“What,” Stiles says, and he’s aware that he doesn’t quite make it a question, but he currently can’t feel his toes so he figures he’s allowed.
“Do you want a ride home or not?” Derek huffs impatiently, each word forming a visible cloud in the cold night air as he digs around in the Jeep's trunk to grab as many bags as he can carry and transfer them to his own car.
“No, but seriously. What.” Stiles has got both arms wrapped around himself against the chill, bouncing on the balls of his feet to try to keep warm, and he can’t stop glancing surreptitiously at his stalled Jeep like he can make it start running again out of sheer desperation. When he called his dad to tell him he’d broken down thirty miles out of town on his way back home for winter break, on Christmas Eve no less, the last thing he was expecting was an equally surly as he is scruffy werewolf to come and collect him.
Derek throws the last bag into his car, closes the hatch a little too roughly, and sighs at Stiles in exasperation. “I am doing you a favor right now. The correct response is, ‘thank you, Derek, please enjoy the next two hours of me shutting up.’”
“Yeah right,” Stiles snorts.
Derek mutters something up at the sky and then gets into the driver’s side. Stiles would argue more, but he’s not an idiot, so he scrambles to get into the passenger side before Derek decides to leave without him.
“But why are you doing me a favor?” he badgers as he adjusts his seatbelt and Derek pulls back onto the empty highway. The light snowfall that never quite makes it into the city starts to get a little thicker around them, large flakes gathering fast enough against the windshield to make small hills at the bottom before the wipers displace them.
“Because the station is short-staffed, Melissa’s on shift, and your father very much doubted you’d appreciate Scott showing up on his motorcycle for you in this kind of weather.”
Stiles scowls down at his hands, adjusting the heating vent so that it blasts hot air straight into his face.
“And he figured you’d prefer me over Chris Argent, but I’ll be happy to correct him next time,” Derek smirks.
Stiles punches his shoulder and scowls harder.
A gentle quiet settles over them for the next few miles, the kind that isn’t necessarily uncomfortable, but only because they’ve found themselves stuck together against their will so often that they’re a little too used to it by now.
“So. How was it not having all of us youths in your hair for the last few months?” Stiles asks, once the feeling in his fingers starts to return, and he settles back into his heated seat. As much as he makes fun of Derek’s soccer mom car, he can admit the perks are kinda worth it on occasion.
Derek keeps his eyes on the road, though Stiles notices his hand momentarily grip the steering wheel a little tighter. “Definitely quieter.”
Stiles is pretty sure that was supposed to sound like a good thing, but for a quick moment he’s certain he hears a sadness behind the words. Obviously the cold is affecting his auditory sensors now.
“Well, thanks for coming to get me anyway. I’m sure you had better things to do on Christmas Eve than rescue my ass from a faulty transmission.”
Derek shrugs one shoulder. “It’s no trouble. I owe your dad.”
Stiles frowns at that. Because okay, yeah, he knows Derek and his dad are almost maybe kinda friends now, after everything, but he’s not sure how he feels about his dad’s connection with Derek somehow trumping his own. He got here first, damn it. If Derek owes a Stilinski anything, it should be him.
But then again, Stiles has been away at school since late August. Who knows what’s gone down in his absence. He didn’t have the funds to make it back for Thanksgiving, and then had a research project that occupied him for the first half of his winter break. It’s been far too long since he’s been back home, and as desperately nonchalant as he’s trying to act right now, he really just misses everything. Beacon Hills, his friends, his dad, his old bedroom, Derek...
Yeah, okay, it’s possible Stiles realized a few things while he was away. Namely that he might be a little bit in love with Derek Hale. It was a revelation that not so much caught him off guard as it did bulldoze his brain into a completely new and as yet uncharted solar system.
“You have plans for tomorrow?” Stiles asks softly. There’s something about the quiet around them--the only sound the wheels on the road and wiper blades across the glass, everything muted by the snow--that makes him hesitant to disturb it.
Derek side-eyes him for a quick second. “I know it’s been awhile, but I didn’t realize our relationship had regressed to small talk.”
“Shut up, I meant that sincerely. I don’t know what my dad has up his sleeve, but you’re welcome to join us if you don’t have anything else going.”
Derek hums, nodding, eyes back on the road. “I’ll think about it.”
Stiles sighs and turns his head to stare out the window at the passing scenery, even if he can’t see very much of it in the dark. He drifts towards sleep off and on, but a few miles later gets dragged back to full consciousness when Derek clears his throat and asks, “How long are you here for?”
“I go back the weekend after New Year’s.” Stiles groans and stretches in his seat, trying to wake himself up. He’s not sure how long it’s been since they last spoke, seconds or minutes or longer, but he feels groggy and disoriented anyway, and is convinced he’s still half asleep when he thinks he catches Derek’s eyes on his midsection when his shirt rides up.
But Stiles remembers very clearly what he was like with Lydia in high school, and wishful thinking to the point of delusion never did anyone any good.
Derek’s expression remains neutral. “I think Scott’s having a party New Year’s Eve.”
