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The Long Way Home

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The first attempt Derek makes goes something like this:

"Uh, don't take this the wrong way," Stiles says the first time-- the hopefully only time-- Derek kisses him, "but I'm not into you. Like, yeah, your body is hot and all, but your personality kinda is not and I'm the sort of guy that, well," he shrugs, a rueful smile on his face. "It's called demisexual. Look it up." And then he bites his lower lip, grabs his backpack and hightails it out of there, leaving Derek alone, his hands clenched helplessly into fists at his sides.

Not ideal, not by a long shot, but it’s only the first attempt. And Derek’s never been one to give up easy.

*

Stiles isn’t exactly one hundred percent demisexual, but it’s the closest thing that applies. Technically he should label as gray-A since he doesn’t, you know, fit perfectly into any defined category, but he... Well...

Deep emotional attachment is kind of key for him. And he just likes the way identifying himself as demisexual makes him feel. Like he fits into his skin for once. Like he's found the place where he belongs.

And, honestly, what about human sexual fits one hundred percent into a neatly defined box anyway?

*

Despite what Stiles might have thought, telling Derek that he is demisexual doesn’t discourage Derek at all. Forging a deep emotional bond doesn’t sound like something quick or easy, but Derek is willing to put in the effort, to go the long haul, on this one.

Because... well.

Derek hasn't felt like this in years, not since... Not since Kate. And this is nothing like that. That was fast and wild and out of control, with him constantly feeling like he was running at full steam, rushing blindly forward, with no time to stop and think, let alone figure out what it was that he wanted.

But this...

Derek's had more than enough time to figure this out, knows exactly what he wants.

And what he wants is Stiles.

Even if, well, he doesn’t want Stiles.

Not for sex, anyway. Derek's not really a big one for sex. Never has been. And after everything that happened with Kate... well. He was questioning then. He isn’t now. If he's honest, Derek has to admit that he never thought he would be here, be willing to consider starting a relationship. Not when it meant long, complicated conversations, which he’s never been terribly successful at by any stretch of the imagination. But there's something about Stiles, something that makes Derek think that maybe... Maybe with Stiles it would be worth it.

Derek doesn't know where that maybe might lead, but he's willing to give it a try.

Unfortunately, fate is not on his side-- big surprise, that-- so even though Derek invested enough to be willing to spend countless hours developing his still platonic relationship with Stiles and reads every freaking new age book he could find on how to connect on an emotional level, Stiles never gets anything more comfortable than cagey in Derek's presence. And it isn't the werewolf thing either, because Stiles somehow becomes besties with Erica and has accepted Isaac into the bromance thing he had going on with Scott and can spend all the time in the world in quiet contemplation with Boyd.

The only sort of good point in all of that, aside from the pack bonding aspect of course, is that nothing similar has happened with Jackson-- once a dick, always a dick-- yet.

At least Derek isn't Stiles's least favorite as long as Jackson is around. And Peter. Stiles freaking hates Peter and can't be within ten feet of him without his face going distrustful and his scent souring with disgust. Not that Derek blames him. Peter is wrong and, besides, Derek's scent does pretty much the same thing, even if he has enough control of his face not to broadcast his enmity visually too. Which, yay for things in common?

Except for how a mutual dislike of Derek's next of kin isn't exactly a building block for any sort of a relationship, let alone the type that Derek is interested in.

In fact, nothing seems to be a building block for that kind of a relationship.

And there isn't anything Derek can do to change that.

So, yeah.

At long last, after much denial and self-protesting, Derek has adjusted his end game, lowered his aim as it were. Forget boyfriends-- not that he ever was very fond of that term-- right now Derek would settle for just friends.

Because anything more? Yeah, never going to happen. Stiles is never going to look at him with anything other than vague suspicion in his eyes. There isn't going to be some campy Kurt and Blaine bond over a dead bird moment where Stiles suddenly realizes that Derek was the one he has been waiting for all along. Hell, odds are good they will never even have a Kirk and Spock turn your back on the crazy Romulan moment, where enemies become reluctant friends.

But Derek, he’s willing to try. Maybe it’s not what his heart was hoping for, but being friends is better than being nothing at all. Right?

