“But, Mr. Hale, sir…I don’t understand!”
Derek hesitated, glancing surreptitiously down at the name on Peter’s memo. “…Mr. Greenberg, Hale Industries’ internship program was instated to seek out the best and brightest minds for our entry-level positions. Unfortunately, your performance in the past few months has fallen significantly behind those of your colleagues, so we have no choice but to let you go.”
The kid, Greenberg, stood red-faced and gaping in the middle of the bullpen of cubicles, the other still-employed interns hunched over their keyboards pretending not to listen.
“B-but I need this job! I spent four years on my finance degree to get here! I still have student loans to pay off! I don’t have anywhere else to go,” Greenberg moaned, crumpling into a slobbering lump at Derek’s feet.
Derek resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose as his ex-employee wheezed on the office floor. This was supposed to be Finstock’s responsibility, but the head of Finance had conveniently succumbed to food poisoning at the end of the quarter, so Derek had opened up his e-mail at six-thirty a.m. that day to find Peter’s memo with a list of names to pink-slip.
Greenberg’s was the last name on the list, thank God - It was already nearing six in the evening.
“I’m going to need your ID badge before you go, Mr. Greenberg.” The ex-intern whimpered, pawing his way off the floor to remove the lanyard from around his neck and handed it to Derek with trembling hands. “If you have any further questions, please contact HR. Good luck in your future.”
As Derek turned towards the elevators, he heard Greenberg stifle a sob and slump back into what was no longer his chair. It sent a pang of guilt through him, but Derek gritted his teeth and kept walking. After all, the kid had to be smart enough to find another job – Hale Industries’ internship program was one of the most competitive in the country, and other companies would be scrambling to hire one of their former interns, even one that had been let go.
That, and Allison in HR would undoubtedly help out. The woman had the ability to turn résumés into works of art. Greenberg would be fine.
Still, dealing with people’s emotions all day had been taxing, and despite all that Peter had tried to teach him, Derek had never been able to see their employees as purely cogs in the machine, at least not when they stood face-to-face with him, begging for second or third chances. It kept him from making the hard decisions, Peter said. It’s why Derek stayed sequestered in his office almost all of the time, only leaving to go home, or on rare occasions like today, at Peter’s orders.
The damn elevator moved so slow. It dinged when it finally reached the thirty-first floor, doors sliding open to his personal assistant’s rigid smile.
“Good evening Mr. Hale, I haven’t seen you all day,” Erica said breezily, her smile easing at the sight of him. “You have four messages on your phone, I’ve scheduled your video conferences for the rest of the week, and I’ve already put in your regular order at Angelo’s. Your meatball sub will be here in fifteen.”
Derek smiled fondly. She was one person he didn’t need to hide it from – Erica was a machine herself, ruthless and cunning, and with an eidetic memory for his calendar out to the year 2025.
“Thank you, Erica. You’re free to go home – I won’t be needing you for the rest of the evening.”
She raised a carefully manicured eyebrow at him. “I’ve taken the liberty of ordering two meatball sub sandwiches on the off-chance that you will be, Mr. Hale.”
Derek smiled widely. Erica could match him in appetite even with her slight frame, probably needing all that energy to power that massive brain of hers. He sometimes thought that she could run Hale Industries single-handedly, if she ever tried to depose both Peter and him.
But he knew she wasn’t that Machiavellian. Hopefully.
And turns out that he did need Erica’s help, several times over the next hour, until she had to leave for her Zumba class. For the next half hour, Derek fiddled with his scheduling program until a couple meetings disappeared completely.
User-friendly, his ass. He’d beg Erica to salvage them in the morning; he was done for the night.
Derek slid his jacket back on and picked up his bag, seeing the intern’s badge out of the corner of his eye. Allison would need that back to deactivate it – he’d drop it off in her mailbox on his way down.
As the elevator crawled from thirty-one to twenty-five, Derek checked his watch. Eight-thirty. He heaved a sigh - he’d been at work for the past fourteen hours. And there were still unread e-mails in his inbox to check from home.
The elevator dinged, and Derek took a step forward when the doors slid open, almost running straight into the man walking in.
“Oh, dude! Sorry, I wasn’t even looking. Figured I was the only one left in the building,” the man (or kid, rather) said, his brown eyes wide and tracking down Derek’s body. Derek took an involuntary step back.
The kid walked to his side as the doors slid shut. For a few seconds they stood there in silence, until they both seemed to realize simultaneously that the elevator hadn’t moved. Derek surged forward at the same time the kid’s hand flew towards the panel, and Derek dodged it reflexively, but the kid laughed aloud, reaching in front of Derek to press ‘G’.
“Guess you forgot to hit that earlier. Hey! You’re interning too? What department?”
Intern…? Derek turned and stared at the kid in confusion, before following his gaze to the telltale blue badge in Derek’s hand. Oh. Before he could open his mouth to correct him, the kid stretched his neck closer.
