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But In Case I Stand One Little Chance

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It's been snowing for the past three hours, and Stiles can't see a damn thing through his windshield. Snowflakes dive-bomb his Jeep, a speckled wall of white outside, and he's only fifty percent sure he's still on the road that leads out of the preserve.

This is what he gets for thinking he can make the drive back from Lydia's house after her belated Christmas party. He could've sworn it wasn't snowing this hard when he made the decision to leave. The weather just lives to mock him.

He shivers and cranks up the heater. "I can make it home," he mutters to himself, the Jeep, the weather, and Bing Crosby singing about a white Christmas on his Pandora. "I am going to make it home, and then I'm going to curl up in bed and sleep the sleep of the victorious. The victorious who aren't going anywhere for the next three days, holy shit."

Seriously, he can't remember the last time it snowed this much in Beacon Hills. In fact, it hasn't ever snowed this much in Beacon Hills. He's positive.

Almost.

His Jeep makes a worrying clunking noise and bounces hard, and then it shudders to a complete stop.

"No." Stiles groans and turns the key, but the engine just grinds with each turn. "No, no, no, baby, don't do this to me."

Roscoe doesn't pay any attention to his plea, which means Stiles is stranded in the middle of the preserve. Alone. During a snowstorm.

His annoyance fades to a very real fear. Shit. He's not a hundred percent sure where he needs to go from here, and if he doesn't figure it out soon, he's going to end up a Stiles-cicle.

Visions of his dad finding his frozen body dance through his head, and Stiles has to take a few deep breaths before he starts panicking.

No. Panicking is ridiculous right now. His phone is still half-charged; he can call someone for a ride and he can probably use the navigation to get himself back to the main road. It might be a bit of a walk, but as long as he's not out here all night, he should be fine. If all else fails, he can try to head back to Lydia's, although he may have come far enough that it'll be a longer walk than he can manage.

There. Plan. He has a plan. That wasn't so hard, was it?

He digs his phone out of his pocket and wiggles his hands out of his gloves. First things first, he's calling his dad to let him know what happened.

Someone knocks on his window, and Stiles looks up to see a black silhouette looming just outside his door.

He screams. He's not entirely proud of it.

The silhouette raises a hand and knocks on his window again. Oh God, oh God, he's going to die. His dad is going to find his murdered, frozen corpse in the middle of the preserve because no sane person would be out in this storm.

Stiles scans the Jeep for anything he could use as a weapon, but the only thing within arm's reach is his phone. The baseball bat is just a little too far away.

The figure knocks a third time. Stiles has to do something, because this person sure as shit isn't going away.

Cautiously, he cranks his window down just enough to say, "Can I help you?"

The figure—it's dark enough Stiles still can't make out the face—is quiet for a moment, and then says, "What."

Stiles knows it's probably a question, but the word is so flat it doesn't sound like it at all. He steadily pretends he isn't sitting in a dead Jeep in the middle of a snowstorm, and repeats, "Can I help you? Are you lost?"

"Am I lost."

Again with the flatness in his voice. What's up with that? "Was that supposed to be a question?" Stiles asks. "I'm not sure, because you see, with most questions, people add a bit of inflection at the end to indicate that the other person is supposed to answer. For example, when I say 'can I help you?' there's a lilt at the end so you know I'm asking a question."

The guy sighs, a puff of steam emerging from his mouth. "Did your car break down?"

Stiles taps his window. "See, now that was a question! Excellent work. I'm very proud to be a part of this development."

The guy wipes a gloved hand over his face and groans. "My name is Derek Hale. I have a cabin not far from here. I thought you were in trouble. Apparently I was mistaken. Have a nice night."

Derek Hale. Stiles has a minor heart palpitation at the name. "Derek Hale?" he repeats, his voice squeaking.

"Yes?" Derek leans closer to the gap in the window. "Wait, Stiles? Stiles Stilinski?"

He knows my name! God, his reaction is exactly like it was in high school. Stiles pulls down his scarf and shoves up his hat and smiles. "Yeah! What's it been, like, five years? Six?"

Derek snorts. "Do you maybe want to get out of the blizzard before we start catching up? Because there's no way your Jeep's making it back to the main road tonight."

That...is a very good point. Stiles shoves his phone in his pocket and tugs his gloves back on. "Yeah. Yeah, that sounds good. What are you even doing this far out, anyway?"

"Like I said, I've got a cabin not far from here." Derek nods off to his left. "I saw your lights go by from my living room, thought I'd come out and make sure you hadn't gone entirely off the road. Now are you coming?"

Stiles scrambles to get the rest of his things—not that he has much—and rolls the window back up before hopping out of the Jeep and locking the door. Okay, so probably not a hundred percent necessary, given that they're in the middle of the preserve and there's almost a foot of snow on the ground, but this is his baby, dammit, and Stiles is not leaving anything to chance.

He pockets his keys and zips his coat up to his chin. "Lead the way."

Derek forges through the forest and Stiles follows behind as best he can, cursing at the snow making its way under his jeans and into his shoes. His feet are going to be frozen before the end of the night, and he's really not looking forward to making this trip again tomorrow morning when he has to drive out.

The alternative is spending the night in his Jeep, though, and Stiles really doesn't want to freeze to death.

