“Why does Stilinski keep staring at you?” Erica thumped her backpack onto the concrete tabletop and bumped her shoulder and hip into Derek to make room for herself on the bench.
Derek lifted his head, blinking as he pulled himself out of his book and back into the swirling chaos of the Beacon Hills High School’s lunch hour. “Is he?” he asked, peering in the direction of the jocks’ table. Tables, really, since that group usually sprawled too much to fit comfortably around one. After The Greenberg Incident from Derek’s freshman year, non-athletes generally steered clear of anything at the center of the outdoor patio. They’d scatter to the tables on the fringes - Derek’s preference on any day when it wasn't raining - or cluster into the stifling, stench-prone cafeteria. It wasn’t that all of the jocks were assholes. It was just...safer, really, to not take the chance of being shoved face-first into a trashcan.
Today, though, all Derek could see were reddish blobs - probably BHHS letterman jackets - and skin-colored splotches that he assumed were faces. He couldn’t pick any particular faces out of the crowd, much less determine if one of them was angled in his direction. He started to reach for his glasses, which he’d carefully folded and set aside when he’d sat down, but it didn’t seem worth the effort.
Erica huffed through her nose, able to tell that she’d already lost his interest. “You’re not even studying, you nerd. Pay attention to me for five minutes.”
“I am,” he protested, closing the book to prove his point, but sliding a finger between the pages to keep his place. Boyd would show up soon, which would distract her enough to let him read in peace.
“I guess I should’ve expected you to not even notice him hanging around. Maybe that's why he's being so blatant about it.” She stole his pudding cup - a spare; he’d learned his lesson within a few months of Erica befriending him - and peeled the top off, using it to scoop the chocolate into her mouth. “He’s been watching you the entire day,” she continued after she’d licked her fingers clean. “With this really creepy grin. I think he might’ve finally snapped.”
Derek thought back through his day and shook his head doubtfully. It’d been the same as usual: pop quiz in AP Chem, a non-eventful game of baseball in PE, and a lot of confused mumbling when his AP Lit class tried to analyze a T.S. Eliot poem. “We’re probably just in the way of whoever he’s actually staring at,” he proposed, more invested in whether Erica would notice if he cracked his book back open an inch or two - enough to finish the paragraph he’d been in the middle of when she’d interrupted him.
“Not us,” she said, flicking him gently on the ear. “You. It started this morning, when you were at your locker, and he’s been sneaking glances every time I’ve seen the two of you since then. It’s like he’s waiting for you to do something. Did anything weird happen this morning? Did he put something shitty in your locker?”
“Stiles?” he said, frowning. “He doesn’t do that. He’s not an asshole like Jackson and Aiden. There’s a difference between running in a different social circle and being a bully.”
“He’s still friends with them, though. Which is shitty enough on its own.” She pursed her lips in thought but dropped the line of questioning, true to Derek’s prediction, when Boyd sat down and leaned across the table to peck her on the lips in greeting. The kiss stretched into something deeper and more passionate, the two of them clinging to each other as though it’d been more than a class period since they’d seen each other last.
Derek grinned softly to himself and ducked his head back down to his book. He chewed at his lip until he found his spot, then fell back into the world he’d been so abruptly tugged away from. It didn’t take long for him to forget Erica’s words, or whatever odd behavior she’d claimed to witness.
He didn't think about Stiles over the rest of the day, although he did seem to be sitting at a closer desk than usual in AP History. He was pretty sure Stiles and his friends always took up the back row, passing notes and laughing and occasionally piping up to answer one of Mr. Yukimura’s questions.
Seeing him sitting two desks away from Derek, his chin propped on his hand, his dark golden eyes fixed in Derek’s general direction: it did seem a bit odd, if you had Erica’s active imagination and her deep belief that Derek was skating through his high school experience on a dull layer of good grades and not nearly enough partying or romantic entanglements. History was Derek’s favorite class, though, and he was particularly invested in talking about their assigned reading, so Stiles faded to the back of his mind again.