“D. Greenberg, Financial,” he read out loud. “Man, they must have a strict dress code for you guys if their interns even have to wear monkey suits. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you look…you look good, but R&D could care less. Exhibit A.” The kid gestured down his body.
Derek swept his eyes down, taking in the kid’s gelled, brown hair, black plastic-frame glasses, cardigan and T-shirt, and…were those cargo pants? Derek might need to have a word with the head of R&D about professionalism. He looked back up, pausing on the blue badge around the kid’s neck. G. Stilinski – Research and Development.
“Hey, don’t look too impressed. I’m Stiles,” G. Stilinski said, holding out a hand…that Derek stared at until it lowered itself in submission.
The person attached to the hand apparently had no such sense of self-preservation. “Gee, all those numbers you work with in your head haven’t left any room for proper social etiquette, huh?”
Derek frowned at this…Stiles, but it did nothing to deter him. “I mean, Scott’s dumb as a bag of rocks but he’s the nicest guy ever, so maybe there is a correlation.” Stiles paused, actually scrunching his nose. “But no, Lydia’s a genius and upper management adores her, she’s just an ice queen to us commoners but we dote on her anyway…I mean, don’t be fooled, I’m actually about to keel over, it’s just too much effort to maintain a verbal filter when I’m tired, but I just spent the last 2 hours on the specs for Lydia’s prototype because I didn’t want her to strain her brain, because Derek Hale is a horrible, horrible man-“
Derek’s eyebrows had been furrowing in bewilderment for the absence of breathing between Stiles’ words, but at that they shot straight up.
“Oh! Does he ride you guys as hard as he rides R&D? No, stupid question, of course he does,” Stiles scoffed, not waiting for an answer. “The man’s a slave-driver that no one’s ever seen, just felt his whip, and whip, thy name is Erica Reyes, PA- did you hear about how she made Isaac cry at orientation? Isaac “Sunshine-and-Rainbows” Lahey. And all he did was ask if we had Smartfood popcorn in the vending machine. Which is a totally legitimate question by the way, it’s one of the lowest calorie on-the-go options and you’d think the company would want its employees to be eating healthy, but no, we don’t even have time to run to the vending machines.”
Derek let out a snort at the mental image of Erica berating an intern for a snack preference as it sounded exactly like her, but again Stiles misread him.
“I know, right? Like, good god, we’re already working our asses off, while Derek Hale sits in his shiny office and sends his four-inch-heeled Amazon with request after request. And he’s next in line for the corporate throne! I mean, can you imagine? I’ve heard his sister Laura’s an angel but decided the arts were more her forte and didn’t want anything to do with the family business. It’s too bad she’s not the one in charge…I bet she’d order Smartfood popcorn for us. If it weren’t for Hale Industries’ reputation, I bet none of the interns would want to be permanently employed by Derek Hale, ever.”
The ‘ever’ was punctuated by the elevator jerking to a halt, and Stiles was halfway out the door before it opened completely.
Derek watched him go, but Stiles spun around suddenly to hold the doors open.
“Hey! What’s the ‘D’ in your name stand for?”
“Derek,” he answered reflexively.
Stiles stared openly at him for a long second. “That’s unfortunate,” he snorted. “See you around, Derek Greenberg.”
He sped off, leaving Derek alone in the elevator for who knew how long, until he had to throw out an arm to stop the doors from closing again.
Derek dropped the badge off in Allison’s office the next morning, before anyone had actually arrived. He rode the elevator up to his own office, and opened up his inbox to a slew of e-mails from Peter regarding negotiations with the head of the Hunter Corporation, Chris Argent. Apparently things were going less than swimmingly. Recently, Peter had become adamant on expanding into the weapons industry, something that Derek was not in support of in the least, but now he was being called to smooth things over with the largest weapons manufacturer in North America. All because Peter managed to rub another client the wrong way.
It was too early in the morning for this. Any other day, Derek would have grit his teeth and put his mediating skills (which were few, but still more than Peter’s) to work, but something had been niggling at his brain since the night before, a twitching concern that couldn’t stay still.
He pressed the intercom button on his desk. “Erica, how do we add something to the vending machines downstairs?”
“Just let me know what you’d like and I can get it for you, Mr. Hale,” the speaker buzzed back.
Derek frowned. “It’s not for me- I mean, I spoke with an employee yesterday and he requested that we add Smartpop…Smartcorn-“
There was a long silence on the other end. “Really?”
Derek sighed. “Yes Erica, I-“
“No, no, that can absolutely be arranged, sir. I’ll bring you the vending company catalog and order form for you to sign off on.”
He chose to ignore the thread of incredulity in his PA’s voice. “Thank you, Erica.”
Derek switched off the intercom and sat back in his chair, staring at the wall for a full minute before slumping back with a frown.
He’d hoped solving that issue would have made the nagging feeling in his head go away, but it was still there in full force, like the kid from last night had bombarded him with a deluge of words and he was still soaked and starting to feel itchy.
