The sheriff smiles, shoulders relaxing, although his face is still flushed red. "Thank you. He'd be very pleased to hear that. He gets discouraged sometimes, since he has these ups and downs at school, but, well," he sighs, "the subjectivity of art. What can you do, right?" He looks at Derek like Derek can empathize.
"People can have different tastes; talent's talent, though," says Derek, shrugging. He feels like it's a good time end to the conversation. "Have a nice evening."
"You too," says the sheriff, and maybe his tone sounds slightly inquisitive, but Derek doesn't think too much on that.
It could have been worse, Derek repeats to himself as he heads to the meat aisle, picking up some ground beef with just barely quivering hands. It's not even noticeable, not unless someone is purposely looking. Good, he thinks. Could have been worse.
The entire next day, Derek keeps track of everything Scott does. The pages he flips to in his planner, the workbook designs he uses, the material he gathers for his next piece while his previous one cools in the annealer. It goes on and on, completely normal and humdrum, and before Derek knows it, Scott's packing up for the day.
"Bye, Derek. See you tomorrow."
"You're not done," says Derek.
Scott spins around. "What? No, I finished those cups. They're in the lehr."
"I meant the gift. For Stiles' dad. His birthday's tomorrow."
"Oh." Scott sort of sways around a bit. "We're not doing that anymore. Stiles decided not to use any of his designs and didn't have time to draw anything else, so. He's getting his dad some fancy whiskey, I think. Although it'll cost him an arm and a leg." Now he's frowning, but he perks up and asks, "How did you know the birthday's tomorrow?"
"Saw the sheriff at the grocery store last night," says Derek. "What was wrong with the designs?"
"Nothing was wrong with the designs! Stiles decided it was better not to use them, that's all."
This is insane. Stiles is just planning to – what, toss them in the garbage?
"If he doesn't want them, give them to me," says Derek. "I'll pay him, even."
Scott's neck cranes out like someone's hit him hard on the back of his head. "What? You want to buy Stiles' sketches?"
"Yes," Derek states flatly. "I think they'd make good products. They'd sell quickly at the market."
"Uh, I guess I could ask him... how much are you willing to give for them?"
"It doesn't matter. Whatever he wants."
"Dude," Scott says, looking scared and impressed. "Hope you don't regret saying that."
Those sketches are what Derek cares about. If he gets to keep them, own them, there's no way he'll regret anything.
Derek regrets it.
"—five million, then," Stiles says gleefully. He's actually cackling. Thank God he's not actually here for Derek to punch; he's tempted, so tempted, to hurl his cell phone at the nearest hard surface just to shut Stiles up.
"Okay, okay, you twisted my arm. Four million, no lower."
"Stiles," Derek grits out.
"Three million and not a penny less!"
"I'm going to hang up now. Call me again when you're ready to be serious."
Derek hangs up, cutting Stiles off mid-squawk.
Two seconds later, his phone buzzes.
"Hello," answers Derek.
"You're very rude, you know that?" Stiles says.
"The man being asked to pay ten million dollars for twenty pencil crayon sketches on normal printer paper by some art school student is rude."
"I went down to three! Oh, I forgot, you have no idea how negotiation works."
Okay. He's officially out of patience. "Look," Derek snaps. "Do you want to sell your stuff, yes or no."
"I – yes," Stiles stutters. "Yes, sure."
"Then give me a reasonable price for them."
"I was just having a little bit of fun," Stiles mopes. "You don't have to be so sour about it. Think of it as payback for overcharging me for that ashtray."
Dear fuck. Derek sighs. "Fine, whatever price you quote, tack on ten extra dollars. Fair?"
Stiles stays quiet for so long that Derek's just about to hiss, all right, fifteen extra, when Stiles blurts, "Why do you want them so badly?"
Rivers of regret. "I—" For a few seconds, he reaches frantically for something to say, anything, while his mouth forms nothing but silence. "I like them," is what he gets out eventually, and it's about as straightforward and, sadly, as accurate as he can get.
It's hard to put into words, why he feels so needy for Stiles' art. It's not like Stiles is the reincarnation of da Vinci or anything. Stiles is just some guy with a good sense of structure and a knack for drawing light reflecting off of smooth surfaces. And yet, when Derek thinks of Stiles' art, thinks about it getting left somewhere, forgotten and unused, it makes something inside him swell up, choking his air supply. He wants those designs to be made. He wants to be the one to make them. He wants to bring them to life with his own two hands, introduce them to the world, let them be appreciated for the beauty that they are. Living can be such an ugly process; Derek would count it as a win if he brought joy into even one person's life with Stiles' creations.
"They should be real. Touchable. Solid. That's what they were made to be," Derek's mouth continues, even though most of his brain is still stuck in paralysis. "They shouldn't be left in 2D. Because then time passes, shit happens and they'd fade away, become dust. And they – they deserve better."
His hand is shaking; his cell phone matches the trembles against his ear. In the back of his mind, he can feel that thickening, stifled silence of dread, creeping through him with its muting vines.
"Oh," Stiles is saying. His voice is low, awed. "That's – no one's ever thought that before about my—"
"Forget it," Derek interrupts. "Sorry. This was a bad idea. I have to go." He clicks off from the call just as the air bails on him and he's forced to take in huge, wracking breaths that dizzy his head and keep his heart beating frantically, which is what he wants – does he want that? – he's not sure. He drops the phone and his fumbles down to his chair, bending over and lowering his forehead on his hands.
There's no fire here. Derek's fine.
Still, it feels like hours before he can breathe easy, until his lungs finally remember that Derek's room is full of plenty of oxygen, and is completely free of ash.
He doesn't know what it is about Stiles' art that appeals to him so much. It's just plates, vases, cups, paperweight sculptures – good illustrations, but otherwise all perfectly ordinary glassware, nothing stunningly innovative. Why do his sketches compel Derek to build them? What attracts someone to something, anyway? Why was Laura's favorite color bright purple when the same color gave Derek headaches?
The bedtime stories his father used to read when Derek was a child always had these morals about following your heart. And it's cheesy, especially since Derek is admittedly one of the most cynical and miserable assholes anyone can meet, but he does sort of still hold some belief in the power of the heart. It's neither an articulate nor mature way to describe why he likes Stiles' work, but he doesn't have a lot of alternatives. Scientists talk about the right side of the brain being the one that determines a person's artistic ability and philosophers talk about the soul, but Derek prefers sticking to things he can consciously experience with his physical senses. Touch, smell, vision. Gut feeling. An unwilling tug in his chest, an unexpected thump of his heartbeat. These events mean something to Derek, tell him that what he's reacting to holds significance, for whatever reason. Something about Stiles' designs snagged a corresponding something within Derek, and that's all there is to it.
Derek wants them badly because he'd resonated with them. They were things that Derek could envision decorating a house, maybe his house. The sketches had called up Derek's concepts of serenity and trust and comfort and happiness. And Derek wants a home full of that, one day.
Too bad he'll never lay eyes on them again.
The next morning, the first thing Scott does is drop a plain brown folder on Derek's desk, right over Derek's meagrely-filled sketchbook. Derek recognizes it right away; he's almost afraid to open it up, but his hands are already moving without his consent, greedy, eager, pushing away the elastic and reaching inside to pull out sheets of paper adorned with pictures already so familiar by this point that Derek has them half-memorized.
"How much did he want?" Derek asks, and his voice is hoarse.
Scott shakes his head, smiling; his forehead is crinkled, he looks bemused. "He said no charge."
Derek gives Scott the rest of the day off. Scott's overjoyed, and immediately drives off to Stiles' house, presumably to help with the birthday preparations. But Derek hadn't done it as a favor to Scott.
He spends eight straight hours working with his glass, swirling it and stretching it and layering it, spinning, sanding, chipping – all of this would be much easier and faster with Scott's help, but for these, Derek would rather work alone. It's therapeutic. He can feel the stress melting off him as he goes back and forth from furnace to bench, bad thoughts and lingering traces of invisible soot sweated out by the heat of the fire, the directed movements of his body. He doesn't even feel angry about the end results not looking up to par to Stiles' drawings, because now he's got all the time in the world to improve, to perfect his techniques.
He orders pizza for dinner and eats it in the woods, watching the sunset through the stripes of trees.
Afterwards, he has enough energy left to finish one more piece, a translucent, frosted glass tray in the shape of a trillium flower with three white, oblong petals alternating with three pale green leaves. This is his third attempt at it, and to Derek's surprise, it actually turns out passably similar to its image. It's very pretty. And Derek doesn't toss that word around for just anything.
He hesitates before putting it into the annealer, letting himself examine it for a more few congealed, satisfied minutes. He feels prouder of himself than he remembers having been in a long, long time.
At home, he's still thrumming low on the feeling of doing well; it wears off slowly and Derek waits it out, sitting at the edge of his bed, cell phone in hand. The best part is that there are still nineteen more creations waiting for him to tackle.
Twenty minutes of internal debate later and he texts two words to Stiles' number: Thank you.
Stiles' reply is quick. yw. glad you like them
Derek is halfway into bed before he realizes he's smiling.
A new day brings a persistent guest.
The door to the studio bangs open and Derek can tell it's Stiles just from the medley of noises accompanying him. "Hey! Sourface!" Stiles hollers. "Anyone home?"
Insulting. He should ignore that.
"If you don't come out I'll trash this place!"
"What?" Derek snarls. He leans out from the back of the furnace, where he was tending the fire.
Stiles strides inside, with Scott in tow. They're holding containers of Tupperware.
"We brought you leftovers!" grins Stiles.
Derek sighs, but goes over anyway to investigate.
There are a lot of leftovers: pasta ("It's Mrs. McCall's homemade sauce; I swear to God there's crack in that shit"), half a steak ("My dad was planning to eat that today, but it's bad for his health, you know, so I'm glad I had the excuse of pawning it off to you"), Mexican bean salad ("This is actually because of an inside joke about my childhood which you will never need to know"), garlic bread ("Kinda hard now, but since you're so big on the snarling thing I figured your teeth could handle it"), and one thick slice of black forest cake, practically melting butter ("Anyway, if you die from it, it'd be a good way to go, that's all I'm saying").
Derek tears off a mouthful of the bread and chews it slowly, stacking up the rest of the containers and placing them by his bag under his desk. "It's good," he says. "Thanks."
Apparently, he's spending the day. He settles in at Scott's desk and keeps up a mile a minute conversation with him while Scott busies himself with work. Derek would call them out on that, tell Stiles to shut up so Scott can concentrate and not burn himself, but it's obvious that Stiles and Scott share that seamless, natural camaraderie only afforded to life-long friends; Stiles' chatter seems to be no more distracting to Scott as is the ticking of the studio's clock or the passing calls of woodland birds. It's much harder for Derek to deal with, but, oddly, he bites his tongue and just tolerates it. Something about feeling that he owes Stiles a courtesy for the art and the food. It makes him feel vaguely on edge, but he keeps his unease swallowed. Only when Derek waves Scott over to help with some of the more complicated techniques does the studio finally quiet down, and when Derek notices Stiles grabbing a sketchbook from his bag, Derek's body can't help but tighten up briefly in anticipation.
It's nothing to get excited over, of course. Stiles could be drawing anything, and whatever he does, there's no reason for him to show Derek.
At lunch, Scott gets a phone call from his girlfriend and takes off faster than a cheetah on steroids to meet up with her. He's out the door, shouting something about being back soon, barely remembering to shuck off his gloves and goggles, before Derek can even yell at him that they have some commissions to fill that afternoon that he can't finish alone. He yells it anyway, but by then the revving of Scott's car is already drowning out his voice.
"I can help," offers Stiles.
"I'll sub for Scott," Stiles says.
Derek can think of so many things that would go wrong with that. "You don't have any training. You're clumsy. You're as skinny as a twig. I don't think you would provide much help."
"Better than no help at all?" Stiles says. "And, hey, I'm lithe, okay."
Derek doesn't answer. He'll take his chances waiting for Scott to come back.
Except Scott doesn't come back. He doesn't pick up his phone, either, and Derek has no idea where he is. Great.
"What the hell is he thinking?" Derek asks, nearing the end of his rope. He's done all his own work for the day and if he doesn't get started on those special orders now, they won't be complete for weekend pick-up. "It's been over two hours. I'm going to fire him."
"I doubt he's even noticed." Stiles is gnawing on a pencil, cross-legged on the ground, earbud wires leading into the pocket of his jeans. One of his feet is thumping on the ground like a nervous tic. Derek has yet to see the guy sit in the same position for over fifteen minutes. "I'm telling you, dude, Allison is like this disease for him. Once he's focused on her, his brain has no room for anything else. It's ridiculous. Once he passed an entire lunch with me daydreaming about her and I ate 95 percent of his food without his noticing."
"It's fucking annoying. He has other responsibilities."
Stiles holds up his hands. "Hey, preaching to the choir, bro. But cut him a little slack, okay? He hasn't seen her much lately since Allison's dad got all supreme leader on her and ordered her to break up with him. Not that it worked, but yeah. They've got to be sneaky about it, so they don't get to hang out a lot anymore. It makes Scott super keen on his Allison time." Stiles wiggles his fingers as he says it, leaving no doubt as to what the two of them are doing right now. Scott's always been a bit of a hopeless case in regards to his girlfriend, to the point that it's slightly revolting, but he's never let it actively hinder his work before. Derek rubs his forehead. He doesn't want to deal with this. He wants to make more of Stiles' designs.
"Okay, fine," he says, coming to a decision. "Come here."
Stiles trips to his feet. "What? Why?"
"You offered to help, didn't you?" Derek snaps. "So come over here and help me."
"You sure?" Stiles asks warily.
Derek smiles grimly. "If you can't take the heat, get the hell out of my studio."
"Dude, I'm helping. No need to resort to butchering cheesy idioms."
The commission is a two-set of large, round vases with tapered necks, not too different from Christmas tree baubles, only ten times the size. Because of that, though, it's a two person job: one person is needed to keep an eye on the composition of the bulb, and another to blow air. There's no way that Derek is going to let Stiles handle rotating the iron pipe, so Stiles will have to do the blowing. Derek considers the size of Stiles' mouth, thinks about the force of the guy's lungs. This – might end very badly.
