Stiles is still woozy from orgasm when Derek shifts, stubble scraping across his belly just enough to tickle and make him squirm. He makes a protesting noise and Derek shifts again, nuzzling just to the left.
Stiles lets out a huge breath and grins up at the ceiling where the early morning light is just short of glowing. Derek’s head is a heavy weight on his belly and he lets his fingers delve into the short crop of black hair. It’s surprisingly soft under his fingers, and the low, satisfied rumble that Derek makes whenever he does this is one of Stiles’s top ten favourite sounds of all time, and that includes the memory of his mother’s laughter.
“You have a real talent for waking a guy up right,” Stiles tells the ceiling breathlessly.
“Mmm. That’s exactly what it said in my high school yearbook,” Derek murmurs, and Stiles snickers, helpless as always when Derek makes a joke.
Derek’s never like this in public.
It probably comes from being a member of a high-profile family, but in public he’s always reserved, his face a mask, revealing nothing. It makes these private moment an extra delight to Stiles.
He draws in a huge breath and then sighs it out in a groan when his phone comes to life. Morning alarm. Well, at least he’s ahead of the game this morning. Blow Jobs – 1, Potential to be Early for Work – 1. Life is good.
He reaches for Derek and they tussle for a moment, rolling across the covers and tangling their legs. Derek’s grinning, wide and beautiful, and Stiles is fighting back a ridiculous urge to giggle. When they finally stop, Stiles is sprawled across Derek’s torso, pinning the larger man’s wrists to the bed.
For long moments they just stare at each other, half-smiling, stupid with happiness. How did I end up here? Stiles wonders, for about the ninety-eighth time.
Because the guy leaning in for a soft kiss across the rumpled covers is pretty much Town and Country’s perfect example of an eligible bachelor. In fact – he may have actually even won Bachelor of the Year at some point, Stiles realizes suddenly. Derek’s eligible enough that people at parties blank Stiles like he doesn’t even exist, so determined are they to hit on his boyfriend. And yet Derek is smart and talented and affectionate and somehow, entranced by Stiles.
“You are an unfairly beautiful human being, did you know that?” Stiles says, because compliments are easy, but the deep and multi-layered feelings he’s beginning to have about Derek are hard.
Derek’s eyes drop away and for a moment there’s an odd tension in his body before he rolls his eyes and Stiles drops a kiss on his mouth. He loves Derek’s jokes, and his fascination with polar bears, and the way he gets furious about douchebags making casually bigoted remarks on Twitter, and the way he makes sure to call at least one of his siblings every single day – ugh. Stiles’s chest hurts when he thinks too much about it.
“Now stop trying to trap me in this bed. Some of us have to actually shower and put on clothes before we can earn a living, you know.” He waves a baleful hand in the general direction of the spare room, where Derek’s drafting table sits beneath a skylight.
“I’ll pay you a thousand dollars to go in to work exactly as you are now,” Derek rumbles as Stiles rolls up out of bed.
“Sassy,” Stiles throws over his shoulder. “But I really doubt you want me discussing the latest amendments with the Senator in my birthday suit.”
The bathroom door closes on Derek’s groan of, “Don’t talk about being naked with my mother.”
Stiles is exhausted. It seems like he’s always exhausted, lately. Frickin’ flu. Ugh. He really is going to have to go back to the doctor. He gives himself a once-over in the mirror when he’s finished washing his hands. He’s pale (paler than usual), eyes tired and bloodshot, and his skin feels weird, not-quite-itchy, everywhere. He needs to drink more water, that’s for sure – he’d been startled by the dark colour in the toilet bowl a few minutes ago. Gotta start taking better care of myself, he thinks.
Of course, it could also be that he finds it impossible to relax in Senator Hale’s house, no matter that he’s here as a guest, that he’s been here at least four or five times in the past few months. It’s just all a bit too much like a movie set or something. Stiles did not grow up around Rich People, he tends to group them in his head with Jackson, which makes it pretty much impossible to form positive associations.
He lets himself out of the bathroom and starts down the hall, but before he can reach it he hears the sound of doors opening and wheeled suitcases on the tiled entryway, and that means Derek and Peter’s car has finally arrived. He takes a huge breath, stunned by the relief he feels. Maybe all he’s needed this week was a Derek-hug.
Through the crystal clear panes of glass Stiles sees Derek hug his mother, sees Peter Hale greet the Senator. The siblings are walking and talking almost immediately, but just before they disappear into the study across the hall Peter pauses, glances over this shoulder and gives Stiles a cool, thoughtful look of appraisal.
Stiles can’t explain why that look ties his guts into knots. Then Derek is opening the door and rushing forward to wrap Stiles in a near-desperate embrace.
A few minutes later he gets it, though. Why Peter Hale had looked at him like he was the condemned man. Why Derek’s embrace really had held desperation.
“Let me get this straight,” Stiles says, and he almost staggers, that earlier feeling of weakness and imbalance suddenly resurfacing as his body revolts against what he’s hearing. This cannot be happening. “You’re going to be publicly dating someone else.”
Derek’s hands haven’t stopped moving, restlessly gripping and releasing, clutched into fists one moment and smoothing over his thighs the next.
Stiles just waits. It’s like his emotions are all going offline, and his thoughts are getting really clear. There’ll be kickback later, there’ll be the emotional equivalent of a kick in the nuts, but right now he’s stone cold clear about things. He deserves an answer. He is going to have an answer.
Finally, Derek says, “They need me to do this, Stiles. The family- it’s. It’s just temporary.”
“Temporarily dating someone else,” Stiles muses.
“It’s- it’s not. I won’t- I don’t want anyone else,” Derek says desperately.
“You just can’t publicly admit to wanting me.”
“Don’t say it like that-”
He snorts, “I don’t really see a lot of other ways to say it, Derek.”
“It’s not that-
“It’s a woman, right?”
Derek stops. Nods.
Stiles mouth twists, and it must look as wry and bitter as it feels because Derek flinches.
“It’s not like that. They don’t care that I’m bi-”
“It’s not?” Stiles raises his eyebrows. “Oh, of course not. I’m sure if they could find a gay Kennedy cousin you’d have been front and centre of the Pride parade.” And then - because fuck this, that’s why - Stiles adds, “Just as long as you weren’t dating me.”
“I owe them, Stiles,” Derek says rapidly, words tripping over themselves. “You don’t understand- I never told you-”
“Derek,” Stiles says evenly, “I already know about Kate.”
Derek freezes. “You- wh- you do?”
Stiles shrugs. Derek’s face is pale, something sick and guilty in his expression, and Stiles is an idiot for letting this sit silent between them, instead of showing Derek that he knew, and he didn’t care.
“Your Uncle made his usual cryptic remarks and I did a little digging. It explained a few things.” More than a few things, if Stiles is honest. Like the way Derek was always so tentative, so… yielding in everything his family suggests. But Stiles hadn’t known things could ever go this far.
“Then you get why I have to do it.”
“I really, really don’t, Derek.”
“I destroyed Uncle Peter’s political career. His marriage,” Derek says, the words dragging out painfully.
Stiles temper snaps and he leaps to his feet. “Peter destroyed his marriage, Derek. Peter destroyed his career. He cheated on his wife, like the douche bag he apparently is, and he got his girlfriend pregnant, thereby turning himself into the perfect fucking cliché of a middle-aged politician who couldn’t keep it in his pants. He had a child to his secret lover and he pretended for years that kid didn’t exist. He did those things, not you.”
“But Aunt Jo found out because of me,” Derek says painfully, “because of Kate.” And it’s clear he believes every word of what he’s saying. “And now Jacob needs me to do this for him. His school is – it’s complicated, Stiles, the families there are…”
Stiles takes in one deep breath. That’s a way bigger argument than Stiles has the patience for right now. And apparently, it isn’t going to be Stiles’ privilege to work on those things with Derek. “And so because you fell for a pretty, conniving face when you were a teenager, your entire life is mortgaged to the family business?”
“It’s not forever,” Derek says, voice pleading. “Just for a while. Just ‘til Jake graduates, and the polls come up again.”
Stiles shoves his hands into his pockets, hating Derek a little for that wide-eyed look. “Temporarily.”
Stiles shakes his head and underneath the hurt there’s ugly, cynical laughter waiting to burst free. He manages to hold it in and says instead, “You can’t possibly believe that.”
“Describe it to me, Derek,” Stiles says, almost gentle. “Tell me what that day will look like, that magical day when your Uncle and the rest of the family will say – it’s okay, Derek. You can be with anyone you want, it won’t impact the family at all.”
Derek stares at him helplessly.
“You can’t, because that’s a load of bullshit. Right? They will never let you go, once you go down this road. They’re already talking about Cora getting into city council, once she’s been out of college for a few years. So then there’ll be her career to think of. There’s always another poll, you know that as well as I do. You grew up in this life, Derek,” Stiles says. “You know I’m right, and you’re not stupid, which means you’re deliberately lying to yourself.”
Derek spreads his hands helplessly. “They need me.”
Stiles stares at him for one long moment, then says, “Then go ahead. Do it. Ransom yourself to the family name for the rest of your life. But don’t you dare expect me to wait around.”
Derek stares at him. “Stiles,” he says hoarsely
“Did you think I would just agree to sit by? Is that what Peter told you to ask me to do? To sit on the edges of your life and wait around until maybe one day you won’t be ashamed of me?”
“I’m not ashamed-”
“Right. There’s just that whole thing where I’m not suitable.”
There’s silence. He can see Derek struggling for words, to find a way to explain. Derek doesn’t do well in arguments, Stiles knows this. He’s watched Peter and Cora and Talia gently needle Derek a thousand times at family dinners, like it’s a harmless sport they all enjoy. Problem is, right now Stiles is in no mood to let the other man gather his thoughts, hunt through his messed-up head for words.
“The way I see it either they’re trying to erase the fact that you’re bisexual, or their objection is, specifically, about me.” He stares at Derek, and gestures helplessly. “And either one of those is not okay. So what I want to know is, how the hell did you think that would make me feel, Derek?”
Derek says nothing, just stares at Stiles. “Let me guess, you didn’t think about it.”
“You do understand this is not a medieval romance, right? You’re acting like you’re - I don’t fucking know, the son of the King or whatever. Which makes me the scullery maid and we could never possibly be, and so I just have to sit by and watch as you marry some suitable fucking political princess from a suitable political dynasty, and you keep me on the side for whenever no-one’s watching.”
Stiles takes a deep breath. Derek says nothing, just blinks stupidly at him, stunned and confused and Stiles feels all the ugliness bubble up out of him, “Fuck. You,” he spits out. “Just, fuck you, Derek. For thinking so little of me. So little of us.”
All of a sudden he’s sixteen again, seventeen, eighteen and he’s the lacrosse team spaz, he’s Lydia’s eye-roll, the in-joke of Beacon Hills. The skinny virgin with ADHD and a mouth that won’t stop. The loser that no-one had wanted to date. He turns on his heel and starts walking.
“Stiles, wait-” Derek begins, anguished.
Stiles stops at the doorway and drags in a few sharp, painful breaths. “The funniest fucking thing about all of this?” He turns and meets Derek’s eyes. “Is that this is exactly what your Uncle wanted.”
“Think about it, Derek. Think about it for half a fucking second. No person with any kind of pride would accept this fucked up situation. He knew exactly how I’d react, that I’d end it, and now he has exactly what he wanted, which is an extremely single and extremely pliant nephew he can pimp out to whoever the fuck he chooses.”
“You’re- you’re ending it?” Derek asks hoarsely.
Stiles shakes his head in disbelief. “Jesus.” He met Derek’s eyes, and says as evenly as he could manage, “Derek. It was over the minute you agreed to do what was politically expedient, without taking even one second to think about how it would affect me.”
Derek stared at him.
“You ended it. I’m just the only one with enough guts to actually say it.”
Stiles manages not to slam the door as he exits. He won’t give any of them the satisfaction of a front-row seat to his broken heart.
In the hallway Stiles leans against the newly closed door and waits a few seconds, popping all his teenaged angst back into its box. Shit. He hadn’t known he still had so much vulnerability on that issue. He hasn’t thought about those days in a long, long time.
He’d had to travel all the way to the east coast to do it, but at college he’d managed to become just another freshman. Sure he’d been quirky and a little odd, but he was apparently just as fuckable as the rest of his year.
It’d been a revelation. But it apparently hadn’t completely healed old wounds, because here he is, a decade later, still stinging from hearing that he’s not suitable. He lets out a long, shaky breath, and when he straightens, he sheds those thoughts like a winter coat. Leave it behind to collect, later. He’s standing at the intersection of the personal and professional, right now. And that means there’s something he has to do before he leaves.
Stiles closes his eyes and takes another deep breath before he puts his game-face on, knocks on the study door and goes in.
This story isn't particularly politics-heavy, but I should maybe mention that I have absolutely no insider knowledge of politics or law (esp American politics or law) so if anyone out there wants to give me advice or nitpicks feel free to get in touch!
I watched me some West Wing many years ago, I also saw The American President and I recently watched White House Down, twice.
Actually, what am I worried about? I'm TOTALLY qualified. Let's go, kids!
Talia Hale lifts her head and looks inquiringly in Stiles’s direction. She’s part-way through a stack of papers, one sheet held in her left hand, a highlighter in her right.
She clearly has no fucking idea what just happened in her beautiful sitting room across the hall.
“Stiles. What can I do for you?”
“I want to discuss the terms of my employment with you.”
She blinks. A half-second later the door behind Stiles opens, and he waits, because he knows who it is, without looking, he knows.
Peter Hale comes to a halt a few yards from Talia’s desk, the three of them forming a lop-sided triangle, and Stiles takes a deep breath before he lifts his eyes to meet the older man’s eyes. Peter looks… wary.
“Your employment?” Talia, her surprise clear.
Stiles keeps his eyes on Peter’s. There’s a taut moment of silence. Then Stiles says, “Derek and I have ended our relationship.
The breath that rushes out of Talia is no fake. In the last year or so Stiles has seen a lot more politicians than he’d ever actually wanted to, and he knows full well how they can maintain a good façade under scrutiny. But that loss of control, the highlighter falling from her grip – that’s genuine.
“It’ll be better for everyone if I’m not around the office so much,” Stiles says, still looking at Peter.
“Stiles-” Talia begins, bewildered, rising to her feet.
“You plan to stay on at the firm?” Peter asks, quiet and perfectly balanced.
“Oh, I’ll leave,” Stiles says, and fuck, he actually prepared for this, way back during their first few dates. When the rational side of his mind had said getting involved with the boss’s son was a bad idea and what the fuck will happen to your career when it all ends badly? “I’ll leave, when I’m good and ready.”
So yeah, he actually had a plan for when the inevitable happened and Derek took a look at Stiles a realized he could really do better. But Stiles had hoped, like a superstitious idiot, that he’d guaranteed he’d never need the plan, just by being rational and logical and making the plan in the first place.
“My career is not going to take a hit over this,” he shoots at Peter. “I’ll do whatever work you want to send my way, I’ll work from home if that’s easier for everyone, but I am not going to quit before I’ve found a new position, and if you try to fucking fire me you will discover just how good of a labor lawyer I actually am. I’ve done exemplary work for the firm, and I will continue to do so.”
There’s a short, stark silence. Peter’s eyebrow quirks once.
“Of course,” he says mildly. “I see I was mistaken in thinking you’d be too proud to continue with us.”
Stiles smiles thinly at him. You’re not going to get to me with that kind of bullshit, he thinks.
“Those of us who weren’t born with a silver spoon don’t have the luxury of throwing tantrums over this stuff. Unlike you, Mr Hale, I don’t have a trust fund to fall back on.” He watches that flick on the raw, surprised for a moment before he remembers that at some point in the whole divorce-resignation-secret baby mess Peter probably had to rely on his trust fund to pay the mortgage on his beautiful country home. “I’ll go when I’m ready,” Stiles repeats. Then he turns his gaze to Talia, dismissing Peter entirely because it’s a lot easier to look at her than the man who’d orchestrated this whole mess.
She’s watching her brother with a frown between her brows. “What is going on?” she says, and it’s a demand, not a question. Her eyes flick to Stiles. “What’s the reason behind this breakup?”
“It’s not really my place to get into it, Senator,” Stiles says, because this woman isn’t his boyfriend’s mother anymore, she’s his employer. He can feel himself starting the slow crash back to earth. Adrenaline and fury has got him this far, but he’s falling without a parachute now, and the landing is not going to be pretty. “You can ask Derek whatever questions you like, of course.”
Then he swallows, refocusing. “It’s been a pleasure, ma’am,” Stiles tells her, and he almost means it. Senator Hale has a sharp mind and the knack of listening to the people around her. It’s a fucking shame she allows her brother such a long leash that he can basically do whatever he wants, in her name.
“Peter-” Talia demands.
“I’ll see myself out.”
Stiles thanks his lucky stars that his car keys are still in his pocket, because if he’d had to search around the entryway for a briefcase or backpack there’s no way he’d have made it to the car. And then he’d have had his sobbing panic attack – his first one in years – in the marble-tiled foyer of the Senator’s Washington townhouse instead of in the front seat of his ancient Jeep, hastily parked in a bus-stop just around the corner.
Derek can’t quite believe this. Christ Jesus, can his karma get any goddam worse?
He’s not quite all the way through Security, has nowhere to go but through the metal detectors and onward to collect his things. Scott, on the other hand, is already at the end of the conveyor belt, shouldering into his backpack, glaring at Derek like he’d set him on fire if he could.
Derek takes one long breath and moves forward. There’s no merciful beep because he left loose change in his pocket, no helpful you’ve been randomly chosen which, for once in his life, he’d have welcomed.
He scoops up his wallet and satchel and walks to where Scott is waiting, mouth flattened and shoulders set. A flight delay is announced overheard, and somewhere to Derek’s left an overtired child begins to cry.
“Scott-” he begins, trying for neutral.
“You’ve got one hell of a goddam nerve,” Scott grits out.
No chance of neutral, then.
Derek starts walking, wanting to get at least out of earshot of the security guard who is eyeing them with professional curiosity.
Scott matches him step for step - a soldier’s instincts probably telling him not to have this conversation in the open.
