It starts on an otherwise average day, when they’re on an otherwise average stakeout in Stiles’ Jeep.
They’re parked near the campgrounds, where there’s been a recent spike in violent animal maulings. It’s most likely nothing, of course—probably an actual cougar, this time—but part of the pack’s gradually-strengthening truce with the Argents includes a certain amount of territory maintenance (meaning, if Derek lets another pack start fucking shit up in Beacon Hills, he’ll be held personally responsible, which Derek thinks is a manageable if terrifically unfair compromise).
Stiles is here because Stiles does not know how to take no for an answer, and Derek stopped wanting him to take no for an answer a long time ago, to be honest. He likes to have the company (skulking around all alone lost its appeal years ago, not that Derek likes to admit that).
Not to mention that lately, if given a choice, Derek might possibly have a preference for Stiles’ company in particular.
Though the same can’t be said for Stiles’ choice in radio stations.
“Take me by the tongue and I’ll knoooow you!” Stiles is singing in an exaggerated falsetto, clearly trying to be as obnoxious as possible.
“If I take you by the tongue, will it shut you up?” Derek asks. Threatening Stiles is as familiar as breathing, pretty much, but it doesn’t feel the same as it did years ago, back when they were always nipping at each other’s throats and barely able to stand each other. It’s always got a soft edge to it now, when he does it. Fond, even—or as fond as threats of violence can conceivably be.
“Uh,” Stiles says, instead of snarking back, which is unexpected enough that Derek swings his head around to look at him.
Stiles is peering at Derek like he’s never seen him before. His eyes are big and his pupils are a little bit blown, and his mouth is open even more than usual (because he has a habit of never closing his mouth, ever, and Derek tries to tell himself every day that it doesn’t mean anything if he finds that a little distracting). Derek watches as a flush blooms on his face, and thinks about how it makes an interesting contrast with the dark freckles sprinkled across Stiles’ cheeks and along his jaw.
“You all right?” Derek asks, before he can do something creepy like just stare back at Stiles for ten minutes, or something.
Stiles’ eyes slide shut. “Oh no,” he groans quietly to himself, apropos of nothing as far as Derek can tell. He looks away finally and buries his face in his hands. “Ugh, no.”
“Your heart,” Derek says, concerned. “It’s spiking like crazy, is there anything…” He reaches out a hand, and then stops, not sure whether contact would actually be helpful if Stiles is having some kind of panic attack.
“NO,” Stiles says, flinching back. “No, I’m, I’ll be fine. I’ve just had a sudden and terrifying revelation that my life is even more unfair that I originally thought, that’s all. Nothing major.”
“Oh.” Derek frowns. “You know, you didn’t have to come out here with me. I told you I’m perfectly happy looking into this on my own.”
“Really, Derek?” Stiles smirks wickedly, and that expression at least is familiar, if exasperating. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you ‘perfectly happy’ about anything, ever. Maybe that cheeseburger at Ormond’s.”
“That burger changed my life,” Derek says seriously, just so he can watch Stiles dissolve into surprised giggles the way he always does when Derek is funny on purpose. The tension is broken after that, and Derek temporarily forgets about the sudden weirdness until the next day, when Stiles shows up at his house for dinner with the pack wearing at least half a bottle of sharp, astringent cologne.
“Oh my god, my eyes,” Erica shrieks. “They’re burning, Stiles, WHY.”
“You’re even more offensive than usual, and that’s saying a lot,” Jackson sneers. Scott and Isaac have retreated to the far corner with their shirts pulled up over their faces.
“Stiles, honey, even from a human standpoint this is pretty unbearable,” Lydia says, and Allison is clearly trying valiantly not to laugh and embarrass Stiles even more.
“Get out of here and don’t come back until you’ve showered three times,” Boyd orders from behind the hand he has clamped over his nose and mouth.
“You don’t get to boss me around,” Stiles points out, which is technically true, so—
“Get out,” Derek says, “and don’t come back until you’ve showered three times.” Boyd smirks, but Derek can’t actually find much humor in the situation. Now that they’ve settled into being friends, of a sort, it’s rare that a day goes by without Stiles’ scent in his nose. Seeing Stiles right there in front of him and not being able to smell him, every familiar nuance of youth and spice and that certain brash, Stiles-ish sweetness that’s difficult to explain and a little bit awkward and a lot intoxicating—it’s disconcerting, and actually genuinely upsetting.
“Fine,” Stiles says, with what seems like a disproportionate amount of bitterness. “Sue me for wanting a little bit of olfactory privacy around a roomful of emotion sniffers.”
“You’ve never cared about that before,” Scott points out. “And anyway, it’s not like any of us have any real secrets from each other, anymore. We’ve been living in each other’s pockets for like, an entire year, at this point.”
