This is just the start
You've got a cold heart
Don’t you wanna spend
more time 'round here?
“Remember, just because you’re out on your own, doesn’t mean you have to cut off all contact with the Realm.”
Scott does that head-tilt that makes everyone instantly melt like an underfae’s first frost. “We know, Mom. Stiles is even getting the wee-fee installed so we can keep in contact the human way in case the magic messes up.”
“Wi-fi, Scott,” Stiles corrects, heaving the couch a little further to the left, then stepping back to assess the position. Still wrong. “It’s pronounced wi-fi. Did you even read my notes?”
“I don’t get why you even took notes. You’ve been a total nerd on human culture since you saw Die Hard in sprout school.” Scott disentangles himself out of his mother’s grip to nudge the couch back an inch. Perfect, of course.
“For you, genius. One mistake like ‘wee-fee’ with the other college kids and we’re gonna be bumped right back to the Realm. Or worse - labelled weirdos and never get to kiss anyone ever.”
Stiles starts tossing cushions on to the furniture haphazardly, frowning at the thought. That probably wouldn’t be true for Scott, of course. He’s a Sun Child - his very existence exudes sunshine and effortless calm and romance - but Stiles...
“Okay, I’ll dig ‘em out,” Scott says easily.
“Grocery shopping first, then kissing,” Melissa says warningly, managing to raise pointing fingers at both of them and look way more imposing than her slight frame suggests. “I’m aware of the college-kid stereotypes about poor nutrition. Grow some vegetables.”
“College kids don’t grow their own vegetables, Mom,” Scott says fondly, before frowning at Stiles with a dubious hesitance. “Right?”
“Right. Any and all magic-related shenanigans must be on the DL.”
“That means ‘down low,’” Scott explains with pride, and it doesn’t do much to smooth the crease between his mom’s eyebrows.
“No silly mortal slang over the ley network,” she grouses, before reaching out to beckon them both in. “C’mere. You have your bartering pouches, right?”
Stiles pulls out the little enchanted sack and tosses it carelessly in the air. It’s pretty handy, having the exact amount for any transaction at any time. At one point, it could fit an entire goat. Stiles just hopes it allows for exchange rates and tipping.
He gets a mash of curls, a deceptively strong arm around his neck, and a whiff of that quintessential mom scent that makes him want to cling on for just a couple more seconds before she lets go.
“You promised to get in touch at least twice a moon cycle and right away if something goes wrong,” Melissa reiterates. “There’s always going to be someone close by if you get into trouble.”
“You mean spies,” Stiles mutters, still affronted at the apparent lack of trust.
“Friends of your father’s,” she corrects, “He’s pretty well-liked among the Earth-realmers. It’s nice.”
“It’s practically imprisonment--”
“We’ll stay in touch,” Scott puts in and turns his mom towards the door before Stiles can begin the old argument anew. Stiles has been - pardon the pun - blue in the face trying to change his dad’s mind on the subject, but just because one goddamn Spring Sprite starts a turf war with some pixies, Stiles is no longer allowed to have a life. If he ever sees Jackson around after he gets out of mandated hibernation, Stiles is freezing his delicate parts right off.
Melissa presses a kiss to each of their cheeks, then steps out of the apartment with an unconvinced look.
“And no drugs. We have no idea of the effect--”
“Yes Mom, no drugs.”
Stiles can’t help but smirk; she’s such a hypocrite - it’s practically legend that her first active season correlated with an upspike in marijuana growth and subsequent recreational use among humans. It’s like she invented it.
“And be careful who you talk to: you’re not the only ones who can pass for human, remember that.”
“Bye Mom,” Scott says calmly, and a strained look is still crossing her face when he eases the door shut. They listen carefully for the telltale sounds of her departure to fade away before Scott turns with a grin, and Stiles matches it.
It says all they need it to: Freedom.
The tradition of spending a period of one’s formative cycle living among the mortals had originated long before Stiles, his father, or even his great-great grandfather could account for. The protocol was pretty straightforward: once a member of the fae reached maturity, he or she was given the choice to either immediately take up their responsibilities - be it in the Trickster Division like Scott’s father, the Muse Initiative where Stiles’ longtime friend Heather ended up, Seasonal Awareness and Design like pretty much everyone Stiles holds dear - or take a sabbatical to get to know the world you’re charged with maintaining. There were no set rules to govern what exactly that time away would involve, or even if it was mandatory. Lydia, Former Love of Stiles’ Life for instance, had graduated out of the underfae academy early and immediately fulfilled her position after the previous Autumnal Sylph had taken retirement (read: got a little too fond of the hard harvest cider).
Maybe there should have been some guidelines. Thanks to Jackson, Mr-I-Have-No-Respect-For-Ancient-Territory-Lines, Southern California hadn’t experienced any season but Summer since the goddamn Pixies kicked him out and sealed the borders. All because he wanted to try out Spring Break with the mortals and trashed a goddamn mushroom ring in the course of his shenanigans.
It took some clever retroactive memory manipulation as a favor from the Trickster Division, but they'd managed to fool the humans into thinking it's always been that way. At least Tricksters are useful for something other than being deadbeat fathers and acting obnoxiously smug on April 1st.
But that’s beside the point. The thing is, Stiles hasn’t really had a chance to explore Earth much. His dad is High Sheriff of Winter, Commander of the Frost Fae - one of the four factions of the Seasonal Awareness and Design Sector. Frost Fae are responsible for Winter - from that first bite of chill in mid-October to the flurries of November and December blizzards, to the last, sorry-looking dregs of slush in February - Stiles’ dad oversees it all. There are thousands of operatives working under his command, in all parts of the world at different times in both hemispheres. Some areas, like the equatorial regions and most of Australia, they lost to territorial disputes back in the Early Times, and the only SADS operatives allowed in are the Sun Children, due to their general likeability and the fact that Supreme Commander Melissa can negotiate like a boss. It’s cool, though. Like Dad says - it’s an honor to be charged with maintaining the polar regions and the rotation of the Earth.