They round a series of columns and circle an escalator in silence. The moment they’re on the far side of the escalator, Scott’s hand clamps onto Derek’s shoulder and spins him around so quickly he stumbles back against the glass wall.
“I should knock your fucking teeth down your throat,” Scott hisses.
Yep, Derek thinks. You really should. He just stands there, though, and waits for the rest. Scott moves in close, his face flushed with rage.
“You never fucking deserved him. I knew that from the start but I thought maybe,” Scott shakes his head, “maybe, somehow you would figure out how goddamn lucky you were that he ever gave you a second glance-”
Derek drags in a shaking breath. It’s nothing he hasn’t said to himself in the past few weeks.
“And now he’s on his own,” Scott gritted out. “Fucking- stubborn asshole trying to cope with everything alone, and I can’t fucking stay because I have orders, and I swear to God I’d go fucking AWOL except that Allison’s due date is in four fucking weeks-”
“Everything all right here, gentlemen?” A voice breaks in on Scott’s tirade.
For a second Derek thinks Scott’s honestly too far gone to give a shit about assault charges or anything else, and he braces himself for the punch. At least Scott isn’t in uniform, so if it makes the papers it probably won’t be Hale KO’d by Soldier.
Then Scott grimaces, gives Derek’s shoulder a twisting shove, and steps back. “Fine,” he spits out. “Everything’s fine.”
The security guard is tall, paunchy, and watchful. His eyes cut to Derek. “Sir?”
“Yeah,” Derek says firmly.
The guard doesn’t move.
“Really,” Derek tells him. “Whatever he’s saying – I had it coming.”
In his peripheral vision he sees Scott shift in reaction to that.
“Ah-huh,” the guard says. “Well. I’m just going to be over here, keeping an eye on the two of you.”
Derek nods. Scott lets out a huff of breath.
“And there’ll be no more need for such conversation in a public venue.”
“Got it,” Scott says tightly. “We’re done here anyway.”
“Scott,” Derek calls, when the other man turns and begins walking. He has no right to ask, but, “Is he all right?”
There’s a momentary hitch in Scott’s step, and he visibly hesitates. Then he turns to glance back at Derek. His face is both angry and sorrowful, and there’s a subtle undercurrent of fear when he tells Derek, “No. No, he’s not okay, Derek.”
Derek sags back against the wall behind him, and watches Scott walk away with ice lodged in his gut.
He stays there for a long time, trying to think things through. Scott’s anger he understands, he’d expected. But with every moment that passes Derek is more convinced there had been something else going on, something worse than post-breakup anguish. Why was Scott afraid for Stiles? And what did he mean, trying to cope with everything?
Stiles is the most capable person Derek’s ever known. And the most stubborn, Derek thinks with a rueful half-grin that’s followed by a now-familiar sweeping wave of loss. The breakup won’t have hit Stiles like it’s hit Derek, the other man just hadn’t been in that deep. But considering the mess Derek had made of things, Stiles likely had spent at least a few days feeling like shit
…ashamed of me.
But he’d never let it mess up his entire life. Stiles is still working, Derek knows that from a painfully awkward conversation with his mother, where he’d managed not to really answer any of her questions. Probably, like Derek, Stiles isn’t ready to date yet, that’s perfectly normal, especially just a few weeks after a breakup.
But then why on earth would Scott be afraid for Stiles?
He stands there for a good fifteen minutes, thinking. Derek’s not really needed in New York until Thursday. He’d arranged to fly up early to try and miss as little of Laura’s visit to DC as possible. But he can reschedule the flight, and if necessary, his editor can wait. Derek pushes off the wall and turns himself around. It’s time to find some answers.
“No.” It’s said flatly, not with a lot of force, the word is more breath than sound, really, but the look on Stiles’s face puts Derek literally on the back foot. It’s not hate – Derek is fucked up enough that he’d almost welcome that. Hate would at least have some passion to it. Something to fight against.
This is blank, defensive and hollow, and Derek hates seeing Stiles looking like that. Stiles’s eyes should snap with humour and life. His face is always mobile, always expressing something, no matter how fleeting. That’s what makes him Stiles.
Derek hesitates. “I-”
“No.” Stiles sags against the door frame like his body is too heavy to hold upright but his gaze doesn’t waver, there’s no hesitation in his voice. No give. “You don’t get to be here. We are over. You have no right to any part of my life anymore, you don’t get to just show up on my doorstep.”
“I just wanted to ap-”
Derek stops, blinking. Stiles voice is... he sounds dead. He’s pale, thinner than Derek’s ever seen him and the indefinable spark Derek has always found so mesmerising is just... gone. They stare at one another for a long moment and Derek feels himself take a step back without meaning to. The other man’s eyes are fucked up, Derek notices now, bloodshot and discoloured.
“Go home.” Stiles tells him, flat, a stranger. “Call Laura. Tell her how you showed up here and ask her what she thinks of it.”
Derek can feel his heart start to beat faster with a dread he can’t seem to shake. “We can’t even talk to each other anymore?” He’d never dreamed it could end up like this. Which just went to show how arrogant and stupid he’d been, really. Privileged son of a privileged family, and he’d sure as hell acted like it.
“There’s nothing to say,” Stiles whispers, and closes the door gently between them. The quiet click feels more final to Derek than if Stiles had hauled off and punched him in the face.
And he got precisely no answers. What is Stiles dealing with all alone?
He’s still standing there stupidly on the cracked concrete path when his mind replays the moment Stiles had moved to close the door. The skin of his wrist, raised and reddened. He’s so thin. And his eyes…
Derek draws in a sharp, shocked breath as it all becomes clear.
Stiles is sick.
The letter, handwritten, arrives in his mailbox the next day. No stamp.
I’m sorry Derek intruded the way he did. He won’t do it again.
I don’t want to intrude, either, but I did want to tell you that I’m in DC this week, for six days. If you don’t object to seeing me, you can email or call me and I’ll meet you anywhere you’d like.
If I don’t hear from you, I’ll completely understand, and I won’t bother you again.
I’m so sorry, for everything.
Date: 14 April 2015
Subject: can’t meet
It’s not that I’m mad at you. I just. I can’t. I don’t have the energy for any of it right now.
I don’t blame you. Some days I don’t even blame Derek. But I just …can’t. I didn’t know I could still be hurt like that anymore. Stupid, I guess.
I wish you well with Remy and the baby, I really do. Enjoy Amsterdam.
Stiles opens the door and blinks at the delivery dude. “Uh,” he says. “I didn’t-”
“I’m supposed to give you this,” the guy says, and passes over a plain envelope with nothing written on the front. Then he stands there waiting, with a box of overpriced produce balanced easily in one arm.
Stiles swallows, tears open the envelope and draws out the sheet of plain paper.
I’m sorry. I won’t come by again, the note says.
I won’t contact you again. Stiles runs a finger over the familiar handwriting. Two days of radio silence, and then…
But please, just accept this. He lets out a sharp breath and glances away, the single initial blurring as he stares at it.
Stiles stands there, staring down at the note, then refolds it.
He’s tired. So fucking tired. His Dad is worried about him, Stiles can hear it in their daily phone calls, and Scott is constantly tight-lipped and furious when they Skype, which tells Stiles more than he wants to know about how bad he looks and sounds. Stiles had, stupidly, gone online, and read horror stories of patients like him who had ended up with liver damage so bad they had to get a transplant. All from the fucking flu, and a bad reaction to medication.
“What’s in there?” He jerks his chin toward the box.
The delivery guy blinks. “Uh. Soup from the deli, two kinds. Sourdough bread. Free-range eggs. Oranges and-”
Stiles raises a hand and the guy stops talking. For a moment they stand there in silence.
Soup. Orange juice. Food for a convalescent. Well, that answers one question. Clearly he looks enough like shit that Derek has figured out something is wrong. It’s a weird-ass attempt at an apology, no doubt, but then, Derek is a weird-ass guy. It’s one of the reasons Stiles likes hi- liked. Liked him so much.
Stiles sighs, steps back and gestures half-heartedly for the delivery guy to precede him. He’s tired of fighting, of being angry all the time. And what for? It’s not like his anger is helping him right now. He can call Allison and tell her to stay home and put her feet up, instead of trying to take care of Stiles.
“This way,” Stiles says, and lets a small piece of Derek into the house.
Stiles sits up in bed, sipping the actually delicious soup and eyeing the phone on his bedside table. It’s night time, there’s no sound other than the rain on the roof, and he feels completely, incredibly alone.
He sighs. It seems like the right time to do something stupid. God. It’s more than a little embarrassing to realise that if the Jeep was a pickup truck Stiles would be the complete physical representation of a country music song right now. He shakes his head and picks up the phone. Might as well commit.
The phone rings for long enough that he starts to feel really dumb. It’s only as the call actually connects that he thinks to reach for his watch, lying discarded on the nightstand. 12:53. Shit.
“..lo?” the voice is muzzy with sleep, and so goddam familiar that his throat locks up.
“Hello?” Derek mumbles again. “S’anyone there?”
Stiles takes a long, steadying breath. “Hey.” It comes out as barely a wisp of sound.
There’s a long, taut moment of silence, then Derek’s voice comes down the line, shaky and disbelieving. “Stiles?”
“Yeah,” he manages, and then he has nothing else left.
“I.” Derek seems to be in the same boat. “I don’t-” there’s a rustling sound, and for one blood-curdling moment Stiles thinks he’s going to hear the hushed sound of Derek apologising to someone, some anonymous bed partner, or, fuck, someone not so anonymous, maybe he’s moved on-
“God,” Derek says, in a rush, “it’s really good to hear your voice.”
Stiles lets out a breath, too loud down the line, probably, but he doesn’t know what to even say. Ugh, why had he called? This was just frickin’ tragic. At least he wasn’t drunk dialling. That was about the only positive thing he could currently say about his decision-making.
They sit in silence for a while, then Stiles glances down at the mug in his lap. “I’m, uh. Eating the soup.”
Yep. Let’s talk about the big issues, Stiles.
“The soup? Oh, the soup,” Derek says. “That’s. Uh.”
“It’s really good… soup.” Stiles winces and closes his eyes. He is going to kick his own ass for this in a few weeks or months, when he’s physically capable of it. It’s not enough he hit rock bottom, he has to do it in front of his ex, the hottest person he will ever conceivably date?
More silence. Jesus, this is embarrassing. Except, maybe it isn’t, because-
At the other end of the line Derek’s breath is choppy and irregular. Stiles sits there, just listening for a moment, and then he says softly, “Derek?”
“Mmm,” comes the reply, but it’s thick, and muffled, like Derek’s hand is over his mouth. “Yeah,” came next. “M’here.”
Stiles sits there, staring blankly across the room. Because Derek. Derek is… he is crying.
“I, um.” Shit. What can he possibly say?
“How are you feeling?” Derek breaks in abruptly, voice thick. He’s clearly going to power through and pretend nothing is happening. Team Denial for the win.
“I. Yeah, I’m doing okay.” It isn’t totally a lie. At least know they know what’s been causing the exhaustion, the rash and fever. All the wondering hadn’t exactly been fun times. He goes into hospital Monday for tests, and they’ll figure out how bad things are.
“Good,” Derek says. “That’s good.”
And this is so weird, because he doesn’t even sound like he’s fishing for information. If their positions were reversed, Stiles would be dying to know what was going on with Derek.
“Listen, I have to go,” he says suddenly. Because there honestly just isn’t a whole lot to say. The sharp edge of his hate and rage have gone, Stiles can admit that. Maybe it’s the passage of time, maybe it’s being so goddam sick all the time, but he just doesn’t have the energy to hold on to that kind of hot anger. Doesn’t mean he’s ready for friendly chats yet.
“Okay,” Derek says immediately, like he’s been expecting Stiles to bail since the start of the call. “Well, uh. It- thank you,” he switches mid-sentence. “Thank you, so much, for calling, Stiles.”
“No problem,” Stiles says, suddenly weirded out by the whole stupid situation, and hangs up before he can say something stupid.
Derek wipes his face and puts down the phone. Wow. Ten out of ten for embarrassing, Hale. Really stellar work.
He drinks a glass of water standing up in the kitchen while he checks the dual-clock he’d installed on his phone the day Laura flew out of DC, ready to set the Hague on its ear. Then he remembers that she’s back in DC, and shakes his head at himself. Her sleep schedule is probably still messed up from the flight, so he sends a text. You up?
She sends back a series of emoticons which he interprets to mean she is reading, possibly while eating pizza in the bath, and yes, is, sadly, still awake.
“Hey, Laur,” he says.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m.” Okay, obviously he sounds raw and hoarse. “I’m good, I just. Stiles called.”
“He called? Oh my God.” Her voice is full of excitement, then goes suddenly low, “Or, shit, is it not good news? Is he worse? Did he tell you what’s wrong? Or did he yell-”
“No yelling,” Derek cuts in, familiar with the kind of spiral Laura is capable of once she gets going. “He didn’t say what’s wrong and I didn’t ask. It was- short. Really short. But. He sounded… okay. Same as when I saw him, I guess. Definitely not worse. He just. Said thanks for the soup.” And I managed not to gush about how good it was to hear his voice.
Laura is doing some deep breathing on the other end. “Okay.”
“I.” Derek swallows. “I, uh. Cried.”
“Oh, bear,” Laura says, and her tone has his eyes pricking again.
“I just. It was a shock, hearing his voice again.”
“Yeah. I get that.”
There’s silence for a while. Then she says, “Well. It’s a good step, right? That he called. It means he’s… thinking about you.”
“I guess,” Derek says. He turns, and his eye falls on the letter he received yesterday… your generous donation… success story… valuable time. “Ms Booth sent me a thank you letter, for coming to the retirement thing, donating the books, the panels.”
“That’s… nice?” Laura says, after a beat, obviously not following Derek’s train of thought.
Derek almost smiles. “I just was thinking – that whole trip back to the school, just before the...” breakup.
“I was so freaked out about giving a speech, about being back in those spaces,” back on that fucking stage, he thinks grimly. The stage at Beechwood Academy had featured largely in many of his teenaged nightmares. Being a Hale at Beechwood had been a particular kind of torture for Derek.
Hales were leaders. Hales did debate team and became prefects. Hales were not quiet loners who always carried a sketchbook. He had hated being at that fucking school with a passion most people reserve for sports or debates about gun laws.
“Oh,” Laura says, “Yeah, I get that.”
Derek bites back a snort. Laura had been the star of her high school debate-team and a quarter-finalist in for Harvard at the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition. She was currently a hot-shot lawyer at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. She absolutely did not get Derek’s abject public failure.
But it was nice of her to pretend.
“I was not… in a good place, you could say.”
“And Uncle Peter took full advantage of that,” Laura said grimly.
He really, really had, Derek thought. He’d been back in that old headspace, the one where he could never measure up, and even the speeches praising his achievements, the gushing remarks from his old art teacher, even seeing his signed illustrations mounted on the walls of the Academy Library hadn’t shaken that feeling.
Ah well. Didn’t really matter now, did it? The damage had been well and truly done.
He takes a deep breath. “Anyway, I know you’re probably trying to fix your sleep schedule, so I’ll let you go. I just.” He shrugs.
“Anytime, Der-bear of mine. Any time.”
“G’night, Laur. Get some sleep, huh?”
“Oh fucking hells no,” Stiles mutters, and ignores the startled look of offense from the old lady shambling past him with her IV pole dragging behind.
A wide-eyed Peter Hale stares back at him from inside the elevator. In the time it takes for the doors to close neither one of them blinks. Stiles allows himself about a half-second of sagging, exhausted shock once Hale disappears from view. A half-second after that he’s just angry and about three thousand percent done with This. Fucking.Year.
Then he takes a deep breath and reaches into the pocket of his robe for his phone. His mind, at least, can still tick over at speed, even if the rest of him is a frickin’ mess. He reaches down with his other hand and tries to manoeuvre the goddam wheelchair out of the centre of the corridor even as he dials the hospital’s main number.
Once he’s finished making clear to the woman on switch just how very badly he will sue if she or her co-workers even breathed a word of his information to anyone, he asks to be put through to Legal and spends a pleasant five minutes reinforcing his familiarity with HIPAA, and his own rights to privacy, no matter how famous or influential a curious individual might be.
He’s out of breath and near-panting by the time he hangs up.
Janice, his second-favourite nurse is on approach, and he grimaces in apology, holding up his phone. “Sorry,” he says. Then, “Sorry,” again, more conciliatory, because he is not going to turn into one of those self-important DC assholes. “I just. Spotted someone.”
He hesitates, then drops his voice and tells her quietly, “An… ex of mine just saw me in all my invalid-y glory,” Stiles spreads his arms to indicate the pajamas and robe ensemble, the shunt in his arm, the wheelchair. It feels kind of gross to refer to Peter Hale like that, but it’s close enough for the situation. “And he’s just the kind of asshole who’d try to charm my information out of some hapless candystriper and then inform every fucking person I know all about it on facebook, or something.”
Janice frowns down at him. “You need to take care of yourself better than that,” she says, and he nods automatically. The thought of Peter keeps niggling at him, though.
And it will keep bothering him from now on, Stiles knows. Ugh. Peter is a charmer, and he combines that innate quality with an authoritative air and deep pockets. God knew, DC was the place to learn a harsh lesson in just how very easily secrets could be spilled. Confidentiality was only as strong as someone’s ability to remain firm in the face of wheedling and/or bribery.
Janice eyes him narrowly, then sighs. “C’mere.”
She wheels him up to the nurse’s station at the other end of the hallway and positions Stiles so he’s almost behind the desk. She taps at the keyboard for a few minutes, then turns the monitor so he can see. There was his name, his contact information, his treating physician, location of his ward, and finally, his room number. And as he watches, Janice types into the notes field: PHI COMPLETELY RESTRICTED, HOSPITAL STAFF ONLY – PRIVACY CODE 535. REFER ALL ENQUIRIES TO LEGAL. PATIENT *WILL* SUE. Then she flags the entry as High Importance so it shows at the top of his record.
“Happy?” she asks, one brow cocked.
Stiles lets out a long, slow breath and slumped back against the chair. “Yeah,” he says quietly. It helped, to see something concrete. “Thanks, Janice. That’s awesome.”