*

The second attempt is much less aggressive, hardly an attempt at all:

“I like being near you,” Derek says, his jaw tight and his eyebrows doing that confused inverted vee and Stiles’s stomach cramps because damn it. He doesn’t want to do this. It’s not fun crushing someone’s feelings.

He rubs his eyebrow with the palm of his hand and lets out a sigh. “I’m not romantically interested in you,” Stiles forces himself to say, because leading someone on isn’t cool. “I’m sorry, Derek. I know you have been,” he licks at his lips, “trying to be a kinder, gentler version of yourself. I’ve seen the books you’ve got on your coffee table, and I’m grateful that you’re trying to understand, but--”

Derek lets out a frustrated sound. "No, that's not what I'm," he shakes his head and then sucks in a breath. "I like being near you," he says again through gritted teeth. "It makes me feel comfortable, safe. I don't feel that way with anyone else. I would like to," he closes his eyes and breathes out through his nose, "If you would be willing to spend time with me in a completely non-romantic way, I would be grateful. If you can't, I understand. I just, I needed to ask."

Something loosens in Stiles's chest. "Just as friends?" he asks.

Derek nods. "Just as friends."

Stiles gives him a small smile. "Uh, sure. I can do that." He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out his phone. A push of a button wakes it up, then he draws a quick star on the screen to unlock it and pulls up his calendar. "Um, I'm supposed to be studying at the library on Saturday from three to five. Wanna join me? You can read one of your self-help books or whatever and I can do my homework and we can grab burgers and fries afterwards and you can listen to me bitch about how Molecular and Cell Biology degrees don't earn themselves. Sound good?"

Derek does a little shuffle step, shoving his hands deep in his pocket. "Sounds good," he confirms and Stiles smiles.

Just friends. The “friend zone.” Whatever you want to call it. It’s not what Derek wants, not by a long shot, but he was right, it is much better than nothing at all, and a million times better than being enemies.

*

Being friends with Derek is... interesting. Especially since Stiles knows that Derek is still into him. Like, really, really into him. No matter what he might say to the contrary.

Longing looks and tightly controlled manpain are pretty obvious to spot when you have a close, personal history with unresolved sexual tension yourself. And, um, well, there was that kiss and all too. So Stiles is pretty clear on the fact that he’s Derek's Lydia. And he feels for the guy-- probably the same way Lydia felt for Stiles-- but that doesn't change the fact that Stiles isn't picking up what Derek is putting down.

Sure, the man is pretty much a living apple of discord, tossed out by Eris in hopes of inciting another epic battle, but Stiles has never been the kind to be swayed by a pretty (or chiseled) face. Stiles is more of a whole package man and Derek's whole package is sadly wanting.

He told him so as politely as he could, because Stiles has been the odd man out too many times to do anything other than let someone down gently, but it didn't seem to do any good. Derek is just as determined to throw himself against Stiles's disinterest as ever. And, well, there seems to be some sort of poetic justice in that. Stiles is self-aware enough to realize that, even if it sort of makes him uncomfortable if he thinks about it too long.

Though, really, Stiles is convinced that Derek will get over it--get over him-- if given enough time. After all, Stiles has finally gotten over Lydia. Realizing she’s totally one hundred percent in love with Jackson Even-Though-I-Got-Over-My-Sad-I’m-Still-A-Douche Whittemore kind of helped with that. Or at least started the whole healing process. Stiles isn’t sure which. All he knows is that the deep ache inside him, the longing he had lived with since third grade when he and Lydia were desk partners for a whole semester, is gone.

So gone.

And nothing yet has grown to take it’s place.

But, not the point. The point is: Friends. With Derek. Who is actually fairly witty when he wants to be. And sassy in a way that reminds Stiles of Peter without being creepy. Alright, without being overly creepy. And, when he’s not giving Stiles those epic longing looks and puppy dog eyes, he’s pretty damn cool to be around.

So, yeah. Stiles doesn’t mind the being friends thing. Doesn’t mind it at all.

*

Friends. Just friends. With no hint of there ever being more. That’s what’s Derek’s got now. And it’s not so bad, not really. Only... Only sometimes Stiles is laughing with his mouth open so freaking wide and his eyes scrunched shut and Derek just wants to wrap his arms around him and hold him tight.