“Oh my god,” Stiles says, looking utterly humiliated. He looks at Derek and his face just crumples, which is shocking and kind of horrible to watch. “Look, I need to go. I’ll catch you guys next time, all right?”
“Fine,” says Derek, even though it isn’t. “Is there anything I can—”
“Nope, nothing, gotta go, three showers,” Stiles is saying as he practically sprints out the door.
Then Derek doesn’t see Stiles for an entire week, which shouldn’t be a problem. Derek knows it shouldn’t be a problem. Stiles isn’t one of his wolves, and he doesn’t actually owe Derek anything (this might actually be why those moments in which Stiles demonstrates his loyalty and apparent affection for him have such particular significance—because Derek doesn’t really know how he came to earn any of that in the first place, if not with a bite).
At any rate, an entire Stiles-less week is unusual these days, and it makes Derek antsy. So much so that he might have an ulterior motive for calling Sheriff Stilinski and inviting himself over for Monday Night Football.
“We haven’t done this in a while,” says the sheriff, offering him another beer. “Kinda missed it, to be honest. Stiles is more of a baseball fan. Plus he’s always a little busy, what with the whole…”
“Werewolf thing?” Derek suggests, smiling slightly. Letting the sheriff in on all the supernatural goings-on was one of his best decisions, he thinks, and not just because it got Stiles to stop walking around like he was carrying several tons of remorseful weight on his shoulders.
“Yes, that, and I thought we agreed that after kickoff you weren’t allowed to remind me about my son being in frequent mortal peril.”
Derek pops his beer open against the edge of the coffee table, which earns him a disapproving look that he chooses to ignore. “Stiles isn’t in mortal peril,” he insists. “I’d never let anything happen to him, you know that.”
“Well,” says the sheriff, “let’s drink to you being right about that, or else—”
“Or else you’ll kill me and use my pelt as a werewolf rug, yeah,” Derek sighs. They clink their bottles together. “If Stiles ever got hurt on my watch,” he adds after taking a long drink, “I’d probably stand there and let you.”
“Damn right you would,” says the sheriff, but he’s got a soft, considering look on his face that looks a lot like the expression Stiles had on that time he caught Derek trying to teach Isaac how to throw a curveball.
As if summoned by Derek’s stray thoughts, Stiles spills in through the front door with his usual awkward grace, freezing mid-flail as he spots them together on the couch. “Hi Dad,” he says. “And Derek.”
“Stiles,” Derek says, keeping his tone as flat as possible. He scents the air as subtly as he possibly can, and he feels little of the tension leave his body now that Stiles is close again. “Long time, no see.”
“A week, at the most, don’t be so needy,” Stiles says, but he’s being shifty again, staying back and avoiding eye contact when he usually has absolutely no problem getting in Derek’s way at every opportunity. “You guys watching the game?”
“Yeah. You can join us,” Derek offers.
Stiles looks like he’s trying to think of a reason to say no when the sheriff adds “Yeah, join us. I miss spending time with you, kid,” which appears to shatter Stiles’ resolve into a million guilty pieces.
“Okay, fine, let me just… go put my stuff away first,” Stiles says, and he dashes out of the room like his life is in danger.
“He’s been avoiding you, huh?” says the sheriff, and he sounds like he’s consoling Derek, which is just so completely ridiculous that Derek can barely process it.
“It’s only been a week,” Derek says, gruffly. “I’ve barely had time to notice.”
“Uh huh,” says the sheriff, warm and amused, and when Stiles comes running back into the living room he shifts way over on the couch so Stiles has no choice but to take the spot between them, next to Derek.
“Okay, well,” Stiles says, looking grim. He squeezes himself in, his thigh warm where it’s pressed tight against Derek’s, and then shoves an entire handful of snack mix into his mouth and chews vindictively.
“Why are you wearing cologne again,” Derek says. “You weren’t wearing that when you came home.”
“I thought you weren’t going to smell me from across the room anymore,” Stiles says, sounding scandalized.
Derek rolls his eyes. “I never agreed to that.”
“And I bought a different one,” Stiles continues, methodically breaking a pretzel stick into halves, and then quarters. “This one’s better, right? Lydia said it was better.”
“You smell a lot better without it,” Derek says, because it’s true. He doesn’t think about how odd that might sound in a human context, until Sheriff Stilinski covers his mouth with his hand and snorts. “And also, what’s that sound?”
“What sound?” But Derek can hear the way Stiles’ heart gets louder over the half-lie, temporarily drowning out the—
“Stiles, do you have a radio in your pocket?”
Stiles checks the front pocket of his plaid shirt, making a show of (fake) surprise when he pulls out the mini mp3 player. It’s got a pair of earbuds wrapped around it, and they’re emitting a faint trace of thumping baseline that would probably be inaudible to human ears. “Oh yeah, look at that,” he says, sounding miserable. “Guess I forgot to turn it off.”