She nods. “Okay. Lunch’ll be coming around in about an hour. Why don’t you head on out into the garden for a while. Get some fresh air.”
Stiles manages a half-smile.
“Yeah,” he says, and feels the weight of his phone in his hand. The phone that still has Peter Hale’s number saved in his contacts. “Yeah, I think I will.”
annnnd here is the part where I pull medical stuff out of my ass. I have no medical knowledge beyond what Google grants me, nor do I have a clue about patient privacy and HIPAA
For those of you who are curious/worried: Stiles has developed Cholestatic Hepatitis (drug-induced liver injury) due to a bad reaction to Clarithromycin, which he was prescribed by his doctor, when he had the flu. There's not going to be a whole lot of detail devoted to the illness part of the story.
If anyone would like to correct my medical "facts", feel free. I don't promise to make changes, though, since I've written a great deal of this fic already, and this is not a medical textbook, obvs. But if I can I'll make improvements.
DON'T WORRY. NO-ONE DIES. I PROMISE.
I feel I should warn all of you that in a few days I'll be going away for a week. I definitely won't have the last chapters posted by then - I have a small gap about 3/4 of the way through that I am writing right now. So... I can keep going like this, posting a chapter or two each day until I leave, or I can pick a stopping point that's... satisfying?
Let me know if you have strong feeling in the comments. It's *possible* I'll be able to post once or twice while I'm away, but I can't promise.
Stiles sits by the carefully manicured hedges for almost ten minutes before he sighs, lets out a sharp breath and sends the fucking text. Then he sits, and he waits. It won’t take long to get a response.
Peter is a silhouette through the glass, glancing around as the door slides open. Stiles takes one more steadying breath and clears his expression.
“Stiles,” Peter Hale says, his voice as neutral as his eyes flicker over every part of Stiles at once. It leaves him feeling vaguely dirty, somehow.
Stiles says nothing, just gestures to the bench beside his wheelchair. Be fucked if he’s going to talk with the older man looming over him.
Peter hesitates, then takes the seat.
They sit in silence for a moment, then Stiles takes a deep breath, and says, “You have no right to my personal information. None.”
For a moment he thinks Peter is going to try some bullshit along the lines of well I am your employer, and then the man says slowly, “Surely Derek is entitled-”
“Don’t you fucking dare to pretend that you think I would put Derek in danger in any way,” Stiles hisses, losing control for just a second. “If my problem was something he needed to know about I would have told him months ago when I first got sick.”
Peter’s jaw works and he looks away. Wow. It seemed the man’s cold dead heart is attempting to sputter to life. And at this point Stiles is probably supposed to be the bigger man.
Well, fuck that.
He’s tired. He’s scared. He’s weak and in pain and very fucking alone.
“Let me tell you what is happening to you right now, Mr Hale.” Peter shifts and shoots a sideways look at Stiles that never makes it further than the wheelchair. “You fucked me over, with your eyes wide open, you manipulated Derek by using his completely out of proportion guilt over a teenaged mistake, and you got exactly what you wanted. I’m out of the picture, and you’re Derek’s puppet master. And I’d bet good money you’ve been perfectly satisfied and sleeping like a baby ‘til now.”
Stiles takes a long, shaky breath. “But today you’ve seen me, and I’m in bad shape, and you’re suddenly a little conflicted. Because you had no problem with messing up my life when I was walking around under my own steam, but now you’re getting flashes of something weird, almost like remorse. Or maybe it’s the realization that you are a complete fucking disgrace as a human being. Either way, you don’t like that feeling.”
He takes a shaky breath. “Well, don’t worry about it. In a minute you’ll get up and walk out of here. And by the time you settle down this evening in your beautiful home with a glass of expensive scotch in your hand, you’ll forget all about me again and go back to normal.”
“You have a pretty low opinion of me,” Peter Hale says, after a long moment.
“I can’t imagine why,” Stiles says flatly.
“I know why,” Peter says. “And I’m not arguing that I’ve wronged you, Mr Stilinski. But my reasons are-”
“I don’t give a shit what your reasons are,” Stiles cuts in. “You don’t have the right to mess up other people’s lives just to further your own agenda. I mean, Jesus, is this really all you want? I hate your fucking guts right now but even I have to admit you’re incredible at what you do. You can talk people around like no-one I’ve ever seen, and what do you use it for? To keep the fucking status quo? To play by the same goddamn rules everyone’s been playing by for generations?”
Peter stares at him, eyes wide and startled.
“No, seriously. Aren’t you fucking bored?”Stiles slams his hand down on the arm of his chair. For a half-second the sleeve of his robe slides back, revealing the reddened rash that’s only just beginning to fade. Stiles shakes his sleeve down without even thinking about it. It’s become second nature in the past few weeks.
The older man’s lips part, but no sound emerges. Stiles has never once, in the three years he’d known him, seen Peter Hale so completely surprised.
“I mean. You’re born into this situation where you have every possible thing going for you. Advantage upon advantage. Money, influence and ability. And what do you do with it? You make yourself into the exact image of every other boring white middle aged creep that came before you. Don’t you want to shake it up? Fuck the alliances and the ‘suitable partners’. Fuck playing it safe. Pick something you give a shit about and do your goddamn evil magic there. Don’t waste it on something as petty as who your nephew dates in order to guarantee one old guy’s vote on a piece of legislation that was probably going to pass anyway, because it was protecting tax breaks for more powerful old white guys just like you.”
Stiles is panting and shaking by the time he’s finished, and he has the fleeting thought that Janice is going to kick his ass when she sees the state of him.
“I… did not expect to hear that from you,” Hale finally says.
Stiles shrugs. Ugh. He’s being stupid and embarrassing, wearing himself out - for what? Shouting at the sky, basically, like a crazy person. He doesn’t even have the energy to reply, because he’s wasted his words on someone as shallow and self-centred as Peter Hale. Stiles is a moron.
There’s a long silence, then Hale gets to his feet.
“I… I hope your health improves, Mr Stilinski,” he says, voice neutral. Stiles gives a jerk of his head in acknowledgement and doesn’t bother to look up. From the corner of his eye he sees Peter turn and cross the small square of lawn, tread measured and even.
Stiles licks his lips. “Mr Hale.” Peter turns. “I know you’re curious. I get that. And I’m sure that in an hour or two, or a day, when the sting has faded, you’ll be tempted to try to find out my situation.” Stiles raises his eyes to meet the other man’s. “But this is none of your business. And if I find out you’ve been trying to access my records, I will burn you.”
That gets Stiles a slight lift of brows, a challenge that is probably automatic. For a moment he can see the Peter Hale he knows from the law firm, smirky and confident and always the smartest guy in the room.
“I know you think I lack ruthlessness,” Stiles tells him. “But I think you’ll be surprised and impressed if you cross me in this.”
“Are you threatening to sue your employer?” Hale’s voice was light and mocking.
“I won’t have to,” Stiles says, and he smiles, all teeth. “Because if you cross me, you will find my social media accounts suddenly springing to life with all of the Derek stuff I held back for all those months we were together, when I wasn’t sure I wanted the scrutiny. And while you’re busy dealing with questions and rumours about your nephew’s dating history, I’ll just quietly pass my grievances along to my old friend from law school.” He waits a beat, then says flatly, “Her name’s Malia. She lives to fight the system.”
A jolt runs through Hale that is visible from all the way across the garden. He doesn’t speak, in fact he seems frozen to the spot.
Yeah, Stiles tells him silently. Karma’s a bitch, huh?
“You- you know her?” The older man’s voice is suddenly hoarse. Malia Tate, the daughter Hale had denied for years, until Kate Argent busted the whole ugly story open on the front pages of the Post.
“We were on a group project together in my final year of college. She got in touch with me about six months ago, had heard I was working for Senator Hale. She was curious to know what kind of people you were,” Stiles finishes cruelly.
Peter Hale blanches and turns his face away.
“Go away, Mr Hale,” Stiles says quietly. “If you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.”
Derek spends a lot longer than he’d hoped at the offices of Hale & Hale. Uncle Peter is at a local hospital, for some reason. A photo-op for Derek’s mother, perhaps, or a meeting of some foundation. He passes the time idly sketching the view from the window of Uncle Peter’s office, and texting Laura that he might be late for lunch. Every now and then Derek glances up at the open door, and flinches at the portrait of his great-grandfather on display in the entry. Henry Hale, founder of the firm and former Governor of Virginia glares out of the frame, a terrifying figure who has always looked permanently disappointed in his descendants. Derek can only be grateful that the sneering old man had died long before he was born.
His uncle walks through the office door with his head down.
“Uncle Peter,” Derek says, and watches the older man startle wildly. He frowns. That isn’t like his uncle, especially not at work, when he is always, always ‘on’.
“Derek,” he says. Then “Derek,” again, but quieter, somehow sad. He puts his briefcase down on a small table and comes to stand at Derek’s side. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” Derek says. “Are… you all right?” It seems impertinent to ask, somehow. The uncle Derek remembers from his early childhood seems like a work of fiction sometimes, the years have changed him so much. The man who’d tussled with them on the lawn and taken Derek to see ball games and admired Laura’s wobbly handstands… there was nothing of that man to see anymore.
Peter scrubs a hand over his face. “I’m not entirely sure, to be honest,” he murmurs, and Derek just stares blankly. There’s no reason Derek can see for Peter to be in such a spin. His mother’s numbers are on the rise and Jake landed the summer internship he’d been aiming for, even without Derek’s intervention.
“I- do you-” Derek sputters to a halt. Peter never admits weakness. Now that he had, Derek has no idea what to say or do.
His uncle takes a deep breath and straightens, turning away from the window. “I’m well, thank you Derek,” he says, his voice becoming cooler and more confident with each word. “What can I do for you?”
Derek eyes him for a long moment, then lets it go. He crosses the office and closes the door. Peter eyes the door and raises an eyebrow. “Derek?”
“I need you to call in a favour,” Derek says. No finesse, of course. No working up to the point. He’s terrible at that kind of thing anyway, and he’s doubly terrible at trying to talk to Uncle Peter. The other man always has him turning in circles by the third sentence.
Peter blinks. “I see.”
“For Stiles,” Derek makes himself say, and his voice comes out remarkably steady.
Peter blinks again, then a careful mask takes over his face. “I’m not sure it’s wise to insert ourselves into that young man’s life, Derek,” he begins, and crossed to his desk. Eyes down, Peter sinks into his chair and adds, “He has washed his hands of our family fairly thoroughly-”
“I’m not trying to get anything out of him, or start-” Derek’s throat closes up. “It’s not about that. It’s not about me.”
Peter glances up, eyebrow raised.
“I ran into his friend Scott last week,” Derek admits. “He’s an Army medic, and he’s being recalled to serve overseas.”
Peter blinks slowly and leans back in his chair, but one hand is tapping a rapid beat on his desk.
“Scott said something about Stiles being left to deal with things on his own. He was- angry,” Derek finishes awkwardly. “Something was off. So I drove over to see Stiles. He looked terrible, Uncle Peter.” He swallows and sinks into the visitor’s chair. He has to take a breath before he can make himself say, “I think he’s sick.”
“You went to see him?” Peter asks sharply. “When?”
“A few days ago,” Derek answers, confused. “Why?”
Peter runs a hand over his face, “Doesn’t matter. It’s not important. But-”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with Stiles and I don’t have any right to ask. But you can get Scott’s recalled cancelled,” Derek pushes on. “Whatever’s going on, Stiles needs support and he doesn’t want-” Derek stops, swallows hard before restarting. “Scott’s his best friend. And Scott’s wife is eight months pregnant. He should be here, for both their sakes, not in the Middle East or wherever else they’re sending him.”
Peter says nothing. His eyes are fixed on his desk.
“Uncle Peter,” Derek says. “I know you can make this happen. Scott’s no-one important, it won’t cause any kind of stir, soldiers get reassigned all the time.”
There’s a long pause. You owe me, Derek doesn’t say. He doesn’t say it because it isn’t true. Peter’s manipulations had screwed things up with Stiles, of course they had, but it had been Derek who’d fallen for them. The choice had been Derek’s, all the way along, and he’d let the familiarity of his guilt – the safety of old patterns of behaviour – consume him instead of thinking about the man he loved.
It’s time to grow up.
“I’ll make some calls,” Peter says after a considerable pause.
“Thank you,” Derek says, and leaves without another word.
He catches a cab from outside the Hale & Hale offices. Laura is waiting at their favourite restaurant, a place far from the beating heart of DC, where they are unlikely to run into anyone who will care about the Hale family.
“How’d it go?” she asks, rising to hug him when he reaches the table. He makes it a real hug, lingering, rather than perfunctory. The gentle curve of her tummy presses against Derek. She’s flying out tonight, a few hours after Derek leaves for New York, and who knows how long it’ll be – or how big she’ll be – by the time Derek sees her again.
“He said he’d make some calls,” Derek says.
She nods. “Good.”
Derek sinks into his chair and puts his hands on his head. “Fuck,” he says, very softly. “Fuck, Laur.”
She doesn’t offer any platitudes. She is his absolute favourite person for that alone.
“I don’t even know what’s wrong with him,” Derek choked out. “He could be dying, or-”
“I know,” she says. “I know, bear.” One hand comes out to rest on his wrist, and he clutches at her.
They sit in silence for a long time, Derek only straightening when the waitress approaches the table. He orders whatever Laura orders, uncaring, and turns his eyes toward the glass wall that fronts the street. Laura had wrangled a table in the back, and it’s almost 2pm, so the restaurant is slowly emptying of the lunchtime crowd.
“Could I – could I contact Scott, do you think?”
There’s a pause. “You could try, I guess,” she says slowly. She sits back and presses a hand to the small bump just beginning to emerge.
“I mean, he hates my guts, but. Maybe.”
Laura nods slowly. “Just-”
He glances at her, “What?”
“Don’t mention… favours. Just because Uncle Peter might be able-”
“Jesus, Laur,” Derek says, recoiling. “No. Fuck, no. I wouldn’t-”
“Well it needed to be said,” she shot back, worry clear on her face. “I wouldn’t have imagined you’d tell Stiles he was an embarrassment to the family name and basically had to become your mistress just because Uncle Peter suggested it, either, but somehow you managed it.”
Derek sags back in his chair. “Yeah,” he says dully. “Point.”
She bites her lip. “Sorry.”
“No. You’re right. ‘Use small words and state the obvious’ should be your mantra with me from now on. God. How could I be such a fucking idiot?” He puts his head back into his hands.
“I don’t know, Der.” She takes a deep breath. “Look. Just. I’m not gonna be around as much from now on. So…”
“Whatever you do, just… stop first and make sure it’s about Stiles, and not about you. ‘kay? Think about whether it’ll make him feel better. That’s the best advice I can give you.”
“Yeah,” he says roughly. “I will. I promise.”
The battery of tests are finished that afternoon, and Stiles is on track to be released as soon as his ‘levels’ improve, whatever that really means. That night he sits in his hospital bed and stares out the window into the Washington night. The flashing lights of incoming planes on approach are getting further and further apart, which means that it’s late, and he should really be sleeping.
It’s Allison’s birthday. She’s still a week away from her due date, and she’s getting tired and cranky. Stiles had given Scott a meaningful look when they’d visited this afternoon so hopefully, she’s being spoiled rotten by her doting husband, on his final leave before he deploys again.
So Stiles is alone. And, because it’s Allison’s birthday, Stiles also knows that Derek is in New York, meeting with his publisher, and with his editor, and his author. He can still see in his mind’s eye the little city skyline Derek had drawn on the calendar at Stiles’s office to mark the date. Stiles had drawn a frowny face to note that Derek would miss the birthday dinner.
Derek had replied with one of his trademark polar bears. So far he’s managed to place one in every book.
Stiles brings his knees up and hugs them. He’s been doing so well. He had one moment of weakness, that one phone call, and he’s managed not to contact Derek again since. And Derek, for his part, hasn’t called either. Stiles vacillates between feeling huffy that Derek isn’t trying harder, and being grateful. Scott just sets his mouth in a hard line and refuses to talk about Derek at all whenever Stiles brings it up. So, no help there.
“Fuck it,” he says softly to himself, and leaned over to retrieve his phone. The IV snags and he winces, then casts an eye at the clear bag dripping medication into his system. Such a small thing. And yet, it might save him from permanent liver damage. If he’s lucky.
He opens up a message window and types out carefully How’s the Big Apple?
The moment he sends it he feels stupid. What if Derek has deleted his number? If he gets back a ‘Who is this?’ Stiles might honestly cringe himself to death. Just because Stiles had been too stupid and stubborn to delete Derek’s number…
It takes about six minutes for the reply to come back. It’s okay. I only arrived tonight.
str8 to dinner with editorial team
It’s followed immediately by Just chkng in @hotel now
Stiles stares down at the screen and swallows. His chest aches at having even just this small amount of Derek back.
Allison have a good bday? Comes next.
Stiles breath goes out of him in a whoosh. Derek remembered. Stiles isn’t the only one with his head still full of random bits of their life together.
He swallows. Okay, he sends back. Too big to really enjoy it I think. Also Scott is going o/s soon. Kind of a bummer
That sucks. Derek sends back immediately. Stiles can picture it, Derek settling down on the sofa of his nice plush hotel room with his phone and a beer, staring out the window at the Chrysler building, maybe.
I came out to Mo tonight Derek sends next.
Stiles goggles at his screen and inhales so sharply he chokes on his own spit. Stiles coughs and coughs, and his goddam lungs are burning by the time he gets it under control and fumbles for a drink of the tepid water on his bedside cabinet.
As bi, I mean pops up on the screen while he’s taking a slow, careful drink and trying to figure out what the hell he’s supposed to say to that.
There’s movement in the doorway and Stiles glances up. “Time for obs,” the night nurse says cheerily.
Derek’s words just hang there on the screen. Which turns black while the nurse takes Stiles’s blood pressure and his temperature and writes a freakin’ novel in his chart. She won’t let him text back until she’s done, either, clucking disapprovingly and reminding him he needs to get more rest if he’s going to recover and the whole time Stiles can picture Derek just sitting there, staring at last two texts and feeling completely exposed.