"Blow slowly into the pipe," he explains, letting Stiles familiarize himself with an unused iron. "Very slowly at first, and don't use a lot of air. The first gather of glass just needs to have some sort of bubble in it so we can make it bigger later. But when you blow, it takes a second for the bubble to form fully because of the viscosity of the glass. So let loose a breath, then stick your thumb onto the end of the pipe, and wait for my okay. Then we'll gather another layer of glass, and go again, but with more air this time. Keep your hands loose around the pipe, since I'll be controlling the rotation. If I say more, blow more and blow faster. If I say less, ease up a bit. Got that?"
"Uh. Sure. Why not," says Stiles, blinking quickly.
Derek rolls his eyes. "We'll do a test run first, so you can get used to the speed. Glasswork is all about timing everything so you can shape the glass before it cools. Any specific questions?"
"Yeah, how many blowjob jokes do you have to suffer through in this profession?"
"Not for me to gauge," Derek deadpans. "How many do you hurl at Scott per day?"
"Touché. And the answer is... about three. Four. Well, no more than six."
Derek walks to him and holds a hand in front of Stiles' face. "Blow," he says.
Stiles stares. "What?"
"I need to test your lung capacity and breathing pressure. Blow on my hand."
"This is... extremely awkward, but okay." Stiles purses his lips together, and lets loose a puff of air onto Derek's palm.
Derek raises an eyebrow. That was pathetic. Even Stiles knows it, because he immediately goes red. "I know that sucked, sorry, but you're making me nervous, with your hand in my face and your scary eyebrows and stuff. It sort of feels like you're about to slap me."
Okay, fine. Derek grabs one of Stiles' wrists and brings the hand to his own face, then blows a stream of air in the center of Stiles' palm at the exact speed and strength he needs for the project.
Stiles gives a full body shudder. Huh.
"Got it?" asks Derek.
"Yep, totally, yep," Stiles coughs, voice cracking.
Derek snorts. "Let's get started, then. Oh, and take off your sweatshirt."
"What?" Stiles squeaks.
Derek can't resist smirking. "We'll be getting hot," he says, and graciously pretends he doesn't hear Stiles' audible swallow.
It's not a disaster. Derek gives a demo and they end up doing three test trials because Stiles accidentally drops the blowing iron onto the ground the first time, but otherwise, he's competent enough. A fast learner (much faster than Scott had been). He has good intuition, understanding the general direction Derek's taking before Derek even explains it. He asks about a billion questions, of which Derek answers only a few, which makes Stiles frown; he doesn't seem to take to blind instruction very well, but he's smart and quick enough that his own ideas match well to what Derek wants him to do anyway. They get into a few shouting matches throughout the process, but those are resolved quickly – Stiles always gives in whenever Derek threatens him with something sharp.
All in all, could have been worse. Stiles doesn't faint from heat exhaustion, doesn't kill himself. Studio's still standing. Et cetera.
The finished products are adequate, too. Either Derek must have amazing educational abilities (unlikely) or Stiles must have a lucky touch (more unlikely), but the bulbs are smooth, have an excellent spherical shape, and glisten beautifully under the light, like sunbeams splashed across a tranquil lake. They're not quite up to Derek's usual standards for himself, but without a studious eye, they're as good as. Obviously everything would have gone better, more smoothly, had it been Scott here, but Stiles didn't ruin anything – Derek will take what he can get.
When Derek gives the final nod of approval, picking up the second vase with his tongs and taking it to the annealer, he just barely catches a glance of Stiles heaving a huge sigh outwards, tension seeming to, all at once, drop off his body like a shed skin. He cracks his neck, jumps on his toes a few times. Wiggles his arms as if he were a dog shaking off water. His demeanor is completely different from what it's been for the past two and some hours, where he's been noticeably conservative with his movements, brown eyes large and focused, the angular lines of his limbs caught in tight reserve.
He's been holding himself in strict control all this time, Derek realizes. Huh. He'd wondered why there had been so few injuries accrued on Stiles' part, even though he's thankful for that.
Derek pushes the door to the lehr closed and turns around. Stiles is grinning at him.
"So, that was awesome, can I just say that? It was awesome. The glass, man, it was alive! Like, in science class you always learn that glass is a liquid, just super super slow-moving, but seeing it actually get soft and be manipulated like we were doing, it was just, wow. And at the beginning the shape looks like nothing you expect it to but then you kept on going and I could see the final shape forming! It was surreal, man. It's like magic."
Derek feels the corners of his lips twitch up. "Glad you think so."
"You should hire me to work here! I have a crazy knack for this."
"I wouldn't go that far," says Derek. "But you did all right. Better than I expected."
"I guess I should take that as a huge compliment, coming from you?"
Stiles laughs. His lips are very red, a little swollen from all the blowing.
Blowjob jokes, Derek thinks, and jerks his gaze away.
They're sharing the piece of leftover cake ("I can't believe you'd want to give up even a single bite of this slice of heaven, but holy shit, I'm not complaining. Give me that.") and Stiles is mid-rant about a Professor Morrell who's apparently a complete slave-driver when Scott bursts into the studio, wind-swept and terrified.
"I'm sorry!!" he yells at everything. "I totally forgot about the order! I'll stay late to make it up, I swear, sorry Derek, it just slipped my mind and—" He looks around. Spots Derek and Stiles by Derek's desk, plastic forks frozen in their hands. "Uh," Scott fumbles. "What's up, guys?"
"You're late," says Derek.
"Yeah." Scott ducks his head. "I was with Allison, and lost track of time. I didn't mean to, I saw all your missed calls afterwards and completely flipped. I'm totally sorry."
"Do it again and you're gone," says Derek.
Scott winces. "Yeah."
Derek nods. "You can clean the entire studio as punishment." He taps the plastic container Stiles is holding. "But first have some cake."
Scott, broom over his shoulder, inspects the two vases in the annealer and looks back and forth from them to Stiles and Derek, clearly stunned.
"What," Stiles teases, "can't believe ol' Stilinski has a few hidden talents up his sleeve?"
"No, not that," Scott says. "Can't believe you two would make such a good team."
Derek blinks. He hadn't either, come to think of it. And looking at Stiles' softly astonished expression, he evidently makes three.
Okay, so thinking back on it later, the double-entrendres he'd made for Stiles were stupid and childish, completely corny. Derek hadn't even meant to say them, not really. He'd just gotten caught up in the moment of teasing Stiles. Stiles has outrageous reactions to things, turning his full-body flails into Charlie Chaplin levels of artistry. It's not like Derek intends to act on anything. He hasn't had a serious partner in forever, and Derek doesn't miss it. The first and only monogamous relationship he'd had ended the worst way possible, and he's in no rush to rejoin the dating game. Judging from how Stiles had freaked out at Derek's lame attempts at innuendo, Stiles is at least somewhat attracted to Derek, but Stiles is going off of the same thing that everyone attracted to Derek first sees: Derek's face and body. It's a grave mistake. Derek is harsh and abrasive on the inside, and it doesn't take much to bring Derek's plethora of personality problems to the fore. It's best for everyone to dig only minimally past Derek's outer shell, not look beyond skin deep.
The jokes are harmless, though. Stiles is impishly attractive, and he's outgoing, approachable; Derek can't imagine him being short on prospects at college. He's not going to take Derek seriously. And if Stiles has a tiny crush on Derek, so what. He'll be going back to L.A. soon, and they'll be out of each other's lives until the next time Stiles returns to Beacon Hills.
Although having him around has been... interesting. Derek really hadn't expected to work so well with Stiles. He probably wouldn't mind working together again sometime.
On Stiles' last day in Beacon Hills until CalArts' summer vacation, Scott spends the morning in a sickening mope. If he hadn't blown off that full afternoon with Allison, Derek would actually consider letting him go a couple of hours early, so that he could spend it with his best friend before Stiles takes the evening bus back to L.A. As it is, Scott's tethered to his job, helping Derek load the glassware in the van at a sluggish pace, the moroseness practically oozing from him in buckets. It's very high school. Derek's clueless about best-friendship in general: is it weird for Scott to be so dependent on Stiles?
"I'm just – I get worried about him, sometimes!" Scott says defensively, after Derek finally snaps at him to stop being a whiny bitch about it. Stiles is still going to be in the same fucking state. They've survived the past two years of Stiles at CalArts without their relationship deteriorating. Derek doesn't get what the big deal is.
"Worry about him after we've set up the tent," says Derek, carefully stacking in a box of nine ashtrays. "Get me some more bubble wrap."
Saturdays at the Farmer's Market are a chaotic spectacle. There's not a lot to do in small-town Beacon Hills on the best of days, so the weekend markets during the spring, summer and fall seasons bring the residents out in droves, eager for a venue where they can shop, eat, socialize, and catch up on the gossip that's accumulated throughout the week. Saturdays especially are the busiest, since many people go to church on Sunday mornings, and Derek has long since learned to keep a well-stocked bottle of aspirin in his pocket for emergencies. Even before the fire, he'd had a tough time managing huge crowds, but now, Derek has delegated himself as the man who stays near the back of the tent, while Scott handles the front tables with his easy laugh and supposedly charming smile. Unfortunately, it only serves to exacerbate Derek's reputation around town as the traumatized, broody artist – which is not exactly false, so Derek resigned himself to it long ago. At least with most of the day spent sitting around, he gets some sketching time in.
Today, the sellers, farmers and artisans alike, are already working at full steam by the time Derek and Scott start setting up at their usual stand. It's a beautiful spring day, the air fresh with the temptation of summer, the leaves of the trees in the edging park in vibrant bloom, and there isn't a single cloud in the periwinkle blue sky. It's promising to be hectic, with the annual town pie-baking contest happening at noon in the booths across the field, and Derek anticipates he'll sell a good portion of his stock before the market closes at six.
He's happy about that. Because of the insurance settlements for his family, Derek would be financially stable even if he never earned another penny of income for the rest of his natural life, but he likes the feeling of having made something that someone else likes enough to take home with them and keep.
"Yo, are those—" Scott starts, staring at the objects Derek's meticulously unwrapping from a specially padded box.
Derek doesn't need to reply to that. Scott has eyes.
The past three days, Derek has been putting in fifteen-hour shifts at the studio, only going home to sleep and shower – he thinks he could have gone without those too, if he'd really needed to, but convinced himself he wasn't that much of a masochist. Every day, after Scott leaves, Derek stops his regularly scheduled projects and starts on his own, sometimes not even breaking to eat dinner. It's been a non-stop, exhaustive, manic parade of work, but the final results have been more than worth it: six of Stiles' designs, completed to Derek's stringent approval, ready for unveiling. He has two trays, including the white trillium; two vases, though neither are the red spiraling one (Derek still can't form its curve to his satisfaction); and two versions of the f-hole cup, one in white, and one streaked with shades of brown like a real violin.
"Wow," Scott marvels. "Derek, these are really amazing. I mean, really amazing. Does Stiles know you did all these?"
"No," says Derek. He and Stiles have texted a few times since they last saw each other, but it's always Stiles asking about glassblowing: if Derek's ever made a bong, what would happen if he dipped a finger into melted glass, can Derek blow a glass bubble within a glass bubble like you can with real bubbles (this one had taken some moments for Derek to parse out). Some questions are legitimately valid while others are plain exasperating, but regardless, Derek answers succinctly, Stiles replies thx!, and they go on with their respective lives. The first time Derek had finished one of Stiles' designs, he'd debated sending some photos to Stiles' phone, but he'd never gotten further than snapping the pictures and saving them to a folder named "S". It's not exactly that Derek is scared of Stiles' appraisal, but he finds himself unable to deal with the thought of any type of response from Stiles, be it delight or pride or disappointment. Stiles' reaction will necessitate a subsequent reaction from Derek, which currently causes a yawning chasm to gape wide within Derek's chest. It's stressful and troublesome and irrational and Derek has so, so many issues he needs to get over.
"Well, at least he'll see them today!" Scott says encouragingly.
"What," says Derek.
"Oh, he's stopping by later. His dad always enters the pie competition, but Stiles bakes it. Actually, they won a few times a long time ago, with Stiles' mom, but now I think they do it more out of tradition than anything else."
Derek grunts, and unloads the rest of Stiles' designs with rubbery fingers. Then he goes straight to his lawn chair because he needs to sit down.
Twice, he finds himself on his feet, hands reaching out to repack the six glass pieces, but something always holds him back. The image of Stiles' face when he walks by, grinning a mile wide for Scott, then brown eyes alighting on their white-clothed table, and seeing the things he drew made real, just like in a fairy tale. Would Stiles gasp? Would he scream? Would he flail? Derek wants to know.
But then Derek sells four of the six pieces within the next two hours, so the decision is taken out of his hands anyway. He's wrapping up the fifth (the white mug, bought by Mrs. Greenberg for her niece's graduation) when he hears Stiles' familiar voice, yelling Scott's name from a mile away.
"DUDE, THERE'S A FOOD TRUCK SELLING FRIED ICE CREAM! GET OVER HERE." He's windmilling his arms in a huge arc, but people walking past barely even give him a second glance as they expertly navigate around him.
Scott turns around with breakneck speed to give Derek his most beseeching puppy eyes. Jesus.
"I'm not your mom," says Derek, disgusted. "Eat what you want."
"No, but the booth—"
"FRIED ICE CREAM ON A STICK! SCOTT! ON A STICK!"
"Just go," Derek groans, trying to mask his relief that Stiles won't be coming over here.
Scott doesn't notice. "Thanks Derek!" he shouts, dashing away.
Derek turns back to Mrs. Greenberg. "Sorry about that. The blue tissue paper, you said?"
"Yes please, dear," she smiles. "I must say, Derek, it's very nice to see you enjoying yourself. Usually you're so... well, down, you know?"
"I," says Derek. "Excuse me?"
Mrs. Greenberg laughs self-consciously. "Yikes, I'm so sorry, I must sound so nosy. But we – as in, not just me, a bunch of others too – love your work, Derek, but you're so hard on yourself. We'd like to see you smile more often! You so rarely smile, you know? But today you seem in very good spirits!"
"Oh," says Derek, when he means, What?
"You can really tell when an artist is excited about his work," says Mrs. Greenberg, taking the gift bag that Derek, on autopilot, offers her. "Thank you! Take care, dear."
Derek mulls on that. He's sure he's been excited about his work before, but – Stiles' stuff had been a challenge; Derek hadn't known he could do it, just that he wanted to do it. But it had caused a noticeable change in his bearing? He absently watches Mrs. Greenberg meander away to visit some nearby stalls, and completely misses it when Stiles sidles up to his booth.