Fortunately, they haven't been walking long when Stiles sees two golden windows through the trees. He sprints ahead toward the warmth, trips over a buried branch, and goes headfirst into a snowdrift. "Fuck!"

A hand grabs the back of his coat and hauls him up, sending more snow under his collar and down his back. Stiles swears again and wipes the wet from his face.

"Don't kill yourself before we get there," Derek says.

Stiles glares, but he's too cold to retort, especially with snow making its way under his collar. He settles for maturely sticking out his tongue.

Derek ushers him into the cabin and shuts the door, silencing the wind and the storm. "Get out of your wet things. I've got some sweats you can borrow."

Stiles's brain short-circuits at the thought. "I, uh—"

By the time his brain reboots and he can mount a more articulate protest, Derek's taken off his boots and is moving through the tiny living room toward the opposite side of the cabin.

A piece of snow dislodges itself from his collar and trickles down his spine, and Stiles decides Derek has the right idea about getting out of wet clothes. Stupid, lying weather app telling him he had four more hours before the storm rolled in.

He hangs up his hat and scarf on the rack next to the door and sets his shoes next to Derek's, wincing at the puddle the sneakers make beside the much more sturdy black boots.

The cabin's not what he'd have expected from Derek Hale, whose family owns like half of Beacon Hills. It's small, with the kitchen separated from the living room by a peninsula with two barstools. There's a table to his right, but it's covered in books and papers and only has one chair.

A fire crackles cheerily in the hearth, the couch is piled with blankets, and a discarded book called The Drunken Botanist lies face-down on the coffee table. It's...cozy, for lack of a better word, and Stiles can think of at least a dozen other places he'd have expected golden boy jock Derek Hale to be living aside from a tiny cabin in the middle of the preserve.

Derek comes out of the back room—probably a bedroom, Stiles guesses—and tosses a bundle of clothes at him. "Bathroom's right back there, on the left, if you want to change."

The bathroom is small—just a glass shower stall that doesn't look big enough for a guy Derek's size, a toilet, and a sink with a can of shaving cream and a razor perched precariously next to a bar of soap. Stiles changes hurriedly; for all he wants to poke around a little more, it feels like he's invading Derek's privacy, even though he was invited here.

It's strange, to have spent two years pining for someone and then another six years building them up in your mind, only to realize they use the same brand of shaving cream as your dad.

Warmer and drier, Stiles folds up his wet things and shuffles out of the bathroom.

Derek's in the little kitchen, a long-sleeved shirt stretched across his broad shoulders and sweatpants hugging the curve of his ass. "You like tea?" he asks, setting a kettle on the stove.

"Uh." Stiles clutches the clothes to his chest. "Sure?"

Derek looks back over his shoulder and raises an eyebrow. "Was that a question or an answer? Because the inflection makes it sound like you're not sure."

Stiles glares. "Yes. Tea sounds nice."

Derek smirks and turns back to the stove. "Good. I'm so happy to have been a part of this development."

It dawns on him what Derek's doing, and Stiles splutters and points. "You stole my joke, you...joke-stealer!"

Derek shakes his head at the kettle, and Stiles can see the edge of a grin. "There's a dryer in that closet right by you, if you want to throw your stuff in for a few minutes. Is there anyone you need to call?"

The reminder that, you know, he's in a cabin in the middle of nowhere and nobody knows where he is makes Stiles straighten quickly. "Shit, yeah. I need to call my dad. And Scott, probably, because he's going to come looking for me if I don't text him."

"Scott?"

Stiles opens the door Derek indicated to see a washer and dryer stacked on top of each other, and tosses his clothes in the dryer. "McCall? He was on the lacrosse team with us."

Derek makes an assenting hum.

"He's my brother, my platonic lifemate, and my roommate, so I try to keep him updated on where I am," Stiles continues.

Derek snorts. "Platonic lifemate?"

"Hey, we decided ten years ago that we'd be playing Halo together in the nursing home, no matter what," Stiles says decisively, shutting the dryer and cranking it on.

"So he's waiting at home for you?"

Stiles winces when he thinks of where Scott actually is. "Um, not so much at home."

He closes the closet and goes to sit at the bar, pulling out his phone to send Scott a text.

To: Scoot McCute
hey man I'm fine
Jeep died in the preserve but you'll never guess who saved me
DEREK HALE
He's got a cabin out here like wtf
He looks like a mountain man Scotty I'm so glad I didn't know about this in high school
I'm fantasizing about beards now

He pockets his phone again. That'll keep Scott from worrying too much about him and doing something ridiculous like running off in the middle of the blizzard to look for him.

Derek eyes him skeptically from the stove. "So where is he?"

Stiles shifts uncomfortably in his seat. "He's kind of still at the party I left. Or, well, it wasn't really a party anymore, most everybody else headed out earlier. I stayed because Scott and I came together, and it didn't hit me until really late that he and Lydia were trying to have special Scott-and-Lydia time, so I got out of there as fast as I could and promised Scott I'd text him when I got home."

Derek's eyebrows keep climbing higher. He gestures to the snow still swirling outside the windows. "They let you leave in that?"

"I don't think any of us looked out the window until I opened the front door." Stiles sighs. "It wasn't supposed to get bad until later, and Roscoe's pretty good at driving in the snow. I just didn't expect him to die halfway through the preserve."

"I'm surprised it made it that far."