If he thought about it, no one had talked to him that much since before Laura moved away, before his mom and dad died. Laura still called but it wasn’t the same as seeing her face, and Peter only spoke to him when it was relevant to the company. Everyone else cowered in fear, much less spoke their minds to him, but this kid hadn’t recognized Derek.
Stiles had pretty much called Derek Hale the bane of his existence.
And he didn’t know if that felt more hurtful or more refreshing.
Derek picked up the phone and dialed the extension for HR.
“Allison, It’s Derek Hale. I’m going to need the personnel file for one of our employees.”
Stiles was smart. Exceptionally, actually, if his academic record was any indication. Top of his class in mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley, and mentored by one of the emeritus faculty in the program. His senior capstone project was entitled the ‘Bipolar Prepuce Forceps’, which turned out to be a surgical device for more sterile, faster-healing circumcisions.
How he talked his teammates into that, Derek has no idea.
But it probably involved just that. Talking.
They probably caved to all the diagrams of penises just to get him to stop.
It was stupid. The chances that Derek was going to run into Stiles again were incredibly slim. There were hundreds of people that worked in the building, that used the elevators every day, and Derek had never run into that bespectacled whirlwind of an intern before yesterday. Still, it was all he could think about for the rest of the morning and afternoon, in the middle of sorting out the Chris Argent issue and fielding other requests from Peter.
By the time eight-thirty rolled around again, Derek already had his briefcase in hand. He’d told Erica to go home at six, and hoped that everyone else had cleared out of the building as well. The elevator crawled downwards, past the other executive offices, past legal, and marketing, and HR…but the elevator didn’t slow when the digital display flicked from 24 to 23, and kept on descending.
Stiles had probably gone home already, with the rest of R&D.
And there was absolutely no reason for Derek to be disappointed.
Or that’s what he told himself, as he stepped out to an empty lobby and headed outside, where the streetlights were already on and the lone cab stalled on the curb.
For the rest of the week, Derek left when he usually left, or whenever his work allowed him, and didn’t run into Stiles again.
Still, when the assignments crossed his desk for him to allocate to the engineers in R&D, he thought of how much potential Stiles’ file showed, and how he might enjoy some of the projects Derek would typically assign to the more seasoned engineers. Maybe it was the tedium of what the interns worked on, tweaking and refining existing devices, that made Stiles so bitter towards Der- towards his job.
Derek sent the assignments down to R&D via Erica, and tried all weekend not to think about how Stiles would react to the project he’d picked for him.
The following Tuesday, Derek’s teleconference with a client in Beijing kept him in the office until eight. Just as he started to shut his computer down, his inbox pinged with a new e-mail.
H.I. Prototype No. 118695 from Stiles Stilinski, R&D.
Derek nearly knocked the mouse off his desk in his haste to click.
From: Stiles Stilinski, R&D
Time : Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 8:07:24 PM PDT
To : Alan Deaton, R&D
CC : Derek Hale, VP
Subject : H.I. Prototype No. 118695
I’ve attached the specifications for the prototype #118695 assigned to me last Friday (I apologize if it’s a bit late). Please let me know if any changes should be made before I submit the prototype for presentation. I’ve also copied Mr. Hale on this to keep him informed of my progress.
Research & Development Intern
Derek clicked on the attachment at the bottom of the e-mail, and watched as pages of Stiles’ drafts popped up on his screen. They all looked flawless as far as he could tell…but that was impossible. Manually pressing the power-button on his computer (safe-shutdown be damned), he grabbed his jacket and briefcase and dashed out to the elevator.
That was an original prototype that had just been approved for development. Which meant any decent engineer would spend weeks to months working on the specifications, not to mention an intern.
Who finished in the span of three days.
This time the elevator slowed at floor twenty-three, the doors sliding open to a very disheveled Stiles, his stained hoodie hanging limply off his frame and flattened hair sticking out from under his beanie. Derek almost choked at the sight, if it weren’t for how Stiles’ dark-circled eyes suddenly lit up behind his glasses.
Still caught off guard by Stiles’ appearance, Derek opted to stare back in response.
“Man, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes? And I mean really sore. Like, I’m seeing two of you right now, which isn’t a bad thing at all-“
The doors started to close. Derek threw an arm out and dragged Stiles inside, steadying him when it was clear the momentum was sending him into a face-plant.
“Oh, thanks, I’m such a klutz,” Stiles laughed, but it came out as more of a wheeze. “Then again, it might be the whole not-sleeping-for-four-days-and-subsisting-on-Snickers-Red-Bull-and-popcorn’ thing. That’s protein and vegetables, right? Hey, did you hear that we got the popcorn in the vending machines now? The corporate gods have smiled upon us. Speaking of which, I think Derek Hale wants to kill me.”
Derek gaped at Stiles, but the intern’s eyes were half-lidded and focused on a spot on the wall.