"Hey, I got you one too," says Stiles, and Derek whips around to see him holding out a small paper cup, in it a rounded ball of orange dough and a tiny plastic fork. "They're really good for a precursor to diabetes. Scott's macking on Allison behind the used book tent, by the way. Eurgh." He pulls a face. "I suddenly feel very prepubescent for saying that word. Gross."
Derek takes the cup, hesitantly, without a word. If Stiles minds, he doesn't show it. For an instant, Derek thinks Stiles won't bother examining the table at all, but then Stiles' gaze is lowering – his eyes widen, and Derek's stomach plummets.
"Is that—" Stiles says, breathless.
"Yeah," Derek says, fighting the constriction of his own throat. He stands his ground.
It's the white trillium tray. The only piece left from the Stiles Collection.
Stiles grabs it, runs his hands all around it, holds it up to the sun, turns it over and sticks it right under his nose to inspect every inch; Derek holds his cup of melting ice cream and batter, and waits for his verdict.
"Dude," Stiles says. His voice is strangled. His eyes are a little too round for comfort. "Derek."
"Yeah," says Derek. He can't think of anything else.
Last night, he'd had a long argument with himself. He'd been packing up the six pieces in their box and he'd frozen up midway, all of a sudden gripped with an impetus to put them all back, keep them away from the greedy eyes of unworthy strangers, let them stay safe under Derek's care, where they could be appreciated in the way they deserved. It was an idiotic notion – of course the point of making them was to sell them, but – Derek was attached. Overly attached. He had put a lot of work into them, and Stiles had, too. He didn't want to see them go.
But he had the original sketches. That Derek could always make more pieces whenever he wanted was a motivating factor to sell these ones he had. What had tipped the scale, though, was Derek's pride. They were works of art. Derek had wanted to share. Show everyone that he had made these things. Derek Hale, broken man, creator of beauty.
Stiles puts the dish back down carefully, so carefully.
"It's really nice," he says. "It's perfect. Um. Thank you." The smile that grows on his face is one Derek hasn't seen before: small, bashful, brimming with – something.
"There were more," Derek says abruptly. "Five more, other ones. They sold fast."
"Oh," Stiles croaks. "Did you – I mean, I'm sorry I didn't get to see them."
Derek shoves into his pocket for his phone. He doesn't know what's controlling his body right now, but he can't stop himself. "Here. I took pictures."
"Oh," Stiles says again, thumbing through the folder. His smile widens, until it's splitting his face, scrunching his cheeks. He peeks a glance up at Derek through his eyelashes; Derek's heart thumps once, distinctly loud, in the hollow of his chest. Shit.
"Hey!" Stiles grins. "Guess this means I'm a professional now, too."
"Don't let it get to you," Derek says. "It probably won't keep up." Stiles flips him off, but he's laughing, pleased with either himself or Derek, maybe both. When Stiles is happy, he broadcasts it like electromagnetic waves: it hits everything, lighting up every nook and cranny, rebounding off and sending his joy propagating. Derek catches himself with an absurd thought of licking the cheer off Stiles' lips – what would it taste like?
"I sort of really like this," Stiles continues, and Derek knows he means the tray, but. "How much do you want for it?"
"You can—" have it for free, Derek is about to say. You can have it for free because they're already yours, but he's cut off.
"Hey, buddy," Jackson Whittemore says, snapping his fingers for Derek's attention. "How much for that plate? The white and green one." He points to the trillium dish.
Stiles jerks, steps slightly away.
Derek waits a beat. "A hundred dollars," he says, and Stiles' mouth drops open.
"You've got to be kidding me, Hale," says Jackson in disbelief. "That puny thing's worth one hundred bucks? What's it made out of, ivory?"
"I sell glassware," snaps Derek. "It's worth a lot because it's a special design."
Jackson narrows his eyes. "Is that so. It'll appreciate?"
"Of course," Derek smiles, showing teeth. His grin slips a bit when Jackson picks up the tray and turns it in his hands, feeling its polish.
"How about seventy-five?" Jackson asks.
"How about one fifty," Derek replies. Stiles makes a choking sound. Derek ignores him.
"This – this isn't how bartering works," Stiles protests weakly.
"Shut up, Stiles," says Derek, in unison with Jackson's "Beat it, Stilinski." That just makes Derek more pissed off. He doesn't actually want Jackson to buy the tray. But Jackson's starting to get that determined gleam in his eye that means he's out get whatever he wants, or die trying. Derek had first heard about it from Scott's mouth, when he'd been complaining about how Jackson used to hit on Allison when their relationship had been going through a rough patch, and Derek had seen the look himself one night when attending Beacon Hill Elementary School's championship lacrosse game, where Jackson and Scott were assistant coaches. Jackson had been whispering to the kids to body check their opponents to get them riled up and uncoordinated with anger – it was the worst kind of game play, but Beacon Hills had emerged as victor, so Derek couldn't even call Jackson out on being a bad coach. He's not even sure Jackson would be fazed if Derek did; the asshole had grown up too accustomed to getting his way.
"Ninety, then," says Jackson slowly, and it's clear his temper is rising. "I'm not going any higher. I don't believe this thing's worth a hundred dollars."
"Then don't buy it," shrugs Derek. "I'll sell it full price to someone else."
Jackson clenches his jaw. His right eyebrow twitches. "Ninety-five."
"He'll take it!" Stiles shouts, slapping Derek's shoulder. "Derek says yes. Ninety-five sounds great. Fantastic, even. Thank youuu, Jackson."
Derek glares at Stiles, but Stiles ducks under the table, emerges out the other side, grabs the trillium dish, and bundles it up messily in the top sheet of Derek's stack of tissue paper. He presents the lumpy blue cocoon to Jackson, who curls his lip snidely and grabs it, shoving a set of bills into Stiles' hands. Jackson stalks away after tossing them another disdainful glower, and Stiles cranes his neck further and further until he can see Jackson round the corner of the last booth, then he turns to Derek with an astounded expression.
"Are you fucking crazy?" he demands, slapping the money down into Derek's deposit box.
"Why would I be," Derek scowls.
"A hundred dollars? Derek, I know your materials aren't that fucking expensive, I've been researching. And dude, I barely spent like, fifteen minutes on that sketch, do you even know how hi—" he chokes, restarts. "Highlighting it was just to see the thing in 3D? You don't need to charge so much for it!"
Derek says nothing, looking away. Stiles gapes at him.
"Oh my God, you can't be serious," Stiles says. His head darts from side to side, scanning their tent, as if he's paranoid of being overheard. He lowers his voice to a fraught whisper. "What was the original price?"
Derek shrugs. "Fifteen," he admits grudgingly, and Stiles bursts out laughing.
The ice cream's wasted.
Scott comes back after a while, smiling goofily and with his hair mussed, and Stiles teases him until Derek barks at them to grow up.
"Don't you have a pie contest to prepare for?" Derek says, only slightly patronizingly. Stiles is in Scott's chair, scribbling on his sketchpad, which, of course, is tilted up in his lap, so Derek can't see what's on it without it being utterly obvious he's peeking.
"Soon," says Stiles. "Meanwhile, I want to soak up the rest of my time with my best friend Scotty here. Cool with you, Scott?"
"Cool with me, bro," Scott grins, wedging himself into the seat until he and Stiles are stuck together closer than conjoined twins, which neither seems to mind. "Are you going to save me a slice of pie?"
"It's strawberry-rhubarb-anise-chai, though," recites Stiles, like that's an perfectly common flavor for pie. "Aren't you allergic to anise?"
"Am I?" Scott asks, surprised.
"Pretty sure. Remember Callie Simpson's cookies back in sixth grade?"
"Oohh. Yeah I do. Yes, I'm allergic."
Slow minutes pass by like that, Scott and Stiles yammering in the back of the tent while Derek loiters at its front with his best attempt at not being awkward. The sun rises higher in the blue sky, brightening everything into a sense of ripeness and potential, and Derek breathes deeply, taking in the smells of all varieties of food, cooking in nearby stalls. He sells another few pieces, but the crowd has died off a little now, with everyone congregating to the center field where the pie competition is due to take place.
"Okay dude, I should go make my grand entrance before my dad starts getting asked about the recipe," Stiles says, squeezing out from the clutches of the chair and tucking his sketchbook into his shoulder bag. "We actually have a chance of winning this year, now that Finstock's out of commission with his broken arm. Hah."
"Good luck!" chirps Scott.
"See you later," says Stiles. "Bye, sourface." He ducks underneath the table again, even though there's a whole side of the tent left open as an exit, and rises to his feet right under the nose of Chris Argent.
"Whuh," says Stiles, while Derek stiffens, spine straightening like a whip. "Heeey, Mr. Argent."
"Hello, Stiles," says Chris. "Scott. Derek."
"Hi, Chris," Scott mutters, probably trying for polite but ending up sounding despondent.
"How's the business going, Derek?" Chris says, nodding at Derek's table.
"Fine," says Derek.
"Scott's been doing all right, under your employment?"
"He's a better man than most," says Derek.
Chris forces a smile. "How diplomatic of you, Derek. I wasn't being sarcastic, you know. I do like to hear that you're... integrating well back in Beacon Hills."
"What do you want, Chris?" The Argents never visit Derek's tent for any reason, and that's the way that they both prefer it.
"I was wondering if any of you," Chris says, pointedly looking past Derek to Scott, who practically shrinks backwards in his chair, "have seen my daughter around."
"Uh," says Scott. "No?"
"We've been here for a while, Mr. Argent," Stiles interrupts hurriedly. "I think I saw Allison in line at the portapotties a while back, but I didn't stop to talk because – well, it's a bad place to start a conversation. Maybe she went to the pie contest early to save you a seat? I hear Mrs. Argent's entering this year! That's cool, right?"
"Yes," Chris says dubiously. "She made lemon meringue." His brows draw in and he's about to say something else when Stiles interrupts again, derailing him.
"Sounds freaking delicious," Stiles enthuses. "Come on, then, I'm just about to head there myself. My dad, you know, he puts his name on the pie because we're not above using a little bit of subconscious nudging of the authority figure persuasion, if you know what I mean, but it's me who bakes it. I remember once when I was in high school we tried doing it together, but we got into a huge fight and I ended up grounded for two weeks, but in hindsight, I totally deserved it. Man, kids, huh, how do you even deal with them?" Stiles swans his arms out in an expansive wow-I-don't-know gesture.
Chris says, "It's not an easy job, being a parent," and something loosens in the rigid set of his shoulders. He levels one more heavy, threatening look at Scott before he dips his head to Derek. "Have a good day, gentlemen." He follows Stiles down the grass path, Stiles still jabbering away, and then they're out of sight.
"Oh my God, I thought he was going to kill me," huffs Scott.
"I would have killed him first," grits out Derek, and Scott knows better than to assume it's to protect Scott's honor.
Derek doesn't like Chris Argent. Derek doesn't like any Argent, hasn't since Chris' sister, Kate, went on a psychotic break and poisoned Derek's entire family with carbon monoxide before setting their family home on fire. It's not exactly the kind of thing that anyone ever really gets over, and although Derek knows, logically, that Kate's actions don't reflect on the sanity of the rest of Chris' family, including his daughter, Derek can't help but spark with barely suppressible homicidal rage every time Chris comes near him. It's strange how he gets triggered into panic attacks whenever he has an emotional reaction like sorrow or when he suddenly remembers some random fact about his family, like how his dad sneezed like a rabbit and his mom like an elephant, but actually thinking about how he lost his family just gets Derek angry. Extremely, unquenchably angry. It's not fair that one person can just wake up one day and decide to end the lives of nine people, leave one permanently scarred on over half of his body, and forever destroy the future of one dumb high school kid, who'd only started talking to her at that cafe because she'd seemed so kind.
During his years in New York, Derek's therapist had given a psychological tour de force, trying to rework Derek's internalization of guilt. Derek's better at managing it himself these days. Yes, it had been Derek who'd introduced Kate Argent to his family, but he wasn't responsible for Kate dropping by with cookies one afternoon while Derek was at lacrosse practice, shutting all the windows on complaint of the cold weather, sneaking down to their basement and stabbing a hole in the gas piping, then ducking outside to cram wooden pegs under the doors so they couldn't be opened from the inside. It wasn't Derek's fault that Kate had then somehow climbed on their roof, dumped a canister of gasoline down the chimney, and followed it by dropping in a struck match. Derek doesn't blame himself very often anymore, just like he rarely blames the psychiatric hospital for letting Kate out when she'd been faking rationality on her assessments, just like he rarely blames Chris for not being suspicious of his clinically insane younger sister befriending a gullible teenager. It was all Kate. Beautiful, unbalanced, deadly Kate.
In her statement to the police, given after her arrest, she had called the fire her transcendent masterpiece.
Urban contemporary art, she'd said, smiling brilliantly. "Named it 'Smoking Out the Beast's Den.' Glorious, wasn't it?"
Back then, Derek had spent nights clutching his bedsheets so tightly that his fingers went numb, Kate's words and face swirling around his head like a malicious phantom; the only thing that kept him away from going after her throat was the fact that she was behind locked doors for good.
But he'd been as shocked as anyone to find out about Kate's death at his uncle's hands. Peter had recuperated a lot in the year following the fire, but his mental state remained shattered, as if his mind had been hollowed out by the fire and left as nothing but a brittle, dry husk. Then one day, he'd taken a trip to Kate's institution, stolen an employee keycard from a nurse, snuck into Kate's room, and slit her neck with a penknife. Then he'd overdosed on the morphine he'd been hoarding from his own rehabilitation treatments. Derek had been contacted the next morning. A four am wake-up call composed of condolences for his uncle's death and suggestions to contact a lawyer.
It hadn't been a proper ending to things, but it was clean, and Derek was – is – glad that Kate is dead. Nothing can change his mind about that.
So he and Chris Argent will never get along, and he will never approve of Scott's precious little girlfriend. Derek can think of more bitter ways to live.
And if it hurts that he's the only member of the Hale family left, hurts so much that it's like his body is just a vessel of plucked wires, or a cavern of icy cold air, or a skeleton of bones stitched together only with the thinnest fabric of flesh, then, well. Everyone suffers in some way. Derek has managed to survive this far. He can go a little longer.