The thing is, when your dad is a Big Deal in the Fae Realm and, despite all your protests, he likes to remind you that you’re ‘half-blood’ and are ‘affected more by Earth-time and elements than than full-blood fae’, it doesn’t leave much wiggle room. Stiles’ blood status, in protective Big Deal Dad logic, translated to ‘you don’t get to have any fun ever’, and couldn't have been more unfair. Dad had somehow naively believed that informing a kid that his mother was human and in the same breath, banning him from interacting with humans was ever going to work.
It’s not that Stiles wasn’t proud of who he was; he totally loved coming from a long line of magical beings and having the ability to chill his nectar to the perfect temperature of tooth-stabbingly cold. He loved the Winter: how the air smelled clean, how the sky was never the same color two days running and how everyone’s faces took on that glow of life and health and inherent happiness. He loved how the snow made everything look like a dreamworld, how at the right angle, an icicle could cast a rainbow, and how every morning while the world was still asleep, he had the power to make the ground look like a clean slate - or twinkle like a million fallen stars.
Winter was awesome - but he had his whole life for that. Even if it was just to be temporary, Stiles wanted to live. For that to happen, Stiles chose the most fun part of a human’s whole life (if all the movies he’s memorised are to be believed) - college.
It’s not yet Fall, but he and Scott, due to some guilty finagling from his Scott’s dad, have enrolled in a northern Californian university. They’re probably not going to be hanging around to earn their undergrads, and they haven’t actually taken any spots away from actual humans, but Stiles wanted the learning experience to be a learning experience. Staying up too late. Going to parties, camping out in the library for finals. The whole shebang. Besides, they look like humans in their late-teen to early-20s right now; could probably even play some on TV.
“I think we should do Starbucks first,” he announces to Scott, who, ten minutes ago, had discovered the joy of breakfast cereal.
“I can hear it, man.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s amazing. Starbucks?” Stiles prods, “There’s one on the corner.” He tilts his head at the map that had taken an embarrassing amount of time to pull up on the internets. “Actually, there’s one on every corner.”
“Do they have breakfast cereal?” Scott asks seriously. “Dude, the milk! It's changing color!”
“It’s possible - I know there’s a secret language that only their staff--” they’re called baristas, thank you, Wikipedia, “--understand. I’ll try to feel it out.”
Five minutes and a lot of gentle bargaining later, Stiles and Scott are standing inside their neighborhood Starbucks, squinting up at the menu board.
“What’s a ‘late’?” Scott mutters.
“It’s a latte. It’s a kind of coffee.”
“Is coffee what that smell is?”
“I think so.”
“Gee, no wonder everyone in here looks so mad. Who’s forcing them to drink this?”
Scott straightens up, actually beginning to look outraged that the people in this little coffee shop are being held hostage or something.
"No, no... I think they like it."
"Are you two going to order any time soon, or...?"
They turn in tandem, pivoting to face the strange voice that seems a little closer than is probably necessary, and suggests a lot less bulk than its owner actually possesses. It’s a young man, who...wow.
Stiles concentrates on breathing; he's got the same sensation as those milliseconds after you slip yet before you land on ice - but in a good way. Well, he's pretty sure it's a good way... he knows that it's not quite a feeling of sickness, but almost a dread at ever having to look away. Stiles likes looking at this creature; he may even want to make a habit of it.
"That... wasn't a full sentence, right?" Scott asks, blinking at the stranger and evidently weirdly unaffected. He looks to Stiles for some kind of affirmation, Stiles supposes, but it's not like he's really of use to anyone right now. The stranger's got eyes the color of a newly sprouted evergreen fir. That’s, like, Stiles’ favorite.
The strang--man, the man's features do a little series of movements that Stiles suspects represent confusion and something close to irritation, but his face isn't really sure about it. Probably because it’s so beautiful.
"Or...I mean,” he mumbles, scratching at the back of his head, “Can you move? There's a line." He gestures one perfectly formed arm back at the group behind them, each face looking increasingly put out at the delay. His shirt is the same green as his eyes.
"See, Scott, people are grumpy without the coffee," Stiles blurts in response to the earlier question, because he wants to show off and, okay, he kind of panicked that the beautiful creature would leave thinking he’s an antisocial mute like those bog sidhe who only make weird shrieking noises at night. The man's eyebrows jump in possible offence, and he shakes his head out like he's not sure what to do with the statement.
“It was just a question,” the stranger mutters.
"We're trying a coffee," Scott informs force-casually, because there doesn't seem to be anything else to say, yet they’re all still standing there and that's probably weird.
"Happy for you," the man responds squinting between them, further confusion crossing his features. He cocks his head, "How exactly have you never been to a Starbucks. Are you Amish or something?"
Stiles opens his mouth to see what explanation decides to come out of it, when--
"Sorry to break it up," a woman behind interrupts, eyes wide and threatening, “but if I don't get caffeine inside me soon, I may start trashing this place - and I like this place.”
The evergreen man apologizes before stepping aside to let the line pass them.
"Look, uh, just order a cappuccino. Put some sugar in it if it's too bitter, or ask for whatever flavor is your favorite. Can't go wrong," he advises, before dropping his voice. “In future, maybe don’t come to Starbucks - there’s a coffee place down the street that’s way better, and it’s reopening soon.” He nods politely before stepping back to the end of the line.
"We’re in your debt!" Scott says happily, stepping up to the counter again. "I'll have a Coco Puffs cappuccino please," he asks.
Stiles joins Scott, chin jutted confidently. “Make it a grande.”
He glances back at the stranger - who is now letting a lady with a stroller skip him in line - to smile in thanks, but the man’s head is ducked, ears pink.
The barista slumps, crestfallen. “Ugh, is this from the secret menu?”