“I promise, I’ll sleep,” Stiles tells her, and gestures wildly for her to go.
Holy shit, he sends immediately, so Derek knows he’s not getting the silent treatment. He follows immediately with It go ok?
Think so. Derek replies. He and I went 2 jazz bar after dinner was over. It just kind of happened.
There’s a pause while Stiles tries to think of what to ask next. While he’s deleting his first attempt, Derek sends Can I call you?
Stiles blinks. He takes a few breaths. Then, Yeah.
He stares down at the phone in his hands and it only takes about twenty seconds for the phone to ring.
“Hey,” Stiles says and closes his eyes. Derek’s voice. He’s always loved Derek’s voice, it’s so unlike what anyone would expect out of someone so darkly handsome and so clearly damaged. But he sounds like the man he is on the inside, not the way he looks. Derek’s decent. He’s loving, when he’s given the chance. His voice is as light as his watercolours, with as much depth as his characters.
There’s a pause, then Stiles swallows and says, “So how many drinks did you have?”
He can hear Derek’s breathy little laugh. “A few,” he admits. “I mean, we both slowed right down when things got kind of heavy. I’m barely buzzed at all now.”
Stiles nods. Derek doesn’t sound drunk. “I uh, didn’t know you guys were that close.”
“That’s the thing,” Derek says, and he sounds surprised. “We’re not. I mean, we have these business meetings a couple of times a year, we’ve done a few book signings, and there was that thing for Read Across America in March, but. Mostly we just email each other stuff on the books, there’s not really a lot of chit chat.”
“So you just – it just happened?” That’s weird. Because Derek is generally not the type to talk about this stuff. As evidenced by The Big Breakup.
“I guess? I’d been reading some stuff on Twitter-”
“Ah-ha,” Stiles says, smiling but kind of hurting with nostalgia, too. It’s stupid, but he’s really missed Derek’s outraged rants about Twitter. How the fuck is social justice warrior an insult? What kind of dickhead doesn’t want a socially just society?
“Shut up,” Derek shoots back, good naturedly. “And then all these people were sharing stories of all the ways their bisexuality gets kinda- erased. And I just. I guess it was on my mind?”
Stiles doesn’t know what to say to that. This is kind of a minefield they’re venturing into. “Huh.”
There’s noises in the hallway then, which is weird, because it’s late, and they started encouraging Stiles to go to sleep about two hours ago. And a second after it starts, he realizes Derek will be able to hear it because they’re not just texting anymore, Stiles, you dumbass, and he slides hastily out of bed.
The IV slows him down, some, though, and the altercation is kind of ramping up, it’s some elderly lady, jeez, she looks frail, but she’s clearly out of it, dementia maybe, because she’s frightened and yelling incoherently. And so of course he’s just reached the door when the nurse who’d done Stiles’s obs earlier calls urgently over her shoulder, “Page the psych resident.”
Stiles bites his lip.
He presses the door to his room closed and wonders if he can go with the ‘TV on too loud’ angle.
“Stiles, where are you?” Derek asks, the words coming out very slowly.
“Are you in a fucking hospital?” Derek’s voice goes up about two octaves over the course of that sentence.
“Just for observation-”
“Fuck. Jesus fuck.”
“The hospital, oh God,” Derek is murmuring to himself, and his voice has utterly changed, the cadence, the strain, he actually sounds the way Stiles feels during a panic attack.
“It’s not as bad as it sounds.”
“What the hell do you m-” and then the demand cuts off sharply. “Shit,” he mutters, and then there’s just silence and weird half-noises as the other man clearly strangles about six different sentences before they can be uttered. Then there’s a lot of shaky breathing and Stiles sighs, crosses the room and climbs back into bed.
“Okay,” Derek finally says, very quiet. “Okay. I don’t- Yeah. Fuck.”
Stiles waits. When there’s clearly nothing else forthcoming he says, “You’re not gonna ask?”
“I don’t have the right to ask,” Derek says, and it’s only a little bitter.
Stiles sighed. “It’s just tests, okay. I’m in here for some tests.”
“Mmm,” he got from Derek, and the sound was muffled, like the guy was maybe curled in a little ball.
“Ask me,” Stiles hears himself say. He’d been so fierce about this, about his right to privacy, and slapping Derek in the face with the broken connection. Now, for some reason, he can be gentle. “Derek, just ask.”
A shaky breath. “What is it, Stiles? What’s wrong?”
Now it’s Stiles’s turn to take a deep breath. “You remember when I was sick? Had the flu?”
“It, uh. Turns out it was pneumonia. Like, walking pneumonia, they call it.”
“Shit,” Derek says softly. “When?”
“Uh. Well. I saw the doc while you were away.”
Silence. Stiles does not want to picture the self-recrimination/guilt cocktail on Derek’s face right now.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” Stiles says. “Shouldn’t have been, anyway. They gave me medication, I had a few days off work and then I was pretty much able to work from home while I recovered.”
“But then I got worse.” He sighs and rubs the heel of his hand into his eye. “Turns out, shit luck, I had a bad reaction to the medication they gave me. Mostly it was just fatigue and feeling generally shitty, so I didn’t, uh. Really realize at first. Just thought-”
“Thought it was the breakup,” Derek finishes for him, voice heavy.
“Yeah and so then uh, I got worse and saw a doctor and-”
“Define worse,” Derek ordered.
He sighs. “Fevers. A rash. And then, hm, jaundice. What I have is uh, it’s a type of hepatitis.”
“Fuck,” the word bursts out of Derek like he’s been punched.
“Look, they diagnosed it within a couple of weeks, and I’m on medication now-”
Stiles swallows. “Don’t know yet. Hence the tests.”
He closes his eyes. “Worst case scenario is a liver transplant. If there’s permanent damage.”
“It probably won’t come to that.”
“I’m here,” he says. “Just… processing.”
Stiles nods. Yeah. It’s a lot. He presses his lips together.
“Scott and Allison are visiting you?” Derek finally says quietly.
“Yeah. And Dad’s getting on a red-eye as we speak. I got him to hold off until they’d done the tests, so he’d be here for uh, if there are. Decisions.”
“Good,” Derek says. “That’s… good.”
“Listen,” Stiles says, because suddenly a lot of things he was furious about before seem stupid from this side of a hospital bed. “Come see me, if you want. When you get back. I’ll probably be discharged tomorrow or the next day,” unless it’s bad news, “so come by the house. Okay?”
“You’d- let me?” Derek sounds choked again.
“Yeah, man.” Stiles lets his head fall back on the pillow. He’s suddenly really tired, the phone heavy in his hand, but.
Derek gives a shit what happens to Stiles. Whatever mess they made of their romantic relationship, it seems dumb to keep pushing away someone who wants to be here when Stiles is in trouble. He’s watched more than a few “friends” drift carefully away over the last few weeks when Stiles didn’t immediately improve, when his illness became visible and unattractive, undeniable.
“Stiles that- thank you,” Derek says.
Stiles stifles a yawn. “It’s okay. Don’t- don’t keep punishing yourself, okay? Not now.”
There’s a long pause, then Derek says, “I should probably let you sleep.”
Stiles sighs, but doesn’t argue. His eyes want to close.
“I’ll see you soon, Stiles,” Derek says. “And thank you. For letting me.”
“G’night, bear,” he says, already half asleep.
Tell me that if you had a brother who looked like that but was a big softy on the inside, TELL ME you wouldn't call him Der-bear.
I don't believe you.
Stiles is expecting to spend the morning obsessing about the test results, and basking in the fact that Dad has arrived. That’s… not what happens.
“Derek!” Stiles jerks upright in bed and then winces, because though the fevers and nausea have started to fade since he got the good stuff injected straight into his veins, he’s definitely not all better, and sudden movements aren’t particularly wise when you have an enlarged liver.
“Hey,” Derek says. He looks… terrible, actually. As terrible as Derek can look, anyway, his genetic legacy being what it is.
“But you’re in New York,” Stiles says dumbly. “You just got to New York last night, you said.”
“They have this thing called air travel now,” Derek returns absently, his eyes sweeping over Stiles. “You should try it.”
“Smartass,” Stiles says. Derek doesn’t look disgusted, or anything else, by Stiles’s weird skin tone, or the rash or the bloodshot eyes. What he does seem is watchful and really, really intense.
“How are you feeling?”
“Better than yesterday. Derek, did you honestly get up at the crack of dawn and fly back here to see me?”
Derek looks caught, then. He’s saved from having to answer by a new arrival in the doorway. Stiles’s Dad pauses there, fresh jug of water in his hand, and his eyebrows lifting in enquiry.
“Oh,” Stiles says. Oh shit, he thinks. “Uh. Dad.” Derek jerks a little and straightens up. “This is… Derek. Derek, this is my Dad.”
There’s a loooong pause as Dad’s face rearranges itself into a carefully blank mask and then Derek says haltingly, “Sheriff Stilinksi. Sir.”
“Derek.” Dad says. It’s not a greeting. He looks across at Stiles and says, “Hale.”
“Yep,” Stiles confirms. Oh, this is going to go so badly. It could only be topped if Scott suddenly bounded into the room.
Oh my God, shut the fuck up, Inner Voice of Doom. The last thing we need right now is Scott.
Dad turns the Sheriff-y Gaze of Judgement back toward hapless Derek. “Mr Hale,” he says, and the words are flat and icy.
Derek visibly swallows. “Uh.” He turns beseeching eyes on Stiles, which: unfair.
Stiles rolls his eyes. “Okay, stand down, gladiators. Derek, have a seat.” There are, thankfully, two chairs, one on each side of the bed, which means his two visitors have space from one another. Of course, Dad, hilariously, nudges his chair to an angle where he can watch Derek with the same flat, unimpressed glare.
Stiles leans back against the pillows and waits to see what will happen next.
Dad pours a glass of water and slides it across Stiles’s tray with a pointed eyebrow raise. Stiles meets his eyes and tries to communicate don’t make this a thing without being super-obvious. Dad gives him the parental eyebrow of I can do what I want, you’re my kid.
“Have you… had any news?” Derek asks tentatively.
Stiles shakes his head. “Not yet. Waiting for the doc.”
Derek nods. He’s flipping his keys nervously in his hands. Stiles remembers that particular tic, mostly from just before Hale family dinners, when Derek knew he’d be gently needled by most of his relatives for their ongoing entertainment.
“Stiles didn’t mentioned you’d been visiting, Derek,” Dad says, blandly enough.
“I, uh. Haven’t been. I wasn’t sure I’d be welcome,” he admitted.
“Decided to just show up, did you?”
“No, Dad, we talked last night and I told him he should come by. You know, when he wasn’t in New York and I was at home,” Stiles stressed, shooting Derek a sideways look.
Derek shrugs. The Sheriff shifts in his chair and glances between the two of them. Oh, there’s gonna be questions there.
“Sooo… how’s Laura?” Stiles ventures. No fucking way he’s asking after the family. He plucks nervously at the edge of the sheet and finds himself wishing, stupidly, that he’d hadn’t avoided the mirror this morning when he’d visited the bathroom. He’d like to know just how bad it is – like to know what Derek is seeing right now.
“Good, she’s um. The pregnancy’s going well, no morning sickness so far. She flew back yesterday.” Derek licks his lips, “She’d want me to give you her regards.”
Stiles nods, “Yeah I’ll uh. Email her. When I’m back on my feet.”
“She’d really love to hear from you.”
More nodding. More awkward silence.
And then Stiles’s fucking mouth lets out, “Did Peter tell you he saw me?”
Derek’s jaw drops. “What?”
Dad shifts, straightening and leaning closer to Stiles.
Stiles licks his lips and looks down at his hands.
“I- no, he never. When?”
“Uh. Yesterday morning, I think? Here.” Stiles scratches his head.
Derek just gapes at him. “He knew you were in hospital?”
“So he didn’t tell you.”
“No he fu- no he did not,” Derek says, low and furious and yet still watching his language in front of Dad. Aw, he’s cute.
“Yeah, I. Kind of blackmailed him? Not to say anything to anyone.”
Dad shoots him a look that’s equal parts approval and don’t admit that in front of witnesses, dumbass.
“And… then I threatened to sue,” Stiles finishes.
“Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” Dad murmurs, and Derek snorts.
Then he sobers. “I, uh. Saw him yesterday,” Derek says, staring at the bump of Stiles’s knees beneath the sheets. “He was pretty – distracted. Huh. That… explains a lot, actually.”
There’s movement in the doorway and Stiles looks up. His stomach drops. It’s the doctor. He swallows, and exchanges a glance with his father who is straightening, squaring his shoulders.
Derek takes one comprehensive look and gets to his feet. “I’ll get out of your hair,” he says immediately. Then hesitates. Biting his lip, he reaches out a tentative hand and clasps Stiles’s forearm – red rash and all – without hesitation in his warm, familiar grip. “Be well, Stiles,” he murmurs, ducks his head toward the Sheriff and strides out of the room.
Stiles lets out a long, slow breath and reaches for his father’s hand. The doctor comes into the room and calmly opens a folder containing oh, the decree deciding Stiles’s immediate future and long-term health. No biggie.
Derek makes it to the end of the hallway before he feels the need to drop into a chair.
Stiles hadn’t looked as bad as he feared. Derek had searched online last night instead of sleeping, which was probably dumb, and some of the images had been pretty damn terrifying. But the other man had been alert, and still mostly his old familiar self, if thinner and clearly tired and in some discomfort. And now, please God, there’s good news being delivered in that room right now.
Derek sits there for a long time, just existing in a moment where Stiles is just as he was a few minutes ago.
He’s terrified to move in case the news is bad. Derek has been researching, frantically, on his phone, the statistics on transplants. He knows now about waiting lists, complications, and infections, and he can’t bear for Stiles to have to face any of it. He blows out a bitter breath, realizing all at once how unimportant everything he used to value truly is. Compared to what Stiles is facing, the Hale family’s reputation, his mother’s election results, Jake’s chances at a dream job are all utterly, utterly useless and unimportant. If it’s bad news in that room, none of that crap will change Stiles’s prognosis, none of it will make him better.
“Are you okay, honey?” comes a voice, and he jerks upright, meeting the concerned eyes of a nurse.
“I- yes,” he manages. “Sorry, I-” he starts to rise, as if he’s taking up a chair that others need to use, but her hand lands on his shoulder.
“It’s okay, you sit as long as you like. I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”
He nods, once, and she hesitates, then says, “Did I see you coming out of 4D?”
“Yeah,” he nods. “I uh. Hadn’t seen Stiles in a while.”
“He’s a character, that one.”
Derek manages a shaky half-laugh at that. “Yeah.”
She walks away then, stride purposeful and quick, and answers a ringing phone on the other side of the desk. Derek looks away, down toward the elevators, and thinks that he should go.
He doesn’t go. He sits there.
The doctor is probably gone by now. If he’d kept his head up and eyes ahead, he might have seen the man leave. Derek scrubs a hand over his face. He should go home. Shower. Unpack the bag he barely used in New York. There’ll be emails waiting from Mo, from his editor and agent. He’ll have to reschedule the meetings he cancelled.
Derek drags in a huge breath and starts to rise to his feet. When he looks up, the Sheriff is standing in the hallway just outside Stiles’s room, phone to his ear, eyes fixed unerringly on Derek. He freezes, caught halfway between sitting and standing, and then the older man rolls his eyes in a shockingly Stiles-like display, and jerks his head for Derek to come closer.
He finishes the call just before Derek gets there, but turns and starts walking so they’re not lingering outside the door. Derek can’t see the bed from this angle, and he wants so badly to lean in for one more glimpse of Stiles, but he follows the Sheriff instead, because - recent evidence to the contrary - he’s not stupid.
“Why are you still here?” The Sheriff turns and folds his arms over his chest, one brow up. He’s paused in front of a window at the end of the hallway, and over his shoulder Derek can see the busy road that feeds into the parking lot.
“I just. Needed a minute, I guess.”
“You want to know Stiles’s prognosis?”
Yes, screams the tiny stupid voice in Derek’s head. He swallows and says, “Only if Stiles wants me to know.”
That brow quirks higher. “I have to say, Derek, this behaviour looks a lot more like boyfriend material than recent-ex.” His eyes narrow, “But in case you hadn’t figured it out for yourself, let me be the one to tell you that my son is not in a place to be making emotional decisions, so if you try to manipulate-”
“Mr St- Sheriff- I’m not.” He stops and starts again. “I know there’s no winning Stiles back. I know that. He’ll never forgive me, or trust me like that again. But if I can be his friend…”
He spreads his hands, all pride gone. “At least I’ll have something.”
The Sheriff sighs, long and weary. “Derek, despite everything my son has told me about you, I’m beginning to think you’re just not that bright.”
The Sheriff runs his hand through his hair. “How long have you known Stiles?”
He hesitates. “Uh. A bit over a year.”
He shakes his head. “Maybe that’s it then. You just haven’t known him long enough to understand.” He leans against the wall, makes himself comfortable, and Derek waits. “When Stiles and Scott were sixteen, someone slipped Scott something in a drink at a party that basically sent him into a psychotic rage. He lost all control. He actually – and I don’t mean this as any kind of metaphor – tried to kill my son. Stiles tried to restrain Scott, and when that didn’t work he had to lock Scott in a room until help came. Stiles sat on the other side of the door for over half an hour, with Scott trying to batter the door down the entire time.”
Derek stares. Tries to reconcile that with the friendship he’s seen.
“How long do you think it took before Stiles was back at Scott’s side, making dumb jokes and pretending like nothing had ever happened?”
Derek almost smiles because that’s a gimme answer. “About six minutes.”
“Stiles doesn’t give up on the people he loves, Derek. He’s the most stubborn creature in creation, and Lord knows he has almost no sense of self-preservation.”
Derek stares down at his feet.
“What is it?”
“I want to believe you. I want to believe he’d give me a second chance, but.”
“He said we were strictly casual. He said it – a lot.”
The Sheriff sighs. “Then I guess my son just isn’t very bright either. If he said it a lot, Derek, do you think it’s possible he was trying to convince himself as much as you? The way he spoke about the two of you to me - it didn’t sound casual, or temporary. Stiles first mentioned you to me back in July of last year.”