"Hey." Stiles jabs a finger at him. "Do not talk about Roscoe like that."

"Weren't you supposed to call your dad?"

Stiles grumbles and gets his phone back out to make the call, hopping off the stool and walking into the little living room for some facsimile of privacy.

"Please tell me you're not driving," Dad says as soon as he picks up the phone.

"I'm not driving," Stiles repeats dutifully. "I'm with Derek Hale. The Jeep's stuck."

"Stuck or dead?"

Stiles makes a face at the phone. "Stuck. And only temporarily dead. It'll be good as new just as soon as I can get it to the mechanic's."

His dad sighs heavily. "I swear you've spent more money keeping that Jeep running than you have on college tuition."

Before Stiles can mount his argument, his dad continues, "So, Derek Hale, huh?"

Stiles knows that tone of voice. Stiles hates that tone of voice. He moves further away from the kitchen—not like there's anywhere to go—and lowers his voice. "Yeah, he has a cabin out here. He found me on the side of the road and offered to let me crash with him for the night."

"To be clear, this is the same Derek Hale who was, and I quote, 'responsible for showing me the beauty of bisexuality'?"

Heat rushes up the back of Stiles's neck, and he takes a moment to be grateful that Derek can't hear his father's side of the conversation. "Yeah, him. It's been a few years, so it'll be nice to catch up."

"Right." Dad doesn't sound convinced. "So, you're safe and you have no plans to go anywhere until the storm passes?"

Thank God, he's dropping the subject. Stiles has never been so relieved in his life. "I promise, I am not setting foot outside this cabin until that happens."

"Good. I'm staying at the station tonight, just so you know. Probably be here most of tomorrow, too, at least until they clear the roads."

Stiles nods, even though he knows his father can't see him. "That's good. Stay warm. Don't stay up all night drinking coffee and eating donuts."

His dad laughs. "Like anyone would actually let me have donuts, thanks to you."

"That your deputies fear my wrath warms the depths of my cold, dead heart. Truly."

Dad snorts. "Yeah, right. Love you, kid. Call me in the morning."

"Sure thing, Dad. Love you too."

He hangs up and heads back to his seat at the kitchen bar. Derek pours hot water into a mug and slides it over to him. "So your dad's okay?"

Stiles nods. "Yeah, he's staying at the station tonight. It sounds like the roads in town are just as bad as the roads out here."

"At least the roads in town will be plowed soon after the storm ends," Derek says. "It could be a week or so before they get out here."

Stiles chokes on nothing. "A week? Seriously?"

Derek's face doesn't even twitch, doesn't show the slightest sign that he's fucking with Stiles. "Depends on how bad the storm is, yeah. Could be anywhere from three days to a week."

Okay. So there's a very good chance Stiles will be stuck in the middle of the preserve with his high school crush for almost a week. That's not nerve-wracking or anything.

He wraps his hands around the mug and hopes it doesn't show how jittery he is. "Shit. Glad I refilled the extra pills in my glove box yesterday."

Derek frowns at him, one eyebrow rising in a silent question.

"Adderall," Stiles explains.

"Ah. Are you going to be okay?" Derek's frown deepens, but this time it looks like concern, not confusion. "My dad has a four-wheel drive, he may be able to get out earlier even if the roads are snowed under."

Stiles shakes his head. "Nah, it'll be fine. I mean, three days should be fine. By the end of the week you'll probably be planning ways to kill me and hide the body before the snow melts." The joke makes him think of another problem. "Oh God, do you have enough food? Are we going to be contemplating eating each other before the week is out?"

Derek's mouth twitches in a smile. "I've got enough food to last me for the entire month. I think that'll be more than enough to keep both of us fed for a few days."

"Oh. Good." Stiles taps the sides of the mug and then makes himself still his fingers. "So what are you doing out here, anyway? Do you just hide out here throughout the winter, waiting to rescue hapless people who get stuck as they attempt to reach the main roads? Frighten small children and teenagers who break into the preserve at night?"

Derek takes a sip from his mug, regarding Stiles over the top of it. "Actually, I like this cabin because it's in the middle of nowhere and no one bothers me."

Stiles's heart sinks, and he shrinks back into his seat. "Oh. Uh, sorry about that."

Derek waves it away. "It's fine. Besides, having you here for a few days will be much less traumatizing than finding your body in that Jeep one morning."

Stiles tries to laugh. "You sure about that?"

"Positive." Derek gestures at the table. "I write better when I'm off the grid, so I come out here whenever I have a deadline. It's quiet, like I said."

Stiles boggles. "And the city lets you?"

"Technically, this is still part of the Hale property, so it's more like my parents let me." Derek winces. "I realize how pretentious that sounds."

Self-awareness should not be this attractive. Stiles kind of wants to hit his head against the wall until his stomach stops fluttering. "It's fine." He yawns widely, his jaw cracking with it. "Oh, crap, looks like I'm more tired than I thought."

Derek nods toward the couch. "Sorry I've only got one bedroom, but the cabin stays pretty warm. And I have some extra blankets and pillows, if you need them."

Stiles rubs a hand over his face. "Thanks for letting me crash here. Hopefully I'll be able to get out of your hair sometime tomorrow."

Derek looks back out the window. "Your optimism's a little misplaced."