Victoria Argent doesn't win the pie competition. Stiles and his father don't win either, although they get an honourable mention for "Most Stirring Recipe." Derek hates puns so he thinks the prize is terrible, but Stiles seems content. Derek sees him puttering around the rest of the market grounds, saying hi to random people, visiting a few old acquaintances from his school years, catching up with friends of the Sheriff, many of whom compliment Stiles on his artistic ability, which Stiles waves off with self-deprecating jokes.
Around two, Derek leaves Scott to get some food and visit the bathroom. When he returns to his booth twenty minutes later, Scott has pulled another disappearing act and Stiles is sitting under the tent.
"They're corroborating their alibis," Stiles says before Derek can ask. "They can't message each other because Allison's mom checks her phone. I can't fucking wait until she moves out this summer. Seriously, I've been playing messenger all damn afternoon."
Derek doesn't even care. Stiles' sketchbook is lying flat on the table and is open for the entire world to see.
It's in his hands before he can even make a conscious decision.
"Hey!" Stiles says, trying to grab for it.
Derek pivots and ducks around; Stiles ends up half-smashed against Derek's back.
"Derek, seriously, give it—"
"What's the big deal?" says Derek. It's not like Stiles has anything to be nervous about.
He flips through the book from the bottom up, and it's awkward because Stiles is still making attempts to steal it back. Derek's forced to keep on moving around, so he has to skim quickly.
A penciled landscape of leafless trees. The same landscape, except in a summer scene, foliage thick and shaded messily. A sketch of car: Stiles' jeep. Half a profile of the sheriff. The most detailed pie drawn in black marker that Derek has ever seen.
And yes, here, Derek's goal: drawings of sculptures. Stiles' familiar quick lines, messier here than in the set Derek owns, congregate in small pockets of the pages, outlining bowls and pitchers and irregular bulbous forms, interspersed with bursts of furious cross-hatching, scrawling tornadoes of black, and random geometric shapes.
Stiles has stopped struggling against him now, so Derek lowers the elbow he'd been blocking across Stiles' chest.
It's not that the drawings are bad. They're good. Drawn well. But the designs lack the simple, holistic beauty of his previous ones, and don't capture any intent or theme. It's the difference between writing a symphony for an orchestra and writing a generic pop song. It's music, but bland and emotionless in comparison to a grand opus.
They aren't what Derek has been looking forward to.
"So," starts Stiles, but Derek flips on, all of the sudden needing to uncover something else, something more, from the book.
And then he has to stop, because there's a sketch of him. Two of them, actually, side by side on the same page. His face is particularly detailed, cheekbones, stubble, pointed nose all drawn meticulously, but there's been special dedication to the eyes, sharply charted under heavy eyebrows. The left sketch is older, slightly smudged, and it's Derek at the kiln, in his sweaty white tank top and grey warehouse pants, arms holding up a punty like a man lining up his rifle shot. The furnace burns behind him, and Stiles has added the shadows the fire carves on Derek's face and clothes. There's a gleam of sweat on Derek's face, represented by a streak of eraser across Derek's grey-shaded forehead. Derek's eyes are open and concentrated on the small bubble of glass at the end of the punty. The second picture on the right of the page is Derek at his market booth, hands on the table, leaning slightly outwards, and his mouth is set in a smirk. He seems relaxed in this portrait, but there's something about the way Stiles drew his eyes that suggests it's a very deceptive kind of relaxation, as if the Derek on the page is just waiting for an excuse to leap forwards and –
Derek doesn't know.
His heart is thumping a stampede through his chest.
"Sorry," Stiles mutters, from his side. Quiet. "I should've asked first."
Derek thinks, Yes, you should have, but these are really good. I've never looked this good before. I've never seen myself like this before. And then he realizes, of course he hasn't: this is Derek, through Stiles' eyes.
It's not about Stiles having drawn Derek as handsome, tall, rugged. Derek knows what he looks like. But there's a huge fucking gap between what Derek's physical attributes imply he's capable of, and what Derek is actually capable of. Except here, on the page, Stiles' Derek looks strong, well put-together. Stiles has drawn him as someone who knows what he's doing, when it takes Derek everything he has just to muck through every day on his own two feet.
He doesn't realize his grip on the sketchbook has tightened until Stiles says, "Hey, quit that, you're wrinkling my paper," and drags the book from Derek's fingers. This time, Derek lets him.
He has no idea what to say; his throat is the Sahara Desert and his mind is a vacuum, and some kind of chemical explosion is happening inside him that Derek doesn't recognize.
And maybe Stiles can read the distress on Derek's face, because Stiles doesn't mention the portraits. He says sheepishly, "Yeah, I've been trying to think of new things to make out of glass, but," he shrugs, eyelids dipping, "hasn't really been working out. I don't know if it's me being too distracted, but, uh." He stops. Looks up at Derek with a guarded expression.
"They're not bad," says Derek, because obviously Stiles is expecting some kind of response. "But they're not nearly as good as the ones you gave me."
He is about to mention the figure sketches, but his lips flatten and give up; it's too much to take then, and Derek turns away. Back to work. Focus on the glass.
Out of the corner of Derek's eye, he can see Stiles, somber, pale, not quite frowning.
"I know that," Stiles says at last, and he sounds a little defeated, but not surprised. "They're just dumb sketches. Give me a break," he adds half-heartedly.
"You can do better," says Derek. It comes out a little rougher than he expected and Stiles stares at him, silent.
"Stiles!" the sheriff calls out, from the end of their row of stalls. He's waving Stiles over. Time to go.
"Right," Stiles exhales. "Okay, I've got to – yeah. I'll... see you when I see you, I guess."
Derek's body seizes. "Your art—"
Stiles smiles, just the corner of his mouth crooking upwards. For some reason, it makes something twinge inside Derek: Stiles looks sad. "Oh. Well. If I have any more brilliant ideas, I'll be sure to send them over. Cool?"
"Yeah," Derek says. "Okay. Bye."
"Bye," Stiles says, shimmies out under the table, and runs off without looking back.
Derek lets thirty-six hours pass before he asks Scott for Stiles' residence mailing address. Stiles' designs earned them a total of $190 that weekend. He writes a check to Stiles for $100, and for the memo adds, For your contributions.
Four days later he gets a text.
WOW i'm loaded now!! thx derek!!! money money money MONEY (money!)
And then another immediately following.
that's the apprentice theme song fyi
Derek replies, I know, dumbass. Stiles sends back a winky face.
Derek had wondered, coming home from the market, if he'd done or said something wrong, based on the hasty exit Stiles had made after Derek skimmed his sketchbook, but if he had, it doesn't look like there are any hard feelings.
Derek's relieved. It wouldn't sit right with him, if he lost out on a talent like Stiles.
And if he lingers overlong on his memory of Stiles' bashful grin as he'd stroked leisurely fingers over the trillium dish, then that's no one's business but Derek's own.
A problem arises in that even while tempering himself, Derek goes through the rest of Stiles' designs within the following month.
The red, spiraling vase had taken the longest to perfect. The key was actually molding the glass as slowly as possible, to make the most gradual, most delicate curve around the cylinder. He'd had to redo it over fifteen times before he finally got the timing right, bringing his jack from the bottom to the top and back again in smooth, paced motions, as he spun his iron before the glass hardened completely.
When he takes the vase out of the annealer and holds it up to the light, it's as if everything bad within him mutes and collapses for one, long-strung instant. It's heady.
Derek takes the vase home with him. It sits on his bedside table now. He doesn't put anything in it, doesn't even want to. In the mornings, the sunlight creeps in through the blinds and reaches its bright fingers to pierce the glass, sending red-hued patterns scattered across Derek's walls like splashes of wine.
Looking at it makes Derek feel happy. Peaceful.
It also makes Derek hungry to make more.
He finds himself thinking about Stiles a lot recently. Some mornings, in front of the bathroom mirror, he tries to find the Derek that Stiles had drawn in his sketchbook. Physically, he's all there, but he feels like an imperfect reproduction of the art rather than the other way around – as if the Derek on Stiles' pages is the type of person Derek's really meant to be, and the actual Derek is just a doppelganger. He wants to be that stronger Derek. And it's when he's in the studio, in full control of himself and impassioned by what he's making, that he feels closest to that model. For every successful work of glass, he can't help picturing Stiles' approval, recalling the reverential way he'd said Derek's name after noticing his dish – like he'd witnessed something indescribable. It encourages Derek to work harder, try to do better. And it makes Derek think about his family more and more, about if they'd be proud of him, too.
It's not a huge shock to Derek when Stiles starts worming his way into Derek's nights just as he has with Derek's days. Derek can't exactly pinpoint when the dreams start, but they're unavoidable. Some are tame, with Stiles just a featured character in whatever situation that's going on, acting as equally maddening as the real Stiles – but some others are distinctly more explicit. He dreams of Stiles' cupid-bow lips and his swath of eyelashes, how they'd feel skimming up Derek's naked skin. What Stiles' voice would sound like, begging, tinged with desperation. How Stiles would feel around him, clutching tight and hot. Derek always wakes up from these feeling a little nauseous, not because of the act itself, but because he feels like it's a bad idea to let himself want it. It's safe to like Stiles' art though, even though Derek is starting to feel like he's becoming obsessed.
He makes it through five days without acting on anything, although it feels like the weight of his cell phone increases exponentially with every passing hour. Finally, Derek has enough and sends Stiles a blunt text: Any new designs?
jeez, not even a hello how are you??? Stiles sends back, and calls before Derek can reply.
"Hello, how are you," says Derek, picking up the phone.
"Ah ah ah, you've lost your chance," says Stiles. "It doesn't count anymore."
"Good. I don't care anyway."
"Man, to think I actually missed you," Stiles groans, but Derek can tell he's smiling.
"Did you?" Derek asks.
Stiles chokes. "Uh, I mean. No?"
Derek huffs a laugh. "How's school."
"Oh my God, we're not having a 'let's talk about school' conversation. I have enough of those with my dad. How are you? Scott still hasn't gotten shot by Allison's dad yet, last I checked. You must be pretty pleased about that."
"Only some days," says Derek. "Things are... fine. Your designs are still selling well."
"Yeah, I know, I've been getting your checks. It's fucking awesome, by the way. Thanks. I can actually afford real food some nights."
"It's not a problem," says Derek, because he doesn't really deserve the thanks. "I've made all twenty of your drawings now."
"Oh, dude! Derek! Why didn't you send me any pictures? You gotta send me some pictures! There's this one I really liked, this red vase, I called it the Red Riding Hood in my head, if you can believe that. Because the spiral edge around it is supposed to be soft like the folds of a hoodie and. Uh. Wow, that was a lot cooler-sounding in my head."
"No, it's – that makes sense," says Derek, because it does, it completely does. "I'll send you some pictures. Email?"
Stiles rattles off his email and of course Derek is short on a scrap piece of paper when he needs it, so he props his phone on his shoulder temporarily to scrawl the address on the inside of his left wrist. And then Stiles just continues talking, ranting about how CalArts' school emailing system is a piece of shit and how Stiles keeps on trying to change his email from his legal first name to Stiles, but the school administration won't let him because they're idiots. Derek is silent as Stiles talks, pulling his sketchbook off his desk just to give his hands something to do. Stiles keeps up a steady tangent of how hard certain projects are but how painfully easy some others are, and then somehow the conversation diverts to how Bob Ross is even more amazing to watch while drunk. Derek catches himself laughing sometimes, at Stiles' ridiculousness, his bad jokes, his eagerness to talk about all things art-related, his newest hobby with making things out of sculpting clay. Derek almost forgets why he contacted Stiles in the first place, until Stiles says, "Oh, crap, I've been keeping you. Sorry, you should've said something—"
"It's fine," says Derek.
"So, you want new designs, huh," Stiles says, something curious lacing his voice. Light, purposely casual. "You just can't get enough of me, Derek. Just admit it."
"If you're that short on self-esteem, sure."
"Well, what if I am?" Stiles says defensively.
"Then I'd remind you that you're a paid artist, and to get the hell over yourself."
"No, but that's just it," Stiles says. "Like, you think my designs are good, which is great, but it's like, it's just the designs that you care—" he cuts himself off, making a frustrated noise. "You know those sketches I drew of you?"
"What about them," says Derek. His mouth has gone rogue, his voice hoarse.
"Did... what did you think of them?"
He wants to answer, I thought they were more than I deserved, but instead he says, "Why are you asking now?"
"I don't know! I didn't ask before because your face was kind of – anyway. I just... wanted to know."
"They were nice," Derek says.
"I spent a long time on them, you know," says Stiles softly, like he's sharing a long-harbored secret. Maybe he is. In fact, Derek knows he is. Knows inherently what Stiles is admitting. It hits him like a kick in the gut, even though some part of him has always suspected, but fuck, Derek didn't ask for this, didn't let himself think he could have this. Stiles is young and beautiful and thinks Derek is beautiful and Derek doesn't have it in him to tell Stiles just how wrong he is, to spoil the splendor of Stiles' innocence. Derek doesn't want to be a stain on the burgeoning masterpiece of Stiles' life. Stiles may be an obnoxious, fidgety, smart-alecky asshole but he's still a good person and Derek is definitely, definitely not that. Derek might not even be good enough to refuse if – if Stiles is actually offering—
He realizes he's terrified. There's a puddle of sweat building between his palm and his cell phone and yet he can't seem to loosen his grip on the casing.
In no way can this possibly end well. Derek would hurt Stiles. He would. It wouldn't be on purpose but Derek is too scarred for anything else. Derek would do something terrible and ruin it all and then they'd both be broken.
"Hey, hey, Derek, it's okay," he hears in his ear. It's Stiles, his voice soothing and careful, and he's trying to calm Derek down. "It's okay. Take a deep breath. Can you do that? Derek. Take a deep breath."
Derek does, and it comes out in a shudder.
"Good," Stiles says. "Awesome, now another one, okay? You can do this. You're okay."
"I know that," Derek grinds his teeth, and Stiles stops talking. Derek takes another breath. Then another, and more, until the lightness spinning through his head dissipates away.
"Welcome back," says Stiles, at last.
"How – how did you," Derek manages.
"I used to have a lot of panic attacks too, after my mom died," says Stiles. "That first time you called me, about buying my sketches, you didn't actually turn off your phone properly. I heard you gasping. It was – I didn't mean to do that. Or this. I didn't know it'd trigger you. Sorry."
