It's October when Derek finally relents.
It's easy to tell himself that's he's being practical, that he's sick of the cold and the wet, but a part of himself knows that's not true. Not the whole truth anyway. He's sick of not being in control of his life, and this feels like taking it back, because it’s something he wants. Like when he took the alpha powers from Peter, except maybe this time he's ready for what he wants. Maybe he deserves this.
It’s still a grudging surrender though, because it makes him feel less like he's lost some sort of battle, with Stiles all bright-eyed and triumphant standing before him, as if he'd been the one with something to lose.
"Dude, welcome back to humanity," Stiles says, and then laughs in Derek's face when he growls, low and defensive.
In the end, the move takes less than an hour.
He doesn't have much, and he brings even less. The dirty bed he's been sleeping on is the heaviest thing he has- he can't even bring himself to say "owns" because he pulled it out of a dumpster- and it feels wrong to bring it into his new space, all full of sun and fresh paint and clean scents, like a blank canvass.
When it's done, Derek lays down in the middle of the empty floor and just lets himself go quiet, kneads his scent into the carpet with his fingers, and allows himself to imagine that the blank walls feel like home. It quiets some urge inside of him, as much human as wolf, and for the first time in a long time he begins to feel that maybe the world isn't such a hopeless place after all. That somehow his life isn't only about what he's lost anymore.
He doesn't even notice when the movement of his fingers transforms into something more graceful, something almost rhythmic in the silence of his new apartment.
Derek calls Stiles on a whim. He’s halfway out the door, but suddenly paralyzed by the fear that he’s going to mess this up.
He regrets it almost immediately, or, he would, if his heart didn’t do a little skip when Stiles does show up, coffee in hand, sleep rumpled, but also brimming with excitement that is somehow catching.
"I didn't exactly imagine you for the uh, color coordinating type.” Stiles is clearly trying, and failing, to hold back snorts of laughter as he studies the pages Derek had carefully printed off of the library computers yesterday. He has to fight the wave of indignant hurt that washes over him as Stiles drops the Ikea printouts on the floor, pulls out the keys to his jeep, and drags Derek out of the building without them.
"Did you even like any of that stuff?" Stiles asks after they're both buckled in. He turns to look at Derek and his eyes are sharp, and there's something knowing in them. Something that makes Derek want to squirm away, turn and run and move back into the train depot, or even his old house, because as uncomfortable as that had been, at least it was simple.
"I..." he starts. The truth was, he'd Googled "Ikea"- even he knew they sold furniture and that there was one just outside of Beacon Hills- then picked the image of the first room that hadn't looked too garish or over the top, and set his mind on that. It was a plan of attack, simple, clear cut, and anyway it was only a room. "I have no idea what I'm doing."
Stiles smiles at him as if this clearly isn't a surprise, and starts driving.
They don't end up at Ikea.
Instead, the building they pull up to is older, large and Derek thinks, somehow imposing. There’s an odd assortment of sculptures outside, everything from armless Greek goddess statues to garden gnomes, all mingling easily with twisted metal sculptures that Stiles calls modern art, but Derek just doesn't get.
"My mom used to love this place," Stiles says softly, absently, like he's not even aware that he's said it, and then he's moving ahead of Derek, shouldering his way inside.
Derek follows, helpless to do otherwise. He is at once completely overwhelmed and strangely exhilarated by the sight that greets him. Like he knows that what he's looking for is in here somewhere, amongst an array of furniture as mismatched as the statues out front.
"Ok. let's do this," Stiles says, turning to look back over his shoulder. In that moment, Derek thinks he looks strangely, not beautiful, that's not the word, but something close. "Couches first?" and then Stiles shakes his head, reconsiders and says decisively, "No. bed."
By the time it's all said and done, Derek's exhausted, but also satisfied. He's pretty sure they've picked out everything he needs, and something inside of him revels like a little kid at the fact that none of it matches, but all of it is comfortable- all soft brown leather, because Stiles refused to let him get anything black, plush pillows, and dark wood. It feels like he broke some sort of rule and got away with it. He can't help but wonder what it would be like for that feeling to be normal for him in the way that it is for Stiles, who goes back and forth between adult seriousness and impish delight with a speed that takes Derek's breath away.