Seasonal Awareness and Design recruits, even on sabbatical, are expected to take an active role in their environment. Some of it is inherent; Scott will clear a few clouds away and tweak the atmosphere to showcase the most breathtaking of sunsets without even pausing mid-sentence. Stiles had seen Lydia, before she was even announced as Sylph, produce a hail of acorns with an absent flick of her wrist for a couple hungry squirrels while on a field trip from the academy. He thinks that might have been the moment he mentally declared her Love of his Life; Mom always said Winter lived to chase the Fall.
It was made perfectly clear that, though not strictly assigned to the campus, Scott and Stiles would be expected to carry out their respective duties while living there. Efficient distribution of labor, or some such.
(Dad keeping tabs.)
Still, as Summer reaches its end and gives way to Autumn, it means Stiles and Scott truly are free to do whatever they please until Winter sets in. Stiles thinks the first part would, if it was a movie, be montaged with some perky guitar-led song where they move around furniture and buy stuff for the walls and sit on the floor eating processed foods.
They spend the last week before school exploring - somehow not discouraged by the disastrous Starbucks visit; coffee tastes like it’s mad at you - and manage to check various Earth Realm attractions like McDonald’s, a public swimming pool, the grocery store and the library off their list.
(They get kicked out of two of them.)
They try every kind of junk food, fast food and health fad Stiles has ever read about online or seen in a movie. They develop their favorites (ice cream) and vow never to touch certain things again (how is kale a food?).
Some nights, when all the concrete, street lights and fumes become too much, they take their mattresses up to the roof of the apartment building and sleep under the stars. This is where the montage music would fade out, Scott bundled up in every blanket they own while Stiles lies prone beneath the sky. The little college town is getting more crowded now - people moving for the first time or coming back after summer, and it feels like easing into things this way. When you grow up literally living nature, it’s better to gradually fall to Earth. Staring up above the buildings and trees isn’t the same as the cascading plethora of aurora, swirling galaxies and a moon that looks close enough to touch they get in the Fae Realm, but it makes home not feel so far away.
College brings its own set of challenges. They stick together like tree sap for the first day. Well, the first three hours until Scott goes and smiles at someone and then it’s like the floodgates open. Everybody is sitting in his orbit, forming a clique as Stiles looks on. Stiles knows his bro is beautiful, okay? But do they have to giggle like that at everything he says? It’s not that he doesn’t want Scott to have a great time - he does, and part of him expected this - but there was always a part of him that wondered when Scott would outgrow him. Was this to be it?
He’s sitting under a giant Coulter pine on the quad, frustratedly freezing and melting an Otter Pop, when the rhythmic pounding of footsteps above him stutters enough to pull his attention away.
It’s the Evergreen Guy. Not dressed in his eye-complementing shirt today, but set perfectly against the tall, beautiful trees around him that make the deciduous ones seem to actively wilt away from their beauty. The guy is a glorious Scots pine and everything else is scorched grass.
He’s wearing shorts.
His skin is a soft tan color, the kind that becomes natural from an active lifestyle, and his limbs look the kind of powerful that the First People would have worshipped - hell, Stiles has seen some billboards around that show humans still revere those who don't look all that different to this. The sight of him... unlocks something; Stiles squeezes the pop so hard it shoots out of the wrapper, hitting the trunk behind him and shattering. Evergreen blinks, then lifts a hand in a hesitant wave before picking up his pace, finally turning away to follow the path around the green.
Stiles drops his head into his hands; he is a thorn bush gazing at a grand sequoia.
Stiles and Scott take a mishmash of classes because they’re probably not going to ever have to pick a major... and there’s just so much to learn. In Lit, the reading list contains books written by those Stiles knows for a fact were helped along by the Muse Initiative. They take Intro to Archaeology because Scott loves looking at pictures of the temples dedicated to his distant relatives, Mythology & Folklore because heh, and Stiles takes Language of Film because he got all tingly and bouncy just reading the description. It’s also the one class Scott is not taking, because he and Stiles have been watching Criminal Minds and he’s fascinated by the human condition now - both classes happen to be scheduled at the same time.
If Stiles hadn’t personally met Fate and knew that she would never do anything nice for him, he’d totally blame her for the fact that when he sits in the lecture hall and the professor introduces her TA, it’s Evergreen.
Whose name is Derek, apparently. (Evergreen is a dumb name for a person with shoulders like that anyway.)
Stiles slumps down in the seat. If his palms were warm enough to sweat, he feels like this would be the perfect opportunity, since every time this glorious human has seen him he’s made a complete butt out of himself.
While he watches, Derek nods along politely with the professor as she explains his role and their collective office hours, and he scans the room with interest. He’s wearing plaid today, a shirt that looks soft and warm and is rolled up at the sleeves to make sure Stiles definitely knows how distracting he is. His eyes lock on Stiles after a moment, and there’s curious surprise in there for a beat, before it passes when he blinks away.
Stiles sincerely hopes that nothing important was said for the rest of that hour, because all he can concentrate on is the fact that Derek is there but he probably shouldn't stare at him. Humans found that rude, right?
Except, if it is rude, how come every time he does sneak a glance, Derek is looking back at him?
Stiles often thinks about kissing. Scott gets invited to campus parties where people want to kiss a lot. Like, a lot a lot.
Stiles goes along sometimes at Scott’s request, but any time he so much as sits too close to someone, they complain about the cold or ask if there's a draft getting in. He once hears a group of girls musing aloud how opposite he and his best friend are: warm and happy versus biting and cool-humored.
“As opposite as summer and the winter,” Stiles thinks bitterly.
It's not his fault; Mom always said there was nothing wrong with taking some time to warm up to people. Scott’s just lucky he's only met good friends so far. Stiles wouldn't care, except for the kissing.