"Don't ruin my hopes, dude. It's only been snowing for like six hours. Surely they can have it cleared tomorrow."

Derek scoffs and heads back to the bedroom. "Don't forget to turn off the lights when you go to bed."

***

The next morning the storm has moved on, but it's left behind enough snow that Stiles knows he's not getting out of here anytime soon. He stares out the windows at the unbroken blanket of white covering the land, torn between admiring how pretty it is and cursing it for trapping him here.

"Glaring at it isn't going to make it melt any faster," Derek says from behind him.

Stiles turns with the intention of shooting back some sarcastic remark, but it dies on his tongue when he sees Derek is shirtless.

Derek is shirtless and wearing a pair of low-slung pajama pants, showing off his broad chest and shoulders and arms and hello, happy trail and fucking hell, who knew hipbones could be sexy?

Stiles jerks his eyes away from all that skin on display, because he is not a creeper, but Derek's face isn't much better. He's always been hot, but he's got a few days of stubble now, and his pale green-yellow eyes are a little bleary with sleep. His black hair is soft and fluffy and mussed from where he keeps scratching a hand through it. He looks fucking delectable, and Stiles's crush from high school resurges so fast it's physically painful.

He clears his throat a few times and scrambles back for the thread of the conversation. "Glaring could work, you don't know. I could be Superman. I could develop heat vision."

"Superman didn't develop heat vision," Derek points out. "He was born with it. Or rather, he was born on Krypton and his exposure to our sun gave him his powers."

Stiles doesn't know whether to be delighted or turned on. "Oh my God, you're a total nerd. I never knew that in high school. How did I not know that in high school?"

Derek moves around the kitchen, getting the stuff together for coffee. "Because lacrosse practice didn't lend itself to in-depth Marvel versus DC discussions."

Stiles drags himself away from the window, blankets wrapped around him, and shuffles over to the barstools. "I don't know, I think Finstock would've allowed it."

"And probably would've forced extra sprints on whoever wasn't on his side." Derek scoops some coffee into the maker and asks, "You want any?"

Stiles nods and moans. "Please."

Derek adds another scoop to the coffeemaker. "You sleep okay?"

The couch isn't the most comfortable place he's ever slept, but was warm and dry and Stiles had slept for a good six hours, at least. "Yeah, fine. Thanks again, by the way."

"No problem." Derek smirks. "Looks like you'll be making yourself at home for at least three days."

Stiles flails at the window. "Come on, that could all melt by this afternoon!"

Derek shakes his head and flips the coffeemaker on. "Talked to my parents this morning. Temperature's not supposed to get above freezing for at least three days. The city's working on clearing it, but obviously the more populated areas are a higher priority. Apparently things are pretty bad in town."

Stiles immediately thinks of his dad, remembers he needs to call him. "Shit."

He gets up for his phone, but it doesn't respond when he pushes the button. Dead, of course. He didn't charge it last night. "Dammit!"

"What?" Derek looks up, alarmed. "What's wrong?"

"My phone's dead, and I need to call my dad. Make sure he's okay." Stiles puts his phone down. "Can I borrow yours? And do you have an extra charger?"

"Not for an iPhone," Derek says. "But yeah, you can borrow mine, hold on."

He disappears back into the bedroom, returning with a sweatshirt and a phone. Stiles is both saddened and relieved to see him in actual clothes.

Derek tosses the phone to him. "I'm sure your dad's fine."

It sounds reassuring, not patronizing, so Stiles knows Derek's just trying to make him feel better. "You're probably right, but," Stiles shrugs, feeling strangely self-conscious, "I need to hear it from him."

Derek doesn't laugh at him, only nods again. "Yeah, I get that."

The phone call with his dad is about what it was the night before—Dad's stuck at the station until the roads are cleared, and he absolutely does not want Stiles leaving Derek's place until it's safe to do so—but it makes Stiles feel better to hear his voice and know his dad's okay.

He also calls Scott and leaves a voicemail, letting him know his phone's dead but "I'm fine, so don't freak out, okay? You and Lydia just, you know, stay warm, and I'll talk to you when I'm back in civilization."

He hangs up and returns the phone to Derek. "Thanks for letting me borrow it, man."

Derek pockets the phone and goes back to scrambling eggs. "No problem." He pokes at the eggs. "You want some?"

Stiles's stomach chooses right then to growl, loudly enough that Derek's eyebrows shoot up and his lips twitch.

Stiles wraps his arms around his middle and walks back to the barstool he's started to think of as his. "Yeah, eggs would be great, thanks."

Derek turns back to the stove, and Stiles lasts all of two minutes twiddling his thumbs before he can't take the silence anymore. "So what do you write?"

"Hm?"

"You said you write, so what do you write?" Stiles asks. "Books about the history of lacrosse? Biographies of famous pirates? Movie reviews? Erotic romance novels?"

Derek shakes his head, but Stiles thinks he's laughing. "I write a mystery series. Well, my uncle started it, but he was in a pretty bad accident a few years ago, so I took over."

Stiles perks up at the word "mystery." He loves mysteries. "Oh yeah? What's the series? Have I heard of it?"

Derek shrugs stiffly. "Maybe? It's, uh, the Jack Spyder mysteries."

Stiles chokes on nothing. "You're Stephen Haynes? Seriously? Fuck, my dad's got every one of those books."