"It's all right," Derek lies, covering his eyes with his hand. Even though there's no one here to see him. It's not all right, but it's not Stiles' fault that Derek's so fucked up. Derek hadn't even known this would happen. All Stiles had said was that – not even said, really, just implied – that he liked Derek and—
Derek thinks it's because the feeling that welled up in him was too close to how he feels when he thinks about his family: wanting something so badly and knowing he'll never have it.
"Let's stick to talking about your designs," says Derek, words clipped with his effort to sound composed. It's the best he can do, right now.
"Sorry, yes," Stiles says, and there's that defeated tone again. Derek doesn't like it; he doesn't know what to do about it. "I'll – work on some new ones. I'll email you?"
"Yeah," says Derek, breathing out. "Yeah."
After that, things get easier. Or harder, depending on how Derek looks at it. Something settles between him and Stiles as they email back and forth, keeping in semi-regular contact. True to his word, Stiles does send scans of new designs, and occasionally a few in the mail to Derek's studio. They don't come that often, but Derek doesn't mind the wait. They're gorgeous, every single time. Things that Derek could never even dream of imagining, much less putting to paper. And now he gets to bring them out into the world, gets to touch them, share them. These pieces of Stiles, made real by Derek's hands.
He tries not to be too obvious about the fact that he's spending more and more time building Stiles' designs in the studio, but despite how ignorant Scott can be about some things, the guy isn't actually blind. He has a minor freak out when he notices Derek making a wine glass that is clearly Stiles' style, saying that Derek should stop usurping Stiles' time and making unsubtle insinuations that Derek is taking advantage of Stiles. Derek would mention the money he's regularly sending to Stiles' residence, but from experience, there's little reasoning with Scott when he's being ruled by his protective side – Derek doesn't waste his breath. The way that Scott immediately clams up when Derek asks why he's so against Stiles sharing his art when Stiles is an artist makes Derek think that it's just a bad case of jealousy – and it must mean something that Derek doesn't give a shit that he's pissed off his long-time employee over some guy he met a month ago, but so be it. Derek enjoys what he's doing, so he's going to keep on doing it. Still, he starts keeping Stiles' drawings firmly locked in his desk because he doesn't want Scott to get weird about them again. It's only on another day, when Scott offhandedly mentions that he's noticed a recent improvement in Derek's mood ("Hey, so, you're a lot more chill these days. Not that I'm complaining, but you're not sick, are you?") that Derek starts thinking that he's in too deep. That, as the days pass, he's fixating less and less on Stiles' art and more on Stiles. Just Stiles. Because—
Because of a lot of things.
Sometimes Stiles sends him irritating messages that don't have anything to do with Derek's work. One-lined complaints like, why is campus food SO FUCKING EXPENSIVE why can't i get a brownie without emptying my pockets, or requests like, So I wrote a paper on glassworking for my Mixed Media class. Can you proofread it for me PLEAAAASEEEEE? please please please, or links to Youtube videos Stiles finds funny (Derek rarely agrees). Sometimes, it's Derek who messages first, and he's not nearly as enthusiastic or careless with his words, but he is genuine: An old woman came by the booth today to thank me for the flower bowl; she said it reminded her of her old country, and, Your father arrested that serial burglar last night. He made front page of the town paper, and even, Scott is a fucking idiot, how can you stay friends with him? to which Stiles replies with an array of emoticons in a pattern Derek assumes is supposed to be aggressive.
They share one more phone call between them, on the night before one of Stiles' midterm projects is due. He'd been on his third day with minimal sleep, had overused his Adderall last week and couldn't renew his prescription until Monday. Derek talks to him, low and steady, giving Stiles some background noise, just enough to keep his own distractions at bay, while giving Stiles room to concentrate on finishing up the project. Derek reveals a lot about himself that night – snippets of a near-forgotten childhood that he hadn't even revealed to his psychiatrist. He talks about Laura's bad habits and how it sucked having an older sister who could punch harder than you could. He talks about how he liked lacrosse but preferred baseball, but joined the lacrosse team anyway to carry on his dad's legacy. He updates Stiles on the most recent developments of the slow-mo car crash known as Scott and Allison's relationship, all the nitty gritty outsider's perspective details that Scott has no clue about. He hears himself mention his recent idea of teaching some workshops on the weekends, because a few people had approached him about it, including a guy named Isaac, if Stiles remembered him.
"Oh yeah, Isaac Lahey, from high school," Stiles says. "He used to be really shy, actually, but then his dad died – he was an abusive dickwad, by the way, my dad just as good as said it – and he opened up a lot. I thought he had this crush on Scott because Scott was always really nice to him."
"Don't ask me, man, I'm still confused about this dude named Danny who used to be in our chem class. Like, did he figure out I was kind of gay before I did?"
"A mystery for the ages."
Stiles laughs, like a wooden wind chime, and Derek keeps track of the stutter of his own heartbeat.
It's easier, but it's harder because Derek is starting to change. He likes Stiles, wants more of Stiles, but any serious consideration of having Stiles like that shoots anxiety through his veins like a lit fuse. The truth is that he's happy with the arrangement he and Stiles share now, but there's guilt in that too. Stiles never brings up his sort-of-proposition to Derek, and he doesn't try again either; he seems to understand that some topics are off-limits for Derek. It's nerve-wracking because Derek can feel an undercurrent of tension that laces their exchanges – not exactly bad, but enough to make him hyperaware that their friendship is only a half-step away from becoming something more. Obviously it's Derek holding them back – he's the one always stopping before he sends any messages that can be construed as suggestive, no matter how blatantly Stiles sets up a joke for him (intentionally or not). Derek can tell that Stiles sometimes is on the cusp of asking about their relationship, maybe wanting to find out what Derek thinks they're doing, but Derek doesn't want to label what they have. Defining things makes it real, and that makes things risky. If Derek actually knew what he was doing, maybe he would concede to telling Stiles that he's fine with friendship but isn't ready for anything more yet, and it's not fair to make Stiles wait because in the end, he might be waiting for nothing. Derek doesn't want to get Stiles' hopes up and yet – he's too selfish to give anything up, either. Not even the moments when Stiles is an annoying shit and makes Derek want to strangle him, which happen often. Stiles is a bright, shining muse in the dearth of inspiration that is Derek's life, and Derek wants to grasp at that, keep it intact within himself like a candle's flame, warming Derek from the inside out. And it's getting harder and harder to remind himself why he can't.
In the enveloping dark of night, if he's had a good day, Derek will lie on his bed and touch himself with Stiles' face etched onto his closed eyelids. Derek isn't creative, but his mind goes haywire with this; he'll entertain every scenario that flits across his mind: Stiles on his back, letting Derek lick over every crevice of his body, Stiles on his front, rutting into the bedsheets as Derek thrusts between his ass cheeks, making a painting on Stiles' back with their sweat and his come. The spread of Stiles' long legs, opening up for Derek, the beckon of Stiles' arms, pulling Derek in. Derek will imagine the look on Stiles' face when he climaxes: would he shout, mouth open and lips wet, or would he bite down, teeth on flesh, maybe on Derek's shoulder, trying to muffle the noise? He'll imagine the hot press of their bodies together, the slide of their cocks, Stiles whining for Derek to go harder, faster. He'll picture the work of art Stiles would make, knees astride Derek's hips, spearing himself on Derek's cock, panting out his ecstasy with Derek's name, looking at Derek like he's everything he could ever want. And because it's Derek's fantasy, Derek will imagine himself being able to reciprocate Stiles' affection without being hindered by anything negative or ugly or cold, returning Stiles' touches with his own desperate need, kissing every one of Stiles' fingers, sharing his happiness in Stiles' mouth with glides of his tongue, maybe opening up his own legs to let Stiles fit inside there, the same way that Stiles seems to have fit in some other jagged parts of Derek's life.
Tonight his body's buzzing after he says good night to Stiles. They haven't talked in over a month and it was good to hear this voice again. It's past three in the morning and Stiles had been nearly slurring with exhaustion when Derek ordered him to stop and go to sleep. "That's enough, Stiles. You're done," Derek had said, and Stiles had replied, "Yeah," like he was in a dream.
Derek brings back that voice now, that soft-edged tone, light with wonder and a dazed sense of accomplishment at the job Stiles had completed. Derek pictures Stiles on his bed, sated, pliant, eyes unfocused as he smiles up at Derek and reaches to pull Derek down to meet his lips. Stiles humming in satisfaction as Derek slides in and out of him, slow, gentle, making Stiles feel every inch, making Stiles' gasps run together into a song. Stiles will say, You make me happy, Derek, and kiss Derek until Derek believes it.
He comes messily, coating his fingers, and Derek's body unwinds in increments. He sighs at his ceiling, feeling the chill seep back into his skin. He takes a while coming down from his high, but when he does, the constant, low-level thrum of anger that continuously skirts the edge of his awareness is already waiting for him, and like all the other times he's touched himself with Stiles in mind, the anger is reserved solely for himself.
Derek cleans up and goes to sleep. He dreams of his mother calling him her beautiful boy, his father ruffling his hair and saying he'll make his future partner very happy, one day.
The next morning, Stiles texts him, Thanks for your help last night. Derek types back, Anytime.
He still tries to find a specialization, when the mood suits him. He mucks around vases for a while, thinking that he can base himself off Stiles' Red Riding Hood design, but his own creations feel aesthetically lackluster in comparison. Ideas are coming to him faster these days, though, he has sketchpads and loose paper full of his own scribbles – none of them particularly encourage a lifelong pursuit, but Derek takes comfort in the fact he is producing: it means that one day, he'll get it right.
That day at work, Scott brings his laptop to try out a new 3D rendering program Derek has bought, and of course burns through most of the day plugged into Facebook. When Derek walks past Scott's desk (slightly less messy this week), he can see Scott scrolling through Stiles' uploaded photo albums. There are a lot of them where Stiles is pulling a goofy face and a lot of them where Stiles is grinning wide, posing for the photographer. But there are also some taken when Stiles is clearly unaware of the camera, when his face is more serious, eyelashes catching the light, his upturned nose crinkling at something, when his head is tilted, eyes soft, looking into the distance at something – these are sides of Stiles that Derek realizes he has no experience with, has never seen before. Stiles had managed to capture a whole different side of Derek in two portraits of him, but there's an imbalance of knowledge – Derek's own representation of Stiles is completely inadequate. Nowhere near comprehensive. And then suddenly Derek's gripped by an ache so strong that he feels it down to his toes.
"Derek?" Scott asks. He hurriedly closes the internet browser.
Derek walks away without a word.
At home, he recalls that feeling, that clench of his chest, of wanting to know every facet of Stiles, like Derek knows every inch, every space of his glass pieces.
He calls Stiles. They argue about TV and movies. Stiles loves all types of TV, even lame reality shows. Stiles and Scott make it a routine to see at least one B-grade horror film every month; they stream it online together, Skype window in the corner of their respective computers. Stiles talks about some campus bands he's thinking of auditioning for; he plays the drums. Derek takes out his sketchpad, like he did for that other phone call, and draws absently, more in tune with the lulls and dips of Stiles' voice and laughter than to what his pencil is leaving on the paper.
Stiles has to hang up not too long after though – his friend Lydia from Berkeley is visiting for the week, he has to go pick her up from the bus station – and when Derek removes his phone from his shoulder, he sees what he's been drawing.
The figures are crude, proportions wrong, but there are wolves tracked across Derek's sketchbook. Fur in thick black strokes, sharp points of teeth, long tufts of tail, and huge round eyes, completely unshaded except for the center dot of pupil.
Oh, Derek thinks.
He spends the next day designing, simplifying, smoothing out the final blueprint. Scott stays late and makes up for Derek's work quota for that day, so Derek can concentrate on making a wolf figurine out of hot glass.
It ends up palm-sized, composed of transparent black. Its ruff stands out from his chest with tiny pulls of glass, and the thick tail curls around the body like a cursive stroke. The head is tilted up, a little divot pushed into its pointed muzzle to make a howling mouth.
By the time he's finished, he's sweaty and light-headed, as if he's been holding his breath for hours.
But the result is... pretty good. Derek's pleased with it. He'll do some more work on the design tomorrow, try some different variations of the wolf's body, maybe make some standing up on all four legs, or bent down in sleep. But for now, he takes this sculpture home and puts it on his bedside table, next to Stiles' red vase.
He wakes up feeling braver. He's pretty sure he knows why, but Derek doesn't analyze it too much. He doesn't want to start questioning himself and convince himself that he's being idiotic. Instead, he gets ready for the day, a rare Saturday with the market closed due to severe rainfall warnings across the region. He eats a good breakfast, does his exercises, and then in the bathroom, spends a moment studying his reflection on the glass panels of his shower stall as he waits for the water to heat up. If he lifts his chin at a certain angle, Derek can almost capture the self-assured look of the Derek in Stiles' portrait, who'd stood at the market like he was lord of that domain. It's a rare, transient moment. The rising steam quickly whites out his mirrored face; Derek lets it go without a fuss.
When he's dressed and as ready as he'll ever be, Derek ducks down under his bed for his old, worn out shoebox, where he keeps his only remaining mementos of his family. A grocery list in his mother's hand. A lacrosse ball, handed down from his father and his father's father. A bunch of hair clips belonging to his little cousins; they'd always forget them on Derek's dashboard. Two laminated newspaper clippings: the first of the Hale property fire, the second of Peter and Kate. Laura's roll of film.
Derek takes out the black plastic tube, holding it in his hand for a long, long time.
Then he leaves his apartment, gets in his car, and drives to a photo printer store.
The photos are a chronicle of Laura's last retreat to Alaska. She'd gone earlier that year, and had come back with so many rolls of film she'd forgotten about one, and found it at the bottom of her camping backpack months later. She'd pressed it into Derek's hand that morning, telling him to be careful with it, which was how Derek knew it was special; usually she just lobbed things at his head. Derek was supposed to develop them for her after school because the developer's was located in the mini-mall close to Beacon Hills High, but he'd forgotten and stayed late at lacrosse practice instead.
Now it's too late to show her the photos, but the silver lining is that Derek still has them. They didn't burn away.
The storm clouds are heavy in the sky as he pulls up to the old Hale house, tucked into its special nook at the edge of the forest. Derek walks around the property for a while, touching the broken splinters of wood, the still-stable fence of the backyard, the frame of the front door, though he knows it's not safe to venture inside. When he feels the first fat drops of rain hit his face, he runs to his car, ducking inside just as the clouds split open. Inside the Camaro, the sounds of the outside world are melted away by the pitter-patter of rain, muffled by Derek's tiny cove. Too soon, the spitting raindrops increase in intensity until they're a torrent of water, slashing down Derek's windshield, hammering down on the roof of the car, surrounding Derek in the steady shhh shhh hiss of white noise.