In the movies, kissing makes your heart stop. Sometimes a kiss can solve all your problems or throw you head-first into adventure. Kisses start wars and end them. They can be saved up just for one person or given out freely, if you like. A kiss means a hundred different things in every language, and if someone wants to kiss you all the time, you must be really special.
A kiss is a promise, an apology, an experiment.
When Stiles sits in Film class, and thinks about kissing, he mostly thinks about what kissing Derek would be like - he can’t really imagine wanting to kiss anyone else.
He watches Derek sit at the side of the lectern and diligently take notes. Stiles looks at his hands - they look warm, but the good kind of warm that brings feeling back into your cheeks. His lips look plush and lovely and remind Stiles of Springtime and the beard coming in on his chin looks like it might be soft to touch, if he ever got the chance. When he imagines it on his fingers they twitch.
He watches Derek distribute learning materials and set up presentations and answer questions at the end of class, patient but standoffish, arms folded. One time, when Stiles drops his pen, Derek picks it up for him and when he holds it out, it looks like he wants to smile.
Stiles thinks about what kissing Derek would be like. He thinks about it all the time when he sees Derek jog through the park in his neighborhood. He thinks about kissing that tiny hint of a curve to his lip that one day might grow into a real smile. He thinks it would be really, really nice, but he can’t ever imagine being warm enough to let Derek kiss him back.
“And, of course the Fae are characterized as being around six inches tall with humanoid features...”
The professor clicks into the next slide, where some dweeb with giant eyes and dragonfly wings is hovering with only a leaf covering his...parts. Scott shoots Stiles a look that makes him dissolve into mocking giggles, and the professor clears his throat.
“You guys are being really disruptive,” a beautiful girl in front with skin the texture of honeyed cream informs them - but she's trying not to smile.
“Sorry,” Scott says earnestly, “but come on, that's offensive.” Stiles can see the exact moment he switches on his charm, leaning across the desk and resting his chin on his folded hands to look up at her; she barely stands a chance.
“Offensive to... Fairy people?” she says disbelievingly, ”I wasn't aware that was a minority group needing representation...”
“They prefer the term Fae, actually. And yes.”
“Sounds like you should be teaching this class,” she teases back, and she turns to face him in her seat, completely taken in.
“I could tutor you, uh...”
“Kira,” she smiles, dipping her head shyly. “Yeah, maybe you could.”
Scott is in love, and it’s as beautiful as it is terrible. The guy has actual sunshine in his veins, and Stiles thought that was something only those of Fae descent could accomplish - but now he’s met Kira. She looks at Scott like everything he says is a delight, and as the Fall continues, they soak up each other’s warmth.
Stiles isn’t jealous; he just... he came here to experience everything, and being in love looks like the greatest thing ever. He’d like to try it.
Scott says things like,”We’re just seeing what happens,” or “It’ll happen for you, man,” and “I bet you’ll meet someone soon,” with the kind of confidence only someone who gets his hand held and his forehead kissed regularly can have.
Stiles doesn’t say that in his quiet moments, when he lets himself be stupid, he thinks he’s met his person but that he’s too afraid to approach. He doesn’t say, “I’m intimidated by his beauty,” or “I think about his arms,” - but he thinks it. He thinks of little else.
When he can’t turn his brain off, cursory research suggests that getting involved with a TA, especially one who grades papers, is either totally against the rules or frowned upon depending on your school. Like Derek would even be interested in someone who can’t sit in direct sunlight without feeling sick or needs the AC on in late September. It’s probably all for the best; last week Derek asked him if he was finding everything in the library okay, and Stiles made the temperature around them drop so severely that Derek got icicles in his mustache.
(Stiles still hopes he doesn’t suspect him as the source.)
So, it probably shouldn’t be Derek, if anyone. Stiles isn’t really sure if he could do the whole temporary thing anyway - he’s not so good with endings. He just really, really thought he might get to kiss someone this year. He thinks of the differences between human and Fae, and tries to stop thinking altogether.
“You and Scott getting along okay?”
There are flecks of snow in Dad’s beard, making him look ever more the part of High Sheriff of Winter than the lines of experience around his glacier-hued eyes or the wind-beaten crease in his brow. He’s overseeing the slow advance of the Great Chill south through Canada, and Stiles rejigged a looking glass to look like a cellphone with a cloaking charm he picked up in the Academy. And to think people teased him for joining Practical Enchantment Club. Psssh.
“Yeah great. Awesome. Scott’s awesome, I’m awesome.”
“Humans misuse that word,” Dad says unhappily, partially muffled by the howl of wind. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, he’s--” having way more fun than me, “Yeah.”
Dad stares at him for a beat, but lets it go. “And your school?”
This, he doesn’t have to embellish. He sits up on the park bench and smiles. “Super interesting, actually. I’m learning a lot.”
Yesterday, he learned that Derek has adorably staunch opinions on French Cinema and that his mouth turns down at the corners when he thinks an argument is stupid, but can’t say so in the interests of facilitating a dialogue.
“What’s the grin for? You meet someone?”
“What grin? Who’s grinning?”
Dad raises a brow. “You know, your mother and me..”
“Yeah, I know. You were on sabbatical, she was a trainee witch studying elemental manipulation. It was love at first ice-storm.” Stiles tries for a bored eye-roll, even though he only knows the story so well because he begged her to tell it so many times when he was little. “Hey, Dad?”
“Did you ever regret...” he lets out a breath, picking at the corner of the mirror.“Did you ever wish--”
“Not for a second.” Dad sounds so decisive, Stiles feels his own forehead crinkling. “Your mother and I... I’m probably gonna be around for a long time. Even in fifty years, she’s still gonna have been the best part of that. I could have been with someone non-human but where’s the good in that? She was the best part of me, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Not when she brought me you.”
Stiles can’t look right at his dad, so he nods vaguely.