Derek swallowed. Laura’s wedding had been in June. By July they’d only just begun their months of dating, no sex. Stiles had been horribly (rightfully) gun-shy about getting involved with a Hale while working for the Hales.
“Maybe it will put some things into perspective if I tell you in high school Stiles carried a torch for the same girl for about six years, near as I can tell. Even though Lydia acted like he was lower than dirt, and wouldn’t even be seen in public talking to him.”
Derek flinches at that.
The Sheriff stares at him for a long moment, narrow-eyed. Derek really doesn’t want to know what he’s thinking right now. “Come on back to the room if you want to give Stiles a chance to tell you what’s going on.”
Dumbfounded, Derek stares after the man as he strides back the way they came. Then he shakes himself out of his stupor and follows, entering the room only a few seconds behind.
Stiles is out of bed, standing by the window, one hand on the IV pole at his side. He’s already turning to greet his father when he spots Derek and his eyes widen. “Derek?”
He gave a sheepish wave.
“I thought you left…”
“Uh.” Oh, shit. He tried to think of some explanation that wasn’t I was having a nervous breakdown in the corridor outside… “I forgot my, um…” The Sheriff smothers a smile with one hand, the bastard.
“Did Dad tell you?” Mercifully, Stiles interrupts, and it doesn’t matter anyhow because Derek can tell by the grin spreading across Stiles’s face that it’s good news.
“I get to keep all my organs on the inside,” Stiles spreads his hands expansively, and Derek shakes his head, lips twitching against his will. He exchanges a glance with the Sheriff.
“Long as my levels don’t get any worse, they’re confident I can function without a transplant.”
“Oh,” Derek manages, and concentrates on locking his knees so he doesn’t collapse like an orphaned waif in a gothic novel. “That’s. Great news. Jesus.”
“I know, right?”
“I, wow, I’m really happy for you.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, more quietly. He leans against the window sill. “Yeah. It’s a hell of a relief.”
Scott doesn’t wig out and try to kick Derek in the balls the next time they run into each other. That might be because he is busy hovering over his hugely pregnant girlfriend, and simply can’t spare the energy.
‘Hi,’ Derek says. He exchanges an awkward glance with Allison. They’ve always struggled to have a normal interaction, considering that she’s Kate’s niece and is clearly well informed about Derek’s messed-up past. But Allison is nice, so nice, and Derek tries really hard not to freeze up when he’s around her because Laura has explained in detail all the ways in which it’s dangerous for him to indulge his natural antisocial asshole tendencies.
She’d crossed her arms and glared the same glare their grandmother used to use to get them to tidy up after Christmas present unwrapping. Actual Hermit Derek Hale, is what I’m saying. She’d made a goddamn chart, and Cora and Jake had acted out the various parts, including the toothless crazed old man Derek is apparently in danger of becoming, complete with shotgun. It’s a pretty vivid memory.
“Hi,” Allison says, one arm wrapped around her belly in that seemingly universal gesture and it hits Derek hard that Laura is going to be doing that, a few months from now.
“Hey,” Scott gives him a quick, measured nod.
“How are you feeling?” Derek asks Allison. She’s probably sick of people asking but it seems rude not to.
“Ugh,” she shrugs and rolls her eyes. “Like I was ready for this to be over about three weeks ago?”
He tries for a smile. He can actually remember details from his Mom’s last pregnancy, carrying Jake, and how huge and tired she’d been at the end. “Footrubs are good,” he offers.
She gives him a surprised glance, then her lips twitch, “Is that an offer?”
He almost laughs, and flicks a glance at Scott who is scowling automatically at Derek’s involvement, but seems relieved to see Allison smiling, no matter who caused it. “If it wouldn’t lead to me being dismembered, sure,” Derek replies.
“I’ll keep you in mind as a backup, then,” Allison says, and her dimples reappear. “But for now, apparently, I’ll have Scott around to act as my obedient slave.”
Derek glances at Scott, brows up, trying to look surprised. “I thought you were being sent overseas?”
He shrugs. “So they say. I’ll believe it when I get it in writing, but I’ve apparently been reassigned to DHCC to assist on some project on post traumatic stress.”
“Wow, that’s great,” Derek says, looking at Allison instead of Scott because it’s a lot easier. At least Uncle Peter had come through. “I hope it works out.”
“You and me both,” Allison murmurs, and tucks a lock of hair behind her ear.
The elevator doors open and Derek waits, letting Scott shadow Allison out into the hallway. He walks quietly behind the couple, trying not to stare at the weird, rolling gait Allison is currently displaying. One of these days he’ll google that stuff, find out why it happens. Derek’s lost in a fog of trying to envision how he’d convey that movement on the page when he realizes they’re at Stiles’s room already.
They walk in on Stiles stubbornly saying, “I’m not weak.”
“Son, no-one thinks you’re weak.”
“But I can’t go home without a chaperone?”
The Sheriff lets out an exasperated breath. “You could still relapse, Stiles. Just because your results are good now is no guarantee they’ll stay that way.”
“What’s up?” Scott asks, wary.
“Ugh.” Stiles says and folds his arms. Derek stays in the doorway, hovering awkwardly.
“The doctors are willing to discharge Stiles as long as he has someone to stay with him for the first week,” the Sheriff provides. “This wouldn’t be a problem, if Stiles weren’t determined to send me home in two days…”
“One deputy with a heart attack was bad enough, but now Sue’s broken her leg? You can’t stay away any longer, you know that.”
“My deputies will be just fine,” the Sheriff folds his arms. Huh. Derek recognises that gesture. Nice to see it from the source, so to speak.
“I’ll be around,” Scott says immediately, affronted.
“See?” Stiles gestures.
“I know, Scott, I know you’d do your best. But you can’t promise anything right now,” the Sheriff gestures gently toward Allison. “You could be needed up at the hospital for eighteen hours or more- first babies take a long time, most of the time.”
“Yay,” Allison says faintly, brow crinkling.
Stiles grimaces in sympathy and slaps a hand at his Dad. Scott says nothing, obviously torn.
“I can,” Derek says very quietly. He doesn’t want to force his way into this, but. He works from home on a flexible schedule. He’s willing. He’s an obvious candidate.
If Stiles will give him the chance.
If Scott doesn’t stab Derek in the throat for even suggesting it.
If the Sheriff decides not to ask local law enforcement to harass Derek in small, annoying ways.
There’s a short, sharp silence. Derek can feel four sets of eyes on him, and his shoulders hunch against the weight.
“I-” Stiles says, then stops.
Derek doesn’t look up to see the rapid-fire glances that are no doubt being exchanged.
“Really,” it’s Scott that speaks first. Good old sceptical, pissed off Scott. “You can promise that, can you. You’re not going to fuck off in the middle of things because you’re uncle got a paper cut?”
Derek doesn’t flinch. He bites his bottom lip and keeps his eyes on the floor.
“Scott,” Allison admonishes, over the top of Stiles’s more subdued, “Hey, hold on-”
There’s another awkward pause, and then Derek looks up to meet the Sheriff’s eyes. Stiles hasn’t immediately vetoed it, so now, Derek guesses, it’s up to the Sheriff.
“You don’t have any other commitments?” the older man asks. It’s a lot nicer way of asking than Scott’s.
Derek shakes his head. Swallows and dares a quick look at Stiles. “I’m fleshing out a new book. No meetings, nothing that can’t be done by phone or email.”
“No pressing social engagements?” Scott asks, deliberately nasty. “Governor’s Ball or whatever? Cotillion? Surely there’s a new batch of eligible, virginal-”
“Scott, stop being an ass,” Stiles says, sounding tired.
“I could stay out of your way, mostly,” Derek offers, and shoves his hands in his pockets. “I mean, I wouldn’t-”
“Not gonna bathe my fevered brow?” Stiles asks, and his mouth quirks at one corner.
Derek can’t quite smile back at him. “Look, it’s – the offer’s there, okay? I’ll go, and you can take some time to think about it.” He hesitates, then says, eyes flicking up again for a second, “You look better. It’s- good.”
And he backs out of the room, awkward and failing to communicate anything of what he’s actually feeling. As usual. Ugh.
Derek’s unsurprised to find the Sheriff waiting outside the brownstone when he comes back from a walk that afternoon. He lifts the camera strap over his head and digs in his pocket for his keys. He’s been wandering the local parks for an hour or so, trying to capture the right kind of angle on tree branches, a certain type of bark that’ll match what he wants on the page.
“Sir,” he says, keys open the door and gestures the older man inside.
“You should probably call me John.”
Yeaaahh, Derek doesn’t think that’s gonna happen. He nods once anyway, and catches a glimmer of humour in the other man’s eye. Of course, Stiles had to get it from somewhere.
“Coffee?” he offers instead.
It gives Derek something to do with his hands, at least, and he busies himself with the ridiculous coffeemaker the family had bought him for his last birthday. It’s a complicated, beautiful piece of Italian design, and Derek is unreasonably in love with the beast.
Stiles used to sing to it, bleary eyed in the mornings, crooning in bad Italian learned from even worse movies.
“You know why I’m here,” the Sheriff says.
Derek nods and gets down two mugs. “You want me to give you a reason that I can be trusted with Stiles.” His eyes flick up to watch the man in the coffeemaker’s gleaming reflection. He’d learned that trick from Stiles, who used to love watching Derek in the reflection of the windows, or the shower door, and say the most inappropriate things he could think of. Apparently Derek’s horrified face is hilarious.
Sandy eyebrows shoot up to the ceiling. “No,” the other man says slowly. “No, I can already see that you can be trusted with Stiles. What I’m here to find out is how you screwed things up so badly when you are so obviously in love with my son.”
Derek presses his lips together and concentrates on getting the liquid into the cups. When he can’t delay any longer he turns and meets the other man’s eyes. “I am.”
“But I had no reason to think he was. That he would be bothered by…” his mouth twists and he shrugs.
That said, he slides the cups across the kitchen bench and turns away for sugar and cream, spoons. They make their drinks in silence, and then the older man sighs.
“Have you thought this all the way through? What you’re volunteering for?”
Derek meets his eyes, questioning.
“If you do this, it won’t be easy on you.”
Oh. Derek shrugs. “Doesn’t matter if it’s easy, as long as Stiles is okay at the end.”
The Sheriff shakes his head. “You are making me like you, Derek,” he says softly, which leaves Derek blinking in shock. Then the older man takes a sip and his eyes widen. “Wow. Good coffee.”
Derek manages a small smile. “The machine’s a bit much for a single man, I guess, but I love it.” He hesitates, then adds softly, “Stiles used to threaten to campaign for marriage equality for Italian coffeemakers so he could elope with it.”
The Sheriff chuckles at that. The room settles into quiet, then, with only the slight rattling of a branch against the window pane.
“I swear I won’t let him down,” Derek says softly.
“I know, son,” the Sheriff replies, equally quiet, “I know you won’t.”
Sooo, it’s awkward. It’s really freakin’ awkward, actually. Stiles feels helpless, annoyed and grateful all at once, relieved to be home and angry at how quickly he gets tired and how much he needs Derek’s help for almost everything.
A Derek who is almost unrecognizable.
He helps Stiles from the couch to the bed to the bathroom and back again. He says almost nothing – which is totally normal – but he seems to be in some kind of Stepford mode, his emotions tucked away, hands gentle and careful. He brings Stiles tea, juice, snacks, books and the remote control.
The freakin’ remote control. Now don’t get him wrong, Derek had a lot of great qualities when they were dating, but the guy would not let the remote leave his hand without, like, hard-core negotiation or outright threats. Derek once fell asleep on the sofa clutching the remote and Stiles still couldn’t pry it out of his fist, even using both hands.
This is just too weird.
“What’s she like,” Stiles asks. He’s still pale, but he’s alert, at least. Three days out of hospital and there's been steady improvement each day. Derek's relief is rivaled only by the Sheriff's.
“Who,” Derek replies absently, a bit of an umph in his voice as he lifts the mattress with one hand and tucks in the sheet with the other. He can toss the sweaty bed linens into the washer and have them dry by the afternoon if the weather co-operates…
“The girl. The woman.”
“Who?” Derek sits back on his heels and stares at Stiles blankly.
Stiles turns his head and glares at Derek. “The. Suitable. Fucking. Woman,” he says, spacing out each word like Derek is an idiot. “The one you broke up with me for-”
Derek catches himself before he can say I didn’t break up with you because he’s well aware that in Stiles’s opinion Derek may as well have done the actual breaking-up. “I – I don’t know,” he fumbles out. He loves Stiles’ bright, swift moving mind, but he’s always going to hate the way the other man can put him completely on the back foot with it.
“You don’t know?”
“No. I,” Derek shrugs helplessly.
“So- what then. How does that work? You just literally show up and stand in front of the cameras together and don’t even speak to each other? You arrive and leave in separate vehicles? Come on, you must at least have-”
“No,” Derek says, more forceful than he’d planned to be. “No, I haven’t, I don’t – I don’t know because I haven’t met her.”
Stiles blinks at him. “Uh.”
“Did you-” and Derek is getting slowly angry now, “What, did you think I’d just sail off to the next fundraiser and smile for the fucking cameras after-”
After you broke my heart. He catches himself just in time so that he doesn’t actually blurt that out, but it’s pretty heavily implied.
Stiles’ face washes red, then pale, and he says softly, “I thought.” He gives a one-shouldered shrug. “I guess I figured. I mean, since you were already planning on doing it before we...”
“Well I didn’t,” Derek says tightly. Jesus H. Christ. He’d barely left his brownstone for weeks. His mother had come by to yell at him every few days, with Laura’s phone calls in between the one thing he could cling to. Cora had bullied him into watching Cake Boss with her over the phone, saving him from speaking. Jake had driven up two weeks later, obviously confused by the whole thing, but determined to show support.
Derek turns back to the bed, finishes making it in silence, hurt and pissed off all over again. Had Stiles honestly thought he’d just shrug it off? He screwed up, obviously, but surely Stiles could see the impact - doesn’t he know Derek at all?
By the time he has the top sheet smoothed out he’s calmer, remembering Stiles is sick and feverish and vulnerable, and so when he straightens his face is neutral. He takes the pillows from Stiles and piles them up the way the younger man likes, steps back to give him room and doesn’t say anything at all.
Stiles bites his lip and slants a glance up at Derek. “I, uh. Thanks.” It sounds like sorry.
“No problem,” Derek returns, voice calm. “I’m just gonna tidy up the kitchen a bit, put the washing on.”
Stiles nods and climbs into bed.
Derek glances back and catches a glimpse of him frowning down at his hands, sighing heavily before the door closes.
Derek’s weaving through the crowded mall when he catches a glimpse of Stiles. It’s only been ten days, but the younger man looks so much closer to the guy he’d been when Derek had first met him. He’s put on a little weight, there’s some colour in his cheeks, and more importantly, his face seems alive again. Derek’s lips are already curving in an automatic response to the view when the family between them shifts and the guy talking to Stiles comes into view.
Derek’s smile falls away. He stops walking, abruptly enough that the teenager behind him collides with Derek’s shoulder and her phone drops to the floor and skitters across the tiles.
But Derek barely notices, because Stiles is smiling, smirking, really, at the blonde behind the counter. The blonde is grinning right back, his stupid perfect designer stubble framing his stupid square jawline, and his perfectly even white teeth.
Stiles looks… happy.
Derek hasn’t seen him look that way for a long time, and it hurts more than he could have imagined that he wasn’t the one to help Stiles find that smile again. He stands there for far too long, trying to get himself under control, and the blonde spots Derek over Stiles’s shoulder, losing his grin so abruptly it’d have been funny at any other time. Derek’s not sure if it’s rage or jealousy the guys sees, and he turns his face away until he’s sure he’s hidden both. Then he makes his way over, and meets Stiles as he emerges from the little coffee shop, a cup in each hand.
“Black as your soul,” Stiles intones, and offers the coffee the way he’s done so many times before, when the in-joke would have had Derek kissing the smile off his face. But it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just habit.
“Thanks.”Derek takes the cup and stares down at it. “I, uh.” He fumbles at the lid, as if it was loose. “If you want to stick around here.”
“I could come back in an hour or so,” Derek makes himself say. “If you’re not done.”
Stiles is scratching absently at his chin. “Um, no, I’m good,” he says, nonplussed.
It takes a lot for the breath to come out in a steady rush and not an exasperated Stiles. “You sure?”
Stiles stared at him, frowning, and Derek glances pointedly toward Blond Coffee Tool. Who, ugh, has a man-bun, Derek can now see. He instinctively hates the guy, almost as much as he’d hated the stupid yoga instructor friend of Allison’s with the bouncy ponytail and a gap between her front teeth. She could quote Firefly back at Stiles the way Derek never could and once made Stiles laugh so hard he accidentally snorted vodka tonic out his nose.
Stiles glances over his shoulder, still frowning, and his whole body jolts the moment he gets it.
Derek just stands there, bag of groceries getting heavier and heavier in his hand.
“Him? No-What? What are- are you seriously-” Stiles sputters.
Teeth grinding, Derek says, “He likes you.”
Derek swallows and looks away. He’s said his piece.
“I- I don’t- no he doesn’t,” Stiles finally says, like a defiant teenager.
Derek lets out an exasperated breath at that one and says shortly. “Stiles. I know what it looks like when someone wants you.”
That shuts Stiles up.
“I’ll be back in an hour.” Derek turns to go and God, he could almost cry when he takes three steps and on the fourth Stiles falls into step beside him.
Derek glances sideways. He has no words.
“I’m ready to go,” Stiles says into his coffee, and his face is utterly unreadable.
“I miss my Dad,” he whispers, like it’s a secret.
Derek turns his head to look at Stiles, says nothing. The TV flickers coloured lights around the room.
“I mean. I wanted to come out here. Wanted to get away from Beacon Hills and leave all my old baggage behind, but.”
He waits. “But?” He prompts.
Stiles blows out a long breath. “I miss being able to see Dad without needing a week’s leave and a six-hour flight, y’know?”
Derek nods. He’s staring down at Stiles’s hands, but he’s remembering like it was yesterday being in San Francisco for his BFA and missing everyone so much he could choke on it. Laura, at least, had been closer than the others, in the middle of her own studies at UCLA, or else he never would have ventured to the West Coast at all, even to escape the aftermath of Kate. Derek’s never claimed to be brave.