“Seriously, I just wanted to go home this past weekend and play WoW and battle mythical creatures and shit, but Derek Hale is a giant ogre that wants to grind my bones to make his bread. Like, why would he do that? Why would he give me this giant project when all the other interns have the normal refine-and-adjust work and expect me to meet the same deadline?”
Derek felt a sense of dawning realization mixed with horror. The interns normally completed their work in a matter of days, and Stiles’ hadn’t been told otherwise when he’d been given the new assignment.
“I think he wants to fire me. Derek Hale wants to see me fail so he has a reason to fire me. But he can’t! Because I finished the damn thing! I even copied him on the e-mail to my boss so he can see.”
Stiles lifted his hands in a weak approximation of raising-the-roof. “So take that, Derek Hale.”
Derek wanted to kick himself. This was the complete opposite of what he wanted, and even hearing Stiles acknowledge the popcorn gesture had been overshadowed by just how much of a massive idiot Derek felt.
“In other news,” Stiles segued, interrupting Derek’s mental stream of self-reproach. “Or at least, I’m pretty sure it actually happened, unless I’ve really been that out of it, but Scott finally asked Allison out and she said yes. Miracle of miracles. Actually, getting Lydia to acknowledge my existence would fall under that category. But if Scott has a shot with Allison, beloved queen of HR, there may be hope for me yet- I could just, I don’t know, get her a lapdog, or braid flowers into her strawberry-blonde hair, or lay my lab coat across a puddle…”
There was something wrong with the elevator’s ventilation. Something in the air was clearly making Derek feel warmer and crankier, and made him want to trip someone in high-heels or stick his hand in some perfectly styled hair and tug. What the hell.
“…But I look nothing like you, I mean, you must be dodging women left and right, with that facial symmetry and manly stubble, and your eyes, dude. What color are they even?”
Derek watched dumbfounded as Stiles leaned into his personal space, golden-brown eyes boring into his own. He felt even warmer (but suddenly less cranky) when Stiles’ gaze slid down his face and settled on his mouth, which…which was hanging open.
The elevator dinged, and Derek shut his mouth with an audible click.
Stiles smiled lazily at him one last time, and stumbled out into the lobby. Derek involuntarily reached out to steady him again, and vaguely considered calling him a cab, but Stiles simply patted him on the shoulder and staggered towards the bike rack outside.
Derek didn’t even know they had a bike rack.
He watched as Stiles made several unsuccessful attempts to unlock his bike, but once he was on it he was surprisingly graceful. Stiles weaved through the parked cars, finally disappearing around the corner of a building before Derek looked away and hailed his own cab to head home.
Derek’s apartment was dark and quiet. He threw his keys in the bowl by the door and made a beeline for the bar, pouring himself a finger or two of scotch before settling in on the modular couch by the window, watching the tiny lights crawl along the bottom of the high-rise.
Derek swirled the tumbler in his hand. The golden liquid reminded him of a certain set of eyes, the way they flickered every time the intern’s brain switched directions…Derek scowled. This is why Peter was right – this is why he should never have…gotten attached to an employee, and now he’d driven Stiles even farther away.
Even though Stiles still thought he was Derek Greenberg.
It didn’t matter now – even if Derek told him the truth, Stiles would probably hate him more for the deception. He should just leave Stiles alone, and let things go back to the way they were, with Stiles hating him from a distance and inevitably leaving H.I. for someplace like the Hunter Corporation-
Derek scowled. The thought of that was even worse than hearing about Stiles’ crush on the R&D girl.
Derek loosened his death grip on the tumbler. He rubbed at his temples and tried to relax into the couch, but the cushions were too firm, some Swedish design someone at some agency had been overpaid to put in his flat. Nowhere near as comfortable as the cushy sofa his family had growing up, with its chocolate milk stains and cushions that he and Laura used to build blanket forts…
Derek took out his phone and hit the first speed-dial.
Ring. Ring. “Der-Der!”
Derek’s lip quirked. He hated the name growing up, but he heard it so rarely these days. Derek could still here his mother’s voice whispering, There, there, Derek. Hush now, his sister echoing in the background, Der-Der, Derek!
“How’s the series coming along?”
“Oh, it’s coming. I’m covered in paint as we speak, baby bro. You get the invite for my gallery opening?”
“I booked my flight last week.”
His sister made an approving sound. “So, what’s new with you?”
There’s this intern...”-Peter’s sending me to Beijing next month to meet with some clients.”
“No, no. Peter making you do his dirty work isn’t news, Derek, that’s all he ever does.“
Derek sighed. “Laura-“
“All I’m saying is, you need to get away from H.I. once in awhile, Derek. Go out and meet people, find a new hobby-“
Derek cringed. Last time Laura suggested he find a new hobby, she’d sent him a couple crates of painting supplies, he managed to mix a muddy brown color on the palette instead of sky blue, and the rest of the supplies had gone straight to the local community center.