And sometimes there are nights where they’re snuggled up together on the couch, watching something they've both seen a hundred times and Stiles is half asleep and slumped against him and Derek just wants time to freeze, to stay forever in that moment, with Stiles's head heavy on his shoulder and Stiles's breath hot on his neck.

Moments when Derek’s heart beats too fast, when his hands ache from not touching, from not crossing that line.

But... well. What would he do if he did? How could he be able to explain, to make Stiles understand...

Because it's one thing to say "please be in a relationship with me" and quite another to say "please give up sex to be in a relationship with me." Just thinking about it makes Derek's chest tight.

What if Stiles says no? Or says yes, but then changes his mind when he realizes what being with Derek entails?

So maybe Stiles rejection is a blessing in disguise. Maybe the fact that he still hasn’t been able form that deep emotional attachment Stiles needs is a good thing. Because without it, there’s no need for Derek to freak out about all those “what ifs” that keep circling through his head. Not when it’s been close to two years now of Derek trying to bridge the divide between them, to move them from tentative friends to possibly maybe more, with no hint of a thawing on Stiles's part.

Sure, they are friends now and his heart rate doesn't jump and skip like it use to, but there's nothing there when Stiles looks at him. Nothing bright and hot and eager, nothing but an open expression and a friendly smile.

Which Derek has come to terms with.

Derek has.

But that doesn't mean that it doesn’t hurt to see Stiles’s face light up when someone he actually likes walks into the room.

*

The third attempt isn’t so much an attempt, as an acknowledgement:

“You’re never going to be interested in me,” Derek says, his eyes resolutely focused on the menu in front of him.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says automatically, and for the first time he actually sounds regretful, like he wishes his answer could be something different. But then, they are fairly close by now, so it makes sense that he would feel a bit more unhappy about being unable to reciprocate Derek’s feelings.

Derek nods, not looking up from the menu, even though he can’t seem to concentrate enough to make sense of the words.

And there you have it. Three strikes are you’re out.

*

The longing looks don’t go away, but Derek doesn’t push the issue anymore. Stiles is cool with that. He’s long since accepted that Derek will never stop with the bedroom eyes. The sad, puppy-dog bedroom eyes. Which shouldn’t even be a thing that exists. But it does. It’s a thing alright.

And it always will be.

But that’s okay. Stiles can handle it.

What he can’t handle is the way other people seem to be up in Derek’s business, pestering him with some pretty damn aggressive longing looks of their own. It never bothered him before, the way people seem to toss themselves at Derek left and right, but now... Now it’s like an itch Stiles can’t scratch.

Because Derek is more than that. He’s more than a dreamy face and a drop dead bod. Although, yes, he's got both in spades. Derek's also got a personality to kill for, all dry wit and jokes that skirt the edge of impropriety. He likes baseball-- does he ever like baseball-- and drinks Folgers even though Stiles mocks him for it. He runs ten miles every day, rain or shine, and does too many push ups and pull ups to be considered healthy, in Stiles opinion, but Derek says that it "helps clear his mind" or whatever, and you can't argue with the end result. I mean, have you seen Derek's body?

Anyway, not the point.

The point is that there's so much more for Derek to offer. Like the way he's so gentle with Allison and Scott's kids, so patient and understanding. The man will let them climb all over him and pester him with a thousand questions and will give in to their pleas for "one more story, please Uncle Derek, please" with a grumble and a scowl that has them rolling with laughter.

He's a wonderful leader now too, not all my-way-or-the-highway like he was when they first formed a pack. He trusts more freely, is better at giving praise, and takes other people's suggestions to heart. He puts effort into developing his relationships with the rest of the pack, helps them improve by focusing on their strengths more than their weaknesses.

Derek deserves more than what he's being offer, deserve someone who will love him with all their heart, who will put up with his grumbly, growly ways and laugh at all his jokes. Someone who takes the time to discover all the sides of him, not just the obvious ones.

Someone who knows him inside and out.

Someone like Stiles.

*

Derek has accepted that Stiles is never going to be his. It’s a fact, same as the sky is blue and grass is green. And he’s... not okay with it. More like resigned.

It’s probably for the best anyway. After all, demisexual is not the same as asexual, which means that even if the stars did align and Stiles did, somehow, suddenly develop the feelings Derek’s been wishing he would, they still probably wouldn’t have been compatible. Not in the long term, anyway.