“And I know she’d wish she could be around now, see who you become - but she lived a full life. Do you have any idea how few humans live that long?” Dad smiles wistfully, a sparkle to his eyes that has nothing to do with the wind. “I’d rather have a single day of her than a hundred years never knowing.”
Stiles’ chest is tight, and he looks up on reflex, paranoid that he’s going to start bawling in public... when it seems that not-Fate strikes again.
Derek is walking down the street - not in workout shorts like he’s headed for the park, but equally as traffic-stopping in jeans. He slows at a crosswalk as he texts, and instead of continuing, comes to a stop at the coffee shop on the opposite side of the street. It has cute signage and a little handwritten chalkboard outside, and through the window, Stiles can see homey leather couches and brass fittings. He’s been sitting opposite it for the past half hour and only now noticed it.
“I have to go, Dad,” he says, following the movement of his own feet and taking the path to the shop. Whatever Dad says in parting is muffled as the ‘phone’ is tucked inside Stiles’ satchel, because apparently Stiles is a stalker now and oh man, what is he doing?
There are two beautiful girls inside the coffee shop and Derek is hugging one of them and-- Did Stiles just gatecrash a date? Is he sabotaging Derek right now?
“Can you close the door, kid?” a customer sitting by the window asks. “Friggin’ cold.”
Stiles jerks forward - which is the opposite of what he should have been doing, because the door was just waiting for the removal of his weight to close, and now he’s inside. With Derek, and his..wife, or whatever. Wait, she works here? Oh crap, they probably have three beautiful children and a dog and a weekend cottage and there’s probably a really inspiring video of their country wedding online that Stiles will look up when he gets home.
“What can I get you?” Mother of Derek’s Children asks, the smile still on her lips because her life is perfect and she gets to touch Derek’s beard all the time. Derek doesn’t even turn around, just takes a seat at the counter like he belongs there.
“Uh, I--” Stiles starts with a lick of his lips, gathering his thoughts, before looking up and blurting, “I hate coffee.”
That gets Derek’s attention. His gaze darts up from the newspaper he’d been scanning, eyebrows pulled together. The lady laughs. It’s a loud, startling bark of a thing, and Stiles tries not to like it - but the first word that comes to mind is infectious.
“You might be in the wrong place, my friend,” she tells him, laying a finger on her chin in mock contemplation.
Stiles pulls his eyes away from her to glance at Derek, who slowly lifts a hand. “Hey, Stiles.”
“Oh,” the beautiful lady says, seeming to rest back on her heels.
“Derek,” Stiles mumbles. He’s suddenly all too aware that his hands are flapping uselessly at his sides like redundant sacks of stupid.
“Uh, this is Laura - my sister.”
“Oh,” it’s now Stiles’ turn to say, and he feels the corner of his mouth lift involuntarily. “Good afternoon. Stiles.”
“I gathered,” Laura stage-whispers. “So. Hot Chocolate?”
“Since you hate coffee,” she clarifies, glancing at her brother who is looking increasingly uncomfortable with the situation.
Stiles gapes. “Uh, I’m not...”
“Give him a frappuccino,” Derek interrupts. There’s something introspective in the look he’s throwing Stiles’ - no, the whole shop’s - way; like he’s not looking at them, but concluding something.
“Seriously? It’s like thirty-five degrees out,” Laura boggles.
Stiles has heard the word around, but he’d never bothered to really look it up. “What is a frappuccino?” He scratches his jaw awkwardly, and Laura holds her hands up.
“Oh for the love of--Wait here.” She bustles to another part of the counter, near her blonde colleague, and starts measuring out different creamy-looking things in jugs.
“This is the place you were talking about,” Stiles realizes. At Derek’s wrinkle of the brow, he clarifies, “That day I met you? In Starbucks.”
“Oh, yeah.” He shuffles in his seat, shaking out the paper. “The time you and your friend started screaming that there was something wrong with the coffee.”
“I didn’t know it was supposed to taste like that!”
“Clearly.” Derek looks down, and it’s almost like that curve is back on his mouth. It makes his face look even better. “Hey, uh,” he continues thoughtfully, “How come you never-- In your papers, you have some really insightful things to say... but in class, you’re really quiet.”
“I am?” Stiles had thought that his oddness made him the loudest person in the room. He throws up a hand and lets it fall. “Buh, keeping a low profile I guess? In the Zoom.”
He lifts a shoulder. “Yeah, The Zoom. When you’re super focused.”
Derek turns to look at him out of the corner of his eye; raises one of those striking brows. “The Zone?”
Oh crap. “Right. That’s what I said.”
“One Caramel Frappuccino, for Jack Frost.”
Stiles fumbles it as she hands it over, trying not to give himself away. “Um, thanks. How much do I--”
“On the house. Any friend of Derek’s...”
“Wow, thanks,” Stiles gushes, “I didn’t come in here expecting a free drink.”
“Yeah, but once I learned of your deprived upbringing.. I mean, no frappuccinos? The humanity.”
Stiles presses his lips together and looks down at the drink. He already likes Laura, and he’s really glad she’s not Derek’s wife. Come to think of it... He glances at Derek’s hands as he takes a sip; the fact that there are no rings in sight is only made better when--
“Shiver my timbers! This is amazing?” He begins sucking at the straw in earnest, the sweet creamy goodness melting slightly on his tongue to taste before freezing up again in his excitement.
Laura splutters out a laugh, her face delighted. “That good?”
Derek’s own features are posed in pleasant surprise, and the curve is deeper - closer to a smile than Stiles has ever seen it.
“Do people--I mean, why would you drink anything when-- ” he pauses for more, “Oh wow. I wike how ih feews ih ma mouf. Ngh..”
Derek’s brows climb while Laura collapses into dirty-sounding giggles.
“Oh my god, you hear that, Erica?” she chuckles, and the girl finally tears herself away from flirting with a buff-looking guy at the end of the bar. Laura turns back and points at Stiles. “You can stay.”