"Technically, my uncle is Stephen Haynes. I'm just wearing the hat momentarily."

Stiles frowns. "Do you like it?"

Derek looks up from the eggs, his dark eyebrows bending together. "Why wouldn't I like it? I get paid a staggering amount of money to sit around in my underwear all day and think up pithy one-liners and horrible ways for people to get murdered."

It's weird, because Stiles honestly doesn't know Derek that well. They haven't talked since high school and even then they never ran in the same circles beyond the lacrosse team. Derek was always with his girlfriend, Paige, and the rest of their clique, and Stiles was two years younger and only had Scott. Despite what little shared history they have, Derek is a virtual stranger.

And yet, Stiles could swear he's lying about enjoying his job.

"That's not a yes," he points out. "You mentioned a lot of reasons that you should like it, but you didn't say that you actually did."

Derek blinks at him, mouth open just enough that Stiles get a glimpse of his frighteningly adorable bunny teeth, before he presses his lips together and turns back to the eggs with a soft curse. "They're burned."

Stiles waves it away. "I like 'em rubbery. So, wait, you really don't like writing?"

"I like writing fine," Derek says, scraping the eggs onto two plates. "And the Jack Spyder stories aren't so bad, as far as mysteries go. I'd just prefer to be writing something else."

"Oh yeah? Like what?"

Derek sets a plate and a fork beside Stiles, but doesn't answer the question. "You'll laugh."

Stiles gladly shoves a forkful of eggs into his mouth. "Pretty sure I won't. Or, I might, but I won't mean it."

Derek's cheeks turn a beautiful shade of red under his dark beard. Derek Hale blushes. Stiles is nearly incoherent with glee to learn this.

Derek eats a few bites of his own eggs, not looking at Stiles. "Romance."

Stiles snaps his head up from his plate. "What?"

Derek gives him a flat look. "If I could pick what I wanted to write, I would write romance," he says evenly, but his shoulders are up like he expects Stiles to start making fun of him.

"Whoa, really?" Stiles asks, not quite able to believe his ears.

Derek nods once and goes back to eating his eggs.

Which, okay. Picturing a guy like Derek writing fluffy romances isn't something Stiles can really do. But he'll try. "Why would you want to write romances?"

It takes Derek so long to answer that Stiles is pretty sure he's decided to ignore the question. "They're simple. I don't mean that they're easy to write, but at their core, they're just about a relationship. Two people falling in love, and all the various ways it can happen." He shrugs defensively. "And it would be nice to write something that had a wholeheartedly happy ending for once."

"Not a fan of the tragedy of the crime genre?"

"I'm just not a fan of dark things," Derek says. "Stories that say everything is terrible forever and you'll never be happy. The real world's bad enough. What's wrong with stories that give you hope?" He ducks his head back to his food. "Sorry. You probably don't want to be having literature conversations at ten a.m."

"I don't mind literature conversations, although I'd prefer to have a fuckton more coffee in my system," Stiles says, poking Derek with his fork. "Hey. It's cool that you're passionate about what you do, you know? That it's not just a paycheck."

Derek goes and pours them both coffee. "It's okay if you don't want to hear about it, though. Not everybody's into this."

"Hey, I am one hundred percent on board talking about stories and shit." Stiles makes grabby hands when Derek passes over the coffee and inhales the sweet, sweet scent of caffeine. "Oh, yes, hot brain juice, mm."

"That's disgusting."

"How do people even wake up without this?" Stiles takes a sip and moans a little, letting his eyes flutter shut. "Oh that's good. Like, really good. Where do you get this?"

Derek's face is bright red, and he clears his throat before he answers. "I, uh, my sister. She owns a coffee shop and roasts her own beans. She gives me a couple of bags once a month."

"That's so hipster," Stiles says delightedly, taking another sip. "God, it's like ambrosia."

"I'm not entirely sure I'm the hipster here, considering you're the one waxing poetic about coffee."

Stiles makes a face at him, but Derek just regards him steadily, lips twitching slightly like he's fighting a smile.

He's making Derek smile. The knowledge curls up warm and happy in his chest, and Stiles has to fight back his own dopey grin. "So, what are your plans for the day? Two-hour hike through the preserve, maybe chop down a few trees for firewood and hunt deer for sustenance?"

"Three-hour hike, actually, with a swim in the lake," Derek says with a completely straight face. "This weather's perfect for it."

Stiles blinks in surprise. "Wait, seriously?"

"God no." Derek takes another drink of his coffee. "I'm going to shower and work on my book. I've got a deadline at the end of January."

"Oh." Stiles looks around the small front room; aside from a bookshelf overflowing with books and some DVDs next to the television, he doesn't see anything he can really occupy himself with so he won't badger Derek with questions. No computer, no video games, no schoolwork, no research. "You mind if I borrow some of your books, then?"

Derek gestures to the shelf. "Be my guest. I'll be out of the bathroom in about twenty minutes, and then you can shower if you want."

Stiles considers that he spent the night on a lumpy couch in someone else's clothes. "Yeah. Yeah, I think a shower would be great."

"Good." Derek starts toward the bathroom, and then pauses. "If you haven't read the Discworld series and you like Shakespeare references in your fantasy, you should check out Wyrd Sisters."

