If Derek was honest with himself, it was probably his fault. Probably mostly his fault. Okay, it was totally his fault. He fucked up; he fucked up so bad. He knew it when Jennifer caught him alone at the party. He knew it when he didn’t immediately push her away. He knew it when he smiled and flirted back. And he especially knew it when he caught sight of Stiles over her shoulder while their mouths were pressed together.
When Stiles’ expression faded from surprise to hurt, when Derek tasted the chalky chemicals of Jennifer’s designer lipstick, there was no hope of recovery.
It was every nightmare he’d ever had, the one where he chased Stiles’ retreating back, the one where he called out and was ignored, the one where he reached and reached but could never quite grasp. The one where he was forgotten. The one where he didn’t matter. Stiles laughed it off when Derek mentioned it—the nightmares—told him he’d never do such a thing, had kissed him goodnight and urged him back to sleep.
But after shoving Jennifer away from him, after tearing through the throng of party-goers, after following the dingy red of Stiles’ beanie, the fleeting plaid of his over-shirt, the faint—or maybe imagined—scent of his cologne and tobacco smoke, it was a nightmare. Calling Stiles’ name, asking person after person if he’d been seen, where he went, it was a nightmare.
Derek had left the party and resorted to his cell phone. He called. He texted. Then he went to Stiles’ dorm and banged on the door. He even slid a note under the door, begging Stiles to talk to him.
Like he was forgotten. Like he didn’t matter.
But he deserved it, he told himself sullenly. He’d kissed Jennifer. He’d let Jennifer kiss him, really. It didn’t matter, though. Not really. He and Jennifer had kissed, and Stiles had seen it. He told himself that however hollowed out and gutted he felt, seeing him and Jennifer kiss must have been at least a hundred times worse for Stiles.
Maybe almost as bad as when, a week later, Derek caught Stiles kissing Malia.
He found them in one of the Student Union’s many courtyards. Derek just finished turning in a paper for World Religions and decided to cut through the Union as a fast-track to the garage where he’d parked his car.
Stiles was a force of nature, an embodiment of what it meant to be alive, and so easy to spot in the sparsely populated eastern courtyard. On one of the many benches beneath the shade of an oak tree, Stiles sat with Malia—Derek’s cousin of all people, Jesus—in his lap. Stiles’ laugh was bright, his smile genuine as he tucked Malia’s hair behind her ear. And Malia, minx that she was, just leaned in and kissed him.
Derek wanted to be sick.
Instead, he pushed his glasses atop his head—so he wouldn’t have to see Stiles’ reaction so clearly; would he blush just as furiously as when Derek kissed him, would he give her the same smug half-smirk, would his eyes glitter the mischievous way that always made Derek short of breath?—and continued towards his car. There was no reason to torture himself over it. He still had a whole two years of college left before graduation, and he wouldn’t let some eccentric, erratic, electric, fucking gorgeous boy distract him from his goals. There would be plenty of others, he told himself after tossing his bag into the trunk of his Camaro. Just because he fell for one sarcastic, snarky classmate didn’t mean he couldn’t fall for another.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, however, proved to be an altogether different challenge. Derek couldn’t help thinking about the first time Stiles ever sat shotgun, when Derek didn’t know him as anything but Stilinski—how their professor always addressed him.
They had been a bit of pair, the two of them, in their Intro to Anthropology class the previous semester: arguing back and forth with little input from the professor or the rest of the class; racing to declare correct answers to interactive questions; all but snarling at any poor soul foolish enough to get between them. It had been storming the day they both stayed behind to discuss mid-term theses with the professor, thunder booming loud enough to drown out their questions in the class auditorium. Stiles clearly hadn’t had an umbrella, and it had been Derek who offered to drive him home if he was done for the day.
“That’d be awesome, Hale. Thanks.” Stiles said in that way of his, the way that made Derek’s skin crawl and the back of his neck warm.
“Derek,” Derek had corrected, clearing his throat. “My name’s Derek.”
Stiles laughed. “Stiles,” he’d said by way of introduction then bumped shoulders with Derek. “I’m in the dorms on the north side of campus. It’s not far.”
Derek had been parked in the garage nearest the Classroom Building, and they’d run through the rain with their backpacks over their heads. Their pants were soaked to the knee splashing through unanticipated puddles, and Stiles nearly slipped twice, but once in the car, they’d laughed until their sides hurt.
Without invitation, Stiles had pulled off Derek’s glasses—“Here…”—and used a dry corner of his over-shirt to clean the raindrops from them. “It’s not like they come with wipers, ya know?” he’d muttered, his face blotchy and fever-pink as he rubbed the lenses with the soft flannel.