He liked his classes. He worked hard for his grades. And at the end of the year, there'd be graduation, followed by college, followed by (he hoped) a good grad school, then a career as a professor whose students didn't spend their time flicking paper footballs at each other and obsessing over their dating lives. Mr. Yukimura had laughed kindly when Derek had laid out his dreams: “That's still my hope, Mr. Hale,” he'd said as he'd handed over an effusive letter of recommendation. “After a while, you learn to be content with a handful of students who actually care about the subject. It can be a long road, but it's worth it.”
Derek cared. And he wasn't the only one. Despite her complaints, Erica had been accepted to several prestigious pre-med programs and could spend hours talking gleefully about her future as a surgeon. And when Stiles did chime in on class discussions, it was always with something sharply, stunningly brilliant, that no one else in the room had even begun to consider. Granted, he didn't stay on topic a good percentage of the time, and class discussions could spin away into what felt like diving into a Wikipedia spiral, but Derek had to admit - to himself, if to no one else - that those ended up being some of his most memorable days.
Okay, so Derek did spend some time dwelling on thoughts of Stiles, but only because he was fascinating. And he was hilarious, but Derek didn't mean that in the way most of the school did. Stiles was known for being a class clown, for playing pranks, for making fun of himself in good-natured ways that made assholes like Jackson accept him into their carefully-curated circles without noticing that half of the time, he was making subtle digs at them, too. He had a cutting wit that Derek suspected went right over the heads of most of their classmates.
Stiles was a lacrosse player who’d joined the team to support his best friend - co-captain Scott McCall, a genuinely nice guy who’d pulled Greenberg out of the trash can and made sure he didn't need to go to the nurse’s office - and who now spent most of his time on the bench, without seeming to mind it.
Derek wasn't sure, though. Erica’s assertions aside, he wasn't totally oblivious. He got wrapped up in his own thoughts and didn't bother to keep track of gossip and high school politics, but Stiles stood out as an intriguing puzzle he was tempted, sometimes, to try to figure out. He wanted to know why Stiles got a strained look around his eyes when he was supposedly joking with his teammates. Why he'd throw himself into a debate with a passion that Derek, privately, thought would be electrifying when fully unleashed, only to pull himself back and change the subject to something playful and vaguely obscene instead.
He wondered why Stiles didn't feel free to be entirely himself at school. And, maybe, what it would be like to interact with that truer version of him, in another environment.
When Derek was having a particularly honest day, he'd let himself think that if they'd met at college, or as colleagues later in life, maybe they would even be friends.
He snuck a quick glance over at Stiles, whose smile widened in response. Derek waved awkwardly, then flushed and transitioned the movement into using a knuckle to push his glasses higher on his nose. Erica was wrong about that, too, he decided. Stiles’s smile wasn’t creepy. It was...nice. Wide and bright and open, the kind that made your stomach flip a bit and made you want to reflect it, even if you did have stupid teeth that had taken two rounds of braces to fix.
Derek stopped by his locker at the end of the day so he could trade out his books before heading home. With his mind caught up in remembering which assignments were due and which he wanted to get a head start on, he didn’t immediately register that Stiles and Scott were hovering by his locker.
“-wrong one,” Stiles was hissing to Scott, his back to Derek, with what looked suspiciously like a pocketknife in his hand. “Can’t fucking believe-”
Scott shushed him, and they both straightened, Stiles casually slamming the locker next to Derek’s shut. The door wobbled precariously, looking oddly bent around the hinges, and Stiles shoved his shoulder into it, putting all the long, lean lines of his body on display in the process. It was, Derek thought, a pretty effective distraction.
“Heyyyy Derek,” Stiles said, grinning disarmingly at him.
Derek nodded at him, trying to not look too carefully at what he was pretty certain was a crime scene in progress. Stiles’s locker was at the other end of the hallway; he’d talked the school custodian into moving his right next to Scott’s. Which Derek only knew because Stiles liked to brag about his powers of persuasion, and he was kind of loud, and it was hard to not pay attention to him when he was talking.