He sees it as they are walking out, promises that the furniture will be delivered tomorrow still ringing in their ears. Derek feels himself go simultaneously hot and cold, and he's taken two steps toward the piano before he catches himself.
"Derek?" Stiles voice sounds far away, but the confusion in it is enough to pull him back to himself. He forces himself to turn away.
Derek stares at the text for a long moment, his heart beating a quick rhythm that is just on the verge of being worried. He hasn’t heard of anything recently that might mean trouble for the pack, but Stiles...Stiles is Stiles and if there's trouble, he'll be the one to find it. Assuming of course, that it doesn't find him first.
-Why?- he finally taps out.
When Stiles responds with,
-Just come- Derek makes an aborted growl, mostly because it's become something of a reflexive term of endearment where Stiles is concerned.
He slips in through Stiles' window 20 minutes later, and can't help the little satisfied smirk that he feels tugging at his lips when Stiles jerks at his sudden arrival, and half falls out of his computer chair.
"Derek!" he says, too loud and a little hoarse, and then he shakes his head in exasperation and his shoulders slump. The wolf inside of Derek suddenly has the urge to play, to claim his victory in a way that Derek hasn't felt since he was a child, and Laura too- and she'd grown out of that phase long before he had.
"I should really get used to that," Stiles mutters to himself. Something about the way he half glares, half smiles at Derek draws a growing smile out of him in return. It's more genuine, less sarcastic than feels entirely comfortable.
"You needed me?" The words break the warm current of electricity that Derek can feel as surely as he can smell the clean-lemon-fresh scent of Stiles' skin, still slightly pink from a recent shower.
Stiles sobers immediately, and his hands start to fidget at the hem of his grey t-shirt. "Uh yeah."
When Stiles leads Derek out of the room, he's uncharacteristically tense. It makes his jerky fidgeting more jarring to Derek, who doesn't know how to deal with that part of Stiles even at the best of times. "Dad's not home," he announces too casually, as if Derek hadn't already known that, as if he's reassuring himself more than anything. And it's only a few steps down the hallway before Stiles stops, one hand resting on the doorknob as if he has to brace himself first. When he looks up, locks their eyes, Derek can't help but be surprised by the shadows he sees.
Shadows he's seen in his own eyes enough to know what they are, what they mean.
He wants to comment on it, but then Stiles is pushing the door open, pulling Derek in, and it's as if they've entered a new world. The air is stale around them, colder from being closed off. The room is- was- clearly the domain of a woman. It's all odds and ends- the things that make a life- boxed and brushed tidily out of sight, a layer of pain that covers up dresses long since unworn, and the remnants of crafts forever destined to be abandoned.
And yet, none of that registers with Derek as more than a passing observation – his gaze is too riveted on the piano standing proud by the far wall. Even from the opposite side of the room he can see a thin layer of dust coating the wood.
"Stiles," he breathes.
"I saw how you reacted," Stiles explains, answering the question that Derek can't bring himself to ask. "When you saw that piano at the furniture place..." He licks his lips and then catches Derek's eyes. "I thought maybe...and then, I did what I always do, ya know? I researched. I found out that..."
"That I used to play," Derek says, taking up when Stiles' words taper off, a role reversal no less alien than the room they're standing in.
"That you were really good."
There's nothing Derek can say to that. He was good. Had been, once upon a time when his parents had thought it would be a positive hobby for him to take up, a way to learn control, to learn to be delicate when his wolf had been all blunder and crash through the woods.
No one had expected him to be the kind of good that had had the local music teacher practically drooling with the possibilities. The kind of good that had conjured words like "prodigy" and "scholarships", like "future" as if he might have had one.
"I can't do this," Derek says suddenly, startling Stiles when he pushes past him, runs away because it's all he knows how to do, in the end.
Derek doesn't know what it means that he can't stay away. As the days drag on, he finds himself circling the Stilinski house in ever tightening circles, growing bolder and bolder. As much as he's grown comfortable in his own place, a part of him only feels complete when he's staring at the dimly lit windows of Stiles' home. It feels like there's some secret to divine, and he can't quite figure out if it has to do with Stiles or the waiting promise of antique wood and ivory keys.