“-I knew it wasn’t for me, and you’re still young, Derek. I just don’t want you to end up like Peter,” Laura finished softly.
Peter lived at the office. When his uncle wasn’t at the office, he lived alone. Peter had more money than he knew what to do with, so there was nothing to do but make more.
Peter didn’t have someone to tell him when he’d messed up and needed to stop, who made sure he ate healthy, who was smart as hell, whose giant eyes lit up whenever he saw him.
“What if I already have? What if the only person who’s talked to me already hates me?” Derek muttered.
“You tried to talk to someone and they said they hated you?” Laura asked incredulously.
“No, he never - I’m the one who – he doesn’t know who I am-“
“I’ll say. No one that knows anything about you could possibly hate you, you hear me? If this…if this guy really knew what you’re like and he still doesn’t like you? He’s not worth it.”
Derek drained the last few drops in the glass. “Yeah.”
The line went quiet for a moment. “Derek, he’s not Kate. Don’t be afraid to let someone in again, okay?”
Derek nodded slowly. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
Derek didn’t assign Stiles any more original projects. He let things go back to normal, trying to treat Stiles like any of the other interns even if it meant Stiles was still cursing him from another part of the building.
At least this way, he couldn’t make things worse.
It wasn’t until Erica opened his office door one day, stepping aside to let Allison in. “I’m sorry for the interruption, Mr. Hale, but Allison has something important she needs to discuss with you. Off the record.”
Derek raised an eyebrow, before turning to the man sitting across from him. “Mr. Boyd, if you’ll excuse us.”
“Not a problem, sir. I’ll just update you on the repairs budget via e-mail,” the head of maintenance said, rising and exiting quietly.
Derek gestured to the now vacant chair across from his desk and Allison took a tentative seat. “Mr. Hale, I’m not- I shouldn’t be here, but you know who my father is and what the Hunter Corporation does,” she began nervously. ”I work for H.I. because I don’t want to be a part of a company that produces weapons.”
Derek nodded solemnly.
“They don’t know that I heard them talking, but the Hunter execs are instituting a lateral hiring plan for Hale Industries’ interns before they’re officially signed on here.”
Derek’s eyes went wide. “Argent is planning on poaching our interns to work for Hunter?”
“It was my grandfather’s idea - they’ve discussed offering them higher starting salaries and more flexibility,” she said, eyes turned to the floor. “That’s all I know.”
Derek tapped his pen on the desk. “Thank you for coming to me, Allison. I’ll discuss this with the rest of the board-”
Allison looked up. “-And your name will never come up. I promise.”
A look of relief passed over her face. “Thank you, Mr. Hale.”
Derek nodded at her as she stepped back out, before buzzing Erica to arrange a board meeting.
If Derek rode the elevator up and down for nearly an hour that evening, well, nobody needed to know.
When the doors opened and it was finally Stiles standing there, slurping loudly through a plastic straw, Derek let out the breath he didn’t know he was holding…and then promptly tensed back up.
He hadn’t planned beyond making sure Stiles still worked there.
“D-man! How’s it hangin’, bro?...You look a little green.”
Derek may have developed a bit of motion sickness over the last half hour.
Stiles stepped into his space. “Seriously, you okay? You look like you need to sit down, or eat some saltines, or I’ve got this blue slushie if that’ll help?” Stiles shook the cup at him, and the sudden wave of nausea must have shown on Derek’s face. “Okay artificially colored syrup probably isn’t a good idea right now, but you should really pop a squat, come on now.” Stiles grabbed Derek’s elbow and manhandled him down to the floor, before settling in cross-legged next to him.
“Better?” Stiles asked. Derek took a deep breath and nodded. The urge to lose his lunch was starting to subside.
“So what is it – week-old potato salad? Bad fiscal quarter? You forget the covers on your TPS reports?”
Derek turned and looked at Stiles. The intern looked better than he’d ever seen him, no dark circles around his eyes and his usual twitch subdued. Derek huffed at Stiles’ lips, tinted blue from nursing his drink.
“You can’t let it get to you,” Stiles said. “Even if your boss rips you a new one for screwing up, y’know. This too shall pass and all that. I mean, look at me, I survived the Great Hale Storm of 2012 and kept my job! Whatever that guy’s throwing at you is nothing you can’t handle.”
Ha, well, Derek Hale’s existence is definitely my greatest obstacle right now. But what Stiles thought of him didn’t matter anymore. All Derek wanted was to know if Stiles was happy with his job.
“Do you like working here?” Derek asked tiredly.
Stiles paused, his eyes widening in an expression of surprise, glancing down to Derek’s mouth. His gaze lingered there, until Stiles shook his head and met Derek’s eyes with a sincere look.
“Yes. Yeah. I mean, I get to play with robots and machines all day. How cool is that? And that project from hell that I told you about? Other than the deadline, that project was awesome. I got to design a light bulb that recycles its own thermal energy. Best job ever or best job ever? Plus, you won’t find better benefits anywhere on the west coast, and the holiday parties are the bomb. Insider tip: if you can sneak into Marketing’s holiday bash, their eggnog is more liquor than…nog.”