Stiles does. At some point, he sits down at the counter beside Derek and starts buying frappuccinos and Derek gets his coffee topped up and they talk - they talk about class, which devolves into a list of directors they love, of films they’ve rewatched a hundred times; books they enjoyed that they’d either love to see adapted or never touched and preserved for eternity. He tries every syrup flavor Laura stocks and even one where Erica mixes four together. He orders a glass of water when his tummy starts feeling woozy and he has to pull up his shirt to give it some room until it appears to make Derek itchy or something. He learns that Derek is a grad student who wants to one day shoot wildlife documentaries; that he spends every summer helping out at a wolf sanctuary and hopes to learn as much about the habits of wild packs as those in captivity.
Sometimes, when Stiles says something, Derek looks like he’s holding in a laugh. Stiles learns that Derek doesn’t laugh like it’s exploding out of him like his sister does - but that it bubbles past his lips in soft huffs and whooshes of air that feel like much more of an accomplishment.
When Laura drops hints about closing time and gleefully thanks the colder weather for her day’s takings, Stiles is proud of himself when he takes the hint.
“I guess I should, uh...go home.” he jerks his head out the door. “Catch you on the flop side?”
Derek’s mouth does that quiet-smirk thing again. “On the flop side, sure.” He looks thoughtful. “It was nice seeing you today. When I’m not sweaty and out of breath.”
Stiles swallows; the remainder of his hazelnut frappuccino solidifying in his hand. “Uh, yeah. You sure like to run.”
“Feels like I’ll go crazy if I don’t sometimes,” Derek confesses, “I need at least an hour a day to just... get out. Be free.” He seems to ruminate on the thought, before shaking it away. He holds his hand out. “Promise you’ll speak up more in class?”
Stiles reaches out to take the offered hand until, at the last second, remembers the fact that to Derek, touching him would probably feel like shoving your hands in a glacier or worse. In panicked reflex, he closes his fingers and lands an awkward punch to the man’s impressive upper arm.
“Uh sure...Later, skater!”
He makes it all the way to his and Scott’s front door before he slaps his own forehead in embarrassment.
The thing about knowing Derek outside of class is that it actually doesn’t make Stiles any less awkward around him. He sees him almost every day after the one in the coffee shop - apart from a couple days when Stiles is busy with Harvest Moon celebrations - and he has yet to get used to it. Sometimes they’ll pass on campus and sometimes Derek will even slow down to talk to him - even when he’s jogging - but Stiles can usually only manage a few stilted sentences, hands fisted in his pockets while he tries not to coat the closest windows in fern frost.
Scott and Kira seem to be living an actual - pardon the pun - fairytale. Well, less fairytale, more teen rom-com. At Halloween, they wear a couples’ costume inspired by her favorite Disney movie and Stiles makes excuses to stay in despite Scott’s adorable needling when dressed up as a dog. The next day is November and Stiles actually hasn’t so much as frozen the dew in their balcony garden, much less started frosting the entire territory. So, he didn’t just make up the excuse. His Dad made his own feelings known by conjuring a blizzard over Stiles’ face in every mirror he happens to try to use.
Leaving the modern comforts of his and Scott’s apartment, Stiles can feel the charge in the air; like everything in him is being brought to the surface. It’s exhilarating as it is terrifying, and he can’t believe he’s never truly experienced the rise of Winter in the Earth Realm before. It’s like everything he was supposed to be is now manifested in him - purpose given to the chill in his fingertips, a reason for the bite on his breath and meaning to the cold aura that follows him around all his days. Stiles pulls his hood up and steals across the street to the local park - nature is always the best place to start.
He touches the trees as he passes, tendrils of white snaking out from his touch. It seems stronger here, maybe because the Autumn took so long and seemed stubborn by comparison. He smiles, takes a running jump at the next tree and taps a withered, low-hanging leaf. The limbs and trunk and roots follow suit and he grows bolder - the park isn’t empty; and a bonfire complete with fireworks takes up a clearing, so he times an ice-blast perfectly with a bloom of brilliant light in the sky and freezes six trees and a bench, all at once. Their roots feed into the earth to the vegetation to the next tree. A distant crowd coos with delight, and Stiles lets out a breathless laugh as he spins, then falls to the frigid, crackling grass, a proud grin on his face.
He wouldn’t admit he’s keeping watch for Derek over their midterm break, but he definitely notices when he’s not around so much. Maybe a part of him feels like he’s posturing his abilities for the whole world., but he’d especially like to know what Derek thinks of Winter’s touch over the little college town. Look what I did... pretty neat, huh?
Stiles’ bedroom window faces the park across the street, yet he never seems to catch sight of Derek out running first thing in the morning anymore. Not even when he sits on the sill with fingers splayed over the glass and watches swirls of frost decorate the panes and disappear again. Without Film class, there’s precious little excuse to see him, except...
Laura’s face lights up when she catches sight of Stiles in the doorway, and she lifts her frappuccino jug in greeting. Stiles gives her an awkward little nod and hides his grin as he turns to where her brother is sitting. Derek’s wearing this knitted sweater that sort of drapes around his neck, showcasing a mesmerizing little smattering of chest hair. Stiles sits down without looking away from it once.
"Having a good break?" he eventually asks. He hopes he's not imagining the pleased look on Derek's face, but he can't be sure.
"Grad students don't really get breaks, it's punishment for our poor life choices." Derek manages to sound grumpy and good-natured all at once, in a really endearing way.
"I'm sorry," Stiles commiserates. "If it's any consolation, you get to act more educated than most. Oh, thanks," he directs to the last part to Laura as she places his drink down in front of him.
"Yeah, I'll try keep that in mind. How's the paper going?"
"Not bad, I'm pretty sure literally everything on the subject has already been said, but I'll try my best to make it really bitchin’. Be original, ja feel?"
"You're always that," Derek murmurs, and the best kind of shiver runs down Stiles' spine. He tries to cover it with a sip of his coffee, and mostly succeeds.