“Do you mind?” Derek asked. He lifted his books to gesture at Scott, who was blocking his way.
“Oh! Yeah, sorry, dude,” Scott said, quickly moving to Stiles’s other side. “We were just, uh. Waiting for a friend.”
“Okay,” Derek said. He twisted the combination lock until it clicked open.
“Your locker is so organized,” Stiles breathed, way too close to his face suddenly, and Derek jerked back in surprise. “Sorry,” he added, his dark lashes fluttering in apology, his mouth sliding into a friendly, slanted smirk. “You should see mine, though. I think I’ve lost at least a couple sandwiches in there over the years.”
“That explains why your essays are always full of baloney,” Derek said, but before he had a chance to wince at himself - God, that was even worse than his dad’s terrible puns - Stiles laughed, loud and bright.
Scott kicked at his ankle in that completely unsubtle way in which the two of them always communicated, and Stiles coughed and bent down quickly to pluck something off the floor. “I think this fell out of your locker,” he said, holding out a red envelope.
“I don’t think so,” Derek started, but Stiles flipped the envelope over and tapped at the name scrawled on the front. “Oh, okay.” He shifted his books so he could take it from him.
“Oh, you’re going to open it right now,” Stiles said, sounding weird about it and shoving his hand uncomfortably through his messy hair. He started to back away, the mangled locker door swinging free again with a pained creak, but he only succeeded in stumbling into Scott, who didn’t budge. He stopped, swaying in place, and his grin wobbled.
“It’s a Valentine’s Day card,” Derek said, pulling it free and sounding more pleased than he’d meant to. He’d sort of forgotten the holiday was coming up, even with Erica and Boyd’s schmoopy plans and the glitter-choked banners that’d been plastered around the school to advertise for the Valentine’s Dance. He snorted in amusement at the front of the card, which read “Leon Trotsky thinks you’re hotsky,” with a funny little sketch of the grey-haired, bespectacled revolutionary. The inside of the card was simple but sweet, filled with a handwritten list of compliments that demonstrated a deeper understanding of him than he’d expected. Derek bit his lip in embarrassment at the last one: You’re the smartest fucking person I’ve ever met in my life, and I swear I stopped breathing for a minute during your presentation on the Bolshevik Revolution. Hand to God, the only reason I didn’t pass out is because it would’ve made you stop talking. You’re going to be an amazing professor, Derek. I just hope you’ll let me stick around to watch you in action.
“What do you think?” Stiles asked, drawing Derek’s attention back to him. His eyes were wider and darker than usual, his cupid’s-bow mouth hanging open slightly. Derek couldn’t help flicking his gaze between them, but he forced himself to swallow and re-read the last line of the card.
“It says ‘Be my Valentine?’ but it’s not signed,” he said in confusion. He checked the back to be sure he hadn’t missed seeing the name, then looked up at Stiles again, who was turning an odd shade of pink.
Scott kicked him again, and Stiles kicked him back. “Aren’t you supposed to be meeting Allison?” he asked pointedly.
“Right,” Scott said. He did something weird with his face that Derek assumed was meant to be a wink, then lifted a hand in farewell as he pushed away from the bank of lockers. “Call me later, then. And see ya around, Derek.”
“Sure,” Derek said, even though he didn’t remember having ever held a conversation with Scott before, and certainly didn’t expect that to change out of nowhere. He carefully slid the card back into its envelope and tucked it into one of the textbooks he was taking home. He’d look at it later, when he had more time to try to identify the handwriting, or think about who’d been in class the day of his presentation.
Stiles, for some reason, still hadn’t moved away, and didn’t act like he was in a hurry to go anywhere. He did seem to be growing restless, though, almost vibrating in place as Derek zipped up his bag and shut his locker door.
“Are you, uh,” Stiles started, following Derek down the hallway to the student parking lot, “going to the dance? I mean, I know you and Paige were a thing until recently, and I wasn’t sure if that was still. You know. A...thing.”
“Paige?” Derek asked. Erica would have a field day with that one. “No, we’re not dating.”