As Stiles expounded on all of Hale Industries many merits, it felt more to him like Stiles was the one trying to convince Derek to stay at H.I. It made something in Derek’s chest clench to see Stiles gesticulating enthusiastically about everything from the prototype machines to the vending machines, his smile wide and uninhibited.
The elevator dinged at the ground floor, and Stiles stopped abruptly to level him with an indecipherable look.
Derek averted his eyes, rolling forward onto his hands and knees to reach for his suitcase, when a choked off sound came from behind. When he glanced over his shoulder, Stiles was staring back at him red-faced, before scrambling up to his feet and slipping out of the elevator, his bag clutched tightly in front of him.
Derek stood and dusted off his pants. By the time he walked out to the street, Stiles and his bike were already long gone.
He started running into Stiles more often. Always in the elevator and not every day, but Derek began to get used to the hoodies and cargo shorts that seemed to make up Stiles’ wardrobe, graphic tees with superheroes and physics jokes emblazoned on them.
He noticed that Stiles looked him up and down as often as Derek did it to him, and he made an effort to stand taller and straighter, the panels of his suit stretching tight across his chest. It made Derek feel oddly smug when Stiles’ eyes would drift down, his rapid speech slowing momentarily before speeding back up.
“…And don’t tell anybody, but I just stole all the blue paperclips because those are the only kind Matt uses. Weirdo. Nobody blatantly hits on my best friend’s girl and gets away with it! Seriously, everybody and their mom knows that Allison and Scott just started going steady, so he was totally doing it just to be a dick, and offering to do a photo shoot of her? That’s just creepy, dude. I mean, I understand desperation, but we’re at work, am I right?”
Derek frowned at the idea of this ‘Matt’ guy harassing Allison, but merely grunted in response. It was something Laura had always poked fun at him for – Use your words, Der-Der. Mom didn’t raise you to be a caveman, no matter how much you look like one.
Stiles talked to him about everything. Derek now felt like he knew everything, from Scott’s old crush on their first grade teacher to the pharmacology of platypus venom. And Stiles seemed happier, complained about his workload less often and hardly ever mentioned his deep and endless hatred for ‘Derek Hale, vice president’ anymore. For the first time, Derek felt hopeful, like Stiles might not leave and Derek could keep him, and maybe, maybe Stiles…
Maybe Stiles nothing. Stiles didn’t know anything about the real him, because Derek had never given him anything. It had never occurred to him before - at first, Derek had just been in awe that someone felt enough at ease with him to speak freely, and before long he’d just came to revel in the comfort of Stiles’ presence. But Stiles could never feel anything for Derek if he still knew nothing about him.
“Earth to Grumpy-Face,” Stiles said, waving a hand in front of Derek’s face. “I’m trying to describe the awesomeness of my new ergonomic chair to you. It’s like sitting on a cloud, a fluffy cumulonimbus, I swear I could hear my lumbar vertebrae singing the Hallelujah chorus-“
“My favorite color is black,” Derek blurted, flinching back.
Stiles’ expression flickered between confusion, surprise and amusement, before settling into the same fond look the last time Derek had chanced to speak.
“Y’know, black’s actually the absence of color…but I respect that!” he added, as Derek started to turn away. “You always look good in it, anyways,” he muttered.
Derek stared at the pink tips of Stiles’ ears. “…I don’t like wearing these suits. I’d wear my leather jacket to work every day if I could.”
Stiles’ eyes widened. “Well there’s a mental image.”
Derek felt himself flush at that, but when Stiles opted for silence and instead leveled him with an expectant and, dare he say fond look, he felt a surge of confidence.
“I have to have all these suits tailored, and the fittings take forever and it’s still hard to move in them afterwards. I’d much rather just throw on a shirt and jeans and come in to the office.”
Stiles gaped at him. “You have a tailor? Geez, how much are they paying the financial interns?”
Derek felt jolted by the sudden pang of guilt.
But per usual, Stiles barreled on. “Well, I hope they pay you well enough if they expect everyone to have enough suits for every day of the week. Those things are expensive. I blew a week and a half’s pay on the potato sack I wore to my aunt Muriel’s third wedding, and really, I should never again complain about how much I make in R&D as long as they don’t care if I show up in flip-flops.”
The elevator doors opened on the ground floor, and Derek cringed at the fwap-fwap of Stiles’ footwear as he zipped out. He knew H.I. had a company-wide dress code. Derek really needed to have a word with Deaton about adhering to it.
Stiles still stayed later than the rest of the company working on his projects (and Lydia’s, Derek learned unhappily), such that Derek nearly always caught him boarding the elevator around seven.
Their conversation gradually became conversation, a two-sided thing that made Derek feel both vulnerable and validated at the same time. Stiles let him speak more often than not, even letting the silence sit between them as Derek gathered his thoughts.