"Hey, how come I never see you out running anymore?" At Derek's look, he blushes and adds, "It just seems like you're not having any fun at all. Sucks."
"Oh...the paths. I tend to run inside in winter, in case I slip and hurt some poor, unsuspecting pedestrian. It's for the good of the community," he quips.
Stiles' heart sinks. "You can't run because the paths are frozen?"
"Not unless I did it after the city have been around to salt them. But by then it's usually too late."
"But... it's your favorite."
"I'll live. I mean, running at a gym isn't the same as that... that morning smell.. but.. you know."
Stiles feels the first stab of guilt he's ever had since he started learning about Frost Fae duties. It seemed like the best thing; giving people snow days, making everything pure and beautiful - but to take such a simple joy out of Derek's life... He hates it.
“I... I’m so sorry.”
Derek’s brows draw together. “Uh, it’s not so bad.”
Stiles’ breath comes out harsh. “But you said--and I.. This is awful. This is the worst thing since the Titanic!”
“What does that have to do with--”
“The iceberg, Derek. I have to go. Toodle-pip.”
“Stiles, hold on.. what’s...”
He tosses some money on the counter and hops up. He has some thinking to do, and Derek’s worried tone isn’t helping.
“Son, you can’t postpone Winter, just for one human.”
Scott’s mouth twists unhappily and he turns to Stiles, gesturing at the looking glass. “That’s what I said.”
“But it’s-- He never smiles. I’ve known him for almost three months now and he’s never, not once, smiled at anything. And I think he’d have a good one. I think his smile would be amazing and--”
“No postponing Winter for a boy,” Dad glowers.
“His eyes look like a Caribbean sea,” Stiles whines, and Dad manages to convey an eye-roll through a Siberian blizzard. It’s impressive.
“Stiles, If you’d stop over-dramatizing for a moment, I’m trying to tell you that you can learn control. It was always the same at the Academy: Stiles has ample talent but lacks the restraint and will need further supervision.”
Stiles narrows his eyes. “You mean, I could still perform Frost duties but leave the paths alone for Derek?”
“Like Drought Prevention for Sun Children!” Scott says enthusiastically. “Dude, it’s perfect.”
“Dad, did I mention that you’re my hero? What do I have to do?”
“First thing?” Dad sighs, brow raised. “Find somewhere secluded.”
Further up the mountains, Stiles thinks the Earth feels like it’s exhaling. Like it’s had to be so loud and animated for so long that the time has come to wind down, let everything go. If he closes his eyes, he can almost see the ley lines beneath his feet. He can feel them settling for the year’s end, dispersing their power back into the soil and rock and roots for rejuvenation. It’s the night of the Frost Moon, and he draws encouragement from the symbolism as he searches for a clearing to find his bearings.
Dad had said it was all about balancing himself, finding his center and talking back to the Earth as she talks to him. His powers are kind of a hybrid of his mom’s Pagan beliefs and his dad’s elemental control, which meant nobody was strictly qualified to teach Stiles how to use them growing up. A lot of Stiles’ journey to date has been trial and error.
He begins with matching the frequency of the energy. It’s so much easier up here, and as he feeds into the earth, he can feel it pushing, no giving back at him. It’s like a dance, each inhale-exhale of power draws him further in; bolsters him just a little. He can feel the animals in the trees, the moisture in the ground and the unmistakeable electricity in the air. Stiles holds his hand out and stares at it. A tiny snow-storm manifests on his palm, swirling and undulating like a snowglobe without the glass until he closes his fist. He smiles, lifts his chin.
Choosing a tree, he picks a branch that’s within reach. He extends his hand to it, hovering just away, and lets his energy soak into the bark. The branch starts to glisten a brilliant, sparkling white, out to the end of each twig and dormant bud. This right now is the part he has to work on - Stiles stares at the juncture of branch and trunk and wills the frost to stop spreading. He thinks of the satisfied look on Derek’s face when he describes the freedom of running and he needs it to stop. He needs to give Derek this, if nothing else.
Something happens. The spread hesitates, but the power feeding into it is the same - just now has nowhere to go. The ice cuts into the bark and audible cracks start echoing through the trees.
“No... no stop,” Stiles begs it - but it’s too late. The branch starts splintering, thick fissures appearing in the side of the limb and snaking down the trunk until the entire thing splits. Stiles is forced to jump back out of the way as it falls with an almighty crash and all he can do is stare on balefully, feeling worse than ever.
“M’sorry,” he tells the tree. “I didn’t mean to--”
There’s a flurry of movement to his left, through the woods. Stiles whips around at it. Stepping further away from the remains of the tree guiltily as he scans the area, he holds his hands up.
“It was an accident!” he says to no response, then, “Who’s there?”
There’s nothing for a second, then a rustling in the vicinity that he struggles to follow with his eyes. Suddenly, the forest feels like a crowded place. The moon disappears and there’s an energy reverberating through the earth that’s stronger than everything but Stiles himself. Stiles’ lungs heave, and he blinks past the frigid plumes escaping his lips, manifesting his fear.
“Show yourself,” he commands, trying to push as much power in his voice as he can. It must work, because the movement stops. It becomes easier to track it; the rustling turns into footsteps, and a silhouette appears between two mighty trunks, framing it entirely.
That...was not who he was expecting. Stiles’ feet want to take a step forward, but the lingering shadow of energy he’s picking up halts his foot in mid-air. Did Stiles bring him here somehow? Was his will so strong?
Is this even Derek?
“What are you--” He takes the step, wetting his lips. “How did you get here?”
“I was in the woods, with my--” he cuts himself off, head turned towards the tree. “Stiles, what’s going on? Have you been hexed?”
Stiles can’t see the look on his face, and something about it makes him extra-uneasy. “There’s an explanation,” he evades, trying not to get sidetracked though his brain is trying to process the fact that his Language of Film TA knows about hexes. “What were you doing in the woods?”