“So you did break up,” Stiles said, nodding as though he’d had a hard-fought theory confirmed.
“We didn’t break up. We’ve never dated.” He paused, though, to think back to when they’d first been getting to know each other, when he’d been focused on how pretty she was, and funny and smart. He’d asked her on what he’d sort of meant as a date, but at the end of it, when he’d tried to kiss her, she’d scrunched her nose and told him she wasn’t interested in him like that. He’d expected the rejection to sting, but it’d come as more of a relief. He could see why it might be confusing, though; she was a hugger, like his sisters, and they’d been friends for so long that he’d gotten used to kissing her on the cheek in greeting, and piling into a group limo with her and Erica and Boyd for the school’s fancier events. It was true that they probably would’ve ended up doing that for the upcoming dance if it wasn’t for the guy she’d met at band competition and was currently deliriously in love with. He was happy for her, of course, but it meant he saw less of her. He tried to not be bummed about that. He didn’t always succeed. “She’s one of my best friends,” he clarified.
“That’s - okay, wow.” Stiles shook his head. “I read that so wrong, but okay, cool.”
“She is dating someone now,” Derek added. “If you were thinking of asking her. She’s not going with me, but she’s not available.”
Stiles laughed, a little wildly. “Thinking of asking her? No, that’s definitely not where I was heading with that.”
Derek frowned, sifting through warring responses: he didn’t want to examine why he was glad Stiles wasn’t planning to hit on his best friend, but he felt a spike of offended loyalty on her behalf. Paige was a catch, not someone to scoff at. He didn’t get a chance to vocalize his objection, though, because Stiles was already plowing ahead.
“So if you’re not going with Paige, did you have other plans for it? Anyone you’ve asked? Are thinking of asking?”
Derek directed his frown at Stiles this time. “No,” he said suspiciously, wondering if Erica had been right, after all. He was being strange. Stranger than usual, and Derek couldn’t figure out his angle. Was he trying to pry a name out of Derek so he could go ask the person first? That didn’t make sense and didn’t seem like a thing Stiles would do - Jackson absolutely would, and had done that with Allison before she and Scott had sorted out their relationship - but this entire interaction was throwing Derek off balance.
“Good!” Stiles exclaimed, his face brightening, that intoxicating smile playing across his lips again. “Then you can go with me.”
Derek stopped short, and it took Stiles a second to realize he’d fallen behind. He swung back around, his expressive eyebrows lifting in question.
“What,” Derek tried.
Stiles’s smile started to fall, but he powered through it. He did look a little like a Cheshire Cat when he forced it like that, Derek thought.
Stiles gestured to himself, then to Derek. “You, me. The dance.” He spread his arms and wiggled his hips in a way that made Derek swallow convulsively.
“You’re asking me out?” he said, still baffled.
Stiles rubbed awkwardly at the back of his neck and looked at Derek through his stupidly attractive eyelashes. “I tried, in my card. But then I got so freaked out by the idea of you reading it that I guess I forgot to sign it? I was waiting, all day, for you to say something, but then I realized that I, uh.” He shuffled his feet and looked shifty. “I put it in the wrong locker and had to get it back. So basically, I screwed up. A lot. But I’m hoping it’s not too late?”
Derek tightened his fingers around the strap of his backpack, remembering the first line of the card, which had read, Sometimes when I look at you, I forget my own name.
“Yeah,” he said. “I mean, no. It’s not too late. But - maybe we could do something before the dance?” The dance was days away, and Stiles was right there, and graduation was coming up, and fuck, he hadn’t factored any of this into his life plan, but he wanted to, now.
Stiles’s smile softened into something that made him look oddly bashful, which was a side of him Derek had never seen before. He’d be surprised, really, if many people at BHHS had. “My Jeep’s right outside,” he offered. “Are you free tonight? We could grab some burgers. I know a place with the best fries. Seriously, they’re almost as great as that face you make in Chem when Harris says something stupid.”
“I’d like that,” Derek said, and went hot all over when Stiles took his hand.
The date, and then the dance, and then...he’d figure the rest out as they came to it.