He doesn’t know what to say to Stiles, so as usual, he says nothing and is left wondering what on earth this bright, talkative man is thinking while Derek stays silent beside him. And after a while, Stiles changes the subject. “So… how’s the new book coming along?”
Derek half shrugs, tilts his head from one side to the other. “I’ve finished most of the sketches. A couple of the pages won’t- they’re… stuck.” That, at least, he doesn’t have to explain. Stiles got a lot of chances to observe Derek’s “process”, as he loved to call it. His favourite thing had been to peer over Derek’s shoulder and narrate while Derek sketched, putting on a faux-cultured voice that, oddly enough, had overtones of husky drag queen, and yet was undeniably accurate.
Derek misses that stupid fucking voice so much. Misses the affectionate mockery that had never once held a nasty edge. Hale lets the ideas percolate like coffee cherries in the gut of a civet cat, while his hand responds only to the most primal impulses hidden in the artist’s psyche.
“You taking a break?” Stiles normal voice interrupted Derek’s recollections.
“Uh. Thought I’d switch to the colour studies instead for a while.”
“This one with Mo, too?”
Derek shook his head. “Mo’s still working on the text for the next one, and finishing another project aimed at middle grade kids. I might do some half-page illustrations for that one, but it’s more text heavy. This one’s a new author, it’s her first book.” He can’t help the half-smile that breaks over his face, “It’s really good. Different mood, more uh, fantastical, I guess. I’m having a lot of fun with dragons and selkies and mermaids on this one. Lots more colour.”
“Cool. But how are you gonna work a bear into that one?”
It’s a dumb little tradition, really, but Derek likes it. He’s put a polar bear in every book he’s illustrated. So far he’s managed a polar-bear backpack on a child in the crowd, a polar-bear poster in a store window, an actual polar bear in an aquarium background, and a polar bear t-shirt on the young boy who rescues the duck.
“Take a look,” Derek says, and stretches to grab a fine-point Pigma and a discarded envelope. Stiles wriggles closer until he can peer over Derek’s shoulder. He sketches quickly, it’s pretty rough, but after a few minutes Stiles laughs out loud.
“Woah, that is awesome,” Stiles says. He grins down at the bare winter tree, the piles of snow along the top of the branches. One of those piles just happens to take on the shape of a polar bear cub splayed out along the branch, complete with black seeds for the eyes and nose. “I love it. But the duck will always be my favourite.”
Derek shrugs. His too, if he’s honest. Mo’s tales of an urban duck in New York had paired unexpectedly well with Derek’s black-and-white illustrations, only one splash of colour on each page, each book thematically assigned one colour which related to the emotional theme. Their third venture had earned them a shortlisting for picture book of the year, which Derek can still hardly believe. Lots of great illustrators go their whole career and never get that kind of recognition.
They stay as they are, Stiles a warm weight at Derek’s side as he keeps adding to the sketch, and it’s the happiest Derek has felt in months.
Maybe it’s because Stiles brought up the Sheriff. Maybe not. But the next day, when Derek is unpacking the grocery delivery in Stiles’s kitchen, he finds himself saying, “My parents were getting a divorce.”
There’s dead silence from behind him. He slides the bread onto the shelf and closes the door carefully before he turns.
Stiles is staring at him, mouth hanging open. Derek takes a deep breath and crosses to the table, pulls out a chair with a pointed eyebrow. Stiles drops into it without arguing, but his eyes don’t move from Derek’s, and so he sighs, snags the new bottle of orange juice and two glasses, and drops into the seat on the other side of the small table.
“The others don’t know,” he tells the orange juice. “I’m not even sure Uncle Peter knew.”
Derek pours carefully. “I overheard them arguing, by accident. They didn’t know I was at home.”
He slides the glass across the table and Stiles closes his fingers around it. Derek eyes the skin of his wrists automatically, checking for progress. The rash is fading steadily.
“They were. Discussing arrangements,” Derek says. “Like it was already past the point of going to counselling, or trying again. Figuring out who would live where, that sort of thing. I think.” He stops, forces himself to take a breath. “I think one of them had had an affair. Both of them, maybe,” he adds, trying to be fair. “Political life isn’t exactly conducive to togetherness.”
“Shit,” Stiles says.
“I waited a week, then two weeks, wondering when they were going to say something, and then. And then Dad got his diagnosis.” Derek turns his head away. “It was bad odds, right from the start. It was already in the lungs and spine. He started treatment, Mom took leave to care for him and neither of them ever mentioned their problems. He tried everything the doctors suggested, and none of it worked.”
No-one says anything for a long time.
“I’m sorry I never met him,” Stiles finally says.
Derek shrugs, like his heart doesn’t ache at the thought. “He was where I get it from,” he said. “The black-sheep thing, I mean. Dad wasn’t born for any of this, either. Didn’t like to argue, didn’t really like all the fuss. I mean, he was Dean of Admissions at a university. Not exactly glamorous.”
Stiles is nodding. He probably already knew that. He’d been working for the campaign by then. He might have even been at the funeral, for all Derek knows. It had been an enormous sideshow, politicians from both sides making an appearance, Mom standing pale and shocked at the graveside. Derek had hated it. Dad would have hated it, too.
Derek will always wonder if his father resented the fact that they’d all been given the Hale name. Grandpa Hale had demanded it, Derek knows that much. Andrew Slater had been a nobody, politically, and what little Derek remembers of Grandpa tells him that no-one ever won an argument against that man without sacrificing a limb to do it. But he’d never gotten the chance to ask Dad how he’d felt about it, and now he never would.
He gets up from the table and crosses to the window. “So, he died two months before the election, which Mom won anyway.” He can feel rather than sense Stiles raise his hand to scrub at his face. It’s Stiles’s turn to be silent, not knowing what to say.
For a long time Derek thinks he won’t be able to squeeze the words out, but it’s bubbling away in his chest, something he’s never told another soul.
“Do you remember that fundraiser Hale & Hale hosted in Dad’s honour, during Mom’s first year? The one at the Hilton?”
“Sure,” Stiles says quietly.
“Apart from the funeral that was the first time I’d seen Aunt Joanna in years. She and Dad had always been close.” Derek shakes his head. “I … went looking for her. To apologise...” he waved his hand to convey the whole Kate mess.
“And after that, I was getting a little… closed in, so I ducked around behind a column to get some air. And this guy – I knew one of them, a little, he’d worked on a case with Uncle Peter a few years before. He’s just standing there, swirling his fucking glass of champagne and he smirks and says, We all know Andrew’s death was the best thing that ever happened to Talia’s career.”
Stiles draws in a shocked breath. “Assholes.”
“And the other guy just shrugged and made some joke about the timing of it. Like it was nothing. Like it was obvious, and everybody knew the sympathy vote had put her over the line, no big loss, really.”
“Derek,” Stiles says, all pained sympathy and rage. “That – those assholes didn’t know a thing about your Dad.”
He nods. He knows that. But it still hurts, that they could say such a thing.
“And.” Stiles sighs. His voice, when he begins again, is tentative. “I don’t know what was going on with your parents, okay. But those guys were wrong about his importance. So wrong. If I learned anything at all from working on your mother’s campaign, it was that she always sought out your father’s opinions. She valued his perspective. I never met him, but she mentioned him all the time when we were campaigning. Everybody used to talk about it. I’m sure they had their problems, well, obviously, but he was important to her.”
“To me, too,” Derek says quietly, his eyes still fixed on the trees just outside.
“What did Mo say?”
“Hm?” Derek’s fingers twitch automatically for the volume on the remote before he remembers that he’s surrendered the control to Stiles. Huh. The thought catches momentarily that he may just be living a metaphor.
He hates the fucking metaphor. What he likes is the remote control, and holding it in his hand.
“When you came out to him.”
Derek blinks. Oh. “Oh, um. Not a lot.”
Stiles waits, bright-eyed. He looks so much better than he had a few weeks ago, in the hospital. Derek only needs to drop in every couple of days, now, and one day soon Stiles will politely tell him it’s not necessary anymore. He’s not sure what will happen then. He thinks they’re becoming friends. He hopes so. But life has taught Derek not to take anything he values for granted. He forces himself to focus on the conversation.
“He was… a little surprised, I guess, but uh. Okay with it. His sister’s gay, it turns out, so in a way it wasn’t that big a deal.” And in fact, Mo’s reaction had mostly been focused on the broken heart Derek was nursing, rather than the gender of the person who’d broken said heart. Not that Derek is going to mention that part.
“He, uh.” Derek’s lips twitch when he remembers. This is something he can tell Stiles, something Stiles will enjoy. “He was teasing me, actually, pretending he wanted me to come out publicly for business purposes. Said that with a black writer and a bisexual illustrator we had a real chance of sweeping every conceivable diversity award in publishing.”
Stiles snorts. Derek can’t remember the last time he made Stiles laugh. The hit of pleasure it gives him is almost as good as sex.
It’s 7.20 on a Saturday night, so the knock at the door is unexpected. Derek hesitates, then thinks screw it, takes a chance and leaves the pan still grilling while he hustles to the door. It’s stupid, he knows it, but he’s hungry and he doesn’t want to wait. This won’t take long, it’s not like it’ll be anyone he-
“Stiles,” Derek says. Blinks a bit.
“Hey.” Stiles’s hands are in his jacket pockets. He swings his body slightly from side to side, textbook casual.
“Hey,” Derek returns, and blinks some more. “Uh. What can I –” the first faint hint of overdone bread hits his nose, “oh, crap, come in,” he throws over his shoulder as he sprints back to the kitchen. He lifts the cast iron pan off the hob and flips the sandwich over, singeing the tips of his fingers. The bread’s just starting to go past brown, but it’s edible.
“Nice save,” Stiles comments, and he’s laughing at Derek, the bastard. “Are you actually cooking?”
“Thanks,” Derek says dryly, and flips a teatowel over his shoulder. Might as well complete the domestic image. It’s not like he needs to impress Stiles anymore. Those days are long gone, and right now Derek’s highest priority is not giving Laura any more reason to stage an intervention. “And yes. I’m cooking. It’s – well. It’s Laura’s idea. It’s not important.”
There’s a beat and then Stiles says, voice determinedly normal, “So. I take it from this tableau that you, uh, don’t have plans, for tonight? I mean, no date or anything?”
Derek raises an eyebrow and glances down at his sweats and old Jethro Tull t-shirt. “Plans? Nope,” he confirms. Dating isn’t a concept Derek is even considering right now, no matter how many hints his family drop. He likes being single, he’s discovering. Likes the fact that the only people he interacts with are ones he genuinely likes and trusts. Then he quirks a brow at Stiles. “Tableau? Seriously?”
Stiles ignores that. “Not, uh. Clubbing later? Drinks with friends?”
This time Derek turns to fully face him. There’s something he can’t quite parse in Stiles’ tone. Clubbing, what the fuck? “No,” Derek says slowly, “my plans are for a grilled cheese sandwich and re-watching Season 2 of Sherlock.”
Stiles just nods, looking away across the living room.
“Did you want – are you going out?” Derek asks. He’s a little confused. Why on earth would Stiles come out of his way to find out if-
Stiles shakes his head firmly and turns back toward Derek. “I was on my way home from Scott and Allison’s,” he says, and shrugs. “Thought I might drop in.”
“Okay.” Derek nods and glances back at his sandwich, watchful. He nudges it to the side to make more room, and adds the second sandwich. It’s a new variation: spinach and mushroom and gooey cheese. Yes, Derek’s social life has sunk so low that he’s googling recipes. For grilled cheese. On a Saturday night. On the bright side, Stiles is clearly on the way to treating Derek like a friend again, someone he can drop by to see. He draws in a deep breath and vows not to screw this up. “How’s Miss Ruby Argent-McCall?”
“Ah man,” Stiles’s face breaks into a grin so broad it must be painful. “She’s beautiful. Just. Ugh. My heart hurts just looking at her, y’know?”
Derek nods a little and can’t help smiling back in reply, “Yeah. I saw the facebook posts. She’s pretty cute.”
“Fell asleep in my arms,” Stiles boasts.
“You must have been popular.”
“Even more so than usual, yeah,” he retorts without missing a beat.
Derek bends to fetch a plate from the cupboard, slides the first sandwich onto it. Stiles, still talking about his beautiful god-daughter, fetches the salt and pepper from the pantry without missing a beat, slides a paper napkin over like he never left. Derek swallows and turns his attention back to the sandwich still grilling in the pan, adds a tiny bit more butter and swirls it ‘round. From the way Stiles is eyeing the first sandwich, they’re going to end up sharing it. Might as well make more while he’s at it.
“Why are you cooking, anyway?” Stiles asks, just exactly when Derek isn’t ready for it. “Your phone not working?”
He can feel his shoulders draw up tight, and bites his lip. “I promised Laura,” he said, as expressionlessly as possible. He starts to assemble another spinach mushroom special.
“You promised Laura you’d learn not to burn a grilled cheese?”
“I promised her that if I was staying in on a Friday or Saturday night that I’d cook for myself and not order takeout.”
Derek’s mouth flattens out in annoyance for a moment, then he says, “Because she didn’t want me eating takeout every night of the week.”
“So… this is her trying to encourage you to leave the house,” Stiles says slowly, piecing it together.
Derek jerks his head in a nod and adds another sandwich to the pan.
“So why not just go out?” Stiles asks. “Lord knows you hate to cook.”
Derek sets his jaw and shoots Stiles a furious look.
The younger man blinks at him, eyes widening, and then he flushes deep red. “Oh,” he says, and then, “um.”
“Should I make you one?” Derek asks, not looking up as he flips one sandwich. He’s already making one, of course, but he would really like a change of subject.
“Not even one date in all this time?” Stiles asks, ignoring Derek as usual. “Not one?”
Derek lets out a breath and doesn’t answer. Not that Stiles required an answer, obviously, because he barrels on, “I mean, Derek, I’ve been out in public with you. I know how often you get hit on. Jeez, law of averages there had to be at least one person in the past few months that you-”
“Stiles, I don’t want to talk about this,” Derek says firmly.
The younger man’s mouth snaps shut like it’s on a spring.
Derek keeps his eyes down. Presses down with the back of the spatula and watches a tiny piece of cheese fall out the side. They stand there in silence while it, melts, bubbles, and then goes brown. “There’s beer in the fridge,” Derek says, more to break the silence than anything else.
“O-kay,” Stiles says slowly. He makes his way over to the fridge, taking his time. By the time he returns with two opened beers Derek has three sandwiches, neatly cut in half, and only one of the sides is the usual deep caramel colour Derek specialises in.
“Look at you,” Stiles comments, forcing a smile. “Making your own food, like a real boy.”
“Shut up,” Derek growls, “do you want some of these or not?”
“I think I do,” Stiles says. “If you’re also offering Benedict Cumberbatch.”
“Of course,” Derek says, and shrugs like it’s no big deal. But as they make their way into the living room he can’t help thinking Laura is never going to believe this.
The sandwiches are awesome, the show sublime, as always, and they work their way through a couple of beers and a bag of chips. Derek pays deliberate attention to the acting, the twists and turns in order to distract himself from the way Stiles unwinds on the sofa, limbs splaying out, feet on the coffee table. It’s so familiar and so welcome every part of Derek’s insides are aching with it.
He’s half-hard by the time the final episode starts, and it takes considerable concentration to not let his reaction go any further. He tries to remember if he’s been to any of these parts of London on holidays, tries to guess the dialogue before it’s said, bites hard at his lip to snap himself out of it when he can feel heat start to rise in his body.
By the time Sherlock reaches St Bart’s their sprawled out legs are touching, Stiles’ shoulder resting against Derek’s bicep. Derek concentrates on keeping his breathing even and the end of the show goes by in a series of flashes, intercut with Stiles’s reactions to something shocking, or painful, or unexpected.
“Damn,” Stiles says, stretching, when the credits are rolling. “Doesn’t even matter that you know what’s coming, does it? They still get ya.”
Derek shakes his head. “The uh. Guy who played Moriarty was pretty amazing.”
Stiles nods agreement and mock shivers. “Good cast all ‘round, really,” he says. Then he shifts on the couch, letting his thigh press more firmly against Derek’s, and it hits him all of a sudden. He can’t believe how oblivious he’s been, because even discounting the odd questions at the start of Stiles’ visit, the body language has been pretty clear for the past hour or so.
“Stiles,” Derek says, shocked enough that he can’t begin to censor himself. “Is this a booty call?”
Stiles turns his head to meet Derek’s gaze, and his eyes are hooded and hungry. Answer enough.
Derek swallows hard.
Stiles waits. When Derek doesn’t say anything, he asks, “Should I go?”
Derek shakes his head automatically. Never, he thinks, but manages not to say. He leans in close and gives up on talking.
“You could come over,” Stiles says, voice low and inviting.
The only reason there’s a pause between Stiles’s statement and Derek’s answer is because he has to swallow hard first in order to be able to speak.
“Yeah,” Derek says. Then, casually, “Yeah, okay.” Like he’s not already reaching for his car keys, like he’s not already hard. “All right.”
“See you soon,” Stiles says, and his tone is wicked.
Derek’s genuinely not sure if he manages to hang up or not, he’s already fumbling with the door handle, his phone and his keys. He runs flat out to the car.
This is going to end badly, he thinks as takes a corner a little faster than normal. It’s going to end so, so badly, and he cannot begin to give a shit about it.
Derek stares down at his socked feet in the gentle morning light. Even though he’s fully dressed now, he doesn’t get up and leave. He doesn’t turn to look at Stiles, naked and lazy and sprawled across the bed with the smug morning-after smile Derek wants to see and kiss, forever.
But something is different. Without saying a word, Stiles is putting distance between them, even when they’re wrapped around one another he’s preoccupied. It’s been going on for a week, maybe more. Derek wishes he knows what he did wrong this time.
He shoves his feet into his shoes. “I always knew you’d leave me, one day.”
He can feel the jolt through the bed, but he goes on before Stiles can speak.
“It’s not an excuse, I just. That was always my baseline. That I would never get to keep you.”