Derek is still staring at him, wondering when and how he lost his grip on this relationship so thoroughly, when Stiles throws the mp3 player down on the coffee table and says “Dad, I’m really sorry, another time for sure, but I’ve got a ton of homework, so.” He stands, trips over Derek’s jacket on the floor, and then gives a strange, sour laugh as Derek jumps up and catches him around the middle before he can fall. “Yeah, thanks,” he says, scathingly, and flees in the direction of his bedroom.
Derek just stands there for a moment, and then turns back to the sheriff with a bewildered expression.
“Derek, I am staying way the hell out of this one,” he says. “Just have another beer and watch my team slaughter yours.”
“It’s only halftime,” Derek protests. He sits back down, and the sheriff slaps him on the back heartily, which Derek appreciates.
Derek finally snaps after another week of Stiles behaving like a crazy person (or a crazier person than usual, anyway.) He corners him after lacrosse practice, dragging him under the bleachers before he can escape to the locker room with the rest of the team. “You have to tell me what’s going on with you,” he says firmly.
“I’m not your beta,” Stiles spits, and Derek actually takes a step back at the resentment coming off of Stiles right now. “I don’t actually have to do everything you say.”
Derek throws up his hands, so completely done with this whole situation. “I’m not trying for a power play here, Stiles, I’m asking you to tell me what’s wrong!”
“Because I’m breaking some kind of Pack Code by wanting to keep things to myself, or—”
“Because I’m worried about you,” Derek says, but that’s only half of the truth. He’s worried about himself, more, and about what he’s going to do if Stiles suddenly decides he doesn’t need Derek in his life anymore. It’s a possibility that had honestly not occurred to him, before this whole thing began, and now that it has Derek is not even a little bit okay with it.
“I’m handling it, okay?” Stiles shouts. He sighs, scrubbing his hands over his hair a few times, and then takes a deep, steadying breath. “I’m handling it, I’m not sure what more you want from me. I cover my scent now so you don’t have to smell it, and I tried to cover my heartbeat too so that would be less obvious, but you wouldn’t just let it go, you had to keep pointing it out.”
“Stiles.” Derek leans closer to him, bracing an arm against the bench next to his shoulder. “I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about, okay?”
Stiles glares. “I know that’s a lie. You can smell… feelings, can’t you? Even subconscious ones, probably. I bet you knew before I did.”
“Knew? Knew what?” And then Derek thinks about it, remembers the look on Stiles’ face in the car, that night before Stiles went home and put on gallons of cologne, and he starts to understand. “When you say feelings, you mean…”
“You know what I mean, you dick! Now can we stop talking about this?”
Derek shakes his head, slowly, trying to shuffle all of these thoughts into place. “Feelings,” he repeats. “About… me?”
“Oh my god, you are the worst,” Stiles moans. “The actual worst, it’s like you actively try to be the most socially awkward person on the planet. Yes, about you.”
“Stiles.” Derek is trying not to smile, because he knows Stiles would take it the wrong way if he did. “We can smell primal emotions, mostly. Fear, and submission, and arousal, that sort of thing. I mean obviously I can tell when you’re, well,” and Stiles groans like he wants to die, “but it’s never seemed specific to me at all. You’re eighteen; you’re kind of, you know, all the time.”
“Yeah, when I’m around you,” Stiles says, accusingly, and he just looks so miserable that Derek can’t help grinning at him. “It isn’t funny, jackass!”
“No,” Derek agrees, still smiling. “It’s not. You should kiss me.”
Stiles’ whole body freezes in shock, which is a rare and fascinating sight. “I should—what?”
“Kiss me,” says Derek. “Only if you want.”
“Only if I—” Stiles narrows his eyes at him. “Are you kidding me right now?”
“You don’t have to,” Derek tells him, and then Stiles makes a strangled noise before grabbing Derek by the jacket and yanking him in.
Derek can’t really stop smiling, even though it’s ruining the kiss and that’s the last thing he wants—but luckily, Stiles is running on pure frustration and fury and just presses in and kisses him harder when he feels Derek’s lips trying to turn up against his.
Derek hums in satisfaction and holds onto Stiles, keeping him close. He starts off sliding his hands over Stiles' shoulders and down his chest, but he gets frustrated with the bulky pads in his way and eventually settles his palms against Stiles’ neck, where the skin is blessedly bare and already hot to the touch, and where Derek can feel the thundering of his pulse, fast and strong right up against his fingers. He strokes his thumbs down to Stiles’ chin and presses down a little in suggestion, and Stiles—who always follows Derek’s lead when it’s truly important—opens his mouth, letting out an extremely shameless moan when Derek runs the tip of his tongue over the inside of his upper lip.
“So, aah,” Stiles says, breathily, “I guess I don’t have to wear the cologne anymore.”
“I’m going to dump every last drop of it down your sink,” Derek promises, before burying his face in Stiles’ neck and breathing deep.