“Yeah, I was one of the, like, fifty people he grilled for advice on that. I’m pretty sure he still thinks he needs an excuse to kiss Kira when there’s nothing life or death at stake, and the countdown to midnight is as good as any.”
Derek’s brow furrows. “I thought they were--“
“What, Facebook official? Only when mortal peril or her parents come into the picture. Between scenes they’re both too nervous to do much beyond awkward flirting, especially since they’re now at schools in different cities.”
Derek mutters under his breath at that, and if Stiles didn’t know any better he’d swear it was something along the lines of, “I know the feeling.”
“Are you going?” Stiles asks. “I mean, to Scott’s party. Did you just bring it up for a talking point or did you--”
“Are you going?” Derek interrupts.
Stiles studies him for a long moment, trying to get a read on what exactly is happening right now. “...Yes? It’s Scott. Of course I’m going.”
Derek nods and keeps his gaze determinedly on the road. "Good. That's... good."
"Um. Right. Good."
Stiles feels like he just walked into a pop quiz in his underwear.
And if there’s anything Stiles hates most at this point in his life, it’s getting nightmares confused with reality. He grits his teeth. “Pull over.”
Derek finally looks over at him. “What?”
“You heard me, dude, pull over.”
“Stiles, we’re nearly there. If you need to take a piss, I’m sure you can hold it until--”
“God damn it, Derek, just pull over before I jump out of the fucking car.” He is aware of how manic he sounds, but, well, Derek’s suffered by him through worse.
They come to a stop on the gravel-strewn shoulder, close enough to the treeline that Stiles can make out individual branches outlined by moonlight.
He breathes in deep a few times, staring at the dashboard while Derek just watches him expectantly. “Sorry,” he finally manages.
Derek looks a hair’s breadth away from punching him. “Good for you. Wanna tell me why we’re parked in the middle of nowhere during a potential storm?”
“I’m in love with you.” Well, on the list of things to blurt out right now that was definitely not one of his top choices, but alright. Derek stares at him. “Bet you’re glad I made you pull over now, huh?”
Derek doesn’t say anything.
Stiles swallows hard and stares at his knees. “Look, I’m not telling you this because I expect any kind of reciprocation or whatever. I’m saying it because it’s Christmas Eve and I’ve already had a lifetime’s worth of pining for people who don’t even know they’re stomping all over my heart and my pride when they do it, and I’m kinda sick of it. So, if you could, like, just try not to accidentally get my hopes up by acting weird or uncharacteristically nice, I would really appreciate it.”
Silence reigns in the car for an uncomfortably long moment during which Stiles is too afraid to even glance back up at Derek. He shifts in his seat, tugging his hoodie sleeves down over his hands and clearing his throat awkwardly. “Uh, you can start driving again now. I’m done.”
Then, without a word, Derek puts the car into gear and gets back onto the highway.
So that went well. At least Stiles won’t be spending what’s left of his winter break pining. Or, well, he will, but he won’t be under any delusions about it now. This is how grownups do it, right? P.S. Adulthood sucks.
Inside city limits the snowfall turns into a light, miserable drizzle that Stiles is pretty sure he can feel in his bones before he’s even had to step out in it. The end of this car ride cannot come fast enough. Though the dark, empty house that greets him when they finally roll to a stop doesn’t quite look as inviting as he’d hoped.
He knows his dad is at work, and that they haven’t bothered to do much more than put out the fake tree for Christmas since even before his mom died, back when she first started getting sick. But there’s still something uniquely depressing about being faced with the only home on the block not lit up, like a holiday tornado of multicolored LED’s and inflatable snowmen swept through the neighborhood but somehow missed the Stilinski residence entirely.
He feels lonely suddenly. The kind of dull ache he used to feel as a kid, sitting in a hospital waiting room by himself. Only now it's mixed with the fresh sting of romantic rejection. Awesome.
“Thanks for the ride, dude. If you wanna pop the trunk I can grab my bags myself. No need for both of us to get soaked,” Stiles tells him, staring at the door handle. He still hasn’t looked back at Derek and isn’t going to start now.
The rain is just as awful once Stiles is out in it as he’d figured it would be. He grabs the bags out of the trunk as quickly as possible and darts up to the refuge of the front porch awning without so much as a backward glance or a wave goodbye. If silence is the game Derek wants to play, Stiles can give as good as he gets.
Maybe this is what their interactions will consist of from now on, he thinks numbly as he makes his way inside the house and dumps his belongings onto the floor of the entryway, not bothering to so much as turn on a light. Maybe instead of snark and banter and semi-affectionate ribbing, it’ll just be silence and avoidance between him and Derek now.
Stiles sighs heavily, covers his eyes with a hand and leans back against the front door as he closes it. He’s vaguely aware that he’s shivering and should probably put on some dry clothes, but for now he just needs a moment to come to terms with the world ending.
A loud banging on the door right behind his head startles him forward, where he trips over a duffle bag and only barely manages not to brain himself on the coat rack. Stiles attempts not to panic, fails, and opens the door warily to come face to face with a very wet and very determined looking Derek Hale.