In the end, it takes him over a month before he can find the courage to go inside again.
It's winter dark, has been for over an hour, and the sheriff has long since driven off for the night shift. Derek contemplates startling Stiles again, but quickly dismisses the idea. A part of him delights in the game, but it doesn't feel right, doesn't match the feeling in his heart that something important is going to happen tonight, something game changing- and Derek shakes his head because those feel like Stiles' words, but that doesn't make them any less true.
Except...Stiles is asleep when he slips through the window. He's sprawled out, face down, on his bed. One of his hands is curled protectively against his chest, and the other rests on the open face of a chemistry textbook. He looks surprisingly innocent like this, like Derek can only remember Stiles looking in the very beginning. Those memories are vague though, too overshadowed by the tempered steel Stiles has become. They’ve all come through the fire of the recent months harder, if more brittle. That’s not a new feeling for Derek, but it feels wrong now that he sees Stiles like this, has something to compare to. It's so easy to forget how young he is, they all are really. Looking at Stiles now, it's like a revelation written in skin of what he’s been through. Because of Derek.
Derek can’t bring himself to wake him.
The house is quiet as he creeps down the hall. He doesn't turn on the light when he reaches his destination, because the darkness feels like a shield. It makes the world less real, and Derek’s okay with that.
He makes it as far as opening the cover, resting his fingers over the keys- he doesn’t sit down- before the pounding of his heart becomes too much and he turns away.
Stiles is looking at him. This isn’t an odd thing, normally, but the silence is, along with the way Stiles keeps opening his mouth to say something, and then shutting it again.
“Just spit it out,” he finally grunts, annoyed, and fighting a yawn.
“I thought you knew,” Stiles says as if it explains everything. It doesn’t. When Derek turns to him, glares, Stiles gulps and says slowly. “You don’t close the lid.”
And that’s not any more enlightening. Derek feels a growl rumbling up out of the pit of his stomach. It’s too close to the full moon, and Stiles had woken him up, knocking frantically on Derek’s door as if he actually had something important to say. He's slowly starting to realize that it's more likely that Stiles had simply been riding the emotional high of some sort of realization. Which makes the silence and odd answers sit even worse with Derek.
“What are you talking about?”
Derek’s world tilts a little on its axis when Stiles says , “The piano. You never remember to close the lid.”
Suddenly Derek can’t breathe. It feels like his heart has stopped and the world narrows, closes in around him, and he thinks maybe he’s panicking, except he’s strangely calm too, hyper focused in a way more suited to his wolf at the height of the full moon. He tries to remember, tries to put Stiles’ words into context.
He visualizes himself touching cool wood, sliding the cover away to reveal keys he can never bring himself to press. He...he always opens the lid, but never closes it.
“I thought you knew that I knew,” Stiles says quietly. “I just thought, I dunno, like it was one of those bro-code things, where we both sort of understood that it was something not to talk about. But... you really didn’t realize did you? That I knew about your creeper midnight visits to stare at the piano?"
Derek feels a strange kind of numb as he watches Stiles fidget in the absence of a response- how can Derek respond to that? Nothing feels safe. So he just watches, doesn't say anything as Stiles sits on the couch, pulls a pillow to his chest, and then throws the pillow away and stands again.
“It’s okay, you know,” Stiles finally says nervously, as if it's physically impossible to keep his mouth shut now that he's started talking. He doesn't meet Derek's eyes. “I’m not saying you can’t, or I mind or anything. Just...I know, okay?” He takes a deep breath. “You don’t ever actually play, do you? I’d have heard you if you did.”
“No. I don’t” 'I don’t even know if I remember how’, he wants to say, like it’s an excuse.
Stiles looks sharply up at him, and Derek can’t help but feel like he’s falling, that he’s losing a battle again, and only Stiles ever makes him feel like that.
“Maybe you could play for me, sometime?" As if realizing what he's said, Stiles breath catches. He meets Derek’s eyes finally, and he doesn’t look afraid, but like he finally recognizes that maybe he's overstepping- that Derek's letting him-, and backs toward the door. He stops at the coffee table though, carefully pulls a folder from inside his jacket and sets it down. He doesn’t say anything as Stiles slips out of the apartment, his hands splayed loosely in front of him, like he’s the one surrendering this time.