“I like nature. I wanted to study ecology in college but my family made me choose business…I haven’t seen a forest since I moved to the city.”
“My dad’s the sheriff back home, and when I was a kid I thought he was Batman and I wanted to grow up to bring Justice to the world. With a capital-J.”
“My sister’s called me Der-Der since I was two.”
“My mom was the first one to start calling me Stiles.”
“…My dad gave me his old Camaro for my sixteenth birthday right before he and my mom died. It’s still sitting in the garage.”
“Up until my mom passed, she bought me model kits of everything – trains, planes, dinosaurs, you name it. I wanted to be an engineer because of her.”
Derek was stuck in the office until eight-thirty one night responding to e-mails from their Beijing client.
When the elevator doors slid open on the twenty-third floor, Stiles was perched in front of them in a rolling chair, his head snapping up from the book propped open in his lap.
“I almost thought you’d left already!” Stiles chirped, grabbing his messenger bag and blindly kicking the chair backwards down the hall. It hit the wall and toppled over.
Stiles cringed. “I’ll get that tomorrow.”
As Stiles bounded in, stuffing a post-it note into the book to save his place – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he noted – Derek tried not to assume that Stiles had waited an hour and a half for a five-minute elevator ride with him…but he’d pretty much just confessed to doing so. It made something in Derek’s chest clench fiercely, and he suddenly wanted nothing more than to reach over and pull Stiles to him.
Stiles was oblivious to the sentiment. “…I have my performance review tomorrow and I’m kinda sorta really freaking out – I mean, I really rushed the thermal recycling bulb but I think it turned out okay? I’m not sure, but they totally chewed out Danny and he’s one of the top interns. Like, he went to MIT and US News and World Report says they’re better than Berkeley, where I studied penises and oh God, what if Derek Hale is there?”
He wasn’t going to be. Even though Deaton had requested his presence, he knew he couldn’t go. “Stiles,” he commanded, gaze fixed on the manic intern. “Don’t. Panic.”
Stiles stared back, wide-eyed. “What?”
“I said, ‘Don’t panic.’” Derek glanced down at the book in Stiles’ hand.
“Did you- Did you just reference the Guide? Did you just make a joke?” Stiles spluttered. “Oh my god, you did! You closet nerd! I bet you have a towel stuffed in that briefcase-“
Derek smirked and kept silent. If he seemed smug, it was only because Stiles wasn’t panicking anymore.
The calm didn’t last long.
On the last Friday of October, two months after Stiles’ frenzied presence first ingratiated itself into Derek’s monotonous life, the intern burst into the elevator in a flurry of limbs and expletives.
“She’s moving in with Jackson. Jackson, of all people, lord of the douchebags, with his stupid, charming snake-face and his fancy law degree from Harvard. I bet he only got in because his parents bought a freaking building and named it the Admit Our Son or We’ll Ruin You Hall. Did you know he put Scott in a headlock once for asking if Legal hired him for his ‘Bend and Snap’? We totally fist-pounded over that until Jackson chased me down the hall – but really, Lydia’s picking that? I’m the one that’s been pining after her for five years, I followed her all the way here from Berkeley, I’ve stayed countless nights working on her projects while she was apparently off rendezvousing with Jackson freaking Whittemore.”
Five years. Derek didn’t know his crush on the little red-headed engineer was that old. And she’d not only ignored him and strung him along for that long, but used him as well?
“I give up! I’m gonna- where’s my phone?” Stiles wailed, pulling out his iPhone. “Siri, where’s the nearest animal shelter? I need to adopt some cats. Lots of cats. I might as well accept my fate now and get on with the reclusion and dying alone thing, since the only affection I’ll ever get is of the feline persuasion, and I’ll have to hire someone to deliver groceries to my house too, Siri, because who am I kidding? Cute brainiac girls would never go for someone like me-“
Something flared in Derek’s mind, furious and possessive. Stiles had no idea. Before he could register what he was doing, Derek had thrown a hand out towards the panel of buttons on the wall, jamming his thumb into the emergency stop.
Stiles yelped when the entire elevator jolted to a halt, the loud buzz of the alarm overwhelming the room.
Derek returned Stiles’ open-mouthed stare. He panicked for a split second – what the hell had he done that for - before deciding fuck it and stepping forward to press his lips against Stiles’.
Stiles’ lips were softer than he’d expected…but his lips were frozen against Derek’s, unresponsive and slack-jawed, and Derek’s mind went from oh shit to he’s going to sue me to Hale Industries is going to crash and burn because I have no self-control and I should back away now before Stiles made a desperate noise and wrapped his arms around Derek.
So he clutched back, hands fisting in that stupid scarlet hoodie, and Stiles sank forward into him until they hit the wall. Derek moaned at the surprising display of strength, a deep rumble in his chest, licking cautiously across the bow of his top lip until Stiles shuddered against him.