He turns on the light and opens the packet from the developer's. Takes a deep breath, and flips through them. Laura greets him from the first photo, bundled up in a heavy snow coat and fur hat, her beaming smile peeking out overtop her scarf. Derek remembers that scarf; their aunt had knitted it for Laura's first trip up north.
Alaska's a sight to behold. Snow as far as the eye can see. Just miles and miles of winter, spread out in every direction, it's like another universe. Crooked black mountains edge the horizon, topped with snow as pure as icing sugar. The sky is azure blue, completely faultless.
Laura had taken pictures of her home base, the other members of the conservation group, everyone having supper together from cans, half the team still in snowpants. There are some pictures of Laura with her arms around their Inuit guides, one of a little girl in a woolly parka, hair in two thick braids and beaming a toothy grin. There are mostly landscape pictures, and a few of wildlife. There's one of a polar bear, far in the distance, one of a pair of fat seals lounging on an ice float, but most of the animals featured in her photos are wolves. Derek remembers her telling him that some wolves habitually wandered up to their observatory, trailing the scent of food and to dig through their trash cans. They're huge in the photos, every inch a creature of majesty – gorgeous, furs in white and grey and dabs of brown, noses tar black, and their eyes bright yellow. There's one wolf in particular that Laura had managed to get especially close to, and there are several shots of it barely an arm's length away. Judging from the photos, it hadn't been scared of her at all, baring a toothy grin and looking straight at the camera with piercing scrutiny, its huge irises – Derek lets out a sharp breath, amazed.
Gold-brown, the color of Stiles' eyes.
He goes through the set multiple times, fingers tracing the contours of Laura's face, red-cheeked and so alive, until his hands begin to tremble and he has to put the photos down. Then Derek sits, arms resting on the steering wheel, staring at the dark-grey world outside, the skeletons of his old house being washed away into vague blurs by the sluicing water on his car window, like a canvas of dripping paint. A spring thaw.
Derek feels light-headed, but it's not due to anxiety. He thinks it's because he's finally letting go of an anchoring weight that's been holding him down all these long, murky years.
His phone beeps around noon. It's Stiles.
My dorm friend tried to make tie-dye shirts and spilled a pot of green dye all over me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!FUCK I'M THE WICKD WITCH OF TEH WEST AND LYDIA WONT STOP TAKINGPICS
Derek laughs and thinks, It's a matter of timing.
"Derek!" says Dr. Deaton, his voice thin from the long distance connection. "To what do I owe this pleasure? According to my records, you're not due for a check-up for another few weeks."
"I just," Derek says, "wanted to ask something. Sorry, I know you're past office hours."
"No, no! I'm not busy. Just catching up on some paperwork. What do you want to talk about? Is anything wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," Derek says firmly. "I'm doing good."
"Well, that's great to hear. Honestly. Beacon Hills hasn't managed to bore you too much, has it? You've been there for almost a..."
"A year and a half," supplies Derek.
"My my," says Dr. Deaton. "Time flies, doesn't it? Seems like just yesterday you were sitting in the chair across from my desk, trying to glare me into submission."
It's felt a little longer than that for Derek, but he doesn't mention it. "Yeah."
"Are you still having nightmares?"
"Sometimes. But I don't think about them during the day."
"Good, good. And the glasswork, that still occupies you? You're happy with it?"
"Yeah. It's fine."
"Well, it certainly sounds as if you're fitting in there quite nicely. Have you decided what to do with your old house yet?"
"No, but. I went to visit it a few hours ago, and it was okay. I was okay."
Dr. Deaton is elated. "That's wonderful, Derek. I'm delighted to hear that. May I ask what prompted you to go see it?"
This is why Derek called, and he'd practiced what he wanted to say before he pressed Deaton's number into his phone, but it's still hard to get the words out. "I've been getting over a lot of stuff lately. Since I – I met someone. And I want to see him. In a... romantic sense. But I still feel angry, a lot of the time. And I still get panic attacks. I think it would be hard to – be with him. I don't want to hurt him."
"Derek," Dr. Deaton says kindly. "You're always so tough on yourself. You don't need to be. Just because you went through a very traumatic experience and you're still dealing with its after-effects, doesn't mean you can't handle a stable, loving relationship. If anything, I think you'd be more devoted, because you hold yourself in such tight control."
"Yeah," Derek sighs. "But it's – he deserves better."
"Well, that's just false, Derek. Whether a person deserves better or not is a decision for that person only. You can't speak for anyone else. Why do you think you're not good enough for him?"
"Because. He offered, before, he wanted more, and I – didn't react well. He had to calm me down."
"And then? How did he treat you afterwards?"
Derek pauses. "The same," he says.
"And does he still seem interested in you?"
"I – maybe," says Derek. "Yes."
"Does he know about your situation?"
"We've never spoken about it. But his father was police deputy when the fire happened. He probably knows more than most people," Derek admits.
"And he never pushes you into uncomfortable situations?"
"No," Derek says, thinking about Stiles' ridiculous texts. "He couldn't if he tried."
"I can tell you're smiling, Derek," says Dr. Deaton, laughing.
"Oh," Derek says, embarrassed. "Sorry."
"Why on earth would you apologize for that? It was my job to make you smile again! Looks like I should hire this friend of yours; he's done in a few months what I couldn't do in two years."
"Nine weeks," Derek corrects, smirking.
"He sounds pretty nice, this guy. I was wondering when you'd meet someone special."
"Wasn't your first impression of me that I was going to die alone in a ditch somewhere?"
"Come on, Derek. I'm a professional. That was my second impression of you. The first was that you needed to shave."
Derek gives a short laugh. He'd been such a screw-up back then, acting out like the world owed him some grand debt for taking away his family. "Look. I called because I wanted to know—" He swallows harshly – he wants to know so many things. But most urgently: "If things don't work out with this guy, I don't know how well I'd take it."
"No better than anyone else going through a break-up, I expect. It'll hurt, most definitely. But I don't think that's a reason to deny yourself the happiness that you can gain by being with him. It might not end badly, Derek. Don't be so pessimistic. You really like him?"
"I – yeah. Kind of."
"High praise indeed," Deaton says, and he's got that knowing tone that used to irk Derek to no end. "If I can be honest with you, it sounds like you're already mostly convinced and want to go for it. I want you to go for it. And the other party is, as you said, interested as well, so we're all in agreement. What's the problem, again? Do you have plans to die alone in a ditch?"
"No," Derek says, and belatedly realizes he's smiling again. "It's – yeah, never mind."
"Good," Dr. Deaton says. He sounds proud. "I'm glad."
He resolves to wait a week, until next Saturday. Then he'll drive down to Valencia and surprise Stiles at his residence, and give Stiles his own Derek Hale style glass wolf. Maybe if Stiles is up for it, if Derek can handle it, Stiles will let Derek stay overnight. Maybe. But even if he doesn't, Derek can still give Stiles his present, and hopefully Stiles will like it. Although Derek's pretty sure Stiles will. This is the guy who has a puppy playlist saved on his Youtube account; he's easy to please.
On Friday, Derek goes to work late because he spends the morning packing, taking a long shower, shaving the worst of his stubble away. When he finally gets to the studio, Scott's already gotten the mail and is flipping through it. He's opened a folder and is staring at its contents, eyebrows drawn in confusion. Derek sees the well-known yellow envelope that Stiles uses to send over his designs, and reaches for it.
Scott pulls it away, shoves the papers back inside the envelope and shakes it at Derek. "What the hell is this?"
"It's a package from Stiles," Derek snaps, because can't Scott read? "His name is on the return address."
"These are his drawings?" Scott demands.
"Yes, of course they're his," Derek says waspishly.
"Do you guys have some kind of arrangement?" He hashes the term out like it's a felony.
Not this again. Derek really doesn't feel like dealing with Scott's weird possessive streak right now. "So what," he says, yanking the folder out of Scott's hands. "I'm not being unfair to him. I give him sixty percent of the proceeds from his designs." He scowls. "Don't act like you didn't know about this."
"I knew that he sent you a few more designs but I didn't know he'd been doing it so often! And I assumed all the ones you've been making were from the same set! But they're not! And you're paying him? Oh my God, Derek! What the hell are you thinking?"
Now Derek's pissed. "What the hell am I thinking? I'm not doing anything wrong! He draws, sends me the pictures, I make them, I sell them, I send him a check. What's the problem?"
"The problem is!" Scott's jaw is set tight, his lips pursed in fury. He stares at Derek, eyes wild. "The problem is that you shouldn't be encouraging Stiles to draw like this!!"
"What the fuck," Derek spits, stepping right up to Scott. "Stiles' work is incredible. With me he gets to use his talent for something more than some shitty art class project." But Scott doesn't back down.
"Ugh! You don't understand! Stiles doesn't just do work of this quality, not in sculpture design, he has to be in a specific mindset for it, and you're practically shoving him into it!"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"These drawings! They're as good as the first set he sent here, from when he visited!"
"Yes," says Derek. "That's the point."
"No! Holy shit! This is the worst thing ever! I can't even believe this is fucking happening!" He looks ready to tear out his hair.
"Scott!" Derek shouts, grabbing Scott's shoulders. "Calm the fuck down. What's wrong with you?"
Scott looks up at him, rage stricken across his face like a stone mask. "What's wrong with me is that you're encouraging my best friend to be a drug addict!"
Something goes very still and very cold inside of Derek.
"What?" he breathes.
"His art!" Scott yells. "He thinks he can only do his best work when he's high! The ones we were going to make into his dad's birthday gift, Stiles told me he drew them while he was fucked up on speed! So I thought, oh shit, we shouldn't make them then, because I don't want him to use, and he was all, okay, and he was ashamed, he's always ashamed, so I thought okay, maybe this time he'll stop for good. And then I find out that you've been pushing him to make more of these?! You've been giving him money for it!!" He chokes off, breathing heavily.
Derek lets go of Scott's shoulders, arms falling back limply to his sides.
"If Stiles overdoses, Derek, I swear to God," says Scott, and his fists are shaking. "It's on you. I'll never forgive you."
Derek doesn't remember getting into his car. He doesn't know what he said to Scott, if anything. All he knows is that he's on the road, and he's driving south, engine roaring, the half-crumpled yellow-orange envelope lying on the passenger seat, glowing at him like a taunt. Why didn't you know, Derek, why didn't you realize, you fucking bastard, why couldn't you see?
The ride to Valencia is a complete wash. Derek doesn't register any of it on a conscious level. The entire trip, all he sees is Stiles' smiling face, Stiles' disappointed face, Stiles turning away from Derek.
Shitting fuck. Derek wants to kill him. Derek wants to beat this idiot in the ground, then haul him up and kiss him until they're out of air, kiss him so hard Derek can turn back time, kiss him until Stiles accepts Derek's apology.
He doesn't know how fast he goes, but he doesn't get into an accident, and doesn't pulled over by a cop, so he counts himself lucky.
Nearly seven hours later, Derek pulls up to California Institute of the Arts and heads straight to Stiles' res building. He goes up through the back door, where a group of students taking a smoke break let him in with wide eyes and not a word uttered. He must have intimidated them into shitting their pants, but Derek couldn't care less; the adrenaline stamps down more rational parts of his brain, leaving him propelled only by a vicious need to just – get to Stiles. Derek stomps up the stairs to room 605, and pounds on the door with his fist.
"Stiles!" he shouts.
He hears someone yelp from inside the dorm. God, Derek thinks, heart lurching. "Stiles!"
"Stiles Stilinski!" a girl hisses from inside, volume muffled, and Derek's heart lurches in a completely different way. There's the sound of footsteps, then something crashing, then an inner door slamming.
Derek's seriously thinking of forcing his way inside (bodies in the living room, littered on the carpet like dolls – fuck, not now), when the door slivers open and a short redhead girl glares out with narrowed eyes.
"Derek," she says.
Derek inhales slowly through his nose. "Are you Lydia?"
"That I am."
"I'm here to talk to Stiles."
"He actually doesn't want to see you right now."
Derek bites back a curse. "Look, we've got something to discuss. It can't wait."
"Oh, I know very well what you need to discuss with him, and so does he," says Lydia. "Scott called. According to him, you 'flew out of the studio looking like a deranged serial killer.' You can understand why I feel wary about opening this door to you."
Derek takes another inhalation and lets it out, a familiar exercise from his early days in New York, and feels the muscles in his body relax. "I'm not going to hurt him," he says. He means it. "I just want to talk."
Lydia examines him up and down. "Did you drive here from Beacon Hills? That's a seven and a half hour trip."
"So," Derek says.
"It's been barely six hours since Scott's call."
"So?" Derek says again, feeling a coil of strain furl at the base of his spine.
"Wow, and I thought Stiles was being an idiot. You're just as gone as he is, aren't you?"
"I don't know what the hell you're talking about."
Lydia actually laughs, but it's not a happy sound. "Well. Seems like today is just full of all kinds of revelations. Come on in, then. I'll just go make myself scarce for a while, shall I?"
Derek nods. "Thanks," he remembers to say, stepping inside the dorm.
"Derek," Lydia says, grabbing his elbow as he passes her. "He'd already taken something when we got Scott's call. He wouldn't have picked up at all if Scott hadn't called me too. And before you ask, of course I didn't know. I was at the mall with some girls from Stiles' floor. I came back as soon as Scott phoned and made him stop. But he's still – experiencing some effects." She sucks in her lips in blatant frustration. "Stiles deserves to have his balls ripped out for this, but not today. Not right now. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes," says Derek. Lydia holds his gaze as she nods, then flips her hair over her shoulder, grabs her purse, and quietly lets herself out.
Stiles' apartment is a study in eclectic decorating. There are posters on the wall – Star Wars, Batman, Avengers, alternating with Frank Lloyd Wright, Warhol, Dali. The bed is neatly made and the floor is clean, but the bookshelf is crammed full, and the desk is an apocalypse scene, pencils and brushes scattered everywhere. The piece of paper lying in the center is a nearly complete sketch of a three-set of transparent bowls. A rock lodges itself in Derek's throat at the sight of it.