And with that, he shuts the door to the bathroom. A moment later, Stiles hears the shower groan to life, the sound of water rushing through pipes filling the room now that he's alone.

Well, he's not really alone. Derek's in the bathroom. In the shower. Naked.

Stiles stops that line of thought right there. He is not going to objectify the man who is nice enough to let him stay here through the storm, instead of kicking him out to find his Jeep and make his way back to town alone. Besides, Derek isn't just hot. He's kind. And kind of adorable.

Shit. Stiles prays fervently he can survive the next few days. Otherwise, he might spontaneously combust from unrequited pining.

***

Stiles tries to be a quiet and unobtrusive houseguest. He really, really does. He curls up on the couch with coffee and water and a stack of books he's been meaning to read, letting the sound of Derek's typing wash over him. It's steady and calming, but it reminds Stiles there's another person in the house. Another person who keeps frowning at his computer screen and pushing his thick black glasses up his nose and scratching his dark hair, which is fluffy as a dandelion after his shower.

It's so cute Stiles can't stand it, can't stop looking at him, and can't focus on the damn books. It itches at him, being stuck in a place not his home, without any of his things and no way for him to leave. He's never had an issue with cabin fever in his life, but by midafternoon, he's hungry and bored and fidgety and he needs something to do.

"Do you like puzzles?"

The question comes out of the blue, startling Stiles off the couch. He flails back onto it and looks up to see Derek peering over his laptop screen, eyebrows raised in question.

"Puzzles?" Stiles repeats. "What kind of puzzles? Like, mystery puzzles or real puzzles or...well, the question is yes to any, honestly, but what kind are you talking about?"

Derek shuts his laptop lid. "I have a couple of puzzles in the closet that I've been meaning to do, but they're not as much fun alone. I'm not getting any writing done, and you look like you're about to start climbing the walls, so..." He shrugs. "If you'll help me clean off the table, we can do a puzzle."

Stiles shoots to his feet and is halfway to the table before he remembers Derek has a deadline. "I don't...I mean, what about your book, dude? Don't you need to finish it?"

Derek shrugs again and stands. "It's mostly revising right now. I can take a couple of days off. So, puzzle?"

"Oh God yes please." Stiles practically falls on the table, picking up a stack of books and papers. "Where do you want these?"

"By the bookshelf for now. Turkey sandwich and beer for lunch?"

"You're my favorite," Stiles says earnestly.

Derek snorts. "I'm the only other person around."

Stiles deposits the stack in the requested place and goes to grab another. "Still. Food and puzzles, man. It's like you know the way to my heart."

Derek pulls two beers and lunch meat out of the fridge, a smile playing at his lips and crinkling the corners of his eyes. "I'll keep that in mind."

Stiles's heart does a double-thump at that, and he very resolutely doesn't think of any other possible reasons for Derek's words. The next few days will be hard enough.

***

Surprisingly, they really aren't.

He and Derek work on the puzzles together, keeping up a companionable dialogue that ranges from muttered cursing at puzzle pieces to whatever random trivia knowledge the puzzle sparks in Stiles's brain. He gets the feeling that he's talking more than he probably should, but Derek doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he nods along and hums at the appropriate moments, and laughs in such a way that tells Stiles he's paying attention, even if he's not actively contributing to the conversation.

They trade stories about college (Derek went to Stanford, Stiles to UC Irvine) and reminisce about lacrosse and some of Coach Finstock's stranger motivational speeches. Stiles fills Derek in on the more entertaining ones that happened after he graduated, although they both agree nothing will top the time he delivered the speech from Independence Day before the state championship game.

It's not awkward for even a minute.

Stiles helps Derek make food whenever they take a break from the puzzles, learning his way around the small kitchen and trying not to blush every time they brush past each other. Derek's a surprisingly good cook, something else Stiles wouldn't have guessed about him based on what he knew in high school.

He's learning all kinds of things about Derek, sharing roughly a thousand square feet for twenty-four hours a day, and absolutely none of them are helping his crush.

In fact, Stiles realizes at about two in the morning as he's going to bed on the second night, it might actually be love.

Well, shit.

***

He's putting together the border of the third puzzle after breakfast on the third day when Derek says, "I'm sorry you're stuck here tonight."

Stiles's head snaps up. "What? Why?"

Derek shrugs and picks over the pieces, separating the borders out. "It's New Year's Eve."

New Year's Eve. Stiles starts at the realization. He's completely lost track of time the past few days, especially with his phone dead. "Oh my God."

"I'm sorry," Derek says. "I know you probably had plans."

"Okay, dude, first off, why are you apologizing to me about the weather? It's not like you summoned a blizzard to Beacon Hills with the express purpose of trapping me here with you." Stiles eyes him. "Did you?"

Derek gives him a flat look.

"So no, then." Stiles goes back to sorting his puzzle pieces. "And second off, I did, but it was just going back out to Lydia's with the rest of our completely paired-up group of friends. Which would make me the only person without at least one someone to kiss at midnight, and I can tell you from experience that is no fun at all. So honestly, doing puzzles with you is going to be way more fun."

He snaps his mouth shut and swallows at that; he didn't really mean to blurt his insecurities all over Derek, but, well. Not much he can do about it now.

"You're not seeing anyone?" Derek sounds surprised.

Stiles shrugs a shoulder and goes back to the pieces. "Nah. I've been too busy with work and grad school. I mean, there were a couple of people in college, but..."