Derek's done his homework on the subject and what he's found... well. It's not encouraging, to put it mildly. Yes, it's possible for asexuals and sexuals to have healthy, happy relationships, but there are complications. Compromises have to be reached. Lots and lots of talking is involved, and, while Derek is much better at using his words now than he was six years ago when Stiles first came crashing into his life, he's still not exactly the poster boy for open and honest communication.

Maybe it's for the best that they've never tried to be anything more than friends. Sure, sometimes the urge to kiss Stiles is overwhelming, sometimes Derek just wants to pull him close, to nuzzle into his skin, daydreams about laying beside him in bed, wrapped up in each other's arms. Yeah, Derek wants to know what Stiles looks like when he wakes up in the morning, wants to sit beside him in the afternoon not doing anything at all, just browsing the internet or drinking coffee or any of a million nameless tasks that people do side by side in quiet companionship.

But... But Derek doesn't want to do more than that. And he’s still not sure how the "no, really, I'm not into sex" conversation would play out. Derek's pretty confident that Stiles won't freak out, seeing as how his own sexual predilections are not exactly what you would call mainstream, but that doesn't mean that he'll be instantly cool with Derek's personal quirks.

So, yeah. Maybe it's for the best. Maybe it's all for the best. Maybe the reason he's so focused on Stiles, despite a lack of any hint of reciprocation, is because he knows, deep in his marrow, that romantic relationship and him aren't meant to be. Maybe the attraction he feels has nothing to do with Stiles's inner core of strength, the way he is willing to take a stand, to do what's right no matter the cost.

Maybe it's not his vibrant personality, the way he's so alive, how he manages to live in every moment. Or that special way he has of viewing the world, the one Derek can only ever access when he's sitting next to Stiles, listening to him explain it. Maybe it's not the way he looks in the morning light, or the way his eyes dance or how Stiles always manages to cut right to the root of a problem, piecing things together to form answers that no one else-- not even the brilliant Ms. Lydia Martin-- can see.

Oh hell.

Who is Derek trying to fool? He’s in love, damn it. And always will be.

*

The fourth-- and final-- attempt isn't an attempt at all:

"I've never actually done this before," Stiles says, bunching the fabric of his hoodie in his hands.

"Done what," Derek asks, glancing up from his magazine, his eyebrows drawn down in confusion.

"This," Stiles says, and then he's leaning across the couch, catching Derek's face in his hands and kissing him gently on the mouth. Derek gasps in surprise, crinkling the magazine in his hands. He doesn't move, barely breathes; his whole body tenses up, like he's waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Stiles moves back, hands dropping down, his face scrunched up in concern. "Derek?"

Derek sucks in a breath, scrubs a hand over his face, and sighs. "Don't," he says, his voice a rasp. "I, if you don't mean it, then just don't."

Stiles chews on his bottom lip, his eyes wide as he reaches up and brushes Derek's cheekbone with the pad of one thumb. "I don't know what I'm doing," he admits, the palm of his hand pressing softly against Derek's cheek. "But I know that I want to be doing it."

"I," Derek trails off with a shake of the head, and Stiles's winces, his hand curling into a fist as it falls to his side. "No!" Derek grabs at Stiles's hand, tugs it back up and flattens it out against his cheek. "No, I just," he closes his eyes, unable to look at Stiles while he speaks. "Kate," he starts after a pause, and he hears Stiles hiss, but he pushes on. "I was with Kate, before. I, we did things. I didn't like, I didn't want," he trails off with a frustrated noise. Derek opens his eyes and looks at Stiles, takes in those warm brown eyes, filled with concern, and that rubber band mouth, stretched out in a half frown. "She didn't force me, but she didn't give me time to think either. So I thought about it a lot, after. What I want, what I don't want. What I like, what I don't like. If we do this, and believe me, there's nothing I want more, then I need to tell you, I need to explain."

Stiles nods and scoots closer on the couch until he's pressed along Derek's side, face so close that Derek can see the flecks of dark amber in his eyes. “I’m listening,” he says, his voice soft.

Derek's right, it's not easy. Stiles has questions-- so many questions-- and Derek doesn't have all the answers. At least not yet. but they'll get them, together.