It takes Derek a full five minutes before he can bring himself to approach the coffee table. He can smell metallic ink, the musty scent of cheap paper, but the pounding in his heart is a sense too, and he knows what he’s going to find when he finally picks the folder up, flips it open.
He runs his fingers over the sheet music- Bach- and he’s not sure if what he feels as he stares down at the music is a relief, or a realization of fears he hadn’t allowed himself to dwell on until now.
Derek can’t bring himself to visit Stiles’ house again, now that he’s been caught out.
As the days go by, Derek finds himself struggling with an unfamiliar resentment towards Stiles for this new loss. It feels like Stiles took something away from him, twisted his visits into something they were never meant to be. Never mind the fact that Derek himself doesn't understand what he was getting out of the long nights staring at a piano that he wasn’t sure he’d ever have the courage to play again.
It’s nearly December before he reaches a breaking point.
To be fair, it’s sort of a mutual breaking point. He should have known that Stiles would only let him get away with so much avoidance before he put his foot down, but Derek has sort of reached his limit too. He feels like something is missing, something essential that he tries to ignore, but it’s like an itch stuck too deep beneath his skin to reach.
Just his name. The text feels like an unfinished thought, but it’s too...it’s too somethingfor Derek to decipher, and doesn’t that just sum up Stiles perfectly. He shakes his head and sighs, long suffering. It’s past 10. Not late, not for him, not for Stiles considering it’s a Saturday night, but he’d sort of enjoyed the experience of going to bed early. Which is funny, because when he’d been young, it had always been a fight to get him to go to bed. Now, now it feels like recapturing that part of himself, just more lonely.
-What is it- he texts back, and when he still hasn’t gotten a response 20 minutes later, he rolls to press his face into the pillow that Stiles had picked out, disgruntled, before he forces himself to his feet.
When Derek shows up not long after, Stiles is sitting on his bed. He’s got his legs drawn up to his chest, and his eyes are far away. Music hums low in the background, and there are books scattered around Stiles on the bed, as if he’d been doing homework- trying to at least. And knowing Stiles it’s more likely research of some sort, so homework of the self-assigned kind, because Stiles is like that. He’s not as strong as a werewolf, so he compensates where he can. More than compensates, if Derek’s honest with himself.
Stiles rolls his head to look at him when he climbs through the window. He doesn’t say anything at first, just looks at him, and Derek feels suddenly like he’s walked into a trap. Like he needs to escape before it’s too late and Stiles manages to sink his way any deeper into Derek’s skin.
He’s poised to slip away again, when Stiles finally speaks. “If I’d known that you wouldn’t come back...I wouldn’t have said anything.”
Derek pauses and turns halfway back to face Stiles, curious, caught.
“Today was the anniversary of my mother's...” Stiles makes a little choking noise, low and wounded. It catches at the back of his throat, makes his voice break. He doesn’t need to finish the sentence for Derek to get it. He wonders if this is how hewill look a couple of months from now, on a day that always smells faintly like smoke no matter how many years have passed since the fire.
Stiles looks away suddenly, but he keeps talking. “I think she would have liked the idea that someone still appreciated her piano. She used to love to-- I think some of my favorite memories of her are where she was playing it. It always made her so happy. When I showed it to you, I was hoping...” Stiles frowns and shakes his head angrily. “I don’t know. I don’t even know. But I never wanted you to stop. Derek I didn’t want you to stop.”
That last is said on a half sob, and Derek has to fight the urge to go to him, to comfort him. He doesn’t think it would help. He doesn’t even know if he knows how to comfort someone, not in the way Stiles needs. He’d always been the one people had wanted to comfort, and he’d always hated himself too much to allow it.
“Do you want me to?” The words spill out of him before he has time to think about them. They don't really make sense, sound more like a part of another conversation. They feel strangely right though, as if he’s finally acknowledging that this thing with Stiles isn’t a war, after all, and even if it were, he'd surrender anyway.