…The feeling of it was something Derek wanted etched in his memory permanently.
Derek broke off the kiss and dipped his head down to Stiles’ throat, kissing over his rapid pulse and nuzzling into the vibrations of Stiles’ whimpers, reveling in the feel of Stiles’ fingers playing over the nape of his neck.
The loud gasp of “Derek!” when he slid a leg between Stiles’ nearly undid him, hips bucking forward, and things were about to get a whole lot heavier in the elevator when the blaring alarm suddenly cut off.
“Mr. Hale,” the tinny voice filtered in through the control panel. “This is Boyd. I see you’ve pressed the emergency stop. Is everything alright?”
…The voice sounded mildly amused. Derek spun around, spotting the tiny half-globe of the camera in the corner for the first time. Shit.
When he turned back around, Stiles was stock-still in his arms, staring at him with a look of abject horror. Shit shit shit.
Derek closed his eyes and tried to breathe. “Yes Boyd, everything’s fine.”
“Okay then, Mr. Hale. We’re working on getting the elevator moving again, but it’ll be a few minutes.”
“Thank you, Boyd,” Derek forced out.
The intercom shut off with a click, and Stiles continued staring, eyes full of disbelief, or terror, or betrayal, and silent as Derek had ever seen.
He was just about to beg him to speak, when Stiles snapped his jaw shut and whispered, “Just so we’re clear, you’re Derek Hale?”
Derek pursed his lips, and nodded slowly, carefully.
Stiles made a choking sound. “But your last name is Greenberg!”
“I never said that was my badge,” Derek sighed. He couldn’t meet Stiles’ eyes.
He only finally looked up at the mounting sound of wheezing. Stiles had gone sheet-white, eyes going in and out of focus. Derek reached out to grab Stiles when he started to sway. “Stiles! What the hell – calm down!” he worried, shaking him roughly once.
“I’m fired! I’m so fired!” Stiles shrieked.
Derek grimaced. “What are you talking about.”
“I called you a slave-driver!” Stiles cried hysterically. “I called you an ogre! I stole all the blue paperclips!”
Derek raised an eyebrow at him.
“That’s company property!” he shouted, waving his arms madly in distress.
Derek ran a hand over his face. “It’s not theft if the vice president of the company gives you permission.”
Somehow that sent Stiles into a whole new set of conniptions. “Ohmygod I made out with the vice president of the company, Oh my god.”
Derek felt his heart sink. It was one thing to expect Stiles to be amenable to an office relationship between departments…it was another thing to lie to him and then try to involve him in something with extreme legal repercussions. He couldn’t do that to Stiles.
So that was it. Whatever fantasy Derek had been hopelessly entertaining for the past couple of weeks had come to an end. He only hoped that Stiles could recover from the trauma Derek had clearly inflicted on him, maybe even forgive him some day, if they ever saw each other again.
Derek took several steps back, as far away as he could get in the confined space. “Stiles,” he began, inhaling deeply. “I took…I took advantage of you and I basically lied to you, and it was all, uh, it is all unforgiveable…so I will stay away from you from now on.”
He didn’t expect the look of hurt to sweep across Stiles’ face.
“You don’t want to see me anymore?” Stiles whispered.
“No, that’s not-“ Dammit, how did Stiles look even more betrayed? “I overstepped my boundaries, I let my feelings cloud my judgment and I should’ve kept your interests-“
“But I already picked the color scheme for our wedding,” Stiles blurted.
Stiles’ face turned crimson. “It’s red and black our favorite colors,” he squeaked, throwing his hands over his mouth.
Derek…Derek tried to parse out what Stiles was really saying.
And then he had to double-check, because it made no sense - Stiles liked short, redheaded engineering girls, not scowling, taciturn executives, and oh, Stiles was suffocating himself behind his hands.
“Do you like meatball subs?”
Stiles let out a long, spluttering exhale as he lowered his hands, the purple slowly draining out of his face. “What?”
“Do you like. Meatball subs.”
He scrunched up his face. “Yeah, I guess, how is that-“
“I’m headed over to Angelo’s right now to get one, if you’d like to join me.”
As realization dawned on him, Stiles’ lips curved farther up, until his smile looked like it was going to split his face in half.
It was the brightest thing Derek had ever seen.
“Yeah, okay,” Stiles responded, nodding vigorously. “I’d like that- I’d like it a lot.”
He kept on beaming even when the elevator jerkily resumed its descent, and Derek was almost tempted to step forward and kiss him breathless again. Almost.
The elevator doors slid open on the ground floor, and for the first time, Stiles didn’t run out ahead of him, instead reaching out a tentative hand towards Derek.
Derek took it with a tight squeeze. Stiles grinned shyly, and led them out into the lobby.
Stiles’ phone pinged, and he pulled it out with his free hand to check it. “Ix-nay on the cats, Siri,” he muttered into the phone, and shoved it back into his pocket.