Surprisingly, Derek hadn’t minded the intrusion. Had it been anyone else, he might have.
“There,” Stiles had said, and he’d leaned over the center console to ease them back onto Derek’s face, careful not to poke him or miss his ear.
Stiles had been so close, had looked so lovely with his damp hair askew, Derek couldn’t help but close the scant distance between them and steal a kiss. It had been fast, chaste, embarrassingly deliberate in its evasiveness. Where Derek had expected rejection, Stiles just smirked, and grabbed Derek with both hands to kiss him again.
After making use of Derek’s spacious backseat and the relative cover of the parking garage (and another bout of cleaning his glasses), Derek finally dropped Stiles off at his dorm building. They were both debauched and panting, grateful the rain hid other imperfections in their clothes.
Some days, Stiles would go with Derek to his apartment where papers were written between bouts of making out and hand-jobs. Some days, Derek would follow Stiles upstairs to his dorm and—as long as his roommate wasn’t home—pin him to the shoddy mattress and grind against him until they both came in their jeans. Less than a month in and Stiles started staying at Derek’s when Scott sexiled him, and they’d fuck long enough into the night to skip their morning classes the next day.
It was good. It was amazing, even. Derek enjoyed it. Then Stiles referred to him as his boyfriend over the phone as if it were a natural and established thing. It wasn’t—not in Derek’s mind, and not at the time—but it felt right. It sat well and warm in his chest to hear it. Derek was Stiles’ boyfriend, officially, via passing remark and that was that. He made sure to kiss away any doubt of his agreement once the call disconnected.
And they’d only been official for a few months before Derek fucked it all up.
So Derek sat in his car, wallowing in how this was where everything had started. How one of the best and easiest relationships he’d ever had, how the flame between he and Stiles had burned so bright and hot, was snuffed out with a single, unwarranted kiss. And it hurt. It hurt enough that for a fleeting moment he considered selling the damn Camaro just so he wouldn’t have to think about Stiles’ face grinning at him from the passenger seat.
After talking himself down from such a dramatic precipice, Derek was pushed right back to the heartbreaking edge when he started the ignition. Halsey’s gentle, haunting voice crooned through the Camaro’s speakers and wrapped right around Derek’s already shattered heart.
He remembered, vividly, how Stiles’ smoke-rough voice had crooned right along with her, as if he yearned and longed the way Halsey seemed to when she sang.
Derek had fallen a little more in love with Stiles when he heard him sing, and he’d grown so used to the damn music filling his car, to Stiles filling his arms, that Colors sounded wrong without Stiles’ voice blending with Halsey’s, without Stiles’ hips slotted against his as they made out lazily in the backseat.
He ejected the CD from the stereo and immediately turned down the radio drone that followed. Careful not to scratch the disk, he rummaged through the nooks and crannies of his car until he found the CD’s case. Once the disk was safely protected, he tossed it into the passenger seat, glaring at the pastel cover art as if it was the reason Stiles left him, ignored him, forgot about him.
Before he could think better of it, he pulled out of the parking space and left the garage. The path to Stiles’ dorm, any which way, was hardwired into Derek’s bones. After a few short months of a single person becoming the sole object of his orbit, Derek couldn’t tell if he was obsessed, or indignant, or angry, or heartbroken. He couldn’t tell if he was madly in love with Stiles, if he wanted to hurt Stiles in return, if he wanted to forget Stiles ever happened, or if he just wanted Stiles back. What he did know, however, was that Badlands couldn’t be in his car, in his speakers, or in his head. Not without Stiles to accompany it.
He parked and grabbed the CD, locking his car with the clicker as he left it. It was dusk when he entered the old dorm building—he’d been wallowing in his car for hours. He didn’t know how many songs of Halsey’s played before he turned it off. He didn’t know how long he’d sat there recounting how everything started in the wake of how everything ended. It was pathetic. It was disgusting. It was…
How many times had he followed Stiles up these stairs? How many times had they become distracted with one another on the landings? How often had Derek steadied Stiles with hands on his hips, ignoring the handrail digging into his back in favor of Stiles’ lips?
Fuck! He couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was a song on repeat, it was the same bars refrained his head, it was the same chorus, the same heartbreak, the same regret. A coda he couldn’t fucking escape.
Derek banged the side of his fist against Stiles’ dormitory door.
The TV, faintly audible, was turned down, and the door suddenly swung open. And there Stiles stood.
“Derek,” he said, his voice quiet and surprised.
Frankly, Derek was surprised, too. Surprised Stiles answered. Surprised Stiles was even home.