Derek doesn't press, so Stiles lets the sentence trail off. It's not like he needs to relive some of his college experiences.

He clears his throat and asks, "How about you? Did you have any plans for New Year's?"

He wants to ask are you seeing anyone, but he's not sure he wants to know the answer. Right now, Stiles can still pretend.

Derek scoffs and gestures at his laptop on the coffee table. "I'd be writing if you weren't here. Or pretending to, at least. Have a glass of champagne at midnight and try to hit my word count."

"Oh." Stiles fidgets, biting his lip. "That sounds..."

Derek laughs softly and picks through his pieces, finally finding another one to add to the puzzle border. "It's okay. I know it sounds boring. But I like writing, and it's how I've spent the past two New Year's."

Stiles gapes. "Dude, seriously? Man, I'm glad I'm here so you have someone to ring in the New Year with."

Initially he can't believe he actually said that, but Derek smiles and blushes. "Yeah, me too."

"Whoa, really?"

"Yes, really." Derek flicks a piece of the puzzle at him. "You're not as bad a houseguest as you led me to believe."

Stiles tosses a piece back at him. "Yeah, that's because you've only known me for three days. Give it a few weeks."

"I've known you for longer than three days," Derek says. "And quit throwing pieces, or we'll lose one."

"You started it!"

"And now I'm ending it."

Derek looks so smug Stiles kind of wants to throw a bunch of puzzle pieces at him, but that will result in them losing pieces and he knows it'll drive him crazy if they don't have them all. He slouches and scowls.

"Do you want to do something for New Year's?" Derek asks.

Stiles isn't really expecting the question, although he probably should have, considering the conversation they've been having. "Um, what are you thinking?" He glances around the house. "We don't really have a lot of options."

Derek smiles secretively. "Oh, don't worry. I have a couple of ideas."

***

"You are out of your mind," Stiles says, stomping his way through the foot of snow on the ground.

Derek looks back at him and laughs. "It's not that cold."

"It's below freezing. It's cold." Stiles runs to keep up. He's bundled in more of Derek's clothes, though he has his own coat, hat, and gloves. Thankfully Derek had an extra pair of boots; otherwise he imagines his feet would be ice by now. "Why are you dragging me through the cold?"

"You'll see."

Stiles shivers and tries to burrow himself deeper into his coat. The forest is dark and surprisingly silent, the snow muffling everything but the crunch of their footsteps. All the animals are probably hidden somewhere warm, where they should be. But no, Derek's dragging him through the forest to God knows where because Stiles agreed to do "something" for New Year's Eve. He's carrying a blanket and a bottle of champagne like they're going on a damn picnic.

He follows Derek into a small clearing. Derek wipes snow off a wooden bench near two trees and lays the blanket on top. "Here."

"Here," Stiles repeats. "You want us to sit out here? Where it's cold?"

Derek huffs and sits down, shoving the bottle of champagne in the snow next to him. "Just...sit, will you? And look up."

Stiles does, wiggling his butt to warm his seat, and looks up as requested. There's a break in the trees above them, and he can see the dark sky, stars scattered through it like diamonds, brighter and sharper than he can remember them being at home. The moon is nearly full, so white it's almost painful to look at, casting silver light on the clearing.

It's achingly beautiful, and it takes his breath away.

"Whoa," he finally says.

"My dad and I used to come out here all the time," Derek says quietly. "Sometimes Uncle Peter would join us. Have ourselves a boys' weekend at the cabin." He pats the bench. "We made this one year. If it were daylight, I could show you the initials we carved into the back of it. I mean, it's all of a fifteen minute drive through the preserve back to our house, but it still felt like getting away, you know?"

Stiles nods. It's been years since he and his dad took a trip together, between work schedules and college, but he remembers throwing their stuff into the Jeep at dawn and driving out to spend the weekend camping near the beach. "Thanks for bringing me out here. It's beautiful. Cold as fuck, but beautiful."

Derek laughs. "Yeah, the weather could be better, but you're here, so I'm not complaining."

The words twist in Stiles's chest, and he leans sideways to bump his shoulder against Derek's. "I'm only complaining a little. And just about the weather, not the company."

Derek shakes his head, but he's still laughing.

They sit in silence for a few minutes, just looking at the sky.

"So." Stiles bumps his knee into Derek's. "We've only got about, what, fifteen minutes left in the year? You got any New Year's resolutions for the next twelve months?

"I don't know." Derek stares at the star-speckled sky, his breath steaming white. "Hit my deadlines?"

Stiles shakes his head. "Nah, dude. It needs to be something that pushes you on the path you want to be on, whatever that is. Oh, I have an idea!" He snaps his fingers as best he can in the thick gloves. "You should get a romance novel published."

Derek breaks his gaze from the sky to look at Stiles, pale eyes wide. "I don't even have one written yet."

"So?" Stiles shrugs. "You've got a whole year to write and start sending it out. Why not aim for writing what you really want to?"

Derek's silent for a moment. "I'll need a new pen name," he finally says.

Stiles grins. "Oh, I bet we can come up with a pen name for you. You can use my name."

"Your name?"