Stiles whips his head up. His eyes are wet and rimmed in red, and his fingers clench and unclench against his knees. He doesn’t say anything, although his mouth momentarily works as if he wants to. Derek imagines that Stiles wants to say something like ‘you don’t have to’ maybe, or ‘are you sure?’ but he just can’t bring himself to say the words.
“Do I want you to... you would play for me?”
“If you want me to.”
Stiles hesitates for a moment, and then he starts to get up, which is an answer. Derek feels a sudden rush of panic crash over him. He holds his hand out in a gesture meant to stop Stiles, keep him at a safe distance, and he’s taken a frantic step backwards before he catches himself.
“No. Stay here...please.” Derek hates how he sounds like he’s pleading, but he doesn’t think he could do this with an audience. “You can hear? From in here?”
Stiles licks his lips and ruffles around his bed to find his ipod, which he turns off with a press of his thumb. When Derek backs slowly away, Stiles just rests his chin on his knees and watches him.
The piano is as Derek remembers it. The smooth wood practically glows in the pale winter moonlight streaking in from the window. He thinks about turning on the light, because there’s no reason to pretend he wasn't here, but he can't bring himself to in the end. He’s gotten used to this, and he doesn't need the light anyway.
The closer he comes to the piano, approaching it as if it is the predator and he the prey, the quicker his heart beats, a loud percussion that surely even Stiles' human ears can pick up. His fingers are trembling when he finally sits down. The bench is cool and hard beneath him, solid, but it doesn’t do anything to settle him.
The first note startles him. He jerks back, a full body flinch that wrenches his spine and makes his breath catch. It’s only the image of Stiles face, crumbled with sadness, that gives him the courage to try again.
The music, if Derek can call it that, is stilted and jerky at first, more grating than harmonious, but he presses on. He’s started this, and he’s determined to see at least one song through, despite the fact that he’s sure this isn’t what Stiles wanted. This is nothing like the happy airy melodies Stiles' mother must have played in this room. It’s dark and somber, even without his stilted and clumsy fingers -- fingers now more used to inflicting pain -- making it worse
It feels wrong. Except that’s not right, it’s more like an absence of feeling altogether. As his fingers hash out notes, more muscle memory than conscious recollection, Derek lets himself remember his family. He remembers his own mother, the way she had watched him play, and the pride he’d felt in return. And now, without that... The music stutters to a halt, and it’s only with the absence of sound that Derek hears it, his sharpened hearing easily picking out the sound of breathing, the steady beat of familiar heart. It's coming from much closer than the next room over.
Stiles must have moved while he was playing, must have crept closer, because he’s just outside the door now. And that should scare Derek, should be incentive for him to stop, because he’d told Stiles... His fingers start moving almost of their own accord, and it feels easier suddenly. His fingers feel less clumsy, and the music that flows forth isn’t quite so somber anymore. It’s not the happy airy sound he wants so desperately to give to Stiles, but this feels right in its own way. More him. More them.
This time, Derek lets the music taper off more naturally. He's aware that Stiles is completely in the room now, that he crept in sometime while Derek had been playing. He’s leaning against the far wall, arms crossed protectively across his chest, and he nods, unapologetic, challenging, when Derek looks back at him.
Derek wants to be angry. Wants to get up and stop this, but he can’t. This, whatever he’s doing, has become an obsession almost. Stiles has become an obsession, and has to see this through to wherever it will lead. For just a moment, the feeling of someone standing there watching him allows Derek to reclaim some of that childhood pride. He’s playing for someone that he...someone he cares about. And that’s important.
This time, when he takes up the music, he allows himself to get more caught up in the melody, the rhythm he can feel in his bones. It's strange, though, because he’s also more acutely aware of Stiles now. This time, he hears him as he moves, slow hesitant steps toward the piano, as if he’s drawn to it as inexplicably as Derek is. And the closer he gets, the more Derek feels himself relax.
He plays until he feels a hand rest against his shoulder, and only then does he let himself stop. His breath sounds loud in the dark, as frantic as Stiles’ heartbeat, drum fast and alive behind him. The easy posture of a moment before leaks away, and Derek feels himself go stiff, rigid, struck by sudden anticipation.