There's no sign of any drugs, but Derek supposes Lydia took care of that.
The one closed door in the room must be to the bathroom. Derek rattles the doorknob. Locked.
"Stiles," he calls, knocking twice.
There's a beat of silence. Then, "Go away, Derek," says Stiles, weakly. "I don't want you to see me like this."
Derek lowers his forehead to the cool wood of the door. "Stiles. I came here to see you. Let me in."
"I can't," Stiles moans. It sounds as if he's speaking through his fingers.
Derek waits. From inside the bathroom, Stiles is shifting around, and then the lock snicks, and Stiles is opening the door.
He looks horrible. His eyes are red and puffy and though they're dry, it's clear from the frown marring Stiles' face that he's teetering on the verge of being overwhelmed. His pupils are blown, his skin sallow except for the bright splotches of color high on his cheekbones. His brows are furrowed in resignation and his entire posture screams of surrender.
Derek is supposed to be angry. He was angry, the whole trip down here. But seeing Stiles like this, and knowing that he'd contributed to it – it cracks him down the middle, leaving his wound gaping and bloody. This is exactly why he should have left Stiles alone. Derek is too emotionally inept to even pick up on the fact that Stiles had been pushing himself into this state for him for months. Stiles has been hurting himself to impress Derek, when Derek's been more impressed that Stiles hasn't gotten tired of him yet, of Derek's monosyllabic speaking skills and short temper and inability to not see the dark side of something. Fuck, and he never told Stiles any of that, so how did he expect Stiles to know?
Stiles sniffs and his eyelashes dip in shame, as if bracing for the worst, but even if he's scaring Stiles, Derek can't tear his gaze away. Derek hadn't wanted this. He'd just wanted to mind his own business, recover from the devastating loss of his family, make glass in his studio, and now –
And now he has to worry about another human being, because he's not alone anymore.
Derek hears himself make a growling sound, involuntary, and his arms are reaching to Stiles, pulling him into Derek's embrace.
Stiles stands as stiffly as a brick wall as Derek squeezes him, letting the tip of his nose duck into Stiles' hair, smelling sweat and something sour. He lets out a shaky breath, and it sounds like Stiles' name.
"Oh," says Stiles, softly, and collapses all at once into Derek, arms coming up to clutch fistfuls of Derek's leather jacket, face dropping into the crook of Derek's neck. Stiles shuffles closer and Derek tightens his grip around Stiles' back. They stand like that, the clock on the wall ticking away the minutes.
"You're not supposed to be here," Stiles murmurs eventually.
"Too bad," says Derek.
"Scott said – Lydia said that Scott said that you barrelled out of the studio like you had hell on your heels, when he told you about," his voice breaks, "the – uh, the drugs."
"I drove straight here."
"Oh," Stiles says, wondering. "That's – intense. Did you stop for lunch at least?"
Were it any other situation, any other time, Derek might have laughed. As it is, he's holding a Stiles who's coming down from an amphetamine high and is starting to shake. Then Derek realizes they're both shaking.
Derek walks backwards slowly, pulling Stiles with him with gentle touches, until they tip over onto Stiles' bed and lie there, staring at each other. Stiles blinks at him like he can't believe Derek is really here. Derek isn't sure what Stiles thinks he's seeing, so he puts a hand on Stiles' cheek and brushes under one of Stiles' eyes with his thumb.
"Were you ever going to tell me?" he asks.
Stiles flinches bodily, but Derek grabs his wrist before he can roll away.
"I wasn't even going to do any of this!" Stiles bursts out. Catching Derek's wide eyes, the words come spilling out of him like a waterfall. "I'd only tried it a few times in the past, just at parties, nothing major. Half of campus uses something or other. I've been on Adderall for years, right, because it helped me concentrate, but this stuff I got was better, lasted longer. I always got really great ideas while I was on something, always. My best ideas. And I could finish projects on time too, when I was better focused. It helped my grades, so, so – but I wasn't addicted for the fun of it or anything. I drew those first designs during an all-nighter and sent them to Scott while I was still coasting because it seemed okay to do at the time. And then when I got home and saw them and told Scott I drew them while high, he totally, totally flipped his shit. I felt like – scum. Scum, Derek. I told myself I'd never use again. But then there was you and you were only interested in those designs, and I thought, God, what do I do, do I give up on you or do I—"
"Wait," Derek interrupts. "What? Go back. I was only interested in those designs – what?"
"At first," Stiles mutters, looking wretched. He drops his gaze away from Derek's. "You liked me for my art. Don't deny it. It was fucking obvious. You wouldn't have looked twice at me if it weren't for those drawings. And I don't blame you, because like, you're all," he gestures to Derek's body, "and I'm all," he shrugs, eyes darting. "And at the start of that week, I was all, who cares, whatever. But we worked on those vases together and I thought it was awesome. I thought you were a total dick, but awesome too. You were flirting with me then, weren't you? With the 'let's get hot' jokes?"
"I," says Derek. Swallows the lump in his throat. "Yeah. But—"
"Yeah," Stiles says, continuing. "So I thought, well, I'll try some other designs, and maybe if you liked those, then I'd have an in with you, but you didn't. You looked through my sketchbook at the market and you said—"
"Don't," says Derek sharply, wanting to avoid this, but Stiles' eyebrows rise.
"Dude, they weren't good enough, it's cool. It wasn't like I was offended – whatever, it was fine. I thought, oh, point made. Duh. It was a stupid idea in the first place. Daydreams, you know? Plus, you saw my sketches of you and you said nothing about them, so I—" he takes in a stilted breath. "Anyway. I was going to forget all about it. Except then you had to send me the check and I felt like – I felt good about it. So I tried to draw more while sober, seriously tried, but I was stressed out with school and it was so much easier with the drugs, so – yeah." He laughs nervously. "God, I sound majorly desperate right now, don't I? It wasn't even like I was trying to, uh, win your heart or anything, fuck. But I just wanted to give you good designs. 'Cause, like, every time you sent me pictures of what you'd made, I'd think of the time and effort you spent on them and I – yeah."
He covers his face, garbling the rest of his sentences, until they peter out into nothing.
Silence dampens the room, disturbed only by Stiles' loud breathing, the tick of the clock on the wall. The faint noise of other residents down the hall. Derek is cruising on low-grade panic; he hasn't even kissed Stiles yet and everything's already gone wrong. A part of him just wants to leap out of the bed and run home, hide himself in the safety of his room, where there aren't other people for Derek to get attached to and get hurt by and lose. But the other part of him wants to be close to Stiles, to make Stiles stop thinking he has to push himself to these imaginary standards, to return the favor Stiles had conferred to Derek by giving Derek the courage to make glass wolves. This is the side of Derek from before the fire, the rough-and-tumble teenager who grinned with bared teeth and hated to back down from a fight; there are still shards of him left, clinging inside Derek.
So he doesn't leave. "I'm sorry," is what he says. He pulls Stiles' hands down and holds them between his own, lending them his warmth.
Stiles goes tense. "What? Why? What do you have to be sorry for?"
"I didn't know."
"Obviously. I was trying to keep it from you. I didn't want you to know."
"I shouldn't have let you think that I liked you only for your art."
"I—" Stiles stares. "Huh?"
"I don't just like you for your art," says Derek. "It's the stupidest thing ever that you think that."
"But you – when I mentioned those sketches I drew of you – wait, did you figure out that was me basically confessing my huge crush on you? You must have, of course you did, it was like, so obvious an astronaut on the ISS could have seen it. But you, um..." he trails off.
"I had a panic attack, yeah."
"So if just thinking about being with me triggered that kind of—"
"Not – for the reasons you're thinking of," Derek says. "It wasn't. It was – because you made me happy, and I have a – hard time dealing with happiness, since my family died."
Stiles swallows. "Oh."
"I thought you knew," says Derek.
"I mean, yeah, I knew about your family," Stiles stammers. "And I know you were the one who found the bodies and called the fire department, but your house burned up before they got there. Of course that would mess up anyone's head; I mean, look at me, it was just my mom who died and I was two steps away from juvenile delinquency all through high school, even though my dad is a sheriff—" his words cut off, until he squeaks, "You do like me, then? You're attracted to me?"
Derek closes his eyes and wills the metal clamp on his insides to loosen up, to let some insecurities go. Stiles has already put himself on the line. Derek has all his answers.
"Yeah," Derek says. "I do. I am. I was planning to come up here this weekend anyway. To surprise you."
"Wait, were you?" Stiles asks, then immediately revises, "What the fuck, you were?" His eyes widen like he's watching his dog being run over.
Derek has to look away, but his gaze only drifts as far as the side of Stiles' jaw, which is clenched and hard-edged. "You're not happy," Derek says dully. It's not a question. Stiles may have been able keep a secret from Derek over the phone (and a fucking huge secret, Christ), but in person he's a picture book – he can't keep emotions off his face. Right now, he looks like a wrecked man.
"I'm sorry you came," Stiles says, voice thick. "You drove all this way just to get disappointed."
Derek reacts. Before either of them can blink, he's caught the back of Stiles' neck with one hand and is squeezing tightly. "Don't ever say that," he hisses. Stiles is going too far. Derek can stand him feeling guilty about taking drugs, but he won't let Stiles believe that Derek thinks worse of him for it. "You're not a disappointment. The drugs can calm down your system, but they don't give you talent. You're fucking talented, Stiles. You don't need drugs as a crutch. Were you using when you drew those portraits of me?"
Stiles blinks, then shakes his head fervently.
"Those affected me more than any of your sculpture drawings. Okay? That's why I froze up and was a dick to you at the market. I didn't know what to say to you, because you drew me as this—" Derek's throat catches. He can't even say it now. Everything is ready at the tip of his tongue – you drew me and it was incredible, inspiring, validating, humbling – but the words lie unmovable, like hardened lava, in Derek's mouth. God, the one thing Stiles needs right now is reassurance that he's not a failure and it's Derek's fault, but he can't fix it.
But Stiles is staring at him like he's waiting and Derek has to say something.
"Your art is just an extension of you," is what comes out, and maybe his words sound like they're being formed on his last breath of air, but Derek doesn't care – he means them. "Your art is amazing, so – you too."
Stiles' mouth opens but he says nothing, completely gobsmacked. For a frozen second, Derek feels like he's sinking; he regrets ever confessing anything – what he said hadn't even made sense. But before he can take it back, it's as if a flip is switched: Stiles hurls himself at Derek, mouth biting for Derek's lips, arms tugging at Derek's shoulders. Derek catches him, hauls Stiles' body over his own until Stiles slots over him, chest to chest, hip to hip, legs twining. He grabs Stiles' head with both hands so he can keep Stiles still as Derek plunges into Stiles' mouth, chasing away the lingering tastes of shame and fear, until Stiles is moaning in one continuous streak of sound and Derek starts feeling woozy. He rips himself away from Stiles' lips, panting harshly, and Stiles gasps in Derek's ear, "Oh my God, Derek, oh my God, you're just—" And Derek isn't just anything, not anymore, so he dives back into Stiles' mouth, teeth clacking, tongues pushing deep like they're trying to swallow each other's voices.
"This isn't because you feel sorry for me, is it?" Stiles asks, wrenching away abruptly. It takes a second for Derek to break out of the lust-fog clouding his senses so he can respond.
"This isn't because you feel sorry for me, is it," he says, and Stiles looks horrified.
"What the fuck, no. I just – I'm saying that you don't owe me anything for the art. I – the drugs were my choice. That's not on you."
Derek asks directly: "Are you going to stop using?"
"Yes," says Stiles fiercely. So fiercely that it's Derek who's overwhelmed.
"Good," Derek murmurs, kissing Stiles again and again, just chaste presses of their lips together, until Stiles is making soft, content noises and is kissing back.
As far as resolutions go, there are probably better ways to guarantee both Stiles' honesty, and that he's fully understood Derek's intentions, than making out while Stiles eases off his amphetamine high. But it's so good feeling Stiles under his hands, being pressed down by Stiles' body, lifting his hips in tiny shoves to match Stiles' twitching thrusts downwards. There are more things to talk about later, but it's enough for now to hold Stiles and feel his heartbeat thudding fast and strong in counterpoint to Derek's own. There are novels that Stiles is spelling out to him with his fingers and tongue and flickers of his eyelashes, and Derek does his best to relay his own message back. He feels fevered all over, drunk off Stiles and the way that Stiles is touching him: equal parts hungry and hesitant, like he's trying to control himself but can't quite manage it. It's almost frightening, because it makes Derek want to give him everything.
But this isn't the time. When Derek feels Stiles' hands snake down his chest to fiddle at his belt, Derek groans and tries to push Stiles away. He doesn't go very far.
Stiles' pupils had shrunk a little during their talk, but now they're fully dilated again; Stiles' face is flushed all over and his mouth is so invitingly wet. Derek shudders. Stiles is hard against the jut of Derek's hip and it feels good. Everything feels fucking phenomenal and Derek barely hurts at all.
"We can," Stiles says. "I want to. A lot. I've wanted to all this time, Derek. God, you can't even imagine how badly I—"
"I can," Derek says. His voice is scraped raw. "Imagine, I mean. I can imagine how badly."
"Oh holy God," says Stiles faintly, now fairly scrabbling at Derek's pants. "We – please, I want—"
Derek grabs his wrists. Pulls them up. "We can't, not right now. Not like this. Not with you like – this."
"No, but I'm completely okay," Stiles pushes. "I really, really am in the right frame of mind at this moment. I swear to you. I have never been better. There is nothing I don't want from you."
Derek's lips curl at that, and it only feels slightly bitter on his mouth. "You dumbass, saying shit like that. You don't know what I can do to you."
Stiles kisses him hard. Uses the weight of his chest to push Derek into compliance, until Derek is craning his neck upwards to get more of Stiles' lips, to rub his nose on the underside of Stiles' jaw, teeth dragging down Stiles' neck.
"Yeah," Stiles laughs, and he sounds joyous. "Just like that. Exactly like that."
"No," Derek counters, though he doesn't stop kissing Stiles' throat. "We're not having sex today. I'm tired, you're still a bit wrung out, and it's all too – there will be a better time."
At that, Stiles sits back on his haunches, across Derek's hips. His hands rest lightly on Derek's stomach, fingers spread like a fan. His eyes are glistening; Derek wonders what he sees.
"Timing," is what Stiles says, grinning at full capacity, and Derek grins back yes.