As he says it, the light changes. When the clouds part, revealing the brilliance of the moon once more, Stiles notices two things.
The first is that Derek, in the middle of one of the coldest nights of November, is standing in the woods without a single item of clothing on. That, on an ordinary day, is enough to steal Stiles’ breath away. However, it’s the second that really makes his head swim; Derek’s eyes.
“Don’t freak out,” Derek tells him - redundantly, because that ship has sailed and his eyes are a stunning, unearthly electric blue.
“Who said I’m freaking--” Stiles starts, but the words are choked, because before he even finishes the sentence, Derek is fully bathed in the light of the Frost Moon, and promptly transforms into a full-sized, black-pelted, blue-eyed wolf.
“No, no hex. Stiles is a--” Derek glances at him over his shoulder, then turns away. “Look Laura, I’ll explain when I get home. I just thought I’d call because I knew you’d worry and I hate giving you ammunition to lecture me.”
Stiles smiles down at his hands, then out through the trees to the rising sun, and thinks about sweaty palms again.
“You really thought I was hexed?” he asks once Derek has returned his phone - the actual, electronic one this time.
“We just knew you seemed to be able to manipulate temperature. So, either that or a trainee druid. Maybe even an emissary.”
Stiles frowns. “Oh, like for werewolf packs.”
“Right,” Derek nods. “Laura needs one, actually. But you kept saying weird phrases and didn’t seem to be in control, so...”
“Hey! You try learning how to talk from movies! And I was in total control!”
“Moustache icicles,” Derek retorts, stonefaced. It doesn’t last long and as the sun grows stronger, his face seems to soften.
“That was your fault,” Stiles argues, shifting his position on the rock. The trees around them are lightly dusted with frost, enough to refract the beams gently around them. Stiles can’t keep the smile off his face.
“If you say so,” Derek mutters petulantly. He slowly sits down next to him, but seems careful not to get too close. A little of Stiles breaks at that.
“Werewolves. Of all things, the one thing my dad didn’t warn me about.”
Derek lifts a shoulder. “Laura hasn’t formally reclaimed the territory. Our family held it for about 300 years, my mom for 120 of them, until she...” He swallows his words. “It’s been a while since we lived here, you weren’t to know.”
“Still,” Stiles grouses, letting the unfinished sentence slide - life stories can come with time. “I’m giving him so much crap later.”
There’s a beat of silence and wind and the sway of trees, then Derek says, “Is that why...” and then stops.
Stiles turns, eyebrows raised. “Why...?”
Derek studies him for a minute. “Is that why you never want to be touched? Because you were keeping yourself a secret?”
Stiles’ cheeks color again. “You noticed that?”
“I kinda hoped it was the secret - either that or it was me.”
Stiles wants to laugh at how wrong he is. “Believe me, you were not the problem.”
Derek’s eyes are dreamy-soft. “Yeah?” he says, and he smiles. Really smiles, for the first time since Stiles has known him. He’s got these crinkles that appear around his eyes and prominent front teeth like he might even be part bunny. It lights up his entire face.
And Stiles thought the damn sunrise was stunning. It’s got nothing on that smile.
“Yeah,” he replies, needing to look away, “Not only are you my TA--”
“For one semester...”
“--But I’ve got this whole hands-like-ice-thing going on.”
Very slowly, Derek raises one of his beautiful hands by his face and opens it. He looks to his hand, then to Stiles, his gaze challenging.
“You know,” he says conversationally, “Werewolves, in addition to having accelerated healing and outliving most other mortal things, naturally run hot.”
Stiles’ stomach flips with the implication. “Oh really?”
Derek wets his mouth and nods towards his upheld hand. “See for yourself.”
Hesitantly, Stiles raises his own. It looks so pale and skinny next to Derek’s, and he concentrates on keeping his energy even and steady so as not to cause some kind of discomfort. His control has never felt so tenuous as right now. He lines up their fingers - his slightly longer than Derek’s - and presses together.
Stiles would like to tell this story in the future and say that something phenomenal happened; that an explosion from their point of contact knocked them both back ten feet and the world went so bright that neither of them could see - but that’s not what happens. No, instead, Stiles’ fingertips start tingling. It’s like his whole life he’s been numb and going through it never really feeling anything until right now, until Derek’s life and warmth touched him.
Derek is putting the feeling into his skin.
Stiles’ chest empties with a whoosh. He imagines he can see his complexion going from grayscale to color. He imagines the blood flushing life into his extremities, and when Derek threads his fingers around his own, the feeling continues up his arm, to his chest and his stomach and his head and...
Derek is looking at his lips and Stiles is leaning into his space and he’s thought about kissing so much. He never thought he’d get the chance.
When Derek kisses him, it’s everything Stiles imagined and more - the taste, the scent, the sensation. When Derek kisses him, Stiles feels like he’s floating off the Earth for the first time in his life, and there is nothing claiming him back except the opportunity to do this, to feel this, again. Nothing but the hands moving into his hair, gently touching his jaw and his neck.
When Derek kisses him, for the first time in his life, he is just Stiles. He is not his father’s son. He has no duty, he has no expectations placed on him - he is his own person, and that’s a gift he never even knew he wanted.
When Stiles kisses Derek, it starts to snow in a California forest for the first time in 53 years.
That night, hunched over the looking glass, Stiles tells his dad, “So, uh, I might be sticking around here a little longer than originally thought." He chews on his lip, adds, "By the way, what’s your stance on Werewolf-Fae relationships?”
Stiles’ dad, Sheriff of Winter, Commander of the Frost Fae, blows out a breath and says “Make a dinner reservation. Italian. And I wanna meet his Alpha.”
Derek, miraculously, goes as pale as Stiles.
“Aw, crap,” he says,
“Bugger,” Stiles agrees.