He presses on, staring down at the carpet of Stiles’ bedroom. “I- I don’t fit with you. I know that, it’s just like it is in my family. They’re all the same, they’re all like you. Brilliant.” He gives a little headshake, feels a faint smile touch his face, “So bright and so quick. Good with people. You love an argument , just like Laura – and you always win it. If you can’t win it, you can charm people into thinking your way. You’re so much like them, like Cora and Peter and Mom,” his smile was only half-bitter.
“And I’m just- not. My job is – I hide away in a little room and draw pretty pictures, for God’s sake. I avoid people as much as I can, and when I do engage I almost always fuck it up-”
He swallows hard. There’s silence, and he knows without looking that Stiles is staring at him, open-mouthed. In all the months they were together Derek barely spoke about any of this. His feelings, his family.
“I know how this works, Stiles,” he says mouth twisting. “I’ve watched it my whole life. You’re the- the star here. You’re the one who’s going places. And that makes me the trophy husband. I’d look good in pictures, I’d bring useful connections with me, I could stand beside you and help you get where you want to go.”
Derek’s fists clench in the sheet. “But I don’t want that. I don’t want to be stuck smiling in public and always worrying about what people will say about the choices we make. Having to go to a specific movie, vacation somewhere people will approve of, buy a certain car because it fits the image, support a charity because it has good optics and not because you’re passionate about it. I want a partner, I want an equal.” He gulps, a bit stunned at everything that is just pouring out of him. “I want a life.”
He sits there trying to breathe and not think too hard about all the different ways he just spilled his guts on the floor, but when Stiles, behind him, chokes out, “Derek-” he just… panics. Leaps to his feet and bolts out the door.
Hey guys. Thanks for sticking with, despite the hiatus. This is near to finished. Maybe two more chapters?
In this chapter I am probably exposing my utter ignorance of American politics, but we're all friends here, right?
“Did you ever once fucking think about asking me what I want?” Stiles storms into the house like he’s going to war.
“Did I ever say I wanted to go into politics? Did I?”
Derek presses the front door closed with a careful hand and turns to meet Stiles’s eyes.
“Because I know you’re fucked up on this topic, okay, I get that. With the family you grew up in you probably see everything through this messed up lens I’m never going to understand. But for fuck’s sake, Derek, why couldn’t you just ask me if I wanted a public life? Don’t you think that’s a big frickin’ assumption to make?”
Derek stares at him. For once in his life he feels calm and confident in the midst of an argument. Not because he’s going to win – how can he win? Either he’s right, and Stiles is destined for a shining public career, or he’s wrong and Derek caused the most pointless breakup the world has ever seen. But he knows his topic, at least. “You moved from California to the east coast for college.”
“You majored in political science.” Derek counts his points off on his fingers as he continues, “You interned at the state legislature, your first job was writing policy in DC and your second was on the staff of a serving Senator. In what universe does that not indicate a passion for politics? I can name about seven serving Congressmen and women with that exact career path, Stiles, including my own mother. It’s textbook.”
Stiles stares at him open-mouthed. “I. I- but. That–” he gives his head an impatient shake, “Okay, all of that is true, but that doesn’t automatically mean I want to be a politician, Derek. It means I have a passion for public policy, and you’re making huge fucking leaps without-”
He blinks, suddenly, making one of those connections Derek can never follow.
“Peter. This is Peter’s reasoning- fuck.” Stiles stumbles back a step, shoulder hitting the door frame. “He told you that’s why I went out with you, didn’t he?” Derek watches as Stiles thinks it through, makes the leaps and connections that are so second nature to him. “He told you I’d made a deliberate move, to make an alliance with a politically influential family. Fuck.” He runs his hands through his hair, making it stand on end. “Fuck your uncle’s fucking paranoia and his cynicism. And fuck you for believing it.”
Derek swallows. He hadn’t believed it. Stiles is right about almost everything else, but Derek had never, for one minute, believed that part was true.
It had made logical sense, and God knows Derek’s seen enough coldly calculated dating activity in his time to know that it happens. But Peter didn’t know Stiles’s heart. The loyal and affectionate core of him. He hadn’t seen the struggle Stiles had gone through over taking the risk of dating Derek in the first place.
“I didn’t believe it. I knew you weren’t dating me for strategic purposes,” he says quietly, because he knows how much that would hurt Stiles, to think Derek might believe that.
Stiles looks at him, all the way through him, the way he always has. “But you could see it making a certain kind of sense, right? That I wouldn’t flat-out date you for work purposes, but that maybe I was aware, in the back of my head, of the advantages of moving in the Hale’s social circles. An extra benefit, like dating a nurse means always having a well-stocked first aid kit, and a teacher always has a stash of stickers and glitter.”
Derek looks away.
All the air seems to go out of Stiles at that. “Do you…” he sinks down onto the sofa and drops his head into his hands. “Do you not remember any of that stuff from when you first asked me out? All the many times I turned you down? Or,” he grimaces. “No, wait, I get it. You just thought I was bullshitting, all the hesitation and turning you down – you thought I was making you work for it-”
“No,” Derek says harshly. “No, I never thought that.”
Stiles just looks at him.
“I believed you. I did.”
“At the time,” Stiles finishes for him, sighing. “But looking back, with Peter’s voice in your ear…”
Derek slumps onto one of the bar stools, covers his face and draws up every piece of courage he has inside. “Kate did that,” he grinds out.
There’s literally nothing he wants less than to talk about fucking Kate, but he owes Stiles at least this much honesty.
He takes a breath and forces it out, eyes on the kitchen counter. “When I look back. It’s so fucking obvious. She flirted and then she took it back. She accepted my invitations and then said she couldn’t, she shouldn’t. She… she got me to chase her, and I was so…” he makes a helpless gesture with his hands. Sixteen, probably is the word he’s looking for. He’d been so painfully sixteen.
“By the end she had me so turned around that I lost any of the caution my family had ever taught me. Caution that’s necessary for people like us. I pursued her, and I opened myself up-”
His mouth snaps shut.
“I made a fool out of myself,” Derek says dully.
“And Peter rushed to remind you of that,” Stiles says on a sigh.
Derek shrugs one shoulder. It’s nothing he doesn’t tell himself, though somehow it feels a lot worse hearing it said aloud. Easily manipulated, Peter had said. Gullible, he had reminded Derek. Bad judgement…
Derek runs his hands through his hair. “I didn’t fucking know what to think, all right?” He mumbles. “It made sense, at the time, because the only thing I knew for sure was that I was in a lot deeper than you were.”
“What?” Stiles jerks upright, his voice disbelieving. “You thought I wasn’t into you? In what universe-”
And now Derek is pissed. “What are you – as if, what, you were in love with me or something?” Derek scoffs.
Stiles’s entire face shuts down, and Derek just loses it completely because no. Stiles doesn’t get to pretend that he was pining for Derek. “Don’t you fucking dare try to pretend that you were having feelings. When did you ever give me any kind of- it was always about my looks. My unfairly beautiful face, my abs, my fucking biceps. The great sex.” Stiles winces.
Derek barrels on, “In all the time we were together, the only non-physical comment you ever said to me was about my art, Stiles, so fuck you for pretending I was supposed to intuit that you liked me for my personality.”
Stiles gapes at him.
“Honestly, I was grateful,” Derek says, way too honest. “At least you weren’t lying right to my fucking face about what great company I am, or my fantastic sense of humour, like everyone else I ever dated.”
Because Derek’s had that, since he was a teenager he’s experienced that garbage. And apart from the one mistake with Kate, he’s an expert at spotting that kind of bullshit. On first dates, in awkward come-ons, with people who weren’t quite practiced enough to conceal their agenda. Derek’s been lied to by a lot of people about his attributes.
He knows what he has to offer. And every single thing on that list is on the surface.
“But I did,” Stiles says weakly. “I- Derek. I did. I do.”
Derek’s mouth is a flat line, and he folds his arms. “Doesn’t matter,” is all he says. “Doesn’t really matter anymore, does it. I learned my lesson about letting political shit get in the way, but it doesn’t make any difference. This is just – the autopsy. Analysis.”
“Is it?” Stiles murmurs. “I mean, does it have to be?” Then he winces, raises a hand as if to fend Derek off. In an instant he’s on his feet, pacing. “Sorry, shit, I shouldn’t have said that.”
Derek blinks and turns to look at him. “What do you-”
“I don’t want to go into politics,” Stiles says in a rush. “I really, really fucking don’t. Maybe I toyed with the idea, you’re right, I did think about it. There’s – I like the idea of bettering people’s lives, okay? But, Jesus. Derek, if I ever seriously considered it, I’ve been cured by meeting the Hales.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, because it’s not like I don’t like your family.” He grimaces, and Derek knows that means except for Peter. “I have a lot of respect for your Mom, I love Laura, and Cora and Jake seem like great people, I don’t really know them that well, yet. But.”
“But this life.” He gestured, “It’s fucking awful. I just – I don’t ever want that kind of pressure. I mean, my Dad’s position is elected, obviously, so I know something about being under scrutiny, and to a certain extent I can take it because, well, let’s be honest, that’s what people do. We observe and we judge, it’s human nature. But when there’s real power, and real money at stake – I don’t know. It just feels different. Uglier. And I don’t want to live like that. I value happiness a lot more than I value power, I guess.”
Derek nods. He can feel sudden hope rise in his heart. God, he likes the sound of that. He really likes the way that sounds coming from Stiles. He lifts his head, a smile starting on his face-
But Stiles is looking at him like nothing good is going on.
He sinks into the other stool at the kitchen bench and rests his head on one hand. “Shit,” he says softly. Then he takes a few breaths and says miserably, “I really wish we had had this conversation a long time ago.”
Derek hesitates, then moves to the freezer and retrieves a carton of New York Super Fudge Chunk. Stiles’s voice tells him this is going to be a four alarm emergency. He slides the ice-cream across the counter to Stiles and retrieves two spoons.
“How bad can it be?” he asks, and tries for a smile as he digs in. Jeez, if they’ve gotten through liver failure and criminal stupidity-
“The thing is I uh. I’ve. Uh. Been offered a job.”
Derek glances up, surprised, and realizes a beat later how stupid it is to be surprised. Stiles has been back from sick leave for almost two months now. Despite all of Uncle Peter’s recent good efforts he’s obviously never going to be comfortable at Hale & Hale again. Of course he’d be looking to move on. Derek really should have been ready for this.
He swallows the mouthful of ice-cream and says “That’s good,” a beat too late. Then he notices Stiles awkward-face. “Isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Stiles says immediately, and takes the carton and spoon. “It is. The job is, uh. It’s what I’d have gone looking for if I’d known it was out there. It’s a good next step, I guess you could say.”
“Didn’t go looking for it?” Derek feels his eyes go wide. “They headhunted you?”
He grins sheepishly. “Yeah.”
“But. Stiles, that’s wonderful!” Derek says. Wow. His own career is pretty non-traditional, but he knows enough from Laura and the rest of the family to know that being sought out for a job is a big thing. It means your reputation is growing, that you are being Talked About by people with influence. This is a big step for Stiles.
“Yeah,” Stiles says again. Then he seems to remember something, gets awkward again. “It. Yeah. Was definitely a nice surprise.” He digs the spoon into the ice-cream, eyes down.
“What’s the job?” Derek asks. He shifts so that he’s facing Stiles. The one advantage of being a Hale is that he has some clue about Stiles’ potential career path, gets a lot more of the nuance than most.
“It’s. Well. There’s a huge class-action starting. Years of work, probably. EPA violations causing health problems for workers, a cover up, falsified documents. Your basic nightmare,” he says, mouth tugging down as he shrugs. “They need an environmental specialist and a labour law specialist to do the background, the discovery.”
“Woah,” Derek says. That’s going to be high profile. This is a really big deal. If Stiles doesn’t want to go into politics, a case this big could give him real standing amongst his peers in the courtroom. “Congratulations. Really.”
Stiles nods, flushing a little, and takes another bite.
“Can I tell Laura?” She will squeal about this.
“Uh. Sure?” Stiles is hesitant again, all his pleasure fading.
“Is… there something wrong?” For one wild moment Derek wonders if the court case will somehow reflect badly on his family – dredge up his mother’s voting record or a past case of Hale & Hale. Because Stiles looks as uncomfortable as Derek has ever seen. He looks like he’d looked at that first big family dinner at the Hale house.
But if that’s what’s wrong, at least Derek can reassure Stiles. The younger man doesn’t owe the Hales anything, and Derek is done trying to defend the family legacy. It had taken him some time to admit it, but Stiles was right. There’s never going to come a day when the family didn’t care about his public persona. But he’s lost enough in service of The Political Hale Family and right now Derek doesn’t even care if this new case means Stiles will be facing Peter in the courtroom.
“The case is.” Stiles shrugs one shoulder awkwardly, blows out a breath. “I’ve known for a while, actually. I’ve been trying to figure out how to-” He shakes his head, looks Derek in the eye and says, “It’s… the job’s in California. I start in two weeks.”
Derek blinks at him. Then swallows. “Oh,” he says numbly. Oh.
The silence stretches out.
“Y-you’ll be able to see your Dad again,” Derek finally manages. It’s pretty lukewarm, but he needs a minute to process.
Stiles back on the West Coast. Stiles, hours and hours away. Stiles, starting a new life.
Derek takes a big breath. “You must be pretty excited.”
When he lifts his head Stiles is watching him carefully, something measured in his gaze.
“I’m excited about that part, yes.”
“You’ll miss Scott,” Derek adds, trying to think about this from Stiles’s point of view. “But they’re not permanently stuck here or anything, right? I mean, Scott’s Mom is still-”
“Yeah,” Stiles says heavily. “There’s a good chance they’ll head west. Once Scott’s finished his ROSO and they have a choice… you’re right.”
“So it – it’s good news,” Derek says, his heart leaden in his chest. God damn it. He’d finally worked up the courage to talk. He’d told Stiles something true, something difficult. And he’d secretly, stupidly gotten his hopes up.
Derek sets his jaw, angry at himself. Stupid. Stupid to hope, stupid to start sleeping with Stiles again in the first place. Derek was going to be left behind, would be a memory. Something soft and regretful for Stiles to look back on as he starts his new life on the west coast.
God fucking damn it.
“Yeah,” Stiles says again. Then neither of them says anything for a long time.
Stiles goes back home not long after that, leaving with a miserable, awkward wave of farewell, and Derek spends an even more miserable, unproductive day sketching Stiles in a hundred different poses and settings. The majority are profile studies as Stiles stares out smiling at a California beach, hefts a bag onto one shoulder ready to leave, or simply a study of Stiles walking away, hands in his pockets, relaxed and finally free. God I am truly pathetic, Derek thinks, and scowls down at the pages. He sighs and draws a tiny polar bear in the corner of each one, like a talisman. A wish.
Late in the afternoon he showers, dresses mechanically and drives over to his mother’s house for dinner.
It’s just the four of them tonight, and the meal is more like a normal family event than they’ve had in years. They eat at the small round table in the kitchen, with mis-matched glasses and home-made cupcakes for dessert. They’re in the middle of doling out enchiladas when Derek says suddenly, “I’m going away for a while.” He didn’t know it until he said it, but yeah, it’s what he needs. He’ll go home. He’ll pack. He’ll get away from all of this. He can’t say goodbye to Stiles. He just doesn’t have the strength for it.
The table falls quiet. He can feel Cora and Jake exchange glances but Derek just lifts his head and meets his mother’s eyes.
“A while?” she asks, voice soft.
He shrugs. “I’ll go see Laura, and then. I don’t know.”
No-one speaks. Derek turns his eyes back to his plate and begins, mechanically, to eat.
“I could meet you,” Jake finally says, diffidently. “In Spain, maybe. We could go to the running of the bulls.”
One corner of Derek’s mouth lifts as he glances up at his brother.
“As if either of you would actually do it,” Cora scoffs. “That stupid tomato festival is more your speed.”
“That’s in Italy, not Spain,” their mother says mildly. “And it’s a great comfort to me that most of my children don’t want to risk their necks cliff diving and heli-skiing.”
Cora rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Someone has to do some living in this family.” She took a huge bite of her enchilada.
“That’s what I’m planning to do,” Derek says, feeling the truth of it as he says it. “I need to get away from here, and live.”
Dinner is more normal, after that. There’s another, minor argument about the tomato festival until someone looks it up on their phone and discovers it is, actually, held in Spain. Italy apparently holds an orange festival. Then the discussion turns to Jake’s internship and the girl he’s painfully crushing on at the sushi place, Cora’s addiction to some bizarre Chinese dating show, and the latest photo of Laura’s growing bump. Their mother is going away for a week in July with some girlfriends, to what Derek is going to fervently continue to believe is not a singles resort.
Uncle Peter arrives just in time for coffee and cupcakes. He’s been more subdued, lately, but it suits him. There’s been a constantly hard, glittering edge to Peter, ever since…
His eyebrows lift briefly when he hears of Derek’s travel plans, and for a moment Derek’s stomach lurches as he waits for the inevitable mocking rejoinder. Then Peter says, “It sounds like a wonderful idea, Derek. Laura will be pleased to see a familiar face, especially now.”
Derek nods. Then Peter adds, “And you could perhaps look me up in California on your way home.”
Derek blinks and rocks back in his seat. When their eyes lock there’s a knowing glint, and Peter adds, “I’m planning on going out there in a month or two. There’s an up-and-coming renewable energy lobbying firm that’s caught my interest. And since California seems to be something of a leader in the field I thought I might take a trip over the summer.”
“Is that so,” Derek says. He has no idea what his uncle was hinting at. Stiles had obviously submitted his resignation at some point, which would have gone straight to Peter, and no doubt he got all of the gossip with one phone call. But Derek can’t see where his uncle is going with this. Is it a threat?
“Yes,” Peter said. His eyes drop to the table, and Cora slides a cupcake on a plate in front of him. He smiles his thanks to her with a sideways glance, then says slowly, “I was advised, recently, to find something… something I was passionate about.”
“Interesting advice,” Derek’s mother says. She is watching her brother carefully.
“Isn’t it,” Peter replies. He picks at the cupcake wrapper but makes no move to eat. “The problem being, of course, that a hardened political veteran such as myself was long ago sucked dry of passion, and now the only thing that runs through these veins, I’m afraid, is pragmatism.”