Derek stands there, breathing shallowly, water dripping from his hair into his eyes and down the sides of his face. There’s something wild about him right now that Stiles is equal parts terrified of and drawn to. “I haven’t seen you in four months, Stiles,” he says like it’s a declaration of something huge.
But Stiles doesn't understand what that huge thing might be. “Uh. Nobody’s seen me in four months.”
“We’ve barely spoken since you left.”
“We text?” Stiles offers lamely, but it’s true. They totally text. Completely dumb, random shit at strange hours, but still. They’ve had a long-distance game of chess going between them for weeks now that Stiles kind of accidentally initiated while drunk, but Derek doesn’t need to know that. Especially when Stiles is pretty sure he’s two moves away from checkmate.
Derek runs a hand through his wet hair in obvious frustration. “You can’t just come back here and pull shit like this when I’m supposed to be moving on.”
Stiles freezes. “You... what.”
“It’s not a game to me, Stiles. It’s not a-- a joke, alright? I don’t appreciate you being back in town for not even five damn minutes before twisting the knife. I didn’t mean to fall for you, I didn’t even realize that’s what it was for a long time, and just because you think that’s, I don’t know, funny or whatever the fuck, doesn’t give you the right to--“
“Oh my god, shut up, you big, dumb, jerk face, do you actually like me back?”
Derek gapes at him for a split second as his brain tries to catch up. And then he jerks back a little, belatedly, and blinks. “You weren’t just being an asshole.”
“It’s Christmas, dude, no I was not just being an asshole. I’m freaking in love with you, you idiot.”
“Oh? Jesus Christ, Derek, I’m freezing my nuts off standing here, not to mention suffering from a pretty severe case of emotional whiplash, could you please give me something more than ‘oh’”
Derek looks down at his hands, and then back up at Stiles through his eyelashes. “I didn’t figure it out until after you were already gone,” he says quietly.
Stiles stares at him, drinking him in. The sharp planes of his face, the dark hair, the tense set of his shoulders and the narrow cut of his hips. Derek Hale is objectively gorgeous, but standing on Stiles’ porch dripping wet, cheeks pink from the cold, eyes wide and vulnerable, haloed by the Christmas lights on the houses across the street, Stiles thinks he’s maybe the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.
He feels his breath catch in his throat. “Me neither,” he whispers back. “I didn’t get it either, not until after I’d left. It was like, the moment you weren’t there anymore, I realized I wanted you to always be there.”
Derek nods his head distractedly, as if to say he feels the same, before meeting Stiles’ gaze straight on. And oh god, Derek feels the same. This is actually happening.
Derek steps forward, and Stiles’ hand involuntarily clenches around the doorframe. He’s still shivering, but he thinks it might not just be the cold causing it anymore. “Can I come in?”
It’s so easy after that, so simple and quiet, Stiles suddenly doesn’t know why it ever seemed unattainable. The lights are still off and all the dirty laundry Stiles brought home with him to do is in bags around them. But Derek shuts the door behind him and trails cold fingertips across Stiles’ cheek, and the enormity of the emotions Stiles feels takes his breath away.
They kiss, unhurried. Remove each other’s jackets in turn. Kick off shoes. Warm each other up with exploratory hands. Stiles is mostly dry by the time he finds himself on the couch, pressed down into the cushions, and Derek’s like a furnace on top of him, nuzzling a trail of heat along with each kiss and nip of teeth, from Stiles’ neck down to his abdomen and back up again.
“Your dad will be home soon,” Derek whispers against his temple before ducking down to suck a spot on Stiles’ throat.
Stiles groans. “Your dirty talk needs work.”
“We should make dinner. Hot cocoa. Put some lights up.”
Stiles snorts a laugh and buries his face in Derek’s arm. “Really? Hot cocoa?”
Derek lifts his head just enough to study Stiles with bright eyes and a soft smile. “It’s Christmas.”
Oh man, Stiles is so screwed. He sighs happily, tracing Derek’s eyebrows with his thumbs. “Okay. We can do that.”
By the time his dad gets home, they’ve got some garlands and lights set up around the television, warm milk for cocoa simmering on the stove and a frozen lasagna in the oven. It’s the most domestic Stiles has literally ever been, but it makes something warm settle in his chest that he didn’t even realize he needed.
His dad hugs him tightly in the middle of the living room, claps Derek on the back, and gamely doesn’t comment on how close together Stiles and Derek sit on the couch once dinner is over. He does raise an eyebrow at the hand-holding, but Stiles figures it’s worth it when Derek leans in to whisper towards the end of the night, “I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you, too, by the way. In case that wasn’t clear.”
Stiles bites back a grin. “Noted. Merry Christmas, Derek.”
He’s pretty sure his dad is rolling his eyes at them even while he pretends not to notice anything beyond the movie they just put on. Stiles is too content to feel embarrassed about it, though it’ll probably hit him full force in the morning when he gets grilled for information over breakfast.
For now, he sinks back into the couch and into Derek’s side, and can’t imagine a better way to come back home.