"Yeah, Stiles would be a great last name. And I know for a fact Stilinski is. Oh, and you'll have to dedicate your first book to me, since I'm the one encouraging you to write it. In fact," he swats Derek on the arm, "you should do your pen name after me and my mom. She loved reading romances. Had Harlequins all over the house. After she," Stiles clears his throat; even after so many years, it's hard to say the words, "after she died, Dad and I had to take something like ten boxes full of books to the used bookstore and the library. We had to make three different trips, because they wouldn't take all of the books on a single one."

It's been years since he's talked about his mother like that, but here, in this clearing with Derek, it feels right.

Derek bumps his shoulder gently. "What's her name?"

"Claudia."

"Hm, Claudia Stiles." Derek looks back up to the sky. "I kind of like it."

"Awesome. You're going to make a million bucks with it, I'm telling you. That name's going to take you places."

Derek laughs and ducks his head. "So what about you? What are your New Year's resolutions?"

"Finish my degree," Stiles says immediately. "If all goes according to plan, I should graduate in December."

"Nice." Derek holds out his fist, and Stiles bumps it. "That all?"

Stiles fidgets. "I don't know. Every year I swear I'm going to get out there more, try not to bury myself in work and school and at least make an attempt at dating, but every year I end up breaking it."

"So maybe this could be the year you don't," Derek says. "If you're going to talk me into writing a romance, I'm going to talk you into finding one."

Stiles hopes his laugh hides the way his heart sinks. He doesn't want just any romance, he wants Derek. And yes, he realizes this is a ridiculous thing to think after only really knowing each other for three days, but he can't help it. "Oh yeah? You going to help me find someone to go eat pizza with and marathon Netflix shows?"

"That, and someone to cuddle when you're feeling lonely. Do puzzles with when you can't get out of your own head. Someone to kiss on New Year's Eve."

Stiles jerks his gaze away from the moon and stars, expecting to see Derek smiling because it's a joke, of course it's a joke, but he's not. He's looking at Stiles with the kind of intensity previously reserved for puzzle pieces and cooking, an intensity that Stiles has never had directed at him from anyone, let alone Derek Hale.

He wants to say something, but his voice has completely dried up. He doesn't even feel the cold anymore.

A cell phone beeps, and Derek pulls his out of his pocket. "Just thirty seconds until midnight," he says, and looks back at Stiles, a question in his eyes.

Stiles can't look away. He really doesn't want to, doesn't care if he's wearing everything he feels in his expression. He rests his hand on the bench between them, moves it slightly closer to Derek. "You know, they say whatever you do at midnight is what you'll spend the next year doing."

Derek doesn't take his eyes from Stiles and sets his gloved hand on the bench, right next to Stiles's, the fingertips just barely brushing. "That so? I think I've heard that one before."

Stiles never thought he would regret wearing gloves, but he does right now, so much. He leans closer, heart hammering in his chest so loud Derek can probably hear it. "Yeah. Probably why so many people kiss at midnight."

"Probably," Derek agrees. He's even closer now, and Stiles knows he hasn't moved. "Not a bad way to spend the year, though."

"No." Stiles swallows. Holy God, is he going to do this? "It'd be pretty nice, actually."

Derek's phone beeps again, but he doesn't break his gaze. "Ten seconds," he says, and his eyes flick to Stiles's mouth.

He should say something, really he should, but right now Stiles can't do anything but look at Derek and mentally count down the seconds. Eight...seven...six...five...four...three...two...

Just when his mental counter hits one, Derek closes the scant few inches between them and gently presses his lips to Stiles's.

For a moment, all Stiles can do is hold his breath, afraid to move or even think for fear of breaking this moment. But Derek Hale is kissing him and by God, Stiles is going to kiss him back.

He pushes forward just as Derek starts to pull away, kissing him harder, chasing the warmth of the kiss in the cold night air. It sends shivers down Stiles's spine that have nothing to do with the weather, and despite the chill, he itches to have fewer clothes on so he can feel more of Derek's body.

Derek breaks the kiss, but only to drop another one to the corner of Stiles's mouth. "How was that for ringing in the New Year?"

Stiles can't stop the grin spreading across his face. "Best New Year ever. No competition."

Derek smiles, eyes crinkling and his adorable bunny teeth peeking out from under his lips, and it does things to Stiles. "What do you say we head back to the cabin and crack open the champagne?"

"Oh thank God, that sounds awesome," Stiles says, admittedly only half of his enthusiasm coming from the idea of drinking champagne with Derek. "I am very on board with drinking champagne."

"Excellent." Derek kisses him again, and Stiles swears his toes tingle. "And maybe we can find a few other ways to celebrate."

"I like the sound of that."

***

Stiles doesn't sleep on the couch that night, and when he wakes up in the morning to the news that the roads will be clear by that afternoon, it's with his head pillowed on Derek's chest.

"Thanks for helping me keep my New Year's resolution," he says, after greeting Derek with a very thorough kiss.

Derek kisses him back. "Believe me, the pleasure's all mine."

***

Derek's first romance novel, under the pen name Claudia Stiles ("I can't believe you actually used that name." "I told you, I liked it."), comes out a week before their first anniversary. It's about two former high school classmates who end up snowed in together at a ski lodge and fall in love. Stiles barely makes it past the dedication before he throws away all his carefully cultivated plans to propose on their actual anniversary and drops to one knee to ask Derek to marry him.

Derek says yes.