“I… have no idea what that means,” Jake says.
Peter flashes a smile. “It means, nephew, that I find myself co-opting someone else’s passion instead, as a means to my own ends.” His eyes flick up to meet Derek’s. “A leopard doesn’t change it’s spots, after all.”
“And whose passion, exactly, have you borrowed?” Talia asks drily.
Peter clears his throat. “Malia’s,” he says simply.
Everyone freezes. “You’ve seen her?” Talia manages.
“It wasn’t without difficulty,” Peter acknowledges. “She may have thrown things the first time I approached her. And the second.”
Cora snorts and says, “I like her already.”
“Yes,” Peter says. “It did occur to me that you two would be quite terrifying together.”
“So you’re faking an interest in renewable energy in order to get close to your estranged daughter?” Derek hears himself say. Hm. It’s possible he’s holding on to a teensy bit of resentment about the breakup with Stiles.
Peter meets his eyes. “Not faking. It’s quite a fascinating topic once you dig into it. And there are possibilities for new industry that could be of benefit to segments of the economy that are going to struggle in the near future. There’s already a research centre in Talia’s constituency on solid-state lighting, for instance, which I know almost nothing about. But I’ve been quite up-front with Malia about the reason for my initial interest.”
“Truthfulness. That’s a new look for you,” Derek says, ignoring the way Cora and Jake jerk in shock and his mother straightens.
“It is,” Peter says without looking away. “But I highly recommend it. And because of that I can truthfully say that I hope to see you in California sooner rather than later.”
Derek falls silent, just watching his uncle. “I don’t know,” he finally says. “I’m not completely sure that’s the right place for me to be. Some chances don’t come ‘round again.”
“Don’t wait to be completely sure, Derek,” his uncle tells him. “You could be waiting a very long time. And nothing worth having just falls into your lap. You have to fight for it. Seek it out.” He quirks a brow, “Or, as I’ve learned recently, sometimes you have to grovel.”
Mom follows him out to the car when Derek is leaving. “What was that about,” she asks, with a directness that has served her well in various committees on the Hill
Derek sighs and stares down at his feet.
“Stiles is leaving,” he says. “Moving back to California.”
She doesn’t say anything for a long moment. “What happened between the two of you, Derek?”
Derek presses his thumbs into his eye sockets and slumps against the side of the car. “I agreed to date the daughter of some old friend of Uncle Peter’s,” he says tiredly. “He said it would help smooth the way for Jake’s internship, might give you some positive-”
“Derek Henry Hale-” she begins, in a tone he hasn’t heard since he was much younger and stupider.
He sighs. “Yeah. And yes, I know just exactly how idiotic it was. All right? I don’t need to hear it again, Mom. Believe me, Stiles covered it and then some, and I’ve been kicking myself ever since.”
There’s silence and he knows she’s chewing on all the things she’d like to say.
“I know,” he says, hesitant, “I know it’d be easier if I-”
“If you what?”
“Just dated women,” he says, and shrugs.
This time she draws a sharp inhale. “Derek,” she says, more pained than angry. “No.”
“It’s a fact, Mom. It’s a distraction-”
“No,” she says, and steps in close. “Your private life should never be about my career or my campaigns. Not ever.”
He folds his arms and stares at the floor. Sure. Easy enough to for her to say that now. Like Derek hasn’t sat around breakfast tables since he was a little kid and heard them endlessly debate the ramifications of every single decision they all make. Laura’s prom dress had been decided by committee, for fuck’s sake, and Derek’s decision that he didn’t want the pressure of publicly coming out had been the subject of weeks of meetings until his father had, for the first and only time, put his foot down and ended things.
Thing is, having lost Stiles, the only thing Derek does know for sure now is that he can’t pretend, won’t pretend. Not ever again.
He won’t be erased, and he won’t take the easy route to protect the Hale legacy, no matter what strings his uncle, or the advisers pull. But the thorough political education that was his childhood means that he doesn’t have the luxury of pretending. He knows damn well that just being who he is will impact the family’s public image and could hurt his mother’s re-election chances.
“We both know that’s not really how things work, Mom,” he says quietly.
“Honey,” Talia says, reading him perfectly. “Oh, Derek, sweetheart. I know you had more pressure growing up than most, but I would never want you to pretend to be something you’re not. Never.”
He takes a shaky breath.
“Derek,” she says, urgent now. “Finding someone you love is hard enough. Lots of people never manage that much, let alone to make a commitment, build a life with them. There are so many things that can go wrong-”
“Like with you and Dad?” Derek hears himself say.
Fuck. He’d never meant to say anything. “I-”
Mom takes a deep breath and then says quietly, “Yes, I suppose so.”
She presses a hand to her mouth and glances off to the side. After a long time, she says, “Your father and I had our problems, Derek, God knows we did. There were plenty of times I chose my career over spending time with him, with all of you, and he resented it, rightfully so. But that’s not the point here.”
“The point is,” she says, “is that I know just exactly how hard it is. Even if it is the right person, even if it is someone you love. It’s hard, Derek. Your father and I had twenty-three years together, but there are no guarantees. Time changes you both, and you have to pour so much effort into that relationship if you want it to keep on working. You have to put that person first.”
He takes a deep, shaky breath and thinks about how nice it would have been to hear that months ago. Before he’d fallen for Peter’s machinations.
“You’re not responsible for my career, Derek,” his mother says, and wraps an arm around his shoulder. “You’re not responsible for what Cora does next, or if Laura names her child Boo-Boo Honey Cakes.”
“What if Jake gets a lightsaber tattooed down the length of his spine?” Derek asks. “Because I did actually suggest he do that, the last time we spoke on the phone.”
She lets out a helpless, snorting laugh. “Even that will not be your problem. Though I will make you go with him for the removal drama when he inevitably changes his mind.”
In the end, Derek calls Stiles. He stands there in his bedroom with his packed bag at his feet and dials the number. It goes to voicemail, and he honestly doesn’t know if he’s glad or not.
He takes a deep breath. “Stiles,” he says, and keeps his voice even with huge effort. “I’m taking a trip- I’m going to see Laura. For a while. I.” He stops, swallows, closes his eyes. “I wish you well in California. I really do. I know you’re going to do amazing things. And I. I wish. I wish I hadn’t ruined everything. That I’d been strong enough. To deserve you.” He squinches his eyes shut. “I’m so sorry, Stiles.”
Just one more chapter to go. Sorry if I'm cliffhanger-ing. I just really want the last chapter to be tight before I post it.
Thanks for sticking with me, everyone.
<3 <3 <3
He doesn’t go straight to Laura. The only last-minute flight was to Dublin, of all places, so Derek spends a few days there, sketching random crap with no real dedication or attention. The lilting accents are kind of soothing to listen to until, inevitably, someone tries to ask him out and then Derek scowls, is rude, and one exciting evening almost gets punched in the face.
By then the text messages from his mother have started to mount up, and when he finally gets a voicemail from Uncle Peter he grimaces, buys a ticket to Amsterdam and gets on a train to den Hague.
It’s good to see Laura. It’s especially good to be able to curl up on her couch during the day while she’s at work, and sulk. Derek torments himself with imagining Stiles finding a new place to live, free of memories of the two of them. Stiles dazzling everyone as he starts the new job, Stiles driving home on weekends to see his Dad and never having to think twice about politics or public personas or the Hale family at all.
Stiles, inevitably meeting someone new. Someone better than Derek.
It flicks him so raw that he hauls himself off the couch and finds the well-stocked bar in Laura and Remy’s funky apartment. After a few gin n tonics his imagination is really working overtime, which is when Derek hits the whiskey.
Benjamin, Derek eventually decides. Benjamin would be an environmental scientist. Someone consulting on the case, maybe. Smart. Tall. He’s half-Korean and wears cute glasses. (Derek remembers vividly Stiles’s crush on John Cho.) Benjamin is well adjusted emotionally, with proud parents who dote on him and are happy that he’s met a nice boy he can bring home. Benjamin prefers table-top games to television. He never fights Stiles for the remote, and he has a well-trained beagle named Flo who loves to play fetch for hours.
Fucking Benjamin. “He probably quotes Firefly, too,” Derek tells Laura, who is sighing and folding her arms. When did she get home? He rolls over and presses his face into the back of the couch. How can Stiles just go off and fall in love with Benjamin? Doesn’t Stiles miss Derek at all?
Laura tolerates these embarrassing displays for almost a week. Derek wallows during the day when she’s at work, and mopes less obviously around the apartment when Remy and she come home in the evenings. Remy is his usual quiet, diffident self, but he’s more demonstrative with Laura than Derek’s ever seen. Something has awoken in his brother-in-law, Derek realizes, after watching for a few days. He is on the verge of fatherhood, and is caught on the cusp between terror that something could go wrong, and impatience for everything to start.
“Come on, loser,” Laura interrupts Derek’s reverie by half-shoving him off his seat. “We’re going out.”
“Uh,” Derek says. He thinks maybe he’s absorbed enough alcohol on his own during the days.
“You’re drinking for two,” Laura tells him. “I’m going to watch. And in the morning, I’m going to laugh a lot.”
“So you just, what? Fled DC without talking to him?” Laura asks, disbelieving. “Are you kidding me?”
“I couldn’t watch him go,” Derek says, and he doesn’t even slur his words, which is quite the achievement. “I swear by all that’s holy, Laur, I could not watch him pack up his shit and walk away from me. Again. It almost killed me the first time.”
Remy seems a little more sympathetic. “You maybe could have said goodbye in person,” he suggests.
“Nooo,” Derek tells him very definitely. He waves a finger to emphasize his authority and his certainty. “NO in person anything at all. Because if you think I could have spoken to him without embarrassing myself and gushing all over him about how I did not want him to go, you are a crazy person.” A little of his vodka splashes over the rim of his glass as he gestures. Remy leans back and exchanges a glance with Laura.
“Right,” Remy says. “Sorry. My mistake.”
“Were your parents X-Men fans?” Derek asks him. He’s been wanting to ask that question for a really long time and it’s the smoothest conversational change he can manage right now.
Remy makes a face. “Sadly, no. They were apparently drinking cognac the night I was conceived.”
“Ugh,” Derek says, and makes the same face. “Why do parents do that?”
“No idea,” Laura says, shrugging. “Not that little Cuervo in here is going to have any reason to complain.” She pats the bump and smirks.
Derek flinches a little at the implication, then rallies, “Don’t you worry,” he croons in the general direction of Laura’s belly. “Uncle Derek knows mummy’s guilty little secret, doesn’t he, little Jagermeister?”
Remy really laughs at that.
It takes another two weeks for Laura to talk some sense into Derek.
Laura has always been able to make words dance for her, and so she makes a list of all the things she noticed about the two of them as a couple. The way Derek smiled more, the way Stiles laughed at his jokes but knew when he needed some quiet. The way Stiles handled it when people hit on Derek so that it wasn’t a big deal, but Derek didn’t feel abandoned or guilty either. These are all rare gems in comparison to any of Derek’s past relationships.
Derek stares down at her lists, swallows hard, and then doodles little scenes all around it. Small things. A stack of pancakes, a broken umbrella, the stupid shot-glass Stiles had smuggled out of the Mexican restaurant where they’d had their first date. The crocheted blanket made by Stiles’s Nonna that had lived on Derek’s couch for months.
With each little reminder Derek can feel his heart beat faster. He hadn’t forgotten Stiles, nothing could ever make him forget, but. He’s been protecting himself from the small, commonplace memories that somehow mean the most.
When he resurfaces from his reverie, Derek realizes that Laura is gone, and Remy is quietly, patiently stirring something in a wok for their dinner, not looking at Derek at all.
“What would you do?” Derek asks.
Remy turns to look at him. “To get Laura back?” he asks, the very faintest trace of his Dutch accent showing through. “Anything,” he tells Derek. “I would do anything, Derek.”
Derek turns his head and stares back down at the word-and-picture soup.
He tears the page out of the notebook and folds it once, twice. “Anything,” he murmurs to himself. “Yeah. Anything.”
That sounds about right.
Hey guys. So, thanks for sticking with my weird posting schedule, and this strange little story which I called "political sterek" on my hard drive. yup, this is where the magic happens.
hope this satisfies...
“The thing is,” Derek bursts out, “the thing is, I don’t– I can’t– ” he takes a few steadying breaths and curses himself for being so inarticulate. He glances around the apartment’s entryway, sees the neat stacks of unopened boxes leading the way down the hallway and feels himself relax a little at knowing Stiles hasn’t completely settled in this new place. Not yet.
“The thing is, what?” Stiles asks. He’s got a cool, watchful look in his eye, closed off somehow in the weeks they’ve been apart.
“Did you – if the job hadn’t come up.”
Stiles watches and waits. Not helping Derek at all, and despite all his best intentions, this is not easy. He could still very easily screw this up.
He looks down at his hands. “I talked to my mother. To Uncle Peter, too. About. My private life. Her political career. About how I can’t – I won’t be a hostage anymore.”
He hears Stiles draw in a sharp, surprised breath.
“Maybe I needed to learn the hard way, I don’t know. But nothing they could have gained by trotting me out in public was worth what I lost. And I had no right to do that to you in the first place, even if it would have put Mom in the fucking White House.”
Derek takes a huge breath of his own and lets that settle.
“I wasn’t ready for us to be over,” Derek manages to grind out. “Definitely not the first time, and not the second time, either. I know it was supposed to be no strings, and everything. Fuckbuddies. But I – it was never casual for me and I’m not ready to let you go.” The last bit comes out almost as a gasp, barely any air left in Derek’s lungs.
Stiles stares at him. “You’re not.” He’s got his courtroom face on, controlled and carefully blank. He’s leaning against the door frame that leads to the small kitchen, and the sun streaming in behind is making Derek’s eyes water.
Derek shakes his head helplessly.
“You want. More?”
Derek nods emphatically. “Yeah. Yes. Definitely.”
And the first crack in Stiles’s façade begins to show. He straightens, arms dropping to his side. “You just left, Derek. You didn’t even tell me to my face. I had to pack up and leave DC thinking I’d probably never see you again.”
“I couldn’t. I couldn’t. God, I couldn’t handle embarrassing myself any more. Do you know what it took for me to even leave that message?”
“Do you know how it felt to get that message?” Stiles shot back. “Because the answer is, it felt completely shitty, Derek. You just, you just disappeared. Like I was nothing. And now you’re here, out of the blue, weeks later, and I don’t know what the hell to think. You blurt out all your feelings - fucking finally, I might add - and then you just run, Derek.”
“What do you want, Stiles?” Derek says, and throws out his hands, exasperated. “Do you want to actually see me cry? Because trust me, Laura has some pretty terrible stories from the past few weeks. Maybe you need to laugh at me, at how pathetic I am. Maybe then you could forgive me.”
Stiles blinks at him, swallows. “It’s not about forgiveness. I didn’t know- I thought.” He stops, takes another breath. “I thought you were over me. Like, that maybe me getting the job was saving us from one of those awkward conversations where you tell me you’re just not that into m-”
“No,” Derek cut in, “are you crazy? Not that into – Stiles, I’ve spent every minute since I met you going insane wondering when you were going to cut your losses and leave me in the dust.”
A tiny smile is beginning to tug at the corner of that beautiful mouth.
It’s the first smile Derek feels like he’s honestly earned in months. If Stiles needs him exposed and honest, he can fucking do that. He can. He sucks in a huge breath and just blurts out the embarrassing, ugly thoughts he’s only managed to articulate through alcohol or fear.
“And then you did,” Derek says, and the smile falls off Stiles’s face. “You did cut your losses and you did walk away and it was exactly as shitty as I’d imagined.”
Stiles meets his gaze, clear-eyed. “I can’t apologise for that, Derek,” he says.
“I’m not asking you to,” Derek retorts. “But I learned something from it.”
He raises his eyebrows, as if to say, oh yeah?
“I don’t like being away from you,” Derek blurts. “I feel like…” he flounders. “Okay I probably sound like a fucking stalker but I didn’t like being on the other side of the world from you. And I don’t like you being here in California and me being DC. But neither of those feels as bad as it felt being in my house and knowing you were just across town.”
He takes a deep breath. “It doesn’t matter how far apart we are, Stiles. I just. Every variation of that feels wrong to me.”
Stiles stands there, staring.
“And I know it’s insane, but I want to be… better. To actually express myself. I can work anywhere, I can move out here and wait for you to- to trust me again. Because I want to try – so many things. I want to build one of those weird hobbit houses for us to live in and buy a dog that’s way too big for our car and argue with you every summer about whether it’s too early to use the air conditioning. I want-”
“Derek,” Stiles says, breaking in across the stream of awkward. “Derek, I kept the crappy envelope with the polar bear sketch on it. Okay?”
He hears the words, but he can’t quite process it.
“I genuinely thought about getting a tattoo of it,” Stiles adds, gesturing to his bicep. His mouth has an odd, slanting angle to it, like he’s caught between a smile and a grimace.
Derek stares. “You what?”
Stiles licks his lips. “By which I mean, you’re not alone in this insanity.” He raises his eyebrows meaningfully.
“I.” Derek flails. He actually, physically, flails. “I don’t , um. I thought this would be a lot harder. I pictured, uh. Grovelling. And more apologies, extending over several weeks. Dedicating the next book to you.”
“Well, I’m giving you points for not running away,” Stiles says drily. “That’s already about a two thousand percent improvement on all previous attempts at communication. Congratulations.”
There’s a pause. Derek’s feet won’t move. “I don’t actually… know what to do now.”
And Stiles smiles at him, tremulous and wonderful.
“I do.” He says. “I know exactly what to do.”
He takes the step forward to close the gap between them, and Derek falls into his arms in relief.
“Don’t you dare get a tattoo of that shitty sketch,” Derek murmurs a long time later. His stubble scrapes across Stiles’ throat with every kiss and every word, which makes Stiles shiver in the best way. “I can do way better than that if you want a tattoo.”
Stiles laughs until he cries, and Derek watches, enthralled. He’s going to spend the rest of every day trying to make Stiles smile like that. He can remember, suddenly, the way his father had always been able to make his mother laugh, let go of the stress of the long days arguing in city council meetings.
He can do that. He learned from the best, after all.