Stiles hand on Derek's shoulder feels like a burning pivot point, when he comes around the side of the bench, and before he has time to question it, Derek is turning toward him in return.
“Derek.” Stiles voice is ragged, and when Derek looks up, meets his eyes, it’s as if he’s suddenly caught in a spell. And this, this, is what he’d wanted when he'd started playing. This feeling of right and home, of future. Because he does have one now.
When Stiles slips into his lap, straddles him, Derek does the only thing he knows how. He holds on, presses his face into Stiles’ neck, lets the frantic rhythm of Stiles’ heart fill the void that the music left behind, and he understands then. He understands that it’s not the piano that makes him complete, that drew him back to this house over and over again, that made him feel simultaneously like he was constantly fighting a battle and losing. It was Stiles. It had always been Stiles.
They stay like that for a long time, just breathing each other in. It’s Stiles who breaks the silence. Of course it’s Stiles. “Thank you,” he whispers into the intimate space between them.
Derek hums in response, instinctively mimicking the lilting melody he’d just been playing, the melody he thinks he’s always going to associate with Stiles now.
And then Stiles laughs, a soft choked sound, but not sad anymore. “Crazy wolf.”
Derek does the only thing he can think of then, because he knows that once Stiles starts talking, he’ll probably keep talking. He pulls him in and kisses him.
“I think so,” he says, and then tries not to flinch when Sheriff Stilinski slaps a warm hand on his shoulder.
The sheriff nods, and in a gesture Derek has long since learned to associate with Stiles- at least the Stiles of more recent years- opens his mouth to say something, before apparently thinking better of it.
“I promise I’ll take care of him,” he offers in the silence, casting a fond gesture up toward the fourth story apartment that...that isn’t just his anymore.
“I know you will son.”
Derek does flinch a little then, before he forces himself to relax. This man, Stiles’ dad, is his family now. At least in all the ways that matter.
“I’ll leave you to it then. I signed up for transport duty, but I have faith you boys can manage the unpacking on your own. I’ll... uh...be back in the morn--” The sheriff pauses, winces, and amends, “afternoon. Definitely the afternoon.”
Derek chokes back a laugh. “Probably for the best,” he agrees, fighting a blush.
“Right,” the sheriff says, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot. “Okay, I’m off. Tell Stiles I’ll see him tomorrow?”
Derek nods, and watches him leave. He tarries outside for a few more minutes, intentionally delaying the inevitable, until the red stain of the cruiser's headlights vanish from even his enhanced sight. He wants this, he does, but... He has to suppress a shudder when he steps back into the apartment. Let no one ever accuse Stiles of being tidy.
Boxes are strewn everywhere, empty and yet-to-be-unpacked, all mixed liberally with crumpled newspaper, packing bubbles, and balled up packing tape. And then there’s Stiles, right in the middle of the storm, happily sorting through a mound of books and organizing them using some sort of system that Derek is pretty sure he’ll never actually understand.
He turns when he hears Derek shut and lock the door, and his smile is brilliant and happy. It causes Derek’s heart to take up a frantic beat, all tempered with fondness.
“I love you,” he says voice low and intimate. Stiles smile grows even more, if that’s possible, and he stands up, letting bits of packing material slip off of his lap like water.
“I know,” he says, but there’s a coyness to him, and instead of walking towards Derek, he walks backwards until he is close enough to caress the glossy wood of the piano, lugged up barely an hour ago thanks to Derek and Scott's werewolf strength. He looks up at Derek from beneath his lashes as he absently presses a single key, and then another, and that’s a challenge.
A couple of long strides bring Derek across the room, right in front of Stiles, who is laughing at him. Derek growls at that, but it’s a fond sound, playful. Gleeful even, when Stiles’ laugh turns into a gasp of an entirely different sort as Derek lifts him bodily and sets him on the top of the piano, keys sounding discordantly.
“This Pretty Woman shit is so not gonna....”
Derek kisses him. It's fierce, unrelenting, and Derek feels something settle, click into place like a puzzle piece.
"OK," Stiles breathes, "I lied. It totally works."
Derek claims another kiss.