“Hi, Derek!” Malia chirped. She sat on the ratty university sofa, the one that came with the small living space of Stiles’ dorm, the one they, and probably countless other students, had fucked on after a long evening of studying. She waved to him with a wiggle of her fingers and a bright smile, and Derek didn’t know if he could ever forgive her for moving in so quickly on Stiles.
“Let’s, um,” Stiles made a gesture with his hand and stepped out into the hall. Derek backed up to give him the room to do so. Then it was silent for a few beats between them, where Derek drank in the sight of Stiles’ bright brown eyes, the softness of his hair, the inconsistent color in his usually pale cheeks. Then Stiles asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Wanted to return this,” Derek answered easily, holding out the CD. “You left it in my car. Figured you’d want it back.”
“Oh,” Stiles said, but he didn’t take the CD back. “Um.” His brows pinched painfully, and his plush lips pulled into a frustrated frown. He awkwardly shoved his hands into his pockets. “I was kinda hoping to keep it there, ya know, in case there isn’t anything worthwhile on the radio.”
“Take the CD, Stiles,” Derek sighed. “And I’ll get the rest of the stuff you left at my apartment sometime this weekend, okay?”
That seemed to surprise him. Stiles stammered hurriedly, and his hands moved in that way Derek came to understand as something nearing panic. “Derek, I—I hadn’t wanted—it’s not what—”
“It’s okay,” Derek murmured. “I understand. I do.” He didn’t understand, not really, and it hurt to say. But it was better lie about his own heartbreak than have Stiles’ anxiety take control. “It’s not a problem.”
“Are you breaking up with me?” Stiles asked suddenly, worriedly.
“What? No! You broke up with me,” Derek answered.
“I didn’t,” Stiles pleaded, more than argued. He didn’t have his usual fire, his usual conviction, and it softened Derek’s defenses.
“You didn’t,” Derek stated.
“I was mad at you,” Stiles said. He was nearly pouting, but he had trouble meeting Derek’s gaze. “I’m still mad at you. I thought we were serious, but it’s only been, like, four months, so maybe you didn’t think so, but I was still mad and I just needed some time to—”
“We are serious,” Derek interrupted. “I should have pushed Jennifer away. I didn’t think she’d be that bold, and I didn’t think you’d be there to see it. I’m sorry.” When Stiles cautiously met Derek’s gaze, Derek sighed and pushed his glasses up to scrub his eyes. “But you didn’t return my calls or texts. I even left a fucking note under your door so we could talk. And then I saw you with Malia today and—”
“Oh, shit, you saw that?!” Stiles’ expression crumbled into something like misery. He ran his hands through his messy hair and tugged, suddenly pacing the hallway just in front of his door. Watching him was dizzying. “I didn’t believe her. I honestly didn’t think—fuck—that wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t, I swear, Derek. I would never.”
“What happened, then?” Derek asked, careful to give away none of his own confusion. He knew what he saw, despite how he hadn’t wanted to see it. Malia kissed Stiles, and Stiles…Stiles had smiled about it. Stiles had liked it. He gently took Stiles by the bicep to halt his pacing. “I saw Malia kiss you in the courtyard. What did I miss?”
“She’s mad at you,” Stiles said. When Derek furrowed his brows and shook his head, Stiles continued, “She’s mad at you on my behalf. Because of the Jennifer thing. She wanted to help make you jealous, to get back at you. I didn’t know you were really there. She’d said she’d spotted you, but I didn’t believe it—you almost never park in that garage. I thought it was a joke, just fucking around, ya know? I didn’t think she’d kiss me.”
“So you’re not dating her?” Derek asked.
“Fuck, no!” Stiles squeaked. “God, no! She’s your cousin, dude. I wouldn’t do you dirty like that. Jesus. I…I didn’t even want to make you jealous, to be honest. I was just…upset.”
“We’re not broken up.”
Smirking, Stiles asked, “Was that a question or a statement?”
“Both?” And Derek quickly lost the ability to withhold a smile.
“I don’t want to break up,” Stiles said, a little too quiet, a little too unsure.
Crowding him against door, Derek said, “I don’t want to break up, either.”
“I’m still mad at you,” Stiles murmured, but he licked his lips and flicked his gaze between Derek’s eyes and Derek’s mouth. “I’m still really upset.”
“That’s okay. You’re allowed to be. I’m sorry,” Derek purred. “Can I kiss you?”
With a small grin, Stiles grabbed the front of Derek’s shirt and pulled him in, but Derek waited for a moment with bated breath. Just to savor. Just because he could.
“Yeah, I guess so.” Stiles kissed Derek quickly, soundly, deliciously enough to make Derek whine when he pulled away. “Can I keep my CD in your car?”
“Yeah, I guess, so.” Derek pressed him against the wall and kissed him again.