Stiles is dead to the world, his back curled up against Derek's chest, when his phone rings with the British national anthem.
It's buzzing on a small table beside the bed, within Derek's reach, so he grabs it. The caller ID reads Lydia Martin.
"Hello," Derek says mildly.
"Did you kiss and make up?" says Lydia.
"What do you think."
"I think that it was extremely generous of me to check into a hotel for tonight, when I've been staying in Stiles' room all this week, where, coincidentally, all my stuff is. So I expect you to tell Stiles, when his head is screwed back on correctly, that he owes me for one night's stay at the Hilton, as well as reimbursement for the purchase of necessities."
"You were sleeping on the floor here?" Derek asks. He can't picture that.
"Don't be silly. Stiles was."
"I'll pay for all your expenses," offers Derek.
"Well!" chuckles Lydia, after a moment. "Aren't we smug."
"I'll have Stiles call you in the morning." Derek hangs up.
He pulls Stiles' body back to him, inhaling deeply at Stiles' nape. "Who's 'at?" Stiles slurs.
"The queen of England. How did you wash off the green dye last week?" Derek suddenly thinks to ask, picturing a cackling Lydia.
"Oh," murmurs Stiles, sleepy and slow. "Lydia dragged me to a spa. I got a mani-pedi too."
Derek kisses the shell of Stiles' ear. As if reading Derek's mind, Stiles obligingly rolls over so Derek can get at his lips instead.
This part isn't difficult at all, Derek thinks. Even his heart rate is steady.
Maybe he should have expected that.
Derek goes home the next day, after, in order: making out in Stiles' bed, a huge breakfast, making out in Stiles' bathroom, treating Lydia and Stiles to a late lunch, taking a tour of campus, and making out in Derek's Camaro in the residence's guest parking lot.
"I want to ride you in this car," Stiles says to him before Derek's due to take off, grinding into Derek's lap, "Can we do that?"
The only reason Derek hasn't torn off Stiles' clothes yet is because he's certain that if he lets himself inside Stiles, he'll never want to leave. Lydia's still here, and Stiles owes her an explanation plus ten thousand apologies, and he needs to phone Scott too, besides. Derek's a selfish douche, but other people care about Stiles besides him, and he can respect that. Even if Stiles is being a fucking nympho right now, trying to crawl into Derek's pants from the crotch down.
"I'll come back next weekend," Derek groans, hands helpless against the magnetic pull of Stiles' skin. "I'll bring – the – the wolf."
Stiles laughs against his lips. "You call your sex drive 'the wolf?'"
"The glass wolf, shut up, you know what I—"
"Yeah," Stiles sucks Derek's lower lip into his mouth, nibbles on it with intent. His eyes flash: a lascivious promise. "Bring both."
Monday morning and Scott storms into the studio, a war speech ready at the tips of his teeth. He spots Derek and opens his mouth.
"I'm doubling your pay," Derek says smoothly.
Scott's mouth snaps shut with a click.
The week passes by like molasses, oozing sluggishly out of the bottle. Derek feels like he's been dipped in oil and fried to a crisp – work days leave him itching and impatient unless he's working on one of Stiles' designs or one of his own wolves, and he feels like he's living for the moment when he can get home, turn on his laptop, and message Stiles.
They chat on Skype now, which they hadn't done before, and it's sort of pathetic that Derek's contact list is made up precisely of one, but then in the following three days, Scott sends a request, and then so do Lydia, Isaac Lahey, and then, shockingly, so does Jackson Whittemore. Derek denies Jackson's request. When he lets Stiles know, Stiles starts laughing his head off; apparently, he'd just learned, Lydia received a present in the mail when she returned to her condo by Berkeley campus: Jackson had bought that overpriced trillium dish for her. Derek finds out through Scott that Stiles had nursed the biggest crush on Lydia throughout elementary school as well as most of high school and that doesn't make Derek happy, but Stiles soothes his ego by putting on the dumbest, most uncoordinated striptease ever to the tune of Baby Got Back – by the end of it, Derek's face is in smothered in his hands from second-hand embarrassment. It must be a testament to how much he likes Stiles that he stays hard the entire time, and from Stiles' triumphant grin, he knows it too.
The video sex is great. Stiles really is lithe like he said, and the moles that dot across his skin are a map made to be traced by a tongue. Looking is good for now, though, better than good. Derek would be lying to himself if he said he didn't like how the computer screen alleviates a bit of performance pressure, but he thinks it's okay. Stiles thinks it's okay too, when Derek admits it, and then offers to start round two.
And it's not just cybering. They call each other daily, sometimes talking for hours. Although the percentage of vocal participation is about eighty percent Stiles and twenty percent Derek, they're both comfortable with that. Derek is first to know when Stiles gets the grade for his midterm project, an A-plus, which makes Stiles' smile stretch on forever, lasting through the entire conversation ("I hadn't been on anything that night, Derek, this is all thanks to you!"); Derek can tell from the lift in his voice. Stiles goes cold turkey off drugs, and while Derek believes Stiles when he says that his biggest motivation to take it was for the focus, not any high, biology is a fickle bitch and sometimes Stiles has to call Derek in the middle of the day to keep himself from giving into a craving. It's during one of these instances that Derek tells Stiles, perhaps a bit too blandly, that he doesn't understand why Stiles was so anxious to increase his concentration skills in the first place, since he seemed to work just fine with Derek when they'd been making those Christmas bulb vases together. Stiles is quiet for so long after that that Derek's stomach drops, thinking he'd said something ruinous, but then Stiles just says, very firmly, "Derek, you fucking assface, you're too good for me. You give me way too much credit."
Which is patently the dumbest thing ever. If anything, it's the other way around; Stiles is miles beyond Derek's league. Derek says as much but this just makes Stiles whimper and whisper, "I really wish I could touch you right now." Derek ducks into the studio bathroom to have phone sex and when he emerges back out, Scott purposely avoids his gaze for the rest of the afternoon.
Derek is starting to think that maybe it's not a matter of either him or Stiles being better than the other, but that they're good together, and if they're both fucked up, at least their fucked up edges slot in neatly with each other's, like some artsy, angsty, anxiety-disordered puzzle. They're both guilty of harboring some misconceptions about one another, but Derek likes the way they inspire each other to be better. Stiles represents Derek's muse and Derek represents Stiles' control, and it works for them. Derek still has a shitload of issues to wade through, but Deaton thinks his progress is good, and Stiles seems to like him regardless. Derek has a tough time believing that some mornings, but it's getting easier as the days go by. Stiles isn't patient about much, but for Derek, he's willing to wait for ages, an entire eon if need be. Stiles declares this over Skype Thursday night, and kindly emphasizes that their eon has lasted exactly seven days, which is seven days too many for his tastes, but he's a trooper and can handle it. Derek rolls his eyes, but in truth, he's eager to see Stiles again too, to touch him, feel him solid and malleable under Derek's fingers.
Derek doesn't want to miss out on another Saturday market, but also can't leave Scott to set up the tent by himself, so the two of them discuss their options and in the end, Scott calls up Isaac for help. Isaac is more than happy to drop by. With him comes a girl named Erica Reyes and with her comes her boyfriend, Boyd; Derek trusts precisely none of them but he couldn't really give a flying fuck if it frees up his weekend for L.A. and Stiles.
Saturday morning dawns crisp and clear, practically bursting with promise. Derek splurges on a plane ticket to LAX and then takes a taxi straight to Stiles' residence. He knocks on Stiles' door, feeling a bit shaky now that he's standing here again, his memories pulling him back all too readily to the previous week, when he'd felt like reality was shredding to rags around him.
This only lasts for a very short moment, though not due to any will of his own. Stiles opens the door and leaps on him, arms winding hello around Derek's neck, mouth kissing I missed you across Derek's cheeks, nose, lips. Stiles pulls back eventually, and says, breathless, "Uh, hey. Come on in."
Derek takes Stiles' hand and isn't afraid.
What a picture Stiles makes right now, naked on the bed, back against the wall, sketchpad open in his lap. Derek lies on his front beside him and runs a hand up and down Stiles' right thigh, occasionally drifting inwards to drag between Stiles' legs or dip lower, to where Derek had been buried not too long ago. He's hazy with contentment and his back stings pleasantly from the tracks Stiles had scored with his fingernails. Stiles hums as he sketches, random pop songs that warble out of tune. His voice is gravelly and Derek, shivering, lets himself remember why, recalling other types of Stiles' vocalizations he's learned in the past hour. Derek's starting to get hard again and he edges closer to Stiles, pushing his head under Stiles' sketchbook until his mouth can reach Stiles' cock. The book slams down on Derek's head.
"Stop that!" Stiles yelps. "I'm trying to work here."
"No you're not," Derek says, because he's been lying right there – and Stiles hasn't really bothered to hide the fact that all he's been drawing are variations of Derek's triskele tattoo. Swirls upon swirls. Derek licks a broad stripe across the head of Stiles' cock and leaves his tongue resting on its underside to feel it swell.
"Okay, you're right, I'm not," Stiles agrees easily, and the arm holding up the sketchpad wilts to the bedsheets.
Derek sucks at him for a while, lazy, in no hurry, until Stiles is keening beneath him and is winding long fingers through Derek's hair, still slightly sweaty from their previous foray. Stiles is just as responsive as Derek had hoped, although his reactions are totally unpredictable, and Derek likes that. He likes that a lot.
Out of nowhere, Stiles asks lightly, "Would you love me even if I never drew you another design?"
Nothing in the world can totally eradicate Derek's mood right now, but even with Stiles' half-joking tone, he can't help but tense at Stiles' words. It's a loaded question. Love is a big thing. Derek loved people once, and they all died, one way or another.
But Derek's warm and lax from his orgasm and he's in Stiles' bed with Stiles and he feels – safe. Better than he thought he could ever feel again. So maybe, yeah, if he has to label what he feels for Stiles, love is probably a decent bet.
These things are easier to think than to say aloud, though, the same way some pieces of art can be drawn in 2D but are impossible to recreate in real life. The words that Derek wants to describe Stiles with are – infinite, and at the same time, nonexistent.
But Stiles must read some kind of answer in Derek's face because he grins and massages Derek's shoulders until Derek melts back into his post-coital stupor. Then Stiles flips to an old page in his sketchbook and holds it out for Derek's perusal.
It's an ashtray. Not round, though. It's in the shape of a maple leaf, its five points curled up and inwards like a crown, edges tapered. Nothing too fancy. Elegant. Natural.
"It's pretty," Derek marvels, reaching up to touch Stiles' lines. As if he could feel the edge of the pressed glass if he tries hard enough.
"No drugs," Stiles says. "Took me four goddamn hours, but. No drugs."
Derek has to pull the book away from Stiles then. Has to cradle his palms against Stiles' chin, tipping his face down for Derek to kiss. Within the cell of Derek's ribcage, his heart is hammering like he's about to die, but no, Derek doesn't feel anything close to dying. Hasn't, actually, for a while.
Stiles' hole is still wet and relaxed from before when Derek caresses it, but so hot around Derek's fingers that it makes his breath hitch. It's been too long since Derek touched someone else's body so thoroughly and he'd almost forgotten how good it feels, the simple comfort of being close, caring and being cared for. The way Stiles' facial expressions shift as Derek teases his prostate is captivating – Derek can't look away. Stiles lets out a shallow, reedy, "Fuuuuck," head tossing back onto his pillow, and the veins of his long neck stand out in sharp relief, calling to Derek's mouth like siren music. Derek nips at Stiles' skin, licking up the salty tang of fresh sweat, and digs his teeth into the crook of Stiles' shoulder just to hear Stiles gasp. The twitches of Stiles' cock against Derek's hip make Derek ache. The contact is as searing as a brand, and Derek wants to feel that scorching heat everywhere. Then Stiles says, "Okay, okay, in me now, please," panting mindlessly, eyes bright, lips bitten red, expression so open, and all Derek can think is that even if he loses everything tomorrow, the pain would be worth it, just for this.
It's a feat of patience to let Stiles slip a new condom on him. They're both so needy; Derek's hands are giving off minute tremors in their grip on Stiles' legs, but Stiles' hands hold steady as they stroke him, adding lube down Derek's length. When Derek finally lines up and pushes into Stiles, Stiles' legs wrapped around him, Stiles' mouth dragging against his, Derek keeps his eyes open. Stiles does too, like he's scared Derek will disappear if he blinks, and Derek wants to show him he won't, convince Stiles that he's not going anywhere. He lives in Beacon Hills, he's a Hale, he belongs there, and Stiles belongs with him.
"Derek, Derek," Stiles grunts, as they shove against each other, faster now, both striving for that moment when the entire universe is reduced to the feeling that two bodies can give each other, a pure instant of bliss that so many artists have tried to immortalize in their work, that yet remains indescribable. Derek's entire body is lit aflame and this kind of fire feels warm, doesn't burn his skin, doesn't make Derek scream in horror. It reminds Derek of the furnace in his studio, heating up the glass to its most basic form, returning it to its nascent state of limitless possibilities. Derek feels remolded too, by Stiles' hands and heart and the tight heat of Stiles' body, feels like all his sharp edges and grit are being sloughed off and he's being polished into something bright and gleaming, and worthy of love.
Stiles pulls Derek nearer, until there's not an inch of space between them, and with his lips slip-sliding against Derek's forehead in the same back and forth rhythm as Derek's thrusts, he gasps, "You're too good to be real." It's the sincerity in his voice, his conviction that Derek is something amazing, that topples Derek over the edge. He stifles his groan into Stiles' shoulder, hips stuttering, and barely has it in him to circle his fingers around Stiles and jerk him to completion too. A splash of warmth across Derek's belly, Stiles moaning, and Derek floats back down to earth like a maple leaf cradled by a gentle wind.
The only thing waiting for him this time is Stiles, smiling and happy, holding Derek close.
"While you're here," says Stiles the next day, wiping his nose and smearing charcoal all over his cheek, "you can be my nude model for my anatomy class. That's a guaranteed A-plus if I ever saw one."
"I'll do it if only if I can draw you naked too," Derek says, and of course Stiles acquiesces. He allows Stiles two jokes, "Draw me like one of your French girls, Jack," and later, halfway through, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours," before Derek rips away his paper and pushes Stiles to the ground.
The glass wolf sits on top of Stiles' desk, perfectly balanced on its four legs, where it can keep a serene guard over all of Stiles' future creations, its new kingdom.